Manners & Misdemeanors

13 Surefire Ways to Start a Cocktail Party Conversation

Etiquette expert Myka Meier offers tips for how to make a meaningful impression on new acquaintances.
IMAGE GETTY IMAGES / SLIM AARONS
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Etiquette expert Myka Meier, who teaches classes at the Plaza Hotel, knows a thing or two about talking to strangers. Below are her tips for how to conquer any cocktail party or social setting where you want to make a few new acquaintances.

YOUR FIRST STOP SHOULD BE THE BAR

"The most social place to meet someone at a cocktail party is at the bar! People often separate from larger groups to go get cocktails and it makes conversation easier to start because you’re suddenly next to one another and it's easy to say hello. Bonus tip: Right when you enter a room, get a drink. It doesn't have to be alcoholic, but it instantly makes it look like you are there to stay and mingle."


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The bar is a prime spot for conversation at any party.


BE BRAVE.

"Yes, it takes a swift act of confidence, but the best way to meet someone is to walk up and introduce yourself. You can simply say, 'Hi, I wanted to introduce myself, my name is...' It sounds so basic, but people tend to wait to be introduced, and by doing so they often miss out on many connections. If you’re the host, it's your job to make sure people all know one another’s names as early into the party as possible to get conversation going."


BE A HOST WITH THE MOST.

"Never introduce someone by 'mirror introducing,' as in, 'Sarah please meet Martha, Martha this is Sarah.' It gives them nothing to talk about. Instead, try giving one interesting fact about each person so they can start conversation easier. Here's an example: 'Sarah, may I please introduce you to Martha. Martha just moved into the neighborhood from Boston, and Sarah has been my neighbor for five years and plays on our club doubles team.'

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HAVE 3 GO TO TOPICS THAT YOU CAN ALWAYS FALL BACK ON.

"They should be timely and relevant topics that you are knowledgeable about. If you are a cocktail party in New York and love performing arts, for example, it might be, 'Did you hear about the New York Ballet’s new show?'"


ARCHITECTURE WORKS.

"Believe it or not, architecture is a general topic that tends to work well as a conversation starter. Talk about the room, the building you are in, the interior decor, or the view."


A COMPLIMENT GOES A LONG WAY.

"Make sure to give it right when the conversation starts and not minutes in to ensure it doesn’t come off as an afterthought or disingenuous. Never compliment someone on their marital or religious jewelry."


DON’T FORGET TO ASK QUESTIONS.

"Sometimes when people get nervous, they tend to only talk about themselves. A good conversation goes both ways."

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THE QUESTIONS SHOULD BE OPEN-ENDED.

"That way, the person can't answer with a 'yes' or 'no,' essentially putting the task of another question back to you. Even simply, 'So how do you know Jasper (insert host’s name)?' If you can’t think of anything open-ended to ask, try asking someone about their upcoming weekend plans."

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NEVER START A SOCIAL CONVERSATION WITH “SO WHAT DO YOU DO?”

"It can come across opportunistic and may be seen as code for 'so how can you help me?' or 'how much money do you make?'"


AVOID SENSITIVE TOPICS.

"We know to avoid the obvious ones like politics, religion, sex, vices, illness or money, but a less obvious one is asking about family specifics. 'So are you married?' 'So do you have kids?' While these seem like innocent questions, someone may answer, 'I’m going through a divorce' or 'We’ve been trying for 5 years,' which can start the conversation on a negative, down note—one from which it's rather hard to recover. Love their outfit? Never ask someone where something is from—he or she may be uncomfortable revealing the brand, which would imply value."


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PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY.

"You want to look approachable, and with your eyes locked to your glowing screen and not with others, you instantly make yourself a no-go to talk to. Don’t forget to smile, or at least have a softened expression. A smile is a universal symbol of friendliness."


HOLD YOUR HANDBAG OR DRINK IN YOUR LEFT HAND.

"Your right hand stays open to shake hands."


STICK TO THE BITE-SIZED HORS D'OEUVRES.

Cocktail parties often have fabulous nibbles, but only take ones small enough so that you don't have a mouthful when socializing. The whole point of a cocktail party is to be social.


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This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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