I was a painfully shy child. There were moments when it would be my turn to talk in class or on the playground, and I’d stand there, silent, finding it impossible to find words to say. I was the quiet kid with big glasses and big teeth who hated gym class and would have read in bed all day, every day, if given the chance.

I discovered my voice in my teens. When I was nineteen, I signed up to go door to door for the Connecticut Citizen Action Group in support of campaign finance reform. I had to ask strangers for money and recruit them as members. It was a job that many people hate, but it was like a switch turned on for me. Because I believed in the issue, I no longer struggled to find my words. But I still felt nervous often. All of my paid and unpaid work for the next seven years was as a community organizer.

When I later began building my business as a coach, I approached my work as a community organizer. I believed in the message I was sharing about personal transformation, and that helped me get out there and share my message. But I still felt nervous.

If you saw me talking to new people about my work, you might think that I never got butterflies. But the truth is, my heart sometimes still beats fast when I talk about my work. 

In How to Find Your Clients in Large Numbers, I talked about the importance of hub marketing and connecting with spaces where your ideal clients already gather. But what if you feel scared to put yourself out there? What if you have an important message to share with the world, but your nerves are holding you back from spreading the word? 

If this is you, there are five principles I encourage you to keep in mind. These principles have helped countless other clients move through fear, share their message in a much bigger way, and create work they love.

Here we go:

One: Don’t try to stop being nervous.

In her book, Mindset, Carol Dweck shares a study in which shy people had to interact with a stranger. Some of the shy folks had what she calls “growth mindsets.” They believed they had the ability to learn a new skill (like talking to strangers). Others had “fixed mindsets.” They believed that they were inherently shy and couldn’t change. 

Although both groups looked nervous at the beginning of the conversation, the shy folks with growth mindsets began to look just like non-shy people after only five minutes. Their shyness did not negatively impact the interaction. The shy people with fixed mindsets appeared more awkward for the entire conversation. Researchers hypothesized that the shy growth-mindset people fared better because they viewed the interaction as a challenge they could learn from. 

Research also shows that when an interviewee appears nervous on job interviews, interviewers often find them more sincere and trustworthy. If you preoccupy yourself with trying not to seem nervous, it can become harder to be present or fully engaged. But, if you accept that we all get nervous sometimes, most people will have an easier time relating to you. 

How many people feel nervous when telling people they’re looking for a new job or client? Maybe everyone? When you’re in a new group and don’t yet feel like you belong, you’re apt to feel insecure. But things change when you realize your nervousness isn’t a problem. 

Two: Focus on listening to others.

Back in the day of in-person gatherings, starting conversations is one of the most uncomfortable parts of the networking experience. It doesn’t need to be, though. All you need to do is look for someone who seems approachable, walk up to them, shake hands, and say, “Hi, I’m (your name). Nice to meet you. What do you do?” Then, ask questions to get to know the other person and what they do.

This same principle still applies in this day and age in which almost all networking is through Zoom: The key to building rapport with people you’ve just met is to ask questions and listen to what the other person shares. 

You can ask questions like:

  • What’s new and good in your work right now?
  • How did you come to your line of work?
  • What projects are interesting to you right now?
  • What do you love about what you do?
  • What type of support are you looking for? 

It may initially feel a bit vulnerable to ask strangers personal questions, but you’ll soon discover that you put other people at ease if you’re genuinely curious and listen well. (They may be just as nervous as you are!). Almost everyone appreciates the opportunity to talk about themselves with a listener who cares. 

Three: Discover how you might support them.

A networking group that I used to belong to (Business Networking International) was based on the philosophy of “givers gain.” In other words, the more I pass referrals to you, the more you’re likely to pass referrals to me. Each week, we taught each other about the types of referrals we were looking for, and rather than trying to sign each other up as clients, we went out and tried to find new business for each other.  

Networking can feel awkward if you’re trying to sell something to the people you’re talking to. Instead, I encourage you to approach networking as an opportunity to build relationships with people who you’re excited to support and who are excited to support you. Rather than trying to pass your business card out to everyone or sign up new clients at a networking event, make it your goal to meet one to three people who are connected with your ideal clients well and to learn how you might support them. Come away from any conversation with at least one step to help someone you met. By consistently showing up for other people, you will build a team of referral partners, people who might refer you to your ideal clients. 

Four: Be ready to ask for what you want.

You may have an easier time sharing your passions and asking for support if you prepare first. If you’re contemplating a career transition, be prepared to ask questions to gather information about the possibilities that are out there. If you’re looking for clients, be ready to let people know what types of clients you’re looking for. That said, no need to get your speech verbatim. You’ll seem more genuine if you speak off the cuff.

Five: Approach networking as a bit of a numbers game. 

The more connections you make and the more conversations you have, the more likely you are to find the new job or clients you’re looking for. If one or more conversations don’t go as you hoped they would, get curious about what you might learn, apply that next time, and then pick yourself back up and have another conversation. We often need to have many conversations that go nowhere before discovering the path to where we want to go.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Much love,

 

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