Even if you live in single bliss, the holiday season brings out the fact that you are a.l.o.n.e. You step into a room filled with laughing family members, a catering hall decorated in sparkly lights of your office party, or a hotel function room awash in crushed velvet and satin of a charity ball. . .and you suddenly feel glaringly unattached.
You are immediately galvanized with the feeling that you have no one to pretend to talk to, no one who will get you a drink, no one to help you cover your alone-ness. And suddenly, you hate being alone. It feels akward, clumsy and anti-social. You suddenly feel everything is wrong about you, from your height to your shoes. Now what?
Take a big, deep breath. No, really. A deep breath–in through the nose, out through the mouth–dispels nerves and helps you stand up straight, improving confidence.
Rehearse what you do not want to say. Before you go to the event, think of the three things that you might be asked that would make you most uncomfortable. This will vary from “When are you and X getting married?” from your aunt to “Did you ever get that award you were up for?” from your office rival. Prepare answers that are bland, not snarky. It helps if the answer also deflects attention back to the person you are talking to.
In the case of your aunt, you might say, “We have discussed it but haven’t come up with an answer yet, but tell me, where did you get those earrings?” In the case of the rival, you can say, “Not this year, but there’s always the Y award. What are you doing for the holidays?” The question you ask should be something easy and pleasant for the other person to answer.
Rehearse what you do want to say. If you are a news junkie, you are ready to go. If not, check out the paper or websites for sports, news, or popular culture headlines. Remember enough facts to start a conversation. If you are not a sports fan, get a fact you can ask a question on, rather than make a statement. “ Wonder why Arn Tellem is stirring it up?” is a better question than “Who does Arn Tellem think he is, risking his career and the Braves image?” People will love to give their opinion to educate you. One word of warning: do not express strong opinions on news topics as an opening line. It kicks the conversation to a fevered pitch too quickly. And you might look extreme.
People really aren’t looking at you. You might feel that way, but most people are concerned about their own appearance and behavior. Think of a few phrases that make others feel comfortable. These do not need to be topical or brilliant. Topics that work are the weather, the decorations, the food, traffic, or local events. Except for the weather and traffic, this opening comment should be favorable and friendly.
Don’t wait for help. Introduce yourself. Even people who are good with names blank out. Introduce yourself with your name. If you think the person doesn’t remember you at all, add the connection. “Hi, I’m X, we met at the YZ fund raiser,” is much better than “We used to work together.” Never, ever say, “I bet you don’t remember me,” or “Do you remember my name?” It makes people uncomfortable and opens up the opportunity for them to ask, “Should I?”
Use the bathroom as exercise location. Nerves build up. They dispel themselves with use. Go to the bathroom, and stretch. Reach your hands over your head. Yawn to relax your facial muscles. Touch your toes, or do other reasonable stretching moves.
Smile. Heading into a room with a determined look on your face can make people steer away from you. Smile as if you are seeing someone over at the bar, head there because there is always someone you can greet at the bar. A drink (non-alcoholic works, too) gives your hands something to hold. Hold it in your left hand, so your right will be dry and warm for greetings.
–Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who helps people find and follow their goals. (c) 2008 All right reserved.