I think the best advice I can give for improving social skills is simply: Practice. You can study techniques like matching and mirroring to build rapport, and you can memorize cutesy acronyms like SOFTEN (Smile, Open posture, Forward lean, Touch, Eye contact, Nod). But I don’t think those are all that helpful. I think they’re likely to make you even more self-conscious. If you’re in the right frame of mind to begin with, you’ll naturally perform the correct actions like smiling and mirroring — if you have to think about them, you’re in the wrong mindset.
With practice you’ll develop more comfort in a variety of social situations, and when you become comfortable, you’ll naturally be yourself. And that’s the basis of effective interpersonal communication — just be yourself and feel perfectly at ease with who you are and what you bring to a conversation.
When you feel totally comfortable with who you are, your ego dissolves. You aren’t thinking at all about yourself, how you look, how you sound, etc. You’re thinking about the topics you’re discussing and about the other people. This is true whether you’re having a conversation with an old friend or giving a speech in front of hundreds of people. When you feel comfortable with yourself, your focus is on the content of the communication and on the other people, not on yourself.
As you practice and gain more “stage time” in a variety of social situations, the unknown will become the known. You’ll be able to feel comfortable in new types of interactions.
Think about the social situations in which you do feel perfectly comfortable, such as talking with long-term friends or family members or even playing a character in an online role-playing game. When you do communicate effectively, are you thinking about low-level techniques like remembering to smile, or do you simply do what feels most natural to you? What would happen if you could bring that level of comfort to every other social situation?