Archive for the ‘Communicate for Success!’ Category

Inconsistency in Style and Facts Can Hurt Your Brand

Every communication you post must be professional and be your best effort. Every time.

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I was reminded of that when I downloaded Brian Tracy’s ebook The 6-Figure Speaker. It was not professional and I assume not representative of his best effort. For those of you unaware of Tracy, he is an international speaker and best-selling author. His Facebook page has 1.8 million likes, which include some folks for whom I have great respect and call my friends.

The ebook was a free download—free for the price of obtaining my email so he could send follow-up pitches. I unsubscribed after the first email.

Why? On Page 8 of Tracy’s ebook, he writes “10 percent.” On Page 11, he refers to it as “ten percent.”

OK, so that’s a bit picky. But it is only one example. And, when I noticed he was equally sloppy with facts a mere 10 pages into a 91-page book, I put it down never to be opened again.

On Page 5, under About the Author, we find this:

“Brian Tracy has consulted for more than 1,000 companies and addressed more than 5,000,000 people in 5,000 talks and seminars throughout the US, Canada and 69 other countries worldwide.” (Emphasis added.)

A mere five pages later, we find this:

“Over the years, I have delivered more than 5,000 presentations and spoken personally to more than 5,000,000 people in fifty-seven countries.” (Emphasis added.)

Is it 57 countries, or 71? Or did he speak to 14 fewer countries in the time it took me to get from Page 5 to Page 10? Quite the feat.

Consistency does matter. It builds trust with the reader. I’m not sure at this point that I can believe anything he’s telling me. His brand is tarnished after only 11 pages. All for lack of consistency. He’s selling professional how-to communications in an unprofessional vehicle.

Don’t let that happen to you.

We’ll come back to competing facts in a moment. But let’s start with consistency in language. There is nothing wrong with using either 10 percent, or 10%, or ten percent. There is nothing wrong with using the Oxford—or serial—comma or not using it. The choice is yours as an author. But there is something wrong with mixing them up within five pages. If Tracy has a style guide, he is not using it. A style guide provides you with that consistency.

The Consistent Voice Communications Style Guide has entries on numbers, names, titles, addresses, use of logo, and much more. It is constantly updated as new problem areas are identified. (I just added “ebook” as I was writing this because a quick Google check found it is also widely written as “e-book” and “eBook.”) You can download a copy of the CVC Style Guide, updated as of June 2017, and freely use it to start building your own. (Free for a free subscription to my newsletter, which you can unsubscribe from at any time.)

That will take care of much of your writing inconsistencies. It also will—I believe—solve some of the competing facts because as you train your mind to find inconsistencies in language, inconsistencies in facts will become more noticeable too. But there are a couple of other steps to take to help to avoid that trap as well.

Always print out your manuscript and read it aloud. There are several reasons for doing that, but for the purpose of this blog, reading it aloud will help you catch inconsistencies. Then follow the advice of my college photojournalism instructor, John Grzywacz-Gray. Always have one other set of eyes look it over, someone you trust to take a critical look. For a book, I would hire a professional. But for any communication, do not trust yourself to catch your own mistakes. You’ve read over them so many times you can no longer see them.

Above all, be consistent and professional in your communications. Always. Your brand depends on it.

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Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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Businesses are a Disaster’s First Responders and Backbone of Recovery

Up to 40% of businesses affected by a disaster never reopen, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Which is disastrous not only for the business, but for the jurisdiction in which it resides. Businesses are the recovery backbone when a natural or man-made disaster hits Fairfax County, members of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce and seven other chambers were told last week.

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Photo courtesy of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

In an effort to decrease that percentage and enhance recovery efforts, the Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) conducted a Business Preparedness Open House last week at its Emergency Operation Center. At the time, Hurricane Maria was ravaging Puerto Rico, serving as a real-time reminder that disasters do strike. Hurricanes may be rare here, but a man-made disaster is just as likely in the greater Washington, DC, area, participants were reminded. As are earthquakes and 15 other scenarios.

Keynote speaker Deb Yamanaka, CEO of Excel Technologies, told the story of a business owner in Roslyn who ran out of the building when an earthquake hit. Because he was their leader, his employees followed. They found themselves out in the open surrounded by buildings with huge glass windows.

Business owners need to mindful of their leadership role during a disaster and lead by preparing for it. They need to lead their employees to prepare, too, Yamanaka said. “Start with a go-bag,” she said. “If the CEO is preparing with a go-bag, we’re saying we want you to be prepared too.”

Yamanaka practices what she preaches. Each Excel Technologies employee is supplied with a basic go-bag. They practice telecommuting. The company has active shooter drills and radios not tied to the grid. Excel also has an off-site location in case the primary location is destroyed or otherwise inaccessible. Employees are encouraged to prepare their families and pets as well. All of these elements are part of Excel’s business continuity plan.

“You are the first responders” for your employees and their families, Grelia Steele, the OEM Community Outreach Manager, said.

Start with a plan.

“An effective business continuity program prepares your business for the potential loss or diminished capacity of critical functions and resources due to severe events,” said Avery Church, the county’s Continuity Program Manager.

Several factors go into a business continuity plan, he said. They include determining the company’s essential functions, orders of succession, and delegation of authorities. Businesses must identify continuity facilities and determine how to best protect its essential records. Determine how your team will communicate during the disaster. (Steele noted recent disasters have shown the power of social media to communicate.) And, don’t forget your human capital and test, train, and lead them in disaster exercises. A business continuity plan also needs a plan to recover.

Employees should be encouraged to sign up for emergency alerts, not just in Fairfax County, but where they live. Each of the 18 jurisdictions in the greater Washington, DC, area has an emergency alert system, Sulayman Brown, the OEM Assistant Coordinator, said.

A disaster will hit Fairfax County. It’s only a matter of when. Businesses with an implemented plan have a better chance of survival, as do their employees, employee’s families, and community.

Resources:

The Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management

ReadyNOVA

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(This post originally appeared in the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce blog.)

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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Animals Reveal to Maribeth Her Gift of Virtual Mind-Melding (Part 2)

Intuitive animal communicator Maribeth Decker believes it was her training as a Reiki Master that opened her spirit to her pets’ attempts to communicate with her.

meeting-a-kangaroo-in-a-unexpected-placeThe International Center for Reiki Training defines Reiki as “a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing.” It is “based on the idea that an unseen ‘life force energy’ flows through us and is what causes us to be alive.”

“The word Reiki is made of two Japanese words—Rei, which means ‘God’s Wisdom or the Higher Power,’ and Ki, which is ‘life force energy.’ So Reiki is actually ‘spiritually guided life force energy.’”

Maribeth didn’t realize immediately it was the training that opened the door. The realization came only on reflection on what changed to allow her pets—dead and alive—to open lines of communication.

“It took me until I had my dog Tibor to realize something really has changed here,” Maribeth said in a phone interview. “My animals are communicating with me intuitively. They’re showing up after they’ve passed and making themselves known. They’re telling me what they think. They’re sharing visions with me. And I think it was Reiki that started me on that path, which I guess I was meant to do, obviously.”

logo-2-1Maribeth owns and operates SacredGrove.com, “where people and pets heal and connect.” She connects “telepathically with animals to allow people to have a two-way conversation with them.” This allows animal and human to solve issues between them, such as anxiety or aggression issues. But she is not a pet trainer or behaviorist. She simply allows humans and animals to communicate.

Maribeth performs a quick mediation to “connect intuitively, telepathically, through a mind-to-mind—if you watched enough Star Trek, it’s a mind-meld, but not really,” she said laughing. “It’s not a physical connection. I don’t have to be staring in their eyes or hypnotize them.” In fact, Maribeth prefers connecting over the phone or a video call to lessen distractions.

“I connect to the animal and see how they show up,” Maribeth said. “It seems like they walk into my office and hang out during the session. They might slink in, dance in, strut in—however they show up gives us information about how they feel. At some level, they’re actually in the room with me.” And Maribeth’s dogs react to their presence. “If it’s a cat, I’ll just say, ‘That’s Tibor, and Tibor doesn’t mind cats. He won’t bug you.’ And my little dog, Stella, when some of the animals show up, she’ll whine a little bit, like she knows there’s something else in the room with us.

“Then I ask what they’d like to share and start a conversation about what the person wants to talk about. If we find the animal has negative thoughts, emotions, or memories, I will do energy healing to release them. Many times, we also do some emotional release for the person around the issue. Sometimes I’ll get body aches and pains, or sensations, that sort of physical information.”

If there are behavior issues, Maribeth talks to the animal about the person’s feelings, such as when the cat doesn’t use the litter box or the dog barks at every other dog on walks. Then she shows them a mental image of how the person would like them to behave and shows the person’s emotional reaction of joy or relief once the animal starts to change its behavior.

If it’s called for, Maribeth will also perform some energy healing to resolve issues that linger for both human and non-human animal.

“If people want to, I will take them on a visualization to enter the brainwaves that I was taught is most effective in communicating with animals,” Maribeth said. “It is my hope I can help them to start picking up things themselves. My picture is that there’s an animal communicator in every family, and one available in every veterinary office and animal rescue center. And if I give people the chance to feel that connection, then that just opens the door for them to have that ability.”

Not every session works out in the human’s favor, however. One client had a dog that liked to chase skunks. “We were talking about how yucky that was for the human and how the smell was awful. And we actually got more of a lecture from the dog saying, ‘Well, our tastes are different between humans and dogs and I find the smell delightful.’ I don’t think we convinced her she should stop.

“I don’t think we think about the fact that animals have free will, just like human beings,” Maribeth said. And just like humans, they can be forced into a behavior, but it’s neither right for humans or non-humans. You can enslave humans and treat animals the same, but recognizing their free will, understanding the motivation behind the behavior, and seeking change through communication is the more humane way for people and animals.

Maribeth doesn’t expect that the quizzical smirks she at times encounters at networking meetings will disappear.

“Honestly, I still get surprised when I have a session with a dog in New York City who has been acting rather nutty at the owner’s place of business who’s doing better. I say to myself, ‘Wow, this stuff works!’”

Maribeth’s book, Peace in Passing: Comfort for Loving Humans during Animal Transitions, tells many stories of people and pets Maribeth has connected in life and death and the peace it has brought them. I had a hand in persuading Maribeth to write the book and I was her editor. It persuaded me her gift is real and precious.

Read: Maribeth Finds Her Spirituality—and Her Gift (Part 1)

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Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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Maribeth Finds Her Spirituality—and Her Gift (Part 1)

maribeth-aboutImagine you have an unusual gift you have turned into a career. But when you tell people at networking mixers, their initial reaction is a quizzical smirk.

Welcome to the life of Maribeth Decker, intuitive animal communicator. Maribeth owns and operates SacredGrove.com, “where people and pets heal and connect.” She connects “telepathically with animals to allow people to have a two-way conversation with them.” This allows animal and human to solve issues between them, such as anxiety or aggression issues. But Maribeth is not a pet trainer or behaviorist. She simply allows humans and animals to communicate.

That includes communicating with pets that have passed, a subject she tackles in her book, Peace in Passing: Comfort for Loving Humans during Animal Transitions. The book tells the stories of people and pets Maribeth has connected in life and death and the peace it has brought them. (Full disclosure: I had a hand in persuading Maribeth to write the book and I was her editor.)

On her website, Maribeth says she didn’t come out of the womb and immediately begin to talk to the animals. But she has had an ethereal connection since a very young age.

logo-2-1“What happened to me was that as a young teenager, probably 12 or 13, I had what I consider a major spiritual experience,” she told me in a phone interview. “I was going to Catholic education classes, CCD, and was wondering if there was a God. So I asked if there was a God and, lo and behold, I had an experience that said, ‘Yes, absolutely yes.’ What astonished me was I received a response in such a clear way that I knew I wasn’t making it up. I had the experience of understanding that God—and I mean that in the non-generic way—The Creator—infuses everything around us, and because It infuses everything around us, we don’t notice it. What The Creator did was give me a sense of what it would be like if It wasn’t infusing our whole life. And it felt like somebody had sucked the air out of the planet for a little bit, and I thought, ‘Oh, oh, I get it.’ And then the air came back.

“What I learned is we live in a world where we are surrounded by a loving and intelligent Creator. That question was answered very clearly.”

Maribeth did not share her experience then. Catholic classes taught her about saints and others who had had such spiritual awakenings but she did not feel—and still doesn’t feel—she was on a level of saints and didn’t want to be accused of claiming to be.

She had a second spiritual awakening in her early twenties by gaining sobriety through the 12-step program. “I did have another experience of incredible love and forgiveness, which was just like a waterfall cleansing me. … That was another affirmation that I was still loved and that I still had a spiritual connection available to me. And it became a part of me and how I saw the world in a more positive vein.”

Still, it would be decades before that spirituality revealed itself in the gift of animal communications. First came marriage and the bearing and raising of two children while engrossed in a career in the U.S. Navy. “On the life to-do list, connecting in a big way with unseen forces was not there at the top,” Maribeth said. Raising the children, making a living, and making a marriage work were much higher priorities.

It wasn’t until Maribeth became a Reiki Master in 2007–2008 that she came to realize her animals—alive and dead—were attempting to communicate with her. And thus began her journey into another side of spirituality she didn’t realize existed.

(Next: Animals Reveal to Maribeth Her Gift of Virtual Mind-Melding.)

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Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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Build Your Credibility with Style

I recently read a press release from a healthcare organization that spelled “healthcare” as a noun, but also spelled it “health care” and “health-care.”  All may be acceptable spellings, but to spell it three ways in a 500-word release is distracting, to say the least, and credibility-damaging, to say the most.

CVC-StyleGuide-RD2If you communicate as a company, organization, or personal brand, you need a personal style guide based on a standardized stylebook. They provide consistency to your messaging. Without them, you’re at the whim of the moment.

For example, do you use the Oxford comma—also known as the serial comma—before a conjunction in lists of three or more? Is it the Washington Post with a lower-case, unitalicized “the” or The Washington Post?  Should The Washington Post be italicized? Is it acceptable to use CVC in first reference to Consistent Voice Communications? Why is The Washington Post italicized and Consistent Voice Communications isn’t?

Those are the questions stylebooks and style guides answer. For the purposes of this blog, a stylebook is a commercial publication, such as The Associated Press Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style. A style guide is an organization’s in-house publication. A style guide usually builds on and provides exceptions to a stylebook.  It also provides style information particular to that organization. For consistency, every business and organization should have one.

That’s why my company is giving away our style guide for businesses and organizations. We hope you’ll steal from it and use it as a guide to build your own. Then you and everyone else in your organization will use AM and PM, or am and pm, or a.m. or p.m. consistently. You’ll also build your credibility. Yes, I’m a stickler, but I’m not the only one who wonders if I can trust a company that is careless with its language.

A quick quiz: Is the correct spelling “adviser” or “advisor”?

According to Merriam-Webster, both are acceptable. So you can use “advisor” all through your copy or “adviser” all through your copy. You can even interchange them throughout your copy and still be technically correct, like using healthcare, health care, and health-care.

Because the dictionary advises both adviser and advisor are correct, a style guide would spell out one or the other as the “authorized” spelling for your organization. (Some dictionaries note “advisor” is the preferred spelling. If your style guide designates a dictionary as your base dictionary that makes that distinction, you don’t need to list it in your style guide.)

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t be. By basing your style guide on stylebooks, you don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel. Three of the most popular stylebooks are the aforementioned The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style, along with the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing. In addition, many organizations have their own stylebooks publicly available, such as the American Psychological Association, which many healthcare organization use as their base stylebook.

The Chicago Manual of Style is your generalist stylebook. But if your target audience is the media, choose The AP Stylebook as your baseline. If your target audience is the world of scholars, choose the MLA Style Manual.

Then build on it. If “The” is part of your name, as it is for The Washington Post and The Associated Press, your style guide would reflect that. If CVC is acceptable to use in a second reference for Consistent Voice Communications and in media release headlines, your style guide would reflect that.

The English language is inconsistent. Stylebooks and style guides provide that consistency—and help your organization build its credibility. Download our style guide today and start building credibility through consistency.

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Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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Give Your Brain & Heart a Boost on World Chocolate Day

To prepare for this post, I ate a couple of Snickers Minis.

Cheerful woman eating chocolate © Can Stock Photo konradbakToday is World Chocolate Day. Chocolate is good for the heart and brain, studies show, so if you have been avoiding it to slim down you just may have a stupid heart attack. It also reduces stress in women, which is why chocolate is a popular and heartwarming Valentine’s Day gift.

Forget why you walked into a room? Drink a cup or two of hot chocolate.  Harvard Medical School scientists found that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day reduces memory decline in old folks. It apparently increases blood flow to the brain for two to three hours. But you don’t have to be a geezer to enjoy the benefits. Flavonoids in chocolate have been shown to increase brain power in youngin’s too.

A study conducted in Denmark found consumption of dark chocolate results in a significantly lower risk of being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a dangerous type of irregular heartbeat. The study didn’t say you wouldn’t develop it, only that you won’t be diagnosed with it. Ignorance is bliss, right?

Speaking of bliss, chocolate also is associated with increased endorphins, that feel-good brain chemical. It triggers a neurotransmitter similar to consuming marijuana. A legal high in all states! (Keep this quiet though so the government doesn’t feel a need to regulate or outlaw it.) Chocolate is so powerful that its buzz lasts longer than the most passionate kiss, according to one study.

Which doesn’t mean chocolate will slow you down in bed. The compound theobromine in chocolate is thought to make it a mild aphrodisiac.

Chocolate also contains a substantial amount of magnesium, which reduces stress by suppressing the release of the stress hormone cortisol.

So stop stressing about eating chocolate and instead embrace its benefits to your brain and heart. Give it to a lover and you just may get lucky tonight. World Chocolate Day: Valentine’s Day in July.

Resources:

Sunni, Ahmed Al, and Rabia Latif. “Effects of chocolate intake on Perceived Stress; a Controlled Clinical Study.” International Journal of Health Sciences. October 2014. Accessed July 07, 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4350893/.

Alban, Deane. “9 Brain Boosting Benefits of Dark Chocolate.” Be Brain Fit. June 19, 2017. Accessed July 07, 2017. https://bebrainfit.com/brain-benefits-dark-chocolate/.

“Health | Chocolate ‘better than kissing’.” BBC News. April 16, 2007. Accessed July 07, 2017. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6558775.stm.

Nordqvist, Joseph. “Chocolate: Health Benefits, Facts, and Research.” Medical News Today. June 1, 2016. Accessed July 07, 2017. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/270272.php.

“Study strengthens case for heart benefit in chocolate.” Harvard Gazette. June 26, 2017. Accessed July 07, 2017. http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/06/study-strengthens-case-for-heart-benefit-in-chocolate/.

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Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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Learning Enough about Graphic Design to be Dangerous

My graphic design skills are minimal at best. Still, whenever I write copy for a client’s brochure, flier, or website, I sketch it out to make sure the copy fits. I attended Calibre Systems graphic designer Lauma Wingrove’s workshop this week, titled Build a Flier That Sells, to pick up some pointers to better sketch my ideas and better marry my copy to design.

graphicdesignwordcloudThere’s a psychology behind graphic design, Wingrove said. Color. Placement. Font choices. Shapes. White space. Photos. They all tell the viewer something on a subconscious level and can make or break your message.

One of the biggest mistakes designers make is to cram too much text on a flier. “If it’s not absolutely necessary, leave it out,” Wingrove told participants at the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce Coffee & Conversation workshop. Instead, she said, direct the viewer to your website for more information.

When using text, confine it to a maximum of three fonts and consider the hierarchy, Wingrove said. The first level is read by the viewer and should be noticeable and in your face. It should be in a san serif font. The second level is skimmed by the viewer. The third level is virtually ignored.

Make the text easy to read. All caps are difficult for the brain to decipher, as are drop shadows. Diagonal text draws the eye. Straight line text connotes stability and horizontal text connotes movement.

Being a word guy, my notes don’t reflect much on color or shapes. Wingrove did say to choose colors based on their emotional impact. Dark blue, for instance, signifies stability and confidence. Red, in addition to being the color of love, signifies excitement to the brain. Use yellow to be playful and orange to connote affordability. HubSpot has an excellent infographic on using color in graphic design.

Circles, not surprisingly, suggest unity to the brain. Squares and triangles signify stability.

Two other elements are critical to every design. First and foremost is your audience. Who is your audience and what do they need to know? What is going to attract them? Build your design with your audience in mind.

Also, make sure you have a call to action. After all, you’re building a flier that sells.

I won’t be designing brochures or fliers any time soon. My graphic designer, John Body of BodyShots, will continue to marry my words to a layout that sells. Unfortunately for him, I now have enough knowledge on design to be dangerous.

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Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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