I came across this article decades ago. Being rather shy then, I had hope to pick up some tips on how to open a conversation or respond to one. Guess I must have learned the art of small talk from here. :-)
Many shy people just disdain small talk. While others ‘unselfconsciously’ open conversations with comments about the weather; shy people remain silent because they fear being boring, unoriginal. They are sure that if they ever looked up from the gory pictures in their morning newspaper to say to a neighbouring stranger, “God, what a terrible plane accident,” he or se would snort contemptuously and move to another subway car. They are very wrong!
As your desire to free yourself from the shackles of shyness intensifies, begin to study how others open conversations with strangers. You’ll notice how often people use opening lines that sound inane, clichéd, and trite. In movies and books, heroes and heroines exchange clever, witty remarks. In real life, the opposite seems to be the rule.
Small talk helps to unleash the thoughts that are on the tip of everyone’s tongue. To be sure, even the most ordinary citizens have profound inner reflections on death, humour, love, sex, and religion buried in the deep recesses of their mind. But, for whatever reason, the great majority of the people you come across in this world would rather leave their complex thoughts where they are, particularly when first getting to know a stranger.
Granted, small talk can appear boring, unchallenging, even hypnotizing in its dullness. It sometimes feels like sawdust in your mouth. But once you discover its immense power to interest your fellow women and men, to make them feel good, to help them to trust and like you, you can begin to employ it whenever you see someone you are drawn to.
From there it’s easy to continue on to topics more profound and fulfilling. But there’s nothing like small talk to get things off the ground. If you’re not convinced, just spend the next few weeks eavesdropping on the people around you. You’ll be astonished at the frequency with which small talk is used in office reception areas, at lunch counters, in pubs, on commuter trains and buses. And you’ll be even more astonished at its acceptance.
So don’t torture yourself trying to be Shakespeare. It’s not necessary. Don’t clam up because you’re convinced nothing you can think up could possibly impress anyone. People don’t want to be impressed. They want to be liked, listened to, and appreciated. Just keep you ear open for small talk. And practice using it yourself whenever you get the chance.
Small talk works a little like a Ping-Pong game. You serve your opener. The other person relates an anecdote or tells a story while you listen. Then it’s your turn again. There’s no need to be brilliant or personal or deep. Just play the game of friendly small talk. You will find small talk a magnificently powerful way to meet new people.
- Author Unknown