Community Interest

The Art of Small Talk

By Tiffani Stewart,
St. Charles City-County Library District

Conversation #1
Me:  “How are you today?”
Stranger:  “Fine.  How are you?”
Me:  “I’m doing well.  Thanks for asking.”
Stranger:  [silence]
Me:  [uncomfortable shifting, silence]

Conversation #2
Me:  “How are you today?”
Stranger:  “Great!  I have a new grandson.  Let me tell you all about him….”
Me:  [10 minutes later, interrupting] “It was lovely to talk…er, listen to you.  I have to go!”

Conversation #3
Me:  “How are you today?”
Stranger:  “Fine.  How are you?”
Me:  “I’m doing well.  Thanks for asking.  Say, I noticed that you’re carrying a book.  What are you reading?”
Stranger:  “I don’t really like to read, but I have to read this for work.  [Shows cover.]”
Me:  “Interesting.  What type of work do you do?”
[Conversation continues comfortably until Stranger and I part ways and say goodbye.]

Which conversation would you rather be a part of?  If you don’t say Conversation #3, you are probably the Stranger in Conversation #2.  (I know you!  I ran into you at the store last week.)  Not only is it nice to have a good conversation with a stranger, it’s a skill that is useful anywhere and anytime.  We may avoid it as kids, but meeting strangers is inevitable in the adult world.  Whether at a party, as a spectator at a sporting event, or through our work or volunteer obligations, the art of small talk is important to master, easy to learn, and the library can help!

A new book in the library’s collection, The Serious Business of Small Talk (2018), gives the reader lots of great ways to get better at “the onramp to the conversation freeway”.  Author, Carol A. Fleming advises us to practice with a process:  ANCHOR, REVEAL, ENCOURAGE.

1.     ANCHOR the conversation with a shared topic.  You can discuss the event you’re at, the weather outside, or ask an open-ended question:

“I nominate this line as the world’s slowest.”

“Looks like rain again and I didn’t bring an umbrella!”

“Do you think St. Peters is really growing, or is the DMV just extra busy lately?”

2.     REVEAL something about yourself to push the conversation forward:

“The weather is so nice I’m going to take my puppy to Civic Park this afternoon.”

“I loved her speech today.  I want to share it with my son who’s in college.”

“Your baby is adorable.  We have lots of classes for parents where I work.”

3.     ENCOURAGE with questions:

“What did you think of the performance?”

“Do you know a great restaurant in the area?”

“What kind of bait are you using?”

This is all you need to do in order to start.  Practice some Anchors, Reveals, and Encouragers while you’re in the car on your way to an event.  (Maybe before a new class at the library?)  Try making small talk with different people to learn your conversational rhythm.  And by all means, avoid long-winded narratives that don’t include anyone else. 
Like most things, the more you practice, the better you will get.  The Serious Business of Small Talk has almost 200 pages of help.  Check it out using your library card on Hoopla, or reserve it to pick up at a library branch near you.  You can also search for other titles using Hoopla, Overdrive, or our online catalog (subject:  conversation).  Library staff can also help you find books about making good conversation, or any new skill you want to tackle.

Need a place to practice your small talk?  Try one of these upcoming events at the Boone’s Trail or Augusta Branch Libraries:

•    SUMMER READING (all branches), May 29-August 1. Sign up for the “Libraries Rock!” summer reading program.  Register at any branch or online in May.  Gameboards must be completed and returned to the library by August 1st.
•    Libraries Rock (Augusta), Mon., July 2nd, 1:00-7:00 drop in. Paint a rock to celebrate summer!  Leave them somewhere in the community to inspire others, or keep it to make yourself smile.  (Limit two rocks per artist.)
•    Giant Jenga (Augusta), Sat., July 21st, 9:00-12:00 drop in. Play a giant version of the classic block-stacking, stack-crashing game of JENGA. 

•    MahJongg* (Boone’s Trail) Thurs., July 5th and 19th, 1:00-3:00 p.m. Join a fun group with sharp minds!  Learn and play MahJongg every other Thursday. 
•    Fiction Fans Book Discussion Group* (Boone’s Trail), Mon, July 9th at 6:00 p.m.  Read The Last Days of Café Leila by Dona Bijon (and learn a little about what it’s like to live in Iran), then join us for great discussion. 
•    I Love Quilts (Augusta), Tues., July 10th, 2:00 p.m.  Let’s talk about color!  We’ll discuss color combinations for building a dynamic quilt.  Don’t forget Block-of-the-Month and Show and Tell.
•    Book Discussion (Augusta), Mon., July 16th, 2:00 p.m. We’ll discuss News of the World by Paulette Jiles.  This novel follows the rescue of a kidnapped girl from a Kiowa tribe after the Civil War.  Pick up a copy today to join us for discussion.
•    New Melle Nonfiction Book Discussion Group* (Boone’s Trail), Thurs., July 19th, 10:00 a.m.  In One Summer:  America, 1927, Bill Bryson closely examines one summer in America.  Join us and get to know other nonfiction lovers like you!
•    Movie Talk:  Philomena* (Boone’s Trail) Mon, July 23rd, 6:00 p.m. Check out the movie, “Philomena”, starring Judy Dench, and watch it at home.  We’ll meet to discuss this beautiful movie about a woman searching for the son she put up for adoption.
•    Coffee at the Library (Augusta), Thursdays at 9:00 a.m. (Boone’s Trail) Wednesdays, 9:00-12:00. Come in for a fresh cup of hot goodness while you browse the library’s latest materials.
•    Knit-a-Long (Augusta), Thursdays at 2:00 p.m. The Augusta Knitting Club meets every Thursday to create with friends.
•    Discovery Kids:  Ice Cream* (Boone’s Trail), Mon., July 2nd, 5:00 p.m. Celebrate National Ice Cream Month by learning to make your own ice cream.  Yum!
•    Toobeez Building (Augusta), Sat., July 7th, 9:00-12:00 drop in. Toobeez or not toobeez?  There is no question…come!  Connect, twist, and create!  Make bridges, obstacle courses, and more with easy-fit pieces.
•    Story Time (Boone’s Trail), Thurs., July 12th, 10:30 a.m. Stories, songs, and crafts to enhance early literacy.  Story time is open to children ages 3-6.
•    Bedtime Story Time* (Boone’s Trail), Tues., July 17th, 6:00 p.m. Come to the library dressed in your comfy pajamas.  Bring blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals for this special themed story time!
•    Tale Waggers* (Boone’s Trail), Tues., July 24th, 6:00 p.m. Dogs love stories!  Bring a book, or choose one of ours to read to an attentive, lovable dog.  Brought to you by Love on a Leash.
•    Story Time (Boone’s Trail), Thurs., July 26th, 10:30 a.m.
Stories, songs, and crafts to enhance early literacy.  Story time is open to children ages 3-6.
•    Create a Wizard Wand(Augusta), Tues., July 31st, 1:00-7:00 drop in. Celebrate J.K. Rowlings’s birthday today by making your own wand (and trying a sip of butterbeer)!

•    Movie Night:  The Greatest Showman (Augusta), Wed., July 11th, 6:30 p.m. This original musical movie brings to life the story of P.T. Barnum and the creation of “the greatest show on Earth”.  Popcorn and light refreshments will be provided. 

*Register at or call Boone’s Trail at 636-398-6200 or Augusta at 636-228-4855.

Boone’s Trail and Augusta branches are open Mon. and Tues. from 12:00 noon-8:00 p.m., Thurs. from 9:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m., and Sat. from 9:00 a.m.-12:00 noon.  Boone’s Trail is also open Wed. from 9:00 a.m.-12:00 noon.