Ah, small talk. The cringe-worthy part of conversations that usually ends with an awkward silence. Whether you’re at a networking event or just meeting a new group of friends, ditch the “So, what do you do?” or “Nice weather we’re having, don’t you think?” questions and opt for something more meaningful.
Related: 15 Tips to Get Better at Small Talk
For the smartest conversation tips, we reached out to the Young Entrepreneur Council. This is what they suggest.
1. Relax and be present in the conversation.
Rather than try to plan what you will say next, relax and focus on what the other person is actually saying. Listen. Be present in the conversation and the other person will notice. They will feel appreciated, and the conversation will flow naturally.
—Adelyn Zhou, TOPBOTS
2. Read a lot.
The more you read, the more trivia or facts you pick up that can turn into conversation material. It can be online or in books and journals, but it can help drive a conversation with someone you don’t know much about.
—Angela Ruth, Due
3. Be interested in things to be interesting.
I find people have nothing to say because they don’t seem to have any interests. That makes them uninteresting. However, people with hobbies and interests always seem to have a topic or an opinion to share, and they can use that as a launching point to get someone else involved in the discussion.
—Murray Newlands, Sighted
4. Ask thoughtful questions, and then follow up.
I despise small talk, but I love to connect with new people and learn about them because there is always something interesting to glean. If you actually care, it will show. Ask thoughtful questions and really listen to the answers. Then ask great follow-up questions based on their response. Your boring small talk chat will quickly evolve into something meaningful.
—Darrah Brustein, Network Under 40
5. Ask questions and listen.
People love to talk about themselves. I’ve gotten a lot of great business information by just listening to what people have to say, whether it’s work-related or not. Often, it’s about reading between the lines and listening to what they’re not saying to get a good understanding of the type of person they are, what they want and how I can supply that need.
—Duran Inci, Optimum7
6. Ask about a person’s life, not their job.
I never ask someone what they do anymore. Instead, I ask how they spend their time. Questions like this one open the door to more interesting conversations. If the person’s initial response is work-related, I follow up with, “What do you do when you’re not working?” Just keep asking questions and share comments that relate their story to yours.
—Mamie Kanfer Stewart, Meeteor
7. Learn their story.
I have found that it helps to ask questions about the person you’re talking with. Everyone has a story to tell, and if you enable them to tell it through asking questions, you will not only master small talk, but start the process of building a strong and meaningful relationship.
—David Ciccarelli, Voices.com
8. Externalize your focus.
Ask questions, respond to the answers, and if you ever run out of things to say, make a comment about the architecture, artwork on the walls, a bird singing outside, whatever. The world is rich with things to talk about if you can stop worrying and move your center of focus away from your own mental and emotional state.
—Justin Blanchard, ServerMania Inc.
9. Share something very honest.
If you want to make small talk bigger, share something that’s very honest about a topic pertinent to you. When you let down your guard, you’re more likely to have more genuine and productive conversations that turn into meaningful connections and not just another business card for the drawer.
—Dan Golden, BFO (Be Found Online)
10. Find common ground.
Try to find something that you have in common with the person and your interest will be genuine. Look for anything: hometown, college, sports, dogs. Try to identify something about the person you are talking with that you can relate to; this will make small talk easier and you will come across more genuine.
—Diego Orjuela, Cables & Sensors
Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprising the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.