Category Archives: Blog

Insight on Behavior

Behavior can be a complicated concept to try and master, much less understand. Every person is different and can interpret behaviors differently. In social groups, there is a wide range of behaviors occurring, which can seem overwhelming at times. But by having a little insight on not only the behavior others, but our own, we are able to better understand what is going on around us and how to navigate through the situation.

Perception

Perception can be a hard aspect to learn from since most of the time our perception can only be drawn from our own experiences – and we’re pretty biased when it come to our own thoughts. Perception is an important tool in controlling behavior because it helps us determine how we can appear to others and how other people’s behaviors can influence us. Your belief in yourself can affect your perception and can in turn affect your outward behavior. 

We may not always know exactly how people perceive us since many will not say these things out loud, but we can make our own conclusions based on our perception of their behavior. Do they come close when they speak to you or do they try to move away? Do they smile and interact with you or do they seem withdrawn? Do you use these thoughts when you perceive people and their behaviors? It is likely you form some of the same conclusions and determine how to respond to the behaviors they are displaying. 

Facts vs. Emotions

The main difference between facts and emotions is that facts are based on definite results while emotions are often involuntary and one-sided. But both facts and emotions can affect our behaviors and change how we act towards others. Facts can drive a conversation and allow people to connect on a logical level. Emotions are involved in everything we do, but sometimes they can affect the impact of our behavior and the information we are talking about. 

Any social situation is most likely driven with emotions, and sometimes this can cause facts to become irrelevant and even misconstrue the information given. For example, a male speaker may not be taken seriously at a feminism rally, or a group full of teachers may not listen to a group of school board members. When you recognize that emotion may be driving the situation, it’s time to reflect back on the situation and rediscover the facts and figures of the information. You may have to be a leader in the group and remind everyone to focus on the facts and save the emotions for later.

Online Communication

Online communication can be a hard concept to conquer since it can cover a wide range of areas. In our ever-growing world of technology, online communication can include emails, instant chats, video calls, and even text messages. While this form of communication can be a quick and easy way to connect with someone and cut out the need to physically see them or pick up a telephone, it can cause misconceptions in the process. 

It is difficult to convey feeling, emotions, or even tone in online communications, so the use of particular words is important to remember. People may not be able to hear the light-heartedness in your words or the stern demeanor in our office warnings. Additionally, online communication can often seem impersonal, since you do not have to take the time to contact someone and speak to them personally, which can cause people to feel insulted or even slighted. When possibly, speak to the person face to face or by phone in order to get your message and feelings across. Save the electronic communications for quick and impersonal messages.

Listen and Watch More

One of the best ways to monitor your behavior and the behavior of others is to learn to listen and watch more than you participate. When listening to others talk, focus on their words, not necessarily the person saying them. Don’t get caught up in one or two things they say and try to stay focused on the topic at hand. Even though you want to chime in, avoid making your own predictions and assumptions and continue to listen until the end. By watching and listening more, we are able to better to monitor the behaviors of other as well as our own since we are not focused mainly on ourselves. By focusing on the other person and their actions, we can develop better listening skills and catch more information than if we tried to assume it all ourselves.

This post is from July’s topic on Social Intelligence.

Active Listening

It is not always enough to simply listen to a person and have the sense of ‘waiting to speak’. This type of listening will cause us to lose out on important information and deny us the chance to make any real connection. By using active listening, we are better able to learn about other people and take an active interest in what they have to say and offer. This concept can not only improve your overall listening skills, but your overall connections with other people as well.

Attunement

Attunement is defined as being aware and responsive to another person. When developing active listening skills, this tool is used to better connect with the person and become more ‘in tune’ with what they are saying. Since attunement relies heavily on nonverbal communication (such as body language), it is important to pay attention to the signals that the other person gives off, as well as the ones we use. Key gestures such as smiling, hand gesturing, eye contact and body movement can signal a connection or a break in communication. When we use these gestures toward other people, it can make them feel more connected with us and continue to open up with us. These connections can form bonds that can benefit the both of you and build networks for the future.

Don’t Jump to Conclusions

It’s a common gesture to hear something or witness someone do something and try to jump to a conclusion about it right away. Maybe you didn’t like what they said or heard something you didn’t think was appropriate, so you reach conclusions that the person has poor speaking skills or doesn’t know how to communicate with others. But this quick acting judgment can only harm your business relationships and misses the chance to really listen to someone and make a connection. While you may believe you have all the facts and have reached a final decision, always remember there is another side of the coin and most likely more information to know.

Even if you in fact do have everything you need, you may still not be able to process his thought in way that can be productive or even helpful to anyone since it is based on negativity.  If someone says something that makes you jump to a conclusion, ask them to repeat it or clarify what they said. Then take a few minutes to reflect on what was said or done and take enough time to form a logical conclusion about it. Taking a little extra time may seem like a chore at times, but it can save you from jumping to unnecessary conclusions and ruining the chance to build a relationship with another coworker.

Shift Your Focus

Naturally, we often think of ourselves as Number One. We’re the first person we try to take care of and try to guard ourselves when necessary. But when it comes to active listening, the role is often reversed in order to focus on the other person. In order to actively listen, we must shift the focus from ourselves to the person speaking at the time and become attune to what they are saying. Steps should include turning to face the person and making eye contact with them. During the conversation, nod your head periodically and give them time to pause or rest before talking yourself. 

When they have finished, stay focused on them by asking questions about what they have said. Don’t be afraid to ask them to clarify something you didn’t catch or something you may have missed. By shifting your focus to them instead of on your thoughts, you should be able to remember and comprehend most of what was said. From here you can be able to offer suggestions or opinions and engage in open conversation with the person. They’ll be more likely to openly share with you if they feel as though you can focus on them as well as yourself.

Don’t Discount Feelings

One of the biggest faults many of us have is the need to ‘fix’ things when we hear something that has gone wrong. When we get some bad news or information about a bad situation, we often try to follow it up with “It’s not so bad” or “It could be worse”. While this may seem like a helpful gesture, it can actually cause more damage than good because it makes the other person feel as though their feelings about the situation are invalid or void. 

It gives the impression that you are not necessarily listening to the problem, but imply trying to brush it over and discount their feelings altogether. When a person is speaking about something they feel strongly about, whether it is about work or personal situations, it is important to recognize that it is the way they feel and that they are entitled to feel that way. Instead of trying to smooth the problem over, listen to what the person is saying and how they are feeling and offer support. Let them know you are there to help and can always lend an ear. They will appreciate the gesture much more than any half-hearted solution or smooth-over phrase.

This post is from July’s topic on Social Intelligence.

Lure in Great Candidates

One of the first steps to finding great employees is determining what type of person will fit into the new position and the company. But finding the right way to lure in candidates can be difficult if not done properly. The key is to reach out locally as well as outside the region to reach a range of people and a range of talent.

Advertise Where Candidates Visit

When planning to advertise, it’s important to put your company name where you want to get candidates attention. Industry specific sites are an ideal place to post job openings or opportunities to hand in resumes. These sites can appeal to candidates currently looking for work or those simply interested in the particular type of industry and line of work. Online job websites are a large source for job seekers, which make them a great place to advertise and seek new candidates. 

In print, trade magazines appeal to a large group of magazine buyers and often cater to a focused group of job seekers. Although newspapers are decreasing in popularity and readers, advertising with posters or newsletter articles are a great place to start looking for new recruits, especially since college students and graduates will be looking for work. Increasing exposure to the growing public will increase chances of finding more candidates and increasing company exposure.

Develop Corporate Citizenship

Developing a corporate citizenship is a phrase used to describe the process of a corporation working together to share responsibility and initiatives. Also known as corporate social responsibility, corporate citizenship can cover a wide range of services and processes, including charity works, business plans, and office procedures. Developing a corporate citizenship among employees helps them become engaged with each other and hold each other accountable for their own actions. 

When a company utilizes this citizenship, it helps draw in talent and potential candidates since it can make employees feel like they are part of a team and feel better about working with each other. Utilizing corporate citizenship can also help retain current employees because employees feel like they are part of a family and feel supported by the rest of their team when a problem arises. 

Treat Your Candidates Well

Any company knows that if the employees do not feel as though they are treated fairly and are respected, they will want to leave. Happy employees become loyal employees. However, it’s important to treat new hires as well as the candidates you choose not to hire with respect. Any candidate who comes in contact with the company, whether by interview, resume, or simple phone call, that is not treated respectfully, could not only lose interest in your company, but can share their mistreatment and cause other candidates to lose interest as well. Be honest with everyone you choose not to hire and offer advice and feedback before letting him go. Keep job seekers up to date and notified of interview processes and potential open positions. You don’t have to kiss the feet of the candidates you meet just to make them happy, but it is always good practice to be nice and treat them with respect. They will return the favor.

Look at the Competition

Competition is not always clean, and sometimes you can find the perfect candidate by playing a little dirty. While your company should not go nosing around to rival companies, sometimes they have talented candidates that may not be happy and are looking for a change. Don’t try to up sell your company or exaggerate what it has to offer, but be truthful about what you can give them and what kind of position you have open. Sometimes the employee just needs to know what’s out there, and with a little nudge, they can make the decision to join your company. Always use a level of caution and finesse when trying to recruit from other companies because you don’t want your company to get a bad reputation as an employee stealer, nor do you want to open the door for other companies to poach your employees. 

This post is from June’s topic on Hiring Strategies, which is also a course on our Mini-MBA program.

Hiring Strategy

Developing a hiring strategy may seem a little extreme, but it is actually a helpful tool when preparing to hire a new employee. When an opening comes available that you will need to fill, there are often several steps to take and follow in order to obtain the best workers. Many companies develop a standard hiring strategy for their open positions, but it is always a good idea to adapt your strategy to your company and its business needs.

Company Information

You cannot hire an employee to join your team if you don’t know anything about your own company. You know that having an adequate staff can make the difference in how your company performs and can affect its growth. So when you are preparing to search for ways to fill an open position, take a minute to analyze how your company has changed, and is changing. Based on the company’s history, predict any changes or growth surges ahead of time, which can help you determine what kind of staffing needs you will have. Will you need more than one person for now? Maybe you only need someone short term? Knowing this information before beginning the candidate search can reduce the amount of stress and headaches you’ll have later.

Salary Range

Money is a large driving force behind job descriptions and finding new employees. While many candidates may love the job they are coming into, the pay and salary will usually be a major deciding factor. As a hiring manager or recruiter, it is important to know the salary range the position offers and what kind of compensation the new employee will be worthy of. Many companies offer higher starting salaries for employees with more skills or with cross-training abilities, which can help draw in qualified candidates. Research the history of the position and the department it is in to view what kind of salary range has been issued for previous employees. Is this range suitable for the next employee? Will it need to be increased or decreased? Look into similar positions offered at different companies to see if they offer a similar range or if they differ, and why. The point is not to ‘beat their price’, but you want to ensure your company is fair and staying competitive with other businesses.

Top Performers

Every company has top performers that often out-shine the rest of the team. These employees often show great initiative and strong work ethic, which would make them an asset to almost any company. Top performers are generally hard workers with great qualities, such as being on time, finishing work on time, and even helping other employees with their work. Observe your employees and designate which of them are considered your top performers. Then determine what makes your top performers so great and why it works for the company. What skills do they possess? What actions do they normally make? What qualities do they have as a top performer? When hiring for an open position, try to pull in candidates that can mimic and adopt these characteristics once they join the organization. Base your strategy on the goal of hiring new employees that can come into work and learn to adopt some of these better qualities and become one of your top performers.

Be Prepared

Productivity can be affected when a position is open, leaving more work for other employees to take on along with their regular duties. While we can’t always predict when a spot will open, we can prepare ourselves for when it does happen. If you try to fill the spot in a hurry, you may not find the best person for the job and will more than likely have to repeat the process if the employee doesn’t work out. While every company should develop a standard hiring strategy, an emergency hiring strategy is always recommended as well. An emergency hiring plan consists of steps and processes to follow when a position needs to be filled in a hurry, but can still assure that the right person is hired. Partner with other managers and gather information about their positions and what kind of person they would need to fill them. Work together to build a process that can help streamline the hiring process and find qualified candidates – even in a pinch.

This post is from June’s topic on Hiring Strategies, which is also a course on our Mini-MBA program.

Speaking Like a STAR

Let’s look at the actual message you are sending. You can ensure any message is clear, complete, correct, and concise, with the STAR acronym.

S = Situation

First, state what the situation is. Try to make this no longer than one sentence. If you are having trouble, ask yourself, “Where?”, “Who?”, and, “When?”. This will provide a base for message so it can be clear and concise.

Example: “On Tuesday, I was in a director’s meeting at the main plant.”

T = Task

Next, briefly state what your task was. Again, this should be no longer than one sentence. Use the question, “What?” to frame your sentence, and add the “Why?” if appropriate.

Example: “I was asked to present last year’s sales figures to the group.”

A = Action

Now, state what you did to resolve the problem in one sentence. Use the question, “How?” to frame this part of the statement. The Action part will provide a solid description and state the precise actions that will resolve any issues.

Example: “I pulled out my laptop, fired up PowerPoint, and presented my slide show.”

R = Result

Last, state what the result was. This will often use a combination of the six roots. Again, a precise short description of the results that come about from your previous steps will finish on a strong definite note. 

Example: “Everyone was wowed by my prep work, and by our great figures!”

Summary

Let’s look at a complete example using STAR. Let’s say you’re out with friends on the weekend. Someone asks you what the highlight of your week at work was. As it happens, you had a great week, and there is a lot to talk about. You use STAR to focus your answer so you don’t bore your friends, and so that you send a clear message. 

You respond: “On Tuesday, I was in a director’s meeting at the main plant. I was asked to present last year’s sales figures to the group. I pulled out my laptop, fired up PowerPoint, and presented my slide show. Everyone was wowed by my prep work, and by our great figures!”

This format can be compressed for quick conversations, or expanded for lengthy presentations. We encourage you to try framing statements with STAR, and see how much more confident you feel when communicating.

This post is from May’s topic on Communication Strategies.

The Big Picture on Communication

When we say the word, “communication,” what do you think of? Many people will think of the spoken word. People who are hearing impaired, however, might think of sign language. People who are visually impaired might think of Braille as well as sounds.

What is Communication?

The dictionary defines communication as, “the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs.”

It is also defined as, “means of sending messages, orders, etc., including telephone, telegraph, radio, and television,” and in biology as an, “activity by one organism that changes or has the potential to change the behavior of other organisms.”

The effectiveness of your communication can have many different effects on your life, including items such as:

  • Level of stress
  • Relationships with others
  • Level of satisfaction with your life
  • Productivity
  • Ability to meet your goals and achieve your dreams
  • Ability to solve problems

How Do We Communicate?

We communicate in three major ways:

  • Spoken: There are two components to spoken communication.
  • Non-Verbal: These are the gestures and body language that accompany your words. Some examples: arms folded across your chest, tracing circles in the air, tapping your feet, or having a hunched-over posture.
  • Written: Communication can also take place via fax, e-mail, or written word.

Other Factors in Communication

Other communication factors that we need to consider.

  • Method: The method in which the communicator shares his or her message is important as it has an effect on the message itself. Communication methods include person-to-person, telephone, e-mail, fax, radio, public presentation, television broadcast, and many more!
  • Mass: The number of people receiving the message. 
  • Audience: The person or people receiving the message affect the message, too. Their understanding of the topic and the way in which they receive the message can affect how it is interpreted and understood.

This post is from May’s topic on Communication Strategies.

Mood Management

If you cannot control how you feel and avoiding your feelings has negative consequences, the only resource you have left is to manage your emotions. This involves understanding not only how you feel, but what use you can make of your emotions.

Emotional Intelligence

Like the emotional granularity theory, the theory of emotional intelligence is one that helps you to understand how to make the most use of your feelings. Once you accept that emotions are valid, it’s tempting to think that expressing them in every instance is the way to go. Like the famous gag in the television show Seinfeld, to indicate your anger or frustration, you could go around screaming, “Serenity now!” Unfortunately that’s not what is called for when you accept the validity of your emotions. Emotional intelligence means understanding what your emotion signifies and the appropriate and helpful ways in which you make the emotion work for you.

Categories of Emotion

One useful way of thinking about emotions is to divide them into categories based on how they help us to perform. We could assign one category for emotions that always help us to perform well. Emotions such as enthusiasm, confidence, tenacity, and optimism would fall into this category of high performance emotions. These high performance emotions are characterized as being high arousal emotions and as being emotions where our focus is wide and open.

Another category of emotions becomes obvious. If we have a category for high performance emotions, then it follows that we should have a category for emotions that always interfere with high performance. These are called blue emotions, and they include such emotions as dejection, depression, boredom, and disappointment. These emotions are marked by qualities of low arousal and a narrowed and closed focus.

A third category for emotions would cover those emotions that can either improve our performance or impede it. These emotions include anger, anxiety, and frustration, and they are called swing emotions because they can swing either way into motivating better performance or interfering with good performance. Take anxiety for example. If someone preparing for a test was to feel anxious about that test, this could lead either to that person studying harder or freezing up. If the anxiety led to more studying, we could say that the emotion caused the person’s behavior to swing into the realm of high performance. If the anxiety made the person freeze up, than obviously, that person probably did not do too well on the test, and the effects of that emotion led to decreased performance as if the emotion were a blue emotion. Swing emotions are characterized as being high arousal emotions but with a narrowed focus.

A fourth category of emotions does not get discussed much because we often don’t recognize emotions in this category as emotions, seeing them more as neutral states. However, low arousal and wide focused emotions such as calm and satisfaction can be high performance emotions as well.

Increasing Arousal

If you’ve ever felt depressed, you can probably understand why raising your arousal level might be a helpful way to go. The trick to emotional intelligence, then, is to recognize how you are feeling and determine what needs to be done in order to feel a different way. Fortunately, in the case of blue emotions, there are numerous ways to increase your arousal levels and thereby put your emotions into more of the high performance category where you’re feeling enthusiasm or optimism.

Decreasing Arousal

While increasing your arousal level can be an excellent way to effectively deal with low arousal emotions, feeling high levels of emotional arousal is not always helpful. The key is to understand the valence of the high arousal emotion. If it is on the pleasant side of the spectrum, there’s no need to change anything, but if you’re emotion is unpleasant, then you probably need to lower your arousal level. In the example before about anxiety and test taking, too much arousal could make a person freeze up. This is why when someone feels anxious or angry, it’s common for another person to tell them to calm down. Unfortunately, while this may be obvious from a rational standpoint, it’s easier said than done when you do feel angry or anxious. Since swing emotions tend to feature both instances of high arousal and a narrowed focus, activities that can lower the arousal level, widen the focus, or both are desirable. A lower level of arousal allows you to reassess your situation and a wider focus allows you to explore possibilities that wouldn’t have occurred to you in a state of anger or frustration.

This post is from April’s topic on Improving Self-Awareness.

Interpersonal Awareness

As you develop a greater degree of self-awareness, you will also become more aware of the dynamics at play in your interactions with others. However, this awareness doesn’t always go two-ways. When you have a greater awareness of thinking, learning, and personality styles, you also have a responsibility to be more adaptable in your interactions with others.

Addressing Different Thinking Styles

People who share the same thinking styles often have no problems working together. If both people are global thinkers then they will appreciate each other’s willingness to see the bigger picture. However when one person thinks differently from another, this different thinking style can not only seem foreign but irrelevant. However, these differences in thinking styles can, with the right approach, complement each other. While you may be aware of your thinking style, the people you interact with might not be as aware of theirs. A subtle way of intervening is to try to accommodate different styles of thinking when you interact with others. If you are a global thinker and find yourself at odds with someone who doesn’t understand why you can’t just give them a specific step by step plan, this is your opportunity to step beyond your limitations and try a more linear thinking style. 

Addressing Different Learning Styles

One side effect of deepening your own self-awareness is that you might often find yourself in a position of leadership where you have to teach others or give presentations, which is a kind of teaching when you consider it. If you are an auditory learner, take steps to design presentations and seminars that accommodate other types of learning. Use power-point and other visual aids to help visual learners, and find activities that allow tactile learners an opportunity to learn by doing, even as you accommodate your own auditory learning style through spoken instructions and explanations. One way to make sure you are accommodating the different learning styles is to video record your presentations before when you practice and during the presentation itself. This way you can study for areas where you are strong and for areas where you can improve. 

Active Listening and Body Language

Another important factor in being aware of your interactions with others is being able to listen and to truly hear others. Employing the techniques of active listening can help, but these are not simply tricks. In order to be effective with others, you must be truly interested in their point of view.

In addition to being aware of a person’s speech, you also need to be aware of both their body language and your own. Typically, when there is a discrepancy between the words that are said and a person’s tone and body language, the latter will more accurately reflect the circumstances.

Transactional Analysis

Transactional analysis is a way of interacting with others where you can recognize certain behavioral patterns in another person and by adjusting your behavior you can induce a change in the other person’s as well. 

This post is from April’s topic on Improving Self-Awareness.

Managing Presentation Nerves

Nervousness is normal when giving a presentation. After all, public speaking is the top fear in the top ten lists of fears. Nervousness can strike at different points in a presentation:

  • At the beginning
  • If you feel the audience has slipped away from you
  • If your memory betrays you.

Preparing Mentally

Visualization is the formation of mental visual images. It is an excellent way to prepare your mind before a presentation. There are several types of visualization:

  • Receptive Visualization: Relax, clear your mind, sketch a vague scene, ask a question, and wait for a response. You might imagine you are on the beach, hearing and smelling the sea. You might ask, “Why can’t I relax?”, and the answer may flow into your consciousness.
  • Programmed Visualization: Create an image, giving it sight, taste, sound, and smell. Imagine a goal you want to reach, or a healing you wish to accelerate. Jane used visualization when she took up running, feeling the push of running the hills, the sweat, and the press to the finish line.
  • Guided Visualization: Visualize again a scene in detail, but this time leave out important elements. Wait for your subconscious to supply missing pieces to your puzzle. Your scene could be something pleasant from the past.

The process for Effective Visualization

  • Loosen your clothing, sit or lie down in a quiet place, and close your eyes softly.
  • Scan your body, seeking tension in specific muscles. Relax those muscles as much as you can.
  • Form mental sense impressions. Involve all your senses; sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste.
  • Use affirmations. Repeat short, positive statements and avoid negatives such as “I am not tense”; rather, say “I am letting go of tension.”
  • Use affirmations. Repeat short, positive statements that affirm your ability to relax now. Use present tense and positive language. As an example:
  • Tension flows from my body
  • I can relax at will.
  • I am in harmony with life.
  • Peace is within me.

Visualize three times a day. It’s easiest if you visualize in the morning and at night while lying in bed. Soon, you will be able to visualize just about anywhere, especially before a presentation.

Physical Relaxation Techniques

People who are nervous tend to breathe many short, shallow breaths in their upper chest. Breathing exercises can alleviate this. You can do most breathing exercises anywhere. Below are some exercises that will assist you in relaxing.

  • Breathing Exercises: Deliberately controlling your breathing can help a person calm down. Ways to do this include: breathing through one’s nose and exhaling through one’s mouth, breathing from one’s diagram, and breathing rhythmically. 
  • Meditation: Meditation is a way of exercising mental discipline. Most meditation techniques involve increasing self-awareness, monitoring thoughts, and focusing. Meditation techniques include prayer, the repetition of a mantra, and relaxing movement or postures. 
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): PMR is a technique of stress management that involves mentally inducing your muscles to tense and relax. PMR usually focuses on areas of the body where tension is commonly felt, such as the head, shoulders, and chest area. It’s a way to exercise the power of the mind over the body.
  • Visualization: Visualization is the use of mental imagery to induce relaxation. Some visualization exercise involves picturing a place of serenity and comfort, such as a beach or a garden. Other visualization exercises involve imagining the release of anger in a metaphorical form. An example of this latter kind of visualization is imagining one’s anger as a ball to be released to space.

Appearing Confident in Front of the Crowd

In addition to everything we’ve discussed, below are some tips for maintaining your confidence when you’re “on”.

  • Get a good night’s sleep
  • Practice your words along with your visuals
  • Have a full “dress rehearsal”
  • If you are traveling to a new site out of town, try to arrive early in the evening and locate the site. That way you won’t be frazzled in the morning, trying to locate the venue.

It’s a visual world and people respond to visuals. Joe Sacco.

This post is from March’s topic on Presentation Skills, which is also a course on our Mini-MBA program.

Verbal Communication Skills

Communication skills are needed to be able to provide an excellent presentation. Without being able to verbalize your ideas and opinions there is very little chance of having a successful presentation. We will begin by looking at listening and hearing skills, asking the correct questions and finish with communicating with more power.

Listening and Hearing: They Aren’t the Same Thing

Hearing is the act of perceiving sound by the ear. Assuming an individual is not hearing-impaired, hearing simply happens. Listening, however, is something that one consciously chooses to do. Listening requires concentration so that the brain processes meaning from words and sentences. Listening leads to learning.

This is not always an easy task. The normal adult rate of speech is 100-150 words per minute, but the brain can think at a rate of 400-500 words per minute, leaving extra time for daydreaming, or anticipating the speaker’s or the recipient’s next words. Listening skills, however, can be learned and refined. 

Asking Questions

Three types of questions are useful in a presentation; open questions, clarifying questions, and closed questions.

Open Questions: Open questions stimulate thinking and discussion or responses including opinions or feelings. They pass control of the conversation to the respondent. Leading words in open questions include: Why, what, or how. A statement such as “describe the characteristics of the car” is really an open question.

Asking questions is both an art and a science. Your questions in a presentation should be:

  • Clear and concise, covering a single issue
  • Reasonable, based on what participants are expected to know 
  • Challenging, to provoke thought
  • Honest and relevant, eliciting logical answers

Clarifying Questions: A clarifying question helps to remove ambiguity, elicits additional detail, and guides you as you answer a question.

Closed Questions: Closed questions usually require a one-word answer, and shut off discussion. Closed questions provide facts, allow the questioner to maintain control of the conversation, and are easy to answer. Typical leading words are: Is, can, how many, or does.

Phrasing: To evoke an answer, your question should use phrasing that is:

  • Clear and concise, covering a single issue
  • Reasonable, based on what participants are expected to know
  • Challenging, to provoke thought
  • Honest and relevant, directing participants to logical answers.

Directing Questions appropriately: Should you direct your questions to individuals or to an entire group? When you direct a question to an individual, you:

  • Stimulate one participant to think and respond
  • Tap the known resources of an “expert” in the room

If you choose to direct your question to the group instead, you:

  • Stimulate the thinking of all participants
  • Provide participants the opportunity to respond voluntarily
  • Avoid putting any one person on the spot.

The following exercise provides practice with questioning concepts and techniques.

Communicating with Power

It’s been said that you have between thirty seconds and two minutes to capture your participants’ attention. It’s critical to engage people from the beginning.

Voice: 38% of the message received by a listener is governed by the tone and quality of your voice. The pitch, volume, and control of your voice all make a difference in audience perception.

Command: Selecting a good opener is an important way to take command of an audience. Making judicious use of certain types of remarks will endear you to the audience from the moment the program starts.

  • A dramatic story
  • A reference to a current or well-known news story
  • A personal experience
  • A rhetorical question
  • A historical event
  • Adventure, either past or present.

More Tips

  • Did we say practice? And practice again?
  • Smile
  • Stand up straight and tall
  • Rivet your participants with eye contact
  • Dress like your audience, or one level above it.

This post is from March’s topic on Presentation Skills, which is also a course on our Mini-MBA program.

Sharpening Your Brand

There are many ways that you can sharpen your brand. By using the tools available to you, you have the opportunity to strengthen your personal brand and its influence over others. For example, you should take advantage of the opportunity to share ideas and influence others by blogging. By being transparent and authentic in your communication, you will attract people to you and to your brand.

Blogging

Blogging is an excellent way to draw people to your brand when it is done correctly. Unfortunately, you can repel people when you blog incorrectly. If you choose to blog, you must write about your passion. This passion will translate to your audience. In order for your personal brand to develop with your blog, you need to provide your biography. An anonymous blog will do little to increase your reputation online. 

How to Blog:

  • Make a clear point – Only blog if you have something to share.
  • Be thorough – Proofread your posts for accuracy and grammar.
  • Update consistently – Update your blog on a regular basis.

Blogs should not be created on a whim. They require time and effort, but they are worth the investment. 

Authenticity Is Key

Regardless of how you choose to portray your brand, authenticity is key. It is not easy to fake being authentic. People are becoming more savvy at identifying authenticity, and they are drawn to it. While authenticity might seem like an easy message to convey, many people fail to be authentic in their brands. There are specific actions you can take to improve your authenticity:

  • Honesty: Being authentic requires being honest about your values and ideas.
  • Promote causes: Authenticity requires action. Supporting charities and causes that align with your values shows your commitment to your values.
  • Show consistency: Back up your words with your actions at every opportunity, and do not deviate from your core message. 

Transparency

Being transparent is a difficult task for most people. Transparency requires living your life and conducting your business in the open. Secrecy will cause people to become suspicious, and suspicion leads to misinformation. If you do not tell people the truth, they will create stories to explain what they do know. Transparency does not require you to share every intimate detail of your life, but it does demand you to be open and honest. 

Transparency:

  • Be transparent in business finances. (To a point)
  • Be transparent in your communication. (Avoid double talk)
  • Share your personal life. (To a point)
  • Be transparent in your business decisions.

When you are transparent with your personal and professional brand, you gain the trust of your audience. 

Networking

Networking is a necessary aspect of any brand. As the saying goes, “It is who you know.” This is particularly true when you are developing your brand. Networking can be a great boost to your brand when done correctly. When it is not done correctly, it is a waste of time. There are a few steps you can take to help develop your networking skills:

  • Meet people:  Take advantage of networking opportunities to meet new people; do not stay exclusively within your social circle.
  • Collaborate: Work with others to showcase your skills.
  • Develop an elevator speech: An elevator speech is a brief introduction of 30 seconds to a minute. You need to include your name, qualifications, and how you can be useful. 

This post is from February’s topic on Personal Branding.

Defining Yourself

You are in control of your personal brand if you choose to be. When establishing your brand, it is essential that you define yourself. Remember that perception is reality, so it is essential that you carefully cultivate your image. When you take the time to define yourself and present this definition to the public, your will reap the benefits that come with taking control of your personal branding.

If You Don’t, They Will

It is easy to underestimate the importance of personal branding and avoid actively participating in your brand. The truth, however, is that branding occurs whether you participate in it or not. If you do not take the time to brand yourself, the market will brand you, and it may not do it favorably. Customers can bring negative attention to a company or individual, and attention can easily escalate to the court of public opinion. For example, the video “United Breaks Guitars” brought negative attention to the United Airlines brand. Without personal branding and active intervention, the damage to the brand name could have been beyond repair. Taking control of personal branding is necessary to manage your public reputation.

Brand Mantra

Brand mantras are short, but they are powerful. This short phrase or statement may only be three to five words, but these words define your brand. A mantra must explore the brand’s points of difference or how the brand is unique along with what the company represents. For example take a look at, Nike’s “Authentic Athletic Performance.” In order to create a brand mantra, you must first identify what sets your brand apart and list your points of difference. 

Once the points of difference are identified, you must create a mantra that is simple, communicates, and inspires. 

  • Simple: The mantra should be short and to the point.
  • Communicate: The mantra should define the purpose of the brand and what is unique about it.
  • Inspire: The mantra should be significant. 

When creating a mantra, you should begin with a word bank of points of difference and your purpose and mission. 

Be Real

People are attracted to genuine people. The key to personal branding is to make it personal. Communicating dry facts will not impress most people. Your brand must have personality. Develop a persona that attracts people. Share ideas, implement humor, and make connections with people. Having an online presence makes sharing your persona much easier. 

When you are developing your persona, remember to be real. You are under no obligation to share personal details about yourself, but everything that you do share must be genuine. Never make up facts, statistics, or tell lies. Fact checking has become easier than ever, and lies will do nothing to improve your brand’s reputation. 

SWOT Analysis

In defining yourself, it is helpful to perform a SWOT analysis. By identifying your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, you will be able to define your brand and understand what you have to offer. You will also identify areas that need improvement. 

  • Strengths: Strengths are internal characteristics that create a competitive advantage. For example, accounting skills would be a strength. 
  • Weaknesses: Internal weaknesses that need to be improved. Disorganization would be an example of a weakness. 
  • Opportunities: Opportunities are external. There are always opportunities for you to take advantage in the marketplace. Education would be an example of an opportunity.
  • Threats: External threats cannot be controlled, but they may be addressed in your opportunities. Competition with a more relevant skill set is a threat. 

A SWOT analysis will be unique to each person or business. Taking a moment to honestly assess your situation will allow you to complete a personal SWOT analysis.

This post is from February’s topic on Personal Branding.