Are you shy?
According to the Shyness Research Institute, about 50 per cent of Americans are shy (which is up by 10 per cent in the last three decades). The number of people who say they are situationally shy is even higher. Are you shy in social situations? Do you get nervous about the thought of attending a professional social situation where you don't know anyone? Do you prefer to attend those events with a friend?
(Photo: Britt Erlanson via Getty Images)
We know that employers are placing more emphasis on social skills when hiring employees as well. They must have the ability to network and "schmooze." Even if you are uncomfortable, even if you don't know a single soul in the room, you have to move away from the comfort of the wall and begin to speak with others.
Recently I was speaking at an event, where I attended the entire four-day conference, speaking on the final day. I didn't know a lot of people, and since I hadn't spoken yet, they didn't know me either.
I found myself in an unusual position, feeling quite shy about networking. As I looked around the room, it appeared as if everyone knew everyone else, and no one knew me. The strange sensation called "social anxiety" overtook me. Since I am rarely shy, have no hesitation in speaking with strangers (pretty much anywhere); this was something I hadn't experienced in a long time. I didn't like it, either.
It is OK to be uncomfortable; the other person likely is as well.
Of course, I knew what to do, but it occurred to me that there were probably many people at this convention of 1,200 people who were shy and that many of them probably didn't know what to do.
So, do what I did the next time that shy person inside you takes over:
- Act as if this is your party or gathering. Walk up to others and say hello. Don't wait for them to say hello to you (they might be shy), and be the first to say hello.
- Make and hold eye contact with the person you are about to say hello to.
- Smile (seriously, some people forget the basics when they are nervous).
- Approach groups of three or more. Stay away from groups of two, unless you know one of them.
- If it is appropriate, put your hand out to shake hands. Recognize that shaking hands is not universal, and do not be offended if they choose not to shake your hand. Don't wait for the other person to offer their hand either (that is an outdated male/female custom).
- Stop moving if you wish to engage in conversation. If you say "hello" while on the move, your body language is telling the other person you don't want to chat.
- Watch your personal space! Although the music may be loud, be sure you aren't "in" the space of the person you are trying to meet. If you are trying to speak over loud music, stand beside the person, instead of face-to-face.
- Don't keep looking over the shoulder of the person you are speaking to, or at the door to see who else is coming into the room. Keep focus on the person you are speaking to (unless you want to be considered rude.)
Once you've said hello, the real networking, or schmoozing starts. This is the small talk that makes many very uncomfortable. It is OK to be uncomfortable; the other person likely is as well.
Be sure that it is appropriate to start a conversation, though. If you said hello to a person in a group, and there was a conversation already going on, you have to be sure you aren't interrupting it. If the other person says hello, but breaks eye contact to move back to their group and resume their conversation, move onto another group -- this one is busy right now.
(Photo: Caiaimage via Getty Images)
Take a moment and introduce yourself, and hopefully everyone else will follow suit. Say your first name clearly (slow down), put a smile on your face, and make it look like you are a friendly person!
"Hi, my name is Rhonda. Your name is?"
"Hi, my name is Rhonda, and this is my first convention. Have you been here before?"
"Hi, my name is Rhonda and I went to university with the bride. Are you here for the bride or groom?"
Simple, but it takes confidence (real or pretend) to get the ball rolling. From the introductions you can talk about where they work, the relationship that brought them there, the weather, whatever seems appropriate at the time. If this makes you nervous, think about these things before you leave home.
Keep the conversation going by asking short, open-ended questions. Don't interrupt and don't be afraid of pauses, either. This is uncomfortable, and it is even OK to joke about that.
A bore is one who talks about themselves, but a brilliant conversationalist is one who talks to you about yourself!
After a couple of minutes, it is OK to meet with other people, drift in other directions or even introduce your new friend to someone else (even if that someone else is someone you met 10 minutes ago!).
Tips to remember:
- Don't monopolize the conversation. You may have a great story to share about the guest of honour, but if it takes more than two minutes to tell the story, it is too long. (Be sure to ask yourself if your new acquaintance even cares about your story that is 20 years old).
- Move on and meet new people. Everyone is afraid of meeting the "leech" at networking events. If you've been chatting for more than 10 minutes, you have either met someone with whom you will make lifelong friends, or you are afraid to meet someone else. Move on.
- Keep your glass a quarter full. This gives you the opportunity to move on if you've met a bore or even an excuse to leave the conversation. The glass should come with a napkin which can help for sweaty palms if appropriate, too.
- Keep a positive attitude. Don't be a Negative Nancy regardless of the reason for the gathering. Negativity is very unattractive, and I don't want to spend time meeting someone who complains about things immediately!
Standing and waiting for others to speak to you is reminiscent of grade-school dances. I don't want to be 12 again, so recognize that this feeling is very common, and do something about it.
It is far better to deal with the situation instead of waiting for someone to rescue you. You may never love entering a room and not knowing a soul, but at least you are willing to do something about it!
And remember: a gossip is one who talks about others. A bore is one who talks about themselves, but a brilliant conversationalist is one who talks to you about yourself!
Don't be shy -- it's easy to pretend you can do this (and before you know it -- you can!).
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
Also on HuffPost: