You need to have three things clear in your mind before giving a speech: your main idea, your audience, and your objective. Start preparing by focusing on your idea: Why are you the right person to deliver this talk? What unique perspective can you offer? Then, consider who will be in your audience and craft your talk with them in mind. For example, if you’re speaking on a small panel, you can frame your remarks in more intimate, personal terms. If you’re at a conference for professionals, you can use technical terms. Speaking the same language as your listeners increases the odds that they will understand and be inspired by you. And finally, make sure you’ve pinpointed your objective. Maybe you want to get the audience to donate to a worthy cause, or spread the word about the importance of your topic. Whatever your goal is, it will inform your preparation and delivery.
When you’re covering for a coworker who is out of the office, it can be difficult to keep up. To maintain your sanity and stay productive, put the onus on your colleague to do a clear handoff of responsibilities. Ask for a plan with details on the status of projects, next steps, deadlines, and key contacts. Once the colleague leaves, focus on deadlines and what’s critical to accomplish each day; less-urgent tasks will have to wait. But keep an eye on what’s coming up next. You may need to work further ahead than usual, because there’s a greater chance that something unexpected will happen, or that multiple deadlines will be clustered together. And you may be tempted to spend extra time in the office, but don’t overdo it. Putting in long hours can make you resentful and lessen your productivity. There’s only so much you can do each day — and that’s OK.
When you’re asked to share your idea with the C-suite, you have to be ready to prove its worth. The CEO likely hears a lot of smart ideas, so yours has to solve a business problem if it’s going to stand out. Spend the first 25% of your time calling out that problem. Talk about the pain points and build a sense of urgency. Spend the next 25% on the idea itself. Show how your initiative will be funded and how you expect it to grow and affect other parts of the organization. But don’t get bogged down in details. In fact, you should reserve the last 50% of your time for questions. While that seems like an outsize chunk, it can be the most valuable part of your talk. Rapid-fire, blunt questions are a sign that executives are interested in and testing the angles of your idea. The more questions you receive, the better the presentation.
We all have strengths that simultaneously work for us and against us. For example, you may be detail-oriented in a way that causes you to spend too much time checking others’ work. Or you may ask questions that are important — but so incisive that they intimidate people. In these cases, the answer isn’t to play down the strength or not use it. (If you do, you might lose its benefits.) Instead, build a complementary skill that compensates for the strength’s downside. For example, if you tend to ask incisive questions, you can balance that out by increasing your warmth — maybe by acknowledging the speaker’s insights before asking your questions. Or you could thank the person for bringing the topic to your attention, or add a few words of support. On the flip side, if you’re so friendly and supportive that you don’t sufficiently challenge people’s thinking, push yourself to ask more difficult questions — without losing your natural friendliness.
An open office can be a nightmare when it comes to noise — especially when you’re working on something that requires your undivided attention. To get the focus you need, talk to your team to sync up expectations about how you can all work optimally. Develop some ground rules. For example, you all might agree that when one colleague is on the phone, everyone else will only whisper. It’s also smart to invest in noise-canceling headphones. They not only drown out unwanted noise but also serve as a visual cue that you don’t want to be disturbed. Another tactic is to scout out a private, quiet space — an underused conference room, say — that will allow you to write and think when you truly can’t be interrupted. Finally, if noise is still a problem, ask your manager about moving to a new desk. Don’t lodge complaints about your talkative coworkers; be positive and tell your boss that you’ll be more productive in another space.
Change can create uncertainty, instability, and stress for your team. To get people on board with a change, and to ease them through the transition, it’s helpful to clearly articulate the meaning or purpose behind it. Start by crafting a narrative that explains the big picture: why the change is important and how it will positively affect the organization over the long term. Be consistent with this narrative; all of your communications should tie back to it, reiterating the case for change and presenting a compelling vision for the future. Sometimes you won’t have all the answers about the situation, so be honest about what you know and candid about what you don’t. Tell employees that you are committed to communicating openly and transparently, and will follow up as soon as you know more. And don’t forget to articulate how the change will benefit them. If team members understand what’s in it for them personally, they’re more likely to commit.
When you’re building a business, it’s obvious that you want to find lucrative projects. What’s less obvious is that, at a certain point, saying yes to all opportunities — even profitable ones — may actually thwart your future success. Why? If you take on too much, you’ll become spread too thin and risk prioritizing money over other important factors, such as learning. In the early days of your business, a project that tests and expands the limits of your skills is exactly what you should be looking for. But after a while, things that used to be novel no longer seem so interesting — and that’s when it’s tempting to say yes to something just for the money. Make sure to ask yourself: “Do I really want to do this project? Paycheck aside, will it help me reach my goals?” Sometimes, to preserve your happiness, it’s OK to say no to the money.
We all have parts of our jobs that aren’t fun. But even an unpleasant task can have meaning if you search for it. Try this exercise. Think about an activity that you don’t always enjoy doing — delivering performance reviews, for example. Now ask yourself why you do it, but ask four times. The first time you ask “Why do I do this?” you might answer, “Because I have to” or “I want to let my people know where they stand.” Then ask a second time: “Why do I want to let my people know where they stand?” The answer here might not be inspiring: “Because it’s part of my job.” But the answer might also start to sound more meaningful: “So that people can know how they can reach their career goals.” Then ask a third time: “Why do I care if people know how to reach their career goals?” Continue for one more iteration. By the fourth round, you’re likely to uncover a meaningful reason behind the activity — and a motivation for doing it well.
Do you have a coworker who’s in a different office or location? When you work virtually with someone on a regular basis, it can be helpful to talk about how you’ll work together. Have a conversation about the best ways to communicate. For example, you might decide to email for simple matters but get on Skype when something complex requires you to share screens. Also, discuss what times of day are better to call or text, and whether there are particular days of the week you should avoid. If you collaborate on documents, establish a process to ensure you don’t inadvertently delete updates or create conflicting versions. Consider using Dropbox, Google Docs, or another service that monitors revisions. Establishing these kinds of ground rules early on demonstrates respect for each other’s time and helps avoid the frustration that can come from mismatched expectations.
Project overload is real. But as a leader, it can be hard to tell whether your team needs more resources or just could be working more efficiently. Start by asking people to identify their key activities and how much time they spend on them in a typical week. Use that data to assess workloads and priorities. Consider which tasks the team could stop doing and which might benefit from having their process rethought. Pay special attention to low-value projects that have to get done but that take up an inordinate amount of time. Are there ways to simplify the workflows to reduce the amount of time your team spends in these areas? And last but not least, look for tasks that simply can be done more quickly. If your team is still struggling after these steps, it might be time to hire more people.
Everyone wants their customers to be happy. And that requires using the right words, especially since more and more customer interactions take place through writing (email, live chat, even Twitter). Start the conversation by establishing a personal rapport. Show the customer that you’re listening to their problem or complaint, and then shift to a take-charge attitude, using confident, assertive language. Research shows that customer satisfaction is higher when you avoid deferential words (“afraid,” “mistake”) and use dominant language instead (“must,” “confirm,” “action”). In addition, customers will see you as more helpful if you use specific words. For example, a clothing retailer should talk about the “white turtleneck” rather than the “shirt,” and the “high-top sneakers” rather than the “shoes.” And don’t be afraid to explicitly endorse a product to the customer (“I suggest this comforter” or “I recommend this album”); doing so implicitly, by sharing your personal preference (“I like this comforter” or “I love this album”), can be less effective. An explicit endorsement signals both confidence and expertise.
If you work with someone who is constantly stressed out, you’re more likely to feel that way too. But there are ways to keep secondhand stress at bay. For starters, seek out the positive people in your office and spend time with them, even if it’s just to grab a quick coffee. Positive emotions can be just as infectious as negative ones. You can also stave off stress by being a role model for optimistic thinking. If an overwhelmed colleague constantly criticizes or shuts down ideas, counter those comments by pointing out what you find valuable in them. At the same time, don’t ignore or shun stressed-out colleagues — reach out to them and try to be helpful. You could ask if there’s anything you could do to move their project forward, for example. Being compassionate and action-oriented will also help you avoid “catching” their stress.
Being a good mentor takes time. How can you make sure your schedule full of meetings, speaking engagements, and travel doesn’t hinder your ability to be an attentive mentor? First, appreciate that some time is better than none. If 60-minute meetings aren’t possible, try to set aside 30 or even 15 minutes. These smaller windows will force your mentee (and you) to get to the point. And face-to-face meetings aren’t your only option: text messaging, email, video conferencing, and phone calls can all help you connect with your mentee. Most important, be fully present and engaged during mentoring sessions. Whether you are meeting in person, over Skype, or even having a text conversation, demonstrate to your mentee that for the next few minutes, they are all that matters. If you start to get distracted by other tasks or your next meeting, refocus your attention and remind yourself: Be here, now.
When Hollywood screenwriters pitch their movie ideas, producers are typically listening for a logline: one or two sentences that explain what the movie is about. If there is no logline, more often than not, there is no sale. This is a valuable lesson for business leaders trying to answer basic, essential questions: What does your startup or product do? What’s your new idea? You should be able to respond in a compelling sentence that is both easy to say and easy to remember. Identify the one thing you want your audience to hold on to. The iPod, for example, was “1,000 songs in your pocket.” A sales rep for a large tech company might focus on savings: “Our product will reduce your company’s cell phone bill by 80%.” Your logline should specify the problem you’re solving and give people a story they can take to other decision makers in their organizations.
When it comes to planning our careers, we carefully choose our companies and jobs. But rarely are we deliberate about selecting the advisers and confidantes who help us succeed. Cultivate a support group for your career by thinking about whose advice and expertise you wish you had on speed dial. Consider who you feel inspired by, whether they’re colleagues, senior leaders, or peers in your field. Seek these individuals out, and be candid about why you admire them and why you want to connect. Focus on building a relationship that will benefit both of you. As you get to know each other, don’t be afraid to explore big life questions: What do you want to do with your life? What motivates you? What are you doing that you really don’t like to do? Work together to become better versions of yourselves.
Companies naturally fragment into silos as they grow, and it’s common for those silos to feel competitive with each other. But cross-departmental tensions don’t have to get in the way of your team’s success. If you lead a function that historically has been at odds with another, reach out to your colleagues in the other department and let them know you’d like to collaborate better. The first step is for both sides to understand each other’s work. Spend time talking about what your departments do and what it’s like for your teams to interact. (You may hear something like, “I had no idea you do that! No wonder our requests drive you crazy.”) Think through the decisions you’ll need to make together, and determine who will get the final call. You may also need to acknowledge the historical baggage between your departments. The goal of these conversations is to build mutual respect and commit to collective success.