How do you mingle? How do you fit in? For shy people, introverted or extroverted, this scenario can be a nightmare. It might not even be a party. It could be a workshop, a networking event, or any other situation in which everyone seems to know someone but you. Here are a few tips and methods to help ease the anxiety—and maybe even have a little fun.
1. Offer to Help The Host
Ask to chop some veggies, plate some food, or play bartender. It’ll keep you occupied, you won’t feel as awkward, and it will get your mind off the stress.
Another idea is to bring something that needs to be prepared. This automatically gives you something to do once you arrive. You don’t want to spend the whole night making a cake from scratch, but a little guacamole won’t take long, and it gives you a chance to ease into the party. It might even be a good ice breaker; people may wonder what you’ve brought. You can explain to them what it is, what you’re doing, and how they can make it themselves.
2. Brush Up On Your Conversational Skills
For most people, small talk is not very fun or engaging. But we have to start somewhere. Here are a few tried-and-true ways to break the ice:
- Ask a question: This is an easy way to start a conversation, because the response is necessary. Make sure it’s an open-ended question that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Or, if it can be answered with a simple yes or no, make sure it allows for a follow-up.
- Compliments: When you compliment someone, they’ll often compliment you back, and this gets a conversation going. You can also ask a question after the compliment. “Nice earrings. Where’d you get them?”
- Occasion, Location: Use the “Occasion, Location” rule to kick start a conversation. Ask about the occasion or the location of the event. You probably don’t want to go with the cliche, “come here often?” But “have you ever been here?” might work. “How do you know the host” is always a good one, too.
After that initial ice breaker, it might be time to extend the conversation to the next level. Here’s how to make this happen:
- Share small details until one of them sticks: Once you’ve gauged each others’ interest with a bit of small talk, you’ll probably find there’s one topic that piques both your interests a little more than the others. Latch onto it and dive a little deeper.
- Give specific answers: A great way to boost the conversation after a cliche ice breaker is to give a non-cliche answer. If someone asks “what do you do?” for example, come up with a specific answer. Maybe it’s a story about your job or an example of what you do on a day-to-day basis. If someone asks, “How do you know the host?” you might tell a funny anecdote about how you met. This gives the conversation more room to progress than the expected, “we went to college together.”
- Arm yourself with relevant topics: Whether it’s current events, or just some fun background about the event, prepare yourself with a couple of interesting topics, then find a way to weave them into the conversation.
After you've got the conversation going, try some of these tips to prevent the chat from becoming stale or going south:
- React to what a person says in the spirit in which that that comment was offered: If they tell you a lighthearted joke, respond lightheartedly. This keeps the conversation enjoyable and simpatico.
- Ask “getting-to-know you” questions: It’s important to ask the right questions. You want to get to know the person you’re talking to, but make sure the questions you’re asking are also relevant and appropriate. Take a genuine interest in learning about the person.
- Don’t dominate the conversation: This is probably a no-brainer for shy folks, but sometimes it’s easy to start rambling when you’re afraid of any awkward silence. If the other person hasn’t said anything in a while, it’s time to stop and check yourself. If someone feels they’re in a one-way conversation, they’re probably thinking about how to bail.
Going to a party or event alone sounds intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Prepare yourself with a few methods for starting a conversation, and you’ll be fine. Once you find just one person to talk to, the whole situation becomes a lot easier. After a while, you may even forget about how awkward you felt and start to enjoy yourself.