Imagine this: you’re having a casual conversation at a social gathering or networking event. You’ve introduced yourself and covered the basics.
You want to keep chatting with this person, but you feel a bit stuck. What should you say next?
In this video, you’ll learn how to ask better questions and keep the conversation going when making small talk in American English.
We’ll talk about 17 neutral (but interesting!) topics of conversation so that you’re prepared whenever you need to make small talk.
Knowing how to ask simple, yet engaging questions can help you feel more confident anytime you find yourself making small talk, whether that’s in the workplace, with acquaintances or friends at a social gathering, or even with strangers that you’ve just met.
We’ll talk about neutral topics of conversation so that you can be prepared without worrying that what you say may be inappropriate.
The Secret to Becoming a Great Conversationalist
Before we get started with the questions, I want to share my biggest secret that will help you become a great conversationalist in American English.
No, it’s not learning how to talk at length on more and more complicated topics. It’s not changing your personality and becoming more outgoing.
It’s so simple, but it really works!
Ask more questions.
Why is this? In conversations, the person who’s asking the questions is the person who directs the conversation.
When you’re asking questions, you don’t have to think about what you’re going to say.
Instead, you’re listening to what the other person has to say and showing your interest in them.
This is super important for connecting with others when making small talk.
A great conversationalist keeps the conversation going.
By asking more questions, you learn more about the other person.
For this reason, even if you don’t have a lot to say about the topic, you can ask the other person more questions to keep them talking.
Most people love talking about their interests, their passions, their hobbies, and their unique expertise.
If you ask them for suggestions, they’ll usually be more than happy to share their knowledge.
Most of the topics we’ll cover in this video start with an observation followed by a question.
This is the best way to get people talking about themselves.
If you find five questions you feel comfortable asking, you’ll be much better prepared next time you have the opportunity to make small talk!
Let’s get started!
Neutral Topics Focused on Daily Activities
Let’s start off with neutral topics focused on daily activities, things we do every single day.
These topics are general and they give you a chance to feel the other person out, to see if they want to engage in a longer conversation.
Recent weather over the past few days
Weather is the most common topic for small talk and some people feel like it can be boring.
Make talking about the weather more interesting by relating it to the other person’s hobbies or routines.
- It’s been so warm out lately! Have you spent any time outside recently?
- The rain has been nonstop this week. Are you getting sick of staying indoors?
- It got cold so quickly. I finally had to break out a heavy jacket. What about you?
Traffic or the daily commute, especially in larger cities
Everyone has to get around one way or another, and we usually have an opinion about it. Here are some questions to ask:
- There was so much traffic on my way to work. I took I-5, but there has to be a better way. How did you get here?
- Today on my way to school, there was an accident involving a truck carrying a load of oranges. I’ve never seen anything like that. They were all over the road. Have you ever seen anything like that?
- My commute was so short today that I didn’t get a chance to finish my podcast. What do you like listening to on the way to work /in the car / on the train?
- The Red Line was super slow today. It was so frustrating. Did that affect you too?
Neutral Topics Related to Entertainment
Things You Read About or Saw on Social Media
If you’re not sure what to talk about, you can come prepared with something you read about or saw on social media.
You can ask a question to see if your coworker has heard about it, and if not, you can share a few details.
- Did you hear about…?
- Have you seen that article about….?
- Have you heard anything about…?
- I read the craziest thing on Facebook yesterday….. Did you happen to see it?
Recent viral YouTube / Facebook / Instagram videos
Similarly, you can bring up recent viral YouTube or Facebook videos, especially the ones about animals.
Just about everyone watches funny, interesting, or even shocking videos on YouTube.
If you’ve seen something amusing or inspiring, you can use that as a conversation starter.
- Did you see that video of [a racoon stealing a donut]?
- I saw the cutest video the other day. It was about….
- What did you think of that video about…? Have you seen it?
Local sporting events
You may choose to mention local sporting events, especially if the team is having a good season.
But you have to remember that in some cities, there are big rivalries between competitive sports teams, so be careful when expressing controversial preferences.
(Believe it or not, finding a way to talk about sports can actually help your career.)
- I saw that the Celtics had a great game last night. Did you watch it?
- Last night’s baseball game went into overtime. I couldn’t stay awake any longer! How’d it turn out?
- I don’t know much about American football. Do you have a favorite team? How are they doing this year?
Major television / entertainment events
Another option is to talk about major television or entertainment events.
Every few months, there are major television events that are watched by a lot of people, such as the Super Bowl, the Grammys, the Oscars, the American Music Awards, and the the Emmys.
These are convenient conversation topics if they’ve happened recently.
Even if the other person didn’t watch the event, they’ve probably heard something about the results.
- Did you watch the Grammys this year? What’d you think?
- I loved the Super Bowl Halftime show this year. The [performing artist] was awesome. Did you think it was as good as last year’s?
- “I can’t believe [this movie] won the Oscar! I thought [that movie] was going to win. What about you?
Popular TV programs, streaming series, and recent movies
You may also choose to bring up popular TV programs, Netflix series or recent movies, like summer blockbusters.
While not everybody watches a lot of TV or movies, it’s a good, neutral conversation topic.
Try to ask questions about current series that are really popular, series or season finales, movies that have been recently released, or whatever is currently popular on Netflix.
- Have you been watching [this series]? What’d you think about the latest episode?
- Have you seen [this movie/show/series] yet? Do you recommend it?
- Do you plan to see [this movie/show/series]?
- I started watching [this show] on Netflix. Is there anything else I should watch?
Local tourist attractions
Another option is to talk about local tourist attractions.
If you’re new to the area, or even if you aren’t, you can ask the other person about places to visit.
Most people love to give recommendations about their hometown or city.
- Have you been to the beach this summer? How was it? What’s your favorite beach?
- I was thinking of going for a walk or a hike this weekend. Any suggestions in the area?
- I haven’t been to the Museum of Fine Arts recently. Have you? Did you like the latest exhibition?
Neutral Topics Based on Vacations and Future Plans
Let’s move on to neutral topics based on vacations and future plans.
Weekend plans, if it’s Thursday or Friday
If it’s Thursday or Friday, you can ask about their weekend plans.
When you ask people about their upcoming plans for the weekend, you show interest in their lives.
That way they can answer with as much or as little detail as they’d like.
(If someone asks you one of these questions, you only have to share what you feel comfortable saying.)
- Any special plans for the weekend?
- What are you up to this weekend?
Upcoming holiday plans, if a long weekend or major holiday is approaching
If a long weekend or holiday is approaching, you can ask about upcoming holiday plans.
Everyone looks forward to long weekends because they have an extra day to take a short trip or do something special, even if that just means sleeping in.
- I’m looking forward to Labor Day! How about you?
- Any special plans for the long weekend?
- “Going anywhere for the holiday?”
Upcoming vacation or travel plans
If it’s a high travel season like summer, you can ask about upcoming vacation plans.
Many people take vacation during the summer and people with kids often take school vacations.
Asking questions about upcoming travel plans gets the other person talking.
- Are you planning on taking any trips this summer?
- Any vacation plans coming up?
- What are your kids up to during their school vacation?
Recent vacations or travel
You can also ask about recent vacations, if they’ve just come back from one.
If your friend, coworker, or classmate has just come back from a trip, then you can ask them about their travels and ask to see pictures.
- How was your trip?
- How was Europe?
- Did you have a good time?
- You just got back from California, right? Did you take any pictures?
- I saw pictures of your trip on Instagram. How’d you like it?
Giving Compliments and Asking Expert Advice
Now let’s talk about giving compliments and asking for advice and suggestions.
Compliments on a new hairstyle or haircut
It’s perfectly normal to give compliments on a hairstyle or a haircut.
If you like how the person styled their hair, you can give them a compliment and ask them for advice on how to get the same style, or where to get a haircut.
- Did you get a haircut? It looks great!
- I love your new hairstyle. How did you do that?
- I’ve always wanted to learn how to braid my hair like that. Any advice?
- I love your new haircut. Where did you get it done?
Compliments on clothing, jewelry, or accessories
You can also give compliments on an article of clothing, accessories, or a piece of jewelry.
Most people enjoy hearing compliments on their personal style. Then you can follow up with a question to learn more.
- I love your scarf! Where did you find that?
- My husband has been looking for a tie like that. Where’d you get it?
- I need a new spring jacket. I love yours. Where did you buy it?
- Those earrings are so cool. Who makes them
Questions about where to buy specialty items
You can also ask questions about specialty items that you know the other person’s interested in, such as gourmet food, cool shoes or jewelry.
If you already know the other person, you’ve probably noticed that they drink a lot of tea, or they always go to the same coffee shop, they wear really interesting rings, or they have colorful shoes.
This means they probably have opinions on these things, and can give you some recommendations.
- I noticed you really like tea. Where can I get some good tea?
- Have you found a good coffee shop around the office? I’d like a good latte.
- I love your shoes – they’re so unique! Where can I get some like yours?”
- You always have the coolest necklaces. Where do you shop?
Food and meals
If you’re somewhere where food is being served or it’s mealtime, food is another neutral conversation topic.
Most people enjoy talking about food or the special, interesting diets that they’re trying.
If you’re in or near a place where food is being served, this is an easy topic to bring up.
- I love the sandwiches from this restaurant. Which one is your favorite?
- That salad looks delicious. What’s in it?
- I’ve been craving a red velvet cupcake. What’s your favorite flavor?”
Cool apps or useful websites
One of my favorite topics is asking about cool apps or useful websites, especially if they help you do something better.
With new apps and technology coming out every day, the person you’re talking to is probably using interesting apps and websites to manage their daily life, do work, or interact with friends and family.
If you need any suggestions, you can ask for tech advice.
- I’ve been looking for a good app for to-do lists. What do you use?
- I’ve heard that Evernote is so helpful for staying organized. Have you tried it?
- I can’t keep up with all the new apps. What are you using these days?
- I love this new app I downloaded. It’s called [app name]. Do you have any other suggestions?
Easiest Way to Make Small Talk: Ask More Questions
Remember, the biggest secret to becoming a great conversationalist is to ask more questions.
You may find that someone starts sharing right away, or it may take two or three questions until they open up and start sharing more details.
Try asking a few more questions until the other person starts sharing useful, helpful information, or they show more interest in having the conversation.
Sometimes it can take a little work to get the other person talking.
By showing genuine interest and asking more questions, you can encourage them to keep sharing.
Here’s an example of why you may need to ask more questions to get the other person talking:
Person 1: “I like those shoes you are wearing.”
Person 2: “Thanks!”
Person 1: “Where did you get them? I am looking for some cute but comfortable shoes.”
Person 2: “I actually bought them online.”
Person 1: “That’s so much easier. Do you have a good website that you use?”
Person 2: “Yes, I really like Zappos.”
Person 1: “But how did you manage to find these shoes?”
Person 2: “Well, Zappos lets you decide what color shoes you want. You can also decide what kind of heel you want. And then, you can search by popularity…”
As you see, this conversation could continue going and going, just by asking additional related questions.
If the person likes the topic, they’ll probably start talking about it on their own.
It’s your job to show that you’re listening.
Remember to show active listening by responding to what you hear.
Now that you’re prepared with topics you can use to make small talk, it’s time to practice!
Choose a few questions to try out next time you interact with a coworker or someone new, whether that’s in person or online
Use every opportunity you have to try out these questions and find which ones feel natural for you.
Remember, the more people you ask, the more comfortable you will get with the questions!
Another way is to brainstorm various responses that you could give if someone asked you these questions.
By reading through the questions and your responses, you will become more comfortable with them!
This will help you remember the questions and be better prepared to respond with your own interesting answers.
(Pssst… I’ve turned this article into a free downloadable guide – be sure to grab yours here!)
THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN APRIL 2016, AND WAS UPDATED IN JULY 2020.