Joe Hirsch

How to Optimize Success

Success isn’t the result of raw potential. It requires a deliberate plan.

High achievers don’t just have potential – they have a plan.

How do you optimize success? It’s as easy as PIE. (More on that in a bit.)

Turns out, there are four practices that high achievers follow in their quest for success. And with the right amount of attention and intention, chances are that you can become successful, too.

In Episode 46 of I Wish They Knew, Dr. Ruth Gotian, Chief Learning Officer at Weill Cornell Medicine and the author of the forthcoming book, “The Success Factor,” shares the four Ps of high performance.

Pillar #1: Passion

High achievers develop their passion. They aren’t strictly motivated by rewards and recognition — those matter, of course, but they are secondary factors. High achievers relentlessly focus on a goal that is so powerful, so potent, that it’s all they can see themselves pursuing for the rest of their lives.

Pillar #2: Purpose

To sustain passion, we need purpose. High achievers want it enough to work for it. By building a worth ethic around their passion, they secure the energy and enthusiasm to turn setbacks into starting points. Powered by purpose, high achievers don’t wonder if they’ll overcome a challenge, but how.

Pillar #3: Practice

High achievers never stop learning and relearning. They continuously refine and reinforce their foundation of knowledge and skills. They pay attention to fundamentals and keep honing their craft. The most successful people don’t rely on breakthrough talent, but basic techniques.

Pillar #4: Perspective

But the most enduring factor of success comes from understanding one’s own limitations. By surrounding themselves with sources of new knowledge, high achievers stretch their limits and seek continuous opportunities for growth. They elicit ideas from within and beyond their industry, consider various points of view, and are willing to listen to people younger than they are.

They also recognize the value in assembling a group of sponsors who will champion them and promote their work. Remember that part about PIE? Andy Lopata has said that success is comprised of Performance, Image and Exposure. These three elements are responsible for our success in varying degrees. Our performance matters, of course, as does the public image we create. But the real driver of success is exposure to new opportunities by other people who are willing to recommend us, promote us, and champion our cause. Without them, we are left elbowing our way to the front of crowded pack all by ourselves.

Listen to my conversation with Ruth Gotian for additional insights on how you can optimize your success!

How Cold Email Can Produce Hot Leads

Getting what you want from cold email means giving others what they need.

The thought of having to write cold emails can put a freeze on just about anyone’s aspirations. But if you’re trying to pitch a new product, generate leads for your business or get noticed by a potential client, cold emailing can be a low-entry approach to opening doors. And while there are apps that streamline the process, cold emailing is more about form than finesse — and developing good form can be the difference between opportunity and rejection.

The good news is that you can turn cold emails into hot leads by sticking to four simple rules.

I’ve used these four techniques to land a a TEDx talk, appear on popular podcasts, generate paid speaking opportunities, get influencers to write endorsements for my book and play a series of downs for my beloved Philadelphia Eagles. (OK, that last one isn’t true. But I’m still trying.)

Before you send another cold email that goes nowhere, take time to reconsider your approach and whether it incorporates a sensible and strategic approach.

Rule No. 1: Go In Hot

Make no mistake: To succeed at cold emailing, you must go in hot, not cold. Before making any attempt at outreach, your email needs to reflect the following: 

Research: Before you attempt contact, do your homework. Why is the prospective client or opportunity on the other end a good fit? Why is it worthy of your outreach? If the connection is weak, so are your chances for success. 

Relevance: Even if you can identify an end target, you still need to define why you are the one who can hit their mark. What about your background, expertise and experience makes you a compelling choice for this client or opportunity? 

Relatability: In a crowded field, you have to stand out. But that doesn’t necessarily mean being different than your competition. Identifying unusual points of connection can be just as compelling.  To land a keynote for a global financial services company, I let the event planner know we attended the same small college. It worked. 

Rule No. 2: Make It About Them

Anyone who receives a cold email immediately wants to know: Why me? It’s critical that you address that question explicitly before you make an ask. What about this person or opportunity has drawn your interest in the first place? Make that clear from the very start, or you’ll be quickly dismissed. It’s also a good idea to be succinct. Don’t repel your recipient with long-winded emails. Say it short and simple.  

Rule No. 3: Make It Easy To Say Yes

Sometimes, we become our biggest competition. If you want to create opportunities with cold email, you need to make it easy for the recipient to say “yes.” To stay out of your own way, be sure your email:

Makes a specific request:  Is it clear what you’re looking for the other person to do next? Did you state that message up front, or is it buried in the body of your message?

Defines a time horizon: Did you give the recipient a clear sense of when and how your request can be fulfilled? Remember, you’re hitting above your weight class and the people you’re reaching out to are busy and inclined to say no. Your job is to convert their hesitation to support by making the ask as defined as possible. Specify the dates, times, and duration for your request and be certain that it can be fulfilled under those conditions.

Demonstrates empathy and good taste: As a useful exercise, trade places with the recipient and ask yourself: “If I were the one getting this email, what would it take to keep my interest?” You wouldn’t appreciate aggressive language or urgent deadlines, would you? Neither do they. 

Rule No. 4: Show Gratitude

The first three rules can help you warm up to a cold connection. But even if you successfully win them over, you should already be thinking about ways to nurture that relationship for future opportunities. And there’s no better way to do that than with a genuine expression of gratitude

If something good comes from your original request, let the recipient know. I still drop a note of appreciation every few months to the real estate executive who gave me my first paid speaking gig. It’s an opportunity for me to thank him for taking a chance on me and to let him know the good that continues to come from it. People will be more inclined to help you if they sense that their contribution made a difference — not just in your life, but in the lives of others, too. 

When you take a sensible and strategic approach to cold emailing, you just might discover that opportunity knocks. If you give others what they need, you can usually get what you want. And when seeking opportunity, always remember: Expect nothing, appreciate everything. 

How to Develop More Courage at Work

It’s not a quality possessed by just a few. It’s a skill that can be learned by all.

Courage is not some innate property. It turns out it’s not even something that varies hugely by personality. It’s a choice we make in specific situations to do something that feels risky because it feels worthy. And it’s a choice any of us can make.

The cost of courage is well understood: We’re afraid of the repercussions it may have on our standing or reputation. It can mean risking employment and income. But we’ve come to associate acts of courage with larger-than-life individuals who assume near-heroic status for their boldness and bravery, when in reality just about anyone can muster the courage to act.

In this episode of I Wish They Knew, researcher and author Jim Detert explores the mindset and method of developing greater courage at work. It’s an “inside-out” process that begins with deep personal reflection (values and risk assessment) and shifts towards efficient process management (audience, timing and follow up).

Here’s Jim’s checklist for developing a courage game plan that leads to lasting change and success:

STAGE ONE: Reflection (Things to ask yourself)
  1. Do I have a personal code of conduct?
  2. Is there some duty orientation that moves me to act in certain situations?
  3. Have I established a safety net for myself to mitigate the costs of speaking up?
STAGE TWO: Process (Things to do with others)
  1. Have I established myself a credible voice on this issue?
  2. Have I earned the trust of others so they are willing to join me?
  3. Have a I communicated my intentions with clarity and conviction?
  4. Have I planned follow-up opportunities with supporters and detractors to strengthen commitments or change minds?

Listen to my conversation with Jim Detert for additional insights and strategies on how to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right way.

How To Show Appreciation To Your Remote Team

Offer personalized thanks, work flexibility and career-advancing support.

While good leaders routinely look for ways to show appreciation to their employees, current conditions have made it harder – and perhaps even more important – to recognize the contributions of others. A prolonged work-from-home order or staggered return to the office means less visibility for some workers who may already fear they’re being overlooked. For others, receiving positive feedback or other forms of validation can provide a momentary and much-needed boost at a time when job-related stress and uncertainty remain high.  

A little appreciation goes a long way. Research shows that the simple act of expressing gratitude can positively impact our mood and outlook. In one study, participants who spent ten weeks writing just a few sentences about things they were grateful for experienced greater optimism about their lives. Not only that, they also engaged in healthier behaviors, like exercising more regularly and getting more sleep.

Expressing gratitude can also boost productivity. Researchers at the Wharton School found that a group of university fundraisers who received hearty thanks from the school’s director of annual giving made 50 percent more fundraising calls than a second group that went unrecognized.

Here are some low-cost, high-return ways to make your appreciation known, even from a distance:

Make it specific and sincere.   

Gratitude doesn’t require a grand gesture. By conveying your appreciation with specific, personalized expressions of thanks, you’ll show others their contributions haven’t gone unnoticed. An unexpected phone call, handwritten note or inexpensive gift can surprise and delight team members — and restore the human connection that’s often missing when people are working apart.  

To help a major healthcare services provider increase engagement with their remote teams, I suggested that leaders participate in a two-week gratitude challenge. They spent a few moments each morning listing the contributions of their direct and second-level reports, with the goal of recounting how they impacted the organization in ways large and small. Next, leaders expressed their thanks in short video messages that were sent directly to the recipients.

One SVP thanked his assistant for helping him organize quarterly performance snapshots. A sales director acknowledged the efforts of two members of her team who worked over the weekend to polish a marketing campaign before launch. The videos were an immediate hit and eventually led to other recognition rituals, including weekly appreciation features at staff meetings (“Thank You Thursdays”) and a Slack channel for sharing kudos with team members.   

Give employees flexibility in how they work.

Sometimes the best way to show people they’re valued is to give them more time to themselves. An analysis of work-related communications exchanged by more than 3 million people in 16 global cities found that the average workday increased by 8.2 percent, equal to nearly 50 minutes, during the pandemic’s early weeks. By giving employees well-placed periods of relief, leaders can prevent burnout and allow them to prioritize their week.

The gift of flexibility doesn’t require a total overhaul of how work gets done. A major hospital system has rolled out “Focused Wednesday Afternoons” for its 22,000 employees, hoping to provide a midweek break from pinging devices and communication channels. Other companies are experimenting with “quiet days,” where phone and Zoom meetings and calls are strongly discouraged. 

Look after employees’ growth and wellbeing. 

The pandemic-led downturn will prevent most companies from giving bonuses or pay raises in the near future. But that shouldn’t preclude other intangible benefits, like opportunities for career development and professional growth. As a year-end gift, ask team members to draw up a wish list for learning: online courses, digital or print subscriptions to business magazines, all-access passes to virtual summits — anything that provides opportunities for continuous growth.

Leaders can also reward employees by looking after their emotional and physical wellbeing. One of my clients, a software development company, gave employees an unscheduled mental health day to catch up on projects or simply catch their breath. Another client in financial services has decided to cover the cost of telehealth resources like at-home workout subscriptions and ergonomics support.

By acknowledging the life-size juggling acts facing your employees, you’ll score points for showing appreciation while also giving them greater control over their time and health — a huge investment in their quality of life. 

Although the nature of work continues to change, the need for meaningful, personalized gratitude remains constant. We’re all working harder and longer, and receiving recognition for that effort is both gratifying and restorative. Take time to provide thoughtful acts of appreciation, and you’ll gain the trust and admiration of your employees, no matter where they are.

How To Deliver Difficult Feedback When You’re Working Apart

It starts with better planning, problem solving and partnership.

While it’s certainly preferable to share corrective feedback face to face, current conditions may not allow it. The sustained shift to remote work has crimped the communications of many leaders, especially when they’re called upon to share difficult news from a distance. The result: Low-grade, infrequent feedback that often resembles a “praise sandwich” and glosses over the delicate but necessary information employees sometimes need to hear. 

Withholding feedback comes at a cost. A study by CEB showed that companies with a culture of open communication had a 270% higher 10-year shareholder return (7.9% as compared to 2.1%) than those who operated in silence. And research from management firm Zenger Folkman noted that employee engagement rose when managers provided honest feedback, even when it was corrective in nature.

When you can’t have these difficult conversations in person, consider the following low-barrier feedback strategies to bridge the distance and ease the discomfort.

Plot the conversation.

Research shows that rehearsing the steps and sequence of an action can lead to concrete improvement. Engaging in “shadow practice” before heading into a highly charged conversation can be helpful, especially when you’re not actually in front of the other person. Start by imagining yourself in prime communication form: Calibrated voice. Measured tone. Open posture. These visioning exercises will prepare you for optimal performance when it counts. 

Once you’ve established your presence, draw up a list of positions or arguments you expect to hear from the other person. What objections will be raised? How is he or she likely to respond to your position? Can you counter with additional evidence or arguments? Laying out the conversation ahead of time will help you stay calm and focused in the moment, especially if you’re expecting a contentious exchange.

Shrink the problem. 

When we’re not talking to people face to face, issues can become enlarged and distorted, leading others to “resist and retreat” to the safety of ideas and actions they already trust. This so-called ‘endowment effect‘ is a powerful countermeasure that may produce unwanted defensiveness, distrust and escalation. When working remotely, the best way to solve big problems is to make them smaller. 

Instead of delivering a sweeping critic, try right-sizing your feedback so that it focuses on specific and recent events. Avoid an information dump that conflates and confuses details. Communicating in a slow drip rather than a sudden burst increases the likelihood that others can act on your feedback with greater clarity and comfort. 

One of my clients, an international software developer, made good use of this shrinking strategy. Instead of delivering months of narrative feedback at the end of a quarter, managers now share micro messages with members of their team every Friday in quick Zoom meetings. These small exchanges have paid big dividends, as the frequency and format of these conversations have kept the feedback loop tight. 

Widen the feedback circle. 

People rarely get better all by themselves, but it’s not easy taking criticism from colleagues — it may even cause others to seek validation from new peer groups. This dynamic can change with the creation of “challenge networks,” small-group cohorts where peer feedback is normalized and encouraged.   

Ask employees to suggest 2-3 colleagues for their challenge network based on compatibility and trust. Members of the group provide just-in-time guidance and support, widening the feedback circle and keeping communication lines open. Once managers help convene these forums, they maintain a respectful distance — leaving room for candid talk without fear of repercussion.

Not only do challenge networks alleviate the feedback burden placed on managers, but they also add new layers and depth to the picture of performance. Helping your team find additional sources of support (and even the occasional nudge) can go a long way towards easing the isolation many workers may experience while working from home. 

The unpredictability of this pandemic has reinforced the importance of exerting influence where we still can. Making sure that others receive well-formed, right-sized feedback that draws on multiple sources is one way to support them from a distance — all while building a stronger sense of team rapport, collaboration and connection.  

You Need A Strategy For Your Employees’ Mental Health

As Covid-19 continues to redefine the way leaders communicate within and beyond the office, many are reeling from a rise in workplace-related anxiety and stress. A recent study by Mind Share Partners, in partnership with Qualtrics and SAP, showed a decline in the mental health of nearly half of respondents since the onset of the pandemic. Nationwide, almost half of Americans report the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll

While treatment of serious mental health concerns should be left to trained professionals, there are steps that every leader can take to alleviate the pandemic’s toll on the overall  wellbeing of their employees. Despite the unpredictability of the moment, these practices can provide a much-needed lift to the many people now experiencing heightened fears about their emotional and even physical health. 

Care for employees with high-touch communication.

As teams continue to work from a distance, it’s crucial that managers remain visible by communicating with frequency and intention. By staying in regular contact with employees, leaders can spot signs of emotional wear-and-tear before they become more pronounced. More importantly, dedicating time and resources to these check-ins sends a clear message to people that their emotional health matters. 

Scarcity of time is no excuse. For especially busy clients, I’ve recommended a “15-2-1” approach: Spend 15 minutes once a week talking to two members of your team. Making these conversations ritualized and routine eases some of the discomfort and stigma that may arise when discussing mental health (“This doesn’t apply to me” or “I’m doing fine, why bother?”) and can yield positive, business-oriented results for managers and employees alike. 

For high-touch communication that goes beyond trite greetings, try these helpful prompts:

  • Do you feel like you have enough time to get your work done in a reasonable manner?
  • How do you feel at the start and end of your day?
  • Are you finding ways to stay connected to the team? 
  • How can I be a better ally for you right now?

Allow others to reframe and refocus.

Researchers have demonstrated the restorative effects of reframing and refocusing in alleviating emotional pain. According to one study, individuals who suffered setbacks but then envisioned a brighter future through “prospective writing” experienced a sense of post-traumatic growth. Other studies  have shown that individuals coped better with significant life changes when they actively focused on their core values and beliefs. 

These are not clever tricks to bypass real concerns. Rather, they are powerful frameworks for helping your employees gain control over fears both real and imagined by enlisting the support of those closest to them. Leaders can play a pivotal role in facilitating this process simply by “showing up” for their employees with offers of compassion, concern and commitment. Just knowing that someone is there to help can be reassuring.

Pay attention to physical indicators and nonverbal cues.

Individuals who are struggling with stress and anxiety often show signs of distress. Early indicators include changes in behavior and mood, as well as nonverbal cues like alienating body language and disposition. Attentive leaders should be aware of the following red-flag behaviors by employees:

  • Exhibiting excessive nervousness, restlessness, or irritability
  • Acting overly passive, worried or tense
  • Avoiding group gatherings, whether in-person or virtual
  • Showing visible signs of fatigue, aches or pains

For leaders, paying attention pays off: Researchers have found that people volunteer less information and speak less articulately when talking to inattentive bosses, whereas attentive bosses — as measured by their awareness of nonverbal cues — receive more relevant and detailed information even without having to ask for it. Before you can advocate for others, you need to notice how they communicate their unspoken needs. 

There’s no telling when the effects of the pandemic will substantially ease or whether we’ll ever return to the old rhythms of work. No matter the circumstances, leaders should prioritize the mental and emotional wellbeing of their employees as a matter of sound practice. Organizations achieve a higher order of purpose when they help individuals experience a deeper sense of wholeness. 

How To Prepare For a Difficult Conversation You Can’t Have in Person

Originally appeared at Inc.

There’s no easy way to handle a difficult conversation. Whether you’re facing a high-stakes negotiationdelivering delicate feedback, or seizing a new opportunity, the words we share can have unmistakable impact. And with so many daily interactions now forced online, the physical distance and emotional detachment can make these virtual exchanges even harder.

Delivering a well-placed message takes skill and savvy, but good communication starts with clear thinking, careful planning, and calibrated emotions. Here are four ways business owners and leaders can prepare for tough conversations with greater intention and reflection, especially when they can’t have them face to face.

Define your desired outcome.

It’s critical to define your audience and objectives up front. Spend time before the conversation reflecting on the larger context of this conversation. Are you pitching a prospective client? Asking your boss for more flexible hours? Defending an unpopular action with members of your team? Different situations demand nuanced shifts in communication, and gaining this clarity will help you convey your message with conviction.

 Be sure to engage in what psychologists call perspective-taking, or the act of broadening one’s view of people and events. Who else stands to be impacted by this conversation? Are there implications for other members of your team, customers, board members. or investors? Will the effects of this conversation ripple beyond the organization? Words take on new meaning when you’re clear about who and what is at stake. 

Anticipate what will be seen and said.

Research shows that rehearsing the steps and sequence of an action can lead to concrete improvement. Engaging in “shadow practice” before heading into a highly charged conversation can be helpful, especially when you’re not actually in front of the other person. Envision yourself in prime communication form: Calibrated voice. Measured tone. Open posture. Imagining yourself this way will help you recall and relay similar motions when it counts. 

Besides establishing presence, draw up a list of positions or arguments you expect to hear from the other person. What objections will be raised? How is he or she likely to respond to your position? Can you counter with additional evidence or arguments? Laying out the conversation ahead of time will help you stay calm and focused, even if the exchange turns tense. 

Script before you speak.

NFL coaches are known to draw up their team’s first 15 offensive plays before they take the field. If you are bracing for a particularly rough conversation, it may be helpful to play offense and script what you plan to say, especially if you’re worried about finding the right words under pressure. 

For greater impact, prepare with a WRAP approach — a four-part feedback sequence in which you state what you’re hoping to accomplish, explain your reason for raising the issue, and demonstrate how it affectsrelationships and results. End with a promptby asking the other person for his or her reactions or suggestions for next steps. Many of my clients have successfully used the WRAP approach to defuse highly charged conversations with this playbook for clear and constructive communication. 

Make sure to vent first. 

Most of all, don’t let pent up emotions get in the way of positive dialogue. Over time, these feelings slowly build until they burst, leaving us prone to error. Psychologists call this emotional leakage, and it’s the reason why so many conversations quickly fly off the rails with pain and blame.   

Find a productive outlet to vent before you talk — either with a trusted confidant or through reflective exercises like journaling. This release will help you feel more grounded and settled during the conversation and just might prevent you from saying or doing something you’ll later regret.  

While it’s certainly preferable to have tough conversations face to face, current conditions may not allow it. When you can’t meet in person, taking proactive and preventative steps can make all the difference in how your exchange plays out. And while there’s no telling how others may respond, you can be sure that success follows preparation, no matter the forum. 

How to Communicate In Times of Change and Uncertainty

Change is a constant in every business, but managing through change can be highly volatile. Whether it’s the arrival of new management, disruptive technologies, or customer tastes, leaders must act decisively to pivot with the market while allaying fears and pushback from team members who cling to legacy thinking and behaviors.

How effectively leaders respond to these challenges can be the difference between widespread chaos or calm.

As a communications speaker and consultant, I’ve noticed that the most skillful and sensitive leaders take a coach approach to managing change cycles. They demonstrate empathy but provide the right amount of challenge and support. They commit to new priorities but listen to the concerns of team members. Most important of all, these leader-coaches navigate their teams towards safer, stronger ground — capitalizing on change as an opportunity for contribution and growth.

Here’s how you can lead your employees though your company’s most difficult periods of change:

Restore a sense of safety.

The most immediate casualty of change is security. For many workers, the prospect of change conjures fears of what will be lost, such as status, responsibilities, business applications and even colleagues. The ensuing stress can deal a blow to productivity, creativity and even personal health. 

Leaders can curb this self-limiting tendency by restoring a sense of safety. Researchers at UCLA have shown that the simple act of verbalizing emotions can give people greater control over their fears.

Help your team discern real and imaginary fears by asking them to describe their worst-case scenarios: “What could go wrong here — and can you live with it?”Listening to your employees’ fears will yield a greater understanding of the root causes.  

Reinforce the facts.

News of impending changes — a proposed merger, staff shakeup or major rewrite of company rules — can quickly spiral into a frenzy of speculation, misinformation and doubt. To keep things on track, leaders should relay clear and consistent messaging that separates truth from fiction. 

Instead of sharing new developments in a company-wide email or all-hands meetings, consider a targeted approach for key announcements. Holding small meetings with select personnel allows leaders to speak frankly and fairly with employees. Together, they can debunk misconceptions, reinforce facts and clarify goals. 

Ask them: “What additional information would help you feel better about these changes?” Knowledge is comfort. 

Refocus attention to the present. 

Early in the change cycle, employees may experience temporary performance drags as they adjust to new work realities. They may report feeling sluggish, frustrated or too overwhelmed by new demands to get anything done. Leaders can help by refocusing attention to the present: “What are you working on now, and how can I help you meet those goals?”

Stepping back into the present provides much-need relief. In a series of studies spanning more than a decade, researchers showed how people facing a range of changing circumstances — from new schools to new relationships to new jobs — can regain focus with a simple exercise: spending ten minutes writing about the positive effects of the values they hold.

Doing something similar with your employees can alleviate the stress that naturally follows upheaval. Try the following reflection: “What about this work brings you the most satisfaction, and how can you carry that forward as things evolve?”

Renew commitments to grow.

As fear gives way to acceptance, leaders should channel efforts towards growth: concrete ways that employees can leverage change for long-term benefits. Once employees indicate more comfort with change, it’s an ideal time for leaders to create internal procedures to ensure that momentum is solidified and sustained.

Start by creating a growth blueprint: What does growth look like, and what are the impediments standing in its way? Engage your team in the planning process and seek their input at every pass. Developing this blueprint requires that all team members know what’s expected of them and how their role fits into the team’s larger purpose and priorities.

People don’t fear change — they fear being changed. By acknowledging and addressing the emotions likely to surface during a change cycle, you’ll not only help others go through change, but grow from it, too. 

How to Nail Your Next Virtual Presentation

Delivering a memorable, high-caliber presentation is no easy feat, especially when the stakes are high. As the Covid-19 pandemic pushes more work into the digital world, business owners and leaders are experiencing the added challenge of creating presentations that engage and inform their teams and customers from a distance. But without a thoughtful plan for design and delivery, many of these presentations will, unfortunately, fall short of expectations.

Based on my past and current experiences delivering online presentations — from workshops and courses to webinars and even keynotes — I’ve learned that the most powerful and polished presentations do the following things before, during, and after the event.

Before the presentation: Match the message to the medium.

Many leaders worry that a virtual presentation will feel impersonal and long-winded, since they rely on the energy and body language of a “live” audience to guide their delivery. That’s why the design process is so critical — and you need to think about how you’ll match your message to the medium. Consider making these your guiding design principles:

  • “Chunk” your content. Break down your ideas into bite -size portions that can be easily grasped and digested. Chunking lessens the cognitive load of learning online and makes your presentation more understandable. 
  • Use visuals wisely.  Images should compel, not compete. Unlike in-person presentations, where images blend into the backdrop, visuals tend to have an outsize effect in virtual presentations (especially in Zoom or Skype, where they dwarf your video thumbnail). Your facial expressions, tone and cadence will convey just as much meaning as that slide you’re dying to show. Words can make impressions, too.
  • Make interaction a priority. With a small amount of effort,  you can turn virtual presentations into interactive experiences. In a recent online client workshop, I used  Zoom’s “breakout rooms” feature to let participants solve a remote-work challenge in real-time. Zoom allows hosts to pre-assign participants to breakout rooms, which can be especially useful to owners and team leaders who want to use collaboration for strategic purposes. Integrating real-time polling with web-based tools like Slido or Poll Everywhere can bring the right amount of spontaneity when you need it. And assigning partners to discuss an issue through Zoom’s private chat can provide a focused environment for collaboration.

During the presentation: Be your own A/V pro.

Just because your presentation is virtual doesn’t mean you should sacrifice quality. Paying attention to the sound, lighting, and optics of your “stage” will make a difference in how your presentation is perceived by others. As your presentation is about to get underway, check your audio and video settings to make sure they’re at optimal levels. Your background should be tasteful and professional, free of clutter and visual distractions. 

If you’re presenting through Zoom, share hosting privileges with someone on your team (or, if you’re presenting to an outside group, with an event organizer or lead) to manage production duties like sharing screens, advancing slides, or cueing external online content. These tasks, though minor, can break your flow and cause unnecessary delivery drags.  And for additional support, consider turning your phone into a confidence monitor by logging into Zoom as a participant (you can adjust the settings to go incognito) to see what your audience sees. 

After the presentation: Share resources and reflections.

Your presentation may be over, but if you want your message to matter, the work’s not quite done. To help your attendees review, retain, and revise their next steps, share post-presentation resources and reflections with attendees that not only summarize the main points but offer guidance on how to follow up. 

After wrapping up an online training for a client or industry group, I create a post-presentation playbook that features a full recording of the session, a transcript of the chat discussion (which I use strategically to collect insights and ideas from attendees), a run-down of key learnings and round-up of related readings and research for further study. This may seem like overkill, but I can’t tell you how many people find the playbook instrumental in helping them transfer and apply new knowledge.

Even when conditions allow for groups to gather in person, the impact of a well-designed, thoughtfully executed virtual presentation should become part of your communication platform. Not only can you widen your reach, but you might even stretch your horizons.

Are You A Mind-Changer?

Originally appeared at Inc.

It’s not easy to win people over. Whether you’re pitching to a skeptical investor, negotiating with a tough client, or sharing feedback with your team, the act of persuading others can drain time, emotion and resources — and doesn’t always produce a favorable result. People often resist information that doesn’t conform to their tastes or views, making it difficult for competing messages and ideas to break through.

But according to Wharton professor Jonah Berger, we’re going about persuasion the wrong way. In his new book, The Catalyst, Berger argues that our default ‘push’ approach to persuasion, or doubling down on efforts to get our point across, can actually backfire. To change people’s minds, Berger identifies several barriers to acceptance and provides straightforward suggestions on how to bring skeptics over to your side. 

Mix options with opportunities. 

Most people crave control and find change directives disempowering. A client company in the financial services industry learned this the hard way when it tried to roll out a new HR system with a flashy all-hands presentation. Employees gave the announcement a tepid response, noting the process felt shallow and sales-like. Only when senior leadership organized targeted feedback forums to learn more about employee concerns did momentum for the project build. 

To more effectively persuade your staff, tap into their desire for agency and choice. For change initiatives, provide different options that offer employees a say in how they fulfill new requirements. After listening to employee feedback about its HR platform, my client allowed individuals to choose which features they would adopt in the phase-in period, raising adoption rates and building goodwill that might have otherwise been much harder to achieve.

Shrink the process of change. 

To be more persuasive, you must overcome the unwillingness of others to part ways with ideas and actions they trust, something social scientists call the ‘endowment effect.’ To the change-averse, this is a powerful countermeasure — if things are working, why reconsider? Getting others to let go of the status quo often requires a shift in tactics. You have to make the prospect of change seem a lot smaller than it first appears.

A healthcare client trying to boost employee participation in a wellness program made good use of this shrinking strategy. Rather than set ambitious goals for diet and exercise, employees were asked to describe their current behaviors, then scale them back by a small degree. People accustomed to drinking three cans of sodas a day cut back to two; sedentary employees started taking ten-minute walks around the campus. Over time, these micro changes grew into larger habits. By offering your employees an easy way to get started, you will lower their cost of trying. 

Alleviate uncertainty with clear information.  

Few people will reconsider their beliefs or behaviors without clear supporting information. Before asking your team to make a switch, come prepared with clear information that addresses their most basic concerns: Will a new product be better than the old one? Will a new initiative really save money? Will voting for this proposal improve my life or the lives of those I care about?

Frame issues in terms that people will find understandable and relatable. A good strategy here is to know your subject so well that you could explain it to a child. If you can explain yourself effectively to someone who has no background on the subject, you can certainly make a persuasive case with someone who does. 

To change someone’s beliefs or behaviors, don’t just push harder — clear away the hard issues. It’s much easier to get others to shift their positions when they feel in charge of making their own moves.