Last week, I wrote about how bad I am at small talk. That’s only half true. While I doubt I will ever enjoy chatting about topics like the weather if I don’t get any practical information out of it, I generally like the listening and learning element of any conversation. And, if I’m in a social situation with the duck, I don’t have to worry about ever having to do anything but listen.
Articles about improving your small talk skills mention having a list of topics and questions (memorized) that you can fall back on in a small talk situation. I love lists, but I don’t love all of the most commonly suggested small talk phrases. A lot of them would sound too rehearsed and impersonal to me. So, I asked my favorite small talk partner to help me compose a list of duck-approved topics to supplement the general questions everybody’s asking. Here it is:
The talk may be small, but these five topics promise to be a great success (says the duck)
1. What’s your favorite anecdote? Why is it your favorite? How many times have you shared it? If you’re at a larger gathering, you could offer to “help spread the word” and urge every new person you meet to ask “that person over there about X” (with “X” signifying the anecdote and “that person over there” your previous conversation partner whose name you’ve probably forgotten if you’re anything like me). This would squish two peeps with one mouth: You have a secret mission that turns any new small talk situation into a game. And through colluding with X, you’re likely jumpstarting your relationship, which might mean less small talk in the future.
Alternatively, you could inquire about your small talk partner’s future favorite anecdote by asking about their dream adventure and, maybe, if any zombies would be involved.
2. What’s the worst gift you’ve ever given? Why did you do that? On a scale from 1 to 5, how embarrassed are you? I’m serious about picking out gifts, which is also why I know that many of the ones I land on suck (clearly, the duck agrees). If asked these questions, I’d have plenty of stories to share. If you feel like your small talk partner isn’t ready to deal with this topic, you could instead ask about the best or funniest gift they’ve received.
3. If you had to choose one sense to lose, which would it be (if you don’t specify what kind of sense you mean, you could end up with answers like “taste” but also “sense of direction“)? If you could have an extra sense, what would it be? The duck says out of all the topics on this list, this one has the most potential to transition into a proper conversation. Depending on the answers, numerous new talking points could open up.
4. What is your favorite/ideal ice cream? Which flavor(s), base(s), temperature, texture, color(s), personality type, … (feel free to add any additional attributes you can think of) would it have? In gallons/liters (choose a volume measurement unit your small talk
victim partner is not familiar with if you want to add measuring systems to your list of topics) or fractions – how much freezer space should be reserved for ice cream? This one’s pretty self-explanatory.
5. ___, am I right? Try to fill in the blank with as unexpected a topic as you can come up with. The duck’s favorites include zombies, raccoons, toothpicks, notational systems, airplane seat pockets, index toes, endoplasmatic reticula, and trapezoids. Ideally, you’d want to go with a topic you have something to say about – the weirder, the better.
BONUS: The small talk may be great, but all good things must come to an end
Some articles about small talk suggest having a good exit strategy, as well. Since I sometimes struggle with ending a conversation or leaving a get-together even though I really want to go home to my bag of pretzels, I also asked the duck for tips on how to take leave gracefully. So, here are three bonus suggestions:
B1. Check the time, then mention that you have to go home and feed your pet alligator now. If it’s late, you could utter that you need to catch your favorite infomercial. If it’s very late, explain that “it’s 3 a.m. soon, you know, the witching hour,” then ask: “are you familiar with The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?” and leave (it at that).
B2. Yawn, then share that “I’m getting tired. And the last time I walked home too late, I fell asleep and woke up on the other side of the city. I’ve already reached my step goal, so… bye!”
B3. Check your phone, then exclaim: “Oh no! My lactose intolerant roommate ate all the dairy – I have to go and fetch them some lactase ASAP!” I actually did get out of an awkward situation two of my childhood friends and I had gotten myself into with a similar (lactose-free) exclamation. In fact, my anxiety about being found out made my performance super believable.
– Only do that if all other attempts fail.
Alternatively, you could tell the truth. I often proclaim that I need to pee, am getting hungry, don’t want to get home too late, etc., and then sign off/leave… after only a few minutes of customary closing small talk.
Of course, the standard: “It was great meeting/seeing/talking to you + reference to the conversation” is okay, too… but only if you’re boring! HA!
If you have any favorite (getting out of) small talk topics, the duck and I would love to hear them.