I am introverted. I do not enjoy being around people for a long time, especially if they are strangers who I have nothing in common with. Since you are reading this advice you may be having the same problem. Let me share with you some tips that have helped me becoming better at smalltalk.
#1 Let The Other Person Talk
As long as you are not genuinely interested in the person you are forced to talk with (or you do not want this person to know anything about you) it´s your best option to talk as less as possible. Agree with the other person, show them you´re listening and ask a small question every two minutes or so.
If you find a topic the other one is passionate about do NOT change the topic! Chances are you won´t even have to say anything to keep the “conversation” going. It may turn into a monologue and you do not have to endure an embarrassed silence.
On the other hand the person will appreciate you for letting them talk about their passion. They are very likely to remember how you made them feel important. It´s also an easy way to make other people like you more.
#2 Ask About Their Family
If you meet someone for the first time it may be hard to find a topic they are passionate about right away. If you find yourself running out of things to say just ask them about their family.
You will either hear a heartbreaking story how they lost their family and decided to become Batman. Or you will simply know more about some weird aunts and cousins afterwards.
Details about oneself´s family are often very personal. If they share them with you they are very likely to feel connected to you afterwards as if you have suddenly become a part of that family. That´s a simple way to start a friendship (if you want that).
Chances are you will have a weird family story yourself that you might want to share with them for some laughter.
While I personally do not find it weird if someone asks if I have any siblings it may be too upfront for others. You can either start talking about your family first to make the topic less awkward or personal or you subtly change the conversation to that topic.
You could point out for example that one of your uncles looks exactly like the waiter or something like that. Or how your step-sister owns a dog of the same breed as the one over there. You may need to get a little bit creative with that.
#3 Do Not Interview
You are not about to hire the other person for a job so do not ask question after question after question. Give them some time to actually talk and go into detail about what you were talking about. They may want to ask you some questions as well.
Pick up the topics they are already talking about to make your questions more interesting. If someone tells you that they are a dentist do not ask them the next question immediately. Add a little comment about how they do not look as scary as you remember dentists being from your childhood. Bonus points if you make them laugh.
Only then proceed to ask the next question. The other person will not feel like they are being interviewed by a stranger and is willing to keep the conversation going.
#4 Find Out The Why
This is the ultimate tool to make the person you´re talking to like you. Always try to find out or ask directly about the Why. Why is this person enjoying knitting so much? Why do they never want a pet? Why did they travel to Asia? Why are they here tonight? Why did they decide to become a teacher at a primary school?
People LOVE talking about themselves. And the more they talk the less you have to talk (see also #1).
Asking for the Why behind their decisions will make them feel appreciated. It will also lead to more meaningful conversations if that´s your goal. Be prepared to deal with some very philosophical thoughts.
These tips are easy to follow even if you hate smalltalk (or other people in general). Don´t worry too much about it, the other person is probably not very happy about smalltalking, too. And if you black out and say nothing at all they won´t even remember it in three days.
If you have any additional tips for fellow superheroes struggling with smalltalk please leave a comment below. I am sure it will be highly appreciated. We all need to help each other to grow.