You're probably wondering, where exactly do you begin when trying to improve your shyness? Do you just think positively and hope for the best? No. I've learned that there are several important "building blocks" when it comes to having more self confidence and not being afraid of speaking to other people.
The first is eye contact. Looking at others in the eye when you speak is very important. There is really no way around it. I can remember 2 years ago being in college and never making more than 1/2 a second of eye contact with some hot girl in class. If my eyes somehow met hers, mine would immediately dart away. It's like I wasn't worthy to look her in the eye. What a load of crap to believe. Now, with those same women, holding great eye contact for the majority of our conversation is as easy tying my shoes. It's become second nature to me after some practice.
For some it may be intimidating to gaze into another persons eyes. What if they think you are staring? What if they don't like you?
Don't worry about this. If they look you in the eye, it means they are interested in what you have to say. To me, it can be pretty intimate. It's just me and her locking eye contact. Not looking at her eyebrow or looking at the color of her lipstick, but just looking at her dead straight in the eye. Pretty cool if you ask me.
(Note: I've noticed there are alot of international people reading the site, so you'll probably want to adjust some of the eye contact, body language gestures I talk about so it's socially acceptable wherever you are, I'm not sure what the standards are outside of the US. Also, teenage girls may react differently to it than college girls. Notice eye contact more on TV or in the movies to determine what's appropriate. You don't want to scare anyone away or freak them out, but you also don't want to look down at the floor all the time)
One of the things I do when talking to women is follow the "60% rule". Basically, you look a woman in the eye when you are talking 60% of the time. This way, you don't come across as needlessly staring, but you also give her enough eye contact so she knows you are paying attention to her. It's important.
Good eye contact simply makes you look more confident. Alot more confident! When I look others in the eye, I usually just focus on one eye at a time. This way it doesn't seem like you are nervous and your eyes are darting around needlessly. Experiment a little. I just have a relaxed expression on my face as I do it. I don't look like some crazy pyscho.
I started practicing eye contact in an environment like a restaurant or a store. People are paid to be nice to you there! It's a great environment if you want to practice your people skills.
Eye contact is important relative to the situation you're in. If you're just watching TV on the coach having a conversation with someone near by, you don't have to constantly stare at them. But if you're on a date sitting across from someone and there are no other distractions going on, eye contact is absolutely crucial. Nothing else is coming between you and the person you're speaking with. I use the "80% rule" in this kind of situation for example.
You're body language and posture is another fundamental building block when improving your confidence. I learned some of this stuff from the motivational speaker and personal coach, Anthony Robbins. I highly recommend his two best selling books, Unlimited Power and Awaken the Giant Within. They are great books if you're wondering how to improve your life in general, regardless of being shy.
There was a time in college when people didn't start conversations with me very often. It reinforced my old belief of, "well, very few people like me, it's being proven every single day, therefore I'll just have to live with it." Now at school, I usually get at least a few conversations started every day by other people I don't know. Guys and girls! I look alot more approachable and friendly.
What in the world has changed? It's not the way I dress, or any cool new gadgets that I have that catch peoples eyes (PDA, laptop, etc). Nothing has changed except the way I carry myself.
I really wasn't even conscious of my body language a few years ago. I imagine some of the things I did were:
lack of eye contact
nervous gestures (fiddling with something for example)
when I walked my head was probably tilted more down
than looking up and straight ahead.
slouched in my chair
an unfriendly expression on my face (probably focusing too much on my problems).
Now, what do I do?
Lots of eye contact with everybody
No nervous gestures
When I walk, I keep my head up looking straight ahead, surveying the landscape, my shoulders aren't slumped over. Feeling in control rather than worried or sad. I keep my lower back arched.
A neutral to happy expression on my face (not sad)
One of the realizations I've made is that people tend to avoid striking up conversations with those who are unhappy looking, who look disinterested, who look tired, who look bored out of their mind, etc. Not because they automatically dislike you! But because you'll make them uncomfortable. They could like you great as a person, but they won't strike up a conversation because you don't look interested in having a conversation. It may sound obvious, but the first impression people make of you is your body language. They don't know you as a person, so they'll automatically assume things from what they see. If your head is down, if you have a sad expression on your face, people will assume,..."ok, he seems like he wants to be left alone."
Your reactions to how you handle negative comments is also important in how others percieve you. If you are very shy like I was, you become insulated from the world and any potential negative comments. Sometimes, it can seem like a scary world out there, but I think people generally have good intentions. Although it may not always come out that way.
If someone told you, "you know, that joke you told wasn't really that funny" or "those pants just don't go with your outfit", how would you react? If your head goes down at all, if you make little if any eye contact and say something in a quiet voice, like "oh I know, you didn't have to tell me", then that reinforces the shy and timid perception others have of you. Instead if you keep your head high, make lots of eye contact and say in a confident tone of voice,.."oh ok, well, I liked the joke" or "I think my pants look fine", that's a complete 180 degree shift in how others perceive you. It's a powerful concept.