Early in my design career, I’d think a lot about designing consumer products. That was normal since I had recently graduated from Industrial Design school. I’d think about the look and feel of the product. I’d imagine my target consumer using it. I’d mull over how much the product would sell in a retail setting.
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With all of that wood burning inside my head, I’d have a complete design worked up before drawing up the design on paper. (For people born after 1990, paper is what your elders used to use to capture our ideas before society switched over to full electron mode.) This highly conceptual attitude saved me lots of time and money. Which was a good thing for a recent student without much of an income. However, it creeped into other parts of my life and impacted me in unproductive ways.
For example, when I got my first job as a product designer, I was still prone to designing in my head. I’d use paper but only to jot down notes. My boss would visit each designer’s workstation after hours, review their work and leave stickie notes on the drawings. Since most of my drawings were filled with words, my boss’ stickies were not very complimentary. Most were along the lines of “Are you designing a product or writing a book? If writing a book, I’m not your publisher!” Not very encouraging to a young impressionable 20-something.
My propensity for thinking would result in other strange manifestations during my first years out of school. My stickie note boss once asked me if I could cover for him at a big presentation to a new client. I had to think about it for only a moment because in my mind’s eye I imagined myself wowing the client with my awesome public speaking skills. So of course I said ‘yes’. I was so sure of my abilities that I didn’t even have to practice what I’d say on the big day. I saw myself getting up on stage and winging i with ideas flying out of my mouth fully formed, each word enunciated perfectly.
Well, all these years later, I’m still a bit embarrassed when I think about what happened on that fateful day. In a word, I bombed. I had a complete mental meltdown. I started out fine, but as the presentation moved along, I began to lose my train of thought. Of course, my strong initial instinct was to retreat into my head where naturally my presentation was going very well. After stammering something unintelligible for a minute or two, the director of design, looking on in complete horror, came to my aid by pulling me off the stage and then stepping in to complete the presentation. Thus began my rapid exit from that company.
I’m told that every bad news story has a silver lining, if you just search for it. Same here. I realized I could not advance in my design career without getting out of my own head. Even in an occupation where we primarily use pictures to convey our ideas, we still can’t get away from the fact that we are in a world dominated by words. Language is the medium which really connects people to each other. The most successful people have a way of shaping the cacophony of ideas floating inside of their head into a beautifully descriptive and eloquent monologue. I realized that it was imperative that I improve my speaking skills.
Public speaking is a skill that can be continuously improved upon. As with any activity, the more time you spend doing it, the better you become. When it comes to public speaking it’s all about stage time. You need a venue to practice which is out of the glare from your boss’ critical eye. This is how Toastmaters entered my life. An organization dedicated to providing a supportive environment where members can go to develop their public speaking and leadership skills. True to their mission, the organization has been instrumental in supporting my growth in becoming the best communicator I could possibly be.
Learn more about Toastmasters by visiting www.toastmasters.org. Even better, visit a local club near you and experience the magic of self-transformation for yourself.
Seth B. Greenwald, DTM is a technical project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers and founder of the PMINYC Toastmasters club. His book, Secrets of a Creative Warrior, is a motivational resource for PMs who want to improve their problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
Congratulations fellow Toastmaster! You’ve found the WIN BOOK icon. If you are one of the first five District 46 members to find this icon, then you win a free copy of my book. No strings attached. Click on the icon and send me an email to notify me that your treasure hunt is over. Do it quickly as the contest runs from May 6-30, 2018.