I’ve always struggled with communication. I love the quote from Brian Regan, “I’m just trying to go through life without looking stupid. It’s not working out too well.” If you haven’t heard of Brian, you should probably look him up. He’s a genius at clean comedy.
Some people might be surprised by my struggle with communication, but anyone who’s known me for long isn’t. In the past, many people have described me as quiet, and probably even some do now. When I was young I didn’t see the point of thoughtless communication. I remember in elementary school I hated when people would just talk and talk without a point; they just jabbered on and I would look at them and wonder what was the purpose.
It turns out that these people were actually refining a very useful human skill, the ability to communicate effectively and intelligently.
I really started focusing on my ability to communicate when I was about 21 years-old. Yeah, I was kind of late to the party. This was also about the time I started going to church again. In my church we don’t have a Pastor that teaches us, the members take turns giving talks and teaching lessons. I still remember when I was asked to give my first talk as an adult. I was terrified, but I knew that I needed to get used to it, even master it, to be an effective member. I somehow knew that despite my fear, getting better would only come with practice, so I jumped at any opportunity to get in front of people.
About a year later I got to serve a mission for my church in Russia. I lived there for two years teaching and serving the people. If you think it is hard to communicate in your native tongue, try moving to a new country where your job is to talk to people in a language you don’t even know. Needless to say, this was very, very, very difficult.
I remember that I was nervous at every meeting we had and only occasionally could I communicate without anxiety. I used to wonder if I’d ever be comfortable talking with people. Fast forward about 9 years and it is like night and day. I meet with new people and find myself in unfamiliar environments constantly. I also present, pitch my business, and lead meetings on a weekly basis. I won’t say that I’m totally over my anxiety, but now I’m only anxious occasionally.
I can’t take credit for the change. I think God had a lot to do with it, but I didn’t back down to the fear, I confronted it and worked around it. I never gave up and through time I became better at it.
On November 4th, 2012, I started writing in my journal on a daily basis. I did this because I want to remember my life better. If something interesting happens, I want to be able to look back on the details and the context of that experience. It has now been almost 3.5 months and I’ve written a lot, over 55 digital pages. Before November it took me 5 years to write 54 pages. I calculated that if I continued to write at this rate for the next 40 years, I’ll have a book of my life 8,194 long. Just think about how cool it will be when I can search those pages for experiences and stories around different topics.
The most interesting thing about writing in my journal is that I think it is going to help me take my communications skills to the next level. I’m now getting daily practice thinking through and formulating my thoughts. This private writing inspires me to write more publicly (hence this blog post). Having formulated my thoughts has helped me communicate them on the fly more clearly and intelligently.
I’ve always been impressed by those people who have an intelligent answer for everything they’re asked. One that comes to mind is Brad Feld, probably because I’m in a Philosophy of Entrepreneurship class right now with him and he’s also one of the best communicators I’ve met personally. I’ve seen him speak many times, and I am always impressed by his thoughts, but being in class with him on a more consistent basis, I’ve noticed he’ll consistently field complex questions with answers that aren’t boiler plate, they’re deep, and often accompanied by strong metaphors and/or stories.
Next time I see Brad I’m going to ask him how he acquired the skill of communication. I know he’s written a blog for years, so I’m sure that has helped, but I’m more interested in before he started writing publicly. I wonder if he was one of the kids that used to annoy me in elementary school, or whether he struggled like me at first to and got better though practice and writing in a journal.
Either way, I think I’ve found a secret of communication, at least for someone to whom it didn’t come naturally.