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May 27, 2015

5 Small Talk Conversation Starters

Small talk is no small thing. It is what opens doors of conversation, business dealings, and future friendships. But what is small talk? When do you use small talk? Why is it used by Americans? What are some safe topics to bring up? 

Small talk is polite conversation about unimportant matters. Small talk is never rude, and is always on "safe" topics. The goal of small talk is to make a surface connection with the person you are with, all while maintaining a safe social distance. Small talk is also used as a "filler" in conversation with friends, colleagues, and acquaintances when the members of a conversation cannot think of what to say next. Small talk prevents a conversation from feeling awkward.  

We generally engage in small talk when we are in close physical proximity with a stranger, co-worker or casual acquaintance. Here are typical situations in which you might use small talk: 
  • You step into an elevator with a colleague who you have only met a couple times. 
  • You are waiting in line for a long time, and meet eyes with the person in front of you. 
  • You experience a lull in a conversation with a friend or colleague. 
  • You are at a party and are mingling with others.  

Are you nervous about what topics you're allowed to discuss with an American? Don't be. Here is a list of small talk topics for you to use, along with examples of what might be said. So what can you talk about?

5 Small Talk Conversation Starters 

1) The weather - Talking about the weather is the easiest way to connect with a stranger or friend. The key is to either complain or compliment the weather you are currently experiencing. Try one of these starters next time you're with an American. 

My goodness! I can't believe how hard it's raining. 
We've been having such amazing weather lately, haven't we? 
Can you believe this weather? 
I think we've had enough rain to last us the rest of the year. 

2) Your surroundings - Small talk often focuses on the present situation. One common topic of small talk is the environment around you. If you're at a party, comment on the lovely spread of food. If you're standing in front of a monument or piece of art, remark on its uniqueness. If something has recently changed about the environment you're in, comment on the change. 

Can you believe they finally finished remodeling the lobby? It looks great. 
Nice theater, huh? 
I've never noticed this fountain before. Is it made of marble? 

3) Sports - The #1 small talk topic that I've brought up this past summer was the FIFA World Cup. Each week, I saw friends, students, and colleagues from more than a dozen different countries, and there was only one thing that everyone was focused on: the World Cup. Whether it's soccer, baseball, or the NBA, just make sure you bring up a sport, team, or player that you believe the general population would know about. 

Did you see that Messi goal last night?  
So it looks like LeBron James is going to leave Miami, huh? 
Did you catch the score of last night's game? I missed it. 

4) Social media posts - In the last couple years, social media posts and comments have made their way into everyday conversation. This is a relatively new development. It's now common for conversations to start or continue by referencing a video or article that "everyone" is sharing on Facebook, Twitter, or Youtube. This is especially common if you are Facebook friends with someone or if you know that you both follow the same celebrity or expert on some social media platform. 

Oh my gosh, did you see that auto-tuned Britney Spears song that was trending on Facebook? 
Have you listened to Seth Godin's latest podcast? 
Did you see what Melanie posted last night about her hometown? 

5) Mutual Friends - When you have something in common with the person you are speaking with, conversation flows easily. One way to find commonality is to discuss knowing mutual friends or acquaintances. The key is to give your connection to the person, and then ask about how they know the individual. 

So I hear you work with Jeanette Miller. She and I went to university together. 
Did I hear that you know Bruce Foxworthy? He and I have known each other for years! 
You work on the 7th floor, right? Do you know Nancy Lawson?  

With these tips and suggestions, hopefully you're ready to start a conversation anywhere! 

Author, Andrea Giordano is an avid traveler, teacher, and speaker in addition to the creator of She has visited 29 countries (and counting), speaking about English Language education and learning about cultural adjustment. Andrea is the assistant director of ESL programs at a university located in the rolling green hills of central Kentucky. With around 700,000 views on Youtube, Andrea has established herself as a leader and innovator in the field of online ESL instruction. 

Related Posts:
"How did it go?" a typical question used to start a conversation 
How can I use small talk in business and status update calls?    
How do I Introduce Myself in the US to Americans? 
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