Small Talk Tips: how and when to speak informally in English

by | Jul 16, 2018 | Business & Professional English, Tips for Students

Small Talk Tips: What is small talk?

Have you ever been waiting for a bus and had a stranger randomly start talking to you about the weather? Or met someone new at a social event where the two of you talk about seemingly unimportant random topics? If you answered yes, it sounds like you are in need of some small talk tips, so read on, we can help! 

Well, this is small talk. Knowing how and when to speak informally in English is the key to successfully speaking with strangers or being comfortable in an uncomfortable business meeting. If you feel like you need help with navigating the world of small talk, then you are in the right place: below you will find 6 top small talk tips to send you on your way. using small talk in english


We’ve all been in the awkward situation of being caught chatting with someone at a social event about uninteresting and unimportant stuff such as the current weather patterns. This is what is termed “Small Talk.” Small Talk is basically defined as functional conversation designed to fill in the silence.

If English is your 2nd language, this can be a tricky situation to be placed in. Understanding not only the language but also the culture is crucial to ensure that you are successful in carrying on this basic conversation.

Here are some basic guidelines to help you master the art of small talk:


Tips for small talk: how and when to speak informally in English

Small Talk Tip 1: Be polite

You don’t have to be a dynamic public speaker and leave the person you were speaking with in complete awe of you. You just have to be nice. Conversing with strangers is difficult, however, the 1st rule to remember is to always be polite and smile.

Small Talk Tip 2: Remember Their Name

using small talk to speak informally in englishIntroduce yourself to each person as they come into the conversation. When they tell you their name, remember to use that name back to them at least 3 times during the conversation. For example, if you meet Ashley and she says that she is a lawyer a perfect response would be: “Very impressive, Ashley, what field of law are you practicing in?” Should another person join the conversation, you would introduce Ashley to the new person stating both of their names. At some point in the conversation you could also turn and ask Ashley what she thinks of the weather.

Remembering someone’s name is huge when it comes to both being nice and also being professional. People love to hear the sound of their own name being spoken, and when they know that you remembered them, they will feel special.

 Small Talk Tip 3: Be Prepared

Always, have 3 Small Talk questions present for every social and business situation you are in. You may think this would take a lot of work, but it really doesn’t. Your social “report card” affects every aspect of your business and personal life, so a little pre-game prep is crucial.

For Example: You are going to a business meeting at a new restaurant that just opened up. A couple of ideas could be: “How did you hear about this question?” “How long has this place been open?” -or- “Is this a chain restaurant?”

Small Talk Tip 4: Remember Small Details

One of the most effective skills I’ve learned to master, and the simplest of our small talk tips, is to remember little things about each person such as what their favorite flower is, or how many children they have. I take these small tidbits of information and put it into my cell phone, so I can easily pull this up regardless of where I am. This goes a long way in my interactions. I usually know ahead of time who is going to be at an event, so pulling up my phone records really helps.

Small Talk Tip 5: Know Your Audience

The rules on small talk change according to culture, in the States, it is customary to shake hands as you are introduced to someone or see someone for the first time. In Spain, it is customary to kiss someone we haven’t seen in a while. The question to kiss or not to kiss is always a question.

Generally, if someone is a person you know well and see often, the kiss or a hug is customary. However, a firm handshake is a safe, neutral choice.

Small Talk Tip 6: Avoid the big 3

In any setting, always stay away from the Big “3” which are: Religion, Money and Politics. This is considered to be taboo. Should someone bring this up while in your company, politely excuse yourself to use the powder room. The idea in Small Talk is to bring people together. These 3 topics seem to separate others. And as we’ve learned in the beginning, the #1 Rule is simply to be polite.

Using small talk in business English

small talk: how and when to speak informally in english

Remember the goal: Connection. Whether a superior, a peer or a client, the goal is to connect with the other person. Once you connect with another person, you will become more likeable to them.

The most important of all small talk tips is to ask Questions. Such as: “Have you ever been to ____ before” “What hotel are you staying at?” “How many children do you have?”

Find out where they are from and what college they went to. Make mention of their college sports team. Ask about the climate in their hometown.

Ask them what they like such as: Sports? Sushi? Dancing?


Small talk conversation starters

Knowing some basic phrases will really help you master when and how to speak informally in English. Know that we know what small talk is and some basic rules of it, also knowing some topics and phrases will be helpful.


  • Beautiful day, isn’t it?
  • Can you believe all of this rain we’ve been having?
  • We couldn’t ask for a nicer day, could we?

Current Events

  • Did you catch the news today?
  • How about the Yankees? Do you think they’ll win tonight?
  • Ask about anything you heard/read in the news, but remember to stay unbiased.

Social Events

  • Pretty nice place, huh?
  • I love your dress. Can I ask where you got it?
  • So, how do you know the host?

At the Office

  • Have you worked here long?
  • Looking forward to the weekend?
  • It’s been a long week, huh?


  • How long have you been waiting?
  • The bus/train must be running late.
  • Nice day to be outside, isn’t it?

Making polite conversation is easy if you follow our small talk tips. Just always remember that knowing when and how to speak informally in English is just as much about the culture as it is about the language. Always be very polite even if it feels uncomfortable. Show an interest in the person/people that you are meeting or trying to fill an uncomfortable silence with. Have fun with it and go out and start some conversations. What better way to practice speaking English than with strangers?

This article was written by Stephanie Price and Edited by Elizabeth Drayton, Teacher Trainer at Break Into English.