Author Archives: Todd Thorsgaard

No more boring presentations!

Sad to say this is often what we see after making a presentation! If people can’t stay awake or follow along, it is hard to be an effective communicator, no matter how important your message is.

A few years ago, I had an epiphany on how to design and deliver presentations after I read Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. In his landmark book, he describes a new philosophy—not a method—to help professionals create and deliver meaningful presentations.

While I highly encourage you to peruse his website or buy his book, I want to highlight one key aspect of his philosophy. Garr emphasizes that slides are only one part of a presentation. Your slides don’t have to include everything and when they do you miss an opportunity do deliver an effective message. Effective presentations have three parts.

  1. The visuals. These are the slides your audience will actually see. They only support your key message.
  2. Your notes. The content and information you need to see to help you verbally share your key messages.
  3. The handout. A document (not your slides or notes) that your audience will take away with them.

This does require more effort by you, but the outcome is worth it. People will walk away with a clear understanding of your core message and with the details they need to take action. Simplifying your visuals keeps them from being a distraction, impossible to read, or boring. Taking the time to create a full set of notes will help you rehearse and feel more confident. Developing and distributing a handout provides people with the extra details or background information they after you present.

As Garr states in his book, “Handouts can set you free!”

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Bridge building

Not all bridges look alike but they are crucial connections when we need to get from one place to another.

At its core, leadership communication is about building connections between people – who all have their own lived experience, point of view, culture and ideas. Communication gets more complicated when you want to connect genuinely with someone who sees the world differently than you do!

Authors Claire Raines and Lara Ewing in their book, The Art of Connecting, provide tips and ideas to help leaders communicate across all points of view. They describe five principles that help strengthen connection:

  1. There is always a bridge. Move from asking if you can connect to asking yourself what you will discover and use to connect. Remind yourself that with persistence there is always something to use as a bridge between two people.
  2. Curiosity is the key.  Stay open to what you are hearing and experiencing when you are interacting with others. Remind yourself that everyone has something to teach.
  3. What you assume is what you get. Perception is reality when dealing with people.
  4. Each individual is a culture. Everyone is a complex and unique combination of factors. Don’t rely on one or two pieces to define anyone.
  5. No strings are attached. You can only control yourself. Your genuine curiosity and connection can’t be used as leverage to influence others. Authenticity is crucial.

If you look hard enough you will find a bridge to connect with anyone!

Todd Thorsgaard

How to listen? – Don’t talk!

Simon Sinek offers a simple, yet powerful, rule for leaders to be better listeners. Refrain from sharing your opinion until everyone else has spoken! It is his “Lesson Four” for successful leaders.

Your people are super-attuned to your words and behaviors and naturally search for cues to understand what your priorities are. This human tendency can get in the way when you want to hear their opinions, ideas, insights or concerns – to truly listen to them.

Inc. magazine recently shared three tips to help leaders “talk last” to ensure that their people talk first.

  1. Listen – and do absolutely nothing else! Don’t speak verbally or non-verbally. Do your best to eliminate gestures, head nodding, comments, affirmations, or concerns until all have shared and others have commented.
  2. Ask questions like an interviewer. When you do talk start by asking “unbiased” or clarification questions. Think of yourself as an outside interviewer who just wants to better understand what you have heard – with no stake in the game! Seek to discover the “why” behind their ideas and then the “how” before you add your perspective.
  3. Disagree and commit. If you have concerns about what you are hearing, continue to explore the reason behind their ideas until you completely understand the why  – then share your ideas. If possible commit to trying their idea or search for potential alternatives that address all points of view.

I think you will be impressed by what you hear if your people have the space to speak – first!

Todd Thorsgaard

 

Driving growth, fueling retention, and improving organizational outcomes

By guest blogger Josefina Landrieu

What if I told you that there is a practice out there that will get at:

  • Driving  growth?
  • Fueling retention?
  • Improving organizational outcomes?

You’ll likely question my idea by saying “there is no silver bullet!” And no, there is no silver bullet. But there is a practice that when implemented effectively, helps to address some of the greatest challenges in employee retention, workplace inclusion, and organizational outcomes. More importantly, THIS practice helps employers build a diverse and inclusive workforce, cultivate relationships with their employees and recruit/retain talent in an extremely competitive marketplace. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) deliver real value in promoting diversity and helping employees feel included in the organization’s culture. And it doesn’t have to stop there, ERGs help with retention, team productivity, and workplace climate. Although ERGs have been mostly used in the corporate sector, higher education is now following suit.

I was a member of an ERG at my previous institution and it served as a great opportunity to network with peers, to gain a stronger sense of belonging, and to experience mentorship opportunities. As an ERG, we co-sponsored events for professional development for employees of color that included bringing in speakers, conducting trainings, and delivering workshops. The group also provided less structured opportunities for employee socialization and engagement. It’s critical to allow the group to decide its focus while adhering to the organization’s principles, and mission for equity and inclusion.

What do ERGs look like in higher education? Here are some tips for successful implementation:

  • They are supported by an HR/Equity & Inclusion lead
  • They are open to all employees & participation is voluntary
  • They promote diversity, inclusion, and understanding
  • They adhere to the organization’s policies and procedures
  • They serve as a vehicle for a more distributed leadership model
  • They have organizational sponsors and sometimes funding

The first 60 to 90 days of employment are a critical time for any new hire, and they can be particularly challenging for members of traditionally underrepresented groups. That short window of time can mean the difference between whether an employee stays for the long run or leaves before the year is out. Research from the Conference Board shows that participating in an ERG leads to greater retention for employees from underrepresented groups. And, in addition to impacting employee retention, ERGs can provide key cultural insights, which can be critical to HR practices. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, has actively embraced this inclusive practice. They report that ERGs have resulted in increased workplace satisfaction among participants and provide insightful feedback to the organization, an excellent return on investment.

Josefina Landrieu is the Assistant Chief Diversity Officer for Minnesota State.

“Ruthlessly realistic”

“Stop pretending.”
“How did they treat you?”
“No such thing as color blind.”
“Being comfortable being uncomfortable”

These are strong words that capture the essence of a TED talk I want to share with you. Mellody Hobson says that mentioning race is the conversational equivalent of “touching the third rail.”  It can feel risky and people don’t know how to respond.

As leaders, Hobson says it is important for us to step bravely into the conversation about racism and discrimination at work. Acknowledging the realities of discrimination and overcoming our fear of talking about it is the first step to creating inclusive workplaces.

Join over 2 million people and take a few minutes to watch and listen to her 2014 TED talk.

It’s hard, but we need to be “color brave, not color blind.”

Todd Thorsgaard

Can you hear me?

Are you reacting differently to these quotes? Would it be different if they weren’t attached to the photos or attributed to a specific person?

This isn’t a new phenomenon but it seems to be getting worse. We are not very good at listening to people we perceive as different from ourselves. That makes it hard to build inclusive work teams, share diverse points of view, and leverage the strengths of everyone on your team.

The founders of Living Room Conversations want to help people actually listen to each other rather than debate and talk at each other. Recently a number of leaders at several of our campuses have used the Living Room conversation agreements and topic-specific conversation guides to tackle the tough topics of status, privilege and race with diverse groups of faculty and staff.

Conversation Agreements

  1. Be curious and open to learning
  2. Show respect and suspend judgement
  3. Look for common ground and appreciate differences
  4. Be authentic and welcome that from others
  5. Be purposeful and to the point
  6. Own and guide the conversation

The actual conversations become structured “deep listening sessions” that include an orientation to the process, intentional time-keeping and facilitation and a closing period. An example of the status and privilege guide can be found here – Conversation Guide.

I can attest to the almost magical listening and sharing that occurs during a living room conversation. People stop interrupting each other, they smile as they hear the stories others share, and they are surprised by how easy it is to share their own story with people who are actually listening to them.

When we asked participants after the conversations the majority responded that they had not changed their personal points of view but they now could see more common ground with their colleagues, despite their differences. Further, there was universal support for more dialogue.

Using a structure to help people actually listen to each other can provide a starting point for greater inclusion, in the workplace and beyond.

Todd Thorsgaard

Connections and inclusion

As an introvert I am not always comfortable making connections at work, even though people naturally listen to me and accept me. After all, as a white male I am a member of the dominant culture and I am automatically included. The same is not true for employees with a diverse background or from a non-dominant culture. They struggle to be included.

A recent article, Diversity and Authenticity, in the March-April 2018 Harvard Business Review highlights that “decades’ worth of studies have shown that similarity attracts – a phenomenon known as homophily.” The study focused on the reality that “disclosing elements of one’s personal life and forming social connections are easier within one’s own group than they are across a demographic boundary like racial background.” In other words, it is easier to hire a diverse team than it is to ensure that everyone feels included.

The authors suggest three strategies to break down the barriers to inclusion.

  1. Structure – Introduce structure and clarity to team events to facilitate shared and equal opportunities to talk to all team members. Define roles and reasons for activities and clarify the expectation of non-judgmental listening.
  2. Learning – Role model and facilitate a learning approach to dialogue rather than a statement-driven approach. Research indicates that genuine curiosity and open questions make it easier to share stories across differences and make an emotional connection.
  3. Mentorship – Utilize informal “buddies”, mentors and employee resource groups to facilitate relationship building for both new hires and employees from marginalized groups. These more experienced colleagues can help break down social barriers, provide background information, context and make introductions.

Leaders can build inclusion by helping team members make connections across their differences.

Todd Thorsgaard