Now That the Election Is Here

A recent poll of small business owners reported that 80% of small business owners are confident that they will weather the current economic storm and 64% expect their small businesses to grow (I agree with both groups). This does not surprise me in the least. That's what entrepreneurs do-in good times and in bad. No matter who is declared the winner in the presidential election this week, small business owners are not deterred. We will keep things moving forward.

In a similar, although more worrisome, response, 67% of respondents to that poll responded that they weren't sure how to get clients or customers in this economic climate. And 60% indicated they intended to cut costs. However, the poll reports that for the second month in a row the Small Business Optimism Index actually went up, "indicating that small business owners are feeling more optimistic."

Seth Godin has a great blog post, and I had to hold back a huge grin as I read it. Entrepreneurs are not easily swayed by bad financial news, and actually, I think, the worse conditions get, the more impassioned we become. Godin writes, "Wealth is not created by financial manipulation, the trading of equities or the financing of banks. They just enable it. Wealth is created by productivity. Productive communities generate more of value. Productivity comes from innovation. Innovation comes from investment and change [emphasis mine]."
So, how do you implement investment and change into your company's mode of operation? A few ideas include:

  1. Keep your brand fresh.
  2. Sell by social networking.
  3. Motivate your sales team.
  4. Put your customers to work for you.
  5. Use a proactive attitude to get out of a sales slump.

Will these tips work in this economy? Why not? Sure, there are issues affecting all of us, but why not "do as Seth advises" no matter what issues your company is facing? Why not work to increase productivity? I don't mean just do more for the sake of doing more, but put your passion into every customer service call and pay attention to the details. Make your customers happy and show it through your innovation and ability to flex when necessary. Put forward ambitious plans to your team. Help them to become passionate about sales and marketing in these harder economic times. As a CEO, your passion and productivity will go a long way toward inspiring others to follow your lead. Get a hold of Seth Godin's new book, Tribes, and read and use it. People waiting for someone to lead and why can't it be you? Why not you? What are you waiting for?

Communicating with Style

While knowing your audience is the most important part of being a good presenter, knowing yourself is just as important. Presenting is all about making sure that your best is on display and that people feel comfortable. Participants in your conference are going to feel comfortable if that's what you feel (remember the non-verbal importance).So, it's important to know what kind of communicator you are.

According to Scranton University there are four types of communication styles: process, action, people, and idea. Each style will reflect a different kind of presentation comfort zone. Some people are all business when it comes to their conferences, and others are more free-thinking. What makes each type of communicator feel in control of their presentation, and why is it important?

  1. Process (PR) Oriented:
    A process oriented communicator is someone who focuses on the steps from start to completion with a particular plan of action. These are communicators who understand and focus on the steps it takes to reach the end result. Think of it as "how" and "why”. Process oriented individuals want to make sure the "how" is understood and believes that if the steps are followed accurately, the "why" will follow naturally. These communicators are precise and focus on the facts. They also may establish alternate plans.
  2. Action (A) Oriented:
    Action focused communicators are short-winded. Action is a verb and these types of communicators want to see something done quickly. They want to know that their audience was motivated to move. If you're action oriented, you should always use a visual aid, like a slide presentation, to focus on the result of the coming actions, i.e, "If we complete project X as a team, our profits are going to grow." Action communicators want their audience to know and understand what the result of their provisions, so they can be motivated to reach the end result.
  3. People (PE) Oriented:
    When a presenter has a communication style that is person oriented, they tend to focus more on the relationship between the idea being presented and the people it is going to affect, whether clients or employees. When you're this type of communicator, you should be focusing on how the idea has worked in the past, be informal, and allow time for small talk. A lot on times on conferences, you have a group of people who either work closely together or don't get to spend a lot of time in the same room. So, you need to allow for the people taking part in the conference to chit chat with each other. Allowing time to for this gets everyone comfortable and able to hit the ground running with whatever ideas they have.
  4. Idea (I) Oriented:
    Idea oriented communicators tend to lean towards more open types of meetings. They encourage open discussion and the sharing of ideas. When scheduling a conference, idea oriented communicators should factor in extra time so that they can allow for this open share of ideas. When you're an idea focused person, you have a tendency to let your ideas flow out loud as well. So before your conference, be sure to create an outline, starting with an overall statement, and then narrow your ideas down slowly and to keep yourself on task. Allow for open discussion at the end of the conference so that the creative flow does not have to be interrupted.

(In case you're curious, I am an action communicator.)

The long and short of it is that the best communicators are going to have elements of all these kinds of styles. Getting feedback from your conference participants is going to give great insight into what changes can make you more effective. Are your conferences all over the place with no true plan of action? You should focus on being more process oriented the next time you hold a conference. Do people think your presentations are boring? Try being more people oriented. Making little tweaks in how you present is going to have a lasting impression on the outcome of your conferences.

PS: Nothing is more important than knowing yourself when you're in front of a group. Remember that when you start tweaking your communication style. How you sound is just as important as what you say.

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.