Tis the season for holiday open houses, office Christmas parties, and—for better or worse—endless amounts of small talk with acquaintances and strangers. If you find yourself at a loss for words on the party circuit (like I do), do not fear. I talked to a slew of mingling pros, who offered simple conversation starters anyone can use.
1. From humorist John Hodgman: Ask what just happened.
Said John, ” I find the question ‘What’s your profession?’ to be tiresome, because people have jobs that I don’t understand. Or the person answers by saying, “I’m a consultant,” which is just another way of saying, “I’m not going to tell you what I do.” Isn’t it more fun to ask, “What did you do today?” It’s a very intimate question—something you might ask your spouse. Of course, if the person responds, “I worked at my consulting job,” then I guess you’ll have been tricked. But hopefully he’ll say, “I met a friend for lunch,” and then you can ask where they ate and the conversation will go on.
2. From radio host Delilah: Get personal.
Said Delilah, “I started my radio show 28 years ago, right after the birth of my son. Back then, my program director told me I should mention only once or twice on air that I had recently given birth, because “no one is interested.” Lucky for me, he was incorrect: People are very interested. So when a conversation hits a dead end, I bring up personal things. I talk about my children and my hobbies—that I love to ride horses, to cook, to sew. Sharing these tidbits leads the person I’m talking with to chat about her own interests. Too many people are afraid of exposure. But the more transparent you are, the more you give others permission to be open right back.”