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Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Want to become a communication ninja? Learn to build bridges!

To become an expert in anything, you have to practise.

Whether it’s playing sport, a musical instrument… anything – the better you practise, the better you become.

So, here are two quick questions for you:

  1. Do you think it’s important to be good at communicating? (everyone I ask replies “yes” to this) 
  2. Given how important it is, do you practise communication often enough? (everyone says “no – not given how important it is”) 

Assuming you also answered “yes/no”, you’ll now know that you have to practise more.

But which bits should you practise? After all, you’re super-busy. You haven’t time to practise everything.

Well, in previous blog posts, I’ve already covered four key things to rehearse – your:
  • Start, so you wow them early 
  • Close, so it triggers the desired decisions/actions 
  • Questions, so you get them talking 
  • Responses to their likely questions, so you don’t dread anything they’ll ask you 

And here’s a fifth: the bridge. In other words, how you’ll bridge between the different stages of your conversation.

For example, in a meeting, you’ll no doubt start with a quick rapport-build. But how to bridge to the business part? You need to know this; or you’ll be building rapport for an hour.

One bridge I use is “My understanding is we’re here to explore X. Is that what you think?”

They’ll either respond “yes” – in which case we crack on. Or “no”, to which I reply “I’m glad I asked! What did you think?”

Either way, the official part of the meeting has now started.

Another example of bridging is at the end. This is something people often struggle with. How to politely stop the chat, and confirm decisions/actions?

One I use is – ten minutes before the end – “I’m conscious of time”.

When I say this, people look at their watch. Then they look back at me. We both know the meeting is drawing to a close. And that we have ten minutes to close it, and agree our decisions/actions.

A final example – when you’re presenting information (could be a full-blown presentation; could be discussing an agenda item), how to bridge from slide/topic #1 to #2? It’s important it flows. Bridging ensures it does.

I find the easiest way is to use my bye/hi technique. In other words, say “bye” to the previous slide/topic, and “hi” to the next. For example “So, that slide has confirmed this is financially viable. But it’s essential our people are also on board. Let’s look now at how we’ll make sure this happens…”

I’ll stop now (after all, I’m conscious of time). But you get the point. Script/practise your bridges. And things flow smoothly and quickly to the next part of your chat.

In fact, I see these blog posts as a bridge – between what you were doing before them, and what you’ll do differently afterwards. That’s why I always end with an…

Action Point

What’s your first meeting today?

And how will you bridge between the rapport-build and the body of the meeting? Then between topic #1 and #2? And then from the chatting to the actions?

Script/practice these in advance. And everything will flow much better. You’ll achieve more. In less time. Not a bad outcome for a few little bridges…

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Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Spice up your next workshop by applying this one simple tip!

When you’re at workshops, do they feel like hard work?


After all, they are called work-shops.

So, think of yours as being fun-shops. Or play-shops. Or action-shops.

…anything that helps you prepare – and deliver – them in the best way.

Similarly, having a review with a customer or colleague?

Don’t think of it as a review. That just makes you both focus all your attention on the past. Think of it as a preview. That way, you also focus on what’ll happen after it.

Making a presentation? Instead, think of it as a conversation. That way, you’re more likely to converse – a two-way interaction; not just present your ideas one-way.

What we call things has a huge impact on how we perceive them. After all, let’s face it, when you go to an Update Meeting, you think you’re about to be updated. Often about stuff you don’t care about. Before it’s even started, you know it’s going to be too long, too pointless and too dull.

And have you ever been excited when you received an email titled ‘FYI’?

No, me neither.

So, spend longer on your titles. It helps:

  • Your prep – you focus on the right things 
  • Your delivery – both you and they enjoy the communication more 
  • Your success – they’re more likely to do what you want as a result 

I thought of calling every blog post ‘Here’s another communication idea’. (Ok, I didn’t)

And apparently newspapers thought of headlining every article with ‘Yet more news’. (Ok, they didn’t)

But poor titles are everywhere. Look at the email titles in your inbox, and try not to cry. Now look at the email titles in your Sent Items and try not to feel embarrassed.

You don’t have to spend ages carefully crafting titles. But you do have to spend more time than none. Your prep, delivery and success hinges on it.

Action point

As soon as you’ve finished reading this, you’ll no doubt be emailing someone. Call it something that will make them think ‘this looks interesting – I’ll open it straight away’.

And the next meeting invitation you send? Please don’t call it ‘Update’…

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Tuesday, 12 April 2016

If you could reinvent communication, what would you do?

If you were starting communication from zero – in other words, there was no communication around for you to copy - how would you go about it?

For example, say you want to get something done, but need other people to help you. So you decide to have a ‘meeting’. But, since you’ve never been in one before, you have to decide how best to run it. Let me guess – you’d probably think something like this:

  1. What do I want to achieve as a result of this meeting? 
  2. And what’s the easiest way for me to achieve this? For instance, what are the only things I need to talk about? The only people I need to invite? And how quickly can I get it done? 

But, of course, we don’t start from zero. We copy what we see in every other meeting. Even the ones we hate. You know, the ones that are prepared like this:

We’ll put in an hour

  • Let’s invite all the people who might have an opinion… 
  • …and then let’s also invite people who might not have an opinion, but might kick off if we don’t invite them 
  • Let’s do a long agenda of all the things we’re going to discuss… 
  • …but with no reference whatsoever to the decisions we’re looking to make as a result of discussing them 
  • Then, let’s send massive pre-reads which take everyone ages to read… 
  • Better still, let’s send these pre-reads at the very last minute, so people don’t have time to read them anyway 
  • Even better, let’s book another meeting immediately after this one. As in, the very second one stops, the next one starts. That way, there’s no time to process what people have just heard; and no time to do/diarise the actions 
  • In fact, unless I discover the art of teleportation, there is no way I can be at this second meeting on time anyway. So I won’t be. I’ll rock up late. Make no apologies. Maybe even grab a coffee as I stroll in late. Then ask everyone who got here on time to tell me what I’ve missed 

I’m going out on a limb here. But, if you were designing how to run a meeting from zero, you’d never design it that way, would you?

Here’s another example…

Looking to sell something to someone who’s keen to start exporting to Germany?

If you were starting from zero, you’d:

  1. Start by referring to them wanting to get into Germany, and stating you could help them do so 
  2. Prove you could help them export quicker/better/cheaper than all their other options 
  3. And you’d end by asking when they wanted to start 

But of course, it isn’t like this, is it?

  • ‘We were founded in 1922. Here’s a map of our offices. Our business was founded by the merger of X and Y companies. in fact, here’s a photo of our Founders. Now here’s a list of all the various things we do. And a list of various companies we work with – none of whom wanted to get into Germany incidentally…’ 
  • ‘If you’re still listening, this is how we’ll get you to Germany’ 
  • ‘But you probably won’t be. Because I put all the words I’m saying verbally onto some slides because I didn’t have time to prep properly. I needed Speaker Prompts, you see. So, I guess you’ve read them anyway’ 
  • ‘And I’ll end with a big summary, so I can repeat everything again. Just quicker. 

Once again, if you were designing selling from zero, you’d never do it like that.

Here’s a similar example:

Imagine you’re selling to someone. But this time you don’t know what they want to achieve. So you didn’t know they wanted to get into Germany. If you were designing selling from zero, you’d probably:
  1. Ask them what they wanted to achieve following working with you 
  2. They’d say “To export into Germany” 
  3. You’d then do everything in the previous example 

But, people don’t sell like this. They don’t ask enough (any?) questions. They just talk about themselves.

One more quick example…

You want to send someone some information they’ll find useful. If you were deciding how to do this from zero, you’d:
  1. Call them in advance, asking what info they want in there 
  2. Create it for them, following their guidance 
  3. Send it to them with notes explaining why you’ve sent it, and what you want them to do with it; and/or 

You would never just send it “FYI”.

I could go on. But you get the point. People don’t communicate in logically sensible ways. Ways they’d communicate if they were designing communication from zero.

No. Instead, they communicate based on their habits. In other words, they do today what they did yesterday. Even if it didn’t work yesterday.

We’re humans. So, we’re creatures of habit. And that’s a good thing. It means we can embed things, freeing-up our brains so we can learn new stuff.

But habits can also be bad. We act without thinking. The dieter who automatically picks up the cake. The reformed smoker who picks up the cigarette. The delegate on a course who says, “This will change what I do forever...after I’ve just answered these 17 emails…oh, it doesn’t seem as important anymore.”

The person who reads these blog posts?

Here’s a really simple idea…

Action point

Look at the communications you’ve got today. If you were designing them from zero – in other words, you weren’t going to base them on what you did last week – how would you go about them? Why not try doing them differently today? You never know, if the new way works, you might get in the habit of doing it this way every time…

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Wednesday, 6 April 2016

How can the weather turn your next communication into a powerful force of nature?

Imagine I asked you what the weather was going to be like today. How would you respond?

  1. Maybe by looking out of your window and telling me what you could see? 
  2. Or by giving me a full-blown shipping forecast? 
  3. Something else? 

What if I gave you a bit more information? That the reason I want to know the weather is because I’m just walking down to the village. I want to know whether to take an umbrella or not.

Now, I imagine you’d just say something like “It won’t rain. No need for the brolly.”

In other words, it’s really easy to give the right information when you know why I want it, and how I’ll use it.

Now another example…

Imagine your boss asks you for an update on what you’re working on. How would you respond?

  1. By looking out of your window, and saying how you see things going? 
  2. By doing a full-blown shipping forecast type of thing… tons of detail, much of it not needed, but definitely thorough. They certainly won’t be thinking you’ve not been working hard 
  3. Or would you ask why they wanted to know, and how they’d use the information? 

And which approach would lead to you producing something you both felt pleased with?

Here’s another…

You work in sales. And the customer asks for a proposal. How do you respond?
  1. With a document explaining how you see the world, listing all your strengths, past successes and so on. 
  2. Or with a shipping-forecast-style thing… ridiculously long, tons of detail. Much of it not needed, but definitely thorough. 
  3. Or would you ask what information they wanted to see in there? That way, it would be 100% relevant to them. And miles quicker to write. 

I remember seeing a female interviewer ask Zac Efron “Zac, if you were going to take me on a date, where would we go?”

His answer was brilliant.

Instead of giving a full-blown shipping forecast answer, he said “Well, what do you like doing?”

She said “Dining out”.

So he said “Well I’ll take you to the best restaurant in town”.

You’ll be preparing communications for others today. There’s only one way to find out exactly what they want in there. Will you do it?

Action Point

For your next big communication, ask the recipient why they want it, and how they’ll use it. Use whichever words you want. The ones I’ve found best: 

  • What outcome are you looking for, from this communication? 
  • Therefore, what content/headings do you want in there? 
  • What content/headings do you not want - after all, it’s better for us both if it’s shorter! 
  • Can we quickly chat this through so we agree things verbally? That way, my written document becomes a confirmation not an exploration
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Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Want an extra 8 hours in your week? These simple steps will show you how!

Do you ever find the job you’ve been asked to do isn’t the job that needs to be done?

This happened to me last month.

A company wanted me to help their salespeople sell more.

But the more time I spent with the salespeople, the more I realised their sales skills were pretty good. The problem was their calendars. They were so full of ‘corporate stuff’ that the salespeople didn’t have time to see enough customers.

Does this feel familiar? That feeling of ‘My calendar’s so busy that I can’t even do my day job’?

If so, you’ll enjoy this tip.

They did.

In fact, we tracked what’s happened to this team since our work together. And they’re each saving over eight hours per week.

Eight hours!

That’s a whole day a week.

And guess what? They’ve already started selling more.

So let’s free-up lots of time in your calendars - by doing the same thing I taught them…

I started with the important rule - your calendar is your fault. If your calendar lets you do what you want, that’s your fault. If it doesn’t, that’s your fault too.

We then did this simple exercise to free-up their time (remember: this gave each of them eight free hours every week):

  1. Print off your calendars for the previous two weeks 
  2. For every calendars entry, ask yourself: ‘what could I have done to at least halve the time I spent on this thing?’ For example… 

  • …You went to a meeting you didn’t need to 
  • …You went to a meeting, but only needed to attend half of it 
  • …You created a document which wasn’t what was wanted, so had to re-do it 
  • …You spent time travelling to a face-to-face meeting which could have been a phone call 
  • …You played Telephone Tennis with someone, wasting time trying to speak to them 
  • …Someone asked for your help with something that ended up taking ages 

When you’ve done this calendar review, if you managed to halve everything in the previous two weeks, you could’ve saved yourself one week.

A whole week!

Even if you could ‘only’ saved yourself a few hours… well, you’ve just saved yourself a few hours!

Now if this Tip were to stop here, it’d just be annoying - ‘well that’s just great, James. I now realise I wasted a week. Thanks a lot.’

But fortunately it doesn’t end there….

Instead, you now print your calendar for the next two weeks. Then ask yourself ‘based on the exercise I’ve just done, which calendar entries can I spend less time doing?’

And, once you identify potential time savings, communicate in advance to ensure you get them. For example:

  • Invited to meetings you don’t need to attend? Contact the owner beforehand, saying you’ve realised you can’t contribute anything worthwhile to this topic. So you won’t dilute what they’re doing by attending. (maybe add that you’d love to see the ‘Actions Arising’?) 
  • Invited to a meeting where you can only contribute to half the agenda? Contact the owner, say you’re busy that day and will struggle to make the whole hour. But explain that, if they move the ‘your’ agenda items to the beginning, you’ll attend for just that bit 
  • Preparing a document that will be hard to get right first time? 
  1. Have a quick chat upfront with the owner – agree what outcome she wants from the document, plus what the main headings should be 
  2. Bullet-point what you’ll include in each section, and ask for her approval/edits 
  3. Write you document, using your pre-agreed essay plan – much more likely to be right first time 
  • Got some meetings that are face-to-face but don’t need to be? Contact the other person, suggesting you ‘meet’ by phone 
  • Dreading an imminent game of Telephone Tennis? Text the other person - ‘Let’s avoid the dreaded Telephone Tennis. I’ll call you at 4pm today. Please text me a different time if that doesn’t work’ 

Notice how each of these suggestions benefits you both?

So it’s not just you saving time. They do too.

And they’re still getting what they want from you. But now, it’s better/quicker than they would’ve done.

So everyone wins.

Action Point

Pretty obvious this week, I guess…

…print off your calendar for the previous two weeks. Try and halve the time you spent on everything.

Then, preview the next two weeks and identify time savings.

Finally, communicate in advance and carefully with others, to free-up your and their time.

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