The Techniques of Small Talk

Term Paper, 2011

11 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. Getting Started

3. Body Language

4. Keep it Going

5. Showing Interest

6. “Popping Smoke”

7. Conclusion


1. Introduction

“The skill of connecting in short, casual conversations can make or break careers – sales or otherwise.”[1] Small talk is not a skill one should master only in business life, but in private life just as well. There are many occasions, which are dreaded by people, because they will be required to chat with other people, such as family celebrations, school reunions or brakes during business gatherings. Often these people do not know how to open small talk or what they are supposed to talk about. If a few aspects are considered, though, it really is “no big deal” anymore.

2. Getting Started

Like any other conversation, small talk starts with a greeting. Being the first one to say “Hello” not only displays a certain self-assurance, but also relieves the partner of initiating the contact. With the greeting, one should introduce himself. It is always a good idea to include the forename to the surname, in order to make the introduction more personal. The name should always be given, even if it is assumed that the other person knows it. “It’s very awkward when someone starts a conversation with ´remember me? ` and the other person doesn’t.”[2] When the partner is already known from a previous occasion, it is a good start to mention the previous encounter and common experiences from that event. This gives the other person time and help to remember. Once common ground is found, the base for good small talk is established.

A great example for this, are the seminars at AKAD. Especially in the beginnings of the first few courses of a study program, people do not know the other students yet, but may have seen one or the other at an earlier course. “Don’t we know each other from XYZ01 in Stuttgart early January?” is a common opening line for small talk at AKAD. The ensuing chat often has to be interrupted by the lecturer in order to start class.

If the person is yet unknown, there are many “so-called door-openers, with which a conversation can be started effortlessly.”[3] To name a few examples: questions about the job; the hometown; the family; whether the partner knows how the drink is mixed, which he is drinking; how he is related to the host of the party; and so on. Just about anything is suited, as long as it has some relevance to the situation at that moment and as long it is not a question, which is too personal.

If a question seems too offensive to open up, small comments work as well. Again, anything that is related to the current situation works. At the buffet a remark to the person behind oneself in line about how great the decorations look, at the summer party in kindergarten how nice the new toys are and so on. The remark should be clear and beyond misunderstanding. There is a scene in the popular movie “Dumb and dumber”, in which Jim Carrey as a driver of a limousine tries to engage his woman guest in small talk when he proudly exclaims: “I got worms!” She looks at him puzzled, not yet understanding that he is not referring to his private hygiene, but to the name of the pet store he wants to open with a friend. Even though a line like that could work in real life, it should better be reserved for advanced small talkers, who are firm enough to open up with a provocation.

A rather classic opening, usable by anyone, to start small talk is the weather. No matter how shy someone might be, everybody knows something to say about that. Everyone enjoys warm sunrays and the chances, that the partner detests cold rain as much as oneself, are rather high. It helps, though, to comment positively on the weather, or on anything else, because positive remarks bring “…a smile to the lips and a glow to the eyes.”[4]


[1] Weiss, Nicki:

[2] Weiss, Nicki:

[3] Voß, Ute: Small Talk – Kleine Gespräche mit großer Wirkung. In: working @ office – Magazin für professionelles Büromanagement, Nr. 11/2011, 12. Jahrgang, Wiesbaden, p. 63 „…sogenannte Türöffner, mit denen man ein Gespräch mühelos starten kann.“

[4] Märtin, Doris; Boeck, Karin: Small Talk – Die hohe Kunst des kleinen Gesprächs, 13. Auflage, München 2005, p.61 „…ein Lächeln auf die Lippen und ein Strahlen in die Augen.“

Excerpt out of 11 pages


The Techniques of Small Talk
AKAD University of Applied Sciences Stuttgart
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
444 KB
small talk, casual conversation, communication, chat, Gespräch, pausengespräch
Quote paper
Werner Flohr (Author), 2011, The Techniques of Small Talk, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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