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How to Navigate a Party

Gracious greeting and graceful eating―when you can’t afford to make a bad impression.

By Sarah Humphreys
Colored balloonsTara Donne
It's a party for 500, replete with flaming torches and fondues. You know two of the guests. And so you spend the next few hours shaky-legged and knee-deep in monosyllabic small talk, desperately trying to dip but not drip.

"It's normal to be apprehensive at cocktail parties," says Geralyn Lederman, Ph.D., of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. "We're afraid of being judged, and that's exactly what's happening." Here's help.


You are required to hold a drink, clutch a purse, shake hands, reach for food, be charming and savvy, and even gesticulate. Piece of cake.

What to Do With Your Hands

You have only two, but here's a party-tested strategy:
  • Hold your cocktail in your left hand. Wrap a napkin around the glass and wipe off your right hand after eating an hors d'oeuvre.
  • Use your right hand for (alternately) shaking and eating. People will be greeted with a warm, dry, clean handshake.
  • Sling your handbag over your left shoulder. Or, better yet, carry a featherlight bag and hang it from your left arm or wrist.
  • Stand next to a table. If there's one nearby, you can ignore all the above rules.  

What to Talk About

Awkward silences aren't common during small soirees with friends, but at company holiday parties, they're as regular as red sweaters. Here's how to break the ice:
  • Discuss current events. "We used to worry about what we were going to talk about, what we had in common," says Susan RoAne, author of How to Work a Room. "Now there's a new national dialogue."
  • Ask "How are you? How is your family doing?"
  • Have an introduction planned. Stick out your hand, offer your name, and state your relationship to the host or event. Most likely, the other person will mirror you.
  • Start conversations about the food. There's nothing easier.
Read More About:Food & Recipes

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