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Make small talk work for you

Speaking without fear

Some people become tongue-tied even at the idea of having to make polite conversation at social events or business functions. But small talk is no big deal. By definition, it’s just informal or uncontroversial chatter.

“Keep in mind that you don’t have to divulge your entire life to a person because this is just a small conversation,” stresses Stephanie Horvath, MS, an online instructor in the communication program for University of Phoenix. Here, Horvath offers five ways to make small talk easier:

1

Face the fear.


Don’t worry about saying something wrong or embarrassing, Horvath says. “Think about all the good things and experiences you will get out of engaging in small talk,” such as making a new friend or connecting with someone who can help your career. Keep those kinds of positive thoughts in mind when you approach someone.
2

Look for familiar faces.


When you enter a room, search for someone you saw or met at a previous meeting or gathering. Then start a conversation with, “Hey, I remember meeting [or seeing] you at such and such a conference,” Horvath suggests.
You can stretch out the conversation with what Horvath calls the “remember whens.” Recalling with the person something that happened the last time you met establishes a shared experience and makes a personal connection, she says.
3

Seek an inviting group.


Find people who seem to be having fun or are engaged in an animated conversation, because naturally talkative people usually enjoy an audience, Horvath notes. So, she adds, it will be easier to walk up to them and start talking.
That kind of move may seem bold, but it’s perfectly acceptable at a networking function and is expected at a party where you’re supposed to mingle. “They’re not going to block you out,” she notes. “This isn’t high school.”
4

Connect through the event.


You definitely have one thing in common with every stranger in the room, and that’s the meeting or party you’re all attending.
If it’s a business function, Horvath says, you may start the conversation with, “What’s your connection here?” At a party, she adds, you can connect through the host with, “How do you know so and so?”
5

Converse using body language, too.


Make it clear to the other person or people to whom you’re talking that you’re listening intently, Horvath emphasizes.
“Look people right in the eye, nod in agreement and even paraphrase [back to them] what they are saying if you want to make a good impression.” For example, you can nod and say, “You’re so right that those chocolate-covered strawberries are addictive.”
Bad body language also can convey the wrong message. For example, crossing your arms when listening can make some people think you’re establishing a barrier. “Sometimes,” Horvath warns, “action speaks louder than words.”

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