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!

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

The crisis you didn't anticipate: How to be flat-footed

"I know how to handle the major kinds of crises," said the communications pro. "Natural disasters, floods, fires." She paused. "Not scandals." She sounded dubious that she'd need that knowledge, as if a scandal or financial crisis were unlikely.

To my mind, that's exactly the type of crisis for which you should prepare: The one you're not anticipating.

I see a lot of companies and organizations who view crisis anticipation--and the communicators who get it--as rain on their parade. Asking about possibilities for crisis often prompts an automatic "that could never happen here" reaction. But it would be a mistake to take that answer and stop running scenarios. Nonprofts have embezzlers, fraud and even stolen credit card data that puts customers at risk. Wall Street occasionally gets flooded, or hit by terrorists. And staid research organizations have learned to be wary when their scientists' papers wind up in Retraction Watch. The idea that "that could never happen here" feels nice...and impractical.

Whatever you think is your "typical" crisis may not be the one that occurs. And every organization has issues it knows about, but doesn't like to talk about, the very thing communicators should be preparing for as crises-in-the-making. Universities subject to the federal laws sexual violence are now finding themselves publicized for failing to comply, and the government's affordable colleges website is a different kind of list that some universities can't get on no matter how much PR they do.

The risk isn't just that the unlikely crisis makes a good news story. Your lack of readiness to respond might become part of the story, too--and could have serious impact on your customers, supporters and users. That's something any CEO can understand, and a way to sell her on creating a culture of preparedness.

There are two easy ways to make this happen in your comnpany, university, government agency or nonprofit:
  • Create a regular meeting--weekly is not too often--in which the communicators invite the programmatic, product or subject-matter experts. Ideally, a regular representative attends these weekly sessions with the job of reporting on what's coming up, anything that looks like a surprise on the near horizon, and their wish list of public events and announcements. The communicators listen and use what's shared in the meeting to plan for and track issues, then manage them. When I ran public affairs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that weekly meeting coughed up lots of information that made the difference between a surprise crisis and a well-managed public announcement.
  • Become the link between senior management and crisis planning. In every organization where I've led communications, major public events occur that involve most of the management. Getting the senior managers briefed in advance on what might go wrong and what's being done about it not only means you're all prepared, it helps build a culture in which people share stinky things before they become full-blown fires. People start to bring you things before they become problems. You know more, and you're better at strategizing as a result.
No, no one wants more meetings. But if you play your cards right, these become must-attend meetings, because the participants have one place to go to find out what's really going on. Suddenly, the knowledge your communications shop gathers becomes intelligence, a means of internal information sharing as well as fodder for external comms strategies.  Try it, and give it six months to a year.
Even if you can't manage these regular intervals, you might consider what many of my clients have requested of me: A facilitated half-day or full-day session, at least once a year, in which we look at scenarios and responses to make sure your company or organization has begun to think about the crises that are possible, specifically for you and your business. I guarantee you'll have more on your radar screen, ahead of time....and isn't that how you should handle a crisis?

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Lindsay Bayley)