Ugh, Small Talk

Friends enjoying Christmas dinner party at home, in a story about questions to ask at social gatheri...
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33 Questions To Ask At Social Gatherings To End The Awkward Silence

Other than, “So, what do you do for work?”

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A holiday party at work, your friend’s birthday dinner, out with a date for drinks — the dreaded awkward silence can strike anywhere. Having icebreaker activities or group games to play can make the transition from strangers to friends a little smoother, sure. But if you’re at a party, dinner, or networking event with nothing specific on the schedule, well, that leaves a lot of open air to fill. Keeping a few questions to ask at social gatherings in mind can help you feel more prepared (and therefore more relaxed) going into any setting.

Conversation starters if you have social anxiety

If you have social anxiety, parties and social events probably give you the same feeling as if you were walking across a minefield. Trying to remember creative questions and quirky conversation starters may just be too much in the moment.

The easiest way to survive small talk is to look around the room for ideas. The music playing, the snack spread on the kitchen island, the weather on the way here — whatever’s happening in your immediate environment right now is something you, and all the people around you, have in common. Take a beat, breathe deeply, and glance around for some conversation starters. Or, copy and paste this list into your notes app for emergencies.

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  • How do you know the host/hostess?
  • I like your shoes/sweater/tie/whatever. Where did you get it?
  • Have you tried any of the food yet? What should I make sure to grab two of?
  • Have you been to an event at this venue before?
  • What do you think of the playlist?
  • Do you live in this part of town?
  • Your makeup/hair looks amazing. How did you do it?
  • Your drink looks so good. Can I ask what’s in it?
  • Do you know most of the people here?
  • (If you’re talking to a couple) How did you two meet?

Questions to ask at parties & social gatherings

Even if you’re perfectly confident chatting up new people, sometimes you don’t totally jive with them, or you just haven’t found the right subject to get the conversation flowing. Fear not: commit a few of these questions to memory and you’ll always have a new topic to turn to.

  • Are you reading anything right now?
  • What’s the best movie you’ve seen this year?
  • What’s your favorite restaurant in town right now?
  • Are there any “hidden gem” spots in this part of town?
  • Have you been watching [whatever show you’re currently obsessed with]?
  • What shows have you been you watching lately? I need some recommendations.
  • I’m trying to plan my next trip. Have you traveled anywhere cool recently?
  • Where are the best cheap eats in this part of town?
  • What do you like to do on the weekends?
  • Are you from here? What brought you to this area?
  • What do you like about living in this city (and what’s your least favorite part)?
  • What is your go-to karaoke song? I need to add to my personal repertoire.
  • Do you have any special plans for the weekend?

Questions to ask at work parties & networking events

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If it’s time to break bread in the break room and chat with your colleagues, conversation can be a little more tense than if you were meeting them at a friend’s house (especially if you’re talking to your boss, or your boss’ boss). These questions keep it strictly professional, but won’t make you seem like a total bore:

  • Are you working on anything right now that you’re particularly excited about?
  • What do you wish you’d learned earlier in your career that you know now?
  • What podcasts or books do you listen to on your commute?
  • What’s the most valuable career advice you’ve ever gotten?
  • If you weren’t working here, what would you be doing?
  • What was your first job ever?
  • What’s the strangest thing a boss has ever asked you to do?
  • Where do you get your industry-related news?
  • Would you rather work four 10-hour days or five eight-hour days?
  • Who’s the most important role model or mentor you’ve had in your life?

While no one can guarantee you’ll never experience an awkward silence again, here’s hoping that these questions will at least save you from some of them.

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