How to Make Small Talk with Anyone

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Updated: 8/23/2012 4:52 pm Published: 8/22/2012 3:32 pm

Small talk is an important skill to be socially savvy, whether you’ve just been introduced to someone at a business event or are sitting with strangers at a wedding reception.

But, small talk is hard work for many people. While some are born with the gift of small talk, it can be developed through practice.

Certified Business Etiquette Consultant, Rachel Wagner, shares easily doable tips for making small talk with anyone. These tips will help you appear friendly, interesting, and gracious, and help you build rapport with others more easily.

Here are five timeless tips to enhance your mingle-ability anywhere your business or social calendar takes you:

  1. Keep the spotlight on others. People will think you are fascinating if you get them to talk about themselves and their interests—rather than just talking about yourself. Ask about their job, how they got into that industry. If they’re new in town, ask where they previously lived and worked, and what they enjoy about their new city and new job. At a conference, ask what sessions they’ve found to be particularly good. If they’ve traveled from out of town, ask how their trip was. At a wedding reception, ask how they know the bride and groom. The “trick” is to ask open-ended questions (questions that begin with who, how, what, when) versus questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.
  2. Look for the obvious—Compliment! Compliment what the person is wearing—(shoes, watch, their child’s costume, etc.) The person will appreciate the attention as long as it’s sincere.
  3. Be well read. News and sports are great “small talk” topics to get a conversation going. Read about a variety of subjects, which allows you to drop little nuggets of information into an ongoing conversation. Even if you’re not a big sports or news fan, at least “be in the know” about major sports and news headlines, whether local, state, national, or international.
  4. Keep it light. Stay clear of heavy or culturally sensitive issues, as well as personal illness, money woes and marital problems. Politics, however, is now fairly standard small-talk fare, especially in a presidential election year. Also, it’s perfectly acceptable to discuss the weather!
  5. Be a good listener. Careful listening helps you to be a better conversationalist. Why? Because you are able to respond to what the other person is saying and keep the conversation going. 
Most importantly, just be you. Conversations are all about making a connection. You don’t have to be clever or quotable. Just be sincere, show empathy, enthusiasm, and a willingness to listen, and you can’t help becoming a master of small talk.

One-on-one coaching with Rachel and gift certificates for one-on-one etiquette coaching are available. Contact Rachel for details at 918.970.4400 or email her at

Viewers are also invited to sign up for Rachel’s free business etiquette tips e-newsletter, The Savvy Professional. It comes to their Inbox 6 times a year. They can sign up on Rachel’s website at

Rachel Wagner Etiquette and Protocol

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