Specializing in social marketing and business communications training

10 Memorable Communication Quotes from Dr. Maya Angelou

angelou_mayaWhen word spread that renowned author, poet, and civil rights activist Dr. Maya Angelou had died at age 86, tributes to her life poured onto social media. Many on Twitter shared their favorite quotes.

Traditional media provided background on Dr. Angelou’s early life. Reporter Emma Brown writes in The Washington Post:

“As a child growing up in the Jim Crow South, Maya Angelou was raped by her mother’s boyfriend; as a young woman, she worked briefly as a brothel madam and a prostitute. From those roots in powerlessness and violence, she rose to international recognition as a writer known for her frank chronicles of personal history and a performer instantly identified by her regal presence and rich, honeyed voice.”

Here are 10 quotes from Dr. Angelou, a communicator who leaves a void in American culture, and the world.

1. “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.”

2. “When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we’re capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness. I’m trying for that. But I’m also trying for the language. I’m trying to see how it can really sound.”

3. “Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”

4. “The main thing in one’s own private world is to try to laugh as much as you cry.”

5. “All great artists draw from the same resource: the human heart, which tells that we are all more alike than we are unalike.”

6. “The best candy shop a child can be left alone in is the library.”

7. “I make writing as much a part of my life as I do eating or listening to music.”

8. “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

9. “If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love.”

10. “The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.”

Oprah Winfrey, who has been mentored by Dr. Angelou from the time they met in Baltimore in the 1980s, describes the poet laureate as her “sister friend.”

My favorite quote from the list is No. 10. Yours?


(Image Via)

Rethinking Communication: 3 Areas You Must Not Ignore

Crystal beads at the CosmopolitanTechnology has turned our interpersonal communication upside down.  If you think back 10 years, only advertising and marketing pros regularly uttered the words relevant, attention, and experience. Now, we’re all working our collective rear ends off to create relevant content that grabs people’s attention so they can experience our brand and content.

In other words, it’s time to rethink our business communication.  

Research finds that my fellow digital immigrants have to move away from the linear progression learning model that we used in the pre-tech days. Sorry to report that cumbersome spreadsheets are history. 

Digital natives can put us to shame with quick analyses of data because they consume nugget-sized information that’s visually documented in a pie chart or simple graph.

And from college professors, I hear firsthand that marketing and sales students are in dire straits when it comes to basic telephone skills. Not texting, but live conversations, vocal habits, and etiquette. It’s difficult to improve verbal communication when you use your phone for typing and not talking.

Regardless of the faction you are in, we all must realize that failure to adapt and lousy communication skills can hinder your career.  

As we fight that nasty brain overload every single day, consider the attention, relevance, and experience you bring to each of these forms of communication. How can you sharpen your skills?

Your e-mails:  The subject line and opening sentence must be relevant to your reader. Get their attention by telling them what you are sharing and why it’s important (relevant) to them. When they are done reading your electronic message, has their experience been frustrating and confusing? Let’s shoot for written messages that have a logical flow and are easy-to-understand. Long e-mails often lose the reader.   TL:DR. Translation: Too Long, Didn’t Read.

Your social channels: The messages you post in LinkedIn groups, on Facebook walls, and in Twitter chats have to be meaningful (relevant) to others. If you promote your new book, a quote or self-serving mention may seem like a smooth marketing move. But bring the reader a deeper experience by sharing a link to a related blog post or slide deck. Capture their attention but don’t dead-end them. Savvy marketers will grab your attention, and KEEP it.

Your phone conversations: If you’re out-of-touch with the original premise of why telephones were invented, let’s go back to the days when phones weren’t so smart. It was the people expressing themselves and conveying messages who were (apparently) smart…or not. The phone was simply the vehicle, not the brains. That’s what we humans are for.  There is an art to using your vocal vitality and following the flow of the spoken word. There’s something to be said for communicating a complete thought in a complete sentence.   

Remember the wise words of Eric Harvey: The style and tone of your communications are messages in and of themselves.



3 ways to write positive news headlines in a negatively charged world

A rainy September day at the George Washington Bridge in New York.

A rainy September day at the George Washington Bridge in New York.

It’s time to kill the ‘headline fear factor.’

Anyone who writes or produces content could be guilty of spewing fear throughout communities.  

Bright, well-educated, and good-intentioned people who are cognizant of the power of headlines and SEO have followed the media’s poor example of sharing negativity to get people’s attention.

I was a news reporter and news director for 10 years.  I have zero tolerance for newscasts and talk shows that work hard to drag us down.  

Last week, the TV weatherman declared: “More rain tomorrow means another dismal day in…”  It’s rain, not the damn plague.  

Yes, horrific things happen. Yes, headlines may sell. But the world just doesn’t need any more negative crap to digest.

If you don’t believe me, listen closer to what we’re being told. Remember the weatherman I just described. 

Flip This

Are you writing posts and titles with words such as “pitfalls” and “mistakes”?

Let’s flip things around. I encourage you to use language that reflects a positive and helpful attitude.

Set the tone with words that are upbeat and encouraging. Leave the blunders, mistakes, and failures for someone else.

Consider these examples:

1. “7 Mistakes Parents Make When Selecting Colleges” can be changed to “7 Tips to Selecting the Best College for Your Child”

2. “Common Missteps that Small Business Owners Make Their First Year” can be flipped to “Tips for Small Business Success.”

3. “10 Pitfalls of Social Media Campaigns” can be reworded to “10 Successful Social Media Strategies.”

The headlines and titles of your articles, blogs, and programs are the magnet to draw readers and potential business into your pipeline. 

Pique interest with emotional and positive words and phrases that speak directly to your readers and their success.

Using positive language and an upbeat tone instead of scare tactics and poison will have a subtle but important impact. We need more hope and less pessimism in our world. 

Today’s takeaway: Be the fountain, not the drain.

12 things you can do right now to supercharge your business

seagull on beachThe lazy days of summer are upon us, and many people in the working world insist that business is dead. Or is it?

Instead of whining that everyone is on vacation or not signing contracts, it’s time to set yourself up for success.

Whether you work for a company or own a business, these 12 suggestions will strengthen your professional and personal development:

1. Create a short survey for your blog or customers to gather feedback on how you can best serve them.

2. Update your social profiles to be sure each one conveys a clear, concise, and compelling message on why people should do business with you. Hint: Focus on their challenges.

3. Call three local people you haven’t been in touch with in at least six months and schedule coffee or lunch. Offer them a couple of referrals before they ask.

4. Find three new specific ways to market yourself or your organization.

5. Sign up for a class on public speaking. It’s a must for successful business communicators.

6. Record a few short videos or slide decks for your website and be sure to cross-promote them in your social networks.

7. Commit to finding five chats and groups on Twitter and LinkedIn. Target online communities where your ideal clients spend time. Plan to participate in at least two on a regular basis.

8. Learn an alternative to PowerPoint. Are you familiar with Empressr, Sliderocket, Haiku Deck (for iPADs), and Prezi? They are all free, and fun to play around with.

9. Write three handwritten notes to past or current clients expressing gratitude for your work together.

10. Evaluate the goals and plans you created at the beginning of the year. Make adjustments and tweaks as needed so the rest of the year is wildly successful.

11. Read a personal development book or the biography of someone you admire. Concentrate on the traits he or she developed to overcome difficulties. 

12. Research contests in your industry that you may be eligible for and mark your calendar for awards submission deadlines.

  Do you have additional tips to add to the list?

6 social tools for communicating in our new era

Have you noticed our collective world seems to be all about convenience, time, and social media? 

Based on this, I want to share a few social tech tools for efficiently communicating in our new digital era.

  1.  Headline Analyzer from the Advanced Marketing Institute –Need help writing psychologically powered headlines that compel people to read—and buy—from you?  Business communicators and sales professionals understand that buying a product, service, or idea, is based on emotions. That’s where this simple tool comes into play.

AMI explains the “emotional marketing value of a headline” on its website: “We have developed a software program which has access to our EMV impact words. The program uses special algorithms to quickly compare the words of your headline with the words from the EMV Impact list.”

What’s the importance of a high EMV rating?  “The key to communication is being able to reach the client at an emotional level. Involving them in your copy, and invoking their deeper thoughts,” states the AMI site.  “While many marketers ‘guess’ how people will react to various words and offers, we have determined a test which will give you an actual rating that you can use to judge how well-received your copy will be to others.”

2. Recitethis.com allows users to insert their own verbiage, quote, or phrase to create a personalized graphic in mere seconds. Users also have the option of pulling a quotation from the site’s library. “Turn a quote into a masterpiece” is the site’s mantra. Here’s an example: 


3.  Bottlenose.com  “We analyze and map the world’s attention in real-time. It’s live, visual, interactive and seriously smart.” That’s the homepage message from Bottlenose.com, a monitoring and analytics tool that’s been in beta for a while. Tech reporters say this newbie can give Google a run for its money. The $1 million in new seed funding should help. Christina Farr writes on Venturebeat.com: “Bottlenose infuses social elements into your search ‘stream’ — a term the company uses to refer to the sea of status updates and news. Search for a term on the website, and Bottlenose will surface what the world thinks, organized by relevance to you. Social search is Google’s greatest weakness…” This is a new, real-time dimension into who is paying attention to your company, brand, marketing campaigns, and competitors.

 4. Poll Everywhere– This has been around for a while, but not many communicators or speakers know about it, and use it. Poll Everywhere is an audience response tool that allows users to “gather live responses in any venue: conferences, presentations, classrooms, radio, TV, print — anywhere. And because it works internationally with texting, web, or Twitter, its simplicity and flexibility are earning reviews,” according to its website.

 5. Prezi.com seems to be the successor to PowerPoint.  With complaints about boring bullet points and excessive text, many communicators—myself included—are turning to Prezi. The tag line, “Make your presentations zoom,” helps us understand how this cloud-based software works. The analogy the company website uses is that the main point of your topic is in a graphic or image form, similar to the outside of a house. With each click and zoom, the topic is broken down into detail, or the rooms of the house.

6. Awesome Screenshot prides itself on capturing, annotating, and sharing screenshots. “Capture the whole page or any portion, annotate it with rectangles, circles, arrows, lines and text, one-click upload to share.” This can spice up your presentations, marketing materials, web pages, tutorials, and more.

Are you familiar with any or all of these? Is it time to start using them? Which nifty tech tools do you want to share with us?



5 Royal Communication Lessons from ‘The King’s Speech’

If I were famed movie critic Roger Ebert, I would recommend that anyone who communicates with another human being should see the acclaimed movie, The King’s Speech.  I’m not the only one impressed with this movie. It won four Academy Awards. 

This is not “just” for professional communicators, bloggers, or PR pros.  There are layers of lessons in this film. Here’s the thumbnail; the takeaway’s follow. 

The Kings Speech is based on the true story of King George VI, played by Colin Firth.  Following the 1939 death of his father and the abdication of his older brother, “Bertie” reluctantly assumes the role of monarch. England is on the brink of war and desperately needs a strong leader. Here’s the problem. Bertie has stammered and stuttered all of his life. He’s  afraid to jump into this very public role.  The underlying reasons for his speech impediment run deep.  Bertie’s able to address the challenge with the help of an eccentric speech therapist, Lionel Logue, portrayed by actor Geoffrey Rush. As the speech therapy evolves, so does a touching and unexpected friendship between the two men.  

Here are five communication lessons for all of us:

1. Have faith in your own voice.

Bertie was so accustomed to being teased and ignored by the powerful men in his family, that he actually believed he didn’t have a voice. That’s why he couldn’t get the words out. Are your words getting stuck in your throat like Bertie’s? 

2.  Listen to me!

Here’s a dialogue between Bertie and Lionel: 

King: L-listen to me…listen to me!

Lionel: Why should I waste my time listening to you?

King: Because I have a voice!

Lionel: …yes, you do.

Are you using your voice in the most effective way possible? Are you silently begging others to pay attention to your message, brand, or blog post?  As Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg has said: Do you have a seat at the table or are you on the perimeter?  You have a voice. Yes, you do.

3. Present your best version. 

In an interview, actor Geoffrey Rush (Lionel), said, “I think there’s a greater metaphor at work. You could see this film and not think it’s a film about someone who stammers but about how do we present the best versions of ourselves.” 

Are you proud or shamed by your public persona? How is that conveyed to others? How can you do better?

4. Open your mouth…and…

Richard Brooks included this line in his review in the Sunday Times:  “Just before the opening of parliament in November 1940, he (Bertie) wrote: ‘Logue, I’ve got the jitters. I woke up at one this morning after dreaming I was in parliament with my mouth wide open and I could not say a word.’”

Have you experienced the nightmare of being speechless?  The minds of communicators can be cruel. Could you possibly run out of words?

5. Speak to and for the people.

Colin Firth said, “Rhetoric was important in that job. When he spoke, the nation felt he spoke to and for them. Yet he felt that he couldn’t speak.”

Do you feel you can speak and connect with others? Or are you hiding behind the quotes, blog posts, and Tweets that you ghostwrite for someone else? 

The King’s Speech  is worth a trip to the movie theater. Don’t wait for the DVD version. It’s that good. And it’s really funny, too.

The #1 Challenge Facing Millennials in the Workforce

Professor Kevin Freeman has his finger on the pulse of college students who are learning communication skills. We talked recently about this new generation and the greatest challenge they face as they enter the workforce.



“The biggest hurdle this millennial generation is facing is that they are not recognizing the significance in the job market of effective communication. And that is because a lot of them spend a lot of time engaged in cell phone activity, and computers. Perhaps they’re not as interactive when it comes to face-to-face meetings and discussions. But they all have the ability and talent to bring it forth. It’s a matter of dipping in and finding out their real skills. What happens is that a lot of the students have not had the opportunity at the high school level or early on in their careers here in college to provide them with the kind of communication skills they need to move forward in the professional community they are going to be part of.

It’s very interesting that there have here’s been surveys done around college campuses and they always speak about how important effective communication will be in the workforce. I’m looking at it in this classroom with 24 students who all will need effective communication skills in the future.”

Celebrating 10 Milestones and Lessons of an Entrepreneur

writing cert. 1st gradeTen years ago in March, I ventured into the unknown, signed the incorporation papers in the State of New Jersey and launched my company. Susan Young Media Relations has since morphed into Get in Front Communications (more name change/incorporation papers, this time in Texas). A time of celebration, of looking back, of lessons learned. This is my “Entrepreneur’s Baby Book.” Please, indulge me. I promise there are no pictures of me sitting on Santa’s lap.

Year 1 – In business, we don’t call it “first steps and learning to walk.” We call it hustle. I had real paying clients and wrote on the white board in my home office: “My job is to make the phone ring.” Lesson Learned: A good reputation, customer service and referrals are priceless.

Year 2– “The Terrible Two’s” = September 11th. I work with the media in New Jersey and New York and have to educate my clients that unless their story is in someway connected to the horrific events of 9/11, they are on hold indefinitely  for news pitches and coverage.   Lesson Learned: There’s not a business school or book that could have trained me for this. Like parents, I had to fly by the seat of my pants. There was no manual or protocol. I remember my own children and their “Terrible Two’s:  This too shall pass.”

Year 3– The Growth Spurt. No one could promote my company better than I could. I started focusing on speaking and writing, which led to more clients. Advertisers would call and ask if I wanted to pay for an ad in their publication. I told them I don’t advertise. They asked how I get my clients.  They come to me. Lesson Learned: Growth spurts often bring aches and pains along the way. It’s called experience. It’s all there for a reason.

Year 4– “I Think I Can, I Think I Can-Whew!”  I passed the dreaded 1-year and 3-year mark of when the naysayers chant most small businesses fail in the first few years. I was on a roll and enjoying my work. I came to depend on and cherish the wisdom and insights of my mentors. I hired a freelance writer and was just itching to move into an office and continue growing and helping people.  Lesson Learned: Delegating is a good thing. Having the support of others,especially family, is key. So is admitting you don’t know everything.

Year 5– Recognition! Like a 5-year-old graduating from preschool, I received validation for my hard work. I won the “Entrepreneur of the Year” Award from a local Chamber of Commerce. I now had an office suite, an admin, a Virtual Assistant and two part-time writers. People I knew, especially former colleagues in radio and news, blatantly told me they were jealous. My response: Don’t be jealous. I worked my ass off. Nobody handed me anything. Lesson Learned: Put your head down and work. Oh, and have a good accountant.

Year 6- “I Can Do It Myself!”  Actually, I didn’t want to do it myself. I was like a kid who fought fiercely to be independent. I did have to admit I lacked the systems that others needed so they could perform their jobs. Much of what I did was in my head and not documented anywhere. Lesson Learned: I am a self-employed individual working for a lunatic.

Year 7– “Mommy, is the Wish Fairy real?”  I continued to focus on my professional and personal development, which I had done since 2001. I was living my dream and reaping the rewards of my hard work. When the entrepreneurial roller coaster dipped, I had to stop my occasional self-induced funk and remind myself the Wish Fairy ain’t coming. Lesson Learned: I decide how much money I will make…or not. Use the discipline and tools to grow your mind, positive attitude and skills. The Wish Fairy crashed and burned. Sorry princess. In other words, if you don’t want to do this, dig out your resume and go find a job.

Year 8– “Mommy, I lost another tooth. That’s ok, it’s better than me, I lost a major client today. Oh well, you’ll get another tooth soon and I’ll  get another client.”  Like the  tooth, some changes (or fall-out) provide us clues in advance. And like the lost client, sometimes the clues are much more subtle. I was now in San Antonio, Texas with PR clients and speaking engagements in two states. I worked with a lot of banks and real estate -related businesses in New Jersey and the market tanked. Lesson Learned: You’ll have to earn your way out of it.

Year 9: It’s time to learn. I was transitioning out of  the comfort zone of my old school and was forced to embrace my new school. You know, the one on the highway named Technology. Over the  past few years, the media market and contacts I had known had literally disappeared. Newsrooms were barely staffed and resources were cut to the bone. I had developed new ideas and projects to re-invent my company and rejuvenate myself. Some worked, and some didn’t. But now the buzz of course was Social Media and technology. This was kinda cool. The conversations are no longer one-way streets. Interactive was one of my favorite new spelling words.  Lesson Learned: If you’re not growing, you’re dying.

Year 10: OMG, OMG, OMG!!! Where the hell did the time go? Yes, the entrepreneurial roller coaster almost crashed and burned a few times. However, the views from top of the steep incline with the wind blowing in my hair and the sun warming my face reminds me that the exuberant and exciting times overshadow the dips and plunges.  Would I do it again? Oh yes! I am SO proud of myself. And if I close up shop tomorrow, I will still be SO proud of myself. Lesson Learned: If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Stay with it.

Pass the cake please…

5 Tips to Building Sales & Credibility with Vocal Vitality

microphoneMaking your words come alive is an integral piece of your communication.

Many of you know I was an on-air radio news anchor and news reporter for more than 10 years. In my college broadcasting classes, my favorite professor taught me that radio is “theater of the mind.” He then showed me and my classmates the importance of using our voices and vocal vitality to capture the essence of our words so we could create mental images for our listeners. After all, on the radio, there are no visuals or body language to fall back on. It’s all in the voice. We had to give life to our spoken messages.

Your ability to use your voice to enhance your overall communication is essential. Vocal vitality is important if you are hosting a webinar or teleseminar. It’s important if you are a host or guest on BlogTalkRadio or other broadcasts. It’s important if you produce video blogs. Vocal vitality is also key on conference calls, voicemail messages, in sales, networking and presentations. You don’t have to sound like a blustery game show host to have a vibrant and energetic delivery.

A strong voice exudes confidence, authority, integrity, passion and enthusiasm. It builds instant credibility. A weaker sounding voice can diminish all of the above. The good news is that you can learn how to improve your delivery and vocal habits. Work with what you have. After all, you are the message.

Here are 5 tips to help you:

1. Avoid timidity. If you sound nervous or unsure of yourself, your professional credibility will be on the line. Be sure to lower your voice when completing a sentence. If your voice goes up at the end of the sentence, you sound as if you’re asking a question, not stating a fact. Be strong and confident.

2. Listen to yourself. For the sole purpose of learning, tape record a few casual conversations in your home and on the phone. Let your answering machine or voicemail record your conversation. Pay attention to your inflection, pacing, tone of voice and vocal habits. Critiquing yourself can be a real eye-opener.

3. Emphasize important words. By stressing a key word or phrase, you truly drive your point home. Conversely, emphasizing the wrong word can quickly confuse your  listener. A good way to polish this skill is to pay attention to TV and radio news anchors, and commercials. The announcers don’t plow through their script or newscopy. They pronounce every word carefully and slowly. It becomes an art.

4. Take advantage of silences and pauses. These are especially powerful in business and sales. Many people feel uncomfortable with silence. Silence is critical in sales meetings when you drop the gauntlet and ask your prospect the golden question, “Are you willing to give it a try?”, “Are there any concerns you have that are stopping you from signing the contract”,  or “Are you ready to get started now?” Inserting that pause and moment of silence can make or break the deal.

5. Express passion in your voice. If you sound bored, dull or monotone, the people listening will be bored as well. If you are excited and truly believe in your words and message, you have a great shot at capturing their attention. Enthusiasm is contagious.

The two cornerstones of success are excellent communication skills and self-confidence. Improving your vocal vitality will help you to succeed in these areas.

(Photo Credit: Manuel Marin)

Your 20-Point Communication Success Checklist

DSC054372009 was a rough year for many of us. It was also an exciting time for people who are embracing new opportunities to communicate, use Social Media, build new business strategies and kick-start their organizations.

Marketing and business guru Tom Peters says, “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.”

Technology and the changing economic landscape demand that we approach our missions,  creativity, communication and business development strategies with a fine balance of care, patience, vision and long-term growth.

Consider what you have accomplished and learned in the last year or two. Think about how you deliver your message in our “crazy busy” world. Whether it’s Public Relations, websites, Twitter or sales calls, your communication must be top-notch. It must be distinctive and compelling. You must rise above the noise and clutter in the marketplace to truly excel and shine.

Be brutally honest when answering these questions.

Are you:

1. Communicating a message to the public  (website, Social Media profiles, brochures, interviews and blogs) that is cohesive, congruent and compelling?

2. Using a sales pitch or are you focused on building relationships? (The latter is the right response)

3. Developing new levels of self-confidence without being pompous or arrogant?

4. Creating a buzz from your elevator speech, networking and Social Media activities?

5. Learning communication and sales strategies from a mentor in your field?

6. Asking trusted colleagues or friends for honest feedback on your marketing materials, presentations, and communication skills?

7. Blogging, making video’s and watching online conversations to head off negative customer service mentions and problems?

8. Listening and learning from top-notch public speakers on how you can improve your presentations?

9. Reading trade publications and books to help you with the learning curve?

10. Effectively using traditional media (print, radio & TV) to publicize your company?

11. Taking advantage of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in your articles, press releases and posts?

12. Providing valuable content and authenticity in your blogs, articles and newsletters?

13. Asking quality questions and truly listening to people?

14. Approaching others with a positive attitude that communicates success, excellence and credibility?

15. Communicating results and value to prospects and clients?

16. Building bridges instead of walls in conflicts and disagreements?

17. Effectively using your body language and voice to build rapport and trust?

18. Energizing people you spend time with or dragging them down with negativity?

19. Offering your expertise to other professionals through their radio or video segments, blogs or newsletters?

20. Shifting your mindset and communication from “What’s In It For Me?” to “How Can I Be of Service?”

Above all, do you have the passion needed to have an amazing 2010?

It’s important to take stock and think about what has worked and what may have fallen short. All of this, and your willingness to learn, can produce huge results in the coming year.