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Four Tips for Dealing with an Intimidating Audience

July 2, 2013

IMG_1207A friend of mine, Mark, was telling me of his harrowing experience in dealing with his Board of Directors. His latest business venture had brought in some high-powered private equity suits to the Board, of which he was now firmly accountable (since it was their money that was funding his new business launch).

One board member in particular was proving to be somewhat challenging, as he was a – what’s a nice way to put it? – um, a little full of himself.

Mark began to dread his monthly parade before the Board, because no matter how prepared he was to present the company’s strategy and performance, this one pompous gentleman would drill him into the ground with trick questions that couldn’t be answered. It was as if this board member was trying to find every opportunity to make my friend fall into the idiot hole, just to prove to everyone else who was the smartest guy in the room.

My friend’s natural response was to get increasingly intimidated and flustered, to the point of losing confidence in his leadership abilities with each successive board meeting. But then he did something that is not taught in most MBA courses: he prayed about it. And guess what? He received a little divine business inspiration in Cantankerous Board relations – which quickly squelched the problem and turned things around altogether.

Four Tips For Dealing with Intimidation

 1. Do your homework beforehand.

I’m sure you already know this, and you’re thinking, “Well, duh. That doesn’t really have much to do with my spiritual life!” But, come on. I must begin the list with preparation as the obvious first step before you go into any presentation, whether it’s the Board or just Barbara in HR. Trust me, God wants you to have the best possible chance at success, so spend the time it takes to be prepared.

2. Don’t try to make up answers to hard questions if you really don’t know

Faking it may seem like the thing to do in the heat of the moment, but the sad truth is that if your audience is smart, they will see right through it. You will then lose whatever credibility you have built up to that point, and end up looking just plain goofy. Admit that you don’t know the answer, and that you will get back to them as soon as possible. Your interrogator will respect your honesty. Just be sure to follow through.

 3. Don’t get defensive

The worst thing you can do is act like you are all entitled, angry and hostile for being questioned. Keep your cool, remain calm and pretend you are in complete control. When in doubt, go to step 4.

4. Compliment the intimidating questioner on their brilliance.

Here  is the clincher, folks, and it delivered big-time results for Mark. At the next meeting, when the arrogant board member sharpened his horns and threw out the first un-answerable question, Mark responded in all humility, sincerity and respect with a lob right back at him: “Wow! You are obviously much smarter than I am, and have had a great deal more experience in this area. That is one heck of a good question!” Instead of defensive bantering, it opened the door to a deeper discussion of what was behind the question, what knowledge the Board member wanted to press in on, and why it was important to the business.  Plus it totally sucked up to his ego. Which pretty much worked like a charm.

If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
 Romans 12:20-21


Three Reflective Questions to Improve Your Job Performance

June 17, 2013

DanielKulinski_checklist_squareI recently spent a couple of hours thinking about my job instead of actually doing it.

I mulled over the current state of affairs at work, my priorities, my recent accomplishments, where my time is being spent, and so on.

I guess you could say I was reflecting.

To some of you, this may sound like a colossally assinine waste of time, but self-reflection is actually one of the defining qualities of a high-performance leader. Which I am attempting to be, and I hope you are too.

We get so busy in the frenzy, so lost in the propulsion and swirl of daily activity, it becomes difficult to find the time to step back and ask a few fundamental questions of ourselves about what it is we are actually doing, and if it is effective.

Carving out time and space for self-reflection allows you to step back and ask a few questions about your own job performance, and hopefully keep you one step ahead of the curve.

Here is a simple self-reflection exercise you can use to evaluate your own job performance. It involves gauging your work against three criteria.

1. Are you meeting the expectations of your job? Look at the basic expectations set out for your job. It may be outlined in a job description somewhere, or a to-do list, or a bucket of responsibilities. Make sure you know what this is. Are you living up to it? Are you delivering on these minimum expectations? If so, don’t get too excited yet, because no boss wants people who are simply doing the minimum expectation. That’s not going to get you a promotion, or even keep you in the employment pool these days. You need to do more.

2. What else could you be doing that no one else could do? There are probably things that are not in your current job description, but are things that you could be, or should be doing, because you bring a unique set of skills and experience to the table. This is where you can add value, bring new insights, big ideas, or just plain get more stuff done. There are two things every company expects you to do: save money and generate revenue. What are you doing to contribute above and beyond what is expected of your job?

3.What are others’ perceptions of what you should be doing? The key word here is “perception,” because in the corporate world, perception is what forms reality. This is a little more subtle, but essential to understand. It’s far too easy to operate isolated in our own personal bubble of responsibility, when what may be far more important for your career is to understand what the boss, the VIP’s, the executives-in-the-know think about what you should be doing. If you have a disconnect here, then it might not matter how well you perform in the realm of your job description. Find out what others are thinking. Set an appointment with your boss, with your peers, and get feedback. Check in with the most important people you know to make sure you are in alignment with their expectations.

So now that you are self-reflective, stop all that thinking and get out there and make something happen!

 Image by Daniel Kulinski. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

How to Sound More Confident

May 31, 2013

Businessman by a windowLately, I have been coaching one of our managers on how to appear more confident in front of groups.

I am uniquely qualified for this task because I am oh-so-familiar with self-confidence issues, as they played out many times in my early career. I would freeze up, quake in my boots, get dry mouth, gastric problems – you name it. Yet somehow, by the grace of God and a little experience, I was able to overcome these self-imposed limitations.

My greatest lesson in confidence came from a boss named Jill.

Jill was a commanding presence. She was over six feet tall with jet black hair and an outgoing personality. You could practically hear theme music playing as she breezed down the hallways, everyone’s eyes drawn to her fluid figure. Jill’s most magnetic feature, however, was her spoken voice. With great facility, she could master any business conversation utilizing  a curated portfolio of the latest management slang. It made her sound smart and justified – and her tone was only condescending enough to make you want to admire her.

After working with her for a few weeks, I naturally began to mimic Jill, using the same cutting-edge acronyms and management jargon while projecting a newfound commanding tone of voice:

“Well of course Bob didn’t close the deal! At the end of the day his freakin’ RFP wasn’t actionable, and corporate didn’t have the bandwidth to juice the numbers enough to bounce that dead cat!”

Really, it was the same mundane sales cycles I was talking about, but what excitement I could now bring to the hallway conversations! My co-workers began to look at me differently, as if I suddenly knew what I was talking about.

Ironically, my confidence began to build as I realized that I really did know something worth speaking out about, and soon my inner confidence caught up to my external facade.

If you are a leader in any capacity, it is your obligation to engender confidence from your team. Here are four quick tips for getting there fast:

1. Project your voice. I was at a restaurant recently where the young waitress spoke with this soft, high-pitched voice, like Mickey Mouse. “Would you like a salad with that?” she asked in her squeaky falsetto. I wanted to throw a roll at her for allowing herself to behave so timorously in public, when I knew darn well there was a fully-grown woman’s voice in there somewhere. No one respects a whisperer or a mumbler. If you want to be taken seriously, open your mouth and enunciate every word. Take voice lessons, or theatre, if you must, or stand in an empty auditorium and practice speaking to the wide open space.

2. Stand up straight and tall. Just like your mother said, your body language and posture reflects how you think of yourself. Plus, you’ll look taller.

3. Maintain eye contact. Simple, but essential for making people believe in you. Don’t keep looking down at your paper, or off to the wall. Look people in the eye while you speak to them, as if you really believe what you are saying. They’ll start believing you too.

4. Keep up the energy in the room. You don’t have to be a charismatic personality to maintain a high stream of energy. You can offer something as simple as acknowledging people for jobs well done, and starting a round of applause. Everyone appreciates being appreciated, and it keeps up the excitement.

By the way, Jill was fired after a few months. It was determined that she would not be replaced, so I decided to move into her empty office. It just seemed appropriate, with my newfound confidence and all.

How to Say “Good Job” in Plain English

May 13, 2013

2249495836_e98bfc5cbc_m[1][1]There are many things to admire about the British, the most obvious being their attractive accents which somehow make them sound much smarter and far more commanding than their American colleagues. It doesn’t matter how disheveled their appearance might be, or how dry the subject is, those darn accents can captivate even the most insolent audience.

Aside from that, another thing I greatly appreciate about the Brits is their great facility for doling out words of praise. This doesn’t come so easy to us Americans, as we’d rather avoid giving our employees or co-workers too much praise for fear that they may get a big head, or suddenly ask for an inappropriate raise, or get promoted behind our backs and then take advantage of us later. No, we’d rather keep it to ourselves and keep those people in their places.

But the English seem to have freely mastered the art of accolades. For instance, upon completion of the most mundane and insignificant task, my British colleague will go so far as to tell me I’m brilliant. Not just, “Okay, thanks,” or “Hmmphh,” but he suddenly endows me with brilliance, a quality generally reserved for Nobel Prize winners and virtuoso concert masters.

Me: “Bob, I went ahead and rescheduled that meeting to the larger conference room, like you suggested.”

Bob: “Brilliant!”

I beam in the glow of my great accomplishment. Read more…

Be the Best (Insert Your Name Here) You Can Be

May 7, 2013

Omefrans_sharpenknife_squareLast week I attended a meeting where a very famous sports broadcaster gave a motivational speech. Generally, I am not very motivated by motivational speakers. This gentleman, however, was sufficiently non-motivating in a way that was actually inspiring.

Let me explain.

Rather than hyping up the audience with animated clichés and pithy anecdotal stories that I’ve already heard before from other motivational speakers, this gentleman spoke mostly about the highs and lows of his career. The twenty minute speech was delivered in a very low-key, humble manner, and purposefully included mistakes and lessons learned in getting to where he is today (the status of which, as I mentioned, is, “Very Famous”).

You would think by now this seasoned professional should be coasting on the fumes of his previous two decades of success. Instead, he spoke with great personal conviction about his ongoing obsession with the quality of his work.

“Every night after the game, I go home and review the tapes of my broadcast,” he told us. “I pick apart what I did well, and what I could have done differently. Did I use proper grammar? Was I prepared well enough? Did I clearly describe the plays? I then take notes and try to incorporate them into the next day’s work.”

This amazed me. Here is this smooth, polished, successful professional, a guy who literally has made it to the top rung of his chosen profession, and yet he is still thinking about what he could be doing better, how he might improve his performance.

Even if he is the only person who notices.

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You’ve Got to Fight For Your Life

April 29, 2013


Every great story, every hero, every inspiring moment is born out of adversity and perseverance. Conflict and battles are the stuff of myth and legend, and we love these stories because we can relate. Our personal and work lives are filled with mini-versions of this stuff: Pushing through. Overcoming obstacles. Fighting.

I am not necessarily talking about fighting in a vicious, mean way, but in a way that says, “I am responsible for my future. No one else is going to do this for me.”

Think of your life as an epic battle.

There are those who will roll up their sleeves and take it on. Others find themselves caught in the middle with no choice but to stand up for themselves. Then there are those who observe life happening all around them and choose to shrink back in fear, always remaining a spectator.

Every time I faced a transition in life, some sort of struggle invariably ensued. At certain points, I became uneasy, unsettled, like the bottom was going to fall out and my life would roll out in ugly pieces onto the floor. During these times, a part of me always wanted to run to the comfort and familiarity of negative thinking – catastrophizing the future, convincing myself of the worst possible scenarios as they played out in my head.

It’s okay to indulge in the downward spiral for a time. For a spell. Perhaps that part is necessary for survival, the pre-phase of fighting through, a requirement in order to come to grips with the reality of the situation. But then, once you’ve sufficiently festered in the mire, it’s time to get a grip, and get going.

Here is where you must be prepared to fight.

Some may not set well with the idea of a good fight, but anything worthwhile, anything good and true, whether for yourself or for the greater world around you, is going to involve a slugfest of sorts. Growth and progress do not happen by chance or by accident, whether it is your career, your health, your marriage, or your mission. Even when you have a plan – a good plan! – it will take a great deal of determination and unpleasant effort to move it forward.

You will run into resistance.

You will have multiple setbacks.

There will be strong, intimidating forces whose shadows loom large over you.

The voices in your head will make you crazy.

But know this: Every great leader grows through adversity and persistence. Stephen Snyder, author of “Leadership and the Art of Struggle,” says this:

“A leader with a growth mind-set is consciously aware that ability is not innate and unchangeable but instead a malleable quality that can continuously be augmented through practice and persistence…You seek out new learning opportunities by pursuing challenging assignments instead of taking safer and easier routes.”

In other words, you are not stuck unless you choose to be.

If you’re not fighting for something, you’re not growing. Playing it safe is never a path to growth or fulfillment, to finding your true potential.

The question, then, becomes this: what is going on deep within your soul? What kind of convictions have you gathered? What are you made of way down there?

Lift up your head and take a good look at the ominous darkness staring you down. Will you crumble, or fight?

The answer is, to fight.

Fight back, with all you’ve got, draw strength from God, and trust Him for the outcome.

Believe it or not, He’s given you this fight in the first place.

The Secret to Productivity and Happiness at Work: Xtreme Generosity

April 23, 2013

JDHancock_superman_squareThe other day I received an email from a complete stranger, asking for advice on a business plan: “Dear Mr. Wood,” he blurted forth. “I saw your name blah blah blah and I have this wonderful idea blah blah could you please take some time to review and give me feedback blah blah.” 

Like most of you, I am quite busy and under intense pressure at work. As a result, I have become fairly adept at a handy management trick known as filtering, which loosely translates in plain English to, “blowing off loser requests that do not further my own productivity.”

Seriously, if I entertained every obnoxious intrusion out of the blue, there wouldn’t be much time left to do what’s important. Would there?

Not so, according to Adam Grant.

Grant is the youngest tenured, highest-rated professor at Wharton School of Business and author of, “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.” His research says the secret to both happiness and productivity at work is in giving back to people. 

Grant’s work in the field of organizational pyschology and workplace dynamics focuses on how companies can get the most out of their employees and how employees can get the most out of their jobs. The common denominator in this equation is, strangely enough, the ability to frame every task as an opportunity to help others. 

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