Free Resources for Students and Teachers of English as a Foreign Language in China - by Paul Sparks

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Paul Sparks, Sino-Canadian International College, Guangxi University, Nanning.

Lesson Plans for "Watch, Listen & Speak", Semester 2



Listening & Speaking, Role Playing: Making Small Talk


How to make Small Talk: If you can't make small talk then you will have difficulty in approaching people. Just think about all the possibilities this eliminates. When you're standing around with someone you're not that close to, you'd rather look at your feet, play with your nails, and daydream about the other night instead of forcing yourself to make small talk. But small talk can lead to big talk, which can lead to big people, and huge opportunities.

Small Talk Situations:

Situation 1: The first date...
You and your date are sitting at a cafe after having seen a movie. This is always a tricky one because your small talk should lead to interesting conversation and make a great first impression (assuming you like your date).

Ask a lot of questions: Asking your date many questions is always a safe thing to do, since not only does it help you get to know her and provides the basis of good conversation, but asking questions is also a turn-on for women.

Questions show that you have a genuine interest in your date, as long as you show her that you also listen to her responses (she may quiz you later, believe me).

Ask her questions that are:
* Work-related: what she does; how she likes it; how long she's been working there, etc.
* Family-related: what her family's like; what they do; whether they're close, etc.
* Hobby-related: what she likes to do in her spare time; what she does on weekends, etc.
* Pop culture-related: what kind of music she likes; what her favorite movie is; whether she liked the movie you just saw, etc.

First-date conversation topics can be a whole article unto itself, but in a nutshell, keep the conversation light, interesting and avoid anything philosophical, sexual and personal.

Situation 2: The acquaintance...
You're at your best friend's engagement party, and a man who looks familiar approaches you and starts talking to you. You just want to scope out the single women and make your way to the bar for more vodka shots, but this guy is awkwardly standing next to you.

Talk about who you know and what you have in common
If you have common ground with a stranger, use it to your advantage. Don't take the opportunity to gossip and bad mouth your mutual friends, rather use it in order to fill up space and maybe make a friend while you're at it.

If you're at an engagement party, for example, say how happy you are for the couple, and ask questions about the person's relationship with the bride or groom, like how long they've known each other.

And if you know he's a member of the same golf club, talk about your drive, slice and what happened at the club the other day.

Situation 3: The manager / colleague...
You're at your company's corporate Christmas party, and you're sitting at the same table with your department -- which translates into your colleagues and managers.

How do you make small talk with your manager, who only talks at you while barking orders?

Stay informed with news and pop culture
Even though you want to make it look like you take your job seriously, it's a good idea to show your manager that you still have time to watch the news, read the paper and see movies. In other words, that you make time to stay informed and that you're a well-rounded man. Your life should not only consist of the codes, laws and rules that you encounter at work.

Make small talk by mentioning whatever's in the news lately. "Did you hear about what happened in England?" Or ask your manager whether he's seen the latest James Bond flick.

When talking about current affairs, try to avoid political topics; so if you know your boss is a devout Republican, don't tell a George W. Bush joke, no matter how funny you think it is. You can ask your manager what he feels about a certain event to gauge what his political views are, but you might want to save that conversation for an occasion when you're not sipping martinis all night long.

Situation 4: The pickup...
You've made your way across the bar and approached the stunning redhead. Besides the fact that you're a sucker for redheads and their fiery personality, you have no idea what to talk to her about.

You want to be yourself, while making a good first impression and showing her that you're a good guy.

Talk about casual topics
You can't go wrong by being casual. Talk about how loud the music is. Make a remark about how great the Cosmopolitans are and that she should try them. Make a general comment about the situation you're in; don't worry, you won't be able to have a whole conversation over the vibrating bass anyhow.

Just don't say anything cliché or anything she expects to hear, like asking her if you know her from somewhere, or if she "comes here often." Throw her off guard by being more situation-based, like asking her where she bought her purse because it's original. And take it from there.

Mixing it up with small talk...
Each of these small talk methods can be used for each situation; the one highlighted for each section may just be the most recommended. So don't be afraid to ask your manager how his golf game's going; ask your first date whether she read John Grisham's latest novel; tell an acquaintance how great your new car is; and ask the woman you're picking up whether she's ever been to Europe.

And if all else fails, just talk about the weather, which always gets people riled up (unless you live in Florida).

As long as you avoid anything personal, philosophical, political, and controversial -- at least during a first encounter -- and know which questions to ask, you'll be talking the talk and walking the walk... of a certified schmoozer.

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