How to Make Quality Small Talk: Advice from Flirtation Expert Neil Strauss

The country's leading flirtation authority, Neil Strauss--author of the best-selling pick-up manual The Game--offers advice on how to become a great flirt. Step One? Learn to excell at small talk. It's easy!

As I mentioned yesterday, I was lucky enough to score a great interview Neil Strauss, author of the 2005 international best-seller The Game. The book, about his years spent training with professional pick-up artists, quickly became a cultural phenomenon—and single guys around the world who are endeavoring to turn themselves into the sauvest of ladies' men swear by it.

I first got interested in Neil way back in December, after hearing that Marie Claire was psyched for my blog idea. I was at a holiday party, gushing to a small group of people about how I excited I was to start working on "The Year of Living Flirtatiously" when a married shrink said: "You have to talk to Neil Strauss! If anyone can help you become a better flirt, it's he!" I was a little skeptical: Wasn't "The Game" about how to become a pick-up artist? And wasn't it a little ... sleazy? Not at all, according to the therapist. "I like to think people are very complicated, that there aren't universal rules of behavior that apply in every setting," he explained. "But the pointers in that book work. Before I read it, I'd never meet women when I went out to bars. Afterwards ... I'd go home every night with a pocketful of phone numbers."

But The Game was written to help men. Would Neil have any pointers that would work for women?

It took me a while to track him down, since he's busy promoting his new book, a best-selling catastrophe-survival manual called Emergency: This Book Will Save your Life. But I'm so thrilled that we finally caught up, because he had some pretty fantastic—and unusual--ideas about how I (and any woman) could become a primo flirt. We talked for a long time, so I'm going to break our interview up into three parts.

Today, we'll do Part I: How to Make Small Talk and Eye Contact. (Stay tuned for Part II: How to Present Yourself If You Want to be a Top-Notch Flirt and Part III: How to Make Killer Flirtation Conversation.)

My chat with Neil started off with him asking me a question.

HIM: What exactly is your end-goal, with this blog?

ME: To get better at flirting, instead of missing opportunities every time I go out—and, eventually, to find a good, healthy long-term relationship.

HIM: Let go of that outcome.

Me: Why?

HIM: It will only mess you up. If you meet a really high-quality guy and you're really attached to the idea of him being your boyfriend, that pressure—that neediness—is something he'll sense. The best way to start is to just take small steps. Have clearly-defined, easy goals. It'll also make the whole thing more fun for you.

ME: What kind of goals?

HIM: On your your first day, all you want to do is go out and make small talk with five strangers. Don't worry about whether they're people you want to date. Approach grandfathers, other women, someone who's not your type, whomever you come across. It'll help you adjust to stepping out of your comfort zone. And don't think too long before you open your mouth. People sense it when something sounds too pre-meditated; that makes them uncomfortable. Just be natural.

ME: Any advice about how to make small talk? For some of us, it's not so easy.

HIM: Just make a comment to the person next to you on line at the grocery store, like "Great weather." The definition of small talk is that it doesn't really require a response.

ME: Okay. Something that a person can just say "Uh huh" to, and leave it at that?

HIM: Right. And once you've gotten comfortable with that, go out and do the same thing--make small talk with random strangers--but this time, make sure you write down the person's eye color, just for your own benefit, so you can be sure you've made eye contact. If you're not good at eye contact, find a way to do it comfortably. For example, with someone you like, there's something called triangular gazing, where you look at one eye, then the other, then at their mouth. Do that for just a day, at least five times. Then you'll be ready to start learning to interact with guys you're attracted to.

* * *

All right, so practice your small talk, my peeps! And then we'll move on to Neil's advice about the physicality of flirting, and how to engage in a more meaningful conversation.