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>How to Make the Most of Attending a Webinar

 7th March 2012 by gihan

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Attending a webinar is different from attending a face-to-face event, like a workshop or seminar. Because it’s usually shorter, done from the comfort of your home or office, and there’s nobody watching you, it can be tempting to treat it with less respect. But if you do this, you won’t get much value from it. Instead, make the most of it by planning clearly and taking action.

Here are some techniques for making the most of every webinar you attend.

Know what you want.

Don’t be a webinar junkie, who attends every webinar that’s advertised, simply because it’s free and convenient. Even if you don’t pay any money, you’re paying with your time, attention and focus. So before you register, be clear about what you want to learn from the webinar.

As a starting point, ask yourself these three questions:

  • “What do I want to THINK after this webinar?”
  • “What do I want to FEEL after this webinar?”
  • “What do I want to DO after this webinar?”

You probably won’t answer all three for every webinar, but if you can’t answer even one, then it’s probably not worth attending!

Set aside the time.

It’s easy to turn up late and leave early, but you won’t get as much value if you do (and it also shows a lack of respect for your own development, let alone a lack of respect for the presenter). So turn up on time (a few minutes early if possible, to make sure the technology is working) and stay until the end.

Of course, if the webinar turns out to be irrelevant to you, then there’s no need to stay until the end! But that should be the exception, not the rule.

Turn off distractions.

If a webinar presenter is boring or irrelevant (and unfortunately too many of them are!), it’s hardly surprising that participants turn away from the webinar to check their e-mail, work on other tasks, or even leave the webinar completely. However, don’t start by planning to do these things during the webinar. Start the webinar with the intention of giving it your total focus, so turn off your e-mail program, instant message programs, and any other distractions.

Take notes.

Even if you have an excellent memory, take notes of important points during the webinar, so you can use them later. In particular, note the specific things you can do after the webinar. This makes it much more likely that you’ll take action, rather than just collecting lots of webinar notes!

This can be even more effective than in many face-to-face sessions, because you’re sitting at your computer, so you can enter some notes directly into your calendar, action list or other documents (as long as this doesn’t distract you!).

Ask questions.

If you don’t understand something during the webinar, ask a question. Most webinar technology allows you to type questions, so you can do this at any time without worrying about interrupting the presenter.

If the webinar has a large audience, your question might not get answered during the webinar. So if it’s an important question, ask it as soon as possible. If it still doesn’t get answered, e-mail it to the presenter afterwards. Some won’t respond (and that’s their choice, so don’t get upset), but some will. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

Do something – anything!

After the webinar, choose one of the action items you noted during the webinar and do it! Even if it’s only a small action, it gives you some return on your time, and gives you momentum to take the larger actions as well.

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Are you creating your own e-mail overload?

 14th February 2012 by gihan

E-mail is 40 years old, and yet most people still don’t have a good strategy for managing the problem of e-mail overload. I’m shocked at how many people have overflowing in-boxes, some with messages that could well have been 40 years old!

The first step to managing your overflowing in-box is to reduce the amount of incoming e-mail. Although some of it is outside your control, you might be surprised just how much you can reduce or eliminate altogether.

Here are five categories of e-mail you can control:

  • Unnecessary e-mail: Some e-mail – such as e-mail newsletters you rarely read, or notifications from Facebook and LinkedIn – is unnecessary. This is the easiest to handle: simply turn it off!
  • Unwanted e-mail (spam): More difficult to turn off because the spammers won’t respect your request to unsubscribe. However, anti-spam software is better than ever before, and can filter out most spam before it reaches your in-box.
  • Inappropriate e-mail: I’m not talking about gossip, sexual innuendo, off-colour jokes, explicit videos and embarrassing photographs – although these are inappropriate. I’m talking about other, more benign, things that shouldn’t be sent by e-mail, including: issues that require a lot of discussion, sensitive messages about pay and performance, and even some newsletters and alerts that can be accessed in other ways. In these situations, use other communication channels instead.
  • Unproductive e-mail: If you keep getting jokes and time-wasters, hoax chain letters, team members checking in because you haven’t delegated well, and you’re unnecessarily being copied on e-mail, do something about it!
  • Unimportant (or less important) e-mail: Some e-mail is useful but not particularly important – for example e-mail newsletters, low-priority notifications and personal (non-work related) e-mail. Use your e-mail software to filter these automatically into separate folders, so they don’t clutter up your in-box.

Chris Pudney and I discussed these five areas in more detail in the January edition of the Fit for the Future podcast.

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>Are Amateurs Taking Over Your Business?

 26th January 2012 by gihan

>My friend Melvin Yeo is a lawyer. And he’s an amateur.

I don’t mean he’s an amateur lawyer. Far from it – he’s a highly-respected corporate lawyer who worked for one of Australia’s leading companies, and has now branched out into his own consultancy practice. But that’s his day job.

In his spare time, he’s an amateur “foodie” – in other words, a gourmet (though not a gourmand). And he publishes his experiences, suggestions and ideas in “The Frenchman’s Food & Wine Blog”.

When I say he’s an amateur, I mean him no disrespect. I simply mean that he doesn’t do it for money. He’s in no way amateurish in anything he does. In fact, he puts some professionals to shame. For instance, his post about how to enjoy airline food has some world-class tips for frequent travellers. And I experienced his skill first-hand when I dined out with him recently at a cheap-and-cheerful Chinese restaurant.

Melvin’s blog gets over 1,000 visitors a month. That’s not going to break any world records, but it’s a lot more than many speakers and infopreneurs get.

Why? Because he’s good. And he’s passionate. And he’s out there, doing it.

Why am I telling you this?

Because the world is full of Melvin Yeos. Smart, savvy passionate people who want to share that passion with the world – and can, thanks to the Internet.

And, if you’re not careful, they’ll be crowding you out!

We speakers, trainers, consultants and thought leaders used to have it easy. It wasn’t easy for amateurs to identify, find and reach an audience. And anyway, most people would rather die than speak in public, so they didn’t even want an audience.

But that’s changed now. The audiences are there – on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, iTunes and the Web. And it’s the smart, passionate amateurs who are reaching them.

Why? Because the professionals are too busy. Or too scared of their image. Or too arrogant. Or too complacent. Or too (fill in your favourite excuse).

This is not just about supposedly lightweight topics like food and wine, either. Do a Google search for leadership, customer service and other “big” topics, and you’ll find the passionate amateurs right up there near the top.

The good news is that it’s easy to change!

All it takes is a change in attitude.
Stop hoarding your great material – and start sharing it.
Stop waiting for the professionally edited article – publish what you’ve got.
Stop delaying until you’ve bought the latest microphone, video recorder or iPhone – record something and put it on YouTube.
Stop building the business case – just do it.
If you don’t, somebody else will. In fact, they probably already have!

>Survey Your Market (It’s Lucky the Boston Symphony Orchestra Did)

 6th December 2011 by gihan

>If you were a symphony orchestra that wanted to boost audience numbers, what would you do?

The Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) had this problem, and tackled it with the most obvious solution first: Get more people through the door, let them enjoy the orchestra experience, and that would turn that into enthusiastic fans.

Well, that was the theory, anyway. In practice, the first part – getting new people through the door – worked. But the BSO discovered that over 90% of first-time concert-goers didn’t come back!

You could guess at the reasons. Perhaps they didn’t understand the music. Or maybe the acoustics weren’t great. Or they didn’t get good seats.

Luckily for the BSO, they didn’t guess. They did the right thing, and asked these concert-goers why they didn’t come back (a third-party organisation did the survey on their behalf).

What did they find? The number one reason given was not the hall, the seats, the conductor or the music. The most important reason for not coming back was … parking! The regular concert-goers knew where to park so they had no reason to complain, but the newcomers found it to be a major problem – so they didn’t come back.

Isn’t it lucky the Boston Symphony Orchestra took the time to ask their customers? They would probably never have guessed otherwise!

How often do you survey your clients, audiences and market to find out what they really want? If you don’t do it, you might never know about the parking!

Reference: Fast Company magazine article How Symphonies Grew Strong Audiences By Killing The Myth Of The Average Consumer

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Change Your Mindset To Manage the E-Mail Overload

 11th August 2011 by gihan

For many people, e-mail is the bane of their professional life. Despite the fact that it’s one of the oldest Internet technologies (it’s been around since the 1970s), many people still struggle with managing it effectively. It’s not unusual to see e-mail in-boxes with hundreds – and sometimes even thousands – of messages, which causes the owner stress, frustration and hours of lost productivity each week. Some people simply give up and declare “e-mail bankruptcy”, deleting everything and starting again, assuming that if something was important, the sender will follow up anyway. However, this is only a short-term solution, and before long the empty in-box fills up again.

The most important first step to managing your e-mail is to change your mindset. Rather than seeing it as a necessary evil that’s inevitably going to harm your productivity each day, treat e-mail as a powerful communication tool that can improve your productivity.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. However, I firmly believe that the problem is not with e-mail itself; it’s with the kind of e-mail we receive, the way we perceive e-mail, and the way we manage e-mail:

  • We receive some e-mail that’s unnecessary, unwanted, inappropriate, unproductive and unimportant – and that gets in the way of the worthwhile e-mail.
  • We often perceive e-mail as being more urgent than it is, and that means we don’t get our important work done.
  • We don’t have techniques to manage it, so we feel stressed and overwhelmed by it.

If those problems sound familiar to you, start by adopting these three key principles, which will help you change your attitude towards these problems:

1. Don’t let your in-box set your priorities.

Your in-box represents other people’s priorities, not yours. So never use it to decide how you’ll plan your day. Be clear about your priorities first, and don’t vary from them unless absolutely necessary.

2. Use e-mail for important, not urgent, issues.

E-mail is a deferred communication tool, which means you shouldn’t expect others to read your e-mail immediately, and they shouldn’t expect it of you. Use it for important issues, but use other communication tools for urgent issues.

3. Treat e-mail as just one of many communication channels.

There’s no law that says you have to do everything by e-mail, and there’s no law that says a conversation that starts by e-mail has to continue that way. Be flexible and willing to switch to other communication channels as needed.

Adopting these principles means changing your attitude towards e-mail, and I hope that this immediately helps you see e-mail in a more positive light.

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Help Is Close At Hand

 5th August 2011 by gihan

I’m sure you would agree that interruptions are one of the biggest obstacle to greater productivity, right? Two ways to reduce interruptions are to temporarily shift your work place or your work time. But that isn’t always possible or convenient, and sometimes you do get interrupted during your work day. And if it’s an interruption from somebody who needs help, you might need to handle it.

Fortunately, the Internet does offer some useful tools to help you manage – and in some cases, eliminate – your interruptions. Even if you can’t completely eliminate the need for people to seek your help, sometimes you can divert them elsewhere instead.

Here are three alternatives:

  1. Self Help: You help them solve problems on their own.
  2. Help Each Other: You build a community of people who can assist each other.
  3. Helping Hands: You introduce an intermediary, such as a virtual assistant or help desk, who can provide support.

Let’s look at these briefly …

1. Self help

Compile a list of frequently asked questions and answers (often called a “FAQ” – for Frequently Asked Questions), and post them to a Web page (password-protected, if they are confidential). Tell people about it, and if they do ask a question that you’ve answered there, refer them to the answer (which gently reminds them to check it in the future).

Of course, you should review the FAQ periodically to ensure it’s accurate and current.

2. Help each other

If you work in a team, or you have several customers who use a product or service, form a community and encourage them to consult each other if they need help.

You could do this with a wiki, which means anybody in the community can update it. This makes it more relevant and current than documentation prepared by an individual, because it represents the contributions of several people. It also requires less effort from you because the workload is shared by multiple contributors.

For example, here is a snapshot of the wiki Rae and I use within First Step to manage our internal procedures:

It’s not perfect, but whenever we find something missing or incorrect, we fix it immediately.

3. Helping hands

The next option is to get an assistant – or a virtual assistant (somebody who isn’t in the same office as you). They can do secretarial work for you, and they become the first point of contact for people who need help. As they get more experience, you can add more sophisticated tasks to their role.

The best way to find a virtual assistant is by asking around. Many independent business owners use virtual assistants, and their experience counts for more than almost anything else when choosing one for yourself. So tell your Twitter followers, Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections and other communities that you’re looking for a virtual assistant, and ask for recommendations.

If your assistant has a lot of tasks, and you’d like to be able to check them at any time, you can create an on-line spreadsheet (in Google Docs, for example), which you and your assistant (and others on your team) can read and update.

4. Pitch in and help

Finally, there will be times when none of the preceding options will do, and you really do need to get involved. Do this willingly and graciously, rather than through gritted teeth. As much as you might wish to minimise these situations, when they do occur, they usually occur for a good reason.

Here are some simple tips for making this as effective and painless as possible:

  • Before you rush in to answer the request for help, make sure you really understand it. Don’t guess – if in doubt, ask!
  • If you get the request by e-mail or voicemail, reply quickly to acknowledge their request, and give them some indication of your plan.
  • If it’s going to take a long time, report on progress along the way.
  • If there are any delays, alert the other person to them as soon as possible. Don’t wait until the deadline itself – that doesn’t give them any room to adjust.

Finally, after you complete the task, look to the future. Consider whether you could improve your systems and processes to prevent this recurring – or at least, preventing the need for the other person to contact you. Sometimes this isn’t possible, and sometimes it isn’t even appropriate; but at least consider it.

Could you use any of these options?

Some of these things might seem too simple. But don’t discard them too soon! I’ve talked to quite a few people who have done just one or two of these things and seen big improvements in their productivity.

>Million Dollar Speaking, by Alan Weiss

 15th July 2011 by gihan

>In this book, Alan Weiss tackles the speaking profession with the same forthright approach he used in Million Dollar Consulting and Money Talks. It’s full of excellent, practical advice for most speakers, particularly those who are beyond the beginner stage and looking for the next level (for example, in the NSA or NSAA, this would be somebody who has already reached CSP level).

A lot of his book is based on his own experience, and he’s sometimes critical (even scathing) of other approaches. That said, his is certainly a model that’s proved highly successful, so you can do worse than simply follow it. In fact, this is probably the biggest benefit of reading this book: Even though it’s not the only model for being a successful speaker, Weiss provides enough detail to put his ideas into practice. So, if his approach resonates with you, rather than trying to work from a mish-mash of good ideas from many other successful speakers, you can use his blueprint to build your own speaking practice.

My only word of caution is that Weiss is writing from the viewpoint of a highly experienced speaker, who has the luxury of 30+ years of business experience (and reputation) behind him. So the book is fairly light on what might have changed in the speaking industry, not only because of technology but also the changing role of speakers in the market (Chris Brogan and Mitch Joel, for example, offer different perspectives about how to be a “modern” speaker). So it would be wise to see Weiss’ book not as the Bible for building a speaking business, but rather a solid foundation that you can then supplement with other material.

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Connected, by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler

 24th June 2011 by gihan

I first came across this book when I read of a study that found your weight was more affected by the people around you than by your individual diet or fitness program. This study is just one of those reported and discussed in this book, which is a fascinating account of how we are inter-connected. I was particularly interested in the book’s approach to social networking on-line, but this was just one of the many interesting areas of life the authors study (Others include sex, friendships, politics and money).

To be honest, I didn’t find this an easy read, even though it’s written for a general, non-academic, audience. It’s quite a dense book, full of detailed reports about the various studies the authors conducted. However, if you’re willing to plough through it, there’s a lot of interesting information.

But if you want an executive summary, it seems to boil down to this: People as far away as three degrees of separation from you can affect you, but the effect falls off markedly after that. As an interesting aside, three degrees of separation is exactly what LinkedIn defines as your “network”!

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