Denise Drysdale: “I’m terrible at small talk!”

The Aussie star shares tips on how to keep the conversation going when there's not much to say.
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Believe it or not, I am terrible at small talk. When I’m at a party, regardless of whether or not I’m hosting, I spend the entire time circulating. 

It’s not because I’m working the room, but usually because I’m offering people food so we don’t have to get into a conversation.

I’m much more comfortable with a plate of homemade sausage rolls than having to make polite chitchat.

WATCH: Top tips for small talk. Article continues below.

Speaking Out

It’s not that I don’t like making small talk, but I don’t think I’m very good at it. The truth is, I never learnt how to do it. I was about 40 when a friend told me, “You know you do have to ask people questions and not just talk about yourself!” I know that sounds funny, but I’m glad she gave it to me straight.

I had no idea, and I suppose because of my job, people were always interested in what I’d been up to, so they asked and I just answered.

Teachable Moments

My other problem is that I didn’t have any real-life small talk practise. Weddings, 21st birthday parties – all those awkward events where it’s sink or swim for small talkers. I never got to attend those because I was always working weekends. As a result, I never got off my L plates.

Denise Drysdale standing in kitchen
The star says she often finds herself feeding guests to avoid making conversation. (Credit: New Idea)

Getting Better

Now my skills are better than they used to be, but I still find it tough. It’s definitely a fine art. One thing that always helps is something I heard in acting: “Look, really, look,” and “Listen, really listen”. It’s not complicated, it literally means when you’re talking to a person, look at them, and when they’re speaking, listen to what they’re saying. It sounds simple, but a lot of people still don’t know how to do it.

I was in a shop the other day and I explained to the woman who worked there, “I bought an outfit from here and it was such a hit on stage, I had to come back for another one!” She smiled, and then aftera beat or two asked, “So how did you go with that first outfit you bought?” She definitely wasn’t listening, really listening.

Then there’s the sort of people who push your ‘looking’ and ‘listening’ skills to the edge. You know the sort, you ask them a question and they talk for 10 minutes without drawing breath. That’s around the point where I’ll say, “Have you tried a sausage roll yet? Let me go and get you one…” and walk, really walk, away.

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