Author Archives: mustang

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3 Ways to Successfully Close a Presentation Including One Scary Way

presentation skills closing

Would you have the nerve to perform an actual dance routine as the first dance at your wedding?  Seems like a bold move to me.  I was quite surprised at a friend’s wedding that he and the bride performed a dance routine for their first dance.  He didn’t seem the dancing type. Or even less, the showboat type.  He’s a CEO with a pretty conservative organization.  When I asked, he told me he got the nerve to do it because his dance instructor said,


“Focus on the beginning and end.
Get those right and all the mistakes in between won’t matter.”


Turns out this is good advice for more than dance routines. It’s just as true for your presentations.

The importance of the beginning and the end is based in science – since 1925 we’ve known about the primacy and latency effects. Even then it was not a new discovery. Ebbinghaus published the first studies on this phenomenon in the 1880s.  In summary,

We remember best that which comes first, second best that which comes last, and least that which comes just past the middle.

Your audience will most likely remember the beginning and end of your presentation.  And yet, those are the two big areas neglected in presentations.  My last few articles and videos have been on how to start your presentations for success.  The closing is just as important so let’s chat about that now.

How can we close our presentations so that our goals are met?  So that your audience remembers you and your message, and takes the action you’re hoping for.

There are tons of techniques for closing.  We’ll discuss three here, including:

Tell a Story


The Power of Three


A Provocative Question

(To Download 9 More Ways to Close A Presentation for Success Click Here)

1.   Tell a Story

If you have read any of my recent articles or watched recent videos, you may think I’m obsessed with stories.  Not obsessed perhaps; but I’m definitely convinced of the power of the story.

Ending with a story brings a human element to your presentation, and can show that your topic can impact real people in real situations. This can be a personal story of your own, or you can use someone else’s which is a great way to share assets among colleagues. Make the story a logical but possibly not-anticipated result of your presentation so far.  A good story will engage your audience, highlight your main points and potentially give you a great segway to a call to action.

The story doesn’t have to be your own, but I believe it has to be either true or a parable.  Don’t make something up that you can’t discuss authentically.  You’ll hurt rather than help your presentation that way.

The Significant Objects Project

showed a mind-blowing impact on sales from the simple process of using stories to promote items.

Significant Objects, a literary and anthropological experiment devised by Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn, demonstrated that the effect of narrative on any given object’s subjective value can be measured objectively.

The hypothesis was that emotionally charged stories would increase the perceived value of each object and net a larger profit on each item sold than if they were sold in the more traditional way.

The project auctioned off thrift-store objects via eBay. For item descriptions, short stories purpose-written by over 200 contributing writers, were substituted. The objects, purchased for $1.25 apiece on average, for about $129.00 total, sold for nearly $8,000.00.

Stop and think about this for a minute.

If substituting stories for item descriptions had this impact on e-bay sales of cheap little items you’d expect to be of very little value to very few people,
what could you achieve with stories?

presentations trainingGlenn and Walker are now pleased to announce that a collection of 100 of the project’s finest stories has been published by Fantagraphics.

You can find it at




2.   Rule of Three 

presentations trainingThree is the smallest number of things that can form a pattern.  And our minds like patterns.  We want to be able to predict what’s coming.  That might be why so many of us (want to) believe in life after death.   Think of the music from the movie Jaws.  Most of us know that music means that something scary with a lot of teeth is coming.  Predicting the attack is possibly more terrifying than the attack itself.   At least for the audience, if not an actual victim.

A pattern is easy for us to remember.  And since three is the smallest pattern, that means a grouping of three will stay with your audience more easily than other structures.  There is solid research that details how many things our minds can retain.  7 is generally considered the most.  But if we combine our desire for predictability through patterns, the fact that three is the simplest pattern, and that we can only retain a pretty small number of things in our heads, it becomes easy to understand why 3 can help us make a point in our presentations that the audience will retain.  That retention is key.

If you can leave your audience with a memorable statement, structured around the rule of three, you are significantly increasing the odds that your message will be understood and remembered.  And from there, the right Rule of 3 can get you the action you’re targeting.  That might be taking you to the next step in a sales opportunity, inspiring philanthropic action, effecting a change of heart or mind.  All helped through a powerful closing and the rule of three.  If you want something stuck in someone’s head, put it in a sequence of three.


What are ways the Rule of Three Can Work in Your Presentation?

You’ve worked hard to prepare and execute a strong persuasive presentation.  Closing with a powerful structure that is consciously and subconsciously embraced by all people can only help.  But how to do it?

Let’s consider three speech structures that employ the power of three:

  1. Hendiatris
  2. Tricolon
  3. Comic Triple


A hendiatris is a figure of speech where three successive words are used to express a central idea.

Examples of hendiatris include:

Veni, vidi, vici.” [Julius Caesar]

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité“ [French motto]

Citius, Altius, Fortius” [Olympic motto]

Wine, women, and song” [Anonymous]

The real estate industry has used it for years:

Location, Location, Location

How could you use it in a presentation?  Come up with some ideas.  Maybe:

Today, Tomorrow, Beyond.        

  • If you’re talking about something that will give lasting benefit.

Shareholders, Employees, Customers  

  • Who will Benefit?


The content of these examples isn’t important – except that they focus on your audience, not you.  What is important is the grouping of them into a hendiatris.
3 words your audience can remember easily



tricolon is a series of three successive words or phrases of equal length and usually increasing power. In a strict tricolon, the elements have the same length but this condition is often put aside.

Examples of tricola include:

“Veni, vidi, vici.” [Julius Caesar]

Be sincere, be brief, be seated.” [Advice for speakers from Franklin D. Roosevelt]

Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation – not because of [1] the height of our skyscrapers, or [2] the power of our military, or [3] the size of our economy.” [Barack Obama, Keynote speech to Democratic National Convention, July 2004]

Use this structure in a business presentation with three benefits you’re offering.  We all know we’re supposed to focus on the audience, not ourselves.  The customer, not our product.  So, in a case where we’re talking about a service, product, solution, we could focus on the top three things the audience wants. But do it in a group of three.

“We offer you time

We offer you success

We offer you your weekends back.”


Or maybe three products or services you offer.  At some point, you do have to talk about the purpose of your presentation.  But use the Power of Three in a Tricolon to add impact.


steve jobs 2007Think of Steve Jobs’ 2007 introduction of the iPhone.  How did he describe it?  Remember, until this point in time, we thought of these things as three separate devices.

Well, today, we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class.

The first one: is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. 
The second: is a revolutionary mobile phone
And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device. 

So, three things: 
a widescreen iPod with touch controls; 
a revolutionary mobile phone; 
and a breakthrough Internet communications device.
An iPod, a phone, and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone … are you getting it?

Three things.  Repeated three times.  By the master of presentations.


The Comic Triple

Our minds respond well to the unexpected.  We like novelty.  The world of comedy takes this fact, combines it with the rule of three and comes up with some great lines.

The key in comedy is to make the third in the list of three unexpected.

The comic triple multiplies the effect of humour in a speech.  According to a comedic theory developed by author William Lang, there are only three parts to most comedic bits. Comedians call these three elements humour’s SAP test.

S = Setup (preparation)

A = Anticipation (triple)

P = Punch line (story payoff)

Two Examples:

I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.
– Jon Stewart

Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
– Mark Twain

We can use humour if we feel confident.  Maybe something like:


S = Setup (preparation) 

(Reader, suppose you were an idiot)

            I understand you are currently using Company X’s Product.


A = Anticipation (triple) 

(And suppose you were a member of Congress.)

            And you need to be able to onboard your new sales reps quickly.

P = Punch line (story payoff)      

(But I repeat myself.)    

You’re doomed.

I’ve known some very funny business presenters.  Much funnier than this example, obviously.  If it works for you, humour is powerful.  Use this tried and true guideline for humour to help you make your point while making your audience laugh.

What if we take that Comic Triple basic concept, and use it not for laughs but for impact?  The third element doesn’t have to be funny.  It can take its lead from the first two elements, or statements and add the convincing but unexpected statement.

S = Setup (preparation)

You like the way your current system works.  True?

A = Anticipation (triple)

Changing to a new system is going to take some work.  And you’re already busy enough – you don’t need the added hassle of a new system.  True?

P = Punch line (story payoff)

Then we should leave.

The example above is a real-life example from a sales rep I admired a lot.  We were in a product presentation and demonstration.  The audience wouldn’t listen to ideas we had for new methods to help them.  They gave us copies of the screens they were currently using and asked us to duplicate them.  Obviously, the audience at that meeting didn’t welcome change.  So why were we there, prepared to discuss how changing to our solution would be wonderful?  In most cases, the sales team would push forward, against all odds. Not Susan.

There is more than the Power of Three using the unexpected here.  Obviously, this is a pragmatic, smart and brave salesperson.  But look at how she did it.

S:  She asked a setup question.  Got the Yes.

A:  Added anticipation.  The audience anticipated where she might be going.  Which would be to persuade them they were wrong.

P:  Delivered the punch line.  The unexpected end of the meeting.

This story ends well.  The project leader called a break, and had a quick internal meeting.  They then resumed the meeting and said the old methods did not have to duplicated and they’d like to see what we had to offer.  We were back in the game.

The Challenge

Less is more.

You do discovery, you learn a lot.  Or, often, you have a lot to say about your product, whether you know what the audience wants or not. How can you possibly distill all that knowledge into three points?!

If you truly have a lot that must be said – categorize.  Organize your presentation into groupings that will help your audience track what you’re saying and get your point.  Use the Rule of Three to Summarize the Categories, not the details. This can be much tougher than it sounds here.  So, discipline yourself to find your path to audience understanding and acceptance, by using the Rule of Three.

3.    A Provocative Question.

Ending with a question, or a rhetorical question, is a sure-fire way to gain attention because questions stimulate our neocortex. As author Dorothy Leeds explains, “Our old brain runs by instinct. That’s the part that animals have. They don’t ask questions. The purpose of our ‘new brain’ is to override and challenge our old brain, and we do that by asking questions.”

The minute you ask a question, listeners are generally drawn to ponder an answer. It’s even more engaging when the question is provocative, or when it touches potentially sensitive areas of our lives.

A truly provocative question will challenge traditions, customs, habits, and ideologies. The most probing questions might generate embarrassment, anger, and resentment.

On the more positive side, creative questions will foster empathy, fresh understanding of a problem, and commitment to action.

But don’t immediately abandon the idea of challenging.  You don’t want your audience embarrassed or angry.  But making them think is invaluable.  One of my very favourite bits of feedback was from someone who’d listened to me give a speech wrapping up their business meeting.  I had ended by giving them a challenge.  To think.  My ending question was, what do you think about?  Do you think?  It had been prefaced with concepts around the power of our brain when we use it, so the question was a challenge but not offensive.  The person who gave me the feedback I liked came up to me and said, ‘My drive home is going to be completely different.  I’m not going to turn on the radio and put my brain on coast.  I’m going to think.’

Here’s an example that combines telling a story, the power of three and provocative questions.

Entrepreneur and CEO Ric Elias had a front-row seat on Flight 1549, the plane that crash-landed in the Hudson River in New York in January 2009. What went through his mind as the doomed plane went down? Here he is describing it in a TED Talk.

3 Things I Learned While My Plane Crashed”.

He ends with a series of life questions, with the most provocative one at the very end: “And more than anything, are you being the best parent you can?”

I challenge you guys that are flying today, imagine the same thing happens on your plane –and please don’t —
but imagine, and how would you change?

What would you get done that you’re waiting to get done because you think you’ll be here forever?

How would you change your relationships and the negative energy in them?

And more than anything, are you being the best parent you can?

The Scariest Provocative Question

If you’re feeling very brave, and for some reason it seems to require bravery, us this provocative question:

“What do you think?”

And then be quiet.

The quiet is the scary part.  End your whole presentation this way; or end segments of it as you present various points and benefits.

Silence is powerful.  Even more powerful is what’s happening inside your audience’s head.  This scary provocative question plus silence might be just the combination to pull out those valuable thoughts.


You can end your presentation in a way that sets you up for success.  Just:

Remember latency and primacy

Do the work to find the right ending technique.

Be brave.

What Do You Think?

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Career Not Job?

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Job ? Career? Calling?

A man came upon a construction site where three people were working.
He asked the first, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am laying bricks.”
He asked the second, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am building a wall.”
As he approached the third, he heard him humming a tune as he worked, and asked, “What are you doing?”

The man stood, looked up at the sky, and smiled,
“I am building a cathedral!”


Research by Amy Wrzesniewski has focused on how people derive meaning from their work, which can broadly be categorized in three groups: the experience of work as a job, career or calling.

People who view their work as

a “job” see it mainly as a means of income.

A “career” is work framed as a stepping stone along an occupational trajectory.

A “calling” occurs when someone believes in the meaning of the work they do, regardless of pay or prestige.

 Somewhere along the line, we started to see career-oriented as the only valuable approach to work.  Ms Wrzesniewski’s research suggests otherwise.  And my experience makes me wonder why we stress “career-oriented” so strongly.

If we see value in all three, employees, managers and companies can benefit.  Imagine a well-balanced team, or workforce, where we have a mix of people who are happy where they are and keep adding continuity, experience and value; people who want a career contribute to the team for a while and then add different value to the company in another role; or a person with a calling can be inspired to dedicate most of her life to this particular job or company.

This article gives you information about the three approaches to work; and some suggestions for how managers and individual contributors can receive and offer value with any of them.


I’ve generally found that if a person says work is a job, we think less of them.  We expect them to lack dedication.  But is that true?  If I have a job that is satisfying and enjoyable, but it’s not the most important thing in my life, can I do a good job?  Of course I can.  Will I refuse to ever work an extra hour, give creative input?  Of course I won’t.  We seem to relate a Job orientation to lack of willingness to work.  Those things are unrelated.

Hiring managers make the mistake of thinking someone who stays in a role for a long time, or whose five-year plan doesn’t include significant advancement somehow doesn’t have enough to offer.  Sometimes this might be your best hire.  I worked in a large corporation where the sales team were supported by a team of people whose responsibility was to generate leads.  They were encouraged to have a career orientation.  In fact, the hiring manager was proud of the fact that she told interviewees they wouldn’t “have to” stay in the job too long.  That immediately told them the job wasn’t a good one; and encouraged them to always look for an “escape”.  So the department never built up any accumulated experience.  Every member of that team was a perpetual beginner.  In general, the sales team did NOT feel well-supported.  There were some great people on that team; but they never stayed long enough to form a true partnership with the people they supported.  Career orientation can be too much of a good thing.

On the other hand, I once worked with someone who did lead generation in the same industry as the team described above.  It was a job for him; but he really liked it.  He didn’t want a promotion.  He got such personal fulfillment from things outside work that a career, at least with that company at that point in his life,  just wasn’t his focus. But he enjoyed the challenge of handling objections and getting appointments for the sales team.  He enjoyed talking to people.  He really liked his job; and the company benefited because of that.

 Maybe career-oriented isn’t the only way to describe a dedicated, engaged employee.  Maybe hiring managers need to look for positive attitudes not only the desire to move ahead.


Bright people with success in their futures are career-oriented.  These are the people we should hire because they’re more dedicated, give more time to the job, will stay with the company longer than people who are job-oriented.  Right?  Sometimes.  But not necessarily.

If someone wants advancement and increasing remuneration as part of their employment, they might work extra hard to get those things.  It is very possible they will work through an illness, often because they’re afraid not working will hurt their careers.  They might put work before hobbies, sometimes even family.  And there are times when every company needs some of that attitude.  Life balance might be skewed toward work periodically or permanently for good reason, for some careerists.

I’ve also seen employees who focused on career too much.  Their push to move forward took focus off the current job requirements.  Collaboration took a backseat to self promotion.  And their physical, emotional and mental health suffered from the stress of a career.

The hiring manager does well to learn the career aspirations of an interviewee.  We seldom want to hire someone who has little interest in the job or company we hire for.  If we offer advancement and increased remuneration for added responsibilities, we want the type of people who are motivated by those things.  So we should continue to see the positive aspects of a career orientation.  But we should take a multi-sided view.  What is the interviewee’s whole attitude?  Will he be a great member of the team because he sees a chance to fulfill his potential?  Great!  Will he hurt our corporate culture as he climbs over other people to get to the next promotion?  Not so great.


I’m not sure we think about this much at all as we hire.  Do you think of a calling as something you find in non profit, charitable segments of our world?  There’s truth in part of that.  Nurses probably believe in the meaning of the work they do.  Mother Teresa most likely did too, and didn’t care at all about pay or prestige. So is a Calling orientation irrelevant in our work teams?  I suggest not.  If I’m hiring for a non profit business development role, I can expect an interviewee to feel an affinity with my organization because of our community service.  That doesn’t mean she won’t be a hard working successful sales person.  Or that she won’t see the importance of bringing in money, i.e. donations.  At the other end of that spectrum, just because a person is in sales (or accounting or maintenance), demands a high salary and has had progressively impressive titles, doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel her work is a calling.  That’s an attitude.  Like the bricklayer in the story at the beginning of this article, the same work can be seen in different ways.

Let’s be open minded when we’re hiring and choosing teams.

Can we manage how we feel about our work?  Can we make our jobs fulfilling, our careers have a sense of purpose and meaning?  In addition to her research into Job|Career|Calling, Amy Wrzesniewski and others have defined the art of job crafting – making your job right for you.  An upcoming article and workshop will address this.


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26 Tips: Career Success Is In Your Mind

Would you like to predict, and even create, success and achievement?  For yourself, your team, your colleagues?

Happiness Leads to Success in nearly every domain, including work, health, friendship, sociability, creativity, and energy.

~ From a meta-analysis of over 200 happiness studies on nearly 275,000 people worldwide.

This article is based on the book, The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Acher.  It is about “Learning how to cultivate the mindset and behaviours that have been empirically proven to fuel greater success and fulfillment.”

I’ll leave it to you to read the details of each Principle.  But here are some helpful hints for making them work for you, so you become even more successful and productive.

The Happiness Advantage

happiness advantageThe most successful people aren’t the ones who keep looking to the future for in the hope of being happy when they get the great reward of super success.  They are the ones who capitalize on on the positive and reap the rewards on every step of their journey.  Still, in business, we tend to denigrate the concept of happiness.  For those who pay attention to the research that shows happiness drives success, here are some tips on achieving and maintaining a happy, positive attitude as a stepping stone to success.



  1. Meditate
  2. Find Something to Look Forward To
  3. Commit Conscious Acts of Kindness
  4. Infuse Positivity Into Your Surroundings
  5. Exercise
  6. Spend Money (but not on Stuff)
  7. Exercise a Signature Strength

    The Fulcrum and the Lever

    fulcrumLearn to manage your mindset.  Adjust it to give yourself the ability to be more fulfilled and successful.  Mindset is the fulcrum that balances our Lever – our power to succeed.  To help yourself build a positive, growth mindset:

  8. Believe in your Abilities
    When faced with a real challenge or just a tough to-do:
    Focus on all the reasons you’ll succeed, rather than why you might fail.
    Remind yourself of the relevant skills you have
    Remember a similar situation where you succeeded.
  9. Believe you can Improve Your Abilities
    By changing the way we perceive ourselves and our work, we can change our results – for the better.

    The Tetris Effect

    tetrisThis is a metaphor for the way our brains see the things around us.  And that’s critically important; because our experience of life is determined by what we pay attention to.  We have to see it to pay attention to it.

    In Tetris, the player is constantly scanning for blocks of colours.  We scan for things in our environment.  Unfortunately, many of us scan for negative things.  Constantly looking for the negative in life causes significant stress, lowers our motivation and reduces are ability to perform or product.  We see that at work all the time.  How do we train our brains to scan for the positive?

  10. Three Good Things Exercise. Make a daily list of the good things in your job, your career, your life. Write down three good things that happened every day. Your brain will have to scan your day for good things to come up with the list. And so, you’ll start the process of noticing what’s positive.
  11. Practice. Practice. Practice. With Others.
  12. Make it a ritual. If you have your ‘tools’ (pen, paper, tablet, whatever) at hand, and do the Three Good Things exercise at the same time daily or at least 3 times a week, seeing the positive in life will become the norm. And seeing the positive is part of the optimistic attitude that is critical to success.
  13. Rose Tinted Glasses
    Yes, ignoring serious bad things is often bad. You have to see the positive without being blind to negative things that must be dealth with. Martin Seligman refers to this as pragmatic optimistm.

    Falling Up

    falling up “Things do not necessarily happen for the best; but some people are able to make the best out of things that happen.”

    ~ Tal Ben-Shahar

    Bad things happen.  They’re not always catastrophic, but we suffer from mistakes, failures, disappointments.  What can we do to see the best in a bad situation:?

  14. Change Your Explanatory Style
    Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology, author of Learned Optimism and whose teachings are the basis of two other Mustang Articles:  The ABC’s of Resilience at Work, and Do You Give Up When Bad Things Happen?, tell sus that how we explain things to ourselves or others determines how optimistic or positive we are.  And his and other studies have shown that optimistic people are more successful.  Our Explanatory Style determines how we see things:

    • Permanent – this is not a temporary setback, it will last forever!
    • Pervasive – I’m not just having a problem with this issue, I have a problem with Everything!
    • Personal – it’s my fault; it’s all about me.

    Reverse that thinking, and you can help get yourself back on the road to optimism and success:

    • Temporary – Well, this isn’t a good situation, but it won’t last forever.
    • Specific – I’m having a problem with one person at work. Not with everyone at work.  Not with anyone in my personal life.
    • External – this is bad; it happened because of circumstances beyond my control or is the fault of someone else.
  15. The ABCs of Resilience
    Looking to Martin Seligman again, we can use a technique he didn’t create but applies extremely well.  You can see a summary in the Mustang article, The ABCs of Resilience of Work.

    1. Adversity.  An event we can’t change and we don’t like.
    2. Belief is our Reaction to the Event
    3. Consequences are the effect of our Belief
    4. Disputation
    • Evidence – For and against. Is it more or less likely to be as bad as we think?
    • Alternates – What are alternative possible reasons for the event? Maybe your boss had a fight with her spouse this morning and you got the brunt of it.
    • Is this stress useful?  Sometimes it is; and we should just embrace it.  If I stress about doing a presentation I’m likely to put more prep into it than if I’m feeling pretty casual.  More prep usually means more success.
    • If all your disputation results in the indisputable fact that the event is bad and is factual, what’s the worst that can happen.  You don’t need to bury your head in the sand.  Practically determine the likely outcome and make plans to handle it.  Going to lose your job?  Start looking for a new one now.  Cut back on expenses.

    The Zorro Circle

    When Zorro, the hero of television and movies, first started out he had no focus and no control. His training began with the drawing of a single circle in the sand. Don Diego told Zorro that his entire world now existed within this circle, and he had to master what was inside of it before he could move on to the next circle. Through time and dedication, Zorro mastered circle by circle, until he could accomplish his goal.

    This is a powerful metaphor for how we can accomplish large goals in our careers. How do we gain control of our emotions and our situation, circle by circle?

  16. Self-awareness
    Verbalize the stress and helplessness you feel.  You can write it down or confide in someone.  Many years ago, I was working with a team on a complex sales opportunity.  Everyone was stressed and having a hard time being effective.  When someone suggested we were just in the ‘floundering around’ stage, everything settled down.  It seemed we just needed to acknowledge that this was a tough opportunity but we knew we had the skills to handle it.
  17. Identify what you can Control and What is Out of Your Control
    Be clear on things that are just out of your control and you have to let go of.  Then you can direct your energy to the things you can exert influence over
  18. Identify One Small Goal You Can Accomplish Quickly
    After you let go of the things out of your control, you were left with a list of things you can address.  Take one thing and really focus your efforts on that.  Contrary to what some people believe, going for the gusto is more often a pathway to failure and frustration.  Don’t stay on one small task.  Add another and another.  Make them bigger as needed.  And of course, plan.  But piece by piece, circle by circle, our small victories will lead to big success.  This is the basis of the Japanese theory of Kaizen, or Continuous Improvement.

    The 20 Second Rule

    20 second
    Turn Bad Habits into Good Habits by Minimizing Barriers to Change.
    Changing our bad habits is easier said than done.  Even though doctors should know better than anyone the benefits of diet and exercise, 44% of them are overweight.  We all watch too much TV, or go to bed too late, or something!  And largely that’s because we are driven by what we want right now – much more than by what we really want most.
    How do we follow Neal Maxwell’s advice?

    “Never give up what you want most for what you want today.”

    ― Neal A. Maxwell

    The 20 Second Rule says make it easy.  Try to arrange things so that it only takes 20 seconds to go from thinking of doing something to doing.

    In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Acher says he slept in his gym clothes in order to form the habit of morning exercise.  Literally, he put his gym shoes next to the bed and went to bed in his clean gym clothes including socks.  So, he stepped out of bed, into his shoes and out the door.

    My daughter at age 5 asked to have hangers arranged with days of the week labels.  She arranged outfits for every day at the beginning of the week.  And the night before, she lay out the outfit for the next day on the floor next to her bed, as if it were on someone!  She was just born sensible, I guess.  Must have taken after her father.

    What Mr. Acher and my daughter were both doing was using second order decisions.

    Second-order decisions are decisions about the appropriate strategy for reducing the problems associated with making (first-order) decisions. For instance, second-order decisions may involve deciding when to decide and when not to decide, how much time to spend deciding, and what inputs to seek when deciding something.

    This term was introduced in a joint paper titled Second-Order Decisions by Cass Sunstein and Edna Ullmann-Margalit.

  19. Make it Easy
    Following the principles here, determine the fastest and easiest route to the new habit you want to create.  Make it easy.

    Social Investment

    Studies show that iSocialn a stressful situation or environment, positive interactions at work returns the cardiovascular system to resting levels, lowers levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.  Employees with good work relationships perceive less stress in the first place.  This ability to manage stress results in reduced absenteeism costs, lower health care costs, and increases workplace engagement so employees are more productive.  Ways to reduce stress in the workplace through social investment include:

  20. Give positive responses to good news.
  21. Make introductions and give referrals.
  22. Prioritize relationships.
    For teams:
  23. Encourage natural social interactions. Don’t try to force them with artificial activities.
  24. Team lunches and after hours get-togethers.
  25. Use language that implies a common purpose and interdependence.
  26. MBWA: Leaders get out from behind your desks and walk around – management by walking around.

    More Detail

    There are many resources where you can find information on the importance and methods of attaining success in the workplace through a happy, optimistic mindset.  This article relies on work from Shawn Acher and Martin Seligman:

    happiness advantage
    The Happiness Advantage

    Learned OptiLearned Optimismmism

    You can see Shawn Acher give a very entertaining TED talk on his take on happiness at work:

    See Here for a Simple List of all 26 Methods:  26 Tips on how to Be More Successful

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Trump and Spicer: How to Misuse Presentation Props

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Props are a great presentation tool.

Both Donald Trump and Sean Spicer recently used props in presentations. Donald Trump’s prop was probably effective, at least among his supporters.  But in my opinion it was misleading and therefore not honest.  We don’t want to be dishonest in our presentations, or sales processes even unintentionally.

I believe Sean Spicer’s use of a prop was both misleading and ineffective.  It’s unlikely he intended either of those results.

Props can help a presentation in several ways:

  1. They can make a point concrete.
  2. They can have an emotional impact.
  3. They can be effective metaphors.
  4. They can inject humour into a presentation.
  5. They focus the audience’s attention and interest.
  6. They are memorable.

(Manner of Speaking)

My favourite presentation skills vendor is Corporate Visions.  In their list of top five selling techniques that work, here’s number 5:

  1. Using 3D Props (Corporate Visions)

There are many ways to tell a story. But one extremely effective – and underutilized – technique is to use 3D props. Props break the pattern of what’s expected – and can make the prospect sit up and pay attention. Props make a metaphor or analogy tangible. Props create a physical reminder and can continue selling even when you’ve left the room.


Mr. Trump

trump guests


In President Trump’s speech to congress on February 28, he effectively used a powerful 3D prop – People.

Four of Mr. Trump’s guests were family members of people who, authorities said, were killed by immigrants living in the United States illegally.

Regardless of the fact that immigrants are statistically less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans (Pérez-Peña, 2017), no families of people killed by Americans were guests.  If they had been, their numbers would have been proportionately much greater than Mr. and Mrs. Trump’s chosen guests.  Now this can be taken as a political opinion; but here it’s meant as an evaluation of a powerful presentation tool – props.

When you use props in your presentations, you will naturally use those that are likely to be most effective.  That just makes sense.  And from Trump’s perspective, his props (guests) probably did just that.  But I believe it gave an inaccurate visual to the audience.

Was Mr. Trump’s use of a prop inaccurate to the point of misleading?  And how dangerous can that be?

Well, there’s the possibility of hate being generated against immigrants.  Fear is a powerful motivator, as is a ‘common enemy’.  The presentation of these guests as props could contribute to a view of immigrants as the enemy, and potentially even hate crimes.  Mr. Trump would not have intended that.

Even if a prop is accidentally inaccurate, the results can be significant.  The poor use of a 2D visual aid, or prop may have had a significant causal effect on the Challenger disaster.  Information designer Edward Tufte has claimed that the Challenger accident is an example of the problems that can occur from the lack of clarity in the presentation of information.

The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred on January 28, 1986, when the NASA Space Shuttle orbiter Challenger (OV-099) (mission STS-51-L) broke apart 73 seconds into its flight,
leading to the deaths of its seven crew members, which included five NASA 
astronauts and two Payload Specialists. (from Wikipedia).

From Tog on Software Design

The Challenger: An Information Disaster:

Why did the space shuttle Challenger explode? Many people assume it was because of poorly-functioning O rings on the booster rocket. However, those O rings didn’t send that ship up on a cold winter’s morn.
People did, and those people drew their most critical information from two simple charts, screened by an overhead projector.
The graphs displayed tiny pictures of each shuttle booster, lined up in chronological order, showing launch temperatures and any O ring damage.

challenger1 challenger2

They looked like so many crayons in a box, and when the engineers and managers finished looking at them, they didn’t know any more than they had before.
The launch was made and seven people died.

Per Tufte, if the engineers’ presentation charts had been done a different way, the Challenger would not have been sent up and the disaster would never have occurred.  That’s a pretty serious result of a poorly chosen or presented prop (the charts).  A chart is a 2D prop and Trump used 3D, but points out the importance of what people see during our presentations.

So, whether our presentation tools present inaccurate facts deliberately or by accident, it is incumbent on us when we present to be accurate and ethical.  The effectiveness of a very good prop doesn’t always make it the right tool.


Spicer’s Healthcare Props



Mr. Spicer used a tall stack of papers and short stack of papers to illustrate why the Republican replacement of the Affordable Care Act is better.  Because of the size of the document.  Not only did reports of the press briefing ridicule this as a measure of value (Jimmy Kimmel On Sean Spicer Health Care Pitch: “It’s Like He’s Writing Melissa McCarthy’s Sketches”)  the Republican policy is a work in progress (Rascoe, New York Times).  So, one could expect that stack of papers to grow as well.  That hurt Mr. Spicer’s credibility.  Credibility is critical in firmly anchoring a presentation’s message.

Mr. Spicer also used a guest as a prop; but in that case the prop was most likely effective.  Secretary of Health and Human Services seems a strong voice for healthcare.  So not all bad.

But the stack-of-papers prop just wasn’t convincing; and eroded Mr. Spicer’s credibility.  We don’t want either of those things to happen in our business presentations.


How to Effectively Use Props in Your Presentations

Often, you can skip the PowerPoint presentation (What?!!!) and use only stories and props, or visual aids.

When you’re using a 2D or 3D prop, choose wisely.  A prop should be relevant to your presentation or conversation.

Sometimes that gets a little creative.  One of my favourite uses of props was in a software sales presentation and demo.  Throughout the presentation the sales team used Easy as Pie as a theme, or recurrent phrase to anchor their message.  At the end of the presentation, they placed several fresh apple pies on the boardroom table, and served them to the audience.  The audience loved it! And they remembered the Easy as Pie presentation.

The Best Props Make the Message Clear

You don’t always have to be super creative with your props.  Something that shows visually what you’re talking about is powerful.  Years ago, I worked with a smart, successful man who was a truly terrible presenter.  He made me think of Dean Martin or some other ‘drunk’ making a presentation.  He wasn’t inebriated – he just sounded that way and was as coherent as drunks usually are.  We took a presentation skills course that included the use of 3D props.  Shortly after that, Jim had to make a presentation about his product line – Plasticizers.  A plasticizer is a chemical substance which when added to a material, usually a plastic, makes it flexible, resilient and easier to handle.  Not a fascinating topic.  And he wanted to talk about the use of plasticizers in cars.  Not an easy prop to bring to a meeting.

But he actually brought a car bumper.  That was close to 20 years ago and I still remember how easy it was to understand how plasticizers can be useful.  Because of the prop.

A Prop is a Visual Aid.  Don’t Forget 2D Props

Go ahead and use PowerPoint.  Used correctly it can be effective and interesting.  But also use 2D props – Pictures, Chart, Videos.  Visual messages are more quickly understood and remembered longer.  The use of visuals can break up a presentation so your audience remains alert.  A sleepy audience is never a good audience.

Use the Right Number

Too many props can be distracting.  Too many 3D props can be hard to manage, so you become more involved in handling your props than in getting your message across.  No props can result in a boring presentation that isn’t clear; but that doesn’t mean you always need them.  So, consider your message, your audience and your total presentation.  When needed, go to a prop.  When not useful, don’t.

Practice! Practice! Practice!

You must be very comfortable with your prop, including 2D.  Charts must be accurate, videos must work.  And you have to be able to properly handle and use any 3D prop you have.  Even if it’s people, you should practice introducing them, pointing to them or bringing them up on stage.  When the Easy as Pie team did their presentation, they rehearsed getting the pies into the room unseen, and the best way to bring them out and serve them.

Be Confident

You use props all the time already.  Have you ever lined up glasses to explain a point at dinner?  You were using props.  So, know you can use this tool and go for it.

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Learn a Flexible Management Style

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Ever struggle with how to manage someone?

Ever discover your style isn’t perfect?!

Well, ever tried ’round penning’ a horse?  This exercise helped a sales manager evaluate her management style.

An EAL (Equine Assisted Learning) participant’s job during this exercise is to get a horse to circle the perimeter of the pen, following their guidance. Sounds easy, right?

There are a few challenges that present themselves when round penning. Firstly, a participant is alone during this task. This can prove intimidating for people who are new with large animals. Secondly, each horse has unique behavioural quirks that can help or hinder the person guiding them, depending on their personality. Some horses are hard to move forward, others are hard to slow down. In all cases, the goal of this exercise is to reach a point where the horse walks at a person’s shoulder, at mirror paces.

While this exercise is completed, facilitators offer their guidance as needed. Some participants require more encouragement to get their horses moving. Some are naturals out of the gate, and are left to their own devices

One day, during the recap session of this exercise, a confident sales manager was the first to speak. She said she learned something that amazed her and would change her management style going forward.  She mentioned that her approach to leadership in the work place is typically hiring people and allowing them to do their jobs. Since she hires capable people, she had thus far assumed that her input was not necessary.

She was both amazed and inspired at the instructor’s selective involvement with their participants.

The leadership style that the sales manager embodied is known as laissez-faire, while the style embodied by the facilitators is referred to as participative. There are three generally cited styles of leadership, the third being autocratic. While each style has its own advantages and disadvantages, participative leadership (also known as “democratic” leadership) is generally thought to be the most effective at creating a healthy work environment.

Here’s why.

First, let’s start off with the manager’s style of instruction: laissez-faire. A laissez-faire leader lacks direct supervision of employees. While highly experienced employees can thrive under this type of leadership, new comers and young workers may find themselves struggling. A lack of regular feedback can ultimately lead to poor production and a lack of control over a work environment.

Next: autocratic leadership. This leadership style allows managers to make decisions without consulting their staff. Managers possess total authority over their employees, and no one is allowed to challenge their decisions. While this style of leadership may be useful during moments that require high stress, quick decision making – say, a problem arises minutes before a deadline is due- it ultimately stifles the creativity of employees.

Participative leadership strives to create the best of both worlds between these two leadership styles. Intervention takes place when it is necessary, but employees are left to their own devices when they have a handle on things. The end result is a collaborative relationship between an employer and their employees.

After her moment of enlightenment when watching our facilitators, our confident manager mentioned that, while it was reasonable to let her confident sales reps do their own thing, she could see herself taking more initiative to help out a worker who was struggling. She initially saw her hands-off management style as the “best” style.  Now she realized it was not only OK, but a sign of excellence, to change her style as needed.

Why didn’t our manager learn this during her successful career?  Why did she learn it now?

  • She was able to watch the process without thinking of it as watching how people do or should manage. She just experienced several different circumstances and was inspired to make her own conclusions.
  • She experienced the event in a novel environment – novelty helps us learn.
  • Experiential learning is deeper learning: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” – Confucius.  Our sales manager not only watched others, she was in the round pen too.

Essentially, she stepped outside the box in her learning journey.


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Appearance of Leadership

Look like a Leader

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Round and round, Dundee, a small grey mare, followed Tuffy, a large, brown gelding.

Or so it seemed.

As a crowd of EAL participants watched, a question was presented: which horse was the leader? The participants were quick to pin point Tuffy, the brown gelding, as dominant. After all, he was trotting at the front of the twosome.

However, as time passed, with closer observation, someone exclaimed:

“Hey, wait a minute. She’s not following him. She’s pushing him around!”

Appearance can Deceive

Who’s the LeaderWhich was indeed the case. Dundee is dominant over Tuffy.

Do appearances matter? It appears they do, when making first impressions.

There are obviously certain things that we as individuals cannot control when presenting ourselves visually: our race, gender, and height, for instance.

After the EAL session, participants were asked why they initially assumed that Tuffy was leading. Aside from his obvious position in front of Dundee, participants pointed out that his large size, his dark colour, and his gender (male), initially lead them to believe that he was the more powerful out of the two. Obviously, Dundee being small, white and female didn’t affect her ability to boss Tuffy around (you go girl). But, nevertheless, a certain judgement was made about her based on these things.

In 2016, Allure conducted a national survey of 2,500 people to uncover truths about the importance of appearances. In one startling finding, 64 percent of people admitted that the first thing they noticed about a person when first meeting them is how attractive they are. And half of the participants thought that appearances define us significantly or completely. These facts might seem obvious, or disheartening, or perhaps boring, but they nevertheless confirm an unignorable truth: we live in a judge-and-be-judged world.

Thankfully, some autonomy still remains on our side of the court, when shooting to make a good professional impression, even if there are things about our appearance that we cannot change.

Whether we’re applying for a corporate position at a prestigious law firm, or a hip, new writing job at an up and coming magazine, the key to making a positive visual impression isn’t necessarily to try to force ourselves into one mode of presenting yourself. It is to pick up on what certain modes of dress mean in different environments, and to discern which is appropriate to adopt for a position you are vying for.

“If you know that you’re applying at a traditional firm meaning any law firm, accounting firm, government agency, healthcare or financial services firm, dress the part, all the way!” says Liz Ryan, CEO/ founder of Human Workplace, in an article for Forbes .

Conversely, Ryan notes that “many creative firms and some start-ups turn up their noses at people who dress traditionally on their interviews.”

“They say ‘It’s not our culture to wear suits and ties, and anyone who wants to work at our little, funky firm should understand that.'” she says.

Ultimately, work attire is like a costume at a theatre performance.  It is simply a tool that can be used to convey certain connotations to our peers. How we choose our attire is up to us, and the specific environment that we work in.

Two participants in this particular round penning exercise were from the HR department of the same company; and they spoke about how this small part of the workshop affected their perception of their specific jobs.  One thing they were responsible for was preparing up and coming managers for their first management roles.  And counselling them on how to achieve that position.

They decided they were going to spend time with potential managers talking to them about the importance of dressing as if they already had the role they want.  Because we all have preconceived notions of what a leader looks like.

The horses taught a lesson that hit home harder than articles often can.

Dressing for the job that we want to land may seem arbitrary, be we at the interview stage or in the office, applying for a promotion. But, appearances do matter, whether we are conscious of judgements or not.


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The ABC’s of Resilience at Work

An executive career coaching client in the Toronto area,  who is making great progress toward quite a large goal, wisely realized it won’t always go so well.  So, he asked how to prepare himself for a setback.  Excellent question!

One of my favourite techniques to build resilience and continuing optimism is the ABCDE technique described by Martin Seligman in his book, ‘Learned Optimism’.

We follow the ABC process of evaluating and viewing our situation:  Adversity, Belief, Consequences.    Then we move from our ABC’s onward in the alphabet to D:  Distance ourselves or Dispute our Beliefs. When we DIspute, we have more abc’s to help us remember the process – AEIU (Most of the vowels).  This article gives you an overview of the method.  For detail you can check out Martin Seligman’s book, Learned Optimisim.


A:  Adversity

Situation or event which triggers your negative feelings. Could be almost anything–a cancelled meeting, a frown from a boss, a co-worker gets your promotion, a rejection letter, no returned call, etc.

B: Belief

Your Beliefs are how you interpret the Adversity.  This is about thoughts, not feelings.  Feelings are part of Consequences.

Examples include

‘I’ll never get that promotion.’

‘My boss doesn’t respect me.’

‘I’m going to be fired.’

C: Consequences

Consequences are your feelings and things you did.


‘I was too stressed to work.’

‘I snapped at my co-worker.’

‘I didn’t sleep.’

D: Disputation |Distraction

There are two main ways suggested to deal with these consequences, distract yourself from such thoughts, or, for a longer-term solution, dispute with the beliefs, using one of the following techniques:


A Alternatives

There are usually a number of alternative explanations for what has happened, but people often adopt the most negative one. As yourself whether you could explain what has happened in another way


When your boss frowned at you: ‘My boss must have had a bad morning.’ Rather than ‘My boss doesn’t respect me.’

E Evidence

Often negative beliefs are unrealistic. Show yourself that the negative belief is wrong, by asking whether there is any real evidence for what you’re thinking.


‘My boss is frowning at everyone today.  It has nothing to do with me.’

‘I had an excellent meeting with my boss last week.  And we’ve had no negative interactions since.  So, it’s not me he’s frowning at.’


I Implications

Even if a negative belief is correct, it’s not the end of the world. People can often make things seem a lot worse than they actually are, by expecting themselves to be perfect. Sometimes it’s just a matter of accepting that we might have a small flaw – without forgetting also have a lot of good points as well.  You can think of Implications as What’s the worst that could happen?


‘My boss actually is frowning at me.  Because I did a bad presentation yesterday.  And it wasn’t my best.  But we have a good relationship and one hiccup won’t destroy that.  I’ll talk to her about it and make sure she knows it won’t happen again.’

And sometimes it’s possibly a bad situation.  Everything doesn’t come up roses all the time.


‘I am going to be laid off.  But what’s the worse that will happen?  I will cut back on expenses and put serious effort into job hunting.  My experience in this job will help me get another one.  This sort of thing happens.’

Often, having a plan makes a negative situation bearable.


U Usefulness

In some situations, it’s better to think pragmatically than being caught up by negative beliefs. Rather than thinking ‘there’s no way out of this situation’, it’s better to think ‘how can I attempt to get out of this situation?’

My personal mindset that helps comes from an exercise I did at Grail Springs Wellness Retreat.  We were told to toss a rock into the lake, and think of throwing away a negative thought.  I threw away, ‘What if I can’t?”  I went one step further and replaced it with the thought, ‘How Will I?’  I’m amazed at how much and how often that helps.

And let’s remember the value of stress.  If you’re worried about losing your job, you might be driven to fix what needs fixing or finally make a move to get a new job.  Stress drives us and often it’s the only thing that gets us moving.


E:  Energization

One is energized, and should indeed try to actively celebrate, the positive feelings and sense of accomplishment that come from successful disputation of negative beliefs. Disputation and Energization (celebration) are the keys to Seligman’s method.

This is where you take time to think about the positive feelings, behaviors, and actions that could or do follow from having a more optimistic outlook.



Practice this technique on slightly stressful situations.  As you practice, the techniques will become second-nature for you.  You’ll be able to pick which one of the elements you need to use in a particular situation.  By building this resilience muscle, you’ll be prepared with a tool to help you remain optimistic and be resilient when you run into a significant setback.







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Your Career and the Harvard Study on Happiness

Do you believe there is any relevance at work to the Harvard Study on Happiness – the longest study on happiness ever done?  Many people don’t.  But if you’re one of those people you just might be missing a sure-fire way to get more out of employees or to enjoy your career more yourself.

The study’s formal name is The Harvard Study of Adult Development; and it is one of the longest and most complete studies of adult life ever conducted. The study followed two cohorts of white men for 75 years, starting in 1938.  The researchers surveyed the men about their lives (including the quality of their marriages, job satisfaction, and social activities) every two years and monitored their physical health (including chest X-rays, blood tests, urine tests, and echocardiograms) every five years.

The study’s current director, George Vaillant, has said that the study’s most important finding is that the only thing that matters in life is relationships. A man could have a successful career, money and good physical health, but without supportive, loving relationships, he wouldn’t be happy (“Happiness is only the cart; love is the horse.”).  In a TED talk, he shared three important lessons learned from the study as well as some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.

So, what does the Happiness Study tell us?  From the TED talk transcript:

  1. People who are more socially connected are happier.
  2. Quality of relationships matters more than quantity.
  3. Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies; they protect our brains.

Do these apply at home but not at work?  Let’s see how they might apply to your career, and then look at some mini case studies.

  1. People who are more socially connected are happier

No matter how great the company, you have to have work relationships.  Why?  Because you can’t be happy without them; and you can’t be productive and successful in your career without being happy.  This is counter-intuitive for some people, but studies have shown success doesn’t drive happiness.  Happiness drives success.

Home office is a way of life for many workers now.  Where it used to be resisted by management, it’s now often a strategy for controlling cost and so embraced.  Elaine worked from home for many years; and loved it. Except for one job.  She thought she didn’t like the company.  Or had outgrown the job.  Finally, she realized why:  she wasn’t interacting with people.  The division she was in was not successful so there were few client meetings or even calls.  There was no local office.  Elaine was isolated at work and transferred that unhappiness to the job itself.  Once she realized the cause of my unhappiness, Elaine made some very basic changes.  She started a program of visiting current clients to learn how they used the company’s products and to offer help where needed.  She also requested and received permission to join teams working on the outskirts of what would be considered her job. Elaine discovered she liked her job just fine!

We often can and must take responsibility for our own unhappiness at work. We know how important relationships are, so one great way to increase happiness at work
is to find ways to regularly interact with people at work.  While quality is even more important than quantity, some people contact is critical to happiness at work. 
And as we know, happiness leads to success and productivity.

2. Quality of Relationships matters more than Quantity

It’s not enough to interact with a lot of people in our work.  The fit with your co-workers and clients matters even more.  So, as a career coach, I help a client examine the quality of relationships.  But what happens when you have to work with someone you just don’t like?  That’s a tough one.  There are lots of articles written on how to work with someone you don’t like.  I like the work of Byron Katie:  Loving What Is.  It’s not easy, but it has worked wonders for many people in tough situations.

Karen had come to Canada from the UK to work for a small company based in London.  She’d loved the job when she worked in the London office.  But in the Canadian office she ran into a couple of problems.  One named Luc, the other named John. They didn’t believe they should collaborate with Karen.  They had their jobs and had no intention of wasting time “doing hers”.  Karen’s enjoyment of her job plummeted.  She was thinking of leaving the company and returning home, even though the cost of moving to Canada had been high.  Her new Canadian bosses could see her declining satisfaction but were at a loss as to how to hold on to her.  Then Karen found a friend at work.  Jim was collaborative and fun to be with.  He helped out when needed and gave her the guidance any new person needs.  She bounced back to her normal state of loving her job, and continued to work in Canada, much to the relief of her bosses.

Quality of work relationships is more important than quantity.  Yes, two co-workers were making Karen’s life difficult; but having one good friend who was also a great colleague totally balanced out the negativity of John and Luc.

Don’t let the negativity of some people totally overwhelm you.  If we can find a work buddy, a good quality relationship can turn a bad situation completely around.
Work on those tough relationships, too.  Byron Katie’s methods in her book “Loving What Is” can help.  But a strong relationship can give you the strength to keep going!

  1. Good relationships don’t just protect our Bodies; they protect our Brains.

If we aren’t happy enough at work our brains aren’t going to do all we need them to do.  And we may end up missing too much time to be optimally productive.  It can hurt to be unhappy.

Claire worked in Edmonton for a Toronto-based company.  In part because she didn’t feel part of a team, she had performance problems that resulted in a Performance Improvement Plan.  One hint her manager may have had that she felt lonely at work was the fact she took her family with her on sales trips.  No doubt unhappiness had something to do with the poor performance; and being on a PIP definitely made her unhappy.  She began having small accidents – a sprained ankle, a broken finger.  She also suffered from several bouts of the flu and cold.  In a coaching session with her manager, she said she realized her unhappiness was probably causing the physical problems.  And she decided she’d be better off in a work environment where she was able to be happy.  For her, she needed to be with people she felt she had more in common with.  So, she left the job that she had been desperate to hold on to.  And has been very successful in her career elsewhere in a different industry, working with people who share her business interests.

Sometimes you just can’t be happy in a job and the answer is to leave.  There is no job or company that works for everyone, no matter how much many others love it.
And if one company doesn’t work out for you, another one surely can.  If you find yourself exhausted, getting a lot of colds, or just with a lot of aches and pains,
stop to wonder if your job, or your coworkers, is making you sick.

Can you think of times when you had a strong relationship with someone at work?  And can you remember how that helped?  If you have some good examples, please comment.

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Brave at the Front of the Room – Tell a Story


A father was walking with his son through the woods.  The boy was young – maybe 4.
As they walked, they came upon a large log across their path.

The boy looked at his father and said, “Dad, do you think I can move that log?”

His dad said, “If you use all your strength, I think you can.”

So the little boy went up to the log.  He pushed. And pushed.  He shoved. And grunted and pushed some more. 
He gave one more mighty shove!

And he couldn’t budge that log.

So he looked up at his dad and, sadly, said, “Dad, you were wrong.  I can’t move that log.”

His dad said, “Just give it one more try.”

This time the dad pushed with his little boy; and together they quickly got that log out of their way.

The dad looked at his son and said,

“See.  You could move the log. 
You just weren’t using all your strength.  You didn’t ask me for help.”


This is what teamwork and collaboration are all about.

I’d like to collaborate with you here, on the topic of using stories in presentations.


We often hear presentation advice that says – Use Stories.  I wholeheartedly agree; but it’s not always easy to know:

  • What Types of Stories to Use
  • Where to Find Stories
  • When to Use Them.
  • How to Use Them 


What Type of Stories to Use

Taking stories from your own experience works extremely well.  Sometimes these can be directly work related and sometimes more indirect.

Here are examples of both.


  1. A Lost Horse

In a presentation about Business Communities, I told a story about my horse. As hard as you might find it to believe that a horse story could be relevant to business communities, it was.  And I had positive response to it.

A few weeks ago, I lost my horse.  Who loses a horse?! 

I was riding with a group, but I was alone on a path when another rider galloped by. 
My horse loves speed so off he went with them.  I didn’t.  I was on the ground. 
And then he just disappeared.  For hours and hours. 

Everyone in the riding club looked for him.  People stayed late into the evening walking through woods, calling his name.  And I started getting messages on my phone from people I didn’t know were searching.  Many of those messages came from people I didn’t know.  One person and her daughter walked through woods until well after dark, shaking a bucket of feed.  I hadn’t seen either of them in years.

A fellow-rider had posted the situation online, (on his phone in the woods! Technology is great.) on a Lost Pets site. And the Community rallied. In less than an hour, hundreds of people heard about the situation and went out to help.  They cared.  And they stepped up.  That’s a Community.  Whether you’re a community helping each other find a lost horse, or find a lead for your business. 

tuffy-foundI found Tuffy the next day, after 23 hours lost.

 Because of help from our Community.






  1. A Found Weekend 

One of my favourite presales consultants had come to our presales team from implementation consulting.  She didn’t have any presentation experience; but, her background meant she brought a unique and powerful strength.  She had a wealth of real-life stories about how our customers were successful with our product. I watched her in one of her very first presentations.  A little while into the presentation, a member of the audience asked her a question about payroll, which she was involved with from her implementation days.  She told a simple story that totally engaged the audience.

I just recently had the best phone call from a customer in the same situation you’re describing.  When I’d started the implementation, she had worked several weekends in a row.  When I asked her about that, she said, “That’s just this job.  It’s ruining my home life.”  In order to process payroll, she had to do hours and hours of repetitive, manual work.   You know how that is.  (Here the audience enthusiastically agreed.)

We implemented the software and I went back to my job with other clients.  Just last week she called me and said, “I just had to call and say thank you.  You gave me my weekends back!”

How’s that for a benefit statement?


Where to Find Stories

Your stories can come from almost anywhere.

The story I used to open this article came from a TV show; and they got it from an old parable.  As you hear stories, or see events in everyday life, use them in relevant ways if they help make your point or clarify your presentation.

For the software world, I really like real-life implementation stories.

After the Presales Consultant in the payroll example told that story, everyone on the team learned it and used it where appropriate.  The story doesn’t have to be exclusively yours.  A great thing to do with a big presentation, is call in your extended team and get their stories.  Get permission to use customer names and references to go with them if at all possible.

Here’s a very important point – these real-life stories have to actually be real.  I’m not advocating making up ANYTHING.  Parables, obvious fiction, metaphors – these aren’t real-life stories but they can be extremely valuable as the Walk in the Park was for me.  But real life must be real.


When to Use Stories

Stories are useful throughout presentations:

At the beginning of a presentation, a story can set the scene for the audience and create a tone for your presentation.  A story is more engrossing than, “Good morning.  Our agenda today is.”  That might be your second sentence, after a story has grabbed your audience’s attention.

Emphasize key points and strengths throughout your presentation with stories.
The Lost Horse Story was used well into a presentation, when the topic of Business Communities was the focus.  The Found Weekend Story came up as a question made it relevant.

A story is often a powerful and neat way to sum up a presentation.  It can be a close that brings everything together and prevents the problem of a presentation just drifting to an end. The Boy and His Son Story has been useful at the very beginning and at the very end of presentations.


How to Use Stories

All these stories should be planned.  If the presenter has a plan that includes Payroll Efficiency as an example of her product’s benefits, then she should have planned to include that story to emphasize the real-life impact of the benefit.  This can be done on many if not all key points.  It is possible to tell too many stories in one presentation, though!

Practice.  A LOT.  Presenters who are not experienced using stories often tell them either too quickly or too slowly.  Memorize your story.  Reading a story seldom works as well as telling one.

Be Creative.  Use stories that you might not think are about business.  See the possibilities all around you.

Use Your Strengths.  For example, if Humour is a strength, that’s a great type of story to use.  If Empathy is a strength you can definitely find stories to fit it.  In addition to Signature Strengths, consider the Found Weekend story.  The presenter wasn’t an experienced presenter.  But she had a strength that made her presentations powerful.

Use Other People’s Strengths. Like the little boy moving that log, call on others when needed.  If you don’t have any stories, spend time talking to people who do.  Research your topic and your audience.  When you find a story that suits and enhances your presentation, use it.  Even if you didn’t live it.

Remember Your Audience is made up of People. They have children, pets, weekends just like you do.


Be brave at the front of the room.  Tell Them a Story.

See More Stories about Being Brave at the Front of the Room:

No one Else

What do you Think?

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Be Brave at the Front of the Room Part 2

Part 2

Years ago, in an excellent course my team and I learned some great presentation techniques. Two of them almost never got used; apparently because the presenters were uncomfortable with them.  Let’s have a look at them, the reasons we hesitate to use them, and the power when we do.


1)      No One Else

2)      What Do You Think?


We’ll look at Number 2 here.
(This article is written in context of a presentation, or demonstration, done for the purpose of selling.)


Years ago, in an excellent course my team and I learned some great presentation techniques. Two of them almost never got used; apparently because the presenters were uncomfortable with them.  Let’s have a look at each of them, the reasons we hesitate to use them, and the power when we do.


2) What Do You Think?

This technique is a second-level closing when you want to continue discussion after a presentation or demonstration.  When you’re finished your presentation, ask the audience, “What do you think?”

The toughest part of this one is keeping quiet.
The second toughest part is keeping your team quiet!


We just aren’t comfortable with silence. But what a great opportunity to get immediate, uncensored feedback.  If you didn’t have rapport during the presentation you may not get a fast response to this.  and sometimes someone will say we need to digest & renew before we comment.  That’s fine. Also might be informative.


So why don’t presenters ask this question?  I believe it’s the same as the reason we don’t say “Only We”:




We fear these things happening:

  • What if no one says anything?
  • What if the answer is negative?


If no one says anything you can prod a bit – ask the project leader or senior person in the room.  If there’s absolutely no response, it’s OK.  Nothing works every single time.  But give it time!  The audience doesn’t like silence either.  They’ll probably try to fill that silence with an answer.

If the answer is negative, you have important information you didn’t have before.  Most people won’t give you negative feedback in public; but, if there is negative feedback coming, you WANT to be able to address it in front of the whole audience, usually.  Handling objections is a key part of selling; so you’re probably able to handle it.  If not, you can get back to them.  But get back to everyone.  This is much better than leaving your presentation happy, only to learn there was a big problem you didn’t get a chance to address.

What can we do to make us confident asking this question that is a potential source of valuable information?

  1. Do the necessary work.
    Be prepared to handle objections.
    Anticipate what those might be, by truly knowing your audience’s needs, requirements and current situation ahead of time.
    Objection handling is a skill itself.  Your sales management may already have given you tools to build that skill.  Use them.
  1. Strategize as a TEAM
    When preparing for the presentation, set a strategy with the other people involved in the presentation or opportunity.
    Tell them you’re going to ask the question.
    Plan how each team member should respond to silence or a negative response.
  1. Know Your Strengths and Use Them
    Maybe Bravery is one of your Signature Strengths.  Lucky you in this case.  You’ll find this question easier than some others will.
    If Bravery is not high on your Signature Strengths, maybe Creativity is.  Then find creative ways to ask the question; and more important creative ways to handle the possible silence or negative feedback.

    Take the Via survey here and learn your signature strengths and how to use them.


Be brave at the Front of the Room.  Find out what people think.  It can be extremely useful information.


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