'And the winner is....'
See that picture, the one up there? That's me, that is. That's me, Rosalind Brookman, freelance writer and natural introvert, giving a presentation at a networking meeting and enjoying it.
Enjoying it! That's something I never thought I'd ever type. Go back, even just six months, and the question 'Would you like to be the guest speaker at our event?' would have been enough to make me hide under the table and hope the person asking would get confused and go away.
I've never enjoyed either a) small talk or b) speaking in public, which is why I avoided networking for so long after I'd begun working as a freelance writer. But trawling the internet looking for work, or simply hoping that somebody you know might offer you something is time-consuming and often soul-destroying (although I am mightily grateful to those people who did - and still do - give me work!) and so I decided I was going to have to face my fear and...gasp....speak to strangers. I still get the shivers thinking about how nervous I was.
Encouraging and Supportive
I was lucky: I picked a warm and welcoming networking group for my first time. They weren't scary high-powered business ogres in pin-striped suits, looking down their nose at this terrified shy person with not much of a business herself. They were women just like me, at various stages in their business, who invited me in to their group with open arms and didn't laugh at me when I stuttered and blushed my way through my first attempt at a pitch at the speed of light. Instead, they were encouraging and supportive and congratulated me for giving it a go.
And the bit where everybody mingles and chats? Nowhere near as terrifying as I thought it would be. Turns out these networky people were genuinely interested in hearing about my freelance writing and were happy to tell me a little bit about their business, without being all domineering and shouting 'I'm the best, so listen to me' all the time. (Actually, I've just realised I may have been confusing them with candidates on The Apprentice.)
(Photo courtesy of A.M Business Ladies networking group)
Fear can be a good thing: it ensures we are cautious when approaching unfamiliar or dangerous situations. But it can also take over at times when there is much to be gained by braving the unknown.
Giving into that fear whenever we're approaching something new means we are likely to miss out on doing things that, in the long run, will help our learning and take us forward in life.
I've been thinking a lot about the times in my adult life where I shied away from doing anything that involved talking to new people, standing up in front of a group or even just pushing myself forward to achieve something I wanted...and I've decided NO MORE. My confidence has improved a lot since my first networking meeting, to the point where I'm now able to run my writing and blogging workshops but I know that I can go further than that. 2018 is my year for stepping further out of my comfort zone.
The following are a few strategies that I've employed over the last few years to help me increase my self-confidence, both on a personal and a business level.
1. Visualise the positive
Often, when I think about doing something that I'm not automatically comfortable with, I let my mind race ahead with all the things that could go wrong. I've learnt a lot about the power of positive thought in the last year or so and so I've promised myself that from now on, whenever I'm offered an opportunity (like the chance to speak at that networking meeting) I will instead visualise making a success out of it and focus on all the exciting things that could come from it.
2. Get informed
It's really easy to be scared of the unknown: we do it all the time by using 'what if...?' as a way of terrifying ourselves about all the awful things that could be out there, waiting for us. Researching things you don't know is a good way to remove some of that terror and replace it with real, valuable information that you can arm yourself with to go forth and boldly face the new situation.
3. Believe in yourself
I don't deal with embarrassment well. This is, perhaps, why, in the past, I've tended to shy away away from social engagements where I don't know many people: the fear of saying or doing something stupid. I've never been very good at small talk with strangers so there have been many times when I've uttered something that I regretted the moment it left my lips. I've then spent the rest of the day going over and over it, wishing I'd kept my mouth shut and presuming that the person I was speaking to must now think I'm an idiot.
Then I realised again that, when I'm networking and talking confidently about my business, I don't have this problem. So I thought that maybe my inability to make small talk in a personal way was because I didn't have the same self-belief in myself as I did in my business. That's a whole other blog post, right there, but it's something I've worked really hard on over the last two years (turning 40 may be a bit of a 'new start' cliche but it was a really convenient moment for me to take stock) and it's made a huge difference to how I present myself. My self-belief battery is fully charged now and I don't apologise for taking up space anymore!
4. Surround yourself with courageous people
Simple but effective. If you spend time with people who aren't afraid to try new things, who make mistakes and learn from them and who are always moving forward then their fearlessness and experience will start to rub off on you.
5. Speak up when something isn't right
I'm normally hopeless at this. If a meal isn't great or they've got my order wrong I'd rather keep quiet about it, leave and simply never go back. I have a friend who is the other way entirely and is able to, very politely, get huge amounts knocked off the bill for minor misdemeanors with hardly any fuss at all. She got me a discount on my wedding dress when she noticed an imperceptible tear around the top of the zip and refused to pay until he reduced the price. I don't think haggling will ever be my thing but, from now on, I'm going to make the effort to speak up when I know something is wrong.
The more you push yourself out of your comfort zone, the more opportunities you open yourself up to. And that's what excites me now: what might be just around the corner. It's still the unknown: but I'm not scared of it anymore.
Now you've read this, have a look at why I also embrace the wonders of female energy whenever I'm in a business slump!