Preparing for Small Talk: A List of the Best and Worst Topics

Small talk is light conversation about general interest topics between people who don't know each other well. If you live with social anxiety disorder (SAD), making small talk can be anxiety-provoking.

One good way to alleviate anxiety is to prepare for the types of topics that are likely to come up. Making small talk involves not only knowing what to say, but also what is best kept private. Below is a list of good small talk topics, as well as those you should avoid.

1
Best: Weather

Women relaxing together with tea
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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 some good conversation openers. 

Below are some ideas of conversation starters you can use:

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

2
Best: Arts and Entertainment

Keep up with recent movies to have something to talk about.
Getty/Heath Korvola

Arts and entertainment topics that are good conversation starters include 

  • movies and television shows
  • popular restaurants
  • popular music
  • books

To prepare for these topics, brush up on what is popular and always be in the middle of reading a good book.

3
Best: Sports

Sports is often a way for strangers to connect.
Getty/Mark Stahl

Sports topics that you can discuss with others include 

  • favorite teams
  • sporting events 
  • tournaments 
  • bowl games

Keep track of what sports are played during which seasons, such as football, soccer, hockey, and golf, so that you are on top of the current action. For example, when the Olympics are taking place, everyone is sure to be buzzing about them. If you don't like sports, talk about why you don't like them!  

4
Best: News

Read or watch the news to keep up with current events.
Getty / Zero Creatives

A great way to prepare for small talk is to read the news every day. Be aware of what is going on in the world and in your city. While paper newspapers are going out of style, digital news either directly from news sources or fed through social media have become popular ways of keeping current. 

Below are some ideas of conversation openers:

  • Did you hear about the new hotel they are building downtown?
  • What do you think about the teachers going on strike?
  • I read that they are going to hike up transit fares, did you hear that?

5
Best: Family

Ask about a person's family to get to know him better.
Getty / Simon Ritzmann

People are likely to ask you about your family. Conversation openers about family may include the following:

  • "Do you have any brothers or sisters?"
  • "How long have you been married?"
  • "Do you have any children?"

Be prepared for these types of questions and reciprocate by asking others about their families.

6
Best: Work

Work is a common topic during small talk.
Getty / Hero Images

Another popular small talk topic is work. You may be asked what you do and 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 or job has a website that people can visit.

Some ideas for work-related small talk include the following:

  • "How long have you worked as a (insert job title)?"
  • "Do you like your job?"
  • "That is an interesting line of work, how did you get into it?"

7
Best: Travel

Travel can be a great conversation topic.
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. Put together albums that you can show people who visit your home.

Ask others about their favorite travel spots and what they recommend. Most people like to help and will be happy to share their experiences.

8
Best: Celebrity Gossip

Celebrities are always a good source of gossip.
Getty / Caiaimage/Robert Daly

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.

9
Best: Hobbies

Ask about a person's hobbies to learn what she loves to do in her spare time.
Getty / Hero 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.

10
Best: Hometown

Some people are proud of their hometowns and like to talk about them.
Getty / Brand New Images

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?"

Ask others about their hometowns as well. You never know who might be from the same place as you and how you might begin forming a connection.

11
Worst: Financial

Money is a topic to avoid during small talk.
Chris Clor / Getty Images

Asking personal financial questions of people that you have just met is inappropriate. It is fine to ask what someone does for work or what the positive aspects are of that career, but do not ask questions about salary. Most people will find this question intrusive and inappropriate.

12
Worst: Politics

Avoid politics when making small talk.
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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.

13
Worst: Religion

Religion is a personal topic to be avoided during small talk.
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Religion is another extremely personal and potentially sensitive topic that should be avoided.

14
Worst: Sex

Sex is a topic to avoid during small talk.
Chris Whitehead / Getty Images

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

15
Worst: Death

Death is not a light-hearted topic.
Witold Skrypczak / Getty Images

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.

16
Worst: Age/Appearance

Never ask a woman if she's pregnant—just in case.
Chris Tobin / Getty Images

Unless you know someone well, avoid topics related to age and appearance.

Do not ask a person's 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 a woman if she is pregnant, or comment that someone has lost weight. You never know the reason for weight gain or loss, and could be left in an uncomfortable situation.

17
Worst: Personal Gossip

Gossip is not the way to make small talk.
Dave and Les Jacobs / Getty Images

While celebrity gossip is fair game during small talk, gossip about people that 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. Avoid bad-mouthing others.

18
Worst: Offensive Jokes

Sexist or racist jokes are never appropriate.
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Save your sensitive jokes for your best friends (or better yet, replace them with jokes that don't have time and place restrictions). In particular, making sexist or racist jokes is offensive and a quick way to end a conversation with strangers.

19
Worst: Narrow Topics

Stories that go on too long can be boring during small talk.
Ezra Bailey / Getty Images

Avoid talking at length about topics that are one-sided. If no one else has seen the movie, don't go into detail about the plot or the funny scenes. Watch for signs that others have lost interest and find a quick ending to your story.

20
Worst: Past Relationships

Don't talk about past loves on a first date.
PhotoAlto / James Hardy / Getty Images

Avoid talking about past relationships on a first date. Making comparisons or talking endlessly about a past love is a turnoff and a quick way to ensure you don't get a second date.

A Word From Verywell

The best small talk topics are those to which everyone can relate and that have no potential to offend. On the other hand, the worst small talk topics alienate, create discomfort, and quickly end conversations. Learn the difference between the two, and you will find it easier to talk to strangers—without feeling stressed.

Sources:

English Club. Small Talk: Who, What, Where, When, Why.

Indiana University Southeast. How to Make Successful Small Talk.

Stanford University. The Art and Science of Small Talk.

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