Nothing is more frustrating than sitting in endless meetings, feeling like conversations are going around in circles. However, it doesn’t have to be this way! Here are our pro tips to keep your meetings on track, without adding more hours to your day.

1. Ensure your meeting notes are well organised

Keep your meeting notes simple, a few bullet points on each topic is more than sufficient. If you try to detail too many notes you risk creating confusion and clutter when you review them later. Keep notes in one section of your page and actions on another section. Check out our Meeting Notebooks.

2. Ask open-ended questions to promote collaboration

If you keep asking your team the same questions, you’ll get the same answers! Ask your colleagues questions to get them thinking in a different mindset. This could include:

  • ‘If we were our competition, how would we beat us?’
  • ‘If we only had $10 to execute this idea what would we spend it on?’
  • ‘If we had to execute this idea in 24 hours, how would we do it?’

3. Mix up the type of meeting

Avoid stale meetings by mixing up the location. Instead, try walking meetings, quick standing meetings, meetings in an unusual place (a nearby park, museum or cafe). Plenty of local libraries let you book meeting rooms too!

4. Delegate note-taking in meetings

Gift your colleagues a Meeting Notebook and delegate a different person to take and circulate notes each meeting. This helps people stay engaged, encourages collaboration and shares the responsibility.

You can even personalise your corporate gifts with monogramming to make your colleagues feel extra special!

5. Start each meeting with something a bit different

Break the ice of your meeting and increase energy with a two-minute introduction. This could be approaching a different colleague each meeting to tell a unique story about themselves or organising a fun quiz about your companies history. Did you know you can run polls in Google hangouts?

6. Filters are your friend in video meetings

In back to back Zoom calls? Add the Snap Camera widget to your browser and utilise their humorous filters to keep your colleagues grinning.

How do you keep your meetings fresh? Let us know in the comments below!


When it comes to leadership and management style there are two categories most people fall into. Those are sledgehammer or velvet hammer leaders. 

If you’re reading this post, you are likely a high-performing professional who takes pride in your work, and you’re extremely attentive to your own personal and professional development. 

You are the type of woman who wants to climb the ladder and be a part of a team that works together to achieve greatness. 

I’m also going to bet that many of you have likely had a boss at some point in your career who has pushed you beyond what you thought you were capable of — and the outcome was either one of two things. 

1) You felt that you were likely smarter than the boss and could do a much better job of leading the team and getting the job done. OR 

2) You felt your boss was the most awesome, compassionate, and highly intelligent (both emotional and academic) person in the room and you looked forward to the next interaction. 

The first boss is what we call a sledgehammer leader. The second was a velvet hammer leader — and that’s the goal to shoot for in your professional development. An effective leadership style uses a velvet hammer approach to bring out the best in a team. 

These experiences definitely set the tone for how we end up leading our own teams and businesses. If you missed out on having a velvet hammer leadership example, that’s okay. I’m going to give you three practical tips to develop this effective management style. 

THE VELVET HAMMER LEADER VS. THE SLEDGEHAMMER LEADER

How many of you consider yourself to be a sledgehammer or a velvet hammer leader when it comes to your leadership style? 

Let me break this down for you. 

The sledgehammer leader tells it how it is, regardless of their audience. I’m talking about no filter – what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of style. The sledgehammer doesn’t consider what other people might be thinking or feeling, nor does this person care to hear another perspective. It’s more of a my-way-or-the-highway approach.

(Haven’t we all had a boss like that in our past lives?) 

The velvet hammer leader takes into consideration the audience and actively listens to them. They think about how people may perceive a message. They ask themselves questions like: How would this person feel if I said things a certain way? What would that audience think if I approached things a certain way? The velvet hammer leader puts themselves into the mindset of their audience. 

3 TIPS TO BE AN EFFECTIVE VELVET HAMMER LEADER 

As the leader of your business or organization, you have three primary functions:

  1. Listen to others

Even if you decide to stick with your original message or plan, if you sincerely listened and genuinely took into consideration a possible alternative, that’s what matters. People want to be heard. 

  1. Develop a high level of self-awareness

This is critical to your success. Your team is relying on you to understand where they’re coming from and to know their strengths and weaknesses. They want you to lean on them and solicit their input. They want to please and give you great results. But, the only way you’ll really achieve this is to have a thorough understanding of your own tendencies and leadership style. 

  1. Communicate with empathy

The most beloved leaders are those who communicate with clarity and take into consideration how a message will be perceived. I love how Brene Brown writes in Dare to Lead, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” 

The fact of the matter is, when you’re not clear about your expectations or requirements, you’re not leading with integrity and ultimately will not garner the results you desire. Remember, being clear doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk. 

Your team takes its cues from the leader. If you come across like a sledgehammer — they will too over time. If that happens, don’t ever expect to build community and camaraderie as a sledgehammer. It’ll never happen. 

The velvet hammer, on the other hand, tends to win people over, tends to build community better, and tends to retain excellent staff and clients too. 

Take this opportunity to review what leadership style you have been using and make adjustments where needed to listen, be self-aware, and communicate with empathy as a velvet hammer leader. 

About the author

Heather Lisle is a professional problem-solver, business coach, and entrepreneur with 20 plus years of experience helping business owners and leaders identify their biggest pain points and develop a fast track for growth and success.

Get to know her at @heatherlisleco on FB and IG and at http://www.heatherlisle.com


Major media placements can be a boon to entrepreneurs. They increase brand awareness, build credibility, and generate massive amounts of traffic and sales. To give you a competitive advantage, below is a step-by-step checklist that teaches you how to go about securing media coverage without spending tens of thousands of dollars on hiring a PR firm or onboarding a freelance publicist.  

Newsworthiness

The best way to start planning for any publicity campaign is to determine what makes you and your business newsworthy. Consider whether your service or business area is trending in the news. If not, then examine what is relevant and timely in your industry or on the local news. Is there any controversy or conflict that you can credibly weigh in on? Is there an event, new product or service, book launch, new location, or even a new hire that you can pitch as a newsworthy event? Answering these questions will give you a solid start to determining what makes your business newsworthy.

Credibility  

Now that you have what makes your business newsworthy, it’s time to look at what makes your business credible. In other words, what makes you and your business believable and trustworthy? Consider your academic and professional training and the types of media exposure you’ve generated for the speeches or talks you’ve given. Do you have a large audience, significant annual sales, or interesting and transformational life experiences? Any of these elements can help make you and your business more credible. 

Media Bio

Since I started in the PR field more than 15 years ago, I’ve had clients ask me if they should use their website bios as their media bios, and my answer is always the same: “no”. Your website bio is generally longer and contains your story about your journey, how you started your business, and anything else that’s relevant. These bios can reach 5,000 words, whereas your media bio is short and concise. This bio is short and usually only two or three paragraphs (including what you want others to know about you and your business).

Your Perfect Media List

With your media bio now complete, you can start looking at where your story can potentially fit. To find the right media, you can Google “Editorial Calendar” + Publication Name to see the editorial calendar of what stories are in the queue. And then, you can Google outlet name + masthead to find out which editors cover specific topics and stories.

You could also go to the website of the publication you would like to pitch, and go to the “Masthead”, “About” or “Contact” pages for a list of all of the editors and their related beats. You can also go to LinkedIn or Twitter to find a media contact. Most editors are also on Twitter.

Your Subject Line

When securing media coverage your subject line is the most important part of your pitch. It should be interesting, and if possible, generate an emotional response from your reader. You can make a provocative statement or ask a question, if you wish. Just be sure to include the who, what, where, when, why, and how. 

You’ll also want to start the subject line with what type of story you’re pitching – such as an interview, product review, feature story, article idea, etc. Here are two sample subject lines: one is good, and the other is not so. 

  • “ABC Company Announces the Launch of XYZ Product”
  • Feature: “From Small Ghetto to Fifth Avenue: How this Entrepreneur Built a Family Empire”

The second one helped secure media coverage on Forbes.com, JustLuxe.com, HuffingtonPost.com and more. 

The Pitch Itself

It doesn’t matter whether you’re pitching a footwear collection, a nightclub, or a software demo, you should consider tying your pitch to the current time of the year, or something trending in the news at that moment: the Oscars, Halloween, the latest viral video, etc. I find that tying product and service pitches to a specific time of the year gets more media interest because it’s timely.

When you pitch a journalist, you also need to make sure that your email conveys that you understand who the reader is, and what they are looking for. That’s how you gain rapport with members of the media. And although it’s a no-brainer, be sure to address your media contact specifically by their first name. Don’t start your email with a generic “Hi there” or “To whom it may concern”. Just because your email isn’t expected, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be personalized.

The body of your pitch should be between 200 and 300 words and devoted to telling a story about you and your brand. Add five to seven bullet points about your product or services that the reader can look over quickly. Remember, editors see the same generic pitches every day, so you have to make yours stand out. These five to seven bullet points should pop off the page. Without these bullets, your pitch will fall flat.

Pitch Follow Up

You’ve pitched your top media contacts, and you’re hoping for a positive response. The wait can seem like an eternity but resist any temptation to overwhelm your contact. It’s critical you are patient yet persistent.

Once you’ve pitched a media contact, only follow up three to four days later to see if they are interested in covering your story or doing an interview. If you don’t hear back right away, you can follow up one more time before pitching a new angle or product. But never call—unless you know the media contact personally.

If they don’t respond after two follow-ups, don’t be discouraged. Your company, brand, story, or product is simply not the right fit for any stories they are working on now. However, that doesn’t mean they won’t be interested in the future. You have to keep moving forward. I’ve pitched myself 10 or 15 times only to be rejected each time before finding success. If you are rejected, don’t let it get you down. It takes a thick skin to be successful. 

Securing Media Coverage With A Press Releases

You can issue a press release when you’re sending a message out to the general public via a wire service company. We usually issue them when a client is releasing a book or a new product, a live event, or to make some type of announcement.

Pitching Angles

Having a fresh set of pitching angles is essential to keeping your brand media-ready. However, coming up with consistently interesting pitching angles for yourself or your business can be tiring and tough. To eliminate this from happening, here are a few exercises you can do:

  • Give Quora.com a visit to see what people are asking about in your niche.
  • Do keyword research on Google’s Keyword Planner to see what people are searching for. You can also look at UberSuggest.com.
  • Look to see what topics are trending in your niche. Try to find a story angle that relates to national news or current events.
  • Research what’s happening locally and pitch an editor or television producer in your market.
  • See how you can add a new viewpoint to an existing article.

Booking More Interviews When Securing Media Coverage

Sending traffic, getting shares on social media, and generating comments for your press mentions, articles, and interviews will help you gain more media opportunities. This is because the more traction your media coverage gets, the more likely editors, journalists, and producers will ask you for quotes or other types of commentary. Additionally, keep in mind that the larger your social media followings and your audience are, the more likely media members will be to call on you for your expertise.

Striving to secure major media coverage that’s effective and relevant shouldn’t cost tens of thousands of dollars. If you have a strategic plan with newsworthy and credible points to pitch to the media, you will be successful. Just keep in mind patience and persistence are the keys to securing coverage that will help move the needle in your business.

About the Author of 10 Steps to Securing Media Coverage for Your Startup

Kristin Marquet runs marquet-media.com, a boutique creative consultancy that designs beautiful and feminine brands in the wedding, beauty, fashion, wellness, fitness cooking, photography and interior design industries. Passionate about learning, Kristin has advanced studies in data and marketing analytics. She has attended MIT, Boston University and NYU, and holds degrees in Literature and Marketing/Public Relations. She has contributed to forbes.com, inc.com, huffingtonpost.com, entrepreneur.com and nydailynews.com.


There are few steps during the hiring process that are more important than the proper training of employees. However, many businesses fail to recognise this fact, which can lead to high turnover rates and unprepared workers.

When you equip your new hires with the tools, resources, and training they need to succeed, however, you’ll lay down the groundwork for an effective first few months. This, in turn, results in higher job morale and increased productivity.

Here are some tips on how to develop an employee training program.

Identify Goals

The first step in creating an employee training program is to identify the goals that need to be met for success to be achieved. Every business is unique, and therefore the goals will be dictated by the requirements in the workplace.

For instance, when training hotel employees you may want to set goals that are related to customer service, while the goals of a firefighter training program may focus more on safety. Depending on the type of business your organisation runs, you will need to tailor the steps in the training process to fit the knowledge and skillset that will best serve your new hire and prepare them for success.

Utilise Training Resources

With the emergence of technology, training resources have been taken to a new level. Gone are the days of flipping through manuals and writing on chalkboards. Instead, there are an array of software platforms on the market that can be programmed to meet the demands of nearly any business.

By utilising these, employees will have a more interactive and dynamic training process. This also shaves numerous hours off HR personnel’s work days, allowing them to allocate dedicated time to more personalized, one-on-one training as needed.

Implement a Schedule

In order to create the most efficient training process possible, employers need to consider implementing a training schedule. There are jobs where the training programs can take weeks to complete, and accommodating the individual schedules of the employees can cause delays.

For this reason, it is wise to have a set schedule in place which can be accessed by all those going through training. Not only will this ensure that every employee is properly trained, but it will also expedite the process. 

Hire a Trainer

Hiring an experienced trainer can help the process move along more smoothly and it can be an incredibly effective way of onboarding employees. While there are costs to consider when using a professional trainer, it is certainly one of the most efficient ways of teaching.

You may also want to seek out the assistance of a seasoned employee, as this can also go a long way in showing the new hires the details of the position.

Monitor Progress

Keeping track of the progress of the trainees can be crucial. After all, it can cost a significant amount of money to put employees through the hiring process, and the results can be disastrous if they are not properly trained.

Whether your business is using software for training purposes or the learning is more hands-on, you will need to develop a set of criteria to gauge the progress of those being trained.

Gaining Feedback

It is important for a company to gain feedback during and after the training process. This can help to show areas that need to be improved upon, along with pointing out the strengths of the program.

To do this, arrange one-on-one meetings with employees so that their opinion will not be skewed by that of other workers. Have them list a few of the obstacles they encountered during the process and the places where they feel they benefited the most.

 

Training employees in every facet of their job will significantly increase the chances that a business will succeed, and it helps to maintain employee morale. If your company is implementing a training program, be sure to identify the goals that need to be met and take advantage of the array of training resources available.

Furthermore, it is necessary to put in place a schedule so that the training of employees can be streamlined, thus reducing training-related expenses. Take note of these points and you are sure to develop an effective employee training program.


During your career as a manager, you may encounter sensitive situations with colleagues and employees. Often these problems don’t resolve themselves on their own and employees may be upset, confused and the list of potential situations you may face is endless.

When difficult situations arise it often falls to the manager to have the hard conversation with their direct report. No one told me this when I became a manager and I have had to teach myself this skill, apply knowledge gleaned from others, and consolidate what I have learnt on the job. It’s my hope that with this post I’ll leave you with tips you can use the next time you find yourself in a “what the heck do I do with this?” type of dilemma.

My top five strategies for having tough work conversations:

  1. Ask someone you trust for their suggestions and approach.

Ask them what they would say given the scenario. You can ask your HR department, your supervisor, a mentor or a colleague in another department. Sometimes, though, your workplace resources aren’t enough. After consulting my colleagues, my go-to person for management advice is my mother who held a high-ranking position at a chemical company for decades before she retired last year. Over the years she managed several unique personalities and encountered every situation under the sun. Whenever I have an issue with a direct report, I change the details and don’t reveal any personal information, but I ask her how she would handle the situation. Usually, the advice from people around you is spot-on, but needs to be tweaked for the specific matter at hand.

  1. Consult free literature that exists on the topic.

Harvard Business Review has a lot of articles that cover this very subject. HBR has a great Management Tip of the Day newsletter that covers a myriad of sticky issues that can be reviewed when needed. I also love Alison Green’s Ask a Manager web site which is my personal favourite. She has tons of archived content about every personnel issue you can think of; it’s easy to search by topic. Forbes and LinkedIn are also good resources.

  1. Schedule a time to chat with your employee and write up your talking points a few days in advance.

This isn’t a conversation you want to wing. You need to have a plan and make sure you hit on your key points. Are they showing up to work late and not completing their assignments? You better decide which is the larger issue you need to tackle. Are they being offensive to colleagues or harassing their own direct reports? Again, you want to come armed with specific examples and provide strategies or suggestions for them on how to handle themselves according to your standards and/or company guidelines. You want to be perfectly clear about what the problem is, why it’s a problem, and provide your employee with ideas on how to fix the problem. You can also ask them how they would address the issue.

  1. Practice the conversation out loud.

It can be to the wall or to your dog, but saying the words as if you are having the conversation will help you identify what parts of your script need work and what should be eliminated or added. Are you focusing on the wrong things? Wasting time with small talk? Stumbling over clunky wording? Is your message getting lost? Make sure to do a run-through a couple of times to find weak spots and smooth them out.

  1. Have your notes handy, but don’t recite them word-for-word.

Employees want to know that you’re being sincere and not just giving them the party line during these types of discussions. If they think you’re phoning it in they won’t understand the magnitude of the situation and what performance issues need to be corrected. Remember, no matter how difficult this conversation is for you, it’s undoubtedly hard on your employee, too. Let your employee ask questions and if needed, promise to schedule a follow-up meeting in two weeks to revisit the discussion and review what steps the employee has taken (or not) to address the issue you discussed.

In the end, if you take adequate time to prepare yourself for difficult conversations it will make them that much smoother and hopefully create an environment that fosters open communication. Do you have your own tips for tackling difficult conversations at work? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

About the Author
Deanna Cabinian is the director of consumer marketing for a global media company. She has six years of management experience and twelve years of experience working in the corporate world. When she isn’t working, she loves to write. She’s the author of a series of novels for young adult readers and is represented by Aevitas Creative Management. Find her online at https://deannacabinian.com/

 


As companies look to reduce their office footprints, what does the future of working from home look like?

We started the year with a resurgence of posts on LinkedIn about research findings that highlighted the benefits of individual offices over open-plan workspaces. Skipping forward to August, the language has shifted to some describing offices as a relic of the past. 

There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken the world by surprise. The upheaval of our normal lives has meant that much of the business world has had to adapt at a blistering pace too. 

The trend towards flexibility and remote working has continued to grow over the past 15 years with Europe and the US previously leading the way, but in the face of a global pandemic for those who were able to pivot to a virtual workforce, the if/how/when debate quickly evaporated in the face of ‘now’. 

It’s clear that this trend is bad for commercial landlords, but there are many positive indicators that working from home can have a number of positive outcomes for employers and employees. 

So how can companies, and employees, thrive in this new world of virtual work? 

Are people productive working from home?

One of the traditional critiques of virtual work is that employees are slacking off, the alternate being that the ‘busy-ness’ visible in an office equals productiveness.  

This pessimism could not be further from the truth, a finding which is not only good news for businesses but for employees too. The research overwhelmingly tells us that people are more productive working from home. In a recent study of 5,000 workers across five countries, workers felt less stressed and got more done than they could in an office environment. 

Setting aside the recent experiences of those juggling homeschooling whilst also working from home, workers, in particular, reported increased levels of productivity resulting from no commute, with many also feeling happier because of the additional time they were able to spend with their families or on leisure pursuits. 

I’m fortunate to live within walking distance of the OpenLearning office and my daughter’s school, but the shift to all team members working from home has resulted in productivity benefits such as: team members being more refreshed from not having to commute, a more conscious approach to meeting schedules and agendas to avoid teleconference fatigue, and efficiencies for the team members who pre COVID-19 were often out of the office at face-to-face meetings which required factoring in travel time.  

Whilst being able to track and measure productivity within businesses is important, combined with culture and organisational theory grounding, the jury is in; when employees are given agency, freedom, and are empowered to do their best work, both their productivity and engagement soars. The change in location as to where that work occurs is secondary to the trust and support bestowed. 

Virtual leadership & company culture

When we work from home, it’s true that we can lack the camaraderie of our peers and the presence of our leaders. For some, this is a relief, but in general, the question is whether it is a conducive working arrangement for building a strong and cohesive company culture? 

It’s a known fact that when a leader is absent for extended periods, their team suffers, and so does company culture. Considering the full gamut of ‘readiness’ that businesses were in for their staff to move to a work from home model, it’s fair to say that virtual leadership and fostering the company culture requires some adaptations if the increased productivity is to be maintained in the medium to long-term. 

For OpenLearning, our approach to leadership during COVID-19 is much akin to our approach to learning – one size does not (and should not) fit all. As such, different techniques have been tried and amended as needed for each team – from daily stand-ups for our Learning Services team who are working on a range of projects at the moment, more regular 1:1’s for our Partnerships team who are generally more social personalities, through to virtual ‘drop-in/coffee’ sessions with the CEO each Wednesday afternoon. 

At a whole organisation level, structured monthly town halls have continued as usual, and cross team collaboration has been sustained via a range of tools and processes. Digging deeper though, sharing of common experiences with the team about what our ‘working from home’ reality is, insights into what is working for them, and being more conscientious about the frequency of communication flow or tweaks (or pivots) in strategy are important considerations in maintaining human connections, trust, and loyalty. 

Working from home or living at work? 

I’m aware of a number of organisations that have asked their employees for input on what a ‘return to office’ world would look like. In general, their findings have been that many would prefer working from home 2-3 days per week. So, if we know that productivity is up and many are up for it to continue longer-term, what’s the downside? 

With increased flexibility and the fact that most businesses had to pivot quickly in order to continue operating, the challenge is for companies to help employees in establishing healthy boundaries and techniques for separating work from home in order to avoid burnout. 

With recent news that Google and Facebook have updated their communication to employees that they will be able to choose to continue working from home until mid-2021, leaders will need to play an increasingly important role in ensuring that the team knows that being ‘always on’ isn’t a good thing, sick leave isn’t only reserved for when you are too sick to commute to a commercial office, and that taking annual leave shouldn’t just be saved for a date in the future for when travel is an option. 

Embrace the new normal 

A recent observation is that virtual meetings no longer open with the discussion about how many weeks it’s been since each organisation moved to a work from home policy, symbolising the ‘new normal’ taking effect. 

With the trend towards remotely based teams longer-term and slimmed down office spaces accelerated by the pandemic, by embracing increased productivity and promoting greater flexibility, companies can build an even stronger culture than before.

Whilst we may not be catching up in a physical office kitchen or breakout space anytime soon, thankfully with the help of collaboration and connectivity tools available today, many companies are engaging in a genuine dialogue with their employees about what the ‘new normal’ should be.

About the author of ‘How can we thrive working from home?’
Cherie Diaz is the Managing Director of Australian operations at OpenLearning Limited (ASX:OLL). Cherie has over 15 years’ experience within education, including roles as the Head of Education Delivery at the Australian Institute of Company Directors And Director of Customer Success at Scentia, where she led the operational teams of four colleges. Cherie is the recipient of multiple individual and business awards for service excellence by the Customer Service Institute of Australia.