How to Be Good at Small Talk & Create a Great First Impression

Small talk is the first step of any relationship.
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According to psychiatrist Leonard Zunin, you have four minutes to make a good -- or bad -- first impression. Those first 240 seconds allow you to determine if the person you’re talking to is someone you’re interested in getting to know better, and vice versa. The key to a good first impression is successful small talk and a pleasant manner.

1 The Introduction

One of the easiest ways to start a conversation is to comment about something that both of you have in common, writes Gretchen Rubin in her PsychCentral article “Small Talk a Problem? Try These Tips to Help Get the Ball Rolling.” Since you’re both at the same place, commenting on how beautiful the decorations look or asking, “How do you know the host?” are simple ways to start a conversation. Remembering the person's name is also a good way to make a good first impression. According to Lybi Ma, deputy editor of Psychology Today, the best way to remember someone’s name is to use it. Try to repeat the person’s name as soon as possible -- “It’s nice to meet you, Joe” -- and repeat it a few times over the next several minutes as you chat.

2 Question and Answer

There are several types of questions that can be used to keep the conversation going. Both Rubin and Ma suggest staying up with current news so that you have something to talk about -- “Did you hear about the earthquake in…?” Ask open-ended questions, which are questions that can’t be answered with "yes" or "no" or with a single word. Instead of asking, “Do you like to read?” ask “What kind of books do you like to read?” Make sure to answer questions asked of you in some detail. Instead of saying that you're a “student,” say “I’m a student at the local college. I’m studying business.”

3 Body Language

When meeting and talking to someone for the first time, make sure that you are making eye contact and smiling, writes Carlin Flora, author of "Friendfluence:The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are" in her Psychology Today article “Make a Great Impression.” Eye contact shows interest and attention and smiling shows others that you are open to conversation. You can also mirror the other person. According to Flora, mimicking the voice tone and body language of the person you’re talking to -- such as head tilts, posture and speed of speech -- makes the person find you more likeable.

4 Things Not to Do

There are a few things that you don’t want to do. Don’t monopolize the conversation, Ma writes. We all like to talk about ourselves, but a conversation is made up of give and take. Don’t interrogate the other person, either. Asking questions to keep the conversation flowing is normal, but pay attention to the other person’s body language. If he looks uncomfortable, change the subject. Don’t think about what you’re going to say next at the expense of listening. When someone isn’t really paying attention, it becomes noticeable pretty quickly.

Amy Guertin has a master's degree in counseling psychology and will earn her Ph.D. in 2014. Guertin is a licensed counselor and has 15 years of experience practicing psychotherapy, primarily working with children, adolescents and their families. She is also a college psychology professor and is the happiest when she is in the classroom.