DEAR ABBY: I am a 20-year-old male who finds it awkward talking to women my age. I do OK approaching older women for conversation, but become tongue-tied with someone under 25. I would like to meet someone special and develop a relationship with her, but at this rate it's not going to happen anytime soon.
I am told by friends and family that I'm handsome, charming and have a good sense of humor. There will be holiday parties coming up soon, and my friends will be inviting some new people. How can I learn to strike up a conversation? I'm having a real problem here. -- H.P. IN MIAMI BEACH
DEAR H.P.: Not everyone is born with the gift of gab. In fact, most people aren't. But a smile will tell others that you're approachable. It's the universal way of saying, "I'm friendly." If you want to get to know someone, walk over and say, "Hi, I'm 'Hal' -- what's your name?" Introducing yourself isn't being pushy. It's being friendly.
As I say in my booklet "How to Be Popular," the surest cure for shyness is to forget yourself and concentrate on the other person. Everyone can be charming. Charm is putting the other person at ease, making him or her feel comfortable and important.
Believe it or not, being a good listener will do more for you than being a good talker. Give people a chance to talk about themselves, and they'll think YOU'RE a great conversationalist. But, when asking questions as a means to get the other person talking, take care that your questions are tactful, discreet and not too personal.
Stay current on what's going on in the world and in the headlines. The more informed you are, the better company you will be. But don't be a know-it-all. People who come off like they're an authority on everything are about as welcome as a skunk at a garden party. That's not to say it pays to be ignorant; rather that the know-it-alls make those of us who are just average feel insecure and uncomfortable.
When talking to people, look them in the eye. And when you're being spoken to, focus your attention on the person who's addressing you. Nothing turns people off quicker than trying to carry on a conversation with someone whose eyes are constantly wandering -- to see who just came in or who else is in the room.
I offer many more tips on how to be socially successful in my booklet, which can be ordered by sending your name and mailing address, plus a check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds), to Dear Abby, Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. Shipping and handling are included in the price. And remember, a good conversationalist doesn't brag, and doesn't constantly put himself down. A good conversationalist is an upper. Find something positive to say. Be open and listen to other people's viewpoints. And don't have a stiff drink for "courage" because it loosens the tongue and can cause a social disaster.