When Praising a Woman’s Appearance is NOT a Compliment, but a Ploy

Last week, a US Congressman got his creep on during an interview about the shutdown when he prefaced his response to a CNN host by complimenting her beauty – TWICE.carol costello

[Disclaimer: this is a non-partisan blog post and has absolutely NOTHING to do with politics –   so please don’t turn this into a political left versus right thing.  It just happens that the occurrence I’m showcasing took place during a political interview].

Early in a television interview on Thursday, October 2, Rep. Todd Rokita managed to objectify CNN’s Carol Costello, an accomplished journalist, in his response to her question about Congress accepting pay during the shutdown:

“What we’re fighting for at the end of the day, Carol — I don’t know if you have children yet, or I’m sure you don’t have grandchildren yet, you look much too young — but we’re fighting for them,” said Rokita.

Ms. Costello maintained her professionalism and proceeded on with the interview that was also peppered with Rokita repeating her name at least a dozen times and at one point, rebutting one of her points by simply repeating the phrase “Seriously Carol?” four times in a row.

The debate then became heated when Costello suggested the fight for Obamacare should be independent of the government shutdown battle.  Again, Rokita attempted to diminish the intelligence and credibility of a seasoned journalist by drawing attention to and praising her appearance.

“Carol, you’re part of the problem.  “The media is the problem as well,” he said.  As Costello protested, he shot back, “”Carol, you’re beautiful, but you have to be honest as well.”

Costello replied firmly, “Okay, I think we should leave it here” and ended the interview.

Costello has remained tight-lipped since the incident. But in a statement Thursday afternoon, Rokita said, “At the end of a spirited and very important debate, I was simply keeping it from unnecessarily ending in an unfriendly or contentious way. I intended no offense to Ms. Costello.”

Seriously Todd? Seriously Todd? Seriously Todd? Seriously Todd?

See the clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ag5AMqve5ZU

Stressed out? Then Keep a Journal.

Journaling Offers Proven Cognitive AND Physical Benefits in Managing Stress

I’ve kept a journal for as long as I can remember. My journals are usually written in a rambling stream of consciousness that would make even Walter Mitty say “WTF?” But more often, I write about what’s on my mind at the time, whether it’s a challenge I’m facing or a decision that I must make. JOurnal

Keeping a journal is therapeutic to me, not only because I can be candid, but also because it allows me to really see situations more clearly so I can take the right course of action for myself.  It was especially cathartic for me to keep a journal during my 2007 battle with cancer as it allowed me to more clearly recognize and manage my emotions and express myself.  It also served to document the entire ordeal for me since I knew that I would never be able to recount everything after treatment, due to some serious “chemo-brain.”  I recently found that journal from six years ago and while it was bittersweet re-reading it, I was glad to discover things that I didn’t remember about events, my treatment, and most importantly, about myself.

The kind of journaling I’m referring to isn’t the commonly perceived “log” of the days’ events.  It’s the kind that can work as a self-improvement tool; one that can ultimately lead to a clearer understanding of events and situations that yield more effective problem-solving skills.  Moreover, writing regularly in a journal positively affects not only emotional well-being, but physical well-being too (I’ll get to that in a moment).

Anne Frank is one of the most well-known journaler.  Her writing not only recorded unimaginable historical events, but just as importantly gives us access into the mind of a human being whose resilience and optimism prevailed in the midst of palpable fear and distress.  Anne never thought anyone would ever read her diary.  She wrote as a way to cope with her emotions and relieve stress during the direst of circumstances. 

How Journaling Affects Our Physical Well-being
Scientific evidence supports the assertion by many that journaling on a regular basis can truly help one de-stress.  Studies have shown that the very act of writing can calm nerves, diminish stress and bolster healing.

A clinical study by the Department of Psychiatry, State University of New York at Stony Brook School of Medicine, sought to determine if writing about stressful life experiences affects disease status in patients with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis.  The study concluded that “Patients with mild to moderately severe asthma or rheumatoid arthritis who wrote about stressful life experiences had clinically relevant changes in health status at 4 months compared with those in the control group.”  (See study at:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10208146).

More compelling is the conclusion from a University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher, James Pennebaker, who contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes (see article at http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-health-benefits-of-journaling/000721).  Journaling is also frequently recommended in therapy for victims who were harmed from a traumatic event.   Writing about the event helps them more effectively process the event and in turn, let go of emotions that can hinder the healing process.

Dr. Pennebaker has written a book specifically dedicated helping these individuals.  The book is called: “Writing to Heal: A guided journal for recovering from trauma & emotional upheaval” (New Harbinger Publications, 2004).

There are also cognitive benefits to journaling that include sharper problem-solving skills.  Journaling engages both hemispheres of the brain which helps us sort our experiences more clearly, providing us with a better understanding of the situation and how to find the most appropriate solutions to our challenge.

I suppose journaling isn’t for everyone, but if there’s another way to help keep your stress-levels in check and at the same time improve your clarity and problem-solving skills, why not give it a try? You might finally be able to come up with that “Aha” solution to cope with any challenges you are having, whether they be work-related or personal.

Do you keep a journal?  If so, what do you think is the greatest benefit to journaling? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

You know you’re a Public Relations pro when…

  1. You tend to mentally review any emails and texts you receive – even if they’re only from your friends and family.  And, if you’ve made a typo yourself, you immediately send a follow-up text with the intended word/grammar.
  2. Much to the annoyance of your family, you aggressively need to ‘plan in advance’ to ‘book’ family gatherings and ‘nail down dates’ for holidays.
  3. You don’t read the news for the news’ sake, but rather for ideas of how and where you can find publicity opportunities for your clients(“Hmm, wonder how this trend on increasing bear attacks can help my client that makes laundry cleaning products”).
  4. It’s a minor victory when you spot a typo in a novel you’re reading (“Woot, woot! I’m calling Random House right now!”).
  5. At least once a month, one of your friends or family members tells you about a great TV ad they love, and then offers more ideas for you to take back to your boss.
  6. Over the course of your career, you’ve appeared in dozens of product usage photos (“see that? it’s my hand holding that bottle of glue!”), camera-ready articles and video news releases.  And, you might even have dressed up as your client’s company mascot.
  7. You learned to no longer use your family in the above-mentioned tactics for fear you will silence the video crew again when you yell at your mom for not realistically taking the plate out of the microwave (“Come on, Mom – do it again!”) #guilty
  8. You’ve removed yourself from being the point person who divides the check and collects the cash at lunch (#BadAtMath).
  9. You’re addicted to your mobile devices to the point of exhaustion, but at the same time you would seriously love to chuck them off of a bridge for a few days (but just a few).
  10. It’s taken you 20 years of trying to explain to your parents what you actually do for a living – and they still don’t understand!

3 Things My Dog Has Taught Me About Business

Charlotte stepsSome of the best things about owning a dog are the unconditional love, pure joy and the humor that they bring to everyday life.   And, if you watch carefully, you’ll see that they can actually teach us a thing or two.  My dog Charlotte, a bichon-beagle mix, is no exception.

1.   You can teach old dog new tricks – Last year I bought a security system for my house.  Each time I open one of the doors or windows, a very posh British woman speaks to me – ever so politely, of course – and announces aloud what particular door or window has been opened.  As one might imagine, I open both doors often to take Charlotte outside. Recently I noticed that she can actually distinguish between the two doors, so that if I want to go out the front door and she’s running to the side door, I just have to say “front door” and she comes. She’s learned that just from hearing our British friend over and over again. Brilliant! It made me realize that while I have twenty plus years’ experience in the communications field, probably half of what my job now entails – social media – has been learned in just over the past four years.   For those of us who think we can’t adapt to this digital age of communications that comes so easily to younger generations – I beg to differ.

2.  It pays to be dogged in reaching your goals – One day we were all at my parents’ house for Christmas dinner.  The table setting was lovely with candles and greenery and my mom’s best china.  Charlotte accompanied me, much to the chagrin of my siblings and their kids, since Charlotte is widely known to not be very polite when it comes to sitting quietly as the humans eat.    That evening, in true form, Charlotte nudged, barked and clawed at all of us, but her efforts to gain a morsel were unsuccessful.

After we ate dinner, we abandoned the table and began to open presents in the other room.  Through the loud holiday banter and the tearing of wrapping paper, we suddenly heard my nieces scream “Nooooooo.”  The rest of us ran into the dining room only to see that my dog had climbed from a chair onto the table and somehow had stealthily and miraculously navigated around the lit candles.  There she was nose down on my grandparents’ antique table.  My family was stunned. Then she looked up, stick of butter in her mouth, and gave a short and stifled victory growl.  Dang. That dog wanted some people food and she was going to get it one way or another. She actually looked so funny to me on the table that all I could manage to say was “you go girl!”  Look, there will always be some roadblocks in reaching your goals, but you must overcome them by staying the course and relentlessly pursuing what you want.  Anything is possible.2013-01-19 15.26.12

3.  Every dog really does have its day – At 25 pounds, Charlotte is a lot smaller than her friends, Amber and Beavis, who used to live next door.  The larger dogs were Vizslas and their long legs kept a quick pace when we went on our joint walks.  Poor Charlotte’s little legs tried their best to keep up, but Amber and Beavis were just were too fast for her, and we eventually had to stop walking together.  Beavis and Amber also loved to wrestle, their little nubs shaking with delight as they jumped and chased one another.  I always felt badly for Charlotte when she tried to join them, nipping playfully and awkwardly at their feet.  They ignored her like elementary kids who dismiss the smaller ones on the playground.  Charlotte eventually conceded and stopped trying to play.  But, soon enough a new dog appeared on the street, a little Yorkie named Kobe, which was eager to make new friends.  Hesitant at first, Charlotte eventually warmed up to him and soon they were fast and furious friends, playing their small dog games, tails wagging feverishly.  She seemed a different dog, happier and more self-assured. While the timing was off for her to run with the big dogs; Charlotte didn’t let it get her down and waited her turn. Like Charlotte, I have worked tirelessly throughout my career, patiently preparing for my day, the one when I could be my own boss. Over the years, I was sure to gain corporate and agency experience in addition to civic leadership, which has allowed me to broaden my expertise and has helped prepare me for my dream of running my own business.

Every dog has its day, and today is my day.  Make it yours too!

Are Rampant and Unproductive Meetings Killing Your Company’s Bottom Line?

 7 Tips to Decrease “Meeting Waste”          Meetings image final

Do you ever feel as though you’re on the meeting hamster wheel?  Well, you’re not alone.  According to a joint research study by Harvard Business School and the London School of Economics, executives typically spend more than 18 hours per week in meetings – that’s about a third of their work time.

Not only is the number of meetings being held increasing from past years, many meetings are deemed by participants as unnecessary and not productive at all.   A 2012 Salary.com survey found that “too many meetings” was the #1 complaint as the biggest time-waster in the office, up from #3 in 2008.

Moreover, a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics discovered that unnecessary meetings cost U.S. businesses approximately $37 billion each year.  Most leaders don’t even know the cost of their meeting waste.

Meeting costs take into account the salaries of those involved adding in their benefits [healthcare, 401(k), etc.] in addition to meeting room, equipment and furniture costs.  Then add the price for lost productivity and meeting costs can soar.  A one hour meeting with six high-level attendees could easily cost upwards of $2,000.  If you’d like to check your company’s meeting cost, there’s a great meeting-time calculator available that shows the cost of every minute that goes by in your meeting (http://www.bringtim.com/meeting-cost-calculator.html).

On the plus side, meetings serve many purposes including keeping staff informed, understanding client’s goals more clearly as well as facilitating collaboration and problem-solving. You shouldn’t declare a moratorium on meetings, but you should encourage your staff to take some necessary steps to ensure that their meetings are efficient and productive:

  1. Ask yourself, “Is a meeting really necessary?” – Oftentimes, people are on auto pilot that defaults to mindlessly scheduling a meeting.  Determine what you need to accomplish and assess if there are more effective ways to communicate or collaborate such as face-to-face meetings or group emails.
  2. Invite only the necessary participants – During my agency life, it wasn’t unusual to have more than eight people in a meetings, sometimes 3 people from one department.  I realize that sometimes office politics and egos prevent us from limiting invitees, but whenever possible, make sure there isn’t redundancy on your list.
  3. Be prepared – Don’t be that annoying colleague who pulls together a rushed meeting just because she had a call five minutes ago with a client who only asked a hypothetical question.  This will happen, but a meeting is more effective when you are able to provide the answers to anticipated questions from participants.
  4. Create an agenda – Meetings do run much more smoothly when participants are informed of the sequence of discussion topics.  Having an agenda also helps reign in everyone when a topic goes off tangent.  Additionally, it lends more credibility to the meeting organizer who is perceived as being on the ball and efficient.
  5. Be the master of your meeting – As the organizer, you need to take the reins and facilitate the meeting with aplomb.  Be in control of your meeting so that you keep the group on task and on time.  If a key person is late, I don’t like to waste everyone else’s precious time waiting 15 minutes for one continuously tardy peer. Let everyone have a turn at speaking and be respectful of participants’ time – watch the clock and don’t go over the meeting’s scheduled time.
  6. Always end the meeting with action steps – The takeaway from the meeting should be a consensus on project direction as well as making sure everyone understands their roles and applicable next steps.  You can also plan your next meeting while you have everyone in the room.
  7. Write a meeting recap – I know it seems like more work and a bit of overkill, but it truly saves you time and money in the long run when you provide a quick email recap as to what occurred in the meeting and lay out the next steps and roles of everyone who attended.  This helps eliminate misunderstandings and is beneficial for an attendee who had to pull out of the meeting at the last minute.

Getting in the habit of enlisting your staff to follow these steps before sending out that meeting invite will help you whittle down the financial drain of meetings, and more importantly, help to ensure that meetings are run efficiently and effectively in order to achieve the goal(s) at hand.

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5 Components of a Dull Presentation

I have sat through many presentations in my life, both at work and outside of the office, and there’s nothing worse than a boring one that doesn’t engage the audience.   A friend in my French club still chuckles when he remembers us siting together listening to a lecture given by a professor from an esteemed French university on a topic that I can’t even remember.   The only thing I do remember is the monotone voice of the goldfishspeaker (think of Ben Stein’s character in “Ferris Beuhller’s Day Off,” but with a “vehr-ee” French accent) droning on for two hours with what seemed like one thousand slides of the same stone building.  About an hour into it, my friend leaned over and asked me what I thought.  “I’d rather gnaw my arm off than listen to this right now,” I replied.  And I meant it.

It doesn’t matter what field you’re in – nearly every vocation requires that you put together a presentation at some point.  Today’s universal presentation tool seems to be Power Point, though Prezi is gaining strength as a nice alternative, but it can be time-consuming and costly (in terms of resources) to create.

It still always astounds me that, in this day and age of competing distractions and vying for those precious few minutes of a prospect’s time, there are still presenters who flub their presentations – usually by making them too long and by not dynamically presenting the information.

What’s worse is that the attention span of the average human adult has decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2012.  (source:  http://statisticbrain.com/attention-span-statistics/ ).  Even more disturbing is that goldfish have attention spans of 9 seconds – that’s one second longer than people!!  More so than ever, presentations have to be brief but engaging.

But, if you enjoy making complete strangers nod off and drool, doing these things will absolutely guarantee that you will bore your audience to tears and in doing so, jeopardize the desired outcome of your presentation:

  1. Including too much content – The mantra of presentations is not “more is better.”  It’s always a real challenge not to overload your presentation with lots of information and corresponding slides. I know you have a lot of points to get across, but you need to really create a succinct presentation that is tight and to the point.  I typically go back at least three times to edit out any redundant info as well as to streamline slides.  Let’s face it, do you enjoy sitting through a 70-slide Power Point presentation?  If not, why would your audience?
  2. Being too copy-heavy  – Not only do you have too much content, but the content you do have is all text with no visuals to break up the monotony.  It’s beneficial to pepper your presentation with some relevant visuals or videos; perhaps a chart or images that make sense in order to help you drive your point home.  And, if you don’t have any relevant visuals, just intermittently stick in some pictures of cute baby animals such as puppies or bunnies.  How can people not like that?
  3. Reading entirely off of the slides – If you are just going to read the slides, then you don’t even need to even be there  –  just run the presentation with a cardboard cut-out of yourself and have the audience read it themselves.  Remember that the slides are there merely as a guide and road map to help you verbalize and expound upon the key information you want to convey.  Don’t rely on your slides to present (what if the computer or AV system was down).
  4. Not practicing beforehand  – I’ve seen and experienced this firsthand myself.  I realize it’s difficult since many times, we actually finish the presentation at the eleventh hour and find ourselves with no time to practice.  Additionally, some folks think that because they wrote the presentation, that they know it and needn’t practice.  Not so.  Practice is especially crucial when multiple people are presenting.
  5. Ignoring the human factor To me, this is the most important point of all. Most of the time, such as in new business situations, the reason you are presenting in person is for your prospect to test the chemistry between potential team members.  A presentation with excellent content is only as good as the person(s) presenting it.  That means looking at audience members as you speak as well as reading non-verbal cues from them to see if you are going to fast or confusing them.  Engage your audience – don’t just talk at them.

While these tips seem to be logical and innate, we’ve all experienced sitting through a presentation that includes one or more of these no-no’s.  Don’t be that person – the one who makes the audience so disengaged that they begin seeking refuge by gazing out the window or checking their emails; or worse yet, begin gnawing at their arms.  And, if the goldfish in the room is floating at the top of the bowl, you know you really bombed.

When Cancer Hits the Workplace

Yesterday my friend entered hospice.  He has braveImagely battled lung cancer for the past two years.  I’ve known him for nearly 20 years – we met through his sister, who is a very close friend of mine.

Honestly, it was with dread yesterday afternoon that I entered the front lobby of the hospice, which is situated on Lake Erie and offers a beautiful view and a certain calmness that the lake exudes.  My friend was having some immediate stomach issues, but otherwise was being a real trooper.  We even took a walk to the meditation room which overlooks the lake. 

We talked about how lovely the crocheted blankets were that my friend was given after he became cold. These blankets are lovingly crocheted by volunteers, and my friend was very touched that folks can be so generous with their time and efforts for complete strangers. 

That got us to talking about how cancer can be a defining moment for friendships or any type of relationship including work relationships.  I am a cancer survivor, and while I experienced a tremendous outpouring of love and support from friends and colleagues, others – afraid of their own mortality and not clearly recognizing that someone else’s cancer makes them uncomfortable – pulled back.  I noticed who they were and I cannot say it did not greatly disappoint me.  However, those who rallied around me were greater than those who didn’t, and I thrived with their encouragement and support.

My colleagues at the PR agency I worked at were so supportive.  I chose to work during my six months of chemo and radiation, and our management team provided me with the flexibility I needed.  I worked when I could and when I couldn’t, I rested. 

I chose to work because I believed it provided me with a distraction that would help me cope better with my illness.  It did.  I know that not everyone can or wants to work during treatment, but it helped me keep a routine and not feel “sick.” However, I was very nervous of letting my peers down and not being able to keep up my usual pace.

My staff and colleagues picked up the slack for me and that meant more than I could ever express.  While a few people actually were resentful of having more work on their plates, the majority was more than willing to pitch in.  My boss and a number of colleagues came to visit me during chemo sessions while another colleague provided me with nutritional supplements and meditation books.  Others sent flowers, balloons and cards with messages of encouragement.  One peer made a client trip to Arizona in my place since I was unable to travel. This outpouring of kindness and support made me so happy and proud to work where I did. 

I realize there can be awkwardness to being around and communicating with someone with cancer.  Believe it or not, some people wouldn’t ever make eye contact with me and I felt at times like a leper. I get it. People worry they will say the wrong things.  I’m sure I have.  But to me, it mattered less when they did say the wrong thing and more that they were willing to put aside their own anxieties and say anything at all to me.

It is difficult today to find someone whose life hasn’t been touched in some way by cancer.  I will gladly take on more work for a colleague who is struggling with a life-threatening illness because I would want someone to do that for me – or for my brother, mother, cousin or nephew.

My advice is to just do what you can.  Whether that’s as big as taking on one of their accounts for the time being, or as small as sending an uplifting email.   Don’t avoid them because you are worried about saying the wrong thing – even small talk is greatly appreciated.

You needn’t be Mother Theresa sitting a bedside vigil.  But, for those of you who are uncomfortable around “sick” people or hospitals and avoid your friend or peer because of that, my harsh suggestion is to suck it up – it’s a fear that stems from one’s own issues and the sick person shouldn’t be punished for it.  Cancer is sadly becoming more prevalent in our society, so unfortunately you’re going to have to deal with it sooner than later.  More importantly, your colleague will appreciate your demonstrative support more than you could imagine.  I also think you’ll feel better too.

Today my friend asked me to bring him Hawaiian punch, even though he can only drink an inch of it.  I’ll take it to him and hopefully he’ll feel well enough to sit in the sun along the lake.