An article in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, “The Hidden Benefits of Chitchat,” outlines several relatively simple steps to making better conversation in semi-casual settings like dinner parties or work conferences.

“We can use small talk to signal our friendly intent and to get people to like us,” Elizabeth Bernstein wrote. “It can lead to more-significant conversations that spark friendships and clinch deals. … You can develop your conversational intelligence. It isn't complicated, especially if you keep this rule of thumb in mind: Focus on the other person.”

The online version of Bernstein’s article includes a graphic that divides “small talk” into five steps: get started, introduction, topic finder, proceed with caution and graceful exit.