A little while ago, I attended a corporate fundraising breakfast with over 200 business people to raise money for humanitarian projects linked with the organisation I had been working for. My role at the event involved engaging with local business people to answer their questions, converse, and be a friendly face. Sounds simple… Far from it! The thing is, I often get anxious in unfamiliar social settings.
We all have that one friend (maybe it’s you), who comes to an event not knowing anyone but, by the end of the night, they don’t only know everyone, it’s like they’re BFFs with everyone.
Don’t you hate people like that?
I really want to meet new people and network without feeling and being awkward. I know there is so much value in expanding networks and learning from others, but this insecure reaction can sometimes be socially debilitating.
While I am yet to master this skill, I am improving, and I want to share with you how.
As you may not know, I am a qualified Social Worker and there is a therapeutic model within the profession referred to as ‘Systematic Desensitisation’ for people just like me. Simply put, it means to mentally prepare or expose yourself to a fear or phobia in order to, over time, become desensitised to its consequential feeling of anxiety and fear. It is the theory of Systematic Desensitisation that has led me to the following method of gradually overcoming social anxiety.
Step 1: Set some goals. You won’t get anywhere if you don’t know where you’re going.
- My goal is to be able to comfortably and confidently walk up to someone that I have never met, introduce myself and engage in a conversation without coming across as awkward and insecure.
Step 2: Write down exactly what it is you fear and feel anxious about. You can’t move forward if you don’t know what it is you need to get around.
- My main fear is that I may stumble around my words, not make sense or make a fool of myself.
Step 3: Think about some practical ways you can get around your fears. In many cases, the fears we have are inflated and are very unlikely to happen, especially if we are prepared.
- I have written down a simple and clear blurb about who I am and what I do. This way, when it comes time to share, I know exactly what to say. Another thing I like to do is make a list of generic questions I’d like to ask and practice incorporating them into conversation.
Step 4: Slowly expose yourself to these situations. The best way to learn a sport is by playing it.
- As awkward as it may feel, practicing talking about who you are, what you do and asking questions in front of a mirror, is a great way to build confidence in yourself in a safe environment.
- Make the most of every opportunity to talk with the people you know and feel comfortable with. Especially those who are good in social settings – watch, listen and learn.
- Line up mutual friends to introduce you to new people and use your practiced conversation skills (while keeping it natural).
- Make the plunge and introduce yourself to someone new. For me, at the business breakfast I mentioned at the start, I identified someone who appeared ‘nice and approachable’ – the Guest Speaker. At the end of the event She was signing books and expecting people to approach her. I waited until she had a moment and introduced myself. I told her a bit about what I did for the organisation, thanked her for what she had shared, and asked her more about what she does. Simple.
Like anything it takes time and effort and I think I have come a long way over the years.
If you have any feedback or questions feel free to leave a comment or message me directly in the ‘contact me’ link.
Thanks for reading.