Parties are supposed to be fun, not scary, but trying to start a conversation in a room full of total strangers can be harrowing. Fear not; with the right tricks, you can not only survive but actually enjoy yourself.
We’ve told you how to survive a party as an introvert. But even extroverts can find parties challenging if they don’t know anyone. 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.
Offer to Help the Host
This tip may not work well at events, but at parties, it’s a lifesaver. Once you arrive, find the host and offer your help. It’s a polite gesture, and it gives you something to do. Even if the host doesn’t need any help, he or she may sense your apprehension and give you a task to keep busy. A good host will probably also introduce you to a few people so you can get the conversation going.
Ask to chop some veggies, plate some food, or play bartender. It will keep you occupied, you won’t feel as awkward, and it will get your mind off the stress.
Thought Catalogue also suggests bringing 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 lasagna 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.
Don’t Be Afraid to Admit You’re Vulnerable
When you arrive, it’s easy to grab a drink and immediately retreat to the corner, where you feel safe. But you may be surprised at how people respond when you’re open about your vulnerability instead.
Find another shy, solo guest and laugh about the fact that neither of you know anyone. I tried this at an event recently: I found another guest who was alone, asked if she knew anyone, and we both admitted how overwhelmed we felt. From there, the conversation naturally progressed. This made it a lot easier to mingle with other people, too, because we did it together.
On the other hand, it might be easier to approach an outgoing person. If you can find the life of the party, chances are, they will be pretty open to chatting you up and introducing you to other people.
You could also look for groups of two:
if you see a pair of people talking, the chances are that they arrived together and know they should be mingling. Or else they have just met and are, in the back of their minds, worried that they’re going to end up talking to this one person all night. (You’ve just made it easier for one of them to exit.) Either way, they’re relieved to see you. And your chances of having a decent conversation are better, because now you’re talking to two people, not just one.
It’s a tactic we’ve mentioned before, and your mileage will vary obviously. Everyone’s personality is different, and the type of party or event might matter too. Feel out the vibe, then find the strategy you’re most comfortable with: finding a shy person, talking to the life of the party or approaching a pair.
Whichever you choose, it helps to be open about the fact that you don’t know anyone. Other guests will usually feel more inclined to include you. It’s a social gathering, after all.
Try the “Wait and Hover” Technique
Sometimes it’s hard to break into a conversation. Bernardo J. Carducci of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast, recommends the “Wait and Hover” technique. It sounds pretty obvious, but WebMD explains how it works:
Get on the periphery and listen. When there’s a lull, break in by elaborating on the topic or asking a question instead of stating an opinion right away. For example: “You got mugged in Miami? That happened to me too!” What if you get the dreaded blank stares? Be patient. They may just need time to finish what they were saying.
This is another technique I tried at a recent networking event, where I knew no one. I hovered near a small art display and waited for people to walk by and talk about it. When they did, I subtly made my way into the conversation. You feel slightly creepy at first, so make sure your input comes naturally. For example, if someone had said, “that art is pretty”, and I turned around, looked them in the eye and said, “I also think it’s pretty”, that might have been slightly awkward. Instead, two women approached the display, made a silly joke about it, and I turned around, chuckled and we started a great conversation. The whole thing was very natural.
No art display? Try something else. If you’re helping the host prep food, you could interject in a nearby conversation. Do the same while you’re grabbing a drink or getting a snack.
Brush Up on Your Conversational Skills
We can all pretty much agree: small talk is boring. But it’s also necessary. You don’t usually go from 0 to 100 with a stranger. To get a decent conversation started, you need a little revving up. You need an ice breaker. 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 will 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 kickstart 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 elevate the small talk to medium talk. 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, make sure not to kill it. Here are a few tips to prevent your chat from becoming stale:
- 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.
Remember: There’s No Spotlight on You
It’s hard not to feel awkward when you’re alone in a social setting. But the more awkward you feel, the more nervous you become. It helps to remember there’s no spotlight on you. Or, as Paid to Exist founder Jonathan Mead puts it: ” no one cares, so do what you want.” In other words, stop worrying about other people so much, and have a good time:
You walk into the opening party at an event you’ve been wanting to attend all year. It’s like a big-freaking-deal in your world. Maybe it’s the World Domination Summit or SXSW.
Whatever it is, you’re excited, nervous and totally self-conscious.
You wonder what everyone will think of you. Maybe they will think you’re lame. Maybe they will find out that you’re not really an expert and have no business teaching what you’re teaching. You’ll be found out. Laughed at.
Or worse, no one will talk to you at all.
But have you ever noticed that everyone else is busy thinking about themselves?
Suddenly, you’re in a big room full of people freaking out about what everyone thinks about them, when no one is really thinking about anyone else at all.
As we’ve mentioned, this is a really liberating way of looking at the situation. It applies well to life as a whole, but it’s also great advice for a party.
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.