Wednesday morning I was interviewed by Ramit Sethi about becoming a more effective communicator. This broke down into two camps: Introductions and talking in a group. We met at a local studio here in San Francisco for the interview and I’m happy to say that I walked away with a lot of valuable information and actionable items!
Like many people, I’ve done a lot of things in my life so when I meet someone new, I think about what to share. In fact, I over think it — Should I introduce myself by title and the company I work for, something that I recently accomplished or tell them how others see me? Maybe it’s my nerdy nature but I usually end up juggling a list of items in my head and then share a few random things as I try to give the person a picture of who I am. I find this frustrating because I want to connect with others but it’s not always clear how to do so.
The second issue I struggle with is being heard. I’m an introvert by nature (Meyers-Briggs INTP) and when I’m having conversations one on one I do very well but as the size of people involved in the conversation grow, I become quiet even though I still have ideas and thoughts. This happens even with a group of friends. I find it hard to pick the right time to speak up and make my point. Afterwards, I often followup with people one on one and share my ideas then or by email. It turns out that many women experience this as well. A study published in the American Political Science Review found that when women were in groups with men and that asked them to collaborate and solve a problem, women spoke up less. Much less in fact that their proportional share amounting to less than 75 percent of the time that men spoke.
Funny thing is, when I talk to friends about this, they tell me they have no idea that this is a hard thing for me. They see me as social, outgoing, curious, helpful and friendly. How does one begin to repair the internal agony of awkwardness with the desire to feel comfortable in any situation talking to anyone?
That’s why when I got an email from Ramit about coming in to get advice, I quickly replied to express my interest. I signed up for Ramit’s Dream Job course earlier this year because a friend had recommended I check out his website where he writes about strategies to be successful, increase your income and find the job you love. In case you haven’t heard of him, Ramit Sethi (@ramit) is a New York Times best selling author of the book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich.
So what can I do to change this so I feel confident about my introductions to others and my participation in groups? Here are my take aways from the interview with Ramit.
Increase confidence when introducing myself and speaking up in groups.
When presented with these situations, I feel physically uncomfortable and awkward. I fidget and am hyper aware of my body posture. I’m unsure what to share with new people I meet because I want them to understand who I am, what I stand for and what drives me in life. Plus on the technical side, I want to ensure they understand my level of experience and ability. Then there is the context and relevance of us meeting — What event are we at? Who do we know in common? This is especially frustrating when I see others speaking up on a topic even though they have less experience than I do on it but they speak up and present themselves in a way to advertise and promote the topic. I at times find myself minimizing my accomplishments.
I want to connect better with new people I meet.
I want to own my accomplishments yet not seem like I’m bragging.
I want to make myself heard because I have valuable information to contribute.
Ramit’s Tips On Connecting In A Conversation
Don’t list things when meeting people – Rather than rattle off a long list of things, pick three things that I can share that will invite the other person to ask questions, position myself in the conversation and something I’m working on or looking forward do.
Don’t bombard people with information – We all know the term TMI for Too Much Information. Use less words and use body language like raising my eyebrows to deliver. Watch tv interviews like 60 Minutes for tips on how this works. Be brief and don’t rush through it.
Empathize with what they say – When others share something, take the time to acknowledge it. Share a story of your own that shows you get what they’re saying. Don’t try to “fix” their problem (My inner nerd struggles with this).
SMILE! even in business settings – Ramit interestingly enough told me while we were doing the role-play introductions that I had a very serious face on and wasn’t smiling. Now that’s contrary to how most people think of me (including myself!) but I do have a habit of when I’m focusing on information, I tend to become very serious looking. You can see this whenever I’m doing a presentation in front of others on a stage. I’m so glad he caught this so now I can become more aware of how I deliver and not just what I say.
Pay attention to how others react to what you say – I gravitate to extroverts for this very reason; it’s easier to read them. Reading social cues has always been a challenge for me. A few years ago I bought a book on body language which helped immensely to pick up on this but reading faces and gauging the other person is still a work in progress.
Role Play Exercises
We did roleplaying where we each “led” the introductions and conversations with each other. I found this very valuable to be able to act out and then discuss what happened. Having someone to bounce my experience off of and get instant feedback about the interactions gave me time to process it and try again. It was a bit uncomfortable but hey, I always say that in order to grow, you have to step out of your comfort zone!
We crafted two introductions: one for business and one for personal. I focused on the power of three and for the business introduction I shared where I was from, what type of company I worked for and something I was working on, learning or a place I just traveled to. For the personal one, we made that one a bit more fun and I still shared where I came from but then admitted that I was a big nerd and made a lot of YouTube videos. In both cases, there was enough information for the other person to get a sense of who I was and form questions to engage in the ever popular, yet often elusive art of small talk. Gasp!
Now it was time to talk about groups and having my voice heard. I gave Ramit the example of the two pronged problem I faced: Getting the attention of the group and once I had the floor, what did I say to make it count? I’m sure we’ve all been there in a group where you are listening and then have a great idea and you’re waiting patiently to speak up on your turn but then it seems like the conversation is moving to a new topic and you feel a sense of panic. Or maybe by the time your turn comes you forgot what you were going to say? I had a new insight after the interview with Ramit on this — The reason it seems my turn never would come is because I had been quiet in the group thus there was not a “placeholder” for my turn. So people, speak up early and often! Even if you just say you agree with someone else’s point. My homework for this was to commit to speak up three times in each group setting I’m in going forward and start with getting the floor and then asking a question. That engages the group to respond and acknowledge me. Once I feel comfortable, then I can share my thoughts.
Summary and Next Steps
I am so glad that I took the time to reach out to Ramit on this opportunity because talking with him in person made a huge difference in how much I got out of the interview and exercises.
Going forward, I’m going to look into enrolling in a local Improv course because I’ve been wanting to do that for over a year now. I did a six week Improve course at Comedy Sportz back in Minneapolis around 2005 and it was truly a life changer in terms of being able to have fast comebacks and use humor in conversation. People actually began to tell me I was funny! I have friends like Scott Hanselman who attribute their success at public speaking being attributed to their experience doing stand up comedy or improv.
The other thing I’m going to look into is media training. I have heard about this as something political folks do because they are frequently interviewed about hot button issues and need to be able to think on their feet. The need also arises because they may be interviewed by people who have a different view which can result in hostile or baited questions. A catchphrase for this would be mental agility.
The video captured will be used in the second edition of the Dream Job course due out early next year in January 2013.
Have you struggled with promoting your talents and experience when meeting new people?
Have you found yourself outtalked in a group?
What have you tried to overcome these challenges?