If you are shy but you would benefit from networking then this post is especially valuable. I used to have high levels of social anxiety so this post is aimed at those with less social skills than the average person. It is also perfect for those advanced social people who want to improve their networking skills. (See steps 4-7)
The Perspective Shift
Remember that other people view the world different to you. Bill Gates will see a different reality to a homeless person living on the streets.
People coexist on different realms of reality. The same applies to you and anyone you might meet. They don’t see reality the way you see it, and you have to learn to step into their shoes.
If you care at all what people think when you meet people, make friends and building your network, then you have to focus on this.
Step Into Their Shoes
Step into their shoes and try to consider what they think. The person who you are afraid might be judging you, is just their thinking about their own lives.
Think about how much you consider yourself as the centre of your reality. You are hungry, you are tired, you are bored, you are excited. You live in a certain city, in a certain country, with certain thoughts about yourself.
You think that others think about you, look at you, judge you. Are you noticing a pattern here? Your life is self-centred.
Guess what? So is everyone else’s!
Learn to step into their shoes by realising that you are not the centre, and people are not thinking about you as much as you think. In fact, it’s the opposite. they are just like you. They think about themselves, they are thinking about where they live, what they want, and most likely, what you think about them.
Now step into their shoes at an event. You look across the room and see someone looking important surrounded by people. You think by approaching you will cause them to all judge you and think about you.
In fact the opposite is true. If you approach, they will think you are judging them and they will be considering their own reality more than worrying about yours.
Why Is This Relevant To Networking?
All this preparation is important because it gets you comfortable making yourself visible. When you realise that people really don’t care or think about you at all, and it’s all in your self-centred head, then you can take a step back. You know that people are just thinking about themselves and what others think of them, you’re living proof of that.
Your worries, anxieties and fears are just a result of your false self-centred beliefs which everyone else has.
Now you understand this, we can move forward.
Starting Conversations Slowly
At first, introducing yourself will be a weird behaviour for you. Not only are all your old beliefs still solid in your mind, but they will flare up even more when you take action. This is why you have to fake it first. Introducing yourself to someone is just a simple behaviour. We all know how to do it, that’s not the problem. It’s the thoughts that you hate and fear that stop you.
We know those thoughts are nonsense now so we can ignore them. This can be tough, so start slow. Talk to people who are more open, shopkeepers, barristers, old people, and bored workers. These are people who are trying to talk to everyone anyway, so it’s likely that they will respond even if you are nervous.
It will feel weird at first, however you will get used to it quickly. If you put yourself in a challenging environment like an event or Meetup then congratulate yourself for taking action.
Take a step further by making a mission to talk to people and make connections. Once you understand the mindset, all you need is some practical steps. Here they are.
The 7 Practical Steps To Shy Networking
Step 1: Book an event.
This is the easiest and scariest task all at the same time, but without it you won’t get anywhere. Find events on Google, Facebook, Meetup and many other places and book it into your calendar.
Then, wait for the event to come about, and don’t chicken out. Just show up. This step is so crucial, it’s almost worth mentioning twice. SHOW UP.
“80% of success is showing up”
– Woody Allen
Step 2: Get To The Event
Now, you’re at the event, lot’s of people around, what do you do?
Practice these words a lot at home before you go out and you will be prepared. The words are simple. “Hey”. “How are you”. “I’m [your name]”. These are deceivingly simple, however you have to repeat them over and over in your head if you’re afraid of what people think, so it becomes a natural reflex when you see others.
Your usual reflex is to think “oh no”, “they might see me”, “what do I say”, “I don’t know what to say”. Your mind might be full of these thoughts or some variations, ranging from mellow to extreme.
[My personal thoughts used to be “I’m an idiot, they will hate me, why do they hate me, I’m so weird”, among others that I don’t wish to share]
Step 3: Starting The Conversation
Train your brain to think of introductory words that will actually start conversations. Here are my favourite, separated by a comma.
“Hey, hi, whats up, how are you, Hey there, hello, hello there, Heya, I’m josh, Nice top, nice coat, nice hat, you look bored, you look happy, you look focused, you look friendly, excuse me, sorry. “
You can say any variation of these and so many more to get yourself into a conversation. With an event, it’s even easier.
“You enjoying the event? You here for the event? Did you come alone to the event? Why are you here?, this event is great right? Did you see X”
These are just some of the many ways to start a conversation. At this point you will likely get them talking and things will domino from there. You do already know how to have a conversation, you do it with your mum, your friends and your cat all the time. The hard part of all this is getting over those silly thoughts in your head and actually talking to someone.
Get used to this practice as often as you can. When you are out and near people, just have the words in your head at all times ‘Hey, how are you, whatsup’. This will start to change your mind about how people view you and will make you more approachable and more willing to approach.
Step 4: Advanced Practical Advice
I’m going to take it a step further and get a little more advanced. If you have already been doubting how much you can do up until this point then please only focus on everything before this paragraph.
It may take months or years to overcome the negative thought patterns and it may take even longer practicing these behaviours to make a lasting change in your life.
Take it slow and be happy that you are growing. Don’t beat yourself up for failing. Take one small step at a time. Planning an event and then canceling is better than doing nothing. Going to an event and not talking to anyone is better than not going. Talking to one person but running away in fear immediately is better than not talking to anyone. Always see the positive in what you are doing, and at the same time look one step further to see the next challenge for you.
Ok, let’s get more advanced. From this point forward I’ll assume you can introduce yourself to complete strangers and start a conversation. Now let’s take it up a notch.
The next step is to start being okay with introducing yourself to a group of people already talking. This takes some social awareness so be careful with this. Don’t just jump in and start talking like you might with someone who is standing or sitting alone. You want to listen to what is happening. If they are already talking and listening in conversation, then stand as close as possible in the circle or group and listen in until they notice you.
If they notice you and there is a brief pause in the conversation then you can say hello, introduce yourself or say “this sounds interesting”. If you are fast at catching onto conversations then you can even join in as if you were there the whole time.
For example: You see a group of 3 men and 3 women in a circle. You go close to them and listen in:
Man 1: No I don’t agree, I think websites can be useful for businesses
Woman 1: Aren’t they a distraction though?
Man 2: Actually my website allows me to get sales fast.
At this point you can jump in with “Yeah my website does pretty well too”. No need for introductions, just join the conversation.
If it’s a group of people that are not talking, but more like looking around, then it’s likely they know each other for longer and they were not just meeting on that day. In this case it’s okay to go and introduce yourself to them as if they are one person, and ask them if they are here together. Then engage them all and find out more about all of them. The bigger the group the harder this seems to be and the more social awareness you will need. This is only developed over time and practice so if you don’t have it, then you need the practice more than anyone.
Step 5: Introduce People to Each other
The next advanced thing you can do is to introduce people you are talking to, to other people. You may have met them already or they may just be nearby. You can wait for a pause in the conversation and then bring in the nearest stranger and introduce them to each other.
By doing this you can create a circle of people who are engaged and interested in meeting everyone, and you can just listen, enjoy and connect with everyone.
Step 6: Get In And Get Out
It’s common for us shy people to get comfortable speaking to one person. Why would we leave when we are doing so well? Moving onto another person involves awkwardly breaking off the conversation, finding a stranger, awkwardly introducing ourselves again.. yeuchh.
But it’s important to move around from conversations so you meet more people. At an event you want to network deeply with as many people as possible. Keep it to around 5 minutes per group or person unless there is a really good connection and it might be a future relationship.
Use phrases like “Thats cool, it was great meeting you, I’ll see you around the event”, then move on. Or my personal favourite is “Thats really great, you should share that with more people, what about this person”, then I say hello to the nearest stranger and tell him “Hey, I’m Josh, you want to hear this.. this is X, he was just talking about X”. Then I listen for a little and say, “sorry guys, I’ll be right back”, then just leave. This way you are not leaving someone on their own but leaving two new people talking. This also combined the previous method of connecting two people.
This is networking to the next level where not only are you building your own connections but you are helping others build theirs. This is a great place to be in networking and if you reach this then you are doing well.
Learn to change the environment to get better people. If you are networking at a music festival, it won’t have the same people as if you were networking in a Google tech event or a property networking event. Know who you want to connect to and go to where those people are.
Step 7: Patience is KEY
Lastly, be patient. Be patient with the skills that networking requires. Be patient with meeting people and getting new contacts. Be patient with how the relationship forms and don’t try to force it or move it faster than is natural. You can always push yourself faster and harder to meet more people, however don’t try to push the results, they will happen on their own.
The 7 Steps Summarised:
Step 1: Book an Event
Step 2: Get To The Event
Step 3: Start A Conversation
Step 4: Advanced Practical Advice (Don’t start from this step until comfortable with steps 1-3)
Step 5: Introduce People To Each other
Step 6: Get In And Get Out
Step 7: Patience Is Key