You take a deep breath, muster your social energy, suppress your rising nerves, and walk into the party. The soiree is in full swing. It’s packed with people, promising an evening full of mingling and merriment. Your eyes dart around the room, scouring the partygoers for a familiar face. Spotting a close friend, you scurry over to join the laughing cluster. Your night of socializing begins.
Later, as you leave the party happily drained, familiar doubts begin to set in. I wish I had kept that conversation going longer. If only I had spoken up then. I hope they thought I was interesting and fun. Did I talk about my career too much?
Does this scenario awaken your introverted instincts? For many introverts (including me), the anticipation of large gatherings rouses both excitement and intimidation. I enjoy meeting new people and socializing, but it takes extra gumption to gear up for boisterous parties. Of course, no introvert is the same. Some introverts are shy, whereas others just feel more energized by socializing one-on-one. Wherever you are on the spectrum, here are some tips to ease into party scenes. If you’re a full-blooded extrovert, this guide can help you better understand and connect with the introverts around you. Everyone’s here for a good time, after all!
01. Rest up before.
Whenever possible, make sure you’re well-rested before heading to a party. Store up your energy to be “on” and make the most of your socialization efforts. For introverts, our primary source of energy comes from alone time or intimate settings; we tire more easily than extroverts during stimulating social gatherings. Get enough sleep the night before. Even a short pre-party power nap can give you extra oomph to be your most social self.
02. Plan talking points.
It might sound too contrived, but it really helps to prepare some talking points to fill conversation lulls. I like to brainstorm three types: generic, specific, and personal. Used to break the ice with anyone, generic topics can include current events, weather, and scenery. Specific topics address the interests and lives of people you know are attending the event. Did Jane enjoy her vacation? How is Sam’s new job going? Finally, personal topics are about you. When someone asks, “What’s new with you?” have a few updates or stories ready to spark dialogue. A canned “Oh, not much” won’t get you far.
03. Bring an extroverted sidekick.
A chatty companion can balance out your introversion and help you feel at ease well before you show up to the party. Make plans to arrive with an extroverted friend who is also going. Or ask your host if you’re allowed a plus one. While it’s safe to leave the talking to extroverts, don’t stay in your comfort zone of silence. Take part in the discussion. Even venture off on your own to mix with other known or—gasp—unknown partiers. Large get-togethers are a great way to meet new people and expand your circle.
04. Be authentic.
Be realistic about your party expectations. To give myself perspective, I like to think, “If I have at least one meaningful conversation or meet one new person, the event was a success.” Evaluate the situation and your temperament to set achievable conversation-based goals. Don’t force topics you’re uncomfortable or can’t identify with. Avoid placing unnecessary pressure on yourself to speak to everyone.
05. Chime in when you can.
If it’s not natural, don’t try to be the life of the party. Be content to listen. But remember, introversion is not an acceptable excuse to be a wallflower. Your hosts invited you for a reason. You’re likable! Make your presence and personality known by chiming in with a comment, story, or quip to add to the discussion. Drawing a blank? Fret not. Every speaker needs an audience. There’s no shame in being an interested, engaged listener. Plus, listening well gives you more opportunities to add your thoughts down the line.
06. Smile away your doubts.
A smile is the best conversation starter. Who are you more likely to approach: the girl who looks like she’s having a good time or the one who looks like she wants to beeline for the door any second? Happiness projects confidence. But it can also make you feel confident. In 1989, Dr. Robert Zajonc published a study that facial muscles influence subjective feeling. The results were remarkable and are still widely cited in psychological research today. A smile can induce real feelings of happiness due to the facial muscles’ connections to cerebral blood flow.
So keep a positive demeanor to invite introductions from others. Or make an effort to introduce yourself when you encounter someone while getting food or a drink. All it takes is a friendly comment and a smile. When you’re feeling self-conscious or overwhelmed, a cheerful countenance will help squash your doubts.
07. Find a task.
If you need a break from straight-up socializing, get busy with a party task. Instead of burying your face in your Instagram feed, offer to prepare appetizers, refill drinks, clear dishes, or arrange the gifts. An activity gives context to your conversations and helps you bond with fellow volunteers.
08. Focus your thoughts on others.
Fight the urge to think inward. Instead, direct your attention and concern to others. With self-focused thoughts—Was that a stupid thing to say? Do they think I’m too quiet?—it’s hard to avoid the downward spiral of introspection. My mom always advises me, “Forget about yourself the second you walk out the door.” Forget your outfit, makeup, insecurities, pre-party premonitions, and any other distractions holding you back from living in (and enjoying!) the moment to its fullest.
09. Avoid post-party analysis.
When you leave the party, don’t replay your conversations over in your mind. Acknowledge them. Then let them go. Maybe you could have said something smoother. Perhaps you missed a chance to tell a funny story, but so what? Like anything else, practice makes perfect. Consider how you can contribute better next time. But dwelling on the past will only frustrate you.
10. Embrace your introverted strengths.
Extroverts may be able to breeze through a party with little effort. But we introverts bring our own irreplaceable qualities to the scene. Stop comparing yourself to the life of the party or other extroverts, and keep doing what you do best. Whether it’s insightful questioning, well-timed witticisms, or genuine listening, embrace it, own it, and party on!