Where to Focus?

There are a lot of different reasons a company will host a conference call. It could be to announce a promotion, have a guest on the call, train, update company policy, you name it and a company can accomplish it with a conference call. One of the things that always have to be identified when planning a call is what approach you should take as the speaker. Should you take the “I” focus, or the “we” focus and what is the difference?

Some examples of I-Centric presenting will be when you say phrases that have a personal focus, like I have or I feel. In a We-Centric conference, you’ll be referring to a lot of things in the third person or using we. So how do you know what focus to take? As I’ve said before, on a conference call you only have the ability to use words and tone to set a mood.

Set the mood with an “I-Centric” presentation if you are:

Invited to speak on the conference call. You’re there because you have some information, and people want to hear how what you’ve done worked for you.

Accepting a promotion or a new position. You want to address that you’re excited and that you’re looking forward to working with everyone.

Presenting research you did. Sometimes, what you’re showing everyone is something that you’ve done on your own, so “I-Centric” words are completely okay.

Set the mood with “We-Centric” phrases when you are:

Accepting a promotion or a new position. Yes, I realize that I suggested you use I-Centric words for this situation also. The truth of the matter is anytime you accept a promotion or new position in your company is a time that you should enforce the ideas that you’re all going to be a team. It’s important that everyone walks away knowing you’re excited about your new position and that you look forward to collaborating with a new team.

Updating on company policy. When policy changes are made, it’s not just the employees who are affected. Everyone will be affected by changes in a company. When announcing them to a group of employees you need to make sure they understand that the management will not be immune to the changes.

Status meetings. When you’re just updating members of your company or group with where you stand on a project or just in general, you should take a We-Centric approach. Any good things that have stepped forward with the project, everyone has a small part of the success – as well as any failures.

The bottom line between using a We-Centric or I-Centric focus is that most of the time, you’ll want to use a mixture of both, and depending on what you have to say, it could affect the way you say it. How are you using “we” and “I” to set the mood on your conference call?

Share Your Knowledge

Since most of my love for public speaking comes from the love I had of debate, I can always think back on the things that I knew and learned from that time in my life. I’ve talked before about how it helped me grow and come out of my shell, but it taught me things that I didn’t realize until recently.

I went to a tournament where one of the debaters was a really cocky guy, and in truth their entire school was. They were the “ones to beat” and everyone knew it. So while our team and another team were sitting out by the hotel pool, hanging out, and having a good time, no one wants to speak to their team. Their team knew everything about debate, and didn’t offer any kind of help to novice debaters, or schools. It seemed like they took it too seriously, and didn’t use it as a learning experience. They were great, and everyone knew it, and we always want to learn from what is considered to be the best.

This one guy was the worst. You could hear him a mile away talking about how great he was. After his rounds, he would come into the community prep room and very loudly declare that he is the greatest thing ever. Naturally, he was really ticking me off. In one of my second rounds, I drew against him, and I dreaded it.

He beat me. He beat me so bad that I swear I think I still have a bruise. In fact, I think he might have won that tournament. It was the judging sheet that we got back weeks later that surprised me. He scored low on courtesy points. Courtesy points are usually the easiest things to get, because all you have to do is be nice to your opponent. Part of my beating was that he just verbally assaulted me (it was bad – I cried after) and the judge noticed that he was not as polite as he could have been.

Yes, he might have won, which a lot of people would argue that’s the point of being involved in a competitive event. I disagree – debate was a place for many of us to get introduced to networking and speaking under pressure. Most debate team members are involved in the Communications department somehow. That judging sheet taught me one thing very quickly – there is always someone observing you before you speak.

What you do and say before an event is going to be just as important as what you say during the event. Someone is going to be observing you and there’s a pretty good chance they are going to jump on the opportunity to pick you apart. We all know “that guy” is out there.

You don’t need to sell yourself. Why not just cut loose and have some fun? My debate colleague was good – everyone knew it – but we disliked him because he walked around talking about how great he was. I actually heard him say some pretty clever and witty things, so I’m sure he was a great person to be around, but no one (aside from the people on his team) wanted to be near him.

When it comes to being invited to speak somewhere, we have an obligation to share our knowledge with other people and not just talk about why we are so awesome. How are you inviting people to learn from you not only during the conference, but also before?

Quality or Quantity

I took part in #blogchat on Twitter Sunday night and an interesting conversation arose from @prosperitygal who asked, “Do you think you have to blog once a day to be a “real Blogger?” This is a great question because it comes down to objectivity.  Everyone is going to have a different take on this question.  It really depends on how you feel about blogging and why you are blogging. 

Some people feel that there is no such thing as a real blogger because anyone with a blog and a keyboard can call themselves that. Others will tell you that posting everyday will count as content and boost your rankings, and while that is very true, I have to say I disagree.

I think that bloggers have a responsibility to say something meaningful. My mom always told me that if I was going to speak up in a conversation, I needed to make sure what I said was relevant. Basically, that I shouldn’t try to speak just so I could say “okay, I spoke, check that off the list.”   Look at Outspoken Media – the team posts something new every day, but for me, it’s always a good read. There’s always an underlying thought or a greater conversation to be had.  They don’t post blogs for the sake of posting blogs. Maybe you dislike Outspoken Media; maybe you’d rather gouge your eyes out than to see one more post – that’s why this is such a great question. 

You can also take a look at UnMarketing, who has had 5 posts between now and back in April (one of my favorites being this one about blogging frequency). Both of these sites are top notch blogs in my opinion, but they both have different styles, and I enjoy reading both blogs. 

When it comes to blogging, I think its quality over quantity. I don’t care if you post on your blog once an hour, as long as it’s written well and has a purpose. It’s very easy to talk about creating “good” content but I don’t feel like that phrase really has a meaning, because what is good to me may not be good to you. If you post once a week and I like what you have to say, I’ll keep coming back.  Personally, I think that hitting send and putting something on your blog, just so it makes your analytics happy is a waste of time.  Sure, I might read it for a few days, but once I realize your content bores me, I won’t be reading it anymore. 

For me, a “real” blogger is someone who can make me think, make me laugh, or make me cry with every post. We are all victims to our hits and misses – things we think will be great, but it didn’t warrant a lot of traffic, but I honestly think that in the end, it’s what you say and not just how often you say something. 

In the end, my rules don’t apply for everyone, but I truly feel like it’s a great writer who makes a blog, and not how often they post on their blog. What do you think? Is it quality or quantity that keeps a reader coming back for more? 

 

Presentation Time Limits

Last week, my dad called me in a mess of bubbling excitement, the likes of which I hadn’t heard since one of his Little League teams was getting to battle it out on the road to a championship years ago. A few weeks ago, he got a new job and was faced with the prospect of presenting a proposal—something new for his company.

He struggles with getting up and doing presentations. It’s not that he’s shy (by ANY means), it’s just not something he’s had to do a lot, and his brain tends to get ahead of his mouth—especially when he’s bubbling with ideas. Naturally, he called me for some tips about what to do. The first thing I told him, based off what I know about my dad and his ability to ramble, was to set a time limit for his presentation. He had one hour in front of the big-wigs in his company, and he wanted to make the most of it, but he had about thirty pages of information he wanted to cover. We had to whittle all that down to a presentation that would fit in a time limit that didn’t seem like too much, or too little. Here’s what we came up with:

  • Give yourself enough time to cover what you want to cover and leave time for questions. Since he was presenting something new to a company that they had never done before, it was important to pad the time for a little longer question session. We anticipated they would want to know a little more about what he had in mind, and he wanted to be able to answer those questions.
  • Define specific points to cover – and make them the most important things. To do this, we found that he should take a journalistic approach. In his presentation, he should answer who, what, when, where, why, and how and then let the conversation start.
  • Stick like glue to the plan. When you make a plan and then veer off the path, it’s almost like people can see that your thought train was completely derailed. Once you make a plan for time limits, stick to it.
  • Plan what you’re going to say, and then put together the PowerPoint. Since we were trying to stick to a time limit, we decided that if we put together what he would say, instead of what he would show, we would be building a PowerPoint that was to the point of what we were trying to accomplish.

In about ten minutes, we had my dad ready to go, and after another thirty, we had his PowerPoint knocked out. It only took us about an hour to get him ready to present to a Fortune 500 company – and the best news? They loved his ideas and gave him the green light to go ahead and get the ball rolling on a major venture.

Public Speaking Practice

A lot of times I talk about how to “practice” before you stand up in front of a group or jump on a conference call, but I get the distinct feeling that not a lot of people take this into consideration. We make a lot of excuses as to why we can’t practice – or sometimes, even why we won’t practice. I’m going to debunk some of those reasons right now and show you why you should always practice before you present.

Excuse #1 – I’m a pro. Yeah? So are Major League sports players, musical talents, and theatre stars. So are movie stars, television stars, and even acrobats in the circus. They still show up to batting practice and dress rehearsals. Getting paid to speak at events doesn’t mean that you’re immune to wardrobe malfunctions or technology failures. 

Excuse #2 – I don’t have enough time. Make time – plain and simple. You should never try to make a presentation when you haven’t familiarized yourself with the surroundings or topic. You would never present on a subject you don’t know anything about – so why would you make a presentation in a conference room or over a phone system that you didn’t know anything about. 

Excuse #3 – I have to travel to get there. Okay, that’s understandable, but that shouldn’t be your excuse for absolutely not practicing. Give yourself enough time when you get into the venue to at least take a walk around the hall, or to ask someone to tell you how the conference call will work, instead of just walking into the presentation and expecting everything to run smoothly. Pad your scheduled with, at the very least, 10-20 minutes of down time before you start.

 Those are the three biggest reasons that I hear for why people don’t do a run through before their conferences. Everyone says the old cliché about how practice makes perfect – but I don’t agree with that.  I think that striving to be perfect will only lead to disappointment because no one is perfect. You should instead strive for confidence. Part of confidence is being comfortable. So practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make confident public speakers. 


Crisis Communication

I think we can all agree that the BP created a PR disaster with their handling of the crisis shortly after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I’m sure if the PR team could hop in a time machine and go back, they would find a way to handle things a little better from the very start. (One would hope right?) The thing about communication in a crisis is that sometimes, we come across situations that are unprecedented, things that have never happened before, and it isn’t until later that we can get down into the nitty gritty of a company response and learn from mistakes as well as triumphs. This kind of communication can be especially different when hosting a conference call to update everyone and when you have only your voice and the words you are using to convey the messages, here are some important things to keep in mind.

  • Express your emotions so there is no question on how you feel about a situation. Sometimes, situations call for condolences to be expressed to families. Be sure you say that out loud. In a crisis, loss happens, and you’re sorry for that. No one will be able to see that in your eyes, so you have to say it out loud.
  • Use the tone of your voice to convey the seriousness of the situation. There is a time and place for jokes and humor on a conference, but this is not one of those times. It’s not always appropriate to try to “lighten the mood”.
  • Use facts and refrain from judgment or blame. When presenting information in a crisis, the last thing you want to do is speculate when you shouldn’t be. Talk about or answer questions about what you know, not what you think.
  • Keep it simple and avoid using jargon. Word is going to travel fast once you hang up from the conference. Speak in simple terms to lessen the likelihood that your words and meaning could be twisted.
  • Be mindful of the words you are actually saying. For example, using a word like “promise” is going to stand out. Even when you say “I promise” or “we promise” and you don’t mean the literal meaning of promise, for many, that word binds you into stone. Remember that your words have so much power, even though you’re just trying to offer comfort.

I think in the end, what I’ve learned from BP as well as numerous other tragedies that we’ve had in the world is that when it comes to communicating in the crisis, most of what people want is reassurance, but as companies, we are also trying to give the public the facts. What have you learned from the BP oil spill?

Communication Barriers

In the spirit of full disclosure, yes, I do have finger nails, and yes, they do make a tapping noise on the keys when I’m working. I apologize for that and I try to work as quietly as I can. I get lost in what I’m doing sometimes and forget that the sound of my keys does not make what I’m doing any better or worse.

With that being said, I was at a conference recently and sat next to someone who was using their laptop. Okay, fine, lots of people were. However, I have no idea how her keyboard has survived. She wasn’t just tapping against the plastic with her nails (again, like I do) but banging against the keys with her fingers so hard I could hear the plastic begging for help. Frankly, I was surprised she didn’t use her elbow to hit the space bar and just put the thing out of its misery. I wasn’t the only person who thought she was being disruptive, a few other people in the room were giving her sideways glances, and since I was at the perfect angle, I took a peek at her screen.

She wasn’t taking notes. She was working on something else completely. I can’t understand being that disruptive and not even paying attention. Not only was she disrupting some of the audience, but I can’t imagine how she wasn’t disrupting some of the guest speakers too. There are a lot of barriers in communication that can come up no matter if you’re speaking to one person or a thousand. Here are a few of the most common and how you can overcome them.

  1. Selves - Effective speakers know that a “me” focus turns off an audience. An audience wants to hear how what you know will benefit them. Sure, tell stories, but engage your audience with personal experience. Remember to always focus it back to them and how they can apply it in their business.
  2. Environment – One of the quickest ways to lose your excitement about speaking is to be in a bad set up or venue. Check out your set up before taking the stage to see if you’re comfortable. If there is something that doesn’t feel quite right, like the arrangement of the chairs in the room, you can go ahead and rearrange or prepare yourself for that.
  3. Noise – All noises can cause a distraction during a presentation. On a conference call you can easily mute the entire audience with a click of a button, but dealing with a face to face audience can offer more challenges. You can politely express that they turn off their laptops and communication devices, but we all know not everyone is going to do that. You have two choices when it comes to laptops and cell phones during a presentation – ignore it or embrace it.

As a speaker, it’s important to remember the barriers of communication and how to break through them. What barriers have you come up against and how do you get through them? And remember – your keyboard never did anything to you. Try not to hurt it.

Technology Turn Off

Things are busy. It’s the nature of the world we have created around us, we always have our emails on and this is truly an era of always being available. It’s good for business, but it’s not always good for your mental state. As much as I love what technology has done with always being able to communicate, sometimes, I just need everyone to shut up. There is too much noise – Facebook alerts going off, incoming texts and emails, and that annoying Twitter app I’ve been using. 

My need for silence has driven me to shut off all communication for one hour a night, but to be honest, I start getting the shakes after too long. For an entire hour, I have to ignore the temptation to scroll through my emails and make sure no one needs me right now, update my Twitter, send a text, or post to Facebook. When I first started, it was harder than I thought it would be. Then, I realized that I was trying to replace an activity with, well, nothing. Having my phone means always having an activity, and when I turn it off, I instantly have nothing that I can do to pass my time. With that in mind, I decided to make a list of the things that I can fill my hour of time with. 

Write. I don’t mean blog posts or working on comments, I mean writing something that is completely unrelated to my work life. This could be an entry for my personal blog or something fictionally related. It doesn’t matter; I just need to set some time for myself and the kind of writing that I do for pure fun. 

Clean. I admit that I am a bit of a clean freak. My husband would probably say I’m “crazy clean”. I wage daily battles against dust bunnies and coffee spots on the kitchen floor and counters. I actually find it very therapeutic and relaxing to clean. When I’m turning off my technology for an hour I like cleaning to relax – but if you hate to clean, I wouldn’t suggest this to you. 

Crap TV. I also admit that I have a deep love for the worst kinds of reality TV. The more out of control, the better for me, and I personally think it’s hilarious to watch people on reality TV struggle. Take all of these Housewives shows – they live in giant homes with all of this money, and the only things they have interesting in their lives it to sit around and pick at each other. I think it’s amusing – and we all need a good laugh. 

Read. I don’t read enough anymore. It’s one thing I’m aware of and I’m also a very picky reader. I’ve read things that have turned into movie franchises that when I see the words on the page, I want to stab my eyes out. People’s likes and dislikes are always different, but I can appreciate anything that is a good book.  (By the way, if you have any suggestions, I’m game. My book list has gotten shorter lately. I need new stuff.) 

There are some ways that I step back from my dominant need for my communication with others. It’s been really nice and if you’re not already turned off for a period of time each night, I suggest that you do. It’s been a great experience. The silence is actually very comforting. How are you shutting off and shutting everyone else up? 


Listening Skills

When it comes down to communicating each other, there is nothing more important than listening to the other person. Since we are surrounded by things that are distracting, it’s hard not to look like you’re completely ignoring the person.  At home, my husband has this really bad habit of staring at the TV when I’m talking to him, replying with “uh-huh” a lot and then when I call him on it, he can repeat every word I say back to me. I still don’t feel like he’s listening, because he’s not engaged. At least, he doesn’t seem to be engaged. On a conference call or a phone call it is even harder to seem engaged, because no one can see you and your listening skills become even more important. Here are some listening skills you can use to show that you are engaged and interested in the conversation you’re having. 

Turn off email, IM, and even your phone. Even if you put everything on silent and turn the speakers on your computer down, people can see hear you typing. Unless the conversation you’re having online is directly related to the conversation you’re having on the phone, it won’t kill you to stop multitasking for 30 minutes to an hour. (No, seriously, it won’t.) 

When asked a question, try to repeat bits of it back in your answer. Let’s say I was asked a question about the changing climate of business travel. I would respond with, “That’s a great question. I think the changing climate of business travel is…” Or whatever would be appropriate. It lets the person who is asking the questions know you’re actively listening to the conversation. 

Let the natural flow of conversation take you over. Keep a note pad in front of you and if someone is speaking for a long time, you can jot down notes of things you might want to ask them about, good points in the conversation, or things you’d like to comment on. This way, you’re not interrupting the speaker (which is good), you’re keeping your thoughts organized, and you’re writing things down – which is a way of improving comprehension when listening. 

Is being knowledgeable of the subject matter being discussed important? Yes, absolutely, but conversations are nothing without active listeners. Take the example with my husband – sure he can repeat what I’m saying, but did he really comprehend anything I said? Maybe – I’ll probably never know. What listening skills are you bringing to the table to improve your communication on a conference call? 


Presentation Exercises

It’s just common sense that before taking a run, you should stretch out your muscles, and before attempting to tackle a novel, you should try to get yourself a general outline for your plot. There are just some things that you should do before you try something else. If you’ve seen 8 Mile you know that Eminem’s character B. Rabbit’s way of warming up before getting in front of a large group is to stare intently at himself in the mirror before throwing up a little. Then he is ready to face the crowd. I suggest not doing that – but here are some things I do suggest doing before you have to present.

  • Find a quiet place to park yourself and pre-game. Do you have any notes for your presentation? How about a print out of slides? Review your notes and slides and go ahead to make any last minute notes about things you want to cover.
  • Finish up your pre-game 30 minutes before the start time. While it might seem like a good idea to keep going over your notes until you walk in the door, I’d like to take a second to remind you of college and high school. Reading your notes again before the start of your test isn’t going to help you. If you don’t know it by now, you won’t, so give yourself a break.
  • Pump yourself up with some music before the presentation. Stick in your headphones and jam, or if you’re in front of a live audience, pipe it out to them too. You’d be surprised how much a couple of your favorite songs can get you ready to go.

I realize you’re not about to battle for the title of marathon winner or best freestyle rapper in Detroit, but no matter what, it’s still just as important to you that you do well. What presentation exercises are you doing? Do you have specific songs you listen to that get you pumped and ready to go?