How to Stop Being Awkward & Captivate People’s Attention: Vanessa Van Edwards Interview

Sometimes, our greatest gifts come from our greatest challenges. Vanessa Van Edwards is a prime example of this. She found a way to turn her awkward social skills into a thriving business helping others do the same.

On Recovering Awkwardness and The Science of People: An Interview With Vanessa Van Edwards

Today, Vanessa is the proud creator of Science of People, a lab based in Portland. As the lead investigator at The Science of People, Vanessa and her team research people’s behaviors, what drives those behaviors and whether or not those behaviors can be predicted and/or changed.

She founded the lab as a result of her own recovering awkwardness. Growing up she was so afraid of being judged she completely shut down. She avoided social interaction as much as possible, even coming up with creative ways to stay indoors during recess!

That began to change thanks to a college professor. During a group project, Vanessa tried to complete the project on her own by bargaining with the professor. She asked if she could write 20 pages on her own, instead of the required 10 pages (two pages per person in the group). Her professor said no, and encouraged her to begin researching how to interact with others. He gave her multiple books to read on the science of people and opened up a whole new world for her. She dove in headlong and hasn’t turned back since.

Today on this episode of The Portfolio Life, Vanessa tells us the two kinds of awkwardness we can fall into and which one she used to be. She also tells the story of meeting one of her idols and how it went painfully wrong. We wrap up with what it took for her to become an expert in this field, and how you can apply the same lessons.

Listen to the podcast

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Show highlights

In this episode, Vanessa and I dive into:

  • How did a college professor steer her towards the work she does today?
  • What did getting grounded in high school have to do with her first business?
  • Where did her love of writing come from?
  • What is one of the most awkward things she said or did while on the road to recovery?
  • How important is the social aspect to your success in life?

The greatest moment you can have with another human being is that feeling of me too.

Vanessa Van Edwards

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On how Science of People began:

  • The moment she went from being a writer to a researcher.
  • How did she use both qualitative and quantitative research to make her mark?
  • What methods were most effective in growing her audience?
  • What is thin-slicing and why did it matter to her lab?
  • Can you guess popularity from a face? The findings her lab discovered.

It’s about trying to get with the right people in the right way in the right place.

Vanessa Van Edwards

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Practical tips for recovering awkward people:

  • How and why creating structure for your conversations is important.
  • How to find commonalities that create bonds.
  • Are there non-verbal signs and signals we can give to engage others?
  • Where should you stand to start a conversation easily?
  • Why is it important to own your space, and what does that mean exactly?


Which of Vanessa’s tactics or strategies will you use in your next social setting to avoid awkwardness? Share in the comments!