You know how it feels when you walk into a crowded room and suddenly, every bit of your confidence seems to evaporate?
I know that feeling so well because I wasn’t born with a natural, socially-savvy kind of confidence.
But over the years, I’ve figured out a few hacks that have helped grease the wheels for me in social settings.
I won’t say I’m now a complete party animal, but I’ve definitely come a long way from the shrinking violet I used to be.
In this article, I’ll share ten strategies that worked for me. Hopefully, they can be your stepping stones towards becoming more confident when socializing, too.
1) Prepare, prepare, prepare!
First up is something ingrained in me in my years as a teacher – being prepared. It’s become second nature to me to be as ready as possible for whatever the day holds.
So, I thought, why not use that strength in social situations as well?
That realization really eased the way for me. Before going to a social event, I’d try and find out who else was going. Then, I’d sit down and think about the possible questions or topics of conversation that might pop up.
From there, I can think of several conversation starters to use that the other guests would find interesting.
And of course, knowing that I’d be likely to meet new people there, I’d prepare a brief self-introduction. Just a short one, like my name, what I do, and maybe an interesting or relatable bit about myself.
2) Reframe your self-belief
Part of preparing for social events includes this thing I call reframing my self-belief. That sounds more fancy than it really is, but all it takes sometimes is a little positive self-talk.
Yes, I’m aware that sounds cheesy. But hey, this little hack has done wonders for my confidence!
You see, our internal dialogue can hugely affect our confidence levels. If you’re constantly telling yourself that you’re awkward, boring, or uninteresting, you’re likely to indeed come across that way.
It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, change the narrative you tell yourself.
For me, what works is saying, “I’m an interesting person with an interesting life, and I’ve got lots of stories to share.”
It didn’t happen overnight, but true enough, with constant practice, I began seeing myself in this light. And you know what? Those stories started pouring out of me more easily!
3) Dress comfortably and appropriately
Whoever said, “Dress for success” wasn’t kidding. The way you dress can really affect how you feel and act in social situations. There’s a certain confidence that arises from knowing you look good and are dressed appropriately for the occasion.
I’ve found that when I’m comfortable in what I’m wearing, I can focus less on my outfit and more on the conversation at hand.
On the flip side, when I’m self-conscious about my attire, it can derail my focus. I’ll be thinking about it all night instead of focusing on interactions!
So, invest in clothes that make you feel confident. It might seem superficial, but it’s an easy win that makes a big difference.
4) Set realistic expectations
Here’s another thing that really helped me be more relaxed at social gatherings – setting realistic expectations.
There was a time when I’d set the bar impossibly high for myself at such events. I’d go in thinking I had to be the most charming, the most articulate, the most entertaining, the most shining, shimmering, splendid creature in there.
Boy, talk about being delusional. Not surprisingly, I often ended up feeling overwhelmed and out of my depth. It was only when I started setting realistic expectations that I began to feel more confident.
I’ve long learned that I don’t have to be the most “anything” at parties. And that it’s perfectly okay to have quiet moments or to not know the answer to every question.
And again, this is where I see the effects of the positive self-talk I do. Since I now believe I’m a truly interesting person, I no longer feel the pressure to be extra. Why do that when I know I’m already enough just the way I am?
5) Arrive early
This is one of the simplest ways you can feel more confident. Just come on time. Better yet, arrive a bit early.
Remember, confidence often comes with feeling prepared and in control, and arriving early provides just that. You’ll have more time to get familiar with the environment and more time to calm down and mentally prepare.
Best of all, you don’t have to have that feeling of dread that comes with walking into a room full of people already vibing and having fun!
6) Be interested in other people
I’ll share something that really changed the game for me. It’s this little nugget of wisdom straight from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People:
“To be interesting, be interested.”
See the fantastic shift there? It’s a lovely paradox, really.
Sometimes, we feel so shy and nervous because we’re afraid to be seen as boring. Well, yes, if we’re always looking inwards, we would indeed be seen as boring.
Not because we truly are, but because we’re not showing any real interest in other people.
Look, when you’re trying to make connections, there’s nothing more effective than genuine interest. It tells the other person that you’re humble, sincere, and worth getting to know as well.
And in the context of confidence, being interested in what other people have to say frees you up from the need to be interesting or memorable. It shifts your focus from stressing about what to say to listening and learning more about someone else.
Another golden piece of advice from Carnegie: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years trying to get other people interested in you.”
7) Focus on the message
This is connected to my previous point, but is more applicable to social settings where you have to speak in front of a large group of people.
Back when I was very new to teaching, I was tasked to speak at the annual parents’ orientation. Now, I’m perfectly fine talking to a whole classroom of kids, but adults? I was petrified.
For weeks before the event, I couldn’t even sleep due to anxiety. What if I choke? What if my hands shake? What if they laugh at me? What would I even say?
That last question was what finally clicked a switch in my brain. I had a breakthrough.
Yes indeed, what would I say?
I focused on my main message – my thinking was, it doesn’t matter how I say it or how calm I look; what matters is that I deliver all the information that the audience needed to know at this event.
In short, I made it about the message, not me. The spotlight was on the message, not on how articulate I was.
That thought has gotten me through countless orientations and other similar events; it really cut through the noise in my brain and made me take a logical approach to it.
8) Do power poses
What if shifting focus isn’t enough for you? I totally get it, because at first, it wasn’t enough for me either. Some days, I took the quick-fix route: power poses.
This might sound laughable, but really, sometimes faking it till you make it does work. And science agrees!
This TED talk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how power posing can boost feelings of confidence and ultimately help shape our self-perception.
And in another study, people reported feeling stronger and more confident after engaging in power posing.
See, when it comes to issues like confidence, we’re never alone! This leads me to the next point…
9) Think about how you’re not the only one
Remember the saying, “Misery loves company”? You might not think it applies to confidence issues, but I think it does.
You see, that idea speaks to our human tendency to find comfort in knowing we’re not alone in our struggles.
When we’re at a social event and feeling insecure or anxious, it can be strangely comforting to know that some other people there are just trying to fake confidence like we are.
It’s not about taking pleasure in their misery; it’s about the validation and reassurance that comes from having that shared struggle.
10) Hang out with confident friends
I’ll leave you with one of the easiest ways to become confident, not just fake confidence but the real thing. And that’s to surround yourself with confident people.
According to motivational speaker Jim Rohn, we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.
In simple terms, we’re hugely influenced by the people we hang out with most, whether we’re aware of it or not.
So it makes sense that if you want to grow in confidence, be with the confident people in your life!
There are many more strategies to improve your confidence in social situations, but these are the ones that have helped me the most.
Now, a word of caution – these would only be effective for those who are shy or who struggle with a simple lack of self-confidence.
However, if you have social anxiety, it would be more prudent to seek help from a healthcare professional. Unlike shyness, social anxiety is a mental health disorder that significantly impacts your life.
Thus, it’s best addressed with professional guidance and treatments like psychotherapy and medication.