Networking Tips: Small talk for shy people

Networking Tips: Small talk for shy people

People love talking about themselves or their interests, so you’ll find that the more interested you are in other people – and the better you listen – the more interesting they will think you are.

That’s not to say you should suffer in silence as the person opposite you bores for their nation, but the key to good small talk is asking good questions which invite more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response.

Make a mental note of the following, and add a few of your own along similar lines once you have a good feeling for how well they work.

With all of these, once you have people talking in response to your questions, you’ll find the conversation should flow and if you want to keep it going you you can always jump in with follow-up observations of your own or follow-up questions.


  • How long have you lived / worked in this area?
  • Opens up conversation regarding previous locations – or if they have lived in the same area all their life you can ask what changes they have seen and whether those changes are for the better. 
  • Is there anything they miss about the town/city from years gone by?


  • How did you come to choose your profession? Find out if people have always worked in one particular field of expertise, how they came to be in business or how their career took its path.

Did you know … ?

  • It’s worth skimming a daily paper’s website in the morning so that you can have a current affairs topic up your sleeve.
  • A ‘did you know … ?’ type of question is always good, because if you give someone an interesting fact that they didn’t know they will remember you for it and be grateful that you gave them a conversation starter that they can use themselves.

Random quick starters

  • How was your journey here this morning?
  • Which radio station do you listen to when you’re travelling?
  • What did you think of [x y z] in the news today?
  • Do you have a favourite restaurant / pub you can recommend in the area?
  • What’s your favourite TV series at the moment (or what was your most recent binge-watch on Netflix)?
  • Have you ever had any surprising encounters with high profile people?
  • Are you a dog or cat person?
  • What’s the best compliment anyone has ever paid you?
  • Do you have any exciting trips planned in the next few months?
  • Who’s your favourite sitcom character?
  • What’s the best kept secret about this area?
  • And once you have both warmed to each other you can bring the topic back to the reason for being in the room by asking: What are you looking forward to about today’s meeting?

General tactics

  • It’s crucial that you ask open questions that put the other person at ease and which lead them into sharing their views or to show off their expertise, so …
  • What do you think about [insert topic] …?
  • What’s the best piece of advice you could give about [suggest situation] …?
  • If there were one person you recommend I get to know in the room, who would it be, and why (present company excepted) …? 

The Royal option

And a classic opener is one that the Queen falls back on time and again.

  • What do you do?
  • Or – better – How do you help people?

Those two questions offer people the opportunity to choose whether they talk to you about their working life or their spare-time activities, so when they have waxed lyrical about one area of their life you can follow-up by asking ‘…and what about in your working environment?’ or vice versa.