How To Feel More Confident with Party Conversation
What do you do when you're invited to a party/wedding/networking event and you won't know anyone else there? For some of us the thought of meeting new people is a thrill but for others it can make the blood run cold, or at least the heart sink a little.
Fear in these sorts of situations is often down to a lack of confidence - thinking 'what will I talk to people about?' or 'I'm not very interesting'. However, we usually believe the most interesting people to be those who are better listeners than they are talkers.
"In other words, be interested rather than interesting," says Peter Thompson, author of The Secrets of Communication, How to be Heard and Get Great Results (see below).
How to be interested.
If you're feeling a bit lost at a party or function, start to take control over your situation. Take a breath, stand tall but relaxed, look round the room and then head to the bar or coffee table and get a drink. There's no need to feel self conscious as the chances are that no one is looking at you anyway. Keep breathing, gently lift your eyebrows (if you're feeling nervous or defensive they may have formed a scowl) and feel a slight smile play on your lips so that you look friendly and approachable.
More advice on conversation starters from Bud Gallant
Making the first move.
If you're with a friend you can put your heads together and think about who you'd like to make conversation with. If you're alone then look for a couple/pair on their own and go across to meet them. Breath and smile as you cross the room, but try not to move too quickly or they may take fright! A couple/pair is usually easier to join than a big group who are already in the full flow of conversation.
If you feel you can, you might look for someone who is also alone as she is probably feeling as lost as you were 5 minutes ago.
Have some conversation-starters ready prepared. The traditional 'Hello I'm Jan, what's your name?' is fine but might sound a bit forced. Sincere compliments are great ice-breakers so if someone is wearing a great tie or beautiful shoes then tell them. Move on to asking how far they've travelled to get to the event, how they know the host etc which are all good small talk topics.
Ros Taylor is a psychologist who recommends asking people about their Family, Occupation, Recreation and Education - the acronym FORE makes this easy to remember. Ask open questions: ones that start with who, what, when, where and how. These let the speaker give a fuller answer than a closed question which usually gets a yes/no answer.
Develop your 'interesting' gene...
Keeping conversation flowing and making encouraging noises.
Stick to topics that are uncontroversial such as sports, films, theatre and (clean) jokes etc. Try a wild card if you feel confident enough - how about 'if you hadn't studied X at college, what would you have done?' Or 'what would your dream job be?'. Peter Thomson recommends expanding on the subject bit by bit so that people can really get into their topic. Then all you have to do is sit back and listen.
To keep the other person talking, nod your head, smile and make say 'mmm' etc as they talk. But do listen. The idea is to be genuinely interested in what they're talking about so that you can ask more questions and make your contribution.
Don't forget that conversation is a 2-way thing so you're aiming to play a game of tennis with the other person, with each of you batting the ball backwards and forwards. This way the other person doesn't feel as if she's being interrogated and you're not subjected to a droning monologue.
Does the other person feel you're really interested?
Paraphrasing what the other person has said is a way of letting them know that you've listened and understood her and that you want her to continue to talk. 'So you're a builder, plumber and an electrician? Wow, you're a useful girl to know. Do you get to pick and choose your clients?'
Make sure your body is speaking the right language.
Relax your arms by your sides or round your cup/glass as crossed arms can seem like a barrier and hands in pockets indicates disinterest. Nodding, eye contact, appropriate laughter and smiles will all help make a good impression. 55% of what the other person understands about you comes, not from what you say, but what your body is saying. Only 7% is from your words.
We can't 'click' with everyone so if conversation is hard work or runs dry, politely move on and find someone else to talk to. Hopefully you'll be feeling a bit more confident, so return to tip 1 and start over. Each time it gets a little easier as you stretch your comfort zone and improve your self-confidence.