Looking forward to October!

It’s the last day of September, 2013 and clouds are hanging over our duomo, cathedral, here in Arezzo.

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My walk to the gym this morning was wet  – with rain drops still clinging to the vines that grow around the doorway of one of my favorite osterias.

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Kids off to school and grown-ups off to work toted umbrellas as they passed through Piazza San Francesco under the constant gaze of the statue of Vittorio Fossombroni  who engineered the drainage of the valley’s marshlands in the 17th century.

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I imagine the kind of forward-thinking he must have had to envision the swamps as a fertile valley instead of the rain-fed lakes they were during the time that Leonardo da  Vinci painted them.

While I will most likely never have that level of vision, and certainly no statue in my honor – I am excited about looking forward to the future of…well.. October!

I dedicated this month to a series of “Better Communications” articles; I hope you enjoyed them.  Starting in October, I plan to continue writing about my professional expertise, but also combining my personal passions of living abroad and parenting our five-year-old cutie, Lulu.

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She’s prepared, as you can see, for the rainy Tuscan weather.

As consultant and author Alan Weiss says, “You don’t have a professional life and a personal life.  You have a life.”   So, here’s to our combined futures together.

Baci! Gina

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Stop the Press!

Although I’ve always wanted to say that, that’s not really what today is about.  What we want to learn is how to make the press, aka the media, stop and take notice of you.

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If you are an expert or have a story to tell, one of the best means for free publicity is to get press coverage.

As a veteran newspaper girl and Emmy award-winning network TV reporter – who used to get about a hundred pitches a day in my e-mail in-box – I know the press can be a cynical, surly bunch.

press conference
Look at the sneer on that guy on the upper left. He is not impressed!

But, now, more than ever, reporters need to compete in a 24/7 news cycle.  They are always looking for content from new sources.

Paid publicists and PR agencies will charge to pitch you.  If you can’t afford their services, here are a few doable tips to begin getting the word out about you – by yourself.

Know ‘em before you need ‘em.  Begin your research now by reading and watching your local press outlets, include worthy blogs and radio shows.  Make a list of names of reporters and hosts.  Follow them on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn if you can. Begin to engage  -not stalk – them by adding relevant comments to articles or other items they may post.  Invite them to coffee! Seriously, the point here is to try and establish relationships before you pitch anything.

Prep before you pitch.  Write your provocative headline.  Know your main themes and points.  Practice speaking in soundbites (good for electronic and  written interviews) before you make your first  pitch. What if a reporter or producer says, “Yes?”

Be grabby.   Since you’re likely going to send your pitch to a reporter’s already jam-packed email in-box, aim for the most attention-getting , yet accurate (don’t get tossed out with the Viagra nonsense) subject line you can think of.  Once you get them, don’t lose them.  In the email itself, write a compelling pitch too.

Make sure there’s a hook.  Consider your angles.  Are you a child psychologist and it’s back to school time? An international manager who can speak about a business issue currently making headlines? Try to find something to “hook” yourself to and you’ll have a much better chance being interviewed, then to simply try and land a story only on you and your issue.

Keep it short!  Nobody wants to read more than a few short paragraphs.  Use bullets to say why readers / viewers will be interested in your story/article/whatever it is.  Make sure you’re contact information is easy to find.  Don’t ramble.  Don’t be boring.

Don’t give up.  Don’t be a total nuisance, but do keep trying every few weeks to reposition your pitch idea until the reporter gives you a definite yes or no.  Then, if it’s no, go on to your next – timely and relevant – pitch idea and start again!

Like any worthwhile relationship, the process of courting the media is a long-time affair.  It may take six months before you see any return love.  And don’t aim for the most popular girl (or guy ) in school:  meaning sure, you’d like to see yourself with a large network, but at first, think small.

You need to court this guy!
You need to court this guy!

More often than not, you’ll need some local news media coverage to practice being interviewed.  Then, you can use your local news appearances as leverage when you begin courting the networks and national publications.

Good luck!

Gina

 Copyright 2013 Gina London. All rights reserved.

 

How to become a speaker at a conference!

You’re good. You want to help others.

Do you have an expertise on a subject that you’d like to share?  And speaking in front of your organization’s board members once or twice a year doesn’t quite cut it?

Now here's a board of directors! yikes.
Now here’s a board of directors! yikes.

Maybe you were at a luncheon listening to the keynote presenter thinking,  “I can do this, too. I know a lot about X (insert your  favorite topic)!”

What a fun lunch bunch.
What a fun lunch bunch.

If this sounds like you, you may want to consider applying to become a speaker at an event!

Google your area of expertise. Google keywords that you are interested in talking about along with the word “conference.”  For instance, you may be amazed how many relevant hits you’ll receive when you type, “Chocolate Conference.”  I know. I tried this.

Make a spreadsheet.  Blech. I hate Excel. (which is my own fault as I have never taken an Excel class  plus  my version happens to be in Italian.) But you’re going to need to keep track of your research.  Include the name, the place the dates, the urls, the email contact information, anything you think you’ll need.  A spreadsheet keeps it all handy in one place.  There are other ways to do this besides Excel of course.  I now use Google Drive’s version. Much easier. And in English.

Search for “Call for Papers.”  Depending on the conference, it may be tricky to find out where to apply to be considered as a speaker.  If you search your conference name plus “call for papers” that may help you zero in.  Sometimes it may be described more simply like, “Apply to Speak.”  If you can’t find it easily, email the conference’s contact and ask directly.

Start small.  Unless you’re already a seasoned conference speaker (in which case you’re likely not learning much here!) you will probably not land the biggest worldwide conference in your field.  So narrow your search to smaller conferences and consider attending the bigger ones to get a feel for them.  Once you have spoken at a few small conferences, you can use them as leverage to land the larger ones.

To sponsor or not to sponsor? Some organizations put on conferences and only allow speakers who are members of their group or who are a paying sponsor.  Maybe this is a great professional opportunity and worth the investment.  The ups and downsides of this type of event, depend on you and your situation.

Get your presentation paper ready.  As with any presentation, the title should be attention-getting.  Get contrarian.  Be provocative.  How many applications might the organizer be receiving? Make sure your abstract (3 or 4 paragraphs that describe your presentation) is as grabby as your headline.  Give a few bullets of surprising things your audience will learn and make sure to sell yourself as an expert and interesting speaker!

Begin searching now for 2014! The lead-time to submit speaker applications is often six months ahead of the conference itself.  It’s not too soon to start now!  If a 2013 conference is still on their site, email them directly and ask if they have set next year’s yet.  Make your lists and conference relationships early, so you have a better chance.

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Next time I’m at a chocolate conference and you’re the speaker, come over and say “hi!”

Good luck!

Gina

Copyright 2013 Gina London. All rights reserved.

Leverage your message. And my first polo match.

What happens to your presentation after it’s over? Does it fade away like the memory it has become? Or can you find ways to repurpose it to help add value to your organization, your audience, and your own unique brand?

It all depends on you!

Villa Sesta Polo club with the Tuscan hills where Chianti comes from in the background!
Villa Sesta Polo club with the Tuscan hills where Chianti comes from in the background!

Yesterday, Lulu and I went to our first polo match. In the Chianti hills between Siena and Arezzo, we nibbled on Tuscan-style snacks like Bufala mozzarella and prosciutto served to us by the Villa Sesta Club staff.

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As we looked out on the field, we learned that each of the four players on a team has four separate horses to use for each of the four “chukkers” or periods that take place in the fast-paced game.

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Four horses each? No wonder it takes a lot of money to play this sport. But, in spite of the apparent wealth, it wasn’t a snooty crowd like I’d imagined from that scene in Pretty Woman –which is about my only previous exposure to polo.

By example, our hosts, equestrian and country-inn Il Pozzo owner Carla Veneri and her dentist boyfriend Federico (plus their dog Amelie) couldn’t be more down-to-earth and laid back.

Carla, Federico, Amelie, Me and yes, squint, Lulu is there too. She said the sun was making her "go blind."
Carla, Federico, Amelie, Me and yes, squint, Lulu is there too. She said the sun was making her “go blind.”

The exciting game, plus the great food and sun-filled Tuscan sky, made for a, as our very-British-sounding announcer said so well, “Splendid Sunday afternoon.”

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So! I could carry the day in my mind, or I could take photos and share my experience – along with my lesson not to prejudge a group before meeting its members – with others. It’s the same with your work.

YouTube. If your presentation isn’t proprietary in nature, have someone record it and put the video on your company’s YouTube channel. Or put it on your own. You or your organization do have a channel, right? If not, it’s super easy to set-up!

Newsletter or Blog. Adapt the transcript of your presentation into a piece for a company newsletter or blog. If you have your own blog, post it there. This way, you can reach employees or potential clients or whoever wasn’t able to attend in person.

SlideShare. Post your wonderfully simple and graphic PowerPoint presentation (see my previous article about this!) on SlideShare.

Publications. Yes, you heard me! Depending on your content, you can tweak your presentation and submit a query letter to a variety of trade magazines and/or business journals. The Wall Street Journal and WIRED magazine, for example, both offer member-blogs. Why not?

When you consider the variety of ways that you and your hard work can continue to be amplified – by repurposing and promoting your message – you are making yourself more valuable and relevant to your company. That’s another valuable lesson.

Lulu enchanted by Villa Sesta Polo Club's topiary ponies.
Lulu enchanted by Villa Sesta Polo Club’s topiary ponies.

As our polo announcer would say, “Simply splendid, indeed!”

Baci, tutti! Gina

Some answers about Q&A.

Now you’re not up on stage or at a lectern presenting, but you’re engaging one-on-one with members.  Yikes!  A good Q&A session will not only further demonstrate your command of your topic, but it will also let your audience connect with you as a real person.

Are you prepared for this?
Are you prepared for this?

A bad Q&A session is one where the presenter breaks down, gets into a side-bar discussion or disagreement with an audience member and generally loses the credibility hopefully gained during the presentation.  Don’t let this happen to you!

Like speech preparation, you can also prepare for your Q&A.  And that leads me to my first handy tip!

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Gina’s quick Q&A tips

Prepare.   After you have finished your presentation. Write down as many questions about it as you can.  You know the topic. What’s the worst thing you can think of?  How would you answer that?  Have a friend or partner listen to your speech and ask you questions so you can practice your answers in real time.

Listen. During the Q&A session, listen to the speaker’s full question.  This gives you time to absorb and plan your answer.  It also ensures you don’t miss the point if the speaker takes an abrupt right turn.  Look into the person’s eyes. Lightly nod or smile depending on what they’re saying.  Be polite! However, if you have a person going on and on – and you’ll know it when you feel it – it is also perfectly polite to gently interrupt and remind them you want to make sure and answer as many questions as possible, so please “make your point.”

Repeat the question.  Depending on the size of the room, whether audience members have access to a microphone, and even the speaking pattern of the participant, it’s helpful to repeat back their question. This lets the listener know you understood and also helps others stay engaged. It also buys you a little extra time if you need it.

Use a thought trigger.  Sometimes the words don’t want to come out. Try this:  Restate the person’s question as the intro to your answer.  Or begin with a superlative like, “the most difficult aspect of this is…”  or “the most important thing to remember is…” or “that’s a great question…” We call this answer technique “triggering” because it prompts your brain to sort out your already prepared message and extract it.

Say “I Don’t Know.”  If you really don’t know the answer, it’s better to say that forthrightly than to B@#)$@ an answer! But, promise to get the information and follow-up later. And do this.  Get the person’s contact information if it’s just between you and him. Or make sure the answer is distributed to all the attendees in some fashion, via e-mail or minutes or whatever.

Stay in control.  Remain polite and calm above all things.  If you get a difficult or hostile question, that appears genuine, try and answer the person but also take a moment to disarm the speaker.  Try to find a common bond like, “Since we’re all associates in X company, I know we share a desire to XX.”  If the speaker follows up with another question that’s just mean-spirited, reassure them that you’ll happily talk with them directly after the session is over and remind them you need to take as many questions as possible.  Show shared concern, and move on!

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Some of these tips are similar to those I give clients during my media training programs.  Your audience can be a lot like journalists. They’re informed and they may be provocative.  Get prepared and you’ll be ready!

If you’d like more than just a quick tip-list, contact me. I can help you really refine your question answering skills.

Baci,

Gina

Copyright 2013 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

A few words (and tips!) about non-verbal communication.

I bet you didn’t know that some experts say as much as 93 percent of communication is non-verbal!

Now you know!
Now you know!

I knew it was a lot. But until I researched this article, I didn’t know just how much! Another great reason why you better invest time practicing your presentation: you will be transmitting to your audience in many more ways than simply through the words you have written.

This illustration is so obvious it made me laugh...
This illustration is so obvious it made me laugh…

I’ve broken down the categories for you and provided a few thoughts on each:

Clothing and appearance.  Dress appropriately to the occasion. Understated and classic is a sure bet.  Do not wear something distracting unless it’s quite intentional.  Ladies, those large, dangly earrings probably don’t work (unless you’re here in Italy, then no one will notice).  Gentlemen, same thing for that tie with any kind of cartoon print.

Locomotion.  How do you fill the space? Are you pacing wildly back and forth? Coming out from behind the podium?  Your movements here will tell your audience a bit about your experience and confidence – therefore your credibility.

Posture.  You might think I’ll urge you to stand up tall and straight here. Sure. But you’re not a Sequoia. Also consider leaning in to your audience at important moments; shrugging your shoulders if there’s a confusing issue at hand;  Squatting down low to tell a secret.  Don’t act affected, but don’t be a stick either.

Gesture.  Here in Italy hand gesturing has been elevated to an art-form! But for everywhere else, it can be an important way to emphasize points too. Turn on the video camera and record you practicing your speech. Watch for the moments where you naturally gesture or could add one for emphasis.  Practice opening your arms smoothly and broadly. Don’t jerk those arms or fly them around aimlessly!

Facial expressions. I have seen so many business professionals lose opportunities because they were expressionless cigar-store Indians as they spoke.  If you are trying to motivate or persuade your audience, smile! If your quarterly earnings are less than projected, your face might show concern. Remember, your audience is made up of humans, not wooden mannequins. Don’t you be one.

For facial expressions, don't just focus on your mouth, also consider varying the shape of your eyes.
For facial expressions, don’t just focus on your mouth, also consider varying the shape of your eyes.

Eye contact.  Don’t simply scan the audience. Take moments to really focus.  I have clients practice eye-contact by looking at an “audience” of chairs in which I place large photos of professional looking people.  I ask the client to look directly at each “person” for four seconds.  Depending on my client, I sneak a photo of Marilyn Monroe or (young) Elvis into the back row.  When their eyes come across the famous faces, it’s incredible to see their eyes light up.  That’s connecting.

Touch.  During your presentation, you’re probably not near enough to touch anyone.  But if you do have audience interaction, be aware a friendly handshake or a light hand on a shoulder or elbow are perceived as friendly and caring.  Obviously touching is only appropriate when – appropriate!

Paralanguage.   This is the scientific term for what I call the “spice” of communication. These are my favorite:  pitch, pacing, volume, inflection, emphasis and tone.  Please, please! Play around with these.  Take one of your sentences and vary the pitch.  Start fast and slow down when you want to emphasize a point.  Try raising and then lowering your volume.  Emphasize a different word. Listen to how each of these subtleties dramatically changes your sentence.

Just like the right combination of spices in food – if you flavor your speech with a variety of non-verbal and paralanguage techniques, your presentation will be more delicious. Everyone remembers a great meal!

Baci! 

Gina

Copyright 2013 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.

How to make your message stick!

The bad news for anyone delivering a presentation is that in spite of all your preparation and practice – most of what you say will go fluttering out of the minds of your audience like September breezes that blow across the vineyards here in Tuscany

Yes, I had to get a Tuscany reference in here!
Yes, I had to get a Tuscany reference in here!

A 2012 research report discovered that immediately after a 10-minute presentation, listeners only remembered 50% of what was said. By the next day it had dropped to 25%, and a week later it was only 10%.

What does this mean to you? Take a sales presentation. Your audience is not likely to decide immediately after you are finished. A week or even longer, they may call you with their answer.  It’s critical, therefore, to consider that by this time, they will have retained only an impression of what you said, not specific details.

To ensure your main point is remembered, here are five tips in the form of a memory-sticking acronym “SAVER” – as in “Presentation Saver!” — borrowed liberally from  Sales Performance Trainer Jack Malcolm.

STORIES: A story is the best way to reinforce a point.  Since the first cave paintings were discovered, telling stories is our most fundamental way to communicate. Because they’re so powerful, make sure your stories connect back to your message and aren’t simply random fun stories. Please see my previous post dedicated to the power of storytelling.

ACRONYMS. As annoyingly trite as it has become (at least to me!), all of us are likely familiar with the acronym, “KISS” – Keep It Simple, Stupid! Originated by the Navy in 1960, it still works as a great reminder for us to break down any complex message into its most basic points.  Other mnemonic devices – like rhymes, short poems or songs are also useful.  If you are good at word games, you may be able to create an acronym to assist you.

VISUALS: Another great mnemonic device are visuals! We are all visual learners. An image stays in our minds longer than a simple verbal description. Use your PowerPoint or even props, to illustrate your points.

EXAMPLES: When a story isn’t enough. Cite examples to demonstrate what you’re talking about.  Make sure they are real and relevant. Don’t always connect them to yourself, but make sure they relate to your audience.

REPETITION: I can’t say this one enough. Ha. Get it?  No, Seriously. Here’s Winston Churchill: “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time—a tremendous whack.”  This is excellent advice, but even though he said “don’t be clever”, he was.  Each repetition of his admonition is slightly different so it didn’t become laborious.

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As you outline your presentation, incorporate as many of these tools as you can.  Don’t let your message float away with the wind.

Baci!

Gina