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Presenting Effectively

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


There are more than enough blogs out there that will promise that they can teach you to present powerfully, magically, persuasively  and with impact.  Perhaps they can.

But, to me, these claims seem to be somewhat hyperbolic in the context of a short article – or even series of articles – that most readers will scan for nuggets and hope to put them into practice all in one go.

Let’s be more circumspect.  For most managers who need to present occasionally, their number one and two concerns are to get their message across effectively, and feel good about doing it.  So print off this set of exercises, and next time you need to do a presentation, follow the exercises one at a time.

Exercise 1: Prepare your Presentation

Here are the two most important questions you need to answer before you do anything else.  Write them down and then complete the sentences.

1. What is the central message of your presentation?

When I have finished presenting and leave the room, if I could overhear what people are saying, I would want to be able to hear them say…

2. What do you want people to do as a result of hearing you?

When I have finished presenting and leave the room, if I could see what people do next, I would want to be able to see them…

Presentation Questions

Everything that goes into your presentation must underscore your central message and work towards justifying your call to action.  Only when you have the answers to those two questions clear in your mind should you start to work on the content, and then the introduction, to your presentation.

Exercise 2: Rehearse your Presentation

This is how you find out what works and what does not.  It is how you lock the essential messages and neat turns of phrase into your memory.  It is how you start to feel confident with your performance.

Rehearse once, informally, to get the measure of what you have prepared.  Rehearse again to feel its flow.  Rehearse again to feel comfortable with the material.  Rehearse in front of a colleague to get their most essential feedback.  Rehearse again to incorporate it.  Rehearse again to lock in pauses, drama and rhythm.  Rehearse one last time to feel in complete control.

Exercise 3: Get there Early

Arrive wherever you need to be in good time to freshen up, check your appearance in the bathroom mirror, and set up any technical logistics.  Circumstances will vary considerably, but aim to be good and ready to start well before you are likely to meet the first members of your audience.  That way, you can turn your full attention to them without having to think about the technicalities of your presentation. If your presentation is virtual, these same rules apply.

Exercise 4: Own your Platform

When you are on your platform, think of it as yours.  Take pauses.  Look at your audience.  Use the space.  Be natural and think of this as a conversation with each person in the audience.  You can be yourself and, while I don’t encourage ums and ers, they are a natural part of your speech, so don’t worry about them unless you have previously had it highlighted by an objective observer.  A few here or there will not matter a jot.  Neither will that little detail or great quote you planned to add in matter – even if you forget them.  Only one person in the room will know you missed it.  Everyone else will be focusing on what you did say.

Further Reading

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Four Step Negotiation

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


We all have to negotiate; whether formally, arranging rotas, or informally, looking for a little extra help. In some cultures, it is more than a way of life, it is a ritual to be savoured. Everyone is familiar with its ploys and gambits, and is comfortable with the give and take, the spirited competition, and the feigned offence. Not negotiating is what gives real offence.

In other places, negotiation can feel alien: it feels more like an argument. Consequently, many managers feel uncomfortable with the idea of negotiating.

So, how can you negotiate well, and feel confident at the same time?

Negotiating is a learnable process. There are four basic steps, that you can practise and carry out, to get a result every time. It may not always be the result you hoped for at the outset: that’s not the goal of negotiating. There are, after all, two (or more) parties to please.

Negotiation is a process of searching for an agreement that satisfies all parties

So, let’s look at the process; it has four steps.

1. Preparation

The secret of success lies in going into the formal ‘let’s negotiate’ part fully prepared. This can give you an immediate edge but, realistically, will simply prevent you from being at a disadvantage from the start. Its real importance is two-fold: to boost your confidence and to equip you to recognise and secure the best outcome available… or to know when to walk away. Perhaps the simplest useful advice is in the words of Kenny Rogers:

You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.

So, what to prepare?

  1. Know what you want, and what your option would be if you failed to reach agreement. Known as your BATNA or ‘Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement’, this tells you when to walk away. It forms your bottom line.
  2. You need to inventory all the variables in your negotiation: what you can trade, offer, concede, request, and tweak, in terms of money, goods, services, or relationships. This will give you your manoeuvring space.
  3. Find out about the other party and do your best to anticipate what they need, want and don’t want and, as a result, some likely scenarios. Play them out.
  4. Assemble a file of every relevant fact or figure so you have them to hand. Ideally, learn it all – the impact of that on your counter-party can be stunning. If not, at least be familiar with it all, so you can quickly find what you need.

2. Opening

Your first priority is to make a positive first impression. Dress right, enter confidently, and get your papers out to reveal an orderly file, smart notebook and classy pen. Show you are confident and mean business.

A few minutes of rapport-building banter recognises that negotiation is a human activity. It’s harder to be hard with someone you have rapport with, so soften up the other side. Next, establish any ground rules – above all, does the person in the room have the authority to seal the deal? If not, you will never want to make your best offer to them.

3. Bargaining

Once the give and take of the negotiation is underway, the secret is to listen hard, never respond immediately, and not to be defensive. Always move one step towards where you think agreement lies, either accepting a concession, making one, requesting one, or spelling out the next step. Anything else shows you to be focused on the wrong thing. The right thing is the big picture: progress towards an agreement that satisfies all parties.

Let any raising of emotional temperature, defensive behaviour or outrage come from the other side of the table. You will look wiser, more confident and more powerful. This is why we prepare.

4. Closing

Eventually, you will either reach a point of agreement where both of you are happy, or you will reach a point where one of you recognises that no such agreement is possible and offers to walk away – or storms out; but don’t ever let that be you.

This is where inexperienced negotiators stumble. They fear that saying they are happy and checking that the other party is too, will break the magic spell. The opposite is true: failing to declare this point will mean the magic will wear off. So go for a close. The simplest and safest approach is a trial close:

“I think we are at a point where we can both agree? Is that how you see it?”

If you get the right signals, express your pleasure and move straight into the formalities of finalising the detail: handshakes, drafting, signatures and logistics. Never, ever re-visit any of the terms. You have a deal and there is no way it can get better, so the only thing that will happen is that it gets worse. Stop.

Can it be that simple?

Yes and no. Yes, this simple process works and is the basis of all negotiation. No, because every negotiation will be different and there is one fundamental characteristic of all negotiations that militates against simplicity: they are a human endeavour. But as such, if well prepared, you are in the same position as the other party. You are a human; so are they.

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Questions, Questions, Questions

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


  • How do you gather the knowledge that you need, to do your job?
  • Who do you go to for wise advice?
  • When you find them, how do you access their opinions?

Do you get it?

Of course you do: questioning is the way we explore our world, the way we discover new ideas, understand problems, and find solutions.  Questions are how we raise awareness in ourselves and others, how we help people to learn and how we get the answers we need.

So one could argue that management is all about questions and answers.  That would be easy.  It is far harder to determine which is more central to your role as manager: are you there to ask the right questions, or to find the good answers?  (please debate that question in the comments section)

We often think questioning is easy, but there is a skill to it, which consists of three essential disciplines:

  1. Spotting what to question
  2. Structuring your questioning process
  3. Asking your questions artfully

What to Question

Listening to people can give you all of the clues you need about what to question.  Here are five examples of the most questionable types of statement:

  1. Adverse outcomes beg questions about causes, and assumptions about causes beg questions that seek evidence to justify or falsify them.
  2. Interpretations of events beg the question of what evidence supports that interpretation.
  3. When someone is struggling to master a new skill or technique, asking the right question can direct their attention to the most important insight.
  4. Generalised and prejudicial assertions beg the question not just of how you know that they are true, but of whether they do indeed stand up to objective evaluation.
  5. When you are asked for a solution, questions will help you to understand the problem better.

The fallacy of petitio principii, or ‘begging the question’, arises when a proposition which requires a proof is assumed to be true without that proof.

The Questioning Process

The Questioning Funnel

Learning more from a person – or even a scientific enquiry of nature – follows a clear process:

  1. Big, open questions to get a survey of the relevant information.
  2. Probing questions that explore more detail about the particular areas of interest
  3. Closed questions to test understanding and confirm facts
  4. What if? questions to test how the answers stand up to experimentation and related scenarios

Artful Questioning

One question has more power than any other.  It is the one that small children ask repeatedly and the extent of the frustration it generates in their carers underlines its potency:

Why?

The question ‘why’ probes deeply, looking for causes, reasons and purpose.  As a scientific enquiry into nature, or as a diagnostic probe into events, it is hugely effective, as underlined by the ‘Five Whys’ process within Six Sigma.

But things are different when you ask a person why they did something.  You will usually get a defensive answer.  ‘Why?’ feels like an attack on the values that direct our decision making, so we react against the question and rarely give a resourceful answer.  A better question might be: ‘what were your criteria when you chose to do that?’

How else can you ask the question ‘why?’
without using the word ‘why’?

Further Reading

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Words, Voice, Expression, and what?

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics This is part of an extended management course.


Is there anything more to say about the famous Albert Mehrabian and his experiment that showed (or did it?) that, in conversation, our message is conveyed in words, voice and expression?

First, we need a refresher on Albert Mehrabian, because I don’t want to take your level of knowledge for granted.

Exercise: Research Albert Mehrabian

The Mehrabian Pie Chart

Mehrabian’s work is often represented as showing that our words, voice and expressions carry elements of our meaning in the ratios 7:38:55.  It doesn’t.  It shows, in just one experiment that has never been repeated, that, when our words, vocal style and expressions conflict with one another, then other people put most weight on our expressions and least on what we actually say.  I will make it easy with two excellent references:

  1. I wrote about this for Training Journal in July 2007
  2. An easier way still, to learn what Mehrabian really means is to watch the wonderful three and a half minute video by Creativity Works on YouTube.

The ‘and what?’

Without a doubt, your words, voice and expression all convey elements of your intended meaning.  But there is something very important that Mehrabian did not explore.  It often makes the difference between being understood quickly and accurately on the one hand, and being hard to understand, and even misunderstood, on the other: structure.

How you structure what you say has a profound effect on people’s attention levels, on their comprehension and, indeed, on your credibility as a speaker or writer.

Compare these two scenarios, for example:

Ami describes her insight in a rambling way, starting with what she was thinking and digressing from time to time, repeating herself and qualifying her comments.  When she finally stops, she looks up and says ‘do you follow me?’.  Most people nod, but think ‘no, sorry, I don’t’.

Bettina starts by saying ‘here is what I think’, then follows it up by saying ‘and here are three reasons why I believe this is correct’.  She gives the reasons, one after the other, then finishes by saying ‘so, to conclude, […] is well supported by the facts.’  … and she stops.

Who will be easier to follow and more persuasive?

A formula for structured responses

Persuade, convince and win arguments with clear and structured comments.

  1. This is what I noticed
  2. This is what I think
  3. This is why I think it (one, two or three reasons; maximum)
  4. Reiterate your conclusion

This is far from the only formula, but discipline in structuring what you say will not only make you more credible when you do speak, it will make people want to hear what you think.

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Get in Sync with Rapport

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


Rapport is the darling topic of NLP experts and self help gurus, going all the way back to Dale Carnegie and ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’.  But what is it really, does it have the magic it is claimed to have and, if so, how can you deploy it?   We’ll take a look at these three questions.

What is Rapport?

Rapport really exists at two levels and its power come from the interplay between the two.  At the more superficial level, it is the sense that two people have, that they understand one another fully and share each other’s concerns.  At the deeper level, rapport exists when two people have a relationship based on liking of and trust for each other.

We recognise rapport in two people who are together, when we start to notice similarities in the way they dress, their behaviour, how they speak and their movements, which often become synchronised.  We say that they are ‘in tune’ with one another, they are harmonised, they are in sync.

How effective is Rapport?

Rapport is  a natural process, which has evolved to build and strengthen bonds.  The important question is not whether it is effective, but whether we can use it to our advantage in a conscious way.  The answer seems to be yes.  Used in an artful manner, rapport-building skills are effective in domains from counselling and therapy to sales and customer service.  They are also used by con artists, so beware.

There was an excellent article in The New York Times, called ‘You Remind Me of Me’ that discussed a range of experimental evidence.

How can you use Rapport?

The basic approach to creating rapport is to match the person you are speaking with.  Do what they do and echo their movements, vocal patterns and key words.  Do so subtly (but not too subtly – it feels natural and so is rarely noticed).

Adopt a similar posture and repeat back the most important aspects of what they say – using their words.  Make your movements similar to theirs in quality and quantity, but don’t just copy them.

Speak at about the same speed and repeat important gestures and expressions, like smiling and frowning.

Build it up gradually and start to notice not only how they are more open to you, but also how much more clearly you understand what they are trying to communicate.

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Listening

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


If you could create a shortlist of the most important skills that a manager must cultivate, what would be on it?  That is not just an idle question: please do offer yours as a comment, below.

On anybody’s list, I would expect to see ‘listening’.  It is a fundamental human skill and one that most of us take for granted.  It is even a skill the deaf can deploy, using different senses: listening means paying attention to what other people are saying.   So, no wonder it is a vital skill for managers.

So how can you do it?  Or, put another way,

‘How can we learn to do listening better?’

ListenYour exercise this week is to practise these seven steps.  Start with number 1, and practise this for a day.  On day 2, practise number 1 and number 2, and so on, building your skills as the week progresses. Keep a record of what you notice.

Day 1:  Care
Before you start to listen to someone, you have to care what they are saying.  So practise caring enough to really pay attention.

Day 2: Tune in
Carefully notice what the other person is saying.  Savour their words and the meaning behind them.

Day 3: Tune out
Tune out that constant dialogue that goes on in your head.  When you hear it, put it to one side and re-focus on what the other person is saying.

Day 4: Relevance
Listen for things that are particularly relevant, surprising, interesting.  What are the most important words that you hear and how do they relate to the substance of your conversation?

Day 5: Suspend
Suspending judgement is your toughest test so far.  Resist the urge to criticise, judge or react to what you hear.  There will be a time for that later, but when you let your opinions and prejudices get in the way of your listening, you miss what the other person says, thinks and feels.

Day 6: Notice
Notice what else is going on at the same time as they are speaking.  What are their speech patterns, facial expressions, gestures and movements.  What posture do they adopt and what is the quality of their movements.  All of this, when you really notice it, contains valuable information about the sub-text to their words.

Day 7: Pay Attention…
… to your listening process.  Put all of your Day 1 to Day 6 learning together and now keep aware of the quality of your listening.  When it starts to dip, notice it and re-assert the quality of your listening.

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Starting in Management

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


Beginning a career in management can throw the best of us.  You are probably excellent at the job you have just finished and, whilst you will still need some of your technical skills, they will play a far lesser role in determining your success.  You will naturally feel a draw towards the security and comfort of burying yourself in the technical aspects of your role, but almost certainly, this will be a mistake.  Your role is management and managing should now occupy the bulk of your time.

So, what are some of the things you will need to focus on now?

  • supporting and motivating your staff
  • setting expectations and assessing performance
  • giving recognition for achievement and corrections for errors
  • planning and preparing at increasingly strategic levels
  • maintaining an environment where your team can succeed
  • securing the resources your team needs – including new members
  • training and developing team members
  • reporting on progress and on setbacks
  • negotiating for opportunities, resources and funding
  • financial and personnel management

Exercise: Understand your Management Responsibilities

Using this checklist, speak with your boss and with your new peers to get a clear idea of what your roles are and also how you are likely to need to split your time among them.  Understand:

  • which are most important to your and your team’s success?
  • which are most time-consuming?
  • where are the pitfalls?
  • what are the annual cycles and how will the balance of priorities shift through the year?

What First?

As a manager, your role will be to manage resources: usually people, but sometimes materials or assets.

Step 1: Your first priority is to understand those resources: meet the people, inventory the stock and survey the assets.  As you do, make notes to help you remember what is important.

Step 2: When you have finished, write yourself a readiness memo, titled: ‘An analysis of the resources at my disposal and their fitness for the task at hand’.  You may want to conduct a SWOT analysis to help you with this.

Readiness Memo

Step 3: Next, use this as the basis for drawing up a two to three month plan of action.  At best, it will focus on stabilisation and incremental improvement.  At worst, it may need to be a turnaround plan.

Step 4: When you have done this, file your memo securely, where nobody else can access it or, better still, destroy it.  It will likely contain frank opinions about the people on your team that you will not want to become public.

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Personal Reputation

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


A career in management is built on the reputation you create for yourself.  This is not about arrogantly promoting yourself at every opportunity, but it is about managing the opportunities you seize and your personal PR.

Exercise 1: 15 Minutes of Fame

‘In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes’ said Andy Warhol.  What will you be famous for?  Take some time to note down what you are good at, what you want to become good at and how this can help you make a positive name for yourself.

When you have done this, keep an ear open for projects and initiatives that you can participate in at work and in your community.  To increase your chances of finding good opportunities, increase your network.

Exercise 2: Expand your Network

Make a list of all of the people you know in your organisation who could help you develop a strong reputation.  Classify each as a major or minor player (you will need to review this list and these classifications from time to time).  Now look at each and decide whether you need to strengthen your relationship with them, through meeting for coffee, offering support on one of their projects, or having lunch with them.

Exercise 3: Review your CV

We looked at preparing a CV in a blog called ‘New Job’.  It is time to review your CV and to give it a little more impact.  Work on your CV to make sure:

  1. It is absolutely clear what you do and why you are the best person to do it
  2. It demonstrates why I should trust you with the best, most challenging role
  3. The quality of its presentation, layout and production reflects the quality you want to portray for yourself

Exercise 4: Who are you?  What do you do?

These are two questions that often throw people.  Yet they ought to be the ones we really know the answer to.  So write each question at the top of a sheet of paper and start jotting snippets, phrases and words that will start to answer the question.

Gradually shape those gobbets into a coherent and concise answer.  Now word craft your answer to give it real impact.

Finally, practise it, until you can say it clearly and correctly without referring to your notes.  Make sure you have the final version properly recorded in your notebook and, from time to time, review and update it.  When you do that, always start from scratch.

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Being Organised

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


No matter how good you are at your job, you will never be as good as you can be until you organise your work effectively.  This means making time for things like filing and time management.  Here are ten top tips:

  1. Keep a To Do list, but never let it be your primary time management tool.  At the end of each day, look at the things on your to do list and decide which ones will be on tomorrow’s To Day list.  Put any things that are substantial in terms of complexity, duration or importance into your diary.
  2. Follow President Eisenhower’s advice and always distinguish what is important from what is merely urgent.
  3. Keep a day-book – a notebook that lives on your desk and in which you record any conversations in person or over the phone.  As soon as the phone rings, or as soon as you decide to make a call, open your day book, write the date and note the person that you are speaking with and their affiliation.  You are now ready to record any comments or agreements.
  4. Use a multi-part folder to plan your work a week ahead.
    Weekly Work Planning folder
  5. Periodically make time to clear the clutter and do your filing.  Better still, embrace the principles of the 5S Methodology:
    – Sorting – only what you need
    – Set in order – a place for everything
    – Shine-up – tidy and clean
    – Standardise – uniformity
    – Sustain – make tidying up a routine
  6. File papers in themed folders.  If your filing system isn’t working for you; start a new one.  But don’t waste time transferring all your old papers into the new system.  Instead, just transfer any papers you access in your day-to-day work.  Very soon, your old system will become an archive of the materials you don’t need.
  7. If you need to make a lot of calls, keep a call sheet, on which you record the person and purpose (and number if it isn’t in your organiser.  Fill gaps in your day with a call – or take the sheet with you when you travel.
  8. You probably keep a to do list.  Do you keep a list of things you have done?  Specifically, things you did that should result in something happening: a book you ordered should turn up, a message you left should be returned, a request you made should be fulfilled.  Keep a ‘waiting for…’ list so that you never drop the ball by forgetting something.
  9. Do one thing at a time.  Multi-tasking is not as effective nor as efficient as focus.
  10. Redundancy: if it’s important, have a back-up plan.  Have spares, have alternatives.  Stash a bit of spare cash in every bag you have – and spare pens.  Leave early and plan to have a coffee before a meeting.  Take reading or work wherever you go.

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Learning

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

Pocketblog has gone back to basics. This is part of an extended management course.


  • Why do you need to learn?
  • What do you need to learn?
  • How will you learn?
  • What will you do with the knowledge if you do learn?

These four excellent questions put us in mind of Bernice McCarthy’s 4MAT System for learning – a model that will help you answer the ‘How will you learn?’ question.  But let’s start at the beginning: Why?

The true answer to ‘why learn?’ will always be ‘because you can; because it is human nature to; and because learning is a joyous process.’  But I am guessing many readers will be more specifically career-focused.  You may be a new manager, perhaps hoping for a promotion, perhaps wanting a new role.

Exercise 1: Why Learn

Look at last week’s blog post, Career Development, and then ask yourself:  ‘What is my purpose in embarking on job-related learning?’  Write your answers in your notebook.

Exercise 2: What to Learn

To determine what you most need to learn, conduct a SWOT analysis.  Take a cold critical view of your personal strengths and weaknesses.  Then look at the opportunities ahead of you and the threats that may set you back.  Compare your strengths and weaknesses with the opportunities and threats and, from that, determine your learning priorities.

SWOT Analysis

Exercise 3: How to Learn

It seems likely that we all have our preferred learning styles: reading and analysis, experimentation and playing, reflecting on experiences.  Think about a time when you learned most easily and comfortably.  What were you doing then?  This is possibly a good starting point for designing a learning process that will work for you.

Further Reading

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