Ask Dr. Debra
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Dear Dr. Debra,
I am a semi-successful author, who feels I could be more
successful if I could bring myself to network. I wouldn’t
describe myself as shy, but I’m certainly introverted and have
a hard time making myself talk to strangers. Do you have any
suggestions that would help me feel more comfortable and able
to reach out more? Is it possible to become less introverted?
The introverted writer
Many people have the false assumption that they have to first
feel comfortable before they can take up a certain challenge
or move outside their comfort zone. Actually, the opposite is
true. The way you become comfortable with something that
challenges or intimidates you is to take the steps to do what
you’re afraid to. There really is truth to the adage—practice
I’m not saying that you will ever become perfect at
networking, but the more you practice, the easier it will
become. So how can you bring yourself to take the first steps?
Let’s start with the idea that you’re an introvert. Many
people have the misconception that introverts are loner types
with poor social skills. And some introverts are like that.
However, the true definition of an introvert is someone who
uses solitary activities to replenish their energy. Many
writers are introverts. An extrovert uses being around people
to replenish their energy.
It’s possible to be an outgoing introvert--good with people,
but needing to take space to replenish. To be good with
people, all you have to do is develop your social skills. And
there’s nothing wrong with being introverted. I, myself, am
introverted, although I’m very good at connecting with people.
Most people would be surprised that I describe myself as an
introvert because they know the social me. However, I still
need to retreat to the solitude of my home and read, write,
exercise, or take naps in order to charge up to be around
You need to learn to become more outgoing, not more
extroverted. Here are some suggestions:
Linger at the reception table, asking questions about the
event and the people attending. You can meet people as
they come in. Eventually, the people working the table will
get up and start to mingle. Then you can find them again and
start up a discussion. They’ll know people at the event and
can introduce you.
When you first enter a room full of people, don’t give in
to the tendency to leave or hide in a corner just because you
feel uncomfortable. Some of the best parties I’ve attended
are ones that I walked into and immediately wanted to leave
because I didn’t see anyone I knew. I fought the impulse,
stayed, and ended up making friends and having a wonderful
time. You never know what interesting person or experience
will be in that room; don’t rob yourself of opportunities by
Recognize that you should not compare how you feel on the
inside to how others look on the outside. Most people are
able to pass themselves off as being self-assured, even if
they feel the opposite. So when you attend a party or another
event, many of the people might be just as uncomfortable as
you. These people will be grateful that someone reached out to
talk to them first. Make sure you talk to the people next to
you. Small talk about the party is usually an easy way to
begin. Then gather up your courage, and venture out to talk to
others. Work the room. Survey individuals looking lost or out
of place. Approach them with questions about someone or
something connected with the event. Then ease into another
Remember that networking isn’t just about meeting someone who
can help you. Networking is also about connecting with
people you can be of service to. It’s a give-and-receive
situation that has a certain spiritual quality. I say a prayer
before I attend a party or social function, asking that I be
guided to speak with or meet the person or people with whom
I’m spiritually meant to connect. Then I try to open myself to
my intuitive promptings to speak with certain people or go to
a certain area at a certain time. It never fails that
somewhere in the course of the event, I end up meeting someone
What I love about networking is being able to introduce those
I meet to each other, especially if I know they have something
in common or they could benefit from the acquaintance in some
way. It’s fun watching those you’ve set up “click.” People who
are introduced by you often remember that you were their
original connection, and may try to return the favor in the
future. But best of all, you have the satisfaction of doing
someone a good turn. Maybe that feeling will be enough to
motivate you to be more outgoing at future networking events.
When you meet someone new, draw them out by asking them
questions. Most people love to talk about themselves. Jobs
and children are usually good topics of communication. If you
are at writing events, ask what the person writes or reads.
Most writers are avid readers, and you are bound to find some
authors you both like to read. There’s nothing like being able
to discuss favorite authors.
If you tend to frequent events like writers conferences,
remember the people you meet and what you discussed because
you’ll meet them again. Most people are flattered when
someone remembers personal information about them. Your
previous conversation will be the link to the current
conversation. For example, if a woman told you her daughter
was about to have surgery, ask her how the surgery went. If
you only know an author because of hearing her speak at a
workshop or panel and you are introduced, mention what you
learned from her.
If you’re good at remembering names, you have an advantage
when it comes to networking. People like to be remembered by
name. However, if you’re not, luckily at writers’ conferences,
everyone is wearing nametags, which makes things much easier.
Attach yourself to someone who is outgoing. Usually
that person either knows a lot of people at the event or is
quick to meet new people. If you trail in their wake, then
you’ll be introduced, too. I’ve been told at parties, “You
know everyone.” Actually I don’t, but I’m not shy about
talking to those I do know, and introducing them to the person
Check out the food or drinks. People head for the food
section of the event to give themselves something to do. It’s
easy to strike up a conversation by commenting about the
what’s being served.
Get gutsy. Go up to the guest of honor and join the
circle around him. Listen as he converses with the people.
Find a way to join the discussion. As the people disperse,
thank the guest for attending or for anything else he has
accomplished in the world. Or if the guest of honor is alone,
go up to her and introduce yourself. She may be grateful for
someone to talk to.
Study the technique of expert networkers and see what you
can learn. Then try to find ways to implement those
techniques. Remember that you will feel uncomfortable at
first. But don’t let that stop you. The more success you have,
the more confident you will become.
Feel free to
write me with your questions.
Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist
who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.
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