It doesn’t matter how bad you are at small talk: With practice and the right strategies, you can improve. Small talk is a skill just like any other.
1) Look for opportunities to make small talk.
The more frequently you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become. You’ll also quickly learn which topics generate the best conversations, how to gauge a person’s mood and personality by their body language and tone of voice when to pivot to new topics, and the signs a conversation has wrapped up.
To reduce your nervousness, practice your small talk in a low-stakes environment. Go to a casual networking event for a different industry, attend a meetup, or ask your friends to bring you along to their work events.
You can also “train” by talking to strangers when you’re out and about — just make sure you don’t force a conversation with anyone who’s clearly not interested.
2) Pretend you’re speaking to a friend.
Would you be on edge if you were making small talk with someone you knew really well? Probably not. If you need a quick trick to mitigate your anxiety, pretend the other person is a good friend. As an added benefit, this mental shift will make you seem warmer and friendlier.
3) Give yourself a break.
Don’t dwell on awkward moments or long silences. We’re all far more focused on and critical of ourselves than anyone else in the room. You might be cringing for days after you mess up someone’s name or crack a joke that falls flat, but chances are, every other person will forget within two minutes.
Next time you’re worried about a specific faux pas, remind yourself it’s nowhere near as big a deal as you think.
4) Set a goal.
Having an objective can make small talk feel more meaningful. For example, maybe you commit to meeting four people at an event or exchanging contact information with two other professionals in your field.
Once you’ve got a concrete goal, you’ll feel purposeful and focused. This also allows you to objectively measure your success.