Here’s the thing. It’s Christmas, the end of year and it’s party season. There are work dos, partner’s work dos, club social events, school prize givings, awards events and holiday parties.
Some people love a party. Any party. They’re the ones responsible for noise control turning up in the wee hours long after most guests have left. Some dread socialising and go along wearing metaphorical running shoes for a quick exit at the first discomfort.
To the question: “I am sometimes nervous at parties when meeting new people. Yes or no?” there are few brave souls that would give an outright no.
Of course there are degrees, and if you are on the “very nervous meeting new people” or “moderately nervous meeting new people” end of the scale, there are ways to make socialising easier.
Here are some ideas to turn party anxiety into party anticipation.
Not earlier than invited, but there are advantages in being among the first group to arrive. The host is more likely to be available to greet you and introduce you around, other guests will start a conversation with you, the noise is lower and there is more room to move.
Anticipate likely guests
Picture likely guests in your mind and say their name in your head before you arrive. And try to remember a couple of things going on in their lives so you can ask about the new job, or how the trip went.
Greet people by name, even if you don’t know them well (don’t worry if they don’t remember yours, they will next time).
When you are introduced to someone, repeat their name back and say it again in your head a couple of times. Make a habit of looking at faces and repeating names in your head.
If you have forgotten someone’s name and you are with a friend – get the friend to introduce themselves and you can counter with – sorry! I thought you knew each other!
Names are a biggie at social occasions – everyone likes to feel remembered – and it makes you instantly likeable.
Walk around the space
When you arrive, you don’t need to hook into the first group by the door.
Take a bit of time to get your bearings. Walk around the space, check out where you feel most comfortable – away from the noise or close to the music? With your back to the room or watching the guests arrive? Outside?
Know your options.
Read the room dynamics
Most standing parties start with clusters of four or five people early in the evening, and break down to twos and threes later on. It’s quite easy to sit on the edge of a large group, but you will have a better time if you do engage in conversation, one on one, with at least a couple of people. Listen out in the general discussion for topics you are interested in, and be aware of the shifting patterns so when the groups break down, the interesting person is at your elbow so you can casually strike up a conversation, following on from the earlier topic.
If you’re on the outside of a group where everyone knows each other it’s very hard to break in, the stories will get more insular as socialising goes on. Best move on early to a group that looks slightly less bonded.
Some people like raucous stories, hoots of laughter, lots of alcohol and antics – don’t feel that has to be you. If you’re the one that’s found a quiet seat out of the fray that’s fine. You’ll find less raucous people will join you there.
If you want to engage but don’t know how, ask the host if you can help take the platters around, show people where to put coats and bags, etc. Having a role is a great ice breaker.
Don’t worry about small talk. It was invented to smooth introductions. Have a couple of openers in your armoury – a breaking news story, a comment about the venue.
The best trick to small talk is – be nice! Say complimentary things about your hosts and guests, be friendly. People tend to attribute the adjectives you use to your personality, so chatting about an intriguing house, a refreshing idea, a thought-provoking week, a mellow musician will be more engaging than bland statements about the weather.
But small talk is a conversation opener, not a conversation. Don’t feel you have to keep it rolling. You might find you’re next to someone who is happy to stand quietly and watch the room or listen to the music without chat. And that’s a pleasant way to pass an evening.
When you’re ready to leave
You turned up. You smiled. You chatted to a few people.
If there is a specific point to the party –speeches or supper – it might be rude to leave early. But when you’re ready to go home, thank the host and leave. You don’t need to make excuses. Some people rave until the bitter end, some leave before the party really kicks off. Be yourself.
If you know you can leave, without embarrassment, whenever you want, you will enjoy the event much more.
Send a thank you text or call. Always.
Happy Party Season!