5 Meeting Rules You’ll Actually Want to Adopt

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Are meetings something that you would consider magical at your organization? No? Why not? Aren’t meetings a place to collaborate, share ideas, dream big dreams and then make things happen?

Few business people would describe meetings using terms like actionable, positive, critical and focused . . . yet those are the terms that help define success in moving the organization forward.

Communication methods are imperfect as a whole. While you can create a business plan via a series of emails, it’s inefficient and the plan will often lack creativity. The same goes for one-on-one meetings. Team meetings are the ideal way to build energy and enthusiasm for a new idea and generate actionable outcomes, but without the proper structure, even these meetings can be considered wasted time.

Here are 5 rules that will help keep your meetings on pace, on target, and provide you with the successful outcomes that you need from your time together.

1. Start With An Agenda

No, you shouldn’t begin with ‘What will it take to fill an hour of team meeting time this week?’, because if that’s your first thought then you’re already sunk. Request that team members send agenda items at least 24 hours before the meeting time and consolidate them to form your agenda. Keep in mind the flow of topics, and be sure you’re leaving time for strategic conversations. Leave items that may fall into deep tactical minutiae to the end of your agenda.

2. Plan for Takeaways

Consider the consensus that you’re attempting to build with your meeting, or what your takeaway should be. Perhaps you need someone to volunteer for a new project, or you just need to inform a group about a direction that will impact their work. If you feel that there may be some pushback to your ideas within the room, look for a partner who will be in the meeting who can help support your point. If an item that was on your agenda doesn’t have a clear actionable, add it to a parking lot for a later date.

3. Keep Time Sacred

Time is money, and never is that more true than when you have 3-15 individuals in a room together meeting without a timeline or agenda. Based on your agenda, break down how long each portion of the conversation should take and allot time accordingly. If your meeting should only need 23 minutes, then schedule that much time — perhaps plus a few minutes extra. Be a stickler about keeping conversations in check and moving the agenda along to hit key points in your list.

4. Consider a Drive-By

Just need to chat with a few people about a simple topic? Instead of finding space and time for a full-fledged meeting, consider a 5-minute drive-by or stand up meeting. Grab a few people and huddle around a desk or common area, hash through your questions or concerns and let everyone get back to their day. In the same amount of time that you might take to walk and get a cup of coffee, you’ve made a decision, kept others updated on important points, and reduced the overall inefficiency of the day. The time for small talk can be over lunch; use these drive-bys to distill your ideas into the length of an elevator pitch. This may be uncomfortable for some people as it requires checking your ego at the door, but teams that are able to adopt these policies can become much more agile.

5. Keep it Moving

Always focus on the end result and what you need to keep your projects moving. This could be anything from an approval by a superior, someone agreeing to take on a task, or even consensus that you’re heading in the right direction. Capture takeaways and next steps, and most importantly — the name of the responsible party and when the result should be delivered. This will keep your meetings on task and team focused.

The word ‘meeting’ doesn’t have to be a negative concept. Instead, use these 5 meeting rules to adopt a culture of forward motion, positivity, and respect within the organization that will drive success both now and in the future. This isn’t a one-time change to how you approach meetings, but an organization-wide initiative to take back your time and productivity.

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4 Ways to Stop Your Team from Falling Apart

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There are times in every supervisor’s work life that you can feel everything going off the rails — projects don’t sync up as they should, laughter feels forced within your team, and the energy levels are low.

While it may feel like everything is falling apart at the seams, and you’re not sure what you can do, don’t give up! There are ways to bring teamwork back to your team, but it will take some work to rebuild trust between team members and realign your focus to the future.

Even the most high-performing teams have moments of doubt that can be introduced by stress or fear. These negative emotions could overtake a team or its leader, but the first step is re-imagining the future and then casting that vision to your team.

Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

While it may be too late if your team has already entered a downward spiral, preventing negativity from happening is always the best alternative to a team that’s coming apart at the seams. Getting to know your team, understanding their motivations and stressors, and working hard when you need to will help you become a trusted member of your team — and not just the leader.

Spending time together bonding in good times will help sustain your relationship during times of difficulty, both with each individual team member and the team as a whole. This trust doesn’t come overnight but is worth the time spent building it in the long run.

Slowing the Negativity

Perhaps your team has just begun showing signs of stress, such as team members being unwilling to contribute in meetings, leaving early, or losing energy early in the day. If you look up in the afternoon and everyone is wandering around looking aimless instead of focused on work or building relationships, it’s past time to get more involved in your team’s dynamics.

Start by talking to someone on your team, either the person who is seemingly the most stressed or one with whom you have the most trust built up. See if you can determine what the root cause of the uncertainty is, and look for potential options for resolution together.

Returning from the Brink

If your team is truly on the brink of collapse, with your best and brightest team members disengaged and actively looking for other opportunities, it’s time to take more drastic measures. Consider asking your human resources department if they’re hearing any rumors about what’s happening, or pull the team together as a whole in an offsite meeting to add to their comfort level.

Request that they be open and honest with you about challenges that they’re encountering — either within the team, outside the team or even outside the organization.

Take Charge of Results

You also must face the possibility that you as the leader are the problem, which can be painful and difficult to accept. However, you must first look to make changes in your own leadership style in order to help salvage your team’s success.

Take responsibility for finding a solution, and don’t be afraid to claim accountability when things aren’t going as you had planned. Too often, leaders find themselves in a situation that feels hopeless and attempt to look externally to find the problem.

If there is truly someone on your team who is causing the excessive negativity, know when it’s time to make the difficult decision and make a change in personnel. Sometimes, all it takes is removing a negative influence or underperformer to bring your team back to center.

Today’s organizations are moving quickly and chasing many different initiatives at once. Managing people is always a balancing act: creating a culture of learning and accountability while allowing people the space they need to take appropriate chances. Fortunately, nearly every team can be brought back from a downward spiral with time, effort, and loads of positive energy from its leader.

Post-Show Followup Techniques You Will Want to “Borrow”

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Trade shows are one of the most exhausting, yet exhilarating, ways to spend your marketing dollars. You not only get to meet with your customers face-to-face, but you can also see what your competitors are up to, get great ideas for the future, and generally feed off the energy on the show floor. However, if you’re not using the time after you return to the office effectively, you may be wasting much of the goodwill that you created at the show. Here are some great tips and techniques from marketers that will help you knock your post-show communication out of the park.

Capture Contacts Logically

Before you even start to pull together samples and brochures for your event, you need to determine the best way to capture contacts for later follow-up. This could be anything from a name badge scanner provided by the event coordinators to the low-tech solution of a giveaway fishbowl where contacts drop in their business cards. Simply gathering the information isn’t enough, you need a solid plan in place of how you’re going to get these new names and their requests into an actionable marketing database.

Create a Specific CTA

Your call to action is just that: a way to encourage your audience to take a specific action that leads to your desired result. Starting with the end in mind allows you to craft a campaign where each step builds towards the logical conclusion — your customer placing an order or asking for a demo. The first step may be a quick email, while the next step could include mailing a sample with a custom printed letter. A final step of a phone call or postcard a few weeks after the show proves to your audience that you’re committed to meeting (and exceeding!) their expectations.

Sort and Assign Leads

If you’re using an automated solution for capturing leads, you may wish to begin immediately by sending an email as soon as you return from the show. If this isn’t possible due to volume, go through your lists and segment your leads into hot, warm, and cold. If you’re able to immediately assign the hot leads to a team member to call and can convert them to customers, great! Most people spend a day or two regrouping after a show, so timing is everything. Call too soon, and you’re likely to get a voicemail recording which is generally a dead end. Call too long after the show, and people have forgotten all about you. This is one of the reasons that a branded, high-quality print piece is a fantastic followup. If you start your print project quickly, your materials can be there soon after your prospects are back in the office.

Nurture Your Prospects

Create a formal and ongoing communication strategy that allows you to continue the conversation with your various audiences. Some people may be very interested in your products or services, but perhaps they don’t have the budget to start a project immediately. Others may be lukewarm in their interest levels, but you can see how you’re adding value to their organization. What’s important is that you tailor your messaging to your audience to convert as many as possible into customers.

Now that you know the basics of trade show and event follow-up, you’re ready to hit the road. You will see the true benefits of growing your audience and communicating effectively with all the new customers and sales coming your way!

How to Turn Negativity into Inspiration

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It’s easy to look at successful businesspeople and feel jealous of what they’ve accomplished. They make it look so easy that you wonder why you’re not having the same level of success in your life and career. However, what you may not see is the hundreds of times they’ve had their ideas shot down, been passed over for a promotion, and just generally rejected in their lives. No one is immune to the soul-crushing feeling of harsh criticisms, but how you react to these situations is what makes the difference. From taking a leap into the unknown to dealing with difficult situations, these stories of overcoming negative situations will inspire you to achieve more than you could possibly imagine.

Stirring Generations of Moviegoers

George Lucas tried to sell his Star Wars script with studios for nearly five years before he finally received his first chance. It’s almost unimaginable that without one 20th Century Fox executive who believed in his vision, generations of children and adults alike would have never been introduced to that vast galaxy that lives far, far away. Today, this franchise is worth over $30 billion and continues to expand. His thoughts about always pushing forward through rejection and failure? “You use the information that you’ve gotten, which is experience . . . Failure is another word for experience.”

Apprentice Yourself in Failure

Henry Ford’s story tells how he spent his life working on every conceivable type of device, but it wasn’t until he tried his hand at creating a horseless carriage that he truly began — to fail. He started multiple companies with various partners, each time attempting to find the secret sauce that would allow him to produce his automobile efficiently and cost-effectively. Throughout his journey, he faced setbacks and people who didn’t believe that he could be successful. Finally, he found the ideal financial backer who allowed him to realize his true vision of an inexpensive yet reliable vehicle that could be mass-produced. By never giving up, he not only made Ford a household name but also created innovative production methods that jump-started the American economy.

Demoted, Fired . . . President of the United States

There are few Cinderella stories more inspirational than that of Abraham Lincoln. From his birth in a one-room log cabin to a sketchy education, Abraham Lincoln went on to become one of the most influential leaders in American history. Not only was he demoted during his stint in the Army, not only did he work through several failed businesses, but he also suffered defeat through multiple elections before rising to the country’s highest position. Abraham Lincoln’s inspiring story shows that failure is truly never an option.

The Right Job for Enough Money

Not everyone equates becoming rich and famous with being successful. In fact, Professor Jeffrey Sachs feels that the key to inspiration is finding the right job for enough money. Being inspired, and inspiring others, often comes towards the middle or end of a long career that can include negativity, stress, poor bosses, and apathetic co-workers. While it’s practically impossible to know upfront whether a particular job will become what inspires you, the only way to reach that higher plane is through overcoming negativity. Work-life balance and true happiness come through the inspiration to excel wherever life finds you.

Life is difficult, and few people will hand you an opportunity on a silver platter. Turning negativity into inspiration may be one of the toughest things that you will ever do, but the payoff is everything! Take a moment each day to inspire and uplift others. You never know when your kind words could encourage someone to keep pushing towards their dreams.

The Dignity of Work

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Down But Not Out

Albert Serur was just a young man when he passed out cold in his client’s office. Only four months into his job, a previously undiagnosed heart condition might have sidelined him permanently. But Serur didn’t go down without a fight. Rather than recovering from emergency surgery at home, he hired a driver so he could sleep in the car between sales calls.

“Adversity helps you deal with who you are,” he says. “If you can start preparing for things proactively both personally and professionally, you’re going to be ready, and you’re going to be a better leader.”

“Will-Set” that Trumps a Skill Set

At 28, Serur is the youngest state director at American Income Life and chief executive of its Wilmington subsidiary. Serur Agencies brings weekly employee training sessions that focus less on technical abilities and more on workplace camaraderie, helping people develop a “will-set” with emotional tools to handle challenging situations. These offerings are a timely response to a felt need; in a recent Society of Human Resource Management report, “respectful treatment” was a top priority of the workers, even above pay.

“I’ve seen many people who have more God-given talent than I have, but if they have one difficult relationship issue, they just fold,” says Serur.

Valuing the “Dignity of Work”

Workforce prioritization was how Starbucks recently explained the “fairly flat” performance of its stock. While a recent reduction of corporate-tax rates made the company hundreds of millions of dollars, Starbucks chose to re-invest this money in its workforce rather than funneling profits back to shareholders. Priorities included closing gender pay equity gaps worldwide, offering stock grants of $2,000 for managers and $500 for employees, expanded paid parental leave, and even access to critical illness insurance for parents of employees. Executive chairman Howard Schultz says people are an enduring priority:

“We’re trying to make long-term decisions,” Schultz said. “We’re trying to value the dignity of work. We’re trying to do everything we possibly can to demonstrate to the world … that the better way is not a zero-sum game where you leave your people behind.”

Microsoft has also seen a shift toward creating workplace wins. Several of Microsoft’s former employees have returned to the company after CEO Satya Nadella took over. These “boomerangs” say workplace culture has changed significantly under Nadella’s emphasis on “One Microsoft,” a collaborative environment that hasn’t existed in the past. Nadella has shifted reviews toward solidarity and teamwork, where employees are rewarded not just for their own work but how well they’re able to make use of others’ contributions. Boomerangs say this step away from the “smartest person in the room,” intimidation tactic has brought a more conversational, empowering environment. Microsoft has emphasized patience before perfection, incentives for developing others, and teaching staff to diffuse tension after disagreeable meetings.

Bonds that Last

Some companies use humor to grow unity. The Improv Asylum comedy troupe teaches communications skills at organizations like Google and Intel. This troupe’s mantra is that one person must always accept the premise given and then expand on the idea. “The sink is going to start spraying pink paint, you say?” “Well, yes, AND . . . lucky for us, we’re hosting the abstract art seminar this weekend!”

As it turns out, this is also a great workplace communication technique:

(The phrase) “‘Yes, but’ is prevalent in the corporate culture, and that shuts ideas down,” says Bob Melley, director of corporate training at the Boston theater company. “‘Yes, and’ encourages everyone on the team to offer ideas. It creates a bond and establishes trust.”

Stay in the Game

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Finding the Off Switch

Do you ever lay awake at night feeling restless about work? Do you take projects home each evening or over the weekend? When the day is over, is it difficult for you to quiet your racing thoughts?

You work hard. And you enjoy it. But in this mobile generation, devices meant to create freedom have tethered us to the desk as we toe the line between productivity and workaholism. A study of 3,000 UK workers showed that 69 percent regularly work outside their office hours, and the average worker fails to use six days of paid leave each year. In the midst of an overwork epidemic, are you preserving your own well-being?

Digging Your Own Grave

While our parents said “hard work never killed anyone,” research says otherwise. Men who are unable to mentally relax after work nearly triple their risk of heart disease and psychologist Mark Cropley, studying health and stress at the University of Surrey, says an inability to detach brings disastrous consequences:

“Inadequate psychological recovery, or poor disengagement from work, is associated with a range of health problems including cardiovascular disease, fatigue, negative mood and sleep disturbance,” Cropley said.

What is the difference between an industrious person and a workaholic? Experts say the industrious can push past typical office hours but remain emotionally present for others, enjoying fulfilling relationships and intentionally scheduling time for things they love. Hard workers experience short bursts of stress for a deadline but follow this with a purposeful schedule reduction (like comp days or shortened office hours) to restore depleted energy.

Workaholics struggle to find this off switch. The troubling feelings or facts accompanying their lifestyle stress fails to curb their unrealistic performance ideals. Workaholics are obsessed with work and the adrenaline rush it brings; often they walk fast, talk fast, eat fast, and struggle to delegate for fear others will not do “as good a job.” While appearing externally healthy, their internal overdrive brings physical distress: panic attacks, claustrophobia, depression, decreased immune function, sleep disturbances, or an inability to enjoy life’s pleasures. Workaholics have an increased risk for metabolic syndrome, a higher need for recovery, and struggle with cynicism and emotional fatigue; when your biological systems keep working around elevated set points, you have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, and even death.

Worried you may be digging an early grave? Here are a few checks to flag your workaholic tendencies:

  • Your work eats into meal times
  • You are often first to arrive and last to leave
  • You are always on your phone or computer
  • You appear relationally distracted and find little time for leisure activities
  • You experience anxiety or irritation when interrupted or kept from work
  • You feel guilty when you’re not working and find it difficult to relax at night

Quality Trumps Quantity

Beyond improved health, accounting firm Ernst & Young found that for every additional 10 hours of time off taken, employees’ annual performance ratings improved by eight percent. How can you make productive changes if you are stretched too thin?

  • Reflect on reasons for compulsive work
  • Ask for help from your team and intentionally delegate
  • Set clear rules for how many hours you will work each day, quitting several hours before bed
  • Replace workaholic tendencies with positive habits: cultivating hobbies, building a skill you don’t use at work, and pro-actively scheduling time with friends
  • Resolve to save 25 percent of your energy to bring home at night. Put a fence around weekends to avoid temptation

Self-care keeps you on top of your game and ensures you STAY in the game. And that’s a win for us all!

Here’s Why Visual Communication Works

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According to a recent study, the average person gets distracted in just eight seconds – although, for some people, just 2.8 seconds is enough. When you operate predominantly in the print-based marketing world, you’ve already got something of an advantage over most people: print is something tangible. It exists in the real world. People can hold a flyer in their hands or share it with friends and family members if they’d like to, and it’s already something that’s harder to get distracted from than a computer screen. One way to take the benefit of print and extend it even further involves using the full power of visual communication to your advantage.

Visual Marketing: Breaking It Down

Human beings are visual learners – they always have been, they always will be. It’s not necessarily a sign of intelligence but about how the human brain operates. By making sure that all of your collateral includes a healthy blend of both text AND visual elements, you can absolutely make this idea work to your advantage.

Consider the fact that when a person hears a piece of information, they’re only likely to remember roughly 10% of it about three days later. These aren’t exactly good odds if you’re trying to prime a member of your audience to make a sale. When that same piece of information is paired with a relevant image, however, people retain a significantly higher 65% of that same information over the same period of time.

This, in essence, is the power of visual communication at play. In terms of your marketing content, when you make an effort to include relevant images that really help tell a larger story when paired with the text, people will spend more time looking at those images than they do the text on a page. This is why images alone aren’t important, but relevant images are the key to your long-term success.

Show, Don’t Tell

Basically, you need to focus on the age-old idea of “show, don’t tell.” The next time you sit down to design a piece of collateral, try to convey the major idea in a sentence or two. Whether you’re trying to sell a product or service or inform someone about an upcoming event or something else entirely doesn’t matter – just figure out what the essence is of what you’re trying to say.

Then, think about what parts of that story can be told via images instead of text. What is the bare minimum amount of text that you can get away with that will still include all the relevant information (like dates and times)?

This is the type of approach that you need to take when you sit down to create any piece of print marketing collateral that will eventually be consumed by your audience. Marketing is nothing more than convincing someone to follow directions – you’re trying to give a consumer the information they need to reach out to you and make a purchase, for example. Well, when you consider that people literally follow directions 323% better with the combination of both text and illustrations than they do with just text alone, you begin to get an idea of why visual communication is one of the most valuable tools that you have in your print marketer’s toolbox today.

3 Opportunities for Better Customer Follow-up

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Have you ever considered an online purchase but been put off by taxes or shipping costs? That’s what a Reddit user (Doug D.) experienced when he fell in love with a sweatshirt from Archrival Clothing. Doug, a UK resident, added the item to his cart, but was disappointed to find he couldn’t get Archrival’s alluringly low shipping prices since the company was based in the US.

Winning Follow-up

Game over? Not quite. Someone from Archrival took note of Doug’s abandoned “Shopping Cart” and realized the shipping prices were probably to blame. This resourceful employee immediately e-mailed Doug, offering several alternatives to ship the order for less, including a FedEx International Economy option, Delayed First Class Overseas Mail (on the company’s dime), or European purchasing options.

Doug’s reaction? Rave online reviews for the company itself:

“Wow. My mind is blown. This is potentially the best customer service I have ever experienced. You definitely deserve a purchase just for this e-mail.” Doug and his girlfriend bought several items, ordering more than originally intended, all due to proactive customer care.

Leaky Buckets Bring Lost Opportunities

Business is all about relationships, and good relationships are built on great communication. In today’s wired world, we communicate constantly, yet connections are frequently missed. Author Dan Kennedy describes these botched follow-ups as the “hole” in our buckets. If business is the bucket where we pour energy, ideas, and money, the “holes” are wasted time, money, or failed follow up. This may include failing to track contact information, not rescuing lost customers, or belated follow-up with prospects.

What impact does correspondence have? According to Harvard Business Review, the most frequent customer complaint is poor follow-up. Fifty-six percent complain that they need to re-explain their issue when calling back. Sixty-two percent need to repeatedly contact the company to get issues resolved. As a result, 65% are likely to speak poorly about the company and 48% go on to tell 10 or more people about their bad experience. Poor communication can influence not only your customer but spill over into the public as well.

Show Them the Love!

Sometimes we fail to communicate because we are forgetful, have full schedules, or we fear looking pushy. But consistent follow-up builds sturdy bridges, and any step toward better communication will bear long-term fruit. Consider these opportunities for better follow up:

  1. Always acknowledge a message from a customer: with gratitude, with further questions, or with a confirmation of the request
  2. Give a brief status update of the issue at hand
  3. Respond via the customer’s preferred method of communication (e-mail, website, phone call). If uncertain, reciprocate with the method the customer initiated with

Use stronger written follow-up communication to:

  • Make a calendar request or recap a meeting
  • Ensure your last message was received or inquire about further questions or concerns
  • Express gratitude for an introduction or appreciation for their business
  • Congratulate clients on a recent accomplishment
  • Wish customers luck on an upcoming project or personal endeavor
  • Solicit feedback on a future project or decision
  • Send helpful information or resources (pertinent to your previous conversations)
  • Make people personally aware of upcoming incentives or promotions

To make good intentions a reality, consider adding correspondence goals to your schedule (placing reminders in your phone or calendar or sending unique printed thank you notes on a bi-annual basis) and chart a new course of consistency to ensure your relationships receive the optimal care they deserve.