1. Remember, a lot of people think they’re shy or awkward—like you. Whether or not the people around you really are, this should make things feel easy for you. There’s no pressure. So go ahead and smile and say hi—you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.
2. Think that people are pleased to see you. Because if you don’t think they are, you’ll just be wallowing at a corner and coming off as very unapproachable.
3. Read up on funny or weird news. Funny and weird news break the ice and get the conversation going. It’ll make you share a laugh with the people you’re trying to talk to, without going to topics that stir arguments like religion and politics. (Tread there if you dare.)
4. Introduce yourself. You can start small talk this way or insert it mid-conversation. The point is that you should know each other’s names; it’s a sign of respect—that that person isn’t just another stranger to you, and that you’re interested in getting to know her more.
5. Look up who will be at the event in advance. If you’re going to an event, this is your homework. You’re going to be rubbing shoulders and mingling with highly respected/popular people. You can Google what they do or what they're into, so you can plan what to say or ask. Why not take the opportunity to chat with them? Who knows, you might just get a mentor or an acquaintance. Chances are you’ll meet again. And in that next event, you have someone to talk to!
6. Don’t be cliquish. When you’re engaging in small talk with someone, don’t do anything to make him feel uncomfortable. You might have judged him for what he’s wearing or what you were able to deduce from his background, but don’t let that affect the small talk, especially if you don’t want to have a heated conversation. If he managed to insult you, you can always excuse yourself. (Pro tip: Pick your battles.)
7. Don’t ask questions with short answers. “How are you?” “Are you having fun?” “Do you like Chinese food?”—they can lead to more dialogues, but they take more time and effort. How about asking “What’s the best thing that happened to you today?” “What made you decide to enter this field of work?” “If you could do something and get away with it, what would it be?” Small talk seems upbeat and fun now, right?
8. Don’t just repeat what the other person just said. Does this look like a good conversation to you: “The traffic’s been really bad lately!” “Yeah, it has!” Of course not. It’s not even small talk or a conversation. Increase someone’s interest by broadening or deepening the conversation. Instead of “Yeah, it has!” try “I heard from a friend that really heavy traffic wastes A LOT of money” or “Funny how they think widening roads is going to ease traffic. More roads means more motorists!” Now you’re adding something to the table.
9. Try giving unexpected replies. This is your time to show you’re interesting and that you have personality—if you want to go that path. Answer “Do you know how many unlucky things can happen to the unluckiest person in the world?” to someone’s “How’s it going?” or “Should I feel lonely if we’re the only intelligent life in the universe?” to someone’s “How are you?” You’re bound to catch her off guard. Unexpected replies yield unexpected results. For sure, being bold is only for the bold.
Follow Stephanie on Twitter.