Avoid the Lectern in Presentations

Avoid the Lectern in Presentations

Standing behind a lectern while presenting can make you seem stiff, unemotional, and disconnected. A lectern creates a barrier between you and your audience—it not only blocks out two-thirds of your body, but also restricts your natural hand gestures. The lectern may even entice you to lean on or hold it, making you look tense and uneasy.

By walking around the room and getting closer to your audience, you establish a bigger presence in the room and are harder to ignore. You encourage your audience to move their heads and eyes to follow you around the room, so they’re less likely to doze off during your presentation. Your watchful eyes may also prevent them from using their tablets and phones.

Walking about can make your presentation appear like a natural conversation and thus help you overcome any public speaking anxiety. You can also better gauge your audience’s reactions.

  • Always present standing up, even if you’re presenting to an audience of one or two. Standing while presenting not only lets you make better eye contact with your audience, but also helps you breathe and project your voice more clearly. You will appear to have more influence since your audience will be literally “looking up to you.”
  • Move around naturally. Mix it up to avoid looking nervous. Don’t always walk from the front to the back or from side to side.
  • Make your movements look relaxed and confident. Do not tap your foot, rock, sway, swing, or dance on the spot. Don’t try anything over-the-top, dramatic, or flashy.
  • Keep an open posture at all times; avoid crossing your arms or creating a symbolic barrier between you and the audience. Use hand gestures selectively for emphasis—do not gesture so much that your body language poses a distraction.
  • Stop moving and pause briefly after making each important point. As I mentioned in a previous article, pauses can help you emphasize your message and gather your next thoughts. In addition, the audience gets a chance to absorb your point.
  • When responding to a question, move closer to the person who asked the question.

Idea for Impact: When presenting, walk around the room naturally and interact with your audience. Moving around the room not only helps you keep eye contact with the audience, but also emphasizes an air of confidence, openness, and authority. You’ll also look more conversational, interesting, and memorable.

Being Underestimated Can Be a Great Thing

This spring, I attended the 2016 annual meeting of shareholders of Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited in Toronto. Fairfax’s chief executive Prem Watsa opened his remarks with the following joke:

A young boy enters a barbershop.

The barber whispers to a customer, “This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch while I prove it to you.”

The barber puts a dollar bill in one hand and two quarters in the other. He then calls the boy over and asks, “Which do you want, son?”

The boy takes the quarters and leaves.

“What did I tell you?” says the barber to the customer. “That kid never learns!”

Later, when the customer leaves the barbershop, he sees the same young boy coming out of an ice cream store licking a wafer-style ice cream cone.

He summons the boy and asks, “Hey, son! May I ask you a question? … Why did you take the quarters instead of the dollar bill?”

The boy licks his cone and replies, “Sir, because the day I take the dollar, the game is over!”

Being Underestimated Can Be a Great Thing Although the barber sought to characterize the young boy foolish, the joke was really on the barber.

The barber never suspected the boy’s recurring motivation to seem stupid. Additionally, the barber never learned his lesson or questioned his own assumptions.

Idea for Impact: As the above joke attests, being underestimated, underrated, or misjudged can often have its benefits. Don’t sweat when others think less than you actually are. Don’t let them make you feel small. Embrace their misjudgments with equanimity. Believe in yourself with humble confidence. Then outthink, outsmart, and outperform. Surprise them.

Stop asking, “What do you do for a living?”

How to Start a Good Conversation

I despise being asked “What do you do for a living?” when I first meet someone.

I didn’t like being asked “What does your dad do?” while growing up in India.

Many people routinely use this question as a conversation-starter with strangers. It could be argued that they intend to inoffensively learn of somebody’s area of expertise or interests and then engage them in a meaningful chat.

Stop asking 'What do you do for a living?' about indirectly sizing up people However, this question is often about indirectly sizing up the other’s socioeconomic status. People may be assessing, “How valuable are you? How much money do you make? What is your social status? What is your financial status? Are you richer, smarter, and more powerful than I am? Am I above you or below you in the socioeconomic ladder? Are you worth my time?”

Look, we live in a judgmental world where a person’s identity is at first ascertained by what he or she does for a living. Nevertheless, when becoming acquainted with someone in an informal setting, conversations shouldn’t be about inquiring after the other’s livelihood or about scrutinizing the other’s standing in society.

Chatting with somebody in “socializing situations” should be less about discerning the details of the other’s life and more about building a bit of familiarity to initiate stimulating conversations, debates, discussions, and exchange of ideas about topics of mutual interest—prospects that will all be missed if the initial interaction starts with annoying cross-examinations.

So, let’s try to make a conversation without seeking to interrogate one another.

If you’re looking for clues to a person’s passions or areas of interest to engage them in conversation, start with simple questions such as “how do you know Maria and Joe,” “is this your first time in Chicago,” or “what does your name mean?” Wait for personal details to flow into the conversation naturally. Or, wait further into the conversation before popping the “what do you do?” question.

Party Etiquette: Can you take your leftovers home?

Party Potluck Leftovers Etiquette A reader’s question about party etiquette: at the end of a party, could you expect to return home with leftovers of the food or the drink you contributed to the party?

No, not unless the host offers.

You’re a guest in your host’s home and anything you contributed to the party is tantamount to a gift. Unless the host decides not to preserve the remainder of your contribution and suggests that you take your leftovers home, don’t expect to return with your leftovers. Just return with your empty dish.

At potluck parties, however, you can take your leftovers home, but first offer to leave some or all of the leftovers for the host.

Party Etiquette for the Vegetarian Guest

  • Party Etiquette for the Vegetarian Guest When RSVPing to a party, mention your dietary restrictions and allergies: “Thanks for the invitation. I must tell you that I am vegan and gluten-free. I am also allergic to peanuts.” Be as specific as possible; mention if you can consume milk products and eggs. Elaborate if you can’t eat anything particular: butter, marshmallows, honey, gelatin, chicken stock, or lard in desserts.
  • Offer to provide for yourself and help out: “May I bring my five-bean and avocado salad with baked nachos? That should also cover the appetizer course for you!” If you’re comfortable with meat substitutes, offer to bring the meat-alternative dish that’s most suitable for the occasion: “May I bring a Tofurky dish? I’ve heard it mimics the taste and texture of a Thanksgiving meal.”
  • If the party is in your honor and the host insists upon cooking for you, suggest an easy dish they could prepare for you. Don’t make the host search for a dish that best suits your preferences.
  • Understand that your hosts can’t cater to every guest’s preferences. Don’t be offended if your host forgets about your dietary restrictions. Appreciate that they’ll be spending a lot of time preparing for and cleaning up after the party. If your host hasn’t made any accommodations to cover your dietary needs, just eat salad, quick-and-easy canned soup, or whatever is practical for the host to organize quickly for you. Don’t grumble.

Save Yourself from Email Overload by Checking Email Just Three Times a Day

Save Yourself from Email Overload by Checking Email Just Three Times a Day

Email, instant messages, and alerts have evolved into our primary mode of communication. From project management to socializing, everything at work and in our personal lives centers on electronic messages. Many of us have found the unending tide of these messages unmanageable.

Research has shown that checking messages just a few times a day can help reduce stress and prevent the feeling of being incessantly ‘invaded’ by emails.

If you feel weary, annoyed, and unproductive from a daily deluge of messages, try the following techniques to regulate your electronic communication.

  • Turn off alerts on all your devices. Productivity studies have shown that people take 15 minutes on average to return to serious mental tasks (thinking about a project, writing reports, or debugging computer code, for example) after being interrupted by an incoming email or an instant message.
  • Maintain a zero inbox, i.e. consistently process all incoming email and get your inbox to zero messages. See my previous article on this productivity technique.
  • Set up and use subject-specific folders to hold your incoming and sent messages. This makes it easier to retrieve emails later.
  • Relieve Inbox Stress and Email Overload Do not check emails continually throughout the day. Instead, process only three times a day: once in the morning, once during lunch, and then again before going home. Don’t waste the most productive hours of your day doing email.
  • Reserve time to focus on email. Set a time limit on your activities and blast through the messages without interruption. Stop when the time runs out. (Remember Parkinson’s Law: work will expand to fill the allotted time.)
  • When you process email,
    1. If you can respond to a message in less than two minutes, do so right away.
    2. If a response may need more than two minutes or you must look up information, defer it. Leave the incoming email in your inbox or file it in a ‘Draft’ folder. Dedicate the last email session of a day to respond to such emails and clear the Draft folder.
    3. Delete, file, or delegate.
    4. Process all emails and fully clear your inbox by the end of the day.
  • Tell people you correspond with the most (your boss, employees, peers) that you check email only a few times a day. Let them know that if they need to reach you immediately, they could come over to your desk or call you. If possible, encourage them to follow your email discipline.
  • Limit off-the-clock correspondence. Don’t make a ritual of catching up on work email after dinner or during the weekends.

Idea for Impact: If your inbox is driving you crazy, some discipline can help you process—not just check—emails and mitigate some stress.

How to Email Busy People

How to Email Busy People

When you ask something of somebody, one of the cardinal rules of the “art of the ask” is to make it as convenient as possible for that person to respond to your request. This is especially true if you’re asking something of a busy person.

When you email busy people proposing a meeting, don’t give them a range of options with the intention of being considerate of their busyness.

  • Don’t be longwinded: “I’m available any time on Tuesday morning and Wednesday afternoon except from 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM when I have an appointment with my dentist. Let me know when works best for you.”
  • Don’t give them a whole bunch of options (“… any time this week”) or, worse yet, don’t ask them to leaf through their calendar and suggest a time (“I know you’re busy. Let me know when you want to meet.”)

Instead, keep your ask as brief and simple as possible. Make it easy for busy people to respond by offering few choices: “How about 9:00 AM on Tuesday?” If you know their Tuesdays or mornings tend to be busy, you may propose one alternative: “Are you available on Tuesday at 10:00 AM or on Wednesday at 3:00 PM?” If they’d like to meet with you, they’ll glance at their calendar and say “OK.” If neither of your proposed times works, they’ll suggest another time.

Idea for Impact: Avoid imposing more busy work on already busy people.

Thou Shall Attend the Office Holiday Party

Attend the office holiday party The office holiday party may seem like a mandatory celebration. Perhaps it is not in your tradition to celebrate Christmas. May be you are introversive, do not enjoy partying, or you feel uneasy about being around many unfamiliar people. You might even dread interacting with coworkers who you are not immensely fond of.

Despite your reluctance, the office holiday party comes with an implied obligation to attend it and enjoy it. Generally, companies consider the holiday party as a morale- and camaraderie-building occasion, not just as a mere ritual. Therefore, your management will take notice if you do not attend and may deem you negligent or arrogant if you ignore the office holiday party.

Unless you have a perfectly compelling reason — not an excuse — not to, you should partake in this celebration. It pays to attend the office holiday party, attempt to like it, exchange gifts, and make the most of it.

Great Opportunity to be “Seen”

As you move up the corporate ladder, one vital skill for your success is to be on familiar terms with the influential managers in your organization. The art of forming coalitions and winning the support is more about “who knows you” and “what they know about you” than about “who you know.” The most effective way of earning this recognition is showing up where the action is, “being there” and acting the part. For this very reason, the office holiday party is a great networking opportunity for you to introduce yourself to peers and management with whom you would not normally interact.

Office Holiday Party Etiquette

  • Attend and enjoy the office holiday party A word on propriety for the organizers: do not call the holiday party a “Christmas Party” and alienate employees who may not celebrate Christmas. The term “holiday party” is more inclusive.
  • Attend the party. Do not arrive too late or leave too early. You need not stay for the length of the party.
  • The holiday party is not a social occasion. Even if the party has a festive theme and setting, it is still in the professional context. Dress appropriately and conduct yourself professionally. Do not eat excessively or get drunk. Do not pass judgment, exchange inappropriate comments and jokes, or deride other guests.
  • Be Seen. Do not spend all your time hanging around familiar people. Mingle and introduce yourself to as many other guests as you can. Make sure you are “seen” by everybody important. Attempt to enjoy the party and make the most of it.
  • Bring a thoughtful and practical gift for the gift exchange ritual. Stay within the prescribed guidelines for buying gifts.
  • See my articles on how to start a conversation, how to help people pursue a conversation, how to introduce people to one another, and how to remember names.

The Winning Idea: Attend and enjoy the office party

Professional visibility and career success is often about fitting in and being visible to the influential managers and peers. Unless you have a perfectly compelling reason not to, you should partake in the office holiday party. Consider it a career advancement exercise, mingle with everybody, and enjoy it.

Remembering Names at a Meeting

Remembering Names around a Table at a Meeting

Ever wonder how a waiter/waitress serving an eight-seat table at a restaurant remembers each guest’s food orders? At many restaurants, the order-sheets contain a layout of the table and a letter or number associated with every seat. As each guest orders food, the waiter/waitress writes down the order along with the letter or number associated with that guest’s seat.

At Southwest Airlines, flight attendants go to every seat, ask customers for their choice of beverage, and record the passenger’s choice on a seat-map.

Remembering Names around a Table at a Meeting

Blogger Adam Gurno presents an extension of the two practices listed above for remembering names around a table at a meeting.

  1. Draw a quick map of the table/layout of the meeting. Place yourself on it, to give yourself a reference point.
  2. As people introduce themselves around the table, fill them in. If you feel last names are necessary add those too, but don’t do it at the expense of writing down someone else’s name. You can guess at the last names later. If you miss one, leave it blank and fill it in as soon as you can – if someone else refers to them, etc, etc.
  3. If everyone introduces themselves, try and jot down as much information as possible. If you think that you will run across them later, include information that will help you recognize them down the road.
  4. Refer back to the map during the meeting when you are going to need to speak. This way you will be prepared with a person’s name.

Positive impressions are invaluable. As we discussed in a previous blog article, remembering names is an important social skill — mastering this skill can offer a distinct advantage in networking and building relationships.

How to Network

Ideas for Impact: How to Network

Developing a network of business and social contacts is vital for personal and professional success. In our professional lives, our network can facilitate us secure a job, seek advice on job opportunities and work problems, get support, and ensure career progress. Statistics have shown that about three out of four United States-executives that earn more than $100,000 annually got their jobs through networking.

Steve Fishman on how to network

‘Leadership’ by William Safire and Leonard Safir attributes the following five steps for networking to an author by name Steve Fishman. My research has indicated that this is an excerpt from a ’80s issue of the ‘Success’ magazine.

  • Meet as many people as you can.
  • When you meet someone, tell him what you do. Networking is low-cost advertising.
  • Don’t do business while networking. Make a date to meet your contact for drinks or lunch.
  • Give and get. You can’t always be a buyer. Do favors. They’re like a savings account!
  • Make friends even when you don’t need them.

Call for action

Ideas for Impact: How to Network Tending to our business and social network is not time-consuming as some of us might expect. Through our daily interactions, we are developing our network at all times. We never know with whom we could strike up an important conversation. Therefore, quite often, networking involves just being open to interacting with new people and staying in touch with people we already know.

Use Steve Fishman’s five guidelines to build your network. Develop a few one-minute statements that can help you introduce yourself to people you may meet. Spend a few minutes every day to call people you already know. Reach out, connect, stay in touch and develop your network. How can you help people in your network? How can you be of value to them?