Practical Advice for Talking to People at Parties…by an Introvert for Introverts

Over the next couple of months, there’s a good chance you have some holiday functions coming up. On my end, I have at least 4 work-related functions (both my own and my husband’s), extra church events, at least 3 friends’ holiday parties, and a lot of extra family time between now and New Year’s. That is A LOT of talking to people…a lot of talking to people I don’t know or rarely see. As an introvert, all that talking to people can be challenging. Having to talk to people at parties doesn’t just happen during the holidays – there are events all year long. The holidays are just concentrated. So, what are you to do? Thankfully for all of us introverts (and maybe some extroverts), there are some tips for talking to people at parties.

As a researching, nerdy introvert who wants desperately doesn’t want to be the awkward one at the party and who has also participated (voluntarily and forced) in networking how-to’s, I’ve read and heard a bunch of advice. For example, ‘make a plan to talk to 5 people!’. That might work for some people, but it’s never worked for me. Instead, here are some pieces of advice to help you navigate your next party by identifying people, starting the conversation, and then getting out of it.

Party Conversation

Thankfully, this conversation went a lot better than it looks. I just don’t have many (any) better photos of me talking to someone at a party.

Meet People Instead of Standing Awkwardly On Your Own

If you’re an introvert or you don’t know anybody, it can be difficult to meet someone. Here are 3 ways to meet someone:

  • Channel your inner midwestern friendly. Coming from the midwestern US, being friendly is in my DNA. Even as an introvert, I can (and have) struck up conversations with complete strangers at the post office, the grocery store, elevators, airports…you name a place, I have probably started talking to someone there. It all starts with, “Hi, my name is….”
  • Stalk the food table (or bar) if you want. If there’s a delicious buffet, I give you permission to stand next to it. There will probably be other people who think the food is delicious and you can bond with them over the delicious food. Yes, I do this at one Christmas party in particular where they have the most amazing buffet and have had several nice conversations about the plentiful shrimp or the incredible chocolate eclairs.
  • Look for someone else standing off by themself. While you stand awkwardly around the room looking at other people, look for other people who are also standing around awkwardly. Chances are that they are somewhat uncomfortable too and would appreciate a friend so that they aren’t the loner standing along a wall or in the corner.

Starting the Conversation

Once you’ve said, “Hi, my name is…”, it can be hard to get the conversation going. Here are 3 ways to start talking that will hopefully not feel as painful as small talk:

  • Ask the other person what they do for fun. As an introvert, this puts the focus on the other person. As a bonus social tip, not everyone likes their job, so not everyone wants to answer the question, “What do you do?” Instead, everyone has something that they enjoy doing and would much prefer to talk about that. You could easily end up in a conversation about their kids, their pets, their jobs, how they’ve run 20 marathons, their sewing projects, the pursuit to make the best mac and cheese, their favorite historical novels, that they make movie prop replicas in their spare time, went on a clowning trip to Peru with Patch Adams, or the amazing places they’ve traveled (yes, all real conversations). If the other person does have kids, they might say that they don’t do anything for fun. If this happens, ask them what they used to do before they had kids or what they might enjoy doing if they had a free evening. Or, ask them about their kids – people love to talk about their kids.
  • Pretend that you’re on a date and trying to learn as much about them as possible. You know how, when you’re on a date, you ask all kinds of questions trying to get to know the other person? Do that, just dial it down a little. Make decent eye contact, but don’t stare them down. Ask questions, but try not to interrogate them (may take practice). And, just as when you’re on a date trying to figure out if this is someone you want to know better, be genuinely interested in what they have to say.
  • Compliment the other person on something/anything. If you’re really struggling with something to say, compliment the other person on something. It could be anything like “I love your necklace!” or “Your blue earrings look great on you!” (this is a good one if the item isn’t your style, but it looks good on them) or “That takes skill to balance a tiny plate with a wine glass!” or “Good job sidestepping that person who was about to run you over!” See? You don’t have to compliment someone just on their looks – you can compliment them on their ability to do something.

Ending the Conversation

You successfully started a conversation! And you kept it up for awhile! But, like any good introvert, you can only handle so much, so how in the world do you end a conversation? Now, ending a conversation is its own special skill. I’m still working on it, but here are a few ways that I use to finish a conversation:

  • Get a new drink/more food. At a lull in the conversation, glance at your drink and say something like, “It’s been great talking to you about [insert conversation topic]. Hey, I need to freshen up my drink/get some more of that delicious shrimp. Do you mind? Thanks!” And walk off. Note: this only works if your drink really is empty. You may have to finish your drink or the last 3 pieces of shrimp before you can say this, but try not to be too obvious about chugging the rest of your drink or eating the shrimp on your plate.
  • Go to the bathroom. Who can say no if you say that you need to find the restroom? One way to do this is to say, “I’ve really enjoyed talking to you, but do you know where the bathroom is?” They will ideally point you in the direction of the bathroom and you can escape. Yes, you can ask this even if you already know where the bathroom is. If they don’t know where the bathroom is, tell them it’s okay and you’ll find it. Once you leave, try not to strike up a conversation with someone else right away.
  • Introduce them to someone else you know and gracefully back out of the conversation. If you happen to know someone else at the party OR you spot someone else by themselves, bring them into it. Use your body language to open up a space and/or ask them for their input on something (“What do you think about this?”). This will help the other person out by including them and as soon as they are part of the conversation, you can say something like, “Excuse me, I’m going to leave you 2 to continue this conversation/get a new drink/get more food/go to the bathroom.” And then you’re out.

Go Forth and Have Fun!

Talking to people at parties can be challenging for us introverts. Small talk can be painful for pretty much anyone and holiday season is full of opportunities for small talk. Hopefully, future events don’t have to be so hard. Don’t spend entire evenings on the outside looking in. Use the above tips to strike up meaningful conversations and enjoy yourself! If you use these tips, please come back and let us know how they work for you. If you have additional tips, please share below! More information is always better 🙂

One thought on “Practical Advice for Talking to People at Parties…by an Introvert for Introverts

  1. Pingback: Happy Thanksgiving: Quick Advice on Surviving Difficult Relatives and Being Grateful | Any Little Way

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