How to Pull a Bad Interview out of the Fire

 If you sense a job or media interview is going up in flames, use this trick to refocus the conversation in your favor.

If you sense a job or media interview is going up in flames, use this trick to refocus the conversation in your favor.

Ever had a job interview, media interview or even a key meeting that seemed to go south before it started? Or perhaps strayed off topic mid-way and never got back on track?

Whether it’s a radio interview that dwells on what your new product CAN’T do, or a job interview that focuses too much on your shortcomings, you can still pull it out of the fire with one simple trick.

Just as things are about to wrap say, “If I may, I’d like to add one more thing…”

Then deliver a simple summary statement that succinctly states the point or points you need to make.

By being direct and concise, you’ll recapture the focus of the person on the other end of the phone or across the table. In fact, in most cases, he or she will even write down your key points and—even better—remember them.

This tactic is so effective, I recommend clients write out a summary statement in advance of their interview or meeting, just to be sure they take advantage of this strategy by the end of the conversation.

Here are some examples of how to put this simple trick to work.

To refocus a job interview:

“We’ve talked a lot about my work history, but if I may add one more thing, I’d like to summarize what I think makes me a strong candidate: I have more than two years experience selling ball point pens. I’ve also worked as a purchaser of office supplies. And my other work history, though varied, all shows I’m a fast learner.”

To save a sinking media interview:

“If I may take just one more moment, I‘d like to summarize why our Teeny Tiny Hearing Aid will be successful in today’s market: One, more people than ever are entering their senior years. Two, for today’s seniors, staying vital and connected is a priority. And three, today’s younger people see hearing aids as helpful technology, not something that will stigmatize them.”

And suddenly, you’re back on track.

By the way, this tactic doesn’t only work well for interviews gone BAD. For strong interviews too, a summary statement can be the bow around the package, tying up a great conversation and making it all the easier for your audience to understand your message and more importantly, repeat it.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

How to Tell a Story with Your Resume

 A great resume should read like a story, not a rap sheet.

A great resume should read like a story, not a rap sheet.

Not long ago I had lunch with a former TV reporter who was ready for a career change and wanted me to review his resume. I agreed. But when the resume arrived in my inbox a few days later, I was taken aback. What he sent looked more like a rap sheet than a resume and certainly wasn’t an argument for his success in a new role.

How could someone who had spent a career poetically telling the stories of others come up so short in telling his own? Happens all the time.

All journalists know their job involves more than just cataloging the facts. They must weave them into a relevant, compelling and accurate narrative. Yet, when it comes to telling their own tale, they---like all of us---often revert to a data dump. Every location, title, date and award is recorded. What’s missing is good information about how those previous jobs have prepared them for the next.

Journalists and all resume writers should ask themselves  “What’s the storyline that shows my future employer I’m a great candidate for this job?”

Here are a few ways to use storytelling to improve your resume:

Summarize your storyline. Briefly stating an objective is an excellent way to connect what you’ve done and what you want to do next, particularly if you’re changing careers and it’s not obvious. For example: “Veteran salesman seeks to apply competitive spirit, passion for science, and 25 years success in automotive to new role in pharmaceutical sales.” Just keep it short and steer clear of meaningless clichés like “proven track record,” “results-driven” and “demonstrated success” that typically signal the opposite of what they intend.

Paint a picture. Take the hiring manager’s view and think, “In what way does this person fit our company, our culture and our challenges?” Then accentuate experiences and skills that align with what your new employer needs and let go of some of the others. If you focus too much on the details that don’t apply to the next job, you’ll look like that’s all you can do or want to do.

Use slow mo and fast forward: Movie directors do it all the time: They draw out every detail of a key scene, then compress years or even decades that are less important. When writing your resume, the “real estate” you allot your experiences need not be proportional to the years you spent toiling at them. So long as you don’t distort the truth, it’s OK to elaborate on the few projects that most pertain to your next job while glossing over the time consuming tasks–or entire jobs–that don’t.

Bottom line: Apply a few simple storytelling techniques to your resume and interview process and your job search just might have a happy ending.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

10 Tips for a Great Speech at the Holiday Party

Editor's note: Year after year, this is our most popular post. We're happy to bring it back for a holiday encore. Cheers!

Ah, the office holiday party. It conjures punchlines of poor wardrobe choices and over-served sales reps. But in reality, it's one of the more dignified traditions to survive the modern work world. 

And for bosses, it's a moment that calls for reminding everyone why they're drinking (or at least eating) on the company tab. Rather than viewing this speech as an obligation, bosses should embrace it as an opportunity to set the tone for the coming year with remarks that make the team feel both appreciated and appreciative.

Here are 10 tips for giving a great holiday speech.

  1. Thank them. It's the whole point of the speech and, frankly, the party. If you do nothing else, be sure to thank your team for hard work throughout the year.
  2. Thank the significant others. They've made sacrifices on behalf of your company as well, carrying the load on the home front when the employee travels, works late or misses a teacher conference. And no one more influences your employee's decisions whether it's to stay at the company, volunteer for big projects or gripe about the health plan. Here is a chance to bank some goodwill with the spouses.
  3. Mention milestones. Now's also the time to remind employees of what it means to work for a great company. So mention the firm's important milestones whether it's doubling sales or just staying afloat in a terrible economy. But mention some personal milestones too, like new home purchases, engagements, weddings, births and graduations. Helping employees make the connection between a great job and a high quality of life is worthwhile.
  4. Get specific. If your team is small, mention each one along with something memorable about their year. If the team is large, you may still want to call on a few stand outs----and not just the high billers. Some "fan favorites" might be worthy of a mention too, like the IT staffer who doubled download speed or the admin who engineered the office move.
  5. Highlight successes, say nothing of setbacks. This isn't a company meeting. It's a party.
  6. Be brief. Remember, for them the night is about the party, not the speech.
  7. Rehearse. You might think you can wing it, but you're wrong. Take time to draft remarks and rehearse them----aloud and at least three times.
  8. Don't chicken out. In a weak moment you might think a party doesn't require a speech and opt just to skip it. But don't. There is a reason why companies hold holiday parties, but employees won't think about it unless you tell them.
  9. Speak early. Wait until everyone arrives and has had a drink, but not much longer. You want folks sober and focused on you and after more than an hour or so most won't be either.
  10. Save the cocktails for after. You may think you need a drink to calm your nerves, but you'll be better off without it. Instead, sip a soda until it's go-time, then knock 'em dead. You can bask in the glow of a great speech (and a good stiff drink) the rest of the night.

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog "Let's Be Clear,"visit bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

 

Next Time, Try Skipping the Agenda

If you begin every presentation with an agenda, here is a quick and helpful hint to make your next presentation instantly better:

Stop doing that!

Sure, your high school speech teacher hammered home that foolproof formula: “Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em; Tell ‘em; Tell ‘em what you told ‘em.” But today’s audiences expect something different----or at the very least a modern riff on that familiar refrain.

When an executive stands to deliver a presentation, then pauses to “review the agenda,” he or she risks slamming on the brakes before things even get rolling. In many cases, the executive senses the audience’s boredom and starts adlibbing details about each agenda point, dragging out the painful opening and stealing the thunder of the actual presentation.

Yes, your audience wants and deserves some assurance that you’re going to cover the points they want to hear. But perhaps a better plan is to craft a great open that leaves no doubt your presentation will be both interesting and relevant. Consider scrapping the agenda altogether and diverting the extra time and effort to a compelling open, persuasive key points and a provocative close.

Of course, if you’re part of an organization that requires presentations begin with an agenda (and don’t assume that because everyone else does it, it’s a requirement), you may have to go along with the program. Still, there are a few ways to comply with company policy without sabotaging your show.

1. Let a paper agenda suffice: Distribute a printed agenda ahead of time so audience members can peruse it before you take the stage. They’ll know what to expect, but you won’t waste precious moments (or their attention span) going over rote details.

2. Give a quick verbal agenda, rather than a visual one. Skip the agenda slide and instead quickly run through your game plan verbally, before launching into your carefully planned open.

3. Outboard the agenda. If your organization absolutely insists that you begin with an agenda slide, treat it as its own entity. Keep it as short as possible. Then stop. Give your audience a signal that the REAL presentation is about to begin by taking a long pause, changing your floor position, flashing a blank slide, telling an interesting story --- or all of the above.

The best way to captivate audiences is to convince them early on they’re about to hear something they’ve never heard before. Do that, and they won’t be wondering about what you’re going to cover. They’ll just be looking forward to it.

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog posts at “Let’s Be Clear," visit us at bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec. 

Media Won't Cover You? Cover Yourself.

Years ago when I was the lead spokesperson for Boston Edison, the company went through a brutal six-month stretch during which it was pounded in the press for an unusually high number of power outages and accidents---and THEN suffered an ugly labor strike.

So when I heard that, in the wake of a series of Florida hurricanes, our crews were heading south to help restore power, we made a serious round of media calls. I wanted to be sure every local TV station and newspaper got the word that, in this case, we were the good guys, stepping up to help those in need.

Sure enough, on the day our crews were leaving, a bank of TV cameras and print photographers showed up in the parking lot to capture pictures of the caravan rolling off company property toward the freeway.

But that was it! Not a single Boston media member conducted even one on-camera interview about why we were pitching in. And none of them bit on our offer to arrange phone interviews with the crews once they arrived in Florida.

I knew we needed to get a bigger bounce out of this event to offset the negative press we'd been taking on all year. So, I decided we would make our own news.

At the last minute, my colleague and I flew to Florida to meet our line workers, hired a video crew and followed our employees around for two days as they chain sawed fallen trees, installed new power poles and strung the electrical wire that would help Florida get back to normal. We interviewed our workers as well as locals, and captured tender moments of storm-weary Floridians hugging and thanking our crews.

Then we rented satellite time from the local public TV station and offered free feeds of the video to every news outlet in Boston.

That night and all the next day, on every Boston newscast, our guys were the heroes. Why? Not because they did any extra work (they were going to do it anyway.) But because we had video of it and we made it easy, free and irresistible for the media to use it.

If you have a great story that the media won't tell, try making it easier for them. Hire a crew to shoot video, then send it to media outlets in edited and unedited form. Include suggested news copy in the form of a short broadcast script or print story. (Sure, most journalists prefer to write their own, but they'll still appreciate the head start.) 

But don't stop there. Leverage your own platforms for coverage with the audiences that matter most to you. Put a version on your website, play it at employee events and post it to social media so supporters can easily pass it along to their own followers.

After all, if you've got a great story to tell, the media and your other audiences will want to hear it, see it and share it. And if you make it easy for them, they'll do just that.   

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog "Let's Be Clear,visit bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.   

Put Down the Tech and Just Talk

In this age of digital technology, the rules of business etiquette seem to be relaxing. But lately I've seen some especially bad behavior involving public speaking and tech.
 
A few months ago, I was at an entrepreneurs forum, listening to a panelist describe his business idea, when I was distracted by a man nearby, visibly scrolling through his cell phone.
 
I know, you're thinking, "Annoying. But not egregious." Well, what if I told you he was the MODERATOR?
 
Eventually I realized the offender may have been consulting his phone as a notebook. But the message to the audience was the same as if he'd been checking Facebook or sports scores: "I'm more interested in my phone than this discussion, my panelist or any of you."
 
A few months prior, I attended a conference at which an advertising agency was presenting its award-winning work. After playing a short video, the agency assembled its creative team at the front of the room to take audience questions—which we were instructed should be sent via Tweets that the panel would read from i-Pads. You can probably guess how well that went.
 
The panelists awkwardly stared at the tablets, waiting for Tweets to slowly come in. Befuddled audience members, sitting just a few feet away, looked at each other and then reluctantly reached for their phones. Finally, one panelist announced he had a Tweet! But wait...he lost his Wi-Fi connection. It was gone.  
 
At last, one audience member stood up and announced, "While you all get that together, I'm gonna try something different here and just ask a question." Applause erupted.
 
Yes, I know phones are fun. So are tablets and laptops. And one could make the argument (I don't think it's valid) that it's easier to type notes into a device than write them on paper or to read Tweets off a tablet than to pass around a mic. But no one should ever do that-not when live audience members are sitting just a few feet away.
 
Digital technology does a wonderful job of helping people who are not proximal communicate as if they were. But remember, while technology can simulate live, in-person connections, it should never replace them.
 
Live, in-person meetings-whether large or small-are precious and should be treated like gold. Each one presents an opportunity to do something magical. Showcase charisma. Address audience concerns. Win people's hearts. Win their minds. Maybe change their minds. Maybe even change their lives.
 
If you are lucky enough to stand before an audience, embrace the experience for what it is: Not a chance to show off or play with technology, but a chance to engage with members of the audience on the most human level. Look them in the eye, share your ideas, read their reactions and respond to their questions—all face-to-face.

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog “Let’s Be Clear," visit us at bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Please Welcome….Me!

When I first started speaking in public, I had a rather lofty image of how each engagement would begin: I’d be summoned to the stage with thunderous applause as a beaming host detailed the many reasons I was perfectly qualified to be the day’s expert.

Screeeeeeeeech. That's the record player scratching as reality sets in.

As well-meaning as hosts typically are, more often than not, they fall woefully short in priming the audience for their guest speaker. If left to their own devices, most hosts will print your bio off your website and read it verbatim, boring the audience with too much unrelated detail and never mentioning information that’s actually relevant.

Not only does this kick things off in an underwhelming fashion, it deprives the audience of context they need to get the full benefit of your remarks. Worst of all, it can throw you off balance during one of your most critical moments: your open.

There’s a better way. Next time you’re invited to speak, take these preemptive steps to ensure your remarks---and your audience---get the intro they deserve:

  • Well before your talk, take a few moments to write your own brief (brief is key) introduction, customized for the speech you are giving and the group to which you’re giving it.
     
  • Don’t wait to be asked, but rather email the introduction to your host ahead of time, indicating that in the past, hosts have found it helpful to have introductory remarks prepared for them.
     
  • Just to be safe, on the day of the event, bring with you three copies of your introduction, printed in at least 20 point font so that anyone can read it well, even on the first pass.

You’re not out the woods yet. If you arrive at your venue and realize no one plans to introduce you at all, recruit someone from the audience: your host, a friend, anyone with the slightest bit of charisma (or even a pulse) to help you out. (Here’s where those extra copies come in handy.)

Finally, if you MUST introduce yourself (yes, it happens), don’t do it right off the bat. Instead, begin your remarks exactly as you planned with the killer open you so carefully crafted and rehearsed. Then, just before you launch into the heart of your talk, pause and say “Let me take a moment to tell you about myself and why our hosts have asked me here today.”

Next go into a short version of your intro that offers just enough info to give you the credibility you need. Though not ideal, this should allow you to keep your remarks mostly intact, while earning extra points for style under pressure.

Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog “Let’s Be Clear," visit us at bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec. 

 

 

 

 

 

The One Question Every Presenter Should Ask

Clients often ask us to review major presentations at the eleventh hour, hoping we can make the tweaks that will take their material from good to great. In the best cases, our job is to put icing on the cake and who doesn't love to do that? 

But sometimes, the cake isn't ready for icing. In fact, in some cases, everyone is still scrambling around, trying to find the ingredients.

Often those frantic, final meetings are spent searching for photos, fretting over font sizes, adjusting bullets and reordering slides ad nauseum.

While we applaud efforts to continually edit and refine (there's always room for improvement), too often those last-minute efforts are misguided. In fact, the weeks of planning and preparation beforehand are often misguided too. That's because while the team was wrangling over minutia, they forgot to ask the most important question of all: "What's the goal?"

When we ask---and answer---that simple question at the outset, something magical happens: All the other details somehow just fall into place.

The introduction is suddenly obvious.

The slides all point to a singular argument.

Relevant stories, examples and analogies naturally work themselves into the script.

And the closing statement practically writes itself.

All because at the outset, someone asked---and answered---that critical question: "What's the goal?"

Try writing that on a sticky note and posting it to your computer screen. Or if you're working as a team, consider taping it to the conference room wall. You'll be surprised at how much perfunctory content you can suddenly scrap, making way for fresh ideas that are far more impactful.

For example, if the goal is to justify the purchase of new software to the Board, instead of beginning with the technical specs, perhaps you opt to start with the story of how outdated technology almost cost a key account.

If your goal is to attract new talent, rather than bullet-pointing the company's attributes, maybe you begin with a full-screen picture of your latest, cool company outing.

If your goal is to sign a new customer, instead of talking endlessly about your company history, perhaps you share three case studies, demonstrating how you've solved problems similar to theirs for customers in the past.

These are bold strategic moves that can dramatically improve a presentation and its impact. But to attempt them, or even conceive of them, presenters must first have laser sharp focus on their goal.

The next time you're tasked with creating a presentation, pause a few moments before launching into your normal drill. Don't rush to open a new PowerPoint file---or (gasp!) repurpose an old one. Instead, simply take a breath and ask the one question every presenter must ask "What's the goal?"

You---and your audience---will be happily surprised by the result.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, visit bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

 

 

Facing Your Own PR Crisis? Better Get Your Story Straight

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Good public relations practices are scalable. The same strategies that can help a global company navigate an epic crisis can hold true for individuals fighting to manage their own bad news---like an untimely departure.

None of us likes to think about losing a job. But if the day comes when you find yourself packing that cardboard box, here are three PR moves to help keep your image in tact while you regroup.

Get your story straight. Sure, you’ll want to vent to your personal inner circle. But before you share the bad news much further, come up with a narrative about what happened and what you want to see happen next.

Regardless of the reason for the separation, you should be able to frame it in terms that highlight your professionalism. Most importantly, you want to draw a picture in which the listener can see you moving on to even better things.

No matter the circumstances, resist the urge to paint yourself as a victim, even if you are one. People feel sorry for victims, but they don’t hire them. Instead summarize the situation and emphasize what YOU are doing to take control of your future.

Get Some Good Buzz Going. Once you have your story straight, start spreading it. Reach out to as many people in your network and their networks as you can---and not just people in positions of power. In fact, while people high up the food chain can be very valuable at helping to close a deal, they are not as useful at the front end of a job search when you need to dig up leads. Make the rounds electronically or better yet in person. Ask for informational interviews to learn about new companies and get the momentum going. All along the way, let folks know you’re interested in new opportunities and would appreciate them keeping their ear to the ground for you. You’ll be surprised by who in your circle turns out to be helpful.

Malign No One. Talking ill of someone else only calls into question your character, not theirs. So take the high road when it comes to speaking about your former company, supervisor and colleagues. If you can’t say something nice about them, focus instead on the opportunities you were given to grow and do good work. You’ll win points for graciousness and professionalism---and you’ll be that much closer to your next great thing.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, visit bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.


How to Be a Rock Star Panelist

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If you’ve been asked to sit on a panel at an industry forum or some other professional event, congratulations! The mere invitation is testament to your expertise and others’ confidence in your ability to share it. You’re doing something right already.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that expertise alone will carry you through. Many a panelist has bored an audience into oblivion with information overload. Often they’re so focused on providing technically correct answers that an hour later, no one remembers a word they said.

Yet others seem to have the crowd listening, laughing and hanging on every anecdote. Afterward audience members line up like teenagers at a rock concert to ask questions and keep the conversation going. Best of all, the panelist’s performance casts a favorable glow over his or her organization and own career.

If you want to elevate your panel appearance to rock star status, take some time to prepare. Here are a few tips to get you ready:

1.) Do some homework: Of course you’ll need to find out whether each panelist is expected to give opening remarks or just field questions. But also learn a bit about your fellow panelists and what distinguishes you from them. Ask if there is anything specific you should cover. Learn what, in the eyes of the host, would make the panel a success.

2.) As always, have key messages. Think ahead of time about what three or four messages (or even adjectives) you want your audience to come away associating with you. Write those in large print on a sheet of paper as you practice answering questions. If you want to be regarded as “industry leader,” “innovative,” “hip,” and “forward thinking,” be sure your remarks include---or at least echo---those terms.

3.) Know that you have three jobs: To ensure you, your organization and the panel all come off well. It’s not as tricky as it seems since in most cases the three will be aligned---or at least not in direct opposition. But remember, if you spend all your time bragging about your company but the panel overall flops, in the end neither you nor your company will look good.

4.) Bring stories. No matter the industry, people want to hear people talk about people. Think of at least three stories you can tell to drive home your messages. Then practice telling them to be sure they’re on the mark, can be told in short order and land the way you want. More than anything else, audiences remember stories. Be sure to bring them.

5.) Prepare to be spontaneous. That sounds like a contradiction but it’s not. Once you’re clear on your role, your messages, and your stories, practice answering as many different questions as you can---always coming back to your key messages and working in your stories along the way. The more you practice, the more natural the process will become. Soon you’ll be able to confidently handle anything that comes your way during the actual panel discussion.

If you follow these tips, your audience, your host, and YOU will all be thrilled with your performance. But more importantly, days and weeks after the program, your audience will still be recalling - and with any luck, repeating - your words of wisdom and the stories that brought them to life.

Give it a try and let us know if it works for you or what else has worked better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, visit bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.

What Would Dylan Do? Alternatives to PowerPoint

What Would Dylan Do? Alternatives to PowerPoint

A few months ago I attended a professional event at which I knew a well-respected and charismatic CEO would be speaking. Sure enough, he started things off with the stage presence of a stand up comedian and quickly had us all laughing and leaning in.

But then it started: The dreaded PowerPoint presentation.

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