When it comes to dinner parties, table talk is very crucial yet often overlooked. It is the one thing that cannot be set up in advance.
However, that doesn’t mean you cannot be prepared. With the holiday season imminent, we came up with a list of 21 tips for fascinating table talk at your next dinner party.
1) Consciously Seek Out Conducive Environments
In order to have meaningful conversations, you must be able to hear one another properly.
Background music would be an ideal way to create the right atmosphere, but the volume cannot be too loud that you find yourself struggling to hear.
2) Warm Up the Crowd
This is one of the most crucial steps because small talk gives guests a chance to get to know one another better and to take one another’s measure before the conversation turns to weightier matters.
It’s like a warm-up before sports activities.
3) Be a Conversation Conduit
Stimulate open communication; don’t leave some guests nodding their heads and pretending they know what’s going on. Often, clarification is required.
If you see a guest mumbling, restate a phrase for people who could not hear what was being said.
If a guest makes an inside joke, go ahead and laugh; and then put it on the context for everyone.
4) Have One Conversation at a Time
Having only one conversation at a time helps everyone to stay focused on the main topic at hand. It prevents conversations from becoming messy, and it also reduces the chances of a guest feeling left out.
5) Less Talking, More Listening
The sad truth is that; no one cares what you have to say. They only care about what they have to say.
This is because deep down, people want to feel that they’ve been heard; they will if you let them talk.
6) Embrace Complicated Topics
We all know what society tells us not to talk about at a dinner party; religion, politics, salaries, etc.
Yet, these topics should be fair game; what’s a dinner party if not a laboratory of ideas?
7) Provocation with Style
Don’t worry about dangerous conversational territory; the most memorable conversations are a product of guests who dare to provoke, titillate, and argue.
The trick is to create a permissive atmosphere with civility and style, something like a “ladylike broad’; half-civilized charmer, half wisecracking bomb-thrower.
8) Keep Arguments Low-Key
A single conversation will not convince a lifelong liberal that it’s ok to own an arsenal of assault rifles.
In simple terms, arguments are not worth it because it is highly unlikely that the other party would change their opinions overnight. Accept this.
It is amazing how much more relaxed a political argument becomes when you understand that you do not have to, and in fact; won't win.
9) Personalize your Politics
Go for empathy when you talk politics; showing how a political issue affects you intimately is more important than data and statistics.
Try leading with a personal story.
10) 2 W’s: What and Why
In order to ensure that a guest’s story becomes truly interesting, just ask two questions over and over again; what and why.
“What exactly happened? What did it feel like? Why is that so?”
Seek emotional specifics and then ask the guests for the reason behind it. This is where the guest’s most thoughtful connection to a story lies.
11) Venture into the Unconventional
Small talk need not be soporific. Before the party, try finding some recent news or peculiar science stories that people most likely have not heard about.
12) Don’t Assume
Asking questions is a great way to get guests to reveal something fascinating about themselves.
However, one should always avoid throwing in possible answers with your question. For example, “why did you quit business school? Was it too boring?”
Leave out the guess; a short question is more likely to provoke details.
13) Ask Open-Ended Questions
As a host, you need to be the one asking interesting questions. This can be done through posing a series of open-ended questions; so that people will elaborate and give some more insight into themselves as a person.
14) Ask A Second Question
The most interesting conversations come after the initial answer.
It takes extraordinary discipline to refrain from answering your own question and instead, ask a second question. Yet, this is where the deepest conversations occur.
15) Draw out those who are Reticent to Speak
In any group, there will be people who are natural talkers, and those who are contented with just listening.
Draw out the latter. This is because the best contributions sometimes come from those who won’t answer unless asked.
As the saying goes, “still waters run deep.”
16) Pay Attention to People’s Physical Needs
Do remember to pay attention to your guests at all times.
Constantly scan the table to see who needs drink refills or who might like a second helping. This is to prevent your guests from thinking about these things so that the conversation can be the primary focus.
This requires that you see yourself as a facilitator.
17) Affirm people, even if you disagree with them
People whom you disagree with might actually be more interesting than you think. This is because you’ll be hearing from a different perspective; thus, having an opportunity and potential of learning something new.
Try seeing and understanding from their perspectives; what different experiences they might have.
18) Share about yourself
Share things about yourself to avoid getting stuck only asking questions. We don’t want to end up asking too many questions in a row, and also not talk too much about ourselves.
So how do you find the balance? A good rule of thumb is the IFR method:
Inquire: Ask a sincere question
Follow Up: Ask a follow-up question
Relate: Share a little bit about yourself that is related to what they said
After you have linked it up, ask a new sincere question (Inquire); and that’s the loop.
19) Tone Of Voice
How you come across when you start talking to someone is less about what you say, and more about how you say it.
Many focus too much on saying the right words that they forgot how they say it.
You want to have a friendly and relaxed tone of voice; if you do, you don’t have to worry about the exact words you use.
You don’t need to be confident to sound friendly and relaxed.
20) Look for Common Ground
This one is the easiest if you know that most of your guests would have something in common; usually, that is the case since they are at your party.
When you bring up what you have in common, you make an instant connection; leading to more things to talk about.
21) Ask for Help or Information
Much like asking for an opinion, asking for a little help or guidance can be an excellent way to make your guests feel useful.
Just make sure whatever you’re asking for is something the other party will be able to offer without embarrassing and putting themselves out.