Q: I keep hearing that networking is a good way to drum up new business for my homebased business support firm, but I hate doing it. I'm shy and I get embarrassed when I'm trying to talk about my company, like I'm forcing myself on the person I'm talking to. How can I get over this?
A: Your success as an entrepreneur hinges on how well you communicate with people. Therefore, it's a good thing that you're trying to address this issue right now before shyness can jeopardize your venture. Use these five tips to break the power of shyness and take your business to the next level:
1. Set clear goals. What do you want to accomplish in your business? What income level do you want to achieve? Think in tangible terms: What would your life look like if you accomplished your goals? Where would you travel? What kind of home would you own? What kind of car would you drive? Then consider the alternative: What might happen if you allow shyness to stop you from pursuing your dreams? What would it cost you in terms of potential income and life fulfillment? By simply taking the time to define your goals and write them down, you intensify your desire to overcome your shyness.
2. Turn your focus away from yourself. When you're at a networking event, instead of feeling embarrassed about "forcing yourself" onto the other person, simply switch the focus of the conversation to that person. Ask questions like:
- Are you a member?
- How have you benefited from your membership?
- Do you attend regularly?
- Are you on any committees?
- What business are you in?
- How did you get into your business (or career path)?
The irony is that when you allow people to talk about themselves, they'll be more likely to enjoy the conversation with you-and naturally view your business in a positive light. In other words, you're indirectly promoting your business without having to force yourself on that person.
Also, after you've met someone new, take it upon yourself to introduce that person to others. This gives you a job to do and the activity takes your mind off your fear.
3. Practice, practice, practice. A key step to overcoming shyness is preparation and practice. Write down in advance the questions you think will stimulate and sustain conversations. Then practice in an environment where you won't feel intimidated. Try role-playing with someone you feel comfortable with, perhaps a spouse, friend, coach or even a sales trainer. This way, even when you feel insecure, you're equipped to push through the fear because you have a clear idea of what you want to say and how you're going to say it.
4. Learn from your mistakes-don't fear them. Often shyness comes from a fear of making a fool of yourself. Diminish that fear by focusing on what you can learn from networking situations, whether good or bad. Perhaps you notice particular phrases you use that generate positive responses. Write these phrases down and use them. On the other hand, when a phrase or action gets no response or a negative response, take notice and avoid it in the future. When you take time to assess your approach, you'll position yourself to be more successful with your interactions with people.
5. Reward yourself when you've done well. If you make it to a networking event and speak with, say, five or six new people and stay as long as you planned, give yourself a reward. Perhaps it's a new book, a dinner out-whatever motivates you. Withhold the reward if you don't meet your goal.
The bottom line? The more you network, the more proficient and confident you'll become at it. And the more your confidence grows, the less power your shyness will have over you.
Sean Lyden is the CEO of Prestige Positioning (a service of The Professional Writing Firm Inc.), an Atlanta-based firm that "positions" clients as leading experts in their field-through ghost-written articles and books for publication. Clients include Morgan Stanley, IFG Securities, SunTrust Service Corp. and several professional advisory and management consulting firms nationwide.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.