Welcome to New Zealand’s communication skills blog.

We're passionate about communication and have collected a whole lot of practical ideas and interesting thoughts on the subject. Look through our blog or contact us if you'd like further information on a particular topic.

Useful new angle on managing nerves before a presentation

April 23rd, 2014 | by Lee


Psychologist Kelly McGonigal’s interesting TED Talk  provides a very different and constructive message that helps with managing those nerves before a presentation. She advocates viewing stress as the body helping you to rise to a challenge, rather than a total negative that should be avoided.

This reflects what is possibly an urban legend I heard about Bruce Springsteen: Springsteen told an interviewer that he didn’t get nervous before a big concert. Later in the same interview, he said that when he was preparing for a concert he needed to be near a toilet because he sometimes vomited. When the interviewer reminded him that he had said he didn’t get nervous, Springsteen apparently said: ‘Oh, that’s not me being nervous. That’s just me getting  excited!’

Here’s the McGonigal presentation:

Three principles for really connecting in virtual meetings

February 11th, 2014 | by Lee

Last night as our son proudly gave us a virtual tour of  his new flat via Skype,  I realised how much virtual communication has overcome distance and become a very positive part of our lives.  People can meet without the time and cost of travel. Most of our daughter’s generation of parents have one parent working virtually so they can manage child care  more easily; all around the world, many teams can meet despite being very far away from one another; people can join stimulating international communities in their areas of interest, all through virtual meetings.

Yes, it does remove the direct human contact we all crave, but  with care, we can overcome much of this disadvantage.   If you  manage your virtual communication so that it pulls people together, you can make the most of the technology without losing the personal connect.

Three principles help:

1. Be prepared: Yes,  you need all the usual good preparatory stuff such as circulating an agenda and so on.  As well as this, establish and maintain some careful ground rules, such as insisting participants always identify themselves before they speak so everyone knows who is talking.   When you lead a face-to-face meeting, you can notice what is not being said, whereas in a virtual meeting, you have to deliberately connect into these communication gaps.  One way to do this is to allocate someone the  role of the critic (along the lines of Be Bono’s Black Hat) and then regularlyseek their critical input.  Another option is to  reward anyone who does speak up about something they disagree with.

2. Be present : Use a ground rule that no one multitasks. The human brain can’t do two things at once, it has to switch attention and the virtual discussion will miss out. Listen for the distracted tone in people’s voices and name it.   It will also help to frequently ask questions and seek opinions. Interactive survey tools can help with this. As the leader, draw a clock face with each participant’s name in a place around the dial.  Place it in front of you as the meeting starts and keep track of who is speaking most, then ask for contributions from the quieter people.

3. Be personal: Plan for a short check-in time at the beginning for people to share what is happening for them in their personal lives.  This is also a good time to share any successes since the last meeting. If there is some background noise – a dog barks or someone comes to the door, use that to create a personal connect.  It’s what makes us tick.

As the interesting  Harvard Business Review Blog says- we’re trying to connect, your virtual team will work a whole lot better if the baby crying in the background is a team baby crying!

How's your business savvy as you start 2014?

January 22nd, 2014 | by Lee

Looks like 2014 will continue the pressure for HR managers to become more business-savvy.  The issue has been around for a while, but the challenge is still with us because often it feels hard to focus on people while focusing on the business.

In many ways though, business is all people.

cheap custom essay

Business success is the right people doing the right things to succeed. HR skills in learning should help find answers to the key question:

‘How do we in HR find a way to get the right things done for the direction of our organisation?’

The 2012 CIPD Report on  Business Savvy: Giving HR the Edge identified four foundations for embedding business savvy. Most people-people HR Managers would say they  already had the last two foundations: 3. Connect with curiosity, purpose and impact and 4. Lead with integrity, consideration and challenge.

These two foundations are the keys to pursuing the first two:
       1. Understand the business model in depth. You can use your HR curiosity               and purpose to really develop an in-depth understanding of your                             organisation’s business model and strategy. Ask questions about it and                   keep exploring it until you really understand the  direction of the                organisation.
       2. Generate insight through evidence and data.  Rather than kidding yourself it is impossible, face the challenge of acquiring the data to prove the success or otherwise of your HR initiatives.  Without the integrity of data you won’t be able to convince the senior leaders of the value of these initiatives.
To help, look at the useful advice  at: Are you a business -savvy product manager?, and in more depth at: How can HR become more commercial?  2014 could be your business savvy year!

Want to make a change? Focus on the small ones

January 13th, 2014 | by Lee

How’s your success with those New Year resolutions?  It’s depressing isn’t it!  At the very moment we are resolving, in our hearts we know we won’t follow through.  One possible reason for this lack of will is that we set our sights too high. 

One of my coaching clients last year developed a smaller scale approach that she called ‘tweaking’. She figured that if she made a  small constructive change in her communication, but did it consistently, she should get some big results. It worked for her. Her particular tweak was that when team members were discussing work challenges, she would just pause quite a while before she spoke. She realised that often she was sapping team confidence by providing all the answers to challenges they faced. The vow of  silence forced her to wait rather than to leap in and often as not, the team found their own perfectly good answers to the problems.

Many highly productive tweaks are tiny.  As the article: How small changes make a big difference shows. Teams who use constructive touch such as high fives, tend to win more than those that don’t.

In communication, I’d expect the two most common valuable very simple tweaks would be:

1.  Planning conversations and meetings – even if only briefly. The success of this comes from the plan making us mindful of the purpose of the conversation.  Once we know why we’re having the conversation, the brain will focus. Without the awareness, the brain can be hi-jacked by the moment.

2. Listening more – to everyone, including ourselves! We already know what we know, listening can at least add to the information we have.

I wonder what simple tweak would alter your life?

Does what you say and how you say it matter?

December 25th, 2013 | by Janine

You will be all aware of how language can make a difference in this global world. We get around with the language we were born with and others manage to speak several.

Some words translate and become common to your own language. The English language has borrowed many words from different countries. Although some people are unaware of this. For example the classic George Bush comment at the beginning of the Gulf War “The French don’t even have a word for entrepreneur “!

However some words that have changed for the good are now able to cause offense.  I remember when gay meant happy and then it was absorbed into common parlance for homosexual ,taking away the negativity of that word.

It gave people who had been alienated in some areas of society a sense of pride.guardian article

Now it seems to be changing again and in youth culture it means stupid or ugly.  This must be distressing for young ‘gay’ people to find that a word that was so positive now denigrates.

I know all language changes and morphs but is it time to be even more aware of just how the adage can be so wrong “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me”

Because they can.

Managing your Christmas expectations

December 18th, 2013 | by Lee

Christmas brings a bitter-sweet challenge for many of us – we are reminded of how much our family means to us, but the reality of Christmas togetherness often challenges that joy.  I’ve felt for a long time that the Waltons have a lot to answer for with regard to family life!  The key to enjoying the season’s cheer is to manage your own expectations.  Figure out how to create a realistic and constructive story around what is manageable and life gets easier.

This year I’ve re-discovered Byron Katie’s work on changing your beliefs.  She is very insightful and practical.  Katie has a process to work on beliefs that is very powerful and surprisingly fun.  The good thing about her is that there are lots of examples on her in action on YouTube, so you can really figure it out. I was off work for a couple of weeks during the year and took the chance to find a lot of her clips and enjoyed them immensely. I didn’t notice any examples that explored people’s beliefs about Christmas, but the process works beautifully.

The Work has a series of simple steps.  First you  identify the belief that is causing problems:   ‘We must all share close family feelings at Christmas’…. or whatever your belief may be. Then you examine that belief, its accuracy and its impact on your behaviour.  Then Katie just gets you to turn it around to a different and more constructive belief and you work through the same process. It’s really fast and productive…yes. you do have time to do it before Christmas!

Here’s an example and I’ve chosen a classic Christmas challenge: He criticises me!


Great tips for livening up a boring presentation

December 3rd, 2013 | by Lee

Slideshare last week had an excellent and brief set of slides called How to save a lifeless presentation.  

It has a great set of slides and the content applies to the whole presentation, not just the slides. Grab it and do what it says, even with your most technical content.

How to Save a Lifeless Presentation from Bruce Kasanoff

Four sides to every story: Prepare to manage a conflict more constructively

November 26th, 2013 | by Lee

Recently  two of my yoga friends relayed to me a coffee conversation with a visiting yoga guru. It was interesting to see them describe a conversation with two viewpoints that were so different you would have thought they were different events. Neither could accept the other’s view of it. One talked about  the person as self-centred and uninterested in anyone else.  The other said the guru was very caring and so willing to share her knowledge with other people. Each was amazed that the other could possibly see the same conversation so differently.  I remembered a previous boss saying: ‘There are always at least four sides to every conflict’

It is very useful to access this awareness of different views, when we are emotionally involved in a conflict.   NLP provides a handy technique,   Perceptual Positions, to use as you prepare for a difficult conversation.  Using this tool, you shift you physically around the different viewpoints in a conflict and gets you to talk about the conflict from each positions’ point of view. It sounds a bit 80’s, but physically shifting certainly helps us see the different viewpoints.

Recently I’ve been re-visiting Byron Katie’s fascinating work, called, prosaically,  The Work.  She calls this shift to an alternate perception, ‘turnaround’.  Seeing it in action is very productive, confronting and yet often soothingly hilarious!  The idea is that you make a statement you believe, for example: ‘She was condescending to me’. Then you explore turning it around in various ways: ‘I was condescending to me’,  ‘She wasn’t condescending to me’, ‘I was condescending to her’ .  Then just see what happens to your approach.