Thursday, December 1, 2011

Training Starts At Home, or Should It?

As we propel at the speed of light into 2012, I have noticed the need for more and more training of staff in the job market. You are probably thinking, of course, training on the job is a great thing and needed so that each employee can do a better job.  Well, I would like to see training start a step further to address the lack of soft or social skills needed to be a productive team member.

Once upon a time, soft or social skills were taught in the home by parents.  Children were always taught to say excuse me, thank you or a simple salutation of hello when walking into a room or elevator where others were already gathered.  It seems to be the norm in certain parts of the country to avoid any human interaction at any cost; making eye contact is out of the question with the fear that someone may address you in some way.

Some of the places where we are all guilty of being unsociable or polite include:

  • Airplanes and other types of transportation– everyone seems to try wearing the invisible cloak from Harry Potter. If they don’t exist and I haven’t been introduced to them, why say hello or excuse me for coughing or sneezing all over the place without covering their mouths.

  • Supermarkets – apparently the word excuse me must be eliminated from one’s vocabulary as soon as they enter the store. Even saying hello to the cashier seems to be difficult for most people. Quite often a simple smile can do the trick. How often to you smile?

  • Restaurants – How often do you say hello to the people or person at the table next to you that you just showed your bottom too as you squeezed in to sit at your table. It’s always a good idea to say hello to your server and ask them how they are doing? Believe me, it will make his or her day because no one ever asks. The key here is to be sincere or don’t bother because people know when others are being fake.

  • Super Shuttle – Today I tried an experiment when taking Super Shuttle from Dulles International Airport.  There were 3 other people on the bus and I wanted to try wearing my invisible cloak to see what would happen. Just as anyone would expect – absolutely nothing happened. People looked at each other and never made a sound. Half way through the 2-hour trip, I said something that made people laugh and from that moment on everyone was chatting with each other and having a delightful time. Even the driver chimed in with a few comments.

  • Walking to work while talking on your phone or trying to check emails is probably the rudest trait of all. Quite often those who strive to multi-task and get things done really aren't getting very much done at all, well at least not well.  They also cut people off, bump into people and quite often fall down flat on the sidewalk. Challenge yourself, try walking to work or home without being attached to your mobile device one day out of each week. Figure out a reward for yourself if you can actually do it.

For the past year, I have been working in our nation’s capital, Washington, DC and the lack of social skills feels deeply rooted and here to stay. This lack of these skills has nothing to do with the amount of education that one may have, nor what their economic status is or can potentially be, or even one’s cultural background – it’s simply across the board throughout the workforce. It exists with people making over $100,000 and with those making less than $20,000 per year. Initially I thought that the lack of soft or social skills only existed with financially challenged people, but I was wrong. I challenge you to become more aware and observe for one day how many times someone was socially inept for the job they were doing. Have you ever noticed how excited we are to reward any worker for actually doing their job? For example, in restaurants when we find a great server we all tend to leave no less than a 20% tip when they are basically doing their jobs well. Most of us are so accustomed to bad service or difficult staff providing inferior outcomes that we are overjoyed when someone really does that job in what we consider exceptionally.

The challenge is to check yourself out first and become aware of the number of times you may have been rude or impolite to another person for no apparent reason or didn’t use the social skills that you were taught as a child or learned along the way to becoming an adult.  Often we can all be guilty of being lost in the pressures of our work. Today I was craving a small dessert and my car drove me to the nearest Whole Food.  Did I mention I was also hungry? Well, when the staff person presented herself to me I immediately started giving orders of what I wanted. When she returned I said to her, please forgive my rudeness; I forgot to say please and hello to you. She laughed and said you are the first person to say anything at all to me or smile. She then told me a story about how her young daughters ages 7 and 8 always remind her to say thank you and please. We had a good chuckle about it and promised to check ourselves and our behavior even during those stressed times.

After conducting trainings with local corporations, community organizations and government agencies it became clear that companies should be obliged to take training to the next level.  Research states that most of us spend more time on our jobs than we do at home, therefore spending more time with our co-workers than with our families. Try counting the number of people that you may have contact with from the time you start your day to the end of your day.  I conducted an experiment with myself and I was surprised at the number of people that I encountered throughout my day.  Let’s see, it started with the concierge staff in my apartment building, people on the street that I speak to everyday, people that are lost and asking for directions, the clerk at Caribou Coffee, the security team in my building, people on the elevator and co workers.  This list goes on and on and that’s only a small portion of the morning.  In a day, I may come in contact easily with 75 to 100 people. All to often we assume that everyone has great manners and skills to communicate effectively if they have a college degree or if they are from the dominant culture in America. Fiction. There are a series of things that can be done to incorporate the workforce, where people spend so much time, into their lives.  Here are a few examples that friends and colleagues shared with me over the Thanksgiving holiday:
  • New staff orientation or structured welcome– It’s important to introduce new staff to other staff members. Granted they may not remember all the names but it will be more difficult to not speak to someone the next day if they have been properly introduced.

  • Creating a team of energetic, outgoing staff members to be on a welcome committee. This team could share or develop a list of things to do in the neighborhood. For example, where to get coffee, lunch or the best place to meet friends for cocktails if they are new to the area. They could also provide information on the local transit system.

  • Take a new staff person to lunch day, especially if they are in your department.

  • Try talking to new staff members in everyday language instead of using acronyms which can be more confusing. If you must use things like COB (close of business) or other ridiculous words that really aren’t that easy even when you know what it stands for – at least in the beginning verbalize the entire meaning. For example, CDC – Centers for Disease Control, etc. 

My challenge to you is to take a day to watch yourself and jot down your initial reactions
to others.  Many people have told me that often they don’t interact with others, especially if they don’t know them because of perceived fear of the unknown. If someone is wearing a beautiful dress, tie or shoes share that thought with others. If someone’s label is hanging out alert him or her to the fact. Or if someone’s fly were down, they would appreciate knowing it before stepping into a meeting.

Remember, even a dog knows the difference between being kicked and stumbled over.

Tip: Try assuming the best of others.

Let us know your thoughts and what you have observed in your surroundings.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Conducting Effective Meetings

Due to popular demand, this month's blog will focus on the ability and tools needed to conduct effective meetings. From years of experience I have observed that the scarcity of effective leaders and managers. Heading one's staff into submission by using fear does not make anyone a good manager and certainly not a leader in any sense of the word. I had the great opportunity to attend a training on the many ways of conducting great meetings.  Initially I didn't think that they could teach me anything new, but I was wrong. I walked away energized with new tools to add to my repertoire.

Ask anyone what makes a meeting a bad experience and people will be talking and sharing examples until the cows come home. Here are just a few examples that colleagues have shared with me:

  • Too much rambling on and on about nothing
  • No agenda or no following of an existing agenda
  • Poor facilitation skills
  • Too boring and monotone
  • Nothing to really talk about 

Who to have at your meeting?

  • Those who can benefit 
  • Those who can contribute 
The following are the stages of a meeting:
  • Planning
  • Organization and Coordination
  • Conducting or Facilitation
  • Concluding / Wrap Up
Many managers call meetings all the time without substance, but merely as a soapbox.  Conducting meetings just to report out on what a department has been doing is a waste of time, money and an insult staff members. This happens in the non-profit, corporate and governmental entities every single day. Attendees all dread such meetings and entertain themselves by secretly checking their email, text messages and dreaming of the death of the so-called leaders. The following are reasons to conduct a meeting:
  • To discuss a hot issue or crisis
  • Update staff members about an important issue
  • Team meeting
  • Strategic planning with an outcome and a call to action
  • Good news to be shared
  • Key management issues that are not about simply reporting out about what each manager did last week. Even managers get bored with poor leadership which seems to exists more and more.
  • Forecast or Planning for the future of the organization
There are a variety of roles that are necessary to conduct an effective meeting. Those include:
  • Facilitator or Leader
  • Participant
  • Scribe - All to often meetings are conducted and no one ever records notes from the meeting, making it difficult for hold members accountable
  • Time keeper - Keeps one "big mouth" from having diarrhea of the mouth
  • Parking lot attendant - The role monitors what items need to be placed on hold for later discussion
Creating an agenda can make your meeting successful and efficient. Most of you know what need to go in an agenda, but it's always nice to have a refresher. Being at a meeting without an agenda is like being at a restaurant without a menu.  Always include:
  • Pre-meeting preparation
  • Purpose of the meeting
  • Time allocation
  • Topics / Items
  • Date of meeting
  • Time of meeting
  • Location of meeting
  • Action Items / Tasks
Tip for conducting effective meetings:  We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.  Two ears to listen and to hear better. One mouth to speak clearly.

Please feel free to share your thoughts about great meetings and bad meetings with us. May your next meeting be an effective one.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

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 way 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.
  • 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.
  • The most important part of this exercise is to remember to have FUN and to enjoy your presentation.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Social Media Tips: To Use or Not to Use

Social Media is one of the most exciting avenues to not only reaching, but also influencing your target audience.  During my recent training gigs, when organizations were asked if they used some form of social media, they all yelled YES WE DO!  When asked why they used social media the responses took on a whispering of reasons.  Mostly, organizations admitted that they used social media because everyone else seems to be using it. Other answers included:
·      Board told us to start using it
·      To raise money
·      To increase our pool of new supporters
·      To enhance relationships with existing audiences
·      To round out their communication mix of creating awareness
·      A staff member said that we should

Social media links are being used in magazines, attached to articles and advertisements for just about everything. They also said that the news media uses it at the end of their broadcast to let you know that you can follow their news by becoming a fan.

The biggest concern that my workshop participants continue to have is how should I use social media? Most organizations clearly stated that social media was comprised of Facebook, Twitter and You Tube. Please be aware that these are the best known and the largest social media sites today. They were quite familiar with these three machines.  They were rather surprised when I shared many other modes of social media transportation with them, which by the way caused them think even harder about photo and video sharing sites that they have been curious to try out.

This month, the President of the United States announced that he was now using Foursquare to let people know where he is or has been.  So much for the secret service fellows eh? In our workshop we addressed a few video and photo sharing sites and how to upload and embed those videos into your documents. Many were familiar with Shutterfly ( Flickr ( and Snapfish ( and Tumblr (

In terms of video and photo sharing, my workshop participants were pleased to be able to create You Tube accounts and upload files and videos.However, they were overwhelmed with excitement when they were introduced to Animoto, a site that formats your photos into a beautiful slide show/video with lovely music that is available for your selection. It also allows the user to upload their music. The results were magnificent and participants couldn’t wait to create an account. Check it out when you get a moment at

Interested in learning more about social media? Check out The New Social Learning: Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner. Click on the following link to download your very own copy at:

Check out Dropbox ( while you are at it too. A great way to store your documents. If you need an invite, just email me and I will send you an invitation to join.

Next time – Promotions West will be sharing Twitter Tips that will help you with your tweeting. Any ideas out there please leave your comments and they will be greatly appreciated.

Social Tools Increase Employee Interruptions

Collaboration and social tools designed to increase productivity are actually
costing businesses millions of dollars per year in lost productivity, according to a
survey of more than 500 U.S. employees conducted by online market research firm uSamp (United Sample) and commissioned by social email software provider harmon, i.e. Nearly 60% of work interruptions involve email, social networks, text and instant messaging, or switching windows between applications.  According to the report, 45% of employees work just 15 minutes (or less) before getting interrupted.

During the upcoming days and weeks when you are sitting at your desk, make a list of the number of times that you get interrupted by co-workers, phone calls, emails or other types of disturbances.  Ever wonder why it’s so challenging to get through that well designed “To Do” list. Very often I have to transfer my to do items to the next week.

According to USamp collected data, the follow are common workplace distractions listed by activity.  I am sure that the list of activities in our busy lifestyle will continue to increase. Let me know some of your daily distractions.

Phone calls
Processing emails
Toggling between apps
Talking with Co-workers
Facebook, personal web searches
Instant messaging
Text messaging
Ad hoc meetings
Web searches

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How Not to Facilitate a Training

This week I had the opportunity to participate in a government training. Initially I was in shock, then in utter horror when I realized that the training presenters were quite serious about their presentation styles.  I don't know if it's a government style of presenting or if it was a rare and unusual moment.  After the 30+ hour training of observing people nod off into deep sleeps during each session, I started to ask everyone for their opinion about the teaching style that has helped me to create this month's blog on things not to do when presenting.

I must admit that all of the presenters were intelligent people interested in sharing their knowledge. For us in the audience, it was a missed opportunity to have fun and to learn at the same time. Here is a list of items that should be avoided at any cost when presenting:

  • Dryness of materials presented. Very often as a trainer or facilitator you may not be able to select the materials or topics to be discussed, but it's better to try and make the most of it and make the topic real for the audience. It's extremely important to understand your audience and learn as much as you can about them prior to the training. Even conducting a mini survey asking basic questions may help you to prepare your presentation.
  • Fake humor. If you don't have a good sense of humor that can be incorporated into your presentation, then it's better to not fake it. The audience always knows the difference between what's fake and what's real.
  • Sharing stories. Before attending this government training, I have always encouraged trainers to share their life stories with their audiences as it can develop a bond between the speaker and the listeners.  However if no one in the room can understand or relate to any of your stories you may want to stop ASAP.
  • Ignoring your audience. Too often facilitators will power through their presentation without looking at one single person or face in the audience. When facilitating it's extremely important to be able to read the room for interest and alertness.  It's a clear signal when 1/3  of your audience is yawning, falling asleep or texting. Remember to talk with your audience and not at them. It has been proven to be one of the fastest way to lose your audience.
  • Presenting with your back. Everyone knows this, but, yet too many people keep their backs to the audience as they read every single line from the slides as if the audience is too stupid to be able to read the slides for themselves. This is one of the #1 reasons to kill a facilitator without guilt no matter how nice the back side may appear.
  • Overcrowded Slides. Slides with too much information on them can be annoying and difficult to read.  As the information increases on each slide, the font gets smaller and smaller, especially when charts are used. Each slide should have no more than 5 lines. The purpose of slides are guide to the facilitator. They are not to used to write out the entire discussion that will only be read or repeated, making it a recipe for a slow death.
  • No audience participation. Every good training session should include participants in every step of the way. It provides a reinforcement to lessons uncovered and lessons learned. It's also an opportunity for training participants to exchange information with each other.
  • Starting / Ending late. It's important to start the meeting each day on time and to finish on time.  Participants respect a trainer to start on time and will absolutely adore you if you finish 15 minutes early, cutting them a bit of slack.
  • Reading from a script. Often trainers who are called in as a last minute replacement will often read from a script without looking at their audience.  Older trainers will often wear reading glasses and keep taking them on and off in order to see the print and to see the audience. This can be quite annoying to training participants.  If you have vision problems, try making the font as large as possible on your script so that it's not laughable. Remember, you want to be taken as a serious presenter.
  • Fumbling with the equipment. It pays to check out your training room, equipment and all other logistics ahead of time.  Many presenters will waste valuable time trying to figure out how to make the slides move backwards and forwards. Often facilitators want to include a funny video or a video that may be only funny to them, but they can figure out how to have it as part of the powerpoint presentation and will have to leave the presentation to open a browser and search for the video to show. Again, wasting valuable time and appearing to be less than professional.
Just remember that the best part of facilitating a training is to have fun as the presenter and to make it an enjoyable experience for your audience.  Being prepared and aware of the needs of your audience leads to a very successful training.  There are many great training tools, just remember to use them appropriately.

Have you experienced a training that could have used a kick? Share that information with us at Promotions West.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Handling Team Problems with Finesse

Keep your team on target:

Teams can easily get sidetracked for a variety of reasons. Their sense of direction may weaken as a result of your leadership style, the team's internal working or conflicts that may exist within the team.

Find out what the problem may be:

As soon as you realize there is a problem, deal with it immediately.   The most important piece is to identify the problem.  In many cases the problem could exist for the following reasons:

·      Misunderstood or ill-defined goals

·      Lack of focus on team dynamics

·      Lack of communication among team members

·      Lack of commitment to the team’s performance

·      Gaps in critical skills

·      Unresolved internal conflict

·      External misunderstanding, hostility, or indifference from other groups

Resolving the problem:

Don’t avoid or deny the problem by hoping that it will simply just go away. Problems and issues have a way of hanging around and growing larger and more annoying if ignored.

Often there are simple things that you can do to help a team to get back on track. For example:

·      Lead a discussion the reviews the team’s purpose, approach and performance goals.

·      Establish goals and a course of action to achieving them
·      Share new information and a different perspective.

·      Share outside information and data via benchmarks and case studies.

·      Remember to tell your tell team how much you appreciate their efforts and their work. Often a simple “Thank You” is all that team members may need from their leader or a pat on the back.

The art of leading a team is to persuade a person who is unmotivated ­­– which can range from a community outreach manager, and executive director to an administrative assistant  – to do his or her job. As the team leader, you must always show appreciation. Remember to thank people for the simplest things like opening a door.  How many of us have worked for and with people who never uttered words “Thank You”, but instead focused on what you weren’t doing according their non-verbal expectations of you?

One of the lessons I learned early in my career was that leading a strong and successful team takes an entire team’s effort in constructing a positive relationship.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Facilitator Behavior and Strategies

How you behave as a facilitator can make or break your effectiveness. The more groundwork you do, the better you will become as a facilitator. Here are some suggested parameters for facilitator behavior.

·      Be Informed. Successful facilitators always gather extensive data about their prospective participants in order to fully understand both their business and their needs. They survey and interview participants, read background reports and use prepared questions to build a complete picture of the group’s situation.

·      Be Optimistic. Facilitators do not allow disinterest, antagonism, shyness, cynicism or other negative reactions to throw them off. They try instead to focus on what can be achieved and to draw the best from each participant.

·      Be Consensual. Facilitation is fundamentally a consensus building process. Facilitators always strive to create outcomes that reflect the ideas of all participants equally.

·      Be Flexible. Successful facilitators always have a process plan for all meetings, yet at the same time must always be ready to toss it aside and change direction if that is what is needed.  Really great facilitators bring alternative strategies and possess a good command of process tools.

·      Be Understanding. There are great pressures on employees in today’s workplace.  Facilitators need to understand this and recognize that antagonistic or cynical behaviors are a result of high stress levels.

·      Be Alert. All great facilitators are expert people watchers.  They pay careful attention to group dynamics and notice what is going on at all times.  All process leaders need to train themselves to be watchful of both how people interact and how well they are achieving the task.

·      Be Firm. Good facilitation is not a passive activity.  It often takes a substantial level of assertiveness to keep people and activities on track. Facilitators must be ready to step in and direct the process if the situation calls for it.

·      Be Unobtrusive. The facilitator should do as little talking as possible. The participants should be doing all of the talking.  The facilitator says only enough to give instructions, stop arguments, keep things on track and sum up.  Trying to be the centre of attention or make yourself look important is a misuse of your position.

·      Let the Participants Excel. Facilitating should be an egoless activity. The purpose is to make the group succeed, not to make you look really important and clever.  An effective facilitator will leave a group convinced that “We did it ourselves!”