Sometimes the Fake It Till You Make It mantra isn't enough when you are faced with a room full of Serious Terror Inducers. Serious Terror Inducers are usually defined as people with whom you feel you have nothing in common. The scariest groups for me are investment bankers, people at East Hampton art gallery openings, or thewomen's bridge club in Provo, Utah. But whether your own worst mingling nightmare is a singles' soiree or your own block association picnic, and whether you are attending a high-pressure business affair or a holiday cocktail party, the following survival fantasies can be lifesavers. They are for those times when you can hardly breathe, when you can't remember your name or the name of the person who invited you, when you suddenly have no idea why you were invited and suspect that someone's secretary must have made a horrible mistake in adding you to the guest list.
The need for this kind of psychological armor varies greatly, of course, with each individual and situation. Extraordinarily shy people and people who haven't been out of the house for two months may use the survival fantasies regularly. Some people (like me) find the fantasies to be so much fun that they use them all the time for the pure kick they get out of them. But in any case, they can provide you with an instant shot of social confidence, enough to allow you to approach a group of intimidating strangers. All you need to make them work is a little imagination.
The Naked Room
Suppose you have just arrived at a large party. As you enter the room, you realize that (1) you don't know a soul there; (2) everyone is talking animatedly; and (3) the second you walked in, you lost every ounce of self-assurance you ever had.
Try this: Just for a moment, imagine that everyone in the room--except for you--is wearing nothing but their underclothes (preferably raggedy ones) and shoes. There are variations, naturally, according to what you think makes people look the most ridiculous and powerless; some people prefer to visualize them in only socks, ties, and jewelry, or in their pajamas, or even completely naked. You can try to imagine them all as four-year-olds. But whatever version works foryou, the Naked Room fantasy can be an easy way to turn the tables when you're feeling vulnerable or exposed and is an excellent place to start to build your party confidence. Old acquaintances will wonder what the devil has put that secret smile on your face, and strangers will be intrigued by your cocky demeanor.
The Buddy System
Remember in elementary school when you went on field trips and your teacher used to make you line up with a partner so that no onewould get lost? In my school, they called this the Buddy System. Well, here you are now, feeling virtually "lost" in this room full of intimidating strangers. How can you possibly get up the nerve to speak to anyone?
Easy. You and your best buddy will go together. Tell yourself that just behind you, over your right shoulder, your very best friend in the whole world is moving with you through the room, listening to everything you say. Voilà: instant calm. After all, your friend loves you, right? Understands you? And probably will have a lot of the same opinions of the people you meet as you do. When you talk, you will be able to imagine this friend smiling at everything you say, offering encouragement and approval. If by chance you are snubbed by some ignorant dolt, you'll hear your friend whisper in your ear, What a jerk!
Of course, you mustn't get carried away and actually speak to your imaginary friend (at least not so anyone can notice).
Pros and Icons
This technique is kind of the Invisible Man fantasy in reverse. It may seem drastic to some people, but I find it so effective, as well as so much fun, that I highly recommend it, especially for the more adventuresome. Don't forget, these fantasy techniques are specifically designed for initial courage; to get you to take that first step, to transform you from a wallflower with an inferiority complex into a participating, mingling member of the party. So try this: Be someone else, just for a little while. This might seem a bit radical, especially since other people have probably been telling you for decades to "be yourself," but if you're standing there at the party terrified, halfway wishing you were somebody else anyway, then why not just do it? The person that you are is giving you a lot of trouble right now and is obviously not the least bit happy about where he is. So pick a favorite celebrity,someone whose poise, posture, or personality you particularly admire, and then ... slip into him or her. When done right, this technique works much more quickly than the other survival fantasies, because of the mingling power most people attribute to stars--power that instantly becomes accessible to you.
I used to become Bette Davis, especially when faced with really tough rooms or if I was just feeling insecure for some reason. I would visualize her in one of her movie roles, usually as Margot Channing in All About Eve, and pretty soon I would sense my eyebrows going up slightly and my body relaxing as I surveyed the social battlefield with a truly languid amusement. As Bette Davis (or, more specifically, Davis in the role of Margot) I would not just be ready to mingle; I'd be positively hungry for it. No one, by the way, ever looked over at me and said, "Look at that weird woman pretending to be Bette Davis!" because no one, of course, ever noticed the difference. They merely saw a confident--perhaps even interesting--woman. Likewise, no one will be able to tell what you are doing when you use this technique. After all, that's why these are called fantasies--they're secret . Also, you don't have to use a celebrity. You can, if you want, pretend to be someone you know in real life, someone who is never ill at ease (or, more likely, who never seems to be ill at ease--she probably feels the same as you do inside, of course). The only guideline is that you must choose someone you know pretty well; the better you know this person, the easier it is to assume his or her persona.
Some favorite Pros and Icons for women: Ingrid Bergman, Campbell Brown, Katie Couric, Bette Davis, Kirsten Dunst, Goldie Hawn, Katharine Hepburn, Scarlett Johansson, Grace Kelly, Vivien Leigh (as Scarlett, of course), Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Onassis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Julia Roberts, Diane Sawyer, Gertrude Stein, Venus Williams, Oprah Winfrey, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Men can use Antonio Banderas, Humphrey Bogart, Tom Brady, Pierce Brosnan, George Clooney,Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford, Jamie Foxx, Bill Gates, Cary Grant, LeBron James, Derek Jeter, Larry King, David Niven, Jack Nicholson, Brad Pitt, Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart, Denzel Washington, or even Prince William. Please note: It's best not to use people who are charismatic but may actually be frightening (such as the Rock, Michael Jackson, Christopher Walken, or Janice Dickinson).
Each of these survival fantasies will take some practice, particularly if you've never tried anything like this before. But believe me, they will help, especially if you are a person who tends to freeze, to one degree or another, at the very beginning of a difficult mingling experience. You may also develop your own personalized survival fantasy--one that works better for you than any of the ones I have outlined--and that's fine, of course.
And now, bolstered by the survival fantasy of your choice, you are ready to enter the ring, to approach a person or persons--to get to the actual "meat" of mingling.