If you’re an extrovert, party small talk may come naturally. For many of us, it’s not so easy. Actually, far more people than you’d imagine find it difficult: going into a room full of strangers is daunting for most people. It’s not just social events – business networking events are scary but necessary evils for most business people, although not many would ever admit it. Articles on tackling loneliness urge you to go to every party you’re invited to. Easier said than done, eh? Whether you’re going alone or with someone else, the thought of talking to a complete stranger can be terrifying. Even if you know people who’ll be there, lots of us feel we’ve got nothing interesting to say and nothing smart to wear.
Here are six tips for becoming a party success:
6. Have some things to talk about. Before you go, note down a film you’ve just seen; a TV show you found interesting or appalling; a news item you know something about or want to know more about; something daft you did (being able to laugh at yourself is very attractive); someone interesting you met through work (they don’t have to be a bigwig – it could be a colleague or a customer with an unusual hobby or a special talent). This way you’re less likely to find your mind going a complete blank.
Everyone loves a genuine compliment. Don’t flatter, and be careful about flirting
5. Wear a hat – most people don’t, and it will win you compliments. I wouldn’t dream of going to a do with a hat these days.
4. Think of some compliments you can pay other. ‘Love your waistcoat/ jacket/ shoes /earrings/tie.’ If you stick to clothing and accessories, you won’t fall into the booby-trapped field of flirting. Make it genuine, though – people can spot a bogus compliment (aka flattery) and don’t like it. You can compliment the colour (‘what an amazing shade of blue!’ or some detail (‘That’s a very elegant collar’) and so on. You can make the compliment in passing, with a bright smile, not waiting for them to reply, or you can make the compliment an opening sentence, after which you can shake their hand and introduce yourself.
3. Look for someone on their own, and say hello. It’s easy to spot another party-phobe, and if they’re even more shy than you, they’ll be delighted to have you to talk to.
2. Watch for the closed and open groups: a closed group is where two or more people are engaged in a conversation and don’t want to be interrupted. They’ll be standing or sitting facing – and looking at – each other, or in a circle without an obvious opening. Don’t hover, waiting to be let in to the conversation – either they won’t notice you or they’ll pretend not to notice you. Later on they’ll be ready to talk to someone new, so don’t feel rejected if they don’t break off to talk to you immediately. Move on and find a open group: two or more people who are talking casually, and who form a V-shape (if two or three of them) or a horseshoe – a circle with a gap in it. This is unconscious body language, and is inviting someone else to join the conversation. So when you first come in to the room, and each time you need to find another conversation, look for the open groups and ignore the closed ones.
An interesting open group.
1. The best tactic for any party, event, conference, dinner, social or business do: talk about the other person. Get them to tell you what they do, what they’re interested in, what they’re busy with at the moment, their favourite place for holidays, which wine they like… anything that gets them going. Don’t grill them like an inquisitor, but ask casually, and keep it light. Then all you have to do is nod and smile, ask them to tell you more, or explain something they’ve just said. Mention something in the news and ask them what they think it means, or how it will affect the economy, or what it says about modern life… whatever’s appropriate (you’ll have noted the news item at home, before the party, won’t you?). People love talking about themselves, and love being given the chance to do so. At worst, you make them feel good without having to do or say much at all. At best, you can find yourself in the middle of a great conversation, making a new friend. Anyway, you’ll leave them thinking how charming and intelligent you are. Win-win!
One final tip for those awkward moments when you want to get away from someone at a party, either because you’ve run out of things to say, or because they haven’t, and you want to escape. Here’s Will Kintish, who teaches networking skills to business people, explaining the best way to end a conversation at a gathering. Business or social, the tip works just as well for either.
Parties and business events are scary for lots of us. Some people can put on a braver front, that’s all. Use one or all of these tips to reduce your anxiety before, and your nerves during, and leave a wonderful impression of your charm, wit and kindness.