Dear Miss SmartyPants,
I have a difficult time making small talk at parties. I'm a little shy, for one thing. This makes me self-conscious, and I'm afraid I'm going to say something stupid or boring. So I just clam up. But I don't want people to think I'm stuck-up or antisocial. Do you have any tips to help me relax and enter into light conversations?
The art of casual conversation can be learned and developed. What you need is some preparation to give you the confidence you need. And then you must force yourself to practice. In time, your comfort level will increase, and your ability to chat with others will allow you to make connections, and possibly open doors that can change your life.
You may not be brilliantly comedic, but warmth, friendliness, and a sense of humor are valuable assets that will make you welcome in any crowd. But how to get started?
Immerse yourself in a variety of subjects. Read newspapers, explore the Internet, take up hobbies such as cooking or tennis or painting. The more interests you have, the more interesting you will be. Sports, fashion, literature are all great sources of small talk.
Collect funny or interesting stories, make a point to remember beautiful things you see or fascinating experiences you have. Recalling a quote could be a good way to discuss its meaning, or to share a laugh. Recall a cute/intriguing story viewed on a TV news show.
Make the first move. Engage people in conversation. Start with light chit-chat at the grocery check-out counter with the cashier or someone in line. Wave at neighbors, make a comment about how nice their lawn looks, or seek advice about how they divide their flower bulbs, just get a little conversation going. Chat with someone new every day.
At a party, find someone who is standing alone, go up and introduce yourself and ask her name. Then repeat it so you remember it, and comment on the food, or ask how she knows the host. Ask open-ended questions that can't be answered with "yes" or "no".
To move from surface talk ("Did you go to the 4th Street Cruise?") to a deeper dialogue, listen for clues in the answer. If she says, "Yes, I like to photograph the old cars", you could ask about her interest in photography, what else does she like to photograph, etc. Listen with attention, including eye contact, nodding, and verbal clues (mmm-hmm).
Some don'ts: Don't overdo it by asking too many questions, or being overly chatty. No talk of politics, health issues, religion, or other highly personal subjects. Watch your language. Don't show off your knowledge of Renaissance poetry or Star Trek lingo.
Focusing your attention on others will help you forget your shyness. Be open and enjoy!