Tuesday, 26 April 2022

Getting Your Audience’s Attention

How long does it take before you stop listening to others at work?

Data published in the past two years suggests that our ability to get (and then keep) the audience’s attention when we’re trying to influence them has never been harder. Two years of working remotely has made our ability to ‘switch off’ listening commonplace – and it is brutal. Seconds have become mere moments… sentences have become a few words, before we stop engaging with the person speaking because we simply don’t relate to any relevance in what they’re saying.

My conversations with clients this month focused on answering the ‘why should I care?’ question fast and right up front. If we don’t get this right; then everything we say afterwards doesn’t matter…..because our audience is no longer listening.

Common mistakes include demonstrating the validity of our work by explaining the rigour of our process or providing an overly lengthy description of the background to our project or our idea, demonstrate our credibility by a too long introduction, or get overly excited by our propositions (because they’re fabulous).

We’re social animals and we’re pack animals, and we like to talk. So, we think this helps. Without making context clear and relevant, then it just does not work.

There’s a reason why Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why’ – How Great Leaders Inspire Action TED talk is one of the most watched of all time. He says, “people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it”. If our audience doesn’t immediately understand the answer to the ‘why should I care?’ question, then we will lose them. Everything after that doesn’t matter.

So how can you get their attention right at the start? Rhetorical questions, relevant statistics, compelling facts, metaphor, analogy, voice of the customer, soundbites all work. But they must relate to what your audience cares about and, what you’re trying to achieve through the conversation.

What do you need to dial up in order to get your audience’s attention today?

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

It's Time To Talk To Our Team

As the two year anniversary approaches of this global pandemic - which remains far from over - my time so far this year has been absorbed with loss….not only loss associated with the generation defining experience of Covid-19, but also loss of good people: from our teams, our company, our industry. ‘The Great Resignation’ appears to be well under way and organisations everywhere seem to be focused on finding, hiring, developing and keeping their best people. Added to that is the challenge of wanting to encourage people back into the office (dependent on where we are in the world), and there is a wide variety of views regarding employees’ level of excitement at this prospect.

The beginning of year represents new beginnings, reflections, hopes, dreams and aspirations… and now – as we charge through March – it feels as it always does – that being that the year is starting to speed up very quickly.

So, what does this means for leaders everywhere who are responsible for engaging their teams to deliver, in spite of everything that has happened?

Well, if we haven’t already; it’s time to talk. Really talk with our people about what they want, need, aspire to and dream about achieving as we move through 2022. In this fast paced, distraction filled world in which we all operate, as leaders we may think that we do this well, often and usefully… the challenge here is genuinely a reflective one: do we?

We live and work in a highly distracted environment. We kid ourselves that we can ‘multi-task’ (no such thing by the way; we simply task switch). As leaders, we’re in the business of relationships… so how to do this well?

Questions on which to base a meaningful, useful, connected discussion include:

How are you? (And mean it).
What are you enjoying at the moment?
What aren’t you enjoying?
How do you feel about the prospect of returning to the office?
What would make that prospect work for you?
What’s next for you in terms of your career?
How can I help?
What do you need from me?

We join companies but leave managers; the point is to start talking. Really talking. Now.

Tuesday, 15 February 2022

Who’s Had Too Much Appreciation Lately?

Seriously? Absolutely no-one I know. Ever. As we move through the month of February, I’m drawn back to this essential communication skill, based on a recent personal experience with a global, corporate client of mine. As part of a team which supports different leadership groups; I was invited to choose a gift (one from a choice of two), for which I was delighted. “Thank you very much”, I thought. And then, it started to go wrong, and all the positive sentiment behind the initiative was replaced by irritation, frustration, shame and a complete and total lack of empathy.

I had to sign up to/download a link to something (blah, blah, blah).
“Have you had the link yet I was asked?” ‘No’, came the reply.
“You will have had it, double check” was the response. ‘I did and I haven’t’ came my reply.
“Well then you probably didn’t sign up properly.” ‘I did, I checked’, came the response.
“Redo it”. I did.
(At this point I’m fantasizing about what they can do with their gift).
“Have you downloaded the link yet?”. Yes.
“Has it worked?” No (again).
“Well, can you contact XYZ, do ABC, then call DEF and at some point before the end of time you’ll get your gift. Because we appreciate you!!!”

Are you serious? I thought. Have you completely lost your mind? It absolutely, certainly didn’t feel like it. So what’s my point?

Appreciation is a serious business. A glorious business. A massively enjoyable business. A leadership business.

And yet we rarely make enough time for it.

It’s never about the gift. It’s about the thought. The time. The effort. Not the monetary value. Some of us will think: “yes that’s great Sarah, but I’d like a 20% pay rise anyway.” Of course, who wouldn’t? My point relates to when it’s not about a pay rise. In fact, if the only reason our team will stay is if they get a pay rise, then I argue that we’ve left it too late, too long to help them feel engaged and highly valued as a member of our team through regular appreciation. Remember when we do this well, people stay in spite of the fact that they might get more money elsewhere.

When it comes to the art and the magic of appreciation, I believe we don't want ‘things’; we want ‘thought’. We want care, kindness, generosity of spirit rather than generosity of wallet.

It’s time to show the love (appropriately!) for our team. We all work in a relationship business, whatever our sector, role or area of expertise. We all need others to help us succeed and we all need to feel that spectacularly good feeling that comes from being truly, authentically appreciated.

So, who is overdue appreciation from you today? And what can you do about it now?

PS Still no gift. That’s totally fine. The moment and the thought are lost. And it was the thought; and only the thought that counted. Nothing else.

Tuesday, 21 December 2021

What Will You Celebrate This Festive Season?

As we continue to unlock and lock down yet again around the world, the topic of celebration may - for some - hold little appeal at the moment.

And yet despite all of the loss, fear, grief, monotony, anger, frustration and disappointment of the past 12, 18, 21 months, celebration has been the topic of discussion for my clients in recent weeks.

As the end of the calendar year approaches, so does an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve achieved, in spite of it all.

For our professional lives, for our clients, for our teams and for ourselves, we should celebrate that we’ve made it through 2021. We’re still here. Still standing - or at least still staggering - to fight another day. Out of the woods? No, not yet. Wish we were? Yes, like you wouldn’t believe.

Joy has been in short supply; normality continues to be suspended and the future remains uncertain.

Do we organize a team meet in person or not? Can we face another virtual drinks on Zoom? And does anyone feel remotely festive anyway?

Celebration amidst confusion, chaos and crisis can seem jarring.

And yet……

Leadership is about connection, fellowship and even love.

Leaders who ‘reach’ their teams, inspire loyalty beyond reason and who bring out the very best in others are those who make the time to notice and celebrate individual strengths. To pay attention to that which makes others tick. To marvel at individual brilliance and who make it their business to make sure others know it.

My view is simply this: your teams don’t need a naff ‘Secret Santa’ gift, or a trite ‘copy and paste’ email which was pretty much the same one they received last year and the year before that. What they need is something far more meaningful and far longer lasting, wrapped up in a completely unexpected, utterly delightful and from the heart commentary that celebrates them for the good they’ve done for you, the team, your clients and the business this year.

That’s always worth knowing and it’s definitely worth celebrating.

In the meantime, here’s to a better 2022 for us all……

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Talk Less

We all talk too much. And the science proves it.

I was tempted to have those two sentences be the total content for my newsletter this month. However, I will elaborate (just a little).

My conversations with clients recently have focused on brevity. When we need to make a point, answer a question, handle a challenge, offer a perspective, explain something….how can we say less? Be crisper? Get to the point faster? And know when to stop talking? As social animals we are hard wired to communicate. This is how we navigate and negotiate our way around our world, and it works.

However, the challenge and the contradiction in this hybrid world is that our capacity to pay attention to all this chatter is almost zero. Okay, not quite zero, but not far from it. When others are speaking, we can decide very quickly to just stop. Stop listening. Stop caring. Stop interacting.

So how to be more effective? Think of it like a traffic light system. This glorious analogy came from Harvard Business research, and I attribute it to them. We have a green light for the first 20 seconds. Our audience likes us if what we’re saying is relevant and serving others in the conversation. We have an amber light for the next 20 seconds. The risk is dramatically increasing that our audience will lose interest. Take heed! We have a red light at 40 seconds. No matter how exciting, engaging, thrilling, relevant, dynamic, and fabulous we think what we’re saying is….just stop. Otherwise, we’re in severe danger of boring, frustrating, disengaging and dissuading our audience completely. Our impact is zero; our ‘wins’ at the start of our message have turned into losses. We said too much.

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Fed Up With Turning Your Camera On?

Recent research would suggest that turning our cameras off in remote meetings leads to us being less tired and more productive. These results came after a four week experiment found that individuals felt more free to ‘focus less on the face of others and more on the content of the meeting’.

I have been talking with my clients about this exact topic a lot this month, and reference to this research has been used as an ‘aha, now I can turn my camera off!’ Sounds great, right?


It’s the wrong solution for this particular problem. Turning our cameras off makes us less influential and less impactful. Rapport lowers, mis-trust increases and – let’s face it – we all know those with ‘cameras off’ could easily mean that they are doing something else for some/part/all of the time that they’re not visible to us.

Being able to see the impact of our communication on others is an incredibly powerful tool to modifying, adapting and enhancing our influence.

Yes, I agree that we want to be less tired and more productive. Turning our cameras off is not the way to do it.

We jump on calls to build relationships, discuss options, solve problems, lead change, galvanise our people, make decisions, agree actions, secure commitments and genuinely make our workloads easier. Being an influential leader means being a visible leader. Always remember that trust increases, rapport increases, dialogue increases when we are on camera.

So, instead of turning off our cameras off can I suggest:
  1. Shorten all 1 hour meetings to 45 minutes and 30 minute meetings to 25 (with a hard stop).
  2. Review your calendars regularly to remove meetings which are unnecessary, low value, repetitive and too long.
  3. Use other media to communicate. Some issues don’t need a meeting at all.
  4. Sharpen your influencing skills. In the absence of being crisp, concise and compelling, take one guess as to what the easiest response is from our audience - who are not convinced by us. Yep, you’ve guessed it… the answer is… ANOTHER MEETING. If we are more persuasive, more compelling, more able to reach people, engage people and change people... we don’t need turn our cameras on at all because we don’t need another remote meeting.

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

We’re Heading Back To The Office (A Bit) – Now What?

As the world continues to battle with Covid-19 and move through various stages of locking down and unlocking, this month I have found myself talking with my clients about what to do now that some of their team (and themselves) have started to return to the office.

What’s the right thing to say or do as a leader? Is it ‘as you were’? Or is it all completely different?

Whatever our own personal experience, all of us are living through generation defining change, and in this different, changed world into which we all emerge, gradually - and blinking, the reality is that as we start to return to the office, it will feel either very weird or very familiar.

Our challenge as leaders to lead change, engage others with change, drive change, create a culture in which change feels good… so, as we get used to the reality that Covid-19 is with us forever, and our working patterns will be different (for some - forever), the absolute priority for us do now is step up the quality and quantity of our communication.


Because the default human response to change is consistent around the world - namely, what will I lose?

Given that reality, being a better communicator as a hybrid leader now means:
  1. Avoid the mantle of the keyboard warrior. Of course I realise that if you’re running a global business with a 5,000 employee strong organisation then that’s not as easy as it sounds. However it’s no less important to communicate more often, through more channels, with more clarity. Written communication (in long or short form), will never be as effective as the spoken word. Make time for it; defend time for it; and review the impact of your conversations afterwards. That’s the inescapable and outstanding reality of our communication. We can measure its impact in the response we get. If our teams are confused then it means we weren’t clear. If our people are disinterested that we’ve not been persuasive enough. If our organisation doesn’t care, then we’ve not involved them in the right way to engage them.
  2. Don’t assume you have to have all the answers. Leading change effectively is never about having all the answers, it’s always about having the right questions. No business, no government, no country, no executive team, no company had a playbook for Covid-19. Why on earth would we assume that there’s a playbook for hybrid working? We’re all working this out as we go. We all need to stay curious, be experimental, get comfortable with failure (and we will sometimes). This is all new. So, what do you need to ask now? What do you need to know from your teams now that which enable you to help them be more effective as they navigate new working patterns?
  3. Listening is underrated and poorly executed. And it’s got worse through remote working. What’s really being said here? I am visible? Present? Suspending my agenda and deeply listening to the words being said and those not being said? Or am I half- hearted, jumping ahead, trying to ‘send that quick message’ whilst professing to care? The greatest delusion is that we think others won’t notice. They do; always. The greatest gift we can give others is our time and undivided attention. How much of your time and your attention are you really offering to your teams at present?
  4. Reflect, rehearse and refine key messages. I’m not talking about rehearsing everything you want to say before you say it. However, what I am talking about is the absolute, pinpoint accuracy with which you craft the messages which reach people. For those of you who have worked with me in the past, you know I’m a fan of the number three. What top three messages need to land with your teams immediately? Remember, these are the messages that resonate, change minds, win hearts and drive the right behaviours. What are the top takeaways that you want your team and the wider organisation to hear, understand, believe… and repeat? Rehearse them to ensure brevity, precision and impact.
  5. Encourage conversations and connections between teams and individuals. Who needs to be connected with whom? Where is there an opportunity for learning? Mentoring? Best practice sharing? We’ve all been away from the office, at home, with overbooked calendars, kids being home schooled, no delineation between ‘work time’ and ‘home time’, plus longer days, more stress, a lot of uncertainty, illness, sadness, grief, loss. The initial excitement of Zoom virtual drinks or wearing silly hats has long since gone. Who do we want to get talking to whom? Great conversations change people. When we change people we change performance.
What all hybrid leaders need to do now is get even better at having, facilitating and driving better conversations with and between their people.