Networking with Confidence and Purpose

I am constantly surprised by how often I’m working with clients and the issue of networking comes up. In all the coaching – and group training – I’ve done around this issue, I’ve noticed that, broadly, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who enjoy networking and those who loathe it. But there is one thing both groups have in common: most people don’t feel like they get much out of the experience beyond a glass of wine or beer and a handful of business cards from people they’ll probably never see again.

There’s something sadly ironic in the fact that children trade Pokemon cards with more enthusiasm than most adults exchange business cards while networking. But I think the key is that the children go into the exchange with two things that most adults lack in the scenario: confidence and purpose.

Networking with Purpose

When you attend a networking event, why do you go? Do you enjoy the social interaction? Is it merely on the agenda for the conference you’re attending so you’re just following the schedule? Did a colleague drag you along as a “wingman”? Alternatively, maybe you’ve been more “task-oriented,” and told yourself you have to meet three new people and then you’re allowed to leave.

Ultimately, whether positive or negative in feeling, none of these approaches make networking valuable. So how can you make networking a useful and positive experience… and do it with comfort and confidence?

Here’s a simple rule of thumb: Networking is simply planting the seeds for a new relationship. It doesn’t have to result in an immediate financial transaction, but the purpose is to meet someone that you can then build a long-term relationship with.

The key is that you never know when there will be a reason for you to contact them – or for them to contact you. Maybe you’ll read an article that you think they’ll appreciate and you send them a link. Maybe you’ll look through their contact list on LinkedIn and see someone you’d like them to introduce you to. Or maybe they are chatting with someone else at another networking event a month later who just so happens to need your services, and they can make the introduction.

There’s a terrific book called The Go-Giver that epitomizes this perspective. It’s an easy read in parable form that you can skim in a weekend, and will clarify both how to do it and why.

Networking with Confidence

Interestingly enough, one of the biggest stumbling blocks people face is not why they should talk to someone, but simply the mechanics of how to start the conversation.

First, it’s important to distinguish the difference between networking and small talk. I just had a conversation with a client earlier this week in which she shared that she dreaded an upcoming event and said, “I just don’t’ know how to make small talk all night.” When I suggested that small talk wasn’t required at all, she stared blankly at me for a moment before asking, “Aren’t networking and small talk the same thing? What’s the difference?”

“Small talk” is simply a communication tool used to break the ice, and initiate conversation with someone new. It can be something as mundane as the weather or how slow the elevator is, to a more organic offering like a compliment regarding someone shoes or tie, or asking what brought someone to the event, or what they thought of the event’s speaker.

Once we’re a couple of sentences in, I simply segue with, “By the way, I’m Laura.” Then I can ask more about them, and see where the conversation takes us.

In case you’re still hesitant, here’s a secret: the vast majority of people there feel as uncomfortable as you do about networking! They are unsure of whom to approach or how to start the conversation, and are hoping someone will take the first step for them. If you do them that favor, they’re already grateful to you, and that’s a great way to start a relationship.

When you look at networking from this perspective, without the pressure of collecting a certain number of business cards, forcing two hours of small talk or closing a deal, it is almost certain that you will find opportunities for future benefits, and even learn to enjoy yourself in the process.


Do you have questions or comments about the issues in today’s post, want to know how to apply them, or how to help others with them? If so, contact me at or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss them with me personally!

The Missing Link in Mentoring

“Do me a favor and stop bringing her into these meetings; I can’t stand the sound of her voice.”

My jaw dropped when my aunt, a retired VP from a major mortgage lender, recounted this instruction she received from her senior boss, pertaining to one of her employees, many years ago.

“What did you do?” I asked.

She shook her head. “Nothing. I was so surprised when he said it – I hadn’t noticed anything particularly offensive about her voice myself – and he wasn’t exactly the ‘warm fuzzy type,’ so I just said okay. I didn’t know how to tell her, and I wouldn’t have known where to begin to help her, so that was that,” she said, remorsefully.

Looking back, it is painful to think about how that one split-second exchange altered the course of that woman’s career, salary, and life. All the meetings, insights, connections and opportunities she missed; the possible promotions and salary increases and bonuses she never received. And she never knew why, or was given the chance to fix the perceived problem and grow.

Mentorship, sponsorship, advocacy… call it what you will, but it needs to go beyond the perfunctory semi-annual or quarterly meeting to discuss career goals. For most people in that kind of relationship, it probably does, but does it extend to seeking, offering or accepting guidance on the way someone speaks? This is a huge factor in developing executive presence. Short of generally suggesting that someone work on his or her communication skills as is commonly referenced on the annual review, leadership communication tends to be a major missing link.

So what are some of the things to look for in the leadership communication skills in your mentee, and how can you help them work on those areas?

Communication Skills to Look For

Let’s start with content. When presenting information to senior leadership, employees frequently tend to provide too much detail – or “get lost in the weeds,” as they say. Remind them that it’s okay to get right to the point, justifying later as necessary or allow the audience to ask for more detail. Reassure them that they’ve been given the opportunity to present this work because they already have the benefit of the doubt that they are qualified and capable, and their results are trustworthy.

Getting more into the delivery, the ability to show poise and “grace under fire” are often demonstrated by how they control the pace of their speech. Whether they are talking for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, does it sound like one giant run-on sentence? When speakers can articulate their thoughts in finite sentences, much as they can when writing, they sound more in control.

Even if they are fast talkers, something as simple as remembering to pause, just for a second after each point, allows the listeners’ brains to catch up with their ears and digest the last point. Then the speaker can lead everyone ahead to the next point, together.

Along with adding that pause between sentences, “vocal punctuation” is equally important to sounding authoritative, and helping the listener understand when a sentence begins and ends. A problem in this area is that modern social patterns have popularized a bad habit known as “up-speak” or “up-talk,” which is where people sound like they’re always asking a question? At the ends of all their phrases and sentences? Even when they’re not? Which sounds insecure? And gets really annoying, you know?

The irony is that most people don’t realize when they do it – and it is just as prevalent in men as in women, and in Baby Boomers as in Millennials, contrary to popular belief. There may be variations, but it still has the same effect of sounding like the person is just droning on and on. Awareness of vocal tonality and the ability to control it is critical to making your desired impact when you speak.

So if you are mentoring someone, formally or informally, start listening for some of these patterns. Neglecting to address these issues can undermine all the helpful and well-intended guidance you are otherwise offering.

And if you really want to challenge yourself, start checking your own speech patterns; are you following the recommendations, or are you guilty of some of the pitfalls? Taking stock of your own good and bad speech habits and taking steps to improve the effectiveness of your own leadership communication is mentoring by example.


Do you have trouble determining which of these patterns or others are negatively influencing someone’s image or reputation? Are you unsure of how to talk to them about it, or how to help them improve? Or do you have other questions or feedback about this issue? If so, contact me at or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me personally!

The 4-Word Secret to Confident Public Speaking

I work with a lot of clients on a wide variety of skill sets. For many, the primary focus is public speaking. The story is common: You’re confident in front of your team, but when you have to speak to larger groups, especially to high-stakes audiences or groups of people you don’t know as well, your heart races, your face turns red, palms sweat, and all sorts of self-defeating “what if” scenarios circulate through your mind.

What if I forget what I wanted to say?
What if I make a mistake?
What if they don’t like me?
What if I don’t come across as an expert?
What if they ask a question I can’t answer?

These self-defeating questions are what is referred to as “head trash.” It will pile up, fester, and become overwhelming unless you take action to get rid of it and replace it with something more productive.

When talking to one particular client whose head trash was getting the best of her, I said: “I’m going to tell you a secret that will change everything and help you speak with complete confidence. It’s just four little words. I want you to write them down in big letters, and tape the message to your computer, bathroom mirror, laptop, door or anywhere you’ll see it regularly. Will you do that?”

“Yes,” she agreed, and grabbed her pen.

Then I told her the secret: “IT’S…NOT… ABOUT… YOU.”

She wrote it down, then stared at it, processing its meaning.

“Here’s the key,” I continued. When you present, you’re focus needs to be on customer service. It is your primary responsibility to ensure that the audience has the best experience possible. Do you love your topic or at least think it’s really important? Share that passion with them, and help them understand it.

“Eye contact is your friend. Each person there wants to feel like you’re talking to them personally. Look at each person, all around the room, to let them know that they matter to you, and make them feel like they’re part of the event.”

She was digesting what I was telling her, so I continued. “When you go to hear a speaker, do you sit there critiquing them the whole time, hoping to catch a mistake? Of course not. If they make lots of mistakes or flounder, that makes everyone uncomfortable. You’re just hoping that they’ll be interesting and give you some important information to make it worth your while to have shown up. You are rooting for their success, because if they do well, you’ll have a good experience, which is what you really want in the end. That’s exactly what your audience is hoping for too.”

She was quiet for a moment, so I asked, “How do you feel about that?”

“Honestly?” she said, “As soon as you said it’s not about me, I felt instantly relieved. I can focus on taking care of the audience, because it is important that they feel like they learned something important. Then it’s not about performance perfection, whatever that means. Suddenly, it all seems like a very reachable goal. I know I can do this.”

So take out your “head trash,” and focus on serving your audience. You can start with thinking about what kind of speaker you’d want to listen to if you were in audience, and then work on letting those qualities shine through. Put the audience first, and you’re guaranteed to feel confident and be successful..


Does your head trash get in your way of being a powerful, confident public speaker? If so, contact me at or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss them with me personally!

The Value of Vulnerability

Showing vulnerability in order to show strength is an irony many leaders have a hard time grasping.

Naturally, it is important – albeit sometimes difficult – to be vulnerable in our personal relationships. A certain degree of vulnerability is necessary for love and intimacy to be possible. But it is equally as important in developing our professional relationships as well.

I had a client who, as head of the department, was told by her supervisor that she needed to let people get to know her better in order to strengthen team chemistry and trust. For someone whose primary motivation had been to avoid any potential of being seen as “weak,” this was daunting.

“How can I open up to them? I don’t know if I can trust them to see that side of me,” she said.

I replied, “My guess is that they probably feel the same about you. But here’s the thing: When two people each need to receive trust before they’re willing to give it, there’s a stalemate. Eventually, one person has to take the first step, giving the other person the opportunity to demonstrate that they are trustworthy. That unlocks the door to change.”

I’m not saying you have to give them your bank account number and password. Sometimes it’s about laughing at yourself, or letting them know that you’re swamped and need their assistance.

Last week I got a frantic email from a client asking to have a strategy call the next morning before a high-stakes meeting that had just been organized. I wanted to help, but had a logistical challenge, so I told her the truth in full transparency: the only time I could squeeze her in the next morning was 9am, but I would be in ‘mommy mode’ at that time, since I had to take my son for a pediatric checkup at 10, and wouldn’t have childcare at that time. I couldn’t predict what mood he’d be in or how much he would interrupt, but I was willing to give it a try if she was.

Without hesitating, she said, “I’ll take it.”

So at 9am the video call comes in via FaceTime, as usual, but this time I answered in a t-shirt and jeans with my hair pulled back. I hoped she wouldn’t be distracted by my casual appearance. “I think we’re safe – he’s in his highchair and I’m feeding him breakfast, so he’s busy and happy for a while,” I told her.

My willingness to be vulnerable by letting my client see me this way was immediately rewarded.

“Oh, is he there? Can you turn the camera? I’d love to see him.”

I re-angled the camera so my client was face-to-face with the big blue eyes of my son. He stared back at her, curious about face on the screen. And then this high-powered CFO of a multi-billion-dollar company did the best thing possible: she launched straight into full-scale “peek-a-boo” mode.

My son’s face lit up immediately, and he squealed with laughter as played with him. After a moment or two I finally turned the phone back so we could get on with our meeting – and my son’s breakfast. She sighed with a big smile, and said, “That was the perfect antidote to the morning I’ve already had, thank you!”

From there we shifted gears and got down to business. We had each let down our guard with the other and I am sure that we would agree that the experience further strengthened our bond, both personally and professionally.

So once in a while, take a little chance: (metaphorically) play a bit of “peek-a-boo,” and let them see you.


Do you have other questions or feedback about vulnerability and leadership? If so, contact me at or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me personally!

David, Goliath and the Investor Pitch

At some point or other, we all find ourselves outside of our comfort zone, and even feeling like we are out of our league. Nowhere is this more prevalent than when pitching a business, product or idea, and the little voice inside our head says, “Am I good enough? Do I belong here? Will I meet their expectations? Can I persuade them?” Today I want to share with you how one person rose to the task and showed everyone that he deserved a seat at the table, and was playing to win.

A favorite part of my job is helping people tell their stories in a compelling way, and the business pitch is a high-stakes platform where you only have one chance to do it. I had the distinct honor and pleasure of coaching five Hero Club entrepreneurs in preparation for their pitch at the C-Suite Network Investors Summit in San Jose on September 11-12th. All five CEOs were terrific, but in retrospect, one pitch stood out from the rest, and offered a lesson about overcoming the odds and expectations, and why you should never underestimate anyone – including yourself.

David Williams is the CEO and superintendent of Village Tech Charter Schools in Cedar Hill, Texas, just outside of Dallas. More than one person I spoke to afterwards confirmed that they had wondered why a non-profit, specifically a Pre-K – 12 school, was pitching in Silicon Valley. Privately, they had wondered if it was something of a charity case, like when the older siblings decide to let the little one play with them, even though they have minimal expectations. David himself later confessed to having similar concerns leading up to the event.

David is not alone. How many times have you anticipated an event or opportunity with trepidation, based on feelings or concerns of inadequacy, of not belonging? Sometimes there’s a bit of the “Imposter Syndrome” that creeps in. David had to prove to himself and everyone else that he was a much of a leader in the business world as in the academic realm.

To David’s credit, he rose to meet this Goliath. He knew what was at stake, and his motivation was focusing on how important it was for his company, his school, his people and his community.

One of the most common areas where people tend to fall short is in being able to adjust your message so that the right points get across to the right audience: a critical factor in the art of persuasion. In this case, David’s challenge was making the shift from “teacher” mode to “business executive” mode.

His favorite stories of children’s heartwarming experiences and funny comments will successfully imply all sorts of information about the success of a program when speaking to a room full of teachers. But to a room of business executives and investors, those stories are just the sprinkles on the sundae: added for a little color and sweetness, but of minimal substance. We had to shift the focus to problems and solutions, to data and dollars – a philosophical shift that makes most teachers’ stomachs churn with disdain. And the whole thing had to be done in eight minutes.

We found ways to use a couple of anecdotes to personalize his statistics, and humanized the call to action, which helped him make this critical shift while remaining completely authentic, and true to himself.

Although many investors there weren’t interested in adding a brick-and-mortar enterprise to their portfolios, it was clear by the end that David’s pitch was the crowd favorite. The little non-profit venture had set the bar for what everyone else believed an investor pitch should look and sound like. He had succeeded in earning the personal and professional respect of everyone there, as evidenced by a comment I heard come from several people’s lips with genuine admiration that day: “He killed it.”

The moral of the story is not to let yourself be intimidated by your “Goliath.” Even when you feel like you’re out of your element – or even your league – seek whatever guidance you need, and play to win.


Are you preparing a pitch, or do you have questions about another critical presentation? If so, contact me at or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me personally!

Do you hold yourself back from success?

“Whenever I’m in a meeting and I think of a question or comment, I end up arguing with myself about whether or not to say it… then five minutes later someone else says what I’m thinking, and it leads to a great discussion. I could kick myself when that happens!”

This is a challenge described by many of my clients, both men and women alike, and it stems from a lack of confidence on a variety of possible levels. But regardless of the origin, the outcome is the same: you hold yourself back from being recognized for your insights, expertise and overall value to the team.

So why does this happen, and what can you do about it?

The late, great sales guru, Zig Ziglar, had a great saying that has stuck with me from the first time I read it in one of his books many years ago. He said that you have to ask yourself, “Is your fear of failure greater than your desire to succeed?”

That hit me right between the eyes.

The short answer is that, for people who typically hold back as described above, their default answer, often subconsciously, is a resounding “YES.” That’s why they hold back.

At times, we all have doubts, and frankly there are some people who could stand to filter their thoughts and hold back a bit more from time to time instead of blurting out everything that comes to mind. But that’s an issue for another post.

What is most powerful to me is the thought process you inevitably go through if you actually ask yourself that question when you find yourself holding back. And if you’re someone who holds back more often than not, you need to do it. That’s because it actually leads to two deeper and more concrete questions to help you regain confidence and take action:

The first is, how would you define “failure” in that situation, and what’s the worst thing that could happen if you did “fail”? Does failure mean that people ignored what you said because they thought it wasn’t important? Maybe it means you could make a mistake, share wrong information or demonstrate ignorance. And what would be the repercussions of one of those situations? I highly doubt that you could lose your job, be removed from the project or account, get chastised in pubic, take a major hit to your reputation, or die of embarrassment. More likely, the worst that would happen is that you might get corrected in public. You’ve certainly heard others make contributions that were not received with open arms; what happened to them? Most likely, nothing.

The second key question is, how would you define “success” in the same context? Of course, you wouldn’t expect the boss to throw a party or give you an immediate raise; success could be simply a matter of knowing you made a valuable contribution to the discussion. Maybe your idea provides a critical piece that will help the group to problem-solve more efficiently. What is certain, in the success context, is that you show yourself to be a valuable, proactive member of a team, and it might put you on someone’s radar, in the good way.

Also, remember that those best and worst case scenarios are based on you actually speaking up. A third question that gets overlooked is, “What is the effect of silence on my part?” Again, holding back judiciously from time to time is probably appreciated by most people. But when your reputation in those meetings is of someone who is non-participatory, playing it “safe” and hiding in self-defense mode unless forced to speak, is that really the leadership image you want to create?

And just in case you were about to play the “introvert” card, stop right there. That excuse won’t work. Introversion is not about fear of public speaking, confidence or general shyness. It’s about how you get energized, and what takes energy from you. Don’t mistake being an introvert – assuming you genuinely are one – with being hesitant to ask a question or offer a comment in a team meeting.

So the next time you recognize that you are holding back, do two things: First, decide what you want your leadership reputation to be. Then ask yourself: “Is my fear of failure greater than my desire to succeed?”


Do you have questions or comments about the issues in today’s post, want to know how to apply the solutions, or how to help others overcome these challenges? If so, contact me at or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss them with me personally!

Is positive feedback harder to give than negative feedback?

I’m sure you’re familiar with that unpleasant feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize you have to give someone negative feedback. You don’t want any drama and you try to avoid conflict. You don’t want to hurt their feelings or anger them. You don’t want them to get defensive and you don’t want to have to defend yourself in the process, but eventually you have to find a way to tell them that there are errors in the report and it needs to be redone, that they’ve been late for the third time, or that the promotion is being given to someone else.

While it may not be surprising that, according to a recent HBR study, 21% of people will avoid giving negative feedback to direct reports, the same study revealed that 37% of people also don’t give positive feedback! At that point, the question becomes: Is it actually harder to give praise than critique?

The article proposes a variety of reasons why people often don’t give positivefeedback, ranging from being “too busy” and forgetting, to feeling like a boss should be tough, or that giving praise was a sign of weakness. Some people may consciously or subconsciously believe that it’s essential to point out mistakes in order to avoid or fix major problems, but that positive recognition is optional and/or not important.

Most intriguing to me, however, was the idea that some people don’t give positive feedback because they don’t know how. So from here, let’s look at three simple strategies for giving clear and effective positive feedback.

1. K.I.S.S.
No, I’m not suggesting you do anything that will warrant a call from HR. Most of you are probably familiar with the age-old acronym K.I.S.S., or “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Praise doesn’t need to be emotional, gushy, effusive or melodramatic. People just like to know – especially from you “tough graders” out there – that they have met your standards, produced high-quality work, or been successful at completing a difficult project on time and under budget.

Most importantly, they probably already know this, but want to know that you recognize that effort or achievement. They know you will catch any mistake; make it equally clear that you watch like a hawk to “catch” them succeeding, too. It shows solidarity, lets them know that you’re on the same team, and promotes a sense of confidence and security, knowing that the boss is looking out for them.

At that point, simple comments like, “Thanks for getting that piece back to me so quickly,” “The layout looks terrific, nice job,” or “Looks like you got everything back up to date, much better” are all that is needed to let people know where they stand. It also provides a sense of closure, which helps keep them from worrying that there may be more bad news to come, so they can comfortably shift their full attention to the next task on the list.

2. Be Specific
Praise is much more powerful when it references something specific. Generic comments like “good job,” while better than nothing, don’t tell the person what it is that you like about it, and can often feel perfunctory and insincere. Does it pertain to the speed in which they completed the job? The depth of analysis? Or just the fact that they closed the deal? Whatever it is, referencing that factor helps them to understand what is most important to you and encourages them to focus future efforts on achieving similar outcomes.

Even if it is just following up on something for which you had previously given negative feedback, acknowledge that the specific problem was fixed to appropriate standards and what positive outcome it promotes, e.g., “This new layout is much cleaner, and the image really pops; the client is going to love it.”

3. Look in the Mirror

If you’re really stuck for how to give praise, ask yourself, if you had done that work, how would you want to be appreciated? Maybe, to the HBR article’s point, you’re not used to giving positive feedback as a boss because you aren’t used to getting it from a boss. I’m not saying your boss should have thrown a party every time you did your job successfully, but think back to a time when you felt like at least a little appreciation would have been nice. Be the boss you wish you’d had, and offer the word of praise that would have been meaningful to you.

Sometimes the best place to start is with a simple word of thanks and recognition of the other person’s effort. “Thanks for pushing through the last week of late nights to make sure we got the issue out on time, I’m sure everyone’s exhausted,” or “Thanks for jumping in to lend a hand on that project; I know your plate was already full” is all people need to hear.

Don’t worry that offering praise will make it seem like you’re “going soft” or that people will slack off once they think you’re happy. On the contrary, for many people, praise is actually a motivator. Success begets success, and feelings of success beget more behaviors of success.

What’s critical to understand is that when people feel like they receive sufficient positive feedback, it makes them more open to hearing and accepting negative feedback from the same person. This is because they know that the boss is fair and clear, and that all feedback, whether positive or negative, is honest and comes from the heart.


Do you have trouble giving feedback, whether positive or negative? Or do you have other questions or feedback about this issue? If so, contact me at or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me personally!

Turning a Faux Pas into a Win

The other day I was doing a training on leadership communication for a large client in the communication technology industry. Among their many products and services are video and teleconferencing tools. In the course of my program, we got to the part about facilitating virtual meetings, and as I clicked to the next slide, I suddenly heard a couple of boos from the crowd. I look up and realized my gaffe: my default visual was an image of people chatting on Skype – a direct competitor.

I apologized immediately, and said I had completely forgotten that this image was in the deck… then wondered aloud if my next image had the same problem. Click. Yup, up popped a picture of a conference telephone by another competitor, which was confirmed by a collective groan, “Oohhh!” as if their favorite batter had just struck out at the plate.

Now I had a choice to make: I could flush beet-red, babble a string of mortified apologies, and run out of the room in humiliation, or I could turn it around and make it a “teachable moment.” I opted for the latter, and explicitly shared this very choice with the group.

“Actually, I’m glad this happened, because it allows me to demonstrate some additional strategies in leadership communication, rather than just talking about them.” From there, I walked them through a sequence of steps, both in addressing my personal mistake, and narrating the conscious strategy behind each step I was taking in the process. I share it with you here, so that you can also learn from my mistake, and use the experience to your advantage, as I did.

First, I apologized. Not over-apologized, as I described as common habit among some people, especially women, in this earlier article. But the fact is, plain and simple, I made an undeniable, objective mistake, and it was my responsibility to own it. I wasn’t groveling, but still clearly sincere. My voice stayed even in speed and volume to indicate composure, and model the degree of drama that I believed was warranted by the situation, so they could follow suit.

Note that people will mirror your tension level: If you start calm in a crisis, others will follow your lead and stay calm, even if unhappy, which minimizes the damage. But if you start frantic, whether frantic with guilt or frantic with worry, the audience will infer that that level of drama is warranted, and they will feel a comparative degree of indignation.

Second, I briefly explained my original intention behind the mistake, providing just enough information to help them understand what happened and increase empathy. In this case, I explained that at the time I selected these images, my focus and biggest challenge was finding appropriate pictures with sufficiently high resolution so I could zoom it on the slide and still have the picture be in sharp focus, which limited my options based on the images I found on-line.

That doesn’t excuse the fact that I still completely forgot about the connection to the client’s product line, but hopefully that gave them an appreciation for the fact that my intention was to ensure that they had clear visuals, not grainy, as part of their experience.

Third, I offered a solution to the problem, and engaged the audience in helping me to solve it. “Let me offer this to you in return: From here on out, I will replace these two images with your products instead, and have them be the standard images when I present to other companies in the future. How does that sound?” I saw lots of head nods in the audience. Free advertising for them; who wouldn’t appreciate that?

Then I followed up with, “But I’m going to need a little assistance. Since I wasn’t able to find good, high-resolution images of (Product X and Y) online, I need one of you to send me some. Who here will volunteer to send them to me?” Half a dozen hands shot up in the air. Now, not only had I offered an agreeable solution, but I had enrolled the client’s enthusiastic participation in helping me execute the decision. Now we were partners, sharing in the responsibility to achieve the desired outcome.

Finally, we debriefed the episode. I had the audience reflect on public mistakes that they had made or had seen others make, and compare how they were handled compared to what we had just done. This gave everyone the chance to digest the experience, and consciously identify for themselves what I had modeled as positive strategies for handling mistakes. They listed them, so I didn’t have to, which helped it to sink in.

Ironically, something that could have completely undermined my image as an expert in leadership communication turned out to be a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that very expertise.

At the end of the day, several people came up to talk to me, and most of them referenced that lesson about how to turn a faux pas into a win. One woman said, “I really wanted to see where you were going to go with it once that second image popped up, but you handled the whole situation perfectly! I’m so glad we got to go through the process.”

Naturally, the nature of your error is going to determine how you need to rectify the situation. My unintentional “affront” certainly could have been much more detrimental if in a pitch rather than a training, but still would not be nearly as critical as forgetting the decimal point when drawing up budgets.

In the end, what matters most is how you respond in the moment. Keep your composure, acknowledge the error, apologize appropriately and sincerely, give only as much explanation as is necessary (sometimes none), then offer a remedy and see it through. This enables you to maintain control of the situation and lead by example, which helps you to build (or rebuild) trust, and reinforce your image and reputation as a leader.


Do you have questions or comments about the issues in today’s post, want to know how to apply them, or how to help others with them? If so, contact me at or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss them with me personally!

What Does Your Personal Brand SOUND Like?

I just read a great article from Entrepreneur, as shared here, called “7 Signs Your Personal Brand Needs Work.” All seven signs, and the suggestions offered to resolve each, are insightful and important – I recommend reading the article for yourself. But as is common in such analyses, there is one critical factor for establishing your ideal personal brand that is once again missing from the discussion.

Topics such as being consistent with your brand messaging or being visible are extremely important, but tend to be addressed as if people will only get to know you on paper – or on screen. The focus is on the content or text of the message, if all of your social media pages make the same impression, and if you emphasize your vision for the future or are stuck touting past achievements. But what happens when you’re not just writing a Tweet, FaceBook post, blog, or e-mail?

In other words, what happens to that brand messaging when you’re talking to someone, real-time, maybe even (*gasp*) face to face? On a very literal level, what does it sound like when you share your idea, insight and suggestion? Is it as compelling to hear as it is to read?

So many people have terrific ideas and masterful skill sets, but their ability to persuade, compel, and inspire someone just by talking with them simply falls flat. There’s something “missing” in the delivery, which can translate to something missing from their personal brand.

This is the foundation of what I call alignment. Your words and your delivery must be equally strong and compelling, because your words convey your content, and your delivery conveys your intent behind the message. When both parts are reinforcing the same message at the same time, there is credibility to the whole message, and as a result, the credibility reflects back to you.

What do I mean by content vs. intent? Simple. The contents of your message, i.e. what you actually say and the words you use to do so, give the “official” meaning and purpose. The intent, in contrast, is your motivation and feeling behind why you’re saying it. For example, if you bump into someone, and say, “Oh, sorry…” in theory, that’s the right thing to do and should set things right again. However, there’s a huge difference between if you hurriedly mumble, “Oh… sorry…” as you hustle past, vs. if you exclaim, “Oh! Sorry!” and pause to ensure that the other person is okay, before heading off.

In the first way, your perfunctory apology (your content) comes across as recognizing that you’re supposed to apologize so as not to be considered rude, but not like you actually feel sorry or care about the other person at all, despite your claim of being sorry. You’re just saying “Sorry” because you feel like you have to (your intent.) The actual words don’t match the way they sound (or look based on your body language.) Your words (the content) claim to be sorry, but your message is out of alignment. At best, there’s a bare minimum of improvement in how I think of you if you give me that apology, compared to if you bump into me and then completely fail to acknowledge my existence.

The second delivery, however, seems so much more heartfelt, because your words and your delivery were in alignment. Once again, your words (content) claim to be contrite, but this time I believe that it was heartfelt, that you actually ARE sorry and genuinely want to apologize (intent). You stop to make eye contact with me, and the sound of your apology conveys much more sincerity and integrity.

So where does this tie into your brand?

Lots of people claim that they can speak well when they have to give a big presentation or are otherwise in the spotlight, and this shows what you are capable of when you believe the stakes are high enough to warrant that kind of focus and effort. But as far as I’m concerned, your reputation is what happens in the moments when you’re NOT trying; all those little moments when you’re not in the spotlight.

For example, when you think about who you want on your sales or project team, which of the following are you likely to choose (assuming equal technical expertise and quantity of participation):

  1. The person who often mumbles and seems to speak half-heartedly when contributing most meetings and calls, but can “turn it on” for formal presentations and high-stakes client or leadership meetings
  2. The person who always sounds focused and engaged when contributing in meetings and calls, and is equally engaged and engaging in high-stakes meetings

This may seem like a rhetorical question: after all, why would anyone opt for someone who only seems truly engaged part of the time, if – all else being equal – you could work with someone who seemed truly on board all of the time? Yet for as obvious as the choice may seem, when you look at your own participation in generic weekly meetings, for example, what does your participation sound like? Ask yourself the following:

  • Do you always speak loudly enough to ensure that all people can hear?
  • If there’s one or more people on conference call lines when the rest of the group is present in the same physical room, do you proactively work to ensure that they can hear everyone’s contributions, consistently?
  • Do you inflect lots of up-speak when you talk where it sounds like you’re constantly implying lots of questions and requests for validation into your speech even when you’re not?
  • Do you speak so quickly that you tend to slur some words together or mumble, making people have to ask you to repeat what you’ve said?
  • Do you give and receive constructive feedback in an antagonistic or defensive manner, or shy away from it completely?
  • Do you speak in an unnecessarily low voice without enough breath support so that your voice sounds gravelly or creaky, and you seem disinterested, tired, or not confident?

The challenge is that most of us are painfully unaware of our default speech style. We may know how we think we come across, but often what we see and hear in our minds is very different from how other people experience us. The brand and reputation that we think we are building for ourselves is very different from the reality of the brand reputation we’re becoming known for.

This is why it’s critical to gain an awareness of what your “default” speech style is like in these contexts, because for the most part, that’s what people will remember and what they’ll use to form their evaluation of your credibility and leadership, not what you can do in the rare instances when you absolutely have to. After all, what’s more likely: that they frame their opinions based on the exception, or the “rule”?

When in doubt, remember: That “rule” is at the foundation of your brand.


Do you have questions or comments about the issues in today’s post, want to know how to apply them, or how to help others with them? If so, contact me at or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss them with me personally!

Dads: Raise your daughter to be a CEO

Father’s Day is coming up, so in the spirit of honoring the male role models in our lives, I’d like to share a special note with all the dads and other men (and women) out there about how to raise your daughters to be a successful, confident and happy future executive.

Over the years, I’ve spoken in front of myriad professional women’s groups, and coached women at every level and in every industry imaginable, and one factor regularly surfaces as having a major influence on their current levels of confidence and self-efficacy: their relationship with their fathers.

I often get asked how I’ve developed my confidence and sense of self, and more and more I realize how much of the credit goes to my father (and mother) for setting this foundation in me in all these ways and more.

Disclaimer: I am a linguist, not a psychologist, and this post is not intended to overgeneralize women, fathers, or anyone else. My goal is to raise awareness of some patterns of communication behaviors that can have lasting effects, and offer perspective and tools to help you avoid those pitfalls and promote happiness and success at home, in the workplace and beyond.

The most genuinely confident and effective women I work with typically have stories to tell of how their fathers set high standards because they genuinely believed that their daughters were capable and worthy of success at that level.

Their dads co-celebrated success and lamented failures together, and knew when the appropriate response was a consoling hug or a loving “kick in the pants” to stop the pity party, learn a lesson and do better next time. And they knew that there was a time and a place for each.

Here’s the thing: Your daughter may know intellectually that you love her and that your goal is to want the best for her, to reach what you see as her fullest potential. But the way these intentions are communicated often are interpreted in the exact opposite way: that love and approval are conditional, contingent upon perfection and successful attainment of whatever standard they believe you set.

There are so many little moments in life that can individually go unnoticed, but add up over time. Was she the MVP of her field hockey team or did she get the lead in the play, and if not how did you respond? Did you let her know if you believed these were even worthwhile pursuits in the first place? Did you think she went to the right university, got the right degree, got the right job, is dating or married the right person (and at the right age), and even (ugh!) did she feel like you thought she was pretty enough? These may seem like they shouldn’t be relevant, but dad, trust me, they are. More than you’ll ever know.

How do I know?

Dad (a music teacher) encouraged me to audition for all-state band (I played the alto sax), which I did all four years of high school, even though I only made it once. After each audition, we’d talk about what went right and wrong and how to do better next time.

He pushed me to take honors classes but didn’t flinch when I agreed to take AP history and Spanish but not calculus (thank goodness!)

(I’ll probably get flack for this, but I’m going to mention it anyway.) He also always told me I was pretty, even when my ever-fluctuating adolescent weight was on the top end of the yo-yo curve. To a teenage girl’s self-esteem, it mattered. A lot.

I know he hated the idea of me moving to Japan (twice!), and tried to talk me out of it both times, but ultimately supported the decision – and even came to visit once – because he knew it was something I needed to do.

When I decided to go for my PhD in my late 20s instead of getting a “regular job” he asked probing questions so we could discuss the pros and cons and the best way to make it work. And the discussions and interest continued, guilt-free, even when it took twice as long as expected to graduate.

As I went through romantic relationship after relationship, he never once gave me a guilt trip about my biological clock or his (undeniable) desire for grandchildren even though I was 40 before I finally met my husband. I’m sure that time frame was even harder for him to rationalize given that he and my mother met in high school and have been happily married ever since.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we’d have long conversations full of intimate details and unfiltered emotions. He’s definitely not that kind of dad. But he’d show interest and ask how things were going. He’d offer advice when warranted and offer objective counterpoints when he disagreed, but ultimately he let me know that he recognized my efforts and intentions, trusted my judgment and respected my decision, even when we didn’t see eye to eye.

Most importantly, even when I had genuinely messed up, even though he was really upset with me in the moment, he never belittled me or called me names, and he made it clear that he still loved me.

So to all you dads out there, how can you communicate with your daughters in a way that builds her confidence and empowers her with the skills and perspective to be a successful leader?

    • Talk to your daughter. Don’t be afraid to initiate conversations, and ask tough and sometimes personal questions to help her think through things, then be prepared to listen. Listen to truly understand her motivations rather than to identify the holes in her argument and formulate your rebuttal.
    • Challenge her to try new things, and set ambitious but attainable goals. Celebrate victories, acknowledge and praise progress and efforts. Reflect on failures together, and recognize the difference between when to say, “it’s okay, you can’t win ‘em all” and “I don’t think you really gave it your best. What happened?”
    • Invite her to initiate difficult conversations with you, and encourage her to express when she needs help, doesn’t understand something, or otherwise disagrees with you, instead of hiding her true feelings.
    • Even when she does make a mistake or otherwise does something you don’t approve of, make it clear that the you think the decision or action was dumb, not that she is stupid. Then – possibly an hour or so later after you’ve cooled off – remind her that you love her and are proud of her no matter what.

If you can fine-tune your objectivity regarding this aspect of your relationship with your daughters now – no matter what their age or family or professional status – that sets a foundation for success that no fancy MBA can match!

Do you have questions or comments about the issues in today’s post, want to know how to apply them, or how to help others with them? If so, contact me at or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss them with me personally!