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Step 2: ???, Step 3: Friends!
November 1, 2009 8:27 PM   Subscribe

How does someone with minimal social skill get the most out of an organized gathering?

So, I've recently signed up with Meetup.com, and have a rather exciting week of meetups scheduled... but I've .. never really figured out how to MEET people at things.

My blueprint kinda looks like the internet meme - Step 1: Show up to meeting... Step 2: ??? ... Step 3: Profit!

So, I'm really excited about going, and can't wait to meet the people there, but I have no clue how to convey to the people at the meetup "Hi, I'd like to get to know more about you and maybe eventually hang out outside of the Meetup gatherings."

I've tried organized meeting things before, but always stop going because I don't get the connection with people that I hope for, and eventually sort of... give up.. Help me make this time different, HiveMind!
posted by frwagon to Human Relations (13 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Just chat a lot with people, you can use the Meetup activity to start conversations or keep them going. If they seem interesting ask them if they're on Facebook, add them later (or maybe they'll add you). That would be my plan.

Also I find that introductory conversations are much easier when I'm feeling energetic, so I usually go for a run a few hours before any event with lots of people I don't know.
posted by ripley_ at 8:34 PM on November 1, 2009


"Hi, I'd like to get to know more about you and maybe eventually hang out outside of the Meetup gatherings."

That's a lot to pack into a single message when you're just meeting someone. Of course, everyone's ulterior motive is to meet more people and maybe build a social network that includes hanging out outside of Meetup activities. But it's sort of bald to say it like that outright, and you risk sounding like someone who doesn't have boundaries.

So, you know you share an interest with people there. My advice would be to arrive a little bit late, just so there will be a critical mass of folks already there. Then walk in, introduce yourself. You can always begin by asking people "So how'd you get interested in [meetup topic]?" or "How long have you been doing [meetup topic]?"

It's always a good idea to ask people questions and let them talk to you, rather than download on them. It makes people feel flattered that you're interested, and if they have any social skill, eventually they will ask about you too, or at least leave you a window to respond. But these situations are basically ideal for you to ask people questions about their meetup-related interest. People who ask questions of others are almost universally perceived as interesting, easy to be with, and nice. WHich is sort of funny, but it's true.

Don't expect a lot the first time. Adults are slow to make connections and have a fair number of personal boundaries that they've established out of the need to protect themselves from timewasting interactions. Just be friendly. If you like the group atmosphere in general, keep returning to meetings. Eventually you may find that you gravitate to one or more people, more than others, and if you begin looking for one another at the meetups and taking special note of them, it's probably time to trade emails and suggest doing something to further your interests outside the group. But don't push it too fast.
posted by Miko at 8:40 PM on November 1, 2009 [8 favorites]


People who ask questions of others are almost universally perceived as interesting, easy to be with, and nice. WHich is sort of funny, but it's true.

This is the number one conversational skill I've learned.

Just keep asking open-ended questions. Asking an endless series of yes/no questions (like one of my very good friends) can seem a little off. But asking relevant, open-ended questions gives people a chance to talk while simultaneously believing that you're interested in what they're saying. You're lucky in that the meetup topic offers you a ready-made topic of conversation.

This conversational approach has gotten me laid many times.
posted by Netzapper at 9:10 PM on November 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


Do you have anybody who's really friendly to go with? If you go with a person like this you can probably just hang with them, they'll start talking to people and then they can introduce you!
posted by kylej at 9:14 PM on November 1, 2009


The best way to get over being uncomfortable in social situations is to focus your attention on making OTHER people feel more comfortable. Remember, everyone at these Meetups is there for the same reason you are -- to meet new people because they don't have enough friends in their lives -- and many of your fellow attendees feel just as socially unskilled as you do.

So, look around, spot the other uncomfortable/shy person, and go chat with him/her for a bit.

After you two have warmed up to each other, look around and see if you see anyone else who looks alone/shy/etc., then suggest to your new conversation partner that you two go over there and include that person in your conversation too.

Repeat until you have rounded up all the other introverts into a little group. Most will be relieved and grateful that someone came along and organized them. You are now the social butterfly in their eyes!

As the evening draws to a close, exchange business cards or email addresses with your new acquaintances. Go home and "friend" them on Facebook (and "suggest friend" others from the group to each other). You will then all get to know each other better online before the next Meetup, and discover additional common interests to chat about.

Right before the next Meetup, check everyone in the group's Facebook profiles for a memory jog of names/faces and interests. Then when you see them, go up and say, "Oh, hi, [their name]! Remember me, [your name]? I was just thinking about [whatever you talked about last month or since then on Facebook] and ... [something new related to that]." Again, you win by making them more comfortable: a) you remembered them, b) if they are bad with names/faces and forgot your particular name/face/context combo, you reminded them before they had a chance to feel embarrassed about it. You are rapidly becoming the person they will be most relieved/happy to see when they go future Meetups.

It may take a couple of months of attending the same Meetup to begin to form real friendships, but if you continue to focus on making others feel more comfortable and helping them connect with each other, you will become quite popular.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:32 PM on November 1, 2009 [20 favorites]


Go buy a paperback of How to Win Friends and Influence People, read it in an afternoon, and do what it says.

As touched on above, the most important lesson from the book is "Speak in Terms of Other People's Interests". Pretty basic, but as Carnegie writes, 90 percent of people ignore it 90 percent of the time.
posted by meadowlark lime at 10:06 PM on November 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have a friend like you. He is interesting to talk to, but doesn't do well at that stage between "nice conversation" and "let's do stuff!"

So, he always brings a camera to events and takes nice pictures of friends together, of people trying new things, etc., and makes sure to get their email from them or a friend to pass it on. It a) makes him a nice guy for actually following through with sending the picture and b) gives an excuse to write and say, like, "that was awesome! let's do it again!"

Standard caveats about not being the asshole with the camera also apply - some people overdo it, but they are also NOT the ones sharing the pictures afterward.


Depending on the event, my advice is actually contrary to Miko's: I love being one of the earliest or last people at the party, because it gives you a common goal and something to talk about without having to be fake-friendly. Especially at a barbecue, house party, etc., where there is a set-up or clean-up involved, this can be the best way to communicate with people when activity is not at its peak. Also a good way to get invited in on small-group activities or after-parties.
posted by whatzit at 10:37 PM on November 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


Just keep asking open-ended questions. Asking an endless series of yes/no questions (like one of my very good friends) can seem a little off. But asking relevant, open-ended questions gives people a chance to talk while simultaneously believing that you're interested in what they're saying.

To an extent, this is true. It is a good way to get the conversation going.

But after the ice-breaking first 10 minutes, you need to find some mutual interest or have some chemistry so that the conversation flows naturally. If the interaction consists merely of one person asking questions and the other talking about him/herself, then the former is a sycophant and the latter a narcissist. To have interesting conversations with other people you must be an interesting person, i.e. have a variety of thoughts, experiences and perspectives you are open to sharing with other people in an engaging, non-confrontational manner. Sometimes you will discuss something serious like current affairs. At other times something low-brow but entertaining e.g. sports. Once in a while, if it's safe, you might explore more personal topics (but tread very carefully).

Just as important is the skill of gracefully moving on. You can't hit it off with everyone, so don't be that guy that people want to be rescued from. If you sense their disinterest, let the conversation pause naturally, and very likely they'll say something like "I'm gonna go get another drink". If they do, say "very nice to meet you" and let them leave. Conversely, if you are the shy/insecure type, don't let your imagination make you believe that everyone is disinterested. If you leave the door open for them to leave but they stay, it's because they want to.

Most importantly, just be nice. Decent people won't mind if you're not so charismatic, but they'll hate you if you're a jerk.
posted by randomstriker at 2:29 AM on November 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


One more thing...don't fake being interested, because:

1) Most people can tell you're faking.

2) If you're a good faker, then you've trapped yourself in a conversation you're not interested in. Life is short, why punish yourself like that?

If a certain topic bores you, then politely let them finish talking, and just change the subject when the time is right.
posted by randomstriker at 2:36 AM on November 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


In my experience, meetup groups are full of people who are trying to conquer social anxiety problems. So try to think of the gathering as a room full of kindred spirits... remind yourself that hey, not only do these people enjoy nature photography/German board games/Civil War reenactments, but at least a few of them are probably feeling every bit as nervous and awkward as you are.

Most sizable cities also have meetups especially for shy/anxious people, and those groups tend to select activities that don't involve an overwhelming amount of socializing. They might get together for coffee, or go see a movie as a group. Maybe something like that would be a good place to start.
posted by arianell at 2:58 AM on November 2, 2009


In my experience, meetup groups are full of people who are trying to conquer social anxiety problems. So try to think of the gathering as a room full of kindred spirits...

I seriously doubt that. I quickly browsed through the hits for my locale on Meetup.com, and these all seem to be very topical meetups groups. E.g.:

1. Short Fiction Writers
2. Wealth & Investing Alliance
3. New Life Bible Study
4. Industrial Designers Guild
5. Personal Trainers Group
etc.

The good news is that finding a common interest shouldn't be hard. The bad news is these people are likely NOT primarily there to "conquer social anxiety problems".
posted by randomstriker at 3:10 AM on November 2, 2009


I think you have a great idea about how to make friends. Keep in mind that adults often take a loooong time to become friends. Don't say, "Hi, I'd like to get to know more about you and maybe eventually hang out outside of the Meetup gatherings." because while honest (and honestly what everyone is probably thinking) it sounds a little aggressive/creepy.

It's okay to go the same meetup for months before calling/hanging out with someone outside of the meetup. Every now and then I am in a club with someone for months or even years, never having become comfortable enough to call and then they introduce me as, "My friend Debbie from knitting club"
posted by debbie_ann at 4:42 AM on November 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


One thing I've done in the past that's worked to varying degrees is to invite the people you meet at a meet up to do something else together. For example, you might say hey, I'm looking for poker buddies, would anyone be interested in getting together for a poker game friday. Or hey, I'm looking to start a book club anyone interested? or hey I've always wanted to hike x trail, anybody else interested?

The good thing about that is you just come off as a guy/gal who likes hiking, poker, etc. and you're inviting the whole group so no one feels skeeved out by unwanted attention.
posted by bananafish at 12:10 PM on November 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


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