How to Be Your Most Confident Self at Holiday Cocktail Parties

With the holiday season approaching, you’re likely about to get a slew of invites to social events. But holiday parties can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming, even for extroverts, as we all can be somewhat apprehensive about having to rub elbows with people we don't know well.

“Holiday parties … let the insecurities start flying, from our ability to have a good conversation to whether you have spinach in your teeth,” says life coach Kelsey Murphy. “Thoughts about our hair, our dress, our intelligence, our choice of career path — we second-guess all of it before we throw on our heels and head out the door.”

But even if you’d rather watch Netflix and chill than try to make small talk with other people, you don’t have to dread these holiday get-togethers: They can be fun opportunities to meet interesting characters and maybe even make a new friend or two. Here’s your step-by-step cheat sheet to cocktail-party confidence.

1. Choose Your Attire Wisely

Don’t let your outfit hold you hostage, advises life coach Erica McCurdy, and opt for comfort above all else. “If your all-done-up look has you pulling at hems, struggling with straps or feeling too exposed before you even leave the house, ditch the glitz in favor of something that feels great on and won’t have you doing the twitch all night,” she says.

Professional speaker Lauren Cook, a life coach on the psychology of happiness, agrees that your clothing can set the tone for how you feel at a holiday shindig. In fact, she even suggests wearing a repeat outfit to these parties to ensure that you look and feel great. “It can be hit or miss when you’re wearing a brand-new outfit for the first time. Instead, choose an outfit that you know you feel amazing in,” she says.

2. Prep for Meaningful Conversation

To keep you from feeling stuck in idle-chitchat purgatory, Murphy suggests making a list of questions you can ask people you meet. “Being a good conversationalist is all about taking genuine interest in other people. It’s about letting go of ourselves while we step into someone else’s world and get to know them,” she says. “Instead of just asking ‘What do you do?’ try ‘Why do you like most about what you do’ or ‘What’s the story of how you got there?’”

If the best you can come up with is the old “Where are you from” question, run with it, Murphy says, and go deeper. “Ask, ‘What was that like growing up there?’ or ‘What kind of industry is there?’ Allow people the space to talk about themselves and to have someone actually care,” she advises. “You’d be surprised how great that makes someone feel.”

3. Project Positivity

Make sure your face reflects positivity, friendliness and approachability when you enter the room.

“Keep a slight smile on your face. Keep your eyes and eyebrows lifted slightly,” McCurdy recommends. She even suggests trying out your “look” in the mirror before the party so you can see how subtle changes in your expression can make you appear more approachable. Tiny adjustments, especially a smile, can make a big impact.

4. Drink With Discretion

Especially for those parties at which you’re flying solo and don’t have the luxury of a wingman (or woman) to let you know when you have had a bit too much, it’s important to keep your alcohol consumption in check. When we’re nervous, it’s all too easy to gulp whatever is in front of us, which can lead to disastrous results.

“It’s perfectly acceptable to ask the bartender to make your ‘mocktail’ look like a cocktail so you don’t look like a party pooper,” McCurdy says. "Alternating nonalcoholic drinks with your cocktails lets you keep your wits about you and still fit in with everyone else."

5. People Watch

Whether you just need a break from socializing or the person you came to the party with ditches you, at some point you may end up alone on the sidelines. And you may be tempted to reach for your phone. (We’ve all been there, right?)

“I’m not necessarily against this if you need a time-out from the action, but if you genuinely wish you were involved with conversation, people-watch instead,” advises life coach Kali Rogers. “You will catch someone’s eye and, through body language, you can signal to them or they to you to walk over and make conversation.” If you stay buried in your phone, you wordlessly show others that you’re not down to chat.

6. Strive for Quality, Not Quantity

Make sure you don’t put a ton of pressure on yourself to work the room. You don’t need to talk to everyone at the party or feel like you have to meet some kind of quota for number of conversations had.

“If you only have one conversation by the end of the night with only one person, but it’s deep and meaningful and worthwhile, then you’ve probably had a better holiday party than most,” Murphy says. “Don’t get wrapped up in needing to be part of every big group conversation. Feel free to sit back and observe till you find one or two people who you want to connect with.”

7. Take Awkwardness in Stride

As with any social gathering, there are going to be awkward situations. Maybe someone introduces you by the wrong name and you have make a correction. Or perhaps you accidentally knock over someone’s drink after an elaborate hand gesture. And then there’s always the good ’ol unzipped fly. But when these things happen — and they always do — just laugh through the awkwardness.

“People often connect more during the clumsy and quiet moments of a party,” Cook says. “If it feels uncomfortable, say so. Chances are someone will feel the same as you. Just like that, you’ll have an immediate connection with someone, and suddenly the conversation no longer feels awkward.” After all, these imperfect moments are how friendships are forged and memories are created.

What Do YOU Think?

Do you ever feel awkward or anxious at cocktail parties? What tricks do you keep up your sleeve to stay confident? Tell us a funny story about a holiday party you've been to.