“Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.”
managing the team

Proper planning prevents poor performance!

Successfully defusing a crisis situation (such as the spread of COVID-19) requires a structured response in the form of a Crisis Management Plan (CMP). Such plans can essentially be viewed as a type of Change Management Programme. For sure the ‘change’ is unexpected, unwanted and damaging, but the essence of the situation is that we find ourselves at point A and want to get to point B as soon as we can. These CMP’s can encompass the whole organisation and/or simplified versions of a CMP can be produced for individual departments.

The ‘good’ news is that Crisis/Change Management Techniques are well understood, while the bad news is that those techniques are often poorly applied e.g. research by the Gartner group suggests that 28% of change efforts are abandoned before it is completed, and 80% are not used as initially planned or intended.

In a crisis that sort of failure rate can’t be tolerated. The successful execution of a Crisis Management Plan requires that leaders demonstrate confidence, commitment and courage. While the actions that come out of the plans themselves have to be quick, based on good data, detailed, and demonstrate a level of empathy for those affected by the crisis. There must also be the right frequency and level of communication to all key stakeholders based on clear, truthful, consistent messages.

The main elements involved in doing this well are:

  • Responding to the crisis with a sense of proportion
  • Developing a Vision for the future beyond the crisis
  • Scoping the projects needed to realise the Vision
  • Getting the communication plan right
  • Being a role model for how to cope in a crisis
  • Managing employees’ stress reactions

Let’s look briefly at each of these factors in turn…

Responding with a sense of proportion

The COVID-19 pandemic creates many challenges for managers and their employees, including; enforced changes in work patterns, sudden shifts in priorities, and disruption to business models. All of this creates doubt, uncertainty and stress. In this type of scenario, the role of the manager in creating a sense of calm and forward momentum is of crucial importance to ensuring the sustainability of the company and the wellbeing of employees.

The primary challenge is to avoid either:

Intervention Bias (over reacting) – making rash decisions, setting overly ambitious or unachievable goals, proving an overwhelming ‘avalanche’ of information.


Abdication Bias (under reacting) – avoiding responsibility, blaming others, underplaying the situation, not taking necessary decisions, providing no information.

The goal, rather, is to respond with a sense of proportion i.e. to take measured action, based on good quality problem solving processes. At the centre of this measured response is the development and implementation of a structured Crisis Management Plan.

Developing a Vision
(Eyes on the prize)

The phrase ‘eyes on the prize’ became popularised by the Civil Rights movement in the US during the 1950’s and 60’s. It means that we should remain steadily focused on an overall goal and not become distracted by side issues. In times of crisis this sense of working towards some desired ‘end state’ or outcome is especially important. People need to have a sense of what they are supposed to be working towards in order to orientate themselves and focus their efforts where they will do the most good. This means that one of the primary roles of the leader is to provide a Vision for how the crisis will be resolved.

Of course, in a volatile and uncertain situation, developing a clear Vision of how to resolve the crisis can be difficult, but the leader’s job is to be able to clearly articulate what people should be working towards. One way of doing this is to break things down into stages e.g. to have a Vision Statement for the first 30 days, and then 60 days, 120 days and 1 year after the start of the crisis. These Vision Statements should be clear, concise and (hopefully) compelling.

E.g. Over the next 30 days we will make sure that everyone is comfortable with remote working practises, has access to up to date information and we will also prepare a detailed financial model of the effects of the crisis on our business. In addition, we will set up a series of Project Teams to work on specific ‘hot topics’.

Scoping projects

The CMP will be made up of a series on interlinked mini-projects, that will usually be scoped and managed by a Steering Committee.

Some of these projects will be Technical Projects e.g. experiments/analysis of specific technical challenges, modelling of financial impacts, developing IT platforms/infrastructure, reviews of legal obligations, Public Relations activities, etc.

Others will be psychological in nature or Cultural Projects i.e. they will be to do with handling the ‘human side’ of crisis management e.g. maintaining employee morale, giving confidence to regulators or other formal bodies that things are under control, managing investor relationships, engaging with customers, suppliers, and (if appropriate) the general public etc.

In addition, these mini-projects will typically cover two broad phases: (a) the Initial Response to the crisis, and (b) Repair Activities e.g. reinvigorating the organisation, reputational repair actions etc. once the crisis has abated.

As with any project, the appropriate staffing, resourcing and monitoring progress of these activities is at the heart of organising a successful response to the crisis.

Getting the Communication Plan right

Gossip, rumour and misinformation can spread like wildfire during a crisis, so having a firm grip on the messages that people are hearing and making sure they are timely, accurate, helpful and truthful is a core competency in a crisis management situation.

One way of organising the communication strategy is to use a Message Grid. This involves taking a calendar and working out who you want to talk to, about what topic, on what days and specifying both who and how to deliver each message.

For example, you might decide upon: talking to all employees, about how the CMP is rolling out, every Tuesday at 10am for 15 minutes, delivered by the CEO, via a video conference.

The messages themselves can follow the Point, Message, Support, Action Format…

  • Point – What is the headline statement?
  • Message – Script the key details of the message
  • Support – Is there an anecdote and/or data points, to support the message
  • Action – What is the call to action

It is also worth noting that research (Taylor and Kent 2007) suggests that having a specific website (or website section) is best practice action in a crisis, as it provides a focal point for people to get up to date, reliable news.

Being a Role Model

People look to their leaders as role models for how they themselves should behave in times of crisis. As such, leaders need to (i) project self-confidence and show a positive mental attitude, and (ii) be willing to coach people when they are anxious or uncertain, guiding them through what is sometimes called the ‘zone of uncomfortable debate’.

Positive mental attitude

If the leaders show signs of panic, delay decisions and/or hide themselves away in times of crisis, then employees are likely to do the same. Thus, the manager or leader should be willing to take calculated risks, personally communicate key messages and do so with a sense of self-confidence and gravitas. Other messages can by handled by other managers, or via other channels, such as text or email or blog posts. The main thing is that the most senior leader sounds confident, stays visible and provides essential information in a timely manner.

Managing the ZOUD conversations

The “Zone of Uncomfortable Debate” or ZOUD is an idea developed by Professor Cliff Bowman at Cranfield University. It covers all those topics that either the leader, or the employee, feels anxious about raising and exploring. Often, they relate to fears, doubts, and worries that have no obvious answers, and where support, reassurance or encouragement is urgently required. The ability of the leader to tackle these concerns head on is crucial to building a positive atmosphere, and is a big part of running a successful Crisis Management Programme. To do this well the leader has to be willing to act as a coach who can work collaboratively with the employee, to jointly develop some possible answers to their questions.

The most commonly used model for this type of coaching is probably the GROW model. The origins of the GROW model are disputed but it was popularised by Max Landsberg in his 1996 book – The Tao of Coaching. When faced with an issue the manager works with the employee to go through four steps, during which, the manager (mostly) asks questions and the employee (mostly) provides the answers. The number and type of questions can be varied, depending on the situation, but the ‘classic’ framework is…

  1. Goals – OK you have issue X and given that is the starting point what is your desired outcome?
  2. Reality – What is the current position? What are the facts of the matter?
  3. Options – What are the choices for moving forward? (Be as open and creative as you can.)
  4. When – What are the next steps and when will they be taken?

Managing employees’ stress reactions

In times of crisis people will (very naturally) be anxious. Often, they will become fixated on the very worst possible outcomes (what is called ‘catastrophising’) and also go over the same fears again and again and again (a harmful process called ‘rumination’).

The skilled Leader needs to:

(a) understand that both catastrophising and rumination are likely to occur, and
(b) act to address them.

Methods for doing this include:

  • Emotional Labelling
  • Cognitive Reframing
  • Change Forums

Emotional Labelling

Most people are not fully aware of their feelings or emotional states, and they typically have a limited vocabulary to describe their moods. In a stressful situation this means that people typically feel ‘bad’ but have little sense of control over what is happening to them. One simple, but effective, way to improve things is to ask the person to explicitly name or label their emotions. This matters because the better someone is at labelling their emotions, the more control they have over them.

So, giving the emotion a name, just accepting that feeling for what it is and then (maybe) starting to think differently about (or reappraise) the negative feeling can be very therapeutic. For example, studies by UCLA show that labelling an emotion decreases activity in the amygdala (the brain’s fear centre), while increasing activity in the right prefrontal lobe (the area involved in making judgements) and so lessens ‘emotional reactivity’.

To use this technique the manager simply…

i. asks the employee to say, out loud, how they are feeling, then
ii. validates that feeling e.g. “Yes, it’s normal to feel (anxious/nervous/upset) in this type of situation”, and
iii. just leaves it at that or – if it seems appropriate – asks the person how they might manage that feeling e.g. “Could you find a way to reduce that sense of anxiety/worry/anger” etc. If you want to know more try this article from Psychology Today.

Cognitive Reframing

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Cognitive Reframing is a strategy for coping with negative events. It can be used in counselling, therapy, problem solving, creative thinking, coaching and strategy development.

The idea is that when something happens we make a snap decision about what that ‘thing’ means for us i.e. we assess or ‘frame’ the meaning of that event. For example, if you have planned a family picnic and on the day of the outing it is pouring with rain, you might (quite reasonably) ‘frame’ this as a ‘bad’ event and feel disappointed and frustrated.

In this scenario the negative emotions (e.g. annoyance, sadness) release hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline into your bloodstream that upset your biochemistry and mood, but don’t improve things one iota. Reframing means we take the situation (e.g. a cancelled picnic) and give it a different meaning by changing the way we think about it (e.g. it is a chance to take the family bowling, or swimming, or to the cinema instead).

Thus, Cognitive Reframing is about taking a challenging or unpleasant situation, accepting that event as a given, and choosing to make something positive out of it. This is a very old idea and we find it in many sayings and adages e.g. ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ or ‘it is an ill wind that blows no good’ or ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’. It is also at the heart of the psychological theory of having an Internal Locus of Control i.e. the sense that you are not completely at the mercy of events but can (at least to some degree) act to improve your situation.

So, when employees bring up the challenges thrown up by COVID-19, e.g. the disruption to cash flow, the unfamiliarity of home working for many people, the challenges of unclear priorities etc. managers should acknowledge the issues but not allow people to fixate on them. Say to your staff something like… “OK, these issues are real, but we are where we are, and given that, what’s the silver lining here?… What opportunities does this situation present us with?”

For example,

During a cost reduction programme people are often asked to do ‘more with less’. How about ‘Reframing’ that and saying, “No, if we are cutting back on resources then let’s agree that we will do ‘less with less’.” Meaning we will stop doing anything that’s not essential.

Or the enforced home working driven by COVID-19 might be Reframed as an opportunity to drive down costs long term and give a better work/life balance.

The disruption to standard work patterns could be Reframed as a chance to action some projects/ improvements that have been sitting on a ‘wish list’ waiting for the ‘right time’ to address them.

Think about using Reframing to bring people’s focus back to their normal day to day tasks. So, yes there is a lot of disruption, but what can people be getting on with? Working on familiar tasks (to the extent that’s possible) is not only important from a business perspective, but is also reassuring for people and is a calming measure in and of itself.

Change Forums

One key tool for helping employees handle the psychological aspects of the crisis is to create Change Forums. A Change Forum is a meeting place, either face to face or virtual, where employees can discuss the issues that affect them and have some sense of control over what’s happening to them. There are a number of formats for these types of sessions, including the World Café Methodology and Action Learning Sets. Both options are good choices for letting people have a voice about how the crisis is handled, share ideas and build a sense of community.

Putting it all together

Leading a team through a crisis starts with developing a clear plan of action, based on a Vision for what a successful resolution will look like and a series of carefully scoped mini-projects, to address the technical and cultural challenges being faced.

It is also about having a coherent communication strategy, being a calm, confident, reassuring presence, and handling people’s worries and doubts by using Emotional Labelling, Cognitive Reframing and Change Forums.

So what’s next?

Reflect on how you are handling the issues thrown up by COVID-19 in your role as a leader. Are you managing your employees’ sense of worry or doubt? Are you providing a clear sense of direction? What improvements could you make to how you are managing your people in this challenging situation?


Read this article by the Institute for Public Relations on Crisis Management and Communications


Watch… this three-minute long video on Cognitive Reframing, with a very nice focus on the power of the ‘attitude of gratitude’ – as a way of improving mood and outlook.


Consider signing teams up to our Impact & Presence workshops as a way of developing gravitas and projecting self-confidence during a crisis.


If you’re a senior executive, maybe a ‘one-to-one’ executive coaching session, or our Remote Coaching Programme, would be a useful option for helping you improve your ability to handle a crisis?


Or gives us a call on 0844 394 8877 (UK) or email us at coaching@boulden.net and we’ll be happy to discuss how we can work with you.

And finally, remember that managing a crisis situation is never easy. It requires resolve, perseverance and determination if it is to be overcome, as captured in this couplet by the Danish polymath Piet Hein (1905-1996) …

“Problems worthy of attack,
prove their worth by fighting back.”

“Logic will get you from A to B.
Imagination will take you everywhere.”
Albert Einstein
Encouraging Creayivity

Creativity involves deliberately using our imagination to produce new ideas and develop elegant solutions to problems. In a high pressure, volatile and uncertain world the ability to come up with innovative solutions to problems and challenges is a key success factor for many businesses. As with most skills or abilities, some people are naturally more creative than others, but it is a competency that can be developed through training and practise.

Benefits of being more creative

It is fairly self-evident that if you can devise an innovative solution to business problem you can end up a significantly more profitable organisation as you take out unnecessary costs, control risks, and/or gain more market share. It is also the case that when people are engaged in creative problem solving their morale goes up, team work improves and job satisfaction increases because people feel that their work is making a difference and their abilities are put to good use. Team based creative problem solving can be especially effective because diverse group members collectively possess knowledge and a variety of perspectives not found in just one person. Being part of that type of team can be highly motivational, as in the example of ‘Skunk Works’ Teams’ (a small, loosely structured group who are tasked with radical innovation; based on Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s WW2 SkunkWorks Project Team )

Leadership and Creativity

Dubrin, Dalgleish and Miller (2011) identified six Leadership Actions that help to promote creativity within a business…

  1. Match the employees’ expertise, and intellectual capabilities, with the problem in hand
  2. Allow employees freedom to choose their own methodology and approach (set goals but don’t micro-manage people)
  3. Give employees the time and money they need to get things done. Depending on the issues being addressed, funds may not necessarily be an issue, but it is important to give people the necessary resources.
  4. Put together a diverse team to allow for cross-fertilisation. Homogenous teams will probably argue less but they are usually not as open-minded about possible options.
  5. Create a safe environment that allows people to think freely and challenge assumptions and sacred cows. Also evaluate and act on creative ideas quickly so that it is obvious that the work really does matter and that proposals won’t be left to ‘wither on the vine.’
  6. Encourage information sharing and collaboration across the whole organisation with the problem-solving team; don’t allow silos and/or office politics to stifle innovation.

Making time to think

Professor Kets de Vries’ of INSEAD has recently written an interesting article on creativity in business called, “Want More Creative Breakthroughs? Slow Down”

The main premise of the article is that both ‘big C’ creativity e.g. scientific breakthroughs, and ‘small C’ creativity (that gives rise to the insights needed to solve ‘day to day’ problems) are vital to driving business results.

He argues that it is necessary to first immerse ourselves in the problem before letting go, so that ideas can incubate in the subconscious. So, new ideas can’t be ‘forced’ into being, they have to be coaxed out through relaxation and reflection. This means giving ourselves time and space to let ideas ‘gestate’ by doing tasks that are nothing to do with the problem at hand e.g. some people like to walk in nature, while Einstein used to like to play the violin. Then the solutions will emerge as a flash of insight – often at unexpected moments – e.g. in the Bed, Bath or Bus (the 3 B’s of creativity).

You can read the article here…

Getting in the ‘Creativity Zone’

Very closely related to the concept of ‘making time to think’, is the idea of deliberately putting yourself in a creative frame of mind. This matters because it is not easy to be creative if you are feeling stressed, unhappy or depressed. The more relaxed, positive and upbeat you feel the easier it is for your thoughts to ‘flow’ and for leaps of imagination to occur. In contrast, stress or fatigue creates ‘tunnel vision’ and makes it very hard to entertain unusual approaches and ideas.

One important aspect of creativity therefore is to manage your emotional state and consciously choose to put yourself in a ‘creative mood’ or ‘creative zone’. Different people have different ways of doing this, the key is to find a way that works for you. The approaches for doing this are more or less the same as the methods for creating time and space to think and they include; listening to music, playing an instrument, going for a walk (especially in nature), meditating, doing some exercise, deep breathing, Autogenics, thinking of a time when you were highly creative, Tai chi, dancing and going down the pub!

How might we…

Another key to getting in the creative zone is to frame your problem or challenge you want to address by using the phrase…

“How might we….X?”
For example…
“How might we…improve the way we run remote meetings?”
“How might we…make a success of home working?”

The psychological reasoning behind this format is that the “How” assumes there are likely to be solutions and helps to open up a world of possibilities.

The “Might” implies that it’s OK to make suggestions freely; any given option might work and it might not work but either way it is fine just to throw
out ideas.

The “We” signals that it is not all on one person’s shoulders; the creative thinking is a ‘joint enterprise’ and we will build on one another’s ideas.

Four ‘rules’ for being more creative

More generally we can say that there are four elements to developing creativity…

  • Seek out new experiences
    The raw material of inventiveness is the experiences, concepts and values that we are exposed to. By consciously seeking out new experiences, reading things we wouldn’t normally read etc. we can build up a storehouse of data that can help to spark an idea at some time in the future.
  • Separate generating ideas from evaluating them
    Sometimes the silliest seeming option, or the most bizarre proposal is actually the one that holds the most promise. Thus, one of the keys to creativity is to capture every idea without passing judgement and to
    assess their viability only after a large number of possibilities have been written down.
  • Inspiration comes from hard work
    A ‘eureka moment’ where a fantastic idea seems to ‘appear’ from thin air typically only happens when a problem has been worked upon for some time. So, making the effort to consciously ponder an issue and taking the time to reflect, put it to one side, and then returning to it at a later time, is a key success factor in developing creative solutions.
  • Use Creativity Tools
    In trying to develop new ideas it often helps to use a specific ‘tool’, method or approach to help to first kick start, and then shape, the idea generation process. It may well be worth exploring some of the myriad of methods that are available for doing this, including… Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking , Reframing and Osborn’s Checklist.

So what’s next?

Reflect on how creative you are at the moment. Do you reach for the first workable solution that occurs to you? Would it be worth your while ‘slowing down’ your decision making and consciously generating 3, 4, or 5 options before making any firm choices? More generally what improvements could you make to how you (or your team) applies creative thinking to your work?


Read this article on Mind Popping as a creative thinking strategy


Watch this (old, grainy video) of Edward de Bono talking about his lateral thinking concept of Provocation (or PO) and the Escape Process (9 minutes long.)


Consider running one of our half-day Creative Thinking Workshops


Or maybe you’d like to think about commissioning an Executive Coaching Assignment to help people address this topic.

Though perhaps you’d prefer our Remote Coaching Programme to help you develop your creativity.


Or gives us a call on 0844 394 8877 (UK) or email us at coaching@boulden.net and we’ll be happy to discuss how we can work with you.

And to end with a quote from Dr Seuss…

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try.”

A practical guide to the psychology of self-preservation

“We cannot direct the wind but we can adjust the sails”
Alone in an office

The COVID-19 pandemic throws up many problems, challenges and dilemmas; many of which are clearly very serious. However from the perspective of applied psychology, it is not that different from any other situation that contains a high threat level, and the most effective ‘counter measures’ for stressful situations are known and are (for the most part) not so difficult to apply. The place to start when faced with a crisis is with your own reaction to it. Once you feel (more or less) centred, then you are in a position to start to help others. This is just like the safety briefing on an aeroplane – where they ask you to put on your own oxygen mask before attempting to help other people!

These psychological ‘self-defence’ measures primarily consist of…

  • Understanding stress reactions
  • The importance of maintaining an ‘Internal Locus of Control’
  • Three types of hygiene
  • Energy Management Techniques
  • Maintaining Relationships
  • Creative Problem Solving

Let’s look briefly at each of these factors in turn…

Understanding stress reactions

As most people know, the instinctive response to a ‘threat’ is the Fight/Flight Response. The fight/flight survival mechanism comes down to us from our pre-history e.g. approached by a tiger our ancestors would not survive long if they sat down and debated what action to take, so the brain triggers an instantaneous reaction to either (a) attack the tiger or (b) run away.

This ‘fight/flight’ process involves a series of physical changes being generated to help react to the threat e.g. a heightened awareness, a reduction in sensitivity to pain, a quickening heart rate, a rise in blood pressure etc.  The precise physiology of this response is complex but involves hormones such as adrenaline, noradrenalin and cortisol being released to facilitate immediate physical action.

This response is useful where physical threats/challenges occur e.g. being alert to pick pockets on a city street, hiking along a steep mountain track or when we want to cross a busy road.

Problems can arise when the physical threat is replaced by the ‘psychological threat’ such as: worry about tight deadlines; money troubles; illness; sudden changes in work routines etc. In the case of COVID-19 of course we have multiple threats e.g. uncertainty about employment security, changes in work patterns e.g. working from home (with maybe your partner and children to keep happy as you do so), concern about how to care for elderly relatives, fear of illness for yourself and your loved ones, if you are Leader or Manager how to provide direction and reassurance to your employees etc etc.

If the fight/flight mechanism is triggered for these ‘psychological threats’ the adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol causes the body to go into overdrive, but the hormones are not naturally dissipated by action, so the blood pressure stays raised or the mind remains agitated.  When this happens fighting or running often translates into unhelpful actions like:

(a) shouting at others
(b) ignoring people or minimising problems
(c) poor quality decisions and,
(d) a sense of ‘panic’.

This then leads to more stress and even worse outcomes. All of this is a normal, human reaction to an awful situation but it is very unhelpful. Once this natural but ‘unhelpful’ process is understood it then becomes possible to change it to something more productive.

Locus of Control

Dr Salvatore R. Maddi of the University of Chicago (based on research he carried out at Bell Telephone during a major downsizing exercise in the 1980′s) identified three characteristics associated with thriving in a difficult environment. They are:

  1. Commitment: striving to be involved in events rather than feeling isolated
  2. Control: trying to control outcomes, as well as one can, rather than lapsing into passivity
  3. Challenge: viewing stressful changes as opportunities for learning

In all three of these areas the idea of Locus of Control can be helpful.

Locus of Control is a theory in psychology that considers the extent to which individuals believe that they can control events that affect them.  Based on the work of Julian Rotter (social learning theory of personality 1954) it suggests that people have either an:

  • External Locus of Control: life is controlled by external factors I can’t influence
  • Internal Locus of Control; events are shaped, at least to some extent, by my actions

For example, if a person with an Internal Locus of Control does not perform as well as they wanted to on a test, they would blame it on lack of revision on their part. If they performed well on a test, they would attribute this to the way they studied for it.  If a person with a high External Locus of control does badly on a test, they might blame the teacher for not preparing them correctly, or that they had a cold. If they do well on a test, they might think that they were just lucky with the questions that came up.

What this tells us is that one of the most effective approaches to handing a stressful situation is to prioritise an Internal Locus of Control. This means accepting that there are things that we can’t affect e.g. government policy, the general economic environment etc. and just consciously choose to ‘let go’ of those things. Then, again as an act of conscious will, we choose to focus on what we can do and what we can affect e.g. our own underlying health, the way we control our personal finances etc., and think creatively and expansively about what our options are and then proactively take what actions we can do and what we can affect.

Three Types of Hygiene

Hygiene is defined as: Conditions or practices conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease (from the ancient Greek hugieiné – the art of health). In respect of stress management and building resilience e.g. during the COVID-19 pandemic, we can say that three types of hygiene are particularly important…

  1. Personal Hygiene. The scientific advice is that frequently washing your hands helps to avoid catching many diseases.  Soap breaks many viruses (including COVID19) into small pieces which can then easily be swilled down the drain. The main issue is to make sure that all of the hands are covered with soap when you wash them – the fingers, thumbs, back of the hand etc.
  2. Sleep Hygiene. Fatigue is the enemy of good decision making and creates a low mood, which makes a sense of hopelessness more likely. Be disciplined about getting 8 hours sleep a night.
  3. News Hygiene. It is easy to obsess about the latest developments and become bombarded by all the ‘breaking news’, opinions and counter opinions. This takes up a lot of time, can cause confusion and generally does very little good. News Hygiene involves picking one or two trusted, high quality sources of information and sticking with them.

Energy Management Techniques

Energy Management involves making sure that a person is sensitive to what is happening to them (and their stress levels) and takes enough breaks, or slows down from time to time, in order to conserve their energy levels.

There is an analogy with athletics training, where the athlete ‘warms up’, has a vigorous ‘work out’, ‘warms down’ and then rests.

The ‘warming up’ and ‘warming down’ as well as the rest period (or what is often called “Quality Recovery Time”) are all crucial parts of the training process and key both to achieving high performance and avoiding injury.   Too many training sessions, without allowing the body to fully heal, or entering competitions too close together, simply results in a loss of form and poor results.

So, especially in times of high stress, it is important to take time to re-set the mind and body by taking regular ‘mini breaks’ such as walking the dog, meditating, just sitting quietly over a coffee and letting your mind drift, chatting to a friend, playing with your kids, etc.

A key idea here is the need to Prioritise Positivity; this simply involves organising everyday life to actively include some activities that bring pleasure. These pleasing activities will be different from person to person but could include things like; watching sport, gardening, reading a newspaper, playing the piano, going for a run etc. People who Prioritise Positivity are not just happier than those who don’t, but also have better relationships, more resilience and are more mindful. This happens because they have more frequent experiences of positive emotions, because they consistently schedule, ‘fun things’ into their routine.  (Journal of Emotion – Catalino et al, 2014.)

Maintaining Relationships

Resilient people appreciate that, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ and understand the value of a ‘support network’ to give advice, guidance and succour in troubled times.

Human beings are ‘pack’ animals. In evolutionary terms success in an oftentimes-hostile environment came from co-operation, teamwork and being part of a family, tribe or nation.  So, there is a powerful, innate need for mutually supportive relationships.

Consequently, when faced with high pressure situations or a crisis, the advice, guidance and perspective that family and friends provide are vital to keeping a sense of perspective and ‘switching off’ the fight or flight response.  Naturally, you will also be giving support to them in return. Think about how and when to stay in touch with the people that matter most to you (maybe) develop an informal schedule for when to call people. Also, reflect on what technology you want to use given the need for remote working e.g. FaceTime, Zoom, Skype etc.

Creative Problem Solving

As the Americans say, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going!”

A key element of coping in a crisis is having the vision, the imagination, and the determination to find novel ways of doing things in the face of adversity.

One aspect of this is to choose to engage people in creative problem-solving activities. Pick a topic and think about how to address it as a team. Be careful to separate generating ideas from evaluating them.  Remember that all ideas are good ideas when you are generating options; the ‘trick’ is to come up with as many alternative solutions as possible. Sometimes the most ridiculous ideas are the ones that lead to a spark of insight that end up pointing the way to a really elegant answer to the problem. It may be worth trying out some creative thinking tools like Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats or Osborn’s Checklist, or Reframing.

What’s next?

Reflect on how you are dealing personally with the issues thrown up by COVID19. Are you maintaining a calm, centred frame of mind? Are you adopting an Internal Locus of Control? What improvements could you make to how you are handling the situation?


Read my article on Creativity or this one on Reframing, Mind mapping,  Insight and Creative Flow.


Watch… this four minute clip of a simple 3-step technique from Dale Carnegie on how to stop worrying and start living.


Consider signing teams up for our remote group coaching sessions on developing resilience.


If you’re a senior executive maybe a ‘one-to-one’ executive coaching session, or our remote coaching programme, would be a useful option for helping you improve your self-management skills?

And finally, however troublesome things seem, remember this ancient Persian adage about the temporary nature of the human condition…

“This too shall pass.”

“Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory.”
Presenting to an audience

Would you like to be seen as charismatic and impressive? Most business leaders would. Especially in the context of speaking at an industry conference, investors meeting, or a ‘town hall’ session to motivate and inspire employees, or even just to their own team! If so, you are probably curious about how really powerful presenters got to be that way, and what they do to keep audiences enthralled.

Of course, there are a number of elements to being a great communicator. Not least among them are having a powerful message and using compelling body language, and there are also some key rhetorical devices used in any high-impact speech that mark the speaker out as a ‘master presenter.’ So, learning this art takes time and effort, and a commitment to practise. But, can we learn to present like one of the greats (like Barak Obama perhaps?)… Well… to borrow his slogan from the 2008 presidential campaign… Yes we can

Content is King…

First things first. A top-quality presentation requires top-quality content. No business person is going to be impressed by fluff and waffle, no matter how ‘eloquently’ it’s put over. A great speech needs a clear goal that’s clearly stated. It needs a logical flow, with good quality data, introduced at the right points in the talk, to underline and support the arguments being put forward. It needs enough ‘killer statistics’ to catch the imagination and be convincing, but not so many as to dull the senses, or cause a feeling of being overwhelmed. It needs to be relevant to the intended audience and take their needs, wants and desires (and sometimes prejudices) into account. Also, it needs to end with a clear, concrete and compelling ‘call to action’; so that people know exactly what they should do as a result of listening to the talk.

Using Body language and Voice Energy…

A presenter who stands as still as a statue, while mumbling their way through their talk, is unlikely to capture the interest of the audience. People want and expect an appropriate level of emotion, energy and animation from their speakers. Not too much animation; that’s as distracting as too little, and not too much energy or emotion, which gives the sense of being out of control (or maybe even unhinged), but just the right amount of projection in the voice, with appropriate variation of pace and power. Most importantly, well placed pauses for dramatic effect, which conveys a sense of gravitas and purpose.

In her HBR article, “When you pitch an idea, gestures matter more than words”, Nicole Torres, discusses research that shows that using gestures to explain an idea to potential investors made more impact on them than metaphors or stories. In particular, the use of one or two, thoughtfully chosen, ‘Symbolic Gestures’ made a big impact on the audience. Symbolic Gestures being those that convey information. For example, sweeping your hands out wide to describe a growing market.

And ‘Power Gestures’ can be used to convey a sense of ‘authority’ and to empathise key points e.g. many politicians use a ‘two handed, chopping motion’ for emphasising key ideas.

Friends, Romans and Countrymen, lend me your ears…

Rhetoric – the art of persuasive speaking – that comes down to us from the ancient Greeks, highlights a number of techniques for capturing an audience’s attention. These techniques that were first described in the 4th Century BCE, give speech a ‘musical quality’ that makes it easy for people to understand and remember what’s been said. A psychological phenomenon known as ‘Processing Fluency’.

One important rhetorical technique is the art of the ‘triad‘ – saying things in groups of three. This could be three descriptive words, three examples, or three reasons for doing something. For example, the well-known phrase; “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” in the US Declaration of Independence is a triad.

Whatever the content, structuring the content in three’s, makes it more compelling. For example, President Obama in his second inauguration speech in January 2013 used seventeen obvious triads; including one in each of his first three paragraphs. Some of them are highlighted below: the triads are numbered (1), (2) & (3) so you can clearly see where they occur in the text.

…It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began.

For our journey is not complete until our (1) wives, our (2) mothers, and (3) daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.

Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.

Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.

Our journey is not complete until all our children, from (1) the streets of Detroit to the (2) hills of Appalachia to the (3) quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are (1) cared for, and (2) cherished, and (3) always safe from harm

I have a dream…

Another device from the classical Greek art of rhetoric is ‘anaphora‘ – the repetition of the same word (or words) at the beginning of successive clauses. This effect is used to create themes and structures, and also clump ideas into their most compelling forms.

Perhaps the most famous example of anaphora is the 1963 speech by Martin Luther King Jnr where he used anaphora when he repeated the phrase; “I have a dream…” eight times in successive sentences.

If you look at the above excerpt from Obama’s February 2013 Inaugural address again you will notice the recurring phrase, “Our journey is not complete…” and in the full text this is used five times in a row.

And it’s a device also used extensively in literature, as in the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

Put a ring on it…

The same words repeated at the end of successive sentences or clauses is called ‘epiphora’ and here (just to show how ubiquitous these techniques are) is an example for the song Single Ladies by Beyoncé…

‘Cause if you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it
if you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it
Don’t be mad once you see that he want it
If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it’

Or from the world of politics here is Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, speaking about FEMA Chief Michael Brown, September 6, 2005…

“Take whatever idiot they have at the top of whatever agency and give me a better idiot. Give me a caring idiot. Give me a sensitive idiot. Just don’t give me the same idiot.”

Of course, it’s entirely possible to combine techniques, as in this example which uses both a triad and epiphora… and is attributed (probably spuriously) to the impresario PT Barnum…

“You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

We the people…

Thematic Patterns‘ – key words repeated throughout the speech are another highly effective form of reinforcement that great orators use extensively.

For example, in the “I have a dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jnr repeats the theme word, ‘freedom’, twenty times.

In both his inauguration speeches President Obama sought to get across the theme that solving America’s problems would be a collective effort. In his second inauguration speech he got this across by the use of the word ‘we’ (used sixty-eight times, compared to only four uses of the word ‘I’.)

Give me liberty or give me death!

‘Antithesis’ – using two contrasting ideas placed side by side – is a very powerful attention-grabbing technique. An example of antithesis would be Patrick Henry’s famous quotation from his speech to the Virginia Convention in 1775; “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Other well-known examples of antithesis include:

“We must indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” – Benjamin Franklin 1776

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” – John F Kennedy, inaugural address 1961

This ancient technique’s effectiveness stems from the way the human brain evaluates things. We need a contrast to really judge whether an item, idea or company is as good as it says it is. This is why organisations put out tenders for new suppliers. They look for a number of people to reply, in order to contrast the offerings against each other to find the best, or most suitable offer. In fact, our evaluations on very basic things are based on this principle. If asked what temperature you are right now, what would you say? If you said “cold”, you would be comparing the current temperature to a time when you felt it was “warmer” and contrasting it with the temperature now.

And, as this example for the writer Jack London (quoted by his literary executor, Irving Shepard, in an introduction to a 1956 collection of London’s stories) demonstrates, it’s also possible to string a whole series of antithesis statements together to great effect…

“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”

So what’s next?

So, you now have some key techniques. Challenge yourself to develop your presenting e.g. start by including a triad or two in your talks and then start to add in some of the other techniques.


The Lost Art of the Great Speech by Richard Dowis (Available on Amazon…)

Article: try reading this HBR Article highlighting the effectiveness of gestures as an influencing strategy


Watch… this 18-minute talk by Simon Lancaster on how to write a great speech, using rhetorical techniques.

Then maybe take a look at Obama in action in this You Tube clip “Fired Up and Ready To Go”


Consider sending your people on our two-day Presenting with Impact course (which looks in detail at how to design and deliver a great presentation.)


If you’re a Senior Executive maybe a ‘one-to-one’ coaching session would be a useful option for helping you improve your ability to give a key note speech…


Or gives us a call on 0844 394 8877 (UK) or +44 844 394 8877 (International) or email us at coaching@boulden.net and we’ll be happy to discuss how we can work with you.

And remember… In the words of the orator Plato …

“Rhetoric is the art of ruling the minds of men.”