Tell Me About a Train Wreck

CL_Train Pic

What are the questions – asked and unasked – you’ll encounter in an interview for a corporate communications job? Here are mine.

Can you write? This really means, “can you think?” As acclaimed historian David McCullough said, “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That is why it’s so hard.”

Good writing is the price of admission to corporate comms. That’s why I’m often surprised by the number of people in the field who aren’t strong writers.

How do you become a good writer? Read voraciously. Write frequently. Edit liberally.

Are you smart? While you don’t have to be Mensa material, you need to have common sense. You need to possess a pragmatic, practical intelligence to navigate our VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – world.

How do you solve problems? This is where I ask people to tell me about a train wreck. A project gone wrong. A major mess-up.

I want to see what early-warning indicators they observe. How they take accountability. How they turn things around. And how they analyze and fix the root cause so it won’t happen again.

Essentially, can they figure it out?

Do you have grit? Psychologist Angela Duckworth says grit is the key to success.

What is grit? It’s “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals . . . having stamina . . . and living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

It’s never giving up. And according to Duckworth, it’s more important than talent or IQ.

This is why I’m looking for candidates with passion and dedication. People with a relentless commitment to making something happen, whatever it takes.

Will you thrive in this culture? Every company has a distinct culture, or the way work gets done. Is it formal or informal? More structured or less structured? Conservative or innovative?

I ask candidates to tell me about the environment they most enjoy working in. Then I’ll ask why and for a few examples. As they speak, I picture how they might interact at a meeting or with various leaders at the company.

Are you savvy? This isn’t a question I’ll ask directly, but I’ll listen for signs that someone knows how to navigate an organization. That they know how to articulate their point of view appropriately, at the same time that they’ll listen to and consider their colleagues’ points of view. That they know how to resolve conflicts with professionalism and poise.

Will you add a diverse perspective and skill set to our team? The more diverse the team, the more effective it will be. Research bears this out.

I’m looking for people with a different take, a fresh perspective or a novel twist on doing things. This is part of always striving to improve and get better.

How flexible and agile are you? Can you quickly see when change is needed? And if so, can you pivot? Do you remain calm and unruffled when the best-laid plans need to be scrapped or redirected?

Are you social? A communicator has to be active in at least a few social media platforms. This is no longer optional. It’s a requirement.

When I’m preparing to interview a candidate, I start with a Google search and the person’s LinkedIn profile. Then I see what they’re tweeting. And how they’re communicating visually with pictures, videos, infographics and more.

Great story: A candidate flying in for an interview with my team tweeted about the great DIRECTV service on his flight, complete with a screenshot. We hired him.

Bad story: A candidate who tweeted “nailed it” after an interview. A fellow USC Annenberg alum shared this on a career panel we were on last year. That tweet ended the person’s candidacy.

What kind of a leader are you? In one word, how would your team describe your leadership style?

Here I’m inspired by my DIRECTV colleague Jen Jaffe who leads talent development. We were recently on a leadership panel at our company’s Young Professionals Network. She asked her team for input on her leadership style, so I did the same.

It’s an instant 360 feedback activity. Try it with your colleagues sometime.

How much upside career potential do you have? As candidates tell me about themselves, I’m listening through the filter of our leadership competencies.

Are they a strategic thinker? Someone who can innovate? Lead change? Deliver results? Build talent and teamwork? Establish productive relationships? Act with integrity? And build a deep understanding of corporate communications, our business and our industry?

What are you looking for in your next career gig? Life is too short to work in a job where you aren’t learning, contributing and making progress toward your most important goals.

That’s why I’m eager to learn what the candidate wants to get out of the job. It has to be a great fit for the company and the candidate as we work together to transform TV and entertain the future.

And lastly, one of my favorite bloggers, Penelope Trunk, offers a great course on reaching your goals by blogging. She advises people in each post to “write and write until something surprises you.”

My aha moment was seeing the relationship between heading off a train wreck and acting with grit. The Little Engine That Could did exactly that.

And it’s what each of us needs to do every day. Because we’re all capable of far more than we think we are.


How is Social Media Changing Language?

A  = 1K wds

And ampersands are awesome in company names. P&G. H&M. A&E.

Not so much in copy.

Unless you’re trying to fit a complete thought into a 140-character tweet. Or about 100, to leave space for a retweet.

When you’re trying to economize on “spaces” (a shorter word than “characters”), using the ampersand symbol “&” saves 2 spaces over “and”

So “and” becomes “&” – “for” becomes “4” – and “creative” becomes “cr8v”

And sayings become acronyms. LOL. OMG. IDK.

Or emojis.   

Need guidance on using these “picture letters” that originated in Japan? If you have teens in the house, you already know. Otherwise, check out Emojipedia.

And who needs punctuation? That period at the end of a complete thought becomes extraneous. It might even be the character that puts you over the limit.

Conversely, as the NYT recently reported, “punctuation on steroids” could be just what you need in place of actual words!!!!!

And in my quest for brevity as I substitute “calm” for “serene” or “luck” for “serendipity,” I wonder if longer words will fade away over time. They take up too much space in our world of limited character counts and attention spans.

Yet this would be a huge loss for the human experience. Words have nuance. They spark emotions. And tug on us in different ways.

That’s why my well-worn copy of the Dictionary of Synonyms is just as important as my app.

And speaking of limited attention spans, while I was linking to the app, I noticed 7 Words the Internet Reinvented.

It also made me wonder if some of the most beautiful words in English could be facing extinction.

What about serendipity, mellifluous and effervescent? Or insouciance, labyrinthine and denouement? Are they just too long in our evanescent and ephemeral environment?

Yet there’s upside to all of this. My fervent hope is that jargon-like words such as “utilize” will fade away, and we’ll simply say “use.” Maybe Strunk and White will finally get their wish to see “prestigious” truly become “an adjective of last resort.”

Parts of this are difficult for someone who prefers clean and clear copy, free of abbreviations and other affronts to the eye. To someone who has a hard time with the AP Style convention of abbreviating states – Calif., Colo. and Conn. There’s much more majesty in California, Colorado and Connecticut.

Like everything in life, it’s a balance. And it’s about your audience. Whom are you writing for? Whom do you want to influence? What form of the language do you need to speak to do that?

IDK, wht do u thnk ?!?!? . . .


How to Be Social in Instagram

CL_InstagramPhotography was never my strong suit.

Yet we live in a visual world. And as a “word” person, I need to keep learning about visual ways to communicate.

Enter Instagram.

Setting goals. My reason for being on Instagram is to develop my photography skills and the eye for the visual. I began with beautiful scenery, and my next area of focus is people.

My audience is a mashup of personal and professional contacts. I’m not strictly focused on a business-related goal. Yet.

That said, great resources for using the platform for business to “share your brand’s point of view” can be found right on the Instagram site.

Getting started. A James Dean quote inspired me one weekend while I was out and about. “Dream as if you will live forever. Live as if you will die today,” caught my eye. It was so powerful and timeless that I wanted to share it. And thus began my Instagram posts a year ago this month.

Set your goals and then just start. Learn and adjust as you go. Explore your passions as they evolve. Connect with interesting people and brands. “Like” and comment on others’ posts. Have fun with the experience.

After all, isn’t that what life is all about?

Finding people and organizations to follow. Starting with my employer, I’m proud to follow @DIRECTV, @DTVBlimp and @DIRECTVCareers.

Working in entertainment, I enjoy following major events like the @GoldenGlobes and @TheAcademy. Plus favorite TV shows @DowntonAbbey, @TheGoodWife and @BetterCallSaul. And an amazing documentary about “ordinary women doing extraordinary things,” @EmpowermentDocu.

Then there’s the mashup of work colleagues, community friends and family members. You never know where inspiration is going to strike.

Creating compelling content. Instagram is my online, real-time photography class. I keep an eye out for compelling images in the everyday world. I practice taking different shots from different angles, with different lighting. I experiment with the fun filters available on Instagram. I try cropping images in different ways.

On the topic of photos, I take a counter-intuitive approach to bio photos across social media platforms. Most of the great advice about building social media profiles says you should use the same photo across all platforms to build your personal brand.

However, I use different photos for different reasons. My LinkedIn profile has the professional bio shot provided by my employer. This matches my employer’s corporate bio for me.

My Twitter profile has a bio shot that I had done independently. And since I’m not tweeting in an official capacity for my employer, a professional photo not associated with my employer made better sense to me.

My Instagram profile has the same photo as my Facebook profile. Since my purpose for being on Instagram is more informal, I felt something with a more casual feel would work better.

Fitting it into daily life. Wherever I go, I’m on the lookout for visually appealing images. The blue trees above were from the @DIRECTV holiday celebration event at our Southern California headquarters. As I was heading home, I was struck by the colorful vibrancy our amazing Corporate Events team led by Kerin Lau had created. A quick snap of a picture and a comment mentioning DIRECTV was all it took to capture and share the moment.

And many of my pictures are taken while I’m out exercising. So I’m taking steps for my health and my Fitbit at the same time as I’m creating content. The added benefit is I find I’m more attuned to and aware of my surroundings. This creates more mindfulness in my life in general, plus deep gratitude for the natural beauty of our planet. All good things for a healthy and productive life.

Finding adjunct uses. Everything interconnects, I shared in How to Be Social.

This blog requires a variety of images, so the photos I snap for Instagram also become part of my personal photo library. There’s no copyright to worry about or payment for the images, since I’m the photographer.

And over the holidays visiting family in New England, I followed my nephews and niece in Instagram (and somewhat surprisingly, they followed me back). And I helped my mom set up an account, so she can follow us and feel more connected to our lives across the country.

My teen daughter and son are great coaches. They help me through the “how do I . . .?” moments. And I heed their advice to post no more than two images on any given day. That keeps the quality up and hopefully means followers look forward to seeing more, rather than wishing to see fewer, posts.

What are your best Instagram tips?

How to Be Social in Twitter

CL_Twitter_11,030 tweets ago, I joined Twitter.

It was April 2012, the same month we launched a social collaboration platform at my employer.

In addition to a leadership blog I started on the platform to figure out what I was doing, it seemed like the right time to join Twitter too.

It wasn’t until just over a year ago that I really engaged with it, though. Dorie Clark inspired me with her Forbes article on how to dramatically increase your Twitter following.

Setting goals. One of the challenging things about Twitter is figuring out why you’re there and what you want to accomplish. At first I couldn’t articulate any clear goals, other than trying it out.

Then I realized with my voracious reading habit, it could be a way to share great content, without becoming a near spammer by emailing too many articles to friends and colleagues.

My goal became to share content related to my professional interests – corporate communications, change, leadership, human resources and corporate social responsibility.

And it’s an opportunity to promote my employer, with an emphasis on community involvement @DIRECTVSchools and talent development @DIRECTVCareers.

As always, it’s important to disclose my affiliation and be clear that opinions expressed are mine. And I follow the light, bright and polite mantra from How to Be Social.

Getting started. After opening your account comes setting up a 160-character bio. This is a chance to be interesting and use #hashtags, @mentions and links. Upload a photo. And update the bio from time to time as you and your interests evolve. Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite by Alexandra Samuel is a great Harvard Business Review e-book to jumpstart involvement.

Finding people and organizations to follow. Just like being social in LinkedIn, you can connect with your existing contacts to invite people you already now. Every time you meet someone new, see if they’re on Twitter and follow them. If there’s someone you want to know more about, follow them. I also follow the media outlets in my News Rituals of a Communicator.

Following people back. Early in my career, I read John Maxwell‘s book, Becoming a Person of Influence. What stuck with me was his premise that people are open to influence from those who are open to influence from them. John Maxwell was one of the first people I followed on Twitter. And I was gleefully surprised when he (or whoever manages his account) followed me back.

That influenced my thinking about who I’ll follow back. I’ll follow back people and organizations who seem professional and legitimate. Accounts that offer Twitter followers for sale or have inappropriate content? No thanks; not interested.

Tweeting compelling content. My daily news ritual as a communicator also allows me to find tweetable content to share. There’s @WSJ and @nytimes. And @latimes since I’m in Southern California. Also love @HarvardBiz, @TheAtlantic and @PsychToday.  As often as possible, I look up the reporter’s Twitter handle and add it to the retweet.

Lots of favorite people – @AmyJCuddy, @AdamMGrant, @LVanderkam, @PenelopeTrunk, @MartyNemko, @brainpicker and too many more to list.

Being visual. Tweets with images get 150% more interaction than those without, so include a photo or video with as many tweets as possible. @TheAtlantic now includes an images with nearly every tweet. This is highly engaging, with an Instagram feel. Perhaps that’s one reason why Instagram seems to be neck and neck with Twitter with the number of users.

Reciprocating. Retweet great content that fits with your area of interest. Give it your personal spin by tapping “quote tweet,” and adding a few personal words, followed by “RT” and the original tweet. (If that puts the tweet over 140 characters, you can do an MT – modified tweet – by making minor changes such as “&” for “and” or deleting extraneous words like “that” to save characters).

If I like a tweet that isn’t fully relevant to my subject areas, from one of our local schools for example, I’ll favorite it rather than retweet it.

Growing followers. According to Dorie Clark, the more often you tweet, the more followers you’ll attract. At a minimum, I tweet at least once a day. Three to five tweets are better, spaced throughout the day. And try a message to new followers to say thanks and engage on a topic of interest.

Fitting it into daily life. Plan a tweet first thing in the morning, at mid day and at the end of the day. If you’re the super organized type, create an editorial calendar. Research says the best times to tweet are Mondays through Thursdays between 9 am and 3 pm. Of course, you have to factor in your own geographic location, who you’re trying to engage with and where they’re located.

Finding adjunct uses. There many ways to use Twitter beyond connecting with people on the platform–

  • Researching people I’ll soon be meeting
  • Assessing a job candidate I’m about to interview
  • Vetting a speaker I’m considering for a leadership conference
  • Getting quick, authoritative info in real-time a crisis situation (the 2013 LAX shooting being one example)
  • Engaging with compelling content and colleagues at conferences, by sharing valuable sound bites and images. Speaking in larger venues highlighted for me the importance of preparing your speech to be shared via social media in short, tweetable statements.

What are your best Twitter tips?

How to Be Social in LinkedIn


The place to start your professional presence in social media is LinkedIn.

With nearly 300 million professionals and two new members per second, it’s where to be in the work world.

Reciprocity is a key principle of social media. Think of others. What interests them? What inspires them? How can you highlight and promote their efforts?

Be a strategic giver, in the spirit that Wharton professor Adam Grant wrote about in his bestseller Give and Take.

Setting goals. On any social media platform, start by defining your goals. Why are you there? What do you want to accomplish? Two big reasons are because LinkedIn is becoming your resume and to build your professional network.

Getting started. Assuming you already have an account, refresh your profile (make sure you’ve turned off the profile notification updates to your network). Include a professional photo. Upload samples of your best work.

Get Work Smarter with LinkedIn by Alexandra Samuel. This Harvard Business Review e-book gets you started with a great profile and easy ways to update your professional portfolio and expand your network over time.

Connecting with people. To start, you can connect with your existing contacts to invite people you already know. Every time you meet someone new – whether inside or outside of your company – send them a connection request. Be sure to personalize it. Don’t send the default request. Write a short note about why you want to connect. Use it as an opportunity to differentiate yourself and brighten someone’s day.

Assessing connection requests. Generally I’ll connect with people I know. And with people at my company, even if I haven’t met them yet. If I don’t know someone and their industry or role looks relevant, I might accept the request. If a request is from someone completely unknown to me, I don’t accept it. Unless they have taken the time to personalize the request and explain why they would like to connect with me.

Growing your presence. Add something new to your profile at least once a quarter, and ideally every month. Add a new project, a video or other work sample. List speaking engagements. New awards. Something you wrote. At least once a week, post a status update about a project or accomplishment. Share a pertinent article or blog post. Consider starting a LinkedIn blog to share your expertise.

Engaging with people. Beyond building your network, scroll through the home page a few times a week. Tuesdays are especially good. “Like” people’s postings. Comment on a few. Join a discussion group and be an active participant. Offer to write recommendations for people you can enthusiastically endorse.

Fitting it into your life. Schedule a few minutes each week to post a status update. If you’re the super organized type, create an editorial calendar. Research says the best times to post to LinkedIn are early in the week. Put the LinkedIn app on your smartphone so you can access it on the go. Waiting in line somewhere? Post a quick status update (on a professional topic, not the line).

Learning from luminaries. Want help with your LinkedIn profile? Check out speaker and author Donna Serdula. You can also learn all about LinkedIn from Eve MayerLori Ruff and Viveka von Rosen.

Finding adjunct uses. Jumping on a call with people you haven’t met yet? Check out their LinkedIn profiles. See what looks interesting, and what you might have in common to quickly build rapport. One of my responsibilities is to design and deliver my company’s annual leadership meeting. LinkedIn is incredibly helpful once I’ve identified speakers of interest and I want to connect with them directly.

Engaging with customers. From time to time I hear from customers. I make those requests a priority and connect people to the right place within customer care. It may change someone’s mind for the better and generate goodwill.

Engaging with job candidates. People often contact me looking for the hiring manager for an online job posting. This is an opportunity to further our company’s employer brand, we entertain the future. I’ll use my internal network with our recruiters to direct the person to the right place. It’s all part of wanting candidates to have a great experience interacting with us and furthering our corporate reputation.

Engaging with recruiters. With the economy picking up, so has the volume of recruiter outreach. If a recruiter’s profile looks legitimate, I’ll review the job description and try to recommend at least a few good candidates. If there aren’t any people I can refer, I’ll connect the recruiter with a forum group I belong to of senior-level corporate communicators.

What are your best LinkedIn tips?

How to Be Social

Every communicator – and every leader – has to be social.

It’s not a matter of IF you’re going to engage with social media, but of HOW.

To be effective, to be relevant and to have influence, you need a personal social strategy. Just as organizations need a social strategy.

And while your personal strategy is just that, by linking it with your company’s efforts you’ll maximize the impacts.

“Learn by doing” is a great guiding philosophy.

One of my superstar team members, Tyler Jacobson, shared this with me when my family made a college visit to his alma mater, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Students were involved in hands-on learning in whatever department we went to on campus, from agriculture to engineering and from business to communications.

It’s the same with social media. What you learn by doing in your own social involvement you can apply at your company. And you can teach others from your experience. Learning is the main reason I started this blog.

Begin with your company’s social media policy to learn the rules of the road. My comms team is responsible for company policies. So with leadership from Michael Ambrozewicz on my team, we created the company’s first social media policy a few years ago, collaborating with key stakeholders.

And we made sure to comply with the National Labor Relations Act‘s protection of the rights of employees to act together to address conditions at work.

It’s important to disclose your affiliation with your company, make it clear you aren’t an official spokesperson (unless of course, you are), and state that your opinions are your own.

Being “light, bright and polite” is a good idea. I realized I was following this mantra myself when Josh Ochs spoke to parents at our local high school this week about helping students engage appropriately with social media.

As a side note, this is an example of how I try to integrate my work life and my personal life, rather than attempt the impossible feat of balancing them. I think about how I can apply something I learned at work at home, and vice versa.

Another great speaker at my daughter’s high school this month was Tyler Durman. Although he spoke about parenting teens, his advice applied to any relationship.

He reminded me that when you want to build rapport, negotiate or solve a problem with someone, sit next to them rather than across from them. This validated a great research-based Harvard Business Review blog on presenting effectively to a small audience.

Everything interconnects. And it’s the same with social media.

In our community we’re blessed with great public and private schools. A few years ago I served as a trustee on the Peninsula Education Foundation, where we raise money for our public schools.

When our president asked me to spearhead the creation of a new strategic plan, I learned by doing. I put into practice my grad school study of Michael Porter and what I was learning in a McKinsey-led “Strategy 101” course at DIRECTV.

A key question from the course was, “what problem are you trying to solve?”

This can be the guiding principle to create and evolve a social strategy.

Some of the “problems” I’ve been solving through social media involvement are:

How do I . . .

  • Advise our CEO on launching a blog?
  • Find great speakers for leadership gatherings?
  • Help tell our corporate social responsibility story?
  • Improve my photo and video skills in our visual world?
  • Build a network of interesting and diverse people?
  • Pursue lifelong learning in my career?

Last year my colleague Michelle Locke asked me to succeed her as president of one of DIRECTV’s employee resource groups, the Women’s Leadership Exchange.

Its 1,000 members focus on building a culture that enhances the experiences of female employees. The group provides learning, networking and mentoring for both women and men.

One of my first tasks was to work with the steering committee on our speaker series. Our research yielded a wish list of people.

One of them was Gwynne Shotwell. She’s the COO of SpaceX, the innovative company that manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. SpaceX is shooting to enable people to live on other planets, such as Mars.

DIRECTV is also in the satellite business with the delivery of a premium video experience, and we’re a corporate neighbor of SpaceX in the South Bay of Los Angeles.

Both companies are encouraging more students to pursue STEM careers (see Gwynne’s TEDx talk, Engineering America, and the corporate citizenship work of Tina Morefield on my team). It seemed like a perfect fit.

The only problem?

I didn’t know Gwynne. And I didn’t know anyone who did.

Until I turned to LinkedIn. I searched for Gwynne’s profile. And saw we had 9 connections in common. One of them was a DIRECTV colleague, Phil Goswitz, our SVP of Video, Space & Communications, and Design Thinking.

An email I sent to Phil led to an email invite from Phil to Gywnne. Based on their connection, we heard a yes within hours. The only detail was to find a date.

That date was this week. That’s us with Gwynne in the photo – from left, Heesoon Kim, me, Phil, Gwynne, Katie Jenks, Lisa Pue Chinery and Laurie Lopez.

We had to bring in extra chairs for the unusually large group. Gwynne inspired us with her fearless approach to pursuing her passions – engineering and space.

Coworkers I see in our cafe, courtyard and conference rooms are telling me how inspired and energized they were by Gwynne’s talk. Even people who didn’t attend are buzzing about it.

And it happened in part thanks to social media. A topic I’ll explore in upcoming posts.

Internal = External


An encouraging economic sign is the number of senior-level communications roles available at big companies.

It seems a week doesn’t go by without one or two CCO, SVP or VP level communications roles appearing in social media or email.

The position descriptions show how the reputation and impact of corporate communications have grown in recent years.

Common characteristics are “key member of the leadership team,” “contributing to competitive advantage” and “creating growth and sustainable shareholder value.”

One aspect that puzzles me, though, is the continuing demarcation between internal and external communications.

Position descriptions describe responsibilities such as “telling the strategic narrative of the company internally and externally,” “handling internal and external communications” and “focusing globally on all internal and external communications.”

Perhaps the intent is that there’s extensive integration between internal and external stakeholders – with employees on the internal side and customers, consumers, shareholders, government leaders, community members and more on the external side.

Yet it almost feels like a traditional church-and-state separation between employees and customers at a company or between editorial and advertising at a news outlet.

Oh sure, there are plenty of references to integrated communications among internal and external audiences, or stakeholders. And the lines are blurring between stakeholders, given the transparent and tech-enabled world we live in.

But I would argue that what’s internal is external. And what’s external is internal.

There is no longer any line, any barrier or any boundary separating them. There is no way to message only to a single stakeholder group.

All audiences must all be considered in developing an integrated communications plan. And while one audience may take precedence over another in any given sub-plan, they all must be assessed, considered and prioritized.

When a leader holds a town hall meeting with employees, it’s an internal communication, right? Well no, actually, if employees are tweeting content during the meeting or posting event photos on Instagram.

When a leader does an interview with a major news outlet, it’s an external communication, right? Well no, actually, because employees will be listening and reading too.

The natural reaction would be to focus on the negative implications in this.

What if an employee is tweeting sensitive company information during that town hall or posting inappropriate photos of it?

What if a leader is talking with a media outlet about business strategy that may come as an unsettling surprise to employees or customers?

And while those things could certainly happen, they can be and usually are mitigated by considering all stakeholders in those communications.

Beyond that, there’s a tremendous amount of upside potential in the convergence of stakeholder groups.

Employees can be the company’s greatest advocates and brand ambassadors outside the company.

They can attract new talent with their passion about why the company is an amazing place to work. They can share feedback on recruiting sites like Glassdoor, which posts an annual list of CEOs who are the most highly rated by their employees. And they can tell current and potential customers from firsthand experience what a great product or service the company provides.

Coverage in traditional media and social media can reach well beyond the primary audience too.

Employees are consumers of news and social media just like any other audience. They set Google alerts, watch news and form opinions from a variety of external sources. And they are content creators and reputation builders as well through their participation in social media. This can either help or hurt your company’s reputation and its ability to grow and create a competitive advantage.

One holiday season when consumer orders spiked and UPS had a hard time delivering packages on time, a driver posted a response to a customer complaint on Facebook. He talked about how hard he was working to get packages to people on time.

In the process he put a human face on the company and connected with customers in a compelling way. That humanization of the company is also apparent in its marketing – its wishes delivered campaign being one example

It can work in the opposite direction, showing the transparency with which we all work. Who doesn’t remember the infamous cable company call, when a customer recorded an employee’s egregious attempts to retain the his business?

This underscores the importance of building trust with all stakeholders over a long period of time, one interaction at a time. It speaks to the primary purpose of corporate communications to build a strong and positive corporate reputation, based on a balance of the best interests of those stakeholders.

It’s also important to remember that feedback can come from a variety of places – from practically anywhere these days.

Driving home from a family dinner this weekend, my daughter was checking out Yik Yak as we were near my office. Yik Yak is a geography-based social network, where you can see what people within a few miles of you are saying.

She read a comment from an employee at my company, who said they weren’t aware of a big external event the company was involved with.

It was a timely reminder to me to be thinking more broadly and more expansively, all the time, about what’s newsworthy from an employee perspective, and how we bring “external” messages to our “internal” audience.

Sure, staffing resources and such determine a certain priority to communications plans and messages. But by taking a fully integrated audience approach to planning and messaging, the positive impact of communications can by multiplied many times.

News Rituals of a Communicator

FotorCreated_CL News

Should you check your smartphone the minute you wake up?

As a communicator, absolutely.

And while it’s not a good life hack for most people, as a communications leader my smartphone is on my nightstand every night. The ringtone is on for calls, and sounds are off for everything else.

This is because crises don’t confine themselves to business hours (whatever those may be these days). As communicators we have to be available 24/7 if needed. And I’m happy to say the unexpected calls are very few and far between.

When I wake up in the morning, there’s a 15-minute ritual I follow.

First I tell my new Fitbit I’m awake. And see how many restless minutes get subtracted from my total sleep time. It’s been disappointing to realize I have to spend more than 7 hours in bed to get “full credit” for those hours.

Then I see what texts and emails have come in. Just a quick scan to ensure nothing’s urgent. Otherwise, no email processing first thing in the morning.

Anthony Martini on my team at DIRECTV inspired a great habit of setting Google alerts via email – for our company, key people and other timely topics.

Then it’s on to the headlines.

First I’ll look at top stories in The Wall Street Journal, and the Business, Tech, Markets and Life & Culture sections after that. (Being in the entertainment business, I look forward to the episode recaps of my favorite TV shows.) It’s valuable to observe how various reporters are covering different topics in the news.

Then onto The New York TimesI love the Your Daily Briefing every weekday with a roundup of key headlines. If I only have 60 seconds to scan the news, this is perfect. Then on to Most Emailed (for what’s trending and resonating), Business and Technology. I’ll look at Sports, too, if I’ve missed big games over the weekend.

After that I check out my Twitter feed to see what’s happening. I’ll peek at a few of the DIRECTV feeds, like @DIRECTV, @DIRECTVSchools, @DIRECTVCareers and @DTVBlimp.

And I’ll look for an interesting story from the headlines or from DIRECTV to tweet about @caroline_leach. My topics are #corpcomms #change #leadership and #CSR. And our CSR hashtag, #DIRECTVgivesback. Opinions are my own.

It was encouraging to learn that WSJ, NYT and Twitter are the top 3 “daily ‘must-reads'” of global CCOs (chief communications officers), according to SpencerStuart‘s CCO V report focusing on the changing media environment.

As the day goes on, I check out blog posts on @HarvardBiz, for quick tips and insights on strategy, leadership, comms and more.

My office TV – a great perk of working at DIRECTV – bounces around between various news channels and DIRECTV’s Audience Network. I especially love seeing our headquarters campus and colleagues in the background shots of The Rich Eisen Show.

On evenings and weekends I’ll catch up on longer-form reading with a variety of books and magazines. Whether I’m working out on the treadmill or waiting in line somewhere, I have something to read on my phone or tablet.

My relevant screen shots are in the opening photo, not including my books and blogs. I try to read from a wide variety of sources. I’m fascinated by a diversity of viewpoints and the themes and patterns that run across many outlets.

Our household went 100% digital with our news three years ago, so it’s all on our smartphones and tablets. No more waiting for printed papers to arrive with the cold morning air, encased in plastic and creating recycling bulk that has to be hauled outside to the appropriate bin.

We still get plenty of printed magazines on a wide variety of topics. As I shared in one of my Who Am I? posts, I’m a bit of a magazine and book addict.

I’d love to hear from you. What other news rituals should I consider?



The Art of the Acceptance Speech


Being in the video entertainment business, it’s especially fun to watch the awards shows.

Beyond checking out the red-carpet looks, I’m intrigued by the acceptance speeches.

There’s an art to saying something profound, entertaining and tweet-able, all while weaving in a few carefully chosen words of thanks.

Bruce Feiler summed it up well last year in his New York Times piece, Saying Thank You in 45 Seconds. According to Bruce, that’s about 65 words, or two tweets. And he goes on to give some excellent advice.

Watching the Golden Globes this month, I was listening for great speeches.

And I was especially touched by Common and John Legend’s acceptance speech for best original song for Glory in the film Selma.

It was such a classy, optimistic, inclusive, real way to highlight the film’s core messages of equality, humanity and continuing to work toward making our world a better place for everyone.

Check it out if you want to brighten your day, learn to be an inspiring speaker and do what you can to improve the world.

Looking forward to more great words at the Academy Awards in February.

How to Give a Great Speech


“What’s your process for writing a speech?”

That was an unexpected interview question several years ago. An energetic organizational development professional with a Ph.D. at a large corporation sat across the desk from me awaiting my response.

“Process?” I racked my brain as I tried to stave off panic. “I just sit down and do it,” I thought.

Because I’m on the intuitive end of the Myers-Briggs preferences spectrum between intuition and sensing, I prefer patterns and future possibilities to an over-emphasis on process.

However, a response was required.

And here’s my process, whether I’m writing a speech for a C-level leader or myself – like in the photo above that Shel Holtz took of the social media general session at the 2013 IABC World Conference.

As I reflected on how I prepared, I came up with a 12-step process. Here are thoughts on each.

Planning. What are the objectives for the speech? What do you need the audience to think or do differently? Beyond that, assess the format of the speech. Is it a keynote? An interview? A panel? Decide if the selected format will enable you to best meet the objectives. If not, make a change.

Analyzing the audience. Who is the audience? What are their key characteristics? What do they believe and what do you need to change about their beliefs or actions? Consider ways you can make an emotional connection with your audience.

Ideating. Sketch out ideas on paper, ask others for input and set times to “think without thinking,” a concept inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink. Consider what you want to accomplish. Then set it aside and go for a walk, take a nap or do other work. The ideas will flow later as your subconscious mind generates them while you walk, sleep or work.

Researching. Create a thesis statement. What are you trying to prove? Or disprove? Then do some research for facts and figures that support your thesis. Bring a critical eye to the online sources you choose. Will they carry enough weight with your audience? Do they add variety? Do they help you present your subject in fresh, unexpected or humorous ways?

Outlining. Create a rough outline from everything you’ve done so far. Start with a compelling opening. A dramatic statement. A startling question. Or a keen observation. Then make sure your information flows in a logical progression. Find the surprise in your material for the ending. Give the audience a “so what” to summarize. And leave them with a strong call to action of what they should do next. Start thinking about accompanying visuals. What photos, images or videos could enhance your message, add humor or bring emotion to your subject?

Writing. Now it’s time to write the first draft of your speech. But first you’ll have to get rid of the inner critic. What works for me is to “write sh**.” Just “write anything” to get words on the page. No judgments about whether they’re good or bad. Just put words on the screen. Because they can be shaped later in the editing process. That’s what I do with this blog. The real art comes in the editing, eliminating and refining.

Refining. Set your draft aside. Ideally for a day. If you’re short on time, even an hour will help. Then look at your draft with a fresh set of eyes. You’ll probably find that it’s better than you thought. And you’ll have some perspective to start editing and refining it. Does the opening grab the audience right from the start? Does the material flow in a logical way? Have you used simple words and short sentences that you would actually use in conversation? Have you triple-checked all of your facts?

Developing visuals. What visuals will enhance your talk and bring your key points to life? Consider your medium. Will you use Prezi, PowerPoint, SlideShare or a SlideDoc? Your visuals aren’t your speaking notes, so don’t cram them with a lot of words. Think about the visuals that can help tell your story. A photo or a video clip, perhaps. Watch TED talks for ideas and inspiration.

Rehearsing. Memorize your speech, or at least the key points, so you can deliver your talk in a friendly and relaxed way. I record myself giving the speech on my iPhone, and then I listen to it during drive time to memorize and refine it. Arrive early and rehearse on the stage where you’ll give the presentation. Know who will introduce you, how you’ll enter the stage and where you’ll stand or sit. Move around the stage – and even among the audience – if you can as you speak. Magic Johnson did this once at a conference I attended. He literally jumped off the stage, walked up and down the aisles, took selfies with audience members and generally spun speaking gold.

Promoting. Promote your speech before before and after you give it. Promotion before will encourage more people to attend. There are the usual ways, such as the conference website, social media channels and news releases. Tap into your own social media, whether it’s LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram or others. Make sure the audience knows your Twitter handle and the conference hashtag. Right after your speech, jump into any conversations in social media – to retweet observations that amplify your message, make new connections and extend the reach of your talk. Post a video of part or all of your speech in YouTube.

Presenting. Here’s where feedback on other speeches can help you. Whenever you speak, see if it can be recorded. As painful as it may be, watch the recording. Identify what you did well and what you would improve. Ask others for feedback. Act on it. Sleep well the night before your talk. Eat a good breakfast. Wear something that makes you feel great – especially bold solid colors that will stand out and contrast with the stage. Do the Amy Cuddy Wonder Woman power pose right before you speak. If you’re nervous, remember the audience is rooting for you. Be human and relatable. Pretend you’re having a one-on-one conversation with someone in the audience. Make eye contact. Smile. Breathe. Enjoy.

Getting feedback. Stick around after your talk to answer questions and ask others what they thought. See what the buzz is in social media. Watch the video of your talk. Check out the conference evaluations, if there are any. Just like in your life and your career, strive to get better each time you speak.

Many people have inspired me as I’ve come to love public speaking. I listen to TED talks during drive time – to learn something new, pick up speaking tips and identify thought leaders I may seek as speakers as corporate leadership events.

Chris Anderson who curates TED is writing a book called Talk This Way, out in spring 2016. In the meantime, some of his thinking is crystallized in How to Give a Killer Presentation in Harvard Business Review.

And Nancy Duarte is one of my favorite thought leaders in presenting with panache through storytelling – in her TED talk, LinkedIn blog and website.

This week I spoke about self-awareness to high-potential leaders at my company. Using the process above, I hope I’ve helped inspire colleagues on their development journeys. Based on some of the feedback, I’m hopeful and inspired that I did.