Categories
Coaching Leadership

Storytelling

Getting better at presenting is a common theme for the people I’ve worked with. Running a great session that inspires people, drives an important decision or shares vital information can be a weekly challenge in the corporate setting.

Improving your storytelling is a great technique to take your presentation skills to the next level. Think about the type of presentation you’ll be giving, who the audience is and the one key message that you want them to take away from the session.

You can then craft your presentation around this setup, and structure the story to have the impact that you are aiming for. We’re used to telling stories, and we all understand the structure of a range of different types.

Before diving into the detail, throw together a quick storyboard. You can’t go far wrong with a three-act structure, consider something like:

  1. Layout the problem – Why should the audience care?
  2. Give some options for the solution – What path might we take?
  3. Pick the best one – Resolve the situation.

Flex the structure for your own particular situation and the style of presentation.

Once you’ve got it roughed out, run through it with broad brushstrokes. Think about how it feels. Refine it if you need to.

Now you can go into the details. Grab some relevant numbers and the data that you need. Humanise the story with specific individuals. Showing how an option will impact an entire population may not be as effective a story as showing how it will impact a specific person or group.

Next up, get into the editing phase. You tell a tighter story by cutting out pieces that don’t contribute to the narrative. Similarly you make your presentation stronger by cutting sections that don’t build towards that key takeaway.

Finally, practice the flow until you are comfortable. You tell good stories when you know the points you are hitting well. A well polished presentation will also give you confidence going into the delivery, and that’s a slam dunk boost to a better final outcome.

Categories
Coaching Leadership

Selling Yourself

It’s very important to be comfortable selling your achievements. When you have the confidence to talk about what you’ve done and the impact that you’ve had then you are able to put yourself at the front of the queue for future opportunities.

I’ve encountered a lot of people in tech who believe that their achievements should be obvious to others and that recognition should obviously follow. The work should speak for itself.

In an ideal world that may well be true, but in the cut and thrust of modern organisations, this can put you at a significant disadvantage.

This approach will put the responsibility for your advocacy fully into the hands of your manager, which is a risky proposition. The very best managers will work hard to tease out your successes, to formulate them correctly to show the organisational impact and to convert that into fair recognition for your work.

Less good managers, those who are inexperienced, time poor or focused on one of the many urgent fires they need to put out will not do this for you. They might not understand your impact, which is especially likely if they don’t have a similar background. They may have other direct reports they want to spend the time on, or they may just not be great at selling achievements themselves.

So, it’s on you to learn how to effectively sell your achievements in the context of the organisation, to make sure you get the recognition you deserve. As with all skills, it may not come easily to start with, but it’ll get easier with time.

  1. Practice writing and thinking about your specific contribution. Most significant efforts are team based, but if you catch yourself in “we” mode, then refocus to your work. Rather than “We launched product X”, write about what you did. Did you lead the user research, develop a core part of the solution or setup the working environment for the team? How did that contribute to the overall success.
  2. Tie it back to the metrics that are important. Launching products is great, but what needle did it move? Think about the “So what?” and get ahead of that question with the impact.
  3. Make it punchy. If you are selling yourself, then statements around “just doing the bare minimum” are not where you want to be. Pick out highlights.
  4. Cover the right timeline. Achievements from the last week are probably too small, major efforts from before your last promotion are too far back, they’ll have already been taken into account.

Get ideas on paper, then refine them. The right number of achievements and the scope of them will depend on the organisation, but starting with more and cutting down is a good approach. If you aren’t confident at this point, then spend some time with a trusted colleague and get them to review the list. They’ll probably find some improvements, and also some great suggestions you’ve not already covered!

Now is a great time to discuss the list with your manager. Get their context, add their organisational understanding and have them confirm that they agree with your framing of these achievements. With a starting point, it’s a lot easier to discuss and shape, so this is going to work with any decent line manager. Be prepared to take on feedback and further refine your statements at this point.

Now that you’ve got an agreed and up-to-date list of powerful achievements, these become the basis for selling yourself. You can use them in performance reviews, promotion panels and even your CV. It’s a ready made list for your manager, so it’s going to make their job a lot easier when they are asked to highlight high performers or successful people in their area.

By taking responsibility for highlighting your own successes, you make it much more likely they’ll get the recognition they deserve and you’ll jump up in the list of people who’ll be considered for the next big opportunity.

Categories
Coaching

Go go go!

You’ll see that a lot of the advice that I share is encouraging you to take a first step, to start something off or to build momentum. Why does this keep coming up as a consistent theme, and what are times it’s not a great plan of action?

The majority of the time, it’s easier not to start. You can build and refine plans making them better each time you consider them again. You can find ways to fail and think about all the things that could go wrong. You can convince yourself that now is not the right time, that the situation needs to be perfect before doing something.

This analysis-paralysis can be common in high achievers. If you want to project an image of perfection or excellence, then you might tend towards not moving until you are certain of a perfect outcome.

In practice, you’ll miss out on a lot of opportunities, or spend massive amounts of time gilding lilies that will never be seen by anyone else. By finding a first step, you can start learning. Your ideas collide with the real world, you find out what’s important and you find out what’s chaff.

You might need to get more comfortable hearing “no”, or “not like that”, but that’s actually great feedback on your small investment of time, and it’s building buy-in to the future direction. People are more invested in something that they’ve had input into, so that is priceless value for the cost of taking on a bit of feedback.

Going early gets things done, so when do you not want to do that?

  • There’s no goal – It’s no good going if you don’t know where you are aiming to get to first
  • It’s too early into detail – There’s a classic saying in tech circles “We spent twelve weeks coding to save a week on design”. Great action focus and feeling of progress, but too soon to the detail!
  • It’ll take you the wrong direction – It’s expected that you’ll make your first steps imperfectly, but don’t actively go in the wrong direction.

Once you’ve confirmed you aren’t making these mistakes, then it’s go go go!

Categories
Coaching Leadership

Who are you helping?

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, chasing the next product launch, acing the next planning cycle or prepping an awesome presentation.

That’s often what some of your goals might look like, get better at doing these things, do them faster or at a higher level.

If you forget the why, then it’s a lot less fulfilling as a journey. It’s also going to be a lot more of a slog. You’ll also find it harder to bring people along with you if you are just focused on the next step.

One great way to reconnnect to the why is to stop and think about who you are are helping. What impact are you having on the world? Are you making life better for people outside your organisation? Are you empowering people you work with to multiply their own impact? Is your work helping someone to achieve their own goals along with your own.

When you bring it back to who you are helping, then it’ll energise your efforts, and those of the people you’re working with.

Categories
Coaching

The Right Tools

When you start being coached, you sign up to beginning a process of lasting and transformative change. You are able to outline your true goals, put aside limiting beliefs and define the steps necessary to achieve great outcomes.

Believing that change is possible, and that you have potential to succeed is just the start of your journey. You need to identify the tools that you already have to hand, and the ones that you’ll need to acquire to bring that success to life.

Positive thinking must be back up with concrete actions to be effective, pairing the two is what brings positive change.

As an example, say you want to become a better leader. It’s a very common desire in people I work with, which might be manifested as a desire to seek a promotion or an expanded role, or they may wish to be recognised as being more effective in the role they are currently in.

Once you’ve reached the goal, reflect and consider what it means in more detail. Do you communicate well with your team but struggle with stakeholders? Is your tactical leadership strong but strategic vision weak? Understand your current reality and you can build your action plan for change.

Once you’ve done this, what tools do you need to support your change? For these types of changes, tools will often be improved skills rather than physical items. You might need to improve how you present information, manage conflict better or improve your negotiation.

All of these can be improved with training and practice. They won’t get better with purely positive thinking, but they’ll certainly improve much faster when you apply a positive mindset to the change.

Bring the right tools to bear and you’ll get the change you want.

Categories
Coaching

Bust the Jargon

When you are firming up goals and dropping the vague, you also massively benefit from busting the jargon.

The world is overwhelmed by synergy, thought-leadership and efficiencies. There’s still far too many rock-stars and even the occasional ninja in software development.

Most people who’ve been in business for a while will be accustomed to speaking the jargon. It’s easy to throw in a few more words and lose the meaning.

Try stripping it back and saying what you really mean. Take a statement that’s jargon heavy, and restate it into terms that people outside of your direct context could connect to and uderstand.

I’ve done it myself recently, and it can really take a few repetitions to get to something that’s really meaningful. Watch out for loops. It’s easy to replace a bit of jargon with something equally meaningless to someone outside of the bubble.

Imagine explaining your goal to a friend or family member. Would they understand what you want to do, or what achievement you are chasing?

Creating this clarity also lets you see how well the goal aligns to your values. Jargon can hide this, so strip it away and make sure you are doing what really matters to you.

Categories
Coaching Leadership

Accepting Feedback

A really great way to get a better view on the impact your actions have is to practice the art of accepting feedback.

If you are in the habit of blaming the messenger, then pretty quickly you’ll find that no more messages are sent. You’ll lose access to a valuable source of information and be making decisions on much shakier ground.

Of course, this is rarely a problem if the news is good! It’s very much a skill to practice when hearing something difficult, when the impact of your actions is at odds with your intent or when the messages don’t align with your view of who you are.

So, what’s the benefit?

If you accept feedback with poise and grace, then it’s likely that whoever if giving it to you will continue to do so. It builds trust that you can handle difficult conversations and that it’s worth continuing to have them.

Practice this skill as it can be difficult to master. If you’ve struggled in the past, then reflect on the reasons why. Do you leap to your own defence? Are you quick to point to your intent? Do you try to flip the conversation to your own hurt feelings?

To start with, try this. Thank them for the feedback. Then stop, and don’t attempt to address it immediately. If you need to, say that you’ll need some time to reflect on the thoughts they’ve shared.

Feedback is a gift, it gives you more information than you had before, about an area that may be hard for you to see on your own.

In the same way that a pair of socks for your birthday may not be the most looked for gift, so might any specific piece of feedback. You might plan to send those on to the charity shop the next day, but you’ll still thank the giver in the moment.

It’s about building the long term relationship. Remember that and you’ll be learning more about yourself and supercharging your journey of positive change.

Categories
Coaching

Nothing is Perfect

The only truly perfect thing is nothing. There are no problems, no mistakes and nothing that can be improved.

That’s why a feeling of needing to be perfect is always going to be limiting. You default to doing less, aiming towards nothing. It’s an approach that will stop you realising your true potential and instead you end up lost in the noise.

Instead, look towards something that’s good enough to go out into the world. When you are creating something, think about what done is before you start. Find your cheerleaders and seek out their advice. Go through a couple of iterations with this group, then get it out and start learning.

All masters learn their craft over time, and they learn by finding out what works and what doesn’t. Perfection doesn’t let you do this, so don’t get hung up on perfect. Start learning as soon as possible.

If you are driven towards perfection, then try this exercise. Think about something you’ve done that you thought was perfect at the time. Find the old document or presentation, and dive into the detail. I’m certain that you’ll find a lot that could now be improved upon. This is a demonstration of your learning over time, of mastering your craft.

You let this creation out into the world. It was well received, positively remarked upon and may even have landed you more impact or influence in your role. It wasn’t perfect. It was real, it was valuable and it’s something you can do more of.

Categories
Coaching

Star of Your Movie

You are the star in the movie of your life. Everything that happens to you, everything that you do or think, it’s all vital and it’s all going to get top billing.

There are co-stars, special guests, cameos and bit-part players. Different people will loom large in some acts, before becoming lost to the story as you move on through your journey. Some of these will be very easy to predict, some will be very unexpected.

Everyone else you encounter will also be starring in their own movie. Their story is of top importance, and you might just be an extra in a crowd scene.

Sometimes you can be blocked from taking action as you assign too much importance to your own place in the story. If you shy away from a step that’s positive because of what someone else might think, then stop and consider where you sit in the story of their life.

Change can be uncomfortable, but if your large change is just going to have a transient impact on someone you don’t interact with much, then that’s not a reason to hold back.

Changing jobs is a really great example of this. It’s going to have more lasting impact on your co-stars (immediate family) than anyone else. These are the people to consult with, to care about and to be a key part of the journey.

Everyone else will notice the change, but only as to how it impact their own movies. Co-workers might feel some passing pain but they’ll adjust. Your real supporters will celebrate the change, and might just turn into stars of the next act.

Anyone who doesn’t celebrate wasn’t worth worrying about. A bad boss who bemoans your success because it’ll cause them more work just becomes a funny character to only ever be recalled in a minor flashback scene.

If you find it difficult to make a change in your life, draw out your movie poster. Care deeply about your stars, and don’t let the bit-part villains hold you back.

Categories
Coaching

Consistency

Keep on showing up. Meaningful change is hard and there are no quick fixes or shortcuts. Set a pace and stick to it and you will build up significant progress over time.

The compounding effects of consistency are incredibly powerful, but in the early days it can be hard to recognise the positive benefits.

For each small step you take, keep on learning and improving, but keep on taking those steps. When you’ve found something that’s moving you towards your goals, keep on doing it.

It’s better to set your schedule and keep to it, than it is to go in bursts and then do nothing. Setup your commitments accordingly. Write a blog post once a week and publish every Monday, rather than write five in a month but share them all in the last week.

If you are helping people on LinkedIn, then set aside a chunk of time each day, and keep on that schedule. Don’t dip in for a few days and then disappear for a week.

Building the consistency not only gives structure to your efforts, it helps people to see your commitment and to understand the engagement they can expect.

Celebrate your small wins early on, then celebrate the bigger ones as you build up steam.

Keep showing up, and after a while people will be ready for what you are bringing. That’s when the consistency pays off.