Question:My wife's company is holding a holiday party next week and I'm the world's worst conversationalist. Any advice?
Answer:Take heart—most conversational blunders are committed by those who talk too much, not too little. Think before you speak. Have a list of possible topics in mind that will help get a conversation going. Avoid yes or no questions. "What are your plans for the holidays?" will take you further than "Are you traveling for the holidays?" Don't be afraid to introduce yourself, especially to another outsider, who may feel like a fish out of water, too.
The Fine Art of Small Talk
Some people just seem to have the gift of gab—they can chat up even virtual strangers with ease. Here's how to become a great conversationalist:
1. Be well versed on current events. Make it your mission to be a generalist. Read local and national newspapers and news magazines and watch TV news shows to bone up on events in your town and around the nation and world. Keep up on entertainment and the arts with general-interest magazines and TV. Know which sports teams are winning and which aren't.
2. Ask people for their opinions. Before you go to an event, think of a few questions you can ask at the start of a conversation. People usually love to be asked for their views on a subject.
3. Steer clear of controversial topics. Politics, sex, and religion are potential minefields. You want to start a pleasant conversation, not an argument.
4. Know your hosts. If you don't already know much about your hosts, learn their interests ahead of time. Are they into skiing, hiking, travel, computers? You can ask around, or check out pictures and other objects on display in your hosts' home for clues. Whether you are chatting with them or fellow guests, the hosts' interests can jump-start a conversation.
5. Practice, practice, practice. The people you meet every day—taxicab drivers, store clerks, UPS delivery personnel—can be conversation partners, too. The more you practice, the easier it gets.
6. Remember to listen. Put aside your worries about what to say next, and instead concentrate on what the other person is saying. He'll enjoy chatting with you much more if you're actively listening (that means eye contact and an occasional nod or brief comment). Plus, the conversation will flow back and forth more easily for you, since you'll be able to branch out from what he's just said. If you're truly at a loss, ask him a question and listen some more."Excuse Me, But I Was Next..."
Excerpted from Excuse Me, but I Was Next...: How to Handle 100 Manners Dilemmas by Peggy Post
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