Be Big but Think Small

Unless you've been on vacation for a couple months in a remote mountain cabin, you'll know all about the failures of the huge corporations that make up most of our economy and the governmental money to help them keep going. For whatever reason, these corporations did the things they did, and when the course was run or the market shifted, it all came crashing down.

Other than sales, budget, and number of employees, what's the difference between a small company and a large one? For one thing, if a 35 employee business is in trouble, they won't get a call from the government, other than perhaps one from the IRS to kick them while they are down. There are two main reasons for this: This small company failing will only hurt the employees. If a big corporation goes down, it can damage the economy and America. Second, the government budget won't notice the loss of tax revenue from the little company.

Seth Godin of Seth's Blog has a simple piece of advice for these huge companies: Think and act like a small business. For example, is there any legitimate reason not to have simple, transparent accounting practices? Being able to make the numbers look like you want them can be beneficial if trying to put one over on stockholders, but how does that help the managers of the company?

At what point of a company's growth does it no longer need good customer service? It's vital for small businesses, but large corporations don't seem to have it a priority. In fact, when a big company does have good customer service, it becomes a major selling point and a way to distinguish itself from its competitors.

Like customer service, there are many things that a big corporation leaves behind when it becomes, well big. They may seem inconsequential, but as recent events show, the "ittle" things never stopped being important.

Are Your Leadership Skills Stuck in the Past?

Old TV

What kind of leader are you? The two extremes are as far apart as east from west. The old-school "top dog" approach was prevalent during the 1950s and 1960s. In this "top dog" scenario, men (and women) worked hard with the promise of becoming "top dog." And yet, many aspiring top dogs were often disappointed as they watched someone else work up through the ranks and proceed to take the credit for their own hard work.

Or the opposite approach, known as "the unleader" (according to Entrepreneur magazine), which peaked in the late 1990s, in which the goal was to make employees as comfortable as possible, so that nothing was achieved until everyone agreed. Of course, this approach didn't really work either, and most companies headed by unleaders quickly went belly up.

So, which leadership style are you most like?

Do you think you are too carefree or too controlling? Are you looking for a happy medium?

The new leader, again according to Entrepreneur magazine, has four telltale characteristics:

1. If you're easygoing and tend to let your employees self-manage, maybe you should get a bit more hands on. Employees do want direction, whether or not everyone agrees with it. However, don't go too far and micro-manage. Give direction and then let your employees act in confidence with that direction.

2. Define work roles. If you tend to be more of a top dog leader, make sure everyone in your organization knows they have a role to play. And perhaps, let someone else take credit when they do their jobs well.

3. Make sure people know you're in control. If you're more of a laidback boss, not afraid of others who can oversee your employees, perhaps you need to assert yourself more. Too many leaders in one company or department can ruin performance and important projects. Make sure you are the person they think of when they think "boss."

4. Never stop educating yourself. Leadership is an ongoing learning experience, as many managers and CEOs will attest. Don't think you've already reached your pinnacle just because things are going well. And when things aren't going well, find good resources and good advice and use it.

If you're a leader who tends toward one extreme or the other, moving more the middle in any of these areas can lend itself to improved employee morale, a better working environment, and hopefully, increased profits.

How Often Do You Check Your Email

Time management experts estimate that over 50% of businesspeople check their email compulsively. More and more, people walk around (or try and drive) while checking their Blackberries or iPhones. As more and more email is exchanged in the business world, the urge to keep up with the latest news is insistent. So how often do you check your email? Instantly as it arrives, twice a day (once in the morning, once in the afternoon), or whenever everything else gets done?

If you picked any of those options, you're in good company. Here are a few tips to deal with the overflow of email:

1. Delegate or send along any email you don't need to deal with personally. This is something that managers and CEOs must learn. You should not be answering every email that comes into the sales or customer service department. There are other people that can do it.

2. Create different email accounts. If you receive gobs of email from clients, vendors, colleagues, and so on, parse them out and redirect the email flow into multiple accounts. That way, when you check a particular email account, you can expect all the emails to be from clients, not a conglomeration of emails from colleagues, clients, and people trying to sell you something.

3. The Four-Hour Workweek guru, Tim Ferriss, makes it a habit to only check email once a day. He set up an auto-response message, which states, "I check e-mail once per day, often in the evening. If you need a response before tomorrow, please call me on my cell."

4. Give email its due in the evening when the day's work is done and you can focus. Lots of CEOs run around all day putting out little fires and then get back to work in their home offices after 9 P.M. to see the day's messages.  Often the inbox is really full. However, an A.M. work shift may be just the thing (for prime working tips specific to night owls, see The A.M. CEO).

5. Time management guru Julie Morgenstern has a book, Never Check Email In the Morning: And Other Unexpected Strategies for Making Work Life Work. Her advice is right in the title. She points out that email takes over the best part of the day (the morning) when most managers and CEOs are at their best. She recommends postponing email until later.

6. Prioritize your email. If you can send off quick replies one right after the other and save the longer, thoughtful replies for later, you might find yourself getting through your inbox faster.

Micro Communications

For those of you who don't know, Twitter is a cross between a blog, RSS feed, and stream of consciousness. Basically, you post very short messages about where you are, what you're doing, and what you're thinking. Your "followers" read what's going on about you, and you can read what others are up to. It's like a conference call that's always running in the background; you can hear other's comments and reply if you wish. The beauty of Twitter, what sets it apart, is the quick bursts of information that somewhat replaces emails or blog entries.

In an article on Businessweek, there is a debate on the beneficial nature of Twitter in business. On the con side, personal interactions suffer the most from this instant communication. The example given is a lunch meeting. If you are twittering about your lunch, while you are at lunch with someone, then you are basically having lunch alone. If at a business conference, why worry about updating your followers, when there are live people in front of you with which to interact with.

The pro arguments seem to embrace the intended nature of Twitter. It is highly useful as an information source. For example, if you twitter that you are looking for a better chair, anyone following you can instantly reply with good suggestions. These suggestions would probably never come up in normal conversation. At the business convention, a Twitter search allows you to see which other Twitters are there, facilitating networking. For a company, Twitter is another way to connect with customers and potential customers, much like what is done through a blog. For example, check out the AccuConference Twitter!

Both sides have great arguments, but the answer lies in not black or white, but grey. Using Twitter to get closer to people is a great idea, but have some common sense. Eat your lunch; don't twitter it!

Non-Verbals are Still Important, Even on a Webinar

Non Verbal

Jerry Seinfeld once joked about how the number one fear of the average American is public speaking and that death is number two. This means that the average American would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy. Sure it's funny, but it's not too terribly far from the truth. Part of the reason for this is that when you're speaking in public, audiences are influenced by the way your body appears as much as the words you're saying. Different forms of communicating are received by the human brain, and there are numerous studies about which ones are the most important. One of the most famous of these is a study by Albert Mehrabian, a current professor at UCLA, who developed the 7%-38%-55% Rule. The percentages reflect what your brain reacts to and by how much; whether it be words (7%), tone of voice (38%), or body language (55%).

Taking away one of these aspects ups the ante on your brain's reaction to another. If you're on a teleconference, suddenly the words become that much more important. On a video conference, you're suddenly at the mercy of all these things -what you are saying, how are you saying it, and what you look like when you're saying it. Nerves can be read very easily while in front of a crowd and being able to move can sometimes hide these little shakes and quivers until you gain your footing and feel a little more confident. Most of the time on a video conference you're glued to one place so it's difficult to 'walk off' these nervous feelings and find ways to make those public speaking fears a little less apparent. What can be done to prepare for the inevitable webinar where you'll be the center of attention?

The most important thing to remember is that not all webinars include a type of video conferencing, but pretty much all include some sort of voice or speaking. So your first goal should be to make sure your voice is clear and concise. Sure, it's only 7% of the rule, but if participants can't see you, then what you're saying becomes so much more important. Improving the words becomes simply a product of research. In many ways, the business world is like college all over again, where you could probably skip a few nights in the library and be able to get yourself a passing grade, but no professor is going to nominate your presentation for an award. Now had you spent a few extra hours in the library, your presentation could have probably turned some heads. It's the same in the business world. You should treat every presentation like it's the audience's first time hearing the information. Give the basics, offer a place where they can get more information, and then dig into the meat of the topic. Not only does it make your audience feel a little more at home, it gives you a jumping off point where you feel more comfortable before getting into less familiar territory.

When it comes to a video conference, being aware of your body language and posture is important. On a video conference you're usually sitting down. Sit up straight and look directly into the camera. Since eye contact is most important for getting a connection with your audience and since they are not right in front of you, imagine that staring into the camera is the same as looking at your participants. Leaning forward when listening to another's comments or being asked a question not only indicates a readiness to act but also an interest in what the other person is saying. Tilting your head also expresses interest in the things that are being said and done around you. Nodding while another person is speaking indicates an understanding of what is being asked or said. Above all, you need to remember that people can see your face. So if you roll your eyes or make uncomfortable facial expressions, it will be apparent that you are questioning the information being presented.

In the end, being comfortable with the information you're giving will be the greatest influence over audience perception. When you know what you're talking about, the information will come easily and any nerves your may have will soon dissipate. Confidence is the key. Do your research, know your subject, know your audience, and things will be much easier.

PS: It's not just about what you look like, what you say and how you say it is also key to a good presentation. Having an attack plan is going to benefit yourself and your audience. Develop the presentation, design the slides, and display your incredible skills.

The A.M. CEO

If you find your best thinking hours are those that run opposite to the typical 8 to 5 daylight schedule, you're not alone. Entrepreneur magazine reported in 2007 that many corporate CEOs shared a common late-night (early morning) work shift.

Often late-night entrepreneurs who work into the wee hours at least once a week often get quick e-mail replies from other CEOs and feel a sense of camaraderie. "There's a special kind of ‘Yup, we're working on this when no one else is around' [feeling]."

So, if you tend to work 9 P.M. to midnight (or later), how do you keep up with the rest of the world during daytime hours? Here are a few tips to consider.

1. Try not to schedule important meetings first thing. You may not be ready to handle intense meeting schedules planned by folks who slept all night in a bed - and not at their desk.

2. Be careful with answering emails and/or the phone before you get some sleep. Sleep-deprived brains respond differently. I find that if I'm hyped up on caffeine, I tend to act too fast, but without sleep, my brain slows to a crawl and I can't make a decision quickly.

3. Take a nap before you try an A.M. work session. Cut back on the heavy foods and stock up on water and healthy snacks, which will keep your body feeling good.

4. Put a limit on it. Don't schedule too much for an A.M. session and if you're too tired, just go to bed. A.M. worker CEOs report that the middle of the night sessions help them keep up with bigger projects that require more focus. So if you find yourself in the flow, keep at it.

5. If you find yourself working an A.M. session at least once a week, try to plan on the same night each week. This may not be possible, but it will help you develop a somewhat schedule. As you include an A.M. shift in your scheduled work, you may find yourself looking forward to the quiet, or you'll shift other work around (if possible) during a typical 8 to 5 day in order to avoid burning that midnight oil.

In an upcoming post, time management gurus discuss techniques (including email management) to save you time and perhaps avoid weekly night-time work sessions.

5 Steps to a Great Presentation

Previously, we talked about how to be an effective speaker when doing a presentation. Everyone has different learning and listening styles; and with webinars, it sometimes becomes difficult to make sure you're appealing to everyone's sensibilities. While some people are more audible learners, some are going to thrive and really understand when they can see the information in front of them.

When slide presentation software came along, it revolutionized the way that things were done – especially when it came to large rooms and conferences. Gone were the days of thick and boring handouts that never seemed to make it to all the attendees on time. Now there's a way to create slides that are going to be effective without overloading the audience with colors, pictures, videos, and animations.

1.) Slide Cohesiveness

The hardest thing about presentations is making sure that everything looks clean. You want each slide to set the general tone for the presentation. Keeping all the slides uniform is incredibly important. In order to help this process along you should always brainstorm your presentations as well. Select a color scheme that reflects the tone you wish to set with the conference, attach pictures to the slides that make sense, and never try to overload the attendees with too many graphics. If there's ever any question on how much is too much or not enough, always err on the side of caution and do a simple presentation. Be prepared to use your words if you start to lose audience interest.

2.) Color Schemes

Colors affect moods whether it be promoting unity, peace, love, harmony, or creating a passionate environment. Different colors invoke certain types of emotions and help to create a different atmosphere. For example, the color green is considered to soothe, have healing power, and is often worn by doctors. Red is the color most used to get attention. Using colors together and creating color schemes is a good tool to promote emotions that are going to make your presentation more enjoyable. This is especially helpful in sales presentations; by tuning into your audience you can better affect that outcome of your sales pitches and presentations.

3.) Establish Focus

Focus is one of the most important things about any good presentation. The focus of a presentation is the overall message or tone that you are trying to create. If you're trying to let all the attendees know that everything is going to be okay in this unstable financial environment, you should established that theme right away. The rest of your presentation should focus on explaining who, what, where, when, why, and how. Think of establishing focus as writing a thesis statement. The focus should be the central idea, and all the other ideas of the presentation should revolve around it.

4.) Animations should be used sparingly

Just because they look pretty good doesn't mean that every slide needs to fade or roll into another. Use animations at points in the slides that matter the most. If you're showing profit growth from one quarter to another, use an animation to move through your chart. By limiting the amount of animations on a slide, you can ensure their effect is noticed, and people are taking more interest in what you are saying.

5.) Expand your mind

Don't just use the standard everyday clip art that's available on most computers. A quick Google search can show you website after website offering copyright free pictures or pictures with small watermarks on them available for public use. Check with the US Copyright office to see if your organization qualifies for the benefits of public use policies. This mostly applies to schools and teachers - however, you can never be too sure. Better quality and more vibrant pictures make slides pop off the page, and make trying to find the hidden meaning a thing of the past.

Remember, the most important thing about any presentation is that it's targeted for your audience. The difference between a great presentation and a great presenter is that the great presenter will take the time to research his or her audience and get to know them before putting his information together. Your audience will take notice of your dedication and respond to it.

How To Get Innovative In An Economic Downturn

I don't need to remind companies that consumers are rankled. That’s not my word, that's the word marketing experts have used to describe the selling environment companies are facing during this season of economic bailout. So, what's the advice? How do companies market effectively?

They innovate.

1. Be prepared to answer more questions about what kind of company you are. Customers want to know if you pay your upper management exorbitant amounts (CEOs cashing out just before their left-behind companies are bailed out by taxpayers may be one of those rankling issues, yes?), what you do to help the environment, if you give back to the community, and what kind of guarantee your product or service offers.

2. Get really good at your customer service. If you can't back up what you promise, this consumer environment will not be impressed (don't believe me; how have your sales been in the past two weeks?). Customers are fickle, and right now, they have the power to make or break you. Focus on making your customers happy and make them your number one focus. Many companies are finding out that business life without customers is bleak.

3. Think about how to make your product or service so amazing that people will freaking love it. Check out our previous post on Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands, and get really good at making your product or service irresistible. How? Ask your current customers. Why do they love you? Why do they continue to buy no matter what the economy looks like? A lot of information can be had by asking who already loves you.

4. Look at yourself from your customers' perspective. It's tough to really get their nuanced ways, but you've got to. Don't you sit and think "if only that company knew how that commercial or that packaging looked to the rest of us" at least a couple of times during a busy day? It could be an inept fast food server or a commercial that assaults our intelligence. This is how your marketing and products may look to your customers. While you can't keep everyone happy, it doesn't hurt to take a step back and walk a bit in your key market's shoes.

5. Be honest with yourself. Are you willing to go the extra mile for your customers? If not, your customers will be able to tell. If you really aren't sure about the product and are just trying it, that message will echo out well beyond your reach. You don't have to be gung ho about every product, but if you're not sure you can keep up with the expectations of your customers, you may need to do some soul-searching.

While these ideas may seem simple and kind of no-brainers, even implementation of one may make the difference between a good season and a true economic slowdown.