how to make small talk

Small Talk Etiquette: 8 Rules To Start And Make Small Talk

Who is this micro-class for

* Everyone

* House-party hosts and guests

* Managers and employees

What you’ll learn

* How to effectively start and conduct small talk

* Appropriate small talk topics


* Less than 6 minutes to complete

About this micro-class

Small talk is a social convention that helps people establish rapport and engage in light, friendly conversation in various social situations. 

While the specific etiquette can vary depending on cultural norms and individual preferences, there are some general guidelines and common small talk topics.

1. How to start the small talk

After greeting someone or being introduced to someone new, you should start a conversation. Start promptly, without leaving a long silence that may be embarrassing.

A good ice-breaker is neutral, not inquisitive, and not direct. You can comment on the weather, the scene, or some recent sports event. It is best to avoid questions such as “Where do you come from?”, “Where do you live?”, or “What do you do?” as they might be too direct.

Start with a friendly greeting: Begin the conversation with a smile and a warm greeting such as “Hello,” “Hi,” or “How are you?”

2. Keep the small talk going

Take turns talking

It is perfectly acceptable to make small talk even when it is boring or dull. The purpose of small talk is to get to know someone, get comfortable with each other, and build rapport.

To make effective small talk, it is important to take turns talking. Say a few sentences and then let the other person reply and talk. The crucial factor is closing your sentence by prompting the other person to answer a question or talk. “This venue looks fantastic. Have you been here already?”

Listen actively

Pay close attention to what the other person is saying. 

Show that you are interested by nodding, making brief verbal affirmations (e.g., “I see,” “That’s interesting”), and asking follow-up questions.

Keep a positive attitude

Try to keep the conversation positive and avoid complaining or dwelling on negative topics.


3. Show positive body language

Use open body language while you talk or listen to the other person. Keep your body language relaxed and open to convey friendliness and approachability.

Make and keep eye contact to show that you are engaged and attentive. Do not look around or over the person’s shoulder, as it signals a lack of interest.

4. Invite people to talk

During a small group conversation, it is important to participate and to make sure that everyone in the group has the chance to talk. 

If you notice that someone is not talking, it is polite to engage them and invite them to talk. “I saw that movie too. John, have you seen it?”

5. Welcome anyone to the conversation

Welcome anyone that joins your conversation. Invite the person to jump in and participate.

If you are having a deep or personal conversation and someone new joins, do not look upset. Instead, change the topic and welcome the person to the conversation.

6. Choose light conversation topics

Choose light and non-intrusive conversation topics, such as sports, food, entertainment, or the weather.

7. Avoid controversial or too personal topics

Avoid sensitive or controversial topics. Steer clear of subjects like politics, religion, personal finances, or anything that might lead to heated debates. Such topics can be divisive and uncomfortable for many people.


Respect personal boundaries

Be mindful of the other person’s comfort level and don’t pry into personal matters unless they willingly share. Do not make direct, personal, or nosy questions. Instead, prefer neutral and indirect questions.


8. How to end the small talk

It is best to keep the small talk short. After a few exchanges, it is perfectly appropriate to leave the conversation. 

To leave, find an excuse and add a compliment. “I am going to get another drink. It was nice meeting you!” or “I need to go and say hello to Susan, I haven’t seen her in months! I will see you later”.

Small talk topics examples

Weather: Talking about the weather is a classic small talk topic. You can mention the current weather conditions or recent weather events.

Hobbies and Interests: Ask about the other person’s hobbies or interests. This can be a great way to find common ground and topics to discuss.

Travel: Inquire about recent trips or travel plans. People often enjoy sharing their travel experiences.

Work: You can ask about the other person’s job or career, but be careful not to get too detailed or intrusive unless they seem willing to share more.

Family: You can ask about family members or if they have any exciting family news to share, like birthdays or celebrations.

Movies, TV, and Books: Inquire about the latest movies, TV shows, or books they’ve enjoyed. It’s a good way to find shared interests.

Food and Dining: Discussing favorite restaurants, recipes, or types of cuisine can be a fun and appetizing topic.

Current Events (Non-controversial): Talk about current events that are not divisive, such as major sports events, cultural festivals, or local news.

Weekend Plans: Ask about their plans for the upcoming weekend or what they did over the previous one.

Compliments: Giving sincere compliments about something you’ve noticed about the other person (e.g., their outfit, hairstyle, or a recent accomplishment) can be a great conversation starter.

Small talk etiquette mistakes

When making small talk, avoid the worst etiquette mistakes:

  • Talking about controversial or too personal topics.
  • Being nosy or intrusive.
  • Not paying attention to the other person.
  • Talking too much.
  • Ending the small talk in an impolite way.

Additional resources & links