What Beyonce knows about teleconferencing!

Doing a virtual presentation can feel like talking to air.  Here’s a situation you may recognise….

The Situation: most of the participants will not be in the room and some won’t see you. All, except two are in different continents.

The Challenge: to include everyone, ensure they maintain their attention and, no matter which medium they are using, they are involved with the whole conversation.

The solution: Do what so many others do: talk at the ones you can see and ignore the ones you can’t.

Result: Total waste of money and time.

OR use a few tips from a treasure chest of them, that I use in workshops on Knock Out Presentations and Pitches.

In preparation of the call:

1.  Ensure everyone has a list of who is who including names, roles and locations and contact information so that people can reach each other for further information after the call, if they need to.

2.  Decide who’s going to do what: facilitate, who will lead each section

3.  Have the participants meet up 30 minutes before the scheduled time to test the IT. In each room, where there’s a video conference, have one person responsible for making the IT work and a back up plan if it doesn’t.

4.  Consider participant availability just as you would for any other meeting.

5.  Take into account time zones when scheduling – the Malaysians may be less participative when you speak to them from London at 2:00pm GMT as they’re beating for the door – it’s 7pm but the New Yorkers have had they’re coffee and they’re all go. This will mean you’ll probably need to stimulate more participation from your eastern callers and just when you’re on your post-lunch slump, you’ll need to keep the energy up for those to the West of you.

6.  Communicate local time or how to calculate local time when sending meeting announcement.

7. Distribute supporting documents/files well before the call start.

8. Inform participants if they have to have a file or website open on their computer desktop.

9. Record the call. For those who can’t make the meeting simply record the call and share the audio file.

During the call: Keep it personal (Beyonce’s already said it…’Say ma name, say ma name…)

1.  Review and, if needed, adjust agenda.

2. Find out if there are any individual time constraints (“I have to leave early”) and adjust accordingly. This is particularly important if you need the input or participation of the person leaving early to achieve the goals of the call.

3. Have a round of greetings: this way you’ll start to familiarise yourself with whose name belongs to which voice.

4. If someone’s joining the call later, the earlier arrivals need to introduce themselves to this latter one. If that was you joining later you’d want to know who you’re talking to.

5. ‘Say my name, say my name’, as the song goes…actually, say your own name before you speak. saymynameOne of the reasons why your audience may go silent when you ask their thoughts on what you’ve just said, is that they’re not sure who the voice belongs to and they don’t want to wrong foot themselves. The best way to achieve this habit in a teleconference is just to announce it as ‘How about if were to say our names before we speak each time, just to distinguish the speaker?’ Leaving it to tacit agreement in some groups is like trying to travel to the moon on a scooter: it just won’t happen.

6. Help less engaged people become more involved in the call e.g. use phrases like:

a) How do you see this, xxxx?

b) What’s your experience of this, xxxx?

c) Does this sound like what you’re looking for, xxxx?

d) Would you like to add anything to this, xxxx?

7. Be enthusiastic and use a tone appropriate to the group. The first impression is important.

8. Vary voice tone – avoid monotone presentation.

After the Call: Have a plan that leads to action (not another meeting)

1. For Action steps, remember to state who does what by when.

With virtual calls so much the norm in companies these days, using the format above will mean that you have more productive use of time, better decision making and more possibility to use other virtual interactive tools effectively as your participants will already feel more involved in the process.

What irritates you in virtual conferencing?  Let us know below…

comment arrow

Close up and Personal

If you think you’re better with face to face training, Switch Vision can run courses for you – whether as a one to one or in a group. Communication and Transformational Creativity for Technical Experts combining the best in Performance and Business.   Call me to discuss your needs on +44 (0) 20 7183 4300 or drop me a line here



Could you change your mind, please?

“These conversation are driving me nuts:  we ‘ve got major business opportunities in France and Turkey and no-there to to get it going.  I speak Spanish, Turkish and French but my boss only wants to send me to Spanish speaking countries,” remarked Liz.

“What’s his reasoning?” I enquire.

“Wants me to concentrate on Spain. That’s as much as I get from him.  I wouldn’t care, but all the other projects are now being managed by someone else.  It’s just so frustrating.  Boring, in fact.  There’s no sense in it.”

So how can Liz break through such resistance?

According to a survey of Fortune 500 executives, resistance is the primary reason that changes fail in organizations. In a similar survey conducted by Deloitte Consulting, 80 percent of the CIOs surveyed said that resistance was the main reason why technology projects failed. Not lack of skill or resources, but that soft touchy-feely human reaction of resistance.                                                  
Is meeting resistance with resistance the answer?

Is meeting resistance with resistance the answer?

This resistance can be grouped into three levels:

Level 1 – Based on Lack of Information

This is low-grade resistance where there is no hidden agenda. People are opposed to the idea for any number of reasons: lack of information, disagreement with the idea itself, lack of exposure, or confusion.

What this could mean for Liz: Maybe Liz’s boss doesn’t have enough information about the opportunities in these other countries.

Level 2 – Based on personality and vested interests

Level 2 is an emotional reaction to the change. Even given the right information, vested interests or dislike can be difficult to shift.

What this could mean for Liz: does the boss feel that Liz’s progression could undermine him? Does he just dislike her and would rather give the opportunity to someone else?

Level 3 – Based on Environmental issues

This level concerns external factors such as the economy, the company structure, process, climate.

What this could mean for Liz: the economy doesn’t bode well for development in certain areas. 

None of these levels are insurmountable.  Not even Level 2, where there’s a personality clash.  There are four channels of influence that work independently or in combinations.  These channels are:

1. Direct Influence:

You have direct contact with the person you’re influencing

What to be aware of: how assertive you have to be will depend on the characters and contexts involved. Body language, facial expression, intonation and verbal language will have an impact on how your message is received.

2. Indirect Influence:

Here, the influence is through someone else.

What to be aware of:  who has the ear and trust of the person you’re influencing? Can you trust them? You don’t want your messages twisted by anyone else.

3. Syndicated Influence:

This is similar to Indirect Influence, except you have different people/groups affecting the decisions.

Ensure they’re all giving the same message, even if it’s in different ways.

4. Collaborative Influence:

You team up with others to get the message from different angles.

Again, trust is an issue here. You want to make sure the person with whom you’re collaborating is genuinely supportive of your message.  If they’ve a different approach from you, that could well work in your favour: the different packaging of the point could cause the penny to drop.

5. Remote Influence:

You need do nothing.  The situation changes because of external factors that impact on the actions of others.

The proof of the pudding is in the…seeing. When environmental changes become obvious, you need say nothing.  The press, the demise or rise of a project, the fact that a product is flying off the shelves are all tools for influence.  

Don’t expect influence to be an axe through the wall though: it could happen in a minute or over days, weeks, months or years (political movements being an example, or getting someone to make up their mind…)

Comment below to let me know or email me at alison@switchvision.co.uk

comment arrow


Close up and Personal

If you think you’re better with face to face training, Switchvision can run courses for you – whether as a one to one or in a group. Communication and Transformational Creativity for Technical Experts combining the best in Performance and Business. ‘Be seen, be heard, be understood’


Just LISTEN, will you!?


 Just LISTEN, will you!?

There are times when you think you’re better off talking to a brick wall and times when…actually you are e.g. teleconferences where the ‘listeners’ have pressed the mute button.

Whether it’s at work or in other areas of your life, wouldn’t it be great to be able to use a few simple techniques that:

1.  can pour water on the fire of potential conflict,
2.  help you to discover hidden agendas
3.  or, simply, to get people on your side

Verbal Techniques for Effective Listening

1. Empathy

Although we all empathise at least sometimes, some show empathy more naturally than others and will tend to vocalise it. This is particularly important on the telephone but is also vital in face-to-face conversations as it builds rapport.


  • You encourage the person to disclose more information!
  • People feel understood


  1. That’s (interesting)…..
  2. How (dangerous)!
  3. What (a pain)!
  4. I can see how that could make things difficult/dangerous/ Yes, that’s how I see it/feel
  5. It sounds like that to me too

2. Reflect Back


  • Mitigates the chance of conflict based on misunderstanding
  • Clarifies statements and a stance on an expressed opinion
  • Helps the speaker to formulate their intentions
  • Buys you time before reacting (helping you to control your own emotions)
  • Reassures the speaker that you’ve understood them
  • Aids memory through repetition of details


  1. Let me see if I understand this correctly…
  2. If I can just go back a little
  3. Let’s step back for a moment…
  4. To recap…
  5. What I got from that was…
  6. Would it be correct to say…

3. Vocalise


  • Buys you time before reacting
  • Encourages the speaker to continue
  • Shows empathy through intonation


  1. ‘uh’, ‘ah’, ‘umm’ etc.

4. Pausing

Get comfortable with pauses! Nodding, vocalising and your facial expressions can fill a pause as can writing if you’re sitting at a table. Looking away in thought, can take away any intensity during the silence and give the impression that what has been said is worth considering.

Benefits: helps reflection on what’s been said provides time for the listener to formulate a response allows statements to sink in makes you look more confident

If you want to get someone to stop talking, listen to them!

This may seem a little counter-productive but I shall bite the bullet and put in print what I’ve been saying in my Management and Communication workshops for years….

There’s a gender difference in how we listen.

Men will tend to want to ‘fix’ a problem and give advice. A woman will want to tell the ‘story’ because it feels better. Cut in too quickly with your ‘fix it or shut it’ approach and you’re dinner. If you want to move the conversation on and away, just show some empathy. I’m not saying men aren’t empathetic but it’s a matter of showing empathy, partly through matching body language and vocal tone, but also through a verbal indication that you understand (see above). Often women know the solution: they just want to feel that they’ve been understood. Believe me, knowing this can make or break a relationship! (P.S. The body language is different as well e.g. men use less head movements such as nodding, when listening and this is particularly noticeable the higher up the ladder you go so watch out for this one!).

And here’s the biology behind it…

Men have twice as much serotonin as women, whereas women have twice as much dopamine as men. Hence, when a man tumbles through the door after a long day, he may well feel happy and relaxed (serotonin) but tired, unfocussed and uninterested (lack of dopamine).

Women on the other hand, may trudge glumly through the house (lack of serotonin) but focussed and interested enough to complete tasks and chores.

So when a man doesn’t feel like doing the washing up he can blame his Dopamine Depletion. When a woman wants to have a good ‘ole moan and grumble, it’s our Divine Right.

This is either an argument for gay marriage or the use of Empathy. Take your pick…


Shooting the Messenger

shooting the messengerBullets in the Messenger

There you are, delivering a message on behalf of your line manager to another and as you’re relaying the information, it becomes clear to you and your listener that you haven’t a clue what you’re saying. So you either ramble, or reveal too much, potentially and unwittingly stirring up a hornet’s nest.

Is this your fault? Not entirely. Often the reason you’re in this situation in the first place is because you have been given any one of the following:


  1. abstract information;
  2. too much information;
  3. a dense message too quickly.

Overcoming the obstacles:

1. Ask Probing Questions: use ‘bums on seats’ (see below for a rough imitation of what many bums on a seat would look like): Who, What, When Why and Where are all sitting on How:

A note about ‘Why?
: ‘ If you ask ‘Why are we doing this?’, the answer may be dismissive or defensive. Instead ask, “What’s the reasoning behind this?’



‘Who’, ‘What’, ‘When’, ‘Where’ and ‘Why’ sitting on ‘How’

2. Feel free to interrupt assertively to clarify information: impatient tapping and rolling eyes will go down like a crate of beer at a teetotalers party.

3. Remember that the questions you ask are helping the Source (the person on behalf of whom you’re delivering the message) to define their message.

4. If you need time to think about the message before relaying it, take that time, rather than rushing to deliver it. If you don’t want to go back to The Source, ask someone else for missing pieces. Although dropping The Source a quick line so you can give the right message shouldn’t have you shot to pieces…. Know someone who’d find this useful? Feel free to forward it….

5. Take notes if you have to.

6. Be politically savvy. A great deal of people can’t be bothered with politics at work. Others thrive on it. Either way, it’s there. Do you need to report everything you’ve been told? You really don’t want to be caught in a maelstrom for spilling too many beans.

7. Lastly, the messenger may be given information in a tone that may sound impatient or aggressive. Tell yourself: ‘This is their impatience with the situation, not with me’; ‘I am instrumental in solving this’ ‘It is, therefore, necessary for me to clarify the message in order to deal with this situation.’ Relaying information succinctly and clearly makes you look authoritative and in control.

What’s the most difficult message YOU’VE had to give on behalf of someone else and how did you deal with it (or not!)?

We’d love to know…comment here or email me at alison@switchvision.co.uk

Keeping it together during a shake up

When there’s been a mass ‘purge’ of people, those that stay can be left in the swill of survivor’s guilt, anger, resentment or apathy. It’s not a pretty sight. If motivation is linked to production then this does not augur well.

Here are 10 practical ways to increase motivation amongst staff…

1. Say thank you. Drop an email, a text or do this face to face: it’s simply not said enough but when it is people will be more likely to help out again.

2. In times of change, keep your people in the loop: a weekly team meet, a departmental newsletter, a town-hall meeting. Your company culture is different from others so you’ll find the best way to do this. We need enough information to make good decisions about our work and regain the feeling of being back in some control.

3. For those particularly affected by change, keep it personal and face-to-face. Listen to their concerns – that will also tell you what keeps them driven. Make sure they understand what any changes would mean for their job, goals, time allocation and decisions.

4. Job swapping is a fantastic way of building team collaboration and understanding. You’ll need to ensure the administration is water-tight, though. To keep it simple, you can avoid doing a straight swap and have people partner each other. What’s also a good idea is to have a 25 year old teaming up with a 55 year old and seeing what they learn from each other…Other ideas with less admin involved are BBQs, and liquid refreshments go down well (Julian Richer, founder of UK hi-fi retailer Richer Sounds, subs this with £5 a head allowance). In one of the banks in which I consulted recently, there’s a plethora of collectives with their own activities such as seminars, days out and mentoring opportunities. Note that all these activities span departments and roles.

5. Employees find interaction and communication with and attention from senior and executive managers motivational. In a recent study by Towers Perrin (now Towers Watson), the Global Workforce Study which included nearly 90,000 workers from 18 countries, the role of senior managers in attracting employee effort exceeded that of contact with immediate supervisors. So when was the last time you saw them?

6. Keep ideas fresh. Training makes teams more cohesive and with the input of new ideas, adds new colours to the palatte. Lunch time slots where someone shares a skill or experience that they think could help others. For example, in a school that I know of the teachers regularly run sessions for each other on areas of individual speciality such as learning styles, creative storytelling and behaviour management.

7. Give public recognition to staff who have achieved particularly well. Whether a bouquet or an announcement on a notice board, give recognition where it’s due. Remember to acknowledge life events such as births, enquiring about holidays, and generally, showing interest in the individual.

8. Expand the job to include new, higher level responsibilities. Assign responsibilities to the employee that will help him or her grow their skills and knowledge. Stretching assignments develop staff capabilities and increase their ability to contribute at work. (Remove some of the time-consuming, less desirable job components at the same time, so the employee does not feel that what was delegated was “more” work.)

9. Employees appreciate a responsive and involved relationshipwith their immediate supervisor. Avoid cancelling regular meetings, and if you must, stop by the employee’s work area to apologize, offer the reason, and immediately reschedule. Regularly missing an employee meeting send a powerful message of disrespect.

10. Observe basic needs: those aware of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs will know that the basic needs consist of sustainance, climate and space. So if the toilet’s blocked, there’s no coffee in the kitchen and the offices are too hot to work in, you’ll need to address this. It will eat into your employees’ motivation like a moth into wool.


Words that flick the Turn Off Switch

During meetings, whether they’re one-to-one or group gatherings, there are certain words or phrases that make you want to switch off.

If you want to keep your audience switched ON, here are the words/phrases to avoid

1. ‘Presentation’
Unless you’re talking about, say, how to do a presentation, the word ‘presentation’ as in “In this presentation, I shall tell you about…” is a bit of a dampener. Your audience will be preparing themselves for being talked at and bombarded with slides.

2. ‘I’m going to sell you…’
Good selling makes the customer feel like they’ve bought, not that they’ve been sold too. You will rarely think you’ve bought because of a selling technique but of your perceived choice to buy.

3.  ‘I’m going to convince you’
As soon as you say that, your audience is already thinking, ‘No, you’re not!’ Anyway, what convincing do you have to do? Your case should be self-evident or, at least, your belief should shine through.

4. ‘hopefully’
As in, ‘Hopefully, by the end of this, you’ll realise how little these changes will trouble you.’ So, you’re living in hope? Giving the impression of being convinced and convincing is a vital ingredient to winning your audience over. So, drop the ‘hopefully’: it sounds like you’ve got your fingers crossed behind your back!

5. Things/stuff/nice/cool
Even if you are presenting to an audience who have their jeans around their bum cheeks, articulacy is always admired. Other words for ‘things’, for example, can be ‘facets’, ‘elements’, ‘possessions’. ‘Cool’ can be ‘smart’, ‘impressive’, ‘sleek’ or ‘fresh and clean-looking’. Don’t get me started with ‘stuff’ and ‘nice’….just find one of thousands of words that can replace these. (There’s 600,00 words in English so you’ve plenty to choose from…)

6. ‘Myself’ and ‘Yourself’ etc
You use ‘myself’ if: you wash yourself; you go by yourself; you do the work yourself. This is called the ‘reflexive pronoun’.

You do not use it here:
A: How are you?
B: Fine. And yourself?Actually, it’s ‘And you?’

This over-politeness in the English language is a recent tick of the tongue and has manifested in the last decade. Not only is it grammatically wrong but results in stilted, non-conversational language and is on a par with other annoying phrases such as:

7.   ‘Going forward’
Where? Into a black hole?

8.  ‘Thinking out the box’
Usually said by the most ‘in-the-box’ people

9.  Pushing the envelope
Does this mean taking risks? Making the work more challenging? Improving skills? It’s too unspecific to have any real meaning.

10.   ‘But’
I’m not saying that you have to avoid this but…..I was in a meeting and we were introduced to a new manager after a calamitous takeover. The room was bristling with dissatisfaction. He stood up (in a corner) and introduced himself, adding ‘I’m very understanding and I’m here if you need to talk but…(cue: guffaw from the audience)…but if anyone takes the mickey, there’ll be trouble.’ cue: heckles. Could this not have been reworded to ‘…of course, everyone has limits and I know that as a conscientious team, you won’t breach them.’? Use the word ‘but’ judiciously because it tends to weigh more on what comes after it than before in certain situations.

A presentation is a dialogue with one person speaking – at least, most of the time. Just like in a conversation, you need to be aware of the tone of your words, and, as in a conversation, give equal value to sounding natural and articulate (if you need to choose between those two, opt for the second one – just because you can!)

‘Why Aren’t They Listening To Me?’

notlisteningPicture this: you’re in a meeting and make, what you think, is a great suggestion. Everyone carries on talking. So, you repeat yourself. No response.

Twenty minutes later someone echoes your own suggestion and everyone stops as if they’ve heard the Divine Word and praises the speaker, leaving you totally flummoxed.

‘Why aren’t they listening to ME!’ cries your inner voice.

Here are a few tips to grab and maintain the attention of others: use in meetings, when managing up, down or sideways…

Use gesture

Vocal emphasis is key to speaking with enthusiasm and conviction.
Once you learn to use emphasis, your speaking will:

*look more engaging
*sound more interesting
*feel more comfortable

In order to emphasise effectively….

  1. use gesture in tandem with vocal emphasis
  2. vary vocal pitch and pause to underline important words/phrases
  3. maintain eye contact to the end of the sentence

Levels of information

Sometimes people go right for the detail when the listener wants the big picture or headlines. When there’s a mismatch in the level and quantity of information required, it can be a cause of communication frustration and is enough to flick the ‘off’ switch.

If you get too much detail, try phrases such as:

  1. ‘So, what you’re saying is…’
  2. ‘From what you’re saying, the main points are that…’
  3. ‘Right. Essentially, what I need to do is…’

If you need more information than you’re getting, use any of the following phrases:

  1. ‘Could you give me an example?’
  2. ‘Could you tell me more about……?’
  3. ‘What exactly would that be like…?’





I think the easiest way to answer this is to think about why we wouldn’t want to listen to someone before they even open their mouths.  Here’s a list of considerations:

  1. You don’t trust or like that person: you’re basing your opinion/feelings on previous contact.
  2. They physically cower, dominate, seem aggressive or passive aggressive or don’t look ‘genuine’:  how are they sitting/standing?  is there a false smile, slightly tightened jaw line or narrowed eyes?  Is there a ‘hard’ facial expression – that look in the eyes?  Does the person inappropriately mismatch the tone of the gathering, either physically or vocally?  Note, mismatching can be appropriate.  For example, if you want to energise a slumping group, you wouldn’t get very far if you slumped along with them!
  3. And…while I’m on mismatching…the pace of movement or speech seems to bother the listener.  Is it too fast and making you feel nervous?  Too slow and you feel frustrated?
  4. Vocally, they’re difficult to listen to: from the moment they open their mouths, you can’t understand the accent, hear the speech or the vocal tone is gruff or grating in some way.
  5. There’s inappropriate dress e.g. the probation officer giving a presentation as her top continued to ride up over her pregnant belly.  This slightly detracted from a serious message… or, and shall I be blunt here…?  Yes, why not…poor hygiene.  If someone has a strong personal smell, listening may be rather challenging since your sinuses are being coated with acidic aromas.
  6. You have external influences:  these could include too much noise from elsewhere distracting you; limited time; other priorities that you need to consider such as a deadlines, debt or darlings.  Or whatever – you get the picture!
  7. Physiological needs:  lack of sleep, needing the toilet or food, being too hot or cold could override anything going on around you, no matter how attention-grabbing the speaker may be.  In that case, deferring a conversation, allowing comfort breaks, breaking in food etc. will help immensely.
  8. From the speaker’s point of view belief and conviction in your message go a long way.  No matter about your posture, eye contact or voice, it’s the belief and conviction that you’ll project before you open your mouth and that can go a long way to drawing people in.


Let me tell you a story!

How to Spin a Good Yarn

Ever tried to get someone to change their beliefs or behaviour?  Often, the more we try, the more frustrating it can be.  This is where stories can be so effective as they depersonalise the personal: meaning and consequence ring out with a well chosen anecodote. You can pluck into a story with a pitch, presentation or when giving an appraisal.  In fact, stories generally enrich communication.

To come up with a tale to tell that strikes a chord, firstly, think why you’re telling your tale.   Here are some reasons:

If you’re thinking “Nope, still got no stories related to any of these!”   Then, just steal them: attribute them to someone else (and be careful to change details if you need to keep confidentiality).

Stephen Denning, author of the ‘The Springboard: How storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organisations’, told a short and powerful anecdote as Head of Knowledge Management at the World Bank.   He’d been banging his head up against a brick wall, trying to influence the spread of knowledge and know-how of the World Bank to create global change.   It’s only when he dumped the data, pie charts and graphs to tell a short personal story about a health worker in Kamana, Zambia that he started to create the change he needed in The World Bank.  The health worker was struggling to find a solution for treating malaria.   In this tiny and remote rural town the health worker logged on to the website of the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and found an answer.

‘This true story happened, not, as if in a fantasy, in 2015, but in June 1995…..but the most striking aspect of this picture is this: [The World Bank] doesn’t have its know-how and expertise organised so that someone like the health worker in Zambia can have access to it.   But just imagine if it did!’

And all the hard facts and PowerPoint pie charts couldn’t beat the impact of that tale that sparked the beginning of the journey into global knowledge management in the World Bank. And that’s the power of a good yarn


Want to comment on something?  Feel free to say what you think below…