Month: September 2020

Listening Skills

Are you really a good listener?

How many people do you know who say they are good listeners, but really aren’t? I’m sure you know more than a few. 

I find that a lot of people who are good problem solvers think that also makes them good listeners. Yes, in many cases good listeners are good problem solvers. But being a good problem solver doesn’t automatically make you a good listener.

True listening (which is very different from hearing) requires work — and there are a lot of barriers. Distractions, your attitude toward the speaker or topic, and even your physical state (e.g., being hungry or tired) can all interfere. But the most common barrier is our tendency to begin formulating our response to what someone is saying rather than waiting for them to finish.

Observe your own behavior for the next week. How often do you find yourself thinking about your response before a speaker is finished? If it’s often, try to remind yourself to stay in the moment. Be quiet, let the speaker talk, and don’t think ahead to how you want to respond. Withhold judgement until you’ve had time to fully understand and comprehend what is being said. And eliminate those distractions you personally have control over (like your phone or smartwatch). 

Did you know that we typically comprehend and retain only 25% of what we hear? Add to that the distracted digital world we live in, and it makes us all poor listeners at times. But there are things you can do to improve your listening skills. The first step is reminding yourself to truly listen so you can stay in the moment and allow yourself to really comprehend what the speaker is communicating to you.

For more listening tips, check out my interactive workshop 10 Tips for Becoming a Better Listener or my quick class Be a Better Listener.

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash
Virtual Background Tips for Zoom

Better Virtual Backgrounds for Online Meetings

During some recent Zoom meetings, I’ve received a lot of compliments on my virtual background. I created it after a lot of trial and error, so I thought I would share my final methodology in case it helps you to develop something that works for you.

The Case for a Virtual Background That Works

My home office looks fine when I’m on calls, but I’ve grown tired of tidying up my work table and getting the room lighting right each time I want to jump on a call. Also, when I record my courses and host my online workshops, I want my branding to be present on the screen at all times.

Going Green

After people tell me they like my background, they always ask, “Do you have a green screen?” The answer is no. I’ve had one in my Amazon shopping cart for months, but never bought it because I don’t have room in my office to keep it up all the time — and I know I would get frustrated setting it up several times a week. That’s why I wanted to try to get Zoom’s built in virtual background feature to work for me without a green screen.

My Approach

I use Zoom to rehearse my presentations so I can record them and watch them back. That’s how I find out where my bumpy points are. When rehearsing with the standard virtual backgrounds in Zoom or Teams, I noticed that the main area where the backgrounds had trouble tracking me was around my hair. 

So, that was step one when designing my virtual background. It had to be close in color to my hair so people would not notice if Zoom wasn’t clipping my head perfectly.

The second step was to get the lighting right. I make sure I’m lit from the front (I use a diffused lamp with a daylight bulb that is strategically placed behind my laptop’s screen so it does not reflect in my glasses). I also have a second lamp with a soft white bulb that helps provide additional light and that makes my skin tone a bit warmer.

The third step in my trial and error approach was to make sure I was not lit from behind. If I have another light on in the room that is behind me, Zoom has a harder time tracking my silhouette. But when I minimize light behind me and ensure most of the light in the room is in front of me, Zoom does a better job. 

Lastly, I had to fidget with the logo placement to get it right, and also recruit the help of a friend to make sure the logo wasn’t backwards (like it was for me because I use the “Mirror My Video” setting in Zoom).

It’s Not Perfect

My method isn’t perfect. If I gesture too much sometimes parts of my fingers disappear. I’m sure if I had a green screen the background would look even better. But for now, it works just fine for my needs. 

I hope my approach helps you create a virtual background that works well for you.

Looking in the Professional Mirror

Seeing You, More Clearly

One of the best parts of being a coach is that I get to help people see themselves — their talents, skills, accomplishments, and value — more clearly. It also means uncovering blind spots and seeing things that are holding them back. That’s equally as valuable, but usually harder for them to explore.

When you look at your professional self in the mirror, who do you see? How do you describe yourself? 

Are you the person you want to be?

There have been times during my career where I have answered that question with an emphathic, “Yes!” There have also been times where I have said, “No, definitely not.” Those times were pretty hard for me. 

Taking a look in that professional mirror on a regular basis is important. When the answer is no, you owe it to yourself to explore why so you can fix it. Sometimes the fix is a minor tweak. And other times, it requires a monumental shift. 

Either way, being honest with yourself is the only way to change that no to a yes.

Start today.

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels
Communication Tip: Yes, and…

Yes, and…

I wanted to be an actor when I grew up. While my adult life didn’t go according to that plan, I was fortunate to do a lot of acting when I was younger. I also have a degree in Speech and Theatre Arts and began my career teaching theatre classes to high school students. 

One of my favorite lessons from the theatre is in improvisation, which involves carrying out a scene spontaneously, with no script. My fellow actors and I would make it up as we went along, based only on a theme or topic. Practicing and preforming improv (which is what we called it for short) often led to funny scenes that got the audience laughing, but it wasn’t always comedic. In fact, it was often more difficult when the scenes were serious.

When you are performing without a script, each actor relies on the other to set them up for success. That’s where the phrase “Yes, and…” comes into play. When you use language like this, it confirms agreement with where the story is going, and allows you to build on it. When improvising a scene, you might not literally say “Yes, and…” but that’s the spirit. For example:

ROBERT: “There’s a purple giraffe coming down the street! It must have escaped from that new circus that’s in town!”

DENISE: “I see it, too. I feel like I’m hallucinating. Oh my, now I see a turquoise elephant about 20 feet behind the giraffe. What’s going on?”

By confirming that she sees it too, and then adding to the ridiculous story, Denise supports Robert’s direction for the scene and adds to it so it can move forward. Imagine if she had said, “What? A purple giraffe? I don’t see it.” What’s Robert supposed to do with that response? Momentum shattered. Boom, end of scene.

Try to use this improvisational technique in your business life. If you can confirm what someone else has said to give it validity, and then add to it or expand on it, I’ll bet you’ll have more effective collaborations with your colleagues. And remember, “Yes, and…” is very different from “Yes, but….” The latter conveys disagreement, while the former communicates acceptance.

Better Nonverbal Feedback in Zoom

Zoom Nonverbal Communication Features

Many people don’t know about the enhanced nonverbal feedback feature in Zoom (which is off by default). By enabling this feature, you and your participants get an extra set of icons in the participants box. This allows your meeting attendees to raise their hands, answer yes or no questions, ask for a coffee break, and more! 

I like these nonverbal features more than the “Reactions” feature when I give workshops or conduct long meetings. I ensure my meeting participants know about them and I ask them to use them to communicate with me. For example, in my online workshops, I have several instances where I ask my attendees questions and direct them to answer me using the green and red yes and no icons. 

Using this feature along with the chat box helps me make my virtual meetings more engaging. It also helps me read the room more easily, which can be tough in the virtual setting.

Photo by Morning Brew on Unsplash
Promoting Your Personal Brand at Work

Finding the Right Decibel Level for Promoting Yourself at Work

Some people have no problem speaking up about their accomplishments, contributions, and value. In fact, those that do it too much or too loudly at work often come off as arrogant.

Yet those who don’t speak often or loudly enough about what they bring to the table and what they’ve achieved can find themselves easily overlooked. That can really get in the way of getting ahead, especially in certain environments and cultures.

I’m not afraid to speak up, and my time as an actor, educator, and entrepreneur has made me quite comfortable being in the spotlight. Yet in most cases I prefer not to be. I’m an introvert who is comfortable being an extrovert when I need to. However, I am most comfortable when I am quietly helping others succeed. I think that is one of the things that makes me a good teacher and coach

When I began my career, I learned quickly that in business your work doesn’t speak for itself. So, over the years I’ve had to find a decibel level for promoting myself that I’m comfortable with. One that stays true to who I am while also helping me put myself out there so people can understand my value. 

In her book You — According to Them, Sara Canaday calls this topic “Faulty Volume Control” and she likens it to thinking about the volume of your smartphone on a scale of 1 to 10. Based on that idea, I created this graphic to help my clients find their optimal decibel level:

Where do you fall on this scale? I think I’m about a 6. Some days I might lean towards 7. But I used to be a solid 2. It has taken work to turn my self-promotion volume up a few notches. 

Finding your authentic voice and sharing it at a comfortable decibel level will help you communicate your unique value propositions and your contributions appropriately — avoiding the extremes of coming on too strong, or flying so far under the radar that you are virtually invisible. 

You don’t need to go from a 2 to an 8 or from a 10 to a 4. But see if you can move up, or down, a notch or two in the coming months. I think you’ll find that it makes a difference.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
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