In the last of a series of 5 extracts from an interview I did with Errol Williamson, I talk about the 3 most common mistakes professionals make when delivering speeches and presentations.
EW: You’ve heard many business speakers deliver speeches and presentations, some have been great and some have been not so great, but what are the three typically common avoidable mistakes that you’ve noticed, and what recommendation would you give for overcoming each of those mistakes?
HT: The first one is not being close enough to your material. When you really, really know your stuff your presentation goes so much better, you can be flexible in the moment, you can increase it if you’ve got more time, and you can decrease it if you’ve got less time. So many people get unstuck because they don’t know their material and their content well enough, and as a result they can’t flex in the moment, if something goes wrong like the projector is broken they’re completely stuffed. So the more you know the material the more you can handle what’s chucked at you.
The second avoidable mistake I see is that people get wedded to PowerPoint. PowerPoint itself is not the problem is how people use it. As Lee Jackson says (of the Professional Speaking Association), Lee Jackson is the author of ‘PowerPoint Surgeon’, is that your PowerPoint should be billboards rather than War and Peace, so cut the text down. I would actually recommend for a lot of people to go cold turkey on it, go six months and every presentation you deliver do not use slides. Just don’t use them and that will get you out of any comfort zone because far too often people start designing their presentation using slides. Actually that’s not the way to do it, you need to design your presentation and then consider what visuals and what key messages you would like to add- in to emphasise the key points you want to make.
The third thing is that people are too dry with their presentations, its either they talk in a very monotone way, or they’re very text based. People want to be engaged, people want to really get into the material, so the more visuals, the more stories that you can tell… the worst thing you can do is repeat dry facts in case studies, bring the story alive and make the human connection.
Those are my three avoidable mistakes.
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Motivating your team, particularly when the going is tough, is hard work. In this extract from an interview with Errol Williamson in Spring 2015, I talk about how to get your team onside and motivate them to higher levels of performance.
EW: In your book ‘How to Make Partner and Still Have a Life’, Part 4 of the book explores the real survival aspects of a career in the professional services, it talks about building client base, leading, managing and developing teams. Should the candidate or the aspiring partner adopt different speaking styles, depending on whether they’re giving a speech to a partner, to their team, or to a client? Should they adopt their style depending upon whom they’re speaking to or just have one general style?
HT: You need to flex your style, and it’s not about whether you’re a team member, a client, or a partner, it’s about what the individual prefers. So it’s about understanding who the stakeholders are, who the ones are who can really take the decisions, what style they like, how they like to take in their information and adopt your style to them. A lot of people go might go ‘But isn’t it important to turn up and be myself?’ Well yes, but if it matters to you that you want to make stuff happen the best way you can do it is speak in somebody else’s language and using their style.
So, do I have any suggestions on how to construct a speech which inspires a team to improve performance? Whoa big question here! Do I have any suggestions? I think probably one of the things you mustn’t do is as follows:-
I was with one of my clients and they were going to a team away day. As they were doing the prep they decided to change the team away day because they’d started to have quite a huge amount of mistakes happening. One of the guys did the ‘We can’t let this happen. This is unacceptable, we can’t do that’, and that went down like a lead balloon, because what they hadn’t realised was this team were working their heart out, this team was actually under-resourced. So it was nothing to do with the team’s performance, nothing that a dressing-down would actually solve. It was more to do with the fact that they were short of resource and that was the problem, it was never going to be solved by giving them a criticising speech. So criticising speeches are out.
My suggestion is you need to get people to unite behind a common cause. That common cause could be if we keep our clients we do well, we’ll get more clients and we’ll all benefit from increased amount of clients. What are their motivators, what inspires them? Are they motivated by the quality of the job, are they motivated by status? Are they motivated by finance and material things? Are they motivated by having a collaborative team? So let’s take that example of mistakes are creeping in, how would you then do that? Let’s say people are motivated by doing a high quality job, order their technical qualities up to them let’s just say, ‘I know everyone here around the table is fully committed to doing the best quality job they can, and it’s a matter of personal pride that everything goes out of the door all present and correct. Now we’ve slipped on that recently, and I know that is not something we’re all willing to take lightly; so let’s put any blame aside and let’s really understand the root causes of that’.
Let’s put it into people quite materially focussed, so financial and numbers, ‘You know we’ve got this KPI target to hit guys, well look we’re slipping on it. The question is why are we slipping, because if we actually slip on this, this is going to affect the rest of our numbers, this is going to affect how profitable the firm is, and this is going to affect the amount of bonus that we can deliver to you all as a firm and also individuals as a bonus, as well as salary rises. We’ve got to get to grips with this. This is a no-blame conversation but let’s actually understand about what’s going on’.
So can you see the subtle difference? And to really phrase it as one of the key motivators of the people in front of you.
If you’re seeking partnership and you happen to be in the lift with one of the senior partners, what should you say and how should you say it? Well the things you shouldn’t do, you shouldn’t go up to them and say ‘I want to be partner what do I need to do?’ You mustn’t look desperate, people may not say it in so many words but it’s not far off. You’ve got to play it cool, you’ve got to play it very cool, and the best way to do it is to have a conversation with them, get known to them. That’s the best way at this stage with the senior partners, you want to be noticed for them and you want to be noticed for them in the right reasons. By going ‘I’m brilliant!’ isn’t going to work and you’re going to get labelled as arrogant, take interest in what they’re doing, consult their views on stuff, but the thing is don’t just ignore them chat to them. That’s the biggest thing that will actually make a difference.
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Attending networking events and talking to strangers is a way of life for many accountants, lawyers and consultants. Being able to keep a conversation going with a stranger is an art form. In this extract from an interview with Errol Williamson in Spring 2015, I answer the question about how to respond to an impromptu question as well as keep the conversation going.
EW: Thank you, brilliant. In your book ‘Financial Times Guide to Business Networking’, you talked about online and offline networking but in particular face to face networking. In a formal presentation as we discussed a moment ago you’ve got ample time to prepare, get your notes and thoughts together and know exactly what you’re going to say, and how you’re going to say it. In a networking situation where you’re asked a question, a random question, you’re expected to give an intentioned articulated response more or less immediately. Can you provide a tip or two on how to respond to that impromptu question in a networking situation?
HT: Yes, these things are always sent to try us aren’t they? You’re sitting there and suddenly a leftfield question comes out of nowhere. The first thing you do is take the pressure off, you don’t need to answer it, no, and you can smile sweetly and go ha-ha-ha. You don’t need to answer every single question, there is nothing stopping you thinking and saying ‘That’s a good question, do you mind if I just take a moment?’ However, typically those aren’t the sort of questions you’re going to get in a networking event, typically the sorts of questions you’re going to get in a networking event is ‘How’s your day been?’ ‘How did you get here?’ ‘What are you enjoying at the moment?’ It’s going to be what I would call fairly safe small talk. ‘How’s the weather round by you?’
So one of the things you can do is anticipate some of those questions. One of the questions you’ve asked is what preparation can you do, the best thing you can do is actually anticipate some of what you’re going to be asked. You are going to be asked ‘How’s your day going?’ You are going to be asked ‘What are you doing at the weekend?’ And my recommendation is always add a little bit extra into the answer, so don’t just go ‘Great’, ‘Fine’, ‘Looking forward to it’, actually put a little bit of information in to help the person start to create a conversation out of it. So, ‘Oh are you planning anything this weekend?’ instead of saying ‘Yes’, say in your own words, but ‘Oh I’m really excited because we’re going to see Wicked at the theatre’. That leads what I call a relationship hook to go ‘Oh do you often go to the theatre?’ or, ‘What musicals do you like?’ or, ‘I’ve seen that too, what are you really looking forward to?’ So when you’re getting those impromptu questions don’t feel as though you’ve got to hurry to give an answer. The reality is that at those kind of networking events you’re going to know most of the questions that they’re going to ask you.
Another bit of preparation that you can do which you may not have thought about is actually just before you go out, have a quick flick through the news, have a quick flick through what’s trending on twitter, have a quick through your trade associations bits and pieces so that you are prepared. It’s one of those things that you can anticipate a lot of what’s happening.[sc:PPP] [sc:Heather] [sc:Books]
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This is a short extract from an interview I did with Errol Williamson in spring 2015. In this podcast I explain how to make sure your voice is heard and you can get your point across in meetings.
EW: Professionals involved in free earning careers know the importance of making a good impression at meetings; meetings with clients, internal staff meetings and perhaps even meetings with clients and partners. Everything they say could count or discount towards their achievement of partnership status, so what advice can you give to the aspiring partner to get his or her voice heard during meetings so they’re making the right impression to the influencers?
HT: The first thing to realise is a lot of meeting happen outside the meeting. So prepare have an understanding of what the agenda is, both at a spoken level but also an unspoken level. The second thing is listen, the cliché is you were given two ears and one mouth and use them in that ratio, but actually do that. The best thing to do is understand where the power lies in the meeting, make sure you don’t sit at the edge of the table.
So what do I mean? I’m somebody that’s 5ft 2ins, I can’t wear heels so I am given 5ft 2in status and that’s as high as I’m going to stay. I do a lot of meetings with men and so you can imagine I’m at least 10 or 11 inches below where they are, I don’t have the same physical presence as they do, I’m a petite female, consequently I always try and make sure I’m sitting in the middle of the conversation. I do it at restaurants, I do it at work meetings, I always make sure I’ve got the best place to be able to observe and to be able to see what people are thinking and doing. So choose your seat wisely.
The next thing to do is work out whose agenda it is, who’s actually the real what I would call stakeholder in the meeting, and make sure that you’re helping them do that. There are some people that hardly say a word and I recommend that you speak up more. How do you do that? Wait for a pause, and maybe summarise what people are saying, maybe ask a question, but add something to the debate. If you’re somebody though that is at the opposite end, you talk all the time and it’s hard to get a word in edgeways, what I would suggest is that you reign that back, that you take the time to find out what other people are thinking, and you listen. Listening and asking well intended questions will probably get you a huge amount of influence without realising it.[sc:PPP] [sc:Heather] [sc:Books]
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In October 2014, I ran a webinar with Tara Fennessy on how to shortcut your way to partner. It was particularly aimed at people who are 0-3 years out from making partner in a mid-tier, Big 4 or large law firm.
This is an extract from the webinar;
Tara you’re on record for saying that being on partnership track is more akin to a marathon than a sprint. Why is that?
TF: Yes Heather that’s right. I meet up with my clients about 3 months after their admission to the partnership just for a celebratory lunch and always ask, what they know now that in hindsight they wish they knew earlier-on on their journey to partner. One of the most common comments is that it is more of a marathon than a sprint and they wish they’d been prepared for that. Just yesterday I was with one of my clients and he said ‘I wish I knew that I needed to pace myself, and not sprint for a few days/a week, then stand still and then sprint again’, so that’s really the reason why people say it’s more akin to a marathon than a sprint, you really need to pace yourself.
HT: I think one of the saddest sessions I ran was with a insolvency partner from one of the big four in the UK, he was like ‘I think this April I might get put on partnership track, what do I need to do to make sure that I actually get through the admissions process and so in 9 months I’m a partner?’ I said ‘Well what have you been doing to work towards it?’ ‘Well, actually not a lot’. And I think that’s one of the toughest messages that you’ve got to give which is very much that there’s nothing harder than saying to someone ‘You’ve got a lot of work to do, you’ve got a massive sprint to catch up’.
So Tara, given that how do people who successfully make it through the partnership admissions process and that partnership track, those critical two years beforehand, what do people do to balance their workload so that they make it through the process?
TF: Well what they need to do is three things and probably worth making a note of:
1. Prioritise – Make your career and your development your most important client. It’s so easy to put your regular client work first. You need to put yourself first in this timespan and say it is a marathon and not a sprint, so make time, schedule it in your diary. I remember working with David who was new to one of the big four last March, and he made it a priority to meet as many partners as he could in his first 6 months who we’d identified as stakeholders. For him and for other people who have been in firms a long time it’s worth working on critical questions and critical conversations whose answers and the impact of meeting those people can have on your promotion. It’s worth spending a bit of time on building those relationships with people, so connecting with clients, colleagues and stakeholders.
So the number one tip I would definitely say is prioritise their careers, and you can see the difference sitting in on panels who’s done the work and who hasn’t.
2. Plan – Plan you’re pipeline, plan your potential stakeholders, plan your personal development, you need to plan your team’s development as well as delivering your work. Importantly plan your time to recharge, it can actually go against you being the first one in and the last one out of the office, or being on client’s sites a lot and people not seeing you and not being able to balance your work. So you must prioritise, plan and thirdly…
3. Pace – I mentioned it briefly before but really do pace yourself. Take one step at a time of your plan and action it in the right order. It sounds obvious but actually putting one foot in front of the other at a steady pace is what gets you to the finishing line, that’s why it’s a marathon and not a sprint.
HT: Absolutely, it is a marathon and not a sprint. It’s about chunking it down, it’s about taking those little steps.[sc:PPP] [sc:Heather] [sc:Books]
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This is an extract of an interview that I gave to Errol Williamson in Spring 2015. In this extract I discuss how to make sure that you truly ace your presentation of your business case at your partnership panel interview.
EW: First question, your recent blog ‘How to make partner.com’ on your website provided five essential elements that professionals in the service industry would need to take in mind, when putting together their business case when going for partnership status. Let’s say they’re in a situation where they have to present their business case to the panel and they’ve got 15 minutes to make their presentation, their interview and the partnership recommendation will be based on that presentation so it’s vitally important that they get it right. How would you advise that they should structure the presentation?
HT: First and foremost that not every firm will make their future partners do a pitch within a partner panel interview, very often this will be just one part of the process, however it can be a pretty important part. So, how do they structure the presentation? That’s the key question, it’s probably best to first of all think about what people do wrong.
This is probably the presentation of their life, this is the one that really matters and as a result of that people tend to almost chuck everything in because after all it really matters doesn’t it? Every single little fact… you can’t do that, actually you can’t do that. The first thing that I do is I say what is your one sentence promise? What is the one sentence that encapsulates the whole of your business case of why, what is the commercial advantage of promoting you to partner – or really making partner, you don’t get promoted you get admitted to the partnership.
So the first thing you do is you pull out your one sentence sell, so if you only had one sentence to say ‘this is why me.’ that’s that one sentence. You then expand that one sentence into the three sentence, the cliché of the elevator pitch you’ve got effectively three sentences, so what are the three core bits of evidence, or fact, or reasons why you should be made up to partner in your business case. Once you’ve got the one sentence and the three sentence sell the next thing you need to think about is the risk of not promoting you to partner now. Because after all nobody needs to make you partner, they don’t need to – you’re entering an exclusive club. So you need to answer those three questions, and in essence those form almost the basis of the structure of your presentation, because you start off with the three sentence sell. You hook them in by the opening; ‘How many of you would like to do this?’ ‘What’s the opportunity here?’ You ask them engaging questions around that three sentence sell which kind of really goes ‘Guys! (Right between the eyes) this is the benefit of making me partner’.
You then take each of those parts of those three sentence sells, normally there’ll be three parts, three compelling arguments, and you develop each of those three arguments. So maybe there’s an opportunity within the audit market place for mid-market tourism firms or hospitality and leisure firms, that’s where you spell out the opportunity. You do each of those three, now it might be that you’re spelling out the opportunity, it might be you’re showing your track record, it could be anything but it’s the three compelling reasons that kind of go ‘Why me!’. This is the evidence and the qualification.
The next thing is what’s the risk of dragging your heels? That’s the thing about partnerships is they’re great at dragging their heels, so actually what is the risk of not doing it? What are they going to miss out on, because it’s amazing how many partnerships are more motivated by the thought of something they’re going to miss out on, rather than the pleasure of what they’ll have when you come into the partnership. So if you structure your presentation way you have the four key elements:-
So if you think about it you’ve effectively got four slides.
You then do:-
And then the final slide that you need is:-
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It could be as simple as ‘if you would like to get the benefits of x, y, z, then my suggestion is you recommend me for partnership’. It could be as simple as that but you do want to leave them with a compelling statement, it might be a summation of your one-sentence cell, but a real compelling call to action. That effectively is how you structure your presentation.
If you do it this way you’ll avoid death by PowerPoint. One of the big things that you mustn’t do is go ‘Right, how can I get War and Peace onto these slides?’ The whole point about why many firms force you to use a slide deck… and just this weekend I was talking to somebody who was being asked by her big four firm to produce 6 to 10 slides with a headline of her business case.
That’s how you avoid death by PowerPoint. That’s the bit you must include. What can you afford to leave out? Leave out every single reason why you should be partner, they don’t want to know that. Really think about what they want to hear, how they want to hear it and how you’re going to deliver it. So how do you mentally prepare for that presentation, particularly when this is probably the toughest, the biggest presentation you’ll ever give in your career if you’re in a profession like an accountant or a lawyer going for partnership. It is the biggest, so how do you mentally prepare?
Firstly the clue is in the question, you prepare. Far too many people wing it, and don’t spend the time that this deserves. Practice, practice, practice and then practice again. What I recommend you do is that you have the first three minutes memorised, and you have the last three minutes memorised, and you practice each of those audibly at least 10 to 15 times; the first three minutes, the last three minutes. What that will do is it will help you to get through those initial nerves, you will be absolutely sorted because your brain, the subconscious will do the talking for you regardless of what’s happening to your heartbeat. So that’s one of the ways of minimising nerves and that’s one of the ways to mentally prepare.
I recommend another way of preparing is to spend time with somebody else. So what do I mean by that? Go through this presentation with your mentor, go through this presentation with your sponsoring partner and get their views on it. Go through the presentation with your coach. Practice, practice, practice, get feedback, get feedback. If you haven’t literally practiced audibly for 15 times from beginning to end your presentation before you go in there you are not ready. I’m sorry I have to spell it out but so many people take what I would call shortcuts.
The next thing you need to do is you need to make sure you’re in the right state of mind to walk into that room. So go and have a look at the room, if you can do have a look at the room and know what you’re getting into. When you’re in the room visualise yourself delivering it, visualise the partners eyes being engaged, visualise them smiling at you, visualise that pin dropping as they’re hanging on your every word. Visualise almost them giving you a mental round of applause, get really good thoughts into your head. Get the smell, get the feel, and get as many of your senses when you’re in the room to connect with you delivering that process. Also when you’re in the room have a run through of it again, this is one of the times that actually it’s very tough to be over-rehearsed.
Once you’ve done that you might like to work with a presentation coach, you may like to use things like affirmations, and this can work for some people particularly those that find themselves really struggling to deliver presentations. Affirmations are always personal to use such as ‘I can do whatever I want to do’, ‘I’m confident’, ‘I’m a great presenter’, the best way to use affirmations are you need to say them out loud audibly, at least 5 or 6 times a day. You need to look yourself in the mirror and say them, and say them with conviction and really connect with your gut as you say them. Then when you’re about to go into it, say that affirmation, you’ll be amazed how much of a difference it makes particularly if you’ve said it with oomph!! A real conviction, put yourself into it. That way that affirmation is going to help your mind to mentally get into the right state of being up for it, but not up for it in a too arrogant way.
So how do you control the nerves in that last hour? Everybody is different, but what you need to do is switch off and what you need to do is relax. Potentially you might want to do some relaxation exercises, some deep breathing where you breathe in for the count of six, you hold for the count of six, and you breath out for the count of six. That’s actually a really good one that you can do anywhere at any time, and what it does is it just forces you to relax your breathing which helps get rid of the emotion that could be choking you, and it gets your heartrate down. Do what you normally do to control your nerves, but actually the thing that gives people nerves the most is when they’re under-rehearsed, so the best thing you can do is practice many times before that last hour. Maybe get a pep-talk from your mentor/your sponsoring partner, get a pep-talk from your external coach, whatever you need to do to feel good in that moment. So something that I do normally in the last hour is I literally write out the key words and phrases, so I’ve got it in my mind as I’m going through.
As I’ve gone through that I’ve given you lots of tips for your delivery to convey the characteristics that your partnership panel are looking for.
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