How To Mingle And Talk To People At Parties

There are two broad types of social problems people can have with parties. The first is that a lot of people don't like them that much. They find parties boring, stressful, and draining. They want to know to avoid them, or minimize the damage if they have to go to one.

The second issue, which this article will cover, is when someone wants to go to a party and socialize at it, but they're not sure how to do that. Some problems people run into are:

This article is pretty long and will go into detail about how to handle these situations. The bulk of it is more practical tips, which I'll get to soon. It'll quickly start off with some more general attitudes that can be helpful to have. I'll cover how to generally talk to people, not how to 'own the party' and be the most awesome center of attention on the premises. This article is also about parties where you don't know a lot of the people there. It's not really about a 'party' in the sense of eight good friends getting together to at someone's house to have some drinks and play poker.

A big factor in how well things will go are the party's characteristics

As with making conversation, some of your results will be influenced by your level of social skills. The rest is out of your hands though, and is determined by outside forces, like the mood of the person you're talking to. Parties are the same. Some factors that will affect your experience at a party are:

Basically, if you go to a party and the deck is stacked against you, you can't put too much blame on yourself if the night turns out to be a bust. Some parties will be a good match for you, and you'll do well at them. Some just won't go your way. It's not really your fault, and it's not a matter of, "Well if I had better social skills I could have an amazing time and click with everyone at any type of party" All but the most charismatic people will sometimes find themselves at get togethers that aren't the best fit for them.

Don't psych yourself out and place too much importance on how well you socialize at parties

Parties are just one way people get together and socialize. For the average person they only come up occasionally. Yeah, there can be a fun and energy that you can only get at parties, when you get enough people together who are all in lively, outgoing mood, but they're not the be-all-and-end-all of social interactions. Some people put too much pressure on themselves, and see how well they get along with strangers at a party as the ultimate test of their social worthiness. They think if they can't be the life of the party and get everyone to love them by the end of the night then they're not good enough. Or they feel they have to have some completely zany time like out of a college movie.

If it's important to you to be able to mingle then you should definitely work on it. But at the same time, realize there's more to life, and plenty of people have great social lives even if parties aren't their strong point. Being good at mingling and standing out in big groups isn't the only way to be socially successful. Other people realize this too, and if they see someone looking a little shy or hesitant at a party, they're a hundred times more likely to conclude, "I guess parties aren't their thing. They aren't for a lot of people" than, "Wow, what a sad, pathetic individual."

Regarding feeling you have to have a cah-razzzzy time, lots of people are content to go to a party, mostly hang out with the friends they came with in a low key way, have some drinks, and maybe talk with a person they don't know or two. That's all they need to do to consider it a good night. They don't feel they've failed if they haven't done four keg stands and jumped off a roof into a pool and made forty new Facebook friends.

How to approach people and start conversations at parties

There are two parts to this. The first is getting over any nerves or hesitation you have about talking to people. The second is knowing what to say to get the conversation rolling.

Getting past your nerves about chatting to people

There isn't any guaranteed magic way to make your nerves disappear. There will always be that moment where you just have to push past your anxiety, walk up to someone, and start talking to them. Fortunately, there are lots of strategies that can take the edge off those feelings of inhibition, and make them easier overcome:

These articles go into more detail about handling social fears:

How To Face Your Social Fears (Gradually)
Coping With Nervousness Before Optional Social Behaviors

The question of when to arrive

When they show up can play a role in how comfortable people feel socializing with the other guests. Some people find it's good to arrive early (not overly early, of course, since that can inconvenience the host). That way there are fewer guests there and they can talk to people under more laid back circumstances and in smaller, more manageable groups. If the other guests are trickling in, they can also chat to and get to know each new group as it arrives. This doesn't work for everyone though, and some people feel more awkward, exposed, and on the spot if they're at a party early with hardly anyone else. It's also less of an option if you don't know the people who are throwing it that well.

Another option is to arrive later on. That way there will be lots of existing groups to join when you get there. Some people also like that they can disappear into the crowd and not feel like they stand out. They may like that if they find it awkward to talk to one person, they can quickly escape to someone else, rather than, say, being stuck having to make conversation with just the host and their two good friends for twenty minutes. Again, there are downsides to this approach as well. Some people find a room full of guests who are already all talking to each other intimidating. Everyone may already be into their conversations as well, and the groups can feel more closed and harder to break into.

Starting conversations with people at parties

When it comes to approaching strangers, people can tend to want a set of lines and openers that will work on everyone they talk to. It doesn't happen like that. As I said, sometimes you'll try to talk to a person or group and it just won't pan out for reasons that have nothing to do with you (e.g., someone could have just had an argument with their ex, and not be in the mood to meet anyone). On the flip side, if the conversation is slanted to go in your favor, it doesn't really matter how you start it. It's more about how the discussion goes after the opening line.

So keeping in mind that any of these can work equally as well, some ways you could start a conversation are:

See the article How To Start Conversations for more information.

Starting conversations with groups

The same general principle applies to approaching groups, that your opening line shouldn't make or break you, and that the trickiest part is often just feeling brave enough to initiate the conversation in the first place. Also, realize that at a party it is totally acceptable, even expected, to try to talk to a group that is already discussing something. Sure, some groups are more closed off than others, but there's nothing inherently wrong about trying to squeeze yourself into an ongoing conversation.

Also see: How To Join A Conversation

Article continues below...

What to say to people once you've started talking to them

A lot of the conversations we have with people we don't know happen more naturally. We're assigned to work with a new co-worker, or we start talking to someone in class, or we see a movie with a friend and they bring a buddy along. When you're approaching strangers at a party things are much more on the spot; You've started talking to this person, now you're expected to keep the interaction going.

As much as it would be a helpful thing to have, it's impossible to give advice where you map out someone's entire conversation for them. The path a discussion can take is way too unpredictable to do that, and even if it were possible, it would be too hard to remember everything. In general here's how party conversations usually play out:

Here are a few more articles on keeping conversations going:

Some Popular Overall Approaches For Making Conversation
How To Think Of Things To Say When Making Conversation
Ways To Deal With Awkward Silences In Conversations
How To Be Less Quiet And Contribute to Group Conversations

Ending a conversation

At parties guests naturally drift around and chat to a number of people. And as I keep mentioning, you're not going to connect perfectly with everyone. Don't worry too much about getting out of a conversation when it isn't going anywhere, or you want to see who else is out there. There are lots of easy ways to do it, and people generally don't get offended if you move on to someone else. You can say something straightforward like, "It was good meeting you. I gotta catch up with some other people, but I'll talk to you later hopefully." Or you can use one of several reasonable excuses like:

See: How To End A Conversation

Dealing with conversations in big, rowdy groups

This article goes into a lot more detail about it, but overall a lot of people say they're okay having polite one-on-one conversations, but they're not as good in loud, crazy dog-eat-dog group discussions. Those often occur at parties, especially when there's drinking involved. The piece I just linked to goes into more depth, but in general:

Getting into a partying frame of mind

This point doesn't apply so much to those more refined, orderly parties. To appreciate more rowdy parties you need to be in a certain mindset, and this doesn't come naturally to everyone. I talk about it more in this article: Regular Logical Mode Vs. Light Fun Mode In Social Interactions. Essentially, some people are fine when social interactions are more structured, subdued, and focused on logically discussing a particular area. They don't really know what to do with themselves with things get more crazy and goofy, and people seem more interested in making loud jokes and performing wacky stunts than sitting around and talking about environmentalism. They may even look down on people who are in a fun, partying mentality, and see them as annoying and immature. They can have a better time when they learn to switch gears and socialize in a way where they try to have some nice mindless fun for its own sake.

This article may also help you get into a more fun frame of mind:

How To Be More Fun

How much to move around and mingle with different people

People sometimes think of mingling like it's a mechanical process. I know some advice on how to do it can unintentionally give the impression that you need to approach it that way. In practice it's not really a matter of, "I will spend the party making the rounds and speaking to people. I must talk to 75% of the people there. I will make each interaction six minutes long. I will acquire the following information from each person..."

In my experience at parties it's best to go with the flow, talk to the people who seem fun and interesting to you, and see where the night takes you. If you want to try, go for it, but don't feel you have to talk to every last guest. There's no party rule that says if you're a bad person for not doing so. A lot of people don't. You've got to make decisions, and often you'll decide you'll have a better time if you keep chatting to the really funny people you've met in the kitchen, as opposed to breaking away to introduce yourself to that new insular looking couple that just showed up.

For whatever reason, two metaphors come to mind when I think about mingling at parties. The first is to see a party like a fairground. At any party there are all these sub groups, conversations, and activities going on. One group is talking in the back yard, another is on the front porch, some people are playing video games downstairs, four guys are playing flip cup in the garage, some women are telling travel stories in the living room, some roommates are talking in the kitchen, three people are doing shots in there as well, and so on. At the party everyone is moving around throughout the evening and visiting the various 'fairground booths'. Some people will stick to one for a long time. Others will check out a bunch quickly, then go back and forth between two of them. As the night goes on new things to check out will pop up. There's no 'right' way to see all the attractions, you just have to wonder around and head towards whatever looks fun.

The second metaphor, which gets at the same idea, is that I picture people at a party as a bunch of ping pong balls floating in a tub of water. The balls will all drift around on the water's surface. For a time a few balls may cluster together, but then they'll break up and maybe temporarily group with a few others (I have no idea if this is actually how a bunch of ping pong balls would behave in water, but let's go with it). Basically, the movement of people from group to group is spontaneous and chaotic. Someone may to be talking to one group, then see their friend doing something fun and leave to watch what they're doing. Then they need to use the bathroom and run into someone else on their way back, and end up going outside with them. Again, go to a party intending to just drift along like this, don't feel you must start at the front door and systematically work your way around the room or anything.

When you get drained at parties

Some people get drained easily while socializing, and if there's one situation that's going to do it, it's going to be a party, especially if it wasn't totally their choice to attend. Again, see the linked article for more thoughts, but some things you can try are:

Leaving the party

Some people find this really awkward and don't like having all the focus on them while they announce to everyone that they're leaving, or when they have to find a bunch of people and say their goodbyes to them. I don't think there's one right way to make an exit, and you don't necessarily have to track down every last person you know to tell them you're taking off. In terms of things feeling awkward, that's just something you can get used to if you do it enough. In general, it is polite to let at least your good friends know that you're leaving. Just say you're heading out, and don't feel you have to have a five minute going away conversation with each of them. If you're taking off early, don't make it seem like a big deal. Every party has some guests who have to head out early.