Lots of websites, articles, and chat rooms have advice for where to go to meet new people, but not how to meet them once you get there. Anyone, no matter where you live, can find a location where people gather: join a club, take a class, volunteer in your community. But once you're in a room full of people, then what? The trick is finding a way to approach someone and get them talking to you. It isn't hard, but it does require action on your part-you can't just assume that if you show up in a room full of people that they will come over and talk to you. Remember, they might also be there trying to meet new people and it isn't easy for them, either.
If you're really, really shy, do everything you can to overcome it. There are many self-help books and websites available to help you. Wespsych.com describes shyness as "a set of learned behaviors that interfere with relating to people or having successful relationships." Just as you learned to be shy, you can also learn behaviors that allow you to become more "outgoing." If you feel this is an overwhelming problem for you, you might want to consult a physician or counselor as you may have a condition referred to as social anxiety disorder. A great place to start looking at information is WebMD.
- Choose your location. Finding someplace where you're sure other people will have at least one common interest will help a lot. This is the step where you'll find an overabundance of advice from books, websites, and friends, family, and co-workers. Everyone seems to have advice on how to meet new people, but what they really have is advice on where to meet new people. Just figure out what you like and what's available in your area. If you have a particular interest and the time, enroll in a class at the community center or community college. You can also find tons of volunteer projects through local volunteer centers and church organizations. If you like art or music, check out local events.
- Prepare to meet new people before you even arrive. Sit down and write out a list of potential questions you can ask someone. Imagine that you've had a personal introduction to someone, but suddenly the person that introduced you disappeared. What would you ask this new person? Don't think in terms of yes or no questions. You want to consider questions that will allow the person to contribute more than a one word answer to the conversation. That person may be shy or nervous, too, so think in terms of what would make you feel comfortable. The most obvious topic is the one that brought both of you to the same location. You obviously have at least one common interest -- consider questions pertaining to your common interest that would allow a person to share their opinion on the topic. Don't make note cards and take them with you! That will just make you stand out and probably not in a good way. Just think over the questions you have in mind until you can easily remember them.
- The moment of truth is when you arrive at your event or location. Don't panic when you walk in the door. Take your time and look over the room. If this is a classroom, take a seat and look around the room -- get a lay of the land. If this is an art showing, take time to browse the art while looking at the people. Don't rush into talking to someone. You have time, so just get a feel for the group.
- Now the real task is to approach someone. You might find it easiest to approach someone who is also alone. But remember, if the person is at the event alone, they may also be shy and trying to break out and meet people. You want to make them feel comfortable and welcome at the event by chatting with them. Once you've picked out someone to approach there are two ways to engage someone in conversation.
- First, you can do the direct approach -- walk directly up to the person and say hello. Try something like, "Hi, I'm Joe." Smile brightly. "This is my first time volunteering for this organization. What made you decide to volunteer?" Or, "Hi, I'm Jane." Again, smile brightly. "I'm really excited about this class on investing. What do you hope to learn from this course?" The direct approach is certainly the more challenging and the most intimidating, but can be very effective. One trick to make it less challenging is to position yourself next to the person first. Instead of making a beeline for them, wander the room until you're standing next to them. You can even make eye contact first and smile at them. It is 99.99% certain that they will smile back at you, which will make you feel more comfortable and give you the jump-start you need to talk with them.
- The second option is the indirect approach. This tactic also requires that you make the conversational move, but puts an introduction factor ahead of the direct conversation. For example, if it is a classroom setting, ask if the seat next to someone is already taken. Use that response to introduce yourself as you sit down. If it is a standing event, try bumping into them -- literally! Be careful with this one, though, you don't want to injure them or have them spill a drink on themselves. But while you're apologizing, you can use that opportunity to introduce yourself. If you're in a very crowded place, try looking for the back of a chair or a table that has a jacket or bag on it. Walk over with your coat and ask anyone standing near the item if it belongs to them and if they mind if you set your coat there as well. Use that opportunity to start talking.
- Once you've made an introduction, mentally pull out your prepared questions. Keep them talking and talk yourself -- remember, conversation goes in two directions. You may have a couple of awkward moments, but if you have a few items preplanned to talk about, you'll find that they'll start adding their own questions and information to the conversation.
- Don't forget to ask them for a friendship follow up. If it is a one-time event, try asking your new friend if they'd like to go to another event with you. If it is a repeat event, such as a class, try asking them if they'd like to meet for coffee before the next class to study the material.
Finding a place to meet new people is easy. The real trick is starting to talk to them. You can't assume that others will approach you to become your new best friend. You need to take the initiative to engage someone else in conversation and have the confidence to invite them to continue the conversation at a later time. Also remember, don't get discouraged. You may not meet your next best friend on your first try, but that's OK. Practice makes perfect, so keep trying.