Gardening: Horticultural investments, social dividends

It started when we peeked through the bedroom blinds and saw our next-door neighbour cross the street to the house of the neighbour opposite us. He waved to them and took a wheelbarrow of triple-mix soil from the cubic yard bag sitting in front of the house, rolling it back down the curb, across the street, and up the other curb to his house. “They must’ve gone in together on a yard bag of soil,” W- said. It probably didn’t require much neighbourly coordination – a casual conversation, an offer of help – but we envied the ease and connection it implied. We knew our neighbours on either side of our house, but not so much the ones across the street. How could we get to know more people in the neighbourhood?

Gardening, apparently, is an excellent way to meet people over here. Investing in perennials and annuals turns out to pay social dividends. We dug up and gave our front-yard irises to one of our neighbours – we made space for new plants, and he added some more colour to his garden. We replanted the front yard as a herbal tea garden, with the sidewalk box planted as rows of colourful annuals (including one row of edible flowers, the petunias). We dug up the boxwood and juniper shrubs, placed the new plants, and chatted with neighbours and passers-by who complimented us on our garden. We even had an extended conversation with Awesome Garden Lady Down the Street, who as it turns out is Mrs. Wong, and who gave us extra vegetable seeds and plenty of advice.

Here’s what we planted today:

  • stevia
  • lemongrass
  • bergamot
  • spearmint (in a pot, of course)
  • peppermint (in the same pot)
  • garlic chives
  • curry
  • tricolor sage
  • lemon thyme
  • chamomile
  • lots of basil
  • lots of lavender
  • miscellaneous flowers

Weeding and cultivating the front yard will no doubt keep us busy throughout the season, and familiarity leads to conversations. I hope to get quite a few herbal infusions out of it too, and perhaps even a garden party. Our back yard garden is growing well, but is understandably limited as a conversation starter.

If you’re an introvert with a front yard, you might want to give gardening a try too. It’s easier for both W- and me to talk to people when there’s an excuse to do so, instead of just chatting with people out of the blue. Gardening provides an excellent excuse – people talk to us, or we can ask about other people’s gardens as we walk around. Lawns might draw remarks if they’re well-kept, but a more diverse and colourful garden will probably be easier. Have fun!

2011-05-23 Mon 17:35

The Shy Presenter: braindumping an introvert’s guide to public speaking

Why speak

  • You’ll learn even more about your topic
  • You’ll meet lots of people without having to start the conversation
  • You can make a bigger difference

Challenges

  • Don’t know what to share
  • Don’t know how to share it
  • Don’t know whom to share it with
  • Anxious about reception

Typical approach (scary!)

  • Practice with friend or mirror
  • Join Toastmasters and other speaking groups to work on confidence and delivery
  • Typical advice doesn’t help you figure out what you want to say, how you want to say it, and how to get up there

Here’s another way

  • Write (journal or blog) until you figure out what other people ask you for help about or something that can save other people time
  • Test your material by writing a blog post.
  • Share a lot of blog posts so that there are plenty of opportunities.
  • When you see that there’s interest, test your topic again by making a short slide deck. Share this on Slideshare or some other presentation site. Keep your presentation short and simple. Less to remember, less to forget.
  • Share lots of those and see which take off.
  • Based on interest, decide which ones you want to turn into a webinar. Webinars are a good way to start because you can refer to your notes and not worry too much about body language.
  • Propose your webinar to a virtual conference or webinar series organizer.
  • If accepted, revise your slides, rehearse your ideas, and go for it!

Why this works

You’ve already done the hard work of thinking through your topic, checking for interest / sense, and preparing your slides.

You don’t have to worry about people not being interested or people not finding value in your work because you’ve tested the topics beforehand.

You can connect with a friendly audience before and after your talk.

Next steps

Make a list of things you know that other people might benefit from.

Write a journal entry or blog post that explains one of those things. Repeat.

Notes from WITI: The Shy Connector

100 people and I chatted about networking for introverts in The Shy Connector, a webinar hosted by Women in Technology, International.

I’d love to hear from you. If you have any thoughts, comments, or suggestions, please feel free to post a comment or contact me privately. If you attended the presentation, please fill out the survey, suggest improvements, and tell me about other topics you would like to learn more about!

Slides:

Jump to the text chat

Speaker’s notes:

Hi, I’m Sacha Chua, and I’m an introvert. <clapping>

You might be, too. Do you prefer bookstores over bars? Puzzles more than parties? Close friends instead of crowds? If so, you might be an introvert.

It can be hard to connect as an introvert. LinkedIn and Facebook can feel like popularity contests. How many friends do you have? Should you say yes to invitations from strangers? Meetups can be overwhelming. So many choices to make, so many people to meet…

So what can you do if you’re shy?

There are plenty of books and blogs about social networking, because success and happiness often depend on whom you know and who knows you.

“Sell yourself!” “Brand yourself!” “Attend as many events as you can!” “Talk to people in the elevator!” they advise. Right.

Most of the networking tips I’ve read are geared toward extroverts who don’t need tips on how to talk to strangers.

Me, I hate starting conversations. I find it hard to make small talk. I’m too shy to reach out. Following up takes focused effort.
Sound familiar? Ever felt that way, too?

Here are seven things I’ve learned about connecting as an introvert. I hope these tips will help you play to your strengths.

Tip 1: It’s okay to be an introvert.

You don’t need to fake being extroverted. You don’t need to be a glad-handing, business-card-throwing networker in order to connect. Just listen and ask a few questions during conversations. Give yourself quiet time to recharge. Connect online if you feel more comfortable that way. Figure out what works for you.

For me, blogging often works out better than going to events. Now that I understand that about myself, it’s easier for me to say, “No, I’m planning to stay home” when faced with an invite. I’m much more comfortable blogging than partying, and I can share in a way I simply can’t do in person.

Tip 2: Change your perspective.

It’s not about selling yourself. It’s not about marketing your personal brand. It’s not about figuring out what other people can do for you. It’s about focusing on what you can do to help other people.

Focus on what can help other people be happier and more successful. Ask questions. Explore ideas.

Focusing the spotlight on the other person makes it easier to make conversation and get to know others.

Tip 3: Give people reasons to talk to you, both online and offline.

Most people find it hard to start a conversation, too. Do them a favour and give them an excuse to approach you.

An interesting hat makes you easy to find in a crowd. Accessories with character draw remarks. Keywords on your nametag lead to conversations.

Online? Share your interests and thoughts. People can find you through search engines and reach out to learn from you.

My favourite? Giving a presentation. Talking to a hundred people at once is easier than talking to two at a time because I can rehearse what I want to say. I reach way more people this way, and I don’t have to start any conversations!

Tip 4: Look for ways to help.

While you’re listening, think: What do I know? Who do I know? How can I help?

Have I read a book they might like? Have I talked to someone they should meet? Do I have an interesting idea that can save them time?

Even if you can’t help right away, if you make it a point to remember their need, you may be able to connect the dots later.

Tip 5: Give yourself homework.

Following up with someone is easier when you’ve promised to send them a link or introduce them to someone else who can help.

That’s why you should always carry something you can use to take notes. Why worry about forgetting when you can write things down?

Tip 6: Make it easy to get to know you.

So you’ve met someone, learned about their interests, and followed up. How do you build the connection from there?

Even if you don’t like talking about yourself, you can make it easier for other people to get to know you.

Share your interests, skills, and goals. The more people know about what you can do, the more you can find opportunities to help them.

A personal website or profile page is a good way to start. Link it in your e-mail signature and put it on your business card.

A blog is even better. If you share tips, ideas, and a bit of a personal touch, people might even subscribe and really get to know you over time. They might even help you grow! =)

Tip 7: Keep growing, and your network will grow with you.

As you develop your passions, improve your skills, and grow your network, you’ll be able to create more value — and more, and more, and more.

The more you understand your passions, the easier it is to communicate them.

The more you improve your skills, the more you can help others.

The more people you know, the more introductions and connections you can make.

If you share what you’re learning with people, your network can grow along with you.

Then you won’t have to fake being an extrovert or drain yourself of energy; people and opportunities will simply flow to you.

Which of these tips would you like to focus on, practice, and learn more about? How can I help you explore your networking potential?


Notes from the text chat:

General notes

I’m an introvert in a business environment and an extrovert outside
The whole marketing myself through social media is a real challenge

Giving people reasons to talk to you

The name tag words are a good idea!

I want to see your funny hat
I think people would think I was strange if I walked in with a funny hat
I would be more shy if I have a hat on
Depends… sophisticated hat = empowering. goofy hat = loss of professional credibility

Living in an extroverted world

I pretend to be an extrovert all the time. People think I know what I’m doing but I am a mess inside.
People think i’m extroverted and don’t understand when i try to explain that i need down time or can’t overschedule myself
What about someone who complains all the time about personal issues?
Being a person that does not watch a lot of TV, I find that I need to watch the news more in order to be able to converse and stay up on current events, all over, including in the entertainment world. To be more well-rounded.

Conversations with introverts

Sometimes people just don’t talk back. I may start the conversation asking questions, but get yes/no answers.
I hear that!
Yes — when you’re trying to talk to other introverts!

Starting the conversation

What do you say when you first see someone besides “how are you”?
Instead of people “how are you” I ask them what brought them to the event, which has worked for me
brava i like the question, what are your passions
I’m a new grad and I work in a team with members that have been working in the company for 15+ years. I have a hard time connecting with them and often times i feel intimidated to even start a conversation that isn’t work related… : |
In a corporate environment, how do you initiate the connection – i always feel awkward inviting a “stranger” to lunch
I agree that it is hard to start non-work-related conversations.
new grad; ask one of those people to help you / take you under their wing

Leaving conversations

I have a hard time exiting a conversation gracefully…
How about “It was great talking to you…”
What about saying, I have to go, I have a few other people to meet with

Energy

How can you calm yourself down if you have to lead a conference call, or even worse, make a business speech in front of your peers?
I jump up and down about 20 times to get rid of nervous energy.
Don’t think as talking to peers. Talk to a friendly face or voice you already know.
Talk to “A” person.

Resources

I’m coaching a very shy young woman who is starting a business where she has to invite people to hear about her new business. She isn’t in WITI. Where could I get other information to help me help her?
Joining a local Toastmasters club is an excellent way to improve personal communications as well as giving business presentations.
Yes, Toastmasters is great. We used to have one here. You’re able to get feedback.

Meetings

What are techniques to interrupt people in a meeting when you want to make a point but everyone is talking and there’s no break in the conversation?
What about making more of an effort to speak up in meetings (especially remote)? People could incorrectly interpret shyness or quietness as lack of interest.

Voice and speaking

I get more nervous because I can’t get the “quiver” out of my voice. Any suggestions?
Doesn’t matter how prepared I am.
I get so nervous my neck and chest get red with hives!
When I speak in front of crowds, I stammer over my words. HELP!
Practice with a friend.
Practice in front of a mirror.
When I hear a speaker having trouble, nervous, stammering, I always, always feel I want them to do well, and I usually try and pay attention to them and smile to give them confidence, maybe knowing others (strangers) are on your side might help with the jitters

Personas – professional and social

How do you mix personal and business in social media?
I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting my personal site in my business signature
I use LinkedIn for professional networking and Facebook for personal networking and try not to blur the line
Social networking is big; however, I believe that you need to be careful with what’s put on there, especially in the business area. I’ve seen it used against people too.

Can you say something about posture? How do we show a positive posture?
I meant posture as far as your attitude
How you present yourself

Impressions

I had a friend share with me recently at a networking dinner that I had my hands clasped near my chin a lot, and she said that made me appear disengaged… so I had to watch that.
Here’s my favorite tip & it allows your first impression to be a strong one even if I don’t feel that way– Be the first to extend your hand to say “Hello, I’m Vickie.” You appear to be an extrovert
I did a Krispy Kreme fundraiser for Haiti at work for them to put a face to my name. :D One of the executives came by to pick up a couple of boxes and it was good to meet him!

Keeping your spirits up

How do you stay positive if people don’t respond or turn you down?
That is hard for me too – to stay positive.

Presentation style and delivery

This is the first entirely visual presentation I’ve seen and appreciate the clarity in ways it portrays the message
These are great slides. Simple and clean and really get the point across.
brava
Thank you Sacha your presentation was great!
This is the best webinar I have ever participated in
Thank you so much, Sacha — I totally relate to your perspective on being an introvert — thanks for doing this!
My first experience with this type of presentation – it was very helpful
I feel like the ‘It’s okay’ smiley guy right now :)
thank you!
Great presentation. Thanks Sacha.
Very helpful–thanks
excellent presentation – great innovation with your deployment

From the interaction: Challenges people faced: Fairly even spread, more emphasis on small talk and building the relationship

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From the interaction: Tips to take forward: Perspective and growth

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Previous Shy Connector discussions

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Post a comment or contact me privately!

Next step for me: Blog about the different topics we discussed, then plan follow-up presentations or articles. Stay tuned!

Reflecting on introversion and shyness; help me find better words!

I’m an introvert. It’s not a bad thing. I’m growing into my strengths.

It took me a while to understand that part of me. My parents wanted me to enjoy myself at family reunions. My sisters called me square because I didn’t like hanging out at bars and clubs. Sometimes they let me just read. Other times, I think they wished I was more outgoing. I felt outgoing enough. I liked my own company, and that of a few others. I could spend hours just reading or using the computer. I wasn’t one of the popular kids, but I had a close-knit group of friends I brought together.

People don’t believe I’m an introvert. I speak. I write. I introduce people to others. It seems introverts should be tongue-tied in company, shying away from social contact. I’ve met some like that: hard to get to know, but rewarding when you do.

I’m learning to work with who I am. I plan my schedule so that I don’t overextend myself with events. I enjoy organizing my thoughts and communicating them through presentations, blog posts, and sketches. I get my energy through quiet time.

Thanks to books about introversion, I feel comfortable saying, “Thank you for the invitation to the party, but I’m looking forward to a quiet evening.” No need to pretend I’m over-committed. No excuses about work that needs to be done.

I can fill a conference with energy and hold my own in a room when needed. I even enjoy the buzz. But I know I’m an introvert, so I build quiet time into my schedule and I don’t feel guilty if I need a break.

Shyness is a different matter. There are shy extroverts. Shyness is social anxiety–a feeling of awkwardness, a lack of confidence.

I need a better word. I am not shy. I would just rather jump into the middle of a conversation than start one.

Given a choice between going to a cocktail party with mostly-strangers and hoping for a serendipitous connection, or reflecting on a topic and writing a blog post that can lead to more conversations over time, I’ll pick writing. It gives people reasons to start the conversation with me. It scales, too.

I mix in some randomness so that I’m not constrained by homogeneity. I take up different interests and meet different people. I reach out, read blogs, and leave comments. Yes, sometimes I start the conversation—when I can jump into the middle of it, informed by what people have shared publicly.

I don’t reach out to random people on Facebook and ask them to be my friend. I don’t chat people up at bus stops and in elevators. People who do that make me nervous. Being singled out in an anonymous crowd makes me wonder about people’s intentions. I value the ability to choose when to withdraw and when to engage.

I share, publicly and non-intrusively, so people can choose to reach out to me. We can jump into the middle of a conversation. It’s an odd sort of intimacy. It works.

So what is this? Not shy, not anti-social, not asocial… Pragmatic, because this approach lets me reach far more people? Lazy, because it reduces the work of connection? Respectful, because I give people the choice? None of those quite seem to fit. What word expresses this well?

The shy connector’s guide to business travel

As an introvert, I often find business travel quite stressful. I know I should be making better use of the time and money spent getting me there by meeting lots of people while I’m in town, but the workshops and presentations I’m in town for are usually intense, so I don’t want to overcommit. Here are some things that have helped me with business travel:

  1. Fly with just a carry-on. With some clever packing and trimming, you can fit all of your needs for short business trips into a single carry-on piece of luggage (or maybe one piece plus a small bag, which many airlines will allow). Not only will you never have to worry about dealing with airline customer service when it comes to tracking down lost luggage, you’ll usually be able to skip the lines by checking in online and or through a kiosk. This makes it easier to avoid rush hour, too.
  2. Leave space in your schedule. You’ve already invested so much on travel and lodging. You might be tempted to maximize your trip by cramming every break, morning, and evening with meetings. Don’t. Give yourself time to recharge, especially on your first day in and before any important presentations. It’s okay to spend some quiet time in the hotel room or walking around. You can experiment with meeting people, too. Find people on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Doppler and arrange something beforehand, or use Twitter to plan something on the fly. I tend to prefer organizing things on the fly because that lets me adapt to my energy level.
  3. Ping people. You might not have time to meet everyone (see tip #2), but a trip gives you a natural excuse to reach out to people in the area and tell them you were thinking of them. Check your address book and social network, and send off some notes to say hi. If you share a few details about why you’re in town, you might end up making unexpected connections.
  4. Find a local spot if you want to shake up your routine, or keep it consistent if that works for you. Find out what you like. Staying in interchangeable hotels and eating at chain restaurants can make business trips blur into each other, but that can be a good thing. On the other hand, local favourites might lead to new discoveries. Figure out your style, and work with that.
  5. Have little rituals to ease the transition, and enjoy the silence. It might be the way you pack your bags. It might be the kind of book you take on the plane. It might be the long bath you take after you reach your hotel. Enjoy the silence. You’ve got a hotel room to yourself and no chores to do. Relax in the bliss of being alone, and come out of your shell when you’re ready.

What other ways do you make travel easier?

The shy connector’s schedule: making time to breathe

hamsterwheelIt starts innocently enough. You’re asked to attend a meeting next Tuesday. You accept. Your coworkers invite you to lunch on Wednesday. You agree. A friend invites you to her birthday party next week. You put it on your calendar. Then another meeting invitation comes, and another, and another. Networking events, coffee breaks, and presentations crowd into your schedule.

If this has ever made you feel suffocated, exhausted, and in dire need of some alone time, you might be an introvert.

I know it’s difficult to say no to opportunities. I’ve accepted too many invitations and tried to attend too many events. Last year’s conference season was particularly stressful. The first week, I was in New York for the Best Practices Conference, giving a presentation on blogging. The second week, I was at the even bigger Technical Leadership Exchange in Florida, giving a presentation on Generation Y. By the time I got to the Web 2.0 Summit (which I was helping organize), I was ready to hide. (And I did, behind the podium.)

As much as I enjoy learning from people in conversations and conferences, needing to be “on” all the time is incredibly draining. I’m learning how to manage my schedule and how to say no.

It’s important to figure out what works for you. For example, I don’t want to be out late two nights in a row. In fact, I’d rather not be out late at all. This means that before I accept an invitation, I look at my schedule for that time and my schedule for the week, making sure that I’m not trying to pack too much in.

In addition to getting better at saying no, I’m also getting better at scheduling time for myself. I’ve blocked off time on my calendar for planning, working on important tasks, and responding to mail. Sometimes people still schedule meetings during those times, but in general, I can be sure that my day won’t be full of conference calls. I sometimes block off time during evenings and weekends for particular projects, too. If I’m going to travel for a workshop or a presentation, I want to have a quiet week before and after the trip, and I plan accordingly.

Does this limit opportunities compared to extroverts who are out there schmoozing? Maybe. But I’ve tried running in extrovert mode for extended periods of time, and I can’t do my best if I feel like I’m coming apart. Besides, the things I do in my quiet time—read, write, reflect—also help me connect with people, although in a more introvert-friendly way. It’s better to work with the grain instead of against it.

It’s important to make time to breathe. If you find yourself running ragged because you feel that you have to say yes to everything, stop and slow down. Schedule introvert dates with yourself. Make time for breaks. Say no. You’ll find that the quiet time you give yourself will make it even easier to connect with people when you do, because you’ll be happier and better rested.

What can you do to free up some time for yourself?