People often say that when making small talk, you want to stick to neutral and non-controversial topics. In my view, that is probably the worst advice you could ever give.
When making small talk, it's not the topic that matters. It's how you discuss that topic. The truth is that you can take any topic and make it boring, engaging, or even totally inappropriate.
Let's take two common small talk topics in business settings--the weather and finance--and I'll show you how you can make each one boring, interesting, and even inappropriate.
"Did you notice how sunny it is today?"
"Did you hear that the yield on treasury bonds increased by a few percentage points last week?
Verdict: no personality; nothing engaging or interesting or memorable.
Now here's a slightly more engaging version of each that you could imagine sparking a small talk conversation:
"Have you been outside? Have you seen how hot it is? I heard on TV that some guy tried to fry an egg on the sidewalk."
Or: "Did you hear that Warren Buffett just pledged to give away 99 percent of his fortune? Can you believe that?"
Verdict: more personality, more memorable, more engaging. You want to say something back.
Finally, the inappropriate versions:
"Are you looking forward to the rain this weekend? I am. I hope lots of people get flooded basements."
"Did you say you are a vice president? How much do you make? Let me guess: $250,000?"
As you can see, small talk in the end isn't about topics. It's about creativity and ingenuity. It's about being able to take any topic and use it to your advantage to create interest, spark a conversation, and not be boring.