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Be a peacock, not a wallflower, at the party

- Associated Press - Monday, December 19, 2011

Stressed out about the office Christmas party or your neighbor's drop-in bash for New Year's Eve? You could send your regrets, or show up and hide in the corner while pretending to text all night. Or you could go the other way and dazzle the guests with your outfit, wit and charm. Here's a guide for peacocking, or how to be the life of the party.

• Dress: "Wear something festive: A colorful tie, an interesting pin or fashionable shoes are great conversation starters," said Jacqueline Whitmore, an etiquette expert and author of "Poised For Success." "People tend to gravitate toward people who stand out or look interesting."

Christie Nightingale, principal of Premier Match, an upscale matchmaking firm, agreed, saying: "Stand out from the crowd by wearing a bright color, like red or emerald green, not black."

Some experts say a flashy dress, low neckline or wacky hat may not be appropriate for an office or family gathering, but if it's a "Breakfast at Tiffany's"-style cocktail party with zany music, or your old college roommate's glam late-night soiree, a sexy sparkling dress or a tangerine tie on a black button-down shirt is just the thing.

• Conversation: "Something I've noticed over the years is that interesting people are interested," said Julie Subotky, who owns a personal assistant business called "Consider It Done" and wrote a book by the same name.

"They're talking to the people not everyone is talking to. And those are the easy people to talk to - they're standing by themselves looking awkward. They're easy to find." Have a list of easy questions in mind as conversation-starters: "How's it going? Who do you know here? How did you get here?"

She added that "interesting people always have a funny story or two," so be ready with a good anecdote.

Jokes can work, but be careful not to offend.

You also could brush up on current events, but Miss Subotky said most people would rather chat about subjects that are "easy and fun instead of getting so serious."

• Introductions and compliments: "Walk around, get a solid idea of who's in the house and sidle right up to someone who seems interesting - maybe they're wearing a bright sweater, or a fun hat - and give them a compliment," said Sian-Pierre Regis, founder of the Swagger: New York style website. "Then introduce yourself."

Another tip: Introduce people to each other. "There are always people who don't know each other at holiday parties, and if you can help them connect with new friends, they will remember you for it," said Meghan Keane, editorial director of B5Media, a lifestyle blog network for women.

• Get kooky: Angela Betancourt, of Miami Beach, who works in public relations, calls herself a "firsthand experience expert" on being the life of the party. She said as long as you don't humiliate yourself, it's OK to be a little kooky.

"The life of the party is the initiator," she declared. "Be the first to start dancing. Ask the disc jockey for a special request and get on the dance floor. Be the first to start singing and get everyone to join along. Start a conga line!"

She added: "Getting quirky means you're not afraid to wear the ugly Christmas sweater. You don't mind doing your ridiculous signature dance move. There is no fear in gathering the crowd and telling a joke. The life of the party knows how to stand out in a good way."

• Toasts: For an office party, "another way to stand out, which takes a lot of practice and preparation, is to offer a very brief, humble toast, thanking your co-workers, colleagues and the executive team for being great co-workers, colleagues, team, etc.," said Matt Eventoff, owner of Princeton Public Speaking, which trains executives for public appearances.

At a social gathering in someone's home, a simple toast might thank the hosts for bringing everyone together with good food, drinks and company.

• Help out: Rachel Weingarten, who has hosted and produced celebrity and charity events, said she always has the best time when she's working, "since I had a legitimate reason to introduce myself to everyone. I'd advise people to make themselves unofficial hosts by volunteering to help out the hosts. Help greet guests, pour drinks or pass around hors d'oeuvres, make a note of the cute or interesting people and find them again later on."

• Office networking: For an office party: "Try to meet as many people as possible, find out what they do so you have an opportunity to follow-up with them back in the office," said Lynne Sarikas, executive director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University in Boston. "Talk to people you meet in line for the bar, waiting for a restroom, whatever. You have something in common by being there so start a conversation."

• Be a good guest: If there's a magic show, a Secret Santa activity, a sing-along or a game, enthusiastically join in and encourage others to join you.

• Mind your manners: Party pitfalls: Too much booze, offensive jokes or flirtatious behavior that goes over the line.

• Departures: "Know when to go," advised Jodi R.R. Smith of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Marblehead, Mass. "Don't wait for a conversation to wind its way to an awkward pause or for the party to draw down to the last stragglers. As things begin to slow, wish everyone a happy holiday and either move on to the next person or the next party."

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