The Art of Starting a Conversation

by Lillian D. Bjorseth

   This article was published in The Productivity Institute (PI) Newsletter

Almost all of us have been there. We meet a new person, we run into someone we have met once or we see someone we’ve spoken with numerous times. We want to start a meaningful conversation for myriad reasons; yet, we find ourselves asking those trite questions:

• “Is this your first time here?”
• “Did you have trouble finding the building?”
• “How many people do you think will be coming tonight?”

And, just for good measure, we throw in a few “hmms” and “ahs” to make us appear even less confident.

Getting off on the right foot

Here are hints to help you feel at ease, make others comfortable, ensure you are memorable after the event and gain helpful information as well.

Establish your purpose for attending event.

• To gather information? It can vary from learning more about the sponsoring organization to making an educated decision about joining to learning more about specific businesses or individuals who are likely to attend.
• To get referrals? These can include business or job referrals or for support services necessary to run and grow your business.
• To seek advice or support? This might range from encouragement in a job search or in your venture into entrepreneurship. Or it might be from people in other companies who are employed in the same field or the same industry.

In any case, prepare your “ask for” questions and “listen for” answers so you are prepared to hold stimulating conversations while simultaneously enhancing your knowledge base.

Prepare your Verbal Business Card.

Be ready to share with others in one or two sentences what you do … not how you do it or who you are. Think of it as the front end of your elevator pitch. It’s like the bait on a fishing line hook. It’s what attracts the person and pulls them into a conversation with you. Show the other person what you can do for them … or their friends or associates.  Keep it simple because while people are listening to you, they are also assessing your appearance and behavior, trying to remember your name and planning what they will say.

Always include your first and last name (even your friends have memory lapses!), what you do, benefits to others and active verbs, the most powerful words in the English language. In general, omit your company name (unless it is really well known), your company location, titles, business labels and go easy on adjectives and adverbs. You’ll want to tailor the above information when you are with people from your company or in the same industry. They will understand and even expect jargon.

For example, one of mine is:

“I’m Lillian Bjorseth, and I help you build a new kind of wealth – social capital – by improving your communication and networking skills.”

Remember introduction basics. 

Even though you learned this in elementary school, you might need a refresher:

• A younger person is introduced to an older person
• A man is introduced to a woman
• A less important person is introduced to a VIP.

In other words, say the name of the person who is older, the woman and the VIP first. You deserve to be addressed as you want to be; however, you must let people know your preference so they can start the conversation correctly. If your printed nametag says “Robert,” and you prefer, “Bob,” it’s fine to cross through the name and print “Bob” on it.  Use a felt tip pen so people can easily read it.

Weave newcomers into the conversation. 

• When someone new joins you, immediately introduce him or her to everyone or allow the person an ample opportunity to do. Bring the person up-to-date by quickly reviewing what you were talking about (remember it’s a new conversation for them) and then asking them for an opinion or comment.
• Remember names. The start of any conversation is a good place for you to start remembering someone’s name. Hopefully, the person knows to wear the nametag on the right side (unobstructed by lapels or scarves) so that your eye will easily travel to it as you make the initial handshake. Hopefully, the person also knows to say his/her name along with the handshake. 
• Look at the nametag.
• Listen as the person gives you his/her name.
• Study the person’s business card to help implant the name in your memory.
• Repeat it several times during the first few minutes of the conversation.
• Use it when you introduce the person to others.
• Use the person’s name as you say “good-bye” to everyone you met.

Ask open-ended questions. 

The best way to avoid those one-word answers that make you feel as if your attempts at conversation have been thwarted is to not ask “yes” and “no” questions. Or, if you start off with one, have two or three open-ended questions or statements in your pocket at all times. Those one-word answers are sure to get you perspiring if you are the kind who worries about how to start conversations.

Listen, listen, listen. 

It’s the number one human relations skill and tells people whom you are speaking with how much you care … even more than the words you use. Then respond to what the person said rather than what you wish s/he would have said. Eventually you, too, will get time in the spotlight … if the other person is also a great communicator.

Lillian Bjorseth helps you build a new kind of wealth – social capital – by honing your networking, business development and communication skills. She’s author of the third edition of Breakthrough Networking: Building Relationships That Last.,,,, 630-983-5308.

High court goes high tech: Justices to hear employee texting case

Reuters – People walk down the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington May 20, 2009. REUTERS/Molly Riley

Thu Apr 15, 9:39 pm ET
As the high court’s 2009-2010 term winds down, Yahoo! News will look at some key cases whose decisions have potential to impact the lives of everyday people.

Most of us have done it: Sent personal emails from the company computer, texted a friend or significant other on the BlackBerry they gave you for work. No harm, no foul, you say — our lives are so crazy these days that it’s hard not to blur the lines between the personal and the professional. Of course that’s true, but company time isn’t the only issue — what about your privacy? What if the boss reads your messages? Would you be embarrassed  — or worse? Does your employer even have that right?

The rules surrounding workplace communication in the digital age are pretty fuzzy; so fuzzy, in fact, that we still largely rely on parts of afederal law enacted in 1986 — back when fax machines were all the rage — to govern our privacy on technologies we use today. Calling someone on the phone or sending them postal mail isn’t remotely the same as sending a text or an email, so as technology develops, so must the laws that protect the privacy of our communication.
“[The laws don't] really make any sense in the modern era,” saysJennifer Granick, civil liberties director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for free-speech rights in digital communication. “It’s just not the way the technology evolved.”
Important court battles being waged all over the country are helping to shape this area of law, but one case has made it all the way to the top of the legal system.

At issue in City of Ontario v. Quon is whether a SWAT officer — a public employee — had a reasonable expectation of privacy when sending personal text messages on a police-department-owned pager. The official policy at the Ontario, Calif., police department had prohibited personal use of things like email and the Internet at work, and employees were explicitly told they should have no expectation of privacy in that regard, but the policy never said anything about text messages.
At some point, pagers were issued to members of the SWAT team, who were later told at a meeting (i.e. not in writing) that texts sent and received on them would be considered by the department to be email,  and therefore subject to monitoring or audit. The officers were also told they’d be responsible for paying any charges incurred when going over the character limit in the department’s contract with the pager service. Eventually this arrangement eased into an informal understanding between officers and their superiors that as long as they paid the extra charges, the department wouldn’t look at their messages.
Sgt. Jeff Quon went over the monthly character limit a few times, but he faithfully paid the overages. He also sent text messages — sometimes sexually explicit ones — to his wife … and to a co-worker with whom he was having an affair. As he understood department policy, his superiors would not be reading his messages. But the department — tired of acting like a bill collector for overage charges — later changed its mind and requested Quon’s transcripts from the wireless service provider. (Quon was one of the officers who had exceeded the character limit more than once.) After the provider, Arch Wireless, provided the transcripts, Quon’s superiors were able to read his, ahem, personal messages.  
Quon and others, including his wife, who was not a department employee, sued, claiming the police department had violated their Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search. (In other words, the suit involves not only the employee’s privacy rights but those of the people sending and receiving messages to and from him.) They also sued Arch Wireless, claiming the provider had violated a federal statute when it gave the police department Quon’s transcripts without his permission.
After losing their battle in federal district court, Quon and his co-plaintiffs prevailed in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California, with that court ruling they all had a reasonable expectation that the department would not read the text messages. And now it will be up to the Supreme Court to decide if the city violated theFourth Amendment, which protects people against unreasonable search and seizure by the government. (The high court will not be hearing a separate appeal concerning the wireless service provider.)

Although the ruling is likely to be narrow (sticking strictly to legal questions concerning the public sector), it will come at a time when there is great need for the high court to shed light on how the Fourth Amendment affects electronic communication. Hard to believe that when this case comes before the justices on Monday, it will be the first time the Supreme Court will consider how the Constitution affects so much of what we now take for granted in our workplace communications — indeed, many of us hardly pick up a phone anymore.

It’s difficult to see where the high court will go with this legally nuanced case, especially because there are so few similar cases to provide guidance, says Susan Freiwald, a law professor at the University of San Francisco who teaches cyberspace and information privacy law.
The ideological makeup of the court doesn’t help much either.
“Ideas about privacy don’t always correlate to traditional labels of conservative or liberal,” Freiwald notes. “You don’t really know how the justices are going to feel and how those positions translate.”
Whether this case has a broad or narrow ruling, the hope is that it will be a guide for both employers and employees as advancing technology makes it easier for us to blur the lines between private and professional communication.
The court likely won’t release its opinion until June, but for now, what’s the advice? A little bit of common sense, of course.
“Employees in general need to be a lot more careful about what they commit to writing,” says Robert Brownstone, a lawyer who advises employers on information privacy. “And if they do, they should not use their work computer, because that’s a whole different level of privacy.”

Are you concerned about electronic privacy in your workplace? Let us know what you think.

— Laura E. Davis


Web-savvy: Tips for Writing Great Web Copy

by Katie Mead

   This article was originally published in The Productivity Institute (PI) Newsletter 

These days, regardless of your business or industry, chances are your most effective communication tool is your website.  Conversely, a poorly written, poorly designed or out of date site can be a great liability.  Assuming you know what you want to say, using your site as an effective vehicle for communication often comes down to two things: content and formatting.  Both are essential, so here are some tips to maximize your efforts:

1. Stick to the point
Who are you and what do you do?  Hitting these points may sound obvious, but are often overlooked.  Attention spans are short – a new visitor to your site is only willing to spend about 30 seconds exploring – it’s essential that you make a powerful impression.  Don’t make them search for information about you or your services, and keep the information useful – to them, not you.

2. A call to action
General overviews are a nice way to start, but keep them short.  People need to know what you want them to do, and how to do it.  Leave no room for interpretation or even subtlety – don’t hint!  Be direct and you’ll get your point across.

3. The personal touch
There’s something intimate about reading text on the web: while remaining informative, keep  your writing personal and conversational.  Attention to tone will help get your point across without seeming aggressive.  Writing naturally will enhance personal buy-in and engage your audience – it’ll also make your text easier to read.

1. Head it up
It can be hard to read text online.  Help your readers by using lots of subheadings.  Start at the top with a catchy headline and provide links to the subheads.  Break up the text by formatting the subheads so that they stand out from the surrounding text.  Know that your readers are going to scan your article – make sure the subheads easily tell the bare bones of your message and you’ll draw them in. 

2. Faster than a speeding bullet
Bullet points jump out and will draw your readers’ attention.  Use text sparingly, but bullets liberally.  Wherever possible, condense ideas to lists of easily-read bullet points.

3. Emphasis
Used sparingly, italics can be a powerful tool.  People imagine they can hear the tone of your words; know how italics can impact the way your message comes across and use them appropriately. For example:
Our writing has impact. 
Our writing has impact.
Our writing has impact.
All slightly different, conveying a slightly different message – help your readers hear what you want to say.

4. To be so bold
Don’t overdo it, but used occasionally, bold text stands out.  Write your headings in bold text and you’ll get your point across.

So while writing for the web requires some different skills than writing print copy, some of the basic tenets remain the same:
• Write well: pay attention to correct grammar and spelling,
• Write with purpose: have something of value to say and say it well, and
• Write for your audience: always remember who you’re writing for and why they should be interested.

Keeping all this in mind can be quite a juggling act but a well-written site that broadcasts your message is definitely worth the effort.

Katie Mead is the co-founder of Springboard Consulting, Katie is a passionate about good communication.  From a diverse background in the fine arts, she has developed a proven track record of success working in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Her particular areas of expertise include marketing, grant writing, non-profit resource building and management, fundraising, and the design and launch of various keynote projects and events.  Katie can be reached at:

How To Reorganize Your Company: Substantive Long-Term Change

by Donald J. Cecchi

   This article was published in The Productivity Institute (PI) Newsletter . (Part 2 of 3)

Reorganizing Your Company Can Lead To Happier Customers And Employees, And Generate Bigger Profits.  This Step-By-Step Process Will Show You How To Create Change And Avoid Pitfalls.

Planning And Implementation
Planning and implementation are the most critical phases of effecting change.  The question must be asked: What must be done in order to carry the vision forward and who should be included in the process?  It is now something of a cliché to say that “change must come from the top”, and, like many clichés, this is certainly true.  In the absence of commitment at the highest level, only minor change will be possible.  However, no one person can create transformation.  Also, collaborations are more productive and, ultimately, the most effective way to bring about meaningful and long-lasting change. Therefore, a team must be created that represents a cross-section of the people who will be affected by change.

The reorganization team must include both management (those with the authority to effect change) and staff.  Everyone must possess specific knowledge and expertise.  In order to move the process along, and to avoid endless planning, some members of the planning committee must possess leadership qualities.  It is from the latter group that the person responsible for coordinating and leading the entire planning process will be drawn, someone with a combination of professional and interpersonal skills, knowledge, and experience who is able to think analytically, listen, delegate responsibility, and be dedicated to bringing about change.

Once a planning committee has been assembled, it must develop a detailed course of action, which includes:
• a clear understanding of the corporate vision
• the goals of the proposed change
• the benefits that will be realized as a result of the planned change
• an assessment of the current problems
• specific objectives and the steps that are necessary to attain them
• a budget
• a detailed schedule of activities with firm, but realistic, deadlines that take into consideration current workloads
• broad categories of actions that need to be taken, which are built upon in greater detail as the planning process proceeds
• a list of required resources, including personnel, equipment/supplies, IT systems, and information
• specific assignments for the appropriate people that are clearly communicated to them
• a list of work products and deliverables, including progress reports, and deadlines for each
• a list of measurables that can be used to evaluate progress

The implementation phase requires activities similar to the planning stage. One must:
• build a team to carry out the plan that includes staff at all levels
• communicate the reasons for the proposed change
• explain to the people who were chosen why they were chosen, which also offers an opportunity to praise their abilities and work
• communicate specifically what has to be done
• offer them the opportunity to review the plan, comment on it, and contribute suggestions to making changes or “tweaking”
• create schedules for implementation, with expected deliverables, including: progress reports; status of specific goals and objectives; new procedures; computer hard- and software installations; personnel changes; and problems that have arisen and their solutions
• establish a process to monitor progress that includes periodic meetings to review progress, problems and updates
• be prepared to assess progress and adjust your course of action

And at whatever level they are, and whenever possible, people who are resistant to change should be excluded from both the planning and implementation stages.  Their negativity can infect everyone else.  Of course, people who subvert change covertly will have to be identified and dealt with.

Motivating Staff For Change
Once a plan has been developed and an implementation team put in place, it will be necessary to motivate staff.  It is important to remember what exactly motivates people in the workplace in order to create ownership.  Many people find it surprising that salary is not very high on the list.  Key motivators are:
• recognition and respect
• the work itself
• responsibility
• advancement
• personal growth
• being informed as to what is going on throughout the organization

One of the greatest motivators is short-term “wins.”  Their importance cannot be overstated; without them, the long-term objectives will not be achieved.  Short-term wins are the small success stories in any long-term project which create a tangible reality of what is occurring.  In addition, they build momentum, help fine-tune the entire change process, and add pieces to the whole process upon which the larger change can occur.  They also give staff a very real sense of accomplishment and a perception of what is possible.  In addition, they avoid a perception of getting bogged down, which can be fatal, and they undermine resistance to change.  They keep the bosses happy and on board.  They also offer a wonderful opportunity to thank staff and to give positive feedback.

A genuine climate for change must be established and maintained throughout the entire change process.  This means that people have to be allowed to have input, that their ideas and comments will be genuinely welcomed and incorporated into the plan, and that full and coherent communication takes place among everyone involved in the process and, if possible, throughout the entire organization.

In order to provide everyone with the same information, regularly scheduled meetings and written status reports, both of which should be succinct, are a must. These should include:
• the status of the change
• problems that arose, what caused them, and how they were handled
• deadlines met or not met
• needed clarifications
• on-going evaluation
• changes in process, schedules, and personnel
• and, most important, what “wins” have occurred

Once again, the greater the number of people who are included in the dissemination of information, the more smoothly, and effectively, change will occur.

Informal “water cooler” and “management by walking around” communication is also necessary.  It serves to gather information and feedback that people might be reluctant to convey in a more formal setting and, even more important, it conveys the message to employees that management is genuinely interested in the project, and concerned about and interested in them as individuals.

In addition, since change is frightening to people, communication will allay much of the resistance and fear that might be created.  It also allows for on-going praise.  In my experience, public recognition or a “thank you” note have worked wonders.  Making sure bosses know what a great job the staff has done is very effective.

Successful change does, in fact, empower employees, motivate them, and give them a sense that they are making significant contributions to the organization.  Equally important, it serves to create a new culture, one in which change is accepted, integrated, and long-lasting, and complacency and resistance are hopefully banished, or at least reduced to a minimum.

A warning should be offered here:  During the change process, there are times when a drop-off in productivity will occur.  This is not surprising, but, of course, must be kept to acceptable levels, and the causes and remedies identified.

(Note: part 3 of this three-part article will be published in the next issue of the PI newsletter.)

Donald J. Cecchi is President of the Cecchi Consulting Group which specializes in reorganization, business development, and the design and implementation of new projects.  He can be reached at

Is Goodwill Good for Your Business?

by Ken Stein

    This article was originally published in The Productivity Institute (PI) Newsletter

While the answer to this goodwill question is a resounding “yes”, one of the most perplexing questions a business owner faces when he or she decides to sell their business is “what do I have to sell and what is it worth?”

Most owners are familiar with balance sheet assets such as cash, accounts receivable, inventory
and equipment and real estate.  But other valuable business assets may not appear on the company’s balance sheet.  Among them are such intangible assets as intellectual property…and business goodwill.  So, how do you value and monetize an asset that is not tangible, yet does contribute to income?

How do you monetize a sales process, know-how, customer lists, vendor agreements, training systems, technical process, distribution networks, and client relationships? How do you monetize your unique value proposition and all those proprietary methods and processes you use in order to conduct your business?

The answer is to properly value your business “goodwill”.  Owners may believe that the business has additional value simply because it is able to create new products and services, attract new customers, and acquire or merge with other businesses.  However, to properly provide a rationale for a valuation which includes business goodwill, either a Discounted Cash Flow method or Capitalized Excess Earnings method is used.     These methods are essentially a “time value of money” style of valuation.  And it is here where choosing a suitable capitalization rate and discount rate is the key to establishing value.

Remember, an evaluation of goodwill is called for not only when selling your company, but also when two businesses merge. This is when equity ownership needs to be allocated among the business owners. One way to do this is to allocate a portion of the assets being contributed as business goodwill.

Furthermore, when seeking credit or a bank loan, the value of your business assets should include business goodwill – which will always influence the lender’s decision.

Goodwill is therefore a very important aspect of your business that is often overlooked when trying to assess its true value.  Because it is difficult to quantify does not mean it should be ignored.  In some cases, it is people’s perception of a business – its goodwill – that can truly affect its degree of success (or failure).  Most importantly, goodwill demonstrates a necessary business component that should be reflected in its valuation.

Ken Stein, CFP®
Business Broker and Intermediary

The World of Relationship is Like a Kaleidoscope

by Ron Sukenick

   This article was originally published in The Productivity Institute (PI) Newsletter 

When we fundamentally understand that we have a multitude of considerations that impact how we are in relationship, our view of change and the importance of change is magnified.

Let’s take a few minutes and communicate about relationships and change.  When you were a youngster, did you enjoy looking into a Kaleidoscope?

Were you amazed at the infinite varieties of colors and patterns that evolved as it turned in your hand? Did you ever turn it so quickly that you did not have a chance to fully appreciate what you were watching because things were changing so quickly in the little viewer?

The changes in the viewer pale in comparison to the changes experienced in the last decade–and the changes we will experience in the years to come.

There was very little to think about when turning that little Kaleidoscope: just look and enjoy. If you view the world of relationship as a Kaleidoscope, you will see change. Rather than standing there mesmerized or memorizing the colors and patterns as if you can keep things the same, imagine what it might be like to be the colors. For openers, think about every second of your life, every minute, every day, being different from the preceding second, minute, or day. No two interactions or opportunities are the same, just as the patterns in the Kaleidoscope are never the same. Changes are inevitable–in behavior, in life patterns, in your knowledge base, in your habits, and in your relationships. We are not the same person we were even moments ago.

People change. Look around you. Are there new people in your life that were not there a month ago, six months ago, last year? Get to know people around you, and get involved with them. Don’t just observe the changes passively, as if you are looking into a viewer. Be a part of them. Get to know people you come into contact with, what they do, what makes them tick. Become interested in them and how you can help them. They’ll do the same for you and you’ll enjoy life more.

Technology changes. Are you still using the same equipment as one, two, five years ago? Not very likely. And the equipment you are now using will become obsolete in the near future. Further more, staying abreast of the technological changes and discussing preferred communication tools with your partner is key in developing a collaborative relationship. Leadership techniques change. When was the last time you picked up and read a management book for insight about new management and leadership practices?

An understanding of the changing needs of today’s workforce (that’s all of us!) will help you be more progressive and able to meet and partner with others within or outside your organization.

Economic factors, urgency, people’s values, technology, and relationship management: all changing everyday, truly a Kaleidoscope. You can become a part of the Kaleidoscope–get inside the viewer–and be the one who determines the next pattern, if you make up your mind to.

Ron Sukenick is the Chief Relationship Officer and founder of the Relationship Strategies Institute, a training and Relationship development company that provides innovative, effective and relevant programs and systems for corporations, organizations, and associations. To learn more about the value of Relationship Development, visit his Web site at . You can reach Ron by phone at: 317-216-8210, or by email at

Why Every Company Needs A Social Media Policy

by Bruce Newman

    This article was originally published in The Productivity Institute (PI) Newsletter

Social Media is rapidly gaining in importance concerning how business gets done.  This is aptly demonstrated in many ways both by the hundreds of millions of users of various social media platforms and blogs.  A recent study showed that a staggering 91% of the privately owned businesses in Inc. magazine’s fortune 500 now use social media (up from 43% only two years earlier). 

While possessing the potential to be enormously beneficial, social media also comes with a two-edged sword.  Liability issues are beginning to abound as a result of social media.  Decreased productivity, insubordination, disclosure of confidential information and reputation management are among only a few of the issues that can now plague companies. 

It is very easy for an employee to utilize some social media platform or blog late at night while at home and write negatively and in detail about the day’s events at work.  Or, suppose some employees start tweeting about weeks of poor sales?  In either case, these simple situations can quickly – and negatively – affect a company’s reputation.  Even if a company does not utilize social media, its employees do – and so do its customers.  It is therefore of key importance that every company protect itself with a social media policy.

First and foremost, the key purpose of any social media policy is to prevent a company from issues of liability and certainly any expensive and protracted legal action.  Arguably, the second most important aspect is the delineation of the limits and boundaries for a company’s employees and contractors – what they are and are not permitted to say.  These rules help form the foundation of any social media policy. 

According to Manpower (January 26, 2010), only 29% of the companies in the Americas currently have a social media policy.  This is a shockingly low number and in part explains the increase to 17% from 12% in 2008 in the number of exposure incidents for such social media sites as Facebook and LinkedIn along with an increase to 8% reporting employee termination (Proofpoint Inc., 2009).   There are likewise increases for blogs, videos and other forms of social media.

Without a social media policy, companies are much more vulnerable to human resource and legal issues.  For many companies, a social media policy can be included as a part of an employee handbook – but one that still requires periodic education and an employee signature.  Violation of a social media policy (or lack of a policy) can also hit executives of even large corporations.  The CEO of Whole Foods Supermarkets, Inc., a nationwide chain of 130 high-end supermarkets was forced to resign following the outrage (and growth of the Boycott Whole Foods campaign) after he published an article on health care policy in The Wall Street Journal without first disassociating himself from Whole Foods.

There are decisions every company must make concerning the role of social media within a company and its employees.  These decisions can greatly affect the productivity and working environment for all company employees and consultants.  Regardless of which decisions are made however, what is of crucial importance is that every company has a social media policy – for the good of the company and its employees.

Bruce Newman is the Vice President at The Productivity Institute, LLC, a leader in locating, evaluating and matching the specific areas of expertise of consultants to the needs of its clients.  An expert on social media, Bruce constantly writes and gives talks on many facets of social media including branding, social media strategies and policy.  He has also developed several social media courses, services and products including: Social Media Policy, Social Media Starter Pack, and Maintenance and Management (available through the PI website or by clicking here). In addition, Bruce is the editor of the Productivity Institute Newsletter, a free content-is-king newsletter and thought leader.  Follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and the Productivity Institute blog.

Presenting with Impact – Tips to Hone Effective Presentation Skills

by Katie Mead

   This article was originally published in The Productivity Institute (PI) Newsletter

At some point in your career, regardless of your industry, you will probably be asked to make a presentation.  While we may not all be natural-born actors, neither should the thought of giving a presentation cause headaches or night sweats. Here are some simple tactics to help ensure your presentations go off with minimal pain and a maximum impact.

Know the room – Don’t leave the details to chance.  This includes having a handle on the room in which you’ll be presenting.  How big is it?  What kind of layout are you facing?  Are there enough chairs?  Will you have all the requisite markers, whiteboard, and erasers, you might need?  And absolutely make sure you know how to run the multimedia equipment…a great presenter anticipates glitches and deals with them beforehand.

All the world’s a stage – OK.  Maybe you didn’t live for drama class.  Nevertheless, consider your presentation space your stage and ‘own it’.  Don’t stand stiffly on the spot, but don’t wander aimlessly either.  Move with purpose, exactly like you prepared the information you’re presenting, and really interact with your audience.

Speak up – You may know exactly what you want to say, but remember: it’s all new to your audience.  Project your voice – you certainly don’t want to yell, but get used to speaking a little more loudly than in a typical conversation.  And don’t be afraid to practice this: ask a friend to join you in a noisy café and practice your pitch. When in doubt (and dependent on the size of the room) plan to use a microphone (but practice in advance).

It’s not just the words – The way you speak goes a long way to enhancing your delivery of a compelling presentation.  Avoid becoming an automaton – modulate your pitch, tone and speed of your voice.  And despite your nerves, remember the power of pauses.  A good pause to let the information sink in is always more effective than a filler ‘uh’ (and less annoying also).
Come alive – A lot of compelling communication is non-verbal.  Using appropriate gestures and facial expressions goes a long way to helping you emphasize or explain your point.  However, be sure not to take it too far.  Unconscious nervous habits can be amazingly distracting.  Try videotaping a rehearsal to see if you’re in danger of developing these detracting habits and work to unlearn them.

Engage your audience – The best way to lose your audience is to keep your eyes glued to your notes or slides.  Sure, have them there as backup but know your material well enough to depart from the plan.  Eye contact and a relaxed stance will imply confidence and convince your listeners that you know what you’re talking about.  If you feel that you’re losing your audience take time out to ask and answer questions – helping them to re-engage will make sure they ‘get’ what you’re discussing.

Timing’s the thing – You’ve got something to say and you expect your audience to listen.  Show them the same respect by starting and ending your presentation on time. Let them know you appreciate their willingness to take time out of their busy schedules, and avoid audience fatigue also.

Above all, be passionate about what you’re discussing and never take yourself too seriously.  Know that you will make mistakes – be able to laugh at them.  Injecting a little humour will help you win over your audience, and enthusiasm for your subject will convince them that they should care about what you have to say.  Acquiring the skills to give great a presentation might require some hard work; isn’t the impact worth it?

Katie Mead is the co-founder of Springboard Consulting, Katie is a passionate about good communication.  From a diverse background in the fine arts, she has developed a proven track record of success working in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Her particular areas of expertise include marketing, grant writing, non-profit resource building and management, fundraising, and the design and launch of various keynote projects and events.  Katie can be reached at:

Has Branding Really Changed?

by Mel Depaoli

   This article was originally published in The Productivity Institute (PI) Newsletter

With the growing importance of social media, there is much talk about ‘new marketing’ or ‘branding’ in today’s times.  Although branding has many definitions, one of the most standard ones (by is: “Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retain loyal customers”. The ultimate goal of branding is to create a consistent desired feeling or thought in the client or prospect’s mind when your company or product name is mentioned or visible. 

This leads to an interesting question.  Have the rules of branding really changed or is it simply the tactics to achieve the goal that has changed?

Prior to the growth of the Internet and particularly social media, this was achieved mainly by advertising, promotions and sponsorships which in today’s verbiage, represents “push” technology.  The message was simply one-sided, pushed out by the promoting company towards its targeted market.  Companies were able to decide who heard what message and when it was heard. However, the response from their actions was delayed since no direct response from their targeted audience was possible except (usually) in the form of some purchase at a later time.  

In today’s market, brands are often built through two-way conversations between the company and the client or prospect. Both the client and the company provide value to the brand with each action or negatively, with each inaction. To enhance their brand, the company still has a desired message it wishes to convey but now, the client has other resources and choices available, often seeking truth, additional information and value up front. It is easier for a prospect to decide the value you offer long before they ever reach out or express any interest in you. Also, since it’s a two-way interaction, the client has the means to respond – for good or bad.  This is one of the reasons why it is so important for companies to monitor several social media platforms – to be able to initiate and rapidly respond to these interactive conversations.

Positive word-of-mouth marketing has always been a goal of top marketers.  We take people’s opinions, often holding them in high esteem – even if we do not know the people, and letting them affect our actions.  You may do a lot of research to determine which new car to buy.  However, your neighbor’s negative problems with the same vehicle model might be sufficient to dissuade your purchase for some other model.  The verbal interactions provided through social media can have a similar effect.
In the past and just as much as today, word of mouth is still the strongest and most powerful form of marketing and brand-building. The difference is the size of the audience, their ability to communicate and most importantly, the speed and potential to successfully build a brand.

So I ask you, is it branding that changed or the modality and tactics towards achieving the goal that has changed?

Mel DePaoli is the president and founder of Omicle located in Seattle, WA. She helps companies create a contagious culture by connecting the way the business is operated with how the business is marketed. Please visit Omicle for more information about how Omicle can become your Catalyst for Discovery. She is also interviewing companies for her upcoming book series, Brand or Culture: Which Comes First. Please visit Brand or to get involved in the Brand or Culture Debate today! You may follow her on Twitter @MelDePaoli or become a fan of Omicle on Facebook.