If you’ve ever struggled with small talk, you’re certainly not alone. No one enjoys awkward silences or glossed-over eyes. However, small talk is a skill that you can improve like any other. This was something I had to learn myself. The 10 books below all helped, especially because they’re audiobooks, and I’ve always found auditory learning to be the most effective.

Better Small Talk by Patrick King

Better Small Talk is a great book because it doesn’t just tell you how to speak to people and turn small talk to your advantage so that you never intimidate or bore the people you’re talking to. It helps you get into the right mindset with warmups for small talk, which many people overlook. In fact, if you think of small talk as a muscle that requires exercise, the maneuvers in this book will help you strengthen that muscle and perfect your technique. 

How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes 

Everyone suffers from imposter system on occasion, but you don’t want to let it ruin your chances at expanding your network or landing a sale. Enter How to Talk To Anyone, a book that not only promises that you’ll feel more comfortable talking to people regardless of status but that you’ll be able to blend into any crowd–including one made up of VIPs! Listeners can also learn how to leverage their phone as an effective communication tool rather than a distraction.

Influence by Robert B. Cialdini

Now in its 5th edition, Influence focuses on a specific aspect of communication: social compliance. By delving into the psychology behind interactions, Cialdini shows you how you can get people to say “Yes” to practically any request you might make! If you’re tired of being shot down, it’s time to say “Yes” to this book.

Conversation Casanova by Dave Perrotta

Many people struggle to flirt because they cannot find the balance between playful, casual, and suggestive. However, Perrotta walks you through opening the conversation, keeping someone interested through interesting storytelling, and even asking someone out. You don’t have to trust us, however. His 50,000 Youtube followers should convince you that Perrotta’s books are worth checking out.

The Art of Witty Banter by Patrick King

The second Patrick King book on this list similarly focuses on small talk in social settings rather than professional ones–of course, we all know that socializing can boost your career! After reading this book, you’ll be the smooth talker that everyone crowds around at the party and remembers long after they’ve returned home. However, it’s not all humor and charm. King helps listeners learn to defend their points, disarm those who might be closed off, and prevent tense situations from escalating.

The Fine Art of Small Talk by Debra Fine

Years of experience as a keynote speaker and coach put Fine in a strong position to help others communicate better. In her book about small talk, the communication expert helps listeners become more memorable and improve their ability to remember names and listen actively. Both of those skills are a must for anyone who wants to master small talk. In fact, if you find yourself struggling even after listening to other books on this list, you may very well have forgotten that conversations are two-way streets.

The Like Switch by Jack Schafer and Martin Karlins

Getting others to like you can be as easy as flipping a switch, thanks to the work of two PhDs who decided to team up and spread their knowledge to the world in this book. Schafer’s credentials are even more impressive when you learn that he’s a former member of the FBI’s National Security Division’s Behavioral Analysis Program. His expertise helps listeners detect when others are bending or outright breaking the truth. I like how this book includes tips for detecting deception when communicating online.

The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane

If you think charisma is something you’re born with, think again! Olivia Cabane tells listeners that charisma is a skill you can gain and grow if you put your mind to it. Cabane dives straight into the applications of science in communication, drawing from research to help you become the more charismatic version of yourself. However, it’s far from a dull read as the author included fun anecdotes. An accompanying workbook ensures you get the most of the tools you’ll discover in The Charisma Myth.

Conversation Tactics: Wittiness, Banter, Likability by Patrick King

This shorter book is excellent if you want to get straight to the point. If you follow the advice, you’ll find yourself able to command any social situation with ease. That sounds like a surefire way to boost confidence!

Improve Your Conversations: Think on Your Feet, Witty Banter, and Always Know What to Say with Improv Comedy Techniques by Patrick King

I was surprised how much I could glean from improv comedy techniques that could be applied to small talk. However, it makes sense when you think about it. After all, improv is all about responding to what the other person says or does. Thanks to this book, you’ll be able to keep the conversation flowing.

Connect Instantly: 60 Seconds to Likability, Meaningful Connections, and Hitting It Off With Anyone by Patrick King

Everyone knows about love at first sight, but that first minute can make or break your relationship with anyone. Once again, Patrick King lends his expertise to those listeners who want to make a first impression so great that it becomes a lasting impression. If you excel once you’re in a conversation, Connect Instantly might help you through the gate.

Conversationally Speaking by Patrick King

Finally, I’d like to suggest checking out Conversationally Speaking, which covers everything from breaking the ice to mastering humor to eliminating awkward silences. It’s a great primer if you need to polish your small talk skills but aren’t sure where to start. 

Are you struggling to grow your business, convince VCs to invest in your startup, or progress in your career? All of these issues might be tied to your inability to make small talk–or indifference to it to begin with! 

What most successful business people understand is how crucial small talk is to forging connections and making impressions.

Of course, small talk can be awkward and uncomfortable, which is why so many people avoid it. But once you learn how to small talk, it actually becomes fun!

These authors I listed above are a great place to start your journey into the world of mastering small talk.

From internationally renowned speakers to business consulting to degree-holding professors of business management, each of these authors brings something unique to the table. Even if you listen to just one of the titles on this list, you’ll improve your ability to communicate, especially when it comes to making in-roads via small talk. 

With the knowledge in these books, you’ll be able to win people over from the very beginning and use those connections to further your personal and professional network.

16 Responses

  • This is actually a topic that I’m really passionate about! Small talk is such an essential part of human interaction; it helps us to get to know others both on a superficial and a personal level. It allows us to scan our peers for deeper motives and interests. Almost every interaction starts with small talk.; learning how to be more engaging and growing into a better listener is not only essential to selling ourselves, but also to having meaningful friendships and relationships with the people around us. Out of curiosity, I noticed that you seem to be a fan of Patrick King. Are there any other authors you recommend when learning how to perfect the art of small talk?

  • I am awful at small talk. I do not know how to move much past the first couple of dull phrases. Luckily I can often let others lead the talk, and I will ask questions or make comments, and they will talk more. When I can not draw someone into a conversation, I will stand there awkwardly for a minute then walk away. I am especially interested in “The Art of Witty Banter” by Patrick King and “The Like Switch” By Jack Schafer and Martin Karlins. I think if you can conquer small talk in social settings, then business ones will become much easier. I do not have any trouble fitting in with different group settings. Thanks for this information and for recommending these books.

  • Who would have thought that small talk was a skill that could be learned! I always assumed that it was a personality trait that outgoing people naturally had, and that introverts like me could only dream about. And the connection to Improv. is an interesting angle. That’s another communication skill that terrifies me, but approaching things from a theatre perspective at least seems to take the edge off. I guess all that’s needed sometimes is just a little shift of thought. This is another great Recommended Reading List, so I’m going to add these titles to my library and see what new skills I can start perfecting.

    ~Cory S.

  • Hi Taylor,

    Small talk is definitely a learned skill! I love the suggestions on how to get better at small talk. I definitely love how you’ve also included works that are audiobooks so that I can learn while on a walk or driving to work.

    What an interesting way of thinking about improv, and so true, too! Improv IS reacting to someone else and providing a response. I don’t think I’ll have the courage to actually practice improv, BUT I will definitely read about it and learn from Patrick King.

  • I’ve never heard of any of these books, but they definitely seem like some interesting reads! Small talk can be difficult, but it is a natural part of conversation. I think the big thing people forget is that small talk has to be meaningful to go anywhere. when people think of small talk, they think of things like “How about the weather” or “did you watch the game last night?” These are pretty much sure fire ways to tell someone that your not actually interested in anything they have to say. Talking to someone just to talk to them is never gonna impress the other person.

  • I tend to forget people’s names, whenever I meet them, save for those who had common names (e.g., Anne, Grace, Mark). During parties, small talks are essential, not only to spice up the atmosphere. During business-related gatherings, the skill of making small talk is also important to widen our connections with other companies and industries. I also strongly agree that humor is also essential when conducting small talks to avoid unnecessary “dead airs.”

  • I tend to forget people’s names, whenever I meet them, save for those who had common names (e.g., Anne, Grace, Mark). During parties, small talks are essential, not only to spice up the atmosphere. During business-related gatherings, the skill of making small talk is also important to widen our connections with other companies and industries. I also strongly agree that humor is also essential when conducting small talks to avoid unnecessary “dead airs.”

  • Though books can help, I don’t know if it’s entirely necessary to read ten books to learn to chat. I think some things that are needed are a positive attitude towards the conversation, and some sort of interest (fake or real) in connecting with others. Small talk is more than just agreeing that the weather is poor, it’s a way to connect and I think it’s often dismissed too much when it has actual value. I also think some people may be more inclined to be good at small talk, perhaps people who are more outgoing or are social more often.I think reading all these books is needed for some people, but not everyone. The Leil Lowndes book does gain my interest because I do think almost all people struggle with imposter syndrome. I never thought a book would aim to help with that, but I think there is definitely value in tackling one’s imposter syndrome. I think it boils down to how essential confidence is to smooth conversation. It’s intriguing that banter and flirting were included in this list and I think these are things that require more practice and knowledge than small talk. I think a book can help a little but ultimately only experience flirting and chatting will truly make one better at them.

  • Taylor,

    I have always hated small talk. It was never for me. I’m a straight-to-the-point type of person and would rather not spend time on a pointless convo. But in some situations, you need small talk to be successful. Especially in the corporate world. You never know, small talk could land you your next job or raise. After reading this article, I don’t see small talk as frivolous, I see it as a skill. This list will definitely help me overcome my small talk objections and I think everyone could use this.

  • Hey, Taylor,
    It’s interesting that intimidation (as mentioned on the blurb for “Better Small Talk” by Patrick King) is a consideration. I probably would not have thought of that. Robert Green mentions how important it is to avoid jealousy when interacting with anyone in his book “48 Laws of Power.” He talks about how it’s vital to relationships to squash jealousy out early on because it turns you into a target and is almost impossible to eradicate once it’s seated in someone close to you. Your point about improv comedy is interesting as well. I can see how the skills taught in workshops can be applied to everyday conversation. One of my friends served as a diplomat for years, and he used to tell me that he started out as a shy person and conversation, just like any skill, is a matter of practice and projection more than anything.

  • At times I dread situations where I have to make small talk, but being good at it is such an important life skill and I think can make it much more enjoyable at the same time. The one book I’ve read on your list is “Influence,” which I thought offered some valuable teachings on self-awareness. I look forward to checking out a few more of these other books as well. Another item I’ve found helpful for becoming better at small talk are BestSelf Co.’s “Icebreaker” and “Deeper Talk” card decks.

  • I used to struggle so much with small talk but I believe that I have gotten better. I admit that I can sometimes struggle especially when the other person isn’t as bubbly or talkative, it can honestly feel like pulling teeth. Thank you so much for the book recommendations, I love to read new books that help me be a better person so I will be looking into these. I find that sometimes small talk can turn into long meaningful conversations once you find that one or two topics that keep the other person engaged. From there, it turns into a good flow of back-and-forth communication!

  • Small talk is definitely a necessity in communication. I once got a job being the one thing I avoided at all costs. A car salesman. I used to avoid them every time I stepped foot on the lot. I would get in my car and go right back in if they came out. I got a chance to see how that felt. What I realized more than anything when it came down to it was that the conversation you have with someone, is one of the most important things you can have to sell someone a car (besides the money issue). I got really good at small talk and carrying on conversations because I made sure they weren’t forced, and natural. Actually trying to be nice to people instead of trying to sell them something on the test drive worked to my benefit often. Salesman of the month! It’s essential!

  • I think small talk definitely helps when it comes down to reaching the point of taking a lead from the advertisement and trying to reach the point of closing a sale. How well you interact with the person, which involves a lot of small talk, definitely helps a deal go smooth.

  • Hello Taylor,
    Whether we love it or hate it, small talk is an integral part in networking and building new connections with potential clients or job seekers. This comprehensive list was a good reminder that small talk is more multi-faceted than many people may think. Your blog post put a lot of focus on how small talk is just as important in less formal settings, be it in casual conversation or simply asking someone out on a date. I think you’ve gathered some really effective resources to reach different target audiences that could benefit from improving their small talk skills.

  • Thank you very much for creating this list; it is by far the most comprehensive I’ve seen. I appreciate the descriptions for each book; I’ve been browsing at these books and can’t decide one to get; this list would help me in my decision. I can’t wait to tap into this skill!

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