small talk in English

Small Talk in English – How to Start a Conversation in English in Business Situations

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How to start a conversation in English

Building genuine relationships and finding inspiration is valuable. It’s what business is all about.

Getting to know new people from all over the world is one of the best aspects of what I do.

I hope that this year you will have many opportunities to start interesting conversations in English with people from all over the world.

Why is socializing important in business?

In most cultures, socializing is a fundamental element of doing business. Small talk is important for two reasons:

  1. To get to know someone new
  2. To lighten up the atmosphere

Small talk is very useful when you meet someone for the first time. But that’s not the only reason why socializing is important in business.

Imagine you have a negotiation with a company abroad. You haven’t met before. Do you start the negotiation right away? No.

First, you need to get to know the person you are doing business with. You start a conversation in English to create a friendly atmosphere before you begin with the business part. By doing so, you influence the conversation in a positive way.

In the Arab world or in Latin America, for example, it’s absolutely necessary to socialize before doing business.

socialize in English

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The key to successful networking

By now, you probably understand the importance of small talk in business.

The problem is: In business situations, how do you start a conversation in English?

First of all, the best way to socialize is showing interest. Be interested in the other person and ask confidently about someone’s business or job.

If you ask good questions, networking is effective and enjoyable.

That’s why I think the following phrases in English will help you build better relationships in business.

start a converstion in English in business

16 Useful Ways to Start a Conversation in English

To start a conversation in English, you can ask about different topics. Travel and business questions are usually appropriate. It’s better to avoid asking personal questions.

It’s best to use open questions starting with “how”, “why” or “what” instead of closed questions that are answered with “yes” or “no.” This keeps the conversation interesting.

Keep in mind: Always be polite and maintain a friendly atmosphere.

Of course, the type of question you ask depends on the situation, but here are some useful English questions you can use for small talk.


    • I don’t think we’ve met. I’m …

A basic, polite phrase to introduce yourself. It gives others the opportunity to introduce themselves, as well.

    • How are you?

A polite question asking about someone’s well-being. Appropriate for business and casual situations.

    • Where are you from?

A polite question that asks where someone was born or where they grew up.

Note that in some situations it can be very close to asking someone delicate questions about their ethnicity, which should be avoided.

    • How long have you lived in…?

A polite question about how long someone has lived in a particular city, region or country.

Start a conversation in English

Ask about their trip

Whenever travel is involved in a business meeting, you can use the situation to learn something new and ask about the visit. Asking travel-related questions is an interesting way to start a conversation in English.

    • How was your trip?
    • How was the flight over?

A polite question asking if someone arrived well. You can use these questions if the person is a traveler.

    • Is this your first visit to… ?

This is a closed question. Usually, the other person will give more information than simply “yes” or “no.” If not, you can easily ask follow-up questions.

    • How long are you staying in…?

This question asks how long someone will be staying in a particular city, region or country. It’s used if the person is a traveler.

networking in English

Ask about opinions at a conference or event

You can often start interesting conversations at conferences by asking questions about the program and someone’s opinion.

  • Which workshop can you recommend?
  • Did you go to the presentation about … (topic)? What did you think?

Ask about someone’s business

business meeting questions

When you ask politely about someone else’s business is, you might learn something that inspires you to change something in your work.

  • What do you do?

A general, polite question asking what someone does for work. It’s appropriate for business situations and casual conversations.

  • What does your business do?

A polite question asking about the product or service someone’s business provides.

  • What’s your role in the business?
  • What’s your role at…(company name)?

A polite question about which position someone has in a business.

  • How long have you been in the marketing business?

A polite question asking about how long someone has worked in their current job. It’s more relevant to business situations.

  • How’s business in your industry/sector?

This is a general question used in business situations.

Memorize the phrases for networking

I have prepared online flashcards for you to practice the phrases and questions. Listen to the pronunciation by clicking on the speaker icon on each flashcard. Then, repeat them a few times.

Practice the questions on Quizlet

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Now I would like to know from you:

What is your experience with small talk in business situations? Do you have any tips to lighten up the atmosphere?

Share them in the comments below!

Further reading:

Essential Global Business Customs

How To Say “Hello” Around The World

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