Your friendly smile when I reluctantly came within 20 feet of you (which was still quite a sacrifice for me, so the dog I was watching could play with your noble black lab) was in vain. You wondered what was up when I kept my distance, staring at the clouds, the grass, our dogs who were becoming increasingly intimate as my stubborn silence became more and more awkward. My God, Why wouldn't I just speak?
Yes sir, I'm shy. Small talk with strangers is my personal Chinese water torture. But although my shyness may be chronic, I'm determined. A survivor! So, like any good introvert, when I finally fled home I hit the books to address my problem (actually it was Book's moved-to-Vegas-to-become-a-stripper cousin, Women's Beauty Magazine). It suggested that small talk is easy if you take a few tips from Improv actors (who, for the record, scare the bejesus out of me. Who willingly gets on stage to make a fool of themselves?)
Last night I went to a volunteer meeting for this lovely group, and put the Improv tips to use, with mixed results.
TIP: Use the "yes...and" technique to move the story along. Example: While at the dog park, instead of a painful smile followed by silence, I could've responded to stranger's comment,"It's nice this evening, hmm?" with "YES, it is nice this evening AND I have no problem letting you know that."
WHAT I SAID AT THE MEETING: "Yes, I too used to live in Washington, DC...and there were a lot of Ethiopians in my neighborhood."
RESULTS: Mixed curiosity. She had actually just moved from Baltimore, not exactly D.C., and she had been referring to the insane number of vintage furniture shops in her new NoPo neighborhood. She didn't move to a different chair, so I'd like to think the exchange was successful.
TIP: Go with your gut. Don't over think what you're going to say.
WHAT I SAID: "She has little toes."
RESULTS: I mean, it was a strange baby in my face, what was I supposed to say? The baby didn't seem so thrilled with my comment, or my follow-up foot tickle, and began to cry. The mother informed me that his name was Matthew.
TIP: Make everyone in your group look good, play a useful supporting role (this is an advanced version of the "yes...and" technique).
WHAT I SAID: "Are you done with that pen?" When she replied in the affirmative, I smiled and passed the pen along to another woman with a chipper, "Yes, a lot of people want to use this pen to sign up; this room is so full of talented women, I'm impressed. What are your best skills, do you think?" These three simple sentences were my evening's Everest.
RESULTS: This was a sweaty mess, but I ended up feeling pretty sophisticated after I said it, like I had revealed myself to be the volunteer meeting's Holly Golightly. Nobody else seemed to notice, but that's exactly what this move requires - flawless, under-the-radar execution. Like I said, I'm a survivor.