You’re No Different from Anyone Else. That’s A Good Thing.

I felt sick with nerves. Actual, genuine, nausea. It was my own fault. I cursed myself for being so rash.

It was early Sunday morning and I was biking to the Women In Biz Network conference. I’d never been before. I’d actually never been to a conference before where I didn’t know most of the attendees – let alone one where I didn’t know a single person. Or one populated solely by entrepreneurs – something I’d only just decided to be, even though I didn’t yet have my own business.


My Not-So-Supportive Inner-Voice

Everyone else is going to know each other, I thought.


They’ll all look down on me because I don’t yet have a business, just an idea that I want one


It sounds ridiculous. But when you’re shy – or, in my case, ex-shy with occasional relapses – this is the stuff that goes through your head.

Layering On More Fear

To make matters worse, day one was an ‘Urban Retreat’, where we had to spend the whole day on our yoga mat, in flexible sportswear. I did not own a yoga mat. I live in dresses, and feel exceptionally awkward in sportswear. I settled for some leggings with a comfy dress over the top.


People will think you’re weird because you’re wearing a dress to a yoga thing

Everyone there will know what sun salutations are and will snigger when you attempt one and you tip slowly over, like a cow that’s been pushed by a drunken frat boy

But, I’d bought the ticket, I was already on my way and, most importantly, experience has taught me that it is worth toughing these things out.

I arrived and – sure enough – everyone was in little groups talking. See? They’re already friends. They don’t need you. I laid out my yoga mat and pretended to look in my empty notebook. You know the drill: ‘Oh, I’m really busy. I’m totally cool with being all alone. Honestly, I’m fine!’.


How I Got Rescued

When I looked up, I noticed a lady next to me, with an inviting openness to her manner. I smiled. She beamed back at me.

“I had no idea this was a yoga thing. I didn’t own a mat until late last night. I’ve never done a class in my life”.

Flooded with relief, I said, “ME TOO!”. We swapped names. Then I asked her about her business. She’s been running it for 25 years. It turns out she does, among other things, business coaching. I had a lot to ask her about.


Back To Square One

The conference officially started, we sat on our mats throughout the sessions, then it was break time. I turned to my new friend. She was busy talking to someone else. I made my way to the drinks table, and v e r y s l o w l y made myself a tea. I tried to keep myself physically open in case anyone wanted to start talking to me, but no dice.

Nausea set back in. People were sitting around tables. They all know each other. No one wants to talk to you. I quieted that voice, took a deep breath, and walked up to a table that had one free space.

“Do you mind if I join you?”

“Sure, go ahead!”.


I asked the lady next to me what she did. Turned out (hallelujah) she was a chatter. She was happy for me to ask her questions about her job (how long have you been there? What did you do before? What do you enjoy most? And least?) then someone else on the table chipped in, they asked me about myself and we were away.

False Confidence

A couple more sessions, then it was lunchtime. Emboldened by my earlier successes, I decided I would try and find someone different to talk to. I went up to the lunch queue. The two ladies next to me obviously knew each other, and were in intense conversation. There was absolutely no way they were going to invite me in, and no one else nearby for me to smile at. The fear rose again. I slowly pretended to go and put my scarf away, came back and joined a different part of the line.

Next to me, was a lady by herself. “Hello”, I ventured. “How are you enjoying the sessions so far?”. Conversation moved on to what we’re both doing, and I mentioned the business course that set me on my path to entrepreneurship. The lady next to us chimed in, “You’re doing Marie Forleo’s B School? I did that last year!”. She and I bonded over how wonderful the course is, and took it in turns to explain to the first lady what it is and why we love it. As we were getting our lunch, our chat became so involved, that my fellow B Schooler invited us to come and sit at her table with all of her friends.


That table led to multiple conversations with people. After lunch, I had several new friends, a stack of business cards, a possible employment opportunity (!) and – most pressingly – people to hang out with over the remainder of the conference. Without the scariness of having to go up to strangers and start conversations. Or, in my case, with the confidence that now, I could try and go up to strangers and start conversations because now I already had friends, the stakes were less high. If those new people weren’t receptive, it didn’t matter so much.


The Big Secret, Revealed:

But here’s the thing: they were ALL receptive. I’d love to tell you that it’s because I’m so fantastically charming and magnetic, but honestly, it wasn’t. It was just because of this:

Everyone was nervous about going up and talking to strangers.

Everyone was convinced that the rest of us all knew each other.

and, most importantly,

Everyone was grateful for someone else to make the first move.

How do I know this? Because they told me. Once we were used to each other and a little looser, or in follow-up emails, people said, “I was so glad when I overheard you talking about X and I could join in to tell you about Y”, or “I was really pleased J introduced us”, or “I hate going to these things. I know I should network, but I’m so bad at going up and talking to people”.


Why You’re The Same As Everyone Else. And Why That’s A Good Thing.

If you can do that for them. If you can be the one to walk up to someone, say, “Hello. What do you do?”, or “How are you enjoying the conference?” or “Where have you come from?” – basically, anything to save them the terrifying torture of getting the conversation started – they will be SO grateful.

Some people are naturally very confident and happy to walk up to strangers. Most of us find it really scary. With experience, some of us learn look like we’re comfortable, but we’re just toughing it out to get over that initial conversation-starting hurdle.

If you can do this at an event, I guarantee you that 99% of people will silently thank you.

The other 1%? Too busy chatting to notice.


PS want to know my best-ever client secret – and get even more advice, tips, plus stories that I won’t put on the internet? Come and join the Yes Yes Family – it’s free! Just pop your details in below:

(Photo Credits: Kaptain Kobold, milopeng ,eworm, HighEdWeb and Christopher S. Penn, all via Compfight cc)




  • Lara

    Reply Reply May 2, 2013

    Thank you for making me feel so comfortable that day – I know you felt the same way I did inside, but you still helped me get through it :)

  • victoria m.

    Reply Reply May 5, 2013

    Great post! I recently attended an event not too long ago and felt very much like you described. I am too shy sometimes and becoming more comfortable in my own skin is something I am most definitively working on. Best wishes on your coaching practice!

  • Kourtney Thomas

    Reply Reply February 20, 2014

    Man, I cannot believe I am just finding your blog! It’s been like binge-watching Netflix for the last week!! Thank you so much for your incredibly helpful posts…I relate to pretty much all of them. Being terrified in a room full of strangers but wanting desperately to meet them? Yeah, that’s me. So excited to have found you!

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply February 20, 2014

      Kourtney – woah! What lovely things you say! I am a total Netflix binge-watcher, so I take that as a HUGE compliment, thank you!

      Hope you find the tricks helpful, and they can go some way to setting you free just like they did me :)

  • Sharona

    Reply Reply May 2, 2014

    I Love your blog Marsha! Your writing totally transports me and I feel like I’m there with you ;)
    Great ideas that I will put in to practice next time I find myself in a similar situation…I can get soooo insecure sometimes and it’s nice to know that I’m not alone…cheers!

    • Marsha (Yes Yes Marsha)

      Marsha Shandur

      Reply Reply May 2, 2014

      Thanks so much, Sharona! You truly AREN’T alone – I would say *most* people I meet feel like this going to conferences. All you need to do is trust that it’ll be fine and push through!

  • Anupriya Basu

    Reply Reply October 9, 2019

    Amazing post, Marsha! I also feel dizzy most of the time in a room full of strangers but this post really helps.

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