Small talk is a way to break the ice. Everyone’s got something to say about the weather. But if you want to engage people in a conversation for more than a few seconds, you need to follow up with something more interesting, something they care about.
When you chat someone up, start with a very simple topic. This could be a comment on the notorious weather or your surrounding. Is there something to say about the venue, the other people in the room, the music, the food, or the occasion? Your starter depends on the situation you’re in. And ideally it’s not just a random comment, but a question; an open-ended one that cannot be answered with a yes or a no.
Your goal is to get a response; it will tell you a little more about the person. Watch for cues in their answer! What’s their mood, do they even care to talk, what could they be interested in? When you have their attention, follow up with harmless questions or potential conversation starters until you have an idea where to take the conversation. Now if you really get them hooked, allow them to take the lead and go with the flow; you might learn something new.
If they let you steer the conversation, direct it to a topic you think they will care about and that you know a lot about. Here are some interesting topics and ways to pick them up.
Read, Read, Read
And read about subjects you care about, otherwise you won’t retain any of the information. Whatever you care about, is worth sharing. Chances are you’ll run into someone interested in the same things you are; maybe they just haven’t heard of them, yet. Enlightening them counts as a good deed. Since I don’t know you, I can’t tell you what to read. But I can tell you a little about where and how to read beyond books.
TED provides a constant stream of awesomeness. Just pick a topic that sounds interesting to you, soak up the information presented in the talk, read more about it (see above), and you’ll have a pool of knowledge to draw from. On TED, you can learn more with annotated reading lists from a few speakers. Then, you can always discuss your favorite topics by joining conversations around them.
If you can extract information other people care about, you essentially possess a resource for magnificent conversation starters.
Finally, here is the secret to small talk, breaking the ice, and starting a conversation: it’s all about being curious, interested, and unique. Be curious about things, be interested in others, and share with them something they will be interested in.
Do you have a strategy for starting conversations? What are your favorite topics?