Do you poop out at parties? Are you unpoopular? Lucille Ball posed these questions to a television audience to encourage them to try a healthy tonic that would instantaneously transform them from lifeless dud into life of the party. As the Vitameatavegamin girl, she pitched zest and flair in a bottle. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? If only there was some secret magic potion (and I’m not talking about alcohol or drugs) that could help us feel more comfortable and confident in social situations, particularly at parties.
Surprisingly, parties produce a great deal of social anxiety for many adults. They may become nervous or self-conscious, even embarrassed or painfully shy. They worry about what to wear, making conversation, meeting new people and, for some, the pressure can become unbearable. Often they fear being scrutinized or judged and they would rather avoid the situation altogether than have to worry about showing up and impressing others.
My closest friends know I am always up for a party. I absolutely love celebrations of all kinds. Birthdays, weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, dinner parties, tea parties, Tupperware parties, you name it. Just mention the word party and I am there with bells on. Now, I may love going to parties, but that doesn’t mean that I always feel my most calm, cool and collected. There are more times than I prefer to count where I’ve left the house thinking I was a total rock star only to arrive at my destination and suffer from concerns of inadequacy. I must say, however, that after years of experience as an etiquette instructor, I have learned how to at least squash these feelings the moment they occur and reach for my imaginary manners tool belt to help get me over the hump of fear and into the zone of fun.
Here is a list of tips I find to be extremely useful in adult party situations that not only guarantee a positive impression with others, but also support you in feeling your most fabulous.
Get the Party Started Right. In my opinion, it all begins with dressing for the party. Your attire definitely helps to set the tone, not to mention, that making an effort to dress shows respect to your host. Take into consideration the party attire requirements. Is it a formal party, black tie, informal, casual or costume? Dress appropriately for the occasion and give some thought to the suggested attire beforehand. If it’s a 70’s inspired costume party, embrace it whole-heartedly and break out the platforms and tie-dyed jeans. For a Hawaiian themed wedding, you might choose cheerful bright colors and floral prints. Sticking to the suggested dress code will be one less thing you have to worry about and will certainly help you to blend in.
Forget Your Troubles and Get Happy! Once you’ve made the effort to look the part, you must then act the part. If you have troubles, no problem, just wrap them up and set them on the shelf before you leave the house. Trust me, a little distance will do you good and you can always deal with them upon your return. A party is a happy occasion and therefore it is your duty to turn on the charm and let your mood and attitude reflect the celebration about to take place. Wear a warm and inviting smile on your face to make yourself approachable. Be inclusive, introduce yourself to friends and engage in lively and upbeat conversation. Be open and excited to participate in any activities that are suggested by your host. Tune out the self-conscious noise in your head and throw yourself into an activity. Dancing is the perfect remedy for this.
Never Show Up Empty-Handed. It is a privilege to be invited to a party or celebration of any kind. Remember to acknowledge your host and offer a token of appreciation. Arriving with a gift in hand provides you with something to do when you first reach your destination. For birthdays, a thoughtful gift can include anything from a beautiful bouquet of flowers to a comfy pair of pajamas. For a dinner party, a small plant, a bottle of wine, a homemade food item or chocolates are always welcome. For a wedding, a gift purchased from the couple’s registry is most appreciated. Regardless of your selection, it is of course the sentiment that counts. Just be sure to keep the recipient in mind when deciding on your gift.
Be Equal Parts Interesting and Interested. You are invited to a party because your host finds you interesting and you may be called upon to entertain in the form of providing witty repartee or fascinating conversation. In order to hold your own on any number of topics, a quick brush up on current events is in order. A few days before the party or event, check out your local newspaper for cultural happenings, go online to scope out other local news and events, even look at the 5-day forecast. Our weather is always a great topic of conversation. Look at how much coverage hurricane Irene is receiving! Remember a conversation is a two-way street. Don’t be a conversation hog. The key is to be equal parts interesting and interested in others.
Step Out of Your Comfort Zone. Making conversation at a party where you only know the host is exceptionally terrifying for a number of people. How in the world do you walk up to a perfect stranger and initiate small talk? Well, here are two easy tips. The first, is to pay someone a compliment. Approach a person you’d like to meet and comment on something basic such as their hair, their shoes, the color of their nail polish or the pattern of their tie. Keep it friendly, not familiar. This will be like music to their ears and will automatically put a smile on their face. The second tip is to ask someone a question. A great opener is to ask the person how they know the host? Just be sure to be nice, not nosy. People love to talk about themselves and if you ask them a question they will feel you are sincerely interested in them and they will appreciate you for it.
Mix and Mingle Like a Pro. Statistics have shown that only 7% of our communication is verbal and that 38% is focused on our intonation and the sound of our voice. The remaining chunk of communication, a whopping 55%, is devoted purely to body language. What this tells us is that the impression we make on others begins, not when we first open our mouths, but with our posture, our breathing and our movement. When engaged in conversation, it is crucial to be present and give the person you are speaking to your undivided attention. To convey interest and make the other person feel most comfortable, make good eye contact and try to mirror their actions and gestures naturally. To wind down a conversation, slightly adjust your gaze and body language. This is a non-verbal signal that lets the other person know you are getting ready to move on.
Depart Discretely and Thank Your Host. A great deal of effort goes into a party. The last thing you want to do is depart early and set off a domino effect of copycats that will upset your host. At large parties, it is easy to slip out without making mentioning of your departure to your host. This is called the “French leave” and it is perfectly acceptable. For smaller parties, it is critical to thank your host personally for the wonderful time you had prior to departing. This will ensure you are invited again in the future. After the party is completed, a phone call or special note of thanks to your party host shows your gratitude for including you in the celebration.
Do you feel your most confident at parties? Any personal tips you'd care to impart? Any embarrassing moments where you wish you had a party etiquette tool to grab on to? Share with us. We'd love to hear from you!