By Barton Goldsmith
McClatchy-Tribune News Service.
I have a secret that I’ve kept from the public for almost my entire life. I am shy. Most people wouldn’t guess it, but when I have to give a speech, I usually don’t get much sleep the night before. And if there is a meet-and-greet before the talk, I can become a nervous wreck, thinking about all those people I don’t know and who don’t know me, asking me questions and expecting me to be entertaining. It can be a very scary evening.
I’m the same way socially. If invited to an event where I don’t know many people, perhaps a party given by acquaintances of my other half, it can be a bit daunting to put on the public me rather than just be the guy who watches football on Sunday in his PJs.
Trying to be that person can get weary, but when required to, I can call the plays and help my partner by being a little more outgoing in social situations. Here are a few tricks that have worked for me and may help you as well.
• Try to keep a smile on your face. This lets people know that you are open and receptive to being approached. Seeing someone smile helps the other person feel that you are safe to talk to. Smiling also sends a signal to your own brain telling you that you are in a good place and should expect nice things to happen around you. It’s interesting that we are the only species in the animal kingdom that bares its teeth as a sign of welcome and joy. Other species do it only when they are angry or scared; it’s called “fear aggression.”
• If you are talking to a small group of people who don’t already know each other, become the master of ceremonies. By that, I mean, be the one who makes sure that everyone gets properly introduced. If someone new comes along, you need to introduce him or her to the group as well. This will help you get to know everyone and make conversation, though not necessarily about yourself. The other people in the group will appreciate your efforts. It makes you look like an outgoing person even if you are a little shy.
• Use a person’s name when you first meet. When you are introduced to someone, call the other person by name as you shake hands. Say you are at an event and someone introduces you to a guy named Dave. You then say, “Hi Dave. Nice to meet you.” It’s a really simple action that produces some very powerful results. The person you are greeting will feel more welcomed, you will remember the name after you’ve said it aloud, and you will feel more empowered and comfortable because you are in control of the situation and conversation. The next step is to ask Dave where he is from and what brought him to this event. The conversation will usually flow on its own from there.
Using these tips can make a potentially uncomfortable evening a pleasant one for those of us who are a little introverted. This stuff is easy and it works, so give it a try.
(Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author of “The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time.”)