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Simplicity - Why Less Really Is More

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I’ve been trying to appoint a Financial Advisor over the last couple of weeks. It’s a world that I don’t really understand so I’m looking for someone who is an expert in their field and can then translate all that mumbo jumbo (my technical term for anything that appears on a spreadsheet!) into words that I can understand. I’ve been amazed at how few of the companies I have talked to have been able to do that. I’ve been bombarded with technical language and acronyms, been asked to read “Terms and Conditions” the length of United Nation Treaties just to set up an initial consultation and even had a telephone conversation where an advisor actively tried to evade my questions around fees. Needless to say these interactions haven’t led to me appointing the firms in question! It’s not all been bad news though, I have found two firms who have made things simple and I am meeting with both to see which is the best fit. So, what did these firms do differently and how can you apply the lessons in your line of business?...
Put your audience first

When you’re an expert (I believe we’re all experts in our individual fields) it’s very easy to forget that the person you’re talking to probably isn’t. They haven’t had your experiences and they possibly aren’t as passionate about your subject matter as you are. Rather than broadcast your knowledge at your audience it is important to share it with them. I think we have to take responsibility when we communicate. How can we translate what we are saying into language that the people we are talking to can understand? What examples can you give or questions can you ask that will resonate? For example, when one Financial Advisor started talking about Asset Management, Estate Planning and my projected Net Worth, whilst I had a relatively solid idea of what he was talking about, I felt nervous that I hadn’t quite understood and stupid for not being more knowledgeable. When another asked me to start thinking about my dream lifestyle, the type of house I’d like to live in when I retired and how many holidays I wanted to take each year, I felt excited and empowered. There are many ways to crack an egg. Choose the method that your audience prefers rather than defaulting to your own preference.

Cut out the jargon

Every industry on the planet has it’s own language. It might be very subtle but if you listen hard enough you’ll start to hear words and phrases that you use regularly and instantly understand, which have little or no meaning to the outside world. Whilst these act as a short cut when everyone in the conversation is fluent with the terminology, to anyone outside of the circle hearing this language can be incredibly isolating. When I work with clients on presentations I always ask them to remove all acronyms and “technical speak” completely. Not only does this make it much easier for the lay-people in the audience to understand what you’re talking about, it also ensures that you give proper weight to the terminology that you use. ROI, SIPP, FSA, ISA, IHT, LTV, NI, HMRC – without proper context it’s all just alphabet soup!

Give people time to process

If you’re worried you might be losing your audience a natural tendency is to speed up in order to get things over and done with quickly, or to bombard people with information in order to reaffirm your expert status. In fact you should try to do the opposite. Slow down and say less. It takes people time to digest and process new information. In order to give ideas meaning and give ourselves a chance of remembering new things we need to create connections and pictures in our minds. That requires space, especially with complex concepts. Better to make three key points that land, than to introduce seven topics which all go over people’s heads. You shouldn’t leave your audience exhausted and scrambling to keep up. Instead give them less information and more time to internalise what they are hearing. Trust the people that you are speaking to, if you’ve created the right environment and they need more information they’ll ask questions. If you’ve ever spent an hour on the phone with a Financial Advisor who loves the sound of their own voice you’ll know I’m right!

My final piece of advice is to ask yourself the following question: “Would this make sense to a five year old?”. If the answer is yes then you’re probably on to a winner. It’s not about dumbing down, it’s about conveying your message in a meaningful way that leaves your audience feeling empowered to act. To quote Albert Einstein “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Have you got any tips or tricks for communicating complex ideas? Do you think I’m talking simplistic nonsense? I’d love you to join the conversation by commenting in the box below.

Keep shining (simply)!

Dominic

Stop Wasting Time - 3 Steps For More Effective Meetings

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Have you ever been to an “update meeting”? These crimes against humanity usually take place first thing in the morning and require employees to pack themselves into crowded meeting rooms to hear progress reports on a variety of projects, most of which they are not personally working on. The concept of sharing information is of course sound but in my experience the execution of most meetings is awful. In theory the idea of keeping everyone in an organisation or team on the same metaphorical page or getting people together to share ideas is a good one but the reality is often a painful experience from which attendees take no real value. Now, I’m not a fan of having meetings for meetings sake but when it becomes necessary to get people together in a room there are three simple steps I recommend you take to protect your only finite resource: TIME.
1. Keep It Snappy!

It is common practice to schedule either 30 minutes or 60 minutes for meetings. The problem is that these go into the diary in back to back blocks and no sooner have you finished one event, than you are magically supposed to be in another location to kick off the next session. Not only does this lead to time slippage and people coming in late but it also encourages you to carry the energy from one meeting into the next. The result: If meeting A went badly, you walk into meeting B feeling negative regardless of the change in subject matter. I had the good fortune to listen to Sir Clive Woodward speak at the end of last year and he offered an ingenious (or even blindingly obvious!) solution to this problem: Create a rule that meetings can only last 15 minutes or 45 minutes and insist that 15 minutes of “travel time” must be scheduled after each event. Not only does this avoid slippage and lateness but in my experience it also makes meetings more productive. There is something about the shorter appointment time that seems to galvanise thinking, cut out waffle and force people to come to decisions. 30 minutes is comfortable. 15 minutes make things urgent!

2. Get Emotional

Good meetings have a clear objective that all participants are aware of and have bought into. However to be truely effective I think you need to go a level deeper and consider how you want to make others feel. All too often when I speak to people about why a meeting is taking place the answer I hear is “to tell people about what’s going on with the project” or “to inform the team about the changes taking place”. If your intention for your next meeting is similar then cancel it immediately and send an email instead! I’m serious! Human beings need to be engaged emotionally. Simply passing on information won’t cut it. If you want to create buy in or get a client excited about your offer, you have to think about what you want them to feel. Maybe you’re trying to inspire, perhaps you want to motivate, you may even want to challenge. Your starting point when thinking about your material should always be the emotional response you want to elicit in the audience. Work in this way and I guarantee that people will have a much greater connection to what you say. It will literally bring your meetings to life.

3. Take Action

There’s nothing more frustrating than arriving at a “follow up meeting” to discover that the things you thought you’d agreed last time round have not been done. Often in a desperate attempt to get out of the room we allow meetings to end without clearly defined action points. This is quite simply a waste of time. Accountability is key. I recommend sending out a list of next actions to all participants within 24 hours of every meeting. This list can be really simple – what the action point is, the time frame agreed for completion and the name of the person owning the action. Not only does it serve as a reminder of what was agreed, the list can then be circulated before any follow up is arranged to ensure progress (The document also forms the basis for the agenda of the next meeting, killing two birds with one stone.). Science also suggests that writing the next steps down is much more likely to produce compliance than a verbal agreement meaning that meetings actually result in action, which surely is the whole point!

I’d love to hear how you make the most of your time and ensure meeting are productive and purposeful so please share any tips in the comments box below.

Keep shining!

Dominic

How To Start A Pitch Or Presentation

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In this video I reveal the simple secret for grabbing your audience’s attention and getting them onside from the word go.
You’ve got seven seconds to make a first impression. Make them count!!

I’d love to hear how you get on with implementing this strategy so please leave me a comment in the box below.

Keep shining!

Dominic

How To Own The Stage

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Many public speakers have really great ideas and with fantastic content. However, they are ruining their performance by not using their space like a pro. In this video I am going to show you some simple tips to help you own your stage when presenting and look completely comfortable and in control.
Tip no.1: Get out from behind the podium

What most people do is see a podium and think “right, I am going to stand behind it”. Actually, that’s the worst thing that you can do. What you are doing by standing at the podium and leaving all that space in the middle of the auditorium is giving your PowerPoint slides “centre stage”. Just remember that the audience has come to listen to you. So, step out from behind the podium and find yourself connecting with them.

Tip no.2: Don’t move around

My tip here is to find yourself still and calm in a place that you feel safe. Find a place of stillness, a place of recovery and know that this is the centre point that you are going back to. This does not mean that you shouldn’t ever walk up and down or engage with people in the audience, but after that, know where are you coming back to and find that place of stillness.

Tip no.3: Stop giving the PowerPoint slides all the power

There is nothing worse than walking into an auditorium and seeing someone giving a great speech and watching them look up to their PowerPoint slides. This distracts your audience and gives all the focus to the words on the screen, which takes the focus away from you. Please don’t let your PowerPoint slides steal the show! I’ve got loads of tips on this topic so will deal with it in more detail in an upcoming video.

I hope that you find my tips on “how to own your stage when speaking” useful. Please share your comments with me in the box below and I’d love to hear about any other tricks that work for you.

Keep shining!

Dominic

Public Speaking : Getting The Tone Of Your Speech Right

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I spent the weekend getting ready for my most important speech of the year. It’s not a speech for a massive corporate audience, I won’t be on stage at a glitzy industry conference and I’m not even getting paid to deliver it… In fact, the speech that I’ll be giving will be even shorter than a TED talk but to me it will be much more important. Next Saturday at around 3pm I’ll be standing up in a small village hall in East Sussex, in front of the hundred or so guests that will be celebrating my brothers wedding!

It’s the first time in years that I’ve actually been slightly nervous about standing up in front of an audience. It’s not because people know that I’m an actor, a speaker and a communications trainer – although there is certain amount of pressure there! The reason I’m nervous is the fact that in the audience will be all of the most important people in my life… and I want to make them proud. 

It’s not the actual performance I’m worried about, that’s the bit I enjoy! The thing that I’ve found most difficult when writing this speech is striking the balance between humour and sincerity. I’m the Best Man, so there’s an expectation in the audience that there will at least be a few jokes but at the same time I want say something meaningful, not just go all out for laughs! I hope that I’ve achieved that in the speech I’ve written (although I suppose I won’t know for sure until I’ve sat down after the toasts!) so in this blog post I thought I’d share some tips on getting the tone right….

#1. It’s Not About You 

My first bit of advice for you, before you even put pen to paper, is to take a moment to think about who you will be speaking to. Who exactly will be in the audience? What do they want? How familiar are they with your subject matter?… As experts in our fields it’s all too easy to assume that everyone understands a topic as well as we do. However if we fail to adapt our message to the people listening to it, they will quickly loose interest. You wouldn’t give the same presentation on the subject of “personal finance” to a group of chartered accountants as you would to a group of primary school children. You’d naturally adapt – or at least I hope you would! Once you start to really think about your audience – and by that I mean getting as specific as possible – it will automatically start to affect the way that you think about what you are about to say. Put yourself in their shoes. Think in their language. As soon as you do this, you’ll start to naturally find the appropriate tone.

#2. Maintain Your Balance

You can’t please all the people all of the time… but there’s no point in alienating half of your audience just for the sake of it! Modern audiences have relatively short attention spans. We’re bombarded with information 24/7 and even when we intend to give something or someone 100% of our focus, our emails, our social media and our ever expanding “to-do lists” are in the background waiting to distract us. Good presenting and public speaking is all about balance. We need to vary our tone in order to preserve engagement. If you have a lot of detail to deliver, that’s fine but make sure you cover the bigger picture too. Likewise if your subject matter is more visionary make sure that you use specific examples to support your argument. Balance humour with sincerity and rallying cries with quiet reflection. If you look at any famous speech, this symmetry of light and dark will always be present. Think about where you can use this contrast in your public speaking and avoid getting stuck on one note.

#3. Tell Stories

My final tip on striking the right tone is to include stories. Ideally personal ones. I know the idea of revealing things about yourself can sometimes feel risky or inappropriate. However, used in the right ways, stories create a deep connection with your audience. I don’t think you should be airing your dirty laundry or revealing the skeletons in your closet but making things personal is a great way to build rapport. Talk about your feelings. Give parallel examples from your life to the subject matter you are speaking about. Create metaphors. Or simply ask your audience to take a leap into the unknown… “I’d like you to pause for a moment and imagine what would happen if….”. As human beings we’re hardwired for story. They engage our imagination and touch our hearts.

I’ll post a little update once I’ve given my speech on Saturday but in the meantime please share your thoughts on how to get the tone right in the comments box below. And if you’ve got any good wedding jokes I can steal, I’d love to hear those too – just keep them clean! ;-)

Keep shining

Dominic

Speaking On Camera: An Actor’s Top 5 Tips

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I spent yesterday in the studio. That statement sounds very grand… the reality was somewhat more chaotic. The furniture in the office pushed against the walls, a white sheet erected for a back-drop, several lights cluttering the floor space and my iPhone 6 attached to a tripod to record the proceedings. Very soon you’ll be able to judge the results for yourselves as I start releasing the videos on YouTube but I’m amazed at what can be achieved using such a simple set up. In fact the resolution of the finished product will be significantly higher than the footage I have from an episode of Doctors I shot for the BBC 10 years ago. It’s amazing how far technology has come!
Being in front of the camera is something that feels quite natural for me now. It’s something I’ve been doing for a long time. But it wasn’t always that way. The first time I did it, I was absolutely petrified. I’d had the amazing good fortune to be cast in a big budget BBC period drama called The Lost Prince which was directed by the legendary Stephen Poliakoff. In the cast were some of Britain’s finest actors, Michael Gambon, Miranda Richardson, Tom Hollander, Bill Nighy and me… 20 years old, completely new to television and desperate not to make a fool of myself!

As I stepped up to shoot my first scene I was a nervous wreck. All the main cast were there along with about 200 extras! The pressure was huge. My lines kept flying out of my head and I just couldn’t remember what I was meant to say next. My hands were shaking and my voice felt tight. The camera was rolling and the director shouted “Action!”. A complete jumbled mess came streaming from my mouth. “Cut!” I heard Stephen cry and we reset to shoot again. I was mortified. The second take was no better. What was I going to do? It was Michael Gambon that broke the ice. All of a sudden he burst out laughing, stood up and started clapping!! He could see that I was struggling and came to my rescue offering words of reassurance. I instantly relaxed, smiled, took a deep breath and the third take was word perfect. That first TV job taught me so much about how to work on camera and I’ve been lucky enough to learn many valuable lessons throughout my career, so I thought I’d use this blog to quickly share my top 5 tips.

1. Don’t take yourself too seriously

This was my major take-away from that first challenging experience in front of the camera. The more I worried about what other people were thinking of me the worse I performed. It’s easy to become very self-conscious and serious when you’re looking down the lens. Try to stay playful and give yourself a break. The beauty of digital cameras is that you can do as many takes as you need to get the right footage, so don’t worry about getting it right first time.

2. It’s all in the eyes

The eyes are the windows to the soul and this is especially true on camera. The lens has an amazing ability to pick up on your emotion and we tend to see it in the eyes. Think happy thoughts and the eyes sparkle on screen. If you’re feeling sad or tired the eyes will seem dull and lifeless. Make sure that your mental state matches your objective when speaking on camera. If you want your audience to be excited and inspired by your message, you need to be completely energised. If you’re not, they’ll see it in your eyes.

3. Warm up your face

When we’re in a room talking to someone they can normally see our whole body. When we’re speaking on camera they normally only get to see our head. This mean’s all the extra information conveyed in our body language needs to be channeled into our facial expression. I’m not suggesting for a second that you start gurning or doing strange things with your lips to get your audience’s attention but you do need to make sure everything is alive and warmed up. There are a staggering 42 muscles in the face, so having a stretch, blowing through the lips and screwing everything up before you go on camera will make sure the lens really captures your emotion and gets your message across.

4. Treat the camera like a friend

It’s important to remember that when you look directly down the lens of a camera you are looking straight into the eyes of your audience. To make the connection between you and the viewer really strong, the best piece of advice I was ever given was to imagine that you are talking to a friend. If you treat the camera as if it is someone you like and trust, that will come across in what the audience sees. It’s a really simple technique to implement and it makes a massive difference to your performance.

5. Don’t be afraid to go off script

Obviously if you’re acting in a big budget feature film this tip isn’t really an option (unless the director gives you permission) but when we’re making videos in order to connect with and serve our audience sometimes a full script can make things too rigid. If you’re not experienced in the actor’s art of bringing word off the page, you can often come across as wooden or stilted. In my experience it’s much better to sketch out a few bullet points that you want to talk about and use the other 4 tips above to bring them to life. There’s something about an “off the cuff” video that gives you real credibility and builds trust with the audience. So, next time you’re tempted to write the whole things out, take a risk and shoot from the hip instead. I guarantee that the results will be more authentic and engaging.

I hope you found these tips useful and would love to hear any other things you do to come across like a pro on screen, so leave your comments in the box below or tweet me @dominiccolenso.

Good luck with your videos.

Keep shining!

Dominic

Practice: Why Bother?

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I ran my first Half Marathon on Sunday. What an experience!! A real physical, mental and emotional roller-coaster – one that was actually surprisingly enjoyable. However, it was just a stepping stone on the journey towards a much greater challenge: The full 26.2 miles of the Yorkshire Marathon this October.
As I crossed the finish line on Sunday I found it almost impossible to imagine myself being able to run twice the distance in five months time. However, if you had told me on January 1st that I’d be running 21 Kilometres in 2 hours and 29 seconds just 129 days later I would have told you that you were barking mad. My experience over the last few months has confirmed my belief in the effectiveness of training and I’m confident that if I follow the right plan I can cross the finish line in October with a smile on my face and my head held high.

So, as my legs slowly begin to feel like they belong to my body again and the blisters on my toes reduce in size, I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on the power of practice and why it is an absolute prerequisite for peak performance.

Just Do It!
No sportsperson, whether professional or amateur, would ever advocate competing in their chosen discipline without first putting in many hours of hard work before the event. You’ll never see a memorable piece of theatre where the actors haven’t spent weeks in rehearsal. Even spectacular shows like the Old Vic 24 Hour Plays see the actors and creative teams using every last second they have to fine tune their ten minute mini-plays. To the professional performer not practicing simply doesn’t make sense. To every serious sports person, musician, dancer, entertainer or actor it is a given, an ingrained behaviour. Not doing so leaves you open to potential humiliation and ridicule. One disastrous event has the potential to stall even the brightest career. So why is this not the case in the world of business? Why do we risk turning up to a pitch having barely spoken the words out loud? Why do we walk into the board room unprepared for the questions that might be thrown at us? If we want to win we must make practice a habit.

Get out of your head!
Mental rehearsal is brilliant. There is loads of scientific research into the benefits of visualisation and its power to improve your results. In fact people who visualise themselves achieving their goals, as well at imagining the process that they have to through to get there, are significantly more likely to achieve success. However, no matter how many times I picture myself crossing the marathon finishing line on October 11, unless I actually put on a pair of trainers and go for some practice runs, I will be in for a nasty shock come race day. Nothing beats physical practice. It’s why actors spend weeks behind closed doors before stepping out onto stage on opening night and why footballers fly off to training camps in warmer climes a few weeks before the domestic season starts. We must give our bodies a chance to feel what it’s like to go through the motions. We have to create a muscle memory, so that in the heat of the moment the ancient part of our brain can be reassured that what we are doing is familiar territory and we don’t have to engage our fight or flight mechanism. It is therefore essential in a business context that we take time to practice aloud. We need to speak the words, to hear them come to life, to literally feel and taste them in our mouths. For important phone calls, meeting, presentations and pitches we must take the time to lock ourselves behind closed doors and rehearse. Only then will we achieve the results we are looking for.

Fail regularly!
In the world of acting the rehearsal room is not a place of perfection, it’s a place of failure. Only when we have an opportunity to get something spectacularly wrong do we have a chance to learn from our mistakes. When training for the half marathon it was the runs where I started too fast or pushed myself too hard that taught me most about how to pace myself and ensure I could go the distance. We have to push our boundaries in order to understand where our comfort zone ends and our potential for growth begins. However, no one wants egg on their face. The time for failure and experimentation is before the big event. Make your practice part of your every day routine. Test out your new techniques in every day situations. Try using some open questions in the supermarket queue, hold eye contact whilst making your introductions at a networking meeting and put your story telling technique to the test next time you tuck your child into bed. That way, when you find yourself in a high stakes situation you’ll have got all of your mistakes out of your system and will be able to deliver a powerful and authentic performance.

How can you create time for rehearsal in your schedule? What strategies have you found that work? What do you find hardest about practice? I’d love to hear your comments in the box below.

Keep shining!

Dominic

p.s. If you want to know the inspiration behind my Marathon running you can read my story here.