9 ways to get better at small talk

In a recent article for Wired magazine, Kristen Berman and behavioural economist Dan Ariely share their experience hosting a dinner party with one key rule: “Absolutely no small talk.”

Apparently, the guests were all the happier for it — and the authors conclude in their headline that “small talk should be banned.”

Whether this sounds to you like a great idea or a terrifying prospect, the fact is that most event organisers won’t go so far as to prohibit small talk — so you’d best get good at it.

To help you out, we checked out Quora, Reddit, and other resources, and highlighted some of the best tips for upping your small-talk game. You can even make a habit of practicing with strangers you’ll probably never see again, since research suggests that making conversation with fellow commuters leaves people happier.

Read on to impress new acquaintances — and yourself — with your masterful conversation skills.

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1. Demonstrate interest in your conversation partner

Several Quora users said the best way to keep a conversation rolling was to show you care about what the other person has to say.

'If you don't fundamentally care about the person you are speaking with, that will show, and that may be the primary reason why you are running out of things to discuss,' Kai Peter Chang writes.

That also means letting your conversation partner share information about himself or herself.

'Let the other person speak more,' Anam Gulraiz writes. 'People LOVE talking about themselves.'

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2. Ask open-ended questions

Instead of asking yes/no questions that lead to dead ends, encourage your conversation partner to share some more detail about his or her life.

'In general, open-ended questions lead to more conversational paths,'Craig Weiland says.

For example, instead of asking a fellow party guest, 'Are you here with your family?' you might ask, 'How did you meet the host?'

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3. Allow your conversation partner to teach you

'If there's a subject you're not familiar with, just be honest with that person and nine out of 10 times they will teach you about it,' Michael Wong writes.

It goes back to that central idea of letting other people do most of the talking. Asking other people to explain what they mean might prompt them to talk for at least another few minutes.

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4. Read the news

In the days leading up to a social function, take time to peruse the news, 'including the sections that don't really interest you,' Mark Simchock writes.

That way, if a conversation should come to an abrupt halt, you can fill the silence with, 'Hey, did you hear about …' or 'Man, how about that … ?'

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5. Be honest

'There's nothing wrong with just saying, 'You know, I hate small talk, so how about we talk about something big?'' Derek Scruggs writes.

Chances are, your conversation partner will feel somewhat relieved.

Scruggs recommends having on hand a few 'big' questions that promote intimacy, including, 'What's something that scared you today?' and 'Are you happy with your current lifestyle?'

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6. Copy good conversationalists

'Listen to comedians, listen to talk-show hosts, listen to real people,'Edahn Small recommends.

Try to remember the kinds of questions they ask, how they follow up on the other person's answers, and even how they make use of silence. Chances are good that they learned the same way.

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7. Boost your conversation partner's self-esteem

Flatter people to capture and hold their interest, Joe Goebel suggests.

'Try to make everyone you talk with feel a little better about themselves after having met and talked to you,' he writes.

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8. Ask, 'What's keeping you busy these days?'

In a 2013 blog post, best-selling author Gretchen Rubin suggests asking people you meet, 'What's keeping you busy these days?'

Rubin writes: 'It's useful because it allows people to choose their focus (work, volunteer, family, hobby) -- preferable to the inevitable question (well, inevitable at least in New York City): 'What do you do?''

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9. Know that other people feel weird, too

'You are totally not alone in feeling awkward or shy,' Tammy Tangerine writes on Reddit. 'Other people are struggling with that as well, and these feelings are totally OK and nothing to feel ashamed about.'

She adds that even people who look incredibly confident may be struggling with the same self-doubts as you.

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