Recently I wrote a blog about how in striving for professionalism, we often leave our personalities at the door. This can be detrimental for both our organisations and for us.
But it got me thinking about some professional situations, like job interviews, pitching or presenting, and whether we can inadvertently dial-up our professionalism to our detriment when required to impress or perform.
Personality is important. Decision makers, (whether they are open about it or not) will be thinking, “Would I like to work with this person?”
At Lucidity, I deliver presentations, team days, keynote speeches and facilitate workshops.
I remember when I was a fledgling presenter wanting to improve, I attended a three-day presentation skills course. I was filmed presenting and then critiqued. They picked up ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ and weird nervous things I did with my hands without realising. I took the feedback. Practiced. Did it again. Received feedback. Practiced and did it all again. It was a rather painful yet fundamental learning experience.
Everyone in the group finished the training and was able to present. We all completed the course a ‘professional presenter’; presenting in exactly the same way. We were blank canvases – empty vessels waiting for our ‘professional’ content to arrive. We all stood straight. We all stood still. We spoke slowly. Our hands made the shapes that reinforced what we said. We were textbook.
Then I started to really pay attention to great presenters, and noticed that they didn’t stand still or do any of the textbook things I had learned. The best presenters, in my opinion, brought the best parts of themselves onto the stage. If they had humour, they were funny. If they were outspoken, they shocked. If they were experts, they bought expertise. So I decided to do the same.
The blank canvas was still an excellent start, and over the years I’ve practiced putting ‘me’ back in to my presentations. Just the good bits – not the bit where I stand with one hip slanted so it looks like I’m flirting with the flip chart, or the nervous lip-chewing or the over use of the word ‘like’ inserted anxiously into sentences.
I also began to realise what was holding ‘me’ back: I was terrified of being heckled or forgetting what I was going to say.
So I took improv classes to help me respond better ‘in the moment’, and to manage my fear of slipping up (which still exists by the way – I think you need a healthy amount of adrenalin when presenting, but it’s how you manage it that’s important). I am no longer afraid to respond to the audience, or to go off track. And I now get much better feedback and results than when I was a professional blank canvas.
My advice for you if you want to improve your public speaking skills is;
As your confidence builds, you can add your personality back into the mix. It’s not a choice between professional or personality – it’s how you bring your true self to your professional life that will create the magic.
People work with people they know and like. Not everyone will like you, but if you over professionalise, you may accidentally loose the thing that makes you stand out. You
We won’t train you to be ‘professional’, we will train you to be your best you.
This may sound strange, but knowing that I’m a turtle is actually relevant for my job supporting local Minds with their organisational development needs.
As a member of Mind’s Innovation Champions Network, I took a short quiz (“what’s your innovation animal?”) to better understand my “innovation style”. Being a turtle means I’m a methodical innovator, and I work best with – wait for it – bison.
This is the kind of quirky, creative tool the Mind Innovation Champions Network uses all the time. The Innovation Network is a group of people who have stepped forward to regularly create a pocket of time and space in which we support one another to be creative, innovative, imaginative, and have fun. We have training in innovation and creativity skills every month and we are a network to help drive a culture of innovation across the organisation. We support each other to test new ideas that have the potential to deliver better results.
The Innovation Network started off as a way for the Fundraising team to create new products and innovative solutions to deliver better experiences for their supporters and raise more money to fund the growing demand for Minds services. Nowadays it’s grown to span the whole organisation – we all need solutions and imaginative approaches, for all of the work we do. Often, we get stuck in delivering the same work day in, day out, and our imagination gets stifled by a risk-averse environment. The Innovation Network allows us to be as creative as we want, testing ideas and supporting each other through the process of thinking outside the box. It’s a space where reflection, laughter, and strange ideas are received enthusiastically, rather than as a source of risk, and one I’ve found really useful.
I got involved with the Innovation Network because a colleague invited me to join. She knew at that point I was struggling with a lack of peer support and general negativity in my immediate environment. She thought I could bring a positive attitude to the group, and in return access a very supportive space. Thankfully, she was more right than you can imagine! As an Innovation Champion, it doesn’t matter how hectic the month of work is: I know I will get 2-3 hours of being with like-minded people, not stressing about deadlines, playing games and discovering more about myself, my strengths, and my weaknesses.
The Innovation Network helps me infuse my work with creativity. A big part of my job can become quite repetitive; when it does call for creativity, sometimes I find I’ve fallen into the trap of the everyday routine and can’t come up with new ideas. The people and environment at the Innovation meetings allow me to think differently. Now that I’ve been to quite a few meetings, my brain is whirring before we even start discussing anything! At a recent meeting, I came up with five very creative ideas about a work event before we’d even finished the morning’s coffee and biscuits. I had failed to come up with anything at an hour-long meeting on the subject beforehand. It’s almost as though the moment I get to the Innovation meetings, someone presses the “imagination button” in my brain! Now I’m working hard to develop and progress those ideas.
Being the only turtle in the group, I have been super popular with the bison around – though I am faithful to my innovation partner, Alice. We paired up for an exercise last summer and since then have continued to go for regular innovation ‘walk and talks’ around the block. We talk about life, the universe, crafternoons (Mind’s mass participation fundraising event), the Network Income Review, difficult and demanding people, and what makes us happy. We never have an agenda; we ask each other questions and are ready to listen. It is so nice to have a friend in the Fundraising team, as our paths would otherwise never cross. It is even more exciting to spend half an hour every month with someone who has no direct investment in what you do, but still genuinely cares and can ask really good questions! And the unique bonus: every time we go out the sun is shining.
My advice to anyone looking to develop their creativity at work would be to find those spaces, activities and people who allow you to be innovative. I find that creativity and innovation are not purposeful exercises – you don’t sit down and decide to be creative. But once I am present in the room with the other members who inspire me…then the innovation happens! Allow yourself that time and space, and you’ll be amazed by what you can come up with.
I’m Anastasia, a proud and methodical turtle. My job is to support local Minds with their organisational development needs. I feel happiest when I have my crochet hook and some colourful yarn in my hands.
If you’d like to find out your innovation animal, take the quiz at https://www.lucidity.org.uk/animal and if you would like some help to set up an innovation network in your organisation then drop me a line firstname.lastname@example.org.
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