How to make small talk with anyone

This introvert's guide to conversation will come in handy for all those holiday gatherings this month
By Jen Glantz    Published on 12/19/2018 at 10:00 AM EST
If you have trouble making small talk, come with a list of questions in mind. Rawpixel

I have become really good in social situations—if you count good as me hiding in the corner, reading a book on the Kindle app on my phone. Parties, networking events, or even having to make small talk with a person behind me in the checkout line at the grocery store is on my list of things I’d rather not do.

As an introvert, which can be defined as a person who generally prefers solitary activities to interacting with large groups of people, I find fuel and energy in spending time alone. I also find myself struggling to be the first one to stick my hand out and say hello to a stranger in a social setting. I’m the first person at the chips and dip table, the bar, or chewing on a slice of pizza, in hopes of avoiding all interactions with humans.

As I’ve gotten older, the expectation to be the most talkative person in the room, the one who keeps the conversation flowing, the handshakes going, and the friendly attitude stable, has grown immensely. I’ve had bosses set me free inside of 500-people conferences and told to come back with up to 50 new connections and potential business leads. I’ve had to attend weddings where the only person I knew was my significant other, who happened to be a groomsman, which left me solo and surrounded by strangers for most of the night. Most recently, I found myself at a friend’s book launch party, swallowing awkward silences.

One of my goals for this year is to learn the tips and tricks behind making small talk with anyone. So if you too have ever taken a walk in the same introverted shoes that I’m wearing, here’s a guide that will help you strike up conversation when you don’t know what to say first and it’s not so easy for you to try. 

Start With Standard Ice Breakers

I’ve started going to parties or events with a list of questions you can ask anyone.

Ali Wenzke, the author of The Art of Happy Moving: How to Declutter, Pack, and Start Over While Maintaining Your Sanity and Finding Happiness, has had to move multiple times and thus is practiced at making new friends. She says the best way to dive into talking to someone new is with standard icebreakers. “The point of small talk isn’t to be the wittiest conversationalist,” Wenzke says. “Small talk is about making people feel comfortable while you chat about trivial things like the weather. Keep it simple. You can say, “This weather is crazy, isn’t it?” If the person responds with more than a mumble, then you can ask, “How’s your day going?” or continue the weather theme and say, “Do you know if it’s supposed to be like this all week?” 

Remember to Listen

While it might be obvious, it’s easy to forget in the moment that the best way to carry on a conversation is to simply just listen to what the other person is saying. Wenzke says the best conversationalists are the listeners, not the talkers. 

“Capitalize on your strengths and ask open-ended questions such as, “Your rafting trip sounds incredible. What other outdoor activities did you do?” The person you’re talking to will love to fill you in on all of the details,” says Wenzke.

Decide What Your People Quota Is for That Event

Remind yourself that you don’t have to talk to every single person at the party or event you’re going to.

Instead, Anne Brackett, a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach, co-founder of Strengths University, says it’s important to set realistic goals. “If you’re an introvert, talking to everyone in a crowded room for hours will be incredibly draining for you,” says Brackett. “Don’t set yourself up for failure. If you’re going to a large party—say 25 or more people will be there—tell yourself you’ll talk to seven people. If you’re going to be somewhere for two hours, tell yourself you’re going to chat with people for 10 minutes (or whatever seems reasonable to you), then give yourself permission to take an introvert break for 10 minutes.”

RELATED: Why your parties should have quiet rooms

Stay Curious

One of the biggest things that rattle my nerves when I’m in a conversation with someone is the pressure to figure out what to say next. I don’t want to flirt with silence or say something that makes things completely awkward.

Michael Alcee, a clinical psychologist, says that introverts pick up on so much and have truly compelling questions to ask.  

“Have you seen Stephen Colbert interview anyone recently? As an introvert, he thinks deeply and responds playfully to really get the conversation cooking. Don’t be deterred by the ‘small talk’ pressure, you can bring a conversation to a fascinating place just by sharing your wide-ranging curiosity,” says Alcee.

Understand Who You Are

It’s key to remember that just because you’re an introvert doesn’t mean you’re expected to go through a major personality change when you’re in public.

Dr. Perpetua Neo, a psychologist, and executive coach recommends learning to be cool with how you’re wired. 

“So what if you’re neuroatypical. All of us are, to a certain extent,” says Perpetua. “Learn to see your gifts and harness them, rather than to keep beating yourself up for not being extroverted enough. And instead of seeing “I will learn XYZ socializing skill to become someone else,” see it as “I will learn XYZ skill to enhance the person that I am.”

Good luck, and have fun!

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