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16 Jan Why Your Team May be Failing at Presentations

Usually, team presentations are done when the stakes are high and the consequences are critical, requiring subject matter experts to weigh in on their topic. These presentations are most often geared toward complex projects, strategic alliances, acquisitions, etc. Of course, they all have large sums of money involved.

Team presentations have many more challenges than individual ones. Most teams preparing on their own without a speech coach will spend all of their preparation time on the following:

  • Who will say what during which slides
  • The order of presenters
  • Making the time fair/equal, etc.

While those logistics are important, we spend far too much time on those three rather than ensuring the team comes across as cohesive, knowledgeable, and collaborative. The decision-makers listening to and observing the team will be acutely aware of the team’s non-verbal and interpersonal communication. Research shows that more people rely on non-verbal communication than the spoken word.

For example, I had a client who was a well-known architectural firm who brought me in because they started losing projects they should have won. After assessing the team, I realized that one of the members did not get along with the others.

Despite well-planned, streamlined presentations, they still lost and they were dumbfounded. What were they missing? Their subtle nonverbal behaviors revealed team discontent. Despite the polite and professional words, there was discord within the team revealed by their facial expressions, lack of eye contact, awkward transitions, etc.

People believe what they feel and observe over the words they hear. Non-verbal communication can be very subtle via micro-expressions. This client needed an additional kind of coaching to get past the issues plaguing the team. It was much easier for an objective outsider like myself to point this out than someone on the team.

One helpful way to identify these behaviors in your team is to videotape the practice session. I assure you that unless you have analyzed a video of your team presenting, you may never know the subtle nonverbal behaviors that are blocking the successful communication of your message. It will help to watch the film with no sound and take notes.

Here is a list of nonverbal behaviors I have coached teams to improve:

  • The way the team walks into the room and takes seats
  • The way team members treat the furniture and items in the room
  • The way the team walks out of the room
  • The facial expressions, eye contact, and body language of those not presenting
  • The way team members hand the clicker (or other items) to each other
  • How the members address each other- tone-name
  • How the members help each other with questions
  • Tone alteration before and after the presentation – sounding authentic and natural
  • How to handle smooth transitions between speakers

The list could go on and on. When there are high stakes, there are also savvy, intelligent people evaluating your team. Your team may have the most compelling content; however, if your non-verbal communication reveals discord or disconnect, you may be losing without ever knowing why.

It only takes one person to render your team presentation ineffective. A good speech coach can assess your team’s effectiveness objectively and give appropriate coaching techniques that help you with important team presentations.

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4 Dec “84% of employees expect this job perk—but most executives think it’s a ‘waste of time’”

Can you guess what it is?

Answer: Eighty-four percent of employees expect their employer to provide the training and education they need to stay up-to-date with changing skills in their industry, according to a recent survey of more than 800 C-suite executives and 800 employees from online learning platform edX.

But senior managers aren’t seeing that way according to an article in CNBC by Ece Yildirim.

The article shares that employees value their career development and want to utilize L&D programs. And they’re willing to look elsewhere if their bosses fail to provide. In the survey, over three-quarters of employees said they’d stay with their current company long-term if it offered better training and development opportunities. More than half said they want to develop skills to position themselves for better future opportunities at their current jobs, but 39% said they’d likely leave within the next year for a job that offers better learning programs.

We know the modern world requires constant upskilling throughout a career. Clients who engage our communication firm The Speech Improvement Company know that driven employees want the opportunity for career growth, not just more work. If you want to attract and retain the best talent, they must be offered the opportunity to get to their next level of mastery. There are a lot of options. How do you know if a specific learning and development program will work for your company?

This training must happen during the work week, not in a fluorescent-lit room off-site over the weekend.
This training should be customized to your company, no one-size-fits-all program that’s delivered to many different companies. Your team should be able to apply the new learning immediately.
This training should be interactive and organized by teams or departments. There should be plenty of time for breakouts and practice with immediate peer and instructor feedback.

Our advice: start talking to trusted advisors about how your company can prioritize learning and development programs to keep your people happy, upskilled, and motivated.

Read the CNBC article: https://www.cnbc.com/2023/11/13/workers-want-ld-job-perks-bosses-say-theyre-a-waste-of-time-survey.html

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25 Oct Artificial Intelligence is Fake

Now, before you jump to conclusions, allow me to be clear with a few definitions and thoughts.

The growing nervousness and fear that AI will take over our educational systems and produce future generations of bot brains and wobbly children is ridiculous. That is just the start of the pervasive concerns that writers and artists fear about losing their jobs. Let’s not even start with the apprehension that educators face about their societal roles. One needs only to read the first two paragraphs of news stories about AI to validate what I am saying.

But wait!  There’s more! I’m sure there is, and we won’t follow that winding path.

I’ll begin by defining the words that clutter this hysteria – ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE:

Merriam-Webster identifies the word ARTIFICIAL as an adjective that carries the meaning humanly contrived, “man-made” or “produced for a social or political agency”.  In other words, it means that it is not real or natural, such as in ’artificial limb’ or ‘artificial flavoring’.


Merriam-Webster identifies  INTELLIGENCE as a noun that carries the meaning as “the ability to learn or understand”, “the act of understanding”. In other words, it means the ability to reason, shrewdness, and comprehension, such as ’superior intelligence’ or ‘gather intelligence’.

As you read this, I suspect that you would agree, more or less, with these definitions and how these words are used. My concern is that the current application of these words as they are abbreviated, AI, and how they are used to describe the capability of such products as ChatGPT and others, is producing entirely undue anxiety.  Of course, I see the amazing possibilities that this new technology enables.  I dare say that similar concerns and anxieties were present when electricity, radio, automobile, and many other new technologies were introduced.  They weren’t called “artificial”.  So, the current brouhaha over ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI) is a misplaced source of energy.

Allow me to redirect your thinking a bit.  It would be far less threatening or worrisome if ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE was named what it really is: AUGMENTED INFORMATION (AI) or AUTOMATED IDEAS (AI).  That is what this new technology is all about.  It is a new technological tool that humans are still understanding and learning how to use.  It cannot do anything on its own. It reflects, re-organizes, and re-distributes information other sources give it. Like all new technology over the centuries, we just have to learn how to use it.  As a communication expert for over 50 years, I am well aware of the power of words.  Hence, I suggest we start calling this new technology by its real name: AUGMENTED INFORMATION.

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28 Sep Why Do They Say “Look”?

Have you noticed how many times a political candidate or commentator will say the word “look”? Why do they say that?

Well, let us zoom the picture back a little and think about this. Linguists and psychologists have introduced us to what they refer to as “representational systems.” They tell us that people are prone to expressing their feelings, attitudes, opinions, and using one of three ‘representational systems.’ They have named these to be Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic. That is, people who think, express themselves, and understand others best when the language is visual, auditory, or kinesthetic.

Visual people tend to use words and phrases like, ”see what I mean,” “it’s clear to me,” ‘let’s look at,“ and other words or phrases that have a visual orientation.

Auditory people tend to use words and phrases like, “I hear ya,” “I like the sound of that,” “the word around town,” and other terms that have an auditory orientation.

Kinesthetic people tend to use words and phrases like “get a grip,” “I can’t get my arms around that,” “I’ll give you a hand,” and other words or phrases that have a physical orientation.

So, it would be easy to say that those “experts” we hear everywhere say the word “look” because they are visually oriented; I don’t think so.

A while back, I wrote about the incredible number of speakers from all walks of professional life who begin many statements by saying the word “well.” Have you heard it? Many people have commented to me that they now notice the overuse of that word. In my original writings, I explained why I thought that word was so overused; it still is.

Now we have a new word that is being overused. It is the word “look.” Why do they say “look”? First, I urge you to listen in for the word. It most often occurs in the middle of a reply to a question or an explanation of an answer or viewpoint. Unlike the word “well,” which is overused at the beginning of a statement, “look” is most often used in the middle.

When you listen to the context in which it is used, you will notice that it comes in the middle of a statement as an attempt to clarify what has just been said or is about to be said. The implied meaning of the one word is, “let’s be real,” “the reality is,” “here’s the truth about this issue,” or “I’ll give you a good example.” It has become the go-to word for pundits whose commentary may be obscure, perfunctory, canned, or even diversionary.

The belief seems to be that if I say,” look,” it implies that I will give you some inside perspective or a pragmatic truism about the topic. Speakers seem to think that if they say “look” somehow, listeners will drop the pretense of intelligent comprehension and insert an ordinary man, sometimes, “aw shucks” kind of receptivity. I, for one, am tired of hearing it.

Speakers need to learn how to say it right the first time. Stop trying to make us think that somehow you are now going to be more honest, more transparent, more sincere, etc. Saying “look” is not a characteristic of a visual representational system. Rather, it is a rhetorical trick, an attempt to seem more down to earth and talk like a friendly expert. I suggest you “look” somewhere else for a way to express your thoughts accurately the first time you say them. See what I mean?

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14 Sep Tips for Leading Effective Meetings

Our coaching team appreciates the challenge of masterminding the right mix of talent, personalities, and action items.

Fortunately, easy tweaks often go a long way to enhance comfort, participation, and awareness of nuances in a team member’s behavior.

Recently, I worked with a senior leader in financial services who felt it was his responsibility to control the agenda and results of all meetings; in fact, he considered it part of his job. He was baffled that his group was quiet, rarely initiated topics, didn’t show passion regarding action items, and only engaged in small talk after the meeting.

He asked me how he could change the situation. Our team of communication experts developed easy-to-apply key strategies to help this and other clients develop more productive teams.

We advised:

  1. Begin meetings with small talk or each person sharing an observation or personal update to develop trust and increase interpersonal communication.
  2. Develop an agenda to which team members are expected to contribute. Research indicates that 1/3 of all meetings are viewed as a waste of time. Change that!
  3. Use meetings for discussion and problem-solving rather than just providing information. One of my favorite sayings is, “Go from information to inspiration and impact.”
  4. Try an approach like “round robin” or going around the room when possible. The goal is to keep the talkers from dominating and allow quiet people to contribute more. This is essential for equalizing talking time, a key ingredient for team success.
  5. Have some fun and novelty with a bit of partying, such as lunch meetings outside the office and/or appealing surprise guests. Refreshments always help. I had a client who wanted to tighten his budget by eliminating the snacks. I told him I’d give him the 25 bucks for goodies to save all the gains we’d made in coaching.


Try out these suggestions, and your team meetings will be more engaging, valuable, and productive!

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17 Aug Listen to Your Gut

Microexpressions are brief, involuntary facial movements that reveal a person’s true emotions. They may last for only a fraction of a second and are often difficult to detect with the naked eye, but they can provide valuable insight into a person’s inner thoughts and feelings.

In order to use microexpressions effectively in communication, it is important first to understand their significance. Microexpressions are believed to be universal and biologically based, meaning that they are hardwired into the human brain and can be found and expressed across all cultures and demographic groups.

They are impossible to control and will reveal a person’s true feelings. Because microexpressions are typically 1/5th of a second, it’s quite difficult to ‘see’ or ‘notice’ them unless you film someone and analyze each frame. However, your subconscious mind will pick up on them as long as you are paying close attention. This may show up as a ‘bad feeling’ or something ‘being off.’ All of the words and facial expressions of the other person may be in alignment, but you still feel something ‘in your gut.’ According to this article, Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut–brain communication:

“The concept that the gut and the brain are closely connected, and that this interaction plays an important part not only in gastrointestinal function but also in certain feeling states and in intuitive decision making, is deeply rooted in our language.”

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8 Aug Management Communication: Digital, Telephone, or Face-to-Face?

I was recently told, “You’re not going to believe this, but one of my friends was just let go for laying off her employees by email.”

Imagine how her colleagues must have felt when their termination notice was communicated electronically; unappreciated, disposable, and confused. An email disaster like this may sound unusual, but I regularly hear variations of similar stories in the business world.

Over the past decade, email and text messages have become increasingly important forms of communication in the workplace. It is estimated that worldwide email traffic alone totaled 333.2 billion messages per day (2022).

As a communication coach/consultant, people often ask me how these digital channels can be used effectively to lead, manage, and communicate in the workplace. My overarching advice is three-fold:

  1. Identify the communication channels available at your disposal as a leader/communicator
  2. Use each option wisely and in an acceptable way for the message you need to convey and target your audience
  3. Follow basic guidelines to model and reinforce professional email etiquette within your work environment

Effective leaders understand the advantages and the differences between the three main elements of workplace communication: digital (email & text), telephone, and face-to-face/ interpersonal communication. They utilize each aspect depending upon the type of message that needs to be delivered and an analysis of the intended recipient(s) needs, bias, knowledge, and anticipated reaction.

A competent leader, for instance, would never use email to communicate a difficult or confrontational message, where tone and intention can be easily misinterpreted, causing great hardship for all parties involved. Instead, a good leader understands that it’s best to convey uncomfortable messages in person, where clear, two-way dialogue, thorough explanations, and opportunities for questions and answers can promote a “meeting of the minds” (or at least a basic understanding from the recipient of what needs to be improved). This approach is especially pertinent to those recipients who tend to be overly sensitive or defensive.

Am I suggesting that leaders avoid using digital channels? Impossible! Besides the fact that it would be unrealistic in today’s work environment, email and text (especially with the growth of Slack and other popular apps) offer many distinct advantages over other forms of communication in the workplace when used correctly. Email is quick and efficient (eliminates “phone tag”) and is a cost-effective option for conversing with colleagues off-site. Also, there is no better tool for sending documents or communicating the exact basic message to many recipients simultaneously.

However, the increase in email communication in the workplace brings with it the need for a better understanding and practice of professional email etiquette. In addition, while some may view email as casual and treat it as such, I always remind my clients that their emails reflect their professionalism (or lack thereof) and set the tone for how they gain respect, establish trust, and manage effectively.

Now more than ever, digital communication is changing the dynamics of how we engage in the business world. I have found that this type of communication is most efficient and effective when everyone in the same workplace agrees to some “rules of the road,” such as “Who do I need to cc?” or “What needs to be in the subject line?” or “When is it appropriate to forward?” To achieve this goal, I strongly encourage businesses to adopt, educate, and reinforce professional email etiquette. The result will be clearer and more efficient electronic communication that increases productivity and camaraderie across the entire organization.

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11 Jul Top Five Tips for Better Communication on Virtual Sales Calls and Meetings

Since many salespeople and business professionals are still conducting remote video sales calls and running virtual meetings, here are some important tools and techniques to give those interactions greater impact, and be more persuasive with both internal and external participants.

As an Executive Communication Coach at The Speech Improvement Company, I see professionals struggling to show leadership as virtual facilitators and presenters. If you are moderating or facilitating a VIRTUAL sales call, team check-in, meeting with senior leaders, or aiming to PERSUADE the listener, you need a more intuitive approach to engage participants.

A skilled moderator or facilitator helps the group understand the common objectives and reaches them in a short amount of time. The facilitator or moderators’ goal in a virtual setting, such as Zoom, Teams, or Google Meet, is to encourage participants’ involvement and control the conversation’s flow.

Facilitating and moderating virtually creates challenges. During the event, participants can multi-task, walk away, or disconnect entirely, any time they choose. How many of you reading this do more than one thing if your camera is off during a virtual meeting? (Even if our camera on we can be sneaky about paying “fake” attention) During a virtual video call, have you ever checked an email, sent an email, wrote and responded to a text, turned off your camera to go make a coffee, or anything else that seemed more interesting and appealing?

Don’t let this happen to you. Remember, successful facilitating means creating opportunities for interaction, engagement, and a synthesis of the information throughout your meeting. It’s critical for the success of your video meeting to know how to support these engagement opportunities. 

As an experienced corporate coach for over 20 years, and a chronic Zoom user, I repeatedly see the same fatal errors. But there are plenty of ways to succeed in virtual meetings. Here are five of my top tips for virtual facilitators and moderators:

  1. Engagement starts with eye contact.Use direct eye contact with the camera lens when you are talking and when listening. Most people are looking at the gallery view of participants or their own image when they speak on video. My company has helped thousands of people get their eyeline set up correctly since the pandemic kicked off video meetings. If you aren’t sure about your eyeline, but suspect you are doing it poorly, email me, and I can talk you through it.

As a moderator, you’ll also be checking the platform dashboard to monitor chat, participant questions, and feedback about technical issues. Still, when you are talking and listening, you need to be looking at the camera lens. This takes practice and feels counterintuitive, but trust me, it looks great, and adds a level of polish and connection.

  1. Review the attendee list.First, who is attending this virtual meeting? What do they already know? What do they want to know? What type of content or information would be valuable for them? Ensure you are providing what they want. Why do they care about the agenda topics and what is the benefit of listening?

When you know your participants’ demographics, you can then provide them with tools they feel comfortable using to interact with you, the other speakers, and each other. Will you use a formal agenda, a variety of speakers, chat feature, camera’s on or off, demos, polls, Q and A, pre-reads, pictures, screen share?  How will you use these features in real-time? Take the time to understand who is listening and how they prefer to participate.

  1. Make time for a technical run-through in advance and be purposeful about the sound and video settings.Practice interacting on the chosen platform based on your plan above. Almost every virtual meeting will have some small (or large) technical issues, (a few of the ones I see over and over are some people did not get the Zoom link, someone comes in with no audio, someone is calling from the car while driving, someone has a hard stop in 20 minutes, screen share won’t work, the person who has to record is not the Host, the video sound won’t work, the PDF disappeared, you can’t find the latest version of the deck, there is someone installing a new roof and people can hear the banging, the dog is barking, your WIFI goes out). For important sales calls, meetings, or alignment discussions, always be ready for a Plan B when it comes to technology.

If appropriate, make sure everyone has a chance to participate. Leave longer than comfortable pauses to allow space for people to speak, (it takes longer to decide to unmute or not and people will often chime in at the exact same time) and call on people to make sure everyone has an opportunity to weigh in.

‘Tis no lonelier an experience than a presenter who makes a hilarious comment virtually but is greeted with silence since everyone is on mute. Think about having some portions of the meeting where everyone’s microphones are ON (but if someone has a screaming child or barking dog in the background they’ll still need to mute as needed). The benefit of all mics on is that it feels more like a real, spontaneous conversations and adds human connection so Mike can make a crafty joke and hear everyone crack up, and then you can say things like, “Mike, that story about the new hire TAM on the field ride was hilarious!” and we know this is true because we heard everyone laugh.

  1. Follow the “one person at a time” approach. Facilitators ned to have “rules of the virtual road.” Use the raise handfeature in some platforms to call on people, state the rule of one speaker at a time, and don’t be afraid to say, “Tracy, let’s hear from you, and then it’s David’s turn.” Master various inclusion techniques that an excellent facilitator relies on.These tools help to maximize participation by all, even the introverts, or speakers that are reluctant to make the effort to unmute unless they are absolute sure they are saying something new and helpful to the conversation. Or, perhaps you want it to be a free-for-all, where anyone can chime in at any time. Whatever you choose, be purposeful and clear about expectations.
  2. Reserve ten minutes at the end of the meeting to recap and review. Find bridges between information shared and synthesize what it all means. “This has been a terrific alignment call. In an effort to stay on time, let’s start to summarize our final thoughts and action items. I want to be sure we end on time or maybe even a little early.” If you can end a virtual meeting ten minutes early, you will be the unsung hero that our bladders and mental health deserve. At a minimum, ALWAYS end one minute early. We need to survive continued long days of back-to-back zoom meetings for the next 30 years or until something better comes along like asynchronous virtual-reality meetings in the French Polynesia. “Hey team, check the coconut tree by the daiquiri shack for your tree mail, and be sure to sit by the ocean for 20 minutes before you log off!”

These tips are an effective way to improve your virtual communication skills, from selling to celebrating. Even if we can’t be in the same physical room, we can still be connected, productive, and aligned.

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