I'll say something like, "Tell me three things about your company, and I'll guess what company it is." Or, "What's that you're drinking? Wait—let me guess." Get people into the spirit. Depending on the party, you might be even more daring. Say, "My friend and I are having a disagreement, so I'm taking a poll. Do you think kissing is cheating?" Small talk should be playful—like a game of tennis, not a job interview. And if you do need to get away, say you need to make a phone call. This is a better option than the buffet bye-bye, where you back away to get something to eat, or excusing yourself to go to the bathroom. With a phone call, people won't follow you. It's more believable if you give details. "Oh, my gosh, it's 8:10. I'm so sorry. I forgot to call my husband. I'll be back in a sec." In a crowded party, you're allowed to say you'll be back in a second and not come back—that is, unless you offered to bring the person a drink. Then you have to.
—Jeanne Martinet, author of The Art of Mingling. She lives in New York.