How to Make Small Talk at Weddings

We first wrote about making small talk at weddings back in 2014.  It quickly became one of our most popular blog posts so we updated it a year later.  In 2019, we’re still getting regular hits on the page so we thought it might be a good idea to revisit our advice and see if anything has changed.  

It’s unsurprising that so many of us still feel uncomfortable about making polite conversation at a public event.  Weddings can be particularly difficult as we may have to spend an extended period of time sitting and eating with complete strangers.  We’re all human and most of us want to make a good impression but sometimes that’s easier said than done.

Why Is It Important to Make Small Talk at a Wedding?

Few social occasions expect us to interact so closely with strangers as a wedding.  At other events, we’re often able to stay within a circle of friends or family members.  Small talk may be limited to a brief chat at the bar or in the line for the ladies toilets.  At a wedding, you may be sitting next to someone you don’t know.  If you’re single and without a plus one then (horror of horrors), you may have to sit on an entire table of strangers.

At the very least, small talk will pass the time between the meal and the speeches.  It stops things from becoming awkward.  You might find out something useful or interesting.  At the very best, you may form a friendship or connection that lasts long after the wedding has finished.  Smalltalk is important because it’s often a gateway to more fulfilling and entertaining conversations.  It’s a way of getting to know someone and even though it may feel a little forced at a wedding, it’s worth attempting.

Dogs sniff backsides.  Humans comment about how terrible the weather has been or about how bad the motorway traffic was on the way over here.

What is Small Talk and Why is it So Hard?

It can be difficult because it can be dull, stilted and a little awkward if you don’t know what to say or if the other person doesn’t know how to play along.

It’s an icebreaker, really.

You might ask the person next to you how they know the brides or grooms or what it is that they do for a living.  You might compliment the food or moan about the price of a pint at the bar. 

Conversation with friends can feel like a comfy, well-worn cardigan.  Small talk can feel like skinny jeans a size too small.  Perseverance can make it easier, however.

Small talk is meant to be exactly that – small.  You’re not going to be discussing politics or religion.  You probably won’t end up detailing your sex life or talking about how strained your relationship currently is with your dad. This new person isn’t your BFF just yet. Small talk often finds us on our best behaviour, too.  We’re figuring a person out and they’re doing the same to us.

How to Make Small Talk at a Wedding

There’s nothing wrong with needing a bit of Dutch courage.  We’ve all done it but go easy on the alcohol.  You don’t want to be *that* person on the table.  Have a couple of glasses of wine or champagne but pace yourself.  Wedding receptions are marathons, not sprints.

Introduce yourself when you first arrive at the table and whenever someone new sits down.  Make eye contact, say hello and offer your name.  You don’t have to force conversation but making that first initial connection makes it easier later on.

Steer clear of BIG conversations like religion, politics and the state of the economy.  You don’t know where these people lie politically nor will you know their personality.  Be careful, too, about asking about partners and children unless you know their backstory or family history.

Ask open-ended questions so that the conversation doesn’t stall.  Open-ended questions can’t be answered with a single yes or no.  They require elaboration and that will help you ask a follow-up question or respond to what the person has said.

Closed-ended questions to avoid would be – did you travel far today?  Was there much traffic on the motorway?  Don’t both brides look lovely? Did you order the chicken?  Are you staying in the hotel?

It’s not the end of the world to use a close-ended question.  Indeed, sometimes you’ll have to but be aware that it’s harder to continue the flow of a conversation if the other person can wiggle out of a proper answer.

Examples of open-ended questions are how exactly did you meet Bob and Alan?  What’s it like living in Slough?  How did you get here?  What are you planning to do this weekend?  What do you think about the venue? Generally, people enjoy talking about themselves so questions can be a great way of keeping conversations going back and forth.  The more someone speaks, too, the more opening there is for you to ask another question.

Debrett's etiquette guide advises using common ground to make conversation.  That’s actually very easy at a wedding as all the guests are connected through either the brides or grooms.  You can ask how the met the couple and share any connections through friends or family.   You can comment on the venue and the ceremony.  You might share stories about the happy couple.

The Art of Manliness website advises that you act like a host.  This means that you make yourself approachable and are prepared to approach others.

Compliments are always a good idea but generally, you should only offer a compliment that you mean.  Weddings are useful because often everyone is dressed up.  Telling someone you like their dress, hair or shoes will immediately make them feel at ease.  Saying you love the colour of a tie or shirt is a nice gesture and one that should help encourage conversation ‘oh well thank you, I got it last week in the sale’.

Phones can be a terrible crutch in group situations.  Whenever you can avoid looking down at your phone, do.  If you do need to check it, then do it quickly and then put it away.  It can be a terrible distraction and people are far less likely to engage you in conversation if they think you’re busy doing something else.

Having to make small talk at a wedding can be a daunting prospect.  We’d all much prefer to be sitting with our friends or with people we know but that’s the beauty of mixing with strangers – you never know who might become a friend and you’ll only find out by (small) talking to them.

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