It is technically true that you only have one chance to make a great first impression, but the reality is that we introduce and reintroduce ourselves to our colleagues, bosses, and clients every day in one-on-one interactions and meetings. Our professional relationships change and grow over time. Part of being recognized as a high-impact professional is knowing how to be interesting so you can capture positive attention precisely when you need it.
In fact, we spend 60 percent of our time in conversations talking about ourselves according to this Scientific American-cited study. This dynamic creates an opportunity to be interesting in a way that gets more positive attention and continually attracts people to you which means more advancement, more influence, greater sales, and often a happier work environment for you.
How can you be more interesting?
You've heard it before and it's an excruciatingly clich bit of advice, "Just be yourself." Being yourself means sharing appropriate pieces of your unique story. It's the authenticity prescription to all kinds of professional and social ailments from a one-on-one job interview to a presentation to 10,000.
The inescapable truth is that when people know a little about you- your background and your beliefs- what you say is more likely to stick. Your words resonating with others achieves two things--you get them to listen to you right now and you leave them wanting more.
But, coming across authentically is not as easy as it sounds. I've heard this advice and had it tip off a kind of mini-existential crisis, like, "ok, but who am I?" And I can tell you that pondering big questions like this five minutes before a big meeting is not helpful. The truth is, we all share the same insecurities and anxieties, so letting ours get in the way of sharing our unique story is a disservice to all. Struggling to engage your audience in pitches, meetings, speeches, personal connections, and so on is maddening and can even leave you questioning the viability of your business.
Before we go on, I should say that I'm thinking of your audience here in the broadest possible sense. In any given day at work, this might include your boss, your team, your customer, your community, or the hottie in the elevator with a drippy umbrella. We all have limited time and opportunities to say something sticky.
So, how do you best seize the opportunity to be interesting and do it consistently? There are 5 ideas in the list below that I've seen work time and again. As you read them, think about an important conversation or meeting coming up and how you could work one or a combination of them into your story.
- Strictly curate a series of events. Curation is about both what you say and what you leave out. For example, perhaps the story most important to your audience at the moment is your education. Pick 3-4 milestones and maybe include an early education memory to start it off, two formal education events, then a more recent professional lesson that completes the theme.
- Add in a very specific detail when providing a general sketch of your life. For example, one of my earliest childhood memories is standing with my sisters on the rim of the Grand Canyon. A Chinese woman came up and asked to take our picture with her humongous camera. Even as a kid, I thought was strange because we weren't her family (and her camera was bigger than her head). Ever since then, I've thought of our national parks not just as American treasures but as places of global interest that attract multinational visitors.
- Share what makes you most passionate about the issue at hand (and why!) This is especially critical for the many, many of us who work in the often abstract areas of planning, project management, financial management, or risk mitigation. People want to know what makes it interesting to you because it's not immediately obvious why anyone would care that much.
- Hit the highlights of any family trends. There is something inherently intriguing about the non-physical traits passed down from one generation to the next. We hear about this often from cooking and crafting bloggers, but it can be as true for other industries if you do a little digging with your older relatives. Both of my grandmothers were police dispatchers at a time with very limited automation. How police respond to crimes and how criminals are found and brought to justice sparked a passion for police work in my sister and she now is dedicated to crime analysis and building databases that aid police in finding the bad guys fast.
- For a local audience, get really local. For a global audience, do the same. People enjoy hearing the details of where you come from. Locals like it because it's familiar and they might like the same places. Global folks like it because it helps them place you and your message in context. For example, my mother-in-law lives in southern New Jersey- the blueberry-producing capital of the world (or, at least, the mid-Atlantic.) Her closet contains more than the recommended daily allowance of sequined shirts.
In addition to being your most interesting self, you can further attract positive attention by being genuinely interested in others. While testing these tactics, consider increasing the time that you're asking questions and making observations about them.
Lastly, part of being more interesting to others at work requires that we get to know ourselves a little better. There are many resources out there to do this. Two of my favorites are Strengths Based Leadership and Sally Hogshead's Fascination Advantage Assessment.