If you are anything like me, you dread parties of the wine-cheese-mingle variety, especially when you don’t know many people there. You avoid eye contact with strangers and slither around the room hoping to look busy, avoid notice, and make it out of there in one piece. If you are lucky, you’ll find a slightly boisterous group of 4 or more people that you can latch on to without ever having to introduce yourself.
Oddly enough, you have no problem whatsoever with dance parties or public speaking. So it seems your shyness paralysis is limited to unrehearsed conversation.
As I mentioned last time, one of my primary goals is to become a conversational superstar. I was heading to a Halloween party this weekend – my first in the KATN era – and realized I had a big opportunity here. I thought about what made parties and strangers so bad, and I realized it came down to these 2 questions:
1) What do you do?
2) What’s been happening?
I dread this line of small talk because I never feel great about my stammering answers and it makes me feel like the most boring person alive or dead. I see people yucking it up all around me, but my conversations always seem to start with these duds and then die. What’s a girl to do?
As much as you might like to avoid these questions (by slithering around the room, etc.), you know they are coming so you may as well be prepared. I went scientific this weekend and started varying my answers and observing the results. “I’m a software engineer/software developer/computer programmer” = instant snoozefest. “I’m a software person and I create websites” – much better response and recovery on to the next topic (this was a group of non-techies). Next time I’ll try something like “I write software and I’m training for a half marathon/starting a blog/working on kicking ass all the time”. I’m guessing that once I’ve mastered answering these questions through deliberate testing, parties will be at least 82% better.
HAVE A LIST OF CONVERSATION STARTERS
I actually had a number of these at the ready in college, but at some point I stopped refreshing them and forgot this principle entirely. Somehow, “Do you or do you not think Ludacris is a lyrical genius” doesn’t belong in this decade, and I’ve also outgrown “Hey, so did you actually enjoy your senior prom?” But it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with 4 or 5 topics that interest you and that anyone can discuss. Potentials include
- interesting recent news
- weather (but be prepared to move to the next topic quickly)
- viral videos (read your audience first)
- admiring Halloween costumes, plus story about best/funniest/worst one you’ve ever seen (timely)
- funny, SHORT anecdotes (short because we are only on How to Work a Party: Step 1, and stand-up comedy is at least step 4)
If you are ready with enough topics that you can confidently discuss, you’ll likely be able to fill the time and hedge against entering unrehearsed territory. Heck, maybe you’ll even enjoy yourself.
I haven’t yet managed to gracefully extract myself from a conversation, but I see it being done all the time. Must try testing out “I’m gonna get a drink/refill, want anything?”, or even just a simple “be right back”. I’d recommend coming up with at least 4 exit strategies so you can always leave on a high note.
Goals for November: Prepare answers, conversation starters, and exit strategies. Rock em with at least 1 stranger. Report back.