Social anxiety--fear, nervousness and self-consciousness related to social situations--can be debilitating. People who are overly worried about making a mistake or being judged by others tend to avoid situations that otherwise might have good outcomes. For example, networking events, conferences and meetups are great opportunities to develop relationships with people who can bolster a career trajectory or possibly turn into lifelong friends.

Even so, it's a problem for more than 50 million people in the U.S. That's according to public speaker and social entrepreneur  Andrew Horn, who says entrepreneurs, in particular, often struggle with social anxiety in spite of how they may come off as self-assured and confident. As someone who has founded several companies and overcome social anxiety himself, Horn has some advice on how anyone can become more comfortable interacting in public venues, pitching investors or meeting new people.

1. Show genuine interest in other people.

Think about the people you enjoy the most. Do they brag about their accomplishments or are they interested in what's going on with you? Chances are, it's the latter. Horn uses three questions to get people talking about themselves:

  • What are you most excited about?
  • What are you struggling with at the moment?
  • What's next?

The subject matter can be about business or life, just as long as you're getting at the things that are most important to whomever you're interacting with. "You give them a chance to talk about something that they probably don't get to talk about very often but that's very real for them," he says. "And you also give yourself a relevant opportunity to contribute your own story--potentially some insight or advice that you might have."

2. Just stop worrying about what people think.

Horn says it's a matter of switching from an external focus to one that's internal.  People with social anxiety often can't be present and their best selves if they're constantly asking themselves questions such as: Did I come across as confident? Did they think that I was smart? Did they think that I was successful? Did they think what I said was stupid?

In truth, you can never really know what someone else thinks of you. So, instead of worrying about it, concentrate on what you want to communicate, such as asking good questions, not engaging in time-wasting small talk and looking people in the eyes.

3. Identify the emotion behind your idea.

Anyone trying to get an idea off the ground needs to ask two questions: "Why am I doing this?" and "Why does it deserve to exist?" If you haven't articulated those things to yourself, you're more likely to give up and not endure through difficult business situations. "That emotion has a massive impact, not only on your ability to persist and endure, but also in converting other people into advocates and partners for what you're doing," he says.

4. Get good at telling stories.

They are the medium through which you will turn people into fans. The secret to telling stories, Horn says, exists in a technique he calls WWAVE:

  • W-Who is the protagonist and what happened to this person? "You should never tell a story, but only relive one," he says.
  • W-What was said? It can be in your own head or a conversation you had with someone else.
  • A-Adversity--what is the struggle or problem you encountered?
  • V-Victory relates to identifying the moment when you overcame adversity.
  • E-Emotional context involves telling how it felt to overcome adversity, as well as how your idea empowered yourself or others.

"These constructs are helpful because they give you a baseline of understanding about what you want to talk about, so that you can be fully present in conversation," he says.