How to Survive a Dinner Party
Save yourself and maybe the evening too
A dinner party can easily feel like a death sentence for those of us who don’t enjoy the art of small talk. Making it through the night can be surprisingly difficult, especially if you end up with a mix of guests who don’t mesh well. Have no fear, GREY has a few tips and tricks to help you survive the night!
1. Give Yourself a Goal
For those of us who are more introverted the act of being outgoing, especially with people you’ve never met, can be hard. If you set a quota for yourself that night it can make something you don’t initially gravitate to seem more like a game. Try to talk to 4 new people in the night, see if you can work your favorite childhood cereal into a conversation, it can be anything as long as it pushes you to meet new people!
2. Set Aside ‘Me Time’ Before and After
Again, if you’re more of an introvert, setting aside some quiet time before and after the party can do wonders. The time before the party will help you psyche yourself up and get ready. You can even use this time to read up on the big topics in today’s news so you feel better prepared in case it comes up in conversation. The time after is for you to decompress. It’ll probably be late, so focus on doing things that relax you. Stretch, pet your dog, sit down with a good book, etc. A dinner party can be exhausting, so make sure to take the time to recharge.
3. Case the Joint
This can be handy for a variety of reasons. Knowing the layout can ensure you don’t walk into any closets in an attempt to find the kitchen. It can also make sure you know where the bathroom is. If you ask to use the bathroom within the first 10–15 minutes of arriving you’ll have the route memorized in case you need to find it later. You’ll also have the chance to scope out the rooms on the way to the bathroom. If there’s a quiet study or library, those can also be places you go to collect yourself. Scoping the place out also means you can have multiple escape routes planned in case you need to flee a conversation in a hurry.
4. Bring a Friend
If possible, bring a friend or significant other as a date. This ensures you’ll have at least one person to talk to in case everybody else bores you to tears. Not all parties allow for plus ones, but it never hurts to ask.
5. Have a Good Opening Questions
Starting things on the right foot can go a long way in ensuring your dining partners are interested in talking to you. Open-ended questions can do wonders because they don’t require backstory knowledge of your counterpart. Something like “What’s your day like?” or “What’s been new with you?” is great. Lines like these give you a brief look into what they think is interesting or significant and help guide your conversation.
Other people prefer topics that push people towards the edge a little. This can be fun if you do it right. Bruce Feiler, a writer for the New York Times, says he likes to ask people things like “confess what they’ve done in their lives to prevent them from being nominated to the Supreme Court” or “describe their relationship with fire” (1). These can be interesting jumping off points because it could lead to humorous answers or deep responses. It also runs the risk of making you look a little strange, but that can easily be glossed over as the night progresses.
6. Don’t Lecture
Try to avoid giving long responses. This will discourage actual conversation and your peers may become annoyed at being unable to talk. An actual back and forth is hard to find, but by staying away from seminars you can increase the likelihood of finding a great conversing companion. If your counterpart seems genuinely interested maybe a longer response is warranted, but it shouldn’t be your opening response to the first few rounds of questions.
7. Don’t Be Timid
Being hesitant or timid in your responses will make it harder for people to talk to you. Even if you prefer to be more private, speaking clearly can go a long way in making an impression. A person who doesn’t speak a lot, but answers clearly when asked is more alluring than a person who doesn’t speak much and answers in a small voice. There’s a fine line between being reserved and a scaredy cat.
8. Get a Little Personal
Some people prefer to forge connections by asking more personal questions. This doesn’t mean you can ask about indecent things, rather try to get people to make honest evaluations of themselves and learn from each other. Hollywood hostess and author, Kathy Freston, says she prefers posing queries like “What do you think is the driving force in your life?” or “What do you think is the biggest obstacle you’ve not been able to overcome?” (1). These types of questions push guests to think back on meaningful life experiences and share feelings that may have been missed. When tactics like this work you can end up forging bonds that last outside the dinner party!
9. Create a Reprieve
If none of these tactics seem to be working, create little breaks where you don’t need to talk to anybody. You can offer to help the host set the table or pour the wine. If you need a longer escape, go to one of those hideaways you scoped out earlier for a few minutes. Sometimes you just need to take a deep breath and have a moment for yourself. There’s no shame in doing this, I guarantee everybody at the party will orchestrate some moment alone before the night is up (going to the bathroom, stepping out to smoke, admiring your host’s garden, etc.). You’re hardly a pariah for needing a minute to collect yourself.
10. If All Else Fails, Run For the Hills
The art of a graceful exit is almost more admirable than the art of great conversation. Sometimes parties suck and you know staying longer isn’t going to save your sanity. In situations like this, you need to know when to make a strategic retreat. Find a natural break in the party when you can quietly excuse yourself to the host. This can be after dinner, in the conversation period before people sit down, or between the meal and dessert course.
Make sure to have an excuse at the ready. Your babysitter (or petsitter) needs you to pick the kids up earlier than expected, you need to pick up your friend that’s too drunk to drive from a bar, you’re not feeling well and think it’s better to leave. You can even plan to have a friend call you a pre-arranged time with a fake emergency just in case. If that call comes and you’re not having a good time, you can excuse yourself.
Don’t make a dramatic scene when you leave. The more you overplay it, the faker it’ll seem. Just go to the hostess before quietly and sincerely making your excuse before getting your things. If anybody else asks, apologetically disclose your reason for leaving, but by no means make it a theatrical production. Doing that will ensure that you become the topic of conversation after you leave.
What did you think of our survival guide to a dinner party? Did we miss any tips you’ve found handy? Let us know in the comments below or on social media!