By Singapore Teaching Centre, British Council

21 August 2023 - 09:00

Five tips for mastering the art of small talk

Do you ever find yourself feeling awkward or unprepared when speaking with others?

Engaging in small talk is a crucial part of everyday life, allowing us to connect with others, build rapport, and create deep and meaningful relationships. Here is a quick guide to help you master the art of small talk in spoken English.

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1. Greetings

Greetings are a way to start a conversation. To create a good first impression, break the ice by addressing people in a friendly and respectful manner. You can start with a simple "Hello, how are you?" or a more informal 'Hi, nice to meet you!' If it's a formal setting, consider using their title and last name, like 'Good afternoon, Mr. Smith.' Experiment with different styles until you find one that matches your personality and the setting.

2. Finding a topic to talk about

Conversation starters can come from shared surroundings or experiences. Observe your environment and comment on something you both can relate to. Maybe it's the weather, the event you're attending, or even a piece of art on the wall. However, be aware of sensitive topics such as religion, politics, or personal issues; these might not be appropriate for casual conversations.

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3. Be an active listener

Active listening is a crucial part of meaningful conversations. It's about fully focusing on the speaker, understanding their message, and responding thoughtfully. You can practise this by nodding in agreement, maintaining eye contact, and offering feedback or follow-up questions that show your interest. This will help you to connect on a deeper level and keep the conversation flowing naturally.

4. Use open-ended questions

Open-ended questions invite a detailed response and encourage more discussion, as opposed to closed-ended questions that often get simple yes-or-no answers. Instead of asking 'Did you like the movie?', you might ask, 'What did you think about the movie?' Other examples include, 'How did you get into your field of work?' or 'What was your favourite part of the event?'

5. Know when and how to exit politely

While small talk is important, knowing when and how to exit a conversation is equally crucial. It's vital to end the conversation on a positive note. Try phrases like 'It was great chatting with you, but I must be going now,' or 'I've enjoyed our conversation, let's catch up again soon.' This leaves a positive impression and finishes the conversation politely.

Learn more on General English and Speak with Confidence courses

General English and Speak with Confidence courses at the British Council in Singapore

Our English courses offer a comprehensive language learning experience which focus on reading, writing, listening, and speaking in a variety of contexts. Highly qualified and experienced teachers deliver the courses to build confidence and fluency in your English communication skills for everyday life. Our students also enjoy free membership to MyClub which hosts weekly workshops, networking events, and activities. 

Mastering the art of small talk is a journey, not a destination. Practising these tips – greeting properly, choosing suitable topics, being an active listener, asking open-ended questions, and knowing when and how to exit a conversation politely – can help you become a confident and fluent English speaker. Remember, every conversation is an opportunity to learn, connect, and grow. So, keep practising, and don't forget to have fun along the way.

Have fun while gaining new skills when you enrol in the General English course for adults or the Speak With Confidence course for adults at the British Council in Singapore at our Napier Road Centre and Toa Payoh Centre.