Hitting the Big Time with Small Talk

How to find the extrovert in you. Here are some tips on the art of small talk.

By Lybi Ma, published October 1, 2005 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Making casual conversation doesn't come naturally for me. In fact, the idea of talking to a stranger at a cocktail party makes me want to hide behind the ferns: "Don't mind me, I'm not really here." It's not just me—for any born introvert, making small talk can be downright excruciating.

But casual conversation can lead to important relationships. Three years ago, I met my fiance at the airport. If I hadn't mustered the courage to say hello, some other woman would have hopped in line right in front of me, so to speak.

The truth is, anything can happen when you stick your neck out. You might meet a new client, stumble on your next roommate, or meet a future friend. You just never know.

So how do you cultivate a more extroverted you? We all hope that the other person will assume the burden of a conversation. But master conversationalist and The Fine Art of Small Talk author Debra Fine says that it's up to you to take on the responsibility of making others feel comfortable.

Here are a few pointers to get you talking:

The Polite Introduction

When you're introducing people—or if you're introducing yourself—say names slowly and offer information. "This is Larry, he just got a new job as an urban planner here in town." Or you can point out common interests: "Both of you are Red Sox fans."

What Was Her Name Again?

She said her name and it flew out of your brain a nanosecond later. It will do you no good to forget the name of the person you're talking to. So open your ears and really listen. One trick is repeating the name of the person a few times.

Be Prepared

Formulate a few questions that will generate interest. For example, think about the day's current events. Make sure to keep up to date with the daily paper or tune in to your radio station and study up—be it earthquakes, hurricanes, elections, or scandals.

Making Eye Contact

Look the person you are speaking to in the eye. This is something Bill Clinton practices routinely; he makes the person in his presence feel as though he is the only one in the room. When we listen to every word and digest everything that's said, it makes for more meaningful conversation.

Something to Work With

Don't give short answers. If a person asks about your occupation, don't say "sales" and leave it at that. Give him something to work with. Let him know what area of sales you work in and if you travel, where you have visited recently.

Now Let's Talk About Me!

Asking a person what he likes to do for fun can be a big door opener—that's because people love to talk about themselves. Show an interest in their interests and recreational activities. Ask leading questions: If the person went to an exhibit, ask what she liked most and why.