Archive for the ‘Communication Tips’ Category

Useful new angle on managing nerves before a presentation

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014


Psychologist Kelly McGonigal’s interesting TED Talk  provides a very different and constructive message that helps with managing those nerves before a presentation. She advocates viewing stress as the body helping you to rise to a challenge, rather than a total negative that should be avoided.

This reflects what is possibly an urban legend I heard about Bruce Springsteen: Springsteen told an interviewer that he didn’t get nervous before a big concert. Later in the same interview, he said that when he was preparing for a concert he needed to be near a toilet because he sometimes vomited. When the interviewer reminded him that he had said he didn’t get nervous, Springsteen apparently said: ‘Oh, that’s not me being nervous. That’s just me getting  excited!’

Here’s the McGonigal presentation:

Three principles for really connecting in virtual meetings

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Last night as our son proudly gave us a virtual tour of  his new flat via Skype,  I realised how much virtual communication has overcome distance and become a very positive part of our lives.  People can meet without the time and cost of travel. Most of our daughter’s generation of parents have one parent working virtually so they can manage child care  more easily; all around the world, many teams can meet despite being very far away from one another; people can join stimulating international communities in their areas of interest, all through virtual meetings.

Yes, it does remove the direct human contact we all crave, but  with care, we can overcome much of this disadvantage.   If you  manage your virtual communication so that it pulls people together, you can make the most of the technology without losing the personal connect.

Three principles help:

1. Be prepared: Yes,  you need all the usual good preparatory stuff such as circulating an agenda and so on.  As well as this, establish and maintain some careful ground rules, such as insisting participants always identify themselves before they speak so everyone knows who is talking.   When you lead a face-to-face meeting, you can notice what is not being said, whereas in a virtual meeting, you have to deliberately connect into these communication gaps.  One way to do this is to allocate someone the  role of the critic (along the lines of Be Bono’s Black Hat) and then regularlyseek their critical input.  Another option is to  reward anyone who does speak up about something they disagree with.

2. Be present : Use a ground rule that no one multitasks. The human brain can’t do two things at once, it has to switch attention and the virtual discussion will miss out. Listen for the distracted tone in people’s voices and name it.   It will also help to frequently ask questions and seek opinions. Interactive survey tools can help with this. As the leader, draw a clock face with each participant’s name in a place around the dial.  Place it in front of you as the meeting starts and keep track of who is speaking most, then ask for contributions from the quieter people.

3. Be personal: Plan for a short check-in time at the beginning for people to share what is happening for them in their personal lives.  This is also a good time to share any successes since the last meeting. If there is some background noise – a dog barks or someone comes to the door, use that to create a personal connect.  It’s what makes us tick.

As the interesting  Harvard Business Review Blog says- we’re trying to connect, your virtual team will work a whole lot better if the baby crying in the background is a team baby crying!

Want to make a change? Focus on the small ones

Monday, January 13th, 2014

How’s your success with those New Year resolutions?  It’s depressing isn’t it!  At the very moment we are resolving, in our hearts we know we won’t follow through.  One possible reason for this lack of will is that we set our sights too high. 

One of my coaching clients last year developed a smaller scale approach that she called ‘tweaking’. She figured that if she made a  small constructive change in her communication, but did it consistently, she should get some big results. It worked for her. Her particular tweak was that when team members were discussing work challenges, she would just pause quite a while before she spoke. She realised that often she was sapping team confidence by providing all the answers to challenges they faced. The vow of  silence forced her to wait rather than to leap in and often as not, the team found their own perfectly good answers to the problems.

Many highly productive tweaks are tiny.  As the article: How small changes make a big difference shows. Teams who use constructive touch such as high fives, tend to win more than those that don’t.

In communication, I’d expect the two most common valuable very simple tweaks would be:

1.  Planning conversations and meetings – even if only briefly. The success of this comes from the plan making us mindful of the purpose of the conversation.  Once we know why we’re having the conversation, the brain will focus. Without the awareness, the brain can be hi-jacked by the moment.

2. Listening more – to everyone, including ourselves! We already know what we know, listening can at least add to the information we have.

I wonder what simple tweak would alter your life?

Managing your Christmas expectations

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Christmas brings a bitter-sweet challenge for many of us – we are reminded of how much our family means to us, but the reality of Christmas togetherness often challenges that joy.  I’ve felt for a long time that the Waltons have a lot to answer for with regard to family life!  The key to enjoying the season’s cheer is to manage your own expectations.  Figure out how to create a realistic and constructive story around what is manageable and life gets easier.

This year I’ve re-discovered Byron Katie’s work on changing your beliefs.  She is very insightful and practical.  Katie has a process to work on beliefs that is very powerful and surprisingly fun.  The good thing about her is that there are lots of examples on her in action on YouTube, so you can really figure it out. I was off work for a couple of weeks during the year and took the chance to find a lot of her clips and enjoyed them immensely. I didn’t notice any examples that explored people’s beliefs about Christmas, but the process works beautifully.

The Work has a series of simple steps.  First you  identify the belief that is causing problems:   ‘We must all share close family feelings at Christmas’…. or whatever your belief may be. Then you examine that belief, its accuracy and its impact on your behaviour.  Then Katie just gets you to turn it around to a different and more constructive belief and you work through the same process. It’s really fast and productive…yes. you do have time to do it before Christmas!

Here’s an example and I’ve chosen a classic Christmas challenge: He criticises me!


Great tips for livening up a boring presentation

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

Slideshare last week had an excellent and brief set of slides called How to save a lifeless presentation.  

It has a great set of slides and the content applies to the whole presentation, not just the slides. Grab it and do what it says, even with your most technical content.

How to Save a Lifeless Presentation from Bruce Kasanoff

Four sides to every story: Prepare to manage a conflict more constructively

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Recently  two of my yoga friends relayed to me a coffee conversation with a visiting yoga guru. It was interesting to see them describe a conversation with two viewpoints that were so different you would have thought they were different events. Neither could accept the other’s view of it. One talked about  the person as self-centred and uninterested in anyone else.  The other said the guru was very caring and so willing to share her knowledge with other people. Each was amazed that the other could possibly see the same conversation so differently.  I remembered a previous boss saying: ‘There are always at least four sides to every conflict’

It is very useful to access this awareness of different views, when we are emotionally involved in a conflict.   NLP provides a handy technique,   Perceptual Positions, to use as you prepare for a difficult conversation.  Using this tool, you shift you physically around the different viewpoints in a conflict and gets you to talk about the conflict from each positions’ point of view. It sounds a bit 80’s, but physically shifting certainly helps us see the different viewpoints.

Recently I’ve been re-visiting Byron Katie’s fascinating work, called, prosaically,  The Work.  She calls this shift to an alternate perception, ‘turnaround’.  Seeing it in action is very productive, confronting and yet often soothingly hilarious!  The idea is that you make a statement you believe, for example: ‘She was condescending to me’. Then you explore turning it around in various ways: ‘I was condescending to me’,  ‘She wasn’t condescending to me’, ‘I was condescending to her’ .  Then just see what happens to your approach.


Meetings – Are they a complete waste of time?

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

I have just returned from a meeting about having a meeting.  How many of you spend an inordinate amount of time during your working day in meetings ?

The first problem is: Why are you there? Often the meeting request is put in your diary (no thanks to technology) and you arrive on time – in my case to find the key people are late, or even more annoying, the meeting  has been ‘rescheduled’.

The next problem that seems to be universal is the purpose of the meeting. What do you hope to achieve from it? This is a special problem if key decision- makers are absent.

Timing is something that seems to escape the consciousness of Chairs and participants. You will be like me and have come across people whose main function is to be present, not offer much, go off on tangents and then start a whole new conversation just as you thought it was time to finish.  Short of screaming, there is not a lot you can do….

Or is there?

Our top tips for successfully surviving meetings are:

  • Ask yourself “Do I need to be there”? Is there another form of getting the information that would be more efficient,  such as a Skype meeting. Can others email me the outcome?
  • As the Chair, always let the participants know what the purpose is and what roles and responsibilities they have.
  • Nominate a timer and have the conclusion time written up where everyone can see it.
  • What outcomes do you want from the meeting? These should be on the agenda which should be sent well in advance.
  • Send out the  minutes/action points as soon as possible following the meeting

In today’s busy world,  a meeting can be either a useful face-to-face experience, or it can be yet another time waster that just leads to frustration.  There are some other useful tips at a website that goes by the memorable name of  The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur



Need some excellent advice on bullying?

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

On a recent flight I overheard a powerful conversation: Guy in his late forties quite quickly got into a deep conversation with a young teenage boy.  Eventually it came out that the kid was being bullied.  The man shared with him that he had the same experience when he was at school and how tough it was. The two sat in empathetic silence for a bit.  The man talked about  some ways he thinks he could have handled it looking back.  He pointed out that it would end. He also suggested that there’s choice about what to do with that experience in your life  – you can use it for positive or negative purposes. The relief I sensed in the young boy’s voice when he received this compassionate response was proof of the positive choice the guy had chosen.

Despite much greater awareness of the drastic damage created by bullying, there’s certainly still a lot of it about in the workplace, as well as the playground. The ramifications are immense, for the perpetrators as well as the victims. While we assume that bullying at work is from a manager towards a staff member.  Presumably that is the usual direction, but there’s also a surprising amount of bullying of managers by very aggressive staff.

Vital Smarts have a recent post titled: Three’s a Crowd, containing excellent advice on how to intervene when your child is being bullied. There are also very relevant comments on that post (37 at last count!) that add some more valuable ideas. This advice could be applied in adult situations as well as in the playground.