When you meet someone new at a party or in a meeting, you cannot immediately talk to them about very personal things. Your conversation should start with something far more general from your day-to-day life so that it does not feel like an intrusion of privacy, and this is called ‘small talk’.
‘Small talk’ plays a crucial role when used to initiate a new conversation between complete strangers or acquaintances. The impact of ‘small talk’ may seem inconsequential, but it is not. ‘Small talk’ is the essential beginning of a deeper conversation between two people.
In this article you will explore five simple ways to initiate conversational ‘small talk’ in English:
It is always an excellent idea to introduce yourself first before trying to find out about someone else. If you plan ahead and make a list of some general things you can talk about, this will help you to introduce yourself more fluently.
A planned self-introduction allows you to speak more confidently about yourself, and also reminds people previously met who you are should they fail to immediately recognise you. When introducing yourself to such people, you can add information like where you first met or a reminder of what you do. As an interesting way to open the conversation, you might even talk about how you are learning English.
“Good afternoon. We usually eat lunch at the same time, but we have never spoken before. My name is [your name].”
“Hi, Michael. You might not recognise me, but we talked at Jim’s party last year. I’m [your name].”
A universal topic is something very general that everyone understands, relates to, and consequently able to talk about. Universal conversation topics can cover things like the weather, current events, sports, and entertainment. Such topics have usually been experienced and are consequently known about by many people.
Try to ensure the topic you choose to use in a conversation matches up to the other person’s interests. For example, if you have heard the person talking about politics in the past, you might try to find some recent political news to include in your conversation.
“This new government policy is really not fit for purpose. Do you think it will cause unemployment and affect the economy badly?”
If you are not sure what topic to talk about, or struggle to find something interesting to say, you can just ask someone about their everyday life or talk about yourself in the same way.
For example, you could ask:
You can also share information about your day and what has happened to you, but always maintain a balance of talking and listening so that you both get an equal opportunity to speak. In this way make sure that you are not just talking about yourself for the entire time.
“The day is almost over. What are your plans for this evening?”
When you talk with someone because of your job, try to adopt a more impersonal work tone rather than how you have a conversation in casual situations, and always avoid gossiping. Instead, you can talk about a current project, an upcoming meeting, a work event, or ask about the person’s job.
“Hi, Tom. How are things going over in the IT department today?”
“Good morning, Neil. I’m really looking forward to the party after work today. I hear Pam has brought her famous carrot cake.”
“What a busy day. This is the first time I’ve got up from my seat all day! Are you rushed off your feet as well?”
You must first observe the situation or environment in which a conversation is taking place, and then find something to comment about it. Similarly, you can look at your conversation partner and identify something good to say as a compliment. A genuine compliment usually makes someone feel good and consequently become more positive in their interaction with you.
“I love your shoes!”
“Did you see our notice board? Finally it’s been updated after being left blank for the past few months.”
“Hey Pam, your biscuits were delicious at the party last night! Thank you for making them.”
Now that you have these five simple tips about how to successfully engage in conversational English ‘small talk’, it is essential you find time to regularly practise using them and become a proficient English speaker in any social situation.
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