Bragging Rites

In our hyperbolic business environment, all working people—Freelance consultants, entrepreneurs, corporate executives and everyone else who must earn a living—are expected to promote their successes and ambitions in face-to-face conversations and social media platforms. Everybody has to be “on,” i.e., camera-ready and prepared to roll out an elevator pitch to prospective clients, an investor pitch to potential backers, or a sales pitch to browsing would-be customers.

Job-seekers sell their skills and work experience to search committees. Apartment-hunters sell their credit rating and rental history to landlords. The marriage-minded package and promote what they hope are desirable traits that will persuade Mr. or Ms. Right to swipe right. Everyone is pressured to sell themselves, but sounding like you’re selling is a turn-off. No one one likes an obvious self-promoter and heaven help you if people think you’re bragging.

While we’re busy telling possibly interested parties how talented, resourceful, creative and dependable we are, we risk violating a powerful social norm in American culture that prefers modesty, cautions Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of Psychological and Brain Sciences at University of MA /Amherst. Bragging is not popular. Do an internet search on bragging, and you get 55, 900,000 results, including How to brag without making people hate you.

Communications consultant Peggy Klaus says the fear of being perceived as pushy and vulgar can lead professionals to hide behind modest self-effacement, even when speaking up about their accomplishments would be perfectly acceptable. Klaus, the author of Brag: How to Toot Your Own Horn Without Blowing It  (2003), says that the very thought of self-promotion is difficult for many to embrace, including those who are fully aware that they must create business in order to survive. “So ingrained are the myths about self-promotion, so repelled are we by obnoxious braggers, that many people simply avoid talking about themselves,” writes Klaus.

Valerie DiMaria, Principal at the 10company, a New York City firm that helps high potential executives at companies such as Verizon, L’Oreal, Raytheon and BNY Mellon reach the next level in their careers, offers encouragement to the introverted and shy. She points out that if the goal is to make a strong, positive impression at work, you must be willing to tell your story and bragging doesn’t necessarily mean boasting.

Di Maria suggests taking a calm, confident, matter-of-fact approach to sharing what’s special about you. Her firm offers leadership and communication coaching and she recommends these five tactics:

  1. Define your brand One of the best professional investments you can make is to learn to articulate your own value proposition, also called your personal brand. DiMaria explains, “A brand describes who you are, what sets you apart from others, what you contribute and what you want to accomplish. In this information-overdosed world, a brand helps you cut through the clutter and make a memorable impression.” So it’s important that you spend time thinking about how you can convincingly describe your secret sauce.
  2. Give your pitch at every (appropriate) opportunity DiMaria recommends that you “master the art of speaking up.” Create scripts that you can use in different business and personal encounters: an elevator pitch that is also a self-introduction, to use at networking events; a “small talk” version of your elevator pitch to use at social or quasi-business gatherings; and stories you can use whenever, to illustrate how your hard work and ingenuity produced results for an important project.
  3.  Give credit to everyone, including yourself   Always thank others for their contributions and don’t shy away from acknowledging your own contributions as well. Do not relegate yourself to the background. DiMaria wants you to remember to find a way to weave in your own role when recognizing achievement. “If your team accomplished something significant, you likely did something wonderful as well,” she says. “You’re not stealing the spotlight by describing how everyone contributed; you’re sharing it.”
  4. Amplify your reach with social media Complete as many sections of your LinkedIn profile as possible, so that visitors will find solid evidence of the depth and breadth of your professional and volunteer experiences. If you have only one or two recommendations, ask a colleague to write one for you that highlights a strength you’d like to highlight (and offer to write a recommendation in return). If practical, upload examples of your work to the Portfolio section, so that browsers of your profile can understand what you do and gauge the quality of your work. Search for groups associated with your profession and join one or two. Be sure to select the option to receive updates, so that you can join conversations every once in a while. If you don’t have a flattering photo that complements your professional aspirations, have one taken. If you’re feeling brave and ambitious, open a Twitter account that you’ll confine to business purposes and announce conferences that you’ll attend or courses that you’ll teach, if those are things you do regularly. If you get a promotion or receive special recognition at work for a job well done, share the announcement. You can do the same on Facebook. Always respond to replies and inquiries, since generating conversations is an important objective.
  5. Avoid the humble brag It’s impossible to ignore that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts are filled with humble bragging posts that try to disguise boasting with a nasally whine (“Now that I’ve reached 500,000 followers, I never have time to cook or do laundry….I barely have time to sleep….”). Everyone sees through the humble brag and it does nothing for your integrity. If you have a success to share, own it because you earned it.

Finally, choosing to remain silent about your accomplishments can diminish your earnings. “It’s those who visibly take credit for accomplishments who are rewarded with promotions and gem assignments,” writes Klaus. As our economy has resulted in less job stability, self-promotion has become more important. Even if you aren’t a Freelancer or entrepreneur, advises Klaus, you need to think like one and start talking up your most valuable product: you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Narcissus (1597-1599) by Caravaggio (1571 – 1610 Milan, Italy) courtesy of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome

Free Media Exposure

Media exposure can be difficult to come by for Freelancers and small business owners. In particular, “earned” media mentions,” i.e., publicity obtained through promotional efforts rather than publicity obtained by way of paid advertising, is usually the most effective form of media exposure and can go a long way toward enhancing a Freelancer’s brand.  A well-expressed quote in a respected publication can make a Freelance consultant or business owner look like an expert that smart people want to do business with.  Earned media exposure can be instrumental in helping a business to establish name recognition and respect among its target customers.

The best tactic to use when looking to attract the interest of reporters and editors is to position oneself as an expert. The good news for Freelancers is that everyone who provides professional services to paying clients is considered to be an expert in his/her field. The public welcomes and trusts tax tips recommended by an accountant and legal advice offered by an attorney. In addition, those who’ve authored a (nonfiction) book, whether traditionally published or self-published, that addresses a topic that editors feel would interest their readers can also be chosen to receive valuable earned media.

When you’ve made the decision to pursue earned media exposure for your organization, Step One is to decide where you’d like your story or quotes of your expert advice to appear. Research local online or print publications and assess the stories that are featured. You might start with your neighborhood newspaper or a publication that specializes in business topics. If you belong to a business or professional association, by all means look into contributing an article to the newsletter, getting your book reviewed or mentioned, or getting yourself quoted. Hint: active members always get publicity.

Step Two is to learn the identity of the reporter or editor who covers your topic. The easiest thing to do is call the publication and inquire. While you’re on the phone, find out when the publication is on deadline and avoid calling the reporter or editor at that time.

Step Three is to write a press release that makes editors and reporters want to follow-up on your story. Make your press release attention-getting with a good headline. Instead of trying to be witty, just give the facts. A good headline might be: “XYZ Biz wins Chamber of Commerce award.”

In the first paragraph, introduce one key newsworthy fact or piece of information in a single sentence, such as “XYZ Group today announced plans to open a solar-powered restaurant by late 2019.”

A common mistake in writing press releases is using it to tell the entire story.  “People write way too much. Tell them what the story is about and why it would be good for their audience,” advises Paul Krupin, former attorney and founder of iMediaFax.com, a media advisory service in Washington state. The press release should not be the first draft of a reporter’s article.  The purpose of your press release is to entice a reporter to contact you and write your story, or persuade an editor to assign your story to a staff reporter.

Furthermore, don’t make the mistake of trying to sell your product or service in the press release. “The media is adverse to anything that looks like advertising,” Krupin warns. “They want to educate, entertain, stimulate, or provoke their audience.”

BTW, there are subtle yet substantive differences between the journalistic needs of print, radio and TV media outlets that reflect audience expectations and preferences.

  • “Print media focus on facts and figures. They talk about strategies,” Krupin advises.
  • “Radio and television don’t lend themselves to detailed information. It’s about sound bites, tone and excitement. For radio and TV producers, you want to tell them why their audience is going to love what you’re going to say, or hate what you’re going to say. The focus is on the emotional reaction: Why am I going to be entertaining?”

Be advised that media outlets are not interested in helping to publicize the products and services that Freelancers and other business leaders are trying to sell. Krupin, who is also the author of Trash Proof News Releases (2001), works closely with his clients to tease out a story angle that could interest readers or viewers of the target media outlets. “What do you know that people don’t know, but they would like to know?” he asks.

For example, Krupin recommended that a photographer discuss how to hang pictures, rather than discuss the technical aspects of how to take pictures. The two created a press release that led to a number of print articles that featured his photographer client as the expert.

Finally, be patient as you wait for the ROI from your earned media. A customer may contact you months or even years after reading about you and your business. A reporter could contact you several months later to get insights on another aspect of your topic, which would result in still more earned media exposure.  Concentrate on developing an earned media strategy by identifying a story angle that would interest readers as you build relationships with reporters and editors who can give you the desired media exposure.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: By Andrew Laszlo. Entertainment columnist and host of television’s longest-running variety show (CBS-TV) Ed Sullivan (l) interviews Fidel Castro in Mantanzas, Cuba in January 1959.

Make Your Next Impromptu Speech Great

Here is the scenario: You’re at the meeting of a local business organization, where you are well known. Forty-five minutes into the meeting, the organization Vice President sidles up to you and asks if you’d be willing to speak on a certain topic for 5 – 10 minutes, before the President delivers the closing remarks and adjourns.

You have just 30 minutes to prepare. How can you quickly organize your thoughts and create a concise and compelling speech that your audience will appreciate and that you’ll deliver like a pro? Here’s how you do it.

Attention

Every speaker must quickly capture audience attention. Open your speech with an attention-grabbing statement that expresses a point of view that you know most in the audience share.  Alternatively, you can surprise or even shock the audience with an unexpected fact or a provocative question.  When you open your talk, the goal is to draw  audience members in and persuade them to sit up and listen.

Credibility

Once you have their attention, you next show your audience that you deserve it. Earn their trust and respect when you reveal qualifications and experience that define you as an expert, or a person with special insights, who has timely and relevant information to share.

As a member of the host group you will automatically be given a measure of credibility, but you may have other qualifications that enhance your authority. The person who introduces you may share all, or part, of that background information. Stopping short of boasting, make known your claim to expertise.

Acknowledge success/ Identify problem

The organization leader who asked you to address the group will tell you what s/he would like you to achieve in your speech and if s/he neglects to do that, it is incumbent upon you to confirm the purpose of your talk.  Whether there is a recent victory to celebrate or a looming challenge to overcome, call it out and rally the support of audience members. Enthusiasm and passion, expressed in a way that your audience will expect and accept, is injected here.  Inspire unity for the cause.

Solution

Organization leaders may be planning to roll out an initiative and you may have been asked to speak to build member approval and solidarity around that solution. If there are good times ahead, the solution may be for members to continue their enthusiastic support of the organization and the cause. If turbulent times seem inevitable, the solution is the same. The purpose of your speech is to inspire loyalty to the organization and the cause.

Call to action

As your speech concludes you must give audience members an outlet and direction for their enthusiasm and commitment to the organization.  Should they sign up for a special committee that will implement the solution, be it celebration or problem? Or is this a fundraising initiative and you’d like to inspire commitment for contributions?  Give a deadline and urge immediate action.

Re-cap

End with a concise outline of the major points you made in the speech. Re-state the call to action and the deadline. Thank your audience.

Regarding general recommendations for public speaking, thank the person who introduced you when you take the podium. Keep your talking points simple and easy for the audience to remember. If you can weave into your speech a story that illustrates or summarizes an important point, so much the better.  As Travis Bernard, content marketing guru at TechCrunch, the thought-leader technology industry blog based in San Francisco, CA says, “What would be useful for my audience to learn and how can I package this lesson or bit of information in a compelling story format?”

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Edgar Bundy (1862 – 1922, British) The Coffee House Orator, 1880.  Courtesy of Touchstones Rochdale Arts and Heritage Centre Museum, Greater Manchester, England

What’s Your Problem?

Whether your customers are B2B, B2C, or B2G, no matter if you sell products or services, tangible or intangible, you will, through trial and error, lost sales and big paydays, develop good stories that convince customers and make sales. Over the years you will trot these warhorses out again and again because they take you to the bank.

Your selling stories can take any number of approaches depending on what and to whom you sell, but one tried-and-true selling story category is the Problem Story. In a Problem Story you demonstrate that you can relate to the prospect’s pain points, you understand what is driving the prospect’s situation and you’re prepared to work with him/her to come up with an effective and reasonably priced solution (that just so happens to reside in your product or service line).

The best Problem Stories have a basic format that you can then adapt and apply to any prospect. Learn to personalize your Problem Story with a visit to your prospect’s website, an internet search to read what’s appeared in the press and if you met the prospect at a business association meeting or similar event, a call to the membership chairperson to get additional info about the prospect and his/her business. Get the back story and begin to comprehend the big picture of your prospect’s goals and understand what really matters. Now you can put together and customize a winning Problem Story.

For example, I provide event planning and PR services for a couple of large annual art events that are sponsored by an artist’s organization. The project specs describe the event planning responsibilities and event promotion public relations campaign that I’m hired to manage, but the unspoken purpose of my job is to persuade art lovers, art dealers, museum curators and the curious public to attend the event and buy art. My service enables the meeting of the relevant parties, so that business can be done.

When I write for the women entrepreneurs magazine where I am a staff writer, my unspoken purpose is to provide compelling content that persuades readers to click on my articles. Those clicks are tallied and they measure both my value to the magazine and the magazine’s value to advertisers, whose budgets sustain the publication.

Problem Stories communicate your understanding of what the prospect is facing and why s/he needs your help. Problem Stories communicate your authenticity because they entail sharing and not just telling. You “get it” and you care. A Problem Story is the opposite of a canned, impersonal sales pitch.

BTW, problem Stories can have a life beyond your conversations with prospects. With client permission if you’d like to reveal names, your Problem Stories make excellent case studies that you can upload to your website, Facebook page and LinkedIn profile, or share with the listening audience when you are a pod cast guest. Make use of your Problem Story wherever and whenever you’d like to demonstrate expertise, build trust and grow your customer base.

Thanks for reading,
Kim

Photograph: Academy-Award winning actor (“Network,” Best Actor 1977) Peter Finch (1916 – 1977) as Howard Beale in “Network” (1976). Directed by Sidney Lumet.

Storytelling Made Simple

What would be useful for my audience to learn and how can I package this lesson or bit of information in a compelling story format?“—Travis Bernard, content marketing guru at TechCrunch, the leading technology industry blog based in San Francisco, CA

Whaddaya say we learn how to put together a good story for your marketing content? Some people are natural storytellers and others aren’t, but it’s always useful to develop and hone the art of storytelling when one is a public speaker and that includes Freelancers, business owners and sales professionals who must speak with prospective clients to generate sales or billable hours.  Your story need not be long and elaborate.  In fact, a concise narrative will be more memorable and impactful.

Your content marketing story will describe a client experience journey.  The story will feature three main characters—the hero, the villain and the mentor.  The story will have a beginning, middle and end.  A call-to-action, when you encourage your content reader to act on the information that you’ve shared, will be the story’s epilogue.

The hero of the story will have a problem to solve or avoid, a challenge to overcome, and that is the goal.  The hero will be waylaid or deceived by the villain, that is, an obstacle that is preventing him/her from achieving the goal.  The hero must seek knowledge and guidance from a mentor during the journey and that is your role, storyteller friend.

Act I is when the hero acknowledges that there is a problem to solve.  There is a goal to achieve and an effective solution will be necessary.

Act II will describe the magnitude of the problem and the failures of various less than stellar solutions that the hero has tried and discarded (homegrown remedies or competitive products).

Act III is where you come in, the mentor who helps the hero make sense of the possible solutions and explains how your product or service can resolve the matter.  The hero agrees to adopt your product or service and the problem is resolved.  The hero looks like a genius to his/her superiors and colleagues.

The Epilogue features the call-to-action, when you show the content reader how to obtain an effective solution for his/her goal, a solution that will overcome the challenge and make the content reader look like a hero to the higher-ups.

Be advised that the hero of the content story is never the product or service.  The hero of the story is the protagonist, s/he who takes action and moves the journey forward to its triumphant conclusion.  The client is always the hero of the story.  You, the storyteller and possessor of expertise, serve as a mentor, to ensure that the hero will prevail and achieve the goal.  Your product or service supports the hero by overcoming the challenge and enabling achievement of the goal.

The purpose of your content/ story is to persuade the reader to act upon the information that you’ve delivered.  Integral to persuading the reader is to build trust in you as a mentor/ expert and confidence in the solutions that you recommend and provide. You may be able to persuade content readers to give your post a Like, or share it with others.  The ultimate validation is when content readers are so confident in your proposed solution that they click through to your website shopping cart or contact you to ask questions about how you might handle a project.

Finally, you’ll need a specific story to tell (and eventually, you’ll have two or three more). Without naming names, your content/ story will the based on a client who has successfully used your product or service.  If you will tell your company’s brand story to promote awareness, your content story will illustrate why company founders were motivated to form the venture and include mention of the mission, values and guiding principles.

Client experience journey content stories, or your company’s brand story, can be included in your blog, social media posts, white papers, videos and so on. You’re sure to find that they help prospects envision their own circumstances and how your products or services can be useful.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Portrait of Clementina Maude (circa 1862) taken by her mother, Lady Clementina Hawarden (Viscountess Hawarden of England, 1822-1865)

The Elements of Your Brand Story

A perennially engaging way to tell clients and prospects about you and your business venture is to spin a good story, ideally one that contains a compelling case study that spotlights your problem-solving ability, creativity and expertise. Everyone enjoys and remembers a good story; they usually feel connected in a positive way to people who tell them well. Expert storytellers have the ability to captivate an audience and gain their trust.

You may never become a TED Talk-worthy storyteller, but it’s still possible for you to devise a more than adequate brand narrative that effectively illustrates what you do; describes your typical clients; and gives an overview of the positive solutions that you create for clients. Your ability to tell the story will improve along the way.

Consider storytelling to be an element of your leadership development process; the most highly respected and popular leaders are excellent communicators and good stories are often included. Those leaders are persuasive. They are likable.  They generate trust and respect and there is great confidence in their abilities. As you brainstorm the elements of your brand story, try organizing your thoughts around the following:

  1. Who you are and what you do

Share a sliver of your personal details, to help your audience understand who you are and what matters to you. Don’t be afraid to break out of the expected corporate mode (while maintaining your comfort level boundaries). Segue into the services that you provide and/or products that you sell. Be succinct, clear and thought-provoking as you describe the needs or problems that you and your team address and resolve.

There may be no distinguishing factors to your work philosophy, but do mention your commitment to excellence and exceeding expectations. Inserting a paragraph about your volunteer work could be helpful. Whether your volunteer work is with those who are trying to improve their professional skills or in some aspect of the arts, that knowledge gives prospects and clients a good sense of your values and portrays you as a community-oriented, well-rounded professional.

2. Why / For whom you work

Name the usual customers that you work with: Fortune 1000 life sciences companies, small not-for-profit arts organizations, or whatever in between.

3. How you do it

Insert case study. The challenge is how to describe what you do without betraying client confidentiality, your proprietary secret sauce,  or overloading your audience with confusing details.  On which projects did you (and your team) deliver the goods that made a difference? Write it down, edit well, rehearse out loud and perfect the telling.

4. Outcomes / Proof of success

Potential clients must feel confident that you and your team will meet, if not exceed, their expectations.  Sharing an example  of a compelling client success story paints a picture of you in action and at your best.  Start with a description of the challenge or difficulty that these clients faced when they came to you.

Next, in simple and concise language (and preserving client confidentiality), explain selected highlights of what you did to achieve the desired results and why you chose that particular course of action. Conclude with an overview of the key benefits that the clients have received now that they’ve worked with you.

Tell case study stories that encourage prospective clients to identify with the challenges or problems that you resolved, so that they will be inclined to feel that hiring you is a smart move, one that will make them look good in the eyes of their superiors, colleagues and staff.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Case Study and Client Success Story

It is cause for celebration when your Freelance consulting expertise helps a client to achieve important objectives.  In previous postings I’ve recommended that you add to your website,  LinkedIn or Google +  sites case studies,  which are client success stories,  to demonstrate how you work with clients and the excellent outcomes that are realized when you arrive on the scene.

Business strategy development,  facilitation of business strategy meetings and marketing campaign development  (that is sometimes the result of a business strategy meeting that I’ve facilitated)  are my consulting specialties.  Special event and conference planning,  along with event marketing PR,  is an important niche market.  Also,  I develop curriculum and present workshops in business plan writing,  sales skills training and networking skills training.   My client list consists of small and medium-sized for-profit and not-for-profit organizations and except for teaching,  I connect with clients through referrals and personal introductions.

"Cooling Water"

“Cooling Water”

In November 2011,  a friend introduced me to the artist.  She is mixed-media collage painter and occasionally,  she sculpts brightly colored decorative bowls.  Her work had been featured in a small local museum that is far from the tourist areas and in solo or group shows in modest art galleries.  Over the years,  the artist had received several opportunities to enhance her career,  but she was often unable to follow-up and many slipped through her fingers.  Members of the creative class tend to have little energy available for business strategy and marketing.

She sold a few original paintings and her prints and decorative bowls sold reasonably well,  as did the greeting cards that featured images of her paintings.  The artist had recently earned a career victory,  when she was named the coordinator for a community arts initiative that is based at her alma mater.  She asked to meet with me.

We discussed her primary goal,  identified potentially promising opportunities and made a list of objectives that would serve as milestones.  Solo and group shows at more prestigious galleries,  an exciting offer to illustrate a children’s book published by a small local house and the formal launch of the arts project of which is coordinator were the defining objectives.

A business strategy and marketing campaign that would guide her choice of projects to accept or pursue,  to advance the primary goal of upgrading her brand and attracting higher-end collectors,  was developed and implemented.  Integral to the campaign was a revised marketing message and PR communications strategy.

The ArtMobile encourages local children to be creative

The ArtMobile encourages children’s creativity

Good results came quickly and serendipitous fortune appeared.  The university agreed to sponsor a big launch party for the arts project.  Outreach to the local cable television network led to the artist’s appearance on a talk show.  Two gallery shows were scheduled and offers for two more came in,  when gallerists who had been acquainted with her work,  but had not been moved to offer her a show,  learned of her affiliation with the community arts project.

One of those galleries is located in Martha’s Vineyard,  in the town where the President and First Lady,  who are known to be art lovers,  vacation.  The artist’s paintings sold well in Summer 2012 and she was invited to show her work there again this summer.  We have our fingers crossed and hope that the Obamas visit the gallery.

To review and evaluate the book illustration contract,  I referred to the artist an acquaintance of mine who is an intellectual property attorney and he gave the thumbs-up.  Because the book is based on a historical figure,  the artist felt that period research would be essential to her creative process.

I contacted a local college that has a well-regarded library and information science master’s degree program.  Within two weeks,  I was able to speak with four potential candidates who both concentrate on that period and have an interest in art.  I sent them to the artist for interviews and she hired two: one to perform research for the book and the other to catalogue her archive of paintings.

On the evening of July 3,  the artist hosted a large opening reception and birthday party at a restaurant that is now displaying several of her prints.  I contacted a pastry chef and asked him to create a special cake for the occasion,  a cake that depicted one of the artist’s paintings in butter cream frosting.  He chose to portray  “Never Walk Alone”.  A local newspaper was contacted and the editor sent a photographer.  Guests were wowed by the cake.  It was beautiful to behold and delicious!

The artist and the pastry chef

The artist, the pastry chef and the cake

The crowning milestone achievement was reached on July 16, 2013,  when the artist was sworn in as a committee member of the Boston Arts Commission,  a 123-year-old agency that chooses the art that will be displayed on City of Boston property.  This prestigious honor is a 5 year appointment.  The artist was nominated for the appointment by the arts association in the neighborhood where she has lived since childhood.  She leads art walk tours that highlight the distinctive architecture,  cultural institutions and public art in her neighborhood.

Swearing-in at the Boston Arts Commission

Swearing-in at the Boston Arts Commission

Signing appointment documents

Signing her appointment documents

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Escape From Power Point Purgatory

Presentations are an excellent way to sell yourself and your product or service.  The late Steve Jobs of Apple Computer was famous for delivering presentations that  never failed to inform,  educate,  inspire and entertain his listeners.

Overwhelmingly,  presentations mean Power Point,  no matter the number of obituaries written on its behalf.  Power Point continues to dominate,  despite the presentation capabilities of the iPad tablet  (sorry, Steve).  The challenge is to avoid the tendency to use Power Point as a teleprompter and leverage its advantages.

The secret to working with Power Point is to keep things simple.  Venture capitalist and author Guy Kawasaki  (“The Art of the Start”, 2004)  says  “A Power Point presentation should have no more than 10 slides,  should last no longer than 20 minutes and should contain no font smaller than 30 points.”  Communications coach,  author and popular keynote speaker Carmine Gallo likewise advises that 20 minutes is the ideal maximum length of a presentation,  based on research by neuroscientists from the University of Kentucky,  who found that attention spans drop precipitously after that time.

Every presentation is a story,  a narrative that has a beginning,  middle and end.  When invited to present to a client,  frame the story that is your presentation as a challenge.   After you’ve told your listeners who you are and established your expertise,  begin your talk by describing that challenge.  Next,  highlight any major obstacles that might impede success and then explain the solution you will deliver to resolve the matter.  In conclusion,  give a concise summary to reinforce the key take-away points.   Ask for the business and take questions.

Regarding the design of your slides,  experts recommend that you keep those simple,  too.  Janet Bornemann,  who designs Power Point presentations for corporate clients and is the creative director at PowerPoint Studio in Acton, MA,  recommends that when making slides,  think 5 x 5:  five lines per slide and five words per line. “It is very important for the mind to be able to rest on an idea or thought,  so if it’s a constant flow of words,  people will grow tired”,  she observes.

Treat your slides and the presentation overall as an extension of your brand,  your image,  like any of your marketing collaterals.  There shall be no clip art and no jazzy slide transitions.  Your presentation convey that you are capable, trustworthy,  confident and professional.  Bornemann says,  “Be consistent with colors and fonts.  Focus on the message—everything has to have a reason.”

Jim Confalone,  founder and creative director of ProPoint Graphics cautions against the overuse of charts and graphs and advises that any art and charts you include must be integral to the story and move the narrative forward.   Some presentation experts feel that the first slide should show a startling fact about the challenge the client is facing,  some attention-grabbing adverse outcome that the client must overcome and that captures the reason for hiring you.

Do not bury your listeners with minute details.  They will probably remember only three or four key points.  Leave your audience of decision-makers with a sense of your expertise,  your ability to produce the deliverable; describe the primary benefits derived by the organization if your solution is chosen to resolve the challenge that is the project; and let them know that you give excellent customer service and will respond to their needs and fulfill or exceed expectations.

Finally,  muster the discipline to rehearse your presentation and then rehearse some more.   Jim Confalone says that the number of hours it takes to create the presentation equals the number of hours you’ll need to adequately rehearse.  In order  to shine,  you’ve got to know the thing cold.  One does not read from the slides, ever.  Know your material,  be enthusiastic and connect with your audience and exude confidence.  You might even enjoy yourself!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: How to Write A Press Release

In numerous posts,  I have urged readers to send out press releases.  Despite the presence of social media outlets,  traditional media outlets still matter and the usefulness of a well-crafted press,  or news,  release continues.  When you win an award,  participate in a major charity event in your community,  teach a class, host a webinar, or debut a new product or service,  a press release should be sent to the appropriate media outlets.

Writing a good press release can be a challenge.  The stakes are high for Freelance consultants and other small business owners who must promote their products and services to target markets on a shoestring budget.  The press release is an important representation of you and your brand and it’s imperative to make it effective. Reporters might receive dozens of press releases a week,  so the relevance of your story must be obvious.  The key to success is an interesting news hook,  says Lou Colasuonno,  former editor-in-chief at both The New York Post and The New York Daily News and now Senior Managing Director at the New York City P.R. firm FTI Consulting.

Colasuonno advises his P.R. clients to consider how newsworthy their story will be to a publication’s target audience. Colasuonno also advises that the press release email subject line summarize your story hook in 10 words or less.  Your release needs a good headline,  so that the editor or reporter will immediately see how your story will impact their readers.   He recommends that you customize your press release to the editor or reporter who has responsibility for whatever your topic is,  to improve the likelihood of a response.  Finally,  he cautions that you visit media outlet websites and note publishing deadlines.  Two weeks lead time is standard for many newspapers and a bi-monthly magazine may require three months lead time.

  • Determine the story your release will tell
  • Write a  “hook”  that communicates why your story qualifies as news to recipient media outlets
  • Avoid using words and phrases that are likely to get your email blocked by a spam filter
  • Keep to a 400 word maximum release

Follow the standard format when you compose your release.   At center top in capital letters,  write FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE and below that include the contact information,  with email address,  web address,  telephone number and today’s date.  Centered below the contact info and written in bold capital letters,  provide your headline.  If your press release must exceed 400 words or one page,  include a short synopsis of your story below the headline.

Many press releases begin with a dateline,  giving its city and state of origin in parentheses.  In the first paragraph,  summarize the story’s theme and newsworthy info very concisely.  The most significant items appear at the top of the page and less important information is stated in subsequent paragraphs.   The final paragraph gives standard company info,  including the company mission,  when the company was founded,  awards that have been received or other major achievements,  so that the media recipient will have some background information.

Add credibility to your news release by including at least one quote from someone in authority  (maybe that’s you).   An insightful quote communicates to readers why your story is important and deserves publication.  You might also add audio-visual aspects to your press release and include a YouTube or podcast link or link to a client testimonial from your website.  Finally,  it’s recommended to send your news release in the body of the email and also as an attachment,  since many editors and reporters will not open an attachment from someone whom they do not know.

Alas,  even when we follow all the  “rules”,  our press release may go begging.  Carson Stanwood,  Freelance PR/media consultant and COO of Channel Signal,  a social media analytics platform in Jackson Hole, WY,  claims that in his experience,  only about 10% of press releases receive a response from recipients.  He recommends that you follow-up your press release with a phone call and cautions that you not call daily or otherwise make a pest of yourself. I prefer to call the editor or reporter first,  to determine whether there is interest in my story.

I pitch first and then send the press release if appropriate.  My strategy does not always work,  because editors and reporters sometimes lie,  unfortunately.  Really,  whether your story sees the light of day depends on what other news is happening and what the editor or reporter finds compelling.  But keep sending out press releases when appropriate,  because that is how relationships with the media are developed.  Offer to take a business reporter or editor to coffee and pitch your story in person.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

That’s My Story and I’m Sticking To It

When your objective is to bring someone around to your way of thinking,  tell that person a story.   Effective storytelling allows us to communicate with listeners in both an emotional and intellectual way.   As a result,  barriers between people break down as they are brought together in a shared experience that strengthens relationships.  A well-crafted and delivered story allows speaker and listener to understand and therefore trust one another.

Stories are used to build confidence in a person or agenda,  motivate listeners to think a certain way and perhaps do certain things.  Storytelling is the original call to action.  Those of us in business are advised to create good stories,  narratives that can be used to persuade others of our integrity and expertise.

When putting together your story,  think first of its ending.  You can choose where in the arc of your professional development  to begin your story,  but the ending is the most important component.  You must present a strong and memorable take-away anecdote,  lesson,  or triumph that listeners will remember,  believe and act upon.

It is advisable to create a  “portfolio”  of business-themed stories.  Your most basic story is your elevator pitch,  the story that describes what you do,  the goal you help clients achieve and the types of clients you work with.  Another,  more detailed,  story will tell listeners about you and the development of your business.   Other stories in your portfolio illustrate your expertise and professionalism.

The story of how you built your company will tend toward the inspirational.  That story might describe what motivated you to go into business and give a brief behind-the-scenes look at an obstacle you had to overcome on your way to becoming successful.  Don’t be afraid to reveal mistakes made along the way.  Let your listener experience your humanity and authenticity.

To demonstrate your expertise,   tell stories that show how you helped a client make money,  save money,  avoid disaster,  or discover a niche market.  Both types of stories build your credibility and are useful relationship builders and sales tools.

When developing and presenting a story,  be clear about its purpose in your communication strategy.   Know what you would like listeners to believe,  understand or do after you’ve told the tale.  For example,  if you want to convince a prospective client that you offer superior service,   perhaps write a story about how you worked through a holiday weekend,  so that a critical deadline would be met.

When you tell that story,  describe first why the goal of excellent service had to be met,  its importance to the client.  Then spell out the obstacles you overcame to achieve it.   Add a little drama to your story to encourage listeners to identify with the client and picture themselves in his/her shoes.   Remember to keep your story uncomplicated and easy to follow.

When writing your stories,  be mindful that there will be a beginning,  middle and end.  A well-designed story also has a person who must do or confront something;  a place,  where the action will occur; a time frame,  so that listeners can distinguish between “then” and “now”; and a hint of its direction,  to allow listeners to anticipate the outcome.

Be sure to identify and describe the turning point in your story,  the decision you made that made it possible  to achieve the goal.  Take special care not to confuse the turning point with the end of the story,  however.  The turning point triggers the successful outcome that makes the happy ending possible.  The end of the story,  the culmination,  describes how that goal was achieved.  Describing how the goal was achieved paints the picture of the take-away you want to leave listeners with,  namely that you provide superior service every time,  especially when the client needs it most.

Storytelling is a powerful business tool,  one that enriches business conversations and presentations as we communicate with listeners in both an emotional and intellectual fashion.  Stories help us to explain new ideas and concepts,  win support for projects and convince prospects to become clients.  Learn the art of building and relating stories and make clients know why they want to do business with you.

Thanks for reading my story!

Kim