Tips for talks that keep them engaged

 Have a speech coming up?

Want to sharpen your style?

Finding more opportunities to make presentations can bring new energy to your career. Public speaking allows you to stand out, show what you know, and connect with a wider group of people. The more talks you give, the more you build your confidence and polish your style. And the prospect of presenting helps you identify what’s important and work harder to know your stuff.

I often encourage clients to raise their profiles by finding speaking venues. This might mean offering remarks at a company meeting or sitting on a convention panel. Or it could involve inventing an event that gives you the chance you need.

If one of your goals is to do more speaking, take note of how successful delivery styles have evolved over the years.

LibbyheadshotMy favorite expert on public speaking and workplace communications is Libby Vick, who once worked on Capitol Hill and is now a member of the faculty at Northern Virginia Community College. When I asked her about recent trends, Libby (who also is my sister) said, “Speeches are shorter and the audience of today is much more visually oriented. And, for better or worse, the younger the audience the more they expect an element of ‘entertainment.’”

A format Libby now uses in her classroom is based on the increasingly popular Ignite talk videos, where the motto is “enlighten us, but make it quick.” Ignite presenters talk for exactly five minutes, and during that time the audience sees 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. Libby said, “The idea of having visuals – without words – throughout the speech is a new concept, and it seems to work.”

“Another interesting aspect of Ignite is the premise that storytelling is the key to a successful presentation. And this can be applied to any subject,” Libby said. “For example, business audiences are often bored by PowerPoint charts and graphs, even in pretty colors.”

“So let’s say the ‘story’ you want to tell is that a once thriving industry is now suffering layoffs. Instead of a graph, you can have a slide that’s a photograph showing a plant at full production, followed by a slide that shows the same plant half empty. The story is told and the point is still made, but in a way that holds the audience’s interest,” Libby said.

If you want a fresher approach for your next talk, Libby’s advice is:

  • Shorten the length of your speeches.
  • Add visuals, including photographs.
  • Know the story you want to tell and do that quickly and creatively.
  • Stretch your public speaking skill by trying to tell your story in just 5 minutes in the Ignite format. (Click here to see Libby doing just that.)

In most work-related occasions, you’ll probably need to be engaging for far more than five minutes. Here are ways to keep attendees interested during longer programs:

  • Work on keeping eye contact, which might mean choosing not to put your statements on slides.
  • Present with another person, using an interview or conversational format.
  • Create mini-breakout sessions, where participants form small groups, quickly explore a question, then report back to the whole crowd.
  • Arrange to call on specific audience members for brief comments on points where they’re expert
  • Encourage and build on audience feedback.

My final suggestion is that you finish with a bang. You miss a chance to drive home your message if your last comment is, “Well, I guess that’s all.” Instead, summarize your major points, or end with a pithy remark that you don’t want them to miss.

Libby Vick provided her photo.
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Posted in career success, personal branding Tagged with: ,

6 times listening may be the best strategy

Have a problem at work?

Listening may be a solution.

Regardless of how you define your key workplace objectives, I’m willing to bet that better listening skills could help you achieve at least one of them.

By “listening” I mean you not only keep your mouth shut long enough for the other person to talk, but you also shut down the voice in your head when it tries to tell you what to say next. You concentrate on the speaker, and you hear what they say even if it means you have to fight an urge to judge or be defensive.

Humans have a deep and often unmet need to be heard and understood. Neuroscience suggests that people go through life aching to have their concerns acknowledged and their presence felt. When we truly listen we meet that need and connect with the speaker in a special way, even though it might not seem like that at the time.

 listening  @Voyagerix - FotoliaAnd listening is such a fundamental part of human interaction that at some level we can usually tell if someone is actually hearing us, or just pretending. Research on “mindful listening” shows that people, and even animals, can sense whether we’re engaged in the moment or just waiting for our turn to talk. And when we deeply listen without feeling defensive or judgmental, we’re more likely to come across as genuine, charismatic and attractive.

Becoming a stronger listener can be like building your physical strength. You build your listening “muscle” by noticing your reactions to a speaker and then putting them aside. For example, let’s imagine your friend says, “you let me down.” You instantly think “that’s not true!” But instead of interrupting, you put that defensive thought aside and hear what else your friend has to say. Read more ›

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Posted in Career management, listening

8 times to stop worrying about looking like a suck up

Fear looking like an apple polisher?

It’s probably time to get over it.

One of the greatest TV characters ever was Eddie Haskell, Wally Cleaver’s oily conniving friend, still to be seen on reruns of “Leave It To Beaver.” Eddie was an archetype who no decent person wants to resemble — a two-faced sycophant, always scheming and currying favor to promote his plans

The fear of looking like a brown noser is so powerful among professionals that sometimes they shy away from obvious opportunities to make a friend or pursue a goal. Among my clients, the people who worry the most about resembling Eddie Haskell are often the straight shooters who look the least like him.

A good example is “Trish,” a quiet but talented financial wizard who wanted to eventually move to her dream job in another division of the company. Trish said she’d probably need support from Al, a senior colleague who knew the leaders there. She described Al as smart and accomplished, but self-absorbed and eager to be the center of attention.

I suggested Trish find ways to build her relationship with Al, and speculated that he might respond well to a bit of flattery. She said, “Yep – he probably would. But I couldn’t do it. I just don’t like to suck up.”

Even though it could mean a lot for her future, Trish didn’t want to cultivate a friendship with Al because he seemed arrogant and might expect her to kowtow. I said she needn’t grovel, and asked her to simply make a list of Al’s strengths and areas of expertise. Next, I suggested she spot opportunities where Al’s advice might actually be helpful.

Trish identified Al’s types of special knowledge and found projects where she could use his insights. Then she began to ask him for occasional guidance. To her surprise, Al responded warmly, and eventually became her mentor. Ultimately he guided her into the transfer she’d been dreaming about.

Trish’s reluctance to appear unctuous almost prevented her from getting to know the man who became her champion. She is not alone. Modest but otherwise self-aware people sometimes have a disproportionate fear of looking like a bootlicker.

Hand with appleAre you one of those who is reluctant to offer a heartfelt tribute for fear it will be taken as apple-polishing? Read more ›

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Posted in mentoring, networking, professional advancement Tagged with: ,

Celebrations support a healthy workplace culture

Build your team & boost productivity

with 13 ideas for workplace celebrations

Celebrations can enhance your workplace culture and help team members do even better work. Sharing appreciation for success and good fortune can support the well-being of individuals, foster a sense of community and promote the health of your whole organization.

open book with ribbonCreating a celebration can be a wonderful way to acknowledge achievements and encourage people to continue to excel. Positive reinforcement is a powerful motivator and a celebratory event can be a smart way to offer good feedback.

Celebrations provide times when colleagues come together, get to know each other better and develop a shared perspective. Enjoying festive occasions helps workers become friends, and having friends at the office helps you do your best.

Arranging celebrations can provide a moment for reflection, allowing people to develop a collective focus on the right stuff. It’s a way to draw attention to the organization’s goals and values, and to remind participants that they work at a great place.

Consider these 13 ways to celebrate at work: Read more ›

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Posted in leadership, motivation, organizational techniques, team building, Uncategorized Tagged with: ,

The way you talk can transform your team

 To help your team thrive,

agree on some structure &

communicate widely and often!

When I want a quick sense of whether a team is working well, I take a look at how the members communicate.

“Jenna” was an agency branch chief who wanted to help her 14 direct reports become more innovative and productive. Years ago her branch had been organized into cascading layers, with three deputy chiefs each managing two to four people. That kind of top-down organization made sense when it was the only way to assure the distribution of accurate information. But the old command-and-control model went out of date with the advent of email and other technology. So now the agency was much flatter, and its leaders were exploring new ways to organize the workload.

To foster collaboration and mentoring, Jenna had organized her group into project-focused teams. Since each person might be on more than one team, and some teams included professionals from other branches, Jenna was keeping her eye on six teams, each with three to five members. Several teams were active, energetic and highly productive. But a couple of them had gone dormant before they really got started.

As part of an effort to evaluate and restructure the teams, Jenna asked me to interview each branch employee. “Don,” an experienced and technically gifted lawyer, led one of the teams that hadn’t gelled. When I asked Don about how his team operated, he said he called meetings “only when they were absolutely necessary.” He said he was available to answer individual questions, but he didn’t want to encourage people “to waste time talking about each other’s problems.”

I said to myself, “Wow! Don’s poor team never had a chance.” Don had no idea that frequent and effective communications are key to building a team that gets things done.

TeamIt’s long been intuitively obvious that talking frequently is a basic step of teambuilding. But the new science of mapping team communication patterns suggests that how team members talk with one another may be more important than their skill, personality, intelligence and discussion topics combined.

A 2012 Harvard Business Review article offered a fascinating account of how MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory can chart and portray the interactions that characterize high-performing teams. When working with a client organization, the Lab’s experts equip members of the client’s teams with electronic badges that collect data on communication behavior. Read more ›

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Posted in team building Tagged with: ,

Positive games can empower your career

How the games we play can

help us through tough times.

Board game with a block path on the cityWhen I asked George, a fairly new manager, about his work, he hesitated. Then he said, “Objectively, it’s going really well. But I don’t know how long I can stand it.”

The good news was that, after two years of building collaboration and creating expertise, George’s team was exceeding all its goals and had been recognized as a shining “center of excellence” within the large organization.

But now leaders in other divisions were trying to steal some of the glory and resources. They were attempting to poach George’s critical experts by having them reassigned away to other challenges.

When I asked George how many team members he’d actually lost, he said, “None. But I’m so exhausted from the constant fight to protect them that I’m not sure if I can keep this up. The stress is just too much.”

I thought about how much George loves board games and recalled a party where he and friends had played fiercely for hours. The intense players shouted and mocked each other. But at the end of the game they simply laughed about the competition and rejoined the festivities.

I asked George whether he could take a step back from the challenges to his team, and view his colleagues more like other players in a strategic game. Read more ›

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Posted in Uncategorized Tagged with: ,

Handling Big Project Letdown

Does finishing a big project

leave you with the blues?

I wasn’t surprised when my client “Lisa” cancelled a couple of our meetings, because I knew she was working flat out on a demanding project. Her assignment was to organize a large conference and implement a complex media blitz in support of a new kind of product for her company.

From what I read online, the conference and all the surrounding hoopla were a big success. The activity reached a crescendo on a Friday and I looked forward to speaking with Lisa on the following Tuesday, hoping that she would be enjoying a victory lap around the corporate headquarters.

But when we spoke, Lisa was on the verge of tears. She couldn’t forget the tiny things that had gone wrong, and she feared some people were disappointed. On top of that, the routine marketing work that had piled up while she was preoccupied with the product launch now felt daunting. She needed a plan to quickly get through the backlog, but was reluctant to ask for extra work from her exhausted staff.

Lisa felt overwhelmed. She had a bad case of Big Project Letdown. She described what she felt:

  • Exhaustion. Because the project was so important, Lisa had been working long hours without taking time out for her normal life. At night she was tossing and turning. She had quit going to the gym, she hadn’t spoken with her girlfriends in weeks, and she couldn’t remember the last quiet dinner with her husband.
  • A sense of loss. Although the project had been challenging, it had also been invigorating. For its duration she was included with the senior team, and for the first time she met frequently with her CEO. And while the pressure was on, her staff rose to the occasion, following her lead and making her proud. Now that the big push was over, everything felt dull and flat.   The prospect of tackling overdue routine work felt like dull drudgery compared to the creative activity involved in the special event.
  • Depression. Lisa realized that she was tired and also bothered by the thought of dealing with all the overdue tasks. But her unhappiness was so intense that she was disconcerted by her own mood. She said, “I know it was a success, so why do I feel so awful? What’s wrong with me?”

Lisa felt better as soon as she realized that it’s normal to feel a letdown after you’ve made a great effort. One reason is that during a big push your brain chemistry changes to help keep you going. Professor Loretta Graziano Breuning suggests that your dopamine spikes when you really need it, and perhaps working with the big boss triggers your serotonin. But when your “happy chemicals” go back to their normal levels, it feels like something is wrong with your world.

After taking an afternoon off, Lisa gradually bounced back from her post-project crash. Since then, she has learned to plan ahead to assure a speedy recovery after each major event.

falling and screaming businessmanStrategies like these can help you to avoid or recover from Big Project Let-down:

  • Manage expectations. Part of Lisa’s problem was that for weeks she told people, “I’ll get back to you right after the conference.” When she came into the office that Monday, the barrage of “can we talk now?” messages made her feel like she was under attack. These days she uses project management software to help make realistic commitments about when her team will be able to handle backlogged requests after a major event.
  • Take breaks. Lisa’s unrelenting pace disrupted the pattern of her life, causing stress at home and in the office, and keeping her awake at night. Now she has learned to keep up her fitness routine and build some quiet time into her schedule. She has found that taking regular breaks, like outdoor walks, can help her make creative breakthroughs.
  • Plan ahead. Lisa is happier if she has something to look forward to. When there was nothing new on the horizon after the conference, the future felt bleak.   So she has learned to look for interesting projects and fun events down the road. By planning activities and vacations way in advance, she always has something to anticipate.
  • Debrief. One thing that helped Lisa is that immediately after the conference she and her team carefully reviewed what went right, and what could be improved in the future. By examining the project details, she developed a clear understanding of what led to the successful elements, as well as specific ideas about how to do things even better next time. Then in the following days, when she had moments of feeling like a failure, she was able to talk herself to a better place by reviewing the evidence.
  • Celebrate. Lisa realized that she probably wasn’t the only one who was feeling down in the days after the conference. She wrote notes to the many people who had helped, and she scheduled a particularly festive lunch to thank team members for their hard work. She continued to celebrate by taking her patient husband out to dinner. As she drew other people into her celebration, she was able to really enjoy the success.

It’s normal to feel emotional after a significant project or a long-anticipated event. Sometimes the best way to move forward is to notice what you are feeling, and maybe even write about it. Then look for ways in which the end of one big project might be viewed as the start of your next one.

photo credit: Fotolia 69737339
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Posted in Career management, finding new energy, professional growth, workplace issues Tagged with: ,

Try 4 tips from leadership coaches

Coaching strategies can

help you coach yourself

The old top-down, command-and-control style of leadership seldom works in today’s organizations, where the goal is often to promote cooperation in the midst of rapid change.

To succeed as a leader you must know how to communicate a vision, build a network of relationships, and foster group learning and decision-making. This is true whether you’re the big boss or are just learning how to guide a team.

Leadership coaching has become a key tool for facilitating change in individuals, teams and systems. And in places where the traditional hierarchical model of management no longer works, leaders who know how to act like coaches are building cultures that allow collaboration and innovation to thrive.

leadershipcoachWorking with a coach is one way to broaden your leadership skills and deepen your understanding of modern workplace dynamics. But even if that’s not an option, these strategies from the field of coaching can help you grow:

  1. Know yourself. Research shows that self-awareness is a vital characteristic of successful leaders. The more you understand about your own internal dialogue, the better you are at engaging with other people. And the more you notice about the impact of your behavior on others, the better are your choices for next steps. Coaches use open-ended questions to help clients notice their inner voices and daily decisions.   Another way to promote self-exploration is to keep a journal or regularly engage in some other form of expressive writing. Write answers to questions like, “what would I do here if I knew I couldn’t fail?”
  2. Listen more actively. When people turn to you for guidance or assistance, there are many times when you have no idea how to help. But offering expertise is not the only way to give support. Humans have an innate need to be heard and acknowledged. And by listening deeply to another person, you can let them know they do matter and at the same time provide a way for them to come to terms with some of their issues.
  3. Try peer coaching. Consider finding a partner or small group with whom you can trade coaching time. Create a structure in which each person has a designated to time to talk about current activities and challenges. When you play the role of the “coach” it’s your job to ask questions and listen compassionately to the answers. Then when you are the “client” you can talk about what’s been happening lately and how you feel about it.
  4. Try some training. An enjoyable and effective way to become more adept at conversations with your colleagues can be to take an introductory coaching course. You’ll build your “listening muscle” and have opportunities to practice asking questions that lead others to new insights. For a training option that would work for you, visit the International Coach Federation website.

Read more ›

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Posted in coaching, leadership, self improvement Tagged with: ,

Don’t let age bias limit your opportunities!

Age Discrimination Starts Early!

These Strategies Can Help.

numbersWhile finishing her MBA at a top tier university, Sarah was enthusiastically recruited by a large company. She accepted their offer to join the marketing department. Once there, she connected with a powerful mentor who helped her snag plum assignments. For several years Sarah was the most junior professional in her group, and she enjoyed being treated like a young star.

After a few years, the growing company made a wave of new hires and Sarah began to feel neglected. She said she was stuck with routine workwhile the interesting new projects went to her younger colleagues.

Sarah was asked to supervise the internship program, but didn’t enjoy the work. She said the interns didn’t have the right work ethic and were obsessed by technology. One day as she entered the kitchen, she heard them making fun of her for being clueless about the power of social media.

When Sarah came to me for coaching, she complained that she was past her career peak. She felt like she was cut off from the company’s high potential challenges and might be too old to compete for another good job elsewhere. Sarah was 34 at the time.

Sarah felt she was the victim of age discrimination and to some degree her concerns were well founded. Ageism is rampant in the workplace and can be hard to fight. And even 30-something careerists like Sarah can find themselves sidelined by employers seeking fresh talent.

Sarah found ways to demonstrate her energy, talent and enthusiasm, and soon worked her way out of her slump. One thing that helped her was finding examples of older professionals whose age did need not seem to limit their success. She noticed that while some in her circle were dissed for being out of date, others seemed timeless despite their years.

If you’re facing a subtle age bias, a starting point for getting past it is to understand the negative stereotypes on which it’s based. Then make it clear that the stereotypes don’t fit you. Consider these strategies for minimizing the burden of ageism: Read more ›

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Posted in workplace issues Tagged with: ,

How to give powerful positive feedback

 Eight tips on how to say

“Thanks!” or “Good job!”

“Josh” was general counsel of a federal agency. He came to coaching after a staff survey helped him realize that many of the lawyers working for him felt under-appreciated. And they had real concerns about his leadership style.

Josh’s initial reaction was defensive and disdainful.   He said, “Grown-up lawyers shouldn’t expect to be thanked just for doing excellent work. They get paid, don’t they? And when I don’t comment they should know everything is OK, because I always tell them when they screw up.”

We spoke about the human need to be acknowledged and appreciated. And I pointed to numerous studies demonstrating that people will be more productive in a positive work environment.

Eventually Josh agreed to try an experiment. Every workday he put three coins in his pocket. Each time he thanked or complimented a team member he could remove one coin. And he couldn’t go home until all three were gone.

After the first week, Josh said he was enjoying the experiment more than he had expected. But he still felt awkward saying “thanks,” so he was looking for more occasions to practice. He found times to say “thank you” at home, in the coffee shop, and wherever he went on the weekend.

great job stampThe more Josh practiced, the more comfortable he felt offering thanks and positive feedback. And he was having fun with it. He said, “the amazing thing is not that it makes them happy, but that it makes me happy, too.” Soon he quit carrying the coins because he no longer needed them. Josh said he was addicted to his “thank you” habit, and it had changed the way he looked at several parts of his life.

Well-crafted words of thanks and praise can serve as powerful positive reinforcement, guiding members of your team to achieve, change and grow. By regularly thanking or acknowledging people for their work, you can help to shape a more positive and collaborative office environment, even if you’re not the boss.

These eight tips can help build your “thank you” habit into a powerful leadership tool:

Read more ›

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Posted in business etiquette, leadership, motivation, positivity

Beverly E. Jones

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Links to occasional colleagues

ECCA - Website
ThreeJoy - Website
Kerry Hannon - Website
Ohio University's Voinovich School - Website
Senior Entrepreneurship Works - Website
Congressional Management Foundation - Website
WOUB - Website
ShadowComm LLC - Website

Books with Bev’s Tips

Bev’s tips on career change are featured in the books and other writing of leading journalist Kerry Hannon. If you’re thinking about a career transition, try:

What’s Next? Find Your Passion and Your Dream Job in You Forties, Fifties and Beyond


“Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy and Pays the Bills”


Bev at Ohio University,
where she is a visiting
executive with the
Voinovich School of
Leadership & Public Affairs



Bev's garden at Buckeye Farm