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This article was published on November 13, 2017

How to deal with your own social awkwardness at events

How to deal with your own social awkwardness at events
Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
Story by

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

Founder & board member, TNW

Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is very active on Twitter as @Boris and Instagram: @Boris.

On December 12 we’re hosting our annual TNW event in New York. Round-table sessions are a central component to what makes our event so intimate, but for many people it’s a concept that they can find intimidating. Aside from pointing out that we also have a keynote stage focusing on IoT, AI, data, security and the future of work, I also wanted to highlight that you’re not alone!

A friend who is joining me in New York this year asked me for a few tips on how to connect with other people. I gave him three, and now I’m sharing them with you too.

First, let me explain why I’m the perfect candidate to advise you. People are often surprised to learn that I often feel uncomfortable in groups or around strangers. They’ve seen me on a huge stage, addressing a crowd of thousands at our events, and can’t imagine someone who’s not afraid to speak on stage could be shy.

The truth is that speaking on stage is easy, once you get used to it. People forget that it’s a monologue, which means no anxiety about uncomfortable silences, no missed social cues, and no keeping up with appearances. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a recluse; I enjoy going out and socialising, but there are also occasions where I’ll feel nervous and want to hide in a corner.

Over the years I’ve learned to deal with my social anxiety using three simple tricks. I’m sharing them with you now in case you ever find yourself in a situation where small talk is required.

Tip 1: find something to do

The first thing I do when I arrive at a party is volunteer to be the DJ, cocktail shaker, dishwasher or BBQ chef. Anything that will give me something to do. This has a few benefits: if you get stuck in a conversation that causes anxiety, you will always have the excuse of needing to change the music/check the fire/wash a few more dishes. The host of the party will also think you’re a great person for helping out, and, if you’re good at your job, the rest of the guests will also appreciate your effort and will have something to talk to you about.

Tip 2: focus on the other person

Sometimes the social situation calls for you to entertain people, which normally comes with the pressure of feeling you have to tell great stories. Instead, focus on what the other guests can offer instead. Find out what they do, why they do it, what they want to do next, and what they’re excited about. People love talking about themselves, so if you spend an hour simply letting other people share there’s a good chance they’ll thank you for a great conversation – even if all you did was listen.

Tip 3: practice talking to strangers

A few years ago I started practicing talking to strangers. I’d just walk up to anybody at a party, say ‘what brings you here?’ and take it from there. You might think you don’t have the courage to do that, so that’s why you need practice. From now on, try to say at least one thing to one stranger everyday. It will feel super awkward in the beginning, but before you know it you’ll be talking to strangers and enjoying it. You’ll quickly find out that most people, even at parties, are just as shy and uncomfortable as you, and were waiting for someone to connect with. All you have to do is seem interested, and the rest will work itself out.

If you’re feeling confident, join me at our New York event on December 12th. The whole event is dedicated to networking and knowledge-sharing, and is the perfect opportunity to test your new skills. Apply for your invite now.

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