For some of us, the thought of having party conversations with people we might not know fills us with dread, but it doesn’t have to! Here are some tips from Laura Kraus to finesse your way through your next event.
The quest for quality party conversations
There are some people who always say the right thing to the right person at the right time. Spoiler Alert: I am not one of them! I can be awkward, not know what to say, and often have trouble knowing what to do after a conversation reaches its natural end. And this is when I’m talking to my friends — the people I know and like!
So here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years, and hopefully, they’ll help you have a great party!
It’s not about you!
If you go into an event feeling insecure- you’re not wearing the right outfit, don’t know anybody, feel like a loser, etc. then guess what! Other people will feed off of this negative energy and the only party you’ll be attending tonight is your own pity party. Lame!
Sometimes this insecurity even masks itself as arrogance, which can be just as detrimental. You don’t need to let everyone know how much you love yourself or how great you are. If you’re rooting your own horn too loudly, even if it’s disguised as a “humble brag”, you might find yourself hanging out alone.
So instead of entering a room weighed down by any insecurity baggage, shift your paradigm. Instead of thinking, “who’s going to talk to me so I don’t feel alone?” think: “Who can I talk to so they feel included?”.
If you are a guest at a wedding, dinner party, or luncheon, your number one priority should be to make sure the host has a good time. This perspective shift alone can make you less self-conscious and help you (and your host) have a better experience.
Carly Duvall Kidd has honed her conversation skills after years of work as a cosmetologist. After spending hours each day as a de facto counselor and BFF while styling hair, she knows the importance of good small talk! So what’s her basic advice?” Make it about them“! In time you can add your own flavor to the conversation, but if you engage people in topics they care about, you’ll all have a great time.
Look for body language clues during your party conversations
Nobody will tell you, “this conversation is over! I can’t believe how boring you are”. But they might start looking around the room to find some refreshments or another person to talk to. Don’t be insulted or try to trap someone if you see that your encounter has reached a natural end, but instead, try to facilitate the transition to another conversation. Go get another drink/plate of hors-d’oeuvres and ask if they’d like something, too.
Also, be conscious of your own body language. Even when you enter the room, stand up straight, shoulders back, and hold your head high. Don’t come in with slumped posture or feeling sorry for yourself.
Who would you rather talk to- the person who’s scowling in the corner? Or the person who’s smiling and welcoming?
A note on party conversation transitions
One of my many weaknesses is the inability to gracefully transition from one conversation to the next. Sometimes I miss the body language cues until it’s too late, and we’re both trapped!
So when your conversation has wrapped up, here are a few tips to finish strong:
- Be direct. “It’s been so lovely talking about xyz with you! Have a wonderful evening.” Then just leave the conversation. Chances are, they’ll be relieved you gave them an out.
- Get a refill. Feeling hungry or thirsty? “It’s been great to catch up. I heard the cheese plate is fantastic, would you like anything?” Most of the time, when you hear these magic words, your conversation has wrapped up and it’s time to move on.
- Nature calls. Someone might genuinely have to go to the bathroom, but it’s another conversation-avoidance code. I once had someone tell me they had to go to the bathroom three times when we had only talked for a minute or two. Message received! (Of course, they probably really did need to go. Right?)
- Use body language. Not all conversations need a conclusion. Sometimes if you pivot ever-so-slightly, you can start talking to a new person, so your other friend can move on.
- Dance like nobody’s watching. If you’re at a party with a band or DJ, just say “I love this song!” and just head to the middle of the dance floor. Hopefully, it’s a song you actually like, and the dance floor is pretty crowded so you’re not flying solo!
More tips for party conversations
If you’re still at a loss of what to say and what to avoid, here are a few more guidelines:
- Look for common ground. How do you know the host? How’s work? How are the kids? There are some really broad topics that almost everybody can relate to- so use this starting point as a wide funnel, and see what sticks.
- Listen. Don’t start mentally crafting your response to the next question that comes up before anyone has a chance to say anything! Make mental notes of interesting details in the conversation and ask good follow-up questions so your friend knows how much they matter.
- Lighten up! If you can break the ice with a great sense of humor, you have a tremendous gift! Use it! Don’t try to be funny if you’re really not. It could be somewhat uncomfortable. Extra Note: Some people who know they’re not funny and claim it, can get away with telling really stupid jokes. If you find yourself at a party telling “dad jokes” or “grandpa jokes”, you might be in this category.
Mix things up
- Wear something interesting. It might sound silly, but wearing statement earrings, party pants, or even a really bright color at a party gives people something to talk about when meeting you. I once wore a bright green dress to a networking event, and I had several people tell me they wanted to talk to me because of the color. If you’re too timid to commit to something really wild, wear statement earrings- they’re in style right now, and you can always take them off.
- Bring out random fun facts/hidden talents, or ask people about theirs. Many years ago, my husband was turned down as the accordion player for the Busch Gardens Festhaus because he was underage. He kept this fact (and his accordion playing prowess) to himself during high school and college. But now, especially towards the end of an evening, he has a really fun party talent and can play a great beer barrel polka.
- Don’t shy away from new and different people. We often subconsciously gravitate toward people who seem like us, but often we have the most interesting encounters with those who are different. Strike up a conversation with somebody who was born several decades before or after you. Engage with someone who might have political or religious beliefs that don’t mirror yours. You’ll probably have a much richer experience.
- Make it a game. One friend and I would sometimes have a contest before meeting new people to see who could talk to the most interesting and eccentric ones. It made what could have been awkward events a lot more interesting! (Side Note: Our winning encounter was probably a de facto blind date with some communists after a New York jazz concert. Fun times!)
Let’s get this party started!
Even the most sparkling conversationalist will have awkward party conversations, and that’s okay! There’s no perfect formula, and sometimes the encounters that don’t go according to plan end up being the most memorable.
But when in doubt, if you switch your focus from yourself to others, you’ll have some fun and meaningful party conversations.