Friday, August 6, 2010

Professional Business Women of California Conference: Workshop Session I

I will admit that when I first looked through the schedule, I wasn't very excited about any of the seminar session breakouts, so I decided to attend the workshop track. Leave it to PBWC to make sure I wasn't disappointed!

For Workshop Session I, I attended Chris Melching's Paddle Your Own Canoe: Tips for Selling Yourself.

This is something that comes up every now and again as a blogger and someone that is very active on twitter as well, but I will admit I haven't really thought much about creating a brand. When I'm online and writing, I'm usually just sharing my experience - no matter what area it's in. I see so many blogs that start up and try to have a specific focus, and fizzle out after a half dozen posts or so. I don't write enough as it is, and would rather just write about what is on my mind or interesting things I've done than worry about it fitting into my "brand".

Chris Melching, though, reminded us that anything you put on line is your brand. If you think potential employers aren't checking out your online presence before your interview, you're wrong.

Melching covered the standard excuse given for not doing self-promotion, "I don't want to brag", with a great Kate Hepburn quote: "If you don't paddle your own canoe, you don't move."

This is where things get tricky. Most of us, including me at times, sit and wait for promotions, for changes in career direction, new opportunities to simply appear. While that does happen, it's rare and you cannot depend on it.

So, paddle your own canoe! Think about ways you can stand out, and never forget the silent messages you send, for example, what does your listening face look like? Apparently, 55% of an impression is made up from body movement, so if you want to show someone that you do care about what they are saying!

1. Make a good impression
  • Try to keep an open body - never let hands touch!
  • Make eye contact, even in groups
  • Talk about what you can do, not what you can't do
  • Don't complain or dwell on the negative (this one can be so hard!)
  • Smile more
  • Come up with possible solutions
After attending this workshop, I tried to think more about my own passive face. Often when I'm working at my desk, or just thinking about something while I'm walking down the hallway, people will ask me what's wrong. I now realize that my "thinking" face reads like a "sad" or "upset" face and I am slowly trying to change that habit (which is hard to do, while thinking about something else).

2. Build up your online presence to extend your presence beyond those you interact with on a daily basis. (side note: when she asked for a show of hands of women that used twitter, blogged or interacted on Facebook... only a small number of hands came up!)

3. Act as if...

Act as if you're already important. Walk up to someone and start a conversation as if you know (for sure) that they want to be talking to you.

Act as if you're confident, and before you know it, you will be!

Keep in mind that the minute you walk into a room, you're in the spotlight and you are being judged! A women executive that Melching interviewed said that within seven seconds she is already trying to figure out how to either get you out of her office, how to help you, or how to get something from you. Seven seconds!

It is important to always put forth a professional presence so you are prepared for these quick judgments people are making (even if they aren't aware they are making them). Make sure you are put together, organized, engaged and smile.

Some tips for making this happen:
  • Open up your body, you'll appear more confident
  • Slow down your pace and listen often
  • Smile (often!)
  • Project strength in how you look, act and sound at all times
  • Ask questions, stay focused (put the smartphone down!)
  • Become contagious and change people's pulse when you speak (easier said than done, right?)
  • Use large gestures
When you are speaking you can be a train wreck inside, but still project confidence on the outside by:
  • Exhaling
  • Acting calm
  • Not fidgeting
  • Smile
  • Not touching your face
  • Being purposeful
  • Pinching the table to focus your energy, and conveniently this keeps you from touching your hands together and keeps your body open. (I've tried this, it is an amazing way to focus actually)
Ask someone you trust what your strengths are, so you are aware. Ask what you do well, what you should do more of or less of.

Of course, I'm generally thought of as an animated person (which is why I do need to watch my focus expressions), so I need to take some of these tips in stride. If I started making incredibly large hand gestures along with animated facial expressions, it would likely become a very strange experience for those I was talking to. On the other hand, I do often find myself closing up in meetings and these simple reminders can help me make sure what I'm showing others is indeed the message I'm intending to show.

4. Build selling into your everyday conversations. For example, if someone asks, "How are you?", don't answer with "fine", but rather something along the lines of "I'm fantastic. I'm really excited about this project I've been working on..."

5. Be succinct. Well, if "fine" isn't a succinct answer, I don't know what is ;-) But, what Melching is talking about here is giving folks the highlight reel. When someone asked how the meeting went, don't start on about how Bob was late, you didn't have the slides ready, then your flight was rescheduled, and then your luggage was lost.... oh, wow, I'm boring myself here! Get to the point and provide the nitty gritty details later, if they are asked for. Small bites:
  • What did you do?
  • Who benefited?
  • What were the results?
  • What are you trying to ask, get, etc?
  • Stay focused
  • Share your passion
  • Avoid "um, er"
  • Share your passion
  • Increase your energy in your voice
This is an area that I have trouble with. I practiced these skills for awhile right after the conference, but realize now that I'm already slipping back into some bad habits. I'm glad I'm revisiting this with this blog entry so I can start to make this a habit!

6. Know what you want and then just ask for it. If your manager doesn't know you want an international assignment, you can't be disappointed that they give the assignment to someone else on your team.

7. Encourage objections. This will help you flesh out your own ideas, find out who agrees with you and let you learn about what is on other people's minds.

8. Clarify your next steps. Be specific, especially when you're seeking advice or something else from someone.

9. Get frequent reality checks from others - back to the "what's working? what should I do more of? less of?"

10. Grow and sustain your network! Make sure you stay in touch, and not just when you need something. This applies for personal relationships as well as business ones. Try to check in once a quarter and build your network by introducing people - they will return the favor to you someday.

Overall, I really enjoyed this workshop. While I realize out of the attendees there, I was one of the few with an established online brand, that doesn't mean I can't do more to focus it. I can certainly work on the being succinct part - how long is this entry?

Do you have any other good tips for selling yourself?