Okay Gracious Girls, with holiday parties in full swing and New Year’s parties on the horizon, here are a few manners that will be as useful as your favorite little black dress.
Arrive in Fashion!
Being “fashionably late” is a longstanding trend that’s becoming later and later. Keep your host or hostess in mind as you plan your “late” arrival. Your host has built an arrival window into the event schedule. However, if you arrive after that window has closed, your arrival will be as out of style as stirrup pants.
In her book Entertaining, Kate Spade (pg. 52) had a few words on the topic:
Time is more elastic when it comes to late arrivals at cocktail parties, but when invited to someone’s home for dinner…
keep in mind this timetable:
15 minutes — No questions asked
30 minutes — Expect a raised eyebrow or two
45 minutes — You’re fumbling at the goal line
60 minutes — Consider yourself benched for the season and apologize profusely
Accessorize with Conversation
The key to connecting at social or professional events is your ability to engage others in conversation. Remember that you’re there to meet and greet, not meet and eat! A hostess always hopes her guests will connect and enjoy themselves. While it’s her job to work the room, you can lend a hand by being a savvy guest.
Introduce yourself. Extend your hand and say your first and last name.
Ask questions. Taking the time to connect with others through questions will help you establish a personal connection. This is how relationships begin. Keep your ears open for networking opportunities—you never know when you’ll meet someone with whom you can partner professionally.
Try out different questions until you come up with your favorites. Open-ended questions work well, because they require more than a yes or no answer. Once you find questions that will lead to a comfortable discussion, keep them tucked away for your next meeting and greeting opportunity.
Have a listening ear. Your well-rehearsed questions will be a waste of everyone’s time if you don’t pay attention to the response. Listening is one of the most gracious gifts you can give, and not just during the holiday season! Committing to memory the answers you receive and storing the information away for the future make a great impression. Your conversation partner will be pleased you remembered and continuing your dialogue will be that much simpler.
Okay, that’s awkward! We’ve all had moments when somone leads with an awkward statement, like these that some close friends recently encountered, “I’m getting a divorce” or “I just got a neti pot!” For the sake of gracious living, it’s important to know that there is a difference in engaging and responding. It’s okay to respond then steer the conversation in another direction with statments such as “Wow, a neti pot, good for you.” or “I’m so sorry to hear that.” (pause) gently change the subject. Engaging in such a conversation simply isn’t appropriate for a cocktail / holiday party because they aren’t conversations that others can easily enter into. Keeping the conversation light, informative, and engaging is the priority! If it’s a situation where you know the person, it may be a gracious effort to say, “It sounds like you’re going through a hard time. Let’s schedule a lunch date so I can hear more about it!”
Work Your Party Shoes
When attending a party, put those hot little party shoes to the test and work the entire room. Don’t make the mistake of camping out at the food table—you’ll miss the opportunity to meet and greet!
Have a direction. As a general rule of thumb, work the room counter-clockwise. Continue to move to the right as you go. However, this doesn’t mean that if there’s someone to your left you’d like to talk to, you have to ignore her—you’re there to socialize!
Stay small. Lunch dates are for involved conversations; cocktail and dinner parties are for small talk. Remember the five party talk conversation taboos—age, income, sex, religion, and politics. Also, don’t spend too much time on your personal anecdotes, even if you think they’re funny or meaningful. It’s hard to truly socialize when you’re monopolizing the conversation.
Keep moving. Don’t hole up with one person and catch up on the last five years in the corner. If you find someone you need to spend quality time with, arrange a lunch or coffee date with her.
Introduce yourself, ask questions, and listen. These party accessories will ensure you will always be invited back, year after year.
Depart in Style
Remember to say goodbye.
If you need to get back to your children at a certain time, don’t plan to leave two minutes before you need to be home. Give yourself and your hostess plenty of time for goodbyes. Take time to say a brief goodbye to those you have met and connected with during the party. Make the time to find the hostess to thank her. When you build in that extra time, you won’t feel the temptation to interrupt while she’s in the middle of a conversation.
Follow through with thanks. Do send a thank you note after the party. Remember that well-written notes are more than a piece of paper—they’re a gift to your host. The best written notes include a greeting to the host, a kind word or two about the party (i.e., the food or décor), and something you admire about the host. Close with an expression of gratitude for being included. For more ideas, see the samples in the tools section.