Presentations for introverts: Part 1

“I have to give a presentation to a group of around 20 people but I’m really scared of public speaking. What’s more, there are a couple of people in the group more experienced than me who probably know a lot more about the stuff I’m going to talk about anyway. As an introvert, I haven’t got a lot of confidence with having all eyes on me and I’m just dreading making a mess of it. I know I need to develop this skill to grow professionally, so any advice would be much appreciated!”

I hear that. As an introvert myself  I can’t tell you that the nerves will go away anytime soon. Believe me when I say though that it does get easier with practice though, as with probably every other challenging task in existence. So it’s great that you acknowledge this is something you need to do. To get ahead in your career, it’s an important thing to learn, whether you’re comfortable with it or not, and approaching it head on rips off the proverbial plaster. I’m much more confident with them now and once the momentum picks up, it’s really (nerdily) enjoyable!

My approach is having a number of safety nets in place before and throughout the presentation in 10 simple steps. The first 5 talk about what you can do before the presentation. I will then talk about the other 5 in the next post, where I explain what you can do during the presentation. These are tips on delivering a presentation – I will write another post later about how to put one together.

  1. What’s the point…

…of the presentation? To avoid wasted effort and time, clarify what the presentation needs to be about. To use a corporate word for it, what is its ‘objective’? What does the audience need to take away from the presentation? Who are the audience? And if this has been commissioned by someone else like your line manager, confirm the point with them so that you’re both on the same page before work starts. This saves you embarrassment if you’re pulled up in mid-presentation that you’ve got the wrong end of the stick.

  1. Fact check

Always routinely fact check your presentation. Even if you are pretty sure a certain fact is correct, double check this from a reliable source. Odds are the one fact you didn’t check will be brought up by someone who will challenge you. Scary right? Check your facts.

  1. Get your intro right

While conquering my fear of public speaking, I find that the best way to start a presentation is a really good and well-rehearsed introduction. Starting off on a trip or stumble (verbally of course, although physically is just as humiliating) will really knock your confidence and you run the risk of this setting the tone for the rest of the presentation. Only a risk though, not a guarantee.

Knowing exactly what you’re going to say at the beginning and how you’re going to say it will really get you on the right foot and build confidence-momentum. This will involve writing down the tiny detail, even an ice breaker, of what you’re going to say to hush people to attention. Practise what you’re going to say, you need this in your ammo. For example:

Right everyone? Excuse me, everyone? [you need to choose specific wording otherwise you won’t feel comfortable using a hushing expression on the spot without knowing what the words sound like in the air]. I think it’s time we all crack on with this if we’re going to make the best of our time so if we could just settle, we can begin.

‘Right, thank you everyone. My name is Bob, and today I will be talking about X so that by the end of the presentation, we will get a really clear understanding of what we need to do next, while also opening the floor for any comments’.

  1. Rehearse

Go through the presentation a number of times and make sure the flow is right. You don’t want to write an entire script down that you read off, which sounds like a safe option, but it’s really awkward hearing it. And once you start and you realise people know what you’re doing, it’s incredibly hard (and more awkward) to break out of it mid-presentation.

  1. Prepare, pause, repeat.

Preparing for a presentation might sound like an obvious step, and rightly so as without preparing for the presentation, you feel less in control, and that’s where the fear kicks in. What you need to be cautious about though is preparing too much. That might sound a little odd, but you can actually prepare so much that you play out the same presentation over and over again so rigidly but in your head. Come the day you present, it’s more likely not going to turn out the way you planned, and frankly, you can never be 100% sure how it will go. Preparing too much gives you a false sense of security.

Instead, give my ‘prepare, pause, repeat’ method a go. What I do it prepare a lot for a presentation then ‘pause’, or just put it away out of my mind and not think about it for a day or two. Then I prepare again, be it a rehearsal or quick fact-check, and then I put it away out of my mind again. This stops you preparing so much that you overwhelm yourself with such a rigid perception of how it will go while also giving you the opportunity to not be so heavily involved that you can’t spot grammatical errors or inaccuracies.

So these are 5 things you can do to put some safety nets in place before the presentation. In my next post I will share 5 further tips in what you can do during the presentation.

 

Getting out of a dead-end job

We’ve all been there; feeling stuck in a job that offers little or no prospects, no possibility of moving up the ladder, and with each day coming into work – the same smells, the same annoying sounds, the same entrance, the same, the same, the same – it feels progressively harder and tiresome. The excitement of Christmas seems like a distant memory, and while your choice of quinoa salad ‘for the new you’ will certainly not pick your spirits up, you feel nothing will.

Being in a dead end job can really take its toll on a person, especially for those who want to progress and just smash their career. Working in an organisation that can’t offer the career or job you want will make you start asking what you should do next, or you might have already considered your next move after planning your career in 2018.

To help you focus your thoughts, you could start by assessing your situation and ascertain:

  • Your wants: what you want to do – the type of job or career you want, the industry, the working culture, the lifestyle, your work/life balance
  • Your abilities: what you can do that can get you to where you want to be – the current skills you have, the attitude you possess, the experience you have developed, the ability to relocate, the flexibility in terms of working patterns, the budget to fund learning new career skills
  • Your limitations: what you can’t do that limits what you want – the skills you don’t have but would like or need, lack of flexibility to relocate due to, for example, childcare, the funds for new qualifications

This won’t be an overnight epiphany. You might find it will take a while before a clear picture forms in your head about your wants, abilities and limitations. More so if you can’t decide what career you want in the first place. It’s important to not keep these in your head either; it’s an agreed

But once you do have an understanding of this, you will consequently be presented with four options:

  1. Move on and find another job

You might come to the point where you feel that your current organisation can’t offer anything you want any more and that you should find another job. Although this option shouldn’t be taken too lightly, it might be the best solution for you if you want to develop and progress, either in your current or new field.

Looking for a new job in your current organisation should be your first port of call so to not to interrupt your years of service (you have full employee rights after 2 years’ service with your current employer), but if your employer is the problem, then your search should exclude them so you won’t be tempted to take a new job within the company and find yourself back to square one later. And if they are the problem, and it’s come to the point that it’s affecting your health, then this option could be the best one for you. No job is worth putting your health at risk.

  1. Stay put while studying

If it’s at all bearable, you could consider staying in your current role while studying a new skill or qualification, especially if the career you want requires these and you don’t have. I’m a big believer in studying on your own steam – that is studying in your own time, with your own money, under your own initiative. Studying on your own steam not only does this mean you get to study what you want to get where you need, but it demonstrates motivation to any new employers.

This option prepares you for your next career move without haste but it also justifies you staying where you are. It’s no longer a dead end job but a job that pays the bills while you study. Having chosen this option before, I can say that this does really change your attitude of the job you want to leave and makes the wait that bit more bearable.

  1. Stay put while working on a side hustle

When thinking about what you want to do, you might have concluded that you want to start your own business, either as an eventual full-time venture, or alongside your ‘bread-and-butter’ job. If it’s a full time thing you’re after, this option is similar to option 2, where you’re making the job more justified as it pays the bills while working on setting up your own business. It provides financial security while you get the business off the ground, and acts as stabilisers until the business is ready to generate sustainable income.

If you want the side hustle alongside the ‘bread-and-butter’ job then again it justifies you being in the dead end job. Some people find that being in a dead end job means they can reserve their energy to their side hustle, whether it’s for extra income, as a creative outlet, or just for fun and not-for-profit. Having a number of roles is what’s termed as a ‘portfolio career’ and it has been predicted that this way of working will become more and more popular as people find multiple avenues to use the full spectrum of their skills. Although the entrepreneurial route isn’t one I want to take, it is something I have explored in the past and continue to be fascinated with the idea and community, so I will write posts about entrepreneurialism and portfolio careers at a later date.

  1. Stay put and reassess your situation

If you’re not in the position to find a new role or take up new skills, whichever reasons these may be, you should speak with your line manager. Even if you have spoken to them before, by talking to them again and explaining how you have assessed your wants, abilities and limitations, it takes the conversation into a new and more productive direction.

Your line manager might not be in a position to offer many opportunities to you but it is their responsibility to talk to you about the options already available to you like reshaping your role, taking on more responsibility, or giving you new tasks – anything to adjust your routine.

Reassessing how your work is given to you or the tasks you do can help you find ways of coping with your job. Reassessing how you react to your job will also help, focussing your mind on the positives rather than just the negatives. I know of the least likely of people to get into positive mantras who have gone on to use them to cope with their dead end job with great success. Finding mantras that you like and storing these on your phone make a very handy pick-me-up when the day gets trying.

Speaking about your job in a way that puts you (and others around you!) down in the dumps doesn’t improve your situation – if anything it makes it a lot worse – and if by ascertaining that the best option for you at the moment is to stay where you are, then you can only control how you respond to this, be it using mantras, developing your emotional intelligence or becoming more resilient.

Easier said than done? Yes. But there is truth in it and worth giving it a go. You owe it to your mental and physical health to find ways of coping with a job you’re unhappy with if you genuinely feel there’s no way out. Just promise yourself that you won’t become complacent with the notion that there isn’t a way out – make a point of going through these steps again after a couple of months and you might find an idea that was hiding on you the first time round.

I hope this have provided you with some clarity on the options open to you. It’s important to really figure out what you want in a career before working through the four options. If you’re unfortunate enough to not know what you want to do, there will be a post or two about this in the coming weeks (Update: I’ve now written a post on a secret to finding your perfect career here). I use the term ‘unfortunate’ not in a derogatory way, but with total empathy as I was in this boat for far too long before learning what I wanted to do in my career.

 

Planning your career in 2018

So 2017 is behind us. Where did it go? Did you manage to accomplish everything you wanted to do, or did one thing or another get out of hand and time just simply slipped away? It’s OK, it can happen. Life gets in the way and sometimes certain commitments overtake others.

So, as 2018 kicks off, here are 3 really easy steps on how you can take more control of your career planning in the new year, whether you fell behind in 2017 or not.

Step one: look at what you did (and didn’t do) in 2017

Before making a start on what you want your career to look like in 2018, you will need to evaluate what was and wasn’t done this year. This isn’t an exercise to give you a hard time or dwell on mistakes; it’s about making a simple bullet point list of each the things you accomplished and things that got side-tracked. The list of accomplishments provides you the self-reflection every professional needs time to do, while also laying down the ground work for next year, for example, you might have completed a level 3 course, so 2018 might involve looking at level 4. But for now, focus on what was done.

Then you can focus on what you didn’t do, and determine what got in the way. For example, you might have wanted to be promoted this year but didn’t; why was this? Lack of skills? Lack of insight to what is required for a promotion? Your company doesn’t really offer promotion opportunities? Write, or keep note of your answer to this.

Step two: look at what you want to realistically accomplish in 2018

The key word here is ‘realistically’. You need to keep your eagerness to be a highflier by tomorrow in check and keep timescales realistic. This helps give you accurate deadlines that can actually be met, rather than thinking you have failed somehow by not meeting a deadline you set that was improbable in the first place. This will be put you in a place of defeat and potentially stop you in your tracks when you could have made steady progress to your goals in a controlled pace.

You will want to begin by understanding the direction you generally want to go in. This can be in 1, 5, 10 years etc., from now, but where is the focus? The master plan? For example, if you are an insurance professional and one day you want to be a manager. It might not be in 2018, but that’s where you want to head for now. It also might not be the actual end goal and for now it seems that far away, it’s not a clear picture as of yet. That’s fine, for now you can focus on what will get you closer to being an insurance manager that will be accomplish-able in 2018?

Begin your list with the areas you might want to explore on the things you had accomplished in 2017. As avid doers, we don’t rest on our laurels when we’ve completed something, we want to see where the next step is, where can this take us, how can we get even better? It might not necessarily be closely related to it, but can feed an idea as a starting point to your list. For example, you might have been promoted in 2017. Well done! Now what? You might want to explore how you can understand the new position fully by doing a particular thing, or upping your game by patching over some skill gaps you’ve only just discovered now that you’ve started the new role.

You can then move onto the things you didn’t do while being mindful of the reasons why you didn’t do them. To eliminate any out of date stuff, determine if there are any objectives you didn’t meet because they no longer relevant to your role, or what you want to do. If they’re not important, don’t include them in your 2018 plan. Then, anything left over, you can decide to bring forward into 2018 as they will still be relevant and play a part in your development and progress. Feel free to tweak them in certain ways so that they make sense.

Then the final consideration for step two is to include any new areas you want to cover in 2018, any new objectives, that aren’t covered by the lists above. Anything new that would help you in your master plan.

Step three: bridging the ‘now’ to the ‘then’

Now you need to bridge between where you are now, and where you want to be by the end of 2018. To do this, you need to understand what is needed to get you there and detail this into a particular objective. For example ‘getting good at maths’ is a good start if you have recently been put in charge of handling budgets, but it’s not really quantifiable. It’s not giving you any recipe to make sure that is completed. You know you need to ‘get good at maths’ but how are you going to do this? Make it easy for yourself by laying out the steps you need to do to get good, for example ask sign up to a course, buy a book (a popular genre is along the lines of ‘finance for non-financial managers’), understand financial terminology (a glossary from a search engine should do the trick), or simply make a conscious effort to ask more questions from those who have more experience than you when you don’t understand a particular concept.

If you know where you want to be by the end of 2018 but you’re not entirely sure how to get there then make it your mission to understand that. Make that as one of your objectives. You can then break it down into a step-by-step recipe, as above, for example research on the internet, online resources about particular careers, look up courses, find information in books, or simply ask people face-to-face.

You could start with your line manager, as you should already be having conversations about your career anyway – if not, make sure you do. Take control by setting a meeting up yourself with your manager so you can talk about where you want to be and what they can do to help you understand what needs to be done.

Of course, you might not be in the position to ask around too conspicuously if, for example one of your objects is to find another job, or start your own business. If this is the case, speak to those already in the career or company you want to swap to, talk to those who are already running their businesses. This will really help you get tried-and-tested steps to implement into your objectives for 2018.

What if you don’t know what to do?

I hear that. Like so many others, I have been there myself. You know you want to put your energy into a career, you feel as though you’re a wind-up toy that’s ready to be put down and speed off to success if you just knew in which direction to be dropped.

This is a whole topic in itself, and one I will cover over a number of posts in the future as I believe it’s a common problem, not to mention one that is so incredibly frustrating for those who have the avid doer attitude without an outlet to apply it (Update: I’ve now written a post on a secret to finding your perfect career here). For now though, you can still follow these steps to help you on the track of discovering what it is you want to do. That can be your end goal, or at least your master plan (ie you might not know by the end of 2018, but you can have objectives in place to help you discover). What did you do in 2017 to help you find out what you want to do? If you did nothing, why is that (note: ‘waiting for a eureka moment’ is not an acceptable answer I’m afraid)? What will you now do in 2018 to get a step closer to discovering what you want to do? One of the objectives is to certainly stay tuned to The Avid Doer as it will be covered in the not-too-distant future.

Whichever your situation, make sure 2018 has a feasible roadmap that consists of sequential steps and progressive events. And then stick to them. Your 2018 plan can of course change and be updated – it’s a living thing, and not something that’s written in concrete. But it is important it is written in one form or another, to remind you what you promised you will do in 2018.

By the time 2019 is here, you would have accomplished your list which will set you up nicely for accomplishing more amazing things in the new year, and so on.

 

Job title or duties: which is more important?

I am at a crossroads. In one direction, I’ve been offered a job that I know I can do and looks to be interesting, and although it’s in a new tangent to my chosen career that I’m happy to explore, the title of the role is quite generic and sounds entry-level. In the other direction, I can stick in my current role that really isn’t interesting at all, but it’s in my chosen career with an associated and profession-specific title that could help me progress later up the ladder, but it’s not guaranteed. I’m not sure what I should do.”

All is not lost. By stepping back and weighing up your options in a deeper level than you have described, you can make an informed decision that you won’t later regret. Although you can more than likely recover from a potential wrong decision, this causes delays in your career which nobody likes.

At face value, it’s easy to conclude that what you do on a day-to-day basis at work is crucial to your health and wellbeing. As such, it’s correct to assume that by choosing a job that looks really interesting means you’re less likely to go into work dreading each day. Being unhappy at work really does take a toll in one way or another, so wherever there’s an opportunity to be happy, take it. You would need to make sure though that you’re not jumping ship purely to get out of this job, or that you’re viewing this seemingly interesting job through rose-tinted glasses. This could potentially only solve your problem short-term where after a while you find the job does nothing for you and you’re back to where you started.

Your ‘chosen’ career

I can’t help but notice, however, that you say that you are in your ‘chosen’ career. I can understand why this then throws a spanner in the works and can cloud your judgement. By being in your career of choice suggests you have made it through the gory steps of deciding what you want to do with your work life and/or have some sort of vocational or higher educational qualifications to match. This might have all been for nothing if you choose the first option, where you are exploring a new profession.

Or will it? You would have probably explored the new profession in terms of the job satisfaction it offers, is there a clear route for progression, does the money meet your desired income etc. but have you brought these findings back to your chosen career? By this I mean are there any skills you will learn and develop by taking this new tangent that you can then, at a later date, bring back to your chosen career?

These are termed as transferable skills, and I’m all for them. Taking a side step – or even a back step if needs be and you can afford to do so – into a new tangent means you get the chance to build up experience and new skills that you might have otherwise missed out on, especially if they are skills that aren’t expected of you in your chosen career. These skills, however, can be the very thing that separates you from the rest out there. Not only can you consider yourself still a ‘member’ of your chosen profession while you take that side step (carry on with keeping on top of your industry news, professional membership, qualifications), and therefore keep you in that professional frame of mind, you can bring so much more to the table from taking that bold move when you return to it.

And don’t be afraid to explain why you took this bold move to new potential employers during your interview, or as part of your career bio. They should admire you for recognising the skills that you needed to develop outside of your profession but still transfer them back to it when you were ready to progress. The generic title shouldn’t factor into their decision-making if they understand what they require from a candidate. They’re after what you can do, not your job title.

A brand new direction?

There is also the possibility that this could be a serendipity moment where you discover this new role becomes your new chosen career. By experiencing the new role first hand, you might really enjoy it and wish to progress in this field instead. When asking people how they got into their chosen career, you’d be surprised at how many of them say that they stumbled into it after making an unexpected or unintentional career change. I’m one of them! You will just need to make sure you won’t miss the things that attracted you to your current career in the first place, or find ways of incorporating these attractive qualities into the new tangent.

If the new tangent is so far off-piste that it seems you can’t transfer any skills back (you always can by the way which I will write about in another article, but for now let’s pretend you can’t) and you feel you need to stick it out in your current role, don’t do it solely for the title. They mean a lot less than you’re giving them credit for, especially in the age of made up titles. Do it because you believe this is a stepping stone to the place you really want to be and that the slog between now and then will be worth it.

If you decide to stay, you need to consider how long you intend to stay there and when the next progression opportunity is likely to happen. This should give you your ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ so you can focus on riding it out and getting through it with a target date in sight. Then while working through this time, look for ways that you can make it count by working on extra qualifications, extra research, develop new and existing skills, or even just clocking up the career miles – anything that keeps you occupied and helps you through it.

Moving on

If you think the time is too long to manage, or there is little proof to suggest there’s scope for progression any time soon, then you might have to use the situation as a wake-up call to start looking for somewhere else. As you will know, job searching can be stressful, ditto for moving into the great unknown, so don’t take this option too lightly. But you need to figure out if job searching is much less stressful than your current role because no one should stay put in a role that makes them unhappy. You should also determine if the problem will remain with your employer, and that it’s not the role itself, as doing what you do but elsewhere might put you back into the position you’re in now.

Whichever option you choose, make sure it’s for the right reasons, that they have a long-term positive effect and that you look beyond what a recruiting manager decided to call the collection of things you do at work. You need to really think what would be the best direction to take that will really help your career in the future so that you don’t regret anything later for the sake of a quick fix.

 

Starting an industry-related blog while being employed

“I’m a full-time professional looking at ways to be seen as a contributing member to my chosen industry, and as a keen writer, I’m thinking of writing a blog to provide advice, while developing my career and credibility. I have lots of free time at the weekends, so time is not a concern, but I’m conscious of contravening any social media policies with my current employer and getting into trouble. Any pointers?”

Starting a blog in this day and age is an easy way to begin building an online presence and in turn professional reputation and credibility. Avoiding this great medium to contribute your experience in the form of advice to the wider industry could stunt your development, in comparison with deciding not to blog because you’re concerned about your employer’s policy.

Before starting your blog, I suggest two easy actions: note your interpretation of your employer’s policy on social media, and then speak to your manager. By reading the policy and noting your interpretation, you are likely to be more confident in bringing the subject up with your manager. If your policy is crystal clear on the use of social media, I would still encourage you to follow these two steps.

Not only does preparing notes on your interpretation add weight to your proposal and explaining your agreement to what is expected of you, by speaking with your manager you are building trust between you and them – which results in a general better working relationship all round anyway – as you’re letting them know about it from day one. No secrets.

Should you inadvertently write about something that could contravene the policy (e.g. write about something contentious that could damage the employer’s reputation), it would look far worse for you if your line manager hadn’t known about it than if they did. If they didn’t know, it suggests you had something to hide. For this reason you might also have to declare a conflict of interest, a formal record of you informing your employer you have considered the risks and what you are going to do to address these.

If you have explained your interpretation of the policy and your manager confirms they’re happy you know what is expected of you, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. As long as you stick within the policy and the conditions of your conflict of interest declaration.

Online identity

So when you start your blog, there are probably two things you have considered regarding your identity when looking at your employer’s policy: use your real name, or create a pseudonym (a made up name). Keeping your real name, and naming the blog after you, means as your reputation grows, the credit is identifiable to you. This means any prospective employers and fellow professionals will be able to pin this hard work on you. In time this will help you become a thought leader in your field. However, you might say the risk of getting into trouble with your employer is increased than if you create a pseudonym.

In theory, creating a pseudonym decreases the risk of getting into trouble, leaving you to say whatever you want say, or if you just prefer to be more private. However, it takes one tech-savvy person to find a way of identifying you or your employer and you’re back to worrying about getting into trouble if you have said anything offensive or controversial.

Your hard work that can help you professionally grow and network is also completely detached from you, meaning you have to jump over that extra hurdle to help people link the two together.

I suggest a bonus third option. I wouldn’t say it combines the two options above, it’s more picking the best bits of each, an approach I took for The Avid Doer. I picked a name for my blog (rather than choosing my name), and focussed the branding on this title, not me as an individual. I then I popped my name in the ‘About’ page so that search engines can still link me to the work, and it also provides accountability and transparency for the readers.

Mentioning your employer

It still helps if you refrain from mentioning your employer, past and present, and limit the number of anecdotes in a work context. The list of your employers are on LinkedIn (if you have a profile) and sharing a story set in a card shop you used to work in that doesn’t paint the previous employer in a good light makes it easier for people to identify who the company is. Bad-mouthing identifiable companies in general, whether you were employed by them or not, is also risky as they might well be your future employer.

One more benefit of the bonus suggestion is that you get to describe yourself as the founder of ‘X Blog’ on your CV, career bio or to anyone who will listen, because let’s face it, it does sound cool.

Don’t let the fear of getting into trouble deter you from making such a great professional development opportunity like writing a blog. It doesn’t stop you having other social media accounts, does it? Odds are you will get into trouble by being unprofessional, so all you need to do is just be professional.