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Sometimes it’s good to be the strong, silent type. (Shout-out to Ryan Gosling.) But there are certain situations that call for a little charisma: the party full of strangers, the high-stakes presentation, your one shot to impress the CEO or get the girl…
While you can’t totally change your personality, experts say you can learn some skills to act more outgoing. Follow these steps to make 2015 the year you break out of your shell.
JUST GO FOR IT
To radiate the confidence of the world’s most successful men, don’t hesitate, says former FBI agent Joe Navarro, author of What Every Body Is Saying. “Plunge right into a crowd of strangers and say hello, or do whatever is asked of you without hesitation,” Navarro says. “If someone gives you a hand, take it. If something drops, rush forward to pick it up or help out. Hesitation conveys that you’re insecure or don’t care. A lack of hesitation, though, can be very alluring.”
ADOPT AN ALTER EGO
“Fake it ‘til you make it” really works when it comes to acting more outgoing, says Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D., an executive coach and author of The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength.
Here’s how you do it: When you need to give a speech or approach a woman, play the role of someone who is super confident, Kahnweiler says. For example, one of her introverted clients had to give high-stakes business presentations. “He had a pair of glasses that helped him morph into the character of James Bond,” she says. “He would get off the plane wearing them and gain the confidence he needed to perform.” Afterward, he would slip back into his quiet self. “It worked beautifully,” she says.
TELL A GREAT STORY
Learn the secrets to telling an unforgettable story, and you’ll have everyone’s ears at your next dinner party. Jay Heinrichs, author of Word Hero, says there are a few keys to getting your audience to hang on your every word.
• Don’t just tell the news. To make your story memorable, find some “tension”—an element of surprise. Suppose you went to London and visited the British Museum. Don’t just say you saw the Greek statues. That’s news, not a story. Speculate on what happened to the penises missing from all those statues. Is there a secret penis museum in the basement? Or some underground penis-collecting cult? Art and castration: tension at its best.
• Use mismatches. All good stories pair things that don’t ordinarily belong together: little girls and four-letter words. Vacation disasters. Beautiful clumsy women. Penises and art.
• Give your characters nicknames. Instead of “Bob, the one with the nose ring,” just call the guy “Nose Ring.” Avoid pronouns. Wrong: “So he’s staring at the crotch of the statue, and this other man says to her…” Right: “So Nose Ring is staring at the crotch of the statue, and Briefcase Man says to Pink Hair…”
• End with a moral. Don’t let your tales peter out. Make like Aesop: “So the lesson here is that penis art is like a donut hole. Both are at their best when they’re missing.”
DEVELOP A SIGNATURE PICKUP LINE
Having a go-to line at the ready will prevent you from freezing in the presence of a beautiful woman, says Heinrichs. You want to flatter her without being creepy—that means no complimenting her dress, hair, or eyes. Heinrichs’ favorite: Praise her shoes. It’s innocuous and will catch her off guard, he says. And yes, she’ll wonder if you’re gay. That’s when you follow up with: “Shoes combine my two favorite things, architecture and danger.” (This works best with a pair of stilettos.) It’s okay if you deliver it sheepishly—the combination of originality and dorkiness will win you points.
LEARN TO GROOVE
Don’t be the guy hanging out on the perimeter of the dance floor—we promise you’ll have more fun if you bust a move. And even if you think you “can’t” dance, you can do these klutz-proof moves from Los Angeles-based dancer and choreographer Courtney Miller, who has worked with Michael Jackson, Usher, and Britney Spears.
• Freeze Dance. The idea behind this dance is that as you move, a photographer is taking your picture, “freezing” you mid-movement as you work four corners with your upper body. Bend forward to the left side of your body. That’s the first corner. Now, still bending forward, move to the right. That’s the second corner. Still leaning right, raise your torso so that you’re standing up, still favoring the right side of your body. That’s the third corner. Now, lean to the left side (your fourth corner) to complete the move. You can make it more advanced by stepping and bending your legs as you complete each freeze.
• Step Touch. This move has been done at every wedding, house party, and club since the beginning of time. Simply open your right leg, “step,” and bring your left leg to meet the right, “touch.” Repeat this process in the opposite direction.
WORK A ROOM
The fourth circle of hell is probably a mandatory-nametag networking mixer. But knowing how to work a room will make it tolerable and pay off big time in your career. Diane Darling, author of The Networking Survival Guide, and Susan RoAne, author of How to Work a Room, explain how.
• Make your must-meet list. Before the event, research the major players and develop a few talking points to use with each one.
• Go easy on them. Start with light chat about the organizing group, and only later segue into your researched talking points. But even if that never happens, don’t sweat it—just meeting the person may be a good start, and you can follow up with an email. In fact, you may score coolness points for not being too earnest.
• Organize yourself. Keep your own business cards in one pocket and reserve the other for cards you’ll receive. This will prevent fumbling and eliminate the terrifying possibility that you might accidentally proffer a card reading “Private Masseuse—on Call.”
• Be on time for once. If you’re one of the first guests, you’ll adopt a nearly host-like mentality, meeting and greeting rather than taking cues from others.
• Infiltrate a group. This is a critical skill: Find the most animated group in the room and join in. Start by quickly making eye contact with someone from the periphery of the group, and then introduce yourself with a firm handshake. Ask an open-ended question, such as “What’s your connection here?” There, you’ve just hooked up with the life of the party.
• Reconnect. Before you leave, double back to a few key people. A second meeting, even on the same night, makes them more likely to remember you. Reiterate a prior talking point and say you look forward to meeting again.
HIDE IN THE BATHROOM
If you’re an introvert, acting like Mr. Charisma will wear you out. That’s why psychologist Brian Little, Ph.D., author of Me, Myself and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being, developed the “restorative niche” technique. The method is a way to recharge after (or halfway through!) a stressful social situation.
It’s simple: Just find a place to be alone until you feel calm and reenergized. For Little, a college professor known for giving animated and engaging lectures, that means hiding from his students in the bathroom after class. The same can work at a party or a crowded bar: Find a quiet corner, or yes, a bathroom stall, and just hang out until you feel relaxed and ready to rejoin the masses.