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Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Has your style of communication evolved?





When I was younger:
  • If I wanted contact a friend of mine I'd have to arrange a time to call them on the home phone. Today, I can send them a simple instant message 
  • People only drank Lucozade when they were ill. Now, they have it to perform better when playing sport
  • The Shawshank Redemption did poorly at the cinema. It’s gone on to become a popular best-seller on DVD

You see, things evolve over time.

But, some things don’t evolve. Even when they should.

For example, there are certain communications you see every week that just aren’t fit for purpose any more.

They’re not needed.

Or they are; but they don’t need to be so long.

Or have as many attendees.

Or be so dull.

Here’s a simple exercise, to see whether your communications are evolving when they should:

  1. Identify all the communications you do/receive regularly – weekly update meetings, monthly catch-ups, quarterly reviews, daily FYIs, and so on
  2. Highlight which of these you could stop doing right now, without doing any harm
  3. For the rest, identify those you could reduce in some way – have them less often; make them shorter; invite less attendees; have fewer agenda items etc – again, without doing any harm

And then…

Action point


… Do Steps 2 and 3. Stop/reduce these communications where you can. You might as well. It won’t do any harm.


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Tuesday, 19 May 2015

What's your USP?



A large company recently chose a good friend of mine (Martin) to be their keynote speaker at their global conference.

Because he didn’t tell them his Unique Selling Point (USP). Here’s what happened…

Them: We’re looking at a number of speakers for our event. You’ve been recommended to us. Make your pitch. Why should we hire you? What’s your USP?

...Martin: I don’t know.

Them: What? We need to know your USP, so we can choose between you and the other speakers. What do you mean you don’t know what it is?

...Martin: Well, it depends on what you want your audience to do as a result of attending the conference. If we could explore that first, I’ll then be able to tell you whether I can help you achieve that. And, if so, what my best, most relevant USP is, to prove I can.

We then had a peer-to-peer conversation about their conference, their hopes and aspirations for it. What they wanted it to achieve for their business. And for them personally.

It turned out that Martin could help them. So he told them about other companies he’d spoken for – ones who’d had similar needs – and the results they'd got as a result of his keynote. He explained how he’d helped them, the value it had brought, and what they’d learned with him. He then gave them a couple of relevant USPs about his ability to do the same for them.

They chose Martin as their speaker. The reason they gave him? “Because you didn’t tell us your best USP”.

When you think about it, this approach is the more sensible way to sell something. Unless you know the other person’s agenda, your ‘best’ selling points might not align with it. I’ve seen…

… A PR company talk about their USP of building long-term relationships - to the organisers of a weekend-long event

… A global company focusing on their USP of a map of their global offices - to a company who only trades in Spain

… Loads of companies bang on about the fact they were founded in year X – to companies who (believe this if you can) don’t care how old they are

And the best way to find what someone’s most interested in hearing from you?

Ask them.

You’ll both be glad you did.



Action Point




You’ll have to sell something today – yourself, your company, your idea…

… So, do everything you can to find their agenda first, before deciding what your best selling points are.


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Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Turbocharge your next written communication by applying these 6 simple steps



Very few people love preparing long communications.

And nobody loves preparing them twice.

But re-writing communications happens all the time. You may well have experienced it from both sides. Either you created a communication piece for someone, who said it wasn’t what they wanted. Or someone created one for you, and it wasn’t what you wanted.

Both are, at best, frustrating. To both parties. All that wasted time, energy and motivation.

Even worse, people tend not to diarise “Do some re-writes to Draft One that I wasn’t expecting to do”. So they now have to find some time in their hectic diaries to do them. But there is no time. So it often has to be done outside work hours. Again.

And even worse still: re-writes are often avoidable. If you’d briefed each other better in the first place, you’d have avoided doing some/all of the work again. (Incidentally, have you noticed how a poor brief is always the other person’s fault?!)

There are many ways to brief people well. Here’s a good one:
Before you start creating it, ensure both you and they agree on its:

  • Purpose – what you want the communication’s recipient to do as a result of reading it
  • Why they will – the benefits to the recipient of doing this action
  • Why they won’t – the recipient’s objection to doing this action, and your responses to it
  • Headings – what the main sections will be (one way to think about this: what will the contents page contain?)
  • Style – PowerPoint, Word, beautifully designed, something else?
  • Duration – how short will it be (remember: communications aren’t complete when they’re as detailed as possible; but when they’re as short as possible)

Yes, asking these questions takes a bit of time. But they take a lot less time than doing full re-writes. Which is always worth doing…

… unless you do enjoy writing them twice?

Action Point


There are two this week:

  • For any new communications you/a colleague are about to start, ensure your briefing is thorough and effective
  • For any communications that you/a colleague are currently part-way through, revisit the brief and make sure it’s good enough to get things right first time


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Tuesday, 5 May 2015

4 steps to becoming a Communication Ninja




How well will you communicate today?

Probably similarly to how well you did it yesterday.

And to how well you’ll do it tomorrow.

Why? Because we’re creatures of habit (this is why we remember to clean our teeth every day; why we don’t get lost when driving home from work, and so on).

The key to become a Communication Ninja – someone who’s in the habit of communicating well all the time – is to focus on one communication area and practise it hundreds of times, rather than seeking to improve in many areas all at once.

So, to improve your habits, the steps are:

  • IDENTIFY the one thing you want to change
  • START – make the change. Don’t do the usual “I’ve no time today”. As I’ve said in previous posts, time is never about time; it’s about priority
  • REMIND yourself. If you don’t, you might forget. Recurring diary reminders are a good start
  • BE ACCOUNTABLE to someone else. If you aren’t, you’ll just ignore your reminders – especially when you’re busy or stressed
If you do all four, you’ll probably change habits. 

If any are missing, it isn’t as easy.

And if all four are missing, you’ve no chance…

…and you’ll end up communicating exactly the same today as you did yesterday. Whether it worked or not.

Here’s a final thought for you: when you’re looking to IDENTIFY what change should you make, here’s one suggestion…

Well, in my experience, the change that often makes the biggest difference is to ensure that every single communication you make – every conversation, email, meeting, presentation, WebEx etc –contains a next step.

Because, when it does, there’ll be a next step. Whereas, when it doesn’t…

Next step


The minute you finish reading this post, you’ll be communicating with someone. And you’ll probably do it in the same way that you communicated yesterday…

…But, why not spend just half a minute now and 
IDENTIFY one thing you could do better today than yesterday? And then make just that one change.

If it works,
REMIND yourself to do it again and again.

And if you want to get to Ninja Level,
BE ACCOUNTABLE to someone else, to ensure you keep doing it. 


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Tuesday, 28 April 2015

3 tips to keep your presentation from turning into 'Death by PowerPoint'



‘Death by PowerPoint’

We’ve all sat in an audience, and been on the receiving end of it…

…which means many of us have been presenters guilty of causing it.

Here are three simple techniques to transform your presentations instantly:

#1 To get people talking, blank the screen

The best way to stop people focusing on your slides, instead of focusing on you?

Hide the slides.

Simply press the ‘B’ button to blank the screen (or ‘W’ to white it). Then ask them a question, and you’ve turned your one-way presentation into a two-way discussion.

Very simple; very effective.

#2 Jump to the right slide

When presenting, you sometimes want to jump forwards to a later slide or backwards to an earlier one.

But PowerPoint won’t let you. So you have to press the ‘up/down’ cursors loads of times, yes?

Well, no.

PowerPoint has a useful function that helps you jump about.

For example, if you’re on slide 3 and want to jump to slide 9, simply press ‘9’ and ‘return’ on the keyboard and it goes straight there.

Your audience doesn’t know you’ve jumped. To them, it looked like you went to the next slide.

Again, very simple; very effective.

#3 View your presentation through your audience’s eyes

When preparing, put all your slides on your computer screen at once – either by clicking the icon with four little squares on it, or going to ‘view/slide sorter’. Then look at them all, and do the following:

  • Remove as many slides as possible. Do this by reviewing each one and thinking ‘keep, bin, appendix’. In other words, which are so critical that you must keep them; which can go in the bin; and which are background detail that can be transferred to an appendix? This is very quick. And can significantly reduce how much you were going to say
  • Remove as many words as possible. Remember, your slides are supposed to be audience aids, not speaker prompts. So remove as many words from them as possible, so your audience doesn’t have to watch you read them out loud (trust me: everyone hates watching presenters read)
  • Break boring patterns. If you see, say, five consecutive slides that look the same, change the look of the middle one – swap bullet points for a flowchart etc. This breaks it up for the audience, stopping their brains thinking ‘here we go again’
  • Ensure the presentation flows well and tells a story. A good test: if you read the titles one after another, they should form a logical, interesting narrative on their own. However, if your slides are called ‘contents’, ‘background’, ‘approach’… well, that isn’t logical or interesting
  • Look at your first and last slides again. The first should engage; and the last should contain a Call To Action. So far, so obvious. But most people’s title slides just describe what they’re going to talk about. And most people’s last slides simply say ‘thank you’… to which the audience tends to reply ‘You’re welcome. Now get out’.

Action point


Next time you’re using PowerPoint, print off this Tip, and use it to help review your slides. You’ll be pleased you did. And your audience will be delighted.


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