Quickie reviews of four books I read (or re-read) recently …
“SPIN Selling,” by Neil Rackham. I’m always reading up on sales, an area where I look to improve all the time. I can’t recall how “SPIN Selling” landed on my reading list recently, but what caught my eye was the amount of research put into validating these methods. The author carefully dismantles the tried-and-true techniques of selling and offers an alternate approach of quickly solving problems for potential clients. Aff. links: Amazon | iTunes
“The Ernst and Young Business Plan Guide,” by Brian R. Ford, Jay M. Bornstein and Patrick T. Pruitt. How many times have I counseled people to write a business plan? I’ve offered them resources and classes in town, as well as several books including this one. I had been meaning to read it for years, but finally took it on this month. The authors are thorough in mapping out what entrepreneurs and veterans will need in writing an impressive and effective business plan. I didn’t need all the details on manufacturing and capitalization, but the rest has come in handy. Aff. links: Amazon | iTunes
“The 4-Hour Workweek,” by Timothy Ferriss. This book receives a regular shout out from me. I re-read it again recently, and plan on reading it once a year. It’s that good. Learn how to cut out the least productive habits and build a business requiring little maintenance. A couple of weeks ago, I bought a copy for a friend who was looking for focus in her life and her work. This was a necessary first step. Aff. links: Amazon | iTunes
“The Flinch,” by Julien Smith. More of a Kindle single than a full book, the author pens a long essay on taking chances. It’s a quick read, as more than half of the “book” is comprised of teaser excerpts from other books. Aff. link: Amazon
Need more reading suggestions?
“Business books for your reading list”
Screenshots of Voice Dream Reader: left, reading screen;
right, list of books and articles.
I made a 10-hour road trip earlier this month super productive. No, I didn’t watch 10 webinars or hold a really long conference call. I finally knocked out two business books, one of which I’d been wanting to read for a couple of years.
Usually, I’d search the library ahead of time to find audiobooks, either digital downloads or CDs. But I’d need to spend at least half an hour prepping the audio files so my iPhone could play them at double-speed. It’s almost always worth it, since a 10-hour audiobook takes only 5 hours. (Sadly, CD players don’t have playback speed control.)
But I found an app to help my audiobook addiction, Voice Dream Reader [aff. link].
When I outlined how to triple your reading, I showed how the free service Instapaper allows me to save all the articles I want to read in one place. A bonus feature is that the Instapaper app will read any article aloud, letting me listen to them at regular or double speed in the car or on walks.
Sadly, the only hurdle in Instapaper has been other file types, such as PDFs and ebooks.
Adding Voice Dream Reader made it possible to listen to audiobooks simply by importing the PDF or epub files. This is especially helpful when the audio version doesn’t exist, because the book is out of print or never offered an audiobook.
Yes, instantly turn any ebook into an audiobook!
It is easy to import files of all types, including Instapaper articles. Voice Dream Reader has a few advantages over Instapaper. First, it automatically plays the next article in the queue; with Instapaper, I always had to bring up the list of articles to play the next one, which isn’t much fun while driving.
Second, it maintains most recent position within an article; Instapaper would sometimes forget where I had left off, meaning a few minutes of scrolling to find my place, which again isn’t much fun while driving.
Third, not only does it have optional male and female voices but also a customizable pronunciation dictionary. I’ve been able to tweak words, proper names and acronyms for a better listening experience.
Like most e-readers and apps, Voice Dream Reader does not read DRM-protected files, but does include the following note on its features page:
Books in Kindle, iBooks, Nook and most online bookstores are protected by DRM and cannot be loaded into Voice Dream Reader. It’s possible to remove DRM, but it violates your contract with the online bookstores.
For me, having an app that reads aloud anything and everything has been a huge help. I’m looking forward to taking deep dives into my extensive reading list every time I hit the road.
• • •
If you need help with communication,
contact me today for a free consultation …
Part 3: For advanced marketers
Create 25 newsletters. Send them punctually.
For monthly publishers, it’ll take 2 years. For weekly publishers, about 6 months. And daily publishers will knock it out in a month.
That gives us a starting point in understanding metrics and building momentum. Let’s move on to advanced tactics.
The goal was never to have a million subscribers. It’s much better to have a thousand engaged followers rather than a million strangers who wouldn’t notice if the newsletters stopped coming. A thousand subscribers have brought me tens of thousands of dollars in revenue over the years.
To get to that thousand subscribers requires strong consistency, both in newsletters and in website content. Newsletters maintain an open line of communication, an opportunity to speak with each person one on one. Blog content builds search traffic and site equity, giving marketers a bounty of material to share on many channels.
Consistency helps a site and a brand stand out, even in a crowded competitive industry. Being helpful to readers, being timely with information, being easy to use and quick to respond makes for a compelling resource. Of course people will want to subscribe to a newsletter from a trusted source. It doesn’t hurt to be witty or personable or anything but bland.
Anyone struggling with consistency may need the help of an editorial calendar (download our template) or professional freelance writers or editors (contact me for recommendations). Pros handle everything from email newsletters to annual reports to catalog copy and blog posts.
Building a following quickly requires savvy choices in outreach. Asking people to subscribe is the most basic way, but so much competition, we need better incentives and pickup lines to woo would-be customers.
Try the following:
- Bribe people. Offer a free book/ebook or 30 percent off the first order. Show readers ways to save time or money. Have a drawing for a $50 Amazon gift certificate or Apple Watch. Do it right, as I have done, and hundreds of people will jump on a new list.
- Use popups. Marketers worry about annoying visitors. Personally, I hate sites that ask me on every single visit. That’s why I use the WordPress plugin OptinMonster, made by my friend Syed Balkhi. I set it to pop up once every hundred visits. Other settings allow for popups based on user behavior, such as when she’s about to close the browser page. Try it!
- Set up autoresponders. Many mailing list services (including our Y’all Connect sponsor MailChimp) offer this feature. Having several emails that welcome new subscribers allows marketers to fulfill incentives (such as a link to a free ebook), give a tour of a blog, provide resources that hook newbies and offer fans a chance to share the newsletter with others.
- Be exclusive. One special factor about my mailing lists is that they are exclusive. Subscribers receive the royal treatment: first look at posts, first chance at tickets and the best opportunity at prizes and discounts. Some marketers share their email newsletters with everyone, but I’m not a fan of that approach. (I do love when my subscribers forward my emails to others and share them on social media, but that’s because it’s fan-based publicity.)
Once a larger list is in place, marketers have more options available to test and grow.
One option is to divide and conquer. Segmenting allows marketers to drill down on mailing lists: customers vs. fans, or by age, geography or offer (subscribers via an offer, a purchase, a contest or a social media channel). Have newsletters and updates reach the right audience each time. I even use a dynamic segment every week, resending newsletters to people who didn’t open it within 48 hours … boosting my open rate to 33.6 percent.
Another option is A/B testing. The ability to test more than one subject line, offer, headline, photo or layout can make a huge difference in opens and clicks. Some services automate the process, ensuring that most subscribers receive the more popular version after early testing.
Focus on the basics before attempting these advanced tactics. (Or contact me to get started today.) A mailing list built properly will bring great rewards to companies and to readers, but it requires smart deployment and consistently good content from the start.
• • •
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Part 2: For intermediate marketers
Email marketers ask people to subscribe to their lists and then contact them regularly (at least once a month). Beginners who haven’t done either of these tasks should visit Part 1.
At the intermediate level, we want to build a sustainable engine. Like blogs, I’ve seen too many email newsletters sputter and die within months. Don’t let that happen to your company’s precious marketing outreach.
I want you to work on these two tactics at the intermediate level: measuring open and click rates and creating an editorial calendar.
Regular readers know how much I care about tracking numbers. It’s important for you to know how effective your emails are, and tracking metrics should always be a part of your digital marketing.
Fortunately, most email providers have such metrics baked in. For example, I use MailChimp, a sponsor of my Y’all Connect annual conference, to send thousands of emails each month. I know that my emails usually have a 20 percent open rate, meaning that 20 percent of subscribers will open it at least once.
The industry average is 19 percent, so my goal is to beat that every time. Now you know exactly how many people bother to open your lovingly crafted email, and who they are.
(See why it’s not worth it to add subscribers without their consent? All you’ll get is a lousy open rate and possible fines.)
Your email might be simple and straightforward, with an image, some text and a button or link to click (you are providing a call to action, right?). Or your email might have multiple stories and links. Email metrics help you understand what subscribers click.
Understanding their behavior helps you provide better content, craft better pitches and sell more widgets. The higher your click rate, the more likely people are following your directives, whether to click to your site or elsewhere.
My click rate hovers between 1 and 2 percent, which leaves a lot of room for improvement with an industry average of 2.15 percent.
MailChimp has a great up-to-date table of benchmarks for open rates and click rates.
The click map is another tool to study user behavior.
Click on the click map to see larger version.
You can improve open rates by experimenting with:
- subject lines;
- delivery time and day;
- consistency in timing and frequency;
- great content inside.
You can improve click rates by experimenting with:
- wording of calls to action;
- newsletter layout;
- buttons (like the one at the end of this post);
- teasers vs. full stories;
- understanding what your audience craves.
I also track other email-related statistics. For example, how many people reading my latest post came via my email newsletter? How many sales and queries did I generate through this week’s newsletter?
Working with your email newsletter falls under my three-step plan for all aspects of digital marketing: 1. Experiment. 2. Measure. 3. Adjust. A spreadsheet, by the way, is an excellent way to record all of this data you’re tracking.
Long-term planning requires an editorial calendar. This tool helped me plan content at every media outlet I managed and will help you organize topics, writers and deadlines.
Brainstorm topics for future email newsletters, then organize them chronologically in a spreadsheet. Set aside a few hours to write your newsletters for the month or the quarter; batching can be a huge time-saver. Coordinate with colleagues who have roles in publishing the newsletter (writer, editor, photographer, designer, boss).
And coordinate your emails with your other marketing efforts: ads in traditional media, events, blog posts, social media campaigns, webinars and anything else.
A great editorial calendar keeps everyone in sync and allows for changes as marketing plans and audiences evolve. The hours invested in putting it together saves time and money down the road.
Download my free template to start building your own editorial calendar for email newsletters:
By working on metrics and an editorial calendar in advance, your email newsletter will grow in readership and engagement over the coming year. This is where you start to leave your competitors behind.
Parts 3 coming next week, with advanced tactics.
• • •
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Part 1: For beginners
Email marketing is one of the best ways to build and maintain a great customer base. But for one reason or another, companies are reluctant to use this effective tool as part of a marketing strategy.
They are pulled to the bells and whistles of social media, or let their personal annoyances at email newsletters dissuade them.
Two millennial entrepreneurs built the Skimm, a daily email newsletter with bullet point news, and amassed 1.5 million subscribers in 3 years. Your brand should be sharing as much interesting news as possible on a regular schedule.
They didn’t reinvent the mass email — but they did infuse their product with style and a distinct voice.
I want you to accomplish two tasks at the beginner level: collecting email addresses and sending the first email.
Collecting email addresses is super easy. Sign up with a mailing list provider. I recommend MailChimp, which is quick to set up and sponsors my annual Y’all Connect conference.
Have your Web developer take the code snippet from MailChimp to install on your website. This will create a form so visitors can subscribe. Don’t worry about getting their name and address and blood type: The more blanks they have to fill out, the less likely they are to click Subscribe.
(We’ll talk about incentives and bribes and pop-up forms in Part 3.)
Use a simple call to action: “Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter for the latest …”
Do not dump your customer database into your email newsletter subscriber list. Absolutely do not do this. You want to play by the rules, specifically the CAN-SPAM Act, which means allowing every single person to opt in to your list. Can you imagine just how many spam emails you’d receive if every company you’d ever spent a dollar with decided to add you to all their mailing lists?!
Put a link to subscribe in your email signature. On your business cards. On your brochures. In Facebook ads. On your product packaging.
At events, have a signup sheet for people to fill out, or have a fishbowl to collect business cards with clear signage on the intent.
Some companies have been collecting email addresses for years without sending a single email. Talk about wasted effort.
It took me months to send the first email, and it went to 39 people. I had to start somewhere.
Now, my emails go to nearly 40 times as many subscribers. I’ve sent out more than 400 weekly newsletters, with another 100 coming in the next 12 months.
I had to start somewhere. You have to start somewhere.
(If it’s been awhile since you sent an email, get on that right now.)
Once you get a few subscribers, start writing that first email.
Make it personal. Make it intimate. Write it to me and only me.
(I’m still working on this myself.)
This is your opportunity to talk to your customers and fans like real live human beings. Many companies worry about “spamming” their customers. The ones who feel spammed will stop reading and eventually unsubscribe. That is a very good outcome. (On occasion, I’ll invite subscribers to unsubscribe.)
I want to reach people that want to hear from me and learn more about communications. If that’s not their thing, no worries.
The best emails (and voicemails, texts, calls, letters, DMs, etc.) come from people and brands about which we are most passionate. You already know which of your hundreds of daily emails you open right away, regardless of subject line, and which ones you might skim or ignore. Make your weekly or monthly email as compelling as your favorites.
Many of your subscribers will be reading your emails from their phone screens. Make sure the mobile experience is a good one.
Send yourself a test copy. Check the links, check the spelling, check the subject line, check the date. (Trust me, I’ve screwed up all of those things and more.)
All that’s left is to send it to your list. And repeat the process the next day/week/month.
You are now on your way to building a great mailing list and expanding your marketing to one of your best customer groups.
Parts 2 and 3 coming soon, with more action steps at the intermediate and advanced levels.
• • •
I hope you’ll look at my newsletter info in action
in my free weekly email …
Working solo is interesting. You don’t have to put up with your coworkers’ weird tics, but you also don’t have anyone to chat with over coffee and shared misery.
I make my own fun, though like many things, I often forget to do so.
Marketers, what’s fun about what you do? What brings you smiles and giggles in your daily work? Let me know in the comments.
I’ll get us started with a few things I find fun in my different duties.
• Surprising others. It might be a nice note or a small token of gratitude. Or simply a fun reveal to an audience. I just like making people happy when possible.
• Staying up late writing a cool blog post. I do write a lot of posts, but it’s rare that I get so into it that I’m in the zone. It has to be the right combination of topic and energy.
• Teaching others to blog. As an editor and a coach for much of my career, I love being able to guide bloggers and writers in improving our craft.
• Gossip. Heck, I ain’t perfect. But if I’m with a trusted someone, I will gossip like crazy.
• Negotiating. I like numbers, and I like haggling. I’m terrible at poker, but I’m pretty good at working with others on securing a fair deal.
Don’t forget to share your answers in the comments.
The clumsily named Birmingham Blogging Academy blog has reached its 400th post! What a day, what a milestone.
I haven’t marked many other milestones here, except for occasional anniversaries. This site’s first post was on March 14, 2009, and I created it to talk about blogging and my company.
Since then, it has grown to include topics on social media, my speaking engagements, marketing, best practices in communication and this and that. It’s really the first site I’ve focused on one specific area.
Readers can keep up with new posts not only through the site itself and the newsletter, but also through RSS, the mobile version, a Kindle subscription, a WordPress subscription (below) or the new Apple News app.
I’ve had only one guest blogger all this time, Rachel Callahan, who has been kind enough to write two posts, one on graphics and another on Pinterest statistics. I should really recruit more bloggers, huh …
I’m marking another milestone on my first ever blog, Wade on Birmingham. We’re in the middle of a 26-part series on the Future of Birmingham, which includes an ebook launch, at future.wadeonbirmingham.com. This special project marks 10 years on that site.
In tossing around statistics, sometimes the most mundane make the biggest impression. A couple of weeks ago, I told my cocktail companion that I had eaten six Pop-Tarts for breakfast that morning (a cheat day). She looked on in disbelief. For the record, they were frosted brown sugar cinnamon (toasted twice and a little burnt) with me adding peanut butter.
I didn’t get there overnight, and clearly 6.5 years for 400 posts isn’t any kind of speed record. It saddens me that most bloggers won’t reach the 400-post mark, in 6 or 60 years. But if blogging is the right vehicle for sales, marketing or customer service, I encourage beginners to go for it.
Thank you to the more than 25,000 visitors to this site! I’m grateful for their time and their comments and their support.
I can’t wait to see what the next 400 chapters bring …
I launched a new blog series and ebook on Friday! The Future of Birmingham is a look at the transformation of a city and what happens next. Both are free, so I hope you’ll read and share at future.wadeonbirmingham.com.
The project is a collaboration between me and 20 contributors. It marks the 10th anniversary of my first blog, Wade on Birmingham.
I’ve created several blog series and one ebook before. In putting it together, I picked up a few ideas on what to do differently next time …
1. Avoid making launch day on Friday afternoon. A better time would’ve been either Monday or Tuesday, but I wanted it to line up with my Oct. 6 anniversary date. C’est la blog.
2. The last 24 hours isn’t an ideal time to explore new publishing platforms. I was trying out Amazon’s CreateSpace, hoping the time I put in on designing the print book with that free site would save time in putting together the ebook for the giveaway. Nope.
I ended up going back to Plan A, which was to slap it together in InDesign. Fortunately, I can update the ebook whenever I like, and I do have quite a few photos to add.
3. Persistence pays off in securing contributors and a sponsor. I didn’t land a sponsor, because I wasn’t nearly persistent enough. Having a company pay to be a part of the project would’ve added some clout and promotional power, and also added some easy options for marketing and production. That doesn’t mean someone still can’t step forward as sponsor (contact me for details).
But I did land 20 co-authors, which is awesome! I had 21 contributors on “The Social Media Stars of Birmingham” (their submissions were simply answering a couple of questions, and they had no idea it was going into an ebook) and 13 contributors on my last blog series, Birmingham’s Best Eats.
4. Ask and be straightforward. You were going to ask me how I landed all those great writers and photographers, right?
In early August, I came up with a dream list of nearly 50 collaborators, almost all of whom I know. I emailed them about the project, the licensing, the word count, the deadline, the benefits (I fibbed when I told them no compensation — I’ll have a small token for each of them within the next few weeks) and the planned presentation. Some jumped right in, some had questions, a few graciously declined … and many simply never saw the email.
Having great collaborators sparks word of mouth and social sharing. They can be proud of their well-crafted essays and show them off to their readers, their fans and their loved ones.
Next time, to land 30 contributors, I’ll start a little earlier with a larger list. I’d really rather have more voices than me writing multiple pieces (and mostly at the last minute). Birmingham’s Best Eats was done completely by the team and not me.
5. Have several cover ideas, just in case. In thinking about the cover, only the most important image of the whole project, I landed late on “Complex Vision,” the recently restored sculpture on the exterior of UAB’s Callahan Eye Hospital on Southside. It’s a beautiful piece by Yaacov Agam, but it’s challenging for me as a designer in incorporating text … you know, like the title and author.
I wanted to avoid Vulcan on the cover (plus, that gets into licensing issues). “Complex Vision” felt right as a metaphor for the series and book. But I’ll probably tweak the cover quite a bit, time permitting.
6. Edit for readers, not writers. One of the conditions to writers was that the blog version would be 500 words or less, while the ebook version could be up to 2,000 words. I didn’t make the writers submit two versions, though.
I went in knowing that I’d be editing through pages and pages of first drafts. This has been one of the joys of my career, though I did not leave time for much collaboration on edits. I cut, I trimmed, I slashed.
The writers who have worked with me before know my process and my skill with tightening copy. Those who haven’t worked with an editor (or with me as an editor) may have been surprised at first, but hopefully understood that a finely honed essay elevates them in the readers’ esteem. We shall see.
7. The book has many functions. First of all, it’s an effective email-building tool. Second, it’s a companion to the blog series, offering more content and portability for those who want to read it offline. Third, it’s something special for the readers and the fans, a freebie to reward their kindness. Fourth, it’s a promotional tool as a digital item, since it will also be available (soon) in Kindle format on Amazon. Fifth, it will also be a print book (soon), allowing for all kinds of giveaways and campaigns.
It’s up to me to be creative in its distribution. I can’t wait!
This has been a fun project to mark 10 years in blogging. I hope you’ll stick around for more online adventures, and grab a copy of my book, too.
Each spring for the past 3 years, I’ve gone on a promotional speaking tour for Y’all Connect. I speak at a number of groups across the Southeast for free, giving 30- to 60-minute talks on communication issues.
I’m extending that to this fall. The gospel of Y’all Connect depends in a large part on my time on the road.
It works out great: I like to give presentations, and groups need a great speaker.
I’m getting a little help putting together my itinerary this time.
Reading through “The 4-Hour Workweek” [aff. link] again, I’m ready to put a virtual assistant to work. (I’m going to re-read this book once a year, because it’s that helpful in advice and strategies.)
My assistant will compile a list professional groups related to marketing, public relations, business development, social media, blogging, technology and advertising across Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle. She will reach out to the groups and book as many dates as we can cram onto the calendar.
I’m also going to have her help with blog research and other tasks, but this is the first step in getting a longer tour under way while leaving me time to prepare presentations and work on other projects.
If you need a speaker for a group meeting or a company function, let me know. I’d love to help your organization solve its most pressing communication conundrum.
Want to book me as a speaker?
Contact me today!
Looking for a gig that takes you inside Alabama’s biggest blogging and social media conference? Have I got a job for you …
I’m looking for a Volunteer Coordinator. All the details are in the post on Y’all Connect, including the application.
(Hint: It helps if you follow instructions.)
Don’t miss out on this opportunity to serve guests and make this Birmingham event a smashing success.
I asked for your biggest fears in blogging, and y’all came through.
This week’s fear: “Looking stupid and writer’s block.”
1. Looking stupid is part of the human condition. We are all stupid at some point, and others will see it and point and laugh.
It’s not my favorite thing in the world, but I’ve survived a surprising amount of derision, snickering and trolling. It hasn’t killed me yet.
If you blog, someone will think it’s stupid and you’re stupid and might even tell you so. I think many businesses are stupid not to blog, if that helps any.
I can tell you that your fear of looking stupid is mostly in your head. It’s the same fear that dissipates the moment someone goes onstage or jumps out of a plane or tells a stranger “I love you.” We take the leap because the fear of not taking that risk has bigger potential consequences.
Take the leap, and blog for all your worth. You will find that either you were stupid not to have started sooner, or that you look stupid and you really don’t care.
2. Fear of writer’s block can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Think more and more about having less and less to say, and you might just make it a reality.
Writer’s block happens to just about every writer and blogger I know, including me. It’s rarely permanent, and it can be overcome with a few strategies:
- Keep a list handy (on paper or your smartphone) of topic ideas, phrases and inspirations.
- Write posts in batches. When you build momentum in writing, crank out several posts, and edit them all later.
- Brainstorm with colleagues, friends and fans.
- Read. A lot. Good writers and bloggers stay abreast of their favorite topics and subjects outside their comfort zone.
- Take a walk. Anything that gets the blood circulating is a welcome distraction and can knock you out of a creative funk.
I come from a journalism background, so I’ve always found that the best cure for writer’s block is a looming deadline. Publish or perish.
Tell me about your biggest fear in blogging,
and I might answer it in a future post.
More in our Blogging Fears series.
I asked for your biggest fears in blogging, and y’all came through.
This week’s fear: “Getting started.”
I often admire risk takers and spontaneous action. They leap before they look, and most of the time, they’re fine.
I’m deliberate about most things, which might make me a great hedge fund manager but a terrible date. (For the record, I’m an exceptional date.)
At conferences, I’ll meet people who about to launch a blog. I’ll see them again a year later, and they’re still about to launch that blog.
As my friend Jen Barnett occasionally reminds me, “Finished is better than perfect.” She wrote it on a note I keep tucked in one of my planning folders.
We may fuss over the design or the first post. Or the editorial calendar or the mechanics (email collectors, social media channels). Or the blog name and URL.
Those often end up as excuses rather than steps to publishing the first post. I love planning, but coming from a background in print journalism, I also love making deadline. The next day offers a fresh start, but not publishing was never an option.
For most people and most blogs, not publishing is the worst outcome possible. No post means no audience, no momentum, no feedback, no starting point, no accomplishment. Publishing a first post to no audience means no risk. It’s hard to screw up in front of an empty auditorium.
Blogging comes easier with practice. It seems more difficult with hesitation. Make the choice to make the leap.
Tell me about your biggest fear in blogging,
and I might answer it in a future post.
More in our Blogging Fears series.
Listening is a wonderful skill that I hone every day. I think I’ve been improving since making a pledge 29 months ago to work on this tool.
It calms me. It helps me focus. It shows the other person that I care.
A bonus is that careful listening allows me to be a better observer of communication skills in the real world. Sadly, many folks could use some major improvement there. It can be frustrating for me to not be heard. And it happens a lot, through incomplete email replies, distracted parties texting on their phone, outright shunning.
I took on three areas where I wanted to improve my listening skills. I’ve made progress, but I have a ways to go.
1. Zero interruptions. So far, this has been fairly easy. When face to face with another, that person has the floor as long as she wants. Really, the only part where I’ve had difficulty is on the phone. It’s always been a guessing game for me, either interrupting someone mid-thought or pausing so long that the she ends up asking if I’m still on the line.
2. Repeating back what the other said. I don’t do this very much, so I need to work harder on this tactic. It’s simple, it’s quick, and it reassures the other person that I have heard her message correctly.
3. Asking good followup questions. I’ve never had a problem in this area. Years of training as a reporter coupled with natural curiosity means I always have more questions. I’ll have great conversations that go for hours.
One area that sometimes challenges me is focus. When someone is talking, I find it difficult to keep my mind from wandering. The longer someone talks, the more likely I’ll drift.
A technique to combat this tendency is to repeat in my head what the other person is saying. I don’t remember where I picked up this tip from a few years ago, but I’ve tried it sporadically. It could help me focus better on listening to someone rather than merely pretending to listen.
With listening, I’ll always start with me. It saves time, it eliminates most misunderstandings, and it helps me communicate more effectively.
• • •
More communication tips and tricks
in my free weekly newsletter …
We are imperfect beings. We know how to listen, how to talk, how to communicate.
But we fail in those basic tasks all the time. It’s a wonder we haven’t gone extinct.
A company working toward better customer service, or more leads, or a competitive advantage has only so many avenues to try. All it takes is one employee to screw it all up, or to win the day.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how companies communicate with me, as their consultant, as their customer, as their friend. They’re doing a pretty terrible job, but all of you knew that.
You’ve all had to deal with the same issues. Heck, you may be causing those issues with your own folks.
We must have open lines of communication. And we must use them, even if only occasionally.
Some companies are old school in communication: They advertise when they need to get the word out, and they use traditional channels to broadcast the message. If you want something, you must call or email or drop by during business hours.
They might not update their website. They might not return your call or email. And they might carry that indifference to newer channels: social media, blogs, texting.
My biggest frustration often comes from lack of response. At its root, that’s more than a communications problem. No reply may mean indecision, or a corporate structure in which only a select few are empowered to decide, or a lack of incentive for service.
These are not easy issues to fix, as you know.
I can help build the channels appropriate for a company’s needs. I can unclog the lines of communication so they’re used efficiently and effectively.
But first, we must acknowledge the real problem: We are imperfect beings. We know how to communicate, but often fail at it nonetheless.
• • •
I have more ideas on better lines of communication
in this week’s newsletter. Subscribe now …
In speaking to audiences around the country, I’ve used slide decks in most of my presentations.
But I overdo it.
I make pretty decks, and then sometimes I put up the wrong deck. Or go without when the projector fails.
I practice with them, but I also rehearse without them.
Presentations aren’t about the speaker or about the slides — they’re about the information. I’ve been working more lately on my storytelling and delivery, how I can improve my stage presence, not with better visuals, but with better technique.
So let me explain how to make an awesome deck, and how to live without it.
How to make an awesome slide deck
1. Write an outline. I’ll usually have three main points, and back those up with at least two sub-points each. And an introduction and a conclusion.
2. Boil each line of the outline down to one or two words.
3. Look for one image to fill the entire slide. (In 2009, I found Mack Collier’s decks to be inspiring, so I emulated his style.) I typically use photos with Creative Commons licensing for commercial use, easily found on Flickr. Here’s a search for “turkey” for CC images.
4. Build the deck in PowerPoint with plain transitions. I don’t rely on the gimmicks of Prezi or fancy transitions.
I don’t use video clips: I find they wreck momentum. I do onscreen demos as needed, but I realize that any number of things can go wrong with them (no wifi, projector flicker, unexpected results).
5. I rehearse with the slides and a remote. And I rehearse without slides, just in case.
Why you don’t need your awesome slide deck that you worked very hard on
1. Communicate as though each word carries meaning, each sentence builds an idea. Be deliberate in choosing words and sentences to create a dynamic and meaningful talk.
2. Speak directly to each person in the room. We do this through eye contact, planted feet and careful attention to audience response (interested, sleepy, bored, confused, excited, distracted).
3. Very few concepts require slides or a screen: hands-on demos, diagrams or charts that require a lengthy explanation. Painting pictures with words fires up an audience’s imagination, rather than passively viewing a slide.
4. Some speakers use slides as a crutch, to remember where they are in the presentation (guilty) or to have the audience focus on the screen rather than themselves. But the speaker should be the star, able to carry the spotlight and the fickle attention span of five to 500 people.
5. The very best speakers work hard to deliver a captivating presentation through words, tone, gestures, expressions, pauses and pacing. The rest is window dressing.
Great presentations and speeches can have slide decks, may even be enhanced by them.
But great presenters and speakers know that success depends on audiences understanding new ideas and information, no matter how they’re packaged.
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