When it comes to advice on how to make a good impression in social settings, often it’s assumed people need help overcoming their shyness or introversion. If you’re an extrovert, hanging around new people should be a breeze, right? Wrong. Being awkward doesn’t discriminate — the struggle is real for extroverts and introverts alike. In fact, being extroverted and awkward can lead to all sorts of embarrassing conversations and situations if you’re like me and talk more when nervous or excited. I also tend to laugh at my own jokes, even (and especially) when no one else is laughing. And I’ve been known to give too much information when it is not required or desired in the particular context.
This kind of awkwardness can make it embarrassing when I meet new people at parties, networking events or just about anywhere. Although I’m still a work-in-progress, through trial and error I’ve become a little better at avoiding scaring people upon meeting them. Here are a few tricks to help make a good impression in social settings, even if you’re super awkward.
Take a deep breath and listen
Like I said, I talk more when I’m nervous. Since I’m normally pretty chatty, this can be overwhelming for people who don’t know me. To keep from being super awkward and talking out of turn, listen closely to what people around you are saying. Don’t interrupt because you’re so excited and want to share something you think is relevant or interesting. (I’m guilty of doing this, but I’m working on it.) A good way to make sure you aren’t speaking too soon is by taking a breath before giving your two cents.
When appropriate, asking questions will keep the conversation going and will help you make a good impression. People love to talk about themselves, so let them.
Watch people for clues
I don’t mean watch them in a creepy stalker way. I mean read their body language and facial expressions. Look for cues that people are having a good time chatting with you. Are they smiling? Do they nod along with what you’re saying? Be sure to watch out for signs indicating the people you’re talking to are uncomfortable, as well. Are their arms crossed? Are they looking around the room for a quick exit? If you are watching carefully, you may recognize when your conversation partners are feeling uneasy. Then you can redirect the conversation to safer territory or at least stop talking about whatever bodily function you were talking about to weird them out in the first place. Which brings me to my next point…
Beware of TMI
Over-sharing is a quick way to make things awkward real fast. Sometimes it can be tricky to know what’s appropriate to say in some situations and not others. A good way to avoid sharing too much is to try to match what you talk about with what other people are talking about in the conversation. If they give some personal information and you are comfortable sharing, go ahead and do so. But if it’s a first meeting or a professional setting, err on the side of caution. Chances are, you won’t regret not saying something, but you might if you do.
Accept when it’s time to bow out gracefully
Despite your best efforts, if you find yourself feeling or acting super awkward it may be best to politely excuse yourself. Depending on the situation, you can say you’re going to go get a drink, you just saw someone you want to say hello to, you have to make a phone call, or you aren’t feeling well and need to go home. (You could also just say “Excuse me” and leave; you don’t always have to give a big explanation.) Even if you exit abruptly, sometimes that’s better than the alternative would be. Just saying.
It’s totally OK just to say that you’re awkward
There’s nothing wrong with trying to control your awkwardness, at least until you know the people you are interacting with better. Although making a good impression is important, I don’t think you should try to be someone you are not. If someone really wants to judge you, they’ll do it anyway. So, if you catch yourself being awkward, go ahead and admit it! Most people will understand that it can be difficult to meet new people, and they’ll cut you some slack. And if you find yourself among kindred spirits, let your awkward flag fly!
(Image via FOX)