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The impact has sometimes been all the greater because these tips are not

known in my area.

Things to Avoid:

Avoid side-issues which do not relate to the topics.

Avoid negativity, especially about:


Other people’s ideas

Other people’s performance

Do you talk too long or too often?

Do you tend to leave it to the “experts” in the group? If the point being

discussed will affect you, your colleagues or customers, then you should

make sure that the effects and, especially, any possible negative

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consequences are known to all concerned with the decision and its


Some people don’t put their point of view about the items discussed and then

criticize the decisions which are made.

Don’t switch off when someone

is replying to a point you made

while you focus entirely on

preparing your next comment.

If you didn’t understand what

someone said, ask them to

repeat it or perhaps explain it

more simply. Very few people could be offended by someone showing

genuine interest and a desire to learn more about their suggestion.

Improving Your Presentation

Not many of us want to be a public

speaker but the ability to present

ourselves to good effect is worth


The cost and effort of learning these skills

is minimal, but they can give you more

self-confidence and help you with

interviews, business meetings and social


I’ve listed some organizations in the resources section at the end of this


You can also do some self-study though you will find you improve faster

when you are in an active and supportive group environment.

One of the best tips I learned for speaking to groups is to never read to

them. You should keep your comments brief so they are easy to remember.

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Just write them on a card and then glance over the card just before you rise

to speak.

Record Yourself

If you have access to an audio recorder or digital camera, I suggest that you

ask someone to record you.

The first time I heard my own voice after recording

it was a shock. My belief is that we hear our

speaking voice through a sort of sound chamber

(our head).

That can be quite different to how other people

hear us.

After that, I wanted to improve my voice as

quickly as I could.

But, maybe your voice is fine.

So, how do you look on video?

You must realize that you won’t look quite the

same on video as you do really but it will probably be much closer to the

image which other people see and react to than the image we carry in our

own minds.

Now, you smooth out those ums and


which we are probably almost

completely unaware that we are

doing. That's better for us and

those who are listening to us too.

Is it worth doing? I say, “Yes”.

It’s more effective than a lot of

cosmetic surgery because it’s still


real you, and costs you nothing.

And, you can do it whenever you

have some time in your own home!

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But, even more important than the effect on ourselves is the effect on other

people that we interact with. I’m not suggesting that you adopt any fake

mannerisms or postures. I believe video and even audio can be a great help

for making our message clearer and easier for other people to understand.

Put that with the extra confidence that we can obtain and the small cost of

the equipment is probably a worthwhile investment for just about anyone.

You can also use it to record your kids and your pets and still probably claim it as a business deduction!

I don’t know a better way of catching any mannerisms or muddled speech

that we are no longer aware that we are doing.

Please don’t record over that first attempt too quickly.

Keep the video until you’ve done some practicing. Then, run the original

video and see if you can see any improvement.

That will probably give you more confidence.

Use the equipment you have available to record what you plan to say at your

next meeting.

If you see something which you think should be corrected, you will probably

decide to try a couple of tweaks, nothing major.

That’s the best way, a little at a time. Trying to do too much at once will

probably cause the result to be less effective than if you take it more slowly.

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Body Language

You have probably heard about Body

Language, the study of visual signals

which we send and receive and how

they affect our interaction with other


Although it is far from an exact

science, it can be helpful in

evaluating what people are telling


There are many factors which can

affect body language which may have nothing to do with their truthfulness or

intent. For example, you will read in most texts about body language that

you should interpret someone folding their arms when you are talking to

them as a sign of them losing interest or confidence in what you are saying.

That may be right, but they may just be cold.

So, you should not just evaluate the message which you get from someone

on their body language alone.

It’s also worthwhile to check that the visual signals which you are displaying match with the message that you want to give the people you are speaking


Many people develop mannerisms which detract from the effectiveness of

what they say. Correcting these will improve the results you get in most


But, changing your natural body language or other acquired traits is not

something that you can do overnight. It takes time.

Don’t try to make more than one change at a time.

These techniques are often used to try to deceive people but most people

cannot project false signals consistently. The people they try to bluff are

often put off by the lack mixed signals they get.

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Eye Contact: This is one of the most important factors in any kind of social or business interaction.

Many people have difficulty maintaining eye contact. It only takes a little

effort and you will probably notice a better response from the people you

deal with fairly quickly.

You just have to focus more on the person you are listening to. Our society

offers many distractions and we may let our attention wander from their face

to their clothes or something else completely.

One simple tactic which can help you to focus on what they are saying and

also to demonstrate that you are interested in what they say is to use what

they say as the basis of your reply. Developing this habit will make you focus more on their words and gestures instead of just focusing on your own

thoughts while they are speaking.

Eye contact can, like many other techniques, be overdone especially when

you are trying to improve your use of it. No-one wants to be stared at.

Smile: A genuine smile is like a magnet that can draw people toward you.

Check your smile in a mirror to ensure that it does not look forced or


Posture: Our posture may be giving a different message to what we are


Some people want cooperation but show an aggressive stance, by leaning

forward or clenching their hands, which indicates they want control.

Some people adopt a defensive or submissive posture, with a bowed head or

slumped shoulders, which detracts from their message by suggesting that

they perhaps lack confidence in their ability to present their point of view or what they are saying.

Gestures: Thoughtful use of appropriate gestures can re-enforce your points and help people to remember them better.

Some people use irrelevant or inappropriate

gestures, or they fiddle with their glasses,

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pen or other items while they talk. This distracts the people they are talking to from their message.

This can be reduced or eliminated by putting more effort into your

preparation so that you can focus on the people you are talking to.

Inexperienced speakers tell me that they don’t know what to do with their


The problem is usually that they may not know their material well enough or

they lack confidence in their ability to put their points forward, so their mind focuses on other aspects of their presentation like their hands.

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Problems and Remedies


Mobile Phones, etc: There is always the possibility of a true emergency requiring the attention of someone in the group during the meeting.

But, except for those rare occurrences, everyone present owes it to the rest

of the group to remain focused on the matters being discussed.

Unless there is a good reason for people to use their lap-tops during the

meetings for the benefit of the group, ask them to keep them shut.

Likewise, all mobile phones and other portable communication devices should

be silent and, preferably, turned off for the duration. That is the ideal but

you’ll probably have to deal with that sort of interruption from time to time.

I’ve found that circulating a notice with the agenda, asking all those who

attend to leave their devices with a trusted associate or switch them off while they are in the meeting is often the most you can do unless you own the


Inattention: Sometimes you will

notice that someone is absorbed in

using their device and not taking any

active part in the meeting. You might

want to ask them their opinion about

the topic being discussed. After all,

there’s no reason for them to be there

if they are not ready to contribute to the discussion.

Interrupting other speakers: This has to be firmly but politely

discouraged, unless the interruption is to correct an error.

Food: If the meeting is only for an hour or so, there should be no need for refreshments other than water. The lack of coffee and other drinks may

encourage people to keep the meeting short and their comments on topic!

Background conversation: This is likely to be on a totally different topic to what the group is trying to focus on, so it is likely to cause irritation as well Copyright © 2009 All Rights Reserved

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as making it hard for the other people to hear the person who is presenting

their suggestion or comment on the topic.

Ask the speaker to pause for a moment and ask one of the conversationalists

to share their idea with the group.

It’s a tactic straight from the junior school but it works. And, these people

are not acting like adults, are they?

Faulty Equipment: Have a contingency plan, but ensure that all

presentation materials from projectors to marking pens are checked

immediately before the meeting.

Responding to Comments

Negative comments: Some people delight in talking down other people’s

contributions. They’re often too busy working out something to say that they

don’t have time to contribute much that’s positive to the discussion. So, you

might ask them directly, “How would you deal with this


Off-topic comments: These are unproductive and time wasting. Thank the

person for their contribution and perhaps add something like, “Do you have

any suggestions about the topic?”

Repetitive comment: When someone meanders on with their suggestion

without adding any further useful material, thank them for their contribution.

Then focus on another speaker. Be polite but firm, so that you can keep the

meeting within a reasonable time frame.

Revisiting previous topics: If someone tries to bring up a topic which has already been discussed, politely remind them of the earlier discussion but

also suggest that they raise the matter in the “further business” section near the end of the meeting if they have new points which they want to put to the


Confusing contribution: Sometimes, someone offers a suggestion but is

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be the suggestion. That should help the person gather their thoughts and

express their view more clearly.

Being helpful in that way will encourage the person to contribute more in the

future and probably get their enthusiastic support for implementing any

decisions made by the group.

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Asking Questions the Right Way

Asking questions is one of those things we do almost every day, so most of

us take it for granted that we do it well.

But, many people don't get the answers they need.

Improving the quality of our questions will get better results and make the

people we ask or advice and information more responsive.

Open and Closed Questions

You probably know the difference between open and closed questions;

a closed question only needs a short, specific answer such as yes or no.

An open question gives the person you are asking an opportunity to provide

a detailed answer which can lead to more information being provided and

further discussion.

Each type of question is most likely to be much more helpful to you in some


Use closed questions to:

Keep answers from garrulous people short and on topic

Get confirmation of specific points without possibly confusing detail or

side issues such as opinions and theories.

Closed questions tend to end any discussion of that particular point because

they do not encourage the other person to say anything which will invite

further responses from you or other people in the group.

Use open questions to:

Encourage people to participate in the discussion and add any relevant

material which they have

Broaden the discussion of the topic to ensure all that all important

points are covered

Bring more people into the discussion

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Pointed Questions

Pointed or leading questions are stock in trade for lawyers.

They can be helpful but you need to be careful when using them.

Some ways to use pointed questions include:

a) Assume that your preferred answer is what the other person will say.

"Will we order the green trolleys?" is more likely to get a decision and avoid prolonged discussion than, "which trolleys will we order?"

b) Add a question to a statement of your opinion. This might be

something like, "The Roosters are a great team, don't you think?"

When used carefully, pointed questions can help you to control the discussion

and increase the possibility of getting the results you want. They also can

reduce the length of time taken to reach a conclusion on that particular point.

Follow-up questions

Be ready to ask for more specific details about any answer you get.

When someone answers your first question, they may mention something

which suggests that they have further relevant information.

There may be times when you use follow-up questions to try to get

information which the other person seems unwilling to provide.

Always be considerate of the other person and keep a professional attitude.

Where appropriate, compliment them on the work they have done and their

clear explanations.

Put your questions on the basis that you, or other people who are involved,

do not have that person’s deep knowledge of the particular subject and you

would appreciate more detail so everyone is able to understand the whole


Best and Worst Questions

The worst questions are those which are focused on getting some benefit for

us and don’t offer anything to the person we are asking.

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The best questions are those which are focused on getting some benefit for

us but also offer something to the person we are asking.

A lot of large fortunes were based on the idea of providing services to other


All of us are tuned to Radio Station WIIFM, “What’s In It For ME” so we are

likely to react a lot better when someone is showing interest in supplying

what we want, even when they want us to pay something for that.

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Better Listening

Practicing good questions will be of little value unless you also listen carefully to the answers and respond appropriately.

Hearing, like talking, is something that most of us can do well enough to get

by from an early age.

Listening is something we think we’re naturally good at too. But, hearing is an ability we are given, listening is something we have to learn to do well.

The effort is worth it because people really appreciate someone that makes

better communication easier for them.

Try these tips to improve your listening and you could improve your social

and business success as well.

9 Maintain eye contact with the speaker. Don’t look over their shoulder at someone else.

9 Don’t focus on what you’re going to say next. If you seem

disinterested, they may not stay around to find out what that is.

9 Don’t interrupt (your grandmother was right about that!)

9 Show interest by leaning slightly toward the speaker.

9 Give visual feedback; a slight nod or a genuine smile.

If your smiles are not getting good responses, check them in the mirror –

many professional performers put as much effort into practicing their smiles

as they do their scripts.

Some factors which may reduce your ability to listen well include:

Your own preconceptions about the speaker or the topic.

Your state of health


Weather conditions

Low attention focus

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The most important trait is to be yourself and don’t just assume a posture to

try to impress someone or a group.

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Meetings Out Of Your Office

Everyone likes to get away from the office or workshop routine sometimes. If

you can’t get a holiday, the next best thing might be a couple of hours at a

local restaurant or a few days at a hotel in another city or even another


The first thing to remember about these trips, whether across a road or an

ocean, is that you’re still representing your company the whole time you are

with your colleagues.

Networking events, Seminars, Power

lunches; they’re all business events and

you’re likely to be seen as either

promoting your brand or downgrading it.

Most of these events are focused on

business but they’re no place for a hard-


Practice an elevator-style introduction for

yourself and what you do; that’s about thirty-five to fifty words which are

interesting to the person listening even if they’ve never heard of an agrarian consultant before. The elevator refers to the original concept that you

prepare an introduction which you could tell someone (only after they asked)

who you are and what you do while you were both in a fast elevator between


If you are at a stand-up function like a networking event or buffet, do what

the organizers want you to - circulate.

Don’t set yourself up next to the food; it will come to you anyway as you

move around, the waiting staff will find you.

If you get into a line at the buffet, do some gentle networking.

Try to meet some interesting people in various parts of the room. The people

you really connect with could help you more than a couple of tired canapés

ever could.

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Give the people you meet equal time to introduce themselves and their

business to you. Be selective about who you give your business card to. You

want people that will keep it and use it. That might just be one person at

some events and twenty or more at others. But, not everyone needs an

agrarian consultant, really.

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After the Meeting

Perform your own Post Mortem

After each meeting, review the results. If the meeting did not achieve the

goals that were set in the agenda, recognize that it was a failure and try to

draw lessons about how to avoid that happening again.

Pay attention to the length of time which various parts of the meeting

agenda took to complete.

You can check, while your memory of the meeting is fairly fresh, whether

there were particular one-off reasons why something took more time than

you expected.

Maybe you could:

Allow more time for similar items in future

Keep a tighter rein on people that often go over their allotted time

Reduce the number of items for each meeting.

Encourage feedback from participants, even if it is not favorable. Ask that all feedback be put in writing. Then, follow it up with the writer and thank them

for their suggestions.

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Whether or not you ever expect to have to organize or run a meeting, you

can expect to be involved in some through your work or social and sporting


The benefits of your participation will be limited if you are not comfortable

putting forward your point of view in lively discussions where some of the

people with different views can sometimes be a bit overpowering.

I believe, from my own experience, that it is worthwhile for almost anyone to

get some training in how to present themselves and their views.

Public Speaking is almost as feared by many people as a trip to their dentist.

But, this fear can be relieved in a painless and fairly inexpensive way through clubs like those I’ve mentioned below or through classes at local colleges or

Adult Learning Courses.

This can have great benefits for your self-confidence, social skills and help

with your career as well.

The clubs offer other benefits including social and public service activities.



Jaycees International, (18 to 40) United States Junior Chamber, (18 to 40) Australian Rostrum,

Dale Carnegie Training is a professional training organization founded in 1912.

Procedural Guides for Meetings

“Robert's Rules of Order” by General Henry M. Robert

The current edition of this American classic is “Robert's Rules of Order

Newly Revised” 10th edition “The book on parliamentary procedure for parliamentarians and novice club presidents alike”.

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There are many other books with similar titles, many of which are apparently

based on earlier editions of “Robert's Rules of Order” that are now out of

copyright and out of date. I don’t know if any are as useful as the updated

original which is widely used.

Guide for Meetings and Organisations” by Nicholas Edwin Renton

The 8 edition of


this Australian classic text is two volumes instead of one

like the original edition in 1961. The first volume is a Guide for Voluntary

Associations. Volume 2 is the Guide for all kinds of meetings. is the author’s very interesting web site. has details of the above books.

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Video and Teleconferencing

I admit that I’ve only attended a couple of these at this point but I have

sought opinions from more experienced people so that I can at least give you

some basic pointers.

The first point that draws your accountant’s attention is that there is a

possibility of large savings by using Internet based conference software and

services over the usual practice of bringing staff members and guest

speakers, if any, from various parts of the country or even the world.

Setting up a video conference or teleconference through the Internet is fairly easy and there are options at various cost levels.

One of the simplest is a conference call through a VOIP (Voice Over Internet

Protocol) phone service like Skype.

This just gives you voice but is much cheaper and more convenient than

using regular telephone services.

For video conferencing, there are many providers and levels of sophistication.

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Conference offers a couple of different packages at what seems a reasonable cost where up to 500 people can

interact in each virtual room. Note, this is only suitable for conferencing, it isn’t a complete virtual reality setup.

You can brand the rooms you have with your company details.

The company sell the service on a monthly basis directly and through

independent distributors. All details are on their web site.

CiscoTel Presence


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Webex is also owned by Cisco Systems and available internationally.

GotoMeeting is another service with a good reputation.

Running Your Video Conference or Teleconference

Here are a few suggestions for setting up and running your first online


Make contact with all the participants well before the conference and ensure

that they are familiar with the requirements for the session.

A VOIP service like Skype only requires that each participant has subscribed

to the particular service so they can take advantage of the low VOIP call

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rates, has a working Internet connection and a head-set which includes a

microphone and earphones.

The headset should be rated for VOIP use – I use a Logitech® ClearChat

Comfort headset with good results. The label says that it is suitable for use

with voice-recognition software, so you might look for a product with that

sort of qualification if you can’t find one you like which is recommended for

VOIP telephony.

Do not use external speakers connected to your computer for these calls.

Users need to check their volume levels when they first comment on the


For full use of a video conferencing setup, the users need a webcam

connected to their computer as well. But, it’s optional so you can use the

service without one.

The organizer and the chairperson should study the instructions some time

before the conference and consult the supplier about any technical questions.

Some services provide a technical support person to do some hand-holding

for at least part of the first conference or a number where prompt support is


A very important consideration is to tell the group which time zone the

conference is originating from so that they can confirm they will be available at the appropriate time in their location. Confirm with all people involved that they have checked this.

Each person will probably have to download and install some software to

make the conference work.

They may have to check that the software is compatible with their computer

firewall and security software.

Anyone that is using a webcam needs to check that the focus is correct and

they are happy with the image which can be seen on the Internet. They will

probably get best results with reasonably dark clothing and by making sure

that their face is well lighted.

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Check the background is not distracting. Try to almost fill the lens with the

person’s face.

If anyone is joining the conference from their home, make sure there will not

be interruptions from children, pets or lawnmowers, etc.

Everyone should keep any extra noise to a minimum – rustling papers or the

like can be loud enough to be a distraction because people are focused more

than in most face-to-face situations listening to everything.

Even work-related chatter can be off-putting, especially for people in other

offices who have little interest in your day-to-day tasks.

Get each person to email the organizer with confirmation that they have the

number or web address needed to connect to the Internet conference. Some

services provide connection through your phone or through the Internet.

Understand that there could be some mistakes or problems with the first

conference. My experience is that the benefits can be great, though some

services will be a better fit with some people and not others.

I would not try to run a first conference of more than an hour.

If you were considering using people in different locations to manage

different conferences, you might set up the first conference between them

and use it to audition them as well as help them to become familiar with the


Even if your group all have the software program installed before the

conference day (or night), ask them to check in about ten minutes before the

conference is due to begin. This helps to ensure that any problems caused by

last-minute technical difficulties are kept to a minimum.

The Chair and the organizer should make themselves familiar with the most

common problems which might occur and have a list of suggested solutions

which has been checked by the provider, so that they don’t have to call in

the support person for something which might be fixed by simply having

someone resetting their computer, for instance.

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The Chair should welcome everyone and do a roll-call at the beginning of the

conference. Get people to indicate their presence with a click rather than

typing in their Hello to save time.

If there is time, the Chair could ask for one person from each location to tell the other attendees something about what they do.

The Chair will normally mute everyone else while someone is talking. I wish

we could do that in regular conferences too!

The Chair could give some general tips about using the service and how to

best participate in the conference, then go to the regular agenda.

It’s important to give each person a few extra seconds to start speaking,

especially when it is their first conference of this type.

All participants should mute their own microphone when it is not their turn to speak. With some services, this can be done by clicking an icon (small

picture) on their computer screen.

The Chair or an assistant should check whether everyone is being given

reasonable opportunity to speak. Some people will naturally remain quiet

unless prompted and you could find you have to remind some that there are

other people that want to talk.

Each speaker should give their name and department or other relevant

information when they start to make a comment.

Using a web cam requires practice – don’t use a new camera for the first

time when your boss is watching you!

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A Word from Pete Harmon

I hope my ebook has given you some ideas and resources for improving the

results which you get from all your future meetings.

Remember that the most important ingredients in the whole process are

enthusiastic, committed people and the actions that we take to improve our

companies, community groups and the world around us.

Knowing how to make our meetings shorter and more productive empowers

us by giving us more opportunities to improve our business achievements

and to have more time with our friends and family.

I wish you great success in all your endeavors,

Pete Harmon

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Another eBookWholesaler Publication

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