Guest Post- On Being Shy

shy kitty This guest post comes to us from Mark Hayward

Heading to the BIG Conference – 10 Tips to Help you Overcome Wallflower Syndrome

Do you get shy when attending conferences, heading into big meetings, or just greeting someone new in a one on one situation?

Me too.

Last week Chris wrote a great post about making connections at conferences titled, The Me Game and while I was not able to attend Blogworld Expo 2008, hopefully you are still wallowing in the post conference afterglow.

If you are like me, and share some of the similar experiences that I have had in the past at various conferences, you are quite happy that you attended because you saw all of the big names like Liz Strauss, Brian Clark, and Guy Kawasaki.

Yet, you are feeling a little dismayed because you held back in certain situations and you could have made even more connections if you didn’t feel uncomfortable and awkward when meeting new people.

The Free Dictionary defines Shyness as follows:

“Drawing back from contact or familiarity with others; retiring or reserved”

We all know that the real value of being at any conference is the chance to meet new people, networking, and making connections on a personal level, which is not always easy when you are prone to standing back or sitting in the corner.

However, if you don’t go up to people and introduce yourself because you feel gawky, shy, or uncomfortable then you stand to lose a lot. In fact, a conference setting might be your one and only chance to meet and connect with a Jeff Pulver, Darren Rowse, or even the mayor of social media himself, Chris Brogan.

You also stand to lose a lot on an economic level. For instance, if you live far away from the meeting venue and don’t work in the industry you have probably invested a lot of money to attend conferences, possibly thousands of dollars when you consider entrance fees, transportation, and room and board expenses.

When you are talking about that kind of money you really do want every minute to count and be worth your time, energy, and expense and being shy should not hold you back.

Dealing with Shyness

It’s strange because I am quite self-confident and have an abundance self esteem, so I am not sure if my latent shyness was ingrained in my DNA from birth. For example, I ran away from my first day of nursery school when I was four years old and subsequently dropped out completely. Or, if it is a direct result of growing up as the “fat” kid and taking my fair share of verbal abuse.

All I know is that whenever I have to attend a big (or small) gathering or conference I revert back to feeling like a self-conscious awkward kid in Husky jeans.

Nevertheless, this post isn’t about me, it’s about you and I am pleased to report that with a lot of practice I have learned how to deal with feeling shy and in certain circumstances I have even come to enjoy networking and conference meet-ups.

Listed below are ten tips that I have come up with over the years that have worked for me in dealing with shyness and hopefully they can help you:

Before the Meeting

Accept Your Shyness – recognize and accept the fact that you are going to feel awkward in certain social situations and also understand that if you want to make BIG things happen then you are going to have to move beyond that uncomfortable nervous feeling and get into the game.

Make Initial Contact – try to make an initial connection with folks before you actually arrive at the conference by sending a quick (personalized) email to people you are hoping to interact with. I am not too much of a conversationalist and I find it really helps to break the ice when you do eventually meet up. You have an instant conversation topic, e.g. “Did you get my email” or “Thanks for replying to my email.”

Practice and Visualize – as noted above, you might only get one chance to meet someone that you would like to network with and I have found it extremely beneficial to work out in advance roughly what I am going to say. Also, in order to help my nerves, just like with any public speaking or presentation that I do, I visualize exactly how I want conference meetings to go. (Sounds hokey I know but it works.)

Challenges and Goals – If you are driven by challenge (like me) then set some goals for yourself. Write down who you want to connect with and if it’s a multi-day meeting then come up with a target number of people you would like to network with depending on how large conference attendance is.

Stress Relief – whatever you do to relieve stress, make sure you have a good dose of it on the morning you are to attend the conference. I like to run and exercise so in order to make myself feel less tense before any big meeting, job interview, or conference I go for a very long run.

At the Meeting

Breathe – Sounds elementary, but conscious, relaxed breathing will make you feel better.

Start Slowly – if the conference is more than one day then you don’t have to feel pressured to meet everyone at the first coffee break. I often like to sit back and just watch what is going on to get a feel for the tone and mood of the attendees.

Pitching or just Saying Hello – there will inevitably be people at the conference who you just want to say *hello* to and that can really be done anywhere. However, if you have traveled to the conference specifically to pitch your next killer idea to a specific attendee, then in order to deal with shyness I am typically willing to wait for the proper environment where I feel comfortable. For instance, I always find it easier to speak with people on a one on one basis, so I typically avoid going up to people right after they have made a presentation because they are usually surrounded by lots of people who have questions.

Approaching Groups – going up to groups of people and trying to join in on a conversation can be rather intimidating. I typically deal with this situation by treading lightly (remember to breath) and if an opportunity presents itself I try to jump in with a compliment directed towards the person who is leading the discussion. In terms of feeling self-conscious, I think the worst thing that you can do is to say something just for the sake of trying to participate. (You don’t want to be remembered as a tool bag.)

Make People Feel Comfortable– sounds counterintuitive, considering you are the shy one, but if you can make the people you are trying to network with comfortable then you will be more relaxed and settle down. I find this method can best be done with a joke or by starting a genuine conversation.

In closing, preparation is important, especially for people who are shy or reserved, but I also try to remember that some of my golden conference moments and connections have been made purely by happenstance, going with the flow, and letting things happen.

How about you? How do you deal with being shy or feeling awkward at conferences?

Mark Hayward is the creator and co-founder of the recently launched humanitarian initiative Train for Humanity. He is currently training for the Miami Man triathlon to raise $50,000 to help rebuild ShegegKaro School in Darfur which was recently bombed (and subsequently destroyed). You can follow him on Twitter or sign up for his blog feed.

Photo credit, Kaibara87

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