Small Talk Tips for Holiday Parties

Summertime and the livin’ is easy… at least according to the 25,000+ recordings that have been made of this classic George Gershwin number which he wrote in 1936. However skip forward a tad over 80 years and one wonders if the livin’ is so easy as it once was.

Back then, for example, there was no media mention of Black (insert appropriate day), followed by a long list of factors affecting plane, train and automobile travel to coincide with the first day of the holiday journey season!

On the other hand, some issues would have been as equally familiar in the 1930s – for instance finding an outfit that says ‘I’m on holiday’ without screaming ‘I’m a fish out of water.’ British Prime Ministers are particularly prone to this fashion dilemma, from dressed down David Cameron to dressed uncomfortably Gordon Brown. As for the current PM, the advantage of taking a walking holiday is that you can’t really go wrong with practical wear.

Summer holiday parties are nothing new either. As George Gershwin was putting Summertime pen to paper the excesses of gatherings from the Gatsby age were still fresh in the memory. Many summers later, the party season lives on with a heady mix of cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, socialising and networking.

These are uncomfortable events for many, particularly when there is a work connection. A summer party that has a social event billing (as opposed to meeting up with old friends to dress down, eat rubbish, talk rubbish and drink accordingly) is a potential minefield. So here are some tips to get you safely through to the other side without stepping on the social equivalent of a Claymore:

1) Go easy on the punch
Do not be ‘that’ person. By this I mean the person that decides to take Dutch courage to full membership of the EU. There is always one and they will be laughed at, pitied and subsequently blacklisted from future parties and no doubt promotional opportunities too.

2) Look happy to be there
You may have turned up out of duty or because you sense an opportunity to network higher up the food chain, but remember it is a party and parties are (supposed to be) fun. Wit and light hearted small talk goes down well. Intensity and company strategy related conversations don’t.

3) Small talking basics
Many people get anxious about networking and small talk and many don’t see the point. However, you never know where small talk may lead. Assume that at least half the party feel the same way you do and then apply my advice from point 2. Summer party conversations are grazing affairs and casual intros – from the weather to a comment about the food – are a good way to start.
Build on them to widen the topic pool and find a common small talk area of interest to expand on. Occasionally you’ll really hit it off with another party goer, but most of the time there will be a short exchange, punctuated by an interruption or a natural fizzle out. Whatever the case, smile warmly and try to excuse yourself with diplomacy – needing to replenish a plate or glass is always a convenient cover.

4) Hear what they’re saying!
Conversation is a two way street. An experienced and accommodating small talker will be asking questions about you. Do not take it as an invitation to hog the conversation (remember that you are not the only one playing the game). Always be a courteous conversationalist.

5) Avoid Brexit
This one goes out to residents of the UK. Everyone has an opinion on this, few people have changed their mind on the matter and few other topics can raise passions so quickly ie it is not small talk! Chat about the weather instead. It is the Brits’ default comfort zone and will never let you down…

Luan de Burgh

July 2018

Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of de Burgh Training – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.