Episode 001: Sara Feldman–Life As An Introverted Leader

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Episode 001: Sara Feldman–Life as an Introverted Leader Show Notes

Introduction

Sara Feldman photoSara Feldman is a content experience strategist at MindTouch. We discuss her role, and what it’s like for her as a leader and influencer in the workplace and as a leader of the STC San Diego community. Topics include how she recoups energy, planning ahead for carving out recovery time, pre-charging before a grueling stretch of interacting with others, meeting strategies, and how being a leader actually helps when attending networking events.

Key concepts

  • Recouping energy, recharging and pre-charging
  • Webinars and speaking into the void
  • Planning audience interaction in presentations
  • Practice what’s difficult
  • Get out of your comfort zone
  • Meeting previews
  • Small-talk and large groups
  • Playing the role
  • Mentors and confidants

Quotable

Introversion is not a barrier for being able to tackle any new challenges.

When things are uncomfortable, the more you do them, the easier they are and that’s how it is–Just accepting that it’s going to be hard and that’s okay, and pre-planning how to recover and recoup from that, is part of preparing and practicing to do some of these interactions

More difficult is not a reason to not do something.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Sara Feldman. Sara works as a content experience manager at MindTouch. Sara is also the president of the STC San Diego chapter. You can contact Sara on Twitter @SaraContentWise.

Ben: What is content experience and what do you do with it?

Sara: Great question, and it really is varied, but the general concept of a content experience strategist or content experience manager is that it’s someone who is responsible for content in a more holistic way, in particular in the way that it’s consumed by users, caring a lot about delivery in terms of device type and where the user is in what they’re trying to do, like where and why and how they’re going to be interacting with it–what their mission is and keeping all of that in consideration when making strategic content decisions. Part of that requires a lot of collaboration across stakeholders across departments, so while a content experience manager doesn’t necessarily own all content assets, they’re the person who is responsible for connecting the dots between all content producers and making sure that everyone’s on the same page, so to speak, about what we’re trying to do and why and how it’s being delivered, and then most importantly, making sure you’re doing things in a way that can be measured and optimized.

Ben: Basically, all of us interface at least with content experience in some sense. So is it primarily a concern about the customer or focus on the customer then?

Sara: A lot of that is, yeah–caring more about how the customer consumes it, and again, they’re not just consuming your content in a vacuum. We’re not producing or publishing this content without considering the holistic customer journey and how and why they’re interacting with content in any given moment.

Ben: OK, great! Other things to chat about. As you heard in the intro, what we’re talking about is primarily introverts and introvert leaders in the workplace. (One thing that I didn’t mention in the intro is that Sara helped in terms of being a resource for an article that was recently published in Intercom magazine, “The Introvert in the Workplace: Becoming an Influencer and Leader,” and she was one of five people who agreed to be interviewed in context with that as well.) So I’m going to move us over to chatting a little bit about what it’s like to be an introvert in the workplace where you are, what you found that works for you, what you found that are challenges.

Why don’t you just start off by telling us a little bit about your job and what it’s like to be an introvert there?

Sara: Gosh, that’s a huge open question. There’s lots to say about that, but in general right now, my job, I’m kind of lucky because I’ve carved out a position for myself in my current organization where I get to do what I want in terms of having influence on content experience and I get to work with a lot of people.

Sara: I love my coworkers. We get along great–great collaboration. However, I’m pretty independent as well. I have a lot of autonomy and bandwidth to make my own calls and make my own decisions. I don’t have any direct reports right now. I have in the past, but because my role is about managing a content experience across the board and across our customer’s journey and experience, I get to sort of influence through my work and through connecting the dots of content across departments rather than actually leading a team, if that makes sense. So that’s a really great fit. It’s a great way for me to have influence, because it truly is about the work and the results, and the customer experience rather than any of my own opinions.

Ben: Talking about in terms of what you been able to do to carve out the job and carve out the space is something that absolutely resonates with me because I thrive in that environment, but not where everything is already in place and I have to follow whatever the routines are. So, that sounds like a great place in terms of being able to explore things and do that.

Ben: What have you found to be your biggest challenge, and maybe it’s larger than just your job with MindTouch, but what have you found to be your biggest challenge as an introverted leader, because you are leading an STC chapter, which would involve practitioners from across the San Diego area? Plus, I’ve recently connected you into doing things across the whole international society. So what do you see as your biggest challenges there?

Sara: I would say it really comes down to the basics of the difference between introverts and extroverts in particular, how introverts need to recoup energy. So, I consider myself an outgoing introvert. I’m really social, especially when it’s kind of about work or things I’m already sort of familiar with or comfortable with and it’s really easy me to interact with others. I tend to get along pretty well with most people, but it’s anticipating that I’m going to run out of steam and then I’m going to need to proactively plan for how I can carve out recovery time, and sometimes that happens in the middle of the day or the middle of a week, or it’s just knowing how I need to recharge at the end of the day, but yeah, with what I do with STC, sometimes I’m interacting with people all day long so that means knowing that if I have an STC event at night, it’s going to involve a lot of interaction and networking and driving some conversation in that group. I’ll make sure that I have lunch by myself, if that makes sense. I’ll pre-anticipate doing things like that so I can kind of recharge throughout the day, knowing that I’m going to be wiped out at the end of the day. Some of it, too, is just planning ahead for being wiped out. Setting expectations, planning my schedule ahead so that I don’t, if possible, have too much all happening at once

Ben: OK, so you basically “top off” before you experience the event?

Sara: Yeah, so I call it–I was joking, I think, with you over Slack over the other weekend when I knew I was going to have an intense three day workshop traveling for work one week, is I would call it pre–so there’s recharging, but I was calling it pre-charging, so I pre-charge with my alone time if I need to, if I know I’m going to be interacting a lot, so I build in my pre-charge and my recharge time.

Ben: Yes, sounds like a great practice. One of the things when I started talking about introverted leadership a few years ago, one of the books had this joking reference talking about the speaker and where you would find the speaker after the presentation and the joke was well, the speaker’s in stall six hiding in the bathroom, recovering basically so that they can at least regain some energy and probably a little bit of composure to.

Ben: You do presentations as well. I know you’ve recently started doing more presentations and we’ve done online workshops together, which have worked great because we can see each other and we can kind of play off of each other and see how we’re interacting with each other, which helps. I know that you’ve done a Webinar in the past too, where you weren’t able to see the audience at all. Can you talk about that experience and what you found especially challenging and if you found ways to actually cope with that when you were doing it? For those of you who are listening, a Webinar is a web-based presentation, but typically the presenter has no contact with the audience. The audience is usually muted because otherwise you’ll hear the dogs in the background and pneumatic drills and kind of just about every interruption that you could imagine. So for the presenter, it’s like speaking out into the void. So how has that worked for you and do you enjoy giving those types of webinars?

Sara: I can tell that’s a leading question, because we have talked about this a bit! So, I’m not a fan of the one-way webinar style presentation–the talking into the void, as you say. It’s almost ironic in a way, because you think as an introvert interaction can be more draining, but what’s more draining than interaction is feeling like you’re carrying it all–that you’re talking into this void. You have no feedback, you have no response in terms of how anything’s resonating, and the truth is, when your presentation format is able to be more interactive, you’re actually relying on your audience to help bring something, bring energy, bring interest, bring a dynamic to the presentation that makes it a lot more interesting. So, not a fan of the one-way talking into the void webinars, and in presentations, this is something I try to do and I actually am actively trying to improve specifically when it comes to audience interaction with presentations. It is something I’ve found that needs practice, needs prompting, needs sort of proactive planning for how you’re going to, because you have important content that you want to present and there’s a way you need to do that.

Sara: I don’t know if this is an introvert thing or just a less experienced presenter thing, but for me, I need to plan the audience interaction–at least possibilities for audience interaction–in advance. I think about questions I’m going to ask. I find that once I sort of start asking questions, then I almost can riff off of what I said and what the audience says, but if I don’t pre-plan those moments that I am going to invite interaction, then I just breeze right past them, and that’s just a part of me getting more comfortable with presenting. I think it’ll come more naturally as it goes, but it’s also because of who we present to, right? We work in an industry that’s full of introverts and so even when we’re among our tribe in a presentation and being among our tribe I think does make introverts and tech writers feel a little bit more comfortable speaking up. They need a little bit of prompting. It’s almost like a collaborative effort to get some sort of two-way or multi-way communication going in those presentations, but that’s what I strive for.

Ben: In a webinar-type setting, I know one way to gain the interaction is to try to do quiz questions or something like that, so that’s one way to do it. The hard part that I’ve experienced is that when you ask a question, you really feels like it’s a totally interminable waiting period for somebody to respond. Now sometimes, that may be because they’ve still muted themselves. But often, at least personally, I’ve found the pacing can be really difficult and tricky, and for me, when I reached the end of a Webinar-type presentation, and I’ve not been able to see anybody’s face the whole time, it’s kind of, are you all there still? Are you awake? Was it okay? Did you enjoy it? Was I terrible? All those thoughts will run through my mind, and sometimes I’ll actually ask some of those things, and then the note I’ll get back is, “No, everybody here is laughing because you’ve asked those questions.” But, in terms of–and we have talked about this–webinars are a very, I think very artificial way of delivering content, because we don’t have the audience interaction.

Ben: So, for me it would not be as terrifying in terms of not getting–if I’m doing a stand up presentation in front of a group of people and I am watching for facial cues, if I got no cues and everybody was just kind of sitting there with their arms crossed and looking at their phones or nodding off, I would probably panic to a good extent. It’s interesting. In theory that should be harder for us I think (as introverts) to be up in front of a crowd speaking, but it doesn’t always seem to work that way. How do you feel about that? I mean, do you feel–actually, I mean you’ve not presented that many times at conferences yet–so how are you doing with your comfort level around that? And again, I’m not sure how much of this is an introvert/extrovert thing, because presentation anxiety seems to go with people, period. I think the assumption is that if you’re an introvert, you’re going to have anxiety doing presentations, but I know plenty of extroverts who absolutely do not want to get in front of people and speak. So what do you find with the experience in terms of what helps you, what’s challenging, what works and doesn’t work for you?

Sara: I would say, the common thread here between presentation anxiety and being an introvert in a career in general–the common thread is you have to just practice to get better at it. That’s what I found in presentations. So I think this applies whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. If you have anxiety, if you have discomfort with the format, the only way to improve and push past that is to practice. Now, I think where that connects to, like I was saying, being an introvert and trying to be an influencer–a leader at work–is recognizing that, yes, there are some things that you will never be able to change. In particular, like I mentioned before, how you recoup, how you regain your energy. But that’s not an excuse to not go out of your comfort zone, right? I think some people, perhaps, would allow themselves to think, well, I’m an introvert. I shouldn’t try to be a manager because it feels uncomfortable, and they think the new workplace situations are uncomfortable because they’re an introvert, and it’s giving them some sort of handicap for approaching it, whereas, it’s just because it’s a new experience. And so I think some of it is not overly settling into the fact that you’re an introvert, like not letting that be a weight dragging you down, letting you know that in some way that you need to plan ahead for how you do things, how you recover.

Sara: It’s not a barrier of being able to tackle any new challenges.

Ben: It’s interesting, because I have a friend who kind of put together a spoof blog. She was looking at Myers-Briggs and how people would look at their letters and find out, oh, I’m such and such, and then kind of uses an excuse like, I’m sorry, I’m in. Whatever it would be. INTP. I don’t do that. I don’t have to do that, I’ve taken this personality profile and it says I don’t do that, so I’m not going to try to do it. But she was making more of a joke of it, but I think it’s things she has actually observed in the workplace, too. It’s like, you know, I’m an introvert, don’t make me talk, that sort of thing.

So one of the–and this we haven’t talked about before–one of the interesting challenges that came up when I did the Revive and Thrive workshop at Summit a year ago, one of the participants talked about the fact that he would be called into team meetings and his manager would expect him to be able to give immediate answers and immediate feedback on things that were asked or discussed in the meetings. For him, it was difficult enough that his manager basically met with him and said, you need to improve your performance. And he had some ideas around that, which we’ll talk about in a minute, but how do you feel that works for you as a thinking analyzing introvert who has a lot going on? Because we’ve had enough conversations, that we both know that for both of us. How does it work for you if you’re in meetings and you’re asked to respond to something on the spot?

Sara: That’s not something that I had too much trouble with personally, especially in small group settings and again, when things are focused on the work. For me, where I struggle is the small talk situations, so it’s the after-work happy hours or the big group lunches where it’s kind of open format, so for me, when it’s focused on the work, I don’t struggle with that as much, but at the same time if I ever were to not be sure or feel like I need more time to come up with an answer, then I would, you know, what do they call those–talking points, not talking points, but scripts. Have a script in your head so that if you don’t know the answer, you can just say, “You know what? I want to give you a really thorough or complete or accurate answer. Let me get back to you end of day or after lunch or you know, whatever–insert time here.” Yeah. Just being comfortable with saying, I don’t know yet, but let me get back to you and committing to following up.

Ben: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense, and the one individual that I was referring to, what his strategy was–he ended up doing was–that he actually arranged with his manager to meet ahead of those meetings so that he would have a preview of what they would be talking about, and then he felt comfortable contributing to it because he wasn’t hearing things for the first time. I, like you, have gotten to the point I can speak off the cuff pretty well.

I find more of a challenge with the large group events and making small talk and being in a room with people that I don’t know at all, and I don’t really want to talk about the weather or what feels like–for an introvert feels like–a very shallow level of conversation, but if there’s somebody I know in the room, I’m going to make a beeline for them. Preferably so I don’t have to talk to anybody else, which is horrible in terms of getting out and networking and things like that! Have you found anything that helps in terms of these networking events to make them more manageable at all, or they may just inherently be painful for us?

Sara: Haha! They are painful–a little bit. I think having some thoughts already planned ahead of what you might talk about can help a lot. I think it’s also okay to just know that something’s going to be a little bit more difficult for you. Right? It’s not a reason to not do it. It’s not a reason to dread doing and it’s the reason to practice it, if anything. So, I think it’s a little bit of preparation and it’s a little bit of acceptance, like it is what it is. And remembering that all people are more similar than they are different, so introvert or extrovert, these types of things–sometimes struggling at networking events, trying to come up with the right thing to say–everyone feels the same way. You’re not in a room talking to a bunch of people that are better than you. They’re your peers and they’re trying to engage in conversation just like you are. So that’s part of the acceptance–sort of being realistic about what the stakes are and who you’re going to be interacting with. It’s not that big of a deal.

Ben: So, if you go into networking event, are you more in the large cluster of people talking loudly in the center of the room or will you head more towards the edges of the room where there are less people, and maybe you’re going to have more one-on-one or two-, you know, three-person type conversations?

Sara: Definitely more on the edge, for sure. Another thing that just occurred to me is that this–this sounds a little bit ironic or surprising as well, but especially with the STC events–now that I’ve taken on a leadership role, it’s actually easier, even though there’s been some stretching to get comfortable with that role. The networking events themselves are actually easier because I have more of an agenda or purpose. I’m not just there for me. I’m there to represent the chapter and help members connect with each other. So again, it goes back to what I was saying–it’s when I can get away from the sort of small talk pressure and have an agenda, focus on the work, focus on the mission or the purpose of what we’re trying to do–then it’s not even about me. It’s about something else. It’s about community or whatever it might be. It’s thinking about whatever the sort of the meat is that’s not about you, right? And strangely, stepping into a leadership role has given me more other things to focus on besides myself when it comes to networking events.

Ben: I think that’s a really good point. In my leadership journey, when I became president of the STC Rochester chapter, which is several years ago at this point, one of the things I did was look back at a prior president. He was very outgoing, but what I did was see how gracious he was towards people who would come in that he didn’t know. He made sure that he would go out and meet them, talk to them, get to know them a little bit. So I think for me, I kind of took that as “this is my role model for how to behave in this type of situation.” It’s definitely not my comfort zone. If I were to go to another event, which was not something where I was representing the organization, my tendency is still to hang back and not get engaged with what seem like shallow conversations. If I connect with somebody and we’ve got something that’s a shared interest, we can talk for hours, given the opportunity because we’re both into it in a sense, but also just– it’s more comfortable. There’s a comfortableness with talking about a shared subject, or a shared passion or something like that. So I think that’s where–I think it’s really interesting.

Ben: What kind of advice would you have for an introvert who’s in the workplace who’s not really comfortable understanding workplace dynamics, doesn’t feel sure of themselves, dreads some of this networking-type thing and meeting behavior? What advice would you have for them?

Sara: Maybe I’ll focus on just two things right now. So one, reiterating kind of what I touched on a bunch of times, which is just practice and try it. When things are uncomfortable, the more you do them, the easier they are and that’s how it is. And some of that is, like I hinted at or mentioned before, some of that is just accepting that it’s going to be hard and that’s okay, and pre-planning how to recover and recoup from that is part of preparing and practicing to do some of these interactions. So that’s one. And then two, I would say is find a confidant, find a mentor, find someone who you can talk through these scenarios with. Find someone that you trust, that you’re comfortable with and let them know that you’re looking for a certain kind of advice, a certain type of feedback. Invite them to be really open and honest with you and ask permission ahead of time and they can be sort of a resource for you to go to talk about some of these things.

Sara: Let’s say, and we’re talking about you’re wanting feedback or guidance for how to handle things in your workplace. It can almost help to have a mentor or a feedback resource outside of your organization and someone inside the organization, because having someone inside who really get into the dynamics, can see what you’re seeing, knows the nuances of what you’re talking about–that can be really really valuable. So back when I was a manager of a team, you know, managing people, we didn’t get into that this time–which is fine–but, it doesn’t come naturally to me. But I had a great relationship with my boss and I was honest from the very beginning about what I was comfortable with and what I was uncomfortable with, and we just had an open two-way communication—open honest dialogue. I was lucky that he is someone that I knew wouldn’t judge me or criticize me for being honest. And I think when you can establish that type of rapport, it’s like a buddy system. Have someone that you can go to to help talk through it.

Ben: So, awesome! And I really like the idea of finding a mentor or somebody to be a confidant outside of the organization as well. Because that’s one thing this virtual world has given us now is the ability to establish those relationships and to support each other, which is a great thing. So as you said, there’re some things we didn’t get to this time, but I’m sure we will find a time to get to them in the future.

Ben: Thanks, Sara. This has been a great conversation. We look forward to having you join us for another podcast.

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