Party Lines

Party Lines

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Party season is here and with it, a common communication concern: How to Do Party Talk. Many people have confided to me their dread of cocktail parties, receptions, coffee hours, conference socials, or even the spontaneous chit chat of the office gathering spot, because they are uncomfortable with the challenge of Making Conversation.

“It’s so awkward; I sound like an idiot.”

I think the small talk monster stalks more people than we may think, so let’s take a look at it. Maybe we can tame it in time for you to actually enjoy whatever parties this recession allows this season.

Like most endeavors, planning will make your experience more successful, and like all communication situations, focusing on the other person will almost guarantee success.


  1. Plan before the event.

– Review what you know about the probable attendees- and the names of their family members.

– Adjust your attitude about the event: assume you will listen, learn, and enliven. ” To survive” is not promising as a goal.

– Review and know something about topics that are likely to come up in conversation: current events, movies, good gossip. Some people scan the newspaper before parties…

– Prepare some questions that are NOT “What are you going to do /are you ready / for the holidays?”

– Decide what you’re going to say about yourself. For sure, someone will ask a variation of what-have-you-been-doing. This could be a chance for a really interesting conversation.

2. Focus on the other person

– Ask open, not yes or no, questions. “What did you like about…” not “Did you like…”

– Ask follow-up questions. “Can you tell me how you got involved in goat herding?”

– When you speak, give the other person something to build on, or at the least, end your remarks by handing off to the other guy. “And what about you? When did you learn to fly?”

– Ask for, confirm, and use the other person’s name. Even if you have to ask three times before you understand it, this is better than pretending you got it and never using it.

– Be brief, be bright, be gone. Move on before it feels like you should.

3. Ending the conversation

– Prepare some standard endings; ask the person to go with you to get food, drink, air; look for the person you came with; remember an important phone call, or just say that you want to talk to some other people before they leave.

– Recap the conversation, express your pleasure in having had it, say the person’s name, and off you go.

With practice, you’ll feel comfortable enough to notice that there are a lot of people stumbling around out there in party land, and you might even help them with their lines!

P.S. Guest Blog! Recently my good friend, Helen Selzer, invited me to write a piece for her excellent blog Helen is the owner of Farshaws Too, home of fine old books ( in Massachusetts. Helen is an elegant writer and her blog entries on Books Books Books are delicious and thoughtful reflections of her passion for books, film and theatre. My post for her blog is called Reading Rules, and is a quick take on ways to make the most of one’s reading. I invite you to take a look at it, and, in so doing, meet Helen and enjoy her world of Books Books Books!