No Fear

Is shyness holding your business back? Break free with this 10-step plan.
Magazine Contributor
7 min read

This story appears in the September 1998 issue of . Subscribe »

I f you were to attend Wendy Kinney's seminar, "Networking Aerobics: Cardiovascular Activity for Your Wallet," you'd never think she battles shyness. The founder of Ready . . . Set . . . Go Make Money!, an Atlanta consulting firm that helps self-employed people achieve success, Kinney speaks with precision, projecting confidence and expertise.

But until four years ago, the thought of meeting new people one-on-one--let alone speaking in front of a room full of strangers--terrified Kinney. "When I was a member of a trade association," Kinney recalls, "annual dues were about $800 and the monthly dinner was $45. Ten out of 12 months, I got ready, drove to the hotel, turned into the parking lot--sometimes I even parked!--but pulled out and went home."

What was the total price tag? "Succumbing to my shyness was costing me $1,300--plus all the contacts, friends and new business I would have attracted if I had just walked in the door and talked to only one person each month," Kinney laments. "But I couldn't do it."

Now Kinney's a noted speaker, author and trainer. Imagine! Someone who couldn't muster enough courage to walk into a business meeting is now an outgoing leader, conducting regular workshops and seminars.

Does shyness hold you back? Does it steal from your profits or keep you from taking the first steps toward your entrepreneurial dream? If so, there's hope. Just as Kinney is achieving her goals--in spite of her shyness--so can you. Here are 10 tips to help you break out of your shell:

1. Set goals. What do you want to achieve? Why do you want to accomplish those goals? "By simply taking the time to define your goals and write them down, you intensify your desire to overcome whatever obstacle stands in the way of achieving them," says Mark Satterfield, a professional speaker and founder of Solution Resources, an Alpharetta, Georgia, consulting firm for small businesses.

Goal-setting gave Kinney the boost she needed: "I decided I wanted an income that would allow me more options, and my shyness was directly impeding that income," she says. With her goal in sight, Kinney resolved to allow nothing--including her fear--to keep her from achieving it.

2. Find "safe" places to practice. Kinney attended business meetings two hours away from home so she could practice without the fear of making mistakes. "I looked for places where I didn't know anyone, so that if I embarrassed myself, no one ever had to see me again," she recalls.

The key is practice, so do it in an environment where you won't feel intimidated. "Prepare with someone you feel comfortable with," Satterfield advises. "This could be a sales trainer, a coach or even your spouse."

3. Prepare what you'll say in advance. Write down questions you think will stimulate and sustain conversations. "Prepare for a business meeting or networking opportunity as if you're going to give a speech," Satterfield suggests. "That way, even if you feel insecure as you talk, at least you'll get through what you want to say."

This technique works for Kinney. "If I'm going to a chamber of commerce mixer," she says, "I'll prepare my questions on the way in the car. I practice out loud so I can get the rhythm and volume right. I may think of questions such as: `Are you a member?' `How have you benefited from membership?' `Do you attend every month?' `Are you on any committees?' `What business are you in?' "

4. Arrive at meetings and appointments early. This ensures you won't feel out of breath or unprepared. As Kinney puts it, "I don't walk in wondering if I look rushed, disheveled or unattractive."

What do you do when you arrive early? Consider Kinney's routine: "If it's a one-on-one meeting, I'm the one to recognize when the other person walks in the door, and I start the conversation. If it's a group meeting, I make a point of meeting each person individually [as they arrive] and then introducing them to others. This gives me a job to do, and the activity takes my mind off my fears."

5. Turn your focus away from yourself and place it on others. Kinney sends a postcard to every person she shakes hands with at meetings. "It's just a few lines--`Great to meet you this morning. I'm excited about your business'--but the focus is on the people I meet, not on me," she says. "The next time they see me, they come to me to talk. I don't have to look for someone to speak to; people come to me. That makes [networking] so much easier."

6. Be honest. Tell people when something is difficult for you. "Before, I evaded difficult situations," Kinney recalls. "Now, [when I make a cold call,] I lead with `Hello, my name is Wendy Kinney, and this is a cold call for me.' I find that the receptionist warms to me right away and is friendlier than when I try to bluff and [fake] confidence."

7. Evaluate what works. "I've noticed there are particular phrases that are effective," says Kinney. "I use those a lot. On the other hand, when a phrase or action gets no response or a negative response, I notice and avoid it in the future."

Learn from your mistakes. When you take time to assess your approach, you'll position yourself to be more successful in your interactions with people.

8. Observe and model successful people. "Pretend you're someone you admire," Kinney advises. "I often say to myself: `How would Oprah Winfrey act right now? What would Barbara Walters do in this situation?' "

Watch people who exude confidence, and do what they do. Find out what books they read, what tapes they listen to and what seminars they attend. By doing so, you program yourself to project the same level of confidence.

9. Reward yourself when you've done well. "If I make it to the meeting, speak with six people I didn't know before and stay as long as I planned, I give myself a reward," says Kinney. "It might be a new book, some time [to myself] or a movie with my husband. But I withhold the reward if I don't meet my goal."

10. Welcome the fear. "I have learned to welcome the uncomfortable feelings [of shyness]," says Kinney. "They keep me sharp. They keep me focused. They remind me where I want to go." When you look at shyness in a positive light, you diffuse its negative power, freeing yourself to pursue your business goals.

"The main thing is getting out there and going for [your goals]," says Satterfield. "Do it incrementally. Put your toe in, then your whole foot, and so forth. At each stage, you think `That's not so bad,' and you go further. The more you experience success, the more your confidence grows. And the more your confidence grows, the more your shyness diminishes."

>Sean M. Lyden is a writer in Marietta, Georgia.

Bold Advice

Your success as an entrepreneur hinges on how well you communicate with people. If you allow shyness to control you, don't expect to stay in business very long. Use these quick tips to break its power:

  • Define what you want to accomplish. Write down your goals and review them daily.
  • Visualize yourself achieving your goals. What would your life look like if you were a successful entrepreneur? Where would you travel? What kind of home would you own?
  • Think about the alternative. What might happen if you allow shyness to stop you from pursuing your dreams?
  • Feel the fear, but do it anyway!

Contact Sources

Ready . . . Set . . . Go Make Money!, (404) 215-8223,

Solution Resources, 720 Rio Grande Dr., Alpharetta, GA 30022, (770) 643-8566


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