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Dr. Romance on How Not to be Shy at a Party

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The key to socializing at parties lies in two things: confidence and intention.

Introverts can enjoy the parties, too, if they respect who they are and don’t let negative fantasies take over. Limit your social engagements to those that are manageable or meaningful to you, and allow plenty of time for being by yourself or with a single friend, if that's what makes you happy. If you're not happy about missing out on all the parties, here are some strategies to help.

It’s no surprise that awkwardness, fear and embarrassment arise from a poor self-image. To overcome this problem, recognize that you’re not going to please everyone, and that sometimes you’ll be disappointed, but it won’t kill you. It's also OK not to be the life of the party. Everyone loves a good listener, and just observing and enjoying the atmosphere is a perfectly fine thing to do. Seek out one person you know and like, and focus on enjoying him or her. Also, volunteering to help at the function will give you something to do and you'll feel better. Even if you're walking around picking up the empty cups and used plates and napkins, you'll feel less awkward than if you're just standing there.

When you’re in a new, nervous situation, don’t use alcohol for false courage. You may survive being tipsy, but if you really want to be seen as charming and attractive, you won’t allow yourself to behave badly. Instead, practice before you get into the new situation. In It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction, I recommend this “roll the tape” exercise: picture yourself attending the holiday function, and watch the scene play out like a video. “Re- roll the tape” several times, and go through the scene again. Practice some different responses and different approaches until you feel comfortable with it. Then, you can try it in the real world.

To enhance your positive experience, do the following steps before any new activity:
1. Make a mental note of the possibilities: Can you learn something there? Can you meet a new friend? Will just getting out of the house and around new people feel good?
2. Remind yourself of your goals: You’re going there to make new friends and to have fun.
3. Review your positive personal qualities: What do your friends like about you? What do you like about you? Your intelligence, your sense of humor, your style, your conversation skills? Are you a kind and caring person? Reminding yourself of these qualities means you will enter the event radiating that positive energy.

Research shows that people who have a positive outlook have better lives, partly because a positive attitude is attractive and charming, and people are drawn to it. As a result, you make friends. When you are positive you are supportive of yourself and others, you notice the good things more than the bad things, which makes it easier to connect to others. In addition, you feel much better about yourself, which means you feel more deserving of friends. It’s a positive spiral, and goes up and up.

Guidelines for being charming at a party:
1. Be interesting: Wear attractive, but interesting, clothing—something that reflects who you are. If you like travel, for example, wear a shirt, scarf, tie or jewelry from another country, or wear something that reflects your ethnic background, or a hobby (sports, the outdoors, a Hawaiian-type shirt with surfboards, gardening implements or an animal print) or a holiday pin. It will help start conversations.

2. Pay attention: Look around you, and seek to make friends. Notice who’s around you and what’s interesting or attractive about them, Find an interesting thing about what they’re wearing, and compliment it. "Excuse me, but I couldn’t help noticing that gorgeous color -- it looks great on you." or, "What a fascinating watch! Where did you get it?"

3. Prepare in advance: Read up on some current topics to talk about—the background doings of a hit movie, some new technology advance, or a cool new trend. Then, when someone wants to talk to you, you’ll have something to say.

4. Find a way to help: What needs doing that you might enjoy? If you haven’t experienced this event before, I recommend finding a “job” to do. Don’t just say “what can I do to help?” Instead, volunteer for something specific: to greet people and take coats, or keep the food table replenished, or refill drinks. It will give you a feeling of belonging, a great excuse to meet everyone, and you’ll be busy enough to keep your nervousness at bay. The host or hostess will be grateful and remember you later.

5. Follow through: If you do meet someone you’d like to know better, follow the party with an invitation for coffee. The best friendships begin in these social situations.

Once you are meeting people, you need to create the proper energy level to be charming and attractive. Match your energy to the energy of the people at the event. Obviously, if you’re dancing or eating barbecue poolside, the energy level will be pretty high. If you’re having quiet conversations at a cocktail party, discussing books, or sitting down to dinner, the energy will be more mellow and focused.

Conversations at events you attend should be like tennis matches. That is, the other person “serves” he or she asks a question or makes a statement. Then, you “volley” back you answer the question with the kind of answer that invites a response. For example:

He: “How do you know our hostess?”
You: “We went to school together. I like Pam’s friendliness, don’t you?”

This invites your companion to respond, and keeps the “volley” going. If the conversational thread ends, The next “serve” is yours. If you have to re-start the conversation too often, excuse yourself and move on. That person is not interested enough. If you force the other person to do all the conversational “work” he or she will move on pretty quickly. One-syllable answers are a pretty clear indication of lack of interest, even if you didn’t mean it to be that way. Instead, turn on your charm, and the other person will want more time with you.

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.

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