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Bad at Cocktail Parties? Here’s Four Tips on Making Small Talk

Anne Libera, director of comedy studies at Columbia College and Second City instructor, offers these pointers for acing chitchat.

Illustration by John Kenzie
Illustration: John Kenzie

Fool your nerves

“When your brain says, ‘I’m nervous,’ say to yourself out loud, ‘I’m excited.’ It will be infinitely easier to make that first contact.”

Make it a game

“Go into a party with the goal of getting an interesting piece of information from three to five people. Try ‘Tell me about the most exciting thing you ever did as a teenager’ or ‘What’s the weirdest food your family eats on a regular basis?’ ”

Forget about yourself

“We think that people are judging us in a way that they absolutely are not. One of the things that improv does is it teaches you how to listen. Put your focus on making the other person have a good experience as opposed to worrying about what they think of you.”

Think small

“There’s a great improv phrase: ‘Bring a brick instead of a cathedral.’ I don’t have to bring a cathedral to the conversation. I don’t have to drive this conversation. I just have to offer something.”

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