When it comes to social situations where I don’t know the majority of the people present, I tend to retreat inward pretty quickly. As someone who can be pretty shy, and lands firmly in the introvert (borderline hermit) camp, parties that involve mingling and small talk give me nervous hives.
I was once offered free admission to a Chamber of Commerce networking event. I was under the impression that the woman who extended the invite would meet me at the event and introduce me to all of her powerful friends, helping me land a cushy, high-paying job at the city. This did not happen. She arrived an hour late, said hello to me in passing, I brought paper resumes rather than business cards like a true networking n00b, I spent most of my time crying and hyperventilating in the bathroom, and I landed one interview as a clerk at a gas station. Everyone was at least 35, and I was a 22 year-old recent college grad with exactly one failed year of teaching under her belt. I was confused, unqualified, and out of place. It. Was. The. Worst.
More recently, I attended my sister-in-law’s baby shower. I knew it would mean a lot to my SIL for me to show up, and because my brother and I’s side of the family lives out of state, I wanted to be sure someone from my side was there to celebrate the new baby. I knew I just needed to bide my time to get through the “mingling” portion of the shower, and get to the sitting, eating, and watching my SIL open presents. I rock at sitting, eating, and watching others open presents. Until that moment, I had to try to blend into the crowd. I didn’t do a great job.
Instead of acting like a normal human, I spent most of the time awkwardly standing around, texting my best friend saying, “WHY AM I SO AWKWARD ALL OF THE TIME???” At one point, my brother stopped by to drop off his camera, and he just looked at me and laughed. Apparently I was visibly awkward. Neat!
Because of those interactions–and several, several others–I decided to pull together a few tips for my fellow shy/introverted folks out there. Unfortunately for us, small talk and mingling will always be a part of our lives.
Because facing mingling and networking are ever-present threats, here are some tips to help you feel a bit less awkward and present yourself as a more outgoing human than you actually are.
Avoid the big groups and aim for the stragglers…just don’t be creepy about it.
Walking into a GIANT group of strangers, especially strangers who all know each other is super intimidating to me. Instead, I try to start smaller. Scope out a person or two (no more than three or four) that are off by themselves. Those are your targets–people who also look a bit out of place themselves. Make a beeline for them, and start up a conversation. Just be sure that in your scoping out and beelining you don’t present yourself like a creepy stalker. Be cool, bro.
Have your opening line ready to go.
Wanna open with a simple hello? Go for it, but plan the first thing you’ll say before you get to the group. Otherwise you run the risk of overthinking, freaking out, and making yourself feel like an idiot or saying something completely bonkers. So before you make your move, plan out your first line. Don’t go beyond practicing your first one to two lines, though. You don’t want someone in the group to respond to you in a way that doesn’t line up with your pre-practiced script that sends you into a panic or a prolonged, awkward silence. Have your opener queued and ready, then take a deep breath and ease into the conversation as it unfolds.
Don’t give up too easily, but also know when–and how–to say goodbye.
Unfortunately, you might say something stupid, or the group you’ve now joined might say something stupid. Don’t let one awkward moment cause you to hit the self-destruct button. Often times, the people you’re chatting with are just as uncomfortable as you, so don’t let one bump ruin the entire endeavor. However, if you simply can’t get a conversation going and there is just no chemistry at all in the group, don’t be afraid to bail. Just like you had your opening line ready to go, make sure you have a clear exit strategy set up. It can be as simple as scooting away for punch or a bathroom break, but make your plan before you find yourself stuck and panicking in an awkward situation.
Create a Confident Party Go-er AU version of yourself
Maybe you don’t have to pretend to be a rich widow with a terrible secret, but sometimes putting on a “party persona” can help you feel more confident. Because small talk and networking can be really rough for us shy introverts, sometimes making the entire affair feel like a performance can help overcome those nerves. Before you enter the party, tell yourself I’m Totally a Party Person right now. I love parties, loud music, and talking about the weather with lots of people I don’t know. I exude confidence, I laugh easily, and everyone wants to meet me. Of course, if it helps, you can totally pretend to be a very rich widow with a terrible secret who is running from Burt Macklin of the FBI. You know, whatever works for you.
Remember: you are great and have something to contribute!
When I meet new people, I often over-think our interaction. Oh my gosh, why did I just use a British accent there? Why did I think it was a good idea to quote Lord of the Rings to her? Why can’t I seem to talk about what I do without sounding like a couch-dwelling basement troll? It can be a rough place in your own head, and 100% of the time, you are going to be harder on yourself than the world around you. Remember you’re great, and though it’s statistically probable someone out there won’t like you, there are lots of great people out there with whom you can have a pretty decent time with at a party. You just have to say hello.
Do you struggle with anxiety or being shy at parties/networking events? How do you overcome it? Let me know your party survival tips and tricks in the comments!