Changing the Corporate Conversation

Change the Corporate ConversationThere are over 11 million corporate meetings every day in the United States, yet how often do we walk into a corporate meeting wondering why we are there? Or walk out angry that we’ve wasted another precious hour and accomplished nothing?

What makes for a good conversation, or a meaningful meeting? Why are good conversations so elusive? How can we use our communications and leadership skills to ensure that more conversations at work excite participants, enable them to connect deeply with each other, and enhance organizational productivity?

These were some of the questions raised in an NSA/NC Salon held last Sunday, hosted by Wendy Hanson, featuring Chapter President-Elect Jim Ware.

Jim is the author of Changing the Corporate Conversation (forthcoming) and a former Harvard Business School professor who has spent his entire career teaching clients how to invent their own futures. He is the founder and Executive Director of The Future of Work…unlimited, Global Research Director for Occupiers Journal Limited, and a Partner with the FutureWork Forum. He is also a co-founder of the new Great Work Cultures movement.

Jim believes that as leaders in organizations and communications specialists we all have an opportunity — and responsibility — to focus our energy of drawing out the unique insights and experiences that each of us brings to the workplace. Teams that understand the power of collaboration, rooted in authentic conversation, make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

The Social Construction of Reality

My own interest in conversation pre-dates my life in the corporate world. Reading C Wright Mills in my Leicester University Sociology class left an indelible impression. His 1940 paper on Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motive explains the social, rather than the psychological, reasons people say what they do in conversation with others. Certain statements will be acceptable in some contexts, not in others. Indeed, as I’ve written here before, the ‘technology of interaction’ in meetings points to a whole raft of unstated assumptions, social norms, cultural influences and power relations underpinning conversations.

Want to see these social forces in action? They’re not difficult to spot. It’s as simple as watching when an idea voiced by a woman in a meeting is ignored, while the same from a man is applauded. Or listening to how much more loudly people laugh at the boss’s jokes than yours.

Talk Talk

Following Mills, sociologists such as Garfinkle and Goffman developed the sociology of conversation analysis. In formal meetings, as well as informal interactions, responses which agree with the position advocated tend to be offered sooner than statements that disagree with those positions. One consequence of this is that agreement and acceptance are easier alternatives and a natural outcome of many meetings.

Fair Warning

So, next time you’re in a meeting where they call for ‘honest feedback’ just remember the warning of the French philosopher:

Voltaire quote

But I digress.

To hear some of what Jim shared at the meeting, click on the podcast icon below.

One-word program evaluations

Writing in the excellent weekly newsletter SpeakerNetNews, Ron Shapiro, a speaker and consultant in career development, education and learning, shares an effective technique for collecting feedback from attendees at his programs.

He notes that while doing an extensive survey might be nice, it would consume a disproportionate amount of time in short programs. Instead, he asks participants to summarize the program in one word on business card stock which he distributes. He then makes this feedback into a word cloud which he sends to the sponsors displays on his website.

One Word pogram eval

This is a creative, and fun, way to capture the essence of his programs and serves to show how the participants felt afterwards.

Magnifying the Impact of a Speech with Social Media

Last week I was in the UK visiting family and took the opportunity to present to the Northwest Region of the Professional Speaking Association.

Over 20 people attended at the conference center in Manchester. Thanks to Patricia Fripp for the introduction to the group, and to Eilidh Milnes and Steve Houghton-Burnett for arranging the visit.

I was struck by the energy and enthusiasm of everyone I met, who exhibit many of the characteristics that make professional speakers some of the most interesting people on the planet to hang out with. Surprisingly, there were members in the UK who spoke on similar topics to those in the Northern California Chapter of the NSA.

In the afternoon I conducted a master class on video and audio. I discussed:

  • Simple techniques to record, edit and publish audio podcasts
  • Sources of audio available to speakers
  • Which of the three types of podcasts is right for you
  • Why to embrace video as a face-to-face alternative
  • How to master video: from the television studio to your iPhone
  • Making a six-figure income from video training materials
  • Lights! Camera! Action! Create simple compelling videos that audiences will watch.

In the evening I gave a presentation on magnifying the impact of a speech with social media. I reviewed how to augment the power of a speech before, during and after the presentation using social media tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter and blogs. All offer exciting and effective ways to boost mindshare — when used correctly. The online audience for a talk can be many times the size of, and as important as, the audience in the room. Many speakers take advantage of social media to promote their programs — I shared ways to use social media as a research tool before the talk, poll and interact with the audience during the talk, and re-purpose content via audio and video afterwards.

Take a look at these edited highlights:

The resource page for the event has links to example videos, slides, reference material and more.

Celebrating Toastmasters 90th anniversary

Toastmasters 90th Anniversary Toastmasters International has come a long way since founder Ralph C. Smedley held the first meeting in the basement of a YMCA in Santa Ana, California on October 22, 1924.

As society has changed, so as Toastmasters. In contrast to the white males who formed the original club, diversity is evident at any Toastmasters meeting today. What a difference nine decades makes! But to be fair, back in 1924 women in America had only won the right to vote four years earlier. However, it took almost 50 years for the idea that women could speak in public to sink in–membership was not opened to women until 1973. Indeed, Helen Blanchard, the first woman President of the organization, joined prior to 1973 under the name “Homer Blanchard”. The President at the time told her ‘You didn’t do too bad – for a woman.’ (I swear, you couldn’t make this sort of thing up!)

First TM Club Meeting

Since 1924, more than four million men and women have become more confident speakers and leaders through the Toastmasters experience.

Smedley’s idea of turning young business leaders into “would-be orators” has led to a thriving global organization with membership exceeding 313,000 in more than 14,650 clubs in 126 countries. The first club outside the United States was formed in Southport, England.

I’m a big proponent of anyone who wants to improve their public speaking and leadership skills joining a local Toastmasters club, even if you’re a woman!

Essential tools for visual communications

David Sibbet
This is the second of a two-part report on the September 27th meeting of Northern California Chapter of the National Speakers Association. On Saturday we heard from two communications experts: Speechwriter Pete Weissman and visual thinking expert David Sibbet. This posting is a summary of David’s material.

David SibbetDavid Sibbet is President and founder of The Grove Consultants International, leaders in visually based services and tools that enable organization, teams and individuals to successfully envision and implement innovation and change.

He is author of the best-selling Visual Leadership book series:

Visual MeetingsVisual Meetings: How Graphics, Sticky Notes and Idea Mapping Can Transform Group Productivity. David’s first book in the series looks at how to use visualization to support a cycle of learning and implementation in meetings. Starting with imagination, moving to engagement, thinking and enactment–it is written for anyone who runs meetings. No special graphics skills are needed to make these methods pay off.

Visual teamsVisual Teams: Graphic Tools for Commitment, Innovation, and High Performance. This builds on the meetings book and explores how a team can use visual methods throughout their work. It suggests we can gain by working like designers–using prototypes, interaction and visualization.

Visual leadersVisual Leaders: New Tools for Visioning, Management, and Organization Change. This is a guide for leaders interested in increasing their own visual literacy. There’s a valuable section on how visual tools can accelerate organizational change and enable people to think of the total organization as a system while working on the parts.

Visual meeting facilitation

Drawing on content from his books (pun intended!) David shared how he was there at the start of the meeting facilitation industry in the 1970′s with people like Michael Doyle and David Strauss. Together, they built the field of group facilitation, community visioning, collaborative problem solving, and the development and management of task-oriented groups and teams.

Putting poster-making together with journalism led to David becoming a visual interpreter of meetings. Together with Evert Lindquist he developed a map to the world of visualization:

Lindquist/Sibbet Data Visualization Map

Graphic Facilitation

Graphic recorders facilitate meetings by interactively documenting a group’s conversation on flip charts, large poster paper, graphic templates, murals, and other media. This allows everyone in the room to see and understand the flow of dialog, decisions and agreements.

The result is a crisp summary of a lengthy meeting on a single page, as in this example from an architectural firm:

DLR Vision

(Click to enlarge)

Visuals spark the imagination

Words and images connect in valuable ways. Having a picture on the wall engages the audience with a greater degree of participation. The human brain builds more meaning into a slightly “fuzzy” diagram vs. crisp clip art. Giving people enough to go on, without total clarity, encourages people to really pay attention. Using sticky notes and group drawings as part of a presentation or facilitated meeting enables the audience to see connections, find solutions, and understand the big picture.

Beyond the spoken word

Da Vinci Helicopter SketchSibbet’s work challenges us, as speakers and speechwriters, to go beyond the written or spoken word and explore new frontiers in communication. A visual language integrates words, images and shapes into a single communication unit. Geniuses such as Leonardo da Vinci have used visual language as a basic tool. Why not unleash your genius and incorporate visualization into your next presentation?

How to Prepare and Present Powerful Presentations, with Patricia Fripp

Fripp Title

FrippHall of Fame keynote speaker and executive speech coach Patricia Fripp spoke to the members of the NSA Northern California Chapter Speakers Academy on Saturday. Fripp is the founder of our Chapter and a leading authority in the world of professional speaking.

Her entertaining and informative morning session touched on many aspects of her own 30-plus year career as a top speaker. She shared valuable information for aspiring professional speakers who want to prepare and present powerful presentations, including:

  • Ask: Are you practicing to improve or to reinforce bad habits? As a novice, start with best practices from the beginning.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity the Academy and NSA chapter gives us to network with others who have a passion for speaking.
  • Expect to bomb — if you’ve not failed somewhere on stage, you’re probably not challenging yourself enough.
  • Asking questions is the best education. The quality of the information you receive depends on the quality of your questions.
  • Be willing to promote yourself in an ongoing, consistent and relentless way. Refocus and redirect what you are doing.
  • To build a long-term sustainable business you need to exceed expectations, or you won’t be invited back.
  • Desire trumps talent. You must have a relentless commitment as well an interest in speaking on your topic.
  • The most powerful way to learn any topic is to teach it to others.
  • Find a topic for your speeches by looking within your experience and talent, such as the expertise you’ve accumulated in your day job. No matter how technical your field, build your speech by thinking how you would explain what you do to your grandmother.
  • Despite the fact that there’s only so much truth in the world, you have a unique point of view. Deliver that in your speeches. Don’t invalidate your life experience.
  • A great way to develop material for a speech is to become a customer of the client who books you for a speech. Be a secret shopper and report your learnings. Talk to lower-level employees.
  • Structure your speech on a strong premise or central theme that is a basis of argument, leading to a conclusion. Be sure your talking points back-up and prove your big idea.
  • Remember the first 30 seconds and last 30 seconds of any talk have the most impact. Don’t waste them with empty pleasantries.
  • Engage the audience in your subject by asking “Would it interest (horrify, amaze) you to know…”
  • Populate your presentations with flesh and blood characters other people can relate to. Stories do this.
  • Your audience will remember what they “see” in your stories.

These were among the many lessons shared by Fripp in her session. For anyone who would like to dive deeper into what she has to offer, I highly recommend her Virtual Training program. This online resource gives you access to one of the most in-demand executive speech coaches and sales presentation experts available. Fripp’s Virtual Training is engaging and fun. It is designed for ambitious professionals, executives, sales teams, and professional speakers. Heck, she’ll even give you a 7 day free trial. What’s not to like?

To hear a brief extract from Saturday’s event, where Fripp shares the secret of her own career success, click on the podcast icon below.

Visual communication with Graphic Recordings

I’ve been impressed with a number of videos on YouTube that use hand-drawn images to convey complex information.

One example from RSA Animate features Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft in the UK, who imagines what might be possible if more organizations embraced the full, empowering potential of technology and encouraged a truly open, collaborative and flexible working culture. He asks how can we get people more engaged, more productive, and happier at work? Is technology part of the problem — and could it also be part of the solution? The animation makes for compelling viewing, so be sure to watch it in full screen mode:

Graphic recording can also be used to translate conversations into organized visuals on large paper live in front of a group event such as a workshop or conference. It’s a powerful tool for bridging gaps in communication and acknowledging everyone’s point of view in the ‘big picture’.

Here’s a video from Tanya Gadsby who is a graphic recorder and whiteboard video artist based in Victoria, BC, that explains more about graphic recording:

Guest Posting: Non-Verbal Techniques in a Large Group Forum, by Theresa Zagnoli

Theresa ZagnoliTheresa Zagnoli has 28 years of experience providing practical trial expertise and communication solutions as a jury consultant, communication expert and founding CEO of Zagnoli McEvoy Foley LLC in Chicago. She counsels attorneys, witnesses, and CEOs on how to be effectively public speakers in and out of the courtroom.
Non-Verbal Techniques in a Large Group Forum, by Theresa Zagnoli

By now most people have heard of body language and its usefulness in personal and small group business relations. Body language, better termed non-verbal communication, is often more responsible than our words for whether the audience is moved. It is often ignored when speaking to a large group. When facing an auditorium full of listeners, you have more tools to work with than your mic and the slide show.

Just as a reminder, the components of non-verbal communication are: body posture/movement, hand and arm gestures, artifacts such as accessories or clothes, facial expressions, eye contact, space use and finally, even sound or voice when not considering actual words.

Since most of us are not rock stars or preachers, we do not have a following. Our goal and obligation on stage is generally to entertain while simultaneously teaching the audience something useful about business or life, or both. That makes credibility paramount. The key component of credibility is dynamism and the root of dynamism is energy.

Therefore all non-verbal efforts in speaking to a large audience should be devoted toward demonstrating a controlled but strong aura of energy. Showing vitality is also an effective way to charm your audience. Cicero explains that all communication must start with one person’s ability to charm another in order to proceed through the other steps to successfully communicate. People are drawn to personal energy like bugs to a zapper. They can’t help themselves.

Showing energy on stage is tricky. The energy cannot be frenetic and yet it cannot be so choreographed that it appears unnatural. This is where using your entire non-verbal arsenal is advantageous.

Start with the stage itself. A confident speaker does not hide behind a podium –- use the space you are given. Watch any performer and you will see that most move from the center of the stage.

Once the safety of the podium has been left behind, the feeling of security goes with it. Now what do you do with your hands instead of allowing them to hang limply by your sides? There are two reasons to gesture: for emphasis and for demonstration. Plan gestures ahead of time by reviewing your script to look for opportunities to punch up the words with a gesture of instruction or accent.

You may think that making eye contact with 300 people is impossible. So instead you sweep your gaze across the audience thinking you are reaching everyone, while in reality you have reached no one. Watch a good comedian and you will see that he or she makes eye contact and basically has a conversation with different people in the audience. The comedian knows that he has to connect with his audience, and he has to do it one person at a time. Will he get to everyone in a venue that holds a thousand fans? No. But each person attending your speech will see that you care enough to make contact with a single person time and again. This is interpreted as caring and interest in the audience. It doesn’t matter if each person gets individual attention; it only matters that some do.

Men and women have different rules when it comes to dress and props. You can choose to follow these rules or break them. Both strategies will have fallout. For example, if you show up in what you are ‘supposed’ to be wearing you will meet the audience’s expectations but will not be doing anything to surpass their expectations. If you color outside the lines, you might surpass what was expected, showing that your are delightful and refreshing, only to find some will be immediately put off because your dress feels wrong to them. Evaluate each situation.

If you have the opportunity to read Horton Hears a Who to the third grade class, get an elephant head and feet, a t-shirt and paint your face. Showing up dressed like you are on your way to work sends the message to the 3rd grade that they are just an inconvenience on your way to the office. It shows that no energy was invested in the task.

On the other hand, if your goal is to show the properties and benefits of a new anxiety drug, a funny hat will not serve you.

While those two examples are clear, there is plenty of room in between to stretch your creativity beyond the audience’s expectations — if not in what you wear, then maybe through a prop. This year, I spoke to an organization about a legal case involving a baseball bat. I brought a bat with me to use as a prop. Four of us spoke on the same case, and I was the only one to bring props. Others brought slides or spoke dramatically and eloquently. I assume I did too, but I had a bat. They moved their arms and legs, gesturing with their hands to show how the bat was swung and what it hit — nice — but I had a bat!

Being aware of your non-verbal communication and using these tools to transmit the correct energy to your audience can make all the difference in how you are received and, ultimately, how effectively your message is delivered.

A Peridoic Table of Visualization Methods

Swiss researchers Ralph Lengler & Martin J. Eppler from the Institute of Corporate Communication (how cool is that!) at the University of Lugano have created a “periodic table” of 100 visualization methods. They describe their table in their 2007 research paper Towards A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods for Management

Data Visualization Periodic Table

(Click to enlarge)

The periodic table is broken down into data visualization, information visualization, concept visualization, strategy visualization, metaphor visualization, and compound visualization.

Their Visual Literacy website contains an interactive version of the table. Simply by hovering over each box in the table, an example appears in a pop-up window with an illustration of each of the elements.

Try it here.

Supply Demand CurveThe examples range from the simple supply demand curve (Su) with a X/Y axis to the complex sankey diagram (Sa) — a specific type of flow diagram in which the width of the arrows is shown proportionally to the flow quantity.Sankey Diagram

While their classification tool might offend the purists, this is a fun source of ideas for your next PowerPoint presentation. However, in terms of a tool that helps classify and solve problems while selling ideas with pictures, nothing beats Dan Roam’s excellent Visual thinking Codex from his book The Back of the Napkin:

Data Visualization Periodic Table

(Click to enlarge)

Thanks to George for letting me know about the visualization table.

Book Review: Hack Attack, by Nick Davies

Hack AttackHack Attack, Nick Davies’s exhaustively researched exposé – subtitled “How the truth caught up with Rupert Murdoch” – details how the press baron and key members of his staff pulled the levers of power in British politics and business during the six years from 2008 to 2014. While denying and lying, they slipped in and out the side-door of Number 10 for drinks with the prime minister, rubbing shoulders with the power elite who lived in fear of the ability of mass circulation newspapers to influence elections and destroy lives.

A sprawling cast of characters fill the pages of Hack Attack: the bullying editors and hapless reporters of the Fleet Street tabloid newspapers; members of the Queen’s household in Buckingham Palace; prime ministers and members of the government in Whitehall and Downing Street; petty criminals and senior policemen; wide boys and blagging operatives; movers and shakers, celebrities and philanderers; and behind it all the spectral presence of one of the world’s most powerful men – media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.

Davies is the reporter on the left-of-center Guardian newspaper who ran the first stories about the practice of phone hacking. His well-written report reads like a thriller. It is a compulsive page-turner. His bravery in pursuit of the truth is quite startling. One suspects that in any other country than Britain he would have been “disappeared” for dishing the dirt as he has. The scope of the cover-up he exposes makes Woodward and Bernstein, in an earlier era, seem bush league. They had Deep Throat. He has anonymous sources he code-names “Sapphire”, “Ovid” and “Jingle”. They had a cover-up about one crime, the Watergate break-in. He has a decade of systematic illegal activity by reporters and editors who illegally “hacked” the mobile phone voicemails of anyone and everyone who could provide source material for their stories. They hacked the Royal Family, they hacked members of the British Cabinet, sports stars and everyday citizens. Most notoriously, they hacked the cell phone of a murdered teenage schoolgirl. The private messages they listened to were material for news reports, most often in the now defunct News of The World, a Murdoch paper closed as a direct result of Davies’s investigative journalism. Davies uncovers the secrets and lies and reveals how the police in Scotland Yard kept a lid on it for years.

Hack Attack is a must-read for anyone who lives in the UK and wants to hear how they were lied to by the establishment, or, as in my own case, resides in the USA and wonders about the corporate morality of Murdoch’s henchmen on the Wall Street Journal and those who deliver “fair and balanced” reporting on Fox News.