How to Actually Enjoy a Party (tips from Vanessa Van Edwards’ Captivate)

He’s a young guy, 23 or 24. His name is Michael. He just graduated college and he’s starting to go to real parties. Like, no Natty Ice. No. Like the parties where there are cute little cupcakes and napkins.

This party is overwhelming for him. He’s stepped into the home of his boss. He wearing an ill-fitting sport coat and khakis. It’s much bigger than the place he lives and, it’s honestly a bit intimidating to him.

But, he came because he knows it’s probably a good opportunity to get to know his coworkers better and maybe gain some better understanding of what makes them tick.

He’s a pretty friendly guy. And in the right setting, he gets along well.

Michael came alone, and the moment he walks in he feels isolated. Everyone is paired off in couples. There are lots of people already talking. Michael thinks, “maybe it’s already too late and the good conversations are halfway over.”

Whether you relate to Michael or not, would you like some tips about how to work a room that aren’t ambiguous or inauthentic?

I recently wrapped up Vanessa Van Edwards’ Captivate. The book is an excellent quick read on how to engage people. And there’s a nice section on working rooms. I’m going to run through her advice here.

It’s quite a good read and does a nice job of packing a ton of practical tips into a very readable book that’s still fun.  Vanessa is a fun personality and is super relatable as an author.

Rules for working a party

Pick your battles

Know in what types of situations you thrive and what types of events don’t interest you. What events do you enjoy? Try focusing on these. You’ll always be a more effective communicator when you’re having a good time.

Along with this comes the fact that you’ll need to be able to say no to things. If you don’t want to do something, let your invitee know that you’re flattered, but that this type event is not a priority at this time for you. There’s no need to single out their event. Just let them know you’ve made a blanket decision not to make this type of thing a priority at this time.

The party “map”

Vanessa is the first I’ve ever seen to practically identify the best places in a room to meet people.

Avoid the food table. You’ll just get in the way of people who want to eat, not talk.

Avoid the bathroom area. It’s creepy to hang out there.

Avoid the entry area. People there are still getting accustomed to being at the party. They are also often still making their obligatory hello’s to the hosts and guests of honor.

The golden zone? Right near the drinks and the eating area. This is where people have settled in and are now ready to mingle. This is a crucial space to wait and allow people to come to you. I’ve personally tried this method at a few events and was really surprised at how well it works. Most people at parties are there to meet people to, you just have to be in the right place to make it easy for them.

Whether it’s alcoholic or not, people are more comfortable with a drink. (from Wikipedia)

First Impression Body Language

Vanessa found in her social science research lab that people are much friendlier and interested when you make hand gestures as you meet someone. This is probably due to the fact that it’s disarming and friendly. It signals that you’re willing to lead the interaction and that you’re socially confident enough to feel comfortable expressing yourself.

Shaking hands is almost always appropriate. This sort of goes without saying I think. But, it’s a tried and true way of offering a gesture of peace, comfort, and friendliness to a new person.

The best level of eye contact is 60-70%. More is creepy, less is weak. People who use 60-70% eye contact in their interactions come off as more attentive, friendlier, and less dangerous.

Pro Baseball Hero Ted Williams and astronaut John Glenn using friendly hand posturing (from Wikipedia)

Conversation Starters

A few conversation starters can help you be interesting and also make others’ feel like they have permission to share something about themselves.

  • What was the highlight of your day?  (I like it because it’s specific, concrete, and shows concern/interest beyond the ornery.)
  • What personal passion project are you working on? (give someone a lot of leeway to discuss something they are passionate about.)
  • Have anything exciting coming up? (Probably the same as above but might work better for folks you think may not have “projects.”)

It’s always good to focus on asking specific and unique questions that show you really want a personal answer beyond the generic “oh, pretty good.” In our age, you have to create a conversation starter that really creates a space for this to happen.

These are some quick tips that can make parties or “networking” events a bit more enjoyable. I find that having trusty rules of engagement for these types of things makes them much more inviting and even a bit of a game.

This book I got these from, Vanessa Van Edwards’ Captivate, was good. If you want the deep dive into this stuff, its worth a read.

Do you have any tips like this?