Category Archives: Leadership

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Kirk St Amant headshot

Episode 007: Kirk St Amant–The Introvert in the Classroom

Category:Higher Education,Introverted Leadership,introverts,Leadership,Podcast,Uncategorized

Episode 007: Kirk St Amant–The Introvert in the Classroom Show Notes

Introduction

Prof. Kirk St. Amant and Ben Woelk discuss what it’s like to be an introvert in the classroom, how we engage students, and the role of popular culture in teaching. We also discuss how we adapt to the absence of in-person feedback mechanisms in webinars and online courses.

Key concepts

  • Adapting to your classroom
  • Playing the role of an extrovert as needed
  • Using cultural differences as learning opportunities
  • Getting comfortable with delayed or no feedback

Quotable

In many ways, it kind of becomes like acting. You create the persona of who you are as the instructor and figure out how to deliver information in that persona so that students feel engaged and there’s a connection and they want to interact with the material and they feel comfortable interacting with you. And that persona is never the same. With each class you’ve got different populations that you’re working with and you adapt that persona to those populations.

There are these periods where as an introvert you have got to be on and in many ways play the role of the extrovert, but it’s the kind of extrovert the audience needs at that point in time to process and engage with the information you’re sharing with them.

These cultural differences, these age-based differences are valuable tools to use to engage students because first of all, it demystifies you as the instructor. You’re not this great all knowing sage who’s going to be up there and explain the wisdom of the universe to them.

(Doing webinars) I think that the key is getting comfortable being able to orate without that kind of feedback you’re accustomed to in many situations, and just assuming that, okay, I think I’ve done a good job.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

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Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Kirk St. Amant. Kirk is a professor in the Eunice C. Williamson Endowed Chair in Technical Communication at Louisiana Tech University and he is also an adjunct professor of International Health and Medical Communication with the University of Limerick in Ireland. He researches international communication and information design for global audiences. His specific research focus is on the globalization of online education and health and medical communication for international audiences. He’s taught online and hybrid courses for universities in Belize, China, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Qatar, and Ukraine, and the United States. You can contact Kirk at Kirk.StAmant@gmail.com. Kirk and I have worked together to launch a new Society for Technical Communication Special Interest Group: Technical Communication in Health and Medicine. Kirk is our first academic on the Hope for the Introvert podcast.

Ben: I’m really excited today to get your perspective on what it’s like to work in academia as an introvert. Kirk, how long have you been in academia?

Kirk: I’m going on my 16th year now in Higher Ed and enjoying every minute of it.

Ben: Did you work in industry as well or has it been solely as a professor?

Kirk: I did prior to being in academia. I worked for awhile in books of all things. I managed a small independently-owned bookstore at first and then I worked in the printing and publishing area of book production for awhile after that. It’s actually at that point that I became interested in technical communication, just trying to navigate sort of the differences between the engineering work that goes on in the printing industry and then client expectations from the sales and publishing side. So that’s where the interest came from.

Ben:  Yeah, that is really interesting. I didn’t know that about your background. So, I am in academia, but I don’t really consider myself to be an academic because I work as a staff person in the information security office, although I do teach adjunct. Is there a typical day or week for you in your job and what would it be like?

Kirk: Great question! I think whether you’re in industry or academia–I think we’re in the same situation where a lot of it is you wake up in the morning and go into work and think I’ve got this organized plan of how things are going to work, and four minutes and two emails into it everything changes, and so a lot of it is kind of how to adapt as you move forward through the course of the day. Again, I think like many folks in industry, for many academics, there are the standard things you can expect. This is the slotting of courses I’m going to teach for today and you know, those are standard, but then around those courses and between them are all sorts of different activities that you need to focus on–everything from doing different kinds of research activities to sort of committee kinds of meetings to service kinds of meanings where you plan how the organization operates. So very much they’re the same. They’re the standard expected things that we all know were going to happen. And then, the unscripted stuff that we kind of get into it. It’s really enjoyable. So I think, I think Ben, this is a good example of how you can work across both domains is there’s that flexibility on both sides, and I think the personality for most of us who were in technical communication lends itself well to that mix of scripted expectation versus sort of on-the-fly working with things.

Ben: Okay. So you’re an introvert in academia. You’re certainly not alone. There are plenty of introverts in academia, but do you feel like your introversion affects your teaching style at all, and if so, how?

Kirk: Yeah, I think for the most part,–I mean you teach also and I think for many individuals they guest lecture or teach in classes Whether they’re in industry or in academia, you stand up in front of a classroom. I mean, the biggest thing is education is about drawing attention to yourself for the most part, particularly in face-to-face classes and so, in many instances you’re standing up in the front of the room and you want to call everyone’s attention to you for a sustained period of time, and if you’re an introvert, that is antithetical to how you try to often interact with individuals. And so the challenge for me at least, and I think for many other introverts in academia becomes, “How do you do that?” In many ways, “How do you sort of override your natural tendency to not want to be the center of attention all the time?” Or, to have long, prolonged periods of time of quiet to sort of think through things.

Kirk:  And so at least for myself–I’m guessing for other introverts in academia–in many ways it kind of becomes like acting. You create the persona of who you are as the instructor and figure out how to deliver information in that persona so that students feel engaged and there’s a connection and they want to interact with the material and they feel comfortable interacting with you. And that persona is never the same. With each class you’ve got different populations that you’re working with and you adapt that persona to those populations. And the catch is–we mentioned adjusting on the fly–it’s that kind of a thing. In the moment you adapt your communication style to how the audience reacts and responds. So I think for me that’s the greatest challenge. There are these periods where as an introvert you have got to be on and in many ways play the role of the extrovert, but it’s the kind of extrovert the audience needs at that point in time to process and engage with the information you’re sharing with them, if that makes sense. And my guess is you’ve had that experience also as an introvert who teaches, as I’m guessing are lots of other folks in the same situation.

There are these periods where as an introvert you have got to be on and in many ways play the role of the extrovert, but it's the kind of extrovert the audience needs at that point in time to process and engage with the information… Click To Tweet

In many ways it kind of becomes like acting. You create the persona of who you are as the instructor and figure out how to deliver information in that persona so that students feel engaged and there's a connection and they want to… Click To Tweet

Ben: You’ve mentioned my teaching. I know for me, I really try to stay away from lectures. I really try to do much more of a discussion-based teaching format, where I’m throwing questions out there and we’re discussing them before I’ll move on to the next subject. I don’t know whether that’s an introvert or an extrovert thing. What do you do stylistically?

Kirk: We’re back to the audience and it’s a mixed bag. Sometimes it is the lecture part of the front, but I mean, let’s be honest, that gets boring very quickly. So it’s a matter of trying to figure out, you’ve got a two hour block class, let’s say, of instructional time. How do you parse that into the say 10 to 15 minutes of lecture if you will;, the 20 to 30 minutes of guided discussion; the 10 to 15 minutes of small group interaction where you move back and forth among the groups and work with them. And again, it’s kind of like you adapt what is needed based upon the information that you’re presenting and how the audience seems to be reacting to and responding to it. And I think a lot of it–I’m willing to bet you do the same thing–is you begin to get into paces and rhythms of how to do things.

Kirk: Okay, now the best way to approach this topic is I’m going to lecture this or I’m going to do the small group discussion. But, the key for me at least to success is you don’t go in with that as a set regimen of how you’re going to approach the material. You kind of go in knowing this is the subject matter I’ve got to teach and I’ve got to be ready to adapt this in different ways over the course of my presentation. And again, I think lots of folks–introverts or extroverts–when it’s an educational environment, you do wind up in this adaptive model where you shift how you approach things depending upon what’s working with the audience. You mentioned earlier like introvert versus extrovert in the classroom. I think in many ways, this is where being introverted may be an advantage in the sense that you tend to be very keenly attuned to the audience in ways that maybe extroverts might not be–and I’m speaking completely out of turn here–but, I think it’s a matter of you’re more used to knowing the quiet students to look for, if you will, because you were one of them at one point in time. And so it’s knowing how to sort of engage them and monitor how they’re reacting as well as the more extroverted students in the class to try to get them interacting. So that’s part of the joy of it. The ability to create as you’re moving forward.

Ben: So one of the things that I adjusted as I became aware of my introversion or understood more about it, and understanding that, especially in computing security, I’ve got a ton of introverts in there. It’s really changed my philosophy around group work and group projects. And I always used to assign some. And it was always obviously a challenge because you get four or five students and you’d get the one who’s making sure everything gets done and you have somebody else who is contributing, and then you have a couple who are kind of lingering on and not doing too much. But as I studied introversion, what I started realizing was they’re–in a sense–they’re meeting together on these group projects and so much of introvert meeting behavior is not advancing ideas until you’ve had time to think through them. So I’ve really modified what I’ve done around that and I don’t really assign much of it.

Ben: Now, what I do do is make them post a blog post and I have them come in front of the class and talk about that blog post for about five minutes and insist that I get three questions answered before I’ll let them sit down. Which is entertaining sometimes, but it’s a little hard on them because this class especially, is almost (all) first year students. And they’ve never had to stand up in front of anybody and talk. And given that they’re cyber security students, they may never end up doing that in their careers either. So it’s always a little interesting because you do have some students who absolutely panic at the thought of having to stand in front of people and talk, but we try to make it conversational, engaging and give them the prop of having the blog post up there so they’re not feeling like they have to wing it, and I don’t let them do a PowerPoint or anything like that either.

Ben: But it is interesting because, and like you said, it’s adapting to what you’re seeing in the classroom and what they are responsive to. And for me in that instance it was, these are people like me out in this classroom. I never liked group work–mixed results! I mean the only thing that would be worse is if I have a class that is a mix of professionals and on campus students, and pairing them together is always a disaster because the professionals get their work done, and the on-campus students have that luxury of waiting until the last minute. But it’s really interesting what you’re talking about in terms of adapting your classroom style, even though it is the same content.

Ben: So one challenge I’ve found myself in teaching is ensuring that the cultural references that I make are known and realizing what decade people were born in is always a surprise at this point. I had mentioned in a previous podcast, that I’d worked on a slide of a ROUS, a Rodent Of Unusual Size from The Princess Bride [Kirk laughing] into a presentation, and only one student knew what that was. So stubbornly, I left the slide in. I showed it last week and this time I had three students out of 30 who recognized the ROUS. But interestingly, The Princess Bride doesn’t really appear to be part of their culture now. So it’s–and they’re lots of things like that, and that’s just one example. What have you done to make sure that your illustrations or your allusions are culturally relevant to them?

Kirk: Awesome question. As corny as it sounds, I don’t. I think those things are wonderful teaching and learning prompts that we can use to draw individuals into a conversation. And so I kind of overemphasize that when I teach, you know, walking up, I’m a child of the seventies and eighties, so you need to kind of walk in there and go, “Okay, does anybody here know what the Soviet Union is or was?” Oh boy! “Can someone look that up for me right quick?” and automatically you’re parsing out activities based upon, “Can you help me learn something because I’m so–I’m a little bit dated on this?” Someone will fire it up, and, “Okay, so you found it. Where did you find it, Wikipedia? Can someone here tell me, is Wikipedia the best source to look for this? Okay, why not? Can someone else…? Help me out here!” “What are some mechanisms we could use online to do this? What’s the Wiki thing? I don’t get this. Help me out.”

Kirk: So in many ways, using these cultural differences as prompts to do a couple of things–to make the students engage with the material, but then to get them to do things and explain things, in many cases highly technical things in ways that an audience who’s completely unfamiliar with them can understand it, is a way to begin to teach them how to do things like write technical instructions or generate technical summaries or you began to–for them it’s kind of a humorous thing. And for many of them they’ve had to do it with other family members. My big joke is, and you’ve heard me talk about this before, I’ll take out my iPhone, which I’ve had for like a year now. and ask people, “Can someone tell me how to turn this on?” and it gets them going, but then they’ll begin to talk through it. “Okay. Slow down. Can you write me up a set of instructions for this?” But it’s an opportunity to engage. And I think when you demystify, for lack of a better word, your role isn’t as an instructor that I’m not this incredible font of knowledge who knows everything. I’m really flawed and I need your help. Let’s do this together. I think that does foster engagement. It really helps in terms of–especially technologies. It keeps me as the old guy in the classroom more up to date with what’s going on by having them explain things, but I also think it helps them feel more invested and because they’ve got an investment and want to help, it’s much different than me sort of assigning an artificial task in terms of let’s write an instruction set on how to log onto Facebook.

Kirk: These cultural differences, these age-based differences are valuable tools to use to engage students because first of all, it demystifies you as the instructor. You’re not this great all knowing sage who’s going to be up there and explain the wisdom of the universe to them. It’s you’re a human being like every user they’re ever going to work with, and so it’s a matter of knowing how to engage that human being based upon their limitations and design information that that human being can use based upon their background. You’re doing an audience analysis, user testing, basic research skills all around this kind of what’s seen as a detriment but really isn’t. So these cultural differences are valuable ways of engaging students and I think that’s kind of nice. You learn from them because the students provide you with their version of things, the most current version of this particular demographic group and they learn about your group, but they feel a sincere sense of connection versus providing them with an artificial example like, “Let’s all write instructions about how to log into YouTube now.” I hope that made sense.

These cultural differences are valuable tools to use to engage students because first of all, it demystifies you as the instructor. You're not this great all knowing sage who's going to be up there and explain the wisdom of the… Click To Tweet

Ben: Yeah, and one thing–one thing that I’ve done–for both of my classes, I make my students blog and I have a WordPress.com blog that’s set up so I don’t have to worry about security settings on it. I had drafted a set of instructions on how they sign up for it and how they log into it. Now, WordPress has changed how you do things so many times over the years. I’ve just left the instructions in there as is and one of their first assignments really is, “I know these instructions are not what they should be. How would you improve them?” So it’s pretty much the same thing. It’s getting them immersed immediately in what is the work of a technical communicator? And I use this exercise when I do a technical writing and editing online class in the spring.

Ben: So online classes are interesting. I mean as an introvert or an extrovert, they’re going to be interesting. But what have you found especially challenging about online teaching and what have you done to address that?

Kirk: Well, excellent question. To be quite honest with you, I never realized how dependent I was on audience feedback as a teacher, and even as someone who’s been an introvert their entire life, never realizing how much you monitored the feedback of the people with whom you’re interacting–even if it’s in silence to sort of gauge how you’re about to do something. And then when you get to this online teaching experience where everything is reduced to text and realizing I don’t have the kinds of feedback sources I’ve used over the course of my life to gauge this audience, to interact with them, to understand them. And that’s an interesting situation to be in, how to do this. And so that I think was the biggest surprise for me is finding these ways of what are other ways of gleaning the kinds of feedback I’ve become so accustomed to using in face-to-face situations to adapt them to online teaching. I’m curious, maybe you’ve seen the same thing as an introvert also. This notion of, wow, I’m a lot more dependent on feedback than I realized and it’s missing here.

Ben: Yeah, and I’ve dealt with that with the students as well because they’re–and honestly, especially depending on how busy I am that semester and it’s an online class and a challenge for us is remembering we have that online class because we’re not showing up in front of it to lead it every day, but…so one of the challenges has been to make sure that I’m engaged with the class and they know that I’m engaged with the class. What I started doing last semester is I added a Slack workspace to go with the class and I didn’t do it–they’re not doing–they’re doing assignments in it, but I told them this is by far the fastest way to get a hold of me and we’ve had some informal assignments so they can post things and I have them post their introductions there and things like that. And there a couple of reasons: One, it is the fastest way to get a hold of me, but two, it allows me to do online office hours with them and this is an online class so I can do a video call with them, and the other part of it is I am introducing them to a tool they are going to use in the workplace or they will be using some other similar collaborative tools. So I love getting them immersed in doing that now.

Kirk: Nice. That’s a really clever approach. I like that. I’m stealing it from you just so you know!

Ben: Absolutely! Please do!

Ben: One other thing I want to touch base on in terms of the distance learning and the online presentations: We had talked I think briefly a couple of months ago where I think you had maybe done your first webinar-type presentation, and Sara Feldman and I had quite the discussion about how that was speaking into the void because you get no feedback whatsoever. What have you found with that and if you found anything that’s well–is that your experience with it and have you found anything that’s helpful?

Kirk: That’s a great, great question and observation. Yes. In fact, ironically before we spoke today, I just did a webinar for STC, and I’ve done a number of them now, and there still is that phenomenon of speaking into the void. I think it’s just something that you begin to adapt yourself to and learn to work with, and you begin to apply that to online teaching as well. So now, for example, when I do teach online, I feel more comfortable creating audio recordings to go with classes, because when you’re sitting at your computer or writing and recording at the same time, in many ways, it mirrors that webinar experience. So it–it kind of cross pollinates how it works. I’m still trying to figure out how to adapt to that sort of environment, and it’s–for all of us–it’s a learning process.

Kirk: I think I’m getting more comfortable speaking out loud or talking to myself out loud. I don’t know if it’s wise to say that in a public forum [Ben laughing], but, you know, I’m not comfortable having conversations with myself. But, I think that’s the key is getting comfortable being able to orate without that kind of feedback you’re accustomed to in many situations, and just assuming that, okay, I think I’ve done a good job. I’m now going to go onto the next point. One thing I’ve learned–and maybe you and others have experienced it also–is there’s a tendency when you’re in instruction mode to stop every so often and asked for confirmation of comprehension. “Did that make sense? Okay. Before I go on, are there any questions?” and it’s learning in that Webinar format where you would naturally do that and maybe giving a little bit more space or pause to allow individuals to maybe process that information before moving on. I’m still kind of learning how to come to terms with the notion of the time-delayed question, where you orate for the Webinar, then you get the text questions typed into a chat box after and respond to those. So it’s a learning process.

On webinars--I think that's the key is getting comfortable being able to orate without that kind of feedback you're accustomed to in many situations, and just assuming that, okay, I think I've done a good job. Click To Tweet

Ben: It definitely changes the pacing a bit. I think it’s probably good because I think the other problem that we tend to run into if we’re not getting cues back is that we probably tend to go a little bit too fast, so I think having that break worked in where people can raise questions is really good. The other thing that Sarah and I found that was helpful and it’s not always an opportunity, but when you’re co-presenting, we’ve been on video with each other at the same time, whether we’ve done it through a different type of channel (such) as Slack or it’s actually part of the Zoom recording or something else. That’s helped immensely because we can see each other and we can get cues off of each other and it takes away that–“Hey, I’m talking to a friend piece of it”–so I know that I’m not talking out into the void. So that’s really the only thing I’ve found so far besides the “allowing time,” but I’ll get to the end of a presentation and I will not have the slightest idea how it’s been received. I haven’t been able to alter anything. I’m kind of, well, what did you all think? Are you awake? sort of thing sometimes, you know, but it is interesting.

Kirk: Well one of the cool experiences you bring up that I’ve had is, once in the past I do a lot of guest lecturing and other classes of colleagues by Skype and that’s an interactive medium. You see the class, you interact. But one time we did it with a colleague, and they could not communicate with me. They could hear me and they could see me but I could not see or hear them. And so the teacher on the other side of the exchange was typing into the comment box what I should be seeing. Like “Ooh–lots of nodding–people understanding; confused looks–maybe clarify”, and that to be honest with you as the best talking into the void experience I’ve ever had, because you got that kind of instantaneous feedback from another educator who knew what to look for and what to tell you to prompt you to behave. And it’s like, man, if every webinar could be orchestrated in that way, that would be so awesome.

Ben: Yeah, I think that’s great. I really like that idea too.

Ben: Thanks Kurt for an insightful interview.

Extras

The iPhone lecture

The iPhone lecture


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Alisa Bonsignore headshot

Episode 006: Alisa Bonsignore–Growing as a Leader

Category:introversion,Introverted Leadership,Leadership,personality,Podcast,STC

Episode 006: Alisa Bonsignore–Growing as a Leader Show Notes

Alisa Bonsignore headshotIntroduction

Alisa Bonsignore is the principal of Clarifying Complex Ideas, a strategic communications consultancy in the Bay Area with clients around the world. We discuss thought leadership, volunteering, the leadership journey, and career growth.

  • Twitter: @ClearWriter
  • Email: hello@clarifyingcomplexideas.com

Key concepts

  • Thought leadership
  • Volunteering
  • Mentoring
  • Career growth
  • No single path to Leadership

Quotable

Thought leadership can take a lot of different forms. You could be a blogger. You could podcast…. It could be about personal topics that are of interest to you, that help you to just make a connection with the reader somewhere. Maybe you’re a technical communicator by day, but maybe you also have a certification as a wine expert that you write about, and that could be something that a potential client or a potential employer reads about you own is like, “Wow, this person has a level of depth that I didn’t know about!”

I think it’s easy to look at someone that you see as a leader and you think they have always been a leader.

But none of that (career growth) would have happened if I had just sat back and been the quiet one. I had to look for new approaches to my career, where I had to find those alternative leadership opportunities, where I could influence laterally instead of just being placed in a leadership role.

How are you going to prove your worth if you come in the first day doing X, and you leave five years later, still doing exactly the same thing? You need to grow and develop and learn things as you go….  And I think it just takes a little bit of time and a little bit of patience, because you can’t expect (that) you’re going to take a slightly new role or take on a project and it’s going to change your life radically overnight. It’s a gradual process that builds over time as you are exposed to more and more.

Whatever your path is and whatever you might be thinking and whatever you’re stressing about, there is no right or wrong way. There is no one path. You just have to find the thing that works for you.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: We’re continuing our conversation with Alisa Bonsignore. Today we’re going to talk about her role as an influencer or as a leader. Alisa, can you talk to us a little bit about in what roles you’re an influencer or a leader and what that’s like for you?

Alisa: Sure. We’ve already talked previously about speaking, which obviously is a leadership thing in its own right, but I think for a lot of people, speaking ties in very closely with teaching. Some people will do it in a classroom. Some people will do it more in terms of conferences or annual speaking engagements, which is really a form of thought leadership. I’d like to think that people were coming to hear me talk because they liked my ideas, and that there is something useful that I have to say.

Alisa: And thought leadership can take a lot of different forms. You could be a blogger. You could podcast. Here’s an example! You could write a book, you could contribute are articles to Intercom. (We’re always looking for articles in Intercom, but it doesn’t even have to be limited to professional topics. ) It could be about personal topics that are of interest to you, that help you to just make a connection with the reader somewhere. Maybe you’re a technical communicator by day, but maybe you also have a certification as a wine expert that you write about, and that could be something that a potential client or a potential employer reads about you and is like, “Wow, this person has a level of depth that I didn’t know about. This is very interesting. I want to know more about them.”

Thought leadership can take a lot of different forms. You could be a blogger. You could podcast.... It could be about personal topics that are of interest to you, that help you to just make a connection with the reader somewhere.… Click To Tweet

Alisa: Mentoring is a great opportunity for guiding others. I’ve tried to mentor some people throughout the course of my career. I’ve been mentored by some wonderful people. I think that’s a really great way to influence and give back, but volunteering–as we’re both on the board of directors for STC.–volunteering is a large role in my life. But, you don’t have to be again, in a professional capacity. It doesn’t have to be for a professional society. You could be a volunteer at your local community park. You could be a volunteer for the soup kitchen. I mean, whatever it may be, something that helps you to be seen as a leader in a way that you might not be seen in your day-to-day professional work.

Ben: Yeah, I think that’s a really interesting point and an important point, because in my professional capacity working in higher education, there isn’t really a career path in the area that I’m in. I’m a program manager in the information security office. I’m responsible for awareness and training. I manage a lot of the initiatives we do, but my step up is to be an information security officer, and that’s a far different role, and that role has a lot to do with incident handling which can come in at any hour of the day or night. So there’s some real–maybe some pluses–but there’s some minuses with it as well.

Ben: So I think that whole idea of finding leadership opportunities outside of your immediate workplace is really, really important. If I had only pursued what I could pursue within RIT, I wouldn’t be doing this podcast. I wouldn’t have run for president of an STC local chapter. I wouldn’t have run for the Board. I would probably not have been able to get engaged in mentoring relationships. My other leadership opportunities again, are through Educause, which is another nonprofit organization, where I’ve led one of their working groups, and I present regularly at their conferences, and I’ve–they’ve even thought some of what I’ve said has been thought-worthy–I’ve been asked to participate in podcasts about things that we’re doing here at RIT. But again, there are things that I was able to start, so I think understanding that your leadership path and your influence path is both within and outside your workplace is really important.

Alisa: Yeah, and especially as an independent. I don’t have a career path per se. I mean?what am I going– I’m the only one in my company–What am I going to be? I’m going to be the president. Oh, I am the president. Okay. Well, I’m also the writer. I’m also the administrator. I’m also the ITperson. I’m also–There’s no growth path here. I can change my clients. I can change the focus of my work, but it’s not like you’re going to see a progression in title or anything like that, so my leadership approaches have to be different. They have to come from a different place than in your standard “rising through the ranks” type of leadership.

Ben: So another thing about leadership that we’ve talked about, and we can pick it up in a couple of things, but one thing that you’ve mentioned to me in conversations in the past is that leadership is a journey. When we see leaders around, it can be, “How did they get to that point?” or, “They’ve always been that kind of person.” I know for me personally, my leadership path probably started many years ago, that I’m not really aware of, but it didn’t really start actively until about eight years ago. What have you found in terms of what you observe with others around leadership paths? What has yours been like and what recommendations would you have for introverts especially who want to become influencers or leaders?

Alisa: Well, I think it’s easy to look at someone that you see as a leader and you think they have always been a leader, right? You–you assume that these were the people who were the class president in high school. They think they’ve just always been in that leadership role and I was never that person. That wasn’t my personality. That wasn’t who I was. I didn’t really meet you. Look back on my career, I–it’s worked out beautifully and people say, well how did you put all this together? How did you have this plan? And I’m like, “Yeah, I had a plan. Right. Okay.” Because I had started out in healthcare years ago, like 20 plus years ago, and then when we moved to California it was during the first dotcom boom and there was no healthcare work to be had. It was all tech. I didn’t know anything about tech. I’d never done anything in tech in my life, but it didn’t matter, because there was such a shortage of available personnel that I got hired at a dotcom, because I had a pulse, basically. [laughing]

I think it's easy to look at someone that you see as a leader and you think they have always been a leader. @clearwriter Click To Tweet

Alisa: I mean that was the only job requirement, so I ended up going from doing taxonomy and content at a startup which were a couple of network security companies. And broadening my horizons there on topics that I knew nothing about a few years earlier; and then ultimately getting back into healthcare, which is where I wanted to be in the first place, but, having the opportunity to get back into healthcare. But then that’s all dovetailed over the years to be Healthcare IT–all of the security, all of the security concerns surrounding HIPAA, surrounding personal health information, and people go, “Wow, it’s so amazing that you’ve planned your career this way, so that you find yourself in this healthcare IT arena.” And I’m like, “I planned that. Absolutely,!” [laughing]

Ben: And it’s interesting because 20 years ago some of these things didn’t even exist.

Alisa: Well, exactly. And it all seems like a series of seemingly random choices at the time. Right? When I was first graduating from college, I wouldn’t have imagined that some day I’d have my own business and be serving on a board of directors. I mean, who would’ve thought that? I-I wouldn’t have guessed that I’d have multiple international clients in Europe, or that I would have speaking engagements a few times a year, both domestically and internationally. But none of that would have happened if I’d just sat back and been the quiet one. I had to look for new approaches to my career, where I had to find those alternative leadership opportunities, where I could influence sort of laterally instead of just being placed in a leadership role. But it was more of the types of things like project management where I was influencing across groups and building consensus, and all things that work with my personality, but not necessarily things that I would have known about or would have sought in my natural tendencies.

But none of that (career growth) would have happened if I had just sat back and been the quiet one. I had to look for new approaches to my career, where I had to find those alternative leadership opportunities, where I could… Click To Tweet

Ben: Let’s say I’m a new practitioner. I’ve been a technical writer for a couple of years, or I’ve been a security person, or I’ve been in any kind of industry. It’s not really just confined to these industries. What advice would you have for me in terms of becoming an influencer? Becoming a leader? Is it important for me to become an influencer? Is it important for me to become a leader. How would I go about that?

Alisa: Well, I think it is important in terms of wanting to get some more visibility for yourself. I mean how, how are you going to, for, for lack of better explanation, sell yourself within the company? How are you going to prove your worth if you come in the first day doing X, and you leave five years later, still doing exactly the same thing? You need to grow and develop and learn things as you go, and in the process, you get exposed to a lot of different things. And so I think the part of the thing that you need to do when you’re young and that I did without realizing it, was taking on opportunities that were a little uncomfortable. That didn’t feel like they might’ve been a natural fit for me, because I only saw sort of what they were on the surface. But that really worked well with my personality type, because, as I said, project management–it may not be the thing that I want to do all day every day.

How are you going to prove your worth if you come in the first day doing X, and you leave five years later, still doing exactly the same thing? You need to grow and develop and learn things as you go....@clearwriter Click To Tweet

Alisa: But the skills that I learned in some of the more project management type roles that I did, have had a tremendous impact on what I do as an independent, and how I manage my projects, and how I manage clients, and how I balance work, and how I understand how the flow goes, and building consensus across groups and across language barriers, even. There’s a huge difference there from where I was 20 years ago to where I am now. And I think it just takes a little bit of time and a little bit of patience, because you can’t expect these things are going to–you’re going to take a slightly new role or take on a project and it’s going to change your life radically overnight. It’s a gradual process that builds over time as you are exposed to more and more.

Ben: I found that was the case for me as well. There are times I’d say, “Well, why couldn’t I have been doing this 10 years ago?” Or, “why didn’t I think…

Alisa: Right, because you weren’t in this place at the time.

Ben: I could not have done that because it’s that sum total of everything that has come up to this point in time that’s enabled me to actually do these things, and also even has provided the interest. Twenty years ago I didn’t think about personality types or temperaments or introverts or extroverts or even leadership at all. As I mentioned, the leadership progression for me is fairly new, but I found that I’ve become really passionate about it and passionate about helping other people become leaders, especially introverts, who often feel like there’s no place for them. So it’s really interesting the way–as you’ve put it–it’s all of these things that have come together to enable us to take these next steps. The other thing I thought that you said that was really important, was being willing to take steps that are outside of our comfort zone.

Alisa: Yeah, and it’s–I mean it’s so easy to say, “Well, I was this at my last company and I’ll continue to be–I’ll look for the same role in my next company,” or under the new management re-org or whatever it may be, but stretch a little. It’s good for you! Even if you decide that’s not the thing for me, I want to go back to what I was doing. You’re still taking the skills that you learned and bringing them back and it’ll make you better at what you were.

Ben: Anything else that you would like to pass on to our listeners?

Alisa: I think you just need to know that whatever your path is and whatever you might be thinking and whatever you’re stressing about, there is no right or wrong way. There is no one path. You just have to find the thing that works for you.

Whatever your path is and whatever you might be thinking and whatever you're stressing about, there is no right or wrong way. There is no one path. You just have to find the thing that works for you. @clearwriter Click To Tweet

Ben: Great, so I think that’s wisdom and I thank you so much for sharing it with us. Thanks Alisa for sharing your thoughts today. We look forward to having you join us for another podcast in the future.

Alisa: Thanks, Ben. It’s been good to be here.

Extras

Alisa has a Twitter bot that is sometimes hysterical. https://twitter.com/alisa_ebooks

 

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Episode 005: Alisa Bonsignore–Public Speaker

Category:Introverted Leadership,Leadership,personality,Podcast,STC,Summit

Episode 005: Alisa Bonsignore–Public Speaker Show Notes

Introduction

Alisa Bonsignore is the principal of Clarifying Complex Ideas, a strategic communications consultancy in the Bay Area with clients around the world. We discuss public speaking and the stress and value of Q&A, and how being an introvert with the INFJ temperament type affects her roles.

  • Twitter: @ClearWriter
  • Email: hello@clarifyingcomplexideas.com

Key concepts

  • Keirsey Temperament Theory
  • Public speaking and stress
  • Empathy
  • Situations and scenarios
  • Counseling

Quotable

As an adult, you associate public speaking with your experience as a student, and when you’re a student, you’re up there and somebody is grading you and they’re looking for ways you’re doing it wrong.

They’re in your talk for a reason, and they’re not there to criticize you or to grade you or to challenge you. They’re there because you have something that they want to learn about and when you shift that mindset that you have something valuable to say, it really changes your perspective on speaking.

Instead of listening to the surface, I understand the subtext of things a lot better, which is incredibly helpful with getting to the real problem instead of just painting over the problem that seems to be at the surface.

What brings the consensus here… is that we could do this other thing and that would solve everybody’s problems. And people go, “Oh, well, I was so wedded to my idea… that it never occurred to me that there was another option.” …It’s a lot like counseling, actually–family counseling–family counseling for groups and teams. .

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Alisa Bonsignore. Alisa runs Clarifying Complex Ideas, a strategic communications consultancy in the Bay Area. Her professional mission is to create clarity and build engagement, giving people the information they need when they need it. Alisa helps companies communicate complicated topics, including policy development and sustainability communications surrounding the UN sustainable development goals (SDG), medical devices and pharmaceuticals/genomics, network security, and healthcare information technology. You can contact Alisa at hello@clarifyingcomplexideas.com or on Twitter @Clearwriter.

Ben: Thank you for joining us again, Alisa. I look forward to us continuing our conversation!

Ben: One thing that Alisa and I have talked about previously is where we stand on Keirsey Temperament theory and where our MBTI letters come out, and Alisa is an INFJ, which is typically a counselor-type role. She’s very cognizant of the people issues that are going on. I’m an INTJ, which can be described as architect or scientist, or the one I really like, mastermind, but the problem with that is that I’m not always attuned to what’s going on with the people. And one of the ways this has been described is that, say that you’re on an ocean liner and the engine breaks down. As the INTJ, I would be down in the engine room–assuming I had any of those mechanical skills–I would be down in the engine room trying to figure out how to get it started. Alisa would be busy making sure that the people got off the ship, so there’s definitely a focus difference in terms of this rational versus idealist-type traits, the way that Keirsey puts it. And I think that this is an example then because I don’t necessarily tend to think of what were the motivations? Why was this person saying this? Sometimes I do, but probably not nearly as often as I should.

Alisa: And see, that’s a huge thing for me because it’s a huge part of figuring out when people contact me and say, “I need you to do this urgent project and here’s my rationale for why,” I can usually by the time I’ve talked it through with them, figure out you’re saying on the surface that it’s because of this, but really, the pressure’s coming from another source and let’s talk a little bit more about that. Maybe this isn’t actually what you need. You need a solution to this other problem that you think is this item, but actually your problem could be fixed with a different approach.

Ben: Alisa, one thing that I’ve had conversations with other guests on this podcast is presenting. Now, all of us that have talked so far on the podcast have been introverts. All of us present fairly often, but when we talk to people who–whether they’re extrovert or introvert, many people are totally intimidated by the idea of speaking in front of groups. What is your experience been speaking in front of groups? How did you get started? What have you found that’s helpful, and any interesting anecdotes that you could share?

Alisa: [laughing] So I actually started–my presentation life was doing a lot of sales training for different clients or different in-house companies that I worked for–so it was working with select groups on select topics, but what I realized pretty early on, is that as an adult, you-you associate public speaking with your experience as a student, and when you’re a student, you’re up there and somebody is grading you and they’re looking for ways you’re doing it wrong. Right? So when I was in high school at one point I had to recite Hamlet’s monologue–the “To be or not to be,” right? And of course my teacher’s sitting there listening to make sure that I get every word exactly right. There’s a different level of pressure there when you’re trying to make sure that you have memorized exactly every word in exactly the right order to communicate what you need to do to get the grade.

Alisa: By the time you’re an adult, nobody’s grading you, and you don’t realize this right away [laughing]–what you’re up there doing–you have a purpose up there. You’re up there telling people something that they actually want to hear–especially if you’re speaking at a conference. I mean, maybe not at a sales meeting–they might just have rolled in because they have to roll in and listen to you–but at a conference especially, there are other choices. These people could be at another session. They could be out having coffee with a friend. They could be blowing off the conference entirely and boondoggling with their employer. Who knows, right? But they’re in your talk for a reason, and they’re not there to criticize you or to grade you or to challenge you. They’re there because you have something that they want to learn about and when you shift that mindset that you have something valuable to say, it really changes your perspective on speaking.

Alisa: Now, having said that, that’s not to say that it’s not stressful in its own way. I like to approach every talk as if it’s a conversation, so I pick a couple of people in the room that I can sort of speak to and feel like I’m having a conversation with. I can make eye contact with them. I can communicate with them directly rather than feeling like I’m just talking to a large, faceless group. That definitely helps. But, in spite of that, I’ve also discovered that I still get a little bit stressed about the whole thing. Even though on the surface everything seems calm, I still get a little stressed. So it happened to be that one day I was giving a talk at a local STC chapter, and earlier that day I had gone in for a routine appointment with my cardiologist, and because I hadn’t had a Holter monitor–the portable monitor–in several years, they wanted to do just a follow-up check to make sure everything’s the same, blah, blah blah.

Alisa: So I ended up going to my talk completely rigged up–wires everywhere–this apparatus hanging from my belt. I-I look like a crazy person and I’ve tried to like pull my sweater up over my neck. Right? But nobody knows that I’ve got this on, hopefully. But, here I am. I’m fully rigged up like a patient. Right? And so I go through the whole talk and everything seemed fine and I’m really good through the part that I have rehearsed and practiced, whatever. And then we get to the Q&A [laughing], and later when the doctor called back and was like, “Um, so about what were you doing at this time?” I’m like, “Oh, that was the question and answer portion of my conversation.” [laughing] Literally, my heart rate had gone above my target heart rate for like running sprints. It was just completely through the roof.

Alisa: And I–I didn’t–I mean I know that there’s a little bit of anxiety there, but I had no idea that it was really like above 180 beats per minute. [laughing] This is some serious stress here! But, this also explains why I feel so exhausted when it’s all done. I put all of my energy into this, but you can only script so much of it and then–then you’re let loose with the Q&A and the conversation, and you don’t know what’s going to happen. [laughing] So apparently that, that unnerves me a little bit, a little bit more than I realized.

Ben: Yeah, that is such a funny anecdote and you said you were aware that you were a little stressed, but you–I guess you didn’t have any idea how much until you actually saw it measured.

Alisa: No, no. You get that sort of, [inhaling] okay, what’s this person going to ask me? There’s a little bit of nerves there, but I had no idea it was that level of cardiac response! [laughing]

Ben: So, I guess one solution would be not to leave any time for questions and answers at the end of a presentation…

Alisa: Yeah, but the Q&A is actually the best part. I mean this is where you have really good conversations with people and once–once I’m into–once they’ve asked me the question, and I–we’re having that conversation, the one-on-one. It’s great, but there’s that moment before they begin where it’s like, [inhaling] “Ooh, what are they going to say? [laughing] I don’t know if I’m prepared. Will I have an answer?” There’s nerves there more so than I had imagined.

Ben: That’s amazing. It’s such a good story.

Ben: Another question for you here–part of what we’re doing during the series, during the Hope for the Introvert podcasts, is talking about our biggest strengths and how we leverage them, and also the biggest challenges we face. What do you believe your biggest strengths are as an introvert? And in what ways do you see that you’ve leveraged them?

Alisa: So as you were saying earlier about my feeler status, right? I’m the empath. I feel what people are needing and experiencing. I think that I have leveraged my ability to understand people’s motives. I think that that’s really gone a long way from like, instead of listening to the surface, I understand the subtext of things a lot better, which is incredibly helpful with getting to the real problem instead of just painting over the problem that seems to be at the surface. But I think for me–right, but it’s also because I’m a good listener. It’s the fact that I’m not always the one talking. I mean, you watch the extroverts in the meetings, right? They’re not getting the feedback. They’re always pushing information out. They’re always talking. And if you’re always talking, you’re probably not listening. So, from my perspective, I’m the one who’s listening to everybody and generally not talking, so I’m not only hearing, I’m watching the nuance that’s going on and how people are responding to each other and how the dynamic is going in addition to the actual words that are being said, and the emotion that’s being conveyed or whatever it might be going on in the room. So I’m good for that.

Alisa: I’m good at identifying customers’ pain points because I can feel the pain. It’s the empathy thing, right?” But I can understand in context, if we’re writing documentation for–let’s say that my client is selling the ventilators to assist with breathing in the hospital, right? Well, if we’re writing one kind of documentation for the initial setup, that’s one thing, because you’ve got somebody who rolls in in the middle of the day in a normal situation and plugs it in and tests it and sees that it’s working, and whatever. But it’s a very different thing, if you’re trying to do a troubleshooting document, because it could be three in the morning. You could have a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, a whatever, a ton of people coming in. You’re triaging people. You need to get the ventilator working. It’s not working. How does this work? Oh my God, you’re not at your peak of attention or focus or clarity. How do you find a clear and easy way to help this person get the device back online? Right?

Alisa: So understanding the situations and the scenarios and how to make–how to create the best tools for people in their various situations–I’m pretty good at that. I’m pretty good at understanding where we need to simplify, where we need more detail, that kind of thing. But, and I think from a client perspective, my J of my INFJ is Judging, which means that I’m task oriented and I haven’t missed a deadline in my life. [laughing] That’s just not something I do. So as an independent, this is incredibly useful to my clients because I’m very reliable. They know that not only will I meet the deadline, I’ll probably have it in early, and one of my clients once said to me, you know, you return everything early. I know that if you ever miss a deadline, you’re probably dead. [laughing]

Ben: Hmm. It’s interesting and part of being that individual contributor, working with the clients, sometimes you can set deadlines that are realistic in that you can–you can achieve those deadlines or you can turn things in in advance of those deadlines. So that can be a really big deal.

Ben: One other thing that you had said in terms of being a very, very good listener. One thing that’s important there I think, and we’re talking about the extrovert-introvert difference here, and I don’t want to paint extroverts with too broad a brush, but there is often a case where people are waiting to say what they want to say and so they’re just waiting for the other person to finish, so they can jump in with what they wanted to contribute, and I think what I’m hearing from you is that you’re more willing to sit back, let the conversation happen, and then bring up pertinent points when appropriate, rather than, “Oh, oh, oh! I know what I want to say here. Please finish up talking so I can say what I want to say.” So I think that’s one of the big differences, and again, I would not accuse all extroverts of doing that, nor would I say that I’m never guilty of that myself.

Alisa: No, no. But there are definitely people who–introvert or extrovert–there are definitely people whose meeting persona is more dominant and people whose meeting persona is more reserved, and I’m definitely one of the more reserved people, because–I am just not by my nature–I’m just not the person who gets into the thick of things in a large group, inasmuch as, “Okay. So we’ve been talking about this for half an hour. You’ve said this, you’ve said this, you’ve said this.” What brings the consensus here is that what we could do is that we could do this other thing and that would solve everybody’s problems. And people go, “Oh, well, I was so wedded to my idea and I was so wedded to my idea that it never occurred to me that there was another option.” Right? So yeah, it’s a lot like counseling, actually. Family counseling, family counseling for groups and teams. [laughing]

Ben: Which gets into your whole INFJ counselor temperament type again.

Alisa: Right, exactly!

Ben: We’ve enjoyed today’s conversation and look forward to continuing the conversation in our next podcast.

Extras

Alisa has a Twitter bot that is sometimes hysterical. https://twitter.com/alisa_ebooks

Animated .GIF of Alisa as a speaker

 

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