In my "Rapid Success" video series I deliver a top communication tip in 90 seconds or less. In this video I give you my top tips on how to use the camera for virtual meetings and webinars…
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 live in a very connected world. Or so we think… Smart phones and social media have made it easier than ever to grow our networks and broadcast our achievements and yet somehow, amidst all the noise, many people are struggling to make an impact. A quick review of my iPhone apps today revealed that I have 704 Facebook Friends, 1040 Twitter Followers and 1106 LinkedIn Connections. That’s a lot of people and I love the interaction that I have with them. However, as the world becomes more digital it is more important than ever that we can create meaningful human connection and don’t over rely on technology to do the job for us.
If you want to create more impact and have more influence at work try ditching your email and picking up the phone instead. Better yet, walk across the office and speak to colleagues face to face. “Compliance culture” has created the proliferation of massive email chains where people are more interested in covering their backs by documenting their interactions than they are in effectively and efficiently solving the problems at hand. What would happen if you got into the habit of pausing before you hit reply to the latest thing in your inbox? Would a more personal response get you a better outcome? How much time could you save if you cut out the email back-and-forth and discussed the issue instead?
In the moment digital can feel like the easiest and quickest option, yet often it simply delays an inevitable human interaction. To really solve meaningful problems we have to connect, to build trust and develop relationships. Verbal conversations whether on the phone or in person allow us to do this. You can’t fully read body language or decipher tone in an email or an instant message, no matter how many emojis you use!
Yet the solution can’t simply be more face-to-face time. In fact, the research suggests that the average employee spends 31 hours a month in meetings they consider a waste of time! Instead we need to think about the quality of our interactions. Do we have a clear intention for the meeting or call, a tangible objective that we can measure success against? Does everyone present need to be there? Is the agenda clearly defined? Two of the most successful strategies we’ve found for increasing productivity are making meetings shorter – 15 minutes or 45 minutes work well instead of the traditional 30 minutes or an hour – and conducting meetings and conference calls standing up . When people know that time is of the essence and they can’t slump in a comfy chair and zone out, it’s amazing how much more energised and driven people become.
In reality digital is here to stay. Whilst ditching our smartphones might seem appealing, they actually bring us major benefits when used in the right way. The most important thing then is for us to stay in control of our tools rather than allowing our tools to dictate our performance. Being a great communicator is all about self-awareness and being strategic. Instead of reacting immediately to a stimulus, pause and make your response a conscious one. However you choose to respond, the more you truly connect the more effective you’ll become.
In this “Rapid Success” video series I deliver a top communication tip in 90 seconds or less. In this video I discuss the power of intention and why we need to start focusing on how we want our audience to feel.
Recent political events in the UK have left the establishment across the globe reeling. What’s next? What will be the impact? Where do we go from here? Whilst the answers to these questions have yet to unfold, what is clear is that traditional methods of leadership aren’t working. This isn’t just a massive problem for the political class. Over the coming weeks and months the pain will be felt by business leaders and managers in every corner of the economy. Whether Brexit will leave Britain better or worse off in the longterm is irrelevant. The only certainty right now is uncertainty. Businesses that embrace the challenge are the ones that will succeed. Leaders who can galvanise their employees around a positive vision for the future and create forward momentum will reap the rewards. The map no longer reflects the territory. The time is ripe for pioneers.
For many people current events have created a generalised feeling of uncertainty and inertia. Motivational leadership is not enough. Rallying cries and calls to action will fall flat. If we want people to come on a journey with us, we need to engage them and help them understand their role. In order to create lasting positive change and unlock the opportunity that a shake up of the status quo undoubtedly creates, we need to step into a phase of “Activational Leadership”. We need to work with our organisations and teams to truly understand the lay of the land from all perspectives and then quickly create a consensus for action. The role of the leader becomes that of the editor-in-chief, sifting through the narrative to distil the best, most compelling story to tell and then presenting it in the most exciting way possible. It is vital that leaders have the ability to ask the important questions and then communicate their findings so that individuals understand their roles clearly and feel compelled to act. As leaders we need to help our people connect to a strong sense of their own identity and then enable them to embody it.
So what do I mean by Activational Leadership? Activational Leadership focuses on moving our followers to action and requires three key skills: the ability to listen, the ability to tell stories and the ability to coach. Combining these three attributes allows leaders and managers to empower employees to take responsibility and most importantly to act.
Top down initiatives in the current climate will, at best, be stalled by a disengaged workforce or, at worst, be rejected outright by people desperate to have their voices heard. If we want to heal division and sooth those in our organisations who feel disengaged or disenfranchised, we have to commit to taking the time to listen deeply. When people feel they have a voice, they feel able to contribute constructively to the conversation – if their audience is listening they don’t need to shout.
The next step for us as leaders is to uncover the story. Facts and figures are not enough to achieve buy-in. We need to paint pictures with words. We need to create opportunities for our employees to associate with the narrative and place themselves at the heart of the action. Storytelling is a shared experience and when the audience is compelled to re-tell or pass the story on, the ultimate form of engagement has been created.
The final step is then to adopt the role of coach and support our employees to create their own victories which will in turn drive the action forward. The ability to communicate in this way is a multiplier and creates leverage. Rather than one person trying to pull or push an organisation into motion, multiple catalysts for change are unlocked. The best coaches will then find ways to harness that energy and channel it to support the narrative.
This shift in leadership style won’t necessarily be easy and will certainly require effort. Whilst not all leaders and managers have these skills today, they can be taught. The companies that succeed will be the ones willing to take risks, adapt and invest in developing their people to rise to the challenge.
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)!
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.
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 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.
Breathing is really important for making you sound and feel confident when you are in front of an audience.
The first thing you should think about is the placement of your breath. A common mistake that people make when they are nervous is to start breathing up into the chest. This increases the adrenaline flowing around your system and you enter into ‘fight or flight mode’.
The best way to overcome your nerves is low breathing. Use your diaphragm by relaxing your stomach muscles and allow your breath to drop in and fill your lungs. Use your ribs and the intercostal muscles too, like you’re filling up a barrel!
The simple breathing exercise I share in this video will help you to calm yourself down before a presentation. What you are actually doing is lowering your cortisol levels (your stress hormone) and at the same time increasing your testosterone levels (your confidence hormone) so it’s an absolute win-win!
I hope that you find my video on breathing exercises for confident public 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 (and breathing)!
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.
I wanted to make some videos so that I could share with you some quick tips and tricks.
In this first video I talk about the topic that probably comes up most often in my presentation skills training sessions…. “what do I do with my hands?”.
I hope you find it helpful and would love to hear your comments so leave them in the box below or at my youtube channel.