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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

Dear Introverted,

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 makes perfect.

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 people again.

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 leaving early.

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 discussion.

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 interesting.

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 I’m with.

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.

Good luck.

Dr. Debra

Feel free to write me with your questions

Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.

To read previous 'Ask Dr. Debra' articles, please visit www.wetnoodleposse.com, where Dr. Debra is a regular contributor, or click here to view the archives.





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