By Christina Katz
I was an extremely shy child. My recovery came by letting go of the urge to run and hide (usually behind my mother's leg) and simply learning to stand still. It's truly amazing what you can accomplish by being present in the moment and just seeing what happens. For one thing, you'll eventually establish rapport with others, which is one of the meanings of networking, and the key to connecting.
Or maybe you would prefer to have something to do rather than trying to NOT do something as a way of opening yourself up to the possibility of connecting with others. If so, here are a few habits to help your transition from shy and uncomfortable to present and relaxed:
- Be the first one to stick out your hand. Introduce yourself first rather than waiting for the other person to stick his hand out first.
- Catch the name. Practice active listening. When someone is introduced to you, look him in the eyes and repeat his name back. I'm terrible with names so I have to repeat the name several times so it will sink in.
- When you can't remember a name, fess up. Don't put yourself through the self-torture of "I should remember." You don't. So just ask. No biggie.
- Find something to like about the other person right away. When you find something offer a sincere compliment. Don't be like one of my doctors, who says my hair looks nice every time I see him even when it's not true. If you can't find something to like this time, just wait. You'll notice something to sincerely remark on eventually.
- Strike up a conversation. How about that weather today? is usually a safe bet but don't limit yourself. What's going on right around you? You can talk about anything if you keep the spin positive.
- Kids are a great, universal topic. You don't have any? That's okay. Do you have some nephews or nieces? Maybe you teach or volunteer? You can always ask the other person if he has kids. People love to talk about their kids and it usually brings a smile.
- Mention a strong feeling you're having. When I was pitching my book at my first writer's conference, I didn't hesitate to say that I was nervous. It was true! There was no point in pretending that I wasn't. Some people dislike talking about feelings, but I think kicking things off with how you are feeling can be a great icebreaker.
- Decide not to take anything personally. This is tricky but it's really for people who tend to imagine little insults and injuries that would roll right off the back of a person who is comfortable mingling. Catch yourself thinking, I can't believe so-and-so is ignoring me AGAIN, and turn it into There's so-and-so, I think I'll just say a quick hello.
What's the difference between networking and connecting? Truthfully, this strategy is a bit about tricking ourselves into doing something we might not otherwise be eager to do. Networking implies focusing on a large interconnected group of people. Connecting implies interacting with just one person at a time.
Try these icebreakers the next time you are hoping to meet new people. You'll make a few new acquaintances every time you venture out, and those will add up gradually over time until you have an extended and growing group of friends.
Christina Katz is the author of Get Known Before the Book Deal, Use Your Personal Strengths to Build an Author Platform and Writer Mama, How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids (both for Writer's Digest Books). A platform development coach and consultant, she teaches writing career development, hosts the Northwest Author Series, and is the publisher of several e-zines including Writers on the Rise. Christina blogs at The Writer Mama Riffs and Get Known Before the Book Deal, and speaks at MFA programs, literary events, and conferences around the country.