Stop Telling Stories Badly at Holiday Parties

Uncategorized Dec 12, 2019

Before you head to that potluck, office party of family celebration, you want to go with a few aces up your sleeve so you’re not the boring person at a holiday party.

If you’re dreading holiday parties this year, start looking at these opportunities as a way to improve your writing, find golden material and become a better speaker.

What NOT to talk about

It’s winter. It’s cold outside. Everyone can agree on that. Even if you live in Miami or Honolulu, it’s still a few degrees colder than normal.

And what do you do for a living? Most people like their job titles, others don’t, but it’s sad to let those things define us when we have so much more to talk about. During the holidays we leave work behind to focus on our loved ones. So why have empty conversations?

Intentionally challenge yourself to not talk about work or the weather. Within the first 10 minutes you will hear it from someone else, and if you do, redirect them with something else and see how much different the conversation will be.

Shock Value

In comedy, writers know the concept of the element of surprise; they know how to punch up jokes, and this is what makes the audiences laugh and gasp.

These techniques work well because the audience doesn’t see the punch coming. What makes it work best is if the punch is weaved into the story well; if it is something so true but yet no one is daring enough to say it.

I love going to certain cocktail parties where I know certain friends will be there. They are often blunt and say the things that I wish I could, sparking interesting conversations. The more I see them do this, the more I realize, if you speak your mind, even if you’re afraid, as long as you can agree to disagree and show respect, nothing extremely bad will happen.

And even if you do spark a disagreement, that’s fine. Passionate disagreement means you’re on the brink of brilliant collaboration. Just remember to shake hands before you walk away.

Getting some laughs

Have you used the same cocktail party story over and over, does it still hold up?

But how do you know if it’s funny or not? Here are a few ways to tell:

The number one thing that tells me that something won’t be funny is if the person telling the joke is laughing or not. And after the punchline, they are often the only ones still laughing.

People love humiliation. Think of shows like American Idol or Cheaters. They’re wildly popular because it’s cringe worthy to see people sing so bad or get caught in the act of cheating, but we can’t look away.

During ScriptNotes, a writer’s podcast by John August and Craig Maizen, they talked about how the absolute worst of times makes great stories. But what makes humiliating moments funny are when the embarrassment is self-created, and you find this in stories that have well-crafted irony.

Now irony is something that is difficult to explain until it happens. Even Alanis Morissette had a hard time doing it.  

But by telling these ironic stories you will learn to laugh at yourself. And when I find that I’m able to laugh at myself, others around me relax and open up.

Look for competition

I love red dresses. Red lipstick. Red shoes.

And red is my favorite color for a reason. I have two favorite red party dresses, and at last year’s holiday party I felt like the belle of the ball.

Now I wasn’t looking for a kiss under the mistletoe, I wanted to stand out more in pictures and I wanted to catch more attention since this was a networking event. But anytime you stand out, you create competition.

People will compete with each other at holiday parties by using their stories. Author Chuck Palahniuk would get some of his best character development insights from watching people use anecdotes to compete with each other. One person would say something really clever, then the next person would out do them, and then another, and it would go back and forth. The things that people tend to compete over are the golden things to capture in writing because there is a hidden conflict there that reveals a character’s personality.

Test your story idea without pitching

Another technique from Palahniuk is that he would tell stories from his books, but instead of giving a synopsis, he’d give a scene, or whatever he had developed to see if it would resonate with people. Do you tell it in an engaging way? Are people fascinated or do they just say, “it’s good.”

You don’t even have to say you’re working on a book or script. Just tell it as if you were repeating something fascinating that you heard and you’re enthusiastic to share it. If people know that you’re pitching them, you won’t get an honest answer. But their reaction to your storytelling is what you want, no so much their feedback as if you were pitching and getting notes.

It’s good to be in a corner

At last year’s holiday party, my Business Accelerator students and I were at the beautiful Hoxton for a holiday party with champagne and drinks. I thought I would have a chance to mingle with all the students and take more photos, but a group of them cornered me and flooded me with questions.

This is the ONE time it’s okay to be in a corner. I love it when my students want to know more. I had space for more intimate conversations and I get the people who are truly interested in learning. I wanted to hear more of their goals, a fire had sparked in them and they were burning with questions on how to take their businesses to the next level.  

And this is not the time to tell name-dropping, I’m-now-an-influencer stories. I told the embarrassing stories; losing my first big sale, being tongue tied in front of the influencer I idolized, and how bad my first website pictures were. I want to make them laugh, connect with them and soon the corner feels as warm and inviting as a dinner table. They began to tell me their backstories and all the things they wanted to create with the beaming look of aspiration in their faces, the same look I had when I started my journey.  

Remember, at holiday mixers, people are still networking and trying to impress each other. If you can get them to stop trying so hard to give you a resume or pitch, you’ll have fascinating and authentic conversations.

Energy Wins

Every time I think that I don’t have anything to say, or when I feel like an airhead in a group of intellectuals, I remind myself of a hidden superpower I have, energy. And I can’t explain how I have it, I’m an introvert who suffers from anxiety, but I love to smile and bring positive vibes everywhere I go. I love when a boring conversation turns into laughs, or when I can deflect attention away from someone talking about themselves to the quiet person who wants to speak up.

This holiday party, wear the dress that you’ve always been afraid to wear before, don’t one up each other and focus on laughing at yourself and you’ll find that you’ll soon be looking forward to holiday parties again!


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