Smoke Signals: Are you reading them correctly?

Smoke Signals:Are you reading them correctly?

What do ancient Chinese soldiers, American Indians, the Cardinals in Rome, and our clients all have in common? They all send smoke signals. Ok, our clients may not actually send smoke signals, but they send lots of messages. The question is, are we picking up on what they’re telling us?

What signals are our clients sending? What about our boss? Are we able to read signs of satisfaction or disappointment with our work? Deciphering these cues is not always easy.

Signals can be subtle, so when you’re in a meeting or making a presentation, read your audience. Notice their body language. Are they leaning in and listening or leaning back and tuning out? Are they looking at you or gazing out the window? Are they continually checking their smartphones?

These may signal that they’ve lost interest. Or as interesting as you think you are, maybe your audience is preoccupied with business outside the room. So what can you do?

  1. Take control of the meeting (before they do) and draw them back in. Manage their expectations. Restate the objective and main point of the meeting to keep people focused.
  2. Give them back their time. Everyone—especially senior managers—have one eye on the clock. To get them to pay attention, say, “This meeting is slated for an hour, but I’ll try to cover everything in 45 minutes.” If you give them their time back, they’ll be more attentive.
  3. Make eye contact and engage your audience. When you look at them, they’ll eventually look at you. Concerned about the after-lunch coma? Modulate the volume and tone of your voice. This creates more energy in the room and focuses attention on you.
  4. Ask “rip-cord” questions. Just as a rip cord opens up a parachute, open-ended questions open up a two-way conversation. Begin questions with, Tell me, Explain, Why, Describe….
  5. Beware of “Yep…mm-hmm…got it…sure….” It’s probably a signal that they’ve heard enough. If you’ve made your key points, it may be time to end the meeting. If not, shift gears. Get to the point quickly and hit on the highlights. Underscore the benefits of what you’re proposing and how it will impact them. Give specific reasons why they should care.

Conversely, whether we intend to or not, we also send signals that others can pick up on.

- Didn’t get a chance to prepare properly for meeting? Don’t broadcast it by coming across as timid. Work with what you’ve got and exude confidence.

- Don’t use tentative or fuzzy language that can demonstrate lack of confidence. (Avoid the words and phrases in the brackets.)

  • [Hopefully]/We’re confident that what we’re presenting today will make your staff more efficient.
  • This [has the potential to] will increase your sales.
  • Our new product [could/should] will solve your problem.
  • Our research [suggests] proves that our system works.
  • [We’ll try to do whatever we can]/We assure you that you’ll be happy.

All good communication is two way. If you do all the talking, you may come across as talking “at” your audience, which is a sure turn-off. Turn them on with confidence, assertiveness, and energy and let them know that you’re reading them loud and clear!

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Four Lincoln Business Principles For the 21st Century Executive

Lincoln is hot. Spurred by Steven Spielberg’s epic film that has grossed $244 million worldwide, led the Oscar pack with 12 nominations and earned Daniel Day Lewis the award for Best Actor, there is a renewed appreciation for the President who abolished slavery and saved the Union. We admire his moral fiber, courage, strength, and determination. And while we don’t usually think of him in this way, Lincoln was the consummate Chief Executive.

Here are four Lincoln lessons that we can apply to our approach to business:

1. Have the courage of your convictions. While the fate of the Union hung in the balance and amid threats on his life, Lincoln knew what he had to do and he did it. He had the courage to make unpopular decisions. It’s not always easy, but do the right thing. Don’t be swayed by political expediency or take the easy way out. It’s the best way to earn the respect of colleagues and clients.

2. Surround yourself with good people who will tell you what you don’t want to hear. Lincoln’s Cabinet was comprised of a “team of rivals,” many of whom he had defeated for the nomination. There wasn’t a yes-man in sight. Be open minded. Listen to alternative views. Try to understand how you’re being perceived. Be willing to shift gears if it helps you achieve your goals.

3. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Lincoln famously said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Whether it’s a meeting with senior executives at your own company or a client presentation, do your homework, practice your pitch and sharpen your axe. Not only will you be ready for any possible resistance to your ideas, but you’ll have the confidence you need to prevail.

4. Be in tune with your colleagues, your senior management and your clients. Lincoln biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin writes that Lincoln triumphed because he possessed an extraordinary ability to put himself in the place of others, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires. Take the time to find out what makes your stakeholders tick. It’s not one-size-fits-all. Tailor your approach to each personality—it’s worth the effort.

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The good ones stay ready!

If Alex Smith, starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers at the start of the season, looked in his crystal ball and saw that his team would be in the Super Bowl, he would have started visualizing the touchdown passes he’d make. But it wasn’t to be. For most of the season, Alex Smith was the highest rated quarterback in the NFL. In November he suffered a concussion and was replaced by Colin Kaepernick. Although he was subsequently cleared by doctors to play, head coach Jim Harbaugh never looked back. For the rest of the season Smith sat on the sidelines, suddenly the number-two to Kaepernick. Even in the Super Bowl.

“Smith is the example of how the best weapon against… daily blows is not jealousy or rage, but responsibility and resilience.”

The New York Times

But rather than pout and complain, he mentored Kaepernick and publicly complimented him. He praised the coaching staff. ESPN says Smith “has been professional at every turn.” Greg Roman, the 49ers’ offensive coordinator, is quoted as saying of Smith, “He understands football is a team sport, whereas the entire world tries to make it a sport of individuals.” The class he has shown has not been lost on the NFL. According to ESPN, there is high demand for Smith among other teams.

Smith says he’s not trying to be a good role model. “I want to be the same teammate that I’ve always expected my teammates to be,” he says. And he was on call if his team needed him. “You stay ready. The good ones stay ready,” Smith says.

 Just as Kaepernick was ready when Smith got injured. His readiness gave him the chance to be the starting quarterback on a Super Bowl team, rather than just a short-term sub.

There are lessons here for the business world. Passed over for a promotion? Was a colleague tapped to present to the client instead of you? Asked to stay behind while the rest of the team is off to an important meeting?

The good ones stay ready for their time to shine. Moping and undermining your perceived rivals will only make you an outcast. Find a way to help in any capacity. Stay relevant to the team and stay sharp. The good ones stay ready for their big moment.

Ben Shpigel of The New York Times wrote, “Smith is the leading man who shows up with a sore throat and is immediately demoted to understudy…the top salesman who misses work because of flu and is immediately passed over for a promotion. Smith is the epitome of the inherent unfairness that is present everywhere from the highest corporate office to the youngest Little League baseball team. Yet Smith is the example of how the best weapon against these daily blows is not jealousy or rage, but responsibility and resilience.” 

Sometimes life is unfair. But the good ones stay ready.

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Your New Promotion: What Do We Do Now?

5 Ways to Act the Part

I was recently asked by a client to facilitate a session for newly promoted VPs at a large bank.  Gone are the days when merely serving your time earned a promotion.  In today’s market, promotions are far and few between, so for these men and women moving from Associate to VP was a big step.

My challenge for the newly promoted is, “So what happens once you get the promotion? What will senior management notice that’s different about you?”

The most important thing to remember is that it’s not business as usual. You’ve been rewarded for your good work and expertise, but this is more than a raise. The game has changed, you’re expected to be a different type of player, and even the score is kept differently.

Before your promotion you may have been expected to gather information for your manager so she could make an informed decision. Now you have to make that informed decision. Your colleagues—peers, subordinates and managers—will all look to you for your perceptive insights, astute analysis, and informed opinions.

So what’s different?

5 ways to start off your promotion with an incredible bang!

Add value. The more senior you become, your value is less about the information you have and more about your opinions and insights. That’s why they pay you the big bucks!

Find your voice. Speak with confidence. Make it clear that you’re willing to listen to the opinions of others, but take the approach that your open-mindedness is what makes you a strong leader. When addressing your clients and colleagues, be succinct and to the point—don’t assume that you can ramble because you have a captive audience.

Own the room. When you’re in a meeting, go back to basics: make eye contact with everyone in the audience. Project your voice and make sure it fills the room.

Humility can go a long way. You won’t always have all the answers, but don’t come across as tentative. Admit when you’re wrong or don’t know; tap dancing is no longer acceptable in your new role. However, you need to show that you’re in control of the situation and know how to find the answers. It’s a good idea to look at your network and see who you can tap into when you need help.

If you’re not there yet, model someone who is. Look within your organization or at another company and model the characteristics and attitude of someone in your role who you admire and who has earned the respect and trust of senior management and colleagues.

“Don Draper: It’s your job. You give me ideas.

Peggy Olson: But you never thank me.

Don Draper: That’s what the money is for!”

Mad Men

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Two ways of Reaching your Top Potential: Focus and Meaning

You are on a tightrope. Your life is stretched out in front of you on a thin strand of wire.
What do you think about?

Speaking for myself, I might be thinking something like, “whose idea WAS this,” or “where’s the pigeon repellent when you need it”. But I can assure you, none of those thoughts crossed the mind of Nik Wallenda when he made his recent world record breaking walk on a highwire across Niagara Falls.

As one of the legendary Wallendas, Nik is highwire royalty and he proved it with his recent accomplishment. As I watched I could not help hold my breath with the rest of the world and pray “please don’t let him fall.” But what was Nik thinking? What was he praying?

Listen to the pre-interview with Nik on YouTube and you will get a glimpse into the mind of a man who thinks differently. His thoughts and prayers never went to the negative. He never expressed or even allowed doubt to enter his mind. Instead, his was a prayer of gratitude BEFORE he finished the walk. His focus was on success!

Just as important, Nik instilled a meaning into his walk that motivated his optimism. He was walking in memory of his grandfather, Karl Wallenda who fell to his death at the age of 73 in a similar stunt in Puerto Rico in 1978. So in answer to the waiting customs agent who questioned him at the finish of his walk on his purpose for entering Canada Nik replied, “to inspire people around the world.”

The life lesson here is not hard to see!

Sometimes we feel like we are walking on a tightrope. Our tightrope could be going on an important sales call, looking for a job, asking for a raise or even having a challenging conversation with a client or colleague. What is the radio noise playing or the script we are reading in our head? Are we focusing on success or failure? Do we give meaning to this situation? Is the meaning strong enough that it motivates desire? Is the desire strong enough that it motivates positive action?

Success as it is normally defined will not always be the outcome. But if we think differently and redefine the word we never lose. Success can mean simply taking the risk and facing our challenge. If Nik had not made it across the falls his family would have seen it that way. His walk was a success before he took it, because he accepted the challenge. Lucky for us there are the Nik Wallenda’s who do take the challenge, show us the way and dare to “inspire people around the world.”

With the right focus and meaning we can accomplish anything.

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BlackBerry Blues—

How to get your audience to put down their BlackBerry & iPhones and listen to you

What do you do when you stand up to begin a presentation or a meeting and everyone pulls out their phones to answer email, send a quick text, check Facebook and—gasp!—play Angry Birds?

The first thing is to take a deep breath and not take it personally. People are busy and, especially if they mistakenly think the speaker won’t notice, they multi-task. It can be disconcerting but, unfortunately, it happens.

The challenge for the presenter is to engage your audience and get them to commit to you. But how? 

Create a sense of urgency by negotiating for their time. Try something like this: “I have 20 minutes on the agenda, but I know you’re busy, so if you give me your full attention, I’ll hit the highlights in 10.” Don’t sound angry or annoyed…communicate that you empathize with them and are trying to meet them halfway.

It’s all about creating desire. Create their desire to listen more. To engage and react. To ask questions. Don’t try to educate your audience in a heavy-handed way.

Make eye contact, modulate your voice and use the room. This holds their attention better and makes them realize that you’re watching them as much as they’re watching you.

Give them the top-level version and follow up with the full presentation in an email. Tell them, “Here are the three most important things you need to know about….” Make three main points and expand with no more than two or three details for each. If you’re using PowerPoint, take extra care to make sure your headlines are powerful, clear and concise.

Go into the meeting assuming you’ll be able to deliver your full presentation. But be prepared with a CliffsNotes version just in case. This includes preparing a highlights version of your PowerPoint presentation if you have one.

Be willing to let go. Don’t resist a condensed version of your pitch because your audience needs to hear everything. Don’t let the hours you spent crafting your presentation make you reluctant to pare back. What’s the alternative? What’s the best outcome? Would you rather your audience absorb 90 percent of your shortened presentation or just vaguely hear 10 percent of the whole thing?

When it comes to fighting for the attention of your audience, sometimes less is more.

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5 Reasons Why Jeremy Lin is a Superstar

5 Reasons Why Jeremy Lin is a Superstar— And How to Follow his Playbook

Jeremy Lin’s meteoric rise may seem sudden, but the seeds of Linsanity were sown over an intense 18 months of training, introspection and persistence. He may have just burst onto the scene, but he’s no overnight sensation.

Popular wisdom is that Jeremy Lin was overlooked because scouts and coaches weren’t smart enough to recognize his talent. But the Jeremy Lin who’s been taking the court by storm is not the same player who was ignored by the NBA draft.

Jeremy Lin is a star because he worked hard, persevered and believed in himself. And how he did it offers lessons for everyone, especially those seeking success in business. Follow his playbook and you, too, can be in like Lin:

1.      Be the first to arrive and the last to leave.

After signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, Lin was the first player in every day, arriving at 8:30am for practices that began at noon. He left late. His work ethic gave him time to work on drills and caught the attention of his coaches.

2.      Watch tapes of yourself.

Lin devoured tapes. He asked to see his turnovers and missed jump shots. He studied what went wrong and worked to correct his mistakes. You can do the same: tape your presentations and watch yourself in action. Do you speak clearly? Make eye contact? Do you stammer? Use your hands too much? You’ll get over the initial cringe factor and it will improve your performance.

3.      Build your skills.

Every day Lin did drills to improve his pick-and-roll game, jumper and 3-point shot. He lifted weights and gained 12 pounds of muscle and added 3.5 inches to his vertical leap. You can do drills, too: improve your PowerPoint design skills; practice your diction; practice writing concise, powerful headlines; create charts and graphs that tell your story.

4.      Work with a trainer.

In addition to NBA coaches and assistants, Lin sought out his own trainer to work on his physical strength and endurance. If your company isn’t giving you the support you need to take your game to the next level, take a class or get a sales coach. Professional trainers may see something in you that you and your management team do not. It’s not as expensive as you may think and may only require a few sessions.

5.      Believe in yourself.

Lin believed he could succeed. When he was passed over by the NBA draft, he didn’t give up. When he was sent down to the D-League, he wasn’t insulted, he used the opportunity to improve his skills. When he was waived by two teams in two weeks, he didn’t feel sorry for himself. He worked harder and smarter. Keep at it. Keep working. Keep trying. Never give up.

Think about how you can apply Lin’s approach to basketball to whatever game you’re playing. And if you take his lead, it may not land you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, but it may just earn you a place on your company’s All-Star team.

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Wait! Stop Going to the Movies

How to Visualize A Successful Sales Pitch

Stop going to the movies. Not what you’d expect to hear during Academy Award season. But no, not those movies. I mean the movies that we play and replay in our heads, especially when we enter new or uncomfortable situations.

People have a great collection of movies stored in their memory banks and not all of them have happy endings. Which movie do you play when you are about to have an uncomfortable conversation with a client or colleague? How about the tragedy, My Pitch Was Gone with the Wind or Desperately Seeking Sales, both directed by you. These two incredible films might earn you an Oscar for Best Actor or at least a Best Director nomination, but they’re detrimental to your career. The goal is to replace The Titanic with The Greatest Show on Earth.

Whatever movie we tell our mind to play, it will play it the way we envision it. After all, we’re directing it.  We will even feel the emotions as the scene unfolds. For example, have you ever visualized a conversation that you plan to have with someone? During the movie in our head we’re so stressed out about whether we can pull this off that we undermine ourselves. If that happens the leading actor won’t get the happily ever after or the sale. So happy endings are crucial to achieving success.

It’s OK to watch a movie in your head as long as it’s a feel-good adventure. The challenge is to edit, reframe and direct that movie to end the way we want it to end.  The final cut will influence our behaviors and, in many cases, will affect the outcomes of these meetings.

So how do you shoot the film to achieve a positive outcome?  How do you visualize success in a meeting or conversation?  Think about what success would look like and feel like in this situation. Visualize you in the starring role as an eloquent, self-confident protagonist with a winning delivery. Visualize your client nodding in agreement, asking questions and you confidently replying with the air of authority.  As the credits are about to roll, come in for a close-up of a handshake that seals the deal.

But before all the applause goes to your head, recognize that visualization is only half of the epic tale. You can hone the script, edit to your heart’s content and roll out a huge advertising campaign, but that’s all just preparation for the actual premiere. You can visualize success, but you won’t actually achieve it unless you make that phone call, set up that meeting, or arrange that lunch. Take control and make it happen. You’re the director. Only then can you bring your movie to life. Only then will you actually make the sale. Only then will you see a true happy ending.

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The New Year Kick-Off

The New Year Kick-Off

The new year is a time for optimism about the future. It’s also a rare opportunity to start fresh. Whether 2011 was a year of feast or famine, we all begin 2012 with a clean slate.  The best way to get the ball rolling in the right direction is with a kickoff meeting. It provides a forum to rally around common goals, bond as a team, and forge ahead with a single purpose.

Kickoff meetings help kick-start the new year and they set the tone for success. Whether you spend three days at Disney World, book a local hotel for a day, or set aside a few hours in your conference room, use a kickoff meeting to focus and energize your team. Review your goals for2012, recognize outstanding achievement and motivate your entire team to achieve their personal best.

Celebrate the success you had the previous year (no matter how lackluster the overall performance of your team was, there were probably bright spots). If you don’t have the budget for big bonuses, even gift cards can go a long way, whether it’s a Visa gift card the recipient can use it to buy something from anywhere or a gift card to a local restaurant. Everyone likes to see their achievements—and those of their colleagues—acknowledged and appreciated.

Set the tone for the new year.  State your goals (even if everyone knows what they are) and get everyone to buy in. Explain your strategy for customers and prospects and report on trends that your team can use to its advantage. Provide insights about your customer base and your target audience. Challenge your team to think outside the box and push themselves to be high achievers. Inspire excellence.

Keep the agenda moving with a variety of speakers: invite a senior company executive, a motivational speaker, and someone to give them the sales tools they’ll need to be successful in the coming year. Try team-building exercises that bring them together and give them focus.

You don’t need a big budget or an elaborate dog and pony show. Just put some thought into what will motivate your team and make sure it’s a positive experience that will get the new year off to a good start.

May professional and personal success be yours in the coming year and always.

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Who’s Who in Your Client Relationships

We find this model works best for us!

Unless your client is a one-person operation, there are probably many levels of people you deal with. Knowing how decisions are made, who makes them, and what the relationships are among colleagues is critical to your ability to cultivate a successful long-term relationship with your clients. Recognize the following types of people involved in decision making:

Decision Makers are the ones who actually pull the trigger. If you don’t know who they are, find out! You need their trust and respect to get their business, but they won’t necessarily be the ones to sing your praises or open doors elsewhere in the company.

Influencers have the ear of the decision makers. They may be the number-two person, maybe a colleague, a department head, or even an assistant. These are the people who the decision makers trust to make recommendations and give their opinions about business matters. It’s crucial to find out who these people are at the organizations you’re trying to penetrate.

Advocates speak out on your behalf and recommend you to others, especially if you’re successful and make them look good. They’re your champions who will open doors at the company to enable you to spread your net wide and deep. The strongest client relationships are those where you have multiple advocates speaking highly of your performance, goods or services.

Mentors play the role of your coach. Sometimes, though not always, they’re the gatekeepers. They provide insight about the key people in the organization and tell you who you need to meet and what buttons to press. They won’t necessarily open the door for you, though, so it’s important to cultivate these relationships with frequent–though not overbearing—contact. An occasional lunch or coffee meeting can go a long way in helping to make them feel important.

Knowing the key players and their roles within their organizations allows you to Access Your Ability to become the go-to person the client relies on to help solve problems, meet sales quotas and satisfy their customers. It enables you to penetrate deep within the organization and convert a one-time sale to on ongoing relationship.

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