This Spring, I was given the opportunity to take the stage for TEDxPortland. Which, I later learned, is among the top three TEDx events in the world. And it’s a good thing that I learned that later, because that definitely would have tempered my acceptance of the opportunity. But as someone who suffers from stage fright—and someone who did not yet understand the stature of the event—it seemed like one of those interesting personal challenges. A growing experience. I mean, what could go wrong?
Fast forward to April 2018, and I’m standing in front of 3000 people with who knows how many people watching the livestream. Gulp.
What I delivered wasn’t perfect, but I hope I got the message across. The message that anyone—and everyone—can and should take part in building community. And that even introverts can take part, by getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.
So here it is.
If you’d rather not watch—and trust me, I get it—I’ve included one of the final practice scripts below. NOTE: You do not need to read the script below in my monotonous nasally tone. You can read is in your own voice.
An introvert’s guide to building community
You might not know it but you’re sitting in the middle of one of the most thriving startup communities in the United States. And it’s not just tech startups. Every day, in every corner of Portland there are people rethinking and innovating. Apparel, banking, donuts, education, healthcare, nonprofits… we’re even innovating on how businesses can better collaborate with local government.
But because this activity tends to be grassroots and distributed, it’s not always obvious how to get involved in the community. Or where to start. And because of that, a lot of folks wind up finding their way to me.
I’m Rick Turoczy. And while “helping Portland folks connect” isn’t in my job description, it is what I find myself doing every day.
I’m not alone. There are a bunch of us doing this work. But I know I speak for each and every one of us when I say that there can never be enough of us building community.
It’s not easy. it’s work. But anyone can do it. Literally anyone. I know that because I am probably the last person in the world anyone would choose to do this work. I’m not outgoing. I’m not extroverted. Meeting folks makes me exceedingly uncomfortable.
Probably the best way to give you a glimpse into the personality I have is to introduce you to my best friend from kindergarten…
Every single day in kindergarten, the first thing I’d do when I got to school was find my best friend. B-line for my best friend. And then we’d head to this little tent in the classroom to hang out. We’d spend hours in that tent. Just the two of us. We were practically inseparable. We didn’t really hang out with anyone else. Just me and my best friend…
Now, granted this was Montessori school. And I get that parents can get a little creative with kids’ names. So allow me to clarify. Golden walnut wasn’t one of those creative kids’ names. It was actually a pretty descriptive name. Because my best friend in kindergarten was in fact… a walnut. That happened to be painted gold.
Solid friend though.
Back then, that type of behavior was simply called “being shy.” Today, we understand it as being introverted. Clearly, pretty aggressively introverted.
No offense walnut.
So if someone who would rather hang out in a tent with a walnut can do this work, you can clearly do this work. Even if you’re introverted like me. Because introverts are, counterintuitively, actually really really good at this stuff. I think it’s because we’ve grown comfortable with being uncomfortable. We’ve grown used to awkward personal encounters. Because, for us, every single encounter with another human… is awkward.
Introvert or not, it gets a little easier for anyone to meet people… one on one. Because it’s not as scary as a group. Or an event… It’s certainly not as scary as standing on stage talking to 3000 people.
I call those one on one meetings “collecting dots.” In collecting dots I find a variety of new people with different experience and different viewpoints. Dots that have the potential to benefit some of the other dots I’ve managed to collect.
Being introverted isn’t the only reason people hesitate to collect dots. Sometimes it’s because they don’t “do startups.” Or they don’t think they have anything valuable to share.
But the fact that you don’t “do startups” is exactly what makes your insights valuable.
The startup world has had more than enough of our own echo chamber. We need more perspectives. We need diverse viewpoints. From a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Not more of the same. Because I think it’s pretty clear where that “more of the same” behavior has gotten us.
Others worry that collecting dots can be time consuming. But it doesn’t have to be. It can be efficient.
Folks tend to open up around food. Around meals. It’s the family dinner dynamic. Or the watering hole effect. And a cup of coffee, in my opinion, is the smallest instantiation of that dynamic. In the shortest amount of time. It helps people open up. It helps us, as humans, to connect. And connect more quickly.
So building community, collecting dots, can start simply and quickly for anyone, with a cup of coffee. And someone to have it with. Because each time you have a cup of coffee with someone else, that helps you both collect a dot.
So efficient, but still intimidating. Because folks worry that they might not be able to provide value in that brief timeframe. So let’s be honest — real talk — (and most everyone I’ve had coffee with will tell you this)… I am completely useless in 99.9% of the coffee meetings I have. I mean, I listen. I drink my coffee. I talk a little. I ask questions. And sure, every once in a while, I have something interesting to contribute. But that’s a rarity. And that’s okay. Because collecting the dots isn’t even the most valuable part of building community. It’s the hardest part. But not the most valuable.
The real magic happens long after I’m jacked up on caffeine. Potentially days or weeks after I leave the meeting. The magic happens when I start to reflect on this new awesome dot that I’ve managed to collect. The value happens when I move from collecting a dot… to connecting that dot. Because upon reflection, that dot stops being a single point of reference. It finds context. It finds connections. It finds a place among all of the other dots I’ve collected.
Now those connections may seem like common sense, but here’s the thing… Common sense is not common. In fact, it’s only common to you.
For me, it suddenly makes perfect sense why the former head of project management at a massive multinational corporation needs to meet the founder of a tiny local blockchain startup. And why the dot rethinking venture capital needs to be connected to the dot creating wacky flavors of ice cream. Connecting those dots seems obvious to me.
And because of your unique experience… because of what you focus on, day in and day out… because of your dots… you’ll see connections among dots that I can’t. And they’ll seem blatantly obvious to you. Someone else will see connections that neither you nor I do. But they’re obvious to them.
This is how community is built. With the dots and connections that only you can see. But it doesn’t just happen naturally. Because if we leave it to nature, it won’t happen as quickly as we need it to happen. It may not happen at all.
Building community is artificial. There’s absolutely nothing natural about this, especially for an introvert like me. And despite what we’ve been taught to believe, not everything artificial is bad. sometimes, humans create some pretty amazing things artificially. Like Coffee. And golden walnuts.
Enough talk. Enough theory. Let’s get tactical. Let’s get all of us collecting and connecting dots. If this struck a chord and you’re raring to go, all I ask is that you reach out to someone and invite them to coffee. That’s it. Just go acquire one new dot. But if that feels like too much. And trust me, I get it. All I’m asking is that you simply say yes to the next coffee invite you get. Just say yes. And you’ll still manage to collect a dot. You both will.
That’s all you have to do to build community. The reflection and connections? You’ll figure that out. Because i’m convinced that even right now, with your existing dots, every single person here knows someone that someone else should know. And you’re the only person who can make that connection. Because to you, it’s common sense.
So let’s use your common sense, and your common sense, and your common sense to connect those dots. And build community. Two cups of coffee at a time.
Better TEDxPortland 2018 talks
Most of the day, I was crippled by nerves, fearful of taking the stage. And while I didn’t see everyone speak, I had the opportunity to see a few talks. Or forced myself to watch them because I wanted to see them live. Here are a few of the talks from this year that truly hit home, stood out, and completely floored me. Watch them, please.