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Tuesday, 14 March 2017

4 steps to becoming a networking Ninja




Most people hate networking.

Which is a bit of a problem, since you need to meet new people.

After all, if you don’t, your current contacts will have to sustain you from now till retirement. And that’s just not going to happen.

The good news is, though, to have more great contacts, you only need master two things:

  • Networking with strangers; and 
  • Once they aren’t strangers anymore, building relationships with them 

And that’s it.

So, let’s look at the first one: networking with strangers. Or ‘how to work a room’.

I’ve spent years studying what the best networkers do. And their conversations contain four elements:

  1. In 
  2. You 
  3. Me 
  4. Out 

In other words, get in the conversation. Speak about you (the other person). Then answer their questions about me. And then get out.

Here’s an overview of how to master these four steps:

#1 Get in - (in)

When working a room, you have to approach people.

And they’ll either be on their own or in groups.

If they’re on their own, approach them and say “Hello, I’m James” (though maybe use your own name) or say “Mind if I join you.”

They’ll respond with “Hello, I’m Jane” or “Sure – please join me”. Either way, you’ve completed Step #1 – you’re now in the conversation.

If you decide to approach a group, go to one that isn’t bunched together. Bunched groups’ body language is saying ‘back off’. But go to an open group and say “Mind if I join you?” is fine.

#2 Ask about them - (you)

You want the conversation to start about them, not yourself. For loads of reasons. It’s more polite than launching into discussing yourself. It’s easier to ask about them than be interesting about yourself. Also, when they ask about you, you’ll be better able to tailor your response based on what they’ve said about themselves.

The best way to speak about them is to ask good questions. So, an important piece of prep when networking: prepare questions you’ll ask.

These can be the usual conversation-starters, like ‘who do you work for, what do you do, how long have you worked there’, and so on.

And then the more useful ones – ‘what are you responsible for, what are your priorities, what are you working on at the minute?’

These are much more useful because they uncover their priorities. Which helps you impress them in Step #3…

#3 Be interesting - (me)

They’re going to ask about you. You know this question’s coming. So be ready for it. Prepare in advance how you’ll respond when someone asks you.

I advise focusing on two things – AFTERs and stories.

In other words, introduce yourself by explaining why people are better-off AFTER working with you.

For instance, if I say “I’m a consultant”, people reply with “between jobs are you?”

But if I say “I help people communicate better than they thought possible”, people say “how do you do that?” or “bet you’re busy” or “we need you at our place.”

When they ask one of these questions, use a relevant story. This is miles more interesting than discussing your company’s past. You know this. I mean, would you rather hear someone say “well, I started studying communication 25 years ago and since then…” or “well, you know how you just mentioned you’re responsible for winning sales? I recently helped a sales team boost turnover by 50% by changing how they communicate.”

They’ll ask good questions about your stories. They never will about your company’s past.

#4 Get out of the conversation - (out)

If you’re speaking with someone you want to meet-up with after the event, tell them you’d like to continue your conversation at a later date. Ask for their business card. Ask when they want you to call them. Ask if you can write a reminder on the back of their business card. And then call them then.

If you don’t want to meet again afterwards, you have to know how to end the conversation. If you don’t, you’ll get stuck with them for ages. Both of you will hate it. Here’s a good ending:

   You: Who are good contacts for you here?
   Them: Bankers.
   You: OK. If I bump into any later, would you like me to introduce them to you?
   Them: Yes, please.
   You: Great, will do. I’ve enjoyed our conversation.
   Them: Me too. Bye.

And that’s it – in/you/me/out.

Which means that, to prepare for an event:
  • script your sentences for getting in and out of conversations 
  • think of a few questions to ask, to discover useful stuff about them 
  • script how you’ll describe yourself – use AFTERs and stories 

That’s what Networking Ninjas do. You’re about to become one.


Action Point


For your next networking event, make sure you prepare properly.


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Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Super simple communication tips to get people engaging instantly






First impressions drive everything.

And good or bad, they’re hard to shake once you’ve made them.

It’s the same with your communications.

Your opening sentence drives everything.

Start well, and they’re itching for more. Start badly, and they want you to leave.

In fact, your opening sentence is like a tennis player’s serve. It dictates the whole point. Serve well, and you probably win the point. Serve badly, and you don’t.

So practise your start. Serve well. And things tend to go the way you want.

Plus, there’s another reason your opening is like a tennis serve…

Your serve – like your first sentence – is the only time you aren’t responding to where your opponent’s hit it.

So, if you don’t serve/start well, it’s your fault – nobody else’s.

Fortunately, your start’s pretty easy to get right. All it takes is preparation.

For example, if you’re chairing an internal meeting, which of these first serves is better?

  • “Welcome to today’s meeting. We are here for an hour. This is the agenda we’ll be covering – XYZ. We’ll then end with Any Other Business, to discuss anything else we all think of”. Or 
  • “Welcome to today’s meeting. The only reason we’re here is that – after it – we need to be able to do X. As soon as we can, we’ll finish” 

Or if you’re sending an email, which serve will win the point/get the email opened?
  • ‘FYI’, or 
  • ‘John, a quick question to ask…’ 

Another example:
  • ‘Latest sales figures’, or 
  • ‘Making sure you get paid this month’ 

Let’s do one more example – when you’re selling.

The traditional start is a tedious, wordy slide – topped with the dreaded “We were founded in 1922”.

Trust me: this is a terrible serve.

Nobody cares how old you are.

So what should you do instead?

Well, for your first meeting, I advise you don’t take any slides. That way, you can have a chat. Ask them questions. Find out about their business. Tell them interesting things about yours. And, if you get on, see whether you both want to explore things further in a second meeting.

This makes perfect sense. So do that.

But if you feel you absolutely need slides, try this instead:

Contact them a few days before the meeting, asking which topics they’d like you to focus on in the meeting. Then, create your slides around these topics:
  • Slide 1 – include their #1 priority. So, if they said they want to export into Belgium, title it “The best way to export into Belgium” or something to that effect 
  • Slide 2 – list all the topics they asked you to talk about. So, this slide is your ‘contents page’ 
  • Slides 3+ – a bit more info on each of these topics 
  • Last slide – your 'Call To Action' – what you want them to do next 

Miles better than saying how old you are, how many employees you have… and then the next slide showing a map of all your offices. Eek.

You see, every time you communicate, you make a first impression. You can’t avoid that. It’s definitely happening.

So it might as well be brilliant.

A bit of prep helps ensure it is.

Action point


Preview today’s communications. Have you practised your first serve enough? If not, work out how you’re going to start/serve, so that people engage instantly.
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Tuesday, 28 February 2017

2 simple steps to eliminating poor communication




It can be hard to communicate well.

There are just so many obstacles in the way, aren’t there?

In fact, last week, a clients told me that circumstances made it impossible for them to communicate well. I asked what they were. You might recognise some:

  • I don’t have time 
  • Other people have access to my calendar, so put things in that absorb all my time 
  • I get invited to meetings I don’t want to attend, but think I better had 
  • Everything’s so last minute 
  • Nobody else communicates well 
  • My boss is a terrible communicator 
  • My boss always corrects anything I prepare for her. So everything takes twice as long 
  • All our customers prefer face-to-face meetings. When you include travel, these take ages 
  • My inbox is so full, it’s impossible to do things quickly – or do them well 
  • We have lots of pointless meetings. Nobody would care if I didn’t go. But it’s expected I do 

As I say, you’ll recognise some of these. You’ll no doubt have more of your own.

But I’ll ask you the same question I asked them:

        Are you sure there’s absolutely nothing you can do about these?

Now when you think about it, there’s no way that’s the case. There must be more than nothing you can do.

But, when I asked the client how they could overcome these, there was silence.

So I thought ‘well, if they aren’t talking, neither am I’.

So, we sat there for a bit.

And then eventually they said “well, when I get invited to a meeting I don’t need to go to, and nobody will care if I don’t, I could decline it”.

A great idea!

I asked what else they could do.

More silence.

And then they ventured “I suppose I could contact the owner upfront, say I can’t make the meeting, but offer to have a quick chat now to give my views”.

Another good idea. I asked for more…

And now they started flooding out. In fact, six minutes later, they had found ways they could overcome every barrier.

I then gave them half an hour to implement their ideas. For example, if someone had said they’d call to decline a meeting, they called right then – while I was there.

Thirty minutes later, they’d removed virtually all their barriers.

And our lesson from this?

Well, there are always reasons for poor communication.

But think: are they reasons (‘there’s nothing I can do’) or excuses (I’m choosing not to’)?

And, of course, if there is something you can do – well, just do it.

You might not remove every single reason/excuse.

But you’ll remove more than none.

And, when you think of all the benefits that’ll bring – more time, more headspace, more positivity, less frustration, more control, more fun…

… Now that’s something worth aiming for.

Action point


Spend two minutes identifying:

  • Your biggest blockers to good comms 
  • Simple ways to remove them 

And then do them.

This means that, just two minutes from now, you’ll have started to remove something that’s been annoying you for ages.


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Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Time Management - How to save one day a week!






A few years ago, I stopped working Fridays.

Loads of reasons. But mainly because I wanted a better work-life balance and so that I could dedicate more time to my own personal development.

But I knew I’d feel uncomfortable if I stopped working for a fifth of the week, and my business shrunk by a fifth. I didn’t want my business to shrink. Who would?

So I spent ages working out how I could become more efficient. Such that I could save a day a week without doing any harm to my business.

I’ve always been pretty good with time management.

But I managed to save a day.

A whole day! Every week!

Here’s what I did.

I started by reviewing my diary for the previous 2-3 weeks. I identified the things that were taking the most time and focussed on reducing them. For example, if you spend thirty hours in meetings every week, being twice as efficient would save you fifteen hours.

This list of bullets were my biggest time savings. Which one(s) could you copy? And which others did I miss?

  • With every communication, be crystal clear at the beginning what the desired outcome is. For example, always start meetings with “by the end of this, we want to have achieved X”. Never begin with “so, we’re talking for an hour about X, Y and Z” 
  • Never have one-hour meetings. Aim for 15-20 minutes for each one 
  • Never meet face-to-face unless (1) both you and they think you should and (2) it’s convenient for you both 
  • Avoid Telephone Tennis. Schedule “Telephone Meetings” at fixed times, rather than just ringing and hoping you get through 
  • Avoid Email Tennis. Whenever you receive an email that requires more than a quick email response, pick-up the phone and ask “how can I help?” 
  • Whenever anyone asks you to prepare a document, say “Of course. Let’s first quickly agree the structure/headings you want”. This makes things miles quicker and better. You aren’t guessing, and they aren’t disappointed 
  • Every Thursday, preview next week’s diary. For any meeting, you now don’t need to attend, decline it – politely of course! For any you do, send a quick email “Anything new that you want me to prepare/think about before we meet?” 
  • At the end of each day, review everything that’s happened that day. Then, do/diarise all your follow-up actions. So, do the urgent ones now. And diarise to do the others a few days later 
  • Improve your delegating. There are some things you do that just don’t need to involve you. So delegate them. Yes, it saves you time. But, when you give them to someone better suited to the task, the outcomes will be better. So, everyone wins 
  • Change communication channels. For example, I often see managers sharing their team’s results in a one-hour conference call. It’d be quicker to (1) email the results, asking people to read them before the call (2) host a ten-minute conference call, praising successes, answering questions, and agreeing actions (3) send a quick follow-up email, confirming the actions 
  • Anything you don’t like doing, that won’t do any harm if you stop doing it … Just stop it! Tell the recipient you’re stopping, of course. If need be, agree on alternative approaches 
  • Create a 30-minute “stuff to do” diary entry every day. Drag all the small stuff in there. Blast through them all in the 30 minutes (I found this one useful. Before doing this, I used to have every action as a separate diary entry. But Outlook would default to making them 30-minutes each. So, my day would look full even though it wasn’t) 
  • Empty your inbox. And keep it empty for evermore. So, whenever an email comes in, either deal with it now, or drag it out of your inbox and into your ‘Stuff to do’ diary entry on the day you’ll respond. Either way, delete it from your inbox 
  • Identify everything that you do a lot, and that you’re slow at (for example, with me, that’s typing). Now find someone who can help you with it.
So, that’s what I did.

Now, of course, you won’t want to do all these. But, I imagine you can do more than none.

And how much time would you save if you did?

Action point


Free-up some time.

Do this by looking at your diary, either in advance or in reverse:

  • In advance – look at today’s diary – what can you speed up? For example, an easy one: for all today’s meetings, start by explaining the desired outcome of it. Then finish the meeting as soon as you’ve achieved it. Don’t let it become a one-hour Talking Shop 
  • In reverse – start like I did: review your diary for the previous 2-3 weeks. Find the things that absorb most of your time, and remove/reduce them

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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Pointless meetings are pointless!






This week, a number of people have asked me to write about today’s topic, and I’m going to take a wild guess and assume they aren’t the only people in the world who want help on this.

The topic?

Pointless meetings.

Are you still reading?

Thought so.

Obviously, we can’t fix everything about meetings in one Tip.

But we can, at least, make sure they have a point to them.

And, for that, we need to remember The Golden Rule of Meetings:

         Meetings are supposed to cause something to happen

In other words, after a meeting, something should happen because of it. A new decision has been made. A new action has been taken.

Therefore, even if a meeting was the most dreadful, tedious hour of your career… if there’s an action afterwards, at least there was a point to it.

So, how to make sure that every meeting does cause something to happen?

  • Firstly, know what you want to happen! So, start your prep by asking yourself “what do I want to happen after this meeting? What decisions need to be made? What actions need to be taken?” (So don’t start your prep by thinking what should happen during the meeting. Instead, start with what should happen after it) 
  • Then identify the only agenda topics you need to cover, to ensure you achieve this outcome 
  • Now, identify the shortest time period you need for the meeting (trust me on this: meetings don’t always have to last one hour) 
  • And the fewest people that need to be there (remember, you can send Actions Arising to people who need to know the outcome, but don’t need to contribute to it) 

And that’s it. Start with your desired outcome and work backwards – streamlining content, duration and attendees. For example, let’s look at your weekly update meetings…

  • Start by knowing your outcome. What do you want to happen after the meeting? Let’s say it’s simply this: for everyone to try something new next week. And that's it 
  • Therefore the agenda only needs to contain two things (1) Success/challenge share – everyone has 30 seconds max to share their proudest success and biggest challenge since last week’s meeting (2) Identify your new thing. Everyone then says what their new thing to try this week is. This’ll either be copying someone else’s success or finding a new solution to their big challenge 
  • Duration – 15 minutes max – five for the first agenda item; ten for the second 
  • People – just the team. We don’t need anyone else 

And the benefits of this?
  • A fantastic outcome – each of your team has a new thing to try. Compare that to typical Updates where nothing happens as a result 
  • It’s quick – 15 minutes, not an hour 
  • It’s focused – no time wasted on peripheral, pointless agenda topics 

But best of all: there’s a point to it.

The meeting’s no longer just a Talking Shop.

Instead, it’s an action-triggering event that made things happen. Things that wouldn’t have happened if there hadn’t been a meeting.

Now that’s a great way to spend your time.

Action Point


Look at your next three meetings:

  • For the ones you’re chairing, identify now the action/decision you want to happen after them. Focus your prep before – and chairing during – to make sure you achieve them; and 
  • For the others, ask the meetings’ owners what actions/decisions they want as a result 

And, for any meeting where nobody can identify a desired action/decision? Don’t have the meeting. There’s no point having it.


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