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The handshake: An art form many fail to grasp

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Handshaking is an art that many of us, even some of our highest ranking officials, have not mastered. The truth is the simple act of shaking hands is anything but simple.

A proper handshake is critical to making a good first impression, particularly in business settings. While some etiquette rules have eased in recent years, my 1990 copy of Emily Post on Business Etiquette and the Emily Post Institute’s current advice for are remarkably similar. Here are some tips from the etiquette experts:

When meeting someone or greeting an acquaintance after a period of time, it’s appropriate for either person to extend their hand first. In the United States and most European countries, “Your handshake should be relaxed but firm (never limp), and you should look the other person in the eyes, smile and say, ‘I am very pleased to meet you’ or give another cordial greeting. Do not hold on to the other person’s hand or pump his or her arm,” writes Emily Post.

The “relaxed but firm” instruction seems to be particularly tricky. People who wear rings or have arthritis can recall a handshake painful enough to make them want to run screaming from the room. If in doubt, connect in the web between the thumb and forefinger, gradually clasp the other person’s hand and attempt to gauge their comfort.

On the other hand, a limp handshake or extending only the fingers and not connecting web to web gives the impression of weakness or passivity – not how you want to be perceived in either work or social situations.

What about the excessive arm pumping we’ve been seeing in the news? Even if you’re posing for a photo, the range of motion need not be more than two or three inches. In addition, twisting the other person’s arm or pulling them toward you is unnecessary and possibly offensive, as this could be taken as a sign of aggression.

Your left hand has a part to play, as well. Watch two powerful people shake hands and note how often the person who is (or who wishes to be) higher ranking, will reach up with the left hand and touch the shoulder or pat the arm of the other person. You will never watch political debates again without noticing this little dance at the beginning and end, when candidates traditionally shake hands. If in doubt about your rank, leave your left hand at your side.

Feeling under the weather? Some people have substituted a handshake with a fist bump, usually reserved for social situations. You can extend your fist and say something like, “I’m recovering from a cold.” Better yet, skip all contact, apologize and say you would rather be safe than sorry about passing along a virus. People will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Finally, what about hugging and kissing when greeting a business colleague? That’s subject for another blog. In the meantime, check out Beyond the Handshake: Hugs and the Social Kiss from the Emily Post Institute.

Embedded within the physical act of handshaking are subtle expectations involving rank, age, gender, nationality and degree of familiarity. Study the art of handshaking and you will be well on your way to making a great first impression.

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Tap the power of LinkedIn with these four tips

Linkedin Tip

I have been a fan of Wayne Breitbarth, a CPA-turned LinkedIn expert and author of The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success, ever since I heard him speak at a local business seminar a couple of years ago. When I had an opportunity to attend one of his in-person seminars last month, I jumped at the chance, partly because (true confession) I have neglected to keep up with this powerful and ever-evolving social medium, but also because Wayne’s witty, energetic teaching style makes learning fun.

Among the many tips I learned, here are four I want to share with you:

1. Download an archive of your data – now. Microsoft recently purchased LinkedIn and plans to integrate it with Office, Outlook and other products. Wayne recommends downloading an archive of your LinkedIn data now because some of it may disappear without notice. It’s easy to do: Hover over your photo in the upper right, go to Privacy & Settings > Getting an archive of your data. I chose the fast archive, which produced a zip file with my contacts, in box and other basic information that I don’t want to lose. For more tips, see Wayne’s blog on this topic.

2. Join groups that include people you want to meet. LinkedIn allows you to connect with other followers who are second-degree connections (someone who is connected to one of your contacts) – without having to send a contact request. Even though LinkedIn no longer categorizes your contacts, it still requires you to check how you know an individual (colleague, classmate, etc.), which can be a roadblock.

One caveat: The connect button in groups or “people you may know” sends the generic, LinkedIn invitation, not the personal invitation that Wayne recommends. A better option is to send the person a message first, then connect. If you’re concerned about flooding your news feed with group notices, remember that you can unsubscribe from notices or leave groups at any time.

3. Check out “Find Alumni.” One of the salespeople at the seminar said this tip alone was worth the price of admission. Let’s say I work for a Wisconsin association that offers continuing education courses for engineers. I look in “Find Alumni” for University of Wisconsin-Madison, then check engineering. Immediately, I have a list of the top 25 employers that I may want to notify about upcoming seminars. I can also see individuals I may want to reach out to. Wayne says I can stop feeling like a stalker; everyone on LinkedIn voluntarily shared this information.

4. Don’t think you’re posting too much. Thanks to LinkedIn’s proprietary algorithm, only about one in five of your posts actually appears in your contacts’ newsfeeds. Think about that: Even if you post the same information every day of the work week, your contacts will only see it once, and that’s if they’re paying attention. With the constant stream of updates, likes, shares, group discussions, expert advice and sponsored posts, it’s easy to see how your posts get lost. Wayne recommends daily status updates to stay in front of your audience.

You can execute any of the above tips without upgrading to a premium account. To learn more ways to tap the power of LinkedIn, check out Wayne’s website at www.powerformula.net.

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Six ways your association can rock the labor shortage

gig economy

Every day in the United States, 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65, a trend that will continue until 2029, when the last boomers reach the traditional age of retirement. This mass exodus from the work force is already creating a vacuum of skills and experience. The Society for Human Resource Management reports that replacing retiring Baby Boomers is one of the key challenges facing HR professionals.

Despite the demographic facts, few organizations have planned for how to retain and accommodate an aging workforce, according to the SHRM report, The New Talent Landscape: Recruiting Difficulty and Skills Shortages. Most employers are taking a wait-and-see approach to labor and skills shortages.

This demographic phenomenon presents associations with an opportunity to step up with solutions. How? By offering education, benefits and networking opportunities that support older employees who want to remain active participants in the work force.

Here are six ideas for how your association can serve older members, based on my experience as a boomer who counts herself among the many who expect to work well past 65.

Technical skills training. Everyone knows how quickly technology changes, but many employers continue to hold onto the notion that older workers can’t learn new technology. This is a generation that went off to college with manual typewriters and slide rules; we have a demonstrated ability to adapt. What training can you offer to help all of your members learn new technical skills?

Industry knowledge. Sure, we’ve “been there, done that,” but we still need to stay current in trends and developments in our field. Is your association the go-to source for developments in your industry? Are you ahead of the curve in reporting industry news? In addition to offering original content, do you help members sift through the avalanche in their in box by curating information from other sources?

Flexibility. Many older workers work part time or on a contract basis. Some choose to work in the “gig economy” because they want more control over their schedules or they are away part of the year. Others are caring for grandchildren or aging parents (or both). Or, part-time or freelance work may be the only gig they can find. How can your association offer these members the flexibility they need?

Affordability. Because employers can be reluctant to invest in the professional development of aging employees or contract workers, your older members are more likely to be paying their own membership dues and registration fees. What are some ways you can offer affordable opportunities to participate in your organization? Can you offer a membership category for part-time employees or freelancers? How about meeting for breakfast or happy hour instead of hosting more costly dinners?

Networking opportunities. If you’re part of the gig economy, you’re always looking for the next job. Members of all ages want opportunities to network that involve more than a business card exchange. How can your association help members make meaningful connections and showcase their expertise? When you’re looking for a guest blogger or workshop presenter, consider inviting older members.

Camaraderie. One of the reasons people continue to work past retirement age is the sense of belonging that comes with the workplace. Associations are ideally suited to offer members the social benefits of working together for a purpose. What are some innovative ways your association can involve members who have “graduated” from board and committee service but still want to be a part of the group?

While much has been written about recruiting and retaining younger members, I encourage you to consider how you can engage older members. In the end, we participate in associations for the same reasons younger members do – professional development, social interaction and a commitment to a common goal. Rock on!

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How to be a reporter’s favorite source: Ten tips, plus bonus tips for recorded interviews

reporter

A call from a reporter is an opportunity for you and your association to share valuable information and build your reputation among readers and viewers. A little preparation will help you get your message out and pave the way for future interviews.

  1. Ask who the reporter’s audience is, if you’re not familiar with the publication. Consider the audience and their knowledge level, and then tailor your comments accordingly.
  2. Identify what you believe is most newsworthy to his or her readers. You have a limited time to tell your story, so get to the point.
  3. Make sure you know the basics, i.e., the five Ws and H: Who will benefit? What is new or innovative? When will an event occur? Where? Why is this important? How does this advance knowledge?
  4. Be prepared with some short anecdotes and examples. Reporters will be looking for information that helps their readers relate to your comments. While you should have one or two stories in mind, be careful to avoid scripting your comments.
  5. Speak slowly; allow the reporter time to take notes.
  6. Avoid using acronyms and technical jargon.
  7. Don’t speculate. If you don’t know the answer to a question, offer to investigate and follow up with a response.
  8. End the interview by summarizing your two or three main points.
  9. Offer to share photos, graphics or links to videos that illustrate the subject. Visuals can be as simple as your head shot or your organization’s logo – anything that will add color and draw the eye to the article.
  10. Make sure the reporter has your correct name, title and organization’s name. Offer your contact information and volunteer to answer follow-up questions. Do not ask to review the article before publication.

Four Bonus Tips for Video and Audio Interviews

  1. Remember to take a millisecond break between sentences. The reporter may not be able to use your entire response. A brief pause allows for editing, without cutting you off or omitting your comment entirely.
  2. Repeat the subject of the question in your response. For example, let’s say you’re asked, “How long have you been working on this project?” Don’t say, “Five years.” Instead, say, “We started developing this project five years ago.” Parroting back the subject allows the video editor to delete the reporter’s questions and keep the focus on you, the expert.
  3. Avoid wearing small prints, checks or plaids, which create a moiré effect or rainbow pattern on camera.
  4. Offer to meet in a quiet space, away from the crowd. Not only will the sound quality be improved, but you won’t inadvertently film other people without their permission.

Finally, remember that reporters are working on deadline. If you aren’t available to comment, they will move onto someone who is. The more accessible you are, the more likely you and your organization are to be featured.

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Holy (holey? wholly?) macaroni: Don’t trust spell check

your
Who among us hasn’t dashed off an email at the end of the day, and then cringed when the morning light reveals a word that sounds similar but has a different meaning? Most of the time, it’s a simple error.

But when precise English counts, for example, when you’re (not your) writing a proposal to a prospective (not perspective) client or your annual personnel (not personal) review, build in some extra time to pore (not pour or poor) over your writing and flush (not flesh) out incorrect words.

The following is a list of commonly confused words I’ve come across while editing my own or others’ work. I’ve included some memory aids.

Accept: Always a verb meaning “to receive.” Accept an award.
Except: Means “but for.” Think of exclude.

Addition: In math, you add two numbers. You would never ed.
Edition: An editor edits a new edition of the book.

Advice: Noun meaning “guidance” or an adjective, “advice column.” Advice and guidance both end in ce.
Advise: Always a verb. Advisers advise.

Affect: Almost always a verb meaning “to change.”
Effect: Almost always a noun meaning “result.”

Assure: To calm someone.
Ensure: To make sure.
Insure: To provide insurance.

Breath: A noun that rhymes with death.
Breathe: A verb that rhymes with seethe.

Cite: Verb meaning “to name.” The police cited him in the citation. ¬¬¬
Sight: Something seen or the sense. What a sight to see!
Site: A place, as in worksite or website.

Complement: A verb meaning to supplement and a noun meaning complete.
Compliment: That’s so nice.

Council: A noun for a group of people, like a tribal council.
Counsel: Usually a verb. A counselor counsels.

Desert: A dry place like a desert island. Both have one “s.”
Dessert: Super sweet.

Foreword: Comes before chapters in a book.
Forward: Onward!

Lay: Verb that takes an object. Now I lay the baby down to sleep.
Lie: Also a verb, no object required. I too lie down, my rest to keep.

Loose: Adjective describing how something fits or something that isn’t confined. A moose is loose.
Lose: Verb that rhymes with choose. If I lose weight, my clothes will be loose.

Moot: Debatable. Up in the air, like a hoot owl.
Mute: Speechless. Rhymes with flute. You can’t talk and play a flute.

Precede: Comes before. The firetruck precedes the parade.
Proceed: The parade moves forward.

Principal: Usually an adjective meaning the first or chief. Can be a noun, as in the school principal. Originally, the school principal was the principal teacher.
Principle: A rule. Both end in le.

Set: Takes an object. I set the book on the table.
Sit: I sit in the chair to read.

Than: Used when comparing. Easier said than done.
Then: Relates to time. Think “when.”

There: Not here.
They’re: Contraction for “they are.”
Their: Possessive, like his and her. They’re going to their house.

Wave: Wave goodbye.
Waive: Waive your rights.

Who’s: Contraction for “who is.” Who’s having a party?
Whose: Possessive, like his or hers. Whose party is it?

Your: Possessive of you. What was your score?
You’re: Contraction of “you are.” You’re the best. Really, you are!

Simply becoming aware of frequently muddled words will improve your writing. But I encourage you to develop your own mental tricks – words that rhyme, familiar sayings or lyrics, visual cues (the more farfetched the better) – to help you find the right (not rite) word every time.

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How to become a better proofreader

red pen

Proofreading is a skill that can be learned. Believe me when I say that I learned it the hard way. Your writing may be eloquent, insightful, even witty, but if you get someone’s name wrong -- (McFarlane? I thought it was McFarland.) or incorrectly calculate a United Way deduction in a graphic (What? It’s twice a month?) or simply don’t know your facts (Oh, it’s Canada – not Canadian – geese.) – they will never forget it. Neither will you.

Besides years of making mistakes (see preceding paragraph), three things have helped me improve the accuracy of communications for which I’m responsible: Training, a checklist and a two-sets-of-eyes rule. 

In one of my first writing and editing jobs, it was suggested (OK, mandated) I attend a Proofamatics class. I am pleased to see that the company still exists and its techniques are the same. Proofamatics teaches you to look at a document multiple times, each time looking in different places for different types of errors. If you simply start at the first word in the upper left corner and read to the end, you will read for comprehension and overlook errors.

For example, if you’re proofreading a newsletter, you might first read the headlines, bylines, subheads, photo captions and authors’ biography paragraphs. Then, verify names, titles, numbers, times and dates. Finally, read the body text. This divide-and-conquer technique works best when you print out the pages, so you can see multiple pages at once and easily mark corrections. 

My proofreading proficiency took a second leap forward when I created a checklist, at the suggestion of my husband, who was once described as an “engineer’s engineer.” Engineers love checklists, and for good reason; they present a systematic way to make sure every step in a process is completed. And, because I don’t read from top to bottom, front to back, a checklist helps me get back on track if I’m interrupted or take a break, which I highly recommend during marathon proofreading sessions.

Over the years, I’ve modified my proofreading checklist many times to reflect different types of publications and new technology. For example, my first checklist referred to bluelines; my current one lists hyperlinks. You are welcome to a copy of my checklist, however, please know that every situation calls for different “checks.” For example, I check “TOC with actual.” That is, do the headlines and page numbers in the table of contents (TOC) match the actual magazine or newsletter content? Your documents or web pages may not have a table of contents, but they might have footnotes, address blocks or some other element not on my checklist. The point is to create a checklist that meets your individual needs.

Finally, implement a two-sets-of-eyes rule. This is particularly important when you are proofreading your own writing. Ask someone else to proofread your work before publishing it in print or online. Suggest your backup proofreader use your divide-and-conquer technique and checklist.

The techniques I’ve shared here will add time to the process, but I firmly believe that it’s time well spent. Few people will notice if your newsletter or magazine is published a day behind schedule, but leave their name off a list (Randy, I know it’s been almost 30 years, but I still feel terrible.) and they will remember forever. So will you.

If you are interested in a copy of my proofreading checklist, please email me.

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Want to engage people during meetings? Try these 6 tips.

face to face meetings

Great tips on increasing engagement during meetings — like, bring food!

I once heard a generational expert say that people my age prefer face-to-face meetings over phone calls or email. That seems like a broad generalization to make about 76 million Americans, but I will say that a meeting doesn’t have to be a waste of time – if all those involved in a project or decision are participating.

I learned a lot about leading meetings during the two terms I served on the council of a church with more than 4,000 members and an annual operating budget of more than $1 million. The church was growing rapidly, which meant the council needed to reach consensus on a series of issues related to property, staffing and resources.

Every year, when new council members started their terms, the senior pastor laid down the ground rules: “If you have something to say, say it here, not in a meeting after the meeting in the church parking lot.” He also said, “Debate all you want during the meeting, but when we leave this room, we stand united.” Those are good rules when you have volunteers making decisions in matters that members care deeply about. Truth be told, those are good rules for any group.

The pastor started every council meeting by asking each person to offer a brief joy and concern. I’ve noticed that people who speak early on in meetings tend to participate more throughout the meeting, so I started using the joys-and-concerns tactic at work. I started meetings by asking each participant to briefly share something on their minds: It could be anything – news about a client, a rapidly approaching deadline, a sick dog – you name it. Take five minutes to let people say what’s on their mind and you clear the way for productive participation, plus you become aware of other issues that may need your attention.

When major decisions were about to be put to a vote, the pastor asked each person to comment. When people know they will be asked to articulate a response – more than a yea or nay – they tend to consider it more carefully. More than once, after going around the table and hearing others’ responses, someone would say, “Wait. I’ve changed my mind.” Yes, the meetings could run late, but the decisions were solid.

Other suggestions, based on countless hours spent in meetings:

Prepare people to participate. Send a brief agenda with the topics you want to discuss and specific goals for the meeting. Tell participants how they can contribute. For example, if “leadership retreat” is an agenda item, consider writing “make a decision about the retreat destination – bring one or two location suggestions.”

Offer food. There is something almost magical about breaking bread together that helps people open up. I think it’s hardwired into our makeup to feel more at ease with people we share nourishment with, so bring doughnuts.

Encourage everyone to be fully present. If people are looking at their laptops, whispering in a side conversation, texting or passing notes (it happens!), you’re going to find people have less and less to say because they perceive that others aren’t listening.

Give people the freedom to fail. If the environment doesn’t allow for human error, humans will stop participating. “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one,” said Elbert Hubbard. People engage with the group when they feel safe.

Practice the Golden Rule. Encourage participants to treat others as they wish to be treated. Just as parents are encouraged to separate the behavior from the child, people sometimes need to be reminded to challenge the idea, not the person. Taunting or putting someone down in front of others is not acceptable.

End on a high note. I won’t suggest you end every meeting with a prayer, as the church council did, although you might want to say a silent one. Instead, wrap up by explaining what the next steps are, acknowledging the group’s accomplishment and recognizing the value of everyone’s contribution. Everyone will leave the room feeling like their time was well spent.

Comment, call or email me (hey, we could even meet!) with your tips for making meetings time well spent.

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When it comes to awards, it’s always Green Acres

Green acres

 

Hardly a week goes by, it seems, without an awards show. The Oscars, Emmys, Screen Actors Guild, All Star, Top 10, Hall of Fame, Best of Everything, People’s Choice, Reader’s Choice, Taster’s Choice. Come to think of it, when isn’t it awards season?

I love to celebrate success, but even I am growing weary of what seems to be an increasing number of invented awards. By that I mean awards programs conceived by enterprise to recognize deserving people, products and ideas, but also to create “news” that fills magazine editorial pages, sells advertising space, and fills seats at conferences and dinner tables. Look past the acrylic and veneer, and you will see that not only are awards good publicity for the recipients, they are good for the businesses that sponsor them.

Not all awards are invented. However, if the entry fees are steep, if the “judges” stand to benefit financially from your participation, or if there is an evident quid pro quo, e.g., your mailing list so they can invite 200 of your closest colleagues to celebrate with you, then you might want to take a moment to ask yourself if your prize is someone else’s profit center.

Associations also bestow awards. The difference is that these awards traditionally are a means for members to recognize and celebrate their peers. The awards serve as a reminder of why the association exists, to recognize service and dedication to the organization, or to raise the bar for professional achievement. In short, these awards are earned.

Association awards rarely make the covers of glossy magazines and often get lost in the competition for eyeballs that all organizations now find themselves in. The never-ending awards season diminishes the value of all awards, both invented and earned.

Wondering why Green Acres was capitalized in the title of this blog? I will own up that, in 1980, I received a National Arbor Day Foundation Award on behalf of the University of Wisconsin. To this day, I don’t know who nominated the campaign I helped create or why I was chosen to represent the UW. I can say I was hugely honored and literally shaking in my high heels when I accepted the award. Regrettably, the foundation’s spokesperson, Green Acres star Eddie Albert, was detained in Hollywood. I have photos.

But, that’ll cost you.

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Is print dead?

Newsweek

At the end of 2012, when Newsweek magazine ceased printing and moved all content online, some media observers declared print was “dead.” Predictions were that, within a decade, all content would be online, accessed by on-the-go readers using tablets and other smart devices.

Immediacy, accessibility, searchability, interactivity, embedded video – all available for free – give online media huge competitive advantages over traditional print. Early in the online vs. print debate, magazine and newspaper publishers questioned how they could hold onto paid subscribers if they gave away the content on their website. Publication websites were mostly placeholders, where past issues could be warehoused along with media kits and subscription information.

Now, more publications are making their websites their primary delivery method. The shift from traditional print to web forces publishers to rethink every aspect of their business. How can they continuously produce fresh content? Where will the revenue come from to support a staff of writers, editors, designers and salespeople? Can they afford to create two versions of the publication? How will they build in interactivity? Who will monitor and respond to readers’ comments? How will they use social media to extend their reach?

One of the magazines to which I contribute articles from our members made this transition in the past year. Now, instead of submitting a bimonthly column for the print magazine, we are posting a weekly blog written by our members. The editors then choose among the blog posts for the print edition, based on web traffic and knowledge of their print audience.

I believe the publishers that reinvent themselves as online content providers will be the ones that flourish in the future. They will examine traditional business models and develop new ways to attract readers and advertisers. They will provide a nonstop flow of information that it is timely and relevant. They will engage readers in conversations that add perspective to the content. Their websites will be multimedia, multidimensional vehicles for news, opinion, entertainment and connectivity.
Print isn’t dead, but I think it’s safe to say it’s on the endangered list. Start charging your smart devices.

 

Addendum: Shortly after I finished writing this blog, the new owners of Newsweek announced they would resume publishing a print version of the magazine in January or February. The New York Times reported that the magazine will focus on in-depth, global reporting and rely on subscribers rather than advertisers for revenue, which will result in higher subscription rates. I look forward to seeing how this develops.

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