A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a fancy awards show. My first thought was excitement, followed by “what on earth do I wear?” It was during the really hot spell of weather; the idea of a floor length dress wasn’t appealing. I’d be reduced to a puddle on my seat…
Once I’d chosen which swimsuit to wear, (joking I went for a lose-fit dress), my attention turned to the other guests. Who would be there, what would we talk about? Part of my work is leading conversations about mental health and wellbeing, and because I know what topics I’m going to be talking about it gives clarity and focus to conversation.
Yet the idea of going to a large event, meeting and sitting with 6 people who knew each other well, but not me, felt a teeny bit daunting. Fortunately, I’d be seated beside the friend who invited me, so that would help ease me into conversation, or so I thought.
Turns out, we were sat on different tables, so I was in at the deep end, shame I didn’t wear that swimming costume after all.
Only one thing for it, take my own advice and use “The three W’s”
When in doubt of what to say to someone, I’ve never met before, after the pleasantries of the weather and other chit chat are out of the way, I use three simple questions.
Who? What? Why?
Start by Introducing myself, then ask who are they? What do they do for work/pleasure? Why are they there? I find most people are happy speaking about themselves if they have a willing and interested audience. From there, conversation flows naturally, I’ve just got to remember it is a conversation and not an interrogation. Keep topics light and easy going.
Using my 3 questions method I enjoyed interesting conversations and came away with new connections and had a great night.
Being worried about meeting new people, going to events socially or for work, is natural.
Here are a few tips worth considering:
- Wear clothing with layers, sometimes when we’re nervous we overheat. If you get too hot, whip off your jacket to regulate your temperature, it will instantly calm your nerves.
- Breathe steadily in through your nose and out through your mouth if you feel anxiety or shyness rising. You can do it discreetly; nobody needs to know.
- Running your wrists under cold water soothes worry and anxiety it acts as a circuit breaker for overthinking.
- Limit alcohol. Dutch courage can go too far, and you might find yourself saying things you later regret or forget. Too much booze increases feelings of anxiety days after its been consumed.
- Focus your attention on one person at one time, you don’t have to be the centre of attention if that’s not your thing. If you prefer, listen to group conversations rather than be involved in them.
- If conversation drys up, ask something about the person you’re talking to, most people are happy talking about themselves if you appear interested and ask leading questions. Remember who are they? What do they do/ enjoy? Why are they there?
- Pre-plan your escape. Make sure you can get home safely.
- Leave when you’re ready.
- You don’t have to say goodbye to everyone. Just let the host know if you can, so people aren’t wondering where you are.
- Allow yourself to have a good time in a way that works for you
My case of nerves was mild and differs a great deal from social anxiety which affects 1 in 10 Brits, with women struggling twice as much as men. Severe social anxiety is more than shyness and slight worry, it can be debilitating preventing people from being promoted at work, making and maintaining friendships, symptoms can include panic/anxiety attacks, sweating, worrying and overthinking. It can affect anyone of any age.
For more information www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/social-anxiety
Shannon Humphrey is a First Aid for Mental Health Instructor she works with clients privately and organisations who care about their colleague’s wellbeing.