Starting off with small talk

Starting Off with Small Talk

Starting Off with Small Talk

Last time I told you about small talk topics and what makes them good or bad. This week I’m giving you some help for starting off with small talk. From my experience I know this is what many people struggle with. This is the fourth part of a 5-week training course on small talk. You can download the free pdf workbook for the 5-week training course here

Before we dive in, let’s recap the last few weeks.

In the first part of this training I told you talked about the why behind small talk and why you should make small talk, you can check out the blog post here.

A week later in the second part I informed you about when and with whom you have small talk, here is the link to that post.

Then last week in the third part of the training I introduced you to 16 common topics for small talk and told you what makes the topic good or bad, in case you’d like to check it out, click here.

Today, after having given you the basics, let’s focus on starting off with small talk.

Don’t forget to download the workbook for this training, even if you’ve only just started with the training, you can still grab it and use it. There is an exercise for this post as well. You can download the free pdf workbook for the 5-week training course here


Let’s start off

Now form my experience I know for a fact that this is what very many people struggle with as they consider it to be the most difficult part. It’s like you technically know how to do something but you just don’t dare do it. Well, I’ve provided you with the basics in the past weeks now it’s time to take the plunge and overcome your self-doubts, believe in yourself and go for it! Don’t worry I’m standing at the finish line and cheering for you the whole time.

So, there are some standard phrases, which you can learn to support you to get started.

  1. How are you? – This phrase is used all the time and you don’t even have to learn it. Say it with a smile and it’s a real opener. But don’t expect or give a detailed answer. Remember this is small talk and not a conversation with your doctor.
  2. How are things? This phrase can refer to you personally or about your work or business. The same applies to this phrase, don’t necessarily expect or give a detailed answer, depending on who you’re talking to.


If your job involves dealing with people every day you will need social skills, here are a few more phrases to help you out:

For receptionists, PAs or if you are a visitors first contact:

Welcome to (company name or city or event) Do not say welcome in, that is incorrect in English.

How was your journey/trip?

Can I help you with you luggage?

These questions are a great way of making conversation and getting feedback at the same time:

Did you have difficulties finding us? 

Is everything ok with the hotel?

Have you ever been here before?


Based on what you hear you can use follow-up questions, like in this conversation between Albert and Ben e.g.

A: How are things?

B: Great, I was in New York last week.

A: New York, wow, what did you do there? Was it your first time in New York? Did you do any sightseeing? Where did you stay?

Here we have four questions, two open and two closed questions.

Let’s have a look at the closed questions:

Was it your first time in New York? & Did you do any sightseeing?

You use them to check information and the information you get is limited. This does not get your counterpart talking or aa conversation going. It’s like playing ball against a wall but the ball doesn’t bounce back as it’s not firm enough, it needs more air pressure.

Whereas the open questions

What did you do there? & Where did you stay?

They get your partner talking as he or she has to tell you more than yes or no. Then you have more to ask about and more to get a conversation going.


Another possibility for you is to use question tags. Here is an example conversation between Charles and Don:

C: Have you ever been here before?

D: Yes, three months ago.

C: Then you know about our security procedures, don’t you? (don’t you is the question tag)

If they are too complicated for you, just remember to not use the word ‘or’ at the end. Instead use the word ‘right’, e.g. ‘Then you know about our security procedures, right?

Now you can use such question tags or short questions at the end of a sentence to ask a question or to check information you already know. Most importantly to keep the conversation going, e. g. at the buffet:

The food is good here, isn’t it?  If the sentence is positive, the question tag is negative. 

The food isn’t vegan, is it?   If the sentence is negative, the question tag is positive. 


After the standard phrases, it’s essential to not only hear the words but also to pay attention to the way the words are said. So please listen actively as this will give you a clue of which mood the person is in and then you can decide how to go on. Let’s say the person is in a good mood and has time for small talk.


In the workbook you’ll find an exercise where you have to come up with follow-up questions. So to help you out, we’ll walk you through and give you some examples to start you off.

Statement: We’re going on holiday to Italy this year.

Follow-up questions: Which part are you going to? How are you travelling?

Statement: I live in …

Follow-up questions: Depending if it’s a small village or somewhere well known you can ask different questions.

Small village: Sorry, where is that exactly?

Somewhere well known: Oh, there are a lot of events there, which one would you recommend?

Statement: I haven’t been to this trade fair before.

Follow-up questions: Did you attend the other fair at the end of last year? Which hotel are you staying at?

Statement: My job involves a lot of travelling.

Follow-up questions: Where are you going to next? Have you been there before? We’ve picked these questions to demonstrate that there can be a sequence to asking the questions.

Statement: I’m a freelance trainer.

Follow-up questions: Which languages do you give your seminars in? How often do you have to travel?


So, there you have two follow-up questions for each statement already. Which ones do you come up with? Let me know your thoughts.

Of course, you can just schedule a call with me and tell me Click here to schedule a call now!

Or connect with me on social media like Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing and Twitter. 

One more thing

We’d like to thank you for tuning in and downloading the podcast. We’d love to hear more from you. Most importantly you can help us by rating us on iTunes and if you like leave a review. By doing that you’ll help us get a bigger reach. We know that rating us takes up your time and that’s why we’ve decided to raffle three books among all of you who rate us on iTunes.

All you have to do to take part is to rate us and leave a comment. Make a screenshot of your rating and comment and send it to us either by email or as a DM on Instagram.

These are the books you can win: Atomic Habits by James Clear, Denglish for Better Knowers by Adam Fletcher and Paul Hawkins and Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker. You can participate throughout February 2019. We will make the draw on 5 March 2019.

Take care


PS Yvette and I have a podcast called “Your English Podcast”.  You can find it on iTunes and on Spotify sign up for it, so you don’t miss the next episode.


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