All posts by Ruth Guice

Are Your Meetings One Way Traffic

You may not consciously acknowledge a meeting with co-workers as ‘public speaking’, but fear of public speaking may be the cause of it going off into a ditch.

Imagine you are a car.    Every time you parked yourself in a staff meeting, one of your panels got dinted.  Nothing big – just a little dint to your confidence in achieving a positive outcome on a project…a little scratch to your respect for a manager…a bump to your sense of worth as a member of the team. 

One bad meeting – is no problem, they’ll soon buff out. 

But week after week of dints, scratches and bumps means eventually you’ll become a write off!   The starry-eyed go-getter you were when you started is just a tiny spec in the rear view mirror.   Before you know it, you’re cruising the backstreets of LinkedIn looking for a new garage (where, in a very short amount of time, it’s all going to start all over again…new garage, same dints).

So how do you know if your meetings are on the road to success…or driving people towards the off-ramp?

Get off the roundabout for a second and check under the hood.

While there are as many problems and solutions for cohesive and constructive meetings as there are people on the planet attending them….there is a fairly sure sign of danger:

One Way Traffic

When you’re the meeting facilitator, there’s nothing worse than being the only one contributing, so you need to ask yourself WHY.

Honking your own horn – are you the only one speaking, because you haven’t stopped long enough for others to contribute?   You need to ask yourself, are you holding a ‘meeting’ or a ‘briefing’.   If it’s a meeting, then you’re asking for others input, sharing and discussion (two way street).  If it’s a briefing, then you’re informing or instructing (one way street).   Both are appropriate, as long as the attendees know the purpose going in – make it clear BEFOREhand, what will be expected.    

Attendance vs Attention – it’s the number one rule of the road, don’t use your device while driving.   The same applies to meetings.  On the road, you could kill someone…in a meeting, you completely kill the vibe (multitasking my ass – it’s just rude!).  Agree to go device-free and discover the difference.

Jekyll and Hyde – this person is great in their role, they have shared innovative ideas or important opinions outside of meetings – but the minute you throw to them to share with the group…crickets…they leave you hanging.  OR they may even seem irritated or aggressive, with short, clipped responses.   In this case, ‘it’s not you, it’s them’ applies.   This team member may have a fear of public speaking, that extends to even small groups of people.   (Get them to call me!)

Eight Mississippi Experiment – when you ask a question of the group, are you giving them long enough to respond?   When you’re in a meeting situation, 8 seconds may seem like an awkward silence, but if you can ask your question and then wait it out, you will be amazed at the responses that start to come back and the conversations that may ensue (that would never have surfaced if you’d only waited 3 Mississippi’s).

If you can incorporate these tactics to turn one way traffic into two way – you’ll be a long way down the road to meeting success….and hopefully with a lot less off-ramping.

A Letter from Your Audience

Dear Speaker,

Before we give you our time and attention, there’s a few things that we’d like you to bear in mind.

  1. There are plenty of other things that we could be doing.  Instead, we are here, listening to you, in the hope that what you have to tell us will be of benefit.  Please remember, our to-do lists are long, our attention spans are short.   If you value our attention, we will value your message.
  2. Your nerves are invisible to us.  If you are nervous, you are the only one focussed on it or feeling it.   The rest of us are just ready to hear what it is you have to offer (so no need to offer apologies).
  3. We don’t read powerpoints (neither should you).  It’s right there in the name – Power points not paragraphs. We do love images though and can handle one or two visual points that you then expand upon. 
  4. If you are not prepared to present, we are not prepared to listen.  If it’s your intention to read from your notes, you could have just emailed them to us.  The purpose of us meeting face to face is to build connection and understanding.

The reality is, we want you to succeed.   You have the opportunity to take us on a journey that allows us to imagine a better way, to not just inform us, but connect us, inspire us and challenge us.   And maybe, just maybe – because we see so few who truly offer that kind of connection – you will have enhanced your reputation.  

By showing us respect, you will have earned ours.

Sincerely yours,

The Audience


5 Must-have Anecdotes for your Arsenal

If you want to make a go of this public speaking thing….if you want to deliver memorable presentations and you’ve done your homework – you already know that weaving personal stories into your presentation is key to creating connection with your audience.

Storytelling is presentation dynamite.

When you’re asked to speak on the spot, having relevant and relatable stories fresh in your memory to share, can build a whole new level of respect and interest with your colleagues and clients.

Your 5 Must Have Stories

  1. Your most spectacular fails – first rule of presenting, is be human.  Be willing to share your fails AND of course what you learnt from them.  Rest assured, 99.9% of the time, your audience will be laughing with you, not at you.
  2. Catalysts for change – times when a situation became untenable and you took action to change it. e.g. changing your diet, your lifestyle, your job, your relationships?
  3. Obstacles overcome – building a business with no money, dealing with a difficult colleague, coping with loss, coming back from an injury or illness – obstacles are everywhere and sharing yours has the potential to inspire another human being to tackle theirs.
  4. Your WHY – if you are not one of the over 44 million people who have already watched Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on How Great Leaders Inspire Action …do yourself, your future audiences and anyone you meet at a networking event a huge favour.   People will be willing to trust you more, when they know WHY you do it.
  5. Your inspirations – who are the people you admire and why.   What did you read in their latest blog or book or hear in their podcasts that has changed the way you think or act around a certain subject.

Have more than one go-to story in your library

If you’ve been in a relationship for any length of time, chances are you’ve heard your partner tell one particular story at a party over and over again.    The first time you heard it, it was hilarious – even the second, third and eighth time were enjoyable…but, you know, there comes a time when all good stories need to be removed from the shelf, to make room for new ones!   So make sure that you’ve got a number of stories that fit the above 5 and switch them up!   

Look for lessons and add to your arsenal often

Life is happening to you, every minute of every day.  Every day is another page in your story – but most of us are just skimming through it like a 5 year old magazine in the doctor’s office. 

Great stories don’t have to be life-changing, there is magic in ordinary moments.  At the end of the week, look back at what’s occurred – did you witness an act of kindness on your morning walk, did your team solve a problem or make an un-makable deadline, did you read a book that changed your view?  Is there a message in one of these moments that would make a good anecdote somewhere down the track (maybe even in a job interview!).

Your stories make you uniquelooking more closely at your every day experiences gives your own life more meaning, as does sharing them with others.   

On the other side of fear lies amazing opportunities!

To paraphrase the mesmerising Will Smith, as well as America’s #1 Success Coach Jack Canfield – on the other side of fear…lies amazing opportunity.

In my 20’s, I was given the rare (we’re talking rainbow unicorn rare) opportunity to audition for breakfast radio in Melbourne. What an incredible door to have held open for you, even just a crack!  Unfortunately, I completely and utterly tanked the audition.    I was stilted, I was wooden, I was quite honestly paralysed by fear.   Where did the sunny, happy, witty (even if I do say so myself) me go?    Why on earth did she disappear on me, when I needed her most!?!

Why did I freeze?    My best guess, without becoming a frequent flyer at my local therapist’s office, is that it was fear of failure.   I got my mind so caught up in the size of the opportunity and ‘what if I fail’ that I fulfilled my own prophecy.

…and that is just one of the spectacular opportunities that I’ve missed, while I stood paralysed on the other side of fear.

Focus on the other side of the wall

Fear is like a wall, it’s the barrier between you and what you dare to dream.   Like a prisoner seeing their family on the other side of an inch of plexi-glass – what you want is right there in front of you, but painfully out of reach.

To quote Tony Robbins, “Life is a dance between what you desire most and what you fear most.”  When the desire for what’s on the other side of the wall outweighs the barrier in front of you, nothing will hold you back.  

FOMO, FOOMO and So What?

For so long I have dreamt of helping others conquer their fear of public speaking, but the fear of failure has always loomed large, and time and time again it’s made me slink back into the shadows.

Call it FOMO – but my desire has finally overcome my fear and I’m excited (and scared) to offer my thoughts, tactics and techniques to those who are holding themselves back from their dreams, because of their fear of public speaking.

You could say my FOMO has turned into FOOMO (fear of others missing out).

Now when the fears creep up and threaten to overtake me, I simply say “So What?”  If it doesn’t turn out the way I dreamt it, so what?   The possibility of failure is now nothing compared to the pain of not even trying.

Are you ready to overcome your fears?

In my Find Your Voice Workshop, we take a closer look at WHY you run away from the doors that open for you to share your story, your products and services…and give you the tools you need to climb the wall and discover the opportunities that lie on the other side of fear.

…it’s OK, not a single participant has died…yet.

To Collaborate – Elaborate!

Have you noticed that you’re starting to communicate less in sentences and more in emoji’s? 

I’ve caught myself a number of times recently, in a face to face conversation, giving the speaker a ‘thumbs up’ rather than actually responding in words.  Insert worried face emoji!

Now when things are going well in your relationship, or in your team at work, or even on your school’s P & F committee – when you’re all on the same page and in agreement of the direction you’re heading – this may be all that’s needed.

When you need to talk rather than walk

However, if there’s a point of contention or a difference of opinion – this is where we need to heed our parent’s advice to “use your words”.   One actually wonders whether those parents would use their words in a similar situation or would they resort to toddler tactics.   In this situation, many would choose to:

  • Clam up and give in, because you hate conflict
  • Use short and finite statements to try to shut the other person down and bring the subject to a close.  NOTE:  if the other person is also employing this tactic, you may officially consider yourself in an argument.
  • Storm or Flounce off (I love a good flounce myself)

While these may be the instinctive responses in the moment, they’re not great long term solutions for your team and may result in unwillingness to contribute again for fear of conflict, simmering resentment between members of the team that affects the health of the whole or it may even effect the mental health of those members involved.

Less is definitely not more

So what’s the solution?    Patience and practice is a great option.   One of my favourite quotes floating around cyberspace is attributed to the US Navy Seals “Under pressure, we don’t rise to the occasion, we sink to the level of our training. That’s why we train hard”.  

Based on that ethos, the solution would be to train yourself to respond in full and well-considered sentences a little more often – so when the chips are down and the heat is on, you can respond in a positive and constructive way.  

Susan M. Heathfield offers some very useful advice in her article “How to Disagree Effectively”.

The angst of possible disagreement and the angst of public speaking are similar – in that the lengths that we will go to to avoid them is remarkable (even at the expense of our career and personal goals)!  

But if you can stare both of these uncomfortable feelings in the face, you’ll be amazed how quickly the anxiety disappears.   If you’re not sure, you could always come along to one of my workshops and find out …I’ll just leave this link here. *smiley face emoji*

Warning: Sarcasm Ahead

I have watched many presentations where I could see the possibilities of what the presenter was trying to convey, but they really needed to pare back the information on the powerpoint and polish their presentation skills to have meaningful and memorable impact. 

I’ve also watched far too many that were prepared the night before, the morning of or as they stood to speak.  Which is perfectly OK, if you’re not invested in the outcome of your presentation or the perception of yourself, your skills or your company.

Five leading ways to get to ‘meh’

  1. Take your audience for granted.  Assuming that your audience has nothing better to do than watch your tedious demonstration of half-arse-ery might be just enough to do it.  
  2. Choose not to prepare.  If your name is Billy Connolly, then this will definitely work out for you – otherwise, probably not so much.
  3. Rely on technology to save you.   Relying on the whole room looking at your whizz-bang Prezi extravaganza, so that you can present with no one looking at you – is a great plan…until the tech fails and you’re left stumbling along saying “I had a slide that was a great representation of….blah, blah, meh”
  4. Have no clear conclusion or call to action.  Every presentation needs to go ‘somewhere’ – if you can’t state the purpose of your presentation in one clear sentence, probably best to save us all some time and feign illness.
  5. Allow fear to hold you back.   OK, this is where I drop the sarcasm.   So many people are paralysed by the fear of public speaking – brilliant people who have much to offer their community and their industry – yet they choose to remain small, rather than let their light shine.   I have known uni students who dropped out of their degree because they didn’t want to face their oral presentation, women whose incredible talents could create a thriving business but choose to work for others rather than put themselves out there.

My Find Your Voice Workshop is designed to tackle No. 5 once and for all.   To help you:

  • Understand why you get nervous.
  • Give you the hacks and techniques to get you past the fear and embracing the opportunity.
  • Tackle points 1 through 4 in a helpful way!

This gorgeous meme I saw on Tracy Sveinson Up Yours Facebook page says it best:

None of us were born for mediocrity.  So when you’re given the opportunity to shine for others, grab it with both hands and give it your whole heart.

Women are in a ‘sorry’ state.

Nothing undermines your authority faster than the ‘s’ word.

Apologising when there’s nothing to apologise for?   I’m sorry (not sorry) to say it, but women can be the worst!

Remember a time:

…you approached someone in a corridor and dodged the same way they did.

…the elevator doors opened and others were already in the lift as you got in.

…at the supermarket, someone was standing right in front of the grocery item you wanted.

Instead of whoops, thank you and excuse me – you said ‘Sorry’ didn’t you? 

I have, many times!   It seems like such a harmless little word and the polite thing to do.   But if you look at the definition of the word and you become aware of how many times a day you say it (unnecessarily), it could be having quite an effect on your overall confidence and self-worth…and how others see you.

Looking back now, I realise that for years I had been walking around apologising for my mere presence in the room or my existence on the planet!   Like a dog showing its belly in a submissive display (uncomfortable metaphor that one) – I was offering apologies to colleagues, bosses, direct reports, even complete strangers when what I should have been saying was “thanks for holding the lift”, “I appreciate your patience”, “glad I caught you in your office, have you got 5 minutes?”. 

In my presentation upskilling workshops, we talk about ways to display confidence and convey authority when speaking.   The first way, is to stop apologising.  For instance:

  • Instead of apologising for technical hiccups – thank the audience for their patience.
  • If you feel flustered or lose your place, stop…breathe…gather your thoughts and move on.  (You are the only one who knew what you meant to say – an apology just draws attention to a ‘mistake’ that no one knew you made.)

I am now very aware when someone says ‘sorry’ to me in those chance social encounters in corridors, lifts and on the street – and it’s rarely a male.    I also notice when women choose another word, and think “you go girl!”.

I’m laughing as I write this, because I just caught myself thinking “maybe I should put a disclaimer at the beginning of the blog to let people know that these are my personal observations and I don’t have any hard stats to back up my claims”.  An apology in disguise!  LOL…I’m a work in progress.    

The Mother Teresa Rule

Don’t waste oxygen talking about what you don’t want.   Fuel your goals not your fears.

For me, the opportunity to speak to a group is a tremendous privilege.   Everybody’s time is precious, so for people to give me their undivided attention to share my thoughts, opinions or ideas should be treated with the greatest respect, and used wisely.

Mother Teresa is quoted as saying “I will never attend an antiwar rally; if you have a peace rally, invite me.”   Hmmm…Anti-war / Pro-peace…isn’t it to-may-to / to-mar-to??  I think you’ll agree there is a subtle yet powerful difference between the two.    To be anti-war is to use your energy pushing against the unwanted and focus on the unwanted – it’s exhausting, and even if the war ends you are no further forward than the day before the war began.   On the other hand, to be pro-peace is to focus on what you DO want, it’s effects go way beyond the day the war ends to a brighter, more harmonious and prosperous future.

From a speaking perspective, when you speak in the positive it offers energy, excitement and opportunity, you are lifting the energy of the room and focussing your audience on solutions.   When you speak in the negative without providing an alternative, you are lowering the mood and leaving people feeling worse than when they walked in (politicians take note – give people something to vote FOR not against).

It is something that you will hear me harp on in my presentation upskilling workshops – it can be the difference between getting the job and not, the difference between being thought of as a leader or…not.

So when you’re gathering your notes and your thoughts to share in a meeting or deliver to a group – consider the opportunity before you, remember the Mother Teresa Rule and give the bulk of your presentation to the solution, not the problem.

How big is too big?

On the weekend, we said goodbye to our magnificent raintree – the tree that all other trees in our neighbourhood used to look up to.  

It was a tree you could see from streets away and made our property immediately identifiable on Google Earth.    It was home to bird life and native wildlife, it would take 3 and half people’s arms fully outstretched to give it a proper hug.  When the breeze blew through the leaves, you would be showered in flecks of gold as they fell to the ground.   An overly romanticized memory perhaps, but it was one of the reasons that we fell in love with our home.

Unfortunately, in 2011, Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi dealt it a blow from which it never recovered.    We should have bitten the bullet there and then, and had it removed – but we didn’t.      There it sat for over 8 years, this once noble tree, becoming weaker and more dangerous every day.   

So why didn’t we deal with it?   Fear.

It seemed insurmountable.   And the lopping companies appeared to agree.

Every lopper who came, would stand at its base, look up at it, walk around it, kick it….look up again, rubbing their chin and saying “that’s a big tree”.  They would then look at the narrow access, the shed beside it (which meant very little room to drop the limbs), look over the fence at the neighbour’s yard (zero access), look back at the tree and say again “that’s a big tree”.   Whilst they all promised to come back to us with a price, they never did.   It was insurmountable.

Except for one.    These were the guys, who after looking at the big picture, then broke it down into smaller steps.  It was both methodical and masterful, making a massive job doable.   So 7 hours, one cherry-picker, two cranes and some serious climbing and chainsaw skills later, it was done.    A sizeable chunk of real estate behind the shed has now opened up for us to consider some new and exciting possibilities.

When you have a fear (like public speaking) or any project that feels insurmountable, it really does help to break it down into smaller steps.   Then work on those steps individually (without having to look at the whooooole tree).  Before you know it, what appeared insurmountable is done and a whole new world of possibility has opened up.

Some would say the moral of this story is ‘don’t plant big trees’ (or buy a property with them) – I’d say life’s too short to think small.