Getting Over that Fear of Public Speaking

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Me, prepping before a presentation; photo cred @troy

Many people are afraid of speaking in front of large crowds. The idea of getting up in front of 10, 100 or even 1000 people and speaking can be incredibly daunting, even if the speech is prepared right there in front of you. The glare of the lights, the eyes beaming down on you, etc…

Public speaking is par for the course as you operate in the professional world. In order to gain credibility, prominence or legitimacy, at some point you will have to face the fear of doing so. The whole point of speaking in front of a group is to persuade them to listen and believe what you have to say: to get a point across effectively and articulately.

The most common way of getting around public speaking is by generally ignoring it, perhaps shying away from opportunities to present, until the moment you absolutely have to get up and speak, and then freaking out. Instead, here are some tips I use for public speaking to make it less nerve-racking and more effective.

1. Face the music: whether you like it or not, you’re going to have to give a presentation publicly. The earlier you recognize this and come to terms with it, the easier it’s going to be.

2. Find opportunities to practice public speaking that are lower-impact. Participate in larger meetings. Ask questions in public fora (you know me!). Get your voice out on a larger scale that doesn’t involve a soliloquy to warm yourself up.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice: there is no such thing as being over-prepared for a public speaking event. Winging it simply isn’t an option, and people will sense that you are floundering, which will cause a perpetual cycle of insecurity. Begin practicing 2 nights before the event. Write it out. Read it through. Say it in the mirror, recite it in the shower, and try to get yourself an audience of 1-2 to listen to you.

Force yourself to say the whole thing through. Whether it’s a presentation or a speech, making sure you are comfortable with an entire run-through is critical. There are often talking points at the end that never get practiced, and can be taxing at the end of the speech to land a clean ending without.

4. Speak slowly and decisively. This is something I have a lot of trouble with since I’m a fast talking New Yorker. But when you get up on stage, other people are hanging on every word you say. Speak slowly so that they can comprehend. Pause appropriately for effect. And be decisive in your word delivery so that the audience is convinced of your word choices.

5. Recite, but don’t memorize. You’ll psych yourself out if you try to memorize a whole monologue. It’s easier if you have slides in the presentation to serve as mile-markers, but in general memorization usually causes downstream effects during the time of your presentation. Often times when you memorize something and you forget to say a line, you lose your place and are unable to continue.

Instead what I do is structure it in terms of thought progression and let the words say themselves. Plus, when I am practicing, I find that I repeat the same phrases when expressing a sentiment enough times that I am comfortable with a few different ways of saying what I mean. That way, I ensure that it will come out effectively during the actual presentation.

6. Talk to the forehead. I was once given the advice that speaking to people’s foreheads in the audience is an effective way to deliver eye contact. You are still looking at your audience members without getting locked into anyone’s gaze, which itself can be distracting. In addition, scan the audience by directing your attention to one area of the room during one thought, and then moving the focus to a different area at the next.

7. Take up space. Women especially are less inclined to do this, but taking up space lowers your anxiety and exudes a sense of confidence, even if it’s not really there. Open your legs and broaden your shoulders (especially you, ladies!) It’ll make you feel relaxed, and if anything it’ll fool your audience into thinking you know what you’re saying.

8. Don’t fiddle with the clicker, your hands, etc. Nervousness tends to manifest itself in habits like playing around with a slide changer, waving your hands or placing them in your pockets. This can only be distracting to your audience and demonstrates weakness and insecurity. Most importantly, never touch yourself (head on forehead, hand on elbow, etc). It’s considered to be rude but also shows nervousness.

9. Engage (with) the audience. Where possible, try to ask questions or elicit some type of response from the audience. The more candid you can make your speech sound, the more you will naturally pause for breaks for things like laughter or emotion. And don’t forget, just because you’ve practiced a line until the joke becomes tired, doesn’t mean that your audience has already heard it. They’ll probably still be inclined to laugh – at least, a little.

10. Breathe. Take pauses between thoughts and deep breaths between sentences. Give the audience time to catch up with you. It will feel unnerving and unnatural, but in hindsight, it’s always for the best.

 

Getting Over that Fear of Public Speaking

On Feedback

6881178_f260 Getting and receiving feedback is part of the professional lifecycle. At some companies, it’s a bi-annual (or even annual) meeting with a superior that entails some kind of compensation or promotion discussion. At others, it happens on a weekly or monthly cadence.

But in all jobs, we receive some sort of feedback on an almost daily basis in some form or another. Formal feedback ordinarily entails what is known at most companies as “360 feedback”: comments from peers, superiors and direct reports to encapsulate a full picture of your work. It is parts positive, parts constructive and sometimes parts confusing.

For people who are new to the process, positive reinforcement can seem like the most powerful thing. Getting a pat on the back for great work done is what everyone wants to hear – it’s like earning an A on a paper. We often cringe at the constructive stuff: the idea of people publishing negative things about us and focusing on weaknesses is nerve-racking at best. It’s taken me a long time to understand the value of the “negative” but in reality, the feedback simply serves as constructive criticism to make ourselves perfect.

As a result, I can’t stress enough the importance of receiving constructive feedback. Nobody is perfect, and the only way we’ll become better professionals and individuals is to hear other people’s commentary on our work. The criticism can range from individual skill development to professional demeanor to public presence. Almost everything (professional, within reason) is fair game, and trust me it’s worth hearing. Ordinarily once you hear it, you’ll begin to notice it and course correct rather quickly. And the advice goes both ways: don’t be afraid to provide with critical feedback on a regular cadence. It’s nothing personal, and the other party will likely be grateful for your opinion.

Taking constructive criticism can mean thickening up your skin. It’s hard, and so I try to solicit feedback as often as possible. By receiving it constantly, you become better at digesting the hard stuff. It also makes it less alarming than receiving an onslaught of things to improve. Another way to soften the blow of receiving constructive feedback is to have the person delivering it write it out for you and give it to you to read (either before or during the meeting) so that it’s easier to divorce the subject saying the words from the words themselves.

No matter what, treat the subject with dignity. Thank the person for taking the time to improve you, and generally speaking, write it down! You’ll be more inclined to go back to it without the rest of the emotions later on.

Anyone else have good methods for coping with receiving feedback? Feel free to Tweet me @ellenjdasilva.

On Feedback

Back It Up With Data

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The analyst in me knows that not everyone enjoys quantitative reasoning or analysis. In fact, it’s something many of us graduate from (in school, profession, etc) and hope to leave behind forever. But I can’t stress the importance of keeping everything data-driven, even potentially to a fault, to ensure credibility and substantiate a claim.

When you are working on a project, trying to negotiate a partnership, or even forming an interest group, taking a data-driven approach is a sure way to success. When I think about my work re-starting the Super Women at Twitter org from the ground up, I attribute the success to identifying valuable metrics and putting hard numbers behind the claims.

Data doesn’t have to be scary or even large, but it should be accurate and well-thought out. The most successful companies that learn how to scale and grow a business also know how to identify metrics early, measure them consistently and accurately, and use those data points to their advantages. The difference between a small, fledgling company that doesn’t understand how to pitch or scale itself and one that does is simply a metric.

Start small: identify one thing that values the business, org or project. Is it number of users? Time spent doing something? Added value to a business? Identifying, tracking and using this data effectively lends credibility and sets you up for success.

 

Back It Up With Data

We Wrote A Book! Pitching & Closing Comes Out July 25

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I’m excited to announce that my good friend, Alex Taub of SocialRank, and I have written a book. The book is called Pitching & Closing: Everything You Need to Know About Business Development, Partnerships, and Making Deals that Matter. The book is being published by McGraw Hill and you can pre-order your copy starting today.

I often get asked about the process of moving into tech and especially, business development: what kinds of skills are required, what jobs are available, and how to be successful in doing deals. Indeed, I met Alex asking exactly the same kinds of questions. Over the years, we have discovered that there is limited material on the topic, and so we sought to create our own playbook.

For those who don’t know Alex, he is the most well-connected business person in the New York tech community, and has been writing a very popular personal blog and a bi-weekly column for Forbes for the past few years. Sometimes, he asks me to help him formulate ideas and edit the posts. So I was deeply honored and truly floored last spring when Alex approached me with a game-changing opportunity: to be his co-author on a book on business development.

What can you read about in Pitching & Closing? The book spans 5 major topics and dives in-depth about each. Part 1 is about the business development basics. What is it? How is it structured and organized at companies? What does it entail? Part 2 is an introduction to partnerships. Part 3 takes an extensive look at the process of pitching and closing, the namesake of the book. Part 4 is an overview of industry best-practices. And Part 5 features war stories from some of the best names in the business, including Charlie O’Donnell (Brooklyn Bridge Ventures), Gary Vaynerchuck (VaynerMedia), Jesse Itzler (Marquis Jet) and many more.

The purpose of the book is twofold: first, it is meant to serve as a guidebook to the art of business development and closing deals for people already in the industry. Second, it is meant to used as a training manual for new graduates or graduate school students who want to learn more about the industry and how non-technical roles work at tech companies.

Let’s be actionable: how can you help?

1. Buy the book! It’s available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indigo and other major booksellers. The book will be available for shipment on July 25, 2014 and is also available on audiobook.

2. Spread the word to college and graduate school students and professors. Alex and I are hoping that this book will be used for educational purposes in addition to just for industry professionals. If you are a professor or know of anyone who runs a program that might be interested in using the book as part of their curriculum, we’ll be happy to talk. Email us at ellenjdasilva@gmail.com or ataub24@gmail.com.

It would be out of character if Alex and I didn’t use this as an educational opportunity for others interested in learning about the book writing process. Over the next 2 months leading up to the book launch, we’ll be sharing insights about the process, real-time tips, and additional snippets of content that you might find valuable. Stay tuned for updates on our website pitchingandclosing.com and of course, on Twitter @pandc.

We Wrote A Book! Pitching & Closing Comes Out July 25

Change Management

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then                                         now!

Yesterday marks 2 years at Twitter for me, which is an exciting milestone. It feels like the time has flown by, and simultaneously it feels like my early experiences here were a lifetime ago. I began reflecting on the various and vast changes that I’ve witnessed in my short time here, and on the way we manage change and hypergrowth.

What kinds of changes have we experienced? Without being too specific to Twitter, startups grow. Management teams change (not quite so much in my case). The vision of the product redirects. New features get added. Most noticeably, the staff increases many-fold. We move into new offices, adopt new traditions and think about monetizing in different ways. Luckily, the snacks pervade.

Navigating that change can be challenging because every day you come into a different set of circumstances and face a different set of challenges with new people. The easiest way to diffuse the change management is to incorporate new additions as quickly as possible and get them acclimated to the environment right away. Then they, too, become the arbiters of the culture and owners of tasks that will help propel the company faster.

A great piece of advice I learned early on here was to innovate quickly and be decisive. I’m not in a product-building role. And I didn’t even start here all that early (this was a fairly large company when I joined). But to navigate the change successfully you, have to be able to do both of these things well. Innovating quickly means being scrappy: sharing your thoughts and ideas, and then rolling up your sleeves and actually executing on them. Going the extra mile to do the analysis, make the sale, build the deck. Being decisive means things get done more swiftly. Indecision can lead to stalling, but these companies grow and march onward whether or not your decision has been made. From my experience, it’s better to be able to march forward with everyone than lag behind.

And finally, roll with it. There are inevitably bumps, reroutes or even mistakes. We hire the wrong person, conduct the wrong study, pitch the wrong idea to the wrong company. Given how quickly these companies grow, those misdirections get smoothed over and course-corrected pretty quickly. But you have to be malleable to turn around when the time comes.

Corporate structural change used to intimidate me, but I’ve come to terms with the idea that no two days will be the same. That’s part of the excitement. Here’s to more of managing the change in years to come.

Change Management

Pick a Company, Not a Function

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It’s graduation season and in the spirit of those who are graduating (hey Nancy!), I thought I’d provide some advice for all those weighing a few job opportunities. Most opportunities for recent graduates and young professionals are part of a formal program: banking, management consulting, or other large corporate jobs. But when you are considering entering an entrepreneurial or smaller arena, the options might be different for new grads who are “business” generalists.

Often when I speak to people experiencing this dilemma, it comes down to the following:

1. I got my dream job! But I don’t know anything about the company (OR it’s a company I don’t really love/understand the product)

or

2. I am going to work for the most amazing company, but they’re hiring me for a role I have no interest in doing 

I understand why the dilemma feels lifechanging. You want to work for the perfect company and do the best job, but the reality is that both don’t necessarily happen at the same time. It feels counterintuitive to take a job that isn’t exactly what you want to do especially since you’ll actually have to be performing in that function day in and day out.

Indeed, when I was interviewing for tech jobs, I was speaking to companies about everything from user services and support to financial planning and analysis. At one point, I even considered taking an internship (with the promise to turn into a full-time position) because I was so passionate about one of the companies. I wasn’t exactly interested in this broad array of opportunities, but the opportunities to work at the various companies seemed exciting nonetheless.

The best piece of advice I received when I was looking to make a move into tech is to take a job for the company, not the function. Here’s why:

1. The “company” is just the people you are surrounded by. If you want to work for an organization that will put you in contact with some of the best and brightest, you will benefit from working at that company regardless of your function. As long as you are expanding your network and working with great people, you will succeed.

2. There is a ton of mobility within companies. Especially at startups, new functions and even new teams crop up all the time. If you take a role within the company and decide it isn’t the right fit for you, which is exactly what I experienced at Twitter, there are plenty more opportunities that will become available to you.

3. As a young professional, your job is simply to learn and absorb as much as possible. If by working for a company you are able to do that, regardless of your position, then it doesn’t really matter what job you take. Take note of the skills you want to acquire and take charge or making that happen. Chances are you wouldn’t even be qualified to take a role that’s so far out of scope that you couldn’t knock some items off of your “to learn” list.

With all of that, if you truly don’t feel comfortable or it feels like your career will take a wrong turn, then simply don’t take the job. Sometimes walking away is the best idea, even if it’s the scariest. But shying away from a great opportunity because the job isn’t perfect is the wrong attitude.

 

 

Pick a Company, Not a Function

Building a Personal Brand

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When I was in college, after my first year on campus, I ran for student body president. My strategy was to walk around and talk to everyone about my ideas: in the cafeterias, in the library, even walking up and down Thayer St. I didn’t win, but the strategy proved to be pretty successful over the subsequent years. My network was large and I had spoken to so many people, that they knew what I was about. As a result, I was often consulted for activities or admitted to classes in which my colleagues knew I was interested. I had built my first “personal brand,” and I learned pretty quickly that it served me well.

What do I mean by personal brand? A personal brand is a way of consistently representing yourself to the outside world so that others know exactly who you are. Your values, interests, and even stances on various issues are all part of the way you present or market yourself to the outside world. If you consider commercial brands that are well known, it’s probably because their marketing team has done an outstanding job of making that brand memorable.

The idea is to do the same with your personal brand. This brand is helpful in shaping an identity, and can come in handy if you are establishing yourself in a new job, company or industry. Building that brand means sending a consistent message, discussing your ideas and seeking advice from a wide array of mentors and sponsors. This can be within the confines of your professional existence at work, or cross the boundaries of the professional/personal divide. Once your brand is established, people will begin to associate you with certain activities or ideologies.

Some people worry about getting pigeon-holed or stereotyped. What if I am only associated with that one message? But people need something to latch onto. If you want to be memorable, stick to your guns. Understand that most of the people you interact with will assume that you have more than one dimension. It’s also permissible to go “off-brand” every once in a while (otherwise you probably aren’t a real human being). Building a personal brand also means that you can become the go-to person for something very quickly – something that can catapult careers at a young age.

My success in building a person brand has been being vocal about my beliefs and sharing my thoughts broadly. Blogging and Tweeting have helped as well, but there are many strategies that can be successful. Tweet @ me if you have additional ideas about how to craft and perfect your personal brand.

Building a Personal Brand

Confidence/Competence

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After a very interesting conversation with a colleague yesterday, I started thinking about the balance between professional competence and professional confidence. There is a sliding scale and a series of tradeoffs that are often made between these two, but they are not mutually exclusive.

What do I mean?

Competence: basically, how intelligent are you and do you have the skills to perform the task at hand? There are a variety of gradations on this one, and for junior professionals getting a footing on their roles, competence will depend on the task at hand. For example, if you work in business development and you are asked to manage a partner’s expectations regarding pricing, your competence will (hopefully) be fairly high. On the other hand if you’re in the same role and asked to conduct an acquisition analysis, your competence might be lower.

Confidence: the ability to project or exude positivity and/or certainty. This one is pretty self-explanatory. For example, if your manager asks you for an opinion on a subject about which you are an expert, you’ll be pretty confident in your response. If anyone asks me about, say, Twitter Ads, I will (hopefully) deliver my answer with confidence.

In the early years of a career, there is often a divergence or gap between confidence and competence. Depending on the industry you choose to enter, you might begin obtaining skills in one area but not the other. In my experience, when I graduated from college I felt both competent and confident. Boy was I wrong! Investment banking takes the following approach: undermine the confidence; destroy the competence. Then, build back the competence from the ground up, which may or may not restore the confidence.

Why does this gap exist?

It exists primarily for the purpose of professional training, but also to mark and delineate points of inflection in a career. By “breaking” both pieces of the puzzle, it represents something to work toward on each end of the spectrum. Once you have mastered both for a certain area, domain expertise, task, etc, then it’s time to move on to the next level. For most people, that’s a promotion or a new role. But with that new role comes a new set of challenges for which an individual must work to become both competent and confident.

Know Your Audience

There are some instances in which it’s better to lead with confidence than competence. I find that when I am presenting or working on something that I’m passionate about, my confidence trumps my competence. Should I work to close the gap? Yes. But the audience or recipients will benefit in some capacity by the enthusiasm or confidence I try to project.

On the other hand, competence can go a long way in trying to prove a point or in many analytical settings. “Show me, don’t tell me” can often lead to a competence trumping confidence attitude.

Why does it matter?

In thinking about my own career, it’s been helpful to catalogue the growth trajectories of both confidence and competence, not letting one preclude the other for too long, and understanding when it’s time to take on the next challenge. I recognize what broke my professional confidence initially and what it takes to build both confidence (having an opinion helps with this one) and competence (learning something broadly and deeply simultaneously helps with that.)

How do you think of this dichotomy?

h/t to @klineshoes for the thought exercise.

Confidence/Competence

Givers, Takers, Matchers and Favors

 

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Adam Grant, Wharton professor of organizational psychology, recently wrote a book called Give and Take in which he describes various workplace and other professional sociological behaviors. The construct of givers and takers resonated with me, because the professional world is all about doing favors for one another. Indeed, someone who is able to parlay his or her network into something beneficial often succeeds.

In a nutshell, a giver is someone who is constantly willing to give of him or herself. If you ask a favor of that person, he or she will happily say yes (and probably have a hard time saying no). Grant argues that having a giving mentality in the workplace is critical to a having a charitable society, and also contributes to profitability, etc. He or she asks for little in return. For example, when friends from New York have friends who move to San Francisco, they often reach out to me to ask if I would be willing to help their friend acclimate to the city. I am always happy to do so.

On the other hand, a taker is ordinarily on the other side of this arrangement. Someone who is has no problem asking for tasks or favors from others. In the crudest terms, these people are able to extract value from their connections. In my experience, I’ve asked friends to talk to acquaintances about summer internships, industries of interest or even for mentor-like advice.

Giving and taking in the context of asking connections for professional favors is one of the most tangible ways of understanding these constructs. A taker is someone who doesn’t mind asking for an introduction to a mutual connection, for access to information or for a task to be completed. The act of asking for something can take guts (especially when you are in a more junior position), and ordinarily the taker is in the position of authority. The taker is perceived to be the more successful of the two.

There is a middle ground between givers and takers, known as a matcher. This person aims to find value in asking others for favors, but understands that there is a tradeoff and also wants to add value where possible. If favors are a running score board, they want to have marks on both sides.

I have been learning over the course of the last few months from both personal and professional endeavors that while we shouldn’t necessary tally favors from friends and colleagues, it’s important to be comfortable asking for favors. I have recently had to branch out into my network and make some big asks from close friends and acquaintances alike. When I was looking for jobs a few years ago, I contacted almost anyone I’ve ever met in the field that interested me to ask for introductions or to submit my resume. Now as I continue to expand my network, I find myself matching friends who want to learn about other companies with friends who work at those companies. It’s scary to make the ask, but people are honored to do the favor (most of the time) and the results rewarding. Some of the most successful people I have witnessed have no problem soliciting help from those around them. We should all strive to be matchers, but since it is in most of our natures to be givers, we shouldn’t be bashful of being a taker every once in a while as well.

Givers, Takers, Matchers and Favors

Professional Communication Pitfalls: Don’t Make These Mistakes

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Most companies require a level of professional training and development in a formalized setting that exist to groom employees with a proper level of etiquette. But, as with anything, there are gaps in the education. One area that is often overlooked is best practices around communication: in meetings, with superiors, with junior-level employees, and even surprise 1:1 meetings with executives.

Here are some tips that I have found useful and guidelines I try to live by in my professional interactions:

  1. Don’t start a question with “I have a question”: that’s pretty obvious, but it makes you seem as though you are stalling. In addition, don’t preface a comment by saying “this might be ignorant but…” or “you may have covered this already but…” You lose credibility by starting a sentence, question or comment in this manner; in fact, you have probably lost the audience and even the speaker’s attention. It’s a great habit to rid.
  2. Being engaged in a discussion doesn’t mean you have to add a comment or ask a question: People like to speak to hear the sound of their own voices, and that’s fine. But in a group discussion, if you don’t have anything new or insightful to add, it’s ok to be an active listener. In fact, repeating someone else’s point or commenting on something you know little about can backfire.
  3. Learn how to say no for the sake of prioritization: If someone asks for your help performing a task and you don’t have the bandwidth, be honest. Although your instinct probably tells you to be eager and say yes, you don’t have the time to do everything. I wrote a whole post about this here if you want to learn more. Being forthright about your time management and the reasons you are unable to help will resonate with the other person, and they will likely not exclude you from the next ask if you give them a sense of when you will be more able to help.
  4. Include the right channels on relevant communication, and be inclusive: If you are working on a project and forget to cc a key stakeholder on a meeting, that person will likely not be able to perform her job better and/or be insulted that she wasn’t included in the first place. It looks sloppy and breaks up the communication chain if you don’t take time and effort to ensure that communication is going to all of the correct parties. It is not safe to assume that because you forward an email to someone on the team, that the correct person will see the correspondence. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask if you’d like to be included in a dialogue.
  5. Know what you want in concrete terms before you ask for something: regardless of your level (from CEO down), if you want something and you need help, guidance, resources etc from a colleague, have a set of needs (in list form, if needed) and communicate them as such. The more specific you are, the more that other person can help.
  6. Have a purpose for every interaction: coffee conversations to formalized meetings should have some form of purpose or agenda. There are instances in which an agenda is expected and should be circulated. And of course there are more “informal” dialogues with acquaintances, potential mentors, etc. Even though a proper agenda isn’t necessary, go into the conversation with a specific set of ideal topics to cover or a reason for the meeting. If not, it’ll probably be a waste of time on both ends. And if the conversation becomes fruitful, don’t forget to follow up.

If there’s anything else I missed please feel free to tweet at me or comment below.

Professional Communication Pitfalls: Don’t Make These Mistakes