DEAR ABBY: When I was a young adult, I had difficulty speaking with strangers. I recall, some years later, attending a party in honor of someone I truly admired. Most of the people there didn't know each other.
Someone had the bright idea for each of us to tell how we knew the honoree. We went around the circle describing our connection to the person. This not only kept the spotlight on the honoree, but it was a great icebreaker. I found myself interested in several of the folks there, and it gave me fodder to follow up with questions for them when we began to mingle.
I learned a valuable lesson that night. Curiosity is wonderful, and as you have pointed out, people like to talk about themselves. Now when I'm in a room full of strangers, I find it easier to smile and ask, "How do you know Susie?" or, "What brings you to this event?" I am no longer shy about attending gatherings where I won't know anyone. I actually like meeting new folks.
Abby, thank you for your column and for offering your booklet that teaches people how to be more comfortable in social situations. I'm sure more than a few of your readers need it. -- MIXING AND MINGLING IN NAPA, CALIF.
DEAR M AND M: You're welcome. No one is born knowing how to be social. Social adeptness is a skill like any other. People don't have to be brilliant or a laugh riot. Part of being social -- something you picked up on at that party -- is the importance of showing an interest in other people. A smile is an excellent icebreaker, and part of being charming is being a good listener.
Of course, you should cultivate your own interests so you will have something to add to a conversation. My booklet "How To Be Popular" contains many useful tips for polishing social skills for people of all ages -- how to approach others, what to say and what not to say. It can be ordered by sending your name and address, plus a check or money order for $8 (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. Good conversationalists prioritize what others have to say rather than feel pressured to fill the air with the sound of their own voices. And remember: Most people can focus on only one thing at a time. So forget about yourself and concentrate on the other person. If you try it, you'll find that it works like a charm.