Overcoming Anxiety: Ice Breakers to Help You Work the Room
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By D. A. Wolf, Featured DM Blogger - November 13, 2013 - Updated November 14, 2013

Do You Know How to Work a Room?

If it’s been awhile – years, even decades – you may be afraid to walk into a dinner party, a casual gathering, or any other social setting now that you’re on your own.

woman worried about going out.pngWhat would help?

Knowing how to work a room - introducing yourself to strangers, being able to engage in conversation, understanding the importance of body language - yours and theirs.

Social Anxiety – It’s Real

Many of us suffer from some small measure of social anxiety. Or more than a small measure. Dare I say an abundance of agita? And after divorce? It seems like every one of our insecurities rears its ugly head. Even an informal environment that requires conversation or – heaven forbid – flirtation, is a potential minefield.

Break out the Tums, the anti-anxiety meds, or a few glasses of liquid courage.

Well, you’re not alone. And there may be a few alternatives to meds, booze, or the perpetual blues when you have to face the social scene on your own.

Ice Breakers Can Be Learned

Some of us learn to break the ice in our professions. We have to, or we’ll never get the job done. We’re required to engage co-workers, clients, prospective customers. If we teach or give seminars as part of our working life, we must overcome the fear of public speaking, and do – by learning tricks to put ourselves at ease, and to break the ice.

But socially, we may remain uncomfortable. As women, especially, we often worry about our appearance. In fact, we never seem to like the way we look, and we live with noise inside our heads, constantly putting ourselves down.

Unhelpful Inner Dialog

The inner dialog may include some of the following:

  • All the women are prettier than I am!
  • I should’ve worn a dress...
  • I should've worn jeans!
  • I’m wearing too much perfume.
  • I put on too much makeup.
  • Damn, I should’ve worn makeup!
  • I knew I should’ve lost those ten pounds...
  • They’re all so young!

Sound familiar? Those questions ran through my head any time I had to enter the social scene and even dream of chatting with strangers – especially after divorce. But over the years, I learned to apply a few of my business ice breaker tactics to my personal life. And they work!


Whether it’s a dinner party, a wedding party, a luncheon, or the bar scene at a crowded club, the same principles apply. First of all, a little preparation goes a long way.

  • Know your goals in attending (personal, professional).
  • Know something of the ambiance you can expect (formal, casual, etc.).
  • Find out the sort of people likely to be present (age range, professions).
  • Formulate a few good opening lines or conversational topics before attending.
  • If you need to – practice them! And the possible follow-up.


If there is a professional theme running through the gathering, you have plenty of topics you could use to break the ice. For instance, you could ask what someone thinks about a new development in your field, or a particular trend. 

If there is a special interest theme (sports, music, art), you have many gateways into the conversation including someone’s favorite team, performance, exhibition, and why they feel the way they do.

If you’re dealing with other parents, you can ask about children, their schools, and their interests. Who doesn’t love to talk about their kids?

Practice Makes Perfect

What else should you do? Practice!

Get out there. The worst that can happen? You’ll be a little uncomfortable, you’ll learn from the rough spots, and you’ll try again. We all need to walk before we run.

As you do, you gain confidence – you’re facing your fear head-on, and each time you will improve. Slowly you’ll find you are widening your circles, and enjoying new social arenas, making friends, meeting interesting people. Connecting in ways that will enrich your life.

Ice Breakers to Get You Started

You don’t have to use the old standby lines like “Do you come here often?” There are variations that are less cliché and very workable. For example, these are effective in almost any context:

  • Hi. My name is Jane. Are you enjoying yourself here?
  • Hi. My name is Lulu. I’ve never been here before. What do you think of the event so far?
  • Hi. I’m Sylvia. I find these crowds to be a little daunting, but you seem at ease. How do you manage it?

Do you notice that there’s nothing particularly original in any of those ice breakers?

Ask Open-Ended Questions

If you can come up with something funny, surprising, or thoughtful – do! Perhaps you want to comment on an entertaining bow-tie or a smashing tattoo. But what the lines above have in common is introducing yourself (that lets down barriers), showing a bit of vulnerability (it puts the other person at ease) and, they’re open-ended questions.

That’s the point. Ask questions. Then listen, observe, and engage. Remember that attentive listening is rare, and a balanced exchange of talking and listening is critical to an enjoyable chat with anyone, for any purpose. There’s a reason it’s called the “art of conversation.” And beneath every art lies craft – tools and tricks that you can master.

Learn to work the room. I know you can do it.


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