Picture this: Three friends are catching up over drinks, and one shares the big news that she’s finally landed her dream job! Friend two screams and waves her hands around in front of her face, while the third says measuredly, “That’s great. I’m really happy for you.”
There’s no salacious, frenemy backstory: she simply isn’t a screaming, hand-waving kind of person. She’s genuinely thrilled, but she has the kind of voice that’s perfect for leading guided meditations (and less suited to expressing enthusiasm). And while her BFFs get it, it can make her look bad in professional situations.
Luckily, showing enthusiasm—even if you’re not a naturally bubbly person—is easier than you think (and doesn’t include fake, plastered smiles). The trick is to get specific. Here’s how it works:
1. When You’re on a Job Interview
You’re dreading the moment when the interviewer asks you what drew you to apply for the role. Because when you say you, “I love the work you do here,” you know you’ll sound nonchalant (and maybe even a little bit bored). And if you practice saying it over and over in the mirror, you’ll sound like a robot.
So, pick something specific that you love about the company or position (and that you think not everyone would say). Let’s say the role is data-driven and you are all about that life. Share an example that shows just how much you love diving into numbers. The fact you took the time to pull on a particular thread and give an example of why it excites you will underscore genuine interest—and that’s in the exact same ballpark as enthusiasm.
2. When You’re Offered the Lead on a Project
“Jim, I think you’re ready to take the lead on this,” your boss says. “Oh, great,” you reply, in the same tone people use when they hear strawberries are a dollar off this week.
The thing is: You’re pumped! But you’ve been told it looks a little creepy when you open your eyes as wide as possible to imitate excitement.
Again, go with a specific response. Try: “I’m so pleased my work on ABC project demonstrated that I’m ready to take more on.” Another option would be, “I can’t wait to get started. Can you tell me more about [one aspect]?”
3. When Your Team Achieves Something Big
Huge news: Your teammate landed a major account. Or your company just secured a major investor. Or your department beat its sales goal. “That’s so awesome,” you say, with what looks like a fake smile on your face. People give you side-eye and wonder if you’re really a team player.
So, mention something particular you noticed by saying, “Jake, I loved your new presentation and I’m so thrilled the client did too.” Or, “It’s awesome to see how our new social media strategy is translating to increased sales.” Calling out a specific detail of the victory will highlight how engaged you are with the work—and your teammates and their contributions.
4. When You’re Networking
If you’re naturally pretty reserved, it’s a safe bet networking is not your favorite activity. But that doesn’t mean you have to stand there rigidly—or practice throwing your voice to sound excited about meeting someone new.
Instead, picture the best networker you know. Then think about a specific thing he or she does. Is he a great listener? Does she go out of her way to introduce people who might not know each other? Pick one (or two) specific things to try at this event to come off a bit more outgoing. Practice with an honest friend—it’ll feel silly, but he or she will tell you if you’re coming off as genuine or mannequin-like.
Not everyone's great at expressing excitement, even if they really do feel it when something exciting happens in their career or at their company. And that’s okay. Find ways you can genuinely engage with big moments to show how interested and connected you are.