Easy conversation starters and survival tips for those who are dreading this most social of seasons.
With invites for parties pouring in, the social set—who revel in mingling at shindigs—are in luck. But for those who struggle to chat up family, friends and strangers with ease, shmoozin' around the Christmas tree comes hand in hand with anxiety, discomfort and the desire to be home with your significant other watching your favourite festive flick. Thankfully, there are coping strategies to carry you through those fêtes without breaking a sweat. Here are some top tips for navigating holiday soirées with grace and confidence. You might even enjoy yourself!
COPING AT THE ANNUAL PARTY
Hate to break it to you, but this one's a must-attend. Your best bet is to look at this as another duty of your job. It's totally OK to show up late and take off soon, but there are advantages to arriving early: The crowd and activity will be less intense, which will make it easier to have conversations. If you're desperate to bail, say you have a previous commitment, which is perfectly believable during the busy holiday season. But make sure you get face time with your manager to thank him or her for having you, then slip out.
•What are your plans for the holidays? Are you travelling?
•What projects are you looking forward to working on next year?
•What do you enjoy doing when you're not at the office?
WELCOMING EXTRA GUESTS AT FRIENDS-MAS
So your friends have invited plus-ones to your traditionally intimate holiday gathering. Try to adopt the "any friend of Jane is a friend of mine" attitude, if only for one night. Truth is, the plus-ones are probably feeling out of place among all the girlfriends, so be inclusive. Bring new folks into the mix by chatting about favourite movies, restaurants and books, but keep inside jokes and gossip out of it.
•Do you make New Year's resolutions? What are they?
•What was your favourite part of the past year?
•What movie did you last watch? Was it any good?&bsp;
•Tell us your hidden talent!
•What job would you be terrible at?
DEALING WITH A DREADED FAMILY DINNER GUEST
There's always that relative (judgmental cousin, passive-aggressive sister-in-law, nosy uncle) who makes these gatherings, well, taxing. Before you duck out due to a phoney headache, put the dinner into context—it's just a couple of hours, and making the effort to attend will mean a lot to someone you love (your parents, partner, children). When you need a break, take one: Seek asylum in the restroom, go outside to collect your thoughts or spend a bit of time playing with the kids.
•What's the best adventure you have ever been on?
•What were your favourite holiday traditions growing up?
•Tell me about a book that has had a huge influence on you.
BEING A PLUS-ONE WHERE YOU DON'T KNOW ANYBODY
You may not think that you'll know other guests, but odds are you've at least heard about a few of the partygoers from the person you're accompanying. Take advantage of the opportunity to match faces with names and the stories you've been told, and ask your significant other to introduce you to some of those guests. Worst-case scenario: You end up surrounded by a bunch of strangers—but that's easy. Remember: People love to talk about themselves, so ask questions (nothing too personal or prying) and you can't go wrong.
•What new apps have changed your life this year?
•What are you obsessed with at the moment?
•What are your favourite things to do to relax?
Dress for the occasion
Not sure about the dress code? Ask your host what he or she will be wearing and take your cue from there.
Volunteer to help
Take photos, hang coats, pour drinks—pick something that gives you the chance to interact with guests without the stress of awkward small talk.
Find a group with uneven numbers
This is who you should approach if you don’t have anyone to talk to. Odds are those in the bunch are having a less intimate conversation than people in groups who have gravitated into duos.
When it’s time to leave the conversation, make a comment about the topic, say the person’s name, shake hands and move on. Try, "I really enjoyed hearing about your vacation plans, Chris. Have a great trip! Enjoy the rest of the evening."
Never be the last one to leave
Stay for as long as you're enjoying yourself, but plan your exit once others start leaving. Only those who are driving folks home or helping the host clean up should be left when the party wraps.