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!