Dealing

By Real Simple
Updated January 30, 2009
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Table set for one
Credit: Cig Harvey

Laurie Sandell, 36, writer, Brooklyn

Suggests: Role-play. “As a journalist, I go to a lot of events on my own, but I still have those moments of dread: What if I don’t know anyone there? Why did I wear this dress? When I get to an event and want to hide in the corner, I pretend I’m conducting an anthropological experiment. Instead of assuming people are watching me and wondering, Why is she here alone? I scan the room to see what everyone else is doing. If I see someone sitting alone, I approach that person and ask simple questions, like ‘How do you know the host?’ Nine times out of 10 that person feels just as uncomfortable as I do and is relieved that I broke the ice first.”

Experts Add:

  • “Before you arrive, think of a half-dozen things you can talk about,” says Don Gabor, a communications coach and the author of How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends (Fireside, $13). Books and movies are always relatable topics.
  • If there’s an emotional subject you want to avoid (for instance, you’ve just separated), rehearse stock answers to common questions, like “Where’s your other half?” so you aren’t left stumbling.
  • As you scan the room, adopt this as your mantra: They’re as nervous as I am. “People are so grateful when you introduce yourself,” says corporate coach Joyce Newman.
  • To avoid a “Now what?” silence after an introduction, follow with an easy compliment, such as “What a beautiful dress.”