The Secret to Successful Small Talk

The Secret to Successful Small Talk

Small Talk Feature

In both the business world and your social life, small talk is a big deal.  If you can't hold a conversation, you might be missing out on everything from a great business deal to a wonderful and loving relationship. Find your conversations flowing smoother by tucking away these talking tidbits.

By Matt Miller

Small talk is huge.

Every day we interact with people we have never met and oftentimes there is little room for error when making a first impression. There are a few simple rules to keep in mind when approaching strangers if you want them to leave as admirers.

Dress to (make a good first) Impress(ion)

“All it takes is a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger,” reports the Association of Psychological Science. 1/10 of a second?! That means that, while small talk is huge, the way you carry yourself is the true first step to success.

Even if you are the one approaching people, you have to be approachable. If you take the time to dress nicely and stand out in your own unique way, you will have the confidence to own every conversation you step into. It may seem odd that making a good first impression requires you to do some homework but it makes a big difference.

Let me just put it this way: If you saw Brad Pitt OR the comic book guy from the Simpsons approaching you at a party, which one would you rather listen to?


Being a wallflower breeds being a wallflower. If you go into a situation wanting to stand aside and look at your feet, you will. If you don't want to approach people, people won't want to approach you. It can become a vicious circle and that's why it's so important to start with confidence when you approach a stranger (or a roomful of them).

Confidence breeds confidence just as strongly. The way you dress is one way to cultivate self-confidence. If you know you look good, then you know that others will feel the same way. It may seem a bit superficial at first if you've never been image conscious, but it's a part of every day life that many people overlook. As you create your own look and style, you'll begin to stand out in a room and it will make the first impression on people much better which in turn makes the subsequent small talk in your favor.

Be All Ears and Be All Right

Listen and ask questions. People love to talk about themselves.

Bear in mind, this article isn't about how to make friends or how to have a great conversation, it's about how to make a great first impression. For example, on Halloween I met Sarah Palin (Ok well, I actually met six Sarah Palins but you get what I'm saying if you left your house that night). When I started talking to this pants-suit Mcgee, I entered into the conversation with the intention of minimizing what I say and finding out what really makes this VPilf tick.

Turns out she had A LOT to say. After a lengthy conversation about her drive cross-country (and then about her desk at the law firm she works at) we parted ways. I “went to the bathroom” and that was that.

Since I was willing to listen, she was willing to talk. That night, between conversations with “Don Draper” and Bert & Ernie, I saw Mrs. Palin and, you betcha(!), she had a smile on her face when we traded pleasantries.

In N' Out

One thing to stress is when I say listen, you have to listen. People can tell when you're not interested. The solution is getting in and out of conversations at the right time.

I always approach new people wanting to know their stories. I'm fascinated with different people and personalities (or I've convinced myself I am). BUT it's not always going to go well. If you get into a conversation and the first impression is weird, get out and minimize damage. The natural instinct for most people seems to be to stick around in a conversation if it's not going well, hoping to save some sort of face and come out on top. A simple “Well, it was nice to meet you!” followed by a quick exit could save you a lot of trouble. Again, it's about making a first impression, not necessarily about making lasting relationships. If the impression has already been made, and is not that great, it's time to go.

This same idea can be used when a conversation is going well too. Leave them wanting more! If you're having a great conversation, it's often a good idea to ease out on a high note. People are often turned off by over-eagerness so don't push it if things are going well right off the bat.

If You're Bored, You're Boring

Have something to talk about. If you don't have something to talk about, go out and live. Without this becoming a self help article, you have to ask yourself why people would want to talk to you. What reason would people have to be impressed by you and your accomplishments?

For example, if you're talking to someone and they are explaining a trip they took around the world, I'm sure you'll have plenty of questions for them and you'll be following their every word. Why not be that person? Why not travel the world so you have experiences to relay to people yourself? While this is just an example (you don't have to travel the world), doing things like this in your life not only give people interest in you but are always ways to boost that self-confidence mentioned earlier.

How many times has a person asked you, “what's up?” and you replied only with, “oh, nothing much.”

In the end, small talk is about having confidence and understanding that it is indeed small talk. Having seemingly pointless conversations is never totally natural but it can become second nature if you go about it the right way. These short exchanges are the foundation of every day life.

You never know who you're talking to. You never know who they know and how they could potentially help you in your life. You never know if you're meeting your next best friend or the person who could propel your career to the next level. Maybe one of their good friends was someone you knew in high school or vice versa.

Think about any friend you've ever made. The friendship had to start somewhere and I'll bet you it started with small talk. You never know where first impressions will eventually lead so why not hope for the best and try to impress everyone you meet? You'll never be guaranteed anything more if you can't start off strong. That's why small talk is huge.