5 Ways to Keep the Attention of Senior Execs

Who has the time now for long conversations? I hope you make time for them with your family and friends–but in the workplace, we tend to avoid people with the reputation for being long-winded.

So when you get the ear of a senior executive, how do you make the most of the moment? Use these tips to be more effective when talking with a busy executive.

1. Think in 30-Second Increments

Half a minute is forever in a boring conversation. Studies indicate that on the phone, the listener is considering whether to exit or stick around every seven to 11 seconds. In face-to-face meetings, you get a little more grace–say, all the way to 30 seconds. If you are not constantly generating someone’s interest, you are losing him.

Executives seem to have their own form of attention disorders.  Executives are constantly trying to come to a decision about any interaction: “Do I delegate this, avoid this, deny this or run away from this?” You are fighting that internal dialogue in small battles. Keep it interesting.

2. Watch for Signs of Boredom

We know the signs, right? Checking the watch, looking over your shoulder, fidgeting, glassy eyes. On the phone, it’s the prolonged pause, the “email launch” sound in the background, the vague “uh-huh, uh-huh …” That’s your “uh-oh” moment.

Really effective sales people respond to those moments. They interrupt the conversation with an honest interjection. It might be, “The bottom line is …” or “The thing we need to decide right now is …” The pattern interruption brings the conversation back to point and gets engagement.

3. Ask Permission for Stories

Stories are very important in conversations, to set points and ideas in context. Without context, it is hard for your listener to integrate your issues into all of their circumstances. However, when a person launches into a story, the instant reaction is resistance: No one wants to be trapped for who-knows-how-long in a pointless story.

If you need to tell a story, get the permission for extended attention. Just ask, “Can I tell a quick story to illustrate what I mean?” This shows respect to the listener and it prepares them for a sustained attention period.

4. Know What Your Point Is

Do you have a point? This is especially critical when talking with executives, but the truth is that it should be a general rule for all business conversations. You are asking for action, input, a decision, or support. To honor someone’s time and get to the next step, you need to know exactly what you want.

A compliment I hear from executives and clients about their best suppliers is: “I really appreciate that they don’t waste my time. Whenever they need something, they come to me–and we take care of it and move on.”

5. What’s in It for Someone Else?

Sales people have joked for a long time that everyone has the same radio station playing in their head: WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). By no means do I believe that every interaction has to be a selling conversation, or that there has to be something for your listener in every conversation. However, if you want to hold their attention, it’s good to keep it in mind. What is in it for the listener to be having this conversation with you?

Get to the point and everyone will benefit.

Published at inc.com

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Email Overload?

Recently I received a disturbing email from a friend informing me that he had replied to 7,545 emails in 2011. Included in his email—and the irony is not lost that he sent an email—was an analysis of how much time he had spent replying to those emails.

By his “conservative” calculation, he estimated he had devoted a full 45 days (19 percent of his annual workable time) replying to email last year. Of course this is just the time spent replying to emails; it does not account for his time reading all his incoming emails.

Naturally, this made me wonder: Is my friend managing his time and email correctly? I’ve received many of his emails, and I feel confident saying “no.” Why? For one thing, he’s not a professional communicator.

As PR pros, we have a distinct advantage—namely organization and writing skills—over other professionals to bring greater sanity, efficiency, and effectiveness to email correspondence. I get highly discouraged when working with fellow PR professionals who do not communicate clearly in email. To me, that’s adding to dysfunction and ineffectiveness, not to mention doing a discredit to the terms “PR pro” and “professional communicator.”

Below are some suggestions for managing email:

Stop and evaluate

Not every email needs an immediate reply, but every email needs an action from you. You can reply, not reply, or save it for later. When determining which to do, keep the following questions in mind:

• Who sent it? If it’s from your boss or client, reply within a reasonable amount of time.

• What is the urgency? Is the email so crucial that you should you drop what you’re doing and respond immediately? Probably fewer than 10 percent of your emails require such attention.

• What is the context? Is the email important to the work I am doing or will be doing soon?

• What is my “call to action”? If I reply, is my reply clear? For example, do I need more information from the sender? Am I going to forward this to my boss? Am I going to put an action on my task list for next week? Be clear to yourself and to the sender about your next steps.

Set ‘to’ and ‘copy’ expectations

This is an important and challenging step. If you’re a manager, it’s vital that you’re clear about which types of emails your subordinates should copy you on and when you would prefer an email to a phone call or meeting.

For example, I tell my colleagues that I want to be copied on all important client deliverable emails—those including a case study article, press release, etc. That’s it. I don’t want emails about their professional development or employment terms; we’ll discuss those issues face to face.

Set these expectations to reduce the emails from your team members. Do the same with your supervisor. Setting clear expectations and following through are essential to any project, and email is no different.

Consolidate topics and actually talk

Whether you are a manager or a subordinate, remember: If you send a lot of emails, you’re going to receive a lot of emails. Try picking up the phone or talking face to face, especially if you have multiple topics to discuss.

Block off ‘email only’ time

You should set parameters for when you will be reading and responding to emails. Communicate this to your supervisor, team members, customers, etc.

Unless I have a meeting, my colleagues know that my time for actively checking email is from 8 to 9 a.m. and from 4:30 to 5 p.m. If I don’t reply to an email during that time and they have an urgent issue for me, they should come find me.

Tailor your communication

After considering steps No. 1 and 2, you should tailor your communication based on the person and the context. For example, I would not advise using email to communicate potentially sensitive or negative news, if you can avoid it. Likewise, email is not the forum to fully detail your five-year strategic marketing plan.

If your goal is to impress your boss and you’ve determined that email is the best avenue, be sure you write sharply and concisely. Remember: Email can be quick, but a phone conversation or an in-person meeting can be more rich and effective. Consider your audience, the topic, and the urgency of the matter.

Be clear

This seems obvious, right? Emails are often written quickly and without much thought, creating a challenge for the recipient.

Murky emails can cause ambiguity, confusion, stress—even an obstacle to productivity. Don’t add to the confusion and the dysfunction. Be clear about whom you are addressing and what you’re requesting or assigning in your email.

Also, specify deadlines. Take a few minutes to craft one well-written email to move the process along efficiently, rather than hastily sending out three incomplete emails.

Below are some additional tactics you can use immediately:

1. Include a strong subject line. Be concise, and use compelling words to get attention. Your email’s worthless if no one opens it.

2. Use numbers or bullet points. This is essential if you’re covering multiple issues; doing so will help the recipient address each one individually.

3. Watch the clock. If you take more than 15 minutes to write an email, it’s better to condense it and augment it with a phone call or in-person meeting.

4. Be careful when forwarding. If you’re forwarding an email chain and there is something of importance in that chain, don’t just use “FYI below” and expect the recipient to see what you’re hoping they see. Point out what they should pay specific attention to.

5. Get closure. Include calls to action and deadlines.

6. Avoid multiple sends. Wait for your recipients to respond before sending out another email on the same topic.

7. Wait if you have doubts. If you’re second-guessing your email, there’s probably a good reason. Listen to that voice in the back of your head. Remember: You can’t “un-send” an email. Better to keep it in your draft folder and think about it for an hour than to regret your haste.

Time is everyone’s most valuable resource. By using smart and effective communication strategies for email, we can free up more time to be productive or do the things we want to do.

Originally posted at prdaily.com

10 Rules of Meeting Invitations

I believe there are some very basic and simple rules that assistants should follow in order to make nice in the assistant-to-assistant world. My rules may not be everybody’s rules, but I’ll be there are at least a few in here that you practice regularly. So without further ado, I give you my Top Ten EA Rules of Etiquette, as Decided by Me.

1) General pleasantries will get you further than being grumpy. Have you ever called an EA who was immediately short and rude on the phone? Of course you have. I have, too, many times. Someone who just sounds irritated to have even answered the phone, or answers me with abrupt responses. We all have bad days, but I try to never transfer my bad mood onto someone else (especially from another company). Try to smile when you speak to others, even if you’re faking it. And P.S., this translates through email, too. Try to make nice in all communication formats. If you are irritated by someone, wait half an hour before you respond.

2) When you send a request for time, make the first offer. There’s nothing I loathe more than the line, “Would you send me all availability for the next two weeks?” Really? This could not be more lazy. First of all, since you’re the one asking for the meeting, you send me yours first and I’ll try to match it. But if you said that because you know my exec is way busier than yours, then perhaps say that up front – and only ask for me for a few days at a time. Or, if it’s going to be that difficult, just call me.

3) When you send a request for time in a different time zone, offer the conversion. Okay, I haven’t always been so great at this, but I’m getting better. At least if I do this now, I recognize that I’m being the lazy one. I like to use the following meeting planner to help me: http://www.worldtimeserver.com/meeting-planner.aspx. This has saved my skin on more occasions than I would care to admit.

4) Make a counter offer.  If I offer a time slot that doesn’t work for you, so help you if you answer me with nothing more than, “No, that doesn’t work.” Please make a counter offer. This saves me having to email you twenty times with different slots in a type of meeting-request-battleships.

5) Please don’t rub their face in it. If an assistant makes a mistake and misses the mark on a previously offered slot, please don’t answer with, “Like I said below…” It comes off so condescending, and I know you don’t mean to be that snotty (or maybe you do). Just re-state it. Chances are s/he is going to figure out that s/he made the mistake. We’re all human. I’m sure you’ve done it too.

6) Once you agree on a time, I believe the one who requested the meeting should be the one to send the meeting invitation. This rule can be broken when it’s between two different companies and there are certain conditions that are more conducive to the opposite. You’ll know when. But on internal communication, if you requested it, please prepare and send the invitation.

7) When writing out meeting invitations, please be clear and specific. Understand that other execs might have multiple meetings with similar topics. Please make sure you include participant names, a subject, whether it is a CALL or a MEETING, the dial in information or location, and it helps to add the assistant’s names and phone numbers (the ones who arranged it). If you can, I’d also recommend including a summary of the meeting, or attach the email chain relating to the set up of the meeting so if the meeting is far in the future, you can remind yourself as to why it was set up in the first place. Yes, it takes a few extra minutes to put all of this detail in your invite. Do it anyway. We will all love you for it.

8) Please. Don’t. Counter. Offer! Outlook had the best intentions with the “counter offer” on meetings. Yet, I haven’t met one assistant who thinks this is a good method of proceeding. Counter offers mess up everyone’s invites. PLEASE, I beg you! Just call me and tell me you can no longer do that slot. Or send me an email. When I get nothing more than a counter offer, not only does it screw up the invite, but I think it’s rude (you couldn’t even send me an email?). Plus, what if I miss it? Easy to do, actually. And then we both think we have different meeting times, or it’s left out there hanging. Also please note that a Decline should come with a separate note. A flat decline with no explanation is just mean. We’re left staring at our inbox saying, “What? Declined?! Why? Why?” …crying and flailing about on the floor.

9) Confirm all of your meetings, especially those in person.  Imagine calling to confirm a meeting and the assistant on the other end responds with, “Oh, the 3:00? Yeah, we have to cancel that.” Now imagine that conversation taking place at 2:55 when your boss is already on his way. Cue: major freak out. An email the night before will do, just as a courtesy. And a couple of days is required for any meeting hosting someone from out of town.

10. And last but certainly not least, Don’t send blind invites. It’s not okay and there is never an excuse. Always, always give the other party the courtesy of a call or at the very least an email. No, don’t assume that because you plugged their name into Outlook and it ‘looked clear’ that it’s good for the taking. ESPECIALLY don’t do this to other people at other companies. This is especially bad when you don’t follow rule 7 and give them an idea of what the meeting is about in the first place.

And there you have it. Like I said, your rules may be a little different, or maybe you have some good ones that I missed. But these rules, according to me, are rules to live by.

If you have any specific to you, I look forward to hearing them!

10 of the Best ‘Out of Office’ Automatic email Replies

1. I am currently out of the office at a job interview and will reply to you if I fail to get the position.
Please be prepared for my mood.

2. You are receiving this automatic notification because I am out of the office. If I was in, chances are you wouldn’t have received anything at all.

3. Sorry to have missed you, but I’m at the doctor’s having my brain and heart removed so I can be promoted to our management team.

4. I will be unable to delete all the emails you send me until I return from vacation. Please be patient, and your mail will be deleted in the order it was received.

5. Thank you for your email. Your credit card has been charged $5.99 for the first 10 words and $1.99 for each additional word in your message.

6. The email server is unable to verify your server connection. Your message has not been delivered. Please restart your computer and try sending again.

7. Thank you for your message, which has been added to a queuing system. You are currently in 352nd place, and can expect to receive a reply in approximately 19 weeks.

8. Hi, I’m thinking about what you’ve just sent me. Please wait by your PC for my response.

9. I’ve run away to join a different circus.

10. I will be out of the office for the next two weeks for medical reasons. When I return, please refer to me as ‘Kate’ instead of Dave.

Originally posted at My IT Forum

8 Things Your Assistant is Better at Doing Than You

  1. Keeping your Schedule.
    Lets face it, you’ve all missed meetings because you entered them into your diary on the wrong day, wrong time zone, or simply forgot to enter them at all! outlook calendarYour assistant is the master of your diary. She knows who you’re meeting, when you’re meeting them, where you’re meeting them, and how long it’s going to take you to get there. She knows which meetings to interrupt if you’re going to be late for the next one, and she has the presentations printed and ready for you to take. She’ll also re-arrange that conference call with New York that you’ve put in your diary for 9am London time.
  2. Thinking of the small details.
    Most of the time these are things that will never ever even cross your mind. You dont notice when she’s done them, but you’d notice if she didn’t. She reserves an area in a bar when you’ve planned to take your team out for a few drinks. And pre-ordered the drinks so you’re not standing at the bar for half an hour. And a few snacks! She notices when you’re almost out of business cards and re-orders them before you get to your last one. She puts a spare pen in your jacket pocket because you normally lose yours, and there’s a reminder in your diary for your wife’s birthday, along with a link to her favourite jewellery shop.
  3. Organising your travel plans.
    planeIf you travel a lot, you know how important it is to get the plans just right. Your assistant can do this with her eyes closed so don’t try and get involved – leave it to the professional. Your assistant knows what time your taxi needs to pick you up when you’ve got a 6am flight and want every last second of sleep possible. She knows how to get you the occasional cheeky business class flight when she knows you’re cutting it fine to make the last flight home and need to zoom through security as quickly as you can. She also knows that the hotel you’ve specifically requested is actually miles away from where your meetings are and books you one that will be more convenient. Then sends all your presentations to it so you dont have to pack them in your bag and pay for excess baggage. She’s sorted out your visa before you realise you need one, and she’s ordered your dollars or euros so you don’t get stung with the ridiculous exchange rate at the airport.
  4. Keeping your office tidy.
    You file things in two piles: Important and No Idea What I Have To Do With This. Your assistant can sift through everything and pull out the documents that are actually important (once she’s understood that important documents will be in both piles). Look out for the ones with sticky notes on – these are the ones that you have to sign. If she physically hands you a document you know this is serious. She will stand over you until you’ve signed it and wont let it out of her sight. She’ll then whip it away from you before the ink is even dry. You dont have to worry about this kind of document again. She’ll make sure it gets to the right person, and that a copy is carefully filed in her own drawer.
  5. Technology.
    Your blackberry was one of the first ones ever made, and you dont know how to work the conference phone in your office that you’ve had for 5 years. Never fear! Your assistant is here! blackberryHer mere presence is sometimes enough to get your computer to start working again after it’s crashed for the 4th time in a row. She can sort you out a Video Conference with her eyes closed, and can even get your presentation up on the screen in Zurich. You know, the one she did on Powerpoint from the sketches you drew on the back of your cab receipt.
  6. Managing your team
    You’re the manager, but sometimes you get a little bewildered with all the documents you have to process every time the annual Objective Setting comes around again. By the time you realise the deadline is fast approaching, she’s already reminded your team that they need to submit their draft to you and has scheduled individual 1-1 meetings with each of them. She’s printed out a copy of everyone’s draft objectives, left them on top of your keyboard where you’ll see them, highlighted the ‘Due By’ date with a neon yellow highlighter, and put a reminder in your calendar letting you know when you have two hours left to submit them. She’s also there to remind you that you’ve not given the new guy his induction yet.
  7. Remembering Names.
    We’ve all been there – someone comes up to you all happy and smiley, pleased to see you. Slaps you on the back and asks you how the kids are. But you simply cannot for the life of you remember their name. Your assistant recognised the look on your face (a combination of confusion and a fake smile) and has emailed you not only their name, but also when you last spoke to them, where it was, and their wife’s name, all before you’ve sat back down on your seat. She also knows exactly who you’re talking about when the only description you’re able to provide is “that bloke from that place”.
  8. Answering the Phone.
    When you’re croaky and tired from being out all night with your best client, the last thing you want to be doing is answering the phone. Your assistant can sound bright and chirpy, even if she was out all night as well! She also knows how to hold off even the most persevering of people – she’s a true gatekeeper.

So remember, the next time you speak to your assistant, remember that you really wouldn’t get very far without them!

From EA to Anywhere: How to get Promoted from Assistant Level

careerWe all dream of snagging a glamorous, high-paying job right out of college—not necessarily answering phones or scheduling meetings all day. But many of us do start our careers at the assistant-level, and if you think it’s a job that’s going nowhere, think again.

I’ve found that starting your career as an executive assistant can be a great way to make connections, gain experience, and get promoted. All it takes is a little time, hard work, and willingness to step out of the box. Here’s how to make the most of your job as an assistant—and use it to get wherever it is you really want to be.

See the Bigger Picture

Your position as an assistant allows you to see an industry and a company at a higher level than many people in entry-level jobs get to. Use this to your advantage: Treat everything that comes across your desk as a learning experience. Take time to thoughtfully read the reports, projects, and memos that you handle. When you work with people from different departments, ask questions about what they do and what they’re working on. Think about career paths within the company you’d be interested in, and use your role to find out as much about them as you can.

Be the Girl Everyone Wants to Know

Depending on who you’re supporting, the exposure you get to people, places, and knowledge can be tremendous, and you can quickly become the person to know in the office. You have the authority to schedule meetings and make exceptions. You ultimately are the one who decides who gets face-time with the boss and who can wait in line.

Use your power as the gatekeeper wisely. If you’re the reliable, responsive, and competent assistant everyone wishes they had, others will want to know you (or even poach you!). The more good contacts you can make, the better off you’ll be when you want to look for that next step.

Prove Your Worth

Chances are, your role will require you to frequently interact with a variety of people. Leverage this and offer to take on tasks outside your role to test the waters on different aspects of the industry or company. Ask to help with a project in an area that’s understaffed or to take the lead on a task no one else is keen on. Use your exposure to other teams as a key opportunity to augment your resume and to show your current boss and potential employers what you’re capable of.

Become a Trusted Confidante

Bottom line: Be the best employee you can be to your boss. You will likely be trusted with confidential projects or information—don’t betray that trust. Also, your role may occasionally blur the line between personal and professional—for example, selecting gifts for a spouse or family member, or helping out with a personal real estate acquisition. But instead of getting frustrated, look at it as an opportunity to become close with your boss—an opportunity that most people won’t get.

If you think your boss is taking advantage and using you more as a personal assistant, then by all means, sound the alarm. But, start with the mentality that no task is too small or too big, and you’ll be seen as a team player.

Working as an executive assistant can get you unique exposure to an industry and can be a great way to help set your career in motion. Think broadly, learn as much as you can, and establish a good relationship with your boss. The experience you gain can catapult you toward your dream job—or one you hadn’t even known about.

This article was originally posted on The Daily Muse

Diary of a Modern PA

 

I can take 2 phone calls, set up an excel spreadsheet, book a conference call and send several emails – all at the same time. Simultaneously, I can review 2 inboxes, update 3 calendars, book dinner for 7 with parking, location map and 2 vegetarian options, knock up a PowerPoint presentation, courier a package and book three hotel rooms and three flights. I speak all languages and have visited all the countries in the world: I therefore know every beach and every hotel. I know all local customs and visa and vaccination requirements for all nationalities and countries. I am personally responsible for the food on the flight, for traffic jams, broken hire cars, overbooked planes, late taxis, the weather, possible war and unrest, as well as the economic situation and adverse currency exchange rate fluctuations. I possess magical powers which enable me to get a room in a fully booked hotel and seats on fully booked planes and trains. I can also arrange for planes to start and land at your desired destinations at your preferred times. I know that – even though you asked me to book you a flight for Friday – you really wanted to travel on Saturday. Also, if you arrange a meeting with somebody over the phone and don’t tell me, I telepathically know and will book and prepare a meeting room and arrange drinks.

I smile, am sympathetic, and am happy to replace your psychiatrist /punch bag as needed – equally happy in turn to be ignored, insulted and blamed in the interests of alleviating the frustrations of senior management in the workplace – always calmly listening and trying to do better next time.

I can act, sing, dance and repair the printer. I replace the information desk, directory enquiries and the post office. I am happy to get in early for meetings that (may) take place and work late for no extra money. I hate having time off – as I obviously have no family or other interests outside the joy and desire to selflessly serve in the workplace.