Monday, 14 January 2013

Ideas for the New Year


New Approach to the New Year

I’ve decided this year to gather up all the scraps of paper, half-filled notebooks and mind maps of ideas I have lying around and put them all into a lovely lined blank book I received as a Christmas gift.  Usually I’d have a grand plan for setting myself the task of writing something every day but I’ve decided to be kinder to myself this year and use these things as prompts and see where the writing takes me instead of trying to force the pace. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Stand and deliver

I’ve just been reading Michael Bungay Stanier’s excellent blog, Outside the Lines.  If you don’t subscribe to it you should. He has an interesting piece on moving to a standing desk, because we are all sitting too much.  I’m running an experiment to see how it works for me. 

Quote for the month

"In absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia, until we ultimately become enslaved by it."

Robert Heinlein
1907-1988, Novelist and Screenwriter

It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day to do list, this week take some time to reflect on what you want and create some written time specific goals you’re working towards.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

I'm featured in A Storied Career Blog

I was recently interviewed by Kathy Hansen of A Storied Career and here are the links to her blog if you'd like to find out more about how I use stories in my work.  Kathy's blog is one of my favourites so I was honoured to be asked and happy to recommend it as she always has interesting resources.

Friday, 23 December 2011

End of the year - Re-framing, Re-evaluating, Relaxing

I found myself in Waitrose today realising this would be my best opportunity to get everything that I needed for our Christmas dinner.  About 100 other people shared this same thought.  On reflection there were several things I could have done to make this an easier task.  I could have arrived when the shop opened at 8:30 am; I could have made a more detailed list; or I could have ordered on line.  Alas none of these things happened and so I found myself dodging the throngs of harried shoppers down various aisles as people made lunges for the last bag of grapes or thoughtlessly stopped in the middle of it all to consult their list. I could feel my frustration growing.  Why is  there still this desperate post-war-like mentality to stock pile food from the shops before Christmas?  It's no  longer  like it was when I first moved to the UK 18 years ago when shops were actually closed the week between Christmas and New Years and if you didn't plan ahead it could be a challenge.  These days my nearest Tesco is closed on Christmas and Boxing Day - but the Tesco Express is open on the 26th so really it is just one day that I  wouldn't be able to pop to the shops.  Back to my current situation and I certainly wasn't feeling in the Christmas spirit when it suddenly struck me - that although I couldn't change the situation I could change how I was reacting to it.  So I started humming Christmas carols and that made me feel better.  I took off my coat so I wasn't too warm,  When I found the end of the very long queue to pay,  I started chatting with the other people in the queue and talked about our Christmas preparations, why they weren't playing music in the store and before long suggested we sing some Christmas carols ourselves which we did a bit. It certainly got the  checkout staff to smile and when I left I felt tired but no longer drained and actually a bit brighter in general.  Consider how you are experiencing Christmas this year and re-frame it as you'd like it to be.

New Year's Eve is another time of year I find challenging - looking back at the resolutions I didn't keep and figuring out which ones I should be making this year.  I wanted to share some links with you that help me feel  more focused.  Michael Bungay Stanier at Box of Crayons  has a great newsletter called Outside the Lines and a program called Kick start 2012.  For ideas on how to pick your theme for 2012, check out  For ways to plan your time effectively in the year ahead, look at For ways to add structure, consider using materials from

Re-evaluating  -  Managing your Career – the 5 key Questions
Corinne Mills,MD of Personal Career Management, the leading career coaching company ( shares some questions to ask yourself if your are re-evaluating your career in the new year.  Corinne is the author of the UK’s best-selling CV book “You’re Hired! How to write a brilliant CV” and her new book “Career Coach. Your personal workbook for a better career is a must-have for anyone serious about managing their career.
Most people, at some point in their career, will wonder whether they are in the right job and what else they could be doing.  If you are thinking about your next move, then consider the following career questions before making your decision. 

  1. What have you got to offer?

Identify what you have to sell in the job market which will be of value to an employer.  This may include skills, experience, knowledge, but it can also include other factors such as access to potential customers or your network contacts. 

2.    What is your personal work-style?

Understanding your personality at work will help you determine the roles and environments in which you will work best.  For instance, if you are energised by working with people then a stand-alone role is unlikely to bring out the best in you.  However, if you like to work independently then you could find it cumbersome to work in a strong team culture.  Think about how you like to work and get things done.

3.    What do you want?

Write down what you want to be different as well as those things you want to remain the same.  This may include practical things like pay or more intangible elements such as being valued by your boss. Knowing what is important to you will help keep you focused on what is right for you.

4.    What are your options?

Think creatively about your options.  These could include staying where you are, moving jobs, starting your own business or even reinventing your career.  Thoroughly research each option by looking at job adverts, talking to recruiters and people who work in the field.  Choose the option which most closely fits with what you want and which is realistic for you.

5.    What action can you take to achieve your career goals?

Make a list of what you need to do to help you to achieve your career aims eg updating your CV, networking, taking a course etc.    Schedule each task in your diary, set a deadline and do them!    

Your answers to these questions will quickly surface the areas which need more thought and attention.  Take especial notice of any answers which seem incomplete, superficial or seem to raise more questions for you.  These are likely to need more research, decision-making or perhaps talking through with someone else like a career coach.


And finally, I wanted to end on a note about taking time out this busy holiday season. There is an excellent column written by David Baddiel in the January issue of Psychologies magazine.  In it he says the best thing about Christmas is  "the absolute insistence that, over this period, we're simply not able to do anything, "  We actually all take a break from our hectic 24/7 lives - there is no other choice.  What a relief!

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and fun and adventure in 2012,


Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Living your best life abroad

I'd like to recommend a new resource to you if you are an expat or soon to be one.  It is a book called Living your Best Life Abroad by Jeanne A. Heinzer.  Jeanne has put together an excellent collection of resources and tools to help support accompanying partners when they're on international assignments.  From a coaching perspective, I was pleased to see so many relevant exercises and tips conveniently located in one place that I could easily share with my clients going through cultural transitions. 
Rather than just my recommendation, I thought it might be even more interesting to have the perspective of someone using it in the throws of  adapting to a new culture.  So let me share with you Sanela's story and how this resource helped her on her journey . . .

I’ve got this book just a month or so before I was to move to Germany from the UK. I loved the title and the chapter titles looked interesting and relevant. My intention was to spend some time reading/working through it whilst staying at my parents (our in-between-house) before I actually moved to our new home in Germany. However, the practicalities of life, mainly focused around getting the new house furnished so I spent more time searching internet for stuff than doing any psychological preparation for the move. I was also 8 months pregnant at the time so not in the peak form!

However, I took the book with me when I went to Munich for 5 days and had fabulous uplifting time sitting in a Munich department store, sipping second or third freshly squeezed juice and working through the “wheel of life” exercise. I bought myself a lovely notebook too and started capturing what I wished to have for myself over the next two years.

The wheel exercise is something I’ve done many times before and found it useful as ever in helping me clearly articulate why some things are important right now, why do they have a low or a high score and what I wanted to do about it.  The exercise confirmed my priorities which, for me was to get my environment, the house sorted out exactly how I wanted it to be ASAP and definitely before I had a baby!

I also found it useful to read about general experiences especially around change and what to expect. I shared this with my husband as well especially when things got a bit stressful – I could just say – hey, this is where we’re at right now and others experienced it as well (of course talking to other, real expats, was a good way to normalise our own experience).

The best thing I got from the book is a value, a principle which I think makes all the difference for this or any other experience in life. The gist of it is that you alone are responsible for making this experience the best one ever. Jeanne talks about taking responsibility for how you feel (this relates to partners in particular) and instead of falling into a trap of picking fights with your partner, kids etc. because you’re not feeling good about something, it’s better to think about what you’re missing and then ask for it/find a way to provide it for yourself. So, the other week when I started feeling a bit resentful towards my husband for no apparent reason I stooped and thought about my needs an once I figured it out I had a much more constructive conversation with him. I was also able to talk to friends I recently met to draw on their support.

Another principle that I love is that of self care – throughout the book Jeanne talks about importance of self care though little, everyday things and also through big areas of life like self development, career, health etc. I happen to be a strong believer in this principle as I know that if I’m not good myself I’m not good to anyone else either!

I see this book as a working, sort of reference book. There are chapters that “spoke” to me immediately and those that will be good to read in few months time. For example, defining who I want to be, what I want to get out of this opportunity etc. was and still is very important and it requires some thinking. One observation is that although I would have liked to have done this thinking before coming here the reality of international move seems to be that you just do things as you move along. Being conscious of the need to define and be clear about what this needs to be for you is in itself, a very important principle that is helping me shape this experience into something meaningful for myself.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Network local- network global

This month I have a guest blog from author, Joanna Parfitt.  You may know her from her books "A Career in your Suitcase" or "EXPAT Entrepreneur".  She's recently written a book called "Sunshine Soup: Nourishing the Global Soul," a fictional look at the expat experience.  Jo shares with us her own networking journey.

Network local -network global

Over last 24 years I have lived overseas in five different countries. I have been following my husband from posting to posting and this has led us to Dubai, Oman, Norway, England and now the Netherlands. But even before we first went away in 1987 I was determined to keep my career alive. Despite having a family; despite stamps in my passport saying I was not allowed to work and despite refusing to learn the language and therefore being unable to work in the local market. Yet I have achieved my goal. How? Through networking.

Did you ever hear Steve Jobs’ speech about the paths we take through life and how we can only ever connect the dots when we look backwards? It was a bit like that for me too. It is only now, in retrospect, that I recognise that the key to my achievement has been networking.

Back in the 1990s, when we relocated I would be devastated to have to leave behind all the clients I had made and used to say that when we left the Middle East I threw my flipflops and all my business cards in the bin on our way to the airport.

However, my business is all about writing. If I were a stick of rock the word ‘writer’ would run through my core. And so I wrote ­– books, articles, copy. I taught writing. I wrote letters to friends and a Christmas letter once a year. I did my best to stay in touch. When the internet came along I jumped for joy and immediately began emailing people too.

In 1997 we returned to England for a while and this time my Apple Mac and email came too and I metamorphosised into a publisher, creating Summertime Publishing. I started running dual career workshops and wrote a book called A Career in Your Suitcase. It was around this time that I attended my first international women’s conference. Women on the Move, in Paris, changed my life. Now I was exposed to people who shared my interests, women like me, and who came from all over the world. Suddenly I found myself making friends, doing business with and selling books both locally and globally.

But still I did not get it.

We join the dots only when we look back, right?

As the new millennium dawned I heard a new phrase: ‘live local, act global’. It assonated nicely, and that appealed to the writer in me. So I took note. The penny dropped! If I wanted to run a business that did not have to get binned every time I moved. If I wanted a business that would actually grow despite the moves, then I needed to network locally and globally.

Writing is a solitary business and so I realised I needed to run workshops and find local clients in order to get me out of the house. I needed global clients who were ‘out there in cyberspace’ so that I always had a ready pool of possibility waiting for me wherever I may live in the world. Today, as I look through my current list of clients (and by clients I mean people who come to me for help writing and publishing their books on living abroad) 90% of them do not live where I do – The Hague. I also realise that 95% of them come to me by word of mouth. Without my local and global networks I would be dead in the water.

Here are my top ten tips for achieving this:

1.      Make friends, build relationships. Don’t actively look for clients, just make friends. You do business with people you like and importantly, with their friends.

2.      Be crystal clear about what you do and the kinds of  client you are looking for. Be easy to refer and those clients will come knocking on your cyberdoor, passed to you by those ‘friends’.

3.      Collect email addresses – every time you run a workshop or do a talk, attend a networking event or conference. Ask people to sign up to your newsletter via your website and then you can keep in touch with them. I send my Monthly Inspirer on the first of the month. It is now my ninth year.

4.      Blog  three times a week and be focused and appealing enough for people to want to follow you.

5.      Join Twitter and search for people like you to follow.

6.      Attend conferences where you will find people like you and ensure you run a workshop and get yourself a captive audience.

7.      Do a better than good job, excel yourself.

8.      Be active on other people’s blogs and forums so that their clients get to know about you.

9.      Write articles and guestposts and get your name out there. Write a book if you can!

10.  Give away a free report on your website to tempt people to sign up to your newsletter.

Jo Parfitt

Jo Parfitt  - author of Sunshine Soup, nourishing the global soulAmazon. Find out more at, and


Sunday, 31 July 2011

Once Upon an Interview: Storytelling makes you Memorable

Kathy Hanson’s blog A Storied Career  is always full of interesting information about how to best use stories in your career development.  Three recent resources she highlighted deal with how to best prepare and tell stories in a job interview.

The first resource is Tim Tyrell-Smith, author of  HeadStrong, who offers a wonderful list of questions to ask yourself to get at “what’s memorable and interesting about you.”

Tim has also published this list of 31 questions on his blog.

These questions are primarily intended to generate sound bytes — which could be in story form — for networking situations — in which an individual might want to stand out from the crowd and be remembered. Most of the questions relate to personal rather than professional life, but a few of them could also generate stories that might come up in a job interview:

·         Have you ever done anything really hard (run a marathon, complete a triathlon, read all the classics)

·         What can you do unusually well (artist, chef, writer, chess, crossword puzzle)

·         Do you have an engaging hobby (re-building cars, growing flowers, interior design)?

·         What is your best quality?

·         Have you ever written a novel, an ebook of poetry or a song?

·         Have you had to overcome a challenge in your life?

·         What one work accomplishment will you be remembered for?

·         What are you passionate about?

·         What have you always been known for?

The second resource she mentioned is career expert, Pamela Skillings, who suggests you pick stories not only for when you are answering behaviour competency questions but also for questions like “Tell me about yourself” and “Why should we hire you?”:

“I advise first jotting down the top 3-4 qualities that you feel set you apart from other candidates for this particular position. What do you want the recruiter to remember about you when deciding who to call back? These qualities should form the basis of your pitch. Then you must practice weaving them all together into an irresistible 2-minute story. Turn on a recorder (iPhone voice memo feature works well) and see what comes out. Your first few tries will be terrible, but you will find the right approach and the right rhythm if you keep trying. Ask an objective friend for feedback if you start to feel too close to it.”

The final resource is  Sharon Graham who has written a post that gives advice on how to tell your SAR stories once you’ve created them.  She suggests you consider the following:

§ Knowing how to engage listeners in an interview is pivotal. Reflecting on your brand story is a good jumping-off point. Whether your interviewers actually ask you to tell them why you believe you should be hired over any others or not, be ready with a short opener that tells them what makes you special.

§ Telling stories that reflect your passion helps diffuse tension. In fact, when you are totally immersed in a story, you will relax and the content will flow. Some stories will seem to take longer than in practice while others will feel much shorter.

§ Listening for opportunities to tell a short story will give you a chance to share more. Even when asked a traditional question like “what kind of leader are you?” you may spot an opening to segue into a story that illustrates your leadership style.

§ Checking for reaction and interest is important. All great storytellers look around as they speak. They feed off the energy of their audience. Being aware of the reaction you are getting can keep you going or give you a hint that it’s time to wrap up.

§ Keep the momentum – as long as your audience is captivated. If you are not entirely sure, you can pause and say something like, “Have I shared enough or would you like me to continue?”

§ Wrap up the entire interview process with a fitting conclusion. Ensure your listeners know how much you appreciated their interest in you and your stories of success, and how much you would enjoy working with them in the future.

Sharon also highlights one of the biggest reasons story is such a useful tool in interviews: “Once you start in on a story that is dear to your heart and deeply familiar, you will tell it convincingly.”  As your next job interview approaches, prepare, practice and enjoy telling your stories.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Powerful Presentations: Presenting Scientific Material and Engaging International Audiences

Giving a presentation is a skill that, like any other skill, can be improved by reviewing and practising the basics as well as trying out some new techniques. I’ve run presentation skills workshops and one to one coaching sessions for the past 18 years but I still read new books and articles on the subject and attend master classes to keep my style as engaging as possible.  As I prepare to present at an international conference in Korea next week I thought I’d review two of the areas that might be of interest to the audience I’m presenting to: how do you make scientific data interesting and how do you present to an international audience?

Using elements of story, metaphor and visuals can help to make scientific or technical data more memorable.  Kathy Hansen has an excellent blog called A Storied Career and in one of her posts she interviewed communication consultant, Kristiaan Van Woensel, founder of The Story House  . One of the industries he works with closely is the pharmaceutical industry.  Here he talks about their challenges and how storytelling can be a useful tool in getting their message across.

“A controversial phenomenon that I acknowledge in pharma business for several years now is that its marketing and brand managers tend to ignore the uniqueness of their business targets: physicians (the ones that prescribe the drugs for patients)! The profession of physician, being a general practitioner or a specialist, is quite complex since his/her daily life balances between science (data and ratio) and people (emotion) in every aspect of his/her acts. However, the majority of pharma marketeers emphasize mainly on one side of their brand communications: scientific data from clinical trials that support the excellence of the brands they work for. Odd but true … the human side of the doctor, his/her ability to listen to patient stories, short and long, his/her empathic ability to live together with patients emotions, being it happiness, sadness, defeat or loss, has been neglected by pharma industry. “Speak human” to “human” physicians, through “brand stories.”
Scientific data give physicians the intellectual permission to prescribe drugs, but it is an emotional reason that makes them actually do it.”

He goes on to elaborate on why telling the story of the brand is so powerful.  People remember stories, not data.  Stories are made to share: Unlike scientific data, good stories are made to share from physician to patient and from patient to patient. Scientific data do resonate for physicians, but they hardly do for patients. However, data that are wrapped up in a compelling context could resonate with the patient’s worldview!”

It's also important to use visual aids which are easy to read, simple and VISUAL -pictures, graphes, charts. More detailed information can be given out in a handout.

If you are going to be giving your presentation in a different country, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Know your Audience. Take into account cultural differences when presenting internationally.  It’s your responsibility as a presenter to be aware of and acknowledge significant portions of the audience that come from differing backgrounds. It is up to you to find out about local customs and the types of humour that are appreciated, remembering the response to humour is quite different for different cultures. It’s also important to realise that body language can be interpreted differently as well.  The more we know what an audience in a particular country expects, the more effective we can be. The British prefer the presentation to be short and to the point, full of humour, metaphor and analogies. However, this can appear lacking in seriousness in Germany or Scandinavia, or not detailed enough in Japan.

Adapt your language to be understood. Even when the audience speaks English they may not be able to understand your accent or the speed at which you speak. Check with host nationals to see if you can be easily understood. You may have to adjust your normal delivery and rate of pitch slightly. You should also adapt your use of language. Be careful of using idioms, expressions, indirectness, phrasal verbs and colloquial phrases. If British English is not your native tongue, "We'll do it willy-nilly" is difficult to understand. "We'll do it anyway" is not.

Presenting internationally offers many challenges. We need to be aware of what we say, how we say it, and what our audience expects from a presentation. The more we know about our own language, and how to adapt it to a non-native audience, the more the audience will understand, and be able to take an active part in our presentation. The more we understand the cultural differences, the greater our chance of clearly communicating the message we want to give, on a level that the audience understands and feels comfortable with. When we get it right, we can build relationships and trust, and do business effectively. Until next month, an-nyung-hi ka-se-yo (안녕히 가세요).