Wedding small talk doesn't have to be torture

Diana Rossetti

Small talk is a big deal to Don Gabor. For 28 years, he has earned a living in interpersonal communications, helping the dumbstruck and the tongue-tied overcome their social challenges.

Though thousands have practiced pointers from his best-seller, "How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends," Gabor has some specific tips for those who are guests at a wedding reception.

Prepare yourself

His first advice to a nervous guest-to-be is to obtain a copy of the wedding guest list.

"I really encourage that. If there's someone on it you haven't seen in a while, you'll have time to decide what you want to ask that person, " Gabor said. "By starting that way, targeting people you know, you can more easily begin a conversation. Instead of idly standing there, you can contribute."

Prepare a mental list of non-controversial topics to discuss with people you meet there, he suggested. Keep them light, fun and upbeat.

"And don't be afraid to tell others what your interests are and what you're involved in. It gives others some indication of areas of interest that you can discuss," Gabor advised.

"If another guest asks how you know the bride, that's perfectly OK. Give a brief explanation and go beyond that, asking them in turn how they know either the bride or groom. It's good to follow with another question so you don't get stuck, get flustered and start trashing the groom's haircut," he said. "When you ask a question, it helps you quickly find common interests. And, though I'm not saying guests go there to network for business, again, you never know who you could be talking to."

Sometimes family members get too casual at receptions and that, Gabor contends, can leave bitter memories all around.

"The idea is that people go to weddings to have a good time. The problem is sometimes that good etiquette and good common sense are just as important as bringing the right gift," he said. "Some relatives tend to think that those manners aren't necessary because of the relationship."

Be aware

Worse yet, just as there is a bride's side and a groom's side at the church, mingling reception guests may not realize to whom they're exchanging pleasantries or opinions.

The typical, most common and egregious conversational faux pas, he noted, is criticizing what the bride is wearing or making a snide remark about the likelihood of the marriage's success.

"People don't think first when they are in a different situation. They may have these thoughts. I'm not saying they shouldn't. But they need to have something else planned to talk about to avoid putting their foot in their mouth," Gabor said. "You never know whom you might be talking to. Ten seconds of thoughtlessness can ruin a friendship and rain on the parade."

If you remember nothing else, he stressed, leave politics, negative news stories and personal problems at home.

"These are practical rules you could use anywhere but the reason they're more important at a wedding is that people are trying so hard to make this event so special," Gabor said. "The role of the guests is to be gracious."

Reach Diana Rossetti at (330) 580-8322 or e-mail

10 things not to say to other wedding guests

1. "I hope this marriage lasts longer than his or her last one."

2. "If you ask me, they're making a big mistake."

3. "This will be the happiest day of their lives."

4. "His/her ex was a lot better looking and had more money too."

5. "This food isn't as good as the food at the last wedding I went to."

6. "I hate cheap champagne. Oh, well, beggars can't be choosers."

7. "I bet this wedding and reception cost a bundle. How can they afford it?"

8. "I wonder if she is, well, you know...."

9. "When it comes to choosing a spouse, he/she could have done better."

10. "No doubt about it, she/he married him/her for the money."