Party-Season Confidence Tricks For Introverts

Photographed by Chantal Adair.
Holiday soirees — they’re coming! And despite all the mall music insisting it’s the most wonderful time of the year, those pretty Paperless Posts can be an invitation to feel, well, kind of panicky. There’s the end-of-the-year schedule that has you feeling like you already have zero time, the invitations from professional contacts to gatherings where you’re expected to leave a good impression without spilling or drinking too much, the roomfuls of appetizer-clutching strangers you’re supposed to charm, and the party clothes that are, in the immortal words of Cher Horowitz, “so binding.” Is it any wonder that holiday parties strike anxiety into the hearts of those of us who aren’t exactly social butterflies?
First big thing to remember: You are so not alone. “Don’t assume that everyone but you feels comfortable,” says Brenda Reynolds, founder of BKR Consulting, and author of the upcoming book TBD —To Be Determined: How to Find Clarity and Confidence in Uncertain Times. “They don’t.” What’s more, everyone else is so busy trying to make themselves look comfortable that they definitely aren’t focusing on you, she adds. The trick is just to walk into that shindig with all the confidence you can muster, chat with a person or two, remember (oh, right!) that you’re totally fine and capable of schmoozing, and then get on with your night/holiday season/life.
But how to amp up that confidence? We’ve got tips — lots of ‘em, and while confidence tips are usually cheesy and annoying, these will actually give you an aura of poise that’ll make you...if not the life of the party, one of its most charming attendees, at the very least. You've got this.
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Illustrated by: Ivy Liu.
Wear something you love...
Maybe something new that’s currently your favorite thing in your closet. “It will make you feel more confident,” Reynolds promises.
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...or just choose your comfiest outfit.
Especially if you’re the host. “Instead of a tight dress, Spanx, and heels, wear a flowing blouse and pants,” suggests Amy Tiemann, PhD, a neuroscientist (and annual holiday party host for 100+ people!). That casual-but-festive thing puts your friends at ease, too. “If you dress in a way that is hard to classify, none of your guests will feel like they are dressed in the wrong way.”
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Arrive laughing.
Giggling on the way to the party will give you a relaxed, happy air as you sweep into the room. For the cab ride there, download a hilarious podcast like 2 Dope Queens or My Dad Wrote a Porno, or read (or listen to an audiobook of) a comedy stalwart like Aziz Ansari or Jessi Klein.
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Bust out the bold lipstick.
“It will make you stand out, and it’ll actually make it easier for people to ‘read your lips’ in a dim, loud party,” Dr. Tiemann says.
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It’s scientifically proven to quickly quell your stress. “Imagine breathing in from your toes, up to the top of your head, and then breathing out from the top your head down to your toes,” says Michael DeMaria, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of Peace Within. “This will engage the parasympathetic nervous system, naturally making you relax and de-stress.”
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Leave your phone in your coat.
Yes, in coat check or in that huge pile of jackets mounded on a bed in the guest room. You’ll be forced to look around and take in the room, instead of hunching over and pecking at a screen.
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Head for the food.
And force yourself to talk to someone else at the food table. “You can even ask, ‘Any recommendations on what you liked in the buffet?’" says Pat Obuchowski, CEO of executive coaching firm inVisionaria and founder of Gutsy Women Win.
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Trick yourself into uncrossing your arms.
Crossed arms = uncomfortable, awkward. Open arms = approachable. Grab a glass of wine to hold, or bring a clutch instead of a cross-body bag so you’ll be forced to open up.
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Use people's names when you meet them.
Two reasons: One, you’re more likely to remember their names. And two, “this will endear you to them, as the most beautiful sound is your own name spoken,” says Jodi Arman, PhD, a psychotherapist and author of You 1, Anxiety 0.
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Remember: Asking questions is the easiest way to seem smart and fascinating.
“I have found that if you are curious and ask the other person questions about themselves, they will leave you feeling as if they had the best conversation ever and that you are a fascinating person — even if you never said anything about yourself,” Obuchowski says.
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Become present.
No, you don’t literally have to meditate in the middle of the party, but taking a second to check in with your senses will shut out that obnoxious narrative running through your mind. “Make an effort to notice the color of the carpet, the paintings, wall hangings, and other things in the room,” Dr. DeMaria suggests. “You can even say silently to yourself the colors and things you are seeing in the here and now. This simple practice reduces self-consciousness, anxiety, and stress — and is so effective that we actually teach this to veterans suffering from PTSD.”
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Don’t try to talk to everybody.
You don’t have to. You can’t. Whether there are 13 or 130 other people there, tell yourself you’ll have a few nice chats and call it a night. (Even if you actually, miraculously, end up working the entire room, taking the pressure off — it's not a requirement! — makes things more chill.)
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Say “I love your shoes!”
A compliment is an automatic in. Note: It does not matter if you actually like said shoes.
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Find someone standing alone.
“Odds are they feel lonely or not connected to the party and would welcome a good conversation,” Obuchowski says. To kick off a friendly chat, just ask how they know the host.
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Sounds obvious, but it’s so easy to stand there scowling when you’re uncomfortable. It’ll make you approachable, and — science alert — it’ll actually lower your stress. “Smiling triggers feel-good neurotransmitters in your body,” Dr. DeMaria says.
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Talk to the odd (wo)man out.
Mission: “Find the youngest or oldest person in the room, ask them how they are doing, and genuinely listen for five minutes,” Dr. Tiemann says. “If you listen for that long, you will find something you can genuinely compliment them about.”
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Trust your gut.
Sounds a little New Age-y, but it’ll help: “Imagine there’s someone there you are supposed to meet, or perhaps someone you’ve known that you are going to learn something new about,” Dr. DeMaria suggests. Scan the room, trust your gut, and just walk up to them. “Trust your intuition on this,” he adds. “It never fails to work for me.”
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