NSA 15 Year Member National Speaker Association

A Little More Conversation
By Steve Greenlee

WEEKEND / POP! Anyone who’s ever panicked at a party over the prospect of talking to people they don’t know would do well to read Debra Fine’s new book, “The Fine Art of Small Talk.” Fine, 50, was quiet and shy in her younger years but now is warm, funny, and outgoing, and she teaches employees of Fortune 500 companies how to talk to one another. We reached her at her home in Colorado.

Q. Hi Debra. It’s Steve Greenlee from The Boston Globe. How are you?

A. Good. How’s Boston today?

Q. Beautiful. It’s 11 degrees. Doesn’t your book say don’t start a conversation by asking about the weather?

A. I wouldn’t say don’t do it. I wouldn’t recommend it. I was interested, actually. I have a son at Tufts.

Q. So, uh, what’s your sign?

A. You don’t really wanna know. What’s yours? I could guess. I don’t even know what my kids’ signs are. Do you know what your kids’ signs are? I know you have kids. Do you know how I know that? I Googled you. You have twin boys.

Q. Now you’re scaring me. Did you MapQuest my house too?

A. No, I wanted to prepare for the interview. The point is that I prepared so that we’d have something to talk about.

Q. I guess you should be asking me the questions.

A. No, you’re in control. That’s probably why you’re a journalist. Should we analyze you?

Q. No thanks. If you could be any kind of tree, what kind of tree would you be?

A. Oh my God. You and Barbara Walters. Do you have issues we should talk about? An olive tree. Peace. No one’s ever asked me that question before. An olive tree. I like olives. Do you like olives?

Q. Yeah, I like olives. I’m trying to see if I can kill the conversation, and you won’t let me.

A. That’s the key: Assume the burden of other people’s comfort. If you’re shy, you’d never assume that.

Q. So, do you talk to everyone? The clerks at the grocery store? What about the old guy who welcomes you to Wal-Mart?

A. It depends. You shouldn’t feel obligated on elevators or at Wal-Mart to stop and chat with people. But I do it at church or synagogue, and sometimes in line at Target. I make myself talk to three new people every week.

Q. Does anyone ever go overboard with the small talk, in your estimation? You ever want to just tell someone to shut up?

A. Yeah, there are a couple of kinds of people. There’s the FBI agent, who won’t stop asking questions; some people do it because they just won’t shut up, and some people do it because they’re shy and they heard you’re supposed to ask a lot of questions. Then there’s people who are nervous Nellies, and they just babble. I’ve heard myself do this.

Q. What topics are off-limits?

A. The biggest problem we have is we make statements about politics or religion, and we become proselytizers. We could do that in Boston about the Red Sox: “They were lucky. That won’t happen again, winning the World Series.” When people make statements about any topic and forget to ask their conversational partner what their opinion is . . . People do it with the weather: “Global warming that’s why we’re getting the hurricanes.”

Q. Speaking of the weather, is it cold enough for you?

A. You know why that’s a good opening line?

Q. That’s a good opening line?

A. It can be. If you walk up to me and say, “Deb, is it cold enough for you?” it’s allowed me to break the ice for you. Any ice breaker works as long as it’s not offensive.

Q. What’s the worst small-talk conversation you’ve ever had, aside from this one?

A. This one’s good. Are you kidding me?

Q. How do you end a really bad conversation ?

A. You can ask for a “referral,” or give them a warning, by saying something like, “I have a meeting in five minutes,” or “I need to talk to someone here with small children. Do you know anyone here with small children?”

Q. Before I let you go, let me ask you one more question.

A. That was very good.

All content herein is © Globe Newspaper Company and may not be republished without permission.

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CBS Sunday Morning
Mastering The Art of Small Talk



Debra Fine special on CBS Channel 4 News. Debra Fine is a professional speaker, best selling author, conversation expert, communication guru, and a nationally recognized spokesperson.


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Covers everything from icebreakers to exit lines. Building business, getting dates, making friends or landing jobs this book is guaranteed to improve conversational skills, mingling ability, and networking techniques.


All the same incredible content, in an all new format. Get The Fine Art of Small Talk for Kindle!


Debra's January 2008 follow up book to her bestseller. The Fine Art of the Big Talk: How to Win Clients, Deliver Great Presentations, and Solve Conflicts at Work.


Feel more at ease at parties, banquets, receptions, and networking events. Use icebreakers that work every time. Engage anyone in conversation with poise and confidence. All In One USB Flash Drive (Mac or PC compatible): ­-3.5 hours
-Read by the author
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Beyond Texting: The Fine Art of Face-to-Face Communication for Teenagers
Offering practical advice and cheat sheets Beyond Texting strives to help teens balance their digital and real world image and relationships.


The Fine Art of Small Talk: How to Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills – And Leave a Positive Impression! (Unabridged) Nationally recognized communication expert, keynote speaker and trainer, and best-selling author Debra Fine reveals the techniques and strategies anyone can use to make small talk - in any situation. Do you spend an abnormal amount of time hiding out in the bathroom or hanging out at the buffet table at social gatherings?


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Our group of 500 participants thought you were wonderful. They loved the topic and your wonderfully energetic and amusing delivery. Many people told me we should have given you twice as much time. In the eight years that we have sponsored this conference you have proved to be our most popular luncheon speaker. The response was simply overwhelming"
Melodye A. Turek
Executive Director
Colorado Safety Association