Small talk is often defined as ‘polite conversation about things that are not very important’. So why is small talk so important in the business world? And how can you improve your small talk skills?

People usually find that making small talk with someone they don’t know very well makes a situation less stressful. It helps them to see the other person as a human being and can lead to a personal connection and the start of a great working relationship.

Here are ten tips to help you make small talk:

1. Breaking the ice

Asking “How are you?” or making a comment about the weather (“It’s a lovely day, isn’t it!”) is your way of finding out how much the person wants a conversation with you. A very short answer and no smile probably means they don’t feel like speaking, and you’ll have to try a little harder.

2. Their journey

Everyone has to travel, whether that’s by plane or simply on foot. “How did you get here today?”, “How was your flight?” and “Was it easy to find a place to park?” are all good conversation starters when speaking to visitors.

3. Their job

We spend most of our lives working, so this is usually a good question. “Are you busy at work at the moment?” or “How are things at work?” are OK before the real business issues are discussed later.

4. The immediate environment

Try making a comment about what you see around you. It’s much easier to make small talk at a conference (“Have you been to this hotel before?”) or business dinner (“What are you going to order?”) than in an empty meeting room.

5. Free time

People generally enjoy their free time and are happy to talk about what they do, as long as it’s not too private. What’s the best small talk question on a Monday? “How was your weekend?” And for a Friday? “Do you have any plans for the weekend?”

6. Holidays

It doesn’t matter if it’s a weekend city break or the trip of a lifetime, people love speaking about their holidays. Before the summer, ask: “Are you planning to go on holiday this year?” and after:“Have you been on holiday this year?”

7. Family

Be careful with this one as some people might have family problems or sad memories. Wait until they mention a wife, brother or daughter; then you’ll know they’re happy to talk about them: “It’s your son’s birthday? How old is he?”

8. The news

Politics and religion are extremely dangerous topics and should be avoided. A lighter question like “Did you see the football match yesterday evening?” would be much more suitable.

9. And you?

A person will often ask you about things they are interested in. When you’ve answered the question, try asking “And you?”  As well as finding out something about them, this will also give you a break from speaking!

10. Don’t be afraid

If the person’s first language is English, they’ll usually be happy to help you out. And don’t be afraid to make the first move and start the conversation. A ‘boring’ small talk question could lead to the most interesting conversation you’ve ever had!

What’s your best small talk tip?