A Guide to Small Talk: 4 Tips and 45 Conversation Starters

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Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, it’s important to be able to talk to people when networking and building strong relationships at work. If you work in a professional role, you probably need to make small talk sometimes. Not to mention, it helps further your personal relationships.

In this article, we’ll discuss why small talk is important, steps to follow to effectively make small talk and examples of small talk questions.

What is small talk?

Small talk is a cornerstone of building rapport, which is important in several business and personal scenarios. Rapport refers to the natural positive relationship that begins between two people in an office, sales environment or other places where someone might be in a situation where they have to talk with someone else they don’t know very well.

Rapport is established early in a conversation. Here are some examples of when you may need to establish rapport:

  • In a sales call, you may have as little as seven seconds to establish rapport before you lose your opportunity to do so.

  • In a business meeting, savvy managers allow time, in the beginning, to establish rapport with meeting attendees and to allow them to build rapport among themselves.

  • In networking, the initial rapport between two people is what continues to facilitate interactions that could have long-term career gains.

When it comes to building rapport, it usually starts with some combination of small talk and positive body language. Small talk plays a large role in rapport development since it’s the basis for verbal communication between two people. Asking the right questions, with the right level of interest and at the right time is a good way to lay the foundation for a positive relationship with another person.

How to make small talk

Here’s four tips for making small talk:

  1. Devices down

  2. Listen first

  3. Ask open questions

  4. Respond enthusiastically

1. Devices down

The first step to making small talk is to put your devices away. This is a small but meaningful gesture in a world that’s wholly connected over a digital network. Putting your phone, tablet or laptop away shows you’re engaged with the person you’re talking to and not waiting for something to break your attention. Giving your full attention to the person you’re speaking to is not only good manners, but it also offers a chance for you to establish rapport when combined with active listening.


2. Listen first

In social situations, one way to show you’re offering your full attention is to listen in an engaged way. When you’re in a conversation with someone, it should be equal parts talking and listening. When you’re listening, show you’re paying attention by practicing nonverbal cues like nodding and making eye contact with the speaker. It’s also a good active listening practice to give small recaps of what someone just told you.

For example, if someone tells you, “Wow, I haven’t seen you in three years,” repeat back, “Three years? Has it been that long?” This shows you’re actively listening and ready to engage when it makes sense to do so.


3. Ask open questions

When you ask about the person you’re speaking to, ask open-ended questions. For example, “How have things been?” is a better question than “Have you been alright?” The latter requires a binary yes or no response, while the former draws out information in a conversational way.


4. Respond enthusiastically

When someone tells you something in a small talk conversation, respond enthusiastically. Your positivity can not only show you’re paying attention but also might make them feel valued and validated. This is good for establishing rapport with someone you don’t know very well.

Small talk topics

Below are examples of small talk questions in various categories where you might find yourself needing to make small talk.

Work questions

Here are some small talk questions about work:

  • What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you here?

  • What did you do in your last job?

  • Tell me about your current role.

  • How did you start working in your occupation?

  • What would you be doing if you didn’t have to work?

  • What’s some great career advice you’ve received?

  • Tell me about your best day as an executive (or current role)?

  • What’s your leadership style like?

  • What kind of background do you need to be a zookeeper (or current role)?

  • What was your first job like?


Food questions

People sometimes enjoy talking about food or have to make small talk over food. Try these food questions to get the conversation started:

  • What’s your favorite type of food?

  • What’s your favorite wine?

  • What wine would you pair with this food and why?

  • If you could only eat one food forever, what food would you pick and why?

  • What’s a food that a lot of people think is unappetizing but you really like?

  • What’s a weird food you’ve eaten?

  • What’s your favorite thing to cook at home?

  • What’s your favorite restaurant and why?

  • What’s a food you will not eat?

  • Tell me about your go-to comfort food.


Lifestyle questions

Here are some insightful lifestyle questions you can ask if you need to make small talk:

  • Where did you live before moving here, and how was it different?

  • When you were growing up, what kind of work did you think you would be doing?

  • What’s something you have experienced that’s unique?

  • Tell me about a time you were embarrassed, but can look back on now and laugh.

  • Who’s your role model? Why?

  • What did you do for fun as a kid?

  • Tell me about your hidden talent.

  • Do you have any fun hobbies?

  • Where do you like to go around here to have a good time?

  • What’s something you remember growing up that doesn’t exist today?

Entertainment questions

  • Do you have recommendations for books?

  • What’s your favorite band/song? Why?

  • What are your favorite movies?

  • What’s a movie that came out this year that I need to see? Why?

  • What’s a book/movie/TV show you didn’t like despite everyone else seeming to enjoy it?

  • What are you currently streaming?

  • What’s a movie that recently made you laugh?

  • Name a movie that recently made you cry.

  • If you could only choose one streaming series to watch forever, which would it be?

  • What are your must-have phone apps?


Travel questions

  • Do you know any places locally that might be considered “hidden gems”?

  • If you could vacation anywhere, where would you go and why?

  • Where was your last vacation to?

  • Describe your dream vacation.

  • Do you have recommendations for airlines?

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