You’re at a networking event for your company or you’ve been invited to a friend’s birthday party where you don’t know a lot of other guests. You grab yourself a drink and some snacks (finger food FTW!) and do your best not to look awkward. It’s not especially comfortable to work the room at an event like this, but you don’t want to look like a loner, either, so you seek out another person looking out of place and try to make conversation. You introduce yourself and swap a few basic facts, and then…..

Well, you’re not really sure what else to say.

Small talk can be extremely weird, but it doesn’t have to be. The key to successful mingling at almost any social event is knowing the right questions to ask, questions that will give you a chance to get to know a new acquaintance in a way that doesn’t feel stilted or uncomfortable. Evite party specialist Piera Pizzo suggests these 10 questions as your go-to conversation starters.

Laughing couple sharing drinks with friends on rooftop restaurant deck on summer evening

1. What’s your favorite comfort food? “Food sparks joy — always,” Pizzo says. “It’s the one thing we as humans all love to talk about.” Asking a new acquaintance about their comfort food of choice may give you the chance to transition seamlessly into a conversation about favorite recipes, restaurants, and food trends. Plus, you’ll have a second set of eyes looking out for your go-to treats on the party’s buffet table.

2. If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be? Chatting about potential superpowers is bound to set you up for a fun discussion, as well as a little extra insight into what the other person values most.

3. What destinations are on your travel bucket list? Maybe you’ve already had the chance to visit your conversational buddy’s number-one dream vacation spot… or maybe they’ve already explored yours. If that’s the case, a once-boring networking event or awkward dinner party can turn into an opportunity to swap travel tips and discuss little-known excursions and local dining. Even if you can’t help each other plan your next big trip, you may inspire some new travel goals!

4. What was your first concert? “Shift the conversations toward a nostalgic topic,” Pizzo suggests. “It brings a comforting presence to the conversation and allows people to relax as they reflect on their past.” Don’t be surprised if you end up having similar tastes in music. You may even find yourself connecting with a future concert buddy.

5. If you weren’t doing what you currently do for a living, what is your dream job? This may not be your ideal conversation route if you’re at a professional event, but it can be a great discussion starter when you’re meeting someone new on personal terms. You’ll very likely find yourself honing in on what the other person is truly passionate about, which will lead naturally into other conversation.

6. What are you currently binge-watching? These days, binge-watching is pretty much the one thing that unites us all. Everyone is spending more time than they’d probably like to admit streaming a guilty pleasure on Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon. This is a safe, non-controversial question that will give you and your new acquaintance a chance to share recommendations and rant about your fave pop culture.

7. Do you have any weird phobias? If you’ve just met someone new at a party or event, you naturally don’t want to get too personal too quickly. Pizzo tells us that this phobia-related question can strike a healthy balance. “It’s a good [one] to ask once you’re a bit further into the conversation and people are a bit a more willing to let their guard down,” she says. “Their response will likely be fun!”

8. What’s the best piece of advice you ever got? All of us have a piece of personal or professional wisdom that’s stuck with us for the long haul, and we can really benefit from sharing it with each other. Don’t be afraid to learn from the good advice that others have received.

9. Do you have any secret talents? Why did we stop chatting about our unexpected talents and skills as soon as elementary school was over? After all, we’re way more talented now than we were back then. You’ll be blown away by the amount and diversity of talent in any given room. Maybe the person you’re talking to is a triathlete or plays in a band in their free time. How cool is that?

10. What age do you wish you could permanently be? “This question can spark a spirited debate over whether being a carefree kid is better than getting to an age where you can live on your own and eat dessert whenever you want,” Pizzo says. “You may especially get some interesting answers and perspectives at a party with a varied group of ages and life experiences.” Plus, you’ll have a chance to learn more about the things that your conversational buddy loved the most about different stages of life.

How do you avoid small talk at social events so you can make better connections? Tweet us @BritandCo.

(Photo via Getty)