Welcome to Merri's Blog!

Thanks for being a reader and for sharing these posts with others!

Please leave comments.

Search This Blog

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

When the Butterflies are in Your Stomach, Can you Speak with Confidence?

As a performer, a presenter, someone who takes communion, someone who speaks at board meetings and someone who regularly steps into uncomfortable circumstances, I get butterflies. And because that sensation regularly takes me back to how I felt the very first time I ever took a risk, at first, I begin to feel nauseous. And it's not just me. It's all of us.

When you stand up in front of people and open your mouth, you’re making yourself vulnerable. Public speaking involves risk. So aiming for zero fear is unrealistic.Olivia Mitchell, public speaking guru.

Our bodies adapt well to moments of fear - they send us signals of adrenaline coursing through our bodies to support us and give us energy to overcome the risk at hand. If only we just realize it.

Our bodies can't tell the difference between anxiety and excitement. And neither can we, if we are relying on our bodies to signal us for fear or joy. Yet once we realize that butterflies happen in each case - both with fear as well as with joy; with anxiety as well as with excitement - we can then begin to speak with confidence.

When fear overtakes us we often get emotionally overwhelmed. We lose our ability to think, make poor choices, don't use logic and stumble over ourselves. Yet the simple moment of realizing that fear and excitement have the same signals, and with excitement we have more control than with fear, we may more readily take a step back to become objective.

Through our objectivity we can create a mental checking-off of key points: Have I created a plan? Am I ready to use it? Can I relax into having faith in what I know?

Yes, we can speak with confidence at the podium, on the stage, with our co-worker or supervisor or direct report once we plan, prepare and rehearse what our plan is. Yes, we can shift from feeling anxious to being ready/prepared/excited about our approach. Yes, we can feel good about ourselves whether we are an extrovert or introvert, a manager or employee, a professional or amateur. It's all based on our willingness to plan, to prepare, to rehearse and to be objective about the moment.

So in those moments when my body gives me the butterflies, when my first impulse is to recall that first instance of fear after taking a risk, my second impulse is to laugh. I can then slow down, focus, and delight in the fact that I know those butterflies are giving me the energy to focus. To deliver. To connect and to make the impact that needs to come out of the moment.

Bring on the butterflies!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Success Story: Results from a very targeted focus

17 months ago I moved to a new city. Although business still happens in my previous city - where my network is strong and the need continues - in the new I needed to get very strategic about business development.

I am a networker, realizing the value of relationship and referrals for my service-focused communication coaching business. A sole proprietor, I must ask for help from my network to generate word-of-mouth buzz and uncover needs through referral. With this help, I can spend a portion of my week prospecting/networking/marketing, another portion in client-focused time, some portion on administrative tasks and yet another on research/development. Sole proprietors know the need to make good use of our time as well as to diversify our activity to cover the priority bases.

So when it comes to networking in a new location to quickly develop relationships that lead to referral, I need a strategy. From my training with the Certified Networker program, I understand that entering a new area where I had no network posed not only a challenge, but an opportunity.

There are some key steps I use in my networking strategy that hold me accountable and focused, giving me powerful results today. I help attorneys speak with confidence, whether they are networking, working within their firm environment, business building or in the courtroom. I have spoken at 2 attorney professional associations, in sub-groups within the local bar association, within several firms for luncheon meetings. I coach several as individuals and now operate as a coach within firms. All this in the space of 17 months' focus.

My success is built around a strategy. Because it takes trial and error, some of the steps within the strategy have a less structured and some a more structured approach. Regardless, these 3 steps were vital to me.

Strategy for Developing a Business Network
1. Select a target market. With this selection, I hone a focus. Eventhough my services can apply to all industries, I can't become an expert for all industries. Nor can I create a word-of-mouth buzz in all industries. I must select one. For me this was attorneys. Like me, the majority of them are introverts. Introverts suffer the most from insecurity, especially when taking a risk. Speaking in public, let alone to those unlike us often challenge us into avoidance. With attorneys I can be an expert.

2. Select methods of networking with the target market Notice this is not about "reaching" them. This is about "connecting" with them. Reaching can be through online presence, direct mail material, email marketing programs. But connecting, actually having a face-to-face experience, is required for reaching my select market. Here is where both social media and traditional networking combine for a powerful impact.

My previous contacts in my Linked-In network were a huge resource to me. Searching their contacts in my new location, I discovered several who could intercede on my behalf simply so I could start face-to-face networking without making a cold call. When I asked them for assistance, they delivered. Prior to moving here, I had 2 months of meetings lined up.

While meeting face to face, I had a list of referral requests - not for business but for assistance. They didn't know me at all, so I knew my requests needed to be general. For instance,
a. "where do you network?"
b. "would you be willing to invite me to join you next time?"
c. "what do you know about the (target market) industry?"
d. if applicable, "where do they network?"

Once I gained exposure to networking events/options/environments, I broadened my time spent exploring. I would eventually (for me, a year) determine which environments or events to commit to. For now, I was learning/trying out what worked for me.

3. Decide who to maintain a continual follow-up with. Not all individuals I meet with will be a constant appointment. Not even most of them. One appt tells me whether there is value in friendship, target market, information/expertise, etc. If the value exists, another meeting is scheduled before I leave. If it doesn't, no need to reschedule.

My attorney-coaching practice grew as a result of three key things: Giving public speeches (number one business builder), building trusting relationships through networking, and getting referrals.

3 attorneys I met with as a result of seeing them on LinkedIn, lobbied their professional organizations for my opportunity to speak in front of them. Some of them seriously connected me within their industry to firms and/or key individuals. This came as a result of following up with them regularly - they became my referral partners.

Through networking I developed fun, energetic and serious relationships with another handful of people who either began using me as their coach or referring me to others.

In time I learned where to network, who to keep on my calendar and how to hone services especially for my target market. This continues to give me "buzz" in the attorney industry as the Go-To person for helping them develop confidence whether through their speaking or their relationship-building.

The key here, for those of us needing to build our own business, is to have a strategy. Although networking all over the place can be important just to get started, it isn't the rule of thumb. When we network all over the place, we put priorities all over the place. Which actually means - we have no priorities. We don't specialize in groups of people, we specialize in ourselves. We serve no industry, we serve only ourselves. And ultimately, we serve only ourselves by squandering all our time.

Let me know in what ways this strategy serves your target market.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The most fearful part of the speech

Recently a local firm engaged me to help a junior associate with a few areas of professional development, including her ability to give public presentations. Although competent and equipped with intelligence to deliver quality information, this attorney didn't trust her own ability to speak with confidence.

Once we sat down I asked her, "What is the worst part of the speech for you?" Quickly she shared, "the beginning. I get so anxious before I begin the presentation,that for the first few minutes during it, my voice quivers, my hands shake and I can't help but pay attention to my own fears. It makes me a blubbering idiot."

Whether she really is a blubbering idiot during the introduction of her presentation or not, she thinks she is. And whatever we tell ourselves - as in her case, "I'm a blubbering idiot" - becomes true. At least to us, if not to others. That perspective shapes her focus and creates a public speaking experience that holds her back from delivering with confidence.

Not uncommon, the introduction is the section of the speech least-effectively designed. Many create a chit-chat, or introduce themselves in a rambling way that demonstrates their anxiety. It does little to shift their focus from their anxiety to their strength. And the audience sees them sweat.

Speaking professionals know there are 2 key areas of any presentation that demand quality control - the introduction and the conclusion. While the introduction can demonstrate our lack of speaking finesse, the conclusion can leave our overall point hanging. So to ramp up your presentation, take note of the following:

1. Focus on the audience during both your introduction and conclusion.
2. Ask key questions to engage their attention in the topic you are addressing during the introduction.
3. In the conclusion, remind them of the key points and return to the opening questions to tie it together.
4. End strongly - avoiding, "Well, that's what I have for you."

Controlling these two areas of our presentations gives us confidence. Our focus shifts from watching ourselves to paying attention to those in front of and around us, extending our energy outward vs. inward.

In my client's case, I watched her begin strongly, focusing where she needed to - on those in front of her. There was no mumbling, no visible shaking, and instead, a smile and a sense of humor. By the time she had shared the meat of the presentation, she was on a roll and ready to end succinctly.

Additional tip:
Whether you are prepared well or hardly at all, chances are your body will act the same - give you butterflies. Those butterflies are built-in energy. Although most people experience this energy with negative responses, learn to see this energy as important and even necessary. In this way you can shift from anxiety to excitement, knowing your prepared speech will have the energy it needs.

Friday, September 17, 2010

What's goin' on?

Earlier this month I hung out on the patio of a favorite restaurant and noticed a common phenomenon. At one table there were many people talking, few listening. For awhile people were really fired up, yet after time people gave up and sought attention elsewhere.

Although this prompted me to watch awhile while it reminded me of the days when I was teaching. Friday afternoons, 4pm, several of us gathered at the local bar for happy hour and the same thing commonly happened. All of us eager to chat while most of us not really connecting. People would move from where they were sitting, try out being around someone else and then start exploring the bar. Often I watched then, too.

What was going on?

After the experience this month I returned to my laptop and pulled out some of my communication resource materials I've collected over the years and found this piece from High Gain that gives great insight on the phenomenon. See in what way the insights fit what you experience.

There are many reasons why we don’t listen; some are cultural,
some psychological and some physiological. Based on years of
experience, we have identified the Top 10 Reasons why people
don’t listen.

They are:
1. American culture places a great deal of emphasis on talking
(witness the rise of blogs and YouTube).

2. Most of us think we listen well already, yet our research has
shown that people can only identify 1-2 great listeners from
their entire lives.

3. Boredom: the average person talks at rates of 125-175 words
a minute, yet we can listen at rates of up to 450 words per
minute. With this large processing gap, we drift off and think
of other things while listening.

4. We confuse listening and hearing.

5. We think good listening takes too long. Good listening
actually minimizes useless distractions and enables you
to hear the message correctly the first time.

6. We are an action-oriented culture, with a strong emphasis
on getting the job done. We frequently act before we fully

7. Less than 2% of us have had formal educational experience
with listening. Most “communication” courses are about

8. We project our thoughts and views onto others, assuming
they feel the same way.

9. We confuse listening with agreeing. Listening is about
understanding and not necessarily agreeing.

10. We make assumptions that the speaker has all the power
and that the listener is in a passive mode. Good listeners
have most of the power and control, because they help
the speaker tap into the depths of his or her wisdom and
experience in order to better verbalize it.

Some questions to ask yourself
1. What type person are you around when you experience the need to resort to your own thoughts vs. listen to theirs?

2. How could you enter the conversation, stay involved in the moment and enjoy active listening?

3. At what times do you typically do most of the talking?

4. How could you include your listeners, proving you are willing to listen to them?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Success comes from Accountability

Over the past 30 days, several business owners have demonstrated the power accountability has in helping them accomplish things they earlier had ability - but little drive - to do.

This week my focus is on the professional who made a practice of carrying his baggage around.

A man with many things on his plate, (we'll call him Frank) Frank would put out fires like the best of'em and at the end of the day, he would walk his carefully packed box full of all the projects he intended to complete to his car. He would stash it next to him, drive home and open the passenger door so he could haul his box into the house, hoping to find the energy to tackle it.

Frank was doing nothing more than dragging his baggage around. Day after day, week upon week and month upon month Frank did the same thing. What got dragged home got dragged back to the office every single day.

A self-described conflict avoider, Frank feared many things. His box full of projects was one of them. To make himself feel better, he carted it around. Yet he never really felt better.

Eventually he said "yes" to joining the Business Owners' Accountability Group I facilitate. Of course, he said yes for about 4 months prior to attending, for he couldn't get it scheduled.

Little things threw Frank. If he thought there would be a problem, he would avoid it. He knew he wanted to face his fears, yet he dreaded what it would involve. Just like that box, he kept saying yes without following through. The day he bit the bullet and went to BOAG, he learned how empowering it is to have a small group (under 7) of business owners around all talking about problems they were experiencing. When he realized he wasn't the only one with challenges, he felt better. Then when he saw the excitement others expressed with handling earlier challenges, Frank was motivated.

He told us all he would address his baggage, open it, pull out something small and complete it, every few hours in the evening. Soon he realized it was all small. It was all very do-able, and eventually he tackled the entire box in the 30 days between our meetings.

Frank is like so many other people who want to make changes but don't know how to address them. He wanted to say yes to taking on the responsibility but he didn't know how to talk to the voice in his head that was overwhelming him by the amount of work ahead. He has now begun to control himself - namely, that negative and overwhelming voice that keeps putting barriers in his path.

Now that Frank has a group making him accountable, he also has a group celebrating his successes. In small steps, Frank is shifting from a man Avoiding Conflict to one realizing that conflict is a clever disguise for a chance to prove something to ourselves.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How many people do we need in our network?

For us business owners, we know the value of connecting with someone new. Whether they could be a prospect, a friend, an information source or a referral source, they are someone most of us take the time to meet.

For those just starting out in business, the question is often,
How many people do I need to know to make this work?

Well, if This is word of mouth marketing/referral marketing, then it may be a number different than most business builders think.
Depending on the number of clients you need to support your business, and how marketable your services/products are, the number will vary.

Say, for instance, you sell something to customers who will never buy again, because you sell solutions, then you must be constantly attracting and selling to new clients. If your average $ transaction is low, the number of clients needed is higher. The more people you know, the better your chances of getting new business, IF you have a good relationship with them and they need what you have.

If your business is about maintaining, supporting, training or something other than problem-solving, the client turnover rate is much less, if you're doing a good job and pleasing the customer. Yet you still need to get your message out to a great number of people before your service solution makes a sale.

So how many people, on average, do we need to know to get steady business?

Most business owners and professionals in business for at least 7 or 8 years will know, on the average, 1200 people. Seem high? No, it's actually an average, and one that is often exceeded by people very involved in their community. Considering all the folks we've met in life, from high school until today, we've touched many lives and have quite the list of names to show for it.

The trick is in making use of people we already know. And since some of the people we know will be those we've not seen or spoken to in years, some will be in other areas of the country, some will be inaccessible, we have whittled down the list tremendously. Possibly from 1200 to 750. Is this enough?

Consider the fact that if we know 1200 people, the remaining 750 people in our list knows an average of 1200 people, too. Wow. Now that's 900,000 in our network.

However - there are only a few who will move into action on our behalf. Maybe a dozen. Quite possibly even fewer. Which still means 14,400 people are at our disposal in our network.

So how many people do we have to know? Actually, the question really should be, how many people are we willing to regularly connect with?

If our message needs to reach a great number of people, let's at least give it to a handful - as in the social networking diagram - regularly. The only way they can share the message is if they know it. And the only way our message will be repeated is if we have delivered it, made a powerful connection and motivated the listener to spread the word. And a several steps closer than through social media is through face to face connections.

How many people are in your network? Better yet, how many of them do you connect with regularly, sharing a message worth repeating? Connect....connect....connect.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How Do You Manage?

Many of us are entrepreneurs, or working from home, or business building and enjoy having freedom within our day. Perhaps we are out and about while networking, or we can adjust our day to handle a visit to the veterinarian, or can adjust our direction with ease because we are the one calling the shots.

And with this freedom comes the need to put structure into an otherwise unstructured environment - otherwise we get little accomplished while constantly striving to put out fires. So how do we do it? How do we focus on the important things in our day, our week and our month while juggling all the balls related to our responsibilities?

For one thing, it requires discipline.

If we have to create consistency in our processes, we must make some decisions about how to approach things for best results, then do it the same way time and again. Tracking our consistency gives us the ability to measure our results, and to see what patterns exist when we don't get what we want. This consistency is an act of discipline and focus.

I have read about a new diet that will allow me to control my waistline. In this diet I have choices about what to eat, 6 times daily. Yet once I choose, I am instructed to not deviate from these 6 menus each day, but to hold tight to them for 2 weeks if I want to see results. The philosophy is, with more choices, we make mistakes that throw us off from our desired results.

Although I love choice, I selected my 6 choices and then discovered the thrill in knowing all I had to do was committ to them to get my desired results. Discipline around a few things vs. discipline when being overwhelmed with many choices is much easier to manage.

I run accountability groups for business owners and professionals who want to report the results of their commitment to their goals. What they love about these group meetings is they get to hear from a few individuals, like themselves, who are neutral to their choices yet who care about their results. The discipline involved is showing up for 2 hours monthly to share how business has been going and help each other over the barriers to growth. Yet once each member shows up, he/she is so energized by the brainstorming and ability to relate, that the level of success explodes.

How do they manage showing up for 2 hours to work on their business when it means pulling away from working in the business? Their motivation around the results drive them to be disciplined. Consequently, once they return to their office environment, they have the energy to accomplish things faster than they would have, had they stayed. It's a win/win.

All this comes from being willing to ask for help, consistently showing up to get the benefits, and they move forward as a result.

In summary,
1. Ask for help
2. Use discipline to commit to it
3. Consistently focus on the goals

If you don't have a small group of neutral yet interested parties to help you manage yourself, let me know. We may have a spot for you.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

For Business Building - 1 single activity is all it takes

For the business owner and those managing the pipeline for the next sale, there is a single activity to exploit. And I mean exploit in the best way. Do it again and again and again. Often. With zeal.

Many think it's about picking up the phone. Although many salesfolks get appointments this way, it takes tremendous time while depleting the energy of the person hearing the phone incessantly ring and go to voicemail, or getting the not so interested responses.

Using direct mail gets the message out, but where? Most commonly, to the closest dumpster or trash container.

Networking events are great. They allow us to mingle and meet new folks, exchange business cards, yet the audience may not be receptive due to one thing. So far, they don't know us.

The number one thing that boosts business for any business owner or sales person is public speaking. Public speaking gives us the chance to start a relationship. It gives us a chance to offer some free information and tips and it gives us a chance to handle questions of interest all without threat. Public speaking puts us in front of many indviduals(and can lead to many groups) who generally already have an interest in our message - unlike the gatekeeper, mail sorter or networker who is out to drink with the buds.

Sure, public speaking is the most common fear the public faces. But many who fear heights, bungy jump. Many who fear death, aggressively seek adventure. Those who fear public humiliation face their fears and speak often in public. And what does it get them? Confidence. Recognition. Attention. Credibility. Interest. Curiousity. An audience. A following. Trust. Business.

Got business to develop? Start facing the fear of the meager pipeline by facing what it takes to get in front of the audience. Let that pipeline challenge drive you to the #1 activity. Get ready, get up, move forward in front of the audience and get speaking!