Do you ever find yourself in that dreaded situation where you’re face-to-face with an acquaintance or stranger, and you’re forced to make some kind of conversation?
Whether or not you were expecting to be with this person, you’re now stuck in the moment trying to come up with small talk topics and struggling to know exactly what to say.
How was your weekend? What do you think about the weather?
Do you have any plans for the summer?
The prospect of having these short conversations can lead to anxiety, as you try to straddle saying enough while not saying the wrong thing.
Let’s review some small talk topics you can bring up in these uncomfortable situations that will seem neither forced nor awkward.
What is small talk?
Small talk is the polite (and sometimes superficial) conversations you have during social interactions.
When you engage in small talk, you generally address unimportant and non-controversial subjects, and the conversation doesn’t often veer into more profound or deep topics.
These kinds of conversations happen between people who aren’t particularly close to each other — such as two guests at a dinner party or a coworker on the elevator.
With small talk topics, people are aiming to find points of genuine agreement with someone they don’t know well enough to delve into more substantive conversation.
While this idle chit chat doesn’t convey important ideas or engage your analytical mind, that doesn’t mean it’s not important. It serves a social function of bonding over information.
What are examples of small talk?
Let’s say you’ve been invited to a party by a friend (Sarah). You don’t know anyone except Sarah who introduces you to a new person named Jim. Here’s how to talk small talk when you meet someone new:
You: Hi Jim, it’s nice to meet you.
Jim: Good to meet you, too.
You: So, have you known Sarah a long time?
Jim: Yeah, we’ve worked together for a few years.
You: Oh yeah? Are you in marketing as well?
Jim: No, I’m in IT, but I coordinate with Sarah’s team a lot. How about you? What do you do?
You: I’m in marketing, too, for a sports radio station.
Jim: Oh cool. That sounds like fun. Did you watch the game last night?
You: Absolutely! It was a nail-biter.
As you see, small talk evolves from one piece of commonality — in this case, the relationship with Sarah. But sometimes the thread of small talk conversation can stall out once you reach a natural ending to the initial topic.
That’s why it’s so valuable to develop your skills and have small talk starters handy when you feel the conversation waining.
Why is small talk an important skill to have?
Research shows that small talk skills are necessary for building connections with other people.
If done correctly, making small talk with someone can lay the foundation for a potential relationship with this person.
It helps demonstrate your communication style, which can be an effective way to develop and extend your personal and professional networks.
Engaging in small talk also makes you likable. People are attracted to those who are confident enough to engage in comfortable conversation.
It is important to remember that small talk isn’t just a method of communication and a way of filling an awkward gap. It’s also a gesture of respect that most people appreciate.
How to Use Small Talk in Conversation
So, how do you make small talk interesting so that the conversation can evolve into a deeper connection. Let’s take a look at some topics and small talk questions you can keep in mind for social occasions.
You might write down some of these small talk tips and keep them in your purse or wallet so you can refer to them shortly before your next interaction with someone.
9 Good Small Talk Topics
Select some of these 9 small talk examples for your next conversation:
1. The Weather
Yes, talking about the weather seems dull, but it is a good neutral topic that everyone can relate to.
Even if the weather isn’t particularly noteworthy at the moment, it can still be a good topic of chit chat. Some things you can say are:
- It’s a nice day, don’t you think? I thought it would rain.
- Looks like you brought the beautiful weather with you.
- Can you believe how cold it is? I thought this was supposed to be spring!
You can also ask someone about the climate in their hometown.
- Is the weather here much different from where you grew up?
- What climate do you prefer? Why?
- If you could live anywhere based entirely on the weather, where would you live?
Some people know about sports than others, so there are some rules of thumb to consider before discussing sports.
You want to know your audience, so this topic may be best for people with whom you have crossed paths in the past. You can also preface the conversation with, “So, are you a sports fan?” or “Did you watch the game last night?”
Having an enthusiastic conversation about your favorite team can be fun, but don’t let it get heated if you and your conversation partner disagree about some aspect of your sports discussion.
If you find the conversation is taking a tense turn, make a quick topic change and find an area where you better connect.
Some entertainment subjects that are effective conversation starters and good small talk topics are:
- TV shows
- Local restaurants
To get ready to discuss these topics, keep up with what is trending and popular in these topic categories. Refresh your memory about the latest book you’ve read and the most recent restaurant you’ve tried.
Ask the other person if he or she has seen any good movies or Netflix series lately or heard any new music that’s worth sharing.
Talk about your book if you think it will interest the other person, or ask if they have read it. This is a quick way to find some common ground.
Food is one of the best small talk topics because everyone can relate to it.
Ask people which restaurants in the area they like to frequent and the best dishes that are offered. If they aren’t fans of going out to eat, ask them what (or if) they like to cook.
Or, if you are at an event, say something positive about the food that invites a response. For example, “The wedding cake is gorgeous. What flavor do you think it is?” or “Have you tried the crab cakes? They are the best I have ever had!”
Talking about work is a natural conversation starter because most everyone has had a career or is currently working.
Sharing your career backgrounds allows you to find areas of common interest and connection. You may discover you know the same people or that your job responsibilities have some similarities.
It’s also interesting to learn more about a career field you haven’t pursued or experienced before.
Talking about your profession can be tricky, however, because you don’t want the conversation to turn into a boring explanation of what you both do as you watch each other’s eyes glaze over.
Make it interesting and unexpected by asking something like, “What skill do you most often use in your work?” or “What’s your favorite aspect of your job?”
Try to learn about the other person’s passions. People are often enthusiastic when talking about the things they love, and this will give you a chance to connect with the person on a more personal level.
Ask how they spend their free time, if they’re taking any classes for fun, or what things they would like to try doing in the future but haven’t had the chance yet.
A small talk example on this topic could be, “What’s the most recent new hobby or interest that you’ve tried?”
7. News and Current Events
An effective way to prepare for small talk in social situations is by reading (or listening to) the news every day.
Stay up-to-date on the happenings in the world and your city. Talk about the new construction project that’s being planned for downtown, the rising costs of traveling, or the recent teachers’ strike.
There is always something going on in the news that is on everyone’s mind. But be sure to stay away from controversial news and divisive political topics that could tank the conversation.
Use current events to build a bridge between you and the other person but not as a way to discover the other person’s political leanings.
People commonly ask others about their families. You may ask something like, “Do you have any children?” or “Where is your family from?”
Be prepared to answer these types of family questions as well as ask them. Engaging in small talk about family will help you learn a lot about each other in a short period of time.
You will likely find some common ground here, whether its that you both have an older sister or your parents grew up in the same town.
People love to talk about the places they’ve visited. Ask your conversation partner about her favorite places to travel and what she recommends doing while there. This might help spark your interest for your next vacation.
If you’ve been to the same travel destination, share your experiences and your views of the culture. There are so many topics you can build around a travel conversation, such as favorite restaurants, local interests, sports, language differences. etc.
If the other person hasn’t traveled much, ask about his bucket list travel and adventure ideas.
Now that you know some good topics to talk about for small talk discussions, let’s drill down to some unique questions you can incorporate into the conversation to make it less mundane.
If you want to have more positive and meaningful conversations, it starts with great questions.
15 Good Small Talk Questions
Review these 15 questions to make small talk in a conversation with someone:
1. What is going great in your life right now?
It’s so easy for conversations to turn negative – work’s stressful, the weather is unpleasant, tax season is around the corner. By starting a conversation with a positive question, it can keep moving in that direction.
2. What is the weirdest thing that has happened to you lately?
This is a great way to connect to new people, and with such an open-ended question, they have the room to take it wherever they want.
Maybe they’ll recap an awkward meeting they recently had or they might share a hilarious personal story.
3. What were you like in high school?
When you meet people who are decades out of adolescence, you have no idea who they were during these self-defining years.
Sometimes it may come as a complete surprise that your conversation partner was the class clown, the jock, or a bookworm who spent most of the time in the library.
It’s always fun to be surprised by people’s pasts and to share your own stories from your high school days.
4. What was your first job?
You and your conversation partner may be serious professionals now, but you both had to start somewhere. Take the time to laugh about the movie theater uniforms, paper routes, and cheap mall stores that were part of your first real job.
5. What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Not only will this question help you get to know someone really quickly, but it also allows you to hear some quality advice that you may have never heard before.
6. Which app on your phone do you use the most often?
This is another unique get-to-know-you question that will take people by surprise. But if you think about it, the answer offers you a good peek into their life.
7. What’s a movie you didn’t enjoy that everyone else loved and vice versa?
Find out what makes this person different from the rest and get a viewpoint from someone who has an unpopular opinion.
8. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
This could get someone talking about some traveling they have done or maybe a hilarious cooking mishap. Either way, it will have them reminiscing about something funny.
9. What is your guilty pleasure?
While people don’t often proudly announce their guilty pleasures, once they are voiced, other people usually follow suit.
Maybe it’s that glass of wine before dinner or taking a 15-minute break for a cat nap during the workday.
If you can find common ground with someone on their guilty pleasure, you just made a great connection.
10. If you could talk to anyone in the world, living or dead, who would it be and why?
What a fun question to ask to get to know someone’s values and interests. Choosing one person out of millions of possibilities forces the speaker to zero in on someone who might be an inspiration, mentor, celebrity, or historic figure.
Understanding why your conversation partner chose the particular person can launch another series of interesting and informative answers.
11. Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? What preferences make you one or the other?
You may be able to guess the answer to this question just by speaking with this person for a few minutes. However, many introverts have extraverted qualities for short periods of time.
Discovering the answers to these questions can help you better navigate the conversation and know whether or not to keep it light or go deeper. Introverts tend to prefer deeper conversation over prolonged small talk.
12. I noticed that you _____. Tell me more about it.
Take notice of something about the other person. Are they wearing something you like? Did they drive up in a classic sports car? Are they not eating meat? Do they have a cast on their arm? Are they holding a book?
Of course, you don’t want to point out anything unsightly or controversial (ie: a political button), but if you notice something interesting, bring it up and find out more.
13. What made you decide on a career in _______?
It’s fascinating to learn how people landed in the their particular career fields. Some people have had a passion for their careers since they were young. Others fell into their jobs or were pressured by parents or peers to follow a certain path.
The answer you receive can open the door to a longer discussion about the person’s background, education, experience, and interests.
14. Do you have any pets? If so, what kind? If not, why not?
Is this person you’re talking with an animal person? If so, knowing if they are a cat person or a dog person can tell you a lot.
Cat people tend to be more creative and enjoy solitary activities like reading, writing, and gardening. They credit their pet with helping them reduce stress.
Dog people are twice as likely to work in finance and enjoy sports, dancing, and travel. They see their dogs as a means to get more exercise.
If they don’t have a pet, is it because they don’t like animals or because they can’t fit one into their lives right now?
15. What is your biggest pet peeve?
We all have them — that something that really bugs us and yanks our chain. Maybe it’s loud talkers, throat-clearers at the movies, people who interrupt, or someone leaving their dishes in the sink.
If you want to get below the surface of this question, ask your conversation partner why this particular pet peeve bothers them so much. You might find out something much more interesting about his or her personality.
Keeping all of these small talk ideas in mind, what are some things that you definitely want to avoid while engaging in small talk?
You don’t want to find yourself in an awkward situation where there is a silence that you don’t know how to fill because the momentum of the conversation just came to a halt.
Let’s look at some topics that are best left untouched.
9 Awkward Conversation Topics that Are Uncomfortable
As you are considering what to talk about when you’re having small talk, you want to make sure the conversation stays light and relatively uneventful.
You don’t want to cause an argument of any kind or make people want to leave the conversation. What is not an appropriate topic for small talk? To avoid making anyone feel uncomfortable, don’t talk about:
- personal finances
- personal appearance
- death or illness
- personal gossip
- offensive jokes
- anything so specific that very few people can relate to it
- topics that are sexual in nature
You’ll know pretty quickly if you’ve veered into a conversation topic that is offensive or questionable if you’re able to read body language and facial expressions.
If you think you might have said something out of line, be sure to quickly repair the damage by saying something like, “I said the wrong thing here, and I apologize. Let’s talk about something else.”
More Related Articles:
30 Conversation Topics To Kickstart Your Speaking Confidence
How To End a Conversation Without Being Rude
99 Of The Best This Or That Questions To Spark Conversation
77 Of The Best Existential Questions To Blow Your Mind
Do you feel ready to master small talk topics?
Building rapport using casual conversation is a useful tool to have in all areas of your life.
If you want to improve your skills in this area, seek out opportunities to make small talk and approach people as if they are already your friend. This will make talking to them seem a little more natural.
Be curious about the person in front of you and ask them unique questions that they haven’t already answered several times. Stay engaged and add value to the conversation whenever you can.
Whether you love chatting people up or you wish you could avoid it, using these topic tips, conversation starters, and unique questions will help you get the most out of the conversation.