We have been always told to be chatty and engaging during business events, such as conferences, meetings, job fairs. But how do you do it when you are a shy person, probably cracking with anxiety, or you are an inexperienced young researcher among loads of seasoned scientists?
I might come across as a confident person, but really, I am not. I have been suffering from social anxiety since a young age and there is nothing more than socialising that I fear. My mind started telling me “You have nothing interesting to say”, “who cares about you?”, Will people understand your English?”, “If they start talking about great science will I be able to keep up?”. For my own piece of mind, I just kept it quit, staying in a corner like a piece of furniture!
This doesn’t definitely help, above all, in a professional setting if you want to step up from the crowd, connecting with people from industries for a future job or impress a potential supervisor for a PhD/postdoc.
How to change? I am not saying that this is gonna be easy, but at least you should try to step out from your comfort zone. Take practise and commitment and, most importantly, don‘t give up after the first attempt!
The best comes when you step out from your comfort zone!
- Stepping out from your comfort zone is a process, starting by taking the first step but not jumping too far. Start talking with your peers or someone in a lower position in the academic ladder. Example, if you are a second year PhD student, talk with 1st or 2nd year PhD students. So much things in common, how it feels like to attend your first professional event, how is the PhD going, etc. Don’t try to impress anyone at your first attempt, practise self-exposure, see how it feels like and build up from it step by step.
- Topic of discussion: honestly you don’t have to talk about anything amazing. Many people start a conversation with me simply because I have an Italian accent and start talking about their holidays in Italy, how much they love the food and the weather. Do the same with the next person, professional business networking is about chit chat most of the time. Don’t forget that many people don’t know each other and keeping light conversations is always wise.
Professional business networking is about chit chat most of the time.
- Be mindful, this is a fancy word that is all over the places nowadays. Mindfulness helped me a lot going through my social anxiety. Mindfulness means being present here and now and NOT BEING JUDGEMENTAL about yourself. Who says that you have nothing interesting to say? That you look like an idiot? That none cares about you? None rather than yourself. We tear ourselves apart, we are our worst judge. Release all this pressure from your shoulder, really there is no need.
- Don’t think that the problem is always you. Sometimes you end up talking with people who, really, have nothing interesting to say. Just move away. There is no need to stick to someone if you don’t find them interesting. Sometimes you try to engage with people who don’t want to be engaging. Again, you are not the problem. Don’t tear yourself apart.
- Some people are naturally confident in public speaking and business networking, Try to copy what they do. But this doesn’t mean that you have to repeat their words or the way they move. Take note of what they say, which topics they talk about and write it down. Confidence also comes with experience. At the very end of your PhD or as a postdoc, you find yourself being much more confident than you were at the very start.
- Don’t forget to wear professionally and bring your business card along.
Grad school is also a transition from being a school lad to a young professional.
The way you look tells a lot a lot about yourself. Most of the time, I don’t even have to do anything or start a conversation, people come to me and ask questions. They want to know what I do, where I am from, if I have plans from the future and where I do shopping.
- If you are going to attend a big event, it’s highly likely that you can find a Twitter or Instagram page about the event with a related hashtag. Reach out to people on social media and make friends with them before the event starts. It’s much easier if you turn up in a roomful of people with some buddy you can feel comfortable with.