Monday, August 22, 2016

Few, Simple Messages are the Key to Effective Speeches, Presentations

In my role as speaker coach I have noticed that increasingly often people are confident and competent presenters but they are let down by the material. To be successful in speaking you need to get two things right: you need to be able to deliver your content effectively and you need to have content that is worth delivering.

All of the people I coach one-to-one know their topic and they have interesting things to say. The only problem lies in selecting and organizing this material.

My experience is that the best way to address this task is to start with the result. Rather than collecting information then trying to organize it, what usually works better is to start with the end result and work backwards. There are three steps in this process.

Choosing the Key Messages. First of all you have to define exactly what you want the audience to think at the end of the presentation. Remember that if this is not clear in your head then it will be difficult to plant a clear idea in other people's heads. You should choose one, two or three key messages at this stage. In theory you could try to communicate more, but in practice the extra messages will not only be lost, the noise will also cover the other messages. It is unrealistic to expect an audience to retain more than three messages, even if they are all PhD candidates.

Select points that support these messages. Once the messages are defined for each of them choose the points, data and anecdotes that will support these messages. Exactly how you do this is a matter of personal choice. Some people do it in their head, others prefer a whiteboard and a few like to use Post It notes. Techniques like Mind Maps can also help in this stage. You might also start to choose some illustrations that support your messages at this point.

Structure the material logically. Take all the messages, points, examples, jokes, stories and so on that you have collected and organize them into a logical flow. This logical structure will make it easier for people to follow your reasoning. It also makes the speech easier to remember and deliver. Make sure that the structure is driven by the messages and the points rather than the illustrations. One very common problem in speaking and presenting is to start with the illustrations and talk around them. This tends to make the messages less clear and the presentation less logical.

Once you have reached this stage there is still one more very important thing to do:  test and revise. Always test a speech or a presentation and revise the content until you are confident that it runs smoothly and resonates with the audience. Find a test audience to test it before you ever try it on a real audience, and for the most important occasions try to find an audience that is similar to your target audience.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

Contact Andrew Hennigan at or 0046 730 894 475 if you would like lectures, workshops or one-to-one coaching for speaking, presenting, influencing and more.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Best Practices for Writing Leak Resistant Emails

In a recent post I wrote that anyone using email should remember that the enemy is listening, and that you should assume that everything you write might be leaked and write accordingly. Since then many people have asked for more practical guidelines about exactly how you should do this, so here are five essential best practices. You cannot stop emails being leaked but at least you can minimize the fallout.

Don't write more than you have to. Most people write a lot more than they have to. This extra information slows down readers and makes misunderstandings more likely anyway, so re-read every message before you send it and delete anything that isn't needed. This is good practice anyway, but also limits the damage when a message is leaked. That extra, unnecessary content could be the part that embarrasses you or could add context that makes an otherwise oblique message much clearer.

Maintain a polite, respectful and calm tone. Sometimes it's not so much the content but the tone that makes a message embarrassing. In the 2001 Cerner Corporation email leak the angry tone and overuse of capitals probably led to the leak in the first place and in the 2014 Sony Pictures email leak the generous use of expletives contributed to giving a poor impression of the senders that made the leaks even more damaging.

Use code names rather than actual descriptions. Sometimes using a code name for an operation, a person or a place can be a handy shorthand that makes typing easier. It also makes leaked content much less useful to a rival. They might suspect that a certain code word refers to something but they cannot easily prove it. This technique has long been used by the military precisely for these reasons. Take care, though, to choose genuine random names for code words to avoid creating even more embarrassment.

Separate different parts of the thread. In a normal email thread you might leave all the messages and replies together for convenience. Very often people forward chains of messages to new recipients without checking the entire thread so this is a hazardous practice. Keep each message self contained and don't rely on forwarded content for the context. A complete thread is much more damaging when it leaks because it provides the context for each individual message and makes it much easier for someone else to reconstruct what happened.

Never put really sensitive information in an email. No matter how careful you are with both your writing practices and your information security there are some things that just should never be written in an email, even when it is encrypted. For the most sensitive information use encrypted message apps, use the phone or deliver messages in person. You might also use Skype, Google Hangouts or FaceTime for sensitive messages because anyone overhearing the audio is missing valuable information that is conveyed by body language and facial expressions.

And in any case always remember that the enemy might be listening. When you look back over an email for a final check ask yourself how it will look in the New York Times or ask yourself how a rival might enjoy reading it. No amount of security can stop someone simply copying an email and walking out the door with it, so never rely entirely on firewalls, passwords and encryption.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

If you would like a lecture, workshop, one to one coaching or writing about email or any other communication topic you can contact the author Andrew Hennigan at or 0046 730 894 475. 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Networking in the Workplace: Collecting the Low-Hanging Fruit

Effective networking usually takes a certain amount of effort, but there are some situations where there are plenty of opportunities and it would be a pity to waste them. One is when you are studying -- former classmates form a solid core of your network if you handle it correctly -- and the other is your workplace.
Unless you work alone you are potentially in contact regularly with tens, hundreds or even thousands of people. How many of these people do you know well enough to ask for help? How many of them even know who you are?
Working with other people is an outstanding opportunity to get to know people. Don't just connect to everyone you hear about on LinkedIn because this has very little value. Focus instead of building a reputation for being helpful and trustworthy. This is actually much simpler than it sounds and consists of three basic activities.
Networking in your workplace is not just about collecting contact information. This has essentially zero value. What you should be doing is convincing people that you are a good person to work with, so that one day in the future they might think of you, or at least when you contact them they will have a positive memory of you.
Meet people. One of the most common mistakes is to spend nearly all of your time with the same people. You can just walk right up to people and introduce yourself but the easiest way to get to know more people is organically through opportunities like volunteering for activities which involve working with new people. Make good use of other opportunities that come up by themselves, like using public transport or signing up for training with people from other departments. 
Build trust. Meeting people isn't enough by itself. You also have to build a relationship of trust. This is much easier than it sounds because all you have to do is keep your promises and be helpful to other people. Keep your eyes and ears open. When someone asks for help or obviously needs help try to at least point them towards the answer. Maybe you can't help them directly but even suggesting who might know is still help and will be appreciated. Accept offers of help, too, because that also builds trust.
Build a platform. Once people know you and trust you, there is still one other thing that you have to do. They will never think of coming to you in future unless they know what you can do, what you do well and what you would like to do. This means that you have to develop a real-world reputation or platform that is solid and memorable. What do other people know about you? What are you doing to correct that? Reflect on what you want people to think and then on what you are doing now. Make sure that the two are aligned and if they are not it is time for some corrective action.
Ideally you should have a network that extends well beyond your existing workplace, but as you move through your career the relationships you built in previous workplaces will form a solid backbone to your network -- and probably the easiest to acquire.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing
For lectures, workshops, coaching and writing about professional networking, influencing, speaking and more you can contact Andrew Hennigan at or by phone on 0046 730 894 475.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Influence: Dealing with the Unexpected

Back in the days when GPS navigators were almost unknown in vehicles I had to produce a video showing how they were used. With an employee of the vendor at the wheel and a video camera operator in the front passenger seat we drove around for a while, following the spoken route instructions.

"Turn left", the navigator would say, and we turned left.                          
"Turn right", the navigator said, and we turned right.

But then I asked. "What happens if we disobey the instructions?". Apparently nobody had asked that question before. The driver had no idea. "Let's try!".

So the next time the voice said "Turn left" he completely ignored it, driving straight ahead. I half expected an angry voice to tell us we had missed the turn, but no. There was just a moment of silence then it just said calmly "Turn right".  Unfazed, it had recalculated a new route starting from the new position.

With hindsight this seems like a sensible way to handle the problem, but it made me realize that humans could learn from this machine. When things don't go as planned people often get angry, try to blame people and focus on the mistake rather than how to solve it. These are very human responses but not the best way to solve problems.

This is useful in any leadership situation and is one of the techniques I have often taught in leadership workshops, but it is also a useful way for dealing with the unexpected in any influencing effort. If you have ever attended one of my influencing workshops you would know already that you should be planning your influencing in advance. But even with the best plans and even with some planned alternates, there can still be times when there is a completely unexpected twist. When that happens remember the voice of the navigator.

Your starting point has changed or perhaps the destination has changed, but what you need to do quickly is to work out a new influencing strategy starting from the new conditions and start executing on that. Don't waste time getting angry, throwing blame or doing a post mortem -- that can wait until later, if ever. And most of all stay calm, take a deep breath and just keep going, like the satellite navigator that has a brain the size of a fingernail but never gets angry.

Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing

For lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about influencing and other topics you can reach me at or by phone on 0046 730 894 475.