Learning to make small talk isn’t about preparing for the dreaded cocktail party.
You’ll need to rebuild your social network from scratch and this may be a first for you. By practicing these seven tips, you’ll be able to make small talk with the best of them.
Use an Ice Breaker to Start the Small Talk
After you move to a new place, it’s up to you to get out there and meet people. Your first step when meeting strangers will be to break the ice. Talk about the weather or compliment a person’s article of clothing. If the person is wearing an Ohio State sweatshirt, you can say, “Nice sweatshirt. How are the Buckeyes doing this year?” If you went to OSU or know someone who did, bring it up. We’re all looking for that “Me, too!” moment.
I find the weather to be the least intimidating ice breaker to use. You can say, “It’s so great to see the sun again” or “I can’t believe how much snow we’ve gotten.” Yes, it may feel trite, but it works. You’re not trying to impress the world with your knowledge of current events. You simply want an opening to see if this person is friendly and open to further conversation.
Be Mindful of Your Body Language
Your body language will send off signals before you even start the small talk. Therefore, be conscious of the signals you send. You only get one shot at making a good first impression, and these tips can help. Smile, dress neatly, maintain eye contact, and keep your arms open. Your body language will let others know that you’re friendly and excited to meet new people.
Once you’ve broken the ice, introduce yourself. Stick out your hand and say, “Hi! I’m Ali Wenzke. I just moved here recently. It’s nice to meet you.” This can feel awkward at first. Practice at home and make it a habit when you meet new people. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Remember that the worst thing that can happen is the other person runs away from you and doesn’t tell you their name and doesn’t shake your hand. That’s never happened to me. Introducing yourself opens the door to making the conversation more than a one-time encounter.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Congratulations on breaking the ice and introducing yourself. I know it’s not easy to do if small talk isn’t your thing. Now you want to keep the conversation going. The best way to continue a conversation is not to talk, but to listen. Ask open-ended questions and then listen to the answer. Don’t think about what clever thing you want to say next. Closed questions require only a “Yes” or “No” answer, so try to use those sparingly.
Don’t ask: “Do you have any favorite restaurants around town?”
Do ask: “What are your favorite restaurants in town?”
Don’t ask: “Is the subway far from here?”
Do ask: “Can you please tell me the best way to get to the subway?”
The differences between these questions may seem minor, but you will elicit a more detailed response from the open-ended questions. That’s exactly what you want when you’re trying to make small talk into an engaging conversation.
Remember Names and Details
Remembering names and details comes down to one thing – listening. If the person introduced herself and you’ve already forgotten her name, ask again. You can even ask her to spell it out for you, if that helps. You can ask, “Is that Anne with an –e”? People will be much more forgiving on a first encounter than a fifth encounter.
Use the person’s name in conversation several times to commit it to memory. When the conversation ends, text yourself with her name and any details she mentioned such as a weekend trip or her family. Then, the next time you see her, ask her about it. She’ll be flattered you remembered.
End the Small Talk with a Firm Handshake
You don’t want the conversation to linger too long. Give your new friend a firm handshake and say, “It was really nice to meet you, Anne. I hope you enjoy your trip to Michigan. Thanks for the restaurant tips.” It’s possible that the relationship will end there. If that’s the case, what you got out of it was a stimulating conversation with someone in your new city and some tips on good places to go. On the other hand, it’s possible that this conversation turns into something more in the future. You may become friends and this will be the start of a beautiful friendship.
Make Small Talk With Everyone
As someone who is new in town, you will make small talk everywhere. And, yes, I do mean everywhere. Well, except maybe at cocktail parties because you probably won’t be invited to those yet. If you’re looking to make friends after your move, you’ll talk to people at the grocery store, at the bookstore, at your kid’s school, at work, and on the train platform. Some people will want nothing to do with your small talk because they’re on their way to work and they want to be left alone. That’s why ice breakers are key. If someone shuts you down immediately, then move on to someone else.
Making small talk takes practice and a positive attitude. After starting over so many times, I know it’s tough, but it’s necessary. You may even find that you enjoy it after a while. If nothing else, you’ll get tips on the best BBQ places in town.