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Women's Health

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How to Talk to Anyone at a Party

WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Beth Levine

Good Housekeeping Magazine Logo It's easy to panic when you get into an awkward situation at a social gathering. But it's just as easy to regain your poise. For anyone who's ever felt tongue-tied or immobilized at a party, here's a survival guide.

A few months ago, I went to a baby shower where I knew only two guests-neither of them well. Feeling out of place, I practically attached myself to these women. But as the conversation dwindled, my anxiety level rose: Did they want to keep talking to me? How long could I stick around before they'd start to worry that I'd be going home with them?


When you can't get the conversation started

Even friendly women can get the cold shoulder if they don't know a few icebreakers. Ivy Eisenberg of White Plains, New York, still turns red when she remembers her friend's anniversary party. Not knowing many people, she headed for the hors d'oeuvres and said to the woman next to her, "Mmm, this quiche looks delicious!" The woman stared, turned her back, and walked away.

That guest may have just been rude, but there are more deft ways to jump-start a conversation. Framing the quiche comment as a question-"Isn't the quiche delicious?"-might at least have elicited a reply.

The best questions, though, are ones that allow the other person to open up. "How do you know the hostess?" is an old standby, but it works almost every time. A compliment masquerading as a question can also do the trick: "Your necklace (purse, sweater, etc.) is so pretty. I've never seen anything like it. Where did you find it?"

"Flattery goes a long way," says GH etiquette guru Peggy Post. "But be sincere-no one likes a fake."

Sometimes, sharing your nervousness can work too. Chef Nigella Lawson, host of the Food Network's Nigel-la Feasts, uses some version of this opener: "Isn't it frightening talking to people you don't know? It makes me feel like it's my first day at a new school."

However good your opening gambit, be prepared for a curveball: the one- (or two- or three-) word response. When that happens, resist the urge to skip from subject to subject. The secret is to build on one topic. If you ask someone about a movie she saw and she replies, "It was good," follow up with a leading question such as: "I just don't get what everyone sees in Brad Pitt, do you?"
If the person you're trying to chat up is still unresponsive, don't let it zap your confidence. She might just be having a bad day.

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