For many people shyness can seem like a minor inconvenience while for others it is crippling social anxiety. Overcoming any level of shyness takes time and effort. Here are a few techniques to get you started.
Attribution: Flickr - Lili Vieira de Carvalho
Learn conversation basics
Most people who are shy are not shy around close friends and family. For this reason most shy people lack experience in starting a conversation with someone they don't know.
Attribution: Flickr - Toni F.
Even the most experienced conversationalist can be stuck looking for a way to start a conversation. So learn a few great conversation openings. I usually recommend saying something about yourself then ask a question. "This is the first time I have come to this bar, how about yourself, do you come here often?"
Master common topics
Have you ever met someone who drones on about a topic that no-one cares about. These people will usually confess to social anxiety. Instead it is better to learn to talk about some of the most common and popular topics.
My normal approach is to at least skim the news. Often I see an article that I know I don't care about but which I am sure others will bring up in conversation. I will read it because I like to be sociable. So sure this can mean you have to read about the Kardasians, the latest political scandal, but it helps to grease the wheels in a conversation.
Activate your mirror neurons (or watch and learn)
Our brains contain a special mechanism called mirror neurons. These let us learn by copying other people's behaviour. If you want to learn a skill watch other people who are better at something do it.
Attribution: Flickr - Ethan Heln
So go to parties and join groups. Then just sit and listen. Everyone likes a listener, so there is no reason why you can't do this. Pay careful attention to what people do and you will find yourself doing it too.
What about social anxiety?
At this point you are thinking, that is all well and good, but you find that you become very nervous during many social situations. Well the reason I left this to the fourth point is that mastering the first three makes it easier to speak when you are nervous. Just as training helps soldiers during the battle so they don't panic, so does learning conversations skills help when you are nervous.
Attribution: Pixabay - johnhain
Trying practicing conversations in your head, talk back to people on TV shows and so on. While this doesn't give you perfect conversation skills, it is a start.
There are a number of relaxation techniques you can use when facing any stressful situation. One easy one is to take 3 deep breathes when you feel anxiety and panic building. It is impossible to panic when you are taking deep breathes.
Attribution: Flickr - Darren Johnson
At social events don't over stress, don't even think you have to talk to people. Sit down, grab a beer or some food and just chill. When you are relaxed you will find conversation flows naturally.
Did you know that if you stand in the superman pose - hands on hips, head up straight - it subconsciously boosts your self-confidence and increases your ability.
Attribution: Flickr - Hartwig HKD
Before an event try all the great confidence boosters. Standup straight, look people in the eye, wear great clothes, give yourself a pep talk and my favourite, do some exercise to boost testosterone levels, and you will project confidence.
Be quiet, be cool
While the loud mouthed jokester is the life of the party and makes lots of friends instantly, it is often the quiet mysterious ones that people really remember.
Attribution: Flickr - Garden State Hiker
So be cool, nod to people and then find things to do. Maybe you are checking out the CDs near the stereo or looking at posters on the wall. Doesn't matter, you are doing something and being cool. Oh, don't forget the cool thing takes time, but often people will come up to you and say "Oh you are the cool guy I say at that party last week."
A lot of social anxiety doesn't come from not being able to find something to say but from not being able to listen. Good listeners are able to ask the right questions and then pay careful attention to what other people are saying.
Attribution: Pixabay - johnhain
I know many quiet people who are great at parties and social situations because they turn being quiet into a virtue. So practice your listening skills.
Active listening is about asking the right questions. Of course this can be very uncomfortable if you just keep asking questions and not saying anything yourself.
Just find some interesting things to say to ask people and more importantly keep the conversation going.
Action speaks louder than words
You know social gatherings where people sit around talking are usually pretty boring. Yes, on some occasions I meet some interesting people and we talk for hours, but really, being outgoing and talkative is kind of boring.
I love social gatherings where we are doing things. Maybe we are active such as playing tennis or hiking, perhaps it could be chess or computer games. In all these situations, whether we talk or not doesn't really matter.
Whether you turn up to a party with a pack of cards, a football or some other things to do, you will be able to engage people. For example, I lived in China for several years and when I first arrived I didn't speak Chinese, but I had learnt to play Chinese chess so I was able to make friends in many situations just by pulling out my portable chess board.
Speak when you have something to say
This applies best in meetings. There are always people who have learnt that to be noticed they should always talk in meetings. Only problem is that they are noticed for being an idiot.
So sit back and relax. I like to take notes in meetings because most of the time this makes people think I am listening (I might actually be preparing my shopping list).
The last and most easily practiced skill to beat shyness is the ability to tell jokes. It seems these days that most jokes are just telling people about something they saw on the Internet or referencing something everyone already finds funny. However it can be worth mastering the old skill of telling a funny story.
Many comedians are actually fairly shy. They learnt how to be funny to cover up this fact. So learn some jokes and know how to make others laugh.
Remember that many people are jerks
I have been to social situations where people look at me like dirt, start giving me creepy advice or even just bombard me with weird questions. I don't worry about these people because other times I meet interesting and exciting people.
Attribution: Jimmy Eldridge
Not everyone is going to like you and not every social interaction is going to be positive. It is okay because when meeting new people you have to keep trying until you find the right people and situation.
The longer you hang with people the more likely it is that you will say something stupid or embarrassing and it is more likely they will react negatively to you. One of the best ways to deal with social anxiety and shyness is to start in small bursts. Have 5 minute conversation and then bail.
If that 5 minutes are brilliant they will seek you out later for more. So hit parties for an hour, have quick conversations and so you don't over do things.
Get out there
Look this is the one piece of advice you have been told over and over again. Of course it doesn't really work without all the other things I have listed. But, all the other items are useless if you stay at home avoiding others. So get out there and interact.