Most of us love most things about the holidays. But there are definitely some things we dislike, right? OK, loathe. Fruitcake, top 40 remixes of classic Christmas songs and turtleneck sweaters for starters. If you’re like me, the holiday party ranks right up there.
I’m perfectly fine being in front of a big crowd or alone on a river with my dog, but get me in a room with people I don’t really know and ask me to make small talk…well, you might as well bury me to my head and release a colony of fire ants. Same basic effect. Since my work tends to put me smack dab in the middle of the aforementioned torture (sans ants & sands), I’ve come up with a few strategies to weather the holiday party scene.
1. Be a good listener
We’ve all heard the saying “We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Well, turns out that it’s true and a good rule for parties. When things get uncomfortable, we tend to fill the silence by just blabbing whatever comes to mind, which is usually the latest score, the local weather or worst of all, our political opinions. Unfortunately, not only does this instantly make us look like a dweeb, but it also has the potential of polarizing us because of our views before people have even gotten to know us. It’s crucial to learn to listen before you speak. How do you do that?
2. Ask lots of questions
Dale Carnegie was the master of asking questions. Often, people would be a party with Carnegie and afterwards extol what an amazing conversationalist he was when he actually said very little, if anything, at all. Remember, few things are more fascinating to a person than the sound of his own voice. Ask a lot of questions and you’ll find your ear the one everyone wants to bend. Put together a short list of questions to ask others in the room. Try to go beyond “So, what do you do?” Blah. Try things like, “Where was the most fascinating place you’ve lived?” or “What were the biggest things you learned from your time in ____.” Or maybe “So, where do you see yourself in 10 years?” Dig deeper. You’ll be amazed at what comes out.
3. Learn to tell stories
Storytelling is a bit of a lost art. A few months ago, I was on a fishing trip with a few friends and there was this one guy in the group that just knew how to tell a story. He understood how to set it up, tell it slowly, build to a climax and then BAM…he’d pay it off with a big ending that had us all in stitches. During that trip, I asked my friend how he learned to tell a story like that. He told me that he studied how Johnny Carson and Jimmy Kimmel and David Letterman do it and he just does that same thing. No doubt, humor is the secret weapon of good storytellers. Learn to tell a good story and you’ll have the room wrapped around your words.
4. Give sincere compliments
OK, you can’t fake this but you need to learn to give genuine compliments, especially to the host. Something as simple as commenting with sincere interest on the house, the decor, and most definitely the food. Don’t be afraid to mention a well put together outfit or hairstyle. Just make sure it doesn’t cross the line between a compliment and flirting. Bottom line, bringing out the best in others will make you more attractive and get you back on the invite list for the next party.
5. Offer to help clean up
No one wants to stick around and clean up after other people, but this is one way to endear yourself to the host and just be a good person. Maybe take a few moments to help pick up plates or cups or if you’re at someone’s home, walk into the kitchen and offer to help with dishes. If you’re with family, this should really go without saying. But since we know how things usually go, we’re saying it anyway. Offering to help clean up will let others know that you’re not just focused on yourself.
OK, so the truth is that when I do these things, I actually enjoy the holiday parties and feel more comfortable at them. In fact, often it’s my wife who drags me away. How about you? What tips do you have for being the life of the party?