Thursday, December 28, 2006

My column (part 2)

A couple of months ago, I mentioned that Accountancy magazine had asked me to write a regular monthly column for them. And I asked to see if anyone had any ideas of what to call it.

Anyway, in the end they decided to call my column 'Yeung at heart'.

Which is cool. Okay, it's not the cleverest pun in the world, but at least the readers will never forget who their 'star' columnist is!

But the biggest thrill is simply being a monthly columnist. It's something that I've wanted to do for years. And I get to write about any aspect of management or leadership or careers or psychology at work that I want. Plus the magazine goes out to a huge readership - every single person who has ever graduated as an accountant. Which stands at around 150,000 readers, apparently. And that number goes up by several thousand every year. So it's good to know that I'm being widely read.

If you'd like to see how they laid out the column, you can read it on the Talentspace website by clicking here.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Christmas: A psychological perspective

I've written on the topic of happiness before. And the current issue of The Economist actually leads on the topic.

So I thought I'd distil some of their words of wisdom - but add to them my own particular Christmas spin.

Capitalism is adept at turning luxuries into necessities - bringing to the masses what the elites have always enjoyed. But the flip side of this is that people come to take for granted things they could have coveted from afar. Frills they never thought they could have become essentials that they cannot do without. People are stuck on a treadmill: as they achieve a better standard of living, they become inured to its pleasures.

In other words, if you buy stuff, you get used to it quidkly. So even though a new little luxury might give you a burst of joy initially, you'll get used to it.

To add to the problem:

Many good things in life are 'positional'. You can enjoy them only if others don't. Sometimes, a quick car, fine suit or attractive house is not enough. One must have the fastest car, finest suit or priciest house.

In other words, we tend only to enjoy stuff because we feel it makes us better off than the people around us. Status tends to be more important to people than we let ourselves believe.

So what do the economists suggest you do?

The economic arbiters of taste recommend 'experiences' over commodities, pasttimes over knick-knacks, doing over having.

So if you really want to be happy this Christmas, focus on doing 'stuff' rather than buying 'stuff'. Spend it on travelling to see people you enjoy spending time with. Spend it on eating out, ice skating, going to the movies, playing Cluedo or kicking a football around in the garden, sharing a coffee and gossip or having drinks with friends and loved ones.

But whatever you do, have a great festive season!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Job hunting: Getting a job without the right qualifications

I had an email from a reader who asked:

Okay my dream job is building websites, I have no formal qualifications and only limited knowladge but I can build a mean website and get it ranked in a couple of weeks, most times on the second page of Google to start with and within a two week period and with a little more work onto the first page.

I have three websites like this already so I know it is not by chance.

How do I convince anyone to give me my dream job when all these sort of companies want an employee straight out of college with a degree?

Hmm. Interesting quandary.

Of course it's not uncommon to hear candidates getting knocked back because they don't have the right paper qualifications. Here's what I'd do:

  • Focus your covering letter and CV or resume on your successes. When an interviewer opens your letter, they should be hit immediately within the first paragraph with examples of the websites that you have created and what you managed to do with them. Write in the first person singular about what you have done (i.e 'I achieved...' and 'I built' rather than 'the website achieved...' or 'the website was built...').
  • If possible, apply by email rather than writing a physical letter. That way, you can include links to the websites you have built and links also to prove their Google ranking.
But the best advice I would give any job hunter who doesn't have a typical background is to network your way into a job rather than applying like everyone else. Basically, the idea is that you talk to the people you know to ask for contacts to other people who might then introduce you to other people. It's time consuming and you will in all likelihood have to speak to many, many dozens of people. Eventually, by following your chains of contacts, you will probably find your way into a job; even if you don't know anyone 'important', you may know people who know people who know people who might be 'important'. I've written a book on the topic but I'm in a rush and not explaining this well so here's a link that might help you out. Yes, networking is definitely going to be a better bet than simply applying for jobs.

Good luck!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Priorities, life goals, and career dissatisfaction

As a business psychologist, I often coach people not only on issues at work, but also more broadly in their lives too.

Quite often, my coachee might express dissatisfaction about a specific issue at work - perhaps bad relationships with a colleague, poor promotion prospects, or team conflict. But then it frequently turns out that they actually have some measure of dissatisfaction about their work/life balance too.

Of course many people are driven to succeed. They feel that they have to do well. But are they actually happy doing what they do?

The Tombstone Test is one way of helping people figure out what matters to them. But, to go into more detail, I often find it helpful to help coachees to work through the 'four Ss' of life and career fulfillment:

  • Success - the material trappings of doing well at work. So this might be measured in terms of greater responsibility and decision making power, material wealth, a big salary, a corner office, and so on. How much money, responsibility and power do you need? Does more make you actually happier?
  • Status - we all have some need for recognition and respect. And some people need status and recognition more than others - perhaps in the form of job titles or the number of people who look up to us at work. How much status do you need? Are you stuck on the treadmill of earning in order to impress other people when the only person you should be trying to impress is (obviously) yourself?
  • Satisfaction - the extent to which we actually enjoy our work. Do you honestly love and have a passion for what you do?
  • Significance - the extent to which we feel our work is impacting positively on colleagues, the local community, the environment and so on. Is your work creating a legacy for you and the people who matter to you?
It's a cliche that no one on their death bed ever said they wished they'd worked harder. And working through the extent to which you need the 'four Ss' in your work might help you figure out what direction your career should be going in.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The good, bad, and ugly of dealing with headhunters

Ever been headhunted? Want to be headhunted?

Be careful though. Not all so-called 'headhunters' are created equally.

It's true that a call from a headhunter can seem like a gift from heaven when it comes to opening up job opportunities. And the marketplace is full of headhunters, recruitment consultants, executive search firms, agencies and other advisers who claim they can help. But this is also a pretty much unregulated industry and, in the absence of regulation, there are as many shoddy and disreputable practitioners as there are trustworthy ones.

Roger Eglin, a long-standing journalist at the Sunday Times (the biggest selling Sunday newspaper here in the UK) wrote a review of my book, The Rules of Job Hunting in yesterday's paper. Interestingly, if you decide to buy the book, you'll find that the journalist's article is 90% directly lifted from my book!

It's my second time in the Sunday Times in the space of about 2 months - so I'm very, very pleased about that!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Improve your life

I pick up self-help and management books all the time. And I've been skimming my way through one - it wasn't very good. I don't want to embarrass the author by naming the book! Because in just over 200 pages, I think I learned approximately, er, nothing.

Except for this one gem:

Once a week, ask for a suggestion from somebody and do what he or she says, even if you find it difficult. See what happens.

I like that. I might try it.

If you try it, let me know how you get on.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Job hunting: Dealing with a prison record

As I just mentioned, I only set up my Squidoo page on job hunting a few days ago, but the emails are already coming in from other members of that website.

An American reader posted an interesting question:

What I would request of you is to prepare a presentation for men and women coming out of prison, given that they have no education nor marketable skills. It's a tough assignment to be sure. But its what 600,000 people a year face when they come out of prison.

Wow, that's a toughie. And I have to admit that I've never coached anyone who has had a prison record.

However, I think that there are some guidelines that someone who has served out their sentence could follow to maximise their chances of finding a job:
  1. Realise that it's going to take a while to get the right kind of job. Sometimes you may need to get any job to begin with and work your way back into the system before you can start to pursue the kind of jobs you really want.
  2. Communicate your humility and integrity with your body language as well as words. Interviewers may be worried about your honesty and integrity - they're probably going to question your motives. And research shows that only a small proportion of your impact is determined by your words; your tone of voice, body language, and eye contact often are much more influential. So try to communicate your humility not only in what you say but also how you say it. Use very open body language. Keep your hands open and move them only slowly - try to avoid balling them up into fists as this could be read subconsciously as a sign of aggression.
  3. Convey your regret for the mistakes you've made. Interviewers are much more likely to consider you if you can convince them that you have reflected upon the reasons and choices you made that led to you ending up in prison.
  4. Boost your credibility in the eyes of interviewers by getting testimonials written about you. It will likely take a number of months to find a good job. So in those months don't waste your time by sitting by the telephone waiting for it to ring or just watching TV. Offer your services for free to local residents - even if it's just doing some gardening or picking up groceries for an elderly neighbour. Once you have done some good deeds, ask them to write you a testimonial. Even better, ask if you can use their name and telephone number to provide a post-prison character reference for you.
Good luck!

Wow - Squidoo 'lens of the day'

I only set up my Squidoo page on job hunting a few days ago. But I got a half-dozen messages straight away.

Turns out I was nominated for 'lens of the day'!

Seems job hunting is an incredibly popular topic. So I think I'll blog more frequently about job hunting and interviews here too...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Job hunting and Squidoo

There are so many different web opportunities out there!

I discovered a website called Squidoo and thought I'd set up a page there - you can find it at www.squidoo/getyourdreamjob/ and it has a slightly different focus from my blog. This blog covers all manner of work-related topics from setting up your own business to climbing the greasy pole. But on my Squidoo page, I'm going to collect together all in one place stuff mainly about jobs and job hunting. At the moment there's only half a dozen articles on there. But I shall add to it over time to make it an indispensable resource for job hunters of all persuasions.

Watch this space!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Job interviews: 'What do you dislike about your job?'

Thought I'd blog about job interviews today. It's been ages since I've done so, despite the fact my biggest selling book of the moment is on interviews!

Going for a job, an interviewer might well ask you: 'What do you dislike about your current job?'

You might be tempted to say: 'Nothing'. But an interviewer might find it hard to swallow if you claim you enjoy every single aspect of your work. Everyone has minor dislikes or frustrations about their work and, to be a compelling candidate, you need to be ready to talk about some of them.

Your tactic in answering this question might be to talk about factors outside of your control such as inefficient computer systems or company policies that you simply have to put up with.

Or you could try responding by talking about some necessary evil in your work
, such as the need to complete lots of paperwork or having to work on your own for long periods of time. Just be certain that paperwork or working on your own (or whatever else you chose to tell the interviewers you dislike) isn't going to be a key part of the job before talking about how much you dislike it!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Is anyone out there? (A rejoinder)

A couple of weeks ago, I asked: Is anyone out there?

Well, the answer seems to be yes. So the winner of the competition is Boso.

Step forward Boso - drop me an email with your name and address (my email's to the bottom right of the blog if you scroll down) and I'll send you a couple of books when I get the chance - probably next week. Although I can't guarantee that it'll be prettily wrapped up with string like the little picture here!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Self-awareness - and most people's lack of it

Think you have a good sense of humour? Think you are a better than average driver? The answers are probably yes.

It may be true for you, dear reader. But studies generally show that most people actually have very little self-awareness of their actual strengths and weaknesses. To get technical, the research shows that the correlation between self-perceptions and performance typically hovers around 0.29 - which ain't very high at all.

This is true also of skills in the workplace.

This was brought home to me just last week when I was running an assessment centre for some senior managers. The managers were applying for a senior role that would have put them in charge of ten times as many people as they currently had responsibility for. And as part of the assessment centre, they had to give a 20-minute presentation and then answer questions for another 20 minutes. But I was gob-smacked by how bad some of them were. Some of these guys had put themselves forward for this job even though they were clearly, clearly wrong for the job. All of us interviewers could see it and we felt embarrassed for them. But the amazing bit was that they didn't realise that they were totally out of their depth at all.

The reality is that most people overestimate their ability. And the ones who underestimate their ability are often the ones who are actually better at it then average! In other words, hardly anyone ever thinks that they are 'average'. In fact, the average person believes themselves to be more socially skilled, disciplined, leader-like, and better judges of character than the average person. Clearly, even a basic understanding of maths shows that the average person can't be above average!

To go on, most people overestimate how long it will take to do tasks. Most people at work overestimate their popularity. Most people at work underestimate the extent to which their mistakes have been noticed by the people around them.

Unfortunately, these biases make us not very good at the stuff we want to do! It leads us to make more mistakes and to get into situations for which we are clearly not qualified.

Let's cut to the chase. What can you do about it?

Ask for feedback. The research clearly shows that other people are usually better able to predict our success in a variety of situations than we ourselves are able to do. They can often see that our romances are doomed. They can see that we should quit a job because it's wrong for us, or that we should go for a promotion because it's right for us (even if we think we aren't good enough). They can see that we haven't done enough preparation for a big presentation or that we don't have the skill to take on a certain project.

So ask.

But it's tough. I'm sure you can think of plenty of instances in which you've seen other people lacking self-awareness. The trick is learning to identify when it's you who is lacking that critical self-awareness.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Size matters: The ballad of Tom and Katie

As the world of celebrity gossip is buzzing with news of the marriage of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, I thought I'd take my own spin on the whole affair.

Tom Cruise is 5 feet 7 inches tall. Katie Holmes is reported as being somewhere between 5 feet 8 and 5 feet 9. Amazing then, isn't it, that Tom looks a good few inches taller than Katie in their wedding photo isn't it?

Now, I'm not the first person to have commented on it. But from a psychological perspective, there's good evidence that taller people generally do better in work and their private lives. So taller people tend to earn more than their shorter counterparts. Taller men also tend to get more dates than shorter men.

From the point of Darwinian psychology, women look for taller mates (it's a sign of stronger genes and therefore healthier babies). Other men tend to give way to taller men too (like the strong lion in a pride).

So what does that have to do with the world of work? There's not a lot anyone can do about their height, is there?

Well, yes actually. And I apologise if you are a woman reader, as the research points to the importance of height in men rather than women. If, as a man, you are very much shorter than normal, you could always consider putting lifts in your shoes. Anecdotally at least, men who put lifts in their shoes see their confidence spiral upwards.

Perhaps more practically though, it points to the importance of posture. If you look around your workplace, you'll probably notice that some of your colleagues have great posture while others have terrible posture. Bad posture can cost you more than 2 inches in height. Literally, stooping over could subconsciously affect your colleagues and boss and cost you to get overlooked for a promotion or pay rise!

So stand up tall. Think of a piece of string lifting your head up toward the ceiling at all times.

Or. You could always get lifts!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Presentations and public speaking

I read some survey a while back that said that the biggest fear that people have at work is about having to stand up in front of others and give a presentation.

It's something that I can really identify with. Nowadays I'm fairly happy to speak to large groups of people (for example, I was speaking to 1500 graduands and their guests a few weeks ago). But I remember that I used to be so terrified of having to speak even in front of my class mates at school that I'd make up excuses to get out of it. And even when I started my first job, I was so nervous about having to speak in front of a handful of colleagues or clients that I'd feel this rising feeling of sickness in my throat. Trust me, it wasn't pleasant.

But I wanted to get better at presenting and public speaking, so I've worked at it. Lots of preparation and rehearsing, and using some psychological techniques to cope with anxiety.

So now to the present day.

My latest book (I think it's my 13th - but can't remember and can't really be bothered to go count the number of books I've written) just came out last week. Presentations and Public Speaking for Dummies is actually my first collaborative work - I wrote it in conjunction with an American business speaker and writer called Malcolm Kushner. And it's not a bad book (even if I do say so myself!)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Being recognised

One of the side effects of being on television at the moment (albeit on a minor satellite channel) is that I'm getting recognised and approached a fair amount by people who have seen me on their televisions. I don't seek it out (after all, fame doesn't get you anything unless you're mega famous) but it comes to me nonetheless.

Quite a lot of the time, people recognise me but don't know my name. Or they recognise the face but don't even know where they know me from. So I've had random strangers ask me if I'm from Bristol and drink in the same bar as they do (the answer was no, of course)!

And people are much more likely to approach me in the evening. Perhaps it's the effect of having had a few drinks - alcohol releasing them from any inhibitions they might have had. But I get random strangers chatting to me a lot more on a Friday and Saturday evening than in the rest of the week put together!

Another observation is that London people are far too used to seeing proper celebrities and stars to get bothered about someone like me (as an aside, I've seen people including comedian Ricky Gervais and major actors such as Ralph Fiennes and Sir Ian McKellan in London). So a supermarket girl in London didn't even blink an eyelid after recognising me and asking if I was on the telly. Whereas a perfume spraying girl in a department store in Birmingham asked me if I was from the telly and got all excited and started leaping around when I said yes. But I guess they have fewer genuine celebrities in Birmingham so get more excited even when Z-listers such as myself crop up!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Smile, be happy, be glad

Psychologists and economists are increasingly moving into a new field of research: trying to figure out what can make us happy.

For decades, governments have been focusing on the topic of how to make us richer, on the assumption that wealth improves the quality of life. But what's interesting is that as people in the developed world have got richer over the last 40 years or so, the quality of life and happiness that people feel has actually diminished.

I don't want to get into a lengthy debate about the reasons why. But there is good evidence that optimism is not something that you are merely born with. Whether you are a glass half-full or glass half-empty kind of person can actually be dictated by emotional training.

So here's a practical tip. If you are feeling fed up with your work, try to focus on what it is that you have enjoyed about it in the past. Maybe it's a particular interaction with a collegue or a customer, or learning a new skill or overcoming a difficulty. Force yourself to recall a moment when you felt you were happy at work.

Even if you can only do it once a day, the preliminary research shows that such questions can significantly improve your relationship with your work.

Try it and let me know how you get on.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Is there anyone out there?

This whole world of blogging is still kind of new to me. I mean, I do a lot of work with journalists, so I'm no stranger to finding myself quoted all over the web. But this blog is my own creation.

So I do sometimes wonder: Is anyone reading this?

I understand that blogs are rated in the blogosphere on the number of other blogs that link back to them. So I thought I'd run a small competition to see if anyone would actually like to blog about my blog.

All you need to do is blog about my blog. And then let me know - either leave me a comment or drop me an email. Or encourage someone you know to blog about my blog. And whoever does the most blogging about me will get some free copies of my books. How does that sound?

And, if not many people are reading this blog, that could be reallllly easy for you - you might just need to get me onto one blog to get my books.

Happy blogging!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Office politics: An homage to Niccolo Machiavelli

I just got a physical copy of my new book, The Rules of Office Politics. It's always an incredibly proud moment for me to hold in my hands an actual copy of the book with its hard back binding and wrap-around cover.

But today I thought I would pay homage to the father of office politics, Niccolo Machiavelli.

Machiavelli had been in a senior position of power in Florence, Italy when Spain invaded his country and he was captured, tortured, and banished. It was during his exile that he wrote his tome on politics, The Prince.

Things have moved on in the world of management since Machiavelli wrote: "it is better to be feared than loved if you cannot be both". Nowadays, in a world in which good quality employees are hard to recruit, most modern-day managers realise that it is better to manage with carrot than stick.

However, Machiavelli still has much to teach us. Particularly on the topic of change, he writes: "There is nothing more difficult to carry out... than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit from the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order."

While Machiavelli's morals may be questioned (hence the term 'Machiavellian' being applied to all manner of dubious manouevrings), what he did teach us was that it is wise to take a strategic approach to building relationships and trying to get things done at work. And that's certainly a message that I have taken forward in my own tome on the topic of office politics.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Guest of Honour at Croydon College

I've just been gathering my thoughts as I have to give a short speech as guest of honour at a college of higher education on Friday.

Anyway, thought I'd include a link to the biography they've written up on me. It's terribly flattering!

That's all for now!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Networking, networking, networking

I ran a workshop for a client on networking last week, so I thought I'd share a few more thoughts on the topic.

I think everyone should network. But the type of networking you should engage in depends entirely on your goals.

Say you are an entrepreneur and looking to start up your own business. You want to learn and perhaps talk to suppliers and competitors, industry commentators, potential customers, and perhaps even possible investors. If so, it makes good sense to network widely, to meet just about anyone and everybody to learn more about the sector you want to enter. To meet lots and lots of people in a fairly superficial way in order to get a snapshot of the industry.

But if you are networking for business development (i.e. selling) purposes, then effective networking is about building a smaller set of deep individual relationships rather than developing a large number of superficial contacts.

So what's your goal when you network?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Meetings, meetings, meetings

Don't you just love meetings?


Of course most of us hate meetings. Especially the kind that drag on and on and make you want to strangle your colleagues, run round the room screaming, and throw yourself (or them) out of the window. But then, you might ask, is there any other kind?

Having a meeting is like walking a dog: it'll go for as long as you let it. So make sure you keep your meetings on a short leash. Schedule something else to bring the meeting to a close. Perhaps you have a client phone call you have to take. Maybe you have to get back to your desk to get a proposal out by noon. Or you said you would brief the sales manager at 2 o'clock.

Your next task need not be true - just believable...

If you want some more thoughts on bailing out of tedious meetings, a journalist once interviewed me (amongst other experts) on the issue - you can find it on the mansized website.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Improve your memory (part 2)

Processing information can help us memorise it. But there are other ways to help you remember information too.

One of the problems we often have with memory is that we often focus on shoving more information into our heads, and don't spend enough time practising recalling it. So help yourself to remember information by retrieving it after you have tried to memorise it.

Let's take an example: Trying to remember someone's name. When you get introduced to them, you should say their name out loud immediately, perhaps 'Good to meet you Jane' or 'Hello David, I'm Rob.' Then try to use their name within the next 30 seconds: 'How long have you worked here Jane?' And again within the next 30 minutes: 'That's a good point Jane.' If you want to remember their name for the next time you meet them, practise recalling their name at the end of the day. Try to picture in your mind's eye the meeting room and then speak out loud the names of the people you met there. The more you practise dragging someone's name out from your memory, the better your chances will be of remembering it for months and years to come.

The same goes for trying to learn information for an exam. If you have crammed information into your brain in the morning, try writing it out again in the afternoon. Then look back at your notes and review what you missed out or got wrong. Then do the same the next day. Perhaps leave it a few days, then do it again.

In memorising information - whether it is names or your studies - focus not only on inputting information, but also its retrieval.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Rules of Office Politics

Office politics is the game that is played in just about every organisation out there - but so rarely talked about.

To be 'political' is almost always seen as a bad thing. You might be thinking that office politics involves skulking and scheming, colluding and conniving. And it’s true that a lot of that goes on. But that doesn’t mean that all politicking at work is automatically bad. Understanding the rules of politics can help you achieve outcomes that are beneficial for the organisation and in an ethical fashion too.

But I think that unless you are not at least aware of politics within your organisation, you will not succeed. Being politically savvy is nothing more than recognising the politics within your organisation, reading people, and learning to build relationships with them.

Anyway, my next book is published next week. And in the run-up to its publication, I've managed to get some good press coverage for the book. The book had quite a lengthy write-up in the Sunday Times, so you can read all about it there.

You can read the full article

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Rules of Entrepreneurship

Okay, I admit it doesn't exactly trip off the tongue. But I'm writing a book called The Rules of Entrepreneurship at the moment. I signed the contract a few months ago (but haven't started writing it - shhh! Don't tell my publisher!)

The book won't be out until autumn 2007 but my publisher just emailed across the cover for the book. And here it is.

The book's going to cover the process of setting up your own business, whether it's a small restaurant or consultancy up to the kind of big businesses that need private investors or venture capital.

There are plenty of books that take you through the practical aspects of setting up your own venture – from opening a business bank account and keeping track of your finances to calculating your tax bills – but this book won't be one of them. Because businesses don’t succeed or fail based on whether you pick the right bank account.

This book will be about the spirit of entrepreneurship – the stuff that truly distinguishes successful entrepreneurs from wannabes and failures. Look at successful entrepreneurs in the world today such as Michael Dell, Donald Trump, Richard Branson, and Li Ka Shing. They grew their businesses by identifying opportunities and persisting in the face of adversity, selling ideas and brokering deals, inspiring their employees and engaging their customers.So I'm going to focus on that kind of stuff and help readers to succeed.

As I said, the book won't be out until late 2007 - but watch this space for snippets of information as I put the book together!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A little bit about Dr Rob

I posted a proper showreel featuring clips from my earlier TV shows Who Would Hire You? and How To Get Your Dream Job before. But here's a 40-second clip from Jade's PA, my most recent show - if you fancy taking a glimpse into my world and understanding a bit more about what I do!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Liar, liar

Psychologists are often asked to help the police detect liars. And, contrary to what some so-called experts say, there is no reliable way to detect lies from just eye movements or whether you touch your nose or anything like that.

However, here's an interesting bit of research for you. Police officers instructed to pick out 'who you believe is thinking hard' tended to spot liars versus truth-tellers more accurately than when they were asked to spot 'who you think is lying'.

And, if you want to put the pressure on, then increase the cognitive demand for the person you think is lying. A study by Professor Aldert Vrij at the University of Portsmouth found that it's easier to spot liars when you ask them to recite the elements of their story in reverse order than in normal order.

So there you have it. Look for someone who is thinking hard. And if you think they are thinking hard, get them to tell you their (alleged?) tale again - backwards.

Happy lie spotting!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Dr Rob on TV

The press onslaught continues and - thankfully - the reviews of preview copies of the first episode of the TV show I've been involved in have been pretty positive so far.

I'm sure that some of the critics will be sharpening their knives once the first episode has been broadcast. But I'm familiar with how they work. Their job is to be incisive and critical. If they love everything, no one will want to read their columns. So it's their job to hate some stuff. And programmes such as ours that are mainstream and popular (as opposed to being arty, high-brow or ) are bound to raise the hackles of critics.

I think the press photo is pretty funny. There's Jade posing in the middle - the consummate media professional. There's me on the left, laughing at Jade. And Hollywood PA Heather Howard is too caught up in taking notes in preparation for interviewing the first candidates to even notice that the press photographer is in the room!

Oh, and if you have difficulty making out the small print of the pages from TV guides that I've uploaded, then hover your cursor over them and click them. It should enlarge them.

And don't forget - 10pm, Monday 9th October - that's just a handful of days' time!!

Anyway, if anyone out there does get to watch the programme, leave me a comment and let me know what you think! Good and bad comments welcome!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The business psychologist and the Big Brother celebrity (a rejoinder)

Okay, so I thought I wouldn't be writing any more about Jade's PA, the TV programme I've been helping to present. But I couldn't resist.

Like a little boy with a new toy, I just got all excited and couldn't help myself!

The press onslaught launching the programme has started - and here's one of the print posters for it. The idea is that the prospective candidates who want to work for Jade are so desperate to work for her that they're willing to blow each other up, shoot each other, maim and generally stab each other in the back to get what they want.

The programme starts next Monday 9th October at 10pm on Living TV. Plug, plug, plug!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What to call my column!?

I suggested the idea a while ago, but the folks at Accountancy magazine have finally taken me up on my offer and are giving me my own monthly column. The magazine goes out to 145,000 members apparently - ranging from student accountants to experienced finance directors and ex-finance people who have since moved into general management - so it's a great opportunity for me to put across some of the principles and practice of psychology at work.

Only thing is, we don't know what to call the column. The suggestions so far include:

  • Yeung at heart
  • Management Muse
  • Dr Job
Can you come up with anything better? Please - can somebody help?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Improve your memory (part 1)

As a business psychologist, I meet lots of people. I meet new clients in big companies and small organisations, and at conferences and networking events all the time. But I have to confess that I'm not very good at remembering people's names.

Which is a shame as I'm a psychologist and know exactly what techniques I should be using to improve my memory!

So I thought I'd start to share some of the techniques that research shows us can help to improve our memories.

One of the best techniques is to process names and start making links from a name to other information we have in our brain. The more you think about a name, the more likely you are to remember it.

For example, if you are meeting someone called Nick, you might summon up a mental image of yourself shaving and giving yourself a shaving nick - a small cut. To further encourage remembering his name, you might think that it sounds like a pick. Then you might summon up the mental image of a pick-axe in your head. And that it sounds like a tick - so see yourself drawing a big tick on a piece of paper in your mind's eye. And so on. The more links and cues you use to process a name mentally, the better you will get at remembering it.

Trust me, I'm a psychologist. So just go try it.

Friday, September 29, 2006

On the couch with, er, Inspector Morse

I do get asked some strange questions.

I had a call from a journalist the other day, who was writing an article about fictitious TV detectives. And he wanted me to consider what career and lifestyle advice I'd give Inspector Morse if Morse were a client of mine.

Apparently Inspector Morse drinks very heavily and eats a lot of pork pies. I don't know if that's true or not, but that's what the journalist told me. So I advised on making lifestyle changes by finding a buddy to act as social support in improving his dietary regimen.

The kinds of weird questions I get asked as a business psychologist!

The business psychologist and the Big Brother celebrity (part the last)

Well, my involvement in filming the TV show has now finished.

We held the big finale at a nightclub in Leicester Square just a couple of nights ago. It was a glitzy affair with the two remaining candidates for the job as Jade's PA having to organise two separate charity parties to raise money for Scope and the NSPCC.

Both parties were fantastic and both raised thousands for charity. We, the judges, were duly impressed.

But there could only be one winner. And we had a really difficult decision to make. In fact Jade had become so attached to the two candidates that she found it incredibly emotional. We had to break it down into the skills and character traits that Jade was looking for and see which of the two candidates excelled at each skill or trait. I can tell you that we had a very heated argument and a few tears when it came to making a decision.

But, eventually, we came to a decision. When Jade announced the winner, we were of course happy that she had found her perfect assistant. But we were also a bit dejected that we had to crush the dreams of someone who we had also thought was almost perfect.

Anyway, apparently the trailer promos for the programme have started running on Living TV - so look out for them. Again, a reminder: the programme (Jade's PA) starts on Monday 9th October at 10pm!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Does your reputation proceed you?

How would you describe yourself? Perhaps you think of yourself as confident. But what if others see you as a little too confident and crossing the line into arrogance? Or what if people secretly think you lack confidence and are actually tetchy and nervous?

How others see us creates our reputation. And, whether you like it or not, and whether you make any effort or not, you have a reputation among your colleagues and clients. And, unfortunately, many people’s reputations are not enhancing their credibility but actively damaging it.

A business magazine just asked me to write an article on the topic. So I did.

The key to managing your reputation is to ask people how they see you. Get feedback. Get advice. And then act on it.

Ha ha, I think I've just managed to sum up a 1200-word article in about four sentences.

But if you'd like to get more information on the topic, you can click here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The business psychologist and the Big Brother celebrity (part 5)

Filming continues for the Living TV programme that I'm involved in. And last night we went off to the theatre to see a production of The Vegemite Tales.

We're down to the final three candidates vying for the role as Jade Goody's PA. Each was set a different challenge. And one of them was tasked with getting Jade onto the West End stage.

Of course Jade has no theatrical experience, so it required more than a bit of blagging influence and persuasion on the part of the candidate to persuade the show's producers to let Jade onto their stage (even if it was to perform for just 30 seconds).

But eventually Jade made her acting debut on the West End stage last night - and I have to admit that she wasn't half bad!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Presentation anxiety: The full story

At the start of last month, I posted on the topic of presentation anxiety. I'd been asked to write an article for PQE, a magazine aimed at lawyers.

But the article is just as relevant for anyone who needs to stand up in front of a group of people and present - whether it's a handful of fellow students in a class tutorial or hundreds of journalists and shareholders at an AGM.

Anyway, if you'd like to download a pdf of the full article, you can get it from the News section of the Talentspace website (that's where I work, by the way!) or by clicking here.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The business psychologist and the Big Brother celebrity (part 4)

Yes, the work is still continuing on the TV show I've been filming for Living TV.

In fact I'm just waiting for a car to pick me up to drive me up to the house where the remaining candidates are staying. We started with ten, and over the course of weeks, we have whittled them down to three. I can't say too much about the challenges we have used to weed the weak from the strong, but they are spectacular and difficult!

Just a couple of days ago, I attended the press launch for Living TV's autumn/winter 2006-7 schedule. The head of the channel, Claudia Rosencrantz presented the line up of programmes including for our TV programme, so we got to see a few clips of the first episode for the first time. Again, I can't reveal too much - but it does look funny. So set your video or Sky+ box for Living TV on 9th October at 10pm!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The secret of happiness

As a business psychologist, most of my work is to do with organisations and helping managers and individuals achieve business and career success. But sometimes I do wonder whether my clients are doing enough to chase their personal happiness as well as their professional success.

So I was interested to read in the latest issue of The Psychologist a piece about Vanuatu, the 'happiest place on Earth', as determined by research conducted by the New Economics Federation.

Peter Forster, a psychology lecturer at Webster University in Leiden, The Netherlands, explained the finding by saying:

Vanuatu is a very poor country in some ways of measuring that. Very few people have access to any of the governmental safety nets we take for granted when people have problems. In their place they have strong social support systems within their villages and extended families. When they are fit and healthy they work for their community. When they go through hard times they are supported by others.

He goes on to say:
Studies under the mantle of positive psychology indicate that it is our positive, supportive relationships that contribute most to our happiness.

So bear that in mind as you claw your way up the career ladder, set up your business or seek other forms of professional success.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The wisdom of threatening your boss

So apparently Chelsea footballer William Gallas may (or may not) have threatened to score an own goal if he didn't get his own way.

Anyway, a journalist phoned me up yesterday to ask for a comment on the topic of threatening your boss. The first thing I said was that it's foolish - totally stupid - to make threats. Your boss can fire you. You can't fire your boss. So who has the power and real control in the situation?

Not only that, but whoever makes threats first usually flags up that they don't have the maturity and emotional intelligence to be able to negotiate like a proper grown-up.

So don't threaten your boss. Ever. Seriously - just don't do it.

You can read the full article on the Guardian website.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Laziness is the new hard work

Don't know if you've noticed, but hard work is sooo last season. There's a whole slew of books arguing that hard work is overrated and that laziness and loafing are much more fun.

So Corinne Maier's book 'Bonjour Laziness' is a rant about the meaningful bureaucracy of office life from the organisational lingo we have to adopt to the rubbish tasks we're asked to do.

Don't expect to learn anything that will transform your life, but it's a pretty entertaining book if you've ever wanted to slap your boss over some of the sheer silliness that goes on at work.

I picked up 'City Slackers' in a bookshop a few weeks ago just 'cause it has such a great title. (Oh, if you're ever trying to get a book published, make sure you have a great title - as a great title and average content will outsell great content but a so-so title).

Turns out that the author, Steve McKevitt, and I have something in common. His PR firm does the publicity for Cyan Books (who publish a handful of my books). He's a bit of a cynic, but a pretty funny one at that - arguing that it's possible to have a successful career without ever having to be involved in a successful job or project. The book has plenty of fairly amusing anecdotes about playing the corporate game to further your own ends without ever accomplishing anything. There's a fair bit of truth in his argument - so sit up and take notice!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Making an impact: The five-L technique

As a business psychologist, a big chunk of my work is coaching people (both managers who want to be more impactful as well as job hunters who want to create a better impression) on presence and charisma.

And the four-L technique is a simple way to remember some of the most basic rules of making an impact and drawing people's attention towards you during conversation:

LOOK at others with interest - make excellent eye contact and demonstrate that you are paying attention by nodding your head and making affirmative noises such as 'uh-huh' and 'yes' occasionally.

LISTEN to what is being said and paraphrase occasionally to show that you understand what is being said.

LIFT your eyebrows and 'flash' your eyes occasionally. Again, this shows that you're rapt on their every word.

LEVEL your approach by sitting with others who are sitting and standing with those who are standing.

LEAN forward slightly to show your interest in what is being said. Think about it - people who sit right back in their seats can sometimes come across as disinterested, and that's not what you want to convey.

Five 'L's. Do it.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The business psychologist and the Big Brother celebrity (part 3)

Well, the work continues on the television show that I'm filming. If you haven't guessed, that's me in the photo on the left. Jade Goody in the middle. And Hollywood PA Heather H. Howard on the right.

The task at hand is for us to find a personal assistant for Jade. So a couple of weeks ago, the three of us sat through an interminable number of panel interviews. Literally hundreds and hundreds of candidates passed our way. Many of them were instantly forgettable. Some were just obviously trying their luck to get on television for their 15 seconds of fame.

But from the hundreds of candidates, we've chosen 10 candidates - one of whom will eventually get the coveted job as personal assistant to Jade. The 10 candidates have moved into a secret location in North London to live together for 3 weeks. And over the three weeks, Jade, Heather and I will be setting them a number of challenges to sort the strong from the weak. We want to find someone who has great organisation skills, who is proactive and anticipates needs. We want a personal assistant who has the interpersonal skills to negotiate with tough people ranging from pesky paparazzi to other stars in the showbiz firmament. We want someone who can work with Jade - who admits herself that she can be temperamental and difficult with people when she's in the wrong mood.

It's a tough call, but we'll find the right person.

In fact, we set the first challenge yesterday. And already one person has been eliminated...

Oh, one of the big bosses from Living TV was there yesterday with us on the set. And apparently the show is going to air on their channel on 9th or 10th October. So set your video recorders!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Ego surfing and how to shine in interviews

Have you ever Googled yourself? A colleague of mine calls it 'ego surfing' - he thinks it's a bit big-headed for anyone to want to know what is written about themselves. But I Googled myself to see whether my blog comes up - and I was pleased to see that it makes it onto the first Google page. So that's good news.

But it's interesting to see what else comes up under your name. The top hit under my name is the the BBC television series that I presented called Who Would Hire You?

Anyway, one thing that did come up (a bit further down the list) was an extensive interview I did for the Daily Telegraph newspaper. OK, the interview is over a year old, but I thought the journalist was pretty good at extracting some useful interview tips from me. So if you want to read the whole thing, you can click here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Everything changes

I had a meeting with a client in the FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) sector the other day. I'm going to run a workshop session for them on the topic of managing change more effectively in September.

Did you know that psychologists have spent decades researching the stages that we go through when we experience major setbacks or change in life? Understanding these stages gives us the chance to move through the stages of recovery more quickly. The stages of change are:

1. Denial. We're in shock. We feel numb. Our first reaction is often to refuse to believe what has happened. We might think to ourselves 'I can't believe this is happening to me'. We don't know how to behave as we can't quite come to terms with what's happened.

2. Anger. We then often get angry. We may complain about the situation or try to blame others for what is happening. We may unfortunately take it out on friends or colleagues or loved ones by lashing out or pushing them away without good reason. For others, they internalise their anger and become infuriated with themselves.

3. Disorientation. Next, we may feel confused and unhappy. We may feel physically and emotionally exhausted or even despairing.

4. Acceptance. Eventually - and for some people it may take weeks or months while others may need only hours or days - we come to terms with the need to change our behaviour or get on with life after a setback. We recognise that our situation has changed and feel less emotional about the past.

5. Renewal. Finally, we are able to resume work and life as normal. We may still think about the setback, but for the most part we are able to think about it rationally rather than becoming emotional or distraught about it.

So, here are a few implications. Firstly, it's okay to experience negative emotions as a result of setbacks and change. Research shows us very clearly that everyone goes through similar stages - so you should never have to feel embarrassed or guilty about how you feel. Also, understanding these stages can help us all to identify which stage we are currently experiencing and then hopefully accelerate the pace with which we can move through them to renewal.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Pssst! Wanna hear the lastest...?

So do you appreciate a bit of gossip? C'mon, be honest. Of course you do.

Well here's the good news. A survey found that 40 percent of office workers claim that it's good for you 'cause it nurtures closer relationships with colleagues. A journalist asked me to comment on the survey so you can read the full article on the Metro website.

But to sum up, I have to agree that a bit of gossip can be a good thing - in fact I have some thoughts on the role of gossip at work in an upcoming book on the topic of office politics. Of course you never want to be identified as a source of gossip. But saying that you're not going to participate in gossip makes you stand out as a prude, a fuddy-duddy, someone who thinks their better than their colleagues. And that's not a good thing. So don't feel guilty - enjoy your gossip!

Friday, August 18, 2006

The business psychologist and the Big Brother celebrity (part 2)

This whole TV thing is wearing me out. So yesterday was my third filming day with Jade Goody and Hollywood PA Heather H. Howard.

I'm no stranger to TV, but here are some random observations on what goes on at a shoot:

1. Everything takes longer than the director says it will. So on one evening we had a car booked to take me home at 8pm. When I eventually got into the car, the driver told me that I would have to sign for 105 minutes of waiting time (not my problem - the production company's paying!) So everything takes a loooong time. Maybe it's because the director and producers are just incredibly optimistic about how quickly things can get done. Or maybe because the director always wants to do more shots than they need to cover different situations when they get into the edit suite. And technical (and non-technical) hitches always crop up that no one could have foreseen. Stuff like the double-sided sticky tape drying out and bits of the set falling apart.

2. If you want to 'get into television' and manage to secure a job as a runner or researcher, make sure you make yourself useful. Your job as a runner is not to stand there and wait until someone asks to to lend a helping hand. A runner should constantly be asking everyone - the director, the producers, the assistant producers, the researchers, the talent, the camera crew, the sound recordists - whether anything needs doing. And that could range from carrying pieces of equipment around and making cups of tea or standing in front of a light and acting as a human shield to make sure that there isn't a bit of flare in a particular camera shot. Good runners anticipate needs and make themselves useful. If you're a runner and people have to keep asking you for help, they'll quickly stop asking because it's too much bother. And eventually you won't get asked back to work there. End of your career.

3. There's a small amount of acting involved in making a reality TV programme. So even though the programme is mostly observational - i.e. we the panellists make genuine decisions - there is also a staged element to it. So we had to do lots of mean and moody staring down the lens of the camera. Plus mean and moody marching down a corridor. Eventually they'll put a voiceover on top of those shots and maybe some dark and brooding music to make us appear like right bastards! Oh, and in terms of the panel, my role is to be the tough and sarcastic one - think the Simon Cowell of the team!

That's all for now.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Tombstone Test: Will death become you?

As a business psychologist, I get involved in a a fair amount of coaching. Everyone wants to be more successful and to achieve more.

But sometimes people are a bit hazy in their goals. Do you know what your purpose in life is?

It sounds very grand to say that you have a purpose in life. But a purpose (or some people like to call it a vision or mission or life direction - it really doesn't matter what it's called) will save you a lot of grief when it comes to making career and life decisions.

The way to figure out your purpose in life is to take the Tombstone Test: What would you like to have written on your tombstone?

Is your purpose in life to be successful working in a bigger business for someone else? Or to set up your own business? Perhaps you want to be remembered as a famous author - in which case you'd better start writing that novel soon, hadn't you? Or maybe your life purpose is nothing to do with work, but to do with your family or your spiritual beliefs? In which case perhaps you need to take a less stressful and more fulfilling job to allow you to pursue those outside interests.

Only when you know your purpose and direction can you invest effort in achieving it. There's no point 'working hard' or trying to 'achieve more' if you don't know what you're working towards or trying to achieve.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Voicing concerns

As a business psychologist, I get asked to contribute to a lot of articles in the media - on topics from job hunting and leading teams, to dealing with a bad boss and office politics.

So a couple of weeks ago a journalist from the Guardian asked me to do a telephone interview on the topic of voice - how the tone, speed, pitch and even accent of your voice can affect how others treat you - from whether they enjoy spending time being with you to whether they trust you and want to promote you.

I'm a big believer that your voice often says more about you than the words you choose. In a presentation, a monotonous voice communicates a lack of passion. In a business meeting, a loud and fast voice could be taken as arrogant. In an interview, a quiet voice communicates shyness. But no one ever thinks that they have the monotonous or arrogant or shy voice - it's always other people who sound boring or full of themselves or nervous.

I had plenty more to say to the journalist - we talked for about 10 minutes. But my eventual contribution to the article ended up being chopped down to two tiny paragraphs.

Oh well.

Anyway, the end result is here.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Job interviews: How to sound convincing

As a business psychologist, I do a lot of job interviewing. And I've just spent the last two days interviewing over a hundred candidates for just one opening. The fact that it was being filmed for a television programme is slightly incidental to my observations.

One of the questions I asked was: 'Why do you think we should give you the job?'

Most candidates replied by saying that they were honest and trustworthy, outgoing and friendly, organised and efficient, great at planning events, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah...

I have to say that, only 24 hours later, I've already forgotten most of the candidates. So here's a few tips to make sure that you are remembered - and for the right reasons:

If you are going to say that you are 'outgoing and fun', make sure that your body language and tone of voice reflect that. Too many candidates said it in a listless manner and a bored look on their face that just made us want to laugh the moment they had left the room.

ANYONE can claim that they are organised and efficient or honest and trustworthy. The best way to back up any claim is always to quote a short example. We probably had around 40 or 50 candidates claim that they were 'organised'. But only one of them had managed to raise £50,000 for charity through her own efforts. Now THAT'S what I call organisation skills.

Rant over. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The business psychologist and the Big Brother celebrity

Well I had dinner with ex-Big Brother celebrity star Jade Goody the other night. The production company threw a dinner for the team to get to know each other. Jade's actually really lovely. OK, she doesn't have much knowledge of what's going on in the wider world (so some people are going to call her stupid and thick). But she is sooo talkative and full of energy and funny and endearing! Oh, that photo's a bit blurry because I took it with the camera on my phone.

Anyway, the idea of this new TV programme to find a PA for Jade is that we're going to interview several hundred candidates today and tomorrow. I'm part of a three-person panel, and the third member of the panel is ex-Hollywood PA and author, Heather H. Howard. Heather has worked for big names ranging from Steven Spielberg and Jeff Goldblum to Tom Cruise! She had some fantastic stories to tell over dinner the other night - from the time she had to buy sex aids for one of her bosses to having to arrange an exorcism for another! Anyway, she's a great addition to our interview panel as she's had lots of experience of working as a top PA to celebrities.

We will find the right PA for Jade!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

It shouldn't happen to a business psychologist

If proof was ever needed that there is a God (or some kind of cosmic karma operating in the universe), then I'm a living example.

In an earlier post, I bitched about talentless celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Jade Goody.

Well, guess what?

Yes, I'm having dinner with Jade Goody tonight and I'm about to spend the next few weeks working with her.

Jade is a busy celebrity and she's looking for a personal assistant to work for her for a year. Despite having a reputation as one of the UK's most clueless celebrities, she's making stack loads of cash with multiple projects on the go. And she has plenty of celebrity friends and contacts, so it's quite a prestigious job for someone who might want to enter the world of celebrity too. Anyway, cable channel Living TV are filming the whole process. No stranger to the world of television myself, the production company has asked me to sit on a panel and advise Jade on who to recruit. So I'll report when I know more - watch this space...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Have you got what it takes to be an entrepreneur?

I mentioned a few weeks back that I'm writing a book on entrepreneurship.

By coincidence, I just got asked to contribute to a piece by top journalist Helen Beckett at the ManSized website on the topic: 'Have I got what it takes to be an entrepreneur?'

I argue that:

As well as having the right mindset, you need certain qualities to see it through and turn an idea into a successful venture.

Number one is drive. Entrepreneurs work for reasons other than money. Bill Gates has billions stashed in the bank, but he doesn’t rest on his laurels because he has an innate need to succeed.

You also need emotional resilience. You have to be able to take the knocks. Only a certain kind of person can keep getting up and keep knocking on doors.

Are you a non conformist? Entrepreneurs do not follow the usual avenues through life. A scorn for the bandwagon will probably show from a young age.

Passion's all important. Passion for an idea will give the venture life and you the energy to see it though.

You can read the rest of the piece including what other experts have to say on the matter here.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Size matters when you whip it out onto the table...

Size matters. Men don't often jump up and claim proudly that theirs is the smallest. But when it comes to office gadgetry, small is beautiful. Who wants to be the owner of the biggest mobile phone in the office?

As a business psychologist, I go to lots of meetings. And I have size issues when it comes to notebooks too. When you go into a meeting and everyone else is thrusting huge personal organisers and thick notebooks on the table, I produce my little Moleskine notebook. Measuring just slightly smaller than the span of my hand, the elegant but sturdy black cover and small pages simply scream sophistication.

I think anyone who buys a designer brand because of the 'quality' is deluding themselves - people buy designer brands because they like the way it makes them feel. I'd never feel comfortable wearing clothes by a showy designer such as Versace or Dolce & Gabbana, but I do aspire to having luxe objects in my life. And one of these little objects is my Moleskine notebook.

Anyway, I was just reading a blog post about the revival of the Moleskine brand. So I guess I'm not the only one who has noticed these little black books and cherishes the glances that it draws from clients when you first meet them and draw out your little notebook.

Please don't buy one of these - I like to feel that it's my own special little brand!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Top ten tips for killer presentations

The editor of PQE (a magazine by mega-publisher LexisNexis aimed at lawyers with less than ten years' post-qualification experience - hence the acronym) asked me to write an article on the topic of handling presentation nerves. It comes out in November, which coincides nicely with the publication of one of my next books, Presentations and Public Speaking for Dummies, which comes out then too.

I just emailed the article across today. Anyway, here are my ten top tips for handling presentation jitters:

10.Say yes only to topics you can immerse yourself into. I know it's easier said than done - you might have no choice. But if you can at least find an angle you find interesting, you'll come across so much better.

9. Prepare your material thoroughly. The more research and planning you do, the less you'll be fumbling around for your words on the big day.

8. Practise, practise, practise. Think of presenting well as being on stage. Actors learn their lines, so why shouldn't you? Even if you don't want to learn your speech word-for-word, practise it to familiarise yourself with the materials.

7.Learn the skill of diaphragmatic breathing. Just as some people can bring about panic attacks by breathing incorrectly, you can summon up feelings of deep calm by breathing the right way.

6.Counter automatic negative thoughts. When we're nervous, we engage in catastrophic thinking - we worry about what could go wrong. Identify that you are engaging in catastrophic thinking and tell yourself that you're being irrational. It will help to dispel the anxiety.

5.Divert the audience's attention. If the audience is looking at a screen or flicking through a handout, that's fewer eyes on you.

4.Visualise success. Athletes do it. So why shouldn't you? Before the big day, sit quietly and use your mind's eye to visualise how you want to come across.

3. Fake it until you can make it. Sounds obvious, but the most important thing when presenting is to appear relaxed even if you don't feel it. So focus on your body language - avoid fiddling with jewellery or jangling change in your pocket at all costs.

2.Smile and laugh. Scientists have found that your body can't tell the difference between real and fake laughter. If you smile and laugh, your body releases 'happy' chemicals to make you feel less nervous.

1. Understand that practice makes perfect. If you aren't good at it, keep trying it. Keep throwing yourself into presentation situations. All animals habituate or get used to stressful situations - so every presentation you give will make it easier and easier.

When I get round to it, I'll talk about some of these in a bit more detail. Feel free to ask questions and stuff!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Enjoy a good grumble about life and work

Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit?
isn't strictly a business book (in fact, forget the 'strictly' - it's not a business book at all). Instead, it is an encyclopedic attack on modern culture, phoney ideas, cretinous people and inane doublespeak.

I'm about two-thirds of the way through it - and it's damned funny!

On the notion of hard work, the authors write:

If you work really, really hard it often only leads to a future of working even harder than that, because employers tend to be greedy bastards who see a soft touch coming a f***ing mile off.

On the topic of networking (a subject dear to my own heart, of course):

The dark art of pretending to like people in order to advance one's own self - even though that self has precisely nothing to offer the world barring an extraordinary aptitude for self-advancement.

On e-mail bragging:

People who 'complain' about how many messages they get sent, especially after they get back from holiday - 'I'm still ploughing through them!' Yes, well done. You're really fucking important.

Buy this book because you'll learn something. But buy this book mainly because it'll make you laugh.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Job interviews: 'Tell me about yourself'

I was coaching a job hunter yesterday who had suffered a period of illness and is now seeking to return to the world of employment. He hasn't had a job interview for over a decade so, understandably, his interview skills are more than a little out of practice.

We did a mock interview and, as many interviewers do, I started by asking: 'tell me about yourself'.

In reply, he mentioned that he was a 'deeply spiritual' person.


A couple of weeks ago, another coachee answered the same question by talking about her childhood, where she had grown up, and how proud she was of her son.


Now. Neither of these answers are wrong per se. But if you've only got a limited amount of time with an interviewer, by talking about your personal life, you lose an opportunity to sell your experience and relevant skills. So always answer this question as if the interviewer had actually asked you: 'Tell me briefly about your professional experience and the relevant qualities that make you a strong candidate for this job.'

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Very excited... about tough interview questions

Just a quickie as I need to do some preparation before I coach someone in a bit. One of my publishers (Wiley) just told me that they need to do a new print run for one of my books, Answering Tough Interview Questions for Dummies. Apparently the first run has sold out and the book only came out in April!

Yeah for me!

Despite the fact the book is called 'for Dummies', I tried to pack it with really useful advice for job hunters - everyone from school leavers and graduates to women returning from maternity leave right through to senior managers and older candidates nearing retirement. Out of the 10 or so books I've had published to date, it's one of the ones I'm most proud of. The fact it's selling well must mean that readers are finding it useful too.

Anyway, I'm going to be smiling for the rest of today!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Networking: Making a great impact every time

As I mentioned in a previous post, networking matters.

And of course anyone you meet for the first time may ask what you do for a living.

One of the keys to effective networking is to think about your initial response. 'I'm an accountant.' 'I run an HR consultancy.' 'I'm an IT systems manager.' Yes, it might be technically correct to use your job title. But is that how you want to be remembered? Does your job title sum up all the aspects of what you do and capture your experience and tell other people how they can help you?

Probably not.

A friend and contact of mine, Julian Goldsmith, is managing director of PR agency ARC Business. He sometimes describes his work by saying: 'I undertake the writing of press releases, articles, speeches, and reports. I arrange journalist interviews, organize events, and place people in conference speaking slots.' But sometimes he merely says: 'I make business people famous'.

Which do you find more memorable? Which would make you want to hear more?

So the next time someone asks you: 'What do you do?' be sure to think twice about your answer 'cause it's one of the rules of networking.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Anyone want a second opinion on a work problem?

My morning so far has been taken up with dealings with newspapers. I had to reply to an email enquiry from a columnist with the Toronto Metro and I just finished a telephone interview with a journalist from The Guardian. And only last month, I was asked by The Times newspaper to offer some advice to a reader with a bit of a job hunting quandary. The reader asked:

A friend told me about a great job she saw advertised. She was going to apply for it and joked that I should too. So I did. I got an interview but I don’t think that she did. Should I withdraw out of loyalty, since she saw the job first, or should I go for the job anyway?'

You can read my thoughts on the matter here.

Anyway, all of this got me thinking. So, does anyone have any career or management issues that they'd like some help with?

As a coach and consultant I work with a wide variety of people from individual job hunters, employees and managers to large organisations. Perhaps it's a case of office politics, a nightmare colleague or a bad boss. Maybe your career has hit a rut or you're on the hunt for a new job. Maybe you are thinking of embarking on a new venture or have already done so. Or you're a manager struggling with the team or how to grow the business.

Whatever your issue, leave me a comment and I'll give you my humble opinions.