Archive for the 'Meetings' Category

Listening to Winston Churchill

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen”
Winston Churchill

I love this quote from Winston Churchill as it seems to me that so many people find it difficult to listen, really listen. No doubt you have heard and understand that communicating involves so much more than words, yet how often do you or those around you put more effort in to speaking than listening?

Over the years I have been criticised by people I’ve worked with, for being too quiet in meetings, comments have followed along the lines of……”If you want to be a leader in this organisation you need to speak up more and stamp your mark” Even as a relatively new manager many years ago I wondered about this. Now, with years of maturity and experience on my side I actually quite enjoy it when I hear these comments as I recognise that this isn’t about me but about the person making the statement. It usually comes from someone who doesn’t have the courage “to sit down and listen.”

In the workplace (and out of it) we all come across people who are:
– The broadcaster – the ones who have to take centre stage and get their point across loudly and regularly
– The external thinker – who want to say what’s on their mind in any situation
– The uncomfortable with silencer – who fills the space when there is any kind of silence

With these people I would question how much listening and observing they are doing with the recipients of the communication.

There are also people who are:
– Great at listening and observing and then can use all the information they have gathered to take a discussion forward
– There are the listeners who create a space for others to say what they need to say
– The questioners who listen to what is being said and use questions well to reach further understanding, direction, to show empathy and to reach decisions

In any working situation it can be appropriate to have people in a discussion who can take up any of these roles as they all have a purpose. For communication to be effective it may be that sometimes the more avid talkers need to have courage to sit down and listen and those who prefer to listen and observe have courage to stand up and speak.

What ever your preferred style – now may be the time to try out something new and see how well your working relationships grow.


Asking the million dollar question

In my work I’m lucky to collaborate with some great people who have an attitude of wanting to do things differently. Inevitably I am working with them because they want to do something different in the way they communicate; this opens up a plethora of opportunities for the way they communicate as an organisation, a team or individually.

Working one on one with leaders we often reach a point where we are exploring strategies that will engage other people; in most cases this comes down to asking the million dollar question or questions.

Let’s take a typical situation……..You are about to have a team meeting and want to gain commitment from the team to take a particular direction e.g to manage something that is changing, increase performance or engage new customers. Before you go in to this meeting you know that there are likely to be some tensions, emotion and resistance. You know the team should be involved in forming the outcome yet you’re feeling uncertain about how to handle the meeting. What do you do?

Often the starting point for leaders is to find ways to avoid a discussion about the emotions or the elephants in the room and to shift in to TELL mode. This is a strategy used by many to reach an outcome which on the surface may appear to have reached commitment. For some it then comes as a surprise when the required actions to deliver on the change, the performance improvement or the new customer, don’t happen.

For the leader an alternative path to take before you go in to the meeting could include:
– Planning the parts of your meeting
– Planning what you will say to set the context for the change
– Mapping out the real or potential issues and hot spots
– Thinking about the million dollar questions you will ask

Probably the most difficult part is to think about the relevant million dollar questions and in particular how to use these questions. What ever your million dollar questions are, you are looking for the questions that:
– Involve people in the discussion
– Allow people to give their opinions
– Create a safe space for issues to be raised
– Move the team towards a collective outcome

Inevitably, your million dollar questions will need to be open questions – the How, What, Where, When and Why questions. On top of this, they need to be open questions with thought. Asking “Why aren’t you committed to this?” is likely to create a more defensive or negative response than asking “What do you need to commit to these changes?”

For many, finding the million dollar questions is hit and miss. To hit more than you miss will take practice and awareness; the planning steps mentioned above will help you to go from random shots to thoughtful engagement.

Ponderings on the future of presentations

I was at a conference recently and I ended up pondering that we’re at a really interesting stage in terms of what we expect from presenters or speakers and what presentations have to offer.

Over the 3 days at this conference there were some large group sessions with over 300 people in the room and some smaller sessions with 30 – 40 people gathered together. There were big name International and Australian speakers as well as a few relatively unknown industry specific speakers. Seeing these different presenters had me thinking that the world of presentations is definitely changing; the question for me is what next?

Over the last few years the impact of storytelling has been an area of focus for leaders and presenters. There are some people who do it superbly, with humour, emotion and a great tale to tell.

My pondering – will this become too formulaic as more people cotton on to the fact that storytelling is both powerful and topical?

Use of technology
In the last 15 or so years the technology that accompanies presenting has changed enormously. A few of you will remember the days of overhead projectors and scribbled on acetates. Can you imagine sitting through a presentation using that now? Instead there are so many options open to us – with such things as Prezi, you tube and animated media bringing presentations to life

My pondering – will the use of imaginative and gimmicky technology take over from the message?

Added extra – Swiss politician Matthias Poehm has set up The Anti-PowerPoint party. He asserts that PowerPoint presentations are actually costing the Swiss economy billions of dollars

The presenter
More demands are being put on the style of the presenter. Once they needed to stand behind a podium, use their overhead projector and say what they need to say. With storytelling and technology this has changed and it seems that the presenter needs to be comedian, actor and expert all wrapped in to one package.

My pondering – will style take over from substance?

Without doubt the future for presentations and presenters is changing. Any ideas on what it will take to present a clear message well in the next 10 years are welcome

Finding the art of conversation

How do you react when you walk in to a room of people who you don’t know?

Is your immediate instinct to run for the hills fearing that you either can’t open your mouth or if you do the most inane nonsense will fall out of it?

Or do you look at the people in the room and say to yourself that you have an opportunity to have some fun and a chance to get to know people?

If your first response is actually one of fear or apprehension take comfort in the fact that you aren’t alone. For different reasons many people prefer to avoid situations where they are with people they don’t know or people that they know only slightly and they may have to make conversation.
Continue reading ‘Finding the art of conversation’

Who left their personality at home?

Many years ago an old boss of mine, who made some interesting observations about people, asked why it is that we leave our personalities behind when we go to the office. Sitting in many meetings since then, I often contemplate his observations and wonder what space there is in the working environment for personality.

For the professional communicator it is often considered your job to take the personality out of communications to make sure that they fit within the relevant corporate speak and won’t become headlines. When writing communications for CEO’s and Senior Leaders they often fight against anything that shows emotion, vulnerability and gives a glimmer of themselves. What can be done to show some personality? Continue reading ‘Who left their personality at home?’