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Archive for the ‘new approaches’ Category

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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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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I can’t stress enough how important it is to honor our values when deciding on a job offer. I also encourage job seekers to look beyond salary, which is too often the only factor considered. I’m not suggesting at all that salary be ignored. That would be foolish and impractical. I recommend that salary instead be one of many factors considered. But at the same time, I realize that everyone is different, with varying priorities. So it’s important to create a list of professional values and prioritize them. Just like house hunting where it’s difficult to satisfy every want and need in one house, it’s equally challenging to fulfill every want and need in a new job.

checklist (1)With that said, if we can separate those things we can compromise on, from those we aren’t willing to compromise on, this will help make the decision-making process a bit easier. For example, are we willing to compromise on salary if the job meets our “uncompromisable” values of advancement potential, a comprehensive benefits package and professional development opportunities? Or maybe we can compromise on having a short commute if the job meets our uncompromisable values, say perhaps a compatible boss, flexible work schedule and autonomy to implement ideas. It’s also a good idea to periodically revisit our values list as our lives often change and cause shifts in priorities. In the end, staying true to our “must-haves” will help set us up for career success and fulfillment.

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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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I’ve seen several blog posts and other articles recently that use the terms “introvert” and “shy” interchangeably. I wanted to take this opportunity to dispel the myth that being an introvert necessarily means we’re shy (or socially awkward for that matter). True, some introverts are indeed shy, and some shy people are introverts, but this is more coincidental then by definition. Being an introvert means that we thrive more in settings where we can engage in deeper conversations with a handful of people (vs. small talk with many people). It also means that we need to recharge our batteries more often by having more “alone” time, as compared to our extroverted friends. And we tend to think before we speak, vs. automatically speaking first.

happy introvert signThere are of course other ways of identifying an introvert, but I think these areas I just mentioned may be where the misunderstanding and confusion lie. I just looked up the definition of “shy” which includes words like “timid, easily frightened away, wary, reluctant.” The word “wallflower” can also be a good way to describe a shy person. As an introvert myself, I can safely say that I am none of these when I go to a social or networking event. My “battery” may drain more quickly, prompting an earlier exit, and I may prefer having conversations with one or two people only, but that’s just my inner introvert kicking in…I should say “shining through!” Making these important distinctions will help improve our understanding of others, both in our personal and professional lives.

Check out Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. I’ve just started reading it and it’s already proving to be very enlightening!

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In my last blog post, I talked about how to keep employees engaged, the importance of showing employees the big picture. and how their day-to-day tasks contribute to the overall success of the organization. A blog post from awhile ago dealt with the big mistakes that some leaders make, one being, “Giving inconsistent or no feedback, direction, motivation or guidance.”

In reading a blog post from my friend and fellow coach, Kathy Wilson, she discusses this area of leadership with great insight and clarity. Both managers and employees thrive when there is meaningful two-way communication in the workplace. Kathy talks about letting employees know why their work is important and the need for leaders to describe the big picture (i.e.) how employees positively impact the organization as a whole. This can be a very effective motivator, but can also feed into frustrations when not applied, and ultimately lead to employees looking for greener pastures.

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