Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Don't Underestimate the Power of First Impressions

We all heard the phrase, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  However, it is more powerful than most of us might think. Always “place your best foot forward” when making a first impression; otherwise, you will unfairly miss out on some great opportunities. At the very least, you are sure to “go down swinging.” 

Often, we make decisions based on biased perceptions because we do not always take in enough information to make sound decisions.  There are two main reasons for this: one, there is too much information in our environment causing “information overload.” Two, we “filter” out unwanted information selecting only information that confirms what we already know. This “selective listening” causes flawed or biased perceptions.

We like to think of ourselves as good people and consistent in that our behavior matches our values, beliefs, and attitudes.  As long as we have that “match,” we feel our decisions for the most part are good, and generally, we will stand by our decisions even if we had the chance to do them over again. 

When our behavior doesn’t match our beliefs—we slip into “cognitive dissonance.”  This dissonance causes us distress and disharmony triggering action to get the two back into harmony quickly.  We have at least two choices: we can change our thinking that is being threatened, or we can change our behavior. Reconciling dissonance affects first impressions in a big way.

In a job interview, the interviewer likely has perception biases too.  Given this assumption, she may instantly notice something unfavorable: your appearance, your dress, your handshake, or even the way you might answer the first question or two. More questions come and your responses may contradict her first impression; however, she won’t select that information because she already decided you will not be chosen; selecting contradictory information would cause her to have cognitive dissonance.

Amazingly, your answer on the 10th question is the only answer that confirms her earlier unfavorable impression and she immediately thinks, “Aha!  I knew I was right about you” thus, she is confident in her decision, and you unfairly missed out on an opportunity.

Monday, January 14, 2013

4 Strategies to Managing the “Jitters”

Would you like to earn higher grades?  Would you like to land your dream job? Would you like to earn a job promotion?  Would you like to earn more money?  Most folks would answer yes to these questions; however, only a few will do what it takes to realize these things. 

One way to successfully earning higher grades, getting the dream job or job promotion, and earning more money is learning to give effective presentations! 

Being afraid of presentations shouldn’t stop us from doing them. Don’t be afraid; don’t avoid them at all costs.  Here are a few strategies for harnessing the fear, and getting the fear to work for you: 

One, Stay positive.  Understand that the biological feelings we are having like the nervous stomach are natural and we all feel it.  We are outside our comfort zone and it makes us uneasy.  Use those biological feelings to your advantage; they will make you sharp and animated. 

Two, Be rational.  Think of the worse things that could happen. Then, be realistic, and see how they will not happen.  No one is going to laugh at you, no one is going to throw tomatoes at you, you will not forget everything (if you do forget something, so what?  The audience won’t know it). 

Three, Focus on the listeners.  Concentrate on the listener getting the information she/he came to hear.  Don’t look at a presentation as a performance.  Presentations are not about the presenter; they are about the audience.  I hate to tell you this; but, the audience really doesn’t care about you, your hairstyle, your dress, your nose, you weight, or anything else about you.  They care about the message you are giving. 

Four, Prepare early and practice.  An audience will get downright hostile if you come unprepared.  You owe it to them to be prepared.  Many students tell me they aren’t good at presentations after only preparing for one day.  I tell them that is not the case, you can be good at presentations, you simply are not good at preparation.

Follow these four tips and learn to practice as often as you can; you will also learn that the “jitters” or nervousness is normal and natural.  Take advantage of this adrenaline rush and use it to keep you sharp, look confident, and enthusiastic.  You will become good at presentations thus earning promotions, notoriety, prestige, better grades, more money, and better jobs.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Made to Stick

When giving instructions as a manager, or when speaking to groups, it is important to follow six principles.  All the statistics, charts, and graphs in the world won’t “stick” in people’s minds even close to the effectiveness of these principles.  And, that is our goal right—to say things in such a way that the listeners remember?

Chip Heath from the Business Graduate School of Stanford University and his brother and Dan Heath a former researcher at the Harvard Business School have documented these principles in their in depth studies on ”the stickiness factor” of getting audiences to remember what you say.

Principle 1:  Simplicity. Get your idea down to a one sentence statement
Principle 2.  Unexpectedness. Violate peoples expectations, do something they don’t expect.
Principle 3.  Concreteness. Make your idea clear.
Principle 4. Credibility. Get People to believe your idea.
Principle 5.  Emotions.  Get people emotionally involved in your idea.
Principle 6.  Stories.  Relate your ideas into stories people can connect to in their minds.  Use a narrative. 

These principles can be remembered using the following mnemonic:  SUCCES.
I have found that fitting all these principles into my presentations and giving instructions has vastly improved my effectiveness.  It will for you too.

Source: Made to Stick by Chip Heath & Dan Heath Random House New York 2007.