Business small talk: examples and useful phrases

    Two people shake hands in a meeting situation
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    In the following, we present dialogues and key phrases for English business small talk. You will also find lists with useful phrases from these examples that will help you in future conversations.

     

    Introducing yourself and others in English

    In the first two conversations, you will find useful phrases for introductions and situations in which you meet people again.

    This is the setting for our fictional English business small talk: Jason, Susan, Gesine, Fridtjov and Ben are all at a conference, where they are making new contacts and reconnecting with old ones.

     

    1. Starting a conversation: introducing yourself

    Jason: I don’t think we’ve been introduced. I’m Jason. Jason Horn.
    Susan: Nice to meet you. I’m Susan.
    Jason: Pleased to meet you, Susan. How are you enjoying the conference so far?
    Susan: It’s been great. I’ve met so many interesting people. And it’s a nice break from the office, to be honest.
    Jason: I know what you mean. Have you been to one of these conferences before?
    Susan: Yes, I was at the one in Glasgow a couple of years ago. What about you?
    Jason: That’s funny, I was there, too.

     

    Phrases to introduce yourself in English

    • I don’t think we’ve been introduced.
    • I’m ... .
    • You must be ... . I’m ... .
    • Nice to meet you. I’m ... .
    • Pleased/Good to meet you.
    • Could you say your name again for me?
    • ... . Is that how you say it?

     

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    Business small talk tip: What’s in a name?

    People from English speaking countries usually use their first names at work and in business situations. If someone says their last name first, however, they probably expect you to use it. Ask the person to say their name again if it’s unclear. It’s important to get it right.

     

    2. Introducing someone else in English

    Jason: Susan, this is my Norwegian colleague, Fridtjov. We work in the same department. Fridtjov, this is Susan.
    Fridtjov: Good to meet you.
    Susan: It’s nice to meet you, too. Em, could you say your name again for me?
    Fridtjov: It’s Fridtjov. Don’t worry. Everyone has difficulty pronouncing my name.
    Susan: Fridtjov. Is that how you say it?
    Fridtjov: Yes. Perfect!

     

    EngIish phrases to introduce others in business small talk situations

    • Susan, this is my colleague, ... .
    • I’ll introduce you to my colleagues.

     

    Starting a conversation with someone you already know

    If you already know the other person, you wouldn’t start the conversation by introducing yourself. The following dialogues represent business small talk situations in which people meet again, speak for the first time in person or remind somebody that they have met before.

     

    3. Reconnecting with someone

    Susan: Gesine? Hi, it’s Susan. Susan Christie.
    Gesine: Oh, hi, Susan! I thought I recognized you. How are you?
    Susan: I’m great, thanks. And you?
    Gesine: I’m fine. Fancy meeting you here! What are the chances?
    Susan: [laughs] I know. You wouldn’t have time for a quick coffee, would you?
    Gesine: Sure. That would be lovely.

     

    4. Starting a conversation: Meeting in person

    Jason: You must be Gesine. I’m Jason. It’s good to meet you at long last.
    Gesine: Ah, Jason. It’s great to meet you. We’ve been talking on the phone for years — it’s funny that this is the first time we’ve actually met.
    Jason: I know! Come on, I’ll introduce you to my colleagues.

     

    5. You don’t remember me

    Jason: Ben? Hi, I’m Jason. You don’t remember me, do you?
    Ben: I’m sorry. Can you jog my memory?
    Jason: Jason Horn. We met last year in Bristol. At the conference.
    Ben: Oh, right. I remember now. We met at one of the evening events, right? Was it the one in the town hall?
    Jason: Yes, that’s the one.
    Ben: Goodness, I’m so sorry. It’s good to see you!
    Jason: No worries.

     

    EngIish phrases to reconnect with people in business small talk situations

    • I thought I recognized you.
    • So, are you still with the same company?
    • You don’t remember me, do you?
    • I’m sorry. Can you jog my memory? (if you don’t remember someone)
    • It’s good to meet you at long last. (if you meet someone for the first time in person)

     

    Zwei Personen am Flughafen

    In professional situations that involve some sort of travel, this is usually a good topic for business small talk.


    Breaking the ice in small talk situations

    After you have started the conversations, you’ll want the small talk to go on for some time and avoid awkward pauses.

    It’s never wrong to ask your conversational partner how they are. The answer to this question, however, is usually very short in English conversations. Detailed recountings of your health issues or marital problems are not the best small talk topics. It’s a lot more innocuous to ask how your conversational partner likes the event at which you’ve met. Other quite universal small talk topics are the weather, travel, accomodation or your background. In the following dialogue extracts, you’ll find how you can get a conversation with a business partner going using these small talk topics.

     

    6. Travel small talk

    Jason: How was your trip, Gesine? Not too arduous, I hope.
    Gesine: [laughs] No, it wasn’t arduous at all. The plane was almost empty, so I had three seats all to myself. And I took the tram here. The venue is very central, isn’t it?
    Jason: You can say that again! Now, how about we grab a coffee before we get down to business?
    Gesine: That would be great. Thanks.

     

    English phrases to talk about business travel

    • How was your trip?
    • The venue is very central, isn’t it?

     

    7. Small talk about your background

    Susan: Jason said you’re from Norway. How long have you lived here?
    Fridtjov: I moved here in 2007.
    Susan: Oh, that’s quite a while. I’ve always wanted to go to Norway. Whereabouts are you from?
    Fridtjov: I’m from Trondheim. Have you heard of it?
    Susan: Yes, I have. A friend of mine lived there, actually. The world’s biggest sundial is in Trondheim, isn’t it?
    Fridtjov: [laughs] Yes, that’s right! The Trondheim Torg. That’s funny that you know about that.

     

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    Business small talk tip: Things in common

    Small talk is about finding a connection with the person you are talking to. Listen carefully to the information people share with you in a conversation and try to follow with a question to find out more. When someone asks a question, offer a little more information than they asked for. As soon as you find a topic on which you both have plenty to say, you’ll be off to a good start. 

     

    8. Asking someone where they come from

    Fridtjov: And what about you, Susan? Where are you from? I can’t quite place your accent.
    Susan: I’m from Northern Ireland. But I moved here when I was a teenager, so my accent isn’t as strong as it used to be.
    Fridtjov: Oh, right. I’ve never been to Northern Ireland before. Are you from Belfast?
    Susan: No, I’m from Portstewart. It’s about 60 miles north of Belfast.

     

    English phrases to talk about where you or someone else is from

    • Whereabouts are you from?
    • Are you from ... ?
    • I’m from ... . Have you heard of it?
    • It’s about ... miles north/west/south/east of ... .
    • How long have you lived here?

     

    9. Small talk about your accommodation

    Susan: So, where are you staying while you’re here?
    Gesine: At the inn by the park. Do you know it?
    Susan: I’ve never stayed there, but I’ve only heard good things about it. It’s very handy for the conference venue.
    Gesine: It is, and it’s very comfortable. I don’t travel much in my job, so it’s a bit of a treat to stay in a nice hotel and not to have to worry about my kids and so on.
    Susan: [laughs] I bet.

     

    English phrases to talk about accommodation

    • So, where are you staying while you’re here?
    • I’ve never stayed there.
    • It’s very handy for the conference venue.

     

    10. Small talk about the weather

    Ben: I can’t believe the weather we’ve been having — rain, rain, rain. It’s so depressing.
    Jason: Yeah, I know. I heard that it’s supposed to get better by the end of the week.
    Ben: Really? Isn’t that what they said last week?
    Jason: Yeah, well, you can’t really trust the weather forecast. It’s the time of year, though, isn’t it? It’s always miserable in January.

     

    English phrases to talk about the weather

    • I can’t believe the weather we’ve been having.
    • I heard that it’s supposed to get better by the end of the week.

     

    Three people are having a conversation

    Being able to tell entertaining stories is a great small talk skill


    Keeping the conversation going

    Let’s keep the conversation going. Once you’ve started off with a general and rather unpersonal topic, you might want to lead over to a somewhat more personal topic. Small talk is all about finding out what you have in common with other people. If you can find a topic that you are both interested in, conversation should flow quite easily.

     

    11. Small talk about your family

    Susan: I think I remember you said you had three kids. Is that right?
    Gesine: Yes, just the three.
    Susan: Just three? Sounds like a bit of a handful to me.
    Gesine: It’s getting easier, now that they’re older. They can even be quite good company sometimes.
    Susan: And you have a dog, too, don’t you?
    Gesine: Well, we did. He passed away last year, unfortunately.
    Susan: Oh, dear. I’m so sorry. Losing a pet is awful.
    Gesine: Yeah, it is. Anyway, let’s talk about something cheerier.

     

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    Business small talk tip: Changing the subject

    You may want to change the subject because you find the current small talk topic awkward, or because you would like to start talking about business. Using the following English expressions can help make the transition smooth:

    • Anyway ...
    • So, tell me …
    • Oh, by the way…

     

    12. Telling a story

    Gesine: You’ll never guess what happened to my daughter the other day.
    Susan: What?
    Gesine: Well, she’s 15 and loves entering competitions. But sometimes, you have to be 18 to enter, so I let her use my name. Well, she won. Or rather, I did.
    Susan: Cool! What did you win?
    Gesine: A luxury holiday for two in the Maldives!
    Susan: That’s amazing! Are you taking your daughter or your husband?
    Gesine: My daughter, of course.

     

    English phrases to tell or respond to a story

    • You’ll never guess what happened.
    • That’s amazing!

     

    13. Small talk about work

    Jason: So, are you still with the same company?
    Ben: Yeah, I am, actually. It’ll be ten years next year.
    Jason: And everything’s going well?
    Ben: Things have noticeably picked up, so that’s a relief. What about you? Have you been promoted yet?
    Jason: [laughs] I have, actually. I remember telling you about that.
    Ben: Good for you! What’s your official title these days, then?
    Jason: Principal planning consultant.

     

    English phrases to talk about your job

    • And everything’s going well?
    • What’s your official title these days, then?
    • Things have picked up noticeably, so that’s a relief.

     

    Inviting somebody along

    Especially if you meet at an event, you might want to ask the other person to join you for a cup of coffee or some other activity. Here is how you can do that:

     

    14. An invitation to the pub

    Jason: A few of us are going to the pub. Would you like to join us?
    Ben: I’d love to. Thanks. What time are you going?
    Jason: Around 7.30 this evening.
    Ben: Oh, I forgot. I’ve got to call the New York office at eight. I’m not going to be able to make it.
    Jason: Why don’t you come along after your call?
    Ben: OK, I could do that. Where are you going to be?
    Jason: At the Prince of Wales on Market Wynd.

     

    English phrases to invite someone to something

    • You wouldn’t have time for a quick coffee, would you?
    • How about we grab a coffee before we get down to business?
    • A few of us are going to the pub. Would you like to join us?
    • Why don’t you come along after your call?

    Accepting or declining an invitation in English

    • I’d love to, thanks.
    • I’m not going to be able to make it.

     

    Ending a conversation

    Ending small talk can feel as awkward as starting the conversation. However, especially at professional events, it is important that you don’t spend the whole time talking to the same person. It’s therefore important that you know how to end a conversation politely in English.

     

    15. Saying Goodbye

    Susan: Is that the time? I’d better get back to work. Listen, it was lovely catching up. I’m so glad I bumped into you.
    Gesine: It was great to see you, too, Susan. It made my day.
    Susan: Give me a call next time you’re in London.
    Gesine: I will, for sure.
    Susan: Have a safe trip back home and a great time in the Maldives!
    Gesine: Thanks, I will! Take care.

     

    English phrases to close the conversation

    • Is that the time? I’d better get back to work.
    • Listen, it was lovely catching up.
    • I’m so glad I bumped into you.
    • It was great to see you, too, ... .
    • Give me a call next time you’re in ... .
    • Have a safe trip back home.
    • Take care.

     

    The art of English small talk

    Are you looking for more tips on how to keep conversations going? Or which topics work in English business small talk and which don’t? Ian McMaster, editor-in-chief of the business English magazine Business Spotlight shares some tips:

    The art of English small talk

     

    Illustration: three people in a small talk situation

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