I am a shy introvert whose first reaction on being invited to parties is hyperventilation. After I have gathered my nerves, my second reaction is to decline. Unlike some people who seem to have the spotlight focused on them at every social event, I find my anxiety kicking me in the guts. Supposedly, most people find parties relaxing and kickback after a hard day at work but for others, like me, they are a harrowing experience. To be in a room full of strangers with only a few, or no, familiar faces around is what some people’s nightmares are made of.
[Related: Shy people and parties survival guide]
Remind yourself that going out is good for your health and social survival whether you like it or not. And who knows, may be after a few trials, it might grow on you. Here are some ways you can prepare yourself before heading for a night out:
Have a mindset ready for going to the party. Remember that parties are an opportunity to relax and connect with new people in a friendlier setting. You can try to socially warm up as well. Hang out with friends you are comfortable with before going to the party. Or call someone up and have a little chat with them. Relax and allow yourself to immerse in the parry environment.
Think of at least three conversation topics beforehand. Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk says, “As I drive to a party, I try to come up with two or three things to talk about in case the conversation runs dry.”
Once there, breathe in and breathe out. Relax your muscles and put your mind at ease. Remember that no one is holding a spotlight on you. Smile, make small talk and maintain eye contact.
Yasmine Khater, psychologist, award-winning business and marketing strategist and TEDx speaker says, “Be yourself. It’s okay to be a little vulnerable and just to let people know that parties make you uncomfortable. I often find people say back to me that they thought they were the only one so it makes it much more comfortable.”
Help the host out to take a break. If you don’t know the host, this would be a great chance to strike up a light conversation.
Dr. Simon Rego, clinical psychologist experienced in Cognitive Behavior Therapy, says, “Rest up in advance! Since intense social interactions tend to drain introverts of their energy, it can be a good idea to ‘charge up’ in advance by making sure you’re well rested.”
“Go with the end in mind,” says Susan Steele, founder of Quietly Fabulous. “Have a plan for getting out of there as soon as you can. Make an agreement with yourself to speak to 3 people, chat with the host for 5 minutes and then hit the road. Knowing you have an escape plan can make any party much easier to get through.”
Following are a few situations you might end up encountering at a party you have been invited to. Buckle up, precious.
When you don’t know anyone
So picture this. You get invited to a party by the friend of a friend and while you insisted you didn’t want to go, they were adamant. So you give in and you find yourself at the party where, to your horror, the person who invited you was either a. late or b. canceled on you. So now you are here with not a soul who knows you. Your first reaction? Quietly slip away. Bear with us for a minute longer before you decide to run.
Morgan Evans at Eventique says, “The thing that separates social butterflies from other people is their energy. They have this carefree, approachable spirit that’s just contagious. People are drawn to them because of it.”
So instead of heading back home to cuss at the friend, who ditched you, take a long look around at the party and all the people just taking it easy. Go with the flow and ease into the ‘party spirit’. You might decide to not leave and stay and you might just end up having a ball.
When you decided to stay
Now that you know you are not headed back to your dinner of one, the next important bit comes up. How do you talk to someone you don’t know at all? If your friend was there, it’d be easier for them to introduce you to someone and then conversation would ensue, hopefully [Related: Best ice breakers to use at a party]. But now that you are on your own in a room full of strangers, consider these tips:
- Look around for someone who looks interesting and the least bit intimidating. You would definitely be nervous and there is no magic potion which could do away with that. Sooner or later, you will have to push past your anxiousness and make way for conversation. You could walk up to someone who is also by themselves and introduce yourself in a very casual way, for example, “Hi, I am Tasha, how’s it going?” You could also say:
- How do you know the host?
- Did you catch the game the other day?
- I work over at Ellis & Ellis, what do you do?
“Zero in on your likely candidate, and walk right up to them,” suggests Anna Post, an etiquette expert and co-author of Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th Edition, “Not too fast, but if you hang back too much, everyone gets unsure of what you’re waiting for.” Also check out these 10 big rules of small talk.
- If you can’t single anyone out and everyone appears to be either in twos or groups, then that is a different dynamic altogether. This sort of mingling would require a lot of courage because at one point or another you would have to go up to them and to try to mingle. Remember that the purpose of a party is to enjoy the company of like-minded people in a relaxed and laidback setting.
Spot a friendly group and walk up to them. Put your listening skills to test and join the conversation where you see the opportunity. Relocation health coach, Kylie Bevan says, “Embrace your listening skills. Ask questions when you’d rather not talk. Surprise people by actually taking an interest in what they say.” If someone in the group is sharing their travel stories, find an appropriate moment (like when they have finished a story) and comment something like:
- That sounds amazing!
- Where did you say that was?
- Remind me to not to do that when I visit Kenya.
And just like that, you will find yourself talking to a group of strangers when just moments ago you might have felt like crawling under a rock.
When aborting a conversation
Awkward conversations are a buzzkill and the tactic here is to know when and how to pull out. If the person seems to be droning on forever, watch for a pause in their conversation or when they switch the topic. Use your body language and gestures to hint that you are moving away. Look behind them and then quickly excuse yourself. Instead of making an excuse like ‘I have to use the toilet’ or ‘I’m gonna grab another drink’ (they might be tempted to accompany you) say something like:
- I think I saw someone over there, excuse me a second.
- It’s been great talking, but if you’ll excuse me…
- This was great, let’s catch up again.
- Lemme go and give Sharon a hand and we’ll talk some more.
Whatever excuse you make, be sure to sound polite and nice. Here are 5 ways to handle an awkward conversation like a pro.
When making introductions
Although this sounds easy enough, more than often people who are not even shy to begin with stumble through introductions. I find myself forgetting at the last moment little details about the people I am about to introduce like where they work or what they do. A great way to do that would be to rehearse it for a few seconds and then put words to it, ‘Karen, this is Alisha, my roommate. I was just telling Alisha how much you love jazz, [to Alisha] Karen had music as her major in school.’ You have successfully introduced two strangers and found them something interesting to talk about. Hooray you, you social butterfly! The Emily Post Institute has some wonderful blueprints for making introductions.
When you bump into an Ex
Good God, whoops and a double whoopsie daisy! Your ex happened to walk in and before you could use the person closest to you as a body shield or duck behind the curtains, you made eye contact. It is up to you to let it get as awkward and uncomfortable as you want. If you play it cool, hopefully he will pick up on the hint and reciprocate. It is ok to talk to them and be civil about it. Keep it general and do not get personal. If you feel like you need an exit consider the tips above in aborting a conversation. My advice: treat them like an acquaintance.
[Related: 9 things to do if you run into an ex]
When you do something embarrassing
There is only one thing you can really do; laugh it off, the adult way. If you spill a drink, trip and fall or say something stupid and feel like you have made a fool of yourself, laugh away with everyone else. Remember what Evans said about carefree energy, “If you can, just turn it into a joke.” If someone else is the center of such a situation, try to avert the attention from them and save them from a humiliation you wouldn’t want to face either. Post says, “Your reaction tells other people how to react, so if you smile, say ‘whoops,’ apologize if necessary, and move on, other will, too.”