Reclaiming Humanity at Work


PA TEDx high res
I had the great privilege of doing a TEDx talk in Asbury Park NJ a few weeks ago.

My subject was “Reclaiming Humanity at Work”.

Where’s the video?

Many of you have been asking when the video will be available online. Thank you for your interest!

I got the word that the first edits would be available at the end of June, so I’m thinking it will be ready sometime in July.
I will keep you posted!

The experience of doing a TED talk was really interesting.

The two driving factors for a TED talk are that it needs to be “an idea worth spreading”, and that it should be a part of your own authentic story.

As I went through many revisions, I realized that this theme of “humanity at work” really is at the crux of all my work and my own story. Humanity is a theme through both of my books RISE and MOVE, and is foundational element to all of the leadership and organizational work that I do.

I was excited to have the chance to specifically talk about it.

My own story

As I look back on my own career, one of the threads that stretches from the beginning to now, is that I was never someone that sacrificed my humanity to succeed.

What I mean by this is that we all feel pressure to conform sometimes. Many newly promoted managers who are not sure what they need to be doing, think part of the requirement is to act like a big shot. But as soon as you go down this path, you sacrifice your own humanity, and you disrespect the humanity of others.

As my roles got bigger and bigger, and the roles themselves became more powerful, I remained the same person — the same person with a bigger responsibility — but the same person.

As I described in the talk, if you are willing to show up as your true self and respect the ideas and the humanity of others, you get access to a critical kind of organizational information and support that you will never see if you insist on acting like a big shot. (I plan on writing more about this soon.)

Feel Happier at work

What I hoped to share in this talk is a way of working and finding success that people can feel great about, so they can feel happier and more satisfied at work.

If you are willing to show up as your whole, true self, and respect the humanity of others at work, you will actually be at your most powerful and credible. You will also be at your most effective because you will engender the support of others.

And you’ll feel happier because if you feel like the real, interesting, happy person you are on the weekends is somehow not welcome at work, to go through the personality lobotomy every Monday morning to turn into your work-appropriate self is really painful!

I’ll keep you posted on the availability of the TED talk but for now, know that although we can all point to narcissistic, egomaniacs who get ahead in business, it’s not a requirement. You don’t have to be that way if you don’t want to.

I have stayed true to myself and the the humanity of others throughout my whole career, and I find it very gratifying when my work helps others find this path to success as well.

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page.

Was this useful?

If you found this article useful, please help me share it with others and encourage them to subscribe to this Blog for free.


About Patty
patty blog image crop

Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook

Read MOVE

I’m really excited to share all the important ideas and tools I put in my book MOVE to help you get your team (at any level in any kind of organization) to execute your strategy more decisively.

You can download a free preview or order your copy now.
Click to download
Click to Order
Move thumb

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page.

8 ways to test if your executive communications are executive enough


SkyscraperWindow.main

Are you coming across at the right level?

Becoming proficient at executive communications is critical for every mid-level manager.

Many leaders are very comfortable communicating downward or with peers, but when it comes to talking with top executives they are not able to hit the right tone — it’s a very different thing.

Talking to executives can seem mysterious and stressful. They can get annoyed or impatient unexpectedly. I’ve seen so many leaders get blindsided when something goes amiss while talking to an executive. But the problem is often the tone more than the content.

I’ve come up with 8 simple check points that you can use grade yourself when you prepare and deliver your next executive communication or presentation.

1. Outside vs. Inside

I remember one time a group of mid-level managers were presenting a plan for a new project to an executive. They had a very nice presentation with slides showing what they proposed to build and why it would be useful. The presentation went on for some time and finally the executive interrupted and said, “I agree you have got the picture right, but the issue is that our competition has been doing this for months, why are you proposing this now?” They had no answer.

Make sure that you set your communications in the context of external reality. Talk to customers, talk to sales people. Find out what competitors are doing. Make sure you have incorporated that knowledge into your communications or your point of view will seem small and insular.

2. Short vs. Long

Get to the point. Please. I can’t tell you how many times leaders presented to me, where 46 minutes into a 1 hour meeting I’d have to say, “What is this meeting about?” If you are talking or presenting to an executive, make sure you can make your point in 1 page and/or 3 minutes. Use that brevity to earn more time.

Describing how fascinating and complete your research was before you ever get to the point doesn’t help you. I can tell you that have spent days filtering the content of an important executive presentation down to its core points so that I could cover it in 5 minutes. It was always worth it.

3. Meaning vs. Detail

Don’t make your executive audience do the work to process the detail to get the meaning. Instead of going through all the data you could say, “There is only one number on this whole spreadsheet which is of concern and here is why”. While some executives might want to drag you into detail or challenge you on facts, this does not absolve you of the responsibility to have an opinion on what the most important take-aways are.

4. Outcome vs. Activity

Check your language. Are you taking about important outcomes, or describing activities? All the things you are doing — all of your project plans, all of your travels, all of your meetings, all of your development — those are activities. So what? Did quality improve? Did pipeline grow? Did time to close sales get shorter? Did clients provide references?

Check your titles and headlines. Turn them all into outcomes. What happened? Why does it matter?

5. Plain speak vs. Jargon

Be easily understandable and relevant. Leave your jargon, your acronyms, and your project names back inside your team. When you get to talk to an executive, you need to create an entirely different communication tool to do the communicating than you use to manage the work. A communication tool that is in their language, not yours.

You can learn their secret language simply be being observant and listening. Listen for what they care about and the words they use to describe it. What they say becomes your allowable dictionary. Translate.

6. Story vs. Status

I have found that executives respond really well to stories, examples, memorable tag lines. Turn your information into an interesting story. Share how your project impacted the life of a particular customer or employee. Give them a story with a beginning a middle and an end with concrete elements. A good story is one that involves an actual person, a story that they can remember and repeat easily.

7. Proposing vs. Reporting

I was talking to a CEO one day about a problem the company was having in its business. I suggested that he assign one of the directors to work on that problem, and he said, “No, I don’t trust him to own and solve the problem — he is more of a reporter.” Ouch!

While identifying problems is important, and articulating them can make you seem insightful, check your language and make sure you are not just reporting problems, but taking ownership and proposing solutions to fix them too.

8. In Control/Calm vs. Defensive/Angry

Finally, one of the most important aspects of executive communications is to not get shaken up when you get confronted with something uncomfortable or upsetting. It might be a question you don’t know the answer to, or an attack from a peer, or subtle undermining comment about your team. These things happen to everyone.

Stay calm, stay in control. “That’s an interesting question, I’ll need to get the answer. That is an interesting point of view, I haven’t seen that myself, but I’ll look into it. Well the data shows this, but if you disagree, I’m happy to talk about that offline.”

I have found that not getting shaken by attacks, and in fact treating them with a level of calm seriousness, it makes the attacker more nervous than you are. They think, “oh crap, now I have to do actual work follow up this shallow attack”. They often shut up.

Here are some webinars that help improve your executive communication skills. Check them out if you are interested.

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page.

Was this useful?

If you found this article useful, please help me share it with others and encourage them to subscribe to this Blog for free.

ABOUT PATTY:

patty blog image
Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor.
She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her book RISE…3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, AND Liking Your Life.

Rise_CVR_3D_300

Free eBook Download

Where school taught us the wrong thing for business


school-steered-us-wrong

School: Make sure it’s long enough

I remember in grade school getting an assignment to do a “report” on a topic or a book. Part of the assignment was always the length.

“Make sure it’s two pages single spaced”.

Kids would struggle to make it long enough, using extra large margins, leaving a big gap under the title, and/or by writing really big.

Then in high school we advanced from reports to term papers which had to be 25 or 50 pages, typed, double spaced, and include supported research for every fact. You had to show how you built your case for the point you were making as part of the paper.

This approach continued into college: Complete, accurate, long. Show your research.

Business: I’m bored, get to the point

Then you get into business, and the last thing anyone wants to do is read a long report filled with the detailed archaeology about how you got to the point you are making.

Effective, written business communications are all about being brief and highly relevant to your audience.

For many, the school approach is a hard habit to break because this was drilled into us (in America, anyway) as the right and only way to do it.

I see business presentations and documents all the time that remind me of school term papers. They are too long, and not tuned for any audience in particular. They are a long march through detailed, accurate facts, with background data to support those facts along the way.

Proposals are presented as though the audience is a professor with no stake in the content, who will give a grade on the hypothetical completeness of the argument, and the grammar and punctuation in the document — instead of a busy executive who has a personal decision to make on whether or not to bet the business on your idea.

Accurate vs. Effective

You can be 100% accurate and 0% effective in your communications.

To be effective, first and foremost be as brief as possible.

If you are asked to share information or create a proposal, think, how can I create the most compelling case in the fewest amount of words, screens, pages or slides?

Also, always create version of your content that fits on one page. You can create more pages for a “complete version”, discussion or backup — but if you want your communication to get read and acted on, also have a one-page version.

Every time I had to deliver a business plan or strategy document that was 50-100 pages, I always created a communication document about that plan that fit on one page. Often it included a chart or a picture.

Here are some steps for brief and compelling communications:

Thinking and Preparation

1. Who is your audience?
2. What do they care about? (Remember, the stuff they really care about might have nothing to do with you.)
3. How do they talk about what they care about? What are the exact words they use to describe it?
4. Use their words to create a dictionary of the words you are allowed to use.

Outline for an effective executive communication

1. The Desired Outcome: Decide what the outcome of the communication needs to be. What should happen afterwards, as a result of this communication?

e.g. Outcome = They have confidence in you, and you get the funding.

2. The big opening: Create a hook for your communications by having the first thing you write be something the audience cares about – Trick: use only their words from the dictionary you created.

e.g. Your words: “Web self-service proposal” becomes — from their dictionary: “A plan to address the revenue shortfall in Europe”

3. Get to the point! State your desired outcome up front, but — hang it on the hook you created in your opening (so your audience will also care about your desired outcome)

e.g. This presentation shows that we can increase revenue by 10-20% in Europe by improving our web-self service — even if nothing else changes.

4. Make the choices really clear.

I can’t tell you, as an executive how many presentations I sat through where 45 minutes into a 1 hour presentation I had to ask, What are trying to tell me? What are you expecting me to do or take from this?

Don’t make your audience work hard to figure out what you need them to know, or want them to do. Spell it out for them.

e.g. We need your approval to extend the contract on 2 people, and to invest $225k. The ROI is in 1 quarter.

5. Be brief. Describe the plan and ROI as briefly as possible. Put all the data about how you got to this answer or recommendation in backup. Never take people through your process unless you are asked to do so.

6. The big finish: Ask for something to happen that will drive the outcome.

Delivering the Communication

Create a one page summary version that is the first page. Use a picture, block diagram or chart if possible.

Make the whole thing as short as possible so it contains the information it needs but no more. Offer more information upon request.

Before the meeting or presentation, distribute summary with an email that is very brief (so it gets read now, not ignored or filed for later) and has the action requested in the subject line. It also helps if none of the sentences wrap to a second line.

Subject: Action Requested: Need Your Decision by Friday (Europe Revenue)

Hi Jay,

I have attached the plan to address the revenue shortfall in Europe.

The first page is a one-page summary showing two choices.
FYI: I recommend choice A.

Action Requested: I need your decision by Friday.

Thanks so much.

(I have additional information about this if you have questions.)

Sell Your Ideas

Don’t let your own need for completeness shoot you in the foot. You need to sell your ideas, not just document them.

And then you need to take responsibility to close the deal and get the outcome.

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page.

Was this useful?

If you found this article useful, please help me share it with others and encourage them to subscribe to this Blog for free.

ABOUT PATTY:

patty blog image
Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor.
She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her book RISE…3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, AND Liking Your Life.

Rise_CVR_3D_300

Free eBook Download

The best outline for an executive presentation


outline for presetation

What is the best approach?

“What is the most effective format for a compelling, persuasive presentation to executives?”

This question came up during my last Coaching Hour for members of Azzarello Group, and as we talked about it, I thought it was worth sharing on the blog.

There are two key elements for a successful presentation:

1. It must be brief and highly relevant!
2. It must be delivered well

You need to prepare for both the content and the delivery of your presentation.

Too many times I see people investing a huge amount of preparation time into the content, but not giving any preparation time to the delivery. Don’t forget to do both! (If you want to be compelling).

PREPARING YOUR CONTENT:

I’ve always liked this quote:

“I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”
–Blaise Pascal

The effective presentation outline has 10 Slides (Not 147 slides!)

To prepare a short, compelling presentation takes a lot more time than to prepare a long one.

Here is the outline that I always use. I have found it to be very effective for almost any kind of presentation, sales pitch, job interview or important conversation. It helps me get my thoughts organized and ready to present in the most clear and persuasive way possible.

Slide 1: The HOOK

What is it that the key person in your audience wakes up in the morning already knowing and caring about? And what specific words do they use to describe it?

Once you find that out, that is your hook.

Use that hook as your opening — their idea in their words.

By starting with something that they already know and care about, phrased in their language, you will interest and disarm them right off the bat, and make them see that you are smart. (Because you care about the same important things that they do).

Slide 2: Create a link to your topic

Do the work to build the bridge between what they already care about and what you need them to care about.

If you start right off the bat with your thing, and try educate the about it, and to convince them of why it’s important, you are digging yourself into a hole that you will need to dig out of.

Remember: If you need to educate, you are not relevant.

What IS relevant to them, is what they already know and care about. If you try to educate your audience it usually ends up annoying both of you.

If you instead, create a hook on their terms, and then link to it, you will be inviting them into a highly relevant discussion.

Slide 3: Don’t Bury the Lead

Slide 3 should be your lead idea. Be clear right away:What is this presentation for? What is the main point? What are you asking for? Don’t beat around the bush to get here.

The brilliant archaeology of how you got to this point doesn’t matter — take it out. Put it in the backup, if at all.

I can tell you, I have been the executive who is 50 minutes into someone’s one hour presentation when I needed to stop and ask them, “What is this acutally about? What do you need? What are you asking me to do? You only have 10 minutes left and I still can’t figure it out.”

Don’t make your audience work so hard. Tell them upfront what you will want from them by the end of this presentation.

Slide 4-7: The main supporting points and clear business case

Now you have 4 slides to tell your story! If you can get it done in 1 or 2 — even better.

Here is where you can include proof points, support from others, benchmarks, testimonials, cost, value, risk. Have something concrete and compelling in this section. (Pictures, videos, stories.)

Make sure you have created a clear business case with costs and risks and upsides that they can relate to.

Slide 8: Your recommended action plan

Again, don’t make your audience guess what you think is the best way forward. State it outright: I recommend option 2 of these 3. I recommend that the next step is to…

Slide 9: Give them very clear choices

Don’t make them work to figure out what you want them to do.

If you are asking for a choice or an approval or funding or a green light, make it very clear. Make it easy for them to do the thing you need. Outline their choices on slide 9.

Slide 10: The big finish

Never just stop. Get the close. Get the choice, get the approval. And if you cant get that, get a commitment for the next meeting, or get the next step approved. Make sure that you are moving something forward at the end of the presentation.

Backup ONLY:

Supporting Data, Architecture or Program Details, analysis, approach, history. Information about your research or how you got there. Don’t share this unless you are asked a specific question.

PLANNING YOUR DELIVERY

Now that you have your 10 slide presentation, it’s time to prepare for HOW you will deliver it. Here are some important steps that I go through when I have a really important presentation or meeting that I need to perform at.

1. Plan and practice your opening line (THE HOOK)

Think about your audience and what they care most about to create your hook. Then write it out and practice it. 

Make sure that you have a scripted opening line to deliver your HOOK that connects with what they specifically care about. Rehearse it out loud multiple times. Since you are using their words not yours, you may not be comfortable with that new language without practice. I do this step regularly.

2. Rehearse an opening and closing line for each slide

I recommend that you actually write and opening and closing line for each slide.
It’s even better if you build a practice version of your presentation with slides that precede and follow each slide with only your key opening or closing point on each one.

Then step through your presentation making only the key, intro and take-away points. Skip over the actual content slides for a few run throughs.

You’ll find this not only strengthens your ability to tell a compelling story without wandering off track (which improves your confidence), but it may also help you to improve your slides. I often find that I end up changing the title, headline or the content to reflect the opening remark or closing takeaway — and I end up with a much stronger slide.

3. Be Personally Memorable

You have to remember that you are being judged along with your content. Your audience will not only judge the value of your material and data, they are judging you too. Step up. Find a funny story or a personal relatable hook to your audience. 

Use photos, or videos, or related anecdotes. This can be at the beginning, middle or end, as it suits your desired outcome and content. This will help people relate to your content and give them more confidence in you.

4. Own the outcome

Don’t just own the communication, own the outcome of the communication.

Make it clear that you are personally taking responsibility for whatever happens after this presentation.

Good presentation skills are far less about having a big, showy personality, but much more about making it clear that you are taking ownership for what happens next.

You can be a very soft spoken, humble person and give very powerful presentation by making it clear that there is an important outcome at stake, and you are the one who will take responsibility to own that outcome and drive it forward.

Prepare and relax

I find that investing preparation to follow this framework reduces a lot of the stress associated with an important presentation, meeting, or conversation. The best presenters might seem very natural, but it’s because they are always prepared, not because they are so good that they don’t need preparation.

What do you think?

Join the conversation about this on my facebook page.

Was this useful?

If you found this article useful, please help me share it with others and encourage them to subscribe to this Blog for free.


About Patty
patty blog image crop

Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook, or read her book RISE…3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, AND Liking Your Life.

Rise_CVR_3D_300

Free eBook Download

Stop trying to be impressive


A good rule of thumb is that you are never more impressive when you are trying to be impressive!

Trying too hard to be impressive is one of the worst things you can do when you are trying to build credibility, get support, or get things done.

Think Useful vs. Impressive

At one point I learned to stop being afraid of not being good enough, and to just give up on ever trying to be impressive on purpose. Instead I focused on trying to be genuinely useful.

(Image courtesy of Bullshit Bingo
Download and print out cards to play along in meetings here

Helping a friend

When I prepare for a presentation, an interview, a meeting, or a communication of any kind, I get myself in the mindset of “What would I be saying and doing if I were trying to help a friend”?

Instead of thinking strategically of positioning and selling and marketing, I think, what would I say if this executive, client, hiring manager or prospect sitting across the table from me was actually my best friend?

More comfortable, more useful

First and foremost I would be much more comfortable and less nervous. I would be thinking, 1. How are you? I’m actually interested. What’s important to you, really? How can I help? And if what I have to say is not genuinely interesting or helpful to them, then I wouldn’t drag them through whatever I’m talking about.

This doesn’t mean you can not have the intention to persuade or to sell, it just means you’ll actually do a better job persuading and selling because you will come across as genuinely trying to be helpful!

Also, when people focus to much on trying to be impressive I notice that they can get nervous and defensive, and the pitch of their voice goes up, and their whole demeanor is screaming, “I’m really not confident but I’m trying to impress you!”

Drop the Business Speak

Another hazard of trying too hard to be impressive is focusing on sounding smart instead of focusing on really communicating.

I tend see these big-word, business-speak, smart-sounding people coming across as arrogant and contrived — which, by the way is also not impressive.

“Smart-Talk”

It always amazes me how some people actively resist this, insisting that sounding smart will impress people who will think they are more business-like, experienced, or smarter. There is sometimes even a kind of arrogance. “Well I understand this perfectly, so they should too”.

You can find these people easily.  You have been in meetings with them (long ones) and have got emails from them (long ones). These people use words with lots of syllables, long sentences, provide way too much background, drop a lot of names, and create lots of abstractions.

They confuse sounding impressive with action.

And you are left wondering what happened or what is expected to happen next.

Clarity drives action.

Sounding smart only drives more talking.

Never confuse being clear for not being smart.

Invest in tuning your communications to be as straightforward as possible, and set an expectation with your team, that obtuse and verbose emails and presentations will not be accepted.

To Read:

This article by Bob Sutton is an oldie but a goodie.
The Smart Talk Trap (1999)
I am a fan!

Check out my new facebook page!

I’ve created a new Azzarello Group facebook page.

This new page will a great place to have conversations about blog posts and other business ideas.

Please click through to FACEBOOK, click Like, and leave a comment!

See you on Facebook!