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Friday, September 12, 2014

Giving a Presentation? The 10 Things You Must Do!

The ability to make an effective presentation is an important business skill. As a presenter, you need to get your point across. And if you do so effectively, not only does your audience gain information, but you look good.

Yet many people, at all levels, are unsure how to appear confident and credible when speaking in front of others. Over the past few months, even seasoned professionals have been among those I have coached on presentation skills.

Whether you are a manager explaining new programs to your employees, a chief financial officer giving a financial update to the media, or a vice president speaking in front of your board of directors, following these 10 suggestions will help you achieve presentation success:

1. Know your audience. Learn as much as you can about your audience before the presentation. How much do they already know about your topic? What more do they want to know? If you address the needs and concerns of the people in your audience, they are more likely to listen to you.  

2. Practice out loud. You want to hear how the presentation sounds. Saying it in your head isn’t good enough. Is it structured logically? Are you using transitions between points? Does the presentation make sense? Hearing the speech as your audience will hear it helps you to clarify the areas you need to work on.

3. Dress for the presentation. Your attire can help you appear as a self-assured person. Think about your audience members and what they will be wearing. Dressing slightly better than your audience adds to your credibility.

4. Mingle before the presentation. When you can, meet the participants. Go up to people, shake hands, introduce yourself, and welcome these individuals to the presentation. This rapport-building helps people connect with you, and allows you to feel more comfortable with them.

5. Establish your credibility. Make sure the audience knows why you are qualified to talk about the subject. If you are not already known to the audience, or if nobody introduces you, give a self-introduction at the beginning of your presentation.

6. Pay attention to your nonverbal communication. Use good posture, and look at people in the audience. Remember that gestures bring your words to life, but avoid nervous fiddling, such as playing with a pen or rubber band. Speak loudly enough to be heard. (Additional information on communication can be found in my new book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette.)

7. Don’t discount yourself. Avoid comments that belittle you or your talk. These include such statements as, “I hope I don’t bore you, but I am going to talk about…” or “I know you didn’t come here to hear me.” Be careful with filler words. If the audience is counting the number of times you say um, they are not listening to what you have to say – and too many filler words make you appear unprepared and nervous, too.

8. Tell stories. Stories bring your presentation to life. When discussing a specific point, concept, product or service, tell a story about someone who proves your point or benefits from your service. Your audience will remember the story, and as a result your presentation. (See my previous blog, Tell Tale: Bring Your Presentation to Life, for additional information on using stories.)  

9. Use slides to enhance your presentation. Slides should supplement and support your talk, not supplant it. They are not your presentation! Limit the information on each slide. 

10. Anticipate the questions. Think about the questions that you may be asked, and know how you will respond. If you prepare ahead of time for every negative or harsh comment you can imagine, you are less likely to be caught off guard.

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on presentation skills. For additional information, contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Don’t Take Your Neighbor’s Bread and Other Dining Suggestions

Is it okay to hit on the waitress during a business meal?

Lately, I have taught many dining-etiquette seminars to business professionals and university students around the country. The above question from a young man at a fraternity dinner brought a smile to my face. It is one of many questions that my participants have asked about how to handle themselves at a business meal – though this one was a little more unusual than most.

The answer to the young man’s question was a pleasant, “No... The dinner is a business activity.” He smiled back and said, “I thought you would say that!”

Generally, the questions participants asked were more involved, with many requiring an understanding of the correct placement of dishes and utensils. They included:  

-Have I used the right water glass?

-What are those utensils at the top of my plate?

-Am I eating my neighbor’s bread?

-When is it okay to take my napkin off the table and place it on my lap?

Reading a place setting accurately during a business meal is important – you want to spend your time connecting with the other diners, not worrying whether you have used the correct bread plate.

Since place settings vary depending on which restaurant you visit, knowing some general guidelines can be helpful. Here are six suggestions, along with an illustration of a sample place setting:

1. Use the following memory tricks. They will help you remember the correct placement of the plates, glasses and utensils.

-Think of the “BMW” (Bread, Meal, Water). It will remind you that your bread-and-butter plate is on the left, and your water glass is on the right.

-Remember your “Left” and “Right.” Food is placed to the left of the dinner plate. The words food and left both have four letters; if the table is set properly, your bread or salad or any other food dish will be placed to the left of your dinner plate. Similarly, drinks are placed to the right of the dinner plate, and the words glass (or drink) and right contain five letters. Any glass or drink will be placed to the right of the dinner plate.

Left and Right also work for your utensils. Your fork (four letters) goes to the left; your knife and spoon (five letters each) go to the right.

2. Learn the utensils. Don’t be like the great dramatist Oscar Wilde, who said: “The world was my oyster, but I used the wrong fork.” The largest fork is generally the entrĂ©e fork. The salad fork is smaller, and depending where you are in the world, the salad may be served before the main course or after. The largest spoon is usually the soup spoon. If you are having a fish course, you may see the fish knife and fork as part of the place setting. The utensils above the plate are the dessert fork and spoon, although these may sometimes be placed on either side of the plate or brought in with the dessert.

3. Place your napkin on your lap when you sit down. The waiter sometimes does this for you. If there is an official host, wait until she puts her napkin on her lap, and then do the same. 

4. As a general rule, navigate your place setting from the outside in. Each course should have its own utensils. Additional information on place settings and dining can be found in my new book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success.

5. Don’t panic if you use the wrong utensil. When the course arrives for which you need that utensil, just ask the waiter for another. If a dinner companion uses your utensil, quietly ask the server for another.

6. Do what your host does. If you don’t know what to do, copy what your host is doing. You may not be right, but you are not wrong.

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on business etiquette, business dining and communication. For more information, contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The ‘Halo Effect’ – When Being Nice Has Benefits

I recently had this conversation with my son after he had his car serviced.

Mom, they did a great job on my car,” he told me.

I asked, “Why do you say that?” 

His reply: “As I was leaving, we talked about new cars and the mechanic told me to have a safe trip home.”    

I thought to myself that my son knows very little about the inner workings of cars, yet because the mechanic was nice and friendly to him, he believed that he had done a good job on his vehicle. 

He is not alone in how he judges the quality of someone’s work. 

A colleague recently decided to go with one software vendor over another because, as she said, “He was so friendly.”  

I call this phenomenon the “halo effect” of being nice.  One of my clients summed it up best when she said: The service you give people will affect their perception of the quality of your work.  (The term “halo effect” was first coined in 1920 by psychologist Edward Thorndike, who concluded that your impression of someone will influence your view of his or her abilities.)

But before you jump to any conclusions, I am not saying that the quality of your work doesn’t matter. It does. Being nice and friendly will not make up for inferior work. What it will do is encourage people to view you and your work positively. People will enjoy working with you or for you if you are nice to them.  And that is an advantage in everyone’s line of work. 

Here are four steps to follow so that others will react to you in a positive way:

1. Greet people. This is one of my more common tips, yet people still tell me all the time that they feel ignored by others. People believe that they greet others, but I encourage you to monitor yourself over the next couple of weeks and really make sure that you do. You need to say “Hello,” “Hi,” “Good morning,” or offer a similar greeting to people you know and to people you don’t know. The person that you say “hello” to on the way to the meeting may be the person sitting next to you during the meeting, and you will have established minor rapport already.  

2. Make some small talk. You don’t need to know people’s life stories, but a little small talk can help establish a connection between people. Use “safe” topics. You can talk about the weather (front-page stories such as hurricanes generally have more appeal), traffic, common experiences, travel, sports (if everyone is interested), entertainment (movies, plays), holiday celebrations, upbeat business news, vacations, current events (cautiously), and the activity you are attending. Additional information on small talk can be found in my book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette.

3. Offer to help, when you can. Why not offer to help when you can? If someone (male or female) is struggling with packages or seems overloaded with assignments, assisting that person is a nice thing to do. 

4. Have an exit line. An exit line establishes the ending of the encounter and paves the way for the next meeting. Sample exit lines include, “Nice talking to you,” “Have a great weekend,” or “Have a safe trip home.” I recently went to the doctor for a minor concern, and he had a great exit line that I have added to my list of favorites. As he was ending our visit, he added, “If it happens again, I’m here for you.” I almost want it to happen again! (This isn’t suitable for every occasion, but it is a warmly affirming line for an appropriate encounter, such as addressing a colleague’s minor problem. )

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on business etiquette, communication and career development. For more information, contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or

Monday, July 28, 2014

Is Your Co-Worker or Boss a Jerk? 6 Steps to Positive Confrontation

Your co-worker is not doing her fair share on the team project.  

Your employee is chronically late. 

Your boss yells at you in front of your co-workers. 

What can you do about these and countless other annoying, frustrating, or troublesome situations? Many people respond by avoiding their bosses, ignoring co-workers, complaining to others, pounding their fists, or ranting on social media.

They often miss the most effective alternative: confronting positively.

Positive confrontation allows you to confront someone in what I call a “polite and powerful” manner. You are choosing to speak up in a clear, direct, specific, but non-accusatory manner.

So instead of becoming a bully in order to express yourself, or wimping out because you don’t know what to say, try positive confrontation. Below are 6 steps to follow as a guide. (Additional information on “polite and powerful” behavior can be found in my book, The Power of Positive Confrontation; a revised and expanded edition has just been published.)

1. Pick your conflict.  You can’t fight them all. You can’t win them all. Pick the ones that matter to you or have an effect on your work. If they don’t, why not let them go?  You’ll be less stressed.

2. Give the person The Jerk Test.  We are very quick to make negative assumptions about others. Yet often we have no idea what is driving the other person’s behavior. If you approach someone convinced that the person is a jerk, it is very easy to explode because “the jerk had it coming!”  If you consider instead that “maybe the person is a jerk, or maybe not – I will find out,” you are less likely to explode.

3. Pick the right time and place.  Confront others in private, and when you are calm. Pick a time that’s good for the other person to talk.  If the person is walking out the door for a meeting, it’s not the time to confront him or her.

4. One issue at a time.  You don’t want to confuse the situation. Keep the discussion to one topic. You are less likely to get side-tracked if you stick to just one issue.

5. Prepare and practice.  You should prepare and practice what you want to say.  You are less likely to explode or wimp out if you do. Remember, your wording should be specific, direct, polite, and non-accusatory. My Don’t Attack’em, WAC’em™ model can guide you.  WAC stands for: What’s really bothering you?; What do you want to Ask the other person to do or change?; and Check-in for the person’s reaction.

For example, suppose a co-worker has been posting photographs of you on Facebook, without asking if you mind – which you do. Here are the steps you might take to WAC’em:
      W = I know you may not see this as a big deal, but I am not comfortable with pictures of me being posted on Facebook without my permission.

      A = Please take them down by the end of the day.

      C = Okay?  

6. Pay attention to your nonverbal body signals.   Have you ever heard yourself saying, “But I didn’t mean it that way!”  Chances are your words said one thing, but your body language or tone of voice sent a different message. Make sure your words, tone, and body language are on the same page.

Learning new skills takes time. Start slowly. Pick simple situations to address, and build your confidence. Over time, you can master positive confrontation.

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on assertiveness, positive confrontation and business etiquette. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at or 856.751.6141.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Imperfect Writing for Perfect Results: First Things First

I write a couple of sentences and then delete them. Write a few more and delete them. It’s a constant, incredibly annoying process. 

I always have to rewrite. Is there something wrong with me?

I was afraid to apply for a new position because it involved a lot of writing.

The above comments from participants in my writing seminars illustrate the frustration business people often feel when tackling writing assignments. But it’s not just participants in such classes who suffer from fear of writing. Putting pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – can be daunting for many people.

I believe that, to a large degree, the frustration comes from people trying to create a perfect piece of writing the first time they sit down to do an assignment, whether it’s a business email or a complicated report. They mistakenly think that what they type should not need any correcting or rewriting.

Yet creating an imperfect piece of writing – a draft – is part of the normal process of writing. Yes, I said normal.

Once you have a draft, you can set about revising it. Most people find it easier to correct their writing than to create the exact wording they want the first time they try. Many well-known people, including professional writers, have expressed their understanding of the importance of writing… and rewriting.

There is no great writing, only great rewriting. – the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

The first draft is a skeleton ... just bare bones. The rest of the story comes later with revising. --author Judy Blume

•  I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter.  – author James Michener  

I describe the making of the draft as open writing. This term is easy to remember, as you basically open yourself up and let the words flow. Here are six guidelines to help you with open writing:

 1.  Relax. People have a tendency to get nervous and then agonize over their writing assignments.  Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect… yet. One seminar participant told me that once the pressure was off to create a perfect draft on her first attempt, she was able to write.  

 2.  Put the email address in last. If you are using open writing in an email, you don’t want to send the email before you have revised it, so leave the “To” line blank until you are satisfied with your message. If you are responding to an email, erase the address and add it when you are finished.

 3. Write the way you speak. Most of us have no difficulty speaking coherently and clearly.  When you write the way you speak, you are writing in a conversational tone, which helps you connect with your reader.  Another advantage is that this approach often helps you to write quickly.  

 4. Don't stop writing. No crossing out or back spacing. You don't want to disrupt the flow of your thoughts. If you find yourself going off in the wrong direction, write yourself out of it. You will rearrange your wording later. Computers make it very easy to cut-and-paste. (This term survives from a time when writers revising on paper literally had to cut up their written phrases and paste them in the order they preferred. See how much easier we have it!)

5. Set a time limit. When you sit down to write, allocate a certain amount of time. It doesn't need to be a lot of time. In my classes, my writing assignments are only five minutes in duration, but all the participants write between half a page and a page and a half. That’s a lot of writing in just a few minutes.  After my students have finished their open-writing assignments, I tell them that in the past, most of them have stared at a blank computer screen for longer than five minutes. Now consider how much they’ve been able to write in the same time in class. That is when the light bulb goes on for them, and they realize the value of open writing.

 6. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar… for now. You will correct your grammar and spelling before you hit the send button or mail that document. For now, you just want to write.

Once you have followed these six steps, you are not done.  Let me say that again: You are not done. Now it is time to revise your writings – but now you have something to work on, instead of a blank screen.

There are other blogs on my blog site that provide suggestions on how to revise. But just for now, know that you are on your way!

Additional information on business writing can be found in my new book The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat and Tweet Your Way to Success. (McGraw Hill).  Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on business writing and communication. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at or 856.751.6141.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

10 Ways To Toot Your Own Horn At Work

A vice president recently told me that when he acknowledges his employees’ accomplishments, many of them belittle their success with such comments as “Oh, that was no big deal” or “What a fluke.”

Many business professionals negate compliments, often because they don’t want to be perceived as braggarts or as suffering from too big an ego.

Bragging is obnoxious boasting, and is usually done by people who want to let you know how great they think they are. This includes the technique known as “humblebrag” – its practitioners still brag, but try to disguise it as being humble or mildly self-deprecating. This is usually achieved by admitting to a minor flaw while really drawing attention to the big-brag item. (My favorite example: “I am such a klutz. I just spilled wine on my new book contract.”)

Bragging of any kind is not the way to impress colleagues, or bosses. However, I do believe that tactful and appropriate self-promotion is a business skill. Learning when and how to speak well of yourself is a key to getting and staying ahead.

Listed below are 10 ways to toot your own horn, including accepting compliments, without being insufferable:

1. Accept compliments. When I complimented a vice president on his handwriting, he responded, “Oh, that’s my pen!”  When you negate a compliment (like the employees mentioned in the opening paragraph), you are putting yourself down. Instead, simply say “Thank you,” or “Thank you, I appreciate that” – and then shut your mouth.

2. Be visible. Get involved. Join organizations and volunteer for their committees. Participate in office activities. Volunteer to make presentations. If possible, write articles for your company’s publications. You need to make yourself known.

3. Be prepared. You may find yourself in situations where you have to tell others about yourself, such as when you are a new member of a group, or during a meeting when everyone in the room introduces him- or herself. Prepare such a self-introduction, and practice delivering it, so that you will be comfortable speaking about yourself. Keep it simple but positive, such as: “I’m Tom Smith, the new director in sales. John Jones brought me in to start the new field service project. I’m very excited about that, and expect it will take up a lot of my time for a while. But in my spare time, I enjoy being a Big Brother to my little buddy, Freddie.”

4. When asked, do tell.  Someone asks you “How are things at work?” Don’t just say “Fine, thanks,” and move on. This is your opportunity to mention your accomplishments – and express genuine pleasure when you do. When I was asked that question recently, I responded, “I have great news. I was just interviewed by a national business magazine!”

5. Do not use superlatives about your own activities, unless, like Muhammad Ali, you can justify saying “I am the greatest!” Simply describe what you did, such as, “Using the new numbers from our field offices, I was able to cut our costs by a quarter.”

6. Use comparisons. I once coached a manager on how to use her experience preparing for the Boston Marathon as a way to answer questions about how she would prepare for a company’s market expansion. The comparisons were legitimate and helpful to her audience – and, of course, the higher-ups were quite impressed by the fact that she ran a marathon.

7. Enter competitions and apply for awards. Winning awards is a way for people who know you, but especially those who don’t know you, to find out about your talents. It builds your credibility.

8. Weave your accomplishments into conversation, when appropriate. I sometimes use my experiences to illustrate key teaching points in my classes, and by doing so I highlight my accomplishments. For example, when discussing how important it is to prepare for an overseas assignment, I will mention how I prepared for my trip before I spoke at a ground-breaking women’s seminar in Kuwait.

9. Post your accomplishments on your social media sites. However, be careful not to mention the same accomplishment over and over.  You can overdo it, and this will make you sound like a braggart. Remember, there is a balance: You also must speak of other things, not just about what you do well.  

10. Speak well of others, too. This is a gracious thing to do, and is usually appreciated by the other people involved. Plus, when you praise others’ achievements, your comments about yourself won’t seem out of place.  (But don’t praise someone if it isn’t warranted. Others will know, and you will appear phony.)

Additional information on building your career can be found in my new book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw-Hill).

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on business etiquette, communication and career development. For more information, contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Do Not Use Contractions. (Don’t Worry, I Didn’t Mean It!)

During a recent conversation with a colleague, I mentioned that my next blog was going to be on contractions. Most of her response I can’t repeat, but basically she said that when she was growing up, her teachers drilled into her brain that she should never use contractions in her writings. They were too informal and sloppy, her teachers maintained.

Many people in my writing seminars tell me similar stories.

A contraction, according to the Gregg Reference Manual, a respected writing resource, is “a shortened form of a word or phrase in which an apostrophe indicates the omitted letters or words: for example, don’t for do not.”

My response to my colleague and to the participants in my seminars is always the same: "Why can't we use contractions? We use them when we speak, so why isn't it okay to write with them?”

A primary goal of writing is to connect with your reader, and your choice of words helps to make that connection. There aren't any non-verbal clues to help make your point when you email someone – the reader doesn't see the smile on your face or hear the friendly tone of your voice. (Yes, I know there are emoticons, but I do not encourage their use in business writing.)

Using contractions helps you to convey a conversational tone. It makes the communication sound more personal and friendly, and less like a directive. Listen to the difference: “Let's go to the conference on Monday,” or, “Let us go to the conference on Monday.” Don’t you think the second version sounds rather stilted?

Here are my suggestions for using contractions successfully in business writing:

1. Think about your use of contractions. It may not be first on your list of business concerns, but the quality of your writing is important. Do you use contractions? One of my interns had the courage to point out to me that I used contractions a lot. I hadn't realized just how much until she said something. I really valued that feedback.

2. Do not overuse them.  Just because you can use contractions in your writing in today's business world, doesn't mean you should always use them. Read your documents out loud to hear how your use of contractions sounds. If your writings sound choppy, chances are you are using too many contractions.

3. Avoid excessively casual contractions. Some contractions sound sloppy. For example: "You'd" for "you would," or “she’s” for “she has.” I recommend not using them in business writing. And please, don’t ever be tempted by double contractions, such as "shouldn’t’ve" for "should not have."

4. Know what your boss prefers. If your boss does not want you to use contractions, don't! This is not (isn't) rocket science, and is not worth fighting over.

5. Understand the difference between it's and its. A common mistake involves the difference between "it's" – which is the contraction for "it is" – and the possessive "its." The way to remember the difference between them is that the apostrophe in "it's" means something is missing. If you aren’t sure, read your sentence aloud and then substitute the non-contraction form (in this case, “it is”) to see whether it still makes sense. (It’s time to put the pencil in its case, for example. If you had an erroneous apostrophe in the second its, the sentence wouldn’t make sense.) People often use the wrong form in their writings, and others love to point out their mistakes. Don't give them the opportunity!

Your use of contractions may not seem like a big deal, but it is one of the many little things that can impact your writings, and therefore worthy of your attention. Additional information on business writing can be found in my new book, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw Hill).

Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on business writing and communication. For more information, contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or