AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and
this week on Wordmaster: If mixing with people at parties leaves you at
a loss for words, writer Jeanne Martinet offers some help in an updated
edition of her popular book "The Art of Mingling."
RS: "Give us some tips -- what works?"
"Well, what doesn't work is that you should never walk up to somebody
and ask them right away what they do for a living. It's not only sort
of rude, and it's sort of like 'who are you, are you worth my time?'
But it's also bringing up a conversation that you don't know what
you're bringing up.
"There's an opening technique that I call the 'flattery entrée,'
which works very well if that person has an unusual pair of earrings or
tie on. You can walk up to somebody and say 'Hey, I really like that
pair of earrings' and you get into it that way. I think the mistake
that people make is they think that the only way to talk to people is
to ask them questions. And while that's good to do within a
conversation, it's actually less threatening to open with something
that's more of an observation.
"One of the reasons that people, I think, are afraid to approach
strangers at parties is they're really afraid of what happens if
something bad does, you know, occur. And if you know that you can
escape from anyone, it actually makes you much less afraid to talk to
people in the first place.
"So, you know, you'll try and talk to someone and it doesn't work
very well, and maybe you get the idea they really would rather go back
to the conversation they were having or something, in which case you
can do one of many escape techniques that can help you save face -- or
even get you away from someone that you discover that you don't want to
AA: "For example?"
JEANNE MARTINET: "Like, you know, the 'buffet bye-bye' -- what my
cute name for 'well, I've really got to get a drink' or 'I'm starving
-- that thing you're eating is making me even more hungry. I'll be
back.' You can even say 'I'll be back' and never come back. At a party
you're allowed to do that."
AA: "Now let me ask you about -- I know in every culture certain
subjects are maybe off-limits or you really shouldn't [talk about them]
unless you know a person well. So, thinking about in American culture,
three that come to mind are money, religion and politics -- "
JEANNE MARTINET: "Yes!"
AA: "What do you think about that."
JEANNE MARTINET: "The two safe subjects used to be your health and
the weather. Well, the weather now leads you to topics of global
warming -- at least it does [for] me -- and your health, you can easily
start talking about health insurance, and before you know it you are in
the areas of politics. So I outline in the book ways to test for people
who might be fanatics in certain areas, so you can really stay away,
and also 'defuse' and 'escape' lines."
RS: "What would be some of those -- you talked a little bit about
escape lines, but you're in an argument or you find yourself close to
an argument, how do you get out of it?"
JEANNE MARTINET: "Well, most of them are sort of cute lines which
are just tension-defusing lines like 'well, I guess we can't solve the
world's problems in one day.' Or you say, if it's really gotten heated
and you feel up to this particular kind of humor, you can say, 'Well,
you know, if we talk about this anymore, we're going to have to step
RS: "All right, let's put a context here. We have a student, a
foreign student, in the United States or elsewhere [who is] with a
group of Americans and wants to mingle. What kind of advice would you
give to this person [about] how to start and how to go through his day?"
JEANNE MARTINET: "If you're talking about mingling at a gathering of
a lot of people, I've often used this when I'm feeling particularly out
of my element and I don't know anybody, I will go up to someone or a
group of people and say: 'Hi, my name is Jeanne Martinet and I don't
know a single soul at this party.'
"That is really -- really, basically to throw yourself in a little
bit asking for help from other people, is usually not a bad idea
because it kind of endears you to the people and it usually gives you a
warm response. People who are really shy can try using what I call the
'fade-in,' which is where you go up to the periphery of a group of
people and listen carefully to what's being said, and then just adding
in your two cents when it's appropriate.
RS: "Jeanne, this takes courage."
JEANNE MARTINET: "It doesn't; it takes practice. It's funny, because
once you do it a couple of times, like if somebody who just listening
to me saying this, would just use that approach that I said, where they
walked up to somebody and said 'you know, I don't know a single person
at this party,' when they get this response that they will get, -- nine
times out of ten it will be a wonderful like 'oh, this is so-and-so and
please let us show -- I'll introduce you to Joe over here.' And when
that happens, and that happens a couple of times, you will start to
lose your fear.
"Everybody is just as afraid as they are. That's the other one of my
mingling survival rules is that nobody is thinking about you, they're
only thinking about themselves. So it's sort of helpful to remember
this to become less self-conscious."
AA: But Jeanne Martinet, the author of "The Art of Mingling," says
you should also remember not to monopolize people at parties, or you
could be seen as a "barnacle." In general, she says, spend five to
fifteen minutes chatting, then move on.
RS: And that's Wordmaster for this week. You can find lots more
advice about communicating in our archives at voanews.com/wordmaster.
And our e-mail address is email@example.com. With Avi Arditti, I'm