The Art of Audacious Conversation

Entrepreneurship and Networking
10 Minute Read
October 4, 2021

Nothing in my life has created opportunity like a willingness
to ask, whatever the situation. When I was just an anonymous
attendee at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, I walked
onto a hotel bus and saw Nike founder Phil Knight. Knight was
like a rock star to me, given his extraordinary success at creating
and building Nike, and the many marketing innovations he introduced
over the years. Was I nervous? You bet. But I jumped at the
opportunity to speak with him, and made a beeline for the seat
next to his. Later, he would become YaYa’s first blue-chip customer.
I do this sort of thing all the time, whatever the situation.

Sometimes I fail. I’ve got an equally long list of people I’ve
attempted to befriend who weren’t interested in my overtures.
Audacity in networking has the same pitfalls and fears associated
with dating–which I’m not nearly as good at as I am the business
variety of meeting people.

Sticking to the people we already know is a tempting behavior.
But unlike some forms of dating, a networker isn’t looking to
achieve only a single successful union. Creating an enriching circle
of trusted relationships requires one to be out there, in the mix,
all the time. To this day, every time I make a call or introduce
myself to people I don’t know, the fear that they might reject me is
there. Then I push ahead anyway.

Most of us don’t find networking the least bit instinctive or
natural. Of course, there are individuals whose inherent self-confidence
and social skills enable them to connect with ease.

Then there are the rest of us.

In the early days at YaYa, I was worried for the company’s survival.
For the first time in my career, I had to reach out to a lot of
people I didn’t know, representing an unknown company, pushing
a product that was untested in the marketplace. It was uncomfortable.
I didn’t want to cold-call executives from BMW and
MasterCard and pitch them my wares. But you know what? Pushing
to get into BMW was not that difficult when the alternative
was laying off a bunch of my staff or failing in the eyes of my
board and investors.

Mustering the audacity to talk with people who don’t know me
often simply comes down to balancing the fear I have of embarrassment
against the fear of failure and its repercussions. For my
father, either he asked or his family didn’t have. For me, I either
ask or I’m not successful. That fear always overrides my anxiety
about rejection or being embarrassed.

Ultimately, everyone has to ask himself or herself how they’re
going to fail. We all do, you know, so let’s get that out of the way.
The choice isn’t between success and failure; it’s between choosing
risk and striving for greatness, or risking nothing and being certain
of mediocrity.

For many people, the fear of meeting others is closely tied to
the fear of public speaking (a fear that consistently beats out death
as the one thing we dread most). Some of the world’s most famous
speakers admit to feeling similar anxiety. As Mark Twain said,
“There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those
that are liars.”

The best way to deal with this anxiety is to first acknowledge
that our fear is perfectly normal. You are not alone. The second
thing is to recognize that getting over that fear is critical to your
success. The third is to commit to getting better.

Here are a few things you can do today to make good on that
commitment and get more comfortable at being audacious in
social situations:

• Find a role model.

We’re predisposed to seek out people like us–shy people tend to
congregate with other shy people, and outgoing people congregate
with outgoing people–because they unconsciously affirm
our own behaviors. But everyone knows that one person within
their group of friends and associates who seems to engage others
with little or no fear. If you’re not yet ready to take the big leap of
addressing new people on your own, let these people help you and
show you the way. Take them with you, when appropriate, to
social outings and observe their behaviors. Pay attention to their
actions. Over time, you’ll adopt some of their techniques. Slowly,
you’ll build up the courage to reach out by yourself.

• Learn to speak.

Many businesses have responded to the nearly infinite number
of people who recognize they need to become better speakers.
These educational organizations realize you’re not looking to give
speeches to an audience of a thousand people (at least initially).
Most people who come to them for help are looking to gain
self-confidence and some trusty tools for overcoming shyness.
They don’t offer one or two simple quick-fix cure-alls. What they
do offer is a chance to practice, in a nonintimidating environment,
with an instructor who can guide and push you. There are
hundreds of coaches and schools devoted to this type of training.
One of the most well known is the Toastmasters Club. They’re
sure to have a local chapter in your area. It is a well-run organization
that has helped millions of people hone their speaking skills
and overcome their fears.

• Get involved.

You’ll feel most comfortable when you’re doing something you
enjoy with others who share your enthusiasm. Any hobby is an
opportunity to get involved: stamp collecting, singing, sports,
literature. Clubs develop around all of these interests. Join up.
Become an active member. When you feel up to it, become one of
the leaders of the group. This last step is crucial. Being a leader in
life takes practice–so practice! The possibilities for making new
contacts and reaching out to others will grow and grow.

• Get therapy.

I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “He wants me to go to
therapy to become better at talking to people?” Let me explain.
One, I think merely acting on the desire to be better than you are
now, no matter the venue, is a very important commitment. Two,
some of the most successful people I know have been to a therapist
at one point in their lives or another. I’m not suggesting therapy
will make you a better people person, but it might help you
address your own fears and social anxieties in a more productive
way. Many studies funded by the National Institute of Mental
Health report a high success rate using counseling to alleviate the
conditions that normally inhibit a shy person.

• Just do it.

Set a goal for yourself of initiating a meeting with one new person
a week. It doesn’t matter where or with whom. Introduce yourself
to someone on the bus. Slide up next to someone at the bar and
say hello. Hang out at the company water cooler and force yourself
to talk to a fellow employee you’ve never spoken with. You’ll
find that it gets easier and easier with practice. Best of all, you’ll get
comfortable with the idea of rejection. With that perspective, even
failure becomes a step forward. Embrace it as learning. As the
playwright Samuel Beckett wrote, “Fail, fail again. Fail better.”

Fear debilitates. Once you realize there’s no benefit to holding
back, every situation and every person–no matter how seemingly
beyond your reach–becomes an opportunity to succeed.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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