How To Make Small Talk At Weddings

*This post was updated July 30th 2015*

The service was delightful. The brides looked divine. The grooms were as handsome as you’ve ever seen them. You made small talk with the mother-in-law, buried your face in the order of service when everyone was hugging, and mouthed hello to someone you vaguely remember from the hag do. 

Now, you’re standing in the car park and everyone’s hanging around before the reception, but you don’t have anyone to talk to.

Or maybe, you are with people you know. Maybe you’re laughing all the way to the reception until – ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? – You read the place settings only to realise that you’re sitting on a table with people you don’t know.

Suddenly, you can’t kick your shoes off under the table; you can’t bury your face in the salmon starter, and you can’t do that party trick with a glass of water, a penny and the tablecloth. Well, you could...

Oh, but THANK THE STARS, at least there’s wine.

Being polite shouldn't be something that you have to be schooled in; it should just be something you do. However, it's easy at weddings, (when you're thrown in with strangers) to relapse back to your mid-teens by drinking too much, burying your nose in your phone, zoning out of conversations half-way through and generally just being a bit awkward.

There are a few things worth remembering:

  • Know that the first impression you make will be a lasting one. The sooner you break the ice, the better. Nobody is asking you to become BFFs with the people you're sitting near but you should aim to be friendly or, at the very least, civil. Nobody wants to sit through an entire reception with an atmosphere that chokes like a bad cigarette. 

  • Go easy on the alcohol. It's a great facilitator for making friends in social situations, but be sure to pace yourself. Weddings last all day, and you don't want to be face down on the dance floor before the DJ has even set up. 

  • Introduce yourself to everyone at the table. You don’t have to do this individually. Make eye contact with everyone as you sit down and say hello. Say your name, too. This makes it easy for people to include you in conversation. It's just bad manner to plonk yourself down and ignore everyone. 

  • Keep the conversation well, well away from contentious issues like politics and religion. Be careful about asking personal questions, too, until you're sure it's acceptable to do so. You don't know people's backstories: don't ask about children, partners or ages unless you're confident it won't offend or upset.
  • Talk about shared experiences until you have established common ground. Your best bet is to keep it wedding related, but don’t be critical of anything or anybody. At this stage, banal is fine: “didn’t the brides look lovely” or “How do you know the grooms?” or “What a beautiful day, so far” are good for building a rapport. You don't have to wheel out your acerbic wit just yet. Think of these first few minutes as being the groundwork for the wedding selfies, the jelly shots and the good conversation to come later.

  • Even better, if you can, then ask open-ended questions. Ones that require an answer more than just yes or know. “How do you know the couple” “Have you come far today?” Again, you’re signalling to everyone that you’re in the conversation. That’ll make you harder to ignore.

  • Make sure you’re listening to other people’s replies to your questions. Ask them to elaborate on something they’ve alluded to if you’re worried that the conversation is about to burn out. 

  • This isn't about stringing out questions but about creating a connection (no matter how tenuous) with people you may know nothing about.

  • If the conversation stalls, then revert to questions about the day: the weather, the journey down, the quality of the salmon starter or any requests you're planning on plugging to the DJ later. 

  • Keep your head out of you phone. It's easy to use a phone as a crutch, but it'll only make you look unresponsive and rude. If you do have to send a message or answer a call, then apologise (even if you don't mean it) and then put the phone away. Instagram will still be there tomorrow. 

  • Don't worry about remembering everyone's names but do try and note down a couple. Use the place settings if you're suddenly stuck. People will understand that you've forgotten their name, but it's probably rude to ask for it more than twice. Use the other people on the table to find out if you get stuck. 

If you do find the conversation excruciating, the company frustrating and the table wine in short supply, then don't worry. Receptions are bloated out with all manner of distractions: speeches, food, gift giving etc. Just hold tight until it's all done and then make your escape over to another group or across the car park and into your car. 

There shouldn't be anything in this post that comes as a surprise. Just be yourself, unless 'yourself' is an absolute mess that nobody wants to sit by and then it's fine to be someone else. 

Do you have any wedding reception horror stories that you'd like to share? Leave us a message below 

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