The holiday season is in full swing and that means parties galore. Office get-togethers, family gatherings, and neighborhood soirees dot the calendar from now until New Year’s Eve.
And that spells dread for some of us.
Even people who love parties are often unsure about what to wear and what to bring. But for those who are socially anxious, navigating a party can feel like an obstacle course.
So, TODAY talked to experts who shared these tips to help everyone enjoy this season's parties.
1. Prepare mentally.
Even extroverted people need to get into the right frame of mind for a party. But if you're socially anxious or shy, that preparation is crucial, says Will Meyerhofer, a New York City-based psychotherapist and author of “Life Is A Brief Opportunity for Joy.”
Start by owning the fact that you're nervous. And acknowledge that that nervousness comes from a fear of rejection.
Keep in mind, most people who go to parties wonder if they'll be liked and talked to. So you're hardly alone.
2. Wear whatever feels right.
As long as the party is not formal, don't stress over your outfit.
Follow the be-yourself rule, says Meyerhofer. "If you’re into holiday sweaters, wear one. Let your freak flag fly.”
3. Break the ice with introductions.
Take a cue from someone confident like Bill Clinton and start working the room, says Meyerhofer.
"I always tell people, 'Stick your hand out and introduce yourself.' That’s your opening line. It’s simple."
Another trick? Ask people questions about themselves. "What do you do?" or "Where are you from" are surprisingly great ice breakers.
And people are generally flattered when someone else is curious about them.
4. Use your charm.
"There are no life hacks for charm. But believe it or not, not cutting people off in conversation works wonders," says Joe Berkowitz, co-author of “You Blew It!: An Awkward Look at the Many Ways in Which You've Already Ruined Your Life.”
"Anything you want to say with an interjection will have just as much impact if you hold it and wait until the person is done speaking," says Berkowitz.
Or, try making a wisecrack about something in pop culture.
People are bonded by mutual loathing, says Meyerhofer. "It’s a good, Grinchy holiday party trick, but it’s actually backed up by social psychology studies."
If you hate something and they hate something, it will bring you together — at least for an evening.
5. Put the phone away.
People often whip out their phones at parties as an avoidance mechanism. But that sends a message you don't want to be talked to.
It's also just plain rude, says Meyerhofer, who says he recently hosted a party for one hundred guests and was shocked to find a few scrolling on their phones.
"We had great food, a live jazz band. It could not have been more fabulous," he says. "Just put the phone down and join the party."
Also, don't be the one broadcasting the entire party on Periscope. Or posting photos on social media throughout the night.
"You have to be careful not to violate the privacy wishes of others," says Mister Manners, Thomas P. Farley, an etiquette expert and TV personality
6. Flirt - when appropriate.
As long as it's not a work event, holiday parties are a great opportunities for singles to meet and mingle, says Susan Trombetti, CEO and founder of Exclusive Matchmaking in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.
"I tell people who have a tough time flirting, 'Smile, smile, smile. Flash your pearly whites. And gaze into that hot stranger’s eyes while you’re doing it."
7. Watch your drinking.
Parties are for drinking, right? Actually, all three of our experts say you need to be careful with the booze.
"This is a life tip in addition to a party tip — any time you’re worried about getting drunk in an unlimited drink scenario, the thing to do is have an enormous glass of water after every drink," says Berkowitz.
Skip booze altogether at an office party, says Meyerhofer. Alcohol disinhibits us, and our co-workers are the last people we want to be disinhibited around.
Single folks should be mindful too, says Trombetti. She tells women to limit themselves to two drinks and sip them slowly. "I’ve seen a lot of women get so sloppy drunk that men turn away from them."
8. Bring the host a gift.
A good gift is something the host can use and discard, says Meyerhofer. You don't want to bring something decorative for the home. That puts pressure on your host to keep and display it.
Candles, fancy soaps or flowers are great ideas, as is a dessert like homemade cookies.
"I’ve had people bring me objets d’art as gifts and you know, now I’ve got this vase with different colored pebbles that someone thought I needed," he says.
9. And lastly, don't play DJ.
Unless you've been hired to create the night's setlist, don't touch the music.
"You just can’t unilaterally decide, ‘This music is no good. It isn’t what the people want to hear. They want to hear what I have on my phone,’" says Berkowitz.
Changing the party music is an obnoxious move, he says. "It shows such disregard for whoever put that music together."