Only a mediocre person is always at his best.
In my capacity as a communication skills coach and trainer, I’ve met a wide array of people. What I now know for certain is that no matter how competent a person is, most of us have a fear (usually an odd fear) that trips us up and sabotages our effectiveness in strange ways.
Although I’ve had the honor of speaking at gatherings, associations and networking events, the truth is I usually head-off to a networking event feeling uneasy. Why? Well, I’m not sure I can give you a logical explanation.
While I have no problem speaking before hundreds of people, put me in a room where I’m supposed to strike up a conversation with people I don’t know and I become tense and uncomfortable. Weird? Yes!
Even though I coach professionals in how to speak in public, when it comes to one-on-one conversation, I don’t like to be the one to initiate a conversation; I prefer that a person come to me. It’s not that I’m a snob (really); it’s just that I believe the crazy talk in my head.
And what is that “crazy talk”?
Automatically I tell myself that “they” aren’t going to want to chat with me; that they’ll think I’m trying to sell them something or get something from them. I tell myself that the conversation will go nowhere and I’ll embarrass myself. In short, I self-hypnotize myself with this nonsense.
Earlier this year, I was at a networking event here in Los Angeles and after wandering around the ballroom for twenty minutes, I panicked. I decided to leave even though I didn’t feel happy about giving up so quickly. At the last minute, I decided to get a drink and just sit in the lounge area outside the ballroom. That’s it. My plan was not to leave – just sit and see what happened.
Within five minutes, Pat (names changed), a woman I’ve done business with and who has become a friend, walked by on her way to the ladies room. We hugged and she told me not to move, as she’d be right back.
When she returned, we played catch-up as we made our way back into the ballroom where she introduced me to some friends, who introduced me to friends and so the night went on. I ended up enjoying myself and would have missed out on some great conversations had I given in to my early discomfort and fled.
The night was a great reminder of what can happen when I stand (or sit!) my ground against irrational fear.
Here are my 5 tips for snapping yourself out of your self-imposed paralysis
- Monitor your thoughts. What are you saying to yourself to make you feel uncomfortable? Why are you reluctant to start a conversation? How realistic are your thoughts? Recognize the crazy talk for what it is.
- Put your smart phone away. No one will talk to you if you’re engaged with your phone!
- Be mindful of your non-verbal signals. Do you know what you look like when you’re alone and not talking with someone? Do you look stern and unapproachable? If so, you may be unintentionally shooing folks away.
- Take the initiative and strike up a conversation – at a social, on line or while waiting for the start of a talk. Keep an open mind and let curiosity get the better of you, knowing that everyone has a story!
- Have no expectations. While you might be at an event for work, don’t think of it as “work.” Enjoy. You can’t fail BUT, you can miss out on great opportunities if you don’t step out of your comfort zone and reach out to new people.
If you do find yourself panicking, do what I did –
Take a deep breath
Have a seat
Let yourself be surprised!
Do you struggle with not feeling “enough”?
Do you want to own the confidence that will allow you
to engage others without crippling self-consciousness?
To explore how one-on-one communication skills coaching can help you present you with enhanced confidence,
please contact me