In my last blog post we looked at being shy, the concept of “the looking-glass self” and what it means. Unlike introverts, people who are shy can take some steps get over the fear of interaction. I am here to tell you that people suffering from shyness CAN successfully network and make connections. I’m going to give the tips in pre-during-post event timeframe.
When I use the word “event” I mean any social situation, large or small, that you find difficult to submerge yourself into. This can range from a luncheon you have to attend for a friend of yours who is getting married to a conference of thousands and anything in between.
Let’s start with preparing for an event. (Just the mention of this probably made your stomach drop like you are on a rollercoaster – hopefully these tips will help lessen that uneasiness).
- Start small if possible – No reason to bypass the bunny slopes and go straight for the black diamond slope.
- Attend something you have an interest in – for example, if you enjoy to read than a book club may be a good start. One of the things people fear most is getting into an environment where they have nothing to contribute to the conversation.
- Ask a friend or two to join you. This will provide moral support and will also keep you from getting cold feet and backing out at the last minute
- Do research beforehand. If you have never been to the venue than I suggest you drive there a day or two ahead of time and familiarize yourself with the route, the parking and the building. If there will be a guest speaker, Google them. Knowing something about the speaker will give you something to talk about when socializing with other attendees.
Once you arrive at the event:
- When you arrive, try not to start counting the minutes until you can leave. Although you would think the key would be short periods of time – it’s just the opposite. Remember, one way to overcome shyness is practice and exposure. By staying at an event for only a brief period of time you are not giving yourself the opportunity to loosen up, get comfortable with the environment and engage.
- Do not arrive late. Many people think that if an event is from 7 – 10p that they will arrive at 830 and leave at 930p. This plan has you entering the event when it is already in full swing. Its best to arrive at the beginning of the event so you are in, settled and getting acclimated before the others arrive. Its gives you more of a feeling of belonging and not a feeling of trying to fit in.
- Smile no matter how uncomfortable you are inside. No one wants to engage a person in conversation that looks like a Debbie Downer.
- No matter what type of environment (sitting, standing etc) make sure that your area immediately surrounding you is approachable. If you sit down and immediately put your coat on the chair to your left and have your back turned to the chair on your right than no one will feel as if they can “enter your space”.
- Listen when a person says their name and use their name when speaking to them. Everyone likes to hear their name. I know when people use my name in conversation I feel as if they are really listening to me – “Wow Michele, that’s very interesting”
- If you are standing with a group of people and you are unfamiliar with the topic – DO NOT RETREAT (physically or mentally)! Ask questions. We are not supposed to know something about every topic. The best way to elicit conversation is to say (while smiling) – this is fascinating and not a subject I’m familiar with – and then follow that with a question such as “so how does that work” or “please go on – I’m really enjoying learning about this”.
- If you attend with other people you will need to go outside your comfort zone and separate from the pack. At least off and on. If people see you consistently with the same group of people they will not approach you. Remember back to when you were dating – people never approach their “crush” when they are surrounded by all their friends.
- Keep in mind that you are NOT the only shy person in the room. Look for someone who is exemplifying the traditional signs of shyness and reach out to them. Remember, you know better than anyone the anxiety they are most likely experiencing.
- Exchange information – you are sure to have at least one opportunity to exchange information with someone. I encourage you to give them several ways to contact you and you also need to ask for their information. For me personally, I prefer to reach out via email, text or online. When I exchange information I do give my phone number however I generally preface it by saying “here is my number however let me also give you my email which is generally the best way to reach me. Making a date to get together sounds scary however it’s not as bad as you think. If you have been talking about your favorite books offer to loan them a book you have that they showed interest in and then plan a casual “coffee date” or some other form of casual meeting in which to connect again.
After the event:
- Follow up – DO NOT let all the hard work that you did by putting yourself out there go to waste. Follow up and make good on any commitment that you made to call or get together again. Even if it’s not to meet. There is nothing wrong with dropping an email saying “Hi, I just saw that your favorite author had an interview in xyz magazine. I thought of you and wanted to send you the link. Hope you are doing well.”
- Lather, Rinse, Repeat – Practice is key to becoming more comfortable with emerging yourself in social situations so set a goal. One event a month? A week? Once you hit a plateau that you are comfortable with than raise the bar. Attend larger events or attend more frequently.
After all is said and done, I want to share with you one piece of advice that a friend shared with me and it is one of the most valuable words of wisdom that I have ever received. BE YOURSELF. I know – sounds diluted and simple however it is so true. You have amazing things to offer, as much, if not more, than the people you will be socializing with so embrace it and let things flow naturally. Some of the best connections and friendships that I have ever made were when I wasn’t even trying.
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There is a pretty clear distinction in most people’s minds between introversion and extroversion. If someone asked you “are you an introvert or an extrovert” you would probably be able to reply without much hesitation. However, if someone asked you if you are “shy” or an “introvert” would you be able to reply as quickly and with certainty? Shy and introvert are two terms that people use interchangeably however they are quite different.
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