Office holiday party time is here and again and that means waistline-challenging quantities of food and drink, but also introvert-challenging amounts of small talk. You could use the former to tackle the latter, but in a professional setting that really isn’t advised. So what’s a better way to boost your conversational prowess without visiting the punchbowl for some liquid courage?

For those of us born without the natural gift of gab, help is available. Being a better conversationalist is a skill you can practice and improve, according to experts. If big gatherings like the company holiday get together give you anxiety, prepare before-hand with some strategies to keep the conversation following, they advice.

Get a Conversation Going

If you have a tendency to lurk around hoping for others strike up a conversation, the solution is most likely to keep a fewer openers ready in your back pocket. This means you don’t have to ask your brain to come up with something when it’s feeling nervous in the moment. Business Insider’s Alison Griswald recently rounded up seven from career expert Nicole Williams, including:

  • How did you get into the industry?

  • What's one of your goals for 2014?

  • What's one of your favorite parts of this job?

  • Did you take a vacation this year? Where did you go?

Read the complete post for a little breakdown of when each suggestion is appropriate and variations on the theme.

Keep It Going

For this, there’s a three-word fix all, according to a recent post by Jeremy McCarthy on positive psychology blog The Psychology of  Wellbeing: “Tell Me More.” McCarthy looks at psychological approaches to keeping conversations flowing, and distills them down to this basic phrase.

“Conceptually, ‘tell me more’ is a simpler way of thinking about some of these response strategies that is easy to remember and apply,” he writes before adding, “you don’t have to use the exact phrase,” and suggesting alternatives like:

  • “How did that make you feel?”

  • “What was that like?”

  • “What was the best part?”

  • “How did that happen?” or “What led up to that?”

  • “Now what?” or “What happens next?”

Check out the complete post for much more on the science behind the approach.

Do you have any tricks to keep conversation flowing?