Would rather not be a wallflower.
June 27, 2012 3:27 AM   Subscribe

Please give me some strategies on navigation (and perhaps even enjoying) a party where I won't know anyone, and everyone else will know each other.

I'm taking a trip to a different city and my friend has invited me to a party with him and his old school-friends and family members. Basically, everyone there will know everyone else. I always find occasions like this very awkward. Any way I can make this experience enjoyable?

Some additional info:
- I could just not go, that's always an option, but I would rather not chicken out.
- I have asked if I can bring a plus-one, but unfortunately plans with the potential plus-one have fallen through.
- It will be a 'dry' party (no alcohol)
- The only person I will know (my friend, the host) will be running around doing hosty things so I would rather not just stick to him all evening
- I tend to start off as friendly-but-reserved and warm up as I get to know people; I am confident enough but still find the idea of being the only person who doesn't know anyone to be very intimidating.

Thanks MeFites :)
posted by Ziggy500 to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Know how to be the life of the party? Be a good listener. If there are enough people in attendance, there will be a percentage that have interesting things to talk about. Your job is to determine who they are, ask a few questions, and listen.
posted by HuronBob at 3:56 AM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

Oh man, no alcohol. Well, I usually suck in these situations but here's what has worked for me besides alcohol and being a smoker.

Meeting at least one friend/family member beforehand

Commenting on someone's clothing/dog/jewelry/tattoo

I try to keep in mind that although I feel foolish/nervous about introducing myself and starting small talk, I am always extremely greatful when someone does it to me.
posted by KogeLiz at 4:18 AM on June 27, 2012

If there is time, ask your friend for some background on the other guests. Nothing embarrassing but stuff like how he knows each guest or what some of the guests' interests or hobbies are. Try to pick out 6-10 items to ask other guests about like Aunt Jane's souvenir spoons, College Buddy Joe's marathon training. (Depending on how long you've known your friend, you might already know some info about this group of people that you can use too)

Then arm yourself with a few anecdotes about your relationship with your friend (only the appropriate stories of course) and yourself - you & friend met scuba diving, your finishing a degree in RotoSpectral Astrology (or whatever). Keep your own stuff short, because as Huron Bob has already pointed out - the most fascinating person at any party is the one who listens more than they talk.

I'm not a social person so when this happens to me I play a little game where I try to come out of the event having learned something about someone that my friend didn't know - like how Great Uncle Frank almost killed Bob Hope (Frank was a pilot on one of Hope's USO tours and there was this rough landing in Alaska . . . ) or that Cousin-in-law Ellen was a runner up for Miss Virginia in the 70s (the photo is hilarious!)
posted by jaimystery at 4:20 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Non-communicative cues: don't stick close to the host obviously! Initially ask to help the host with some routine task and get there in advance so you get to know where in the kitchen he keeps the peanuts, coffee cups, paper napkins, whatever. It will give you a focus and allow you to relax, people joining will see you're part of the furniture and this helps ease you into the group and indicate without speaking that you are a friend of the host.

Communicative: Its safer to start with a member of my own sex, so a pair of shoes, earrings, sweater that I can comment on positively especially if you can extend the compliment like "Your X are so nice, it's really difficult to find red/blue at this time of year/ or they look antique/retro/handmade ...." and then as Huron Bob says I listen. People like the idea that they are helping you out by telling you where you can find X in red/blue and also welcome an opportunity to break the ice themselves.

The fact that you're from out of town will be the obvious one, so "Hi I'm a friend of John's, I just came in from..... Ommpalumpaville" (round it up to the nearest big town/city they might know especially of there's something interesting about that town city that might occasion their next question to you)

Or, I'm a friend of John's and it's my first time in YourTownVille, awesome x you've got here"
Even if people don't like their town they like even less someone from out of town being negative so if they come back with "That monstrosity!" say "what's the problem?" and allow them to let rip.

Really listen to people, preferably with an open countenance (a friend of mine has real difficulties at parties as when he concentrates he literally glowers at people so we have a signal to indicate this an he lightens up)
posted by Wilder at 4:21 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I disagree. Some people like to talk but even the most confident of ramblers would rather be listened to, if that's all you're offering, by someone they know. If you want to attract/retain attention and conversation of people you don't know, you'd better be prepared to offer something interesting of your own. The good news is, all your stories are fresh, so when people ask you about yourself, shape your responses to include the more interesting possibilities. This doesn't mean spending the night doing a highlights reel... But do be prepared to talk about yourself/your week/your job/your hobbies/interests in a way that has a bit of a sense of narrative. Of course, if you find a talker that you're happy to listen to- good on you. But I would not make this the plan.
posted by jojobobo at 4:25 AM on June 27, 2012

The I disagree is in response to the first answer. A lot of ppl answered in the meantime!
posted by jojobobo at 4:27 AM on June 27, 2012

Fake it until you make it. Approach this party as a way to meet new friends. Have interesting questions to ask people, listen to their answers and then follow up.

Presumably you'll be there to help the host (are you staying with him?), so have your buddy introduce you to one or two other early birds. This way you'll have the host hanging out to prompt conversation along. By the time things heat up, you'll have a couple of folks that you know, who can introduce you around to other people.

Be up front, "It's so good to meet you, I feel so awkward not knowing anyone here except for host, could you introduce me around while he's putting sherbet in the punch?"

If it feels weird or you just don't seem to be clicking, hang out in the kitchen and clean. That's what I do.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:24 AM on June 27, 2012

I think everyone will kind of expect you to be friendly-but-reserved because, well, hell, you don't know them.

But you do have one thing in common with all of them - your friend. You can always fall back on "so how did you first meet [Sid]?" as an icebreaker with any of them. Since they're old school friends, you may end up getting all kinds of great dirt about the time [Sid] let loose a bunch of frogs in the chem lab or something, and that could spur a lot of people to come flooding over to you to tell you all the great stories because you are A New Audience Who Hasn't Already Heard Them A Thousand Times, and then all you'd have to do is listen.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:30 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Since you (and everyone else there) knows the host, ask his old friends for some good-natured silly/slightly embarrassing-type stories about him from high school or whatever.
posted by lalala1234 at 5:44 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is an exercise in Dale Carnegie. View it like a business meeting. Practice your networking skills.

One key thing I would say, consciously go in thinking, I am going to find out about these people. Listen to their stories, ask about their lives. People love to talk about themselves.

Smile. Remember names. Give compliments.

You will do fine.
posted by Flood at 6:11 AM on June 27, 2012

Another idea is to come up with a project and ask lots of people to contribute. Like, since you are from out of town, go around and ask everyone to name their best secret hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Be specific if the area is famous for its barbecue/mexican/seafood/whatever, or branch out to best romantic date spot, or people-watching, or story about the host, etc. You can then mention the previous answers to the next person and start a sort of local rivalry that could then rope people back into the conversation to defend their choices.
posted by CathyG at 6:39 AM on June 27, 2012

I really commend you on attending this party! All it takes is one interesting person to make the event interesting for you. I would stand back for a bit and observe to determine who may be a good match for you to strike up a genuinely interesting conversation with. Dry small talk is worse than death to me, so I wouldn't try to talk to people until you feel truly inspired. It will happen, you may just have to wait a bit and go with the flow.
posted by waving at 7:14 AM on June 27, 2012

Talk about the music. It always works for me.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 7:48 AM on June 27, 2012

The life of the party is never the good listener. (The 'best friend' or 'awesome boyfriend' or 'effective boss' is often a good listener. But life of the party? No.)

That being said, you don't need to be life of the party. You need to just have some fun and not feel awkward and not feel bored. It's a lower standard and easier to attain.

Since you're friends with the host, you'll be there as people arrive. So, when people come in, be like "let me take your coat" or "the mini quiches are delicious" or whatever - you can be the first person the first few people talk to. When there's a little cluster of people forming, plunk your self down in and sit and listen, and when there's a chance, say "hey, sorry you don't know me! i'm blahblah, i'm friends with mr X! Its so good to meet some of his friends!" and then just join the conversation. And then when that conversation ends, you'll already have met three or four or five people, and then later on you can join each of those people in their new conversational groups, and you'll end up with lots of people to talk to!

And if you appear friendly, you'll become the person that other people who don't know anyone (or who are more peripheral to the social group) will come and talk to.
posted by Kololo at 7:53 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with what Kololo said about you being there at the beginning and being able to make little small-talky comments to people as they come in. Try to do that as much as possible and then it is much less awkward to sort of insert yourself into conversations. If you do that, at least you will be somewhat familiar to the other guests.

It's much more awkward to walk in late, after everyone else is there and established, and try to fit in that way.

That said, I think I am fairly socially awkward and introverted and I tend to do the best in this type of situation where I know almost no one. The way I look at it is that since I know no one there, no one will be observing me - if I knew someone at the gathering(other than your friend the host) they would be paying more attention to me just because we know each other. When you're the anonymous stranger no one is really paying attention to you at first...and if they are, who cares? You're the anonymous stranger and might never see them again.
posted by fromageball at 4:32 PM on June 27, 2012

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