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12 Things You’re Doing Wrong At Work – And How To Fix Them Instantly

12 Things You’re Doing Wrong At Work – And How To Fix Them Instantly

Does one of these sound familiar: You’re recently out of school, in your first few years in an office gig and trying to learn the ropes. Or, you’ve been a professional for a while–but aren’t learning or advancing as fast as you’d like.

No matter where you went to school, there are things no one teaches. We assume the best performers are on call 24/7, do what the boss says, and fit in seamlessly with team members–right? Not! Here are some things we often assume starting out in the workplace that might be hurting your career more than helping it.

1. You respond immediately to all emails.

This shows you’re on the ball, ready to act, an email machine… right? Well, yes and no. Responsiveness can be a plus, especially if you’re responsive to your boss. But if your hastily-dashed-off-response means you forgot to include an attachment, or creates an extra email–like when you respond to a request with a clarifying question–you look disorganized and can actually slow things down. A speedy response is only helpful if it’s correct and appropriate. Sometimes, it’s better to wait and think things through until you can reply with all the info requested.

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2. You’re online 24/7.

Sending emails at all hours can make you seem committed. But it also gives you a false feeling of efficiency. What you’re likely overlooking as you congratulate yourself for your dedication (you ARE the job!) – your colleagues will quickly come to expect that you’re online 24/7, which results in a vicious cycle. Your boss or team may send emails requiring an overnight response simply because, hey, they assume you’ll be there. Work will expand to fit whatever time you give it. Being on call 24/7 is bad for your health and dangerous long-term–so don’t do it! If you’re in a new job, or a role in which 60-80 hour weeks are the norm, then you likely won’t be punching out at 5. But, if your job constantly takes 12 or more hours a day, it’s a good sign that there’s a better way to do it.

3. You spend your time with a core group.

It’s great to have a team with which you work and socialize. But in a larger company, it’s important to branch out. If you’re in marketing, make friends and find sponsors (more senior staff who take an interest in your career) in HR, or operations. This will expand your perspective and let you find out about new opportunities for projects, development and promotion across the firm. So get out of your comfort zone and meet new friends next time you’re in the corporate cafe or are assigned to a cross-functional project!

4. You avoid difficult people.

We learn early on to steer clear of those who give us grief. This works well on the playground–but not in the office. We all love spending time with people we get on with. But, we can learn the most from those with divergent opinions (even when they’re hard to hear) and distinct personalities. Don’t be afraid to engage with people who may seem a bit abrasive or who hold different perspectives. It’s the people who challenge us that make us better–not the ones who think exactly like we do. And, as you advance in your career, you’ll have to work with more and more kinds of people, so it’s great practice.

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5. You dress like everyone else.

Ever hear the phrase dress for the job you want, not the job you have? Clothes aren’t everything. But if you’re aspiring to move up, or take a public-facing role, it’s easier for senior people to picture you there if you already look the part. It’s also a great way to set yourself apart from other contenders–the small things matter and it shows you’re committed to the details. It’s also worth trying to stand out from the masses, but do so in a way that’s appropriate for your work place. If you’re at a law firm, you’ll likely be making more conservative choices than your friend who works at a design agency.

6. You never ask for help.

Going it alone is a sign of strength… right? Sometimes it’s good to invite others’ input. This can not only provide new perspective but help others feel invested in your project. Going to individuals other than your boss is a great way to do this. If one of your colleagues has a great eye, ask her for input on your latest PowerPoint or Prezi. Most people like being asked to contribute, so long as it’s easy for them to say yes. Note: be cautious of inviting input if you don’t expect to take it! Colleagues will quickly catch on and be less inclined to weigh in next time.

7. You let perfection be the enemy of good.

The 80/20 rule says that 20% of the efforts produce 80% of the results. Know which part of your effort is the 20%, and which part of the results are the 80%! Economists call this diminishing marginal returns, which basically means that you can put lots more effort into something and get only modest benefits. Sometimes it’s better to get something done fast and well than spending three times as long to make it perfect. Understanding what, of your portfolio, can be done faster and what needs your full attention is a critical skill to mastering your job and moving up.

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8. You try to be good at everything.

Guess what–everyone has weaknesses! And if you’re one of those superhuman types that’s good at nearly everything, here’s an important lesson: just because you’re able to do something doesn’t mean you should. Instead of trying to love what you’re good at, get good at what you love. Show competence at navigating tricky administrative issues and people will come to you as a fixer. If you love being a fixer, great; if you don’t want to be tagged a fixer, then be cautious about displaying those talents to the world! Instead, showcase your writing skills (because you love to write) or your people skills (because you dream of being in recruitment).

9. You live for your to-do list.

Having a to-do list is ok–if it’s a certain kind of to-do list. First, it should not just be urgent but important items. Focus on fighting fires and you’ll always be in damage control mode. Include tasks (usually project or strategy work) that won’t burn if you don’t get to them today – the paradox is, because they’re never urgent you may never get to them. And almost always, it’s those projects that will make or break your company’s, and your, success. Second, know yourself. Everyone has best times of day for writing, or mindless tasks; times when they’re focused and distracted; times when they’re patient and impatient. Schedule your to-dos to take advantage of that! If you’re most creative in the morning, do your writing or big idea work then.

10. You’re afraid to fail.

All of us like to succeed. We can get tempted to stay in a safe zone where we know we’re performing well and can do a great job. But the real wins happen when we stretch ourselves and take risks. The best managers and executives know this, and will support you in setting stretch goals and trying new things–hitting up that new market or trying a new process might be the next big break for the company (and for you)! And when you fail (which we all do from time to time), be ready to pick yourself back up. We learn more from losses than from wins, so treat each setback as a rich source of learning.

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11. You don’t know your value proposition.

Know how you create value at work. It may be through helping groups of diverse people get to common ground, or writing killer proposals, or keeping morale up through tough periods of work. If you’re not sure what you bring to the table, write down the things you do better than anyone else at work. Then think about which of those contribute most to the company’s business–if you weren’t there to do those things, how would it affect the organization? This can do two very important things: 1. it helps you understand what, from a company perspective, you’re worth (very helpful when negotiating that promotion or raise), and 2. it can help you see where you fit long term and how to market yourself to a prospective employer.

12. You wait to be told what to do.

Take initiative. Companies are built on creativity and strategic thinking. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. If you’re listening to a project update in a meeting and have an idea that could help, speak up–but do pick your time. It might be best to say it then and there, or it might be better to follow up after. It depends on the culture and formality of meetings and roles.

Try some of these tips to get ‘unstuck’ at work–and maybe even give you the energy, perspective, or confidence needed to move up the ladder or take on new challenges. It’s amazing how a few changes help you see yourself and your career in a new light!

Featured photo credit: Alexander Stein 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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