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Close Encounters of the Prom Kind
Close Encounters of the Prom Kind
Have you ever seen the Steven Spielberg UFO movie classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Celebrating its 30th anniversary with a special-edition DVD release this past fall, Close Encounters is about visitation from another planet that explores what happens when people on earth confronted by strange new situations are compelled to deal with extreme stress, while also finding new ways to communicate and deal with what is happening to them.
A social occasion such as prom is just that, a close encounter and a unique and often stressful experience that can—if you’re not very careful—turn your special intimate evening into an encounter with disappointment. Sure, you have the perfect dress, shoes, hairstyle, and flowers picked out for the big event. Now what? Aren’t you forgetting something very important? Your personality!
You will find lots of things in common with new people if you allow them time to tell their stories; be an active listener.
Pleasant conversation plays a big part in social engagements and can make or break the experience, so it seems logical that we pay attention to this aspect of our celebrations. Yet why—on the one night deemed the most important day in a teenager’s life next to graduation—do we give so little attention to considering the interactive portions of the experience?
Important social occasions—especially such seminal events as prom—present numerous communication challenges, which, if you aren’t prepared to handle them carefully, can spoil a very special evening. The pressure of a once-in-a-lifetime challenge, after all, will likely make you feel tongue-tied with stress, and that emotional upheaval is totally predictable. But it’s not unavoidable.
So, what’s a girl to do to keep from feeling “alienated” and become, if not the belle of the ball, at least a vivacious prom attendee? The following tips should help you maximize your own communication skills at all of life’s close encounters.
Be the first to arrive
Don’t just circle the block a few times to kill time if you arrive early. Join the party and start having fun; that’s why you are there! It may be considered fashionable to arrive late in Hollywood, but at a social occasion, tardiness is considered in poor taste. The last thing you want is to hold up the important announcement, toast, meal or dance while everyone waits on your arrival. By being on time you will be able to work the room and meet guests more easily than if it were later and packed like sardines. This early-arrival banter will be your warm-up exercise to get yourself pumped up to keep the momentum going all evening.
Mix in and keep it upbeat
Conversation during social engagements should be lively and upbeat, as the décor around you will give the hint that it’s a party. If you are in a dinner party, sit next to people you know and don’t know, because this will balance out your conversation. Don’t just stick to people you know. You will find lots of things in common with new people if you allow them time to tell their stories; be an active listener. Do your best to keep the conversation flowing. Let other guests share their opinions, but interrupting them while they are in mid-sentence is rude. If someone has an opposing opinion, it’s perfectly fine to offer your own viewpoint, but it’s okay to agree to disagree. Should an uncomfortable moment or silence arise, it’s up to you as a good guest to change the subject. One strategy that seems to work every time is to ask if anyone would like a beverage refill.
Stick to common ground
Conversations at parties range from music, movies, entertainment events, sports, and even politics. Whatever you do, do not be tempted to discuss details of your common friends or acquaintances, especially guests who are at the same event. Be mindful of sharing details in your personal life and don’t go overboard with all your drama; no one likes to be stuck in a corner listening to that. Also, avoid hogging the conversation, because talking too much about yourself may either bore other guests or alienate them. Your goal is to find some common ground with other people through conversation and keep good eye contact. Avoid providing unsolicited advice (unless the guest is sharing something with you in complete confidence, in which case you may make an exception). The way out of this situation (if you stumble in it by accident) is to offer eye contact and a simple head nod to acknowledge what you have just heard.
Turn it down a notch
People automatically size us up on the smartness factor with our social skills, and you may end up exasperating a lot of guests (and this could mean social suicide) with your tone of voice. Your voice either draws people to you or turns them away, so speak in a balanced tone with moderate volume, and keep in mind how you might feel if someone were acting loud and boisterous in front of you—no one can bear an overbearing personality. If you must talk on your cell phone, make it quick and do so away from the group.
Take control of body language
Your hand movements must be limited to your own personal space, because other guests may find over-the-top gestures obtrusive. A big no-no is reaching over the table, clapping loudly, high-fiving someone, or shouting across the room in a formal setting. A firm handshake is acceptable, but remember your boundaries and don’t go overboard. With people you have just met, be aware of their body language and respect their space, and they will respond much more favorably in kind.
Meredith Boyd is a director of communications for the largest public relations firm in the financial services sector in the nation. She is also an accomplished pageant consultant, makeup artist, and commercial print model. Mrs. Boyd has also created her own cosmetics line, “Mere Cosmetics,” designed especially for pageant contestants, brides, and models. She held the title of Mrs. Georgia United States 2003, placing 4th in the Mrs. United States pageant. She is a national spokesperson for the Arthritis Foundation and is a graduate of Georgia Southern University, holding a B.A. in Communication Arts with an emphasis in Public Relations. Her web site is

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