3 Meeting Tips for Leaders

A meeting is a time to show what kind of leader you are.  Yes, it's also a time to gain or share information, but it can be one of the few times that employees get to see their boss at the helm.  How you run your meetings will tell a lot to your employees about you and the state of the company.

John Baldoni of the Harvard Business Press wrote about leaders and meetings in a recent blog post, "Now more than ever, senior leaders need to be seen and especially heard by the people who are counting on them for direction and focus." 

Meetings are times when you can be visible and proactive, so use them to inspire your employees.  Here are three meeting tips Baldoni gave us to help leaders run a solid and energizing meeting

1.  Be Focused – It's sometimes easy to get distracted or off on a tangent during a meeting, but this isn't strong leadership.  Have an agenda, stay on task, and schedule tangents for another time.  To quote Baldoni again, "Executives need to demonstrate their knowledge of the situation as well as their command of the situation."

2.  Tell Stories – This piece of advice is invaluable.  A lot of information is thrown around during a meeting, and often even copious notes don't catch it all.  And if you record your conference calls or web conferencing, you still have to remember what the webinar was about.  Figure out what your main point of the meeting is and tell a story about it.  A story will make it memorable, long after the notes are gone.

3.  Hear from the Field – A good leader knows they cannot do everything themselves, but must delegate.  It can be the same during a meeting.  You don't have to stand in front of everyone for an hour to be seen as a leader.  Instead, let people report about their departments, tell what they've accomplished, or voice their ideas or concerns.  You and everyone else can learn from these people, and perhaps be inspired by them.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

The Pros and Cons of Using Instant Messaging on the Job

As we saw previously, using IM is a generational thing. But how does IM work in an office environment? How best is IM integrated into proper office procedures?

1. Use IM as another form of email. If you receive information on IM, respond that you received it and will respond when you can. The instantaneous aspect of IM sometimes can lull users into a sense of non-response. Always respond, even if it's to say "Can't talk. I'm in the middle of something. I'll get back to you."

2. Be a leaver of messages. Especially when someone has an away message up, leave a succinct message and don't pester.  Instead of using IM as a chatter tool, transmit the important message and then don't keep typing. Work is not the same as a chat with your friends online.

3. Use chat rooms when there's more than one person involved. Nothing irritates people more than trying to have a discussion and one user takes forever to respond. If there's more than one person involved in the discussion, invite everyone into the chat by using a chat room. Better to have everyone involved from the first word rather than having to repeat from person to person.

4. When in disagreement, try a phone call or a face-to-face talk. Nothing online is worth insults and disrespect. If you can't resolve your issues through IM (or even email), pick up the phone, or go find the person and resolve it face-to-face. I've saved myself hours of IM discussion using this tactic.

5. Respect your fellow users' time. Forwarding web sites and cartoons and news stories is fine, but don't inundate your colleagues with an endless stream of content that only distracts from work. Sure, it's fine to have a little, but a lot gets old fast.

Start Your Presentation Strong

Good morning.  My topic for today's blog post is improving presentations by beginning with one of the tips that will be listed below.  The first part that I would like to discuss is…

Are you asleep yet?

No one wants to start their Monday morning with a meeting that makes even coffee ineffectual.  Come to think of it, there is never a time that people want to sit through a boring meeting.  The necessary information at the heart of many business meetings is dry, but that doesn't mean it can't be interesting to hear about it.

Bert Decker - Chairman & CEO of Decker Communications - wrote in his blog several "do's" to open your presentations that are designed to waken and enliven an audience and get them in a more receptive mood. 

The first - and perhaps most dramatic - is to start with a bang.  Decker suggests being unusual.  Do you have a hidden talent?  Could you start your meeting off with a yodel?  Use your imagination to shake off the cobwebs.

Another good suggestion is to use stories.  Pick one that has a point to coincide with your presentation, but one where the connection can only be seen at the end of the story.  Or better yet, pick a dramatic tale and just when you get to the cliffhanger, start your presentation.  Of course you'll need to finish the story at the end or some people will get upset.

An attractive suggestion of Decker's is to use intrigue and interest.  His example is one of his staple techniques.  He approaches the podium and reads a speech - looking down the whole time - in a monotone.  After thirty seconds or so, he rips up the speech and goes into his normal, energetic presentation - to the relief of the audience.

I just had an idea to kick-start an early morning meeting.  When you announce your next meeting, make sure to clearly and menacingly state that there will be no food or drink tolerated in the conference room.  You should even put a big official sign on the door.  Then the morning of the meeting, after everyone else but you is in there, walk in last with coffee and donuts for all.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

The Conversation is Yours

It's easy to think of a conversation between two people as a simple natural thing.  To some degree it is, but not when it comes to a business conversation.  In business, there are many factors, a lot of subtext, and specific goals involved when communicating with another person.  How can we keep track of it all?

Here's a new rule of thumb from the blog, JustTellMeHowtoManage, "The person initiating the communication is responsible for the communication."

What exactly does this mean?  Communicating is not a one-way street.  Both parties should be responsible, right?  Yes, but it all depends on what your intentions are.  If you just want two people to throw syllables at each other then you don't need any forethought.  But in business, you want your conversations to be effective, to transfer information, and to get things done.

If you need to update your sales manager, you don't just go in and start barking.  No, you gauge their mood, how busy they are, and attitude.  Then you talk to them in the way you know they prefer.  For example, for someone who talks fast and wants concise answers, you keep it short and sweet.  For a more laid-back individual, you might do a little more small-talk than usual.

You do all of this because your goal for the conversation is for them to receive, properly process, and understand the information you're giving them.  You do this because you – as the initiator -- are responsible for the communication.

The good news is that we humans tend to mimic or match other people almost automatically.  Even so, it's something to keep in mind the next time you walk down the hall to start a conversation.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

Get A Handle on Your Audience

Your audience can be as diverse as your department, your employees, your clients, your competition, your board of directors, even your prospective employees. How you write your business communications depends on who your audience will be. A few ideas on how to determine your audience in order to write more effectively for them follow.

1. Who are they? Sounds easy enough, right? Well, sure if you know exactly the type of person to focus on. Who are the key influencers? Who has the most direct power? Who can influence the outcome of the communication? Who has indirect influence (opinion leaders, potential allies, even those who just stamp approvals or route the communications)?

2. What do they know? How much information will they need (background information, new information)? What do they already know about the topic? What do they need to learn about the topic? What are their expectations and preferences?

3. What do they feel? What kind of emotions or feelings will arise as they read or hear your message? What is their current situation? How interested are they in your message? Is it low priority or high priority? Will they actually read it with interest and listen carefully? How curious are they and how much do they care about the issue or its outcome?

4. How can you persuade them? What is their probable bias? Positive or negative? Are they likely to favor your conclusions, be indifferent to what you propose, or be adamantly opposed to your ideas? Is your desired action (as every piece of communication you write must include some desired action) easy or hard for them? Will it be something they aren't interested in doing? Will it be a burden or a joy? Will they agree to your ideas with gusto or reluctance?

All of this is something you need to think about before writing your piece or speech. If you do think of these issues, you will likely be able to predict a response rate and a response attitude from your intended audience. CEOs and managers often put off writing until they "have to do it," which creates a badly written and poorly thought-out piece that doesn't accomplish what they set out to do in the first place. Taking a bit of extra time to think through objectives before you "have to write it" will help you to create a piece of communication that will do its job well. Plus, those who read your communication will be glad you did.

Who Would Want to Listen to Me?

Who will listen?

Supposedly, public speaking is the number one fear we all have.  The most common form it takes in our minds is standing up in front of a large group of people to give a speech.  But it can also strike when giving a toast at a dinner party, or when addressing clients on a conference call.

The cause of the public speaking fear is a tricky thing to pinpoint, but one part we can identify is that confidence has a lot to do with it.  Speaking from an audience’s viewpoint, we enjoy a good speaker and empathize with a bad one.  So it’s good to know that right from the bat, the audience – mainly – is on your side.

Lisa Braithwaite of SpeakSchmeak has a very good point on the subject of confidence.  Have you ever asked yourself, “Who would want to hear what I have to say?”  As Braithwaite points out, if don’t have anything to say – or think you don’t – then no, no one will want to listen.  Part of having confidence is knowing that you do have something to say and people will listen.

You know your message is important, so take stock from that.  Believe that your story is as good as or better than anyone else’s, and it will be.  Not because of wishful thinking, but because it came from you, and you – and your message – are unique and interesting. 

Creating Effective PowerPoint Slides

After last looking at the macro approach to presentations, which involved figuring out which pieces go where and in what order and creating a cohesive whole, in this post we'll discuss building the individual slide itself -- how to title, how to use graphics, etc.

1. Each slide needs a title. A lot of presentation specialists may argue the point, but how confusing is it to come into the middle of a presentation having missed the first five minutes and there's a slide up without any telling information on it. It's a graph, with lots of numbers, but the late arriving attendee has no idea what the information represents and has to dig through his handout or ask someone for information. Why not just put a headline on it? It's an easy, straightforward, audience-friendly approach.

2. Titles are not all considered equal. Communications specialist Mary Munter terms good titles as "message titles" and bad titles as "topic titles." Basically, a topic title is something like "Our Company" while a message title is "Our Company's Growth in 2008." So many presentation templates emphasize the use of topic titles (for those presenters just quickly throwing together their slides at the last minute), but take a few more minutes and think it through. How best can you explain what's on that slide? What message do you want to send about that slide?

3. Using graphs, word charts, and concept diagrams. Slide after slide of text may not be the best approach. If you have information that can be presented another way, why not try it? In most presentation programs, there are a variety of chart options to insert into your presentation. If you are presenting several "how much" or "how" concepts, consider doing so with charts, graphs, or concept diagrams. Rather than just using a bulleted list, why not use a more visual representation? There are a myriad of options available in PowerPoint, some over the top and unnecessary, but a simple chart used here and there can spice up an otherwise unfriendly presentation.

Do people retain information by reading it or by understanding connections between it and other information? It depends on their learning style. If you calculate that about half of your audience will be visual, using graphs and charts will help them, and will still reach the other half of your audience that are verbal or aural learners, or a combination of the two.

Be An Interesting Speaker, Part 1

Managers and CEOs have to make speeches. It's just a fact of business life. As someone in a position of leadership, you have to get up and talk to your constituents or your employees about policy changes, new business development plans, the state of the break room after lunch time, or whatever. For many, it's old hat; for some, it induces terror of the worst sort. There are many factors to consider when approaching a speaking event, so we'll cover those first.

A few tips to making it through your speaking duties:

1. Consider your body language. Speakers who slump or walk with a wilted appearance won't garner much respect or credibility. Posture is poise. If you stand up straight while you speak, it goes a long way. But you don't have to stand stock still the entire time, you can use planned, natural movements (use of hands and arm gestures, walk in short paces within your speaking space, etc.) that emphasize the points you are trying to make. If you're speaking in a more personal manner, you'll want to lessen the distance between yourself and your audience.

2. Think about your vocal qualities. How your voice sounds is another consideration. If you get really nervous, watch your breathing and slow it as much as possible. Try not to fear silence. If you're in between points and saying nothing, that's better than stuttering um, um, um as you find your bearings. Slow your speech to a meaningful pace (one that isn't so boring as to put people to sleep, but that isn't as fast as you can talk) and take care to enunciate the words you say. Hurrying and not speaking with clarity can seem like you're mumbling instead of speaking.

3. Find out about your speaking environment conditions. What kind of space are you speaking in and to? How will your listeners be seated—around a table, in rows of chairs, around smaller multiple tables? Consider how far away you should be and how close you should be. Communications specialist Mary Munter says that the more objects you place between yourself and the audience, the more formal the interaction. Think about what you should wear? Is it a casual event or should you wear business attire?

In an upcoming post, we'll cover how to practice your speech, relaxation techniques, and last minute jitter techniques.

Designing Top-Notch Slide Presentations

The macro version of slide presentations entails figuring out which piece of your presentation goes on which slide and how to connect them all into a cohesive whole.
This post discusses the macro version. In a future post, we'll talk about the micro version of slides, or what each slide should look like. So stay tuned!

Remember the presentation structure we talked about in our previous post? Everything you put together in that step now comes forward to this step. Got everything within reach. Okay, let's go.

1. Translate your presentation structure into draft slides. You'll need an opening slide (usually an inspiring image or quote) and an agenda slide (a kind of table of contents for your presentation; this is a bit different than the quick synopsis of your key points, which is part of your presentation. An agenda outlines the slides for your presentation). Then you'll need slides for all your main points and backup slides (at least one or two) to support those main points. And finally, you'll need a closing (or summary) slide. So how many slides total does that give you? Use one piece of paper for each (or if you're already using your slide software program, map out the number you'll need there).

2. Connect the agenda and the main points and backup slides. Use the same wording throughout. For instance, if you describe the employee handbook as the "Employee Guide," use that throughout your presentation so as not to confuse anyone. Keep the typography and graphics, spacing, amount of text and size of text as similar as you can throughout all the slides. Another idea is to repeat that agenda slide throughout the presentation, each time you switch to the next main point in your agenda. But only if your presentation is quite complicated and really requires people to focus on how each main point relates to the other.

3. Choose colors that don't overwhelm or distract your text. If you use Powerpoint, you'll have to avoid the templates that come with the program, according to PowerPoint critic Edward Tufte, who said, "No matter how beautiful your PP readymade template is, it would be better if there were less of it." Design your own template and then keep it consistent, as mentioned in step 2. Use a solid background, without patterns or textures or graphics that move. More light, go lighter; less light, less light, a cool color such as intense bright green, blue, or maroon, as the color won't glare like a lighter color.

4. Keep the typography simple, and ignore the urge to add animated or convoluted graphics. Less is much more; trust me. I recently took a multimedia presentation class and realized that every single presentation I've ever given was a disgrace to the name presentation. I love animation and graphics and pretty colors. by the time I got out of that class, I knew that I would never again subject my audience to a dancing cartoon character or a headline that flickers on the screen. Please trust me when you think just one fancy graphic or animation will add some pizzazz to your boring presentation. Just don't be a boring speaker (or don't procrastinate) and you won't absolutely infuriate your audience.

Next time, a micro approach to slides: how much text, how to title, how to use graphs, and more!

What's Your Communicator Strategy?

Everyone has one, or should have anyway, when communicating as a manager or CEO with their employees, regardless of whether you are speaking or writing.

A communicator strategy is made up of the following:

1. What is your objective? Communicating in non-business environments is as simple as speaking or writing to get a response. However, in business environments, you are speaking or writing (i.e., communicating) in order to get a certain response. Thus, your objective will determine your communication strategy from the outset. To find a viable objective, convert your general communication goal to a more specific communication goal. This would look something similar to "To express my vision," which would turn into "As a result of this communication, my audience will understand my vision for 2009." See how that works?

2. What communication style do you choose? Your communication style is directly related to the objective you've set for the communication. Are you explaining or persuading? Are you seeking to understand or learn something?  You're going to use different communication styles when doing each of the above-listed objectives. For instance, when you're explaining, you have all the information you need, you don't need others' opinions, ideas, or input, and you want to control the message content. This is also true with the persuading communication style. For the communications that are for you to understand or learn, you obviously do not have sufficient information, you need or want to hear other opinions, ideas, or input, and you want to (or need to) involve your audience in order to come up with the message together.

Be advised that sometimes you may need to use a combination of those styles in order to facilitate quality communication throughout a longer-term or more difficult project.

3. What is your credibility? What is your audience's perception of you? How they perceive you will affect your communication strategy. If they don't think you are someone they want (or need) to listen to, it does not matter how efficiently you communicate. Thus, you may want to stress or remind your audience of the grounds for your credibility. Let them know why they should listen to what you have to say, and do so in a humble way. However, simply relying on that is not enough. You must communicate well and use every communication tool in your arsenal to continue to prove your credibility.