Fighting Mr. (Brain) Freeze

Ragan recently featured a useful article on how to handle a brain freeze when you’re speaking in public. Whether you’re a CEO, manager or in the cases they presented, a political candidate, handling such an instance with grace could go a long way toward disaster control.

They use the following two video examples of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as the right and wrong ways to handle this. Although, in fairness, one wonders how Sen. Rubio would have handled the last part of his speech if he was unable to eventually find the final page.

Is Your Boss a Psychopath? Let’s Hope Not

It’s hard out there for the working professional. The last thing you need is a manager who is less than stable. That’s fortunately not a problem for me, but below are some things to keep in mind. Ragan has the info:

He’s smartly dressed, always early, and has a fancy corner office. He looks put together, but you know the truth: Your boss is a psychopath.
You just haven’t been able to prove it—until now.

In a new infographic, LearnStuff.com lists all the facts you need to get him or her admitted. For example, here are the traits of a psychopathic boss:

  • Manipulative, yet charming.
  • Lacks empathy and remorse.
  • Expert at masking his or her true self.

You knew it. Your boss qualifies! But before you call up the authorities, consider these stats:

  • Your boss is four times more likely to be a psychopath than the average person.
  • Thirty percent of workers would have their boss seen by a psychologist.
  • More than 2 million people leave their jobs every year; one out of six quit because of their bosses.

Something has to be done. Having a bad boss can increase your chance of heart disease by 25 percent, which makes reporting to him as bad for your heart as passive smoking. Not to mention, a stressed worker—like someone suffering under a mad man—weighs, on average, 10 pounds more than a relaxed peer.

Ill Communication: Strange Reasons People Call in “Sick”

I once had to delay coming to work because my dog, Harry (pictured), injured his foot jumping off of my bed. While I didn’t call in “sick” and actually told my supervisors what was going on, it was an odd reason to be sure. (Even more odd considering he was fine the next day after I dropped a couple hundo at the vet, and he may have simply been in search of some painkillers to ease the stress he must be under from sleeping all day and listening to light rock radio.)

At any rate, Ragan reports on CareerBuilder’s survey about the reasons people can’t make it in to work. Some of these excuses will amuse you:

Take a look at this list CareerBuilder compiled from the survey. You may have heard some of these yourself.

When asked to share the most memorable excuses, employers reported the following real-life examples:

• Employee’s sobriety tool wouldn’t allow the car to start.
• Employee forgot he was hired for the job.
• Employee said her dog was having a nervous breakdown.
• Employee’s dead grandmother was being exhumed for a police investigation.
• Employee’s toe was stuck in a faucet.
• Employee said a bird bit her.
• Employee was upset after watching “The Hunger Games.”
• Employee got sick from reading too much.
• Employee was suffering from a broken heart.
• Employee’s hair turned orange from dying her hair at home.

29 percent of bosses check up on excuses

The survey also found that a fair number of managers want to verify if sick workers are actually sick.

This was a big issue for me when I was a manager in Hawaii in a union shop, and mysteriously had a number of the surfers on staff call in sick when the surf was particularly large. I never caught any of them surfing when they should have been home in bed, but that was more because I didn’t have the time or resources to track all of them down.

Twenty-nine percent of employers say they have checked up on an employee to verify that his or her illness was legitimate, usually by requiring a doctor’s note or calling the employee later in the day.

 

How First Dates are Like Work Life

A nice piece here from Ragan’s PR Daily should remind us to be considerate at the office. These are great lessons that will get you far in any endeavor. I’d also add, "don’t forget to smile." There’s nothing worse than taking someone out — or working with them — and see them displaying all the emotive fervor of Ben Stein on quaaludes:

In relationships, we tend to get so comfortable that we let go of some of the behaviors we display on a first date. I am no expert on relationships, but I do know that a second date depends on the “success” of the first date.

This is much like the workplace—think how much more successful we could be if we employed first-date habits in our work environment. Below are some widely accepted first-date rules that we should incorporate into our workdays.

1. Be punctual. Showing up late to a first date, even just five minutes, shows that the other person is not a priority. The same message is sent to your employers when you arrive late.

2. Be kind to the server. Acting in a rude manner to people you wrongly think don’t matter (for example, the waiter) will ruin any chance of a second date. Be considerate to everyone: the secretary, the intern, the nerdy co-worker. It’s the Golden Rule. If that is not reason enough, just realize that those people might be a valuable connection in your future.

3. Don’t complain. I don’t want to hear how horrible your day was; I want to hear why it was fabulous. Be positive, and look at problems as challenges. Your first date and your bosses will appreciate the high morale and energy. The only time anyone wants to see Debbie Downer is in an “SNL” sketch.

4. Listen to me! Men, I know you hear this all the time, but it is true. We all just want to be heard. Basic guideline: If you are talking more than 50 percent of the time, then you are talking too much. This is also true for meetings. And it’s a two-way street. Listening is half of communication, which leads to my next point.

5. Communicate. Oh, so you don’t like “chick flicks”? You should have told me that before I bored you with a double feature of “Titanic” and “The Notebook.” I think that sums up this tip.

6. Dress the part. Put some effort into a first date, or at least look like you did. I didn’t spend two hours 30 minutes getting ready for you, just so you could show up looking disheveled. For work: Be presentable enough for your calendar demands, such as meetings with clients and drinks after work.

7. Don’t order the most expensive thing on the menu. If you’re not picking up the check, don’t go for the Surf and Turf. This is an important lesson for all of us at work; don’t take advantage just because it’s not on your credit card. We are bound to get comfortable in relationships and at work. Comfort is great, but sometimes we need a reminder to put our best foot forward—and not in our mouth.

Listen to The Boss: What Your Brand Can Learn From Springsteen

I’m known amongst my friends and loved ones as a Bruce Springsteen enthusiast. I remember the first time I heard "Thunder Road." I was in my dorm room at Indiana University and popped his greatest hits CD into my stereo (until then I’d just thought of him as the "Born in the U.S.A." guy). I think I uttered two words; the first one was "Holy."

So when I saw this Ragan.com article about how brands can benefit from being more like Springsteen, it was a no-brainer that I had to blog about it. There are some solid points here about staying current and relevant, and transcending your industry.

1. He’s a thought leader. Read the cover story from the recent Rolling Stone magazine to discover a man who’s well connected with the world around him and not afraid to express a point of view. He has tackled controversial topics throughout his 40-year career, sometimes stirring negative reactions, but he never backs down. He did it again with "American Skin (41 shots)," a song inspired by the 2000 police shooting death of Amadou Diallo. Speculation suggests Springsteen may have been making a statement about the recent shooting of Trayvon Martin.

Thought leaders shouldn’t be shy to share their opinions on issues that matter to their audience. Your employees and the public will respect you for speaking out on struggles they face, or are top of mind.

2. His values define him. In the "Rolling Stone" interview, Springsteen said, "In my music—if it has a purpose beyond dancing and fun and vacuuming your floor to it—I always try to gauge the distance between American reality and the American dream." He began this journey in 1972 when he signed his first record contract with Columbia; it continues today with "Wrecking Ball," his latest album.

There’s no denying that Springsteen’s message and values have been consistent. Brands should follow suit. Messaging should align with your company’s values. That extends internally. If one of your company’s core values is putting employees/associates first, then shouldn’t they be allowed to use social media at work?

3. He’s social. He’s a social animal who enjoys camaraderie and conversation. In an age of social media where the word "community" is fast becoming cliché, Springsteen has sustained an avidly engaged community that keeps expanding. One measure (besides selling more than 120 million albums) is his social media presence. He has 2,179,654 "likes" on Facebook and 157,843 Twitter followers. He is keeping the conversation alive, staying current in a digital age. He’s no Lady Gaga (with 49 million Facebook likes) but he’s definitely in the game.

There are so many ways to engage with employees, customers, and potential customers today that brands have no excuse for burying their heads in the sand.

4. He’s sensory. He may be a biological 62, but watching him perform, I marvel at his 20-something dexterity, strength and flexibility. Whether it’s sliding across the stage on his knees or bending backwards to the floor while holding a floor stand microphone, this guy logs hours in the gym to remain physically relevant. He’s a best case example of how staying fit keeps us young.

Brands like Target leverage the power of sensory in its store designs, which entice and engage shoppers and create a more fulfilling shopping experience.

5. He’s an innovator. A handful of artists transform their music, take risks, and push in new directions. The Beatles morphed in amazing ways over a too-short nine-year span; "I want to hold your hand" sounded nothing like "Day Tripper" which sounded nothing like "A day in the life."

Springsteen is in this pantheon. The rambling lyrical style of "Greetings from Asbury Park" morphed into the tighter pop structure of "Born to Run," which was re-shaped to "Nebraska" starkness and later to the Americana-influenced "We shall overcome: The Seeger sessions." One of the new songs from Wrecking Ball—"Rocky Ground"—features a hip hop interlude, something Springsteen has never done.

The takeaway is simple: Brands must be innovative if they hope to stay relevant.

6. It’s about us, not him. We brought two friends to the concert who had never seen him. I explained how Springsteen feeds off the audience and exists to give each person a gift. "It’s never about him, it’s about you," I said, explaining how Springsteen is passionate about making sure everyone has a good time, gets their money’s worth and leaves happy. When the show was over I said, "Now you’ve been baptized." They grinned and understood.

This is an important reminder for thought leaders. It’s not about your product per se, but delivering what your audience expects and needs—be it an experience or a service. Steve Jobs, for instance, was a master at creating products his fans didn’t even know they needed.

7. He’s more than music. I’m not hung up on awards, but Springsteen was robbed in 2003 when "The Rising" failed to win the Grammy for Best Album (he lost to Norah Jones). Inspired by the Sept. 11 attacks, the inspirational LP Springsteen created helped us heal. It was musical catharsis; it was more than an album. His giving spirit has impacted a range of organizations, from Amnesty International to the Rainforest Foundation Fund to WhyHunger. He endorses a local charity at every concert.

Go beyond what your company makes or does. Companies like Chipotle and Starbucks have given back to their communities, winning the admiration of many.

8. He’s the best kind of brand. Great brands create a feeling, a meaningful personal connection that sticks. We want to associate with that brand because it’s part of who we are, how we view ourselves. That’s why he’s more relevant than ever.
 

Business to Customers: “We Messed Up, Please Help!” (And It Worked)

This is a very encouraging article from Ragan.com about an Illinois pizza place, some mistakes, and some very devoted customers.

In general, begging is a tactic that PR folks tend to frown upon.

But when Nick Sarillo, CEO of Nick’s Pizza & Pub, sent an email pleading for customers to help keep the doors open at his two Chicagoland restaurants, customers didn’t just respond. They rallied.

"We doubled our sales in each restaurant for the first week and stayed at a 75 percent increase for a couple of weeks," Sarillo told Crain’s Chicago Business.

So what gives? If begging, or at least pleading, isn’t a worthwhile PR tactic—Sarillo’s publicity staff and his bank tried to talk him out of sending the email—why did this work? Gerald Baron, a blogger and principal at Agincourt Strategies, says it comes down to one word: authenticity.

"It was real," he says. "It was not a ‘strategy’ as we tend to understand it."

A genuine plea

Last fall, Nick’s was in deep trouble. In Sarillo’s email, he says, "we overbuilt and overspent," and he blames himself for "the bad decisions that got us into this mess." He gives percentages for sales drops at his Elgin, Ill., restaurant and states, "We are going to run out of cash to pay our vendors and team members over the next couple of weeks and will have to close."

Tripp Frohlichstein of MediaMasters Training says Sarillo’s direct, honest approach was "classy and smart."

"As a media trainer, it is amazing to see so many clients who realize that being honest about a situation is easier than evasion or deception," he says. "The realization that you can’t always please everyone is very important in sticking to this approach."

Drew Mendelson of Mendelson Communications says being straight with customers is vital to having a profitable business, but he notes that Sarillo’s approach won’t work for everyone.

"What Sarillo did probably works better for a privately held business that doesn’t have to answer to stockholders who might panic at the news and drive stock prices down," he says. "It also would probably have worked better if he made his announcement earlier, before things got so dire."

Mendelson says a message like Sarillo’s has to come from a CEO or, if the CEO isn’t the most personable executive, someone else in upper management. "The message has to be personal," he says.

Likewise, Mendelson says he doesn’t view Sarillo’s approach as begging.

"Sarillo wasn’t asking for charity. He was being honest. His business was beset by today’s mediocre economy and by the unforeseen problems of road construction."

Are Fridays Getting Less Casual?

We’re all familiar with the concept of "casual Friday." In fact, on most Fridays here at the Chamber, we’re allowed to wear jeans if we donate a few dollars to our designated charity of the month. But here’s an intriguing post from Ragan’s PR Daily revealing that workers may be less apt to dress down for fear of seeming unprofessional. Obviously, it depends upon one’s industry and employer, but here’s some news that may disappoint the people at Guess (tight-rolled Guess jeans are still cool for guys to wear, right? Just asking because they go really well with my I.O.U. sweatshirts):

Lately, however, when I look around the train on a Friday morning, the commuters no longer appear to be dressing down; in the age of the economic downturn and increased job insecurity it seems that “casual Fridays” are becoming a thing of the past.

This is due not to businesses’ formally restricting the uniform of employees, but rather to employees’ making the decision themselves that dressing more casually on a Friday—or any given day—might affect their performance and job security.

A survey by U.K. work wear provider Alexandra found that 94 percent of respondents say that the way they dress can influence the outcome of the economy.

More than 90 percent of respondents said a person’s attire determines how professional and trustworthy they look. Nearly 40 percent said “scruffy clothing” at work hurts performance.

The results demonstrate that employees prefer to wear the same sort of clothing on a Friday as they would any other day of the workweek because they think it will help them win more business and increase sales. In “The Devil Wears Prada,” Anne Hathaway’s character isn’t taken seriously until she conforms to the image of a budding fashionista. Alexandra’s study suggests that image isn’t limited to the fashion industry and can be very important for other sectors, such as professional services.

Dress For Success shows exactly how important image is to securing a job. This global organization provides disadvantaged women with a suit prior to an interview to help boost their confidence and give them the tools to thrive in work and life.

Disadvantaged women are referred to Dress For Success by a diverse group of not-for-profit and government agencies, and in 2011 up to 3,000 organizations sent women for the professional apparel and career development services that it offered.

Once a woman has secured the job, she is invited back for additional clothing, which she can use to build a professional wardrobe. It shows the importance of our apparel on our employment status and on our performance once we’ve landed a job.

San Diego Newspaper Tries to Shape Up

The San Diego Union-Tribune has new ownership. And the new owners appear to have arrived with some steel-toed boots, looking to kick some rear ends. In a memo to staff, the company announced it’s changing its working hours from 37.5 to 40 each week at no additional pay, and then the real kicker — mandating required business attire for those who work with the public.

Now, the hours worked issue would likely grate on my nerves if you’re not giving people more money. You’ve basically just told them they’re getting a decrease in pay, and if you do that across the board you’d better have a remarkably good reason.

But, as someone whose main critique of my fellow 20-40 somethings is that they dress like rubbish (also, they’re largely undependable and unaccountable — and say "like" way too often), I’m rather on board with the new dress code. Every time I watch a movie set in the 1920s – 1950s, I get downright jealous of the fellas in those pictures. Because if I were to dress that classily at just about any bar I frequent today, people would think I was coming from a funeral or I forgot when Halloween was (or I got lost on the "Road to Perdition"). Thanks to Ragan’s PR Daily, here’s some text from the Union-Tribune’s memo:

Appropriate Appearance – While we are upgrading the appearance of the workplace for everyone, we would like employees who work with the public to dress in sharp business attire. Again, individual supervisors will detail what is expected. Employees who do not work directly with the public, should keep in mind that we always have visitors, government officials/dignitaries in and out of our building, and the desire is to have a professional workplace appearance. ‘Casual Friday’ will continue, but should be only slightly less business oriented than Monday through Thursday.

So what do you think? Is this a case of ownership oppressing its workforce, or a commendable attempt to turn around a business in a struggling industry?

How to Keep Your Audience Awake

If you’re in the professional world long enough, odds are pretty high that you will have to make at least a few speeches. While some people tense at the thought of public speaking, others take to it like ducks to water. However, the real keys are organizing your thoughts and practicing.

Regardless of your comfort level, one frequent challenge for everyone is making the speech interesting and engaging. We all know that business topics can be a little dry and crammed with information. The question is how to take what may be a dull topic and turn it into an attention-getter.

In its e-newsletter for communicators, Ragan recently offered five good tips to follow and featured a video of a speech that embodied this approach.

The speaker:

  1. Began with a story
  2. Created the framework for his talk
  3. Took his time
  4. Gave the audience a roadmap of what to expect
  5. Didn’t rely on PowerPoint

5 Important Skills Job Seekers Should Master

Ragan takes a look at a few key skills that recent grads, interns and anyone searching for a job should focus one if he/she hopes to be employable:

1. Hone your telephone etiquette.

Thanks to the texting takeover, phone manners have become exceptionally rare. “Hey, girl” may be appropriate for your personal calls (actually, it still probably isn’t), but if you answer the phone like that at work, prepare to be embarrassed and/or chewed out.

Listen to the way your co-workers answer the phone. Do they provide their name? (“This is Meredith.”) Or do they use a more generic greeting? (“Ragan Communications—how may I help you?”) Have a pen and paper next to your phone at all times so you can take messages. Make sure you know your office phone number so you know what to say when someone asks for your contact information. Learn how to transfer, dial out of the building, etc. This may sound ridiculous, and that’s exactly why this is so important. Do you really want to be known as “The Intern Who Can’t Answer The Phone?”

2. Learn to multitask.

Maybe you’re a whiz at juggling research papers, midterms, and group projects, but multitasking at work is a different beast. You might like to spend three hours perfecting an article, but you also need to answer emails, schedule interviews, meet with co-workers and research potential story ideas—all before noon.

Before you start work each day, make a “to-do” list. What’s the first thing you need to do when you arrive at 9 a.m.? What’s the second (and so forth)? If you aren’t given a deadline for a particular story, ask your boss when they’d like to see your first draft. You may be hesitant to seek help (we’re all vying for the Omniscient Intern award), but better you should ask than drop the ball and cause everyone to fall behind.

3. Wordiness is not rewarded.

You might’ve gotten brownie points for using “panjandrum” in your college essay, but you can be sure it won’t make it past the first round of revisions. When writing for the Web, flowery language is not your friend. Concise, simple, and clear writing is. When writing copy, ask yourself, “Would the average reader have to look this up?” If the answer is yes, pick a different word or phrase. You’re not going to sound stupid if you swap “barmecidal” with “fake”; on the contrary, you’ll avoid the risk of sounding like a snob.

4. Bye-bye, body paragraph.

Your English professor might have encouraged (or demanded) a carefully crafted argument of five to seven sentences, but that technique is no good when writing for the Web. Eye Tracking Studies have shown that readers not only avoid long paragraphs, they’ll even skip the end of the article if you don’t keep them engaged.

Be concise. Get to the point.

5. Thought your grammar school days were behind you? You’re dead wrong.

Still not sure when to use “your” versus “you’re”? Stop what you’re doing, and take out your notebook (hint, hint). Including these mistakes in your writing samples (or worse, on your résumé) practically begs an editor not to hire you.

Learn when to use ellipses, semicolons, and em dashes. Know the difference between “affect” and “effect.” Editors know what they’re looking for, and their expectations are high. (See what I did there?) Your AP Style book should be within reach at all times. Not only will it help you become a grammar guru, it will guarantee instant admiration from your editor.