Let’s get real—like, really real: Nobody actually likes small talk. But it’s an inevitability akin to death, taxes, and the fact that if you leave two cables on the opposite side of an empty room, they’ll be inexplicably entangled upon your return.
So why not embrace small talk and, dare I say, get good at it? Here are some tools to help you become a more engaging conversationalist.
1. Remembering what’s-his-face
If you’re like me, you meet someone for the first time and immediately forget said person’s name. But if you’re lucky, you might remember some interesting factoids about that person: hometown, kids, job, that kind of stuff. There’s a simple, free app called Tibbits—Remember Names (Android, Apple) that not only promises to help you remember names, but lets you add little notes and even assign labels to people so you can categorize them according to how you know them. Because the only thing better than small talk is personalized small talk. “How is . . . (glances down at phone) Grace, your daughter, 5 years old, doing?”
2. Nearby nuggets
If you can’t personalize, you might as well play to your surroundings. Show off your inner historian by firing up the free Clio (Android, Apple, Web) app, which will show you all the interesting historical sites in your vicinity, along with a quick synopsis of each. It’s perfect for those Cliff Clavin-esque Little Known Facts while you’re shooting the breeze with strangers. Except hopefully much more accurate.
3. Mainline the news
Cable news networks may broadcast ’round the clock, but that doesn’t mean you’re watching 24/7. Get caught up on current events most rapidly with Nwsty (Android, Apple), a neat and free little app that serves up a tiny, workweek-only skimming of the day’s top stories in an almost inhalable format. This isn’t an app for news junkies: It’s for those of us who feel guilty about perpetually living under a rock.
4. Go a little deeper
Get up close and personal with your small-talk target thanks to Beyond Small Talk (Android, Apple), an app purpose-built for blather. Developed by a psychology professor, it serves up introspective questions about childhood memories, hopes, dreams, and more—all helpfully categorized based on how well you know the other person: new friends, travel companions, dating, and a handful of others. The app is free to use, with upgrades from 99¢ to $3.99 that grant you access to additional questions.
5. Be a trend-getter
To be truly in-the-know, it helps to keep up with what all the cool kids are into online. For that, there’s the perfectly named Trending (Android), a free app that pipes in the top searches from Google, most watched videos from YouTube, top posts from Reddit and Twitter, and most searched-for articles on Wikipedia. If people are talking about it, chances are pretty good that you’ll know about it as well. There’s no Apple counterpart, unfortunately, but a quick visit to Google Trends from your iOS browser of choice could at least get you started.
If you’re actively looking for an opportunity to chat people up, check out Meetup (Android, Apple, Web), a great resource for finding local events in your area based on interest, date, and distance. What starts as small talk could end up as big friendship!