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Whether it's done with a seductive glance or a tragically lame pickup line, flirting is the crucial first step of the dating ladder. It's the vital interaction that can either make or break our chances to form a new relationship (no matter how casual that relationship may end up being). For some lucky people, flirting happens, as naturally as breathing; for others, the mere thought of it is enough to make them hyperventilate. If you feel you could use a little assistance in the flirting department, you're not alone.

Let your confidence shine!Let your confidence shine! If you're not a naturally confident person, nobody has to know but you. An air of confidence – natural or otherwise – can be easily projected, with correct posture, for starters. Keep your chin held high, shoulders pulled back, and stand up straight. There's no need to look "forced" – most people don't naturally sit ramrod-straight, and you'll probably look strained if you do – simply tidy up your normal posture a bit. Be aware of the way you're walking, the way you're sitting, the way you carry yourself in general. Initially you may feel a little silly, but practicing in the privacy of your own home won't hurt, and soon your new posture may be more natural to you than your former slumping, slovenly self.

Another way to feign confidence is through bold eye contact, a sign of openness. Nothing says, "Hide me!" like a refusal to meet someone's eyes. Eye contact is also a great way to flirt from across the room if you're too shy to approach the person yet (although your gaze might just entice them to approach you first). A surefire trick: look into your "target's" eyes for a second or two, smile and glance quickly away, and then look at them again – holding your gaze a bit longer this time. For the best results, repeat this throughout the evening so that the person will be sure it's them you're flirting with. The trick here is to be fairly quick, though; if you look away for too long, the other party may assume you've lost interest and will also avert their gaze.

Look approachable. A bright smile is the best way to look approachable and attract someone without having to say a word. Sometimes it's easy to appear aloof and standoffish when we're trying to look confident. Make sure you're having a good time – when you look like you're having fun, people are more likely to talk to you. Remember when you were twelve, playing ball in the house, and you waited until Mom was in a good mood to tell her about the porcelain figurine you shattered? Well, this is basically the same concept: if you look like you're in a good mood, people will feel like they can talk to you without getting a negative response.

Ask open-ended questions. Sometimes it's difficult to carry on a conversation when the questions you're asking only require one-word answers. Try asking questions that require more of a response; for example, instead of, "Do you like country music?" you could ask, "What type of music do you like?" When you're trying to initiate a dialogue, remember that questions beginning with "Are you," "Do you," "Will you," or "Can you" invite short answers.

Reach out and touch someoneReach out and touch someone. Obviously you shouldn't casually toss an arm around someone's shoulders, pat them in inappropriate places, or otherwise grope a poor unsuspecting victim – but a bit of physical contact can work wonders. If you're in a noisy, crowded place and it's hard to hear, lean forward and rest your hand very lightly on the other person's arm while he or she is talking to you. Reach ("accidentally-on-purpose" style) for the same item at the same time when you're shopping, gently brushing the person'"s hand in the process. If you're sitting beside the person, position your knee or shoulder close enough to touch theirs. If the person feels you're invading their personal space, they'll pull away, so watch for those types of signals and be prepared to back off if necessary. You don't want to be a creep.

Are you paying attention? It’s very important when talking to someone that you show genuine interest in what they have to say. Cock your head slightly to the side, watch their eyes and mouth as they talk, and nod – or make a comment – once in a while. Ask questions about the topic. Staring off into the distance with glazed eyes and an offhand “uh-huh” every now and then is not going to get you anywhere.

Share interests accordingly. Upon chatting with someone for a few minutes, you can usually start to get a feel for what type of person they are, and what kind of things they like. We tend to be drawn to others like ourselves, so in order to make the person draw a connection with you, show them how similar you are. If they seem to be the outdoorsy type, tell them about your love of hiking/golf/sunbathing/tailgating. If they mention that they love animals, talk about your beloved golden retriever (only if you actually have one, of course!). Obviously, don't feign interest in something you don't know about, or make up a story just to sound similar; if you're not interested in or are unfamiliar with one topic, there's most likely another one in the conversation that you can identify with. If their interests seem to be totally different than yours, at least you have a great opportunity to ask those open-ended questions we talked about earlier!

Get creative with props. Carry or wear an eye-catching, attention-grabbing item: a brightly patterned scarf, a t-shirt with your astrological sign or a catchy saying, a loud yellow rain coat, your teacup Chihuahua, an interesting book – anything that someone could potentially strike up a conversation about. Also, scope out other people's props and use those as icebreakers: "Wow, I've seen several people reading that book … is it any good?"

Practice makes perfect! Flirting with someone doesn't necessarily mean you want to hit the sheets with him or her. It's a fabulous mood and ego-booster for everyone! Gentlemen, tell the seventy-year-old checkout girl that she has beautiful eyes; ladies, flash your most beguiling smile – and a wink – at the next waiter or doorman you see. Be charming, vivacious and lighthearted. The smallest gestures can unexpectedly make someone's day, and are terrific practice for when a real-life flirting opportunity comes your way. Besides, you never know who could be watching – your outgoing demeanor could be attracting a cute bystander!

It isn't necessary to be a raving beauty or a super stud in order to flirt successfully. Remember, it's mostly attitude. Be positive, upbeat, and self-confident, and you’ll be a people-magnet in no time!

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