Leadership

Lost and Found

Every time I veer from my purpose as a teacher and coach with a passion for helping others be better communicators, I get lost. 

It seems easy to look back and pinpoint exactly where I’ve gone off course in the past. Reflection is powerful, isn’t it? There were times when I was making a decision based on what I thought was the “right” move but that was not necessarily what was true to my purpose, or vision for my future. Sometimes I even made decisions based on what other people wanted me to do. We’ve all done that, I know. The problem was that I couldn’t clearly articulate my purpose to myself, let alone others, until I did the work to define it clearly. Then I was able to stay on course more easily. 

Nobody’s path or story is straightforward. One of the only things we can guarantee in life is that things will change. However, your path might feel quite haphazard at times. Mine did for years.

When you find your purpose, your path has a guide that keeps you on track even if the track changes.

Finding Your Purpose and a Clearere Path Forward

If you feel a lack of purpose, or if it’s been elusive and you can’t quite define it, I encourage you to start by writing a few things down and pondering them for a bit: 

  1. Your passions
  2. What you value
  3. The value you bring to others
  4. What you really want in life, and in your career

Do you see any common themes? Is there a thread that keeps emerging? 

I know the feeling of being lost so well that I can see it coming from 30 miles away. The good thing is that now, I can get back on track without missing a beat (most of the time — I’m still human).

Do the work to find your purpose and claim it. If you need help, I’m here for you.

Conver-Speaking

When I led a brand communication agency, I had to do a lot of pitches. In preparation for each pitch meeting, my team and I would craft a presentation that would tell the prospect a story that we thought would resonate with them. It would include an assessment of their situation, our proposed approach to solving their problem, and samples of previous work and the results they created. Then, I’d rehearse the presentation to death. I was always confident and ready to present it by meeting day.

80 percent of the time, I would not present it as planned — and that was by design

My goal when walking into the room was always to get my audience talking first. If I could do so, the meeting would naturally become a conversation — an opportunity to share experiences, pain points, and potential solutions as real people genuinely interested in collaborating. Would I use the slides we had prepared? In most cases, yes. But I would jump around and bring up examples as the conversation warranted. It all depended on how the conversation went. A few times, not a single slide was shown and we still won the work.

20% of the time, the people in the room needed to see the traditional pitch, and I would give it to them. Still, I would try to treat the presentation as a conversation, getting them involved along the way as much as possible, and trying to make it a two-way dialogue instead of a monologue.

Next time you need to present, think about your audience and what they need to hear from you — and also why you both are there. Then consider how to make it more of a conversation than a speech or presentation. It’s not always possible, but when it is, a two-way dialogue will make it easier for you to build a stronger relationship from the start.

Investing In Others

I received a nice compliment yesterday. A client said, “You really invest yourself in other people. You’re always fully there; truly wanting to know about me and also hearing what I have to say. Thanks for that.”

What a kind thing to say. I’ll admit that I am a guy who really wants to help others unleash the power of their strengths. I see the good in people, almost to a fault. And I know the power of good communication — especially listening.

The truth is that the investment I make in my clients is done with the goal of helping them invest more in themselves. Often the work I do as a coach is about reflecting back what I see (and hear) in my clients. 

But his compliment got me thinking about how little we really invest in each other when it comes to doing the hard work of making others feel seen and heard in the workplace. Even at home, for that matter. My work is about giving people a safe space to express themselves and explore their strengths, blind spots, and challenges so they can improve their own performance as leaders and professionals, as well as their relationships both personally and professionally. Yet there are times that I fail to do so when I’m “off the clock” and spending time with my family. I’m going to change that.

I encourage you to invest in yourself. Always. Let’s also make sure to invest in those around us who matter most by giving them the attention and support they need to reach their potential. Everyone wants to be seen. Everyone wants to be heard. We simply need to take the time to make that happen.

Practice Makes Experts

Practice Makes Experts

“Nothing can help the person who does not practice.” I read that in a Forbes article about public speaking tips. It made me stop and think about how easy it is to look at someone you admire and think they are a natural at something. The truth is that they worked very hard to be so awe-inspiring.

While there is debate over how much our innate abilities play a role in our successes, it’s clear that training is necessary to become an expert. And with any kind of training, practice is key to honing one’s craft.

My first full-time job after college was as a high school teacher. I had some practice during my schooling, but not enough to make me a true expert on the subject matter, and not enough to confidently manage classrooms of 28 different personalities 5 times a day. And then, there I was on day one, alone, responsible for over 100 students a day, and running the show. 

I’ll never forget how quickly I noticed that my first period public speaking class really got the short end of the stick. Each day they were my test subjects for the day’s lesson, which always went better the other times I would perform it later that day. So, I started to rehearse my new lessons the night before. That practice helped. 

When I got my first graphic design job many years ago, I didn’t know the software like I really should have for the position I landed. I had to create my own projects and practice every night to quickly get myself up to the level the position required. 

I used to be a very good pianist. I could sight read almost any song, and enjoyed playing at parties where people wanted to sing. After two decades of little to no practice, I got frustrated every time I sat down at the piano. I couldn’t play anywhere near like I used to — and that fact was maddening. Last year, I vowed to change that. By practicing a little every week and learning new things about music that I never had discovered before, I am slowly becoming a musician again. All it’s taking is a little practice.  

And even though I’ve taught public speaking to high school and college students, coached executives through high stakes presentations, and presented more workshops and pitches than I can count, I still practice my presentations over and over — until I know that I’m ready. 

And knowing when I’m ready has taken practice, too.

This post was originally published on January 20, 2020 and updated on February 26, 2021.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Leaders Set the Tone

You Set the Tone

When you are a leader, you set the tone. I don’t care if you are leading a multi-million-dollar company or a meeting with two other people. When you’re in charge, you have immense power to influence those who look to you for guidance, direction, or inspiration.

Use your power well. Take that extra moment today to ensure you are setting the right tone when you communicate — in meetings, in private conversations, and in your written communications.

It only takes some self-awareness and an extra moment. The results are worth it.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Theatre Cast Rehearsing

Trust and the Theatre

I’ll always be grateful for my training in theatre arts

One of the things it taught me is trust. I could always count on my fellow cast and crew members to be there when they were supposed to be there — to speak their next line, move scenery in place, or make a catch. There was such a high level of trust that the cast and crew truly did start to feel like a family by opening night.

Is there enough trust among your team members? If not, do the work to help them gain it. When people feel like their colleagues have their backs, both work satisfaction and productivity increase. 

Here’s another post about a good lesson from the theatre that can help you in business.

Know Your Audience

Know Your Audience

I teach and coach people about a variety of communication and leadership topics. No matter which topic we’re discussing, we almost always come back to discussing their audience. In fact, I always tell people that the first rule of good communication is to know your audience — really understand who they are. Whether you’re leading a team or building your own business, if you haven’t spent the time to consider the true needs of your stakeholders, you’re in trouble.

And by audience I mean real humans. Not just some demographics on a piece of paper. People want to do business with people and brands that they like, and who understand them. People want to follow leaders who have a purpose and a vision they can support. 

To achieve any goal, whether it be to inspire a team, sell a product or service, or convince a panel of experts to support you, you need to speak (verbally and nonverbally) in a way that connects with them. You can’t do that if you’ve only been thinking about your own needs and goals.

Always think first about your audience and consider what they need to hear from you. 

Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash
Using Zoom for Rehearsing Presentations

Go Zoom Yourself

We all know that the more you prepare and rehearse, the more confident you’ll feel when giving a presentation or speech. Even if you’ve prepared and rehearsed a lot in your head, you still need to do it out loud. Trust me, you don’t want the first time you’re hearing your own words to be the same time your audience is hearing them!

Have a Dress Rehearsal

When you can, recruit a few people to give your presentation to. You can do this remotely over Zoom, or better yet in person once we are able to safely gather again. Your audience doesn’t have to be 100 percent representative of your final audience, although the more they think like them the better feedback you can get on the content of your talk.

Either way, ask them to evaluate you on:

  • Volume (too soft, too loud, just right)
  • Speed (too fast, too slow, perfect throughout)
  • Tone (appropriate for the topic, audience, and occasion)
  • Filler words (too many ums or uhs)
  • Gestures (appropriate amount, distracting amount, not enough)
  • Facial expressions (appropriate for the topic, audience, and occasion)
  • Slides or other visual aids (clear and easy to see and understand, supportive of you as a speaker and not distracting)

I could go on all day about things to watch out for, but the above list is a good start. 

No Audience? No Problem.

With every new presentation or talk, I use Zoom to record myself so I can experience my presentation with a critical eye. I can plan it all I want, but until I see how I am actually presenting it to others, I never fully understand where I need to make improvements or changes. For example, I’ll see when there’s something on a slide that is confusing or that doesn’t sync up with what I’m saying. I’ll also see when I’m not giving my audience enough eye contact. Most of all, I catch sections where I don’t have my thoughts together well enough and that I need to refine. It’s amazing the clarity I get from watching it back.

So, plan your presentation well, rehearse it a few times in your head and then at least once out loud. And then, fire up Zoom or any program that allows you to record yourself and your slides and visual aids, and hit the record button. Then watch it back.

I’m certain you’ll find it helpful.

Four Zoom Don’ts

When putting together my latest workshop, I had fun creating visual examples of the mistakes people make when they are on video. Here are the four top offenders I see quite often.

1. The Submarine Periscope

Zoom Mistake 1

If we can see more ceiling than we do you, readjust! Make sure your face is in the top two-thirds of the screen.

2. The Backlit Extravaganza

Zoom Don't 2

Make sure the room is well lit to avoid grainy video, but don’t put bright light, such as a window, directly behind you. Light yourself from the front.

3. The Double Doozy

Zoom Don't 3

Virtual backgrounds seem like a fun idea until they become distracting. If you use a virtual background, get a green screen or design a background that works well when you test it. And remember, keep it professional when your credibility is on the line. This is called The Double Doozy because the background isn’t the only problem. The lighting on my face is too dark as well. Ugh.

4. The Nose Hair Investigation

Zoom Don't 4

This is a flattering one, right? No, it’s not. Put your laptop on a stack of books or get a stand.

Test and Test, Then Look Your Best

Your video doesn’t have to be studio-quality, but with a little testing of viewing angles and lighting you can ensure you look your best on your next Zoom call.

For more tips, ask me about my new workshop on Remote Leadership Presence.

Good Zoom Positioning

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.

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