Small talk doesn’t sound important, but it could be one of the most valuable skills you practice. Short, casual conversations could lead to new jobs, new work, new friends and new insights. Conversations with strangers can be awkward and painful even. But, with some guidelines, you can start mastering the art of these random chats with people.

A couple of ideas that could be helpful when you’re chatting with someone:

  • Be interested. At the core, being curious about the other person is a great strategy, because most people like to talk about themselves. Build on this by asking open ended questions and by focussing all your attention (without looking like a sociopath, thanks) on the person you’re talking to. Look for things you can learn.
  • Provide hooks. Your conversations shouldn’t feel like interrogations. If someone asks you something, it’s really helpful to offer context and small parts of information which the other party can use to dive deeper into your story. For example: if someone asks you how things are going, don’t just say “great!”, but say “great! I’ve been exploring how we can apply virtual reality at work, and we’ll be leaving on a vacation to Hawaii next week”. Remarks like this provide new fuel to the conversation.
  • Make them feel better. People love to talk to people that make them feel good. Look for ways to give honest compliments by sharing what you’ve heard about them, commenting on what the other person tells you or what you’ve seen from them.
  • Know what’s happening. In situations like this, it is really helpful to know what is going on. Having a list of topics in your head you can ask the other person about can give the conversation a fresh spin.
  • Practice the FORM technique. A set of three areas you can touch upon in conversations with people you don’t know: family (where are you from? are you married? kids?), occupation (what do you do for a living? what do you like about your job?), recreation (what do you do for fun? what’s the most exciting thing you have done recently?). The fourth part is message, because this technique was basically built around networking and selling stuff. That last part might not be useful in this context, but keeping these three areas in mind should give you plenty to have a pleasant conversation with almost anyone.

Be genuinely interested, listen intently, be honest and share things you love. You’ll be the master of small talk.