As we roll into the holiday season, you’re probably seeing your calendar fill up with many social gatherings. Some gatherings you may be looking forward to attending. Other gatherings you may be dreading.

Your dread may lead to anxiety as you anticipate seeing certain family members or friends. Your anxiety may heighten since you don’t know what to say or how to engage in civil conversation with some people.

You don’t want to be grilled about your relationship status or professional accomplishments. You don’t want to be compared to others who have knocked it out of the ballpark (it’s not that you’re jealous of those who have done well, it’s just that you’re in a slump).

If you dread small talk at these social gatherings, you’re not alone. To help you tackle this holiday season with charm start by creating a brief summary to explain what you’ve been up to this year. Keep it short and highlight one or two items.

Most people will ask when they see you, “What have you been up to?” Recite your brief summary then use a conversation starter to shift the conversation and encourage the other person to talk.

You don’t need to be the life of the party, but you can avoid those awkward moments by being prepared to engage in conversation. Conversation starters can also be used as a way to shift a conversation from a controversial topic, even if it’s about your personal life.

Here are a few ideas for conversation starters.

If you could travel anywhere in the world where would you go and why?

What are your top five favorite movies?

What would you be doing if you didn’t come to this gathering?

How did you meet the host (or someone else at the gathering)?

Which items on the buffet would you recommend?

What’s your favorite memory of the holidays?

Which show are you binge-watching?

While you’re getting ready for the gathering, add to this list other open-ended questions. It’s best to avoid politics and religion, as well as any other emotionally charged topics. Some people can’t even talk about football because of strong allegiances to rival teams.

Also, craft your response to each question. In this way, you can open with your response or you can react to the other person’s response with your answer.

Here’s an example. If someone asks you what you’ve been up to, respond with your brief summary then mention a show you’re binge-watching. At the end, ask them if they are binge-watching any series.

Also, prepare yourself for those who are difficult or those who keep you stuck in a strained conversation. That’s when you gracefully excuse yourself by going to the restroom or refilling your drink.

Holiday gatherings can be awkward at times. But remember, you’re not the only one dreading the occasion.

By preparing with ways to start a conversation and ways to exit, your anxiety will decrease. You’ll be able to focus on reconnecting with family and friends you haven’t seen in a while, as well as meet new connections.


Niv Persaud, CFP®, CDFA™, RICP®, CRPC®, is the Founder of Transition Planning & Guidance, LLC. Life is more than money. It’s about living the lifestyle you want and can afford. For that reason, Niv consults with clients on money, life, and work. Her approach capitalizes on techniques she learned throughout her career, including as a management consultant, executive recruiter, and financial advisor. Her services include developing spending plans, comprehensive financial plans, divorce financial reviews, retirement plans. Niv actively gives back to her community through her volunteer efforts. She believes in living life to the fullest by cherishing friendships, enjoying the beauty of nature and laughing often — even at herself. Her favorite quote is by Erma Bombeck, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say ‘I used everything you gave me.’”

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