HOW TO FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT
OK. There you are, standing alone, frozen against the wall in a room full of people. You've just arrived, and you've already done the two things that made you look busy: taken off your coat and said hello to your host or hostess, who has long since dashed off to greet another guest or check on the ice supply. What now?
Number one (and numbers two and three): Don't panic. You are not the only person feeling this way. Many people descend into a state of existential angst when faced with tough mingling situations. Some people deal with their fears by withdrawing into a corner; others become nervous or clumsy. Some giggle; some play with their hair or fiddle with their clothing. In fact, minglephobia can cause people to drink too much, eat too much, smoke too much, or--and this can really be dangerous--even dance too much! So it's important not to give in to your fears, especially in those first few crucial moments. Just try to relax and say to yourself, I'm going to fake it till I make it.
Believe it or not, this simple affirmation is an effective, almost magical, way to transform party terror into a positive outlook. Remember when you were little and you used to tell ghost stories toscare yourself and by the end of the night you really did believe in ghosts? It was amazingly easy to fool yourself when you were a child, and it's just as easy to fool yourself as an adult. Just pretend to be happy to be wherever you are; make believe you are confident; simulate self-assurance--even for ten minutes--and an amazing thing will start to happen: You'll actually begin to feel that way, partially because of the response you receive from other people.
Let's face it. Very few people want to talk to someone who is showing outward signs of fear or depression. (Unless it's a Goth or fetish party. But that's a whole other book.) So even though you will probably have at least some apprehension when approaching people you know little or not at all, you must practice putting it aside. Just as if you had to walk out on a stage. Deep breath. Curtain up. Before you know it, you'll discover you're no longer faking it, that your fears have disappeared and you are actually having a good time!
Fake It Till You Make It is an attitude aid rather than a specific technique, but it's important to remember it as you begin to mingle, because it is the basis of all the opening gambits and entry lines. Your mind-set as you enter the fray is extremely important. For the first few minutes of a difficult mingling experience, what you project is more important than what you may be feeling.
FOUR SURVIVAL FANTASIES FOR THE TRULY TERRIFIED
Sometimes the Fake It Till You Make It mantra isn't enough when you are faced with a room full of Serious Terror Inducers. Serious Terror Inducers are usually defined as people with whom you feel you have nothing in common. The scariest groups for me are investment bankers, people at East Hampton art gallery openings, or thewomen's bridge club in Provo, Utah. But whether your own worst mingling nightmare is a singles' soiree or your own block association picnic, and whether you are attending a high-pressure business affair or a holiday cocktail party, the following survival fantasies can be lifesavers. They are for those times when you can hardly breathe, when you can't remember your name or the name of the person who invited you, when you suddenly have no idea why you were invited and suspect that someone's secretary must have made a horrible mistake in adding you to the guest list.
The need for this kind of psychological armor varies greatly, of course, with each individual and situation. Extraordinarily shy people and people who haven't been out of the house for two months may use the survival fantasies regularly. Some people (like me) find the fantasies to be so much fun that they use them all the time for the pure kick they get out of them. But in any case, they can provide you with an instant shot of social confidence, enough to allow you to approach a group of intimidating strangers. All you need to make them work is a little imagination.
The Naked Room
Suppose you have just arrived at a large party. As you enter the room, you realize that (1) you don't know a soul there; (2) everyone is talking animatedly; and (3) the second you walked in, you lost every ounce of self-assurance you ever had.
Try this: Just for a moment, imagine that everyone in the room--except for you--is wearing nothing but their underclothes (preferably raggedy ones) and shoes. There are variations, naturally, according to what you think makes people look the most ridiculous and powerless; some people prefer to visualize them in only socks, ties, and jewelry, or in their pajamas, or even completely naked. You can try to imagine them all as four-year-olds. But whatever version works foryou, the Naked Room fantasy can be an easy way to turn the tables when you're feeling vulnerable or exposed and is an excellent place to start to build your party confidence. Old acquaintances will wonder what the devil has put that secret smile on your face, and strangers will be intrigued by your cocky demeanor.
The Invisible Man
This fantasy is based on a very simple truth, something my mother used to tell me all the time. Nobody is looking at you. Everyone is too busy worrying about themselves. While this may not be 100 percent true, it is mostly true. The Invisible Man fantasy merely capitalizes on this basic fact, taking it one step further. Ready? You're just not there. You don't exist. Do you think someone's looking at you, wondering snidely why no one is talking to you? You're wrong; everyone's looking right through you because they can't see you. They're looking at the food table, at the wall, at another guest. Remember in the 1933 film The Invisible Man when Claude Rains took off his bandages and was totally transparent? What power he had! How he laughed! Now, invisible as you are, you are free to unself-consciously walk around the room, looking at everyone, looking at the furniture, the paintings--the whole scene--with total relaxation. This gives you time to catch your breath, psychologically, until you feel ready to become visible again and enter the conversational clique of your choice. (Warning: The true introvert may want to be careful with this one; you don't want to stay invisible for too long. I suggest timing yourself for the first couple of tries. Reappearance is an absolute must.)
The Buddy System
Remember in elementary school when you went on field trips and your teacher used to make you line up with a partner so that no onewould get lost? In my school, they called this the Buddy System. Well, here you are now, feeling virtually "lost" in this room full of intimidating strangers. How can you possibly get up the nerve to speak to anyone?
Easy. You and your best buddy will go together. Tell yourself that just behind you, over your right shoulder, your very best friend in the whole world is moving with you through the room, listening to everything you say. Voilà: instant calm. After all, your friend loves you, right? Understands you? And probably will have a lot of the same opinions of the people you meet as you do. When you talk, you will be able to imagine this friend smiling at everything you say, offering encouragement and approval. If by chance you are snubbed by some ignorant dolt, you'll hear your friend whisper in your ear, What a jerk!
Of course, you mustn't get carried away and actually speak to your imaginary friend (at least not so anyone can notice).
Pros and Icons
This technique is kind of the Invisible Man fantasy in reverse. It may seem drastic to some people, but I find it so effective, as well as so much fun, that I highly recommend it, especially for the more adventuresome. Don't forget, these fantasy techniques are specifically designed for initial courage; to get you to take that first step, to transform you from a wallflower with an inferiority complex into a participating, mingling member of the party. So try this: Be someone else, just for a little while. This might seem a bit radical, especially since other people have probably been telling you for decades to "be yourself," but if you're standing there at the party terrified, halfway wishing you were somebody else anyway, then why not just do it? The person that you are is giving you a lot of trouble right now and is obviously not the least bit happy about where he is. So pick a favorite celebrity,someone whose poise, posture, or personality you particularly admire, and then ... slip into him or her. When done right, this technique works much more quickly than the other survival fantasies, because of the mingling power most people attribute to stars--power that instantly becomes accessible to you.
I used to become Bette Davis, especially when faced with really tough rooms or if I was just feeling insecure for some reason. I would visualize her in one of her movie roles, usually as Margot Channing in All About Eve, and pretty soon I would sense my eyebrows going up slightly and my body relaxing as I surveyed the social battlefield with a truly languid amusement. As Bette Davis (or, more specifically, Davis in the role of Margot) I would not just be ready to mingle; I'd be positively hungry for it. No one, by the way, ever looked over at me and said, "Look at that weird woman pretending to be Bette Davis!" because no one, of course, ever noticed the difference. They merely saw a confident--perhaps even interesting--woman. Likewise, no one will be able to tell what you are doing when you use this technique. After all, that's why these are called fantasies--they're secret . Also, you don't have...