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When people see me on Zoom calls, chairing meetings or speaking, the last thing they think about me is that I am shy. But I am and always will be. Until my early twenties I was paralytically shy, so I wanted to share some ideas on how this can be managed and get you started if this is indeed the case for you. So let’s dive into how to network when you are shy.
Ok, so first things first.
- Being shy does not necessarily mean you are an introvert. I happen to be a shy, introvert, as an example.
- Being an introvert and being shy doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t confident about your area of expertise.
- Extroverts can also be shy.
- Some people fall in the middle of the spectrum and are ambiverts.
I find that people are constantly conflating all of these words around confidence, shyness, being an introvert and associate it with a lack of confidence. There is so much to each aspect of this, so we’ll disect it all over the course of a number of blogs.
Wikipedia’s Definition of Shyness
I thought it best to look up an definition of shyness, if we are going to look at how to network when you are shy. Here is how Wikipedia define it.
Shyness (also called diffidence) is the feeling of apprehension, lack of comfort, or awkwardness especially when a person is around other people. This commonly occurs in new situations or with unfamiliar people. Shyness can be a characteristic of people who have low self-esteem. Stronger forms of shyness are usually referred to as social anxiety or social phobia. The primary defining characteristic of shyness is a largely ego-driven fear of what other people will think of a person’s behavior. This results in a person becoming scared of doing or saying what they want to out of fear of negative reactions, being laughed at, humiliated or patronized, criticism or rejection. A shy person may simply opt to avoid social situations instead.
Networking Can Be Intimidating
Networking can be intimidating even for the most seasoned networkers. I do a lot of networking and have learned to manage myself, however I do still feel anxiety when I walk into a room of people and I know no-one.
I think it also comes down to the type of network, e.g. is it a diverse range of businesses in attendance or is it a focussed group coming together? I recently attended an online networking event for women predominantly in tech and investment orientated. It’s not an area I’m overly familiar with, so I wouldn’t have a lot to contribute to a conversation, so I realised aftewards that I was a little intimidated as it was clearly outside my zone of knowledge.
There are some days you just aren’t feeling great, aren’t in the mood, but you’ve got a commitment or networking meeting to attend and you have to do it. It’s definitely more daunting when in a face to face, real life environment, but it’s still exists for online networking.
How To Embrace Social and Networking Situations
For now, let’s work on some tips for how to network when you are shy. Let’s look at ways in which you can overcome that feeling that sense of dread, fear, panic and sheer overwhelm when you have a networking event to attend (or even a social event to attend for that matter).
1. Find a Wingman
Go with a friend, a colleague, a business bestie – find someone to attend your first events with you as they’ll give you that moral support to get you going. Let them know that you are feeling a bit shy and if they can introduce you to some people to make the networking easier for you.
However, don’t make the mistake of just sticking with just one person. Set yourself a target of speaking to two or three new people at an event. Don’t go mad and certainly don’t think that you need to speak to everyone. Be realistic with targets, but do set a goal for yourself, so you have a metric to measure your success.
Growing your confidence and overcoming shyness will take a little time. And it takes practice.
2. Arrive Early
Whether you are networking online or in real life, arriving early is a really easy strategy to put in place. If you arrive and the room is buzzing, people are actively engaged in group conversation, it’s going to be very hard to ‘break in’ and join them if you are feeling shy. By arriving early, you can be placed to welcome people into the room which will help break the ice for the other person.
The best dressed person in the room is always smiling. This will put you at ease, your body language will be more relaxed and it will put the people arriving at ease too. If you’ve followed point 2 and arrived early, then smiling at people who are entering the room will ensure you are approachable and the newcomers will gravitate towards you.
4. Ask Questions
For shy people, launching into a speech or sharing an opinion can seem daunting and intimidating. Instead, try asking questions when you are in the group. It shows that you are interested in the other people and this will be welcomed. You are then in the position of listening to the answer, and listening is easier than talking, particularly for shy people or introverts.
5. Be Authentic
What I mean by this is be yourself. If you are shy or a shy introvert, do not try to be an extrovert. If you are trying to be someone you are not, you’ll end up completely depleted of energy and resourced. What I want every introvert out there to know is that being an introvert is your superpower. More on that soon!
6. Be Prepared
A great tip I read in the Psychology Today post was to be prepared with some questions and talking points. What is important here is to take the time to gauge the conversation and get your bearings before contributing. A contribution that doesn’t make sense or that is ill timed can end the flow of a conversation, which isn’t how you want to be remembered.
If there is a lull in the conversation, it might be opportune to talk about something topical or seasonal, e.g. holiday plans, the latest books you’ve read, your hobbies or passions.
If you are actively listening, as per point 4, people will drop nuggets and crumbs for new conversations, e.g. it might be that they ran late due to the school run and you can ask about the kids and family. Generally there is never a shortage of discussion points if you focus on listening to others rather than being preoccupied with your own worries.
If you are at a business networking event, being prepared might be having your elevator pitch ready. I’ll discuss this in more detail soon so watch out for that blog. Also advance plan the questions that might be asked, so you have the answers top of mind.
Being prepared always helps reduce anxiety.
7. Reframe Your Mindset
Another great point in the Psycology Today article was to reframe your mindset and I definitely believe this to be true. You need to think positively and believe that there is going to be a positive outcome from the event or networking meeting you are attending.
If you think it’s going to be negative, this will come across in your eyes and your body language. In other words, you’ll make sure it comes true.
8. Networking is Everywhere
People tend to associate networking with formal events, associations, referral meetings, conferences etc. However your local book club, rowing club, cycling club, football club etc are all sources for meeting people and engaging in informal networking.
This can be an easy starting point for developing conversations as you already have a common interest to get going with. You can invert the casual conversation to ask about what someone does in their day job.
Joining clubs for sports, passions, interests is a great way to socialise and get practice in social and informal networking when you are shy. As I mentioned above, the interest is already common, so this is an instant ice-breaker.
9. Say My Name, Say My Name (Sorry I have that song circling in my head right now – thank you Destiny’s Child!)
Moving swiftly on. Everyone loves the sound of their name. It’s a good idea to say a person’s name out loud, as it acts as a sense of acknowledgement and it’s inclusive. The person feels noticed and repetition will help you remember the person’s name. This all adds to your social capital and will stand you in good stead!
This might feel a bit weird at first, but persevere and it will get easier over time.
10. Embrace Your Passion
At some formal networking events, I’ve come across people who literally read out their elevator pitch because they were so nervous. Hands shook, their voice wobbled, hands were sweaty and I genuinely felt so sorry for them. I wanted to run and give them a hug and say it’s ok. I wanted to reach over and say, look at me. I’m going to ask you a couple of questions:
- What do you do?
- Why do you do what you do?
If you are passionate about your business, so much so that you left a high powered, well paid job to follow a dream, then embrace this.
Own it. Love it.
Tell me with your eyes and your heart what you do, what problem you are solving, why you started your business.
I see it so often, when a question is posed…e.g. what is your purpose, your why? People relax into the answer. They forget about nerves and remember what it is they are doing and who they are serving.
11. Follow Up
I’ve written at length about following up and the processes for doing so, so you can read that article here. It’s really important to follow up and to ensure that you are seen as credible and trustworthy.
This will also improve your confidence, as it works towards you being that trusted source. It helps build up the future of your relationship.
12. Take the Risk
A huge part of shyness is that fear of rejection, so it’s good to work on your mindset and work towards overcoming your fears in this regard. You need to remember that you will not like everyone and that not everyone will like you. That’s simply a fact of life.
Part of your journey through networking is to find people with whom you can relate and build a relationship with.
13. Be the Host
A great way to get over your nerves is to act as the host of the event. Welcome people in and smile. Ask them if they’d like a cup of tea or coffee and make them feel at ease.
It’s easy to assume that others have it all together, but very often that’s not the case. Many people feel socially awkward and intimidated at events where they know no-one or very few people.
Be on alert for people who might be standing alone, who arrived late and are obviously feeling a little out of place. If you are the person to break the ice and start a conversation, this will go so far in cementing a solid relationship.
Practice your story. Get comfortable talking about your journey. I can safely say it’s well outside my comfort zone. I do it and I get better each time, but I still find it hard, as it’s not so natural to take about me.
15. Business Cards
In real life events, which will resume in 2021, business cards will once again become frequently used. Get into the habit of asking people for their business card and don’t forget to give yours out. This isn’t about the quantity, but rather part of the follow up process for connecting with the two or three people you met at an event.
There are a myriad of ways to learn how to network when you are shy. I hope you will give some of these a try and share your own ideas too.
Wikipedia said that ‘a shy person may simply opt to avoid social situations’. I am on a mission to make sure that people in life, learn how to manage this shyness with simple techniques.
Learning to network will undoubtedly grow your confidence. It will help you confidently develop personal and business relationships and all of this will help you not only survive, but thrive in business.
I also give some tips on nurturing your network here and this is critical in building relationships outside the opportunities you have to meet in person or online.
Connecting With NetworkingJeanie
You can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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