Monday, November 30, 2009

Maximize your small talk at the office Christmas Party

Stay away from conversation killers. Are you contemplating having an affair? Do you owe $10,000 in back taxes to the IRS? Getting a mole removed next week? Unless the person you are chatting up at the office soiree is a personal friend, Dieken says it’s best to stay away from taboo topics such as medical, money or marital problems.

Have an exit strategy. If you’re stuck in a conversation going nowhere, Dieken suggests keeping a few handy one-liners lined up that can extricate you efficiently and politely. If you find yourself trapped, use one of these exit lines:

  • “I’ll let you go now so you can continue circulating around the room.”
  • “I’ll stop monopolizing your time so you can meet other people.”
  • “It was great meeting you. I’ll follow up with you on X next week.”

Be on the lookout for boredom cues. Business holiday parties by their nature are flirty affairs. Guests usually flit from person to person, the way a bee flows to different flowers. Stay aware of how much time you’ve spent talking with a particular individual, and be on the lookout for signals that your conversation partner is ready to move on, such as looking away, not contributing to the conversation or giving one-line answers to your questions.

Plan your conversation starters. Dieken says that, in general, commonly relatable topics — such as the weather, sports, movies, music, children and food — all make good small-talk openers.

Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions by their nature invite your fellow partygoer to go into detail, rather than give you a short, one-sentence answer. They usually begin with words such as how, why, what, who, which, when and where. Examples of good open-ended party phrases include:

  • “Where are you planning on spending the holidays?”
  • “How do you know the host?”
  • “What are your holiday plans?”

If the thought of having to make mini-conversations this holiday season makes you break out in a cold sweat, calm down, come up with a few conversation starters and work the room like a pro.