I’m on a business trip to one of our sister companies, and it’s been a crazy week! I don’t have much to give you to start off the weekend, but I figure you’ll be busy keeping up with the Royal Wedding and the NFL Draft. I’ll be back on Monday with a trip-inspired post, so have a great weekend!
Month: April 2011
Again with the Presentation Advice?
Like the outfit? See more details here!
Alright, I know I just did two posts about presentations last week, but I’ve got speaking on the brain! We had case presentations in one of my classes last night, and unfortunately, it spurred me to post once more about presentations. I truly believe that public speaking is a non-negotiable skill in the corporate world, and it was a little disconcerting to see some of the presentation behavior from my MBA classmates. I started my presentation well by dressing the part, which many of classmates chose not to do. However, I want to get into a few more tips on the speaking, since I’ve already addressed appropriate presentation attire.
Look at your audience. I was shocked to see members of several groups turn their back on the audience during yesterday’s presentations. I was also shocked to see people holding notes up in front of their face, or just looking straight down at the notes. Generally, there’s at least one friendly face in the crowd, so if nothing else, at least speak to that person. I don’t recommend looking people directly in the eye when you first start presenting, as it can be a distraction if you’re not used to such direct feedback. Rather, look at their hairline, as this will appear more like eye contact, without the harsh “staring into my soul” effect that can ensue with direct eye contact. Practice in front of a mirror to make sure that you’re not speaking into your notes.
Be cognizant of the time. We had a strict and short time limit for our presentations last night, and most groups managed to adhere to the cut-off time. However, one group had a huge faux pas during their presentation. A group member was plowing through their portion of the presentation, completely oblivious to the time keeper’s hand signals. Another group member saw the time keeper give the “wrap it up” signal. Seeing no end in sight, he politely and briefly interrupted the group member that was speaking to thank the class for their time. Instead of sitting down, as it was clear their time was up, the group member started speaking again to make their point! When informed that in fact, they were out of time, this person turned to the class and said, “Can I just say one more thing about The Subject?” Awkwardly, her other group members looked at the class. Don’t be this person… when your time is up, your time is up! Plan your presentation and make sure that you speak at a rate that will meet the time limit.
Practice the transitions. I generally prefer to speak with a clicking device, so that I can move the slides forward at the same rate at which I speak. However, this is not always possible, so make sure you practice the transitions with your team mates. Is one person going to move the slides forward, or will each member move to the keyboard to advance the slides? What order are you speaking in, and do you plan to introduce the next speaker, or just move aside to let the next speaker take over? Who will lead the question and answer session; will it be one speaker, or will each person answer based on their specific portion of the presentation? It’s the “little things” like transitions that take a group from disjointed to polished, and it makes a noticeable difference in the level of professionalism exuded by the team.
Utilize your visual aid. I saw full sentences and paragraphs written on some of the PowerPoint slides last night, and it makes the visual aid overwhelming and unclear, instead of helpful. Also, state your point up front! Several groups arrived at the end of their presentation, and I still had no idea about their stance on the issue at hand. Open the presentation with your stance, and then utilize bullet points, charts, and pictures through out the remainder of the presentation to support your stance. Don’t forget to proof-read! I saw typos and text running into graphics on some presentations, which distracts from the overall message that should be enhanced by the visual aid.
I know I’m picky, but years of public speaking have taught me that the seemingly unobtrusive quirks really hurt a person’s ability to convey their information during a presentation. I hope these tips will make your next presentation clear and compelling! Like the outfit? See more details here!
Can we just talk about the frustration of SEO “magic”? Maybe I’m the only one that finds this frustrating, but the insane amount of spam that’s been on my blog recently triggered my distaste for SEO link-building campaigns. I know that spamming it a black-hat version of SEO, but it does contribute to the overall view of SEO in general. Most people who know nothing about Search Engine Optimization think that you just pay some company a fee, and you end up at the top of the search engines the next day. It’s like magic! This, in fact, is not the case. Search engines are optimized using a number of criteria, including amount of relevant content, quality of content, links/trackbacks, and “secret algorithms” formulated by the search engines to offer the most useful results. In theory, companies can manipulate a lot of the factors, with the exception of the “secret algorithms”. The problem is that now EVERYONE is using optimization techniques, so there’s much less advantage to including key words and meta tags today than when SEO first gained popularity.
However, now that it’s mainstream, everyone seems to want it. And, since most people aren’t educated about how to get it, they end up with companies employing black hat techniques like spamming random bloggers for “link-building” campaigns. Others will advise putting a whole block of keywords in the footer of every page, so that the algorithms will think you have more relevant content. I’m no SEO expert, but I do know black hat when I see it. So, here’s a few quick guidelines when determining whether a certain SEO provider might be a profitable partner:
1) What kind of timeframe do they promise improvement? SEO is a long-term strategy, so any company that promises quick results may not be the best provider. I usually budget 6-8 months for maximum results.
2) Do they promise to make you #1 in all search engines? I’ve found that most reputable providers can promise improvement, but rarely promise to make you the first result, all the time, on all search engines. Because search engines use “secret algorithms”, it’s nearly impossible to influence all results all the time. Be wary of a company that over-promises.
3) How do they do link-building? Are they setting up a special website for the sole purpose of trackbacks? While this isn’t the biggest red flag, it might raise concerns. Imagine, if a friend or family member ONLY recommended one brand for EVERYTHING, wouldn’t you begin to wonder if they were paid to endorse that brand? And, wouldn’t it make you a little less trusting of their opinion if they were endorsed? It’s a similar feeling with link-building… if all links on a site point to the same website that is selling something, potential customers might not trust the “recommendation”.
4) Do they recommend on-going services, or just a one-time outlay fairly often? SEO is an ever-evolving process, so most reputable companies will offer some sort of maintenance plan. You might want to dig a little deeper on companies that offer a one-time “foundation”, and then require a huge payment to “update” it every few months. Again, SEO is a slow and steady race, not a series of sprints to the #1 spot on a search engine.
As I said, I’m no expert, but I’ve had enough experience to know poor SEO when I see it. The “link-building” attempts by spamming my blog sparked my frustration once more, so I hope you will use the afore-mentioned guidelines to ensure that your company is not employing black hat SEO techniques that result in angry bloggers!
I talked about presentation attire in yesterday’s post, so today I want to talk about actually giving the presentation. What makes a great presentation, and how do you ensure that you give a stellar performance? Great presentation are engaging, informative, and provide clarity for an idea or strategy. Speakers should not distract from the message by fidgeting or using vocal fillers (those pesky “um” and “er” words), and visual aids should be clean, clear, and concise. Today’s post will address the speaker’s role in creating and giving a great presentation.
Stop fidgeting! When I was in high school, I wore rings on 4 fingers, and I played with them constantly. People were always commenting on the fact that I was fiddling with my rings, and that slight movement of my hands distracted my companions in nearly every conversation I had. My mom always worried that I would be messing with my rings during a singing performance, but that was the one place I managed to quell the incessant fidgeting. How did I do it? I kept my hands at my sides, loosely hanging straight down. I made a point to just leave them there, at all times. Granted, it turned out to be a little boring, but it helped me learn to keep my hands still while performing. Effective presenters use hand motions with purpose. I recommend letting your hands and arms remain at your sides, and practicing use of hand motions only to make a point. It might even be helpful to over-exaggerate until you are comfortable that your hands aren’t distracting, but strategically placed during a presentation. Practice not touching your clothes or accessories, but only touching either your other hand or a specific point in the air (for example, directing toward your visual aid).
Stop shifting listlessly! I mentioned wearing comfortable shoes to avoid shifting and moving aimlessly. To further prevent random movement, I suggest planting your feet firmly on the floor, about shoulder-width apart, with one foot slightly in front of the other. This forces you to move intentionally, as swaying or shifting is difficult in this stance. If your weight is balanced as it should be, it will take more effort to move it off balance, making your movements more intentional. I also recommend picking a path and a rhythm. For example, practice saying point number 1 to the middle of the room, turning to the left, walking 3 steps, and saying point number 2 to the left side of the room. Repeat this process back to the center, to the right of the room, and back to center. With enough practice, it will be more natural to move during your presentation.
Stop “presenting”! I’m always annoyed when people “act” like a presenter. It’s as if they woke up and decided to “play pretend” presenter today, just like we’d play house or high-school when we were younger. You don’t have to alter your voice to “sound like a presenter”. If you speak slowly and clearly, your message will be understood. Fake confidence is almost worse than no confidence, so “playing” enthusiastic presenter just looks cheesy. To avoid acting like a presenter, I don’t think you should over-practice. Don’t memorize a speech or read directly from note cards, but tell your colleagues about your idea in the way that you discussed it among your team. You know the information… you wrote it! You’re the expert, so practice flexibility within structure when presenting.
Stop using “vocal fillers”! I was taught that silence is better than “um”, so I do my best to weed out the vocal fillers during my presentation. You may not realize how often you use these types of words, including, “er”, “you know”, “ok”, “uh”, “soooo”, and the list goes on. It’s eye-opening to ask someone to count the use of these types of words during a presentation, and I highly recommend making that request during your practice sessions. If you need a moment to think, simply stand quietly until you are ready to speak again. It seems awkward at first, but it’s much better to let other process during the silence than annoying them with vocal fillers.
Public speaking is often cited as one of the most prevalent fears, but it can be overcome with practice. Using the afore-mentioned tips will help you become a confident, engaging presenter.
Necklace: NY and Co.
Belt: Charlotte Russe
Heels: Old, don’t remember
Like the outfit? See more details here!
I love presenting, let’s just state that from the start! What’s not to love… you are the center of attention, you get to be the expert on the subject at hand, and you get to convince everyone that your idea is the best! I know, it makes me sound a little childish, but let’s be honest. What actor/marketer/motivational speaker doesn’t have some kind of ulterior motive when they stand up to present? It’s a rush! Being back in school affords more opportunities to do “formal” presentations. Most of my day-to-day presentations are much less formal, and often involve lots of computer mock-ups, so I end up sitting near a keyboard instead of commanding the room from a podium. So, what does one wear for a presentation, and is there any rhyme or reason to the presentation dress code?
First, wear comfortable shoes, especially for the long presentations! It is distracting to see people rocking back and forth or shifting on their feet because of obviously uncomfortable shoes. For women, I would also recommend wearing a slightly lower heel, since you won’t be paying much attention to where you’re walking. For example, I saw one girl’s heel get caught on a slight snag in the carpet, almost toppling her during the presentation. It completely threw her off her game, and for the rest of the presentation, she was looking at the floor, trying to avoid snagging her heel again.
On a related note, wear well-tailored clothing. Again, it’s very distracting to see a blouse that’s about to pop open, or a suit jacket that looks constricting. Make sure you can move in your suit, so that hand gestures and pointing to the presentation materials don’t look or feel awkward. I realize that some people don’t wear suits on a regular basis, so I recommend spending some time “breaking in” a suit to feel comfortable.
Finally, dress the part! I’ve talked before about how I sometimes wonder why we buy into the illusion of “business formal”, but the fact is, we do! You don’t want to be the one person in a room full of suits wearing jeans and a t-shirt. To command authority and improve the perception of expertise, formal business wear is the first step. It also helps you look and feel more confident, which will translate into the speaking and body language areas of the presentation.
Getting dressed for a presentation is just the first step to success, so check back tomorrow for some additional ways to make a successful presentation! Like the outfit? See more details here!
Well readers, it’s been a bit of a bad streak here on the blog, as I was out sick over the weekend and into the earlier part of the week. But, now I’m back, so I’ll be posting something interesting this afternoon… check back for the insights!
It was a big week for me at school, with a presentation in my Marketing class, receiving our mid-term exam grades in Accounting, and hustling to finish a project for my Accounting class. I’m ready for a relaxing weekend, and I’ve found some great links to get it started!
For the bloggers and “real” writers, via Forbes: How to Make Money and Not Be Ashamed
For the techies in the office, via XKCD: Academia vs. Business Webcomic
For the wandering business person: The Exile Lifestyle
For those who need a break at the office: 30 Blogs Every Entrepreneur Should Know
Like the links? Follow me on Twitter for blog posts and links every day!
Versatile Blogger Award
A big thanks to Cassie from Oh Say Can You Say for nominating me for a Versatile Blogger Award! In accordance with the award, I’ll share 7 random facts about myself:
1) I love the arts! I’m into singing, acting, and dancing in musicals, and I love attending live music and art exhibits. My tastes vary across all types of genres and mediums, and my husband and I have been enjoying the art scene in DFW for the past few months. Most recently, we attended D’ Drum and Rite of Spring at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, That One Guy and several open mic nights. If you want to see a few photos of the show I most recently performed in, check out Matt Faus Photography!
2) I am an olive fiend! I’ll try any kind of olive, from kalamata to jalapeno-stuffed, I don’t discriminate. One of my go-to party dishes is an olive salad, made with a mix of black olives, green olives, fresh garlic, celery, and a little bit of olive oil. I tend to want to make one batch for myself, and one batch for the rest of the attendees to share!
3) I love scrapbooking and card-making. In fact, I’ve hand-made our Christmas cards for the last 2 years, and I generally make all my thank-you notes and congratulatory cards. I’m still working my way through my wedding scrapbook, but hopefully it will soon join the ranks with the high school, college, and Europe memories! If you promise not to judge the lack of recent posts, you can check out my short-lived creative website, The Creative Cap.
4) I’m an avid traveler. I lived in Barcelona, Spain for a summer, which enabled me to travel to Germany, France, and Italy for weekend trips. I went to the running of the bulls in Pamplona, and it was totally not worth it! I was at the 2008 Beijing Olympics when the world record for women’s pole vault was broken, and when the US swept gold at a track event. I’ve been to Mexico and Canada, and I’ve got plans to work my way through the rest of the world.
5) I love Mexican food and Italian food, and not the super fancy stuff either! I could alternate between cheese enchiladas or a mixed plate of fajitas, and pizza or spaghetti for most of my life. I’d have to pepper in some steak and salmon, but those are a little rich to eat all the time.
6) I workout a lot. Well, not a lot right now, since I’ve got class and homework most evenings. But, when I DON’T have class, I really enjoy the gym… I was really excited over spring break to hit the gym 5 days that week! Again, I don’t discriminate on my workout, from weights to boot camp to Zumba, I’m willing to try anything once.
7) If you give me a book and no distractions, I will literally read for the entire day. I love murder mystery novels and spy novels… kind of makes me wish I could be an undercover agent! Unfortunately, the time and desire to read are often thwarted by academic reading or busyness.
I’m also supposed to pass this award on to some other bloggers, so I’ll be working on my picks over the next few days!
Thanks again, Cassie, it’s great to promote fellow bloggers!
Different Facets of a Brand
Pants: NY and Co.
Shirt: H & M
Earrings: JC Penney
Flats: Can’t remember, similar
Like the outfit? See more details here.
So, I talked about “Ashley” outfits in my post last Wednesday, and I posted on Monday about how brands are compromised. Looking at today’s outfit, I saw a pretty strong link between those two posts. Strong brands are multi-faceted, and you can’t just rest on your laurels when it comes to branding. Sure, you were the “safest” brand or the “trendiest” brand or the “highest quality” brand yesterday, but what are you doing to further your brand today? You need to branch out from the core trait and make sure some of the secondary traits are well-known to your customers. By doing this, you might just attract a new segment!
Why is this outfit “non-Ashley”? If you look at the details, you’ll see big, bright pink earrings, where “big”, “bright”, and “pink” are all out of my comfort zone. You’ll see immediately that the top is flowy and multi-colored, where, again, “flowy” and “multi-colored” are not words generally used to describe my wardrobe. So, have I gone mad, and completely compromised the “classic” brand that is Ashley? I think not! I think I’ve shown you another side my personal brand, the side that is adventurous, comfortable, and sometimes playful. While it may seem like these aren’t qualities to describe a professional person, they are qualities that help you move up the corporate ladder. For example, are you a team player, willing to get your hands dirty by going to the front lines and serving customers? Are you willing to take on a project that seems scary and challenging? Can you roll with the punches when your flight is late, the shipment didn’t arrive, or the client meeting got bumped up by 2 hours? While my “classic” style projects cool, calm, and efficient, business is not always that way. Business is messy and frantic at times, and you need to project a brand that can handle such an unpredictable environment.
The same is true with companies’ brands. Yes, you want to make sure customers know you offer the highest quality, but you also want them to know that you can meet their needs with competitive pricing, customer service, turnaround time, and consistency. Maybe you’re the most fashionable brand in your sector, but you want customers to know that you offer quality and selection, not just “the latest thing”. Brands aren’t compromised by showing a different facet, but rather when customers have a bad experience. A new facet of a brand should be a pleasant surprise, one that makes you say, “Wow, I had no idea that brand XZY ALSO offered this! I mean, they were great before, with the highest quality, but they also offer a huge selection!”
So which facets of your brand are developing and revealing? Are you putting your best foot forward in new ways, or are you clinging to one brand image that may not encompass its full potential? Like the outfit? See more details here.
When Brands are Compromised
I’ve had a few experiences recently that inspired this post, and I’m sure you’ve experienced the following: It’s a blazing hot day, you’re running late for a long meeting (or class in my case), and all you really want is a nice, cold Coca-Cola. You drive through a fast food restaurant and order your Coke, and as you pull away from the window, you’re ready to take that first satisfying sip. The liquid hits your tongue and it’s a flat or syrupy or otherwise compromised version of your favorite soft drink. This has happened to me twice at the same drive-thru, so I’ve decided to just avoid ordering Coke from that place. While it’s not Coke’s fault, and it’s not really in Coke’s control, their brand has been compromised. So, as one major part of a marketer’s job is to protect the brand, how do we fix this situation?
Absolute control. Let’s talk about control, the kind where every piece of a product is made for and by the company, sold by the company, and maintained by the company. The first company that comes to my mind is Apple. Apple is all about the control, from every piece that enters the computer and every sales person that walks onto the Apple store floor. They are reluctant to give any piece of quality control over to any other company, which makes for fewer opportunities for the brand to be compromised. If you maintain strict control over every aspect of a product or service, you’re much more likely to keep the brand image in place. While control can help you maintain your brand, it can be expensive, and in some cases, can limit growth. It can be expensive because efficiency and therefore lower costs are generally achieved through specialization. The likelihood that a company can efficiently produce every piece of their product puzzle is slim, so complete control will make it difficult to cut costs. Further, complete control can limit growth. This is particularly true in the service industry, since one person may provide the service better than another, and you can’t clone that person. So, if you get to the point where customers only drink coffee made by one barista, or only do business with one teller at a bank, you’ll have a hard time growing. It’s great that you’ve got one or two stellar employees, but you’ve also created a bottleneck if you can’t get the rest of your employees or partners up to par.
It wasn’t me. Another tactic to avoid compromising your brand, is to make your partners or franchisees take the risk with their own brand. This is especially prevalent in the fast food industry, where most of the restaurants display a plaque stating that each store is individually owned and operated, with a local contact for complaints. However, this approach is a little frustrating to customers. I’ve found that Taco Cabana is very inconsistent throughout the metroplex, and it drives me nuts! I get a craving for some enchiladas, and I know there’s a Cabana in close proximity, but then I have this fear that it will turn out to be one of the “bad” ones. You never want anyone doubting the quality of the brand and changing their purchase based on the fear induced by several bad experiences. Technically, Taco Cabana the parent company can claim that it’s the individual store’s fault. But, realistically, Taco Cabana has entrusted their brand to these individuals, so the “it wasn’t me” trick rarely pans out.
Better training and personal ownership. I think the best way to combat brand compromises, is better training and personal ownership. We all know my affinity for Starbucks, and I’ve got to give them credit once more. This company goes to great lengths to train their employees to take personal ownership of each customer experience. They have several weeks of training to ensure that each barista knows how to make a quality product, and empowers them to embody the Starbucks brand. They offer incentives for long-term partners, from benefits to career paths, which helps employees feel more invested in the success of the company. Many large companies offer tuition reimbursement or additional certifications to help train their employees to better represent the company. By giving employees the tools, and empowering them to own the brand personally, companies ensure that their brand experience will be consistently delivered by those on the front lines.
Be “known” for something. Finally, I think brands can avoid being compromised by picking one trait to be “known” for, and make sure that this aspect is always consistent. For example, Nordstrom is known for outstanding customer service, and they instill this sense of service at every level of the corporation. It’s less important to customers for the size to be right or the shipping to be fast, because they know that dealing with the Nordstrom customer service representative will be pleasant. The customer service is always consistent, which covers any mistakes in other areas of the purchasing process. Some companies try to be everything to everyone all the time, and this lack of focus often results in inconsistent experiences with the brand. Thus, one bad experience isn’t viewed as just “one”, it’s viewed as a reflection of the brand as a whole. After you’ve mastered the aspect you’re “known” for, you can begin tackling the other issues. Again, Nordstrom has become known for quality and consistency in sizing, shipping and materials, but only after mastering customer service.
So, how do you deal with a compromising brand experience? Are you putting in the effort to make sure that customers trust your brand, or is it a risky choice each time they decide to try out your product?