You’ve thought of everything to plan the perfect dinner party. You’ve prepared a delicious meal, with a beautiful presentation. You’ve cleaned and decorated the house. You’ve created a playlist of the perfect songs to have in the background. Then, the guests arrive and … crickets. The conversation dries up. If you have nightmares about this scenario happening at your dinner party, these simple ways to get the conversation flowing at your dinner party will put you at ease.
1) Serve cocktails and appetizers while guests arrive.
Thekitchn.com suggests that “cocktails help people relax and appetizer stations give them somewhere to congregate – and something to talk about.”
2) Get your guests engaged.
It is okay to leave “jobs” for people in the kitchen. Chef David Tannis suggests leaving a few things unprepared until after guests arrive so your guests can help you. “People say, Oh, isn’t that rude, to not have everything ready? I feel uncomfortable… But I say, hey! Everyone wants to be in the kitchen anyway! Don’t wait to have anything ready, but leave a few things — there’s always someone who wants to help. For me, that’s part of the whole process.” It is also okay to assign people to help by acting as bartender, DJ, or other “roles” to get them engaged.
3) Seed your introductions.
When making introductions, “seed” conversations for others by offering up a connection you know about that could help them establish a common interest to discuss. For example: “Mary and Tom, this is Jane and Ned. Their daughter goes to school with your son.” or “Jim, meet Billy. He is also a guitarist in a band.”
4) Prepare conversation starters in advance.
Know the art of great conversations yourself, so you can break the silence at the table with an interesting conversation started, if needed.
5) Provide a theme or activity.
Have an activity on hand. You might want to integrate your dinner party with another activity, such as a book club or board game night, or a theme, such as a culturally-themed dinner.
For those who really want to go the extra step in spurring conversation, the public-speaking club Toastmasters has “table topic sessions” to give members the opportunity to practice speaking off the cuff. They include ideas such as murder mystery nights (these are much like Clue, with an emphasis on convincing the others about the way in which the murder happened), role playing games (in which guests are given different scenarios to act out), and personality swap (guests react to a given topic in the personality of someone else).
The most important piece of advice and the most difficult to follow is not to force the interactions among your guests. There will always be moments when the conversation seems to slow down or the initial period of guests sticking with those they already know before everyone starts to mingle. Stay relaxed.