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Tuesday, 24 November 2015

What can Katy Perry, a publisher and a Hair Care Clinic teach us about communication?

My friend's daughter was listening to the song ‘Firework’ by Katy Perry the other day.

The first line says “Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?”

And I thought:No, I don’t actually

So I stopped listening.

Then, I received a marketing email from a publishers, titled “Are you an aspiring author living near Cambridge?”

My reply: “No. But I am a published author (who's book consistently achieves comfortable sales in its category) living in Barcelona”

(Sorry if that sounds a bit big-headed – but it’s true. My book gets consistent downloads from not only foreign language learns, but native English speakers as well)

And perhaps my favourite of all…

I once received an email called “Are you embarrassed about your male pattern baldness?”

One quick glance at my photo will show why I didn’t think this email was meant for me.

The fact is, many communications start like this. With something irrelevant. Or dull. Or both.

But, if you want people to engage with you immediately, you have to start well.

When you do, you both feel better. They know why they should listen. So they do. And this improves your confidence as you deliver it.

But, when they think it’s irrelevant/dull/both, the opposite happens.

Everyone knows the importance of First Impressions. I guess that’s why, when I share this idea with people, they normally say “but my first impressions are always good.”

But are yours?

Or do you sometimes use:

  1. Boring intros – “Let me update you with everything I have been doing since we last met”
  2. Boring titles – “About us”, “Our experience”
  3. Boring words – “Agenda”, “Summary”….

Familiar, yes?

And hardly riveting, are they?

Fortunately, it is pretty easy to do it better; and therefore engage people better.

In fact there are only two steps:

  • Identify the #1 Thing they’re most interested in (the easiest way to know this is to ask them); and
  • Include this #1 Thing in your title/introduction

For example, let’s re-write the above three, assuming you’re talking to someone whose #1 Thing is to improve their competitive advantage:

  1. Interesting introduction – “Our key focus is to improve our competitive advantage. So, I’m going to update you with everything I’ve been doing to help us do this. And also what I’ll be doing next”
  2. Interesting title – “How our experience will help improve your competitive advantage”
  3. Interesting words:
  • Agenda” becomes “The purpose of our meeting:, after it, we’ll know some new ways to improve our competitive advantage
  • Summary” becomes “So let’s look again at the main factors impacting our competitive advantage; and then decide what actions we’ll take to improve ours

A great start doesn’t guarantee a great outcome, of course. The rest of your communication must be good too. But start badly, and you might well never recover.

My Tennis Coach’s top tip is that I should always practise my serve. Because, when I get it right, it enables me to dictate the point more than any other shot. In his words, ‘your serve is the only shot where you aren’t reacting to your opponent. So it’s the only shot you have 100% control over. Do it well, and they have to react to you. so it sets the tone for everything that follows’

When you communicate, is your First Serve – your title and intro – impressive enough? Or do you sometimes feel like you’re a plastic bag?

Action Point

Within the next minute, you’ll be communicating with someone.

What’s your recipient’s #1 Thing? Work out the best way to weave it into your title/introduction so that they engage immediately.

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Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Practice loud, practice proud and repeat!

Fritz Kreisler, the famous violinist, once had a fan approach him, who said:

“I’d give my whole life to play as beautifully as you just did”

His reply:

“I did”

And, this lifetime’s practice didn’t involve him just reading the Theory of Music every day. He played the violin. A lot.

It’s the same with Lewis Hamilton. He’s practised driving a lot. He’s spent thousands of hours sitting behind the wheel. Let’s face it: he hasn’t just been reading the Highway Code for years.

So, when you’re talking with others and want to say the right thing, remember the two rules:

  1. Practise
  2. saying it
In other words, practise saying things out loud. Don’t just read them in your head and assume it will come out of your mouth right when it matters.

And the most important things to practise like this?

Your most critical communications/bits of communications.

Obvious, yes? We all know we should practise our critical communications.

But what do I mean by ‘bits’? Well, here are some bits I’d advise you practise. Out loud. A lot:

  • Your opening sentence of a presentation. A great start builds your audience’s – and your confidence it’s going to be a great use of time
  • Your opening sentence of the meeting. This sets the tone for the whole thing. Which meeting you would you rather attend? One starting “welcome to the meeting. Let me read out the ten point agenda to you” or “welcome to the meeting. The reason we’re here is because –afterwards – we need to be able to do X, Y and Z. And as soon as we can, we’ll finish
  • In fact, your opening sentence of everything. As you know, first impressions impact everything. So yours might as well be good.
  • Your Elevator Pitch, so you quickly impress everyone you meet
  • Power Questions, so you get the other person talking about the topics you’re most interested in
  • Answers to your Dread Sentences – as I discussed in last week’s post, prepare and practise how to respond to the things you dread hearing others say. That way, you don’t dread them any more. 

You’ll no doubt be familiar with the famous quote from George Orwell’s Animal Farm – “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

It’s the same with communication – all sentences are equal, but some sentences are more equal than others.

These ‘more equal’ sentences are your start, your responses to challenges and questions, your ability to get them talking, your coverage of contentious topics, how you remove their concerns…

Wouldn’t it be great if, after your next presentations, a colleague said to you:

“I’d give up a whole hour of my life to generate the excitement that you just did”…
…to which you replied

“I did”

Action point

Look at today’s diary. identify the most important bits of your most important communications. Practise saying them. Out loud. A lot. It’ll make a huge difference.

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Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Want to improve your productivity? Write in Simple English!

Which do you prefer?

Prior to the commencement of my preparation for this week’s Blog post, I sat down in my office – as I always do – and asked myself “which of my tips are the most interesting, useful, simple and quick for people to incorporate into their daily lives and, in doing so, transform how they communicate – the end result being that they achieve more in less time?”


To prepare this week’s post, I thought “What will people find most useful? What will help them achieve more in less time?”


“Want to achieve more in less time? This week’s post shows you two simple ways to do so.”

Which of the three do you prefer? Let me guess – absolutely, definitely not #1!

But have you noticed how people often write like #1? So, although they speak in English, they write in ‘Corporate’. An entirely different language.

Do you do this?

Here’s an easy way to check: find something you’ve recently written, and read it out loud. In other words, listen to what it sounds like when you hear it.

In my experience, you could well find that it sounds more Corporate than English. For example, you might notice that you:

  • have to take a breath in the middle of some sentences. This means they’re too long. Look again: you’re probably using joining words – like ‘and’ and ‘but’ – instead of a full stop
  • think certain parts sound cumbersome. That means you’re probably using Corporate phrases (“prior to the commencement of”), rather than English (“before”)
  • feel like you’re labouring a point too much. In which case, your paragraphs might be too long (a useful general rule: four lines max). Maybe it just needs better wordsmithing
  • find yourself becoming bored. This means you should edit more aggressively, and/or use more visuals

And, as a result of everything you’ve read, in order to improve (actually, let’s just use this heading instead…)

Action point

Two easy ways to incorporate today’s post…

For your next written communication, either:

  • create it in the usual way. Then read it out loud. Make changes to improve how it sounds; or
  • don’t write anything. Instead, start by saying out loud what you want to write. Edit it verbally. And then jot down your finished version.
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Tuesday, 3 November 2015

3 simple steps to eliminating those dreaded daily negatives!

There are certain things we all dread hearing at work:

  • You aren’t experienced enough for this
  • Sorry, I can’t help you. I don’t have time. 
  • This isn’t a priority
  • Reduce your price
  • I think we just won’t bother. It’s easier to do nothing
  • We already have someone we’d prefer to work with
  • The answer’s ‘no’. Now, what did you want?

When you see things like this, it’s no wonder people dread hearing them.

But, did you know, it’s not these sentences that you actually dread?

The thing you dread is your inability to respond to them. It’s that awful rabbit-in-headlights, paralysing moment where you think “I hate it when they say that. I have no idea what to say in response”

But, imagine you did know a great way to respond.

Well, you’d no longer dread them asking. In fact, it would be like any other question you knew the answer to. You’d just answer it.

Therefore, to remove the dread, it’s simply a question of scripting, editing and practising saying what you’ll say in response.

It’s easier than you think to do this. All you need are three things:

  • a pen
  • a piece of paper and
  • your favourite drink

Start by pouring your favourite drink. Have some.

Then, draw a two-column table on your piece of paper. On the left, list all the sentences you dread hearing – one in each row.

Then, after another swig of drink, complete the right column - what you’ll say in response when you hear each Dread Sentence.

Make it as easy as possible to write the best possible response. For example, you could:
  • (*this is the one I do) Talk to yourself. Say loads of answers out loud a few times, until one sounds promising. Then, keep saying it out loud, self-editing as you go. When it sounds right, then write it down; or
  • Write first, say it out loud, and then edit till it’s right; or
  • if one of your contacts is good at stuff like this, ask them for help; or
  • Search on Google or YouTube for ideas…

…whatever you need do, to create compelling responses.

And then, after another drink, practise saying them. Again and again. Until they feel natural to you. You’ll see the dread disappear very quickly.

One final tip – but this is if you want to go up to Ninja Level

Create a third column titled ‘pre-emptive strike’. In it, write what you could say in advance of them saying the thing you dread. In other words, you’re the one who raises it, not them. It sounds scary to do this. But it’s often less so. After all, you’re now not waiting for them to say it, wondering when it will happen. You 100% control when it does.

‘If I were you’ often works well here. For example, “if I were you, I might be concerned about the fact I haven’t worked in this industry before. Is that right?”

If they say it is a concern, answer with your response from Column #2. If they say they aren’t concerned about it, no problem - you didn’t need to dread it.

When could you use this Dread Table? Well, it works in many walks of life - anywhere there’s something you dread hearing. I’ve seen it used most often with salespeople (to handle objections), job interviews (to remove reasons they won’t hire you), and requests for internal resource (to stop them saying no).

What are you dreading hearing today?

Action point

My ‘dread’ with this Tip is that you like it, but won’t use it when it matters. So, let’s try a pre-emptive strike…

If I were you, I might be thinking ‘this makes perfect sense. But I’m too busy to find time to do it’.

And that’s perfectly understandable. Unfortunately, you do need to prepare your response to these things you dread. You can either:

  • Prepare your response in advance, as I’m suggesting here. Take your time. Ask people for help. Practise till you feel good about it, and so on; or
  • Prepare your response in zero time, because someone’s just said the thing you’re dreading and you have to think of a brilliant answer right now. Let’s face it: pretty stressful, and unlikely to work 

I guess I’m saying: you have to prepare your response some time. So you might as well do it in the easiest and safest way.

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Tuesday, 27 October 2015

6 steps to winning job interviews and other business activities

One of my coaching customers taught me something really useful last week. Check this out…

She’d recently applied for - and got - a fantastic new job (“It’s the job of my dreams, James. I never thought they’d choose me”)

She told me that my interview tips had helped her in two ways, in that they’d:

  • helped her get the job; and
  • given her new confidence and skills to take into every interaction – not just the job interview

I knew the first. But was surprised by the second. She said I should share these techniques in a Blog Post. In her words, “These tips are helpful for everyone applying for a job. And for everyone who isn’t.”

So, without further delay!

Here are the tips…

#1 Focus on what you cause, not what you do

If I asked you “what do you do?”, you’d probably say one of two things:

1. your job title - “I’m an accountant”; and/or
2. the tasks you do most days - “I prepare Tax Returns”

But people don’t care what you do. They only care what they’re left with after you’ve done it (the AFTERs) - “I help people pay less tax”

So, it’s what you cause that counts.

Therefore, when preparing for an important interview/meeting, try this:

  • Get a piece of paper
  • On the left-hand side, draw a two-column table
  • Title Column #1 ‘The main tasks I do’
  • Title Column #2 ‘The AFTERs it causes‘
  • Populate #1 with the tasks you do at work – a new row for each task
  • Populate #2 with the positive business impact each task causes. In other words, why the business is better off AFTER you’ve done it

When you’ve completed this, you’ll notice two things:
  • When you discuss your job, you tend to focus more on the things in #1. That isn’t a surprise - after all, that’s what you do all day
  • but others will be much more interested in what you’ve written in #2

So, in interviews/meetings, you should focus more on the AFTERs.

#2 Prove you caused these things to happen

Your next step is to provide cast-iron proof that you can cause Column #2’s AFTERs to happen.

So, construct a third column called ‘proofs’. In it, list real-life examples of when you delivered #2’s AFTERs.

#3 Prove you’re different

Interviews involve you proving you can deliver the AFTERs the interviewer wants in ways others can’t.

Although Columns #1-#3 impress, others - your ‘competitors’- could say the same. So, you now need to prove that you cause these AFTERs in ways that others can’t.

To do this, create a fourth column titled ‘Unlike others…’ In it, list the different approaches/experiences you bring - ones that others simply can’t say - that helped deliver #2’s AFTERs

#4 Learn your table

Now you’ve completed the table, learn it. Don’t take it into your interview/meeting!

And, once you’ve learnt it, here’s how you should use it…

#5 Focus on their priorities, not yours

Your table contains everything you do, the AFTERs it causes, proof it works and why nobody else can say the same as you.

However, your interviewer won’t want to know every single thing in your table. Instead, she’ll be most interested in the rows that tie in with her priorities.

To find which ones these are, ask. So, script and rehearse the questions you’ll use to uncover her top priorities. For example, you might say “There are many areas we could focus on today. But let’s start with the most important. Which are your key priorities?”

(Note: you don’t have to use these words exactly. But you do need to know which words you’ll use… or you might not ask. And, if you don’t ask, you won’t know)

Her answer will (hopefully) be something you’ve written in Columns #1 or #2 - “our biggest priority is…
  • …that you know how to complete Tax Returns” or
  • …to help our customers reduce their tax bills”

Once she’s told you the row she’s interested in, discuss everything in it. After you’ve done so, she’ll realise you can deliver positive business impact in ways others can’t.

#6 Remove the things you’re dreading

One final thing to prep: there’ll be certain sentences you dread hearing her say… “you’re too expensive… you don’t have the experience… we already have a preferred candidate” and so on.

It’s essential you also know how to remove these. This is relatively straightforward to do, but takes a bit of explaining.

So, to keep this week’s Blog Post manageable, I’ll stop now and cover this next week. So, for now…

Action point

…why not create your table? It won’t take long. But it will help you - as my customer says - when you’re in job interviews, and when you aren’t.

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