Author Archives: simonr

Presentation Genius is here (more or less!)

IMG_1037Well, I’ve got my copy! ;)

I must admit I’m remarkably proud of it… even just flipping through it again I found there was stuff in their I’d forgotten I’d included but smiled about ‘cos it’s handy stuff.

It’s available from July 30th, 2015 and I really, really hope it’s useful to you. (I also hope I sell a million copies and get rich, but that’s less likely! :) )

There’s a whole brand new, shiny website dedicated just to Presentation Genius (where I’m posting bigger, longer and more heavyweight blog articles than I do here, but less frequently) so it’d be great if you popped over and had a look.

If you sign up to the mailing list their you’ll be kept up to date with Presentation Genius offers, courses and offers. Obviously there’s not going to be any spammy passing on or abusing your email address (that goes without saying, right?) and there aren’t many messages, so you’re not exactly going to be over-run with a flooded inbox – don’t worry! :)

If you want to get yourself a copy, you can drop me a line and get it from Amazon. Feel free to get it directly from the Amazon site, but it would be great if you went to Amazon via the link here: Why?  Because I get 6% of the cover price if you do (and there’s no catch for you, so live a little!) :)

All the best


Preparing for an interview – getting your evidence in order

We’re often (and recently) asked how to prepare for interviews. Obviously the main interest from our clients is how to make the best presentation possible but there are a lot of other things to take care of, too. How you can use your evidence/experience to it’s best advantage is one of the most common ones – particularly when it comes to being ready for questions. We’ve developed a simple (but fairly messy!) process. It breaks down what you need to do into various simple, individual steps.

Step one

Write a list of all the things you need to illustrate in your interview, one above the other, in big writing – we recommend one or two items only on each sheet of A4 and arrange them on the floor, in order of importance. The most important things right at the top, with the ‘should also have’ things in the middle and the ‘nice to have’ things at the bottom. It’s probably a good idea to have a break here, so that you’re not influenced by writing this list when you do the next stage. Alternatively, get someone else to look at the job specification for you and do this first stage instead of you.

Step two

Get a set of Index Cards (or postit notes or similar) and write on them – one thing only per card – evidence. By evidence, we mean things you’ve done that you’re proud of or are noteworthy. For example, you might jot down “spoke at conference X” or maybe you “organised event Y”. Do it without any regard to step one at all and keep going… and going… when you think you’ve finished stop and take a break, then start again. You’ll be amazed at how many things you can think of if you keep coming at it fresh.

Get a friend to help you if you can: people often see differently and better than we see ourselves for this kind of work. For example, if you’re working in a foreign country you might not realise how impressive this actually is, precisely because you’re doing it. That would count as evidence of ‘ability to cope with different and changing circumstances’ perhaps, or ‘able to learn quickly’, and almost certainly it counts as ‘proficient in several languages’. Your friends won’t take this kind of thing for granted, but you might.

Once again, take a break so you come at things with a fresh eye later.

Step three

When you come back to it, simple put your ‘evidence’ cards in rows next to the ‘requirements’ sheets that you created in Step One. Put each one next to the ‘requirement’ it suits best and lay them out in rows, so that you can read each card, not on top of each other. No doubt some of the things you’ve got on your ‘evidence’ cards can be used in more than one place, but for now, just put them where you think they’re strongest.

Step four

Have a look at the pattern. If you’re typical, you’ll have some things that have lots of evidence for them and other things where you’re weaker. Now is the time to start moving your cards around.  Remember that some of your evidence cards could be used in more than one place? What you should do now is look for those which are aligned with the ‘requirements’ that you’ve got a lot of other evidence for. Be brutal: no matter how strong the evidence is for your first requirement, if it’s the only evidences you have for your second requirement, then that’s where it should go!

The aim is to cover all your requirements.

Obviously you should pay attention to the order of how you laid out the requirements – from the top to the bottom – and if you are short of evidence, make sure whatever evidence you can show covers the things at the top more than the bottom. After all, people only care about the ‘nice’ things if you’ve already covered the ‘necessary’ things!

Step five

This isn’t a real step, but we suggest coming back to the pattern you’ve laid out after a bit of a break. Firstly, you might want to change things when you’re fresh and have thought about things for a bit – and secondly, the process of coming back to things helps you memorise it.


That’s it! Simple. Like a lot of things, the only hard part is remembering it and having the self discipline to do it.

Obviously we’ve made it sound more simple than it probably is for you in theory, so use some common sense around this framework. Think about the questions you might get asked, too – you can use the same process for ‘assigning’ evidence to the probably questions but obviously this is a less sure-fire process, because you might not get asked the questions you expect and so not get the chance to pull out your killer bit of evidence.  Use your common sense and think about just bringing out the big guns for the first question.

And good luck with your interview!

T-Shaped learning curves

Being good at what you do doesn’t make you a good manager or leader at it. Tough but true. As Tim Brown IDEO’s CEO says “They have a principal skill that describes the vertical leg of the T – they’re mechanical engineers or industrial designers”. He was talking about the people who design user interfaces, but the principle is valid for anyone moving ‘up the scale’ of promotion.

T_curveYou can be a great accountant, for example (the vertical of the T) but as soon as you get promoted and become in charge of accountants, that’s only the narrow fulcrum where the horizontal line balances on the vertical line of technical skills. In other words, you need to broaden out, pretty darned fast. What’s on the rest of the horizontal is the kind of stuff we training (obviously!).

So what’s on the horizontal? The obvious… anything to do with people… motivation, delegation, performance management, making presentations, time management, being emotionally intelligent, dealing with conflict, prioritisation… you get the idea.

But as the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy famously said “Don’t panic”. A lot of these things are things that ‘normal people’ have experience of. Anyone who’s tried to coax kids into doing their homework or instrument pracice will understand motivation and performance management. The only difference is that when you’re dealing with adults, a lot of this kind of thing goes out of the window and we forget what we know. We fall back on fear-based approaches designed to cover our backs and minimise the damage if things go wrong.

But that’s now how we raised our kids, is it!?  We didn’t (just) try to stop them screwing up… we tried to help them fly.

Why is leadership of adults different in any way except that you can use longer words and that kids are often more sensible than grown ups….? ;)


A new administration tool – Contatta

I don’t think it’s any surprise to anyone that I hate administration. My ideal form of admin is for it not to be needed. Failing that, I’d rather like to be Captain Piccard of Star Trek fame, able to say “Make it so” and for someone else to do it.  Add to that the horror of most online admin systems and you’ve got my idea of hell.

contattaEnter Contatta.

It’s only beta at the moment (which means it’s free at the moment :) ) but despite that there’s a reasonable amount of functionality. Enough to mean that unless something goes seriously wrong, I’m going to migrating there.  I really, really like it.

Before you all rush off and sign up, let me just outline a few of the minor niggles and (relatively) major ones I’ve found so far. (But let me mention in passing that the response from the team at Contatta means I don’t mind these things so much, as they get back to me with comments or workarounds etc. – can’t fault their customer relationship stuff).

  • Some of the wording hasn’t been updated after they’ve added new functions. For example, if I want to save an incoming email to an opportunity I’m working on (called a Deal in their jargon) I don’t think I can.  I can, but it doesn’t look like I can.
  • Workrooms are the mainstay of how work (and working together) is done…. but they don’t nest. What I mean by that is that for the way I work at least, projects tend to have a hierarchy or a tendency to group together. Having a Workroom for every project implies they’re all of equal weight etc and can lead to having a shedload of Workrooms. There are lovely sexy ways of filtering them, I know, but that’s not quite the same thing as being able to see how things link together at a glance
  • Lack of “task groups”.  It’s possible (and easy!) to have a task that nags you more than once for repeated tasks, for example, but I’d really love the ability to create a pre-defined set of tasks and apply them to a contact at the single click of a button. (For example: send email 1, send email 2, invite for coffee, send them an invoice). The same is true of Deals and projects in workrooms. Other CRMs have them (such as insightly, which is what I use at the moment) and it’s bugging me a bit to not have it (yet).

Actually that’s pretty much it!

The things I love are legion and many of ‘em are the kinds of things a traditional project management system and CRM do (but think about that for a moment, here I can do both together, how cool is that!) but there are a few lovely little “Aaahhhh” moments…

  • Gmail integration. What’s not to love. My business runs out of Gmail so this is a Godsend
  • Creating a contact – just highlight the sigfile stuff in an incoming email and create the contact and Contatta does a reasonable job of filling in all the various fields for you. It’s not perfect but it saves a lazy person like me the choice of either not filling them in (my default) or fighting with them for ages
  • The interface.  I don’t suppose it’ll suit everyone but the clean feel of it makes me actually want to use it… and let’s face it, no matter how good software is I’m not going to use it if it’s not “fun”.

I realise this isn’t a proper review. Don’t shoot me! All I’m doing here is commenting on my personal experience.   It’s one of the tools I’m using, for example to write my new book.  (By the way, you can read about the process of writing it at This is an example of a project that could do with being able to nest Workrooms, too. At the moment there’s one Workroom for the book but it would make sense to have one Workroom for each chapter… but that would create me 40 new Workrooms, which is messy.

My summary?   I’m not leaving my wife for it, but I’m probably leaving my old CRM :)

It’s all about control

A long time ago, I used to work as a lighting designer, specialising in touring with dance companies. I mixed with all kinds of people, and that’s how I met Alison, a professional singer (soprano), working in Scotland.

Even before that, a mentor of mine, (hi Mel!) had explained to me that pressure and stress aren’t the same thing.  No matter how much pressure you’re under, if you can handle it (or think you can!) it’s just pressure. If you don’t think you can handle it, it’s stress. It doesn’t matter how much pressure you’re really under – what matters is if you believe you can cope. Simple…

And one of the things that help you cope is feeling like you’re in control.

Let’s go back to Alison, and I’ll show you what I mean.

On Sunday, I met her in a bar in one of the big railway stations in London. We’d both been working there and it was a convenient place to meet before we caught trains back to different parts of the country to go home. Stressed, anxious and upset, Alison threw her work diary onto the table and ranted about the opera company she was working for…

It’s ridiculous! Look at how much work they’re making me do. I can’t keep it up!  I’m making myself ill and I’m damaging my voice!

She didn’t actually cry, but there were tears of desperation hovering in her eyes.

We talked and one of the things we talked about (other than the silly price of the beer!) was the fact that Alison was about to quit and become self-employed.  And six months later when we met up again in very similar circumstances (different pub but the same idea) she’d done the deed and was now working for herself. This time there were no tears as she tossed her diary onto the table for me to see, declaring

It’s fantastic, look how much work I’ve got!  I can barely keep up!

I looked down at her diary and say – you’ve guessed it – that she was working more or less exactly the same amount, for the same people, doing the same things, as she had been the last time we met.

The only difference was that she was doing it for herself and felt like she was in control.

What can you do, to  get that feeling, no matter how high the pressure of work?

Confidence and Nervousness

Like a lot of people, I watched some of the Commonwealth Games recently. (And why not? Not only is it fun, but we’ve trained quite a few of the people involved, in one way or another!). My friend Alan Stevens recently posted on the Professional Speaking Association’s Facebook group a comment from one of the shooters, saying that they didn’t feel under pressure from the other competitors – they had to do what they had to do, and ignore everyone else.

Of course, that’s an easier tactic to take in shooting than in some other sports, such as racing, where you’re interacting a lot more with everyone else, but it is a useful analogy in some ways, and it got me thinking about other sporting metaphors that are useful in the real world… (whatever the real world is!).

The one that leapt to my mind was the idea of being both confident and nervous at the same time. (It’s something we’ve written about in the presentation skills blog but it has wider implications too.)

My experience is that people assume that confident people aren’t nervous. It follows that if they are nervous they mustn’t be confident. From that, in turn, follows a lot of in-head negativity. The thing is, I beg to differ.

Sure, confidence and nervousness aren’t independent but they aren’t a one-to-one match, either. Stay with me for a minute and I’ll explore what I mean.

Being confident and not nervous

For me, this is the land of arrogance and over-confidence. It’s the land of people who don’t care what other people think and who are so very sure of their skills that they’ve got no need to be nervous. To me, that smacks of either arrogance or that they’re doing something which they’re not engaged with – there’s nothing riding on the outcome. Things like ‘doing the washing up’ aside, that’s a pretty sad place to be in, isn’t it? It means you’re not pushing, you’re not trying and you’re not growing.

Being unconfident and nervous

The fear zone. This is the land of mistakes and anxiety, of paranoia.  And to me it sounds like an indicator that you’ve reached too far, gambled too high a stake and are too far out of your comfort zone.

Something’s gone wrong if you’re here.  Perhaps you’re doing something just because you were told to, counter to your skill-set. Or perhaps you’re like this just because you’ve not prepared enough, not had enough training, not done enough practice.

The long and the short of it is that if you’re in this place, you shouldn’t be and you’ve got to ask yourself two questions.

  • What can I do to get out of it; and
  • What can I do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

Pretty obviously two of the answers are going to be practise and training!

Being not confident and not nervous

Truth to tell, I can only imagine being in this place if I was either very drunk (very, very drunk!) or doing something I didn’t care about. At this point the key question is why I’m bothering to do this at all – it’s time to move on.

Being confident and nervous

For me, this is the performance zone.   This is where I’m nervous in case things go wrong, but confident in my ability to handle them if (when!) then do. This is where being confident allows me to take risks, and so achieve great things, but also where being nervous keeps me on my toes. If I’m nervous, it means it matters: and if I’m confident it means I’m prepared.

Perfect, eh?

MBTI assassinated

MBTI image

MBTI image

Over on Facebook, my friend Aboodi posted a link to what turned out to be a pretty controversial post which was pretty rude about MBTI.

As you’ll probably know from other posts, we’re one of the UK’s most experienced MBTI practitioners, so we had to have a look.  And – to be fair – there’s some good stuff there so it’s worth heading over there and reading it for yourself. But there are a few bits and pieces of very sloppy journalism too, which is worth mentioning.

The mistakes start pretty early on when the article says “The test is completely meaningless”. The problem is that it isn’t a test. It’s a diagnostic tool, an instrument. That’s not just semantics, but indicative of a very fundamental misunderstanding. If you think MBTI is a test there’s no wonder you can then go on to complain that it “is totally ineffective at predicting people’s success at various jobs”.  That’s about as sensible as expecting a rubber band to be good at holding a building up. It’s not just that it’s not up to the job – it’s just that it’s designed for a different job.

Once you realise that the journalist in question has completely failed to understand the whole point of MBTI it’s easy to see why Joseph gets all hot under the collar about it’s “failings” such as using “false, limited binaries”. Sadly for Joseph, the new MBTI doesn’t do that – instead the Step Two MBTI gives a set of 20 scales.

Ah well, better to have ranted randomly without proper research than not to have ranted at all, eh?

That said though, and to repeat, there’s some interesting stuff there too: it’s not all just tosh! :)


Continually learning – the how!

I’ve read – over and over and over – that it’s important to carry on learning. I agree. Learning from your mistakes is better than fretting over them, worrying or just feeling guilty…

Of course, that’s easier said than done!

It’s human nature to worry about what went wrong and to compare ourselves to other people or (worse) compare ourselves to the fictionalised, apparently perfect, demi-god-like versions of other people. Comparison can be good, too – it helps us learn, to grow and improve.

The problem, it seems to me, lies in how we make those comparisons and how we learn.

If we have a system for learning it makes it easier.  Instead of just fretting over what we did wrong and saying to ourselves “Must do better next time”, if we have a process for how we plan to “do better next time” we can take those actions and close down the worry, knowing that we’ve learned what we can.

We use two systems here, which might be useful for people.  The first is our simply Ties and Flies lists and the second is the Rolfe methodology.

Ties and Flies is the generic name we give to all our preparation checklists. They got this name because the first one we created was called this – and in turn the list got it’s name from the last item on the list… things we check before we go on stage to give a presentation! (There’s nothing going to undermine your confidence more on stage than wondering if your fastened your flies or if your tie is straight! :) )

The thing that might need a bit more talking about is the Rolfe thing. We like to do a bit of self-reflection after every event, gig, training event, project, whatever, that we do. It’s easy to dwell on the negatives but having the Rolfe approach to give this reflection a structure is very helpful.

Essentially the Rolfe method consists of asking yourself the questions ‘what’ three times – or more specifically

  • what?
    What happened?  What is the incident of note that you’re interested in?  Did you forget to bring something? Was someone particularly interested in something? Did an attendee think the course started at a different time?
  • so what?
    What were the consequences of this? Were they significant and if so in what way? Were the consequences positive or negative?
  • now what?
    What can you do about the event? If it was a positive event/effect, how can you adjust your working to make it happen again? If it was a problem, how can you set up a system to stop it happening again?

We love it – not least because of its simplicity. Anything more complicated and we would resist using it after a long, hard training session! This is simplicity itself.  (Rolfe is now how our Ties and Flies lists get updates, for example.)

Speaking of examples, let’s work one through, using Rolfe.


A fuse blew

So what?

A data projector stopped working suddenly which means that a video the audience were watching suddenly vanished!  (And the life-expectancy of the projector’s lamp was also reduced).

Now what?

All our equipment has the correct spare fuse taped to the plug. It might not stop the fuse blowing but it means that we can replace it (with the right amp’d fuse) in the minimum time possible.

Nice, isn’t it! :)

Difficult people at work – 2

Genuinely difficult people!

Genuinely difficult people!

In the first of these articles (see our last blog), we looked at a few things you can do to reduce the number of times you have to deal with difficult behaviour.

Of course, there’s more to it than that, and it’s important to remember that different people often behave in response to particular things in particular ways. For example, one of the things that has been found to be most likely to cause difficult behaviour is if the person feels under threat in some way. The threat might not be real, of course – it’s how they feel that’s important.

So far so good – obviously, if people feel that they can’t cope they are more likely to behave badly. The trick there lies in recognising what makes people feel threatened or challenged and dealing with it.

But there’s something which is a bit more complicated than that – because people often behave even more badly than you’d expect if they’re responding to a threat on behalf of other people. Let me give you an example: if you push me, I’m likely to try and walk away or talk to you – however, if you push one of my children I’m likely to behave in a way that is far, far more difficult for you to deal with.

Of course that’s quite an extreme example but it does serve to illustrate the point.

What it means is that when you ask yourself the sorts of questions we outlined in last month’s article you need to remember to keep in mind the possibility that people will respond on behalf of other people too – particularly if they feel ‘responsible’ or ‘protective’ of them in some way.

An experienced member of staff might feel that the newcomer isn’t being treated fairly, for example. Of course, if they say something about it you can probably do something about it… but all too often people don’t feel able to articulate exactly what the problem really is.
Instead of mentioning it to you, they behave badly (or talk about) something else.

Instead of telling you that there’s a problem with the way lunch breaks are covered they might sabotage someone else’s lunch break by going missing at a critical time.

Instead of telling you that someone else is leaving work early they might make a point of leaving early themselves.

Instead of drawing your attention to the poor working environment in someone’s office, they pick holes in the plaster.

Your job, as a manager, leader (whatever!) is to figure out what’s causing the problem and sort it out. Remember that it might not even be their own problem that someone is ‘protesting’ about…
… which is, of course, easier said than done!

None of that, of course, means that you can’t (or shouldn’t) deal with a problem when it arises in a robust and constructive way!

Assertiveness vs aggression vs arrogance vs real life!

The difference between being aggressive and being assertive is an interesting one and it’s sometimes a challenge for anyone who isn’t used to being either. All too often people realise that being the walked-over-passive-type isn’t working for them and flip to being aggressive… ironically becoming the very type of person that they found difficult themselves and making other people’s lives a misery.

This brief blog just highlights a few of the common misconceptions about assertive and aggressive behaviour. It isn’t intended as a full explanation!

Myth 1 – aggressive people are rude. Well true, they can be. But it’s also possible to be both polite and aggressive. The working definition of aggressive that we take in our training (which is designed for an office/workplace environment) is that aggression is when you don’t take due account of the other person’s rights and/or integrity. It doesn’t matter how politely you phrase you instruction or putdown, it’s aggression.  “You need to work this weekend” can be said in the most friendly tone of voice imaginable but if you’re riding roughshod over the other person’s right to say they don’t want to (or can’t) work that weekend, it’s aggression.

Myth 2 – aggression is the best way to get what you want. It might be in the short term, but all it does in the long term is build up resentment. People will fight you whenever they can. If they don’t feel able to stand up to you directly, they’ll find ways of undermining you indirectly. For example, following on from the example above, you might be able to force them to come into the office on Saturday, but how do you think you’re going to force them to be productive…?

Myth 3 – aggressive people are strong. Well I’m sure some of them are, but all to often aggression is brittle and is being used to hide a level of insecurity. After all, it’s easier to bully someone into doing something for you than it is to tell them you don’t know how to do it and then ask them to show you how!

In reality, no one expects you to know everything, so there’s no shame in asking for help.

Myth 4 – aggression is efficient. Really? If you force me to make you a cup of tea by being aggressive, what’s going to happen the next time you want a cup of tea? You’re going to have to bully me again. And again. And again. Annnddddd agaiiiinn… Each time you do that, you’ll find it gets harder and harder as I become more and more resistant. Even if it’s not a direct row, I’m going to spoil your cup – too much milk or too little. Even if you correct me and force me to make you a fresh one it’s taking your time and energy. Believe me, I can make you spend more time, energy and effort forcing me to make you a cup of tea than it would have taken you to make it yourself! And what about the next time? You’ve got to start the battle of attrition all over again. And I’m certainly never going to make you a cup of tea voluntarily!

Myth 5 – aggressive people are charismatic. Tosh. Sometimes charismatic people are aggressive, sure, but that’s a different thing entirely. Charismatic people are charismatic for a whole range of reasons, none of them particularly to do with being aggressive – although my experience is that they can often be aggressive if they need to be.

Myth 6 – aggression is always wrong. I believe in explaining things to people so that they’re on your side. (If you can’t do that you either need to get better at explaining things or you’re in the wrong yourself – learn from that!). However, there are times when there simply isn’t time to be reasonable – in the face of an emergency, for example. But even here, think about it – do you know the story of the boy who cried “Wolf!”? If you’re known for being aggressive, you’ll be less effective than if you’re not: in the latter case, people are more likely to realise you’re being aggressive for a reason and not fight back.

So there you go – a few aggression at work myths. There’s nothing there that’s not common sense when you think about it, is there?  So why is there so often aggression in the office?!

Here’s a thought to leave you with – You can’t control the other person. If they’re being aggressive, being aggressive back isn’t going to do much other than leave you both exhausted.  Why not try doing something different? :)