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Tuesday, 7 July 2015

How to build your 'A-Team'

Mentoring is like running a race. For both, you have:

  • Start
  • Finish
  • Track
  • Hurdles

In other words…

Start: know where you’re starting from. If you begin from the wrong place, you’ll run the wrong race
Finish: know where the finish line is, or you’ll sprint off in the wrong direction. And, as the saying goes: “if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else”
Track: know the path you’re taking, to take you from start to finish. What’s happening first, second, third…?
Hurdles: know – in advance – any hurdles you’ll encounter, and how you plan to overcome them. This is much more effective/pleasant than being surprised by a hurdle and having to deal with it with no prior planning

So, to become a great Mentor, you have to master all four. And each requires a combination of:

  1. Asking the other person good questions – like “what are you looking to achieve?”; and/or
  2. Guiding their thinking – like “in my experience, in situations like this, people are often thinking X or Y. Does that sound like you?”

For example:

1. Start – find out where they are now
  • Know your first questions, to start them speaking – “Are you having fun at work?”, “How can I help you?” etc.
  • Know your second questions, to uncover more detail – “Tell me more?”, “Why’s that exciting/worrying?”, “How do you know that this is the case?” etc.
2. Finish – find out where they want to get to

  • What are looking to achieve?
  • How will you know you’ve achieved it?
  • What value will it bring when you have achieved it?
3. Track – help them find the best path to take, to achieve their goals

  • What’s the best way to achieve these goals, in your opinion?
  • I’ve seen others achieve this by doing X or Y. Would either of these work for you?
4. Hurdles

  • What obstacles will you face, in achieving this?
  • How will you overcome these?
  • One thing I’ve seen work is X. Is that worth trying here? 

If you already have some good questions – ones that uncover the answers you need – great: keep using them.

But if not, invest time developing them, and practising them until they feel natural. Both you and your colleagues will be delighted you did.

Action point

For your next mentoring conversations, think in advance what questions you’ll ask, to find what you need to know.

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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

How actionable are your ‘Calls To Action’?

A recurring theme of our Tuesday Business Corner: the first step of preparing communication is to identify what you want your audience to do after it. In other words, start with your prep by identifying the Call To Action, and then create content that ensures they do it.

Obviously, these Calls To Action must be actionable.

But most aren’t.

Instead, they’re Rallying Calls: “Make 2015 our best yet!”, “Enhance our division’s reputation”, “get closer to our customers”, “be more self-aware”, “bring more value to our stakeholders”, “hit your targets”… They often leave people thinking “I’d love to. But how?”

One simple way to improve them is:

1. State the Rallying Call
2. Say “for instance”
3. Give examples of things they could do first, to get started

“Going forward, I want you to enhance our division’s reputation within the company. For instance, you could:

  • call key stakeholders, and ask how we can help them more;
  • think what’s been well received in the past, and do it again;
  • ask your peers how they’ve enhanced their reputation, and copy it;
  • identify other divisions that impress you, and learn from them”

These examples give your audience ideas they can use, or be influenced by.

It makes them more likely to act.

After all, when they know where to start, they’re more likely to start.

Action Point

Check your Call To Action in your next communication. Is it easy to act on? If not, incorporate some “for instances” to guide people how to start.

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Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Get better results by preparing better questions

Good questions drive everything.

After all, ask the right things, and you learn the right info. You can then use it to make the right decisions, at the right time, to get the right results…

I know, I know – obvious, right?

So, given how critical questions are, here’s one for you:

How often do you practise the questions you’ll ask?

In other words, do you always know in advance what you’ll ask, to get the information you need?

Most people don’t. For example, when preparing presentations, they often spend ages creating their slides and script; but not the questions they’ll ask. This means they tend to not ask anything. So they deliver a one-way monologue, instead of a two-way dialogue.

So, yes, questions get people talking.

But it’s your Second Question that gets the value.

Here’s an example…

Imagine you’ve finished an important project, and want to be chosen to work on another.

You could go to the person who chose you for project #1, and ask your First Question – “how else can I help you?”

She can only give one of three answers – “you can”, “you can’t” or “I don’t know”. And her answer will dictate what your all-important Second Question is. So, if she says:

  • “You can – I have another project for you”, your Second Question could be “please can you tell me more about this new project?” (and then ask things like “Why is it so important? What are your measures of success? What are your early thoughts on how I might be able to help?” etc)
  • “Don’t know”, your Second Question could be “would you be interested in hearing about other projects I’ve worked on, to see if there’s something we haven’t considered yet?” (Let’s face it, she’ll probably say “yes” to this!)
  • “You can’t”, your Second Question could be “OK, that’s fine. But one question though…” and then use the question in the previous bullet

This is powerful stuff. Many people wouldn’t even have asked the First Question. Instead, they’d have finished Project #1 with “thanks for including me. I enjoyed it. Bye.”

But you asked how else you could help.

And then responded to her answer with a powerful, pre-prepared Second Question. This makes it much more likely to lead to the outcome you want.

So, a quick recap – the steps are:

  • Create in advance your First Question. This gets her talking
  • Identify in advance the only 2-3 answers she could give to that First Question
  • Create in advance your response to each of these 2-3 answers

I guess I’m saying: prepare questions in advance. Your First Question will open doors; your Second will close the deal.

Action point

This morning, you’re about to have some important conversations. To help get the outcomes you want from them, script and rehearse your First and Second Questions.

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Tuesday, 16 June 2015

7 steps to persuasive proposal writing

Persuading people to do what you want is hard. Especially if you aren’t there to do it… which happens when they’ve asked you to submit a written proposal to them.

Here are seven quick ways to make your proposals more persuasive:

#1 Agree your solution before writing it

You are more persuasive than any piece of paper could ever be. So, don’t rely on your proposal to do your selling for you.

Instead, make your proposals a confirmation, not an exploration.

In other words, agree your proposed solution verbally during your meetings with your prospect. Then use your proposal to confirm what you’ve already agreed. This is much better than using your proposal to explore possibilities you haven’t discussed with her yet. (A good check: you should be able to write “as discussed” before every sentence in your proposal).

Benefits: it’s more likely to work; it’s much quicker to write.

#2 Agree the layout before writing it

It’s also important to agree with her what you’ll write in the proposal. If you don’t, you’re guessing what she wants to read. And you’ll be wrong. You’ll write too much. And it’ll take ages to think what to put in there. And, even then, she won’t read much of it.

To bring this up in your meeting, simply say “I don’t want to bore you by sending irrelevant information. So let’s agree what the headings of the proposal will be”.

How can she possibly respond to that? She isn’t going to say “It’s ok - be irrelevant”.

Benefits: it’s much quicker to write; she’s more likely to open it instantly, because it contains exactly what she asked for.

#3 Agree the follow-up before writing it

If you’ve ever written a proposal, you’ll have experienced the Black Hole of Doom that many proposals fall into. You send it. You don’t hear back. You then worry – do you chase (and maybe annoy her) or wait (and feel powerless)?

The simplest way to resolve this: agree before sending it when you’ll speak afterwards. Something like “So, I’ll confirm what we’ve agreed in a proposal for you. When shall we speak again, to discuss it?”

Benefits: you keep momentum high; no Black Hole of Doom

#4 Ensure your titles impress 

Most proposals’ titles are dull.

And the sections’ titles can also be dull – “About us”, “Our experience”, “Our track record”…

But titles drive everything. They’re a document’s first impression. So they have to draw the reader in. You know this to be true – after all, if this wasn’t the case, every article in every newspaper would have the title “More news”.

For the proposal’s title, include her #1 priority. So, if it’s to increase market share in Belgium, call it “Proposal: how we’ll increase your market share in Belgium”.

For the sections, think what she’ll find most interesting in that section, and put that in the title.

For example, I recently helped a large IT company win a €multi-million contract with a customer that wanted to improve their competitive advantage. We changed one section’s title from “Our cutting-edge IT” to “How our cutting-edge IT will transform your competitive advantage” – much more interesting to the client.

Benefits: great first impression; the prospect reads everything

#5 Ensure your emails impress

If you email your proposal, she’ll have read lots of things before even looking at it. Ensure they all impress:

  • Covering email title. Not just “Your proposal”. Instead, something like “As discussed: our proposal about increasing your market share in Belgium”
  • Covering email. Make it short – after all, you want her to open the proposal. But it must be well written and benefits-rich; plus remind her of the follow-up you’ve already agreed (see #3 above)
  • Your attached proposal’s file name. This will probably be similar to your email title, so mentioning Belgium. This is much better than a proposal file name I saw recently – “Proposal TS000625April15”.

Benefits: great first impression (plus, you don’t undo all the good work you’ve done so far!)

#6 Include a timeline

When people buy, they want certainty.

So, help her visualise how things will go. Timelines work really well for this. They clearly show who is doing what, by when…

…And that, the sooner she agrees to go ahead, what will happen immediately. Always good for building pace.

Benefits: clarity of offering; injects pace into the process as she sees what she’ll get the minute she says ‘yes’

#7 Make it easy to read

I know you think she’ll print your proposal, turn off her email, put the phone on divert, go into her favourite room with a cup of tea and devour it over many hours…

But she won’t.

It will be a skim-read, where she’s searching for the content she’s most interested in.

So, it must be easy to read quickly:

  • Short paragraphs – four lines maximum
  • Short sentences. The most common cause of longer ones is joining two sentences with “and” or “but”
  • Short phrases/words. So turn things like “prior to the commencement of” to “before”

None of these seven take more time than you currently spend.

In fact, most reduce it.

So, seven ways to write better proposals… and in less time.

Good for the customer.

Good for you.

Action Point

1) For your next proposal, use some/all of these seven tips, to make it stronger
2) For future proposals, use this Tip – and other great proposal ideas – to create a Proposal Ticklist that you can follow every time

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Tuesday, 9 June 2015

4 simple tips to presenting like a pro

Love making presentations?

Thought not. Most people don’t.

So here are four simple techniques that boost two things – your chances of success, and your confidence.

And they’re easy to remember – the initial letters spell FLIP:

First impressions

First Impressions

Your start sets the tone for everything.

Have a great first sentence, and your next ones will probably go well.

Have a bad one, and they probably won’t.

So, practise your start. A lot. A simple guide: spend 20% of your prep time on the first 2% of your presentation.

And don’t just practise it in your head. Say it out loud. Go to the venue/room beforehand and say it there… anything that ensures you’re good on the day.

Another important element of your first impression – your title. It’s hard to wow a room if your presentation’s called “Q2 update”. It’s much easier if it’s called “Three things our competitors can never do”.

Doing all this will take you only 10-15 minutes. That isn’t much input compared to the huge impact it will have on you/your audience.


Good links between slides give your presentation flow and pace.

But most presenters don’t consider how to link slides together. Instead, they use the next slide to prompt them what to talk about. But if you can see the slide, so can your audience. So doing this prompts them too. They know what you’re about to say.

So script how you’ll go from one slide to the next. Then say it before you click to bring it up.

Example: slide 8 discusses finances; slide 9, messages. So you’d say your link after slide 8's content but while slide 8 was still showing:

"So, as you can see, the finances are strong. Let’s now see how we’ll achieve these numbers, through better messaging" [click to bring up slide 9].

Again, it doesn’t take long to script your links. So it’s minimal work for a great return.


Audiences prefer to be involved in some way – much better for them than just sitting, watching and listening for hours.

So, get them involved. Options include:

  • Ask them to write something down
  • Give them a quick exercise to do with their neighbour
  • Do a quick quiz
  • Show them a funny quote/image, so they’re ‘involved’ by laughing
  • Ask questions to the group

Some presenters don’t like the last one. So, if that sounds like you, don’t choose that one! But do choose a different one(s)…

… Anything that breaks the pattern of the audience sitting, watching and listening for hours.


Audiences like presenters who show passion. And they switch off from those who don’t. So find your passion. And make sure it comes out in your presentation.

You’ll feel passionate about one/more of:

  • your content
  • the AFTERs - why you/the audience/others will be better off AFTERwards
  • your job
  • your company

Passion’s always important. But especially early on, to get them engaged quickly.

Action Point

Use FLIP next time you’re presenting. As long as each of the FLIP’s are there, you have a great chance of impressing!

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