Craft Your Elevator Pitch

What do you say when you have just 30 seconds to make a lasting impression? Don’t get caught tongue-tied. Be brief, specific, and memorable. Craft an elevator pitch with these tips from Ching Valdezco:

Posted in Communication Skills, Executive Presence, Leadership Skills, Life Skills, Networking, Tips Videos, Women in Business

3 Ways The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Uses Mindfulness To Be At The Top Of Their Game

Addressing Mental Well-Being “Head First”

MLS partners with Headspace
MLS partners with Headspace, a leading meditation,
concentration and stress-management app.

Most of us feel that competition in our industry is fierce. We’re always on. If we blink, we risk losing territory or a chance to score a big win for our team. That’s the feeling every day in the corporate world. It’s also the feeling on the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team as they prepare for this summer’s FIFA World Cup competition in France. How they are preparing holds a lesson for all of us as we develop our teams at work.

First, we need to figure out what makes us successful, the varied components of our being that allow us to contribute meaningfully at work.

Oddly enough, true talent in soccer starts at the head not the feet, according to James Bunce, the Director of High Performance for U.S. Soccer.

“Our mantra is ‘head first.’ For a long time, athletic talent was all about focusing on the neck down. We believe we need to concentrate on what’s going on from the neck up to really develop great talent. For years we’ve been working on mental conditioning, helping people with mindfulness and meditation. Both attributes help the players make the right decisions on the field and off.”

But at U.S. Soccer, they apply that approach not just to the players, but to the coaches and the administrative staff. It’s a business approach, not just a sports training technique.

“It’s time to change the mindset about sports training. We need to start at the head, where all of the decisions we make on the court or the field begin,” says Lindsay Shaffer, the Head of Sports & Fitness for Headspace, the app that provides access to more than 1,000 hours of content focused on improving mental well-being. “Meditation and mindfulness are scientifically proven to support key aspects of preparation, performance and recovery,” say Shaffer.

team huddle
Los Angeles, CA – Sunday April 07, 2019: The
women’s national teams of the United States (USA)
and Belgium during an international friendly
match at Banc of California Stadium.

Those elements are as important for the average business professional as they are for the sport professional. Our need to grow at work isn’t limited to our technical skills, and our success on the job doesn’t depend solely on executing on tasks. It requires a more holistic approach to training and development. Shaffer notes,

“We all face stress at home and at work. Starting your day with a brief lesson and exercise in meditation helps you get to work with perspective, intention and presence. Those same elements help you as you execute on your tasks and build your relationships during the day. ‘Recovery’ in sports is the equivalent of your commute home. You can use that time to regroup from the stress of the day and refocus to be present to your family for the evening.”

“Major League Soccer is focused on equipping players with a variety of total wellness resources, so they can be successful now and beyond their playing careers,” said MLS Vice President of Player Engagement, Dr. Jamil Northcutt. “Mindfulness and meditation techniques can easily be translated into everyday life. From improving resiliency and mental grit, to harnessing the ability to focus and let go, these aspects are important for professional athletes to master to manage the various transitions that come along with being a professional athlete and business professional.” The same can be said of any profession.

Second, recognize that one size does not fit all when it comes to resources to improve mental well-being.

According to Bunce, U.S. Soccer and MLS have partnered with Headspace to provide access to the app for all players and staff of both organizations. That access allows the players to apply the same diligence they have in their work on the field to their mental health development. Because Headspace has customized the app for each of the 25 players, each woman has charted a personalized mental health roadmap that will take her from now throughout the last day of the tournament.

“Every woman on the team has different needs and faces different challenges on the field and off,” says Shaffer. “There are modules on the Headspace app geared specifically toward athletes. However, some of the women on the team pulled content from the other sections of the app to build their own customized programs.”

Getty Royalty Free

Similarly, as business professionals, we each get our support and our encouragement from different places. Some of us rely on self-help books, spiritual direction, humor, exercise, YouTube cat videos or a quick Words-With-Friends break between meetings or on the way to and from home. Whether we realize it or not, what we do to prep for, contribute during or recover from the day can have a profound effect on our mental well-being. If our chosen activity is specifically and consciously directed to helping us relax and refocus, we’re far more likely to see the benefits of that activity in our sense of calm and presence to others. While we may occasionally quickly jump on Facebook to relax or take a break, the political commentary from family and friends may make us more riled up than relaxed. Our efforts can backfire. A mindfulness app, however, is designed with a certain goal in mind. In short, not all resources are equal in value.

Finally, our mindfulness regimen shouldn’t be limited to a single activity.

For years, the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team has had a psychologist work with the players, both in groups and individually. But the players are only together for short stints. In between, they’re home in their own cities and towns practicing separately and dealing with whatever challenges they each face, just like the rest of us. According to Bunce, “That’s why we determined the Headspace app was the best resource for meeting the vastly different needs of our players. We needed to address this opportunity for improvement from a few different angles.”

The same is true for those of us in the corporate world. While we don’t usually have millions of cheering fans watching us or booing us from the sidelines while performing our tasks, like the women on the U.S. team will this summer, we still feel the pressure to perform. The rate of mental health issues among lawyers, for instance, has been in the news lately and is only becoming more significant. That’s why one global law firm has added access to Headspace as part of its health benefits – again as only one of many resources available to people.

Getty Royalty Free

The challenge for each of us is to find the right mix of support that help us face the challenges of the day. What we read, what we listen to, who we talk to, what we reflect on, all impact our ability to perform well. When you know you’ve reacted well to a situation because you’ve been calmer, more focused and more present to those around you, somewhere deep inside you’ll hear your own little, “GOOOAAALLL!”

Originally published on

Posted in Innovation, Life Skills, Uncategorized, Women in Business

Go For The Ask

Last week, I attended a fantastic Women’s Leadership Conference in New York. The program was filled with excellent speakers sharing their insightful stories, highlighting advice, and encouraging attendees to stand up and be heard.

One woman – an entrepreneur – made a comment that resonated with me – GO FOR THE ASK. It made me think:

What holds people back?

What do they need to feel they are ready to pitch?

As a consultant, how can I provide tangible, easily implemented guidance to make this intimidating experience a lot less painful?

This is what I’m fortunate to do nearly every day. To feel ready and win the deal, you need to craft your unique pitch in a clear, concise, and compelling way. Here are my four quick tips on how you can go for the ask with confidence:

Know your audience

Most people want the bottom line. Keep it simple and eliminate the jargon.

Craft a clear, concise, listener-directed message

Position your message to highlight what’s in it for them. It’s always about the audience. If you are trying to get someone to buy in and back your idea, you need to appeal to what they care about.

Share a story that highlights the benefits

A brief story or example to make your message concrete, specific, and tangible helps your listener picture your pitch. If they can see it, hopefully they will invest in it.

Deliver with confident body language

There’s no substitute for strong eye contact. If you use a dynamic voice, hand gestures, sit up tall, and command the room, they will have no question you belong there.

So, what are you waiting for? Go for it. The worst thing anyone can say to you is “no,” which leaves you exactly where you are right now if you DON’T pitch. Be bold, and mighty forces (plus the tips above) will come to your aid. You’ve got this.

Want more great advice on pitching your startup? Anne Teutschel will host a session at MATTER in Chicago. Can’t attend in person? Join virtually! For more information and to register, click here.

Posted in Coaching, Interviewing Skills, Leadership Skills, Women in Business

Where Left And Right Brain Meet

The Top 3 Aspects Of Professional Development Applied To Both Process And People

Theories of what makes us successful professionally fill entire sections at bookstores (the few bookstores that are left, at least). Many stake out a position about left-brain analysis, or right-brain intuitiveness. As we gain experience, we learn that it’s the intersection of the two approaches that allows us to succeed. We learn that earlier on in our careers, if we’ve exposed ourselves to the right ideas.

Photo credit: Getty

Mike Ohata, the partner-in-charge of KPMG LLP’s Business School for the firm’s Advisory Practice, is responsible for providing professional growth opportunities for 11,000 professionals across the U.S. His early work life and multiple graduate degrees have provided him the perspective and depth of knowledge to help guide the development of leaders across varied practice groups and with diverse personal backgrounds. He is described by his colleagues as someone who thinks both conceptually and concretely, with the right mix of possibility and pragmatism. I spoke with him recently about what makes a good leader and how he fosters leadership development at KPMG.

Jay Sullivan: Early in your career, you taught and developed the curriculum for schools in both Hawaii and Indonesia. What did you take away from those experiences that helps you in your current role?

Mike Ohata: I discovered that we can all be better teachers if we are better learners. I was new to teaching, so to help my students, I had to ask lots of questions. I am a naturally inquisitive person. I love learning new things, how folks do their jobs, what kinds of technical or specialized knowledge they need. The added benefit of constantly learning is that you start to see connections between seemingly diverse ideas.

Sullivan: In addition to your undergrad degree, you have two Master’s degrees – Applied Linguistics and Education. How does that training help you, and what exactly is Applied Linguistics?

Ohata: Applied Linguistics is the study of how we learn a language, how it shapes our thinking, how we experience communication. Much of our early learning happens not through language but through watching and repeating, and there is still a role for that throughout our lives. However, in a professional context, most learning takes place through language – what we read, what we listen to, what conversations we participate in. Therefore, understanding how we learn to communicate was very helpful not just when I created curriculums for schools, but as I spent 11 years at a tech consultant. “Tech-speak” could be viewed as its own language. Understanding how others might hear my comments and guidance heightened my consciousness around how I needed to translate my content.

Sullivan: You sound like you’re on a constant learning journey.

Ohata: At KPMG, one of our mantras is that we must all be “students of our clients” and “students of the firm.” By that we mean we have to go beyond just listening to the client and each other. We have to adopt a true learning culture, where we dig deeper to understand the issues our clients are facing, and then truly study our own organization to understand trends in our business and opportunities to be of service. That’s why we’re investing so heavily in learning right now—why we’re building a world-class learning, development and innovation facility in Lake Nona, FL called KPMG Lakehouse, and expanding our library of digital learning resources available year-round. We’re continuing to drive a culture of energized, engaged, continuous learning.

Sullivan: All very theoretical, but your colleagues have described you as ultimately very pragmatic. Where does that come into play?

Ohata: In leadership development, we are at the crossroads of processes and people. Consulting can be a heavily process-driven business, which requires structure and attention to detail. Our biggest asset is our talent, which requires nuance and flexibility.

Whenever we look at training, on leadership or anything else, I always start by asking, “What does this mean for our folks?” and “What does it mean for the firm?” The impact isn’t in the knowledge they gain—it’s in how they are able to put that knowledge to work. I look at it from a practical perspective: How many hours will this take them away from their client work? How quickly can they apply the skills on the job? How does it align with their other formal and informal learning? Would the objectives of the training be better met through something other than the proposed approach?

Sullivan: I’m hearing questions, not directives.

Ohata: There’s absolutely a place for direction—people are hungry for guidance. But that guidance is much more effective if it’s grounded in an understanding of what they need and what they want.

Sullivan: In other words, you need to listen.

Ohata: Exactly. You have to create a learning culture, where growing toward the next role is part of the plan. If you’re having honest conversations with your people about their growth paths, and you’re focused on helping them get to the next level of their career, they’re all ears regarding what they can be doing better.

Sullivan: What are the most important factors business leaders should promote to develop strong leaders in their organizations?

Ohata: First, hone your inquisitive instincts. Expose yourself to broader ideas. Set aside time to read, or to watch something on television that challenges you to think differently. I watch science shows and documentaries, sometimes on stuff that’s outside of my typical interests. You never know where the next new idea will hit you, so you have to look in lots of places.

Preparing leaders to deal with change and disruption requires innovative thinking, and you innovate more effectively when you are always exposing yourself to new ideas. Being inquisitive leads to a broad perspective, fosters detailed understanding and creates balance, helping you to prioritize how you integrate ideas and processes.

Second, leaders need to integrate lots of diverse material and issues. Some people think that leadership is about charting a path, but charting a path is the outcome, not the talent. The talent is to be able to pay attention to lots of moving parts at the same time and see possible connections. We help our leaders hone their ability to bring things together and articulate key ideas. This means focusing on their communication skills – both listening and speaking.

Third, leaders need to show their teams consistency with regard to values, principles and integrity. Someone on your team may disagree with you, but they should always have a sense of how you arrived at your conclusion. That sense of consistency gives people comfort and a sense of stability. If you don’t create that sense of security for your team, you’ll undermine all the good stuff that happens with the first two talents.

Sullivan: So, stay inquisitive, look for connections to apply your ideas and act in a consistent manner toward your team. Sounds like great advice. Thanks for your time.

Originally published on

Posted in Innovation, Leadership Skills, Uncategorized

Advice For Startups From The Trade Show Trenches

You had a great idea. You knew it met an important need in the marketplace. You pulled together a group of friends to design and perfect the product. You understand both the market for the product and the competition. You have the manufacturing in place and you’re ready to launch. Right? Wrong. You’re only at the threshold of the market, still looking in. You’ll likely need additional guidance as you step through the door and navigate the halls of commerce.

Trade show
Photo credit: Getty

On April 18 – 21, 300 startup companies will showcase their products, most for the first time, at Startup Launchpad, part of the Mobile Electronics Trade Show in Hong Kong. Minesh Pore of Global Sources, the event producer, has helped propel literally hundreds of startup companies from nice ideas into functioning businesses. I had a chance to speak with him recently and gather his advice for those he serves.

Jay Sullivan: What’s the biggest challenge startup companies face?

Minesh Pore: Most startup companies start as what would be the R&D division of a larger entity. They have an idea for a product or service and have spent all their time developing it, which is important. But R&D doesn’t constitute a complete corporate entity. They need to understand sales, financing, manufacturing and distribution, among other things. They also need legal advice to protect their intellectual property.

Sullivan: So they’ve built a product, and now they need to build a company.

Pore: Exactly. They have to do their R&D on the market as much as on their product or technology. What niche does it fill? What are people willing to pay to access that product or service? Who are the best business partners to get that product to the people who want it?

Sullivan: How can small companies with limited resources gain that knowledge?

Pore: They need to build relationships. No one does all of this on their own, especially newer companies. That’s why they go to trade shows. They can learn from others.

Sullivan: What steps can a new company take to develop the connections they need?

Pore: They need to learn to communicate. Most small companies literally don’t know what they don’t know. They need to be able to craft a simple message about how their product helps a particular audience, and then ask tons of questions about how to get their product produced, distributed and sold. That communication loop – info out, info in – allows them to build the relationships they need.

Sullivan: The first relationships they need are with investors, correct?

Pore: I actually believe it’s more important that they pursue a sale rather than an investment. $100,000 sale is far more valuable than a $100,000 investment. Most distributors dealing with startups know their purchase order for $100,000 in product will give the startup the leverage to borrow the money to produce the goods. They also know the products aren’t sitting on a warehouse loading dock already. When the startups build a relationship with the distributors, they start sharing the risk. They’re a player in the game at that point.

Sullivan: And success begets success.

Pore: Right. For startups, their buyers become their advisors. The distributor needs products in its channel. They have lots to choose from, but once they sign a PO with a new manufacturer, they have counted on those products filling their pipeline. They have a vested interest in helping that startup succeed. That’s why our trade shows are all about helping everyone build connections.

Sullivan: But investors are important as well.

Pore: Of course, but it’s easier get investors once you show value. The sale is the important part.

Sullivan: How do you help startups gain these skills?

Pore: We run training sessions before and during each conference on a wide range of skills. But just as valuable I think is the coaching we give startups as my team and I walk the halls of the event. Some of the inventors are “quiet types,” more comfortable with ideas than with people. They’re so steeped in the design of their product, they’re literally “heads down,” deep in the product, instead of looking up at market with all its opportunities and dangers.

Although they’re very proud and excited about their product, they sometimes need help conveying that enthusiasm. They tend to talk about the product itself instead of how the product will benefit or be attractive to the end user. We’re always coaching startups on how to talk about their product features in terms of benefits.

Sullivan: And they have to keep talking.

Pore: Right. If you aren’t talking, what’s the point of being at a trade show? Startup Launchpad is only one small part of the greater Mobile Electronics show. These 300 startups will benefit from being right near another 3,200 booths of well-established companies with proven products. We’ll have 37,000 global retailers passing through the show. That’s a lot of foot traffic. Having a clear and concise message about your product is crucial, because you’ll be saying it thousands of times, not just at trade shows, but throughout your process for building your brand and building your company.

Sullivan: So to sum up, it seems any startup, whether at one of your shows or elsewhere, needs to focus on three things. 1. Build the relationships that take them from patent owners to business owners. 2. Focus on selling their products rather than seeking investors. 3. Keep talking – to whoever will listen – about how your product or service adds value, rather than about how it’s designed or created.

Pore: Yes. That’s certainly a great start.

Sullivan: Thanks, and good luck helping launch another 300 companies.

Originally published on

Posted in Communication Skills, Innovation, Networking, Uncategorized

Quick Tips To Become A Better Global Communicator

Are your communication skills “world class”? Working in a global environment is an exciting challenge, and it may mean stepping out of your comfort zone. Ensure that you communicate effectively with your clients and colleagues abroad with these quick tips. David Nevin, Exec-Comm Consultant based in Tokyo, shares how you can stay others focused and bridge culture gaps.

Posted in Coaching, Communication Skills, Global, Tips Videos, Uncategorized

Business Writing That Gets Results

When you and your team write clear, concise, action-oriented documents, projects move faster, you’re more productive, and you get better results. Christopher Butler, Exec-Comm Consultant, describes how a few simple tips can help you and your team become more effective business writers.

Posted in Coaching, Tips Videos, Uncategorized, Writing Skills

Exec-Comm Accepts Year Up’s Community Ambassador Award

Exec-Comm proudly accepts Year Up’s Community Ambassador Award.

Last week, Exec-Comm proudly accepted Year Up’s Community Ambassador Award during the Class 24 graduation ceremony. The Community Ambassador Award is given to a partnering organization whose commitment to Year Up “positively impacts a young adult and provides them with a platform for significant and lasting change.”

For those who aren’t familiar with Year Up, it is a fantastic organization whose “mission is to close the Opportunity Divide by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education.” They achieve this mission through a “high support, high expectation model that combines marketable job skills, stipends, internships, and college credits. [Year Up’s] holistic approach focuses on students’ professional and personal development to place these young adults on a viable path to economic self-sufficiency.”

Our Exec-Comm team delights in teaching these eager, motivated, under-served young adults how to communicate and present themselves and their content. We help them do this by suggesting that they focus less on themselves and more on others. Tonight’s ceremony truly made me think about this advice, and what it means to me.

For the first time, I felt at odds with Exec-Comm’s philosophy. These students spent their childhoods without any opportunity to focus on themselves. Many of them spent their time looking after others in their family, or simply trying to stay afloat.

Every person in the auditorium sat mesmerized by the stories told and videos shown about specific Year Up students’ journeys. Two brave young women shared their moving stories of how they arrived at Year Up. The grit and perseverance they both exhibited overwhelmed me.

One young woman, a single mom of a toddler, commuted more than two hours each morning by bus, train, and foot to ensure she arrived in time to attend morning meeting. Another continuously found the strength to dismiss the negative messaging she heard her entire life telling her she was nothing. There was the young man who grew up in the foster system and showed such promise that the foster agency recommended him to be part of this amazing program. (As an aside, he was recently hired by one of the largest financial institutions in the world, something that could never have happened if Year Up didn’t close that opportunity divide for him.) These were just a few of the moments that struck me throughout the evening. 

I wasn’t just in awe of the students; I was awestruck by the C-suite executives, recent retirees, and Fortune 500 companies that support Year Up from donations and sponsorships to internships and job placement. I was rapt by the members of the Year Up board who share their time, their fortune, and their experiences as executives, interested not just in the organization’s bottom line, but in building the students’ self-esteems, technical and soft skills sets, and opening the doors to work in corporate America where they may not otherwise have been given a chance.

As the ceremony ended, I whispered to my friend, Julie, who introduced me to Year Up that I wanted to do more to help. We brainstormed a bit and she suggested that I consider mentoring one of the new alumni, as she begins her job in the corporate world. Two thoughts immediately crossed my mind:

  1. I can’t wait to learn from my mentee about true grit and determination. I look forward to playing even a small role in her successful future and professional career.
  2. The advice and Exec-Comm’s philosophy to focus less on yourself and more on others was really advice for me. I reflected on how lucky I am to do my little part in helping Year Up achieve their mission.
Posted in Coaching, Exec-Comm Team, Uncategorized

Crafting An Interesting Story From A Boring Game

Good morning! Did you watch the Super Bowl Sunday night? While the pundits predicted it would be a close game, they didn’t predict a defensive struggle between two high-powered offenses. Translation? The game was “meh” – the lowest scoring Super Bowl in NFL history. How do you craft a good story out of a boring game? My suggestion is to think about the person or audience you are speaking to and choose a topic they would appreciate.

Super Bowl

Perhaps they are passionate about the lousy officiating that has plagued the playoffs. Then talk about the penalty on a Los Angeles Ram who made a terrific tackle. Instead of a big loss for the New England Patriots, the penalty gave them a first down. The rest of the game featured a striking absence of penalty calls. Now there’s a topic worth exploring.

Or, maybe your audience is into the statistical minutia of the game. Talk about how the game featured the longest punt in Super Bowl history by the Rams. The average kick broke the record with a tremendous roll. This came on their eighth consecutive possession ending with a punt. The Rams’ offense was stuck in neutral until some life showed in the fourth quarter, but their defense was good.

Sadly, even the ads were “meh,” weirdly featuring a lot of robots across many product lines. But if your friend likes robots, there’s your angle.

Audiences like food. Tell a story about any new additions to your Super Bowl feast. I shared with my boss, who is not a sports fan, that our family made Cauliflower Buffalo Wings – a vegetarian alternative using the florets as faux drumsticks, coated with Franks’ Red Hot (really tasty). That story led to him sharing that a family member is on a gluten free diet and would love to know the recipe. Score!

“There are no boring stories, only boring storytellers.” The way not to bore your audience is to tell stories they are interested in. Show your interest in them, share the memories that resonate, and create connections that last. And better luck to all of us for a more exciting game next year!

Posted in Communication Skills, Life Skills, Networking, Presentation Skills, Public Speaking

Take Your Storytelling Game From Good To Great: Lessons From The Super Bowl

This NFL post-season is already full of stories – just look at the two overtime victories in the conference finals leading up to the Super Bowl. Exultant victors! Crushed losers!! Unfair calls!!! That’s why people tune in – the sriracha infused chicken wings are gone, the ads are limited, the fourth quarter is a toss-up, and all attention can be paid. For the big game itself, one early prediction from SBNation calls for a close one with a game-winning drive – oh yeah, here we go!

Super Bowl

Competition is exciting, the stakes are high, and the outcome is unclear. The built-in conflict grabs our sports-loving attention and we often can’t wait to tell and relive the story of the game the next day.

Storytelling is a big part of conveying excitement and passion in business, too. With a nod to the Super Bowl, a good story has three parts – setting the scene, describing the conflict, and resolving the issue.

First, set the scene – give an overview of the people involved and the issue(s) at stake. For the Super Bowl, this ‘pre-game’ story will buzz all week – underdog LA vs. favored NE; veteran Brady versus newcomer Goff. Second, describe the conflict and build tension: we don’t know who will win or if it will turn out well – the game could go either way and we hope for a good contest. Third, resolve the issue and convey lesson(s) learned – the moral of the story. Which team won, why, and what’s next?

This season, you’ll hear this familiar pattern in many of the Super Bowl stories told and retold. In the stories you tell, set the scene, build the tension, and resolve the issue with a clear message. For the Super Bowl, hopefully it’s not a “meh” game and you’re not talking about the flavor of the chicken wings the day after. Of course, we’ll also talk about the ads – the most memorable ones will tell a great story.

Posted in Communication Skills, Life Skills, Networking, Presentation Skills, Public Speaking