• Christie Coughlan

A big guide to small talk

You’re at a crowded train station and, would you believe it , Katie from your year 12 Chemistry class is right behind you. Your first instinct might be to ignore her, that’s usually much easier than having to put yourself through the dreaded pain of making small talk (yuck). No one likes doing it, hardly anyone is good at doing it, it’s something that we try to avoid at all costs. What do you know? Katie’s already seen you, there’s no backing out now, she’s awkwardly walking over to say hi.


For some reason you start feeling nervous, you immediately try and flood your brain with potential conversation starters or funny, clichéd one-liners, (“Fancy seeing you here”), that are just bound to turn you into a bumbling mess. You’ve said ‘Hi’, politely hugged one another, now what?

The basics: Don't panic, start with a simple, “How are you?” “How have you been?” “How's your family going?” “What are you doing here?” There’s nothing wrong with covering the basics by asking a few general questions. This also gives you time to think of what you’re going to say next while you pretend to listen to their story about how they are in the process of moving house and how tiring it is packing up boxes all day. You poor thing. Just nod and smile politely.

Before: The fact that it has been so long is both a blessing a curse. Ask about what they’ve done since you saw them last. Did they complete a degree, move out, start a family, buy a dog? Of course, it’s super fkn awkward if they haven’t done anything at all over the last five years, so make sure you have a comforting line ready to throw their way if this is the case. “Ah, yes, but why would you ever want to leave (hometown), it’s got everything that you need. I’m personally hating making all these new friends and trying out these new experiences. It’s just awful.”

After: So you’ve already covered the past so why not ask what they have planned for their future? Career prospects, holidays they may have booked or desperately want to go on, if they have a partner or even what they have planned for the weekend. Don’t forget to contribute too, maybe they’re more of a listener than a talker and it may prompt them to elaborate some more.

Reminisce: While you may have drifted apart in recent years remember you were close at some point. Have fun remembering old parties, that time she threw up on a tree in the park, fun times in high school or a teacher that you both hated. Chances are you’ll be flooded with nostalgia in no time.

Mutual Friends: This is a great one to keep both of you talking for a while, just what is Defqon Dave up to these days? Hopefully at least one of you has kept in touch, so you can talk about them for a while and maybe plan for the two of you to meet up with Dave for a drink some time, he really was a funny dude. Gaining some facts about your other friends ensures you have conversation starters with them too if you happen to awkwardly run into them at the next station.

Talk slowly: Sometimes it’s not just the content you talk about but the manner in which you say it. Nod when they speak, actually listen, talk slowly when it’s your turn and don’t skip details that you normally would to save time; you never know how long this conversation will last and more is definitely better.

Make plans to catch up: There’s no denying it, being forced to make small talk isn’t the nicest situation to be in but it could have easily been avoided if you kept in touch in the first place so don’t forget to get their number and organise lunch sometime and, yes, actually go! That is if you actually like them, if not, then don't engage in the first place! Avoid eye contact at all times people.

Hopefully these tips will help you to hold a conversation for more than ten seconds and if you're stuck for ideas, why not give one of these conversation starts a go? Their answers will be interesting either way:

  1. What’s something inappropriate that you’ve done at work lately?

  2. If you were a fruit or vegetable, what do you think you’d be?

  3. What’s the worst pick up line you’ve ever heard?

  4. What's your favourite song on one of the 'So Fresh' albums?

  5. What’s the worst thing you would eat for $25,000?

  6. How many times do you think you've sneezed today?

  7. Who would play you in a film about your life?

  8. Tell me about the worst date you have ever been on.

  9. If you were reincarnated as an animal, what would it be?

  10. Do you want to see my fit my whole fist in my mouth?

Christie is a Twenty Something freelance writer. She has a degree in Communications, majoring in Journalism and sub-majoring in Media Arts Production. When she isn’t writing Christie enjoys drawing, reading, exploring Sydney and going to metal concerts

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