While many of us love the onset of the holiday season, others groan inwardly knowing that with the office parties, cocktail hours and group dinners, there’s bound to be some small talk.

If you despise small talk or simply need a refresher on communication skills, check out Ace-up’s Dos and Dont’s on how to make small talk.


Do: Address your anxiety

If you’re an introvert, or typically anxious when it comes to new social situations, take the time to address this before the event. Try meditation or visualization to keep the nervousness at bay. Instead of just saying "I hate small talk", ask yourself why these anxious thoughts are appearing, and question the negative thinking that comes from them.

Remember to be kind to yourself in situations like this. Don’t beat yourself up if conversations don’t go the exact way you planned. Also, make space for decompression and self-care at the end of the event--be proud of yourself for simply showing up. That’s a lot.

Don’t: Think of it as small

A lot of people go into cocktail hours or holiday parties assuming that the small talk will be meaningless. This attitude can yield a self-fulfilling prophecy--if you believe the talk will be boring, it probably will.

Consider that small talk is the building block of any good relationship. Small talk doesn’t have to be insignificant. The less you think about it that way, the more your conversation will open up.

Do: Ask questions

If you’re more on the introverted side, asking a good question is your best friend. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that people love to talk about themselves. If you're worried you have nothing to say, follow-up questions can help move the conversation along.

A word of advice. Too many questions can come off as a job interview. As you learn more about the person you’re talking with, hopefully you will find yourself comfortable enough to contribute some information about yourself.

Don’t: Talk about what you love.

When it comes to topics to talk about, do your best to avoid your areas of major interest or expertise. This might sound counterintuitive, but straying away from topics of expertise will keep you from dominating the conversation. Small talk is about two people getting to know each other--it’s a give and a take.  Leave your deep knowledge of Lord of the Rings or Curling for a later date.

Do: Cut and Run

A lot of anxiety around small talk is the fear of being unable to get out of an awkward encounter or bad conversation. Remind yourself that this is a party where you’re meant to mingle and talk with other folks.

If you’re talking to someone who is over talking, over sharing, or is just plain rude, understand you don’t need to spend the whole night speaking with them. A simple, “I need another drink,” or “I need to use the bathroom,” is an easy and non offensive out.

Don’t: Sweat the Silence

We all need to breathe, so you can guarantee any conversation will have moments of silence. If a conversation goes quiet, don’t panic. Give the person you’re talking to the space to collect his or her thoughts.

If you feel the silence has stretched too long, jump to safe small talk topics, like a remark on the setting, or a question of how the guest knows the host.

Whatever happens in these moments, do not reach for your phone. Pulling out a phone will instantly ruin a conversation.

Do: Throw them a Bone

Asking the other person questions can only go so far. Small talk is a two-way street. To keep the conversation going, pepper your responses with information that helps progress the dialogue..

For example, if someone asks: “How are you?”, you could simply response “Good.” But, give more detail: “Good! I just signed up to run a marathon in 6 months today. I’m not a huge runner, do you run?”

When we’re nervous, many of us resort to short sentences. Try to avoid that tendency and make it easier for guest to get to know you.

Don’t: Talk politics, religion or sex

For most, this goes without saying, but given the election season we’ve had, many forget that politics, religion and sex are off limits table topics when it comes to small talk. Save these conversation topics for when you know a person better.

Another topic to avoid? Complaints. Don’t start complaining about the party or your day at work to a person you've just met. Negativity will shut down a conversation faster than, “Who did you vote for?”

Remember, being at natural at small talk is rare. For most, it’s a skill we develop. Stay positive, be curious and try to be yourself. With practice, you’ll excel.

Do you hate small talk? Talk to one of Ace-up's Communication Coaches to boost your communication skills and find easy table topics to talk about.

Learn more about how communication coaching can help you succeed