Thursday, September 27, 2012
The only time I remember being really, really nervous when I was speaking in public was when I was 13-years-old and running for student council. I had to give a speech in front of the whole school, and my hands were shaking so bad I could barely hold onto my notes.
After that, I took several speech and drama classes, and I became more comfortable being in front of others.
Over the years, I've also learned that a little nervousness can be a good thing because it keeps you sharp. But I've also learned that preparation is key, as you'll see from this latest column I did for Gannett/USA Today....
Some people make public speaking seem so easy.
They make just the right hand gestures at just the right time, use just the right tone of voice, provide a super PowerPoint presentation and conclude with a riveting message that has the audience leaping to its feet and applauding.
But for many people, speaking in public can be a nerve-wracking, knee-knocking experience that leaves them with clammy hands and a churning stomach. It doesn't matter if the presentation is in front of a small group of people or a major speech in a large auditorium, the heart-pounding anxiety is the same.
If you're nervous speaking publicly, you're not alone.
While some nervousness can keep you focused, being too anxious can undermine your efforts.
If you're so nervous that you begin reading your PowerPoint slides in a monotone instead of trying to connect with your audience, then your professional reputation could take a hit or you might lose an important client.
You can manage your nerves in several ways, says Darlene Price, who has coached thousands of executives and professionals on how to improve their public speaking techniques.
"Fear is what drives nervousness," Price says. "For extroverts, fear of embarrassing themselves in front of others is what drives their nervousness while for introverts it's that fear of not being perfect."
You can master your fear of public speaking in several ways, she says. The most common mistake is not prepping for the audience.
"If people would just take the time -- while they're walking the dog or taking a shower -- to just practice out loud what they want to say, it would help them be better prepared," she says.
Price says that those who get nervous should look for strategies that better help them manage their fears. Among her suggestions:
-- Visualize it. Close your eyes and see the space where you'll be speaking.
See yourself walking out with a big smile on your face. Visualize yourself saying the first few lines of speech and looking out into the audience.
"The brain doesn't know the difference between vividly imagined events or a real events," she says. "Get all your senses involved. Hear yourself speaking. See the people."
-- List 10 "I am" statements. This is an exercise that Price finds effective for clients.
She has each one come up with a list of affirming statements, such as "I am confident," and "I am in touch with my audience." Price videotapes the person saying the statements over and over until they say them with confidence.
She then plays back the exercise so the clients can see themselves saying the phrases with confidence.
-- Smile and breathe. "While this sounds easy, it's not," Price says.
"But if you're smiling, it releases chemicals from the brain that calm the body," she says. "It also shows your audience you're relaxed. It's a much more powerful technique than it sounds." Breathing deeply can relax you as it floods the brain with oxygen.
-- Memorize your opening. It's a good idea to memorize and rehearse the first minutes of a presentation so you're not focused on slides or notes, your head is up and your eyes are connecting with your audience.
-- Toss something to the audience. After your opening statement, find a way to engage the audience, such as asking them to raise their hands in response to a question.
"You want something that puts the attention on them and at the same time, relieves you a little bit while they're thinking about themselves," Price says
Price, author of Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results, (Amacom, $21.95), says she encourages people not to be afraid of sharing their knowledge and ideas publicly.
"I know that there is a highly talented communicator in each person. We all have something to share. Don't die with the music inside you," she says.
Monday, September 24, 2012
Friday, September 21, 2012
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
I remember in junior high all the girls dressed the same. Blue jeans, boots, white belts, flannel shirts and pea coats. I would rather have jumped into a trash compactor than not look like everyone else.
But as I got older, of course, I wanted my own style. I wanted to stand out.
That's what happens to many people in the workplace, it appears. A new study looks at how we all feel threatened when we don't feel we're "special" enough. Read this latest story I did for Gannett/USA Today.....
You've heard the advice: If you're a woman or a minority and want to get ahead in a highly competitive field, look for a mentor to champion you.
But the downside to that strategy happens when others like you want the same mentor. You all may identify with this mentor, but the clustering of employees creates its own problems.
Putting too many women or minorities together in a group can lead to "ghettoes" of low-power minority groups, says Katherine L. Milkman, assistant professor of operations and information management professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business. These under-represented groups may think they aren't special enough, that it's better to leave and try to succeed elsewhere.
"Clustering minorities brings social cohesion, but it may make them (minority employees) think their chances for promotion are diminished," she says. "They sort of feel like, 'Well, maybe they don't need all of us.' They start to feel like they're not special and won't stand out. It starts to feel like a competition."
One surprising aspect of her research was that even men feel competition more keenly if they're around other men similar to themselves.
"We weren't expecting to see the same types of phenomenon for men," Milkman says. "But we actually do see these same types of competitive effects in terms of likelihood of leaving for men who are juniors. We do see that the more men there are in your work group, the more likely you are to exit."
Managers may want to re-think putting similar employees in a work group, she says. Instead of helping a team to bond, those similarities may prompt employees to feel threatened by one another because they don't see a chance to stand out and work their way up in a company. That may be true especially if a limited number of minorities are available to mentor workers similar to themselves.
The answer may be to disperse minority groups throughout an organization.
"People can feel like they stand out. Everyone wants to feel valued and unique," she says.
In addition, she thinks companies still should continue to create opportunities to network and make minorities and women feel part of a community, such as having lunches for women.
Milkman began her research while earning her doctorate four years ago at Harvard University. She and her mentor, Professor Kathleen L. McGinn at Harvard Business School, began looking at data and employee interviews from a large national law firm. She'd like to look at industries that aren't as competitive to see if the same findings hold true.
In the large law firm, they found that a greater number of female supervisors improved chances that junior-level female employees would be promoted.
Yet having senior men around doesn't provide any benefit for men. The reason: So many men are around that they don't ever lack resources to help them get ahead.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Yesterday I was affected for several hours by the Go Daddy crash. As I felt my blood pressure spike, I calmed myself by knowing that I had just talked to some pretty smart folks who reassure me that the bad guys who caused it will be found -- and stopped in the future. Here's a recent story I did for Gannett/USAToday.com....
Hackers often are portrayed as basement-dwelling, junk-food eating computer geniuses who enjoy wreaking havoc on unsuspecting people by sneaking into their computers.
Their activities can be criminal and in worst-case scenarios can shut down infrastructures or drain bank accounts.
But some "white hat" hackers are not only chasing these cybercriminals but also thwarting the attacks before they can be launched. With sleuthing abilities that would makeSherlock Holmes proud, the good guys predict what cybercriminals will do next and put measures in place for companies or government agencies to stop them.
CORE Security, a Boston-based operation that employs people around the world, researches what cybercriminals are up to and develops software to plug security holes before the bad guys find them.
"It's sort of like an MRI that helps you see inside a body. We are looking inside systems for potential problems and where an attack could happen," says Mark Hatton, CORE chief executive. "It's a controlled way of looking at what a hacker would do."
Still, the skills needed to track the bad guys across cyberspace require unique talents, and managing these white-hat hackers requires some finesse, he says.
"What I've learned is that you've got to hire people that are really good at what they do — and then you've got to let them do it," Hatton says. "I have to trust that they are choosing the right path."
At CORE, the researchers are extremely savvy computer sleuths who are tenacious in pursuing potential leads on where cybercriminals might strike next. He says employees must be given the independence to decide which trails to follow and be given the flexibility to stay on a case even if they sometimes encounter blind alleys or dead ends.
"You're talking about people who work exhausting hours," he says. "They may come in at 10 a.m. and not leave until 2 a.m.."
Adding to Hatton's management challenges: His research team operates out of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and some employees aren't comfortable speaking English. That has prompted Hatton to change his management style during his quarterly visits there.
The workers didn't ask questions during group meetings, but Hatton learned the reason was because some were very conscious that English wasn't their first language and were embarrassed.
Meeting with them in small groups encouraged them to use co-workers as interpreters, and now Hatton believes communication is flowing better.
Good communication is key not only to making sure information flows smoothly, but it also is critical in retaining workers that competitors such as Google are targeting. Hatton says he makes sure CORE employees understand, starting with the interview process, that they'll be continually learning on the job and developing their career skills.
"One thing I learned early on in my management career is that everyone wants to do something for the first time every day," he says. "We definitely have that here."
Hatton even uses that philosophy to recruit.
"I tell them how it's important that they're always learning," he says. "I tell them, 'You've got to make sure the job is interesting.' "
The average age of a CORE worker is 27, usually male, and someone who may come to work in flip-flops and shorts. When the cyberdetectives need to blow off steam, they can have fun playing on the company ping-pong table.
Still, when it comes to identifying global threats, these hackers are a serious group, Hatton says.
"Our people are highly driven to find the answer. They understand hackers. And even though it sounds like a Hallmark card, they really want to help customers get ahead of these bad guys," he says. "They put a lot of pressure on themselves to try and predict where attacks are happening and how they're happening."
Has Hatton ever considered flipping a bad guy into a white-hat hacker for CORE?
"No," he says. "As soon as someone has emotionally agreed to apply their skills in an unlawful way then that is not someone we would trust being on the good-guy side."
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
How long do you think a manager would keep his or her job if he failed to make a profit?
The answer is, usually not too long.
It's an issue I addressed in this latest story for Gannett/USAToday.....
Managers are supposed to focus on the bottom line, but new research suggests that kind of focus that may end up costing companies in the long run.
Managers can get a heightened sense of their own power when they're pushed to zero in on bottom-line issues such as headcount, budget control and worker bonuses, according to a recent experiment from New York University's Stern School of Business and Cornell University's Johnson School of Management.
"As resources become more finite, then there is a pecking order of who gets more. That gets everyone more focused on power," says Steven Blader, associate professor of management and organizations at NYU.
Managers who feel more powerful are more likely to treat workers unfairly and have less concern about fairness when making decisions, the research finds.
Still, researchers found another kind of manager does focus more on fairness: managers more focused on status — how others perceive them.
And a manager seen as being more fair is more likely to have an engaged workforce that delivers better bottom-line results, Blader says.
"The takeaway from this is that companies need to get their managers more focused on what their colleagues and subordinates think about them," he says.
While some companies use a 360-degree feedbackprocess that ranks manager performance on feedback from customers, colleagues and staff, managers need to make sure they're also focused on treating workers fairly even as their company wants them to get bottom-line results, Blader says.
Unfortunately, the sluggish economy may make such a task even more difficult.
Bosses are encouraged more than ever to focus on keeping staff lean and to limit compensation, which can lead to an elevated sense of their own power as they weigh in on pay raises or bonuses.
But when companies are struggling to be competitive, they need to focus most on innovation and collaboration in the workplace. If employees think that management isn't treating them fairly and is focused only on the bottom line, they are less likely to be engaged, offer creative ideas or collaborate with team members — all critical elements of success in a tight economy, he says.
Blader says he became interested in conducting these experiments based on his previous work looking at what engages and retains workers. He contends that companies can't hold onto talent only with incentives or compensation, and a company populated with power-grabbing managers may indeed sink the ship.
"We're not trying to create a popularity contest. Employees understand that managers have to make tough choices, but they're looking for someone who is thoughtful and deliberative and deals with issues head on," he says. "They want someone who is fair and willing to explain their decisions."
One interesting development: the newest generation of bosses may have the greatest chance of changing the workplace.
Through social networking like Facebook and Twitter, young managers are more status conscious and aware of employee opinions. They may solicit feedback and ideas from workers through such channels and are used to working collaboratively to reach decisions.
They also may use such networks to share their decision-making process, which can lead to workers feeling that they are being treated fairly.
While no managers want to believe they have become power-hungry ogres, how can they know if they've crossed the line? If a formal 360-degree feedback process isn't in place, Blader says a manager should try to solicit feedback from employees.
"Pay attention to even subtle signs from workers," he says. "Look at their reactions when you ask them how you're doing. Recognize that they're probably apprehensive of giving you feedback, so just try to be a little more attentive to how people are reacting to you."