Today, I was going to write about shyness and the freelancing world, but my Google-fu shows me that I’ve been beaten to it by Melissa Ek in an April article for Freelance Folder.

I used to be very shy and, over the years, I ‘faked it to make it’ to the point where I thought I wasn’t shy in any situation anymore.  But, embracing this new world of freelancing has brought my shyness back to the forefront of my mind – is this a club I feel I can join in?  Will the other freelancers like me?  Can I cold call anyone?  If I email a potential client instead of calling them, will they be more interested in hiring me?

I’ll be writing about presentation skills and conference tips soon. But, for now, I figured I’d add one ‘networking for the shy’ tip to Melissa’s terrific list – the coffee break.

A picture of a flat white coffe

I forget, is the flat white 'so over' yet?

We’ve all been there.  You’re at a conference, hovering by the croissants and doughnuts at the morning break, calculating whether that fifth cup of soya hot chocolate this early in the day will induce an additional bathroom break or just a frenzied sugar rush during the second workshop (just me, right?).

 It’s not all about sustenance and stretching your legs – this is the perfect opportunity for a great bit of networking:
  • start talking to the guy next to you about the tiny herbal tea selection (this would never happen in my home town where no herbal tea is tantamount to sacrilege);
  • ask the woman next to you where she got that chocolate croissant from;
  • ask those two people if they’d mind sharing their table with you.

It may sound like inane chatter but people have been meeting over food and drink for centuries, it’s the way we connect to each other.  Sure, you’re not debating which tribe will get the head end of the woolly mammoth but you are seeking a connection beyond ‘hi, my name is..and I’m a …blah blah blah’.

When approaching people, either over coffee or the lunch break, don’t hover – gather up all your wits and just throw yourself in there.

Sometimes, you’ll fail – a team from one workplace may not want intruders in on their conversation, you might encounter someone so zombie-like boring that you pretend to see a colleague over the other side of the room just to get away from the brain sucking conversation.

But, sometimes, you’ll succeed!  You’ll make a connection over coffee that leads to a lunch buddy that leads to an exchange of business cards that leads to work.

In this brave new world of freelancing, I need to remember that I am good at networking: these are just human beings, just like me, and I can talk to them, even if it’s just to comment on the maple bacon doughnuts causing several sugar freak outs by lunchtime.

Chatting over coffee and food doesn’t have to just be at a conference.  I’ve gained contacts by helping to make the coffee at training days, taking a break at a long meeting and ‘buddying up’ to get lunch somewhere other than the sensory deprivation tank known as a meeting venue.  Any business situation where there’s food and drink – dive right in and get chatting.

What do you think about communing over food and drink?  Are you a messy eater so avoid a conference lunch altogether for fear of spraying a potential client with beef ragout?  Are you a big talker with hands so have to remember to always put your coffee cup down first?  Let me know in the comments below.

Next time: Business shows and conferences – how you are helping to destroy your business by being a bad stand holder!