Mingle All the Way Through Holiday Parties 'Tis the season for parties. For many they're a joyful occasion. But for some they're a terrifying experience. You walk into the room. Then what? Have no fear. Learn conversation-survival techniques from a mingling maven.
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Mingle All the Way Through Holiday Parties

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Mingle All the Way Through Holiday Parties

Mingle All the Way Through Holiday Parties

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So the other day I had an experience that many people would find terrifying. I walked up to the entrance to a holiday party.


INSKEEP: You are close to hysteria, you can just hear the people. Listen to this. Wow. What you hear on the other side of that door are real people at a not entirely real party. We brought these guests together for practice. We want to learn how to handle one of those parties where you don't know anybody, or your spouse made you come, or it's for work, or you'd just rather not be there.

Ms. JEANNE MARTINET (Author, "The Art of Mingling"): Even I get a little bit nervous before entering a party like this.

INSKEEP: And Jeanne Martinet is the one who is supposed to know what to do. We invited her because she wrote a book called "The Art of Mingling."


And, Jeanne, I really hope that you're going to help me get through this because I actually have not met, you know, all the people in this room.

Ms. MARTINET: Well, I'm not going to know a single soul either, so...

INSKEEP: Wait. Is the first thing that you do, we'll open this door and kind of scan in the room?




INSKEEP: Okay. So you've got that group over to the last table, they look a little bit scary. As we go around the room, there are people around the edges of the room chatting, there's a group that's about three or four.

Ms. MARTINET: You know, you might want just do what I like to call the honest approach. It sounds so simple, but it works like a dream. I discovered this one time when I was really feeling at a lost at a party of about 100 people where I didn't know anybody. And I just walked up to a group of people, and I said: Excuse me. And they all looked at me, like, who are you? And I said I don't know a single soul at this party.

You throw yourself on the mercy of the people, and most people respond really warmly, and I ended up having a really good conversation with them.

INSKEEP: Could you give me a demonstration please?

Ms. MARTINET: Okay. My choice would be, see that woman over there when she -look at those long earrings?

INSKEEP: Oh, yes, yes.

Ms. MARTINET: I think it would be very easy. It's a little harder to do when you're man to woman, but as a woman-to-woman I'm going to go over there and comment on her earrings.

INSKEEP: She cuts across the room. She makes the approach.

Ms. MARTINET: Hi. I don't mean to interrupt. Those earrings are so fabulous.

Unidentified Woman #1: Oh, thank you.

Ms. MARTINET: Where'd you get those?

Unidentified Woman #1: They came from Hong Kong actually. One of my friends from school lives there, and so it's a cheap present; she brought back this bag full of earrings.

Ms. MARTINET: Well, what was she doing in Hong Kong?

Unidentified Woman #1: Ah, she lives -

INSKEEP: Okay. We're in. Or, wait a minute. Jeanne is in. I'm just standing around. So after a few minutes, Jeanne Martinet suggests a way for me to start a conversation with another group of people.

Ms. MARTINET: There's something called where you use an observation. So you can - why don't you go up to a group and say, is it cold in here or is it just me?

INSKEEP: There's no way that'll work.


INSKEEP: Excuse me, is it cold in here or is it just me?

Unidentified Man: Kind of warm in here? Cold outside.

INSKEEP: Well, it's been brutal outside.

Unidentified Group: (Unintelligible).

INSKEEP: Are you folks from around here?

Unidentified Woman #2: Well, now I live here, but I am originally from another country.

INSKEEP: Oh, what country are you from?

Unidentified Woman #2: Chile.

INSKEEP: Oh, from Chile?

Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Oh. I'd love to get down there sometime.

Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah. It's a nice country.

INSKEEP: It's a little weird to do this without a mingling coach standing there listening, but I keep going. I ask a few questions, then a few more, until somebody is telling me about an amazing sunrise they'd seen on a trip to India.

Unidentified Woman #3: It was absolutely beautiful.

INSKEEP: Is the light different there, does it just seemed brighter and clearer?

Unidentified Woman #3: Oh, (unintelligible).

INSKEEP: Jeanne Martinet seems unimpressed with my technique. So we call a timeout.

Ms. MARTINET: Stop the party.

INSKEEP: Oh. Stop the party. If we could stopped the party for a moment, please?


INSKEEP: Imagine you could do this at a real party. OK, We've stopped the party all right, how am I doing here?

Ms. MARTINET: OK. That was very good. Of course, you're very good at interviewing people because that's what you do for a living. But the problem with interviewing people the way you were doing...


Ms. MARTINET: ...is that you never going to get out.


Ms. MARTINET: You're firing questions at them.

INSKEEP: This is actually a problem that I have.

Ms. MARTINET: The problem is people will say to me, mingling is easy, you just ask people questions, just be interested in other people. But that's really now there is to it. You also have to give back.

INSKEEP: And you have to know how to get away. Jeanne Martinet offers this ruthless prescription. It's just as important to know how to get out of a conversation as how to get in.

Ms. MARTINET: Your goal at this party is to circulate. I mean if you find the love of your life or something then of course you could stay as long as you want; but while you're mingling, you have to keep moving.

INSKEEP: And she has techniques for getting out of a mingle, like one that's known as the human sacrifice.

Ms. MARTINET: Which sounds really brutal, but it is done at every single party that I've ever been to. I've seen it done.

INSKEEP: That's where you escape a boring conversation by grabbing some other poor guest and throwing him into the conversation in your place. And then there's the question of what you do with the overly talkative guest.


INSKEEP: I think I heard someone saying - hey, Susan Stamberg.

SUSAN STAMBERG: Fancy meeting you here.

INSKEEP: I didn't know that they were, you were even on good relations with these people.

STAMBERG: Well, they don't speak to me, but I'm always happy to come into a party.

INSKEEP: Well, you just come, that's the way to be.

STAMBERG: Thank you.

INSKEEP: To be very open.

STAMBERG: I've been meaning to mention that I didn't get to put my entire cranberry relish recipe on MORNING EDITION.

INSKEEP: Oh, brother.

STAMBERG: I tell the recipe. I explained about the two cups of raw cranberries, that you grind them together with this...

INSKEEP: This could take a while. She's been talking about that relish for decades.

STAMBERG: A pinch of sugar, the sour cream, and the horseradish at the end.

INSKEEP: OK. Stop the party. Stop the party.


INSKEEP: Stop. Stop. All right. What do I do now?

Ms. MARTINET: This is a very common thing that happens at a party. When I'm caught with someone like this, I like to use what I called the snooze escape. It's a technique that involves three steps. First, you take control of the conversation, you change the subject, and then you can escape. Because while she's still talking about her cranberry recipe you cannot really just without being totally rude get away from her.

INSKEEP: All right.

Ms. MARTINET: And I'm going to demonstrate.


Stamberg: Well, here is someone that doesn't know about my cranberry relish.

Ms. MARTINET: Hi, I'm Jeanne. You know, it's interesting that you're talking about cranberries because I was just talking to my mother about the cranberries that we always have at Thanksgiving, which are those cranberries that come in a can...

STAMBERG: Yeah, sure.

Ms. MARTINET: ...with the ridge that you can still see on the plate.


Ms. MARTINET: And my mother still cooking like she's in the '50s. In fact, I have to go to dinner tonight with her and that means I have to eat now because I can't eat her food.


Ms. MARTINET: It's so nice to meet you.

STAMBERG: Oh, goodbye. This is it.

Ms. MARTINET: Goodbye.

STAMBERG: But I didn't get the chance to tell you...

Ms. MARTINET: I'm going to come back after I have some food and I'm going to hear all about it.

Unidentified Woman #4: OK.



Ms. MARTINET: That - I did that very quickly. Sometimes it takes a lot longer to actually complete the smooth escape.

INSKEEP: I actually miss her now that she's gone.


INSKEEP: And just for a moment I'm left in the center of the room, mingling with the mingling coach.


INSKEEP: Did you have ever seen a movie "Pulp Fiction?"

Ms. MARTINET: Yes. Not recently.

INSKEEP: There's a question that is posed in the movie "Pulp Fiction." And the question is: In conversation, do you listen or wait to talk? Which is it for you?

Ms. MARTINET: Really, it should be both. I think that everybody in the world exists on one side or the other of that line. People either listen too much and don't know how to really participate in the conversation, or they tend, like me, to do a little too much talking and have to really work on their listening skills, which I will do probably until I die.

INSKEEP: Well, Jeanne Martinet, author of the "Art of Mingling," thanks, you made this party a little easier than it would otherwise have been.

Ms. MARTINET: Thank you. I'm so glad to be here.

INSKEEP: And stop the party.


INSKEEP: And Jeanne Martinet has more mingling tips at our Web site NPR.org.



I'm Deborah Amos.

INSKEEP: Deborah, it's been fun mingling with you this week.

AMOS: Thanks.

INSKEEP: Renee is back next week. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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