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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Pointless meetings are pointless!






This week, a number of people have asked me to write about today’s topic, and I’m going to take a wild guess and assume they aren’t the only people in the world who want help on this.

The topic?

Pointless meetings.

Are you still reading?

Thought so.

Obviously, we can’t fix everything about meetings in one Tip.

But we can, at least, make sure they have a point to them.

And, for that, we need to remember The Golden Rule of Meetings:

         Meetings are supposed to cause something to happen

In other words, after a meeting, something should happen because of it. A new decision has been made. A new action has been taken.

Therefore, even if a meeting was the most dreadful, tedious hour of your career… if there’s an action afterwards, at least there was a point to it.

So, how to make sure that every meeting does cause something to happen?

  • Firstly, know what you want to happen! So, start your prep by asking yourself “what do I want to happen after this meeting? What decisions need to be made? What actions need to be taken?” (So don’t start your prep by thinking what should happen during the meeting. Instead, start with what should happen after it) 
  • Then identify the only agenda topics you need to cover, to ensure you achieve this outcome 
  • Now, identify the shortest time period you need for the meeting (trust me on this: meetings don’t always have to last one hour) 
  • And the fewest people that need to be there (remember, you can send Actions Arising to people who need to know the outcome, but don’t need to contribute to it) 

And that’s it. Start with your desired outcome and work backwards – streamlining content, duration and attendees. For example, let’s look at your weekly update meetings…

  • Start by knowing your outcome. What do you want to happen after the meeting? Let’s say it’s simply this: for everyone to try something new next week. And that's it 
  • Therefore the agenda only needs to contain two things (1) Success/challenge share – everyone has 30 seconds max to share their proudest success and biggest challenge since last week’s meeting (2) Identify your new thing. Everyone then says what their new thing to try this week is. This’ll either be copying someone else’s success or finding a new solution to their big challenge 
  • Duration – 15 minutes max – five for the first agenda item; ten for the second 
  • People – just the team. We don’t need anyone else 

And the benefits of this?
  • A fantastic outcome – each of your team has a new thing to try. Compare that to typical Updates where nothing happens as a result 
  • It’s quick – 15 minutes, not an hour 
  • It’s focused – no time wasted on peripheral, pointless agenda topics 

But best of all: there’s a point to it.

The meeting’s no longer just a Talking Shop.

Instead, it’s an action-triggering event that made things happen. Things that wouldn’t have happened if there hadn’t been a meeting.

Now that’s a great way to spend your time.

Action Point


Look at your next three meetings:

  • For the ones you’re chairing, identify now the action/decision you want to happen after them. Focus your prep before – and chairing during – to make sure you achieve them; and 
  • For the others, ask the meetings’ owners what actions/decisions they want as a result 

And, for any meeting where nobody can identify a desired action/decision? Don’t have the meeting. There’s no point having it.


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Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Want to stand out from the crowd and be a great communicator? Try these tips




I’ve asked thousands of people this question:

       “Do you think you’re better than average at communicating?”

And how do you think everyone responds?

That’s right, it’s “Yep – I’m above average”

But that’s mathematically impossible. Half the people in the world will be below average. That’s what average means.

And then I ask:

       “When you communicate, do you go the extra mile?”

Again, everyone says they do.

But that can’t be true either. If it was, it wouldn’t be “extra” to do it.

No, sadly, half of us are below average. And very few of us go the extra mile.

Which, of course, means it’s extremely easy for you to stand out. All you have to do is go the extra mile – do things that most people don’t – and you stand out as being a good communicator.

For example, next time you organise a meeting, why not do some/more of the following (because most people don’t):

  • Be crystal clear on the outcome you’re looking to achieve after the meeting. That way, you’re focused on the end-point so the meeting will be quicker 
  • Include this outcome in your meeting invitation beforehand – that gets buy-in early 
  • Include this outcome in your meeting intro on the day – that means everyone instantly engages… 
  • …And stop the meeting the minute you achieve the outcome. In other words, don’t just keep going until the scheduled end time (a good way to help achieve this – remove ‘Any Other Business’. That’s just a licence to spend ages discussing stuff not important enough to go on the agenda) 
  • Invite as few people as possible – stops people wasting time when they didn’t need to be there 
  • For those you do invite, individually tailor their invitation, so they know why they’re so critical to the meeting 
  • For those you don’t invite but thought about doing, let them know the meeting’s happening, why you’re not taking their time by asking them to attend, and that you’ll send them the 'Actions Arising' 
  • Contact people the day before the meeting, to remind them of the meeting’s outcome. Also, tell them you’re starting on time and that you’re expecting to finish early 
  • When they arrive, give them a pleasant surprise – something they don’t usually get at meetings they attend 

Or if you’re creating a document/presentation for someone, agree with them beforehand:
  • The purpose – in other words, what they want the reader to do after they’ve read it 
  • The structure/headings – so, what content do they want in there (and – equally importantly – the content they don’t) 
  • How long they want it to be 
  • The tone/formality 

Then, after you’ve agreed all this:
  • Diarise time now to prepare the document. After all, if you don’t, you’ll have to cram it into an otherwise busy day – that isn’t going the extra mile 
  • After you’ve created the skeleton for the first draft, contact them and check they’re OK with how it’s going 
  • Finish it 2-3 days early if possible – to give you time to practise 
  • Also, diary-remind yourself to call them before they present it, to wish them luck 
  • And diary-remind yourself to call afterwards – ‘how did it go?’ 
  • Once it’s been delivered, offer to help again 

You could think of your own lists, of course. All I did when creating mine was to think “What do other people really want me to do when I communicate with them that (1) will hugely help them but that (2) most other people don’t do?

And that helped me go the extra mile.

Which put me above average.

What about you?

Action point


Today, you’ll be in meetings, preparing documents etc. So go the extra mile. Use some of the bullets in this tip – or ideas of your own – to impress everyone you speak with. 


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Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Instantly become more interesting in 2 simple steps




You know how you’ll be speaking to lots of people today?

Well, will you be interesting?

Will they enjoy it?

Will you?

If you know 100% that, yes, you’ll be interesting, great – crack on.

But if you aren’t that sure, here’s a great question to ask yourself when you’re preparing:

      Is this interesting?

It sounds obvious, I know.

But hardly anybody asks it.

That’s why most communications aren’t interesting.

Great news though: it’s extremely easy to be more interesting. All you have to do is follow these two simple steps:

  1. Think what people find interesting 
  2. And do some of that 

For example, people like interactivity. So include some questions. That way, you ask them things. That makes them speak. It’s now interactive.

They also like it when people tell stories to make their point (facts tell, stories sell). So think of a couple of stories you can use, and use them.

They’re interested in things that benefit them. So mention benefits in your opening sentences. Which presentation would you rather listen to?

  • “Today, I’ll be running through the intricacies of Excel. It really is a wonderful spreadsheet” or 
  • “You know how you’re short of time? Well, I’m going to show you something that’ll free up lots of time for you. Maybe a few hours every week. It’s what we call Excel” 

Let’s do a couple more. ..

They like it when things are relevant to them (and hate it when they aren’t). So, before you prepare it, ask them what topics they want you to focus on. And then talk about them. Maybe also ask what topics they don’t want to hear about, to ensure you don’t bore them with irrelevant stuff

They also like good visuals. So don’t use bullet points on slides – they’re just boring to look at (I know they’re great Speaker Prompts. But you’re presenting to them, so should show them things they’ll like). For instance, you could use PowerPoint’s SmartArt function – miles nicer to look at than bullets.

Let’s think – what else do people find interesting? Learning things – so teach them something. Trivia – so include some. Quizzes – so have one. Humour – so include something funny. Brevity – so minimise your content.

You get the picture. Simply:
  1. Think what people find interesting 
  2. And do some of that 

You don’t have to do all the things in this Tip, of course. But, if you want to be interesting, you’ll have to do more than none of them.

After all, if you don’t, it’s boring. And that’s just terrible for everyone.

Action point


Preview today’s diary. What are your main communications? Ask yourself “Are they interesting enough?” If they aren’t, you know what to do. 


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Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Want more productive meetings? Change your agenda!





When someone says they’re “dieting”, how can you tell it’s working?

Because they lose weight, yes?

When someone says they’re “teaching”, how can you tell that’s working?

Because the children are learning.

But what if someone says they’re “discussing”? How can you tell if that’s working?

That isn’t so easy, is it? After all, what’s the output of ‘discussing’?

And this is a huge problem with meeting agendas. For example, if an agenda item says …

       “Discuss Project X”

… you know “discussion” is the input. But what’s the desired output?

You can’t tell, can you?

But, if you don’t know what it is, how do you know when you’ve achieved it? You can’t. So you’ll all just keep on talking about it, but not achieving anything.

Instead, imagine the agenda said…

       “Agree our new priorities with Project X, including our immediate next steps”

… well, the output is crystal clear now. And because you know where you’re going, you’re much more likely to get there.

And how does this affect you?

Well, you know all those meetings that don’t work? You know the ones – too long, too pointless, too boring…

Look again at their agendas. I bet most of them contain input verbs – discuss, review, share, update, download … and so on.

But these make no reference whatsoever to what the desired output is.
So you don’t get any.

The good news is that this is pretty easy to fix: simply change your input verbs into output verbs.

For example, which agenda sounds better? Agenda #1

  • Discuss Project X 
  • Update on Initiative Y 
  • Download on Strategy Z 

Or Agenda #2
  • Agree our new priorities with Project X, including our immediate next steps 
  • Identify quick wins we can make with Initiative Y 
  • Agree on any final changes we need to make, to ensure our Strategy Z launch works brilliantly 

Agenda #2 is better. No question. It’s the same meeting as Agenda #1. But it’s clearly going to achieve outputs.

In fact, Agenda #1’s meeting will just be a Talking Shop. The agenda’s input-focus means it’s been set up to fail.

So, let’s end with another question: think of the agendas you write – are they more like Agenda #1 or #2?

Action point


Look at the today’s meetings’ agendas. For each agenda item, replace the Input Verb with your desired Output Verb (for example, ‘discuss’ becomes ‘agree our next actions with’). This will make a huge difference – you’ll achieve much more, and in much less time


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Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Why we should treat our communication like a First Date




I just learned something very interesting about First Dates…

I was reading an article on the BBC site about people’s breakfast habits.

Increasingly, we’re breakfasting in restaurants, not our homes.

Lots of reasons – better quality food, more choice, restaurants open earlier, they’re good places to get things done early, better coffee than you get at home, and so on.

It also said people on First Dates often meet for breakfast, rather than going out in the evening.

I know – it sounds odd, doesn’t it?

But then, as I read on, it makes perfect sense.

It’s much less stressful meeting for breakfast than in the evening. It’s easier to get there on time; to look your best. You aren’t as tired. You’re less likely to drink alcohol and all the challenges that can bring. There’s a clear reason to leave without causing offence. And, of course, there are no awkward discussions about where to go next.

In fact, here’s what happened to my mindset as I read this:

  • I’ve never heard that before 
  • It can’t be true, can it? 
  • Ah, I get it 
  • Yes, that makes perfect sense 
  • In fact, it’s so obvious 
  • Of course – why doesn’t every First Date do this? 

So, utter surprise to total conviction in one article!

My customers tell me they go on a similar journey when I teach them this rule about communication:

It isn’t what you say. It’s what you cause.

In other words, the least important thing about the communication is the communication itself.

Much more important is what happens after it. Did they do what you wanted? Feel the way you wanted? Make better decisions? Look at you differently? Recommend you to others? Something else?

And, given that your communication isn’t as important as what happens after it, the first step of your prep is not “what do I want to say?”

Instead, it’s “what do I want them to do after I’ve shut up?”

Once you know this, work backwards from there, to find the simplest, quickest, best content to make sure they do it.

So, when I wrote this Tip, what did I want you to do after reading it? Other than go on a Breakfast First Date, of course. Well…

Action point 


For your next communication – the one you’re about to make – ask yourself “what do I want them to do after I’ve shut up?” Then, base what you say on achieving that (sometimes it’s as simple as just saying ‘Please will you do X?’)


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