For introverts, social events and big gatherings can be terrifying; but even for extroverts, having distant, polite conversations about boring topics such the weather – in other words, making “small talk” – is even worse. On a basic level, small talk allows you to socialise and talk to people without annoying or angering them by avoiding controversial topics. It also allows you to test the waters of a conversation, particularly when meeting someone for the first time. When you know nothing about a stranger’s personality or interests, it feels natural to talk about something completely neutral, like the weather. (Sure there’s a chance you could be talking to a hyper-enthusiastic meteorologist, but ... really?) On the surface, small talk appears meaningless, which is why so many people avoid it. In reality, though, small talk serves an essential role in social situations. It is part of basic manners and courtesy – like holding the door open for the person behind you, or speaking respectfully to your elders. How to make new friends without the safety net of high school When you meet someone new, think of small talk as a polite compromise or unspoken agreement to limit conversation to topics acceptable (or, at least, unoffensive) to everyone. Because we know that small talk is necessary, here are some tips to improve your small-talking skills. 1 Keep it safe, but keep it real The one thing that scares a lot of people is the lack of authenticity behind small talk. In other words, people worry they will appear disingenuous or come off as “fake”. Although small talk is meant to help maintain a healthy distance between yourself and the person you’re talking to, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be authentic and true to yourself; you just have to tone it down a little bit. 2 Read the news Certain subjects like global politics are usually too divisive for something like small talk. Still, keeping up to date with current affairs will prepare you for any topic that comes up. No matter what is being discussed, it helps to know what’s going on in the world outside class or your favourite television show; besides, knowing what you’re talking about is a great way to make a good first impression. 3 Observe your environment and the people you are with Good situational awareness is key to thriving in small talk. For instance, if you’re at a charity event, then talking about charitable deeds and organisations is a great conversation starter. Manners aren’t just old-fashioned ways to get children to behave - they can help you get ahead in life Also, pay attention to the atmosphere of the event – is it casual or formal? If it’s a casual event, keep the conversation light and playful. If it’s formal, try to choose topics that are more serious and sophisticated. 4 When in doubt, talk location, location, location What’s the one thing everyone you talk to in person has in common? You are all, at least for that event, in the same place, and probably live there, so care about issues related to that town, or city, or district. Sure, weather is always relevant, but you shouldn’t be afraid to expand the conversation to things like traffic, supermarkets, and – if you’re feeling adventurous – the person’s backstory; what brought them to they area if they weren’t born there. And share your story, too. 5 Don’t panic No matter what you end up talking about, and who you are talking to, the most important thing is to remain calm. It’s easy to notice if someone is uncomfortable in a conversation, which isn’t the impression you want to give off. Whether you are so nervous that you’re sweating buckets, or whether you’re talking about something incredibly mundane, try to remain confident and poised. Remember, it’s just small talk. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You can always walk away with your head held high. This article was curated in conjunction with Young Post . Better Life is the ultimate resource for enhancing your personal and professional life.