The Art of the Schmooze


Conversation isn’t just “small talk.” It can open doors to opportunities and friendships – maybe even that next romantic relationship.

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Some of us, like me, are born talking. As soon as they cut the cord, I complained: “That was some trip! And by the way ma, that nurse? I heard her voice when you were watching ‘America’s Most Wanted.’”

Unlike me, my brother’s first words were: “See ya. I’m going to college.”

Mama Nature imbued us differently.

Aside from biology, our experiences can affect our ability to communicate as adults. If parents criticized rather than praised, forbade us rather than encouraged, reacted with shame or anger rather than excitement about life’s journey, our self-esteem may have turned to shredded wheat. We learned to shut-up or shut-down in fear that others might see our inner screw-up.

I often hear “I hate small talk,” “What’s the point?” or “I can’t do it.” My darlings, shmoozing or “small talk” is a vital networking tool. Studies have shown that the “competent” are usually left behind as the less qualified “likeables” and shmoozers move up professionally and socially.


Keep It Simple, Without Clichés. “Cute” openings involving astrological signs or “You were sent from heaven” are fine — if you’re in middle school. If you’re smarter than a fourth grader, “Hello, I’m Rebecca” beats “If nothing lasts forever will you be my nothing?”

Notice Notice Notice and Comment! Others adore talking to someone who has the good sense to notice what is true or what they want to believe about themselves! “I see you work out!” “That painting you drew … the sun speaks to my heart.” “You’re carrying Hamlet! Ah a Shakespeare fan.” “That pin you’re wearing. It’s vintage. So flattering!”

Find a Basis and Share a Little about You. “I started working out/painting too,” “I’m going to a production of ‘Hamlet’ at the Midsummer’s Night Dream Playhouse,” “My closet is filled with vintage.”

Say The Unexpected Or Surprising! When I was young, I went to my favorite restaurant to meet friends. I was early. The barkeep pointed out a man standing by the wall alone. He was my favorite Broadway composer. The barkeep warned, “He doesn’t like to be bothered.” I kept my distance. When he came near me to pay his bill, I whispered: “Thank you.” That’s it. Wondering if he’d bought me a condo he forgot about, he asked: “For what?” I mentioned one of his lesser known songs, and how affected I was. Then I turned and went upstairs. I came down a half hour later and the barkeep barked: “Where were you?! He waited for you to come down!” The man was Steven Sondheim.

Listen/Reflect Back Or Mirror. This solves your “Umming” problem. Remember. Others are into themselves. All you need do is repeat and re-word. You’re at a golf event. You see a prospect with a golf emblem. He tells you he belongs to the GreenTea Golf Club. “Ah, the GreenTea Golf Club … great place.” Period. Smile. He/she will most likely blabber on about the green.

Questions: Invite Them To Tell A Story. This is a little tricky. Avoid the word “WHY?” Why? Because it leads to “Because.” End of convo. Instead ask open-ended questions, for example: “Tell me more about it” or “How would you describe it?”

Smile, Watch Your Appearance And Body Language. If you look like you’d rather have a colonoscopy, you’re red-lighting others. Be fetching, inviting, warm, energetic, and add charming and sincere.

Watch The Booze! Even if you made a great impression the first three hours – too many Tequila Shooters will destroy it if you have to be lifted into an Uber.

Know When it’s Time to Shut Up or Leave. If eyes are darting, responses are getting shorter or more vague, your listener(s) say they need to go, they start walking off or the lights go out … you’ve lost your op. Leave ’em wanting more of you.


Some of you may be thinking. “Yeah … so how do I do all this?” PREPARE! PREPARE! PREPARE!

*Practice/Rehearse comments in Front Of Friends/Family/A Mirror Until Your Words feel Natural

*Use Relaxation Methods such as Deep Breathing to Control Anxiety

*Visualize Every Step of the Upcoming Experience until you feel comfortable


Use your personality strengths, find your “inner quirk” and embrace it.

I actually have made a list of fascinating (Well I think so) anecdotes and events in my life. If you’re over 20, you’ve done, thought, experienced more than you realize. WRITE THEM DOWN. Not only do they make great shmooze fodder, but they’ll remind you of your remarkability! This list is your personal bank of “Me, Fascinating Me.”

Now all you have to do is believe it!


Coming On Too Strong. When shmoozing you want to break the ice but not with a hammer. One of my clients couldn’t understand why women ran from him: His opening line? “I don’t do bull. So, are you interested in a relationship or not?” Scary.

Getting Too Close Or Personal Too Soon. I had a female client, who after the first dirty martini wanted to know what her date was doing for Christmas. It was July. Other losing comments at a party:

“Hello, have you heard about this great new investment opportunity?”

“Did you really send those dirty emails?”

“I should tell you, I’m in ten 12-Step Programs.”

I call these “Suffocation by Sharing.” You’re taking liberties without an invite. Instead of bringing you closer, it brings getting to know you to a close.

Being a “Bester.” If a neighbor talks about his new Honda, you bought a Harley. If your cousin went to Mexico, you summered in Tahiti. If a colleague has a headache, you probably have a brain tumor. If convos become contests with “winners” and losers. Guess who you’ll be?

Interrupting. Finishing other people’s sentences is the fastest way to a) make rotten assumptions; b) invite frustration. All you get is the “exhausted” fumes when they run from you.

Over-explaining. I had an uncle who, when asked a simple question such as, “Where did you buy that camera?” lectured the questioner on the history of photography – starting with hieroglyphics. We sat him at the children’s table during holidays. Stick with the headline and throw in only the most amusing anecdotes.

Ditto for the “self-correctors” as in: “On Monday, the first … oh wait, maybe it was Wednesday the third. So, I jarred my own pickles … now where did I get those jars? Anyway—” Only use these to induce a coma.

Lying about Yourself. A little exaggeration is fine, but there are limits. If you say you’re moving up at CBS, you’d better not be an elevator operator. Similarly, shooting off your mouth when you actually know nothing only works for politicians. The famous quote applies: “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.”

Hanging In Too Long. You’re still yammering and your listener has left the convo – or the room.

Umming and sweating. Nuff said.

Copyright © Marnie Macauley / 2018 Singular Communications, LLC.

Marnie Winston-MacauleyAdvice guru Marnie Winston-Macauley — therapist, author, speaker — has been a radio, TV, and syndicated advice columnist and counselor for over 20 years. Witty, wise and totally irreverent with a self-professed loathing for psychobabble, she’s written over 20 books and calendars, along with  hundreds of relationship columns and features for prominent publications.  She has her MS degree from the Columbia University School of Social Work.  In media, her work has garnered her Emmy and Writer’s Guild Best Writing nominations. She is widowed and now living single. For personal advice, you can also find Marnie Macauley on or on Presto Experts. She invites you to join her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. 

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