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How to Master the Art of Small Talk

Aug 18, 2007
Why do many people often talk about the art of small talk? Is there really an art to making small talk? Actually, there is.

One person who wanted to propagate the art of making small talk was the late President Franklin Roosevelt. To see if his listeners were paying attention to him, he would often greet people saying: I murdered my grandmother this morning. Most of the time, people did not notice - until he met one alert woman who replied: I am sure she had it coming. Thus, the President proved that most people have neglected the art of small talk.

Making small talk means making pleasant conversation on casual topics. It is different from conversations which pursue deep topics because making small talk means you do not engage in heavy debate about such deep topics. The point of small talk is to find topics that you and the other party have in common, so that you can form deeper ties with the other person. The preferred effect of small talk is to form ties of friendship with the person you are talking to.

Why is the art of small talk deemed important? It is because small talk can:

1. Create a friendly atmosphere wherein you and the other person can exist.

2. Help you make a favorable first impression on the other person.

3. Permit two people to learn a lot about one another within a short period of time.

4. Help you learn more about a topic that you are interested in.

How can you master the art of small talk then? There are ten steps to doing so:

1. Prior to an event where you know you will have to engage in some small talk, try to bone up on various topics you believe will be of interest to all concerned. It helps if you are actually interested in such topics yourself.

2. Avoid topics which are controversial, too personal, or which may be offensive in some way to the other party. (These could include topics such as problems with your health, family, finances, or other personal issues; death; divorce; violent crimes; loss of employment; poor view of the current state of the economy; incidents of famine, pestilence, war and terrorism; issues that are known to make people react emotionally; religion; politics; and sex.)

3. Learn to gauge the receptiveness of other people to the small talk topic you have selected. This means that if the other party gives you subtle vibes that he does not like the issue at hand, you should find a way to excuse yourself politely from the group and join another group which is more receptive to making small talk.

4. Smile and maintain eye contact with the person you are making small talk with. This helps to raise the comfort level for both you and the other party.

5. Introduce yourself first then lead the conversation by asking an open-ended question. Some people though are naturally shy so if you find this hard, let someone ask the first question then make it a point to join in afterwards.

6. Make it a point to use the name of the other person in the conversation. This shows the other party that you are paying attention.

7. Listen closely so that you can catch key phrases and words, facts and opinions vented by other people in the group. This allows you to make intelligent comments yourself.

8. Self-disclosure is important because it shows the other people around you that you trust them enough with certain information about you. The trick is knowing how much personal information to disclose.

9. Encourage other people to join in by asking for their opinion about the topic.

10. Restate information disclosed in the conversation to show you are attentive.

As you can see, the art of small talk can be kept alive if enough people were to follow these guidelines.
About the Author
Peter Murphy is a peak performance expert. He recently produced a very popular free report: 10 Simple Steps to Developing Communication Confidence. Apply now because it is available only at: conversation starters
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