Cocktail parties and other networking events can be great or gruesome. It’s often easiest to see the same group of people event after event. The real challenge is breaking out of that pattern and venturing off to meet new people. By following a few simple rules, you can avoid being shaken or stirred.

Mixing it Up

When introducing others, make a connection during the introduction so that conversation is easy between the new acquaintances. For instance, “George, I would like you to meet Mary. She recently moved here from Washington, DC. Mary, George went to college at American University. Isn’t that right up the street from your parents’ house?”

Easy to Swallow

It is easiest to approach a group of people if you know someone who is in the group. When there is a pause in the conversation, say hello to your acquaintance and introduce yourself to the others commenting on the conversation you listened to before joining in. If you do not know anyone in the group you would like to join, make eye contact with someone in the group, and slip into the conversation when there is an opportunity. You can introduce yourself after you have begun to interact with the group.

Now That’s Smooth

So that you do not offer people a wet handshake, hold your drink in your left hand. Also, if wearing a nametag, place it on your right side. When shaking hands with other people, their eyes will naturally look to your right.

A Full Menu

There are several topics that work for small talk: how you know the host, something someone is wearing that is unique (e.g. a piece of jewelry – this could lead to a vacation story about the place from which the piece was purchased), the delicious food, an upcoming event (e.g. What are you doing for the 4th of July?), what you do for a living, what they do for a living, and more. When you get stuck for something to say, ask questions. For current topics, it’s a good idea to read the newspaper each and every day. You can subscribe to a variety of free services over the Internet, such as, and get 10 to 20 conversation starters delivered to your desktop.

Over the Top

There are several topics that should be avoided at all costs: health, diets, money, religion, politics, sex, racist remarks, sexist remarks, etc. When in doubt, don’t say it.

When You’ve Had Too Much 

The idea is to mingle. You can leave a conversation as easily as you enter one. Depending on the situation, you may do one of several things. First, if you are with a group of two or more people, simply say, “It’s been wonderful talking with you. I am going to excuse myself to (a) find my husband/wife/colleague, (b) speak with the host/hostess as I have not had the opportunity yet to thank him/her for having me, (c) introduce some of the new people to each other who aren’t lucky enough to be having the wonderful conversation we have enjoyed.” If you are stuck with the same single person, you can use “a” or “b” above, but often there are some other options. If you know other people in the room, ask the person if he or she knows an acquaintance you have spotted in the room with one or two people. Regardless of the response you get, say “Then why don’t we go over and say hello.” If the person says no, simply say, “I’m sorry you can’t join me to speak with ______. I promised him/her earlier I would say hello, so I am going to leave you now to do so. Thank you so much for the conversation. I have truly enjoyed speaking with you.”

Parties are just like any other activity; practice makes perfect. The more you are out and about, the easier it is.

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