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Be the Life of the Party

Improve your social graces -- by being yourself!

We've all got at least one socialite in our circle. You know the type. They're always personable but never obnoxious, know just what to say even in awkward moments yet never monopolize conversation. It's the kind of person everyone wants on their guest list -- because he or she has a talent for making things run smoothly and ensuring that everyone has a good time. Think those people come from a different stock than most of us ordinarily interesting types? It's not brain surgery and it doesn't take a fearless, extroverted personality. In fact being the life of the party is probably easier than you think. After all, it's just about being the best at being yourself -- something for which you're uniquely qualified.

There's no more important skill when it comes to people, yet we all could stand to learn to be better listeners. Watch that you're not just waiting to chime in; take the time to really absorb what is being said. The secret to good listening is curiosity. If you want to know what comes next, if you're honestly invested in the experiences, wisdom and experiences of those around you, active listening will naturally follow. If you can find a way to be engaged, you may find yourself fascinated when you least expect it. Often it's those with whom we can't relate who are most interesting -- they're the ones who can teach us the most about people and how they work.

Also, let people know you are receptive to their point of view. Eye contact is a great indicator of your connection, as is validation. Make it a point to repeat what was said now and then, give feedback when appropriate. Just be careful not to change the subject; honest feedback gives the speaker a point to clarify or jump off of; intrusive comments have a way of launching into self-absorbed monologues.

The most active way to engage people isn't putting on a show or spewing wildly entertaining anecdotes. It's asking questions that put those around you at ease and bring out their best selves.

Choose topics that involve those in earshot (you should know a little something about them because you've been asking and listening). When you don't know someone, you're really pretty limited to the superficial: where are you from, how do you know so-an-so, where did you get that remarkable necklace? But the answers to these will give you clues into more personal, engaging questions. If you're good at asking thought-provoking questions, it won't be long before you're engaged in an honest, stimulating conversation. And you needn't be limited to personal history. Books, movies, current events and common interests are all safe but evocative subjects. While you're busy bringing out the best in those around you, keep two caveats to keep in mind. Don't let your curiosity turn into an interrogation; at some point you'll want to relate to her responses. And when in doubt, avoid the personal. If you sense your new friend skirting the question, change the subject.

Escape gracefully
When you're busy making all that engaging contact, you're bound to be caught in a conversation or two longer than you'd like. Or maybe you just want to make sure you mingle with as many people as you can. It's important that you don't leave people feeling rejected; that's sure to make your conversation attempts look disingenuous. Politely excuse yourself with another destination: "I heard the view from the balcony is amazing. I'm going to go check it out." Or, "I'm headed to the kitchen. Does anyone want a drink?" It's much easier to stop by with a beverage and leave gracefully later. Of course, if you still can't shake unwanted company -- maybe a persistent suitor -- phone calls and restroom breaks make for excellent solitary exits.

Consider your audience
In any social situation, you're bound to be faced with questions. Before you answer, consider the source. Some people are honestly curious about your experiences; others want opinions to spark new conversation (or controversy). And still other are merely being polite. You don't want to launch into your favorite lengthy anecdote only to find you've lost your audience mid-way. Neither do you want to come off as aloof when you have a chance to make a real connection other. Watch the eyes and body language of those around you -- you'd be surprised how much they'll reveal about their intentions -- and use what you know to protect you from an awkward situation. A friend on the opposite side of the political spectrum is unlikely to appreciate your views, but if she's always game for lively debate a little controversy may be exactly what's in order. And of course, be sensitive to politically incorrect subjects. You know very little about your company's private lives, so it's best to play it safe when I comes to sensitive subjects.

When we're feeling awkward or even clumsy, tension and self-consciousness is usually the culprit. Even the most socially graceful of folk can fall victim to kind of awareness-of-self that makes for an uncomfortable evening. Try to acknowledge your stressors; then put them out of your mind for the evening. A little deep breathing doesn't hurt either. And while you can't will yourself to feel confident, you can surround yourself with a few thought that disband baseless insecurities. The people around you (probably your friends and your friends' friends) are here to enjoy themselves and to meet interesting people like you. They are already willing to believe you're funny, intelligent, thoughtful and engaging (if they don't already know for sure), and they might even be a little nervous as well. While you're bound to make an impression on people as you ask questions, listen carefully and connect with your audience, no one is as aware of you as you are. Relax; have fun. It's supposed to be a party!


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