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Top Tips for Conference Speakers

I have sat through and given a few presentations in my time so based on my experience of sitting through a conference or two I have put together a few tips:

Preparing For The Event

  • Read the proposed conference flyer and match your points to the theme.
  • The flyers can help on the direction of the content – it is always a good idea to discuss the content further with the Conference Producer before you prepare ‘it’.
  • Cicero over two thousand years ago said a good speaker learns fast and is knowledgeable and expert about the subject – know your subject in depth and provide evidence during your speech that you know what you are talking about.


If you are speaking at a conference attracting senior-level decision-makers from across your sector ask yourself:

  • What do they want to hear?
  • What do you want to say?
  • Where does the crossover lie?

Watch out! – Presentations from speakers who dwell too long on their basic company information are always seen as crude sales pitches – and people switch off.

Be aware of the format of your session

If you doing a presentation and you are using PowerPoint:

  • Use a minimum font size of 18 – better 24+
  • Allow around three minutes per slide (remember no death by PowerPoint!).
  • The Rule of Five – ideally PowerPoint presentations should contain no more than 5 words per sentence and 5 lines per slide.
  • Visuals are often a great way of illustrating your presentation but ‘Keep It Simple’ – too many charts overwhelm a presentation and cannot be read at the back of the conference room.
  • Likewise, avoid over-use of PowerPoint special effects – or flash effects like zooming they distract from the presentation

If you are taking part in a panel discussion prepare:

  • The Chair should contact you approximately 2 weeks in advance of the panel to set the agenda – schedule time to talk to her!
  • You are likely to be asked to spend five minutes setting out your thoughts on the proposed topic.
  • Prepare and memorise this five minute piece and think carefully about what you are going to say (Cicero also recommended memorising your speech).

Practice makes perfect

Rehearse your speech several times preferably in front of an audience who will not fall asleep and who are honest.

And on the day…

…start strong

It is often helpful to memorise the first minute or two of your speech to ease you into it – once you’ve started you’ll find it easier to keep going. Never apologise or spend too much time on inane pleasantries – get down to business. The first minute or two is about establishing the rapport with the audience and setting the degree to which they give you authority to speak.

Think about your body language

  • Style and tone of voice account for 90 per cent of communication so adopt a relaxed, confident pose.
  • Maintain eye contact with the audience – select one or two people from the audience to maintain contact but do not stare!
  • If there are label mics available use them – no Al Jolson impressions and shout at them!


Watch your timing, never overun and finish a few minutes to ask for any questions

The Project Audit Process

The Simple Steps for a Project Audit


The process of carrying out a project audit starts with initiation. In this activity a meeting with the prime stakeholder is held where the scope of the audit is agreed, a list the questions that need to be answered is drawn up and basic facts about the project such as scale, locations, goals, history, and progress to date are garnered. The output of the initiation is a plan of attack of the audit.

Enquiry and reporting

The twin tasks carried out during the audit are enquiry and reporting.

Research tasks

The first step is to understand the project “landscape” (who is who, what are they doing, where are they doing it) and status (where are they up to). This is normally accomplished by reading documents such as the brief, PID and highlight reports, and talking to the sponsor and the current project manager. It is at this stage that the overall context of the project at the organisation is clarified.

The second step is to select interview candidates, and then to carry out semi structured interviews – these will be recorded for ease of transcription. Some interviews will inevitably raise further questions and lead to more rounds of interviewing or follow-up (which can be done by email if there are matters of clarification) – revisiting some people and other meetings. Interviewees may be drawn from both in- and outside the project team (for example from the program office). Simultaneously, I would normally acquire and study relevant project documents and files during this process to see if good practice is in place. The status of the technical artifact as it currently is will be investigated by investigating the operational software and by carrying out reviews of the code – but this is likely to be confined to an assessment by the TDA.

Reporting – report contents

  • Summary
  • Background
  • <sections specific to questions being addressed>
  • Quantified risk assessment, showing for each major risk:
    • Nature of risk
    • Risk likelihood
    • Risk avoidance strategies
    • Outcomes if risk materializes (with probabilities for best vs worst cases)


What is a core competence and how can it be recognised?

A core competency is a specific resource that an organisation sees as being central to the way it works.

A core competence fulfils three criteria:

  1. It provides direct customer benefit
  2. It is not easy for competitors to replicate
  3. It can be leveraged widely to many products and markets (has scope).

A core competency can take various forms, including technical/subject matter know-how or a particular business process. It can also be the possession of a key resource such as close relationships with customers and other suppliers in the value chain. An important aspect of a core competence is its embedded nature in the organisation’s activities – true core competences are difficult to extract from an organisation in a simplistic way.

Core competencies are strengths relative to other organizations in the competitive environment that provides the fundamental basis of the added value the organisation provides. Core competences are usually to be found in the value added parts and processes of organisations and in the supporting infrastructure. Core competencies can be likened to the collective learning in organizations that takes place and involves how to coordinate diverse production skills and integrate multiple streams of technologies. Core competence in technology terms also accumulates over time and becomes embedded in the ways of working and practices of the everyday. In general few organisations are likely to build leadership in more than five or six fundamental competencies at any one time.

How to manage remote staff – tips and guidelines

How to manage remote staff – tips and guidelines

Clarify types of remote working:

  • Home-based
  • Satellite offices
  • Mobile
  • Client based
  • Part or full-time remote.
  • Professional or clerical staff

Are different issues.

Myth 1– employees can take care of themselves
Myth 2– trust and control are easy
Myth 3 – unless I can see them they are not working

Successful virtual/remote working requires radical new approaches to evaluating, educating, organizing and informing workers.

Staff worry – that they will be forgotten, that they will lose promotion prospects, that they will not be trusted, that people will think they are not working when they are. Evidence is, may be benefits to both organization and individual but there really can be isolation, reduction in promotion, tendency to overwork and reduction of intra-organization communication, identification and (potentially) commitment.

Remoteness does have implications, don’t assume you know how to manage. As employees move away from office managers need to change their managerial style. There is a risk that managers can slip into communication patterns that are totally task oriented and miss verbal cues that let them know that these patterns are demotivating the staff.

Three different styles may be appropriate in different circumstances:

  • At hands reach
  • Collaboration
  • Relationship and trust

Issues include: trust, identification, socialization, control

Remote/virtual staff must clearly understand why they exist and be able to translate their purpose into actions. Research suggests greatest problem for staff and managers is still communication. Managers must become results oriented, shift from being a controller to a leader or coach. Need to develop specialised communication and planning skills, including the ability to communicate well electronically.

Managers and supervisors should:

  • Establish a relationship based on mutual confidence and trust.
  • Ensure well structured, relevant and regular communications.
  • Be available for consultation and advice – set expectations for response times (same day preferable). 
  • Ensure technology and support easily available
  • Enable and encourage good communication with other workers
  • Jointly establish precise goals and objectives (and ensure resources available)
  • Evaluate and feedback on a regular basis
  • Ensure staff participate in organizational activities and are kept informed – don’t assume they have seen the intranet notices.
  • Make sure managers and employees are clear on performance objectives and measurement.
  • Pay close attention to peer relationships, set up buddy systems and agreed forms and frequencies of communication.
  • Plan to communicate by f2f as well as telephone.
  • Set up socialization events and/or drop in facilities, ensure these are genuinely encouraged.
  • Certain areas demand f2f – particularly appraisals, salary reviews.
  • Don’t just e-mail – think before you send. Relevance and impact in particular – how will the other party respond to this? Do they need to know?
  • Re- educate managers and employees for a virtual culture, when and how often to communicate, when to talk vs. type, what to say etc.
  • Ensure staff are trained in time management and how to establish effective off-site/client-site office.
  • Set up a knowledge management/repository so staff can find out who can help on different issues.
  • Set up mentoring and coaching programmes for new or inexperienced personnel.

Practical guidelines on monitoring

  • Communicate goals clearly
  • Set priorities
  • Assess on results (set project milestones, hold periodic reviews, establish check-in periods and frequent updates)
  • Agree on results indicators and how to track these
  • Make sure/check that communications are clear and understood
  • Get regular feedback from employees co-workers and customers
  • Collect specific examples of performance related actions and results to facilitate objective performance discussions.

And do this all with an air of trust and confidence its a  balancing act for sure!

Need to focus on key areas such as communication, trust and control and expand on these.
Perhaps need to assess current mindsets and explode the myths etc.
Start by asking what problems they have in managing remote staff (if they think they don’t have any, ways to explore?)

So communication…

Consider aspects of office that technology not (yet) replaced:

  • Corporate culture and socialization opportunities
  • Creation of loyalty and identification
  • Unplanned and f2f communications – can give additional information and assess attitudes or concerns.
  • Control by observation
  • Access to additional materials
  • Symbols of corporate structure and political workings

Topics that may need addressing include team leadership, work-life balance, orienting new employees to culture and managing performance.

The nature of the information needs to be changed, as well as the medium.

It is recommended that companies:

  • Institute new information flows to replace current ways of communication.
  • Ensure all understand the strengths and weaknesses of various technologies for communicating in specific circumstances – aim to make communication more rational and considered.
  • Educate all employees on how to be more effective providers and consumers of information.

The best practice of managing diversity at work

The best practice of managing diversity at work

The business case for being positive about diversity at work is not just legal and financial; it is also closely linked to looking after your customers and your staff. Although many organisations are becoming more aware of the legal aspects of discrimination, a focus on the legislation will not change hearts and minds.

This article discusses what is meant by diversity, outlines the business case for taking a positive approach to diversity at work, and discusses the psychological underpinnings of related concepts such as stereotyping, prejudice and group membership. Most importantly it will highlight best practice for training and diversity awareness sessions, as recent research highlights that if not done correctly diversity training can actually make things worse.

What is diversity?

People vary in multiple ways, by age, personality, gender, ethnicity, religion, education, sexual orientation, morals, beliefs, hair colour, and shoe size, to name but a few! Sometimes these differences mean that some people are treated less favourably, or find things more difficult to do because of the way we create our environment to fit the ‘average’ person. Sometimes this makes people upset or angry, or they just ‘give-up’. Generally it can lead to misunderstandings and/or poor working relationships. Even if no harm was intended, in the wrong environment people can feel threatened and stressed if they perceive inequalities. It often means the organisation and the people in it are not working as effectively as they could.

The business case
Organisations in many parts of the world are beginning to take note of the benefits of a diverse and equal workforce. These include:

  • Enhanced creativity
  • Reduced employee stress
  • Increased customer satisfaction (particularly where the customer profiles are matched with staff profiles)
  • Reduced incidence of bullying or harassment
  • Improved team-working

For many this has led to increased organisational performance and a reduction in problem behaviours, (some of which may result in legal claims).

Psychological underpinnings
A wide range of psychological processes underpin both the problems and the solutions to diversity in organisations.

These include:

  • Group memberships – People have a strong need to feel part of the in-group. They like to identify with people who are similar to them and there is a strong drive to wish to differentiate from out-groups. This can lead to:
  • Categorisation – lumping people together into groups because they seem to share characteristics. This process is very beneficial to us normally as it speeds up recognition, allowing us to see that a Poodle and a Great Dane are still examples of dogs for example (and therefore potentially dangerous if they bite). However as people are so complex this generalisation process is often misleading. It is linked to our need to use:
  • Stereotyping – ideas are held about other people based solely on their membership of particular groups or their physical characteristics. Although useful when there is a need to make quick judgements (in evolutionary terms stereotyping has been helpful for our survival) they can be used unthinkingly to create prejudice and to justify discriminatory behaviour. Stereotyping can lead to prejudice – pre-judging people solely on the basis of some perceived difference.

Many of these processes are automatic, although in the right circumstances people can learn to reduce or control them. Understanding these processes, and why they are both useful and problematic, can also help us to understand which types of diversity training can be of most benefit.

Best practice for diversity training
Many organisations have started to include diversity awareness training as a standard; some are moving further forward into diversity management (which implies a step-change in systems and processes). However, some types of awareness training actually increase the processes of group membership and stereotyping, actually making the atmosphere at work worse! Groups can become defensive if made to feel responsible for inequalities and may increase their group cohesion by denigrating the out-group. Other activities have been known to increase anger, confusion, or to lead staff to deny that such situations exist in the workplace today.

The most successful interventions apply the concepts of social identity and enable re-categorisation (welcoming a broader membership into your in-group) and make salient the complexity of social identities. Such exercises have been shown to minimise bias and increase tolerance and positivity towards ‘out-groups’. Other successful interventions include simple stereotype activation sessions, where employees are then allowed to discuss why they were unable to consider non-stereotypical answers to scenarios. Examples of these include situations which can only be resolved by non-stereotypical gender roles, such as a female surgeon. Increasing awareness of our own cognitive biases and how the processes ‘work’ has been shown to increase participants’ motivation and willingness to change.

One important factor must be taken into account. Prejudice and discrimination are supported, or rejected, by organizational norms and values. Research indicates that people often become more prejudiced in public, because of the support they gain from others. Any diversity training must therefore start at the top and include everyone in the organisation, and systems and policies must be effective in demonstrating that the organisation is equal, open and fair.

Increasingly, HR Professionals are increasing their own knowledge of the psychological aspects of work, by studying advanced courses in occupational psychology or organizational behaviour. They wish to ensure that they fully understand the processes involved in their practice, and can ensure that any training and development, even if outsourced, is based on both theory and the latest evidence. Diversity is one of many areas in HR that can be more fully informed by considering psychological processes.