Do you get nervous meeting strangers? Are you shy about making small talk? You need to remember four letters: F-O-R-M. And that stands for the top 4 topics everyone loves to talk about - Family, Occupation, Recreation, and Money:

  • “F” is for Family. You can start by asking questions that range from “What are your kids like?” to “Where are you from?” But public speaking expert Ruth Sherman says your questions should apply to the situation. For example, if you see a family picture on someone’s desk, ask about their kids. But if you’re on a plane, you might be better off with something like, “Are you headed home, or are you off on a trip?”

  • “O” for Occupation. Executive coach Heiner Karst says that a lot of people skip this old standby because – number one - they think it’s overused. And number two – a lot of people are out of work. So, ask about work this way: “What’s your line of work?” That way, if they’re unemployed they can still answer. Because even if they’re a teacher who’s been laid off they can say, “I’m in education.” But for the most part, work is something people are proud of, and since we all spend so many hours a week doing it, we have a lot to say on the subject.

  • “R” for Recreation. Experts say that asking people what they do in their free time helps you discover if you’ve got common interests.

  • “M” – which means Money. Of course, you’re not asking about salaries or anything. But if someone catches your eye at a gas station, you could say something like, “Wow, this fill-up hurts worse than my appendectomy.” And if they respond, you can move on to one of the other FORM topics.