CQ: How to Socialize at Events

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© Clare Munn 2008-2011

Some people have a natural look or energy or personality or style to be able to walk into a room and automatically become the honey to the bees. Others fret hours before socializing about so very much: what to wear; what to say; when to arrive; what to talk about; who to go with; who to meet up with; what to drink; how to eat those microscopic snacks without it all going everywhere; and above all how to look interested, even if not necessarily interesting. Well… here are a few pointers which might provide some relief:

1. Why? Remind yourself of the intention that drew you to the event in the first place. Sometimes it’s as black and white as “my boss told me I had to,” but more often than not, many attend of their own free will.

2. Extraverts: Once your intention is apparent, figure out who else you know that’s going.  If one is an extrovert, this will automatically ease your time, and you’ll be less likely left standing on your own pretending to text on your phone.

3. Clothes:  Make sure you understand the attire of the occasion. The rule of thumb is don’t wear holey jeans to a cocktail event. If you are a shy person, you’ll more than likely feel more ‘odd/alone.’

4. Starting a Conversation: I find Americans always ask, “So, what do you do?” before you’ve had a chance to finish saying your surname. In Zimbabwe, this was considered a rather rude thing to ask, especially right away. I find asking, “So, what do you like to do?” is often a softer approach.

5. Business Card Etiquette:  Perhaps don’t shove a business card at someone before they: 1) ask for it; 2) have given theirs to you; 3) at least appear interested. I am sure you don’t like it when someone shoves something unwanted at you. This is pretty much the etiquette, or CQ, for business cards. Now, of course, if your boss has told you, you simply have to meet that particular person. In that case, I’d be so bold to say, “I realize we don’t know one another, and perhaps tonight isn’t the place to have a big conversation about work, but my direct report, Miss/Mr. so and so, wanted to make sure we connected. Would you don’t mind if I give you a business card and drop you an email or call tomorrow?”  This way you’ve made it clear it was a request from your boss and yet you were polite with giving this person some space.

6. Distraction:  If I have felt awkward in a crowd, the first thing I look for are my friends called ‘books.’ I head straight to the bookshelves and immediately feel more comfortable in the company of writers. Ironically, this has attracted many like-minded people to come up and share thoughts about various authors on the shelves, thus immediately starting a conversation about something I feel comfortable or passionate about. Now, if there aren’t any books, obviously artwork is a next best bet. I’ve found staring at plants or flowers doesn’t do much help for looking less odd, so perhaps avoid that; likewise, staring at the food or drink displays might not be a good idea.

7. Laughter:  Showing amusement at a new person’s tale is always a good thing. Huge snorts of uncontrollable donkey sounds don’t always go down well. However, this often happens as a release of nervous energy. I find I am rather attracted to these donkey snorts but I hear 99.9% of crowds are rather alarmed by it, so feel your way on this one.

8. Sharing the Conversation: Often, odd people like myself don’t say a word until a topic we are passionate about comes up and there is simply no stopping us. It’s wise to breathe in these situations and share the stage by inviting others into the conversation. This will naturally and immediately show leadership on your behalf. And CQ is all about sharing with others.

We are all a little odd, and we most certainly have all experienced insecurity at social events at some point in our lives.  It just comes out differently, so ride the wave with grace and curiosity.

Be well.

– c


  1. Carleigh says

    Good point on business cards. I hate when you think you are having a social experience and it quickly becomes clear that the person you are engaging is purely networking. Also good point about heading to the books/art to find a comfort zone. I will try that next time. (though at cocktail events I find heading to the bar to be my first stop!)

  2. Kristin Luebke says

    I much prefer your idea of asking what someone likes to do. What a way to ease into a conversation, thanks for sharing.

  3. says

    You made me laugh and also taught me a few tricks.

    Ironically I find that being a listener first and a talker second is a wonderful way to engage with strangers.

    Odd as it may seem, many people are unsure of how to act when in strange company. When they discover someone new who is prepared to listen they latch on and encourage group discussion.

    But don’t worry, you don’t have to be a listener for the whole occasion.
    Once you’ve got them hooked in you’re in the driving seat..

    • clare says

      I love to laugh and know I’ve helped made someone else giggle. I have no doubt you do the same. Enjoy. And thank you for taking the time to read and comment. C

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