Like washing and using the toilet, small talk is a skill you have to master, if you want to make new friends. In fact, if you are making new online friends, you could probably get away with just the small talk. Sadly, small talk is not a skill that comes naturally to some people. In order to give advice on this subject, I have constructed the following (entirely fake) Question & Answer thingy. Enjoy, I hope it helps:
Why should I waste my time on trivial conversation? Because “trivial” means “safe” and safe means you, and the other person (or people) you are talking to, get to develop a positive vibe – with a minimal possibility of falling out. Networking can be great fun and very rewarding, if you keep it light. Small talk “breaks the ice”, and lays the foundations for future relationships.
Should I talk to people who don’t interest me much? Of course! You might join an evening class (for instance) and not really see anyone there that you want to get closer to – That doesn’t mean you should sit in the corner and not talk. By making small talk, you can create a positive aura around yourself, so that you feel “welcome” and get included more. If you miss a week, someone might lend you their notes. If a new person (someone you do want to know better) joins later, they will see how you fit in and feel safe to hang out with you. Which is all much nicer than you being seen as an “outsider” or “loner”. Not every relationship has to be intense.
OK, how can I impress people with my small talk? Woah, stop right there! Unless you are Oscar Wilde, this really is the wrong approach to take. Small talk isn’t about immediately impressing people, it is about making them comfortable around you and open to further interactions. Setting out to impress people too quickly puts pressure on you – which might result in you talking too much, boasting (ugh), or saying something mental.
What can I use as an opening gambit? This is not as tricky as it sounds, because whoever you are talking to is already going to have a massive amount in common with you. Yes, really. You may be fatter, taller, younger, or more interested in Cthulhu than they are – but you are both human. Take advantage of this similarity, by introducing yourself and asking their name. LISTEN to that name, you will need it. Ask them how they got to the venue, how they met the host, Whether they are as nervous as you are (and grin). Human questions, not too taxing on the intellect but warm and friendly. Avoid questions with one word answers (think about what you might ask before leaving home, I do), because you want to get a chance to LISTEN. The most important thing is that you listen to their replies and take an interest.
How can I continue the conversation, if it dries up? Well, some conversations end naturally and you might want to cut and run with an “I guess I should mingle – we must catch up later…”, or something. If you want to carry on interacting though, why not suggest a short break from talking (like “Would you like me to get you a drink?” or “Shall we go up to the buffet?” ) whilst considering another topic. Perhaps you’ve seen a good film lately, or read a good book. Short silences are allowed too – The other person might even say something of their own, if you allow time for that.
Are there any things I should avoid? Yeah, loads! Talking about religion or politics, bitching about other people in the room, complaining about your health – DON’T. Unless you are very relaxed about being funny, don’t try to suddenly become a comedian – that is so painful to watch. Never repeat huge chunks of any kind of TV or cinema script. Don’t get too personal, or go on and on. Small talk, remember?
What if they really don’t seem to like me? If the person you are talking to is clearly bored, or unfriendly, don’t let it upset you too much. Cut and run baby, life is too short to care about people with bad taste. And anyone who doesn’t like you has BAD TASTE, remember that. Confidence is important in everything.
What if no one ever seems to like me? Read through this post again, check your breath and have a good think about the circles you’ve been trying to move in. If you are clean, confident and you don’t bang on for hours about geeky shit, or try to hang out with “A” list celebrities… Maybe you just need more practice. Talk to a couple of strangers every day. Or see a therapist.
How can I improve my small talk? It is really important that you leave the house sometimes, if you want to be interesting. Do things, learn things, be in touch with popular culture. Learn to relax and don’t use drink as a social lubricant (it makes you ugly and boring). Avoid drugs too. Don’t pry but DO take a positive interest in anyone you meet. Watch their reactions, discuss things that make them look happy.