Whether you’re networking, meeting with a customer or simply talking to a colleague at your company’s Christmas party, being able to make small talk is a crucial skill to master – for your professional and personal life! However, we’re well aware that going up to strangers and engaging them in ‘casual’ conversation (even though it never feels casual!) can be challenging in your native language, let alone in a foreign one. Therefore, let us try to make things easier for you with this short guide below, which lists some appropriate small talk topics as well as actual sentences you can use in any small talk situation!
What to talk about
1. Your location or venue
There is no easier way to find common ground – literally! The hotel you’re staying in, the local town, the quality of the conference venue…anything in your surroundings can be a conversation topic!
Movies, Netflix, books…you name it! Share what you’ve seen or read yourself and ask for recommendations to get your partner talking!
I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t love food…which is why it is definitely one of the best small talk topics! If you’re having meals together at the event you’re attending, that makes it even easier. A short comment on the food you’re having can feed into (pun intended!) an endless conversation about favourite restaurants, cooking, etc.
Everyone likes to talk about what they love, so showing interest in someone’s passions will give you the chance to connect with them on a deeper level. Ask what they do in their free time, which activities they participate in outside of work (and how they became involved), what their childhood hobbies were versus now, whether they’re taking any classes…the possibilities are endless!
This is a tricky one, as most people spend more than enough time talking about their jobs and are desperate to get away from it, but…since we spend so much time at work, the majority of people will have something to say on the topic!
6. The weather
This is a classic of course. Not the most riveting conversation-starter, but with a little creativity it can still lead to interesting discussions! What’s the weather like in your hometown? Do you like this type of weather? (this might start a discussion about their personality, which can be fun and interesting). If you could choose to live anywhere based on the weather conditions, where would it be? Weather doesn’t have to be a boring topic!
Who doesn’t like to talk about holidays? Past adventures or future plans, travel is always a great topic that speaks to the imagination! Make sure you have some follow-up questions, such as what foods (there’s that oldie but goodie again!) they’re most excited to try or what souvenirs they’re planning to bring home!
What to say exactly
Ok, so now you have some topics, but what exactly should I say to start the conversation?? Fear not, we have put together a list of conversation starters for you!
Some examples that never fail (in logical order, i.e. start with the first one, then work your way through the list to keep the conversation going!):
“So how did you end up at [name of event]?
“Are you a long way from home?”
‘’Is it your first time in [country/city]?’’
“Have you been enjoying this [name of event] so far?”
‘’Has the weather been this [good/terrible] in your hometown as well?’’
“Would you recommend that [food or drink they’re holding]?”
“Have you seen any good movies / read any good books lately?’’
“How did you end up working in [field of work]? Are you happy with your choice so far?’’
‘’What do you like to do outside of work?’’
‘’Do you have any plans for [the summer / Christmas / etc ]?’’
Last but not least, some general tips for small talk!
• Ask open questions: yes/no questions don’t get you very far!
• Small talk is not about saying brilliant things – it’s just about showing interest in the other person and finding things in common
• Practise active listening: you’ll find it much easier to keep the conversation going if you genuinely listen to the other person
• Put away your phone – it seems obvious, but looking at your phone is a definite no-no! You want to seem interested and engaged, not bored!
• Have fun! Even though making small talk can be daunting, you can actually end up having some great conversations with interesting people, so embrace these opportunities!
Hopefully having these topics and conversation starters up your sleeve will make feel a little less anxious next time you have to walk into an unknown environment, whether it’s at work or in your personal life! And as always, we’ll sign off by letting you know that the English To Go team is here to help if you feel you need more coaching with this or any other English-related topic!
suitable or right for a particular situation or occasion:
Is this film appropriate for small children?
(FIND) COMMONG GROUND (idiom)
shared interests, beliefs, or opinions between two people or groups of people:
It seems increasingly unlikely that the two sides will find any common ground.
the place where someone or something is and the things that are in it:
Some butterflies blend in with their surroundings so that it’s difficult to see them.
FEED INTO (phrasal verb)
to have an effect on something or help to make it happen
The influence of Italian designer fashion feeds into sports fashion.
a humorous use of a word or phrase that has several meanings or that sounds like another word:
This is a well-known joke based on a pun: “What’s black and white and red (= read) all over?” “A newspaper.”
needing or wanting something very much:
They are desperate for help.
It was a riveting story
OLDIE BUT GOODIE (idiom)
something that may be old or dated, but is still considered of high quality or a classic.
This song is an oldie but goodie.
to not succeed in what you are trying to do:
She moved to London in the hope of finding work as a model, but failed.
really and sincerely:
I’m genuinely sorry for what I said.
easily seen, recognized, or understood:
For obvious reasons, he needs to find work soon.
to accept something enthusiastically:
This was an opportunity that he would embrace.
HAVE SOMETHING UP YOUR SLEEVE (idiom)
to have secret plans or ideas:
If I know Mark he’ll have one or two tricks up his sleeve.