How can I be the life and soul of the party?
October 31, 2005 10:55 AM   Subscribe

How do I initiate and sustain a conversation with people who are (almost) strangers?

I recently been invited to a small reunion of school friends who I haven't seem for about 20 years. My experience of these type of events is that after the first hour of nostalgia and catching-up with what they are doing now, the converation falls flat. Effectively they are now strangers and it's difficult for me to know what to say next. Any advice or general rules on starting and maintaining a conversation? Note that I'm naturally quite introverted anyway so it's difficult for me to generally take the lead in these situations.
posted by porktrap to Human Relations (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
In a situation like a reunion, if the conversation doesn't flow naturally then there isn't any reason to talk to them for more than an hour. Politely round up the conversation and move to the next person. Stick to talking to people with whom conversation comes naturally.
posted by fire&wings at 11:01 AM on October 31, 2005


Honestly, I thought that was what alcohol was for. If that is something you don't enjoy, then I don't see anything wrong with packing up after the hour's worth of catching up is done and heading home. If you follow fire&wings' advice you can perhaps stretch it out to two hours. If there is a sit down dinner involved, that will take care of an extra 45 minutes as it is generally socially acceptable to be relatively quiet while eating. I find that these kinds of things usually can't be enjoyably stretched to more than two hours without copious amounts of alchohol (like a wedding).
posted by spicynuts at 1:27 PM on October 31, 2005


If you're looking for easier conversation, keep it directed at the people you're talking to-- they'll probably be pretty willing to discuss themselves and their lives, and you'll be able to listen and prompt them with questions about something they said. That way you're not having to be on the spot, but still giving the appearance of actively engaging in conversation.
posted by rebirtha at 1:28 PM on October 31, 2005


Read this article: The Rich Resonance of Small Talk.
posted by driveler at 1:39 PM on October 31, 2005


Assuming that the other person's background allows this, discussing the presence/absence of an accent in their speech is probably the single most common general-purpose conversation starter I know of.
posted by gsteff at 2:47 PM on October 31, 2005


Ask questions - preferably about things you might actually be interested in hearing.

I find that when I'm lost in a conversation but would actually like to keep it going, asking a question is great. I'm curious by nature, so I find it easier to do, and it gives them a chance to talk about themselves or their views (which all people love since we're inherently at least a little egocentric). It also has them doing more of the talking so you don't have to worry so much about what you're saying!

Ask people about their interests... and when they mention an interest that you share, or that you're curious about -- follow up with asking about that...

Relating things back to yourself will come naturally, and you'll find yourself talking more once they touch on something you both have in common (or something they've done that you havent' but would like to -- etc etc)..
posted by twiggy at 2:48 PM on October 31, 2005


Ask them open questions - ones beginning with "Who", . "When", "What", "Why", "Where", or "How". These are much harder to answer with monosyllables for somebody who is a bit shy or taciturn. Ask them about their kids, hobbies or jobs. Be prepared to shift topics rapidly until you find one that works. With this approach you ought to be able to wring a conversation out of just about anybody. However I would second fire&wings and move on to somebody else if things are getting tough.
posted by rongorongo at 2:58 PM on October 31, 2005


Ask ask ask. Ask questions and ask followup questions and be willing to be, primarily, a good listener, at least until everyone is good and lubed.
posted by cortex at 5:48 PM on October 31, 2005


Despite the fact that I am very introverted, I've also had very good luck with going exactly the opposite way from what everyone's recommending -- talk. A lot. If you're introverted, you won't really risk talking so much that you bore everyone, but a group generally needs at least one person who's willing to just put himself out there and get the conversational ball rolling. Throw out random subjects, tell funny stories (but not jokes -- those can kill a conversations), make fun of yourself in a gentle way.

For a two-year period, I started almost all of my conversations with "I have a theory." Architecture, history, pop culture, music, fashion, food -- subject didn't really matter. I'd just blather on a bit and look either foolish or fascinating, or both, and let other people throw in their two cents, or pick up some aspect of what I was talking about and run with it on their own.

I'm not generally a fan of answering a list of questions, but I like jumping into conversations with related stories, so I try giving other people that same opportunity.

None of this is to say that you shouldn't ask *any* questions. Just maybe try to balance interrogation with goofy blather. Be willing to sacrifice yourself a bit for the good of the group dynamic, I guess.
posted by occhiblu at 6:18 PM on October 31, 2005


For a two-year period, I started almost all of my conversations with "I have a theory." Architecture, history, pop culture, music, fashion, food -- subject didn't really matter. I'd just blather on a bit and look either foolish or fascinating, or both, and let other people throw in their two cents, or pick up some aspect of what I was talking about and run with it on their own.

Quit bringing up interpol. They suck.
posted by angry modem at 8:44 PM on October 31, 2005


porktrap, i think you're overlooking something here. these people aren't exactly (almost) strangers. these are people you once knew and if you scratch yourself below the surface you might find questions that interest you (or alternatively you might find out you prefer staying home and watching tv. which is fine too. i never attend school reunions. i hated my school).

try and think beforehand - is there anyone there you'd like to see? what would you like to ask them (things in the past? in the present)? is there anything you'd like to tell (let someone know you had a crush on them? let them know things you have done or are doing today?).

and BTW, is there some rule that you can't leave after an hour or two (how about making up an excuse if there is)?
posted by mirileh at 4:08 AM on November 1, 2005


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