You’re Only As Awkward As You Think You Are

What have I learned as a PR intern? You’re only as awkward as you think you are.

If you know me, you’ll know that I am a self-proclaimed awkwardite who creates somewhat awkward situations unintentionally and often holds eye contact for that extra second where it becomes awkward.

As a communication student, however, it’s very important to have a certain degree of communication skills (literally, it’s a degree in communication) to be successful in your career. Here are a few tidbits of unconvential advice I’ve scraped together in my summer internship.

1. When you shake someone’s hand, especially the CEO of a company, don’t pull a wet noodle.

This has caught me off guard before. When you’re not mentally prepared for a handshake, you end up either putting your thumb in the wrong place – which gets REALLY weird – or you end up limply shaking their hand. Neither are positive things that demonstrate you’re a serious professional.

So, if you think about the handshake before diving in, it won’t catch you by surprise. Eye contact, firm (but not Hulk Hogan), and brief. Don’t force it; let it be a natural part of your communication. By the end of the summer, I finally had a good handshake. It takes time.

2. “See ya!” is not an appropriate way to say farewell at a work function, even if they’re around your age.

Boy was this a painful one for me. I thought about that “see ya” for weeks after it happened, cringing at the fact that I chose those words to leave a (not-so) lasting impression on communication professionals. I thought, why do I have to be so awkward? And, I exaggerated that scenario in my mind so much so that I pretty much concluded I should never speak again. You’re only as awkward as you think you are.

This is where the second chance comes in! I hope that you, also, will receive a second chance at the “see ya” nightmare. When I saw this same person again at a different meeting, I made sure that I left them with a pleasant, “Nice to see you again!” I’d also avoid the “Have a great life!” and “Catch ya on the flip side!” scenarios.

3. Even when you don’t think you’ll need an intern notebook, you’ll need an intern notebook.

I carried around a lined notebook for the first month and a half of my internship, and never cracked it open. Well, I think I may have doodled on the front cover at one point, but I never actually took notes. One day, I was heading to a meeting and thought, “Nah. I’ve never used that notebook before, and I’ll probably never need it again.” And, guess what was the first thing I was told? “Abbi, can you take some notes?”

I put myself in the awkward situation of having to say, “I don’t have any paper.” I didn’t even – the shame! – have a writing utensil because it was still attached to my notebook. Do not be the intern without paper! In addition, do not take notes on your cellphone. It looks like you’re texting, which in turn gives the impression that you’re not paying attention to what’s going on and not taking your job seriously.

4. Find the balance of introducing yourself to networking connections but not being an overbearing, desperate student.

This is a tough one. I’ve attended various meetings this summer with many people whose salaries are probably worth more than my life. I’ve met a few in passing, and some even remember who I am. “Aren’t you the girl that wore the purple tights?”

Once you’ve met someone, what is the appropriate relationship to have with them? I’ve spent my fair share of meetings waiting on the side for something to happen, someone to communicate with. And, in retrospect, this isn’t how it should work.

Obviously, I wouldn’t suggest waltzing up to the company President and asking him questions about his life while he’s in the middle of an interview. However, it’s okay for you to show interest. Ask how long she’s worked with the company, what he loves most about his job, or if he has any advice for an intern trying to make an impression. Generally, people want to be engaged in conversation instead of awkwardly standing around. I wish I would have figured this one out a little sooner in my internship.

5. Remember the name.

When you’re introduced, make an actual effort to remember to whom you are speaking. It will save you hours of unsuccessful internet searching. I met this woman at one of the meetings I attended who works in traffic engineering. She seemed genuinely interested in me and my work (and as an intern, you take what you can get!) and also happened to have a great professional fashion sense.

I met this woman probably on three separate occasions, and each time she remembered my name and reminded me of hers.

(Side bar: DO NOT ever act disinterested when someone is talking to you, even unintentionally. If they’re taking time to talk to an intern, you take that opportunity and you RUN WITH IT. WHOLEHEARTEDLY.)

Anyways, so I thought about this particular connection one night and realized I still had no idea what her name was – even though it had been spoken to me about four times in conversation. And, I very well couldn’t demonstrate to my supervisor that I had been irresponsible in my name-remembering! So, I did what any good 21st century communication student would do and googled everything I could remember about this woman.

Apparently the Google odds were not in my favor that evening, because I found absolutely nothing as to who she may be. Plus, it’s very difficult to find someone without their name to go on. Finally, I gave up.

Again, praise the Lord for second chances! I saw this same woman at a meeting I attended last night, and (without specifically addressing her by name of course) made some small talk. Then, miracle of miracles, I heard her introduce herself to someone else. You better believe I will NEVER forget that woman’s name.

Make it easy on yourself and just remember their name the first time. Don’t tune out that little section of the conversation, because it will bite you in the tushy later. I could’ve saved myself many an awkward, “I’m Amy, remember? We’ve met at the past three meetings?” if I just had taken the time to remember her name.

Aside from your own personal embarrassment, remembering someone’s name demonstrates that you are assigning value to who they are. If you care enough to make that connection, you need to care enough to remember the most basic information about who a person is.

These are five small things that have made a huge impact on my perception of communication in practice. If you are confident in who you are, and the skills you have to offer, you will be much more pleasant as an intern (and, a professional!). Don’t wait on the sidelines for the communication to come your way – pursue it yourself. After all, isn’t that what sets us apart?

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