Overcome Shyness in Business English

Many people have suffered from shyness at one time or another. Shyness is quite normal for those studying to become fluent in English. One of the most important things to remember is that shyness happens when we are aware of our own discomfort. Knowing your faults is a strength (not a weakness). Shyness can be defeated when we accept ourselves for who we are. Learning how to improve yourself will teach you how to overcome shyness in business English situations. This lesson focuses on opening lines, statements and questions that will help you get business conversations flowing.

Practice and Map for Confidence

In business we often meet strangers but it is interesting to know that successful business people talk in five key stages. If you practice these stages, you will build a library of conversation topics that will in turn increase your confidence. The five key stages that you will need to practice are; 1) opening lines; 2) introductions; 3) trying out topics; 4) exploring common ground; 5) closure, including the exchange of contact information. Once you can remember these stages, you will understand where you are in the conversation and what you need to do next.

Smile, be Friendly and be Natural

The golden rule is to be friendly with your opening line or introduction. Smile like you already know the person, be professional but don’t be too formal. A natural delivery to your opening line will put the other person at ease. It’s also fine to sometimes skip the opening line and jump straight in with a fantastic bit of business news!

Whatever you do, have a backup plan just in case your opening line flops. The classic example is when you ask someone, “Hello, my name is Steve. How are you?” and they reply, “Fine”. You need to be prepared to ask a follow up question, ask about another topic or make a new statement. In all cases, practice will build your library of conversations and give you a better chance to recover your business meeting.

Some good opening lines are.

“Hi, I’m Steve from English Teacher Online.” (offer to shake hands)

“Hello, I’m Steve. What’s your name?” (wait to see what they do)

Or if you want to jump straight in.

“I was really impressed by the speech you gave at [an event] last year.”

“I just tried [a starter] from the buffet table and I’m going to get another. Care to join me?”

Your list of backup questions and answers should expand as you practice to include things that will help you in various situations.

“How long have you been a member of [this organization]?”

“How long have you been working here?”

“What company are you from?”

Have some comments for the situations that apply to your business.

“This building is so modern and clean.”

“Amazing, there are so many customers here today.”

“This event is always popular, last year I ……………”

Have some questions for the situations that apply to you.

“Could you tell me where Teacher Steve’s office is please?”

“I missed the introduction. Did they hand out the agenda yet?”

“Do you know when we need to be back from the break?”

Ask questions about the other person.

“What do you do in the company?”

“Do you have any children?”

“What do you usually do [for fun] on the weekend?”

Make a positive statement about the other person.

“You look like you’re in a good mood today.”

“I like your tie. Where did you get it?”

Make a statement about yourself.

“I’m so happy right now. I’ve hit my sales target 12 months running.”

“So I just found out my boss wants me to work [on Saturday afternoon].”

“A friend of mine is still trying to decide whether to go on holiday [to Asia].”

If you know the person, ask for an update about what they’ve been doing.

“So how was your weekend [at the lake]?”

“How’s your son doing? Did he pass his test yet?”

“What have you been up to recently? Have you finished decorating [your kitchen]?”

Ask the other person to do something for you.

“Do you want to swap emails so we can finish this later?”

“Would you mind passing the salt and pepper please?”

“Could you save my chair for me? I’ll be back in one minute.”

Ask someone if they want to do an activity together.

“Do you want to be in my group?”

“Do you want to go check out the other exhibition room?”

“My golf club is membership by invite only. Would you like me to invite you?”

Practice For Personal Success

Practice giving your own personal answers to some of these questions. Write a few of your answers down in a journal. Pick one of your favourite questions and try to write a script, how do you think the conversation should go? Write one script where everything goes to plan. Write another script where everything goes wrong! When the conversation dies, add a new question or statement. How long can you keep your conversations going? Finally, practice your conversations with a study partner or teacher.

This is how you build a good foundation in your conversation library and start to overcome shyness in business English situations.

If like this lesson and want to expand your library of topics, please check out our IELTS speaking topics page.