News & Politics

How to Have a Good Conversation at a Party

Illustration by Jason Schneider.

Our expert: Ari Shapiro, a skilled interviewer who cohosts NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

1. Come armed. “Before an interview, I’ve got at least five questions in my pocket. It’s a good strategy whenever you meet new people—you won’t always ask [the questions], but they’ll be on your mind if you need something to talk about.”

2. Be nosy. “If you are genuinely curious about someone, that will come across. It’s one of the keys to a conversation.”

3. Use conversational cues. “Sometimes the best questions aren’t even questions but things like ‘Go on,’ ‘You don’t say,’ or ‘Tell me a story about that.’ The key is to keep things moving.”

4. What if you get stuck chatting with someone dull? “Drink! Or you can just start with ‘How do you know our host?’ Hopefully the answer is ‘We met on vacation in Mexico’ or ‘I’m his carpenter.’ I’m a believer that a good host invites his carpenter, someone who works in a restaurant, their officemate, and a student to a party. Then it’s like a conversational potluck.”

Read more advice, tips, and tricks from Washington natives in our Secrets of the City package.

This article appears in our January 2016 issue of Washingtonian.