Help me become smarter and have a more dynamic personality.
May 10, 2008 9:39 AM   Subscribe

Help me become smarter and have a more dynamic personality.

My desired job requires that I be dynamic, sharp, well-spoken and smart. I consider myself smart, but I don't articulate well. I love to read literature and I love to write; I'm less well-spoken and engaging face to face.

There are a million ideas in my head but when it comes time to say them off the cuff, I'm either slow to the point, stuck trying to find the right words, or insecure that I'll sound stupid.

I've been to college. I can do small talk just fine. Any suggestions?
posted by Jason and Laszlo to Human Relations (17 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
It's hard- I suffer from some of the same issues. A lot of what you want comes with maturity and practice. Try your best, and then analyze your failures, but don't beat yourself up about them. If you know you are trying and striving to be better at being you, you don't need to feel bad about missing the mark a little bit. Because you'll know that next time, you will learn from those failures and do better.

Let go of your ego a little bit- teach yourself that everyone else isn't perfect either, and that you aren't quite so important that they are all spending their time judging you. Because they aren't.

Realize that your insecurity is not "rational", that it's just something that's going on in your own head. Soon enough, it will start to dissipate.

And if it doesn't, don't be afraid to seek therapeutic help.
posted by gjc at 10:03 AM on May 10, 2008

I know it's suggested a lot, but it's for a reason: Toastmasters. It's more than about making speeches - it's about being comfortable in your own skin.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 10:21 AM on May 10, 2008

I've found that most of my insecurities arise when I'm around people who I think, at least subconsciously, are superior to me. They may not necessarily be superior in terms of intellect, education (not necessarily a precursor to intellect), or even maturity. But other factors like status, popularity, etc. do in fact get in the way.

Although I am attending university at the moment, I've also been a part-time tutor for several years now. And I'm proud to say that I've taught every single child (6-8th graders mostly) with the utmost passion and confidence in my voice and mannerisms. I strongly believe that they came to respect me, not necessarily as an authority figure, but at least as someone who they can approach and look up to for I sincerely cared.

I don't have a a superiority complex, but like you, my problem is that I can be awkward at times around other adults (professionals, other students, older family members, etc.). However, lately I've been trying to consciously remind myself of the futility of being timid/unconfident around those I associate with on a regular basis. Sometimes, it's the best you can do since we usually forget that which we want to internally accomplish.

Also, try to strike conversation with strangers on the train/bus, when in line, or with customer support representative on the phone. You'll find that it usually takes one single comment or compliment to launch into a potentially good conversation, and you can definitely scope out who'd be willing to do so in the first place. It's good practice for off-the-cuff conversation, and you'll broaden yourself as you widen your circle of friends/acquaintances.

I hope this helps!
posted by mahoganyslide at 10:23 AM on May 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think the attitude with which you approach a social situation matters a lot. Along the lines of what mahoganyslide said about power dynamics -- try to figure out what causes you to act a certain way around certain people. Are you preoccupied with impressing them? Are you worried that this is the only chance you'll get to show them your intellectual ability? Maybe you're subconsciously afraid of them calling you out on something you say.

If this is the case, my solution is that I take the approach that I'm basically an idiot, but also that different "statuses" are essentially just labels that don't intrinsically mean anything (ergo everyone else is in the same boat as you). The trick is finding a balance between respecting experience (a good thing) vs. fawning (a bad thing).

Incidentally, the less you say around people, the more intelligent they'll think you are. When you do speak, they'll be more likely to listen too. This can even apply to situations where it's your role to lead the conversation; if you say the least amount needed (while still maintaining clarify and conciseness), and have a get-things-done attitude, people will respect you. You rarely hear your coworkers complain that their boss or team leader says too little.
posted by spiderskull at 11:19 AM on May 10, 2008

My very real suggestion is to determine clearly for yourself what "dynamic" and "sharp" mean... these are hardly clear concepts, so having a very precise idea of how you want your behaviour to change will help you reach the goal.

It seems to me that all your perceived short-comings are tied into confidence. If you can learn to make quick choices and trust them, you will appear to others as you seem to want to. Toastmasters can definitely help with that. I know it's easier said than done. You seem articulate in your writing, so I suspect you just need practice. In the early stages, just remember not to beat yourself up.

Aslo, most people don't realize how insignificant they are to others. Don't worry about not being perfect in front of others, because you will spend WAY more time thinking about it than they will. (The exception to this is job interviews. A much higher level of perfection is called for, then.)
posted by chudmonkey at 11:50 AM on May 10, 2008

Gerard Sorme: "I know it's suggested a lot, but it's for a reason: Toastmasters. It's more than about making speeches - it's about being comfortable in your own skin."

By whom? Amazon lists many different books on the subject of "Toastmasters".
posted by pedmands at 1:15 PM on May 10, 2008

"toastmasters" is a public-speaking club, not a book. they have chapters in lots of cities. i keep thinking i should join myself--i'm so inarticulate i'm practically mute.
posted by thinkingwoman at 1:20 PM on May 10, 2008

thinkingwoman: ""toastmasters" is a public-speaking club, not a book. they have chapters in lots of cities. i keep thinking i should join myself--i'm so inarticulate i'm practically mute."

Ah, thanks.
posted by pedmands at 2:07 PM on May 10, 2008

Speaking comfortably in social situations requires practice, so put yourself in situations where there's no risk and practice. Better yet, figure out which types of social situations you're good at and focus on making sure you are able to steer job needs into those types of situations (you say you're good at small talk, which is my worst nightmare, so see if you can do business in situations where this is appropriate.)

No job "requires you to be a certain way". I hear this all the time in my job, which is development (fundraising). That I'm not a "people person," I'm not really very socially adept (in fact I suck in social situations, especially with strangers). I'm always having people tell me that this means I can't be a good fundraiser. And yet I am a very good fundraiser.

This is because I have figured out how my assets-- risk-taking, empathic, quirky, highly organized, and intuitive-- work in this field, and how my negatives-- temperamental, impatient loner with a chip on my shoulder, can be mitigated.

What you need to do is figure out how *your* personality traits are positive (not "which personality traits are positive, rather *how* are they positive) and then figure out how you can use that to be successful in your job. You are not going to change the way you are, especially if it's from some bullshit external motivation, like someone says you need to be a certain way for this job. Presumably the person who hired you noticed that you weren't "dynamic" and yet still saw something in you that made them think you could do the job.
posted by nax at 3:22 PM on May 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: thanks everyone for replying. nax, my ideal job has a lot of fundraising components, especially on the front line wooing potential donors. I feel that if I were more dynamic and smart about my subject, which I love already, then I'd have a better chance at engaging people, and having them help me move to the top. Yes, I'm passionate about the profession and the subject. Sometimes when I'm talking to people about it, they seem to think I'm bored. Hardly the case. Just a calm person. I move slowly to conclusions. So, chudmonkey and mahoganyslide, confidence is key, as you say. Also, toastmasters is a good idea for helping me think on my feet. (hard to say yes to, though).
thanks again.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 4:21 PM on May 10, 2008

Don't worry too much about dynamism and sharpness. If you try to speed up your normal speech, you'll just sound nervous and unsure of yourself.

Play to your strengths. If you have trouble articulating yourself, but you have a lot to say, slow down to a pace at which you're comfortable. Work on avoiding fillers like, "Um" and "You know," and replacing them with meaningful pauses or deep breaths. Someone who appears to be thinking deeply about what they're saying will come off better than someone who is just rattling off a pre-planned spiel. Speak the way you write: thoughtfully, and passionately.

If people think that you're bored, work on your tone of voice and your body language. Get on Youtube and watch people you admire making persuasive speeches. Do they lean forwards? Do they emphasize points with their hands? What do they do to draw you in?

Good communicators don't necessarily look like they're giving an infomercial. Your delivery doesn't have to be superficially animated, peppy and extroverted. If your speaking style is deliberate, don't try to change that. Deliberate speakers can be far more forceful, entertaining and persuasive than fast-talkers.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 7:05 PM on May 10, 2008

Some of the weaknesses you've highlighted can be turned around. I'm a very calm guy myself, but still very outgoing and passionate, and I've also experienced people thinking of me as disinterested. I have a very sardonic sense of humour, as well, so I like to get people used to my generally laid-back-ness with self-deprecating jokes about being a very calm guy. (Warning: unfamiliar humour should be tested carefully before active deployment.)

Cuddling up to donors is like dating, you need to let the person get to know you, and you need to get to know them. Conversation is key; you can sell someone on yourself and your passions with a good conversation, and then the business junk is just a formality. If you let people see your personality beyond the sales pitch, your presentation of the pitch isn't going to un-nerve them, unless you're like Lurch from The Addams Family or something.

If you're not a good conversationalist, just remember it's all about saying things that inspire (or outright provoke) an interesting answer. You want to inspire people to tell you about their thoughts without just asking a bunch of questions.

It sounds like Toastmasters is just perfect for you. I'm a very shy dude who saves all his gregariousness for work and AskMetafilter, but not going because you're not confident is like not going to a tanning salon because you're too pasty. They will mold you, young Jason and Laszlo (Jaszlo?), into a schmooozing, pontificating machine! If there's nothing in your area, we'll turn you on to some decent resources.

Good luck!
posted by chudmonkey at 7:21 PM on May 10, 2008

Wow. For a moment I felt like reading the story of my life.

Here's a thing that could work in the short term: just find yourself a few core people you can comfortably chat with. This will give other people the impression that you're not mute because you're socially inept, but because the rest haven't earned your respect.
posted by semi at 8:55 PM on May 10, 2008

I think an improv comedy group might be good for you too.
posted by bindasj at 9:32 PM on May 10, 2008

Ask other people about themselves and what brought them into their field of work or what inspires them about what they do (or whatever event you are at with them). People generally love to talk about themselves, and love to be listened to. That alone will make them feel rapport with you (you do have to at least appear interested). Also, listening to how they respond to questions might help you build upon your own possible answers to such questions or conversations.
posted by healthyliving at 12:17 AM on May 11, 2008

the right people you want to be around will recognise you have something important to say and give you the chance to explain but the more overly familiar you are with your ideas the easier it is to get them out. writing things down is good for that. it forces you to pick words rather than hoping to get the right ones. Its like the way its easier to remember what to buy if you wrote a shopping list. I mean you can remember better without having to look at it.
You can also make yourself write stuff in a simpler form. The act of consciously picking words and writing them cements them better in your head.

If you want to see deliberate conciseness in action. watch csi-miami. the boss guy (horatio caine) is the master of maximum meaning in minimal words.
posted by browolf at 3:48 AM on May 11, 2008

I agree with everyone who says "practice." All my life, I passionately wanted to be a teacher and a director. Yet when I started trying both, I was lacking in confidence, stuttery, mush-mouthed and unable to come up with clear ways to explain my ideas. Fast-forward and you'll find a person who gets complimented on his dynamism as a speaker.

It didn't come easy. I was a flop in the classroom at first; I was a flop during rehearsals. I came to the conclusion that most people who try-and-fail at this stuff get humiliated early and give up, assuming that if they couldn't speak well at first, they'd never be able to do it. I came close to giving up, myself.

But I didn't, because my hunger to teach and direct outweighed my fears. I just kept trying and trying. I "debriefed" after each session. I would lie awake at night, thinking about what concepts I'd explained poorly and how I could better explain them next time. What are good examples? What are good metaphors?

Slowly, slowly, slowly I improved. Now I look forward to walking into a classroom or a rehearsal. For me, it took about three years to get to that point. It was a long, hard three years, but it was so worth it.
posted by grumblebee at 6:53 AM on May 11, 2008

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