Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Conquering Stage Fright

Public speaking isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s an important skill for leaders in the business world to cultivate. Whether you have to deliver a presentation before the members of a corporate board, a group of employees in your organization, a charity, a high school, or the Canadian parliament, you’ll make a stronger impression and communicate your message more powerfully if you are a competent and effective speaker. (For more on this topic, see this post from the Corporation Centre blog archives.)

One of the primary causes of discomfort around public speaking is performance anxiety—otherwise known as stage fright. Like other forms of fear, performance anxiety leads to the release of adrenalin into your bloodstream, and produces two kinds of psychosomatic responses: one is a desire to resist or defy the agent of your intimidation (“fight”); the other is the impulse to flee or escape (“flight”). In the context of public speaking, these responses can manifest themselves in distinctly unhelpful ways: a trembling voice, blushing, loss of memory or an inability to maintain focus (“flight”), and muscle tension or tightness (“fight”). An accelerated heart rate and breathing rate, producing speech that is excessively rapid or high-pitched, is also a common problem for inexperienced or nervous public speakers.

Fortunately, the “fight or flight” response is an ill that you can (partly) alleviate by focusing on the symptoms rather than the cause.

Practice in advance.

Speak in front of a mirror, or deliver a rehearsal to a friend or loved one. Time yourself, and in successive attempts, try to maintain a consistent time.

Commit your words—or at least the gist of the speech—to memory.

It’s fine to have notes in front of you and consult them once in a while. But when a speaker is reading from a sheet of paper for an extended period, many people react by tuning out. Nervous speakers frequently resort to reading without even glancing up at the audience, but that’s rarely an effective way to forge an interpersonal connection.

Stay hydrated. Drink water before and during your remarks.

As a consequence of the “fight or flight” response, many people experience a dry throat, or worse, a frog in their throat that inhibits their ability to speak. Although water can’t eliminate the source of the fear in this situation (unless it arrives in the form of a fire sprinkler that forces everyone in the room to evacuate), it can mitigate dryness in the mouth and throat caused by performance anxiety.

Deep breaths and cadence.

Again, the goal here is to partially counteract the “fight or flight” response. A quick surge of adrenalin in your bloodstream can produce short, shallow breathing and accelerated speech. If you know this tends to happen to you, concentrate on taking deep, deliberate breaths, and enunciate your words carefully.

Clear your mind by minding your heart.

The “fight or flight” response entails the redirection of blood away from your brain and toward your major muscles—enabling you to brace for a physical struggle, or run faster in order to successfully escape. However, neither of these abilities is particularly useful if you need to deliver a speech. As I noted earlier, as your brain loses blood flow, you will tend to forget important details and lose concentration.

You may find that the following brief ritual will help you clear your mind and regain poise.

First, focus your attention on the organ responsible for circulating blood through your system—your heart. Next, breathe in and out, imagining that the air that enters you is a purifying elixir, and that your exhalation is exhaust—a mixture of waste products to be discarded. Finally, go to your happy place—i.e. think of a person, place, or thing that warms your heart and brings you comfort.

For a video tutorial, see this presentation by public speaking coach Dave Smith.


Regular exercise is important for maintaining your health and energy level in general. And if the opportunity of a brief walk presents itself right before you’re due to speak, go for it; even low-intensity exertion can increase blood flow to your brain and improve your focus and composure.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Confronting Workplace Bullies

Bullying in professional settings is a problem most managers would rather not have to face. Sadly, however, it is quite prevalent. At some point in your career, you will almost certainly come across a workplace bully, a subordinate who claims to have been harried by an employer or supervisor, or a person who is either directly or indirectly affected by workplace bullying.

Tormentors of all ages tend to share some common characteristics. One is a propensity to target individuals whom the bully considers weaker or less fortunate than h/erself. Another is the compensatory impulse: compulsive browbeaters often suffer from insecurity and a lack of self-esteem, which they try to repress by taking out their frustrations on others—especially those not in a position to defend themselves.

Recently, a team manager told me that a worker at her institution had complained to her about bullying by a superior. While the manager said she believed the allegations were true, she also worried that the problem would be challenging to resolve. Confronting someone over the kind of misbehaviour that most people associate with grade school can be awkward, and requires considerable courage on the part of an organizational leader.

While there are no magic-bullet fixes, the following pointers may help:

Trust your intuition.

Adults who have been targeted by bullies are generally reluctant to admit to themselves that bullying has truly taken place. This is partly because the line between innocent teasing and bullying is ambiguous—and from an employee’s point of view, there are strong disincentives against reporting undesirable behaviour by superiors or co-workers. What if your boss sides with the bully? What if it’s your word against h/ers? In particular, young employees are usually loath to upset the apple cart, lest they risk compromising their budding careers.

The first prerequisite for solving any problem is to acknowledge that it exists. This holds true both for people subjected to bullying, and managers of business environments in which bullying happens. If you suspect that bullying is a problem in your probably is.

Leaders: stop malicious rumours.

Bullying among adults tends to be more subtle and insidious than bullying among children or teens, since many adult bullies aim to maintain plausible deniability. One of the common forms that adult bullying takes is the malicious rumour. As a leader, you have both a responsibility and a great deal of power when it comes to stopping mean-spirited gossip in your organization. Make it plain to everyone that there is no place for behind-the-back innuendo in the professional atmosphere you hope to foster.

Keep records.

If you are a target of bullying, take note of the micro-aggressions. These may include untoward e-mails, social media comments, memos, or text messages. Carry a notepad and pen at all times (discreetly), or record information on your smartphone. If you find yourself in a situation in which another individual or group tries to belittle you, take a moment to write down the name of the perpetrator(s), the nature of the maltreatment, and any witnesses. Written records and witness testimony will prove beneficial if the need to file an official complaint arises.

Establish an anti-bullying policy for your organization.

First, all members of your organization must have a basic understanding of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. This may require you to set some ground rules.

A well formulated anti-bullying policy should outline a coherent process for dealing with the issue. In particular, there must be a clear and consistent definition of bullying—including abusive language, shouting, unfair or unwarranted criticism, and deliberate ostracism of an individual. Further, employees and other potential targets of bullies must know how and where to submit complaints, and feel confident that they will face no recriminations for doing so in good faith. This may require anonymity.

Finally, there must be consequences for perpetrators, including disciplinary action and, in serious or repeat-offender cases, suspension or dismissal. If those who have been bullied believe their tormentor will face no real repercussions, or that their complaint won’t be taken seriously, they may abstain from the process, or even resign from their position.

Although it may be a challenge to confront workplace bullying, it is crucial to do so promptly, professionally, and effectively.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Agile Marketing

Traditional marketing is defined by carefully crafted and strategically planned marketing campaigns, generally developed months ahead using sales data and analysis, supported by media buys and other collateral. However, the growth in social media use has led marketing to become more time sensitive, forcing marketers to identify and adapt quickly to what is happening at the moment, and leading to the rise in what has been coined “agile marketing”.

Agile marketing breaks away from traditional marketing attempts to plan well in advance in more formal and structured processes. Agile marketing strategy is a quick response to real time developments in order for companies to stay relevant and compelling and, most importantly, get people talking. A great example of agile marketing that went viral is the Oreo cookie tweet from Superbowl XLVII. 

When an unexpected blackout occurred during the game, the Oreo marketing team was quick to tweet a picture of an Oreo in the shadows with the tweet reading: “Power out? No Problem. You can still dunk in the dark”. The tweet probably cost little time and effort to produce, but was more discussed afterwards than any of the much anticipated million-dollar commercials that are historically known to create a buzz during the event. The tweet is a great example of a change in direction for marketing practices.

While, “old school” marketing still has its place in overall marketing strategy, smart marketers know that, in order to stay relevant in the fast-paced digital world, you have to be quick on your feet to respond to changes in the marketplace.

Agile marketing requires you to pay attention to what’s going on around you, whether it be breaking news, celebrity drama, or just new developments in your company or market. While marketers generally pay close attention to trends and shifts in their own target market, looking beyond this scope to breaking news, tech innovation, or even celebrity drama can help influence agile marketing.

But don’t try to force an agile marketing campaign. The best agile marketing seems almost a natural response – funny, creative, and thoughtful.  Arby’s came through with a fantastic off-the-cuff response to the infamous Pharrell hat at the Grammys by tweeting, “Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back? #GRAMMYs”, referencing the similarity between the style of the hat to Arby’s logo.

Quick reactions to an event can sometimes backfire, so it’s important to avoid controversy and stay positive. While thinking on your feet is an important part of agile marketing, you also need to consider the response you may receive in return, so don’t think too quickly! Agile marketing is definitely less successful if you have to backpedal or apologize.

Marketing has always been a very creative and forward thinking field. It is an industry that is constantly adapting to changes, and agile marketing is an important part of the development of marketing strategy. By keeping your ear to the ground and paying attention to what’s happening around you, agile marketing can be easily and effectively incorporated into your traditional marketing campaigns.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Shrinking Your Environmental Footprint

We’ve all heard or read about the serious threat to our way of life posed by environmental
degradation, including the acidification of the oceans, the warming of the global climate system, and the loss of biodiversity. In recent years, warnings issued by organizations like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have grown increasingly dire. The consensus among experts, and a growing number of world leaders, is that we need to get our collective act together if we intend to leave a decent, livable planet to our grandchildren.

There is no one, single “magic bullet” that can address all of those problems simultaneously. In order to answer the challenge, we will need to combine our skills of cooperation with our capacity for prudent, individual decision-making. And the workplace happens to be a venue where personal initiative and collaborative effort both come to the fore.

If you’re concerned about your business’s impact on the environment, but worry about the cost or difficulty of implementing more eco-friendly alternatives, fear not: there are some simple, inexpensive techniques you can try that can make a positive difference.

Invest in new lightbulbs and energy-efficient appliances.

Replace your old, incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs, and make sure the office refrigerator, microwave, and dishwasher are all certified energy-efficient and built to last. Another advantage of the pursuit of energy efficiency (besides the environmental dimension) is the money you stand to save on your electricity bill.

Conduct regular checks of your office’s heating system to ensure that air is able to flow freely through the vents.

Turn out those lights!

Instruct the last person to leave the office in the evening to turn out the lights, and make sure all of the office computers are switched off. The same advice applies to rooms not currently in use, and chargers for cell phones and other gadgets that continue to sip electricity even when the device is fully charged. Unplug these when they’re not needed.

If possible, try scheduling “work from home” days.

One of the primary sources of vehicular pollution in our society is the daily commute to-and-from work—cars, trucks, and buses idling at stoplights and sitting in traffic. Instead, encourage your team to work from home if they can. With the communications technology available today, there is often no need for professionals to congregate in a single location in order to keep in contact with each other and get work done.

Reuse, recycle, and compost.

Many municipalities have citywide recycling programs, and some (like Vancouver, B.C.) have municipal composting programs. By separating recyclable items and organic materials from garbage, you’ll save space in your waste receptacles, conserve energy and, ultimately, contribute to the diminution of landfills and refuse processed at incinerators.

If you have a lot of old documents with text on only one side, conserve paper by writing on the other side. Set aside a trove of defunct, one-sided documents for this purpose.

Order paper products made from recycled material.

A wide variety of paper products made from recycled materials—including plates, napkins, paper towels, toilet paper, tissues, and document sheets—are available for purchase in stationery stores and through wholesale distributors. Whenever possible, try to order such products, particularly if they are compostable.

If your work is finished early, go home.

Many businesses operate on the basis of set hours, like the stereotypical “9 to 5”. But unless there’s a good reason for you to remain at work throughout the allotted time period, you’re better off shutting down your computer, cutting the lights, and heading home. You may even profit from the opportunity to beat the evening rush, which will save you fuel (better for both the environment and your bank account), and spare you frustration.

Spend some of your free time enjoying the natural world you’ve helped to preserve!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Easy Options for E-commerce Websites

The great thing about the internet is that it levels the playing field for small businesses to compete with big companies in the same market. Now anyone can set up a professional looking website without a team of graphic designers and coding professionals. Online e-commerce platforms are abundant, so which platform suits your needs best? If you’re looking to make money selling products and services online, here’s an outline of some options that might work for you.

Shopify is one of the easiest and most popular online e-commerce builders. Incorporating over 100
professional and sleek design templates, both free and paid, the builder has many add-on apps that can separate your website from the thousands of others online. But, more importantly, these apps help automate the processes on your site so that order submission and payment handling are fluid. Finally, 24/7 support services mean that any questions you may have along the way will be answered quickly and efficiently.

SquareSpace is a drag and drop builder with impressive design templates that are responsive and very customizable. With SquareSpace you can build a regular website or integrate an e-commerce platform in the website with lots of options for customization, including order emails and coupons. However, in comparison to other e-commerce builders, the SquareSpace platform may not be for beginners and can take some time to understand how to properly use the tools provided. But once you get the hang of it, the outcome is certainly worth the effort. Another downside to SquareSpace is there is no option for a free builder. You can sign up for a free trial, but you will have to pay in order to continue using the service.

Etsy focuses on handmade, vintage and unique items, allowing the user to sell their original products straight to customers.  It is a huge and growing online marketplace, enabling individuals to grow their brand from scratch and integrating social media straight into the platform for networking. Etsy is different from other e-commerce builders as there are limited customizing options. As well, Etsy takes a percentage of the sale price for each listing, though creating an account and page itself is free. Etsy is great for those who are not interested in creating their own website, and who are looking to sell products that fit within Etsy’s target marget.

While Weebly is lesser known than the builders previously mentioned, the platform has gotten rave reviews from users for its ease-of-use. The site planner tool takes you through the basic steps needed to ensure that the goals for your e-commerce store are met depending on what focus your website will have. Weebly has also introduced an iPad app, allowing you to add products on the go, and even enables you to download your site as a zip file if you decide to move your site to a standard hosted domain outside of the platform. 

Each of these e-commerce website platforms have great aspects that make them attractive to first time sellers, looking to build a website without hiring professionals. Depending on what you’re looking for, one platform might be more suitable than the next, so take advantage of free trials to test out the each system to make sure you pick the one that works for you. Happy selling!