I am the king of small talk. Seriously, try to test my small talk and you will be put to shame. If I were trapped in a paper bag I bet I could small talk my way out in just a few hours.
Small talk is not something that comes naturally to me though. I’ve spent the past months working on this skill with the patrons at my job. The average time that I spend with each patron is roughly 24 seconds, which is the amount of time needed to sharpen one’s skills in the art of small talk.
Just like everything else in life, to get good at small talk, one needs to practice it. Normally I charge people money to enroll in STU (Small Talk University), but I’ll transcribe some of the basics here for free.
Firstly, when wanting to engage in small talk you normally have to be the one to start it. The majority of the time people won’t talk at all if they are not provoked, thus someone has to initiate the small talk. Even the grouchiest looking people have opened up and engaged in pleasant conversation with me all because I asked. One perk of initiating small talk is that you are then the one in charge of the topic and direction of the small talk. Simply asking about someone’s weekend makes them responsible to respond to your question. This also allows you to expect the same question you asked to be asked back, which gives you the bonus of having a better answer prepared. I only ask questions that I myself am prepared to answer.
Secondly, be sure to ask follow-up questions. If you ask a person about his/her weekend and they tell you they went on a hike in the hills, be sure to ask how long of a hike, with whom, was it beautiful, and any number of appropriate follow-up questions. This shows the other person that you are truly interested and not merely trying to cover up an uncomfortable silence.
Lastly, a key part to small talk is knowing when to not talk. It’s easy to overdo it with questions and long winded answers. Try to keep the speaking time split evenly between you and the other person. Also don’t be afraid of silence. Whether it’s nonverbal reactions of simply a few seconds of silence, it’s good to let the conversation marinate sometimes.
Now I hope you can take this wisdom and apply it to your daily routines, thus becoming the king of conversation at your local grocery store, job, or with the in-laws.