In the 1987 song Ask by The Smiths, Morrissey intones that “shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life that you'd like to”. But writer and coach Melitta Campbell knows he’s got that all wrong and she has made a profession of helping shy people - including herself - fulfill their potential.
Shyness is a deeply-felt emotion, a fear of negative evaluation by other people, that can result in you feeling uncomfortable, self-conscious, nervous, bashful, timid, or insecure. It can affect how you respond and behave and can even produce physical responses such as shaking, blushing, being short of breath or stammering. The vast majority of people have felt it at some time or other, even the people you think may be the most extreme extroverts.
But there’s a difference between shyness and introversion. Amy Schumer, the accomplished comedian, writes in her memoir The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo, "Being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re shy. It means you enjoy being alone. Not just enjoy it— you need it. If you’re a true introvert, other people are basically energy vampires. You don’t hate them; you just have to be strategic about when you expose yourself to them— like the sun."
Other self-confessed introverts include A-list actors such as Emma Watson and Tom Cruise or musicians including Lady Gaga and Lorde. The list is long in other areas too with Elon Musk and Barack Obama both ranking highly in introversion.
Some also suggest that most small business owners and entrepreneurs are introverts as they tend to be more introspective and gain energy from their alone time.
But if you’re actually consumed by shyness and just starting out in your efforts to tackle it, the mountain may appear unconquerable.
That’s where Melitta Campbell and other experts can step in to help. Melitta’s work as a coach explores how she has turned being a ‘shy girl’ to her advantage and gives other women the tools, frameworks and inspiration they need to dream bigger and achieve more in their careers and businesses.
Her new book, A Shy Girl's Guide To Networking, shares the exact steps introverts can take to master the three phases of networking - an activity that can be truly horrifying to a shy person - both online and in person, to build powerful and lasting relationships.
The secret to networking success according to the book is the “VICTORY formula”, a clever mnemonic that stands for Vision, Intention, Courage, True-self, Obstacles, Rules and Yes! You’ve got this!
Don't worry about what anyone else is doing or saying or anything because it's just completely irrelevant
Outside just networking, Melitta worked hard and with real focus to overcome her own barriers. As a communications and leadership consultant, she was achieving great results for her clients in one to one consultations, but wanted to be able to create a wider impact and help more people.
She knew that would require her stepping far outside her comfort zone and creating a public profile, as she explains: “I really wanted to be able to share my ideas, because on a one to one basis when I was mentoring people, or when I was coaching people in the business context, I knew I had ideas and knowledge that was really helping them transform and have big shifts and breakthroughs, inspiring them and empowering them. And I wanted to do that on a bigger level. I wanted to be able to present my ideas on the stage. I'm still not doing it massively, but I have stood on international stages and spoken to groups of 5,000. And I really love it, particularly when you have an important message to get out there. So that [shyness] was a barrier to me; I had to find ways to overcome that.”
One of the things she did was to join Toastmasters, a membership organisation that helps people with public speaking and presentation.
“I didn't speak for six months, I just watched everyone else,” she confesses. “But that was okay. For me, I was going to my place which was comfortable for me. I was writing a lot of speeches for influential people to help me understand the skills and watching lots of talks and breaking them down and really learning the structure.”
The results of Melitta’s determination speak for themselves as she now runs the thriving Driven Female Entrepreneur podcast, is a TEDx speaker coach and regularly shares video posts to her 10,500 (and growing) followers on LinkedIn.
She is quick to refute suggestions that today’s social media landscape doesn’t suit introverts or shy people. In fact, she thinks LinkedIn in particular is a perfect fit, going as far as saying that introverts “have a bit of an edge” on social media because they may not be too polished and confident.
She explains: “When you are vulnerable, when you're not perfect, you have these visible faults to actually draw people to you. And if you are too loud, too perfect, too out there, it brings this wall between you and your audience that they can't cross. They're watching you, but you're really unrelatable, they could never be like you. So I think natural introverts have this natural way of attracting people to them.”
“I think social media is actually helping us [introverts],” she continues. “I don't know about you, but I really don't like speaking on the telephone and I'm now comfortable with going live on camera. But it's taken me several years of practice and doing it a lot to get comfortable with it. You know, once you mess up a lot, then you realize it's fine. If you mess up, it brings people to you.”
Scrolling through endless back-patting posts on LinkedIn may suggest a community of brash self-publicists, but Melitta says that it’s actually the perfect forum for introverts. “I had a friend who's a LinkedIn, coach and consultant,” she explains. “she really realized that most of the people that were using LinkedIn to build their business were introverts, because that was a way that they could avoid embracing networking and do it all behind their computer. And so that tool really helped them to build their business in a way that wasn't available to them before. So I think we can just use some of these tools in a way that makes sense to us.”
While A Shy Girl’s Guide to Networking is a unique, practical guide to mastering a particular business occasion, there are also many other coaches and gurus out there to help introverted and shy people. These include international ‘superstars’ in the arena such as Brené Brown, Glennon Doyle, Susan Cain and Brendon Burchard. Melitta is also keen to mention UK-based Lucy Griffiths, a former TV journalist who suffered from shyness before moving out from behind the lens and who now trains people to present on camera.
Talent comes from within and Melitta’s overriding message is that introverts and shy people shouldn’t hold themselves back: “We can do whatever we want. We can overcome any barrier. The key thing to remember is what is it that you want? What is important to you? What is going to make you feel proud and fulfilled and just go with that. Don't worry about what anyone else is doing or saying or anything because it's just completely irrelevant.”