Essential Tips for Political Conversation
In honor of our Ballot Box cocktail napkins, we thought we better get some advice from a real pro on the art of political cocktail party conversation. We turned to Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas (www.protocolschooloftexas.com) for her dos and don’ts:
Do think about your host. She (or he) has gone through a great deal of preparation to ensure the festive event goes off without a hitch. You certainly don’t want to be the “donkey” (or “elephant”) who ruined the evening’s vibe with your rants and tirades. Arrive prepared to impress your host with a unique hostess gift (cocktail napkins here) to start the night of on the right foot.
Do dress to impress. Choose an outfit that lets your host know you are glad you were included on the guest list. Take note of the invitation and follow the attire suggestions. If it says “Black Tie”, it does not mean suit and black tie, but rather a tuxedo or long dress. Most cocktail parties are dressy, yet not formal but it’s safe to follow tradition unless your host tells you otherwise.
Do make yourself look interesting. The more you can encourage someone to talk about themselves, the less you have to worry about saying the wrong thing. Testing the waters by tossing out a strong political opinion, and then relying on fate to determine if it will be well received is risky. A fellow guest may disagree with you whole heartedly, but be too polite to engage in political banter. They may also take their business or friendship elsewhere.
Do consider a few conversation alternatives. When in doubt, fall back on a few stand by’s: Get them talking about a happy event.
-“Where did you meet your fiance’”, or “I’d love to hear about your family’s favorite vacation spots. I’m in the midst of planning our own and I need a few ideas.”
-How did your first get started in your career?
-Did you always want to be an artist?
-I’m about to take a trip and need a couple of book ideas. Any suggestions?
-“I have guests arriving next weekend and I am creating a folder with art and food suggestions. What are your favorite spots to take out of town guests?”
Do speak freely … and with diplomacy. It’s inevitable that you will end up talking Trump or Clinton. How you handle the exchange is as important as what you offer to the conversation. Ascribe to the mantra, “I will share thoughtfully, without judgement or attachment.” Eliminate the need to change someone’s mind or opinion toyour own viewpoint. When you are guest at someone’s beautiful soiree, it’s important to keep your emotions in check. You want to be remembered favorably and considered for other engagements in the future.
Don’t arrive with a plus one. Especially when your uninvited date is overly outspoken about the latest political news. While it’s smart to be informed, and ready to add input on a topical subject, bringing the mood down by dominating the conversation with strong, jaded opinions is a deal killer. Your first mistake was to bring a surprise guest, second was not to warn them to tone down their rhetoric, and the third was their unfortunate red wine spill on the host’s carpet!
Don’t turn on the television. The cocktail party may be inconveniently scheduled on the same night of a debate or late breaking news. Even so, it’s your primary role as a savvy guest to make your host happy she invited you. You will not win brownie points or be offered the last serving of the white coconut cake by sneaking off to another part of the house to watch the politics in action. Rely on the web to get your information when you return home.