What's Good About Meetings

As soon as two cavemen decided to sell round-rocks together, the first business meeting was born. Since then, meetings have transformed in many ways, such as in protocol, etiquette, time, place, medium, and so on. What hasn’t changed is the need for meetings, and as long as there is business, there will be meetings.

So what’s good about meetings? What purpose do they have? Why risk all the bad meetings--that we’ve all experienced--and waste all that time? The Harvard Business Review makes this defense for meetings:

The Social Aspect - For most individuals, working with others is a necessity. Social interaction is decreasing with the rise of remote workspaces and home offices, but even an office building can be a lonely place, especially in larger corporations. Meetings, quick chats, conference calls, etc. do away with the solitary aspect of business, prevent the stagnation of ideas, and increase the communication necessary to achieving goals.

Everyone in the Loop - More and more there is a decentralization to the business structure. There’s also more specialization, delegation, and delocalization. All this adds up to many people doing many different things from a myriad of places, all towards one common goal. Without meetings, it simply wouldn’t be possible. We need to spread valuable info on progress, changing needs and directions, as well as allow the input and contributions of everyone involved.

Status Symbols - As much as we might deny it, being invited to a meeting is much like being anointed. Inclusion means you are worthy of being informed, or of contributing. There is a danger of meeting abuse inherent as a status symbol though. We should never have a meeting because it’s a Monday, or to socialize, or simply because we can. Not only is it a waste of time, but can destroy morale.

Stay tuned for part two: What’s Good About Bad Meetings

Writing Effective Emails

Image credit to doobybrain on Flickr

Since many things are done via email now, thanks to smartphones and iPads, we’re never too far away from our emails, and more of us are choosing to communicate via that method.

When it comes to writing an effective email, it’s all about being aware of what you’re doing and what you could potentially be saying. Here’s a quick list of Do’s and Don’ts for writing emails, whether you are communicating with a customer or another business associate.

Do use language appropriate for the person you’re speaking to. If the person you’re emailing doesn’t work in IT, don’t use technical jargon to respond to their emails. Speak on a level that is appropriate for who you’re emailing.

Don’t be afraid to sound like you know what you’re talking about. If you’re asked a specific question, answer it to the best of your abilities, but keep the language you use appropriate for who you are speaking to.

Do keep in mind that things get lost in translation. If you’ve ever had a conversation with a friend then you know that there is sometimes a question on what the person on the other end meant, keep that in mind when sending an email. Sarcasm and humor can get lost quickly in an email.

Don’t forget to read the email out loud before you send. Not only will this help you to proofread any grammar or spelling errors you can hear how your brain is inferring the speech in the email so that you can take out anything that might not translate.

Do answer all the questions presented to you in an email.

Don’t write a novel when a sentence would do.

Do use a canned email when appropriate. Sometimes, it’s okay to have emails on “stand by” to send back. A perfect example of this would be if you’re sending someone steps to walk them through how to do something. It’s okay to have that email ready to send so that you don’t have to type out all of the steps over and over again.

Don’t get so caught up in a canned response that you miss what the person is asking. Read the email thoroughly and used a canned email only when appropriate. You still need to be sure you’re answering inquires posed to you.

Do ask for greater clarification in order to understand what the person needs. It’s perfectly okay to make sure that someone means X rather than Y and most would rather clarify then have you misunderstand and respond anyway.

Don’t feel like an email conversation cannot become a phone conversation. For me, the rule is more than three emails back and forth and it’s time to pick up the phone and make the call.

Failures and Success

*This is part two of my series about how to inspire your audience when doing a presentation. Part one was about honesty and you can read it here

When it comes to failure, it’s not usually the first topic to come to mind when invited to make a business presentation. Many times you’re going to be presenting to a group of people who have paid to see you talk about your chosen subject, and when someone pays you to speak, it’s doubtful that they want to hear anything else other than the moment that you succeeded.

History would disagree with that line of thinking. History would show you that failure is just another step towards success. History tells you to stand up and admit your failures, and then tell your audience how it lead you down the path towards the reasons you’ve been asked to stand up in front of everyone. Here are three other people that would tell you failures matter and why.

“If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”Woody Allen

Failure makes for progressive thought and actions. With failure, we learn how to create and push the boundaries of what is commonly accepted as normal and how to push the boundaries of what can make things great. If we refuse to fail then we refuse to grow.

“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.” - Henry Ford

Believe it or not, failing at something can be a light at the end of a tunnel. Whether it’s a business venture or something you tried personally it’s not about always about being perfect.Sometimes, it’s about taking small steps, sometimes in the wrong ones, to make you wake up and realize that you need a change or to try something different.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Edison

Getting a good idea to a great idea sometimes means you have to look back at a failure and see what you can do differently. There can be a very simple piece of the puzzle missing that can turn your failure into success. Apple is the perfect example of a company that used a failure to find a better plan. Remember the MessagePad (AKA The Newton)? Without that failed device it’s possible that we would have never had the iPhone.

Not all failures are bad, just like not all successes are great. You can inspire an audience with admitting your failures just as quickly as you can by expressing your successes. Failures are truth and human, and when we try something, it’s not always the outcome we want at first. The inspiration is in the story and how you learned.

3 Ways To Inspire Audiences With Honesty

I won’t go into too much detail (because it’s not my place to share for others, only myself) but I get to have a wonderful experience where a group of people talk to others and share some heart wrenching experiences. I was at one such even this past month where I realized that one of the quickest ways to get an audience’s attention is to be honest.

What does that mean though? Telling you to “be honest” is sort of like telling you to write “great content” – it’s a great tip, but there’s no real substance to it. How does one “get honest” with a group of strangers? We don’t really know most of them and it can be an awkward thing to get up in front of people and tell what you might consider to be “too much”.

Here are three ways you can tailor the honesty approach to presenting a topic to a more business oriented audience.

Tell a Story. Give your audience the inside scoop of where your idea or inspiration for an idea came from. Don’t be afraid to tell them that you were sitting on your couch eating ice cream and watching Jersey Shore when it was like a light bulb went off in your head. Share the little things that can make a member of your audience relate to you.

Don’t be afraid to admit you were wrong. Business, like life, requires you to learn lessons along the way. Standing up in front of a group of people can show that you’ve been through the ups and downs, just like they have, but you were able to bounce back. When we’re going through something difficult, we often feel like we’re going through it alone. Hearing someone else’s struggles can inspire in a heartbeat.

Emotion is Passion. Loving something – be it a person, product, discovery – doesn’t make you a bad business person. Why take on a project if you don’t have passion for what you’re doing? Getting up in front of an audience and showing your emotion towards something doesn’t mean anything other than the fact that you’re in the right place.

It’s very easy to get up in front of everyone and be honest, but it’s not a tactic we take to a credible presentation. We think that by admitting flaws or showing how much we believe in a thought or idea is a weakness in front of a group of people. In truth, it could be one of the best ways we have to make a great impression on our audience.

How do you use honesty in your presentations? Do you go all in or do you shy away from putting yourself out there to your participants?

Bonus Abe was the master of honesty, even when he didn't want to be.

Remember: Conference Call Mute Is Never On

It is an inevitable thing that is going to happen on conference call. Someone is going to forget to mute their phone. There are a million stories out there of how people have heard bathroom visits, ordering fast food, or worse. These interruptions are embarrassing, not only for the person responsible, but also for the host of the conference call.

Most conference hosts are diligent about putting the call into lecture mode and participants usually try to mute their conference lines. This doesn’t always happen.

Once, as an operator on a conference, I had the pleasure of dealing with a client who was going to have some high profile people on their conference. The client expressed to me that it was important that there were no back ground interruptions on the call. I explained that all the participants would be muted, but since there would be about seven people on with the special speaker code, those lines wouldn’t be muted. I suggested they use our star feature to mute the call and even had everyone test out the function to make sure the feature worked.

Inevitably, when the call started and one of the high profile guests was speaking, my client’s line was not muted and I suddenly heard the announcement that train #356 to Boston would be departing in five minutes. Having been on a number of operator conferences, I made the decision to mute his line, in order to avoid that playing over these high profile guests. It made me uneasy to have to do that – but I couldn’t risk his conference being interrupted, and this is the exact reason why people elect to have operators on their conference.

Audio conferences can be tricky. They aren’t necessarily hard to participate in but there are a lot of things to remember, and sometimes – it’s the simplest things that we can forget about.

It brings up a great point about being on a conference – always assume your line is not muted, even when it is. Even when you are certain you’ve muted your phone, or you just got the message that your line was muted, you never know when something could happen to unmute. What if your moderator accidentally turns off the feature or you’re disciplining one of your kids, across the room from your phone, and the moderator suddenly opens the lines up for questions.

In an instant the entire conference hears you explaining to your children why chocolate frosting is not an appropriate substitute for paint.

Always assume that your line is live – and it’s a good rule that can apply to audio conferences or video. Assuming that you’re on video will save you from possible embarrassment.

How are you managing on your conference calls? Are you assuming that mute is on, or are you doing things the same way that you would with a conference that was live?

Tell me your embarrassing moment in the comments – and if yours is the one that inspires the deepest shade of red, you’ll win a prize. (Details to come) I look forward to hearing your stories!

Using the ICEPACk

Until today, I had never heard of ICEPAC, but this acronym stands for the steps of creating a great presentation. Whether you have weeks to craft, or get handed the project last minute, this acronym--and the other tips in the article--break down a presentation into easy-made parts.

ICEPAC

Interest - If no one cares about a subject, then why bother with a web conference? If they’re supposed to care, then it’s your job to make them care. Think about how your message will affect your participants daily lives and business, and emphasize the more interesting points.

Comprehension - There’s such a thing as too much detail, especially if your participants will get information overload. Keep data to bite sized chunks, avoid jargon, and cater to their--not your--expertise.

Emphasis - The main message is the whole point of your presentation, so emphasize it. Put key information on its own slide. Pause after saying a main point, or even precede it with, “This is important.”

Participation - Getting your participants involved creates more investment on their part. Utilize Q&A often, or ask impromptu, “soft ball” questions. Use the Socratic Method to draw people out, and praise highly when it works.

Accomplishment - For people to be more open to ideas, they have to like the ideas. And the best way of getting them to like ideas is for them to be a part of their creation. With good participation, you’re halfway there, but the web conference as a whole should be satisfying with something completed, decided on, or improved.

Confirmation - This is more than follow-up after the conference, it includes during as well. Q&A throughout is good to make sure you’re on track. And it never hurts to get participants to repeat their assignments so you know they understand.

Try ICEPAC when you create your next presentation and let us know how it worked for you.

How to Debate Effectively and Rationally

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Today is November 3, 2010, which means that the elections were held yesterday. Now, whether it was a good day or a bad day for you and your political ideals, the results are going to stick around for 2 years. “They” say you’re not supposed to talk about politics; it leaves open too much room for drama and disagreement. In watching the election coverage last night, I saw that a lot of the members of the panels on various news organizations couldn’t have a meaningful debate.

They were rude, inappropriate, and just downright mean to their fellow panelists. I’m a huge supporter of a healthy debate, civility in discussion, and above all, being passionate about what is being discussed. Ultimately, if you’re going to have a discussion, you should be passionate about it, otherwise, what are you talking about? We’re advised not to discuss politics and it’s because of this passion that these kinds of discussion can be dangerous firecrackers waiting to explode.

We proceed carefully on a conference call when discussing something that is controversial or will change the face of our company, like hiring and firing. We shy away from open discussion and the sharing of ideas. Why is that? We are adults and we should be able to have conversations.

The principals of debate are clear but somewhere along the lines we’ve forgotten what it was like to have a civil conversation with others about topics we might disagree with. Here are ten tips to consider before engaging in healthy debate.

  1. Be prepared. Don’t be surprised when the passion from both sides bleeds through.
  2. Let the other person finish. Interrupting the other person makes you look like a jerk.
  3. Be open to accepting another person’s point of view. In order to engage in debate, you must be willing to understand where someone is coming from, even if you disagree.
  4. Consider your response carefully. Think about what you are about to say before you just fire off at the mouth. You can’t take it back once you say it, so don’t say anything you’ll regret.
  5. Have Respect. Have respect for the other person’s opinion, but don’t concede your own.
  6. Listen intently. Healthy debate is not just about making you heard; it’s about hearing someone else.
  7. Try to see things from the other side. Before you respond, consider what the other person has said and what their motivations might be. You don’t have to agree, but everyone is capable of understanding the other perspective.
  8. It should be called conversation, not debate. It should be about discussing opposing points of view and learning from each other.
  9. Answer follow up questions. If the person you’re speaking with asks you a direct question, answer it. They are engaged in the conversation and want to know more about your feelings.
  10. Be passionate, but be polite. Name calling and generalizations only encourage people feel attacked. You can have passion about your point of view, but you should never revert to name calling. You’re not eight and this is not the playground.

Bonus Tip: Shake hands.At the end of every debate, shake hands and take a moment to converse about something that’s not debate related. These conversations usually come up with our inner circles, so once it’s all over, talk about something you both agree on.

Look, debating with a person who opposes your views and an opinion is hard, but when you’re a grown up, I like to think it’s possible to sit down and talk about things with others, no matter what their opinions. Some of the greatest ideas in the world have been born from healthy debate and there’s no reason why we should just not talk about something because we disagree.

Right or Wrong

Sayings and turns of phrase used incorrectly can make you look bad.

People treat us by how we dress and generally present ourselves. On a conference call, when they can’t see us, they judge us by how we speak and what we say. With that in mind, we should look at some common words and phrases in everyday use and make sure we’re saying what we want our participants to hear.

First are words that are similar, but mean different things in different contexts. A common one of these is saying “further”--as in “further than I can run”--instead of “farther than thirty miles”. The difference is that farther goes with actual, measurable distance.

Along those lines, when you mean to say something is less than a specific number, you say “fewer than ten”. Alternatively, you would say, “You have less than me.”

A sneaky one is between “bring” and “take”, and it all depends on what direction the thing is going. If you are going to a party, you are taking the wine. The hostess of that same party can say that you are bringing that wine to her.

My favorite is the subtle “infer” and “imply”. If someone suggestively says something, they are implying. If we draw a conclusion from their statements, we are inferring.

What about phrases that we use almost without thinking? For example, some people say that they need to “hone in on a solution” when they actually mean to say, “home in”.

Or when they say that something is “different than” something else, it’s more correct to say it’s “different from”.

Less is more in so many things, and the same goes for speaking. One such way is to drop the “of” when combined with “outside”. It’s not that the dogs are “outside of the house”, they are simply “outside the house”.

I hope these speaking and usage tips will “raise the question”--not “beg the question”--of your verbal habits, and help you vocally put your best foot forward.

The Monsters Guide to Public Speaking

The Monsters Guide to Public Speaking

Halloween is this weekend and with it comes scary stories, fright nights, and a lot of things you don’t see every day. It’s the one time of the year that ghosts and goblins can come out of their hiding places. Since they only make one public appearance a year, they like to make it count and offer some valuable insights into the realm of public speaking – what works and what doesn’t.

Zombie

Eating brains does not translate into a warm and friendly greeting to your guests.

Instead, arrive at your event about an hour early and shake hands instead of eating brains—oops, I mean breakfast. Introduce yourself and find out more about what brought people to see you speak and what they would like to know more about.

Ghost

Be transparent and friendly.

Standing up in front of a group of people can be intimidating. It will help you as the speaker to relax along with your participants if you are humorous, friendly, and open with your audience.

Witch

Don’t be afraid to dazzle with a little magic.

Unless you are presenting in Salem, MA, somewhere between 1692 and 1693, your audience would probably like a little flash and dazzle. Since you only have about two minutes to grab their attention and keep them interested for the whole presentation, don’t be afraid to open the presentation with a splash.

Frankenstein

Don’t walk like a robot.

Frankenstein makes an excellent point about the importance of being able to move fluidly around the stage. When you move, you’re forcing audience members to pay attention and notice you. Otherwise, you’re just going to be a droning and unmoving piece of furniture on the stage. The more comfortable you are with being in front of a group, the better.

Vampire

Give them something to sink their teeth into.

In the end, if you’re not talking about something that matters, you’re not going to get a great response. Be sure that the content of your presentation or topic is relevant and intriguing, and offer clear ways for your participants to be involved during and after the presentation.

Hope you enjoyed that insight from the people who know what it’s like to make one public appearance a year. You have to come out swinging; otherwise, you’ll end up six feet under.

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

But Um, Like Actually... You Know?

Everything in moderation, and this includes words. When we speak, there are silences, breaks, and pauses that many people fill with filler words. I myself once had a problem with “in any case.” I don’t know how long it was until I noticed I was saying it a lot, but once I did, it was maddening. I can only imagine how it bugged other people.

A huge filler word used primarily by teens is “like”. They can pepper a simple sentence with “like”, sometimes where it’s more than half the words used. “Actually” is another filler starting to gain widespread usage, and there’s always a “you know” lurking nearby.

“But uh” is relatively new to the word filler scene, and it’s gaining strength. Out of the blue last week, I found myself filling up a conversation with “but uh”. So just like “in any case”, I made sure to stop. If you’ve noticed a particular word or phrase filling your sentences, you might be curious about how I managed to banish the space fillers.

Now if you’ve already identified a filler, you’re doing great. But if unsure, ask a friend or record a conversation. Even better is downloading and reviewing the recordings of your last few conference calls. Once you’ve spotted the filler, a) take notice of each time you use it, and b) try to choose a different word when you’re about to say the filler.

The best habit to form, however, is one of silence. When pauses occur that normally you would have filled, just let silence happen. Not only will it vastly decrease the use of fillers, but your words as a whole will have more gravitas and power.

Tell us your filler word in a comment.