Month: October 2020

Listening Beyond the Words

What’s Below the Surface?

The words we say don’t usually carry the full weight of what we mean. Think about a recent text or Slack message you’ve received that required more than one message back and forth to make clear. Would it have been easier to decipher if it was said to you face to face? Or even on a voice call? You’ll probably answer, “Yes.”

But that’s only scratching the surface on what can go wrong in our everyday communications. From distractions to rushing to choosing the wrong medium for the message, the opportunity for misunderstanding is everywhere. 

When we work hard to be present and in the moment, and thoughtful about how we communicate with each other, we set each other up for success — in the form of better understanding the meaning behind our words and in being able to take appropriate action.

The Below the Surface Challenge

When you listen to others this week, whether through hearing or through digital messaging, remind yourself to listen for what’s lying below the surface

  • Listen and read for ideas, not just facts. 
  • Understand that there is emotion behind every piece of communication, even when it’s text-based.
  • Listen for the real message behind the words. Use the speaker’s tone of voice and nonverbal communications to give clues to what’s going on in the speaker’s mind. 
  • Re-read and revise your digital messages to consider the needs of the receiver. Try to keep the gap of potential misunderstanding as small as possible.

Let’s Do More to Set Each Other Up for Success

When you try to see and hear what’s behind the words, you’re more likely to respond in an appropriate way — one that usually avoids unnecessary back and forth. 

And when you’re the sender of the communication, stop to think about what context you need to provide to help the person understand what you mean, and to take the next step with confidence.

Photo by Alexander Hafemann on Unsplash
Fear of Public Speaking

Public Speaking When You Hate Public Speaking

There are two types of speakers. Those who get nervous and those who are liars.

― Mark Twain

If you are nervous or anxious about speaking in public, you’re not alone. In fact, a fear of public speaking affects anywhere from 40 to 75 percent of the population, depending on what studies you look at. There’s even a medical term for it: glossophobia.

The truth is that you may never completely eliminate your fear. But I promise you that you can reduce it significantly. In fact, I am a case study for doing just that. When I was younger I did a lot of acting. I used to get so nervous before going on stage that I would actually tremble. You could see my hands shaking if you looked closely enough, and my nervousness was easy to hear in my voice.

As with anything else in life, it’s preparation and practice that will help you reduce the anxiety you have about public speaking.

Here are some tips that will help:

  1. Don’t try to be perfect. The fear of public speaking often stems from a fear of imperfection. The fact is that no one ever gets it 100 percent right every time, and neither will you. And that’s okay.
  2. Know your stuff. The more prepared you are when it comes to the topic of your presentation, the more confident you will feel. Don’t forget to also consider (and practice answering) the questions you’ll likely get from your audience. 
  3. Use your audience to your advantage. When you can get your audience involved in your presentation, it’s much easier for you to deliver and much more engaging for them. Win-win. 
  4. Practice until you’re sick of practicing. And do it out loud! Recruit family, friends, or colleagues to give you feedback on your presentation. You can also record yourself giving the presentation and watch it back. I do this with every speech or workshop I create. 

Want more tips for reducing nervousness and anxiety when speaking in public? Take my 20-minute quick class: Public Speaking When You Hate Public Speaking.

Photo by Marcos Luiz Photograph on Unsplash
Tips for More Effective Email Communication

8 Tips for Better Email Communications

I have a love-hate relationship with email. On the amorous side, email makes business communication fast and much easier than the days of fax machines and overnight shipments of documents and disks. The unsexy side of email is that it is overused and abused, causing miscommunication to run amok.

Here are some tips to help make sure the communications we send through email are productive and efficient.

1. Remember the Human

That’s right. Every email you send will be read and interpreted by another human being. One who will read your words through their own lens — applying their personal filters to what they are reading, and assigning emotion to your words without the benefit of seeing or hearing you. 

Ask yourself, “How can I ensure this email comes across as I intend it to?” If the answer is that you can’t, pick up the phone or make a video call instead. 

2. Use Email for Email, Not for Chat

One-line emails say a lot. Nonverbally, they can quicky communicate the following:

  • I’m angry with you
  • You’re not worthy of the time it takes to compose a fully formed message

When you’re in Slack or Teams, or even text messaging on your phone, short messages are expected. Plus, these systems leverage emojis and animated gifs to help lighten up messages that could be construed as terse or angry. 

When you have more to say, use email — and keep it professional. Say hello (not “Hey”), compose your message, and close it with a signoff. Treat it like a letter but keep it short and use bullets to help people read the message quickly. Chances are that if you’re writing a feature article length email, you need a meeting instead.

When you are just zipping out a one-line message, use chat. And feel free to be more casual (but still professional).

3. Use the Subject Line Well

If you want your email to be read, don’t be generic in your subject line. Use it to preview the key message or action item inside the digital envelope, and also to help your recipient find it later in a sea of flagged messages. For example, instead of a subject that reads, “Opinion?”, you could say, “Input Needed Today on Final Design Concept”. The former is ambiguous. The latter is specific and helpful to the recipient.

4. CC Everyone (No, Please Don’t)

Try your best to send the email “To” one person — the one who is supposed to fully read it and take action. If there is more than one person who needs to take action, then by all means include any others in the “To” field.

Reserve the CC field for people who need to know what’s going on but are neither expected to take action nor respond. Also, ask yourself if everyone in the CC field really needs to be included. 

5. Use “Reply All” Sparingly 

If you and your team are more careful to avoid overusing the CC field by being more conscious of who really needs to be included in an email, then you should naturally use the “Reply All” feature less often. 

Before you Reply All, stop and think, “Does everyone on this chain really need to see my reply?” If the answer is “No,” then consider only replying to the people who need to be included. 

Now, if you’re using reply all to cover your butt due to a toxic culture, that’s a whole different problem that this article can’t solve. 

6. Proofread

Emails that are full of errors will damage your credibility. Slow down, take a breath, and re-read your emails before hitting Send.

7. Avoid Angry Mail

I’ve written and sent a few emails when I’ve been angry. Each one ranks high on my list of least professional moments during my 25-year career. 

When you’re angry, take a step back. Don’t respond right away. 

I actually find that writing out a draft response helps me get my thoughts together. I compose it in Word or some other program to ensure it never actually gets sent. Once I’ve settled down, I pick up the phone or schedule a face to face conversation to talk with the other party.

And if that can’t happen, I edit my Angry Mail message down to something supportive and factual, remembering not to put anything in my response that I would not be fine seeing on a billboard with my name on it.

8. Set Expectations for Response Times

This last tip is even more important with remote work because it’s harder to pop in on a colleague to check in. Be sure people know what kind of turnaround time they can expect from you when it comes to responding to email. This way they know when they need to follow-up with you, if at all. 

I respond to all emails from colleagues and clients within 24 hours — and they know that. If I can’t respond fully within that time, I still respond with a confirmation of receipt and a timeframe that they can plan on. For example:

Hi Julie,

Thanks for sending me the workshop plan for next week’s session. I won’t be able to fully review it today but will be sure to have it back in your hands by mid-day Thursday. 


Julie now knows I received the email and did not miss it, and when she can expect to hear back from me with the completed action item.

It’s All About Helping Each Other

Remember that emails, and chat and text messages for that matter, are stripped of much of the nuance we get from more robust ways of communicating like face to face conversations. When we have the benefit of nonverbal communication like tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language we can more easily assign meaning to the messages we are receiving. 

When it comes to email, we all need to take the extra time to help set each other up for success.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash
Brand Accelerator for Startups Course

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  • Understand what brand elements you must have in place.
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Listening is a Powerful Tool

You, Me, and No-one Else

I’ve got some terrific mentors. I’m lucky. I think of two of them often, especially when I’m trying to be sure I listen well and avoid rushing others. As a creative person, it’s sometimes hard to stay in the moment and listen when the thing that someone else is saying is sparking a great idea in my head.

But, there’s a place for brainstorming and collaborating, and there’s a place for listening quietly — and absorbing. Truly listening means hearing the person out, reserving judgement, and doing the hard work of interpreting, evaluating, and understanding what the other person is saying.

Try it.

Focus on your coworker, client, partner, child, or parent today. Listen to what is said, and zoom in on the feelings or ideas behind the words. Don’t let yourself begin to compose a response in your head. Make them feel like in that very moment and for as long as is needed for them to finish, there’s nothing else in the world that matters.

Your full attention is a wonderful gift, and a powerful communications tool.

This post was originally published on September 10, 2019 and updated on October 6, 2020.

Photo by Luke Ellis-Craven on Unsplash
Being Authentically Charismatic

How to be Authentically Charismatic

When you think about charismatic people, who comes to mind? What qualities do you think of first? 

When I ask people these questions they usually bring up high profile executives and other public figures who are well known and people they view as comfortable in front of a crowd. Some qualities I often hear are outgoing, magnetic, influential, inspirational, fearless, and well liked.

The truth is that you don’t need to be fearless to be charismatic. And you don’t need to be an extrovert, or even outgoing, to have charisma. 

When you look up the definition of the word on or, you’ll see words like, “…special personal quality…” or “…a personal magic of leadership…”. That personal quality is what you need to find and cultivate to be able to be authentically charismatic. 

What about you will make people want to follow you? How do you inspire and influence others in your own unique way? What gives you your own “special magnetic charm or appeal?” 

Find it, develop it, and then create your own, authentic way to show it to others. 

That’s when they’ll want to join your tribe. That’s when you’ll be authentically charismatic.

You can do it in a way that’s comfortable in the long run, even if looking at yourself in this way feels a bit uncomfortable at first. If you need help, let’s talk.

Virtual Meeting Preparation Tips

Make Your Virtual Meetings Matter

Good meetings are planned well, and then facilitated in a way that makes them productive. Here are some tips for running effective virtual meetings and, more importantly, making them matter to your team.

Have a Clear Purpose and an Agenda

Be sure the reason for the meeting is clear to you. Then, communicate it out to the invitees beforehand. This way they can come to the table ready to contribute appropriately.

I use this list of potential goals when planning a meeting, which I got from a podcast featuring Mamie Kanfer Stewart. If the goal doesn’t fit into one of these six categories, then I likely don’t really need a meeting:

  1. Connect
  2. Align
  3. Decide
  4. Ideate/brainstorm
  5. Plan
  6. Produce

Set Ground Rules

Conducting meetings remotely isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be quite painful, for hosts and attendees alike. The technology doesn’t always work as well as it should, and the many distractions your team has in the remote setting can be numerous (and beyond your control). When I host virtual meetings, I make sure I set some ground rules right at the start. Here’s my list of possible requests from the group (I may use one or more of these depending on who is invited, and the number of people on the call):

  • Mute your audio when you’re not speaking (if there is a large group)
  • Mute your audio only if there is background noise (for small groups — I like lively discussions whenever possible)
  • Let’s make this a distraction free zone (a simple reminder to silence smartphones, close down email, and set Teams or Slack to Do Not Disturb mode)
  • Keep your video on (or off in certain situations like when the group should be focusing on one speaker only)
  • Find the chat box now because you may need to use it (I often plan for some type of interactivity using chat)
  • Raise your hand if you want to ask a question (for large groups, I have the nonverbal feature turned on in Zoom that allows every participant to do this digitally)

Encourage Participation

A meeting that is interactive will naturally be more engaging. Ask questions, seek input, and if you must talk for a long stretch of time, check in with your group along the way to make sure they are following (or if they need any clarification). 

Take Notes

Designate someone who is responsible for taking notes and make sure they provide a summary of decisions made and action items (noting who is responsible) to all attendees after the meeting. This removes any ambiguity related to who heard what and what everyone is supposed to do next.

Skip the Video (Sometimes)

Video calls can be exhausting because our eyes and brains have more to track than when on an audio-only call. This is especially true with numerous people on the call.

Video calls certainly have their place and should be used when seeing each other makes sense. However, consider when an audio-only phone call is the better option. For my coaching sessions, I often start with a call and then fire up video or a screen share when needed.

Use Visuals

Even when you’re on an audio call, a good visual or two can help support your messages and engage participants. Consider opportunities to share a graphic or bring up a few slides over a screen share. 

Smile Before You Begin 

Even when the meeting is without any video, your audience can still sense your enthusiasm, or lack thereof. Reminding yourself to smile and exude positivity will help make others feel more engaged during the call. 

After all, if you don’t sound like you want to be there, why should they?

Want more tips for better communication when leading remote teams? Talk to me about a one-on-one or group session of my workshop Communicating Your Best When Leading Remote Teams

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij from Pexels
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