Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Name Game

I have three 'names' associated with my three lives.The first one is my maiden name and the name that I use in my business and on all of my legal forms. It was returned to me via the divorce document and I immediately set about to change my driver's license, utilities, and business cards. I have had my real name back for 9 years now during which time I bought a home and started a business. I like the name I was born with and intend to keep it...for most things.

The second name I have is my former married name.  Even though the judge gave me my real name back (a situation I found a bit odd-that as a woman I had to be allowed to have my old name back) my children's friends still called me 'Mrs. Smith' because that's my name when I enrolled my children into that school and being polite parochial school children, they defaulted to that name anyway.  It is awkward even now for my adult children to introduce me as anything other than 'This is my mom' so I still am called 'Mrs. Smith' a few times a month. 

Lastly I have my new married name. I have been newly remarried for 2 1/2 years and did not change my real name to my husband's name when I remarried. He couldn't have cared less. Us having the same last name makes us no more or less married or committed to one another. I do however call myself by that new last name when I'm calling utility companies (he was here before I moved in) or home repair people who need constant referrals to 'my husband' so I don't feel like I'm as likely to be scammed.

I've pondered this name business for a while now. The tradition of changing a woman's name to match her husband's has been in America since it's inception. Some countries apparently have the husband take the wife's name or hyphenate the names for the children.  When I was married the first time in my very early twenties, changing my name was exciting and made me feel very married and attached. After my divorce, taking my own name back really gave me a sense of identity and accomplishment.  Now if I had it to do all over again (I know, famous words) I would have kept my name all along and demanded that my children have hyphenated last names, or at least my maiden name as their middle names. Names are so important. They are a label of your life. Even if it wasn't a terrible hassle to change licenses, passports, social security cards, credit cards, etc I wouldn't do it and now I probably wouldn't have been attracted to a man in the first place who had such a possessive view of the whole thing.

I like MY name and I'm keeping it. I've worked hard to establish a professional identity with it as well as a personal comfort level with who I am and my name represents that. Have most of you changed your name? Will you?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Being a Good Session Attendee

I sent in a presentation in March in response to a call for presenters for a large industry conference taking place in October.  When it's March, October is a really really long time away. Much to my surprise they accepted my proposal and I was deemed a 'presenter'. Now all of a sudden!, I only have 3 weeks to complete my presentation and I have no idea where to start. And, not only do I have to figure out what in the world to say to sound like I match that well written bio for an hour and 15 minutes, I also have to determine just how it is that I plan to even resemble the fresh face and thinner me in that darn pic! I have no idea what shoes to wear either.  Don't mock, these are serious considerations when trying to look smart, competent, THINNER, and sober in front of your peers for over an hour.

I like to teach classes and seminars but speaking at industry functions is a struggle for me. Sometimes you get a tough crowd. Other self-proclaimed experts make me nervous as do those who seem to be too eagerly lapping up what I'm saying. It has made me a much better listener and attendee to other people's presentations though. So in the hopes that my efforts to be good to my fellow presenters will bring me good listeners in October, I am sharing  three ways I think attendees can help a speaker during a presentation and I'm praying my audience is full of these types in October.

Smile at the Presenter and Look Interested
If I'm feeling a bit unsure of my audience when I'm presenting I always choose a friendly face in the crowd to talk to until I'm back in the groove. I now try to be that friendly face while attending seminars and conferences. I try not to spend too much time staring at the list I may be making or the doodles I'm drawing even if I have no interest in the speaker at all. Surveying  your audience and finding everyone looking down, writing (when you know you haven't just said something brilliant), and talking to the person beside them is just demoralizing for a speaker. Try to appear attentive and not unhappy.

Ask Questions or Give Examples if Asked
Most presenters will ask questions at various points during a presentation. This helps them engage the audience and make sure that they're talking about what the attendees want to hear. As a speaker it is especially difficult to ask for anyone to share an example of what you're describing or to ask a question and to have absolutely no audience feedback.  Try to step up and help your presenter out if no one else is interacting with them, it really makes a difference. Usually once the first audience member has participated, others will follow.

Attend The Right Sessions
Sounds simple but sometimes attendees see the title of a presentation but don't read the description or the objectives. Then they're bored or give the speaker a bad grade on the surveys. I believe in helping speakers by being honest about their presentations but don't blame them if you went to an entry level presentation and were bored. Which leads me to...

Fill Out the Survey Form 
Each event I have participated in as a presenter has provided survey forms to the attendees following my presentation. They are always less than 10 questions and can be completed in a few minutes.  Please fill them out and be constructive if you need to criticize. Honing the speaker craft is a tricky undertaking and having useful feedback is extremely valuable.

If You're Bored to Death
If you're in a session and you think that it's the worst thing you've ever heard at least try to get one good nugget from it. As my grandmother said,  "Even a broken clock is right twice a day".  You can learn something from everyone. If a speaker seems to be drifting from the topic, politely ask a question to get them back on. Make it a point to try to learn if you're there already right?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Why strive for Balance?

It is 6:03pm on a Friday and I'm sitting at my desk.  My hardworking husband is 12 hours into his day (major renovation, lots of computer stuff for him to do) and my prodigal 21 year old came in a few hours ago from his father's house where he has conveniently escaped to avoid making decisions about his future and he and his 18 year old brother are at the movies. The dogs have jumped onto the couch upstairs even though they most definitely know they aren't supposed to be there-confirmed continually by the fact that I hear them jump up there almost directly over my head only when I'm safely back down here in the office and they will immediately jump off (not quietly mind you, two golden retrievers are not quiet) when they hear me coming back up the steps. Even the normally pesky cat is asleep on the bookcase behind me.  And I am at my desk.

Many people will comment about my 'luck' at having a home office and then go on to say how easy it must be for me to get things done while I'm working from home. The inference is that I simply work at will. Others have said that it must be nice to have a shorter work day since I'm not trekking into the city every day. Neither of these is even remotely true. I work way too much...sometimes missing the RPM and Torque balance 
and often because of poor planning or ill-prepared starts. And I am never happier than when I am right here in this office working on something.

I haven't come up with a way to go for any length of time without thinking about work. I am constantly checking the blackberry. I find myself only half paying attention when my husband or boys are telling me a story lasting longer than 30 seconds. I feel guilty when I let my issues of Inc Magazine gather without being read.  I don't know how to find a balance in my life between the work I love and a company I co-own and everything and anything else.

I've tried all of the expert suggestions. I have 'no blackberry' times but that isn't effective. I'm still thinking about what could be happening: who could be calling with a question, what contracts have been received, what important blog post that could change my life was just tweeted into my account.  It isn't the doing I can't disconnect from it's the thinking about doing that I have trouble with. 

It isn't a lack of confidence in our team. It most definitely isn't a feeling that only I can make everything perfect by simply keeping my finger on the pulse. It isn't a lack of wonderful people in my life or a dissatisfaction with my family. I love love love my life. I adore my husband and like my sons most of the time. I simply love being in love with work. It's like an infatuation that won't end. I want the blackberry blinking that I have work email as my last vision at night and my first view of each day. I get giddy when I talk about our upcoming events and our clients. I feel smarter, younger, lighter in my office than anywhere else. It isn't a bad thing most of the time.  But it isn't some perfect balance either. 

The coping mechanism for me lately has been simply to refuse to address it. I'm so tired of feeling guilty for loving my work. I believe I wouldn't be having this wonderful affair if I didn't have other great things in my life. I don't need this feeling to fill a void or compensate for a lack of something else. I don't want balance right now. Is that so wrong?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I Think Southern Baptist Preachers and Bloggers Have Much in Common

I was writing a post yesterday  (this Johnny Carson one, my new second favorite) and I realized that I was typing in a way that reminded me of many sermons I heard growing up. I don't mean any disrespect to any Preachers*, I'm a believer myself although I'm no longer protestant.  But just to confirm my epiphany that good bloggers and good Preachers used alot of the same skills I spent a few hours reading lots of posts. I realized that there are many similarities between good bloggers and Preachers.

My Carson blog was an entire  post based on one simple quote attributed to Johnny Carson. That quote was 14 words long and yet I found three very convincing, meaningful and practical truths in it.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard sermons based on one single quote. From 'Jesus Wept' I've heard 3 hour presentations.  So the main commonality I find is the ability to take one quote/idea/simple thought and milk from it many interesting points and ideas.

Another thing I found among great blogs I read and good Preachers I've heard was the ability to let me paint a very real personal visual based on their words. I remember vividly the mental picture I had of hell as a scary dark place as well as the image of heaven I had where I might actually be able to sing on key. The blogs I enjoy reading illustrate the author's life or situation in such a way that I can imagine myself there. Reading business blogs outlining the '250 Ways You Can Kill Your Business Online without Meaning to' conjure up horrible visions of me with long periods between pedicures...NOT a pleasant thought. The ability to give the reader a visual they get immediately was a common talent among bloggers and Preachers I enjoyed.

Blogs that change my mood or attitude and compel me to do something also fall into this similarity category. All of my preaching experiences involved an Altar Call, the bloggers equivalent of a good closing that moves you to do something. The point of being preached to was ultimately to finish with you being compelled to do something: repent, re-commit, donate, change your horrible life, etc. A good blogger does the same thing. They know how to leave you at the end of the blog with a definite idea that you should respond in some way and most tell you exactly what that way is: leave a post, follow this blog, donate to this cause or buy this book.  And if you're persuaded to act, then you've had an experience, not just listened or read during that time.
*Preachers is capitalized through-out this piece. As a former Southern Baptist and as a born and bred southerner, a Preacher is someone who deserves to be capitalized.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

More Proof That Johnny Carson Was Brilliant

I'm a member of an industry message board/listserve that is fairly active.  I rarely comment and don't even check the messages daily but  several weeks ago I did and someone had posted this great quote attributed to Johnny Carson, "My success just evolved from working hard at the business at hand each day." Wow.  How simple is that?

Three things in that one quote are just genius :  He worked hard, he worked hard every single day, and he worked at the business at hand each day.There is a manual for success wrapped up in that one sentence. This is what I learned from that quote that I'm trying to apply to my own business life in my success quest.

The first and most obvious thing that jumps out at me is that he worked hard.  He didn't say he worked hard until he got famous or that he worked hard and took long vacations. He worked hard. Working hard isn't working until you sweat or until you're in a frenzy. Working hard is working smart. It's persevering when you face challenges, working to fix problems that are standing in the way of productivity, and always keeping your goals clearly defined so that all of your actions are movements toward them. I now evaluate my work situation weekly. What challenges have I let take the wind out of my sails, what processes could I streamline and what have I accomplished that is tangible and quantifiable?  This is how I make sure I'm working hard and smart.

The second thing that struck me was what Carson said he worked on. He didn't say he pursued a crazy idea every day. He didn't say he relished his job as boss and delegated and passively managed things all day long. He very pointedly said that he worked hard at the business at hand. Sometimes this can be a real struggle for an entrepreneur. Many (personally I'd say most) entrepreneurs are risk takers and challenge seekers.  Read that as people who have the attention span of a gnat and spend a great deal of their lives having great ideas about the next big thing. For me it is probably the single biggest challenge I face. Often the business at hand isn't fun. Often it is boring and sometimes downright unpleasant. I own a business with a small group of people. We don't all have personal assistants and more often than not I'm doing my own filing and typing. But that is the business at hand. And I have seen that nothing big can happen if you aren't taking care of every little detail. So I make a list every day and I've learned how to sync my tasks on my blackberry and my desktop. I make sure every single day that I am taking care of the business at hand so the future takes care of itself (to some degree).

Lastly he said that he took care of the business at hand each day. He didn't say on the days he felt like it or on the days that he wasn't on vacation. He said he worked hard each day. I've always been a hard worker and as a professional who has a commute-free office, I work harder and more than I ever did at an office for someone else.  But I realized I wasn't always working the same each day.  Between my short attention span and my lack of a time clock I was always working some days much harder/longer/productively than others. Consistency is key to success and I didn't always understand that. In the few weeks as I've been working on changing my habits I've found that working at a steady pace each day, on a consistent list of evenly distributed priorities is far more productive for me personally than working several 15 hour days like a fiend and then just being bored of it for the day after.

I've made a schedule, I keep a goal for each day and I make sure that I keep myself from daydreaming too much about the next big project instead of really consistently relishing the details of the business at hand. What do you think of the success manual masquerading as a simple quote?

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Power of Your Network

We (the company I own/work for) is launching a new project.  We had an idea (no alcohol involved), we researched and found some actual history that led us to believe it had a reasonable chance of success if done properly, and we all got on the phone from our various corner offices and non-corner offices to go through the logistics and timeline of the project and steps to its launch.  And then we had the 'network' talk.  And that, as they say, has made all of the difference.

Malcom Gladwell's gargantuan bestseller 'The Tipping Point' is a wonderful read and in his discussion's about social interaction and influence he introduces the notion of three main types of people that make things happen: Mavens, Connectors, and Salesmen.  I agree a thousand times over with most every premise in the book but most definitely in the understanding that having a personal/professional network inclusive of these people makes all of the difference in the world between success or failure. It most certainly has been illustrated for us in this current launch.

I think I am more of a salesmen type-not the genius who interprets body language and hypnotizes people with my mere presence-the kind who likes to persuade people to agree with me, or more importantly want to participate in and assist the success of my projects. I also try to serve as a connector whenever possible. If you haven't read the book I highly recommend it.

For this project my colleagues and I took a look at all the folks that were friends or at least friendly acquaintances (our network) with connections of any kind in the project niche.  We also looked at peripheral networks we might have such as Linkedin groups, our corporate twitter accounts, or professional association memberships we possessed. We each were tasked with talking to each of those in our 'network' about what we were doing and how we needed assistance. We also developed the philanthropic aspects of our project so those we approached could help from a purely charitable standpoint if nothing else. We then set out to spread the good word.  Those we knew were the more valuable connectors and also those we knew the best, we met with in person when possible.  The others we called, emailed, or a combination of both.

Within a day we knew that one particular friendly acquaintance 'John' was golden for us.  There are three reason he and any golden network member has such impact.  First 'John' is a connector to his very core...he knows everyone and practices connecting.  Secondly, we had worked with him on a project near to his heart in the past and done it well so he had confidence in working with us. Lastly he liked us and people like a personal connection kind of way, and we all like him. John is the perfect connector to make sure you have in your network:someone who connects as habit, someone who believes in you and what you're doing, and someone for whom others have affection and a desire to help

Because of just two key introductions he made on our behalf, we were able to accomplish 80% of the groundwork in record time.  But he didn't just introduce us to two good people, he made sure to introduce us to two people just like him.  Two people who loved to connect, who were familiar with our company's work on something they held dear AND who liked their affection/respect for him was transferred to us by the virtue of his personal introduction.  That is how it happens when it all goes right.

Take some time to look at your network.  Remember to include not just your obvious close associates but to be mindful of indirect connections through social media, trade organizations, high school alums, etc that can be effective.  Identify which folks within those networks are best suited for the task you have to accomplish.  A connector is what I needed because our projects require lots of marketing and attendee support.  Perhaps you don't have a salesman on board for your particular project and need one.  Matching your network resource to the need is crucial.

Don't be afraid to reach out to them once you've identified them. Make sure that you have support materials that can be used when you call, email, or visit your network. Depending on your project or need this can be a simple tag line or a complex brochure. Give your connection or salesperson all the info they need to connect or sell on your behalf. 

If you realize that you don't have much of a network or that you haven't examined the one you have then take a day or two to make a network plan. First make a list of the folks you do know, those you've worked on project with in the past who are happy, those who you've helped out, or those you admire.  All great people to list.  Next make a list of your indirect or possibly network influencers...this is your linkedin profile, your linkedin groups, your association contacts, and your prospects that didn't come to fruition but who you still met/know have some connection to your project subject matter. You will probably start to realize that you have more of a network than you realize. 

If you don't have a list that is longer than you thought it would be, then you need a plan to cultivate a network. It isn't extremely difficult but it does take some time. I'll include more information on building a network in subsequent posts.

How has networking or activating your network proven successful for you?