In Part 1, my first suggestion is that you see numbers as stories. So if your deck has plenty of numbers, instead of just rattling off those numbers from the screen, tell the audience what those numbers mean.  And if I may add: tailor your story to the audience. The level of detail can vary. Executives tend to want the punch line right away while technicians may want to hear about the thinking behind the numbers.

My second suggestion is to use bullet points in your deck so you can be more spontaneous as you deliver your presentation, rather than reading from copy-pasted text from a Word document.

Here’s the challenge. Boil down your content into bullet points, then expound each point in your own words. Don’t forget to exude confidence as, remember, you own the deck. You’re friends with the numbers. You’re crushing it!

Example: you are presenting a business case for buying a new machine for quality control. On the benefits slide, a bullet point simply says “Reduce rework.” You tell the decision-makers in the audience:

“Right now, the production line is so fast that when defect X appears, the line produces 10,000 defective pieces before our people notice it. Then we stop the line, isolate those 10,000 pieces, and spend Y hours repairing what can be repaired and throwing away the rest.

“But with this machine, we will be able to detect the defect after only 100 pieces, thus we save on cost of rework.”

This brings me to my last suggestion: anticipate questions.

Those decision-makers would likely ask for the cost of the rework. Do your homework and you can say “Php Z per unit” rather than stammer “I’ll get back to you” (which won’t sit well with busy approvers).

In fact, be ready for another question down the road: how much would the quality-control machine cost and what is the payback period?

So practice your presentation and pretend you’re an executive listening to yourself. What questions pop into your mind? This takes critical thinking, curiosity and foresight. Have the answers in your fingertips. If there are so much data to memorize, then keep short notes handy.

When you do all three: see the numbers as stories, use bullet points to force you to expound, and anticipate questions so you have the answers ready, your reporting days are over. You will shine as an expert.

And you know how employers value experts.

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When you’re making a presentation, do you find yourself:

Copy-pasting a Word document onto a Powerpoint, then read the content word for word?

Reciting the numbers on the screen, then freezing when an audience member asks you a question?

Having your boss answer that question, then he takes over the rest of the presentation? (You quietly slink back to your seat.)

If that’s you, you’re sabotaging your career. Think of a business presentation as an audition for higher responsibilities. Everything else being equal, employers value those who communicate well.

Here’s my pitch: What you may need is not another workshop on presentation skills. Rather, you need a change in thinking. Do you see yourself as a reporter or an expert?

The reporter is the first guy I described who reads the Powerpoint word for word… and irritate the audience member who can read faster than you can speak.  He’s also the guy limited to the content on the screen. Throw him a question and he draws a blank, then pulls in an expert, usually the boss, to rescue him.

So why not be that expert? In doing so, the audience will see you as boss material. Here are some suggestions.

1. See the numbers as stories.

It’s one thing to rattle off the numbers. It’s another to tell the audience what they mean. Is there a problem? How bad is the problem? What do the data say is causing the problem? Where do you and the audience go from there?

Once you get the hang of this, you will be more conversational than robotic. What’s more, because you know what the numbers mean (and not mean), you won’t be caught flat-footed in the Q&A.

2. Use bullet points.

When you copy-paste a Word document to a deck, you didn’t actually create a deck. You might as well project the original Word and read from there. There’s no real difference! So why do people do it? Because it’s easy. In reading the text, you’d just be coasting along.

I’ll give an example in Part 2, as well as offering a third suggestion.

Meantime, if you know someone who struggles as a reporter, do that person a favor and share this post with him. He or she will thank you for it.

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Sometimes a powerful question for personal change has the obvious answer of “no.”

For example, are you sure you want to eat that donut? And be one step closer to being unhealthy, maybe even diabetic and hypertensive? Is that who you want to be?

The power lies in connecting motivation with identity, which in turn is shaped by values. If you value short-term pleasure, then no wonder why it’s hard for you to resist that donut. But if you affirm your values of purpose and vitality, then the siren song goes down a few notches.

Let’s go back to that donut. What if you answer: “Who I want to be is someone who’s so healthy that I can enjoy life with my loved ones.”

I know you may still want that donut now and worry about life later (no thanks to temporal discounting). But I’d bet it will at least make you think twice before sinking your chompers on that sugary and fatty concoction.

So the next time you want to defeat that bad habit or spur yourself to be better, ask:

“Who do you want to be?”

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If you’ve been in some meetings on succession planning, you may have heard some leaders saying, “Oh, my successor is not ready”, “She still has a lot to learn” or “Maybe after two more years.” Then as you ask for specifics, the discussion sinks into vagueness.

“He’s not ready.” So WHY is he not yet ready?

“She still has a lot to learn.” So what precisely does she have to learn and how can she learn them?

“Maybe after two more years.” So what needs to happen within those two years? (The “maybe” was a dead giveaway.)

In my experience, there are many who agree that succession planning is critical for business continuity, yet never get around to devote the three Ts: time, thinking, and tasking.

Obviously, intellectual assent is not enough. I’m also aware there may be emotional resistance, for example, the leader who ties his identity with his position and thus find it hard to let it go. Cue Idina Menzel’s song.

If you hesitate to do succession planning because it looks daunting to you, here’s a three-question starter kit:

What is holding your potential successor back from being ready?

Beware: that reason may be you. If you’re reluctant to have a successor, it helps to explore “What is making me reluctant?” Also, what is the unintended consequence of not having a successor? For me, I can’t take long vacations!

Then again, maybe the obstacle is in the successor. For example, he already knows the ropes but doesn’t believe he can do your job. In this case, perhaps what he needs is building up self-confidence in a safe environment.

What will make your successor ready?

I suspect we leaders are so busy that we want HR, specifically L&D, to make the successor ready. But that’s actually your job. HR is there to facilitate. If the issue is limited L&D, congratulations! You’re now his L&D.

If what your successor needs is core knowledge and skills, my favorite tool is an individual development plan using the 70-20-10 framework with scheduled check-ins. Co-create it with your successor because what YOU think he needs may be different from what HE thinks he needs.

For example, I knew my successor needed financial analysis skills. But I was surprised when he asked for training in public speaking. (P.S. He’s now with Toastmasters.)

What will tell you that he is ready?

Unless you’re immortal, you cannot have a succession plan that extends forever. So have a clear end-in-mind that will be documentable evidence that he is ready to do your job. Is it him finishing a capstone project? Chairing meetings? Making presentations?

Remember, the enemy of succession planning is vagueness; that includes how it will turn out in the end.

So the next time the business owner asks you, “Do you have a successor?”, have the delight of replying, “Yes. In fact, he’s ready now.”

Who knows? Maybe that business owner will say, “Great! Now I can promote you.”

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Cry for Help

May 13, 2024


As we celebrate InternationalCoachingWeek, here is my humble contribution to the craft.

Early on my coaching training, a valuable tip I got from a mentor coach is this: “Nelson, listen carefully to the client. What is this REALLY all about?”

Yet as I go through coaching training and observe my fellow trainees, I notice that a challenge that keeps cropping up is the ability to shift from the what to the who.

For example, the client told his coach, “I want to have an action plan for a better relationship with my boss.”  Then as the conversation flowed on, the client shared, “I know I should talk with my boss, but I keep postponing it.”

In a heartbeat, the arena has shifted from the what (making the action plan) to the who (unable to go through with it).

A good coach would have picked this up and explored what’s behind the postponing. Instead, the coach-in-training kept asking the client what he would say to the boss. He may even end the session without tackling this personal aspect. An opportunity for powerful insight and transformation is lost.

Some possible reasons why this is so:

  • We don’t know what to do when the client expresses angst.
  • We feel awkward or clueless when that happens.
  • We don’t know where the transformational route will lead to. And that scares us.
  • We may not even know how to process our own feelings.
  • We prefer action than empathy.
  • We are too cerebral. The client may be cerebral, too.

Whatever the reason may be, a good coach partners with the client to evoke awareness for meaningful breakthroughs. Transactional approaches like GROW have their own value in solving a client’s problem. But what if the problem lies within the client himself?

In one practice session, I heard a client say, in effect, “I know what to do, I know it is important for me, so why am I not doing it?” Three words came to my mind: Cry. For. Help.

I agree that this can be a bias or judgment on my part. But my thesis is that if our ears are pricked when the client seems to send us an SOS, it motivates us to park the transactional and explore what is this really all about.

The subtle trap is that when the coach hears a “cry for help”, his impulse is to jump to the rescue and switch to advising mode. Resist the Messiah complex. There is a wonderful paradox about coaching: while the client senses his need for help, he is complete and capable to find that help within the co-creative coaching process.

We are all learning. In a practice session, I thought I nailed the who part. Then the mentor coach showed how I could have gone deeper. I was, like, “Why didn’t I catch that?” But I welcome exercises like this to sharpen my ears for that cry for help so I can serve my clients better.

Mastery is a journey, not a destination. So if my post has raised your responsiveness to the client’s who, then I count that as a huge win.

Happy coaching!

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Listen

May 6, 2024


One bad listening habit we must unlearn is listening to respond rather than listening to understand. The diagram above shows the contrast.

The bad listening habit is that while the other person is still talking, we tend to formulate our response in our heads. Then when the other person is finished – and sometimes we interrupt him! – we shoot what we were itching to say.

Undoing this bad habit is more relevant to coaches, who are expected to abide by the ICF competency of being present. On a practical level, if we are composing our next inquiry while the client is still talking, we are actually listening to our own thoughts and miss out what the client was trying to convey. This means that our inquiries can be premature or half-baked. At worst, we feel that all-too-familiar sense of being stuck.

The better habit is to park our responses until the client has finished talking. That would be the time we pause, reflect, inquire and explore. Look, if we are going to respond anyway, why not do it after the client has spoken, rather than during? It’s the same process, but better timed. We can even think of it as “productive procrastination.”

So how can we strengthen our listening muscles? Here are three suggestions:

Ponder. Just WHAT causes us to formulate our responses while the client is still talking? Is it impatience? Is it our analytical mind kicking in? Is it a belief that we know what the client’s problem is and we can’t wait to “fix” him? Whatever it is, surface what’s driving that bad listening habit, then flip it or challenge it.

Practice. Here’s a penetrating question: do you listen to your spouse, children, or co-workers the same way you listen as a coach to your client? Ouch. Chances are, we don’t. I confess to times when I’m the boss listening to a staff, I was afraid that I’ll forget what I wanted to tell him, so I cut him off and unloaded what was on my mind. Therefore, keep rehearsing the listen-to-undersrand principle until it becomes a part of you.

Persevere. Deep habits take time to change. If we have been listening to respond for most of our lives, don’t be dismayed if we stumble more than we succeed in listening to understand. But if we are committed to be excellent coaches – not to mention excellent spouses, parents, or leaders – we will learn from our mistakes (re-read Ponder above), watch our triggers and flex the conscious competence of good listening. Remember, the aim is progress, not perfection.

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This concludes a three-part post about helping fresh college graduates transition to the “real world” of employment. I have argued that ICF-quality coaching can help these young folks in terms of self-awareness and self-confidence. Here is one more example. (And don’t miss my tip for the fresh graduates about getting a coach this early in their budding career.)

Self-leadership

Coaching is wrongly understood as giving advice or “fixing” people. I would add that it’s not really about helping the coachee find clarity, insight and answers for a particular issue. A terrific objective of coaching is capacity building: the coachee acquires a new and expanded way of thinking so that he can navigate through opportunities and challenges even after the coach is no longer around.

These include the dismantling of self-limiting beliefs, committing to non-negotiable core values, nurturing a growth mindset, practicing emotional intelligence, staying curious and pro-active, making informed decisions, and more.

Thus, instead of the early-career employee slipping into the loss frame of awkwardness, coaching would direct him to what are positive and possible. It’s now a matter of reflection and courage. And we are not yet talking about coaching the “who” (the coachee) aside from the “what” (the challenge).

A word to the early-career person

If there’s a formative time to be coached, it is when you have landed your first job. Don’t wait until you have the money or attained some leadership position before getting a coach. In fact, it may accelerate your career success.

If paying fees is an issue, remember that there are coaches who can serve pro bono as part of racking up a certain number of coaching hours to get ICF accreditation.

Conclusion

There are many other issues this article lacks the space to tackle such as communication, networking, accountability, introversion, assertiveness, diversity, stress, conflict, work-life integration, ethics, resilience, and negotiation.  I exclude mental health as I believe these should be referred to a professional therapist, not a coach.

These can hound both the rookies and veterans alike, thus coaching is applicable at every part of the career spectrum. But there is a special place for those who just realized there are things not taught in college textbooks and they have to figure things out all by their lonesome.

If you are a trained coach, just think of the alternative reality you will co-create for these up-and-coming people.

Just think of the possibilities.

 

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In Part 1, we’ve seen that transitions from college to the workplace is challenging because of culture shock. Coaching can help early-career employees navigate through such challenges. Here are two examples. I will share one more example and a tip to the new employee in Part 3.

Self-awareness

When new-to-workforce people express angst like we’ve read in Part 1, my personal opinion is that they don’t know what they really want. They may not even really know themselves. By definition, they have not lived life that long enough yet.

Career Coach Kurly de Guzman
raised other possibilities: “Maybe they accepted the first offer they received even if they’re not 100% sure. Or maybe they weren’t aware of opportunities elsewhere. Or if they were under parental or peer pressure.”

College has a way of focusing one’s attention on the external (the knowledge to be accumulated, the extracurricular activities, the job hunt that comes after the diploma) rather than the internal (Who am I? What really matters? What areas of my life need attention?).

Then when faced with the unsettling reality of a difficult boss or work overload, they need someone to help them process their thoughts and emotions. That’s why questions such as “What is important to you?”, “What motivates you?” or “What does job satisfaction look like for you?” are quite apt for these people. They may even lead them to see a bigger picture or think long-term.

Self-confidence

I recall stories of how someone was top dog at the campus, only to have his self-esteem pummeled when his employer tells him he’s basically nothing: no experience, no track record, no reputation. Unless one is gifted with street smarts or a healthy ego, imposter’s syndrome can easily set in and the poor fellow dreads the time when he will crash and burn on an assignment.

That’s where it’s powerful if the coach believes in the coachee more than the coachee believes in himself. Such faith may be the lifeline the early-career person needs.

When the coachee is asked questions like “What are your options?” or “What skills would you need to…?”, it signals an implicit faith that the coachee is empowered. This, in turn, tends to reduce anxiety and boost self-confidence.

Another way is when the coach partners with the coachee on how to reframe failure and negative feedback from a personal blow to a learning opportunity.

If the self-confidence is fragile at first, ICF standards would require the coach to build a safe and supportive space for the coachee to open up and thereby pave the way for breakthrough moments.

Who knows? It may be the first time the early-career person has tasted psychological safety. Not from his home, his college, or his employer, but from you. That itself is a valuable gift.

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