Have you ever eaten something because it was in front of you? Those cookies that you don’t even like. The mediocre pizza place that’s downstairs from your apartment. The yoga studio that’s on your home from work.

Understanding how proximity affects you means being more aware of your decision-making habits. You might be on autopilot saying yes or no to things. Without even realizing that you’re on autopilot–that’s the worst part.

I’ve found that it’s surprising how much proximity affects what we choose. We tend to hang out in our neighborhood. We turn down events if they’re too far. Or we go to them because the venue is close by. We might become a regular customer not because we particularly like the food, but because it’s easy.

Just because something is nearby means that we are more likely to engage with it. I don’t think it’s because people are lazy. It’s reasonable to take commuting time into account. If the thing is really worth it, the commuting time might be worth it. We might travel further for certain things but not others.

First, proximity probably has a bigger influence on some people than others. For example, some people don’t mind an hour commute to work, while others prefer a ten minute walk. There are different thresholds for how much distance matters.

Second, there are likely categories (food, events, people) where proximity has a bigger effect on you. Maybe you’d go across town to hang out with a friend, but won’t travel more than two blocks for lunch.

The next time you choose to do something, think about whether you’re saying yes simply because it’s close by and within reach. Would you rather delay gratification for something better but harder to get to?

More importantly, the next time you say no, think about whether it’s because you’ve automatically decided that some things are too far. It’s okay if you have. Recognizing your own patterns can help us change if we decide that the way we’re deciding isn’t serving us for the best.


No one knows the right answer

Last week, I spoke at the 2015 Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco. My topic: if you are iterating and trying new things, your new normal baseline is to feel a bit anxious. Here’s a blog post that’s based on my talk. Originally posted on the Lean Startup Blog


The truth is that I was attracted to the lean movement because it felt safe. Lean is a relentless march toward the right answer, an evolving process where we go from safe to safest, from new to tested to successful. Sign me up.

It turns out, though, that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Lean is in our blood

Running lean is a core part of our approach at the altMBA. We don’t even call it lean — we just call it normal.

I’m always keeping an eye out for feedback from students. I look for patterns and pattern breaks, then follow the trail to see if the insight warrants a change. If it makes sense to roll something out while the workshop is in session, we’ll do it.

Along the way of launching and iterating, I’ve learned a few things. The most important is this: no one has the right answer.

There might not even be a right answer. If you’re launching at the pace that we do, or if you want to, internalizing this concept might help you as it helped me.

No one knows the right answer, but you still have to make decisions.

Lean is about iteration. Iteration is about change. Change brings uncertainty, which generates anxiety.

As humans, we’re wired to think that change is a threat. We want to avoid it at all costs. We can grow to live with change, but it doesn’t come naturally: it requires the extra step of convincing ourselves that it’s okay.

Despite all this, you have to make decisions in the face of ambiguity. Decisions drive a project forward.

This means that in order to circumvent your own brain’s reluctance to embrace change, you have to get good at spotting your own fear when it comes up.

If this doesn’t work, everything could come crashing down.

What we have now isn’t so bad…

Is what I’m about to do a really bad idea?

You have to notice when you’re making excuses, and admit to yourself that they are in fact excuses.

If you’re feeling totally safe all the time, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Choosing to iterate means inviting uncertainty into your life. It’s a choice you have to make every hour of every day. This is something I grapple with daily, and it might sound familiar to you if you work on projects that might not work.

What I hope you leave here with is this: it’s normal to feel uncertain and afraid. We waste energy thinking about whether we’re supposed to be feeling this way, but this is exactly how you’re supposed to feel.

If this doesn’t seem like something you want to live with, then maybe lean isn’t for you. That’s entirely okay too, so own it and recognize the choice you’re making.

Think of discomfort as the norm, not the exception. It will always be hard.

Anxiety comes from expecting one thing, but getting another.

We expect a smooth path, but instead the road is punctuated with blips and fire drills. It’s like trying to keep a bunch of frogs from jumping out of a bowl and to stay in one place.

You might be thinking, “How many times do I have to embrace change for it to feel easy? When will I feel safe and certain again?”

The tension will always be there. Operating in an agile way means that you are not only living with tension, but inviting it with each step forward that you take.

Let’s say it out loud now: your work is never going to be completely done. To stay ahead of the curve, you will always have to push to try something new. It might never feel easier.

There will be an ongoing urge to repeat what you did before, even if you only did it once.

There’s implied safety in doing something the way you did it last time, or copying a competitor completely. The historical evidence of something having worked in the past makes you want to do it again because it feels “proven.” There’s less of a chance it could go wrong.

There is nothing wrong with repeating what works. You just have to be aware when you’re doing it because you’re scared of a new thing, or because what you’re doing now really is the best way.

You will want to pull back to an imagined place of certainty. You must resist this urge if you want to continue to iterate and improve.

This all sounds terrible. Why would anyone choose to invite anxiety into their lives?

The kind of person and organization who commits to doing the hard part has a main competitive advantage: not everyone is willing to make hard decisions.

Not everyone can or wants to deal with uncertainty. By choosing to run lean and to handle the anxiety that comes hand-in-hand with lean, you’re able to move faster than your competitors.

If you can stomach the anxiety, you can reap the benefits of discovering what works and what doesn’t faster than your competitors do. You can switch strategies before dumping a ton of resources down a path when you should have iterated sooner. You can spot opportunities and act on them–you stay one step ahead.

So if you’re choosing to do lean, then understand that the hidden burden of iteration is anxiety. Stop beating yourself up for feeling anxious. It’s normal, it’s okay, and it means that you’re on the right track.

Comparisons heighten drama

Before-and-after comparisons tend to catch my eye in magazines or ads. I’ve been thinking recently, why are before-and-afters so alluring? What draws the viewer in? Why do brands use feature these photos?

In general, comparisons heighten drama, because they make the difference between two objects more apparent. Your mind skips over the part where the two items are similar, and will naturally focus on the point of difference. Comparisons direct your attention in an intentional way.

Before-and-afters are a specific type of comparisons, because it shows the same person/object over time.

The story of possibility

It changes with the product, but the story arc is this: you are the ‘before’ right now, but you COULD be the ‘after.’

Here is an old IKEA bookshelf. After these DIY instructions, it looks like a chic piece from West Elm.

Here are your sparse, sad eyelashes. After this mascara, lash volume is increased by 400x.

Here is a dull t-shirt. After using this detergent, notice how bright the fabric looks.

Here is a pale, squishy middle-aged man. After P90X, he now looks like a Division 1 athlete.

The story is 100% focused on the benefit by showing the final result.

You see the person at Point A, then you see them at their final destination of Point B. In the middle, there was probably a lot of struggle.

Rationally, you know that it takes persistent effort to get in shape…

But the back-to-back placement of the photos imply that instant gratification is possible. You see a photo of Day 0, and then Day 90.

What’s not in the photos is the grind. Continuing to work out when your body wants to give up.

A before-and-after photo only shows the final image of success. People love to fantasize about shortcuts and silver bullets.

All good stories involve conflict and change. If there’s no conflict, there’s no story.

Before-and-afters show change. There is implied progress captured in the space between the frames, to reference Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics. The implied progress is what makes the story human and relatable.

If an ad just showed a single image of an athletic person, the impact isn’t as great. When you see an overweight diabetic who became an Iron Man competitor, that’s when the story is impressive.

It’s the transformation and improvement over time — the sense of hope — that draws people in.

It gives you permission to dream.

Buying a lottery ticket lets you dream of what you’d do with the 8 million jackpot if you won.

Similarly, looking at before and after pictures lets you dream of being the person who experiences a jaw-dropping before and after.

Seeing a ‘before’ photo allows you to relate, to see yourself in those shoes. You can imagine being that person. If he can do it, so can I. Maybe I could be next. That’s a powerful sentiment.

If a brand’s product is the middle step to being the ‘after’ version of yourself, suddenly paying $19.50 seems like a no brainer.

Before-and-after photos appear objective.

Any piece of data can be manipulated to tell a certain story. Intellectually, we know that photos can be arranged, cropped, composed, and filtered.

But before-and-after photos have such a visceral pull showing a real close up of a real human being, that emotionally we believe that it’s real, because we want to believe.

Sure, the sample size could be ten people — yes, a popular skincare brand actually published statistics on their packaging citing this minuscule sample size.

Sure, the results may be atypical. The person photographed could be one out of 1,000 who had such an extreme and favorable outcome.

Sure, there could have been many other factors besides the product in question that contributed to why this person now looks like version 2.0 of themselves.

These are rational, logical points. When it comes to stories, though, they play on a whole other level. They tap into our emotions, insecurities, aspirations. Knowing the psychology behind before-and-afters helps, but we’ll likely still continue to be drawn to them, to imagine what our lives would be like if we were the ‘after’ version of ourselves.

Say compliments out loud

Those of you who know me, know that I have many theories and philosophies on life.

One of the philosophies is this: life is short, so you should trim the lukewarm parts and only leave room for the best.

Only eat food that you love, only do activities that you actually want to do, only buy things that delight you, and only hang out with people who you think are awesome.

Because of this filter, the people I spend any amount of time with, or attention on, are people who I think really highly of.

I realized, though, that many times I’m gushing about friends, acquaintances, distant heroes, or colleagues….in my head. I don’t actually say some of it out loud. In my mind, I think I’m complimenting them all the time, but in reality they have no idea.

Part of my reluctance to say compliments out loud might be because I’m being afraid of sounding too eager or bright-eyed. But someone I respect told me the other day, “If it’s a positive thing and you truly believe it, you should say it out loud.”

If you don’t vocalize a compliment, the other person might never know that there’s a specific thing that you appreciate about them, or that you found your interaction to be really positive, or that you think they are amazing at what they do.

If you don’t say it, it’s as if the thought didn’t occur to you. It just came and went in your own mind. If you say an honest, true, and sincere compliment to someone, it further deepens your relationship and the layers of friendship.

In an effort to say things out loud, here are a few compliments that popped into mind from the past 24 hours.

I recently met Quinn. She runs a global org but is down-to-earth and makes people feel included.  Her presence brightened up the whole office.

I love Ishita’s writing. She’ll paste her entire blog post into a Facebook status. You’ll read the whole thing right then and there, and before you know it, you’ve realized a deep truth that snuck into your brain under the radar.

Alex shares mini design lessons and openly discusses design solutions with zero ego. I get to swivel my chair around and work with someone who’s incredibly refined at his craft, and a joy to brainstorm with.

I’m not sure yet when I can insert my compliments into casual conversation yet. I’ll think about the timing. In the meantime, I’m going to make an effort to say compliments out loud, in real-time, when I think of them.

Here’s what the Airbnb ads could have looked like

Read this post on Medium.

Left, photo credit: Martha Kenney / Facebook via AdWeek, Right, fabricated ad: Winnie J. Kao

Disrupting a static industry is hard. It’s even harder when the city you’re headquartered in hates you.

People are angry with Airbnb for recent billboards and bus shelter ads in San Francisco. The ads were a cheeky way to allude to Proposition F, which is up for voting in the next few weeks. The messages refer to the estimated $12 million in hotel taxes that Airbnb paid to the city in the last year.

But the campaign came across as passive aggressive and smug. Social media erupted, and Airbnb is taking the posters down.

This isn’t simply a local issue.

The public’s opinion of big tech companies has a tangible impact on how much leeway startups have to operate. Especially when legislation is involved.

Here’s why the ads failed, and what Airbnb should have done instead.

1. Flaunting money is a bad idea.

An Airbnb spokesperson said: “The intent was to show the hotel tax contribution from our hosts and guests, which is roughly $1 million per month. It was the wrong tone and we apologize to anyone who was offended.”

What is a hotel tax contribution? The average person is not going to research this topic.

They will, however, take the billboards at face value. Whining about $12 million dollars in taxes leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

As one user on Twitter said, “$12 million is nothing for a $25 billion company.”

2. People already think tech startups are arrogant and elitist.

This issue has been heavily reported on in recent news, and confirmation bias kicked in.

All of the following mental associations pop up: tech startups taking over the city, Dropbox tech bros kicking teenagers off a soccer field, a changing city landscape, gentrification, evictions, tech bubble.

These ads intensify the “us versus them” rift.

If you want to defend Airbnb, you are now forced to choose: are you a rich tech kid in a Google bus, or part of the diverse fabric of San Francisco?

3. Don’t joke about topics where you are considered part of the problem.

When running ads, every tech executive, startup founder, and head of marketing should ask themselves these questions:

“Are we trying to be funny? Are people going to take this the wrong way? Are we amplifying a sore subject? Are we giving our opponents ammunition against us?”

Other brands have gotten into trouble when they approached touchy subjects: Lululemon about their CEO getting fired, and McDonald’s about it taking 796 years for an employee to make a million dollars on minimum wage.

Humor is tricky. When in doubt, stick to poking fun at yourself.

What could Airbnb have done differently?

Airbnb could have started with a gracious attitude.

They could have emphasized being part of the city, rather than separate from it. They could have mentioned how lucky they are to contribute tocommunities within San Francisco, instead of whining about taxes.

I’m not one for critiquing without offering a few suggestions. In the spirit of this, I’ve re-created what the ads could look like if they built goodwill.

Left, photo credit: Eric Eberhardt / Instagram via SF Weekly, Right, fabricated ad: Winnie J. Kao

Before: “Dear Parking Enforcement, please use the $12 million in hotel taxes to feed all expired parking meters.”

After: “Dear San Francisco, we’re proud to host friends from around the world. And we’re thankful to call this home.”

Left, photo credit: Martha Kenney / Facebook via AdWeek, Right, fabricated ad: Winnie J. Kao

Before: “Dear Public Library System, we hope you use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to keep the library open later.”

After: “Dear Public Library System, Thanks for creating a space for learning. We’re honored to do our small part to support this big city.”

Left, photo credit: Kevin Antonio Sorlano / Facebook via SF Weekly, Right, fabricated ad: Winnie J. Kao

Before: “Dear Public Works, please use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to install more electric vehicle charging stations.”

After: “Dear Public Works, Our friends light up when they visit. Thank you for keeping San Francisco beautiful, for all of us.”

Is it difficult, or just dramatic?

“I quit.”

Those words are dramatic.

I used to think that quitting your job was the craziest, bravest thing you could do. Then I did it twice, without anything lined up after, and realized that it’s not that crazy or hard.

More importantly, over the years, I realized that walking away isn’t always the bravest option.

Our culture certainly glorifies the idea of a dramatic exit. We can confuse the act of getting up and walking out as being the hardest part.

But what if the difficult part is speaking up while there’s still a chance to fix things?

Something or someone is bothering you, and it keeps festering, festering, festering. Until you just can’t take it anymore.

Maybe a coworker was disrespectful for the eleventh time.

Maybe your boss, yet again, dismissed your hard work.

Maybe your mother used that tone of voice that triggers you, and has for years.

In the moment, it’s easy not to speak up for a few reasons:

(a) Confronting the person means conflict. Conflict is uncomfortable. It’s easier to convince yourself that it’s really not that bad, and there’s no reason to exaggerate.

(b) Suffering in silence feels like you have the moral high ground. You’re being the bigger person by letting it go. You’re absorbing it all.

(c) If things really get bad, you daydream about how gleeful it will be when you walk out. You’ll have the last word, and oh boy, they’ll be sorry when it’s too late.

It’s easy to imagine a triumphant, declarative, dramatic exit.

When you’ve experienced death by a million cuts, the decision is easy: you let go because you no longer care. At that point, there is so much evidence that the person has obviously wronged you… How could you do anything else but walk away?

But there’s another option, and sometimes, it’s the harder choice:

You can choose to speak up when there is still time to change the dynamic. When you still have the psychological bandwidth to want to change things.

While you still care.

Now there’s a new dilemma.

You now have the responsibility to deal with the anxiety of having to figure out how to have this conversation. How to talk to your coworker, how to approach your boss, how to bring up a tricky topic with your friend.

That’s not easy. There’s no guarantee that it’ll work.

But something happens when you commit to trying to figure it out, bit by bit. When you decide that it’s worth speaking up and learning how to express what you want to say.

You begin to create an environment for dialogue and honesty that deepens bonds between people.

Regardless of what the outcome is, when you do the hard work of getting through to another human being, you grow.

Why incremental polish is a waste of time

You’ve made up your mind 90%. But sometimes, right at the end, the remaining 10% veers uncontrollably into a black hole of overthinking.

“I just want to tweak it to make it a little better. It’s almost ready. I just need a bit more information. Once I have that, I’ll know for sure.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that spending a lot of time adding incremental polish is not helpful.

Why do we feel the urge to do it in the first place?

It seems to happen especially for decisions that seem high-stakes.

You want to do it right.

You want to give yourself the best shot possible.

You want to avoid re-work.

This one is big for me: You want to really understand the situation to prevent avoidable, expensive mistakes down the road.

All of those are legitimate concerns.

It seems like more time and more thinking is the solution to arrive at CERTAINTY.

This idea of incremental polish doesn’t just apply to applications, it applies to anything you ship.

An important email.

Picking which vendor to use.

Preparing for a meeting that might be uncomfortable.

Deciding on a strategy.

Even writing a tweet.

There’s a pull toward incremental polish, the nagging whisper that keeps saying: “I just need a bit more time to work on this.”

Whenever I catch myself thinking this way, I have to stop.

Will that extra information help you decide? Or will it just help your ego feel better because you subjected yourself to internal agony? If that internal agony didn’t actually get you closer to a smart decision, perhaps you could skip that part altogether.

It requires admitting two things to yourself:

1. No one is certain of the outcome. It might work and it might not.

2. You alone are responsible for making the decision.

As Seth says, “You don’t need more time, you just need to decide.”

PS altMBA applications close tomorrow at lunch time in NY.

For marketers and non-technical people: basic explanation of Twitter authentication


A couple weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about how Medium’s Twitter authentication process could be a bit confusing for users.

Medium kindly responded to my tweet, and pointed me to their FAQ. Their FAQ indeed says that Medium doesn’t post to Twitter on the user’s behalf. It didn’t explain the “why” behind it, besides linking to the Twitter developer site, which was confusing for a non-engineer.


I ended up asking a few friends, and wanted to share what I learned. If you know of other simple explanations, let me know and I’ll link to your post from here.

My friend Chris Poyzer, a senior software engineer at Hinge, explained it here:

“What you’re investigating is an OAuth (open standard for authorization) authentication process. It’s doing two things for the application.
First, it shows the application to verify the user through the third party service. In this case, it is Twitter.
Second, it opens up access to services allowing the app to act on behalf of the user on the third party.
The process is designed in a way that all this is possible without the app knowing the user’s password on the third party service.
For example, Hinge uses a similar process to register users through Facebook, but the app never knows the user’s Facebook credentials.
So when you sign in on the third party, you also need to authorize the app that you want to use on your account.
And at the same time, the app needs to ask for any and all permissions that it needs in order to work.
First, if the app is to tweet at anytime for any reason (with your permission or not), it must have access to post tweets on your screen.
So the app is asking Twitter if it can tweet for the user, and that is the permission that you are being presented with.
But there’s a second part.
Once the app has that permission from Twitter, what does it do with it?
In Medium’s case, they are telling you that they will not abuse this permission — that they will only tweet when you tell it to.
It’s a social contract of trust between you, Medium, and Twitter.
Now, some apps never actually post on the user’s behalf, but still ask for the permission.

This might be because of a couple of reasons. One might be because they are planning future features that require the permission, so they’re asking for it now because requesting new permissions will de-authorize the user requiring them to login again; or, more likely, it’s sloppy programming.”

Can people change? My thoughts on the altMBA

Can people change? This seems like such a debated age-old question, it might not even be worth asking. But I think it’s important to consider.

Today is the last day of the altMBA September session, and two days ago, we opened applications for our January 2016 session (Seth’s blog post here).

I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure what to write about in this post.

This is ironic, because we have our students publish their work 3x per week, and because I think about altMBA 24/7. So you would think I could easily find something to write about here.

But much of my writing is behind the scenes. Feverishly drawing out assertions, drafting strategies, writing drip emails, creating training guides, posting in Slack.

And more importantly, nothing felt like it could capture the magic of what it was like sprinting with this current class, and the inaugural class before it.

The momentum, the fast pace, the feeling of inspiration. Meeting cohorts of amazing people who pass the “Would I want to be stuck at an airport with this person?” test.

People you want to get to know more. People you’ll be in touch with for a long time to come. Weekly coach calls with all 7 coaches where it felt as if we were all physically in the same room on Fridays at 11am, even though we were in 3 different time zones on 2 continents.

The truth is, I care very much about the altMBA.

I’m sure our students know this, and the coaches know this… but sometimes it’s hard to say out loud.

Because when you say out loud that you care, and that you believe change is possible, you’re a little more on the hook.

When I was deciding what to write here, I wanted to go back to the idea of change. Whether people change. Whether organizations change. Whether cultures change.

My answer is yes.

Change can be slow, it can be unpredictable, it can feel futile. But it is possible.

People change every day.

They change their minds about trivial things. I thought I wanted chicken, but I’m going to order beef.

They change their minds about more important things, like their worldview. I realized that I’m the kind of person who does things like this.

They change what they consider they might do. I told myself I’d never do that, but now I’m open to it.

They change their behavior. I wasn’t a runner, and now I am one.

They change what they notice. I didn’t see it that way, but now I understand what you mean.

Change can be frustrating. Even if the end goal is much-needed, sometimes you think, “Is it worth it? Is it better to just not try?”

The world can break your heart when you try. At what point is it easier to say, “The status quo isn’t so bad. I wouldn’t have made a dent anyway. It would have been a waste of time.”

A waste of time. What does that mean? I believe that you should only do things if you’ll enjoy the journey as much as the destination. If you get to work with smart and kind people along the way. If there’s joy in knowing that you attempted.

But mainly, it’s not a waste of time if you believe that someone needs to be stepping up to make this change. When you decide to stop trying, it’s a sad day. It’s a day when one good person stops fighting the good fight.

If you don’t try, then who will?

The Venn Diagram of people who are (a) smart, (b) capable, and (c) who give a shit is really small. If you fit in this category, maybe you have a responsibility to try.

But it comes back to people. If you can change yourself, one other person, two people, four, eight, sixteen…if you can change a group, you can change a community, you can change an organization, you can change a slice of culture.

It’ll be hard until the day it happens, and then everyone will say, “Well of course it was going to happen.” It will seem inevitable, but only because you helped it to become so.

I just realized that I believe more deeply in change being possible, because I saw it happen…to myself.

I’m a different person from who I was when we were thrashing on the nebulous idea that would eventually become altMBA, when we launched, when we ran the first session, when we were running the second session.

I noticed it, and my peers noticed it. I’ve changed.

I was talking to an altMBA alum recently, and she said, “It’s like realizing that there’s another color that you didn’t know about. And you think, ‘What? This has been here the whole time? And I’m just now seeing this?'” We had one of those “RIGHT? ME TOO” moments where you feel understood and can barely contain yourself, because someone finally gets you.

I think people say that things don’t change, because it lets you off the hook. There are an infinite number of tactics about how to create change, but none of those matter if you don’t believe deep in your core that change is possible.

If you think you can do it better, you might be able to. So decide if you want to be that person. If someone will end up changing people’s minds, it might as well be you.

The world changes when people change. If you’re up for it, so am I. Want to leap together?

PS If it might be the right time for you, we just launched two new sites to share more about the altMBA. Let me know what you think if you check them out, and

“Let’s go around and introduce ourselves”: How to respond to this terrible ice breaker

There’s a common ice breaker at conference breakout sessions. It’s the dreaded “Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves” question.

What’s supposed to happen

You learn that, in addition to being a sales manager, Tim likes wind-surfing on weekends.

You do too. You find him during the break and talk. You build rapport.

What actually happens

It’s too early in the morning. There are catered muffins on paper plates.

There are 25 people are in a room. The first person starts speaking.

24 people are not listening.

They’re too busy thinking, “What should I say when it’s my turn?” They are mentally rehearsing, preoccupied. (Also, this exercise will take a minimum of 30 minutes, so they might be getting another muffin.)

Despite the downsides, this ice breaker will be around for a while. It’s useful to have a few guidelines on how to answer when it’s your turn to speak.

Here are my thoughts on how to win at answering this question.

Being entertaining is the holy grail

I tend to stick with the prompt’s guardrails if the organizer mentions them:

“Tell us two sentences about yourself,” or “Tell us a quick 30 second introduction about who you are and why you’re here.”

However, I’ve seen some people completely ignore the prompt, and talk about whatever they want.

The interesting part is that the audience not only didn’t object, they were even happy about it.

How could this be?

When you entertain the group, you are given a free pass.

It’s like reading an article online, and realizing at the end that you learned absolutely nothing new. Surprisingly, you’re not upset because the article was entertaining, and therefore added additional value for your time.

A similar principle applies here. The intro was only the surface of what they were delivering. It worked because they were charming, funny, genuine, or offbeat, and you liked listening to them speak. If you can woo the crowd like this, go for it. It will wake everyone up, and the organizer will probably thank you for it.

How nervous does the event organizer look

At a recent event, I was surprised by how many people spoke for longer than the suggested 30 seconds.

Some people gave a short bio, or talked about different projects, or described their passion, or mentioned the common thread throughout their career. The event organizer seemed comfortable with people taking their time though, and the atmosphere was relaxed.

The key is to notice clues that suggest how much leeway you have with timing and the type of content. It’s like driving on the highway: you factor in the speed limit AND how fast the cars around you are driving. For example, if people bring in parts of their personal life in the intro, it’s safe to assume that you can do so too.

Fight the urge to get it over with as fast as possible

Know whether you’re rushing because you want to get it over with, or because you’re genuinely concerned with keeping the pace of the event.

You might be nervous, and  simply want to get it over with. If so, try to fight that urge.

If the audience seems fairly accepting of each person sharing more about their story, take the opportunity to practice. It’s a good opportunity to speak in a semi-public setting. It doesn’t feel quite as high-stakes as being on stage, but it’s more than a small group of friends. It’s a good training ground to feel out what you might want to say.

Half the battle is getting used to finding the words to express what you want to say, and the more you do it, the more easily you’ll be able to put thoughts into words.

The last thing people expect in a conference room setting is for you to be vulnerable…

So if you are even a little vulnerable with your introduction, you create a pattern break. You become instantly memorable.

I was at a small workshop where one of the attendees started by saying, “I came to keep my friend company. I don’t know anything about this event, you (the organizer), or why I’m here.”

The room got awkward. An intro like that could easily go south from there.

To everyone’s surprise, the woman began talking about a project she was working on. She let her guard down completely and shared how she wasn’t sure what to do, and was looking forward to the next few hours of the workshop possibly leading to some ideas.

This immediately and completely humanized her. Especially with her rough start which anchored everyone’s expectations low, her vulnerable few sentences seemed even more poignant. This swung the pendulum from her being potentially crazy, to someone memorable and human and someone people wanted to talk to during the break.

Speak with genuine conviction

Do your eyes light up when you talk about what you do? If not, find a way to channel that kind of enthusiasm.

Why? Because you can get away with a lot if you sound passionate about what you do and how fortunate you are to be able to do it.

If you lift the energy of the room, people will be swept up with the increase in the pace. If the three people before you droned on with monotony, and you come in with zest, the room will perk up and think, Wait, what’s going on? Who is this person?

Everyone expresses enthusiasm differently. Some people are effusive, others have a grounded vibe. Do what works for you.

Lastly, it’s not just about what you want to say. It’s about what people would find relevant to hear. The more you connect it to what people might care about, the more they’ll listen to what you share.