Top 3 Tips to Prepare for a Presentation

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Having to present your paper, or chair meetings, or even answer a question during a discussion can be intimidating and make you extremely nervous. This is because we don’t want to say the wrong things, or appear un-knowledgeable, or because we feel our grasp of the language is not good enough and people might look down or laugh at us.

These would be my top 3 tips on how prepare when having to present or speak to an audience:

  1. MOCK Q&A: The night before, write down 10 potential questions that you think you will be asked about. Then, spend between 10-15 minutes before you sleep answering these questions ‘live’ i.e. don’t write the answers down but try to answer them off the cuff. It will force-learn you to think on your feet and test your level of preparedness. Go to sleep and let your subconscious work it out. If you are still stumped, then use the time the next morning to brush up on these “weak” areas. The best way to maintain confidence when facing a tough crowd is to know your stuff.
  2. CREATE ELEVATOR STATEMENTS: If your problem area is not knowing how to put a story together in your head, then try to do this every day. Pick a subject that you are very good at, set your watch to 2 minutes and then practice explaining this subject in that time frame.  These are called “Elevator Statements” i.e. explaining a concept in an concise way as if you are asked about it during an elevator ride. For example, I would challenge myself to imagine that I have to explain the plot of various Final Fantasy games to a group of non-gamers. This exercise forces me to think about the game, summarize the storyline so that I capture only important points, and simplify my language so that my audience understands me. This exercise is harder than it looks. I would repeat it a few times until I am satisfied (or tired) and then try again the next day and the next day until I get it right. I use the same technique when explaining more difficult concepts like Game Theory or Maslows hierarchy of needs. Setting a time limit of 2 minutes helps me get rid of unnecessary chatter and focus only on important points.
  3. NUMBER THEM: Practice to think in term of numbered list. Sometimes a question has many layers and you can get flustered trying to remember them all. What I usually do is to write down key words in a numbered list. For example, if I am asked why we should open a certain project up to public tender when direct award is faster, I would write these on my notepad before I answer:
    1. Evaluate competitiveness – cost, time, effort. Existing vendors may pitch at price that they know we can afford; we need to check if these are fair and at market value.
    2. Transparency – eliminate any accusation of favoritism: contract will be awarded based on merits, not on existing relationships.

Speaking to an audience requires practice. Try these and see if the tips would help you in your next presentation.

2 Lessons for Women at the Top



On a recent coaching session, I was asked what are the common mistakes made by women in senior management. I responded by saying that I will share the two things that I feel women in senior management need to learn.


Women need to learn how to debate, and how to accept it when you lose a debate. Notice that I use the word debate instead of argue. For some reason, a lot of women take the word “argue” or “argument” to mean combative and that it will result with one party winning, and the other losing. This is not true. In the context of senior management especially, where consensus is rare and hard decisions need to be made quickly (and often, forcefully), being able to debate an issue and then accept the outcome of that debate is an important skill to learn. Too often I find that women need a lot of time to lick their wounds – and in the meantime they would avoid bumping into the “winning” colleague at the corridor; they would turn down invitation to socialize; they would limit interaction to absolutely essential work matters.

But I see this behavior rarely in men. They take their defeats, brush it off and then move on to the next task. We should learn how to do this i.e. to accept that losing an argument does not define who we are, it is not a criticism of our personality, it does not belittle the quality of our work or our intelligence – that it is a contained incident and should be left at that. Of course some decisions are harder to accept than the rest, but women need to learn to bounce back and bounce back quickly and the way to do that is to learn to debate and accept the loss (if at all) gracefully.


Women need to know how to manage up. This is something that I struggled with earlier on in my career. I had a boss who once told me that I needed to learn to buy him a drink or dinner once in a while. When I shared this incident with a male peer from the same industry, he told me that there is a value in learning how to manage up. However, I was not able to shake the feeling that in doing that I was kissing up and trying to get into the boss’ good books — ie where I would be leveraging on our good “relationship” to get easier buy-ins or approvals as opposed to getting them based on the merits of the projects or my capabilities as the project lead itself.

As my experience and skill sets grow, I now understand that “buying the boss a drink or dinner” does not mean exactly that. It means, once in a while, I should casually check in with the boss in order maintain open communication. Once in a while, I need to check the temperature and seek his opinion on whether I am on the right track or if I need realignment to ensure that I am on the course that he’s charted and have not veered off into a different direction. While the work relationship could always remain at  arms-length, I should learn to talk to my boss on matters other than the immediate work requirements. By that I mean I should not see him ONLY when work requires me to do so like when I need him to sign something.

Unfortunately, lots of women still find opening up to the boss about the problems and challenges at work equals exposing one’s weaknesses and would diminishes one’s value to the organisation. This is not true. Well, certainly it is not true anymore in this day and age where most bosses are hugely invested in being the catalyst to push you to do greater things or helping to remove roadblocks so that you could progress further. Having a coffee session with the boss is still considered as a “bro” thing to do. We women need to get over that.

Your thoughts?

Key Opinion Leaders vs Social Influencers


In recent times, I find the confusion between Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and social influencers (SI) increasing. To me, KOLs are certainly social influencers; however, social influencers are not necessarily KOLs. Yet many equate the two as being one and the same (like how in the past people used to confuse Public Relations with Advertising).

KOLs are respected leaders in the field, or industry or the subject matter at hand. In many instances, their opinion cannot be bought — they support a brand, cause, activity or charity because they believe in it, not because they are paid to hawk it. Whenever they use their platform to advocate or debate, the intention is always to educate, raise awareness, clear confusion or shine a light on a matter that they are passionate about or things that they are experts at. For example, a KOL won’t advocate a particular brand of running shoes, but will advocate running and the importance of choosing the right shoes if running is your thing.

SIs on the other hand, are people with a captive audience (be it on social media or in real life). While not all SIs do this, most sell their opinions for a living so, typically, their glowing recommendation for a product or service or their presence at your events can be bought. They don’t necessarily have to be the subject matter expert or the leaders in the industry, but they certainly wield power over their audience’s opinion and purchase decisions. So, they may advocate running, and in addition to that they may also state that they use this brand or that brand (whether they are paid to do it or not) and reasons why these brands resonate with their lifestyles as that’s what social influencers do — they influence people to covet their lifestyle and aspire to be like them.

How do you differentiate the two and choose what’s right for you?

Consider these examples.

Through his ‘Not Our Watch’ campaign about the genocide in Sudan, George Clooney is a KOL and uses his position and infamy to bring attention and advocate and influcence his audience to contribute significant funds towards lifesaving, humanitarian, and emergency programs in the Darfur region.

In his work with Nespresso, George Clooney is an SI, promoting the product and becoming the global brand ambassador for its advertising campaigns. At the same time, he serves as a member of the Nespresso Sustainability Advisory Board, collaborating on ideas and solutions towards improving the lives and futures of coffee farmers. But whether he is a KOL in the board and can influence pricing policies and purchase decisions for Nespresso, I don’t know. What is certain is that when (and if) he speaks about sustainability pratices for coffee farmers, he could only speak on behalf of Nespresso, but cannot do so on behalf of fairtrade farmers in general. Well, he can, but will people listen?

There are merits for using both. But don’t confuse them as using the wrong one may not bring results, or worse, it may hurt your brand!

Top People Leave Their Boss – Not Their Companies

I was asked recently about what I thought are the ingredients to retaining good talent; assuming that the work is the same and remuneration package is fair and on par with the market.

I’ll get to that in a bit. But first, I know that this is true:

People leave their managers and not their companies.

It’s a hard truth.  When great people leave, it’s due to their boss, and not their company.  The idea was first introduced to me in 1999 through the book “First Break All The Rules.”  Since then, I have had the good fortune to build and to lead top performing teams and companies, interviewing and hiring thousands along the way.  Throughout this time, I cannot think of one instance where this hypothesis was wrong.

Does this mean that when a top performer leaves that their leader is bad?  Not necessarily. That is a too simplistic view of one’s motivation (and demotivation).  If a leader is resilient and then learns, evolves, and adapts from the loss, it has the potential to be an essential developmental opportunity.

How do you prevent top people from leaving?

Here are the top ten rules that I follow.  If it helps and works for you, pay it forward.

10. Promises and Commitments – People remember every commitment and promise that was made to them, beginning with the first interview.  Break a commitment and you place your relationship and people at high risk.  People will leave you even years later over an un-kept promise in an interview (also in First Break All of The Rules).  Keep your promises or come clean if you cannot deliver. It’s keeping quiet about it that will make it become poisonous.

9. Ask the BIG question – Are you happy?  People will always tell you the truth, in one way or another, when asked this question.  Listen and watch very closely.  Note:  Do not ask this question unless you are prepared to hear the answer and are equally prepared to do something about it.

8. Optimism – A-players will not work for a leader who is unable to create an environment and culture of optimism. Optimism is at the core of all success and A-players will not tolerate pessimism in their leaders.  They will leave you. Yes leaders are humans too, but you need to always be on your A-game, that is why you are in this seat and not any one else.

7. Differentiation – Your best people, those who make the biggest difference, take the greatest risks, show the most courage, and deliver the largest RESULTS, must be rewarded in a differentiated way.  Top performers earn and therefore should receive the greatest rewards, which doesn’t necessarily mean bigger pay packet or nicer cars.

6. Think Differently About Talent – Look beyond the immediate portfolio of experiences and skills of your top talent.  They have far more potential than they or perhaps even you realize.  Move them into stretch jobs.   Top people stay with leaders when they know they will not get boxed in. But beware of Peter Principle!

5. Winning – When you are the leader at any level, your team must win consistently.  It is your accountability.  Top people typically do not leave winners; the ride is too exciting and interesting.  A strong relationship isn’t enough.  Your team must win as a habit.  Weak markets or whatever excuse for losing, will not be tolerated by the A-players on your team.

4. Purpose – There is purpose to be found in every job and in every endeavor.  It is your job as the leader to sell the purpose of your enterprise and the jobs/opportunities therein.  After basic needs are met (ability to pay bills and such), top people look for meaning and purpose in their work.

3. Time – Leaders make value judgments every day.  It’s a big part of their responsibility.  Invest your time where the greatest pay-off can be had—with the top people who have earned it and those aspiring toward excellence. Do not get pulled into a trap by focusing your time inordinately on average or under-performers.  Your top people will see it and they will leave you.

2. Joy – Be liberal with your celebrations and be a spreader of joy.  Joy is vital.  Create a culture of joy within your team or enterprise and your people will do the same for your customers.  A joyful company is essential for keeping top talent.

1. Learning – Learning and development is an enormous form of compensation.  You must challenge yourself to get better each day as a leader in order to become a better teacher.  Top people stay in learning environments.   Invest in a culture of learning and you will never regret it.

Note that the above holds as true for your top people as it does for your best partners and vendors.  Keeping your best people is up to you, as it always is.

If not now, when?

Be Curious, Stay Curious!

Recently I had the opportunity to speak to a group of highly proficient and successful financial advisers on the subject of “Raising Your Personal Brand” and “Effective Communications”. One last nugget before I called it a day was to tell the group that we must have that magic ingredient in us: curiosity.

Curiosity pushes you to learn, explore, experiment, play.

The best explanation comes from the late Richard Feynman:

Some people say, How can you live without knowing? I do not know what they mean. I always live without knowing. That is easy. How you get to know is what I want to know.

So keep your eyes, ears, heart and mind open. There is always new things to discover; new ways of doing things better. Be curious. Stay curious!

Watch the short clip where I explain about this curious principle here:

What is the “No Asshole Rule”?

by Rafizah Amran

The No Asshole Rule

One of the books that made an impression on me was “The No Asshole Rule” by Robert Sutton. I read this in 2007 after I chanced upon a particular study that shows people behave differently when they think that they are in charge, sort of a reverse Milgram experiment. This study has been replicated elsewhere e.g University of California, Berkeley: Psychology suggests that power doesn’t make people bad—it just reveals their true natures.

Sadly, bullies are often allowed, celebrated even, because they are “performing” or “bringing in the numbers”. Truth is, bullies weaken the team and create a hostile environment of distrust and fear. In short, bullies are not good for the organisation!

Think about it. This unhealthy system will eventually collapse – either your team will be demotivated or frozen to the point of being robotic; or they become bullies themselves and pass down this awful behaviour to their successors, continuing a vicious tradition of bad behaviour. Most importantly and more damaging to the organisation, the good ones will eventually have enough, pack up their bags and leave. History shows this will repeat til change takes place. Look at UBER for a recent example.


Innovation is crucial to every team and organization. So my job is to encourage my people to generate and test all kinds of new ideas. But it is also my job to help them kill off all the bad ideas we generate, and most of the good ideas, too.

-Bob Sutton “12 Things that Good Bosses Believe In”

This book changed the way I engage and disengage with the people that I work with. As much as possible, I remind myself of the 12 Things that Good Bosses Believe In and repeat them to myself when I am facing an especially trying time at work.

What’s your life-changing book?

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Last Edited on 2017-07-25


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Last Edited on 2017-07-25