My neighbor Keith is painfully shy – so much so that he doesn’t even feel comfortable laughing out loud! He doesn’t like direct attention, and he really enjoys solitude. But he also knows that the fine art of small talk in a social situation is how he’s going to get some of his goals accomplished. Keith has plans for himself that reach far beyond the limits of his shyness!
One of Keith’s plans is to someday launch his own online e-store. He knows he will need help, support and advice. So, he intentionally puts himself out there – meeting new people, making connections, even though this is way outside of his comfort zone.
Lest you think it’s that easy, let me assure you, Keith struggles for sure, but what has helped him immensely is advanced planning. He has found that if he does a little prep work, if he has a plan, he takes away some of the fear and anxiety about mingling with a room full of strangers.
First, he does his research. Keith finds out who will be attending a networking event, a seminar, or cocktail hour, and make a list of at least three people he wants to talk to. He makes notes about them – where they work, what they specialize in, and most importantly, what he’d like from them. Whether it’s advice, or a recommendation, or an invitation to meet for coffee – he approaches them with a goal.
Next, he makes a list of three “small talk” questions for those three new contacts he plans to meet. He knows, as a shy introvert, he can’t make a true connection with more than three people without completely depleting his energy. He’d rather leave on a high note, than dragging his carcass home!
He also takes notes about the venue itself. Keith knows that if he doesn’t have to worry about traffic, parking, if there will be food, if there’s loud music, or if there’s membership expectations, it’s less to worry about. So, when he walks into the venue, he’s comfortable with his surroundings.
Finally, he plans on his exit – not only from the various conversations, but also from the event itself. He doesn’t want to over-think how to gracefully end a conversation, so he keeps business cards with him, hands one to the person he met and asks if it’s ok that they connect on LinkedIn. It’s not pushy, creepy or awkwardly drawn out.
Keith’s social anxiety doesn’t hold him back! And it doesn’t have to hold you back either! With careful planning, reaching out to others for help and support, I have no doubt he’ll reach his goal. So, if shyness is a stumbling block for you, start with the small stuff. Start with a simple LinkedIn search and look for any people you might have any common with the person you really want to meet. Ask for an online introduction – a more comfortable way for someone who is shy to begin interacting. Lead up to “cold emailing” someone you really want to meet. Each action leads to your in-person-meeting plan and you’ll have a better grip on creating small talk that leads to a relationship!