I was born a quiet person, introvert, shy and barely take the initiative to talk to people that I am not familiar with. I know that it is not because that I don’t want to talk to people, but it is because I am too afraid or nervous to talk to new people. Then I came across Debra Fine’s The Fine Art of Small Talk from social media feeds. I spent some time finished reading it and found some really useful tips to the first step of making new acquaintance - having small talks.

The Mindset

I always like to deploy some kind of higher-level mindset, or some primary objectives before diving into any topic. For small talks, there is one quote that really inspired me from the author:

Start thinking of strangers as people who can bring new dimensions to your life, not as persons to be afraid.

Start thinking those new acquittances as something explorative, adventurous and creative. This is fun instead of fearing or anxious or embarrassing. Applying this mindset gives me the motivation to meet new people and have new conversations.

To be specific, according to the author, there are 2 primary objectives in order to be good conversationalist:

  • Take the risk: we should take the initiative to start approach somebody, don’t count on somebody to make the first move!
  • Assume the burden: it is up to us to keep the conversation going - find the topic, relive awkward moments and etc,. It is up to us to assume the burden of other people’s comfort.

Before Conversation

Before diving into the conversation, there are few tips to leave a good impression on others which would potentially make the conversation starts smoother (those tips might seem a bit cliche, but they are truly useful!):

  • Smile and greet: the rule is simple, when you smile at people, people naturally smile back. One interesting thing that I experience when I first came to the United States is that people often smiles and greet at you. It definitely feels more humane when people are having smiling faces and greets you with “how are you doing” and “have a nice day” than having indifferent poker faces.
  • Remember peoples’ names: repeat peoples’ names during greeting, e.g., “Nice to meet you, Debra.”. And remember don’t use nicknames without permission, e.g., don’t call him “Mike” if he said he is called “Micheal”.

What to Talk About?

It is really helpful to prepare some topics in advance, for example, maybe you can think ahead and practice some of the small talk topics while driving to a friend’s wedding. Of course, besides the today’s weather, there are several topics that can be talked safely with almost everyone (we can remember them using the abbreviation of “FORM”):

  • Family: tell me about your family.
  • Occupation: what do you do for work?
  • Recreation: what do you do for fun?
  • Miscellaneous: what do you think of the news/movies/event…?

Tips on asking questions: use open-ended questions such as “What”, “How”, “Tell me about…”, this would provide the opportunity for your conversation partner to disclose as much or as little as wanted.


Conversation is consisted of both talking and listening, and they are equally important. A good listener can use the following tips to signal the speaker your interest and enthusiasm for the dialogue:

  • Use eye contact.
  • Use positive body language: for example, lean forward, relax, nod and smile.
  • Use verbal cues: for example, offer brief comments, paraphrasing or repeating a little during conversation to show that you are listening attentively.

Graceful Exit

Done properly, an authentic farewell will actually enhance your relationship.

Some useful tips for exiting gracefully from a conversation:

  • Show appreciation for the information interchange.
  • Thank your conversation partner for their time, expertise, or the sheer joy of the conversation.
  • Issue an invitation (if needed to).

When you prepare to depart a conversation, recall why you originally connected with your conversation partner and bring the conversation back to that topic. Doing so will allow you to make a meaningful connection and then take your leave easily.


Fine, Debra. The Fine Art of Small Talk: How to Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills, and Leave a Positive Impression! Hachette Books, 2014.