PREPARE FOR A MEETING LIKE YOU’RE PACKING FOR A TRIP

This week, half of the BYOBP duo heads off to fulfill a dream first conceived in 7th Grade Social Studies — to see the Galápagos Islands. Years of pining and planning now hinges on making sure everything that’s needed ends up in the suitcase (and with her on the plane, of course!).

Funny…going through the process mirrors something we learned from a mentor about prepping for an important meeting: Come packing. We wouldn’t dream of heading off to see the Puffins or Blue-Footed Boobies without the right equipment to record the trip or shield us from the elements. The same holds true for meetings: We make sure to come to the table armed with information, knowledge of the topic at hand and fresh ideas to move the conversation along and make our points effectively.

So, how can you make sure you come armed and ready for any meeting, large or small?

Know where you want to go.
It stands to reason: You can’t get to your destination if you don’t know where you want to go.  If you’re hosting the meeting, have an agenda.  There’s nothing we hate more than going to meetings with no agenda — they usually end up accomplishing nothing because no one knows what the end goal was before they arrived.  Being crystal clear about your goals can keep the conversation moving in the right direction.

Use your key messages as your guide.
Key messages are the GPS of your conversation. While you may not have that annoying woman (or, if you prefer, Daria or Darth Vader) commanding you to “TAKE A RIGHT IN 10 FEET,” having thought-out understanding of what you want to say will help prevent you from wandering into dangerous territory. We’re not suggesting that you be stilted; just map out some thoughts so you can speak in the most compelling way about your subject of choice.

Be prepared with options.
Anyone who has ever packed for a trip knows that it’s challenging to say the least. You want to bring the necessary items, but also want to include enough stuff to have some flexibility while away. When “packing” for meetings, be sure to keep a few alternatives or “work arounds” in your back pocket, just in case you need to switch it out mid-meeting. Try to anticipate negative feedback or stumbling blocks and draft some responses to have at the ready.

When it comes to meetings, how do you “pack it in” to prepare? Let us know at Facebook or Twitter (@BestPublicist).

THANKS, BUT NO THX

From Miss Manners to Jimmy Fallon, people have touted the importance of giving thanks. And, considering the time of year, you’ll undoubtedly hear and read lots (and lots and lots) about the importance of showing gratitude in your day-to-day life.

Given today’s instant-gratification-one-click-checkout-abbreviation-using world, where 140 characters has become the norm, it’s tempting to truncate already tiny phrases such as “please” and “thank you” to save space and time.

IOHO (in our humble opinion), it’s more important than ever to avoid abbreviating such important sentiments. Substituting “pls,” “TY” or “thx” for the real thing is like swapping Seitan for a Steak, or better yet – Tofurkey for its traditional holiday counterpart (no offense, Vegan friends!). It takes the space, but isn’t close to being as satisfying.

If you want to say a truly powerful “thanks,” Psychology Today says it should come in three parts:

  • Part 1: Thank someone for something specific they did for you. (It can also be something they refrained from doing that would have hurt you.)
  • Part 2: Acknowledge the effort it took for them to do it (by saying something like: “I know you went out of your way to do XYZ…”)
  • Part 3: State the difference it personally made to you
  • So we’d like to offer up an official thank you to all of our friends, family and colleagues who have supported us during the process of writing Be Your Own Best Publicist and in our lives in general.  We really, truly appreciate you.

    TTFN (Ta-ta for now) and HTD (Happy Turkey Day)!

    Tell us: What are you thankful for this holiday? Share your thoughts at Facebook or Twitter (@bestpublicist).

    WHAT’S YOUR (RESUME) STORY?

    It’s not news that workers today feel the need to jump around to get the money, experience or accolades they desire (and feel that they deserve). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median years a person stays in one job is 4.1 years (2008) and an average person will have to have 7-10 jobs over their careers.

    Given that today’s workplace narrative has shifted from a loyalty tale to one where varied experience is king, your resume should be crafted to reflect who you are and where you want to go.  And, perhaps more importantly, when you walk into an interview, knowing how to share your resume story will be crucial to locking in any new opportunity.

    Do you flit or sit?

    FLIT: If you’re a “Butterfly” (i.e. candidates that have a long list of positions on their resume, each held for only a year or two), it begs the question: If the candidate is hired and the time (and money!) is spent on training, will he/she stick around long enough to make it worthwhile for the company?

    SIT: On the flip side, maybe you’re more like a “Beagle” — someone who has been at the same company for years, who has demonstrated loyalty and dedication.   The one watch out: You may be seen as set in your ways or not as tapped into what’s happen in the current marketplace.

    Whoever you are, when walking into a job interview, you should be prepared with a strong story about why you did/did not make the jumps:

    • Have you stuck it out at your company for a long time? Talk about qualities like loyalty and commitment and the opportunities that have been offered to you.  Come ready to share stories about your various victories and accolades earned.
    • Do you move around every few years? Focus on sharing the evolution of your experience and what that varied background can add to a potential employer.  Underscore your interest in finding a place to learn and grow for a while.
    • Are there gaps in your work experience?  It’s not unusual in today’s economy to have some gaps.  Maybe there were layoffs or shifts in directions that created the need to separate from your employer.   No worries, just make sure you’re prepared to talk about alternative experience (e.g. volunteering, school, externships) and that you can explain simply/easily why you and the companies in question parted ways.

    Tell us, do you relate more to the butterfly or beagle?  What’s the story that you’ll tell to a potential employer about your work experiences?   Share your thoughts with us on Facebook or Twitter (@bestpublicist).

    TRUST YOUR GUT

    “You have to trust your gut because it’s the only thing that separates you from everybody else.” – Sheila Nevins, documentary film executive

    She had a good feeling about this puzzle!

    A couple of weeks ago, a young woman named Caitlin Burke (who happens to work at Jessica’s company) was a contestant on Wheel of Fortune and incredibly solved an entire 27-letter puzzle with only one letter showing as a clue. The answer was “I’ve Got a Good Feeling About This.” And, boy, did she ever!

    So how did she do it? No one will ever really know the answer to that – she says her boyfriend’s ring tone of Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” popped into her head and somehow it lead her to solve the puzzle. But if you ask us, we’d say she relied on her gut instinct and, as is often the case, it worked.

    Thanks, Fergie!

    Don’t get us wrong. We’re all for thinking things through, having a plan of attack and following up (a whole chapter in BYOBP is dedicated to this alone!). That said, more often than not, it’s your gut that can also be a compass in the workplace, telling you that you’re on the right path. It can help you solve problems, identify potential challenges and give you a read on the people around you.

    In PR, we often have to rely on instinct to guide the way, particularly when faced with a short deadline and a situation that we’ve never encountered before. It’s that inkling that a curveball question is coming our way. It’s that sneaking suspicion that we should make sure the mic is off before letting our executive vent. It’s that nagging thought that forces you to be sure that your “T”s are crossed and “I”s dotted.

    The same applies when you’re looking for a new job. The position can look fantastic on paper, the salary alluring, but if you leave the interview feeling that it just wasn’t quite right for you, it probably isn’t. Our gut can sometimes tell us things we don’t want to know but there’s usually a good reason for it. What if you immediately feel that you don’t have a good connection with your potential new boss? That could be a red flag; it doesn’t usually get better after you take the job. It’s akin to staying with a boyfriend too long because you think you can “grow to love him.” Not gonna happen. And, since you spend more time at work than anywhere else so make sure it’s the right fit for you. One good rule of thumb: If you leave your next interview humming “I Gotta Feeling,” it may be your gut trying to tell you something.

    Ever had that gut feeling about a job, co-worker or project and just brushed it aside only to kick yourself for doing so later? Share your story with us on Facebook and Twitter (@bestpublicist).

    THE CAUTIONARY TALE CALLED KANYE

    Kanye should thank his lucky stars for Prince William and Kate Middleton.  Their engagement shifted the spotlight from his most recent media meltdown to better tidings for sure.   But since we all can’t count on a royal betrothal to move the white-hot spotlight off of any mistakes we make in interviews or simple conversation, here are few things that we can all learn from Kanye’s toe-to-toe on the Today Show (not to mention his crazy stage-crashing at the VMAs last year — that could be an entirely different post!):

    Don’t be defensive.
    Kanye’s interview took a turn for the worse once he imagined that Matt Lauer (and the rest of the Today Show team) had plotted against him. Let’s clarify something right off the bat: News shows often run tape while guests are speaking in studio. Watch the morning shows; you’ll see many, many examples. This is not done as a “gotcha” or to elicit emotion. It’s done to refresh the audience’s memory and to tell the full story. In any case, Kanye went on the defensive and thus derailed what could have been a positive media moment for him.

    Be authentic.
    Being authentic is the best way to rehabilitate a reputation, sway opinion and change perception. Kanye wanted to do all those things by appearing on the Today Show to apologize to former President Bush for ill-thought-out statements made about Hurricane Katrina. Instead, his interview (and subsequent Twitter rants) reveal his actual need to be right vs. his stated desire to make amends.

    Be clear and concise.
    Being crystal clear about your goals for the conversation, interview or what-have-you will help you avoid going South like West. Even if the interviewer tries to lead you astray (or, in Kanye’s case runs “unexpected” video while you’re speaking), focusing on your key messages will help you communicate what you want in the most effective way.

    Listen to the counsel of others.
    As many public figures do, Kanye had hired a highly seasoned, well-respected media trainer to prepare him for this important interview. Instead of following the trainer’s advice, Kanye lost focus, forgot what she taught him and subsequently did significant damage to his already hurting image. His crash-and-burn scenario doesn’t need to be yours. Above all, when it comes to negotiating challenging situations, it’s always good to ask for — and listen to — counsel from those who have been there, done that.

    Now we like Kanye’s music as much as the next person but his behavior in the media has actually made us wish we didn’t know the man behind the beats.  Who else do you think could use a trainer to help his/her image?   Tell us so at Twitter (@bestpublicist) or Facebook.

    SAVING FACE(BOOK): WHEN SOCIAL MEDIA COMMENTS CREATE PROBLEMS AT WORK

    We all have bad days, and it’s just so easy to post “My boss sucks” or “I’m so sick of my job” on Facebook, Twitter or your personal blog.  But is it grounds for termination?

    Within the past month, several workers across the country have been fired for airing their dirty workplace laundry on Facebook, from Dawnmarie Souza, an EMT in Connecticut who complained about her supervisor, to a woman named Jessica in Michigan who was let go for calling a coworker a liar, to Leila Goodman in North Carolina who vented about her CEO.

    Interestingly, the National Labor Relations Board has issued a complaint against Souza’s employer, noting that firing her was unfair because she made the disparaging remarks on her personal computer outside of work hours and the company’s policy on social media was too vague.  Whether or not she was within her legal rights to post negative comments about her boss or company on Facebook, the point is that it’s just not a smart thing to do.

    In our upcoming book, Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Use PR Techniques to Get Hired, Noticed & Rewarded at Work, we dedicate an entire chapter to social media and how to use it (and not use it) when you’re trying to get noticed in a positive way in the workplace.  In public relations, we consider everything on the record, even if it’s whispered to someone at a cocktail party or posted innocently on your blog or Facebook page.  Everything you say online becomes a matter of public record and lives forever on the Web so we would encourage you to keep your gripes to yourself — or share them with your spouse, best friend or mom instead of with your Facebook friends or Twitter followers.

    According to an August 2009 study conducted by Harris Interactive for CareerBuilder.com, 45 percent of employers surveyed are using social networks to screen job candidates — more than double from a year earlier, when a similar survey found that just 22 percent of supervisors were researching potential hires on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn.  The study, in which 2,667 managers and human resource workers participated, found that 35 percent of employers decided not to offer a job to a candidate based on the content uncovered on a social networking site.

    So why would anyone want to give potential employers a reason not to hire them or current employers a reason to fire them?  What do you think?  Should companies be permitted to scold or terminate someone for criticizing them online?  Are employers overreacting?  Are people within their first amendment rights to air their work grievances in a public forum?  Tell us your thoughts.

    HOLD THE FILLERS

    In fast food, fillers are additives that bulk up the weight of a food with less expensive, less nutritious ingredients. In conversation — particularly when we’re nervous — we pepper our speech with fillers such as “like,” “you know,” “kinda” and “um.”  But use them too often, and they can cheapen your words and distract your listener from hearing your intended messages. Think “Valley Girl” or “Clueless.”

    Don't talk like Valley Girl Cher from, like, Clueless, you know?

    For example, we once interviewed a woman who, on paper, had great experience but throughout our meeting said “you know” so often that we started thinking, “Will she come across as authoritative and polished to our executives and clients, or will she sound inexperienced and immature?”  In fact, no matter how many intelligent things she said during our meeting, we couldn’t help but tick off how many times she injected “you know” in between her sound bites.  Then, there was that teacher that Meryl had in elementary school who used the word “um” incessantly. So much so, that it became impossible to focus on the lesson at hand and, ultimately, the only thing learned in that class was how many times a person can actually use a pointless word over the course of an hour.

    Most of the time, people don’t even realize they’re using fillers.  But there are things you can do to prevent this from happening and taking your interviewer’s, boss’ or client’s attention away from what you really want to say.

    1)  Practice! It may sound silly but ask a friend to role play an interview with you and record it.  When you listen back, note how many times you said a filler.  It’s important to do this with another person versus just recording yourself saying your answers – you’re more likely to rely on fillers when in a conversation with someone else.

    2) Nail down your messages. The more thought you put into your potential answers to tough interview questions, the better they will sound when the time comes.  Nervous tics show up most often when we’re nervous, unsure or lack confidence.  If you go into the interview knowing what you really want to get across, you’ll be more articulate.

    3) Take a breath. A filler is called that because it literally “fills the air” between thoughts.  If you pause or take a breath in between phrases or sentences when answering a question or talking about yourself, you will be less likely to insert superfluous words into your conversation.  You can also tell the interviewer, “That’s a good question.  Let me think for a moment before answering.”  That way, you can gather your thoughts and put them in order before letting them spill out in a disorganized fashion. 

    4) Watch the pros. Tune in to morning shows and news programs to see how on-air guests do when responding to interviewers.  If they use a lot of fillers, you’ll notice – and so will the show.  Chances are, they won’t be invited back.  The best guests speak intelligently, clearly and with energy but don’t sound overly rehearsed.  Take some cues from them.

    We’d love to hear from you: What are some fillers you notice in day-to-day conversation? How does that affect what you think of the communicator?

    MOVING FROM BACKSTAGE TO CENTER STAGE

    “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” — so bellowed the Wizard of Oz as he tried to maintain the magic that he had created.

    Jessica and Meryl "backstage"

    We know his pain. In Be Your Own Best Publicist, we talk about how public relations people are typically the ones behind the proverbial curtain, pulling the strings and making other folks look good in the spotlight.  And, our goal with this book is to help you learn how to promote yourself in the best way possible, so you’ll reap rewards in the workplace. But in doing that, we have had to come out from behind the curtain and take a bit of center stage ourselves — that’s what you have to do these days to sell a book!

    So, instead of setting up a photo shoot for our clients or being on set while a celebrity was photographed for a magazine cover, as is often the case with our jobs, we arranged a shoot where we were the subjects.  Let us tell you, it is not easy being a model — no wonder supermodel Linda Evangelista said she wouldn’t get out of bed for less that $10,000 a day!

    In the talented hands of photographer Simon Alexander and makeup artist/hairstylist Sadah Saltzman, the experience was made much easier.   For fun, we took some shots of us “behind the scenes,” a few outtakes featured here.

    Getting our dance on to Lady Gaga

    Both of us prefer to be on the other side of the camera, but here are a few tips we used to loosen up and get comfortable on set, all of which you can also use before you going on an interview or speaking in public:

    1) Music feeds the soul. Simon loaded up the 80s tunes and some Lady Gaga to get us going on set.  If you have a big interview or presentation, before you leave for work or on your way, crank up your favorite tunes to pump you up and help your confidence so you’ll do a good job.

    2) Keep a sense of humor. Laughter truly is the best medicine and helps diffuse an awkward situation or a tense meeting.  It also instantly relaxes people.  We found plenty of comical moments during the shoot and it’s reflected in some of the best shots of the day.

    Laughing on the set

    3) Dress confidently and comfortably (and powerfully). We brought several outfits as options for the shoot but the common thread was that they were bold, stylish and yet comfortable enough to stand around in for hours. When you’re preparing for an interview, a speech or an important work function, pick something that will reflect your personality and style, help you stand out (even if it’s a great tie or necklace that elevates that simple black shift or grey suit) but doesn’t make you want to change into your PJs and slippers after wearing it all day.  If you’re going to sport those 5-inch heels, make sure you’ve broken them in and you can walk in them. Choose your “power” look (be it “business chic” or “casual cute”) and rock it.

    Last of all, no matter what the situation–photo shoot, interview, presentation, networking event–the best advice is to have fun.

    Have you ever had to be front-and-center vs. behind-the-scenes? Share your story with us on Twitter or Facebook.