Archive for the ‘Effective Meetings’ Category

Simple tool for giving feedback

Monday, February 6th, 2012

One reason I really enjoy leading training programmes is that often I will pick up a great tool from a participant.  O2 is a great tool I learnt from a guy on a course.  It is a two step way of starting off some feedback that is so simple it works:

  1. Make a neutral observation – just say what you have observed, what the data shows or whatever.  


2. Ask  neutral open question.

It’s so simple that it works!  The links above will give you a bit more background information on both stages.

Here’s an example:

1.  Observation: ‘I’ve noticed our meetings usually go well over time.’

2.  Open question: ‘What do you think we could do about that?’

Simple, isn’t it?  Try it and let me know how you get on.

Everyone (well almost everyone) likes a good news story

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

The infamous Tui ads have  judged our mood so well, as they usually do.  The one I saw recently was “Even if I got an invitation to the royal wedding I wouldn’t go “.  “Yeah right!”   It sums it all up.

The cynics had a go at ridiculing the mounting interest in the upcoming Royal Wedding by Women’s magazines and  now as the day approaches it is surprising the number of people saying they will watch the event on TV ,or at least show an interest in the spectacle of pomp and ceremony that will occur.Have a look at   The T-mobile royal wedding video

And why is this?  Is it because it stirs something in our cultural background?  Is it because it has stimulated debate about monarchy vs  Republic ,  or is just because it will be a good news event which recently we have had a dearth of?

As leaders in your organisations you will well understand how people respond to news. It is difficult with all the natural disasters that have occurred in New Zealand and globally recently to find good news stories.

 This is why it is important to motivate and stimulate your teams with stories that resonate with positive outcomes-the good news stories ,the reports of what has gone well rather than dwelling on what hasn’t. 

 You can have a good news session at the beginning of team meetings and ask your team to come up with their own.  It’s not being a pollyana it is valuing the good things that happen.

 If you look for the positive and look for the good news stories you will be surprised at the effect it has on everyone around.

 And this isn’t a “yeah right”!

Meetings: Time wasted in meetings matters for leadership

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

There’s an interesting article in the January 2011 Training Journal: ‘What’s Wrong With Work’ by Blair Palmer.  Rather than talking about leadership skills per se, he talks about organisational barriers to managers actually using their leadership skills – barriers that would ‘make even the most motivated, confident, driven manager shudder’.

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 One such barrier is the time wasted in meetings.  Palmer quotes very interesting American research on meetings* estimating that  managers spend approximately 60 hours a month in meetings and 30 -50% of that time is wasted.  When attendees are canvassed afterwards, they have widely varying ideas on what was decided, or even if anything was decided!

Interestingly the Training Journal article sees waste-of-time meetings as an unnecessary frustration put in the way of middle managers by  senior executives. While most senior executives know meetings waste vast amounts of time in an organisation, they don’t believe it can be any different.

But meetings don’t have to be  a waste of time  and ensuring that you lead effective meetings  can add considerably to your  mana.  Make sure you seek feedback  about the effectiveness of your own meetings – the research showed that the meeting initiator typically regards the meeting as far more productive than the other attendees!

  1. The key to a good meeting is preparation. The research in the white paper found that the average time spent on preparation for a meeting described as ‘productive’ was twice as long (one hour!) as the preparation time for a meeting described as ‘unproductive’.
  2. The single most valuable preparation factor is the agenda – even having one is an innovative idea in some meetings!  Keep the agenda very focused on the type of issue meetings are good for – resolving conflicts – Hence an intriguing post on the Life Hacker blog: Make meetings more productive by arguing.
  3. Work out  your goal  for each agenda item and ask yourself if a meeting is necessary in order to do that. For example, don’t use a meeting for sharing information – there are loads of more efficient ways of doing that.
  4. Use an approach for each agenda item that will enable the meeting to achieve its goal.
  5. Order your agenda so you start with a positive item, then wade into the conflicts because they will take the most time; then finish on a positive note.

Start anywhere with these tips and they can make a perceptible difference.  The quality of your meetings could have a big impact on employee engagement.  Despite our negativity about meetings,the research showed that 92% of meeting attendees value meetings as an opportunity to contribute.

* The research was conducted by Info Com which specialises in market research in the telecommunications arena.

The key to presence is being present

Friday, September 10th, 2010

A common issue for our coaching clients in the past year has been the challenge of increasing the impact of their personal presence. Their  questions are often: ‘What is this ‘presence’  thing and how do I get more of it?’

While everyone needs to be aware of their personal presence, as we take on more influential leadership roles, we  need to be even  more conscious of establishing our presence.

 The key to it is simple…..or is it?

Seek first to understand

The message isn’t new:  Great personal presence requires us first to simply be present to others – by listening to them very carefully. Steven Covey sums it up well with his quote: ‘Seek first to understand before being understood.’

This seems very straightforward, but most of us tend to go into conversations focused much more on our own point of view – what we find interesting, what we want to talk about and so on.  This approach certainly establishes presence, but of the wrong sort!  To develop a strong positive presence, we need to focus first on understanding where the other person is coming from in the conversation.  

 Active listening is the key communication tool for keeping ourselves present.  There’s a challenge though, because while listening appears to be simple, it isn’t often easy.  The process requires commitment and real discipline of our conscious thought. Sometimes we have to keep repeating to ourselves: ‘I really want to listen to this person.’  When we manage to focus in this way, we are truly present. There is a very powerful story that captures the magic of this combination in The Power of Presence and Listening: A Fellow’s Narrative by Musharraf Navaid MD, in the Journal of Palliative Medicine.

Look effective when introducing a panel of speakers

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Do you sometimes need to introduce a panel of speakers?  Many of our clients need to do this when bidding for some work, or when convening a panel of speakers at a conference. Ellen Finkelstein’s newsletter last week included a polished and simple way of doing this by using PowerPoint .

Aside from images providing faces and names, briefly explain why each person is included in the panel. Each panel member’s expertise needs to clearly add something special to the occasion and to fit with the whole.   As you introduce each person,you explain why Person B follows Person A and so on. In your introduction make sure you answer the following questions:

  1. Why we are covering this specific subject, as part of the whole presentation?
  2. Why we are covering this aspect now?

If you would like some more tips on other aspects of leading or convening a panel, there are some useful ones in Presentation Pointers

Is your audience really listening?

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

The Executive Speaking Blog came up with an interesting post recently: Can you tell whether people are really listening to the boss?  Sounds like a good game: Keep the score for audience reaction to the boss’ presentations!

We often get asked the broader question: How can you assess audience’s reaction? There are the obvious responses of people falling asleep, looking angry, or walking out. But what about the more subtle responses? Usually if people are fidgeting or looking down most of the time, they are bored.

It can be hard to tell. In smaller centres in NZ, often audiences don’t interact much, but will stay on to discuss things  afterwards. In bigger cities, they may interact so much that you think you have made a whole lot of NBFF; then as soon as you finish, they leave!

Individuals within an audience may have unusual reactions.  Recently a client told me about a presenter who just used slides, each containing a great deal of information.  The presentation involved the audience reading them. Sounded tedious to me, but my informant said the presentation was fascinating, because of the interesting slide content. 

It is very difficult for a presenter to accurately read audience reaction.   You might think the whole thing was a disaster because you missed an important point, yet the audience may have liked it. At other times some of the audience may have looked grumpy and yet come up afterwards to say they thought it was great.

Some tips:

  1. Ask someone before your presentation to give you feedback afterwards on the level of audience engagement.
  2. Know your material very well, so you can stay mentally free enough to focus on audience reaction. 
  3. If what you are doing is boring your audience, change it!

Should you trust your intuition?

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Recently a client was in a final interview and planning to make a senior  job offer to a highly suitable candidate.  Everything appeared to be going well, except that my client suddenly  became aware of a growing sense of uneasiness about the preferred candidate.

Follow up on that intuition

 They had conducted extensive interviews with the person; the referees were all glowing; when my client checked back with the rest of the recruitment panel they couldn’t understand his sudden wariness…but unease it was. Should he insist on pulling back, when up till then everything had checked out well; or should he trust their thorough process?

We discussed what had  happened at the two or three points when he got his gut feel. The comments were: ‘Oh, there was some  slightly negative body language in the candidate that didn’t align with what was being said…nothing much really…’  ‘Later on, I guess I just wondered whether the candidate would be as committed as we thought.  I don’t know why’  

We could call that unease ‘intuition’, but was it?  Gut feel or whatever you call it, I have learnt in positive and negative ways the value of trusting it.  Some years ago a searing recruitment experience decided me that if I ever felt a deep unease that didn’t relate to the evidence, I would at least carefully follow up on that unease.  In my coaching of a very wide range of people, I have found awareness of my intuition to be a very reliable indicator of what is really going on.

 I am very suspicious of ethereal versions of ‘intuition’.  I suspect so-called ‘intuition is just a bunch of minute clues that only we pick up subconsciously – then they build until we notice them as intuition. For more explanation of this, check out: Lifehack.  

If we define intuition as ‘perceptive insight’,  there some useful things for a practical person to tune into:

  1. In an intense discussion, we unconsciously pick up very subtle changes in facial expression, skin colouration and nuance of tone.  These are only minute clues until they cluster around a stronger general impression that we then experience as ‘unease’.  Don’t jump to conclusions, but trust the feeling and follow up on your concerns.
  2. When you notice a gap between the message communicated in the body language and the message in the words, look carefully at that gap. There are a lot of unsubstantiated claims about the messaging in body language, but research warns us to be alert around this type of misalignment.
  3. We also bring to the communication our experience in similar situations.  A relevant but past experience might be almost forgotten yet still trigger an alarm bells in the present. When we think about it afterwards, we will usually remember exactly what that experience was…and its lesson!

Obviously you have to observe the other person very carefully. The weird thing is though, that  to develop your perceptive insight, you have to listen very carefully to yourself.  Be  very alert to your own reactions.  Trust them. Don’t jump to conclusions, but do follow up on your instinct, by asking questions.

 There are some really good tips on listening to your own awareness at a blog with the appealing name of: hellomynameisblog  

So what happened in client’s case?   He decided to insist that the panel take the time to check up on his concerns. Having taken legal advice, they went back to the referees and that turned out to be a very good move.  Put briefly: They re-advertised!

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How to get heard in a meeting

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

I was recently asked: “How do you speak up in a meeting when you are not sure if you have a valid point to make?  What can I say when I  haven’t had time to think out my response?”

This questioner said he needs to think things through before speaking up.  As a result he often leaves a meeting having said nothing. He has been told that colleagues believe either that he has nothing to contribute, or that he is disengaged from the discussion.  Can you relate to this challenge?

Often the easiest way to contribute is by asking questions and the questions can steer a group that is going around in circles.  Questions can arise simply from listening and enable us to contribute while we guide the group towards a more useful outcome. 

Goal oriented questions are one way to do this – for example:

  • What do we need to achieve in this meeting?
  • What would you like to be different when you leave this session or meeting?
  • What is important for the end user of this xxxx?
  • What do we want to be different about the customer experience?

Another simple intervention is to asking clarifying questions, such as: “What is an L.E.T again?” This will let people know you are listening.  You can also use summarising questions to ensure you have understood: “So for you to be comfortable with the new system you require more information on x, y and z?”

To be heard and  to demonstrate that you are involved – ask questions.  For some more suggestions look at an interesting article in the American Chronicle