Category Archives for Personal Communication

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.

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*

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.

Six candidates walk into a bar

A small business manager, a mechanic, a soldier, a teacher, a showie and an incumbent walk into a hotel….

Welcome to the Townsville Chamber 2019 Federal Election Debate.

I went to this morning’s event for a couple of reasons – it was my only chance to see all* the candidates side by side and get a sense of the person behind their election poster….and as a Presentation Coach, I wanted to see them put through their speaking paces and observe the impact it had on their message.

Here’s what I saw:

  • All six candidates were passionate about their vision for their electorate’s future.
  • They were all human.
  • They showed respect for their fellow candidates.

My recommendations (from a presentation perspective) to anyone standing for public office:

1. If you’re invited to a debate and you can’t attend, send your apologies. No one likes being stood up.

2. Rehearse your introduction – it is best not to umm and aah while speaking on the subject you should know best (yourself!). Your audience may not consciously notice your umms and aahs, but they will get a sense of uncertainty from you right from the start.

3. Be aware of your microphone ‘popping’. Those “P” sounds that force a large amount of air into the mic and jar your listener’s ears. If you notice it happening, turn your mouth slightly away from the microphone to avoid the air hitting it directly.

4. Watch your ‘crutches’. The first time you preface your sentence with “Let me be very clear!” it’s powerful…the second time a little less so….and the third time you say it, your audience is starting to think you’ve just got your Party pants on (Political party that is) and you’re parroting political clichés!

5. Answer the question – we know that politicians need to try to weave their party policy into the conversation, and ‘toe the party line’ when responding on certain issues…but if it doesn’t sound like you’re building to a clear answer in the first 15 seconds you will lose the crowd. (And it won’t be easy to get them back.)

Congratulations to all the candidates, not just for showing up this morning, but for being willing to put yourself in the firing line and step up for your community. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and tell others what they ‘should’ do (like I just have!) – thank you for adding your voice to this country’s conversation about our future.

*We won’t mention the candidates that chose not to show (without sending apologies for their non-attendance). You’ve already done enough damage to your own reputation amongst the Townsville business community.