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Party skills: How to be better at small talk

Words by Rob Chilton

Follow these simple tips and you’ll be the most interesting person in the room

We had a serious case of party envy when we saw inside the Dunhill x BAFTA film awards bash last week. Dozens of fascinating actors, directors and writers from the UK and America gathered at The Club inside Dunhill HQ in Bourdon House, London to talk style, movies and everything else. Hosted by Dunhill CEO Andrew Maag, the Pre-BAFTA Filmmakers party got us thinking about how some skilled party chat can make a lasting impression. Here are some simple pointers.

O.T. Fagbenle (left) sees the funny side


Awkward body language transmits nervous energy to the person you’re talking to and makes them clam up. If your body is calm, your brain will be too, and that leads to naturally-flowing conversation. Make eye contact, smile, breathe, lean in, and drop your shoulders.

Open up

Try to broaden the conversation to other topics as it gives people an opportunity to learn more about you. Don’t make closed statements such as, “I’m a teacher.” Instead, offer an additional piece of information about the school, the children, what subject you teach or what you like about it.

Joe Dempsie, Billy Howle and Mark Weston

Ask questions

People like to talk about themselves and there's nothing wrong in that. Ask the person about their clothes, life, job, family etc. But here's the important part: actually listen to the answer. You might hear a keyword that could generate a follow-up question and then you're off and running.

Give praise

Compliment the other person, but don't be creepy. “Nice shoes”, “cool bag”, “you look well” are the sort of simple lines that will immediately put the other person at ease and create conversation. Plus, it'll make them like you.

Ed Skrein and Sofia Boutella

Be nice

Nobody likes rudeness. Be polite, say the other person’s name, shake hands, say please and thank you. If you’re talking to the host, thank them for the invite and say you’re happy to be there. Manners make you instantly charming.

Jason Isaacs and Mark Strong

Don’t waffle

You’re not giving a report on your firm's quarterly figures – you’re a guest at a party and the chat should be light and bright. If, however, you click with someone, feel free to grab a table in the corner, order a couple of drinks and set the world to rights.


Try to find common ground with people. A simple way of doing this is talking about the venue, the food or the host. Perhaps talk about a piece of art in the room, or just go for: “Wow, these burgers are delicious.”

Stanley Tucci, Andrew Maag and Mark Strong

No big deal

Remember: it’s only a party, this is not a crucial job interview that will determine the course of your life. Everyone has something interesting to say. Relax, chat and have fun – that’s what parties are for.

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