I flunked pre-school. Ok. Technically I didn’t flunk. My birthday was on the cusp of the cutoff. When I was growing up, if you had the right academic aptitude, the District could grant exceptions to starting kindergarten within a certain window of the cutoff. My mom was advised that academically I would do well but since I was extremely shy in public, it would benefit me socially to spend another year in pre-school.
Fast forward to high school where I had done well academically but remained very quiet and shy. I will always remember the disappointment of being passed over for the role of editor-in-chief of my high school yearbook. When I asked for feedback, I’ll never forget the advisor’s response: “while you know all aspects of the book technically, I also take input with the senior editors and they didn’t feel you are a people person.” Ouch! At the age of 17 those words stung, but also taught me a valuable lesson: it’s not just what you know, it’s who you know and how you relate to them.
When people meet me today, they don’t believe at one time I was shy person. In fact, many are surprised to hear that I am still quite shy and sit on the border between introvert and extrovert.
People often think that being shy and introverted are synonyms, but they really are not. The distinction between an introvert and extrovert is how they recharge their energy. Many of my friends tell me they have a hard time keeping up with all the events I attend, but what they don’t see are the long afternoons spent in quiet reading to rejuvenate. Sometimes when I am on a stretch of speaking engagements, I will find myself taking long naps in the afternoon in order to be able to draw the energy to be my best for my workshops.
According to vocabulary.com, “shy means being nervous or reserved around other people, especially in a social situation.” I am still reserved when around new people and push myself beyond my comfort zone in order to let others get to know me in new circles.
I wanted to share the top techniques I use to overcome my bashfulness and how I balance my introverted energy:
- Start with your reason to get out of your comfort zone. My why started the day I received feedback from my yearbook advisor. Today, I know to be a successful businesswoman, I need to allow people to get to know me since most people do business with individuals they know like and trust. If I don’t get out, I may very well go out of business. Find your reason to push through any fears and feelings of being tired.
- Attend with a friend. I generally advise my clients to split up at networking events. For someone uncomfortable with networking, I recommend asking a friend to join. One of the core principles of improv is having each other’s back. Attending with a friend or acquittance can provide a level of security and safety blanket to go back to if things become too uncomfortable. With that being said, don’t hide away in a corner to yourselves but join other conversations to expand your circle.
- Select events with a speaker or activity of interest. These events will have a natural common interest that can make it easier for you to break the ice and even if you don’t make a new connection, you will have still learned or done something you enjoy.
- Recharge. Sometimes a networking or social event can take up a lot of energy. We all recharge differently. Find what works for you, recognize that networking can be a drain on your energy and prioritize time to reinvigorate yourself. For me, I like to read business parables as it refreshes my intellectual mind while entertaining me and giving me some alone time.
- Give yourself permission to make mistakes. Sometimes when I put the proverbial foot in my mouth, I retreat deeper into my shell. I finally recognized that I won’t always say the right thing. In my experience there are very few things I can say that would be unforgiveable. Yes, I might fail to make a connection, but if I don’t take the chance, I will definitely fail to make the connection. In order to shake it off, I try changing the topic of conversation, acknowledging the mistake or even talking to different people.
When I launched Networking Improv(ed)TM earlier this year, it was to enable people who are shy or introverted with an opportunity to stretch their comfort zones and practice some of the tips listed above to take advantage of future opportunities.