How to talk to humans: Preparing for my #RailsConf lab

Excited to announce that I'll be leading a workshop at RailsConf 2015 on leveling up your communication skills! You can check out a full description of the workshop over on their website and you can register here.

The reason behind this workshop

Before I get into the nitty gritty, I want to touch on a question that I know some of you probably have: why are you giving what amounts to a talk on marketing at a Rails conference? Well, I've spent a lot of time around tech folks and the number one complaint I hear from people in hiring capacities is that they have the perfect person with the exact tech skills they need....but there's no way they can put them in front of a client because they struggle with the social aspect of the job. And a lot of time, their teams struggle with effectively communicating with each other. 

And that's where this workshop fits. I want to both help attendees feel more secure in talking to clients. And I want to help teams to work more fluidly - both with each other and with other teams. So often, there are breakdowns in projects because people don't know how to approach a situation. This lab will teach you guys how. 

Why I'm qualified

My background as a marketing writer has been great, but stuttering has taught me so much about the ins and outs of communication. I know what it feels like to walk into a room and expend a ridiculous amount mental and emotional energy before you even say your name. I know how nerve-wracking it is to feel confident in what you can for this person you need to impress, but not know if you can actually articulate it. 

I've struggled with my speech for years. After coming to a place of acceptance, I then learned there are ways to more effectively communicate with those around me: speech impediment or not. And these are the skills that I'm going to discuss during the lab.

The lab: what you need to know

For those interested in attending, I wanted to give you some things to consider in preparation for the workshop. I've only got you for 90 minutes, so be prepared to jump right into the fun as soon as you arrive. This is a soft skills lab so you won't need any technology; all you need to bring is yourself. 

What will we be doing for 90 minutes? I know this is going to sound crazy, but bear with me: we'll be talking to each other. Offline. In real life. iPhone's not needed.

Deep breaths. You can do this :)

We're going to touch on things like small talk, building a relationship quickly, how to be charming and general confidence in speaking. You are going to be working with the people around you on exercises that will help you learn and build those skills.

Basically, you're going to spend 90 minutes dissecting the nuances of human interaction - both of those of around you and your own. I want you to leave this workshop with the confidence to walk into any room with any group of people and successfully communicate with them. No second guessing. No overanalyzing. Just results. 

Does this sound fun? It will be, and I hope to see you there on Wednesday morning.


The psychology behind speech

Spend five seconds on this website and you know that I stutter. I spent years (ahem...decades) attempting to hide it by changing words, not talking at all and avoiding situations where I would stutter. It may not sound like it, but this was exhausting. I still have moments now when I'm struggling to say something and find myself out of breath from the energy I expend attempting to say a simple sentence. Though I'm no psychologist, from my own personal experience I can confidently say that I know something about the emotional side of communication. 

The most recent research I've seen conducted on the emotions behind stuttering is two years old, so I'll stick to my own experiences. Thinking back to grade school, I cannot count how many times I sat in my chair trembling because my turn to read aloud in class was approaching. I got used to counting the number of students ahead of me and then counting the corresponding paragraphs to figure out which one was going to be mine. Then I'd go through the paragraph to see which words I would stutter on. As it got closer to my turn, my anxiety would increase. When I would finally stand up to read my paragraph, I would be so terrified that every single word would be struggle.  

I can't even count the number of times I wanted to cry, hide, scream, run away or just disappear because of stuttering. And it's the exact opposite of what your speech is supposed to do for you. Talking about ideas, your passions, feelings or the things that matter the most to you is supposed to be empowering. Sharing your views with others and engaging in dialog is one of the joys of life. But when you have trouble communicating your ideas - for whatever the reason - that joy is reduced to nightmare status.  

So what's the psychology behind my speech? I won't lie - there are moments I feel a little less worthy because my voice isn't like the average person's. It's almost as if my thoughts and ideas aren't as good as others because of the way they sound coming out of my mouth. It doesn't help that the anticipation of actually talking to another person is sometimes greater than the actual moment of speaking. Overcome with anxiety and fear, stuttering is - at best - a way that I stand out and - at worst - the most humiliating moment of my day.  

Though my situation is a bit unique (only one percent of the population stutters), I realize that people with speech impediments aren't the only ones struggling with their communication skills. A speech therapist friend of mine named Katie counsels not just stutterers, but also those with social anxiety or people that want to not be so terrified to speak up in work meetings. At a stuttering meet up once, one of the non-stutterers admitted to having minor anxiety when speaking on the phone.  

When you think about it, it's actually quite fascinating. We all have our own neurosis when it comes to talking. Whether that be oral reports for class, job interviews or giving a big presentation for a potential client, we all know what it feels like to worry about our words. Our words, in a sense, are who we are. What we speak, how we say it and the timing of our words are big factors in how people size us up and form their opinions. So when we get so caught up in the logistics of what we say - whether that be because of a speech impediment, social anxiety or general fear of saying the wrong thing - aren't we actually depriving people of the interesting, unique and experienced person that we are?

Instead of getting caught up in your head with what to say, how to say it, when to say what and being so worried about how to say what and where, we should work on letting go of the fear of saying the wrong thing and embracing our natural voice at its purest. Because - and I'm being honest here - the majority of people will make up their minds about us based on our looks and our words. Let's stop hiding and start talking. I'll start. 

Hi. My name is Sharon, and I stutter. 

What's your name?