This blog is about the relationship between organizations and the people who work for them and the communities they operate in. And, it’s dedicated to the 100s of millions of people around the world who go to work every day wanting to do a great job.

Archive for February, 2012

The truth about the number 1 fear

Can it really be true that public speaking¬†is the number 1 fear of¬†ordinary people like you and me? Presentation coaches often say so. I should know because among other things I’m a presentation coach. But the evidence for the claim is underwhelming. Years ago Jerry Seinfeld used to open his comedy act with this story. “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking.¬†Number two is death. Death is number two. Does this seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Of course Jerry’s right this¬†doesn’t seem right. The facts are “most studies” haven’t found this. One study did.¬† The much quoted or referenced 1971 Bruskin Report, conducted¬†by the¬†U.S. marketing research firm R. H. Bruskin Associates for the [American] Travel Research Association.¬†The good folks at Travel Research wanted help dealing with¬†what they thought was a big marketing problem for the travel industry: Americans¬†fear of flying. Bruskin was delighted to be able to¬†help them out with their survey which, remarkably, showed ordinary Americans¬†were much more afraid of public speaking,¬†heights, insects, financial problems, deep water, sickness,¬†and even death than they were of flying. [Which proves, to carry on with Jerry’s logic that if your swimming in deep water and get a cramp you’d much rather drown than ask the crowd on the beach for help.] Since then surveys¬†have been conducted from time to time that report what everyone already knows that large numbers of¬†otherwise ordinary people are to some extent apprehensive, hesitant, shy or nervous about, fearful or afraid, call it what you will,¬†of public speaking. If this research proves anything it is that nervousness about public speaking –¬†to use one simple label for a complex collection of feelings and energies – is a normal part of what it means to be¬†human. It is not our¬†number 1 fear; and fear is the wrong word for most people;¬†it is¬†our most common shared experience. And I have come to believe it is an extremely useful thing. I don’t think any great presentation happens unless the presenter feels some nervousness before they go on. Too much¬†can hurt a presenter but so can too little. The key is to master your nervousness not eliminate it.

Here, for your consideration, are the musings of an expert on the subject of fear:

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
Permalink Communication No Comments

Want to know the secret to writing a great speech?

The other day I was listening to a speaker on TEDx¬†talk about the¬†secret to writing the great speech. She had me hooked. Afterall, in one part of my life I’m a speech writer. If anyone has found¬†the holy grail of speech writing –¬†the secret to writing a great speech –¬†I want to know it. The secret she said is the structure of the speech. All great speeches begin with the present (“I have a dream …”) then shift to the future (“One day all God’s children …”). And then¬†work back and forth between the present and the future drawing their audience forward in the dramatic tension between what is and what will be. Great, only one problem. It isn’t true.

The great speeches aren’t all structured in this single way. Pick up William Safire’s collection of the world’s great speeches, Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History. You’ll quickly discover¬†¬†other ways. Examples? Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address (“Four score and seven years ago …”¬†) begins with the past not the present. John F. Kennedy’s opening statement in the televised Nixon-Kennedy Presidential Debate also begins with the past (“In the election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln said …”).¬†Mark Twain’s much celebrated¬†recounting of his battle with stage fright¬†begins with the present (“My heart goes out in sympathy to anyone who …”) but then shifts sharply to the past not the future¬†(“I recall the occasion of my first appearance …”) and then resolutely stays there. I could go on but I leave it to you to discover the many other structures that provide the scaffolding for great speeches.

What can we learn from this? There isn’t one right way. You can succeed in a thousand different ways. Have a look at Saffire’s collection. It’s worth your careful study even if your next talk is a Monday morning briefing at Bombardier and not the opening of the United Nations in New York.

The secret to a great speech?¬† There isn’t one right way.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, February 23rd, 2012
Permalink Communication, Corporate communication No Comments

Connecting for big business benefits

This morning I came across three articles. Three different perspectives. Same conclusion. The more connected we are as leaders and as organizations the better.

Perspective 1 –¬†CEOs.¬†A study of 65 chief executives from around the world discovered that CEOs spend an average of 6 hours out of their 55-hour work week alone. The remainder of the time is spent in business meetings [virtual and face-to-face] and lunches and on the phone. CEOs may not like it, but it is how their work gets done and confirms Henry Mintzberg‘s seminal study “The nature of managerial work” ¬†[1973].

Perspective 2: Leadership teams.¬†In their new book Strategy & Business, Rob Cross and Jon Katzenbach describe how: “In most companies, the phrase top team is a misnomer…” Instead, they go on to say: ¬†[P]ower comes from … members’ informal and social networks, their determination to make the most of those connections, and their ability to work well in subgroups formed to address specific issues… [A]s much as 90 per cent of the information that most senior executives receive and take action on comes throughout their informal networks – not formal reports or databases.” The conclusion: Enriching networks enriches organizations.

Perspective 3: Organizations.¬†“Web 2.0 … promote[s] significantly more flexible processes at internally networked organizations: respondents say that information is shared more readily and less hierarchically, collaboration across organizational silos is more common, and tasks are more often tackled in a project-based fashion.” This study goes on to demonstrate that the more networked an organization the more business benefits. If you, or your leadership team, ever had any doubts it’s worth taking a look.

Connecting is what we as human beings do. We’re social creatures. Our organizational work gets done with, and through, other people.

Helping your employees connect. A little idea with huge potential business benefits.

It’s a potentially beautiful thing.

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Staying in touch with reality

The single most challenging thing facing my clients is staying in touch with reality.

And, the pace of change just makes it harder.

It’s easier to assume we know what we don’t, or can’t, know. After all we have to get onto the next pressing issue.

It’s easier to react and respond rather than ask¬†‘why?

In a way, it may be as¬†Marshall McLuhan described it:¬†‚ÄúIn our time we are reliving at high speed the whole of the human past.¬† As in a speeded-up film, we are traversing all ages, all experience, including the experience of prehistoric man.‚ÄĚ And, he added: “You can turn it off.”

And, maybe that’s what we’re doing. ¬†Maybe, in order to survive we’re just turning it off.

What’s great about McLuhan, though, is that if you didn’t like that idea¬†he has another one: ¬†‚ÄúWith the acceleration of change, management now takes on entirely new functions.¬† While navigating admidst the unknown is becoming the normal role of the executive, the new need is not merely to navigate but to anticipate effects with their causes.‚ÄĚ

But in turning it off we’re missing that this¬†time of change is also a time of incredible opportunity. Those who’ll succeed and thrive, it won’t be because of random luck. ¬†It won’t be because they’re comfortable with, and embrace, ambiguity. It will be because they’ve¬†stayed in touch with the¬†reality¬†of what is changing and what is staying the same and what the implications of those changes are in relationship to their values and highest aspirations.

In your organization, do your leaders know what they don’t know?

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Deborah Hinton Friday, February 17th, 2012
Permalink Culture, Management, Work 2 Comments

“Just hire a Dalek”

Last week I checked out a Kevin Rose interview with Chris Sacca thanks to a referral from Mitch Joel’s blog. ¬†For those of you who are like me and not part of the geek tech world, Kevin is the founder of Digg and serial start-up guy and Chris¬†is a tech investor whose investments include things like Twitter.¬†The interview is, as Mitch promised, an interesting look at this world.

Near the end, Chris describes the kinds of people he likes to work with and that he would hire or invest in. ¬†As you might expect, they aren’t your usual Corporate criteria. I thought his take was pretty interesting and worth repeating here.

To start with, ¬†you need to be the kind of person that Chris would like to hang out with. ¬†I think we can assume that you need to be smart. ¬†But you’ve also:

  1. Done at least one tough job – you’ve gotten your hands dirty doing real work
  2. Lived and worked in a foreign country – it’s humbling living somewhere where you don’t speak the language or understand the culture
  3. Played sports – you’re more likely to be balanced about the boundaries between work and life

Though not essential but good to have: you’ve gone to and excelled at college. ¬†He particularly likes a liberal arts education. You learn how to think.

Otherwise, according to Chris he can “Just hire a Dalek”. ¬†Just a bit harsh… ¬†But what do you think? Is there anything we as leaders can learn from Chris’s criteria?

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Deborah Hinton Tuesday, February 14th, 2012
Permalink Culture, Workplace No Comments

On becoming a zero email company

One year ago today,¬†Atos Origin‘s CEO and Chairman, Thierry Breton, announced Atos Origin would [like to] become a zero email company within three years.

At the time, Mr Breton said:

‚ÄúWe are producing data on a massive scale that is fast polluting our working environments and also encroaching into our personal lives. At Atos Origin we are taking action now to reverse this trend, just as organizations took measures to reduce environmental pollution after the industrial revolution.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúThe volume of emails we send and receive is unsustainable for business. Managers spend between 5 and 20 hours a week reading and writing emails. They are already using social media networking more than search, and spend 25 per cent of their time searching for information. At Atos Origin, for example, we have set up collaboration tools and social community platforms, to share and keep track of ideas on subjects from innovation and Lean Management through to sales. Businesses need to do more of this – email is on the way out as the best way to run a company and do business.‚ÄĚ

In their press release they also reported that:

  • By 2013, more than half of all new digital content will be the result of updates to, and editing of existing information
  • Online social networking is now more popular than email and search
  • Middle managers spend more than 25% of their time searching for information
  • 2010 : Corporate users receive 200 mails per day, 18% of which is spam.”

Atos Origin has created a page on their site that expands on their position and approach –¬†here.

I’m curious about how they are doing on their mission to become a zero email company. ¬†Good, bad or indifferent there will be lessons here. ¬†So, I’ve asked them – by email [oh dear!].

As for the rest of us, over the past year I think we’ve all been feeling the pressure. Virtually all “organizational” men and women are increasingly tethered to email through their mobile devises 24/7.¬†We’re initiating, receiving and responding more.

When you add email to all of the other ways we are sending and receiving information it can all be a bit overwhelming.

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Let’s hope Atos has some good news and a few insights about their journey so far that they are willing to share! Standby.


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Deborah Hinton Tuesday, February 7th, 2012
Permalink CEO, Communication, Culture No Comments

Do you know the 3 best headline writing tricks ever … anyone can do, guaranteed!

Today, I was reading an article in IABCs Communication World – “What can we learn from the ‘real world'” – by Steve Crencenzo. Steve advises companies on how to¬†write headlines so employees, customers and other people they want to influence will read what they have to say. He suggests that you write your headlines the way newsstand magazines like Cosmopolitan do. Cosmo, he explains uses three basic tricks to hook your interest: use lists, directly address your audience and use dot, dot, dots.

For example:

  • 10 sure-fire ways to have the best sex ever!
  • You can be a sex goddess now!
  • Admit it … you definitely need more great sex!

Wow, I thought that sure beats the typical headlines you see in corporate writing, such as:

  • Speed and disintermediation
  • Reputation management is strategic management
  • Local values, global view

Granted, as Steve points out, Cosmo has got a big advantage. It’s selling sex. Most companies have a less appealing product. But as Steve also points out Cosmo doesn’t rely just on sex to sell their magazine. Afterall a lot of magazines are selling sex. Cosmo uses a far more powerful weapon: the headline hooks.

The big question is: should you try to use these hooks in your business writing?¬†My take is if you do be careful.¬†If you have something important to tell people great. If not the hooks are not a substitute. And you may turn people off using them even if you have something to say because, let’s face it – they’re manipulative. And that’s not sexy.

What’s your take?

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Michael Hinton Friday, February 3rd, 2012
Permalink Communication, Corporate communication No Comments

You have a presentation to make

You get there just in time, find the room, and¬†grab an empty seat. The event begins and you sit patiently listening to the other speakers and making small talk with the people at your table. Finally, after an hour and half of waiting, it’s your turn. You look around the room as you’re being introduced.¬†The applause begins. You take your time getting to your feet, shake hands with the people at your table, and make your way in slow measured steps to the lectern. Taking out your notes, you straighten your jacket, clear your throat, and¬†looking back at the screen where your PowerPoint slides are flashing you begin: “I hope¬†everybody can hear me. These don’t look like the right slides.”

What do you think is the single greatest mistake made by this presenter?¬† There are a great many, but one might you might have missed is: “you sit patiently listening to the¬†other speakers and … .”

Recently I had a conversation with my friend Mitch Joel, the marketing guru who wrote the book Six Pixels of Separation, and writes the newspaper column and blog by the same name.  Mitch is president of the Montreal-based marketing agency Twist Image and makes a lot of high-profile keynote presentations. Anything he says about presentation I listen to. You might want to as well. What does he do before the presentation begins? He said that in the time immediately before he goes on he focuses entirely on what he is going to say, his message, and getting his energy up. Pacing up and down. Rehearsing before a mirroir. Whatever it takes. You might not give many keynote presentations, so you might not think you have to go to all this effort.  After all it takes alot of dedication, concentration, and discipline, to be a professional speaker, but then again you might want to give it a try. It just might be what you need to do:

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, February 1st, 2012
Permalink Communication No Comments