The shy person's guide to large parties

Guestpost by Beretta Fleur on Mar 29th

Lonely © by lilongd, used under Creative Commons license.

Large parties are rife with what I call "fringe friends" — strangers, distant family, or people you don't know intimately. You might get invited to (or asked to organize) a wedding, reunion, baby shower, barbecue, work function, or camping trip. If you're shy, this can be a source of anxiety instead of fun. Large parties prove difficult for those who are shy, and are a true challenge for the introverted host.

I'm quite introverted, yet I just hosted my father-in-law's birthday party for about 20 strangers, ages 4 to 70. Last year, I hosted our wedding, attended three other weddings, and went to an unholy number of showers. Despite my introversion, every party was a blast.

Here's what has worked for me when hosting and socially navigating large parties.

Hosting Advice:

Have Options
No one wants to feel like an outcast because of diet restrictions. Salad, taco, or pasta bars, buffets, barbecues, or potlucks are great for large parties. Keep things such as meat, wheat, nuts, and dairy separate when possible, or provide alternate foods that are just as hearty: serve rice crackers if you serve wheat, or hummus if you have crab dip. Besides alcohol, stock your bar with water, tea, or sparkling juice, and keep sweeteners separate. (If your event will be catered, arrange this with the catering company.)

Be Welcoming
Smile, even if you're nervous. A smile puts people at ease. Take coats, get drinks, and ask names. Introduce people, or design a sneaky way (writable cups? joke name tags?) for guests to exchange names. Check in at least once with all guests. If someone is lurking around solo, talk to them.

Allow Helpers.
Shy people often love to help – I make fast friends in the kitchen at large parties. As the host, give clear instruction: "Will you please put the Jello salad next to the devilled eggs?" is preferred to handing someone a tray and saying "Deal with this." If details are flubbed, ignore it. It's a party.

Stay Zen
Circulate and stay aware, but also enjoy your time. Live in the moment, grasshopper. If you're having fun, hosting will become a natural extension of your place at the party. All will be groovy.

Social Advice:

Use the Invite
As a host, provide information so your guests can get themselves to the party with confidence. For guests, is there a start time, parking info, or dress code? Follow it to the best of your ability. Knowing you're on time in the right place wearing the right thing is a comfort-booster.

Be Yourself
Your mother's old adage is pretty good advice. So let your freak flag fly and bring your sincerity to the party. If you're socially awkward, be nice. If you can't be nice, be helpful: offer to bar-tend, grill food, or organize the gift table.

Interact with Strangers
Initiate a conversation, a dance, a toast, a S'mores roasting, or card game. It's just a few minutes and it won't kill you. It might even be fun!

Embrace Small Talk
Being willing and able to make small talk doesn't make you less smart, deep, or interesting. I'm not a big Newsie, but I also don't like feeling powerless before small talk. Brushing up on topics I like (science, books, fashion, recipes, serial killers) improves my party experience. Before parties, scan your preferred outlet (sports, politics, TV, books, music, memes) for recent developments of interest.

Try asking people a few (non-invasive) questions instead – you might find common ground with someone, and it's less work for you.

Small talk is also a two-way street. When nervous, it's easy to just rip out the brain-to-mouth filter and talk. Try asking people a few (non-invasive) questions instead – you might find common ground with someone, and it's less work for you.

Exit Gracefully
To disengage from an unwanted companion, simply excuse yourself to the restroom, grab a snack or drink, say hello to someone else, or offer to help the host. Likewise, if your new friend seems to be someone special, don't monopolize them; offer your contact info, and then let them enjoy the party.

If you are a guest and there was an end time on the invite, try to observe it. Slipping out early from a large party is pretty easy. If you do leave early, don't make excuses, but be sure to thank the host in person.

What do you do to enjoy the night life, despite bashfulness?

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About Beretta Fleur

Beretta Fleur lives in Los Angeles with her husband and pets. She designs, writes, cooks, models, and shoots sporting clays. Her book, Hosting With Style: Beretta Fleur's Guide to Parties and Homemaking, will be available Fall 2012.