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Small talk. I get nervous just thinking about making small talk, and I speak English as my first language!
People (okay, maybe even me too!) love to say things like, “Ah! I HATE small talk!” ...or “Why do I have to make small talk?”
But, if you want to get ahead in business, it’s important to form relationships, real working relationships, with your co-workers, boss, clients and other people in your field or related fields.
And here’s a secret for you: small talk is the basis for being successful in business and in your professional life.
The best way to start is with simple conversations. Read on for 30+ professionally appropriate conversation starters:
WHAT IS SMALL TALK?
Small talk includes most basic conversations that we have the people around us. These can be short or long conversations, and these conversations usually consist of safe and easy topics like the weather, current events and news.
Sometimes, these “small talk” conversations are really short. For example, when I see my neighbor in the morning I might have a conversation with them like this:
Neighbor: Good morning!
Me: Hi, good morning. Beautiful day, isn’t it?
Neighbor: Sure is! See you later.
In conversations like this one above, you don’t really talk about anything with much substance. You aren’t talking about deep ideas or your “real” opinions.
WHY SMALL TALK MATTERS
But remember, small talk is still very important for relationships. You might just be making comments about the weather or something you saw on T.V., but if you smile and always say hello and something short to someone, you are beginning to form a connection with that person.
Think about it: if you go to the bank and see a new attendant, maybe all you will say is, “Hello.”
But if you see the same attendant over and over again, and learn their name, and start having little conversations about the news, the weather or local events, you will start to think of them as someone you know. And remember, you started this working relationship with a simple “Hello!”
STARTING AT THE BEGINNING: CONVERSATION STARTERS
Here are some great general conversation starters for you. I have split them up into a few categories: talking about the weather, talking about the news, random meetings, small talk at work and small talk at social events.
Most of these conversation starters are questions. It’s always good to start with a question. This makes it easier for the other person to give you an answer and keep the conversation going.
All of these questions are work appropriate and commonly used in American English.
TALKING ABOUT THE WEATHER
It’s so nice out today, isn’t it?
The weather’s beautiful today, right?
So hot for this time of year.
I heard it’s supposed to be sunny tomorrow.That’s good, right?
Wow, it’s really (raining/pouring) out today! Did you get caught in the rain?
I can’t believe the fog! Did you have a hard time driving today?
It's going to be pretty cold tomorrow! Did you see the weather forecast?
It’s freezing out today. Do you think it will snow?
TALKING ABOUT THE NEWS
Did you hear about the (earthquake in Thailand)?
Have you ever been there?
Do you know anyone there?
What do you think about (the new NASA mission to Mars)?
I heard that ….
I also read that they are going to…
I can’t believe the technology these days. Would you ever use a (self-driving car)?
Wow, long time no see! How have you been?
When was the last time we saw each other?
Do you still work at Merrill’s?
I remember you were going to go to Spain, right? How was your trip?
SMALL TALK AT WORK
How’s work lately?
How’s work going in your department?
How long have you been working here?
Wow, lots of traffic this morning, right? You take the 55 to get here too, don’t you?
Did you stay late to work on the Fellini project?
Are you going to the work party on Friday night?
Did you hear they hired a new consultant?
What do you think about the new break room policies?
SMALL TALK AT SOCIAL EVENTS
Do you know the host/ keynote speaker?
Who do you know at this party?
Are you having a good time?
Have you tried the sushi? It’s so good!
Is this your first time here?
Did you come here with anyone?
Do you know who’s speaking next?
Did you hear what that guy said to the host?
Have you met my friend, Shelley? Let me introduce you!
Here are some of these questions in a helpful graphic. Share it on Pinterest or Facebook if you'd like!
NEXT WEEK: WHAT NOT TO SAY
Now that you know what to say and how to start a conversation in English, it’s just as important to know what NOT to say! Next week I’ll give you another list of questions and topics to AVOID so that you can feel even more confident making small talk in English.
What's your favorite conversation starter?
Learn to speak real, conversational American English with Sabrina, an American English teacher.
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