Social anxiety is a real thing. It comes in all shapes and sizes — from “mild” shyness and difficulty socializing to a true social phobia when people are scared of leaving their homes.
Obviously, serious forms need professional therapy. But those who just find socializing tough – feel awkward at social events or have difficulty making conversation with strangers – can manage these problems on their own.
If this sounds like you, check out our 7-step plan to find a way to be “up and running” in these awkward situations! Keep calm: you can turn yourself into a socializing master, with charm and confidence!
A Path to a More Social You
Here’s the list of what you can do all on your own. Take these tips to heart and actually practice them. Remember, that’s a process — but ultimately, you’ll have more confidence in social situations and see benefits in your personal and professional lives.
Step 1. Start Small
Imagine you’re taking Uber. Do you sit in the car in silence until you reach your destination? If yes, you’re wasting a perfect opportunity to open a conversation with a complete stranger!
Next time, instead of riding in silence, ask that driver a simple question — like “How long have you been doing this?”, “Do you like being an Uber driver?” or “Do you really make good money doing this?”. Listen to the answers and ask support questions. See, you’re already having a great chat!
Another possible place is the grocery store. Here, you can ask a random customer looking at the same item you want something like, “Have you used this before?” or “Did you like it?”. Most likely, you’ll get a nice answer.
See? You did it again — opened up a conversation with a complete stranger. And it wasn’t that hard, was it?
The point is this: in every conversation with a stranger, your confidence at the start is everything that really matters. So, practice on these random questions with strangers to learn taking an initiative. And of course, beware your safety!
Step 2. Develop a Set of Questions to Use in Various Social/Professional Situations
After talking to random strangers, it’s time to have some good questions at hand for conferences and seminars. Usually, you don’t know anyone else who will be in attendance and things like listening to speakers during actual sessions and perhaps participating in breakout session workshops don’t require a lot of conversation.
But let’s talk about the breaks, the cocktail hours, and the meals. Here are the times that most people use for networking or just being social. Are you thinking you can just hole up in your room and order room service? If so, don’t do it!
Before you go to that conference, develop an introduction and a set of questions to use when you mingle. Practice these in your bathroom mirror making eye contact with the face staring back at you:
- Extend your hand, put a smile on your face, and say, “Hi. I’m Jen. And you are?”. Imagine the other person will shake your hand and tell you their name.
- Ask the next questions, “Where are you from?”, “What company are you with?” and “What do you do at X Company?”. Imagine they answer shortly.
- Create two open-ended questions. They should give that person time for a longer response. Your job is to listen, smile, nod your head, and keep that eye contact.
- Practice your responses to the same questions in advance so you don’t get all tongue-tied.
This will be tough at first, but with practice, you’ll get much better each time. And don’t worry: most people like to talk about themselves!
Step 3. Join Small Groups Locally
What interests do you have? Do you love to read? And how about drawing or painting? Maybe you fancy volunteering at a shelter? Whatever it may be, join a related club or small group. As you participate in the activities and go to meetings, you’ll naturally meet new people. Because you share an interest, it will be easier for you to talk with other members.
Consider these your rehearsals for the larger social or professional settings you’ll find yourself in. You’ll build up confidence in your ability to carry on a conversation.
Step 4. Join Chat Groups Online
Many shy people go online for conversation. This is a problem if they come to rely on chat rooms or social media as their only source of socialization.
But you can go to get involved there because online chatting is a perfect training ground for you. Check out this dating app, for example. You don’t have to use it to find dates. There are all sorts of social conversations going on here. And you can find several people with whom you have things in common to chat with. You’ll learn how to express yourself in a social situation, and this will make it easier when you have to do that in real life.
Step 5. Take a Public Speaking Course
Now, it’s time to learn how to get up in front of an audience and give a speech. You may be a nervous wreck at first, but over the course of the class, you’ll get less and less anxious.
When you feel that you can come out of such a course as a more confident speaker, that confidence will bleed over into social situations too.
Step 6. Keep Up to Date on Current News
You probably want to avoid politics or religion here, but there are plenty of current events other than those – extreme weather events, sports, new books or movies, fashion and/or food trends, musical groups/concerts, and technology. Go and express your opinion on these topics!
Step 7. Practice Body Language
The way you stand or sit says a lot about how “open” you are to conversation. Crossing your arms, for example, says you are not “open.” Read up on this a bit.
But more than that, your facial language is critical. Smiling, looking people in the eyes, and nodding when they talk all say that you are interested in what they have to say.
Are You Ready for Prime Time?
Probably, not right now. But if you take these seven tips seriously and take action on them, you will be moving in the right direction.