Cultivating Better Communication Skills

My son recently graduated from college with a degree in Computer Science. Last month, while he was applying for his first full-time job, he needed to put together a 12-minute introductory video. In the video, he was required to discuss his educational background and professional experience, as well as “say a few words” about himself. While this task wouldn’t be easy for most people, it was even harder for him because he’s an introvert. Yet despite the difficulty, my son put together a really good video. Even better, he did it so well that he landed the job. Hurray! Later, he confided that he could not have done it without the help of Toastmasters.

For those of you unfamiliar with Toastmasters, it’s an international organization dedicated to helping people cultivate better communication skills. When my son first started college, he quickly discovered how uncomfortable he felt giving class presentations. While he had no problem putting his thoughts down on paper, speaking them out loud felt awkward. One night my son decided to come and check out my Toastmasters club. After just one meeting, he could see the members of my club would make excellent mentors. Several years later, everyone in the club has helped my son gain more confidence in his speaking ability. While my son is still an introvert, he is now totally comfortable whenever he’s asked to “say a few words.”

While Toastmasters is a wonderful organization for introverts, it’s also great for extroverts. At Toastmasters, members learn that becoming a better speaker requires evaluations that identify your strengths and weaknesses. In order to be a good evaluator, you need to become an active listener. Being a better listener can help every business professional better serve their clients.

Toastmasters has been around for a long time. The organization was founded in the United States in 1922. Today, Toastmasters is now an international organization, comprised of 352,000 members in over 141 countries. Most Toastmasters clubs meet weekly, or every other week, for 1-2 hours. Using a system that helps individuals learn-by-doing, club members help one another advance their public speaking and leadership skills.

Here are the reasons I think every business professional should consider joining Toastmasters:

1. Overcome Public Speaking Fears
The most positive and supportive audience in the world is a Toastmasters club audience. Speaking regularly in front of a group will help calm your nerves and communicate more effectively.

2. Become a Better Public Speaker
Club members progress through a series of speech projects.  Each project is specifically designed to help improve the ability to write and deliver speeches.

3. Become a Better Listener
By watching other members give speeches and evaluating their performance, you’ll become a better listener. Evaluating speeches forces you to pay attention and listen carefully. In addition, meetings include a grammarian report where word usage is scrutinized and everyone’s “ahs” and “ums” are counted. The reports help you become aware of using distracting filler words.

4. Gain Leadership Skills
Leadership and communication skills are related. As you gain more confidence in your ability to communicate effectively, your ability to lead will also improve. In addition to improving their speaking skills, Toastmaster club members can elect to take on leadership roles within the club. These opportunities help strengthen and grow the club.

5. Think Fast on Your Feet
During each Toastmasters meeting, there is a portion known as “Table Topics.” During this part of the meeting, club members respond to questions on a general topic. This impromptu speaking opportunity helps prepare you for the times in your life where you need to “speak off the cuff”.

6. Expand Your Network
Toastmasters is an excellent way to meet new, interesting, and successful people. Each club has a diverse range of members, ranging from young adults to retiree, from students, to working professionals, to business owners, and retirees.

If this sounds interesting, I urge you to visit a club near you by searching the Toastmasters club database online. If you live in an urban area, you may find you have several clubs to choose from. Instead of signing up with the first club you visit, be sure to shop around and choose the club that best fits your schedule and/or personality. Every club is unique and different. I like to visit new clubs when I’m traveling. It’s a great way to meet new people – anywhere in the world.

Once you find a club you like, signup and become a member. You will find that the membership dues are very reasonable (less than $100 a year). There really is no other public speaking program out there that will provide you with such an incredible return on your investment.  Best of all, Toastmaster meetings are fun to attend, which may be the greatest reward of all.

By Gillian Whitney

Communications Consultant

Launch4Life

gillian@launch4life.com

Can You Survive Being an Introvert in Business?

Being an introvert is great if you work by yourself, at your home office, or even in a office or cubby hole.  But no matter what your business is, at some point you have to come out and talk to people.  In order to be successful, you will have to engage with people either by phone, one on one meetings, or delivering speaking engagements.  You must rise to the occasion if you want to develop clients and drive your sales.  But what do you do if you are uncomfortable talking to people?  What if you are an introvert?  Or even worse basically “shy”.  I think introverts can manage the interactions if they have too, but shy people have a tougher time because they not only hate it, they get anxious about it. Social anxiety is not pleasant.

If you look at the two people in the blog title picture, it is probably easy to see who the introvert is, but they look like they are having a great meeting.  So can you.

You may be surprised to know that many of the people we admire in the online business world who lead seminars, do videos, coach, will tell you that are actually very shy and are introverts.  They have to really step up to be able to speak on stage.  But they do.  Why? Because they know if they don’t they cannot engage with their customers and get their message out.  The secret is trying to find how to stretch your comfort zone without making yourself crazy.  I have heard that what does drive introverts to stretch is their passion for their business and wanting to help others.  Choose the moments that will have the most impact.  Everyone thinks that the extroverts have it all together.  A little secret, even they can be shy and be terrified at times, and even hate networking too.

Here are a few tips that can get you started on the road to becoming more comfortable having those interactions.  Hopefully some of these practices can ease the anxiety and allow you to have some winning conversations.

Tip #1

Have some warm up statements for yourself.  When someone pounces on you and says, “who are you” or “what do you do?” have a couple of thoughts in your mind or maybe even memorized so you are not caught unaware which might totally shut you down.  Just a sentence or two will do.  Draw on your talents, your business know how. It gets you talking.  Use them to open a conversation or respond to a question.  Just let the person or persons get a sense of your passion for your business and how you help your customers.

Tip #2

If you in a situation where you might have to take the lead, begin the conversation with asking some questions about some relevant topics.  Doesn’t have to be about business.  Maybe it is just about something you learned recently on a topic that would be appropriate and ask for their opinion.  If you are conversing with an extrovert, they will take over.  However, if you are talking to an introvert, have a few soft inquiring questions.  It should get them started.  They are there for the same reasons you are probably.  Remember they may be just as nervous as you.  Be patient and let them talk.  Don’t cut them off.  Otherwise, that might be the last word you hear from them.  Your goal is to connect.

Tip #3

Listen, Listen, Listen.  Nothing turns off any person extrovert or introvert more, than having the feeling of being dismissed.  If you are interested in what they have to say, look “present” and “attentive” to their discussion.  If you are feeling a little intimidated, just back off a little and step in with a new statement or question.  It will quickly diffuse the atmosphere.  If possible adjust the conversation.  They probably don’t mean for you to feel intimidated.  It’s just that they are passionate about the subject.  They don’t realize they are coming across stronger than they should.

Tip #4

Practice, Practice Practice!  No matter how good a speaker or conversationalist you are, we need to practice.  Have daily conversations with your “Wilson” like Tom Hanks in the Castaway movie.  At least he doesn’t talk back and is attentive.  Practice talking to yourself in the mirror like the Queen in “Snow White”.  This will help you improve your body language – gesturing and facial expressions.  My favorite practice for a workshop is talking to myself while I am driving.  Thank goodness no one thinks I am a nut case.  They just think I am on the phone.

Fortunately, if you are doing a video, you can erase the bad parts.  But it is still good to practice audio and video to get more comfortable, especially if you know one day the stage is yours.  Speaking of stage, if you have ever gone to a large seminar, you often see the key speaker arrive on stage jumping around or clapping his or her hands.  They do it because it raises their adrenaline to quell the “butterflies” in their gut.  Tony Robbins bangs on his chest a couple of times before he heads out onto the stage and yells “yes”, “yes” “yes” and then runs out.  Who would have thought?  I have used his technique over and over when I am just getting ready to start.  No one sees it but you.  But you feel good when you begin your opening lines.

These four tips are probably the “tip” of the iceberg, but a great place to start.  You are always going to be an introvert and that is okay.  Introverts are the brain power of our society.  But it will help if you can learn some techniques to help you build rapport.  If you can do that, you will probably feel more comfortable and stay successful in your interactions.

Last and most important thing to do for yourself – when your event or interaction is all over, acknowledge yourself for doing a great job.  Then, reward yourself by going to that “quiet” place that allows you to recharge.  Take note of how long you can be “out” before you need to recharge. It may be just a “mental” garden, but you know where you need to go.

You are great…..

By Janet Elie

Internet Marketing Specialist

Launch4Life

janet@launch4life.com

Do You Know What This Person is Thinking?

How Do I Have a Winning Communication Experience?

I have just come back from a Thanksgiving family reunion.  Everyone came happy and excited to be with each other and have fun.  You have seen enough Movies to know how that goes.  You can always expect there will be some friction and some heartache.  Why?  Because as much as we all love each other, we have communication breakdowns.  Why?  Because we don’t always communicate in a way that the other person knows or understands.

Sometimes we don’t understand what was said, or we don’t understand their facial expressions.  What am I, a mind reader???Family is one thing.  Even if we have fights we all love each other.  We will have a few tears, maybe even some angry words, and then we hug, and say “I love you”.  We make it all better.  We forget the bad memories and come back for the next  family reunion.

 

Business, however, can be another thing.  If you are having this interaction at work or if you are trying to network with someone for business or you are having a one on one with a customer, that is another story all together.  There is no bond of love and friendship that will keep you together.  What do you do?  Even if you think you are the best communicator in the world, if you have a customer that is not a good communicator, your whole presentation or engagement could blow up in your face.  How do you overcome that?

Many, many years ago, I went to a two-day Communications course to learn how to be a better communicator.  We learned how to be good listeners.  But somewhere in translation, I didn’t quite grasp how to engage with people that are terrible communicators.  Trust me, there are plenty.  Now add to that, the additional issue of trying to communicate with someone while on a mobile phone.  That was not in that training, because mobile phones didn’t exist.  Here is a personal example: I was having lunch with one of my sons recently and I was sharing a story while he was doing something on his phone.  It became apparent to me that he wasn’t listening to anything I was saying.  I asked if he was listening.  Being honest with his Mom, he sheepishly said “no”.  Now what if that situation was with a customer.  They would have probably said “of course I am listening” and be totally lying.  Then whatever I said, would have been missed.  At least I was able to repeat my story with my son, or if it just didn’t matter in the big scheme of things, moved one.  But if it is work related, you can’t move on, you want to be sure they received your message.

Here are some good suggestions that I have learned from painful experiences:

  1. Make sure the person you are conveying your message too, wants to hear the message.  (Otherwise going to deaf ears.)
  2. Don’t try to have that important business conversation when there are distractions like loud music or other chitchat around you. Otherwise they may only hear every other word.  They will nod their head that they are hearing you and understand you.  But in reality, you know they haven’t a clue what you have been saying.  They are just being polite.
  3. Body language. This is critically important and probably my worst pet peeve.  I hate it when people respond to me with a face cringe or bobbing of the head and think I know what that means.  Try and ask questions that will elicit a response of a statement rather than a “yes” or “no” answer.  Otherwise, you may get a bobbing head and not get the answer you need. Some people may be afraid to answer your question as they are not ready to make a decision at that moment.  Asking questions that require a statement rather than a yes or no, will be more helpful.  Or that encourage them to ask a question back to formulate that decision.  That might allow for a better dialogue eventually giving you the response you need.  As hard as it might be, we need to ask gentle questions, so they don’t have the feeling of being interrogated.
  4. Try to allow that person you are engaging with to feel comfortable to speak and let you know what they are thinking and feeling. Sometimes, that just means “shut up” and “listen”.  Bite your lip if you have too.  Depending on your personality style that might be a little hard, especially if you are an extrovert like me.  But believe me if you want an introvert to respond, you have no choice, you have to give them the space and time to feel comfortable to answer.

Try this exercise: next time in a work discussion whether it is an associate or customer, look at their body language.  Do they look comfortable, or do they look anxious?  Use that intuition to decide how to “be” with that person so you can have a winning engagement.  Is it their personality or are they dealing with an issue that is making life tough right now?  You might have to ask some warm up questions to know the answer to that before you delve into your business conversation.

I found this YouTube and thought it really represented this subject.

 

We never know what someone is going through.  I would never in a million years have known what these expressions meant.  But it goes to show you, that we have to be sensitive to everyone and their needs, whether it is family, friends, business associates, or customers.

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving. Same time, next year, better equipped.  Have a better customer experience.

By Janet Elie

Internet Marketing Specialist

Launch4Life

janet@launch4life.com

Whats In Your Wallet?

Your Business Cards I Hope!

I recently heard this story from my friend, Fred.  He was standing outside his home assessing the tree damage from a storm the night before, when a “tree man” pulled up. The “tree man” offered Fred his contact information in the event he would like him to perform restorative tree trimming and take away the tree debris.  Fred said “great”.  The “tree man” ran back to his truck, ripped a piece of paper from a pad, wrote his number down and handed it to Fred.  Guess what Fred did with that piece of paper?  He crumpled it up into a ball and tossed it into the garbage. Fred thought, if he was a real “tree” guy he would have a business card.  The lack of a card stole any professional identity he may have had. Professionals have business cards.

When you are in a business situation and someone asks you “do you have a card?” the worst thing you can say is “oops, sorry I don’t have one”.  I am shocked how many times I have heard that.  I always have cards in my business card holder in my purse.  A smart business person will always have some business cards in their wallet if not a separate business card holder. If you think about it, a business card is one of the most important parts of your marketing. Your card represents you and your business. It shows that you are a real business person, not an amateur.

Why do many business people feel it is not important?  Why do some people go to networking events, conferences or business meetings without business cards? Why do some people have outdated cards with new information scribbled over the old stuff?  Or they hand you a crumpled, dog eared card.  This was the opportunity to showcase their contact information, their brand, their expertise, and they just blew it.  My guess is they don’t really understand the value of the business card. So here are a few tips that will hopefully create an awareness that business cards are an important marketing tool.

Tip #1.  Putting your card in some one’s hand, affords you a future opportunity for that person to find you when they are ready to buy.  Your prospect can read your card and learn more about you. They can check out your website or social media. If you don’t have a card, they will forget about you in a heartbeat.  Out of sight, out of mind.

Tip #2.  When you meet someone ask for their business card. It shows you are interested in this person.  Having coffee with someone and getting their card might one day lead to a great sale. There might be the possibility of a relationship in the future. With their contact information, you can blast off an email next day to strengthen the conversation you had. You may not need their card today, but guess what, someday down the road you may need those cards to build your email list.  One of the things I have learned is you must build that list.  Collecting business cards are jewels for that.

Now that I have made my point about having business cards, here are some additional tips for what is called business card etiquette.

  • Make sure  your business cards are up to date.
  • Make sure you offer clean cards.
  • Have easy access to your cards. No fumbling to the bottom of your purse for your cards.
  • Hand your card to someone so they can read the print. Offer it with your right hand like you do a hand shake.
  • Always look and make a comment about their card before putting it away.  Make that person feel special

Now that you are convinced you need to have business cards, what should go on your card? Here is your opportunity to shine. Your card is about YOU.

Here are some ideas of what should be in your business card design:

  • Your logo if you have one.
  • If possible, your photo.  I heard people are less likely to throw out a card that has a photo on it.
  • Your email address and phone number.
  • A website or social media site i.e. Facebook Business Page or Linked-In.
  • Perhaps a Mission Statement or Quote on the back of the card.
  • Make sure it is in readable font size.
  • If you read Gillian’s previous blog on QR codes, you may want to consider adding one.

For my last bit of advice, if you already have a card, stop and review it. Or have a friend audit your card.  Does it need updating? Does the card fit who you are now? Does it truly represent your business? Can you read your email address without a magnifying glass?   If you’re not happy, it’s time to order some new ones.

But remember my first advice: “What’s in Your Wallet?”  Make sure your business cards are.  Or keep them in a nice business card holder.  Keep extras in your briefcase. You can even buy a cover for your mobile phone that has a place for your cards.  How cool is that.  I have one of those.  Keep extras in the glove compartment of the car.  Got a brick and mortar business? Keep some on the counter in a nice stand.  You just never know when business will present itself.  Be ready!

By Janet Elie

Internet Marketing Specialist

Launch4Life

janet@launch4life.com

Making Use of Business Meetups

I don’t know about you, but my business can be solitary at times.  I work out of the house.  Consequently I don’t see a lot of people during the day.  I spend most of my time on the computer.  I do video conferencing, but the conversation is focused on their business.  If I want to go talk to people it’s not going to be at the office.  Don’t I get to talk to Gillian my partner, you say?  Yes, but heck she is 4 states away.  Not the same as in person.  Gillian has a couple of organizations she belongs to like Toastmasters.  By the way as a side note, she has actually won a few state competition trophies for public speaking.

But I have not spent a lot of time in Kansas City as most of the last 10 years has either been spent in Phoenix or on the road.  So, what to do?  How do I find an outlet that allows me to meet new people and have stimulating conversations about business with other like-minded folks?  I need a forum to learn and share.  The answer is “Meetups”.  Whoever developed this was brilliant.  There are Meetups for all sorts of activities: wine clubs, hiking, culinary, book clubs, social clubs for all ages and a variety of business groups.  You can use them to join a movement, get ready to run a marathon, or even learn a new language.  The best part is they are all free.  You just need to find the Meetup of your choice in your neighborhood.  If you don’t find what you’re looking for, just start your own.

Since my readers are mainly entrepreneurs I am going to suggest you join a Meetup for business.  https://www.meetup.com/.  But there are a variety you can select for fun. In fact, I highly suggest it.  But since this is a business blog I am going to explain my rationale for a business Meetup.  There are many choices.  Perhaps a business book club.  A technology group.  E-Commerce.  Network after hours.  Real-estate.  Just look up the “Career and Business” tab for your city.

I am very excited to share about one I recently joined.  We just had our first meeting and of course that was the inspiration for this blog article.  Our Meetup was called “I Love Marketing”.  If any of you are familiar with Dean Jackson and Joe Polish, you will know that they created a “I Love Marketing Podcast” and have done well over 300 Podcasts.  Sometimes Joe and Dean just focus on a specific theme or often they interview a guest of their business niche.  You won’t believe how inspiring they are and the value you will get from listening to these Podcasts.  Each one is about an hour.  Listen while working out on the treadmill, flying on the plane, driving in the car, or just when you are relaxing with a glass of wine in the backyard.  Easy to download to your phone or tablet so you can listen without being connected to WiFi.

If you haven’t heard of Joe or Dean you are missing a great treat and gaining lots of information that will help rocket your marketing.  The “I Love Marketing” website http://ilovemarketing.com/ offers a host of information on who these two guys are as well as links to their podcasts and videos. Dean started out in the real estate business in Toronto, Canada, and Joe sold carpet cleaning from Tempe, Arizona.  Now they are online marketing gurus who freely share all their ideas that helped make them successful.  Some podcasts focus just on the power of having a mindset shift.

Hopefully you should find a I Love Marketing Meetup in your town.  It’s for like-minded entrepreneurs who are looking to grow their business with all the online marketing technology.  Usually the group members use what was learned in the podcasts and apply it to their businesses.  That’s what I was doing this morning.  A group of 6 of us met in a Chiropractic office.  One of the members offered his office for our meetup.  Some groups meet at libraries, coffee shops, or restaurants.  The one I went to in Scottsdale rented a conference room at the local library so they could have visual aids.  There is no one size fits all.  The organizer will put his/her blueprint on it.  But no matter you will have an opportunity to share your successes and brainstorm with others over your challenges.  I promise your challenges are shared by others in the group.  But how fun to be in a nurturing environment where you can help each other.  The purpose is not to sell to each other, though I am sure some may collaborate offline.  But the most important part, it gets you out.  It creates stimulation.  You learn new things, make new friends, and create a support group that you didn’t have before you signed up.  I was so jazzed when I came home.  I can’t wait for next month’s meeting.  My big aha today was learning that direct marketing is not dead and some of the members are very good at tracking their analytics.  Interesting.  Another area to explore for new customers.

Here is the link to Meetup: https://www.meetup.com/.  You may not think you have time, but I promise you it will be worth your time.  A couple of hours a month could make a huge difference.

Our main discussion today was about the 8 Profit Activators.  What’s that?  Go check out the I love Marketing website. http://ilovemarketing.com/ Dean will share for free.  Good stuff.

Here is a link to Dean’s podcast on 8 profit activators. Podcast 228. http://ilovemarketing.com/228/

By Janet Elie

Internet Marketing Specialist

Launch4Life

janet@launch4life.com

Do You Have a One-Minute Elevator (Marketing) Speech?

You are at a networking event.  Someone asks you what you do. Are you a little flustered and stuttering over what to say?  Meanwhile that person is thinking “Oh my gosh this person is gushing on and I still don’t have a clue what they do.  Sorry I asked.”

If someone reacts internally that way, even if you don’t know they are actually thinking that, you have missed a great opportunity.  They have shut you down.  They are figuring out how to get away from you and move on to someone else.  This happens so many times at networking events.

Or have you ever been to one of those conferences where the leader tells you to get up and tell five people what you do in the next five minutes.  Ugh!!  You could be sitting next to someone on an airplane, standing in a line at Starbucks.  “Hey what do you do?”

If you had only created and memorized exactly what it is your do and how you help people, and be able to say it in one minute.  Your one-minute elevator speech.  Then someone might stay and listen wanting to learn more.

Well I have a super quick way to help you figure out how to create your one-minute marketing speech.   With this little exercise, you will be able to fashion one together in a flash.   Get out a pen and paper and get writing.  Follow these five little steps.

  1. What is your product?  Is it a service?  Or something more tangible like books, a restaurant, or theatre.
  2. How does your business (product or service) help solve someone’s problem or add comfort or luxury to their lives?
  3. Make it personal so that the person hearing your one-minute speech gets your passion and wants to hear more.
  4. What makes your product or service so unique or special?
  5. What is your why? What is that something special about you and your mission that made you pick this particular business and want to deliver it to your customer.

Now take the answers to those five questions and craft it into your one-minute speech.  Check your time when you are done.  If you go over a little, it’s no big deal. But no longer than 90 seconds.

Your Elevator Speech can be converted into many other opportunities. You can use it as a business statement.  It can be in written form as well as orally.  For example, you can use it in an email, or as the summary in a proposal.  It makes a great header for your business plan.  You can use it on your website and most importantly as we said at the beginning, if you are at a networking event and someone says “what do you do” you have an awesome answer.   If it is appealing enough, your audience will keep listening or reading.

I thought I would share my one-minute elevator speech.  What do you think?  I clocked it at 57.42 seconds.

You can take your fabulous one-minute speech and frame it in a video.  Now you have a calling card that you can use on Facebook, in your email signature, or even on your website.

By the way, there may be times when you only have 7 seconds.  Here is my 7 second statement:

Hi I am Janet.  We help small business owners with their online marketing and show them how they can do it on a shoestring budget.

By Janet Elie

Internet Marketing Specialist

Launch4Life

janet@launch4life.com