How to organize your speech

Regardless whether you are in a professional setting or at home you are constantly required to talk, to share information, to answer questions, to influence others, to sell your ideas. It is not just about long public speeches. It is about every single communication or dialog you have. Toastmasters International, organization dedicated helping people improve their communication skills, provides you with some of the tools and skills you need to master the ability to communicate your ideas in a succinct matter and get the message across. So how do you organize your speech in a way that is easy to follow and gets the job done? The general rule is to stick with basics and have a clear beginning, body and end. Then you can follow one of the patterns for speeches described below.

Let’s say that you are supposed to respond to this question: “Would you like chicken or beef for lunch today?”

Position – Reason – Example – Point

Do you have a great idea and you want to persuade others to accept it? This pattern may help you. Just explain your position, reasons why you hold it, give examples to build credibility and finish with repeating your key point.

Example: [position] Chicken is much better than beef. [reason] It is easy to chew and easy to digest. It is also less demanding on mother nature to grow chickens than cattle. [example] Just remember last week when we got chicken with rice and everyone loved it. [point] Let’s get chicken also today.

Arresting Introduction – Interest – Desire – Action

Do you want to spark action? This might be a good patter to use. Grab the attention of the audience with a powerful image, build up the interest, focus on desires of the audience and finish with a call to action.

Example: [arresting introduction] Chickens rule the World! Do you know that it is the most popular meat? [interest] Every day there are millions of chickens being eaten in 200 countries and everyone loves them. [desire] Just imagine the great taste of roasted chicken with rice, it just invites you to get a piece. [action] So let’s go and get some chicken right now.

Story – Message – Gain

This is a good pattern to use when mentoring other people. You can pick a story from your past that carries the message you want to get across and ends with the point you want to make.

Example: [story] Remember last week when we went for lunch and got chicken with rice? We were also thinking about what to get and at the end decided that chicken is the right choice. [message] It was a great meal and in fact we all agreed that chicken is our favorite animal especially when cooked. [gain] We all enjoyed it, so let’s do it again.

Past – Present – Future

This pattern can be nicely used when creating a vision for your audience. You can start with the description of what happened, where we are today and what the future holds.

Example: [past] Since I was a kid I enjoyed chickens. They were my favorite food and I was always looking forward to have some. [present] Even today when I think about light lunch the first thing that comes to mind is a chicken with rice. [future] In fact I can see that there won’t be anything better even in the future so let’s just get chicken.

Advantage – Disadvantage

You can use this pattern when you want to persuade someone to pick one of several options.

Example: [advantage] Let’s look at pros and cons. The chickens are easy to breed, they are tasty, easy to digest and the chef in the restaurant we are going to really knows how to make them. [disadvantage] The disadvantage is that we had chicken last week but honestly, who cares, the advantages outweigh it. Let’s just get chicken.

I would suggest you consciously practice these in your everyday communication. And it is not just about your spoken communication, you can follow them even when writing emails or preparing powerpoint presentations.

Twitter type summary: “The ability to organize thoughts into a short and powerful speech is the first step towards communication mastery.”

How do you structure your presentation? Do you follow some guidelines that always worked for you? Share your tips and tricks below.

Allow your team to fail

As a leader using coaching approach to managing people you need to be comfortable with the concept of failure. We as human beings are not perfect and each of us makes mistakes that may lead to failure. If you follow some of the thoughts presented in “Don’t manage. Empower!” and “Mentoring by telling stories”, when you guide your team by asking questions, giving suggestions and mentoring without giving too much specifics you need to understand that people will fail… and that it is fine.

Allow failures

This is very easy to say but may not be that easy to do. At each level of management structure we have certain responsibilities that correlate to our abilities. If if you are an individual contributor and you fail at your task it probably won’t bankrupt the company. If you are the CEO and you fail it may well lead to big problems for the company. At the same time you are better equipped with the necessary knowledge. It is always an equation of risk versus benefit. Just remember that risk means not only direct risk of not achieving the goal but also indirect risk (or opportunity cost) of you not being able to focus your time and energy on other things that may bring even bigger value. This also means that you can allow for failures only in a team that has the right people in the right positions. If you have a team member who lacks the skills necessary for his particular role than allowing for failures can be dangerous as that person won’t be able to realize that there is a failure in the progress.

Recognize them fast

Recognize that something doesn’t work and stop doing it. One of the human’s traits that make it especially difficult to recognize failures fast and stop doing them is our believe that we know what we are doing and if only we put more energy into it we will succeed. This leads to behavior that instead of stopping something that doesn’t work we double our effort and do more of it in hopes of getting different results. Let’s be realistic. If something doesn’t work don’t be afraid to admit it and try to limit your over-optimism and self-confidence. If your current efforts don’t lead to desired outcomes just stop it and try something new.

Learn from them

Even when you admit a mistake and stop doing a particular activity that led to the mistake you still need to figure out the root cause and learn from it. There is no point of stopping doing one thing that doesn’t work only to replace it by something else that tackles the problem in pretty much the same way. If something doesn’t work, stop it and try something completely different. Not just slightly different. Start from completely opposite direction and use completely new approach.

For example, if your recruiter have consistently troubles finding a specific skillset on the job market and you know you will need lots of people with that skillset in the future what do you do? You can get second recruiter (meaning doing more of that what doesn’t work), or you can change the recruiter (getting someone else who will be doing essentially the same mistake) or you can approach it from completely new angle and train your current team in using different techniques, tools and channels. The first two approaches are just postponing the inevitable and are essentially preventing you from failing fast. You will still fail, it will just take you longer.

And forget

You need to create environment where people won’t be afraid to take risks and that means once they fail and learn from it they can be certain that you won’t be reminding them of that particular failure for the rest of their lives. This is especially important in performance management as you need to carefully consider what failures and how you want to punish. If you reflect every failure in the performance review and you cut bonuses for the team they will be more risk averse in the future. They will not act next time.

The one failure you shouldn’t allow

Not acting may be sometimes also a mistake that leads to failure. The problem is that this is very often type of failure that is not immediately recognized and thus you will not learn anything from it. It is the type of failure that may lead to bad performance in couple of months so it is difficult to spot and correct today. Typically, it would be failure to deal with low performing employee, failure to develop your team, failure to lead. Because things are looking fine today you may even get your promotion for job well done, but in reality you are failing miserably. You are failing to act. It is not something your boss will see. In fact, the moment you start to act would be the moment when you make it visible that something is wrong and you may not earn your promotion today, but it will prevent issues in the future. You as a leader need to recognize situations like these and appreciate people who fail fast in failure of not acting.

To sum it up you need to be comfortable with the fact that you or your team will fail from time to time. The important aspect is not to worry about failure, be comfortable with it and use it as a learning opportunity. To use the positive side of a failure you need to ensure one thing. If you are going to fail, then fail fast. Fail fast, learn from it and move on and tackle the problem again from different side armed with the knowledge you just gained.

Twitter type summary: “It is fine to fail. Just make sure you fail fast. The only thing you shouldn’t tolerate is a failure to act.”

How do you see failure? Do you see it as a disaster that cannot be taken back or as a learning opportunity? How do you deal with people who failed?

Let the team win

Had you ever struggled with motivating your team and creating a sense of ownership for a brand new initiative that you came up with? Did you feel like you have to explain everything in a big detail and the team still doesn’t get it and the project doesn’t progress as you wanted? What was happening?

Your ego may be at fault here. You are pushing too hard, you want to show that you have answers to all the questions and dictate to the team what and how they should do.

So how do you spur an action and create a sense of ownership by the team for an idea that you came up with? There are several ways how to approach this problem and it really depends on personalities in your team.

Plant the idea

Imagine this situation. You just spent month thinking about an improvement of some process your team is using. You analyzed lots of data, talked with several people, and drafted a proposal for discussion with your boss. You then talked to him and he didn’t seem to be particularly impressed. But he said he will think about it. Two weeks later there is a meeting your boss has with all his subordinates and he introduces the idea and strongly pushes for implementation. He even invited people from other departments to get the necessary support. Not once on that meeting is mentioned your name. You feel disappointed, maybe a bit angry. But why? Is it more important to you getting the credit or implementing the idea? Your boss just took ownership of the idea, will push it forward and he will have better chance of succeeding than you would have. You should feel proud that something you came up with will be now implemented. These things happen and you should always look at it from the perspective whether things got done and not who takes credit.

Give credit

Let go of your ego. When someone takes ownership of your idea the best thing you can do it to provide him any support he needs. Just be careful not to add “I had the same idea a year ago” as it would just kill the sense of ownership by the team on the spot.

Let me give you an example each of us encounters all the time. A member of your team comes to you. He is smiling, full of enthusiasm and says “I have a great news for you. We just finished the project two days sooner than expected.” And your answer? “Yes, I know.” Such a let down! Why do you need to show off? You just took something away from the person who came with the message and you missed a great opportunity to increase the motivation of the team. The correct answer is “That is great! You guys did an incredible job.” Who cares that you already knew about it?

Play Devil’s advocate

What does it mean? Essentially arguing points against your idea and thus not letting others to use them. It has the advantage that it pushes the team or your opposing person to argue for your idea thus making it their own.

This technique is a bit manipulative and manipulation as a general rule shouldn’t be part of leader’s repertoire. To make it more transparent you may want to make it clear to the team what you are actually doing here. When the discussion gets going you can make a statement like this “Guys I really like the idea but let me play Devil’s advocate here. I see this or that problem with it. How do you want to resolve it?” That way you stimulate the discussion, letting the team to find the solution and take the ownership while not lying to them.

Show vision, not details

Another way is to provide just a high-level vision, a basic outline of the idea but let the team figure out all the details. Even though you may have already pretty good feel about how it should be implemented just keep it to yourself. If you share all the details then you won’t give opportunity to others to take the idea as their own and you won’t be able to create a sense of ownership. The team may still do it but without passion and they will do it just because you are the boss and not because the success of the initiative matters to them.

All in all it is always about giving chance to others to contribute and do things their own way without you pushing “the only correct” solution all the time. And yes, in the grand scheme of things you are responsible for the outcomes of your team’s work so when things go wrong you need to be able to step up and take ownership. In the times of crisis stand by your team and work together to get it resolved and make sure you own the failure and take the consequences. The team needs to understand what was wrong, get the feedback, learn from it, but to the outside world you are the one to take the blame.

Twitter type summary: “Leader is visible to the world in the times of crisis. When there is a credit to be taken he stands in the shadows.”

What is your experience with marshaling a team to support your idea? Do you dwell on who came up with it or do you focus more on the actual execution and results?

Is coaching for everyone?

In a post “Coaching approach to leading people” I talked about how to manage people using coaching approach. One question that I sometimes get is whether that approach works for everyone. The simple answer is “yes.” Coaching approach is something that works across different personality types, organizations and cultures. However, one needs to understand that it is not suitable for every situation and also the extent of success will vary from person to person.

What are the prerequisites?

There is single most important prerequisite: willingness of the person to get coached and desire to improve. If you try to coach someone who is not willing to change then no amount of coaching will work. In fact if someone doesn’t want to change then there is no approach that will work as you cannot change someone’s behavior against his will. And it doesn’t need to be just about change. For such a person you need a different management style in every interaction.

Who else? For more junior members of your team coaching will still work but may not be enough. You will need to combine it with some training, mentoring and other tools for developing people.

Is it appropriate for this situation?

The only question you should ask is whether the situation or the topic is appropriate for a coaching approach. Where coaching won’t work well is when you need to develop technical or functional skills of your employee. For this particular need some training and mentoring are generally better approaches. At the other hand where coaching really works are behavioral issues. If you need to change attitude of someone on your team (for example to be better team player, to be better listener, to be more assertive) coaching is a nice way how to achieve the goal. Though still, the person must understand the need and be willing to improve.

Is it the right management style?

It depends. As a general rule in knowledge based workplace it will do miracles that would be difficult to achieve by other means or management styles. However, there are situations when you need to adjust your management style to get things done. A typical situation would be an emergency. The same way as consensus is not the best way how to make fast decisions it is not appropriate to use coaching management style when you need your team to act fast and “without thinking”. If you are in a damage control mode you need your team to follow orders and you can leave the coaching for another time.

Will it work in my culture?

When it comes to different cultures then similarly to different people not everyone will react the same way to this approach. You may consider explaining a bit more what you are doing, what is your expectation and what are the boundaries and guidelines for you and your employee will work together. When you look at the research done by International Coach Federation (2012 ICF Global Coaching Study) coaching is a really worldwide movement and you can find presence of this profession in countries around the world. It is estimated that there are 47.500 professional coaches (18.400 in Americas; 21.300 in Europe; 2.100 in Middle East and Africa; and 5.700 in Asia and Oceania). Coaching works everywhere and you just need to be sensitive to the needs of your employee.

Twitter type summary: “Coaching works for anyone who is willing to get coached, has an open mind and a strong desire to improve.”

What are the situations when coaching didn’t work for you? What approaches did work?

The delusion of multitasking

Most people are really bad at multitasking and if you believe that you are an exception and you can multitask really well it most likely means that you deluding yourself and don’t even realize it. Majority of really important work gets created by people who focus on what they are doing and limit distractions. Let me give you couple of examples from my past. I spent several years as a software developer and the best code I produced was when I was “in the flow”, I was focused on the problem, ignored the environment around, ignored what time it is, whether I’m hungry or tired and got things done. Similarly, it applies to other situations like creating a strategy for my team, preparing a presentation for management, preparing for a difficult conversation or writing this article. Yes, I could do many of these things while being distracted and I often do, but in retrospect the quality of the work and the total time I spent on the task is heavily in favor of serial execution and not parallel. And at the end of the day when you have five tasks finished it feels much better than having ten tasks started and none finished.

If you have ever worked with a computer you may believe that these machines are the ultimate multitaskers. You can run numerous applications in parallel, do complex computations and have a skype chat with your friends, and all this at the same time. Well, not really. Assuming single processor computers what appears as multiprocessing is actually technique you may call time sharing, with individual tasks (or processes) waiting their turn to perform a simple operation and then let the other process have their turn. Human brain works pretty much the same way. It is switching from one context to another and it is doing it really fast so it creates an illusion of multitasking. Unfortunately this context switching has a price in terms of energy and time spent on it.

The human brain

Let us first look at the human brain. This is not a medical school and I’m not a doctor or neuroscientist so we will touch it just lightly.

The human brain is an approximately 1,5 kilograms of soft, tofu like, matter that even though representing only 2% of human mass consumes 20% of our energy. It is an incredible piece of machinery with some significant limitations. The brain has two hemispheres, left and right and they are pretty much the same with most of the features replicated on both sides, though there are exceptions, like ability to process language. Over the course of evolution it got one distinct feature that inhabits the biggest portion of our skull. It is called the cerebral cortex. It can be divided into four major lobes. The frontal lobe, the most recently developed that handles planning, reasoning, and abstract thought. This lobe allows us to imagine and is the most unique part of the human brain not available to other species. Parietal lobe is responsible for processing and integrating sensory information especially when it comes to touch and spatial orientation. Temporal lobe’s major responsibility is to handle language and memory. Occipital lobe deals with sense of sight and processing visual information.

The context switching as described above is happening in the prefrontal cortex, part of the frontal lobe. This part of our brain allows us to shelve a task we are working on and switch to something else. After completing the other action we can get back to the original task at the stage we left it. This gives us the feeling of multitasking. Curiously enough, the prefrontal cortex is one of the last parts of the brain to mature and first one to go so our perceived ability to multitask will be smaller when we are kids or when getting older.

Some tasks, like breathing or highly automated tasks like walking can be done very well in parallel with other tasks as they are managed by different parts of the brain. But the moment you need to use the same part of the brain the context switching comes into the play.

The cost of multitasking

David Meyer, a cognitive scientist at the University of Michigan says “When you perform multiple tasks that each require some of the same channels of processing, conflicts will arise between the tasks, and you’re going to have to pick and choose which task you’re going to focus on and devote a channel of processing to it.” “The bottom line is that you can’t simultaneously be thinking about your tax return and reading an essay, just as you can’t talk to yourself about two things at once.”

In a study performed by Cliff Nass from Stanford University and focused on our ability to consume multiple media content at the same time, the researchers compared two groups of people, ones who were used to routinely multitask (absorb numerous media content at the same time) and those who didn’t. The results showed that multitaskers are “lousy at everything that’s necessary for multitasking”. The funny thing is that because the same parts of the brain responsible for cognitive though are also responsible for evaluating our performance we don’t realize that we are bad at multitasking.

The most typical example from the professional environment would be sitting on a meeting listening to the presenter and at the same time writing email. In most cases the result is that you pay a bit more attention to one activity than to the other. At best you focus on one of them and write a good email but are surprised by a question from the speaker not having idea what he was talking about, at worst you not only have no clue what the presentation is about but you also wrote an email full of typos and incoherent thoughts.

Several studies showed that when a person is interrupted while working on a complex task it will take him up to 40 or 50 per cent longer to finish it. So when you have two five minutes tasks like writing email and talking to your boss and you do them in parallel they will take you longer and most likely the results will be poorly written email and crippled relationship with your boss. So if you are constantly doing several things in parallel you get the feeling of working really fast, but at the end of the day you produce less.

Wake up call

I always believed that I’m really good at multitasking. Until several years ago I had in one day couple of encounters that completely changed my perspective. I was running a pretty big organization back then so people would come to me with questions or problems all the time. That day I was putting together a set of rules for a new initiative, preparing a presentation and essentially putting all my focus on that activity. It took me about three hours. During that time several people from the team approached me asking for something. Every single time I would say something like “Hi, how can I help you,” without taking my eyes from the presentation, and when the person started to talk I would glance at him couple of times but my attention still on the work I’ve been doing. I promised to all of them that I will deal with their issue but forgot half of it and misunderstood the rest. The last person who came started to talk then stopped in the middle of sentence and said he will come another time and left. This actually woke me up! Up to that moment I believed I’m doing two things in parallel, working on my presentation and helping my team with their problems. Now I realized that I’ve been just working on my presentation and ignoring my team while being disrespectful to them and lying to myself. Since then I’m paying lots of attention to situations like this and if someone comes I either immediately tell them to come at different time or stop doing what I do, take a deep breath, turn to the person and give him my undivided attention.

The same goes to meetings. If I go to a meeting I leave my laptop behind (unless I need to take notes) or at least switch off wireless. We live in a busy world but if you are on a meeting and you have to do emails in parallel then you seriously limit your ability to do either of these well. All too often it happens that people are surprised by some action that was discussed on a meeting they attended but where they didn’t pay attention. It is disrespectful to others who truly participate and it is essentially lying to yourself.

Cultural perspective

Just to be clear on one aspect. As I mentioned in “Lack of time is just an illusion!” article there are cultures that put emphasis on goals, treat time like rare commodity and prefer serial execution. There are also cultures that see abundance of time, focus on personal relationships and prefer parallel execution. Both have some merits and both get things done just in a different way. The thoughts introduced in this article apply to both world views. It is just that the granularity of tasks may be slightly different, for example and to exaggerate a bit in the serial culture you would check your email once a day and in parallel culture once an hour.

What I would suggest to everyone who is always busy and juggling million different things at the same time is to divide the parallel execution to at least fifteen to twenty minutes long serially executed tasks. It will still feel like you are handling everything at the same time but you give your brain some leeway to really focus and don’t spend too much energy on context switching.

Twitter type summary: “The human brain is not wired for multitasking and if you believe that you are great at parallel execution you are just deluding yourself.”



Do you multitask? How do you do it? What tools or habits help you to keep track of everything and stay focused on the right priorities?

Lack of time is just an illusion!

Time management. One of the basic skills you are required to master when moving up the ladder to management positions and in fact in any professional role at all. There are hundreds of books written on the topic (only on Amazon when searching time management you get more than 100.000 references), and there are countless leadership programs and seminars focused on time management you can attend. And yet, you cannot manage time. Time flows and there is nothing you can do about it.

What you can manage are your priorities and your attention. Each of us gets allocated 24 hours of time a day and it is just up to you to figure out how to use it in a way that helps you achieve your goals. And by that I don’t mean just spending 20 hours a day in the office getting 100 tasks done. What I’m talking about is to spend time doing things that help you reach your life goals based on the value system you have. It might be getting the project done on time, getting a promotion, building a house, raising your children or traveling the world.

So if you are a person who is constantly overloaded and never have time to do all the things you want to, there are couple of things to consider.

Don’t manage time, manage priorities

Stop blaming lack of time for not being able to deal with everything on your plate. Learn to prioritize and learn to live with the fact that there are some things you will simply not do. There are tons of tips and tricks on how to set priorities. My favorite one is the concept of 4D as shown on the picture below. You can use this as a guideline for prioritizing your own work. The idea is to focus on things that are important to you and your goals. It may sound a bit selfish but that is the way to ensure that you are the one managing your priorities and you don’t let others to do it for you.

Concept of 4D

Concept of 4D

See the things in quadrant four? Ignore them! Learn to live with the fact that something will not be done and that it is completely fine not to do it. One trick that I used on numerous occasions with my team was to ask team members who felt overloaded to write down all the things they do ordered by priority and draw a line to indicate what they are able to manage. Everything below the line won’t be done. I would go through the list with them, agree on priorities and acknowledge that there are things that get postponed or canceled at all. That way I helped the team member to understand priorities and removed the stress that they will not manage all the things on the list.

Manage your attention

Priorities are nice, but most of us understand the priorities and still not get things done. Why? You need to learn to manage your attention. In today’s world with abundance of information, interactions, and tons of distractions it is increasingly difficult to stay focused. Find a system that will help you focus on what is important. Each of us is different so there is no such thing as best practice, but consider these questions

  • Do you really need to be on email/skype/phone 24 hours a day? What is the worst thing that would happen if you switched it off for a while?
  • Do you really need to know about every single thing that is happening in the world? What would happen if you switched of the internet for couple of hours and didn’t constantly look for news or tweets?
  • Do you really need to say “yes” to any request you get? What is the worst thing that could happen if you said “no”?
  • Do you really need to multitask and do ten things at the same time? What would happen if you started doing them in series rather than in parallel?

My favorite question to ask myself, and often get depressed by the answer is: “What did I achieve today / this week / this month?” Not what did I do, but what did I achieve. If you find yourself being constantly busy but not achieving anything that matters you need to stop right now and reevaluate your tasks, priorities and indeed your life.

Lack of time is just a mindset

Edward T. Hall came up with concept of monochronic versus polychronic societies. The monochronic time concept is derived from “one thing at a time” paradigm and the polychronic from idea of “multiple tasks at the same time”. The implications he raises lead to different views of time. In the polychronic culture interpersonal relationships are much more important than time. Things will still get done, but in their own time. In the Western world time is a rare commodity that is continuously running out. “Time is money” and “Time is wasted.” However, there are cultures where time is abundant and people don’t concern themselves with “not having the time” to do stuff.

Think about it! There are people and in fact whole cultures who live similar lives to your, do similar work, still have just 24 hours a day available and yet, they feel like having plenty of time. The implication is that in a culture where time is limited being late for a meeting is a big no-no. In other cultures it is a way of life, people are fine waiting or coming another day. There is nothing right or wrong with each of the ways, they are just different. Though I had to admit for someone who grew up in central Europe where time is limited it drives me sometimes crazy to adapt to living in the Philippines where apparently time is abundant.

What does it all mean? It is only up to you if you want to create a mindset that will allow you to have all the time in the world, spend your attention on things that have priority for you, and feel good about not doing bunch of stuff that doesn’t need to be done anyway.

Twitter type summary: “It is your choice to get a mindset that allows you to have all the time in the world and spend your attention on things important to you.”

What about you? Do you manage time or time manages you? How do you ensure you focus your attention on the right things?