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The Party Crasher's Secret: how to be the guest everyone wants.

Updated on May 31, 2012
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Being the ideal guest.

There is something alluring about exclusivity.

When a special party or gathering is invitation only, it is instantly elevated above the status of a mere social function, and one’s admittance becomes a symbol of status (and sometimes even power) among their peers.

At one point or another, everyone dreams about getting into a party or a gathering to which they weren’t invited. Entire films have been written about likable underdogs who sneak in to the parties of their dreams, including, most successfully, Wedding Crashers.

Party-crashing film have one thing in common: to get into events, the characters must be the perfect guests. Once in the door, they are so appealing that their host doesn’t just like them; he or she wants them to stay because they improve the event's whole atmosphere. The wedding-infiltrating duo played by Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughan in Wedding Crashers might have only attended weddings to pick up women, but they added so much life and party spirit to the various weddings they crashed that their status as non-invitees was forgotten, because no one wanted them to leave.

And that is the key--not just to crashing parties, but to being invited to them in the first place: you have to be the kind of person that people want at their event.

It isn't hard to be a good guest, and here are some practical steps to become a great guest.

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1. Arrive well.

Being the ideal guest is not just about what you do once you enter an event; how you come in the door is very important.

Don’t be the first person or the last person to arrive. There is a fine line between being “early” and “on time.” Don’t annoy the hosts by showing up fifteen minutes early while they might still be preparing for guests’ arrival.

If an event is more formal than casual, or scheduled to end at a specific time, be punctual and arrive at the starting time of the event, or within fifteen minutes afterward. Any time after that point and you risk simply being late, and possibly holding up a meal.

When you come in the door, There is no requirement to enter invisibly, but there is also no reason to call attention to yourself. If you have to call attention to yourself, that is a proclamation to the rest of the room that you are either an insecure person who needs the attention of others to feel validated, or you are simply an attention whore for the fun of it.

Norm never shouted his own name when he walked into Cheers, and neither should you.

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2. Bring a gift.

Never show up at a party empty-handed. Your hosts are presumably going out of their way to provide food and an evening’s fun for a group of people; the least you can do is to show you appreciation in some way.

If the event is more casual, like a barbecue or a potluck, bring a side dish or arrive punctually with an appetizer. If you do this, do not simply swing through Wal-Mart and pick up a jar of chile con queso and a bag of corn chips. That might be good enough for The Dude or Homer Simpson, but we have higher aspirations. Prepare something yourself. Your contribution doesn’t need to be fancy or gourmet--even a tray of vegetables with dressing takes on special significance when others can see that you took the time to prepare it by hand. If circumstances are such that you cannot make a dish yourself, endear yourself to a broader group of people by buying a side or appetizer that is a cut above simple, cheap snack food. Be creative, and make sure that whatever you buy is fresh.

If the event is a sit-down dinner or a formal affair, the food is not your responsibility unless you are asked to participate in the event’s coordination. However, you should still honor your host with a token of thanks for the trouble they took to give you a nice evening.

When you bring a gift for your host, make sure that it is something that they will want to enjoy themselves, not get rid of quickly by putting it on the table. When you decide what to bring, think about your host’s tastes and preferences. Do they drink alcohol? Are they on a diet or have dietary restrictions? Factors such as these could mean the difference between your bringing the host a Sauvignon Blanc or gourmet pecan pralines. No matter what decide to bring as a gift, it communicates thoughtfulness on your part when you consider your hosts as individuals with unique tastes, rather than simply showing up with something generic.

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3. Listen as much as you speak.

Once you have arrived, entered the venue and hung up your coat, be mindful of how you interact with others. You might have friends at this event. If so, greet them as you normally would via handshake, hug or kiss. Being unafraid to show your familiarity with friends in public communicates to others that you are a warm person. This is a good thing.

When greeting new acquaintances, or re-connecting with the ones you haven’t seen for some time, move at a slower pace. The advice of yesteryear might have recommended an outgoing and boisterous personality as the route to social success, but bear in mind that nothing is more annoying than a guest who feels the need to dominate ever every conversation.

In your conversations with new acquaintances, don’t devote entire exchanges to yourself and your doings. The things which greatly interest you might be yawn-inducing to people whom you don’t know. Listen as much as you speak. For every polite question asked about you, provide a complete response that is interesting but not self-indulgent. In your turn, engage your fellow conversationalist in discussing something from their life.

Your response questions to engage your new friend should not simply be parroted echoes of the questions which they asked you first. When the conversation becomes a back-and-forth exchange of “what do you do for a living” and “how do you know the host,” you have let it get boring when it has barely begun.

Worse still are observational comments like the dreaded “nice weather,” references. When you resort to stating the obvious, you communicate to whomever you speak that you have an innate lack of creativity or meaningful things to say, i.e., you are uninteresting.

To avoid this negative conversation and be a truly interesting conversationalist, you must practice good conversational habits and people skills in daily life. Conversation is an art form which is increasingly diminished in the face of online and device-based communication. To stand out from the crowd, be habitually observant. Learn to gauge early in a conversation what interests your colleague, and adjust your choice of topics accordingly. There is no need to be an expert on every topic of general, but it is also helpful to stay informed about current trends and events.

By cultivating good conversation habits and people skills, you not only become a better guest; you make a sound investment in your professional life. With whom would a boss prefer to speak: that guy from accounting who is so desperate to make an impression that he never shuts up about his motorcycle; or you, the person who can engage in conversation on a level of mutual interest?

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4. Ignore your phone.

Some people need to keep their mobile phones handy all of the time. Most people do not. Unless you are a physician, law enforcement or emergency services, or a member of any other profession which requires you to be “on call,” do yourself and others a favor by ignoring your phone for the duration of a party.

Your ability to sustain an interesting conversation is impaired when you are distracted by constant notifications from your device. Whether it is a ringtone or a loud vibration, the noise of a device is a mood-killer. It distracts from conversation and interrupts the flow of jokes. Worse still, when you stop speaking to check the caller ID or to answer, your partner in conversation is liable to get the impression that your interest in an outside third party outweighs your interest in them. Whether it actually does or not is irrelevant; your reputation will suffer either way.

If you must carry your phone, silence it completely, even shutting off the vibration. If a business event or even an eBay auction requires that you take a call or check a status at any point, smooth over possible interruptions by excusing yourself from the conversation completely to take or make an important. The fact that you need to leave the room to give it your full attention will verify the necessity of using the phone at all.

People who can make it through an event without requiring to check Facebook or their text messages are increasingly rare. You can very easily make yourself memorable to others by giving them your undivided attention. You will do best by never letting anyone see that you have your phone at all.

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5. Leave on a good note.

Your final impression is just as important as your first impression, possibly more so. The way in which you arrive will determine whether or not your host regrets inviting you. Your conduct throughout the party determines whether or not they like you. The manner in which you leave cements their final opinion of you.

If you want to be invited back, do not leave without thanking your host for a good time. Everything about the event might not have been suited to your particular tastes, but that is not the point! You thank the host not for the specifics, but for the fact that he/she/them took time out of their life to provide a nice evening for friends and possibly strangers. The conversation might have been dry and the food drier, but a good guest will thank their host regardless.

Be neither too casual nor too emphatic when you bid your hosts good night. Most people resent an apparent lack of appreciation, and a guest who is an obsequious sycophant is equally oft-putting to all but the most swollen of egos. Instead of relying on either extreme to communicate your appreciation, take refuge in the Golden Mean of a simple yet meaningful “thank you” for the evening’s festivities. Give your thanks personality, but don’t spoil the end of the evening by trying too hard on the last note of conversation.

Should you offer to help clean up? That depends on the level of familiarity which you have with your host, and what kind of event they are hosting. The more formal the occasion, the less it is expected for the guests to assist. If you are in evening dress, chances are that you aren’t expected to clear the table or scrub cheese out of a casserole dish.

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Summary

The above guidelines are by no means an authoritative set of rules. I am no expert on Emily Post and I do not have How to Win Friends and Influence People committed to memory. These guidelines are derived from my own personal experiences of attending gatherings and observing how people interact with one another.

If there is one sentence which can sum up this entire guide, it is a question that you can ask yourself at any time, and be guaranteed a solid review of your own social reputation:

“If I were someone else, would I want me as a guest?”

If you can be honest enough with yourself to answer that question objectively, then congratulations! You will do will at any party, whether you are infiltrating as a crasher or attending as a guest.

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