Do You Make These Mistakes at Social Events?

Let’s start with a provocative statement:

If you can meet anyone, you can be anyone.

It’s no secret: Everything I’ve ever had, career-wise, I’ve gotten from the web. I started podcasting and quit 9-to-5 because of it, I wrote a book because of it, and I fly all over the world, too. It’s pretty amazing.

Without the people I’ve met, I would be nothing.

All of us on the web– hell, anyone in business— knows that the more people are in your network, the more powerful you are. So, maybe you’ve read How To Make Friends and Influence People. Maybe you’ve read much more.

You’re also probably pretty smart. You’re really good at a few things. You might be totally awesome, actually. Still, like me, you’re probably pretty shy.

Despite our success in our respective fields, and no matter how many friends we have, we’re still little scared kids inside.

Why? Clarity. We can’t fix it because we don’t know how.

Everything is easy when we know how to do it, but success is obscure and difficult when we don’t know what steps to take. Yet, most of us somehow do not take the first step, even when we feel we need it.

There’s not much I’m good at, but this particular one, I’ve figured out. So I can help you become outgoing.

I can help you not be shy. Here are some lessons to help.

1. We’re all the same.

The first step isn’t actually an action– it’s a realization. If you go to a party and you don’t know anyone, you might feel like everyone is enjoying themselves and doesn’t want to talk to you, or that they’re all perfectly relaxed while you’re crapping your pants.

This is simply not true. Whether it’s at a party, a conference, or any other social situation, most people are anxious about their social status. Alain de Botton referred to this as Status Anxiety, and it’s very real.

So first, recognize that these people are as nervous about you as you are about them. They’re worried that you’d judge them, or that you’d reject them. But what’s most important is that they’d love to be proven wrong, and for you to be awesome. This is where the next step comes in.

2. Adjust to people.

Coffee shops are one thing; these are places that people get together and don’t talk, so if you’re seriously people-phobic, you can start there. But the important thing is to adjust to them talking to you.

Go to places where people talk to each other. I have a café I work at where everyone is from the neighbourhood and knows each other, so when I go there, I have to talk to people. If I go to a restaurant by myself, I sit at the counter and chat with whoever runs it.

Doing this gets you used to people and used to low level, easy conversations. They also make you realize that “faux-pas” (social mistakes) won’t kill you– and that the person you made the mistake with wants to smooth over and forget them just as much as you do.

3. Assume rapport.

Meeting someone can be awkward and uncomfortable. You don’t know what their status or function is. One easy way to first work around this is to talk to people whose function is clear (like information desk workers, waiters, police officers, etc). Then, it’s time to assume rapport.

I’ve also called this a false social role. Essentially, by giving a person the opportunity to act familiar (even though they aren’t), you’re giving a function to a stranger that they can then participate in.

I do this with people who I’ve barely met sometimes. Try it sometime by saying “oh my God, it was great talking to you,” or “Wow, it’s been so long!” Do this especially if you’ve never met them before. 🙂 This kind of forward, ridiculous gesture helps build a commonality, which helps conversation. By assuming you’re already friends, you become friends.

Oh! And do it with a smile on your face.

4. Confident body signals and “energy”

Ok, I’ve been reading a Cesar Millan book, so I’m sorry about this but I have to say it. “Energy” is real– and you can feel it when you’re inside a conversation. Whether it’s “energy” at all is debatable, though; it’s probably subconscious gesture, posture, and other signals of confidence that show you’re trustworthy.

One example of this is smiling– something I’m only now getting better at. Those of us who don’t smile much often think that, because we’re happy, we must be smiling. Nope– we’re often not displaying any facial expression at all. And we need to learn to smile, because it’s the ultimate social defuser.

But be careful about the fake smile! Smiles that are fake look horrible, so practice in the mirror by thinking about something happy and smiling with your eyes, not just your mouth. You’ll see the difference.

Many other things contribute to good energy. If you want to have better posture (another problem I used to have), go do Alexander Technique or learn to pull yourself up by your spine when you walk. Talk more slowly and gesticulate less so that you can have a calmer energy. Remember, if anyone can be seen to “win”– or get their way– in a social setting, it’s usually the person who is most confident and the most relaxed.

5. Hate small talk? Read this.

Some (ok, lots of) people despise small talk. I don’t. If you do, I’m going to guess your mind probably wanders very easily and you get bored with the “usual.” That’s fine. But I can get you used to, and even liking, small talk, because it’s one of the easiest ways to get to know someone well.

It’s very easy to turn small talk into any number of subjects if you know how. Something as easy as the weather can turn into how much snow you’ve gotten, which can turn into shoveling and then exercise and going to the gym, then swimming, vacations, and on and on. You can go on like this for 15 minutes with basically anyone– if you can branch early.

To branch means to switch subjects based on something that someone else has said. Do it early, and do it often. You won’t get bored, and as you do it, you’ll find a ton in common.

And if you don’t? Move on, no sweat.

6. Not every social encounter must succeed.

Learn the following phrase by heart: “Hey, nice meeting you.” And mean it.

Then, when you want to leave a conversation, you can say it and put out your hand. They’ll shake your hand. Congratulations! You’ve just escaped a conversation you didn’t want to be in. Amazing.

It actually took me years to learn this trick, and some rather popular people I know at conferences have yet to learn it. I see them stuck in conversations they really want to get out. They don’t know how. Little do they know is that all it takes is that one phrase, and a smile on your face.

And hey, if a conversation goes wrong and becomes awkward and tense, say it anyway. Then, you’re guaranteed to get out of there quick, and the other person will be just as happy as you to have gotten out of it. 🙂

So there’s no need to fear failure. What happens if a conversation goes bad, anyway? Nothing. You take a breather and realize, despite the fear of failure, nothing much happens when you screw up.

Then, you get out of your funk and go do it again.

6.5… actually, there’s a lot more.

This article is getting pretty long, and I like to make my point early and then cut out quick. Plus it’s late and I’m sleepy. 🙂

I’ll continue this later, though. I hope it was helpful. If it was, feel free to tweet it out or send it to friends.

There’ll be lots of good stuff later, too. Enter your email below and press enter if you’d like more.






44 responses to “Do You Make These Mistakes at Social Events?”

  1. Elaine Spitz Avatar
    Elaine Spitz

    Julien – this is really well-crafted. Stuff we can actually use in social situations. Thank you for sharing your insights here.

    It was really nice meeting you ;-))

  2. Stephanie G. Avatar

    This is easily digestible food for thought, Julien. Thanks for sharing, I plan to read and re-read and share with others.

    1. Julien Avatar

      Thanks Stephanie. Thanks Elaine.

      It was nice to meet you. 😉

  3. James Avatar

    Great advice and the headline was good too (endless legs on that one) thanks ….the success of this blog is that rather than trying to sound smart or sound like you are offering tips you actually say smart helpful things…I like the tip about practicing on people like desk clerks James @

  4. Chel Wolverton Avatar

    Every time I talk with you I come away with something that’s interesting, thought-provoking or just damn funny. When you are incredibly random about what you say it always throws me but I always enjoy the conversation with you.

    The posture is one that really helps. My experience has been that the more open you are, rather than hunched over, the more confident and approachable you’ll seem to others which makes for a better first contact.

  5. Whitney Hoffman Avatar

    Responsiveness is key as well. Those little mirror neurons in our brain respond to the social cues of others- when we witness acts, our brains kind of act them out in our heads at the same time- so the more comfortable you are, the more comfortable the others in your group are as well.
    Ah, primate social cues- where would we be without them?

  6. Scott Avatar

    Thoughtful and thought-provoking. Thank you.

  7. Lana Vaughan Avatar

    The old adage still holds true. “Strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.” Want to make more friends? Stop considering them strange.

  8. Steve Harris Avatar

    Great post Julien! Everyone can use this. One related thing I’ve learned that helps is to ask people their name, use it, and remember it. For years I used the excuse that I was “bad with names”. When I started to make a concentrated effort to change this behaviour, first contact started to become far more comfortable.

  9. Julien Avatar

    Steve, great point!

    I have a trick to remember someone’s name: Repeat it at least once.

    They say “I’m Steve.” I respond: “Steve?” They say: “Yep, Steve.”

    There, I’ve got it. 🙂

  10. mckra1g Avatar

    This is great stuff. I especially liked the energy analogy. I really think that there is a polarity to interactions.

    Something that has helped me in social situations you describe is to truly focus on something about the other person and ask them to expand upon it (ie. a sticker on their laptop, some logo, a pendant). People adorn themselves and their property with things with which they identify. Asking them to tell you about those items allows them to talk about themselves by proxy.

    Again, great post. Thanks for sharing it! Best, M.

  11. Josh Muirhead Avatar

    Enjoyed your post once again today Julien.

    And you are correct…We’re really all the same.

    One thing I would like to ad is to find a common ground quickly. People feel that this is a hard thing to do, but in fact – it often comes up if you just allow it to.


    I was talking to a financial advisor the other day, and we started with some small talk – he let me know quickly that he had kids (not in common), and he enjoyed playing sports (AH…a common trait). I quickly jumped in, and let him know that I was a big fan of snowboarding, and had been for years. Sure enough, so was he – The point being, I heard something that I knew we had in common, and jumped on it. This allowed the conversation to relax, as we both had a common ground to go back to if it got weird.

    Thanks for the Post

    Josh Muirhead

  12. ArthurHung Avatar

    I used to talk rather fast in person (and on the phone) and gesticulate at about the same speed.

    So of course I connected with the “talk and gesticulate slower” part of the post, and my own lil’ spin on it which might make more sense for some — I think I can use a dance analogy here: talk and gesticulate **smoother**.

    Like waiting for a beat to hit, waiting for the right moment to make the right gesture, like riding a beat grooving, I find talking as fast as the moment calls for real fun. Also something that wasn’t really emphasized about in the post, conversations are meant to be fun!… but then there’s a part 2 coming up, which I’m looking forward to.

    I love this stuff, can’t wait for the next post Julien, and nice to meetcha 🙂

  13. Zach Cole Avatar

    Julien – terrific post! I especially love how you reinforce the idea that if we make a mistake or two – so what? We move on and nothing happens. And chances are the recipient of the mistake wants to move on just as much as we do. Nice!

  14. Andrea Arrogante Avatar
    Andrea Arrogante

    If there’s one thing I learned from this post: “It was nice to meet you”

    Thanks, Julien.

  15. SRivera Avatar

    Great, thx for sharing…will definitely implement these ‘tricks’

  16. Marcella Avatar

    In Spanish, the “Hey, nice to meet you” line is used very often. “Muchisimo gusto!” can get you out of many situations, and I’ve definitely applied it to conversations in English, as well. I’ve actually used the restroom or bar line plenty of times, as well. Just an easy way to move around without ever feeling stuck.

  17. blork Avatar

    Nice tips, but I take exception to something in number 5 (small talk). You say “I’m going to guess your mind probably wanders very easily…”

    Well, it’s more complicated than that. There are two distinct personality types when it comes to interacting with other people, extroverts and introverts. Unfortunately, to some people “introvert” has a connotation of a shy, quivering dork who doesn’t like people. That’s a sad and mistaken stereotype. It’s all in how people get their jags, from either external stimulation (extrovert) or internal stimulation (introvert). It has nothing to do with shyness or dorkiness.

    As an introvert, small talk bores me because it’s well, boring. Unstimulating. It’s like if I asked you to methodically pick 1000 macaroni peices off the floor at a party. You’d probably hate that and see it as pointless.

    This is made worse by the fact that introverts can easily become overstimulated at busy social events, which leads to a need to disengage. A lot of introverts are smokers, because smoking provides a great excuse to get away from the crowd for a bit.

    That said, your comment on making small talk is useful, but you need to consider that different personality types react in different ways for different reasons!

    I wrote all about introverts and extroverts on my blog back in 2007:

    …and a follow-up:

  18. Ben Giordano Avatar

    Great article, I’m actually on my way to a corporate holiday party in about an hr and will be using the “branch early and often” advice for sure. It’s tough b/c I do love talking to new people, its just getting past the initial hello that usually the toughest part.

  19. Chris Avatar

    @blork if introverts find small talk boring (and I think plenty of extroverts do as well) what type of talk is not boring? I hesitate to assume depth is the answer – curious what the thought is?

  20. Julien Avatar

    I’m an ‘introvert,’ Chris, so I’ll give my answer.

    Nobody is scared to talk to their friends– in fact, they look forward to it. So I suspect introverts have more anxiety than they admit to.

    I admit to it. I hate feeling the pressure of having to ‘perform.’ So I stopped performing. It made things a lot easier– and I looked a lot more ‘extroverted.’

  21. jojosubrata Avatar

    Julien! once again kudos. Thanks for this. I’m one of those people that need this sorta thing – a reminder that everyone are in the same place. hahaha… now I have to practice this. It’s nice to FOUND you and your blog.

  22. Chris Avatar

    @Julien I’m probably more extroverted, but I think the small talk issue is still important and I’m glad you highlighted it. I think you’ve touched on an important aspect of it for both ‘verts: branching into some point of interest. Is there an art to this? Or just practice?

  23. Sherman Rockwell Avatar
    Sherman Rockwell

    Nice work and it stimulated some nice comments as well. I do a lot of face-to-face business networking. People like people who are like themselves – that “Birds-of-a-feather thing”, so I always try to find some sort of commonality that I can comment on. I also ask questions about their work and family. It tends to get the other person rolling and I really don’t have to say much at all. People love to talk about themselves.

  24. Hamish Avatar

    Well written, Julien.

    Other “you can network” posts are long on inspiration and short on details.

    I especially liked the bit about ending conversations. A skill I need to improve.

    Thank you for inspiring me once again.

  25. Linda Secretan Avatar

    So many blogs,so many really excellent blogs, and truly so little time. Yours is one I am increasingly go to. And even your readers comments are interesting!

  26. Linda Secretan Avatar

    oh ouch. Take it out. Too many typos!

    1. Julien Avatar

      LOL. Don’t even worry about it Linda. 🙂

  27. Grace White Avatar

    Super post, Julien. A wise (introverted) mentor and I discovered the same “energy” information long before Cesar Milan (I enjoy his thought process too), my mentor was notorious for “getting his way” in almost everything. As an extrovert I was often his designated “wing woman” in business situations to protect his energy and engage those whom we didn’t know.
    I’m very comfortable talking to those I don’t know, even celebrities like you ~wink. We met in Victoria in October (nope I don’t expect everyone to remember).
    I’ll look forward to more good stuff!

  28. Reid Walley Avatar

    I totally dig your this-is-exactly-what-to-say example of “Hey, nice meeting you.” It’s immensely helpful to know exactly what you’re going to say.

    And your advice to smile is perfect. I teach the same rule with my life coaching and public speaking clients.

  29. Uzi Avatar

    So true on so many levels! I especially like Smile in number 5.
    It might sound crazy, but, sometimes I play this little game just walking down the sidewalk with a big smile on my face. 9 out of 10 people walking toward me will smile right back even though they don’t know me.

    Well written.


  30. Chris Avatar

    “I’d be less introverted if the conversations in my head weren’t better than the conversations I have with other people.” -Kelly Oxford


  31. Bob Smith Avatar
    Bob Smith

    Nicely covered and has enough nuance reference that you could write pages and pages.

    I like your thinking and your consideration of everyone’s experience.

    Well done

  32. Christine Seib Avatar

    Thank you for this. It’s great that you started where you did. I believe the first point is probably the hardest to get to. Realizing that other people have a similar anxiety to you despite your impression that they are relaxed and confident – and having a much easier time than you – is momentous.

    And I can personally attest to smiling working. I smile. A lot. And people think I’m really extroverted. If only they knew… 😉

    1. Julien Avatar

      It’ll be our little secret. 🙂

  33. John Avatar

    “Hey, nice meeting you.”

  34. Gemma Avatar

    Great post Julien. I’m a smiley chatty person, who also appreciates that not all social situations are easy peasy.
    Love your blog, I’ll be back!

  35. takyar Avatar

    Nice to meet you :).
    Wow, you must have worked really hard to pu that kind of stuff together.
    Thanks for sharing!

  36. Matt Clark Avatar

    Thanks for sharing, some really great tips here. I really like the small talk point.

    I was at a party this weekend and was in that situation and I just could not get out of the loop of useless chat. However, now I look back and think I missed the opportunity to forge a bond and get to know someone. My loss and this I will work on this and not let those opportunities slip by again!

  37. Daan van den Bergh Avatar

    Alright, this definitely fits in the category social HACKS. Although I find it a bit, uuuhm, fake… I understand social contact is important and stuff. But isn’t the value of a friend more important than the amount?

    I know this by experience. I used to follow your idea years ago. I was young, outgoing and I made a lot of “friends” over the years. Offcourse alcohol made faking all of the above a lot easier. 🙂 I pretty much knew everybody, no matter to which club I went. I guess this is the opposite extreme of the person I was before that (much like you appearantly), a shy, humble person that spent most of his time in-house.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that, when you’ve been on both teams you can really find out what the best kind of social status is: a KING. Which kinda comes down to not giving a crap what people think of you. KNOW that people have an urge to fit in. KNOW that they’re looking for social acceptance. KNOW that because of this, they’ll either admire or despise your behaviour if you ARE careless – instead of ACTING careless. Both ways, they’ll be interested. People admire, let’s say, a modest level of humble arrogance. If you manage these skills, and don’t turn into a jerk, you’ll be on top of society and you won’t have to worry about acting. You can be yourself completely and people’ll still be all around you. Your guide is good, it turns you into a chameleon. KNOWING is the key to turning into a predator amongst sheep.

  38. Daan van den Bergh Avatar

    And if I might add, I love your blog seriously. You seem like the kind of person I can really level with.

    Awesome, seriously.

  39. Clare Froggatt Avatar

    What a fabulously inspiring post. I just wrote about my own fear of Christmas drinks on my blog and then discovered this. I feel cool by association. Thanks for your words. We are all still scared kids inside 🙂 Clare

  40. Rufus Dogg Avatar

    I read this and stopped dead: “I’m sorry about this but I have to say it. ‘Energy’ is real– and you can feel it when you’re inside a conversation.”

    Of course it is. You pick up energy from place, from the people around you, from buildings you’re in. Why do really smart people feel like they need to apologize for making statements like this? Do they fear they will be viewed as nutbags? It’s nutty to NOT recognize and move with the energy. Just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

    And while we’re on this little rant, “because I don’t feel like it” should be enough of a reason. Yet most of us feel like we need to rationalize a decision with logic. Why? We decide first with our emotions.

    Life is a large tapestry and everything is all connected in some way. If that makes me a lunatic on the fringe, so be it. The view is always better from the edge looking over anyway. 🙂

  41. Ana Day Avatar

    I’m not great at small talking and it’s a must in Ireland, so this post has been hugely beneficial to me. Thanks!

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