Non-Awkward Ways to Start and End Networking Conversations

Published on Forbes: Mar. 6, 2012
*most-read article on Forbes.com for 24+ hoursCapture

When I first started attending networking events, I was terrified to approach large groups of strangers. I watched some of my peers dive into these situations with ease, and wondered how on earth they made it look so natural. Meanwhile, I found myself sitting awkwardly alone, clutching a cocktail, and desperately brainstorming conversation topics.

Fortunately, I’ve improved my networking skills over the years, and am much less likely now to stick out like a sore thumb at events. I’ve learned that the most important part of successful networking is to have a good icebreaker to start a conversation and a smooth closing statement for when you’re ready to move on.

Here are a few inside tips to help you master the art of starting and ending those tricky conversations:

Opening Lines

To Start a Conversation

A simple introduction can transition into a solid conversation if you’re willing to share a bit about yourself right off the bat.

Try: Hi, I’m Jessica and I work in the PR department at Company X. My role has been super challenging lately because of all the new regulations around paid placements in media spots. Have you been dealing with that, too?

To Make a Friend

A big event can be a lot more fun (and a lot less intimidating) if you can find a pal to stick by your side. Asking someone to explore different areas with you is a nice way to talk with less pressure.

Try: Hi, have you been to the silent auction table yet? I’m heading over there now and would love some company.

To Get Advice

If you’re interested in a new opportunity or area of work, networking is a great way to get more information. Don’t be afraid to ask someone candid questions after giving some background on why you’re interested.

Try: Hi, I see that you work at Company X. I’ve always been interested in their work, and recently saw a position open up that I’m thinking about applying to. Do you have any advice for me? What’s it like working there?

To Get Your Bearings

Large conferences and events can be pretty overwhelming. If you’re a first-time attendee, approaching someone for assistance can be an easy way to start a conversation. Look for someone who seems familiar with the scene and ask for an insider tip.

Try: Hi, I’ve never been to this event before. You look like a regular—any tips you could give me on what to expect? What are the best sessions here?

To Lighten the Mood

When in doubt, ask a question to prompt a conversation. Stick with light, generic topics, and offer them with a smile.

Try: How many people do you think are here? Can you believe we have to wear these awful nametags? Were you here last year when the keynote speaker was late?

Parting Ways

The icebreakers above can be the launching pad you need to start networking and feel more comfortable in an unfamiliar situation. But unless you’re lucky enough to stumble into your soul mate at a trade show, you’ll eventually need a natural way to exit a conversation. A good rule of thumb is to talk for five to 10 minutes—and then move on.

Here are some closing statements that are polite, but still get the point across that it’s time to hit the road:

To Exit Gracefully

Sometimes, even when you’ve met someone interesting, the time comes when you’re ready to peruse the rest of the event. This is a great time to hand off one of those business cards burning a hole in your pocket.

Try: Steve, it was really a pleasure speaking with you. I’m going to take a look at some of the other exhibits here, but if I don’t run into you later, I hope to see you at another event soon.

To Connect Later On

When someone you’ve met seems like a valuable contact, make sure you exchange information before you part. You can even suggest a future meeting to speak one-on-one.

Try: Margaret, I have to head out right now, but I really enjoyed learning more about your work. Could I get your contact info to schedule a time for us to finish our conversation?

To Plan a Follow-up Date

If you think that you’ll run into a new contact at another upcoming event, why not plan to attend together? This helps you build a relationship with a good connection and can help you feel more comfortable at that next event.

Try: I had a great time talking with you—are you planning to go to the expo next month? It seems like something that would be relevant to both of us, so maybe we could go together.

To Get Advice and Get Out the Door

A new contact can be a valuable resource, but that doesn’t mean you need a shadow all night. When it’s time to part ways, be honest that you’d like to follow up at a later date, and then say a polite goodbye.

Try: Mike, I’m in a tricky stage in my career and wonder if I could pick your brain for advice over lunch some time soon. I need to say hello to a few others here, but can we plan to connect next week?

To Just Flee the Scene

Sometimes, you end up talking to someone who really isn’t that pleasant or interesting. I once got trapped in an endless conversation about uses for old dryer sheets (I wish I was kidding). When you’re struggling for more conversation and need a reprieve, be kind, but assertive.

Try: Laura, it’s been great getting to know you, but I need to say hello to a few more folks around here. I hope you have a great evening.

Networking isn’t always smooth sailing, and most of us have at least a few awkward experiences to share. But learning how to start and close conversations is one of the best ways to master this important skill. With any luck, you’ll make some connections, you’ll find some event buddies, and you’ll gain some helpful professional resources.

What You Should Know Before Buying a Home

Published on Forbes: Feb. 3, 2012

Capture

When I moved out of my parents’ house and into my freshman dorm room, I had no idea that my existing concept of “home” would change so dramatically. Throughout college and my first few years in the real world, I found a reason to move every single year. Yes, really—nine times in nine years, always during the summer, and never without a flight of stairs on at least one end. It’s a small wonder no one was ever seriously hurt on account of my furniture.

As I grew a little older (and a wee bit more mature), I was feeling like a permanent nomad and longed to live somewhere for a matter of years—not months—that actually felt like a home. Not to mention, as I started to create a professional life, it felt a little less-than-professional coming home to a noisy apartment complex where I had to fight someone for a parking space.

But before I was officially ready to take the home-ownership plunge, I reached out to my family and friends for advice and spent some time doing online research. This was overwhelming to say the least—there’s a lot of information out there, and a lot of opinions on the best route to take. Nevertheless, I’m glad I did it. I learned about mortgage options, escrow accounts, and HOA fees, and doing my own research gave me a good look at the entire process and a better idea of what to anticipate.

And then, the search began.

It took several months and a minor emotional roller coaster, but I closed on my first house in early 2009. It was a three bedroom, two bath built in the 1950s and completely restored. I loved the house, the neighborhood, and, let’s be honest, the fact that I wouldn’t be renting a U-Haul any time soon.

The process wasn’t always the smoothest, and it probably isn’t for any first-time home buyer. But looking back, there are five key pieces of advice that I would share with anyone just starting the search. Here’s what you should know now, that I didn’t know then.

1. The Right Realtor Will Lead You to the Right House

I didn’t want to pick a real estate agent out of the blue, and found mine through a mutual family friend. We hit it off immediately—I trusted her and had full confidence in her skills. More importantly, she listened (to everything!). I never had to repeat my preferences and I wasn’t pressured into anything.

This, however, is definitely not everyone’s experience. I can’t stress enough how important it is to choose someone who you feel completely comfortable with, who listens to your priorities and your concerns, and who has your best interests at heart. Not only is this a major life decision, but you’re going to be spending a lot of time with this person.

2. Educate Yourself

I compare buying a house to planning a wedding or expecting a baby, in that every person you know will have an opinion on what you should do, say, and feel. But remember, though this is a huge decision, it’s your decision, and one you need to be comfortable with, independent of any outside influences.

So, before you start asking your friends and family for their advice, take the time to educate yourself on all sides of the process: mortgages, comparable properties, market trends. You’ll then be able to filter everyone else’s experiences and advice through your own information. There are tons of free resources available—check out the National Association of Realtors Buyers Guide or the U.S. Dept of Housing and Urban Development to start.

3. A Neighbor is Forever

Or at least, it sometimes feels that way. I made it a point to talk to different people who lived on my street before I bought my house, but was still surprised by some of the neighborhood antics I’ve witnessed. Like the house with six cars, parked on the street, all the time. Or the strange anti-social couple four doors down, or the loud dog next door. Of course, you’re never going to find a place with the perfect neighbors and people can always move in and out—but it’s good to know what you’re getting into on the front end.

4. Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

And you likely won’t be able to update, furnish, or decorate your new home in a day, a month, or even a year. When I bought my house, I felt a sudden pressure to transform it into a Pottery Barn catalog, but soon realized I would end up losing my mind and my credit score in the process. It’s perfectly OK to update the bathrooms, do the landscaping, and buy furniture and decorations in stages. No one expects your place to be perfect right away! Plus, there are some awesome ways to add character and décor on a budget. Thrift stores and Pinterest will become your new best friends.

5. Two Words: Hidden Costs

Everyone warns you about this, but it doesn’t quite hit you until you’re writing checks to exterminators, carpet cleaners, landscapers, and plumbers. The list goes on—and it certainly doesn’t end after you close on the house. It’s hard to think about saving again after such a big purchase, but you must. Strange and unexpected costs will sneak up on you—broken heating systems, leaking roofs—and they love to arrive around holidays and vacations, when money is already tight. Trust me on this.

While these may not be the most crucial factors in the home-buying process, they were the ones that had the most surprising impact on my experience. And they’re what I still remember, three years later.

Above all, remember that—whatever it looks like and wherever it sits—you should absolutely love the home you buy. It will be a lot of money, time, and work, but also will be where you live, love, and build memories, hopefully for many years to come.

The Internal Interview: How to Nail an Interview at Your Current Company

Published on Forbes: Nov. 13, 2012

Capture

You’ve been thinking about making a lateral jump within your company, and you’ve had your eye out for marketing positions for months. Or, your boss knows you’ve been looking to switch into a more creative role, and she’s recommended you for an editorial position in another department. And now, you’ve found yourself with a new job interview—with your own company.

This type of interview might initially seem like it should be less stressful than one you’ve scheduled with an outside organization—but a lot of times, it’s actually more difficult. While the surroundings might be familiar and your interviewer might even be a friendly face, you can’t lose sight of the fact that this is a new position, and you’re likely being evaluated against a slew of other candidates.

That said, being an internal candidate can be a big advantage if you take the right approach. Here are some ways to prepare for an internal interview that can give you a surefire leg up on the competition.

Ask Permission, Not Forgiveness

First things first: Before you even consider applying for a different role within your current place of work, make sure you talk the decision over with your current manager. Why? Well, because word is bound to get out, and you want your boss to hear it from you, not from someone else. Plus, remember that whether you get the job or not, you’re still going to be at the company. And the last thing you want to do is ruffle feathers of any leaders who can impact your future.

Now, if part of your rationale in seeking a new job is to escape a less-than-perfect boss, this can be a little tricky to navigate, but it’s still the appropriate (and safest) way to proceed. And hey, you don’t have to give him or her all the reasons you’re looking for a new role. If you aren’t sure how to go about this, set up a meeting with your HR department to discuss the new position. Many companies even have their own internal processes for employees who want to change roles, and you want to be sure to cover your bases.

Do Your Homework

One benefit of interviewing within your current place of work is that you have easy access to insider info on things like the people sitting on the interview panel, the team you’d be working on, and the parameters of the open position.

Use this to your advantage. Once you’re confirmed as a candidate, start reaching out to any colleagues you feel might be able to help you or give you insight. Try to get a clear picture of what the role will involve and what the hiring managers and your prospective new boss are reallylooking for. If you have a trusted co-worker in the department you’d be moving to, ask for her honest feedback about how you might impress the interviewers, and see if she’d mind helping you run through some potential interview questions or nail down talking points. This is where you can really gain a leg up on any external candidates.

Be Prepared

Sure, you’ll be showing up at the same building you work in every day, but when it comes to your interview, bring the same poise and professionalism you would if you were interviewing with an outside company. This means: Be 100% prepared to answer tough questions and show why you’re the right fit for the position (aside from the fact that you know the ins and outs of the company).

Also, don’t assume that anyone is familiar with your work and accomplishments, even if you’ve been there for a while. Bring your resume, work samples, and an internal reference list—it’s a great way to demonstrate your credibility within the organization.

You should also be ready to talk about your prior experience outside of the company. Sure, they know you, but they may not know (or remember) much about what you’ve done before.

Dress the Part

It should go without saying that interview dress code is important—but it’s especially true when you’re within your current organization. Dressing the part of interviewee shows everyone that you’re taking the process seriously and that you understand the importance of the new role. The last thing you want to do is give the impression that this is “just another day” or that you deserve to get the position without really trying. So whether your typical work ensemble is casual or business formal, pull out that suit on interview day.

Follow Up

You may have just interviewed with someone who you see in the cafeteria everyday, but it’s still a good idea to follow up your interview with a thank-you note. This is a great opportunity to reiterate your interest in the position and thank your interviewers for their time. Personally, I’m a stickler for sending a quality, hand-written note. It may take a bit more time, but it adds a personal touch and level of professionalism that’s somewhat lacking in an email. (Plus, you can drop it in the internal company mailbox—no need to wait for tomorrow’s mail pick-up!)

Above all, when preparing for an internal interview, it’s best to approach the opportunity with the same professionalism you would an external one, while using the fact that you already work there to your advantage. Take the time to prepare carefully, learn about the position, and anticipate what the interviewers will want to know, and you’ll be sure to knock ’em dead.

Your Company’s in Turmoil. Should You Jump Ship?

Published on Forbes: Feb. 26, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 7.21.10 AM

If you’ve ever worked for a company that’s having a particularly bad year or simply not performing as well as expected, you know firsthand what an unsettling environment it can create. A company facing declining sales or profits quickly turns into a pretty stressful place to work, and employees (at every level) are often at the forefront of the chaos.

Not surprisingly, this type of environment typically spurs people to jump into job-seeking action, hurriedly updating their resumes and networking away. But, as I’ve seen with many companies (and their many ups and downs), that’s not always the right answer.

After all, whether public or private, large or small, businesses naturally go through performance cycles. And while a steady decline or set of unexpected challenges can cause things to spiral downhill rapidly, an occasional downturn is generally nothing to panic about. What’s more, a tumultuous workplace can actually facilitate the creation of valuable opportunities and experiences.

If your company is entering choppy waters, here are three questions to ask yourself to determine if it’s time to jump ship or settle in for the long haul.

Is All Instability Created Equal?

Your first step is to dig into the causes of what’s going on and the factors that might have prompted this change. Read what’s being said about your company in media outlets, and ask your manager or another leader you trust what he or she thinks about the situation. Is this problem something that’s occurring in multiple companies across the same industry? Are there strategies or plans in place to address them? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, you might be more inclined to stay put than if current challenges are tied back to poor leadership or a lack of flexibility to changing market conditions. Or, if other companies are suffering with the same challenges, things aren’t likely to be any better in a new setting.

What Could You Lose if You Leave?

A position with a new company can be exciting and energizing, especially if you’re taking on more appealing responsibilities. But bear in mind that when the prestige wears off, any new role will have its own ups and downs, and being the new kid on the block can be draining. Not to mention, as a new employee, you have to reinitiate the process of gaining tenure and credibility (and vacation time!), comforts you were likely accustomed to at your prior position. This is a natural part of any job change, of course, and nothing to lose sleep over, but it’s important to keep in mind when considering a quick change.

What Could You Gain if You Stay?

When companies enter a period of slow or negative growth, the focus often shifts to manageable expenses, e.g., their workforce. It’s not uncommon to see companies temporarily cease hiring or restructure teams. While this might initially seem like more work for fewer people to share, it can also open doors to new opportunities or collaborations that previously didn’t exist. For example, if a sales team cuts down staff in each territory, it might mean new clients for you, or more direct access to department leaders. You’ll also gain experience working through ambiguity and leading in unsteady conditions, a skill that future employers will undoubtedly recognize and appreciate.

It’s easy to get caught up in the stress of your company’s growing pains and organizational shifts. In serious instances, you might see layoffs and other severe measures taken to preserve financial stability, without much warning or explanation. But if you truly believe in your company and think that your leaders have the drive and ability to turn things around, a lot can be gained by staying the course. (And hey, you’ll always have the option to reconsider your decision at a later point and move on if it becomes your best option.)

Plus, it’s important to remember that throughout history, all the best companies in the world have had their rough years, and most of them still came out on top, no doubt with a greater sense of what is needed for success.

4 Steps for Managing a Team During a Crisis

Published on Forbes: July 5, 2012

Capture

Working for a company that’s experiencing layoffs, a lawsuit, a merger, or any other kind of corporate crisis can feel a little like swimming in the ocean. It gets hard to keep track of exactly where you’re going, and sometimes, it’s challenging just to stay afloat.

These situations get even more difficult when you’re charged with managing other employees through the chaos. Not only do you have to keep your own levels of stress and panic at a minimum, you have to help others do so, all the while maintaining productivity and morale.

While there’s rarely a defined path through a crisis, there are some standard practices that can help you move past obstacles and keep your team engaged, amid even the most tumultuous environment.

1. Be Open and Honest

This might seem like a given, but sometimes our natural reaction during a crisis is to withdraw. But going radio silent on your team when they know something is up will undoubtedly turn your office into a churning rumor mill—the opposite of the positive and productive workplace you’re trying to maintain.

Even though you probably can’t share every detail of what’s happening, providing your team with information in a timely and professional manner will reduce their speculation and fear. Also be sure to allow people to ask questions and share their concerns with you. When things are changing quickly, the one thing that helps us maintain a sense of control is information.

Try: Depending on how quickly your crisis is unfolding, it’s a good idea to check in at least every couple of days, if not daily. If you don’t have time for regular update meetings, try sending a once-a-day email update or organizing an informal team huddle each morning to share updates and hear concerns.

2. Set Boundaries

That said, as a leader and the person closest to the information, you must walk the fine line between sharing openly with your team and keeping certain things behind closed doors. There’s no black and white answer to this—it will vary by company and situation, and it can change each day—but knowing when to filter a certain level of information from others is an important part of the crisis-management process.

If you’re not sure what’s OK for public consumption, ask your boss what you can share with your team, or ask other managers what they’re sharing. You don’t want to be holding out important information on anyone, but you definitely don’t want to be the person who’s spilling any confidential details.

Try: If you get questions you’re not comfortable with or prepared to answer, be honest. It’s OK to tell your team “I don’t know that right now,” or “I can’t share that today but promise to update you as soon as the decision is finalized.” They’ll appreciate that honesty much more than you stretching the truth or avoiding the conversation altogether.

3. Actions Speak Louder

Closed-door conversations and after-hours meetings might not seem like a big deal, especially when everyone knows you’re working through a crisis, but these types of meetings can be cues to make the people around you feel uneasy. And when there’s already an air of tension, feelings of insecurity can translate into decreased performance and negative team dynamics.

It’s impossible not to alter some of your usual routine and behavior when you’re responding to a crisis, but maintaining a consistent attitude and demeanor will help promote a feeling of stability. Take time each day to remind yourself that you will get through this, and that people are counting on you to lead the way.

Try: Take 10 minutes a day to walk the floor and check in with your team. Your presence will be reassuring and they’ll appreciate having face time with you. If it’s appropriate (read: not the day half of your team was let go), find ways to insert fun into each day, even if it’s just for a few minutes, through silly recognition efforts, snack and music breaks, or a team happy hour.

4. Stay Organized

If you’re leading a team through a crisis, chances are you’ve got a lot of new responsibilities and tasks on your own plate. And yes, the added work and pressure of managing new deadlines and concerns from customers or higher-ups will be stressful, to say the least.

But, it’s important to do everything you can to stay productive and organized during this time—not only to stay afloat, but to help your team view the situation as being under control (or at least, to make it feel like less of a tornado). If you, on the other hand, appear like you’re not functioning at your normal level or if you’re letting things drop, that can be a cue to your team that it’s okay to do the same—and that’s the last thing you want.

Try: Plan to start or end each day with a status check-in on your own projects. Keep your notes updated, save all important documents and emails in one secure location, and be feverish with your deadlines and to-dos.

These tips can’t help prevent a crisis (sigh), but they can help you get through one while remaining a fearless leader to your team. It’s never easy to work through a customer crisis, an audit or lawsuit, or large-scale company changes—but no matter how much you may want to pull your hair out at the end of the day, making it through is an incredible way to learn. Not only will you become skilled at resolving intense situations, but you’ll also learn how to help your organization work together, in good times and in bad.

Made a Mistake? 5 Steps to Saying “I’m Sorry”

Published on Forbes: April 30, 2012

Capture

Unless you were blessed with super-human powers, you’ve likely experienced an occasional workplace misstep. I’ve made my fair share of these types of mistakes, and have learned that while messing up is hard, learning how to apologize for what’s happened can be even harder.

Chances are, your co-workers will forget what happened faster than you will, but your recovery will be much smoother if you quickly and sincerely own up to your error and find a way to resolve it. Here’s some advice on how to say “I’m sorry” and power through a workplace faux pas.

1. React Quickly

Seriously. This sounds simple enough, but after a big “oops” moment (hitting “reply” instead of “forward,” anyone?), our natural inclination is often to freeze, and wish—really hard—that it never happened.

But instead of becoming paralyzed with guilt or fear, channel that heart-pounding energy into a quick response. When you’ve made a blunder, it should be you (not someone else) delivering the news to the people impacted. As frustrating as it may be for your boss to hear from you that you’ve lost the files for the big meeting, it will be a lot worse if she hears about it from someone else first.

2. Just Say No—to Email

It’s awkward and requires some faster thinking, but delivering an apology in-person or over the phone is always best. For one, tone really matters when you’re saying “I’m sorry,” and we’ve all seen how simple email or text messages can be misconstrued. Plus, apologizing to someone in person prevents the dreaded email forwarding cycle, where everyone in the world gets involved. If you’re nervous, prepare by writing down what you want to communicate, and practicing with someone you trust (if you can do so quickly—see #1).

3. Be Honest

Everyone makes mistakes (yes, really!), so don’t try to sweep yours under the rug or place blame on other people—honesty is always the safest route. Your best bet is admitting exactly what happened, why, and what you’re doing to fix it and prevent it from happening again. You might start out by saying, “I’m really sorry the wrong files got sent to the printer, but I can explain what caused the error and what I’m doing to fix things as quickly as possible.”

4. Be Humble

Along with being honest, it’s important to maintain a sense of humility as you apologize. You don’t need to stoop to the level of groveling or pleading for forgiveness—in fact, don’t—but you should communicate that you clearly understand the impact your mistake has had on others. A calm and straightforward “I realize that my mix-up of the dates really puts your team in a bind, and I’m very sorry” communicates respect and concern for those dealing with whatever consequences your actions have had. Also give the other party a chance to voice any concerns and ask questions.

5. Have a Little Faith

After you’ve made a mistake, it might feel like a monumental disaster—but don’t let it derail you for too long. A single flub won’t define you, and it’s important to move past what happened and get back in the groove of things.

The path toward success is often paved with sharp turns and unexpected bumps. Going through these obstacles is never fun, but it does get easier with the right approach and a little experience. Mistakes happen, but delivering a sincere apology can turn a stressful situation into an opportunity to prove your commitment to the job.

6 Tips for Leading a Training (That They’ll Actually Enjoy)

Published on Forbes: April 23, 2012

Capture

We’ve all been there—trapped in a cold, windowless room with 50 of your nearest and dearest colleagues, listening to some presenter drone on about who knows what.

As you’ve probably gathered from that poor soul, it’s not always easy to lead a training session, conference, or large meeting. In fact, it can be quite the balancing act to keep an audience entertained (and awake) while covering all the necessary information.

But, when it’s your turn to facilitate a group sessio—don’t panic! It doesn’t have to be something to fear. By following these tips for preparing, presenting effectively, and engaging your audience, you can easily become the presenter that everyone actually wants to learn from.

Be Prepared

This might seem obvious, but think about how many trainings and events you’ve been to where the presenter wasn’t prepared—probably more than one!

And preparation goes beyond making great PowerPoint slides and handouts. On the day of your session, take time to arrive early, get set up, and make sure you’re completely comfortable with all of your material. Especially if you’re presenting in an unfamiliar location, schedule time in advance to check the room’s AV capabilities, seating space, and other factors that might impact your ability to present as planned—hurrying around on the day of to get everything working while attendees are arriving will start your day off on a frazzled foot.

Set the Stage

No matter how ready you are to deliver a killer training session, it’s never safe to assume that your audience is equally prepared. So, as you begin your presentation, it’s helpful to give participants some background information on you, the topic, and their fellow attendees. Plan some time to provide an overview of the day, answer questions, and do a quick ice-breaker—like asking everyone to give their name, title, and favorite local restaurant. Often, just having people introduce themselves can help everyone feel more comfortable. (Oh, and if you have the budget—give them coffee. That always helps.)

Engage your Audience

Remember that your audience won’t get all the information they need just by sitting and listening to you speak—most people learn more effectively and retain information better when they can try out what’s being presented to them. The best training sessions I’ve attended were ones that allowed me to interact with the trainer and apply what I was learning in the moment—through role playing different scenarios or having an open dialogue with the instructor. Keep your audience involved by integrating participant activities like relevant trivia or Q&A sessions into your discussion.

Have Fun!

When you’ve spent a lot of time preparing, and things are moving along nicely, it’s okay to relax a bit and enjoy the experience. You don’t need to become a stand-up comedian, but you can definitely intersperse humor and personal anecdotes into your presentation—it can help your audience relate to you and stay interested in what’s going on.

Read the Crowd

Even with all the preparation in the world, sometimes you may find yourself leading a group who just isn’t that into you. I’ve definitely had moments when I was presenting and could suddenly tell my audience had become disengaged. My advice: Take this as an opportunity to pause, regroup, and slightly alter your course.

If the group seems zoned out or lethargic, take time to insert an activity like a stretch break or even tossing a ball around as you ask participants questions. If the opposite occurs and participants are getting a bit too heated or passionate about what’s being discussed, it might be a good time to take a breather. Just as actors read their audience throughout their performance, stay tuned to your participants, their body language, and the real-time feedback they’re giving you.

Ask for Feedback

Soliciting feedback from the people who attended your session is one of the best ways to measure how well they processed the information and what they liked most and least about your presentation. Depending on the structure of your session, you can do this through surveys as participants leave, or with a follow-up email afterward.

Be open to this feedback and use what you learn to your advantage—knowing what worked and what didn’t can help you change things up next time and become an even better presenter. No matter how much of an expert you become, there’s always room to fine-tune your technique!

Above all, be prepared and be attentive, no matter how straightforward the content may seem. Remember that your audience will rely on your energy and knowledge to carry them through the day, so a bit of extra preparation on your end is worth it to ensure that you’ll have a successful presentation. If you do what it takes to make sure both you and your audience are comfortable, the rest will fall into place. Good luck!