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Nailing Presenting

Are you dreading your next presentation? Standing in front of people and presenting could make us scared, anxious, uncomfortable or panicky. However, you don’t have to feel that way anymore.

Just follow these top tips to deliver amazing presentations, tell a great story and most importantly, be you!



1. Do your homework

Know your audience, what you’re going to say and practice! The best presenters or speakers look natural and informal. They make it look like they’ve just stood up and delivered straight off the top of their heads. However, they haven’t – they’ve researched their audience, worked on their presentation, practised delivering, and made changes as they went along.


2. Believe

It is natural to get nervous, BUT WAIT! The people in your audience are there because they want to hear you speak. So, don’t forget to have faith in yourself and believe that the audience is with you, because they are! They are supporting you and they are interested to hear what you have to say.


3. Be you

Confidence is important and one of the best ways of being confident is just to BE YOU!  Know your strengths and know how you can be at your best in this situation. Whatever strengths you have, use them: Efficiency strengths for structuring the session well, Results Focus for finishing each segment on time or Strategic mindedness for giving people the big picture version of your story. Whatever you have, use. In short, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Be you. People will feel that authenticity and they will respond to it.


4. Tell stories

Make presentations personal and memorable through telling stories. Make sure that your stories are practised and that they have a point, so they’re relevant to your presentation. Weaving in two or three, no matter how short, your audience will be absolutely glued to you because humans are made to tell stories.


5. Work the audience

Be a facilitator, not just a presenter! Humour can work really well, particularly at the start, but practice your jokes with a few people to make sure they land as you’re expecting. You could also ask people to speak to the person next to them, do an activity, move around the room, ask them questions or provide immediate feedback. All these tips can make it super engaging for the audience.


6. Manage yourself

Don’t fold your arms, cross the legs or whatever you do with your body language to put yourself into a self-protective mode. This can give the impression of being distant, or uncertain and may well distract the audience from the content of what are saying. Instead, do what is natural for you but what lands well. Do you need to walk around the room? What about using hand gestures or rising up on your toes when making a point? That’s fine too! However, make sure you ask for feedback, act on it and learn to use your natural style in a way which is credible, powerful and shows people that you’re confident in your material.



7. Using a powerpoint?

Limit the number of slides to keep the focus on a presenter, their story and to connect with the audience. Presentations really are about compelling storytelling. So if an image or two on a PowerPoint can help you tell your story, great! If those images can ANCHOR your takeaway points, excellent! However, slide after slide of wordy bullets that you read from the PowerPoint? That’s is something you definitely want to avoid.


8. Have a point

Have a point and repeat it. If you have one key takeaway, brilliant. If you have three? That will work as long as you signpost it throughout the presentation. However, the fewer the better if you want people to remember what you’ve said.



Did you know this blog is also available as a podcast along with some other incredible content? Check it out on iTunes, Spotify, Acast.


Great meetings in 5 steps

Having a great meeting might not describe your experience of meetings. However, believe it or not, it is possible to have a good meeting and to feel good after! The challenge with meetings is that everyone has a different view of what good meetings look like; a creative one, a quick one, an organised one, one with lots of actions or one with very few actions. The question is, how can we make meetings great for as many people as possible despite having different priorities, perspectives, working or meeting styles?

Simple. Here’s how to in 5 steps…




Before you start the meeting send out an agenda, invite the right people, send out information in advance that you want attendees to read. Don’t stick everything on a calendar invite as people will not read it or if you do, remind them that these are the expectations. When you start the meeting, communicate the meeting objectives, why people are there and plan for the discussion.



Be exclusive and inclusive. Being exclusive is about involving the essential people in the meeting to ensure it achieves its objectives. Being inclusive is about being conscious of everyone in the meeting. Everyone is going to have different preferences, styles and different amounts of time they need to think. During those meetings, adapt to these different styles, be appreciative and be respectful.



Often, we might not have lots of choice as to where we are going to hold our meeting, however, location really does matter. Therefore, it’s important to think about the type of meeting. Does it make sense to hold it in the meeting room, outside, corner of the open plan office or in a different place such as coffee shop? Once you’ve decided on the appropriate place,  think about the duration, as people generally cannot focus for longer than 30 minutes. Remember to check in with them, have regular breaks, food and drink to stay hydrated and energised.




Ensure you go away with as few actions as possible and that all actions have got their owner and a deadline. The agreed actions need to be circulated after the meeting and it is important that you have someone who is responsible for ensuring they happen. This doesn’t mean that the action owners aren’t accountable, however, there needs to be someone who is able to check in with people regularly along the way to ensure they are on track and that they have sufficient support and resources needed.





Don’t go back to back, i.e. from one meeting to another. You need preparation time as well as a break. If you don’t, then you will be struggling to pay attention during the next meeting, as you will be thinking about your next or last meeting. Make sure you have the same amount of time as the meeting duration was, to decompress and prepare in between. Try your absolute best to make the break no less than 30 minutes.



Did you know this blog is also available as a podcast along with some other incredible content? Check it out on iTunes, Spotify, Acast.


How to smash Mondays

Most of us experience fairly similar Monday mornings. We drive to a train station, have our train journey, walk to an office and then we arrive at work. For some of us, driving might become walking, cycling or running. If you combine this with low energy, a bad mood and dreading the morning after the weekend, you’re probably not set up for a great week.

But, what if there was a way to make our Mondays amazing?

And not just Monday.

Well, we’ve got several things that we can introduce into our daily routine to help that. Here are our 8 steps to smash those #MondayBlues outta here…


Don’t rush in the morning, get prepared the night before. Pack your bag, prepare your clothes, make your lunch. Whatever it is you are doing in the morning that could be done the night before. And leave 2 minutes before you have to, so that you can take your time, relax and feel less rushed.




No brainer right? But seriously, get enough of good quality sleep. The hours of sleep will be unique to us – with some people needing 7 and others 10 hours. However, you do need enough sleep to feel rested in the morning to welcome the day you have ahead of you and to help you feel refreshed and ready to go.



Try and have as many positive interactions as you can with people you meet. It can be easy to get upset in the morning, e.g. if there’s a person in front of you taking ages to buy a ticket for the train or whatever. However, try to feel positive towards people as you will be feeling so much better.



It’s important to have a slow release of energy boosting nutrition such as oats, eggs, nuts, berries, fruit and water. Your body needs to have this nutrition to set you up for the day to balance the nutritional shortfall after a night of sleep.



Write a ‘to do’ list that you can actually do, not the one you wish to do. If you have 20 items to do in a day on your list and you only manage to complete 10% of it, you will very likely feel beaten down at the end of the day. Therefore, write a list that has 5-10 items, a list that is realistic.



Be mindful of your surroundings. Breathe, look around you at what people are doing, what is out of your window when travelling to work. Have a think about what you like about the journey and what might be some new things you have noticed every day.



Don’t forget to focus on you. Checking in with yourself on how you are feeling, whether you need something to eat or drink, time to relax, go for a walk, meditate, take a break. Know what you and your body need, you won’t regret it.



Remember to appreciate your achievements. Don’t beat yourself up about what you haven’t done! Instead, think about the good things that have happened in the day and remember to celebrate and appreciate those things.


Did you know this blog is also available as a podcast along with some other incredible content? Check it out on iTunes, Spotify, Acast.

Life Laundry

For us, life laundry is about keeping things clear, simple and focused. It is about ensuring we don’t feel overwhelmed, over busy and conflicted with everything that needs to be done, and that we are taking the right steps to keep things as clean as possible.

Let’s make this happen in just 3 simple steps.

While you are putting these 3 simple steps into practice, don’t forget to be kind to yourself, be clear on the things you love, things that energise you and the things that drain you. And make sure that you do spend enough time every day on the nourishing things and minimise the draining things.

1. Goals and purpose

Have you asked yourself  ‘What are my goals? What is my purpose? What do I want my life to be like?’ If not, please do.

They are big questions indeed, however, they are so crucial to answer to get our priorities straight. By putting your answers into a smaller number, writing them down, sticking them on the wall and keeping them present will ensure we have the clarity we need to stay focused.  Once you have your purpose and goals worked out, you are ready for the step two, life admin.

2. Your life admin

This is, for instance, paying bills, getting back to people, confirming dates, appointments, seeing friends, spending time with family, organising holidays or painting a bedroom. In other words, it is doing things that are part of our ‘to do’ list. However, these can grow rapidly over time and become aspects we keep postponing and delaying if we don’t prioritise them in the right way. Therefore, what should we and should not we put on our to do list? Lets have a look at our main ‘to do list’ categories:

Important urgent: e.g. you need to call a plumber because your house is flooded.

Important non-urgent: e.g. need to book myself a regular check up appointment at the dentist

Unimportant: things that do not matter and have no impact on your life goals

So, how do we work out what is important and unimportant? Think Ants vs. Elephants. Go down your ‘to do list’ and mark each item either A for Ants (little unimportant things) or E for Elephants (great big things). Then remove the As from your list and only keep the Es. At this stage, you have successfully cleaned your list. Now, make sure that you put all the remaining tasks on your list into priority order and you can start actioning them.

3. Your surroundings

This is about your environment and making it what we want it to be. This relates to where you live and where you work; it’s about spring cleaning but smarter.

So the first thing is to get rid of actual junk that builds up around you at home and work by having a clean out whenever it works for you.  By junk I mean stuff that doesn’t matter, that you don’t need, that could have a better home elsewhere, including the bin! And on a regular basis, do the same with your online life; apps, photos, even friend culls are a thing apparently, although that’s not just online I guess.

Clear surroundings = clear mind!

Did you know this blog is available as a podcast? Along with some other incredible content? Click here

Helping teams optimize their strengths

Despite all the change and churn going on in the world today, some teams still manage to raise their game and performance to another level.  Whether in sport or in commerce, while unusual, these examples are not hard to find.  But how do they do it?  Well whether they label it as this or not, many teams have learned to optimize their strengths and limit the impact of any risk areas they may have in order to drive towards their goals.  Below, we have some top tips that will help any team to ride the waves of change and strengthen their performance to beyond what they thought was possible:

  1. Know your purpose– the most effective teams operate the ‘gold medal’ strategy: namely, what is the one overriding goal that the team needs to focus on in order for it to be a standout success?  Of course, we might feel that sporting teams should find this more straightforward, as they may well be literally aiming towards a ‘gold medal’ goal.  However, the same pinpoint approach can be adopted in the business world too.  Ask yourself what is the one goal or single overriding purpose for your team that outweighs all others.
  2. Find your strengths– teams need to understand the strengths, skills and most important contribution that individuals can make to a team.  Part of this data can come from a strengths profiler such as Strengthscope®, which will help individuals identify what they love the most and where they can make greatest impact.  It is also important to know how the strengths of individual team members combine to ‘define’ a team’s brand – this will often be a blind spot for teams until they gain an understanding of how their strengths can combine most effectively to deliver on goals.
  3. Understand how to use strengths at their best– knowing your strengths doesn’t necessarily equate to using them effectively.  At the individual level, team members can benefit from reflecting on how they can use their strengths most effectively to help the team achieve its goals, particularly where they have a strength in short supply within the team.  At the team level, gaining an understanding of ‘what great looks like’ for predominant strengths comes through powerful conversations.  For example, using strengths of Empathy and Collaboration to adopt a ‘one team’ approach in practice to deliver on important project goals.  Or using strengths of Resilience and Decisiveness to steer a business through a turbulent and unpredictable period, emerging stronger as a result.  Ongoing powerful conversations can help teams find more examples of strengths at their best to help build awareness both inside and outside the team.
  4. Manage the risks– the most productive teams are prepared to be honest and open about risk areas. Individuals can call on other team members for feedback and support in areas where they feel weaker.  At team level, possible blind spots should be identified due to strengths in overdrive or weaker areas.  Consider shared Resilience and Courage strengths which if left unchecked may lead a team to take risky decisions without a clear benefit.  Or a lack of Relational strengths, which may result in the team becoming insular and isolated from the wider organisation, losing support as a result.  Actively managing these risks is essential if a team is to maintain high performance under pressure.
  5. Build team habits– without strong processes and disciplines to support strengths, a team can never become outstanding.  Planning, delivery, reviewing and learning all require time and focus to be done well and create a sense of belief in what the team can achieve at its best.  Teams which have built these habits over time are more likely to report clarity of goals, trust of one other, a sense of individual and collective responsibility, readiness for change and confidence to stretch beyond comfort zones.
  6. Direct strengths towards goals– always remember to start with the end in mind: be clear on the goals of the team and point strengths and habits clearly in that direction.  Ensure that the team follows a simple action plan of ‘plan, do, review’ in order to learn from experience and to refine its approach over time to create a culture of marginal gains using individual and collective strengths, supported by powerful, positive team habits.

For more on optimizing team strengths and building powerful team habits, check out our team strengths development report, StrengthscopeTeam™.

Paul Brewerton, Joint Managing Director, Strengths Partnership 

Find out more about our HR training services.

Unpacking Myths Underpinning the 9-Box Talent Grid

The 9-Box grid is without a doubt the most commonly used talent and succession planning framework. According to this 2-dimensional grid approach, talent is placed into one of 9 boxes based on the amount of potential and performance they demonstrate. This is all well and good, although there are several underlying myths associated with this approach that need to be unpacked, questioned and addressed. Here are some of the more common ones we experience:

Potential can be objectively assessed

Potential is extremely difficult to assess and is a largely subjective exercise, even with the best psychometrics and latest assessment methods. Even Peter Drucker, the ‘father’ of modern management, stated unequivocally that we should not try to measure potential, only demonstrable performance.

Proposed Solution:

Rather than assessing potential in a subjective and general way, look at measuring indicators or markers of potential such as agility/flexibility, self-improvement and resilience/grit. It is also advisable to test out ‘potential’ by giving star performers varying ‘stretch’ assignments before designating them as “key talent”. Putting hi-potential (HIPO) candidates through assessment or development centres can be another cost-effective and lower risk way to test the effectiveness of their leadership strengths and qualities when faced with challenging and changeable situations.

Performance and potential are consistent across time and business areas

We’ve already illuminated the problems associated with measuring potential. In addition, performance is rarely consistent across time and situation, especially when people are transferred to different geographic locations or functional areas. For example, a high performing R&D Leader or Finance Leader might not be able to maintain these performance levels if they are promoted into a CEO role. One of the best examples of this was when Gordon Brown was promoted from Chancellor into the Prime Minister role and become one of the most unpopular and arguable ineffectual PMs ever. Similarly, transferring an executive to a different geography often results in a slump in performance if they don’t have a high level of agility and cultural sensitivity. Time can also have a major impact on performance, especially if the HIPO experiences changes in their personal or family life that impact their work performance or flexibility.

Proposed Solution:

Talent and succession plans need to be reviewed by senior management or a talent steering group on a regular basis to ensure they are still relevant and take account of changing organisational and personal factors. As indicated previously, it is also crucial for those identified as having promise as future leaders to be rotated into other geographies or business areas as part of their development and assessment. By giving HIPOs a range of stretch assignments and regularly reviewing their performance across different situations, it will be clear which people demonstrate strengths and skills for key roles and those who need more development or less challenging responsibilities.

Once the grid has been populated with talent, job done!

We encounter many clients who produce a lovely 9-Box Grid, usually with the input of senior line management, as a box-ticking exercise, then move on to other priorities and forget about it. In our experience, the hard work comes in deciding how to develop and stretch key talent as well as moving more people into the “star” or top talent box. This typically means the company needs to put in place a thorough talent development plan involving training, coaching, high-level sponsorship and mentoring by senior executives and meaningful stretch assignments that play to the strengths of their people.

Proposed Solution:

It is crucial to ensure senior level ownership and co-ordination of the talent agenda. Companies like GE, Novartis Pharmaceuticals and Google make this a key imperative of the top executive, which ensures it never gets abdicated to HR. We would recommend setting up a small talent steering group comprising no more than 6-8 people including the Head of HR or Learning and Development and several top executives to ensure talent management get the attention, energy and investment is deserves given the likely payoff to the organisation if it is effectively managed. One of the tasks of this group should be to work with the senior leaders of the business to identify strategically important stretch assignments across the business to test the mettle of those identified as key talents or HIPOs. The steering group can also ensure top executives don’t block their HIPOs from moving to other parts of the business which often happens when talent is managed by HR or there is a diffusion of responsibility across the whole top management team.

HIPOs are energised by the opportunities they are assigned to

Before the Grid is population, there is rarely a discovery conversation with HIPOs about their strengths, roles they would find particularly energising, their personal/family constraints (e.g., unwillingness to travel in the medium term due to their partner’s job or children’s schooling) and their aspirations. People are simply assigned to different boxes, then when an opportunity arises, the organisation is surprised when it is declined by the HIPO. Even worse, the HIPO accepts the role through fear or being overlooked for future promotions or sending out the ‘wrong signals’ to the executive, and ends up becoming demotivated and increasingly unproductive in their new role.

Proposed Solution:

In order to avoid errors resulting from this type of mis-matching of HIPOs to key roles, we strongly recommend assessing people not simply against abilities and competencies required for key roles, but also exploring their motivations, strengths (i.e., natural energisers or passions), aspirations and values. Valid profiling tools such Strengthscope® ( can be used to minimise subjectivity and bias associated with making this type of decision, as well as improving the quality of dialogue with your HIPOs. This will prevent costly mistakes and accelerate HIPO motivation and retention.

Putting people in boxes leads to more objective and fair decision-making

One of the problems with assigning people using a 9-Box Grid is that it labels people not only from an HR perspective, but also in the eyes of the whole senior management team. This causes decision biases and a powerful self-fulfilling prophecy effect which can be extremely detrimental to both the organisations and people assigned to the grid, especially those deemed to have low potential even when they are strong performers. There has been a lot of research in schools and the workplace showing how powerful this effect can be, both for good and poor performers. People regarded as key talent are treated positively and are expected to do well, which more often than not, translates into stronger performance and even more favourable treatment and sponsorship by top management. Those who are regarded as having little potential are not developed and challenged as much and senior management treats them as ‘average employees’; the “Gollum Effect” (or negative self-fulfilling prophecy) kicks in and guess what, their performance and motivation declines.

Proposed Solution:

There are several measures that can be taken to ensure greater levels of objectivity in the assessment and management of talent including:

  • Robust assessment of talent using assessment or development centres.
  • Introducing talent review and calibration meetings of senior managers from across the business to improve the quality of the dialogue and decisions. These should ideally be facilitated by HR or an objective third party to challenge assessment decisions and the assumptions behind these.
  • Ensuring any measure of potential is clearly defined and objectivity measured to minimise subjectivity. As indicated before, we’ve found attributes such as agility, speed of learning and resilience a lot easier to measure and more predictive of potential than any attempt to try to measure potential directly.
  • Ensuring a transparent, fair and objective performance management system to ensure assessments of performance are as unbiased as possible. Inviting feedback from colleagues and other stakeholders, in addition to the line manager, in what is termed “360-degree feedback” can also improve the objectivity of the process if the design and application of the 360-feedback process is undertaken with the assistance of experts in this area.
  • Tracking minority group representation in the HIPO pool and taking steps to encourage inclusion and avoid unconscious discrimination based on factors unrelated to job performance.

Talent management and succession will become increasingly important as organisations try to remain competitive in a hyper-competitive and fast-moving world. The 9-Box Grid has been widely adapted to assist in the process of aiding decision-making and talent development mainly because of its simplicity and adoption by many of the leading brands. However, like any HR tool, it needs to be applied with caution and objectivity in order to deliver the best results. It is also an ageing tool and we are exploring alternatives for clients that are better suited to the demands and challenges we face in the 21st century. As is the case with any technology, we need to keep innovating to ensure we aren’t left with obsolete HR technologies that are poorly matched to the demands we face.

James Brooks