Climbing the Corporate Ladder with Executive Presence

Technical Manager, Dan Vicente shares a story of someone close to him. Through hard work, constant learning, and developing her executive presence, this woman rose from an entry-level Associate to Vice President at a leading global financial services firm. In watching her grow and succeed, Dan realized that “executive presence is a skill that can be developed and nurtured.”

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Crafting a Brand and Creating a Movement: Advice from Tough Mudder Founder Will Dean

Logos are symbols. They are powerful reminders of a brand. But even the most loyal consumers don’t get tattoos of the logos of their favorite product. In different cultures, however, tribes get tattoos to symbolize their connection to each other and their shared identity. As I stood with some friends at the starting line of a Tough Mudder race in the summer of 2013, I was surprised to see, on the calves or shoulder blades of some of the other participants, a variety of Tough Mudder tattoos. Some wore the Tough Mudder logo, the image of a runner silhouetted on a large background of flames. Others included a list of the dates and locations of the Tough Mudder “challenges” they had completed. Talk about brand loyalty!

Will Dean, the founder of not only Tough Mudder, Inc., but of a unique culture of camaraderie, recently completed, It Takes a Tribe – Building the Tough Mudder Movement. It’s an inspiring story of creating an experience that draws out the best in people. Dean crafts the book the way he crafted the company – not around standard corporate milestones of meeting revenue targets and expansion goals, but around the stories of individuals who overcame obstacles, remained innovative in the way they faced personal challenges, and crossed the finish line exhausted, but somehow stronger than when they started.

Jay Sullivan: Who is your target audience for It Takes a Tribe, and what are you hoping readers take away from reading it?

Will Dean: There are two primary audiences for It Takes a Tribe, which are so large in and of themselves that it’s probably easier to say, “It’s for everyone.” The first audience is Mudder Nation – the 3 million participants, spectators, and volunteers who have experienced the power of the community firsthand. In some ways, it’s a “thank you” to the incredible tribe of people that propelled the Tough Mudder movement.

The second group is anyone interested in the power of community. When I started Tough Mudder, I wanted to create an event where success was achieved by supporting each other, rather than surpassing each other. This philosophy began and ended with our culture at TMHQ. I believe It Takes a Tribe provides insight on how to foster that type of community, especially at a startup.

Sullivan: How much pressure do you feel to maintain the brand when so many people are wearing a tattoo of your logo? Do you think people get the tattoos because they love Tough Mudder, or because they love what their experience at the event says about them?

Dean: A Tough Mudder tattoo is a commemoration. It isn’t just a logo of a company; it’s a symbol of the individual’s achievement. To be sure, it represents Tough Mudder’s mission and brand, but it is also about what Tough Mudder represents to that individual. The experience of running Tough Mudder is transformative for many people and the tattoo is a reminder of how they felt crossing the finish line.

Sullivan: What drove you to start your own company rather than apply your creative talents to an existing entity?

Dean: I’ve always had the desire to build something; I set up three business while at school at the University of Bristol. When I ended up at Harvard Business School, it was about acquiring the skills, confidence, and grit to pursue that full time.

Sullivan: One of my favorite lines in the book is, “I think entrepreneurship is often what is left when you have ruled out all other safer and often more lucrative options for yourself.” Can you comment more on that? What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

Dean: The motivation to be an entrepreneur is often boiled down to the cliché that you must, above all, follow your passion. If I hear people say things like ‘I want to set up a ski company because skiing is my passion,’ I can’t help feeling they are likely to be disappointed. If they run a ski company, they are going to spend an awful lot of time in an office, talking about skis. They would probably be better off, if they really wanted to follow their passion, to get a job where they have lots of spare time and can live near a mountain.

When entrepreneurs describe their passion, it is not often about the product or even the environment they have created (though they are proud of those things). It is about the way their business has proved that their original idea about making the world a slightly more enjoyable and efficient place was right all along. The products themselves were just a vehicle for delivering that idea.

I wanted to create something that brought people together, uniting them through the shared experience of overcoming obstacles. Tough Mudder was my vehicle for that. When I talk about Tough Mudder now, I am describing my passion for the Tough Mudder movement, which is rooted in this philosophy.

Sullivan: Only one of the book’s nine chapters has “Innovation” in the title, but I found advice and examples around being innovative throughout the book.

Dean: That’s correct. The real answer to that notion of “fostering innovation” is that it must be fundamental to everything you do, not only at the micro level but also at the macro level; “innovation” is really another word for growth.

Sullivan: What advice do you have for any company, large or small, or any individual, about being more innovative?

Dean:

  1. Be resilient – The obstacles on a Tough Mudder course are nothing compared to the obstacles we faced in building a business.
  2. Never stop evolving / don’t be complacent – We get tons of great ideas for new obstacles and new approaches from participants.  But the subtext to their recommendations is, “OK that was great. Now what’s next?” We have to keep coming up with something new or we lose our edge, and our spirit of creating a challenging environment.
  3. Deprioritize – Be willing to shift your priorities as needs arise.
  4. Challenge convention – Ask “why not?” frequently.
  5. Don’t ignore data, but don’t make it your only reason for doing something

Sullivan: Very helpful. Thanks.

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Engage Your Audience Using Visuals

Did you know almost 85% of the information your audience remembers comes through their eyes? To make an impact and leave a lasting impression, we suggest you use visual aids during your informative presentations.

Here are the top three reasons to use visuals:

Your audience will remember more

Between 80 and 85% of the information stored in your memory gets there through your sense of sight. Choose images that support your message and connect with the audience.  In addition, avoid using text-laden slides.  One compelling graphic or phrase per visual will help the audience remember what you said.

You control the agenda

Using visuals helps you control your agenda. Often during a presentation, you will get sidelined with questions and tangent topics. Using visuals will help you stick to the agenda and control the audience. After you respond to a question, you can use your visual to transition back to the presentation and reinforce your main message.

You won’t forget what you need to talk about

Not only do visuals help you control the agenda, but they also ensure you won’t forget what you want to say. Visual cues help you recall information with ease. Each image should represent one thought. Then, as you look at the visual, you will naturally elaborate on that thought. If you forget a point you want to make, you can glance back at the image to refresh your memory.

So remember, the next time you are going to present, be sure to include visual cues to help you direct your agenda, remember what you want to say, and in turn help your audience remember your message.

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Are you listening to me?

My wife and I sat across from each other at a restaurant for the first time in years. With four kids, professional careers and a calendar full of activities these moments tended to be rare. So, during our first kid-free Saturday night out on the town, we sat and connected with our 6×3 inch electronic friend! Our night of talking turned into a back and forth game of, “Are you listening to me?”

Realizing the wasted opportunity, we developed an “amnesty” box for our devices. In the military, an amnesty box is used to discreetly collect contraband. It’s a way to forgive all sins for having prohibited items. At mealtime, parties or holidays, we place our devices in the “amnesty” box. The emphasis, to remain in the present moment, focus on real people, and listen. Effective listening skills are hard to maintain when you are distracted by the relentless dings and beeps.

As a manager or leader, how do you effectively listen to your employees? Do you multi-task when on the phone? Or do you periodically check your device while your colleague or client sits two feet away from you? An important job as a manager or leader is to be an effective listener. Here are two easy behaviors that can help you improve your listening skills.

Use body language

When having a conversation show your counterpart that you are listening. Free yourself from distractions and maintain eye contact to acknowledge the person in front of you. Nod your head and use encouraging statements so they feel heard.

Ask questions

Ask questions and confirm that you hear them correctly. By asking questions, whoever you are talking to will know that you are invested in the conversation. When you confirm that you’ve heard them correctly, you avoid any misunderstandings.

Relationships are forged by real people interacting with one another, not mindlessly connecting to a device. Device distractions lead to mistrust and miscommunication. Fingertips hitting keyboards and constant text and email notifications send a message that you are not listening. During your next phone or face to face conversation place your electronic devices into your “amnesty” box. Close the screen, turn off your ringers and focus your energy and attention on the person you are speaking with. Doing this will build mutual trust, mutual respect and ultimately deepen your relationship with others.

Next time you find yourself distracted by your device at every buzz and ding, place it in your “amnesty” box. You will be surprised by how much you hear.

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Five Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Launch Your Product

You had a great idea for a product. Your prototype got great reviews from focus groups or even from a crowdfunding campaign. Now you’re planning for mass production, ready to launch your own website, prepping for massive online sales, and practicing poses in the mirror for your picture on the cover of Forbes.

Whoa!

Having something to sell is the easy part. Getting it into the hands of consumers is sometimes the more complicated step. E-sales may make marketing easy, but that can be deceptive. Ben Wong is the Head of Startup Launchpad at Global Sources. He helps startups understand the distribution channels they need to leverage, and the different challenges they need to address to get their products into the hands of paying consumers in an offline setting. Global Sources runs the largest electronics sourcing trade show in the world.  This October, more than 63,000 distributors and retailers from around the globe will wander the aisles at the Asia-World Expo in Hong Kong, stopping — or not — at 6,000 manufacturers’ booths. Among those will be about 300 booths where ambitious, hopeful, sometimes naïve, startup companies will beam with pride, burst with anticipation, and sweat with anxiety as they demonstrate their products and hope for a chance to launch a product, start a business, and scale to meet demand.

Ben’s job is to make sure each startup has the best chance to succeed.  The New Jersey native and graduate of Dickinson College in Pennsylvania has spent the last ten years in Asia. He and I met in his bustling Hong Kong office recently to discuss how he helps the next generation of business leaders understand the marketplace.

Jay Sullivan: Hong Kong has long been the gateway between China and the rest of the world. You must feel like you are at the epicenter of the tech boom, getting products in between two major markets, while getting to see the latest ideas becoming reality.

Ben Wong: There is definitely a palpable energy coming from the people I meet. They’re all excited. It’s the ones who are also a bit nervous that I know will have a better chance of success.

Sullivan: What’s the biggest misperception people have about marketing a new product?

Wong: A lot of startups think they can advertise their new product on their website and the sales will start pouring in. But only 10% of consumer spending happens on the web, and much of that is with time-tested products, not new technology products. With new products, particularly tech products, consumers like to touch the product before they buy it. They want to feel it, play with it, try out how it works, and see if it works for them. Therefore, startups have to understand the customer journey required when it comes to new products and brands.

Sullivan: How do you impart that knowledge?

Wong: We run a series of mini-events at no charge for startups looking to understand the marketplace. Many of the people we deal with are engineers. We help them become well-rounded business people.

Sullivan: What do you cover in these sessions?

Wong: We cover topics like understanding how to protect your intellectual property, how to price your product, what distribution channel is best for you, how you might need to educate the different elements of that channel on how to market your product, how you might have to package your product differently for different segments of the market.

Sullivan: It sounds like you’re running a mini-MBA program for creative types.

Wong: Sometimes it feels that way.

Sullivan: What tend to be the biggest takeaways for your audience?

Wong: There are five elements of getting a product to market that I think are most important.

First, how are they pricing their products?

Many hardware startups price their product without understanding the complexities of sales and distribution channels. They start with their “bill of materials,” what it costs to make their product. Then they factor in what they want as a profit margin, and they think they have determined their price. But it doesn’t work that way. The distributor who picks up the product from the manufacturer’s warehouse needs to add 40% to the cost of the product. The end retailer will add another 50-70% because they will be the ones giving up shelf space and paying for the sales people to learn about the product and spend time explaining it to consumers. Now your product that cost $8.00 to make, and that you thought you could sell for $12 and make a bundle, will now be hitting the market at closer to $20.00. You have to ask yourself if your product is worth $20.00 to the target consumer. If the answer is not a solid “yes” then it’s time to look at your production costs and look at ways to lower your costs because as a new brand, many distributors and retailers will not budge on their minimum markups required.

Sullivan: That’s a radical change to the expectation of the typical hardware startup.

Wong: And that’s just the start. The second step is to help people understand the elements of the supply chain. For your product to get traction you need to educate the “early mass,” the first experimenters who will try your product. That education will happen in offline settings, in brick and mortar stores. There are two avenues – specialty stores and big box retailers. Specialty stores require an in-store presence that educates consumers on how a product works. Because I deal in the tech sector, many of the products I see are part of the Internet of Things. Everyone is very excited about it, but it’s still new to all of us. We all have a learning curve. Having someone or a point-of-sale display to introduce us to a new product is very helpful and, for some, very comforting.

For startups, however, specialty stores are just a stepping stone. The target market, no pun intended is big box stores.

Sullivan: Landing on the shelves of a Walmart or Target must feel like validation of long-held dreams for most manufacturers.

Wong: Yes. And it only happens one of two ways.  First, a product has to be in a specialty store for a year or two and have developed enough of a reputation that it’s known in the marketplace. Second, if the idea of the product has caught on, and other manufacturers are making a similar product, there is now a substantial enough market for the big box store to carry it. When was the last time you were in Walmart and they only had one option on a particular product?  It doesn’t happen. Their ideal is to have five-to-six manufacturers making the same product.

Sullivan: That makes things tough for startups.

Wong: There are exceptions in the tech space. Stores like Best Buy, Brookstone and Target have dedicated sections for “new tech products.” If a new product can get there, it’s got a great venue.

The third principle involves developing a marketing budget for off-line distribution.

If you have a revenue goal of $100,000, you need to set aside $10,000 as an offline marketing budget, in part because you have to be ready to market in different locations with different approaches. Your distribution channel is counting on you to market the product in-store in your host country. The distribution channel gets your product to the end location, but the marketing is up to you. Some stores might give you shelf space, which means you need to have great packaging, because that’s all you get to market your product. Other stores might offer one square meter of floor space, which means you have to develop a cardboard stand to showcase the product. Some stores might allow you to have a person doing a live demo. You have to be ready for all of this.

Sullivan: It seems like there are a lot of variables.

Wong: There are, undoubtedly. But if you don’t get your great product in front of the consumer, and cut through the clutter that’s out there, you won’t succeed.

Sullivan: You mentioned what’s expected in-country for any startup. What about global distribution?

Wong: That’s where the supply chain gets even more complex. The fourth thing we help new businesses understand is how to market internationally. The first key is, you have to manage quality control on a large scale for mass production. You are managing the quality of not only the finished product, but of the components you are sourcing globally. The quality of the stuff coming into your facility is as important as the quality of the stuff going out. You also have to manage the quality around packaging. You have to have different packaging for different distributors. For instance, Walmart and Best Buy have different packaging requirements. If your product arrives and it’s not packaged the right way, they won’t even accept it. So you even have to consider how you will store and manage the return of product to your warehouse, because product returns are going to happen, whether because the product was never accepted, or because it didn’t sell.

Sullivan: That’s a lot to consider when all you wanted to do was introduce a new product to the world.

Wong: And that’s the kicker. The last thing we help new manufacturers understand is how to avoid becoming a one-hit-wonder. They’ve just created their first product and they’re so proud. And then we say, “Hey, that’s great….So, what’s next?” Retailers want to know what takes that shelf space when interest in model 1.0 wanes. Will you be offering different colors? Different sizes? New features? Some startups are disheartened by that question. The ones who are inspired and challenged by that question are the ones I know will have a better shot at success.

Sullivan: Lots to consider, and all very important. Thanks for the advice.

Originally published on Forbes.com.

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How can Exec-Comm help you?

At Exec-Comm, we pride ourselves on finding the best possible learning solution for each individual client. Recently, we were able to provide a global financial services firm the ability to assess their Financial Advisors through a combination of live instruction, digitally recorded role plays, and in-depth feedback. Through innovation and our ability to stay ahead of technological trends, we were able to offer our learning platform, ECLearn, to meet these needs.

Live instruction

The first part of our solution was to deliver a customized seminar. Although centered on core communication skills, we modified the learning experience to incorporate language and scenarios that they would encounter in their environment.

Live Role Plays

The second part of our solution was the inclusion of live, actor lead role plays. Our actors would go to the client site and engaged the Financial Advisors in 20-minute role plays. The actors are aware of the competencies that each Financial Advisor needs to demonstrate. The session is digitally recorded for review.

Role Play Assessments

The final part of our solution included adding digitally recorded role plays to our learning management system, ECLearn. Once all the videos were uploaded, our instructors viewed the videos and filled out virtual assessments for each participant. Once the assessments were complete, the participant, as well as management, were able to view the assessments with feedback, tips, and best practices.

How can we be helpful to you and your team? Reach out today!

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Grit And Gumption: The New Success Profile

Mid-July may seem like a slow time at work for some of us, but this is the ramp-up time for interview season for many industries, particularly those in professional services who are vying for the most coveted candidates from business and law schools. It’s important to think about how to position yourself for an interview. It’s equally important to think about what the interviewer is looking for in a top-quality candidate.

Lisa Simpson is a member of the Management Committee at Orrick, a global finance, energy and tech-focused law firm. She also leads the firm’s law school recruiting efforts. We met recently to discuss how candidates for any high-end job can position themselves best during interviews.

Jay Sullivan: Why is finding the right talent so difficult?

Lisa Simpson: There is a shrinking pool of talent – over the past several years we are seeing that fewer of the strongest students are seeking law degrees.  Those that do get their JD aren’t seeking roles at the large law firms the way they used to, or they are planning only a short stint at those firms. All this means that the firms are fiercely fighting to position themselves best for the top talent.

Sullivan: This sounds like good news for the candidates.

Simpson:  On its face, that may seem so, but in fact, it presents other challenges. For instance, in the law firm world at least, the hiring period for on-campus interviews keeps moving earlier on the calendar and getting more condensed. As a result, both firms and candidates are forced to make decisions very quickly in an atmosphere that may not permit deliberative and comparative thinking at the level all would hope. Because the firms have to decide sooner, so do the candidates. It makes it harder for the candidates to pick the offer that’s right for them.

Sullivan: What does the “right” offer mean?

Simpson: Lots of organizations provide the opportunity to do interesting work at a very high-quality level. But each has its own personality. So, it’s not just about the work. You want to find the place that feels right to you. A place where you can envision yourself working every day and enjoying not only the work but also your time with your colleagues and teammates.

Sullivan: How will I know after only a few short interviews if the place is right?

Simpson: It’s about authenticity in the interview process. The firm hopefully is giving you a full picture of what is important to it and ideally providing tangible examples that show what the firm is saying is not just rhetoric. And the interviewee should aim to bring a similar honesty, or “genuine self” to the interview. If you’re interviewing at a law firm, for example, and you really do love the law, such that even issues of civil procedure get you excited, feel free to let your full nerd side show. We love to see candidates that can speak enthusiastically and intelligently about legal issues. If you are looking for a place that allows you to direct your own career, an approach that we at Orrick call agile working, you should be sure to let the firm see that initiative. At the end of the day, if what is important and exciting to you aligns with what is important and exciting to the firm, it is likely a match.

Sullivan: What do you personally look for in candidates?

Simpson: Applicants’ priorities have changed. Likewise, our hiring criteria have evolved. We used to emphasize the traditional indicia of achievement – grades, extracurricular activities, clerkships, honors, undergraduate achievement and involvement. We still look at all those things, but we have placed new emphasis on more amorphous characteristics. We studied our most successful associates and consulted with outside sources that track success in the professional services industry.

Sullivan: What did you find?

Simpson: We found that we need to look for true success indicators. First, we look for evidence of grit – the ability to bounce back after disappointment or when things go wrong . Employers still want to see high grades and academic achievement, but we also want to see that you have achieved those credentials by working hard and overcoming adversity in some way. We want to know that you can thrive and overcome when things don’t always go as planned.

Sullivan: That’s certainly important, since early in our careers we all have those moments when we stumble, and we have to know how to get back up. What comes after grit?

Simpson: We also look for teamwork and social intelligence, specifically, the ability to work well in teams and make connections with people. The law as a discipline is about concepts, and the application of theory to facts. But the law as a business is about connecting with other people. Can you intuitively understand how to assess and inquire appropriately about a clients’ needs and concerns? Then, can you explain the law to a client, or to a judge or jury, if you happen to be a litigator?

Sullivan: And beyond those communication skills, what’s next?

Simpson: We also find that initiative is key. Candidates should show they can go above and beyond what was asked and show that they really understand how what they are doing fits in and contributes more broadly to achieving the clients’ goals. Those are the people we want to hire and retain.

Sullivan: None of this sounds unique to the law.

Simpson: Agreed. I think these same criteria are important for anyone in a sophisticated advisory role.

Sullivan: In short, it seems candidates should be striving to demonstrate in an interview that they possess grit, emotional intelligence, communication skills, and a sense of initiative.

Simpson: Yes. Candidates that possess those attributes and can convey them convincingly and genuinely, with examples from their personal experiences, are going to have an advantage both in our interviewing process and likely throughout their careers.

Sullivan: Very helpful advice. Thanks.

Originally published on Fobes.com.

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What is Executive Presence?

We’ve all heard the term “executive presence”. But is there a consensus about what it means?

Here is what we think:

What does "executive presence" mean to you?

View Results

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Posted in Communication Skills, Exec-Comm Team, Executive Presence, Leadership Skills, Life Skills | 2 Comments

Take Fake News By The Reins

We’re drowning in information, inundated from every angle. Like many people, I’ve become a news junkie, unable to stop tuning in. My homepage is set to CNN.com, but I’m frustrated that the default banner is “BREAKING NEWS.” Isn’t all news “breaking?” If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be “news.”

How do we sort through the clutter to recognize the truly important? More importantly, how do we differentiate truth, from propaganda, from outright lies. In the last six months, we have not only been introduced to, but become used to, two new phrases in our vocabulary: “fake news,” and “alternative facts.” “Fake news,” as I understand that term, is a strategic fabrication of lies disseminated widely to create a false impression. “Alternative facts” seems more tactical, and more personal: I’m more selective about the information I choose to listen to so that I only hear what I already want to believe.

How do we, as adults, learn to think more critically, and more independently? More importantly, for those of us responsible for younger, more impressionable minds, how do we teach others to be more discerning? To listen with a critical ear? To challenge what someone else’s words are trying to do to us?

For more than 20 years, Vivian Vasquez of American University, has worked in the classroom helping teachers guide young children toward being more critical learners. Her goal is to help all of us learn to listen more critically to what goes on around us. She believes that listening with a healthy degree of skepticism won’t make us more jaded, but will help us understand more deeply.

I had a great conversation with her recently.

Jay Sullivan: Dr. Vasquez, what’s the chief problem with understanding the world around us these days?

Vivian Vasquez: We all have our go-to sources for information – FOX or CNN, the Times, Post, or Journal, our mom or even the person who cuts our hair.  We go, not only to what’s familiar, but what makes us feel comfortable. That limits our exposure.

Sullivan:  What should we be doing instead?

Vasquez:  We should be challenging ourselves to look at opinions we don’t expect to agree with, and to compare the different language people use to express the same ideas. When the next big news story comes out, flip back and forth between the websites for your favorite network and a channel you wouldn’t normally be drawn to. Become conscious of the way the same stories are positioned on one media outlet vs. another. Pay special attention to the verbs. You might be amazed.

Sullivan:  I started doing that after the election. Being a New Yorker, my default was always to go to the New York Times.  After the election, I thought the best way to understand where other people were coming from would be to read what they’re reading and listen to what they’re listening to. Now, I routinely go to the websites of papers in the Midwest and South. In particular, I read the editorials. It’s been enlightening to see how others have a different take on the same facts.

Vasquez:  Now go a step further. When you read the paper, you know the Op-Ed section is pushing a certain point of view – that’s its role. Now go to the regular headlines. Look at the verbs they’re using. Even when they are purportedly just conveying facts, they’re doing so through a particular prism. Ask yourself, “If I had written the story, would I have used the same verbs? Taken the same angle on the story?

Sullivan: Once I have exposed myself to different points of view, how do I read each with a critical eye?

Vasquez: There are two key steps to reading more critically. I work with teachers to help them encourage students to ask some core questions when they are reading something. Ask yourself, “What is the writing trying to make me feel? What is it trying to do to me? What reactions am I having emotionally, cognitively, physically? You may find yourself getting sympathetic or angry as you read something. Was that the writer’s intent? If so, was the writer being manipulative, or are the facts of the story innately endearing or infuriating? I call this step “reading with the text.”

Sullivan: This sounds a lot like another hot topic these days – mindfulness. In mindfulness training, we’re asked to be conscious of our breathing, of the sounds around us. Being conscious of our breathing helps us control our breathing. You’re suggesting that being conscious of how a piece of writing is impacting us allows us to take control of the information.

Vasquez:  That’s right. Being conscious of the clutter allows you to manage how it impacts you, to sort out the unimportant, or at least to slow down how we react to it.

Sullivan: Once I know what impact the text is having on me, what’s next?

Vasquez: After we read with the text, we need to read against the text. We should weigh the different perspectives before deciding what to take away from the text. Writers create their own contexts based on what they’ve written, and by what they’ve left out. They create the scenario, so they get to develop the plot and the characters the way they want. For most of us, our ideologies are invisible to us. Step one is to be conscious that we are hearing things a certain way. Step two is to ask ourselves why we hear things that way. That level of self-reflection and self- analysis is important to understand how to hear others more clearly.

Sullivan: What are some easy steps we can take to achieve that?

Vasquez: It’s all about the questions we ask ourselves.

Who is the source?

What do I know about the source?

Who benefits from a particular angle on the story?

Who is disadvantaged?

Whose account of the story is prevalent? Whose is missing?

How could it have been told differently?

Who benefits or is disadvantaged by different tellings?

These are just some of the questions we can ask ourselves to become more mindful, more conscious of, and more critical about the news we experience.

Sullivan:  So I know the news is having an impact on me, and then I reflect on the context of the speaker. “Is she or he a part of a larger organization that has a broader agenda?” What comes next?

Vasquez: Next comes the “so what” piece. After we hear the voices around us with a more critical ear, how do we then act differently out in the world? Well, we’re part of the story too.  As we engage in discussions with others, as we debate current events, as we interact with those around us, we are doing so having been influenced by the news we’ve processed. If we listen both more broadly and critically, and then reflect consciously on how those stories are influencing us, we are better able to put the stories in context. It takes the edge off the anxiety.  It helps us then communicate our ideas more clearly, with greater intention, and, hopefully, with the desired impact. By becoming more conscious of how others communicate, we improve our own ability to communicate. We become part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

Sullivan: Not a bad result.

Originally published on Forbes.com.

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Guiding Quick Decisions

Snap decisions are made all the time. Whether they’re about how to begin tackling a new project, or choosing between a burrito or bowl, many of our decisions are made in an instant. We all make these snap decisions because we are confronted with so many choices each day. Knowing that your peers, clients and coworkers also make snap decisions, it’s important that your messages are sharp and easily understood.

Reaching the word count on an essay has become an art form and a highly cultivated skill for most college students. Abusing the thesaurus, overloading sentences and using superfluous adjectives are all common practices that can form damaging writing habits. In an office setting, where time is extremely valuable, it becomes increasingly important to cut out the clutter and get to the point.

Here are some tips to best influence snap decisions and cut to the chase:

Keep it Simple

One of the easiest traps to fall into when writing is trying to sound intelligent. The reality is that the message of your content is far more important than the words used. In business, your ‘grades’ are based on the impact you have and contributions you make; not the extent of your vocabulary. Keep your message simple by avoiding unnecessary information and clarifying the main points.

Consider your Audience

When presenting or sharing information, the audience isn’t focused on you. They are focused on the message. It’s important to consider what kind of information will be most valuable to the audience. After a meeting or presentation lasting a half an hour, the audience won’t be able to remember everything that was said. Focusing on the needs of the audience will improve your ability to persuade and leave a lasting impact. When creating your presentation, think about what you want your audience to walk away with most prominent in their mind.

People make snap decisions constantly. It’s crucial to ensure that your message is clear, so when a snap decision is made, it’s the right one.

Matt DeBonis is Exec-Comm’s Summer 2017 Marketing Intern. Learn more about Matt.

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