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.
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.)
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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?
Comments on The shy person’s guide to large parties
I’m an introvert too, although not really shy, and it’s funny that I feel much more comfortable at parties if I’m the host. I feel like I have a job and a reason to speak to people. I don’t feel awkward when I have built in questions–Can I get you anything? Have you met everyone? If I’m working to put others at ease, I feel more at ease and less self-conscious.
I, too, am an introvert, but not shy – I just don’t like talking unless I have something important to contribute, is all. And I also prefer to do things on my own terms, but I wonder if that makes me selfish or a bad friend? Hm.
I feel the same way!
Actually, I am amazed that there are more people in the world who are introverts but not shy. I though I was just weird 🙂
Very often, party conversations just bore me, because it is almost impossible to talk about something I find interesting – science, weird philosohy ideas, carbon footprints and how to reduce them, and stuff like this.
Fortunately my husband is like me, and often we escape from social events like birthday dinners of intermediate friends as soon as is it acceptable.
I don’t think this makes us selfish or bad friends. At least for me, when a friend needs me I’m there, without question. But if someone only wants to be friends with me when I stay for 2 hours at a party talking emptynesses – sorry, I can live without that friendship.
Samantha and Lena, these are great points and I do feel where you are coming from.
That is what I was touching on when I said “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.”
Party talk, and parties in general, can become more enjoyable if we embrace it and bring what we have as individuals to the table. 🙂
As an introvert and a frequent hostess, I totally agree with this. I know how much I welcome friends’ offers to help and get involved, too, so I’d suggest doing this at other people’s parties as well. If you’re musically inclined, offering to DJ is a great option … if you don’t know where to stand, stand behind your computer and create awesome music! People will appreciate your talents and open conversations on a topic (music) you’re enthusiastic about. Same for cooks, or movie buffs, or whatever … find YOUR area of strength and comfort, and see if you can use it to both improve the party on the whole and to give you something familiar to do / talk about.
This is great advice. I find that I need to escape somewhere where I can collect my thoughts and re-group for more socialising. Usually I escape to the bathroom, but it gets a bit weird if I go there too much! Escaping to the kitchen is a good option, and even if you are not alone there you can still find some mental space by doing a small task. It gives you something to talk about as well, because the other people you find there are probably into the same things as you.
Definitely agree! As quite an introverted person, I am much more comfortable hosting.
Maybe because it gives me CONTROL… mwahaha.
But seriously. I like knowing what food there will be, what drink will be there, how many people I will know, how I’m going to get home and at what time… all infinitely easier if the party is at my house!
I agree. We’re hosting a birthday party for my husband next weekend and we’re expecting around 10 people, which will be the most we’ve ever had in our house. If I’m feeling overwhelmed with the convo, I can go to the kitchen and futz around with the food.
I am definitely introverted. Which is why I throw parties with both introverted and extroverted people. If you’re in Los Angeles, I’ll invite you all to my next shindig and we can bond in the kitchen. 😉
Realize that it’s ok to leave! (If you’re a guest – doesn’t work so well if you’re hosting!) Society seems to ignore introverts but that doesn’t mean that society is right. Very few people will actually take offense if you leave early, particularly if you mention how you enjoyed yourself.
And depending on the company, it can be very helpful to let people know that you are introverted. My SO’s friends know that I am exceedingly introverted and because they know that I am, they’re not offended or confused when I leave early or decide not to go places with them.
I am EXTREMELY shy. I take a very long time to get up the courage to talk to anyone new. These tips certainly won’t help someone like me. I try but I’m just terrified to be that outgoing.
Also most people tend not to give shy people the time of day, too much effort I guess.
But what the hell, I’ve decided to embrace my shyness, it’s part of who I am. I won’t change myself to fit in
Oh no! I actually used to make a beeline for whoever looked equally shy, with the theory that maybe we could be Shy Pals and they’d be more generous if I started stammering or talked too fast or committed the rest of the social oopses I typically do, but then I stopped … because I felt like I was being an asshole. That look of terror another shy person gives you when you muster up the courage to say hi is pretty painful, and I thought I was probably just being annoying. People might think they’re doing you a favor by not coming over and talking to you! It’s so hard to tell whether I’m being helpful (I will bite the bullet and start the talking) or a pain in the butt (here I am, trying to talk to someone who doesn’t want to talk to me…).
My usual way of dealing with shyness at parties is to bring my knitting, find a place to sit, and work on my sweater or whatever. I can easily talk (or even read) while I knit, so it gives me something to do when no one is around, and I don’t feel like such a wallflower, but I can have conversations too. It’s not a terribly social thing to do, but it helps me cope.
How about a shy person’s guide to HOSTING the party. My mom is hosting Easter, and even though everyone will be family or significant other’s she’s freaking out. Unfortunately she is the only one that has the house to accommodate the fam
There is hosting advice within the post… see under Hosting Advice. The Social Advice part works for both hosts and guests…Sorry I didn’t see this in time for Easter! 🙁
so, my situation is a little bit different, as over the last 10 years i have transitioned from painfully shy to pretty social…but i am still an introvert. after that change, the thing that has helped me the most is realizing that while i love social situations and they don’t (usually) make me panic anymore, they still *wear me out!*
being social exhausts me – even when it’s something *awesome!* which is fine now that i know that and can kind of plan for it (like knowing that i have a time limit for big gatherings or certain high-energy people, and that i need a chance to chill out after events, and that sometimes i just need to send my wife to have fun with folks ’cause i haven’t got the energy – not ’cause i don’t like them).
THIS. This is me exactly!
I find that I get worn out more quickly if there is a lot of people I don’t know, or loud music, or just *stuff* happening. So, loud, crowded parties full of people I don’t know wear me out really quickly, but small gatherings of my favorite people doing something quiet like watching a movie or playing board games doesn’t wear me out much at all.
Some of my friends are extroverts and have a hard time understanding why I sometimes say no to invites, but they get over it.
I absolutely agree with you. I am an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs, and at one time in life I was scared to death of parties… but as I got older I came to realize that being Introverted doesn’t have to mean being anti-social.
I have learned that while I “recharge” during my much-needed alone time,and I do get sensory overload easily, I do also love social time and need it too! I wrote this post hoping to enable Introverts to embrace who they are and embrace being social as well. And yes, sometimes I say no to invites too.
Kate: I love the knitting idea. For that reason I host “creative cocktails” parties dedicated to working on stuff together. Friends can be present together without so much of the social pressure.
Thanks for the suggestions, but I guess I’m more in the “Social Anxiety” category. I’m hosting my son’s 4th birthday party this Sunday and may require alcohol and/or valium.
One thing that helped me to become less socially anxious over the years was to gradually drink/take anti-anxiety meds less and less. Starting as late into the party as I could stand, or sipping slowly, or smaller/diluted doses. Eventually I found that I could take an event sober, and even have fun. On the flipside, I decided that if something isn’t fun at all sober, it’s not the right thing for me to do. Some of us aren’t born party people, and that’s ok.
As a larger than life hostess… any suggestions of what activities/tasks I can invite the shy guest to do????
Will they really be happy garnishing, refreshing the ice bucket, arranging the party napkins, or drawing drink labels?
I don’t want anyone to feel like they are my party drone.
As a hostess, it’s hard to anticipate what someone would like or not like to do. Speaking from experience, as a larger than life hostess who is really a “shy” person outside of my hosting element/circle of friends, I like to help out at parties. The best bet is probably to engage your guests and be friendly, and invite them to help you out with something small if you feel it’s something they might enjoy. Opening wine, refilling appetizer trays, or just ducking out together for a smoke or a swig of something can be great ice-breakers. 😉
I like the part about small talk, and exiting gracefully. I would add, don’t be afraid to sound stupid or do it wrong. It was a long, hard, often very painful road for me to find out that it’s better to say something awkward than to say nothing. If you don’t say anything, people will think that you hate them. I still often don’t know the right thing to say or how to leave but I consider it an experiment worth trying. The other big hurdle for me was not making assumptions about how other people felt about me. I used to interpret the tiniest meaningless gestures to mean that someone was mad at me or hated me. Now I try to assume nothing.
I feel really sad when I read comments from shy and/or socially anxious people who feel like it can never get better for them. I have totally been there. It was hard for me to even leave my apartment, and impossible to talk to strangers even for important business. It’s not easy or fast but I believe that anyone can overcome this.
My fiance and I are both pretty quiet people, we don’t like big groups, tend to hang out together quietly at family parties, and generally don’t like big social functions. To our horror, my parents are planning a big wedding for us, despite our protests, and in seven months we will be host to 200 of our “closest” friends and family (many of which I can’t remember their names or how they are related to me/him). I just wanted to send a quick thank you for this article, it helped calm my blind panic a bit.
You’re most welcome! I hope it helps you have fun at your wedding!
“If you do leave early, don’t make excuses, but be sure to thank the host in person.” Words of wisdom!
This works for me flawlessly every time. I will warn the host regretfully either 10-30 mins. before I “have to leave” or if I know before going that I really DO have to leave, I warn the host before the party. No explanation needed (or wanted). Nobody wants to feel like that specific other thing you have to do/go to is more important than their carefully planned party. They never need to know what that other thing is, if you’re careful about how you word things.
Baby shower full of ladies eager to play silly games you can’t tolerate One. More. Time? Tell the mom-to-be as she is gearing up for games how beautiful she looks, and that unfortunately you have to get going in about 10 minutes, and will have to miss the fun, but you’re so glad you could make it out to see her and can’t wait to meet baby___.
Wedding on the same day as a funeral? Warn the bride (& groom?) in advance that you will have to leave at Xpm due to an unavoidable conflict you really can’t get out of, and that you hope you’ll get to stay long enough to see the first dance (or dinner, etc). Then give them a hug/your congrats/compliments/a thank you at the most opportune moment well before you’ll have to leave, since they’ll inevitably be swarmed by other guests (or speeches or photos! eek!) when the time actually comes. No explanation needed. Just graciousness. (True, some people will be defensive or pushy about getting deets but this has not happened to me and these friendships are still well intact.) As Little Orphan Annie once said “when ya gotta go, ya gotta go!”
I wouldn’t say that I’m shy or socially anxious, but I am introverted and do get a little nervous trying to socialize if I don’t know people very well. I also feel like I go to a lot of parties. My husband and I host awesome birthday parties and big-blow out Halloween parties with a costume contest and trophies 🙂 Our last Halloween party had around 40 people and I started to feel overwhelmed so I took breaks to go upstairs and fix my make up or count ballots, etc. It helped give me a breather. Also I tend to get stuck talking to just one person and I feel guilty afterwards so walking around with a camera helps give you an excuse to move around the party more and talk to everyone. I also go to a lot of art receptions because I’m an artist and it’s part of the job really. These used to be very overwhelming for me and I had a huge anxiety attack before my first one. Now I’ve gotten to know a lot of the art crowd in Portland so I usually have someone to talk to, and if not I have a routine. I grab a drink and do a full circuit of the art while keeping my eye out for anyone I know or would like to meet. After I’ve talked to my art friends and said how amazing the show is to the gallery owner I usually peace out saying that we have dinner plans or have to meet friends (which is usually true because these things happen on Fridays and Saturdays). Art shows are pretty nice because if you don’t want to talk to people it’s perfectly normal just to look at the art and leave!
Anyone tips for shy people at parties or events where you don’t know anyone? I always tend to run away because I’m too scared to talk to people and I feel stupid because I know nobody.
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