Sometimes, we don’t feel confident but we have to look confident. I’ve been there – headed into a meeting and I have to psych myself up before I get there. My husband calls those moments the “yips” – you get in your head and psych yourself out and you need to project confidence. Maybe you can find it within – or maybe you need to tap into these four steps to look confident:
Ready? Stand up with your feet under your knees, under your hips, under your shoulders, with your feet about five to six inches apart. Make sure you’ve for your weight on both legs, not over to one side of the other. Keep your shoulders back (not rolled forward) and turn towards other people, letting your chest and heart facing them when you’re talking to them.
Be sure your head is upright – you want to imagine a balloon attached to the top of your head, holding you up straight.
Make Eye Contact
Eye contact makes you look honest and confident –it builds trust. If you don’t make eye contact or look at someone in the eyebrows (even if their eyebrows are on point!) you’re going to appear insecure and nervous, or aloof and as if you’re lying or hiding something.
Make eye contact when possible, and when you look away, look up or out versus down. Think about why we look down – we’re embarrassed or feel shame.
Rushed mindless chatter filled with ums and ahs is a hallmark of being nervous. Slow it down! Not robotic slow or so slow that everyone falls asleep. Make sure your words have purpose and meaning. A nice way to think about this one: your words are currency and you should spend money wisely.
By paying attention to how you’re saying what you’re saying, you’re going to automatically slow it down. By slowing down, you not only look confident, but you also show care for your words!
Repeat after me: silence is confident! The problem happens when silences are forced on you. When you take a silence: a moment to let the audience think and reflect, a pause, or a break in your cadence – you’re taking a moment to acknowledge the audience and connect with them.
Scared about taking a silence? Think about the alternative: mindless chatter because you’re nervous. Take the silence.
Why is My Inner Critic So Loud?New Year, New You, am I right?! The gyms are packed, our classes are jammed, and it will be like this until mid-March when folks start to get tired of their resolutions and start going back to their old habits.
That won’t be you this year, right?
It’s ok if it is. Resolutions are trash, intentions are amazing – but we’ll talk about that later.
I do want to make a pact with you right now – we’re in 2020 and making this happen. Let’s make 2020 the year we both work on our confidence, ok? I don’t know about you, but I’ve wasted way too much time doubting my abilities and myself. That nagging voice needs to go, and this is the year I’m going to be louder than that critic. I’m not going to kid myself and say “Hey! I’m going to get rid of the little voice that tells me that I can’t” but I am going to build up my positive self-talk so that voice stands out.
That’s just one of the ways YOU can up your confidence. Here are eight more that can get you and me on the same page for our 2020 agreement:
Ask your inner critic questions
– ask why you feel like you’re not good enough, and then ask for proof. Factual evidence that you’re a fraud. I’m willing to bet all the nachos there is little evidence.
Breathe and unclench your butt
– if you’re carrying tension, people you talk to are going to feel tense. This is a favorite of ours: clench your butt and say hello, now unclench your butt and say hello. Hear the difference?
Yes And yourself and your accomplishments
– Yes And is the magic improv phrase that helps the world get along. Kidding, but not? Think of a recent accomplishment – you responded to that stressful email. Now throw some Yes And magic at it: Yes And it took a lot of energy. Yes And it went better than expected. Yes And now it’s done.
– your posture matters. If you’re all scrunched up, you’re going to feel all scrunched up inside. Connect your feet with the floor, stand with your shoulders open versus tightly forward. If you’re sitting or standing, unclench that butt.
Celebrate all the wins
– answered two emails? WOO! Cleaned up some clutter? YES! Organized some receipts? YOU WIN. Don’t ignore the positive, even if it feels small. You nitpick the little bad things, why not the little good things?
– if you make a mistake, embrace it. Remember, failure is better than regret. Always.
What’s your theme song?
We play a game called Hot Spot with folks that can handle it – one person starts in the center and starts singing a song. Everyone joins in, and when someone else is ready, they tap the middle person, take their place and start a new song. The focus is often to be confident on the spot and support the people around you. The focus for you? Find that song that makes you feel invincible and belt it as loud as you can.
Remember you aren’t pizza
– not everyone is going to like you. Heck, there are people out there that don’t like pizza! Pizza isn’t mad. Pizza is PIZZA.
If you need help, hit me up. If I need help, I’ll let you know through this blog, social media or carrier pigeon! Promise.
At this point, we all know that public speaking is feared more than death. No surprises there, but in all these years that we’ve been throwing out these stats, why are we still here? It might be something to bring up the human reactions of fight or flight – why we succeed or freeze when we’re in situations of public speaking and presentation skills, but beyond that, we still have to do it – whether we like it or not. Because of that exciting fact, it’s in your best interest to get better – here are three tips to nail your next presentation, all focused and grounded in improv:
Practice like you play
I performed off-Broadway for almost 10 years, toured with a few national tours based in improv and performed in my fair share of Chicagoland improv. We rehearsed for everything – even in my NYC years, we rehearsed every single Wednesday evening in prep for our weekend shows, and it showed when we didn’t. Worse, it showed when we didn’t take rehearsal seriously and just screwed around the entire time.
When you practice in a lax manner, you’re going to play in that same lax manner.
If you’re practicing whatever you’re going to do that matters to you in a way that shows it DOES NOT matter, do you know how that’s going to look when the moment is here? It’s going to look like it doesn’t matter to you. Worse, if you don’t practice? It’s going to show.
Before every show I’ve ever done, we warmed up. Anything from running around to get energy up to quick thinking games to singing and getting in the moment. Why warm-up? Well, would you warm up before a run? Yeah? Same idea! We use muscles to speak and when we’re talking for an extended period of time and don’t warm up, we end up losing our voice, tripping on words and forgetting what we’re supposed to be doing because we aren’t tapped into the moment.
Raise your stakes
No one wants to see an ordinary moment in an improv show. They want to see an ELEVATED moment that is heightened from the every day. When you raise the stakes in improv moments, you suddenly start to care quite a bit more and things matter.
In real life, if you start to raise the stakes, things start to matter a bit more and you start investing more energy and care into what you’re saying. Don’t let this slide all the way to feeling neurotic about everything – because it’s not the end of the world if you make a mistake – at the same time, if you invest more energy and care into what you’re doing, it’s going to show.
BONUS: Fail often. The more you fail in public speaking moments, the more you learn, and the better you get. If you keep playing it safe, you’re going to end up in the same place you started: being nervous about public speaking.
Upcoming Classes: Speaking and Presentation Skills
Persuasion is a highly desired leadership skill – but why is it so hard for so many people? I think our clients want to be persuasive but worry that they are being manipulative, abrasive or another negative quality – but why?!
If you want to be successful and effective as a leader, you’re going to have to be good at selling yourself and your ideas – basically persuading other people. Selling is a skill that everyone needs to utilize at one point or another, even if it’s advocating for yourself. Here are four improv-based ways to up your persuasion skills at work:
What does your audience want
I tap into what the audience wants a lot because it matters – look, I’ve been on both ends of a bad improv show where the performers are simply performing for themselves and not paying attention to what the audience is looking for. In this case, think about how they process information. If they need facts and figures to believe you, give it to them! If they need some kind of emotional story, tap into the feels. Focus on what they need, not what you want.
Show that you care to make them care
Apathetic performing? Not going to work – you have to be bought in, care as much as you want the audience to and give it 100%. You’re not going to get the audience – or in this case, the people that you want to persuade if you don’t care about what you’re talking about. Understand why you care and why they should care, and let that be your guide.
When we’re tapping into wants in improv, we’re always telling students to think like a toddler – keep changing tactics and don’t give up. Same with persuasion! Start with little wins and bits of progress and you’ll work your way up to getting farther and farther along – and you definitely need to change tactics if the first few don’t work. Persistence pays off.
Raise the stakes
If something can be done at any point, then what’s the point of acting now? While some folks might be inclined to agree, others need a nudge or a sense of urgency. When you create urgency, you raise the stakes – in improv, no one wants to watch something everyday and ordinary – we want to see a higher stakes moment. If you want someone to do something, create a demand and a need – and one that needs to be acted on now.
If you asked me to identify the number of clients that tell us that they need to be more concise at work I would say “high 80%”.
Yes, that many.
It might take form in being more concise and specific in meetings, emails, and conversations. Maybe presentations need to be tighter, updates for clients and internal staff more specific, or just getting your point across through the path of least resistance. It’s a common issue, and one that can definitely make your client, coworker or boss lose interest. My go to phrase is “Words are currency, don’t waste money.” We have literal seconds (a recent study says 8!) to connect with another person, and if you’re wasting it on things that don’t matter, you’ve already lost.
Here are three quick tips to being more concise at work:
Understand your audience
By digging into your audience and understanding what makes them tick, you’re ahead of the game. Think about what they want: often times, it’s not small talk, jokes, weird stories – it’s the information that you possess. Once you have that information outlined, you can add a few details if you know you’ll have to gain trust or likability. If they are interested in just the facts, skip the fluff and get to the point. They might need and desire fluff, so add that story about your dog, dinner or partner.
Remember: this isn’t what YOU need – it’s what they need.
Start in the middle – idea first
Hand in hand with understanding your audience is starting in the middle. In improv, you’re taught to skip the background. You start in the middle and move forward with the action, letting smaller details come out as the action progresses.
Same with presenting information in a meeting or a conversation – don’t build the stage to folks who already know the story! Get to the point with what they need to know, and if you’re uncertain, lead with the middle and idea, then tap back to other information if they ask questions about content.
Bare bones first
Have time to prep? Take the idea and par it down to the bare bones. A nice way to try this – if you can explain the idea in two minutes, try it in one minute then again in 30 seconds. The point isn’t to talk as fast as possible, it’s to whittle down the information as much as possible to still get the point across. When you have that figured out, you can add necessary details to connect with the audience AND ensure you’re still starting in the middle.
I used to be terrified to speak up for myself.
Funny huh? I teach folks how to be confident and speak up for themselves, and yet a few years ago I was such a people pleaser that I never spoke up for myself. I let everyone else get what they wanted and sacrificed what I wanted in the process.
I’m not quite sure what broke me – I do know that it wasn’t some movie moment where I got fed up and yelled “I’m looking out for me now!” and stormed off from the narcissist I was talking to. That would have been a pretty amazing story, but it was much more of a slow burn to finally look out for myself. When it clicked into place, I haven’t looked back since.
Here are four things I tapped into that helped me speak up for myself – and a client story to go along with it. Give them a whirl and see how they work in your life!
Figure out what’s actually bothering you
Getting to the source of the issue is a tough one. A client of mine was really upset a few weeks ago because of a negative review on her performance report. She was near tears when she came into our coaching session, and I wasn’t convinced it was actually THAT that was upsetting her. Turns out, the more we talked the more she realized that it wasn’t the report that was bothering her, it was the massive amount of work that a coworker kept throwing on her that led to the missed responsibility, that led to the performance report ding.
It’s often not the thing that sets you off. The core is usually deeper! Take a moment to WHY your discomfort or anger. When we talked about it, I first asked, “Why are you mad about the performance report?” and she replied, “I didn’t deserve it!” and my response, as you might guess, was “Why didn’t you deserve it?” It only took a few “whys” to end up at the source.
Do your homework and write some notes
After we tapped into what was really bothering her, we started to bullet point out ways to talk to her coworker. She knew that she should have been more assertive in saying no in the beginning (more on that later) but since she couldn’t go back and say no, she had to move forward and say no. Instead of placing the blame on the coworker, she decided to develop a plan to say no for future situations where work might get passed off on her.
Taking a few notes in advance and taking time to dig into what you want to say – and removing emotions from it – is critical to get your point across. She was so furious she cried, remember? Going into a situation with that level of emotion is only going to end poorly, or cause you to forget what you’re about to say! Jot down critical points.
Pull them aside and make time
Nothing good comes from those movie moments. This one is straight and to the point – don’t just attack someone because you’re ready to stand up for yourself. There is a chance that person isn’t a complete and utter sociopath, and they aren’t being malicious with you – and while you still need to stand up for yourself, you don’t need to drop a giant bomb on your relationship with this person.
My client reached out to her coworker with a meeting request – when they asked for the purpose of the meeting, she said it was about changes to her workflow. Short and simple always wins.
Use statements like “I think” – assertive communication
We planned for this moment by creating assertive statements from her notes. By using phrases with “I think” she created factual statements (because, she thinks it! It’s a fact, and she owned it!) These are also hallmarks of assertive language – an I statement and ownership of thoughts.
How did it all go? Well, she no longer has to do the work of her coworker – and again, it wasn’t some big movie moment. Whether her coworker was aware of it or not, they accepted that she wasn’t taking on more work than she could handle, and she started to build the habit of speaking up for herself using these four easy steps. If you’re feeling a bit too much like a doormat, try these! As usual, figure out how to adapt and edit to make it work best for you, and let me know how it goes, or if you get stuck, always feel free to reach out!
Hysterical laughter erupts post scene – two students created a picnic moment that turned into a horror movie with a cult leader that believed ants were Gods. I was even in tears, laughing so hard my stomach ached – and truthfully, I can’t remember a time I laughed so hard before or since. The best part? These folks weren’t actors or comedians – they were entrepreneurs, in all different stages of their business from startup and ideation to folks who have been in business for 10+ years.
All of the entrepreneurs were taking this improv class to make them better at running their business – and for good reason! Aside from improv being the best boot camp in listening and interpersonal communication skills, five major improv rules are used daily by entrepreneurs.
Denial is death to improv. When you say no to a reality, an offering, a suggestion or idea in improv, you’ve killed the scene and the moment. Negation is the first thing you’re taught to avoid. While you’re not saying YES to being a doormat – you are saying yes to the possibilities.
When you start a new business or want to grow, you have to say yes. If you’re constantly making excuses and saying “no that won’t work” or “no we can’t do that” or “no, that’s not the way we work” you’re shutting down possibilities. Business 101: stay open to possibilities when you’re growing!
Make Statements, Mind Your Questions
Questions pass the buck. If you’re asking questions in improv, you’re confused: you might not know where something is going! Makes sense in real life, right? Ask a question and you can get answers from the people around you. Full stop: you’re passing the buck to the other people when you ask a question. When you make a statement, you’re not only taking initiative in a conversation, you’re also adding to it, and pulling your weight.
In business, there is a time and a place for questions and a time and place for declarative statements – and if you’re managing a team or making big choices (even smaller ones!) you have to take some initiative! The responsibilities around making choices for your business need to fall on you – sure, you can get help from folks, but in the end, a LOT of those decisions have to come from you.
Be Real, Not Funny
Probably one of the biggest misconceptions is that improv makes you funny. Nope, not one bit – when you try to be funny, you’re not, unless you ARE FUNNY. It’s pretty awful when someone who isn’t funny tries to be funny or tells jokes, but doesn’t understand comedic timing. What makes improv funny is the truth – when people are real, living the reality they create, THAT is funny. Not bad comedic timing – reality, and heightened reality at that is hysterical when you’re watching.
Fake and inauthentic entrepreneurs are, for lack of a better word, gross. You’ve read their posts, heard their talks and been bothered by their social media campaigns – probably all while saying “how are they still in business?!” When you’re running a business, your clients will be able to tell if you’re being real or pretending. And fake it till you make it can only get you so far.
When I was an improv performer, I performed off-Broadway. Know what one of the worst feelings in the world? Bombing in front of a full house. I still remember when I was running in as the ref of a competitive improv night and I tripped UP the stage. I didn’t fall down, I fell up.
And I can tell you after that night, I never once bit it jumping up on stage again.
Improv is best when people fail freely – you risk it all for the moment, and maybe it works, and maybe it bombs and you trip up the stage. You’ll never do it again.
The best entrepreneurs are the ones that risk failure: starting a business is a risk! You might lose time, money, friends – and you might gain everything by risking that failure. Even if you only lose face, it’s more than many people risk. The status quo? Not for you.
Follow the Fear
Quite literally, the phrase “Follow the Fear” comes from the great improv teacher Del Close. In improv, victory is on the other side of what makes you uncomfortable. That thing that scares you? Probably where the funny lies.
In entrepreneurship, things are going to scare you – from going full time to scaling up to hiring someone. Victory is on the other side of what makes you uncomfortable. That thing that scares you? Probably where your version of success lies.
Originally Published in Forsyth Women Magazine
According to a recent study by LinkedIn Learning, 75% of respondents believe feedback is valuable, 60% reported they would like feedback on a daily or weekly basis and less than 30% said they actually receive feedback.
That last one is not a typo.
Feedback is hard – people could get defensive, we don’t quite know how to give it (or how to take it) and when it doesn’t happen it’s often not followed up on or given with action items, so it’s like giving someone an IKEA bed without instructions. You might figure it out, and you might get frustrated and throw a wrench.
Here are three tips for giving feedback.
- Good and Bad
If you are only giving someone feedback when they do something wrong, feedback is going to be a scary looming monster on a professional – or personal – relationship. Think about it: you hear nothing until something fails. What will you remember? The silence leading up to it or the negativity?
When giving feedback, remember that it can be given when something is going right and when something isn’t going according to plans. I like a “glow” and “grow” idea – if something is great, tell them about this glow! What are they doing right? If something needs work, that’s a “grow” – it’s not a failure, just something that needs time to develop.
The side point here: make feedback a regular occurrence. It becomes part of your culture and life if it happens all the time, and that makes the negative feedback that much easier because it’s all part of the same system – not just something scary that comes up when folks are in trouble.
- Specific and ImmediateThis one is simple: when you’re thinking about giving feedback, don’t wait too long. If you do, you’ll end up either forgetting what it was for or not associating it with the behavior you’d like to either change or affirm.
The slightly more complicated side: it has to be specific. “You did a great job” is very different than “Your empathy with that customer was great, they seemed to feel much better after talking to you.” Being specific is HARD, and that’s ok! Start with the simple statement and give it the million question toddler treatment. What does great mean? What was great? Can you describe what they did that worked well to someone that wasn’t there?
The specificity works for negative feedback as well: if you aren’t clear and concise with what you want to be different – or what you’d like them to “grow” – then how will they know what to change and how to change it?
- Plans Please
You’ve made feedback a regular thing! You’ve got specific, concise and immediate! And…nothing changes.
If you’re not following up on the feedback with a plan and then following up on that plan, why would it get done?
Sure, we like to think we’re all independent workers in the remote day and age – but, sometimes we aren’t the best at accountability, which is why so many people look for coaches and trainers when they go to the gym. At the same time, if no one is giving you a plan to improve – or to grow – how can you? Many of us can figure something out on our own, but when you’re stuck in the trees it’s hard to see the forest.
If you’re giving “grow” feedback, take a moment to step back and also think of a plan, or at least a few action steps you can work on with this person. Even if it’s as simple as “let’s follow up in a few weeks to see how this is going” you’ve given them a point to work towards and a date to check in – which creates accountability.
Feedback doesn’t need to be a scary professional moment – use it to your advantage to rise above the status quo!
Originally Published in Forsyth Women Magazine
In 2017, Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer created a third cofounder for their online e-commerce platform: Keith Mann not only got more email responses from potential investors and partners, he got more respect. Never mind he didn’t show up, ever – and ONLY communicated via email. Gazin and Dwyer faced everything from investors refusing to acknowledge them by name to developers threatening to delete everything if they didn’t get a date. No wonder they created Mr. Mann.
Unfortunately, this is consistent throughout leadership and entrepreneurship: women are just 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs, and those statistics are reflected across the board. Women aren’t being seen as leaders in organizations, and if they get there, they often end up feeling imposter syndrome. As funny as Mr. Mann might be, it’s not a recommended strategy for leadership. Here are three ways you can start leading like a woman:
- Find your best qualities
Repeat after me: stop trying to be a second rate version of someone else. You’re wasting the first-rate version of yourself. Not all leaders have the same qualities! Gone are the days of every leader wearing a suit and walking in with their briefcase and coffee in the morning, off to sit in their office and order from on high. Leadership looks different on everyone!
Take a few minutes thinking about a leader you admire. Write down a few of their qualities that you also possess. You can definitely strive for being better and improvement: build your foundation first with your qualities. Maybe you’re an amazing delegator or a great listener. Note those qualities and bump them up! You can build additional skills on top of your foundation: you need something to build on first.
- Listen first, talk second
No matter what kind of leader you are or strive to be, you need to listen. Spend as much time as possible developing your active listening skills – and using them! If you find yourself losing some of those critical listening skills, step back. When someone is talking, try to remember two bits of information and figure out one question to ask to get more information about what they are saying. Before you even start tasking yourself while you’re listening, be sure you’re actually listening and showing it through non-verbals: nodding, making eye contact and facing another person are simple and powerful ways to show that you are indeed listening to the person talking.
If you know you are not a great listener, remember listening is a choice: it’s not something that you naturally do. When someone is starting to talk to you, take a breath and make the choice to listen.
- Professional Development
Remember that list you made about the qualities you admired from a leader in your life? Take stock in that and start growing. Professional development programs can be in person, online, created by you or by someone else – the sky is the limit! Do your research before you jump in.
The larger focus with professional development: growth. Great leaders don’t stagnate. You have to keep learning, evolving and changing with your team. Professional development isn’t simply recreating another great leader: it’s staying up to date with what’s happening in your field, with your team and with leadership as a whole. Find articles, read books, have a conversation and talk to your team. Pay attention and again, make a choice to be engaged with the process. Your work doesn’t end when you get the leadership position, it begins.
Now that you’re at the end, the jig is up: there is no way to lead like a woman. You have amazing qualities that you need to succeed!
Originally published in Forsyth Women Magazine
Boundaries used to be one of the hardest things for me to set and stick to, and to this day, I still struggle with them. As a people pleaser in recovery, I hate disappointing people. As a business owner and freelancer, if I don’t set boundaries, I will explode.
Boundaries are often described as
“guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.”
While Wikipedia and Google can give great definitions of boundaries, you have to set your own and practice upholding the boundaries you set.
One of the biggest lessons my therapist taught me is that boundaries aren’t meant to feel good; they are meant to keep you safe. I think we often forget that when we’re holding up a boundary and the other person is pressing – it feels awkward and uncomfortable, and we think, oh! If we just give in, it will be fine. (It won’t.) Here are three ways to set and keep your boundaries for the last few months of 2019 and well into 2020:
New to boundaries in your life? Start small. Maybe it’s something as simple as not answering work emails after a certain time, or not accepting work texts. If you set one boundary to start with, and get comfortable with that one boundary, others will follow and will get easier.
I use a gym or working out comparison a lot – you can’t expect to wake up one day and just run a full marathon if you haven’t been training. If you’ve always been the ‘yes’ person, you can’t expect to have incredible skills setting and holding to boundaries.
Do a few easier ones with yourself and your time. Maybe you only take personal calls between 9 am and 7 pm, or you don’t text after 8 pm. Build your skills!
The “best” boundaries are clear and specific. If it’s complicated, with loads of clauses and possibilities, people will either find loopholes or misunderstand it, creating a lot of opportunities for you to either hold the boundary strong or give in. If you’re just starting to set boundaries in a situation, use the first-grader rule of thumb: be so simple that a seven-year-old can understand it.
Here’s an example that comes up with my entrepreneur friends: being asked to do things for exposure. Yes, you should do some things to add to your business and the social capital that comes with exposure. No, you can’t do everything for free because Duke Energy does not accept exposure bucks. Say your boundary is five “free” events a year. This is clear, specific, and concise. When you’ve done your five, and someone asks for your number six, and you physically cannot do that because you need to work, you can simply say, “I’m sorry, I’ve committed to all of the free events I can this year. I’m happy to chat with you next year.”
If someone is pushing on a boundary, don’t be afraid to say you need some time to think about the decision they are asking you to make. That bit of buffer will give you the time you need to think about a response. If they keep pushing when you ask for some time (even if it’s five minutes), stop and think: this isn’t respectful for you, so feel free to say no.
An example that I hear about a lot is working extra hours above and beyond what you already have to do and outside of the scope of work. This happens more in non-profit work, I think, but I’ve seen it across the spectrum of professions. If someone is asking you for something like this, feel free to say, “Let me look at my schedule and get back to you tomorrow,” if you are feeling like you can’t immediately say no, or are struggling with the no. Then, take some time to practice the no, or send it in an email to avoid the conflict you might be adverse to.
There’s one overarching lesson I’ve learned about boundaries over the past few years of developing mine: the people that have the most trouble with other people’s boundaries are those who don’t have any themselves. Remember that, and you got this.