Importance of Learning Communication + Practicing Speaking Habits

I recently watched this video on Buzzfeed: I Hired A Speech Therapist To Fix My Boring Voice and it struck a chord so hard with me.

I have always been self conscious of the way I talk, what I talk about; almost to the point of, ”why I’m even talking?”. I am defined as an introvert. I listen, people-watch, and take in all of human behaviours and emotions but when it comes time for me to reciprocate – I don’t. It’s completely dependent on the situation too. Sometimes it’s based out of fear, sometimes it’s apathy, sometimes I really can’t come up with a topic to mention, and other times it’s simply slipped my mind.


Me:

Other person: Leave some conversation for the rest of us, Ash.

Me: Oh, haha! Oops!

Me:

Other person: Anyway, [continues storytelling]


I wouldn’t say I have a monotone voice (but then again, I don’t see myself the way others see me). There are definitely times when I get excited by a topic and you will see me light up and feel the enthusiasm while I explain. But it’s hard for me to land on that topic without the dreaded start of a conversation that has an uncertain direction. I’ve always found introverts to be the speak-when-spoken-to or the “I’ll talk when I have something interesting to say” type. I think I can speak [pun intended] for the majority of us when I say, we hate small talk.

My internal dialogue is constantly rolling. Sometimes it’s doing the work for me already saying “Bring up the fact that something similar happened to you” or “Cool, I was at the event too”; Other times, it is saying “What can you add to this conversation?”, “How do you relate to this person?”, “Do you agree with this?” and on and on.

I’ll start with dissecting the first part. When I have relative topics that I could throw in, it’s usually in a group setting of people that I do find interesting. Once the time comes that I think I should contribute, I have self-doubt thinking it won’t add much to the conversation. This comes from:

1) The fact that (I believe) I live a pretty mundane life
2) I’ve had the experience where I finally get the courage to say something and it gets glazed over
3) I’m terrible at storytelling (I’ll forget important parts, skip to the end, or don’t have the intriguing abilities to keep attention)
3) The person is talking too fast, I don’t think I’ll have time to say anything

It’s interesting because I never got butt-hurt about not being able to get a word in. I typically prefer it. But it wasn’t until I started growing up that I realized how letting it happen can really affect your social skills later in life. Now any time that I have to go to an interview, a networking event, or any important meeting (with someone I want to make a good impression on) – I get very anxious. I think “Oh, I’m not going to have my wingman of friends to crack jokes and be loud for me. I have to actually get myself noticed and form rapport with these people.” and that scares the crap out of me. I begin to sweat, I start to shake, I stammer when I talk, and I’ll still have my tendency to want to plant into my wallflower roots.

A lot of it in the professional setting is the age old impostor syndrome. In the settings where I want to impress a high-level professional, I feel I don’t belong. Not because I don’t know how to do the work but because I don’t know how to sell the fact that I do the work, and how to sell that fact that I do it well. That’s because the best way to do this is with confident speech.

…I’m still working on that.

If I had a cue card with all my notes on it – no problem (school, I gave you a lot of hate for it but you trained me well enough for that). Though, truth be told, that’s rarely the case. The more common public relations, networking, or social event is actually a big old gathering of improvisation.

Did I tell you guys about the time I took 9th Grade Drama class?

I really didn’t mind skits (again, scripted and do-able) and I was happy to share my love for musicals with some of the actually-wanting-to-act theater kids in the class. Though, there was one exercise that our teacher would do often which was improv. Typical drama style: a student would go up and start a scene in any way they want. A second student from the class would run up to follow along, the teacher would cut it after 30 seconds, the 1st kid would sit back down, and the 2nd would start a new skit; and repeat. Most kids would go up and pretend they’re having a baby, or start shooting air guns, or yell and throw things. We had this exercise every so often but it was always voluntary – until one day. My teacher decided to call me out and push me to go up. I choked. Completely.

The only thing I could do was stand there and say “what’s up?” awkwardly and nod. I was DYING. It felt like an eternity and the poor student that was supposed to interact with me and “yes, and” my scene probably hated me. This nightmare of a class comes to my mind at least once a month.

 
Michael Scott – The Office Quotes

Now this memory causes so much dread and pain but it also shows me my growth. I feel like if I were to go back to that class now, I still wouldn’t volunteer but if my teacher were to call me back up – I think I could come up with an actual scenario to act out on the spot.

My second struggle is trying to figure out how to add to a conversation that I am not interested in. Or how to start a conversation with someone that I’m not sure what I have in common with. I’m really baffled that people can do this. I admire them and at the same time pity them. All of that time wasted on conversations they don’t really want to be a part of. While simultaneously, maybe they really enjoy the act of conversing or they start getting interested in something you teach them a little more about by talking through it.

I struggle in finding friends because I don’t relate to people easily. I don’t want to be stereotypical but I always found it harder to speak to females. I worked as a hostess at a restaurant, surrounded mostly by girls and I found it pretty hard. They would talk about Aritzia sales, make-up, parties, and boys. I don’t relate to caring about shopping, I wore less make-up then than I wear now (which is still minimal), and I have always been in a relationship. As many stories as I have with my boyfriend, single people don’t want to hear about how cute and cozy your life is. They make self-depracating jokes or jokes about “ew, romance” and you start to get the idea that maybe you should keep the next date night stories to yourself.

Gossip is where it was at. I could easily flow a conversation about the latest news of he-said-she-said, or who they hooked up with recently, or what their weekend plans were. I remember the quote,

 
Great minds talk about ideas,
average minds talk about events,
& small minds talk about people.
 

and always felt surrounded by the people that talked about people. Which is hypocritical because I had also become one of them. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy our conversations or that I thought that the people I was having them with were small-minded. But the quote convinced me that I was more immature than I was.

*Side note: Inspirational quotes are never applicable 100% of the time. Remember that.

So, I’m a nervous wreck when it comes to professional speech and social gatherings. Boy, am I ever set up for winning in this world?!

Ultimately, all I’m trying to do is point out how IMPORTANT and VALUABLE it is to take a step back and look at your social habits. Psychology and human behaviour has always been interesting to me (which is why I’m a chronic listener and body language reader). I always knew that I was somewhere on the spectrum of social anxiety but my self-awareness is such a blessing. Sure, it sucks to deal with but knowing & admitting that I have it, gives me all of the opportunity in the world to overcome it.

I’ve been subscribed to a channel on YouTube called Charisma on Command for about a year now. While these are free, ~10-minute videos, helping with language in a generic way – it’s very helpful. Charlie does captivating videos where he finds clips of well-known people and points out what they do that makes us see them the way we do. He’s done videos defining why and how Robin Williams, Liza Koshy, or Ellen Degeneres is funny, how Oprah Winfrey gets people to open up, how Jack Black shows confidence, how Will Smith has a contagious smile, and so many more. Now this is only the beginning for me.

It’s already helped in ways I never would have considered but I know there’s a lifetime of practice to go.

I wish that I could write this blog with a big old solution at the bottom but I’m still on my way. My biggest goal with this blog post is to inspire others to take a step back and look at how they speak and act from another perspective. The saddest part of this Buzzfeed video is when Kane sits with his co-workers and friends individually and asks their first impression of him. They all thought he didn’t like them at first. Some of them didn’t realize until months later that he even considered them as friends. Imagine if you were giving out the impression that you didn’t like the people you spend most of your time with, without even knowing?

It gets me thinking – maybe when I worry about what I have to say being boring or not important, I should worry about the fact that keeping quiet might make people see me differently. They don’t realize you’re holding back because you’re trying to be considerate of their time or only offer value. They might be thinking, “I’m really trying to hold a conversation with this person but I’m not getting much back… maybe they don’t like me?”

While I had this importance of communication epiphany a long ago, this video really resurfaced it’s significance and made me want to practice more exercises that will help me get better.

Watch it below: