Essential skills for the modern world

Get practising

We might not be at war, but there is certainly a Blitz spirit in the air. The collapse of much of the global economy is unifying the nation in a way we haven't seen since the days of ration books – or at least the last World Cup. People who usually have nothing in common are bonding over falling house-prices, imminent redundancy and the demise of Woolies.

While this should be celebrated – a spot of social levelling being the silver lining on a very dark cloud, perhaps – it brings with it a new problem: how to talk about this hot topic.

Know the key players

You wouldn't go to a football match without knowing who the star striker is, so brush up on the big names of the financial crisis. Don't bother learning all the names in the Treasury, just get a basic grasp of who's who, and throw in the odd anecdote. From Alistair Darling joking that the banking crisis nearly turned his eyebrows white, to the fact that the tall, dark, handsome-ish BBC Business Editor Robert Peston is now regarded as credit-crunch crumpet, a little levity goes a long way.

Learn the lingo

No one wants to give away their ignorance by mangling the jargon, and in the internet age there is no excuse for not knowing the difference between a bear and a bull market – that is what Google was invented for.

Hedge your bets

Don't lay all the blame at any one door. Condemning "greedy banks" or Gordon Brown's mismanagement of the economy might get a murmur of approval from your peers, but anyone worth their salt will know that the situation is more complicated than that, so think in shades of grey, rather than black or white.

Strike the right note

You might wake up to the apocalyptic tones of John Humphrys on the Today programme, but that is no reason to adopt such a melodramatic posture yourself. Modesty and circumspection are important when giving your opinions on the state of the economy, especially if they are ill-informed. Your listener will think that it is feigned, but you'll know that it is genuine and the only proper way to talk about something about which you know nothing.

Accept that no one really understands banking

There are people who have been married to bankers for years who have no idea what their spouses do all day. Only in the past year has business news has moved from the inside of newspapers to the front. If by some cruel twist of fate you do find yourself talking to a Professor of Economics, acknowledge that you are out of your depth and bring up Strictly Come Dancing. There's more than one way to unify a nation.