Monday, December 5, 2011

The "Agenda" Dilemma!

If you are a professional Trainer ("Learner Advocate!") prone to distributing Agendas (with specific times in them) to your participants, here's a link to a brief article I wrote for FOCUS Magazine on the subject:

Are the benefits to Learners greater than the potential drawbacks?  Hmm...Food for thought!  Enjoy... 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What Presenters Can Learn from Baseball...

"But then...something happens...and in that moment--awesome or lousy--
you are living something you will never forget, something that jumps out of the toneless roar of day-to-day life."                                                                        Joe Posnanski, Sports Writer

The quote above was from a blog post about baseball, and how last night was one of the most memorable nights in recent memory--with 4 teams tied for 2 different Wild Cards for the Playoffs.  Posnanski acknowledged that--yes--baseball is boring…but it is in the moments where the unexpected happens (pitcher blows lead in bottom of the 9th; runner gives his all to 1st base on sure-out grounder--despite not needing to win the game (already clinched playoffs); pitcher shakes-off 4+ signals from the catcher, etc.) that makes it stand out  (jump out!) for us. 

For me--Posnanski's point also makes the case that Presenters need to give their audiences the unexpected…jar them from their "normal" expectations…That's what helps make things memorable:

*  If every presentation seems to start off with a bio about the presenter and a ton of slides with lots and lots of text--do something unexpected!

*  If the audience expects the Presenter to do all of the work (talking)--do something unexpected!  Get audiene INVOLVED!

*  If audience expects Presenter to be at Podium (or in front of room)--do something unexpected!

*  If audience expects Presenter to handle the summary of key "takeways"--do something unexpected!  

So, let's commit to breaking out of the "toneless roar of day-to-day" presentations!  Consider the argument shared in a 2009 article by Shumpeter in The Economist: "There is no long-term comparative advantage in being forgettable."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Strategies for Opening Presentations ("connecting" with an audience)

Below is a link to a brief article I wrote for FOCUS Magazine on creative ways to get an audience ENGAGED with your topic when presenting:

     Let me know if you try something new as a result of reading the article!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Audience Check-In Tips

Ask someone who’s just delivered a presentation how things went, and you often hear something like, “Um…I think it went pretty well.”  Ask further, “What might be different for the audience as a result of the presentation?”--and you may see shrugged shoulders and a quizzical expression on his/her face.  Don’t know about you, but I tend to desire a stronger sense of how things have gone when I’ve presented…so, I want more data from the audience.  I want to do some research.  I want to know what—if any—delta (change) has occurred.  So, I conduct “mini-debriefs” or “audience check-ins” throughout my deliveries.

To "debrief" means to "question to obtain knowledge or gather intelligence."  It's helpful to begin debriefs with open-ended questions such as:

*  What are you thinking about after that content?
*  What--if anything--struck you about that?

*  What's on your mind?
*  How do you react to this information?
The benefit of debriefs is that they provide an opportunity for the presenter to gauge--or check-in--with where an audience is in its thinking or understanding.  It is NOT a time to seek AGREEMENT or ensure "buy-in" (this cheapens the experience, and serves to try and push people through pre-determined hoops).  An ideal mindset for presenters is, "It's all Good!"  They should ACCEPT whatever content is shared from the audience—even when it is different than hoped for, or even contrary to goal of presentation-- and NOT try to "fix" (at least initially) a viewpoint shared from a learner.  Better to focus on helping the other feel heard.  Worth repeating: better to help the other feel HEARD. 
OK…yes.  For you, this new idea feels like it might make us feel good to be doing SOMETHING—but, it may not ultimately be an effective thing to do.  This format can greatly reduce the chance a speaker creates an adversarial situation, or a power struggle with an audience member. 
After getting several audience member perspectives, it can also be helpful to give a summary:

"OK...we've got a variety of takes on this topic.  Some are excited about the proposed direction; some concerned; others waiting to decide—and still others are a little fearful we’ve been down this road before.”
(Demonstrating this, "It's all Good" mindset actually serves to enhance the credibility of presenter, and raises safety in the room).  

If the speaker has additional ideas or information that may influence the audience’s perspective/concern, a strategy that can be helpful is to provide a teaser that establishes some credibility and generates interest—and offers the audience a chance to have ownership in whether it wants to hear the additional information:
I recently read some research that explored a very similar issue [credibility]…would it be helpful if I shared a couple of their findings with you [ownership]?”
This approach heightens the chance that the audience may be more receptive to hearing the additional information because they had ownership in choosing to hear it.  By the way, if they had said “no,” it would have likely indicated they still hadn’t felt heard by the speaker!
A presentation shouldn’t be done TO an audience, it should be conducted WITH them…checking-in throughout--or at the minimum, at the end—to gauge perspective is an important component of the experience.  Know what’s “different” at the end of your presentations!  Be curious.  Enjoy and savor the interaction…

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Initiating Difficult Conversations

My brother, Cliff, recently forwarded an article from the Wall Street Journal titled, “Friendly Fight: A Smarter Way to Say ‘I’m Sorry’” (April 19, 2011).  The article shared five steps for when you’re angry with someone else:
1)      Calm Down
2)      Acknowledge the Difficulty (of having the conversation)
3)      Say ‘I’ not ‘you’
4)      Find out WHY
5)      Say Everything (put it ALL on the table)
The 4th step is fascinating to me.  We have become a nation somewhat obsessed with the need to know “why?”  We want to know why Lindsey Lohan keeps making apparently poor decisions and why Bernie Madoff scammed all of those unsuspecting investors.  We also want to know WHY our child didn’t do his homework; why our co-worker was so critical of our idea; and why our partner didn’t follow-through on what they said they’d do.
In the context of this article, they have identified “finding out why” as an apparently necessary step when confronting someone with something they’ve done that resulted in our own anger/disappointment.  But, perhaps the “why” isn’t so important.  What, essentially, is the goal when we confront someone?  It might be tempting to think it’s to make the other feel our pain, or deliver some good ol’ fashioned guilt, or vent our general frustration.  However, if we really think about it…shouldn’t the goal be to inspire the other person to consider not doing “it” anymore, or to follow-through on the “thing” they had committed to before?
In this case, we are dealing with a CHOICE the other person has to make moving forward (hopefully, to modify their behavior)…and Aristotle, that Master of Rhetoric, counseled us long ago that if debating where CHOICE is involved (called “Deliberative Rhetoric”), we should seek to use the Future Tense as dialogue progresses.  So, asking about “why” seems to focus our energy in the past—while ultimately we should be trying to influence the other’s behavior moving forward. 
Consider giving up the need to know “why” when confronting another: if the reason “why” they did “it” is relevant, they’ll tell you.  If it doesn’t come up, chances are they’ll be focused forward considering altering their behavior. Is the goal to understand why someone did something, or to ensure they consider not doing “it” again?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

TEAM Insights From TEENS

I recently spent 3-days working with 80+ High School juniors, and a few dozen fellow members of the San Diego Rotary Club, teaching the students about business and the free enterprise system (program named, “Camp Enterprise”).  The students—from a wide variety of schools, academic progress and socio-economic levels—were placed into 9 teams of roughly 9 students, along with 2 Rotarian facilitators, and a college Rotaract Club member.  The deliverable on the third day was a team presentation of their business idea (including defining the product, the market, management and staffing plans, money issues, and what the business planned to do to “give back”) to a panel of judges who would select which Team would receive (symbolic) funding.

My role was to move from team to team during their work sessions to support the facilitators and ensure everyone was on-track.  This role gave me a fantastic window into the minds of teens, as well as the unique ways in which teams evolve.  Join me for some of my favorite overheard samples:
Another problem right now is that whole Gas-thing.”(while brainstorming potential business ideas, and building off-of the “find the pain” marketing concept.  Gas in CA over $4.00 at the time.)
Who goes to the MALL???  Like, really OLD people.”(while deciding whether to go bricks-and-mortar or internet-based.  Who knew the mall wasn’t cool anymore?)
Facilitator asked, “You want to go with conservative numbers, or ambitious?”  The ENTIRE team responded in unison, “Ambitious!” (love the optimism!)
In their final team session—which occurred after their team presentation, but before the “winners” announced—they shared what they were thinking about…what they had learned during their Camp experience:
In the beginning, it was just…AGGGGHHHH!  Now, it’s AHHHHH…”
“Thought we weren’t gonna get through it…but we DID!”
“I’m stubborn.  It’s hard working with other stubborn people.  I’ve got to compromise, and be less stubborn.”
“So much fun…so much difficulty.  But…I think it worked out in the end.”
“I usually work alone…but, I liked the team.”
“Accomplished a LOT.  Couldn’t have done it without you guys.”
“I learned that with teamwork—you can do ANYTHING.”
“These have been the longest 3 days of my LIFE!”
“If we lose, we lose…BUT—we are still RED SQUAD!!!”
(persuasive case for the identity and connection potential of a team!)
It was an honor to work with these creative, persistent, curious and hard-working teens (as well as the talented and dedicated Rotary and Rotaract Club volunteers!).  Perhaps the most compelling insight I overheard was the one below—and the one that adults would do well to heed for themselves, as well:
“I usually just say what I want.  But, now I think about how the other person will HEAR it.”

[to SEE the Camp Enterprise experience, go here for photos of students participating in Camp]

Friday, April 1, 2011

Taking "Know Your Audience" to the Next Level

One of the prominent themes in Public Speaking courses is the idea of “know your audience.”  It is typically shared as a means to help you connect with--and identity with--your audience.  Are they engineers?  Scientists?  Sales professionals?  Mostly female?  Male?  Long-tenured employees, or new hires, etc.  I’d like to propose another layer of understanding your audience—one which can help you to better connect with, and engage, your audience from the beginning—one that attempts to get in their heads a bit more.
Once you know who the audience members are—30,000 ft view—it is helpful to begin to think about how they feel about things.  Here are a few questions to consider when preparing to be in front of the group:
*  What might they need from me?
*  What fears or concerns might be on their minds?
*  What biases might they have that could cloud their ability to hear my message?
*  What is at stake for them in regards to my ideas/changes?  What might they want to protect?
*  What might a successful outcome of my presentation look like from their point-of-view?
Of course, answering the following question is key, as well: What is the purpose or point of my presentation?  When I finish my delivery, what do I want the audience to be feeling, thinking…or willing to do as a result of my presentation?
The more clear you are on your answers to the questions above, the more able you will be to craft an Opening and content that will resonate with the audience, and minimize mental distractions on their part.  Your audience will thank you...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Responding to Other's "Heavy" News

The Today Show on NBC the other morning had a segment on “What do you Say?”—or something similar.  They interviewed people in the street to ask what they would say—or have had others say to them—in response to challenging situations: a job loss; the death of a family member; a divorce, etc.  Many of the “helpful” responses actually resulted in angering, or frustrating, the afflicted person: “I know how you feel—but, getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to me,” “You’re lucky—could have been worse” or “Hey, it’s a new beginning!”
Watching this segment reminded me of something I often share in workshops: when another person is preoccupied—or upset—facing a situation like mentioned previously, the question we need to keep in mind is simply, “What does this person need from me?” Our natural inclination is to attempt to “help” or make others feel “better.”  Problem is…we don’t know if that’s what the other really needs.  Perhaps they simply need a sympathetic ear? Maybe they don’t actually need anything from you…just to share the information.  Or, possibly they want your advice, or insights into previous experience with the same situation.  But, you don’t know which of these options might be in play, so…best to simply focus on the other, and listen for what they might need from you.
One way to respond that might encourage the other to say more (and perhaps get to telling you what they’d like from you, e.g. advice, experience, thoughts, etc.) is to try and feed back what emotion you think the other person might be experiencing.  We refer to this as a "LIFE" skill (Listening Intently For Emotion).  As you listen, you can ask yourself, “What might this be like for the other person to have experienced this?”  Often, emotions such as confusion, uncertainty, surprise, sadness, difficulty, etc. are present.  Once we have deciphered our impression, we can simply verbalize it—without adding to the original message with new content/analysis, questions, etc.—as a means of proving we “hear” the other person: “Wow!  Must have been surprising to hear that,” or, “I really sense your disappointment with this new situation.”  The key is to deliver the response with sincerity and an invitational tone—while matching the emotional intensity of the other’s message (can’t phone it in!).  The goal is to help the other feel heard and encourage them to say more (where you can listen for what they might need from you)--without you trying to change or "fix" them.
A key theme to bear in mind when someone else shares a “heavy” piece of news with you is that it is NOT your job to try and make them feel better…the best gift you can give is to be someone who accepts them and their situation, and demonstrates understanding and a willingness to provide time for the other to explore/share more deeply—if they choose to do so.  Let’s be less “Fixer” and more “Listener!”  Try taking this tip on a test drive...and see what you think!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Premier Blog Post: Test!

A little late to the party--perhaps...but, finally ready to embrace the idea of sharing my musings/observations with others via a Blog--in a format that allows for more than 140 characters (Twitter)! just want to elaborate a bit!

My plan is to add content as I am so moved...probably every 7-10 days, or so.  Will welcome any feedback and interaction should readers feel inspired to share!  Thanks for visiting!  BPL