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Get your schmooze on: 10 ways to make dazzling party conversation

Okay, okay…I hear you. On the heels of my article, “10 things NOT to talk about at a cocktail party“, it appears that several readers were left wondering, “well, what can we talk about?” Even if you avoid the somewhat controversial and sometimes uncool topics I outlined yesterday, there are still PLENTY of things on the party conversation platter to choose from. So how do you begin?

Small Talk 101
While it may be a little more challenging to start a conversation with someone you’ve just met…it’s not impossible. You’re both at the party for a reason (i.e. mutual friend, live in the same neighborhood, etc.)…so start there. cocktail quote How do they know the hosts? Where does the person/couple live? Do they know so and so who also lives on that street? Do they have kids? Where do their kids go to school? You get the point.

Once you’ve covered the introductory topics, you can go a little deeper. It’s been my experience that people LOVE to talk about themselves, so if you find yourself in the middle of an awkward pause, just ask them a question (open-ended is best). What do they do (to a woman with kids, “do you work outside the home”)? If I’m talking to a couple, I’ll ask them how they met. You’d be surprised how that can get the floodgates open, especially if they’ve been together for a while and don’t get asked that question much anymore.

Listen more, speak less
It’s crucial when making small talk to follow the conversation. Really listen to what’s being said. When you have something on topic to add, or a funny story that’s relevant to the conversation, feel free to jump in, but only after the storyteller has finished speaking. Also, make sure you come off as knowledgeable on a subject without being a know-it-all.

Conversation Cheat Sheet
The following are topics that are always appropriate for a cocktail party. And once you’ve started the conversation…there’s no telling where it’ll end up. Just smile, enjoy yourself, appear engaged in the other person’s story, and feel free to embellish a little here and there to make your anecdotes more interesting.

  1. Local happenings and current events; like the new coffee shop that just opened down the street or the Fortune 500 company that announced it’s moving its headquarters to town.
  2. Movies and TV; what have you seen lately? Was it two thumbs up or a real stinker? Do follow any reality shows or a television series that you’re passionate about? Did they see the last episode of Lost? How about American Idol? “Is Paula Abdul nutty or what?”
  3. Sports; this is a no brainer. Even if you’re not a sports fan, brush up a little on the local teams so you have something to add if you find yourself in a group of attractive men.
  4. The people you’re talking to; as mentioned earlier – people LOVE talking about themselves. Finding out where they’re from (if they’re not originally from where you are) is a good conversation starter. People are so transient these days that it’s likely you have someplace in common. If you can connect with someone on a favorite town (i.e. Pittsburgh), then you’ve just opened up a slew of conversation topics (i.e. the Steelers, Primanti Bros., and those rickety inclines).
  5. A cool website; My husband recently found a website that when given your real name, will spit out a porn star name for you (I’m Nurse Hornball).
  6. A funny story; Sometimes self-deprecating stories are the funniest and tell others that you don’t take yourself too seriously.
  7. Culture; books, art gallery openings, a new band. You never know who has tickets to the upcoming Duran Duran concert (my husband is now mortified).
  8. Family plans; Are they going on vacation this summer? Do they have their kids enrolled in any summer camps? What are they doing for the holidays?
  9. The hostess’s home; “Isn’t this house lovely? I like the eclectic/modern/rustic décor. If she doesn’t have a maid, I’m going to cut myself with this cheese knife.”
  10. The weather; boring it doesn’t have to be. The last time someone brought up how warm it was getting, the conversation moved to yardwork, tulips, deer eating said tulips, and then how one woman gets her husband to pee on her tulips to keep the deer away. See…not boring.

Um, I’m gonna go see if there’s someone better to talk to…
Having a few conversation closers in your arsenal is also a good idea (and let be honest, sometimes they’re more important than openers). When the conversation is getting sticky or just a little tired, instead of just slipping away, be courteous and excuse yourself with, “well, it was nice meeting you…I’d better go see what my husband/wife is up to”, or, “if you’ll excuse me, I need to hit the bar/buffet/crapper.”

For a couple of interesting articles about how to make good party conversation, click here and here. For a list of the 10 biggest mistakes people make in party conversation, click here. For a cute joke about 3 women at a cocktail party, click here (warning…it’s a smidge off-color).

Have fun!


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Tags: attitude · the rules

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4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 10 things NOT to talk about at a cocktail party // Apr 24, 2008 at 7:41 am

    […] How to make dazzling party conversation […]

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    […] How to make dazzling party conversation […]

  • 3 Joyce Jarrard // Apr 29, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    Thanks, I enjoyed the article. I was amused that you used and adapted few of the items on my own list.

    In this “bible belt” part of the country, cocktail parties are rare. (Yes, I am considering moving back to the Midwest.) My pastor considers us reprobates because we drink wine.

    I was at a church social Sunday evening, and I tried 5 times to start a conversation with the family sitting at the table. (I did not know this nice-looking little family.) The conversation never got off the ground, although all my attempts were about safe subjects — family, church, school, etc.

    As a result of this unpleasant evening, I realized there are some people out there more inept than I am at small talk. We ended up eating our BBQ in stony silence after I finally gave up. Egads, what pills they were! We sure picked the wrong table! We went home early.

    I own an interesting book, “What Do I Say Next? – Talking Your Way to Business and Social Success” by Susan Roane, (1997 Warner Books.) I probably need to re-read it. Susan Roane also wrote “How to Work a Room,” which is a compelling title.

    I’m the kind of person who hates sitting next to a stranger, say, on a plane. Therefore, I try to engage the seatmate in some sort of brief conversation, so they won’t feel so much like a stranger to me. (Then I’ll let them read their book, and I’ll start reading mine.)

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