No Wallflowers Here

Over in the corner.  By the potted plant.  Hiding in plain sight.   What we have here, is a “wallflower” in our midst.

When I talk with people about the “wallflower” syndrome, I almost always get nods of recognition.  Nearly everyone admits to feeling, at some point in time, that they would like to just fade in to the wallpaper and disappear rather than strike up a conversation with new people at an event.

I’m always curious about this.  And lately, I’ve been asking questions about what triggers this behavior in people.  The answer that comes back again and again is: shyness.  Another response is, “I never know what to say”.  While many more folks admit to being overly self conscious.  And, I think it most likely is a combination of all 3.

The funny thing about this is these really shy people have made it to an event.  They came.  They showed up.  And bravo for them because the #1 most important thing about networking is “showing up”.  And then, their fear takes hold of them and they realize that they are exposed and some mechanism kicks in which causes them to try to become invisible.  They become one with the wallpaper – hence the term “wallflower”.

Really shy people can help themselves most by taking several steps to decrease their level of anxiety.  Here are some ideas that I’d like to share with any “wallflower don’t wanna be’s anymore”.

  1. Have a plan in mind for each event you attend.  That means have a goal.  What do you want to achieve at each event?  Do you want to meet someone in particular?  Are you looking for someone who can help you find a resource?  Are you interested in learning about a special subject?  When you have a goal and a purpose, you will be less focused on yourself.
  2. Practice a 15, 30, and 60 second introduction for yourself.  And, I do mean practice.  There are resources online to help with this.  There are specialists who can drill it down to the most basic for you.  Google the term “elevator speech” and you’ll have plenty of places to learn from.  When you have a good elevator speech, you’ll feel confident that you’ll know how to answer the dreaded question, “So, what do you do?”
  3. Practice asking thoughtful questions.  When you focus on the other person, it’s pretty hard to be self conscious!  Ask the “ex” questions: example, explain, expand.  Here.  You could say something like this, “That was interesting, could you explain what you mean in more detail?” Or, “I’ve never thought of it that way, could you expand on how that works?”   These kind of questions draw the other person out into a deeper conversation.  Just remember to ALWAYS listen for the answer … there is nothing more impolite than asking a question and then not listening.
  4. Practice your exit lines.  Shy people are often unsure of how to gracefully end a conversation. So make your life easier and have a few “pat” exit lines ready for when you need them.  A good one is to simply say, “Thank you for your time, I’ve enjoyed chatting with you.  There are a few other people that I promised to visit with so I’m going to let you go now.  We’ll chat again another time.”  … and off you go.
  5. Be aware of other “wallflowers” in the room and go into “rescue” mode.  Nothing takes your mind off of yourself faster than helping another person.  Go over and introduce yourself.  Practice the above items and get into a conversation.  Then practice your exit line…and go find another person to talk to.  You could even back track to the first person and bring them over to introduce them to the next person.  Now you are in “host” mode and look at how much you are enjoying yourself!

These few pointers will get you started on the road to being comfortable with being VISIBLE at events.  It really is about getting comfortable in your own skin.  Practice may not make perfect but it will ease a shy person’s way … so step away from the wall … smile, and have some fun.

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