Global Talk: How to Capture (and Keep) Your Audience’s Attention

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to a conference and found a presenter—even big-shot international leaders—so dry that I spent more time checking my email than taking notes. And it wasn’t because the information was boring,  it was because the presenter did such a terrible job of making drawing in the audience and making the topic interesting.

As a global leader, you have a responsibility to make people care about what you say. This is because what you have to say is important, whether you’re presenting to hundreds at a public conference, holding an important meeting or leading an internal videoconference session with employees from around the world.

Great presenters engage the audience. They make them feel like they’re a part of the presentation and will miss something exciting or new or vital if they tune out for even just a second. So how do you accomplish this? Here are some tips I’ve picked up from my favorite presenters;

1.    Open with a personal story.

This is a great method for creating a connection with your audience right away. The best part is that it doesn’t have to be related to what your presentation is about. If you can tie it in, great, but don’t feel you must.

For example, if you’re visiting an office in a new city, share an experience you’ve had with a common traffic issue, food or unique cultural aspect. In addition, maybe you’re keynoting a conference, and you share a story about teaching your three-year-old how to say “conference.” Just make sure your story is authentic and resonates across generations, gender and culture.

2.    Ask a powerful open-ended question.

This works best in smaller settings, although you can pull it off with a large group. This engages the audience and gets them thinking right from the get-go; they’ll be pondering the answer throughout your presentation, which will (hopefully) give them even more food for thought.

In a small setting, ask the question and then go around the room and have them answer. If you’re presenting to a large group, you can approach this method a couple of different ways. First, develop some prepared answers, and ask the group to stand or raise their hands with the one they associate most with, or ask the audience to shout out a few answers (just be sure to repeat them so all can hear).

3.    Make a destination statement.

Sometimes just knowing what they’ll get out of this presentation is all an audience needs to hear to keep their interest. This can be especially powerful in meetings as it sets the tone for the meeting and makes the outcome known from the start. However, it’s up to you to enforce the ultimate destination by staying on-topic—and keeping everyone else there, too.

 4.    Have a roadmap.

People love clear directions. Bullet points. Numbered lists (see, you’re reading this one, aren’t you?). For example, a talk on female leadership may emphasize three points: 1. Networking 2. Self-Promotion 3. Communicating in Other Cultures. Much like a destination statement, a roadmap makes the topic clear and invests your audience from the beginning. And don’t forget to use transition sentences like, “I just explained A, now I’m going to discuss B.”

5.    Do something unexpected.

As a global leader, you’re expected to be smart, articulate and on the ball. But people (and employees) take delight in seeing high-level leaders show their lighter side. It’s a good reminder that leaders are people too, with a sense of humor and interests beyond the latest financials. When appropriate, slip in a silly picture, quote or dance move that catches your audience off guard and breaks up the seriousness of your topic.

What tips would you add to this list?

Traits of Global Leader Part 2: Be Mindful

In my recent post, Traits of Global Leader Part 1: Know Thyself, I introduced my theory that great global leaders have two essential sets of traits: awareness of self and awareness of others. That first post explored the awareness of self, including understanding your personal brand, sticking to what you believe, and how these two traits affect public perception of you as a leader.

Now we’re going to move on to awareness of others. This doesn’t mean that great leaders are universally liked. As a recent Inc. article on leadership explained, “Great leaders aren’t always the most likable people. In the long run, great leaders recognize that their job is to get people to do things they might not want to do, in order to achieve goals they want to achieve.”

In a nutshell, your goal as a global leader should be to earn respect by doing the right thing and making the hard decisions that benefit your organization. At the same time, you don’t want to alienate your employees — so be sure to demonstrate empathy and understanding, even while reaffirming your role as a strong leader.

Of course, many leaders assume they’re already aware of others in every way that matters, but there are two practices that can deepen every leader’s ability to connect with others.

Listen to People

Plenty of leaders like to talk, but the best leaders realize the value in listening. The problem is, a huge part of being a good listener is acknowledging you don’t know everything, recognizing when you don’t know something and allowing someone else to fill you in—a tall order for many in leadership roles.

Once you can get over the fact that you’re not always the most informed person on a particular subject, you might be surprised by how much you learn. There’s a less obvious reward too: the enhanced respect that comes from giving your employees an opportunity to shine.

This is especially important when critical or difficult decisions must be made. Sure, you could just make the decisions yourself, but by opening up the conversation to others on your team you can gain valuable insight and discover fresh angles. More importantly, you give your employees a chance to be a part of the decision-making process, which recognizes their value and allows them to become invested in the outcome.

As TV host Larry King once said, “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So, if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”

Broaden Your Reach

When was the last time you talked to an entry-level employee or visited a far-flung office or division? Traveled around to store locations? Rolled up your sleeves to help with a small project? To many employees in your organization you may just be a name at the top of an organization chart, or the office where major decisions are made – and that needs to change.

Great leaders are more than just a name. They’re a symbol and a source of encouragement, stability and expertise for employees. So don’t hide — get out there and meet your people and get a taste of their daily lives at work.

Best Buy’s CEO, Hubert Joly, epitomizes this notion. When he took over as Best Buy’s CEO in 2012, he spent a week working as a floor employee at a Minnesota Best Buy store, helping customers, restocking shelves and going on Geek Squad calls.

I had a similar experience when I started my project with the global, Swedish-owned furniture giant, Ikea. They asked me to work for two days in a store to understand fully what an employee’s day was like. I worked the cashier, lugging furniture in the warehouse, in floor design, sales, and in the back offices. It was a phenomenal experience and taught me a lot about Ikea’s company culture.

I think Kasper Rorsted, head of global manufacturer Henkel, perfectly stated the importance of being available as a leader in a recent interview with McKinsey. He said: “I am convinced that a visible and accessible leadership style is most effective. My door is open; I encourage colleagues to call me directly. Our employees know who I am and what I’m doing. I eat with employees in our canteens whenever I am traveling or here at headquarters. You cannot run a global company from your desk. That’s why I spend around 170 days per year abroad, meeting employees—from top executives to young high-potential individuals—as well as customers and business partners.”

To close this two-parter, I’ll encourage you to remember that everything leaders do has a trickle-down effect. Be mindful of your actions and relationships, because your colleagues and your employees will emulate what you do. Successful organizations need inspiring leaders. Be the confident, self-aware and empathetic leader your employees want, and they will follow your example.

Traits of a Global Leader Part I: Know Thyself

I got to thinking recently about what it is that makes for a great global leader. It goes beyond having a title and being in charge of people. What I mean is, being a boss does not make one a leader. So where’s the distinction?

To answer my own question, I started considering the leaders I admire—some I’ve worked with, some I haven’t—and really pondering their unique traits and characteristics. In truth, no two leaders are great in the same way. Some lead through charisma and big personalities, while some quietly inspire confidence. But even in those differences, I could see similarities.

When I boiled it all down to the most essential points, I discovered two sets of traits driving these global leaders: awareness of self, and awareness of others.

Let’s explore those a little bit. We’ll start with awareness of self, and why understanding who you are and how you’re perceived is so important for global leaders.

Cultivate Your Personal Brand

Quick—name a few global leaders who have a clear “brand” all unto themselves. Love them or hate them, people like Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, and Melissa Meyer know exactly who they are to the public and their employees. They’re always working to preserve and even promote that image. Branson, the larger-than-life innovator, cultivates a persona of the cool dude riding the edge of what’s new. Jobs, the introspective visionary, was famous for his presentation style and black turtleneck/jeans combo.

Being a global leader often thrusts you into the spotlight, and it’s beneficial to carefully consider what image you want to present to the world. Who are you as a global leader? What adjectives describe you, and what leadership style defines you? Do you publicly trumpet your business successes or quietly divert attention to your causes? What is your personal mantra, as a global leader?

The fact is, your public persona has a power all of itself. Don’t ignore it; embrace it. Give it the same careful thought and consideration you give to your business. I’m not saying to become a caricature. Just make sure you know who you are and what impression you project to the world.

Have A Point of View and Stick to It

I was recently working with the CEO of a smaller software company. He boldly states his position in every keynote or speaking engagement: He’s firm on the importance of Internet freedom and privacy. It’s a little bit controversial, but it shows true confidence to proselytize one’s opinions.

Part of developing your personal brand is knowing yourself and what’s important to you as a leader, in the business world and outside of it. Don’t be afraid to strongly support or defend the things that are most meaningful to you. Bill Gates vocally supports giving away wealth in the name of charity, and publicly calls out other billionaires to challenge them to do the same.

Branson has always had outlandish predictions for his products taking over market leaders. Though he’s not always right, his confidence in his business endeavors is inspiring. Branson and Bezos both jumped into the space travel conversation, believing that such a remarkable opportunity should be open to the public. A few years ago, people openly laughed at such a notion. Now, a spaceport has been built in New Mexico and Branson’s Virgin Galactic has had over 550 people pay upwards of $200,000 for the opportunity to travel to space.

Having a point of view is vital to the awareness of self in global leaders. It offers a rallying point and a clear voice to those under your leadership and those eyeing what you do as a leader.

Awareness of others is just as vital as awareness of self. Stay tuned for Part 2 of Traits of a Global Leader, where I’ll talk about the traits great global leaders exhibit when handling specific situations as well as how they adapt to different environments.

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6 Secrets to Overcoming Jet-Lag

I travel a lot for business. And its not only the shorter jaunts from Phoenix to San Francisco or Chicago to Boston. I travel from North to South America and Europe to Asia. Sometimes I’m on planes for 15-20 hours. For years now, I’ve suffered from jet-lag. It can be brutal, lasting a week, sometimes with flu symptoms, but I’ve sucked it up and dealt with it because I love my work, enjoy being in different countries, and learning about new cultures.

Last year, after several back-to-back trips to far-away places, I made a deal with myself I would employ some new jet-lag fighting tactics and see if I could find a better way to cope. I asked those executive friends of mine (who travel more than I do), did some internet research, and simply tested out a few strategies. Finally, after almost 25 years of business and personal travel, I think I’ve finally got this jet-lag thing beat.

Here are my six secrets to overcoming jet-lag:

1) Prepare a sleep-kit: Sleeping on planes is difficult enough, make it as comfortable as you can. First, get something to block out the noise; earplugs, headphones, or an extra pillow. Second, make sure you’re warm enough. A lightweight down jacket can bunch up into a headrest, add extra padding to your seat, or simply keep you nice and warm on an over-air conditioned plane. A fleece blanket or poncho and a hat or hood is helpful, too. And don’t forget your eye mask to block out light. If you’re lucky enough to travel business or first class, you’ll get most of these accessories with your seat.

2) Skip the wine: This is a tough one because they serve some nice wines on the European airlines. Singapore Airlines will even make you exotic fruit juice cocktails, like – surprise – the Singapore Sling. Alcohol may put you to sleep quickly but chances are you’ll be up again in an hour or two, wide awake from the sugar content in alcohol. It can also make recovering from jet-lag once you get to where you’re going tougher. It dehydrates you and you can feel even more tired.

3) Medicate if you dare: If you have trouble sleeping on planes it might be well worth taking some medication. Some folks prefer Melatonin or a homeopathic sleep aid, others use Tylenol or Advil PM. Sometimes a doctor will prescribe a sleeping pill for international flights. There’s nothing like being well-rested when you get to your final destination. Experiment with some options and find what’s best for you, but do try to sleep at least half of any trip over eight hours. Especially if its an overnight flight.

4) Eat VERY lightly: Again, this can be difficult. Meals help with the boredom on longer flights and the international airlines can serve up some mean grub. I recently had filet, asparagus grits and mixed sauteed vegetables. It was surprisingly delicious. I paid for it though, couldn’t sleep a wink. Luckily it was a day flight so I took the calculated risk. However, when I eat a salad with lots of raw veggies, no meat or carbs, board my flight, eat very little (if at all) on the plane, I tend to sleep well and feel better when I land.

5) Get some fresh air: I feel like my mother. When I was a kid, she always said, “Let’s get some fresh air, shall we?” What I think she really meant was, “You’re driving me nuts inside bouncing off the walls.” Anyway, I can’t emphasize enough how much of a difference it makes recovering from jet-lag. Rain or shine, when I get to where I’m going, I go out for a stroll. (Assuming its a stroll-able location.) A brisk walk, especially if the air is cool, takes away that slight headache, refreshes you, and it’ll help you sleep better that first night.

6) Exercise, exercise, exercise: Critical to overcoming jet-lag (and to your overall well-being) is getting some exercise everyday – before, during and after your trip. Even a thirty minute workout can do wonders. It gets the blood flowing, your brain working, it builds your immune system to fight colds and viruses, and makes you feel dang good. If you’re staying at a hotel without a good gym facility, ask about a neighborhood gym nearby. Go for a run or join some people playing a sport outdoors. I’ve even downloaded a couple of workout apps and in a pinch, do those in my hotel room.

Of course you have to find what works best for you. I can’t promise you’ll conquer jet-lag entirely but I can promise the above tips will help a lot and you’ll feel more prepared for your next trip abroad. Happy travels!