How to start small talk

If you’re struggling with small talk in English, then planning ahead will definitely help you. Don’t beat yourself up if the conversation doesn’t go as expected at first. I know from experience that practice will help you get better.

One technique that has helped with small talk is learning and practicing expressions and dialogues in advance.

Because when you’re nervous, it helps to have a bunch of go-to conversation prompts in your back pocket.

If you don’t know where to start, here are some ideas to help you start a conversation easily:

1. Talk about the place you’re in

Whether you’re at a hotel, restaurant, or an event, commenting about the place you’re in is a great way to strike up a conversation.

So, let’s say, you’re staying at a hotel, and on your way to your room, you bump into other people in the elevator. You could say:

A simple remark like this one will make you sound friendly and hopefully get the conversation started. Here are some other examples:

And if you want to follow-up, you can try asking about some of the facilities:

2. Comment on current situations or surroundings

So you’re at the airport and your airline announces that your flight has been cancelled due to bad weather. You look at the person standing next to you, and you know that you both share the frustration. So, what can you say?

  • Well, it looks like we’re gonna be here for a while.

  • And I was hoping to get home early…

If you notice, the first line is versatile. We’ve all been stuck in a place once, haven’t we?

Think about having to wait in line to pay at the grocery shop. Picture a conversation going like this one:

“It looks like we’re going to be here for a while!”

“I know. It’s super busy today.”

“Is it always like this?”

“Not really. I guess we picked the wrong line!”

“I’m Anna by the way.”

“I’m Nicole. Nice to meet you!”

“Oh, it’s my turn finally.”

“Great! Have a nice day.” 

“Thanks. You too!”

And that’s a quick and friendly chat you can adapt to other similar situations. 

3. Talk about work

Asking about work is a great way to break the ice.

Let’s say your friend invites you to a cocktail event and there are a lot of people you don’t know. So why not take the lead and ask questions like these:

Or maybe you’re sharing a meal with some new co-workers, and you want to make sure awkward silences are kept to a minimum. You can try these options instead:

  • How long have you worked in finance?

  • How was your first week at work? 

  • Was it a busy week for you? Are you looking forward to the weekend?

Work-related questions are great conversation starters, especially if you don’t know much about the other person. The tone is neutral and polite but it still shows you’re engaged in the chat.  

Note: Social norms vary significantly from one place to another. For example, in some parts of Europe, asking about what a person does for a living is considered rude – similar to asking how much someone earns. But in North America, it’s perfectly acceptable.

4. Talk about life

This is my pick for small talk with acquaintances. If you bump into someone you haven’t seen in a while, you could say:

“Hey there! I haven’t seen you in ages! How have you been?”

“I’ve been great! What’s new with you?”

Or maybe you’re at a gym, and you’d like to start a conversation with the person working out next to you, you might say: 

And if you want to keep the conversation flowing, you can ask:

If the answer is “no”, follow up with: 

  • Where did you grow up? Or,

  • How long have you lived here? 

5. Talk about movies, shows, or books

It may sound cliché but asking, “Have you watched any good shows lately?” is a good conversation starter. 

You can also ask about someone’s opinion or recommendation:

Or if you like sports, that’s also a great icebreaker:

If you chat about these things, be careful not to spoil the details! 

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