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…

Speaking from a Big Stage

Speaking in large venues isn't the same as speaking in a smaller space and you have to adapt your technique to achieve the best results. Most people are simply concerned about the size of the audience and worry that they will be intimidated. In my experience this is much less of a problem than you might expect because the audience is also further away. There are some other areas where you might find problems that you had not expected but there are some simple best practices to overcome them.

Allow time to get into position.  In a larger venue you might need to walk across the stage to reach the place you will be speaking from. Sometimes nervous speakers start too early, while they are still walking. Before the event starts or during rehearsal practice this entrance, making sure that you wait until you are standing where you plan to start speaking before saying anything. Better still, turn to face the audience and count to three before starting. This helps focus attention and makes…

Why You Should Introduce Your Connections

You might have noticed that some people introduce you to their other friends while others seem to prefer keeping their friendships separate. Partly this is culturally determined -- in some cultures people are more inclined to try to bring different friends together -- and partly it depends on personality. It's exactly the same in networking. Some people try to connect you to their contacts, while others seem to avoid it, either through inactivity or perhaps deliberate intent.

But should you introduce professional connections who don't know each other? Some people fear that by introducing connections to each other they are taking themselves out of the loop and losing power. If connections are separate, the logic seems to be, then both connections have to go through them. This is actually a very bad idea and in normal real-world scenarios you are always better off introducing connections, at least where it makes sense. There are several reasons for this:

Being a connector makes …

Three Strategies for Unexpected Speaking Topics

One situation that worries many speakers is being asked to make an impromptu speech without preparation. This is not really such a difficult situation because normally you will be asked to speak about some topic on which you have something interesting to say. If you founded a startup you will be asked to talk about your company and you should be able to talk about that topic without any extra preparation. What you can and should be doing is to anticipate likely topics and prepare the core messages for each of them.
But what if you are asked to speak about a subject where you have no knowledge or expertise? In any normal situation you best bet would be to explain why you can't talk about that topic and either offer to speak on another topic or suggest another speaker. The only real-world case where you might reasonably be asked to speak about any random topic would be in a competition or to win some kind of bet. This sounds very challenging but it is not as hard as it might appear…

Avoiding Networking Overload

When I speak about networking one common question is how to avoid spending too much time on this activity. Wouldn't you have no time left for your day job if you do all the things that networking lectures and books describe?

In reality this problem is very easy to solve. Humans naturally tend to co-operate in social networks exactly because the benefits outweigh the costs. They have to because that is the whole point. Long before the costs exceed the benefits you have to take corrective action.

One simple practical method is to set some boundaries. Often this takes the form of a time budget. You might decide that you will spend half an hour a week on networking activities and meet someone for an informal networking lunch two times a month. You might also decide to attend one event every second week. An interesting side effect of this is that it tends to help you focus on the activities that are useful. Most of us go to some mingling evenings mostly out of inertia, or an inability…

Why Meeting the Audience Before a Speech is a Good Idea

One simple, practical tip that will make almost any speech, presentation, talk or pitch more effective is to talk to the audience beforehand. You don't need to talk to everyone and you don't need to talk to them very long, but you do need to establish contact.

Exactly how you do this depends on the situation. In some events there might be a mingle, a breakfast or a lunch before you speak, and this is a great opportunity to meet some of the people in the audience. All you need to do is to introduce yourself and mention that you are one of the speakers, perhaps explaining very briefly what you will talk about. You might be asked one or two questions at this point, which is a very good sign.

Why you should do this is very interesting, because it works on at least three different levels. First of all, by meeting some people in the audience at least those people will be more open to listening to what you say. It is a natural human reaction to be wary of strangers, so when a new sp…

Using Props to Make Speaking Memorable

One of the challenges of making a speech, pitch or presentation is to make it memorable. To the speaker every talk seems memorable because they had to learn it. To the audience it is maybe just one of dozens of pitches that they will hear that day and soon forgotten.

Most people turn to stories to make their talks memorable, and this is an excellent idea because if people are going to remember anything it will be the stories. But there is another technique that can also make your content more memorable: use props during the presentation.

Used appropriately a simple prop can make a difference between a compelling presentation and a slide show. More than once when talking about notes I have used a small notebook as a prop. On other occasions I have used sections of rubber seal, an old X ray film, a Walkman, a piece of volcanic rock and many other simple props. Shown at the right time and in the right way these props add an extra dimension to the talk and at the same time they provide a…