It may feel pointless, but the real message is the signal it conveys about the speakers’ relationship. It sets the stage for successful socializing.
A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure: Small talk is a big deal.
We spoke with Catherine Blyth, author of The Art of Conversation. Blyth notes that baby boomers are mind-expanding conversationalists willing to engage and find common ground. We asked her to explain how conversation defines a social situation.
(F) Beyond the food and drink, what makes a good party?
(C) A good hostess and an interesting mix of people.
(F) What makes a good hostess?
(C) The ability to create a charge of energy that makes people receptive to each other. If the party lacks momentum everyone starts to feel that cold, awkward, isolated feeling. It’s a hostess’s nightmare.
Introductions are really important. Provide great food, drink and space, and then focus on setting people up for serendipitous conversations. The more engaged people are the less nervous they feel.
(F) What’s the key to being a good conversationalist?
(C) Smart conversationalists use small talk to establish intimacy. It’s a way of scouting for common topics and it sets the tone, pace, and rhythm of a conversation. They also approach each encounter not only as an exchange but an opportunity for an adventure.
(F) How does listening propel conversation?
(C) Yes, if anything listening is more important. Great conversationalists listen more than they talk. A primary part of conversation is making a connection and you can’t do that if all you’re doing is yapping. You have to make eye contact and listen. There’s nothing more flattering or cheaper than someone else’s attention.
(F) Any tips on what not to do?
(C) No unprompted laughter or looking away during the introduction. Twitching, itching, winking, and batting the eyes are conversation killers. Never refuse to shake hands, don’t hold onto the hand after the owner tries to withdraw, and don’t wipe yours before or after shaking.
(F) What makes a good guest?
(C) A guest who is a practiced conversationalist is the social equivalent of Wonder Woman.
Catherine Blyth is also a contributor to The Times, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman and Mail on Sunday. She has written scripts for the BBC and Channel 5.