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The Tuesday Business Corner: QUICK WINS 3 – more simple ways to improve quickly

I’ve had some more requests for quick wins. Here are another five sets for you…

Improve your presentations

  1. Engaging start – spend longer preparing your start than anything else. The wording must be enticing ; the delivery must be impactful
  2. Interesting content – think what audiences love – interactivity, stories, humour, visuals, trivia etc; then include some of them
  3. Directing end – don’t end with “thank you” – this just makes people say “you’re welcome”. Instead, give them a clear Call To Action, directing them what to do next

Improve ‘Update Meetings’
  1. If the call isn’t needed, stop having it. Ask yourself “what harm would it do if we stopped this?” If the answer is “none”, you know what to do
  2. Re-name them ‘Improve Meetings’ – “the reason we’re here is to improve things, not just swap news”
  3. Inject variety, to break the tedium of the same thing every week. Change the timing, duration, frequency, format, who chairs it, who sits where… anything

Reviewing other’s communications
  1. Go straight to the Call To Action. If it isn’t clear (or there), people won’t act
  2. Then, look at the title/introduction. It must be captivating, so the reader wants to read on
  3. Review the contents page. Is the flow clear? And do the titles draw the reader in?

Get a “yes” (BO)
  1. Think of the benefit to them of saying “yes”. This will be them getting more of a good thing, e.g. more time, or less of a bad thing, e.g. less hassle
  2. Identify a couple of options as to how they accept, so it’s a yes/yes choice, rather than a yes/no
  3. Practise until the BO (benefit options) sounds natural. Examples:
  • For my daughter: “(B) It’s time for your favourite story upstairs. (O) Do you want Daddy to carry you; or are you going upstairs on your own?”
  • When selling: “So, we can help you achieve your #1 priority of exporting into Belgium. There are two ways we can do this – doing XYZ for £100,000 or just XY for £65,000. Which do you prefer?”

Getting good results from challenging conversations
  1. Remember, it’s more important to find a solution than it is to be right
  2. So focus on (1) the future and (2) the word “we”, rather than the past and “you v. me”
  3. Start well (script and practise your opening line) and end well (know in advance what outcomes you want, so you work towards getting them)

Action point

Use the above tips that will give you the quickest wins. If they work, keep using them. If they don’t, adjust to suit your circumstances; then try them again until they do.

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The Tuesday Business Corner: MORE QUICK WINS – top tips to mastering common communication problems

Last week’s Tip contained quick ways to improve in key communications. I had great feedback about them. So here are some more…

Improve your writing style

  1. Use shorter paragraphs. Ideally, they should be four lines max, so people can skim read quickly
  2. Use shorter sentences. Ideally, they should be 1-1½ lines long. If they’re longer, you’re probably joining two shorter sentences with “and”, “but” or “so”
  3. Ensure your titles are interesting. An easy way to do this: imagine your current title is “Our Proposal” (this is your agenda) and you’re writing to someone who wants to free-up staff time (their agenda), insert “how” before and their agenda after. So “Our proposal” becomes “How our proposal will free-up your staff’s time”

Improve your slides

  1. Make the titles better. Use the technique in the third bullet point from the previous list
  2. Remove as much content as possible. The easiest way to do this:
  3. write the full version with word-y slides
  4. print this out so you have a set of speaker notes
  5. press “delete” a lot, leaving only the key words
  6. Use visuals. You don’t have to use drab bullet points. Instead, you could communicate them as a flowchart, a family tree, a bar chart, a pie chart…

Improve conference calls

  1. If the call isn’t needed, stop having it. Ask yourself “what harm would it do if we stopped this?” If the answer is “none”, you know what to do
  2. Check the format is correct. For example, if your calls tend to be one person speaking most/all of the time, that would probably make a better email. Or you could send a detailed email in advance, and then have a much shorter conference call to discuss it
  3. Use names, not open questions. Asking an open question (‘Has anybody got any thoughts about that?”) results in: silence, five people speaking at once, a shorter silence, two people speaking at once, then total silence! So, use names (‘I’m sure you’ll all have views on this. “John, let’s start with you. What do you think?’

Write better proposals

  1. Where possible, send them late, not early. Do your selling verbally – that’s more persuasive than any document could ever be. Then send your proposal which confirms what has been agreed, rather than doing the selling for you
  2. Put the price at the end, after you have listed all the value you’ll bring. This puts your price in a better light. It also puts it in context. Saying ‘it costs £100,000’ before saying what ‘it’ is makes the number meaningless
  3. Agree the proposal headings with the buyer. Nothing highlights poor scoping more than the buyer saying “This isn’t the information I need. And if you can’t get the document right, I doubt you can do the project”. Also, knowing the headings makes it easier and quicker for you to write

Selling your vision

  1. Why it’s needed – ‘The problem that needs fixing is…. And the negative impacts it’s having on you are….’
  2. The future vision – ‘Given that, where we want to be is ….’
  3. Immediate actions – ‘So, the things we must stop doing are … and those we must start doing are…’

Action point (again three quick wins)

As last week…

  1. Today, use the above tips that will give you the quickest wins
  2. If they work, keep using them. If they don’t, adjust to suit your circumstances; then try them again until they do
  3. Hit ‘Reply’, and tell me what other topics you would like ‘quick wins’ for

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The Tuesday Business Corner: VERY QUICK WINS – top tips to mastering common communication problems

A different approach this week. If you like it, let me know and I’ll do it again!

Here are five very common communication concerns, with three quick ways to improve at each…

Empty your inbox

  1. Lots of emails in your inbox will be replies to yours. So send less. Pick up the phone more
  2. When you get long emails (or “FYI”), reply with ‘Thanks for this. What would you like me to do with it?’
  3. Never open, read, close then leave an email in your inbox. Do this, and it stays in your inbox! Instead:

  • act on it – either now or drag it into your diary to do later, and then…

  • …move it – either to a folder or the bin

Improve meetings (PAL)

  1. Purpose – your first consideration: what do you want the attendees to do as a result of being there?
  2. Agenda – identify the main decisions to be made - not topics to be discussed - to ensure they can do it
  3. Limit the time – ‘this will take a maximum of 45 minutes’, not ‘it will definitely take 60’

Persuade someone to do something
  1. Know what you want them to do
  2. Identify why they will want to do it (how they benefit by doing so); and why they won’t (their concerns)
  3. Speak in this order:
  • benefits – ‘Here’s something that will help you do X’
  • your content – ‘XXX’
  • concerns – ‘don’t worry about X because of X’
  • the ‘do’ – ‘so, please can you do X’

The three steps of creating an Elevator Pitch
  • Subject – ‘I…’
  • Verb – ‘…help…’
  • AFTERs – why the recipient is better-off AFTERwards – ‘…people communicate better than they dreamed possible’

[Note: this approach works for describing other things too. For example:

  • Communications – ‘(1) This presentation (2) will show us (3) how to ensure we do better next month than we did last’
  • Departments – ‘(1) The Marketing Department (2) generates (3) new opportunities for our Sales team’]

Three things to prepare before going to a networking event

  1. Know your goals. This could be one/more of many things. For example: reviewing the Guest List and identifying who you want to speak to; having a target number of business cards you want to get; or a number of strangers you want to speak with… whatever’s right for you
  2. Know good questions to ask, to uncover useful information about others
  3. Write your Elevator Pitch (use the above pointers to help), and practise it beforehand so it feels natural to say

Action point (again three quick wins)

  • Today, use the above tips that will give you the quickest wins
  • If they work, keep using them. If they don’t, adjust to suit your circumstances; then try them again until they do
  • Hit ‘Reply’, and tell me what other topics you would like ‘quick wins’ for

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The Tuesday Business Corner: How to run an impactful meeting

Last week, I looked at three of the four things that initiate meetings – other people, habit and obligation. This week, let’s look at the fourth – the meetings you initiate.

Let’s start with two indisputable facts about meetings:

  1. Most aren’t very good
  2. Most are prepared using a similar process.

Conclusion: the process doesn’t work very well.

So don’t do it.

And what is this process? “I want to discuss topic X. So let’s get all the relevant stakeholders in a room, so we can hit everyone at once. Let’s also cover all the relevant topics on the agenda, so we can hit everything at once. Let’s bang in an hour.”

Familiar, yes? As is the usual result: meandering, boring and too few resulting actions.

A better approach is to prepare using PALM:

  • Purpose – identify exactly what you want to be able to do after the meeting (in other words, focus first on what the meeting is supposed to cause, not cover)
  • Agenda – list the key decisions that need to be made, in order to achieve the purpose
  • Limit time – don’t say meetings will last an hour, or they will. Instead, say they will last “A maximum of 45 minutes”. Most meetings are too long anyway, so shortening them is only going to do good. And saying “A maximum of” means that people expect it to finish earlier. So it often does.
  • Minimum attendees – this sounds weird; but you want to strip out as many people as possible. When two people meet, there is just one agreement: person A agreeing with B. However, when four meet, it shoots up to 6 agreements (AB, AC, AD, BC, BD, CD). When it gets to 8-12 people, the number of agreements rockets up even further

If you prefer this PALM approach, use it everywhere. So, not just during a meeting, but also:

  • In your diary invites – start with a purpose, then agenda, then say it will last “A maximum of…”
  • All of your communications before the meeting
  • Your introduction at the start of the meeting – “Thanks for your time today. The reason for this meeting is so that, after it, we’re able to do X and Y. We’ll finish as soon as we can”
  • The printed agenda – put the purpose at the top etc
  • Your follow-up email confirming actions

Half the meetings in your organistaion are below average. Are yours above or below?

What simple changes could you make, so that everyone looks forward to coming to your meetings, rather than arriving late. Or not at all.

Action point

Identify the first meeting you can apply
PALM to. Then give it a go.
Nobody will mind your next meeting taking 45 minutes instead of 60…
Nor the fact there are clear actions arising…
Nor the fact that the diary invite made it look interesting!

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The Tuesday Business Corner: How to start a meeting that someone else initiated

Four things initiate the meetings you attend:

  1. You
  2. Someone else
  3. Habit
  4. Obligation

I’ll cover how best to do the first – those you initiate – next week. Here’s how to do the others:

Let’s start with the second type – when someone else initiates it. For example, this could be a colleague who wants to discuss a particular topic with you; or one of your contacts wants you to meet their boss; and so on.

The problem here is that someone else has initiated it. So it’s their agenda. And, because you don’t know exactly what they are thinking: ask.

Good questions before the meeting
  • If you can speak with/email them before, do so. Good questions include:
  • What do you want the outcome of our meeting to be?
  • What are the key decisions we have to make?
  • What do you want me to do at our meeting, so we can move quickly?
  • What shall I bring to the meeting?

Good questions during the meeting
If you’ve managed to speak before, their earlier answers will help shape the agenda. If not, these questions work well in the meeting:
  • How can I help you? (They’ve called it. So ask them. Let them speak about their agenda)
  • Please tell me more about that? (Get more information)
  • So what would a good outcome be? (So you both focus on the desired end-point, rather than discussing lots of topics)
  • What information do you need from me? (Start with what they want, rather than telling them everything you know)
  • What about X? (If you think they’ve missed something, tell them)
  • So, given all this, what’s next? (Agree actions)

And for the third type – Habit Meetings – if you regularly read our blob, you’ll know exactly what we think of them. Just because you always meet, doesn’t mean you should (weekly updates, anyone?)

With Habit Meetings, ask yourself/fellow attendees what harm it would do if you reduce something – their frequency, duration, number of attendees, number of agenda items etc. If you think you can reduce something, do so. You might as well: it won’t do any harm!

(A quick example: one group of 20 people I worked with changed from having weekly two-hour update meetings to having one monthly 10-minute conference call. Do the maths – this is an enormous time-saver, both as individuals and as a team).

Finally, for Obligation Meetings – ones where you break the law if you don’t have them – keep having them. You’re obliged to!

Habit Meetings needlessly waste lots of resource. But, so can others’ meetings unless you ask good questions.

A quick summary: there’s lots in this Tip. But if you want to keep it really simple, a good question to start others’ meetings: “How can I help you?”

This is much quicker than guessing, and then preparing something they didn’t want. That’s just annoying for everyone.

Action point

For your Habit Meetings: reduce something about them.

For imminent meetings that others have initiated: where possible, use one/both sets of questions above to ensure you’re doing what they want, not what you think they want.

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The Tuesday Business Corner: Ensure other people excel when you aren’t watching them

I wonder if Motorway Policemen think motorists always slam their brakes on? After all, that is what they’ll see whenever they approach someone.

Actually, they’ll probably see something else as well: when they’ve passed the motorist and look in the rear view mirror, they’ll see them speed up again.

It sure is easy to do the right thing when someone’s watching you, isn’t it? We see this all the time, in all sorts of situations:

  • Motorists and policemen
  • Fast food companies and media pressure
  • Children and parents
  • You and your boss
  • Your team and you

Influencing others so they self-police is therefore essential. After all, if you don’t, they’ll only be brilliant when you’re watching. But this doesn’t automatically happen. It often needs a lot of thought, input and effort on your part. Here are three ways to help you to help your team to self-police.

#1 Communicate based on their wants, not needs

I have a friend that's bald. He needs a wig. But he doesn't want one. So he's not buying one.

People are motivated by what they want, not need. So saying “I need you to turn up to meetings on time/hit your targets/work late tonight” only works brilliantly if they want to do it. But if they don’t, you’re unlikely to get the same level of enthusiastic discretionary effort.

So help them want to do it. This involves having a chat with them, containing four elements:

  • Ask them what they want to achieve from their jobs (eg kudos, promotion opportunities, to leave on time to see the children etc)
  • Work together to identify how they will get more of these wants by doing the things you needthem to
  • Agree actions and habits (see #2 below)
  • Agree how often you’ll speak (#3)

#2 Agree actions and habits

Many (most?) communications don’t end with an action. Instead it’s…

“Understand? Yes? Excellent. Bye”.

So, ensure they’re crystal clear what their actions and deadlines are.

But, actions alone aren’t always enough. Sometimes, you’re after a habit change. For example, someone turning up to meetings on time, not late. This action is recurring, not a one-off.

So work together to identify ways they can remind themselves to self-police. For example: stop having back-to-back meetings, insert recurring diary entries reminding them, briefing their PA to remind them, agreeing that you will remind them every time they forget, and so on).

#3 Meet regularly

If a motorist wants to stick to the speed limit on a long journey, one option is to ask a police car to drive next to them all the way. This clearly isn’t feasible. But neither is having no police car at all. They know they can’t help themselves and speed up if nobody’s watching.

Similarly, agree regular interventions between them and you. This could be often/formal weekly meetings, or infrequent/informal monthly chats. As with everything else, the ideal is that they self-police it, rather than you reminding them to meet with you.

One other way to use this Tip

This Tip is focussed on you being the policeman, helping the motorist drive well when you aren’t there.

You can also use the same advice if you are the motorist. Ask your boss to do #1, #2 and #3. This could be useful if you don’t enjoy/feel passionate about your job. In fact, doing so might be the best thing you ever did – both for you and them.

Action points

  1. Think whether you want to be a better policeman (leader), motorist (direct report) or both.
  2. Identify who will be the best person(s) to speak with, to discuss #1-#3 above.
  3. Go do it.

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The Tuesday Business Corner: AVOID THIS – the absolute worst way to start a first date…

Picture the scene: you’re having dinner on your own in a restaurant. And the person of your dreams walks in. They come over to you. There’s good eye contact. You can feel a connection between you already. Breathlessly, they whisper “It’s great to meet you. Tell me about yourself…”

How would you respond?

Like this…?

“Great to meet you too. Luckily, I’ve got this book with me (you ceremoniously whip the book from your pocket). It describes my family history – where we live, how many of us there are, all our names, the things that are different about our family. It really is a One Stop Shop describing what’s special about us…

Hey, hold on, I haven’t finished yet…

Where are you going…?

Don’t go…

Come back!”

Devastating. Your one chance to make a first impression – totally ruined.

A weird example to give you? After all, nobody would behave like that when first meeting someone, would they?

So, why is it that some people feel it’s essential to take a brochure with them to first meetings with potential customers?

They’ve never seen you before. They don’t want to be looking over your shoulder, reading stuff about you. They want a chat. One you both find interesting and stimulating. One you both enjoy. And one that – like a first date – if things go well, leads to something much better for both of you…

So, when you’re meeting someone for the first time:

– Don’t take a brochure (you wouldn’t want to read theirs, so why would they want to read yours?)

– Prepare (in advance):

  • a list of questions to ask them, to get the conversation going, and find out more about them
  • a couple of interesting, useful things you could say about yourself (a good rule of thumb is “facts tell, stories sell. Tell stories about what you’ve done for others; don’t just list facts about what you do)
  • 1-2 useful bits of info/advice for them, so they get value from the meeting
  • Your opening line, so you feel confident going into the meeting
  • Your closing lines - for the two situations of:
  1. If the conversation’s gone well, how you’re going to ask for Date Two
  2. If things aren’t going so well, how to end the meeting politely, with integrity but without a follow-up

– Diarise (again, in advance) to follow-up with them immediately after the meeting.

Since you’ve read this far, I guess you’re finding this advice useful? So, while I’ve got you, let me just quickly show you my holiday photos…

No, don’t go…


Action Point

For your next meeting with a stranger, leave the brochure at home and follow the advice above. Both of you will be pleased that you did…

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