“OK, let’s go round the room, just stand up and say a bit about yourself .”
Heart sinking, and then beating faster and faster as my turn rapidly approaches; planning what I’m gong to say, and then usually messing it up, rushing through my introduction and fluffing all of the coherent, well-structured information I had planned to say in my head…whatever the situation, this is how I’ve felt about putting myself out there, all my life.
I’m an introvert. It was confirmed with a Myers-Briggs personality analysis that my organisation was willing to pay for in the early 2000s, but I think I’d always known it really. I remember lots of well-meaning adults (including my extrovert mother, who revels in meeting new people) who would describe new situations with beaming positivity: “There’ll be lots of children there for you to meet and play with” – and I could usually imagine little worse than this prospect. In most of these new situations I would feel gripped by a crippling shyness that would result in me clinging to my darling mum, who was always kind, loving and accepting of my failure to integrate, but – I suspect – always a little puzzled by it.
It’s not that I don’t like meeting new people. I love learning about them, what they have achieved, and how they have achieved it in the face of their own adversities. I think there are few things more powerful than human determination, and I love to find out about it in all its forms – it’s part of what makes us unique.
I think in the early decades of my life, my shyness was a matter of self-confidence – something which, I’m happy to say, has grown infinitely through my 30s. I now feel in possession of my own identity, all of the different roles I have in life, and where I see my career path taking me. That, I have found, helps enormously when meeting new people. How can you introduce yourself with confidence, if you’re not really sure who you are?
When I started my own business, I knew that networking was going to be part of the deal. You can’t meet new clients unless you go out and find them – and this was the part which daunted me the most. I imagined “networking events” to be full of corporate types who already had all the professional contacts they needed, thank you, and who were only there to fulfil some sort of personal development quota, going through the motions of meeting you, and then swiftly forgetting you exist immediately afterwards.
Unbelievably, though, I have struck lucky. There is a network in Milton Keynes – SJP Networking – that actually makes this stuff EASY, even for the most committed introvert. Being part of this network of these people, who are all there to grow their own businesses and meet like-minded individuals who want to collaborate to achieve that, is an incredible boost the confidence. I know that not everyone will want or need to buy what I’m selling, but they all show a genuine interest in why I’m there. This isn’t just professional networking – it’s a real community of small businesses, who have all bought into the idea that working together and supporting local businesses is the key to success for all of us.
Coupled with my blossomed self-confidence and belief in my business, today I stood up in front of a group of networkers, introduced myself, and sold what I have to offer. So far, I have gained a new client at every event I’ve been to, and the atmosphere is supportive, collaborative and positive. I’m not sure that groups like this exist everywhere, but it captures a mutually-emboldening and co-operative spirit that I really believe our society needs, in its personal, community and business interactions.
We don’t need to be in competition – there is enough success to go round. Let’s help each other achieve it, together.
Rebecca Chamberlain, RLC Words
(still an introvert, but no longer petrified)