Hey everybody, it's that time of year again. Many of us are going to holiday events and attending social events. For many people, the idea of going to these things can be hard. Most of the time you find that you don't know most of the people at the event and it can be awkward. So we want to help you make the best out of those social engagements so you have a good time.
Have you ever realized how much non-talking is done while engaging in small talk? Trying to avoid work, politics, religion, or looking like a weirdo is hard to do! So how do you navigate the social events in your life while trying to cope with the horrors of small talk? We have a few tips to help with that and how to make those of you with social anxiety step away from the food and get into the conversations.
Introverts know to plan ahead!
The Work Holiday Party – How to have a good time.
I'm not sure how this happened, but at some point in my life we started living this life where we are invited to corporate parties and social obligations. This is the hub of small talk and trying not to look bored.
Each year, my husband and I attend his work holiday party. For several hours I’ll stand at his side and listen as he talks about work, introduces me to people that I likely won’t remember ever again, and try not to complain about my uncomfortable shoes.
But recently we’ve discovered a new way to enjoy ourselves and I’m actually looking forward to it this year.
We start by getting a nice hotel room and making it a short getaway. Most of the work holiday parties are held in hotels or in entertaining event areas. Some of his holiday parties have been in museums, beautiful locations, and even this year, a train station! So we head downtown to the hotel and check-in like newlyweds on holiday.
We take this time to go out for a nice dinner before the party, but nothing too heavy. Too much food and I’d rather be home in my jammies than in heels for the rest of the night. But we do treat ourselves to something nice to set the evening up. We also do this because often the food at the parties isn’t the best. And since we are vegetarian, the party food isn’t targeted towards people with a limited diet. But we know to save room for some of the appetizers later and the dessert!
We take an Uber to the event since we want to be able to enjoy a few drinks without the worry of the drive back to the hotel.
Don’t overdo the open bar!
I’m not sure what it is about an open bar and a work party, but every year we see people who just don’t know their limits. And we are talking about older adults, not college kids at a frat party! So while it might be tempting to take advantage of the free booze, this isn’t the best plan for anyone.
I’ve seen wives of co-workers start fights on the dance floor with strangers and throwing punches at husbands who quietly beg their wives to stop twerking and leave with them. Drinking isn’t always the best way to deal with boring work talk.
Enjoy a glass of wine or a beer with a co-worker, just don’t feel pressured to drink and know when to set it down and walk away.
What should I say?
Typically most conversations can go smoothly with having prepared answers to the standard questions. “What do you do? Do you have children? Where do you live?” But just as crucial to having good answers are having questions of your own.
Start with simple things that you are actually interested in. “We love DC. There is such a vibrant food scene here. Have you tried any of the restaurants?” This can be swapped with museums, locations, ect. in the area that interest you.
We love to go to concerts, so challenging my introvert self to talk about something like recent live shows actually is the best way to get me out of my discomfort and talking with strangers. So I like to ask “What music do you like? Have you seen ____ in concert? We recently saw Kevin Griffin at Annapolis last month and it was great. “
Try not to dominate conversations. Leave a pause and read the conversation. Allow stories to be interrupted.
What to talk about when you don't know people.
One of the hardest things about going to social events is knowing what to talk about when you don't know the people you are chatting with. This is when the dreaded small talk rises up.
Starting with introducing yourself to the group is the best way to make sure everyone knows your name. So many times, we have people from my husband's company walk up to us and start talking, but neither of us have any idea who they are or their names.
My advice is to have three topics to talk about. Did you just move? Perhaps you are looking for new restaurants in the area, maybe you are looking to decorate your house and need furniture store advice. Anything to ask the other person what they think and can talk to you about.
Try to make eye contact and give a friendly greeting when someone comes to speak with you. It's okay to just listen and learn something new in a conversation. Forcing yourself to talk about things you aren't interested in or don't know anything about always goes wrong.
Ask a funny question. “What's your theme song? Who is your favorite actor or author? What's the song that always gets you on the dance floor?”
Even though it might be more comfortable to reach for your phone to avoid eye contact or uncomfortable conversations, that’s not the reason you came to the event. So reach down deep for your curiosity about learning new things and ask questions that teach you a little something about that other person.
Don’t be the interrogator. Asking too many questions or inappropriate questions might make your new friend uncomfortable. So stick with light questions. Try asking what they do for fun if they travel, ask about their trip, or even ask more profound questions like “Where are you from, and is that your hometown?” People like to talk about the place they call home and why they like it.
How to recognize when the conversation is over.
Sometimes the conversation can be short, or even needs to be made shorter. Recognize the cues that the group or person is giving that it might be time to move on.
Sometimes people will look at their phones, look around the room, or even start to get fidgety while you are speaking. This is when it’s time to switch conversations or to excuse yourself to move on.
Stay until it’s not fun anymore.
The one thing that we have learned to agree on is that once the party isn’t any fun anymore, it’s time to dip out graciously and do something else.
Sure, we try to make our way through the room and be friendly with co-workers and partners. We have quick conversations about introducing ourselves and if we are walking into a conversation we listen for a while and add what we can lightly. But making a quiet exit is as simple as saying “Have a good night” and quietly moving to the next area.
However, we don’t stay all night if we aren’t having a good time. In fact, we give ourselves permission to stay just until it’s not fun. Then we head back to the hotel or to something else that we have lined up.
Social Interactions can be fun, but it's okay to end the night early.
You made it through the night, turned small talk into great conversations, and now it's time to leave. Don't worry about who is leaving first or who will care. Enjoy the fact that you had a great time. Smile and say good-bye to those people you enjoyed talking with. I tend to wave politely and head towards the door.
I hope this helps. And if it did, please leave me a comment and let me know! I would love to hear from you and learn from what worked for you.
Have an awesome day,
Last Year's party at the Building Museum in DC