My GF and I were invited and actually attended a 4th of July party yesterday. This wouldn't be shocking news for most people, but for hermits like us, it is. It helped, of course, that the hosts (and guests) were not connected to our jobs, or families, so the irritation factor and social-reputation stakes were pretty low.
I'd just read Nicolas Boothman's
How To Make People Like You, which is a quick primer on basic communication skills, drawing in places on some of the early NLP research. NLP (think Tony Robbins) is kind of interesting, if controversial (and, like any communication skill, easy to use either for Good or Evil). Boothman's book (which I'd gotten at the library after reading about it on someone's blog) starts with basic protocols for introducing yourself (remembering to make eye contact and smile are things that seem really obvious, but are sometimes difficult for me). Then there's information about synchronizing yourself with the person you're talking to -- which most of us do anyway, instinctively, with people we know or like already -- you tend to match your posture, tone, rhythm, etc. He suggests that people primarily process information through visual, auditory, or kinesthetic methods,and that paying attention to the word choice someone uses can help you communicate appropriately (i.e., the difference between "I see what you mean" and "I hear what you're saying"). Finally, there's a fascinating section on eye movements and their relationship to the brain's processing of memory -- within the scope of his book, you simply learn to observe people's eyes to understand them better.
So I approached the party as a chance to try out some of Boothman's tips. I wasn't consciously doing it most of the time, but I do think that I had an easier time chatting with strangers than I usually would. If nothing else, the book reminded me of some things I already know about communication -- things that in the right setting I already do. And having read his book makes all the small human interactions of the day (greeting the barista, the secretary, etc) a little more interesting, as a chance to try out this new system of information and possibly have a better interaction.