It takes more than a black tie or beautiful gown to fit into a formal setting. How you appear is only part of the challenge since just about anyone can dress up and look nice. Even more important is the way you present yourself through conversation. A loud booming voice points towards the lack of social graces and gives those in your company the impression that you’re an overbearing or even uneducated person. Likewise, a barely audible voice is irritating, to say the least. People hate it when they have to strain to hear what someone is saying or when they have to ask the person to repeat. And, it’s extremely rude to whisper, particularly for the purpose of excluding others in present company. Try to speak in a moderate tone but never a monotone.
How you laugh is also important in a formal setting. Loud, boisterous laughs point towards social inadequacy and poor upbringing. Other do-nots are covering your mouth when you laugh, snickering, or laughing aloud with food in your mouth. And don’t gesture wildly when conversing or laughing. Limit hand movements to just within your own space. Outstretching arms completely is a no-no, along with hitting the air in mock of a punch, reaching over and slapping someone on the back, shaking or snapping your fingers, or clapping your hands while talking.
The topics of conversation appropriate for a social gathering are many, but topics not to be discussed are almost as abundant. Discussions of others’ personal lives are taboo, particularly when speaking of their relationship with their spouse, their finances, or personal problems. Never discuss unfortunate events such as a person’s child who has become incarcerated or gone astray. It is acceptable to discuss the recent injury or illness of a person, but never at the dinner table.
Great topics of conversation are recent news events, locally or world-wide, books, history, technology, music, and even sports. Topics to avoid are gruesome tales, sex, lengthy spills about your children or pets, and yourself. It’s okay to mention things that are going on in your life but it’s easy to get carried away with that topic and become boring.
Try to keep conversation light, humorous or general. Don’t hog the conversation, either. If you’ve been talking for more than 5 minutes straight, with not much more than a “hmm” out of others, it’s time to allow another person the spotlight. Do so by asking them a question which will turn the conversation over to them. Being a good conversationalist is not just the ability to speak well but also, the ability to listen well.