11 Networking Tips for the Shy, Introverted or Socially Awkward
by Cheryl Binnie

We’re taking a little detour from messaging, emails and web pages…

…to talk about putting yourself out there, even when it feels like torture.

Why?

Well, I received an email from a reader of the blog that really touched my heart…

I’m an introvert. How can I overcome this shyness thing?

I can be in a party (social function) and just sit by myself without saying anything to anybody. Not being able to have conversations with even people that I know. Not knowing what to say. Being too quiet. Fear of being around many people. Fear of people. Not being able to go out and have “fun.” Distrust of people. How to interact more with people. Knowing what to say.

First off, if you identify with any of the above, know that you’re not alone.

I’ve worked with so many entrepreneurs who identify as extremely shy and introverted.

Many have trouble in “normal” social settings – let alone networking for their businesses!

In fact, I have trouble with it, too. Because I’m an introvert, too!

I know, whuuuut!?

People are often surprised to hear that – especially those who have met me at live events.

Because even though I’d almost always prefer to be at home with a book, or hanging out with friends one-on-one (or veeeery small groups), I don’t always come across as an introvert when I’m out and about for my business.

That’s because I’ve worked on building some tricks and tips so that I’m able to do things like…

  • Interact with and have a great time with new people, no matter the setting.
  • Present onstage in front of hundreds of people. (I do have a theater background, but holy moly! Speaking as yourself, trying to present yourself as an expert is waaaay different from playing a character with scripted lines, or even improv!)
  • Stand in front of my sponsor booth and talk to strangers for multiple days straight. (I even had another sponsor say to me on the final day of a 3-day event, “How do you still have so much energy? I’m so tired of talking!”)

And I had to develop my own methods for stretching out of my comfort zone + taking care of myself in situations where I might easily get wiped out from a bunch of human interaction.

So today, I’m going to share with you some of what I’ve learned over the years.

Note: I’m not a mental health expert, so these tips shouldn’t be viewed as heavy-duty professional advice. These are just some things I’ve learned over the years that have helped me, and will hopefully be helpful for you, too!

Ready? Let’s jump on in…

We’ll start easy and let ourselves off the hook…

Tip #1: Go hide!

I’m not kidding!

There is nothing (I repeat nothing) wrong with knowing your limits and when you need to excuse yourself.

So yes, you can literally go take a few moments in the bathroom,

Or…

Find a quiet corner.

OR…

Hiding Pro Tip: If you’re staying at a hotel for an event, try calling ahead and asking for a room as close to the event space as possible.

Why?

Because sometimes event hotels are big. Like, reallllly big. (I went to one client event where it literally took 10 minutes to walk from my room to the conference center!)

But if your room is near the event space, it’s easy to run up to your own, private room for a quick 15-30 minute break without having to trek across a giant hotel and lose precious moments of “me-time!”

Hiding Bonus Tip: I also like to ask for a room that’s close to the elevators. (Because I’d rather not have to high-tail it up and down long hallways in high heels each time I need a break.)

Tip #2: Have a Care-Kit for yourself.

For me, that means some snacks with protein, dried fruit, and multiple warm layers (a cardigan, a jacket AND a scarf – because those event rooms get COLD).

When staying in a hotel, I also bring: ear plugs, a sleep mask, my Kindle, and fuzzy socks (because my feet are TIRED at the end of a long event day!)

What does this mean to you?

Could be some gum or mints, essential oils (maybe even a travel diffuser!), or a magazine if you need to take a true 15-minutes  “OFF.”

All I recommend is that these options are healthy in one way or another. You’d hate to have snacks that make you sluggish or a magazine that bums you out!

Tip #3: Go with a buddy.

When you decide to go to a social setting or networking event, find an ally you feel comfortable with.

Let them know you have a tendency to hide at events, and if they see you being too much of a wallflower, they can invite you to come on in!

They can also help ease you into group conversations by introducing you, and or catching you up on what everyone was talking about.

(Personally, if I see someone timidly hovering around a group I’m in, I try to wave them in and say something like, “Hi, come on over. We were just talking about how Susan’s trying to decide on her target market.” I always appreciate it when others do the same for me!)

Plus, a buddy can smooth over awkward conversation moments or give you prompts, like, “Oh, don’t you have a fun client story about something like that?”

Tip #4: FIND a buddy!

If you’re not able to go to an event with a friend-slash-ally, try to identify someone you might connect with when you get there!

This could be someone who looks a little nervous, too. Maybe someone standing off to the side, or wandering from group to group without ever jumping into any conversations.

You can make a friendly joke when you introduce yourself, like, “I’m kinda terrible at these things. Wanna be buddies?”

Or you could find someone who seems a little more outgoing than you, but who is radiating warmth and approachability.

Go ahead and let them know you’re feeling nervous. More often than not, this kind of person will be MORE than happy to introduce you to some people they know.

Tip #5: Come prepared to talk!

It can be hard to handle conversations when you feel like the most awkward person in the room.

So… have a list of questions you can ask other people.

Ideally, you’d have these questions memorized, but if you feel more comfortable, have an index card or notebook that you can glimpse at now and then.

Some example conversation starters…

  • How did you get into your business?
  • How did you learn about tonight’s event?
  • How do you know the host?
  • Do you know anyone else here? This is my first time here, and I’d love to connect with a few people tonight.
  • What are you most looking forward to about tonight?
  • Have any exciting projects happening in your business?

Tip #6: Don’t be afraid to listen.

Introverts often worry over little conversational details even when things are actually going well!

So – DON’T worry if the other person is doing the majority of the talking.

Why?

Because most people have more positive memories of conversations where THEY do most of the talking.

Good news, right?!

If you’re able to be a good, active listener who asks questions and makes someone feel heard, they likely won’t think of it as an awkward conversation at all!

What’s more, they’ll come away feeling like they really connected with you, and that’s a lovely gift to give someone.

One of my best friends feels a little awkward in group settings, but he is a PHENOMENAL listener.

He often worries that he didn’t participate enough, but people always come away from “conversations” with him thinking he’s the greatest guy ever!

This is totally a situation where less can be more 🙂

Tip #7: But… DO know how to talk about your own business.

Remember, you might not always be the one asking the questions.

If you come armed with great information to share about your own business that makes you feel strong and smart, you’re wayyyy ahead of the game!

And it can be simple.

When someone asks you what you do, give them what I call your Handshake Intro:

I help __ who are struggling with __ to do ___ so they can ___.

Wabam!

When you keep your Handshake Intro short and sweet, you’re inviting more follow-up questions, and then before you know it, you’re in a whole conversation flow!

(The Handshake Intro is just the first element of your Memorable Message – check out the rest here!)

Bonus Tip: Practice this Handshake Intro ahead of time – out loud.

Don’t think you’ll be able to remember this simple format just because it’s simple. Go ahead and fill in the blanks for yourself now. Write it down and memorize it.

Bonus Tip Reiteration: Practice it OUT LOUD.

It will feel silly. Do it anyway.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with business owners who had well-written Handshake Intros, but when I asked them to say it out loud for me, they couldn’t do it!

Sometimes it was because they hadn’t memorized it yet.

Other times, it was because, although the intro looked good on paper, it was a mouthful to say aloud. Or it sounded too stiff and formal for a conversational setting. Or they simply realized, “I’d never actually say it like that.”

I’ve been known to make my messaging clients practice saying their Handshake Intro out loud on our calls until it sounded easy and natural – not a scripted and perfectly polished pitch.

Psst… Want to take it a step further and figure out how to communicate about business on a deeper level? Grab a free copy of my “Craft Your Point of View” Workbook. You’ll learn how to laser in on what makes you stand out from other people doing similar work.

Click here to get the

Tip #8: Set easy goals for yourself at each event.

Begin by setting whatever feels like a good starting goal…

“I just have to have a meaningful conversation with ONE person, and then I can leave.”

Then slowly up the goal at each new event.

“If I meet 3 new people and am still not having fun, I can go home.”

Tip #9: Challenge yourself… gently.

We’ve talked about breaks and buddies and self-care, and I absolutely maintain that it’s important to excuse yourself when you genuinely need time off…

but

I’d like to challenge you to be honest. Like, really, really honest.

Next time you feel the urge to go hide in the bathroom, ask yourself, Do you actually need the break? And if so, why?

If that sounds harsh, let me explain…

When I started to do more networking, I had an internal “timer.”

I’d be talking in a group of people (or even just standing there, listening), and after a certain amount of time, it was like an inner DING! went off, and then… I was out.

It was like something inside me would say, “Time’s up! Gotta go!” and I’d suddenly get the urge to go to the bathroom, or check my phone, or just go look busy even if I wasn’t.

But here’s the thing – this timer wasn’t an accurate indication of whether or not I’d reached my limit.

It was just an automatic ding! that would happen after X number of minutes, even if I was still interested in the conversation.

It took me a while (and another introvert joking about her internal timer) to notice that I even had one!

At first, I wouldn’t notice that the timer had gone off until I was already heading into a bathroom stall even though I didn’t need to pee.

Then, I started catching it earlier… like while I was in the process of walking away from a group. I could then decide if I wanted to continue walking to my hiding spot, or if I wanted to challenge myself to find a new group.

And then I finally started noticing right when it went off – while I was still standing with a group – and I was able to make the decision to stick it out before my feet started walking.

So now when I feel that timer go off, I do my best to resist the urge to slip away.

How? By getting out of my head and tuning back into the conversation…

Which leads me to…

Tip #10: Practice TRUE listening.

So often when we’re “listening,” we’re actually not listening at all!

We’re in our own heads…

  • We’re thinking about what’s being said, assessing whether or not we agree.
  • Or we’re planning out what we’re going to stay next.
  • Or we’re we’re congratulating ourselves for already knowing what the person is talking about.
  • Or we already know what we’re going to say next, we’re just waiting for our turn (but in the meantime, we’re holding on so tightly to our idea of what to say next, that we stop paying attention to what the other person is saying.)
  • Or our mind goes down a tangent: “Oh, that reminds me of the time my friend did XYZ…”
  • Or we’re trying so hard to look super engaged (nodding, smiling, exclaiming and widening our eyes at the right moments), that we forget to actually be engaged.
  • Or we’re just worrying that we look awkward, or that we chose the wrong top for these pants, or everyone can tell how uncomfortable we feel.

NONE of that (including the thinking about what’s being said) is actual LISTENING.

Basically, if you’re in your own head, you’re not listening.

(And being in your own head can be a dangerous place if you’re trying to overcome awkwardness and fear of being social.)

The fix? Take your attention OFF of yourself and actively listen to the other person.

When you catch your mind drifting or suddenly latching onto something clever you want to say, gently bring your attention back to the person who is talking.

An easy way to help yourself with this is to LOOK at the person talking. Really SEE them. As soon as your eyes start to drift or lose focus, it’s probably because you’re thinking.

And if you catch yourself berating yourself for drifting into thinking-mode? Let it go!

Allow yourself to be amused by it. The mind wants your attention. Turn it into a little game to see how many times you can catch it and bring yourself back.

I promise – when you take your attention off yourself, the whole being-social thing gets so.much.easier.

(For more information on listening and on staying in the present moment, I highly recommend Ariel and Shya Kane’s books, trainings, and podcasts.)

Tip #11: Make the first move.

Realize that other people feel awkward, too.

And realize that – just because people aren’t talking to you, it doesn’t mean they’re actively thinking, “I don’t want to talk to that person.

I used to attend a weekly seminar that always started with a bunch of mingling – chit-chat, big hugs, and friendly updates all around.

Even though I knew these people and considered many of them my friends, I was never totally confident that they wanted to talk to me, especially when they could be talking to someone else – someone else they probably liked more than me.

So I didn’t want to interrupt other conversations. I didn’t want to impose.

I figured, if they did want to talk to me, they’d come say hi. Otherwise, I shouldn’t assume they wanted to.

(None of this was conscious, by the way. I never actually thought those exact words to myself. It was just how I operated, and what I felt was true.)

So I’d show up at the seminar, and, instead of saying hi to people, I’d go find a chair and sit down… and then… I’d just wait for people to say hi to me.

Until one day…

I was sitting by myself while everyone mingled around the room. Then one of my friends plopped down in the chair in front of me and asked:

“How come you never say hi? I feel like I always have to be the first one to talk.”

BOOM.

It was like she’d hit me with a lightning bolt called “Realization.”

And the realization was – people did want me to talk to them. And by not doing so, I came across as standoffish, and maybe even like a snob.

I was forcing THEM to do the very thing that I was scared of – making the first move.

So from then on, I started to make a conscious effort to be the kind of person who makes it easy for other people to talk to me – instead of waiting for them to make it easy for me.

(Because the truth is, they either won’t realize that it’s hard for me, or they’ll assume I don’t want to talk to them and will steer clear.)

If you find yourself having those same assumptions – no one wants to talk to me / if they want to talk to me, they’ll come say hi – I invite you to try making the first move now and then and see what happens. 🙂

All this is to say, dear reader, is that you are NOT alone.

But you ARE unique, and you have feelings and ideas that are all your own.

So take some of the tips here and curate a little toolbox that best helps you!

Turn your introversion into a little introspection, so when you need to be a little more sparkly than you’re used to, you know how to breathe deep, listen well, and put yourself (and your business!) out there.

Good luck!

Big hugs,

Cheryl

P.S. Want even MORE help with your speaking and communication?

Allow me to point you to one more resource…

My friend Sara Glancy works with individuals and groups on speaking – ALL kinds of speaking. Whether it’s public speaking to massive audiences, or presentations at work, or prepping for interviews, or simply getting more comfortable communicating one-on-one, she’s got a special kind of magic.

She works in-person or virtually — check out her services here.

And, if you’re in the NYC area, she has an amaaaaaazing workshop coming up on November 14th, 2018.

Get the speaking workshop details + register here.

(There’s also a video where I RAVE about the workshop. Because it’s seriously that good! That’s not even an affiliate link up there, folks. I get nothing if you register. I just think this workshop is so, so useful!)

P.P.S. Want more help figuring out how to talk about your business?

Grab the “Craft Your Point of View” Workbook – for free!
 Click here to get the Craft Your Point of View Workbook