by jennifer bezoza

ice skating2

One highlight for me this winter has been taking my 4.5 year old daughter ice-skating.   New to the sport, she absolutely loves the feeling of gliding around the rink in ice skates; her innocent sense of wonder has refreshed my own appreciation and understanding of the sport.

As a coach and parent, it has also made reflective on the most effective ways to teach others a new skill. While guiding Brooke on the ice, I have found myself vacillating between wanting to let her just enjoy and learn experientially, and then alternatively, wanting to tell her all about the required stance, weight, movements all at one time. Soon, I realized, however, that neither my “experiential” or instructive approaches were working. I could not explain ice-skating in a way that she could both understand intellectually and also carry out on her own.

All this internal tension and dialogue got me thinking about tennis and performance coach, Alan Fine, and his findings on coaching for performance.   After years of teaching tennis to kids and adults, he realized that 90% of what he was doing was not making a difference in his students’ game and in some cases, was actually making them worse.  This caused a fundamental paradigm shift in how he approached coaching.   Below are just a few of his key tenets that inspired his Inside Out approach to coaching.

  • In most cases, it is not lack of knowledge that gets in the way of performance; it is our lack of ability to do what we know.
  • There is a significant gap between what we think we do and what we actually do.
  • By removing interference in our mental state, we can significantly increase our performance.  (Interference might stem from our beliefs, our level of motivation and energy, and/or finally, from what we pay attention to in a given situation)

This third point above is particularly poignant for me. We often understand what we need to do intellectually, but it is our thoughts, beliefs, energy and/or attention, that get in the way. Good coaching is frequently about helping an individual to shift thoughts or focus in a way that clears the path for performance.  For example, we might ask the struggling tennis player to just watch how the ball bounces as she looks to make contact.  Instead of focusing internally on her beliefs about herself as a tennis player or breaking her natural backhand swing, she is in the present moment focusing on the movement of the ball, thereby allowing her body to do the necessary actions, intuitively and effortlessly.  It is about peeling back the noise, to free up the individual to realize their true potential.

The formula for performance in Alan Fine’s approach goes like this:

Performance = Capacity – Interference

This is in contrast to traditional models for performance, which go like this:

Performance = Capacity + Knowledge

So getting back to where I started, which is teaching Brooke to ice skate, I soon realized I was not the right person for the job.   Instead, I turned to an ice skating instructor, of course!  The first thing the instructor did, was to teach Brooke to fall safely.   Sometimes, especially for young children, knowledge really is the necessary ingredient for success!   And what skill could be more important in life than learning to fall and get back up again?

If you are interested to learn more on Alan’s inside out approach, check out his book, You Already Know How to Be Great or view this short video clip on the concepts discussed above.

by renita kalhorn


When the doctor hits the patella of your knee with that little hammer your leg jerks up – you can’t help it, it’s a natural reflex. Though it sometimes feels the same with our emotions, it’s not. True, we can’t control the specific emotion that wells up in a particular situation, but we can make a choice as to what we do next and how we respond.

As with any new habit or skill, however, it takes awareness and practice to become the master of your emotions. (What, you were expecting a quick fix? 😉 You’re in luck, however: I’ve put together a step-by-step training plan that lays out exactly what and how to practice.

Okay, here we go:


Have a morning practice.  

Just as pilots check their flight plan, set the controls and evaluate the instrument panel in readying for take-off, you too will benefit from preparing yourself for the day ahead. Whatever you do — meditate, take a walk, do yoga, read a motivational book or write in your journal – investing the time (even 15 minutes is beneficial) to quiet your mind and plug into your inner energy source will give you a sense of perspective and allow you to stay grounded as you move through the chaos of the day. (And don’t even think about making the “I don’t have time” excuse. That’s like saying “I don’t have time to find my car keys so I’m going to walk to work.” You always have time to set yourself up for success.)

Like the Dalai Lama says: “We all know that on days when we are in a good mood, when the whole world seems to be smiling at us, we can accept predicaments or bad news more easily than if our mind is already upset, frustrated or troubled, when the slightest incident might cause us to explode with negative emotions.”

Identify your triggers.

Pretty certain you have seen or heard of a colleague loosing his temper or you’ve gotten critical feedback from a boss or colleague. Though we may feel ambushed, there are recurring scenarios where we can anticipate potential friction and think through how we typically react.

So, start a running list of those situations that tend to stir up negative emotion – you know, the juicy stuff like anger, resentment, insecurity, guilt. Now you can strategize what you’ll do or say in the heat of the moment when it may be difficult to think clearly.

Visualize and practice.

So you may have been at an office party, and your obnoxious colleague – who gets even more obnoxious when he’s drinking — starts bragging about how much his bonus was. Imagine how you’ll respond when he needles you about yours and insinuates that his was much higher. Imagine the various ways that scenario could play out and how you’d handle them (I’m thinking one of them could involve a suave James Bond impression).

(Don’t worry that imagining a scenario will make it more likely to happen. Actually the opposite is true – simply envisioning a solution may make the problem moot.)

Then, as much as possible, look for opportunities to simulate what you feel in those emotionally charged situations – to practice or rehearse when the stakes are low and your emotional reactions won’t be as costly.

For example, if you’re uncomfortable with confrontation or rejection, practice returning an item to a store or asking for a refund. If you’re worried about losing your composure during your performance review, practice receiving criticism from a friend or trusted colleague.

Forward-thinking and preparation are critical to navigating emotional minefields and not losing your cool in the moment.

So now that you know how to prepare, what do you do in the heat of the moment when your emotions flare up?


Recognize the signs of the fight or flight response. Heart racing, stomach churning, palms sweating: these are signs that your amygdala – the part of your brain that is on the lookout for threats to your survival – has been activated. Your brain, however, might very well interpret shallow breathing – which is what often happens when you feel insulted, angry or upset — as a threat.

So Step 1: take a deep breath.

Use your body to anchor you to the present. When your boss says “I need to speak to you later,” for example, your mind starts racing – into the past (is he upset about the question I asked in yesterday’s meeting?), or the future (Am I being taken off the project?). Neither is helpful. What you need to do is get out of your head and back into the present moment. Your body can help you do that.

Step 2: Feel your feet on the ground, your arms on your desk, your butt in the chair.

Hit the pause button. When are your emotions most likely to cause you trouble: when you’re talking or not talking? I thought so. Often, people start talking because they’re uncomfortable with silence, not because it will help the situation. If someone is intentionally needling you, they’re looking for a reaction. If you don’t react, there’s nothing for them to attack.

Step 3: Learn how to sit with the silence. Give yourself 10 seconds (at least) to let your rational brain kick in.

Check the crystal ball. Before you start talking, do a quick peek into the future. If you say what you want to say, how will the other person respond? Will it help or harm the situation?

As speaker Larry Winget notes, we start to think: “I’m working with this a—hole; I can be an a—hole back and it won’t really matter.” But it always matters — which is why you need to think about the future. “In 10, 12, 15 years, that a—hole’s your boss,” says Winget. “I’ve watched this happen too many times and it’s happened to me. I lost a deal because of it.”

Step 4: Watch your tongue and be forward-thinking.

After an emotional flare-up the best thing to do is move on and not think about it, right? Wrong! If you don’t recap and understand what happened, you’ll simply repeat the pattern again until you do.

Do a debrief. When you have some distance and are feeling calmer, take a moment to ask: “What was going on there? Why did I get so angry?” See if you can identify the exact trigger: “I hate when my boss gives me that obnoxious smirk.” Why is that upsetting? “Because it looks like he thinks I’m incompetent.” Oh really, why would he think you’re incompetent? “ And by drilling down, you’re able to understand why that situation hits your buttons – whether it triggers a feeling of powerlessness, frustration or pain from the past — and what your beliefs are about what they’re saying.

Make a choice. Once you understand what triggered the emotion, you can come up with a strategy for what you’ll do the next time it happens. Or, if it’s simply a reaction to something you can’t control, you can decide to let it go. Ask yourself: How much time do I want to spend thinking about this?

Yet nine times out of ten the reason we get so irritated with the people who are closest to us is that they show us that we do not in fact correspond with the ideas we have of ourselves. We are meaner, weaker, dumber, and less interesting, tolerant, and sexy. In short, we are human, which typically comes as extremely disappointing news.

When it comes to emotions, there is no quick fix. There is only practice: in identifying them, preparing for situations, and in processing them.

Also, if you want to learn more about this, check out one of our most read posts on amygdala hijacks!

embracing your inner kanye.

December 18, 2012

by pamela welling


(NB: Ok, we thought we were closing the blogging section for 2012, but Pamela just had a great thought she wanted to share with all of us and we believe it is worth listening, given you may be experiencing a super busy, somewhat crazed week:)

Kanye West strikes me as the kind of fella who likes things the way he likes them and when things change or plain just don’t go his way, Kanye is not averse to a bit of high profile stage invasion to insure the world knows it. Whether it’s unleashing a highly amusing tirade after losing out at the 2006 MTV Europe Video awards or high jacking Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 VMAs, it seems Kanye is happy to let us know exactly what is on his mind. It’s a level of personal freedom and honesty that absolutely fascinates me, and I suspect that I am likely not alone in wishing I had the guts to jump on my desk, bust out a cleverly worded rap and front up to adversaries in the workplace.

But for us mere mortals this approach is just not an option, and as we slide towards the Holidays and deal with the associated stressors of a crazy schedule, unfinished work projects and family overload, we’ll have to find other ways to manage our inner Kanye. So what can we do? Well, when working with executives in high stress situations, I find the first and most effective tactic in helping them manage their response is explaining the biological tug-of-war that’s going on in their brain. When we find ourselves in highly charged situations the emotional part of our brain (known as the limbic system) kicks into gear overwhelming the more rational prefrontal cortex creating a fight or flight response. This is super helpful when we are about to be munched by a passing dinosaur, but not so helpful when we find ourselves at the mercy of a tyrannical boss. So without the option to run away or start throwing punches (or jump on that desk I mentioned earlier) we need to employ other strategies to respond to what Daniel Goleman calls the ‘Amygdala hijack’. Here are my top three:

The top three steps to stepping back:

  1. Take 3 deep breaths before responding- it sounds too simple to be effective but 6 seconds is all it takes for the amygdala hijacking chemicals to disperse from your system. Taking three deep breathes will clear your head and allow the rational part of your brain to regain control. I dare you to try this practice just once a day for the next week to see the difference it will make to your workplace (and personal) relationships.
  2. Move away- just physically stepping back, even if it’s one subtle step back or to the side will allow your brain to reappraise the stimulus creating your fight or flight response; the fog will clear and your brain will realize that the toddler tantrum being thrown at your feet is unpleasant, but not life threatening.
  3. Figure out the triggers– it might be that Jenn from accounting can’t help her high pitched freak outs when it comes to your expense report, but you can help yourself by understanding exactly what it is about Jenn that causes you to lose your cool. Is it her body language? Her poorly worded emails? Her rambling voicemail messages? Understand exactly what it is about the interaction that’s causing your response and you can start to find ways to better manage the situation in the future, like walking to Jenn’s desk and asking about her kids or favorite sport before dropping your Dostoevsky length report on her desk.

I hope these tips help you manage any Holiday stressors that come your way this season and Happy Holiday!

by jennifer bezoza

…one cannot build performance on weakness, let alone on something one cannot do at all. Peter Drucker

I have long been a fan of the Gallup Strengthsfinder assessment.  This tool is based on the Gallup organization’s research of thousands of professionals in the workplace.  What Gallup has identified in studying professionals over decades is that there are 34 signature workplace themes that essentially define how we think, what we attend to and what we feel compelled to do on a daily basis.

Recently, a coaching client asked me if I had recommendations for activities on an upcoming retreat with her new team.  Immediately, I suggested the Strengthsfinder for the reason that is an affirming individual assessment and also a strategic teambuilding activity.  In addition, at fourteen dollars and fifty cents, the book along with the online assessment is a great price.

Both as individuals and as a society, there is a tendency to focus on our deficits and what we are lacking in compared to others.   As Marcus Buckingham points out in his video, when our children bring home a report card with some As and Bs and two Ds, we are likely to comment only on the nearly failing grades and overlook the A grades.    We tend to focus on remediating deficits more than we focus on building on and developing strengths.   In my work with clients, I consistently notice the tendency to devalue our own talents; just because something, such as carrying on conversation with strangers at a cocktail party (emblematic of the Woo theme), comes easy to us does not mean it comes easy to another individual.  Too often, individuals are disappointed with their own list of strengths and are looking over their shoulders with envy to the individual who possesses strengths on the opposite side of the spectrum.

I had the opportunity to observe my client’s team as they reported out on their top five themes from the Strengthsfinder.  Each talked about which 1-2 on their list particularly resonated and then had the opportunity to get feedback about which ones stood out to their fellow team members.   The exercise gave the team a new language and frame of reference to understand themselves and one another in a positive light.

In addition, it allowed the team to think about the broader mix of strengths in the group and where the strengths overlapped and complimented one another.  It is helpful to examine the group’s strengths as it relates to the four main buckets of strengths: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic.  Then the team might notice patterns; for example, they might be strong in Strategic and Executing strengths, but weaker in Relationship Building and Influencing strengths.  This particular client will be hiring new team members and can use this data to hire individuals that will balance out the current mix of strengths.  In addition, the current team can use this information to work more collaboratively in ways not foreseen previously.

All in all, the Strengthsfinder tool is low-hanging fruit for any team looking to enhance team member engagement and performance.

by anne lueneburger

“You have to watch this”, my friend and North of Neutral colleague Carolyn Mathews urged me last summer. As she knows I share her passion for the science behind positive psychology, so she had forwarded me a 12-minute Ted Talk of Harvard scholar Shawn Achor in which he, in lightening speed, covers the high points of the latest research on happiness:

Achor’s presentation was hilarious as much as it was thought provoking.  I wanted to know more and so got myself a copy of his book, “The Happiness Advantage”. Money well spent: a bit like the happiness guide for the executive traveler, Achor takes on the business lens when it comes to happiness and examines how it correlates with success. Bold in his claims, he is able to back them up and offers comprehensive sources to support his assertions. Chances are you have never heard of some of the findings he shares (most academic research articles are, on average, read only by seven people!).

So, in case you have no time to read his book, here is what you should know:

Happiness first, then success (not the other way round).

I still remember my history lesson on Copernikus in high school. With his publication some 500 years ago, where he famously pronounced that the earth revolved around the sun (not the other way round), he ran into a lot of resistance but ultimately his theory changed the way we see the world for good.

Much like the scientific revolution of the middle ages, research over the past 50 years shows that there may be a different relationship of variables when it comes to cause and effect than we may have preciously assumed. For example: do you need to be smart first to wear a doctor’s coat or could it be the coat that influences your IQ points? Have a look at this NY Times article that describes how participants in a research study who put on a doctor’s white coat were found to be significantly more acute and critical in their thinking than those without the coat… Do you first feel like you are in a good enough mood to smile or could it be also the other way around? If you are interested, try a little experiment: smile for at least 20 seconds several times over the course of half an hour and observe what happens to your mood… (We know from neuroscience that we can “trick” our brain into thinking that there is good reason to be happy and as a result produce neuro-chemicals that actually make us happy.)

There is no doubt that success can bring about happy moments. As I was writing this blog, my client Ryan (who works for a well-known strategy consulting firm) called me with the good news that he had been promoted to partner that morning. His happiness was palpable over the phone. However, if we are looking for sustainable happiness (and success), it is foremost a general sense of well-being at work, of being in the flow, and engaged at what we do that fuels success. And despite his promotion, I know from my work with Ryan that in our next session we will need to continue to help him build his authentic leadership style, in order for him to feel fulfilled at work and to be successful over the long haul.

The facts support this. So, no surprise that doctors who are in a good mood are three times more creative and resourceful when it comes to diagnosing and helping patients (a criteria to add when it comes to choosing your physician).  And that optimistic sales people outsell their pessimistic peers by 56%. Smart organizations capitalize on these insights. Take Zappos: different from most call centers in the US that have close to 100% turnover, this online retailer sees very little talent drain (they give their employees full autonomy on how to make a sale, there is no script, no monitoring. And as a result, they are ranked ahead of ritzy brands like Apple or BMW when it comes to customer service).

Happiness is the core, success orbits around it.

Try this: Think of your last bonus at work. What did you do with this money? How long did that feeling of happiness last? How did it impact your level of engagement at work? Now think of an activity at work you engage in because you enjoy doing so, and you notice that you are getting better as you are practicing a skill associated with this activity. What is it? What sort of emotions do you notice when you are in the middle of this activity? What do you notice when it comes to your levels of engagement at work if you integrate more of this activity at work? Not quite sure what activity that might be? Use our complimentary online assessment to get clarity around what passions you at work by clicking here.

You have a choice to be happy. 

Happiness is the sum of: our DNA, the curveballs life throws us, and finally our behavior and the lens we choose to look at the world through. Research shows that almost half of how well we fare in life and in our careers is down to us:

Source: Lyubomirksy, S. (2010). The How of Happiness. New York: Penguin Books.

Did you know that fMRI studies show that cab drivers who deliver their clients without GPS have significantly enlarged hippocampi (the region of the brain responsible for spatial memory)? Have you heard that blind people who rely on their fingers to read Braille showed brain activity no different from seeing people when it came to touches to their non-reading hand, however, when their Braille-reading finger was tapped, an enormous region in the prefrontal cortex (our IQ  powerhouse) would light up – very different from their seeing peers?

As a result of neural plasticity, we can literally change the structure of our brains. This may mean being able to learn a foreign language at the age of 50, or it may mean becoming a more empathetic and trustworthy leader of our teams. The key is that once we are aware of what we need to change to be happy and successful, we can.  And there many interventions that research offers that we can engage in to deliberately change the way we feel. It may be using our signature strengths more often and in new ways at work. It can involve being more intentional when it comes to forging strong relationships at work. Did you know that people who have a ‘best buddy’ at work tend to be seven times more engaged and fulfilled in their careers?

Try this: If you want to run your own experiment, for one week write down three positive events every day. And track your mood over time. What do you notice?

You can change significantly more than you think you can.

Now you have read so far and you may agree that starting with a focus on happiness in our career and lives, a focus on what our strengths are, what energizes us and what we are good at is superior to trying to get to the front in the rat race, and hoping for happiness down the road. You may also have bought into research that shows that a good part of our happiness is in our own hands. The final important message on happiness and success is that we can push ourselves significantly more than we think we can when it comes to making positive change happen.

As I often share with my clients, any kind of change, even if it is much desirable, involves pain. In fact, we know that even much desired change can be as painful as breaking bones. This is why as a coach I help clients develop these small incremental steps towards their change.

Even if experts tell us that certain change is not humanly achievable, we have all heard about ‘miracles’ where people have been able to overcome preconceived notions and realized their aspirations and goals. Be it the Bannister effect, where once the four-minute-mile record was broken, a slew of athletes were able to follow suit, or climbing Mount Everest without oxygen, or the first heart transplants. The story of Walt Disney  comes to mind who started an entire empire based on his mantra of “If you can dream it, you can achieve it. “

In my work as a coach I have seen shy introverts become gifted speakers, reluctant risk takers leave their current corporate position to launch their own start-up, and reluctant leaders embrace their authentic self and inspire their teams in the midst of organizational turmoil to stay the course and to deliver results beyond expectations. As Henry Ford once said so wisely: “If you think you can do it or think you can’t, in both cases, you’re right.”

Try this: In coaching as we work with our clients who struggle to make desired change happen, we often ask them to recall times in their own pasts when they were able to successfully overcome similar challenges. We then explore what strategies they used, what skills they employed to overcome hurdles, be they external or internal. A rather simple, but powerful technique that often results in clients to break through and to tap into their very inner strength they previously had simply been unaware of.


by carolyn mathews

Wisdom, I believe, separates good leaders from great leaders. That is one reason an article in the Sunday edition of The New York Times caught my eye. “Sharing the Wisdom of C.E.O.’s,” by Adam Bryant, provides lessons of five leaders Bryant has featured in his “Corner Office” column. The book, called “The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed,” shares lessons from interviews with 70 leaders about success and leadership. After that article appeared, Harvard Business Review featured an article called, The Big Idea: The Wise Leader in which the authors discuss what constitutes wise leadership.

I was curious what makes leaders wise. In her research, Concordia University professor Delores Pushkar explains wisdom is difficult to define. As with leadership, there are many ways to describe wisdom, though Pushkar and her research team have identified several hallmarks. Take a look at these qualities and you’ll understand why I consider wisdom to be a necessary component of a great leader: knowledge; deep understanding of human nature; life contentment; empathy; and perspective.

Can a leader be great without these hallmarks of wisdom? I know many leaders who have knowledge; in essence they are subject matter experts. But what about the other qualities Pushkar mentions as part of wisdom? Without empathy or personal well-being, for instance, I suggest that leaders remain experts in their field, but not necessarily great leaders. I wanted to know more about how positive psychology views wisdom and I found two explanations.  First, wisdom is one of the six virtues (core characteristics), identified by positive psychology researchers, to be highly valued by moral philosophers and religious thinkers across cultures. As a virtue, wisdom focuses on the acquisition and use of knowledge, according to acclaimed positive psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman.

Wisdom, according to Peterson and Seligman, also reveals itself as a “character strength,” or the way in which we display our virtues. In this case, wisdom is defined as perspective, or “being able to provide wise counsel to others…”  This is one of the qualities Pushkar mentions in her research. According to Peterson and Seligman, those who have the character strength of perspective would describe themselves as:

>Possessing self-knowledge, and an accurate view of their strengths and weaknesses

>Using both feelings and rationale to make decisions

>Realizing larger patterns of meaning or relationship and seeing things from a wider perspective

>Having a strong need to contribute to others and often turned to for advice

>Using their personal standards as a guide for their behavior

Many of you would agree these descriptions are hallmarks for great leaders! These qualities are garnered through a combination of knowledge and experience, according to Peterson and Seligman, and not through intelligence and age. Despite the archetype of the “wise old leader,” Pushkar suggests age is irrelevant to wisdom. In terms of career, studies have shown that those who engage in career tasks in their late 30s and early 40s developed wisdom by their mid-40s. These tasks provide opportunities for crises to be successfully resolved, thereby adding to one’s wisdom (knowledge and experience).

Wisdom also helps us maintain a higher level of happiness, says Pushkar. Although chronic, extreme stress can detract from wisdom, generally speaking the buffering effects of wisdom can help us navigate the stressful times most of us encounter. Further, research indicates those who tend to be optimistic also tend to be wiser than their pessimistic peers.

There are simple things you can do to develop wisdom at work, according to Peterson and Seligman. Get involved! Find challenging career tasks and resolve them successfully. Find a mentor, or become one, and you will surely experience opportunities for perspective. Collaborate socially and take time to discuss and reflect. Wisdom is more than knowledge; it is also about perspective. Strive for wisdom and be a great leader!


Bryant, A. (2011, April 17). Distilling the wisdom of C.E.O.’s. The New York Times.

Concordia University (2011, April 8). What the world needs now? More wisdom. Science Daily. Retrieved April 18th, 2011, from

Nonoka, I. &Takeuchi, H. (2011, May). The big idea: The wise leader. Harvard Business Review.

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

by jennifer bezoza

Recently, I was out to dinner with a group when one individual “gifted” pens from a conference he recently attended.  The table discussion promptly turned to the question of whether pens are becoming unnecessary, as so many of us are married to our blackberries, I-devices, e-readers and computers for all aspects of our work and lives.

This seems quite a logical prediction, I thought.

Then, I had a coaching conversation, which reminded me about the immediacy and power of paper and pens, particularly as so many knowledge workers multi-task at a computer screen all day.

This particular client was stuck on why she was not making more progress on an important, professional project.  I asked a number of questions to understand the dynamics at play.  What was her level of commitment to the project?  High. How much thinking and planning had gone into the project.  A significant amount.  What was her schedule for working on it?  She was putting significant time into it every day.  Still, she was not moving in the way she thought was possible. What was getting in the way?

I asked her to think about what had worked with a similar type of project in recent months. At first, it seemed, it was merely about the momentum of the project and she needed to get past a certain point in the work to be able to see the whole picture, so it was going slow early on to go faster at the end.

Then, there was quiet reflection and she had a realization; what had worked before was writing on slips of paper, breaking her day out hour by hour with specific goals in mind.  Reaching a particular goal in the day would enable her to earn mini “rewards,” and breaks for herself.  In addition, she could physically cross things out as she moved through the day.  By the end of the call, my client was energized to pull out her paper and pen once again.

How many pens and pads are left on your desk?  Is it time to re-stock the supply or pull them out of the drawer.  Maybe it’s time for the pendulum to swing back.

by carolyn mathews

“I’ve done a lot of complaining here, but of all the things I’ve complained about, I can’t complain about my life.”

– Andy Rooney, Commentator

Andy Rooney, a commentator on CBS’ 60 Minutes, died at the age of 92 last fall. His age, although significant, is not what caught my attention. These days, many people live into their 90s.What I thought was significant, is that he worked until October 2, 2011, the day he died. He retired at age 92, after 33 years with CBS (he had other jobs previously).

Even if you didn’t watch his segment, “A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney,” you probably would recognize him. He had eyebrows that showed up before he did and had perfected the rumpled Peter Falk/Columbo look, especially when he wore sweaters. Week after week, Rooney made observations about the mundane and the profound. He played the curmudgeon to great effect. Sometimes he offended people (and was even suspended for it), sometimes his wry observations made us smile, and sometimes we just shook our heads wondering what the heck he was going on about.

It was clear to those who watched Rooney that he loved his work. He must have; he did 1,097 shows with 60 Minutes. He had a passion for defending some, lambasting others, eliciting change, and being heard. He was a husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Many called Rooney friend, among them greats like Cronkite and Reasoner.

I did not know him personally, so I have no idea what he would consider his legacy to be. As someone who watched Andy Rooney off and on throughout my adulthood, his legacy is that he noticed the seemingly unimportant – the things we may experience in passing, but not truly think about – and made them important. Rooney’s life exemplifies the life satisfaction of loving your work, choosing to work into your retirement years, and leaving your mark on the world.

by jennifer bezoza

A few months ago I had the opportunity to audit ExecComm’s Executive Presence and Communication Skills class.  While I am a graduate of Dale Carnegie’s Human Relations and Presentations program, I picked up several tips on using your physical body for impact.  As I am working with a client in a new leadership role who wants to make a big impression in a couple upcoming meetings, I thought I’d put these tips together here this week.

Ensure you are facing your audience in steady, open position.  This means your feet and body are lined up straight toward the audience, and you are balancing on both legs, hip-width apart, as to appear straight, tall and confident.  Many of us have a natural tendency to lean to one side, especially after standing for a few minutes. You may need to build your physical stamina for this one!  This also means hands out of pockets, arms uncrossed down at your side, and hands, unlaced.  Yes, this means fully, open position.  This can feel challenging until you read the second tip below.

Put your hands to work on furthering your message.  Let the theatrical side of you shine here.  The idea is that you want your arms to mirror and add dimension to the ideas you are communicating. If you are speaking about making a big splash, let your hands visually represent the concept.  Not only do gestures demonstrate passion and energy, they also support you in burning nervous energy.

Speak only when you are fully set up with technology/visual aids/flip charts; pauses are fine.   It is tempting  to start speaking as you position the flip chart, transition slides, and/or flip a light switch.  Resist the urge! Silent pauses earn command.   Begin when you can be fully present (physically and mentally) to your audience.

Review and digest each point on a slide/visual and then present with open body.  We have all seen the presenter who turns their backs or faces sideways toward the projector or flip chart, limiting two way communication and also creating a poor, professional image.  The idea with this technique is that you silently review what it is you want to say, and then deliver it facing forward to the audience (as opposed to the wall.)

Stand to the left of your visual aids.  This is because your audience will read left to right (if not reading Hebrew), and it’s helpful  for you in digesting and delivering the message.  On a related point, it is distracting to the audience when a presenter stand before the slide and is painted with words! (Black out the screen/visuals when you want to talk front and center of room.)

Connect with individual audience members for at least 5 seconds.  This technique feels quite uncomfortable at first, but has so many advantages, so I hope you will try it. First of all, if you are nervous, the one-to-one focus will naturally calm you down and allow you to relate in a more personal way. In addition, this approach exudes confidence and connection to your audience, and despite what you might fear, will not “freak” audience members out.  You may need to practice this technique with a timer and supportive colleagues to get comfortable, but I assure you, it will make a positive difference for you.

Put the tips to work:

When is the next time you will be presenting?

Which tip can you focus on for greater impact?

Who can hold you accountable and offer you constructive feedback on these tips?

by jennifer bezoza

If you frequently make presentations and/or use power point often, this blog entry is for you!  I recently facilitated several classes on Garr Reynolds book, Presentation Zen. His ideas are surprisingly simple and compelling,  though rarely practiced in business today.   Once I learned and applied the concepts, it is hard to imagine ever creating a presentation any other way.  Garr brings a scientific and aesthetic discipline to a business tool we have long abused.

So, what’s the problem in the way we use power point, you might ask?  We are asking power point presentations to serve too many roles–to be visual support for key messages, to include our actual talking points and also be reference take-away documents for our audience.  Garr coins this problematic format, the “slidument.”  It’s part presentation and part document.

An April 26th, 2010 article in the New York Times, entitled  ”We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Power Point”  discusses the limitations and over-reliance on power point in the military and business in general. A great piece!

Below, I have provided a very high level overview of key points I took away from the book.

Five Tips on Your Way to Giving Zentastic Presentations

1. Get Offline – While it’s tempting to remain connected and responsive at all times, give yourself the gift of unplugging, whether it be in your commute to work, a walk around the block at lunch time or merely a fresh environment for thinking about an upcoming presentation, such as a library, coffee shop or even a conference room away from your computer.  In addition, keeping up with a hobby, whether it be playing music, practicing yoga or photography can also be a space for recharging and thinking more creatively in preparing for your talk.

2. Get Back to Basics.  Before you get too far ahead of your audience as an expert in your subject matter, it’s important to review basic, but all too often neglected questions, such as (e.g.,  Why is this topic important to my audience?,” “What is realistic in the time frame?” What is the most important message I want to convey?”)

2. Storyboard – Go analog on paper or a whiteboard.  First, allow yourself to brainstorm ideas; group similar ideas with one anothe; identify themes and  key messages as well as potential visuals and metaphors that could unify your presentation — all away from your power point application.  Find your own unique way to storyboard with pen and paper — it could be in the form of mind mapping, doodling or actually printing out blank power point slides with the notes section to visually draft your talk.

3. Create Balanced, Visual Slides. Our brains are wired to retain visual cues and consequently, your slides should contain modern, clean photos and graphics that merely supplement your talking points, which should only exist in the notes section of power point.  The book discusses a number of sources for high quality, free images. My favorite is morgue file (a morbid name, but a great source!)

4. Show RestraintOften, we include more words on a slide than is required.  Go back through your slides and eliminate all extra words and data that are not critical to your message.  Your presentation is not intended to be a stand alone document, and if it is created as such, then you are working yourself out of a job!  Should you want to provide your audience with more detailed information and data, create a separate handout or report like document, as a close out to your presentation.

5. Be in the Zone – At the end of the day, YOU are giving the presentation and your level of preparation, your stories and your passion are the most important ingredients for a successful presentation.  All the previous strategies are merely smarts steps for preparation.  All too often, we think we should be able to present off the cuff or with little preparation. However, just like a professional athlete who puts in countless hours to be in the zone, giving powerful presentations is an art form that requires a great deal of investment and a lot of practice.

If you are interested to further expose yourself to the specific design principles in this books, check out Garr’s blog and instructional design videos, Presentation Zen.