Have you ever been in a room crowded with people, feeling completely alone? I suspect I am not the only one who has felt that way. Over the years, I have found ways to reduce that feeling of aloneness. Maybe my techniques can help you a little in similar situations.
Before I enter the room, I check to see if the way I am dressed is at the same level of formality as most of the people in the room. Do I have any chance of fitting in with these people?
These days, I usually am. That was not so true when I was younger. Back then, I lacked the experience to know what was expected at different functions. My reading growing up was mostly science fiction, fantasy, or period romances, none of which gave me good clues to fill the gaps in my actual knowledge. The result was that I was often over dressed, which only added to my discomfort. Now I have more experience and generally get it right. If there is a mismatch, it can still be alright, though. Just smile and think of it as ‘having your own style’ rather than ‘getting it wrong’, and you will be fine.
Next, I look around. Do I know anyone here? Most of the time the answer is a resounding ‘No’. When I am in these situations it is generally because I am attending a professional or work function. Even if I have corresponded with some of the people present, I won’t recognize them because I have no idea what they look like. If I know someone, I approach them. We have something to talk about and the rest is relatively easy.
If I don’t know anyone, the usual case, I enter with trepidation, especially if I’m attending alone. Part of me wants to just leave, to avoid the uncomfortable situation entirely. A bigger part of me knows I should stay.
I get a drink and some snacks. That way I can delay the actual interaction with strangers just a little bit longer. I know this is cowardly but …
Finally, with no more excuses, I approach whatever group of people is closest to me. I listen to their conversation for a little bit, trying to find an opening. I smile at the people I’ve joined. Most of the time they all know each other well, so I still feel out-of-place. If I haven’t found an opening after five minutes, I’ll smile and wander off to join another group. Generally it doesn’t take too many tries before I find my opening. Once that happens, I can relax a little and enjoy the conversation.
You might wonder what topics of conversation give me the desired opening. I’ve read quite a lot of books, so that is one possible avenue. Unfortunately, most people at the functions I attend don’t seem to read or, at least, they don’t talk about it. It helps to be aware of current events and able to discuss their fine points. The best subjects, for me, are when the conversation turns to specific activities that I know about from personal experience – in my case, travel, horses, cooking, skydiving, scuba diving, and photography are all potential topics. Company functions are a little easier, in those cases I can always fall back on “What do you do for the company?” to start a conversation.
For you, the subjects will be different. It depends on your personal experiences. If you have children, that is often a good topic.
The important thing is to connect, at least on a superficial level, with a few of the strangers. You will feel more relaxed and probably enjoy the event more. After all, what are your alternatives? You can either spend the evening near the food table, periodically helping yourself to a snack, as I occasionally did when I was younger. You can leave, and possibly miss meeting someone whose company you would enjoy. Or you can put yourself forward, joint the conversation, and maybe start to feel a little less alone for an evening.
I recommend the last option.
I am a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and poetry. The themes I blog about run through my work. If you are interested in learning more about me or my work, check out my website at http://www.leomaretan.com.