I love being in a social whirl, bouncing around a room having all kinds of conversation with all kinds of people. Laughter, smiles, stories and just a little flirting – if I can have an evening with those things then I know I’ve had a good night.
I’m not particularly extroverted, in fact I’m probably more inclined towards introversion, but I’ve learned how to engage with new people in social situations, make new connections and make a great first impression.
I thought I’d put together some tips and advice for you if you find it tough to talk with new people in social situations, and if you’re shy some simple ideas for making social events much easier.
- Don’t overthink it.
- Go to places where you’ll like people
- Nobody’s judging you, and if they are it just doesn’t matter.
- Have an opener
- Expect some discomfort
- Have fun with it
- Forget about being interesting, be interested
If you’re shy then I’m sure you’d agree that you spend a lot of your time leading up to the event dreading it. You think of a great excuse you can make to not go, you think of a great excuse to leave early, and you beat yourself up about how you won’t really enjoy it, how you won’t know anybody and what’s the damn point anyway?
The more you think about it the worse it gets
Keep having those thoughts and you’ll never want to leave the house, so watch what you’re telling yourself. Talk yourself down and you’ll be setting yourself up for having a miserable time, when in truth you don’t know what’s going to happen. You might meet someone really fascinating, you might hear a great story, maybe you’ll hear a joke that makes you laugh out loud and maybe there’s a friend of a friend you’ll be glad you met.
Look at what you might gain and don’t drag your thoughts into the pit.
If you know that you don’t get on with hunters then don’t hang out at you local shooting club. If you know that you hate clowns then avoid the circus.
The point is that in order to meet the kinds of people you’d like to meet you have to go to places where the kinds of people you’d like to meet go. I have a remarkable grasp of the obvious, don’t you think?
What values, traits or interests do the people you get on with share? Where do these folks go? How can you get involved? You’ll find it so much easier to meet and talk with people who share something with you, so make sure you’re targeting the right kinds of places or events.
Would you go and talk to someone who’s skulking in the corner of the room looking at their shoes with a frown on their face? Nope. How about someone who seems warm, accessible and friendly? It’s a pretty safe bet which one will have a better time. Check in on your body language from time to time and see what kind of image you’re portraying. Loosen your body language, put yourself where the people are and smile.
Truth is that people will always make judgments about people. We probably shouldn’t, but we do. But with that said remember this – it’s not a competition. You don’t have to compete to be the most popular, you’re not competing to win people over and there’s no prize for the highest number of handshakes or pecks on the cheek.
What people might think is their business – it just doesn’t matter
You have no control over what people will think, and you should never operate from a position of trying to control people. Some people will love you and others won’t – that’s just the way it is – so the way you behave and the way you interact with people should be independent of what others think. Relate to people in the way that makes sense to you, and forget about what others think.
If you’re shy then it’s often those moments when you’re desperately trying to think of something to say that are most awkward and painful. While you don’t need to open every conversation and don’t need to fill every silence, it can be useful to have a couple of openers ready to pull out of the bag.
So think about where you’re going, what the event is, who will be there and what they might have in common. Perhaps the most overlooked opener is to simply introduce yourself, and it’s one I use all the time. “Hi, I’m Steve” I say, with a smile and a handshake. Of course, feel free to use your own name.
Once the introduction’s made, here are a few other ideas for openers –
”So how do you know [insert mutual friends name here]?”
“How’s your week been going?”
“What’s the best thing about being a [insert job title here]?”
“Have you tried the [insert the name of something tasty or awful from the buffet table]?”
The simple fact that you’re on the shy side means that going out of your comfort zone will involve a little discomfort. There’s that famous grasp of the obvious again.
Growth happens when you’re stretching yourself, and sometimes that’s uncomfortable
Experiencing discomfort can be an awkward experience if you put your focus onto the discomfort, so the trick is to acknowledge it and recognise that it’s okay – it’s a sign that you’re on the right track.
Nobody’s going to die, nobody’s going to get maimed and nobody’s going to get pelted with rotten food, so RELAX. You’re off the hook, this isn’t a test and you don’t need to perform, so you’re free to just relax and be yourself.
Forget about the rules, just do what comes naturally and enjoy it.
Imagine how you are with your best friend – your guard’s down, you’re relaxed and you’re comfortable – this is you at your best so use that behavioural experience and apply it to a new social environment. This is playtime, so have fun with it.
Nobody likes to hang around someone who’s talking about themselves all time, someone who’s showing off or someone who’s clearly trying too hard. You don’t have to be the life and soul of the party and you don’t have to be the most interesting person in the room. Instead, be interested in other people.
Be curious and be genuinely interested.
People love being around someone who has a genuine interest in what’s going on for them, so be curious and have a real interest in someone else. We’re not talking Gestapo or Spanish Inquisition levels of questioning here, but do go to a social event with a healthy interest in the other people in the room. Do that and you’ll be a hit.