Social Confidence for Nerdy Guys

You can download the pdf/printable version here

I don’t know if you’ve already seen this, but I wanted to share it here as well! A while ago I published this small talk cheat sheet on Reddit. I was overwhelmed by all the positive reactions. That is why I decided to improve it a bit with all the feedback I received and post it here as well. Hopefully you can benefit.

It’s a checklist that condenses the basics of small talk. Don’t try to master all of this at once. Learn step by step, and get better a few subjects at a time.

It is a general small talk checklist. So the basics are right everywhere, but take into account for some cultural variation. Nonetheless, this has already helped so many people, including some people I coach, hopefully you find it useful too.

Small talk cheat sheet

Basic Principles

  • Social skills and small talk are a skill you become better at by practice
  • Small talk is a technique to get to know each other and get on the same level
  • If you get on the same page, you can open up and connect more to create a relation
  • Don’t engage people for approval, validation or acceptance – but for a social experience
  • A big part of communication is nonverbal – voice, posture, expressions


  • Be honest to yourself and others
  • Be an energetic, optimistic, enthusiastic you
  • Be curious and show empathy
  • Don’t take it all too serious

Right mindsets

  • I can develop in a better me by taking action
  • I’m the actor not the victim in my life
  • I’m truly interested in other people
  • Everybody likes me until proven otherwise
  • I am a likable and interesting person

How to approach people

  • Look if people are open to conversation
    • Open body language
    • Not busy or in another conversation
  • Make eye contact and smile warmly
  • Don’t obsess about what to say
  • Approach and just simply open with;
    • “Hi, how are you?”
  • Assume the other person is more anxious
    • You can make them feel more at ease

How to start a conversation

  • Comment on the context (Situations, news, setting, people)
    • “This coffee place has a nice nostalgic interior, don’t you agree?”
  • Give a real compliment
    • “I really like those sneakers, where did you get them?”
  • Ask an opinion
    • “So what do you think about velvet slacks?”
  • Ask about general information
    • “Can you tell me what time it is?”
  • Talk about shared experiences:
    • “That was an amazing game, that last goal! Wow, what did you like?”
  • Talk about the social context:
    • “So who invited you to the party?”
  • Mention common interests
    • “Are you going to watch the game tonight?”

How to keep a conversation going

  • Balance talking and listening to a 2:3 ratio
  • Show genuine interest,
    • Ask open-ended questions
    • Truly willing to listen and learn
      • “What was/is your highlight this week?”
      • “What are you living towards?”
    • Ask for the emotional layer
      • “Why…”
      • “How come you chose…”
  • Avoid closed questions (limited answers; yes/no/…)
  • Ask for opinions;
    • What do you think about ….
  • Find common ground;
    • Agreement on an issue
    • Same interest [hobby / career / etc]
    • Knowing the same person
    • Enjoying a similar background
  • Elaborate on common interest but keep the focus on them
  • Show how you can relate to their experiences/interests
    • “Interesting, I was as well in Paris last year, loved the croissants.”
    • “Myself I’m more into Dragonball, but One Piece is cool too!”
  • Approach subjects from a unique angle
    • Add emotion and quirk
      • “What about cars? Wouldn’t they be much cooler with 6 wheels?”
  • Have your own opinion
    • But be open and respectful of others’ opinion as well
      • “I actually really like pineapple on my pizza”
  • Segue from the current subject by zooming in/out or move lateral
    • Dig into the details, see the bigger picture or mention related subjects
  • Use “what-if” scenarios to get people thinking and talking
    • “What if mobile phones were forbidden”
  • Talks about your experiences/stories and ask how they can relate
    • What did you do this week
      • “I was just playing Starcraft with some friends, are you a gamer?”
    • _Wha_t are your plans
      • “Next weekend I’ll be home alone, love it! You have any plans?”
    • What keeps you busy and why
      • “I’m trying to learn Chinese, preparing for our new overlords. Do you speak any second languages?”

What to talk about

  • Be prepared

    • Be informed, what is on people’s mind now? Latest meme, hype, news?
      • “Did you guys see that pizza rat video?”
      • “Have you met the new girl in HR?”
    • Prepare a few anecdotes you can use in conversation
      • “This one time on bandcamp,…”
      • “So I was going to the police office,…”
    • Prepare and share some interesting facts
      • “Did you know this place was built in 1908?”
      • “So India just had it’s first moon mission.”
  • Safe subjects to ask about; FORD

    • Family
    • Occupation
    • Recreation
    • Dreams (aspirations)
  • Other great general subjects

    • Pets
    • Music / movies / books
    • Travel
    • Food / drinks
  • If people seem vague about a certain subject after a few questions

    • Let it go and move to the next
    • Some subjects are normal to you and can be sensitive to others
  • Don’t just talk about yourself

How to talk and use your voice and body

  • Look people in the eyes
  • Stand up straight and relaxed
  • Open body language, hands by your side
  • Articulate clearly and speak loud enough

How to actively listen

  • Listen with intent and true interest
  • Use verbal acknowledgment that you listen
    • “Interesting”
    • “Sounds cool”
    • “Yes, go on”
    • “Seriously?”
    • “Tell me more”
  • Use nonverbal acknowledgment that you listen
    • Nodding
    • “mmmmm” / “uhuh”
  • Ask follow-up questions to keep people talking?
    • “How did that make you feel?”
    • “And then what?”
    • “What were you thinking when that happened?”
  • Ask about what has been told, go with the flow
  • Paraphrase what people said to show you listened

When and how to end a conversation

  • If someone doesn’t want to talk, don’t force the conversation.
    • You’ll get short closed answers
    • Someone doesn’t look at you
    • They start/keep doing something else
  • If conversations seem to be going nowhere
  • Or if there seems to be no real interest feel free to leave
    • “(Excuse me) I have to go …”
    • “It was nice talking to you, but I have to …”
    • “Alright, see you around”
  • If a conversation doesn’t flow or just ends
    • Just let it go
    • Don’t take this personally
    • There are numerous reasons beyond your influence why it doesn’t work

How to overcome anxiety barrier

  • 3 second rule – approach before you can think
  • Take deep calming breaths to calm down and approach
  • Boost confidence before social activity
    • Do what makes you feel good: work out / puzzles / cold shower etc.
  • Share how you feel / clear the air
    • “I’m a bit anxious about…”
    • “I usually don’t step up to people, but you looked pretty interesting”
  • Practice, practice, practice


  • Overanalyzing yourself and the situation
  • Filtering your responses, say what you think/feel
  • Focusing on yourself – instead focus (on the comfort of) the other

How to make others and yourself comfortable

  • Become comfortable by making others comfortable
  • Ask how people are doing
  • Be curious and show interest
    • Show you are not judging
    • Show empathy
  • Make easy eye contact and smile
  • Ask and use their name
  • Remember and bring up personal details
    • “How is your wife/cat/boat doing?”
  • Paraphrase what people said to show you listened
  • Show trust and some vulnerability
    • Say what you think and feel
  • Remember: The more interesting/personal the conversation, the less effort it will take
  • Don’t take it all too seriously

Connecting to people

  • Open up yourself, step by step share about you(r life)
    • Share information you’d ask of others as well
  • Show you trust people
  • Shared experiences

Hope this is helpful. If this is useful print it out, pin it to you headboard or tattoo it on your forearm. As long as it helps :). Any suggestions, feedback or questions? Let me know at

🍕Liked this? Buy me a pizza:)
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