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How Strategic Pauses Will Engage Your Listeners

Power Speaking Skills: Strategies to Improve Pacing with the Power of the Pause:

Maria Guida, president of Successful Speaker, Inc. helps you speak with the poise, passion, and persuasive power of a Broadway actor. In this video, Maria tells you how to use the Power of the Pause when you speak. (This is Part 3 in the series called, “Engage Your Listeners by Allowing You Ideas to Land”).

The Successful Speaker, Inc. video series provides speaking strategies that will help you enhance your leadership presence when you give business presentations, speak with senior management, make sales calls, network, and more. The video series addresses every aspect of successful speaking, including how to sound authoritative, speak with credibility, master active listening, and engage your listeners. The videos also provide speaking strategies rooted in theatrical performance, because actors know how to move audiences. The result: you will become a more authoritative and successful speaker!

The Successful Speaker, Inc. videos will help you project star quality and get more YES’s in the workplace and on the speaking platform. Learn how to enhance your credibility: speak with stage presence, confidence, authority, and authenticity. Discover ways to engage your listeners: use vocal dynamics with impact, to make your communication sing. You will learn how acting improvisation can help you develop the ability to think quickly on your feet. You will also discover how to rehearse strategically with techniques that focus the mind and help you appear completely spontaneous.

There are many other videos about communication, public speaking and presentation skills hosted by Maria Guida and Successful Speaker, Inc. All of these videos are available free of charge on YouTube at Youtube.com/SuccessfulSpeaker

and also at www.successfulspeakerinc.com/blog.
And if you’d like to learn more about how to speak successfully for business, log onto our website and join our mailing list, to download additional, free tips for successful speaking. Visit www.successfulspeakerinc.com.

Best Practices Human Resources Management Marketing Personal Development Women In Business

Looking Confident – Even When You’re Not

Over the last several posts, I’ve been sharing strategies on delivering a great performance in front of the camera – and by extension, when in front of a live audience even without a camera. If you haven’t seen them yet, here’s the link to my series of video shorts, “Capturing Your Confidence on Camera.”

This time, I want to share a couple of other great resources for delivering a confident, compelling, engaging performance, as both demonstrated and explained in two of my favorite TED Talks.

The first is more likely to appeal to the part of your brain that likes to read inspiring self-help psychology related books that explain why you do what you do and how to control your own destiny.

It’s your friendly neighborhood Harvard psychologist, Dr. Amy Cuddy, in her TED talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.”

This video had two big take-aways. First are the very-real effects that your posture has on your hormonal balance, which subsequently can influence your psyche and sense of self-efficacy and confidence. If you knew that taking two minutes to yourself to hold a certain pose before giving a presentation or speaking on camera could change the quality of your delivery, you’d do it, wouldn’t you?

Second, her story of needing to project confidence at a time when she didn’t feel it, suffering from what some might call “the imposter syndrome,” (long before she was “THE” Amy Cuddy,) is something everyone can relate to. The way she managed to perform despite that fear, until she had beaten it, is inspiring..

It’s also humbling. After realizing everything she was up against – including severe cognitive damage from a car accident – you have to admit: if she can overcome that, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to overcome your fears too, and learn to speak with true confidence.

In contrast, the second video will appeal to the other side of your brain. The part that doesn’t want to have think too hard. Actually, it kind of reminds me of a Seinfeld episode. Why? Because it’s a whole talk about nothing.

It’s a talk about what academics might call “meta-strategies”… but we won’t call it that, because that sort of sucks all the fun out of it, which shouldn’t be allowed to happen after a perfectly good Seinfeld nod.

In “How to sound smart in your TEDx Talk,” Will Stephen steals the show at TEDxNewYork. He paces the stage and talks as if giving a real talk on some specific topic, all the while really just pointing out all the of his own little gestures, mannerisms, and vocal modulations as he does them, explaining why they make his talk engaging… or at least why they would if his talk actually had a more specific point.

It’s six minutes you’ll need to watch twice. The first time you’ll follow along with each point nodding, smiling, and thinking “oh my gosh, that’s so true!” Then at the end, you’ll realize, “oh my gosh, that IS true… wait a minute, I need to look at that again…”

As he uses each little gesture, and explains its value and its likely effect on you right at that moment, take note. The strategies are so simple, but each one engages, endears, and compels. His talk is entertaining and semi-facetious, but every one of his points is relevant, and easily applicable in any presentation preparation and delivery.

Ultimately, just remember that in any situation, you have control over much more than you realize, including how confident you feel, and how confident you look. Strike your pose. Emulate the characteristics you wish you had (i.e. “fake it ‘til you make it”.) Consider the little gestures and vocal cues that connect with the audience in different ways, and deliver them like you mean it.

Once you put it all together, the confidence will flow outward, and when you see how the audience responds to it, you’ll feed off that response and the confidence will become genuine. And there’s no better feeling than that!

Best Practices Management Marketing Personal Development Women In Business

Navigating the On-Camera Interview

You’ve been invited to be interviewed on camera for TV, a video podcast or other virtual event. Does the voice inside your head say:

A: “Woohoo, this is a great chance to get some major publicity, I can’t wait!”

B: “I think I’m going to throw up.”

Most people get nervous when being interviewed, and even more people get nervous at the idea of being on camera. Put the two together and you have a combo that makes the fight-or-flight reflex kick into overdrive.

Aside from checking to make sure there’s no spinach between your teeth, you need to have a strategy to get the result you want. Check out this quick video for some proactive measures you can take in advance to direct the interview where YOU want it to go.

On the one hand, there are all of the delivery details I’ve discussed in other videos in this series like body language, voice, and how to calm your nerves when on camera.

But for interviews, it’s all about having a game plan.

Creating Your Interview Game Plan

First, who is conducting the interview, and what is their agenda? Do they showcase leaders whose story will serve as an inspiration for others? Or are they more likely to try to shoot holes in your theory?

There’s a huge difference between being a guest on a weekday morning television talk show and an evening television news program. The daytime interviews tend to be friendly and just want an interesting story that their listeners will enjoy. Evening news programs are more interested in getting “the scoop.” They enjoy conflict and putting people on the spot, particularly if you espouse a principle that their following tends to disagree with economically or politically.

Knowing what their intention is in advance can help you determine your own goal.

• Do you want people to pull out their smartphones and order your product or sign a petition right then and there?
• Do you want to educate more people about a growing problem – and solutions?
• Do you need to debunk some myths?

Depending on your desired outcome, you will decide in advance what stories to tell, what evidence to share, and how explicitly or implicitly you want to invite others to act.

If the interviewer is more likely to play a little hardball and ask a few tough questions, prepare your answers in advance. At this point in your career, you know what objections and challenges people tend to raise, so be prepared with how you want to respond.

Most importantly, remember that an interview is a conversation.
• DON’T just go on a monologue of statistics.

• DO take a conversational approach

• DO engage the interviewer by using his or her name once in a while, and

• DO give short, clear answers to allow the interviewer to volley back and forth with you without having to cut you off to get a word in edgewise.

Of course, that’s only half the battle.

It’s Not (Just) What You Say…

Once you have a sense of what information you want to share, you need to practice how you say it. I strongly recommend writing down a few questions – tough ones and lob balls – and practice answering them, but video record yourself while you do it!

The recording serves several purposes. First it lets you see how you look when you’re answering it. Are you squirming or poised? Do you smile at appropriate times, laugh nervously, or never even crack a smile?

Second, it lets you see how you sound when answering the questions. When you listen to the recording, you’ll realize when you’re rambling, when you’ve left out an important detail, or when you’ve given a great, laser-focused answer. Do you say “Actually” in every sentence (what I call the educated person’s “um”), stutter your way through an answer when you aren’t sure what to say, or mumble so quietly that you have to turn the volume all the way up on your ear buds to even hear what you’re saying?

Ideally, you should record your practice several times until you have figured out what information you want to include or leave out, and can answer the easy AND the hard questions smoothly and confidently.

When you are a good conversationalist with engaging examples and confident delivery, that’s when the wider audience will give you points for acing the interview and taking home the win.

Leadership Marketing Personal Development

Your Company’s Secret Asset

Assets are critical to a company’s success with their purpose being to increase the value of the organization. So how else can you add value to your organization without dipping into the bottom line? The answer: Personal Branding.

Companies spend thousands of dollars on corporate branding elements such as logo, website, and marketing collateral, but many overlook the fact that every employee is a branding asset. When one thinks of gauging value back from what they put into something, they typically think in terms of ROI. Instead of a return on investment, think of it in terms of Return on Image®. An employee’s personal brand creates real value. Personal brands can elevate individuals to meet their goals and the goals of the company, while also growing influence for both. Influence is power, which, in turn, cultivates trust and builds your reputation as a leader in your space. It’s been said over and over that people do business with people, not companies.

Here are 5 ways your employees can influence a corporate brand to ensure:

1. Create Content.

This is vital (my definition of vital: without it you die) in establishing expertise. It’s the first place one should start. Allow employees to blog, be guest editors in publications, or even publish case studies that are relevant to your market. Let their personality come through in their writings. Then leverage that content every chance you get such as reposting portions of it as social media posts. Having them create content helps establish them, and you, as a leader or expert in their field. People want to hire authorities.

2. Speaking Events.

In today’s world we are so connected, that we are, at times, starving for human connection. This is a great way to humanize a brand. Employees can be guest speakers at associations, clubs, industry events, or be a guest on a podcast. If possible, get photos of them speaking or better yet, get it recorded on video, and, again, leverage that as much as you can.

3. Community Involvement.

A great place to be seen is in our own communities sharing our gifts and kindness to others. Consider paying for employees to join a service club or be on a non-profit board. They may even take on leadership roles within these organizations, which helps build both their personal brand and your corporate brand.

4. LinkedIn Profile.

We all know LinkedIn is a place to grow connections and attract new business clients. In many ways, LinkedIn has become the new CV. It’s one of the first places we all go to find out about each other. We look at a person’s accomplishments, what others say about working with them, and how they can add value. In fact, we tend to go there before we have any human interaction with each other. First of all, we want to know what a person looks like. A profile picture can have some personality, but remember this is a professional site, after all. After we look at the photo, we want to see what their title is. In fact, here is where you can be creative. It doesn’t have to be a title, but rather how you help someone. This appears by the photo every time a person posts, so it is a very important element. And be sure your company has a company page your employees can be part of.

5. Company Website.

The second most visited page on most websites is the About Us page. Here is where you can showcase your staff with a bio and links to their personal social media sites as well as listing any published content or videos they have created. The purpose is for visitors to have no doubt in their minds that you employ the best.

There is a lot of noise out there. We are all fighting to be seen. By incorporating the steps above, you will gain strategic visibility through personal branding.

I help executives create a powerful image and brand so they look and feel confident wherever they are. Contact me at sheila@imagepowerplay.com to schedule a 20-minute call to discuss how we can work together to grow your visibility through my return on image® services.

Marketing Personal Development Women In Business

NETWORKING with Friends and Acquaintances

When was the last time you became a tourist in your own town or city? Unless you have had visitors it probably was a while ago. We don’t see our town in the same light as a tourist would. We downplay it and often forget it is special. Have your ever noticed that we see the sights of our hometown only when someone comes to visit? It is only when someone from out of town comes to stay that we break out the walking shoes and show with pride the sites and sounds that make our area special and unique. We point out the areas of interest, and often times we ask ourselves – why don’t we do this more often? Why do we wait until someone new comes to visit to show the strengths of our town?

Sharing ourselves

Sharing who we are and our accomplishments is a similar experience. We don’t share them with our everyday acquaintances or friends, because they know us. Just as we take our town for granted we also take our friends, colleagues and ourselves for granted. We are so used to each other that we forget to share our accomplishments, dreams and goals. We also forget to ask about their accomplishments, dreams, and goals.

At a professional function recently, a group of professionals were sitting together and relaxing. They knew each other for several years and several of them were quite good friends, speaking often on the phone and through e-mail. I sat down listened to their joking and laughter. It was evident that they enjoyed each other’s company.

I asked them about their networking practices and how they networked. Many shared that it wasn’t their strong suit. They didn’t like introducing themselves to new people, they felt more comfortable among themselves. They didn’t feel comfortable, “selling themselves or bragging”. It was then that I knew that the art of networking was being lost among this most talented, friendly group. I offered to share techniques that would reap immediate benefits right then and there — and now with you — here and now.

Networking Defined

The term networking comes from fishing. A fisherwoman casts her net into the ocean. It spreads over a wide area. After time she reels the net in. As she reels the net in she catches many fish, often many different types of fish. She may be after tuna, but her net has caught shrimp, cod and other varieties. Some she will throw back in the water, (dolphin for instance) because ethically she knows it’s the right thing to do. Some she will keep for herself. The rest she will give to the others, usually her friends and relationships she respects, who specialize in the various other fish. Networking is the same thing. You throw out your net, sharing what you do and what you are looking for into your ocean of relationships. After a time, you reel your net in, by following up and keeping in contact. Your net will bring in various bits of information. You will toss some, keep some and share some. Who will you share them with? Friends and business relationships, you respect, who specialize in the various other fields.

4 steps to creating an effective network

As I began to share this definition with this group of professional friends, I asked if it was all right if I do a process with them about networking. They agreed. I went around the table and asked them to share their name, what they do, how they do it and what they hope to have in five years. As we went around the table it was intriguing to find out the various specializations that these professionals had. What was more exciting, funny and revealing was the response from the listeners. Each time a member presented we would hear from someone – “I didn’t know that, my company is looking for….” Or “Can I recommend you for this consulting project? We’ve been looking for someone for the last year and you’re perfect”. Here was a group of women who communicate regularly, but didn’t know exactly what each did on a daily basis. They didn’t know the passion that each person had about a particular project.

Two important revelations occurred. One was a sense of relief among the group because they are often called on to recommend someone, but they felt that they didn’t know anyone. Yet in a matter of minutes they had seven experts that they could easily recommend. It was a revelation that they had access to the high caliber people in their own circle of friends. The second was that several of the woman had their own consulting companies and without even a sales pitch, were being recommended for a project that was their forte. It was revealing to everyone that business is built on trust, recommendations and referrals – and that they had easy access to all three.

How can you do this right now? You can start by following the following four steps. Creating, Casting, Reeling and Sharing. It is a process, and in the beginning it requires determination, persistence and practice. Remember that you are among friends and acquaintances, people who support you and want you to succeed. Don’t be afraid – your among friends – go fishing!

Creating the Net

In order to create your net you should have three things. 1) A clear short description for what you do. Your elevator speech. Can you describe what you do in the time of a typical elevator ride? If not develop a short, concise “elevator speech”. 2) A goal you want to achieve in your professional career. Have you defined where you want to be in the next five years? What position would you like to hold? Do you know what you need to get there? (We will be discussing all of these net creation techniques in future articles). 3) A willingness to help others get what they want. You need to be open to listening to what others are saying. What are they looking for? Do you have anyone in your group of friends, family and associates who can help?

Casting the Net

When you are at your next professional meeting, or at a family gathering with cousins or your next “girlfriend” get together, cast your net. Share this article with them. Practice your elevator speech. Tell them what you are looking for and ask them to think if they know any leads. Ask about their “elevator speech.” What are they looking for and search your own mind for connections?

Reeling It in

Two weeks later, or a few days later look through your database. You will find that you may have a couple of people who could help one of your professional colleagues. As you are surfing the Net you will come across an article that would be helpful to another Colleague, who was part of your “casting Group”. Before you know it, you may receive a phone call from one of the members of your “casting group”, she has a lead for you. You share your excitement about the information you’ve found that will help the others. Of course, that information was always there, you just didn’t know who could use it.

Sharing With Friends and Associates

Later you’re on the phone with Sonia, your professional colleague and dear friend, and share what you have found. Remind her to look through her database for any connections. The more you begin to look, listen and share the more opportunities come your way. People want to he
lp people they like. They want to help you.

From Sharing Your Town to Sharing Yourself

The awareness and sense of pride we get when we see our community from a tourist’s perspective is what we feel when we share our accomplishments, goals and skills with others. Just as a visitor feels enthusiasm for your community, a colleague feels the same way about your accomplishments, skills and goals. They know how hard it is to get where you are. They understand the challenges. They know what you stand for since they have been friends with you for awhile and they like how you are, (they wouldn’t stay in contact if they didn’t). Those are all pluses for both of you. She will refer you and you will refer her. That’s what networking is all about!

Best Practices Management Marketing Personal Development Women In Business

Is Your Voice Camera-Ready?

Raise your hand if you hate the sound of your voice when you hear it on a video… I bet if we were in a room asking that question everyone would have their hand raised. But here’s the thing: It’s not actually your voice that’s the problem: it’s what you do with your voice that makes it hard to listen to, and undermines your authority and charisma.

Now that we’ve acknowledged the elephant in the room, let’s look at why it happens, and what you can do about it.

One common goal of any appearance on camera is to come across as a confident and charismatic leader, representing your organization, company, or industry. You want to draw people in and connect with the audience… all of which is much easier said than done.

With all that pressure, knowing your performance will be immortalized on video, most people get nervous on camera; that’s totally normal, even when you’re comfortable with your content. And we all know about putting on a “poker face,” i.e. not letting your facial expressions show your true feelings to the world. But your face isn’t the only thing that can put our feelings on display.

Your voice will tattle on you faster than a kindergartener.

So let’s look at some ways to project a strong, clear, compelling vocal delivery. (You can jump to the end and click the photo with the video link if you want to hear demonstrations of these concepts.)

Sounding Confident

You know how they say dogs can smell fear? Well, people can hear fear. So what does fear sound like?

There are two key factors that will either create or destroy a confident voice.

The first is breath support. When you’re nervous, you subconsciously tense up and breathe shallowly from your shoulders. This pinches your voice, and makes you run out of air too fast, resulting in what’s referred to as “vocal fry.”

Vocal fry also happens when you’re hesitant, maybe because you’re afraid of making a mistake, or just feeling self-conscious. When your brain is holding back, your voice will too.

Of course, if you truly admire the way the Kardashians speak (read: irony) and want to emulate them as modern-day leaders, then keep doing what you’re doing, and fry-away.

But when you take a nice deep breath from your belly and open your throat to let your voice flow freely, it resonates in your chest cavity and head and takes on a full, rich sound.

The second is tonality, or intonation patterns, where you put your high and low pitches in your speech.

On the one hand, there are those of you who are so focused on your getting your content right and sounding smart, that there’s very little tonal variation in your voice, so you come across as robotic. That stiffness comes across as awkward and uncomfortable. It can also make you sound more like the teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off than someone who is really passionate about her topic.

On the other hand, another common pattern is referred to as “up-speak” or “up-talk,” which is that lilting pattern that sounds like you’re constantly inflecting “Right?” “Okay?” and “You know?” at every turn, and asking questions rather than making statements. This also sounds insecure, as those implied questions are persistently begging for validation: You’re right! Yes! Okay! I hear you – now stop asking questions!

And contrary to the examples in that last video link and popular stereotypes, men do this just as much as women, older and younger. There are other reasons and patterns for when this happens which I’ll have to detail in another post, or drop me a line if you’re dying for more info. But don’t assume that you’re innocent just because you’re not a recent college grad.

Strong, confident, positive intonation puts the highest pitch on the most important words for emphasis, and drops the pitch at the end of sentences, just like a “vocal period.” This declarative tone sounds confident and trustworthy.

The most engaging voice incorporates good breath support for a full, resonant voice, as well as strategically varied intonation, with the ups and downs in all the right places. Want a demo? Click on the picture below and see what you think!

Once you put all this together, you’ll realize that all those annoying habits that made you think you hate your voice have disappeared, and what you’re left with is your very best “camera-ready voice.”

Of course, it’s a lot easier to hear about different voice qualities and habits than it is to read about the sound of your voice. So if you really want to wrap your head – and your ears – around some of these ideas, here’s a quick three-minute video that demonstrates some of the major vocal pitfalls to avoid, and on the flip-side, strategies to help you sound like the confident, charismatic, persuasive leader you want to be.

Entrepreneurship Leadership Marketing Operations Personal Development

A Billion Reasons Why Providing Great Customer Service Can Pay Off

For a company that provides a great product at a great price, and builds the value of that product with great customer service that inspires confidence among its members, look no further than The Dollar Shave Club.

Dollar Shave Club, in case you are not familiar, was started by Michael Dubin and Mark Levine in 2011. In 2012, they recorded a promotional video and posted it on YouTube. The video is so hilarious that it now has more than 24 million views! In the process, as you can imagine, Dollar Shave Club picked up members, thousands of them. This drove them from a start-up business to a success that would eventually attract the attention of long-established competitors. But sales alone couldn’t make them the success that they are today; they needed to have that good product supported by good service.

As their name implies, they sell a membership for one dollar. When you start your membership, you get your choice of one of their two-, four- or six-blade razors for just a dollar! And, that price includes the shipping. Then each month Dollar Shave Club sends you four fresh blades for as little as three dollars. That’s great value for the money. But great value, as in a low price, isn’t always accompanied by great service. Yet that is not the case with Dollar Shave Club.

Recently my Dollar Shave Club razor broke. The blade would no longer stay on the razor. Since they are an online retailer, I went to their website and clicked on “Contact Us.” I filled out the contact form and described my issue. In just a little while they responded.

Hey Shep,

Sorry to hear about the Handle! Thanks for letting us know. We trust you! I’ve got you covered and will send a couple of new Executive Handles on the house right away. Expect them within 3-5 business days and let us know if you need anything else in the meantime.

Shave on,


It was that easy. It was that fast. Just as easy and fast as when I signed up to be a member. Dollar Shave Club acknowledged my problem and apologized. Then they told me what they were going to do, which was send out new handles right away. And they did it. They didn’t make excuses, try to put the blame me or make it hard on me, such as asking me to return the broken handle. They just took great care of me. That’s what great customer-focused companies do!

So, how easy are you to do business with? When a customer has a problem, do you respond quickly, apologize, accept responsibility and immediately fix the problem, while making the process easy on the customer? Do you handle the issue in such a way that creates even greater confidence in your products and in your business? Everything Dollar Shave Club does creates confidence. Thus, confidence gives them a great reputation and loyal repeat customers – or should I say members.

Dollar Shave Club is the total package. Great value wrapped up with great service. And here’s some proof, they currently have over two million members, and recently, after just five years in business, they sold to Unilever for, are you ready? One billion dollars!

Human Resources Leadership Marketing Personal Development

The Top Traits an Employee Needs to Deliver Great Customer Service

Everyone needs great customer service skills because every employee deals with internal and external customers, or both.

“But what exactly are the traits an employee needs?” a subscriber asked me recently.
“Are you asking about the traits that a support rep must have?” I asked.

“No,” he replied. “I am hiring to fill an IT position.”

First, I told him, as you think of traits, they come in two categories: skills and attitudes. A skill is self-explanatory. For instance, if you’re hiring someone who will be doing a lot of corresponding with customers, you’ll obviously need someone with good communication skills – a command of the English language, as in punctuation, spelling and grammar. An attitude is the way you would describe someone’s personal characteristics. For example, he or she is optimistic, witty or a team player.

To determine traits, we do an exercise in our customer focus workshops. We set a large whiteboard or flipchart in front of the audience. Then we ask the audience to shout out the traits of someone who would be good at customer service. As you can imagine, we get lots of adjectives. A few of them are:

Confident, empathetic, engaging, friendly, funny, good communicator, good people skills, happy, helpful, honest, kind, knowledgeable, nice, outgoing, passionate, poised, polite, positive, responsive, sympathetic – and the list typically goes on.

As you closely examine the list above, notice how many are skills and how many are attitudes. You’ll find that most of the traits are attitudes while just a few are skills! “Good communicator” and “good people skills” are obviously skills. You can even argue that “knowledgeable” is also a skill. But we find that out of the twenty or so traits that are typically mentioned, only about three of them are skills. Yes, we could add a few more skills to the list to try to balance it out, but for every skill we could add, there are probably three or four more attitudinal traits we could add as well.

By doing this exercise of creating a list, we’re not trying to imply to the audience that skills just aren’t important. They absolutely are. For example, if a medical center needs to hire a skilled nurse, they are going to be looking for more than just somebody with a great attitude or somebody who really wants to be a nurse. Any serious candidate for the job will have gone on for continued schooling, passed exams, got a degree and became licensed. Without those qualifications, all of the attitude in the world won’t land someone a job as a nurse.

And this discussion isn’t meant to support the saying “hire for attitude and train for skill” either. That may work for some jobs, but for many jobs, a person needs certain skills just to get the job, such as that of a nurse.

Another example of a group of employees that needs specialized skills are those whizzes in the IT department. They can understand things the average human can’t easily comprehend. However, regardless of how strong someone’s technical skills are, without the right personality, as exhibited by many of the aforementioned attitudes, a single employee can potentially bring down an entire customer-focused culture.

So what are the traits of an employee capable of delivering a great customer service experience? More importantly, how can you determine them for a position that you are trying to fill?

My suggestion is to have a group of employees in your company go through the whiteboard exercise we just mentioned. List all of the traits you can think of that are both attitudes and skills. Hone the list down to the top ten core attitudinal traits needed to be customer-focused in your organization. Then add to the list the specific skills required for the job. An accountant needs accounting skills. A doctor needs medical skills. And, of course the IT department needs people with technical skills. When you add the ten attitudes to the needed skills, you may have found that next AMAZING person to work with!

Marketing Personal Development Technology

When Your Marketing Needs Machine Learning

Machine learning seems to be the flavor of the week, so I’ve been getting a lot of questions from clients who want to know what they should know. And some requests for some kind of magic that sounds like, “Can you ladle out a dollop of that machine learning on this?”

So, first off, machine learning is a kind of artificial intelligence–that sounds lofty, but what it really means is that it provides a way for computers to solve problems that they weren’t explicitly programmed to solve. Standard software can solve a problem because a programmer researched the problem, talked to experts, and designed a solution to that particular problem. Machine learning allows computers to tackle a range of problems that the programmers and the experts wouldn’t necessarily know how to solve on their own.

Let’s take an example. I’ve designed a machine learning system for a company that performs sentiment analysis for social media conversations–such as whether a tweet is positive or negative. Now, human beings can identify sentiment accurately around 89% of the time (yes, that low), but standard software is much worse–maybe 60%–because it is hard to code a set of rules that cover all the cases. This machine learning solution is actually more accurate than human beings at times.

How does it do that? It collects training data from what the human beings decide and it looks for patterns that help it identify which tweets are more likely to be positive or negative. With enough training data, it can do a better job than a person. And it is certainly much faster and cheaper.

So, of course you’d like such a technology applied to all sorts of marketing problems that you have. But you might not be ready. Recently, a client approached us, asking that we replace their human content approval system with a machine learning system. They explained that their current process takes each new web page and subjects it to the judgement of several human experts (legal, brand, product, and more) before it is approved to be promoted to the production website. The current process is frustrating and time consuming–often two weeks go by before the approvals are in hand. They desperately want to get the approval process to a day–or even minutes.

But they aren’t ready yet. Machine learning requires that you have very tight processes with well-defined tasks and a history of data that shows that human experts generally agree with each other (such as in the 89% sentiment agreement). This client had none of that–no written standards, experts who disagree, no records of prior decisions–so they weren’t ready yet.

That’s OK. We walked through how they can fix all of those problems over the next few months. Just doing those things will make the process more consistent, less frustrating, and a little faster. At that point, we can start thinking about machine learning to gain even more. It’s always important to provide business value at every step–even what seems like the preparation step.

So what are your thoughts on machine learning? Anytime something new comes along, it can be a personality test. Some people say “we don’t need that yet because it isn’t proven” and others say “we need to do that now and get a jump on the competition.” For machine learning, it’s best to analyze the situation and start preparing your processes to take advantage–because the day is coming where no one will say it isn’t proven yet.

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