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How to schmooze at fancy parties, according to Steven Spielberg’s PR man

Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
Say you took your contacts out.
  • George Zaloom
By George Zaloom

Co-founder, The Las Vegas Whaling Company

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

In Hollywood, one goes to a LOT of parties—part of being in the Biz, you know. Over the years, I’ve perfected the art of tinseltown party-going. But it’s only now, since I’ve changed careers, that I’m comfortable sharing my schmoozing secrets.

What follows is a schmoozing strategy imparted to me by the great Marvin Levy, Steven Spielberg’s PR man and primo schmoozer.

Whether you’re a Hollywood bigwig, a tech star, a politician, or an aspiring socialite, these secret strategies for dealing with food, drinks, pictures, and names should be of use.

Food: Go for the pasta salad

If you’re attending a screening or premiere, leave mid-credits, and get to the food before anyone else. Don’t worry about being the first person—no one will look down on you because of this. And as soon as the buffet line is open, go. Go! Go! Go!

Why be the first in line?

  1. You’re getting access to the food when it’s freshest and warmest.
  2. The entire selection is there.
  3. People haven’t yet coughed or spread their germs on it.
  4. Most importantly, if you eat your food before others, you’ll avoid the awkwardness of holding glasses, balancing plates, and worst of all, talking with food in your mouth.

Also, eat food you can either pop in your mouth and consume in one bite or eat with a fork. Marvin always ate the pasta salad because there was never a need to use a knife. This meant his right hand was already ready for shaking others’ hands (see below for more on this).

Drink: Try Dr. Pepper in a wine glass

After you’ve eaten, grab a drink. What if you don’t want a drink? Get one anyway because it gives your hands something to do instead of looking dopey by their sides.

Also, be sure to hold the drink in your left hand. Why the left? So, the right hand will be dry and ready to shake hands with important people you meet.

On the topic of drinks… They should never be alcoholic, but they should look alcoholic. Why? You don’t want the alcohol to affect your ability to schmooze. Schmoozing is everything! Others will be affected, but you’ll be able to use that as a tactical advantage.

Hold the drink to look sophisticated. To create the impression of Gin and Tonic, get a 7up with a lime and a stirring stick. To create the impression of Merlot, try Dr Pepper in a wine glass—no ice, of course.

Photos: Move to the middle

But when having your picture taken, get rid of that cocktail glass. Remember: you want to look your sharpest and holding a drink may give the impression that you might be drunk.

Also, put yourself in the middle of the picturethat way you will be positioned as the most popular and most important person. As you likely know, in Hollywood, popularity is what it’s all about.

Recalling names: Blur your eyes

One last thing to be prepared for: what happens if you’re in the middle of the party, someone taps you on the shoulder, you turn around and she knows you, but you’ve forgotten her name?! Horrors! Zero recall.

What do you do? She looks familiar, but your facial recognition neurons aren’t firing fast enough. There’s a fix, and Hollywood executive Toby Emmerich shared it with me.

Roll your eyes, feign embarrassment, lean over to her, and whisper: “I took my contacts out in the bathroom and they’re lost. Everything’s a blur, including you. Of course I recognize your voice, but you’re completely fuzzy.”

This works everytime! Out comes the name, and you’re saved. Thank you, Toby!

If you’re too young to pull off this, you can always reintroduce yourself with an outstretched hand. Usually this prompts a reciprocal greeting. And if that doesn’t work, tell the person your database crashed and you’re rebuilding your contact list. Then, ask if you could have a business card with his/her contact information. That’ll do the trick as well.

It’s a jungle out there. Good luck, and happy schmoozing!

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

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