How To Get Better at Small Talk
A secret weapon to help you get more comfortable and to make other people chatty
“There is no such thing as conversation. It is an illusion. There are intersecting monologues, that is all.” — Rebecca West, 1935
Making small talk is a real chore for some people. Not in the sense that it’s hard to do, but simply that they dread it.
They dread it so much that they’d rather have their teeth drilled or get audited or stand in the corner by themselves instead.
I can understand that. After all, I’m an introvert. I do my best work at a keyboard, behind a microphone, or even on a stage.
But when an introvert is placed next to someone at a dinner or finds themselves at a networking event, our social graces tell us we’re supposed to be polite and interact.
Once you do the perfunctory “Hi, how are you?” and “What do you do?”, what’s next?
The people I fondly remember in these situations are people who seem at ease with themselves. You know the type: they’re comfortable in their own skin, they converse effortlessly, and have a way with words that not only makes you marvel at them, but that allows you to relax and enjoy yourself.
FDR Murdered Small Talk
Franklin Delano Roosevelt found the polite small talk of social functions at the White House somewhat tedious. He understood how overwhelming the experience could be for the common citizen, and he maintained that those present on such occasions rarely paid much attention to what was said to them.
To illustrate his point, he would sometimes amuse himself by greeting guests with the words, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.”
The response was invariably one of polite approval.
On one occasion, however, the President happened upon an attentive listener. On hearing Roosevelt’s outrageous remark, the guest replied diplomatically, “I’m sure she had it coming to her.”
When you tire of the impersonal, off-the-rack, factory-made “How are you?” you might try for one of these bespoke numbers instead:
But if it’s with strangers or people whom you’ve just met, you might want to take another approach.
Cheat Code for Small Talk
After giving a speech — every speech, regardless of the size — I get a line of people coming up to me, but I don’t want them to feel rushed. The small talk ensues, but there’s a way to do it so that it doesn’t make them feel like I’m disinterested or talking from a script.
If you’re out and about, meeting with all kinds of people for your job or just socially, odds are you’ll find yourself having to engage in small talk too.
I’m going to give you a secret that will help you step up your small talk game.
It’s a simple reply with a follow-up phrase that will result in you being considered conversation royalty.
With this one-two punch of discourse, you’ll find yourself suddenly able to unlock the floodgates of communication, and conversation will simply cascade in your direction.
After you ask “What do you do?” and they tell you, follow up with this:
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