The holidays are in full swing — and along with the festive season comes a slew of cocktail parties, work gatherings and family events. For those of us who aren't the "life of the party" types, we often dread going to events where we have to make small talk. Here are seven tips to feeling less uncomfortable, and maybe even making a new connection.
1. Stop telling yourself "I'm awkward."
Moods are contagious. So when you're heading to any kind of party, make sure that you're feeling positive. If you're allowing negative thoughts like, "I'm terrible at small talk," — you might be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Instead, tell yourself, "I've got this and it's JUST a conversation." You've got a full plan of action, and you're ready to take the small-talk world by storm!
2. Look approachable.
We all think we look approachable, but we truly have NO idea what our faces look like and people don't tell us! Do people say you look intimidating? Do people stop you on the street and ask you for directions? You may wear a serious facial expression that looks intense, scary or angry. People want to talk to positive, friendly and happy looking people. So get in the mood! Think happy thoughts, and look up and smile.
If you're wondering about what you look like while talking, record yourself on your cell phone answering the question, "What am I doing this weekend?" Then watch the video (don't be shocked if you don't love it). Do it again while smiling and watch the difference.
3. Seek out the "life of the party" person.
A great way to ease yourself into a party is to find the person in the center of the circle, regaling bystanders with stories. If you're an introvert, or a slow-to-warm-up extrovert, slipping into a chat with the friendly extrovert takes the pressure off. You can focus on doing what you do best, which is listening and asking good follow-up questions.
4. Be the conversational leader.
If you're in a situation where you're alone at a gathering (or can't find a "life of the party" type around), be the conversational leader! Don't be a wallflower waiting for someone to approach you. Look for someone who might be alone, or a group of two that look friendly. Approach them, introduce yourself and ask how they know the hosts, or maybe ask them what they're drinking or eating that looks interesting!
5. Be socially generous.
Start with the mindset that you are looking for what is good in people all around you. Then, when you see someone you're interested in, you can find something nice about them and say it. If the compliment is sincere — the person receiving it will be flattered and respond! It's a great way to break the ice, and make someone feel good. You can comment on something they're wearing or doing, whatever seems natural and not too personal.
6. Listen to understand.
Be present during the conversation. It makes it a LOT easier to find places to connect with people, or things that you agree on. People love meeting people who grew up where they did, went to similar schools or traveled to the same places.
Though, an important note: Don't interrupt a person's story to say, "Me too!" You'll look like a conversational hijacker. Wait until someone has finished their story and then say, "Me too!"
7. Give juicy details.
If someone asks you, "So Sylvia, what's new?" don't say, "Oh nothing really. Same old." Instead, say, "Work has been great — I love my new job, and I'm getting ready to take a vacation to the Caribbean with my family soon." This makes conversation MUCH easier for your partner, and gives them "juice" to ask you about.
Follow these seven tips and who knows — you could wind up being the life of the party after all!
Dating coach Bela Gandhi is the founder and president of Smart Dating Academy.