The Modern Mom's Guide to Small Talkby Ellen Lubin-Sherman
Once upon a time you were fascinated by politics, intra-office warfare, tummy control slips, and how to dump a frenemy... and then, voila! You had a baby and you entered a new subculture where everyone talks about store-bought versus homemade baby food, the best playgroups and the alpha moms who stalk the playground making certain their child is constantly happy.
However, when you have the opportunity to go out and have fun with friends and family it's your moment to reclaim your force-of-nature personality and put the world on notice that you’re still sizzling with excitement. Show me the brio!
In preparation for the get-together, make sure you’ve read a daily newspaper or a topical and informative blog (e.g. Huffington Post or The Daily Beast) so you’ll be equipped to jump right in. It helps to have an entertaining subject up your sleeve just in case the conversation falters and everyone is looking for someone to save him or her.
It’s reassuring when someone can steer the conversation to a topic that most people will feel impassioned about (e.g. Which car has the best re-sale value?) While some people claim that politics and religion are completely verboten, I would add children’s "extraordinary" accomplishments to the list. It would be silly to avoid talking about one’s children altogether but it would be equally silly (and a tad boring) to ONLY talk about your offspring and their achievements.
The Grand Entrance
How tempting it is to walk into a room full of familiar and un-familiar faces, ignore the strangers and head right to your posse. Don’t do it! It will minimize your bandwidth - the number of people you can meet and get to know. It’s in your interest to attract people who can stimulate your mind, keep your neurons activated and possibly offer information about something you’d like to know (job, childcare, exercise class, etc.).
First, observe and gravitate to someone whose presentation style is lively and accessible. Is there a woman wearing an enormous cameo at the neckline? Or a gentleman wearing a bowtie? Go over and tell them you’re an admirer. Since we know that talking about ourselves can never get weary, you will immediately ingratiate yourself with these fashion folks. Listen carefully and chime in when appropriate and see where the conversation goes. Are you ready to move on and talk with others? The graceful way to end a conversation is rather simple: Say to the person you’re with, “I don’t want to take up so much of your time. It was wonderful to meet you” and then head to the bar.
A superior conversationalist will always demonstrate sincere interest in the person they’re speaking with. Maintain eye contact (it’s okay to blink, of course. Of course!) and follow-up with questions that demonstrate your curiosity about the person you’re speaking with. The fear of being ignored and/or making small talk that captures someone’s attention are the chief reasons many people fear a social situation. However, with your confidence and interest in others on full display, give someone the gift of your full presence and make them feel good about themselves. If you can do that at least once, you have conquered the party.
And if everything fails and no topic seems to catch fire, you can always ask someone if they’ve ever made kale chips. For some reason, everyone has a recipe for kale chips.
Ellen Lubin-Sherman got her start in business feeding gossip items to Liz Smith, the esteemed former gossip columnist at the New York Daily News. Those early days of name-dropping were the perfect foundation for her later work in cultivating and branding identities for some of the country’s most luxurious products. Ellen went to work for some of NYC’s top communications firms, advising top tier brands including The Gap, Perrier Water, and Martha Stewart. Today she uses that expertise to coach corporations and business leaders in the art of creating a polished presentation. She does this through LAUNCH, her coaching and consulting firm for business leaders and corporations who need to craft the visuals and the messages that will burnish their reputation as leaders and differentiate them in the marketplace. Today, in addition to executive coaching and consulting, Ellen is a sought-after speaker for companies and groups that are desperate to know how they can become fabulous.