LINDSEY POLLAK: I don’t think I’m socially anxious. I think I’m a raging perfectionist. And my perfectionism needs that I am constantly calibrating how interested you are in our conversation, because I’m desperately afraid of making you dislike me or be unhappy. And so, I’m constantly watching you for those keys. I think where maybe anxiety is a little bit of a superpower is that I’m so attuned to that.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: I’m Morra Aarons-Mele, and this is The Anxious Achiever. We look at stories from business leaders who have dealt with anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges, how they fell down, how they picked themselves up, and how they hope workplaces can change in the future. Today’s guest has done over 2,000 speeches in her career. It’s what she does. She is a capital E expert, but she still gets anxious before her talks, and the meet and greets around her speeches, those are so hard. After she’s done, she often worries she said the wrong thing. I wanted to have a conversation with a public person who has anxiety because, let’s face it, public is speaking is hard. Anytime you stand up in front of other people and put yourself out there, you’re taking a risk. And that is hard. Networking is hard. Interviews are hard. And frankly, a lot of us are out of practice. When you stand up in front of a room, you’re asking people to like you and trust you. Does it get easier? Yes and no. But the thing is, if you want to grow into your leadership, you’ve got to take the risk. And so, today’s conversation will help you. Lindsey Pollak is a New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and guide to succeeding in today’s ever-changing, multi-generational workplace. And she joined me to talk about how to take the leap into putting yourself out there.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: You are not known as an anxiety talker as I am. You talk about career advancement, managing different generations, finding the best place for yourself. You’re a very forward momentum kind of career expert. But you said to me in a conversation that we were having that you sort of started talking about your own anxiety just as almost an aside in speeches and the response was so powerful that you have started talking about your own anxiety more. And I just wanted you to explain how that unfurled and what you think that’s about.
LINDSEY POLLAK: It’s really interesting. I started my career almost 20 years ago as a college campus speaker. I had been an RA, resident advisor, in college. My whole career came out of the idea of helping the next generation not make the mistakes I had made, or learn from what I had learned from. I think I got away from that in a way over 20 years, whereas you become more of an expert, you become more authoritative and you give people the 10 tips on how to use LinkedIn and the five tips on how to change careers, and I got really good at that. What started to happen, and you’re exactly right, it was COVID, I couldn’t help but talk about mindset and anxiety and wellbeing. I have struggled with anxiety for my whole life, and it kind of seeped out during COVID because everything kind of seeped out during COVID. I realized it was actually bringing me back to my roots of taking my own experience and being really authentic about it. To be honest, I think it’s brought just an entirely new level to my work and made me feel more real in the advice that I’m sharing, and the response has been really positive. Where I was always afraid that people would respond negatively, it’s been the exact opposite.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Huh. I mean, was part of it that you’re the expert, they’re paying you usually to be up there telling people your great advice and that admitting to anxiety… What made you worry at first?
LINDSEY POLLAK: I think what made me worry was yes, I have to be the expert and the expert has to show no chinks in the armor, right? So I know what to do, and I know how to do it. It’s so funny, you forget these things and they come racing back in your thoughts, but when I handed in the very first of my first book, Getting from College to Career, which came out way back in 2007, I remember the editor said, “Well, yeah, this is good, but haven’t you ever made a mistake?” And I said, “What are you talking about?” She said, “All you talk about here is your successes and everything you did well.” And I said, “Well, I thought that was the point of writing a book, that you want to learn from somebody who’s done it all right.” She said, “Well, not everything right. You sort of sound like a robot.” And so I went back and rewrote it and talked about the million mistakes that I had made. Not only was that more helpful to people who read it, they liked me more, because nobody wants to take advice from a robot. So I think it’s twofold. It means you’re more of a real person, and also, it’s more relatable to people who want real advice because they want somebody who’s fixed their mistakes, not somebody who’s never made mistakes.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Right. Right. And you show me a person, of course, who’s never made mistakes, and I’ll just show you a unicorn.
LINDSEY POLLAK: Exactly.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: So you’ve given thousands of talks in your lifetime, and you said to me that you still have a sense of performance anxiety, of social anxiety as you get ready to give a speech. I’ve never really heard anyone say that before. I love that you said it. I wanted to talk about your decision to become a public person and a professional public speaker as someone who has anxiety. And I think you have social anxiety too, right?
LINDSEY POLLAK: I don’t know if I’ve been diagnosed, but yeah, I think that’s definitely part of it. I think the social anxiety piece for me is fear of saying the wrong thing. I don’t have a fear of getting up on the stage, I have a fear of offending somebody or forgetting to say something that was really important or making someone feel that they haven’t been respected in the audience. It’s funny, the anxiety often comes after, which is, “Did I say everything okay? Did anybody get upset when I said X, Y, or Z?” I think it’s an anxiety a lot of people feel probably more acutely now than 20 years ago because I know that people might be tweeting every word that I say, and I think that’s added a whole different level to the conversation.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: So that’s interesting. Just to zoom in on the kind of anxiety that you feel, is it a fear that you won’t be good enough or a fear that you’ll say things that hurt people or make you look a certain way? What does the fear feel like?
LINDSEY POLLAK: I think it’s all of the above. But I have to say I don’t want to give the impression that before I get on the stage that I’m sweating and don’t want to do it. There’s a total excitement, and I think that there is a relationship between excitement and anxiety. It’s kind of a lot of people say, “Oh, do you even get nervous anymore?” Yeah, I do, but I’m glad I do because I still care a lot about giving a good speech and doing a good job, and I can channel the anxiety. So I think truly it’s not, “Oh, I think I’m going to mess up and be canceled, and nobody’s going to like me.” It’s that I really, really care about doing a good job and delivering for the client in a paid speech. The best analogy I can think of is I saw this interview with Chris Rock. They were talking about comedians bombing, and how when you’re a comedian, of course you bomb a million times as you’re coming up. The person asked Chris Rock, “Do you still bomb at your level when you’re so successful and famous and good?” And he said, “I still bomb but the audience doesn’t know it.” He’s reached a level of success where he knows he’s always going to be good, but he knows in himself when he hasn’t done the very, very best job he can. And so, I think there’s some level of that. I feel like I’m a professional, and I trust myself to deliver, but I know the difference between 80 percent and 100 percent, and I hold accountable for that. So maybe that’s a little bit more specific about what the anxiety is.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: That’s interesting. Is there a piece of you maybe that’s also in Chris Rock, right, who’s just perfectionistic—
LINDSEY POLLAK: Yeah, I think perfectionism is a huge part of it. And I think when you get to a level as a professional speaker, and I would guess a musician or a comedian or an artist would feel the same, you’re charging higher fees and you have to deliver on that. So I think there’s also a feeling that each book has to be better than the last and each speech has to be better than the last. I think that’s definitely a self-driven perfectionist pressure.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: I’d love to ask your advice both for me, who is sort of an emerging, I wouldn’t call myself a professional speaker at all, but someone who’s doing more and more speaking, and every time I start, I expect to bomb and the anxiety is very intense, and anyone out there who’s about to take a leap, right? Maybe they’re interviewing for a job. Maybe they are about to start leading a department meeting, or they’re going to do public speaking, or they want to challenge themselves and join Toastmasters or whatever. If you’re an anxious person and you choose to stand up and be seen, what do you need to know? What do you maybe need to do differently?
LINDSEY POLLAK: Well, the first thing that I want you to do is validate the fear of public speaking. There’s an old joke in the public speaking world. It is a fact that public speaking is the number one fear of people. And they say that the reality or the joke is that at a funeral, you’d rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy. That’s how much people hate public speaking. So I’m very aware that what I do for a living horrifies a lot of people, and they would never want to be in my shoes. So in some ways, I use that to fuel me, which is I know that most of the people in my audience wouldn’t want to be up on that stage and are thrilled not to be on that stage. So particularly if you’re in a meeting and you’re speaking, I think you can take some comfort in knowing that nobody wants to be there. So that’s number one, and I actually do think about that. And I do a lot of public speaking coaching, and we talk about that. The second thing, and this is again from my official public speaking training, I was a corporate trainer for many years, so went through a lot of training in how to do that, is most people are not experts at public speaking because they’ve spoken. Most of us are more expert because we’ve been in so many audiences. And so, when you think about what you want as an audience member, you want the speaker to be good. You want the comedian to be good because there is absolutely nothing worse in this world than being in the audience when someone up there is sweating and uncomfortable and nervous and saying um every other word. So what I try to teach in public speaking classes and what I try to implement myself is that the audience really wants you to be good. They’re rooting for you because they don’t want to go through that experience. This has actually been a little harder over Zoom, but I often look for those smiling faces in the audience. I looked for the people who are nodding in appreciation, and I force myself to find those people and overlook the ones who are on their phones or even maybe not paying attention as much. And that is really powerful, is to always remember that they’re kind of cheering you on. The last thing I’ll say, and again, it comes from stand-up comedy, which is a great thing to do if you’re afraid of public speaking, is to jump right into that scary situation, is I have bombed and I’m still here. I have offended people and I’m still here. I have messed up and I’m still here. If you do that once in a 60-minute speech, that still means that 59 other minutes were perfectly fine. And so, I’ve gotten through my worst possible fear and it turned out okay. And so, I think there’s some element of learning from bombing that is also really valuable.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Yes. It’s funny, I gave a talk this morning, and we used a new interface. We used Google Meet, which I’ve never used for a talk before. I realized that I stopped sharing my screen a bit of the way through, and I think I finished 25 minutes of the talk with no slides. But I was so focused and nobody said anything. Honestly, Lindsay, it was five hours ago, I cannot let it go. Post-event processing is the technical term for what I’m doing. How can I let this go? I just keep obsessing over it.
LINDSEY POLLAK: Well, what I do, and this is completely true, is I would talk about that in my next speech.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Really?
LINDSEY POLLAK: And I turn it into content. Absolutely. I tell people how I’ve messed up all the time. I would write about it and say, “You know what? Here’s the worst thing that happened to me in a speech. Here’s how my technology messed up.” I talk about it. The other thing is I learned I cannot rely on playing a video in the middle of my speech. I did it three or four times, and now I just don’t do it anymore. So I think there’s also turning it into a learning. Was it Nora Ephron who said everything is copy?
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Yes, exactly.
LINDSEY POLLAK: So that we can turn it into, because particularly as an anxiety speaker, that’s a really helpful thing to do. I think in some ways the COVID environment has allowed more of that because name anyone who’s been on a Zoom call where someone’s on mute. I mean, it’s just all of us now have had these technical glitches, and I think it humanizes in a really nice way. I was just on a webinar, and there was a horrible audio problem. Everybody was typing in the chat, you know that horror in the chat, “I can’t hear. Why is there no sound? And finally, the AV person said, “We’re going to have to boot up and start again.” Which means everybody has to log out, just the nightmare. I was talking about resilience in the face of COVID and I said, “Well, team, we’re all going to have a resilient moment together. So everybody’s going to log out. We’re going to log back in and prove that we can get through it.” I think it’s just deciding to own it, admit that it’s been a problem and that it was awful, and then using it as content to move forward, because everybody’s going to be in that situation. It still feels yucky. You can still cry, you can still eat ice cream, but I think turning it into content is the best thing I’ve learned how to do.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: You have said, “You have to be who you are when it comes to networking and speaking.” I love that, but my question is, so what does that mean for someone who has social anxiety?
LINDSEY POLLAK: I think what I’ve learned, and it’s taken me 20 years, is I call it out. Now, I’m pretty good at hiding it when I speak, so I’ve learned how to perhaps be performing when I speak where I cannot talk about the anxiety. And sometimes, honestly, it’s not appropriate. If I’m doing a workshop on managing people, it doesn’t fit. And so, I think it’s knowing your situation. If you’re talking about next month’s budget numbers, you probably don’t want to show your anxiety. But if you’re talking about your career success or my topic, recalculating after a career change, it’s very relevant to that story. So I think it’s really knowing your moments, but I find when I coach people who, for instance, have a stutter or maybe English is their second language, I often coach them to start by saying, “I just wanted to let you know, my name is LINDSEY POLLAK. I had a stutter as a child, just like our president, Joe Biden. And I’ve overcome it, but sometimes it comes out, so please bear with me if at any point there’s a little bit of a break in the content. Okay, let’s get started.” So I think you can draw attention to it and show your comfort with it in a way that makes other people comfortable. Now, I wouldn’t say, “I have crushing anxiety, and it’s killing me at the moment, so I’m sorry if I’m sweating.” But I think you can find a comfortable way to call it out when it’s appropriate.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: I’m pretty sure I say that every day, but that’s like my brand, I guess, at this point.
LINDSEY POLLAK: So it works. It’s authentic. It works.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Well, how about if people are sort of getting out there, they’re doing networking again, IRL, or they’re interviewing, how do you know if it’s appropriate to bring it up in an interview or in a meeting strangers networking situation?
LINDSEY POLLAK: It’s a really tough question, and I don’t think there is an exact answer. But one of the things I always believe is I don’t want to work in a place or network with people who are not okay with who I really am. For instance, if I mention that I have a daughter, which I do, and someone doesn’t like me for that, it’s sort of like, “Okay, well, this is not a situation that works for me because I have a daughter. That’s who I am.” I think of my anxiety the same way. I also think you can breach the topic and see if somebody else responds or if they completely ignore that you’ve said it. So if you say something like, “I hope you don’t mind, I’m going to keep my mask on because my daughter is 10 and she’s not vaccinated. So I’m not comfortable taking my mask off.” If somebody says, “Oh, great, cool, no problem,” then we can proceed. If they scoff or look away, that’s a signal to me that that’s not a comfortable environment for me to be in. So I use it as a little bit of a test. When it comes to anxiety, I don’t think it’s something that you necessarily want to lead with. But I know what I try to do, and, Morra, I’ve heard you do this is I might say, “Well, I’ve suffered from anxiety for a long time. I’m really fortunate that I’ve learned how to manage it. But I think it really helps me in my management of other people, so I’d love to tell you about some of my strategies for the team.” So I think you can talk about it with comfort and how it’s been an asset to you as opposed to saying, “Oh, this is something I worry about and struggle with, and it’s going to be a problem in my job.” So I think how you approach it is really important.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: I love that. I have to tell you that my heart leaps with joy when I notice small acts of standing up for who you are. I hear people more often say things like… Because I’m a consultant, right, and I work with lots and lots of different people and organizations, they might say, “Well, my ADHD makes it really hard for me to keep organized, so I’m going to write this down. I hope you don’t mind if you hear me typing.” Or I might hear an introvert say, “Brainstorming is just not my thing. I’m not as good at spontaneous conversation, so I’m going to take a moment and process this.” Do you agree that there’s a moment in our everyday social work discourse of claiming who we are?
LINDSEY POLLAK: 100 percent. I think those little moments, and I love that’s how you describe them… Because I want to be clear, I don’t give speeches on anxiety, I just mention it at some point. And that normalizing is so important. It just gives people an opening. And they might just nod and take it and internalize it, or it might give them an opening to be a little bit more forthcoming in what they’re good at. I really believe in a strength-based approach to work and leadership. A strength is something that you’re good at, that you enjoy, that’s unique to you, and everybody’s are different. So if you can turn being on the autism spectrum or introversion or anxiety into a strength, that invites other people to talk about their own strengths as well. I absolutely love that. Look, it’s hard to do that. I work a lot with entry level talent, and they say, “That’s hard to do when I’m the most junior person on the team.” I completely appreciate that and felt it myself. You and I are in more advanced career positions so I think it’s even more important for us to do it because it opens the door for people who don’t have as much power or a voice in the workplace. And I’m very sensitive to that, that it’s hard to do when you’re the most junior person on a team of 20.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: 100 percent. And I’m still waiting for the day for an extrovert to say, “I’m an extrovert, so I’m probably going to talk too much.” But, you know.
LINDSEY POLLAK: I love it. I love it. It’s funny, COVID has brought that up because I went to an outdoor dinner and somebody said, “You, guys, am I talking too much? Because I don’t remember how to be social, so just tell me if I’m talking too much.” And I loved it. It was so real. And she kind of was, so I was really happy that she said it.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Oh my God, that’s so human. She was like, “I’m lonely. I haven’t talked to people. I’m so happy to be here.”
LINDSEY POLLAK: I don’t remember how much you’re supposed to talk and how much I’m supposed to talk. It was very, very real. But on that point of not knowing, I tell this story all the time, but it struck me, for a long time, I taught people how to use LinkedIn. I was an official trainer for LinkedIn. And I’ll never forget, I was at a business school, really serious, quantitative business school. This MBA student raised his hand and he said, “Lindsay, do you recommend that I be funny in my LinkedIn profile summary?” And it was like the most serious question he’d ever asked. I said, “Well, are you funny? Because if you’re funny authentically, yeah, go for it, that’s who you are. And it’ll probably work in your favor and it’ll come through. But I’m getting the sense that you think funny is a strategy that you as an MBA should quantitatively strategically use on your LinkedIn profile, and that’s not feeling super authentic to me right now. So my advice is going to be no.” But I thought we try to do things because we think it’s the right strategy, when over time, I think what you realize is the truer you are to your own strengths, to your own personality, you’re going to end up in better situations. And I know that’s hard to do when you’re just starting out. It’s so hard. It’s hard to do at any point. But I think COVID has really reminded people because maybe we’ve spent so much time alone that it’s really uncomfortable to be fake and to be inauthentic. And so, I just learned that lesson over and over throughout my career and even more so now.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: I think you’re so right. But I want to actually plum the idea of being funny. Maybe this is an American thing, but I feel like… I want to say two things. One is I feel that those of us who are in business and who want to advance, we default towards thinking that people who are really funny and engaging are better. And we aspire to that, as you just said in the LinkedIn. The second thing is sometimes it feels to me like networking and public speaking and all this sort of out there stuff, the stakes are so high in our minds that we have to be glittering funny, the most interesting, well-rounded, memorable person, otherwise, we’ll have totally failed and we should never network again. Where do all these myths come from? Do you think there really is a pressure to be funny in our culture, or am I making this up?
LINDSEY POLLAK: I do.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Yeah.
LINDSEY POLLAK: I do. I think it’s somewhat regional and cultural in certain places. I’m in New York—
MORRA AARONS-MELE: I mean, you and I are both New Yorkers, yeah—
LINDSEY POLLAK: Yeah, I was going to say there’s something very New York-y about that to me, which is, hey, to be a little louder, to be a little funnier. So I think some of it is regional. For instance, it’s so important to be polite and accommodating. I’m thinking in the South and other regions are very different. So I see it as somewhat regional. But I think the idea of being affable, of smiling a lot, particularly for women, being nice, I think is often really powerful. But what I always think about is as much as we think someone has to own the room and dominate, we often talk about people… And the person who’s coming to mind, it’s a complicated reference, but what people always said about Bill Clinton in a room is that you feel like you’re the only one he’s talking to and that they have this power for better or worse. I think that as listeners, as people within a conversation and in an audience, the feeling that we’re important and that someone is giving us their full attention is maybe even more powerful. And I think the introverts are really good at that, right? Which is when I’m talking to an introvert, they don’t want to talk to anyone else because they’re intimidating. And so, while the performer telling jokes is attractive and appealing, maybe you come away a little less satisfied than you do with someone who just gives you their complete and full attention. I’ll tell you, as a speaker, something I’ve really missed on Zoom is that in person, I give my speech and I perform, but where I really feel like the work is most powerful is when people line up at the end to have a one-on-one conversation. I think I’m an ambivert. I think I’m very extroverted on stage. And I do like to be funny and tell jokes. It’s really fun to make people laugh. But when people come up after and say, “Hey, that thing you said, it really spoke to me,” or, “Here’s my situation.” I like that combination, and I wonder if that’s an introvert/extrovert strategy or approach that you can do both or that there’s power in both.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: There’s so much power in both. I really do think that both are skills that can be learned, right? We know that comedians are famously introverted, many of our favorite comedians. Oprah always talks about the fact that she’s such a big introvert. She says she wants to go hide in a bathroom, right? And you’re like, “Oprah? What?” So yeah, I think what’s really interesting about the one-on-one, and it leads me to my next question because this is a real social anxiety thing… And I should say that introversion and social anxiety are very different. So you can be introverted and love your introverted self and be really happy in that one-on-one and not feel anxious about it. But you can be socially anxious and be having the inner dialogue of what a boring loser you are while you’re having that one-on-one. As a socially anxious introvert, one of the things that I have found, and I’ve actually gotten feedback about this, and I bet there’s listeners out there, is that I love a good one-on-one. And sometimes when I’m in a social or work setting, I will dive into that really intense one-on-one. And I’m happy as a clam. I’m asking someone about their family history and their father who was an alcoholic and how it affected their performance at work, and they’re like, “Whoa.” And then because that’s just like, “I don’t know.” The only way I know how to operate, I’m not good at small talk. And then they look over my shoulder and they give me a cue, a body cue, like, “Oh-oh, I need to get out of here.,” or, “I’m networking, it’s time for me to move on,” and I get so anxious. All the bad feelings come. What’s your advice if you have a little social anxiety and the normal ways people mill around at an event or cocktail party or whatever make you feel like you’re not worth talking to? Because it does feel that way for some people.
LINDSEY POLLAK: Absolutely. I just love this conversation. I can’t think of anywhere else we could have this conversation and that’s so valuable. So Morra, here’s where my obsessive perfectionism is really helpful because I don’t think I’m socially anxious, I think I’m a raging perfectionist. My perfectionism means that I am constantly calibrating how interested you are in our conversation, because I’m desperately afraid of making you dislike me or be unhappy. And so, I’m constantly watching you for those cues. And so when you give or when someone gives me that cue, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” I immediately say, “Oh my gosh, you probably want to go talk to so many other people. It’s great to chat with you, all the best with your dad’s rehab, and I’ll catch up with you soon.” And then I kind of move on the next one. So I think where maybe anxiety is a little bit of a superpower is that I’m so attuned to that. Because I think that one of the things that is really off-putting is when someone is not picking up on cues. Nobody wants to really say, “Morra, I’m done talking to you, stop talking.” But I think the fact that you can use your little radar to acknowledge that… I think the hard part is forgiving yourself and not saying, “Oh, why did I talk so much?” but saying, “Okay, had a good conversation, I’m going to move on.” I think maybe more of the work that I feel is not ruminating on the fact that that happened and simply saying, “Okay, we had a great conversation.” And it came to an end and I listened to that cue and I’m going to move on. But it’s the ruminating that I think gets us in trouble, not the fact that the person wanted to end the conversation. How does that sit with you?
MORRA AARONS-MELE: I love that. And as a fellow perfectionist, I can also relate, and also, as an intense pleaser because I don’t want anyone to feel bored on my watch or uncomfortable, even if I’m the one making them feel that way.
LINDSEY POLLAK: It’s a great skill to have as a speaker, is wanting people to enjoy talking to you and hearing from you. Perfectionism, I think this is the core of what I always struggle with as a professional. My perfectionism makes me a great speaker because I have rehearsed that thing a billion times, but then my perfectionism often means I ruminate over the two things I said that weren’t perfect. So it’s a double-edged sword.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Talk about the sandwich technique. How have you learned to have both difficult conversations, big stakes talks, and manage those feelings?
LINDSEY POLLAK: I give with my mom, Jane Pollack, 100 percent credit for this strategy because I think she taught it to me in college when I was having sophomore year roommate problems. The strategy is super simple. Whenever you are having any kind of uncomfortable conversation or situation or scary thing you have to do like a job interview or a really hard talk with your roommates that you don’t want to live with them junior year, I call my mom before the scary thing, I do the scary thing, and then I call her immediately after the scary thing. The sandwich meat is the scary thing, and the two pieces of luscious carb, bread, are my mom who says, “You can do it. You can do it. It’s going to be okay. You can do it. I’m waiting here. Call me the minutes over.” And then I call and get the comfort. I have done this with friends. I have done this with my mom. I can do this by text if necessary, but it is a lifesaver for me because it always works. And while you’re doing the scary thing, you know that someone is there waiting to be the bread that you can softly land in after you’re done.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: I love that. Can you bring a sandwich to an event to help you?
LINDSEY POLLAK: Absolutely. Absolutely. In fact, I think introverts should bring sandwiches everywhere. I think when you go to a networking event and you’re a student and you’re terrified, bring a wing man or wing woman. People say, “Oh, you should never do that, you rely on them.” I think bring all the help you need, bring an army of people if you need it. And again, you can do it by text because sometimes it’s inappropriate. So just knowing someone is there to catch you after it’s over is just absolutely a lifesaver. And I do it for other people. I offer it because I know how powerful it is.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: So as someone who is a ruminator and as someone who probably needs feedback to always be getting better, how do you handle getting feedback from listeners or clients after a speech? That can be something that can be difficult for people who are a little bit more sensitive, right? Nobody really likes getting feedback, but if you’re anxious, it’s harder. Any advice there on preparing yourself to get feedback?
LINDSEY POLLAK: Yeah, and I’m in a business where it’s often written on a survey form. It’s handed to you at the end with numbers of it. So yeah, that could be very scary. Number one, don’t look at the feedback right away. I think that that is never a good idea to immediately look at your results. But I think the most important thing on the feedback is… There’s two things that come to mind. One is I used to have, I don’t know if this is good, probably won’t get into an explicit rating, as Britney said, she came up with this 5 percent nut job rule. The 5 percent nut job rule was that 5 percent of people are just going to give ridiculous feedback and a terrible result. You see it on Amazon, right? Something it’s a 100 million five stars and one zero star, right? There’s always the 5 percent nut job. So when she looks at feedback, she said, “If you see a couple that seem really out there, take it but know that there’s always going to be a certain percentage that are just always going to give really weird feedback.” So I always try to take a little bit of comfort in that. The second thing is, and I think this is probably something I learned from comedians, I watch a lot of documentaries about comedy, as you can tell, you never try 100 percent new content in a presentation. I have content in my speeches that I know works. It just works. I will try one new slide or two new slides or a new story, but I won’t try all new slides and all new stories. Because I just want to know that a certain percentage of it is going to hit well. So I think it’s also learning over time that even if I got feedback that those few new things just didn’t work or the audience seemed disinterested, or I don’t know, they booed or I got negative feedback, I still know that 50 to 80 percent of it is still going to hit really well. So I think in some ways it’s managing the content I’m a little bit nervous about with content I feel really confident in.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: Okay, last question is for leaders who are thinking about talking more or anybody, really, who’s thinking about talking more about their anxiety or mental health struggles. What’s your advice for dipping a toe in the water?
LINDSEY POLLAK: I wonder if I had had a leader in my twenties who talked about anxiety if I would have felt more comfortable being authentic 20 years earlier than I did. And so, if I can be that voice of comfort and normalizing for someone else, I want to do it. So if you as a leader can use your position of power and influence to even subtly make a small comment, as you talked about, that makes somebody else feel more comfortable in who they are, I hope that you’ll use that power. It’s a very small use of capital to make a huge difference for somebody younger, and I think it would’ve made a huge difference for me. The times are different. I think there’s a lot less stigma now. So let’s take advantage of that and double down. I’ll just say, I don’t know if you saw or anyone saw that NFL, football, has a new mental health campaign with professional football players talking about their mental health struggles. I think it’s one of the greatest acts of leadership I’ve seen in professional sports to do that. So I think if a big burly football player could do it, I think that we can too.
MORRA AARONS-MELE: That’s it for today’s show. Thank you to my producer, Mary Dew, thanks to the team at HBR. I’m grateful to our guests for sharing their experiences and truths. For you, our listeners, who ask me to cover certain items and keep the feedback coming, please do send me feedback. You can email me. You can leave a message on LinkedIn for me, or tweet me, @morraam. And if you love the show, tell your friends, subscribe and leave a review. From HBR Presents, this is Morra Aarons-Mele.