Party season is upon us and with this comes a lot of opportunities to make small-talk. For some, just the thought of having to carry conversations with total strangers or colleagues that they only say a quick hi to when passing them in the corridor fills them with dread.
I used to worry quite a bit about having to make conversation with strangers, especially when going to conferences as part of my PhD. As a person who quite often puts their foot in it by saying something a bit dim, small talk was a bit of a danger zone for me! But through some practice and by sticking to my ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ motto, the thought of small talk no longer makes me squirm.
Having a plan can help us to feel more prepared, and in turn, more confident. I appreciate that this post might be attempting to teach some of you to suck eggs, but as I really used to worry about small-talk I thought I would share my top strategies for avoiding a dreaded awkward silence this party season.
- Pre-planned conversation starters Ask questions that require more than a one word answer to get the conversation flowing (and if you can avoid talking about the weather!). I once read that the Queen is a master of small talk, and her favourite question to ask visitors to the palace is “Have you travelled far today?”.
- Make the other person comfortable
Don’t underestimate the power of your body language! Maintain regular eye contact, keep your shoulders pointed towards the other person and smile! It kind of goes without saying, but stay off your phone and give the person you’re speaking to your full attention.
- Be positive
When making small talk it will probably serve you well to avoid big topics such as politics, religion or life and death! Keep conversation positive and light. There is nothing worse than someone you’ve just met who replies to everything you say with a negative comment. You’re there for a nice time, so leave the negativity at home.
- Actively listen
Rather than worrying what you’re going to say next, really listen to what the other person is saying and this will more often than not provide you with a cue for where to take the conversation. Aim to listen more than you talk all evening and you will be an attentive and engaging guest.
- Know how to move on gracefully
If a conversation is heading in a direction that you’re not comfortable with, or if you simply want the chance to speak to others have a plan for moving on. My top tip would be to avoid saying something like “I’m going to pop to the loo / to get another drink” because there is a chance that the person will join you. I typically say something along the lines of “well it’s been so lovely chatting with you, I’ll hopefully catch up with you later in the evening!” and it’s always gone well for me.