Well, let me tell you...I'm shy, but the older I get,the better I am at dealing with it. All of the recent hype about introverts vs. extroverts helps, but being introverted isn't exactly the same as being shy. (I'm also an introvert, which doesn't help much with the shy thing.)
So anyway, if you're a shy introvert like I am, let me say the words that will make your blood run cold: NETWORKING MEETING. This is the single most heinous form of torture you can force a shy introvert to participate in. You're forced to show up at an event where everyone is expected to talk to each other, sometimes to STRANGERS, and you're also expected to promote yourself and tell people why your business is great! The horror...
Well, as one of your own, let me tell you that you can do it, and you just have to get over it and get it done. Take a deep breath, put on a happy face, and make up your mind to act like you're an extrovert for a couple of hours. You know, like those people who seem to be able to make conversation with anyone and actually enjoy it. Just get through it, then you can go home and collapse in the fetal position on the couch with the lights out until you feel better.
The more you do it, the easier it will get. Work on an elevator pitch with a couple of variations so that you have something prepared in advance, and once you're done saying that, let the person you're talking to ask a few questions. Answer those, then ask them what they do. It sounds so easy, doesn't it?
The one thing NOT to do is to move onto random topics. Shy introverts tend to do the "nervous babble" thing, where you can't think of anything to say, but once you start, you can't stop. Don't fall into that trap. Keep it business-related, it's much safer.
Some safe topics to ask other people about are what got them started in their industry, how long they've been in business, general business trends, and what kind of things they're looking to focus on and why. DO NOT ask them their opinions about other vendors. You don't know if you're talking to that vendor's best friend. Just assume that everything you tell them is going to be repeated to someone.
Always get the person's name, too, because the easiest way to extricate yourself from a conversation is if someone else comes over and you can introduce them to the person you're talking to. Once they get chatting you can excuse yourself to go get another drink (don't drink any booze at these things either. You'll regret it.)
Next time, I'll write about some ways to make self-promotion feel not so slimy.
Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, online cake supplies at www.acaketoremember.com and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com