A few of my friends think I’m an amazing party guest. They love how outgoing I am, how I connect people, how I manage to talk to people I’ve never met before. This used to never happen. Several years ago I read an article (just a random article online; at this point, I have no idea what it was or who wrote it) that made me grok how much a guest’s attitude can affect the host’s and other guests’ perception of the party. From that point on, I made a real effort to improve my party behavior.
In order to learn to be a good party guest, I started reading all the online articles about it that I could find. There are a lot, and some of them did not give practical or, from my point-of-view, good advice (such as, always arrive at the party playing a kazoo). After reading literally hundreds of books and online articles, there were a few things that I came away owning. Things that had resounded with me and that made sense for almost any party situation.
Don’t misunderstand. These things are still not necessarily easy. (Okay. They’re frightfully hard for me.) I actually made a list of them that I printed out and still read before I go to parties. (I didn’t do this before the last party I went to, and I know I wasn’t a great guest. I only spoke with a few people I didn’t know. Sorry li’l sis!)
Which brings me to the first warning sign that you’re a bad party guest.
You only talk to people you already know.
If you know everyone at the party, this doesn’t apply. Usually, though, there are people we don’t know. When you ignore them, even if it’s because you feel shy or tongue-tied around people you don’t know, you can appear stuck-up or sullen. Either way, you’re not being a good guest. Striking up a conversation with someone you don’t know can be tough, but at a party you have an easy opening: ”How do you know the host?” (but use the host’s name).
You don’t introduce anyone to anyone else.
At one of the first parties I attended after doing all this research, I made a point of introducing people to each other. I’d talk to someone early in the party and then, later in the party, introduce them to the person I was talking to then. I didn’t necessarily know either of the two people before the party.
This actually served two great purposes.
- I remembered more about each of the people I introduced to each other than I would have otherwise. I ended up being better about remembering names and about remembering little things about each person that I could use when introducing them to the other person. (“John, this is Emma. You should ask her about the summer she worked as a cliff diver at Casa Bonita.”)
- Several people told me that they appreciated my introducing them to others at the party. Turns out that lots of us feel anxious strangers. People ended up feeling more at ease because they met more people and had more conversations than they might have if I hadn’t introduced them.
You don’t smile.
No one needs you to be Vanna White, holding a smile at all times, but if you move through a party maintaining a neutral/ resting expression, you can come off as not wanting to be there, as tired, or even as angry.
At a party, when you make eye contact with someone, flash them a smile. When you introduce yourself to someone or someone introduces themselves to you, smile. When you introduce people to each other, smile. When you thank the host, smile. If you’re having a hard time curling your lips into a sincere smile, think about something that will help (the most recent kitten meme, the card you got for your birthday, your best friend – whatever works for you).
You act in ways that keep attention focused on you.
This isn’t one that I tend to have a problem with, but I’ve definitely seen this guest. She’s the one dancing on the table top, or remarking loudly, over and over, about how great (terrible) her day was. He’s the one with the look-at-me gimmick (blinking-tie, anyone?) that he keeps pointing out. If this is you, you’re making everything about you. It isn’t.
To be a good party guest, keep your attention focused on other people, rather than turning theirs to you. Try to help the other guests feel comfortable and welcome. Yes, this is the host’s job, but it’s also the guests’ job. Frankly, everyone should be helping everyone else feel comfortable.
You’re the last one to leave.
There’s an annual party I’ve helped host for several years. It’s a big party, and many of our guests look forward to it all year. Some of our guests drive more than 60 miles (each way) to come. We always have space for guests who drink too much and can’t drive home. Maybe that’s why there’s always that one guest (different person each year) who won’t leave. That one guest who thinks that staying well past the time when everyone else has left or gone to sleep is okay. Who thinks staying past, by a lot, the stated end-time of the party doesn’t apply to them.
Don’t be that guest. Yes, the host can kick you out, but don’t make them. If the party has an end time, respect it. If it doesn’t, but the party is breaking up, that’s your cue to leave. If you’re having a stellar conversation with another guest and you just don’t want to end it, suggest continuing at a coffee shop or bar, or picking it up over lunch next week (or whatever seems reasonable given the situation). If you’re having a great conversation with the host, let them know you don’t want to overstay, but that you’d like to continue the conversation later (suggest a time to get together).
I get it. You’re having a good time and don’t want to leave. Remember, though, that your host probably put energy into this party before the party even started, and they’ll have stuff to do after the party ends. When you overstay, you cut into their time. Not cool.
A lot of people feel anxious about going to parties. These tips won’t necessarily make the party easier, but, if you follow them, they will keep you from wishing you’d been a better guest.