Podium Coaching Blog
Top tips for writers and speakers
It’s that time of year when we start making lists. My colleagues on the communications panel for the International Institute of Business Analysts are no exception.
Hats off to Ari
We all agreed that one of the great philosophers, Aristotle, understood the power of effective communication. Logos, the ability to be logical, and Pathos, the ability to connect to your audience, were two important lessons from Aristotle that apply today – whether you’re speaking or writing.
Read in order to write
Patricia, the writing expert, said you need to keep reading in order to write well. Patricia recommended these books:
- Why People Email So Badly & How To Do It Better, by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe.
- On Writing Well, by William Zinsser
- Common Errors in English Usage, by Paul Brians
Practice makes perfect
One of my big tips was to make speaking a habit. Speaking is a soft skill that packs a powerful punch when done properly. It will enhance your self-esteem and drive you up the career ladder – but you must practice. Look for any opportunity to speak, get coaching guidance, and practice, practice, practice.
Getting what you want
Do your emails and letters get the outcomes you desire? Patricia shared these tips for getting the results you want:
- State your needs clearly
- Explain why a request is urgent
- Express conclusions before giving background
- Stick to one request per email
- Remember people are not mind-readers – give them a route map
Trust your instincts
When you ‘read’ an audience you use your eyes and your ears. But do you use your gut? I encourage people to activate their gut-ometer, that wonderful built-in device that – if you heed it – can really help you tune in to your audiences.
You’re good – but how do you get better? How do you develop strategies for life-long learning. Julian spoke about how sometimes people spend too much time looking for reinforcement of what they already know, rather than seeking something new. And Patricia reminded us of a quote from Julian Barling at Queen’s University School of Business: “The best adult education is what you learn from each other.” My contribution was simple: never stop being interesting in the world around you.
Breaking down barriers
In our October webinar we tackled intergenerational communication. How to handle Gen-Xers, Gen-Yers and boomers in the same environment. Julian said that we all can (and need to) teach each other. Patricia said we have to remember ‘we’re all in this together’. And I suggested that we all need to empathize, put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, and see things from another point of view – especially before we speak.
Storytelling pays off for young entrepreneurs
The facts are simple enough: 43 kids working on a garden project… growing herbs… making salad dressing… producing 6000 bottles in a season.
But it’s the story behind those facts that earned the Hope Blooms team $40,000 from the CBC Dragon’s Den business reality show.
It’s the story of Craig and Kolade (above) and a bunch of at-risk kids who turned an inner-city patch of land in Halifax, Nova Scotia, into a thriving garden that feeds the community and puts money into a scholarship fund.
It’s a story of overcoming disadvantages, divisions and distractions to become confident and articulate young entrepreneurs who could impress the notoriously cranky venture capitalists in the Dragon’s Den.
Story types to help your presentation
It’s a story that ticks all the boxes in the ‘story types’ we talk about in our presentation skills training:
- Who am I?
And it’s a story with a wonderful ending: just last night the Hope Blooms kids found themselves stars of one of the biggest shows on television… and recipients of praise, applause, tears and a $40,000 investment.
As we tell people in our media skills and presentation skills training – facts tell, but stories sell. If you want to make your message memorable, wrap it up in a compelling story. Our latest monthly newsletter is packed with tips on how to use stories in presentations and speeches. You can read it here, and you can sign up for future copies on any page on our website.
‘We can do it’ mindset is infectious
A big shout out to the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia for inviting me to emcee their awards gala, writes Halina St James.
It was a great honour to be able to share a few observations about the importance of embracing change, and then to announce the award winners.
It seemed appropriate that the title ‘Member of the Year’ went to someone who really has embraced the enormous changes facing pharmacists. Jennifer Buffet’s ‘we can do it’ philosophy is infectious. One of her colleagues said keeping pace with Jennifer meant constantly challenging old habits and behaviours.
And here’s the really neat quote that the colleague added: “I found myself challenging my comfort zone. This is a good thing.”
Can the Hope Blooms kids win the Dragons gold?
It’s a big week for the remarkable Hope Blooms team of young gardening entrepreneurs from Halifax, Nova Scotia. On Wednesday November 13 the team discover if they were successful in getting $10,000 from the venture capitalists on the CBC Dragon’s Den television show.
Hope Blooms is a project that involves at-risk youth and an inner-city community. It started as a community garden, but has spread… and that’s why it caught the eye of the Dragon’s Den team.
Food grown in the garden is used to provide monthly community suppers, it’s used to make organic baby food for young mums and soup for seniors, and the herbs are turned into salad dressings and sold at the local farmers’ market.
I met some members of the Hope Blooms team at a recent event where I was emcee. They explained how $1 from every bottle of salad dressing goes to a scholarship fund, and $1 goes back into the project’s sustainability fund. This season the 43 kids in the project (aged between 7 and 15) produced 6000 bottles.
You can find out how the Hope Blooms team fared in their quest for funding when Dragon’s Den airs on CBC at 8pm on Wednesday.
How much money is riding on your ‘hook’?
A big ‘thank you’ to the Canadian Women’s Foundation. It was my pleasure and privilege to be asked to give a presentation skills workshop at a conference of their Atlantic Canada chapters in Nova Scotia.
What a remarkable organization, driven by passion and fuelled by a burning desire to end violence against, and poverty among, women.
The Foundation is an umbrella group encompassing smaller local groups who are united in fighting for justice, equality and empowerment of women.
There was a very immediate and very practical reason for them wanting the presentation skills workshop. These wonderful women depend on donations – and they know that their donations can rise or fall, depending on how successfully they present their case to would-be donors.
Put simply, if you are involved with an organization that relies on donations, corporate or individual, you need to make great presentations.
I spent a great afternoon with the Foundation, sharing my TalkitOut Technique for upgrading presentations and speaking skills.
The women loved the simplicity of Talkitout, and the way it liberates your natural, authentic voice. With TalkitOut it’s much easier to create a speech or presentation, and it’s much easier to deliver a powerful message that really connects with the audience.
But with this group I was able to focus on a couple of other aspects of TalkitOut, to help them with their specific goal of persuading strangers to support this great cause:
1 – Know your audience: Who are they? What do they know about you already? What do they want to know? What’s the big question in their minds that your speech has to answer? What do they expect in terms of tone, language and style? Every speech you give has to be created with the audience firmly in your mind’s eye. No matter how good your cause, extracting donations from people is a competitive business. What do you need to say to this group to persuade them to open their wallets?
2 – Hook them in the first few seconds: work really hard on the opening few sentences of your presentation. Those first few words have to work harder than almost anything else you will say. They have to grab the audience’s attention; they have to engage them with the topic; they have to get people leaning towards you, rather than sitting back in their chairs.
- Stories are a great way of engaging audiences.
- Painting a vivid picture in the audience’s mind is a great way of starting.
- Amazing statistics can do the job for you.
- Your passion and energy can bring the audience to the edge of their seats.
Just remember that dull, rambling, unfocused, predictable openings make you feel uncomfortable, make audiences wonder why they made the effort to attend, and don’t serve your strategic purpose.
Big launch marred by spelling error
If you wonder if old-schoolers (like the Podium team) are right when they natter on about the importance of checking any important writing for spelling errors, take a look at this picture:
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was launching her big ‘open government’ initiative. The problem was right in front of her – in the white-on-red lettering on her microphone stand… the misspelling of ‘Government’.
A slip-up? Sure. Just one of those things? Depends on your perspective.
Premier Wynne was looking for headlines about her big idea to make government more transparent and more accessible, and to get people more engaged with their politicians.
Instead she got headlines like this:
Kathleen Wynne’s ‘open government’ launch marred
by spelling mistake
At Podium we teach that every word out of your mouth in a speech or presentation, and every word you write in emails and promotional material, is an expression of your brand.
And that’s not something you want to jeopardise.
Are your words harming your brand? Your brand starts with you. Are your words working as hard for you as that great logo and those eye-catching kit folders? Download our free 18-page guide to ensuring the words you speak and write do justice to your products or services. Click here to visit the Resources Page of our website where you’ll find the link to the free download of the White Paper on How Words Affect Your Brand.
Tips for success – from inspirational leaders
Business plans are important, but sometimes you have to follow your instinct; you have to love what you do if you want to be truly successful; texting is quick and easy – but you learn more about a person by picking up the phone.
Those are just a few of the comments from members of a business panel I moderated in Halifax this week.
The four speakers were some of the best-known and best-respected leaders in Nova Scotia: successful entrepreneurs Rob Dexter and Mark Surrette, communications expert Kim West and broadcaster turned Mental Health Foundation executive Starr Dobson.
The panel was put on by Fusion Halifax, a remarkable group that brings together 20 – 40 year-olds to generate great ideas in everything from business, to arts and culture to sustainable communities.
The theme of the 90 minute discussion was ‘inspiration’ – how to find it and how to share it in order to enrich the lives of others and become a true leader.
I’ll share just a few of the comments that stuck in my mind:
- effective leadership demands mastery of the so-called soft skills – being able to talk to a wide range of people, picking up non-verbal clues, problem-solving, team-building, coping with pressure, being open to change, receiving and giving honest feedback.
- being a good listener is important… listening not just for the words, but for the tone and (sometimes most important) the pauses.
- know and understand your personal style. Don’t model yourself on an extrovert leader if you true nature is introvert. There are plenty of wonderful leaders who are quiet and understated.
- love what you do. And if you don’t love your job – get out of it.
- don’t put dumb stuff on the internet. Recruitment firms routinely trawl social media sites when checking job-applicants. You don’t want a youthful indiscretion to blight your adult career opportunities.
- get people involved. Encourage ideas from team members. Especially when the ideas are better than yours.
- get a good education. MBAs and Masters degrees matter when you are young; the balance tilts in favour of experience over education when get older.
My thanks to Aaron Stonehouse, for organizing the event and asking me to moderate the panel.
Could you handle a tough media interview – right now?
How would you cope?
Imagine you are giving a television or radio interview. It lasts about four minutes. That’s 240 seconds. But the average sound bite on television is about 8 seconds. Your challenge is to make sure the 8 second clip that gets broadcast is the strongest, most credible exposition of your message you are capable of delivering.
The first stage in being able to deliver a clear, effective message to an audience is being comfortable expressing it to yourself, in the fewest words possible. Don’t try to deliver too much information at once. If you had to encapsulate your message in one sentence, what would that sentence be?
Start by focusing your message. Define in as few words as possible the one big thought you want to place in the minds of your target audience. Write it in a single sentence.
Now tighten the message. Look at what you wrote. Can you shorten it? The most effective messages are built around simple words in simple sentences. Try to express the heart of your message in 25 words or less.
Now look again at what you wrote. Change jargon and formal language into something more conversational. Imagine you were talking to a friend. Put ‘Hi Mum’ in front of your words and read the sentence out loud. If the sentence you wrote doesn’t sound conversational and authentic, change it.
This advice is taken from our latest training aid, the Media Mastery Workbook. If you want to refine your media messaging skills when you want, where you want, this workbook is for you.
It takes you through every stage of preparing for a media interview. You will learn how to
- create winning soundbites
- discover strategies for reinforcing your message
- banish fears of being misquoted
- be comfortable with the toughest questions
Doubling words doesn’t make them twice as good
I was in seventh heaven the other day, getting a little TLC for my nails, when my manicurist Colleen Moore launched into a wonderful rant.
I love my sessions with Colleen. She’s not just a great manicurist; she’s a smart business owner, well-connected with her community, and a great observer of human behaviour.
Her rant was based on her belief that people are getting lazy with their language. In particular, she’s noticed that people are doubling up on words – instead of using an adverbial or adjectival phrase to give emphasis.
- Example 1: Colleen says she was watching a fashion show on TV when the host talked about say clothes not needing to be “matchy matchy”.
- Example 2: A friend of hers bought an new bike and was describing the size of the tires. The tires were narrow. “Not narrow narrow, but narrow”, said the friend. Colleen’s point was that ‘not narrow narrow’ isn’t precise. What does “narrow, narrow” really mean? Are we talking a shade less than mountain-bike-chunky – or racing-bike-thin?
- Example 3: A popular radio host always says he’s “good, good”. How good is that? Is it really good? Or twice as good? (Which is dangerously close to the Orwellian 1984 world of ‘double plus good’).
In his book 1984 George Orwell created a fictional language, Newspeak. The aim of Newspeak was to remove all shades of meaning from language, to minimise the danger of individual thought in a totalitarian state.
Colleen was suggesting nothing that sinister: just that doubling of words is lazy. And it doesn’t give the listener the full meaning that you intended. The degree of matching, or the size of the tires, or the wellbeing of the radio host are left to personal interpretation.
At Podium Coaching we do a lot of work with people who have to deliver a precise message in a speech, a media interview or in copy. Whether it’s a presentation skills, media skills or writing workshop, we encourage clients to express themselves simply and clearly.
And the easiest way to do that is to use specifics rather than generalisations. When you are promoting a product or service, don’t fall back on adjectives and hyperbole.
For one thing, that’s what everyone else does. We’re so used to seeing the puffed-up phrases that we simply doesn’t believe the claims.
Secondly, adjectives and adverbs are imprecise. How big is big? Is ‘huge’ bigger or smaller than ‘enormous’?
You could tell an audience that Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is fast, or very fast, or blisteringly fast.
Or you could tell them when he runs he covers 12 meters every second.
And that’s a lot more jaw-dropping than fast-fast.
Five words that guarantee a bad headline
What can good customer relations practice learn from crisis communications? A lot, based on an experience we had recently.
Picture this. You need some printing. It’s not a big job (a single page, in fact) but it’s urgent. You call a company you’ve used before. It’s Thursday and you need it by Monday. Can they do it? Yes, they say. No problem.
You make an hour’s round trip to drop off the file of artwork and double-check that they can meet the deadline. No problem, they repeat. It’ll be ready by noon on Monday.
Monday rolls round and you cut them a little slack… you wait until 1.30 before walking in to collect the job.
They can’t find it. Not a trace. They call the salesman who took the original order and agreed to the deadline (who happens to be a vice-president).
The phone conversation leads to a huddle over a computer, and you hear the words ‘didn’t get round to it’. Your order has not been processed.
No apology is offered.
No remedy suggested.
You are in the middle of pointing out that a promise was made and a promise was broken, and from a customer’s perspective this is disappointing, when a voice chimes in from an administrative office:
“It is what it is.”
“It is what it is. You can’t expect perfection.”
For a few moments you ponder the administrator’s threshold for acceptable failure. Is 98% OK? Or 95%. Maybe 85%. Would you settle for 50%?
It’s left to the technician who ‘didn’t get round to it’ to offer a remedy. “I could run them off now. It would take 5 minutes.”
And you reflect on the lessons from crisis communications.
If you’ve downloaded our popular White Paper on Crisis Communications, you’ll know the three vital steps:
- Acknowledge responsibility
- Offer a remedy
Smart business people understand that when you have a problem – and it’s clearly YOUR problem – you need to quickly show leadership. Take the case of Michael McCain when he defied advice from some senior colleagues and announced ‘the buck stops here’ when Maple Leaf Foods had a listeriosis outbreak that killed 22 people. Or Richard Branson when one of his express trains crashed, killing one passenger and injuring 24. He travelled across Europe through the night to get to the scene and very publicly accept responsibility.
Is there a difference in scale between these examples and our print job? Of course. But there’s no difference in the principle.
If you fail a customer, it makes sense to say:
- It’s our fault
- I’m sorry
- Let me fix it
It could make the difference between a bad headline and a good headline; between a customer lost and a customer retained.
Sorry, Kwik Kopy of Strawberry Hill, Halifax, but “It is what it is” just doesn’t cut it. Those five words guarantee a bad headline – and a customer lost.