The Fine Art Of Small Talk by Debra Fine (Book Summary)


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The Small talk happens in numerous part of our lives, from lift rides with workmates to parent-teacher meetings. Even though consider small talk as a pointless conversation, it is necessary for building rapport, developing friendships, romances and business connections 

Aside from its significance, the idea of participating in small talk can make people become uneasy; instead of seeing conversations as opportunities, these insecurities or fear makes it difficult for people to engage in small talk, hence they avoid small talk. Imagine the opportunities you have lost due to the fear of engaging in small talk 



If you are a person that is scared of talking to strangers or an easy spoken person looking for ways to improve your communication abilities; the tips, skills, and techniques given in this book gives you an opportunity to perfect the art of small talk. 


1 – Small talk is an ability that can be learned. 


Shy people mostly think that because they were not naturally born with good communication abilities, they can never have a bold conversation with someone. However, people do not inherit small talk trait. It is therefore important to set aside that believe and embrace a new understanding of small talk.

It is important to note that small talk is an ability that can be learned. People are different and some people can naturally adapt to social circumstances more than others. However, a lot of us still need to work on our conversation abilities. 

When the author of this book was still a shy and obese scholar, she needed to communicate with others due to her career in engineering. Her job entailed going to meetings, conferences and she was scared. In cases like this, she would go into autopilot trying to communicate with people by asking about their jobs. This type of questions led to the conversation dying down after a few minutes 

When the author turned 40, she and her husband separated and she understood that her weight and her physical appearance were restraining her. She realized that if she wanted to meet new people she needs to make certain changes about herself. Then she focused on her health and lost 65 pounds. After, she gained social abilities by imitating good role model conversationalists around her. 



One night at a bar, her friend persuaded her to talk to a man who had looked at her but hadn’t moved towards her. The man was named Rex and was happy when the author introduced herself. As a result of the conversation they had that night, they became close friends. Furthermore, in time, Rex told the author something surprising: that he did not want to approach her that night at the bar because he was shy!

That night, the author understood the power of small talk because she discovered someone else’s insecurity and friendship with Rex after she approached him. Afterward, she decided to master this skill and helping master the skill. From that point, her business, The Fine Art of Small Talk, has helped various people master conversation skills. By following the advice given in the next chapters, you can also become an adept conversationalist. 


2 – It’s your choice to start a discussion with somebody; actually, it’s a mistake not to.


A lot of individuals don’t talk to others due to the fear of being rejected. In the Western world, the greatest social fear is public speaking and the next is starting a discussion with strangers. So if you need to broaden your network, it’s dependent upon you to take the chance and face individuals you’d like to become close with. 

Firstly you need to let go of your fear of rejection is you want to gain the confidence needed to start a conversation. Most times, people especially shy individuals appreciate it when you attempt to talk with them. Endeavor to look for individuals who are sitting alone or people that have made eye to eye contact with you when figuring who to approach.

Initiating a conversation with someone is easy once you are confident. Mostly, when you smile at somebody, they’ll reciprocate. Therefore, being friendly with a smile and making eye to eye contact is the first step.  Next, Introduce yourself, keeping eye to eye contact, offer the person a handshake and say “Hey, mention your name. it is good to meet you.” 



Few times there will be circumstances when you need to approach a group of people. This can be scary, but possible.  You first need to show your enthusiasm to the group from a distance, focusing on the speaker. The group of people will notice you and make space to include you most of the time. Let the group warm up to you before you offer any solid sentiments after you become part of the group. 

Not talking to someone can make people see you as someone that is arrogant or aloof sometimes. At various corporate events that the author had attended with a friend, she had noticed Bob, the senior vice president of a reputable company. At the time she had not introduced herself to Bob because she had been too intimidated by Bob’s self-confidence. When the author started a  new job as an engineering salesperson, she called Bob asking for his help to help her advertise her employer’s products. 


3 – Take the responsibility of a conversation by learning individuals’ names and preparing icebreakers


Have you ever been in a situation where you are chatting with a stranger that makes you feel comfortable? it is possible you have been in such a situation, these strangers didn’t accomplish this coincidentally. Most of us wish that others will take charge to continue with conversations.  Guiding a discussion brings out positive emotions that make individuals want to work or socialize with you. This has been shown by expert communicators.  

Acting like a host is one simple method one can assume the responsibility for directing a discussion. Focus on learning the name of every individual you address, that is how ant host would do. After you introduce yourself, ask the person you are discussing with “What’s your name?” Priority should be on “your” in order to make them feel worthy. 

You can keep facilitating the discussion when new people join, introduce the people you have recently met by their names. This was once done by the author once did this at an occasion, introducing herself with the first three participants that were at her table. When the rest of the people arrived, she introduced herself first and afterward the other participants. By doing that,  an amicable setting was set and she was seen as the pioneer of the group.



It’s then left to you to build up conversation topics after you have done an introduction. You can come up with icebreakers in advance. Come up with something more thoughtful as this leads to a long or in-depth discussion instead of questioning people what their source of income is. Rather, you may ask questions on how they began their business in case you’re at a business occasion, or about their hobbies if it’s a social gathering. 

Come up with creative questions as these leads to an interesting conversation. The author once watched a TV program in which a reported was sent undercover to a gathering. After introducing herself with a random guest, he asked her what her star sign was, from there they started a discussion about astrology. Your icebreakers don’t have to be this intense, but the person you are discussing with should feel relaxed and have a sense of feeling that you are showing your enthusiasm in them.


4 – Open-ended questions and digging deeper can be used to improve conversations. 


The issue questions such as “How was your weekend?” “How have you been?” “How was work today?” is that you get similar answers: “Great. How was yours?”.  Replies like these do not prompt further answers. If you need to be a greater conversationalist, you have to stop asking ordinary questions and dig deeper.

Asking open-ended questions is the most ideal approach to improve your discussions as this shows the person you are having a conversation with that you care about what they are sayings. Open-ended questions enable you to dig deeper into a speaker’s answer without being intrusive or demanding. Questions like “What did you think of that movie?” enable respondents to decide how much detail they’re willing to share to you. 



Let’s assume you welcome your child toward the day’s end by asking a normal question “How was school?” An average answer to this would be “Fine”.  You could ask another open-ended question to avoid a short conversation. You may ask her what class she loved that day and her reason for liking it.  Asking open-ended questions in conversations indicates genuine enthusiasm for what your child needs to state as she might give more clear details about her interests or her friends. Therefore, you can become closer to your child through small talk. 

If your colleague asks you how your weekend was, you could tell a story about your weekend instead of giving a short reply. After narrating about your weekend, you could ask how his weekend went. By doing this, even though you’re not the one that began the discussion, you show the type of discussions you want to have.


You have to know the type of questions to ask depending on the setting you are.  Open-ended questions can be treated as an interview where you have questions arranged for strangers. it’s necessary for you to focus on how your partner responds during a conversation. For instance, if the person you are conversing with changes the topic of a conversation even though you asked about a different topic, this shows that he is not interested in that particular topic at that point. You have to respect his decision and change back to the initial topic of discussion.


5 – Utilize varied questions and environmental signs to keep the conversation going.


Awkward silence can happen in small talk. If you depend on someone else bring up a conversation, the conversation might be at risk of dying. But when silence happens, take the responsibility to put the conversation back on track 

Another advantage of asking an open-ended question is that it is one of the approaches of breaking from a conversational pause which changes the direction of the conversation. The acronym FORM: family, occupation, recreation and miscellaneous can help you if you find it difficult thinking of open-ended questions easily. 

The first three words of the acronym are clear, but the word miscellaneous gives you the chance to be more imaginative. You could ask a new person you recently met if she has read any book recently and whether she’s enjoyed reading the book. In case you’re in a group discussion, you could ask the people in the group on how they met each other. Although, there might be blackout when you ask a question using the FORM format in few cases. Questions about one’s might seem inappropriate at that point.



Focusing on the environment you are in at that point and also focusing on the individual you are addressing are other approaches to get the conversation on track. Your discussion can also be centered around what the individual is wearing, the setting you’re in or the type of occasion you’re going just in case the discussion slows down, or when you’re hoping to begin another discussion. For instance, you can ask guests at a wedding about their associations with the bride or groom. In any circumstance, it’s essential to be realistic about what you’re saying. 

There are certain points that you should be mindful of. Conversations on gossips, dubious issues or individual setbacks will make the person you are discussing with have a negative impression of you. Abstain from asking some explicit information associated with a person’s job or a death in the person’s family in case you’re discussing with a casual acquaintance as these sort of questions can lead to an inconvenient conversation. Rather, ask more general questions, and enable her to bring you up to date on her life at her own.


6 – Giving cautious observation to body language and verbal signs will make you a greater listener.


At any point in your life, have you ever narrated a story and you felt like the person you were discussing with wasn’t listening? You probably felt disappointed and even offended when such happened to you; you may have decided not to talk to that person again. It is necessary for both parties to feel understood, acknowledged and, most importantly, listened to for a conversation to go well. You need to be an active listener for you to take charge of a discussion. 

You’ll need to ensure that your discussion partner feels listened to even though you are an active listener. To show that you are focusing and paying attention in a discussion, body language helps show one’s interest in a.  During a conversation, you should avoid doing the following things, folding your arms, hunching your shoulders or playing with your clothes, hair or jewelry. Instead use body language such as, leaning forward, nodding, smiling and keeping eye to eye contact, this shows that you are interested

Another sign that shows a speaker you are listening actively is Verbal signs. An example was given by the author using the story of an eight-year-old named Nicholas. Nicholas was telling his dad a story about his day one day after school.  That day in class, he had painted a picture of mountains in art class, scored a touchdown while playing football and eaten pizza. 



When Nicholas noticed that his dad was reading the newspaper, he became furious. His dad noticed and stopped reading the newspaper. His dad also repeated the exact words Nicholas had shared just to guarantee him that he had been listening. However, Nicholas was searching for a genuine connection and  wasn’t keen on hearing his story repeated back to him:

There are numerous ways that you can interact with speakers without intruding them. You can ask a follow-up question on certain information about a story. You can react excitedly, showing that you discover the story fascinating. In certain circumstances, misunderstandings can be avoided by paraphrasing what the speaker has said just to clarify information. 

You can even utilize your listening abilities to make connections between what your discussion partner is stating and different things that you’re reminded of whenever it is suitable. You can easily change to a different topic by doing that.


7 – Leaving a discussion gracefully and sincerely can improve the connection you’ve made.


A poor conclusion can affect an entire interaction Irrespective of how well a conversation is going.  You should make an honest attempt to leave every encounter with grace regardless of how you feel about the person you are having a conversation with.

Fortunately, there are ways to finish up any conversation skillfully. The primary thing is to go back to the theme and the important part of your conversation. If you’ve been discussing issues that are affecting the social healthcare industry, you could address the individual by name and remark on how incredible it was to talk about that particular topic. 

If you wish to continue with the conversation, exchanging email is a better idea and you can politely as for a follow-up. Finally, mention your next plan when you are ready to end the conversation and shake your partner’s hand as well as bid farewell. 



Therefore It’s important that you follow through with whatever it is you say you’re doing next as this may offend your discussion partner and destroy the association you simply made if you do not follow through with your next plan. For instance, If you state that you’re going to see the exhibits at a conference, and your discussion partner then sees you elsewhere having another discussion, he may imagine that you just weren’t making the most of your time with him.

If you state that you’re going to see the exhibits at a conference, and your discussion partner then sees you elsewhere having another discussion, he may imagine that you just weren’t making the most of your time with him.


You could introduce your conversation partner to a different person who joins your group before leaving the conversation, this is another way to end a conversation. By doing this,  It will help your discussion partner broaden his network and this way, he doesn’t feel forsaken. 

Your exit can also encourage your networking schedule. For instance, you could ask your friends whether they know anybody likely to assist you with a job as an engineer in case you’re attempting to get a new job as an engineer. In the most ideal situation, he may direct you to a person and make an introduction. If not, you can say that you were delighted in talking with him, and you need to find somebody who can assist you. They will understand and remember you for your politeness.


The Fine Art of Small Talk: How to initiate a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Abilities and Leave a Positive Impression! by Debra Fine Book Review


By taking responsibility for starting and controlling your conversations you can gain from the power of small talk. Making a warm introduction, asking open-ended questions and actively listening to the answers of your conversation partners can make them feel welcome. 


Use a person’s name in conversation. 

After you know your conversation partner’s name, it is better to use it during discussions as this makes you recall their name easily. Also, addressing a person by their name makes them feel unique. Although we can’t always remember everybody’s name we have met, you can politely ask the person when you meet in case you have forgotten their name. This will help avoid a possibly humiliating moment. 


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Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I like reading books and writing summaries. I like to play soccer too :) Good Reads Profile: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/106467014-sava-ate

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