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.

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.

F—it and step out of your comfort zone

Our conversation was all about comfort zones: why it’s important to step out of them and how she’s stepping out of hers.

Emma was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s at the age of 29. It was unexpected to say the least. Emma has reframed that unexpected news as an opportunity to reinvent herself and as a reason to do the things that make her happy right now rather than put them off for some point in the distant future.

This year Emma is completing her F—it List. She’s deliberately putting herself out of her comfort zone and doing something new or different every day for the whole of 2019.

It starts with ‘Try January’

January is always full of resolutions, people stop doing things that they enjoy or are bad for them (these are often the same thing in my experience). Emma thinks ‘Try January’ is a better philosophy – starting a sparkly year in the way that you mean to go on. Emma decided to do brilliant things in January and didn’t want to stop after a month. Why not make it a year? Why not make it a way of life?

‘You have a choice about how you see the world. It’s your responsibility to invest in yourself and progress yourself. No one else has this responsibility – it’s down to you.’

Emma started with a list of brilliant things to try and over the months and as news of her F—it List has started to spread she’s getting offers to do things that she didn’t even know existed! The list now includes an eclectic mix of edible cinema, trips to underwater lakes under shopping centres, flower arranging, shooting guns in a firing range, learning a language from a colleague in a lunch hour, scuba diving, hot air ballooning and a visit to Japan.

Emma is really geeky

When it comes to data and spreadsheets Emma is a self-confessed geek. She’s working out how to use her F—it List to do good. Often investing time and money in ourselves can feel narcissistic. We feel guilty. Yet, looking after our physical and mental health or simply being kind to ourselves is fundamental to our wellbeing. For example, Emma is thinking about how activities make a person feel, both mentally and physically. What emoticon would describe it? She wants to be able to say, ‘If you want to feel like this, then do this F—it List activity.’

The F—it List is not about doing ‘scary things’ because everyone’s comfort zone is a different shape and size. It’s more about taking responsibility for and looking after yourself, learning new things and spending time with people you love.

Learning new things involves exploring unknowns and this means stepping outside of your comfort zone. Being able to step outside of your comfort zone is important because as the world around you changes, what you know now isn’t going to be enough to get you to the place you need to be in the future.

Tips for stepping out of your comfort zone

Ask yourself ‘What’s the worst that can happen? Make a list of the worst things and then work out how you’d deal with them. For Emma, she shared that the worst might have already happened – because being diagnosed and living with Parkinson’s isn’t the best news. So in a way, Parkinson’s has taken the edge off the fear because she’s doing well with the ‘worst’ and this has made stepping outside of her comfort zone easier.

Know yourself. Work out how you react to things. Do you thrive being thrown into the deep end or not? Stepping outside of your comfort zone is not necessarily about doing a great big massive thing that terrifies you. Assess if you will achieve more by taking small steps or one giant leap?

Be accountable. Ticking something off on a list because people are watching provides a level of pressure and accountability. Tell people your goals and they will hold you accountable. Be realistic about what you can achieve. Whatever your goals, doing something small to keep moving in the right direction is better than stopping still.

Surround yourself with people who are stepping out of their comfort zones. Best friends don’t always understand. According to Tim Ferriss, you are the ‘average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.’ Find others who will push you and challenge you. Spend time with people who help you up your game, cheerleaders and honest friends.

Just do it. Make the task feel smaller than it is. Sometimes doing something new gets built up in your head as being scarier than it actually is. Stop fear taking hold by breaking the task down into small and manageable chunks. For example, if you struggle to speak up in meetings, start practicing to speak by agreeing with a colleagues comment. This will help help you build your confidence.

Have a project pre-mortem. Get to the route cause and name the fear. For example, I was afraid of going scuba diving, and when I unpicked it, my fear wasn’t about breathing under water; it was about finding a wetsuit that fitted combined with anxiety about getting in and out of a boat. Once I’d identified these fears I could pick out how I was going to deal with each of them one by one and they became more managable.

Be a bit scared. If you feel comfortable then you’re not pushing yourself. Remember that you will be missing opportunities by not stepping up.

If as Emma says, happiness is learning new things and spending time with people you love, get more curious, surround yourself with the important people, step out of your comfort zone and go and learn.

Follow Emma’s progress on the F—it List blog.

If you are interested in learning and achieving more, join me for a free training webinar on stepping out of your comfort zone on Wednesday 17 April at 12.30pm UK time. Places are limited. Sign up here. 

My top tips to thrive in a culture of constant meetings

thrive in a culture of constant meetings

Do you sit in meetings feeling anxious about what you contribute or wondering if it’s the best use of your time? Have you ever sat waiting to get a word in and then the meeting is over before you’ve had a chance to speak? I think, for too many people, meetings get in the way of getting the important work done. After running a workshop on speaking up and making the most of meetings last week, I thought I’d put my top tips for better meetings down in a blog.

Say no to meetings

I know this might sound controversial but it’s perfectly acceptable to say no to a meeting request. Even if it’s from a very senior important person. Your time is important – you only have a certain number of hours in the day and you must use them wisely. Meetings can suck huge chunks out of your day. So before you say yes make sure that you are clear on the following:

  • What is the purpose of the meeting? What does success look like? For example, to discuss the blah project and decide on timelines, roles and responsibilities.
  • Understand your role in the meeting – why are you invited, what are you there for? If it’s just for information, I’d challenge if you need to be there. Could you get updated on the ‘information’ in a more time effective way like on an email or a quick briefing? Only when you are clear on the purpose of the meeting and your role can you make a decision on whether it’s a good use of your time to attend.
  • If you’re calling the meeting, clearly brief the meeting attendees on the purpose of the meeting and their role. Consider how long the meeting needs to be. Often we just keep talking until the hour is up. A quick-fire meeting could last 10 minutes and if you all stand up it can make it even quicker.
  • I’m a big fan of walk and talk meetings because they are quicker, it creates a
    better dynamic than staring at someone across a desk and walking is proven
    to help your thinking.

Do you ever lose your confidence? Be prepared.

Confidence is something that comes and goes and you have to be deliberate about keeping your confidence tank topped up otherwise it can run empty. When it comes to confidence for speaking up in meetings here are my top tips.

  • Prepare for the meeting – if you know why you’re going and what’s expected of you, you can do a bit of research. When you know your topic it helps you to feel more confident.
  • Give yourself time to breathe. Quite literally, take a few minutes to breathe properly before you go into a meeting. Breathe in and count to four and breathe out and count to four. Repeat.
  • Prepare – be early, bring water (for those nervous croaky throat moments) and go to the bathroom.
  • Turn up to work every day dressed appropriately for a surprise meeting with the most important person in the organisation, this way you are always prepared.
  • If you believe the research by Amy Cuddy, your body language can change your physiology and make you feel more confident. In your meeting pay attention to your body language. Sit up straight, shoulders . back, head upright. Don’t fidget and maintain eye contact.
  • Demonstrate you are actively listening by leaning in. Make eye contact. Use the phrase ‘yes and’ and words from part of the previous sentence when responding to show that you’re really listening.
  • Often we doubt ourselves, the critical voice in our head tells us we don’t know anything and we’re going to get found out. Form an answer in your head compared to what other people are saying in the meeting and when you start to realise that your answers are similar to other peoples it can help to build confidence.
  • Use a technique called anchoring. Remember a time when you felt confident, it could be a work or a personal situation. Remember how you felt in that moment. Practice reconstructing that moment in your mind to tap recreate those feelings of confidence. There’s more on anchoring here.

I always miss my opportunity to speak

It’s happened to the best of us, you hesitate, miss your moment, someone else speaks up, the moment passes and you don’t get to speak at all. You leave feeling a bit disappointed. When it comes to making sure you contribute I advise:

  • Give yourself permission to interrupt, remember you have been asked to the meeting for a purpose, It’s your job to contribute.
  • Lean into the meeting and raise your hand to indicate that you have something to contribute and make eye contact with the meeting chair.
  • Buddy up with an assertive person and work with them to introduce you, for example they might say something like ‘Dave had a good point about this topic’ providing you with a clear opportunity to speak.
  • Remember why you’re there – to share insight based on your unique set of skills and experience. It’s important for the outcomes of the meeting that you contribute.

I’m just too anxious to speak

For some, it can be incredibly daunting to speak up in a meeting and many people feel way out of their comfort zone doing it. If you ever feel like it’s just too scary to speak up, here are my tips:

  • Take small steps to get out of your comfort zone. For example, you might start by agreeing with someone else’s opinion as a way to find your voice rather than making a lengthy point yourself.
  • Ask more questions or ask for clarification. We can often feel anxious by asking what we feel might be a ‘stupid question’. In my experience, if you have a question you won’t be the only one and having the courage to ask it does everyone a favour.
  • Get networked – get to know people in the room, which can make speaking up less intimidating.
  • Tell someone else your thoughts ahead of time so they can introduce you.
  • Remind yourself that you are separate from the issue and you’re there to share your unique views to help move a situation or project along or come to the best conclusion on a problem.
  • Practice speaking up anywhere and everywhere, with friends, family and strangers. For example, when you order your coffee, at the supermarket or in the lunch queue. Say hello, start a conversation, talk about the weather it doesn’t really matter what you say. All these small steps add up to building your confidence for speaking up in meetings.

When I do speak I mess it up

Part of the fear around speaking up in the first place is that we’ll fail or get it
wrong. We perhaps fear that we’ll not represent ourselves well or ‘do ourselves
justice’ and this makes us feel bad. If this resonates with you then my tips are:

  • Speak in headlines – short direct sentences – this helps to stop rambling, which can easily happen when we’re nervous.
  • Listen in to your tone of voice and be careful not to end your sentences (that are not questions) with a questioning tone.
  • Don’t apologize, watch out for ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ and don’t use filler words or words that do yourself down including, ‘just’ and ‘I could be wrong’
  • Take notes and write down what you’re going to say.
  • Set yourself goals, think about the most important information you bring to the meeting and set yourself a goal to just say that one thing.
  • Leverage your expertise and refer back to it when you speak. For example quote research or a time you’ve experienced something similar with great results.

Let’s agree to ban pointless meetings that suck great chunks of the day and exchange them for enjoyable, effective places where you can thrive. Aim to get the desired results in the shortest time freeing you up to achieve your task list and go home on time. If you have more tips for making meetings great again please
do share them below. Let me know how you get on.

If you’d like some help with making time to think, upping your productivity and reclaiming your ‘me-time’ join the Lucidity Community Facebook group to get in the Lucidity groove for clearer thinking and better results.

5 ways reading will boost your communication skills

5 ways reading boosts your communication skills

1) It gives us something to say

In a world where information is the new currency, reading is one of the best sources of continuous learning, knowledge gathering and idea sharing. Books and articles give us the ability to roam throughout the world, travel back in time and look to the future, affording us with a deeper view of ideas, concepts, practices, emotions and events. Reading can open your mind to new choices that you may not have known about or considered before. This is all information which we can then share with others.

2) It helps us understand other people

The first rule of effective communication is to know your audience. Reading about other people can help you understand them better. The same neurological regions of the brain are stimulated when you read about something as when you experience it. Unlike watching the television or listening to the radio, reading gives the brain more time to stop, think, process and imagine the narrative form in front of us. Therefore, reading can help put you in someone else’s shoes, to get inside their heads and experience the things they have. The more you understand someone, the more you can tailor your communications to what they need.

3) It increases our vocabulary

The more we read, the more likely we are to come across new words. Business books, in particular, have words and phrases that are unique to their topic. If you need to communicate with particular sectors and industries, understanding the language being spoken is essential. Otherwise, how are you going to know your CTR from SEO?

4) Reading strengthens the brain

And a strong brain means more effective communication overall. Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. As we read, our brain decodes abstract symbols, makes connections, and conducts various visual and auditory processes. Indeed, multiple studies suggest that mentally challenging tasks, such as reading, help to maintain and build brain cells and connections between those cells, helping to preserve the memory and thinking skills.

5) Reading can give us the ability to make a point

The more we read, the more our brains are able to link cause and effect. The ability to communicate cause and effect is a central component of any argument, sales pitch, negotiation or story. As such, a well-written article or book will be structured in a way that helps us to think in sequence rather than jumping from point to point.

If you’re keen to read more, expand your mind and learn new stuff, why not join the Lucidity Network and participate in the business book club? Members have the opportunity to nominate their books of choice, and all discussion will take place virtually meaning you can take part no matter where in the world you are.

Membership of Lucidity Network is only open for a short time though so you need to get in quick. Join now so you don’t miss out.

If you’re already a member of the network and want to join the book club, drop Becky Slack a line to register your interest. She’s leading on the group and will be coordinating the reading list.

 

Becky Slack

 

Becky Slack is the managing director of the PR and comms agency, Slack Communications, and the co-host of L’atelier des écrivains – The Writers’ Workshop, France, a four-day creative writing retreat in southwest France and a member of the Lucidity Network.