The "No Wallflower" Rule
5 Strategies for Overcoming Social Shyness When Networking
For those of us who must attend networking and other social and professional events where we may not know a soul, it’s not uncommon to feel an overwhelming sense of dread. We have to attend. We know that. It’s expected. So, the first thing we do is reluctantly look to see if we have enough business cards.
Next, we take a deep breath and enter the room, hoping we might see someone we recognize. When that doesn’t happen, we resort to filling our plate with high- calorie appetizers that we know we shouldn’t be eating, grab a glass of wine, and look for a convenient seat or something to lean against. We sigh heavily, look at our watch, and wait for the hour or so to pass until we feel that our obligation has been met.
Wait! Stop! It doesn’t have to be this way.
Would you believe me if I told you that you have the ability to actually have a good time?
“How?” you ask.
I’m going to show you how to take charge of this situation so that you can thoroughly enjoy yourself and have everyone think you are the consummate net-worker. Below are five simple strategies:
- Reframe your thinking and follow the “No Wallflower Rule” That means, you consider this event as your party, and you are the host. It’s your job to make everyone present feel comfortable and included. This mindset change provides you with a mission, so you are no longer focused on yourself (self-conscious). Your main concern now is to insure others feel comfortable and welcomed. Your brain has shifted from feeling out of control to being in control, and you can decide what to do next.
- Once you feel you are in control, smile and scan the room. Look for that person who seems lost and feeling as lonely you were just a moment ago. Walk over to them, stick out your hand and say, “Hi, (if they have a name tag, say their name) I’m (say your name) and ask, “What brings you here today?” Expand on what they say and dive deeper into their response. Then have a back pocket question about the event you are attending, something in the news that day, or anything you might notice about that person. Example: Have you attended this conference before? What speakers are you signed up to see? What has been your biggest take away from this conference so far? If it’s some type of gala for a benefit, you could say something that is relevant to that charity and ask them what interested them in supporting it. The key is to plan some questions to have ready at a moment’s notice.
- So what happens if this lonely soul now has you cornered and you want to move on? How do you extricate yourself gracefully? You can say, “(Insert their name), I’ve really enjoyed talking with you and would like to learn more. Do you have a business card, because I’d like to continue our conversation, and I need to deal with something right now. Can I call you and follow up with you at a later time? (This preserves their value and asking permission helps them them feel in control.) Exchange cards and be on your way.
- If you don’t see any lonely souls and everyone seems to be in little groups talking, walk up to a group and just stand there for moment. You don’t have to say anything. Eventually they will notice you at which point, you can extend your hand and introduce yourself. Again, you can engage them with a question and a conversation will ensue.
- Let’s say you do know quite a number of people in the group and you need to meet some new people. You can use any of the above strategies to initiate, but then as you engage in conversation and learn something about this new person who you think could benefit from meeting another person in the group, you say, “You know, there is someone I think you would enjoy meeting who is also an avid sailor,” (or whatever you have identified is the common interest.) Then you escort them over to their next new friend, introduce them, say what they have in common, and take your leave. You will be appreciated for your efforts and are now free to continue your networking.
I promise you that using these strategies will help you to enjoy yourself, feel as though you have contributed to the event and come home energized because you have helped others. Just remember: No Wallflowers Allowed! Try it, you’ll like the way it makes you feel.
About the author: Dr. Elizabeth Fried is an author, speaker, and executive coach. She was ranked in 2012 for the third year running as among the world’s top 15 coaches by coachinggurus.org. Additionally, the training divisions of her firm, The Learning Engine and My Executive Coach were ranked among the top 12 executive training firms in the 2016 and 2017 San Diego Business Journal Book of Lists.