Brenda's Blog

All articles from the 'Personal Branding' Category

The Power of Gratitude to Build Your Leadership Brand

As we enter the third month of 2018, the prevailing feeling for me is one of gratitude.

resolutions

Why? Well, recently I was notified that I have been ranked #9 on the 2018 World’s Top 30 Coaching Professionals list and #5 on the 2018 World’s Top 30 Branding Professionals by the Global Gurus organization. It is truly an honor to be in the company of such influential global coaches as Marshall Goldsmith, Tony Robbins, and Jack Canfield and such excellent brand experts as Sally Hogshead, Joe Callaway, and Martin Lindstrom.

I am incredibly grateful to you, as a blog reader, for your votes, and for your ongoing support and help. I can’t thank you enough!

With that in mind, let’s spend a little time on the power of gratitude.  After all, to build a successful leadership brand for yourself at work, gratitude – and acknowledgement – are foundational.

Once you’ve had a chance to read my thoughts, I encourage you to take the “acknowledgement challenge” that I’ve outlined near the end of this post.  Try it and see how it goes!  And, please do let me know the outcomes. How has acknowledging others changed your own outlook or perhaps your relationship with your team? Your boss? Your colleagues and peers?  I look forward to hearing your stories!

The Power of Gratitude in Building a Strong Brand for Yourself

resolutions

Nancy walked into my coaching office looking exasperated.

“You don’t look all that happy,” I said. “How can I help?”

“I’m so demoralized at work,” she quickly responded. “My boss never gives me recognition or credit for what I do, despite working long hours and achieving great results.”

“Interesting,” I said. “So, tell me, Nancy, how often do you acknowledge what your team members do well at work?”

Nancy paused and looked at me. Then, she smiled and chuckled quietly.

“Truthfully… hardly ever,” she said. “I’m always so busy finding and fixing problems, so I generally don’t acknowledge others. If I’m not offering kudos, I guess I shouldn’t expect to receive kudos back, right?”

“What would you like to do about that?” I asked.

That’s what began Nancy’s “homework assignment” of regularly giving compliments to her team. We set up three key guidelines:

resolutions
  1. focus on what people were doing right instead of wrong;
  2. compliment at least three people per day; and
  3. make sure that every acknowledgment was genuine, well-deserved, and specific.

How did it go? Nancy described the outcome of her assignment as “astounding.” Within the span of a few short weeks, her direct reports started coming in to work earlier, getting more done, their spirits were brighter, and relationships were improving.

Nancy learned an important self-leadership lesson – that making a little bit of effort to recognize others can create a significant difference. And that difference was not just in morale, but in productivity and outcomes, too. So, recognizing others isn’t just the right thing to do for those individuals, it’s the right thing to do for the company as a whole.

By the way, Nancy also started acknowledging her boss when she noticed him doing something well. Guess what came out of that? He began to pay her compliments more often, too. The benefits were full-circle.

resolutions

Even just the act of saying “thank you” can have an enormous impact. Think about it: Don’t you respond well when someone thanks you for what you’ve done? As leaders, it’s important that we say thank you to our team, our colleagues, and our superiors regularly, not just on occasion. Not only does gratitude motivate others, but you set an example that can change the entire mood and culture of your organization. And it strengthens how people perceive, think, and feel about you as a leader at work.

Focusing On What’s Right

You’ll notice that part of Nancy’s assignment was to focus on what others were doing right instead of what they were doing wrong. What about you? How often do you focus on what’s going right on the job?  Or, do you find it easier to focus on what needs to improve?

Many leaders do the latter.  It’s far too easy to take the good things for granted while we place our attention on fixing what isn’t working so well. While it’s important to move the organization and your team forward by addressing problems, it’s equally important to acknowledge what is already working.

resolutions

Noticing the “good” is actually a big stress-reliever, too. When we worry about what needs to be fixed, we can lose perspective, thinking that the problems are bigger than they actually are. The old adage holds true: What you focus on grows.

If, on the other hand, we take the time to recognize where progress has already been made, we can relax a little, even in the face of difficult challenges.

What’s more, focusing on what’s right is a greater motivator for your team and everyone else in your organization. Always concentrating on what’s going wrong is exhausting, demoralizing, and self-defeating. Who can improve and approach problem solving in a positive way when morale is low?  And it does nothing for your brand as a leader either.

Take the “Gratitude Challenge”

resolutions

I challenge you to take on the same “homework assignment” that Nancy did, and – over the course of the next 30 days – regularly giving compliments to team members, colleagues, peers, clients, vendors, and yes – even your boss. Not at work right now? That’s fine – practice at home. After all, family members need acknowledgement for what they are doing right, too.

Just remember the three key guidelines:

  1. focus on what people are doing right instead of wrong;
  2. compliment at least three people per day; and
  3. make sure that every acknowledgment was genuine, well-deserved, and specific.

Have fun with your 30-day “gratitude challenge” – I look forward to hearing from you!

Here are my favorite productivity tools to help make 2018 your best year yet

“It’s December already? How did that happen?”

These are words I’m hearing a lot right now in my executive coaching practice.

Yes, indeed, it’s that time of the year – when we realize a new year is just around the corner.  That usually means joy, celebration, and hopeful expectations about what the new year will bring.

resolutions

But it’s also a period when a lot of clients share with me that they are feeling pressure – trying to squeeze in last-minute deals to meet tough year-end revenue and profit goals at work while the tensions at home rise due to children facing final exams and everyone trying to squeeze in meaningful family connections – and holiday shopping.  There never seems to be enough time!

In my book, Leading YOU™, released earlier this year, I focus an entire chapter on the importance of managing time. A critical part of self-leadership and building a great brand for yourself as a leader is how well you use the 24 hours you have each and every day.

Over the past 15 years as a coach and speaker, I’ve experimented with a lot of productivity tools – some “techie,” some not. Some have been absolutely amazing – saving me loads of time.  Others fizzled.

resolutions

So, as we prepare to end 2017 and move into 2018, I thought I’d share my findings with you – the very best productivity tools I’ve discovered over the years. This, to help YOU™ get a jump-start on your productivity in 2018, and to face the new year with cool, calm, and collected confidence.

I’ll share these tips every few days in the coming weeks. To respect your time(!), I’ll keep these tips short and to the point, sharing just a few in each blog post. They shouldn’t take more than 5-10 minutes to read.

Here are my first few productivity tools, below.  I’d love to hear what you think!  Feel free to share your response in the comment section below.

Tip #1:   Use voice-activated software to dictate emails.  I can type about 100 words per minute, but no matter how fast I type, I can still speak the same words more quickly.  So, to save time on typing and emails, I use Dragon Naturally Speaking, a voice-activated software.

resolutions

I speak into a headset, and DNS types whatever I say – just as quickly as I say it. This single tech solution has saved me hundreds of hours of typing time!  I can complete my morning email routine in less than half of the time it used to take me, making DNS one of the best time-saving techniques I have ever used.

What if you have an accent and/or you are not a native English speaker?  No problem.  DNS also trains itself to learn your voice so, it will recognize and type whatever you say. Available for both PC and Mac.

Tip #2:  Use Shortkeys for your most common phrases.  When you’re in a quiet place where you can’t dictate using Dragon Naturally Speaking, Shortkeys comes to the rescue!

resolutions

Have you ever noticed that you tend to type the same phrases over and over again? I do, too. Words like “Thank you, and best regards, Brenda” or instructions to a team member, such as “Please set up an electronic invitation for this event.”  Instead of wasting my time typing those frequently recurring phrases again and again, I set up Shortkeys so that it recognizes a code for my key phrases (e.g., “tybr” for the first phrase above, and “eli” for the second phrase). Boom!  They are typed out immediately upon using those codes. As such, Shortkeys has also saved me countless amounts of time throughout my day.

Tip #3:   Be productive – even in the shower!  As an author and blogger, I always have ideas popping up in my head that I want to jot down. So, you will find a notepad and pen handy in all rooms of my house and office – always within reach.

But, what about those amazing ideas that hit me when I’m in the shower?  They often used to fade away before I had a chance to jot them down, causing me frustration and lost inspiration.  Maybe you’ve had that happen to you, too?

resolutions

Not anymore. Earlier this year, I found Aquanotes, completely waterproof notepads that allow you to record your great ideas while you’re in the shower.  Use the suction cups on the back of the notepad to stick it to the shower wall, and use the soy-based pencil to write down your great ideas – guaranteed not to smudge.  I even take an Aquanotes pad and pencil to the swimming pool, as I can write on it while completely immersed in the water!  

I hope you’ve enjoyed this initial installment of “My Favorite Productivity Tips.”  I encourage you to try them out and/or give one or more of these tools to someone this holiday season!

I’ll write more soon. In the meantime, please send me a note via the comment section below, and share any other great time-saving tips you’ve run across.   I look forward to hearing back from you!

Take care, and all the best – Brenda (this phrase was typed with Shortkeys…)

Why we’re so excited – a note from Brenda’s team

A Note from the Brenda Bence Team:

We are excited to announce that Brenda Bence has been nominated Top Global Coaching Guru this year! (Last year Brenda was listed at #22 based on write-in votes; so this year, she has been “officially” nominated by GlobalGurus.org.)

Brenda has been nominated again this year as a Top Global Branding Guru, too, so we are feeling doubly grateful.

resolutions

A portion of the final ranking by Globalgurus.org takes into account votes that Brenda receives from clients, friends, colleagues, and community. We would be grateful to you if you could support Brenda this year by voting for her.  [See further below for how to vote.]

Since Brenda is not always the best at tooting her own horn, we thought we’d step in and do it for her.  Here’s a bit of background about Brenda that you may or may not know:

  • Brenda spent the first 20 years of her career building mega brands for Fortune 100 companies, where she was a senior executive responsible for billion-dollar businesses across four continents and 50 countries.
  • She then started up her own company 15 years ago to help companies and leaders achieve greater success through building strong brands for themselves. She does this through executive coaching, professional speaking, and delivering corporate learning programs.
  • Truly international in scope, Brenda has coached over 700 executives hailing from 60 nationalities (across 6 continents) and from more than 70 industries.
  • Brenda regularly travels the world to spread her leadership branding message. She holds the Certified Global Speaking Professional designation, a title that only a handful of speakers have attained, indicating her ability to engage and address multi-cultural / multi-generational audiences around the globe.
  • She has written 10 books on leadership branding which have been sold into 15 countries and been translated into several languages.  As a thought leader, Brenda has also authored hundreds of articles which have been published in more than 400 media outlets across the world.
resolutions

HOW TO VOTE – WE APPRECIATE YOUR HELP!
As mentioned above, a portion of the final ranking by Globalgurus.org takes into account votes from Brenda’s clients, colleagues, and community. So, we would appreciate your support this year by visiting this website below and casting your vote for Brenda!

Here’s How to Vote:

  • Go to http://globalgurus.org/
  • Select the Category, then click on Vote Here [Remember: Brenda has been nominated for both Coaching and Branding, so you could vote twice – in both categories – if you are feeling particularly generous!]
  • Log in via Facebook or Twitter [this step is required in order to keep the voting honest]
  • After logging in, select the Category again, and then click “Vote here”
  • Scroll down to view the photos, and click on Brenda’s name
  • Scroll down a bit more, and then select either Good, Very Good, Great, Exceptional, or Inspirational.

Voting continues until December 30th. On behalf of Brenda and the rest of the BDA International team, we thank you for your ongoing support!

Announcing the First-Ever International Speakers Summit from June 19 to 30, 2017: Yours for free as a reader of my blog!

In addition to following the tips mentioned in my blog post about presenting powerfully, I invite you to take your presentation and public speaking skills to a whole new level by tuning in to the first-ever online International Speakers Summit – which is absolutely free!

resolutions

There has never been an event like this before. Over the 12-day period of June 19-30, 2017, you’ll be given unprecedented access to tips of the trade from nearly 60 top professional speakers, including myself, Jack Canfield, Simon T. Bailey, Rob “Waldo” Waldman, Lenora Billings-Harris, Stephen Shapiro, Tony Alessandra, Terry Brock, Fredrik Haren, Michael Port, Mark Bowden, Daniel Gutierrez, and – literally – dozens more!

When you tune in, you’ll discover:

  • How to craft a winning presentation or speech
  • How to present in a way that reflects who you really are
  • How to get asked to speak more frequently and strengthen your internal and external brand in the process

And much, much more.

It will be lots of fun, too!

As one of the speakers participating, I’ve been given complimentary passes for all of my blog readers, so I’m very happy to be able to share this benefit with you!

CLICK HERE today to reserve your complimentary pass. Please don’t wait because spots for this event are filling up fast!

I look forward to seeing YOU™ at the International Speakers Summit!

CLICK HERE to find out more and to reserve your free pass.

Which of These Top Presenting Mistakes Have YOU Made?

Consider these scenarios: Your boss informs you that you will be presenting to a high-level group of senior leaders in three days’ time.

Or… you get a call from the President of an association asking you to speak to an audience of 250 at a well-attended industry conference.

Or… you’ve been asked to give a toast at an important corporate banquet, in honor of the company’s retiring Chairman.

resolutions

What’s your immediate reaction? Are you calm, cool, and collected – even excited about the opportunity of presenting? Or does your heart skip a beat as you begin to fret, knowing that you won’t sleep well between now and the date of your presentation?

Based on my experience conducting leadership branding programs across multiple continents, the second reaction seems to be much more common than the first. In fact, for millions around the world, the mere thought of presenting is enough to cause nerves and an upset stomach.  Does that sound familiar? If so, read on! I’ll share some important presentation tips I’ve gained while shadowing executives in the workplace and also from being a professional speaker myself for the past 10+ years.

We Know the Basics of Powerful Presenting…But What Really Matters?

If you have any experience presenting at all, you probably already know the four basic P’s of Powerful Presenting:

  • Plan
  • Prepare
  • Practice
  • Present

You know you should have a solid flow and presentation structure, stand up straight, articulate clearly, watch your pace and pitch, use body language to communicate your points, and maintain good eye contact with the audience. These are just a few of the standard tips and tricks you can do to strengthen any presentation.

Yet… around the globe, the most senior leaders I work with regularly complain about their team members not knowing how to present powerfully. What more are those leaders looking for? Let’s investigate.

resolutions

Here are three of the top 10 “subconscious” mistakes I regularly see leaders commit when presenting, and which I share when I train on this topic at client companies. They’re some of the most critical errors, yet they’re often overlooked.

Do you commit any of these top mistakes, too?  If so, you may want to participate in the free International Speakers Summit taking place on June 19-30, 2017. Find out more about the Summit in this blog post.

Powerful Presenting Mistake #1: Not Knowing What the Audience Wants or Needs

We prepare what we’re going to say, but we often don’t find out ahead of time if our presentation is appropriate for the audience. The key to successful presenting? Don’t guess or make assumptions!

Instead, find out ahead of time:

  • What is the audience’s current knowledge on the subject?
  • What background do they have on the subject matter?
  • What specific problem can you solve for them?
  • How do they plan to use your information?

If possible, of course, ask the questions bulleted above to whoever will be in the audience (even if your “audience” is one person!) Or, get a sampling of the audience to share their thoughts on these questions, if you’ll be presenting to a larger crowd.

If that’s not possible, then put yourself in your audience’s shoes, and ask: “Based on the amount of knowledge I anticipate the audience to have about this topic and how they would plan to use the information, what would I most want and need to learn, if I were them?”

Then, be careful about choosing the “wrong level of abstraction.” By this, I mean that you might provide too many details or not enough details when presenting. Do they want the big picture and generalities? If so, guard against adding in too much data. Or do they prefer a lot of details? If so, your presentation could end up being too general for participants, leaving your attendees frustrated and feeling they’ve wasted their time listening to you.

Find out, too, if there are any “hot buttons” to avoid. Certain words may strike a negative chord with a particular audience or with one particular senior leader. For example, an executive once told me that he didn’t like to use the word “weaknesses.” He wanted everybody to refer to potential issues as “opportunities for improvement.”

Powerful Presenting Mistake #2: Not Making Your Presentation Two-Way (Only One-Way)

Too many speakers talk at their audience rather than engaging with them. Remember that your presentation should be a two-way conversation. Pause now and then, and ask a question to those in attendance. Check in and see how well what you are sharing is resonating.

What can you do if the format doesn’t allow for a lot of back and forth with the audience throughout your presentation? Then, be sure to leave time for Q&A at the end.

resolutions

If you do have a Q&A, here’s a helpful tip: Don’t ask, “Do you have any questions?” as an opener. That’s a “yes” or “no” question that makes it too easy for people to simply say “no” (and which often just brings blank stares in response). Instead, scan the audience and make eye contact. Then, ask, “What questions do you have at this point?” You’ll most likely get a few hands raising.

One last point: To set the tone for an inclusive conversation – no matter how large your audience – be careful to not use “I” too often. Instead, use “you,” “we,” and “us.”

Powerful Presenting Mistake #3: Including too much content

In a survey of top executives from large companies, they were asked, “How could people present to you more effectively?” The answer? “Make presentations shorter and more candid.”

So how can you accomplish that? Here are the best ways I know:

  1. Focus on the “bottom line” – get to the point.
  2. Honor the audience’s time, remembering that it’s valuable (re-read Powerful Presentation Mistake #1).
  3. Only use as much data as necessary to make your point, but be ready with supporting data if they request it.
  4. Remember that presenting isn’t about making it clear how much you know. It’s about giving those in the audience exactly the amount of information they need – no more, no less. And again, if you don’t know how much to include, ask!

If you follow these tips, you’ll be way ahead of the game as a presenter, you’ll bring power to the podium, and your attendees will appreciate you immensely.

Presenting powerfully is only one self-leadership capability; find out about others by picking up a copy of my latest book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success.

How to Avoid Saying “Yes” When You Really Want to Say “No”— Self-Leadership Challenge #11

If you’re like most of the busy executives I work with as an executive coach and corporate trainer/speaker, your day may go something like this: Headquarters wants your profit projections for next quarter a week in advance of when you and your team had planned. There’s a line of direct reports outside your office door waiting to meet with you, your inbox is filled with 300+ unanswered emails, and you haven’t yet prepared the keynote speech you are giving tonight at a charity dinner. Meanwhile, your son needs help with his math homework, your spouse complains because you haven’t been home for dinner in a week, and your ailing parents’ financial situation needs your attention.

resolutions

It’s enough to make anyone feel dizzy and stressed out. And the truth is, something has to give if you don’t want to crack under the pressure. But the question is: What?

When I say “something has to give,” what I really mean is that you need to say “no” to some of these pressures. And in order to do that, you must draw strength from your self-leadership bank because learning how and when to say “no”—unapologetically and without guilt—is fundamental to leadership success.

You don’t want to turn away from the people who need you—neither at work nor in your personal life—but that doesn’t mean you need to become a pushover either. For many leaders, it means learning to avoid being so “nice” that you overextend yourself.

Saying “yes” to too much causes physical and emotional stress, can damage relationships, and can leave very little time for self-care. That can result in rising blood pressure, poor health in general, and may cause you to fall ill. It’s a vicious cycle if you don’t put a stop to it.

Being in charge of when you say “yes” and when you say “no” is key to taking control of your life. Saying “no” in a calm, collected, and respectful way becomes more and more critical as you take on increasingly high levels of responsibility.

Yes, You Can Learn to Say “No”

resolutions

If saying “no” is difficult for you—whether it’s always challenging or only in certain circumstances—you can make it easier by following some key steps:

 1.  Get clear on how your life would be better if you didn’t have so much on your plate. Make the longest list possible of all the benefits of saying “no.” For example, your list might include: (1) less stress, (2) more time to spend with family, and (3) fewer feelings of resentment toward the people who expect so much of you. Keep writing until you’ve uncovered all of the possible upsides of saying “no.”

2.  Accept that you do need to get better at saying “no.” Review your to-do’s, and put a checkmark next to each task or activity that you would honestly like to cross off. What issues are you encountering due to having said “yes” to these tasks?

3. Recognize opportunities to say “no.” For a week or two, take note of all the times when you could have said “no” but chose to say “yes.” What drove those decisions? Note the times when it felt right to say “yes,” and those when it didn’t. What would have happened if you had said “no,” and what are the consequences you fear in each situation if you were to say “no”? Assessing these opportunities will help you sort out what’s most important and which fears are stopping you from saying “no” when that’s what you really want.

4.  Practice saying “no” to smaller requests first. A sympathetic yet firm “I’m not able to do that right now” works well. If you’re asked why, simply let them know it’s conflicting with more critical priorities. Most reasonable people will accept this as an adequate response. Are you unsure if you should say “yes” or “no” to a request? Consider saying, “Let me think about that, and I’ll get back to you by 4:00 p.m.” Then, take the time to reflect—without the pressure of someone standing there—to determine if saying “yes” is really the right thing to do.

5.  Literally practice saying “no.” If saying “no” is a particular problem for you, practice it in front of the mirror or on an audio recording. Remember: You want to sound assertive rather than unsure or angry. Remind yourself that you have every right to say “no,” and say it calmly and with confidence. If you say it with aggression or anger, you’re almost certain to cause negative feelings between you and the person making the request.

6.  Stick to your convictions. If someone tries to convince you to change your “no” into a “yes,” ask that person to respect your decision as final. Don’t offer reasons for saying “no” unless you really believe doing so will defuse a potentially explosive situation, or if you feel the individual making the request deserves to hear your reasons.

Most of the time, however, you don’t owe anyone excuses or reasons why you need to say “no.” An exception to that rule: If you’re saying “no” to your boss, of course, it’s smart to offer clear reasons why you believe you can’t take on a new task. If you do offer reasons, be succinct, calm, and confident. Going on and on with multiple reasons could actually cause you to sound guilty and defensive.

7.  Watch your body language. If your mouth is saying “no,” but your body language is saying, “I’m not sure,” you’ll have what I call an “executive brand buster” on your hands. To make sure your body is helping you stick to your convictions, turn full-face to the person you are addressing, and maintain an open yet confident stance. Avoid crossing your arms protectively or looking away when you say “no.” If you are standing, avoid shifting from one foot to the other. Whether you are standing or sitting, be sure to maintain eye contact with the person.

resolutions

8.  Take note of what it’s like to say “no” to the little things. After each positive experience of saying “no,” sit back and assess. What did you experience? Relief? Self-confidence? Pride in your ability to push back? Or did you feel discomfort and guilt? If so, assess what that is about, and keep practicing. Eventually, it will get easier for you. Recognize and reward yourself for each successful “no.”

9.  Make saying “no” a regular habit. After some practice, you’ll find yourself able to say “no” to increasingly bigger requests. You’ll be able to discern quickly when you want to avoid something and when you know it’s right to say “yes.”

You may never be completely rid of your guilt feelings or discomfort when you have to say “no” to someone. But over time, you won’t be as affected by it. Remember: You’re not a bad person because you don’t say “yes” to everything that’s asked of you. You will actually do less good for others if you haven’t done what’s right for you first before attending to others’ needs. That’s just one more benefit of successfully mastering the art of saying “no,” and it reflects good self-leadership, too.

For more ways to say “no” effectively, as well as dozens of self-leadership tips, pick up a copy of my latest book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success.

Self-Leadership Challenge #9: Small Talk is a Big Art—How to Become a Master

Mastering “small talk” can make a big difference in your career. Yet, time and time again, executive coaching clients tell me they dread it. When I speak to an audience and someone mentions that they dread small talk, I sometimes role-play, acting like I’m an individual who has a lot of trouble with it. I inch my way slowly toward someone in the audience and say, “So … um … hi there … um … how are you?” When they say they’re “fine,” I say, “Oh good.” I look around the room, fumbling for what to say next. “Then … um … do you work in this area?” Once they answer that question, I look stumped. How do I move this conversation forward?

resolutions

If that sounds a bit like situations you’ve been thrown into (and suffered through), don’t feel badly—you’re far from alone! All across the world, leaders tell me they dislike small talk and avoid it at all costs.

But as a self-leader—especially one who’s working on expanding and strengthening your network—you will inevitably find yourself in plenty of situations, formal and informal, where you’ll have to have small-talk conversations. Improving your skills in this area is vital to self-leadership and to your brand as a leader.

Keep it “open”
Just like asking (and not telling) is a powerful strategy in the workplace, one of the easiest ways to make small talk more comfortable is to ask open-ended questions. If you ask questions that bring only a “yes” or “no” answer or a short one-word response, you’ve given the other party nothing to latch onto and will likely get nothing back in return—except awkward silence. Questions that start with “What” or “How” will get the other person talking. This is particularly helpful if you’re an introvert who hates to talk about yourself. With this strategy, you can just ask a few simple questions and then listen to the other person do the talking.

Examples of open-ended, small-talk questions include: “So, what do you like most about your job?” “How did you get started in the industry?” “How has your business (or organization or industry) changed over the years?”

You could also make statements that encourage the other person to elaborate: “That’s interesting … tell me more.” Or, “Help me understand what you mean by that.” Then, listen with genuine curiosity, remembering that nodding your head and murmuring the occasional “Mm-hmmm” will make sure the other person feels heard.

It’s not about you
Keep in mind that good networking is not about you! It’s about making the other person feel comfortable and feel heard. The good news is that, as the other person’s comfort level increases, your own discomfort level is likely to diminish as well.

resolutions

Of course, you shouldn’t stay completely silent throughout the entire conversation. To find meaningful ways to chime in occasionally, listen carefully for common ground in the other person’s responses. Does the individual say anything that you can relate to in your own experience? For example, your conversation partner might say, “I got into the industry because I really enjoy technology; I just can’t get enough of the latest breakthroughs.” You can respond with, “I’m with you—that’s why I got into the industry, too. I have an endless fascination with everything tech.” Then, pick up on that commonality and move the conversation forward with, “So, where do you see the next big technology breakthrough coming from?”

Small talk on the job
Instead of finding yourself in a networking situation with someone you don’t know, what if you find yourself at a company event faced with making small talk with a coworker or senior leader? Again, the same guideline applies: Ask open-ended questions rather than tell. If you’re talking with someone you don’t know well but who’s from your workplace, be honest and say, “We’ve worked together for a while now, and I still don’t know that much about you. What do you like to do in your spare time?” Or if it’s someone you already know fairly well, you could ask, “How is the XYZ project coming along?”

Be prepared
Here’s another powerful suggestion to prepare for our next networking event: The next time you have a small-talk situation coming your way, arm yourself with a list of at least ten possible open-ended questions you could ask that could apply to multiple people and situations. Make sure the questions you have in your arsenal begin with either who, what, when, where, or how (never “yes/no” questions, and avoid “why” questions, too). Examples are: “How often do you attend this type of event?” “Where are you from?” “What is your role at work, and how long have you been holding that position?” “Who is your main contact here, and how do you know them?” “What do you like to do in your free time?”

Of course, don’t underestimate the importance of smiling and making eye contact. When the person introduces himself or herself, repeat the individual’s first name: “It’s nice to meet you, Joseph.” Repeating the name makes it more likely you will remember it, and it immediately establishes greater rapport.

Armed with these tips, you’ll be prepared for any event where you need to interact with strangers or work colleagues. The more you prepare yourself, the more comfortable you’ll feel, and the faster you’ll master the art of small talk.

Want to learn more? My book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success,” includes many more tips and tools to help master small talk for greater self-leadership success.

We’re celebrating! Find out why…

This past Saturday, April 1st, 2017 was a big day for us here at BDA. Not just because it’s April Fools’ Day (although we do have a lot of fun with that) but because 15 years ago on that date, our company, Brand Development Associates (BDA) International, was born!

resolutions

In this blog, I share more about this very personal brand-building journey.

And, to add to the 15-year anniversary excitement, I was also humbled to learn that I have been recognized as one of the Top 25 Global Coaching Gurus and one of the Top 20 Global Branding Gurus for 2017! And, to honor these exciting milestones, we are offering great prizes to 15 lucky winners – you’ll want to check out the details below!

Looking Back to Look Forward – Our Entrepreneurship Story

It feels like April 1, 2002 was only yesterday. I sat in my new office – well, at that time, it was actually a converted small bedroom in our home – and thought with such excitement, “I did it! I started my own business!” After almost two decades of working in big companies, I felt an incredible sense of freedom to go out on my own.

resolutions

But it didn’t take long before fear seeped in, with questions like, “I’ve given up the comfort of a high-paying corporate job with all the perks. I’m starting from scratch with nothing! What have I done?”

In fact, I jokingly say I chose April Fools’ Day to start the business because if it didn’t work out, I could always go running back to the corporate world and say, “Just kidding!”

In all seriousness, though, I was determined to make it work. I had some savings, but I knew I had to spend funds wisely if my business was going to survive. I had to get smart – fast – about how to do that.

Faced with this dilemma, I took a deep breath and gathered up all the tips, tools, and techniques I had learned during those many years of big-brand management. I began applying them diligently to building my own brand – but this time, in ways that didn’t cost much. I kept my eye on the target – on the brand I wanted to build – and that brand became the North Star to guide every day-to-day decision I made. In other words, I focused on what I did have, rather than what I didn’t have.

In the process, slowly but surely, I uncovered hundreds of ways to build my brand using the same methods I had employed with household name brands, but without the need for the deep pockets I had in the corporate world. Then, I was able to take what I learned and teach other business owners how to do the same. I started out showing them how to master corporate and product branding, and my focus eventually evolved into leadership branding – how to help individuals, executives, and leaders build brands for themselves.

Looking back 15 years later, I can honestly say this journey has been the most amazing ride, and I’m grateful for every minute of the experience. Five years into the company, Daniel Jackman joined our team, and that’s when the magic really kicked in!  The business grew and grew to the point where, today, it’s been enormously rewarding to serve as a professional speaker, corporate trainer, and senior executive coach to dozens of the most recognized companies in the world.

resolutions

Currently, BDA International has had the honor of working with clients across six continents and 70 industries, and people often ask us how we achieved that. In fact, such a large number of clients and other individuals ask about how to become a successful entrepreneur that I decided to write a short book in which I share the top 15 lessons I’ve learned from 15 years of running my own business. Watch for the release date – it will be out in a few months!

Do YOU Have What it Takes, Too?

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you two of my favorite articles about what it takes to make it as an entrepreneur. It’s an active, engaging topic, as more and more people decide to take the plunge and start a business. What are the characteristics of a successful entrepreneur, and … if it’s appropriate for you, do YOU have them?

10 Traits All Successful Entrepreneurs Share

8 Successful Entrepreneurs Reveal the Best Business Advice They Ever Got

Don’t think this topic applies to you? Think again: Even if you work “inside” a company, are you an “intra”preneur, using your entrepreneurial skills within the organization to get faster, better, and more innovative results? Those skills will help you both inside or outside the corporate world.

Thank You!

As we celebrate our 15-year milestone, I want to say thank you to all of our fantastic clients – both corporate and individual – and all of our blog readers who have followed us all these years and been so supportive. If it weren’t for you, this company would be nothing, and we are incredibly grateful to you every single day. Thank you for the incredible support you have offered our company over the years!

Self-Leadership: Important for Entrepreneurs and “Intra”Preneurs, Too!

During my years of coaching senior executives, I came to understand that self-leadership is the most important – and most overlooked – driver of overall success. It’s a key part of being a successful entrepreneur – and a successful “intra”preneur, too. Self-leadership allows you to lead yourself to reach both “doing” goals – (Executive Presence, speaking up, effectively addressing conflict, etc.) and “being” goals (strengthening confidence, staying calm when facing tough situations, making difficult decisions, etc.)

resolutions

As a coach, I was able to pinpoint the 15 most damaging self-leadership behaviors, which became the basis of my latest book: Leading YOU™: The power of SELF-LEADERSHIP to build your executive brand and drive career success. As always, I’ve filled the book with lots of practical ways to correct these behaviors in your world, along with real-life executive coaching case studies that illustrate how these tools and techniques can help you become a markedly better leader.

resolutions

This book picks up where Would YOU Want to Work For YOU™? left off, providing what I believe is the missing link for most executives and entrepreneurs across the globe.

I’m excited to share that the book is receiving positive feedback and impacting leaders around the world! Here are just a few of the comments that people have shared with me after reading the book:

“I recommend Leading YOU™ to anyone who is a leader – or aspires to be. As I look at myself and others in my profession, I can see that author Brenda Bence is right: Self-leadership is the missing piece for most of us. Brenda has been invaluable to me at critical points in my career, helping me bridge my current role with my aspirations. A decade later, I continue to view my work with Brenda as a true breakthrough moment.”
Andrew Padovano – Managing Director, Citibank New York

“This book closes on the value of coaching to help you implement changes. I can personally attest to this. I was fortunate enough to enlist Brenda as my coach 6 years ago, and I estimate she has added well over US$150,000 to my compensation since that time.”
Marion McDonald – Chief Strategy Officer, Ogilvy PR, Asia Pacific

“Almost every leader focuses on leading others. [In this book], Brenda shows that self-leadership is just as important – maybe even more important – because it’s the foundation of all leadership.”
Dale A. Martin – CEO, Siemens Hungary

“Many practical tips in this easy read as Brenda uses many real-life scenarios as illustrations. It spoke to me in so many ways – I highly recommend this book!”
Angelia Kay – Regional Director, Garlock Asia Pacific

“Just what I was looking for! Brenda cuts right through the confusion on this topic and she provides a clear pathway for career development. I highly recommend Leading YOU™ to anyone looking to find the right balance and direction in their career.”
— Reid Velo – Consultant, Trust Edge Leadership Institute, Minneapolis

Self-Leadership Challenge #6: The “Secret Sauce” of Powerful Executive Presence

What is Executive Presence? I have found a lot of confusion among executive coaching clients about the true meaning of this “buzz phrase.” The way I like to define it is: “a set of attitudes, behaviors, and skills which—when combined—send the right signals, influence others, and ultimately drive results.”

resolutions

If you’re a senior leader, you no doubt already have some degree of Executive Presence. It’s how you’ve reached your current level in the first place. The most admired people have Executive Presence in abundance—people like Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, and Richard Branson, to name a few. You know when you’ve met someone with powerful Presence. You feel drawn to that person and you want to connect with him or her.

“But can you learn Executive Presence?” clients ask?  Yes. And doing so improves your self-leadership, strengthens your executive leadership brand, and helps you advance in your career. Want proof about how important it is? According to a study of 236 senior executives, who make decisions about promotions within their organizations, Executive Presence accounts for more than one-quarter of what they look for in someone who is aiming to reach the next level.[1]

Many similar studies exist, all pointing to one outcome: Executive Presence is fundamental for those who want to reach increasingly higher levels in any organization. And it takes strong self-leadership to stay aware of and demonstrate the specific attitudes, behaviors, and skills required to embody powerful Presence.

So, what can you do to develop powerful Executive Presence? What’s the “secret sauce”?

The Most Important Ingredient of the “Secret Sauce”

I believe that underlying every aspect of Executive Presence is one core element: confidence—the absolute certainty that you can do what it takes to succeed in any situation. When you have confidence, you believe in yourself, so that—even if you’re undertaking something new—you know you’ll be able to figure it out when you get there.

resolutions

Yet, many accomplished leaders lack the confidence they need to cultivate strong Executive Presence. One indication of that: I’ve met a large number of leaders who suffer from the “Impostor Syndrome.” That’s a term which describes high-achieving people who don’t really trust their successes. They are constantly afraid of being exposed as a fraud, no matter how much they’ve accomplished. “I just got lucky,” they might say. As much as they want a higher level of responsibility or a specific promotion, deep down they question whether they are good enough to get it.

Then, there are other leaders like my client, George, who allowed a setback to damage his confidence. He had 29 years of experience in the corporate world. For 27 of those years, he was a dynamic go-getter, moving up the ladder and achieving great success every step of the way—not just in his professional life, but in his personal life as well. For the last two years, though, things hadn’t gone so well for him.

He had taken over a division that was new to him, and it wasn’t performing well under his leadership. When we met, I could sense George’s energy. He was like a balloon that had been deflated.

“George, for how many years did you have tremendous success?” I asked him.

“Twenty-seven years,” he responded.

“And for how long have things been a bit rocky?”

“These past two years,” George replied.

“So, you’ve had 27 years of positive, ongoing successes, and only two years—24 months—of less-than-positive outcomes. Is that correct?”

I could see the realization of this sinking in. “You’re right—I have to keep that in perspective,” George said. “I can’t let these past 24 months cloud a career and a life that has gone so well. It’s only a small portion of the whole.”

George is an example of how quickly confidence can fade if we’re not careful to nurture it. And once confidence fades, Executive Presence takes a hit.

Keep Your Confidence Level Steady

If you take an inventory of your successes and how they came about, you’ll most likely recognize that it was definitely not “all luck.” Your talents, skills, and hard work are why you’ve achieved success.

resolutions

Here’s an exercise to help you look honestly at what you have done and the skills you’ve developed, while acknowledging what you believe you genuinely lack. Make two columns on a legal pad or on your computer, and on the left-side column, list your most valuable attributes. Don’t stop adding to the list until you’ve run out of qualities and skills (and don’t be humble!)

Then, in the right column, list the areas where you still need work. Be objective about what you could do better. Once done, sit back and review the two lists. If you’re like most of my clients, I suspect you’ll be surprised at the outcome, because we often underestimate what we can do versus what we think we cannot do. (I assigned George this exercise, and this one task alone gave him more momentum than he’d had in a long while.)

It’s critical to look at yourself the way others do, but it’s difficult to see yourself through an objective lens. That’s why it’s so important to getting meaningful feedback—and why I devoted an entire chapter to that topic in my book, Leading YOU: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success.

The single most powerful and productive exercise I give my clients is the task of keeping a “Confidence Journal.” It’s simple: As you go through your day, and you have an experience that either increases or decreases your confidence level, write down what happened and why. Whether you are being challenged by a peer, find yourself on the receiving end of a compliment from the CEO, needing to fire someone, or struggling to influence outcomes, make sure to remain objective, and ask yourself: “What’s happening to my confidence right now?” Go inside and figure out how the experience is impacting you. What’s the context? Who’s involved, and what’s triggering the “boost” or the “bust”? What’s really causing those ups and downs?

resolutions

Jot every incident down, and give your confidence level a score based on how you feel: 1 = Not feeling confident at all, 10 = Feeling fully confident. Don’t judge yourself as you write—just be objective. Detach emotionally for a moment, and become an impartial reporter of what’s happening inside you, noting what triggered your shift in confidence.

Depending upon how many incidences you have, after a week or two of keeping track, pick up your confidence journal, and look for trends. What do you see, objectively? For example, it might be that your confidence level drops when you address very senior leadership, but you feel fully confident when addressing and leading direct reports.

Or maybe you wrote: “When I’m dealing with peers over whom I have no direct authority, my confidence level drops.”

Or: “When I’m involved in a conversation in my area of expertise, my confidence is high, but when I’m called upon to discuss areas outside my division, my confidence is reduced.”

Some clients keep the journal for two or three weeks, while others like to keep it going for two months or longer. It’s up to you. Once you understand the triggers that are causing confidence highs and lows, you’ll then be better able to preempt the triggers so that you can avoid confidence dips.

If you strengthen your Executive Presence in this way, you’ll be much less likely to allow a setback to diminish your belief in yourself. Keep in mind all of your achievements, and use them to keep you moving forward, even when faced with a challenging situation.

Assess the state of your current Executive Presence by taking my  Executive Presence Quiz.

[1] Hewlett, Sylvia Ann; Leader-Chivée, Lauren; Sherbin, Laura; Gordon, Joanne; Dieudonné, Fabiola; “Executive Presence,” TalentinInnovation.org, http://www.talentinnovation.org/assets/ExecutivePresence-KeyFindings-CTI.pdf.

Want to learn more? My book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success,” includes many more tips and tools to help strengthen your Executive Presence for greater self-leadership success.