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.

How Customers Think When the Economy is Weak

Wondering what customers will be thinking as credit slows and the stock market jumps and falls like a crazy jumping bean? There are just three quick questions on your customer's minds.

1. What do I really care about? Does your product or service represent something people really feel strongly about? Does it offer capabilities beyond the competition? Is it something people get excited about? Do they think the design is amazing? Find out who will care about your product or service and market to these people.

2. What really matters? What kind of items are your customers shopping for? What matters to them right now? Are you customers concerned about giving back to the community? Are they concerned about the environment? Are they buying from you because you are an ethical company? Do they appreciate your quality customer service? Do they like your guarantee and warranty?

3. What's really unique? When money's tight, folks want the real thing. They want the computer that works, the piece of clothing that wears well and will last, and they want value for the money.

Marketing maverick Robyn Waters, former vice president of trend, design and product development at Target tells, "And those items will be the ones that everybody will rush in to buy, pay full price for and feel really good about the purchase."

"When we're in tough economic times, there's even more reason for innovation. Think of a brand as a love mark. If someone falls in love with a brand or a product even when times are tough, more than likely they'll build a relationship with it," Waters said.

Analysts predict this holiday shopping season could be one of the worst in recent history. In September, the Wall Street Journal reported on two grim predictions from Deloitte LLP and TNS Retail Forward Inc. These predictions were made before the most recent economic woes (including the bailout and subsequent stock market plunge) and consensus is that the harsh reality of what lies ahead for retailers could prove to be even worse than predictions.

Do companies panic? No. Now is the time for innovation. No matter what this week holds, panic is not the answer. Make a marketing plan (innovate!) and then execute the plan, one step at a time.

As the Stocks Fall, It’s All About the Love

So, what do you do with your marketing right now? If you say, cut back, that's the wrong answer. If you're watching the stock market, worrying about sales and expenses, you need to look at one thing only: your marketing. Time to get creative—it's time to make your customers fall in love with you.

Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands by Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts might be a book you need to read right now. Roberts posits that customers need an emotional attachment in order to continue buying your products and services. How do you create that emotional attachment? writes, "In Lovemarks, advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts delves deep into what mysteries lie behind the long-term success and unwavering customer loyalty for a can of Coke or a pair of Levi's, ultimately concluding that Love is the answer, and without some emotional connection to a product, it will dry up like a generic raisin in the sun. Enter Lovemarks, the new marketing buzzword, which will likely be bandied about at board meetings as vigorously as The Tipping Point.

Despite the somewhat egocentric approach to taking us there (he is, after-all, a pretty smart guy), we arrive at Roberts's point beautifully, and see what he sees: ‘That human attention has become our principle currency.' And that, in these times, forming long-term emotionally charged relationships with customers is the only way to make a product weather the long haul."

Roberts' thesis, "That human attention has become our principle currency," is proving itself very true as consumers move large amounts of money from failing banks to credit unions, decide to save or move to another account their expendable income, and cut back on household expenditures overall. Consumers will, however, spend money on products and services they love. Find out how to get your customers to fall for you—hard—and learn what it means to be considered innovative.

Roberts has one more book on the subject—The Lovemarks Effect: Winning In the Consumer Revolution, which highlights practical applications of his thesis. writes, "In this follow-up book, . . . the people speak—consumers, owners, and marketers show the impact of Lovemarks on their lives, their businesses, and their aspirations. How consumers feel about you—their emotional connection to you—is what determines success now. The Lovemarks Effect offers instruction and inspiration about creating emotional connections and winning in a consumer-empowered future."

What are you waiting for? Check them out!

Five Quick Tips On How To Lead in a Crisis

1. Answer the question. Be honest, be insightful, and don't fudge around with talking points and rhetoric. Just answer. Truthfully, honestly, and to the best of your ability.

2. If you don't know everything, find out. Get some advisors that you trust, and study with them. Don't just walk around saying, "Well, I think this, but I'm not sure." Find out and be sure.

3. Don't use fancy words. Employees don't care about corporate policy or return on investment. They want to know if they still have a job. They want to know if you think they're doing a good job or not. They want to know if you care about your company, your employees, and the well-being of everyone who contributes to your business. Just say what you need to say.

4. Be approachable. Don't sit in your office and avoid people. Join your employees in the lunch room, challenge the stressed out sales team to a game of basketball, buy everyone movie popcorn, and above all, smile, shake hands, and look people in the eye when you're talking to them.

5. Keep looking forward. Address the crisis, deal with the issues, but remember it can't last forever. Things will get better. If you stay hopeful, your team stays hopeful. Hope is a very overused word, but at its core is the idea that no matter how bad it gets, everyone is in this together (disagreeing or not) and everyone is willing to work hard and to go above and beyond, as long as the boss points the way and believes that it's doable.

No matter what the crisis, employees and businesses need leaders, especially this year, right now, in the middle of this crisis. Please lead, we need you to.

How to Better Manage Your Writing Part 2


So previously we talked about how to approach a writing assignment. Our overall goal is to better manage your writing time effectively (and to better manage the anxiety that comes from writing).

Now that we've got a "quick and dirty draft," and we've taken a break (hopefully long enough to get some distance, but not too long so that we have to remember what we were writing), we'll venture onto revising. Kenneth W. Davis writes that the first part of writing is to "remind yourself that you're a writer, that writing can be managed, and that it's largely a matter of managing time." Thus, our first step in part 2 is reminding ourselves of just that.

1. Remind yourself again what you're writing and who you're writing to. A quick perusal of your key goals and your key points is helpful as you return from your break to revise your first effort. Just scan your collected information quickly and then turn to that first draft.

2. Davis calls it "locating your turns." This is a term used to describe the idea of finding your opening, your middle, and your end. Or, your introduction, your points, and your summary. Jot a few ideas down on a separate piece of paper. Just 1,2,3 in a row: this is the problem I see, this is my solution, and this is what I think our next action should be. Or when crafting policy: this is our company's standard, this is what's allowed and not allowed, and these are the results if that policy is not followed. See what I mean? Keep it clear in your head right now.

3. Now, let's read that first draft. Just go slow and circle what you like—a sentence or two where you made a good point, an opening line you like, even a paragraph that looks okay. Now put question marks by places that you may have drifted off-point (don't worry, we all do it). Set that paper aside. Now take your list of three items (intro, points, summary page or whatever) and compare. Did you make room for each of these points? Did you stick to these three core issues? If not, that's the extra that needs to come out. Go ahead and cross out the parts that don't belong.

4. Revision. I have a surprise for you. You've been revising already. Even before you knew you were. Cool, right? We're now going to either start on a fresh page or computer screen with only the parts of your first draft that you need to keep. All extraneous material should be long gone. Now, you can go in and add sentences. Just here and there. That first part may need two more facts. Add them. That summary paragraph needs to mention this one thing. Put it in. See what I mean?

5. Run a spell check now. Then print off a copy and read it aloud, pencil or pen handy. Once you've caught all the errors, hand it off to a colleague or an assistant to review. Input any feedback they find and then, close your office door (if you've got one), sit down, and think about what you just wrote. Evaluate it in your mind or evaluate it on the page. Is this what you wanted (and needed) to write? Does it make the points you wanted to make? Do you think there's anything else you would like to add?

Voila. That's a pared-down ten-step process to managing your writing. Wasn't that hard, was it? Was it easier? I hope so.

Teamwork is Still the Sign of a Great Leader

Business books, for business leaders (specifically CEOs) who are looking to solidify their team's effectiveness using insightfulness and teamwork, are available by the dozens. CEOs complain about the large number of business books they must slog through just to keep up. It's not just business leaders who read these books, however. A few years ago, NFL coaches and players began to wise up to the wisdom of business leadership books. There were things they could learn from these books too.

In 2005, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni, a consultant who writes books that teach valuable leadership lessons, became the "must read" book in the NFL, passed around to coach after coach, helping them to assess their team's effectiveness. The story, according to Publishers Weekly, is "the fable of a woman who, as CEO of a struggling Silicon Valley firm, took control of a dysfunctional executive committee and helped its members succeed as a team. Story time over, Lencioni offers explicit instructions for overcoming the human behavioral tendencies that he says corrupt teams (absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results). Succinct yet sympathetic, this guide will be a boon for those struggling with the inherent difficulties of leading a group."

Also in 2005, reported that "Lencioni says he is stunned his book is becoming a must-read for NFL head coaches. But its enthusiasts include:

  • San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan, whose wife, Kathy, read it first and gave it to him.
  • Oakland Raiders coach Norv Turner, who thinks his copy came by way of his brother-in-law, but he's not sure.
  • San Diego Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, who was given the book by Rolf Benirschke, the third-most-accurate kicker in NFL history. Benirschke, now retired, has passed out about 60 copies around the league.
  • Miami Dolphins rookie coach Nick Saban, who read the book in preparation for his transition from the college game at Louisiana State.
  • Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel, who has used it to coordinate his talent scouts, loners who must come together as a team to somehow narrow the 300 best college players down to a handful of draftees.
  • Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who has distributed 20-plus copies to assistant coaches and players and keeps a four-color printout of the book's pyramid on his desk to remind him of the five dysfunctions that can cripple a team."
Since Lencioni's book, coaches and players have made it a habit to read other books on leadership and management success, including Sun Tzu's The Art of War, Jim Collins' Good to Great, Spencer Johnson's Who Moved My Cheese?, and many others.
Are there any leadership books you can think of that would translate well in the sports environment?


How to Better Manage Your Writing Part 1

Probably the most hated task of all when running a business: learning to write effectively to your employees and to your clients/customers. People dread it, they postpone it, they don't do it. So how can you, a busy executive, learn to manage your writing so that it gets done?

Read on.

1. Relax. Writing is not rocket science and it really won't hurt. If you can hush your inner critic (sometimes just saying the word "hush" to yourself works) and focus on the accomplishment you want to make with this piece of writing, that's the first step.

2. Spotlight who you're writing to. Is this a memo for your employees? Is this a marketing message for your clients? Is this a policy piece about employee dress codes? Make sure you narrow it down. If you're trying to write all of these at once, stop, jot notes on each topic, and then focus on one piece at a time.

3. Gather your information. What is the new employee dress code? Did you and your HR director hammer out those specifics? Make sure you have that nearby as you write. If you're offering a discount to your clients this month, brainstorm a bit—how will that discount help them be successful? If you need to write a state of the company address, highlight several successes from the past year and have them handy.

4. Write a "quick and dirty draft" without any editing or hand-wringing. Don't doubt your words or sit and wonder if you need a comma there or not. Just free-write, let it out, empty your head of everything you have a need to say. Quickly. It is messy, unkempt, and hopeless, but you have got to get it out of your head.

5. Now take a break. Walk away, do something else, let yourself eat cookies, whatever. Become the executive again, ignore the writing, and put it in a file folder, out of sight. Make a few calls, sell some services or products, whatever you do best, fill up your "feel-good" tank. And pat yourself on the back. You just wrote something. True, it's not done, it's a mess, and you have no idea if your staff really needs to know about your toothache, but for now, it's on a page and out of your head. Don't you feel better?

Next up, we'll do a revise and then step back and take stock on creating a process for the next writing project and the next and the next. You're well on your way!