Ignite conversation by planning ahead of time 2 or 3 specific questions and topics of conversation for your guests.

Above you’ll find a picture of “Auntie Betty.” Auntie Betty isn’t our blood auntie, but when she comes to dinner at our home, we feel like she is. She is 89 years old and has lived a very full life. You never have to ask her questions because she’s such a lively conversationalist. Those are exciting meals when Auntie Betty gets going on her old-time stories. It’s fun for us, as adults, and a great way for our kids to increase their listening habits, and have fun at the same time.

Years ago, my husband and I started a habit of going on date nights once a week. Our kids were little so it took some planning getting a babysitter, organizing their meal, and saving the money to go. But it was money and time well spent. We were investing in each other.

Paul would come with 2 or 3 questions. We would engage in conversation centered on these questions, many relating to our lives growing up. We were getting to know each other and building our friendship.

We have found that this tool works well when hosting dinners too, especially with couples we are just getting to know!

Conversation can be a tool, which we use with others to put them at ease. Normally we think that asking the right questions of our guests would be a way of seeing what their interests are, or their unique contribution to the world!

But in one case in particular, Paul asked two wrong questions. Or, maybe the right questions? You be the judge.

Years ago, we had 2 other couples over for dinner. Paul had memorized 2 key questions to ask around the dinner table (one person in particular we did not know very well). Paul asked: What is your college degree? and What is your middle name and where did it come from? Little did we know, the man that one of my best friends was dating vowed that he would never talk about either question in the company of other people. I am not joking! Our friend’s jaw dropped when Paul asked these 2 questions, because she knew that it appeared that it was a set-up. Paul had never discussed this with anyone, not even me, and certainly not our friend. This was so outside the realm of possibility, so unusual, that we think it was actually divine, because it revealed a portion of that man’s nature that was a very bad fit for our friend.

I’ve also learned that listening is so important. But I haven’t always felt this way. I think back to another time we had a dinner party. This was a couple we did not know very well, but we had hopes of changing that. I was astounded by my reaction and hurt feelings that night as the evening came to a close. You see the woman who came with her family did all the talking. And I mean ALL the talking. I couldn’t believe someone could be so self-centered and “me” oriented. Disgusted, I refrained from talking and contented myself to serving. I remember setting the desserts on the table, rather firmly, in my anger.

As I said, I did learn from this night. It was a moment of truth. I learned to be ultra-sensitive when dining with others, to be ultra-sensitive to asking questions about their lives and their ideas. We also learned from this evening that Paul should have interjected and steered the conversation into another direction!

Many people don’t even have to think about conversation when hosting a meal. Sometimes guests—like Auntie Betty—are easy to host! But for the Reluctant Entertainer, conversation can be part of their reluctance.

Here is one question for your next meal, to liven up your conversation:

Who, in your years of growing up, was the most influential in your life, and why?

(Abby serving cheesecake during a meal with Auntie Betty and Hoppi)