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10 Ways to Push Yourself to Excel at Work in the New Year

10 Ways to Push Yourself to Excel at Work in the New Year

If you’ve played your cards right, 2014 gave you everything you wanted—a Christmas bonus, maybe a raise or a promotion? Not exactly?

Well, now you have a reason to take your game to the next level in the coming year. As Jack Dorsey so famously said, “Success is never accidental.” Take your future into your own hands with these 10 steps to push yourself to excel at work in the coming year, based on Stephen Key’s 5 Ways Successful Entrepreneurs Challenge Themselves.

1. Diversify your circle

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? The first step in getting different results is trying different things. I’m not saying you have to become “that” guy, but you can start by listening, paying attention, and being receptive to the people around you, regardless of their age or security clearance. Listen to what the kids are saying and listen to what the grandpas are saying. You might learn about an innovative solution to a problem, or an antiquated system that could use your expertise. Diversifying your work circle will widen your scope of influence and expose you to opportunities you won’t see otherwise. Take it from Steve Jobs, who recognized this crucial key to innovation early on:

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A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

2. Read and/or listen to podcasts

This year, make it your mission to feed your brain. If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got. Think of business blogs and podcasts as your leafy green vegetables. Check out the Financial Times blogs, the Wall Street Journal, or some of the Company Blogs out there to see who’s doing what, where the best ideas are coming from, and what organizations on the cutting edge are paying attention to. Join a local business book club or check out these podcasts for some ideas on where to start.

3. Ask your clients what problems they need to solve

It was Bill Gates who said, Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” The tools you need just a phone call or e-mail away, because the most perfect feedback loop is one where you can continuously meet (or, even better, anticipate) your clients’ needs. How do you know what they need? Ask them! Every great business is built upon this principle: that excellence is a symbiotic relationship where you are not trying to sell someone on something they don’t need, but responding to their existing needs with tailored solutions. It’s arrogant to assume you know what your clients want. Instead, ask them: what’s missing from their process? What problems have they not been able to solve? What do they like that other companies are doing really well? Once you know what issues are most important to your customers, you’ll know what you need to work on to not only keep their business, but be a partner in their success.

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4. Increase your technological knowledge

This goal should be on everyone’s list every quarter, because technology advances so fast that there will never be a time when there isn’t something new we can learn, no matter what field we’re working in. Make it your goal to learn something new this year—how a process works, what a team you’re not on does, or where your suppliers source their materials. Take a bold step into a technology you’ve never studied before. Yes, change can be scary, but if you really want to own it in 2015, you want to be on the leading edge, not on the Luddite side of the bell curve. Start at the most remedial level if you need to, and remember this quote from our old friend Dr. Seuss:

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go!”

5. Work with people who are smarter than you

There’s a certain type of manager who is afraid to work with young, smart, ambitious team members, for fear that they will eventually lose their job to an understudy. The downside to this attitude (which these kinds of managers never think about), is that when everyone beneath you is dumber and lazier than you, they won’t be jockeying for a promotion, but you will be a slave to micromanagement because no one will be pulling their own weight. It’s impossible to delegate, drum up new ideas, or even take a vacation if you’re not supported by intelligent, hard-working people who are good at their jobs. Anyway, a rising tide lifts all boats, doesn’t it? Get comfortable with surrounding yourself with brilliance, and you’ll shine too.

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6. Look around at the people who are successful in your company

Take a good look at the people in your company that you admire or want to be like. Now, take a look at yourself. See any differences? What about the way you dress, or what you do at work? Of course it matters if you’re capable and deserving, but at the higher levels of management, presentation matters a lot. No one who wears board shorts to work or does keg stands at the Christmas party gets put into a client-facing management position. If you really want to get ahead, it might be time to trade that ratty t-shirt in for something a little more polished, and cut back on the outlandish pranks.

7. Make your meetings more effective and productive

First, don’t waste people’s time. Come to a meeting with a purpose. If you use Outlook to schedule your meetings, put the agenda and all the questions you need answered in the invite. While in the meeting, type the answers in as people answer them, rather than taking notes, compiling them, and sending them out later. Don’t leave the meeting without having a thorough understanding of questions answered, to-dos remaining, and task assignments. Make your meetings effective and people won’t feel like they’re losing time out of their day for nothing.

8. Get organized

Let’s face it—your professionalism is somewhat dependent upon what people see when they work with you, and the messier your desk is, the more disorganized you are perceived to be. You may thrive in chaos, but a pile of post-its and empty coffee cups around your computer doesn’t exactly say “Please put me in charge of something important.” The knick-knack overload that makes your workspace so personalized and comforting could be working against you. You have to make an effort to at least look as together as possible if you want to be seen as management material instead of a minion.

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9. Establish expectations for the coming year with your supervisor

Look, your supervisor isn’t psychic. If you didn’t get what you want at the end of 2014, you should probably set up a meeting to review not only your performance, but also your expectations for the coming year. As Lee Iacocca once noted, The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.” Showing your boss you are committed to results is an important step in demonstrating your value as an employee. Entrepreneur Ramit Sethi has an excellent blog post with suggestions on what to cover in a meeting like this. Once you establish a record of how you’ve performed thus far, what you should be doing better, and where you expect to be in 12 months, you can make a road map of how to get there. Over the next year, all you have to do is show up, deliver what you’ve agreed to (and preferably a little more—see Step 10 below), and check in with your boss quarterly on your progress. A caveat: if your boss is resistant to meeting with you, dismissive of your goals, or refuses to establish expectations, it might time you thought about looking for a different job!

10. Make a habit out of going the extra mile

We’ve all heard this joke: Two men are sitting in a tent, and suddenly realize a bear is approaching it. One man starts putting on his tennis shoes, and the other man says, “Do you really think you can outrun a bear?” Tennis-shoe guy says, “I don’t have to outrun the bear—I just have to outrun you.” Take a look around. What do you have to outrun to really shine? Your own laziness? Your resistance to change? Because it’s time to accept that your coworkers aren’t your competition—you are. If you want 2015 to be better than 2014, you’re going to have to outrun the “you” of yesterday. Put on your tennis shoes and make a habit out of going the extra mile.

To quote Woody Allen, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” The other 20% is up to you—are you just going to show up, or are you going to shine? The choice is yours.

Featured photo credit: Gerd Altmann via pixabay.com

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Last Updated on February 11, 2021

10 Secrets of Making Every Presentation Fun, Engaging, and Enjoyable

10 Secrets of Making Every Presentation Fun, Engaging, and Enjoyable

Not a lot of people are good at public speaking. You could even say that virtually everyone needs to get some practice, and preferably good guidance, before they can learn to stay calm when facing a room full of people. Having all eyes on you is an uncomfortable experience and it takes time to get used to. However, even if you can manage to control your stage fright and stay focused, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your presentation won’t put people to sleep. This is usually the case with long presentations on a very dull subject, with the presenter speaking in a monotone voice and dimming the lights to play a PowerPoint presentation.

You have to work hard to develop the right skills

If you want to be remembered and actually get people engaged, you need to make your presentation fun and enjoyable, without coming off as corny or desperate to please. I know, it doesn’t sound that easy at all! A good presentation during a promotional event or given to an important client can be a game changer for your business, so it is easy to get stressed out and fail to perform all that well. Luckily, giving an interesting lecture is something that can be practiced and perfected. There is plenty of advice out there on the topic, but let’s look at the most important aspects of giving a memorable and fun presentation.

1. Make your presentation short and sweet

With very long, meandering speeches you tend to lose the audience pretty early on, and from then on out it’s just a test of endurance for the few bravest listeners. Not only will people’s attention start to drop rapidly after sitting and listening to you talk for 30 minutes, but you also risk watering down your core ideas and leaving your audience with little in the way of key phrases and important bits of information to take away from the whole ordeal. Famous speakers throughout history have known the importance of condensing the information by using well thought out sentences and short phrases loaded with meaning.

JFK’s famous: ”It’s not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” expresses so much in very few words and gets the audience thinking. Ancient Spartans, for example were famous for their quick, dry wit, often demolishing their opponent’s argument with a single word or phrase. You’ll want to channel that ancient spirit and be as concise as possible when preparing your presentation.

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2. Open up with a good ice breaker

At the beginning, you are new to the audience. There is no rapport, no trust and the atmosphere is fairly neutral. Even if some of the people there know you personally, the concept of you as an authority on a particular matter giving a speech will be foreign to them. The best way to encourage a warm and friendly atmosphere is to get some kind of emotional response out of the audience right at the beginning. It doesn’t matter what emotion it is, you just need to connect with them on a more personal level. It can be shock, curiosity, laughter, knowing smirks, nervousness – whatever gets them out of that initial feeling of indifference. There are different kinds of effective ice-breakers, but generally speaking, the most successful ones utilize one of these tactics:

  • Joking
  • Tugging on their heart strings
  • Dropping a bombastic statement
  • Telling an interesting and relevant anecdote
  • Using a metaphor or drawing comparisons

You can make a small, self-deprecating comment, stir the presentation one way and then suddenly surprise the audience, use sarcasm, open up with a short childhood story that taught you a lesson, quote a famous person and elaborate on it from personal experience, use an inspirational anecdote or hit them with a bit of nostalgia. Just remember to keep it short and move on once you’ve gotten a reaction.

3. Keep things simple and to the point

Once you’re done warming up the crowd you can ease them into the core concepts and important ideas that you will be presenting. Keep the same presentation style thoughout. If you’ve started off a bit ironic, using dry wit, you can’t just jump into a boring monologue. If you’ve started off with a bang, telling a couple of great little jokes and getting the crowd riled up, you have to keep them happy by throwing in little jokes here and there and being generally positive and energetic during the presentation. You need a certain structure that you won’t deviate too far from at any point. A good game plan consists of several important points that need to be addressed efficiently. This means moving on from one point to another in a logical manner, coming to a sound conclusion and making sure to accentuate the key information.

4. Use a healthy dose of humor

Some of the best speeches and presentations in the world, which have been heard and viewed by millions, all feature plenty of humor. No matter the subject, a great speaker will use natural charisma, humor and beautiful language to convey their points and get the crowd excited about what they are saying. A great example of building rapport with the audience through the use of humor is Barrack Obama talking about the government building Iron Man.

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It is silly and fun, and absolutely not something that you would expect from a man in a position of power speaking in such a serious setting – and it’s exactly why it works. The more serious the situation and the bigger the accent on proper social behavior, the harder your jokes will hit.

5. Try to tell a story instead of ranting

Some people can do all of the above things right and still manage to turn their short and fun little presentation into a chaotic mess of information. You don’t want your speech to look like you just threw a bunch of information in a blender in no particular order. To avoid rambling, create a strong structure. Start with the ice breaker, introduce the core concepts and your goals briefly, elaborate on the various points in a bit more detail, draw logical conclusions and leave your audience with a clear takeaway message. You want to flow naturally from one part to the next like you are telling a big story chapter by chapter.

6. Practice your delivery

Standing in front of the mirror and practicing a speech or presentation is a technique as old as mirrors – well, come to think of it, as old as human speech, since you can see yourself reflected in any clear and calm body of water – and that means that it is tried and true. The theory is incredibly simple, yet the real problem is actually putting in the effort day in and day out. Work on your posture, your tone of voice, accent, pauses between sentences and facial expressions. The most important thing is to talk slowly and loudly enough to be heard and understood clearly. Many famous speakers, such as Demosthenes and King George VI, overcame speech impediments through hard work.

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7. Move around and use your hands

Although you won’t instill confidence in your project if you are very jittery, moving around erratically, not knowing what to do with your hands and making fast movements, standing dead still can be just as bad. You shouldn’t be afraid to use your arms and hands when talking as it makes you seem more passionate and confident. The same goes for moving around and taking up some space. However, try to make slower, calculated and deliberate movements. You want your movements to seem powerful, yet effortless. You can achieve this through practice.

8. Engage the audience by making them relate

Sometimes you will lose the audience somewhat in techno-babble, numbers, graphs and abstract ideas. At that point it is important to reel them back in using some good, old-fashioned storytelling. Make comparisons to events from everyday life that most people are more than familiar with. By making things look simple, not only will you help your audience get a better understanding of the subject by enabling them to visualize the information more clearly, you will also draw a connection between you. After all, you are all just regular people with similar experience, you just happen to be performing different roles at the moment.

9. Use funny images in your slides

Although slides are not really necessary at all times, if you do need them to make your point and present your information more effectively, it’s best to liven them up. They say that facts aren’t always black and white, and your presentation should reflect this. Add a bit of color, make the information stand out and use an interesting animation to switch from slide to slide. You can use the slides to add some more humor, both in terms of the text and the images. An image that is used to elicit a positive response needs to be funny within the context of what you are discussing. For example, if you are discussing the topic of authority, an image of Eric Cartman from South Park in a police uniform, demanding that you respect his “authoritah,” is a nice way to have a bit of fun and lighten things up.

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10. End on a more serious note

When all is said and done you will want the audience to remember the core concepts and keep thinking about what you have said after the presentation is over. This is why you should let things naturally calm down and end with an important idea, quote or even a question. Plant a seed in their mind and make them think. Let us turn to Patrick Henry for a great way to end a speech: “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”

As you can see, there is quite a bit to learn when it comes to giving a good presentation, one that is both memorable and fun. Be sure to work on your skills tirelessly and follow in the footsteps of great orators.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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