Friday, February 10, 2017

How to be the belle of the party







Reader Elizabeth wrote to me:

How do we stay and feel chic when we're in a social situation which is awkward? I am about to go to a large 50th party with lots of people, most of whom know each other very well, and most of whom are acquaintances of mine rather than close friends. They're perfectly nice people but I will feel an outsider and dread getting into those dead-end conversations where I know someone wants to get away (and so do I to be honest!) but I feel awkward when I survey the room full of other people having a jolly time and I don't feel I can break in to their conversations…. How can I maintain my chic-ness in that situation??

Aah, Elizabeth, I hear you.  As an introvert I can easily wish for these types of events to not exist at all so that I can simply stay at home every night with a book.  Alas, that’s not going to happen, and I do realise I sound quite anti-social right now!

So let’s find out how to make the most of a situation.

My first thought was to treat this party as a kind of acting role.  I find doing something like this kicks my creative brain into gear and shuts up the whining ‘Do I have to go?’ side of me.

Instead of dreading the party, I will enjoy it.  I will focus on meeting new people and having interesting questions up my sleeve.  I will eat and drink elegantly!

Imagine how royals feel when they go to a big event.  Do you think they might prepare?  I do.

Firstly, if you can get someone talking about themselves, they will love you, because you know how people like to talk about themselves.  I do, it feels good!  Something that I have to remember is that it’s not too personal to ask questions – people enjoy answering them and it gives you a different angle rather than just ‘how’s that weather, huh?’

I’ve had some excellent conversations with people at parties just because I’ve asked a question I’m a bit nervous of.  It might be a serious illness or difficult time they have had.  People are happy that you care.

When I am asked questions, I try not to let the answer drone on for hours.  Sometimes it does happen though, so when I realise I’m doing that, I cut myself instantly with ‘But enough of that boring old stuff, what about you?’ and you can link that question into the conversation.

I actually love that tack:  it sounds very well-mannered to deflect a question you don’t want to answer with ‘Oh, that would bore you to tears, let’s talk about something more interesting’ or ‘Too dull for words, let’s talk about you’ if someone asks what I did that day.

You may find yourself with someone who doesn’t know they are starting to drone on and on.  What to do?  It’s a bit cheeky, but I like to throw in a completely unrelated question.  If they are getting long-winded on an uninteresting topic, I’ll ask ‘Have you been away over summer/winter?’ or ‘Do you have any holidays planned?’ in a gap (hopefully there is one).  The vacation question is an excellent standby.

Channel yourself as Jackie Kennedy or some other excellent conversationalist that you have heard of.  Play your part and you will find that not only do you have more fun because you have taken the focus off yourself and your nervousness, but people will rave about you to their friends.

They have found you to be fabulous company because you listened well.  This works particularly well if you are introverted because you might find it uncomfortable talking about yourself.  You might worry about coming across too unexciting because of your quiet life.  You might like your privacy too much.

Be effusive in your praise and exclaim in delight at every revelation you hear.  A friend of my husband’s is loved by everyone because he is a crazy-high positive person.  Everything is wonderful and whatever you are doing is amazing.  He almost comes across as comical but it’s just how he is naturally.  I channel some of his energy when I need to lift my socialising game.

Just listen, ask questions and be excited.  That’s the secret!

I’d love to hear other angles too, because you guys are the best.  What would you say to Elizabeth if she asked you the same question at the top of this post?  I’m looking forward to picking up some good tips too!

fiona

PS.  Did you know I have books available on Amazon on Kindle and in paperback.  I write on living a simple, beautiful and abundant life.  My books contains loads of tips on how you can achieve this without spending a lot of money.  Pretty much everything I recommend is F R E E of cost, with an upgrade of mindset through inspiration being the way to go.

You can find my books here.

43 comments:

  1. I agree with all of your thoughts- focus on the other person, ask about their children. I once discovered that the lady I was speaking with was the mother of a famous Olympic athlete that all of you would recognize! Her story was amazing and I only learned because I asked if she had children.

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    1. Wow that's great, I love it when conversations surprise you like that, Sandy.

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  2. A question I like is: How are you related to all of this? (and wave at the party). It allows the person to talk about themselves and lets me know about connections. And then I can ask more pointed questions.

    Listen to the voice. When you hear it go up ever so slightly, it means that this a topic of interest to them. Even if your question is: Can you tell me more about (insert topic here)? ... you are keeping the conversation going by lobbing it back like a tennis ball to their side.

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    1. Great tips, thanks Abby. A similar question is 'how do you know the bride and groom/happy couple/birthday girl' etc.

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  3. Very good tips! I'll be using this at a wedding I will be attending soon.

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  4. Great advice. Standing up straight and smiling projects confidence. And looking at the person you're talking to makes them feel valued. Your suggestions for conversation starters/changers are wonderful.

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    1. So true, confidence comes from our actions too :)

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  5. I love all of these ideas! I recently quit drinking and haven't been to a social event yet so it will be a little strange. I'm shy to begin with and I don't really like to talk about myself so I like these ideas...

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    1. Aah, I remember my first social outing as a non-drinker. I was really nervous but it was actually fine. I got into the swing of things and actually felt a little bit 'happy' myself later on even though I'd had no alcohol! People didn't even notice because I had a champagne flute with sparkling grape juice in it. Red Bull looks like a golden champagne in the glass so that's a fun hide too, when you feel like something different.

      Have a great time at your event, you'll be fine :)

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  6. I lived in a boarding house and small talk is something I got good at there. While you could eat your meal in solitude if you wished, the dining room had long tables and if you were sitting there you generally joined in the chat.
    Don't underestimate simple opening questions. "What brings you to our area?" was a good lead, because they might be studying at the nearby university or working in town or visiting for a conference, and that gave you somewhere to go.
    Picture the conversation as a tennis match- it would be very boring if you simply shot points over and over. You want to volley the conversation back and forth.
    Also, find your conversation point and don't be afraid to use it. I'm from Alaska, and people want to tell you about how their second cousin's girlfriend's mother took a cruise there but they also want to ask questions. I once found myself at a party where everyone else had diametrically different political views, and I spent a LOT of time talking about moose in order to avoid an unpleasant confrontation.

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    1. You're a star, Aurora, such good ideas in your comment! Thank you :)

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  7. Oh my goodness, it's so long since I went to any kind of social event, donkey's years in fact. But when husband and I did go, we would try and mix with people and generally enjoy conversations with them. I think my situation is slightly different from Elizabeth's and some others here as I have been with my husband as girlfriend, fiancée and wife for 55 years (tomorrow, in fact!) and therefore have never attended a party on my own in my life! We have always been together at social events - except for one, a silver wedding BBQ years ago when he was away on business in Germany and I attended on my own, but I knew the people attending, so that was fine - and therefore we've always had each other as support in social situations. But yes, play a role if you are on your own, you are elegant, chic, and interesting.
    However, I would add to take a little care with the "children" question as the person mightn't have been able to have children and then there might be an awkward silence ... but you could ask "do you have family living close by?" if they are older as that could be taken to mean siblings OR children; and if they are younger people, you could ask if they have lived in the area for long?
    I am sure you will enjoy the social event, Elizabeth, if you take Fiona's excellent advice.
    Margaret P

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    1. Loved Abby's advice, must watch for that and Margaret P makes an excellent point about children. Am very careful about that question these days, it can cause unintended distress. Thank you both. I had to go to a conference recently where I really didn't know a soul and I was expected to network for my employer. Work thinks I thrive on that - which I have to if I want to keep doing what I love and growing in my field. Introverted, shy and bookish is more the reality. I decided that there were probably others dreading that awkwardness as much as me and it was my job to make them feel comfortable. It worked surprisingly well and meeting all these lovely people was mostly enjoyable. It was really eye opening at how a shift of your energy and a willingness to be friendly attracts people and makes the conversation flow. It was revolutionary how conversation became effortless. Kindness always wins. Hope these tips help you Elizabeth.

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    2. I agree 100% with Margaret about avoiding "Do you have children" questions. My husband of 36 years and I are childless, and often when new people have asked about kids, my "No" reply was either met with awkward silence or verbal fumbling, leaving it to me to rescue the conversation, or cheeky "So...why not?" or When are you...?" queries. When I would reply we are childless by choice, I was often met with: "Oh, you poor thing, I feel so sorry for you...", or even, "I think that's unnatural,not to mention selfish." It may be hard to believe, but I heard the latter response many, many times. I can only imagine how dreadful and painful such encounters are for people who long for a family but have not been able to conceive.

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    3. Anonymous, I'm so sorry you've had to deal with people being rude about whether or not you have children. I don't think I've ever asked that question in conversation.

      Actually, I admire people who know they don't want children. And you're right, it would be a horribly insensitive encounter for someone who is trying to conceive.

      D.

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    4. Margaret, happy wedding anniversary for tomorrow! A winter bride!

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    5. Oh, I didn't make it all that clear, Fiona ... it's the anniversary of our first date, not our wedding anniversary, which is in October (53 years in Oct) ... I consider the day we met as our most important anniversary, tee-hee! We are not going out to celebrate, it's far too cold to venture out unless we actually have to!
      Margaret P

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    6. I know the date I met my husband too, and I agree that this is the most meaningful anniversary. Hope you had a lovely day :)

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    7. Anonymous, I've heard people make the kind of comments you're talking about ("Oh, you're so selfish not to want children. . .") and I think it's incredibly rude. I can't believe how some people behave.
      I think asking about children is a delicate question because one of my children has passed away. When I am asked about my children, I talk about the one lovely daughter I'm fortunate to have, and about her child. I don't say anything about my son . . . and that makes me feel very sad. But I don't want to get into a conversation about his life and death with a stranger, so I don't speak about him. I act as if I only ever had one child. And I hate that! Please, dear readers of Fiona's wonderful blog, don't ask strangers about their children at a party.

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    8. I'm sad to hear that you lost a child, Karen. I lost a brother and I very rarely talk about him to people for the exact reason you say.

      I have never thought to ask people if they have children, probably because I don't have them myself. Quite regularly I am asked in small-talk if I have kids and I say No with a big smile. They don't really know where to go after that!

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  8. I love all of your practicable tips, Fiona! Merci!

    Being prepared with a list of questions on 5-6 topics I'd like to learn more about from anyone is how I help myself enjoy more of these social gatherings. Topics I keep in mind when having a conversation are travel, hobbies, films/sports/books, pets/animals, life advice/wisdom and jokes. I can ask "What do you enjoy doing during your free time?" or "Do you have any upcoming travel plans?" or "Have you watched any good films lately?" for example. I wrote them down on a card and would place the card in my purse and have it with me at social gatherings. No one has to know that I just re-read my list of questions in the restroom, though I do have most of my questions remembered by now. Also, reviewing what I have read/watched/listened to/visited/played in the past few months prior to a gathering helps me remember what I can share with other people as well. There were many instances where someone would ask me what I have done recently and my mind went semi-blank, and could think of nothing but work! I move through many fun and interesting things relatively quickly and without reflection, I tend to forget big and small details of my life, especially if I am already feeling a tad nervous for being in a social gathering with mostly strangers and acquaintances.

    All of the conversation questions other commenters have shared thus far are such gems; I shall add them to my "Conversation Questions" file! No one is born a good conversationalist. It is a muscle that becomes stronger the more one exercises it.

    As to getting away from a conversation, perhaps say "I'm going to get a drink/something to eat, would you like to come?" and hope that the other person says no and you can move on. Excusing yourself for the restroom might work too. Author Keith Ferrazzi suggested something assertive and honest that he believes people generally understand and appreciate - "There are so many wonderful people here tonight; I'd feel remiss if I didn't at least try to get to know a few more of them. Would you excuse me for a second?"

    My method might seem premeditated and "forced" but I see small talks and conversations as a school subject that requires proper studying. This is what works for me and I most definitely have more fun now that I am more prepared.

    Hope these ideas help and good luck, Elizabeth! Try not to take yourself or the gathering too seriously, which I used to do. If you are going to be there anyway, why not have as much fun as you can? :)

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    1. As a writer I used to interview people and the best way to get a conversation going is to ask questions that don't result with a simple Yes/No reply. For instance, "Have you seen a good film recently?" might get the response "No" so that would kill that opening gambit right away, but instead ask "I wonder, if we were Hollywood stars what we'd wear on the red carpet ... if I had her figure, I'd love to be in Givenchy such as Audrey Hepburn used to wear (or if the person you are speaking to is far younger, pick a younger star and designer!), what about you, whom would you choose ...?" Of course, this would be directed at a woman, but to a chap you could ask if he drives and if he could choose right now to change his car, and money was no option, what might be the car of his dreams ...?
      I think Natalie T has some excellent advice here.
      Margaret P

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    2. I love your card-in-the-purse idea, because some of us do get stage fright and forget all our polite questions when we enter a room. 'Deer in the headlights' is the look. I love your idea for getting something to eat - excellent segue :)

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    3. Natalie, you are so right, no one is born a good conversationalist. Remember Elizabeth Bennet telling Darcy he should take the trouble to practice talking to strangers?! You've made some great suggestions for practicing this useful skill . . . thank you!

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    4. Glad to be of help and thank you for all of your kind words. :)

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  9. Thank you for all these tips. I am also an introvert so it's hard for me to start a conversation. But now I have some new things to try from you lovely folks.

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    1. Maybe there should be a separate introvert area at any party so we can all gather there with our books to read in companionable silence.

      I'd be a starter :) Leave the small talk to all the extroverts.

      Wait, did I say that all out loud?

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    2. Ha ha, I love it Fiona! I'll be there too :)

      D.

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    3. D, it's BYO book or Kindle (or knitting) :)

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  10. I am always the awkward one at parties too but these are all excellent pointers as are the tips from the commenters. Thank you so much. It will help me in future. I do have one good tip that I have found useful, I ask them what do they like to do when they are not doing what they have to do? This brings up trips and hobbies and travel to watch Olympic sons! and avoids the paid work quandary. I have found amazing co-incidences by talking. At a little B&B in Scotland, I started talking to an elderly couple and it turned out that they were related to my parent-in-laws' best friend, AND they always stayed with my in-laws when they came to Canberra to visit her!! Very small world, but they would have remained anonymous featureless faces passed in the night. I wonder how many other connections we miss because we don't talk to strangers! One of the saddest things about going to funerals, apart from the obvious, is finding out many things or connections that you had in common that you didn't realize and you then yean to talk to the person about them, but it is too late. :(

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    1. So true, you learn a lot about a person that you might not have known before you went to their funeral - even family members. It is sad.

      I do love your question though, Melissa; it is inspired :)

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  11. Great answer to a great question, Fiona. As you already know, I love being in a cave and for those occasions I choose to attend, I still do get this immense anxiety and overwhelm. I survive by prepping myself the day or days before by resting... And depending on who I am going to meet, I may do a little research so that I have
    "clever" questions to ask and helpful information to share. Very often, like you, Fiona, I ask about travel plans. I know it sounds a lot of work and alittle like a control freak, but I like being prepared. I even give myself ample time to look good before the
    event. Being prepared gives me confidence. And sometimes, when I just want an instant de~stress, I just have a shot of my chosen poison. I take a deep breath, smile and channel being my favourite Princess. "What will she do/behave/feel?" Thank you for this question, Elizabeth. I am sure you will dazzle at all social situations.

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    1. Thank you, Princess; 'what would she do?' is one of my favourite techniques.

      You crack me up with your words 'love being in a cave', 'shot of my chosen poison'. Hehe, I love your sense of humour :)

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  12. Hi Fiona, just subscribed and received your 21 chic list. So nice! Loved it. Thanks for that. Looking forward to following you.

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    1. That's great, Gill. Thank you so much :)

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  13. So much good advice and useful tips, in both your column and all of the comments. I'm relieved to read that others feel anxious about social gatherings. I never used to but have in recent years.

    Fiona - I liked your suggestions of the introverts being allowed to sit quietly in their own area. Brilliant ! Sometimes I get more joy from people watching than I do from conversing. After three years of a mystery chronic illness that left me constantly tired, small talk with strangers was often too much for me and I would find myself declining most social invitations as a result. I'm now recovering (thank goodness) but still enjoy people watching, especially in large public areas.

    Thank you for another wonderful and thought provoking posting :)

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    1. Lara, it will be the Introvert's Nook perhaps. At my favourite 5-star hotel in Auckland that we go to maybe once a year for a night, there is a Contemplation Corner in the spa which is by the rooftop pool. It's so peaceful and lovely in there :)

      People watching is such fun, especially when they are glamorous and stylish!

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  14. 'Contemplation Corner'. I love it :)

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  15. Dear Everyone - thank you all SO much for all your suggestions - and thank you Fiona for putting the question in the first place! Everything you've all said makes complete sense and has given me plenty of strategies for the upcoming party; it's just possible that I might actually enjoy it! I will keep you posted, let you know which worked best - youknow, I am actually looking forward to it now!! Best wishes Elizabeth.

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    1. Yay, Elizabeth, glad to help! Please come back and leave a comment with how you did after the party - have fun :)

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Merci for your comment. Wishing you a chic day!

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