How to Overcome Shyness and Become More Comfortable in Networking Situations

Read more from Allan Boress here and in the Truth Be Told About Business Development archive. 
I recently saw a discussion on LinkedIn about helping a consultant's client overcome their fear and reluctance to participate in networking. I've written several books on the topic of personal marketing, most notably Best Practices of Marketing Professional Services for the AICPA and Best Practices of Networking for Attorneys. Psychoanalyzing this fellow or this subject is interesting, but it is next to impossible to overcome a strong negative emotion or impulse with logic such as, "He should do it because it will grow his practice," or "It's not that hard..."
Nobody was more introverted than I. That's why I became a CPA -- to be away from people and left alone. Fortunately, back at Northern Illinois, my pledge father took pity on me and set me up on a blind date with a cute Alpha Chi. All these years later, she is still my wife.
Unfortunately, being left alone and stuck behind a computer is not how you build a successful professional practice. My business partner, Mike Cummings, and I interviewed more than 1,000 top business producers across the professions over twelve years.  
One tool worked for me so well, I can't turn it off. I call it the "Rubber Band Technique."
I think people are like rubber bands. We are all born or learned into a certain level of comfort when it comes to being and mingling with people. My wife, being the exact opposite of me, talks to total strangers and winds up exchanging Christmas cards with them every year.  
Conversely, my rubber band (as was this fellow's) was wound very tight. I sat in the corner at parties. One day I decided to just talk to one person that I didn't know as a goal. Anybody can do anything once. Being goal-oriented, if I passed someone in the lobby at the office building, I would say "Good morning," or "Hi." I felt compelled to do this as it was a simple goal. After about twenty days I found myself doing this habitually, without thinking about it.  
And now, it is impossible to stop. I can work a room as good as anyone; the most important topic to anyone is themselves. Listening is easy for me, as I am still shy about talking about myself.  
Over the years I have bumped into some very amazing people while accomplishing my daily goal. Perhaps most interestingly, I was speaking at an association meeting and arrived early to schmooze with the hosts and attendees. We were hanging out by the caffeine and in walked a stunning young lady. Heads turned as she marched right by us.  
That was understandable; none of us was a prize. And being beautiful, it was more of a risk to talk to be proactive and approach her. So I used that as an excuse. She sat in the middle of a banquet hall setup for 150 all by herself at a table for ten. I walked up to her, introduced myself, and point-blank asked her why she didn't stop to have coffee with us. She replied, "I cannot imagine anyone wanting to talk to me."
Goes to prove you can never tell what is on someone's mind -- you have to be comfortable and inquisitive enough to ask.

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