Find Things to Talk About
It can be hard to converse with strangers, dates, and people you meet at parties. How do you know what you are supposed to say? Prepare fun and interesting topics of conversation and listen to others carefully in order to put yourself (and everyone else) at ease.
Doc:List of Questions,Great Conversation Topics,Conversation Starters
Learning How to Small-talk
- Embrace small-talk. Sometimes people dismiss small-talk for being superficial or shallow. However, small-talk serves an important social function: it allows relative strangers to become acquainted with one another without causing either party stress or discomfort. Allow yourself to engage in small-talk without feeling bad or shallow. Small-talk is important talk too!
- Pay attention to your environment. Appropriate topics of conversation can depend quite a bit on the specific event you are attending.
For example, you cannot talk politics at a work event, but political conversations are appropriate at a candidate's fundraiser. Similarly, you will likely not want to "talk shop" at a friend's party, but you might want to do so at a work event. In general it is a good idea to:
- Consider the common thread that brought you both to the event (work, a mutual friend, a mutual interest)
- Steer clear of controversial topics unrelated to the event
- Remain polite and casual
- Ask questions that are simple but open-ended. An open-ended question is one that cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or "no" and instead requires a more in-depth, personalized response. Ask your conversation partner some simple, basic questions about their lives that will allow you to get to know them without violating their boundaries. As a rule of thumb, anything you might be asked while setting up an online profile is game.
- What’s your hometown? What was it like?
- Where do you work? What keeps you busy?
- What did you think about (such-and-such) movie?
- What kind of music do you like? What are your top five bands?
- Do you read? Which three books would you bring with you onto a desert island?
- Put a unique spin on the usual getting-to-know-you questions. There are a number of traditional small-talk questions that have to do with your hobbies, job, and family. Think about a few twists you can incorporate in order to let your small-talk go a bit deeper without violating any personal boundaries. Some good options include:
- What’s the best surprise your life has thrown you so far?
- What’s your oldest friend like?
- What would be your ideal job?
- What’s one thing you think you would be really good at if you made the time to pursue it?
- What’s your favorite thing about your job?
- Find out what the other person is interested in. People love having a chance to share their passions; if you’re having trouble coming up with topics of your own, let the other person do all the heavy lifting by asking about a hobby, passion, or plan that they’re particularly excited about.
This will put the other person at ease. They might even return the favor by asking about your interests.
- Who’s your favorite author/actor/musician/athlete?
- What do you like to do for fun?
- Do you sing or play any instruments?
- Do you play sports or dance?
- What are your secret talents?
- Focus on positive topics. People tend to bond more effectively over topics that are positive instead of negative, critical, or harping topics.
Try to find a topic about which you are both passionate instead of resorting to insults or criticisms in order to generate conversation. For example, don't make small-talk at a dinner party about how much you hated the soup: talk about how you enjoyed the dessert instead.
- It is also a good idea to resist debating with your conversation partner. Share ideas respectfully without resorting to negativity.
- Focus on conversation quality, not the quantity of topics. If you get too wrapped up in the idea of having a lot of things to talk about, you might forget that one good topic can sustain a conversation for hours. Only when you’ve dried up a topic should you move on to the next. Of course, a good conversation tends to flow from topic to topic without effort; if you catch yourself thinking, "How did we end up on this subject?”, congratulations, you've got a good conversation going!
- Be friendly. While the topic of conversation is important, your friendly demeanor might even be more significant to starting a successful conversation. Your relaxed attitude will put the other person at ease – and they will be more receptive to you because of it. Smile, pay attention, and show your concern for other people's welfare.
- Ask follow-up questions. One of the best ways to find something to talk about is to encourage your conversation partner to share her thoughts, feelings, and ideas. If your conversation partner shares a detail about her life or tells a story, demonstrate your interest by following up.
Make sure that you ask relevant questions. Do not steer the conversation toward yourself. For example, you might ask things like:
- "Why do you enjoy that (sport/show/movie/band/etc.)?"
- "I like that band too! What is your favorite album of theirs?"
- "What first drew you to (their interest)?"
- "I've never traveled to Iceland. What would you recommend a tourist do there?"
- Defuse heated conversations. Even if you try to avoid controversial topics, sometimes they happen anyway. Whether you or another person brings up a heated discussion topic, you can try to defuse it in a polite, careful way.
For example, you might say:
- "Maybe we should leave the debating to the politicians and move on to another topic."
- "This is a difficult topic, but I doubt we'll solve it here. Perhaps we can leave this for another time?"
- "This conversation actually reminds me of (a more neutral topic)."
- Give compliments. If you can give your conversation partner a sincere, honest, appropriate compliment, feel free to do so. That might spark a conversation and will help your conversation partner feel appreciated and comfortable.
Some compliments might include:
- "I like your earrings. Might I ask where you got them?"
- "The dish you brought to the potluck was delicious. Where did you find the recipe?"
- "Soccer is a strenuous sport. You must keep yourself in great shape!"
- You can also gush about the host of your event, especially if both you and your conversation partner are acquainted with the host.
- Find common interests but embrace differences. If both you and your conversation partner share a passion, that is terrific. However, you can also take the opportunity to learn about new places, people, and ideas that you are unfamiliar with.
Strike a balance between finding common ground and demonstrating curiosity about what is new to you.
- For example, if both you and your conversation partner play tennis, you might ask what kind of racquet she prefers. If you play tennis and she plays chess, you might ask about how chess tournaments are run and whether they differ from tennis tournaments.
- Share the floor equally. Finding suitable topics to discuss is an important part of being a good conversationalist. But knowing when to be silent is also key. After all, you want your conversation partner to enjoy talking with you as well. Aim for a 50-50 split in your conversation to make sure everyone feels appreciated and valued.
- Pay attention to current events. You will be more likely to have interesting things to say if you have interesting thoughts about the world.
Pay attention to the news, popular culture, art, and sports. These will all provide you with easy ways to craft an interesting conversation that will be engaging to multiple persons. Some great conversation starters related to current events include:
- How a local sports team is doing
- An important local event (such as a concert, parade, or play)
- New movies, books, albums, and shows
- Significant news items
- Show off your sense of humor. If you are gifted with the ability to tell good jokes and funny stories, feel free to use that as you seek topics of conversation.
Don't force your sense of humor on others, but you can incorporate it into your conversation in a polite, friendly way.
- Be sure that your sense of humor is not one that relies on insults, too much sarcasm, or scatological humor however. These can be off-putting.
- Be yourself. Don't pretend to be an expert in a topic with which you are unfamiliar. Be honest and share your passions with others. Don't force yourself into being something that you're not.
- While it helps to be witty, funny, and interesting, don't worry about meeting those high standards. Simply be a pleasant, friendly version of your authentic self.
- For example, rather than pretend to be an expert on traveling in Spain, you can simply say, "Oh! I've never been to Spain. What is your favorite part of traveling there?"
- Don't be afraid of conventional or amateur thoughts. Sometimes people are hesitant to contribute to conversations because their ideas are not unique, unconventional, or creative enough. However, you shouldn't be ashamed of having thoughts that resemble other people's sometimes. If your knowledge of Monet doesn't go past what you learned in high school, feel free to share what you do know and learn from others with more experience.
- Consider previous conversations with this person. If you've met your conversation partner before, ask a specific question related to your previous conversation. Were they preparing for a major work project or sporting event? Did they talk about their children or spouses? If you demonstrate that you were listening carefully in a previous conversation, they will feel appreciative and might open up to you.
- Think about interesting events from your own life. Think about the strange, interesting, baffling, or funny things that happened to you recently. Have you had any funny encounters or odd coincidences happen? Mention these to your conversation partners as a way to open up conversation.
- End the conversation politely. If you notice that you or your conversation partner is distracted or bored, politely exit the conversation. Simply make a polite excuse to mingle elsewhere and start other conversations.
Remember that a successful conversation doesn't have to be a long one: short, friendly conversations are important too. Some polite ways to end a conversation when its run its course include:
- "It was great to meet you! I'll give you a chance to mingle with some other people here."
- "It was a pleasure to talk to you about x. Hopefully we'll run into each other again."
- "I'm afraid I have to go say hi to (my friend/the host/my boss). I really enjoyed meeting you!"
Finding Deeper Topics to Discuss
- Ask deeper questions as your comfort level increases. Starting with small-talk is great, but deeper conversations can be even more satisfying. Once you and your conversation partner have grown comfortable with the simple questions, begin to ask more probing questions to see if he is receptive to a more substantive discussion.
For example, if you've been discussing what you both do for a living, you might ask deeper questions such as:
- What is the most rewarding part of your career?
- Have you encountered any difficulties in your job?
- Where do you hope to be in a few years?
- Is this the career you expected, or did you take a nontraditional path?
- Recognize the benefits of deep conversation. Even introverts are usually made happier by engaging in conversations. In general, small talk makes people happy and substantive conversations make people even happier.
- Test deeper topics slowly. Don't spring intimate conversations on somebody: introduce the topics slowly to see your conversation partner's reaction. If they seem happy to engage, you can continue. If they seem uncomfortable, you can change the topic before any damage has been done.
A few examples of ways to test out potentially hazardous conversation topics include:
- "I saw the political debate last night. What did you think?"
- "I'm pretty involved in my local church group. Is that something you're involved in?"
- "I'm passionate about bilingual education, though I realize that's a controversial topic sometimes . . ."
- Have an open mind. Convincing others of your point of view leads to negative emotions in your listener, whereas showing curiosity and respect for others leads to positive emotions. Don't use topics of conversation as a soapbox: use them as a way to engage others. Listen respectfully to their opinions, even if they disagree with yours.
- Test the waters with small details. Sharing small, specific details from your own life and experiences is a great way to figure out whether someone else wants to engage with you. If you get positive responses, you can continue on that topic of conversation. Otherwise, steer the conversation in a new direction.
- Answer a general question with a specific story. If someone asks you a general question, answer it with a specific, brief anecdote about your experiences.
This can help keep the conversation moving and inspire others to share their own personal experiences.
- For example, if someone asks you what you do for a living, you can tell a story about a weird thing that happened to you during your commute.
- If someone asks you what your hobbies are, you can talk about a time when you competed in an event instead of simply listing off all your hobbies.
- If someone asks you what movies you've seen lately, you can talk about a funny encounter you had at the movie theater.
- Be honest about yourself. Studies show that disclosing information about yourself can cause you to be liked more. While you shouldn't overshare, being honest with others about your life, thoughts, and opinions will make people feel more comfortable sharing details about themselves. Don't be too reserved or play your cards too close to your chest.
- Ask deeper questions if your listener seems open to it. Questions about moral dilemmas, personal experiences, and vulnerabilities can lead to bonding, especially among people who have gotten to know each other a bit already. If, after testing the waters, your conversation partner seems open to deeper discussion, consider asking some more personal questions. Be sure to gauge your partner's comfort level at all times, however, and steer the conversation to more casual topics if things begin to get awkward. Some questions could include:
- What were you like as a kid?
- Who was your biggest role model when you were growing up?
- Do you remember your first day of kindergarten? What was it like?
- What’s the hardest you’ve ever tried not to laugh?
- What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever seen?
- You’re in a sinking boat with an old man, a dog, and someone who’s just gotten out of prison. You can only save one. Which would it be?
- Would you rather die as a total unknown who did great things or as a world-famous hero who didn’t actually do the thing you were credited with?
- What’s your biggest fear?
- What’s the most embarrassed you’ve ever felt?
- What’s one thing you wish you could change about yourself?
- How different is your life from what you imagined it would be like when you were a kid?
Demonstrating Good Conversation Skills
- Pay attention to eye contact. People who make eye contact are usually the ones who wish to engage in conversation. Eye contact can also help you determine whether a topic of conversation is one that your conversation partner will enjoy. If he begins to seem distracted or look elsewhere, you should consider changing the topic, asking your partner a question, or politely ending the conversation.
- Embrace the occasional silence. Silences happen. Feel free to embrace these silences, especially with those with whom you are already close. Don't feel obligated to fill every break in a conversation with your opinions, questions, and stories: sometimes these breaks are natural and positive.
- Create intentional breaks in the conversation. Pause every once in a while as you speak. This will allow your partner to change topics, ask you questions, or end the conversation if necessary. Be sure that you are not monologuing.
- Resist the urge to overshare. If you are first getting to know somebody, you should withhold your most intimate details until you get to know them better. Oversharing might make you appear gossipy, inappropriate, or shocking. Keep things factual but appropriately intimate until you become better acquainted.
Some topics to avoid oversharing about include:
- Bodily or sexual functions
- Recent breakups or relationship turmoil
- Political and religious opinions
- Gossip and salacious stories
- Avoid sensitive topics. Topics that people do not like discussing in the workplace include personal appearance, relationship status, and socioeconomic status. Political and religious affiliations can also be taboo, depending on the context. Be sensitive to your listener and try to keep things casual and light until you have a better sense of what they are interested in.
- Avoid long stories or monologues. If you have a funny story to share, make sure that it is brief or that it has something to do with your listener's interests. Just because a topic is interesting to you doesn't make it interesting to others. Feel free to share (briefly) your interests and enthusiasms, and then gauge your listener's responses. Let them ask you follow-up questions (if they are interested in learning more) or change the subject (if they'd rather discuss something else).
- Take the pressure off yourself. It is not just your responsibility to keep the conversation going—it takes two to tango. If the other person is really not interested in your conversation, find another person to converse with. Don't beat yourself up over an unsuccessful conversation.
- Demonstrate active listening skills. Maintain eye contact and listen carefully when your conversation partner is speaking. Do not appear distracted or bored. Show that you are engaged and interested.
- Have open body language. Conversations will go more smoothly if you smile, nod, and show interest with your body language. Don't shift too much, cross your arms, look down at your toes, or stare at your phone. Maintain an appropriate amount of eye contact and face your conversation partner openly.
- If you find yourself struggling for things to say, focus on relaxing for a moment. The more relaxed you are, the more creatively your brain will work in coming up with new ideas.
- Compliment the other person to make them feel more comfortable around you. For example, compliment their taste of music or movies, their outfit, or even their smile.
- Remember, in order to talk about something, you're going to have to do something. Seek interesting experiences in order to create interesting stories about your life.
- People need time to think. You don't have to fill every silence with endless nervous chatter.
- Don't talk about yourself too much. This will put the pressure on you to perform well – not to mention the fact that listening to someone drone on about their own exploits gets boring fast.
- Don't be rude.
- Don't get too heavy! Something that will put people off talking very quickly is moving to “big talk” too soon, especially if you aren’t sure where the other person stands on an issue. Talking about the weather, your holiday or what's in the news can tell you a lot about each other, without resorting to "my deep feelings on world poverty" or "my hernia operation." In particular, avoid politics (both local and international) until you get to know the person better.
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- Have a Great Conversation
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- Write a Speech About Yourself
- Make Small Talk Interesting
- Be Familiar with Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
Sources and Citations
- ↑ http://www.fastcompany.com/1843752/hate-small-talk-these-5-questions-will-help-you-work-any-room
- ↑ http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/hate-awkward-silences-10-essential-tips-great-conversationalist.html
- ↑ http://lifehacker.com/5913355/how-can-i-turn-small-talk-into-a-conversation
- ↑ http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/how-to-be-a-brilliant-conversationalist.html
- ↑ https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/open-gently/201302/you-can-be-better-conversationalist
- ↑ https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201409/7-ways-make-small-talk-work-you