Every professional faces important “moments of truth” as they navigate through their work days. Whether it’s the invitation to speak at the board meeting, the opportunity to connect one-on-one with the CEO or, a tough feedback conversation with a team member, you need to be ready to succeed in these High Value/High Risk (HV/HR) situations.

Some HV/HR situations unfold in real-time and others afford ample time to prepare your mind and message. While the prep time varies, the process for dealing with these important situations is very similar.  The mnemonic L.A.S.E.R. is a useful tool to help you remember 5 critical actions required for success in every critical conversation.

Using L.A.S.E.R. Focus to Succeed in High Value/High Risk Situations

1. L= Look for Cues and Employ Active Listening.
The last thing most of us are doing in a high-stress situation is focusing on the speaker and looking for social cues. We’re conditioned as humans for fight or flight, or, we are planning our response instead of focusing on the other party. It takes extraordinary effort and discipline to concentrate completely on the communication exchange. Deliberate effort to focus and listen is critical for success.

2. A=Assess by Asking.
Once you’ve tamed fight or flight, you need information to process and form a response. Active listening combined with the power of a few good clarifying questions are your best tools for survival. If the situation affords a break until a response is required (think: upcoming board presentation or sit-down with the boss tomorrow), ask questions until you’ve gained context for the situation, expectations and positions.

3. S=Strategy (and Message)
We all create and think differently however, in working with many different professionals, a simple message mapping process can help you think through a situation nd formulate a strategy and message for dealing with it.

Your core point goes in the center…supporting points (no more than 4) hang off the core point and each supporting point includes one or more points of evidence. When it’s time for that HV/HR meeting with the boss or board your Message Map is your best friend for delivering your narrative and answering questions. Public Relations pros will tell you that all issues and questions lead back through the message map.

While the process may seem labor intensive, after practicing and using it a few times, clients report that the process is so simple and effective that they are able to rapidly construct these helpful tools on the fly.

4. E=Engage with Confidence
Showing confidence (not hubris or arrogance) is critical to success in almost every HV/HR situation. And yes, it takes incredible self-confidence to admit a mistake or to genuinely be empathetic to others. Having and knowing your message map is an important confidence booster. Practicing your delivery and gaining feedback to strengthen your non-verbal effectiveness is another. Gaining feedback on your verbal and non-verbal performance from trusted advisors is priceless

5. R=Review Outcomes
Not all HV/HR situations go the way you planned. Always loop back and review with those involved on what worked and what didn’t work. I advise clients who are going to be in front of boards to find a boardroom buddy who will observe, take notes and provide frank feedback. My own boardroom observer noticed that when under pressure and heavy questioning, I would drink water incessantly. That nervous tic certainly showed anything but confidence and was getting in the way of my message. While trivial sounding, the feedback was priceless.

The Bottom-Line for Now

Others choose us for success. Your performance in High Value and High Risk situations goes a long way towards establishing the perception people carry around of you. And yes, perception is reality. Make sure it’s a good one. It’s time to get to work.

This blog originally appeared at artpetty.com.

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