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How To Make Small Talk At A Party -- Making Conversation At A Party

Updated on April 16, 2012

Making Small Talk

It can be uncomfortable attending a party where you hardly know anyone, especially when it's a party for work and you need to make a good impression. And it can be even more unnerving when you just don't know what to talk about with the other guests.

Fortunately, making small talk really isn't that difficult -- and is actually pretty formulaic -- once you get the hang of it. And as you do it more, you'll find it much easier to go from having trivial conversations to having meaningful discussions. When I first began working as a journalist, I was shy and always felt awkward while doing interviews. Over time, though, I honed my small talk skills and found it much easier to chat with the actors and showbiz people with whom I had to communicate. Sure, I wasn't on TV or in movies like them, but we still had things in common; the trick was in trying to find them. Once we did, I almost always had a pleasant conversation.

Most people have to make small talk at an event, whether it be for work or for fun, but it doesn't have to be a chore. Here are some tips for making light conversation.

How To Mingle At A Party

How To Turn Small Talk Into Meaningful Conversation

How To Make Small Talk

Mingling At Parties

I enjoy parties but admit that I still get a little nervous when I attend one where I don't know many people. I remind myself, though, that at parties the other guests WANT to get to know you -- it's not like you're some random person approaching them on the street. Keep in mind that parties are supposed to be relaxed and fun, even if they are for work, and that it's an opportunity for you to form some new friendships.

1. Make sure to circulate. It's easy to stay in a corner of the room with the friends you know, but if you do this, you'll never meet anyone else. Make a point to circulate and introduce yourself to the other guests. Make sure to shake hands, smile and make eye contact. Be warm and approachable, but don't overdo it, either. You don't want to look creepy!

2. Start with some simple questions about the other person. A great one is to ask how he or she knows the host. From there, you can segue to other topics: where do you live? What do you do for a living? Do you know anyone else at the party, and how? Chat about the food, the music, current movies. Don't barage the other person with a long list of questions and move the topic along if he or she is obviously getting uncomfortable.

3. Don't get too personal too quickly. The idea with making small talk is to keep things light. Don't overshare. Don't go on about an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend, or how much your job sucks (especially if it's a work event!). Also, stay away from controversial topics like politics or religion, unless they're appropriate for the occasion.

4. Appear interested. When the other person is talking, make it clear that you're listening. Don't let your eyes wander or grunt in response to something he or she is saying. Stay engaged. If you find the topic really boring, find a POLITE way to end the conversation, i.e., "Excuse me, I need to use the facilities," or "Excuse me, but my colleague would like to see me about something." Don't just walk away mid-conversation.

5. Find commonalities. If you're in the same field of work, you can discuss your jobs and how you got to where you are. If you and the other person both have kids around the same age, you can talk about that. If the person worked overseas for a year and you always wanted to visit that country, ask about that experience. Everyone has SOMETHING in common, even if it's superficial. The trick is to keep the conversation flowing and find it.

6. Mentally keep track of the other person's details because you never know when you'll see him or her again. If you attend a party and run into someone you've met before, that's a great springboard for starting a conversation. Ask how he's doing since the last you saw each other. If she was about to, say, get married, ask how the wedding went. If he was about to move, ask how he likes his new place. People appreciate it when you make it clear that you were paying attention to what they had to say and are making a sincere attempt to check in on them.

7. Ask the host for some help. Chances are, the host will know her guests better than you so ask if she can introduce you. Whenever I have parties, I make a point to introduce people who share things in common; for instance, I had two friends who were getting administrative degrees in education so I introduced them and they ended up having a nice conversation. If the host can tell you a couple of facts about a guest, it's a great way to get started. Don't be afraid to approach the host for some assistance. It doesn't make you a loser; it's just a practical move. And if it's a business or networking party, do some research on the guests. This way, you can tell the boss from the European division, "Oh, I'm impressed with the work you did for our company in Paris," etc. He or she will respect that you did your homework.

8. Come prepared with topics to discuss. This isn't foolproof because you're basically improvising when you make small talk, but you can at least think of things that you'd want to say about yourself. It's almost a given that you're going to be asked about your job, so think about things you want to say about that. Do you have any funny anecdotes? Did you ever go on a particularly interesting business trip? In my case, I'm always asked questions about writing for a TV magazine. I know it will come up so I'm careful to offer up some interesting stories, but not give too much away. My husband is a criminal defense attorney so he gets asked a lot of questions about cases. Again, everyone has something going on in their lives, whether it's an interesting work story or an intriguing outside venture. Are you training to run a marathon? Taking a cool art course? Enjoying a fun dance class at the gym? You want to make yourself seem interesting so that the other person is pulled into the conversation.

9. On the other hand, don't talk about yourself too much! It's not all about you; it's a conversation between at least two people. For every question you're asked, ask one of the other person. Don't hog the spotlight. No one wants to hear someone ramble on about himself. Also, don't make things up about your life. Trust me, the truth will come out. Instead of making up impressive-sounding stories about yourself, find the areas in your life that already ARE impressive.

10. Stay upbeat and positive. This is a cliche saying, but happiness is contagious. If you appear to be confident and generally happy with your life, others will be drawn to you. They won't be so much if you're a total Debbie Downer. People want to feel good about themselves -- and spending time with a positive person is an easy way to do that. Try to be that person whom others want to be around. And if you don't really feel so confident, fake it until you make it. You'll be surprised how quickly your "performance" turns into the real deal.


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    • 2patricias profile image


      6 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      This is all great advice! I especially like your final tip, which is to stay up beat. There is nothing worse than being trapped by a stranger who can only complain.

      I've voted this up!


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