Getting your a**e kicked – the dark side of leadership

Within the first 18 months of setting up our business, we had an article published in The Age newspaper. It made massive waves, and our phones and inboxes began to overflow with great feedback.

The very next day, however, a vicious attack on the article from another consultant appeared in The Age, while online a ‘storytelling expert’ went ballistic with personal criticism that just kept snowballing. It was traumatic and humiliating. At the moment of our lowest ebb, the phone rang. It was a CEO we had recently worked with. He had never personally rung us before, but did now to say, ‘First of all well done for standing up for what you believe in.’ Then he added, ‘Every time you stick your neck out, there will always be someone who will try to kick it in.’ The CEO was empathetic, reminding us what the stakes are when you enter the arena.

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The grass is resting

flightattendantphotoWhen was the last time you tuned into the safety briefing on board a plane?  It’s amazing to consider that even when our lives could depend on the information, we are recalcitrant with our attention!

Similarly, every day our audience battles an information tsunami. Unfortunately, it multiplies our challenges as communicators:
How do we grab eyeballs (attention)?
How do we hold on to this attention (retention); and
How to translate this into behaviour change? (action)

The magic mantra is attention, retention, action.

Using this magic mantra, Air New Zealand has managed to reinvent the tired category of airline safety videos.  Every year they release a new air safety video that is pretty much guaranteed to go viral.  They have had director Peter Jackson appearing in a Hobbit-themed version called An Unexpected Briefing and another one with Golden Girl Betty White starring in Safety Old School Style, and (my personal favourite!) US fitness personality Richard Simmons and a leotard-clad cabin crew delivering preflight safety messages.  Their most recent video featuring bikini-clad models ‘hit political turbulence’ and ended up being pulled.  Despite this the airline’s success in this arena is to be applauded.

What if your budget doesn’t stretch to singing stars and videos with high production values?  Even a humble sign can be made over using imagination and humour for attention, retention and action.  I recently spotted a sign while travelling overseas that instead of demanding the conventional “Keep off the grass”, simply said “The grass is resting”. Touché. Attention, retention and action – all with a humble sign.

Please comment, I love sharing your insights.

Lonely in Las Vegas?

imagesWhat do you do when you are bumped off two flights and stuck in lonely, deserted Las Vegas airport overnight?

Shoot a music video on your iPhone lip-syncing Celine Dion’s All By Myself to share with all your friends, of course!  This is exactly what Dion super-fan Richard Dunn did and he was amazed when his video went viral with over 3.7 million views – turning him into an overnight internet sensation.

While this is a novel way to channel boredom – and perhaps the start of a new trend on the rise of airport videos (please no!) – what makes this piece of content work?

Richard Dunn says start by being true to yourself.  What do you enjoy doing? Think about how can you channel that into your next communication.  In a world where so much information is spun, genuine passion for what you are doing always shines through.

His next tip is to be surprising.  So much content washes over us because of its sheer predictability.  Surprise grabs attention.  Surprise is the secret weapon against information saturation.

And finally, Dunn says he made his video to make his friends laugh.  Simple, clear intent.  While we can’t have this as our brief, what matters is starting with how we want people to feel when they receive our message.  Staring with the emotion, and building our message around it, will help dramatically increase our influence and reach.

Richard Dunn is no longer all by himself.  Celine Dion also did a response video, saying how much she loved Richard’s video and inviting him to her show in Las Vegas.

Where have you seen great content / communication work? Please comment, I love hearing from you.

$US80 million and counting: The recipe for going viral

imagesDavid Beckham and Brad Pitt have done it, and Kim Kardashian even caved in. But in a classic Kim moment, she stopped to take a selfie first. “It” is the ice-bucket challenge, which involves dumping icey water on your head, then challenging others to follow suit.  The challenge raises money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – known as motor neurone disease in Australia. People can accept the challenge, donate money, or do both.

The challenge quickly went viral, raising millions of dollars worldwide. Every charity faces the battle of raising money and awareness – the ice-bucket challenge has done both with stupendous success.  It has also spurred offshoots, such as India’s rice bucket challenge, where people donate a bucket of rice to someone in need, and the rubble-bucket challenge, which creates awareness about suffering in Gaza.

What can we learn from this campaign, as business communicators and influencers?

  • Everyone loves a dare: The playful ice-bucket challenge has broad appeal.
  • Make progress visible: Have you dumped water on yourself or donated instead? Who have you nominated? The accountability factor is captivating.
  • Co-create with your audience: Audience involvement shapes and shares the story. You, as the communicator, need to give up some control for this to happen.  Let your audience create the movement by passing on the message to their friends and family, instead of being passive recipients of your message.

By finding a human, emotive side to your goal, you’ll create buy-in – and with luck, your message could be the next to go viral!  Please comment, I love hearing from you.

The overlap between happiness & a great presentation

I was sitting next to a wellbeing expert recently on a plane and she said there are three simple keys to happiness: laughter, music and exercise.make-me-laugh

We hopefully do a reasonably good job at incorporating one or two of these keys into our daily lives.  Sometimes exercising to old eighties aerobics videos lets me integrate all three keys.  Did I just over-share there?

But our challenge as communicators and presenters is how to incorporate laughter into every presentation.  Laughter is definitely one of the keys to delivering an inspiring presentation.  When your audience laughs, they connect with you and your message.   Motivational speakers  know that humour and drama (usually in story form) will get you past your audience’s defences.

Some presenters think they’re simply not funny, or they worry about introducing humour to a serious topic. Some of us might have to work harder to engineer humour into our presentations, but generally it will be rewarded in spades by our audience’s engagement.

Our muse on how to do this well, even for serious topics, must be professional public speaker Hans Rosling, who presented a TED talk titled ‘The best stats you will ever see’.  Rosling presents complex, longitudinal, global stats on child mortality, but he does it with drama, urgency and humour in the persona of a sports broadcaster.  It’s magic and it works without minimising the seriousness of the issue he is dealing with.

When I mentor clients who are about to make a presentation I always challenge them with: “So, what’s your story?”  And to this I now add: “What’s your funny?”

So, what’s your funny? Where have you seen humour used well in a presentation?  I would love to hear your thoughts – please comment.

*Bottom line or flowery?

The world is divided into bottom-line people who are always asking ‘What’s the point?’ and  flowery people who want you to paint a picture for them.  Point versus paint. Group-of-People

As communicators we have our biases. If you are a bottom-line person, you love communicating your point.  This feels both right and satisfying to you, but the problem is you risk losing half your audience: the flowery people.  If you are a flowery person, you paint pictures every time you speak and while you appeal to the other flowery people in the room, you probably drive bottom-line people insane!

To be master communicators, we have to make sure our communication appeals to both types of people: it needs a clear point and it must paint a picture. Not easy to do! This might sound counterintuitive, but the quickest and easiest way to win over your entire audience is through a short story.

Imagine you’re a leader. You’re talking to your team (made up of both bottom-line and flowery people) about seeing opportunities where others might see none. You could share this story.

Many years ago two salesmen were sent by a British shoe manufacturer to Africa to investigate and report back on market opportunities. The first salesman reported back, “There is no opportunity here – nobody wears shoes.”  The second salesman reported back, “There is massive opportunity here – nobody wears shoes!”  If we see opportunities where our competitors don’t, imagine the difference we could make.

A short, purposeful story paints a picture and, if done well, it also makes a point. It’s a slam-dunk for both flowery and bottom-line people.

What are your thoughts? Please comment, I love hearing from you.

* Thanks to my mentor Robi Mack for her use of these terms.

Who is the most influential person on the planet?

Every year Time Magazine publishes a list of the 100 most influential people.   In introducing this year’s list, Managing Editor of Time, Nancy Gibbs said “The TIME 100 is a list of the world’s most influential men and women, not its most powerful. Power is a tool, influence is a skill; one is a fist, the other a fingertip”. beyonce-knowles-time-100-feat

Beyoncéis on the 2014 cover as the most influential person on the planet. Interestingly Beyoncé hasn’t been that happy recently.  She has been trying to have some unflattering photos of her performing at the 2014 Super Bowl pulled, but with no luck.  Even Larry Page and Sergey Brin the founders of Google, have been unable to eliminate photos of them dressed in drag from their college years floating around on the Internet.

So Rule 1 on Influence: Know what you can and can’t influence (even if you are the most influential person on the planet or own Google).

David Sinclair a geneticist also featured in this list.

He has discovered a compound that makes old cells young again, possibly the fountain of youth, this discovery is HUGE.  When interviewed Sinclair said “While it’s a great honour to be on the list and be recognized by Time magazine, I can’t still actually get my kids to pick their stuff off the bedroom floor”.

Mr Sinclair please re read rule 1, there are no exceptions to this rule!

What are your thoughts on influence or influential people? Please comment, I love hearing from you.

PS. I highly recommend buying a copy of this issue, it makes interesting reading.  The writing is also beautiful, particularly President Obama’s piece on Pope Francis.





Thank you so much, I gotta go. Bye!

Merrit WeverRecently at the 2013 Emmys  while accepting her award star Merritt Wever left the crowd speechless when she quickly wrapped up her speech in just a few seconds. She said  “Oh my God, thanks so much! Thank you so much. Um, I gotta go. Bye!” It was hilarious and received a round of laughter and applause.  The shortest, best received speech ever and talk about being memorable for all the right reasons.

We can definitely take a leaf out of her book. So here are some quick tips on applying brevity in your work life.

When you are requesting a meeting with someone, request a 30 minute or even a 15 minute meeting.  Few people can refuse a 15 minute request and if you can’t say what you have to say in 30 minutes, you need to do some more work before you waste anyone else’s time! (Tough love)

When scheduling meetings with larger groups of people, buck convention and instead of booking a meeting for a hour, book it for 45 minutes.  People can use the remaining 15 minutes to prepare, read the agenda on their own.

When you are asked to present for an hour, don’t feel you have to  speak for the entire 60 minutes and then some!  Always plan to finish early even the 45 / 50 minute mark and this will ensure you are a hit with your audience.  Leave them wanting more, instead of wanting to see the last of you.

No one reads long emails! Either write a short email and put all the detail in an attachment or pick up the phone and have the conversation.

Finally this tip is from Sir Richard Branson.  If you were to put what you were saying on a ‘Coat of arms’ what would it be?  It would have to be simple and short to fit across the bottom of a coat of arms.  Virgin’s motto for example on a coat of arms would be ‘Screw it, let’s do it!’.

George Bernard Shaw famously said ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’.  Paraphrasing for a time starved world ‘Brevity is the soul of successful communication’.

The golden trifecta for communication success

Friday night pizza and a movie at home is an end of week family ritual I look forward too, though most of the time I end up falling asleep on the couch.  The other family ritual we have is going out for brunch most Sundays.  I was shocked and surprised when last Sunday I was pulled up by my 14 year old for always ‘playing on my phone’ while conversing and eating at the same time.  I must admit I am guilty as charged as I do live on my text messages.   I did try to bluster my way saying ‘It’s important’, but really who was I kidding?  trifecta

But it got me thinking, about how in a flat, fast and interconnected world, we are always chasing the next piece of sexy communication technology, but irrespective of what that may be, what matters is always getting your basics right.    Coincidentally that very night I was reading Josh Kaufman’s book* where he describes the ‘Golden Trifecta’.  Courtesy, appreciation and respect.

Courtesy almost sounds old fashioned, but even in our modern world while it might not be about tipping our hats and bowing, small gestures like holding an elevator open for someone, or responding to emails even just to acknowledge receipt does oil the wheels of our society. As an interesting experiment with friends over dinner I asked how many incidents of road rage people could recall versus how many incidents of courtesy (not related necessarily to cars!).  Unsurprisingly people had tons of examples of road rage and hardly any for courtesy.  Courtesy seems also trapped in the cross hairs of gender politics and the ticking time bomb of the politically correct times we live in.  Holding a door open for someone of the opposite sex, might be viewed as sexist, offering your seat on the tram to an elderly person might be ageist, what if they are not as old as they look GULP.  Or are these excuses just a way of letting ourselves off the hook?   While there are no easy answers for situations like holding doors open,  courtesy is simply treating other people how you would like to be treated.

Research after research on employee engagement tells us that what people crave most is some appreciation.  The boss even saying ‘Great job’ can have a huge impact on our well being and our motivation.  One of the best moments of our business lives was receiving a hand written thank you note from a client.  It went straight up on our notice board and still  lives there.

And finally respect, Kaufman describes this as honouring a person’s status.  A recruiter I knew would observe how potential candidates interacted with the receptionist in her practice, and was surprised how often potential candidates were rude to the receptionist, but nice as pie to her, the recruiter.

Kaufman cautions us that it is important to apply the ‘golden trifecta’ to all our interactions not just the important ones, and cites the example of someone who is lovely over dinner but nasty to the wait staff.

I have introduced this to my family by its acronym CAR and now we often tease and pull up each other, and say the ‘R was missing in the CAR’.  Our challenge as communicators is to make sure hopefully nothing is missing in our CAR.

*Josh Kaufman is the author of the #1 international bestseller The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business

Bend it like Brené

ted-logoI had a big bump moment with charisma last week that I want to share with you.  I have always been a HUGE fan of Brené Brown, ever since I saw her TED talk in 2010, the very talk that went viral and made her an overnight sensation.

So it was very exciting to get the opportunity to see her live in Melbourne last Friday.  It was exciting but I was also a tad nervous, what if she didn’t live up to my expectation.  I need not have spent a nanosecond worrying about that. Brené was a warm, empathic and funny and had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand from the word go.  But what surprised me was how charismatic she was.  I was reminded of a quote by Rose Herceg ‘Charisma is like pornography, you can’t define it, but you know it when you see it’!

We are all brought up to believe charisma, you have got it or you don’t, but having the privilege of watching Brené in action, here are some things that stood out.

Charisma is being comfortable with who you are.  Every charismatic person owns who they are, warts and all and are completely comfortable in their skin.  They are not mimicking someone else or trying to be something they are not.

Authenticity. What struck me with Brené Brown’s talk was how genuine she was, it does help that she researches authenticity, but it is very powerful to see a speaker modeling their message.  In a world where so much seems manufactured, spun, sanitized, authenticity is immediately charismatic.

Elevate others.  Quite often people who think they are charismatic, or  are determined to be charismatic can make it all about themselves.  It is all about their ego, always speaking the most, and not giving other people an opportunity.  Seeing charisma in action is the exact opposite of that.  A charismatic presenter or leader elevates the people around them, through their connection, and warmth.  All of us felt shiny and new and loved  ( I know!) after we heard Brené.

Humour and humility. Share stories, every charismatic person is a great storyteller, but their stories are not the ‘how great I am’ stories but story that show them in their human frailty and use humour and humility.

Charm not smarm. Charisma and charm are like basil and tomatoes.  But the key is the charm has to be genuine, a genuine smile, spotting the positive thing to say and a warm handshake.

Off Stage. Charisma is not something you turn off and on.  We were in a crowd of people trying to speak with Brené after she stepped off stage and she was being moved along by her conference organisers.  Yet I noticed she made time to shake every hand that was proffered, hugged people and stopped to chat even if it was just for a couple of seconds.  Her off stage and on stage persona were completely congruent.

I know all of us do and are some of these things some of the time.  Our challenge is to ‘Bend it like Brené’, and make it part of who we are.  So the next time you have an opportunity to go in ego and guns blazing or elevate someone else chose the latter and watch your charisma grow.

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