To some, talking to strangers is exhilarating, exciting and invigorating. For many others, making small talk with strangers and acquaintances can cause anxiety, nervousness and discomfort.
Ironically, while I’m an outgoing person, I tend to get kind of awkward and nervous talking to new people. Maybe I’m an introverted extrovert? Anyway, while I’m absolutely still practicing, I know there are a ton of social events each summer — weddings, baby showers, and summer bbq’s — where small talk is pretty much on the the social menu everywhere.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but don’t be (and don’t be so hard on yourself!). Grab a smile, perhaps a glass of wine or a mimosa, and try these easy tactics to help ease your way into new situations:
- Remember this: what’s the worst that can happen? Honestly, it’s important to remember this in most situations. Sometimes we can get so caught up in a moment that we lose sight, that nothing seriously wrong or detrimental will happen.
- Be Positive: if you think the conversation is going to be awkward and uncomfortable, you’re setting yourself up for a negative experience. And, even if you’ve had one in the past, it doesn’t mean that your next one will. Remember conversation is with two people, and maybe the last person you spoke to didn’t help the situation.
- Ask Questions: Always ask questions. If you’re introverted, it’s the best way to keep attention off you, minimize your chatter, and seem engaged in the conversation. It’s a total win! Plus, studies have shown that people liked being asked about themselves so more than likely, each person will walk away feeling like they had a great conversation with you. At the same time however, asking too many questions can seem like an interrogation so there’s definitely a balance and it’s a great way to start the conversation.
- Be Engaged: Listen and pay attention. Focus on being as curious as possible, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Nothing is worse than when you’re talking to someone who is looking around the room, even gawking at their phone, or clearly zoned out. If you’re introverted, it’s easy for your nervousness to across in these ways — you might be thinking ahead to the next part of the conversation — so just think about how these subtle cues could be translated.
- Give a compliment. The quickest way to get someone on your side is to make them feel good. Find a way to give a genuine compliment, and watch them warm up to you.
- Be Prepared… about Yourself. Give thought to the likely questions someone is going to ask you… how are you doing, where to you work or what do you do, what are you up to this weekend, any big summer plans, where are you from, etc., and have a more descriptive answer. While you can just say “I’m good,” it would be better to say, “I’m good, looking forward to our trip to California next month with the family.” These little extra facts about your location and that you have a family are easy ways to expand the conversation. When someone asks me about my hometown, I expand by saying I was born in New York and then lived in the Tampa Bay, Fla. area before going to University of Florida… nearly everyone I run across can connect to one of these, even if it’s to start a little collage debate. 😉
- Remember names. This is honestly one of my biggest challenges but it’s a big one. Try saying their name at least once or twice during the conversation. Often, I’m nervous when I’m meeting someone so I’m so focused on the hello that I forgot their name 30 seconds into our chat. #FAIL Really try to make a mental note so you can properly introduce them to others, or politely say bye.
- Make a clean getaway. Ah, you made it! Now it’s time to make a clean break so you can breathe. Be polite, and say something lighthearted but direct like, I need to get food, I’m starving, or I need to use the restroom, or even, I need to find my date, they’ll likely think I’ve abandoned them. It’s been so nice chatting with you! Be enthusiastic, shake hands or hug goodbye, and walk in a purposeful manner. You did it! Now on to the next person…