How and Why to Make Small Talk

Shy? You’re in good company. Here’s how to cope.

Women chat while drinking Champagne at a party

[See Online Dating Sites. There Really is One for Everyone]

• Arrive early. Getting to an event early gives shy people the advantage to warm up as the party does. Ease into the shindig by introducing yourself to other early birds, and then you can introduce them to those who arrive later on, Carducci says. If you arrive after the party is well underway, you face the challenge of trying to break into conversations and groups that have already formed, he says.

• Reframe your mission. Forget your fear of rejection and focus on a goal, Fine says. For example, you might commit to meeting three people at a networking event. Once you've done that, hooray! You're free to take a break, she says, or simply take off.

• Seek friendly faces. "Most of us do not notice them because we are so self-conscious that we are by ourselves, and we assume everyone is staring at us, knowing we have no one to talk to!" Fine says. Here's a clue to finding approachable people: They're not scanning their smartphones, engaged in conversation, or in the midst of a meal, she says. You can spot them by themselves, looking around the room, and very likely delighted to talk to you.

Get out of your head. "Be other-focused rather than being self-focused," Carducci says. One idea is to try to engage someone who seems even shyer than you. Another solution is volunteering. Such programs provide a non-threatening environment ("They don't really care how good you are ... They want your time," Carducci says) and draw like-minded people.

• Talk about where you are. That's what you have in common. You might comment on the open bar, the keynote speaker, the bride, or the weather. It doesn't really matter. You're simply creating a space to connect. And that's precisely what small talk is—the chance to expand your social circle, professional network, or dating prospects. "You don't find a job looking online because you're competing with 5,000 other people," Carducci says. You land the job, or meet your soul mate, because someone "knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody." To quote Fine's motto: "Every conversation is an opportunity for success."