How to Talk to Anyone at a Party
By Beth Levine
It's easy to panic when you get into an awkward situation at a social
gathering. But it's just as easy to regain your poise. For anyone who's ever
felt tongue-tied or immobilized at a party, here's a survival guide.
A few months ago, I went to a baby shower where I knew only two
guests-neither of them well. Feeling out of place, I practically attached
myself to these women. But as the conversation dwindled, my anxiety level rose:
Did they want to keep talking to me? How long could I stick around before
they'd start to worry that I'd be going home with them?
When you can't get the conversation started
Even friendly women can get the cold shoulder if they don't know a few
icebreakers. Ivy Eisenberg of White Plains, New York, still turns red when she
remembers her friend's anniversary party. Not knowing many people, she headed
for the hors d'oeuvres and said to the woman next to her, "Mmm, this quiche
looks delicious!" The woman stared, turned her back, and walked away.
That guest may have just been rude, but there are more deft ways to
jump-start a conversation. Framing the quiche comment as a question-"Isn't
the quiche delicious?"-might at least have elicited a reply.
The best questions, though, are ones that allow the other person to open up.
"How do you know the hostess?" is an old standby, but it works almost
every time. A compliment masquerading as a question can also do the trick:
"Your necklace (purse, sweater, etc.) is so pretty. I've never seen
anything like it. Where did you find it?"
"Flattery goes a long way," says GH etiquette guru Peggy Post.
"But be sincere-no one likes a fake."
Sometimes, sharing your nervousness can work too. Chef Nigella Lawson, host
of the Food Network's Nigel-la Feasts, uses some version of this opener:
"Isn't it frightening talking to people you don't know? It makes me feel
like it's my first day at a new school."
However good your opening gambit, be prepared for a curveball: the one- (or
two- or three-) word response. When that happens, resist the urge to skip from
subject to subject. The secret is to build on one topic. If you ask someone
about a movie she saw and she replies, "It was good," follow up with a
leading question such as: "I just don't get what everyone sees in Brad
Pitt, do you?"
If the person you're trying to chat up is still unresponsive, don't let it zap
your confidence. She might just be having a bad day.
What if people are already in the midst of conversation? Try the
wait-and-hover technique, advises Bernardo J. Carducci, Ph.D., director of the
Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast. How it works: Get
on the periphery and listen. When there's a lull, break in by elaborating on
the topic or asking a question instead of stating an opinion right away. For
example: "You got mugged in Miami? That happened to me too!" What if
you get the dreaded blank stares? Be patient. They may just need time to finish
what they were saying.