Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Presentations must take root to take effect

While ideas made during a presentation might be soaring, like this
gorgeous artwork in Tacoma, Wash., a good speaker must also make them concrete.  Photo by Liz Cezat.

As executives and leaders, we are highly motivated to connect with others in our presentations. It excites us to speak in front of an audience of listeners who may be forever changed by what we tell them. We want to share what we know about a particular subject so that the audience can benefit from our knowledge, expertise and experience.
My presentation roster focuses on three subjects:
1.     How to write effective e-mails
2.     Marketing professional services
3.     Connect with key audiences through social media
My goal is for the salient points to take root and ultimately become a part of an individual’s work habits. Toward that end, it’s not enough to simply hear an idea expressed, the audience must also be shown how to activate it. I provide work sheets so the audience can incorporate new ideas discussed during the presentation into their process. To make it stick, I often provide concrete examples of how an action has yielded results. And we all want results, don’t we?
The strongest points of a presentation should be available on handouts and in slides for future reference. I also send follow-up e-mails to the audience to reinforce points made during the presentation. These e-mails can be spaced a week or two after the presentation to remind participants of the salient points. I remind them that I’m available via e-mail or phone as a resource if they have any questions about what they learned. The e-mails also serve as positive reinforcement to those who have already incorporated the new ideas into their workflow process.
Speakers are messengers of the moment. What we say strikes a chord based on the life experience of the listener and their openness to receiving that message. But too often, the message is fleeting. Heard but forgotten. To make that spark of a new idea take root, the reinforcement tools of handouts, work sheets, slides and e-mails take the lessons learned one step further – being deployed into a worker’s process.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Three rules of alignment as a small business owner

If you have your own agency – PR firm, marketing consultancy, graphic design agency, career coach, etc.) – there are three practices that must be in alignment. Before I tell you what my best practices are, think about what’s most important in your
business and let’s see if we are on the same page.
Photo by Liz Cezat. Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids, Mich.
In my practice, I have determined that these are the most important trio of traits: discipline, focus and making connections. Talent is a given. If you didn’t have talent, you wouldn’t be pursuing a small agency model because no one would hire you.
Here’s a rundown of the trio.
1. Discipline. If you have your ducks in a row – business plan is set, client base is steady, office systems are up and running – attend to client work first. Whether you do it yourself or assign it to a partner, associate or freelancer – get the project in the works and manage it. Take care to produce the results that the client has specified. No surprises. Fulfill the need – on time, within budget and meet expectations.
2. Focus. There are so many distractions in a day. If you are focused on what you do best, then you shouldn’t have a problem getting the work done. Focus can make the hours seem like minutes. Work on your most challenging client projects at prime time. Are you most productive at 7 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. or 5 p.m.? Know your cycle. Once you can accomplish your client work in a focused manner, try to use that strategy for the work that you don’t like to do. Establish a specific time to do billing, make prospecting calls, and organize your projects, and then focus solely on that. It then becomes routine.
3. Connections. Set aside time daily, weekly and monthly to fortify your connections and meet new people. How can this be readily achieved? Reach out on social media – that can be a daily practice. Attend one to two meetings a week to get the word out about your business and forge new partnerships. Make calls – no robocalls please – or send personalized e-mails. Attend meetings that your clients and prospective clients attend. Learn what matters to them and what they want from your company. Follow up with a LinkedIn invite or ‘nice to meet you’ note. Then, stay engaged. Be pleasantly persistent.
Set up appointments based on interest and the need to see clients face-to-face before they sign up for your services. If you can build trust via your brand (website, white papers, blog, collateral marketing pieces), a phone call or e-mails, a meeting may not be needed.
Follow this triad of business practices and your agency or solo practice will be humming along.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Research and interviews that make the grade

With the Internet resources today, interviews and reports are much more compelling and a whole lot easier to research and write. When I first started my business in 1994, doing background preparation for a CEO speech or a major profile was like going down a blind alley on the Internet. It took hours, involved looking at horsey typeface (typically multi-colored and different fonts), had few if any decent pictures, and often led to dead-ends.
What's the story behind these newlyweds? (Photo by Liz Cezat)
Now there’s Google and other snappy search engines that take you where you want to go in a matter of seconds. In preparation for interviews, I typically “google” the person or subject to supplement what I already know. It is through this compilation of written reports and YouTube videos that I gather the kernels of questions I will ask the interviewee.
Aside from my own curiosity, I am guided in my writing by the audience of the newsletter, magazine or report. What do the readers want to know about this person or topic?
If they are donors, they often want to know what motivates a philanthropist to donate to a specific cause. Was there an incident in their childhood that caused them to favor a certain nonprofit organization as an adult? Did one of their children sustain a debilitating injury or chronic illness that changed the family’s life? Readers are also curious about the type of business or investments that enable a philanthropist to be a major supporter of an organization.
For alumni publications read by both recent graduates and older alumni, learning about a fellow alum’s path to success is always of interest. Poignant stories that tell of a special relationship connect with readers emotionally. Did the couple elope at 18 in order to leave the country and start a new restaurant chain that made them multi-millionaries? Reports about how an individual overcame adversity or seized an opportunity make for riveting reading.
I try to ferret out the unique aspects of an individual and that typically comes out during the actual interview. Thus, I must be alert to where the conversation is going if it strays from my set questions. If the thread of the interview takes me to a new place, I tend to explore it. That thread may reveal information that makes the finished article much different than it otherwise would have been. Whenever possible, I also ask colleagues or friends of the individual for insight into his/her personality, actions or achievements.
Let me know if you have a topic or individual that your organization or business wants to highlight in a newsletter, blog, magazine or special report. I’d be happy to do the research and writing.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Let them taste the ham

What started as a somewhat silly conversation in the car led to some deeper insight about marketing and what sells.
While driving home from a dinner party with my sister-in-law and adult daughter, we started talking about food. I mentioned that I never knew the differences between what could be considered common foods, such as chocolate (now I know) and ham. I then relayed this story:
Recently I was at the deli and asked for ham. The counter woman replied, “Do you want Virginia ham or Bavarian ham?” I said, “I didn’t know there was a difference.” I then asked, “What kind do you like?” She replied, “Bavarian.” I would have chosen Virginia ham because that’s what I knew. So, then I asked to do a taste test to determine if I could be persuaded to try something new. After trying both, I found that the Bavarian was a bit smokier and tastier than the Virginia ham, and I made a choice that I otherwise wouldn’t have.
Photo by Liz Cezat, Cezat Creative Resources, Inc.
After I finished telling this story, I was surprised when my sister-in-law – whose figure rivals that of a teenager because she monitors everything that she eats – said, “I want some ham when we get home.” This was after dinner, mind you, and it was about 11 p.m. when we got to my house, where she was staying as a guest. It amazed me that I had convinced someone to try something just by talking about an experience related to it.
The lesson? Appeal to one’s senses when you are persuading someone to try something new.
I don’t know how to do that with a brochure but here goes: Imagine holding in your hand a brochure with real paper. Is it thin or thick? Does it feel cheap or elegant? Does it have texture? Are there photos in it? Are the photos colorful and exciting? Do they relate well to the products or services detailed in the brochure? Do the subheads entice you to want to read more? Does the copy guide you through the offering from beginning to end without smacking of guile? Are you motivated to find out more about this company by visiting their website? Are you intrigued enough to consider how their product or service could help you or your business?
How important is it to break through the barriers of communication and get someone to try something new – particularly your product or service? The appeal to one’s senses is a powerful sales tool.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Updating or creating a website?

If you are revamping your website, it can seem like an overwhelming task. The key is to break it down into manageable segments. Consider the design – are you going “custom” or using a design template? A custom design allows your company’s personality to shine through. It allows your branding elements of a logo, color palette and preferred typeface to convey your image in a professional manner. There is a place for template design websites – typically when you are starting out with only a few bucks to spend.
When developing content, set up a structure – also known as a wire frame or site architecture. What will appear on your landing page? How many main pages should you have and what subjects will appear on these master pages? Once you know the main subjects, parse those out into sub-pages with more detailed information. Figuring out the site organization is akin to doing a flow chart or organizational chart. It’s a matter of hierarchy – put your most important topics on main pages and branch out with sub pages.
What tabs will you need for the subject headings? Horizontal tabs are most commonly used. Vertical tabs have their place – typically when a website has loads of information.
Keep your information short with a click-on box for more content (See the samples on my website). The information seen before scrolling down is the most widely viewed. Many viewers won’t bother to scroll down unless they really like what they see.
Keep the copy short and snappy. Every word you use must carry its own weight. Edit mercilessly. Keep product or service features and benefits short but descriptive. Leave nothing to the viewer’s imagination. Spell out everything you want them to know. 
What’s the call to action? Typically to call or send in an e-mail inquiry. Also let viewers connect with you online through Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, etc. Give them multiple ways to get in touch with you and learn more about you and your products or services.
And if you’re looking for a good website copy writer who works well with web designers, give me a shout out. (Oh, I mean send me an e-mail or call.)

Monday, April 30, 2012

When to take an online connection to the next level

The advent of social media will transform our world by bringing people and ideas closer than ever. With social media blending into our everyday lives, there are more opportunities to engage with others to help you achieve your goals.

The Internet allows us to connect with hundreds – even thousands – of people with shared interests. When you connect with people on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, YouTube, Pinterest and other social media, why not take the next step and bring them into your world to do business?
Common reasons to do business with people you meet online:
1.     You like their style or share their interests and want to sit down and talk with them face to face.
2.     You are working on something that could benefit from their input.
3.     You want to buy their product or service but have some questions and want to find out if they are honest.
4.     You want an introduction to someone they know.
Keep in mind that digital tools are conduits for human connection. If you only exchange e-mails, you really don’t know who you are talking to. It’s not until you meet them that you see if they are as genuine in person as they are online. Once you’ve made some good connections online and one of the top four scenarios exist or you have another compelling reason to advance the relationship, plan to talk by phone or Skype.
Photo by Liz Cezat
There’s about 900 million people with a Facebook account. You’re bound to find some people who can become your customers or vendors. If you don’t yet have a business page, get one pronto. Build social media into your routine. Post daily or several times a week on Facebook – keep the info. fresh. I find it tacky to ask for “likes” – shouldn’t it come naturally and genuinely?
As a micro blogging system, Twitter works well for finding like-minded people. Use the search tool to find subjects of interest that relate to your business interests. Search for people to follow based on contents they post or what their bio says. See what they have to say and share your thoughts.
One of the highest compliments on Twitter is to retweet a message that someone else has posted. You are endorsing their post – whether it’s a comment, a link to an article or a blog. That often fortifies the online relationship and can lead to an in-person meeting or discussion by phone.
Try some of these ideas and report back. You don’t have to “like” my Facebook page, but I would love to hear from you in the comments below.  

Friday, March 30, 2012

How to turn strangers into business associates or friends (in real life)

Picture yourself walking into the room of a large networking event. The high tables are crowded with people in suits or khakis, chatting amicably. They are engrossed in each other’s conversations. You walk in alone.
Photo by Liz Cezat, taken at a CREW Detroit meeting.
How do you feel? Are you confident? Do you feel intimidated? Are you afraid? Are you excited? What are your typical emotions and mindset when you enter a room or a setting where there are many new people?
Aside from your emotions and state of mind … what do you actually do on these occasions? Do you stand back by the wall and just watch for a while … deciding who you might approach? Do you take the nearest seat and hope you become invisible? Do you pray that someone will notice you and invite you into the conversation? Or, do you zero in on one person or a small group and forge ahead with your hand extended and say, “Hi. I’m Larry. Pleased to meet you. Nice jacket you got on.”
About 75% of us are uncomfortable when approaching a new setting where we don’t know anyone. Even if you do know some of the people at the event, it can be hard to get in sync with them, especially if you haven’t seen them in a while.
I’ve learned that groups of three are easiest to join. Groups of two can be intimidating, especially if they know each other well. That said, it doesn't always hold true. I recently made the acquaintance of two gentlemen at an association meeting by asking if I could join their table of two. Just prior to that,  I had been rebuffed from joining another table of three or four women, who were saving seats for their co-workers, who, by the way, never showed up.
Here are some tips on how to break the ice with people that you don’t know that well  and engage them in a conversation.
The first thing to do is to introduce yourself and extend your hand if that’s appropriate. Ask their name and try to remember it.
There are typically four levels of engagement. The first is to make small talk about the weather, traffic, a current event that’s not controversial, or sports. You might say, “The traffic on highway 101 was really tied up on my way to the meeting.”
The second level is to reveal a fact. “I don’t come here often, because I’m usually golfing on Monday nights.”
The third level offers a view or opinion. If the person you met also likes golf, focus on that common interest. “I think the best golf course on this side of town is Blue Bonnet Meadows.”
The fourth level is personal insight. You wouldn’t normally go to this level in a casual conversation. Let’s say you both love golf, you both belong to a league and are enjoying each other’s company. You may then share a personal problem if you’re comfortable doing so. For example, “My eyesight isn’t very good at night, so I don’t like to golf at dusk.”
Conversely, if you just met the person, you wouldn’t start off the conversation by telling him or her that you like to play golf but can’t see the ball at dusk.
You need to have a sense of the person’s interest level before you reveal too much information. It’s like a cascading fountain. One comment leads to another deeper comment. If the response is good, you can stick to that subject or probe deeper. If you’ve probed too deeply, bring it back to a safe level. It’s a dance. But, it’s always more fun when your toes don’t get stepped on.
Ask open-ended questions – where a yes or no won’t do. Example: Rather than saying, “How long have you lived here?” You could ask, “What kind of things do you really like about Detroit?”
Don’t ask too many questions or it will feel like an inquisition. Make sure that you are also sharing some of your experiences and opinions. Yet, don’t be the one doing all the talking. 
One of my worst-case scenarios is attending a chamber of commerce event and running into an insurance salesman or woman where all they want to do is talk about their product. Wouldn’t it be much more productive for them to find out something about you – like ‘Do you prefer city or highway driving?” If you answer, "City driving," they might say, “Most people feel safer driving in the city. Yet, most accidents happen on city streets only 10 miles from a person’s house. I know this because I sell auto insurance for Allstate.” Isn’t this a more interesting segue into their career?
One way to broach a stranger is to ask someone you know for an introduction. If the person who introduces you is socially adept, he or she will stick by your side while you strike up a conversation and graciously bow out so you can talk longer to the person you are meeting.
I was at a party over the weekend where I didn’t know very many people. As people were filling up their plates at a buffet, I was directed to sit at a table for four. No one was sitting there yet. As the first one there, I felt uncomfortable waiting for someone else to sit down.
A friend who I knew casually sat down – she wasn’t prepared to eat yet but said, “I’ll sit with you until someone else comes." And, she started to invite people to sit at my table. That did two things: it put me at ease, knowing that I wouldn’t be eating alone. And, it made other people feel special because they were invited to sit down and didn't have to wander around looking for a table. 
Try to pave the way for others to feel comfortable in social situations and it will help remove some of the nervousness that you feel.
There are plenty of opportunities to practice being social. Start with a hello and a smile. You can talk to the cashier at the grocery store, chat with the person sitting next to you in the waiting room or talk to another dog owner while you’re out walking Fido. I especially like the conversations that I have with people on planes.
These opportunities can open new doors for you. It might just make your day … or your week. And you never know where it might take your business.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Branding + empowered staff can’t be beat

Owner Liz Cezat welcomes you to explore
the potential for branding your company.

If a company’s graphic brand – logo, brochures, website, banners – is sterling yet the customer service is lagging, guess what? That business isn’t going to make it.
In real estate, it may be “location, location, location,” but in company branding, “it’s the people.” Yes, the people. It’s the company’s executives, employees, contractors and consultants who bring the brand to life by offering the customer the best experience when dealing with that company.
Is it rocket science? No. Is it professionalism, kindness and empathy? Yes.
Here’s an example. I recently attended two concerts at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, better known as the DSO. It’s been an institution in Detroit since 1887 or is it 1914? You decide. 
At Saturday night’s performance of the Pops series, the ushers were friendly and helpful. Could we bring our drinks to our seats? Absolutely. “But only during the Pops, not during the Classical series,” they told us. Good information.
I should mention too that on the way to Orchestra Hall from the parking lot right across the street, managed by my good friends the Aubreys, a parking attendant escorted my daughter and me across Woodward Ave. He also made some small talk, but it was really big talk. He asked if we were mother and daughter. We responded, “Yes.” Then he said, “That’s good that you are having a night out together. Your daughter is keeping you young and you can impart wisdom to her.” Wow! So true.
The concert, conducted by a spirited Steven Reineke with songs by Mike Eldred and Rachel York was so entertaining that when I saw an ad (branding) in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press/Detroit News for an upcoming concert, I thought, “I want to go.”
I went online and discovered that I could pick my seats. Cool. Plus, the cost was very reasonable. I wasn’t sure if my online order went through so I called the box office. There was an annoying long wait, but once I got through, the ticket meister was exceedingly helpful and personable.
Fast forward to Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. That morning, I received an email from the DSO with an e-newsletter and a link to their program. That same program, in print, was handed to me at the concert that evening.
I attended with my boyfriend, who would much rather be watching football than attending a classical concert. When we arrived at Orchestra Hall, the door was opened by a doorman who smiled and said, “Welcome.”
The tickets from Will Call were delivered promptly by a smiling employee. When we reached the top of the stairs to the mezzanine, another smiling employee greeted us. Hey, I could get used to this.
The concert was excellent. I truly enjoyed myself. And a large part of that experience was that the DSO was so well managed and the people employed there cared so much. That’s the beauty of excellent customer service being part of one’s brand.
How does this tie into my business? We can help you create a definitive brand – through graphics, key messages, engaging content and advice on how to get your staff on board. It’s an extension of what we are already doing with websites, brochures, logos and social media. Let’s start a conversation, call or e-mail today.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Organizing a project

Some people are naturally organized; others, not so much. If you are not naturally inclined to being organized, there are ways to learn this nifty trait that will make you function more efficiently in an office.
Start a filing system – Good office supplies will get you started. Essential items are large accordion files and clear (colored) plastic files with tabs. When you start a new project, take an accordion file, label it, and tuck in some clear files that are different colors. Label them as well. For example, if you’re working on a new website, label the accordion file: New website; the inner colored files could be named: copy; graphics/photos; architecture; memos/budget. Then, when you are digging through the file, you’re not sorting through dozens of papers. You can pull out the plastic file that pertains to your needs and sort only through the papers contained in that file. Always put recent papers in front. It saves you from combing through the file. Plastic inner files, not paper, are key because they slide in and out easily.
Color-coding – I use different color files for different clients. For example, my health care clients are green, legal clients are blue, university clients are orange, etc. Makes it easier to grab the right file.
Stackable magazine files – These rigid plastic containers are about 3 inches wide and 12 inches tall with a V-shape opening so you can easily reach the contents inside. Use labels to name the files and put the label on the front with the opening toward you. Set these within arm’s reach for current projects you are working on. For reference, put them on a bookshelf.  When filing them on a bookcase, turn the opening toward the backboard of the bookcase and label the spine. This allows for a neater appearance. These rigid files are roomy to hold bigger objects, which would weigh down an accordion file. Magazine files can hold DVDs, large reports, background material, and magazines or newsletters that pertain to the project.

Little bins – Small plastic bins are your friends. The 10 x 3-inch baskets are ideal for holding post-it notes, tape, staple remover, letter opener, etc … all the things that you use several times a day.
Paper notebooks – Even though we are in the electronic age and most of my notes go on the computer, I still use notebooks for various clients and for my own business notes. They are a handy way to review client history, record metrics and develop “to do” lists.

Binders – If you do a series of reports, place a year’s worth in a binder. This makes for a handy reference. This works great for chronological material that you keep adding to or research material that you often reference.

Keep your desk clean – I don't recommend in-baskets because they tend to be clutter catchers, but if it works for you, great. I tend to stack similar papers together, e.g. reading material, bills, reports and mail. If you also are the type to stack things, go through those stacks regularly and do one of the following: file the papers, read and toss, or act on them. Done weekly, you’ll be able to keep your clean desk - at least for Monday morning. I once worked at a large hotel and the CEO's desk was perfectly clean except for a pen set. He must have been a master delegator because it looked like he had nothing going on.
What are some of your time-saving tips for getting the job done more efficiently?