5 tips to survive a conference cocktail party


Labor Day may be the official end of summer, but it’s also the ceremonial start to fall conference season. The time when every traveling man's and woman’s mettle is tested. That’s right, we’re back in full swing and ready to complain about airport delays, horrific conference food, questionable hotel experiences and coma-inducing presentations.

But after a relatively quiet summer, we got the travel itch; we’re ready to get back out there and do what we do best: business on the road. 

The hardest thing about being on the road is the running around, need for heightened and constant focus and thinking up better questions to ask then: “So, who do you hate less for president?”

I feel like this is going to be a multi-part series, so this column we’ll explore the lighter side of cocktail party strategies. I’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

Leave on a Laugh

Small talk is tough, but it is essential to relationship forming. It’s how we suss each other out and get to know each other. If we both agree the weather stinks, well, we form a bit of a bond.

Unfortunately, there is no written agreement regarding length of chat, or how they must come to an end. I know I’m much better in small doses, for example, so to keep the conversational torture down to palpable levels, I always try to leave if (big if) I manage to make a good joke. Of course, the other option is allowing the conversation to wither away and hope someone interjects so you can dash off. Or you can just let it become extremely awkward and uncomfortable.

Hide in the Corner

Not the best way to meet new people or shore up relationships, but it is the only way I’ll eat. Well, that is, if the cocktail party food doesn’t look like some sort of hapless kitchen nightmare.

I’m not a fan of shoving an oversized peel-and-eat shrimp into my gaping maw, then having that CEO I need to connect with walk by and witness cocktail sauce dripping down my chin. That's embarrassing for both of us. So I hide in the corner, typically standing by one of those trays everyone is supposed to put their plates and glasses on. I feel a sense of comfort and security when I am near a stack of trays, and it lets me think through strategy a bit, too.

Don’t Drink and Eat

I would never dare to say don’t drink to hospitality professionals. That’s like a dog never barking or a politician never lying; it’s against the natural order of the universe. What I mean is don’t do drink and eat at the same time. Not only is it impossible to greet people properly, but eating becomes a difficult task. Ever see someone try to juggle beer and penne pasta? Not pretty.

Of course, this issue it is not your fault. It’s conference organizers who have all been collectively brainwashed to think five cocktail rounds are suitable for a group of 300 adults.

Lots of Laps

When I am in the zone, I seem to never move from a single spot. I bump into people, conversational focus shifts and there is an easy flow to the event. But sometimes it’s tough. When I was new to the business, there were times I would walk into the room, feel overwhelmed and run right back out.

Even 20 years in there are times I cannot handle conversations and I feel as if no one wants to talk to me. Or I’m just not up to forging new relationships. Usually a few laps around the room rectifies that problem. I don’t feel weird like I do when standing idle. Plus, it makes me look like I have purpose, something rare in my life.


Pooped from all that schmoozing? Well, just get out of there. You said your hellos, got your goal accomplished and ate some shrimp. Walk out with purpose, and celebrate you only have another 83 cocktail parties to go before the New Year. No one likes goodbyes anyway.

What’s your favorite cocktail party or conference strategy? Let me know the serious ones and the funny ones! Email me at [email protected] or on Twitter and Instagram @TravelingGlenn and let’s all help each other succeed, and have a laugh, too.

Glenn Haussman is editor-at-large for HOTEL MANAGEMENT. His views expressed are not necessarily those of HOTEL MANAGEMENT, its parent company Questex Media Group, and/or its subsidiaries.