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  • feedwordpress 03:37:20 on 2017/07/21 Permalink
    Tags: Philadelphia Business Journal   

    If your public presentation is boring, blame yourself not your topic. 

    My team and I were recently hired to conduct speaker training at a global meeting. Before participants joined us for breakouts and coaching, we sat through their meeting where experts presented information. Surprisingly, each speaker was worse than the next. Their slides were text heavy, written in sentences, as the presenters read through them while randomly waving laser pointers at no particular place on the slide.

    It was a scientific meeting being held to educate attendees on a specific subject. Following, these attendees would work us in breakout sessions to learn how to effectively communicate this information and engage different audiences.

    It struck me as unfortunate that the company putting on the event missed a huge opportunity to select presenters who could exemplify how to be great speakers and set the tone for the meeting.

    Instead, the meeting chair led off apologizing for the dense slides; as he shoved his hands in his pockets, appearing bored at what he was about to share. He spoke far too quickly, without pausing to give listeners a chance to process what he was saying and spent a good deal of time talking to the slide instead of his audience. It was a global audience where English was not everyone’s first language so it was likely listeners struggled to keep up.

    The best way to become a good speaker is to start by watching good speakers. Being captivated by a strong communicator often inspires you to up your game so others want to listen when you talk.

    Given we’ve been coaching speakers for more than two decades, I can share the most common reason people, especially scientific and technical experts, say they can’t convey complex information in an interesting way.

    “My subject is different than others because I need to present very dry technical information that isn’t exciting.”

    Your subject may be different, but it’s up to you to present it passionately and in an interesting way. Instead of blaming your topic for being boring, look for ways to excite your audience. When you change your mindset, you will change the way your audience sees the subject. If you think of your subject as dull, then you will likely come across that way.


    Start by summarizing the key take away of your talk in one sentence as if it is a headline. As an example, if you are speaking about a new therapy, you may start by saying this new therapy can protect your children against future disease. If you’re delivering financial information, you might begin with a startling number or statistic to peak your listener’s curiosity. Always think about your listener when you create content. If you were them, what would you care about?


    When we converse, we are typically animated and have inflection in our voices. We tell stories and share examples that support that story. Your presentation should do the same. Think of your talk as a story and use analogies, examples and case studies to bring the information to life.


    An oncologist I once worked with was presenting at a medical symposium packed with colleagues. Instead of launching into the new study data right away, he began by talking about problems oncologists face and then discussed how the study results may help them address these problems. He instantly had their attention.


    While your talk may be longer than ten minutes, Ted Talks are great examples of how to make any topic interesting. There are talks on house painting, making tasty pizzas and even one on doodling. Instead of delivering a 45-minute talk ripe with spreadsheets, text and bullet points, you’ll observe techniques good presenters use to make listeners feel like active participants which keeps them interested. You’ll also notice powerful delivery techniques such as the pause.


    As a former reporter, I learned how to breathe life into my stories. The same applies to organizing business talks. Like developing an outline, pick three to five key concepts you want to convey. Look for places to insert the three V’s: vignettes, videos and visuals. The more interactive you make your talk, the more involved your audience will become.

    At the speaker training I referred to at the top of this article, the closing speaker, unfortunately, was as dull as the opening speaker. Instead of leaving her audience with a key take away, a call to action or a powerful reminder of why this information is important to them, she ended by presenting a slide that included approximately 200 words in small font, written in sentences.

    In what seemed like an eternity later, she said “this is the take home message”, which was highlighted in dull blue at the very bottom of the slide that people in the back of the room struggled to see.

    Everyone applauded and at first, I wasn’t sure why. Then I realized they probably weren’t clapping at the take away. They were applauding because her talk was over.


  • feedwordpress 14:13:39 on 2017/06/30 Permalink
    Tags: Philadelphia Business Journal   

    How to deal with narcissists, egotists & other overconfident people 

    I once had a colleague in the news business who my father called a three-dollar bill. He said that because he thought she was phony. Her eye contact and body language never matched her words. It was as if the corners of her mouth turned up and down on cue.

    She was so impressed with herself, that she thought she was down to earth. When I first launched my business, I sent announcement notices out to everyone I knew. Months later, I happened to run into her and she said: “I got your announcement, but my husband and I don’t do that type of thing.”

    “What type of thing?” I asked. “Congratulate me?”

    “No” she retorted. “We don’t give money to friends.”

    At first, I didn’t think I heard her right. When I went onto explain that I wasn’t asking for money, she said well, it sounded like you were and people are always asking us for money. At the time, she was married to a wealthy man. Clearly, she needs to get over herself.

    Phonies can be spotted miles away. They talk about themselves and think that others are also impressed with their greatness. The reality is most astute people, like my father, can see right through them.

    Today, I coach business leaders to become more powerful communicators. I tell them what my television viewers used to tell me. They said if they met someone in person who they liked on TV, they hoped they were the same as they appeared to be on-screen. When they weren’t, the viewer felt let down.

    You don’t’ have to be on TV to strive to be real. In business, if you are speaking at a meeting or conference, listeners want the real you. They want the person they saw walking down the hall or the person who joked with them over a cup of coffee. They don’t want a three-dollar bill.

    Contrast my former colleague with superstar Billy Joel. Some years back, I was on a coast guard boat in New York City covering a celebration of the Statue of Liberty for the news organization I worked for. Suddenly, my videographer says “look, there’s Billy Joel.”

    Sure enough, on another boat just a few feet away was Billy Joel. So, I did what any adoring fan would do. I started yelling hello to him. While many might have ignored me, he yelled hello back and he took it one step further.

    He drove his boat right up to ours, introduced himself and launched into a conversation. Billy Joel wasn’t impressed with Billy Joel. Billy Joel came across as the same guy I had seen in concert many times. Funny. Warm. Personable.

    Something similar once happened in a small boutique. My head was buried in a shirt rack when a male voice said: “Excuse me, do you think my wife would like this shirt?”

    Looking only at the shirt and not at him, I engaged in conversation, asking him about his wife, the colors she likes and so on.

    Then I looked up. The male voice was singer-songwriter James Taylor. He smiled, extended his hand and introduced himself. A few minutes later, he introduced me to his wife and they both thanked me for my help.

    Billy Joel and James Taylor are much bigger stars than my former colleague. They don’t act like stars or pretend to be something they’re not.

    Some might say people like my former colleague are just over-confident. Others believe them to be narcissists. So what’s the difference?

    The dictionary definition of overconfidence is when someone has more confidence than they should have based on the situation and they misjudge their ability or opinion.

    The Mayo Clinic research group defines narcissistic personality disorder as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration.” They’re conceited and believe they are superior to others.

    At work, these people can be very difficult to communicate with as they typically talk about their projects and accomplishments, but show little interest in you. Because they aren’t completely honest with themselves, they may not be authentic with you.

    If you have colleagues like this, there are a few things you can do to communicate more effectively with them.

    1. Don’t get personal. Take the emotion out of your voice when speaking with these people. Approach them as if you are speaking to a child. If you become emotional, the child will sense your discomfort and continue to test you. If you are focused, straightforward and come across as meaning what you say, the child will be more likely to back off.
    2. Create an action plan. Develop two to three key points about this person’s behavior that are interfering with you doing your job. Then come up with alternatives or solutions to that behavior that will make you more productive and efficient.
    3. Write it down. Keep a log of problems and conversations should you have to get human resources involved., but make sure to back them up with examples. For example, instead of saying, “My boss yells at me and it’s inappropriate,” help them understand what is happening. For example, I once worked with an editor who screamed obscenities and insulted people in front others. The screaming didn’t get him in trouble, but the use of foul language did.

    Finally, be careful about your expectations of others.  It’s been nearly two decades since that encounter with my former colleague so when I ran into her recently, I hoped she had truly become the person people see on the evening news.

    Unfortunately, not.  She asked nothing about my life or what I had been up to in the past twenty years. Like the three-dollar bill which was discontinued more than a century ago, she quickly disappeared letting me know her time to talk was limited.

  • feedwordpress 01:47:53 on 2017/04/20 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Philadelphia Business Journal   

    Poise & humor count: How to recover from embarrassing moments & other near-calamities 

    The Bacon Brothers band had fans on their feet at a concert in Ocean City, New Jersey when the microphone squealed and speakers started blaring high pitched ear-piercing squeals called feedback.

    The audience grimaced, some holding their ears, while the band instantly stopped and started fiddling with the dials on their amplifiers. Yet, what could have turned negative by turning fans off, actually turned positive thanks to the quick thinking and perhaps experience of lead singer Kevin Bacon.

    Instead of making his audience uncomfortable by acting uncomfortable or showing embarrassment over the mishap, Bacon said “typically these things happen during sound check, where only special people are invited. You, my friends, are these special people.”

    The audience roared with laughter. Not only did Bacon turn what could have been an embarrassing moment into a joke, but he made the audience feel important.

    This is an important lesson for speakers of all levels. All of us make mistakes. The slides crash. We forget what we wanted to say. We leave out an important point. Perhaps we trip or stumble in front of a group. However, if we are not embarrassed, our audiences won’t be embarrassed for us. How we react and recover is how we’ll be judged.

    Leading in times of crisis is no different. How an executive or spokesperson reacts under pressure can determine how their company or product will be judged.

    Consider Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, the retired airline pilot who made a successful emergency landing in the Hudson River with 155 passengers on board. A flock of geese flew into the jet during take-off. All passengers survived and no one was hurt.

    In an interview with Parade magazine, he talked about the importance of staying calm when announcing “brace for impact” to passengers just 90 seconds before hitting the water. He said “I wanted to be very direct. I didn’t want to sound agitated or alarmed.”

    Sharp leaders understand that tone and words make a difference if you want to keep others calm during a crisis.

    My father is one of those leaders we can all learn lessons from. Last year, he was diagnosed with a significant health issue. Despite the severity of the disease, endless treatments and infusions, he has stayed calm and upbeat throughout the ordeal and that is what has kept our family calm.

    Those who study stress will tell you it’s natural for people to panic, react emotionally and think about worse case scenarios when something negative occurs. Yet, if you can take a step back and gather the appropriate information before instantly reacting, you will be better positioned to take a more measured and thoughtful approach to the situation. In our own crisis training programs, we encourage people to focus on the opportunity moving forward, not wallow in the crisis.

    For example, if you unexpectedly lose your job, it’s easy to focus on your anger, defeat, or the boss you didn’t like. If it was a job that required a lot of unwanted time away from your family, perhaps there is now an opportunity to re-evaluate your priorities and pursue different avenues.

    The iconic late Steve Jobs is an excellent example of someone who turned crisis into opportunity. When Jobs was fired from Apple, he went to work for an animation company that is now Pixar. When Disney bought Pixar, he became the company’s largest shareholder.

    Whether professional or personal, we will all experience some type of embarrassment or crisis in our lives. The key is to change the conversation you’re having with yourself. When you do that, you will change the conversation you need to have with others.

    My youngest son was 12 years old when he landed a lead role in his camp production of the Greek comedy Lysistrata. Toward the end of a wonderful performance, he forgot his lines. The audience fell silent. For my husband and me, the seconds that followed ticked endlessly as we were nervous for him. Suddenly, a proctor standing off to the side of the stage shouted out the line. He looked off stage and shouted back “what”?

    She yelled it again, this time loud enough for the entire audience to hear. We sunk in our seats as some of the campers in the audience started to snicker. But our boy didn’t let that get to him. He stopped, smiled, looked out into the audience, and then pointing off stage quipped, “Whatever she said!” The crowd laughed loudly and thundered applause as the aspiring actor took an unscripted bow. They were laughing with him, not at him. He changed the conversation.

    I read an article that said “in a crisis, it’s important not to let your emotions hijack you” if you want to manage the fight or flight response. It went on to point out that science has shown the best way to create a cohesive and coherent response is to do so with your head, heart and gut.

    That means balanced breathing to calm down so you can tap into your heart to identify what’s important to you. From there, you can use your head and trust your gut to make solid decisions when you speak and act.

    Whether dealing with something as critical as a life-threatening emergency landing or something far simpler like forgetting your line in a play or having your speakers blare feedback, when it’s happening to you, it feels like a crisis. Yet there is a similarity in all of these situations.

    Like the Bacon Brothers, when we tune ourselves to focus on others, we can often turn something negative into something positive.

  • feedwordpress 17:31:05 on 2017/04/11 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Philadelphia Business Journal, political, Politicians,   

    Leadership Lessons from Political Campaigns 

    As I exited Amtrak at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station and made my way to the escalator destined upward to the grand train lobby, the oddest thing happened. The moving staircase that was still packed with people heading down to the train platform suddenly changed directions and headed up. Like a scene from a bad You Tube clip, surprised passengers stumbled over their own feet trying to walk down the up staircase while spectators laughed out loud when suddenly, the irony of the situation struck me.

    How often do we step backward when trying to move forward? How frequently are our personal and professional goals thwarted with unanticipated hurdles that threaten to prevent us from accomplishing our goals? The lesson is not in the answers to these questions but rather how we learn to turn these mis-steps to our advantage. I believe some of the best examples can be found in political campaigns which can teach leaders’ volumes about communicating more effectively in today’s fast-paced attention challenged workplace.

    More than a decade ago, I ran for the Pennsylvania state house and lost in one of the closest state races in the Commonwealth’s history.  At the time, I was hard at work building my own business which included coaching and training members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The state representative in my district had received a lot of negative press for allegedly smacking his girlfriend in public so opposing party leadership saw a good opportunity to reclaim the seat and thought tapping a former television reporter with name recognition was a great strategy. When I was first approached, I laughed out loud as the conversation went something like this.

    Leadership: “How would you like to run for PA House?’
    Me: “Not a chance.”
    Leadership: “Why not?”
    Me: “Should I tell you the truth or tell you what you want to hear?”
    Leadership: “Oh please, we want the truth.”
    Me: “For starters, I’ve interviewed hundreds of politicians and was never that impressed so no offense, but I have no real desire to be like any of you.”

    Then I signed up.

    Like any product, promise, service or idea, the key is to inspire and motivate so people believe in what you’re selling. As an example, politicians have to sell themselves every time they speak. Let’s say a candidate appears warm, friendly and sincere but when you meet them in person, they are scowling, not as happy as they appeared on TV, offer a droopy handshake and seem distracted as you speak to them. You would probably re-think your decision to vote for that person just as you would probably not be inclined to follow their lead in the workplace.

    While social networks were not as prominent when I ran for office, they were already forcing people to have conversations in order to motivate and empower others. That meant talking with listeners instead of at them as I had learned form a twenty year career in television news. When we interviewed people, they wanted to share their stories. When we edited it for broadcast, we wanted snippets of information that made our viewers and listeners feel what it must have been like to be at the scene of that story. That meant making information relevant to others.

    Step One: Keep the Conversation Real
    When I ran for office, urban sprawl was a hot issue and my opponent was a member of the township planning commission and a self-proclaimed topic expert. Every time we were both questioned about it, she talked from experience and was usually quoted. I was not. That’s when I realized I needed to keep the conversation real and speak people’s language so I changed my approach. The next time I was interviewed I said: “Traffic has gotten so bad out here in Montgomery County, that I could balance my checkbook on the way home from work.” Granted, you don’t need a college education to come up with that one, but it resonated with readers and every time I said it, I got quoted so of course, I said it all the time.

    Politicians understand the importance of using real life examples and storytelling to impact listeners but business communicators often lag behind fearing what’s appropriate in other settings is not appropriate in the workplace. Quite the opposite is true. In medicine, it’s the stories of sick patients that inspire researchers to search for cures. In war time, we cling to stories that offer hope about people who have overcome insurmountable odds. The stories of grief, hope and optimism that immediately followed the horrific events of September 11, 2001 are forever etched into our personal and national psyche. Stories are real and create rapport communicators need to share if they hope to drive the message home.

    Step Two: Be Accountable
    In my campaign office, we had a young woman in charge of our door to door walking campaign. It was up to her to determine what neighborhoods we canvassed and how many times we returned. There was a big map in the office with colored pins stuck on streets that illustrated where we had trudged. Shortly before the election, I noticed we missed an entire section of the district. When I questioned her, she became very defensive and claimed her strategy never included campaigning in this area. As it turned out, she made a mistake and was embarrassed to admit it. If she had taken responsibility, we could have changed course and potentially secured additional votes.

    When people are unaccountable, they often make excuses, blame others or play dumb which can create an atmosphere of mistrust. In campaigns as well as business, accepting responsibility and not being afraid to say you erred in judgment makes you real and can actually increase confidence in your ability to lead.

    Step Three: Have Heart
    My older son was only nine during my short lived political career but he taught me a lesson I will never forget. It was a very competitive race where many people said they would only vote their party regardless of personal beliefs. On election night, my son and husband were assigned to hand out literature at a polling place. Every time someone would walk in the door, he would run up to them, hand out my flyer and scream “vote for my mom”. On the way out of the voting booth, an older man grabbed my husband’s arm and said: “I’ve never voted for another party in my life until tonight and I did it because of your son.”

    Without knowing it, this nine year old instinctually knew that politicians can’t win races without good grassroots organizations, but more importantly, he cut through the politics and grabbed at their hearts.

  • feedwordpress 19:11:12 on 2017/01/18 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , people skills, Philadelphia Business Journal, soft skills   

    Sharpening your soft skills 

    The letter from the local tax collector’s office said we were being penalized for failing to pay school taxes last year. It threatened if we didn’t send money by a certain date, there would be additional consequences.

    I looked at the letterhead and didn’t recognize the name of the tax collector, which seemed odd as I’ve known her for years. The tone of the letter was also terse; not at all like Patti, who was sweet and understanding. A long-time popular public servant who had been re-elected multiple times, she was a fixture in the township building who always greeted you with a bright smile. A letter from her would have a much softer tone and say something like “perhaps you’ve overlooked the due date of your last school tax payment”. This made no sense to me. So, I called the office.

    Imagine my surprise to learn that Patti had suddenly died.  The letter we received was from the newly appointed temporary tax collector. After my initial sadness over Patti’s loss, anger set in. Instead of a threatening letter, why didn’t this individual introduce himself and share that his predecessor had died? Why didn’t he say something nice about her and offer to help people during this surprising and upsetting transition?

    We did miss our tax payment, but not purposely, which Patti would have understood. Even if she couldn’t forgive the penalty, she would not have made us feel like slackers trying to get away with something.

    There are hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are job specific. These are technical skills and expertise required to do your job. Soft skills are people skills. It’s about relating to others. Think of it this way.  Let’s say you have a choice between working with two different accountants. One is slightly more qualified than the other, but can be short tempered, rude and not easily accessible. The other is warm, friendly, always picks up the phone and seems to care about you. Who would you choose? Most of us would choose the latter. A person’s expertise might bring someone in the door, but their ability to communicate and relate is what will keep them there.

    It’s those soft skills that help us problem solve, collaborate and build constructive relationships with others. When organizations encourage development of these skills, they create positive environments where people feel valued. That goes a long way toward strengthening relationships with customers, colleagues and other stakeholders. In fact, a national survey conducted by the Harris Poll found that 16 percent of hiring managers believe soft skills are even more important than hard skills.

    So, which soft skills should we develop and why? Let’s focus on four:

    • Empathy
    • Communication
    • Self-Awareness
    • Non-Verbal

    Empathy, especially during difficult times, conveys caring and understanding. During very public situations when a company has done something wrong, it’s most important skill a spokesperson can develop if it’s genuine. While facts are important, it’s how those facts are communicated that form perceptions.

    Your ability to communicate clearly, concisely and openly speaks to trust and credibility. There may be times when you can’t share information. Instead of shutting people out, listen to their concerns and let them know you will share information as soon as you are able.

    Becoming more self-aware of your short-comings will help you change and improve behaviors. People who are self-aware are perceived as open and willing to learn new skills.

    Lastly, never underestimate the importance of eye contact and body language. Making direct eye contact suggests you consider someone important. Open gestures, facing the person who is talking to you and a smile when appropriate positions you as approachable.

    There is also the issue of tone whether intended or unintended. Recently, I inquired as to when we would receive a deposit for an upcoming program. The contract office shot back an email that said: “As I stated in our original email, the deposit will be sent out on x date.”

    I wondered why the nasty tone.  Were they mad at me? Were they annoyed that I didn’t see or remember the date? Were they trying to let me know who is in charge? Or, maybe the sender didn’t realize how they sounded. Maybe they meant nothing at all.

    Maybe, the tax collector didn’t realize how harsh he sounded, especially so close to his colleague’s death. Tone can be very misunderstood when someone can’t see you or hear you. Tone conveys attitude.

    Winston Churchill once said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” Attitude is a soft skill. Whether writing a letter, sending an email or speaking in person, an upbeat positive attitude is contagious and can patch up misunderstandings.

    If you just take an extra second and proceed with caution, you might prevent misunderstandings that can sabotage relationships and convey a negative impression you never intended.

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