How to work your Christmas party like a pro
I’ve never been part of a big gang. I’ve picked up friends throughout my life – this one from school, that one from college, another from a job I used to do. The result of this ill-conceived friend-acquisition strategy is that I have an automatic dislike of parties. I know that I will walk into the room, and the only face I will recognise will be the belle or beau of the ball. What lies ahead of me is an evening of making an effort, which feels like hard work compared to a night in front of the telly.
Of course, it is an option to turn down every such invitation. But although my automatic reflex is to make up some excuse, I often have a good time at these events and rarely go home at the end of the evening wishing I’d stayed at home. So, how do you work a party without making it hard work? Don’t leave it to chance. Have a game-plan:
1. Take a friend
Bringing a buddy to a party can help, especially if you have a strategy for meeting people. Avoid forming your own little clique by taking turns to muscle in on conversations (a simple ‘Could we join you?’ is acceptable).
You can also introduce each other, rather than having to introduce yourselves. It’s easier to say: ‘Suzy used to sing in a band,’ than: ‘I used to sing in a band.’
2. Channel a more gregarious person
I’m a believer in being your authentic self, but sometimes you need to find a part of yourself that’s more suited to the party scene. Channelling someone who’d be great at that party can help.
I typically channel Kirstie Allsopp or Nigella Lawson (one for daytime, one for evening – I leave it to you to work out which is which!). Picture how they’d behave, how they’d get involved in conversations, what questions they’d ask. You’ll still be you, just with a slightly different mind-set.
3. Don’t try to be too clever
A few years ago, I went to a party with a friend who turned out to be a brilliant guest. She was very skilled at starting conversations. While I felt self-conscious about small talk (‘So, what do you do?’ and ‘How do you know the hostess?’), she was happy to reel off these standard questions. I realised I was trying too hard to be too clever by avoiding the tried-and-tested openers.
4. Be curious
As a coach, I ask a lot of questions. After a coaching session, the client will often tell me how much they’ve enjoyed our conversation. But it wasn’t really a conversation – they talked, I listened and asked a few questions. But it felt great to them! People like to talk about themselves when someone seems genuinely interested – and most people are full of fascinating stories, opinions and dreams. Don’t pressure yourself to be the life and soul of the party. Instead, ask questions, sit back and listen.
5. Party USA date-style
As we know from movies, American ‘dates’ are different to English ones, and one aspect is that it’s normal to ask random, light-hearted questions, such as: ‘Who’s your favourite superhero of all time?’, ‘What are your top three music tracks?’, or ‘If you could live anywhere, where would it be?’. These questions are also great to have in your toolbox at parties. If talk about the kids’ A-levels is sending you into a stupor, these kinds of questions can liven things up.
6. Go home
No one expects you to stay all evening and be the last to leave. When you’re done, say your thank yous and go home.
Having a game plan helps, whatever the situation. Parties are no different. And you never know, you may end up enjoying yourself!