9 Ways to Improve Your Powerpoint Presentations

I Googled “Death by Powerpoint” and got 12.6 million results. That’s a whole lot of frustrated ranting going on. Look, I get it. In most companies, if you’re serious about your project, you can’t show up to a meeting without a “deck” to explain it. But if people are glazing over, you’re not inspiring their best thinking.

Shortly after returning to Apple Steve Jobs said:

I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking. People confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.

For most of us that’s a nontroversy. But the Powerpoint requirement is still the norm. So for goodness sake, do us a favor and follow these 9 tips.

9 Ways to Improve Your Powerpoint Presentation

1. Start With Your Message

What do you want your audience TO DO as a result of your presentation? I’m always amazed at how fuzzy that often is. Don’t start with the deck, start with your message. Outline your talk track BEFORE working on the slides. Your slides are gravy, not the meat.

2. Simplify Your Text

Keep to the rule of one point per slide and make your point pop. Reinforce it with a 5-7 word call out box.

3. Use Clean Fonts

Don’t use more than three fonts. If you have to reduce font size to less than 24pt, you’re cramming too much in.

4. Let Your Headings Tell a Story

Go through the presentation and just read the headings. If your headings don’t tell a coherent story on their own, revise them.

5. Use Your Layout to Focus Attention

The most important places to put information are the heading, upper left side and the bottom.

6. Build a Model

Models go a low way in simplifying complex messages. Think food pyramid or Sinek’s Golden Circle.

7. Use Compelling Visuals

DO NOT use clip art. Instead find clean photographs that tell your story. If the image doesn’t enhance the meaning leave it out. If you present frequently, look for unique pictures as you’re out in the world, capture them with your phone and save them in a folder.

8. End with a Call to Action

Ask your audience for what you need or want them to do.

9. Create a Separate Leave Behind

One of the main reasons Powerpoints are so crammed full of words and data is that they’re created to be “cascaded” and shared by someone other than the presenter. If you want to capture your primary audience’s attention, build a few slides that truly support your main ideas. Then create a separate document with additional detail and supporting data.

Differentiate your message with clean slides that enhance your story, and your audience will have more energy left to engage and do what you need them to do.

Does Your Boss Have Your Back?

When I was fairly young in my HR career, I was walking by my boss’ boss’ office (let’s call him Eric) while visiting our corporate headquarters in Manhattan. Without leaving his desk, he called out:

Karin, can you please do me a favor? You see there’s this meeting that I’m unable to attend, and it would be great if you could attend it for me. Sally, the Senior VP of our call center division has an absence problem. She asked me to attend, but I’m busy. I think it would be great if you could go talk employee engagement. It’s starting in a few minutes so you should head down now.

Honored to be asked, and delighted for the exposure, I eagerly said “Yes!” and ran off to the meeting. As I entered the room (apparently late), all conversation stopped.

“Who are you?” Sally barked.

“Oh, I’m Karin, Eric couldn’t make it, but asked me to come instead.”

“This is an important issue, and needs to be handled at the senior level! Doesn’t Eric care enough here to show up? Why didn’t he let me know he was sending you? What’s your role? Don’t answer that. I’ll be right back.”

She slammed the door and called Eric.

“You can stay, she grumbled.”

Oh, wait for it. It gets worse.

The VPs around the room had all kinds of ideas for how to “fix those people;” none of which involved actually talking to them to understand root cause.

I piped in and told them so.

I was completely ignored and they went on with their planning.

Later that day…

I was on the elevator when the doors opened and Sally walked in. When was this day going to end?! I tried to get absorbed in the crowd, hoping she wouldn’t notice. When we stopped at her floor, she asked me to step off with her for a moment.

You’ve got great ideas, but you’re incredibly clumsy.  As a manager, you don’t tell a room full of VPs all of them are wrong in a meeting with their peers. You quietly take notes, and then talk with a few of them offline to stakeholder your ideas. You really ticked me off, so I couldn’t even process what you were saying. But I’ve been thinking about it and you’re right. I’d like you to lead the HR leg of this project. You help me fix my absence problem and I’ll help you learn how to navigate politically so you don’t sabotage what could be a promising career. Sound like a deal?

She smiled for the first time that day.

It was the start to a beautiful mentoring relationship. She always had my back.

Two VPs with position power: one with his back firmly against the wall, protecting himself. The other taking a risk on a naive but passionate kid. What a difference it makes when someone has your back.

How to Get Employees to Care About Your Company

Great commercials, strong PR, a brilliant social media strategy all warrant effort when building your company’s reputation. But there’s no better PR than an army of loyal employees living and breathing your brand. You know the type–folks with enthusiasm bursting from their veins–talking up your products and services with their friends at every bar, baptism and bat mitzvah they attend.

“No, I’m telling you this works, I’ve seen it from the inside! This product has changed my life! Let me show you.”

Or  “I’m so sorry you had that experience, it’s not usually like that.”

Yes. Define your image. Yes, yes, advertise it. But don’t overlook the power of your employees to tell your story.

7 Way To Turn Your Employees into Advocates

Your best employees want to be part of the inner circle. If you want them to act like owners, treat them that way. Here’s how.

1. Acknowledge Reality

Don’t blow smoke. They know the truth better than anyone and how it’s been received. Don’t sugarcoat the issues. Share your concerns and get them involved to fix them.

2. Listen to What They Hear

Don’t discount their feedback as “noise” really listen to what they’re hearing from customers. Nothing is more disconcerting that watching employees share relentless feedback in focus groups and having execs finally pay attention when the consultant comes in and says the same thing.

3. Give Them Context

Share the bigger picture and dynamics of the parameters you’re up against. Creativity comes best when the constraints are clear.

4. Treat Them with Deep Respect

“PR or HR or Staff or the VP knows best” never really plays well at the front line. Respect their perspective, and they’ll respect yours.

5. Encourage Them to Speak in Their Own Voice

Once this deeper understanding is established, I’m always amazed at the insights and eloquence of the frontline. Scripting may keep you out of trouble, but I’ve never seen a script create a best-in-class brand.

6. Allow Them to Be the Hero

There’s nothing more frustrating to a frontline employee than when an executive swoops in and does EXACTLY what they would have done but their hands were tied. Execs chalk this up to common sense that apparently they think they have but I’ve met many who question whether anyone they’ve hired to service their customers could possibly be that astute.

Give your employees a few opportunities (at least) to do what you would do in such circumstances. Can you imagine what would happen if you could replicate that level of prudence and critical thinking?

7. Encourage Swagger

This part may seem unnecessary. But I’m telling you, it matters. I remember when I first started working for Bell Atlantic (as a transition from my teaching assistanceship at the University of MD). All I wanted for Christmas was for my husband to get a hold of a Bell Atlantic sweat shirt. Here I was ready to be a spokesperson and to wear it proudly, but I couldn’t figure out how!

When two decades later I led the outsourced call center channel, it became obvious in about 37 seconds that these outsourced employees working for Verizon Wireless were wild about getting a hold of some VZW gear and would be honored to wear it. They felt passionate about being ambassadors of the brand.

When in doubt invest in the tee-shirts.

Effective brands are built from the inside out. Clever brands build the external engagement. Lasting brands build internal and external excitement concurrently.  What steps could you take to build an army of brand advocates?

One Thing to Eliminate From Every Job Description

I asked a group of managers (coming from a variety of industries and positions) “What do you think most bosses want from their employees?” They reached quick consensus: responsiveness, self-sufficiency, creativity, and candor topped the list (with a beautiful argument about the pros and cons of compliance).

I then asked, “How do you know what YOUR manager wants?” The responses were more varied and cryptic.

“You’ve got to watch for clues.”

“You learn by trial and error.”

“You’ve got to watch their body language.”

“You learn what not to do when others screw up.”

“Or worse, I learn when I screw up.”

And then the obvious question. “How do you think your team learns what you expect?” Crickets. Apparently mind-reading is a common, yet invisible requirement in many job descriptions.

How much time would we save if we were more explicit about what we want and need?

How much energy could be diverted to actually working on the work, rather than guessing what’s on one another’s minds?

  • “A response to my questions within  12 hours is vital. Let me explain why. We had this client _________.”
  • “I travel a lot so I’m going to count on you to make some important decisions when I’m in the air. Let me explain my process of evaluating a good decision.”
  • “There are some areas where I expect 100% compliance. All security standards must be followed at all times and we never jeopardize a customer’s private information.” In other areas I’m all for creativity and experimentation. I expect you to push back when something feels stupid. Let me tell you about a time _______.”

You know what you want and need. Your employees know what they need in order to meet your expectations. Imagine the possibilities with just a little more communication?

7 Questions to Improve Your Team's Communication

Nothing will improve your team’s productivity faster than better communication. Having a deliberate process and cadence of communication will save hours of lost time, productivity and drama.

If you don’t have a formal plan, or haven’t spoken with your team recently about how communication is going, it’s worth taking the time to communicate about communication. Gather your team together for a focused hour and talk about the questions below, and then build your plan. It’s helpful to revisit the strategy once a month to see how it’s working and determine if anything needs to be revised.

7 Questions to Improve Your Team’s Communication

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
-George Bernard Shaw

1. What’s working/not working?

Start with the basics.

  • What is working well about the way we are currently communicating?
  • Where is co​mmunication breaking down?
  • What do we need to be talking about more? Less?

2. Who are our stakeholders and what do they care about?

Giving your stakeholders the right amount of information how and when they want it reduces their anxiety and gets them off your back. And let’s face it, when you stay in front of the need-to-know curve, you look smart.

If you don’t know what your boss (or her boss) really wants to know–ask. Also if you produce and distribute reports and updates, it’s often wise to ask who’s looking at them. I knew one manager who just stopped sending all the mandatory reports his team was producing for three months, and no one noticed! I’m not suggesting this approach, but a quick check-in may save you some valuable time.

3. What more information do you need from me?

Start with you to ensure you’re giving the team everything they need. Then it’s good to go around the room and have everyone ask this question. Be sure you’re clear on what you need from each team member and what they need from one another.

4. How will we use email?

If you haven’t talked about this explicitly, I’m sure there are strategies you could use to be more impactful.

5. When will we meet (in person or by phone) and why?

Every meeting should have a purpose (tied to improving results or relationships). If the purpose of some of your meetings is simply to update, brainstorm alternative communication strategies.

6. How will we ensure our meetings are effective?

Talk about the best way to monitor meeting effectiveness (see meeting NPS). Do you start each meeting with clear objectives and desired outcomes? Do you stick to the agenda? Are action items clearly documented with responsible parties and follow-up dates?

7. How will we resolve conflict?

Talking about how you’ll address conflict and disagreements before you have one can go a long way in improving team dynamics. Agreeing in advance that you’re open to feedback and the best way to deliver it will also help promote healthy dialogue. Introduce tools such as the expectations matrix to help structure discussion.

So many teams settle for good communication when it could be great. Or worse, assume miscommunication is just part of working in a team. Checking in on the process every now and then will reap huge dividends in future productivity.

Sarcasm is Not a Leadership Competency

I’m not sure why so many people in positions of power think sarcasm is a leadership competency. Sure a quick wit, used well, can energize the team and lighten the load. But a sarcastic remark meant to belittle those who don’t dare fight back diminishes confidence, degrades trust, and leaves folks looking for the nearest escape route.

In fact, an audience member asked me again last week (anonymously through my polling app), “Can you talk about the danger of sarcasm? Our VP uses it often with people he doesn’t know and it ruins his presentations and upsets people.” I thought, “I know that guy.” I bet you do too.

Why is sarcasm so rampant in the workplace? Why would a manager demean someone they’re trying to “motivate?”

Why Sarcasm is So Dangerous

  1. It creates shame in the target.  People will do almost anything to feel good about themselves. If you shame a person when you have positional power, you have put them in a difficult “fight or flight” position.
  2. You get the opposite of what you want. A very skilled self-aware person might come and talk to you about it, but otherwise, they’ll find another way to “get even” – perhaps they resort to similar “humor” behind your back, undermine you, or reduce their work effort.
  3. You give permission for everyone to do it. Before long, your clever comeback has turned into a caustic workplace where negativity reigns. (At the extreme, this can even cause human resource problems with hostile work environments.)
  4. It doesn’t build anything. You might make someone stop doing something by being sarcastic and shaming them, but you’ll never create a new positive behavior this way.
  5. You limit creativity. Consistent sarcasm creates an atmosphere where no one will try a new idea. The risk of failure and incurring shame is too great.
  6. It drains energy. We do our best work when we’re in “the zone” – feeling competent, challenged, and ready to do our best. Sarcasm and humor at another’s expense create doubt and negative energy.
  7. It destroys trust.

How to Be Effective and Funny

  1. Start With Results: When you’re tempted to use sarcasm, stop and ask yourself what you really want. What results do you look for? Encourage, inspire, teach, coach, demonstrate…these are always more effective than sarcasm.
  2. Address Issues Directly: Never use humor to deal with behavior or performance problems. As we’ve seen, it creates more problems and does nothing to help the situation. Address these issues directly and professionally.
  3. Use Humor Effectively: Any comedian can tell you that there is always one safe target to make fun of– you. Self-effacing humor displays humility and tells your people that you don’t feel like you’re better than they are and that don’t take yourself too seriously. It builds trust because people know you own your problems and understand your own shortcomings.
  4. Deal with Your Own Junk: If you’re carrying around hurt or insecurity and regularly mask it with sarcasm or making fun of others, take some time to reflect on what’s going on there – maybe work with a coach. If it’s deep, talk with a counselor.
  5. Clean Up: If you have potentially hurt others in the past, apologize, and make it right.

We love to laugh and we need far more of it – but if you’re a manager or seeking to influence others, avoid sarcasm or making fun of anyone (except yourself) and watch your credibility grow.

David Dye and I write more on this topic in our book being published by AMACOM this February. Winning Well: A Managers Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul. Please call me on 443-750-1249 if you would like more information about including your organization in our Winning Well Speaking Tour this Spring.

To All the (Jerky) Managers I’ve Known Before

I had asked the group to share their teachable point of view on leadership in the form of a TEDdy Talk (e.g. “learn to improve your speaking Karin Hurt style”.) Ultimately everyone would have their 5 minutes of TEDdy Talk fame, but tonight we were just practicing “Wow” openings. “Carrie,” who hadn’t said a heck of a lot before this, stood up and gave the most impassioned imitation of a horrible boss I’ve ever heard– as her “wow” opener. “Why can’t you do anything right!” She screamed (pretending to be her bully boss). “Everyone tells me you are smart, but I just can’t see it!”

And then she shared: “This was my morning today.”

The entire room fell silent.

After giving her a hug and a copy of my Overcoming an Imperfect Boss book, I realized I’ve never dealt with that. Close…but by that time that jerk surfaced her ugly head,  I was too seasoned for that crap. This was “Carrie’s” first serious job and she knew it was wrong. She planned to leave my book on his desk the next day as a conversation starter. (I know… I’ve already said a little prayer.) Either way, growth comes through bravery.

My Best Communication Advice For Jerky Bosses

I know you’re out there. There’s a reason my “Dealing with Difficult People” course has a waiting list (note pretty much all anyone wants to do is talk about their bosses).  But I also know there’s a bat’s chance in hell the bad guys are reading this.

So it’s up to the good guys to spread the word.

If you’re looking to help someone turn their temper into a productive conversation, here’s a process to leave subtly on their desk.

Start Here

First, I’m going to assume you are right, and that your frustration is well-founded. Someone did something stupid after at least 17 times of you trying to help them. You didn’t START thinking they’re stupid, but now you’re starting to wonder. What do you do next?

1. Connect

Connecting gives your adrenaline time to chill. Remembering you’re talking to another human being will go a long way in ensuring a productive solution.

2. Acknowledge Reality

Don’t sugarcoat. State the problem and implications clearly. Most folks appreciate calm, straight talk.

3. Inspire Confidence

What you need right now is people who believe they can fix this, not bruised egos doubting their abilities. Be specific about why you believe they can do this.

4. Ask Questions (and LISTEN) to the Response There’s likely more to this situation than you understand. Slow down, ask open-ended questions and then shut up and really listen to the response. Repeat.

5. Link to the Bigger Picture: Explain why this matters. Provide context. People always work harder when they know why.

6. Set a Clear Goal: Be clear about what must happen next and by when.

7. Involve Them In the Solution: You need as many brains as possible to fix this. Include them.

8. End on An Encouraging Note: There’s a reason that half-time locker room speeches work. Be sure they leave inspired to go-get-this, not fearful of what will happen when they don’t.

No one wants to be a jerky boss. If you know someone who lets their reaction get in the way of their leadership, do us all a favor, and pass this post along.

To All the (Jerky) Managers I've Known Before

I had asked the group to share their teachable point of view on leadership in the form of a TEDdy Talk (e.g. “learn to improve your speaking Karin Hurt style”.) Ultimately everyone would have their 5 minutes of TEDdy Talk fame, but tonight we were just practicing “Wow” openings. “Carrie,” who hadn’t said a heck of a lot before this, stood up and gave the most impassioned imitation of a horrible boss I’ve ever heard– as her “wow” opener. “Why can’t you do anything right!” She screamed (pretending to be her bully boss). “Everyone tells me you are smart, but I just can’t see it!”

And then she shared: “This was my morning today.”

The entire room fell silent.

After giving her a hug and a copy of my Overcoming an Imperfect Boss book, I realized I’ve never dealt with that. Close…but by that time that jerk surfaced her ugly head,  I was too seasoned for that crap. This was “Carrie’s” first serious job and she knew it was wrong. She planned to leave my book on his desk the next day as a conversation starter. (I know… I’ve already said a little prayer.) Either way, growth comes through bravery.

My Best Communication Advice For Jerky Bosses

I know you’re out there. There’s a reason my “Dealing with Difficult People” course has a waiting list (note pretty much all anyone wants to do is talk about their bosses).  But I also know there’s a bat’s chance in hell the bad guys are reading this.

So it’s up to the good guys to spread the word.

If you’re looking to help someone turn their temper into a productive conversation, here’s a process to leave subtly on their desk.

Start Here

First, I’m going to assume you are right, and that your frustration is well-founded. Someone did something stupid after at least 17 times of you trying to help them. You didn’t START thinking they’re stupid, but now you’re starting to wonder. What do you do next?

1. Connect

Connecting gives your adrenaline time to chill. Remembering you’re talking to another human being will go a long way in ensuring a productive solution.

2. Acknowledge Reality

Don’t sugarcoat. State the problem and implications clearly. Most folks appreciate calm, straight talk.

3. Inspire Confidence

What you need right now is people who believe they can fix this, not bruised egos doubting their abilities. Be specific about why you believe they can do this.

4. Ask Questions (and LISTEN) to the Response There’s likely more to this situation than you understand. Slow down, ask open-ended questions and then shut up and really listen to the response. Repeat.

5. Link to the Bigger Picture: Explain why this matters. Provide context. People always work harder when they know why.

6. Set a Clear Goal: Be clear about what must happen next and by when.

7. Involve Them In the Solution: You need as many brains as possible to fix this. Include them.

8. End on An Encouraging Note: There’s a reason that half-time locker room speeches work. Be sure they leave inspired to go-get-this, not fearful of what will happen when they don’t.

No one wants to be a jerky boss. If you know someone who lets their reaction get in the way of their leadership, do us all a favor, and pass this post along.

I want to be a mentor

6 Secrets to a Successful Mentoring Program

Mentoring, at it’s best, is a magical elixir which shaves years off your learning curve through mistakes unmade. Thank God, I’ve experienced the transformational spirit of amazing mentors. Please God, let my mentoring have made a difference for others.

Ask anyone who’s ever had an amazing mentor where that experience ranks in their growth as a leader, and I’d bet money they’d put their mentor ahead of any keynote, consulting program, book they’ve read, and potentially their 80K MBA. I say that as a speaker, consultant, author, MBA professor, and someone who’s had the fortunate experience of having a gaggle of amazing mentors over the last two decades.

Great mentorship is unscripted, raw, real, trusting, challenging and kind. Great mentorship is a two-way journey. It’s so human it bleeds into other areas of your life.

I’ve attended a funeral of a great mentor and felt like I’ve lost my right arm. A dozen years later I still wonder what he would say when times are at the most difficult. I wasn’t the only one in the room who felt that way.

Great mentors are rarely monogamous.

Sadly, few folks I know have experienced that mentor-induced pull toward becoming the leader they are meant to become.

When I ask my audiences how many of them have had a truly great mentor, it’s surprisingly sad how few raise their hands. In my MBA courses, the number is even fewer. Sometimes no hand is raised. This is our future.

As a culture, we’re not mentoring well.

I think we know this, which is why I receive so many calls asking for mentoring as a keynote topic. “How do we do this better?”  “Who must we involve?” “Why isn’t this working?” “What about the ‘millennial situation?'”

So, prompted by another such conversation this afternoon, I’m opening this conversation for our LGL Community. Here’s what I think matters. I  hope you’ll chime in.

What Matters Most

  1. Establish Measurable Goals: As Covey would say, begin with the end in mind. How will you know you’re successful? Determine how you will measure success. I promise you, it’s not just
    “that folks feel better.”
  2. Pick the Right People: If you’re going to get into the business of match-making, do it well. Consider the value of Nemesis mentors. What often works best is announcing the program, providing people with scaffolding to make their own matches, and then support.
  3. Get Them Started: Ready, mentor, go! is seldom enough. Even your smartest, most creative types can get a little twitchy when asked to do something outside of their day job. I’ve found a half-day kick off workshop including multiple mentoring relationships can go a long way in launching them toward success.
  4. Establish Parameters: Guidelines are vital. If you’re a mentor, does that mean you’re signing up to be a sponsor? These are key conversations. I’ve mentored a long list of folks I’ve helped to improve, but I wouldn’t put my brand on every one of their careers in support of the next promotion.
  5. Give Them Something To Do: In every mentoring program I’ve developed, I’ve given them easy tools and activities to them started.  Organic is great, and some will throw your guidance away. Awesome. Others will kiss it and make it so.
  6. Consider Alternative Models: I’m a big fan of alternative mentoring models: speed mentoring, mentoring circles, peer mentoring, reverse mentoring. Too much to discuss here. Call me to learn more.

Do you need help getting started? Please call me for a free consultation. 443-750-1249.

5 secrets to effective conference calls

5 Big Rules For Productive Conference Calls

It’s easy to fool ourselves into the illusion that “just having a conference call,” instead of a face-to-face meeting or one-on-one, will save time. In fact, it’s that kind of thinking that leaves many managers moving from call to call with little time to connect with their team.

In an attempt to salvage some productivity in their day, they put the phone on mute and try to get real work done at the same time—and don’t pay close attention to much as a result.

A Quick Rant Against Conference Calls

Perhaps you’ve been on one of these soul sucking calls. A direct report stops by, and, grateful for a distraction, you mouth “Oh it’s just our regular update call,” put the phone on mute and attempt to a have a meaningful conversation.

Just when you’re fist-bumping yourself for being a high-energy multi-tasker, you hear your name mentioned…twice. Oh crap. You quickly take the phone off mute, apologize and say, “I was speaking to the mute button,” which of course is technically true. The opinion you offer next is nowhere near as salient as it would have been if you had been paying attention. Your peer IMs you, “What are you doing, aren’t you going to bring up the idea we agreed to last week?” Oh boy, now you’ve ticked her off, and stumble awkwardly into, “Oh, I forgot I do have one more thing to add. You see Janet and I were thinking…” Awkward.

Think Like an Entrepreneur

One thing has been conspicuously missing this past year as I started my own business–no wasteful conference calls. Why? Well first, the last thing I want to charge my clients for is any time that will not add absolute value to them and their bottom line. Second, I don’t want to pay my contractors for a minute of wasted effort that could be working productively to advance our mission of growing leaders around the world. The next time you have a conference call, try thinking like an entrepreneur. Estimate the hourly rate of those attending the call, and see if there’s a more efficient use of their time to get to the result you need.

Big Rules

Look them in the eye

Honestly, one of the biggest reasons my “conference calls” have become so productive is that they’re almost always done over video–for free. Zoom (my favorite), Skype, Go to Meeting, or Google Hangouts all work. You can see facial expressions and get a better read on emotions AND it takes multi-tasking off the table.

Articulate outcomes

Meetings are meant for two things, to move results forward or to build relationships. Be clear on your objectives. Are you there to make a specific decision? Are you working to gain buy-in to a change? Knowing why you have each item on the agenda will go a long way to keeping the call on track.

Invite only necessary players

When you’re considering flying people in for a meeting,  you take a lot of thought to the time out of the field and the expense involved. Don’t let “It’s just a conference call” suck you into a trap of over-inclusion. That kind of thinking compounds quickly.

Segmentize discussion

Use a narrowing agenda. Arrange the more general topics up front and then let people drop off as the topics become more specific. Explain what you’re doing and why in advance, so you don’t get people riled up about secret meetings. Be sure that it’s not always the same people invited to drop first.

End standing calls early and often

I get nervous about weekly check-in calls, mostly because discussion expands to fill the time, when a briefer discussion could do. If a regularly scheduled call is important for your team or project, craft the agenda and estimate the time you think you will need. State that intention up front. “If we keep to our agenda, I think today’s call should only last about 37 minutes. Let’s be as productive as possible so we can all have some time back.”

Done well, conference calls can be an effective and efficient way to get the results you need. A little extra planning can save hours of lost time and productivity.

Are you looking to help your team streamline efforts and produce better results, please call me at 443-750-1249 for a free consultation.

How to Achieve the Impossible

IT managers, Lori and Ann, were both shocked when they were given their latest projects. What this new client wanted was really complicated, and their teams were already about to tip over, not to mention the ridiculous time frame the sales team had committed to. “Why don’t they ask us before making these impossible commitments?” “What are they smoking? We can’t possibly do this!” ​ They both knew better than to say what was on their minds. ​​

But now the tough part. Telling their teams.

Feeling the urgency, Lori immediately called her team together for a quick huddle. Her team knew there was trouble by the look on her face, before she even said a word. And then she looked at them sincerely, “Guys, I’m so sorry. We’ve been given an impossible deadline, and I know you’re already working so hard. We’re just going to have to do the best we can. Here are the parameters…”

Ann took her cell phone to the parking lot and vented to her husband. Then she took a walk and cleared her head. She had to figure out a way to do this without crushing the team. Back at her desk, she sent out a quick calendar invite for 8 a.m. the next morning labeled “Launch Project Flying Colors”–no other details.

Intrigued, her team got there a bit earlier than usual to find the conference room filled with colorful helium balloons and streamers, along with blank white easel sheets plastering the walls. She had a medley of upbeat “color” themed songs playing on her iPhone.

“Guys, we’ve been given an exciting challenge and I’m sure we’re going to pass it with flying colors. It’s going to be hard, perhaps the most difficult thing we’ve accomplished, which is why I’ve brought us here to get really creative on the best path forward. Let me outline the parameters we have to work with, and then we’re going to work together to make a game plan.”

How to Galvanize Your Team to Achieve the Impossible

Don’t get me wrong. I’m fully aware that hard work is still hard work. But I’ve seen a little bit of galvanizing magic go a long way in sparking creativity and getting folks into a “Yes, we can!” mindset.

To galvanize your team toward achieving the possible…

Make winning feel like a sport.

In sports, nothings more fun than winning when the odds are stacked against you. A game of lay-ups would be a real yawner. Tap into the sporting side of human nature.

Be clear why every role matters.

Watch any Little League game and at some point there will be a kid in the outfield with his finger up his nose. Not so in the major leagues. Be sure everyone on the team has a valuable role and is deeply connected to the vision.

Identify specific skills and behaviors needed for success in every role.

Be sure that every team member knows the behaviors they must exhibit for success.

Align team member’s passions with purpose.

Tap into skills and abilities that may be outside of the person’s day job. Nothing galvanizes people more than being able to do what they love while adding value.

Acknowledge challenges and obstacles, and include the team in finding solutions.

Go ahead, admit that it’s tough. “Heck yeah, those parameters are ridiculous. But we’ve got to find a way to do it. What would we do if we did know how to make this happen?”

Articulate a winning game plan.

Be clear on the actions of who will achieve what by when. Build in natural celebration points along the way.

When you develop a reputation for being a galvanizer, folks will knock down your door to join you the next time. Winning well is fun.

How to Make Someone Feel Welcomed

We had no intentions of actually going in. Sebastian and I were just trying to figure out the best way to walk to the new school he’ll be attending next year. But there we were, his nose pressed against the glass and me in my moving cut-offs and tee-shirt. “Mom, lets just sneak in like ninjas and look around.” Knowing there’s no way “sneak in” to schools these days and worried about the impression we’d make showing up scruffy with no appointment, I paused. But the eagerness in his eyes won. “Let’s just ring the doorbell.”

“Hi, This is Sebastian. He’d like to come to school here next year.”

Now, if the school secretary had been doing her job, she would have handed us a registration packet or asked us to make an appointment.

But she wasn’t DOING her job.

She lit up like she was welcoming a dignitary to Disneyland.

“Oh, Sebastian, YOU are going to LOVE this school. All the kids and teachers are so nice, we have so much fun and learn a lot.”

And then she asked questions.

For every question, she knew just what to send him over the moon.

“What do you like to do?”

“Well, I like to ask a lot of questions and I like art.”

“OH, We totally need kids who ask great questions. Questions are so important to learning. You are really going to make a difference here. And you know what? You’ve come not only to the right school, but to the right county. We have so many programs to help you become an even better artist. And guess what, every year you can even have your art displayed at the mall!”

“What school did you attend before?”

“St. Paul Lutheran.”

“Oh, a private school… I see. That’s nice. Did you have to wear a uniform?”

“Yes. I hated that part.”

“Guess what, no uniforms here! You can dress to fit your awesome personality.”

And then the clincher.

“What time did you start at that school.”

“8:15.”

“Well, you’ll have to wait until 9:15 to start here.”

The dancing began.

She then proceeded to share all kinds of helpful information about lunches, traffic jams and getting involved.

As we left with our registration packet, Seb looked at me and grabbed my hand. “Mom, I’m going to work really, really hard at this school.”

Thank God she wasn’t doing her job.