Making small talk is definitely an art, but the upside is that the more you do it, the better you'll be at it. Finding the right topics to bring up is just as important as the ease in which you converse.
Contrary to popular believe, the weather and your local sports team really aren't the best subjects for small talk because it's difficult to transition from those topics to more meaningful conversation. And that's the reason for small talk. It's not just for filling time while you wait in line at the grocery store, it's to find out more about someone so you can see if you two would click on some level and become friends.
It's not that you can't have deeper conversations once you become friends with someone, but while you're still getting to know them, you should keep the conversation on the lighter side.
Here's a guide to what's good for small talk and which subjects you might want to avoid.
Quirky or Positive News Items
On Monday each week I list "Small Talk News Items," in my blog, which are light, generally happy, and oftentimes odd or quirky things going on in the news. These topics are timely yet positive and can usually be discussed with strangers or established friends. The reason these topics work is because by their very nature they give you opportunities in which to grow your conversation.
Topics That Have Some Depth
While they might not be heavy in subject matter, there are a number of possible conversations you can gain from a news item that is light and fun and yet carries some depth. For example, a story about a valuable painting found at Goodwill could spark a conversation about frugal shopping habits, the art world, or flea market shopping.
A Feel-Good Vibe
When you're first getting to know someone, chatting about positive things will put you at ease as you talk. What's more, you'll associate that feeling of happiness with that person and will have a stronger desire to become friends.
Talking about things that push the conversational hot button of someone else means you'll be arguing a point rather than getting to know one another. Remember, even if you disagree with someone's opinion on an issue (like politics), you can still be friends with them. However, if you bombard potential friends with heavy conversation they'll assume you have an agenda and will only talk about one thing.
If you're around the same age as the potential friend you're speaking with, chatting about something related to a favorite memory growing up will help you both relax and be more willing to share details of your life.
Things Going on Around You
Commenting on the events right before your eyes is an easy way to make small talk, but be sure to look for clues in the responses you get that will move the conversation forward. Just saying something like, "Great event, huh?" will prompt a one word response (yes or no) and therefore will stall the conversation.
Ask questions as you observe the people and activities going on and you'll have a better time finding common ground. For example, "Isn't this a great event? We come here every year, since our kids were little. What about you? What brings you here?" This question gives some facts about you that the listener can pick up on and also invites them to share more about themselves.
A Word About the Weather
By far, people talk about the weather more than any other topic when they can't think of anything else to say. While the weather is generally a bad topic for small talk, you can make it better by adding detail.
For example, "Isn't this weather fabulous? Too bad I have to go back to work and can't enjoy it. Will you be able to get out in the sun today?" Or "What a cold snap! I'm not used to it. Are you a cold-weather person or do you like it warmer?"
The main thing to keep in mind with small talk is that practice makes perfect. The more you do it, the easier it will be to find topics that work out well.