Business Communication

Personal Branding: Storytelling (Old Style Pen)

Who’s Telling Your Story?

In business, everyone has a story to tell. In this context, I’m not talking about fairy tales or fictional stories that are simply meant to entertain. I’m talking about crafting a narrative that showcases your unique strengths, talents, and value

I’ve thought about this topic a lot after watching an interesting Ted talk by Carla Harris. She talks about finding people who can help you get ahead at work — and she makes some powerful points about how many people who are really good at what they do often have not put enough work into relationship building. Therefore, there’s nobody else fighting for them. I’ll let you watch the talk to find out what her solution is, but it made me think about a lot of brilliant, talented, and wonderful people I have known during my career who let other people control their narratives. In other words, tell their stories.

Many people think of personal storytelling, or even personal branding, as shameless promotion. That’s often because the people they’ve seen do it have been the types who happily talk about themselves while speaking over others in the room. It doesn’t have to be like that. In fact, it shouldn’t be like that at all.

Think of storytelling as a guide — one that carefully leads others along the path to understanding, and remembering, you (or your product or service). Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, loud or quiet, passive or assertive, you can find a comfortable way to talk about yourself that showcases the right parts of you to the right people. Then, you can build stronger connections and relationships, and be remembered. 

In a recent episode of Dave Stachowiak’s podcast Coaching for Leaders, he interviewed leadership and entrepreneurship expert and professor Laura Huang about her new book, Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage. On the podcast, Laura shared this wonderful visual of how we show ourselves to others. She said to think of yourself as a diamond. Every diamond has flaws. And every diamond has many beautiful, and different, facets. There’s great power in learning to show the right facets to the right people. You’re not being inauthentic by doing so. It’s still you, but you’re tailoring the story to the audience to ensure you are guiding them in better understanding the aspects of you that matter to them. 

Whether you’re trying to climb the corporate ladder, or to sell a product or service, it’s easier to influence others when your communication considers the needs of your audience, and is tailored to tell them the story that they need to hear.

And most importantly, make sure you’re in control of your story.

Photo by Art Lasovsky on Unsplash
Virtual Coffee Break

Virtual Water Cooler Moments

When working remotely, the casual interactions you get around the coffee maker at an office are absent. You need to help your team create those water cooler moments.

How? If you’re using Slack or Teams for internal communication, you can create channels for these types of interactions. For example, I’ve used the following channels to encourage team interactions:

  • Random Team Chit Chat (for fun chats, silly gifs, memes, and pretty much anything that will put a smile on each other’s faces or help blow off some steam)
  • Kudos (a great reminder to give each other a virtual high five from time to time)
  • Inspirational Shares (for good quotes or little things that motivate and inspire)

Think about a few channels that your team will appreciate and enjoy.

Also consider how you can encourage your team to support each other directly when they are feeling stuck or uninspired. In an office setting, you can get up and walk 5 feet and pow wow with a colleague. When working remote, those pow wows take more effort. 

These interactions might not seem work related, but they really are. They can help keep your team happy, and healthy.

Photo by Mad Fish Digital on Unsplash
Overcoming Your Fear of Public Speaking

Public Speaking (When You Hate Public Speaking)

One of the questions I get asked most often is how to manage nervousness or anxiety in order to make public speaking a more positive experience. The truth is that there is no quick fix for a fear of public speaking. It takes work to overcome and with practice it gets easier to manage.

I created this workshop to help people get on the path to feeling less nervous or anxious about it. However, if you are already fairly comfortable speaking in public, then my other workshop Power Presentations: Tips and Tricks for Presenting More Effectively is likely a better fit for you. 

The Curse of Knowledge in Communication

People, Perception, and the Curse of Knowledge

One of the most difficult things to combat when you are leading, presenting, or even simply having a conversation with someone new, is yourself — specifically your knowledge and experience. That’s the curse of knowledge. According to Wikipedia, “the curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand.” 

In other words, it’s easy to forget that others don’t know what you know. The problem is that assuming that others share the same knowledge as you puts them at an unfair advantage when communicating with you. 

If you’re a top executive or senior leader, you need to remember that you have years of expertise tucked into that head of yours. What often happens when professionals have been immersed in their data or craft for a long time is that they aren’t able to present their ideas or data in a way that others can understand. You get the underlying meaning, but chances are that anyone who is not working closely with you will not.

Don’t let the curse of knowledge make your communications too abstract for your audiences. Take the time to think about the people you lead, or who you need to persuade or inspire, and ask yourself:

  • How can I tailor my communications to meet them where they are? 
  • How do I distill what I know down to what they need to understand me?

The first rule of communication is to know your audience. Once you’ve considered them, your job is to communicate in a way that ensures your message is not only heard, but understood.

Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash
Notifications Steal Attention and Impact Communications

Notification Overload

Text messages, emails, apps, social media, and Microsoft Teams … and don’t get me started on the Notification Center on my Mac. With all of the notifications that ping and ding us all day long, how do we ever get anything done?

Of course, I want to be available and responsive to my clients and colleagues — but then again, I do value my privacy and my personal space.  

I’ve found a sense of balance by wrangling my notifications and using certain settings to stop them from interrupting me when they don’t need to. This allows me to stay focused when I need to, and also spend down time with my friends and family without interruption. 

So, here is my methodology — in case it helps anyone else find the right balance. 

Separate Calendar and Mail Apps

I use Apple products for personal use, and Microsoft products for business use. This creates a natural separation between my work and personal notifications. It’s a bit cumbersome at times because my work and personal calendars are not commingled, but I’m working on a solution for that as we speak.

Since I use Microsoft Office for all of my business communications, I fire up Outlook, Teams, and a bunch of other apps that come with my Microsoft 365 subscription when I’m ready to work. On my computer, I’ve set these apps only to notify me when they are open, and not in the background. This way I only see notifications when I want to (including the ubiquitous red notification badge on the Outlook app). If I need to focus on a particular task without interruption, I simply quit the apps and I get uninterrupted time to concentrate. I also quit the apps when I’m engaged in a conversation on Zoom or on the phone. The only notifications that are allowed to come through when the Outlook app is closed are my calendar reminders.

During the day, I don’t open the Apple Mail program and Calendar apps (which are where my personal communications live) unless I’m taking a break from work. This way they are not intruding on my dedicated work time. And yes, you guessed it, I’ve turned off notifications on those apps as well, so I only see new messages or events when I fire up the specific apps. 

I also don’t use Messages on my Mac (which is an app that delivers text messages to the computer at the same time they land on your other devices). It’s enough that my phone and iPad get notified when I receive a text. I don’t need those on my computer too (even though it is convenient at times). The sacrifice of convenience for less distraction is worth it to me.

I’ve even gone as far as using two different task apps for personal and business reminders. Microsoft To Do for work, and Apple Reminders for home. Works great. 

Taming My Phone

On my phone, again an Apple device, I stick to similar rules. The Microsoft Outlook and Teams apps are where all of my business communications are housed. The personal stuff stays within the native Apple apps like Mail and Calendar. Outlook notifications for upcoming meetings are turned on since I rely on that feature to keep me on schedule, but incoming email notifications are off. I have to physically tap the Outlook icon to get new mail. The same is true for the Apple Mail app. I don’t need to know the precise moment that an email shows up.

This stops me from being tempted to check email constantly during the evening hours, and especially during dinner. I only check when, and if, I’ve decided it’s time to sit down and look.

Bottom Line

As much as I talk to people about being present during both professional and family moments, I’ll admit how hard it is to ignore your phone when it dings or buzzes. 

The name of the game for me has been to ensure that the apps I use for work and for personal communications are not notifying me when I’m spending time on one or the other. So far, it’s working great. 

If you’ve got other tips for preventing notifications from stealing your attention, I want to hear them. Please share in the comments. 

5 Tips for More Engaging Meetings

5 Tips for More Engaging Conference Calls and Remote Meetings

A lot of my clients have been asking for tips for making their remote meetings more engaging. Here are 5 critical things to consider to ensure you make the best of your virtual meeting time.

1. Have a Clear Purpose and an Agenda

The main reason people tune out during calls is because they shouldn’t be there in the first place. Make sure you’ve invited the right stakeholders and are clear about why you’re holding the call. Also be sure everyone knows what you want to achieve during your time together.

2. Encourage Participation

A call that is interactive will naturally be more engaging than a lecture. Ask questions, seek input, and if you must talk for several minutes, check in with your group along the way to make sure they are following (or if they need any clarification). One way to do this is to deliver your messages by topic, one by one, and pause to encourage input or questions before moving to the next.

3. Skip the Video (Sometimes)

Video calls on Zoom or Teams 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 a nice, audio-only phone call is the better option. 

4. Use Visuals

Even when you’re on an audio-only 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. 

5. Smile Before You Begin 

Even when the call is on the phone without any video, your audience can still sense your enthusiasm, or lack thereof. Run the call with positivity and enthusiasm. 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?

Leading Means Inspiring and Developing People

Be Sure You Say It

How many times have you thought about thanking someone for helping you on a project, or complimenting one of your team members on how well they handled something? Each time, did you do it? 

If you’re like most busy professionals, you didn’t. It slipped your mind. Or maybe when you had the opportunity to do so it felt like the right moment had passed. 

And when you have high-performing team members who are at the top of their games, it’s even easier to assume they don’t need extrinsic feedback. But they do. 

Everyone does. 

Almost every pivotal moment in my career has been influenced by someone else who believed in me, and who helped me see my strengths more clearly. Of course, I do a lot of work within my own head to work things out as I move along my own personal journey while blazing my unique path forward. But the kindness I’ve received from others through encouraging words, as well as constructive criticism, has shaped me in many ways. I am grateful to those who took the time to pause and tell me. 

Who can you build up today by telling them something they need to hear? Be sure to take a moment and say it.

Presentation Tip: It's not easy to make things simple

Simple ≠ Easy

If you think it’s easy to make something simple, it’s not. For example, the user interface of an app or mobile device needs to be simple and easy to understand without reading a manual, right? The same is true for a presentation where you need to help an audience understand concepts or data that are unfamiliar or complex. It takes great effort to make these things more digestible and easier to understand. 

How do you do that? Through editing, refining, and rehearsing.

Here are some tips:

  • Record your presentation and watch it back. As you experience it like your audience will, try to put yourself in their shoes. Are you giving them too much background? Are you making assumptions and leaving something critical out? I use Zoom or QuickTime to record myself or my slides when I rehearse.
  • Figure out where you can edit your presentation (script and slides) to make complex points more simple. Sometimes you may need to make a slide less busy and narrate the supporting points instead. Other times you may need to inject an example or analogy into your script. And maybe you need to rewrite certain parts of the script to help explain complex concepts with words and visuals that are more appropriate to the intended audience.
  • Then rehearse again. And if you can, try to give the presentation a test drive in front of a few people who can provide feedback from the viewpoint of your intended audience. 

As Steve Jobs once said, “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Take the time to ensure your presentations are clean and simple. It will make them easier to present, and more effective and engaging for your audiences.

Presentation Tip from Michael Piperno

Tell Me Where to Look

When I coach people on creating powerful presentations, one of the first things we usually work on is their PowerPoint slides. Because much of the business world uses PowerPoint to share data among teams, it’s natural to want to put every data point and every clarifying message on a slide to ensure the reader will understand it—even if you’re not there to explain it.

But when you are presenting your sides, you are there to explain them. Your approach should be different. Your sides should support you. They are not meant to replace you! You want your audience to listen to you while you are leading them through your presentation. You want them to stay in the moment with you every step of the way.

When you throw up a slide that is overloaded with text or data, guess what? Your audience tunes you out, and starts to read the slide. Here are some tips for avoiding slide overload.

  • Make them more visual. If you can use a chart, graph, or image instead of text bullets, do so.
  • Use builds to reveal information. Instead of putting up a slide with 6 bullets that you will cover in the next 30 seconds, reveal each bullet as the words come out of your mouth. And remember, the bullets should be short. Your voice will provide the details; the bullets are simply visual markers for the audience.
  • Cut, cut, and then cut again. Each time you rehearse your presentation, you should be looking for opportunities to reduce the amount of content on your slides. The less cluttered they are, the faster your audience can process them.
  • Tell me where to look. When you do have to show a slide that is complex, talk your audience through where they should focus their attention. Use builds or highlight boxes that signal visually what part of the slide you’re currently referring to. This is especially important for scientific slides that include large amounts of data presented in a table or in a complex graphic. Highlight the area that underscores your point, so the audience’s eyes go right to it.

Ask yourself questions about your sides as you prepare your talk, like: “Do I really need a slide for this?” and “What’s the point of this slide?” That will force you to look for opportunities to make them more concise and visually engaging. Slides that are supportive of your narrative, and are concise and well designed, will make your presentation shine.

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