Hello, my name is Kelly and I’m a self-proclaimed introverted-extrovert. If you know me personally, you’re probably surprised to read this. You likely know me as the outgoing girl that networks on the daily and can easily engage a room of strangers. The girl that enjoys public speaking, can host a meet-up at the drop of a hat, and does well on a panel. And you’re not wrong. While I actually enjoy all of those things, it takes me a bit to warm up and get there. But once I’m there, I’m fully there. It’s rare that anyone sees the shy side, but it’s there. Thankfully, I’ve learned to embrace it and work through it.
If it’s true what they say — that you’re a product of your childhood — then this all makes sense. Growing up, I was the kid who was loud, funny, inclusive, highly curious, and did well with an audience. In high school I was voted “Class Clown” and “Most Talkative,” and in my sorority I was the Social Chair. Are you following? But all of this worked to my advantage because I was in an environment that was familiar and I had various security blankets at any given point: family, friends, and places. Though, remove any one of those variables, and I was slightly timid, highly observant, and often times cautious. I couldn’t fully let loose or commit to an experience unless I knew the situation or felt comfortable learning more about it.
Like anything, the more you practice, the better you are. Instead of having my shy side stop me from doing cool things or meeting great people, I learned early on to flip the script and embrace it.
Here are my modest tactics for stepping outside my comfort zone when it comes to networking.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Years ago while living in LA, I would stop myself from going to an event if I didn’t have my security blanket (friend) in tow. There were times that I would wait in my car if they were running 20 minutes late so I had someone to walk in with. It pains me to think about everything I missed out on because I didn’t feel comfortable enough to go to an event alone. Now, I love when I don’t know who is attending an event, and I’m going solo. I get excited thinking about who the universe will introduce me to, and what kind of knowledge I’ll walk away with. The second I learned to embrace being uncomfortable, the less shy I was.
Something magical happens when we purposely and intentionally step outside of our comfort zones — we open ourselves up to so much more.
Pro-tip: do your fellow solo event go’ers a favor and say hi to them — we all know how awkward it can feel going alone, right?
So what do you say or do so you’re not the one stuck at the crudité platter all evening by yourself? Unless that’s your goal, in which case I say, I always appreciate the asparagus that’s slightly cooked, but still cold. I can’t replicate that on my own. Anyway, I’ve got a few go-to’s in my arsenal that seem to do well, when I’m either hosting events or attending.
Convo question #1: “What are you excited about right now?”
I love this one because not only do you get to hear about someone’s passion, but it’s really cool to see people light up about something. I also love it because it eliminates the whole “what-do-you-do” and “where-do-you-work” question — which isn’t necessarily bad, but often times folks aren’t defined by their jobs. Plus, this one seems to add a personal and human touch, while events tend to get very surface-level.
Convo question #2: “How do you know the host or the speaker?”
I mostly just love hearing backstories and peeling away the layers to understand why they’re there. Plus, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve discovered we have a mutual friend or experience in common. It’s the whole 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon in effect. We have more in common with people that we think or know.
If those questions seem to fail, people aren’t into it, the host can’t be found, and the crudité platter is empty, I like to plant myself near the check-in table. Chances are they are some of the friendliest of the bunch and can be great at helping facilitate intro’s if they’re not too busy.
In order for me to be fully engaged, I need the energy and brain space. I place a huge emphasis on re-charging and not using up all of my energy on one given day. If I know I’m giving a big talk in the evening, I try to keep my meetings and brain power to a minimum throughout the day. If I have an early-morning coffee meeting, I usually opt for extra sleep vs. a 5am workout so I’m not yawning throughout my morning. When I’m on vacation with my friends or traveling, I like my own room so I have the the option for personal quiet time and space to unwind. When sharing a room is the only option, I go out of my way to find any amount of alone time. It helps me come back to any situation, open up and stay present.
I hope that reading this helps the shy folks embrace their shyness and uniqueness, and understand what tactics work best for you when you’re outside of your comfort zone. And remember, if you’re not spending time being uncomfortable, you’re likely not changing, evolving and learning. I hope this resonates with you.