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Three public speaking tips from an expert panel

I was recently approached by energy giants, Gazprom, to share tips for first time, public speakers. Here are the top three takeaways from me and the other members of the panel. You can read the full piece here.

Speaking for the first time in front of a room full of strangers can be one of the more daunting aspects of your career, whatever your level of seniority. With all eyes on you, your inner critic can have a field day, making you worry you’ll ‘mess up’ or make a fool of yourself. Do you know what? – often, when I ‘mess up’, or go off script it’s the best bit! Here are three tips to worry less about messing up and enjoy your next presentation.

Treat it like a performance

Approach your presentation as if it is a performance. People want to learn, and they also want to be entertained. A ‘do your best performance’ mindset can help to put you at ease and your delivery will be more fluid. Grab your audience’s attention by just being your best and real you up on that stage. Ditch your notes and if you use presentation slides, go light on text and big on images that enhance your core messages. People are there to listen to you – not see some big slides on a screen.

Get the audience involved

Get your audience involved as soon as possible. It takes the pressure off you, gives you a sense of the mood of the room and gives you a moment to regroup. Ask them a question that people can put their hands up to. Ask a question that will have a lot of ‘yes’ answers, giving the audience an opportunity to participate and agree, for example, a lot of people fell into the profession of fundraising. Asking people who else is an accidental fundraiser (at a presentation to fundraisers) gets hands raising and builds rapport because they know you are one too. Obviously adapt this to your audience! Take people on an emotional journey during your presentation by telling stories. People learn and remember more through story and they also remember how you made them feel. Having a variety of stories, data, diagrams and models helps to change pace and keep your audience’s interest. It can also offer a chance for your audience to engage emotionally with your topic.

Do your last minute prep

There are few bits of on-the-day prep that will ensure you’re ready and raring to go. In case you’re running short on time, map out where you’ll be at specific points in your presentation and make a note of the things that could be left out if things get delayed. Arrive early and double check the equipment you’ll be using. Is there a mic? Where’s the clicker to move the slides along? Do a sound check (especially if you have video content), Where will you stand – or depending on your style – where will you pace about? Is the laptop fully charged? Is your calendar auto reminder turned off?  Think about what you are going to wear – both in practical terms, for example, is there a place to put the battery pack for the microphone and does it fit you properly?  If you are distracted because you’re uncomfortable in what you’re wearing it will impact on you delivering your best performance. And finally make sure that what you’re wearing makes you feel good, feel confident and ready to take on the world.

If you found this blog useful you might also like the Lucidity Network – a place for people pushing to make change happen, a place to learn, a place to share and a place to connect. Check it out and join us here.

Do you Dare to Lead?

Since I picked up this book, Brene Brown has started popping up everywhere and I am not ashamed to say I am a bit of a convert to her ideas – and I am not alone. Her Ted talk on vulnerability has been seen by over 40 million people. In her recent Netflix series about courage she jokes about intimidating people as she introduces herself as an ‘expert in shame.’

Brene is research professor at Houston University, where she and her team do lots of research about courage, shame, vulnerability and empathy. Her team works with top organisations helping them develop their leadership teams and improve organisational culture. These universal themes of courage, shame and vulnerability permeate all our lives, affecting how we feel, live and love. You can apply them to different parts of your life too from love to children.

She has written a number of bestsellers around these topics such as ‘Rising Strong’ and ‘Daring Greatly’. This new book, the one chosen for the Lucidity Book Club, ‘Dare to Lead’ was the result of feedback from different leaders who said they wanted a workbook, something that pulled all the different tools from her other books together to help them be better leaders.

One thing that stuck with me from the intro was how she explained that most people think of courage as an inherent trait. But she says it is not – fear is not a barrier to bravery, people in fear do brave things a lot, it’s more about how we respond to fear. This book is a toolkit to help you learn to get better at getting braver.

So what did the book group think?

This is not a quick read. During the book group, we talked about how dense the book is. It is packed with insight but it’s definitely the kind of book you are going to need to go back through a few times. It covers a lot of ground, in a lot of detail.

There are lots of moment in the book when you recognise something of yourself, your styles or someone else at work. In the first section called rumbling with vulnerability there’s a section on empathy misses and I know a few of us cringed at the realisation we had had massive empathy fails.

In the chapter about rumbling with vulnerability: she talks about the importance of learning how to rumble – this is about having difficult conversations. The book used unfamiliar terms. The language was a bit of a barrier for some, and I admit I had to go over things a few times to make sure I was really getting it.

Someone described it as very Americanised. They said they had flashbacks to Westside Story every time they read the word rumble. It nearly had them putting the book down permanently. The way they got around it was by changing the word rumble to ‘having an honest and open conversation’. You have to be committed to the book to get past this. It would definitely be a flag for any skeptics with reservations about casting aside their vulnerabilities at work and its value.

There was a bit of a discussion about how confident you would feel taking this into work and doing it with your team using the same language. We all agreed, there were things here and there that could make a difference straight away but getting buy-in from everyone would be tricky – unless it was led from the top.

It’s worth mentioning the workbook on her website that accompanies the book. It has all the personal and team exercises and the website has lots more information. There is a glossary too which really helped me while I was getting to grips with the new terms.

One of the other sections we talked about was the section on values. Brene spends a fair bit of time making sure you understand why your values and ‘leaning’ into them is important if you want to be a daring leader. Whittling down honestly to your two main values is not an easy task though. Some of the book group had managed it. If I am honest, I am still working on mine!

Amour is another of Brene term which she dedicates a whole section too. This is what we use to protect ourselves at work, and in our lives, it could be something like hiding behind cynicism or using your power over people to get what you want. The book talks a lot about how being curious and asking questions can help us understand our own armour. The book had helped one person recognise a lot of the different types of amour being lugged around her office. It also got her wondering why and thinking about how this is affecting the organisation she works for.

At the end, everyone gave one take away from the book. We had one person who was definitely going to have that difficult conversation with their CEO. Someone who would be embracing courage and speaking up, rather than letting it brew into something else. Another, working on doing empathy better, much more consciously. Someone else will be working on those difficult conversations and getting braver at saying no to clients and pushing back.

I had so much to take away from this book but the section which resonated with me the most was in the final section Rising Up. This focuses on our own resilience and how we can build it up. In it, she describes us as story making machines – wherein the absence of facts we fill it with our own story – most likely negative.

My husband has just got a senior leadership role and with that a new team, so we spent most of the last month passing the book back and forth, as I ooo’ed and ahh’ed as I came across things that I thought could help him and me.

Wanting more, I have been scouring her website. I took advantage of the free audio chapter on her website for her book Rising Up – which looks at how we can raise courageous children, and in case I was in any doubt, it confirmed I am definitely hooked on Brene.

Guest blog by Sarah Younger, Communications and Development Officer at St Michael’s Fellowship and a member of Lucidity’s Business Book Club.

Interested in joining our book club? Take a look at the Lucidity Network – a place for people pushing to make change happen, a place to learn, a place to share and a place to connect. Check it out and join us here.

Carrots and sticks are so last century

Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us, by Daniel H Pink was the first book to be reviewed by the Lucidity Book Club. Overall the group enjoyed the book and whilst some of the concepts may be easily recognised, it was acknowledged that implementing all of them into a work environment may not necessarily be that straightforward. It was agreed that the use of examples and provision of toolkits for various scenarios at the end of the book provides a useful resource to draw on in the future.

Using science and research, Pink presents a very clear argument as to why current business/working systems are outdated. Pink states “Carrots and sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21 st Century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose”, before going on to explain that, when it comes to motivation there is a gap between what science knows and what business does. The current operating system, built around external reward and punishment motivators, doesn’t work. The book provides examples of the types of work that can be motivated by carrots and sticks and those that can’t, highlighting that a ROWE (results only work environment) is needed. The challenge is how to implement this concept in diverse work environments. Fundamentally it is about trust and management shifting their attitudes to trusting their staff, this aspect resonated strongly within the group discussion.

The main points the book makes is that:

1. Times have changed but companies are slow to adapt to that change.

To illustrate Pink posed a question: in 1995 which encyclopedia would people have expected to survive, MS Encarta or Wikipedia? Few people would have imagined a Wikipedia world back then.

2. We have moved from a Motivation 2.0 world (carrots and sticks) to a Motivation 3.0 world (inherent satisfaction in the work itself).

Explaining that for routine tasks incentives may still work, but for more creative tasks these can have a limiting or event sometimes damaging effect, causing people to stop an activity previously enjoyed, or encouraging some to take shortcuts. Examples included research with primary school children, those that would choose to stay in the classroom and make drawings in their play break, when offered a payment stopped doing so.

3. There are 3 elements to Motivation 3.0 – Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

  • Autonomy is our default setting, people need autonomy over task, time, team and technique to be high performing. Companies that offer autonomy, sometimes in radical ways, outperform their competitors. One well-known company that ‘gets’ autonomy is Google. Creation of 20% time, where people are free to work on projects of their choice, has enabled products such as Gmail to be created. The book talked about reward not just being about money, which raised concern in our discussion that it could be used as an excuse not to pay enough. However, Pink clearly states that salaries must be at a reasonable level for everything else to flow from, i.e. removing salary from the motivation conversation enables the important aspects of Motivation 3.0 to be explored. We also discussed the need for tools, having autonomy over how, where and when you work is limited if you don’t have the appropriate tools or support to carry out the task at hand.

 

  • Mastery is an interesting concept. According to Pink it is i) a Mindset – requiring you to see your abilities not as finite, ii) a Pain – it requires effort and grit and iii) it is Asymptote – it is impossible to fully realise. Pink’s example of learning French helps to illuminate this idea. Learning French to pass a test is not the same as learning to speak French fluently. Both can fuel achievement but only one achieves mastery. Mastery happens when people are in the ‘flow’ which is the optimal experience when the challenges we face are matched to our abilities, however Pink cautions that “the path to mastery is not lined with flowers or rainbows….if it were more of us would make the trip”.

 

  • Purpose is no surprise, it is something that all humans seek, ‘a cause greater and more enduring than themselves’. Through the use of language and policies, Motivation 3.0 allows purpose maximisation to take its place alongside profit maximisation.

Our conversation ended with us looking at aspects of the book that we could apply to our own areas of work. Use of the toolkits to analyse where ‘flow’ happens for each of us, or possibilities to explore what autonomy and mastery means to our teams were starting points. Finally, we asked what our personal motivations are and common themes emerged around working with great people and improving peoples living and working circumstances. No carrots or sticks required!

Guest blog by Sam Mills is Head Of Projects at Changeworks and Lucidity Network member.

Interested in joining our book club? Take a look at the Lucidity Network – a place for people pushing to make change happen, a place to learn, a place to share and a place to connect. Check it out and join us here.

8 tips for boosting your confidence with creativity

We often think that creativity is about whether or not you can draw. It’s not. Creative thinking can apply to anything. You can be a spreadsheet superstar, a Moodle maverick or a clever content creator.

If you reframe creativity as ‘problem-solving’ it will help you feel more comfortable and makes creativity feel like less of a dark art. Creativity is about solving strategic problems, spotting opportunities, making connections and making good ideas happen to deliver the best learning and development for your employees and volunteers.

All human beings are creative. Research shows that creativity is more about a state of mind. And when we are in a relaxed or playful state our subconscious keeps working away, making connections and solving problems. That’s why when I ask people where they have their best ideas it’s very unusual that people say, ‘sat at my desk.’They usually have their best ideas when they are not at work: in the shower, driving, walking the dog, asleep, talking with their children or even on the toilet.

It can be difficult to work in an environment when we are expected to deliver more for less, inspire audiences with different needs to want to learn and ensure that employees have opportunities for professional development.

Yet so many organisations put their employees under pressure to simply ‘be creative’ or offer up massively unhelpful phrases like ‘think outside the box’ but without providing any guidance about how to do that.

So here are some simple tips to develop your already excellent creative thinking skills:

Know yourself: You are already creative. Step away from your desk. Think about where you have your best ideas and make time to go there. If this means spending more time on the toilet then so be it!

Get more curious: According to Steven Johnson in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, creativity is making new connections by putting old ideas together in new ways. Therefore you need to expand your portfolio of knowledge so you have more old ideas that you can put together when needed. So get more curious about the world. Read more books, go on a course, listen to a webinar and attend that talk.

Break patterns: As we get older we repeat the same patterns. You’ll have experienced this when you feel like you’ve been on ‘autopilot’, for example, got to work and not really noticed how you got there. This inhibits our creativity because we simply repeat these ingrained patterns. To help break them, change your habits. Start with the things you do on autopilot. Change your route to work, listen to a different radio station, watch something different on TV, go to a different place for lunch. All these small changes will help to create new patterns, new neural pathways and help your brain to be more flexible at making new connections.

Ask why: When we’ve worked in an organisation for a while we accept the status quo, we accept ‘how things are done round here.’ Wear a different lens, pretend you’re new and start asking ‘why?’ When a new employee starts, ask them what they’d change.

Make it so: It’s actually much easier to say we can’t do something. That means that nothing changes. However, confident creative thinkers have a restlessness to solve problems and make things better. They are constantly seeking to ‘make it so’. The process of making the seemingly impossible possible also helps to flex your creative thinking muscles.

Ban idea killer phrases: You know them. Those phrases like ‘we tried that before and it didn’t work’ ‘we don’t do it like that here’ ‘we don’t have the budget’ ‘the board will never sign it off’. Stop using them. They may be true. However, the world changes fast and something that historically wasn’t the right solution might be now.

Say ‘yes and’: Encourage confidence in creativity by making a small change to your language. Rather than using an idea-killer phrase (even ‘yes but…’ is negative) change your language to ‘yes and’. ‘Yes and’ encourages people to keep thinking creatively, solve problems and keep making those new connections and creates an environment where creativity can flourish.

Practice: Like any skill the more you practice the better you get. The small changes you make every day will add up to powerful confidence in your own creativity.

If you liked these tips you might also like the Lucidity Network – a place for people pushing to make change happen, a place to learn, a place to share and a place to connect. Check it out and join us here.

A version of this blog originally appeared on the Charity Learning Consortium.

The secret innovation skills you need – that are rarely taught

The balance of skills, attitude and experience required depends a bit on what innovation means to your organisation. Sometimes you need to be a product development manager, sometimes a culture change manager, more often both, and on occasion, once you’re in post it’s for you to interpret what the organisation needs and what the senior leadership want – which are often different things. Then there’s the innovation brief that makes my heart sink, ‘we want to innovate and change and disrupt – but we want to be sure it will work’, setting an innovation manager an impossible challenge from the outset.

Sound familiar?

However you choose to approach innovation in your business two things are consistent regardless of what sector or industry you work in.

  • Innovation is about spotting an unmet need or solving a problem. It’s about generating ideas and implementing solutions to make life better for your target audience (and that might be customers, clients and employees).
  • Not all of your ideas or innovations will work.

This means that an innovation manager has to be a lot of things; a diplomat and a dictator, a negotiator with a bloody-minded streak, an ideas person and a completer-finisher, a business analyst and a dreamer, candid and kind, a risk taker who likes a safe bet and possess both gravitas and humility.

The secret skills of innovation are often at opposite ends of a spectrum. You have to be well versed in contrast and contradictions and be able to flex between them in a blink of an eye.

Here are my top tips to thrive in the contradictory role of an innovation manager;

1.   Exude confidence in your approach and also confident vulnerability about what you don’t know. Help people to feel comfortable with diving into the unknown. Help people to learn that it’s OK not to know the answers, and that is part of ‘doing innovation.’

2.   Get a chronic case of ‘toddler syndrome’ and keep asking ‘why?’. Don’t settle for the ‘way things are done here’. Challenge ‘the way we do things here’ at every opportunity and help others to do the same.

3. Become very self-aware, what assumptions or stories do you have that prevent you from doing something new? Keep challenging yourself as well as others to unlearn what you know. Ask, ‘What if we had to start from zero – what might we do differently?’

4.   Be charming and disagreeable. Open up discussions, encourage different points of view and alternative ways of thinking, and do it in a way that others find enchanting.

5.   Take innovation very seriously and also not seriously at all at the same time. You’re looking for an important breakthrough which is serious business, yet our best thinking occurs when we are relaxed and even more so when we’re in a playful mindset.

6.   Be sensitive and thick-skinned – sensitive to the needs of your colleagues and partners. Remember that many people fear change, so tune into and be mindful about how your colleagues are feeling, yet at the same time focus on the needs of your audience, the people that you are innovating for, which sometimes means forging on through despite everything if you are going to deliver on your brief.

7.   Fall deeply in love and be fickle – to innovate, to introduce something new, you have to fall in love to have the passion to keep going to overcome barriers when things get difficult (because things will get difficult). You also have to be fickle and prepared to fail fast and drop your idea if it doesn’t work.

8.   Move fast and slow – turn your ideas into reality as quickly as you can. Don’t wait for perfect and a big launch, involve your stakeholders and your customers as early as possible which can sometimes slow down progress but the insight you gain will be worth the reduction of speed.

9.   Smile, (even if inside you are crying) and be respected for making good decisions and getting the job done rather than being known for being ‘nice’.

10. It’s OK to cry, to be vulnerable and for the idea not to work. The important thing is to share why not and what next so that everyone involved can learn.

11. Focus on why making change happen is important and lead by example. Help to shift the organisational culture to help people have the courage to try, followed by the tenacity to learn from failure and give it another go.

Those soft skills that are rarely taught, they are skills that you learn by trial and error, and that are hard to articulate on a job application. These are the skills that make you a successful innovator. At Lucidity we run training, provide coaching and consultancy on the ‘soft’ skills you and your organisation require to succeed at innovation. If you’d like some help perfecting them then get in touch at hello@lucidity.org.uk.

You might also like the Lucidity Network – a place for people pushing to make change happen, a place to learn, a place to share and a place to connect. Check it out and join us here.