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How to Excel at Small Talk

Posted by Peter Post  May 28, 2013 07:00 AM

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Have you ever noticed how some people seem to be able to strike up a conversation with ease with just about anyone? Marvel at their glib, self-assured way, how they simply seem to make conversation with a stranger such an easy event?

For the rest of us it can be intimidating. You go to a social event and you’re going to have to talk to people who, basically, are strangers. How do you do it?

Here are three tips to make your engagement in small talk a success.

  1. Small talk starts before you ever arrive at the event. Make a conscious effort to become familiar with a variety of subjects: what’s going on currently in the sports world; the latest happenings in the entertainment world; what’s new and talked about on television. To be knowledgeable you will have to read up on current events regularly, either in the paper or online. Watch the latest hit television show, even if it’s only once so you know who the characters are and the basic current plot line. Don’t just read the headline news; peruse the lifestyle pages or the entertainment sections of Google News.
  2. Before you actually go to an event or a cocktail or dinner party, use your newfound knowledge to develop several questions: “I was surprised Candice Glover won American Idol. Do you think she deserved to win?” Or, to be a bit provocative, “What are the chances the Sox will make it this season?” (Lots to interpret by the fact you are even asking the question!)
  3. Then, when you are actually talking with someone at the event, you can pull out one of your questions, ask it, and then sit back and listen. You don’t have to be a great talker. You just need to know how to ask questions that will get the other person doing the talking.

Along with being knowledgeable and asking questions, you should be a good listener. That means paying attention to your conversational partner. Look them in the eye. Smile. Ask a follow-up question occasionally. Nod and utter an “Uh-huh.” You pay a person a great compliment when you make them feel important by being a good listener.

That’s it: Be familiar with current topics, ask questions, and be a good listener. That’s the formula for being successful in situations when you are expected to engage with people you’ve just met.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."

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