for the Terminally Shy
by Terri Lonier
It’s like mixing oil and water: You love the idea of
having your own business, but the thought of talking to strangers
about your company has you running for cover. And even if
you operate primarily online, you still need to interact with
individuals in person from time to time.
Is there hope for the terminally shy in the
Yes, and no. If you duck for cover every time someone asks
you to explain your solo business, you’re doomed. Yet
even the most outgoing entrepreneur has days when he or she
just wants to fade into the beige carpeted walls of the hotel
ballroom as a networking event drones on (and on and on).
What keeps successful entrepreneurs powered up? They know
how to shift discomfort into action. And even if you’re
painfully shy, you can learn how to do this power shift, too.
The trick is to focus outwardly, instead of on yourself. When
faced with participating in a networking event or other gathering,
here are some tips to help you not only to survive, but also
to thrive, in this atmosphere.
1. Volunteer to be a greeter.
Pitch in to be the one who welcomes people at the door. You
get to say just a few words to everyone, and people will perceive
you as friendly, which is half the battle. By the end of the
night you’ll have met nearly every single person in
the room. Best of all, you don’t need to be particularly
outgoing -- and these are non-stressful encounters. All you
need is a warm smile, and a few phrases: “Registration
is over there, beverages are on the left, we’re glad
you’re here….” It also frames you as a person
“in the know,” since you will have interacted
with nearly every person at the event.
2. Practice a few interview questions.
Face it, most people enjoy talking about themselves. This
is particularly true of entrepreneurs. If making small talk
is not one of your strengths – or on your list of all-time
favorite activities – then take on the role of interviewer
instead. Prepare a series of questions you might ask any of
the individuals attending the event. How did you get started?
What have you found most challenging? Where would you like
to take your business in the next 6 months? These types of
questions are great fire-starters for interesting conversations.
3. Avoid asking yes/no questions.
We’ve all experienced that awkward moment in a conversation
when neither party knows how to continue the verbal exchange.
You can avoid this numbing silence by making sure the questions
you ask can’t be easily answered by a simple “yes”
or “no.” Or, if the person keeps responding to
your questions in one- or two-word answers, smile and say:
“Hmmm, that’s interesting. Why do you feel that
4. Ask questions about the event.
If you’re struggling to find topics in common, you can
always refer back to the subject of the event. For example,
you might ask how the other person(s) are connected with the
group, or what they thought of the speaker or program. Often
there is more commonality than you might expect. After all,
you’ve all gathered with some similar goals in mind.
5. Realize that everyone has a shy side.
Not every conversation has to be stellar. Sometimes the energy
just doesn’t “click.” Or you might be tired
or preoccupied with other issues. Rather than criticize yourself
on your lack of social skills, just let it slide and know
that there will be endless other encounters – including
ones in which you’ll shine.
Most of all, accept that conversational abilities are a learned
skill, not a genetic trait bestowed on every person at birth.
It comes with practice and experience. By stretching a little
bit in every situation, you’ll be pleasantly surprised
how easy (or at least more bearable) walking into a roomful
of strangers can become. Be ready to meet 138 of your potential
new best friends!
Copyright 2005-2006 Terri Lonier.
All rights reserved.
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