Small talk. It can be some people’s favorite pastime and a social anxiety-inducing nightmare for others.
If you’re an extrovert who loves meeting new people, small talk is your daily bread and butter. But if you’re an introvert like me who’d rather skip to the deep and complex conversations, it may not come naturally to you.
But regardless of how you feel about it, small talk is something that we cannot avoid. It’s present in our everyday life at almost every corner - when you run into a neighbor while shopping at the supermarket or during your coffee break at the office.
To help you turn the awkward “uh… so… how was your weekend?” questions into fluent and dynamic conversations about everything and nothing, we’ve compiled a list of small talk topics, questions and examples you can use in different situations.
What is small talk?
Ok, but what is small talk? Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines it as “polite conversation about subjects that are ordinary or unimportant, especially at social occasions.” And that’s essentially what it is: a polite chat with a person you just met or someone you’re acquainted with on a surface level.
For many, small talk is just a trivial conversation you have with someone out of politeness because you don’t want to seem unfriendly.
How and when to make small talk
Imagine entering the office kitchen to make yourself a (giant) cup of coffee and finding a colleague pouring themselves a cup of tea. You don’t really know what to say, maybe you don’t even feel like having a chat with someone, but you feel it’s impolite not to say anything. That’s when you’d engage in - slightly forced and awkward - small talk.
But the good news is small talk doesn’t always have to be this way. When you come in armed with some handy small talk questions and expressions, it can actually become something you do on autopilot - without the “uh… what should I say next?” anxiety and awkward silences.
100+ Super handy small talk question examples and when to use them
Having a few open-ended small talk questions up your sleeve to use in situations that require some polite small talk can help appear more confident and feel less awkward. It can save you the embarrassment of awkward silence when you unexpectedly run into your neighbor in the elevator or the anxiety of mingling at a party where you don’t know anybody.
Using small talk to engage in conversations with newly met people can be the beginning of new friendships. So here are some conversation-starting expressions you can use at a party or social event with many people you don’t know.
We’ll leave it to you to imagine the specific context for each expression - you’ll know exactly when to use them!
- Hey there! How's your night going?
- Hi, I don't think we've met yet. I'm [your name].
- It's quite the crowd here, isn't it?
- I couldn't help but notice your [interesting accessory/clothing].
- What brought you to this event?
- Do you come to these kinds of gatherings often?
- Are you here alone or did you come with someone?
- Oh, I love this song! The music is great here, don’t you think?
- Are you enjoying yourself/your evening?
- Do you know anyone else here, or are you just jumping into the crowd like me?
- I'm loving the vibe of this place. What do you think?
- Have you ever been to an event like this before?
- I love your energy! What's your secret to staying so lively at these events?
- Oh, I love your [piece of clothing/accessory]! Where did you get it?
- What are you drinking? Looks delicious!
- So, how do you know the birthday girl/guy/person?
- What do you think of the music they've got playing?
- This is my first time at an event like this. Any tips to navigate the crowd?
- I couldn't help but overhear you talking about [topic]. Mind if I chime in?
In a business setting or with your boss
Small talk at the office can be pretty awkward. It’s a delicate art of striking a balance between being relaxed but not too casual, polite but not too serious, and professional but not too boring.
Here are a few conversation starters you can use at the office to help you achieve that balance.
- How was your weekend?
- How’s your day going?
- So, I heard you closed a big client today! Congrats!
- Are you still working on that project with [insert company/client name]?
- I heard you’re going on holiday next week. Any exciting plans?
- Did you catch that [TV show/sports event] last night?
- How long have you been working here?
- How’s your workload?
- What's your take on [industry trend/current news]?
- Any recommendations for a good lunch spot around here?
- The coffee here isn’t very good… do you know any good coffee spots around here?
- I saw your recent presentation—it was impressive! How did you prepare for it?
- I'm thinking of attending the [upcoming event/training]. Are you considering it, too?
- I heard your [department/team] achieved some impressive results. How did you all manage it?
In an interview
Using small talk during a job interview probably isn’t top of mind for you. However, it’s a great way to warm up before the interview and establish some sense of familiarity with the interviewer or the interviewee (depending on your role).
Here are some expressions to use during a job interview.
- How has your day been so far?
- It’s nice outside today, isn’t it?
- Do you have any exciting plans after this interview?
- Hopefully, you didn't get caught in too much traffic!
- Have you had a chance to explore our office space? What do you think of it?
- Do you have any questions about the company or the role before we begin?
- "Did you find the location alright? We know our office can be a bit tricky to spot."
- "Before we delve into the interview, is there anything you'd like to know about the interview process?"
- Have you had a chance to try the coffee in our break room? People here are quite particular about it.
- Have you visited our office before, or is this your first time seeing it?
- What motivated you to apply for this position in particular?
With a love interest or crush
You know that feeling when you finally have a chance to have a conversation with your crush, but you have no idea what to say? You might be afraid of coming across as awkward or saying something stupid. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there (more times than we’d like to admit).
Hopefully, with these small talk examples to start a conversation with your love interest, you won’t find yourself in that paralyzing situation ever again!
- Hi! I’ve seen you around, but I don’t think we’ve properly met yet. My name is [your name]. What’s yours?
- Hey, I couldn't help but notice your [piece of clothing/accessory]. It looks great on you!
- How’s your day/evening going?
- How long have you lived in [insert city]?
- Where are you from/where did you grow up?
- Do you enjoy living/working here?
- How was your weekend?
- What are you doing this weekend?
- Are you having fun at this party/event?
- I saw you the other day at [insert event/party], but we didn’t have a chance to chat.
- So, you’re [insert person’s name]’s friend, right? How long have you known each other?
- What do you enjoy doing after work?
- Do you have any other plans for the weekend aside from this event?
- Would you like to dance?
In customer service or sales
Engaging in small talk with your customers can be a great way to build rapport and strengthen your relationship. Plus, it’s a great way to fill in awkward breaks in service - for example, when you’re waiting for a slow database to load or for a colleague from another department to take over the call.
Here are some things you can ask your customer in those situations.
- So, how's your day going so far?
- Are you enjoying the [weather/season]?
- Are you planning any special occasions that you're shopping for?
- Have you shopped with us before, or is this your first time?
- Are you familiar with our loyalty program or any ongoing promotions?
- Did anything specific lead you to choose our store/company?
- Are you seeking anything in particular for a friend or family member?
- Is there a certain occasion you're shopping for?
- Are you planning to use [product] for yourself or as a gift?
- How are you spending your [insert holiday]?
Examples for use as a student
Often, the first exercise on an oral English exam is small talk. This serves as a warm-up to get you more comfortable speaking English with your examinator and help them get more familiar with you and your style.
These small talk questions can range from basic questions like “How is your day going?” to anything under the sun, like “What’s your favorite book?” or “What did you do last holiday?” Here are some questions your examinator may ask you during this part of the exam.
- Can you tell me a little about yourself?
- How did you get here? Did you come by bus?
- It’s raining outside today. Do you enjoy rainy weather like this?
- How are you feeling?
- Where are you from/where did you grow up?
- How do you typically spend your weekends?
- What did you do last weekend?
- What did you have for breakfast this morning?
- Where did you go on your last holiday?
- Do you enjoy learning/speaking English?
- What hobbies or interests do you have outside of learning English?
- Are you involved in any extracurricular activities?
- Have you ever traveled to an English-speaking country?
- Are there any English-language films or TV shows you enjoy watching?
- What's your favorite type of music? Can you name a favorite artist?
- What's your favorite book/movie? Tell me why.
With a complete stranger
When talking to a stranger, you might feel at a loss for words. If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t know what to talk about, these topics can come in handy.
- Weather: A classic icebreaker and a neutral topic everyone can relate to.
- Hobbies and interests: Asking about what someone likes to do in their free time can spark interesting conversations.
- Food and cuisine: Talking about favorite dishes, restaurants, or cooking can lead to enjoyable conversations.
- Books and movies: Discussing recent reads or popular films can help find common interests.
- Family: Asking about family members, siblings, or their upbringing is usually well-received.
- Pets: People love talking about their pets and sharing stories.
- Work or studies: Inquiring about their job, career goals, or studies can lead to insightful discussions.
- Sports: Sports enthusiasts often enjoy discussing games, teams, and players.
- Current events or trends: Lightly discussing recent news, events, or trends can be a good way to engage. However, don’t get into political or religious views.
- Holidays and celebrations: Asking about how they’re celebrating the holiday season might be a good icebreaker.
- Music: Discussing favorite bands, genres, or concerts can reveal shared interests.
20+ Small talk tips, topics and examples for every setting
Naturally, different social events create an opportunity to discuss different topics. For instance, a sports event naturally sparks a conversation around sports, while a concert inspires you to talk about the favorite songs from the performing artist or how long you’ve been their fan.
In this section, we’ve written down some small talk tips and example phrases and topics you can talk about in different settings.
At a sports event
A sports event is a great place to talk about… well, sports. You can easily start a conversation by asking the person next to you whether they’re a fan of one of the playing teams, who their favorite player is, or whether they play that sport themselves.
Here are some examples:
- Who’s your favorite player?
- Do you think [name of player] will win against [name of another player]?
- Do you remember the championship from [insert date]? It was a great game!
- What’s your favorite team?
- Are you a fan of [insert sports]?
- Do you play [insert sports]?
- How long have you been playing [insert sports]?
- Are you an avid fan?
Keep in mind that sports can be a very competitive topic. If the person you’re talking to happens to be a fan of the opposite team or has views you disagree with, always respect their opinion and remain kind.
At a conference
Attending a conference creates a great opportunity to talk about the speakers, the topic of the event, the facility, and anything around it. For example, you could ask the person next to you these questions to break the ice:
- What brought you to this event?
- Why did you choose this event?
- What do you think of the speakers?
- What’s your opinion on the key takeaways from [name of speaker]’s speech?
- What do you think of this event?
- Is this your first time at this conference?
At a party
Parties are always full of people you don’t know. It’s a perfect place to meet new people and make new friends! If you don’t know how to start a conversation with the person next to you or with someone who caught your eye, try starting with simple topics like the music, the DJ, the drinks, etc.
Here are a few questions that can help you break the ice:
- What are you drinking? Is it good?
- What do you think of the music in this place? I think this DJ is great!
- I saw this DJ at a party I went to last week. Do you know him/her/them?
- Do you come to this venue often? It’s my first time.
- Are you here with friends?
- How do you know the birthday guy/girl/person?
- Did you also come here for [name of the person]’s birthday/goodbye party?
At a concert or festival
Concerts and festivals are a true mix of people from different cultures, sub-cultures, and walks of life. You can see people wearing truly fashionable outfits, unique hairstyles, and eccentric accessories. They’re also places where fans of particular artists and music genres gather around a shared interest. This provides lots of opportunities to establish a conversation.
If someone caught your eye and you’d like to get to know them better, here’s how you can start a conversation with them.
- Your sense of style is fantastic! Who do you draw your inspiration from?
- I love your [piece of clothing/accessory]! Where did you get it?
- I love your hair color! Do you always wear it like this, or did you dye it just for the festival?
- Is it the first time you come to [artist’s name] concert/[name of festival]?
- How long have you been [artist’s name]’s fan?
- What’s your favorite [artist’s name]’s song?
- Who are you most excited to see? (when on a festival or concert with lots of artists)
In a waiting room
Waiting rooms are a great place to spark a conversation with someone new. Plus, chatting with the person next to you can be a great way to kill the boredom of waiting for your turn. Here are some expressions you can use in that situation:
- I didn’t think it would be so busy today.
- How long have you been waiting for your turn?
- Is it the first time you’re coming to see this doctor?
- It looks like we’ll be here for a while!
- It seems like they have some sort of a delay today.
Topics to avoid in small talk
As a general rule of thumb, you should avoid any topic that may be offensive, controversial, or too intrusive. For instance, avoid topics like religious beliefs, politics, and controversial current events.
You should also stay away from asking about the person’s age, commenting on their appearance (unless it’s positive), and talking about negative things like death or illnesses.
The point of small talk is to get the conversation going, so don’t get too deep into your personal views or talk about how you had a toxic ex who still stalks you online. There will be time for getting into more personal topics if a friendship entails.
How to end a conversation comfortably
Ending a bad conversation can be as awkward as the conversation itself. Ending a great conversation, however, may be challenging because you don’t actually want to end it - or you don’t want to cut its flow.
The best advice I can give you to end a conversation politely with someone is to use a viable excuse, like “It was great chatting with you, but I have to get back to work… Have a nice day!” or “I have to run, my bus is here. Have a great rest of your day!”
And when it comes to a great conversation? Well, you likely don’t even need my advice because ending it will come to you naturally. But in case you need some inspiration to go beyond finishing it with a simple “goodbye,” you can check out this article on 80+ ways to say goodbye without actually saying it.
Well, this was fun!
With these expressions, you’ll quickly become a small talk pro. No conversation will be scary to you! You’ll be able to mingle at parties without constantly wondering what to say next, start conversations with your coworkers in the coffee room without anxiety, and maybe even confidently start a conversation with your crush.
And if you’d like to further expand your vocabulary so you can have even more eloquent, exciting and engaging conversations with your coworkers, friends, and strangers, check out other articles on our English blog. Toodaloo!