Learning how to make small talk is a skill that might seem inconsequential, but it can be the difference between sweating through your shirt at a cocktail party and making a new friend. I’m the first one to admit that I’m socially awkward. And I think many of us are – some of us are just better at hiding it than others.
Here are some key pointers that you might helpful next time you’re staring at your drink and wishing for a swift demise.
Use your environment
If you’re seeking inspiration, look no further than your immediate environment. People talk about the weather for a reason. Other areas to touch on here are the food and drink available, people in the room, and any interesting pieces of furniture or decor.
The key part here is to use it as a springboard to a bigger conversation, rather than just pointing out things you see like a toddler on his way to see grandma.
This one is especially good for people who suffer from social anxiety. It allows you to take the focus away from yourself and onto the other person, which in turn helps you to catch your breath and calm down.
Asking about someone’s career, interests, family (without being intrusive), and hometown are great icebreakers.
If you ask questions, it’s important not to turn it into the Spanish Inquisition. If someone has told you what they do for a living, reciprocate by telling them what you do. It’s helpful to look for common ground here in order to take a conversation from small talk to a stronger connection, which will improve the flow and potential awkwardness of the situation.
When we get tense, the first thing that happens is that we clam up. This then tends to result in us shutting down socially, unable to reply with anything more than a giggle or a grunt.
When going into any social occasion, it’s best to have certain things you’re willing to share in your back pocket upfront. That way, when you’re starting to feel yourself shut down, you can pull out these trump cards to keep yourself open, and the conversation flowing.
Perhaps it’s a fun anecdote, a belief you have (but keep it light), or something relating to the company you’re in. The most important thing here is to have these options ready beforehand to keep the panic at bay.
If all else fails, kill them with kindness. Telling someone you like their jacket not only puts them at ease and makes them feel liked, but it also opens up the conversation. They might elaborate as to where they bought it from, or maybe it has a funny story behind it. Compliments are basically things you approve of that open up to conversation to discuss them further.
However good or bad we feel we are at small talk, just remember that it takes two to tango. The person you’re talking to is more than likely also worried about the way things will go.
The more relaxed you are, the better you’ll set yourself up for success. And if all else fails, don’t forget to smile.