Monday, February 19, 2018

Tips For Padding A PowerPoint

Tips For Padding A PowerPoint 

When you're the one standing in front of the room, kicking off your PowerPoint can feel like hitting the open road.  You are finally at the wheel, ready to chauffeur your audience through the slides that you have prepared.  Such vistas filled with vibrant possibilities are ahead!  Such landscapes of lovingly-prepared content!  So you accelerate into your introductory remarks, merge your tour bus onto your highway of hope, and steer into what you intend to be a meaningful and memorable presentation.

The message you want to convey is like a journey, for which you are the guide.  You are prepared. Your talking points are lined up, like attractions on a well-studied map.  Your cursor arrow is poised to navigate through the next however-many minutes you have.  You're confident that  your audience is in for a great PowerPoint ride. What could go wrong?

Even when you are at the height of your PowerPoint powers, one unfortunate issue might derail your carefully-crafted presentation.  It might turn out to be too short!  

Ending your PowerPoint too soon can be like reaching the end of a scenic road trip too early, sort of like getting to the restaurant an hour before your dinner reservation.  You and your passengers are left with extra time on your hands, and no idea how to spend it.  Awkward.

If you have a certain time slot to fill with your PowerPoint talk, and you MUST fill it (perhaps because other speakers will not be ready to follow you until a certain time), it can feel as though you have to virtually hold your audience hostage for a specific interval.  And if the subject of your talk is too skimpy, then you must figure out a way to extend your show without losing the glow.  

Actually, this is a problem that seasoned PowerPoint deliverers learn to work around intuitively.  In fact, all the PowerPoints I design have “stretch points” built into them so that I can riff for any length of time, at any point, and keep my hearers blissfully unaware that I am now in Improv mode.  I construct my PowerPoints this way because I have learned that even with the tightest of schedules, things can happen beyond the speaker’s control which may cause the event organizers to stage whisper at any time: “Keep them in the room for 15 more minutes!”  It could be any number of reasons.  The next speaker is late.  The breakout rooms aren't set up yet.  The catering truck broke down.  The meeting next door broke too early, and now everyone is mobbing the elevators.  The buses to go to the offsite activity are held up in traffic.  You get the idea.

So the question is:

>>>  How do you build in natural stretch points that will enhance your PowerPoint message, not dilute it? 

Here's a process I follow which can keep your PowerPoint structure sturdy and engaging, yet make it stretchable if needed.  

1. Pre-plan your target delivery times.  First, have a good idea of the length that each section of your PowerPoint will probably take.  Time yourself as you rehearse your presentation in the days before you deliver it.  Write down the minutes required to get through each section at a normal pace.  Then, compare the actual time it takes to the time you would want it to fill.  In this way, you can identify at which points within your talk you might need to expand out your delivery a bit. You can target endpoints for each section and write time prompts in your notes.  For example, let’s say my talk had five sections:  Introduction, First Point, Second Point, Third Point, and Summary.  My talk starts at 9:00 AM.  On the notes for my last slide of my Introduction, I might write 9:07.  On the last slide for my First Point section, I might write 9:20.  Etc. Etc down through the notes.  

This way when you reach each transition slide, you can do a time check.  If you’re running over time, as is often the case, you can speed up delivery.  If you’re going too fast, you can give yourself a cue to slow down.  

Either way, the next tips can be useful to calibrate your times mid-presentation to hit your target for the expected duration of your program.

2.  Identify Key Points with their own slides.  As you rehearse , look for the core practical best ideas — things that really drive your key learning objectives.  A good question to ask is: "What do I want my audience to DO after they hear my talk?” Whenever you find such a point, create an extra slide for it, right there in the middle of the show.  You can sprinkle these slides throughout your talk.  It helps to give them a slightly different look, design-wise, and a unifying title, such as “Takeaway Tool” or “Putting It Into Practice”  or simply “Key Point.”  For instance, if you are relaying an anecdote about an employee having a conversation with a client, and you want to underscore a winning strategy that was used, you might insert a slide that says simply:

                                        Takeaway Tool #1:  Listen patiently and do not interrupt. 

Imagine how a few of these call-out slides can help your audience retain the useful elements of your talk.  Try to sprinkle at least 3, and no more than 7, such slides into your presentation.  Place them at semi-regular intervals so that they will function as natural paragraph breaks in your talk.  When you get to one, alter your voice and rhythm noticeably.  You might even have a member of the audience read that slide, just for a change of pace.  The point is, make them stand out. (If you're planning to distribute a hardcopy handout or an email meeting summary, make sure these key ideas show up there as well, worded the same way and placed in the same sequence.) 

3.  Create stretch points around your Key Point slides.  Beyond being useful to drive home your message, these call-out slides also offer some breathing space.  If you need to pad your presentation, these spots are natural expansion points.  Lets say you reach one and take a look at the clock and realize you need to fill in an extra five minutes of time in order to stay on track with your target time intervals.  If so, you can dip into your Universal Stall-For-Time Question Bank.  What, you don’t have one?  Well, let me share some of mine with you:

Beth’s Universal Stall-For-Time Question Bank

After you present the Key Point slide, ask one or two of these zingers to open up some interaction and discussion:

- Who’s heard this tip before? 
                  (Or use this counter-intuitive variation:  Who’s NEVER heard this tip before?) 
- Sell me on this idea.  Why should I do it?
- Who already uses this idea?
- What good things have you seen happen when you do this?
- What can happen when we DON'T do this?
- How can we remind ourselves to do this?
- Who has a story about a time when they did this?
- Who has a horror story about a time when they DIDN’T do this?
- What might happen if we ALWAYS made it a habit to do this?
- Who’s got a situation where you think there might be an exception - this is might be a BAD idea?
- Who’s got a question about this? 

You can see where this is going.  You can insert a few of these questions, in different order, any time you need to run out the clock.  A few reminders about these impromptu discussions:
  • Don’t be too quick to fill in the answers yourself.  If you let the pauses become uncomfortable, most of the time -- sooner or later -- someone will say something.  
  • When they do speak up, respond with encouragement.  
  • If they don’t answer, even after a long silence, just say a short answer of your own, and quickly try another question.  Or say something like, “Hmm, I guess this is a really bad idea then?”  That might get the natural arguers going, just to defend your point for you.  
  • Pause after asking each question.  Watch for any reactions, and use them.  If someone laughs, rolls their eyes or shakes his head, smile at him and say, “Tom, you’ve got a thought on this — tell us.”  Then keep the improv-style moment going.  
  • The key thing is to always react positively to anything anyone says.  Respond with something like: “Good thought.  Who else?”  or "Wow, that's a different take.  Thanks for sharing it.  Want to explain?" Keep fishing.  It takes time for people to organize their thoughts.  When you have reached the target time (where you want to be on the clock), wrap it up simply by saying, “Great, well let’s see what’s next.” Then advance your slide and you are ready to go.

The beauty of this approach is that it not only helps you put your timing on track, it reinforces the points you want to make in a way that keeps people from tuning out.  It also lets you get off the lecture soapbox, which is really important if you want your audience to love you. Trust me.  Use this tool. 

Of course, the opposite is true too.  For presentations that are already taking too long, your Key Point slides can just whiz by with the briefest mention. So if you're doing well with your pace, or even running over your time, remember that you can just get to each Key Point, read it quickly, and move on.  

4.  Paste your Key Point Slides in again after your closing slide, just for insurance.  Let's say you've done well up to the last part of your talk.  A setback might still arise.  For instance, your colleague might inform you that the data in some of your closing summary slides is actually wrong, and you need to skip those slides altogether.  Or maybe a 7-minute video that you planned to use doesn't load properly, and you have to ditch it and keep going.  Whatever.  True PowerPointers know that you will ALWAYS be blind-sided by something or other during your talk. The point is, you never know if you might get to the end and still be in danger of ending too soon.

If this happens,  no need to panic!  Just give yourself more runway for your landing. Here's how.  Stick an extra set of these Key Point slides into the tail end of your PowerPoint, after all the planned presentation slides end.  That way, you can always say, “So let’s review…” and go through the important takeaways one more time with your hearers.

if you have only an extra minute or two to absorb, You can just read them over again in succession, as if you planned all along to refer to them again, then dismiss the group (to thundering applause).

If time needs to be stretched even more, try these ideas for making the most of your extra "encore" set of Key Point slides:

  • The Personalization Challenge - Read them through more slowly.  Ask more questions about each one, especially as they may relate to thoughts that you brought up toward the end of your talk.  Tie in some thoughts that came from the audience.  Challenge your hearers to pick the one they want to work on in the days and weeks ahead.
  • The Top Tip Award - Read your tips through once, then call for a hand-raising vote on which one is the most important.  Back up and go through the slides again, this time asking for hands to be raised.  Keep score on the whiteboard.  (This is a good review tactic if you have multiple sessions of your talk, because you can compare what this crowd says with what the prior audiences said, and everyone can feel either validated - - if they agreed with the people in the session before them -- or superior -- if they didn't.)
  • Group Discussion - What if you truly have lots of unexpected time left?  Then you can always stage some extra discussion time.  Split the crowd into groups and assign each group one Key Point.  Give them another question from your Universal Stall-For-Time Question Bank to discuss among themselves, and a set time limit for their discussion.  Roam around the room to help the groups get rolling and invigorate the wilting conversations.  Then call "time's up" and ask each group to present their ideas to the full assembly. 

    However you use them, this extra bonus set of Key Point slides can become your trusty  expandable back-up plan if you ever need to go into overtime. Sneaky you.  Stage it smoothly enough, and your hearers will think that you intended to do it that way all along.  

    5.  Finally - Always - My Cardinal Rule - Talk Slower Than You Think You Should.  Most PowerPoint presenters tend to speed-click through their slides and speak as if they were in a race.  They do so without realizing how bad that makes them sound.  If you think you may be prone to do this, first of all, forgive yourself. It’s a normal part of feeling self-conscious.  Our natural urge, when speaking in public, is to get it over with and be apologetic all the way through.  Please do NOT give in to that urge.  Remember: You are on the stage because you have an important message to deliver.  Out of respect for that message, and your hearers, give your talk at a leisurely pace.  Relax.  Make eye contact. Enunciate.  Breathe.  Let there be periods, whole seconds, of silence.  Far from making your audience uncomfortable, you will be doing them a favor, giving them time to digest one idea before diving into another.  Speak at a slightly slower pace than you would use in a conversation with friends. 

    (Unless of course, the clock is running out — then, feel free to become a motormouth!)

    Seriously, this approach to pad a PowerPoint will give you the flexibility you often need to frame your content with suitable discussion, thoughtfulness, and “white space” so that people can get the most benefit from all your hard work. And hard work it is!  But it is rewarding too.  

    Just as a good road trip can expand peoples' horizons and leave them with rewarding memories, your PowerPoint may change peoples’ awareness, attitudes, habits, performance, and even ultimately their destinies. It may reward them with information they can use, or with tools to confront and conquer their most challenging problems. 

    So watch that clock — and design every PowerPoint to drive home your points with power, no matter now much (or how little) time you have to deliver it! 

    Saturday, January 6, 2018

    What Will Your Job Look Like In Five Years?

    We're seeing many signals that whole new industries are opening up as a result of technology -- but others are going to be made as obsolete as buggy-whip-makers.  Some areas of expertise will remain rather constantly in demand, but others will suffer a sharp decline in marketability. Into which category does your occupation fit?  Check this website to get a glimpse:  
    This site rates an occupation's risk level for automation.  Here's how to use it to your best advantage:  Enter what you do, and get an instant assessment that will tell you what you might expect.  But sit down first.  You might see something like: "Automation Risk Level: You are Doomed. (or 89% probability of automation)" 
    If so, don't despair.  The trick is to continue to use this site to search related jobs until you find one that says something like: "Totally Safe (.48 % risk of automation)" . Then plan to take steps NOW to skew your formal education, extra-curricular activities, networking, and on-the-job experience so that you can add more bullet points to your resume that are relevant to that "neighboring" occupation.  
    For instance,  the role of Medical Transcriptionist (writing up medical reports) is fairly obviously "Doomed," due to the rapid penetration of voice-to-text automation.  But if you've been doing your medical transcribing for a psychiatrist's office for years, you probably have a lot of industry knowledge that might help you ace getting certified in Mental Health Counseling, which has a "Totally Safe" rating.  Not a people person? Then you might want to stick to the writing side of your existing medical transcription skillset, and plot a pathway to make the career switch to Editor - another "Totally Safe" pursuit.
    Change is coming.  Let's take steps now to manage the factors that are within our control.  
    For the things that are outside our control -- and of course, there are many -- let's also use 2018 to firm up our resilience and optimism, using the tools that work best for us.  For me and my other Christian friends, that means reinforcing our daily reliance on God and rediscovering the power of His Word to transform both our inner outlook, and our outer outcomes.  For more about how to do that, I refer you to the nearby church of your choice!  Or you can join me at Shelter Rock Church in Syosset, NY on any Sunday to get some real resolution for any roadblocks that are dredging up dread and disturbing your peace.  
    Hope this has been helpful and thought-provoking.  Here's to a productive 2018!

    Sunday, August 14, 2016

    Compassionate Communication, Part 3 - The Importance of Worldview

    We've all heard the adage, "Think before you speak."  This blog exists to help you think about how you speak (or write) to make sure your message is having its optimal impact.  This post is the third in a series called Compassionate Communication which focuses on the importance of achieving a heart. connection with your audience.  If you want to get the full context, go back and read the prior two posts, here and here.   

    Think about why you talk. Passing on a message is only part of it,  There's something far bigger going on. 

     In our first post in this series, we talked about why children first learn to use words: to enlist help doing something they can't do alone.  As adults, we still reach out and communicate countless times a day, motivated by the desire to shape our life experience in collaboration with others.

    In the business world, a great deal of our communicating is undertaken to build passion and performance around a project.  Whether we are team leaders or team players, we are still using words to get help, all day long, in every task on our agenda.

    Boil it down and you get to this realization: 

    Communication is not just to tell someone something. 
    It's to sell someone something.

    In the last post, I asked you to consider how your worldview is being communicated to others, every time you open your mouth. That may seem at odds with the idea of on-the-job messaging, but I assure you, it's not.  It's a fundamental part of team communications.  Let me prove it to you:
    Stop right here and think about your top project at work right now.  Got it?  Now, think about the other people with whom you need to work.  These may be people who report to you, people above you on the org chart, or people who report to someone else --  people parallel to you.  Take a minute to identify three or four names.  Do you have your list?  Fill them in:

             My Project: ______________________

             My People:  ______________________

    Now, on this project, with these people, what are your hottest issues?  They probably involve compiling and interpreting data, competing for resources or prioritization, making sure that standard processes are being followed, proving the reliability of the end product, and dealing with setbacks as they occur,  All those situations have a common denominator: you need to ask people to put in effort.

    Scan the names on your list.  Chances are, when you deal with issues like the ones above, you communicate in a different style with different people. 

    • For some people, you need to craft your message diplomatically, using formal language.  Your communication may include extensive background context, including explanations of rationale, citing of precedents, and even name-dropping to establish validity.  You may work up a draft, then edit it down strategically,  fearing that the person will lose interest or become impatient with you.  Even after you send your perfect message, you might anticipate having to go through some additional back-and-forth dialogue to overcome objections before getting the outcome you need. All of this takes a lot of investment of time and energy on your part.  
    • With other people, it's just a simple one-liner: "Here's what we need, when can we get it?"  One-and-done messaging, with a more-or-less guaranteed outcome.
    Which type of messaging would you rather do?  (Well, that's not even a question, is it?) 

    What's the difference between the two?  Worldview.  

    The "easy" people on your list are the ones with whom you already have a comfortable relationship -- the people about whom you might say, "We have an understanding."  More precisely put, they have already gotten a taste of how you operate, and have judged that it's based on a worldview that is compatible with their own.  Your story aligns with theirs -- or, if it doesn't align completely, at least it aligns enough for them to be able to predict your behavior, and conclude that their world won't be at risk if they accept your message and act on it.  

    How much people trust your worldview equals how much they will cooperate with you.  

    Actually, this is where a lot of leaders go the Breaking Bad route.  They use threats to get people in compliance -- that is, they project a worldview that power dictates privilege, and bad things will happen to people who don't toe the line.  Whether you're the head of a drug cartel, or the Human Resources Director of a huge organization, the tactics are still the same: abuse, intimidation, outbursts, retribution.  

    Companies with a top-down structure of veiled agendas and political favoritism invest overwhelmingly in this bullying worldview, with significant short-term success.  But they also end up losing their best people. In fact, one of the surest ways that you can track an organization's decline is to look at who's leaving of their own accord within any twelve month period.   (One of my most reliable mottoes, proven over decades in the workplace, is this one:  Healthy organizations attract healthy people.  Unhealthy organizations attract unhealthy people.)

    Bullying may seem effective in the short run, but in the long run it decimates the team and sabotages real teamwork, and real success.  The people who remain are fearful.  Fearful people are passive-aggressive people, and there's no way to gain a competitive edge when the shop floor culture is covertly planning to overthrow the dictatorship!   

    • Engagement withers in a Fear Factor culture where individuals feel steeped in a worldview based on negative messages: "You do this, or go."   

    • Engagement blossoms in a culture where individuals feel supported by a worldview based on positive messages: "Let's do this, and grow!"

    Does this sound too naive?  Too Utopian?  Not a bit.  This is how real progress -- and measurable market share gains -- occur.  This is why true employee buy-in is crucial. This is why it's about the sell, not merely the tell. 

    To get people to maximize their work product, we need to reassure them that they are working for a common good that they can not only accept intellectually, but absolutely bask in emotionally.

    Just as a salesperson needs to make a positive connection with the client to sell the product, you need to make a positive connection with your colleagues to sell the project.  

    Even before they hear the particulars of what you have to say, people need to feel "bought in"  to some degree.  If they don't feel that connection, they won't even listen.  But if they do feel that they can share in your perspective and your values, even a little, they will open up to what you have to say, with their whole being -- head, heart, and hands.

    In our next posts, we'll share five tips for how to revise your messaging to communicate a positive holistic worldview that can achieve buy-in and maximize collaboration.  It's simpler than it sounds... actually, it's really just a checklist. (An incredibly powerful one!)

    Meanwhile, here's some homework: think about the project and the people that you identified earlier.  Consider why it's easier to talk to some colleagues than to others.  How much does worldview play a role in your workplace?

    Start thinking about all those carefully crafted emails and well-rehearsed phone calls into which you put so much effort every week. Wouldn't it be much easier if everyone was on the same side of the issues, seeing things from the same worldview?  

    Sunday, July 31, 2016

    Compassionate Communication, Part 2: Political Messaging's Parallels to Workforce Communication

    In my last post, I made this statement:

    The dynamics of effective on-the-job communication involve the intentional undoing of basic human biases that have deep, deep roots.

    Watching the recent American political conventions, I was impressed by how applicable that statement is to political messaging as well.

    There were many "No" and "Mine" themes in the speeches -- and also many attempts to link the pursuit of "No" and "Mine" individual preferences to maintaining the overall "Yes" and "Share" good of the organization.

    (Don't know what I mean?  Click here to read my previous post and find out.)

    Political Persuasion and Point of View

    I'm not that interested in debating the various planks in political platforms, but I do find politics to be a fascinating window on humanity -- and particularly on human communication strategies. Just as the conflicts of early childhood set the stage for all human communication, the power struggles of adulthood play up those same conflicts and the same motivation to persuade, and prevail, in a war of words.  

    In that vein, do you agree with this statement from a noted political analyst?

    "We have now finished two weeks of two conventions by two parties....They weren't just offering two different political visions. In many ways, they were offering two radically different versions of reality.
    In that sense, the gap between the two conventions was an accurate reflection of where we are as a country. There really are two very different visions of reality competing in the political campaigns underway this year--with their own value systems, sets of ideas, and interpretations of the facts... two very different versions of reality in America...
    The election this November is certainly a contest between two candidates, but it is also a contest between these two versions of reality."

    Is that true?  Is the current American presidential campaign also a bigger referendum on how to interpret our present world?

    If so, shouldn't American voters consider, not just the candidates' worth, but the basic validity of the views they espouse? Instead of merely letting either candidate tell us how to think, or letting our own prejudices tell us which team to blindly follow, shouldn't we first do our own research and draw our own conclusions about the state of the country and the world, so that we get a clear and rational picture of our own version of reality?

    That's some assignment. But, fellow Americans, as of today we have 99 days to do it. If we challenge ourselves to take our citizenship seriously, I think that over the next 16 weeks, we might each be able to indulge in a little less mindless entertainment to spend some time giving mindful attention to what's really going on in the world.

    Then, on Election Day, should we really merely "vote our conscience"? Or should we also vote our congruity?

    Political Persuasion: The Workplace Parallel

    Business people:  do you realize that your messaging to your workforce sets up a similar comparison?  Your employees are interpreting your every announcement, email, casual remark, and non-verbal signal as an indicator of your own worldview.  They want to evaluate, not just what you say, but the version of reality from which you speak.  And they have the power to "vote their congruity" every time they clock in and start their workday.  

    To the extent that you can make it plain to your employees that your worldview is compatible with their own, you can persuade them to work for your "cause" (your company) with a fuller measure of engagement.

    I have devoted many posts on this blog to messaging tips and techniques that increase employee engagement (type polarization in the Search window to see some of them).  However, if your goal is 100 % engagement, nothing you do can be as effective as what you ultimately believe -- because that will color all your communications.  It is a reflection of who you ultimately are.  And people are most most loyal to someone who shares their idea of what is important. 

    Bottom line:

    • If they can truly believe in your cause (your company) -- if its purpose and policies are a strong fit with their interpretation of reality -- then employees will be your willing (and productive) partners. Your role will be that of a positive creativity enhancer, providing tools, tips and motivation for staff to do their jobs well and take pride in the organization's achievements.
    • If there is any gap at all between your values and theirs, there will be a corresponding "reluctance gap" that will interfere in nearly every task your employees undertake. To the degree that happens, your management role will become that of a negative relationship repairer. Instead of pulling from the front, you will be pushing from behind, more concerned with the trailing edge of trouble than the leading edge of innovation and accomplishment.

    Ask yourself:  Which of those classifications describe the bulk of your daily workforce communications? 

    I honestly can't say that either American presidential candidate is doing a great job as a "positive creativity enhancer" at this point.  It's not an easy target for business leaders, either.  Remember, workforce messaging is all about overcoming the earliest self-serving human biases to direct people's interest and energy toward meeting the needs of the group. And that's a tall order.

    Take a look at the vision of reality that you project into every message you send out.  Is it a workable vision for your employees?  Are they feeling a resonance, and reapplying themselves daily to pursuing great results?  Or are they sensing a dissonance, and digging in their heels to impede progress?

    Still to come: We're still just beginning on this journey.  Part 3 of this series will consider how to make Compassionate Communication a working element of your leadership messaging -- in whichever role you are currently compelled to play.

    Monday, April 25, 2016

    The Early Origins of Problem Workforce Communication

    My goal in this blog is to promote effective messaging. This is the first post in a series about transforming the way we use messaging within organizations in order to transform business culture and business results. Please read on and enjoy!

    We were all about this little guy's age when we figured out this monumental truth:

    I can't do it by myself.  To transform my big ideas into reality, I need the help of others.  And to get that help, I need to pack my ideas into these strange packages called words, and ship them out into the world.

    In the world of a toddler, success hinges on getting other people to meet your needs. You have to communicate.

    In the world of business, success hinges on getting, and keeping, whole groups of people in sync to meet the needs of the business. We have to super-communicate.  This involves:

    • explaining concepts;
    • expressing goals;
    • training processes;
    • establishing expectations;
    • evaluating progress;
    • providing feedback.

    All told, an extraordinary bandwidth of information needs to be exchanged and received in order to work together.  But this information exchange does not come easily to us. 

    In fact, the problems of communication on the job start when we are in the nursery.    

    Early Biases, And Their Effects On Everyday Business

    Brain scan studies have confirmed that as early as 5 months, infants are observing the speech of others with their prefrontal cortex fully engaged.  That means that before we can sit up by ourselves, and months before we articulate our first word, we are already mentally rehearsing the dynamics of communicating. Awesome, isn't it?  

    By the time we are two years old -- the age of the child in the picture above -- we are ready to give our first verbal messages to the world.  And each of us has the same two messages to tell.

    Our two first messages set the tone for all our messaging to come -- and that tone is most certainly NOT one of cooperation and respect.  

    Want to guess what those first two messages are?

    Think.  What are the two words that all toddlers fall in love with first? 

    Parents, you probably got them right away:  "No"  and "Mine."   Remember when your precious little one discovered these?  

    Think about these messages and what they mean. 
    • The first one, No,  is an outraged protest against anything that doesn't fit our immediately-perceived best outcome. 
    • The second, Mine,  is a territorial declaration that erects a verbal barrier to retain personal advantage.  
    Please understand, as boundary-setting tools, these are necessary and healthy concepts for a growing child to put into play.  But as platforms for exchanging ideas, they aren't exactly award-winners. They are arbitrary, one-way messages, used for projecting power and quelling dissent.  And that's where we start to see a fatal limitation.

    We basically carry this "No/Mine" communications bias throughout life.  Most of our natural messaging tends to fall into these two categories.  In fact, if left to ourselves, each of us would only default to alternatively communicating outrage ("No")  and defensiveness ("Mine") for the rest of our lives.  

    But we are not left to ourselves. Life happens.  We undergo a rigorous socialization process, in our family, at school, and among our peers.  Then we leave this childhood and adolescent socializing experience, however good or bad that may have been, and we enter the workplace. 

    Now, for the first time, communication equates to income -- or to put it in toddler terms, our "No" will have a direct impact on our "Mine."  We have to message as though our lives depended on it -- for certainly our livelihoods now do.  

    By this point, we've acquired some further skills for communicating. Most of them, though,  still revolve around our first two favorite words.  

    We've learned a spectrum of more sophisticated ways to say our "No" to get our own way.  We now know how to charm, cajole, persuade, manipulate,  ingratiate, appease,argue, accuse, lie, sneer, scoff, and shame.   

    We use the same set of skills to create more elegant versions of how to say our "Mine" to keep our advantage, once attained.  We can add that we also now know how to avoid, divert, stonewall, threaten, attack, and when all else fails, sue.   

    As you may have already surmised, the skills based on our "No/Mine" bias are not the best tools for achieving cooperation, respect, and results in the business world.

    Grow And Tell

    To corral our inner two-year-olds and get them to work together, we need to fundamentally alter our early "No/Mine" assumptions. We have to make room for someone else.  We must realize two truths: 

    1. Getting my own immediately-perceived best outcome may not be in my ultimate long-term best interest.  In other words, my "No" might need to become "Yes" -- at least for a while. I may have to do some things I don't want to do (hard work that someone else assigns me) in order to get the job done and get my reward (a paycheck that someone else pays me).  This is called delayed gratification.  And in operational messaging, it translates into taking direction.
    2. Preserving my own advantage may equate to meeting the needs of the group.  Or to put it in toddler-speak, my "Mine" might need to become "Share" -- at least for a while. I may need to allow undesirable elements (boss, co-workers, tasks, projects) to infiltrate my territory (my time, my attention, my choices) in order to retain my advantage (economic stability, status, material goods).  In operational messaging, this called establishing buy-in
    We can see that much of what happens on the job is counter-intuitive to our earliest motivations.  If you're looking for the main insight of this post, that's it.  I said all that to say this: 

    The dynamics of effective on-the-job communication involve the intentional undoing of basic human biases that have deep, deep roots.

    What do you think?  Do you agree with that statement?

    If you do, then you are beginning to realize that workforce messaging requires strategy, delicacy, and artistry that goes way beyond what we use in everyday life. We don't just tell people what to do and expect them to do it.  To get our best results, we need to work much harder than that. We need to super-communicate:

    We need construct a message that gives the other person the tools they need to de-construct their own inherent resistance and re-construct a collaborative platform.  And we have to do this with every message, every time.

    Challenging?  You bet.

    Actually, with this post,  I am trying to do some intentional undoing of my own.  Dear reader, I am trying to undo your own deep "No/Mine" underpinnings.  

    My goal is in this blog is to promote effective workforce messaging.  And to do that, I need to get you to reframe how you look at your own job environment.  The first step is to get ahead of your own inner two-year-old to identify the fact that your own basic wants and defenses are usually the very things that subconsciously make you resist the work required for effective workforce messaging.

    Evaluating Your Own "No/Mine" Mindset

    Is your two-year-old self calling your communications shots?  Take this test. Give a ranking between 0 and 5  to each of the following statements (0 equals Never, 5 equals Always):

    1. My interactions with people at work are dominated by conflicts.

    2. I carry grudges against one or more coworkers.

    3. I have not submitted a new idea for process improvement within the past year.

    4. I just want to be left alone to do my job.

    5.  My baseline mood at work is one of annoyance.

    6. I have to play the boss card to force people to cooperate.

    7. I know other people are after my job and/or are trying to make me look bad.

    8.  I have favorites among my team, and they know who they are.

    9.  I refuse to put up with incompetence; I won't tolerate bozos, and I work to get them fired.

    10. I came up short in the last round of raises (or bonuses, or promotions, etc.), so now my attitude is, why put in the extra effort?

    If any of these statements are 5's by your estimation, then you may be carrying a toddler mindset into work every day.  You may need to take some steps to develop new super-communicating skills that will truly get your best outcomes and preserve your deepest advantages.

    But how do you do that?

    The answer, in my opinion, is a little thing I invented called Compassionate Communicating.  It involves escaping beyond our own "No/Mine" bias to give your co-workers and colleagues a higher quality of messaging.  It means modeling a "Yes/Share" open communications model.   It's all about turning each person's inner toddler into a willing teammate.  

    Compassionate Communicating is a way to come together to form passionate  bonds that turn work relationships into trust relationships -- and transform resistance into results. 

    If you are interested in this concept, browse through my earlier blog entries to get a feel for my approach. Then, watch for my next post.  In it, I will describe the role and responsibilities of a Compassionate Communicator -- and the advantages of becoming one.

    Meanwhile, if you have some insight to add - especially if it's a Yes or a Share --  please leave a comment!

    Sunday, January 24, 2016

    The Other Two Emails That Will Save Your Sanity

    The purpose of this Remarkable Messaging blog is to help average people overcome communications barriers.  Since all of life that isn't isolation requires communication, that leaves a pretty broad spectrum of topics to explore.  This post continues to address common workplace communication deficits. 

    Work is hard.  That's why it's called work. But the plague of poor communication makes it harder than it needs to be.  

    In my previous post, I introduced the first of my three emails to combat fuzzy communication.  I called it the Just To Confirm email. This email seeks to nail down aspects of what's already been communicated,  (To read more about it, click here.)  

    By contrast, my second sanity-saving email seeks to fill in aspects that are missing. 

    The pace of the workday is increasingly frantic.  The hours in the workday whiz by like the cars of a speeding commuter train. To save time, people shorten their messages.  They clip meetings short,  send terse emails, and use sloppy language. The result?   Depending on your company's culture, the average workday might be full of situations where key facts are unstated, and more explanation is needed. A lot of us must then spend a good amount of our day running behind the train, trying to fill in the blanks in others' messaging in order to get our own work done. 

    Sound familiar?  

    When people must engage in puzzling and problem-solving just to figure out what is expected of them, it's a triple-whammy.

    • Productivity suffers.  Time is spent on buzz instead of business:  "Did the boss mean x or y?"  Frustration distorts a process that should be simple. Worry and indecision infiltrate the work stream, weighing down subsequent progress.  
    • Relationship suffers.  As I declared in my previous post about Email #1: uncertainty feels like abuse.   Every business has a hierarchy, and withholding information (even by accident) tends to be interpreted as a political power move. The energy wasted on office intrigue is substantial, and subversive to success.  When this negative energy infects a project, it takes center stage, and people are so busy taking sides that they lose sight of the true objective.
    • Wrong assumptions are made.  This is the worst risk of all, since ambiguities can lead to assumptions that spur work in the wrong direction, wasting time, wreaking havoc, and requiring costly rework later on.  

    The risks posed by missing information are significant.  So the smart thing to do is to get ahead of these risks, before they becomes a problem.  How?  Remember my motto from my previous post:  the cure for fuzzy communication is focused communication.  So get ready to communicate your confusion in a friendly and focused way that brings results. 

    The first step is to identify the gaps in the story that need to be filled in.  Sometimes that's a skill in itself!  (See my next blog post to learn about my favorite strategy for this.)

     After you have determined exactly what information you need, identify who has the information, and craft a direct and respectful message to obtain it.

    Email # 2: Just To Clarify

    A Just To Clarify email is the message you'll send when you determine that a strategic knowledge gap exists. Like for Email # 1, the objective is better understanding. 

    The Magic of Email # 2

    Before we talk about the email itself, let's begin with explaining the phrase we use to begin it.  
    When an email starts with the words "Just to clarify..." the reader will immediately know that strategic information is being sought.  Also, and even more importantly, the phrase "Just to clarify..." establishes a breezy tone of collaboration, as opposed to a brittle tone of accusation.  In the blame-rich atmosphere of most workplaces, setting this positive tone is vital for maintaining equilibrium and efficiency... and for getting a response. I cannot stress this enough.  The fact is, many people read their emails looking for reasons to put off answering them.  Never let your tone provide a convenient excuse for a non-response.

    When you start with "Just to clarify...", you front-load your email for success. It creates the impression that you value what was said already, and are seeking to build on its value.  So don't play around with that starting phrase.  Always use it; you'll get optimal results, every time.

    After those first three magic words, keep the rest of this email simple.  
    • State the topic right away. 
    • If not clear, include a reason why you need this information
    • Keep questions short, focused, and direct. 
    • Include a deadline if there is one. 
    • Don't introduce other topics, argue other points, or overwhelm the reader with any other messages (send those in a separate email).  Just request your info and bow out.  
    Here's a template to follow:

    Sample Just To Clarify Email

    Hi Peter, [breezy salutation that sets an informal tone]

    Just to clarify re: the recent pigpen repairs:  [header sentence that defines the topic and sets expectations]

    I'm preparing a report for the Budget Committee and I need to know: [reason the info is needed]
    •  What is the invoice amount? [main question]
    •  Is the payment coming out of  cost center 123?.[main question]
    • If not, what cost center will be used?.[contingency question]

    Hoping to hear from you by end of day so I can send my report in time for tomorrow's meeting.  [deadline]

    Thanks for your help as we work to provide the information the committee needs to close the books in time for the quarterly call,  [closing sentence that includes a shared objective]


    After you've composed your Just to Clarify email following this framework, simply press Send and wait.  You have a very high likelihood of getting an answer by your deadline.

    But what if the answer doesn't come?  No problem!  For that situation, you have my final email that will save your sanity:

    Email # 3:  Just Circling Back

    You send a Just Circling Back email  when you don't get a response by the deadline you specified in Email #1 or #2.  It is a follow-up to your prior request for information.  Its purpose is to keep your first email request from getting lost.  To build this email, you add it as another message when you forward the first email to the recipient again.  

    The Just Circling Back email always follows the same brief but strategic format:

    Sample Just Circling Back Email

    Hi Peter, [breezy salutation that sets an informal tone]

    Just circling back to see if you've had a chance to look into my budget questions about the recent pigpen repairs (see forwarded email below). [header sentence that defines the topic and sets expectations]

    Would you be able to provide this info by 11:00 this morning? [deadline phrased as a question]

    If not, I'll need to send my report without it.  I'll let the committee know that this info is still to be determined.  [closing sentence that includes a logical consequence]

    Thanks again for your help,  Priscilla

    The Magic of Email # 3

    Just like the other two emails that save your sanity, Email # 3 is crafted very intentionally.  

    • It leads off with a very intentional phrase to set the right tone.  When an email starts with the words "Just circling back..." the reader will immediately know that it's a follow-up communication.  But obce more, there's a non-accusatory tone of collaboration. Judgment is entirely absent. Equilibrium is maintained. The recipient only has to give the info.  No explanation for the delay is required.  Can you see how this lightens the mood from the start?
    • Likewise, when the deadline is restated in the form of a question, it gives the recipient a feeling of respect and empowerment, instead of guilt and embarrassment.  There is no snarky subtext about dropping the ball, holding up the project, etc.  It's just a simple, hey, can you get this to me in time?
    •  Finally, the Just Circling Back email contains a logical consequence for non-compliance. This is not a threat meant to frighten, or a manipulation meant to shame the person into action. It's just a simple neutral statement about what will need to happen if the information is not obtained by the deadline. The objective is plainly to keep pushing the project forward -- not to start a war.  

    The Just Circling Back email will help you gently help others accept responsibility for their contributions (or lack of contributions), as you maintain an appreciative and constructive tone.    It frames the issue in a positive way.  And in my experience,  it usually elicits the same kind of response.  You'll get your missing information, and the other person will continue to feel respected and valued.  


    Sanity Saved. Problems Prevented. Integrity Intact.

    So to sum up: the Three Emails are your arsenal against the ambiguity of fuzzy messaging.  One of them will usually be the answer for any communications shortfall that you experience.  And all three will do much more than merely help you get the information you need to succeed.  They will help you continue to build positive relationships among your colleagues, even when you need to hold them accountable for their fast, furious and fuzzy communications.  The Three Emails position you for optimal collaboration by helping you avoid the blame game, keep projects politics-neutral, and underscore your positive intent to ensure success for everyone concerned.

    Moreover, when you use them as part of an overall communications plan, the Three Emails will help build your reputation for excellence throughout your department, division, organization, and industry.  I know that's a pretty big claim.  How can I make it?  Because I diligently use them -- and that's exactly the reputation that I have with all my professional relationships, past and present. Just saying!  

    Are any fuzzy communication issues lurking in your current project portfolio?  I challenge you to use the Three Emails on exactly those issues during your upcoming week.  See if they help you "Just to Confirm" and/or "Clarify" the knowledge gaps that threaten to torpedo your To Do list.  And, when you reap the results of your focused messaging, I suggest that you "Just Circle Back" and leave a comment below to share your success!