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Don't Let Shyness Spoil Your Holidays

Experts offer tips to overcome shyness, especially during the holiday season.

Conditioning for the Holidays continued...

A part of your homework is what he calls "social reconnaissance." Know who will be at the party and what their interests are. If it's a charity bazaar, learn something about the vendors so you can make a constructive remark to a stranger at the wine-and-cheese table.

One other thing: become a volunteer, if you're not one already, Carducci tells WebMD. "There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer at the holidays, and it's something you should do year-round. I believe that the solution to shyness is in the heart. The more one focuses on others, the less focus there is on one's self. Another benefit is that wherever you volunteer -- at the animal shelter or kids' club -- it's something you can talk about at parties."

Tips for Making Small Talk

Carducci, author of The Pocket Guide to Making Successful Small Talk: How to Talk to Anyone Anytime Anywhere About Anything, says there are rules of engagement and a structure for making small talk. The Shyness Research Institute web site offers five steps for being a successful schmoozer:

Step 1. Setting Talk: Getting Started. Make a comment about the weather or your environment, such as, "Boy, this line is long," or "How do you know the host?" You don't have to be witty or brilliant. The purpose is to show a willingness to communicate.

Step 2. The Personal Introduction: who you are, what you do. Anticipate being asked what you do for a living. Instead of a terse response, such as "I work at the mall," a more fruitful response would be, "I work at the mall selling cell phones, and you would not believe the reasons people give me for wanting a cell phone." This will invite the other person to engage.

Step 3. Pretopical Selection: fishing for topics. Toss out a topic for discussion, such as, "I really liked this movie." If the person isn't responsive, offer another topic. The rule of successful small talk is that when someone throws out a topic, you should support it by asking a question or commenting.

Step 4. Posttopical Elaboration: expanding the topic. Associate the topic of conversation to other related topics. If the topic is vacations, say, "Speaking of vacations, we had some great Caribbean food. Have you ever had Caribbean food?" It's the give-and-take than makes conversing fun.

Step 5. Conversation termination: a gracious ending that creates the connection. Let the person know you'll be leaving soon, express gratitude for the conversation, summarize some of the major points, and set the stage for future conversation. You can say, "I really must be going soon, but I had a great time chatting with you. I really appreciate your comments about that new movie. Here's my card. Call me if you know of any other movies you think I might enjoy."

"Shy people often get stuck on 'setting talk,' or they have a favorite topic and dominate the conversation," says Carducci. "They talk at people, not with them. You don't have to be a brilliant conversationalist; you just have to be kind."

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