’Tis the Party Season: Tips for Making Small Talk

Updated: Mar 10, 2019


December 10, 2018

I don’t know how many parties you’ve been to this season, but my husband and I are already partied out. He even announced, “That’s IT!” after the last party, not that he didn’t enjoy the great food and booze. But standing on our feet for hours and making small talk with people who are poor conversationalists is something neither of us enjoy.

Sometimes people ask what I do, now that I’m no longer working full-time. When I tell them I'm an author with two novels on Amazon, and I just finished my third, people go “deer-in-headlights” because they don't know what to say next. Maybe they’re afraid I’ll force them to read my books. Definitely not, although I do ask if they read fiction and what kind of novels they like. If there's a fit, I will give them my card and point out the novel that might interest them.

Too often, that ends the conversation because nobody wants someone to sell them a book at a party. That's why I usually try to get back to that same person a bit later and ask questions about their life. In this way, we can overcome their fear that I only want to sell them a book.

Working the Room

We are all nervous when entering a room filled with humans we don’t know, but mastering a few easy skills will make you an invitee that hosts want back. Because my pre-author career was in public relations, I had to learn how to work a room. Besides the ubiquitous, “What do you do for a living?” I often use some of these ice-breaker questions:

“How did you meet (the party hosts)?” Or, “What brings you to this conference?” “Have you always lived in Austin?” (Or whatever city you live in.) “My husband and I just got back from Montreal. Have you taken any trips lately?” “How did you two meet?” (for couples) “Our dogs are furious with us for leaving them. Do you have any pets?” For retired women, I ask, “Did you work outside the home?” “Do you have any special plans for New Year’s Eve?” For men I might ask, “Are you a Cowboys or a Texans fan?” “Where did you go to college?” “What’s your favorite cocktail?”

The list goes on. What you’ll notice is that these are questions. The answers get the other person talking for sure, but I’ve also noticed that many people don’t return the favor by asking me something about my world. They simply stand there. So, I'll have to ask another question, and they’ll answer until I run out of questions and the conversation dies.

This is unfortunate. Small talk is a two-way exchange that can be quite fun and even revelatory when both parties make an effort. Beyond my questions above, I did a bit of Googling and chose two articles that might help you plan your list of questions.

The first is "The 10 Big Rules of Small Talk," from a Web site called “Real Simple.” CLICK HERE to go to the page.

The second article, "10 No-Fail Cocktail Party Conversation Starters," from Town and Country magazine, has some good questions you might want to use. CLICK HERE to go to that page.

When in Doubt, Ask a Question!

Whether you’re an author, a retired housewife, or a practicing lawyer, conversing with others takes planning and practice, but it’s a skill we all can learn. The trick is to choose questions that you can add to from your own experiences. Who knows? You might discover someone who lived two blocks from your childhood home. You might meet a guy who shares your passion for antique cars. And, if you are an author, you might find a new reader.

Again, many thanks for reading and rating my work!

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© 2017 by Pat Dunlap Evans