Friday, April 28, 2017

Stage Fright

You are about to facilitate a workshop. People are starting to enter the training room. Your executive director or general manager is sitting up front. Funders are sitting in the back of the room. Your boss stands up to introduce you and you walk toward the stage.
As you approach the front of the room your confidence fails. Your stomach starts doing flips, your palms are sweating, and your mouth feels like it's full of cotton balls. You pick up your notes and your hands are slightly shaking. As you start to speak, your voice quivers a bit. Has this ever happened to you? Welcome to the world of stage fright. Most professionals and business people have stated that they prefer instant death over standing up and speaking to an audience.

If using a power point presentation, remember that your slides should be used as road signs only and not read line by line. Over the years, especially in working with government agencies, they read the slides to their audience as opposed to speaking directly to their audience.  Remember, everyone can read and don't need you to read to them. Slides should contain minimum information and not be used to inform. Informing or sharing information is the role of the presenter.
You are not alone if you have had this experience. Almost everyone has, even people who regularly speak to groups. Preparation is critical in overcoming stage fright. There are a few concepts that may help you to avoid stage fright:
Know your audience:
Before making a presentation, it’s always important to acquaint yourself with both the audience and the setting. Try talking to a few people who will be in the audience before you start. Reviewing the list of participants will give you a better idea of the organizations that will be attending the workshop.

Remember to look over the setting before you present. Find out where you will be speaking and try to get there early. Check out the room’s acoustics, sit in a chair and see the room from the audience’s perspective. Test the equipment and assume nothing. Be flexible—it’s the key to being a successful trainer.

Identifying someone in your network that you trust that you can present to so that they can give you positive and constructive feedback.  Most people who are rather nervous don't appear to be at all.  Knowing the information is the best lesson. It's always important to identify people that you can connect with in the audience that will give your strength and encouragement to succeed.  Good presentations always take practice. Once you have the material down, you will be able to play with the presentation and become more flexible.

Prepare your material:
Never underestimate how important good research and preparation are to reducing your anxiety. Knowing what you want to accomplish, what you are going to say, and how you are going to say it, will make you feel less nervous. Mark Twain said that it took him 3 weeks to prepare an impromptu speech. Here are four rules for preparing your presentation:
  • Know your topic. Audiences can sense when you are bluffing and feel that you are unsure of your topic.
  • Prepare more material than you think you will use. If you need to give a minute or 45 minute presentation, develop enough materials to last longer. It's better to cut back than to run out of things to say.
  • Consider questions your audience may ask you. Come up with answers to potential questions before you give your presentation. Either incorporate the answer into your presentation or hold them in readiness in case they come up.
  • Memorize the first 60-seconds of your presentation. The greatest anxiety is experienced at the beginning of every speech. It could make you more comfortable allowing you to get rolling smoothly.
  • Avoid rigid rules. Remember to use humor in your presentation if possible. It allows the audience to relax a bit and giggle. They tend to be alert and waiting for the next funny comment that will come from you.

Usually after your presentation, participants will come up to you and congratulate you on a job well done. Most speakers who think that they are nervous don't really appear to be nervous to the audience at all. Stop beating yourself, chances are you are a great presenter and facilitator. The more you practice, the more confident you will be as a speaker. Most importantly, remember to have fun with your material, your presentation and most importantly with the audience. You will find that the audience want to have a good time too.

Remember, every presentation has 3 essential objectives. The first aim is to educate: the audience should learn something from your presentation or speech. The second is to entertain: the audience should enjoy your presentation. The final element is to explain: all parts of your speech should be clear to your audience.

Remember to enjoy each and every presentation.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Exhibiting the Body Language of a Leader

Amy Cuddy, one of my favorite speakers, has argued that our nonverbal behavior not only affects others perception of how powerful we are, but it also changes our own feelings of confidence and power.

In her excellent TED Talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” Cuddy briefly describes some high-power poses, but I would like to dig a little deeper into the body language and behavior of alphas.
Remember, an alpha is the individual in a community with the highest rank, most power or highest level of respect. Typically other community members exhibit deference towards the alpha and allow them preferential treatment or control.
Both male and female alphas have very specific body language and behavior. And, if you believe Cuddy’s prescription that behaving like an alpha will actually help you become an alpha, then you have to know exactly how to act.
Here is a deeper review of alphas high-power body language and some subtle ways to get started:

1. Steepling

Steepling is when someone brings their hands up towards their chest or face and presses the tips of their fingers together. This is a gesture of confidence, self-assuredness and even superiority. This can easily be done to inspire confidence in yourself and others during a meeting or interview. This is an easy one for female alphas in particular since it is seen as assertive, not aggressive. 

2. Smile Less

Contrary to popular belief, smiling is actually seen as a sign of submission. Submissive people tend to smile more at alphas to show they are agreeable and non-threatening to their power. Alphas in turn (think Clint Eastwood) smile much less because their power is enough to put people in line. Females in particular need to be careful not to over smile as it puts them in a submissive position. Dr. Nancy Henley found that women smile in 87 percent of social encounters, while men only smile 67 percent of the time.

3. Hands Behind Your Back

Another high-power position that you often see politicians do is when they put their hands behind their back and grab one wrist. The reason this can be powerful is that it exposes the most vulnerable part of the body–the groin for men and chest area for women. Only a supremely confident person will place their hands behind their back in that way. You often see principals or teachers do this as they walk up and down rows of student’s desks during tests.

4. Top Handshake

Alphas know how to shake hands. Not only do they give a firm handshake, but they also try to be the dominant hand in the handshake. A high-power handshake is when the dominant person has their hand ‘on top’ of the clasp. The weaker person will often take the bottom part of the handshake by exposing the underside of their wrist–which is a physically weaker position. You often see politicians jockey for the dominant handshake position when meeting in front of cameras. Two equals usually just shake hands up and down, with no one on the top or bottom.

5. The Colors You Wear

Power and confidence are not only shown through body language but also through what you wear. The two most powerful colors are black and red. Black is the color of mystery and power, while red is the color of aggression, passion and violence. You often see politicians wear black suits with red ties. Occasionally you will also see blue ties, this is because blue is the color of wisdom, loyalty and honesty. You can also use color psychology to your advantage as an alpha and think carefully about which colors you wear to work.
As Cuddy explains, being alpha is both a mental and physical state. And your actions have greater effect than originally thought as they can both influence your own behavior and others’ perceptions of your behavior. Start practicing the above body language and behavior in addition to picking up on clues from other alphas in your life and you will begin to feel alpha yourself.
Interested in learning more on how to present yourself and look as a leader -- Check out the book Captivate by Vanessa Van Edwards.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Eye Contact: Tips for Speakers

Eye contact is essential for the speakers whether you are in a small meeting or addressing a crowd of 1000. Often, failing to use eye contact means you are losing one of the most important tools you have to connect and convince your audience about your message in the speaker audience relationship. Your position as the presenter will establish you as the leader of the group. Research shows that looking away from your audience may signal avoidance, looking at them signals approach and that audiences rate it highly. 

Here are a few tips:

  • Be sure you look at all sections of the room. Don't ignore one side or the other, or favor those in front without looking to the rear of the room. If you have trouble remembering to do this, write directions to yourself in your speech text. Look rear, look left, look right as reminders to yourself.
  • Audiences can sense when you are not connecting with them.  A helpful tip is to make contact with 2 or 3 people in the audience and try to focus on them. Make sure that all 3 are not in the front row, but all over the audience. It really does help to be at your workshop prior to the participants so that you will have time to develop a bond with them, introduce yourself and find out a little bit about each of them that you can refer to when presenting. It really does work in the meeting trainings I have facilitated with co-trainers.
  • Eye contact can also emphasize an important point. Eye contact can be an important tool for visual learners, and can help audiences to remember and retain what you are saying. Use it to emphasize what you want them to recall, to indicate a specific group in the audience or to refer to what a speaker or participant pointed out.
  • Remember, it's great to have a mini chat with your workshop or seminar participants  before the training. It helps to address key members of your audience and refer back or to call on them  during your presentation. Looking over the room and at certain individuals really helps to create a bond between you and your audience. It also help you, the facilitator to relax and to smile more.
  • The most important part of this exercise is to remember to have FUN and to enjoy your presentation.
You will be pleased with yourself and participants will love you.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Great Meeting Facilitation Does Exist

When was the last time you attended a meeting or a conference call that wasn't a major train wreck?

Well it happens more than you may know.  During the past year in 2016, every meeting I attended was poorly facilitated, failing to provide clear action items that needed to be accomplished. During the year there were more meeting than I can recall.  Each day I would attend anywhere from 2 to 5 meetings. Each meeting was always worse than the last one. We started to place bets to see which meeting would be worse than the last one.

Most people facilitating the meetings were unaware of what was to be discussed until the moment they sat down with a surprised look on their face while attendees were either sleeping or meditating, on their lap tops checking email, or sending text messages on their mobile devices. For me, it was the greatest waste of time and money.  Most people reminded me that I should not care because we were still getting paid and that's the way the cookie crumbles, so stop caring. I just couldn't stop caring and kept pushing for better use of our time.

Planning and organizing a great meeting is very easy to accomplish and can be an asset in engaging those in attendance. When conducting meetings I am always aware of the importance of the time of others, which helps me not to waste their time or mine with nonsense or the urge to hear myself talk in circles.

Here are some of the things that I strive for when setting up meetings:

  • Use common sense when planning and scheduling meetings.
  • Never schedule meetings on Monday mornings or late Friday afternoon.
  • All meetings should have a purpose with clear objectives.
  • Prepare an agenda and send it out at least 48 hours in advance.
  • Avoid having attendees go around the room providing updates that no one is really interested in hearing about again.
  • Keep meetings small - no more than 8 people at the max. Only invite key people that really need to be there and who can make decisions.
  • Meetings should be no more than 1 hour. That be should be shared upfront with participants. If extra time is needed to complete a thought or discussion, permission should be requested.
  • No digital devices to distract attendees. It's a great opportunity before the meeting starts for people to check in with each other and say hello as opposed to checking in with their mobile phones. It's just rude, even in today's society, not to mention rude to the facilitator.
  • Lastly, everyone should participate in the meeting, even if it means calling some people out for their feedback.
Give these tips a try when planning your next meeting and I guarantee that it will be a more productive and enjoyable experience.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Working in a Toxic Environment

I assume that many people love their jobs, but I have yet to meet one. Most that I talk to spend their allotted time with me sharing how much they dislike their job and the obnoxious people they have to deal with each day that lack simple social skills that a 2 year may possess. Toxic work environments can cause one to feel physically ill just walking into work. If your job just doesn't have redeeming qualities, your work environment may be toxic in more ways than one. Most staff feel that the benefits are so great that they can't leave their job or they have invested so much time into the job and are focusing on their potential retirement.

As a consultant and contractor, I have worked in a number of toxic environments in the past year. I am shocked each day as the fumes of the toxic waste dump of work hit me at the front door. Many of my clients have been honest enough to say, "Hey Mikael, we are dealing with a  bit of toxicity, so beware". In my latest gig I am working on coaching an organization through a process of change management and rebuilding staff morale. Not an easy task at all. There are many problems with leadership, management and staff with both blaming each other for their difficulties.

A toxic work environment is any job where the work, the atmosphere, the people, or any combination of those things can frustrate you so much that it may cause serious disruptions in the rest of your life. We all know that every job can suck badly from time to time, but if no joy can be found in the work besides waiting for retirement it may not be worth it. Many have shared with me that they enjoy some of their coworkers a lot, but other moody ones tend to drag them down. It's hard not to get pulled into someone else's negative feelings or actions. In many places policies are stifling and managers nitpick and micromanage or manage very poorly. Managers tell me that they hate being forced to perform as parole officers or police. Do any of these things sound familiar?

Here are a few tips to consider: 

  • Know When to Fold and Avoid Putting Energy Into the Untenable
  • Circle the Wagons and Rally Like-Minded Colleagues
  • Document everything, No Seriously, Document Everything
  • Keep a Work Diary that will document everything
  • It may feel personal but know that it's not YOU or your fault
  • Stick to your guns and keep your options open
One thing I would add to this list is not to trust HR in any company.  It was a very difficult lesson for me to learn that HR was created to protect Management and not staff. Not sure why we as staff members never received the memo that they would work hard for us too.  Don't believe it.  If a mediator or help is ever needed, find someone from the outside that will represent you fairly.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

10 Management Tips for Great Leaders

Through my many years of being a leader, a manager and working with teams of people – the one thing that always seem to work is to be genuine in saying Thank You.  Many managers don’t believe it, but people really want to hear it.  It’s not always about compensation or getting a raise, but most staff members tell me it’s about being invested and supported in the work they are doing.  
I also never forget to encourage people to have fun and laugh. I am learning through my recent communications contract position that some people are allergic to having fun or laughing. A lot of it is cultural. Most people of color, not all, love to have fun while getting work done. That should be encouraged instead of punishment.
What’s your favorite tried and tested leadership tip that you can share?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Networking vs. Relationship Building

Is there a difference between networking and building relationships? Could they basically be the same?  It's a question that many of my professional colleagues continue to discuss when we get together for tea, coffee or a cocktail.

This month I was invited to a business networking luncheon for entrepreneurs and independent consultants.  When I received the invitation I simply tossed it aside in my Review Later folder on my computer. After a several days passed I decided to review that folder and delete most of the "Not in Your Life" invitations, announcements that arrive daily.  This one was different for some reason, one of the co-organizers was a colleague that I've collaborated with on several projects. It peaked my curiosity as she is someone that I've built a strong relationship with over many years. So I responded in the affirmative, still feeling a bit hesitant. The question that kept running through my head was is this a networking hello meeting or building relationship activity.

Over the years we have been taught by professionals to always have an elevator speech in our back pocket or tucked away in your brief case to be pulled out at the drop of a hat. They usually say practice makes perfect and you end up delivering a canned speech that has been remembered, often sounding less than sincere. If you have an elevator speech, remember that it should change, depending on the audience or person you are talking to at the time. Giving a 10 to 15 second speech about yourself can inform and peak curiosity, but follow up is an important next step. Quite often I  hope that the elevator door will open sooner than later

Not everyone wants to build a relationship, but they are interested in networking if they can see the benefits for themselves. Networking can be a bit like speed dating.  Often you may be asked the same questions whether it's in business or on a date. The usual questions are:

  • So what do you do? My response is when? Then they probe further asking -- "For a living?" People tend to be impressed by job titles as opposed to who you are as a person. Of course this varies from region to region. 
  • Where do you work?  If you say Google or Apple people want to know more about you and if discounts come with knowing you. When living in Washington, DC,  the question always started with "Do you work on Capitol Hill?"  Give the wrong answer and people walk away. It was always fun to say I work at the White House to see them start to drool and gather around to become a new contact.
  • Where do you live? I sometimes say in my car just to see the look of horror on their faces.
  • Do you drive? When dating often someone will volunteer to walk you to your car as if you need a guard for protection. Do you know why -- to see what type of car you own.  Apparently it provides more information on how successful they think that you should be.
Building a solid relationship is an investment and takes time. It's a bit like fishing, if you reel the fish in too fast you could snatch the lips off, as my dad use to tell us kids on every fishing trip.

Daily, organizations ask me and those in my network, "How do we get into the African American, Latino/Hispanic or Asian/Pacific Islander community?" Building relationships with communities can take years to  create properly. The relationship between individuals must be nurtured and respected before it is used. Developing a genuine relationship creates trust and a strong bond. Creating strong relationships is a process of honesty, commitment, loyalty, and growth that starts with being culturally sensitive, respectful, and wise.  It saddens me that most companies and staff are not interested in putting in the time that it takes to develop a contact or a relationship.

Today, most companies and people expect it to happen immediately through social media, text messages or emails but not in person. One of my interns said to me, "What would anyone talk about over lunch or coffee with a stranger?" Fast and dirty is not always the long term solution to being successful. So I took my intern to lunch with a new contact to teach her how to have a delightful conversation.

So my question to you: Is there really a difference between networking and building a relationship? Please share your ideas and best practices in what works best for you.

For more information or to share your comments: