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Learn small talk: 30+ brilliant topics, questions & tips
Small talk is like flirting: there is an almost mythical beacon attached to the first sentence - as if there were no more highlights afterwards. But not true. Having a good conversation is an art in itself and an important key to success. It is precisely this art of easy chatting that many find difficult.
Good small talk is not rocket science. It can be learned - so that you can elegantly break every proverbial ice and make a positive first impression. It is often enough to avoid typical small talk mistakes. We show you how you can smalltalk better in the future - including suitable topics, introductions, questions and examples. Everything you need to know about small talk ...
➠ Content: This is what awaits you
➠ Content: This is what awaits you
Why small talk at all?
Small talk is, according to the definition, an everyday conversation that is carried out spontaneously, randomly, relaxed and in a colloquial tone. There are no formal rules for this and it is created in a casual, relaxed atmosphere. That also means: This form of conversation can be used universally. As small talk with colleagues, as a chat at a party, as a little conversation in the elevator or on the train ... You can basically have small talk anywhere. In some situations, however, small talk is not just an opportunity, but an important factor in getting into conversation with other people. For example:
➠ On the first day in the new job
You are new and don't know anyone yet. In order to make a pleasant first impression, you should talk to your colleagues. Small talk is the perfect introduction to establishing casual contact.
➠ When visiting a trade fair or a congress
Do not stand around alone between lectures and during the breaks. Take the opportunity to start a conversation with small talk. Here you might get to know important people and create the basis for professional cooperation.
➠ When meeting a customer
Certainly the purpose of your meeting is for business. But light conversation loosens the atmosphere and welcomes the customer.
➠ In the interview
The first few minutes of the meeting already determine the liking. So take the recruiter's offer and have some casual conversation. Then the rest is also easier.
What makes good small talk?
Successful small talk exudes charm and charisma, wit and esprit. But it has no purpose whatsoever. It's not about selling something (even if it's just yourself) or impressing someone. While chatting, you want to get to know each other, talk, build bridges and find common ground. If not - also good. This is what makes small talk so easy. And that's the only way to keep them.
A good conversation is the art of telling an interesting story - storytelling, as it is also known today. You reveal a little about yourself, create a good mood, show humor - maybe even laugh at yourself. And the effect is: you gain trust and sympathy.
Unfortunately, because some people forget that, such conversations regularly lead to a tense atmosphere and latent alertness, the awkward initiations of which are as fleeting as a white Christmas in the Rhineland:
- "Nice weather today?"
- "Are you here often?"
- "What's up?"
- "And otherwise?"
Please never start your small talk like this. And don't cramp up. No matter how empathic you are: trying to please everyone does not lead to small talk, but to conversation cramps. Rather enjoy the moment and the chance to broaden your horizons and get to know a stranger.
Small talk is always effortless and amusing
Quite a few associate rousing eloquence or the polished rhetoric of a solo entertainer with the small talk. Smalltalk is the exact opposite of that: It is the art of relaxed, amusing and elegant chat - the Sprezzatura, as smalltalk was once called. Anyone who succumbs to the inner compulsion to have to prove to everyone how communicative he or she is can only fail. Such an attitude is always perceived unconsciously and appears strained or intrusive. Exactly the image that you don't want to create during small talk. The English King Charles II is said to have once said:
The art of good conversation is to reassure the insecure.
Accordingly, the relaxed chatting serves to exchange ideas without obligation, to emphasize commonalities and thus to create a good atmosphere for the rest of the world. Not more but also not less.
Start small talk
The basic requirement for a successful conversation, for perfect small talk, is a sincere interest in your counterpart. Only if you treat your interlocutor with real sympathy and respect will he or she feel comfortable in the conversation and be fully involved. A conversation like this connects two people with each other, with a light chat everyone has the impression that they are on the same wavelength and feels understood. Good small talk always starts at one level, hierarchy is out of place.
If you find it difficult to start such a conversation or to follow up on an existing one, there is a simple trick: ask questions! Just about everyone loves to talk about themselves. All the better if you give your counterpart this opportunity.
In fact, most people feel that they have had a good conversation when they have taken up most of the speaking time themselves. This is schizophrenic, but it can be used: If you are worried about saying the wrong thing at the beginning of small talk or not being able to small talk properly, just ask questions. Give your counterpart speaking time and respond to the answers of your counterpart - they will appreciate you more than any daredevil and proverb. Asking questions is just as useful for warming up as it is for loosening up (especially if you can't think of anything better). Assuming the right questions are asked.
Here are a few suggestions for getting started with small talk (so-called "ice breakers"):
- What do you do for a living?
The classic among all small talk intros, because it opens up a series of follow-up questions, for example about the company, the industry or the position in which your counterpart works. The question is a good one, but also a rather trite one. You don't attract attention through originality.
- What do you get inspired by?
Undoubtedly the more original opener. Because it makes the other reflect on themselves - and that inspires both of you. The question is therefore not only suitable as an introduction to a conversation, but also as a starting point for a discussion in an already established group.
- Which book are you reading now?
This question is also aimed at sources of inspiration, but can also be expanded to include hobbies or private interests. In any case, you will gain a lot of information about your counterpart and other topics of conversation.
- What did you do before that?
You can ask this question after the other person has introduced himself extensively. However, it should never sound like you aren't interested in his current job. Otherwise your counterpart will be offended. Finding out a little bit about each other's history tells you a lot about their profession and what they might expect of you.
- And what are you doing here?
Attention: The question can be emphasized one way or another. In one variant, it sounds like an interrogation. What is meant is the second: You are interested in how your counterpart felt about this event, this lecture or the party and what relationship he or she has with the organizer. At the latest, you have the first thing in common, because you also know the organizer from somewhere.
- How did you find the lecture?
The prerequisite for this is, of course, that there was such a presentation. But then it is important that you do not trumpet your own opinion right away. Especially if you thought the talk was stupid. Otherwise you will immediately spread a negative mood at the beginning. And that blocks. A substantive and intellectual examination of what has been said emphasizes your common ground as a listener and creates new points of discussion.
- That looks really delicious! Where did you get that from?
Admittedly, the question is more for the brave and extrovert and for parties with a buffet. In return, she is usually extremely well received, because there is praise in her humorous dress: “You have taste!” And that earns sympathy. In addition, after you have got the same thing, you can stand up and start chatting: Sorry, I haven't even introduced myself yet: My name is ...
- Would you like to drink something?
The ideal start for someone who is still lonely and alone at a table. You not only show attention and good manners, but also create a reciprocity relationship that works in your favor. Alternatively: "Should I bring you something from the bar?" If you meet an attractive woman and want to start a conversation with her in this way, the gentleman option is recommended: Bring her the drink directly with you. But first, please spy out your preferences!
More icebreakers for conversations
➠ Which day would you like to live again?
➠ Who was your childhood hero?
➠ What foreign culture do you find fascinating?
➠ Which place is the most peaceful for you?
➠ What was the most nonsensical thing you recently bought?
Smalltalk beginnings as a free download
Do you want to save or print out the entrances for the small talk so that you can always recall them? Then you can download our examples free of charge as a PDF. Simply click on the link or the icon on the side to go to the PDF.
Overcome inhibitions in small talk
Small talk can be learned. That is the good news. However, the first sentence is extremely difficult for many. Because it costs one thing above all: overcoming. First of all, of course, you should introduce yourself, give your full name and perhaps say two or three more sentences about yourself or your job (if it's a business reception). It's not difficult at all and can be practiced well in advance. You may find it harder to chat afterwards. Perhaps you are shy or have inhibited speech. Then keep the following tips in mind:
- Eye contact
Look kindly at the person you are talking to and smile. This is the first step. With your open attitude, you signal to your counterpart that you would like to chat.
Don't be afraid to talk about the trivial. Almost any topic is suitable for small talk. The main thing is that you start the conversation. You can also start this with an anecdote of your journey. You can also talk about the occasion of the meeting, the music, the food and much more. Take courage!
Be sure to speak positively. You want to create a pleasant atmosphere. With nagging you scare off your counterpart.
Small talk tips
Entering the small talk and the topics of the conversation are important aspects. But there is more to really good small talk. Often it is not just about what you say, but also how you behave in the conversation. On the one hand, this means your body language. At least as important, however, is your attitude towards small talk yourself, which the person you are speaking to will certainly notice.
Do you find the dialogue banal, unnecessary or do you have no interest in talking to people? Then that doesn't go unnoticed for long in small talk. You quickly come across as disinterested and dismissive. The likelihood that a good conversation will develop on this basis or that contact will be deepened in the future is low. Just unwinding your topics and ticking them off like on a checklist is as effective as drawing ruts through the sea. Forced small talk is not fun for anyone and tends to create embarrassed silence. So as soon as the conversation picks up speed, we have a few tips for better small talk:
- Use facial expressions
Even if your conversation partner puts on a petrified mine - a nice smile during the small talk will not kill you and creates a friendly atmosphere. An open and friendly charisma is the basic requirement for pleasant small talk.
- make compliments
It is perfectly appropriate to compliment small talk - as long as it is not too personal and seems absolutely honest. But please don't overdo it either, gluing does not go down well and is more likely to be perceived as unpleasant.
- Avoid know-it-alls
We only take advice from people we like or whose competence we respect. Both are missing on the first chat. In small talk, it is better to leave out the raised index finger. You want to have a casual, relaxed conversation - don't pretend know-it-all and don't mimic the moralist.
- keep distance
This applies in terms of content as well as on a physical level. Small talk is relaxed chatting, not a soul striptease. The time is not for in-depth analysis or psychological discussion. In addition, the following applies: Keep to distance zones. Hardly anyone finds it pleasant when you get too close during small talk.
- Use breaks
In conversation with strangers and also in small talk with colleagues, there are always pauses that can feel uncomfortable but are normal. Use the time to go through what has been said so far and find interesting questions! This reduces the pauses in small talk, continues the conversation and shows that you have listened and are genuinely interested.
- Select topics
Small talk shouldn't deliver terrifying insights, but rather be fun. Death, sex, illness, politics, money, religion and rumors (and sometimes combinations thereof) are taboo. Think in advance which topics you will address during the small talk. See the next section for some examples.
Learn and practice small talk
It is well known that practice makes perfect. This also applies to small talk. You can learn this, practice it and thus get better and better at it. The more often you chat, start a conversation in an innocent manner or seek spontaneous dialogue, the easier it will be for you. Another great advantage of the exercise: You can practice in completely harmless situations.
Use every opportunity to make some small talk. You don't have to have a long conversation, just include a question or two, smile friendly, say goodbye again. Now you don't have to speak to anyone on the street right away - many of them react rather negatively to that anyway. But there are plenty of opportunities to get into conversation with others on the side and improve your own small talk.
- Say more to the bakery in the morning than just your order for the rolls.
- Talk to your hairdresser instead of just sitting in silence.
- Extend the brief greeting in the hallway when you see a colleague from another department.
- Talk to your neighbors if you come across them.
There have been many opportunities to learn better small talk so far, but you probably just don't take them. And if these attempts don't go so well, that's not bad at all. The practice situations are rather unimportant. However, the learning effect will still materialize and you will be all the better in an important environment, for example when you meet someone at a network event, and will be able to convince with your small talk skills.
Small talk topics
Some conversations come naturally, but sometimes you are faced with the question: What should I talk about in small talk? Some topics should be left out, as mentioned above, but what is a suitable small talk topic? When making your selection, you should consider a few basic points:
➠ The topics should be harmless.
➠ Do not address controversial areas.
➠ Find topics that do not require specialist knowledge.
Some small talk topics have become established that are often used for a casual conversation:
- Hobbys and Interests
What does your interlocutor like to do in his spare time? What are his hobbies, interests and passions? These areas are well suited as small talk topics. They learn something about the other, can reveal something about themselves and talk about things that inspire.
- Current situation
A classic small talk topic is the situation you are in. If you are at a trade fair, address the occasion.If you are new to the job and are making small talk with colleagues, you can ask about their careers and areas of responsibility. This makes it easy for you to start a conversation during small talk.
When it comes to small talk, food is often close by. Before the meeting with biscuits and coffee, at an event or a party, food is usually offered. Talk about how good it tastes or how big the choice is. You are already in the middle of small talk.
The best known small talk topic and definitely a possibility. To be consumed with caution, however. Small talk about the weather quickly becomes boring and anyone who has nothing to say beyond that quickly gets to the end of the conversation.
- Books and films
You can talk about a book that you are currently reading or that is one of your favorite literature. The same applies to films, classics to current blockbusters can be suitable topics for small talk.
- to travel
Where did your last trip go or where is your next vacation planned? Most people love to talk about their travels, which is why it is a good small talk topic. Let the person you talk to talk about - maybe there are even common travel destinations that you can talk about.
10 embarrassing mistakes in small talk
Once you get the hang of it, small talk usually works by itself. But there are also a few mistakes that you should definitely avoid. We have listed a few examples of the mistakes you should definitely avoid when making small talk:
Did you pay attention to the speaker's dress? That was probably a grip in the toilet.
Attention! You might be talking to a friend or sister of the speaker right now. You can embarrass yourself very quickly with gossip like this. In addition, the other person asks himself whether you will gossip about him or her at the next opportunity. This does not create a pleasant atmosphere.
Incredible that Schröder celebrated his birthday in Saint Petersburg. And that with the politics that Putin is pursuing.
Do not pin your political opinion on the face of your counterpart. If you don't know the other person yet, talking about politics is a gamble. Either your counterpart is indignant with you about Putin's policy or he has a completely different opinion. In the latter case, a deep rift has opened up between you. You will not be able to close this anymore and you will not be remembered positively.
Have you heard that Mr. Mustermann is leaving the accounting department?
In no time at all you will have your voice heard and a cluster of interested colleagues will be gathering around you. However, if this is a rumor, you can fall flat on your face. The others could question your statement. Then, if it turns out that you are telling bullshit, you have permanently damaged your reputation. You will no longer be taken seriously in the future.
I don't think it's right that John Paul II was canonized.
If you express such an opinion to a devout Catholic, he will feel offended. Your own belief is important to religious people; if you attack them, you have immediately alienated the person. Religious utterances can become explosive during small talk.
I am so glad that I still have something on the high edge. So I don't have to worry about my pension.
You have just had a very informal conversation with the person opposite you. But a casual conversation can tip over quickly when the topic of money comes up. For many people, finances are fraught with emotions. Worries and existential fears can be associated with it. Your counterpart can wear an expensive suit and still be in debt. If so, he'll think you're an arrogant prankster. But even if the person you are talking to is wealthy, they can be embarrassed to talk about it. Either way, you would have gambled away.
I'm in the middle of the divorce process.
Such revelations embarrass most people you do not know. What should one answer to that? Most choose to remain silent. You have crossed a line with information about your marriage. When faced with such problems, the other person feels uncomfortable. It's not easy to chat about relationship issues, especially when frustrated.
I really liked the way the speaker used alliteration in a targeted manner. But he could have done without the pleonasms.
You want to start a meaningful conversation about the lecture. But with that you could overwhelm your counterpart. What should he say if he doesn't know exactly what a pleonasm is? Nobody likes to be exposed. When in doubt, he'll think you're a show-off and smartass and won't want to have a conversation. Do not try to act convulsively smart. Be natural.
Before I started here, I worked in the United States for three years. That was a very educational time. Bla bla bla…
If you talk like a waterfall for minutes, the other person will switch off at some point. You transform the small talk into a monologue. That is appreciated negatively by your counterpart, who would like to be relegated to the stage? A pleasant conversation atmosphere is created when both interlocutors have approximately the same amount of speech.
Your counterpart: Mallorca is a beautiful island. Your answer: Aha.
Monosyllabic answers indicate disinterest. They are taboo in small talk. Better ask a question. Your counterpart will be happy if you follow up and give them the opportunity to tell about a great holiday. If you give the other space to talk about what inspires them, a nice conversation can develop.
Do you like the fair that much too?
In principle, a good start for a conversation. However, closed questions tempt you to monosyllabic (see above). If your counterpart only answers “yes”, the conversation will not get going. There is an uncomfortable pause. Open-ended questions are a better way to start a conversation. For example, you could ask: How do you like the fair? Or: which lecture did you like a lot? In this way you stimulate your counterpart to think and chat.
Reasons for boring small talk
The start was still successful, the conversation started promisingly. But then the conversation comes to a standstill. Suddenly it's just boredom instead of casual small talk. There can be various reasons. If the small talk becomes tense, it is often due to one of the following causes, for which we will provide you with suitable tips:
- They only talk about themselves.
The person you are talking to does not have the chance to get involved and share their own experiences. But that is exactly what most people want. After all, a conversation should offer the opportunity to exchange ideas. Those who talk too much about themselves often come across as arrogant. ➠ What can you do? Instead of talking about yourself, offer the other a platform. Ask questions and in this way inquire about the interests of the other person.
- They monologize.
Without realizing it, you talk and talk without periods and commas. This may be due to your nervousness and an attempt to cover up your insecurity. However, if you talk so much that the other person does not get in the way, the other person will be permanently frustrated by the situation and lose interest in participating. ➠ What can you do? Focus more on listening. Get the ball rolling and make the monologue a dialogue. And in general, make sure that your speech does not get too big.
- You have chosen an uninteresting topic.
Of course, it depends on the person which topic goes down well and which doesn't. However, if you notice that the other person is not contributing to the conversation and only replies in monosyllables, it may be because their interests are completely different. ➠ What can you do? A change of topic in small talk is appropriate here. Introduce this with a question and in this way give your interlocutor the opportunity to choose a different topic.
- The person you are talking to does not understand you.
Monosyllabic answers can also be a sign that the other person is not familiar with the topic just discussed. If you are an expert on a particular subject, it is easy to forget that others are not as knowledgeable about the subject. Then there is the risk of overwhelming the person you are talking to. This switches off because he can no longer keep up. ➠ What can you do? Your small talk partner can't openly admit that he doesn't understand what you are talking about, and he would lose face. So bring him back into the conversation and ask a question. In general: Make sure that you never go into too much detail and do not drift into technical terminology.
End small talk
You are not always lucky enough to find a witty person to talk to. Then chatting becomes torture and the search for a hero emergency exit becomes inevitable. Still, many find it difficult. Either because they are trying to remain polite or because they are afraid of the consequences: After all, the other person could be offended or even take the sermon interruptus personally and resentfully. And it is well known that you always meet twice in life ...
Of course, it would not be nice, nor would it show sophistication, to let the other person feel what a conversation vacuum he is and that it would be better to have a root canal treatment at the dentist than to talk to him further. But it doesn't have to come to that. No matter what situation you are in - there are more nimble exits.
This is how you can end the small talk
- To apologize
The easiest way to end a small talk is still the best: apologize for wanting to chat with other guests as well. Not after the first 30 seconds, of course. You should be able to endure one or two bars with your counterpart. The only important thing is: Refrain from giving any reason. It always seems like an admission of guilt. Better: give a specific name of who you want to talk to.
If you don't want your departure to be too abrupt, you can also make a promise to them, such as: “I would be happy if we kept in touch. If you give me your card, I'll get in touch with you ... “Of course you should keep your word then. Otherwise you are breaking your word and the other person will interpret the gesture in retrospect (rightly) as ironing out. The alternative is to give the other person your card and suggest that they get in touch. If in doubt, you just don't have time later.
- To introduce
You can steal yourself out of the affair even more elegantly by introducing your counterpart to an alternative conversation partner and introducing them to each other. Charmingly, this is not just someone (otherwise they will thank you afterwards), but someone who you believe (or know) will harmonize with your previous conversation partner. Possibly because they both have a common interest.
The method is suitable for talented actors Surprise guest: Make a sudden note and realize on a dramaturgically high level that someone has just come with whom you absolutely have to speak - "a really important matter ...". Ask for understanding - and you are gone. Not exactly a 6.0 for politeness, but at least a good reason. There is also a variant for gentlemen with female company hero: “I am seeing that my partner / girlfriend / wife is in trouble. Please excuse me, you gave me a signal to save you from the situation ... "
Just because you stupidly came across a telling profile neurotic during small talk doesn't mean that you can't have fun with him. Make him insecure by interrupting him again and again in order to immediately tell anecdotes that have been plucked out of thin air, motto: "That reminds me of my last Mallorca vacation ..." Or ask questions regularly where you categorically misunderstand him. Before long, he's going to be the one who's all too eager to end the conversation.
- Change subject
Well, this guy is boring and has super glue between his teeth. Then change the subject - as audibly as possible to content that might interest your neighbors. If you're lucky, they'll soon join the conversation - and you're out.
- Circulate If none of this works, the motto of every good small talk party helps. Cheer your contemporaries with your mouth closed and say: "I think we are expected to circulate at this party." And bye ...
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