Archive for the ‘Leadership’ 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!

How's your business savvy as you start 2014?

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Looks like 2014 will continue the pressure for HR managers to become more business-savvy.  The issue has been around for a while, but the challenge is still with us because often it feels hard to focus on people while focusing on the business.

In many ways though, business is all people.

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Business success is the right people doing the right things to succeed. HR skills in learning should help find answers to the key question:

‘How do we in HR find a way to get the right things done for the direction of our organisation?’

The 2012 CIPD Report on  Business Savvy: Giving HR the Edge identified four foundations for embedding business savvy. Most people-people HR Managers would say they  already had the last two foundations: 3. Connect with curiosity, purpose and impact and 4. Lead with integrity, consideration and challenge.

These two foundations are the keys to pursuing the first two:
       1. Understand the business model in depth. You can use your HR curiosity               and purpose to really develop an in-depth understanding of your                             organisation’s business model and strategy. Ask questions about it and                   keep exploring it until you really understand the  direction of the                organisation.
       2. Generate insight through evidence and data.  Rather than kidding yourself it is impossible, face the challenge of acquiring the data to prove the success or otherwise of your HR initiatives.  Without the integrity of data you won’t be able to convince the senior leaders of the value of these initiatives.
To help, look at the useful advice  at: Are you a business -savvy product manager?, and in more depth at: How can HR become more commercial?  2014 could be your business savvy year!

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?

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

The key to making a technical presentation more engaging

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Last week I was working with a client on a very technical presentation. He  had managed to lift it into something that would really communicate to any interested group, even if they didn’t have his technical background. He’d commented that he’d watched:How great leaders inspire action


The client realised that if he applied Sinek’s principles to any presentation it would lift it into something more special.  The technical content is the ‘what you communicate, the logical explanation is the ‘how’ but the real lift comes from the ‘why’ you are communicating .  So next time you are presenting material that involves reasoning, add in the heart stuff and you will improve it out of all sight.  Get your material together, then check that you have connected through your head, your hands and most importantly, your heart.  Apply a dose of Simon Sinek’s advice and watch your material come to life!

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



Tips for raising your profile

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Question from a current client: How do I raise my profile at work in an informal way? Recent restructuring has meant that all our executive team are based in a different city, including my immediate manager. In the past I’ve built great relationships from casual in-person contact, not from artificially cultivating people. I just don’t blow my own trumpet. Now I have to build those relationships not just for myself but for others, because I am one of the few senior people in our building. 

Here’s a useful slogan: 

‘You can get what you want by helping others get what they want.’

See what you can do by applying that principle, but here are a few suggestions as starters:

  • Work out what the others in your site need by way of interaction with more senior people, figure out with them how it could be achieved and be part of the process of creating it.  Obviously that will help the others in your workplace and you will be seen as pro-active and solution oriented.
  • Create a stimulating sense of group where you are.  You could get together with others to build interactions within your work site such as brown bag lunches, getting senior executives in to speak and social events. This will raise your profile as well as that of your branch.
  • Make your manager look good.  Find out what your manager needs to have happen to look good and make sure you are delivering that from where you are.
  • Tap into the human craving for direct interaction. When you start a new topic of communication with a senior manager, make sure that first conversation about it is voice-to-voice.  You will need to have a routine of being in frequent contact with them and it will mostly have to be by email,  but in person is memorable.  The principle of ‘Don’t start a new thread of conversation by email’ applies to all your contacts, but will be very important in this contex
  • Be part of supporting others in your profession.  Join the local branch of your professional association and take a committee role in that.  You will then be part of supporting others in your profession and will develop a higher profile for yourself.   A plus of New Zealand’s small population is that a strong  local profile will be noticed nationally as well.

There are some practical tips at How to raise your visibility at work and some broader approaches at: How to increase your visibility at work