Hate making small talk at social gatherings? You're not alone. Believe me: Most people feel this way as well. In fact, even folks who consider themselves true extroverts often feel uncomfortable or vulnerable in situations that require totally generic chatter. That's because the truth is, small talk is pretty useless. It's typically just filler conversation to occupy awkward silences or connect with people you don't know. So it's easy to walk away thinking, "Jeez, I hope I wasn't awkward," and second-guess every word you said to the other person.
The simplest thing to do is to come up with a few easy-to-remember go-to questions you can ask someone, as well as a few sentences you can use as a follow-up to the answer. The goal is to conduct a conversation that won't lead to any one-word responses or dead ends. Entertainment is an easy, relatable topic: Bring up the last movie you saw, TV show you've been watching, or book you've read and what you thought of it, then ask the person what she's seen or read recently and whether she has any recommendations.
Another option: When in doubt, you can always go with the classic "How do you know the host?" question. Just make sure you respond with how you know the host, and perhaps offer up a funny story about how you two met. When all else fails, remind yourself that people aren't judging what you're saying whatsoever—they're just relieved and grateful you stepped up to the plate!
Gail Saltz, MD, is a psychiatrist and television commentator in New York City who specializes in health, sex, and relationships.