How Shy People Can Get Noticed at Work

10/15/2012 05:41 EDT | Updated 12/15/2012 05:12 EST

Many people find their career options are limited because they are shy -- the steps needed to build a personal brand seem too frightening. Or they may just believe that to get noticed, you have to brag and speak loudly and have a big personality, and that doesn't feel right to them.

It's a myth that shy people can't have successful personal brands. It is true that if you never speak up in meetings, never talk to colleagues, and simply do the work assigned to you, you will not be at the top of the list for the next promotion. But shy people just need a strategy that is aligned to their personality, values and comfort zone. Here are some tips:

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Shy in the Workplace

1. In many workplaces, it is difficult for quiet people to get heard in meetings. If the meetings tend to be unstructured free-for-alls, only people who are aggressive and can think on their feet will be listened to. People who hold back because they are shy, or because their culture considers butting in to be impolite, or because they like to have time to think first before they speak, don't get a chance.

This is a loss for the employer, because some good ideas will never emerge. So seek out the meeting organizer, or a trusted colleague, and tell them that you would like the chance to contribute. Pick a topic that will be on the agenda, and prepare some thoughts in advance. If appropriate, prepare a short memo on your ideas that you can pass around at the meeting. Ask the organizer or colleague to please call on you when that topic comes up. You will feel much more confident because you are prepared.

2. A good way to get noticed is to speak in public, at team meetings, industry events, or educational sessions. This is terrifying to many people. So what can you do instead? One suggestion is to volunteer to introduce or thank a speaker. That takes only a minute or two, and you can read your remarks. Once you have done that role a few times, it will get easier and you may be reader for a larger part.

3. Networking is key to building your brand. But shy people find that attending networking events, especially where they don't know people, can be a challenging ordeal. There are several techniques to make it easier. For example, attend an event that begins with a speaker. That will give you an easy way to strike up a conversation afterwards -- you have only to ask "what did you think of the speaker?"

Or ask a colleague to come with you to the event -- you can give each other moral support and introduce the other person to anyone you know. And give some thought before the session to what you might have in common with other attendees. If you are attending an industry event, for example, think about some current issues in that industry and prepare some questions, and also some points of view, to get a discussion going.

4. We all know people who seem to have lunch with a different person every day. For shy people, this can be a daunting task, and it's easy to cling to the excuse that you are too busy. Set yourself a challenge that once a week, you will reach out to someone you know to book a lunch a week or two in the future. Start with people it will be easy to talk to -- a university friend you haven't seen for a while or a colleague recently transferred to a different department. Invite people who are new to your organization or office -- they will welcome a chance to get to know you and to learn the ropes.

As you extend your invitation list to people you don't know well, find a reason to suggest lunch (or a coffee) -- do you want to pick their brain on an issue they know well, or share ideas for an upcoming project? One successful technique is to arrange a lunch with two people you know well but who don't know each other. You will get the reputation as someone who "knows people" and you won't have to do all the talking!

What all of these techniques have in common is that they start small. If there is something scary that you feel you should do, instead of just putting it off, ask yourself what smaller step would work for you, and get going!