Recently I read an e-book I found through the TED Books app called How Did You End Up Here? This book's unconventionally written style showcases post-it notes throughout the pages that ask questions such as, "If you could ask a stranger anything, what question would it be?" and "How are you really?" These ordinary questions seemingly get asked often, but rarely do people actually mean them.
A few days ago I coached a group of young women who are contestants in a pageant on presentation skills. The majority of the young women had no pageant experience before and when I asked them, "Why did you join this pageant?" many answered that it would build their resumes and make their backgrounds seem more versatile. In 2013 the idea of a pageant may seem outdated and sexist, but if the training is planned out thoroughly, young women can be trained to develop strong confidence and a better sense of whom they are. I decided to combine the reading and the training needs of the young women in the pageant together.
I began with an activity that asked the women to each find a partner and write down five facts about one another. No one was able to do so. I asked them why, after three weeks of practicing together, they did not know any details about one another. They looked at each other blankly and then looked at me. As simple an activity as it was, the result was evidence that today's society has become numb to genuine human interaction. Human relationships have taken a back seat. I continued with the activity by asking the women what they thought the stereotypical pageantry experience included. The responses I received were "dealing with catty girls, learning etiquette and how to walk, and feeling beautiful." I responded by asking them to remove their preconceived ideas and instill the idea that joining a pageant can allow them to learn how to network and develop social skills that take them beyond their comfort zone. According to a Forbes article,, "Small talk can lead to a host of outcomes, from a merely pleasant exchange to the signing of a multimillion-dollar business deal." The article further states that "Getting a job, working with colleagues, winning new clients, entertaining existing ones -- all of it requires small talk."
After sharing this information with the women, I asked them to sit down and chat -- no agenda, no strings attached, nothing. Within five minutes I heard laughter and saw smiles that were reminiscent of young children at play.
Even if only briefly, I was glad to get the message across that genuine human interaction is important to future success. This is an important part of social skills. Several girls admitted to me after the training session that for the first time in weeks they actually felt relaxed and comfortable and did not put up a wall. Training success!