Walking alone into a crowded room to mingle with strangers leaves most introverts drenched in flop sweat —which is precisely why many of them are such gifted storytellers. It’s a survival mechanism.
That solo plunge into a reception or a cocktail party is such a terrifying ordeal that there is actually an unwritten protocol that introverts follow to steel themselves before entering what some have called “a living Hell.”
- Tic Tacs in your suit jacket pocket? Check. (Maybe move them to your pants pocket so they don’t make so much noise? Good idea.)
- Handkerchief in case you have to deploy the fake-coughing-fit emergency extraction? Check.
- A quick peek inside to locate the exits? Check.
- One last trip to the rest room? Check. No, I’m good. You sure? Check again. OK, one last trip then.
But the social introvert has one additional arrow in her quiver:
- Ready to assume the role of the captivating storyteller so that no one can tell how terrified you really are? Roger that, Houston.
You see, once the social introvert walks into roomful of strangers, her storytelling mojo kicks in on autopilot, immediately transforming her into an enchanting, outgoing conversationalist (and draining every last watt of her energy in the process).
Following is the five-step process a social introvert goes through when walking into a crowded room that transforms her into a remarkable storyteller. And this process will work for you, too.
Take off your clothes. When walking up to a cluster of strangers, introverts feel like they’re buck naked and that they very likely have spinach stuck in their teeth. A social introvert uses that vulnerability as motivation to do whatever it takes to shift the topic of conversation away from her and onto something less … mortifying.
Pick a new “bestie.” It’s true you can’t be all things to all people. But if you’re an introvert, it’s damn near impossible just being yourself when you're alone in a group of strangers. That’s why a social introvert will select one person in every new situation to use as a palette to help her paint a more vibrant conversation. By focusing on a single person instead of the group, she can gather specific, personal details to blend into her stories while reacting immediately to the subtle cues in that person’s body language. This allows her to paint a far more vivid story than she could simply by using the abstract pleasantries of group conversations.
Listen like you're eavesdropping. Many extroverts treat the “listening” part of any conversation as a chance to rummage through their mental files and dig out the next anecdote to recount just as soon as they can steal back the mic. But introverts relish the opportunity to soak up information—from the words and gestures of the person speaking as well to the reactions of the others in the group—and weave that information into their own stories in hopes of making the conversation a richer experience for the whole group.
Make them love you. To a social introvert, the only thing more excruciating than trying to charm a crowd of strangers is to try to charm a crowd of strangers and fail. Once a social introvert has dived into the deep end of the social pool, it is a life-or-death struggle to win over the crowd. This forces her to channel her inner Cyrano and to set her charm phasers on “kill.” There is no time for platitudes about the weather. It’s active verbs and concrete nouns from here on out. And direct eye contact? A yeti at the hors d'oeuvre table couldn’t break that tractor beam. Remember, you have one mission when you’re standing there naked with spinach stuck in your teeth: tell a story that will engage, entertain, enthrall.
Imagine your new BFF has to go to the bathroom. Really bad. Introverts constantly—and involuntarily—gauge the facial tics and body movements of the people they’re talking to. This helps them adjust their conversations accordingly, but more important, it allows them to preempt the agonizing pain of boring someone. As soon as they get the slightest sign that their new friend’s rapt attention is unwrapping, they cut short their story and offer their friend a graceful exit by noting “how busy you must be” and thanking them “so much for taking time to chat with me.”