If there isn’t a medical name for shyness, then there should be. It is a crippling trait that can prevent even the most intelligent or attractive people from reaching their full potential. When we were teenagers a lot of us suffered from it, especially when dealing with someone we liked of the opposite sex. That rush of unwanted hormones would make us blush bright red, and our tongues get tied in knots. Most of us grew out of it, but sadly some folks are inflicted with it throughout their lives. Telling someone to “just get over it” will probably make them even worse so they withdraw further into their shells.
If you plan on getting into the networking business, shyness is going to really hobble your efforts. Networking by its very nature involves getting to know people, and if you can’t take the initial step to introduce yourself, you will be hiding inside the bathroom for an hour before anyone notices you’ve gone!
If you are shy, and contrary to your own negative thoughts on the subject, shyness can be overcome by learning a number of other social skills at the same time. Take it slowly at first, and if you find a stiff drink helps – go ahead!
Here are 20 suggestions that might make networking a little easier for you:
1. Don’t jump in at the deep end and accept an invitation to a huge networking event. You will encounter groups of people who all know each other and who will gather in groups. You’ll find yourself bouncing off people’s backs and getting depressed and frustrated.
Start with a small lecture perhaps, where you can introduce yourself to different people before and after, and don’t sit on your own at the back! Make sure you sit alongside people you don’t know, and try to relax. Work up to a small local business group that may comprise of people from your city, that way you already have something in common with them. You can at least break the ice by saying what part of town you live in. Start out small; build your confidence and work up to the next level. By the time you get to the enormous networking event, you will find that people will approach you because they have already met you at so-and-so’s lecture, or last month’s committee meeting.
2. Make sure you have everything you need with you. It’s easy to forget things when you are nervous. It may well be a part of you thinking that if you forget something important, it would be a good excuse to go home and not come back! Make a list well beforehand that could include reading glasses, business cards and printed literature you might need, your ticket to the event, and take a small notepad or you can use your cell phone for notes.
3. Are you confident in how you look? Knowing that you look good can really bolster your own self-confidence. Get your hair trimmed, manicure your nails and make sure your suit is pressed and clean, and your shirt is freshly laundered and ironed. Shine your shoes and plan your outfit at least a few days before. That way if you find an ugly stain on your jacket you will have time to get I cleaned!
4. Who do you want to talk to when you get there, and on what subject? Write your questions down and practice asking them, even if it is to yourself in a mirror, that way you won’t get tongue-tied and stage struck.
5. Make sure your breath is fresh; take a pack of gum or some peppermints in your pocket and SMILE. People are far more likely to talk to you if you look happy. A big old frown will turn everybody off.
6. Be like the British! If there’s difficulty in starting a conversation, start with the weather, then perhaps talk about an event that’s in the local news. For heaven’s sake don’t bring up sickness, politics or religion! They are a big no-no.
7. If you are lucky enough to run into someone you know, politely ask to be introduced to some of his friends and associates, but don’t cling onto him like a leech. He is there for his own reasons and to do his own networking.
8. If your feet hurt or the food sucks, keep your comments to yourself. Nobody likes a whiner. If everyone else complains about the food though, go ahead and join in, you don’t want people to think you’re starving!
9. If you have a weird name, laugh about it. Laughter helps everyone relax. If you spill your drink, just mop it up and carry on, again, try to make a small joke about it. Don’t apologize all the time, because YOU end up looking “sorry”.
10. If there is someone there you can learn from, respectfully ask the intelligent questions that you have already prepared, and listen to his answers. There is nothing more annoying than people who interrupt all the time. If you listen to their answer, chances are that will lead you into more questions. See – you started a two-way conversation, easy wasn’t it?
11. If the person you are talking to starts whistling or looking at his watch, get a clue, he’s bored with your conversation or is in a hurry to leave. Learn to read body language. Shy people tend to try to make themselves as small as possible; they will draw in their shoulders and look down at the floor. Learn to stand up straight and look people in the eye, they will respect you for it.
12. Oh no, the limp lettuce handshake! You will have to learn how to shake hands properly. This is something not many know how to do these days. Hold your hand out in front of you, smile, look the person in the eye and grip the other person’s hand briefly and introduce yourself. Not too strong and not for too long, and customarily right hand to right hand.
13. When the conversation is over, don’t dither around, if it is someone you might like to get in touch with again, exchange cards, smile, say “It was a pleasure to meet you”, shake hands and move on.
14. Always try to remember people’s names, especially after a very brief encounter. They find it flattering that you remember them, even if it means jotting down things on the back of their business card to remind you of some info about them. Perhaps someone mentioned their son was into baseball. Jot it down. Someone’s mother was ill. Jot it down. They will be amazed that you remembered, and just that small thing can get another conversation started. Do it discreetly though, don’t stand there like you’re writing them a speeding ticket! Cell phones are great for taking discreet notes.
Now you’re getting to know people, to network.
15. If someone mentions that they need a copy of so-and-so, do your best to get it and send it to them. If in their mind your name is associated with good things, their doors will open.
16. At the end of the event don’t just grab your coat and run like a rabbit back to safety. Say goodbye on the way out. It’s common courtesy and it’s amazing how few good manners are left out there!
17. Still apprehensive? There’s no shortage of people in this world, that’s for sure. Why not volunteer at an old folk’s home once a week? Do you have an elderly neighbor? Go and talk to him. As much as you suffer from shyness, a lot of old people suffer from loneliness. It will make you feel good about yourself too.
18. If someone says “call me” or “email me”, make sure you do. If this is someone you met very briefly, remind him politely who you are and why you are calling, at the beginning of your telephone conversation or email. Just don’t say “I’m the weird guy with the weird name,” or something like that, and don’t ever say “sorry to bother you”. They asked YOU to call them.
19. Whether you are at the bank, or in line at the grocery store, there’s always someone you can strike up a conversation with, just by asking “how’s your day going?” There’s nothing wrong with shyness, if you can control it. Don’t let it take over your life.
20. The good news is that as an introvert, you are probably a very good listener; you might have to be if you volunteer with old folks! Your careful listening will cue you to ask all the right questions at the right times and there’s nothing wrong with that.
There’s lots of shy people out there, but like the rest of us, they have to go to work and pay bills.
The late John Lennon of the Beatles was desperately shy and nervous before he went on stage – and look what he achieved!
If you look good, smile and say hello, you’ll be well on your way in the networking world.
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