Tag Archives: personal skills

5 Conversation Starters for your Festive Party

Ready for another round of parties this festive season? Here are some hot tips and conversation starters to get you through your next social engagements.

conversation starters
Photo from Pixabay on Pexels

The festive season can be a continual revolving door of social situation after social situation. When it comes to the work environment not only do you have to deal with your own office but often those within your customer or supply network as well.

Making small talk and being stuck in social situations is even harder when your energy is low and you’ve had enough of people. What makes it hard for us to engage in conversations and why should you care?

Fear of Being Rejected?

A University of Chicago study by Nick Epley has revealed the biggest reason people don’t want to engage in conversation or small talk is a fear of rejection. This causes the brain to assign a high degree of risk in the concept of talking to strangers or making small talk.

There has been a further study that has proven this assumption to be incorrect, where no initiator of small talk was rejected.

Myth Busted

Armed with cold hard scientific facts doesn’t make the situation any easier but at least you know that most people are willing and receptive to talking. Here are five conversation starters to get you taking that all important first step.

1. Check the attendees and do research

Look up who is attending and what projects that they have recently completed. This can work for internal office parties and for your customers or suppliers. Work related topics are the safest, but make sure you keep it light.

2. How to deal with hierarchy

There have been a few occasions when fate has left me a few drinks in standing with the CEO. Don’t be silent susan. Management are human to, stick with safe topics like plans for the holidays. If you’re feeling really jazzy ask them what their biggest success or challenge was in the past year.

3. Common ground

If you’ve exhausted all your “go to’s” then try to think of some common situations where you may be able to relate to each other. Start simple with “are you more into podcasts, books or movies? What’s your favourite?”.

A Harvard University study has found that asking people about themselves can cause a change in the brain that naturally enhances their mood. The trick is to make it general enough that it doesn’t seem intrusive.

4. Do the twist

Flip the script a bit. We all get stuck with the usual silence fillers of “what are you doing for your break?”.

Tweak things slightly and ask “what are you most looking forward to over the holiday season?”. You’ll make the person think and it will provide opportunity for light, but genuine, conversation.

5. The naughty list

It’s good to keep in mind things that are a no go zone. If these things are executed exceptionally badly, they may prove to be career limiting moves.

  • Don’t get wasted. Monitor your drink intake and make sure you eat!
  • Don’t participate in gossip. You’ll get such a cringe when you next see the people in the sober (fluorescent) light of day
  • Don’t cross the personal communication line. It’s probably not a good look to leave voice notes over messenger or create an IG story of your new bestie.
  • Don’t discuss work in depth. It’s amazing what you can hear on public transport or out and about, let alone at an office party. If you are representing your company at a customer or supplier event then don’t be drawn in to talking about the competition or your organisation. You’re still logged on.

By applying the first five tips and avoiding the naughty list you’ll be sure to be on top form this festive season. No ragrets! Regerts! Oh, you know what we mean…

This article is solely the work of the author. Any views expressed in it are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect official policy of the New Zealand government or of any government agency.

5 Steps to Building an Amazing Presentation

No matter what you’re doing, it’s hard to think you’ll avoid doing a presentation at one point or another. So how do you deliver thrill rather than dud?

awesome presentation
Photo by 祝 鹤槐 from Pexels

If the thought of delivering a presentation to your team, key stakeholders or even the C-suite leaves you in a cold sweat, don’t worry – you’re not alone.

Presenting might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean it’s something you will be able to avoid forever, particularly as your procurement career progresses. At some point you’ll be required to communicate the profession’s value-add or pitch ideas to decision-makers in your organisation. And that means it’s worth getting your skills up-to-speed so you are ready to step up to the plate in style when the time comes.

Fortunately, whether you are delivering a keynote to an audience of thousands or to two members of the senior leadership team, there’s a proven formula to getting it right every time.

One person who I always look to as a mentor in this space is Colin James, an expert speaker and facilitator who has spent the past 25 years working with senior executives around the world, helping them to master their presentation and storytelling skills.

In a recent conversation with Colin for Inside Influence podcast, we discussed the key steps to getting it right when you’re given that all-important hour to present to the CEO or CFO.

Step 1: Walk the (right) walk

The very first thing that you do on stage or in a meeting is vital – it sets the tone for the rest of the time you have. When you enter a room for your next meeting, ask yourself what the way you walked in says about you, your attitude and your intentions for that meeting.

When someone arrives with energy and urgency, sits upright in their seat and makes eye contact with others it signals something very different to a person who slops in and collapses in a chair.  The latter says “I don’t care, I’m exhausted, what am I doing here?” Incredibly, this is all being communicated without a single word being uttered.

What your physiology says about you in the first 30 seconds really counts. Colin’s main simple but effective tip (especially for people seeking to build their professional brand) is this: simply walk faster. Walk faster into the room; walk faster into that meeting or onto the stage – walk faster everywhere you go! The increase in pace will increase your energy – it will also increase the perceived urgency of your objectives.

Step 2: Start strong and finish strong

Any good presentation needs a clear concept (a title) that makes it immediately clear to the audience what your presentation is about – and what you’re trying to achieve. A misleading, ambiguous or dry title could lose your audience just as easily as a muddled or confused structure.

You can’t impress people that aren’t in the room – so first rule of thumb – get a title that’s going to peak the interest of your target market.

It’s also important to bookend your presentation with strong opening and closing statements. The reality is that information communicated at the beginning or the end of an educational episode is far more likely to be retained by your audience than the content in the middle.

The age-old advice on public speaking is useful here – “Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them again. Then tell them what you’ve told them.”

Step 3: Divide (into chunks) and conquer

Colin recommended embedding three or four major themes – chunks – into the body of the presentation. These are the ideas, or principles, you want to get across to your audience.

Each chunk should have a principle, and each principle will support your overall concept. The connected detail, i.e. the stories you tell within each principle, should validate that principle and ultimately connect to your concept and title.

So as an example – what three things would your audience need to think, believe or do differently in order to take advantage of what you’re offering in this presentation?

Step 4: Tell a story

Once you have the principles in place – now it’s time to bring them to life through storytelling. Colin recommends that within each principle you need at least one story that illuminates the application of that principle in the world.

This can be a story from the past, an imagined scenario, or a potential event; so long as it is something that allows your audience to see your ideas applied in the real world. Telling a good story requires the following structure:

1. The event: The where, when, who, how and what.

2. The point: Your story needs to come to a clear point. If you’re pitching to decision-makers, this means you want someone to say yes to your idea. People are naturally influenced by social proof. If other people have done it or supported the idea or concept you are pitching – tell them! We don’t search for online reviews and testimonials for no reason – positive social proof makes us far more likely to take action.

3. The link: Your stories should be linked to the outcome you seek. In other words provide an actionable path to a desired outcome for our target audience.

Step 5: Take out 50 per cent

According to Colin, the most common mistake presenters make is to overpack their presentations with content. His advice? Design and plan your presentation for whatever time you have – then take out 50 per cent of the content.

It’s exactly the same concept as packing for a holiday. Most people going on an overseas trip over pack and then spend two weeks dragging around an enormous amount of excess stuff they neither use or wear. The same goes for presenting. Less is more.

So why is all of this important? Most presentations don’t fail because of a lack of good, valuable or important information. Or due to a lack of skill, intent or commitment from the person delivering. Most instead fail because the structure of that information isn’t compelling enough to hold our attention.

Like any exchange of energy – there is a formula we can replicate to get the right results. Once we break that formula down to its most simplistic components – and start consistently applying those rules to our own presentations – the impact takes care of itself.

Julie Masters is a globally recognised expert in influence, authority and thought leadership. She is the CEO and Founder of Influence Nation and Founder of ODE Management – responsible for launching and managing the careers of some of the worlds most respected thought leaders. Julie is also the host of the soon to be launched weekly podcast Inside Influence. An exploration into what it takes to find and own your voice – and then use it to drive a conversation, an idea, an industry or a Nation. To subscribe check out iTunes or Julie’s website.

Why Being Reliable Spells Doom to Your Career

Do people in your workplace ever refer to you as reliable, trusty, dependable? That’s got to stop! 

Are you a woman working in procurement? Join Bravo, our specialised group on Procurious. 

Truth or myth

Myth: Having a reputation for being “reliable” and “getting the job done” makes you valuable.

Over the weekend I’ve been helping a friend in a sticky situation. She is downsising her business, which is a smart move.

She has the potential to sell her business, which is a lucrative move.

In either case, she has to make layoffs.

Ouch.

As we strategised together on how to deal with this difficult decision, a staffer’s name kept reappearing.

My friend feels indebted to her for all her years of service.

I asked her what value the woman brought to the team. How does her work enhance results, solve problems, and propel the company forward?

Her answer?

“I don’t know…she just always does what I ask and gets the job done.”

Hire or fire?

We discussed this some more and came to the conclusion that despite her loyalty and workhorse ethic, this staffer would not make the cut and has to be let go.

That’s painful. And I see this a lot.

When I ask women what their special sauce is at the office, I hear “I’m known for my work ethic” or “I always do a good job” or “I’m reliable and get the job done”

I get it. I was once that person, too. And it cost me thousands of hours of my life and hundreds of thousands of dollars that I could have been earning.

Dammit!

Being known for getting the job done is not enough to build value and does not get you the pay scale, nor the flexibility you crave.

And what is even harder to see is that, most likely, working hard feels good. And when something feels good it becomes a hard habit to break.

When you realise how much you’re worth, You’ll stop giving people discounts. – Karen Salmansohn 

There is certainly pride in staying at the office late to produce a stellar result. And it’s nice to be the first one the boss reaches for when there’s a difficult task at hand that will require overtime. Who doesn’t want to feel needed?

Yet, when you are the person who is routinely called in to do the tough jobs that require a maximum time commitment, the only person to blame is YOU.

Sorry.

It’s okay to work an 80 every now and then if you’re in your flow and loving what you do.

And it’s great to commit to a special assignment that will open up doors of opportunity.

But it sucks to work that 80 day-in and day-out while telling yourself “it’s only for a year or two until I prove myself”

Don’t hold yourself back

Finding value in how hard you work is a script from your childhood. And if you’ve watched my master class you know what those scripts do. They hold you back. They make you trade hours for dollars. They keep you from your littles. They pull you off course so you can’t be the real, authentic you.

Defining your value and pouring your heart and soul into developing that is priceless. It’s a linchpin in your ability to create the career you really want.

You just need to hone it, sell it, and make sure the whole world knows your secret sauce solves their acute pain. Now you are simply PRICELESS! (But you already knew that, didn’t you?)

And the best part about this is that anyone can do it. You don’t have to be special, you already are special…you just have to find that special spark inside and nurture it. You don’t have to be lucky, you create your own luck by seizing opportunities and taking a stand for what you care about. And you don’t have to be master craftsman. Women always think they don’t have the skills, experience, or blah, blah to do this. Of course you do!

So when are you going to claim the life you really want? If you’re not living it today, then I suggest now  is a good time, right?

Are you a woman working in procurement? Join Bravo, our specialised group on Procurious. 

This article was oringally published on LinkedIn. In 2003, Kathleen Byars  left her lucrative executive career to go live on an island. Today she specialises in helping corporate women redesign their lives and leverage their talent to create fulfilling, flexible careers without sacrificing the success they’ve earned.

Best Of The Blog: Can We Agree To Stop Calling Them Soft Skills?

How did soft skills come to be known as this? And does calling them this underplay their importance in the modern procurement world?

Everyone loves a good throwback article, which is why we’re hopping in our time machine to bring you back some of the biggest and best Procurious blogs. If you missed any of the golden oldies, look no further!

This week, we’re revisiting an article by Hugo Britt  in which he explains why soft skills are anything but!

The English language is full of misnomers. Just ask the killer whale (actually a dolphin), or the horny toad (actually a lizard). Once a word or phrase has entered common usage, it’s near-impossible to change it, even if the population generally understands that the term is misleading.

Which brings me to “soft skills”. I work for an organisation that provides training for procurement and supply chain professionals. As such this is one of the terms that I hear bandied about many times a week.

My argument is that defining this skill-set as “soft” actually devalues an essential part of every procurement professional’s toolkit.

To quickly summarise, soft skills are those used in dealing with other people. These include skills such as communication abilities, language skills, influencing skills, emotional empathy, and leadership traits. In contrast, “hard” skills – such as tendering or IT competencies – are readily measurable and (importantly) easier to train.

How Did They Come to be Called Soft Skills?

I’d be interested to hear if anyone has been able to pinpoint the first usage of this term.

The concept has been applied to business environments since at least 1936, when Dale Carnegie’s famous self-help book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People was published. Carnegie’s work, which has sold a phenomenal 30 million copies to date, is essentially the definitive guide to soft skills. However, it stops short of actually using these words.

Recently, there seems to have been an explosion of articles and training courses focusing on soft skills, particularly in procurement. My theory is that procurement – having moved from back-office to business-partnership status only a decade or so ago – is, in effect, late to the soft skills party, and is currently playing catch-up.

It’s possible that the term “soft skills” simply came about as an antonym to hard skills. Perhaps it reflects the “softly-softly” approach, where managers choose to influence, rather than confront, and to make suggestions, rather than issuing orders. Whatever the reason, I believe it’s a misleading term due to the other connotations of “soft”.

These Skills are Anything But Soft

To my ear, “soft” means easy, pliable, or yielding readily to pressure. Yet a procurement professional with excellent communication abilities, who is adept at reading people, will be a “harder” opponent in negotiations, than a colleague lacking these skills.

Similarly, the connotation with “ease” is deceptive when it comes to trying to train for skills like change management or leadership. And quantifying the results of that training is more difficult still. Hence we’re hearing more and more that employers are hiring people based on their attributes (cultural fit, communication skills, willingness to change), recognising that hard skills can be easily picked up later on.

This has changed the approach recruiters are taking in job interviews. There is now less emphasis on hard skills, and more behavioural questions about how you would react in certain situations.

It’s worth considering whether, in the future, soft skills will become so vital, they’ll become a requirement for procurement roles. That situation already exists in some professions. Look at Medicine, where aspiring doctors are interviewed for qualities including maturity, communication, the ability to empathise and collaborate. Hugh Laurie’s Dr House, with his acerbic bed-side manner, would in reality never have gained entry into medical school, no matter how brilliant he was.

There’s a school of thought that when it comes to soft skills, you’ve either got it, or you don’t. Soft-skills training, therefore, is ineffective because you can’t change someone’s personality. Personally, I disagree because I’ve witnessed colleagues who have worked hard to develop skills like effective listening. There’ll always be hard cases, but the days of people dismissing these skills as “fluffy” or otherwise useless are over.

Three Alternative Names for Soft Skills

As I wrote at the beginning of this article, it’s nigh-impossible to change a term once it’s in common usage. However, if professional organisations, training providers, and the like, were to phase out the words “soft skills”, and call them something more accurate instead, we might see this phrase begin to disappear.

Here are three suggestions for a more accurate description of “soft” skills.

1. Essential skills: I’ve borrowed this one from ISM CEO Tom Derry, who also isn’t a fan of the term “soft skills”. Tom used the term “essential skills” when launching ISM’s Mastery Model to describe the many interpersonal attributes required on the journey to achieving accreditation.

2. EQ: “Emotional intelligence quotient” is the technical term for soft skills. I like this term simply because it contains the word “emotional”, which pretty much sums up what soft skills entail. Calling it a “quotient”, however, raises the argument that EQ, like IQ, is something you’re born with, and can’t be improved upon.

3. People skills: The simplest, and possibly the most accurate, alternative for soft skills is “people skills”. After all, every one of these skills involves dealing with people, while hard skills can generally be put to use sitting alone at your computer.

If you have other suggestions, or already use a different terminology in your workplace, please add a comment below!

Can We Agree to Stop Calling Them “Soft Skills”?

Does the term ‘soft skills’ underplay their importance in the modern procurement world?

The English language is full of misnomers. Just ask the killer whale (actually a dolphin), or the horny toad (actually a lizard). Once a word or phrase has entered common usage, it’s near-impossible to change it, even if the population generally understands that the term is misleading.

Which brings me to “soft skills”. I work for an organisation that provides training for procurement and supply chain professionals. As such this is one of the terms that I hear bandied about many times a week.

My argument is that defining this skill-set as “soft” actually devalues an essential part of every procurement professional’s toolkit.

To quickly summarise, soft skills are those used in dealing with other people. These include skills such as communication abilities, language skills, influencing skills, emotional empathy, and leadership traits. In contrast, “hard” skills – such as tendering or IT competencies – are readily measurable and (importantly) easier to train.

How Did They Come to be Called Soft Skills?

I’d be interested to hear if anyone has been able to pinpoint the first usage of this term.

The concept has been applied to business environments since at least 1936, when Dale Carnegie’s famous self-help book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People was published. Carnegie’s work, which has sold a phenomenal 30 million copies to date, is essentially the definitive guide to soft skills. However, it stops short of actually using these words.

Recently, there seems to have been an explosion of articles and training courses focusing on soft skills, particularly in procurement. My theory is that procurement – having moved from back-office to business-partnership status only a decade or so ago – is, in effect, late to the soft skills party, and is currently playing catch-up.

It’s possible that the term “soft skills” simply came about as an antonym to hard skills. Perhaps it reflects the “softly-softly” approach, where managers choose to influence, rather than confront, and to make suggestions, rather than issuing orders. Whatever the reason, I believe it’s a misleading term due to the other connotations of “soft”.

These Skills are Anything But Soft

To my ear, “soft” means easy, pliable, or yielding readily to pressure. Yet a procurement professional with excellent communication abilities, who is adept at reading people, will be a “harder” opponent in negotiations, than a colleague lacking these skills.

Similarly, the connotation with “ease” is deceptive when it comes to trying to train for skills like change management or leadership. And quantifying the results of that training is more difficult still. Hence we’re hearing more and more that employers are hiring people based on their attributes (cultural fit, communication skills, willingness to change), recognising that hard skills can be easily picked up later on.

This has changed the approach recruiters are taking in job interviews. There is now less emphasis on hard skills, and more behavioural questions about how you would react in certain situations.

It’s worth considering whether, in the future, soft skills will become so vital, they’ll become a requirement for procurement roles. That situation already exists in some professions. Look at Medicine, where aspiring doctors are interviewed for qualities including maturity, communication, the ability to empathise and collaborate. Hugh Laurie’s Dr House, with his acerbic bed-side manner, would in reality never have gained entry into medical school, no matter how brilliant he was.

There’s a school of thought that when it comes to soft skills, you’ve either got it, or you don’t. Soft-skills training, therefore, is ineffective because you can’t change someone’s personality. Personally, I disagree because I’ve witnessed colleagues who have worked hard to develop skills like effective listening. There’ll always be hard cases, but the days of people dismissing these skills as “fluffy” or otherwise useless are over.

Three Alternative Names for Soft Skills

As I wrote at the beginning of this article, it’s nigh-impossible to change a term once it’s in common usage. However, if professional organisations, training providers, and the like, were to phase out the words “soft skills”, and call them something more accurate instead, we might see this phrase begin to disappear.

Here are three suggestions for a more accurate description of “soft” skills.

1. Essential skills: I’ve borrowed this one from ISM CEO Tom Derry, who also isn’t a fan of the term “soft skills”. Tom used the term “essential skills” when launching ISM’s Mastery Model to describe the many interpersonal attributes required on the journey to achieving accreditation.

2. EQ: “Emotional intelligence quotient” is the technical term for soft skills. I like this term simply because it contains the word “emotional”, which pretty much sums up what soft skills entail. Calling it a “quotient”, however, raises the argument that EQ, like IQ, is something you’re born with, and can’t be improved upon.

3. People skills: The simplest, and possibly the most accurate alternative for soft skills is “people skills”. After all, every one of these skills involves dealing with people, while hard skills can generally be put to use sitting alone at your computer.

If you have other suggestions, or already use a different terminology in your workplace, please add a comment below!

Need help with your people skills or EQ? Want to get your procurement career in shape? Stay tuned on Procurious in September for our Career Bootcamp. More information coming soon!