Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The art of blogging

Well, I certainly outdid myself this time ... I have not written a blog post in over 2 months! One of the first rules of the blogging world is to make sure you communicate regularly and consistently with your audience. This way you keep them engaged with new content and they know when to expect your next post.

I think we can all agree that I haven’t done this very well.

I could sprout the million and one reasons that I have been feeding to myself about why I am not writing regular posts but it still doesn’t give us the solution that a blog is successful. So in this post I thought I would write 10 key tips for maintaining a blog and the things that I wish I had been told before I set mine up! This is very much a case of “do what I say, not what I do”, so please do bear with me.

  1. Choosing the platform – There are lots of blogging platforms out there (eg. Wordpress, Tumblr, TypePad and Blogger) and choosing which one to use can be confusing. Unless you have very specific ideas about functionality, most blogging platforms will do what you need. You can find a number of helpful video tutorials online
  2. Find your niche – As mentioned above, when you start a blog you need to provide regular content. Make sure you find a theme/area of real interest where you are going to be able to share your opinion passionately. Try to think of an angle that makes your blog different to everyone else's
  3. Get ahead of the game - Before you even launch your blog, make sure you have already written 4-6 posts or so that you can release them at regular intervals in the first few weeks. This will give you time to plan your next posts and also make sure that you start yourself on a path of regular and consistent contact from the very beginning
  4. Plan your content – Dream big and don’t leave your content to chance. Good ideas will not generally come to you on the spot, so make sure you note down any ideas that cross your mind. Spend a few minutes every day thinking about potential topics and content
  5. Choose your objectives – Some people write blogs just for themselves (and maybe friends) but if you want your blog to gain a good level of readership traffic you will need to think about how you market yourself and your page. Start chatting with other bloggers and leaving useful comments on other blogs (with some link to your blog's theme) and show yourself as a thought leader - this will help to draw traffic to your blog. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is always really helpful and you can find many self-learning resources online
  6. Encourage interaction – Sometimes blogging can feel like a one-way conversation ... but it shouldn’t be. Encourage feedback and opinions to be shared, whether through the comments box or by having guest bloggers. NB: Blogger annoyingly only allows users with a gmail account to post a comment!
  7. Track your stats – Keep an eye on your analytics, it will help you to understand what your readers are interested in and allow you to provide them with more of what they are interested in
  8. Be personal – Humans are a nosey bunch and we love to find out personal things about people. It may be nerve-wracking but the more personal and human elements you add to your posts the more likely people are to come back to read more
  9. Get social – Don’t neglect your other social media accounts. Use twitter, facebook and LinkedIn (to name but a few) to direct people to your blog and also to start conversations around the topics you are discussing on your blog
  10. Keep it professional – No matter how informal your blog is, make sure you grammar and spell check before posting. Remember that your blog will become like an online reference for you to future employers. Silly things like bad grammar and an obvious lack of attention to detail will cost you dearly!

As I said before, do what I say and not what I do. Following the above tips will not automatically give you a high traffic blog but it will certainly help your chances!

So ....... anyone want to add their opinion and comment on this blog? :P Any extra tips or suggestions for improvement would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Why do we have such a problem with presenting well?

Today I attended a large employee benefits conference in London. Unfortunately the organisers had made a few errors, such as an inefficient queuing system that made the sessions start late, conference rooms that were badly soundproofed and a lack of microphones to capture the questions from the audience.

Despite this, I was excited to listen to the presentations and hopefully maximise my day out. Overall it was an interesting day but I couldn’t help muttering inside my head about some of the poor presentation slides and skills that some of the speakers graced us with (however I do want to say that there were some very good speakers too!).

One of the presenters showed us their company’s history as a timeline. However, on this one slide there was at least 200wds of text! Although they had tried to break the text up with images and coloured text boxes it was still completely incomprehensible and ultimately just detracted from the message they were trying to get across to the audience. Most people know not to read off the screen but that doesn’t mean you can just write everything that you don’t say!

The second issue was more to do with the actual speakers. Now I don’t want to be precious but having been a member of toastmasters, I am used to counting “ums”, “ahs” and other crutch words ... and I had a field day today. I understand that many of the presenters were chosen more for their knowledge of employee benefits rather than their presentation skills but I was still disappointed. The problem is that these crutch words interrupt the flow of speech and are often very distracting (particularly for someone who is trained to pick them out!).

Today has prompted me to write a quick blog post about the things we should think about when presenting. I am not going to talk too much about how we speak when presenting as I covered this in a previous post. However, here are a few pointers when putting together presentation slides (whether using powerpoint, prezi, HTML5 etc).

  1. Your slides should not be the main focus – you are! Use it to add (not detract) to what you are saying and don't hide behind your presentation!
  2.  Use images! People find it difficult to read something on a screen whilst listening to what someone is saying – we are not very good at processing two bits of information at the same time
  3. Key points only – when you use words on a slide it should be to illustrate key points or facts and it should be short and snappy
  4. Keep your words to a minimum. You should really have no more than 33 words on a slide (and it will be better with less!)
  5. Make two versions. When talking to people about presentations they often tell me that the reason they put so much information on them is so that people can refer back to them at a later date and fully understand what was being said. If this is the case, do two versions; one for the actual presentation and one as a reminder of what was said
  6.  You don’t have to use powerpoint. Visual aids are used to add to a speech and sometimes powerpoint can be very restrictive. When we present we want to have a conversation with an audience and human conversation is not structured as rigidly as the traditional format of a powerpoint 

An example of a bad slide

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The role of social media in customer communications

In the last couple of weeks I have become rather obsessed with my twitter account and not because I want to tell people what I have just consumed for breakfast.

Last week on the way to work I realised that I had forgotten my annual season ticket (a piece of paper worth over £2000!!) and had to buy a return ticket. I didn’t mind doing this as I knew that I had read on the train provider’s website that they would refund in full the first ticket bought in the case of forgetting my annual season ticket.

To be honest I forgot about the ticket for a few days and then turned up at Clapham Junction station at the customer service to request a refund. The abrupt lady at the desk told me that I couldn’t get a refund from here and I must go back to the place where I purchased the ticket and discuss it with them there. I was a little annoyed but it made sense as I presumed they had to keep track of it somewhere. The following morning in Dorking I repeated my story to the customer service desk. I was unhelpfully told that I would need to produce my actual ticket as well as my receipt in order to receive a refund. I have to admit that I sarcastically asked whether he meant the ticket that had been “swallowed” by the ticket barriers in order to allow me to exit the station. He told me that I should not have used the tickets at the barrier! (Still trying to understand the idiocy of this comment!)

After a frustrating 5 minute conversation about how I would not be receiving the refund I was entitled to, I left feeling let down and quite frankly, annoyed. It was at this point I turned to my twitter account to tweet my annoyance at the situation directly to Southern trains head office. I have used this tactic a few times and tend to get a fairly swift response and so I wasn’t surprised when I got a public message within 3 minutes asking me for further details.

I don’t know whether it is the fact that social media customer service teams are often a dedicated resource or whether it is because companies are more aware of the impact public negative feedback can have but I always seem to solve issues with companies quicker if I do it online in a public forum.

Within 5 minutes of tweeting I had been sent a PO BOX address in Bristol that I could send my receipt to and expect to receive a full refund ... something that one of the face-to-face customer service team should have been able to tell me. It would have saved a lot of huffing, puffing and frustration.

On the other hand I recently read a story about someone who received instructions from a company’s social media team that referred them to another part of the business ... that then did not deliver and the person felt even more let down and frustrated then before. There is also the worry that twitter's ability to give instantaneous responses could potentially be harmful if those using it are not properly briefed or trained.

I am interested to hear what your opinion is on the place of social media within customer service communications? Is it revolutionising our customer solution strategies or is it just making it more complicated with the potential to easily damage their organisation’s reputation?

I would be interested to know your thoughts. 

Friday, 31 August 2012

Taking engagement to a higher level

Apologies for being so slow in putting up my latest blog post! I have had a crazy 4 weeks getting really stuck in to my new job, finding a new kickboxing club and meeting up with friends. However, I promise to face my blog with renewed vigour now!
After a number of posts about communication failures, I thought I would make the tone more positive in a post-celebration of the fantastic London 2012 Olympic Games (and hopefully Paralympics too)!

We talk about employee engagement as the ultimate goal for organisations wishing to raise productivity and consequently the bottom line. Often though we are not actually sure what engagement looks like or what we have to do to achieve it. To me, engagement is epitomised by the connection that people have with an organisation and the extent to which their own personal goals are aligned with that of the wider “vision” or goal.

During the Olympics I believe that I saw true engagement in action and I was thrilled to be in London whilst it took place. The dedication and passion of the 70,000 Olympic volunteers (aka Game Makers) has absolutely astounded me. I was lucky enough to attend two Olympic events and as cheesy as it sounds, it was the volunteers (including the armed services and police) that made the day for me. Smiles all round, well timed jokes and helpful directions were the norm and everyone, from the coveted positions of athletic guides to the volunteer cleaners, was welcoming and certainly shared their excitement at being part of this momentous event.

So how exactly is it that LOCOG, the organisers of the London Olympics, managed to have such an engaged workforce? Now I know some of the cynical of you will be thinking that it can’t have been that hard considering that these people chose to give up their time and work at the games for free. However, you forget that these people were often travelling long journeys to arrive at the venues and had long hours to work, something that would test anyone.

I believe that the reason that the Games Makers were so engaged was that they were able to align their own personal goals with that of the wider vision, “to set new standards, creating positive, lasting change for the environment and communities” and “to inspire a generation”. LOCOG demonstrated to volunteers the impact that each and every one of them would have on achieving the overall goal.

Turning this back to the corporate world, I think it is safe to say that companies that manage to show employees how their day-to-day work counts towards the bigger picture can often be the most successful. It is not just the “Innocent” and “Save the Children” brands of this world that can inspire their employees. Every single company has the opportunity of including their staff in the future of their business and they also have the moral responsibility to inspire them too. It may be harder to convince critics that you can ‘inspire’ those in the less ‘glamorous’ roles within a company ... and I would agree. However, it is definitely not impossible. Autonomy is the key. Allowing employees to take responsibility, be accountable and share their knowledge and opinions is an important part of engagement.

There is the story of Kennedy visiting NASA in 1962 to take a tour and meet the people. Whilst walking through the building he stopped to talk to a janitor and asked him what he did at NASA. The janitor proudly told Kennedy, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon, Mr. President” - A wonderful sentiment.

We can all work to achieve this level of engagement amongst employees – it is possible but be aware that once you begin on this journey you can’t leave it by the wayside. In fact, it is better not to start at all (raising the hopes of your workforce) then to do it in half measures. This is not to say that you shouldn’t try, but you need to be committed.
To business owners I say, invest in your people. Inspire them, nurture them and invite them to ‘buy-in’ in your business, just as you have.

To those who have not quite made the top yet, demonstrate your interest in the bigger picture, encourage your business leaders to listen and as you move up the ranks, help to inspire those following you.

Companies that engage their staff not only end up having the best pick of future talent, but they also open access to innovation, continuous improvement and importantly, increased productivity!

If that isn’t worth your time and effort – what is??

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Another one bites the dust - Bloc Weekend 2012

Since my last post, I have been told about another total communications disaster ... but this time it wasn’t anything to do with G4S. In fact it was the electronic festival “Bloc Weekend” (July 2012) who had to close their festival down during the event amid fears of overcrowding. The event organisers brought in the police to aid them to ‘eject’ thousands of festival goers and faced a vicious backlash across all social media sites.

However, whilst the company was frantically trying to deal with the chaos unfolding they forgot to communicate with their customers. Specifically, when they took the decision to eject people from the venue, they forgot that they had authorised a number of “pre-set” automatic tweets to be sent from their twitter account, @BLOCWKND. Whilst festival goers were slamming the festival’s ineptitude and complaining profusely about the manner in which they had been thrown out of the festival, @BLOCWKND was telling them that the next artist was coming up and posting “here’s one I took earlier” photos.

Unfortunately, the use of programmes that send out pre-set automatic updates is used all too frequently by companies and their self-titled “social media experts”.  Now, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with using automatic update programmes, such as Hootsuite, Tweetdeck or Tweetadder, but ... and this is a massive BUT, you have to understand that social media networks are all about being socially interactive and reactive. An automated system will never be able to do this for you; it all requires a human element. By making the mistake of not managing this process, @BLOCWKND found themselves further angering their customers as they continued to tweet inaccurately. What is more, when they did realise what had happened they went silent for some time.

Finally they sent out a status saying:

“By now everyone will have heard that Bloc 2012 was closed due to crowd safety concerns. We are all absolutely devastated that this happened, but the safety of everyone on site was paramount. Given the situation on the ground, we feel that it was the right decision to end the show early. Bloc will not open on Saturday 7th July so please don’t come to the site. Stand by for full information on refunds.”

Now I may be being silly but for the life of me I cannot find an apology in that status. I can’t even find the classic “we are sorry for any inconvenience caused”. Interestingly, Base Logic Promotions Ltd (the company name behind Bloc Weekend) quickly went into voluntary administration following the fiasco meaning that attendees of the festival will struggle to retrieve any refunds. I am not implying in any way that a better communication strategy would have saved the company from administration or from their overcrowding issues, however, I think they owed it to their disappointed customers.

My real point in this blog is that we have to be careful with our social media tools. It is all very well finding tools that help us, as companies or even individuals, to make the most out of social networking. However, we must not forget that these processes have to be managed properly if we choose to use them. Our customers, friends, circles and followers demand that we interact with them freely, openly and honestly, this was an unfortunate example of the exact opposite.

This says it all ...

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Honesty really is the best policy!

What is it exactly about bad communication that makes a situation/issue/challenge ten times worse?

We have all sat on a train station platform or airport when the LCD screens flash to tell you that your train/plane is delayed by 20 minutes. Doesn’t seem too bad, right? But following this, every 5 minutes, the delay seems to increase and before you know it you have been waiting for 90 minutes with only a mechanical voice “apologising for the inconvenience”. I don’t know about you but this reoccurring situation infuriates me. I can’t understand why people aren’t more upfront and honest about issues. I would much rather be given the most correct and up-to-date information at the time to be able to make my own decision as to how I will proceed. There is nothing worse than sitting on a train station platform and realising that you could have gone out to the pub for 40 minutes whilst you were waiting.

An interesting situation to assess right now is that of G4S, Olympic security provider, who have been plagued with problem after problem in recent days relating to the under-staffing of security posts for the impending Olympics. Currently there is a lot of scaremongering in the press about the lack of trained security personnel that were meant to be provided as part of the 10,000 person contract and 3,500 Army personnel, due to go on leave, have been brought in at the last minute. Anyone following this story will see that the obvious mistakes made plus the media furore and high profile “dress downs” have turned G4S and the security aspect of the Olympics into an absolute shambles.

3,500 soldiers are drafted in to plug the
security personnel gap at the Olympics. 
At this point in time, we can only allege as to where the communication break downs have happened. Boris Johnson seems to think that Government were aware of the staffing issues a few months ago, whereas Theresa May insists she only found out 9 days ago. It is interesting to note that many reporters have failed to alert readers to the fact that the initial G4S contract was based on the employment of only 2000 security personnel, not the 10,000 that it increased to in January of this year. So where exactly does the blame lie for this complete and utter breakdown in communication?

Over the coming weeks, as more information surfaces about the mistakes that have been made and the real situation behind the hype starts to appear, I would like to have a look at ways in which the situation could have been handled more effectively by G4S and Government. Please do feel free to add your own comments and thoughts.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Times are changing ...

Firstly I want to apologise for not writing a blog post for four weeks! It has been a month of highs, lows and significant change. I made a decision to follow Paul to London, leaving my Cheltenham life, job and friends behind, and have consequently been submerged in the chaos of moving, going to Hideout festival in Croatia (yes, I can feel your sympathy flowing!) and starting a new job.

Over the last few weeks I have experienced immense turmoil at the thought of leaving friends, even though it has been sprinkled with elation at the prospect of reacquainting myself with old friends and making new ones. However, the thing that has become most clear to me is the importance of the relationships you form with people throughout your lifetime and the potential impact that these interactions can have.

If I mentioned Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King and Marie Curie, what would you say that had in common? Well, apart from being famous enough that you know who they are, these people have had a significant impact on the lives of others. Some of them used the power of rhetoric to inspire and others used their actions to have a profound impact.

However, these are people that we may not feel have directly impacted on our own lives. Often it is the unsung heroes; parents, teachers, friends, partners and groups of like-minded individuals that leave the most lasting impressions. These people may never have their name in shining lights, or remain imprinted in the minds of millions across the world but nonetheless they often deeply influence our lives, the experiences we have and the people that we become.

In Cheltenham, I encountered a number of individuals who have really managed to touch upon my life and I hope that in my last few weeks I was able to articulate to them the impact that they have had. This blog post was really about reiterating my thanks to all of you who have been part of my Cheltenham life and all of you that have made me who I am today (you can all share in the blame :P).

Sometimes it is important to think about the positive impact that you can have on those around you.

Jackie Robinson once said: “A life is not important, except in the impact it has on others”

I don’t think you need to be famous or well-known to have an impact, we just need to be aware of the experience, advice and support we can give to others. If life is measured by the impact we have on others, I would say that I must be surrounded by many people whose lives are pretty darn important!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Presentations – How to keep your audience awake!

We have all been there, sat waiting for an inevitably dull Power Point presentation delivered by an equally as dull presenter with zero charisma that seems to last for hours. Occasionally you get the odd surprise but they tend to be the minority. So what exactly makes a presentation engaging and actually worth watching?

I could go on about how to develop your content, how to structure your presentation or which programmes to use but I won’t have the space to fit it in! Instead I have put together my top tips for actually giving presentations and making sure that your audience stays awake and engaged in what you have to say.

 Inspire confidence
Your knees are knocking and the room feels like you are in the Caribbean, but you must try and show confidence in your body language and the way in which you speak. Make sure that you know your topic well, as this will help you to relax and also take a deep breath before you start.

Maintain eye contact
As mentioned in my previous post, eye contact is an important way of engaging with people. You don’t need to try and look at everyone at all times, you’ll end up looking like you are watching a Wimbledon final, but you should ensure that you include the whole audience throughout your speech.

Make yourself heard
Speak clearly and project your voice so that every member of the audience can hear you, even the best presentation will fall by the wayside if your audience can’t hear what you are saying. Try and imagine someone who is hard of hearing sat at the back, you need to make sure that they can hear every word of your speech.

Don’t rush!
Make sure you vary your pace and tone in order to keep the audience interested but be careful not to rush, otherwise your audience may lose track of what you are trying to say.

Pauses are your friend
We all have crutch words, such as ‘um’, ‘ah’, ‘basically’, ‘and’, and many others but pauses can be used for impact and to give you time to think about what you are about to say. This can really help to eliminate your crutch words, so try to practice it in everyday life, not just in your presentations.

Vary your vocab
There is no need to introduce jargon or long words for the sake of it but rhetorical devices can add colour and animation to your speeches. Some examples of which can be found below:

 repeats the same sound at the beginning of nearby words – What my Wife Wanted
Assonance – repeats the same vowel sound in nearby words – How Now Brown Cow
Metaphor is when two unconnected things are compared – Life is a Highway
Similes are the same as metaphor but using the words like or as Forrest Gump said Life is like a box of chocolates

Enjoy yourself
Although presenting or making speeches may not be your most treasured past time, try to enjoy it! Presentations and speeches are a great way to connect with others and to share your knowledge. At the end of your presentation, make sure you await your rapturous round of applause!

With my tips, I hope that you will find your audience awake and engaged! 

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Style relates to more than just fashion!

Why does my writing style matter? 

Using words, whether written or spoken, is our way of communicating with others. When communicating, it is important to understand the impact that your communication can have. The words that you choose, and the way that you use them, can be the key to successfully or unsuccessfully delivering your message.

Getting the message across in business could be making the sale, responding clearly to enquiries, explaining your business, responding to complaints or explaining something to a colleague; each one of these are different situations in which the way you communicate is incredibly important. Getting our message across in personal situations is about developing relationships and presenting ourselves in the best possible light, and is equally important. We must aim to always use accurate, clear and high-quality information at all times.

Remember: No-one writes perfectly, which is why it is always vital to check your written work multiple times.

How do I write effectively?

         Know your audience

When you are writing you need to think about who will be receiving your message. Before you start writing you should ask yourself:

Who is the audience? (roles, genders, ages, profession)
What do they know about your topic?
What do they need to know?
What questions would they have?
How will your message impact them?
Would they prefer quick facts and “executive summaries” or lots of detail?

You should use the responses to help you decide how you will write the content.

         Know what you are trying to achieve

What are you trying to achieve through this content? What you want to achieve affects the way in which you write your content. You should ask yourself:

What is your objective?
What do you want people to know? (do they really need to know all that?)
What do you want people to feel? (to feel excited, like they belong?)
What do you want people to do? (change the way they work, take action, send feedback?)

If you do not want people to do anything with the communication, you should ask yourself whether there really is a need to communicate.

         Choose the correct 'tone'

When we communicate face-to-face we are able to use a number of things to help us convey the meaning, such as our body language, tone of voice and facial expressions. When we are writing we only have our words. This means that we have to be incredibly careful in the way that we express ourselves through our writing.

There are a number of techniques you can use to get the right tone:
(Examples by Ellen Hake (2010) “Language and tone”)

         Use engaging language

Controlling language
Engaging language
You are required to
You need to
If you have a valid excuse
Can you explain what happened
You misunderstood
I didn't explain that clearly

         Talk about a positive result

Negative result
Positive result
To avoid delivering it late
So that we can deliver it on time
You haven't given us enough information
We need you to give us more information
The project doesn't have enough money
The project needs more money

         Talk to one person

To the group
To one person
As most people know
You may know that
To our clients
Dear client
Which of you has been
Have you been

         Use stories and examples

Stories and examples
20,000 homeless
Gillian who lost her job, then her flat when she got sick.
Experience counts
Last year, George was faced with a crisis, but with 20 years in the field he knew...
Businesses benefit hugely from advertising to students
Company X was trying to generate further revenue. They approached BAM to help them target the student market. X, Y and Z were the positive results that they achieved.

         Adapt your tone to the situation

Please send the form by 16th July
You need to send the form by 16th July
Send the form by 16th July to avoid penalties
You owe £100 because you did not respond by 16th July
Let's talk about what you need to do to make the booking

         Keep it simple

Despite what you may naturally think, plain language is often better received than using complex sentence structure and fancy words. Cut out unnecessary words and break down long sentences into shorter ones. Where you can use active verbs instead of passive to make it sound more personal:

Passive: It was decided/ The decision was taken
Active: We decided

I hope that you have enjoyed this week's blog and I also hope that some of these pointers will help everyone to be clearer and more engaging in their written communication. As always, do feel free to comment or send me any of your own ideas on this topic!

Monday, 14 May 2012

The importance of eye contact when communicating

I recently received an email from one of my blog readers, Helen Hastings-Spital,  regarding my last article about communicating effectively. Helen is a UKCP registered psychotherapist based in Cirencester and has sent me some really interesting information about eye contact in communication, which she has kindly allowed me to share with you.

"Eye contact is an important aspect of good communication as it can help to get our point across to our audience in a powerful way.

Maintaining eye contact suggests you’re interested in what the other is saying while little eye contact or avoiding eye contact can suggest you/the other are disinterested, anxious, shy or even dishonest. Most people can’t look you in the eye while telling a fib or an outright lie!

Staring intensely at someone can make him or her feel acutely uncomfortable – they can feel ‘pinned down’ or trapped by your gaze.  An intense gaze can imply deep interest but can also be interpreted as confrontational, intimidating or a challenge to the authority of the speaker (e.g. being ‘stared down’.)

So what’s the ‘right’ amount of eye contact to make? In natural conversation, listener and speaker maintain an unconscious rhythm in their eye contact. The speaker will maintain eye contact with the listener for between 5-7 seconds before looking away. When eye contact is re-established with the listener immediately, this unconsciously indicates the wish of the speaker to continue talking. If there is a longer pause before re-establishing eye contact this is an implicit invitation by the speaker for the listener to respond and begin talking. This non-verbal guide to ‘turn-taking’ in conversation is learned from a very early age through what are called ‘proto-conversations’. In this process the m/other and baby engage in eye contact and sounds/gurgles that establish the art of turn-taking in a pre-verbal form of communication. Later this learning is transferred to guide effective turn-taking in conversation.

Interestingly, changing the length and frequency of eye contact can change the pace (speed) of a conversation. Lengthening the time of eye contact made with a speaker can increase the pace and intensity of the conversation. As a listener, looking away more frequently may slow the talker down, allowing more space for thought and reflection.  Why don’t you experiment next time you’re trying to communicate something!

But beware – know your audience! Some cultures consider direct eye contact as rude and aggressive. In Middle Eastern cultures eye contact between members of the opposite sex is seen as potentially provocative, so is avoided, while in Asia/China avoiding eye contact with a superior is seen as a sign of respect. In most of Europe and the USA, maintaining eye contact is a necessary part of good, honest, powerful communication.

Finally, psychology research has shown that when words (content of speech) and non-verbal behaviours (eye contact, body posture, facial features) are mismatched (e.g. the speaker says they are happy to see you but doesn’t make eye contact) the listener will place more trust in the non-verbal cues to rate the truth of a statement rather than believing the spoken words!"

So there you have it, eye contact is an incredibly important part of communicating effectively. Thank you very much to Helen for her guest post on my blog, I am certainly going to try varying my eye contact with people to see what effect it may have.

If you think you have an interesting article to share with my blog readers, please do send me an email at jennyhazan88@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Communicating Effectively - Up close and personal

Communication is vital to our everyday life. It is how we express ourselves, understand others and interact as human beings. Many people have heard the old adage that only 7% of effective communication is verbal (i.e what you actually say), the other 93% is non-verbal (i.e your body language, tone, vocal variety etc).

Over the next couple of weeks I will be writing a few short blog posts on ‘communicating effectively’. Today’s post will focus in on face-to-face communication and I will provide my five top tips that I hope will help you to avoid the common mistakes that people make time and time again. You may be talking to your boss at work, giving a presentation, going for a job interview or perhaps just meeting people for the first time, but every time you communicate you are giving off an impression (and sometimes it is not always the one that you were hoping for!)

Top Five Tips

1.   Take your time. You know that awkward moment when someone asks you a question you weren’t expecting and words leap out of your mouth before you have actually thought of a proper response? Don’t let yourself do it. There is nothing wrong with a considered pause, in fact it often helps you to formulate a sensible and intelligent response to the question and you will look far more confident taking your time than just letting your words fall out of your mouth.

2.    Make yourself understood. Now that you have given yourself a pause to think about what you want to say, don’t ruin your point by slurring your words or speaking at 100mph! Enunciate your words clearly and be careful not to mumble. You may have an intelligent and important thing to say, but if you are not clear you will lose your audience quickly.

3.   Vary your tone and pace. No-one likes the person with the dull and monotone voice; it makes whatever you are talking about sound boring. Make sure you change the pitch of your voice to enhance the meaning of what you are saying and slow down when you are trying to emphasise the point you are making. Be careful not to overuse this technique though, a chaotic use of tone and pace with constant variation will only make you sound insincere and will be difficult to understand. Try reading this blog out loud and vary your pitch and tone to see how changing your voice can change the emphasis of the words you are saying.

4.   Maintain eye contact. It can be nerve wracking to look someone in the eye whilst having a conversation, particularly if it is at a job interview or in a pressured situation. However, acting as if the person you are talking to is a basilisk, that will cause you immediate death if you look them in the eye, is not helpful either. Shifty eye contact can be perceived as untrustworthy and can arouse a subconscious feeling of mistrust and suspicion within the person you are speaking to. Similarly, staring at someone directly in the eyes for a sustained period of time would make anyone feel uncomfortable. If you are feeling nervous, try looking just above someone’s eyes when you are speaking. This will appear to them as if you are giving good eye contact without you feeling as if you are staring directly into their eyes.

5.    It’s not all about you! Less speaking, more listening. This is a key point that people often forget. A conversation is a two-way or multi-way interaction between two or more people (except when you are muttering to yourself angrily when you have forgotten your umbrella in the rain). This means that it is vitally important for you to listen to what others have to say. Even more importantly you should be understanding, interpreting and evaluating what you have heard. Being a good active listener is often an uncommon skill. Think about the number of times when someone has been speaking to you and you have already begun formulating what you are going to say in response before they finish rather than actually taking the time to understand their point – go on, admit it, we have all done it! Try to get a better grasp of someone’s opinion or point by asking questions and repeating the main points of what they have said to ensure clarification.

I hope these tips have given you some ideas about how you could communicate more effectively in your day-to-day life. Over the next few weeks I will be writing about the following topics:
·         Presentations – How to keep your audience awake
·         Why style is just as important in your writing as it is in fashion
·         The written word – Making yourself understood

Please do comment if you would like me to cover any other topics specifically.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Chaos of Change (part 2)

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about change. I was specifically referring to one of the most recent changes in my life, my boyfriend Paul was moving to London and I was going to have to move house. I promised to keep my blog readers up-to-date with my progress along the change curve and this gave me an idea for a speech at my local Toastmasters Speaking Club, where I am a member. Tonight I spoke to my club about the "chaos of change" and was rewarded with "Best Speaker" of the evening, which I am incredibly pleased with. I decided that perhaps it would be good to share my speech on this blog, so here it is!
Mr. Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters, most welcome guests. Good evening. “Who, in this room, is going through some sort of change in their lives at the moment?” Anyone? [I witnessed a number of hands zoom up]. It could be something big, maybe you’ve started a new job, moved house, got married or perhaps it is something smaller like joining a new club, getting a haircut or going on a diet.

Life is full of constant change, from the very big to the very small and we all choose to react to it in varying ways. However, academics have produced countless numbers of “change curves”, like the one you below, these diagrams are designed to help us understand the impact change has on our emotions. We can move through these emotional curves in a matter of minutes or sometimes it can take years. We also tend to be going through multiple change curves at the same time.

In business, the objective of many of those who work in ‘change management’ is twofold, to minimise the impact change has on our emotions and shorten the amount of time in which we move through the curve. The aim is also to reduce resistance to change and smooth the process. I have been lucky enough to come into contact with the subject in my job and have found it absolutely fascinating, I hope I will be able to share my fascination with you this evening. I am naturally starting to apply my change management knowledge to my personal life and I wanted to walk you through a change curve using one of my own personal experiences. Recently, my boyfriend Paul was offered a job in London. This triggered quite a big change in both of our lives. Although I knew he had been applying to jobs outside of Cheltenham, when he told me about the offer, it was still an unexpected shock.
Stage 1, Anxiety/Shock – Did he really want to move to London? What was I going to do? I would have to find somewhere new to live and leave our apartment.
This was a scary thought but quite quickly my emotion changed to:
Stage 2, Happiness – Paul had found himself a great opportunity and I was happy for him. I was also going to have the chance to make some new friends in Cheltenham, with my newly found free time.  I was also going to finally be able to make my bedroom really girly (something Paul had never let me get away with) and most importantly I could make sure that the loo seat would stay down!
A few weeks later I moved into: Stage 3, Denial – This is an optional stage that goes off the change curve at a tangent.With 6 days to go till I needed to move, I had left my stuff unpacked and I hadn’t found anywhere to live. I just assumed that if I didn’t do anything, nothing would change. (Note to self – this is not true and by waiting, I have now ended up living with 3 boys and that damn loo seat is back up again!) Stage 4 and 5, Fear and Anger – These two emotions came at the same time for me but thankfully they were fairly short lived. After Paul had packed his things and moved to London, I felt very much alone. I had taken for granted someone to walk home with who would actually be interested to hear about my day (or at least pretend to be!). I returned to my empty house to do the last-minute packing, cancel bills, arrange for cleaners and do all the things that you have to do, whilst Paul was enjoying the delights of the capital city. I have to admit I was pretty angry to have been left with all the responsibility.
This stage was followed by:

Stage 6 and 7, Guilt and Depression -  These are not nice stages, you are at the bottom of the curve. I felt guilt for not being more happy for Paul and I felt depressed at what had been lost and a realisation of what would never be again.
Having worked with the change curve before, I knew that I had to pull myself up and reach:

Stage 8, Gradual Acceptance - I’m naturally quite a positive person, so I tried to think about the many new doors that could be opened by this change. The first positive that I came up with was that I would now have a good excuse to go to London shopping, regularly. A few years ago, I moved to Mexico for a year, leaving Paul 7000 miles behind and whilst I was drinking tequila and making new friends, he was experiencing a similar change curve ... So I think that I have to accept that 2hrs15 on the train to Paddington is not quite as bad as the 18hr flight he made 4 times!
Resisting change wears down our bodies, taxes our minds, and deflates our spirits. It is important to try and move on and find something positive from within the change as quickly as possible. Change is inevitable and whilst it can be scary and unsettling, it can bring many unknown opportunities and possibilities.

I hope that you take away from my speech the courage to face change head on. Remember courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage in the face of change is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.