Monday, 29 June 2009

Hearing or Learning?

I’ve heard many different presentations, lectures, seminars and general talks, amounting to hours of arguments, explanations, persuasion, debate, facts, figures, methods and madness.

But after all my hearing, how much did I actually learn?

The answer is probably not that much.

Let me explain. It is easy to sit and listen to what people have to say. But all too often ‘it goes in one ear and out of the other.’ We hear the words but they don’t engage with our mind; they just pass through.

What was it that made me listen and learn?

I think the most influential factor was the presenter, rather than the subject material.

Some years ago I was undertaking some presentation training. I remember one trainer having a coloured star that they threw on the floor before we gave a talk. We were to stand on the star and then give our presentation. It all seemed a bit bizarre at the time, but their strap line was ‘You are the star, you are the presentation.’ They were saying, what we deliver is influenced by who we are and how much we can engage with the material we present: how much of ourselves we put into the presentation. We need interest and passion to stimulate our hearers and to engage them in our ’story’.

I think this is true to a point, but I think there is another essential quality we overlook and that is the ability to engage with our audience; who they are and where they are at.

We’ve probably all listened to experts in various fields giving talks on their pet subjects and areas of speciality. The content of their talk is rarely in question. However, their ability to connect with what they are saying often is. No matter how passionate, knowledgeable and interested they are in their subject, unless they can express things in terms, methods or pictures which which their audience can engage, their valuable knowledge will either ‘go in one ear and out of the other’ or even ‘float straight over the audience’s heads’.

Sometimes we will be introducing new ideas so it is not easy for our audience to understand, but we still need to give them the best chance of engaging with what we have to say and being able to apply it for themselves.

It’s not something we learn once and then we’ve got it made. like any skill, we need to refine it, hone it and practice it.

I recently learned the hard way on exactly this point. I was to give a talk to a group of people which was to be interesting and engaging. I was given a profile of the audience and put together my talk accordingly. I decided I’d try something a bit different and rather than simply giving them a ‘this is how you do it’ type of presentation, I decided that I’d give them something that they could use in their own lives to enhance what they do and how much they enjoy life. I spent hours preparing the talk (mainly because it was some time since I’d done anything like this). I gave the talk and received good applause at the end.

I then did something which was very risky; I asked for feedback on my presentation. This was done low key and one-to-one by the organiser. The feedback showed that many had interpreted my style as rather egotistical (I have been giving examples from my own life story where I had made mistakes and looked at how I could have avoided these), that there seemed to be a lot of theory and that on the whole, although it was interesting they didn’t feel as if they had learnt anything.

I found this feedback interesting and a bit ironic, as part of my theme had been ‘unless we try something we’ll never know whether it succeeds’! But whose fault was this? It certainly wasn’t my audience. Despite my research and care in preparing my talk, I had missed the mark; I had failed to measure my audience and in so doing, had largely wasted their time.

I hadn’t wasted mine; I made a mistake and learned from it.

So, if you give talks and presentations, give them with enthusiasm and passion, but never forget to gauge your audience so what you know can be passed on and they can both hear what you’re saying and learn from it.

Until next time …

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, 20 June 2009

What Does It Take To Change?

Yesterday, as I was sat discussing business plans with an advisor, I was asked, 'What do you think makes it possible to bring about change?' My mind was racing!

I won't go into the details of the discussions that followed but I will mention one or two observations that we both made and some thoughts that came to mind:

  • Is change always necessary to achieve our goals? Too often we want change for the sake of change, not because it is the best way forward or the best way to achieve our objective. No! Change isn't always necessary.
  • If do we need to change, is it easy? The answer here is No: Change is rarely easy. In order to change we need to disturb the status-quo, how it's always been done and bring a bout a shift that not only provides a plan of how to do it, but also the inspiration and motivation to achieve it. We need the right people to drive the process and bring about the changes, not with a whip of chords but by personal example and commitment.
  • How do we bring about change? The person driving the process needs to believe that it will work and then persuade and take others with them through to completion. I was talking to a friend whose boss thought that a particular activity would be 'good for staff morale.' However, when asked if they would be taking part, the immediate answer was, 'On no! Not me.' At that point a great idea lost credibility, not because the person perceiving the idea wasn't taking part, but because they had no intention of taking part. Sometimes we have great ideas that we can give to others to execute because we don't have the necessary skills etc, but we believe in the idea and our passion motivates those who execute it on our behalf. Demonstrating that we have little or no personal belief in our idea a) is immediatelyperceived by those carrying it out and b) immediately raises doubts and drains energy. The plan may be executed, but by firing squad rather than enthusiasm. The result is negative not positive.
Too many books make change sound essential and easy.

I believe change is good when it's necessary and is easier when the people behind the change can champion it effectively and get the 'buy-in' from those who have to make the adjustments.

I think there's too much hype around the subject leading us to believe that unless we change we can't hope to be successful or even survive as businesses and as people. I also believe that many of the changes implemented relate less to what's needed and more to an individual or group of individuals who want to put their mark on something, what I would call 'ego-driven change' rather than 'purpose-driven change.'

Here is a very contemporary example of ego-driven change ...

This is the exam season here in the UK. One of the people responsible for setting-up exam rooms told me of a recent event where an exam was stopped by an invigilator, not because of an irregularity in the paper, or a fire alarm but because the sign outside the exam hall, asking passing students to 'Be Quiet Please, Exams in Progress' was written in red ink on a white background rather than black ink on a white background. The exam was suspended until the offending sign had been changed. Who instigated such mind-numbing stupidity? I suspect someone who was wanting to put their stamp on the education policy. Who benefitted from this? The students taking the exam? Definitely not! Their thought flow was disrupted and they were extremely hacked-off. The person making the sign or the college? No. Time and materials required to effect the change cost money. I'm very sure that such change did result in making a difference. However, I'm too polite to write down my views on exactly what difference the change made!!

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, 19 June 2009

False Economy

'Our biggest asset is Our people.'

So boasts many a company. But how much do they really engage with that statement. Is it just another trite cliche, there to impress those on the outside?

One of the best indicators for how much a company really thinks about its people and how much it values them is how much it actually invests in them, demonstrated clearly by size of the budget assigned to continue their development, even when times are tough.

I have friends in a number of large, 'innovative', 'people-focussed' organisations whose first axed budget was for training and development. All too often I'm told, 'Stuart, there is no training budget this year. It's been cut in the current economic climate.'

To me that really says, 'As a company we don't really value our people.'

We talk much about investing in people, supporting our staff, being people-focussed when in fact we're anything but!

The most valuable commodities when times are hard are creative and innovative ideas which can only come from our people, not our products. Those creative ideas not only help a company survive and save money in the hard times, they are the gateway to future expansion and success. As one business author wrote, 'Those companies with a survival mentality will die.'

It is those companies that really invest in their people who will reap the rewards, survive and thrive.

Perhaps some of our companies would benefit more from a cut in management during hard times so that the money they save can be invested in those who can change fortunes.

And perhaps then they would actually believe that their biggest asset is their people.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,