Life planning, purpose

Using the Wheel of Life

The Wheel of life is a tool to help achieve balance in your life – perhaps a helpful antidote to the week of blue Monday!  Here I give an overview of the tool, and you can follow the link below if you’d like to try out one yourself.

The Wheel of Life It takes a 30,000 foot view of your life as a whole, both personal and professional, focussing on how satisfied you are with each area of life.  This can then form the basis for prioritising areas to improve and creating actions to help improve them. 

First, choose your segments

Let’s start with the wheel itself.  It has 8 segments. I have seen one or two with 10, but I find the discipline of having to group or prioritise things into those eight makes you think very carefully about what’s important. There are lots of examples online of different topic area to choose. In general, the areas will cover professional life; relationships; personal health,fulfilment and enjoyment; practical needs (finances, environment); and spirituality, purpose and community.  A common set is: Health, Finance, Significant other/romance; Family & Friends, Recreation/Hobbies; Career; Personal development; and either Physical Environment OR Spirituality OR Contribution to community. Another common change is to split family and friends, or include them in other segments, e.g. with hobbies or community.

When choosing your topics, be guided by what is important to you, whilst covering a wide spectrum of personal and professional needs. You might decide to leave something out because you don’t think it will change in the near future, and it’s not that important to you (for example, perhaps you’re fortunate enough to have enough money, and you don’t think the choices you’ll make in the rest of the wheel will affect this).  It’s unwise, however, to leave something out because you don’t get around to it, or you haven’t yet succeeded in changing it (for example, discarding health because you never manage to go to the gym anyway).

Your choices will also change from year to year, or in busy years, month to month, so don’t be afraid to switch things in and out as your life changes. My current choices are: Short term impact (work); Building purposefully (work); Personal development; Health (physical and mental); Friends and community; Family; Significant other; Household management.

Next, score your life

The next thing to do, is to go around the wheel scoring your life in each of the areas.  There are three common ways to do this:

  1. Score how satisfied you are with that area of your life, picking a number between 0 and 10 where 10 means you are ecstatic and 0 means you hate this part of your life.
  2. Score how good your life is in this area, this time with a 0 to 10 scale where 10 is a perfect life and 0 is a terrible one (taking an objective viewpoint as far as possible). Then mark each area again from 0-10, focussing on where you would be happy for your life to be on the same scale.  The important thing here is the difference between where your life is and where you would like it to be. So for example, two people might score 5 on the ‘significant other’ scale because they’re going on a few dates but don’t have a permanent relationship – but then one person might want to be a 9 (happily married perhaps) and the other might be quite happy as a 5.
  3. Score how good you are in each area of your life, with 10 being perfect/doing great and 0 being rubbish.

Personally I find number 2 a little complex. Both number 2 and number 3 suffer from the issue that you need to somehow create an ‘objective’ measure of what goodness is on this scale.  Number 1, I find, is a simple way to capture how well you’re doing based upon your own subjective measure of what good is.  Since this is primarily meant as a tool to help you prioritise your own goals, rather than a tool for others to judge, it is your personal view that matters.

At the end of this exercise, you should end up with a wheel of life that looks a bit like the example above.

Take action

You can imagine the wheel as though it was on a vehicle. You’d like it to be as smooth as possible: that is, with all areas at a reasonable level of satisfaction. Wildly different scores for each segment could lead to a rather bumpy ride. Take note of areas which score particularly poorly, and ask yourself how you could improve them. Set yourself S.M.A.R.T. action points, and follow through, ideally one segment at a time until a new habit has been established. As always with diagnostic tools, the wheel of life helps you identify areas of weakness or dissatisfaction, but it is your determination in taking action to improve the situation which will really make the difference.  

Check in

Finally, revisit the wheel on a regular basis, perhaps as part of a monthly or 6-monthly planning process, if you have one. Ask yourself if the actions you’re taking are improving things, and if not, think of other things to try.  And, of course, take pleasure in the areas with high scores – you’re doing well!

If you’d like to try your hand at a Wheel of Life, you can use the OxLaunch Wheel of Life tool to create and download your own wheel.


fireworks and bonfire
entrepreneurship, focus, impact, innovation, purpose

Firework, bonfire or home-fire: what kind of impact will you have?

Bonfire night, or Guy Fawkes’ night, has always been one of my favourite nights of the year.  Partly, it’s because I love fireworks – both the experience of them, and a geeky delight in the chemistry which creates them – and partly it’s because it marks the autumn, a time of year full of the winds of change. As an innovator and entrepreneur, I’m excited by possibility, and the power, beauty, creativity and startling nature of fireworks fills my mind with the possibilities of life.

Like many of you who have experienced a career change, a life change, or what might be classically called a mid-life-crisis (at whatever age!), I wonder what my legacy will be – whether my short life will shine bright, or fizzle out like a damp squib. Will any of my dreams come to pass?  Will I manage to make a difference to anyone or anything? Can I ever be as impactful as the bright colours lighting up the night sky, even for a moment?

It’s worth remembering, as you experience that moment of awe at a fireworks display this year, that there are many different contributions to make.  Many businesses, projects – and lives – are like the fireworks, new innovations shining brightly in their time, then fading away. Others are like bonfires, more mundane, but flaring fiercely with great impact; still others home-fires, burning slowly and steadily to light the path for years to come. All of these have merit: it’s up to you to decide what kind of impact you want to have, and how best to achieve it.

As we mark the passing of another November 5th, and start the inevitable race towards Christmas, what are you going to do to make an impact before the end of the year?  And are your choices taking you towards the legacy you imagine for yourself?

flow, learning zone, life lessons, project management

Lessons from Lino

Recently, I laid the lino in our bathroom. It was about time: the roll of lino had been lurking accusingly in the hallway for almost two years, since the end of my last maternity leave.

Laying lino is not a core skill of mine. It is also, I can assure you, not as easy as the professionals make it look on YouTube. The job is not as well done as I would have liked, but it’s done, and along the way I was reminded of a few life lessons I thought I’d share with you.

The learning zone can be very narrow, so learning to stay in it is important.
Part of my desire to lay the lino was for an interesting, but not too demanding challenge: an opportunity to learn something new, but within my capabilities as a sleep-deprived mother-of-two. This is the sweet spot of the ‘learning zone’. As the challenge mounted, and the time pressure increased (due to my teenage step-children coming back from holiday in France, wanting access to the bathroom), I found myself dipping into the panic zone more than once. It reminded me what a knife-edge the learning zone can be: sometimes there’s a very fine line between comfort zone (in this case, paying someone else to do the job) and panic zone (‘catastrophizing’ and poor decision-making here we come). It’s important to cultivate the self-awareness to realise when it’s all getting a bit much, and have tools in your armoury to move back into the learning zone: in this case, everything from taking a deep breath and getting a cup of tea, to accepting mistakes already made and pressing on regardless as calmly as possible, rather than giving in to the temptation to tear it all up and start again.

Flow is incredibly valuable and effective – and lack of it is inefficient at best. One of the most frustrating things about nap-time DIY is the fragmented time you have available. No sooner have you become absorbed in the task of wrestling a larger-than-life lino elephant into your bathroom, a little noise from next door alerts you to the impending wakefulness of a baby needing your attention. I think it’s fair to say that the task took at least three times as long in actual time – never mind calendar time – because of the need to constantly find a convenient (or not so convenient) stopping point, and then get back up to speed at the next opportunity. I’m sure the quality of the job was also impacted: if I’d done the major cutting in one block, there would have been fewer mistakes as I would have more easily remembered what I had done on the other side of the room, and also built up my skills more quickly. If you can focus on a task for longer blocks of time, you are much more likely to get a good result, more quickly!

Even a gigantic task is possible, you just need to break it into smaller chunks. Although nap-times interrupt flow, this approach to a task also forces breaking down the job into smaller blocks of work. Had I fully contemplated when I started the magnitude of the task: since laying the lino requires levelling the floor, and also means putting up the bath side, which means cutting the skirting board, and then cutting and laying the hallway carpet and joining that and the lino at the doorway, and that involves moving a bookcase and finding a new piece of carpet, etc…I might not have started. However because I just focused on the next task at hand – for example levelling the floor, and then planned each sub-task for a specific time-gap: tapping in nails, wood filler, tape and underlay, etc. – the whole project was never overwhelming.

Good enough IS good enough. Like many of you, I have a tendency to want to do things as well as I possibly can. But sometimes, it’s more important to get the job done and move on than it is to improve the quality. I keep reminding myself that one of the reasons for completing this particular project was to improve the home experience for the teenagers. For them, a further delay would be an inconvenience, and they were – and still are – perfectly happy with the quality of the job done, so why worry about the mistakes only I can see? Knowing what is good enough for any given task goes along way towards increasing your effectiveness.

Life is a learning experience. Many carers I know who are returning to work – most of them women – struggle to make their experience seem relevant, or are not taken seriously by recruiters. Often these people would add huge value to a team. It’s up to us as employers to take into account more than ‘work’ experience when hiring, and up to us as job-seekers to learn from life experience, and articulate that experience relevantly. Life throws us challenges all the time, whether we are caring for a family, working 60 hour weeks or travelling the world on a yacht – so treat them as much as possible as learning experiences, and take the time to reflect upon and learn the lessons offered.  For example, here is my previous post on lessons from maternity leave.

Do you agree with the lessons I’ve taken from this? Are there others you think are important? Or maybe you have your own DIY stories to tell – use the comments to share your thoughts.

Action Learning, entrepreneurship

Are you setting up your own business or considering a portfolio career? Looking for a peer group in Oxford?  

Are you setting up your own business or considering a portfolio career to better have the impact you want to have on the world?  Or do you know someone who is?

As part of my training as an Action Learning facilitator, I’m running a free fortnightly set in Kennington village near Oxford for new and aspiring entrepreneurs. See below for details – I can take up to two more people for the set starting at the end of October, but might run another in the New Year – possibly in a different location – if there is enough interest.

Action Learning is a peer-group based methodology which involves a small group or ‘set’ of people (usually 5-8 people) coming together on a regular basis to discuss challenges that they face. Challenges can be personal or professional, and there are a wide variety of types of set, some with very diverse participants and others involving colleagues in the same organisation (sets are used widely in the NHS, for example). Participants benefit both from exploring their own challenges with the group and also from understanding others’ problems and solutions. Sets work best when participants are good listeners, ask lots of open questions and don’t try and ‘coach’ people to answers, but rather allow them to reach their own conclusions. There is a strong structure to the sessions and they are actively facilitated to enable people to give each other the space to explore.

I’m running an introductory set of 5-6 sessions, each two hours long, run fortnightly in school hours at my home in Kennington, Oxford. There is no cost to you except your time and no obligation to continue beyond the 5 or 6 sessions initially committed.  I hope that participants will find it fun and informative – a chance to explore a new technique, meet some friendly people and get the opportunity for some insights into a challenge of their own.

If you’re interested, drop me a message on Linkedin or email me at

book review, business management, communication, leadership

Book Review: Radical Candor by Kim Scott

In Radical Candor, Kim Scott lays out her thesis for how to be a good boss.  The premise is deceptively simple: be both challenging and caring with your people.   The book starts with laying out a philosophy which may be familiar to many: that relationships with the people on your team are the most important management tools, and that working collaboratively and motivating people is the best way to drive results.  It goes on to describe a step by step process for creating the right culture and managing people on a day-to-day basis.

“Radical candor” is coined as a phrase to describe being direct and honest with your feedback in order to drive results, whilst also caring deeply for individuals.  This two-by-two matrix, with caring personally on one axis and challenging directly on the other, is the framework on which the entire thesis hangs. When I started to think about Ruinous Empathy and Obnoxious Aggression, I could immediately recall examples from my own experience where due to a lack of bravery in challenging people, or frustration over a particular action, I had myself slipped into those quadrants.  Balancing the task and the relationship, or criticism with caring, is undoubtedly a challenge we all face in management and in other areas of life. This framework for me brought to life an awareness of the boundaries between the quadrants, and how to spot and correct yourself when you drift into unhelpful communication.

Kim Scott also emphasises the value of culture, a principle which I wholeheartedly agree with.  The well-used and multi-attributed phrase “culture eats strategy for lunch” has always resonated with me, and when you consider the impact of many, many small interactions between your team members every day, you realise quickly that helping others to adopt whatever framework you choose is just as important as abiding by it yourself.  One aspect of culture which she brings to life for me is the treatment of ‘superstars’ who want to grow, move on and get better, versus ‘rock stars’, who are extremely competent at their jobs and want to stay there.  Finding ways to identify, reward and incentivise both groups is something many organisations don’t seem to have cracked.

I’m finding it challenging to pick out just a few key lessons to take away, as there was so much meat in this book: it’s a real manual for caring managers who want to get stuff done.  Much of the advice might seem obvious: listening techniques, how to solicit and give feedback, what it means to care personally about someone.  Some of my favourite tricks were included: being clear about ‘debate’ versus ‘decision-making’, having honest career conversations with your direct reports, hiring for culture more than experience.  Perhaps the most useful element, however, is the way this book integrates good management/feedback/communication advice into a framework which acknowledges and embraces common management techniques – including meetings such as 1:1s, staff meetings, etc., and talks about how to be radically candid, and therefore effective, with each of these elements.  You may not agree with absolutely everything, but it is certainly laid out with clarity and practicality, in a way that allows for easy ‘cherry-picking’ of the most useful elements.

Overall, Scott lays out an attractively simple and elegant framework by which to measure your management behaviour, coupled with detailed advice on how to get to where you want to be within the framework.  That advice covers both personal skills such as listening and giving feedback, as well as some thoughts on how to use meetings and management tools.  It focuses on the relationships between you and your direct reports, making a powerful statement about their importance to your effectiveness.  If there is a criticism, it would be that the book draws in principles (such as good listening) from several areas covered by other books, such that you may feel some segments are already familiar. However unlike many management / self-improvement books, its value cannot be summarised in a few bullet points, but comes with the detailed anecdotes, examples and arguments laid out in the text.  Definitely worth a read for anyone who aspires to be a good boss.

Photo credit: Wakefield Morys-Carter (who was fortunate enough to see Kim at a conference)

entrepreneurship, life lessons, resilience

True Resilience

Much ado is made of resilience in today’s literature.  Everything from mental health to success in business seems to rely on this elusive trait.

I thought of resilience as being the ability to withstand stress, to be calm under pressure, to maintain a positive outlook even in life’s darkest moments.  The dictionary definition is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness”.  I’ve always considered myself to be a strong person – indeed, my name means ‘the strong one’ – but sometimes it is the strongest branch which snaps in a storm rather than bending to the winds.  I realised that resilience in effect captured the type of strength I wanted to cultivate, and I wondered how to work on it.

In my usual way, I turned first to a combination of self-help books and scientific literature (more on this later).  However it wasn’t until one evening, exhausted by a day of child and baby-care with the added stress of a cold, that I really understood the meaning of true resilience.  I was tidying up, past my bedtime, and felt as though I was once again fighting a never-ending tide of ‘stuff’ the chaos caused by the inevitable entropy of a family. I thought ‘this what my life will be like for years to come…the tidying and sorting will never end, I will never quite get to the nirvana of a well-ordered household, no matter how much I nibble around the edges.’  And that’s when it hit me. Resilience is not a one-time thing, an ability to handle the acute pressures that ebb and flow in a workplace and in life, hanging on in there until things get better. Resilience is the ability to face up to slow, creeping progress, and a never-ending task, a constant state of being that is not quite what you’d like it to be. To face up to it, to accept it, and to improve on it, without giving in to hopelessness, despite the fact that you know the problem will never be ‘fixed’.

This constant low-level stress – punctuated by more acute moments – is a state of being certainly familiar to entrepreneurs and change-agents working to make a vision reality. Progress is rarely as fast or as smooth as you would like, so it’s important to cultivate a positive, resilient attitude where you try hard every day, and celebrate the small wins along the way.

book review, psychology, self-control, self-management

Book review: Willpower

Willpower: Rediscovering our greatest strength

Author: Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney

Date published: 2012

Topic: Personal success / self-improvement

Willpower is a book about just that: the self-control – aka willpower – needed to resist temptation, make good choices, perform better at work and better regulate your emotions. In it, Baumeister and Tierney argue that far from the modern belief that self-esteem is the answer, more self-control or self-discipline enables you to achieve more and be happier. They show evidence that the two factors which most predict success are self-control and IQ, and argue that unlike intelligence, it might be possible to improve one’s stock of self-control – or at least how far it goes – through simple exercises and judicious choice of use.

The thesis is an alluring one. At last, something that affects every aspect of our lives – from interactions with our families, to the decisions we make at work, the money we spend and the food we eat – that can be easily improved by anyone. In reality, the book suggests that your overall stock of willpower may not improve with exercise, but what does happen is that it’s used more sparingly for everyday tasks, leaving you more in the tank for important choices and relationships.

Baumeister and Tierney describe willpower as a muscle, which, like our physical muscles, requires glucose to operate effectively, is depleted throughout the day as it’s used, and is recharged by rest and a good night’s sleep. They suggest that willpower is expended on all sorts of tasks throughout the day, including resisting temptations, making decisions and controlling one’s thoughts, emotions and actions. Because the same stock of willpower is used for all these things, you can immediately see that conserving willpower for the most important things is key. Sure enough, those who exhibit the strongest willpower in fact expend less on day-to-day temptations and decisions. Instead, they’ve used their willpower to set up positive habits and routines which take away the need to make small decisions (‘Shall I have a shower today? When shall I brush my teeth?) or resist temptations (like the chocolate in the fridge).

From a self-improvement point of view, the book offers two main pieces of advice. One is about making the most of the willpower you’ve got, the other is about increasing your self-control stamina (i.e. decreasing your depletion of willpower for a given task) by exercising the willpower muscle.

To make the most of the willpower you’ve got, in order to make good choices, the authors bring together some classic advice that’s probably quite familiar to you:

  1. Sleep and eat well to avoid unnecessary depletion;
  2. Have long-term goals and aspirations, but then make short-term, specific actions for your to-do list;
  3. Precommit to a particular course of action (to avoid having to make the decision every single time you come across that scenario), and use implementation intention (if x happens I will do y) to think through stressful situations in advance with a cool head;
  4. Monitor your progress. For extra effect, delegate the monitoring to someone else: a friend, family members or a higher power;
  5. Invest your limited stock of willpower in creating good habits and making small changes that will make your life better overall.

To increase your self-control stamina – i.e. avoid depletion of willpower – exercise it regularly. Suggested exercises include improving your posture (straightening up every time you think about it), using the other hand for activities you’d normally do with your dominant hand, or trying to improve your speech vocabulary. In essence, anything that gets you to regularly override a habit and reform it into something else acts to exercise your willpower. Ideally, of course, this should be something you’re looking to improve on anyway, so you can develop good new habits and exercise your willpower at the same time

Overall, this book is an interesting read with a credible theses backed up by numerous examples, and if you can follow the advice you may well become more effective at home and at work. It does ramble a little – the chapters are not as structured as I would have liked, and there is some repetition – and the main benefits can probably be gained by following the 5 bullet points above without reading the entire book. However it was an enjoyable read and if you like to impress your friends with anecdotes to back up your claims – or you need more convincing of the hypothesis – it’s definitely worth a look. For me, it was preaching to the converted, as many aspects of the advice resonate as an approach that I’ve unconsciously followed for most of my life.

consistency, focus, innovation, leadership, life lessons, mindfulness, people management, sales

6 lessons from maternity leave

As I start my first days back at work after seven and a half months of maternity leave, I pause here, amongst the hustle and bustle of working parenthood, to reflect on what it taught me. Here are six of the best lessons I learnt.

Maternity leave was everything I hoped for, and yet nothing like I expected. It started with those tough first weeks that any mother will have buried at the back of her mind, when you are yourself exhausted from pregnancy and childbirth and excruciatingly sleep deprived, trying to care for an infant who is making possibly the biggest adjustment they will ever make, from inside the womb to the bright, crazy world we live in. Doing so for the first time, both you and your infant are on a steep learning curve and it sometimes feels like you’ll never make it to the top.

In fact you never do make it to the top of that curve: lesson number one is that nothing stays the same forever, or even, in fact, for a week. No sooner are you into a routine, than you’re out of it again as new developments change your baby’s rhythms. As a change-agent and innovator, I’ve always been comfortable with the uncertainty and exploration that comes with progress, but never have I experienced it in such an all-consuming way.

The second lesson, is that you are not in control. You may have read a dozen books, taken advice from other parents and determined your ideal approach to parenting, but many of your well-thought-out principles will seem impossible in the daily effort to make life work right now. Being constantly at the beck and call of another human being – and worse, hardwired to respond instantly and urgently to the slightest whimper – is a tough thing to accept when you’re used to being the decision-maker. This was tough for me, because I’ve never been good at being told what to do, but I learnt to accept it, at least for a little while. That’s probably made me a better person, and certainly has been a lesson in humility.

Lesson number three crept up on me: a gradual realisation over time that persistence and consistency reap their own rewards. In fact, you can help your child into patterns and habits that suit your household and feel like good habits for a lifetime, if only you are patient enough and never give in on those principles – just think about the end result, and wait for the wind to turn your way. That’s why it’s easier to sell something you believe in: your messaging is more easily flexible yet consistent if it’s rooted in fundamental beliefs rather than what you think people want to hear.

Lesson four is a philosophy for life: one that’s been repeated to me many times, but never so clearly. Cherish every moment. Make long-term plans, but enjoy each moment as it comes. Soon it will all be over. That golden time of just you and your baby, which at the time seems by turns interminably repetitive and frustratingly unpredictable, will soon be over: you’ll be back at work, or your baby will have grown into a boisterous toddler, and those first toothless smiles and honking laughs and clumsy grasps will be but a distant memory.

The fifth lesson has always been known to me, but never more clearly shown: the value of time. Much of child-rearing is in effect, killing time. How to get through the day having entertained the kids and, if you’re lucky, yourself; having done something educational or otherwise enriching for them; and maybe, if you’re lucky, having done enough in the way of other tasks to keep the household running. Killing time is not my favourite activity – I always want to be doing something useful – but on maternity leave I learnt to accept it, even enjoy it. Now, I’m grateful to the wonderful carers at my daughter’s nursery who are helping share that task, so that I can spend some time doing the job I love. And I know that every minute I spend working is a minute I could have spent with her, so I make it count.

Even more important than time, however, is attention. The sixth and final lesson is that focusing your attention on something is a luxury, especially in the modern world, and yet it is the most precious gift. Whether it’s my baby daughter or my teenage stepchildren, whatever else I give them, they most value my full and undivided attention. Similarly at work, I get far more done, far more effectively, if I focus my attention on the right things and concentrate. When I’m at work, I don’t think about my family; when I’m with my family, I don’t miss work. I’m not sure if I could tell you when I’m happiest, except that it’s when I’m not trying to do it all simultaneously. The gift of full attention and focus is one you should give yourself as often as possible.

Have you recently become a parent or had a break from work?  Comment below if you’d like to share the experience – I’d be interested to hear from you!

communication, networking

5 networking tips for beginners

A room full of strangers can be a daunting prospect – especially when the goal is not just to have a fun time but also to develop business leads and new contacts.  I’ve been fortunate enough to receive a lot of advice on networking over the years – some good, some bad, some middling.  Here are just five principles that I keep in mind, which I hope will help you make your networking more enjoyable and productive.

Know what you want

It sounds obvious: but so many people turn up to networking events not knowing why they’re there. Be clear about what you want from the event.  Are you looking for someone with specific skills, such as a lawyer, accountant or new finance director?  Maybe you’re looking for new customers, a new supplier, new employees or a new job – or perhaps all of the above!  It’s fine to have multiple ‘hats’ – in fact it makes it easy to find something in common with many people – just make sure you know what they are.  And if you’re just there to practice networking and meet some people, that’s fine too.  Set yourself a specific goal – such as talking to 5 new people, getting 3 business cards or finding some way to help at least one person in the room.

Do your homework

If a copy of the delegate list is provided in advance, make a note of the people you most want to speak to (based on your objectives), and get a general feel for who they are and what they do.  The more you know about someone, the easier it is to find topics of conversation.  It might also help you to feel more comfortable when you bump into someone whose name you recognise from your homework.

Find out what other people want

Listening is a cliché for a reason.   Ask plenty of questions when networking, and try and work out what people want and how you can help them.  This is a good principle anyway for a happy life, but in networking it specifically has three important functions.  Firstly, if you’re busy trying to solve someone’s problem, you forget to be nervous and you certainly don’t run out of topics of conversation.  Secondly, if you understand what they’re there for and whether you can help or not, you can understand when they say goodbye – and don’t take it personally.  Thirdly, what goes around, comes around, and that’s never truer than in a networking group, where people will remember past behaviour and treat you accordingly.  The person you helped out last week might just be the one who recommends you to a new client a year from now.

Use your network

Some people will tell you to not even speak to your colleagues or people you know in a networking group.  After all, you’re all there to network with new people, right?  Well yes, to a degree.  However, don’t feel afraid to use your network.  Ask the people you know to make an introduction for you to another contact of theirs in the room – a warm introduction is much better than a cold approach – or use them as an easy entry point into a group.  They will feel good about helping you out, and you will find it much easier to start conversations.  It’s also important to remember that you should be keeping an eye open for ways you can help your existing contacts as well as – or even more so than – your new ones.

Follow up

The homework doesn’t stop with your pre-event preparation.  If you collected some business cards, remember to follow up after the event with a quick ‘nice to meet you’ note or any follow-up introductions or information you promised.  It helps to cement you in people’s minds and makes them more likely to remember you next time!  And if, like I have on occasion, you discover you’ve collected 30 or 40 business cards in the space of a week and you can’t possibly find the time to do this for all of them, reassess the number of networking events you go to…and select the most important contacts to make contact with afterwards.

I hope you found those principles useful.  If you’ve got any other hints and tips for beginners to networking – or any questions – please do post in the comments below.

communication, presentation skills

The importance of stories

Early in 2012, my partner mentioned casually a conference that was being advertised around at his work. I jumped up and down with excitement and said we had to go – a far more enthusiastic response than he was expecting.

That’s how in November we came to be standing outside the Playhouse in Oxford, chatting to friends old and new, waiting for a long-anticipated experience: TEDx Oxford. It wasn’t a disappointment. The talks were fantastic: interesting, inspiring and entertaining. Very much on a par with all of the TED talks I’ve seen at

That got me thinking: what was it that made those talks so good? I’ve seen plenty of good speakers, heard and participated in many 15-20 minute presentations, kept to time to avoid boring the audience: so how come these particular 20-minute talks were so good? James Rhodes on piano and the number-magician were obviously special, but many used PowerPoint and covered serious topics like global treaties and child poverty.

The key, I think, was the storytelling. Every presenter had a story: either a personal story, or a series of anecdotes, or a thread through recent world events. The stories kept us interested, and helped us engage with their topic, relate to their points of view, connect their message with our own experience.

So what makes a good story? A good story starts with something intriguing – it makes us ask ‘so what happens next?’ It describes things in terms we understand and are interested in. And it connects with us on an emotional level – it has to answer the question ‘so why should I care?’

The last of those is hugely important – and where I think TED wins every time, because the presenters are talking about things they really care about, their passions: and that commitment and emotion comes through in their stories, and helps us, the audience, to identify with their causes. It’s why I can’t imagine having a job where I need to sell something I don’t truly believe is useful to the person I’m selling to. And why those TED talks struck a chord with me, even though I occasionally disagreed with their ideas.

Since going to the conference, I’ve been reminded of an ongoing desire to watch a few TED talks now and again. Whilst painting my dining room the other day, I found this one by Sarah Kay, poet and storyteller extraordinaire.

Sometimes stories don’t really need to have a beginning, a middle and an end in quite the way you imagine, but they have to have heart. This one is full of heart. Are yours?