Small Talk Topics

The Best and Worst Things to Talk About

Small talk topics are good conversation starters between people who don't know each other well. If you live with social anxiety disorder (SAD), making small talk can be anxiety-provoking. It can also be difficult if you tend to be more introverted.

Learning to make small talk can help build the confidence you need to start conversations, make connections, and develop your social skills. Even if you are uncomfortable, avoiding small talk all together only serves to worsen anxiety in the long run.

Rather than being scared of small talk, make a point of overcoming your fear of it. One good way to alleviate anxiety is to know what things to talk about and what to avoid.

Best Topics
  • Weather

  • Arts and entertainment

  • Sports

  • Family

  • Food

  • Work

  • Travel

  • Celebrity gossip

  • Hobbies

  • Hometown

Worst Topics
  • Finances

  • Politics and religion

  • Sex

  • Death

  • Appearance

  • Personal gossip

  • Offensive jokes

  • Narrow topics

  • Past relationships

  • Health

Best Small Talk Topics

If you are looking for some good conversation starters, here are a few topics to consider.

Weather

Checking the weather app on a phone

Gavin Allanwood / Unsplash

Although talking about the weather may seem mundane, it is a good neutral topic that everyone can discuss. Did a big storm just blow through? Are you in the middle of a heatwave?

Look no further than outside your door for conversation starters such as:

  • Lovely day, don't you think?
  • Looks like rain is in the forecast.
  • Did you order this beautiful weather?

Practice making small talk about the weather by asking someone one of these questions the next time you find yourself in the middle of an awkward silence. They may open up other topics as the conversation progresses.

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and entertainment topics that are good conversation starters include:

Examples of things you might ask are:

  • Are you reading any great books? I could use some recommendations.
  • Are there any podcasts you love? 
  • Have you tried any new apps or games lately that you really like? I could use some suggestions.

Skip talking about movies, television, or books that your conversation partner has not seen or read. If no one else has seen the movie, don't go into detail about the plot or the funny scenes. Find some common ground and build your discussion from there.

You might have to ask several people before you get someone interested in talking with you—that's okay. Be okay with rejection, or actually seek it out. It's all just practice, after all.

Remember that small talk is about building a bridge between you and another person. It doesn't matter so much what you talk about, but rather that you start talking.

Sports

Sports topics are good things to talk about with people you don't know very well. They can include:

  • Favorite or local teams
  • Sporting events
  • Tournaments or championships

Keep track of what sports are played during which seasons—such as football, soccer, hockey, and golf—so you are on top of the current action. The Olympic Games are always a good option if they are taking place as everyone is sure to be buzzing about them.

If your conversation partner supports a rival team, avoid trash-talking. Instead, focus on keeping your discussion on things like team or player performance.

Ask someone, "Did you catch that golf tournament over the weekend?" While this might feel uncomfortable the first few times you do it, eventually, it will feel more natural to you.

Family

Family playing on bed

Simon Ritzmann / Getty Images

People are likely to ask you about your family. Conversation starters about family may include:

  • Do you have any brothers or sisters?
  • How long have you been with your partner?
  • Where does your family live?

Be prepared for these types of questions and reciprocate by asking others about their families. Engaging in this type of small talk displays your communication skills. It also helps you learn a lot about a person in a short period of time.

Although family can be a great conversation starter, use caution when asking about potentially sensitive topics. For example, asking someone if they have kids or plan to have kids can be difficult if that person is experiencing infertility. If the other person brings up their children, however, feel free to ask about them.

Food

couple preparing food in kitchen at home

Maskot / Getty Images

Food can be a great topic for small talk as long as you keep it neutral and focus on the positive. You might ask someone for recommendations for local restaurants, ask what their favorite dish to order is, or if they enjoy cooking at home.

Some examples of food-based topics include:

  • Have you tried any new restaurants lately?
  • What's your favorite meal to cook at home?
  • Do you have any ideas for good work lunches? I'm out of ideas and I'm sick of sandwiches.

As with other conversation starters, stick to positive topics and avoid complaining about foods you dislike.

Work

Another popular small talk topic is work. You may be asked what you do or whether you like your job. If you do something unusual that is hard to explain, consider keeping business cards in your wallet. This works particularly well if your company has a website that people can visit.

You might start a chat with an opener such as:

  • How long have you worked as a [insert job title]/How long have worked at [insert company]?
  • What do you enjoy most about your job?
  • That is an interesting line of work. How did you get into it?

Always focus on what you'd like to learn about others and things you enjoy talking about. This will make the process of small talk feel more like fun than work.

Be careful to avoid getting into complaints or grievances about work, however. Others might develop poor perceptions of you based on these negative interactions.

Travel

Road going off into the mountains
Buena Vista Images / Getty Images

People like to hear about vacations. If you travel, be ready to answer questions and give your opinions about the places you have visited.

Ask others about their favorite travel spots and what they recommend. Many people like to help and will be happy to share their experiences. This can also be a great way to put your conversation partner in a happy frame of mind by allowing them to recount a joyful vacation.

Celebrity Gossip

It isn't necessary to follow celebrity gossip to make small talk. However, it is a good idea to know a little bit about some of the most popular celebrities in case the topic comes up.

Save this type of small talk for informal gatherings or casual parties, not work events. Unless everyone else at your work conference is discussing a celebrity, it's best to lead with something else.

Joining a Conversation

If you are trying to break into a group conversation, always establish eye contact, smile, and introduce yourself first. Then listen and remember the names of the other people in the group.

Hobbies

Woman scuplting

Hero Images / Getty Images

People like to talk about their hobbies and are likely to be interested in yours. If you don't have any hobbies, consider trying something new. Not only will you have something to talk about, but having a hobby will give you a chance to meet others with similar interests.

Be sure to ask follow-up questions as you listen to someone talk about their hobbies. Listen between the lines, as well. If someone says, "That was the last time I ever went skiing," for instance, ask why.

Hometown

In a small talk situation, you might be asked about your hometown. For example:

  • How is where you grew up different from where you live now?
  • Why did you leave?

Have an interesting anecdote or story ready to tell. Ask others about their hometowns as well. You never know who might be from the same place as you, making this a good opportunity to form a connection.

How to Remember Names

How can you remember people's names? Focus, repeat the name, think of someone you know with that name, use the name in conversation, and say it again when leaving the conversation.

Worst Things to Talk About

Once you know a few good conversation starters, it's helpful to also recognize what type of small talk topics you're better off avoiding.

Finances

Asking personal financial questions of people you've just met is inappropriate. It is fine to ask what someone does for work or the positive aspects of that career, but do not ask about their salary. Most people will find this question intrusive and inappropriate, and it may bring up some bad vibes if they have financial stress.

Politics and Religion

The problem with talking about politics is that you never know who in the crowd may have strong opinions. Stay away from this topic unless you want to risk ending up in the middle of a heated conversation. Religion is another extremely personal and potentially sensitive topic that should be avoided.

Sex

Talking about sex or asking questions of an intimate nature is inappropriate during small talk. When talking with strangers, avoid talking openly about sexual topics and refrain from making sexual innuendos. Both are likely to make others uncomfortable.

Death

Death is another heavy topic that should be avoided during small talk. When you are in the company of strangers, do not bring up emotional topics that have the potential to be upsetting.

Appearance

A woman looking at her reflection in a mirror.

Yadira G. Morel / Getty Images

Unless you know someone well, don't ask their age. Although the question might seem simple to you, it can be a hot topic for some.

In addition, avoid questions related to appearance. Do not ask anyone if they are pregnant or comment that they have lost weight. You never know the reason for weight gain or loss and, as a result, could be left in an uncomfortable situation.

Personal Gossip

While celebrity gossip is fair game during small talk, gossip about people you know personally is not. Gossiping about others not only paints you in a bad light but you never know who might know each other. Not bad-mouthing others can save you from potential embarrassment.

Offensive Jokes

Making sexist or racist jokes is offensive and a quick way to end a conversation. Save your sensitive jokes for your best friends—or better yet, replace them with jokes that don't have time and place restrictions.

Sometimes people make jokes they don't realize might offend others. If the joke pokes fun at someone due to their race, culture, sex, or sexual orientation, skip it. Also avoid jokes that touch on hot-button, controversial, or political issues. 

If your joke is at the expense of someone else, it's best to avoid it.

Narrow Topics

People talking on a bench outside
Ezra Bailey / Getty Images

Avoid talking at length about topics that are one-sided. This might include specialized expertise in a particular field or uncommon hobbies of which your conversation partner has no knowledge.

This doesn't mean you don't have to avoid mentioning these topics entirely. If someone asks you what your hobbies are, for instance, mentioning some uncommon ones can be an interesting jumping-off point for certain conversations.

The key is to keep the discussion more general and skip getting into long-winded speeches about highly specialized things you are passionate about (unless the other person shares those same passions).

Watch for signs that others have lost interest and, if they appear, find a quick ending to your story.

Past Relationships

Avoid talking about past relationships on a first date or within other small talk conversations. When forging new romantic connections, making comparisons or talking endlessly about a past love interest is a turnoff and may ensure you don't get a second date.

Talking about past relationships tends to focus on negative topics, which is generally something you should try to avoid when making small talk. Your conversation partner may be hesitant to talk, as well, if it seems like you might talk negatively about them in the future.

Health

Health issues tend to make poor choices for small talk. While you might be tempted to share the latest health kick you're trying, or ache and pain you're suffering, the person you are sharing it with may be less interested. Some topics to avoid include:

  • Telling people how they should feel about a health condition
  • Offering "quick cures" for complex medical issues
  • Suggesting that people could lose weight or get fit by following your tips

Avoid discussing potentially sensitive health issues, whether they are your own or somebody else's. Asking others about their health can come off as intrusive, so it's best to avoid it.

How to Start a Conversation

There are a number of things you can do to help make small talk easier, whether you are meeting new people or dealing with social anxiety at a party. Asking open-ended questions and engaging in active listening can help you have great conversations with new people.

Try to stay positive and discuss optimistic topics. Avoid complaining, airing grievances, or displaying a pessimistic attitude. If you do bring up something that isn't generating interest or find yourself in an awkward conversation, change the subject and move on to something else. 

A Word From Verywell

Remember, making small talk gets easier with practice. Consider starting conversations and rehearse some topics that you might want to use and you will find it easier to talk to strangers—without feeling stressed.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the purpose of small talk?

    Small talk is a good way to start a conversation with someone you don't know or don't know well. If the talk progresses, it can even start a friendship. Small talk is also a good way to pass the time in certain situations, such as when waiting in line at the store.

  • How do you avoid small talk?

    If small talk makes you truly uncomfortable, you can avoid it by politely excusing yourself from the conversation. If you are engaged in a book or have your earbuds in, it's also less likely that someone will try to start a conversation with you.

    That said, if your goal in avoiding small talk is to have more meaningful conversations, asking open-ended questions is a good way to prompt a more in-depth discussion.

  • How do you get better at making small talk?

    Practice, practice, and practice some more. Like anything in life, if you want to get better at making small talk, you benefit from doing it more often. Try starting a conversation with people you don't know whenever you can. Stores, waiting rooms, and other public places are good places to practice your small talk skills.

  • Why do introverts hate small talk?

    Some introverts hate small talk because they're shy and talking with people they don't know makes them feel uncomfortable. Others simply prefer to be alone and find social interactions mentally draining. Introverts also tend to enjoy deeper conversations more. So, small talk might not stimulate them mentally.

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