Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thank you for making yourself available

"Thank you for making yourself available for this meeting."

That was the last line of a confirmatory email I received a few days ago, from the very skilled administrative assistant to a prospective client of mine. I'm attending in an effort to win their business, and I'm being thanked for showing up.

I gave her what I think of as the best kind of thank-you for her thank-you: I told the executives in the meeting how impressed and heartened I was at her approach. If we weren't still in the discussion stages, I'd give her a more public shout-out, and it'd be a big, loud shout-out, too. It's not just for the courtesy, but because I can't recall the last time someone thanked me for making myself available.

And in the week of Thanksgiving here in the U.S., perhaps that can serve as a reminder that we should be appreciating and thanking one another for what seem ordinary, regular business exchanges. For making yourself available. For responding quickly. For correcting an error before it becomes a problem. For letting someone know that the expected decision is not, actually, happening this week, as expected. For your patience in awaiting a decision or action. For some other small thoughtful act. I guarantee you, it will be remembered, maybe even treasured. And how often can you say that about your interactions on a day-to-day basis? If you are going to get caught doing anything, get caught thanking people for small things. It'll make the big things go smoother.

In that vein, thank you, communicators, for making yourselves available to read this blog and share its ideas. A warm and lovely holiday to you!

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Daniel Johnson, Jr.)

Friday, November 21, 2014

The weekend read

Friday: It's the best thing in your week since, well, sliced bread. Maybe since Monday, communicators. Here comes the weekend, and with it, the slices of goodness I found and shared on Twitter this week, curated just for you into a quadruple-decker sandwich of smartness. Consume before Monday:
Put this between two slices of bread: I'm so glad you can join me here on Fridays. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The 6 people who shouldn't be coaching you for your next speech

A speaker was in the green room with his wife seated alongside. "I want to get some coaching time with you," he said to me. "And I don't think I should be there for it," his wife added.

I quickly agreed, on both counts. That smart woman knew she shouldn't be trying to coach her husband for his next talk, for a couple of reasons: Her relationship to the speaker, and the fact that the speech was, in part, about her.

We don't talk much about the value of having a neutral but professional third party perspective when you're getting yourself ready for a speech, talk, or presentation. But that's just what a professional speaker coach like myself can offer. Support from family and friends is wanted and wonderful, but every speaker should keep her eyes and ears open when considering active coaching from these people: 
  1. Your family: Mom knows this better than you do. So do your kids, your spouse and your extended family. Family members might willingly act as a practice audience, provide unconditional love and encouragement, and even help you make a video for practice. But they won't be offering you an unbiased assessment based on professional norms, unless you come from a family of pro speaker coaches. (And even if you do, you may want to step outside the family circle for help.) Family hopes and dreams, worries, competitive streaks and more can get in the way. If you talk about family members in your talk, you may find they have a natural yen to edit what's said about them. I've also seen family members assure me that the speaker isn't nervous, when in fact she is--but doesn't want them to know. Coaches give speakers a safe place to admit what they can't tell the family.
  2. Your friends: The same goes for your friends. They're close enough to offer support and encouragement, although you may find some getting more competitive rather than coach-like. Ask them, too, to serve as a practice audience or helpers with cameras and recording. But know that many people, family and friends alike, may think that they need to offer advice or criticism to be helpful, when all you wanted was a practice audience that would say, "Keep up the good work!" The reverse is true as well: You may get only good news, not the news you need to improve. Coaches also have the advantage of experience. I've trained thousands of people in groups and 1:1, among them nearly 100 speakers for TED talks at TEDMED and TEDx conferences. That lets me share with you what's most likely to happen in a variety of speaking settings, based on all the people I've coached before.
  3. More than one professional coach at a time: I've had one or two prospective clients approach me about coaching, then let drop that they have been working with another coach and want to continue that effort while we work together. I always decline these opportunities, which feel more like a trap for everyone involved. If you want to pay two coaches and cherry-pick the advice that sounds best to you, that also tells me you're not serious about improving and that you want to hear what you want to hear.
  4. More than one amateur coach at a time: This is a common pitfall of asking friends and family for advice: You wind up with 10 different conflicting sets of advice, none of which comes from a trained pro. I've seen many speakers ready to tear their hair out over an avalanche of well-meaning but awful advice that's often based on what 10 different advisers would do, rather than what's right for you.
  5. Your subordinates: Please don't put your subordinates in the position of coaching you before a big talk, unless that's a specific part of their job descriptions. As a communications director for several large nonprofit organizations, and later as a senior government official in the Clinton Administration running public affairs for a federal agency, it was often my role to do in-house coaching on day-to-day basis over the past 30 years. I did it for people far above my pay grade. But even then, for high-stakes talks or with delicate egos, I'd often bring in an outside coach to do the job. Spring for the coaching and let the staff breathe easier.
  6. Your boss: Bosses will certainly be evaluating how well you present as part of your overall performance--and that's exactly what makes them inappropriate, most of the time, as coaches. You may feel as if that evaluation is happening in real time as you practice, and every speaker needs a safe place to practice, fail, and try again.
Having said all that, I did have one great opportunity to coach an employee. She wasn't a direct report. It was worse: I was her boss's boss. We'd promoted her into a job where she'd be frequently speaking to members of the organization, often in large groups. Unbeknownst to us, she was an unwilling, unpracticed speaker and therefore reluctant to proceed. So we hired a coach to work with her on a creative presentation, and after that effort to set a norm, apprenticed her to me, with the agreement that we'd do the sessions together until she felt ready to fly on her own. At the same time, she enrolled in Toastmasters to get more practice.

The apprenticing meant more travel for the boss's boss, and lots of practicing in our hotel rooms, but in relatively short order we had a confident, lively presenter who knew what to do when approaching any speaking session, from checking out the room and the audio-visuals to using props and handling Q&A. Now she's a senior executive herself, and a seasoned presenter who's passing the knowledge along. In our shop, it was a case of turning a service I was already providing the leadership to the aid of one of my team, a good investment for both of us.

Need a neutral third-party coach who can help take your presentations and speeches from good to great? Email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Laura Taylor)

Friday, November 14, 2014

The weekend read

At the Palace of Westminster (the British Parliament to you), they apparently make the media line up and wait, a neat media relations trick. I've lined up more great reads, data and leads, shared on Twitter and curated here just to make you smarter by Monday. Let's muster ourselves for the weekend, shall we?
You pass muster with me just by showing up here on Fridays. Have a lovely weekend!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

5 little lifesavers for communicators, and how they help me

What's saving your bacon when you're out communicating, presenting, or traveling? For me, it's a small but choice group of devices and services that create a safety net I turn to again and again. Here are the 5 little lifesavers that have helped me recently:
  1. The LON Little Speaker with Bluetooth Compatibility saved the day for one of my clients, who was presenting at a conference where the venue couldn't manage sound projection. His presentation included musical clips on his iPhone, so we paired and connected it via Bluetooth with my LON speaker. Voila! Booming sound from a little box. I pop this in my luggage when I'm presenting, just in case I need sound options, and since it doesn't need wi-fi, it's extra-versatile.
  2. LastPass is storing that large part of my brain that used to go to remembering passwords, so it's now saving me many times per day. It generates new, complex passwords for me and remembers them, reducing my exposure to all those data breaks. Use my link and we both get a free month of LastPass Premium. If 2014 is the year of data breaches, this is your new best friend.
  3. MOO has long been my designer and printer of choice for printed products like business cards, notes, holiday cards and more. But recently, when I was heading to a conference in Amsterdam, I found I was out of business cards right before the trip. Since MOO operates in many countries, I just placed my order on its European Union site and had the cards delivered to my hotel in Amsterdam, a great last-minute save. Use my link to get 10 percent off your first order (or steeper discounts if you use MOO for Business).
  4. My Logitech Professional Presenter R800 with Green Laser Pointer is so useful I now own two of them. I can't count high enough to estimate the number of speaking gigs I've had where the remote was non-existent. This little device includes a timer that keeps me quietly but well paced when I'm presenting.
  5. I have three Belkin SurgePlus 3-Outlet Mini Travel Swivel Charger Surge Protectors with Dual USB Ports. Most recently, they saved me on a European trip, where the hotels were charming but lacking in outlets. The 3 outlets and 2 USB ports help me charge many devices at once, and mean I only need one adapter when I'm in other countries.

Friday, November 07, 2014

The weekend read

Feel as if you've been wandering in the woods, communicators? It's Friday, and I've been foraging for the best data, reads and leads shared on Twitter and curated here just for you. Call it my trail of breadcrumbs to show you the way to the weekend:
Glad you're hiking through the forest again with me this week, communicators. Have a great weekend!