Get Web Meetings off to the Right Start!

men on computerby Joanie Connell

Want to waste less time in web meetings waiting for the technology to work? Follow these tips to make your virtual meetings more efficient.

There are numerous tools out there for making virtual meetings possible, such as GoToMeeting, WebEx, Skype, and so on. The problem is, however, not everyone has the software installed or knows how to use it. Even if one person in your meeting is not up to speed, it can slow down the entire meeting. We’ve all experienced this, probably more than once. The key to preventing a frustrating delay is to prepare in advance and to make sure attendees are prepared too.

  • For a very important or first time virtual meeting, send out invitations ahead of time and have people practice getting connected ahead of time. “If you don’t test it, it’s not going to work, no matter how confident you are,” grumbled one seasoned executive.
    • Make sure people have the correct software downloaded for the meeting. Also, make sure they have computers that are able to handle a web meeting. Some people have limited processing power or very old computers.
    • Have people test their audio and video as needed. Many people don’t know that they need headsets for a good audio connection or how to change the volume on their computer or how to mute. Some people also don’t realize that some headsets don’t have audio inputs and they won’t understand why no one can hear them.
    • Have a backup alternative to computer audio. Offering a dial-in number for people to call in on their phones can reduce time wasted getting technology to work. Most people know how to do a conference call.
    • Tell people that they should have a good internet connection to attend a web meeting. A cellular connection is a last resort and public wifi is asking for trouble. As nice as it is to conference in from home, you may need to go to the office to have the right hardware and IT support if needed.
  • Include an alternative way to contact you in the meeting invitation. Email, cell phone, and Skype chat are some suggestions. If someone cannot get on the meeting, they will need to find a way to get in touch. Make sure you have a way to reach attendees as well, in case you need to call them to help them out or give them instructions for an alternative course of action.
  • Ask people to get there 15 minutes early. This means that people may start sitting down at their computers 15 minutes early and after they realize they need to install software, find headsets that will work, and get logged in, they will be there on time.
  • As the host, get there 15 minutes early to help people with technical problems.
  • Send out the meeting information again 30 minutes before the meeting. This will remind people that they need to get started ahead of time and clue in the clueless where the meeting will be held.
  • If you are the presenter and you have resources, have someone else set up the meeting and deal with problems that arise while you focus on the meeting.

The most important tip is to expect complications and don’t let them stop you from being productive. I recommend proceeding with the meeting and letting latecomers add on as they can. It sets the expectation that people need to be prepared so this won’t keep happening. In any case, here are some tips for backup solutions.

  • Email out slides or resources for people to follow along in case they can’t see them on their screens.
  • Record the meeting and make it available to people who could not get connected in a timely fashion.
  • Have a conference call number available in case it’s so bad you decide to abort the web meeting entirely.

If you like these tips, you may also like my tips for getting technology to work for in-person presentations.

Tech Tips for Presentations

  man on computerBy Joanie Connell

How much time do you waste in meetings—in web meetings or in person—waiting for the technology to work? Here are some tips for making your meetings more efficient.

  • Find out what kind of technology you’ll be using for your presentation.
    • Your own laptop? USB or other connector? If you have an Apple computer, make sure there is a plug adaptor for the projector cable.
    • Someone else’s computer? Apple or PC? What software is installed on the computer?
    • Do you need audio for your presentation? If so, make sure there will be sound.
    • Do you need the Internet for your presentation? Figure out wifi or other connections in advance, not to mention firewalls and passwords needed.
  • Get there early to set up and make sure it works.
    • If you can do a dry run the day before, that is the best in case there is a problem.
    • If it’s “just in time,” get there at least a half hour early. I recommend 45 minutes but some people won’t be willing to meet you that early. Perhaps you can meet the IT person early to set up.
    • If the person who is hosting you is not tech savvy, get someone who is to help you out, like an IT person. If something goes wrong, you’ll need them. Ask them to stick around for 5 minutes after you start to make sure everything is going smoothly. If the meeting is critical, have the IT person stay the whole time.

I gave a presentation last week in an auditorium full of people. I followed the steps above and still had a major tech failure. Per the host’s instructions, I put my presentation files on a memory stick and plugged it into his laptop. I opened the PowerPoint presentation and tested the videos I was planning to use a half hour before the meeting. Everything worked perfectly. Then, between the times that others spoke and when I got up to speak, the computer ran a hardware scan and installed some updates. (It was clear he hadn’t used his laptop in some time.) When I got up to speak, my video files were blocked. There I stood, in front of an auditorium full of people, trying to figure out why my videos wouldn’t run, wishing I had insisted on using my own laptop.

This is why it is important to always have a backup solution (or two or three). Here are some tips for backup solutions.

  • If you are using your own laptop, bring a memory stick with the presentation in case you have to switch to someone else’s computer.
  • If you are supposed to use someone else’s computer, bring your own laptop anyway. Bring a power cable! Bring extra cables to connect with various projectors and the Internet. Some people still use old equipment and not everyone has wifi available.
  • If you need the Internet for your presentation, bring a wireless modem. However, I highly recommend you find a way around depending on an Internet connection for your presentation. Download the files ahead of time if possible. You may find you’re presenting in a cinderblock room in the middle of a building and there is no signal on your cellular modem.
  • Make a PDF copy of your presentation.
  • Bring paper (yes paper!) copies of handouts.
  • Email out slides or resources to the host and/or participants ahead of time.

The most important backup solution is to bring your sense of humor along. Stay flexible and move forward even if the technology doesn’t work. Talk through a video example, write on the white board (bring pens!), or turn it into an interactive discussion. It’s even better if you have a backup plan thought out in advance, but no matter what; don’t let a technology glitch stop you from getting your message across. Humans have been communicating for centuries without computers. We haven’t lost the ability yet.

 

Saying “No” to your Boss without Hurting your Career

by Joanie Connell

For most of us, it’s no on the handhard to say “no”—if not all of the time, at least in some situations. One such situation is when you think it might harm your career. Ironically, sometimes, not saying “no” might actually hurt your career more. Examples are: when you are being asked to do something illegal or immoral, or something that you will not succeed at. You might not succeed at a task because you are too busy to do it well or because you aren’t skilled enough to do it well. In either case, it will reflect badly on you when you fail.

When I tell people they need to be able to say ”no,” they often balk and say that they can’t say “no” to their boss. Then I say, “How about if you say ‘yes’ to your boss?” Their eyes light up when I tell them it’s possible to say “yes” and “no” at the same time. Try the models below.

  • “Yes. If I do this then I won’t be able to do that… Which do you think is more important?”
    • Boss: “Could you take on the budget proposal for the new product we’re developing?”
    • You: “Yes, absolutely. I’m currently working on the financial analysis of the old product though. If I take on the budget for the new product, I won’t be able to finish the analysis as quickly and I had originally estimated. Which do you think is more important to do first?”
  • “Yes. If I do it in that timeframe, however, it won’t be my best work. I could offer to do this instead… What do you think would be best?”
    • Boss: “Could you write up the 40-page report by tomorrow morning?”
    • You: “Yes, I’d be happy to. If I write 40 pages in one day, though, it won’t be polished. If I had till the end of the week, I’d have time to go over it a second time and proofread it. What do you think would be best?”
  • “Yes. Would it be okay to delegate that to …?”
    • Boss: “Could you manage the offsite planning?”
    • You: “Yes, I’d be happy to be responsible for it. Would it be okay to delegate the work to Marnie? She’s looking for more leadership opportunities and is good with logistics.”

These exact phrases may not fit with your style, but you get the idea. You accept the work with full disclosure of the sacrifice (not completing other work, not your best quality work, or not you actually doing the work) and give your boss the opportunity to decide what is more important. If your boss says, for example, that she doesn’t need your best quality on a 40-page report, just a rough draft, or maybe even an outline, then you’ve brought it down to a reasonable task in a short timeframe. If your boss says he needs it to be top quality and would rather wait, then you have turned it into a reasonable timeframe to complete the task.

Bosses don’t want their people to fail. It reflects badly on them too when you fail. They want the work done and done well and done on time. You need to speak up when you won’t be able to deliver. A positive way to do that is to help the boss find solutions, rather than raise obstacles. Bosses like solutions. And the bosses who don’t like to hear “no” like to be able to decide what is more important. If you give them that opportunity with the models above, then you will be able to keep your head above water too.

Empowering Millennials

 “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.” ― Adrienne Rich

helping handStructured mentoring is the rage right now. Millennials love it! Not only do they love it, but they expect it and they need it—at least they think they need it. They’ve been programmed to think they need it from years of coaching and personal tutoring. They’ve been taught to believe they don’t have the power within themselves to get the answers. I don’t believe that’s true.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the workplace it’s that effective people take responsibility for their own development. They don’t wait around for the company to hand them a mentor and a plan. Effective people take action to get things done. They don’t wait around for someone to help them. That’s not to say that effective people don’t ask for help; they do. They seek help when they need it and find a way to keep moving forward when it’s not available. That’s because effective people have personal power.

powerHaving personal power means feeling confident in your abilities and knowing you can access the resources you need to accomplish what you want to. It means having a level of control over yourself and the world around you. It is about knowing what you can and cannot control. It is about thinking for yourself and being true to yourself. Personal power enables you to get things done.

Managers regularly complain to me that the new generation of workers needs too much “hand holding.” “They aren’t independent enough.” “They need directions and feedback at every step of the way.” How do we empower the Millennials to be able to fend for themselves? Mentoring is a good thing. I don’t knock that. But we need to ask ourselves if we are truly empowering Millennials by setting up so many structured mentoring programs for them. Could we, in fact, be disempowering them in the process? Could we be “enabling” them to remain helpless and dependent on others? By cowing to their mentoring demands, aren’t we continuing to send them the message that they can’t do it on their own?

As a consultant, one of the first things that we are taught is what the client needs is often not what the client asks for. For example, a client might call up asking for a training program for their team. Upon further examination, we might find out that it’s really the leader who needs training on how to lead the team.

Millennials ask for mentoring. They also ask to have their parents come on their job interviews. Companies are meeting these demands by providing what is asked for. But these respobird flyingnses don’t address the root of the issue: Millennials need to become more independent and self-empowered (and their parents need to back off). If we’re going to mentor young people to be effective in the workplace, that’s the message we need to send.

Rearing Resilience

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

–Frederick Douglass

1st place ribbonI went to a youth music competition this weekend.  There were 12 musicians in the age category I watched.  They varied a great deal in their ability.  After an hour of performances, the judges announced the winners.  There were 2 First Place winners, 4 Second Place winners and 6 Third Place winners.  Everyone won.  I overheard one of the Third Place winners asking her parents if Third Place was really Last Place.  The parents looked at her, not knowing what to say as she took the medal off her chest and put it away.  She wasn’t fooled.

crying babyThere is a movement toward sparing the feelings of children when they lose, make a mistake, fail, or simply aren’t the best at something.  We raise our children in a culture where “everyone’s a winner.”  However, when they grow up and find out that only very few people get into the best colleges and very few end up in their dream jobs right out of school, they are dumbfounded and caught off guard, and they crumple in defeat.  We aren’t preparing our children to survive in a world where everyone really isn’t a winner.

Resilience is probably the most important quality for success at work and life. Being able to stay strong, even in the worst of times, is what leads to success. It is the rare individual who goes through life without adversity. In fact, it would be surprising if there were any such people. Some people face greater adversity than others and have to be strong to get through it. For example, think of cancer survivors, kids who have escaped from neighborhood gangs, Holocaust survivors, or the Lost Boys of Sudan. How did they endure? What kept them going? It was inner strength and optimism. They never gave up.

Hopefully, none of us will have to face such severe adversity, but it is important to be able to get through what adversity we do encounter. How do we develop the inner strength to stay strong? We train for it just like we do for everything else. We start out small with low levels of adversity, such as not getting the piece of candy we want, working out our differences with our school friends, and learning from a failing grade that we have to study for tests. We move onto bigger problems to get through, such as handling the pain of breaking an arm or getting stitches, denting the car and having to pay for it ourselves, and working through our first heartbreak. Then we move onto even bigger things, such as learning to live with a difficult roommate, turning down an evening out with friends to save for the rent, and sticking it out at a miserable summer job. These experiences prepare us for the critical ones that require us to draw from our strength to get through trying circumstances and forge optimistically ahead.

Successful people are resilient.

Why Is Pregnancy a Women’s Problem?

baby at laptopBy Joanie Connell

Babies are a part of life. We were all babies once. Most of us will have babies. And, whether or not we do, we need babies to continue our society. So, why is it that the burden of having babies has landed completely on women?

The recent HBR discussion on whether women are obligated to tell potential employers that they are pregnant when they interview is a great example of how women are blamed for having babies. The conundrum is: tell the potential employer and don’t get hired or don’t tell the potential employer and be called a liar. It’s a lose-lose situation for pregnant women looking for work.

Are men liars if they don’t tell their potential employers that they have medical conditions that might affect their work? It’s interesting that pregnancy is considered a medical condition that needs to be disclosed, even though people have fought hard to have the right to privacy over their medical issues. The disability act requires employers to find a way to deal with a disability, but why don’t employers have the same obligation to find a way to deal with pregnancy? Isn’t that gender biased?

In an ideal society, we’d all be honest with each other and give each other warning when things were about to change. But this is not an ideal society. Employers don’t do it and neither do employees. Why are women held to a higher standard?

More to the point, however, is that we all have to bear the cost of having babies and we all get to reap the benefits of having babies too. We think so often about how people who don’t have babies are saddled with the cost of other people (especially women) having babies. But, could it actually be the other way around? It could be argued that people who don’t have babies are free riders of a sort.

The problem with the blame game is that it blocks productivity. We’ve seen this on a large scale, for example, when Congress disagrees on the budget and when presidents are investigated. Our government comes to a standstill. People get so rooted into a position that they bring everyone down disagreeing. They’re fighting for win-lose but everyone loses.

Pregnant womanWe’re asking the wrong questions about pregnancy at work. We shouldn’t be thinking at the granular level of what he said/she said or if he/she should hire this person or that. The reason why women are losing out is that employers keep thinking at the level of “would this person be better for me over the next 3 months” rather than what is the best solution for the company over the long-term? This is a pennywise, pound foolish approach. Women are losing wages and opportunity and companies are losing access to a huge portion of the productive workforce.

Let’s turn pregnancy into a win-win proposition by asking ourselves to challenge our current assumptions and think in new and creative ways. Wouldn’t we all be more productive if we started implementing solutions rather than blaming and harping on problems of pregnancy at work—if we found ways to leverage the productivity of pregnant women and mothers, rather than write them off as being less worthy? Wouldn’t we all be better off if we found a way to collectively bring in the next generation of leaders and employees while supporting the current leaders and employees? Think of how much more we could get done!

Pregnancy is not a women’s problem. It is a part of life that can drain or regenerate our society, depending on how we handle it.

Why Have Good Character?

cheatBy Joanie Connell

One evening several years back, my husband, daughter and I were sitting around the kitchen table after dinner. My husband got up and went into the pantry and shut the door behind him. I heard a bunch of rustling noises, like plastic bags being handled. I couldn’t for the life of me think of why my husband would go into the pantry and shut the door, and what he could possibly be doing in there. Then all of a sudden I remembered that I had hidden all of the Halloween candy in there! He was eating it! What do you think I did? I covered for him in front of my daughter then I took a turn!

Yes, I still do feel guilty about it, 8 years later. It just doesn’t seem right to tell my daughter that she can’t eat candy but I can. But how many of us do this? How many parents hold their children to different standards than they hold themselves? It occurs in various forms.

  • The children should get all A’s even though the parents didn’t.
  • The children should cross at the crosswalk, even though the parents don’t.
  • The children should never lie, even though the parents do.
  • The children should not drink alcohol before the legal age, even though the parents did.
  • The children should perform community service, but the parents don’t.

Children learn character from their parents. They catch us in a lie. They ask why it is okay to tell Grandma that her cake was delicious even though we threw it away. They hear us yelling at other drivers from the car. They see whether we return the shopping cart, whether we come to a full stop at the intersection, whether we download music from iTunes or someone else’s computer.

But we shouldn’t just have good character for our kids. We should have it for ourselves first and foremost. And if we don’t have good character for ourselves or our kids, we should have it because society needs people of character for it to succeed. If we all let ourselves go, looking out for no one but ourselves, cheating the rules, and ignoring requests, we will all lose. Humans are social beings; we need each other to survive. Why not treat each other well in the process?

Women in Leadership: What We Deal With

by Joanie Connell

woman and man tug of warI was carpooling recently with three business colleagues, all male. One of them noticed someone in the car ahead cutting us off. He blurted out, “It’s a woman!” All of us looked a little surprised. One of the other men in the car said, “At least he didn’t say it must be a woman!” to the rest of us. The first colleague then went on to say that “the two worst things for our country were letting women drive and letting them vote.”

Yes, this happened in the year 2014. A man said that out loud, in a business context, with a woman present. He’s lucky he didn’t receive a black-belt-level kick in the back of the head from me at the time and he’s lucky now that he is remaining anonymous in this blog.

woman leader climbing ladderFor all you people out there who think that sexism and other “isms” are gone, you are wrong. I heard from another colleague just the other day that women leaders take time off to have babies and they shouldn’t progress to the top because of that. This was a woman speaking in the context of a discussion of why the percentage of women on Fortune 100 Boards has not increased over the years.

Yes, this was also 2014. A woman said that women shouldn’t be leaders of Fortune 100 companies because they have babies. She’s lucky I had an appointment to get to at the time and she’s lucky to remain anonymous in this blog too. Babies? All women? Never be top leaders? Don’t even get me started.

I’ve never been one of those people who can produce a zinger of a response in the moment. In fact, I still don’t even have zingers for these two people. It’s just too big for a zinger. I need a manuscript.

But what I want to say to you, the reader, is that, no matter what anyone tells you, it is challenging for women to be leaders even still. For all of you who think that sexism and other “isms” are a thing of the past, beware. They aren’t. And how are you to deal with that? The question to ask yourself is, do you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution? Do you value equality? If so, it’s time to take a look at how you put this value into play. I’d like to challenge you to challenge others in their beliefs and in their behaviors.

I didn’t tell you what I said to these folks and the many others I’ve had to deal with saying disparaging comments about women to me, but I can assure you that I did speak up. And I can assure you that people know me as a person of character who challenges them to do the right thing.

In fact, a few years back I chaired a dissertation defense meeting on the topic of gender stereotyping. Would you believe, during the meeting one of the male committee members made several sexist remarks to the female candidate! How did I handle this? I shut down the behavior in the meeting and I followed up with individual meetings with each person who was on the committee and in the room, including the person who made the remarks. The goal was to give constructive feedback to my colleague on how his behavior impacted others to help him be more inclusive in the future. I hope it helped.

Just so you know, it was extremely uncomfortable for me to have to go to a colleague and call him out on his sexist remarks. It would have been so much easier to just let it go. But it needed to be done and I needed to do it because I value equality and inclusion.

One of my role models for advocating inclusion is Bernardo Ferdman. He’s one of those people who does even better than coming up with a zinger. HDiversity at Work book covere comes up with constructive responses that challenge the person’s thinking and behavior in a positive way to bring about inclusiveness. He has a new book out on the very topic of inclusiveness and I highly recommend it for you and your organizations. I’ve wanted to buy it myself, but it is hardcover and it carries a hefty price tag. I’ve been telling myself that it’s too expensive to buy. After the last couple of weeks, however, I think it’s too expensive not to.

I’ll leave you with a final fact, which might surprise you. The people in the three examples I gave are all high-level, highly influential leaders, with global impact. Don’t ask me who they are or even try to figure it out; I won’t tell you. The purpose of this article is not to expose them; it’s to learn from them. The lesson is: your behavior does count. Make it count!

Guest Blog at the Rady School of Management at UCSD

I recently posted a guest blog at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego on the issue of risk mitigation.  The blog uses the recent chaos that ensued after the snowfall in the South as an example for thinking about mitigating risk in companies.  Click on this link to read the blog.  It will inspire you to ask the right questions beforehand, to be prepared and not caught totally off guard when unexpected things happen at your company.

Failing to Succeed

by Joanie Connell

successWhat does it take to succeed? Isn’t that the burning question? Of course, it depends on what your definition of success is to begin with. Is it money, fame, power, happiness, self actualization? The first step in success is to know yourself—what is important to you, what do you value, what are you good at, what are you not so good at? Failing that, you will never truly succeed.

I was an electrical engineer before I became a psychologist. I went into engineering for all the wrong reasons. They seemed like the right reasons at the time, because I was young and inexperienced, and I was looking for a short-term solution. I wanted to make money, and my parents made it abundantly clear that I needed to be able to support myself upon completing college.

I spent many a night flipping through the book of college majors, looking longingly at music, French, and sociology, but questioning what kind of money I would make if I went down one of those paths. Given that I was good at math and computers, I chose the one major I could find where I could start out as a professional with only an undergraduate degree: electrical engineering.

I did succeed at making money, but I was not happy. I had to go back and do a lot of soul searching. I bought the book “What Color is your Parachute?” and diligently worked through all of the exercises. I explored and prioritized what was important to me. I solicited feedback from friends and family on what they thought I was good at and what would be a good fit for me. I interviewed many professionals in a variety of jobs to see if these jobs would be a good fit for me. Through this process, I decided to become a communications consultant. I learned that I needed to go back and get a Ph.D. to be successful at that. I learned that I liked to solve problems (like an engineer) but they needed to be people problems. I learned that I did have to make enough money to support myself, but not as much as an engineer. I learned that I needed to make a positive impact on the world (even in a small way) to be successful in life. That’s what is important to me.

A few years back, during a coaching session, an executive told me that I had found my calling. It was the best compliment I have ever received at work. I realized then and there that my strength and passion are to help people reach their potential in life. I’ve gone through countless failures to get to that point, and it hasn’t been easy.

Like with exercising and diets, people want to learn the shortcut to failuresuccess. The New York Times Bestsellers list is full of books on how to be a successful leader. The problem is: there is no formula for success. It takes discipline and hard work, and every successful person will tell you that they have failed.

Even the Harvard Business Review has dedicated a special issue to failure. Every article talks about major business failures. The key message, however, is to learn from your failures.

Proctor & Gamble’s former CEO, Alan Lafley, says that, in his experience, “we learn more from failure than we do from success.” He says that 80% of new product innovation fails in the industry of household products. It wasn’t until he had P&G go back and systematically study their failures over the past 3 decades and define what success meant, that they understood why. Needless to say, they’ve improved their success rate ever since.

People are the same way. Instead of forgetting the past, we need to learn from it to do better in the future. We also need to take risks to succeed. If we wrap ourselves up in a security blanket, we will close ourselves off from opportunities to grow.

In the end, failing is important to succeed.