Specializing in social marketing and business communications training

Gallup: Only 11% of Business Leaders Believe Grads Are Prepared for Work

Admissions office SNHUThey lack basic communication skills and business competencies. So how are millennials earning college degrees and preparing for the workforce?  

A recent Gallup poll reveals 11 percent of employers feel grads are ready for work. Educators, meanwhile, are giving themselves high marks for preparing students for the labor force.  

At a recent IBM Conference, T-Summit 2014: Cultivating Tomorrow’s Talent Today, educators and business leaders addressed the disparities.

Paul LeBlanc, President, Southern New Hampshire University, was one of the conference speakers. I interviewed him about the changes in business and education.

Q: How do employer expectations differ from the past two decades?

A: Twenty and 30 years ago there were different patterns of employment. Someone graduated from college and got a job that they stayed at for some time. For the first three years, that new employee would be moved around in different roles, mentored, and trained. They would become fully immersed by building internal networks, learning the discourse, understanding company culture, and becoming familiar with processes. This would keep them at the top of their game.

Today, companies want students who can do this immediately. Business is pushing down into universities a set of expectations that in some way weren’t there before.

Q:  Tell me about the higher education model that was the centerpiece of the conference.

A: We always thought of higher education in terms of a ‘T-model.’ The horizontal bar of the ‘T’ is the broad-based Bachelor’s Degree. The long vertical is a student’s major that reflects a deep knowledge of one subject, such as accounting, and it may include some sociology and fine arts.

We’re now hearing from employers that the horizontal bar in the ‘T’ is more complex. Businesses are looking for graduates who can think in terms of systems and work in cross-functional teams.

In a college setting, for example, a student who majors in marketing will do small group projects with other marketing majors. With the new cross-functional model, the interdisciplinary approach is needed so marketing students will integrate with accounting and engineering majors. That’s what the reality of work looks like today, but universities don’t usually replicate that.  Instead, students work in silos.

Q: What kinds of changes should colleges be making to better prepare students for work?

A: Historically students didn’t worry about the job market so much. They don’t have that luxury any more. We want students to have a plan and to be purposeful as they think about their four-year journey.

We are now revisiting career services. They simply can’t help students polish résumés and do mock interviews right before graduation. That was fine 30 years ago, and it’s still an important piece, but it’s a tiny piece. The reconceptualization of career centers encompasses several things, such as having these discussions at freshman orientation. At Southern New Hampshire University, alumni now make themselves available for mentoring and internships to give students a better sense of what the real workplace looks like. We’re moving away from asking alumni for financial help and looking to them for more business-related contributions.”

Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education, says the notion of shared responsibility—not finger pointing—is important.

4 Ways Colleges Can Better Prepare Grads for Business Communication

The yellow brick road. Kind of.Educators, business leaders, and government representatives recently converged on San Jose, California for a conference on cultivating talent and the emerging workforce.

Much of the time was spent on social media, communication, and learning outcomes. Everyone seems to agree there is a gap between what colleges are teaching and what employers need from recent graduates.   

One of the universities leading the charge for academic innovation is Southern New Hampshire University. I interviewed Paul LeBlanc, the president at SNHU, who also presented at the conference.

Beginning the conversation: Historically, students didn’t worry too much about the job market. Today, they don’t have that luxury. We want students to really have a plan and to be purposeful as these conversations should begin at freshman orientation.

Social media presents a multi-faceted and amazing opportunity for networking. We have been linking student portals and going with more web-based portfolios for our students. More and more of our disciplines are adopting E-portfolios that students bring with them to interviews. Included are conventional résumés and electronic materials. Employers, to varying degrees, will look at them, but even the sense they could look at the materials if they wanted to, is powerful. 

Improving online and interpersonal communication: Students must have the ability to walk into a room or an interview, use eye contact and offer a firm handshake. Millennials also have to understand that conversation is a two-way back and forth, and two word responses don’t suffice.This new generation lives so much of life in the virtual space, they are less adept at the kinds of interpersonal skills that employers and mature adults look for. Some of this is developmental, immaturity, or lack of self-confidence. In reality, much of that communication continues to outpace our societal ability to make sense of it.

Social media channels are incredibly powerful, and one area we’re addressing is how students convey empathy and understanding online. There’s still that clumsy etiquette.  Schools can hire outside trainers but we are supposed to be doing this. It’s our responsibility.

Expanding roles of colleges: Colleges are moving into the world of non-disciplinary skills; the things that employers value a lot. Employers had taken responsibility for these things 20 years ago, but today, organizations want the colleges to do this. We are looking at how students develop leadership skills, how they develop the ability to work with people who are different than they are, how they can work in cross-functional teams, and how they think in terms of systems. These lessons don’t live in courses, they are bigger than that and we have to figure out how to make it happen.

Making the changes:  First, SNHU is taking an integrated approach to our career services, alumni outreach, and classroom instructors. We’ve hired new people in career services and are moving the department far beyond résumé services and mock interviews. Second, instead of simply asking alumni to donate money, we are partnering with them to provide internships and mentoring for students who need insight into the real business world. Finally, SNHU is pulling faculty into this holistic approach. We’re getting them more involved with internships and job pipelines, with teaching outcomes that are measureable.

It’s nice to see academia stepping up to face the changes that are needed in business and communication. Let’s hope others follow suit.

Simple 3-Word Phrases You Need for Success

barrelsThe way we communicate with ourselves reflects how we interact with others.

What are you secretly, quietly, and unknowingly telling yourself that is standing in the way of your business success?

If negative self-talk is a daily ritual, consider the following 11 phrases. These simple messages that I’ve been using for years can empower you while replacing the poison you’ve come to believe.

  1. Stay with it. Feel like giving up? Frustrated? Refuse to quit. Persistence often trumps brains.
  2. Get in there. Sometimes you can’t or shouldn’t wait for an invitation. You want something? Go get it.
  3. It’s all good. “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should…Strive to be happy.”-Desiderata
  4. Yes I can. Avoid looking at why something can’t be done. Turn it around with positive energy and focus on why it can be done.
  5. I’ll do it. Don’t try. Commit to a positive outcome and get to work. Make it happen.
  6. One more time. Don’t give up. There’s always hope.
  7. Bring it on. You are so much better than you think you are.
  8. Step back now. Hasty decisions and impulsive responses create problems that no one needs. As tempting as it may be to react or get fired up, take a step back and pause. A few quick seconds makes a big difference in our communication and relationships.
  9. In the moment. Be fully present and engaged. “Where ever my feet are, my head is.” Relentless internal chatter pulls us into the past or propels us into the future. There’s no turning back to change the past and creating drama about something that likely won’t happen in the future deprives us what is right in front of us. Be in the moment.
  10. Too much stuff. We complicate things and situations. We over analyze. We go down rabbit holes. Simplicity is a beautiful thing.
  11. Not a word. Know when to speak up and know when to shut up. Not every statement requires a response. There is power in silence.

Which of these can you get started with right now?

I invite you to share your own easy breezy nuggets that keep you on the path to success, learning, and enlightenment.

Empowered Employees Can Improve Communication and Customer Service

Train on the tracks in Metuchen 2013No one likes to be ignored.

Especially customers who give their hard-earned money to businesses in exchange for a product or service.

It seems that most organizations aren’t making the connection between communication and customer service.

When business communication is forthright and delivered in a timely way, organizations are building loyalty and trust, which impacts revenue and reputation. 

Consider this scenario: You go into the local bagel store for coffee, only to learn they are out of decaf. You’ve already had two cups of coffee and had your heart set on decaf. You innocently suggest to the young man working at the counter that he could buy a can of decaf at the supermarket located in the same strip mall.

The employee response: I’m not allowed to do that because the supermarket’s decaf doesn’t taste the same as the product provided by the regular vendor.

Is it better to tell customers you have no decaf?

Derailing Employee Communication

Michael Shaw, a conductor on the busy Metro-North rail line that serves southern Connecticut and New York City, is one person who recently decided to take control of his communication and customer service.  

Last Friday, Shaw told riders at four stops on his route to wait 30 minutes for an express train. But Shaw, a conductor with Metro-North for 30 years, didn’t know that the backup train had been canceled.

When he learned of the mix up, Shaw composed a handwritten apology to passengers. According to NBC affiliate News 4 New York, Shaw made 500 copies of the note and left them on the seats of the train Monday morning.   

The letter was addressed to “our friends and passengers,” and went on to say, “I am as sick of apologizing to you as you are of hearing it.” (Editor’s note: Shaw is the president of the conductor’s union). 

In light of ongoing safety problems plaguing Metro-North for the past year, passengers praised Shaw for his candor.   

Not everyone is thrilled with Shaw’s note.

In an e-mail to the media, Marjorie Anders, a spokeswoman for Metro-North, said the rail service shares Shaw’s concerns, but does “not condone his methods of communicating them.”

Was Shaw’s letter to customers a catastrophe or a coup?


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.



The Secret to Improving Business Communication and Productivity

VannawhiteBusiness leaders who want to improve collaboration in group projects may be overthinking things. Big time.  

A new study from the University of Wisconsin finds that people who share the same initials are more adaptive and productive when working together in small groups. 

Dr. Evan Polman co-authored the research, which is referred to as the name-letter-effect.

“People have a tendency to prefer things that remind them of themselves…Research shows that people’s choices are reliably influenced by the similarity between the letters of the choice and the chooser’s own name. For example, people are disproportionately likely to work at companies, buy stocks, donate to charities, hold stronger attitudes to brands, and prefer consumer products with names that begin with the letters of their own initials compared to other letters.”

A Simplified Way of Building Rapport 

Here’s an easy example: If you strike up a conversation with a stranger and soon discover you have the same birthday, data proves you are more likely to do a favor for that person or help them in some way. This simple birthday commonality has broken down a wall and has helped to build instant rapport.

Dr. Polman’s research focuses on whether shared initials among group members’ names tilt groups to perform better.

“Unlike surface- and deep-level characteristics, initials typically provide little if any information about others, and logically should play little if any role in group outcomes,” according to the study. “Nonetheless, we propose that sharing initials with other group members gives rise to a ‘value-in-similarity’ effect.”

Negotiations and Client Relations

How does the name-letter-effect play into business negotiations?

Researchers interested in psychological processes underlying negotiation have addressed the potential role of priming and other nonconscious, automatic processes but no prior research has studied how the letters in one’s name might incidentally influence interpersonally relevant decision making, such as the names of one’s negotiation partner or client. Future work should study these relationships and even consider the broad implication that sharing initials with others may improve negotiation outcomes vis-à-vis more integrative agreements and better client relations.”

Can we put away the personality profiles and assessments that leaders depend on to enhance interpersonal relationships and business processes?

Is it really as simple as having John, Judy, and Jamie together in one group, and David, Brittany, and Sam in another group to see what happens?

This is one exercise you may just want to try at home.

(Editor’s Note: The Name-Letter-Effect in Groups: Sharing Initials with Group Members Increases the Quality of Group Work, has been published on PLOSONE.org. PLOS ONE (eISSN-1932-6203) is an international, peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication. PLOS ONE welcomes reports on primary research from any scientific discipline.”)

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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.

8 ways association content attracts new members

IMAG0824Has your association been scrambling for content?

There’s an underlying issue that must be addressed before you can consider information to share through social media, websites, newsletters, and marketing materials.

How can you find out what members of your association really want to read or view?  How can you deliver relevant and compelling articles, blog posts, videos, and other fresh content on a consistent basis? 

It’s time to stop scrambling and start thinking about the challenges people are struggling to overcome. Take a closer look at the aspirations and goals your target audience works to achieve every single day.

The needs of your members will drive your content.

Please re-read the last few sentences.

When you address challenges and aspirations, you will discover the content your members desire.

Can your organization fill this gap, or will people go elsewhere because they aren’t getting what they need from their investment?   

Craving Communities

We join organizations because human beings crave a sense of belonging and community.  

Scientific research proves that bonding with people who have similar interests fills an emotional void in each of us. Unfortunately, a majority of trade organizations have spent too much time on promoting the benefits of the group while failing to understand that benefits don’t fill emotional holes.   

Associations must revamp outdated and ineffective membership models.

In order to build vibrant communities, you must:  

  • Show true empathy and understanding of member’s intentions and goals
  • Address the constraints members face while working towards their goals  
  • Provide an experience that is highly relevant and cannot be duplicated by competing groups   
  • Focus on stakeholder outcomes and results, asking the question: “How can we help?”
  • Speak to the WHY someone should join vs. the WHAT does the group have to offer? 
  • Think about emotions first and intellect second
  • Commit to a deeply personal approach to branding
  • Know what members and potential members want to achieve, both professionally and personally


Jeff De Cagna writes in the Texas Society of Association Executives magazine:

“From a business model point of view, associations would be better served by devoting more of their human capabilities to the work of new value creation…for many organizations the process of selling membership has become an all consuming effort to persuade increasingly skeptical stakeholders something they seem otherwise unwilling to do. The work of business model innovation offers associations to reconsider the narrow focus on membership in favor of more open and inclusive approaches to new value creation.”   

For example, savvy leaders at professional associations are beginning to see the value of providing timely and relevant content that they don’t have to create. Holly Regan, Managing Editor at Software Advice, blogs that associations are hiring former news reporters to compile and curate content from outside sources and format them as newsfeeds for their websites and e-mail marketing.

Think of this new business media as a daily or weekly collection of noteworthy news for your niche.

According to John Sacerdote, president of the National Association of Personnel Services, or NAPS, “The NAPS newsfeed is positioning us as a trusted source for news in staffing and recruiting.  It’s remarkably simple, affordable, and powerful.”

The content and information you share with members is directly connected to the growth or stagnation of your association.

 But it all begins with knowing what content your members want, and why they want it.

SPECIAL OFFER FOR YOUR 2014 EDITORIAL CALENDAR: Drop me an e-mail right now for a discounted 1-hour phone consultation. I’ll give you 25 fresh content ideas for 2014…Guaranteed!   



Remembering Tom Clancy: 7 insights into a masterful storyteller

clancyEDITEDThe literary world was rendered speechless today when news broke of the death of acclaimed spy and military writer Tom Clancy.

The 66-year-old author, whose works include “The Hunt for Red October”, “Clear and Present Danger”, and “Patriot Games”, is being remembered as a “favorite storyteller of the American military.”

CNN praised Clancy for writing meticulous thrillers focusing on political intrigue and military tactics and technology.

Through Clancy’s brilliant storytelling, the world got to know CIA agent Jack Ryan, the main character in most of the best-selling novels.

No other American novelist could take 20 pages to describe the intricacies of a wire within an explosive device.   

The following quotes from Clancy shed light on his prolific career:  

1. “Writing is hard, miserable, lonely work…You have to play to win.”

2. “The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”

3. “You learn to write the same way you learn to play golf. You do it, and keep doing it until you get it right. A lot of people think something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kisses you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired – it’s hard work.”

4. “Books and movies are different art forms with different rules. And because of that, they never translate exactly.”

5. “Fundamentally, I think of myself as a storyteller, not a writer.”

6.  “I was one of the first generations to watch television. TV exposes people to news, to information, to knowledge, to entertainment. How is it bad?”

 7. “Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world. Maybe you’ll get published. Maybe you won’t.”

 Clancy, a former insurance agent, sold more than 50 million books worldwide.


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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?