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Two simple tips for practicing simplicity

Twitter is the new Mark Twain.

You’ll recall Mark Twain apologizing for the length of a letter, saying he’d have made it shorter if he had had more time.

Well, I recently started Tweeting as part of my new Consultant Launch Pad site (if you’re interested in following me, I’m @consultantlaunc) and it’s helping me think more about my messages.  I’ve found that 140 characters isn’t all that much to express an idea (even if you’re just tweeting a quote or a link to another article or blog post), but if you want your message to get forwarded, you need to take that character count down below 120.  That’s because a “retweet” also includes the name of the person forwarding it and that 120 characters needs to be even shorter if you want to give them space to make a short comment.

You’ll get a pretty good idea of how good or bad you are at communicating your message succinctly by the number of retweets and/or the number of people following you.  One way to practice is to Follow a number of people and enter into a dialogue with them.

Elevator speeches become "the 118"

Faster elevators now give you less than two minutes to sell yourself

Tip No. 2 has to do with a new book out on the elevator speech called The Mirror Test by Jeffrey Hayzlett, Kodak’s former chief marketing officer.  For now, I’ll point you toward an interview with and a mini-profile of him (they’re both short) but think his concept of what he calls “the 118” is pretty actionable.

Here’s an excerpt: “The 118 comes from the 118 seconds you actually have to pitch: 8 seconds to hook me and up to 110 seconds to drive it home — less than two minutes with only seconds to spare. The first eight seconds is the length of time the average human can concentrate on something and not lose some focus. It is also the length of time of one of the toughest rides in the world: a qualified ride in professional bull riding. In these first eight seconds, you must be compelling, strong, and focused to be successful. You must hold on as one of the meanest, toughest animals in the world tries to throw you off – just like any good prospect will. Make it those 8 seconds, and I’ll give you 110 more to drive your message home with no bull. But if you have not sold me at the end of the 118, I will start to tune out. At that point, we are moving forward to a sale or not.”

To summarize today’s two tips for a Twitter world:  2 Simplicity tips: Keep your Tweeting <120 charact and buy Jeffrey Hayzlett’s The Mirror Test.

And after attaching a TinyURL of this post, that’s 120 characters.  On the nose.

Find a URL that reflects your brand

Have you synched your brand across your various contact points?

As an increasing number of people consider consulting as an alternative strategy to their job search, they’re finding that their business cards don’t serve both purposes (i.e., their “job search” cards are not entirely “on message” for their consulting strategy). 

A friend asked me for my reaction to possible names and taglines for his new consulting practice.  At first blush, they didn’t excite me.  This is a guy whose job search is focused on finding himself a role as an “Innovation Executive.”  Clear and to the point.  When I see job postings that use those words, I think of George and forward them.

So we spent some time talking through what he loves to do and what kind of consulting projects he expects to get.  As he talked, I captured his words (because I now think he can strengthen his 30-second commercial) and typed in possible domain names (I know, I know.  I wasn’t demonstrating great listening skills but I told him what I was doing).

We found something that will work  for people Googling (Binging) his unique value proposition, particularly if he focuses on using other keywords in his blog and on his website.  His company name will work with both his job search and his prospecting for consulting clients.  All in all, 30 minutes well spent and we pledged to talk again in a few days about the taglines.

I took this same approach with my brand.  Once I got comfortable with the bulldog concept, I found a domain name that leveraged the brand.  And then I created this blog  using the same approach.  All in all, I think the three sync up pretty well, although I’m sure I could be doing better.

Is your brand consistent?  Could people find you fairly easily if they were having problems spelling (or remembering) your name, or if they were looking for someone who has your unique skills?

Take a journalist’s approach to your resume, elevator speech

Where's your focus when you look at this statue?

As I listened to a group of unemployed executives deliver their personal elevator speeches (i.e., their 30-second commercials), that little voice in the back of my head was working overtime.

“Don’t bury your lead,” it kept screaming at them as I had eerie flashbacks of my time as a newspaper editor talking to young reporters.  Time and again, the really interesting stuff — the great visual images, the jaw-dropping results — came at the end while the beginning was filled with standard phrases like “results-oriented” and “IT executive.”

In the newspaper business, the lead is normally the first paragraph that contains the essential elements of the story.  A well-written lead keeps the reader reading…rather than turning to another more interesting story.

When it comes to Simplicity, journalists have the roadmap.  Most of their stories are written in the inverted pyramid style, with the most important piece (the widest part of the pyramid) at the top and the rest of the information in decreasing order of importance.

Let’s face it.  As a reporter, a job-seeker, or someone presenting your important business idea at work, you’re competing for your audience’s attention…and they have lots of alternatives.  Time and again over the past few weeks, I’ve heard stories that a job posting had generated 200-300 responses within just a few hours.

Successful reporters agonize over their leads because it’s the most important investment they make in their stories.  A great lead makes the rest easy…and it makes their editors’ job easy because under pressure they can just cut from the bottom and print what’s left for their available space.

If you think of your boss or the recruiter as your editor, this concept becomes easier.  As they write and edit, reporters often find that their best stuff is in their third, fourth, or 10th paragraph (hence the phrase, bury the lead) so they move it up.

Think about what makes you or your idea memorable.  Now take a good look at your resume, your elevator speech or 30-second commercial, or your presentation.  If you’re making your reader work hard to find that special something, then odds are that your idea, your resume, or you are about to be placed on the No pile.

It’s not easy.  We often get so bogged down in the details that we lose our core message and bury our lead. 

Who are you?  What makes you different?  What value do you provide?  What problem can you solve?  Get that into your lead and you’ll be much closer to grabbing your audience’s full and undivided attention.

The benefits of an edgy brand

"Holy cow, the opportunity to mess with one of the most recognizable icons on Planet Earth," says Junction Point Creative Director Warren Spector, who's working on the Epic Mickey game.

Epic Mickey could be my new hero.  At the very least, he’s proof that redefining my brand in an edgier way is a good idea.

Here’s the back story.  Disney protects Mickey Mouse like a mother bear protects her cubs…if Mama Bear also had a battalion of lawyers at her beck and call.  But Disney is rethinking this approach…worried that Mickey has evolved from beloved character to corporate symbol, it’s taking the risky step of re-imagining him for the future.

They’ll start the tweaking next year with a video game, Epic Mickey, in which squeaky clean  Mickey shows traits like cunning and irritability — along with being heroic — as he travels a forbidding wasteland.  This is the first step in a bigger project to rethink Mickey’s personality — including the way he appears on the Disney Channel and how our kids interact with him on the Internet — and raise his appeal with edgier tweens and teens.

I’m not equating my brand with Mickey’s but there are some parallels.  I’ve struggled to define my brand as I look for work in an environment where hiring managers seek reasons to eliminate you rather than reasons to hire you.

In my previous job, I was known for my passion and intensity.  I was seen as someone who could get difficult tasks done.  I was once cautioned to keep the “body count” low, although in my defense that had more to do with my willingness to address bureaucracy head-on and my refusal to accept the status quo than it was a view that I had an “anything goes” mentality.

I was once described by MBNA’s chief marketing officer as a “bulldog” to a large group.  She meant it as a compliment.  I was the guy top management asked to fix the issues that came up in those annual “what keeps you awake at night” exercises.

But as I started my job search, I avoided that description.  I went vanilla, because I was worried that “bulldog” traits would cost me interviews and job opportunities.

But as time went on, I realized — thanks to the advice of friends and mentors — that I’d be wasting my time interviewing with companies that would feel my approach wouldn’t fit their culture.  In short, I needed to embrace my “inner bulldog.”

So I named my consulting company Bulldog Management Solutions.  I have built a brand focused on Bulldog Simplicity.  My LinkedIn profile doesn’t dance around the subject.

I’ve probably lost some interviews and consulting jobs.  But it makes it easier to talk about my strengths…and my weaknesses.  The approach hasn’t resulted in a full-time job yet, but I’m convinced that when it does, I’ll be happier and able to demonstrate the passion that has driven my success over the years.

What about you?  Have you taken an “edgier” approach to your personal brand?  If so, what have you done?

A strong narrative can keep your message from getting lost

Gordian Knot 1

Without a strong narrative, your story can get tied up in knots.

I’ve spent my career trying to craft simple messages that tell our story to customers, prospects, investors, employees, and team members.  But I’ve struggled with creating my own personal narrative since leaving Bank of America in December.  I have a few  strong marketable skills…which has led to multiple resumes and multiple job-search objectives.  And that can cause a problem when the time comes to market myself through social media and with prospective employers: The message gets lost.

With that in mind, I took particular interest in a great column by Thomas L. Friedman in today’s New York Times.  Friedman makes a terrific distinction between communications and narratives.  Responding to people who ask what he thinks President Obama really believes, he argues that while Obama doesn’t have a communications problem — he’s certainly given many speeches laying out his positions and making the case for them — he has struggled to tie all his programs into a single narrative that reignites the passion that got him elected.

At a time when many job seekers must now meet all 15 of a posted job’s requirements to even have a shot at a second look, building that narrative becomes even more important.  I struggle between being a consultant and being open to a full-time position, fully recognizing that prospective clients worry about my commitment and potential employers assume I’m not interested in anything full time, when the truth is in the middle:  I see consulting as a bridge, as a way to demonstrate my value to a company outside the interview process.

When I started my job search a number of months ago, my elevator speech focused on my communications skills (Communications Windex!).   But I got a lot of well-meaning advice that I should also stress my negotiations skills and my ability to simplify processes.  And my ability to build execution-focused teams.  And…well, you get the idea.

But I’m becoming increasingly convinced that this is not a market where you can be all things to all people, and hope someone will make the effort to figure out which of your skills are what they need.  They have too many other resumes on their desks.

That’s Friedman’s point.  As important as the one-off discussions are, you have to have something that ties it all together or your message gets lost.  For Obama, according to Harvard professor Michael Sandel, it’s about recapturing the poetry of his campaign. 

For me, it’s finding a memorable way to combine Bulldog Simplicity with Communications Windex.

What is it for you?

With Twitter, power now shifting to audience during presentations

Twitter:  Distraction or Presentation Aid?

Twitter: Distraction or Presentation Aid?

It used to be enough as a presenter to know your audience, have strong content, practice, and repeat.

Not any more.

Now you have to worry about the audience Tweeting about your presentation…as you’re giving it.  And sometimes the comments are being projected over your shoulder, right next to your slides.

I can actually see pros and cons with this.  On one hand, if you really know your topic and have practiced, this can be an opportunity to modify your presentation when you see the audience isn’t getting something or incorporate the answers to their questions right then and there, rather than hoping they’ll ask after you’re done.

On the other hand, monitoring Twitter could distract you from focusing on presenting and watching the audience for their reactions and lead you down roads that will undermine the preparation you’ve done.

And with Twitter, people who aren’t even at your presentation have an opportunity to weigh in and add to the confusion. 

This issue has really come to the forefront with a recent incident at the HigherEdWeb conference in Milwaukee a few weeks ago.  For some context, feel free to click on The Great Keynote Meltdown of 2009.  Simply put, the presenter appears to have been ill-prepared, used outdated slides, and was a poor presenter who disrespected his audience.  He took an ugly public (and private — people also texted his phone number to tell him how bad he was) beating.  But this isn’t a new phenomenon. 

I’m thinking about this as I prepare for a presentation on The Impact of New Credit Card Legislation on Students at a conference of financial-aid professionals in Orlando next month.  Some will argue I should have already done this, but I’ll be asking the conference organizers on Monday about the level of my audience’s social technology adoption to determine whether I need to (or even can) monitor the backchannel while I’m talking.   The next decision is whether I want to.  What I do know is that I’ll be intensifying my preparation over the next few weeks to ensure I’m not “that guy.”

I wonder how people who Tweet during a presentation can be doing that and still pay attention.  My 17-year-old, who IMs, Facebooks, and the like far more than I like, says he could — but that he would never use Twitter in that way.

I’d like to get a dialogue going on this subject.  Should Twitter be banned from presentations or is it a reasonable way for the audience to interact with the speaker and just a sign of the times of the audience gaining more power?  What strategies are you using in situations where conferences have a backchannel?