1. If they’re passionate about how brutal their hometown’s winters are, indulge that passion:
As we all know, weather is the Wayne Gretzky of small talk conversational topics. Undeniably the greatest of all-time, it’s pretty mind-boggling how far it outpaces all the other hall-of-famers — just as Gretzky’s 2,857 career points will never be topped (the second most of all-time is 1,887), weather will never be usurped by “did you watch the game?”, “how do you know Brian?”, and other notable small talk faves.
Since we’re in the heart of winter, you might’ve noticed that we’re deeply entrenched in the human past-time known as “my hometown has more brutal winters than your hometown.” If you know you’re losing here (i.e., you’re not from Chicago), indulge that passion. Winters in New York may be brutal, but note that you couldn’t even imagine putting up with one in Bismarck.
2. General (how crazy was the super bowl?) –> Specific (how evil is Bill Belichick?):
This definitely isn’t groundbreaking, but small talk heavily relies on how sustainable the topic is. Sports — particularly topical sports events — are huge, because they have their own fresh, built-in talking points and intricacies — first there’s the game, then there are plays within that game, then there are outcomes based on those plays.
The key is to move from events that happened (Russell Wilson throwing the pick) to personal opinions about events and/or people (Bill Belichick being all smug at the podium.) If you sense someone having disdain for Bill Belichick, go in for the kill. That’s a solid 90 seconds of Belichick bashing.
3. Know when to whip out the mutual friend game:
There is a time and place for the mutual friend game. This definitely has a lot more to do with feel, but quickly jumping to what college you might’ve gone to or the place you used to work at can quickly lead to a stifled convo — if the mutual friend game falls short, there’s nothing more to talk about.
Plus, that person doesn’t even know Jeremy. And everybody knows Jeremy.
4. Shamelessly play to the room:
Play up the weird designs on the wallpaper if you have to. (The wallpaper isn’t that weird, but for purposes of this convo the wallpaper is SO weird.)
If you’re in a situation where silence is a fate worse than death, find something in the room and latch onto it as tightly as you can.
5. As local as local news gets:
I haven’t lived in too many places over the course of my 24 years, but I have noticed one thing — no matter where you live, people seem pretty into knowing where and how to get to every single street in the city.
If you have a location in common with your small-talk counterpart, just fire off some street names. Watch their eyes light up as the delve into the specifics of Orchard and Ludlow.
6. Yes, and:
“Yes and…” is the cornerstone of improv comedy. One friend of mine who’s fairly deep in the improv game noted that the various skills and exercises have made him a much better conversationalist.
While this does indeed sound like something straight out of a website endorsement blurb, it’s also something that, just like a water pokemon on an Onyx, is super effective. Keep the convo flowing with a willingness to explore.
7. When in doubt, start talking about how spring is just around the corner:
The weather is one thing. Seasons, on the other hand, are more like the saving grace of small-talk disaster.
While they can’t necessarily be brought up everyday, anticipating the next season is a guaranteed get out of small-talk free card — it undoubtedly stirs up excitement, as the conversation gets to shift from something that’s currently happening (a boring conversation) to the allure of possibility (nice weather, those people who get really excited about jogging, and seasonally-relevant frozen yogurt.)
Also, it’s kind of crazy that spring is just around the corner.