Getting into events where you’re not invited sounds fun, but this isn’t the movies. Whether you’re trying to network with VIPs or just have a good time, getting into an exclusive nightclub or party all comes down to social engineering: The fine art of getting the results you need out of people one way or the other. Here’s how to do it.
Whether you have a startup idea and want to get in to a fancy event full of other entrepreneurs and investors, want to connect with VIPs in an industry you want to break into, or just want to get onto a social scene previously out of your reach, there are plenty of reasons to consider crashing a party.
We won’t judge you if you do it, but there are two major areas you have to address: preparation, or making sure you do your homework before you actually go, and execution, meaning the tricks you’ll use to gain entry and work the room once you arrive. Let’s look at each one individually.
Before You Leave: Do Your Homework
Getting into the most exclusive downtown club or an embassy party isn’t an easy affair, and it’s even worse if you try to stroll up off the street and just talk your way in. If you’re serious, you’ll need to do a little legwork in advance to maximize your chances of getting in.
Get the Details: When, Where, and How to Get In
First, learn as much as you can about the event you want to go to. When is it, and how long does it run? Where will it be held? How do you get there, and how many entrances are there? Plan your approach. We’re not saying you need to put maps on the wall and things, but you should definitely know whether the event is named-invite only, invite with "plus-ones," (where the only people who need to be named are the people invited; their associates or guests don’t have to have their names recorded), or open to anyone who happens to know about the event—as long as you’re in the know (for example, the Dinner in White, which is so secretive that even invitees don’t know where it is until minutes before the dinner).
Dress the Part
Once you understand where the place is, how arrivals are greeted and invitations are checked, and where you should go to get in, the next thing you need to do is dress the part. If the event is tie-and-tails affair, you don’t want to show up in a business suit. No one’s going to bat an eye at someone in a suit and tie or dress and coat if the dress code is semi-formal or "sharp casual." You’ll probably draw eyes if you show up in a tie at a casual affair, but even then not many. You will, however, stand out in a suit or gown at a trendy nightclub. If you’re unsure of the dress code, step up a level—there’s (usually) never harm in being overdressed for an event, as long as you don’t stand out because of it. Worst case you’re a little overdressed and you’ll have something to play on when you get in. Best case, you’re on the money, or even sharper than the people around you.
There’s one exception to this rule though: Exclusive nightclubs. If you walk up wearing a business suit, you don’t look like a rockstar, you look like you just came from the office. As Charlie Houpert explains in this piece about hacking the club scene, the key here is to dress like someone who doesn’t pay to get into clubs. Dress like a rockstar, or a gangster, with a hint of formality but like you’re out for a good time. You’ll look natural, and you won’t get slapped with table fees or bar minimums because you’re in a shirt and tie—or worse, you won’t get questioned at the door because you seem out of place. Regardless, making sure you match the dress code is essential to getting in without hassle.
When You Arrive: Confidence Is Key, but So Is Quick Thinking
When you get to the event you want to slip into (and try to arrive in style—walk up if you must, or have a car service drop you off at the door), you have a couple of options. If you did your homework, you should be able to at least get to the door of the club or party without issue. Now comes the difficult part—getting inside like you’re a natural. You may have to talk to a bouncer who has final say over who enters and who leaves, or maybe a valet with a clipboard checking names against an invite list. Here’s how to make sure you get past them.
Flex Your Social Engineering Muscles
Your first step is to pick the best point of entry. If there’s only one way into the affair, this is easy. If there are multiple doors or gates where guests are being received, you may want to pick the busiest one—putting a little time and backlog pressure on the person receiving guests can work in your favor if you’re trying to convince them you’re so-and-so’s plus-one, and they’re already inside, or that you don’t even need an invitation.
Of course, it can backfire if you’re not confident enough, so bringing confidence to the table is key. You don’t want to look like you’re trying to get in, you want to look like you belong there—and if you really want to be there, enough that you’re willing to sneak in, then channel that desire into suppressing your nervousness. Act natural, and walk up like you know the place and you know what’s up. Here’s how Houpert describes it:
The doorman eyes you and your group suspiciously. He is looking for signs that you don’t belong. He is waiting for you to crack, to show your nervousness, to ask how much the cover is. But you don’t ask. You know that there is no cover for you.
So the doorman asks “Who are you here with?”
And you reply with a smile, “Oh, it’s me, Dave, Michelle, and Nicole.”
You say their names even if they have never been introduced to the doorman. You assume familiarity. The goal is to be viewed not as a customer, but as a human being, or better yet, a friend. Customers wait in line and pay. Friends walk right in for free.
Once you’ve gotten in and enjoyed your night (you did everything I said before, right?!) make a point to shake hands with the doorman on your way out. Tell him to have a great night. Crack a joke. Same goes for the bouncers.
Next time you come out, you’ll probably slap hands with the doorman and give a man hug. The door will be a breeze. Assume familiarity and it becomes real familiarity.
(Familiarity isn’t just for the doorman and bouncers, btw. Assume familiarity with EVERYONE in life. Act friendly and surprisingly awesome things will come your way.)
Seriously: This works. This works whether there’s a restricted guestlist, and it works when it’s a club and the doorman or bouncer has the final call as to who goes in and who stays out in the cold. Remember, social engineering isn’t just about getting what you need from people or manipulating them—it’s about getting the right people on your side, winning them over so they do things they wouldn’t normally do because it’s you, after all, and you’re good people.
Don’t be Aggressive, and Have a Backup Plan
If you get rebuffed, press, but don’t be aggressive. As we’ve mentioned before, there’s a huge difference between being aggressive and being assertive, and you want to come off like you’re disappointed that the person you’re talking to doesn’t understand. If you come off self-entitled, or like you deserve to be let in you’ll just turn the doorman or bouncer against you. Try to salvage the situation (after all, you may see them again if you try another time) and part with a smile.
The reason we suggested you take the busy entrance first is because word will travel slower to the lighter entrances that you tried to get in than the other way around. Have a backup plan if you need to try more than once. If you have better luck or a stronger rapport at another entrance or with another doorman, let them know you ran into a little trouble with one of the others. Don’t get anyone in trouble, just let them know it was rough. A little empathy goes a long way, and you’ll earn a future ally. When you leave later, see if you can go out the way you were denied entry in—don’t rub it in to the doorman who initially rejected you, but smile and wish them a good night. The goal is to make them doubt their decision to rebuff you, not get revenge. That way, the next time they see you, they’re more willing to talk.
If you get the feeling you’re going to have a difficult time no matter where you try to walk in, put your head up high and go for it. If you’re stopped, be courteous but curt, and explain you’re in a hurry and need to meet someone here before they leave for the evening. Attitude counts for a lot. Don’t cross the line into condescension, but arriving like someone who owns the joint, belongs there, and is there for a reason will preemptively cut off many lines of questioning and let you pass.
Work the Room
Once you’re inside, your work isn’t done. This is where your homework and your quick thinking come into play. When we talked about how to convince someone you work in their building, we told you to be ready for questioning. The same is true at a club or social event. If you’re in a noisy nightclub, that’s one thing—but if you’re in a party where you plan to network with other people, you should be ready to talk with everyone there on their level.
Introduce yourself to people you want to meet when the time is right, or chat up people who are alone, waiting for a drink at the bar, in line at the buffet, whatever works. It doesn’t take much, and only a few minutes of talking will do before you can go on to something else (or take a breather) and let that person go about their business too. It’s okay to turn that small talk into a real conversation if you have the opportunity, but personally, I love ordering a drink at a bar and striking up a little chat with someone nearby—the time required for me to get my drink (or them to get theirs and move on) is usually enough to exchange names, a few pleasantries, and make a good impression.
Neville Medhora explains in this fantastic guide to crashing a party how he managed to get along with people he had never met before and work a room. The key is being confident enough to break the ice, keep something in your back pocket to talk about, and give people plenty of opportunities to talk to you about their interests and passions. Be genuine, remember the people around you are all human, and you can get along in any environment without raising eyebrows or making people wonder whether you "belong" there.
Strategically Make Your Exit
When the night winds down or it’s time for you to head out, make sure to do another pass of the room and big everyone you connected with a fond farewell. Ideally, if your goal was to network, you’ve traded some business cards and some chitchat. If you wanted to meet people in a club, presumably you have a few hands to shake. If it’s a private club, ideally you’ve connected a few promoters who can get you in next time. Make your last circle of the room and wish everyone a good evening, and most importantly, make sure to thank your host (if you’re at a private affair) for a wonderful evening. Even if they have absolutely no idea who you are, they will once you take time out to thank them, and to thank them for inviting you.
Do the same with the doorman or the bouncer who let you in (and, like we mentioned, the bouncer who didn’t). Crack a joke, tell them to take care and to have a good night, go in and warm up, and so on. The more final impressions you can make—especially with a bright and genuine smile—the easier time you’ll have coming back next time. If you traded contact information with others at the party, you may not need these tricks again—next time you’ll have a genuine invitation.
This post is part of our Evil Week series at Lifehacker, where we look at the dark side of getting things done. Knowing evil means knowing how to beat it, so you can use your sinister powers for good. Want more? Check out our evil week tag page.
Photos by Everett Collection (Shutterstock), Everett Collection (Shutterstock), Everett Collection (Shutterstock), Everett Collection (Shutterstock), Everett Collection (Shutterstock), Everett Collection (Shutterstock), and Everett Collection (Shutterstock).