Holiday gathering etiquette & those tricky conversations

    The holidays may well be a time of good cheer, great food and lots to drink – but throw in close family members, moody relatives and new partners and suddenly things can get a whole lot less ‘cheery’.

    So here is the ultimate guide to steering clear of those awkward holiday conversations and keeping everyone smiling and …still talking to each other!

    Timing is everything
    It’s all gameplay and judgement. People will check the time of your arrival and come to irrational conclusions based on that information. You can’t actually win here, but at least make your arrival a Goldilocks arrival. Not too early…. never too late. There’s no point in losing early points over something you have complete control over*

    *Winter storm warning. OK, sometimes, you don’t have complete control and the weather/car/airline can screw your best laid plans. When this happens – always connect with your hosts at the earliest opportunity to lay the groundwork for your tardy arrival. Never leave them all in the dark and arrive – staggering in under piles of excuses.

    Deal with it early
    Got difficult announcements to make? Get them out of the way nice and early. Once said – the venom, recriminations, tears and blame can all be dealt with before the turkey comes out the oven!! In addition – pick your location carefully! Revealing the shocking news while standing around the kitchen is a whole lot easier than when trapped around the holiday table!

    If you are the recipient of the “life change” announcement – try to hold back the rage/tears/questions and let them tell you the whole story first! This approach may well temper your eventual response and takes a lot of the heat out of the eventual conflict!

    Keep an eye – on yourself
    With the alcohol flowing and the familiar surroundings – it can be understandably easy to conversationally ‘let go’. Sometimes… that can lead to trouble! Take a moment to consciously ‘buffer’ your thoughts and words before they stream out. Imagine you are at work – before issuing your sweeping statements on healthcare or Miley Cyrus – double check with your boss (yourself!!) first!!

    Big City – big envy! (big rats)
    If you moved to an exciting city or a cool new location – always remember that those who stayed behind are nowhere near as excited as you are about those cool bars and Michelin-starred chefs. When you finally get back home – play it down to keep things on an even keel! The correct etiquette is to always adapt to your host.

    This rings true in all situations. So, if YOU are the one now living in a small town and heading to the big city to be with family for the holidays – try not to condemn the noise, filth and occasional rats – if it’s what makes your host be it!!

    What did I just say??
    As the meal progresses, keep a close eye on everyone – they will always DISPLAY upset before they say anything. Leaning back, crossing arms, raising eyes – all good indicators that you might have just said “the wrong thing”!! This is the L-WAR – a battle we fight in business but also with friends and family. It is the key to communication excellence. Listen, Watch, Anticipate…and then respond/react!! If you see a negative physical response, try to ‘rescue’ the situation before the words come out!

    Look, a squirrel!
    When you sense that a conversation might be heading in the wrong direction – immediately ‘remember’ something fascinating that you recently saw and distract people – it’s the conversational equivalent of actually releasing a squirrel into the house – you should get the same result…distraction!

    Storming out!
    Do not attempt to dramatically storm out. Unless you have meticulously planned the ‘performance exit’ (with bags already packed and in the car) you will invariably have to come back to ‘get your stuff’ – an event which somewhat nullifies the original departure.

    Don’t go there
    Unless you want to start World War 3 – try your best to avoid: Politics and Religion. They may be the subjects about which you have most passion…but it’s that very passion that will stoke the fires of battle leaving your holiday table resembling the battlefields of Sparta.

    Happy Holidays!!

    PS – “The Art of Business Influence – Selling without Selling” – the innovative and engaging e-learning course from Mark Jeffries is available now! The course is HERE

    Group Thank You – The biggest insult of all!

    In the corporate world, there are times when, as leaders, you want to recognize your team. You understand that people work for a salary but sometimes an additional recognition is desirable.

    Ever since childhood, we as humans, appreciate it when we are singled out for praise, recognition or gratitude. This need does not go away in adult life, in fact it remains as strong and as necessary (now for our development, job-appreciation and self-worth) as it was when we were kids.

    For these reasons, and many more, I am declaring that the “Group Thank You”, bunching everyone together in a single emailed note, is utterly worthless.

    “Group Thank You” is, in fact, the greatest insult of all. Here is why:

    Whether working as a team or a small group, each individual believes and hopes that their own unique contribution significantly added to the success of a project. When a leader simply can’t be bothered to define why any one member of the team did something worthy of additional recognition, they are declaring to everyone that actually nothing outstanding has taken place and they ‘weren’t watching anyway’!

    When treated as a group each individual’s pride evaporates as it is simply not recognized.

    “A big thank you to everyone who pulled together and really made yesterday the success that it was – thanks again you should all be proud” …

    …is pretty much the same as saying…

    “I actually don’t know who half of you are, or what any of you actually do, but here’s my contractually required statement”.

     However, an email directed at one person recognizing a specific act or contribution pays huge dividends and, as an added bonus, creates long-lasting loyalty.

    Now here’s a message that wins points for everyone concerned:

    “Sarah, keeping the registration desk going under such trying conditions yesterday was very impressive and I truly appreciate everything you did under all of that pressure.”

    Yes, it will take you, as a leader a little more time. It will also require you to actually observe and note what your people are doing and how they are adding to the success of your enterprise. But when you take the time to recognize people in a thoughtful manner, team morale and loyalty rise significantly and the payback for you increases exponentially.

    From now on the ‘Group Thank You’ must be confined to the junk folder where it belongs.

    4 Ways to upgrade your Presentation

    Here is a question for you: if you heard yourself speaking on the radio would you stay listening or flip to the next channel? Here’s another one: When you look at your slide deck does it excite you or fill you with regret?

    These are some tough questions that you need to answer especially as Spring Conference season is here and the audiences are on their way! If you have a presentation to give over the next few weeks, check out these four essential guidelines to either add to your success or at least stop you from being “evaluation score” condemned by an audience!!


    Nobody will ever come up to you after your presentation and say, “I wish you had gone on for longer”. No matter the level, intellect or industry – all audiences have “other things to do”, so your presentation should never take their time without very good reason. Every minute that audience gives to you, you need to make worthwhile. All too often, I see people delivering a speech across 40 minutes that only needed 20. So, be honest with yourself and with your audience – with only 20 minutes worth of truly valuable insight and content, you should only take 20 minutes of people’s time! If you really want to win on timing – end it early. When an audience has an expectation of, say 30 minutes and you end after, say 25 minutes, it’s seen as a great and unexpected ‘gift of time’!!

    LIFE by Powerpoint:

    We’ve all heard the phrase “Death by Powerpoint”, and most of us have suffered its effects. This happens for only one reason “WORDS ON A SLIDE”. It’s just like “SNAKES ON A PLANE” – They are unwelcome, inadvisable and can lead to an early death!! Too many people use their powerpoint slide deck as a script. it is NOT a script, it should simply be an illustration of your ideas. Show graphics, charts, images, screengrabs and infograms. The second you start showing paragraphs of words two important things happen: Your audience starts to reading and, as a result, stop listening! If you want to give them words to read, simply present them with a handout and sit yourself down! Use PowerPoint or keynote or prezi as simply an illustration of your wonderful message.

    Pace down/Punch up:

    When I used to host TV shows in the UK, I was trained to speak in a certain style. I was told that an On-Air voice should sound interesting, passionate and compelling. The reason? Well, if you sounded like you were interested in what was being discussed, hopefully the viewers would be convinced and stay on your channel. The same is fundamentally true in your presentation. Do you SOUND interesting? Forget the content for a second – what is your tone like? Does your voice have a rhythm and melody that, when heard, is both easy and compelling? Are you speaking too fast (Clue: yes) – slow down and give yourself time to articulate! The best way to test yourself out is to record yourself on any audio device discussing your topic. Listen back to it (yeah, I know, it’s not easy). Would you want to listen to yourself?? If not, add some animation – some punch – to your voice and win over that audience!!

    Bonus tip:
    Provide “Write-down” facts for your audience. Here’s the rule – if you think that your fact, the thing you are going to talk about is interesting enough for members of your audience to write down and take away with them – keep it in!! If not, you may need to seriously consider brutally hacking it off the presentation all together. The rule is this: You have to either entertain or inform an audience – if you are doing neither – you may need to call a taxi!

    It has been shown over and over again that those people who can command an audience always rise quickly to the top – make sure that person is you!!