Elegance Handbook

The Art of Small Talk

A lot of people tend to look for ways to avoid small talk. They see no purpose to it, and they look for ways to escape the awkwardness of scrambling for conversation starters to keep the chatter afloat. Maybe you also feel the same. But it does not have to be that way. Here’s why and how.

The Purpose of Small Talk

Small talk is anything but small. It is an art that allows you to build rapport and connection with people you have newly met. It allows you to go from being strangers to being formidable acquaintances, possible friends, or amicable business partners by breaking down the walls of unfamiliarity. Yet, a lot of people tend to approach small talk as a boring chore, or a plague to be avoided. If you are in this group of people, you are missing out on a lot. So here are some ways you can make the experience of small talk more enjoyable while maintaining your confidence:

(1) Realize that it is not about you, it is about creating connection.

One of the reasons a lot of people tend to avoid small talk is that they focus on themselves; how they look in the moment, and how they sound. Do they come across as humorous, intelligent, and well-read? Here is the thing, the other person is probably just as nervous as you, and wondering the same. So take the pressure off yourself, and focus on getting to know the other person.

(2) The secret skill to small talk is in your listening.

How can you best get to know what the other person cares for? By listening. Small talk is all about listening to what the other person is saying, picking up the cues on what matters to them, and using those cues to further the conversation.

For example, if they compare today’s weather at the current location to a place they recently visited, you can use that to ask about the mentioned location, and possibly dive into your shared passion for travel. See that? Or talking about the weather can also be an introduction to the subject of climate change (without the politics). There is a myriad of ways you can take the conversation just by listening.

(3). Stay curious, ask thoughtful questions, and be interested.

Who do you tend to remember with fondness? The person who had a genuine interest in getting to know you, or the person who rambled on and on about themselves? For most people, the former applies, and I hope it is the same for you.

The more interested you are in getting to know your new acquaintance, the more likely they are to have a positive impression of you – provided you do not probe into their lives intrusively or overextend the small talk chat. The idea is to get to know each other progressively, and not to put the weight of a friendship on a mere conversation.

(4). How to avoid being rude when engaging in small talk

If you are familiar with the rules of etiquette when it comes to conversation, you know it does your first impression justice to avoid topics that involve rumors, gossip, personal misfortunes, judging others, unsavory news, offering unsolicited advice, the making of crude jokes, lying, and indulging in divisive topics.

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(5) Examples of small talk topics for friends or work clients

So, what should you talk about? Talk about things that are likely to generate positive memories even in the brief moment of small talk. Talk about

  • hobbies,
  • positive topics such as good things that have happened in the public domain,
  • the clubs you belong to,
  • the books they are reading.
  • and yes, the weather is a valid topic too, as expounded above.

The idea is to create personal and easily memorable cues that show who you are. This makes it easy to focus on what the other person is saying, and removes the pressure on needing to appear perfect when you communicate.

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(6). Stay informed about current news.

If you know you are attending a social or networking event, it does you well to read or watch the current news, just to be well informed to hold a conversation about what is going on in the world. being completely out of touch with what is happening in the public domain, especially in the business world, does not look good on you.

(7)  More conversation etiquette: being a good conversationalist.

  • If someone is keen on getting to know you, do not fail to take part in the small talk by appearing to be bored or failing to respond.
  • If someone wants to join in the small-talk conversation, let them join. The more, the merrier.
  • When talking, be careful not to dominate the conversation by talking about yourself or your topic of choice non-stop. Also, avoid whispering, as you may come off as a gossiper.
  • If based on the body language of the person you are talking to, they seem like they are no longer interested, take the cue and say your goodbyes.
  • Also, when going your separate ways, be sure to say how much you have enjoyed getting to know them and that you would like to stay in touch.

Most importantly, make sure to keep your tone pleasant and friendly. With these tips, you will master the art of small talk and rightfully give of the impression that you are a pleasure to be around.