Communication Skills


Emails are key to communication in the office. Yet, as a rule, they are badly written. So by consistently sending sharp, well-composed electronic messages, you will make yourself stand out from the crowd. Take careful note of the following:

1. Hone your subject line
Try to be more specific. Instead of giving your email the name ‘Byrne project’, call it ‘Byrne project: new deadline for phase 2’. Your email is already more interesting than most.

2. Don’t bury the lead
If you want to annoy people, make them read three paragraphs before you get to the point. If you want to rise in the company, state your purpose in the first sentence or two and then get to the why and how of the matter.

3. Request further action
End emails with a suggestion or a request for action. An example would be: ‘I will call you on Monday at 10am to discuss this’ or ‘When can we get this done?’. Otherwise, nothing is likely to happen.

PLUS: 10 Best One-Liners

4. Be human
People who would never dream of being cold and abrupt in person, often come across that way in their emails. Being businesslike doesn’t mean being impersonal. Try to remember that the recipient, like you, is a human being.

5. Proof your email
Just one misspelling, grammatical error or typo can make a sender look careless and disrespectful. Sending ‘clean’ emails lifts you above the sloppy crowd.

Great list. Read all 10 via

The challenge for business leaders, then, is making sure that all of their managers stay on track and on task. Here are 10 rules that can help.

1. If it’s not on the calendar, it won’t happen. Using a shared team calendar allows you to make deadlines clear, schedule in updates to monitor progress, and let your team know when you want to see them. Setting several dates in a row can help you to force the pace of progress.

2. Focus on the follow-through. Big programs are often broken into smaller, more manageable chunks, each run by separate team leaders. As the person with overall responsibility for delivery, it is essential to make sure that each of these project leaders is executing as required. Do not allow unresolved issues to drop, and to be prepared to offer feedback as necessary.

3. No project owner means no progress. A great idea is a fragile thing: even the best ideas die fast unless someone takes responsibility for putting them into action. This project owner should have the time, resources, autonomy and talent required to succeed.

4. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Few people enjoy the luxury of having all the time that they need to get things done; most of us spend our days constantly balancing priorities and choosing between options. The key to successful execution is choosing the important tasks – those which will have the biggest impact on whether or not you can achieve your objective – rather than the urgent tasks, which can often be left to wait. The other critical tool here is delegation: if you do not have to do a task personally, assign it to someone else.

5. Initiate: it gains time. Initiation means using your resources to get a project started, even if you do not have the time to get involved in it at that moment. This means that others in your team can get the ball rolling, for example by finding and analyzing relevant data, so that when you are free to get on board you do not need to waste time on any of this preliminary work.

Read all 10 at the Jakarta Post

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On January 9, 2006, Howard Stern debuted his new show on the Sirius Satellite Radio Network. It is easy for mainstream business or political figures to dismiss Stern as a mere prankster who panders to the lowest common denominator through an obsession with sex, bodily functions, bathroom humor and more sex. But many others have tried the same road Stern is on and most have failed. Millions of people love Howard Stern, and a lot of people love to hate him. Personally, I am neutral. I find him mildly amusing, but if I don’t listen to him for 14 months, and then listen to him again, I don’t feel like I’ve missed much.

But it is undeniable that Stern has become a major figure in American pop culture. The shock jock has the most zealous fans of any entertainer around. You can not deny Stern’s success. Stern is well on his way to joining the Oprah-Martha Steward Media Billionaires Club. But I believe there are secrets to Stern’s success that are transferable to others (without being obscene!). Here are the 10 key principles that I believe Stern has used as he built his media empire that can be duplicated by others who wish to be powerful communicators:

  1. Talk about what really interests you. (It’s not as if Stern has to fight a daily impulse to discuss the Federal Reserve)
  2. Make fun of yourself. (Stern always ridicules his own manhood)
  3. State your beliefs even at the risk of offending people. (In Stern’s case the FCC documents his numerous offenses)
  4. Be unique. (Through his dress, style, vocal tone and message, Stern has been different from his competitors for 30 years)
  5. Consistently communicate a consistent message. (Howard has been doing the same thing for 30 years—he doesn’t reinvent himself)
  6. Display passion (When Howard is angry or upset, he reveals all)
  7. Treat your audience like gold. (Howard treats his audience members like they are closer to him than his own family. He even has parties for them.)
  8. Treat all people equally. (Whether you are a poor person with a handicap or a rich Hollywood celebrity like Alec Baldwin, Stern gives everyone the same level of disrespect.)
  9. Reveal yourself. (When Howard was going through a divorce, he revealed all to his listeners)
  • Work incredibly long and hard hours. (Howard has gotten up at 4:00 AM in the morning for decades and spent every waking moment coming up with new bits for his show)

TJ Walker, Media Training Worldwide


Even the most eloquent of public and private speakers could always stand to tweak their communication skills just a little bit. After all, the ability to convey feelings and facts stands as essential to keeping the human species rolling along. Both the Internet and bookshelves sport advice a-go-go on how to get points across as clearly as possible, and the venerable open source lecture series TED does not disappoint in this regard. Its best offerings regarding human connectivity encourage essentials not always discussed in manuals and textbooks, so give them some consideration and use them to launch more exploration into how to grow into an effective, evocative communicator.

  1. Elizabeth Lesser: Take “the Other” to lunch:

    If communications with people on opposite sides of political, cultural, religious and other common divides so often proves extremely problematic, try Elizabeth Lesser’s simple-but-effective approach. Rather than arguing, go out for a nice lunch and analyze similarities and gently debate departures to nurture a greater understanding.

  2. Julia Bacha: Pay attention to nonviolence:

    Global and personal perspectives alike can benefit from sharpening those reframing skills, as this provocative TED Talk on international relations attests. Julia Bacha encourages listeners to look at stories from multiple angles, using peaceful Palestinian protests that never make the evening news as an example of how things aren’t always as they appear.

  3. Nancy Duarte: The secret structure of great talks:

    Presentation expert Nancy Duarte, CEO of Duarte Design, analyzed hundreds of the world’s most powerful and potent speeches and noted that they tend to sport eerily similar structures. For anyone who hopes to communicate major ideas in a persuasive manner — either to a crowd or to whomever happens to be within shouting distance of the La-Z-Boy — such an observation might prove a particularly valuable advice nugget.

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the attack was meant as a show of support for the Occupy Wall Street movement


Here are 10 quick tips to help you add polish at the podium, enjoy your public speaking experience and influence your listeners.

  • Begin with the end in mind. Start planning your presentation by asking and answering this question: What do I want my audience to remember when they leave my presentation?
  • Use a mind-map or other right-brain organizational tool to organize your presentation. Landscape beats portrait when it comes to presentation planning. Think, “map, direction, flow” rather than lists, paragraphs and text.
  • Know the “story” your presentation tells. Refrain from data-dumping. The information you present has a story behind it. Your audience will understand the details better if they understand the big picture first.
  • Do not apologize or put yourself down publicly. Even if you didn’t prepare, feel insecure, or have forgotten your slide show.
  • Look at one person at a time rather than scanning the room. People feel your intention to include them individually if you speak directly to them. If it’s a large crowd, mentally divide the audience into a tic-tac-toe grid and target an individual to look at from each section. One-to-one eye contact creates connection differently from scanning the crowd.

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Video has become an essential marketing tool. It’s a great way to tell your story, show the human side of your business and communicate highly complex ideas in an easy to digest manner. But while video has the power to deeply engage, it also has the power to bore the viewer to tears—and creating compelling video is different than writing, say, a compelling blog post.

Starting a camera and spouting out a thousand words of brilliant prose does not make a compelling video. There are proven techniques and tools that can help make your videos engage, hold attention and wow the viewer. Here are 10 tools that can help you get started.

1. Prezi. This is a interesting take on the slide presentation as it allows you to create one giant and more easily connected idea and then use the tool to zoom, pan and fly all around the presentation to create a really dynamic feel. It’s not the easiest tool to master, but check out some of the incredible examples on the site to get inspiration.

2. YouTube Editor. I like this tool because it’s free, and because you’re using YouTube to host and stream your videos anyway, it gives you some nice editing capability right in YouTube. You can also add annotations and transcripts to your videos making them more SEO friendly.

3. Camtasia. This PC and Mac desktop software is the market leader in the screencapture video world. Screencast videos are a great way to demonstrate how something online works. Camtasia has some nice features that allow you to add focus to areas on your screen as well as annotations and URLs.

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Today is March 4 and you know what that means. It’s National Grammar Day! Here are ten ways to celebrate.

1. Send someone you love a Grammar Day e-card from the Grammar Girl site.
2. Peruse the online Chicago Manual of Style.
3. Challenge your skills by taking the Newsroom 101 writing tests.
4. Buy yourself a grammar t-shirt.
5. Set up an RSS feed for the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar blog.
6. Ridicule people who put their bad grammar on display.
7. Have fun with number six and continue ridiculing people who put their bad grammar on display.
8. Read about what drives real grammar and spelling snobs.
9. Join the Facebook Group Knowing the Difference Between “Their”, “There” and “They’re”.
10. Leave a comment chastising me for all the grammar mistakes I’ve made in my life.


Barbara Govednik launched 423 Communication in 2001 to helps its clients tell their stories through freelance writing services, coaching and editing services, and employee communication consulting and implementation. Read Barbara’s Being Well Said Blog.

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Monument ValleyAs anyone who has crammed for an exam can tell you, usually the number of hours we work without interruption is inversely proportionate to how much we accomplish. So how do these entrepreneurs manage to work so many hours without suffering from brain fatigue?

Well, first of all, it is because they truly love being an entrepreneur and are passionate about their enterprise. But, I believe, part of the answer is that they wear so many hats. They never get stuck doing the same kind of work for too long.

Here are some more brain-based tips that can work wonders and could be what helps propel entrepreneurs forward:

1. Buy a good office chair, or get a standing desk. 

Focal Upright Furniture has a brand-new chair-and-desk combination on the market. Invented by Martin Keen, of Keen shoes fame, it uses a position between sitting and standing, and allows lots of movement as you work. It also helps those who use it remain attentive.

2. Do not multitask.

John Medina, author of Brain Rules, tells us the brain cannot multitask, period. What it does do is switch back and forth between tasks very quickly. Someone whose attention is interrupted not only takes 50% longer to accomplish a task but also makes up to 50% more errors. A study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people who talk on the cell phone while driving are four times more likely to have an accident, because it isn’t possible to devote your full attention to both driving and talking at the same time. Hands-free calling offered no advantage. What’s the lesson to take away? Focus on one task at a time, and you’ll accomplish each better and faster–without killing anybody.

3. Use all your senses.

Work is more entertaining for your brain–and therefore makes you more alert–when you engage as many of your senses as possible. Use colored paper and pens. Experiment with peppermint, lemon, or cinnamon aromatherapy. Try playing background music.

4. Don’t make too many decisions in one day.

It sounds farfetched, but if you go shopping in the morning, then negotiate yourself out of eating a cookie at lunch, and finally try to decide between two job offers that afternoon, you might choose the wrong job because you didn’t eat the cookie, according to Scientific American. Making choices depletes your reserves of executive function, or “the mental system involved in abstract thinking, planning, and focusing on one thing instead of another.” This can adversely affect decisions you make later.

5. Take a quick break every 20 minutes.

A study in the journal Cognition reveals that people can maintain their focus or “vigilance” much longer when their brains are given something else to think about every 20 minutes. That’s the time when thinking becomes less efficient. This trick is called momentary deactivation. If your mind isn’t as sharp after a long period of work, it may not be completely fatigued. It just needs to focus on something else to refresh the specific neural network you’ve been using.

6. Work with your own circadian rhythms. 

Are you an early bird or a night owl? Do you fade every afternoon, or is that when you are strongest? Don’t schedule an important meeting at a time when you will be operating on one cylinder. And don’t waste your peak work time at a doctor’s appointment.

7. Relax for 10 minutes every 90 minutes.

When you’re awake, your brain cycles from higher alertness (busy beta waves) to lower alertness (alpha waves) every 90 minutes. At that point, you become less able to focus, think clearly, or see the big picture. You know the signals: You feel restless, hungry, and sleepy, and reach for a coffee. Herbert Benson of Harvard, author of The Relaxation Response, recommends working to the point where you stop feeling productive and start feeling stressed. At that moment, disengage. Meditate, do a relaxation exercise, pet a furry animal, go for a quick jog, take a hot shower, pick up your knitting, practice the piano, or look at paintings. Allowing your brain to go into a state of relaxation, daydreaming, and meditating will reset your alertness.

Read full article via Inc.


In a recent survey by the Conference Board, 539 global CEOs were asked to list their top concerns. In Europe and Asia as well as in North America, organizational flexibility and adaptability to change consistently ranked at the top of the list. Only revenue growth was of higher concern.This offers tremendous opportunities for communicators to add real value. It also requires an expanded definition of “change communication” from speech writing, intranet content development, e-mail messages, roll-out/cascade programs – and the rest of the current traditional approaches – to a more inclusive overview encompassing leadership behavior, reward systems, organizational goal-setting, recognition programs, work processes, workplace design, and strategic conversations within formal and informal networks.Most importantly, it means letting go of any preconceived notion of finding “the one right way” to communicate change. No “transformation formula” lasts forever. In fact, the best change-communication techniques aren’t found in any single source or strategy. The most effective guidelines evolve in response to a series of questions:

Question #1 – What is the employees’ perspective?
Front-line employees deal regularly with customers and observe first-hand the issues, challenges, and successes of those they serve. The IT department sees advances in technology before the rest of the organization has adapted to the last update. Professionals throughout the company attend association meetings and have access to experts in their field. Your organization has hired the best and the brightest – and your task is to tap their expertise, points of view, and concerns. The first question to ask is: “What do employees think?”

Question #2 – Did you “set the stage” for change?
The best time to discuss the forces of change is well in advance of an organization’s response to them. Everyone in the organization needs a realistic appreciation of the precursors of change and transformation – the impact of globalization, market fluctuations, technological innovations, societal and demographic changes in the customer base, new products/services of competitors, new government and regulatory decisions. And here technology can be a great asset. Although it certainly shouldn’t be the only medium, the intranet can be a timely vehicle for competitive and industry information.

Question #3 – How will you track employee perceptions?
Employee interaction and feedback loops help communicators track the level of workforce comprehension. Whether you supply an email box or a phone number for individuals to ask questions about the change, use online surveys to query a sampling of the workforce, or create Communication Advisory Teams to represent their fellow workers, the greatest advantages come when organizational feedback is gathered immediately after the delivery of an important message.

Question #4 – Do you have honest answers to tough questions?
Not only can employees tolerate honest disclosure, they are increasingly demanding it. And when it comes to change, employees want straight answers to these tough questions:
* Will I keep my job?
* How will pay and benefits be affected?
* How will this affect my opportunities for advancement?
* Will I have a new boss?
* What new skills will I need?
* What will be expected of me?
* How will I be trained/supported for the new challenges?
* How will I be measured?
* What are the rewards or consequences?

Question #5 – Can you answer the most important question: What’s in it for them?
There are personal advantages to be found in almost every change, but people may need help discovering what the advantages are. Sometimes employees just need to be guided through a few questions: What are your career goals? What are the skills you would like to learn? What job-related experiences would you like have? In what ways might this change help you to fulfill some of your personal objectives?

Question #6 – Have you narrowed the “say-do” gap?
Organizations send two concurrent sets of messages about change. Formal communication is what companies “say” to employees about the organization and its goals. Informal communication is what the company “does” in terms of rewards, compensation, training, leadership behavior, organizational structure, etc. to demonstrate and support what it says. For today’s skeptical employee audiences, rhetoric without action quickly disintegrates into empty slogans and company propaganda.

Question #7- Who’s vision is it?
Effective communicators understand the power of vision to imbue people with a sense of purpose, direction and energy. But if the vision belongs only to top management, it will never be an effective force for transformation. In the end, people have to feel that the vision belongs to them. The power of a vision comes truly into play only when the employees themselves have had some part in its creation. So the communicator’s role moves from crafting executive speeches to facilitating interactive events.Question #8 – Can you paint the big-little picture?
Vision is the big picture, and it is crucial to the success of the enterprise. But along with the big picture, people also need the little picture so they know where their contribution fits into the corporate strategy. And here’s where first-line supervisors can be the most effective communicators. In face-to-face discussions with their team members, supervisors become a vital link in turning the organizational vision into practical and meaningful actions.

Question  #9 – Are you emotionally literate?
People have to understand the rationale for change – the business case, the marketplace reality. But change is more than just the logic behind it. Large-scale organizational change almost invariably triggers the same sequence of emotional reactions — denial, negativity, a choice point, acceptance, and commitment. Communicators who track this emotional process design strategies that help people accept and move through the various stages.

Question #10 – Are you telling stories?
Good stories are more powerful than plain facts. This is not to reject the value in facts, of course, but simply to recognize their limits in influencing people. People make decisions based on what facts mean to them, not on the facts themselves. Stories give facts meaning. Stories resonate with adults in ways that can bring them back to a childlike open-mindedness – and make them less resistant to experimentation and change.

Question #11 – Do you know how change really gets communicated?
Town hall meetings in which senior leaders speak openly about change, great stories that embody the spirit of change, well-designed intranets filled with pertinent information about the forces and progress of change, interactive “transformation sessions” in which a cross-section of the organization co-creates a vision and develops the strategy, online employee surveys that query and monitor a work force as it deals with the nuances of change, icons and symbols and signage that visually reinforce change, and (especially) first-line supervisors who are trained and prepared to engage their direct reports in a dialogue about what change means to them – these are (and will remain) vital tools for communicators. But, as powerful as they are, these are formal communication channels operating within the organizational hierarchy. And a single informal channel, the company grapevine, can undermine them all.In the hallways, around the water cooler or coffee pot, over the telephone, as part of a blog, in rouge web sites, and through e-mail messages, news is exchanged and candid opinions are offered. It is during these “off-line” exchanges and daily conversations that people decide whether or not to support change. Want to dramatically improve the effectiveness of your change communication? Then find ways to identify, involve, and enlist your organization’s social networks and informal opinion leaders.

Question #12 – Are you positioning change as an event or a corporate mindset?

If adaptable, change-adept organizations are what CEOs want, then the only communication strategy that’s going to produce the desired result is one that includes instability as a positive element – and ongoing change as “business as usual.”  So, a final question: Are you still referring to change as “the event” or are you positioning it as a constant corporate mindset and vital component of organizational success?

Clearly, there are basic ‘hygiene’ factors that companies need from their comms people: strong written/verbal skills; excellent conversational and presentation skills; an eye for design; awareness of communication technology trends and corresponding audience reach strategies.

However, a good PRO will always stand out on a number of more complex, intuitive and leadership levels and I would proffer the following attributes:

1) Acts as strategic and trusted advisor to the leadership team (including the CEO, CFO and commercial and functional heads); contributes with authority to strategic corporate discussion and works on his/her track record to be viewed as a contributing equal;

2) Through accumulated insight and marketplace persceptiveness, may be in a truly unique position within any organisation to ‘Bring the Outside World’ in to corporate thinking, ensuring sound future governance and guiding strategies that help protect any company’s future ‘Licence to Operate’ in the open, global marketplace;

3) Is an astute and credible diplomat, able to navigate elegantly through all layers and across all organisational silos to inform, to encourage collaborative thinking and to galvanise operational solutions to any issues or opportunities faced by a company in its public and employee dealings;

4) Intuitively understands and bridges the interdependency between internal and external reputation and has astute command of the theory and tools/practice of its delivery;

via Joanna Lund. Owner, Reputation Matters Ltd., in LinkedIn Answers

What attributes would you add to this list?

Don’t mess up these 25 most egregious grammar goofs, thanks to copyblogger and BlueGlass:

15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly
Like this infographic? Get more copywriting tips from Copyblogger.


You alone can consciously take the personal leadership steps in strengthening and managing relationships, including those with a boss. The often used phrase for this is“managing upward.” While the phrase describes aspects of managing relationships with bosses, the dynamics are deeper.

From my personal experiences and observations, here are 16  ideas to consider in creating a stronger working relationship with your boss. (BTW, I alternated “he” and “she” as personal pronouns throughout the list.)

16 Ideas for Managing Upward

  • Understand your boss as a teammate and a client because both roles are relevant.
  • Ask and learn how your boss likes to communicate? Deliver communications that work for him, with the “right” amount & type of information.
  • What are the strengths & weaknesses of your bossComplement both of themin your working relationship.
  • What’s her decision making stylePropose recommendations in ways that fit how she evaluates & decides on things.
  • Hone your skills to anticipate what he needs and see things coming before they actually happen.
  • Demonstrate complete trustworthiness. Display the highest integrity. Don’t break confidences; safeguard the “vault.”
  • Be networked – know who knows things and be able to share relevant information your boss might not be privy to in her relationship circles.
  • Have a great working relationship with your boss’ assistant and the other key people around him.
  • Be a strong negotiator.
  • Ask questions – help her think through issues and get to stronger points of view based on your contributions.
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So how did President Bush do in his State of the Union Address? At the risk of being institutionalized against my will, I make the following assessment of this speech: George W Bush is arguably a better public speaker now than were Presidents Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and George H. W. Bush in their prime. Such a statement just a few short years ago would have been laughable, but not today.

Whether you love or loath George W. Bush, you can not deny that he has learned how to read a teleprompter. His smirks are gone. The squinting has disappeared. The nervous rushing trough a speech is a distant memory. Tics are non-existent. The first half of his speech was completely devoid of any stumbles whatsoever. Granted, he did stumble over 10 words in the second half, but none were disruptive.) Indeed, Bush was devoid of Bushisims.

Bush exuded confidence through his steady eye contact and his lack of head jerking. He conveyed emotion without seeming exasperated. For once, he seemed to have spent more hours rehearsing his speech in a week that at the gym.

Stylistically, Bush seemed sincere and was devoid of petty jabs at long-forgotten adversaries like Kerry and Gore. Unless you were a die-hard Bush hater, he didn’t seem smug or arrogant. Instead, his tone was conversational and relaxed.

Of Course, Bush isn’t perfect on technical grounds yet. He got thirsty and his tongue was hanging out of his mouth too often (in search of moisture?) during the second half of the speech. And it probably goes without saying that Bush still can’t pronounce the word “nuclear,” though in his defense, he is not a nuclear engineer (like some previous presidential mispronouncers of the word).

So how did Bush’s speech rate on political grounds? Since this President has the lowest poll ratings of anyone since Nixon at this state of a second term, Bush was in serious need of receiving a boost. Bush sounded the most non-partisan of his presidency. I predict he will receive a short-term boost in his polls from many independent voters who liked his stance on HIV/AIDS or on developing non-traditional forms of energy.

But conservatives must have been disappointed by the least red meat-filled speech of the Bush Presidency. The hard-fought Alito Supreme court victory barely got mentioned (at 3 minutes to 10:00 PM). Bush requesting congress to give him the line-item veto was as pathetically amusing as watching Linus hoping for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin. Did Bush think this fantasy gimmick would fool conservatives into thinking he wasn’t the most fiscally irresponsible president in the history of the world?

Liberals are far beyond being impressed by Bush’s style. In their world, Bush is forever the inarticulate, bumbling, bungling idiot-son-in-chief. There is only one thing that would have impressed them. If Bush had admitted categorical failure in his plan to invade Iraq and then called for the complete elimination of troops from that country. Nothing else would impress Liberals.

Bush is an inspiration for all late-bloomers in life, but his new rhetorical
skills may have come too late to alter his 2nd term political landscape.

TJ Walker, Media Training Worldwide


Face it every writer has days when they sit down to write and the words just don’t flow onto the page. You write one sentence and check how many words you just added in hopes it will miraculously be sufficient. The problem writers have is, when their heart isn’t in their writing, it shows. (Here’s how to overcome your writing demons).

To help you get your writing on track, here are twenty-one tips to prevent you from getting to the point where you have what I affectionately call blank-screen-syndrome.

  1. Create a list of articles you want to write but don’t have the time. I find that it’s easy to get inspired to write pieces about other topics when the pressure’s on to write a specific topic. There’s nothing like a deadline to make anything else seem exciting.
  2. Feed your mind. Read a book and/or other sources of insight such as blogs and news sites to get ideas. This isn’t an excuse to get a snack or other indulgence.
  3. Develop a story around a trending topic, even if it’s not in your area of focus. The objective is to stretch yourself to find a way to write about the hot topics. This can be useful for bloggers and company content where you need to keep your content relevant.
  4. Keep a swipe file. Sign up for a wide range of newsletters focused on your main topics to see what other writers and bloggers are covering. Save those articles that provide new insights or a different format for inspiration. This doesn’t mean you should simply copy someone else’s ideas or articles.
  5. Collect relevant questions you and others have on your main subject area.Think like you’re writing an endless FAQ. A list of questions gives you a hook to build your content around. This is particularly useful for blogs and company content.
  6. Get a jump before you quit. Before you quit a writing session, write down the ideas you have for the next session; form them into an outline added to the current document to make it easy to pick up where you left off.
  7. Close your digital door to remove distractions. This means close your social media sites, chat and email. To this end, it’s useful to have a dedicated space for writing.
  8. Make an appointment to write. Set your timer or alarm for a specific time and that’s when you have to start writing.
  9. Change writing environments. If you always write at your kitchen table, and you’re now stuck for new ideas, try writing at a coffee shop or local library.
  10. Seek inspiration. Do something that provides you with a muse. Go to a play, or museum.
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There are three important keys that all companies should strive for: energy, focus and accountability.

Energy. In a healthy company, everyone is engaged. Next time you’re in a meeting, pay attention to how people are interacting. Are they staring into space? Checking e-mail? Working on other things?

You could get mad at them, but the problem is probably your lack of energy as a leader.

If you’re engaged, if you lead and set the tone, others will follow. It’s the same in leading meetings as it is in leading a company. Set the pace and expect others to keep up.

Focus. Energy is important, but if it’s not channeled correctly, it can become destructive. How do you prepare your team for a meeting? Do you think through what you want to discuss? Do you prepare an agenda? Does everyone know why you’re calling them to a meeting and what you expect?

Learn a lesson from Steve Jobs. Focus. He took a multitude of ideas and focused his team on one great idea. Channel your team’s creative energy into one specific task and goal.

Accountability. You can have all the energy and focus in the world, but if your employees don’t know what they’re supposed to do, your team will either do redundant work or give up because they’re not sure of what you want.

In meetings, everyone should also know what you expect of them coming into and going out of a meeting. It’s not enough to talk and dream, you also have to do. Bring crystal clarity to your team and follow up.

Want to change your company culture? Start today by working on your meeting culture.

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The bottom line is the demand that managers tend to put on their people create a flurry of activity, yet little additional productivity. When in the end, being really busy in itself doesn’t pay bills, doesn’t foster innovation, and won’t strengthen culture. In fact, too much busyness may in fact yield the opposite. So with this in mind, try replacing busy with the following three things to yield greater results.

  1. Trade Clocks for Results: Time is finite, in fact it is one of the few things we can’t make more of. Talk to most employees about their vacation and they will tell you how important “Their” time is. Well, many employees would be inspired by the opportunity to create a little flex time. So perhaps instead of punching a clock, start focusing on what needs to be done each day, week, month, before someone has reached their targets. Once those targets are reached allow them to earn some personal time in exchange for their efficiency. This way everyone wins; the company is executing its objectives and the employee is getting something precious in return.
  2. Reward efficiency: Beyond just time, efficiency can be rewarded in many ways. When targets, objectives, and revenues are realized companies know they are making money. While sharing the wealth may be outlandish, most business owners would share a piece of a bigger pie all day long. Highly efficient employees tend to drive dollars to the bottom line, make sure they see that their contribution matters. Telling them will get you some bonus points, showing them will get you some bonus hours.
  3. Live The Message: This one is a life theme, it applies here and in so many other places. So ask yourself often, What does your team see when they see you? If they don’t see you living the message then you can bet they won’t be as likely to either. This means that you need to be on time (as much as possible), show respect and value for other peoples time (regardless of whether they are subordinates), consistently discuss the importance of goals, what they are, and where you and your team are in respect to meeting them.
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Several weeks ago I was listening to a This American Life podcast in which their host, Ira Glass, took an inside look one of the editorial meetings at the The Onion. I was fascinated to learn that for every 16 stories in their bi-weekly paper, they brainstorm 600 headlines. While this level of editing isn’t feasible for most B2B content marketers, there is a lot we can learn from The Onion’s editorial process. (Hat tip to The Beaverton Style Guide for this nice set of articles directly related to this.)

How the process works

First, here’s a great explanation of the general process from Joe Randazzo, the Editor-in-chief at the The Onion:

Basically the way it works is on Monday everybody pitches 15 headlines. We have about 10 people on staff, plus about 20 contributing writers who also pitch 15 headlines. If two people in the room vote on it, it goes on the to the next list. So we narrow them down from about 600 headlines to about 100 to 125, and we talk about them at another meeting on Tuesday.

From those, we choose the 16 or so headlines that make up the whole issue. We assign them and brainstorm what the stories will look like. When we put together every issue, we are trying to find a good balance of stories that are national and international in scale along with local or smaller things, or observational humor. We spend about an hour or so brainstorming those stories on Tuesday afternoon, the writers spend Wednesday writing them, and then we have draft meeting Thursday where we go through first drafts and rip them apart. Then they write second drafts on Friday, which the editors go through on [the following] Monday, and we go through a first round of editing, make notes, there are rewrites and then a second round of editing. On Friday, I’ll go through [the] final issue and make a last pass. I usually don’t have to make too many changes, but I might punch up something that needs it.

As content marketers, what can we take from this?

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Turn it on and off. The most vexing aspect of using BCC in modern versions of Outlook is that it’s not even visible by default, and figuring out how to get to it is challenging. To see the BCC line in a new email, open a blank new message and click the Options tab in the ribbon. Then click BCC. The BCC field is now on for all new messages until you turn it off again in the same way.

Figure out who you BCC’d. As you know, recipients can’t tell who you included in the BCC field, or even if you used the BCC field at all. But that doesn’t mean you can’t. To see who you BCC’d in a previous email, just open the Sent mail folder and open the message. You’ll see the BCC field preserved for future reference.

Never violate the trust. Being included in the BCC field of an email is a sacred trust. If you’re a manager, for example, and one of your employees BCC’s you on an email about an overdue project, the last thing you should do is click Reply All and jump into the conversation, admonishing the recipient for being late. If you do that, the jig is up, and everyone knows that the sender was secretly informing you about the email thread. This can have a seriously draining effect on productivity and morale. Bottom line: Never, ever reply-all to a message for which you’re in the BCC line.

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Human beings are genetically programmed to look for facial and behavioral cues and to quickly understand their meaning. We see someone gesture and automatically make a judgment about the intention of that gesture.

And we’ve been doing this for a long, long time. As a species we knew how to win friends and influence people – or avoid/placate/confront those we couldn’t befriend – long before we knew how to use words.

But our ancient ancestors faced threats and challenges very different from those we confront in today’s modern society. Life is more complex now, with layers of social restrictions and nuanced meanings adding to the intricacies of our interpersonal dealings. This is especially true in workplace settings, where corporate culture adds it own complexities and unique guidelines for correct behavior.

No matter what the culture at your workplace, the ability to “read” nonverbal signals can provide some significant advantages in the way you deal with people. You can start to gain those advantages by avoiding these five common mistakes people often make when reading body language:

1) They forget to consider the context.

Imagine this scene: It’s a freezing-cold winter evening with a light snow falling and a north wind blowing. You see a woman sitting on a bench at a bus stop. Her head is down, her eyes are tightly closed and she’s hunched over, shivering slightly, and hugging herself.

Now the scene changes . . .

It’s the same woman in the same physical position. But instead of sitting outdoors on a bench, she’s seated behind her desk in the office next to yours. Her body language is identical – head down, eyes closed, hunched over, shivering, hugging herself. The nonverbal signals are the same but the new setting has altered your perception of those signals. In a flash she’s gone from telling you, “I’m really cold!” to “I’m in distress.”

Obviously, then, the meaning of nonverbal communication changes as the context changes. We can’t begin to understand someone’s behavior without considering the circumstances under which the behavior occurred.

2) They try to find meaning in a single gesture.

Nonverbal cues occur in what is called a “gesture cluster” – a group of movements, postures and actions that reinforce a common point. A single gesture can have several meanings or mean nothing at all (sometimes a cigar is just a cigar), but when you couple that single gesture with other nonverbal signals, the meaning becomes clearer.

For example, a person may cross her arms for any number of reasons. But when that action is coupled with a scowl, a headshake, and legs turned away from you, you now have a composite picture and reinforcement to conclude that she is resistant to whatever you just proposed.

3) They are too focused on what’s being said.

If you only hear what people are saying, you’ll miss what they really mean.

A manager I was coaching appeared calm and reasonable as she listed the reasons why she should delegate more responsibility to her staff. But every time she expressed these opinions, she also (almost imperceptibly) shuddered. While her words declared her intention of empowering employees, the quick, involuntary shudder was saying loud and clear, “I really don’t want to do this!”

4) They don’t know a person’s baseline.

You need to know how a person normally behaves so that you can spot meaningful deviations.

Here’s what can happen when you don’t: A few years ago, I was giving a presentation to the CEO of a financial services company, outlining a speech I was scheduled to deliver to his leadership team the next day. And it wasn’t going well.

Our meeting lasted almost an hour, and through that entire time the CEO sat at the conference table with his arms tightly crossed. He didn’t once smile, lean forward or nod encouragement. When I finished, he said thank you (without making eye contact) and left the room.

As I’m a body language expert, I was sure that his nonverbal communication was telling me that my speaking engagement would be canceled. But when I walked to the elevator, the executive’s assistant came to tell me how impressed her boss had been with my presentation. I was shocked and asked how he would have reacted had he not liked it. “Oh,” said the assistant, her smile acknowledging that she had previously seen that reaction as well. “He would have gotten up in the middle of your presentation and walked out!”

The only nonverbal signals that I had received from that CEO were ones I judged to be negative. What I didn’t realize was that, for this individual, this was normal behavior.

5) They judge body language through the bias of their own culture:

When we talk about culture, we’re generally talking about a set of shared values that a group of people holds. And while some of a culture’s values are taught explicitly, most of them are absorbed subconsciously – at a very early age. Such values affect how members of the group think and act and, more importantly, the kind of criteria by which they judge others. Cultural meanings render some nonverbal behaviors as normal and right and others as strange or wrong. From greetings to hand gestures to the use of space and touch, what’s proper and correct in one culture may be ineffective – or even offensive – in another.

For example, in North America, the correct way to wave hello and good-bye is palm out, fingers extended, with the hand moving side to side. That same gesture means “no” throughout Mediterranean Europe and Latin America.  In Peru it means “come here,” and in Greece, where it’s called the moutza, the gesture is a serious insult. The closer the hand to the other person’s face, in fact, the more threatening it is considered to be.

So just remember: Body language cues are undeniable. But to accurately decode them, they need to be understood in context, viewed in clusters, evaluated in relation to what is being said, assessed for consistency, and filtered for cultural influences. If you do so, you’ll be well on your way to gaining the nonverbal advantage!

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D. is the author of nine books including CREATIVITY IN BUSINESS and  “THIS ISN’T THE COMPANY I JOINED” — How to Lead in a Business Turned Upside Down. She delivers keynote speeches and seminars to association and business audiences around the world. For more information or to book Carol as a speaker at one of your events, please call: 510-526-1727, email:, or visit her website:


William Lee and Rick Patrick are the co-creators of “Talkingstick,” a performance series that is part of the increasingly popular storytelling movement where people stand up before a live audience and tell stories. I know Master Lee (his stage name) and Mr. Patrick because we play poker together, and I’ve noticed something interesting about them: As experienced storytellers, they are so familiar with spotting exaggeration and lies that they can quickly identify a bluff in a poker game.

It is well established that being a good storyteller is a useful skill in careers (and not just for journalists and poker players). We need to tell stories all the time — to position ourselves in the job market, to pitch a new business idea to investors, to explain why a failure was actually a success, and so on.

I recently attended a “Talkingstick” show and sat down with Master Lee and Mr. Patrick to learn some of the techniques they use to tell good stories. Here’s what I learned:

1. Keep it simple. The brain gets overwhelmed when trying to process too much information.

2. Openings and closings are very important. When Master Lee and Mr. Patrick organize their shows, they make sure to begin and end the evenings with their strongest material since this is often what stays with the listener. That is the same reason skilled public speakers often memorize the beginning and ending of a speech but allow themselves to improvise more in the middle.

3. Be mindful of your story’s spine. If your story has six parts, all six parts must be essential. Beware of tangents: if something goes too far astray, you will probably lose your audience’s attention.

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