Pro tips for the shy networker

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Stepping out of your normal routine to meet strangers can sound pretty daunting when put in that context. If you’ve ever found yourself at an event holding your bag & drink while staring at you cell phone, you’ll know what I mean. It seems like at every event there are people chatting, laughing and bouncing from group to group, and then there are the quieter ones looking around for someone to talk to.

The longer you seems to look around for someone to talk to, the more your nerves set in and you begin to feel as though attending the event was a big mistake. This happens when we begin disconnecting ourselves from the group- creating space both physically and mentally from everyone around us. As humans, we are wired for connection- whether that be one-on-one or in a group setting. The cautionary advice for networking is- don’t let yourself look at your phone for too long. By long, I mean more than a quick glance at your home screen.

Whether you are an introvert or extrovert we’ve all had moments where we find ourselves alone looking at the others chatting in groups. It doesn’t bring up good thoughts to see everyone else having fun except you- it came bring up some ugly old school-day insecurities about not fitting in.

Here are my top pro tips to getting you out of the corner and into the conversation quickly to maximize your networking time.

When you take time out of your evening to network, it can feel like a huge letdown if you can’t connect with someone quickly, aren’t meeting a lot of interesting people, or if you find people excusing themselves and you’re left there standing alone with your drink. What now?

Your networking mindset
Your mindset is tricky when you’re in a group setting- you know when you are the outlier in a larger room pretty easily. When you get into a good conversation, those insecurities tend to melt away pretty fast.

When you are alone at an event not talking to anyone, don’t allow the “I”m not interesting” fear to pop in. The question isn’t what’s wrong with you - it’s “who can I break the ice with?”. By focusing on your next move, you’re taking yourself from in your head, to action.

If you see a group of people laughing, approach the group and ask if you can join in- even if their backs are to you, they will open up and allow you to introduce yourself, and get to know everyone in the “circle” fairly quickly- BIG win if you are scanning for someone to have a one-on-one conversation after!

If you see one person who is at the bar ordering a drink, consider going up to the bar and starting the conversation there. If you aren’t a drinker- grab a soda. If you already have a drink- go up and grab a bar napkin, lime, or a straw. Chatting at the bar is a great way to introduce yourself to someone one-on-one if you shy away from the group conversations. They may invite you to walk over to their group if they are in one- politely accept and join in. Having someone introduce you or mention that they invited you in makes you intriguing to the group and they will be excited to hear more about you.

Invite people in subtly
When done right, however, you can make strangers your connections fairly quickly and step out of the uncomfortable hello to interesting acquaintance quickly. Don’t allow your posture or voice to deter people from approaching you as well. When you keep yourself in the corner on your phone, it’s difficult to make eye contact- and that is the quickest and easiest way to send someone a signal that you’re open to talking. Once eye contact is made, the smile comes next, then you open up verbal introductions.

Pro-tip: Remember to keep your phone interactions minimal when networking. People want to spend that time talking with you, not watching you on your phone- and when you are trying to make a good first impression- show them that they are important by keeping your attention solely on them (or in the group setting, the person who is talking). The best time to get out your phone is if you want to plug in someone’s contact details if they don’t have a business card, to broadcast on social media where you are (if you’re in a small biz), or you want to schedule time to follow up with someone. The second the phone comes out when you aren’t talking with someone- you could miss the eye contact and connection to start up the next conversation!

When you find yourself at your next event and looking around to start your first or next conversation, remember these tricks - they can help you move from stuck to moving quite quickly.

The tips to strike up conversations don’t end here- share your tips for how to overcome the standing in the corner of the room below!

Cheers to your career success,

Lea

4 Tricks for a Killer Presentation

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This past weekend Jonathan @jrh_graphics and I teamed up with Dani Sauter @blonde_inthedistrict and Callum from @cephotogs to do a collab styled photo shoot on 14th street in D.C. Oh what fun that was!

Dani is one of the most driven and down to earth entrepreneurs I've ever met. From first greet to goodbye hug, it was laughs, stories, and this deep down acknowledgement between us on what it's like to build a vibrant creative business in the heart of the Nation's Capital. What prompted this week's post was Dani mentioning that she has an incredible opportunity to MC an event this Fall and so I shared a couple of my best tricks and tips for rocking it. Here are my tips to share more with all of you!

Let's say, like Dani, you’ve been asked to give a presentation to the client, team, or perhaps for a big audience. You feel the nerves start to creep up as soon as you’re asked. Your palms begin to sweat, and your stomach feels like a pit of doom. All this before you’ve even begun preparing!

If you’ve felt alone in this, stop right there. I get asked all the time about the secret sauce to giving a compelling and engaging presentation. I’ve been in your shoes and I know how scary it can feel at first and how overwhelming it can be to figure out where to begin.

These are some of the most impactful tools I’ve used to create presence and successfully deliver any type of information leaving the audience engaged, educated, and entertained.

1. Memorize, Memorize, Memorize!
Have you ever seen a presentation where the speaker is reading their notes and avoiding eye contact? If you do this, it will create a lot of distance between you and the audience. The audience will feel instantly disengaged and you don’t want that.

Instead, think of a presentation as a conversation with your audience. Keep your notes tucked away and focus on the audience instead. Whether or not you are talking to a group of 3 or a group of 300, being present is a sure way to attract their attention to you and be with your presence. Having your content memorized will make it easier for you to interact with the audience instead of figuring out what page you are on in your notes.

For my favorite resource to help you remember literally ANYTHING, watch this Ted Talk by science writer, Joshua Foer. He describes the technique — called the memory palace — and shows off its most remarkable feature: anyone can learn how to use it, including him.

2. Rock Your Confidence Pose
Over 55% of what the audience will respond to will be from your body language. Believe it or not, how you stand speaks more to the audience than what you actually say.

An Executive Coach once told me that how far apart you hold your hands will be how much money you want to make. From that moment on, I got very conscious of how I presented my hands after hearing that. The closer you hold your hands, the more you contract your body towards your center, showing insecurity. Instead, spread your hands apart, align your legs with your hips, avoid bringing them together, and notice how your chest opens up and your voice will project more. You will convey greater confidence in your knowledge of the material.

3. Get Your Gestures
During your next presentation, don’t be afraid to move your hands to convey a key point that you’re trying to make. The grander the motion, the better so that it emphasizes your point more. Gestures will become more natural when you have practiced this so spread those arms and project your point as you prepare for your presentation. The audience will be more engaged with you and believe in what you’re saying.

4. Be Bold
Be bold in how you speak during the presentation. After all, 38% of your credibility is coming from how the audience is hearing you. You can use this to your advantage and match your tone with bigger body language we discussed above to project confidence. Have a bit of fun as well if your audience is open to that. Surprise them and do something unexpected.

All of these tips may feel awkward at first but remember that your audience wants to connect with you in some way. Even if they hold a straight face, don’t underestimate their enjoyment. I’ve been approached by the most stern audience members with glowing reviews after the presentation. You never know who will benefit from your messages, so keep at it!

xxLea

Taking the Leap of Purpose

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Like any great story, the hero must begin their journey by mustering enough courage to leave what’s always felt safe and comfortable. Much like an adventure leading into a dark forest, your own pursuit of purpose can feel very similar. The terrain is new, it’s unexplored, and it can make you feel totally alone.

I remember a couple of key moments in my life where I felt ready to take the plunge and do something without knowing the outcome. When I first decided to go move to Boston for Graduate school, it felt like a lonesome decision to make at first. When you take on something new and exciting, it activates your primal instincts and stress levels to help protect you. When this happens, it can feel, especially when the fear sets in, that you’re the only one feeling all of the feels! Things like indecision, anxiety, anger, sadness, loss,  and pure fear about what was going to happen after you made your decision.

Luckily for us, the great stories with a hero all have a common theme of overcoming that initial fear of leaving your comfort zone. It can be hard in our modern stories to see the commonalities between us and others who have dared to pursue what they love, so here are my hero tips to help you begin step into your next adventure.

  • Look behind you: It can seem counter-intuitive to look behind you, but there’s a reason you’re standing on the edge. When you decide that where you are is not where you want to be, looking back can be a perfect reminder of the reason you are ready to move forward.
  • What’s the worst that can happen? My all time favorite question and with good reason. When we begin planning for the future (one we don’t know much about yet) we begin coming up with various scenarios and what ifs. Well, write all of those what ifs downs, AND what you can do to mitigate them.
     
  • Pay no mind to everyone else’s idea of the cliff: Our friends, family, co-workers all have their own experiences with the cliff and some are great, while others are scary. Remember that this cliff is yours, and yours alone. So what you experience will always be, in some part, different from everyone else’s experience.
  • Grow into your real self: The look ahead from here you are might start feeling a little narrow, like you’re heading into the thick of the forest. When you begin to only feel that fear, take a moment to remember that once you past that point, you are stepping into your own territory, where the rules are what you decide they are.

Once you’ve stepped into your first hero adventure or stepped off your purpose cliff, it will be the most rewarding and life changing experience. The minds will try and fool with us once on the edge because it knows that there is a big change coming. Don’t mistake your excitement for the adventure with the mind’s interpretation of fear. You. Got. This.

 

xxLea

Smiling your way through No

I am standing in my office hallway, fingers are slowly turning into prunes as the nerves set in and I’m slightly sweaty. I feel my heartbeat faster, it’s almost like the moment I knock on the door, my heart could explode. I hear a faint, “Come in!”, and in I go. The mug on the table read “THE BOSS”, and I sit down for what feels like a grilling. The conversation opens with, “Lea, what can I do for you?”, and off I go.

After about 15 minutes of discussing my career and what I wanted to do, I made a bold move- I asked to begin supporting one particular policy project to help build my portfolio of skills. The look on the face of my boss was UNREADABLE. However, I heard the words that many of us hate hearing, “Lea, I don’t think this is possible”.

Ouch.

I put myself out there to see if I can create my happiness at work- and then THAT happened.

I remember walking out of the office feeling completely defeated, like there was this dark cloud over my shoulders for the rest of day, heck, the rest of the week.

I look back at the situation a couple of years ago now, and I laugh. I laugh a lot because I just walked out of a similar situation last week. I walked into two meetings with senior leaders, and heard NO. Yet, I felt a million times different, even EXCITED when I heard the word NO.

Here are my lessons, from then to now on how I went from REACT to RESPOND when the boss says NO!

What’s Worse?
It won’t always go your way when you approach the boss, but the worst case scenario is one where you don’t bring up your idea at all. Most of us envision the boss saying no before we even mention it. You never know what they are thinking until you talk with them about the topic. Depending on what you ask, the conversation can turn into possibilities and options rather than never asking and never receiving!

Problem versus Solution
Many times we think the conversation ends with the answer to the question, but if you’re proposing something new to the boss, frame it as the solution to a problem. If you have been lacking a challenge at work for example, explain that taking on new responsibilities would help you engage and pick up on new skills that are necessary for you to grow professionally.

Example: Hi Michael, I have noticed there is an increase in demand for breaking news stories and press releases in our communications team. To help support the team and grow my skills in the area of writing, I suggest that I spend up to 40% of my time on quick responses. I will not expect an increase of my duties for the next two weeks while I am supporting the communications team. When I stop helping them, I can support editing and briefings more effectively having worked on this skill.

Mind reading is not a skill found on most resumes
Even perfect preparation can’t help when the Boss still decides to deny your request. Whether it’s taking a training course or new challenge, bosses aren’t always thinking about where your career is going. If you find your Boss saying no to others a lot, think insightfully as to what they are thinking about when they make that decision. Some managers are simply NO people because they don’t like change, others have a specific reason to deny the request.

Defining what no means coming from your Boss is a great way to become objective to the outcome, and not take it personally.

Redefine No
The most important skill to know when you are told no is that it means it’s new, fresh, innovative, different, and those are creative ideas that are required to remain afloat today in the workplace. Navigating a constrictive environment allows you to flew your creativity muscles, to find alternative ways to make your solution happen. If you’ve been eyeing a training which has been denied by the boss, there are a number of sources you can still pursue to make sure you get what you need. Think of no as meaning Not Yet (as in the boss isn’t ready for it) or not the right avenue (if you want it bad enough you’ll find a way and prove it works).

I believe strongly that the universe gives up a multitude of possibilities and options to pursue what we desire. If you look at no as a guide, the Universe could be directing you inwards to gut check if you REALLY want what it is that you’re asking for. In cases where your WHY is strong, you WILL find the way- it doesn’t really have anything to do with the Boss anyway.

Open your outlook calendar, and set that meeting- asking gets you one step closer no matter the outcome!

Charge on Gorgeous!

Lea