Swimming With Sharks: How To Survive In A Room Full Of Strangers When You’re Shy (A Quick Guide)

 I get so nervous. I happen to be socially awkward and shy. I spent a lot of my time as an adult not going places. ~ Christina Ricci

Imagine this: Your boss tells you he has signed you up for an industry gathering instead of your colleague. You don’t have a choice but to go. Even if you’re scared to death, you can’t keep avoiding socializing and meeting with other people.

When invited to a party, business conference or formal gathering, it’s hard to feel comfortable when you’re shy. I was a very shy person, too. Going to places full of strangers and having to make small-talk was torture. The only thing that truly helped to make me feel more confident was – unfortunately – practice.

There are a few strategies you can follow to make life easier for you. So dive into the crowd; you’ll see you are better at making conversation than you think you are.


A Few Tips To Boost Your Confidence

Before getting started, inhale deeply and exhale slowly. This will help to calm you down. The following suggestions may require some imagination, but if you manage, it could be easier to reach out and converse.

Change perspective

Think of yourself as being someone who would like to help a shy person to start a conversation. This will give you distance from your problem. Concentrate on how you can contribute to another person having a nice evening instead of focusing on your fear.


This is like donning a magical coat. It can make you dare things you’ve never imagined possible. Take the approach of being an actor having to play the confident part convincingly. How would you feel? How would you behave?

Observe people who seem to be at ease with themselves. Try to mimic their postures and gestures, and get into the swing of things.

Watch Your Body Language

  • Stand straight, head upright, shoulders back. This will make you feel more confident immediately.
  • Try to maintain eye contact when talking to others. This shows interest and frankness.
  • Most people can be won over with a smile.
  • If you don’t know where to put your hands, grab a drink, the brochure provided or anything else that doesn’t look awkward in this situation.


How to Approach People

It’s always easiest to approach people when you are one of the early birds. The less people have arrived already, the easier it is to get in touch with them. Look for people who are on their own. Most of them will be happy to talk to you, as no one likes to stand around alone for a long time.

You also might have the chance to talk to the host before he or she gets too busy taking care of the event and everyone else. You can even ask if you could be introduced to some people.

Another advantage of being early is that you can take your time and make yourself acquainted with the venue.


How to Start a Conversation

State the Obvious

Refer to something that probably everyone in the same room has noticed already. If the venue is nice, talk about it. If the lighting is special, mention it. If the selection of food is great, say it. If the speaker was amazing, tell it.

There are hundreds of ways to get in touch without having to think about it.

You could start a conversation like this:

  • “Nice venue. It’s lovely the way they used the lights to give it a special atmosphere, isn’t it?”
  • “The catering is extraordinary. Have you tried the salmon crackers? They look delicious.”
  • “That’s quite an interesting crowd here.”

Ask Questions and Find Similarities

You have been invited by someone, probably the host. So it’s natural to ask others how they know him or her. The answer should give you more starting points. Another classic question is to ask people where they live or – in a business context – what they do for a living.

Other ideas:

  •  “I found this place quite hard to find. How did you get here?”
  • “The list of speakers is impressive. Which of them are you particularly interested in?”
  • “I’ve never been here before. Do you know where I can get something to drink? What are you having?”

Ask questions that fit the situation, and take it from there. Just make sure they can’t be answered with “Yes” or “No” only.

Make Compliments

It may sound cliché, but compliments always work. People like to be flattered. And it’s not about finding a clever line.

Depending on the situation and occasion you can mention things like a nice shirt, a beautiful necklace, an elegant tie, or even the brilliant speech someone gave. If you don’t know the host, say how much you like the event. Give the other person a chance to shine without sounding cheesy.

Be Honest and Blunt

You can start a conversation also by telling others what you feel like without making a fool of yourself. Mostly, this works well: “I ususally don’t go to parties/exhibitions/gatherings that often. A house full of strangers can be intimidating, but the host is such a lovely person/I didn’t want to miss such an interesting speaker. So I just had to come/I couldn’t miss the opportunity.”

By wrapping up your shyness in elegant words, you give others the opportunity to be honest as well without feeling embarrassed. From my experience, most people are relieved to meet a like-minded person in an environment where everyone is likely to present themselves as flawless.

Join a Group

Joining a group can be terrifying, but when you are late, most people already will have found someone to talk to.

Look for a larger group and don’t interrupt two people discussing. Listen for a while. If the conversation is about a topic you are familiar with, dare to give your opinion by saying “I’ve listened for a while, may I add..?” or “Sorry to jump in. This is very interesting… May I ask..?”

Give the ones who are speaking the feeling that you have a genuine interest in their story.


Don’t Appear to Be Desperate

Once you’ve found someone to talk to, don’t cling to the person desperately. You don’t want to embarrass yourself by making the other person want to flee. This is a social gathering which entails small-talk with different people.

So be prepared to have to look for new conversation partners, and don’t take it personally if the person you’re talking to says good-bye.

Also, dare to end a conversation politely yourself, if you want to speak to someone else or leave. It’s always best to give the other person the impression that you loved talking to them, e.g.:

  • I’m so sorry, but there is someone I need to say “Hello” to. It was a pleasure talking to you.”
  • “Sorry, it’s time for me to leave. Lovely to meet you. How about having coffee sometime?” (If you want to stay in touch).

Eventually, it’s all about being yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s not only a matter of being shy when you are having problems to start a conversation with strangers. Many people feel uncomfortable going to places where they don’t know anyone. Some even just find it annoying to talk to strangers.

While the reasons might differ from yours, you are not alone with the way how you feel. Take the pressure off your shoulders. In the end, you might never see any of these people again.

In the best case, you happen to make new acquaintances, friends, business partners, meet the love of your life or simply have a nice evening.


How about you? What’s the greatest issue for you when invited to an event where you don’t know any one? How do you manage? Please post your tips in the comment section below.





6 Comments Swimming With Sharks: How To Survive In A Room Full Of Strangers When You’re Shy (A Quick Guide)

  1. Lara

    Thank you for this post! I am very shy and feel lonely sometimes. I prefer to stay at home or meet with my best friend. It’s so hard to talk to people I don’t know. I wish I could learn how to do it.

    1. Andrea

      Thanks for your comment, Lara. I hope this post was helpful and could give you at least an idea how to manage your shyness when you’re thrown in at the deep end. But usually, baby steps will do. Gradually, you’ll regain your confidence. Just try to go out there once in a while, and dare to practice. If there’s anything else you’d like to read about on this blog, let me know.

  2. Sundeep P.

    I am not fond of going to mixers where I don’t know anybody at all myself. Sometimes I end up being the last person at the table. Opening a discussions with total strangers can be really challenging. Your post is inspiring and it is always encouraging that other people seem to be having the same issues.

    1. Andrea

      Sundeep, thanks for commenting. I am happy to hear you liked the post. :-)
      Many people feel uncomfortable in this situation, so you’re definitely not the only one!

  3. meike

    Thank you for this great post. I’m shy when it comes to meeting new people but really want to and have to since I’m working on changing careers. I will read this post again and probably keep it in my journal, this is really great!

    1. Andrea

      Meike, thank you for your kind comment. It’s a challenge to have to talk to people we don’t know, but it’s possible to learn how to do it. Just don’t give up if it doesn’t work out perfectly in the beginning – practice makes perfect.
      If there’s any other topic you’d be interested in, drop me a line.
      Wishing you all the best with your career change.


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