some non-cringey tips for easing into the spotlight
Little kids announce their accomplishments so easily and charmingly (maybe because they’re so dang cute). They’re matter-of-fact and completely unselfconscious.
Most grownups, on the other hand, shun the spotlight . “Oh, it wasn’t just ME, it was a team effort.” “Interviews make me so nervous – I just hate talking about myself.” “Lead a training session? That’s WAY outside my comfort zone!” (= all real-life quotes)
Is this a Minnesota thing? A gender thing? In “Rebel Talent”, Francesca Gino says, “As we climb the corporate ladder, our ego inflates, and we tend to feel even more threatened by information that proves us wrong.”
Voicing an unpopular opinion in a meeting (especially a tense one) can be unnerving. Being the focus of attention ~ giving a speech, teaching a group of strangers or trying something new (like Improv) — alarms most of us.
But a job interview carries a multi-threaded threat: we’re talking about ourselves, with strangers, hoping for a job we really want and we’re the sole focus of attention.
Talk about anxiety! It’s enough to bring out the heart-pounding, stammering, I-can’t-think-straight version of ourselves that we don’t want anyone to see.
But consider this: if you don’t tell (or show) us, how else will we know?
You could even say it’s a little selfish to keep us in the dark. Your perspective, your path and your skills are unique. So for the good of all of us, step out of the shadows. It’s cringe-y (but-critical) to show up and help us understand.
It could be a job you’re interviewing for. Or it could be a project you’re about to lead. A new client you’re starting to work with. Or a LinkedIn article you’re about to publish. I know — the spotlight feels alarmingly bright.
- Reframe it: you’re not asking (for approval, for a job, for the sale, for the audience’s attention) you’re advising (your skills are relevant, you’re the right person for this task, you’re sharing your perspective).
- You’re the authority: No one else knows your experience, your point of view, the way you do. You’re the best one to tell this story.
- Get comfortable: you know that person who matter-of-factly talks about their accomplishments? They do it without apology, which puts everyone else at ease. Be more like them. And (my favorite) most people think about us far less than we believe they do.
What? Get comfortable in the spotlight? HOW??
First, get clear. List your accomplishments. Something like, “I untangled the billing process and decreased my company’s reconciliation from 2 weeks to 2 days”. “I led the charge to consolidate my company’s backup tools from 8 to 1, saving $4.5 gazillion” (I made these up, but you get the idea). When I review work histories with professional branding clients, they’re often shocked at how much they’ve done, what they know, and the impact they’ve had. You know what you know. Own that.
Side note: in a job search, highlight accomplishments where you enjoyed doing the work.
Second, add context. Remember how we had to add facts to flesh out a persuasive speech in school? Do that here: add the details. ROI, time / cost savings, measurable impact on customers, improved scores, increased $ revenue. Make it real.
Third, practice. If you’re prepping for an interview, say your accomplishments out loud until they flow. Tell a mirror. Talk to your dog. Say them to your smartphone, on video. Sing them. And when you do trot them out in real life, remember to tell a (short) story or give details.
As you speak, watch for social cues. Has the data landed? If you’re getting a blank look, ask “Does that make sense?” or “Do you need more information?” If they’re good, stop talking.
Think less about your discomfort and more about being a good steward of the data you’re sharing. When you shift focus AWAY from your angst at “bragging” (or being the focus of everyone’s attention) and TOWARD helping your audience better-grasp your message, you’ll find your nervousness falling away.
Some clarity + a little practice will make stepping into the spotlight easier. It’s okay to slip up a little. Be prepared, but give yourself permission to be imperfect.
Don’t you just love hearing different perspectives & stories? All the more when the speaker admits to being a tad nervous or unsure?
It’s what makes work (and life) interesting. So play it loud and proud! We’re all ears.
I help mid-career professionals better-tell their story. Need some help crafting yours?
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