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Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Practise makes perfect!

Have you heard the one about Carnegie Hall?

A lady gets into a taxi and asks "what's the best way to Carnegie Hall?"

The driver replies – "Practise"

Maybe you’ve also heard these too?

  • Pretty poor practise prevents pretty poor performance 
  • Failing to prepare is preparing to fail 
  • It takes effort to appear effortless 
  • There’s no glory in practise. But, without practise, there’s no glory 
  • Seemingly instant success in public follows endless dedicated practise in private 

Choose your favourite. But the message is pretty clear – to master anything, practise.

And, of course, it’s the same with communication.

Now, of course, we all practise the big one-offs – the career-defining presentations, the conference keynote, the job interview, the request for a pay rise.

But what about the thousands of other communications you do? For example…

  • your first meeting tomorrow morning – have you practised your opening line, so it starts well? 
  • Tomorrow afternoon's presentation, where you want your colleague’s sign-off – have you practised the exact words you’ll use to get her support? 
  • tomorrow's Update Meeting – have you practised how you’ll update colleagues, so it’s interesting, relevant and valuable to them? 

I guess not.

Most people don't.

But you can practise these things easily. It might only take 10-20 seconds. You could do it on the way to your meeting. Obviously, you’re more likely to say it right if you’ve practised.

So why don’t we practise more?

The most common reasons I hear – and my responses to them – are:

"I didn't have the time"

Time is never about time. It's about priority. There's always time for the things you prioritise as important.

"Nobody else practises"

So? That’s all the more reason for you to do it – it’s a simple way to stand out.

"It’ll probably go ok"

Yes, it might. But it might not. And "ok" isn’t something to aim for. Aim for it to go well.

So, practise more.

They might not praise you for the extra prep you did…

… But they’re miles more likely to do what you want.

Action point

An obvious one this week – practise!

For the key bits of your next conversation, make sure you know the words you’ll say – and that you’ve practised saying them. It’ll make you a whole lot better. 

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Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Simple, effective communication in one word...

What’s your reason for being on this planet?

I know – that’s a nice, light question for first thing on a Wednesday…

But, seriously, what is it?

I have the usual ones – to be a loving partner, a provider for the family, to be the change I want to see in society, etc etc.

But, at work, it’s this:

           To help people communicate better

So I spend all my time working out how to simplify things for you.

And I’ve finally got it down to one word…

In one word – “DO”

The most critical word with communication is DO.

In other words, what you want someone to DO after you’ve communicated with them.

Once you know this, you simply work backwards to create your communication.

In its simplest form, this will begin with “please can you”. For example, want your team to send you their figures for the month? Simply say “please can you send me your figures for the month.”

When you look at your “Please can you” sentence, and you think they’ll probably do the DO, your communication is complete.

In two words – “WILL DO”

With many communications, the one word DO is enough.

But you might also need to say something before your “please can you” sentence, to ensure they will do it – “Let’s make sure you get paid quickly. Please can you send me your figures for the month?”

In three words – “WILL WON’T DO”

Sometimes, you’ll also need to overcome their reasons for not wanting to do the DO – the why-they-WON’T. So, think upfront what these reasons might be. Then, pre-empt and remove them.

“(WILL) let’s make sure you get paid quickly. (WON’T) I know you aren’t fond of paperwork and haven’t the time to do it. So let’s make it easier for you. (DO) Please can you either email me your figures for month? Or, if you prefer, please call me to talk them through.”

And that’s it. For every communication – from a basic one-sentence chat to a complex multi-slide presentation – think:

  • If it’s easy, DO 
  • If it’s a bit more involved, WILL DO 
  • The most complicated of all, WILL WON’T DO 

Let’s use this WILL WON’T DO in today’s Action Point.

Action Point

(WILL) Let’s ensure you achieve more today than you’re expecting to, and take less time than you normally would.

(WON’T) Now I know that you’ll be rushing to something right now, and won’t have the time to properly consider this. But spend 30 seconds prepping this – something you can do on the way to your meeting – and I bet it’ll save you at least ten times that.

(DO) So, please can you look at your next three communications today? Apply WILL WON’T DO to at least one of them (I’d choose the easiest!)

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Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Want some good advice? Stop doing the things you hate!

What's your Pet Hate about how people communicate with you?

Mine is when a presenter quickly clicks through slides saying "you don't need to know this … or this … or this …"

I hate this. In effect, they’re saying "you aren't important enough for me to respect your time. So I’m showing you slides I’ve already used for a different audience. I haven’t bothered editing them for you. In fact, I’ll just edit them right now. While you watch me do it’.

Yep, hate that one.

Here’s another…

When a presenter shows a slide and says "you won't be able to read this, but …"

But what?

Surely, the only reason for showing me a slide is to help me understand your content. If I can’t read it, it’s just annoying.

So why tell you this?

Well, there's a very strange phenomenon in communication:

What we hate, we do

In other words, what we hate other people doing to us, we do to them.

For instance, we hate it when presenters use wordy slides. But, when we're presenting, we use wordy slides to remind us what to say.

Or, we hate it when a meeting’s Chairperson makes no effort to engage us in their agenda. But we go from that meeting to a meeting we’re chairing… but don't explain how the agenda helps our attendees.

Or one of my favourites: last week, I saw an email a manager sent to his entire team saying "stop sending impersonal emails to everyone."

If you don’t like the negative wording of "what we hate, we do", the positive version is "think what people love – and do that."

For example, people love interactive presentations. So prepare good questions to ask, to get them speaking.

And people tend to prefer to be called than emailed. So pick the phone up.

Your next communication today will be something that others love, hate or feel indifferent about. If you want them to love it, you’ll have to do things they love. So, will you?

Action point

Write a list of things you hate others doing when they communicate with you.

Now ask yourself: ‘do I do any of these when I’m communicating?’

If so, you know what to do…

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Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Tired of unproductive and pointless meetings? Make this one change

When’s your next meeting?

And what’s the final agenda item?

It’ll probably be one of these four:

  1. There’ll be no final agenda item, because there’s no agenda 
  2. The last topic you’re discussing 
  3. Any other business (AOB) 
  4. Actions Arising 

The first of these is, frankly, ridiculous. If you don’t have an agenda, you don’t know what you’re discussing. So, everyone will either:

  • Discuss the same stuff as last week – even if it wasn’t relevant/interesting; or 
  • Waffle on about… well, I don’t know. And neither do you. 

It’s pretty easy to fix: write an agenda. Start by identifying your desired outcome following the meeting, and then list the topics you need to discuss, to ensure you achieve it.

Point #2 is better. At least there’s an agenda now. But it isn’t a neat ending. And, without one, the meeting could easily drift on and on.

Point #3 – AOB – is almost always a bad idea. After all, if something is important enough to be discussed in a group of busy people, it should have had its own separate agenda item.

Worse, AOB often means the person with the biggest mouth drones on about their current pet topic until the official end-time. Not good.

The fourth option – Actions Arising – is the best way to end a meeting.

By a mile.

After all, the meeting was supposed to cause something – that was the point of it (unless, of course, you go to pointless meetings. In which case, I advise you stop going to them).

And with Actions Arising, you simply need:

  • A minimum of three thingswhat/who/when. For example – “Prepare the financial business case/Anna the Accountant/By this Friday 
  • You might also add a fourththe “why”. This reminds everyone why each action is so important – “To convince the Board to invest in this project” 
  • Follow-up email #1 – sent immediately after the meeting – “As agreed, here are our agreed actions” 
  • Follow-up email #2 – send shortly before the next meeting – “Here’s a reminder of our actions from last time. Please let me know if you haven’t yet done your action. We will then carry it forward”. This saves the tortuous round-the-room update on actions in the meeting 

Do you have meetings – where people just meet?

Or causings, which cause things to happen as a result?

Your final agenda item will tell you the answer.

Action Point

Look in your diary for the next meeting you’re attending.

Review the final agenda item. If it isn’t “Actions Arising”, change it so it is.

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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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