How to shoot the breeze with ease

Here's the silver lining in the storm cloud that tried to dampen (or drown) our holiday spirit this month — it gave us something to talk about at parties. But what to do when you run out of chit-chat about the weather? We'll pause here for an awkward silence.

To avoid such faux pas during the season of social anxiety — so merry, yet scary — we chatted up Melissa Wadsworth, Seattle-based author of "Small Talk Savvy: Operator's Manual." Consider these helpful hints our gift to you. Happy holidays!

Don't be a Debbie Downer: "It's the season to be lighthearted. No Scrooge-like mumbling that you don't know anybody at the party. Take a festive attitude. No serious topics." Sample dialogue don't: "By the way, it's official ... I can't have children!" Wah-wah.

So, how about that Tom Brady?: "It's a great time of year to be talking football. Ask someone their top picks for the Super Bowl." Bonus points for wondering aloud why Gisele Bündchen doesn't make Tom Brady get a haircut. Seriously, dude.

Dress the part: "Wear something that makes you feel good, or wear something that people can compliment you on." Or take the opposite approach: Ugly reindeer sweaters are a surefire conversation starter; just look at what it did for Bridget Jones.

Give the gift of your attention: "You know how it is when you go to a party and it doesn't seem like people are paying attention? There's a lot going on. Remind yourself that your presence is a gift." We prefer adopting Brian Williams' "SNL" sketch as a personal mantra: "You're a winner and I love you."

Lay off the buffet table: "Don't make yourself an ornament at the bar or the buffet. You don't want to be planted in any single place. You can start there, though, because it gives you something to do." If becoming intimately acquainted with the chocolates and pastries is wrong, then we don't want to be right.

Make a graceful exit: Acceptable excuses to leave a conversation (i.e. take back the gift of your attention): "I'm going to refill my drink." "I promised myself I would meet three new people tonight." "I need to go find the hostess." Or this standby gem from Romy and Michele: "I cut my foot before, and my shoe is filling up with blood."

And finally, be sincere: "Holiday parties are one of your last opportunities to be really nice for the year. We can all extend ourselves a little more than we usually would, to someone who might be lonely."

Pamela Sitt: 206-464-2376 or