Tag Archives: communications

Story Works. Why Don’t Business Leaders Use It?

By Robert McKeeRobert McKee

The Boldt Company builds mammoth construction projects: power plants, hospitals, educational and industrial complexes. But before Boldt can build, it must win bids. In the past, its bid team, working in the time-honored way, pit Bolt’s numbers against its competitor’s numbers. Their win rate was one in ten.

With some coaching, the bid team soon mastered the craft of turning data into drama creating a story-driven bid entitled “Boldt Builds”. This new pitch stars Boldt on a heroic quest for engineering excellence, fail-proof scheduling, transparent costings, sustainability, and worker safety. The Boldt quest climaxes with an on-time, on-budget, owner-ready facility that’s lawsuit-free and aesthetically inspiring. Thanks to Boldt’s new bid-with-a-story strategy, the company’s win rate jumped from 10% to 50%. In this year’s ranking of America’s top 100 construction companies, Boldt vaulted over 20 places.

What’s true for Boldt is true for every corporation in the world today. Beyond sales and bids, business leaders must master the purpose-told story for all strategic tasks, not the least of which is branding. Brand equals reputation. As goes your reputation, so goes your fate. If you don’t control your story and tell it powerfully, others will tell it for you with less than flattering results. Fair or unfair, stories shape corporate futures.

Leading with story is not a new tactic. Study after study documents how well-told stories fuse bonds of interest and empathy between teller and listener that trigger money-making results. Today’s customer-centric firms use the heat of story to weld themselves to their clients. Instead of wasting money on lavish marketing campaigns, media-savvy innovators lead with a story, make their client’s experience a pleasure-filled story in itself, then let word-of-mouth do their marketing for them as satisfied customers take to social media to tell and retell their tale. This is priceless marketing…literally. As a result, story-in-business is all the rage…in the media.

But not in reality. The vast majority of corporate leaders working in this super-competitive world do not tell a story. They strategize with numbers, not narrative. Pinioned by excruciating demands on executive time and attention, few trust story, and almost no one uses it to make critical decisions. Why? Why is story strategy still more theory than practice?

Here are several reasons:

The Tyranny of Time. Data is quick. A flick of an eye to the bottom line–point made. But a powerfully persuasive, purpose-told story needs time. Purpose-told stories do far more than entertain. They trigger an action in the listener: a purchase, an investment, a job well done. A purpose-told story needs talent, imagination and time to conceive, create and hone to its audience. Time is a luxury few executives can afford.

The Impersonality of Data. We’ve all seen public speakers stumble over a story written for them by a speechwriter. They mumble because the tale is so foreign to their heart, their mouth won’t let it out. To tell a story effectively, you must own it, feel it, spill your guts into it. Few executives have stories they care to spill.

Storytelling Naiveté. Because people consume thousands of films, TV, plays and novels, they think they know how to story tell. Because they’ve got a clip or two on YouTube, they think they’ve actually done it. But that’s like thinking that because you sing along to your CDs, you can compose music. Fact: most people cannot tell story worth a damn. More often than not, the “…and then and then and then…” of the self-proclaimed raconteur is not a story at all but just a boring recitation of how he repainted his boat.

The Rhetoric Habit. From junior high through grad school and on into our careers, we have been trained to think and write from the specific to universal. We habitually compose business presentations and reports following the principles of inductive logic. We build data, statistics, quotes and evidence point-by-point to a proof. But, as philosopher David Hume pointed out, inductive logic simply reflects the human penchant for taking relatively limited experiences to unreliable conclusions. This, nonetheless, is how we were trained; induction is our habit.

Business Envies Science. Science turns inductive logic into the Laws of Nature; business longs for an equally rigorous method to create the Laws of Commerce. Because storytelling behaves like art and not science, it seems too wobbly to trust.

Fear of Embarrassment. Ever tell a joke and nobody laughed? Telling story always risks embarrassment and who wants that?

The Prudence/Passion Debate. Prudence conserves money; passion risks it. Have you ever noticed that when companies start losing market share they suddenly fixate on prudence and obsess over competition and compliance, whereas companies on the rise embrace passion and focus on complexity and change?

On the other hand, undisciplined passion greases the track to bankruptcy. For that reason, the money-conscious personality distrusts emotions for fear they warp decision-making. The prudent executive might use an anecdote to open a meeting with a laugh, but calm must be restored before taking a vote. Inversely, detachment also distorts decision-making. Avoidance of emotion equals avoidance of humanity, and is therefore ruinous to leadership.

When the business minds steps back to take an all-inclusive view, it realizes that to make sense of this chaotic world, it needs a balance of both factuality and narrative. Data recites robotic recordings; only story speaks in a human voice. Data is meaningless until interpreted in story form. Stories radiate the deeply felt meanings that equip entrepreneurs to sell ideas, manufactures to sell product, providers to sell service. Despite all the reasons listed above, the executive must overcome resistance to story and learn how to use it. Because, if you can’t tell, you can’t sell.

Robert McKee has given TRUE TALK: STORY-IN-BUSINESS lectures to organization as diverse as Microsoft, Nike, Hewlett-Packard, Time Warner, BOLDT, Law firms, Incoming MBAs, Think Digital Festival, Wells Fargo Bank, in other marketing and advertising festivals and agencies to develop their evolving narrative game plans. He is the only screenwriting guru whose teachings have spread beyond the screen and stage to influence all story forms from corporate publishing to journalism. For more information, please visit www.mckeestory.com or contact us at main@mckeestory.com.

Cutting Edge Technologies All Meeting Planners Must Embrace

By Joe Heaps & Dave ReedJoe Heaps and Dave Reed

When you ask most meeting planners what kind of technology they typically utilize at their events, they’ll reply with things like “using a big screen for main stage events” or “PowerPoint projectors for every breakout session.” Those things are important, but they are just the tip of the iceberg for meeting planner technology.

Unfortunately, many meeting planners (aside from those who specialize in the tech industry) shy away from technology. They may be familiar with some of the new technologies available, but they don’t utilize them consistently and end up missing out on important opportunities. If you don’t embrace and use technology in every event you plan, your attendees will notice and will find ways to use the technology without you. Therefore, the sooner you embrace your technological options, the better all your events will be.

Listed below are a few of the technologies to consider using as you plan your next event. Some are best when used before the event to help you prepare so everything comes together smoothly, and others are designed to be used during the event.

3 PRE-Event Technologies to Consider

  • Interact with your speakers in a Google Hangout. Communication with the speaker(s) about the event’s goals is critical. Good speakers will tailor their message to meet your needs. But rather than just communicate with your speakers via phone and email, interact with them before the event (and even have them interact with each other) to ensure everyone understands the meeting’s goals. With a tool like Google Hangout, you can have up to ten people on a video conference. Use this to build rapport between the speakers and the entire event team so your conference projects a truly unified and cohesive image to the attendees.
  • Use social media to promote the event. Tweet about the upcoming meeting on Twitter and add status updates about it to Facebook and Linked In. Additionally, ask your speakers to provide a pre-event video where they talk to the attendees about the upcoming event and what to expect from their session or keynote. Post these videos all over your social media to generate publicity and encourage more people to register.
  • Make your event materials mobile friendly. Stop handing out printed event materials! Instead, make your program and handouts available online as a PDF download. This enables attendees to have all the materials available on their tablet or smart phone, and they don’t have to worry about losing pieces of paper. Also, create a mobile app for your event that includes access to all the meeting’s handouts. It’s easier and less expensive than you think!

5 DURING-Event Technologies

  • Internet access is a must! Many hotels offer free internet access in the lobby or in the guest rooms, but they don’t offer it for free in the conference areas. As a result, many meeting planners decide not to offer internet access, believing it’s not necessary. Big mistake! If your attendees can’t access the internet, post a tweet, or even check their email, they’ll leave the conference area to do so…and they may not return. If the hotel is going to charge you for internet access in the conference area, then find a sponsor to pay for it. Remember, a great event starts with attendees being able to have access to their lives via email, web, and social media.
  • Video Conferencing/Webcasting can expand your reach. Sometimes people want to attend your event but they can’t for various reasons. Rather than lose their registration, why not have them attend the meeting virtually? They’d still pay a registration fee, but they’d attend via a service like Telenect or Webex. You could also use these technologies to forgo the physical meeting and conduct the entire event virtually.
  • Garner audience participation by implementing an audience response system (ARS). Keeping the audience awake during presentations is one thing, but getting the audience to participate is a whole different ball game. Encourage your speakers to go beyond using the old “raise your hand” or “talk to the person sitting next to you” participation techniques. Instead, have them create a conversation with attendees by using some sort of audience response system (ARS). The best known ARS is the voting keypad, such as what’s available with Turning Technologies. There are also some emerging new apps like Join Speaker that don’t require a special device. Rather, the attendees use their smart phone or tablet to interact. Turning passive audience members into active participants is key since it creates value for the attendees and for the conference. Simply put: it increases the ROI.
  • Encourage attendees to use Twitter during the meetings. Create several Twitter hashtags—one general one that applies to the industry or organization, as well as individual ones that are specific to each presentation, breakout session, or keynote. A hashtag is simply the hash (#) symbol followed by a word or acronym used to group related tweets. Make these hashtags known and encourage attendees to use Twitter for their note taking (utilizing the hashtags as they tweet). Since Twitter only allows 140 characters per tweet, people will need to concisely summarize the content, which is actually a benefit. According to researchers, summarization helps boost retention.
  • Keep smart phones on to promote texting. Rather than ask attendees to power off their smart phone, encourage them to leave it on and text the presenter as he or she is speaking. This will dramatically increase audience participation. For example, leadership expert Cheryl Cran asks her audiences to text her messages while she delivers her content. Audience members then text her questions and she answers them throughout her keynote and training events. This approach takes away the fear attendees may have of publicly asking a question.

Power Up Your Meetings

To create a successful event—one that encourages conversations and interactions between event organizers, speakers, and attendees—you must use technology. Whatever technology you choose to implement, take the time to prepare by knowing your audience and your expected event outcomes. Then, choose the technology that will help you reach your objectives.

Remember, the ultimate goal of each meeting is to influence your participants. Therefore, don’t use technology simply because it’s exciting or cool. Use it wisely, based on your objectives, and make sure it’s part of your long-term strategy. When used correctly, technology will enhance your event, making both you and your organization successful.

Joe Heaps and Dave Reed own eSpeakers.com, a 14-year-old technology and marketing company providing the speaking industry with the tools to do business online. Their newest product, eSpeakers Marketplace, launches summer 2013 and will be the largest directory of professional presenters available online. With real-time availability, verified reviews, online contracts and digital payment, putting the right speaker in front of your audience will be easy and safe. eSpeakers believes in helping meeting planners find the right speaker, with the right message… every time. For more information on eSpeakers Marketplace, contact Joe Heaps at jheaps@espeakers.com, 888-377-3214, or visit www.espeakers.com.

Five Tips for More Effective Helpdesk Resolution

By Martha Ciske

Have you ever locked yourself out of an account with a misspelled password? Perhaps you have undergone the agonizing moments when you think you have lost a document or watched the once perfect formatting go from really good to really terrible all in one press of the spacebar? Every day business professionals face these situations and logically would then dial their company helpdesk for assistance. Or would they? If your helpdesk is not perceived as helpful, you employees may not be calling at all, or only calling when there is absolutely no other way around it. They might actually keep the number or email of a particular person in the IT department to call because they don’t want to have to deal with the helpdesk at all.

If your helpdesk team has great technology skills, and less than good communication skills, they may be hindering and not helping your flow of business.

1) Document: This time intensive and tedious task of writing down who called, why, and what the resolution was is the bane of many helpdesk staff. On the end user’s side, frustration mounts when they find themselves saying things like, “I called when this happened this twice before. X person fixed it. Why don’t you know how?” This creates distrust in the abilities of your helpdesk staff, and word spreads like wildfire. Unfortunately, many technical staff have had the experience of poorly managed IT departments which use incident documentation numbers to track and rate staff productivity. I.e. The number of “tickets” equals the worth of the staff member. While arguably statistics from ticketing systems could indicate performance, documentation is the primary way your helpdesk staff can track issues and provide consistent knowledge back to users in an efficient manner. If you don’t have a documentation system or method, get one. Emphasize quality of documentation, not quantity. Make sure everyone knows how to use it, even those not on the front lines of user support. Review the new additions and solutions periodically at your staff meetings.

2) Build a Non-Technical Vocabulary: Some of the most brilliant people at your organization may not have the same vocabulary as your helpdesk when it comes to technology. They might refer to their remote access as “dialing in” or their mouse as a “clicker” or any number of other outdated, or perhaps just descriptive phrases when they call seeking help. No matter what “flashy thingy” they are calling about, they need to be communicated to with concepts they understand and treated with the exact same urgency as a caller who uses all the right words.

3) Get the Big Picture: Many of the mundane tasks of helpdesk can easily be diagnosed, but if your helpdesk isn’t listening, they might be solving many little tasks to the detriment of the person calling who is trying to accomplish a big task. Say for example a secretary calls and needs to know how to get a list of contacts. Your helpdesk says to print the contacts from outlook. But they didn’t ask what the purpose for getting that list was. If the secretary needed to share that information to put into a marketing email blast system, putting them in a .csv would be a lot more helpful. Either the secretary won’t call back because she didn’t get the help she needed, or there will be countless more calls to actually resolve what she needed to do. Take the time to get the big picture. Understand the purpose of what the user is trying to do. Providing the right solution once will always be more helpful than providing partial solutions that might not work towards the users end goal.

4) Create Clear Expectations: Providing your end users clear instruction on how, when, and where to contact the helpdesk and what to expect can help temper frustration for users who are not receiving the service they expect. On your company intranet or phone list, clearly state the hours of helpdesk operation and provide information on how to best contact the helpdesk for their particular issue. Should they call? Email? Enter a request on a webpage? If you offer after-hours support, provide clear instructions on how to initiate that service. Is it sending an email with a particular subject line or calling a toll free number to leave a message? If possible include this information in your employee manuals and as part of on-boarding training. Create a poster to stick in the copy room or break room.

5) Focus: When your staff is assigned to the helpdesk, no matter if it is a rotation or a fixed position, they should focus on the helpdesk. It sounds simple, but often helpdesk staff are tasked with other technology related work in their “down time.” Not only does this divide the attention and intentions of the staff working, but it can lead to poor responses when users do call for assistance. Make sure any duties other than responding to assistance requests are not creating competing priorities or valued above providing effective support.

Improving the way the helpdesk staff communicates within their department, to the end users, and creating clear expectations of service can help improve your helpdesk’s effectiveness and the effectiveness of your business’ employees.

Martha Ciske is a legal technologist in Orlando, FL. She has made a career of being a translator of technology and resident nerd for businesses, professionals, and non-profits. She accepts professional contact via LinkedIn.

Gut Feelings, Not Emotions, Rule Communications Today

By Pat HeydlauffPat Heydlauff

Communications are becoming exponentially more complex and instantaneous with each passing day. In fact, information about an event such as an Olympic Gold Medal win in London reaches Beijing, Los Angeles, Sydney, Miami and Branson, Missouri simultaneously. There is zero time delay between continents as the information, good and bad, swiftly passes through the electronic communications universe and social media.

Some might say communication today is all about speed, perhaps even warp speed, but that is far from the truth when communicating a specific message to your workforce. A new aspect of communications is being overlooked in the workplace – feeling. Feeling is not to be confused with the traditionally accepted definition of feelings such as happy or sad, but rather it is about listening to your gut feeling, personal intuition or internal knowingness.

On the surface, it is easy to confuse gut feeling with feelings when communicating, but it’s critical to understand the differences. You can no longer tell the 21st Century worker everything is going to be okay when they can feel internally that something is wrong. You can no longer use platitudes and flowery talking points to drive home a message when their instincts and surrounding circumstances are internally screaming just the opposite.

With the phenomenon of the social media explosion has come the blessings of speed and instantaneous access to information. It is the speed of the information that also contains the curse. For example: is the information true or deliberately deception? Is it a proper representation of fact, a deliberate deception or simply an uninformed opinion?

Once social media entered the communication equation all rules changed.  Unknown to most, two major communication influencers appeared – brevity and discernment. Every communication and marketing plan in the world needs to adapt to these two important shifts or be left floundering and gasping to be heard in the morass of the social media clutter.

Brevity – If you cannot tweet every major message you wish to convey to your workforce in 140 characters or less, it is too long. If what you’ve tweeted cannot be re-tweeted as you’ve presented it without misinterpretation then don’t send out the original tweet. The new communication rule is – people hear in sound bites and tweet-able statements. Anything longer gets lost in the morass of information clutter.

Also, tweet your information before it becomes a rumor. Most people will believe the first tweet they receive about a subject and the follow up re-tweets rather than checking on its authenticity and legitimacy. Be first, say what you mean and be brief.

Discernment – Because of all the identity theft threats, password warnings, computer viruses, painful social media attacks and online scams, people have become much more discerning and wary. They tend to use their internal knowingness to evaluate whether they are being scammed or being told the truth. They have developed their sixth sense so to speak, that uneasy feeling in the pit of their stomachs that tells them something is wrong or don’t believe what is said. It kicks in that intuitive trigger to fight or flee.

This is a very different kind of “feeling” from that of being happy, sad, angry or satisfied. Your workforce can feel if you are telling them the truth, whether you are rolling out a new plan that will be successful or asking for their help in making the company grow. They can also tell whether you are being sincere or just giving them an empty pep talk to get them to do more with less.

Social media’s blessing is that the recipient of the information is much savvier and is receptive to receiving it if presented in understandable small sound bites and will happily share it with others if they believe it to be true. Social media’s curse is that the same message can be rapidly disbursed in a negative way if it was not clear, concise or believable.

These new rules of engagement must be incorporated into any company’s communication and marketing plan. The 21st Century workforce has an internal feeling compass that you can no longer ignore. The more important the message, the shorter and more concise it must be.

All messages can be followed up and expanded upon in face-to-face meetings, teleconferences and a myriad of other electronic forms of communication. However, your initial message must be brief, accurate and truthful to be effective, engaging and most importantly, result in the outcome you desire.

Pat Heydlauff speaks from experience. She works with organizations that want to create an environment where employees are engaged, encouraged and involved, and with people who want to be in control, anxiety-free and confident. She is the author of the forthcoming book, Engage: How to Lead with Power, Productivity and Promise and Feng Shui: So Easy a Child Can Do It. She can be reached at 561-799-3443 or engagetolead.com.

The Rule of Thirds: How to Truly Listen

By Jeff BealsJeff Beals

“Let a fool hold his tongue and he will pass for a sage,” wrote Publilius Syrus more than 2,000 years ago in ancient Rome. Such wise advice from ages ago has never been more relevant. In the modern professional world, we are suffering from a listening crisis. Actually, it’s a “lack-of-listening” crisis.

Whether your role is executive, managerial, sales, customer service or anything else, it is critically important to your success that you listen.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” wrote Stephen R. Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Too often we get that order mixed up. We focus on being understood as opposed to understanding those with whom we live and work.

Ask any of the greatest salespersons or sales trainers what it takes to succeed. Chances are that “ability to listen” will be at or near the top of the list. Success in sales requires you to understand your prospective client before you can do any sort of pitching, convincing or persuading. The smart salesperson asks carefully crafted questions designed to drill as deep as necessary to find out what makes the prospect tick. Truly listening to those answers allows a salesperson to customize, or at least portray, the product or service in such a way that creates maximum appeal.

By the way, “truly listening” doesn’t mean you act like you’re in one of those cheesy “active-listening” workshops. Many people who have completed such workshops look like they are listening actively – they have an intense look on their faces, nod their heads and occasionally paraphrase what the person is saying – but they still don’t retain any of it. Active listening is much more about understanding than it is about facial expressions and head-nodding.

Super executive Lee Iacocca, former CEO of Chrysler, once said, “I only wish I could find an institute that teaches people how to listen. Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk. Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions.”

Iacocca’s statement reminds me of the old saying, “God gave you one mouth and two ears; use them proportionately.” In other words, we should listen twice as much as we talk. I call it the “Rule of Thirds.” Two-thirds of the time you spend talking with a colleague, client or a prospect should be focused on the other person. One-third of the time is focused on yourself.

“No man ever listened himself out of a job,” said former U.S. president Calvin Coolidge. Simply put, listening is one of the top skills required for professional success. But be careful you don’t over-do it. Some people become so committed to good listening, that they become 100 percent “interpersonal givers.” In other words, they spend three-thirds of their time listening to other people. If you do this, people will tend to like you, because you allowed them to talk about themselves. However, if you fail to reserve your third, they won’t know anything about you or how your business can help them. Listen twice as much as you talk but don’t forget to pitch something about yourself.

Why is focusing on the other person so important? The answer is simple: most people are rather self-absorbed. Want proof? Here it is: I am my most favorite subject. My friend is his most favorite subject. You are probably your most favorite subject.

Saying “I am my favorite subject” sounds awful, but it is not necessarily a selfish or narcissistic thing to say. After all, I spend a lot of time working on my favorite subject. I have invested much in my favorite subject. The success or failure of my favorite subject determines the direction of my life and has a big impact on the people I care about. I sometimes lay awake at night worrying about the things my favorite subject has screwed up. Most people are the same way.

If you show earnest, sincere interest in my favorite subject, I can’t help but like you. I can’t help but feel some sort of connection with you. Showing sincere interest by truly listening disarms colleagues and clients and paves the way for your success.

You might be wondering to whom you should listen. Who is worthy of your attention? Who deserves your best listening skills? That’s easy: everyone. You never know who has the right information for you or knows just the right person you need to meet.

Sam Walton, the late founder of Wal-Mart, once said, “The key to success is to get out into the store and listen to what the associates have to say. It’s terribly important for everyone to get involved. Our best ideas come from clerks and stock boys.”

When it comes to listening, remember to do it sincerely and remember that everyone counts.

Jeff Beals is an award-winning author, who helps professionals do more business and have a greater impact on the world through effective sales, marketing and personal branding techniques.  As a professional speaker, he delivers energetic and humorous keynote speeches and workshops to audiences worldwide.