Jan 11, 2024 - Business

Axios Finish Line: How to make the most of your dinner party

Illustration of a hand toasting with a champagne glass that is filled with small speech bubbles.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

On Christmas, my daughter, Sophie, pulled one of my favorite party tricks and asked everyone to share one meaningful thing they learned in 2023.

  • For two hours, two dozen family members — from small kids to grandma — shared things about themselves and others that otherwise might go forever unknown. Rapturous silence gripped the room. Tears and smiles flowed.
  • I told Mike Allen about it, and he did the same parlor game with 20 Allens gathered in New Orleans for their annual New Year's bowl trip. Same result: Everyone was super-honest. Each answer got applause. The kids came up all weekend and said they wanted to make it a new tradition.

Why it matters: This further validates my belief that people want to share, want to go deeper, want to say hard, emotional things. But they often need to be prompted, bluntly.

  • People, opened up, are often more interesting, insightful and thoughtful than you expect — if they allow you in.

The backstory: I hate small talk. It feels phony, like wasted energy. I'm terrible at it. But I love prying into people's lives to better understand what makes them tick.

  • So starting when my (now-college age) kids were quite young, I would keep a list of questions to ask them, their friends and family members to make conversations more real and illuminating. I call them "parlor games."
  • It has stoked some of the best conversations of my life.

Your assignment: Below are some of my favorite questions, all designed to get to more fully know strangers or close friends. You can send me better ones, which we'll share in a future column — and I'll steal myself to avoid awkward silences.

  1. There are 8 billion people on Earth. What's something you do more or better than 99.99% of them? I typically tee this up by saying I eat more egg whites in a week than 99.99% of people. (36 egg whites!) Or, as co-founder of three companies (Politico, Axios, Axios HQ), I have created more jobs than all but .001% of humans. Or Mike writes more published words than — well, maybe anyone!
  2. What's your single biggest fear?
  3. Put humility aside. What is your one greatest strength? Put insecurity aside, what's your one greatest weakness?
  4. If you could do any job, no matter how implausible, based on your skill set, what would it be?
  5. Why are you alive at this moment, in this place? (This is designed to get at meaning-of-life stuff, not logistics!)
  6. If the next five years were a chapter in your biography, what would it be about?
  7. If you died today, what would be your biggest regret?

This column appeared in Axios Finish Line, our nightly newsletter on life, leadership and wellness. Sign up here.

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