The Favras Effect: Why you Should Always Ask Someone Else to Proofread for You

No matter how carefully you proofread your own copy some quite serious typos can slip through the net. But show the copy to someone else and they spot the errors immediately, even if they merely glance at the text. Usually this person who spots the obvious error with a mere glance is your boss, doubling the embarrassment.
In workshops I often call this the Favras Effect or Mahy Effect after the French aristocrat Thomas de Mahy, marquis de Favras, who was hanged on 19 February 1790 for being on the wrong side in the French Revolution. Just before he was hanged he was shown his death sentence, glanced at it and observed "Je vois que vous avez fait trois fautes d'ortographe". -- "I see that you have made three spelling mistakes". 
Because of this comment Mahy has since had a reputation for his coolness in difficult circumstances, though it is quite likely that other people in similar situations might also have seen obvious errors that everyone else missed but eit…

Email: First Answer the Question

Analyzing past miscommunications I see that one of the most common causes of failure is when the original thread-starting question contains a well defined question but that question is not answered, or at least not answered in a satisfying way.

Sometimes the respondent somehow misses the question, perhaps by reading the message too quickly on their phone.  There is one simple way to avoid this problem. When you receive an email that contains questions mark each distinct question then check that your answer provides an actual answer to each of them. Don't rely on memory; go back and check what they wrote.

Quite often the respondent does attempt to reply but they don't actually answer the question, simply adding more information or commentary. You can catch this mistake by asking yourself if the reply is really a direct answer to the question. So, for example, someone asks what is the topic of your speech you should respond something like "My speech is about the impact of …

Speaking: How to Tell Stories Without Memorizing Words

One of the secrets of effective speaking is to be able to tell stories that make your point. Stories are much easier to follow, they have greater impact and they are more memorable to the audience. Ask someone in the audience later which parts of your talk they remember and it will always be the stories.

But stories can be undermined by clumsy delivery, so they are weakened if you fumble for words or -- eqully bad -- recite from a memorized script. By far the best way to tell any story is to tell it from the heart, remembering just the story and not the exact words. It might look like this comes naturally to some speakers but it is always the result of years of practice and a deliberate effort to master the art.

Anyone can learn to tell stories compellingly. Part of the problem is simply having enough speaking experience, and if you feel that you don't have enough the answer is to speak more often. There really is no alternative. You can't learn to speak by reading a book or …

Five Ways to Get More LinkedIn Connection Requests Accepted

Though I try to keep up with incoming LinkedIn connection requests there is still a backlog in my pending list. Some are probably spammers and some are just people who have no idea who I am, but there are probably some genuine requests in the list. Looking through the pending requests I realize that many of them would have been accepted immediately if the sender had made it clearer who they were or how our paths crossed. There are, in fact, five handy techniques anyone -- me included -- can use to make it more likely that connection requests are accepted immediately;

Personalize the connection message. By far the best way to get a connection request accepted is to personalize the message, clarifying why you want to connect and how you thought of the person. LinkedIn changes the interface regularly but at present the only place you have this option is when you send a connection request from the person's profile, not from search results. You should in any case always look at someone…

Speaking: Three Reasons to Use a Microphone

Watch behind the scenes at any event long enough and sooner or later you'll hear a speaker refuse the microphone, saying "That's ok, I can manage without it."  Perhaps they can 'manage', but they should still use the microphone for reasons that might not be so obvious.

People can't hear you. Maybe you could manage to make yourself heard at the back of the room, but this is in fairly ideal circumstances where everyone is quiet, the acoustics are good and you are using full power all the time. Reality is different. Even people standing still in silence still make noise. There are other noise sources, too, like air conditioner fans and equipment cooling fans -- maybe also traffic noise from the street outside. You might also start with a bold clear voice, but most likely you will not sustain it for the entire speech. And don't try asking people if they can hear you. Nobody ever says that they can't hear you. They might even say that they can, but the…

Three Best Practices from TEDx for Everyday Presentations

In real life I am one of the speaker coaches at TEDxStockholm. People often ask how they can learn to speak TED style, but to do it just like a TED or TEDx talk they would need more time than they would normally budget for even an important presentation. TEDx speakers often work on their talks months before an event and then invest many hours in preparation and rehearsals.

But there are some best practices that we can learn from the TED(x) format that will help in any presentation or talk, including the routine business pitches where you don't have the luxury of having plenty of time and the help of professional coaches. There are many of these practices but there are three which are especially important.

Keep it Short. In the TED format all talks are limited to an inflexible maximum of 18 minutes, and many talks are actually much shorter -- some in single digits. This is one of the key elements of the TED success story. Almost all speaking -- and writing -- can be improved by mak…

De-escalating Message Conflicts in the Workplace

Most conflicts and tensions in the workplace start with a misunderstood or poorly conceived written message. At one time they were mostly emails but today they can also be text messages sent through sms or messaging apps.

Written messages have the massive disadvantage that they convey only the words, without the tone of voice, body language, gestures and other signals that usually complete the message with context. Added to that there is also another layer of cultural uncertainty when the message is sent to someone who does not share the same context.

People who receive a message tend to read it in their mind with the most hostile possible tone, seeing conflict, criticism and provocation where none was intended. Perhaps the person writing "What do you mean...?" is not actually annoyed but is simply asking for information. Maybe the person from another country who addresses you in what you believe to be a disrespectful way is not aware of the subtle distinctions in your lang…