I always find summer an exciting time of year. On the one hand things slow down, the days are longer and my mind turns to holidays and free time enjoying the sun…
January is a time when many of us start thinking about what we want from the year ahead of us. What do we want to achieve? Where do we want to go? What do we want to do? The statistics surrounding New Years Resolution’s are diabolical and for most people by the time they read this post many of those plans will have fallen by the wayside. There is lots we could talk about regarding goal setting and habit formation and there is a great body of work around this by people like Tony Robbins and Charles Duhigg. However I wonder if it is more useful to turn our thinking to a more fundamental question. Rather than asking “what do we want to do?”, what would happen if instead we asked ourselves “who do we want to be?”? Instead of planning to run three times a week or make 25 sales calls a day, what if we focused on being a runner or being a sales superstar?
We use identity statements all the time but often without much thought. “I’m a father”. “I’m an HR Business Partner”. “I’m Senior Vice President of Sales EMEA”. They might be useful labels but in reality they don’t tell us much about what the role entails. And therein lies their downfall and at the same time their shining beauty. Used in the right way, these identity statements present a huge opportunity. We get to choose. We get to decide how we play the part. Rather than asking ourselves if we are capable of fulfilling the role, we can start to think about how we are going to fulfil it in our own authentic way.
When I was training to be an actor one of the crucial steps to creating a character was drawing up a list of characteristics. You had to decided what the character was like. Was he brave? Was he smart? Was he naive? These qualities then informed the way in which you played the part. In simple terms, the sort of energy the character approached a situation with was dictated by these characteristics. A confident character enters a room in a very different way to a timid one. When we take time to define our roles, we can choose our characteristic which in turn help to shape our outcomes. You get very different results if you focus on being a committed, powerful and dynamic athlete, rather than just attempting to go to the gym three times a week.
So, instead of writing resolutions this year, I’ve defined the roles I want to play in my business and personal life and for each of those roles I have chosen at least three characteristics. Two weeks into January and I’m making progress in all areas. It’s less about ticking boxes and working to complete isolated activities and more about taking a holistic approach to the sort of person I want to be and the impact I want to have on the world. The roles are helping me to focus my attention and not get distracted by shiny objects and the characteristics are helping me bring the right kind of energy to my activities. The added bonus is that if I miss a workout or succumb to a biscuit with my cup of tea I can look for other ways to fulfil my chosen role rather than beating myself up for falling off the wagon and failing in my chosen task. After all, no matter what role we decide to play, we’re only human and our failures as well as our success are what make us who we are.
We moved house this weekend. It’s an event that is generally accepted as being one of the most stressful periods of your life and if our experience can be regarded as typical, there are so many things happening simultaneously that it is sometimes hard to determine whether you are coming or going. As I’m sure my wife will testify I’m pretty meticulous and like to plan things in great detail, so in a high stress situation like moving, my challenge was not to get swept up in the chaos or to place all of my focus on the things that weren’t going to plan – of which there were many!
Now, I’m not going to lie and pretend that I was always a model of cool, calm, collectedness - there was a certain incident involving the garage keys which definitely spiked my blood pressure! – but I was struck by the impact that continually working to remain “in the moment” had on my levels of stress. Rather than focusing on what had or could go wrong, I tried to place my focus on what was happening at the precise moment in time and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of times I felt joy instead of dread.
When I was growing up I vividly remember an elderly friend of the family repeatedly telling us to “enjoy the moment” and at the time I really struggled with the concept. What I think he meant was really try to be present. Take time to notice what is going on around you, to breathe it all in. We live in a world that values and prioritises speed but all too often we fail to connect with the task at hand or the people we are interacting with. We should be human beings but much of the time we are human doings.
The challenge is to continually be in control of your state. To choose the attitude you take into a situation rather than allowing the attitude to choose you. For me that all begins in the body. What we do with our physicality has a massive impact on our mindset so taking a moment or two to stretch, to breathe, to shake things out really allows me to reset my emotional outlook. You can try it right now. As you read these words, take a couple of seconds to notice how you are feeling. What are you doing with your body? Are you holding any tension? What emotions are you experiencing? What thoughts are going through your mind? Now move. Go on! Get out of your chair. Stand up. Stretch. Take a couple of deep breaths. Smile. Feels better doesn’t it?
Making an effort to be mindful, to stay grounded and connected to your objective not only makes you feel better, it makes you more productive too. Rather than flapping around or jumping from one task to the next and back again, being in the moment helps you to move towards your goal one step at a time. It’s not easy but it is effective. During the house move at moments I felt like I was juggling 101 task but when I forced myself to focus on the most important task at hand we seemed to take exponential leaps forward.
So, as you go about your day today take a moment to pause, to notice and to make a choice. How do you choose to be? How would you like to feel? There are no guarantees that everything will go smoothly and according to plan but you’re much more likely to enjoy the journey. As for me, I’m looking forward to getting back from the office, lighting a log fire and soaking in the surroundings of our beautiful new home.
It’s been a hectic few months. I’m not complaining at all. I’ve had the pleasure of training some amazing delegates and speaking at some brilliant events and now it’s time for a rest. I’m taking next week off and I can’t wait! Of course I’m looking forward to a few lie-ins and the thought of not checking my emails is very appealing but I’m most excited about the extended opportunity to connect – with myself, with my loved ones and with my environment. It might sound a bit fluffy but connection is so important for our wellbeing and happiness and it’s a fundamental ingredient for high performance.
It All Starts With You
It may sound selfish, however, the key to being truly connected is time for yourself. If you’re not in touch with your own sense of purpose, your values and your emotions, then it’s impossible to make anything more than a superficial connection with those around you. If you want to function at a higher level, you have to be in deep connection with the things you are trying to achieve. If what you are doing doesn’t make you want to jump out of bed in the morning, then it’s unlikely that you’ll stick to the plan when temptations or opportunities for procrastination present themselves.
Now don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to love every little task you do, you just have to understand how each step you are taking is part of the overall journey you have chosen to embark on. I spent a good chunk of yesterday going through the business accounts. If I’m honest it’s the part of being an entrepreneur that I enjoy least. However, I know that if I want to succeed in my mission of helping people reconnect with the spoken word, I need to have a viable business that makes money and being on top of the numbers is an essential part of that.
Next week I plan to carve out some quality time each morning to focus on the bigger picture and prepare myself for the exciting challenges that lie ahead. I find that the knock on effect of this is that once I’ve had my “thinking time” I can be much more present and connected with my family. I get to really enjoy the time we spend together without getting distracted by the “work noise” that pops into my head. I’m the first to admit that I often find it difficult to switch off – I love what I do – so working in this way allows me to stay connected to all parts of my life by simply choosing where I place my focus. And I don’t just do this during the holidays. Whenever possible I start the day with planning time and some headspace, so that by the time I reach the office or the training room I am ready to hit the ground running.
There’s Always Time
One of the biggest objections I hear when I talk with people about the importance of connection is “I don’t have time”. We tend to wake up in the morning and get straight on the treadmill of life. We spend our work day moving between meetings, phone calls and emails without taking the time to breathe. Not only do we fail to make time for ourselves, we fail to make time for others too. We tend to see our interactions with colleagues and customers as transactional rather than transformational. When we do this we miss a massive opportunity.
The old adage that time is our only finite resource is often overused. What’s vital to remember though is that we are free to choose how we use it. If you had to find 10 minutes in your day to do something of “life or death” importance, you would. Of course you would also have to let something else slip to do it - that goes without saying. So what we’re really talking about is not a lack of available time but our choice of priorities. What value do you place on connection and what are the benefits of making it non-negotiable? It might be easier to have superficial “yes” or “no” conversations with colleagues and team members but what could be gained by going beneath the surface and working for deeper understanding? Getting out from behind your desk at lunchtime and seeing the world around you will create infinitely more opportunities and spark infinitely more ideas than eating a sandwich at your desk hunched over Facebook. We must take responsibility for creating space in our life. No one else can do it for us.
So, whether you need to focus on connecting with your purpose or connecting with those around you I encourage you to take some time-out this week. Are you sure you don’t have 10 minutes?...
I’m often asked by people how they can have more “presence” for me the answer is very simple, make sure you’re “in the moment”, not connected to something that has just happened or to something that’s coming up in the future. In this video I share a simple tool that I use to help me create moments of true presence everyday.
Put it into practice and let me know how you get on in the comments box below.
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)!
It’s been a busy few weeks. Since November 1st I’ve been up and down the East Coast Mainline more times than I care to remember, delivered 10 days of training for a total of 152 delegates, been photographed for a magazine feature, run my first ever webinar, compered a 3-day conference for 300 people and won a small business award. The most exciting thing of all though, has been meeting and working with three of my heroes. This month I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with Sir Clive Woodward (World Cup winning rugby coach), Richard Reed (founder of, in my opinion, one of the coolest companies in the UK, Innocent Smoothies) and Daniel Priestly (author of the best selling books Key Person of Influence, Entrepreneur Revolution and Oversubscribed).
When I spoke with them, all three shared some amazing insights into business, performance and success, however the most striking thing for me was how evangelical all three of them were about the need to have a coach or mentor if you want to achieve your dreams.
When you think about it, it’s obvious. Look at any olympic athlete, premiership football team, Hollywood actor or FTSE 100 CEO, they all have coaches and mentors, people who can offer an outside perspective, help them to focus on the important tasks and ultimately enable them to perform at the top of their game. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to work with a personal trainer, you’ll know how much quicker you get the results you are looking for compared to turning up at the gym on your own, floating about from machine to machine and doing whatever exercises take your fancy.
Why is it then that so many “normal people” don’t see coaching as important and urgent? They see it as the icing on the cake rather than the foundation for success. So many business owners put off investing in themselves until they’re making more money – If a football club waited until they’d won a few games before they bothered getting a Manager, you’d think they were mad! So many companies offer their staff training if they hit their targets, rather than offering their staff training to make sure they hit their targets – If the GB cycling team had just gone out for a few practice rides whenever they felt like it and waited to employ Dave Brailsford and his team until after they’d won a few races, they would never have taken gold at London 2012. So many talented individuals wait to work on their “soft skills” until they get promoted – If Rene Zellweger had waited to get a voice coach to work on her English accent until after the Bridget Jones movie was a box office hit, there would have been no box office hit.
The “normal’ approach doesn’t work. Extraordinary people have a coach. It helps move the dial in the right direction. It holds you to account. It makes you show up as the best version of yourself. For the last twelve months I’ve been working with not one but three coaches and it’s been a complete game changer for me. There have been moments when I have questioned the financial investment. There have been moments when I’ve wanted to hide from their scrutiny. There have been moments when I felt like I was too busy to make time for our sessions. But ultimately it’s made me better at what I do. It’s helped me serve my own clients better and it’s enabled me to have a month like November.
The reality is that we don’t invest in a coach to learn a technique or a methodology, we invest in a coach to achieve a result. My one-to-one clients don’t come to me to improve their presentation skills and performance. Not really. They come to me to get more confidence, make more sales, become better leaders, achieve expert status, negotiate better deals and have more influence.
As we head into December it’s time to start reflecting on the year that’s past and planning for the year to come. Don’t just take my word for it… If you want to make 2016 your best year yet, listen to Sir Clive Woodward, Richard Reed and Daniel Priestly… Get a coach!
If you’re interested in finding out how you can work with me to kick start your year click HERE. If I’m not the right fit, that’s fine, I just urge you to get out there and find someone who is. You won’t regret it.
On Monday I overheard my daughter playing in her cot. She was completely engrossed in a magical world of her own creation. I put a short post about my observations on Facebook and my wall exploded. The need for us adults to engage our imaginations seemingly struck a chord.
Yesterday I spent the day teaching a group of engineers the art of storytelling. At first I worried that it might be a hard sell, too far removed from their world of facts and figures. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Their desire to play, to connect with each other on a simpler, more human level was inspirational.
So why is imagination important? And what are the creative lessons that we can take from the world of make-believe and the arts, that can help us succeed in business?
It may seem obvious, and I’m sure someone else has said it more eloquently but if you can’t imagine something you will never create it. Our ability to envisage the future, to dream big, to think the impossible, is what separates human beings from other mammals and ultimately drives our society forward. Even 20 years ago not many people believed that space travel would be possible for the man on the street. Today, if you head on over to Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic website you can complete an application form to become an astronaut! In just the last few weeks scientists at Penn University in the USA have been able to 3D print blood vessels. And Elon Musk’s Hyperloop technology has taken a massive step forward and could see us traveling to our destinations in specialised pods at the speeds of up to 760mph. The future is coming! But the only reason it’s coming is that people were brave enough to dream. To think creatively about the worlds problems and push the boundaries of what is possible. It’s easy to fall in repetitive patterns and assume that your situation or the things that you’re working on can’t change. Challenge your perception and ask yourself the magical question “What if…?”
I’ve written about the importance of staying flexible before. Our ability to adapt is key to our continued growth both individually and organisationally. When we allow our imaginations to run free something exciting happens. We open up a world of possibilities. We start to see options rather than obstacles. At drama school young actors learn to improvise, a incredibly vulnerable practice but one that can be incredibly liberating. One of the key rules of any successful improvisation is to “accept every offer”. You are taught not to block ideas but to run with them. No matter how odd a curve ball you get thrown, your job is to build on it rather than push back. That doesn’t always happen in “real life”. Human beings have an inbuilt negative bias, its a natural protection mechanism that’s designed to stop us getting eaten by sabre tooth tigers and other dangerous predators but it has no real function in the twenty first century workplace. Instead of saying “yes but….” to the next offer that comes your way, what would it be like to say “yes and….” instead?…
To quote Plato “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation”. When we play, we allow ourselves to connect. We let our guards down and become more human. Play helps us build relationships. Think back to your school days, I bet you can remember the kids who were on your sports team or in your orchestra better than the kids who were in your biology class. Why? Because through the collective experience of playing together, you created stronger bonds. Play is also fun. It provides variety, makes us feel good and boosts performance. When we take time out of the “norm” to do something different, we recharge our batteries. There’s a reason why Pixar animators can decorate their offices in any way they choose… What would happen if rather than looking at problems in a linear way, we were prepared to see them through the eyes of a child and play with them until we found a better solution?
The imagination is one of the most powerful tools in our tool kits but all too often it’s left rusting at the bottom of the bag. I believe that the more we engage with it and dare to use it, the more happy, successful and prosperous we will be.
I’d love to hear your observations about how the power of the imagination has impacted you or your business. Please feel free to share some magic in the comments box below ;-)
Keep shining, and creating and flexing and playing!
In this video I want to share my PowerPoint do’s and don’ts…. and when I say PowerPoint I mean any presentation software including Prezi and Keynote.
I know that a lot of people use these presentation tools and used well they can be excellent. Unfortunately, all too often, I see people making easily avoidable mistakes with the software. In this video I’ll share with you some simple tips that will help you connect with your audience and get them to engage with your presentation.
Tip no.1: Don’t read the bullets!
Power point and other presentation tools are there to help you reinforce your messages, to give the audience the key points that you want them to take away. Don’t use your slides as a script. It’s distracting and boring for the audience, as they know what’s coming before the words have even come out of your mouth.
Tip no.2: Don’t have too many words on the screen
If you start to put lines and lines of text onto your slides your audience will try and read it. As soon as you flip to a new slide filled with words you lose the focus of the audience as people try and read all the information that you put on the screen behind you.
Tip no.3: Keep it simple
Use a maximum of three bullet points per slide. That’s plenty. Use three to five words per bullet point. Don’t over complicate things; leave people with the key messages
Tip no.4: Use images
I really encourage you to use pictures. Images stay with us much more powerfully than text and if we associate what you are saying with the image that you put on the screen, we are much more likely to remember it.
Tip no.5: Think of Power Point as your backdrop
Don’t let PowerPoint upstage you. We don’t want people to remember the PowerPoint, we want them to remember you and what it is you said. Use your Power Point to enhance your presentation, but remember, Power Point isn’t your presentation. You are your presentation: the words you speak and the connection that you make with your audience.
I’d love to hear your views on how to get the most out of PowerPoint, so please share your comments with me in the box below.
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.
There are many things you can do to make your audience love you but in my opinion the simplest and most effective is to make brilliant eye contact.
In my latest video I give you my top three tips for connecting with your audience using your eyes. If you find eye contact a little uncomfortable or you’d just like more engagement with the people you’re talking to, then this video is for you.
I really appreciate the comments these posts have been getting recently. It’s been amazing to hear people generously sharing their experiences and their own ideas for how to be brilliant communicators. So, if you’d like to join the debate I’d love to hear from you in the box below.