Multitasking Can Hinder Your Executive Presence

55777753In recent years, several studies have suggested that it is actually impossible for the human brain to multitask. Yet we continue to persist in our attempts: every day many of us juggle simultaneous responsibilities at work and an endless to-do list at home, all while managing alerts and messages on multiple devices.

Not only is your brain truly incapable of multitasking, but also trying to multitasking constantly can hinder your Executive Presence. In this post, I discuss how multitasking can weaken your presence and I provide some suggestions for cutting back on this habit.

First, imagine yourself working a room – you walk into a space and instantly feel confident, at ease, and ready to make a great impression. You are prepared to connect with others in a meaningful and sincere manner. With this approach and attitude, you exhibit great presence.

Now imagine yourself trying to work a room while simultaneously sending texts and emails from your smartphone. It’s impossible! Your body language will show that you are more interested in your phone than the situation at hand, and in your distraction you will remain disconnected and isolated from the individuals in the room. In other words, you will have no presence.

Constantly attempting to multitask can hinder other aspects of work life that contribute to your Executive Presence as well. For example, it can impact the effectiveness of your communication. Have you ever tried to work on a task or write an email while talking on the phone? Chances are, all results from this type of multitasking will turn out sloppily. On the phone you will sound distracted, and your task or email may contain careless mistakes. A combination of these elements over time will begin to reflect poorly on your overall presence.

If this is the case, how can you reduce multitasking to improve your Executive Presence? At the pace of today’s corporate culture, it is incredibly difficult to prevent yourself from multitasking. Our working environments and tools are designed for it. However, use this idea as motivation: you will improve your presence as well as become more productive when focusing on a single task at a time.

A few tips for staying focused and directed in your work:

  • Start your day focused. Do not wake up and immediately check your email or phone. Instead, leave enough time in the morning to have a quiet moment or a brief walk outside. This can be refreshing and help you to take on one task at a time throughout the day with renewed energy.
  • During meetings, leave technology behind. Do not try to catch up on emails when others are leading a meeting. It will show disrespect to your colleagues, and you will not retain any of the information exchanged. Additionally, you will not be able to contribute anything of value if you remain distracted throughout the meeting.
  • Allocate set amounts of time to each of your tasks. For example, if you allow yourself one hour to complete a single task, chances are you will be much more productive and efficient in that single hour than if you worked on it throughout the afternoon while getting distracted by other things.
  • What are your tactics for staying focused and dedicated to the task at hand? For more on the disadvantages of multitasking, see Time’s “Don’t Multitask: Your Brain Will Thank You” or “Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work” from Forbes.

How to Motivate Colleagues for Effective and Balanced Teamwork

iStock_000002328740XSmallLeading a group project or team initiative is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your leadership and management skills. However, little is more frustrating than when team members do not contribute equally to the task at hand. Uncooperative group members may not complete their work on time, refrain from participating in group meetings, or approach work with a negative attitude.

While unequal contributions from team members make projects unnecessarily difficult, this behaviour occurs more often than you may think. Such behaviour can hinder the success of a project – both the process and the end result.

As team leader, how can you motivate all team members to be engaged and supportive during a group effort? Last week’s post discussed how to motivate yourself; this week, we focus on others around you. Here are three suggestions for managing a balanced and effective team.

  • Delegate Tasks According to the Interests of Group Members
    When employees are not pursuing tasks that they are passionate about, interested in, or skilled at, they can be far less committed to approach them with an enthusiastic outlook.

    When assigning tasks for a group initiative, pay attention to the interests and abilities of your team. If you customize your division of labour to these characteristics, your project may proceed more smoothly. Further, it will show that you are interested in the needs of each individual group member, which could boost their morale and trust in you.

  • Foster Good Communication on All Platforms
    Practically speaking, all group contributions should be readily and easily accessible for all other team members to access. If your team does not work from a shared server at the office, ensure that files are available through cloud-based sharing platforms or other formats that are easy to use for group members. This tactic, as well as setting clear goals and due dates, will help everyone to stay aware of the progress of the work as a whole and better enable others to contribute their portions on time.

    Logistical matters aside, it is also important to foster effective communication among group members and provide opportunities to discuss issues. When issues remain unaddressed for long periods of time, they can grow until they are no longer manageable and may hinder the success of the project.

  • Create a Tone of Friendliness and Respect
    You do not need to become great friends with all of the members of your team. However, it is important to generate an atmosphere of friendliness and respect among all team members. When you maintain a friendly tone (even in the face of issues!), the group dynamic will be far more pleasant and it will be easier for team members to commit themselves to their work – and remain committed throughout the process.

    Further, as team members begin to produce results, ensure that you are recognizing each colleague equally for their efforts. Imbalanced recognition can make it seem that you prioritize or favour certain individuals, which will reflect poorly on your leadership skills.

For further reading on managing effective teams and motivating team members, see our previous blog post on “Top Team Building Activities” or the Harvard Business Review’s “Make Your Good Team Great.”

How the Little Details Matter for Executive Presence

Have you ever noticed how much subtle details can make a big difference? In the content of your work, in the way you behave and present yourself, and in your image and attire – the little details matter. Even when minor details seem inconsequential, the truth is they all contribute to the whole of your success.

It is no surprise that “attention to detail” is a requirement for nearly any job and a quality of a strong candidate or employee. Here are a few of many examples of how “little details” are important, and how those in your work, behaviour, and professional image contribute to your Executive Presence.

Attention to Detail in your Work
Subtle details in how you conduct your everyday work can show massive differences in the quality of your work and can set you apart from other professionals.

  • When you write a document for your job, how many times do you proofread it before sending to others? Do you quickly review only once – or do you carefully re-read it four or five times? Though it can seem like a minor step at the end of a task, carefully reviewing completed work is a small yet important task for professionals who are always aiming to improve their output.
  • Aside from your day-to-day work, how invested are you in your field, your company, and yourself in a long-term perspective? Small initiatives along the way can help you to develop and assert yourself in your field. Get involved in your field through industry publications and conferences, and develop your industry-specific skills through the trainings they offer. Viewed alone, these can seem like small acts. Yet they will lend you a competitive advantage that can make a big difference.

Attention to Detail in your Behaviour
Whether they are aware of it or not, others rely on subtle cues in your behaviour to assess whether you are approachable, poised, and professional.

  • When meeting someone for the first time, these small cues are of utmost importance. Are you making eye contact while shaking hands? Is your handshake firm? Are you smiling? Even if you are enthusiastic about meeting a new person, they may not think so unless these qualities align with your positive attitude.
  • During a presentation, you need more than just the content of your speech and slides to make it effective. Here, small details about your behaviour and self-presentation are often as important as the material you present. Are you standing with good posture in a strong, confident position? Is your voice dynamic and clear? Are you looking at your audience and inviting them to engage with you?These small details are often forgotten when presenters get nervous and simply want to get off the stage as soon as possible. But these elements can make or break a great presentation.

Attention to Detail in your Professional Image
There are so many components that comprise a great professional image, it is no wonder that details make up a balanced whole.

  • Think a missing button is small and unnoticeable? Think again. A missing button – or a small stain, a tear, or a frayed fabric – may be physically small, but will draw much attention and dominate the entire outfit. Don’t let one tiny detail ruin your professional image.

  • When it comes to accessories, subtle differences can reflect your style as a professional. Take the example of Tom’s business cards from our Executive Presence video. Tom removes his business card from a wallet that is stuffed, messy, and overflowing. This reflects poorly on Tom as a disorganized professional. A slim, clean business card holder would suggest otherwise.

Whether in a first impression through attire or conduct, or a lasting impression with your quality of work, subtle details always matter. These details will add up to give you a competitive edge and enhance your Executive Presence.

Bright Ideas: Incite Creativity in the Workplace

idea_1024x570Creative workplace environments should not be limited to so-called “creative” industries such as graphic design, film, or the arts. In fact, creativity should be present in any workplace, no matter the industry or department. Whether you work in HR, sales, or finance, creativity must be encouraged for your company to advance. Here are a few ideas to foster creativity in the workplace.

  • Encourage a collaborative environment.
    In many cases, the saying “two heads are better than one” often rings true in a workplace. Staff members often bring different academic backgrounds and various professional experiences to the table. Encourage employees to work together and combine their various skills and experiences into new ideas.

    You can encourage collaboration by assigning group projects, creating team-building activities, or re-adjusting physical spaces at work. Even providing an open-concept space in an office set up with cubicles or closed offices can make a big difference.

  • Invite new ideas and foster open conversations.
    Some employees may feel shy or intimidated to contribute their ideas, especially if they are new to the company or inexperienced. But everyone can contribute something unique based on their own individual perspectives and backgrounds.

    Invite dialogue by creating “safe” and low-pressure environments where employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas. This could include a staff bulletin board, an online forum available only to staff in your company, or a monthly meeting designed for brainstorming and casual yet productive conversation.

  • Inspire employees to think differently by adopting a new routine.
    We often become stuck in a rut when we fall into habits, performing the same routine day after day. But mixing up our quotidian routines can expose us to new thought patterns and new perspectives. Bring a new routine into your workplace by providing staff with opportunities to participate in trainings or lunch and learns. Whatever the topic may be, new learning opportunities can spark ideas and inspire employees to continue learning both on and off the job.
  • Allow others to lead.
    As a leader in your company, you may be accustomed to being the one designated to lead initiatives and forge ahead with business developments. But an opportunity to take the reins can provoke other employees to perform their best and strive to make a good impact on the company.

    Invite others to lead where they may not otherwise have a chance, even on smaller projects or initiatives within the organization. This gesture will also demonstrate to employees that their original ideas matter to the company and that they are valued.

To learn more about creativity in the workplace, see Forbes’ “Six Ideas to Promote Innovation in the Workplace” or Entrepreneur’s “The Three Elements Needed to Build Creative Genius in the Workplace.” How do you incite creativity in your workplace?

How Business Etiquette Contributes to Engaged Workplaces

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Recently, The Globe and Mail released a report on the 50 most engaged workplaces in Canada. Engagement in the workplace, which, according to The Globe and Mail, is defined by “employees’ passion for their work and commitment to the company’s vision,” holds significant influence on a company’s success on so many levels: employee retention, customer relations and the ability to deliver on objectives, among countless others.

Business etiquette undeniably is a part of what creates an engaged workplace. The judging panel for this award evaluated companies based on the following eight elements: communication, leadership, culture, rewards and recognition, professional and personal growth, accountability and performance, vision and values, and corporate and social responsibility. How is business etiquette integral in certain elements of this criteria?

Communication
Business communication takes many forms: from internal to external, interpersonal to technological, everyday exchanges to larger issues management. For a business to be successful, all channels of communication must run smoothly, and business etiquette can facilitate this success.

  • Technological Communication ranges from email, texting, phone calls, voicemail, or conference calls – any form of communication that is not face-to-face. When you think about how often you use tech-based communication every day, mastering the nuances of these forms of communication – such as how to introduce yourself on a conference call or how to compose a respectful email in a difficult situation – becomes essential.
  •  Interpersonal Communication also can occur in various situations: casual meetings between colleagues, an important client or partner dinner, or a networking event. A gauge on properly handling communication in any one of these contexts is crucial to making professional connections.

Professional and Personal Growth
A company that provides its employees with the potential for growth and development is certainly on a path to success. Opportunities like seminars, trainings, lunch-and-learn sessions, or individual consulting can make a world of difference in an employee’s performance.

When business etiquette, professional image or executive presence are addressed in these contexts, an individual becomes more confident and self-aware, while simultaneously contributing the benefits and strengths of their newly sharpened traits to the rest of the team. Corporate Class Inc. provides a Executive Presence System, includes six core modules: interpersonal communication skills, techno-communication skills, workplace etiquette and best practices, presentation skills, business dress and executive dining skills.
Culture
A harmonious workplace culture functions on the respect that employees have for their colleagues, their company and for themselves. This respect is made manifest through good workplace etiquette – in essence, a necessary standard for how employees treat one another.

It’s no wonder that business etiquette and professional development are key to a company’s success – simply look no further than the role of business etiquette in the elements that define Canada’s top 50 most engaged companies!

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Why Engaged Listening Matters in Business

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In a humorous and insightful essay in last weekend’s issue of the Globe and Mail, Katrina Onstad analyzes today’s growing disappearance of eye contact, which she cites as “the most potent tool of body language.” This essay struck a note with me, particularly because eye contact is so critical for effective communication and engagement in business, not just in social life. Likewise, knowledge of how to use devices respectfully, especially smart phones, is also very important – and, as Onstad notes, is a central reason for the current absence of eye contact and therefore engaged communication. Her concept, put in a business perspective, could help you keep on top of your game in business communication.

 

Engaged Speaking and Listening

As we have shared in another recent blog post on body language tips, body language can help to make or break your career. And as eye contact is a significant component of body language, it certainly carries weight in your career-related interactions.

In one-on-one situations, eye contact demonstrates to the other person in the conversation that you are interested in what they have to say. As your posture and gestures can reflect boredom or disengagement, a lack of eye contact will make this painfully obvious. As you will see in my earlier post, if what you say is not congruent with your body language, then people will believe your body language and not your words.

Eye contact is necessary during individual conversations. A less obvious context but equally as important for good eye contact is during public speaking or talking to a group. Effective public speakers scan the audience during a talk, maintaining eye contact with listeners in the crowd. When up onstage, keep in mind not to focus on one person the whole time, but move your eyes throughout the crowd. This will make the listeners feel like you are speaking directly to them as individuals, and will keep them engaged throughout the duration of your speech.

Likewise, even in a more casual context of a group or staff meeting, be sure to allow your eyes to move from person to person. Again, this will create the effect that you are speaking to them instead of at them.

 

Focus on the Conversation

Another component of Onstad’s essay that is both inseparable and foundational to her argument for sustaining eye contact is the argument that our devices – most notably, our cell phones – are making us less engaged with those around us. This concept is also important to keep in mind in a business setting, whether we are interacting on a daily basis with a colleague or trying to impress a client.

 

Cell Phones in Meetings

Often in day-to-day meetings, it is considered acceptable to have a smart phone or laptop present, as the rest of the workday continues and people need to keep on top of their tasks and emails. Nevertheless, try to check emails minimally, and don’t have a phone sitting right in front of you – or else you will be tempted to pick it up every time you receive an email. In doing so, you will be removing yourself from the discussion or blatantly disregarding what someone is saying.

It is for this reason that many companies have established a “no devices” policy during certain meetings, notably during staff meetings that occur only once per week or month. Otherwise, members present risk being distracted by other work.

During important and less frequent meetings, such as those with external clients or guests, no devices should be present. Keeping preoccupied with one would not only reflect poorly on you, but also on your company. If your ringer goes off during such a meeting, turn off the phone without checking to see who is calling and apologize after the meeting.

Cell Phones at the Dinner Table

Though phones and other devices are often acceptable in meetings, it is never appropriate to keep one on the table (or on your lap) during a meal. Again, if you are out on a business lunch with a client or a company guest, bad business etiquette becomes a poor representation of your company.

While cell phones on the dinner table are inappropriate, it is equally unacceptable to try to use a phone discreetly – due to the reality that it simply won’t be discreet. In her essay, Onstad describes a situation that happens all too frequently:

You are mid-sentence and suddenly the listener’s eyes slide southward to her own hand or the table or her lap. Whether she glances back immediately or – and this hurts – begins pecking away at whatever device proved more important than the final part of your sentence, the moment of connection that came before has snapped like a twig.

In business, moments like these are not only rude, but they can also be destructive to your credibility.

In daily life, remembering to put down our devices and make eye contact is important if we want to actively engage with our surroundings and with the people around us. In business, doing just that is crucial to effective communication, to displaying the best level of professionalism, and ultimately to advancing your career.

 

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How to Make the Most of a Conference

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I recently returned from a conference in Orlando.  I went along with 120 Canadian delegates, all members of WEConnect Canada, an organization dedicated to the certification and support of women-owned businesses. The conference was an exciting and robust exchange of information, ideas and contacts – a valuable experience indeed for women of various expertise and backgrounds in entrepreneurship and business. As most conferences go, such a vast amount of content in such a short period of time requires a lots of planning and strategy in order to make the most of the fulfilling time there. A few tips can help to get you in the right mindset and can keep you focused during the conference itself, enabling the most “takeaways” from a conference rich in content. These tips can be applied to conferences of any topic or theme.

 

Come prepared.

Before you even travel to the conference location, review the schedule beforehand. If you have a choice between simultaneous workshops, research and read about both the speakers and the topics, so that you can attend the talks that you know would best fit your interests and your work.

The schedule will also provide insights as to what you should wear.  If you are not certain of the dress code, ask.  And please err on the more formal side: even if the program recommends casual dress, as the conference may take place in a warm climate or involve lots of walking, remember that you are there to do business and you must make a good first impression.

If the conference offers an accompanying trade show, reading about organizations with booth displays as well as reviewing the trade show floor map in advance can save a significant amount of time. Instead of wandering through the show, scanning the booths and deciding which ones to visit, you can head straight to the ones that you are interested in and would like to engage with. Otherwise, the sea of booths can prove overwhelming if you spend most of your time simply processing who is represented.

Another tip: have some questions ready for the organizations or vendors you are certain you want to visit at the trade show.

 

Take time to reflect after each panel discussion or speech.

Following each informative talk or discussion, take just a few minutes to reflect on what you heard. What was the key message? What were one or two important points that you learned? What can you apply to your own professional growth, or the development of your company? Write these reflections down between the sessions or during breaks. With so much information exchange at a conference, even brief moments of reflection are necessary for internalization and retention of information.

Even if you are scheduled to attend back-to-back sessions, think about these points during your walk between venues. Take time at the end of the day to process and write down takeaways from each unique talk.

 

Actively network, both during the conference and on “off-time.”

Conferences are well known to be great networking opportunities. But don’t limit networking to simply acquiring a stack of business cards without making legitimate connections and lasting impressions. If you meet people that could be really valuable contacts, be sure to connect with them during time you set aside to chat one-on-one, not just a brief conversation between sessions or a networking cocktail.

According to the creative professional think tank Behance, “many frequent conference-goers claim that their greatest conference experiences happened in the ‘downtime,’” when they truly had a chance to sit down and discuss with peers from around the world whom they otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to meet.

 

Follow up with key contacts – ASAP.

Don’t leave getting in touch with fellow conference participants as a “to-do” that will sit on your desk until you have time to get around to it in a few weeks. It’s crucial to follow up with important contacts shortly after you meet them: firstly, so that they don’t forget who you are, and secondly, so that they are aware that you value them as a connection since you have promptly reached out to them.

Be sure to call or email key contacts within a few days of returning to the office – you never know what kind of opportunity could arise from their connection. Another point to stress is to follow up on any and all promises you made, whether it is to connect people, send the title of a book or share a recipe. Follow through with your commitments, big or small.

Conferences can provide excellent spaces for development and can facilitate valuable relationships. Attending with even a minimal strategy in mind will help you gain the most a conference has to offer.

 

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Protect (and Polish!) Your Online Presence

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“If I post on my personal social media site, my boss won’t see it, right?” Wrong. If your name and face is somewhere on the Internet, anyone and everyone will be able to access it. There are countless situations in which an inappropriate posting, email, comment or photo has backfired on someone and they have lost a job opportunity or gotten in serious trouble because of it. Don’t let this happen to you: protect your online reputation. And, while you’re at it, take extra steps to polish your online presence – because, inevitably, a professional connection will find you on the Internet.


Survey what’s already out there.
The first step is to find out what already exists, and how easily searchable this information is. Google your name – and check out both the web search and the image search. You may come across old information or photos that you didn’t even know still existed, and will give you a sense of what needs to be cleaned up. It will also show you what appears first in a search. Making sure your search results reveal professional behaviour is crucial: according to this Mashable infographic, 78% of recruiters check search engines to find out more about potential employees.


Adjust your Facebook privacy settings and monitor what you share.
Never, ever post any inappropriate photos or status updates on Facebook – especially those referring to illicit behaviour. This is one of the most destructive things you can do to your online reputation.

Even if you’re grown up enough now to post judiciously, there may be some unflattering photos from university days still floating around on your Facebook page. In this case, set your privacy settings so that only you or certain close friends can view your photos (even colleagues can be Facebook “friends,” so don’t be misled by clicking “friends only” viewing). This is also a good idea for future protection; after all, friends won’t ask your permission to post every photo of you that they upload on Facebook.


Tweet positively.
Whereas photos are the key representation of you on Facebook, your words are what really matter on Twitter. Again, any inappropriate language or illicit content in tweets are a definite no. Also, even if your tweets are clean, try to maintain a positive attitude in what you post. If a potential boss sees a string of complaints on your Twitter feed, they might assume you’ll bring a negative attitude into the workplace, too.


Emails aren’t private.
Any email communications you have with colleagues should be kept strictly professional.  Remember, anything that you write can be forwarded to the wrong person with the click of a button – confidentiality disclaimers aside. If the content of your email is inappropriate – for example, gossip about another co-worker or complaints about a boss – this can lead to some very awkward situations. If you encounter a situation that would merit a complaint about someone, skip the email entirely and address the problem directly with the appropriate person.


Focus on your LinkedIn profile.
Work on polishing your LinkedIn profile. This is a professional social networking site, which means it is guaranteed (and encouraged) that business contacts will be viewing it. Make sure your work history, current position, marketable skills and personal information are up to date. The more active your LinkedIn profile, the more likely it is to climb to the top of a search engine’s results list. And that’s the kind of information you want an employer to see.

 

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How to Break Into A Career

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Recent graduates: are you feeling overwhelmed as you begin to head down your career path? Even if you have an idea of an occupation you’d like to pursue, starting out with little or no job history can be daunting. How do you break into a career without having previous experience in that field? Luckily, there are a number of ways you can test the waters and learn about a company or an industry before you are ready to apply. Combining research, networking, outreach, volunteer work and a positive attitude will help you learn more and make connections – and prepare you for an actual job prospect.


Do your homework.

Researching an industry is a huge first step: you need to know all the ins and outs of your area of interest. Start by finding out which jobs are associated with a particular field (for example, communications-related jobs could include a writer, editor, social media manager – the list goes on). Then consider how your qualifications could apply to a particular position.

Also, seek out relevant companies that exist in your area and their backgrounds, such as the number of employees, the range of positions and levels of qualifications in their employees, and their current products or activities.

With a knowledge base of your field of interest, you will have a better sense of what your options are and what kind of company or position you may want to pursue.

Request an informational interview.

Reach out and contact someone who is already working in your ideal field, company, or job, and request to conduct an informational interview. This is an excellent method to continue building your knowledge base. Many people who have reached their career objectives are very willing to help by sharing their experience and wisdom gained during their path to achievement. You can learn not only about the details of their work, but also how they obtained their career goal and what sort of obstacles they had to overcome along the way.

Informational interviews are also a very effective means to network within your field of choice. Contacts will recognize that you are proactive and enthusiastic about an industry, and may keep you in mind if an opportunity arises in their company. So, don’t forget to bring a business card to the interview!

Keep networking.

Besides making connections through informational interviews, be creative and find other means to network with key contacts. For example, go to public events hosted by an organization or company of interest to you. Ask for an introduction if you know a family member or friend with a connection you would like to make. Use professional social networking sites like LinkedIn to build your contact base.

Volunteer.

If there are no current job openings, or if you are not yet qualified to apply for any available positions, start by seeking out volunteer jobs or internships. The more volunteer work that you can financially accommodate, the better, but even one or two days per week is enough to begin building your relevant on-the-job experience.

The benefits of volunteering or interning are manifold: first, you can learn immensely from first-hand experience. Second, the job experience will add a necessary complement to the academic qualifications on your resume. Finally, this is another effective way to build your important base of contacts – and may even lead to a paid job within a company once you have established yourself among its employees.

Heading into today’s job market certainly can seem intimidating. But building your experience, knowledge, and connections in simple yet significant ways will ease the transition as you begin to navigate your career path.

 

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