Seven Ways to be the Life of Every Party

by Nora Dunn on 3 April 2008 4 comments
Photo: Jesus Solana

Have you ever been to a party where there’s this one person who seems to make it around the room? They flit from group to group, leaving everybody craving more but yet not feeling unsatisfied by the brief chat they had.

 

“Oh _______, aren’t they marvelous?” party-goers croon. “I’d love to get to know them better.”

 

How would you like to be that person? Here are a few tips to help you become the life of every party, without requiring that you step outside of your comfort zone or change your personality.

 

 

Ask Questions

This is the single biggest ticket to making people think you are the most engaging and interesting person in the world. Get them to talk about themselves!

As much as people will feign interest in other party-goers’ lives and stories, the truth is that most people find “number one” to be the most important and fascinating phenomenon. If you continue to ask the right questions to keep them talking, they’ll rarely run out of things to say.

 

And how do you ask the right questions?

 

Listen

Studies have shown over and over again that people engaged in conversation hear only a fraction of what is being said to them because they’re formulating what they want to say next. Communication ultimately breaks down when neither party is actually listening to the other, and all of a sudden nobody remembers what the thread of the conversation was really about. Cue in the “awkward pause”.

 

By listening – really listening – and not worrying about your response to what they are saying, you will inevitably get more than enough information to continue to the conversation. Continue to ask questions based on what they are saying, and keep them talking.

 

Smile

It seems silly, but people will want to talk to somebody who smiles at them. It suggests an openness to communication, and will immediately put them at ease.

 

Make Eye Contact

Looking directly at your conversation partner is important. Make them feel that they are the only person in the room. So even if your chat is brief, they will be made to feel that it was intense and meaningful. If you spend the whole conversation looking past them or keeping an eye on the door to see if somebody more interesting is arriving, the conversation was wasted and your partner’s pride and self-confidence will likely take a hit.

 

Face Your Partner

Body language is 90% of the game, so right along with smiling and maintaining eye contact is squaring off with them. You can take this even further by mirroring their actions. No really. Mirror them. You’ll find that they won’t notice (as long as you’re not mirroring them doing something silly or overt like jumping jacks!), and subconsciously it creates a very deep connection.

 

Take Interest

You do have to have some sort of interest in what your conversational partner is saying in order for the steps above to flow and work. If you cannot bring yourself to take the slightest interest in what they are saying, then it’s time to move on.

 

Know When to Move On

Have you ever been at a party, sucked into a dark corner of the room, and had your ear talked off by somebody? You glance sideways at passers by and other groups, wondering what they’re talking about. Surely they’re engaged in a more interesting conversation than yours. It’s time to move on.

 

There are many ways to politely excuse yourself. The most obvious techniques involve external influences: the need to use the washroom, get a drink, or meet up with somebody you haven’t seen in ages who seems to be looking for you. (“mom? Is that you?”)

And if you are truly cornered by a blabbermouth with no end in sight, then you may have to simply interrupt them to make your escape. Do it nicely, and with a smile, and although the initial interruption may feel abrupt, they’ll understand and soon forget your exit once they corner somebody else.

 

If you want to have lots of conversations and don’t want to run off to the washroom every time you are ready to move on, then the art of working a room comes into play. Although it takes some practice and is an acquired skill, eventually it can become almost natural.

 

A professional networker I once knew said that if you are really trying to work a large room, you should stay in conversation for 2-5 minutes, no longer. I personally don’t find that long enough to generate a real connection with somebody, and would rather speak with fewer people and have more meaningful conversations (mine last 5-10 minutes on average at a large party). It ultimately depends on the type of function you are attending, how many people are there, and how well people know one another.

 

The truth is if you are asking all the questions, you can engineer the conversation to come to an end. Find a way to bring some conclusion to the topic you are discussing, by asking a question that gets your partner to tie up or summarize their situation. Once they have finished answering that question, smile and genuinely express interest in their reply and wish them luck. Say you see somebody else who you need to speak to and you want to catch them before they leave, and express interest in continuing the conversation a little later if you can. (No promises).

 

 

So there you have it. You don’t have to share stories of epic adventure with song and dance in order to be the life of a party. You just have to get other people to do it. They’ll love sharing their stories, and you’ll likely have a great time yourself by virtue of listening to them. You’ll learn a lot, generate awesome connections, make friends, and be “that person” that everybody knows and enjoys talking to.

 

The next time you go to a party, try these techniques. Just try them. Even if it feels a little forced to begin with, you’ll get into the flow and it will be a piece of cake from there on in.

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Guest's picture
az

Very interesting article. My biggest problem is small talk. If I am involved in a subject, and know about a person and their interests, I can chat all day - but with 'strangers' or people I know less of, I can't. I don't know how to strike up a conversation. The whole process just feels completely un-natural.

Now, at work I know what everybody does, and some of their interests - so I can easily bring up things like work, politics or sports.

So, at a party with many people I don't know, I'm a wallflower. How to get started, I need an article about that!

Great site, love it. Thanks!

Guest's picture
sylrayj

I'm not very good with small talk, but it occurs to me that aside from weather and politics, there's always inquiring about how a new friend has come to know the host of the party. :) Odds are good that if you're at a party with others, there's going to be some element of commonality, and it's a direct link between you and your new friend.

I think I heard of Wisebread through The Happiness Project, and have to admit that I prefer Wisebread. It's good to meet you!

Guest's picture
Looby

@ AZ if you want to start a conversation, pick something that they are wearing and compliment them on it, or bring up a recent news topic (not politics!), or if nothing else the weather!
Seriously the easiest way to learn to start conversations is to keep doing it.
I am painfully shy but always force myself to do this for at least awhile at every social event I attend. Sometimes the attempts at conversation fall flat, and sometimes I think back and feel like I have said something stupid after I walk away. But in general most people are polite enough to chat with you.
Also I have heard through friends and colleagues that the opinion that these strangers have of me after these events is that I am friendly, not odd or stupid or weird. So it's worth it.
Great article Nora!

Guest's picture
Guest

A friend told me that when he is invited to a party he makes a point of watching Jay Leno and taping Letterman (here they are on at the same time, so he watches one and tapes the other) the night before. Leno's show is laid out so the good stuff is over in the first 20 minutes, then Jay has his first guest come out. Letterman's is laid out differently but that's what the fast forward button is for.

With both shows fresh in his mind he has something to use as raw material for any conversation....
"Did you see Leno's pice on the car he's having rebuilt? It's the last Stanley Steamer left..." for the techie type...

or "Did you see Letterman's top ten list last night on how to save gas? I really don't think I want to car pool to the local WalMart or Costco..."

Anyway, for the time it takes to start the VCR for Letterman, and 20-25 minutes to watch the beginning of Leno, you can have some useful raw material.