How to Small Talk Like a Pro at a Holiday Party
Let’s get into the festive spirit and talk about conversation etiquette at holiday parties. You might remember my guest, public speaking expert Lauren Sergy from her appearance on Episode 55, Executive Presence: What It Looks Like, Why You Need It and How to Get It. If you have some parties coming up soon, you’ll definitely want to listen to this one.
Lauren is from our neighbor to the north, coming to us from Canada, but the political climates in both Canada and the United States are making it more challenging to keep conversations civil. Polarizing opinions are being shared much more openly, but don’t let that discourage you. We’re here to help you navigate starting a conversation, maintaining it, and exiting it with grace and ease at your next holiday party.
[7:28] The Best Way to Start a Conversation
This tip is one that will carry you through not only the holiday season but through every single networking event, you’ll ever attend. Lauren talks about how she loves starting conversations by making all the other people do the work and she just keeps asking them questions. This is quite brilliant because you’re essentially offloading all the work onto them.
We also agree that it’s perfectly acceptable to open conversations about general topics like the weather or sports, which gives you a mutual point of agreement. Once the mundane is explored, you can ask them in more detail what’s going on in their world. Some openers Lauren likes to use include:
“So what’s rocking your world right now?”
“What’s making waves around the office?”
From there you can let them go into whatever topic they choose and it takes the heat off of you to think of something interesting to say.
[12:07] The Follow-Up Question & How to Prevent the Awkward Pause
Now once you have made them comfortable and they’ve chosen the path they want to take the conversation down, follow up with “tell me more about that.” And guess what, they WILL tell you more. By keeping them talking about themselves, you’re boosting your likability.
Remember, the whole point of these parties is to get people to like you, and making it easy for them to talk to you is one of the best ways to accomplish this.
[16:49] How to Gracefully Exit Out of a Conversation
You know the feeling. The conversation is coming to a natural close – or you’ve passed that point but are still suffering through – and you’d give anything to make it stop. Well, we’re here to help. Lauren gives some great tips on making a graceful exit. One way is to literally grab others as they walk by and pull them into the conversation. Introduce them to the person you’re talking to, tell them what they have in common, and move away from the conversation.
The good news is that parties and mixers are designed as a place to mingle, so it’s not seen as strange or rude to keep bouncing around from group to group.
[19:36] How to Gracefully Exit a Conversation on an Airplane
I threw a curveball and Lauren and asked about exiting a conversation while on an airplane. She recommended slowly dialing up the boring level on your responses while turning down the interest level. This tip will let them know you’re starting to get tired, which will probably be a relief to them. Not everyone knows how to end a conversation, so you get to save the day by leading that charge.
[23:35] How to Converse in a Sticky Conversation and Keep it Civil
If you do get in a conversation with strong opinions, you can be pleasant or you can be right. You decide what’s more important, but remember, you’re never going to be right. This is not the time to prove a point, but you can still focus on learning as much as possible about the person you’re talking to.
Some things Lauren suggests asking include:
“What makes you feel that way?”
“What past experiences have you had with this issue?”
Learning about their context will help them like you more (which is the goal), and will help you see them as a human with rational reasons to think the way they do.
[26:24] How to Remove Yourself from Political Rhetoric
It’s become acceptable to say something like, “oh man, this stuff has become exhausting” and exit the topic. Don’t be preachy; simply let the person know you don’t want to engage.
Mentioned In This Episode
Public Relations expert Molly McPherson, APR, reveals the best practices help leaders become indestructible in today’s digital age and crisis-proof their organizations. A mix of discussing current news events along with interviews with newsmakers, communications professionals and business owners while providing insight from 20+ years of public relations and crisis communications expertise working for FEMA and heading communications for the cruise line industry to help take the fear out of communicating in the age of scrutiny. This podcast helps leaders communicate confidently–in writing, speaking, body language, social media — to be heard, seen and relevant.
About Lauren Sergy
Lauren Sergy is a sought-after expert in the art of speaking and communication in business and work. Armed with a deep understanding of the art, science, and alchemy of interpersonal communication and public speaking, she sheds light on difficult communication situations with refreshing energy, humor, and candor. For more information about Lauren, you can visit LaurenSergy.com.
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© Molly McPherson 2019