Save the date!

Want to learn what drives employees to their company intranets? How to create compelling content to keep them engaged and informed? Then you’ll want to check out the webinar I’ll be presenting with Interact on November 13th at 2pm ET:

http://www.interact-intranet.com/events/

The intranet has grown into a highly effective tool for internal communications and after this webinar, you’ll see why.

See you online!

Long live the business card

Remember when business professionals always carried a card on them? “Here’s my card,” was an undeniable part of business speak, especially when wheeling and dealing.

Now, you don’t see that as much anymore. You’re referred to people’s LinkedIn profiles or Facebook pages or Twitter handles. One quick search on all these sites and you’re able to connect with a person in minutes.

While a lack of paper business cards might be good news for tree-lovers, I think it’s getting in the way of our identities. A business card is an extension of our brand; it’s a way to present your contact information in a compact, portable channel – something that people can keep handy when they want to give you a ring or drop you an email. If people want to find you on social media, your handle names are right there on the card – all in one place.bizcard

Sure, not having business cards means less to carry and yes, it is a cost-saver if you don’t create them, but if you want to build a business rapport with someone, you must carry some with you. It’s simply more personal. And most importantly, they make you stand out. They have your unique design on them. You’re not just another LinkedIn profile blended together with all the other Richard Joneses or Jennifer Smiths.

Heck, even in the social scene, people don’t write down their phone numbers any more. If I meet a guy at a party, he’ll tell me to find him on Facebook. Um, bad idea. Do I really need to see photos of his ex? Nope. A simple pen and paper to write down a phone number is fine; but nobody carries around writing instruments any more (except us writers).

Socially, people also type their numbers into people’s phones. “Put in your number and I’ll text you so you have mine.” What if I don’t want your number in my phone? What if we go out once and the date is horrible? Yes, you can delete the number easily, but there’s something about physically holding a piece of paper (or a business card) that’s more relaxed. I feel comfortable knowing that the number or email address is there should I decide to reach out. Once a number is programmed into a person’s phone, it immediately leads to a deluge of texts. It’s added traffic I don’t necessarily want. You don’t make the address book cut unless I know there’s going to be a repeat connection.

On a sentimental note, I’ve cherished cocktail napkins or post-its containing names and numbers of guys I’ve liked. They become warm and fuzzy mementos of the time we met. You can’t say that about an electronic contact; they’re just digits in a phone sandwiched between your accountant’s and your hairdresser’s.

How to Cure Vacation Envy

If you’re a busy freelancer like I am, odds are you don’t have much time for a vacation this summer. 

As you look at people’s Facebook photos or admire the tans on friends just returning from week-long breaks, it’s hard not to feel a little envious. Of course, it’s great to have work but sunny skies can make us long for a bit of down time.

What to do if you don’t have time to book that Expedia package? Create your own little vacationland. 

1. Download a pretty screen saver – Just because you’re not in Bermuda, doesn’t mean you can’t gaze at its turquoise waters.IMG_2191

2. Pick a scenic spot to grab lunch – If there’s a park or river views nearby, sit on a bench and take in the scenery as you unwrap your sandwich. sceniclunchspot

3. Plan a day trip or a quick weekend getaway – Okay, it’s not a 1-2 week vacation, but sometimes a short jaunt is all you need to recharge your batteries. I just returned from a weekend trip to Mystic, Connecticut so I speak from experience!Mystic

4. Get your drink on – On the weekends or after work, order a daiquiri or a margarita and you’ll suddenly be transported to a tropical island. frozendrinks

5. Look toward the future – You may not have time to travel now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t book a trip for the fall, winter, or spring. It’ll give you something to look forward to and soon, your screen shot will come to life!

Vary your channels for optimal communication in the workplace

An email. A phone call. A meeting. If you’re communicating to employees, all of the above work well but you have to know when to use them. employeescommunicating

I like email for prodding. If you’re inquiring about the status of a project or to set up a meeting, email is ideal. No need to bother someone with a phone call; they might be busy. Instead, a quick one or two lines is the way to go. Make sure the phrasing is polite and that the person knows you’re grateful for their time. Heck, add a smiley face if you have to, depending on the level of the person you’re emailing (e.g. if it’s an executive, avoid the smiley faces!).

With phone calls, let’s state the obvious: if you need a rush response to something, you must pick up the phone. Phoning someone is also a nice way to follow up from an email, or vice versa.

Sometimes, a project may be too intricate to discuss over email; too much back and forth in email chains can be confusing to follow. Picking up the phone for a proper discussion will work best. Always opt for the office phone before trying someone’s mobile. Save the cell phone calls for urgent matters.

Face-to-face interaction, of course, is the most personal way to communicate to someone – whether you’re in the workplace or catching up with an old friend. To my fellow freelancers, I highly recommend face-to-face communication whenever possible. If you need to touch base with a co-worker, take a stroll to his/her cubicle. You’ll find many people will welcome a five-minute break to chat or look away from the computer screen.

If the person is busy or on the phone however, just wave and come back later. Try to stay visible  as much as possible to keep your face out there and build rapport with colleagues and clients.  

Going Up?

Does this scenario sound familiar? It’s the start of the work day, you have your coffee in hand, and you board the elevator. You’re tired, you just endured a long commute, and you know you have a busy day ahead. MadMenElevatorScene

When you’re confined to a small place with other human beings, it requires a special type of etiquette to keep the ride pleasant and moving.

First off, maintain a quiet tone. It’s early, people are tired. Speak softly and it’s bound to be appreciated by those around you.

Secondly, if you’re feeling chatty, stick to a topic that easy, breezy. To master the small talk, pick a topic that’s simple and appropriate during your ascent. You can’t go wrong with the weather. “Wow, can you believe how beautiful the weekend was? Did you get outdoors?”

No one wants to discuss work topics before they reach their desk. Be courteous and give colleagues a chance to settle in at their computers before jumping on them first thing in the morning.

Finally, take notice of your fellow riders. If they give one-word answers and don’t fully make contact, chances are they don’t wish to engage in friendly banter. A simple smile and “good morning” are plenty. And if things get a little crowded, always step aside to let people off.

The morning commute doesn’t end when you enter your office building; it ends when you step off the elevator.  

Look Me in the Eye – or Can You?

The other night, while I was having dinner with my friend, there were two young women seated next to us. As my friend and I were enjoying a nice meal and stimulating dinner conversation, we noticed our “neighbors” weren’t saying a word to each other. Why, you ask? They were texting!

No, they weren’t texting each other. They were messaging other friends (or boyfriends), and carrying on separate, “silent” conversations. They did momentarily converse with one another to compare messages and have a giggle. But through it all, they didn’t look each other in the eye.

That got me thinking how little eye contact there is left. When I’m on the subway pressed against my fellow straphangers, we don’t look at each other. You see the tops of people’s heads because they’re playing games on their phones or they’re reading their Kindles.

If you’re seated at the bar waiting for a friend to arrive, you don’t make eye contact with people; you gaze at your phone, perusing the Web or checking your text messages. Don’t be surprised if the number of people meeting in bars has gone down. Instead of people checking you out, they’re checking themselves “in” on Facebook or FourSquare.iPhoneTexting

So where do you draw the line? Is it possible for people to balance digital and face-to-face conversations in their social lives?

With all the distractions our smartphones have (e.g. camera, Internet, SMS, games, apps, social media), there’s just too much temptation. Unless some type of etiquette is set, interpersonal communication will continue to be disrupted.

Perhaps restaurants (like gyms and movie theaters) can discourage the use of mobile phones. Or they can establish mobile-free zones, much like the old days of smoking and non-smoking sections.

Otherwise, “social” settings will be anything but.

Three Quick Tips for a Successful Interview

As a writer and video producer, it’s essential to master the art of interviewing. Having many years under my belt both writing and producing, I’ve developed some helpful techniques to ensure I get a good story.

1. Make your subjects feel at ease – You’re not going to get any content if the person you’re interviewing feels uncomfortable. To get people talking, start by making a bit of small-talk: ask them about their weekend, if they’re enjoying the weather, or any topic which fosters a nice rapport. The more comfortable someone feels with you, the better their interview responses will be. As you draw them out, slowly ease into the topic you’ll be speaking about. I guarantee, they’ll have a lot more to say then.

2. Allow a few minutes for people to think about their answers – If someone feels put on the spot with a particular question, encourage them to think over their response. As they mull over what they’re going to say, take a short break to grab a cup of coffee or check a few emails (if there’s time). Your interview will benefit from it.

3. Practice non-verbal communication – A smile goes a long way with someone, especially during an interview. Smiling and nodding your head will help to encourage your subjects to keep talking, while letting them know that they’re doing a great job.  Image

If it’s a phone interview you need to conduct, odds are the person might be pressed for time, so make sure you keep the exchange tight and succinct to get the answers you need. Apply some of the rules in #1 and you’ll be good to go!

Everyone Loves A Good Story

In corporate communications, storytelling has long been recognized as a successful tool to communicate important messaging. It’s easier to reach employees with engaging content that pertains to them. People want to read about people – the faces behind the words. Image

Of course, the power of storytelling extends beyond the workplace. We might enjoy a good story at a party, over a gossipy lunch with the gals, or while reading weekly issues of our favorite magazines.

Okay. So we’ve established that people love a good story but do we ever think about why we’re so attracted to the technique?

The love of stories dates back to our childhood. How many times did our parents read us a story when they tucked us in at night? Their soothing words would lull us into a deep sleep. We felt comforted by the strong bonds that formed. And a good night story was our opportunity to wind down after a long day of school and homework.

Fast forward to adulthood and not much has changed. Effective storytelling provides escapism. Whether it takes place at a water cooler in the office or on the phone with a friend, storytelling is our chance to relate, engage, and entertain. Without storytelling, there would be no rapports. It’s an opportunity to share and keep things personal – whether you’re in an office or enjoying a Friday happy hour with friends.

Without storytelling, we wouldn’t be human. It’s what connects us. If we didn’t have it, we’d all be machines, just carrying out our day-to-day tasks with a bit of small talk here and there, at best.

Having covered a plethora of conferences over the years, I’m pleased to see more executives relating their own personal experiences to connect with audiences. And it’s working: surveys are revealing that employees want to hear from bosses, and that they want to feel connected to companies’ visions, missions, and values. It’s those stories that will help keep staff feeling connected. Effective internal communications tools will help to ensure that employees will also receive a voice and have the chance to share their own stories and experiences inside the company.

Thanks to social media, we all have platforms where we can share stories, whether they’re on Facebook or on a blog post like this one.

Storytelling helps us to feel, to empathize, to understand, to appreciate, to take action, to vent, to connect. It keeps things real.

Has technology made us lazier communicators?

Remember when we used to wait by the phone to ring or when we checked our answering machines when we got home, in anticipation of a special phone call? We relished the communication and our hearts skipped a beat when we heard the person’s voice.

Now, it’s Facebook. Or Twitter. We get a ping. Or a poke. Or a Like.

HiRes

We don’t get a Happy Birthday phone call but there’s a post on our walls. Any recognition is nice, of course, but what’s missing is the personal aspect of communication. I won’t dwell on this too much because by now, there have been countless articles and blogs about this. But a newer trend I have been noticing is that blogs and Facebook/LinkedIn posts have been getting less comments. But they are getting Likes.

Similarly on Twitter, you tend to see a lot of re-tweets or favorites, but there are fewer conversations. And rather than personally messaging people to thank them for a follow, many tweeters are programming annoying auto-responses with a link to their websites. Boy, that’s personal.

My point: technology is resulting in less effort to communicate. It only takes a second to hit a Like button but to actually have to comment and participate in a back-and-forth conversation? Forget about it. People just don’t have the time these days. However, they do seem to have time to play Candy Crush or Pengle. Games win out over thinking and communicating any day.

Technology and social media are great, but through all our gadgets, texting, and tweeting, we mustn’t let our brains turn to mush. We need to remember to keep engaging, keep conversing, and keep building the relationships that we want to grow. We need to actually be SOCIAL.

It’s not in the cards

What’s not in the cards, you ask? Proper sentiments.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, or maybe I remember a time when greeting cards expressed the perfect sentiment. These days, however, many cards have become downright insulting. Jokes about getting old, watching your weight…whatever happened to simple sentiments – short and sweet greetings that get the simple message across: “I think your great.”? Or, “I hope your day is truly special.” Done. The End.

Yes, I am writing about this topic because it’s Mother’s Day. I went to two different card stores before I found an appropriate card for my Mom. And when I did, I knew it was the one. It was cheerful and tasteful. Do you know what it said? “Mom, you’re awesome. Love you.” That’s perfect.

You don’t need a paragraph of schmaltz. Or a card that’s going to poke fun at what a handful you were as a child. That actually brings me to another thought – is it just me or have cards, like most humans of 2014, become increasingly self-absorbed? Or they’re a reflection of our self-absorbed society. I’ve read countless cards with similar written messages – “Sorry, I only had time to get you this card.” Or – “You already have the perfect gift – me!” I kid you not.

And people wonder why the greeting card industry is suffering.

While we’re at it, can we talk about cliches for a second? With Father’s Day coming up next, I know I’ll be faced with the typical yearly dilemma: my Dad doesn’t golf, he doesn’t drink beer, he’s not into race cars. Well, that just about wipes out every card theme for fathers, or men in general. 

My Dad loves cats. Why aren’t there Father’s Day cards with cats on them? Because felines are viewed as too feminine? Hence the crazy cat lady cliche? How about a sweet card that reads, “For a purr-fect father”?

Too corny? Maybe. But I’ll take that over insults and self-absorption any day.