Here’s a fun fact to drop into dinner-party yarns: Before next year, we’re each going to have 50 more conversations than we would have in an ordinary month. 

With two years of non-contact time behind us, we’ve got a lot of chat to catch up on. Now, we’re heading into an unmasked silly season and all the boozing, munching and yakking that goes with it. 

By the time we’ve each done a work party (or two if we’re a plus-one), a school disco, a fundraising committee Xmas-drinks, a date with mates, a Pinot-&-Paint with The Girls, festive bingo at the squash club, an extended-family pre-Christmas meet-up and Chrimbo cocktails up the road at Suzie’s – at five confabs per event, we’ll have talked ourselves hoarse by New Year’s Eve. 

To help get match-fit in time for the gab-fest ahead – after careful research, in-field testing and scientific experimentation – I present ten Top Tips for holding a decent chin-wag. 

1. Remember their name

There’s plenty of tricks to this – google them – but the best is to say their name often so it sticks in your brain. It’s a great way to show people who’s in charge of the colloquy … and when that’s you it’s easier to keep the pace lively and move the subjects along.

2. Put up with the small talk

It’s painful, especially for introverted overthinkers like us, but it is necessary to warm up. A tip from funnyman Jerry Seinfeld is to start with questions to which the answer is a number. Try: “How long have you known <Host’s name here>?” rather than “How do you know <Host’s name here>?”. It’s much easier to get a flow on when you start in familiar territory. Charging right in with, “Putin’s actions are a reaction to contemporary, Western-influenced Ukraine being a constant threat to Russian existence: Discuss…” is probably a little heavy compared to “What do you do to keep busy?”

3. Be interested not interesting

The pressure comes off when you realise it’s not your role in a convo to be interesting. No one cares that you just spent a month in Bali, people only care that you care about them. Practice asking questions that get people talking. It’ll give you plenty to bounce off and once you’re rolling, the badinage will bound along.

4. Have a recommendation

Being interested means really listening to what people are into, then adding to their inventory. Rather than swinging the chitchat back to you, build on what they are sharing. If they tell you they recently went on a yoga retreat give them a recommendation for the podcast on cults that you just downloaded. If they tell you they love baking, share your tip for perfect scones. A recommendation is a gift to thank someone for sharing time with you.

5. Include a gooseberry

Awkward confabs are easier if there’s a third person involved, so pull someone in if chat begins to dry up. “Have you met…?” is a great way to kick a conversation into a new gear. A three-way gives more fodder for a decent powwow. It’s basic maths: with a menage-a trois, the responsibility for keeping up the prattle is now only 33% yours.

6. Keep your hands visible and don’t look down

Simply, if your hands are hidden your new bud is going to start wondering where you’ve put them and why. And if you look down they’ll wonder what’s got your attention.

7. “Yes, and…” not “No, but…:

This is Improv 101. Build on the conversation you’re having together. Don’t detract, distract, dismiss or disagree without adding to the debate. What you’re doing is creating a dialogue rather than trying to win a dispute.

8. Stay out of the weeds

There’s nothing worse than a person listening to your shaggy dog with its clever twists and hilarious punchline then picking at one tiny detail that has nothing to do with the overarching universal truth you’re attempting to illustrate. 

9. Side-by-side

It’s tempting to korero face-to-face but this is a mistake. If you’re uncomfortable facing things head-on, try standing next to each other. This way you’ll feel like you’re on the same team. It’s less combative. Plus, shoulder-to-shoulder, if topics wear thin, you can join together in your united critique of everyone else at the party. It’s a unifying experience. 

10. How to leave

As important as it is to know how to begin, it’s vital you know how to call it quits. This is where all your new-found techniques come together. 

“Well, Giles, I found our repartee enlightening, and I’ll leave you in the safe hands of Mike here. He loves country music too so you’ll have plenty in common. I’m going to send you a link to that podcast but I must catch Kate before she gets caught up in another goss session.” 

If that fails, you can go back to these tried-and-true exit lines: “I’ve just seen a guy who owes me $50 … hold my glass” … or, even better, “These oysters vol-au-vent are playing havoc with my insides, please excuse me…” 


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