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Tuesday, 6 December 2016

4 simple steps to ensure your next business review meeting actually works

It’s that special time of year again. Yes, it’s Review Time...

So, lots of meetings with colleagues, customers and suppliers, to review how things have gone, to make sure everyone’s happy, and so on.

Reviews are useful if they’re done well. And pointless if they aren’t.

So here are a few tips to ensure yours work well. It’s what I call my ‘1-4 Plan’:

One purpose
Two talkers
Three entries
Four focuses

In more detail…

One purpose

Your review should have one purpose: to improve things for both of you.

In other words, after the Review, both you and they know exactly what you can expect from each other going forwards; and both of you have the skills and motivation to deliver this.

Two talkers

Reviews should be a two-way conversation between adults. They shouldn’t be a ‘verbal school report’ when one tells the other how well/badly they’ve done.

Three entries

Each Review should have three entries in your diary – the prep, the Review itself and the follow-up.

If you don’t diarise to do prep, you’ll have to do it outside work hours… or not do it at all. And if you don’t diarise follow-up, there won’t be any.

Four focuses

In Reviews, four things matter – two lots of two – past/future and good/bad:

  1. What’s gone best since our last Review? (past/good) 
  2. What’s gone worst since our last Review? (past/bad) 
  3. What’s the best thing we can achieve together before the next Review? (future/good) 
  4. What are you most worried about before the next Review, and how will we overcome this? (future/bad) 

Your Review must cover all four.

But many reviews omit some. For instance, some are only past-focused – they just discuss last year, and ignore next.

Others are too negative – “let’s discuss what went wrong, and how we can make things less wrong”. Where’s the motivation and positivity in that?

When I explain the four focuses, people often ask how much time they should spend on each of the four. Well, that depends on many things. It is unlikely to be exactly 25% from each – the world doesn’t work as equally as that. But you’ll definitely have to spend some time on each.

My bias: being such an AFTERs Geek, I spend most of the time focussed on the future. So, even though it’s called a “Review”, I don’t spend long reviewing stuff. I think the past is for reference and not for residence. The purpose of Reviews is to improve things, not just go over old ground.

Action Point

For each of the four…

One purpose – review the top line of your Review Form. Does it make the #1 purpose clear? If not change it so it is. Also, script the Review’s opening sentence, so you set the scene by explaining what the #1 purpose is
Two talkers – prepare two things – what you’re saying and what you’re asking (in other words, questions are as important as content)
Three entries – diarise three things for every Review
Four focuses – review your Review Form. Are all four focuses covered in reasonable proportions? Also, plan your Reviews, to ensure you spend enough time on each

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Tuesday, 29 November 2016

What's the minimum amount of meeting prep you should do in order to achieve maximum results?

Very few people love meetings.

And even fewer love preparing for them.

So what’s the minimum prep you should do?

The answer’s simple:


And that’s it.

Do more than none, and you’ll get more out of your meetings than if you do no prep whatsoever. Surprising, that.

Now, whenever I give this advice, people tend to say one of two things:

  • “I don’t have time”; or 
  • “I don’t know how to prep” 
So let’s explore these…

“I don’t have time”. Well, yes you do. In fact, I find that for every one minute I spend on my prep, I save ten in the meeting – my “10 to 1 time saving”.

For example, three minutes prep saves me around half an hour. And five minutes saves me fifty – turning a one-hour meeting into a 10 minute one.

So, you do have time to prep.

Which brings me to the second question – “I don’t know how to prep”.

Well, here’s the best, quickest way to do it…

Step #1: know your purpose

If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.

So the first prep step is to identify what you want to happen after the meeting.

This will probably be one of the 2Ds – DO and/or DECISION. So, what you want people to DO after the meeting and/or the DECISIONS you want to be made during it.

Step #2: find the easiest, quickest way to achieve your purpose

Now, work backwards from step #1’s purpose, by asking “what’s the easiest, quickest way to achieve this purpose?” For example, identify:

  • The fewest possible agenda items 
  • The shortest possible time needed for the meeting (trust me: it doesn’t need to last an hour because that’s how your calendar is divided up) 
  • The fewest possible people – the longer the list of attendees, the longer it takes to agree on anything 
  • The fastest possible mechanism – can you all jump on the phone for five minutes, rather than having everyone rock-up for a one-hour face-to-face? 
  • The minimum possible pre-reads 

A simple way to remember steps #1-#2 is PALM:

  • Purpose – the 2Ds 
  • Agenda – fewest items possible 
  • Limit time – shortest time possible 
  • Minimise attendees – fewest people possible 

Step #3: excite them with an engaging invitation

Sending someone a meeting invitation called “update” with no agenda, no reason they should attend and no notes whatsoever is not a good way to ensure people arrive, on time, with the right attitude.

So, make sure your invitation engages. Something like…

Calendar invite subject line: A quick meeting to agree on the way forward with X

We need a swift decision on X. This will help us prioritise workloads, removing needless work from our/our team’s calendars.

I’ve invited the three of us only since it’s our project. And, because we need to move quickly, I’ve scheduled a maximum of ten minutes.

Beforehand, please can you do two quick things:
  • Speak to your main stakeholders, gauging their views about X; and 
  • Be clear how you think we should progress. Last time, we agreed on Y. Do you still think this is right? Or have you tweaks to suggest? 

So, for your next meeting, how much prep should you do?

As a minimum: MORE THAN NONE.

I’d certainly do PALM.

Or if you think you don’t have time to do that (you have, by the way), at least do the P – Purpose…

…and remember the “10 to 1 time saving”. If you currently spend ten hours every week in meetings, you might be about to remove nine of them.

Action point

Review this week’s diary. For every meeting, invest a few minutes now doing steps #1-#3. You’ll be amazed – and delighted – how much time you and your colleagues will save.

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Tuesday, 22 November 2016

3 steps to help make your communication simpler and more effective

Here’s a very quick, very useful technique:

  1. Find your most recent written communication 
  2. Imagine you’d been told “this is too long – remove half of it”, which bits would you take out? (This might take you 2-3 minutes to work out) 
  3. Now ask yourself ‘If I had removed these bits before I’d sent it, would my communication still have worked?” 

  • If yes, next time you write something, exclude all these bits. You’ve just seen they aren’t needed 
  • If no, re-instate as few bits as possible, until the communication would have worked. Then, next time, exclude the bits you now realise aren’t needed 

Very quick. Very simple.

But if you want to invest a touch more time (though not much, to be honest), here are other things you can do:

  • Read your communication out loud. When you hear how you write, you realise some bits sound clunky/aren’t needed. This helps you edit it down and make things shorter 
  • If you have to take a breath mid-sentence, your sentences are too long. You’re probably, using joining words – ‘and, but, so’ – instead of a full stop 
  • Shorten your paragraphs. People skim read what you write. And, the longer the paragraph, the more chance they’ll miss something – especially at the bottom (people pay most attention to the tops). So, a simple rule “four lines max”. Any paragraph longer than that, press the RETURN key more often 
  • Good headings. You can do everything in this Tip, but it still might not be enough. Because, if your headings are rubbish, they might not read the document at all. So, don’t use boring headings – ‘FYI’, ‘Background’, ‘Update’ etc. Instead, use slightly longer headings, that draw people in – “Four simple ways to improve your business without trying”, “The easiest, quickest way for us to reduce costs”… 

…people are often surprised when they see the last point. But it’s true. Your heading is your document’s first impression. And, like anything else, if it’s boring, people will think the whole thing is.

After all, if Dale Carnegie’s “How to win friends and influence people” had been called “Communication skills in the workplace”, sales might not have been quite so good.

Action Point

This week’s Action Point is in the Tip. Simply grab a recent communication, and do what I suggest above. This’ll help ensure your next communication is shorter and better.

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Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Apply these 4 steps to your meetings and attendees will be eating out of the PALM of your hand

A friend of mine had a minor operation this summer.

She saw 5-6 different doctors and nurses.

And every one had a checklist of questions for her.


Because they were incompetent and might forget?

No. Because they know it’s essential everything’s checked. They leave nothing to chance.

And then a few weeks ago I was on a flight from Alicante to Barcelona. And I noticed that pilots have checklists. Again, not because they’re incompetent. But because they’re professional.

So, checklists aren’t a sign of weakness; they’re a sign of strength.

In fact, all my customers have checklists for their key communications. It reminds them what to do when it matters. Not because they’re incompetent. But because it’s essential they get it right.

One of the most popular ones is my meeting checklist. They use this every single meeting they prepare for. There are four steps – the initials spell PALM:

  • Purpose – what is the purpose of the meeting? In other words, what decision/action do you want to happen as a result of it? (If you can’t identify one, don’t have the meeting) 
  • Agenda – given the Purpose, what’s the fewest number of agenda items, so we can achieve it? 
  • Limit the time – given the P and the A, what’s the shortest possible time we need for this meeting? If we can do it in ten minutes, put it in the diary for ten minutes. Don’t just bang in an hour because that’s what Outlook is chunked up into 
  • Minimal attendees – the more people who attend, the harder it is to reach consensus. So only invite the people who absolutely, definitely have to be there. There’ll be others who need to receive Actions Arising. And there are others who don’t even need those. Don’t invite people because you normally do 

My customers use PALM to help them prepare for their meetings. It leads to better meetings, and quicker prep.

They also use PALM to write interesting Meeting Invites. They put the Purpose at the top, then a brief bullet-pointed Agenda, and so on (trust me: this is much more compelling than putting the one word “update” in the subject line … and then wondering why nobody ever shows up)

Yes, I understand that meetings aren’t as life or death as the stuff that doctors and pilots do.

But you’ll spend half your life in them. So they might as well be good.

Action point

Look at today’s diary. For all your meetings, are you clear on your PALM? If not, spend five minutes now PALMing each one. After all, unless you’re clear on its purpose, you won’t achieve it.

And for other people’s meetings in your diary? Contact the Owner in advance, asking what the Purpose is. If it’s something you can contribute to, attend and contribute. If it isn’t, say “I’m glad I checked. That isn’t something I can help with. So I’ll decline. But please send me the Actions Arising so I know what happened”

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Tuesday, 8 November 2016

How to create an award-winning presentation in 5 simple steps

Doing a presentation today?

If so, this short example will help…

I recently worked with a group of seven Executives, to prepare them for their annual staff conference. Each of them was delivering a presentation. They wanted me to help them write theirs, plus coach them on how best to deliver it on the day.

They’d all been on a presentation skills course, so ‘knew’ one of the golden rules was that their presentation should contain three key points max.

But I said: “But there are seven of you. If you all have three key points, that’s 21 key points. In one day. There’s no way your audience will remember them all. To them, it’ll be like drinking from a high-power water jet. A bit might go in, but most of it won’t, and it’ll be pretty unpleasant”.

So I showed them how to prepare their presentations in a better way: 

1) Find the DO. Start by identifying what you want your audience to DO differently as a result of your presentation. So, they hear you, they go back to their desks, and then they DO… well, what? Do they start doing something? Stop something they no longer need? (Your aim: you want to be able to say this DO in one simple sentence: “After I’ve spoken, I want them to (action) by (date)” 

2) Why they will. Identify the main reasons your audience will do your DO. Are there some compelling benefits to them? Do they hate what things are like now, so they’ll want to change to what you’re suggesting? Are there people they respect already doing this DO, and they’ll happily copy them? (Your aim is to find the (max three) best reasons. Often, the easiest way to find the best ones is to list all the possible reasons, and then choose the most compelling three) 

3) Why they won’t. What are the main reasons they won’t do your DO? No time? Can’t be bothered? It isn’t part of their core job? They’re busy anyway? They feel your company always has Flavours of the Month, and your ideas will no doubt die down soon? No accountability, so nothing bad will happen if they don’t do it? (Your aim: find the main 1-2 reasons they won’t, then identify compelling counter-arguments to remove these) 

4) Build your skeleton. You now have the key components of your content. So slot them together. One good technique is the 4Ps: 

  • Position – explain the current situation 
  • Problem – explain the problem with this current situation. This could be bad things about it. Or it could be highlighting the opportunities of doing something else. [This P might include using 1-2 of your “why they will” reasons from your prep – for example, if they hate the way things are now] 
  • Possibilities – list all the possible courses of action. For example, stay as we are, change a bit, change a lot, etc 
  • Propose – give your recommendation, with your reasons [this will include all the “why they wills”, plus also your counter-arguments for the “why they won’ts”
  • DO – now, ask them to do the DO 
5) Make it interesting. You know what audiences like in a presentation – interactivity, humour, stories, good visuals, pleasant surprises, quizzes, and so on. So include some of these – after all, if you don’t, you aren’t interesting 

This approach changed their conference. They realised their focus had been wrong – “what are the 21 key things we want to say?”, not “what are the 1-2 things we want them to happily DO differently?”

This exercise resulted in less presentations (two not seven), a shorter conference (two hours, not a full day) and – most importantly – everyone did the DO.

So, back to my question at the top of this Tip…

Action point

…Got a presentation today?

Use these five steps to make it better, shorter, more interesting, and more likely to work. 

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