Oct. 16th’s column (Delightful dinner discourse) prompted a reader to ask me to go into greater depth about how to initiate dinner-table conversations, especially with people you don’t know well. The person asking seemed to be self-assured and a good conversationalist, yet felt fear and discomfort when in this situation.

Small talk is an incredibly useful skill. Whether you are at a business mixer or a large family dinner, there will be times when you come face-to-face with a stranger, a new business associate or distant cousin. The silence that can sometimes linger can make both people feel uncomfortable.

Starting a short conversation is one of the easiest ways to break the ice. It is as simple as beginning with, “Hello, my name is…” and moving on to “Isn’t this a lovely gathering; I’m glad to be here tonight with such interesting company…”

When meeting someone for the first time, in any situation, be prepared to shake hands. Stand up straight, with confidence. Smile and repeat the person’s name a couple of times in the next few sentences to help you remember.

Diving into personal questions or areas where there could be a difference of opinion, such as religion and politics, is best avoided during initial introductions.

Stick to uncontroversial topics, such as the lovely hospitality, weather, world news, food, books and hobbies. It helps to stay current on world events.

Matters of health, wealth, gossip, age and other delicate subjects can also wait until a relationship of a more familial nature develops.

I find people enjoy talking about themselves.
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