Learning the Art of Small Talk

Learning the Art of Small Talk

By Dr. Malore I. Brown

Networking with people you do not know or are casually acquainted can sometimes present a challenge. The key to succeeding with small talk is preparation. Think of a few topics that you can discuss. There is a fine line between being chatty and being annoying.


  • Read everything – newspapers, blogs, reviews, catalogs, quotes, sports, fashion, art, research, pop-culture, music, theater

  • Practice – with your friends, co-workers, family

  • Practice with people you don’t know – at the bus/train station, doctor’s waiting room, department store. Tourists, senior citizens, and teenagers can be great to converse with.

  • Talk to yourself in the mirror – listen to how you sound. Have your own introduction prepared in your head so you aren’t tongue tied when you meet someone at a party, conference or event.

  • LISTEN – be willing to listen when the other person speaks. Ask them about themselves. Build upon the conversation based on their response.

  • Make an extra effort to remember names during introductions and use them frequently.

  • Stay focused on your conversational partner by actively listening and giving feedback. Maintain eye contact. Don’t glance around the room while they are talking to you.

  • If someone hands you a business card, accept it as a gift. Hold it and take a moment to read what is written on it. You may even want to comment on the logo. When you’re done, put it away to show that it is valued.

  • If there are people you want to meet, one of the best ways to approach them is to be introduced by someone they know and respect. Ask a mutual friend to do the introduction.

  • Have a few exit lines ready so that you can both gracefully move on. For example, “I need to check in with a vendor over there,” “I missed lunch today, so I’m going to visit the buffet,” or you can offer to refresh their drink.

  • Confidence – work on overcoming your shyness

Safe topics in small talk

  • Weather – Beautiful weather today isn’t it? I can’t believe how much snow we are getting? How was your flight coming in?

  • Pets – What a cute little puppy? What breed is it?

  • Current events (avoid politics) – I just heard on the news this morning that there was a fire on Broadway.

  • New Technology – I read on (insert name) blog that the prices of smartphones are dropping and the consumers will benefit from the competition

  • The Field – Did you see the article in American Libraries about the upcoming IFLA conference? I’d sure like to go one of these days? Have you attended an IFLA conference?

  • Social Event – How do you know the host (insert name)? Have you tried the samosas?


  • Anything personal, philosophical, political, and/or controversial

Small talk can segue into a larger conversation about you and your current job search; however, you do not want to lead with your job search as a conversation starter.


Originally written for the American Library Association's Get A Job site, 2009.

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