Mastering the Lost Art of Dinner Conversation
Two things a gentleman knows better than to bring up in conversation, the old maxim goes: politics and religion. To that list, others have added money and love—perhaps all the things that make life interesting, in other words.
But rousing conversation is what makes dinner parties memorable, and the truth is that no topic need be off-limits to the skillful host. In fact, no topic should be off-limits. If you can’t discuss relevant and important issues with your family and friends, who can you discuss them with?
Here are some tips we’ve picked up from countless hours spent deep in conversation over dinner.
1. Make connections.
Introduce guests to one another. You don’t even need to be the host to do this; a gracious guest should also provide the cues for others to get to know one another. Rather than just providing the basic details, throw in some specific information about the person you are introducing to start off the conversation: “You might know Clinton from his byline in the papers, but I still remember when he used to write really interesting fiction back in college!”
2. Play interviewer.
To be interesting to the other guests, you must be interested in them. Ask questions, and don’t be afraid to probe. “If the world were to end tonight, who are the people you’d like to have around you?”
3. Mix it up.
Stick to the same people and you’ll have the same conversations. If you have any say in who’s included on the guest list, invite people who have never met one another and who come from different walks of life. Consider the difference between sitting at a table with a fictionist, a politician, an academic, an art patron, and a library advocate, and being in the company of five accountants. Not that there’s anything wrong with accountants—only that homogenous company tends to inhibit the diversity of ideas and perspectives that make for great conversation.
4. Get to know the people around the table.
Prepare beforehand, if you can. Social media makes this easy. If, for instance, one of your guests recently put up his 1,000th library, you immediately have a good starting point for a conversation that can snowball into something else. You can also ask about other current projects and preoccupations: “So, I’ve read that you’re working on the divorce bill. How’s that coming along? What kind of opposition have you met?”
5. Be ready to set the tone.
Take gatherings to be celebrations of something in particular—or anything, really. And in the absence of a recent achievement or any sort of occasion to celebrate, consider making one up yourself. A dinner could be just a regular dinner or, if you steer it in the right way, an “apocalypse dinner,” for example, in which your guests gather to discuss the end of the world. It’s random and eccentric, but having a theme can set the tone for great conversations all night.
6. Don’t forget: Good food, good wine.
Nothing gets people talking like good food does. It’s the most basic conversation starter, and yet also the most effective: “This is pasta is delicious! What is it made with?” can get you started on just about anything. The same can be said about, “This is the cognac that rapper mentioned in his song!” which, after a few more drinks, might lead to your guests rhyming along with said rapper.
7. Keep a few ready topics in your pocket.
Quality conversation must flow well, but you can’t completely avoid a lull. If a conversation starts to trail off, don’t be afraid to throw in a canned topic that you’re interested in—for example, social media and how it affects different generations. That’s a topic that affects everyone and can get the whole table talking.
We put some of these tips to the test when Esquire hosted the first Man at His Best evening, presented by Globe Platinum, on February 8. Held at The Refined in Bonifacio Global City and attended by a small group of accomplished Filipino men and women from different areas of expertise, the exclusive gathering had the theme, “What if the world were to end tomorrow?” It was a hypothetical final meal, with good food and meaningful conversations about life and legacy shared among bright minds.
It was also an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of those present. Guests Quintin Pastrana, Jam Acuzar, Clinton Palanca, Leloy Claudio, Carlo Gabuco, Pia Cayetano, and JC Valenzuela each received a custom-made handcrafted leather bag from Fino Leatherware, a bottle of Coach Man’s latest fragrance, a cigar box from Globe Platinum, and an exclusive bottle of Hennessy XO engraved with their names.
It was a wonderful evening that was punctuated with the satisfaction of delicious food, fine drinks, excellent conversation, and even better company.
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