Business Communication

Remote Leadership Presence

New Workshop Available: Remote Leadership Presence

Remote meetings are here to stay. My new workshop, Remote Leadership Presence: Bringing Your Best When Leading & Meeting Virtually is designed to help professionals be more effective when participating in, or leading, a remote or virtual meeting.

You’ll learn:

  • How to look and sound your remote best.
  • Virtual room video and audio dos and don’ts. 
  • Best practices for facilitating and leading remote meetings.
  • Tips for using technology like Zoom and Teams to make virtual meetings more engaging

Whether you are regularly conducing team meetings remotely or participating in online meetings or interviews, this workshop will give you tips you can use right away to improve your leadership presence. 

Running Time: 60 or 90 minutes, depending on audience size.

Get in touch if you would like to discuss a one-on-one session or a workshop for your team.

Your Automations Are Feeling Impersonal

Personalized Communication Gone Astray

I recently bought an ebook from a well-known leadership expert. The same day I bought the book, I got 4 emails from him:

  • #1 was the delivery of the digital book along with a sales pitch for another book
  • #2 was a marketing email for another line of products he offers
  • #3 was another marketing email for the same line of products in email #2
  • #4 was a promotional email for something else his group of companies offered

4 emails in one day? As a former brand communications and marketing agency leader, I knew what was going on here. The purchase of the book enrolled me in an automated workflow that looks like this:

  1. When Michael buys book A, have the email software program send him the offer email for product B and add him to the email list for product A.
  2. When Michael is added to the email list for product A, also add him to the email list for product C and send product C’s first marketing email.
  3. You see where this is going?

I get it. Automation is a powerful tool when communicating with prospects or customers. Technology has made these highly personalized communications easier than ever. But the people who are setting up these automations are losing site of the human beings on the other end.

wrote a post a while back about being inundated by emails on a daily basis from companies I like, but don’t want to hear from daily. They give me no choice to reduce the frequency of the communications, so they lose me as a subscriber. This is happening with advertising, too. This week I shopped online for a new pair of comfortable lounge pants and now I’m inundated with loungewear ads on virtually every screen I have in the house. Looks like I accepted a cookie somewhere along the line that allowed the site I was on to sell or share my data.

More personalized results on Google, in digital advertisements, and through email were once welcome. I found them helpful. But today, the automated “personalized” communications and ads that I receive aren’t feeling helpful anymore. I can almost see the robot behind them. The human element has all but disappeared.

My challenge to all of the marketers and professional communicators out there is to rethink your automations to consider the human beings on the other side of them. Highly personalized touchpoints that are too frequent, out-of-touch, or awkwardly invasive actually feel incredibly impersonal.

Photo by Stephen Phillips – Hostreviews.co.uk on Unsplash
Tips for Being Heard at Work

Be Heard

When we feel we aren’t being heard, a common reaction is to talk louder. Or interrupt. And if you’re an introvert, you might lean the other way and keep your comments to yourself instead of trying to share them with those who need to hear them. 

Your voice counts. Considering how you personally operate in certain situations as well as how the specific people you communicate with listen to and process information will help you be heard, and more importantly, understood. 

Here are some tips:

  1. Let kindness lead the way. You can never go wrong by being kind, and doing so diffuses tension and helps others avoid feeling defensive. Even in the most difficult conversations, when you show the other person that you care, you make your communications more tailored to their needs—and more effective. 
  2. Read the room. If you have experience with the people in the room, you likely know how they operate. Some may just want the facts quickly while some may like to dive in deep and understand the background. Whenever possible, try to tailor your communications to the needs of the people in the room and give them what they need to be able to connect with, and understand, you.
  3. Listen now and speak later. If you can’t formulate the right response on the fly, give yourself the time you need to process everything and craft a response that you can feel good about. You can always have a second conversation later when you’ve gathered your thoughts, or send a follow-up message with your response after the heat of the moment has passed.
  4. Don’t hide or procrastinate. It’s easy to hide behind emails or text communication because you can lob your thoughts over the fence to get it off your shoulders and plop it into their court. Consider when you need a call, videoconference, or meeting to discuss a topic, move something forward right away, or put an issue to bed. 
  5. A good visual can make all the difference. Some people need a visual aid to help them grasp a concept. Consider when a topic might benefit from something people can see to help them connect the dots. This can be something you prepare beforehand, or a quick sketch you create on a whiteboard to help people grasp the idea.
  6. Sometimes you just can’t beat a blowhard. There are people who need to hear themselves talk and refuse to listen. Don’t try to win. Instead, figure out how you can slowly persuade them over the longer term. Share your perspective but don’t expect to convince them to agree with you today.
  7. Let others be heard. Listening is probably the most powerful tool you have in your communications toolbox. Everyone wants to feel that their voice matters. 

And don’t forget, most people never get thanked for the good work they do—and it means a lot when they do. Thank people for contributing and validate them when you hear something that adds to the conversation.

This post was originally published on October 27, 2019 and updated on November 18, 2020.

Photo by Headway on Unsplash
Communication Shortcuts Hurt in the Long Run

Shortcuts

There’s a difference between doing something efficiently and taking a shortcut. In business, taking a shortcut almost always means delivering something inferior, but more quickly or less expensively.

The same is true in communication. Shortcuts make it inferior and less impactful. They open the door to misunderstanding, frustration, and mistakes. All of these are costly in the long run.

Leaders who invest in good, clear, timely, and empathetic communication gain more trust from their followers. They have teams who know they matter. Those teams always outperform teams who don’t. 

And they don’t take shortcuts, either.

Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash

Personal Brand or Executive Presence

Personal Brand or Executive Presence?

Many people confuse these two terms, so here is my attempt to give some clarity.

Personal Brand

Your personal brand is how you market yourself — internally within your organization, or externally to prospects and clients. When you have established a strong personal brand, you are able to confidently and clearly communicate your passions, value, and unique qualities to others. 

A personal brand establishes or clarifies your abilities and capabilities clearly in the minds of others.

Executive Presence

Executive presence is what makes you a leader that others want to follow. It’s a culmination of character, attitudes, and behaviors that clearly demonstrates your commitment to your beliefs and values, and to the development and success of others. 

Executive presence ensures you look, sound, and act like a leader in the eyes and minds of those you lead.

Perception Management is Different from Manipulation

Both of these terms involve managing perceptions. But don’t think of either of them as manipulation. Sure, there are bad leaders who are good at acting like good leaders, and there are ruthless political schemers who inappropriately bulldoze others in pursuit of their own selfish objectives. That’s not what we’re talking about here.

Think of it more as knowing yourself so well — your passions, what you value, the value you bring to others, and your authentic purpose — that you are able to operate in a way that will clearly communicate and connect with others.

Just remember that a leadership title does not automatically give you executive presence. You need to do the work to clarify your purpose, and to act and behave in ways that make you credible, trustworthy, and inspirational.

Similarly, experience in your field or past successes and achievements don’t magically create a personal brand that others will see. It’s your job to tell others. And you can do it in a way that is true and authentic to you.

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. 

Michael

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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  • Define and refine your value proposition, differentiation and your brand’s overall story so you can speak clearly about what you have to offer.
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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
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