Archive for the ‘Effective Meetings’ Category

Three principles for really connecting in virtual meetings

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014
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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
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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?

Meetings – Are they a complete waste of time?

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013
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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

 

 

Mindfulness and being present

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013
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A podcast today  reminded me about the need for all of us to sometimes take time to smell cialis pills the roses.

For example, before an important meeting or a presentation we think we are focusing on what we need to d,o but often all that is happening is worry. We are concerned about how the meeting will go; will our message be understood; will we make the impact we want to.  All of this worry adds to our anxiety and stress. It can lead to ‘catastrophising’.

What we need to do is refocus our thinking on being more present. We can use our senses to take 5-10 minutes to relax. For example, go outside and feel the sun (or wind!) on your face . Use your senses to be aware of your surroundings. You can practice at home while doing chores or on your way to work. In Wellington, New Zealand it is the beginning of Spring and the Tui are singing their hearts out as I walk down the road to work. Such joy in the present moment.

More and more research studies show that  being mindful can make a difference in improving our sleep. It may even stimulate brain connections and  growth of new neural connections.

Mindfulness helps executive functioning skills such as decision making and memory.  Elizabeth Blackburn’s research into the impact of mindfulness  suggests that in pre- and post- menopausal women it can increase DNA repair.

So the challenge is to ensure that when you are focusing, you are thinking positive thoughts rather than worrying. Become adept at being present for at least five minutes a day and you will be thrilled with the results. You will feel great and may find you get fewer minor ailments such as colds.

Pride: An unexpected angle on for women in leadership

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013
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Have you ever thought about the role of pride in executive presence?  The   HRM Online  earlier this week quoted German research in Germany showing that women who adopted a proud approach to their personal performance were seen as more willing to take the lead.

Pride has a rather negative press, but when soundly based, it can be a powerful motivator.  As we acknowledge our achievements we build our confidence and that will comes out in a multitude of subtle ways.

I suspect that NZ women find it very difficult to communicate their pride in their achievements. We’d be great at being cheerful, but unfortunately the German study shows that cheerful women are seen as less willing to lead.

Jon Katzenbach has an interesting article  in the website for The Centre for Association Leadership, titled: Instilling Pride: The Primary Motivator for Peak Performance. It is talking about pride in an organisation, but it’s comments would equally well apply to personal performance.

Use stories to engage your audience

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012
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Today a client and I were discussing technical and strategic presentations. She had recently heard a very good presentation at a conference in Australia.  Afterwards she found herself working out what made the communication so good, because the presenter wasn’t charismatic and she wasn’t particularly funny.  Although the presenter did have excellent visuals, it sounded like her very human story was what made it special.  One important aspect of the story was that the woman told  about her failures and moments when she felt daunted,  as well as talking about her successes with the project.

Audiences desire to   connect with a speaker, and sharing our weaknesses as well as our strengths can build a very human connection.

Don’t think that your story has to be very dramatic and set on an Mount Everest type of scale.  Sometimes the very ordinary human tales can be powerful for a group. I was practising story telling with a group of young military people a while ago. Some of their stories were set in exotic locations, others were tales of human courage, but the most effective story was a very simple one about the young recruit going home after her first three months of army training and realising she had outgrown her no-hoper mates.

Write your stories down, you never know when they will be useful. There’s a delightful post about the value of working on the wording of your stories at: iggypintardo’s posterous

You can help your story-telling ability by collecting four different types:

  1. Successes: We all like to be associated with success
  2. Failures: This creates real human sharing and can lead to what you learnt
  3. Funny stories: When an audience laughs they build a sense of belonging in that group
  4. Legends: These provide a very attractive shortcut to meaning.  legends can be true legends, urban legends or stories about famous people that have become apocryphal.

Good luck with using your own life to source transformational stories.

 

Project your voice to gain authority

Monday, July 16th, 2012
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Last week I sat up the back of a rehearsal of speakers in a science oratory contest.  I was struck by how relatively much harder it was for the light voices of the young female contestants to project authority in a large lecture theatre.  Microphones helped but didn’t remove the disparity.

Despite the light voices evident,  female voices are deepening.  In the US the average female voice deepened by 23 hertz from 1945 to 1993. 23 hertz is about a semitone in music. Don’t ask me how they know this!  It is thought that pitch deepening has coincided with women having to be more authoritative to advance in a career.  There is also interesting evidence that as our bodies get larger, our vocal cords lengthen  and thus  our voices deepen.

Why do we invest so much authority in  a deeper voice?  One obvious reason is that deeper pitches are easier to hear, so a deep voice will project across other people talking.  The evolutionary psychologists, who have a view on everything these days, believe that a deep voice signals more testosterone and thus more dominance!

There are plenty of tips available on how to deepen your voice. Take care that you don’t strain your vocal cords, but   improvements in your breathing technique can make a big difference. There are some good simple techniques in Tips on Talking.

Some  psychological barriers to a stronger voice are connected with the value we place on what we have to say and how we feel about risking disagreement. If your voice is too quiet or too high, think carefully about your self-perception when speaking.  If you value your message, you will speak up more strongly. If you prepare well so you are ready to handle disagreement, you will state your views more confidently.

Use the Four Ps:

  1. Posture: Push your shoulders back, so your lungs can expand and so you can feel confident
  2. Pronounce the whole of each word, so each syllable is articulated clearly.  This will create a stronger message
  3. Pace yourself, so you are speaking more slowly and giving  yourself time to breathe
  4. Pinpoint someone in the audience who is quite a distance away. Imagine you are speaking directly to them

Good luck with the husky voice, it can bring all sorts of benefits.

The key to understanding social interaction?

Monday, March 5th, 2012
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When we were kids, my uncle used to play a trick on us while we sat at a meal: He would start scratching his nose, gradually we kids would start scratching too. Suddenly he would shout: ‘Caught you!’ We’d look up and burst into giggles, realising we were all doing the same thing.

That was back a few years….well, a lot of years. It turns out that such imitation is the very essence of what makes us human. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, neurophysiologists found what could be a major way that the human brain creates this unconscious mimicry and called it the ‘mirror neuron’. If they are right, our rapidly expanding knowledge of mirror neurons has very wide implications for understanding how social interaction happens – how we develop into socialised humans, how we can improve our communication, even possibly an understanding of the basis of civilisation itself. So expect to hear the term used frequently in many fields.

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I am a little bit skeptical. In recent years, I’ve watched, at very close quarters, a relative make an exceptional recovery from a serious brain injury. A sample of one, I know, but it has left me in awe at the complexity, multi-layeredness and sheer unexpectedness of the connections in the human brain. The mirror neuron theory sounds almost too handy to be true – a bit similar to the gross over- simplification of the right brain/left brain dichotomy.

Still, who am I to know? Some scientists are expressing wariness. Alison Gopnik, Professor of Psychology at University of California, Berkley is one. She wrote the wonderful book, ‘The Philosophical Baby’, so she knows a lot about human social learning. On the other hand, the great V.S Ramachandran is a fan, so it can’t all be bad! The Integral Options Cafe has a good brief summary of some of the debate. Anyone have any thoughts on it?