Archive for the ‘communication’ Category

This is just a made-up term I use when my delivery of a presentation doesn’t go well, and I wish there was a “delete” or a “redo” button I could hit to pretend it never happened. The ultimate outcome of today’s presentation was positive, but my delivery of it took me back to when I was in school, and early-career, experiencing shortness of breath, shaky voice, and an overwhelming urge to run out of the room to try to center myself. I thought I had overcome this particular challenge in light of more recent successes in giving presentations, leading workshops, and delivering speeches. This today was a presentation given for our organization’s Executive Director, who I have never had any particular trouble speaking to in the past, one-on-one, and in less formal situations. Not sure what it was, but maybe the combination of standing in front of the room (containing a 30-foot conference table) holding a clicker and going through PowerPoint slides had something to do with it.

nervous-public-speaking-clipart-1Embarrassing yes, but even more so, interesting. Interesting in a few ways: 1. How I got through the first couple of slides with no problem, and then something kicked in on the 3rd slide, the slide with a ton of text on it that I would have to go through in detail -as I’m writing this, I’m thinking that may have also contributed to my “deer-in-headlights” moment. 2. How the fact that there was very little time to prepare/rehearse goes against how anyone, but especially introverts such as myself like to go into a presentation. 3. How making small adjustments can make a significant difference, like sitting back down towards the end of the presentation helped create a more relaxed atmosphere, helped me speak more confidently, and hopefully reclaim the moment.

The other attendees tried to reassure me that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I perceived it to be. But my familiar pattern is to beat myself up over things like this. After a sufficient self-flogging, I can usually move on and focus on whatever a new day brings. What’s more, the ultimate result was positive in that the Executive Director reacted favorably to our ideas put forth, with good likelihood of them being implemented. So in light of that, and the fact that this can serve as a teachable moment, would I really want to “undeliver” the presentation? Great question. I guess the answer is yes….and no.

In closing, here are some tips to conquering presentation anxiety. Also, keeping our sense of humor can go a long way in this or any trying situation. Check out How To Add Fun to Your Business Presentations to help maintain a healthy perspective.







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I can safely say that public speaking is pretty far down on my list of favorite activities and definitely out of my comfort zone. For me, it’s been a matter of just getting through it and trying not to look foolish. In most (not all) cases, I’ve been successful given this low bar I set for myself. Even so, I’ve usually experienced to some degree the common physical symptoms of shaky voice, racing heart and cotton mouth.

But about seven years ago I had a breakthrough which seemed to be a turning point. I delivered one of the eulogies at my sister’s funeral, one of the most important speeches I would ever make, and in front of many people. But the nerves never kicked in. The words came out in a presenter_094calm, articulate and expressive manner. What accounted for this unexpected state of calm?  No idea. Can’t explain it. All I can say is that since then, whenever I have had to do any public speaking, there’s anxiety, but it sort of stays in the background without adversely affecting the task at hand. About a week ago, I co-presented a scholarship award in my sister’s honor with much of the same positive results: good eye contact, inflection in voice, steady and calm delivery, and recited from memory to boot (bonus!)

Interesting story, hopefully. Practical information, not so much. So here are some concrete ways to make our public speaking experiences more effective:

1. Be sure to move your eyes around the room and maintain consistent eye contact to keep people engaged.

2. Depending on the topic, telling a story whenever possible (vs. just reciting facts) is another way to draw in the audience.

3. Don’t forget to breathe (in through the nose, out through the mouth). Doing some quick breathing exercises just before speaking can make a big difference.

4. Keep in mind that many people have short attention spans, and some suffer from A.D.D., or may be incapable of sustaining eye contact . If your audience appears uninterested, it very well may have nothing to do with you or your topic.

5. Try to speak with inflection and don’t forget to smile or even inject humor if appropriate. This will help maintain interest from the audience, even those with short attention spans!

Different things work for different people. For example, I’ve heard that groups such as Toastmasters have been of help to some. What is probably universally true, however, is that good preparation is key. And if you can practice in front of others, even better!

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Just finished reading Brene´ Brown’s book “The Gifts of Imperfection“, a great book by the way. One thing that really resonated with me came near the end when she talks about being cool and always in control. This has been a theme in my life, and having lived in DC for the past 10 years hasn’t helped to change that. This town is generally about being on guard, conforming, and keeping your silly side under wraps. No freak flags are flown here, at least none that I’ve seen.

article-2287524-18686F27000005DC-646_634x436Being cool, in the context of the book, is not particularly a good thing. We’re too cool when we’re afraid of looking silly in front of others by doing things like laughing too loudly, singing off-key, or dancing around like a fool.  On the other hand, we’re uncool when we can fully embrace our vulnerability in situations like these, and let our authentic selves come out – and in the process, not caring what others may think.

Brown tells a funny story about how she and her daughter were dancing in the shoe department at Nordstrom’s to a catchy song that was playing in the background. Even though other shoppers were shooting them judgmental looks, that didn’t stop them from freely expressing themselves. She writes, “When we value being cool and in control over granting ourselves the freedom to unleash the passionate, goofy, heartfelt and soulful expressions of who we are, we betray ourselves. When we consistently betray ourselves, we can expect to do the same to the people we love.”

Like anything else, being uncool is a process…and for me, a really “cool” place to get to!

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One of the first things I look for in my personal or professional interactions with others is some level of interest in who I am, what makes me tick, or even how I make a living. I am so tuned into this, and when I sense the opposite happening, I retreat.

I recently attended a virtual networking event, which in itself is a great idea…if everyone has at least some networking know-how. I was building relationshipsdisappointed that at least half of those I spoke with had their own agenda: to tell me who they were, what kind of job they were looking for, and to ask me if I could help them.  Mind you, this was in no way balanced by any interest in, or curiosity about me. I couldn’t wait to end the conversations. Maybe it was just a bad day because I don’t usually encounter, fortunately, such a slew of weak networking skills all in one event. I’m more than happy to help my fellow networkers however I can – when it’s a 2-way street. After all, that’s what networking is all about: building professional relationships and helping others whenever possible.

Good karma is alive and well when it comes to effective networking! It requires a certain mindset as well. We would do ourselves a favor by going into any networking situation, not with the idea of finding our next job, but with the goal of making meaningful connections and supporting others in their career pursuits.

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A few weeks ago, I presented my new webinar called “The Introvert’s Guide to Career Happiness & Productivity.” I was pretty sure it would generate interest, but it was still a little surprising to see just how many people attended.  The webinar discussed some of the challenges introverts face in the workplace, as well as strategies to make it a more positive experience.

One of these challenges deals with being talked over or drowned out by extroverts in a group meeting. Been there. I also tend to lose in “face-offs” with extroverts when we both begin speaking at the same time, allowing my colleague to have the floor. This challenge actually played out in my own job just a few days ago. We were having a small-group meeting to debrief on a recent work event and offer ideas on how to improve it for next year. Despite having several ideas to contribute, I found myself in the old familiar pattern of starting to talk, only to be talked over by one of my extroverted co-workers. I then fell into my usual stance that I would just remain quiet for the rest of the meeting. My colleagues are all lovely people, but I figured, what’s the point?

fishoutofwaterAs discussed in the webinar, introverts like to observe, take in information, maybe make some notes, think through a few ideas alone, and then present them to the group. This can often yield the same, or even better results in terms of viable ideas and solutions. But in this particular meeting, I knew that if I wanted to contribute ideas, it had to be right then and there. I also knew that saying nothing can be perceived as being a non-contributor. So I quickly changed my mindset and decided to keep trying, keep speaking up to get my ideas voiced. And by the end of the meeting, I did manage to get a couple thoughts out there to the group, which were well received, and I considered it a personal victory.

Introverts often have to walk a fine line. On the one hand, it’s important to stay true to who we are, recognize our strengths, and avoid putting on an extroverted facade just to fit in. On the other hand, it’s important to sometimes come out of our comfort zones despite feeling like a fish out of water, to see how far we can stretch ourselves! On this particular day, it paid off for me. But on any day, it’s a good strategy to follow for anyone!

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Many of us have been there, me included. We accept a job offer based on what we thought the job entailed, but ends up being something very different. And sometimes it may be a case of not fully understanding the responsibilities of the position. So what now? We’re now in a job that has turned out to be something other than what we expected, something we would probably have turned down if we knew what we were getting into.

Job_burnout_success_rocketsIn a case like this, the misunderstanding and resulting fallout rests jointly on the shoulders of both the employee and the employer. It’s the employer’s responsibility to clearly and accurately convey the responsibilities and scope of the job before we accept the position. It’s also our responsibility to ask as many clarifying questions as it takes to completely understand what the job really is. And if something doesn’t feel right about it, then we should trust our gut instincts. Of course, other factors may come into play – like an attractive salary, or a feeling of desperation (i.e.), “I’ll take the job just to get out my current situation.” But being unhappy in a job usually overrides anything else.

So several scenarios are possible here: 1. We didn’t fully understand the job in the first place; 2. The employer didn’t clearly communicate the job; or 3. There was full clarity and understanding in the beginning, but the job has suddenly turned into something else, something we didn’t or wouldn’t have signed up for.

So what now?

1. If the job is really intolerable, then the best thing would probably be to rev up the job search again. Look outside the organization, but also see what opportunities may exist within. (If however, you just started, it may be too early to make a move internally.)

2. If the job is tolerable, and you’re comfortable doing so, talk openly with your supervisor and see if your job description can be adjusted to allow for more of the things you really want to do.  If this isn’t possible, try to give the job more time to see what develops, and what twists and turns it might take. It may just turn in your favor. But in any event, it could never hurt to keep your eyes and ears open for other opportunities.

3. If you have the means to do so, then quitting outright may be a viable option. I see this more as a last resort, but if the job is causing undue stress and having an unhealthy impact on our lives, then sometimes we’re left with no other option than to remove ourselves from that situation and start over.

Clear communication and full understanding are key before accepting any job offer. But again, sometimes even with that, things don’t turn out the way we expect. But also know you have options if confronted with a bad situation. When it happened to me, I thankfully chose to look elsewhere and am now doing something I truly enjoy.

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I read an article the other day with the headline, “How to Overcome Being an Introvert”. Overcome?! This is exactly the kind of attitude that perpetuates misunderstanding and confusion. I don’t see it as something I need, or want to fix. And even if I wanted to, trying to reverse something hard-wired into my brian is most likely impossible anyway.

Hammer and Qubes4no textLet’s face it – we introverts face certain challenges. In Susan Cain’s article, The Rise of the New Groupthink, she discusses how introverts tend to be very creative thinkers, but face a serious challenge in a culture that constantly emphasizes group activity and teamwork in the workplace. She goes on to explain that introverts welcome collaboration, but need sufficient alone-time to gather our thoughts and formulate ideas to then bring to the group for discussion. Cain cites Apple Computer’s Steve Wozniak, an example of a famous introvert, as someone who fits this mold and whose greatest ideas were developed solo. And we all know how well that turned out!

In the end, both introverts and extroverts are capable of bringing value to the workplace, but that it’s critical we understand each other’s work style and accept the fact that one size does not fit all. And this is one time where there is (or ought to be) an “I” in “Team”.

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