Why not set a communication resolution this year?

Feeling disheartened already setting new year’s resolutions? We understand. 2020 was an unbelievably challenging year. There is still so much uncertainty around what options will be available to us in 2021 which can make setting resolutions tricky. We can’t necessarily join that choir or take that trip we wanted to.

At MSB Executive we’ve been thinking about is how we can scale down resolutions to make them more manageable and meaningful. Our team has therefore decided to focus on our communication skills and what are the small things each of us could commit to improving? Having a bit of focus gives purpose and a feeling of achievement.

Here are some of the team’s individual communication resolutions to inspire you to think of your own:

Embracing the pause

Too often we can rush in to talk and fill a silence. It can lead to ‘filler’ sounds such as ‘umms and ahhs’. Practicing pauses and getting comfortable with silence is a great habit to develop.

Prioritising listening over talking

Regularly choosing to pay complete attention to someone without the intention of speaking at all until asked. Our team member has put a post-it note on their screen which says ‘shhhhhh and listen’ to remind themselves.

Remembering to SMILE at the start of calls/presentations

It’s too easy to get into our heads about the content of our presentation rather than remembering that when we smile – not only do we relax but we visually demonstrate to the audience that we are relaxed and happy to be there…so they can relax to.

Speaking directly

Omitting the ‘just’ out of communications e.g. ‘I was just wondering if…’ ‘I’m just getting in touch to see…’. It’s an easy habit to get into but it subtly diminishes your own importance. It’s ok to ‘wonder’ or ‘get in touch’ without tip-toeing.

 

We hope this inspires you to think about your own communication habits and pick something of your own to work on. Let us know what you might work on and we’d love to give you more tips!

5 ways 2020 has changed how we communicate

The impact of Covid 19 transformed the world as we knew it last year. We have been reflecting on what this has meant for the way we communicate as humans. It feels that we have adapted from age-old, ingrained, means of communication to entirely different norms in a rapid period.

Here are 5 ways 2020 changed how we communicate:

1. A window into your home

‘Dress to impress’ was the adage pre-2020 to remind us that people judge the visual as much as our content in communicating. Now we must think one step further thanks to the rise in video calls. We need to ‘window dress’ our backgrounds as every video call allows a little window into our homes. This is all the more obvious when we see reporters, journalists and interviewees in their homes on TV news – sometimes it’s hard to believe that they haven’t thought more about their backgrounds because whether we like it or not, this gets judged as much as we ourselves do.

2. Interpreting communications through a mask

So much of how we communicate is nuanced in micro facial expressions but for much of this year we’ve been communicating with each other through a mask. It means that we need to work harder with both our words and our tone of voice to convey more explicitly the sentiment of what we’re saying.

3. New language adopted instantaneously

New terminology has emerged constantly that is suddenly the jargon on everybody’s lips. Furlough, pandemic, Covid, PPE and of course, festive bubbles – which until this year meant something entirely different in previous years!

4. Greetings with elbow bumps

Physical contact is a primal need. Will we return to shaking hands when the world returns to normal? People may take different approaches. Expect some awkward moments when we do go back to some face-to face meetings.

5. Gathering as groups online

Last but not least is of course, the omnipresence of video calls and meetings as working from home became the standard practice. Again, we’ve lost a lot the subtlety that body language brings into communicating. This has led to some bumpy moments on Zoom calls such as speaking over one another or where everyone has their camera turned off and you feel you are speaking into a void!

In summary

We think these changes demonstrate the incredible ability humans have in adapting to their circumstances. It will be interesting to observe in 2021 which of these new habits in communicating we keep or if we’ll revert back to old ways. Or perhaps more likely there will be a combination… transparent face masks anyone?

By | January 5th, 2021|Blog, Body Language, Communication, Online meetings, Online video|0 Comments

3 basic principles to create well designed powerpoints

Particularly in the corporate world, powerpoint slides crammed with tiny writing, diagrams and complexity are entirely the norm. Many people complain about powerpoint overload but still we are presented with huge decks of barely legible slides.

Following on from our blog the top 3 traps leading to ‘death by powerpoint, this blog serves to give you some helpful design tips to create powerpoints that enhance your presentation.

Firstly, what IS the purpose of powerpoint slides?

Slides play a supporting or adjacent role, not a leading role. Your powerpoint deck is not the presentation. YOU are the presentation. The slides should be a visual enhancement to support what you are saying.  It can be useful to think of slides as though they were providing a musical underscore to the presentation – setting a mood.

Our brains are not cognitively designed to read and listen to two sets of information at the same time. It’s simply an overload. It’s stressful. No wonder we find powerpoint presentations hard work.

So, here are some design principles from our team to help make your slides work:

A slide should do one thing well

So many slides try to do several different things at once. This usually means they do many things badly. Ask yourself, ‘What does this slide tell my audience?’ If you can’t answer the question in one sentence, break up the slide or delete it.

The fewer words the better

Set yourself a high standard on this. See if you can limit the text per slides to 6 words. We know that seems drastic but if you go over this limit make sure every word earns its place on the slide. Make sure to use an easy-to-read, large font. If you are presenting to a sizeable audience, think – will the people at the back be able to read this?

Images rather than words

An image will not only bring to life the point you are making but serves as a visual way to embed the information which helps it to be remembered.

If you are using a chart, make sure you strip it back to the most simplistic part which makes your point. A screen grab might be the easiest option but is likely to contain irrelevant information which will distract an audience. Once we put something on the screen our audience can’t stop reading it!

We particularly like images that provide an emotional response, like a photograph. Especially if the image is slightly surprising – i.e. they trigger questions in our minds or reveal something we weren’t expecting. Images allow you to bring in some creativity and up the engagement of your presentation.

In summary

Choosing to follow these tips is a departure from the ‘norm’. It naturally might involve more work in the short-term. You might have to convert marketing material to display one item from a page at a time. However, the pay-off will be more impactful presentations where you give the audience the opportunity to stay focused on what YOU are saying rather than trying to decipher complex slides.  The paradox is that the more work you put in, the simpler your slides will be and your audience will thank you.

By | December 15th, 2020|Leadership, Online meetings, Perception, Presentation skills|0 Comments

How video affected Prime Minister’s Questions

History was made at Prime Minister’s Question Time yesterday when Boris Johnson took part by video link. We were interested in how this would affect the dynamic of the exchanges, particularly with the leader of the opposition Keir Starmer.  We noticed an interesting change in status between the two speakers.  As audience members, we felt additional gravitas was afforded to Boris thanks to appearing on video call.

Why was this the case? Firstly, PMQs is usually a circus of whoops and jeers when a politician is speaking. This was still true whilst Keir Starmer was talking as he was physically in parliament and the background heckling was alive and well albeit with fewer MPs to do the shouting. This was contrasted when the camera shot switched to Boris on video where he was bathed in silence. Subconsciously, his communication carried more weight because of this.

Similarly, Boris was talking right into the camera lens, making good eye contact. It creates the impression that he is talking directly to you and comes across as more sincere. This contrasted with Starmer who was being filmed in parliament, often from above, so he rarely looked into the camera. He looked down and read his notes often which created a disconnect with the audience. This departure from the level playing field of all politicians being filmed in the same location does create a different impact on authority.

It is likely that we will enter a period where business meetings are often a hybrid of in person and video participants. The dynamics will be different to PMQs but we need to be aware of how the medium of our communications affects meetings and this will be a topic we return to over the coming months.

For more information on looking and sounding confident and authoritative at online meetings, have a look at our Online Masterclass: How to make a great impression at online meetings!

By | November 19th, 2020|Authority, Online meetings, Online video, Public speaking, Q&As, Video|0 Comments

The top 3 traps leading to ‘death by powerpoint’

Most people have suffered from terrible Powerpoint presentations at work. Unfortunately, in the UK government briefing are now bringing bad Powerpoints into our sitting rooms. It is unfortunate that when the message is so important the medium can let us down.

We thought it might help to share a few of our team’s thoughts on making our Powerpoints support our message rather than distract from it. If we can all raise our game maybe we can do our bit to make bad Powerpoints the exception rather than the norm. Below are the most common pitfalls in using Powerpoint slides. In our next Blog we will talk about what we can do to make them better.

The example that prompted this blog were the slides the Government used on 31st October 2020: overcrowded, tiny writing, complex data and far too much going on. It’s something we come across a lot when working with clients on their presentation skills. Presenters who would otherwise be engaging to listen to, get overshadowed by the Powerpoint slides they feel obliged to use. The audience doesn’t know whether to listen or read the slides and so often ends up doing neither. We want to create positive emotions in our audience, but baffling or illegible slides create the opposite effect – they feel frustrated / confused / wonder if they’re being stupid.

Here are the main traps we see people falling into regarding the use of Powerpoint in presentations:

Trap Number 1: Using the Powerpoint presentation as a script

As Seth Godin reminds us, ‘slides should reinforce your words, not repeat them’.

Your slides should not be your script. That’s not to say you don’t need to plan out your content in detail. However, do this on cue cards or in the ‘notes’ section of Powerpoint.

Trap Number 2: Using what should be a Handout as the Powerpoint presentation

We know that often our clients are using material that was put together by the marketing team. These playbooks are usually created to be stand-alone documents – i.e. to be read by the client rather than be read to the client.

To use these to give presentations is a mistake.

Instead, pull out the absolute key points only from the collateral. Challenge yourself to ask – what one thing from this page would I want to client to really understand? Try to keep one point per slide. Use only a few words on the slide. YOU are there to deliver the actual content, not the slides.

Trap Number 3: Using the Powerpoint presentation as a data dump

Sometimes people try to include every piece of evidence that has led you to draw your conclusion on slides. This is certainly what the government did on Oct 31st. However, you can really lose your audience by doing this. They are trying to make sense of what they’re seeing so they don’t actually listen to your message.

It is much better to skip to the findings from your analysis.  You can always provide the raw data in a handout or have it ready in an appendix in case someone does ask for it. Simplicity on your slides is golden. It doesn’t diminish the hard work you’ve put in. It allows people to get straight to the key points.

To conclude

Those are the most common pitfalls we see. In our next blog we will talk about what is the purpose of slides along with some simple design principles. As ever, we would be delighted to hear your thoughts.

 

 

 

By | November 12th, 2020|Uncategorized|0 Comments

The most frequently asked question about online meetings is….

It’s fascinating to observe how the questions we get asked at workshops are evolving as a result of this transformative year. Having recently completed a series of presenting with impact and client skills workshops at a leading investment research firm, there was one question that came up time and again:

 

Can you ask a client to turn their video on?

 

The question is completely understandable. It is hugely helpful to be able to see your audience. It’s important for rapport and to gauge how your message is being received. Plus if you yourself have your camera on and are willing to be seen, surely it’s only polite for the other party to be there? You wouldn’t hide yourself if you were at a face to face meeting.

There are also all the assumptions you make when the other party hasn’t turned on their video. Maybe they are not that interested in what you have to say? Or they might have you on in the background whilst they complete a few emails? Or they might still be sat in their pyjamas?

Here’s our best response to the question but we’d equally love to hear others’ views on this.

Whilst you can’t force anyone to turn their cameras on, you can signpost early in the interaction that a ‘videos on’ meeting is what’s expected. Refer to the meeting as a video call for example. You could even include a note on the invite that a video meeting is what’s preferred. E.g. let’s attend with videos turned on where possible as it would be great to meet face to face.

If the attendee turns up with their video off then it’s probably too late to ask them to turn it on. You don’t want to cause anyone to panic if they haven’t really prepared themselves to be visible.

This is of course our take on the matter. Get in touch and let us know your own experience and thoughts!

By | November 5th, 2020|Online meetings, Online video, Perception, Presentation skills, Video, Voice|0 Comments

Is there anything more infuriating than not being heard?

Some communications lessons from the first US Presidential Debate

We are always keen observers of communications in politics and US politics in particular. Although the first US Presidential debate seems a long time ago given events since then, we wanted to capture some of the lessons we learned last week.

If you stayed up to watch it or watched the highlights the next day what was your reaction? For some it was disbelief, for others fury or hilarity? I personally found myself writhing around in sheer discomfort – especially watching the 7 minute ‘highlights’!

Regardless of your politics, any human being would have had an emotional response in some way to what they witnessed. We’ve been analysing the communication between the two candidates and the lack of respect shown between the two is remarkable. The debate went off the rails, the rules of debate were broken and there was weak moderation to bring it back on track. The result – an unbearable mess to watch.

Here are just a few sins made against the fundamental practice of humane communication:

  • The incessant interrupting and speaking over one another – Trump interrupted Biden 73 times!
  • Personal attacks and shaming –Trump berating Biden’s education and intelligence, Biden calling Trump a liar, a clown and the worst president America has ever seen.
  • The moderator being outright ignored in his interventions.
  • Shutting each other down – ‘will you shut up man?’

These aggressive tactics are a far cry from Michelle Obama’s ‘when they go low, we go high’ doctrine.

One reason that it was so painful to watch is that it tapped into an innate human need to be heard, to be understood, to be acknowledged as a fellow person. It was obvious that Joe Biden in particular was denied that right. It tapped into our inbuilt sense of empathy at injustice. We were able to relate to that feeling from our own experiences when we might have been ignored or berated in public which is what creates that emotional and physical reaction.

It is striking that the communication between two adults pitching to lead the most powerful country in the world could invoke such a primitive response in people. Given President Trump’s illness we don’t know what will happen with future debates. Whatever happens, let’s hope that the human right to be heard is not forgotten.

Online Meetings Can Be Daunting

It can be daunting to have to speak up at online meetings when you are confronted with a sea of faces.

At MSB Executive, we recognise the variety in our clients’ communication styles. Most noticeably at online meetings, you can spot the extroverts and introverts. It is said that extroverts ‘speak to think’ and introverts ‘think to speak’. One is not better than the other but at meetings extroverts can be more comfortable speaking up.

Top Tips for an Inclusive and Successful Call

 Be respectful of each other’s communication styles. Notice if someone looks uncomfortable when being forced to speak up. Smile, be encouraging visually and give them space to answer. Hold the space for them so that no-one else jumps in.

Think about using the chat function to encourage questions or comments throughout a call. You could also use functionality such as Zoom polls to quickly gather opinions on calls.

For those who find themselves overwhelmed having to speak up suddenly, a good tip is to switch your screen view if you can. For example, on Zoom you can switch between ‘Gallery’ and ‘Speaker’ view. Speaker is better if you want to see less faces on your screen. You can either talk to yourself on screen or pick one friendly face and imagine you are just talking to them.

If you want more tools and tips on making an impact at online meetings, check out our online Masterclass ‘How to Make a Great Impression at Online Meetings’

 

The Power of the Pause

At MSB we often talk about the importance of pauses. They are great for adding impact and helping your audience process information. Pauses are a great replacement for filler sounds and words.

We generally say you can pause for longer than you think. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes this to the extreme with a 21-second pause.

By | June 30th, 2020|Authenticity, Leadership, Public speaking, Storytelling|0 Comments

A Perspective On Zoom Fatigue

As the majority of our meetings continue to be hosted online, the rise of ‘Zoom fatigue’ has become a natural occurrence. In this short video, Martyn Barmby, the Founder of MSB Executive, explains the reasons for ‘Zoom fatigue’ and some tips to avoid it.

By | June 11th, 2020|Online meetings, Online video|0 Comments
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