Bob Goldman

If there's one thing worse than being a motormouth, or a blabbermouth, or just a bigmouth, it's finding yourself to be a "no mouth." That's what I call the feeling you have when you're desperately trying to start a conversation and realize you have absolutely nothing to say.

This could happen at a party. This could happen at a party at work. This could happen at an important party at work where you have one of those rare opportunities to impress a senior manager by demonstrating what a brilliant, insightful, articulate individual you are, when what you really are is a statue -- a tower of Jell-O, with a beer in your hand, a Ritz cracker in your mouth, and absolutely nothing in your brain.

Not a pretty picture.

If this is a situation in which you often find yourself, it's time to find Gretchen Rubin. In an article rushed to me by LinkedIn, which for some crazy reason thought I needed this information, Rubin -- a "best-selling author and blogger" -- asks and answers the question, "Do You Struggle to Make Conversation? A Menu of Options for Small Talk."

The menu in question is a buffet of yummy conversation starters that you can use when your lips are saying, "yes-yes-yes," and your brain is saying, "huh?"

"Comment on a topic common to you at the moment" is Rubin's No. 1 idea. The topic might be the venue or the food, she suggests, but be sure, she adds in a bold and underlined injunction, to "keep it on the positive side."

"The first time you come into contact with a person isn't a good time to complain," Rubin believes. I disagree. I think you have a much better chance of starting a dynamic conversation if you pile on the complaints. Say, you're at an out-of-office event celebrating the hire of your new manager, Jim. You meet an attractive woman and want to start a conversation. You open with: "Can you believe they're having this party in a dump like this?" and "This food is disgusting! I wouldn't feed this swill to my cat."

If you're lucky, the target of your complaints will answer immediately, "I'm sorry you're so dissatisfied. I'm Jim's wife, and I selected this venue, and personally made all the food. Obviously, you are a discerning person with high standards, and I'll be sure to tell Jim all about you."

And there you go -- conversation launched.

Bob Goldman

Bob Goldman is a business humor writer.

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