The REAL you is infinitely more interesting.

Originally published on LinkediN.

Along time ago I used to stand up in front of the class with Q-cards and present in terror. Sweaty and shaky…

A not so long ago (like 15 years or something) – I taught illustration at a College for 1 semester forcing every student to present every idea for the entire class…many complained about being put on the spot to present because they felt as illustrators they didn’t need to present ideas beyond an email or phone call. I was not asked back (though I think some students did appreciate the challenge).

A few years ago I took a few professional presentation courses and was told that I should lean into my natural insecurity against talking loudly or being aggressive and instead focus on being the calm, collected voice of reason in the boardroom. And when I present creative ideas to lean into making them intimate, staying away from being the big voice which is so unnatural for me.

Last week I bought a fridge at the first store I visited because I don’t like shopping and didn’t want to deal with store after store of high pressure appliance sales tactics (as shallow and obvious as they were).

For me I actually feel more comfortable and relaxed in presentations, pitches and meetings when I let myself be calm, calculated and honest with my own quiet personality. It has helped me coach and mentor with a nurturing touch and it has helped me build deep bonds of trust with clients and colleagues.

I bring all this up because I met with a student recently who interviewed me as part of his course to ask about UX, creative careers, portfolios, life affirmations and so on. In particular he was interested in my POV from working on both agency and client-side and for solving problems with creativity and logic. Towards the end of the conversation he thanked me for the conversation and said that he is an introvert and this sort of thing helped by forcing him to talk to people and learn.

I instantly paused and told him it’s ok to be introverted and in fact it if that is who you are you should lean into it, not try to forcibly change your nature if you are feeling uncomfortable about things. You can still network, talk, present, even stand on a stage if needed and do just fine – the trick is to find out how you handle those situations in your natural state and leverage those tactics and habits. Rather than try to change to another style of communication. Find ways to lean into your personality. It’s infinitely more interesting than changing your mannerisms, which can come off fake.

Here are some things I’ve learned along the way on how to find my own comfort zone. Perhaps it can inform others or managers in how to deal with staff who are required to communicate and present in their roles:

  1. Accept who you are. Stop trying to change it. Then look at how you can leverage it to your benefit. As a combo in a boardroom or pitch I have always done better in a team with an A-Type personality doing the big show and tell. Many of the best partnerships I had were with these types of people. I would let them go wild and then be the one to calmly explain to the client how we would do it and how it would work. The reassuring voice of logic and the ‘how’.
  2. Get personal. Even when I presented ideas I would often work to make them intimate and personal stories that I could relate on a 1-on-1 level with each person in the audience. I don’t talk the room. I talk to each person in it. Sometimes I’ll sit calmly next to someone. I want it to be a personal conversation, not a “I talk, you listen” situation. This is not because I don’t love a good show. It is because I KNOW that I’m more effective that way. Using this method I’ve made clients cry (in a good way) for ideas. I even once wrapped an entire idea for a product retail website around a wooden spoon and fork found in the basement of an antique store in Toronto. It wasn’t a lie, it was a truth told with care and calculated tact to connect with the people in the room – and it worked.
  3. I don’t shy away from personal tragedy, passion, joy, success or failure. We are human. Our staff is human. We can NEVER forget that. I use emotion as a way to connect with people. If I see someone is nervous about talking about their project with a group of peers or clients we will discuss it before and again after. Not in a “you should say this” mentality, but more personally in a “here’s where I think you would be more effective and comfortable explaining your idea next time…and here are tactics to practice…”
  4. Equally I don’t shy away from my past. I have a history of experience that has made me a bit of a creative mutt. I’ve done a lot of different things in different fields. I lean into that as diversity, not restlessness. Want to know why I started out as an illustrator? That I had 1 design class I nearly failed and why you should still listen to my opinion on design or art direction? Want to understand how I went from an upper-middle class life in my teen years to living poor in a trailer for three years in Florida and barely surviving? Or how nervous I can still get talking inside when i feel unprepared or uninformed in a conversation? Or how it feels to have a crippling panic attack on a train while you try to stay conscious on the phone with your wife? I can tell you all of this and have no fear in how you may look at me the same or differently. Because it is human nature and it will let us connect more through shared emotion and experience. And if you are young in your career or life It may help you find your way or come out out of your shell and feel safe to show me your true self.
  5. I expect clients and staff to be personable with me. I don’t need to know your secrets – you can keep those. I don’t need you to be as open as I am. But I do require you open up enough to let me know who you are. At Vicimus we use PI (Predictive Index) tests for new hires that help predict behaviour and habits. We share them with each other and when we do reviews or 1-on-1 meetings it can remind us on how best to interact with you. I am classified as a scholar.
  6. I embrace my quirks. I am a weird person. I like odd things…I draw and paint odd things. I am often more comfortable not talking and working. And have a dangerously dry mixed with smart-ass sense of humour. I also have a very good poker face that has made it hard to connect with people in the past. I will sometimes have no expression in a conversation and can come off cold, distant or uninterested not because I don’t feel. In fact it’s the exact opposite. I feel a lot and can be overwhelmed by emotion, but because as a child I learnt young how to internalize and process emotions and not show them – I have to remind myself somedays to connect. Knowing and accepting all these quirks and not being afraid to explain or announce them to a room of people I may not even know is how I allow them to accept me. It then frees me to be myself. Most of the time it works well.

So if you are feeling insecure or forced to go against your nature, let yourself be you and your staff be who they are. If they truly want to overcome something help them over come it NOT by changing, but by adapting who they already are to empower them to change the method and circumstances and reach the same goal stronger and more confident.

If you are struggling with who you are while trying to prove your value – I hope this will give you confidence and some direction.



About the Author:

Todd Lawson is a A creative/art director who has made commercials, brands, software and ad campaigns, who understands tech and designs UI & UX, a designer who does large scale paintings, a painter who writes articles, a writer who is constantly curious about what’s next. His curiosity has garnered Cannes Lions, One Show Pencils, CA’s, Cassies, and countless other accolades. In 2014 & 2015, he was Ranked 9th & 15th Best Art Director by Strategy Magazine’s Creative Report Card. As Digital User Experience Lead & Associate Creative Director, Todd helped Grey Canada win ADCC’s 2013 Agency Of The Year. But the story doesn’t stop there. In 2015 Todd left Grey to Co-lead the complete transformation of Dashboard, his past agency, from a 16-year-old marketing firm into a Software SaaS Development Company, successfully selling it to tech firm Vicimus in under 2 years. Todd then led the company rebrand, developed departmental processes, guided UI/UX for product, oversaw and built external marketing plans and rebuilt creative and design teams.

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Vertical Experience: Automotive, AutoTech, Alcohol, B2B/B2C, CPG, Cosmetics, DTC, Entertainment, fashion, Financial, Food, Gaming, Health & Wellness, Insurance, Marine, Not-for-profit, Pharma, Publishing, Software, Retail, Tech, Trade events