If you dread attending social events that may not include chitchat about Dr. Who, Star Trek, or comics, Jessica Mills gives advice on surviving and possibly even enjoying Muggle parties.
Usually when I socialize, I can be pretty sure there will be geeks there. We can stand in a corner debating Janeway vs. Cisco, Dalek vs. Cyberman, or which Avenger we'd Murder, Marry, or Mate (Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Clint Barton). That kind of socializing I can totally get behind.
However, not every party is guaranteed to have people there with common interests. I've dealt with a lot of these situations, and having social anxiety makes it especially difficult. Consequently, I've developed tricks I use to A) make myself feel more at ease and B) give the impression I actually belong, even though I feel like a sore thumb.
Tip 1: Wear something comfortable that makes you feel confident
What outfit do you really love that makes you feel good? Guy or girl, we all have a favorite shirt that gets us compliments, or those shoes we got on sale that people always comment on. It is important that you feel comfortable and confident...or as close to confident as possible.
- Comfort: When I first started going to parties and such in college, I made the mistake of wearing outfits I thought would make me look good without thinking about how I felt in them. I would wear something that my roommates and friends thought looked great, rather than what made me the most comfortable. It doesn't matter what other people say - you have to feel good in what you're wearing. Also, avoid wearing the new shoes that haven't been broken in, or the shirt that's just a tad too small. You want to be able to relax rather than worry about limping to the car at the end of the night or sucking in your gut.
- Confident: When you wear something you love, you project that you feel good. You stand a little straighter, and you smile more...it really makes a difference. Also, clothing can be a conversation starter. I always wear something that reflects my interests (geek flair, if you will) or humor. If it's a casual party, I'll wear one of my cuter geeky shirts. If it's a nicer party, I'll wear my TARDIS necklace or Trek pin. These items act as kind of a homing beacon for people with interests similar to mine, or for friendly people who want to know the reference. You might be surprised at how many people will ask about your geek clothing or accessory, thus taking the pressure off of you to come up with something to say.
Tip 2: Think about your body language
As an actress, I studied body language in a lot of my classes, and I learned that people communicate more with what they don't say than what they do. There is a ton of information about body language and socializing out there, but here are tips that I always use.
- Don't cross your arms, or hold your hands behind your back. Both behaviors subtly communicate that you are closed off or not interested in talking. Even if you are closed off and not interested in talking, people will be more open to you if your hands and arms are in a more open position.
- Try not to fidget. Even if you're nervous, it's helpful to project the image of feeling at ease. However, what do we do with all that nervous energy? My college acting teacher said he used to cross and uncross his toes while doing audition monologues because it got the nervous energy out, but no one could see. I wiggle my toes in my shoes a lot at parties. Fair warning: It can get dangerous after a couple of drinks when you're wearing heels. The last time I did that at a party I got a little crazy with the toe wiggling while tipsy and nearly fell backwards. So, you know, fidget in moderation. It can get dangerous if you're not careful.
Tip 3: Employ conversational tricks
- Smile. That's it -- just smile at people. You'd be surprised at the power of a simple, friendly smile.
- When you meet someone new, give the person a firm handshake, look them in the eye, and repeat their name. (For example, "Hi, Jennifer, nice to meet you.") A firm handshake is important -- not too tight, but not a wet fish either. A firm handshake conveys confidence, as does eye contact. Repeating the person's name helps you commit it to memory and puts the person at ease.
- When you introduce two people to each other, include a little something about each person. "Mary, this is my friend Jennifer who is visiting from Texas. Jennifer, this is our head of HR, Mary." It's polite, and it gives them an opportunity to start chatting together, taking the strain off you to start the conversation.
- Ask lots and lots of questions. People love to talk about themselves. You probably don't care about how long they've lived in the city, when they started working for the company, or where they got their shoes, but it doesn't matter -- asking questions means they do the talking and you don't have to nervously sit there in awkward silence wishing you were anywhere else. Not only will it keep the conversation from lagging, but by asking questions and listening to the person's answers, they'll think you're the nicest person they met all night.
Tip 4: Be kind
The most important thing you can do to get through social events is to be kind to people. As long as you stick with that, the fidgeting, spilled drinks, awkward silences, and foot in mouth scenarios will fade into funny stories we share with our equally awkward friends while debating who we would Murder, Marry, or Mate from Star Trek: TNG (Wesley, Data, Q...don't judge me, he's omnipotent!).
Hopefully these tips can help you step into the world of Muggle socializing with more confidence and ease than you may have had before. I've used these tricks for years, and it has helped me not only survive, but often enjoy social events I initially dreaded.