What’s Your Story?


Stories bring people together in powerful ways.

I was reminded of this at a recent leadership offsite.

Following a day of focusing on the future and identifying imperatives for the coming year, we gathered around the dinner table.

The talk turned to people’s stories, their families and the paths to where they are today.

We heard about teachers, farmers and ranchers. We heard about people who were the first in their family to attend college. We heard about struggles and triumphs. We heard about hard work and dedication.

It was an inspiring slice of largely American history. One especially sage colleague remarked about how far each of our families had come in just a few generations.

It’s easy to lose sight of that in our fast-paced, always-on 21st-century world.

I wonder what life was like for my great-grandfather, Neils Peter Larsen. Born in Denmark in the late 1800s, he was the youngest of 9 children.

With little economic opportunity on the Danish isle of Laeso, he left his country as a young teen. As a cabin boy, he sailed around Cape Horn to San Francisco.

Some years later, he became the captain of his own ship, the St. Katherine. My grandmother and sister share her name and adventurous spirit.

That’s the ship pictured above, temporarily stuck in the ice in the Bering Sea in the early 1900s. How cold must it have been that day? How likely was it the ship would break apart as the ice moved? How scary was it to walk across the waves?

Or maybe it was just business as usual in that line of work.

According to the San Francisco-based Pacific Telephone Magazine where my mom was featured as an employee in the 1960s, “Captain Larsen made history with voyages to Alaska during the Yukon gold rush and later with the Alaskan fisheries.”

I can only imagine what those experiences were like today, as I gaze at my family’s framed sea charts from California, Hawaii and Japan that line my walls.

It’s absolutely incredible to think how far sea navigation has come in little over 100 years – from large paper charts to electronic navigation systems. What amazing advancements will the next century hold?

My great-grandparents honeymooned by sailing around the coast of China. That chart hangs in my parents’ house in Connecticut, complete with pencil markings of an uncharted island my ancestors discovered on their journey.

These stories and the ones I heard from my colleagues remind me of the hard work and determination that are the hallmarks of our country.

They remind me that when things get tough, there’s always a way through – or around or over.

They remind me that the future is exciting and that we’re each creating it, one day at a time.

We have what it takes. We got this.

As I contemplate a visit to Denmark, I’m inspired by the serendipitous family reunion that the multi-talented photographer Denice Duff experienced on a magical trip to Italy.

While looking for her great-grandmother’s house in Sicily, she had the unexpected good fortune to meet family members she never knew she had.

This heartwarming story may be one of the reasons I recently picked up a book called The Storyteller’s Secret.

In this captivating read, Carmine Gallo says that, “since the next decade will see the most change our civilization has ever known, your story will radically transform your business, your life and the lives of those you touch.”

Why is this important? Because “ideas that catch on are wrapped in a story,” he says.

Stories connect us, inform us and inspire us.

That’s undoubtedly one of the reasons behind the golden age of television, with so many compelling shows. This is why it’s so exciting to work in an industry at the intersection of entertainment and technology.

This is where great stories are told that entertain us, help us make sense of the world and prompt us to think about our own stories and the difference we’re making.

(And this is where I remind readers that opinions are my own.)

Speaking of stories, I can’t wait to hear from the speakers at next week’s TEDWomen 2016 conference. Fittingly for me, it’s in San Francisco, close to where I was born and where my daughter is attending college.

What’s your story? How are you writing it every day?

Is Everyone Faking It?

Business People Meeting Growth Success Target Economic Concept

Yes, everyone is making it up as they go along.

And that means you can, too, as you work toward your biggest goals.

I’ll tell you why in my post on the USC Annenberg Alumni website.

I’m a proud Annenberg Alumni Ambassador this year, sharing all the best of this distinguished school for communication and journalism.

Some of my fellow ambassadors, pictured below, were featured alums at the Annenberg NETworks event this fall with students and recent grads.

What a fun evening it was, full of interesting people and fascinating conversations.



To Respond or Not to Respond


Our incoming messages are exploding.

LinkedIn messages. Facebook and Twitter notifications. Emails. Texts. Snaps.

Just reading and responding to everything could be more than a full-time job.

You need a strategy for when you do and don’t respond.

And I don’t subscribe to the philosophy that no response is the right way to say no.

In our hyperconnected world, our humanity and good manners can too easily go by the wayside.

Sometimes it’s because we can’t help the person and we need to say no. In those cases, have a standard professional response you can copy, paste, edit and send to say you’re not interested at this time, but you’ll keep the info for future reference.

Some messages are easy not to respond to:

  • Automated sales pitches, usually via LinkedIn and Twitter
  • Connection requests immediately followed by a sales pitch, again, usually via LinkedIn and Twitter
  • Connection requests in LinkedIn from people you don’t know and that aren’t personalized to explain why they’d like to connect with you
  • Tweets that mention you as a way to draw you into an issue for which you can offer no meaningful response

Some messages deserve a response. And while it would be easy enough to ignore them, giving a response can set you apart and enhance your company’s reputation:

  • Customers of your company who need help getting an issue resolved. Respond to that customer right away.  Be a friendly, helpful, human face and voice. Connect them with your company’s customer care team for a rapid response.

Interesting stat: 78% of people who complain to a brand in Twitter expect a response within an hour. Another one: 77% of people feel more positive about a brand when their tweet has been replied to.

(This is where I remind readers that opinions expressed are my own.)

  • People from your alma maters, past and present employers and other professional groups who ask for your advice or an introduction to a colleague for networking purposes.
  • Connections, colleagues and friends who post valuable content. Read their link, give them a “like” if the content is something you want to be associated with, and leave a short and upbeat comment that adds a constructive observation to the dialogue. Social media is all about reciprocity.

And some messages fall in between.

An example? A request to connect to one of your connections, without a clearly stated reason.

Recently a LinkedIn connection asked to connect to a colleague, to invite her to an event. I suspected it was a sales pitch and didn’t want to spam my colleague. I asked the requester for more info. Never heard back. End of story.

Suppose you do decide to respond to a message to decline a request and you get a response asking for something else.

What then?

Here I take my cue from a wise colleague, Tina Morefield. She’ll send a response. One response. And after that, no more.

Unless, of course, it’s from a customer who needs your help. In that case, keep responding until the issue is resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. Because our customers are the lifeblood of our organizations.

When do you respond? When do you not respond?

Look Before You Like


What do all of your “likes” in social media say about you?

More importantly, what do you want them to say about you?

Do you think before you “like” in Facebook . . . or “heart” in Instagram and Twitter?

Do you consider how that piece of data will be aggregated with thousands of other data points about you?

Do you decide if it will reflect well on you or not?

Just as you should look before you link, you should look before you “like.”

Why? Because of something called The Reputation Economy.

Say what?

In this 2015 book, Reputation.com founder Michael Fertik tells you “how to optimize your digital footprint in a world where your reputation is your most valuable asset.”

Ultimately, Fertik sets forth a compelling case that your digital reputation may shape how you experience the world – for better or for worse.

In this election circus season, for example, you may think you’re circumspect about your political views. But Facebook has identified your political leanings, based on your activity on the site.

Even more interesting is seeing how your digital footprint may reveal your personality.

By analyzing just a few of your Facebook likes, the University of Cambridge’s psychometric centre will predict several dimensions of your personality.

“You are what you like,” the site says.

Try it.

You may think twice about what you “like” in the future.

Here are my non-algorithmic rules for liking content in social media:

  • Always consider how liking something will reflect on you. Will it contribute to – or detract from – what you want to be known for?
  • If you’re not sure what certain content could imply, don’t like it. And if you have “friends” who repeatedly post strange content, it might time to unfriend them.

What do you like?

Look Before You Link


Nearly 60% of links shared in social media haven’t been read first, the Washington Post and others reported this year.

Don’t do that, if you care about your professional reputation. Take the time to read the content of every link you share in social media.

Sharing content implies your endorsement of it and agreement with it. It’s a similar principle to recommending someone for a job – your reputation is on the line.

What if there’s something lurking in that content link that doesn’t represent your views? How will you know if you don’t read it first?

Josh Ochs, a “digital citizenship speaker who teaches students how to shine online,” says it well for people of all ages. He advises to keep your social media content, “light, bright and polite.”

Here are some guidelines to assess whether or not to share a particular link:

DO share links that:

  • Aptly illustrate the topics you and your social media communities are interested in
  • Provide relevant and appropriate data and metrics to support key points
  • Position your company and its leaders in a positive and accurate light.

DON’T share links that:

  • Have disparaging information about your company or its products. For example, because my employer provides video content, I don’t share links that bash TV (this is where I remind readers that opinions are my own).
  • Overly focus on your employer’s competitors. Unless you’re an official company spokesperson, it’s better to be silent on competitors.
  • Cover topics you don’t want your good name associated with – whether it’s negativity, bar-hopping, gambling or other questionable topics.
  • Have any content that could be perceived as offensive or disparaging to any group or groups of people. If you’re not sure, don’t share it.

Always ask yourself if what you’re sharing reflects positively on you, your employer, your family, your community, and so on, before you post. If not, don’t post it.

Here’s a good tip from Bill Duane as covered in The New York Times – ask yourself before you share if the content is true, kind and necessary. It it doesn’t meet all 3 criteria, don’t share it.

When you do have content to share that passes all of these tests, add your perspective. Briefly say what’s important about it. Include a key takeaway or a memorable quote.

And be sure you look before you link!

What’s Your Personal Social Strategy?


Nearly half of college admissions officers look at applicants’ social media profiles.

Ninety-four percent of recruiters use LinkedIn to vet candidates.

Seventy percent of senior professionals say leaders who are active in social media make the company a more attractive place to work.

If you’re not already active in social media in a strategic way, it’s hard to ignore stats like these.

There are so many reasons to ignore social media all together or let your participation wane. Not enough time. Nothing interesting to share. Too much downside.

Yet there are real risks to staying out of the game all together, or staying on the sidelines.

Missed opportunities is the biggest one – in the form of valuable professional and personal relationships, exciting career opportunities, accelerated learning and development, and even fun and entertainment, just to name a few.

With so much attention on avoiding the downside of social media, not enough focus has been put on how social media can make your life better.

But the time conundrum is real. How do you begin? Where do you focus your time and energy? What social platforms should you use? How do you feed the content monster?

That was something Reese Witherspoon got me thinking about. She was the surprise speaker this month at a women’s leadership conference at Fullscreen, the global youth media company.

She was asked about how she’s been super successful in social media. And she talked about social media content creation for people as being a big white space that’s not fully being filled right now.

It was almost like a Legally Blonde moment of its own. A gasp and an a-ha moment on the order of, “I think I’ll go to law school!”

In a moment of clarity, I connected some dots. I love helping people tell their stories. I’m endlessly fascinated and intrigued by social media. And I’ve been advising people, professionally and personally, on their social strategies over the last few years.

How could this all fit together in new and different ways?

12 Ways to Take a Great Headshot


Everyone needs a great headshot.

Why? Social media profiles. Executive biographies. Email signatures. Conference badge photos.

Having a great headshot helps build your personal brand.

But sometimes being photographed is the last thing we want to do. Here are 12 ways to get a great shot and have fun in the process.

Just do it. Get a new photo taken every few years. I waited 5 years since my last headshot, which was way too long.

My colleague Roger Hyde‘s team had created such a perfect environment years ago, complete with a wind machine, that I was hesitant to do it again.

But thanks to the gentle coaxing of photographer Jessica Sterling, my husband Kevin and I finally took new headshots.

Decide what message you want to convey. What do you want your headshot to say about you? It should amplify your personal brand – what you want to be known for.

I wanted a new photo I could use in a corporate environment. It also needed to work in other contexts in my professional and personal lives.

Pick a great photographer. Ask your colleagues and friends for recommendations. Or use social media to find someone local.

On a tight budget? Find someone who’s starting out or team up with friends who need headshots.

If you’re planning a professional event, bring in a photographer for attendees to get their pics done.

The global youth media company Fullscreen did this at a recent women’s leadership event – brilliant idea!

In my case, I had the good fortune of knowing Jessica Sterling from work, and I was familiar with her visual capability with people and organizations. I personally retained her services, and so it began.

Check out other headshots for inspiration. Look at headshots of people you admire. Check out leaders and standouts in your field. Find images that express what you want to convey. Think about how you’ll express what makes you unique. Share samples and discuss ideas with your photographer.

Personalities shine through in the speaker headshots for the upcoming TEDWomen 2016 conference. I can’t wait to attend this in October and hear from these fascinating women and men.

Have your makeup and hair done. Bring in the professionals!

Whether it’s your own go-to hair and makeup glam squad, or a stop at the Dry Bar for a blowout and Sephora for a makeover, have your hair and makeup done.

Thank you, Emma Willis and Countour Fosse!

Wear solid colors. Solids photograph well and are bolder. Bright colors pop and attract more attention. Too much white can wash you out.

Bring several wardrobe options to your shoot and play around with the pieces. Have different jewelry options.

Blue is my employer’s brand color, so I chose a jewel-toned blue jacket (this is where I mention that opinions are my own). But I also love red, so I brought my favorite Nina McLemore jacket.

Try to smize. While searching for tips on taking a great headshot, supermodel and entrepreneur Tyra Banks rose to the top. Here I learned how to smize. This is all about smiling with your eyes to take a great shot.

Relax and have fun. Cue up your favorite music. Bring a friend who makes you laugh and brings out the best in you. Let your playful side emerge and enjoy all the attention. After all, how often do you get to be center stage for the better part of a day in real life?

Take “behind the scenes” pics. Among the four of us in the studio, we each got some pictures as the shoot was unfolding. These were fun to post on Instagram that day.

Choose the best image to be your personal brand. Look through all the shots on a few different occasions. Mark your favorites. Ask friends for feedback. Think about the brand you want to express. Does your selection capture that essence?

Use your headshot consistently in EVERYTHING. I used to use one photo in “professional” social media platforms (LinkedIn and Twitter) and a more casual one in more “personal” social media platforms (Facebook and Instagram). I tried to keep the two worlds separate, but the lines continue to blur.

So this time I took Guy Kawasaki‘s advice in The Art of Social Media. I picked one picture to use in everything.

Just as a business brand uses the same logo consistently, your headshot is YOUR brand. You should use the same photo consistently in your social world.

When I made a list of where I’d use my new headshot, it kept growing. Executive bio. Social media profiles. My gmail signature (another nod to Guy Kawasaki for recommending Wise Stamp). College alumni profiles. Google. Yelp. AirBNB. On so on.

My headshot is on my camera roll so I can upload it into event apps and anywhere I might need it.

Take advantage of events that offer headshots. Be camera ready to take a new pic at a variety of events that offer photography.

And don’t forget to smize!

Can Data Presentation be a Matter of Life or Death?

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To my surprise and delight, “communication” topped the list of key skills for data scientists in a CEB Market Insights blog post I read this week.

The post covered the top 10 skills for data scientists and 2 strategies for hiring them. Yet “communication” felt like a lone outlier among a list of highly quantitative skills, like managing structured data, mathematics, data mining and statistical modeling.

But indeed, the Business Broadway study the post cited showed that “communications” recurred the most frequently across a variety of data science roles.

When Thomas Davenport and D.J. Patil named “Data Scientist” the sexiest job of the 21st century in Harvard Business Review, they cited an enduring need “for data scientists to communicate in language that all their stakeholders understand – and to demonstrate the special skills involved in storytelling with data, whether verbally, visually, or – ideally – both.”

As a communicator who pivoted into marketing analytics, it’s heartening to to see data showing there’s a role and need for effective communication and storytelling skills.

And having led communications, the field is dramatically improved by data that demonstrates what works and what doesn’t, and helps predict how various audiences might respond to different communications strategies.

Beyond enabling data-driven decisions, clear communications about data can literally be a matter of life or death. Two fascinating examples crossed my path this morning in an article by Dr. Jenny Grant Rankin called Over-the-Counter Data: the heroics of well-displayed information.

The first example was an early use of data visualization in the summer of 1854. In London, 500 people died of mysterious causes in a 10-day period. A Dr. John Snow made his data user-friendly. He took a neighborhood map and noted the exact locations where people had died.

This pointed toward a local water pump that was the culprit in the spread of cholera. With this clearly displayed data, Dr. Snow was able to convince authorities to remove the pump’s handle in order to stop the outbreak.

Another example took a much more ominous turn. The night before the Space Shuttle Challenger launched in January 1986, NASA engineers and their supervisors looked at charts and data on the rocket’s O-ring function. This is what keeps hot gasses contained. Based on what they saw, the launch was cleared for takeoff.

But the available data was not displayed clearly. It showed failed launches, but not successful launches. And this led decision makers to overlook a critical piece of information – the O-rings worked properly only when the temperature was above 66 degrees. The day of the Challenger launch was 30 degrees below that. It was “so cold it does not even fit on the graph.” It’s still heart wrenching to recall the tragedy that occurred that day.

While thankfully the work of data scientists is rarely a life or death matter, these examples underscore the need for clarity in communicating data. For what cannot be understood cannot be implemented.

What’s the Future of Big Data?

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Data is the raw material of the information age.

So says Alec Ross in his book The Industries of the Future.

An expert on innovation, Ross draws parallels between land being the raw material of the agricultural age and iron being the raw material of the he industrial age.

Essentially, big data will touch every aspects of our lives. “Big data,” he says, “is transitioning from a tool primarily for targeted advertising to an instrument with profound applications for diverse corporate sectors and for addressing chronic societal problems.”

Here are a few of his predictions:

  1. During the next decade, big data will enable people to converse in not just one another language but dozens. While I won’t give up on my Spanish studies anytime soon, it’s good to know that data-based help is on the way.
  2. As the world’s population grows, so does the need for more food. “Precision agriculture” enabled by big data will help solve this problem.
  3. Smarter financial systems can be powered by big data. It was surprising, and even a little shocking, to read how antiquated many banking systems still are today.

An important caution is to understand the limits of big data and the critical interplay between machine and mind. This comes in the form of spurious correlations that may result from ever larger and bigger data sets. “Not all the trends it finds are rooted in reality,” he says.

The solution? Including error bars with data analysis predictions. Error bars are “visual representations of how likely a prediction is to be an error rooted in spurious correlation.”

In addition to peering into the future of big data, Ross gives two great tips for “the most important job you will ever have.” How does he define that? Parenting.

What can parents do to help their children be ready to embrace the future?

Ross frames it in terms of languages. The first language is globalism. “Ironically,” he writes, “in a world growing more virtual, it has never been more important to get as many ink stamps in your passport as possible.”

And even though big data may eventually make the need to learn other languages obsolete, it’s wise to learn another language beyond English. The most practical choices, not surprisingly, are Spanish and Mandarin.

The other language to learn is technology. “If big data, genomics, cyber, and robotics are among the high-growth industries of the future,” Ross says, “then the people who will make their livings in these industries need to be fluent in the coding languages behind them.”

Other benefits come with understanding technology. Ross cites fellow pundits who tout the ability to better see patterns and to think in new and different ways. Studying technology is a valuable way to sharpen your critical thinking skills.

One of Ross’ points that I was happiest to see came in the introduction. Because his book explores competitiveness, he delves into the driving force behind competitive countries and businesses being the development of people.

He takes it a critical step further. “And there is no greater indicator of an innovative culture than the empowerment of women. Fully integrating and empowering women economically and politically is the most important step that a country or company can take to strengthen its competitiveness.”

Well said, Alec Ross.

Cut Email Time in Half with this Simple Trick


Need a simple hack to motivate yourself to slog through your email backlog?

Here’s a great one from author and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Charles Duhigg: as fast as you can, write a one-sentence reply to each message.

But don’t send them right away.

Just read and write a sentence in response that “expresses an opinion or decision.”

And if you can exercise control over the situation in your response, you’ll be more motivated to continue, Duhigg says in his book Smarter Faster Better.

Then you can can go back into your draft messages and add the rest of each message – salutations, specifics and signoffs.

This is a terrific example of two ways Duhigg says you can generate motivation.

The first is to “make a choice that puts you in control.” And “the specific choice itself matters less in sparking motivation than the assertion of control.”

The second is to “figure out how this task is connected to something you care about.” If you can “explain why this matters, then you’ll find it easier to start.”

Duhigg’s book is full of fascinating science behind motivation, teams, focus, goal setting, managing others, decision making, innovation and absorbing data.

You’ll learn “the secrets of being productive in life and business” – not only for yourself, but also for your colleagues and your kids.

If you’re looking for an interesting and insightful summer read, this is one to download on your mobile device or pack in your beach bag.