Q Dear Miss Abigail:
I’ve noticed lately that I have a problem talking about things when I get introduced. I never know the proper response, and end up saying something dumb that doesn’t make any sense. Could you give me some advice on making conversation?
A Dear Michelle:
You are not alone, my dear. Personally, I have an awful times with names. Sometimes I don’t even try to remember them ~ it’s no use! And I know someone who pretends to sneeze in the event of a lull in the conversation, and countless friends who prefer to stay huddled in the corner at a rockin’ party rather than mingle with strangers.
Never fear, Vera Bloom (aka “the Entertaining Lady”) has a bit of advice for us all.
When you stop to think of it, the really great talkers and great wits have been so rare that, in nearly three centuries of conversation both here and in England, there are few we remember besides Dr. Johnson, Sidney Smith, Oscar Wilde, Whistler, Oliver Herford, Shaw, Alexander Woollcott, and Dorothy Parker. Why not just relax, and console ourselves with the though that wit is a very dangerous possession after all, especially for a woman. For in either talk or letters, wit and tact rarely go together, and the woman who lets her tongue rule her heart can hardly be surprised when she makes enemies right and left. No one likes to be a target ~ except for Cupid’s darts! So be gay and entertaining if you can; be witty if you must.
Of course there are as many kinds of conversation as there are kinds of people and kinds of situations they find themselves in. All of us grope for things to talk about in casual contacts ~ it’s only with tried and true friends, or in the friendly relaxation of good shop talk, that people can really lose themselves in their enthusiasms.
But in any situation simplicity, being yourself, and really hearing the person you’re talking to, instead of wasting your energy worrying about what impression you’re making, will do more toward making you a good conversationalist than all the high-pressure charm hints that have ever been given.
The good conversationalist is always a constructive listener. She is altruistic enough to be willing and able to make the other person feel more important than herself, which means that she is willing and able to fish around among a stranger’s or an acquaintance’s interests until she gets an enthusiastic nibble on her conversational bait.
Source: Bloom, Vera. The Entertaining Lady: An Informal Guide to Good Living. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1949.
~ pp. 192-93 ~