‘How are you? Hope you’re having a good week.’
How do you feel about small talk? Is it something fun to engage in & a way to get to know the other person? A necessary, but empty part of the conversation? A waste of time & you avoid it? Or something you even dread?
And how has small talk changed since we have moved most of our meetings online?
British small talk
For British people, it is a very necessary part of the conversation, a way to build connection & relationships before getting down to business. Although small talk isn’t unique to the UK, I think the way we engage in small talk is cultural so you need to understand how it works & the conversation rituals.
If you’re somebody who doesn’t enjoy the chit chat, or finds it strained & awkward, especially if English is a 2nd or 3rd language for you, then this can make this part of the social interaction challenging.
How much is enough small talk?
It’s always useful to take the lead from the other person, but I usually give the guidance that you want to spend about 5-10 minutes at the start of a face-to-face meeting in small talk.
What people tend to forget is that small talk at the end of the meeting is also important to create connection & a sense of rapport that will last beyond the meeting. This end part of small talk doesn’t have to last long. In fact, it may only be a minute or 2 at the end, but it also plays its role to leave a good, professional impression.
How does small talk change in online meetings?
Small talk is even more important in virtual meetings! If we miss out this vital step, we risk only focusing on our agenda & the key messages we are trying to deliver, losing the opportunity to have human connection & social interaction. I would argue this is even more important in this current time, where many people are working separately from home.
What might change is the amount of small talk & you could find there is only a few minutes at the start & a brief chat at the end before leaving the meeting.
How do I engage in small talk?
The opener is nice & easy, and as you probably expect starts with: ‘How are you?’
This has its automatic answer, ‘Fine, and you?’
Sounds simple, but not every culture answers this question with such a brief answer!
What’s important to realise is that these phrases are the starter of the conversation, and the British do not tend to go into detail at this point. People get into the main part of the conversation later.
The reason why is that most British people are fairly private & don’t like to overshare details, even if they are not feeling great or experiencing challenging times. So be cautious of sharing too much information at the start of the conversation, unless you know the person well and they ask!
I find small talk in English awkward & I don’t know what to say. Help!
If you are somebody who finds small talk unnatural & you get stuck about what to say, then just simply use my handy Small Talk Filler below. Here you can find my topic ideas & phrase combinations to get confident & know what to talk about & how to say it.
Just read from left to right & pick a part of a phrase from each column to build up your small talk.
I suggest you pre-plan a meeting by choosing a few phrases you would like to try out, then see how they feel for you. Experiment & you will start identifying the phrases that you prefer & work in your personal situations.
Hope you found my insight into small talk helpful & please feel free to get in touch with any questions or comments. I would love to talk to you & we can certainly meet up for a virtual cuppa if you need further help on small talk.
Have a good rest of the week & look forward to sharing my tips & ideas with you soon.
Victoria Rennoldson, Founder of Perfect Cuppa English
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