What If I’m Shy? Forget The Underwear! --an Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Noticed In A Noisy Marketplace

It’s tough to be an entrepreneur when you’re shy. Entrepreneurs are like performers. We’re always on stage and we’re always selling something.

Like many performers when you catch them off the stage, Johnny Carson was, according to many who knew him well, shy. Painfully shy. And yet, there are also many accounts of people feeling intimidated by him.

"The shy man does have some slight revenge upon society for the torture it inflicts upon him. He is able, to a certain extent, to communicate his misery. He frightens other people as much as they frighten him." Jerome K. Jerome, Author

So, you feel too shy to ask for the sale and prospects feel intimidated by you. Not a formula for a successful business.

I’m shy. (Except when I’m not.) I remember when I was a kid, having my mom call me, “Tsufit, Come say ‘hi’”. I refused to come into the living room to meet her friends. I was too shy.

When I was in my 20s, I was spending a summer in my hometown and performing at a local outdoor café. I’d sit there and sing my pretty little songs, till one day, one of my mom’s friends came up to me after the show and said, “Tsufit, get your face out of the guitar and talk to the audience!” I did and next thing you know I’m doing standup comedy on national TV!

So, what if you’re shy?

Get Over It!
OK. That was harsh. But true, nonetheless. The way to get over it is to realize that shyness is just discomfort with the situation you’re in.

Stage Fright
If you have stage fright, first of all, know that you’re not alone. Even in show business, where, by definition, the whole business exists for the purpose of putting on shows, stage fright is rampant. Even the most famous performers, people like Barbra Streisand and Carly Simon, admit to suffering from it.

There’s stage fright and there’s stage fright. One kind is the pounding you get in your chest before you step onto the stage. That’s normal and often doesn’t go away till you’re up there and connecting with the people. Don’t let it stop you from stepping onto the stage.

"It’s natural to have butterflies. The secret is to get them to fly in formation." Walter Cronkite

The other kind of stage fright, the dry mouth, “can’t breathe” kind, can be a problem. It happens to most of us once in a while, usually when we’re intimidated by our audience. I remember singing a song I hadn’t quite perfected to a panel of radio programmers for critique and was surprised that the pounding in my chest never really went away. That’s why people give the “picture them in their underwear” advice, so you won’t be intimidated.

Forget the Underwear!
I think the answer has nothing to do with underwear. The answer is to always speak in your own voice. It’s about connecting with your audience. And it’s about choosing your surroundings.

Change the Setting
When I was in grade nine, my dad took a sabbatical in Illinois, which meant that I had to spend the last year of Junior High in a new school. In Biology class, the tables were arranged in a big hollowed out square and everyone faced everyone and it was very comfortable. Every morning at 9 A.M., I was the Tsufit I am today — funny, confident, engaging and modest.

But every afternoon, in French class, I was a mouse. Shy, nervous, uncomfortable. The desks were arranged in traditional row style and I was behind, since in Canada we had not yet learned written French. I got Ds on my first few tests.

Same person, same school, many of the same kids in both classes, but every day, two different personalities. I later felt the same discomfort as a lawyer working in downtown law firms.

It’s my experience that labeling yourself “shy” is inaccurate and misleading. If you change the setting to a situation you’re comfortable in, you’ll be surprised to find your shyness fall away.

One more showbiz trick to overcome the shyness. Step into character.

Step into Character
I can sing in front of 1500 people in an amphitheater, but ask me to pull out a guitar and entertain eight friends at a party and I won’t do it. It happened recently. Had lunch at a friend’s house. She played piano for us and asked me to sing. No way, José. Like many performers, I need some distance between me and the audience. When I walk on stage, I step into my character and then it’s not me that’s vulnerable up there, it’s “Performer Barbie”. Of course, I’m still me and of course, I still connect, but it’s the distance that helps me overcome the feeling of being naked up there.

Bottom Line?
You’re not a kid in school anymore. As an entrepreneur, you get to choose where you hang out and with whom. Choose wisely and you’ll never (Ok, hardly ever…) be shy again!

TSUFIT is a coach specializing in helping entrepreneurs and keynote speakers to captivate their audiences. To learn how to attract, rather than chase, your clients and prospects, check out Tsufit’s 11 Secrets from the Spotlight!, available at

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