Wednesday 28 August 2013

Connecting with your audience

We’ve all been there. We’ve sat and listened to someone speak and wished they hadn’t bothered.

Yet we meet them afterwards and wonder who the person was on the stage? The person in front of us is animated, interesting, we believe every word, can engage with what they’re saying and want to know more. We even consider inviting them to speak at a conference until we remember the catastrophe on the stage.

I want to explore something that often comes as a surprise to fellow speakers when I give them feedback and that’s how we use our energy.

I don’t mean energy levels that are addressed through appropriate diet, exercise and sleep. I mean the type of energy we can feel when we walk in the room and can tell it’s a place we want to be or not, or the type of energy that we feel when someone is passionate about what they’re saying. What we do with our energy when speaking has an impact on us, our audience and our message in the same way.

The problem is people often provide more logical and rational reasons for their feedback on our keynote and it often ignores what I believe to be one of the major blocks for many speakers. Feedback is getting closer when we hear:
  • It’s not coming from your heart
  • You’re in your head too much
  • You didn’t connect with the audience
  • You didn’t connect with the message
  • It just wasn’t you up there
  • You looked like a headless chicken
  • You were talking AT not TO me
These all arise because of what we’re doing with our energy and our energy is impacted by what’s happening inside us. For example we might be imagining our message is a bullet and the audience feel this as being shot at, or we might have a metaphorical wall around us and the audience experiences this as aloofness or even arrogance. Being aware of the internal representation(s) we have when we’re speaking and ensuring they support our objectives is essential.

Here are a few tips on how to recognise when you might need to take action and some examples of internal representations you might consider


  • You know you’ve lost it when: You feel tense and are pacing up and down and can’t stop moving.
  • Others know you’ve lost it when: They start to feel agitated and distracted.
  • You know you’ve got it when: You feel as if you have all the time in the world.
  • Others know you’ve got it when: They are calm and feel the power of your words.
  • Internal representation/metaphor to consider: Anything that grounds you – often from the feet e.g. roots, heavy boots, anchor etc.

  • You know you’ve lost it when: You feel isolated from the audience and may even start to panic.
  • Others know you’ve lost it when: They start talking to each other and are not paying attention to you.
  • You know you’ve got it when: You feel like you’re talking to your friends.
  • Others know you’ve got it when: They feel included in a discussion with you.
  • Internal representation/metaphor to consider: Anything that provides a connection with the audience - often from the heart e.g. tracks, golden chains etc.

  • You know you’ve lost it when: You can’t remember what you are going to say next.
  • Others know you’ve lost it when: They feel confused and don’t understand what you’re saying.
  • You know you’ve got it when: You find the right words easily and effortlessly.
  • Others know you’ve got it when: They can’t wait to hear what you have to say next.
  • Internal representation/metaphor to consider: Anything that offers and delivers the message – often from the head e.g. light, flowing water etc
You may notice in the examples given that the picture for communication is also very grounding or the grounding picture relates to connection. Often once we find and embody the right metaphor grounding, connection AND communication can take place.

What’s your metaphor and does it work for or against your success?

Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out

Pictures copyright my brother :-) Andrew Jones Photography

PS: Do please get in touch if you'd like a coaching session providing energetic feedback on your leadership or speaking. It's likely to explore aspects you've not covered before and could be what's holding you back from truly connecting with others +44 (0)7770 538159

Wednesday 21 August 2013


A blog with a difference and therefore out of my comfort zone - be gentle with me please.

As a coach there's many different topics that emerge from sessions with clients. These topics are addressed in a number of different ways that support the subject being dealt with and the person involved. These may cover business or personal challenges. Always with the aim getting insight on the situation and/or releasing what's setting them back.

For personal challenges, in addition to the more familiar coaching tools, recent sessions I've facilitated have included use of the transformation game, landscaping your life, metaphors for life and stories

Sometimes the story is written by the client and sometimes I write a more general one on the subject - after all stories have been used for millennia to convey learning and insight.  

Guilt and Forgiveness has been an emerging theme in coaching in recent weeks and I sat down with the intention of writing a story. However this 'poem' emerged!!

See what you think - not my normal blog post at all and a little scary as result of that. I just need to remember that something different to add to the mix is always helpful - not least if we're in need of getting out of our comfort zones :-). 


He was that way because of x
And did those things because of y

He didn't think, he didn't wonder, he had not woken, he was not aware

He treated others as he thought he should
And reacted to the environment the best he could

He didn't think, he didn't wonder, he had not woken, he was not aware
He burnt his bridges
And hurt himself and others even more

He didn't think, he didn't wonder, he had not woken, he was not aware

Then one day
He thought
He wondered
He woke 
And became aware of the world around him and the opportunities of being different in the world

Then the guilt came 

For being that way
For doing that thing
For his reactions
For his treatment of others
For burning his bridges
For hurting himself and
For hurting others

Forgiveness comes in letting go of the guilt 
Of being able to say "I am me and I am okay"

You always were okay 
You always will be okay
Know that a different world is now possible because

You do think
You can wonder 
You are awake 
And you are aware. 

Thursday 15 August 2013

Support Integrity

When local roadworks first significantly delayed my journey I got straight on to twitter to ask for details. I was told "they'll be completed by 4th of August". This meant an estimated duration of 4 weeks (for the roadworks not the journey :-)). Yesterday 10 days after this initial deadline I was caught in a traffic jam again as a result of the roadworks. The Twitter response this time was "closure has been extended and we don't have a completion date from the contractors".

I'm not sure where to start with my disbelief:
  • That the initial estimate was so wrong - currently 50%
  • That as a result of this overrun no completion date had been communicated *
  • That no reason has been given for the original estimate being soooo inaccurate
Which makes me wonder if the issue really is ineffective project management on behalf of the contractor and fife council or if in fact its more about us not being told the truth at the start?

The roadworks are at an intersection. Two of the roads are major routes into the town with one of them also being fed by a large estate. It's also the main route from those two directions to the main high school in this area. For anyone travelling in that direction the alternative route into town and beyond is over 30 minutes. In other words there's little alternative but to stay in a queue for 25 minutes. (I saw a bus earlier outside my house catch up with the one in front of it. Which I now realise will have been as a result of them both getting caught in the congestion.)

I suspect anyone delivering a response that congestion in this area would last for more than 4 weeks, and would therefore finish after the summer holidays would have been shot down in flames. The residents, police, bus companies and visitors would have said "No! Find an alternative plan to do what you're doing."

We've all been on the receiving end of situations like this. We ask when something will be  completed by and we get a response the person thinks we want to hear rather than the truth. After all, as the saying goes, "it's often easier to ask forgiveness than permission."

A friend has the same situation with her phone provider. There's a problem with the network. Despite numerous calls she's been given the run around as every different call centre handler tries to take her through the same fault diagnosis process. Each providing a different potential cause that points to it not being their fault. A recent Facebook advert saying how great they were was met with over 1500 responses (to date) saying they were having the same problem as my friend. So no it's obviously not the sim, phone or local mast but the network! One person even shared of being told "I'm at the mast at the moment trying to sort out the problem" as she heard the sounds of the call centre in the background.

What's the cost of truth saying I wonder that means many believe its better to fudge the issue than tell the truth. Integrity is at the heart of any relationship. Once integrity has been proved to be lacking then trust is forever and irrevocably lost. I can only think that many company's risk assessments obviously suggest (based on evidence) that the number of customers lost by telling the truth at the beginning are obviously higher than when they let people down later on. What a sad world we live in if that's the case!

In order to redress the balance we need to support integrity (#supportintegrity) - which means taking action when we get let down by someone over promising and under delivering and, as Nicolas Parsons says in Just a Minute, giving them the benefit of the doubt when they tell us it can't be done sooner.

Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out

* Further investigation online provides a completion date of 26th August.

Picture copyright and courtesy Fife Today.

Friday 9 August 2013

Too busy doing my day job

I was interested in one response to Remko Van Hoek's blog 'the problem with procurement'. The respondent suggested that many functions were understaffed and too busy on day to day activities to act strategically. Since for me a large part of the blog was about communicating with stakeholders I'm assuming that the comment also applies to this communication.

I blogged earlier in the week about the need for effective communication and stakeholder engagement. In this blog I'd like to discuss why I think it is part of the day job.

As personal development and communication manager for group procurement at HBOS eight years ago communication was my day to day activity. The reason I was put in place, in addition to helping with the development of a fully functioning and collaborative team after merger, was to help category managers manage their stakeholders.  

The reason for this was simple. Without effective communication and stakeholder engagement then the day to day activities of the category managers and buyers had the potential to deliver contacts that:
  • the business refused to sign off
  • stakeholders refused to use
  • delivered savings on paper only that never materialised in practice 
  • didn't meet the needs to the organisation
  • failed to take account of innovations that could deliver more value to customers or significantly take cost out
  • took no account of new product development
  • increased likelihood of risks not being sufficiently mitigated and managed
If day to day activities means not talking to your stakeholders you're increasing the potential for all that effort to have been wasted. You might meet your KPIs for savings (on paper) and contracts let but that's not what the business needs. The business needs contracts they can use, and that will deliver value for the duration of the contract with risks minimised.

I'd suggest once let many contracts also fail because of lack of continued communication within the business. I'm sure every one of the examples in my Pinterest board of procurement gone wrong were contributed to by lack of effective communication.

You can't afford not to communicate. Unfortunately many only learn the lesson when, like the examples on Pinterest, something goes drastically wrong. At that point, in addition to having to pick up the contractual pieces, personal and departmental reputations are lost for ever. 
Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out

I use the meerkat picture because those meerkats' job is to keep guard and communicate danger. Without one of them undertaking that role they know that the whole group is in danger. They know they can't afford to let the basics be left uncovered.

Thursday 8 August 2013

Up a creek without a paddle

When coaching clients or facilitating groups I'm always on the lookout for the language being used to describe the challenge being faced. It's the quickest way to access the underlying issues, that taking words at face value may take hours to uncover.

I'm, therefore, continuing the theme today of using the very metaphors we're comparing a situation to in order to solve it. If you think you're in a rut then use that metaphor to explore the options that exist to get out of a rut. If you're making a mountain out of a molehill then let's not get caught up in the content of the issue let's just look at the patterns that exist that provide insight on how to stop doing that!

Today we're looking at being "up a creek without a paddle". As with the other phrases I've looked at here the very use of the phrase presupposes that you're stuck, with nowhere to go and no ability to get out of the situation.

In reality if we were up a creek without a paddle then there's many ways we could get out of the creek. Here's one solution (the landscaping your life process would enable you to identify many more solutions).

Think about it. If we’re drifting aimlessly or even going around in circles until we stop then we can’t really plot a route out or even understand what’s happening. We’re at the mercy of external forces.
If you’re in the boat there’s going to be a number of different ways to stop. You may have anchor but it’s unlikely so you may have to ground yourself. On the other hand you may be able to moor or tether the boat if you can.

STOP is about a breathing space to assess the situation. It’s about grounding ourselves so we can act from a place of calm and peace not from a place of fear.

Life Jacket
Once we’ve stopped many of the solutions we may identify will be easier if we had a life jacket on.
That is on the way out of the creek, as the going gets rough, without a life jacket confidence can become dented and we may soon end up back up the creek. We don’t have the confidence to stay out there in the rapids. We prefer to come back to the safety of the creek than hang on for open water.

That’s where a life jacket would come in handy because it gives us confidence that even if we end up in the water we’ll be ok. That is we can cope with anything.

The life jacket is about getting into a resourceful and confident state where we know we can cope with anything that life throws at us. (My prescription for positivity may help here.)

Once we’re ready to start thinking about leaving the creek we need to understand what our mission is. It’s only once we know our mission that we can look at a map and understand the routes that will best enable us to meet it.

It’s no use just grabbing the paddle and getting the hell out of the creek. Without a mission how will we know what direction to take at the first fork? How will we know it’s not another creek?
All heroes on our TV’s seem to have a mission to save the world from the bad guys. We therefore know when they meet a bad guy that they’re going to take action. There’s no doubt in your mind because that’s their mission. That’s what our mission is about – knowing what we stand for and what we will take action to move towards. It’s only once we know this can be move onto looking at who else might want to journey with us.

Guides and Travellers
Once we understand our mission it’s important we find people who are going to be able to help us. We might be able to get out of the creek on our own but we stand a better chance if we find people to guide us and others we can travel with.

The step in the process is as much about our relationship with our network as it is building the network. We can have 1000’s of people in our network but if they don’t like or trust us what’s the point!

The Guides and Travellers step is about identifying your potential network. It’s also about developing relationships with those who boost our energy and minimising our time spent with those who drain our energy.

When we’re up the creek it’s not always easy to understand the routes out of the creek especially when the tall creek walls are surrounding us. It’s easy to think there are no routes out and believe ourselves to be stuck.

Plotting a map with all the possible routes out helps expands our thinking and understand all the possibilities that exist. In the long term we’d like to understand the routes that will help us achieve our mission. In the short term we may have other missions to accomplish.

When walking even if we’ve got a map we use a compass to help plot the course and help us understand where we are in relation to the map and our intended destination.

We have our own inner compass, inner wisdom some would say intuition. Once we’ve got all the possible routes out of the creek it’s our inner compass our intuition that will determine which direction we take.

This step is also about being authentic and true to ourselves – following our own true north.

Once we’ve undertaken the other steps there is only one way out of the creek and that’s to find our paddle and use it. That is take personal responsibility to take the necessary action to take the first and subsequent steps.

Which part of the above 7 steps do you need to spend some time on in order to get out of a creek in your life?
Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking potential using unconventional tools

Postscript: a Landscaping Your Life website was launched in November 2015 - so for more on this effective process do please go and visit.

Photograph copyright by brother from Andrew Jones Photography

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Would it make a difference if we used i?

Our unconcious picks up so much that we're never consciously aware of. Yet what we're picking up can have a significant impact on our values, beliefs and, therefore, ultimately on our behaviours and actions.

It's why product placement is an increasing solution in marketing, it's why many magicians and stage hypnotists manage to fool us and it's also how cultures emerge, develop and take hold.

Today I was wondering why 'I' had a capital when 'us', 'we', 'team' and so on don't. That had me then wondering what the use of a capital when using i may have conveyed unconsciously.
  • we're more important than others?
  • I is better than we or working with others?
No answers here today - just food for thought. A gentle reminder that the words and visuals we use daily may be having a positive or negative impact on our relations with others without us even being consciously aware of it.

Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out

Tuesday 6 August 2013


The theme of effective communication continues - this time aimed at procurement functions.

A recent blog by Remko Van Hoek from PWC on HBR provided some interesting statistics around communication with procurement's internal stakeholders. These included:
  • only 51% of respondents gathering information on internal stakeholders
  • only 39% developing different stories for different audiences
  • only 27% having targets for stakeholder engagement
WOW - and then we wonder why our stakeholders don't use us nor appreciate the value the majority of us add!

They say actions speak louder than words - remember that's only if stakeholders:
  • feel involved enough to care
  • believe their needs have been met and concerns addressed
  • know the outcome of the actions we've taken
  • understand what was involved to deliver the outcome
For stakeholders to know all this procurement professionals need to talk to them. Previous blogs and Pinterest boards have touched on what form this talking might take and might include:
Until the majority of us start getting the basics right how can we expect our stakeholders to understand the great job we do and why we should be their internal supplier of choice for all their procurement needs.

What will you do today to improve your communication?

Alison Smith
Inspiring change inside and out

I use the meerkat picture because those meerkats' job is to keep guard and communicate danger. Without one of them undertaking that role they know that the whole group is in danger. They know they can't afford to let the basics be left uncovered.

A getting relationships right workshop has been arranged in August here in Scotland and can be delivered in-house within your organisation. It will address many of the issues raised in this blog and can be applied with specific stakeholders in mind.

Alison has a strong passion and energy for what she does which was demonstrated in her ability to run an innovative session for my team that identified what was holding us back from being a high performing team. This ability, when coupled with her capability to bring fun into the session, was a powerful tool for helping my team realise their full potential.” Cara Murphy, Senior Category Manager Lloyds Banking Group

Monday 5 August 2013

"iPhone iphone in my hand who is the fairest in the land?"

A short story for anyone who has ever compared themselves with others and found themselves lacking!

“iPhone iPhone in my hand who is the fairest in the land” Eleanor said out loud hoping against all hope that the answer would be “Eleanor is the fairest in the land” and was therefore very disappointed when the answer was someone in Norway she’d never heard of.

Like a lot of people Eleanor had been delighted when a new iPhone application has been launched. It was a comparison application but instead of comparing prices it compared skills and attributes. Within a week she’d discovered that she didn’t have the thinnest ankles, the glossiest hair, the whitest teeth or the most perfect breasts. She’d also discovered that she wasn’t the best nonfiction writer, communication trainer, motivational speaker or career coach. With every question she asked she found out that someone else was better than her.

Her mood therefore took a huge turn for the worse and friends and family got very wary of speaking to her. Nothing they said seemed to make any difference. In fact it made matters worse because when they listed something they thought she excelled in – she just asked the iPhone and it gave her the name of someone else. To her every name was more evidence that she wasn’t good at anything even if she didn’t always agree with the answer the phone gave. To Eleanor there was a whole world out there better at everything than her with better skills, better minds and certainly better bodies.  Whenever she thought she might have found a question that would give her the answer she craved she was always disappointed – the best bathroom went to a couple in Hong Kong and even the cleanest small bedroom window facing west (when she’d started to clutch at straws) went to a man in Canada.

Why no one else deleted the application from her phone it’s not clear but they didn’t and so she was left to make that decision for herself. Yet the decision didn’t come very quickly and many tears were shed before one night she realised she didn’t need the application any longer because she knew the truth for herself.

It was whilst reading a discussion on Facebook that she first wondered if she’d got it all wrong. A friend - well more a friend of a friend of a friend she’d met thru Facebook - mentioned in a group that they believed it was our state of being that was important not all the constant doing and achieving. Coming from a very competitive family Eleanor found this hard to accept but nevertheless after weeks of being told she didn’t excel at anything by the iPhone she had started to think she must be doing something wrong. So she tentatively started to explore what a state of being might be about. As first she thought this might mean meditating or yoga but realised they were just something else for her to do. She then wondered whether a state of being was related to what was important to her. Having realised what was important wasn’t material possessions she started to consider her values such as honesty, integrity and passion.   

What was odd was that when she asked about any of these values the iPhone didn’t come up with an answer straight away. There was certainly a lag between asking the question and getting an answer. Another strange thing was she agreed with the answers given. Even more strange was what happened when friends asked the same question. They got different answers. Up to now the answers for all the questions asked had been the same whether she’d asked on her or her friends’ phones. The cleanest window really was always in Canada and the best motivational speaker really lived in Montreal. But the person who was most honest lived in Sydney, Machu Pichu, Rome or even London – it just depended whose phone they asked.

Which gave rise to a discussion about honesty and that’s when the fun really started because they couldn’t agree. Eleanor and her friends MSN’d back and forth:

Sharon: Honesty means keeping promises made, doing what you say you are going to do and telling the truth.
Jen: I agree that is means telling the truth Sharon but for me honesty means being true to yourself EVEN if it means breaking promises made to others.
Sharon: How’s that honest if you break a promise?
Jen: That IS the honesty bit – can you be true to yourself by being honest enough to say that a promise you made is no longer something that supports who you are today.
Sharon: Wow – that’s certainly honest.

Before the conversation got any deeper and wondering what she’d started Eleanor interjected:

Eleanor: You know what - I’ve just done a search on Google and most of the links seem to be about the lack of honesty rather than honesty.
Sharon: Yes it’s certainly easier to describe what dishonesty looks like. Just think how easy it is for the media to wind everyone up over one example of dishonesty for a celebrity and ignore the 100’s of examples of their honesty.
Eleanor: mmm that’s interesting - does someone have honesty until they prove otherwise or do we want them to prove they are first.
Sharon: I know I prefer to assume people are honest first even if I get disappointed when I find out otherwise.
Eleanor: and how do we identify who is the ‘most’ honest – surely that’s very difficult to achieve.
Sharon: and maintain too.
Jen: But the iPhone gave us answers - even if they were different.
Sharon: The application designers must have linked our profile data to the answers our phone gave or something. Otherwise how else did we get different answers?
Jen: You mean they somehow knew the different criteria we’d all use to define being honest?
Sharon: Wow that means they must have a very complex set of calculations for every value we could possibly ask about. 
Eleanor: Hang on a minute don’t we have the same problem for all the other answers we asked. How do we really define glossiness of hair, the most perfect breasts and even best consultant or trainer? Even if the iPhone application designers have determined a definitive answer isn’t the answer still in the eye of the beholder?  Let me just tweet something – I’ll be back.

@Elliestweets: “Who is the best trainer in the world” please RT

Eleanor’s  tweet was retweeted and over the next few minutes she got many replies. Whilst some did give the same answer many were unique even if there were a few that she didn’t quite get or understand and wondered if people were pulling her leg e.g. @Pinkies Pinky & Perky or @TVcritic EastEnders. She shared all the replies with Sharon and Eleanor.

Jen: It seems obvious now but people seem to be replying based on their experience and own preferences.
Eleanor: In which case I’m not sure I want to explore Pinkies’ experiences nor preferences :-)
Sharon: Yes of course - to understand an answer we really needed to understand what the person values in a trainer.
Eleanor: That makes sense – some may like someone who is enthusiastic and a great communicator.
Jen: I know my dad would want to know what qualifications they’ve got and their level of expertise on the subject.
Sharon: Mine would consider how inspiring or authentic they are.
Eleanor: But even if we agree on the criteria I wonder how easy is it to be the best inspiring trainer for something.
Sharon: What do you mean?
Eleanor: What’s the cost to the person associated with being the greatest inspirational trainer on a subject. How many books would they need to read, how much practicing would they need to do?
Sharon: I see what you mean. I suppose it would impact on other areas of their life too – how much time will they have to relax, laugh or spend time with those who are important to them.
Eleanor: Unless that’s what makes them the best?
Jen: I just think the pressure of trying to keep on being the best would be HUGE.
Sharon: I suppose even the person with glossiest hair would have to spend a lot of time in front of a mirror.
Jen: and hours agonising over what shampoo to use.
Eleanor: or even sleep in a hair net.
Jen: :-) and refuse to have sex in case it damaged their hair!!
Eleanor: As ever the one to lower the tone Jen - thanks!
Sharon: What about the effort to be the best trainer AND having the glossiest hair
Eleanor: :-)
Jen: Best trainer with glossiest hair might be an option.
Eleanor: :-)
Sharon: I’m not sure I want to be the best at anything now – perhaps it’s easier to aim to have glossy hair or to just be a good trainer. At least then I can have a life too.
Jen: or be a GREAT trainer Sharon?
Eleanor: Great or good - yes not to be the best trainer or have the glossiest hair.
Jen: I’m so glad we’ve got that sorted – have you seen the time - I’m off to watch Glee – night night.
Sharon: I forgot that was on – it starts in five minutes so that’s me off too – night
Eleanor: Night you two. See you at work tomorrow.

That night before she went to bed Eleanor realised she’d downloaded the iPhone application because she wanted to be told she was the best at something. Whilst she no longer cared if she had the glossiest hair nor the cleanest small bedroom window facing west she realised she had just one last question:

“iPhone iPhone in my hand who is the best at being me?” she typed.

“You are” read the iPhone.    

Eleanor smiled and realised that was all she needed to be and then pressed DELETE and the application was finally deleted from her iPhone never to return.