By Sonia Beldom
“Can you tell us about yourself” is that question that most recruiters, bosses and meeting facilitators love to ask. And sometimes it’s one of the most difficult things to answer succinctly, memorably and with that added ’something’ to get you hired, listened to or promoted.
Think of “Tell us about yourself” as a gift. It’s the big question that gives them time to watch, listen and ‘get’ you. And it’s your chance to put yourself out there, show your colours, promote your personality and demonstrate how great it will be to work with you, hire you or listen to your ideas. Simple, right? Some of us dread this question as it feels as if a spotlight has been projected on us, the ears of the world are listening (including Siri and Alexa) and our inner core is being judged and analysed. All this might be true, so my job is to make you feel comfortable in how you project your skills, personality and confidence to the people that matter.
I’ve had a career in broadcasting; directing very famous faces and coaching newbies to be confident and on-message for the first time in their lives on camera and microphone. I used to love running creative workshops and facilitating ideation sessions, because to be our most creative we have to remind ourselves that we learned and remembered the most when we were allowed to have fun and play. I’ve been coaching people in public speaking, camera confidence, zoom techniques and personal growth for years and I’ve put together a few thoughts that might help you when you’re starting on your career.
You never get a second chance to make a great first impression.
Let’s let that one land. How many times can you recall having a ‘gut’ reaction to someone? When you made up your mind about them in a split second and decided there and then whether you were going to like and trust them? Yes, we’ve all done it. “I don’t know why, but we just clicked straight away” or “I knew from the outset that we were never going to get along.” These are the two extremes of how people make up their minds about you and I can guarantee that given the same setting, situation, outfit and preparation, different people will make up their minds about you quicker than a flash of lightning. So, the best way to think about how YOU can make a great first impression is to think about yourself; what do you look like? What do you sound like? And what vibes are you giving off? I always encourage people to imagine that you’re going to meet someone at a crowded conference. How will they know it’s you by your look, voice and tone? Another way to do this is to ask people around you what they think about the first impressions you give off. You’ll be surprised by what they say and I bet you’ll hear things that you haven’t heard before. I’ve got some good news for you – on the whole people make their minds up about you in about a second and it roughly breaks down to 70% based on first impressions, 20% on body language and 10% on what you say.
It’s not about you – it’s about them.
Counter-intuitive and the complete opposite of first impressions, right?
Wrong. Remember that spotlight, Alexa snooping and the row of people in long grey wigs? Well, the good news is that most people think about themselves more than they can ever think about anyone else. So when you’re being interviewed, talking in public or joining a new team think about what they need from you. What are they hoping you’ll bring? What interesting snippet of information will you be leaving them with? How will you make them look better? When you make it all about them and not about you, the pressure lifts and you start to care about the people in front of you, rather than fearing them. And when we are being considerate of other people’s needs, there’s something about us that will tell them that you’re interested in them. They will subconsciously see you as someone they want to be around, someone with something to contribute, someone they can work with. Of course, they’ll listen to what you’ve got to say, however, make it all about them and see what happens.
It’s ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it.
Turn the volume off a classic Disney movie and you know exactly what’s going on, don’t you? The body language of the characters tells us what they’re thinking, what their voice is likely to sound like and what sort of person (or animal) they are. Non-verbal communication is our visual insight into the personality and it’s a great tool if we use it well. Eye contact is essential. I know that not everybody is good at it and some people find it impossible to do, however, think of it as an exercise, rather like stretching muscles when you’re working out. People feel they can trust someone who looks at them and “gets’ them. Eyes looking down tend to convey disinterest (that carpet is far more interesting than the person standing in front of me). Crossed arms, crossed feet, and bodies twisted away are all defensive non-verbals and you are building a barrier between you and them. These gestures often give off a subliminal message of “keep away from me” which isn’t always very useful.
Three rules of 3
They say that three is a magic number. It’s true and here are three rules of 3 that you might find useful when you’re being interviewed, talking to a new team or doing a show and tell.
VISUAL – AUDIO – KINAESTHETIC
If you’re giving a talk, answering a big question or presenting work make sure that you hit these three beats. What do people see, hear and feel about it? Have you given them something to picture, something to listen to and something to feel? For example: “Imagine a busy coffee bar – soft lighting and classy interiors, people chattering, crockery rattling and that wonderful energy of a busy day about to start…well, I have an idea to…. In this example, we’ve set the scene with an image, a sound and a feeling. On the whole, people are visual, auditory or kinaesthetic communicators, so if you hit all three beats you’ll be appealing to those different personality types.
NOW – NEXT – PAST IS LAST
Give context to what you say by including three timelines. Always start with there here and now. Then move forward to what is next and to give the whole thing context you can bring in a bit of history. I don’t know about you, but if I ask someone about themselves I want to know what they’re currently thinking, where they see themselves in the world and what they’re thinking of next and how that might fit in with my plan. I don’t want to be bored with a long list of what they’ve done before I get to the good stuff. That’s what CVs are for. Bring in your qualifications and experience, sure. Make it mean something by using it as a back-up for your current thinking.
THE STORY; START – MIDDLE – END
Everyone loves a good story and it’s your story they want to hear. Think of how to start it. “Once upon a time”, “Have you ever wondered …”, or “20 million people are eating themselves to death this very minute”. Think about the tone you want to set and let your opening line help you. Then the middle part is the clever stuff, the facts and figures, quotes etc. And please remember this: The last thing you say is the first thing they’ll remember. It’s why radio adverts always repeat the slogan at the end, it’s where salespeople land the deal, and it’s where you help people know what to do when you’ve finished. Do you want them to ask you questions, come and find you for a coffee, go to your website, or agree to a loan? Have those in mind when you start your story and make sure you finish confidently. If you drift off with something like, “Yeah, well, that’s it I think, yeah” – they’ll do the same and trail off with you. Say something like “That’s how I think we could improve things, so for more information please visit my website for more…”
Let me know if these tips and tricks have worked for you. You can always email me through my website: www.soniabeldom.com and if you want to learn more about effective communication, team building, the creative process and being better at talking in public you know where I am.