How to Talk to People at Parties (and in Public)


In my early 20s, I used to complain to friends about how much I hated talking to people at parties, on airplanes, during workshop breaks, at weddings, etc.  I begged my socialite besties for party conversation topics and small talk examples – please just give me one dependable conversation starter!

If you feel like this guy every time you're longing to know how to avoid small talk, you don't need party conversation starters or small talk examples to know how to mingle at a work event, party, bar, or wedding. You just need this one simple question... read on:

“Oooookay. So here we are 3 minutes into the party and I already have no idea what to say to anyone. Can I leave yet? Would that be rude? Oh how I hate small talk. Dying!” photo: sutha kamal

Here’s how I described my inability to mingle at bars, work events, parties, etc:

“These conversations are so boring. I’m so bad at them. I just don’t click with most people. After ‘what’s your name, where are you from, and what you do,’ I’ve got nothing. The people who give one-word answers to those questions are the worst. So boring. And I can’t get away from them. I need a few pocket-conversation-starters to get these people to talk to me without having to do all the work. How do I get them to tell me a story so I’m not standing around bored out of my mind wishing I was at home doing something I actually enjoy?”

Anyone looking for how to mingle at a work event, wedding, or party or wanting a pocket full of party conversation topics or just wishing they knew how to avoid small talk because they feel like the mind-numbed guy in this photo... needs this article!

I can literally feel this small talk sucking my soul. Why didn’t I look up party conversation topics before I came here? Ugh. Must. escape.– photo: gratisography

Tell me this is what you’re thinking right now: “Yes!  This chick totally gets it.  I regularly and desperately want to know how to avoid small talk.

Amiright?!

Small Talk Conversation Starters

My friends told me I was an idiot (I am!) for thinking all I needed was a list of party conversation topics or small talk examples to keep in my wallet.

There is no a one-size-fits-all conversation starter, they scolded.  However, next came some of the best advice of my life.  A woman said,  “Try and empathize with people.  If someone says they’re from Georgia, make a guess about what growing up there was like and ask if you’re right.

Game changer.

If you want to learn how to mingle at parties, you've got to get out of your fishbowl of habitual questions. You don't need small talk conversation topics or party conversation starters. You just need this one question. Read on:

Out of the fishbowl and into the world.  Goodbye small talk, hello conversations I actually want to be having. photo: mohamed_hassan

I got in the habit of practicing this at parties.  Maybe it helps that I’m a genuinely curious person.  But after the standard name, basic background, and job stuff, I’d say to myself,  “Okay, now think about what it would be like to have lived in ________ or work as a _________.  Ask a question about that.

It worked!  Sweet relief!

I’m Not a Magical Unicorn

Fellow introverts regularly use the word “magic” to describe how I interact with others.  They accuse me of being an introvert impostor.  They refuse to believe I actually need lots of alone time and get extremely depressed without it.

“You walk into a party and ten minutes later you have five new best friends.  It’s magic.”

“I just watched you talk to twenty strangers.  And they clearly loved it.  It was some kind of magic.”

“Your ability & willingness to engage people is impressive.  It’s almost like you just ask them questions and they… talk?  It seems very strange to me, but you seem to have some magic for it.”

While it’s true that I tend to connect very quickly with those I meet, it is definitely not magic.  And it definitely is exhausting if I have to do it on demand – at parties, on a bus or plane, at a conference, at a wedding –  e.g. usually.

My magic is not magic, and it’s not a big secret.  I recommend beginning here:

How to Mingle Anywhere

Once I realized the world isn’t actually full of horribly boring people and miserable small talk, I got generally curious about everyone.

The people of the world shown here also want to know how to avoid small talk, how to mingle at weddings and parties, and which party conversation topics are best. Here's the secret - a question that will keep any conversation going for hours:

Wait. People are actually portals to really fascinating information and stories? Mind. blown. – photo: pixabay

What is it like to be the shoe-shine guy at the airport?  What about a father of five?  Why does that lady choose to take her breaks over there?  Does this attorney like her commute?  Why isn’t that guy on his smartphone like everyone else?  What’s it like to get asked about your tattoo/hair everywhere you go?

When you find yourself wishing you had a pocketful of small talk conversation starters, reach for any variation of this one: “What is it like to be you?”

Why This Small Talk Conversation Starter Works

Being seen, heard, and understood is a human need that is met less and less by our modern world.  We are nudged constantly toward individualism by culture and marketing.  Think about yourself, take care of yourself, do things for yourself…

Asking someone “What is it like to be you?” is a gift.  It’s a gift that people rarely get and are eager to receive.  People aren’t paying attention to each other.  When you pay attention to someone, they come alive.

This mustache and cigar man could be really fascinating if you know how to avoid small talk and the number one party conversation topic to get him going. Read on:

“Well, little lady, that right there is the best darn question I’ve been asked all night. When I was a kid in Oklahoma, people always spent Sundays wandering up and down the creek looking for…” – photo: gratisography

The next time you’re forced to mingle and find yourself dying for a conversation starter, go ahead and ask someone the same boring questions you’ve been asking all your life.  But then leverage their answer to discover what it’s like to be that person.

The more you practice this, the more natural it becomes.  Soon it may even be a state-of-mind, and people will be asking you for your “magic” secret!

Happy Small-Talking! ♣


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Does this article seem like a game-changer?  Share the love!  The world could use more people who know how to mingle happily.