Sunday, April 10, 2011

Working The Room

Carlos and I had a busy weekend.

Friday night, I was invited to an Asado by my friend Dale. Her (36-year-old) daughter Beth and Argentinean husband Gabriel were hosting at their Uptown house.

Gabriel designed and custom built a brick-enclosed grill - complete with chimney - in their backyard. I had been to a "Meat Party", as I call it, at their old house pre-Katrina. This one was just as fun. Gabriel would ring his bell - installed on his brick-enclosed grill - every time new meat was ready. I told him that I was up for whatever he was cooking - as long as he didn't tell me what was "odd" food and what was "normal" food.

I know I had ribs and different types of sausage. I found out later that I also had sweetbread. I can tell you that it is neither sweet nor bread - but it does taste a bit like chicken.

Saturday morning, Carlos and I were invited to a brunch at Steve and Sheree's house. (Steve is an old friend of mine from early high school. I have known him since we were both 13.)

Then he and I spent the day in the Quarter at French Quarter Fest.

When Steve invited us, he told me that there would be about 20 people there and that besides Carlos and me, everyone else would be food writers or food bloggers. I do read Steve and Sheree's blog regularly - and I highly recommend it, especially if you live in New Orleans and/or love New Orleans and/or love food.


Tangent - Some of my favorite posts from their blog, French-Quarter-Fest-centric because that fest was this weekend:

French Quarter Fest Logistics

French Quarter Fest Food
French Quarter Fest Music
Ranting about Outback Steakhouse - and chain restaurants in general

And my all-time favorite post of theirs (so far)...
Safety in the French Quarter


I also mentioned to Carlos what Steve had said about the other attendees so he would have the same information as I had and could be prepared. He didn't seem concerned. Carlos is always so graceful and social at parties. I, on the other hand, show up at our (mutual) hair cut guy with prepared topics. Over the years, I have tried to absorb his calmness about "working the room".

This weekend were two great occasions to practice my social skills. Friday night, I knew maybe five people out of 50. Saturday morning, Carlos and I knew exactly two people out of 20 (the two hosts). Both outings were successful in their own way.

Picture yourself invited to a large party where you know a very small handful of people - maybe even only the hosts: Do you talk just with them? Do you branch out and talk with other people? Do you drink too much to overcome your shyness? Do you make an excuse to leave early? Do you wuss out entirely and not show up at all?

Over the years, I have done all of the above. Here are my Tips For Working The Room that I have learned over the years.

1. The first people and the last people at the party you should talk with are the hosts. But do not cling to them all night. They have an entire room to attend to.

2. When you arrive, have something to hand the hosts. Never show up to a party empty handed. Never. Plus it'll give you something to - briefly - talk about.

3. Leave the above item at the party. Always. Do not take it home with you. Ever.

4. Offer to help with something. Refill the ice. Stir the chili. Take the coats. It'll help the hosts and give you something to talk with your potential new friends about.

5. When introducing yourself to other guests, relate yourself to your hosts - someone you will all have in common. ("Dale and I worked at Kinko's together, and have remained friends ever since. I have known Beth since she was in her teens.")

6. Don't talk too much. Listen. Ask questions. No one wants to hear about your life. Everyone wants to talk about their own life.

7. Don't talk too little. No one wants to talk with someone who can't keep up his side of the conversation.

8. Find the most wall flower person at the party. She/he is feeling exactly as you are, but not handling it as well as you are. There is power in numbers. Go talk with him. Then the two of you go talk with other people together.

9. When you're introducing yourself to someone, repeat their name back to them. And again. And later again. (I still remember Karen's name from Friday night because when I met her, I kept saying her name.)

10. Think about what you have in common with the guests before you arrive. (Before Steve and Sheree's brunch, I read the 15 unread entries of their blog - and all the comments. Turns out, many of the comments were made by other guests at their brunch.)

And in case all of the above fails...

11. Have an exit strategy when you arrive. Near the beginning, work into the conversation with someone (preferably the hosts) that you may have to leave early because 1) you have to get up early for work, 2) you accidentally double booked the evening, 3) your spouse is a bit under the weather, and so on. Make the excuse something that you can brush off if your night is going well.


Keeping with the weekend theme, here is the song W.E.E.K.E.N.D. by Arling & Cameron. If you are in New Orleans and listen to WTUL on Friday mornings, you know this song.


He Said-She Said Nola said...

Nice! Always a pleasure to see both of you, and we think your guide to working the room is as good as it gets!

jason said...

Oh, I've been the only one I know (except the host) at too many parties I can recount. :)
Good advice there.