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How to Make Great Small Talk

By Erika Osmundson,


You can meet many great people and learn so many new things just by getting out there and participating in conversations, whether at networking events, kid’s activities, tradeshows, etc. Getting that conversation started doesn’t always come naturally for everyone. You know who you are – don’t worry, you aren’t alone! Here are seven tips to help you become an expert in small talk:

1. Look for small groups of people to interact with if possible. If you get in with a group, it can be easier to jump in on conversations that are already taking place. Also, you are likely to have more to talk about and possibly in common when there are several people to contribute to the conversation.

2. Goes without saying, but try to stay away from the polarizing topics, such as politics, religion, etc., unless you are in a situation where these are appropriate and there is a commonality amongst the audience. Not that I’m not up for a good debate every once and awhile and like to hear opposing views, if you are really after small talk, these topics aren’t likely it!

3. Ask questions to start the conversation. It is always easier to let someone drive the conversation and find your common connections. You can ask what they do? Where they live? What they think about the event/activity you are at? Use this as your jump-start to the conversation and let the conversation flow naturally from there.

4. If you are in the hunt for a job and using small talk to help get you in the door, again asking questions is a terrific way to start. What do you enjoy most about the company? What is your favorite aspect of the role? What did you do before joining here? What was it about the company that drew you to the organization? Don’t go overboard with questions in this scenario – ask one and then share how you feel about that (in a positive light); why it fits you too. You can also start off with something that you know or learned about the company through your research. Get their perspective on it. Finally, you could talk about mutual connections. If you had a current employee recommend you for the role, bring that up and share how you know them and what they’ve shared about the company.

5. Encourage others to join. At networking events, it can be hard to walk up to a group of people talking. If you see someone lurking in the wings, engage with them and get them involved in your conversation. I believe in karma, so what you do for someone else, hopefully, next time when you’re somewhere struggling to get into a conversation someone will engage you.

6. Know when to drop the small talk and get down to business or move on to another conversation. As the conversation starts to slow or there are long pauses, those are clues that it might be time to move to the heart of the meeting or move to another conversation if you are in a networking scenario. In a meeting, the transition can be as simple as stating the objectives and course of action and then getting on with it. In a networking scenario, thank those you were speaking with for their time and politely mention that you are going to move on. Mention something you need to attend to or someone else that you’d like to catch. If you are interested in staying in touch, be sure to exchange business cards or contact information.

7. Follow-up with those that you said you would keep in touch with. Connect on LinkedIn or follow-up with an email. If you were discussing job opportunities, forward along your resume if appropriate. (Don’t forget to put your resume in the resume database. This is a wonderful place for potential employers to find you. Resumes are a great conversation starter in the right situations!).

Hopefully, these few tips can help you start that next meaningful conversation. You never know where it could lead. A lot of time it is who you know, not what you know! Good luck getting out there and starting that conversation!