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Ira Koretsky
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One of our newsletter readers sent me an interesting article (resource links at the bottom). It's all about Alex Tew.

Alex’s January 10th blog entry says

“The last two days have been absolutely non-stop!...Yesterday morning started with a live interview on Bam Bam's breakfast show on Kiss FM (in the UK)...A load more interviews by phone and a few meetings with various interesting people took place throughout Monday, then in the afternoon I headed over to a TV studio in South-East London for a live interview on Richard & Judy. For those of you outside the UK, Richard & Judy are effectively known as the king and queen of daytime television here and are famous for their relaxed, friendly style of presenting...mixing TV interviews with German stations RTL and ZDF in between a plethora of phone interviews and a couple of face-to-face interviews for some magazines...The big article today was a follow-up by the Wall Street Journal.”

Okay, so who is Alex? Alex Tew is a 21 year-old college student from Cricklade, Wiltshire. Alex was very concerned about his financial situation before going to the University (in the UK, it is often referred to as Uni). In fact, the BBC interviewed Alex in September 2005 where Alex told the interviewer, “A few weeks ago I looked at my account and I was heavily overdrawn before I had even got to university.”

Alex’s first blog entry says it all: “So I had this little idea the other day. I was trying to think of interesting ways to make some cash before going to Uni (which is in about a month's time) and somehow this crazy thought entered my head: I'll try and make a million dollars, by selling 1,000,000 pixels, for $1 each.” And that is how the “The Million Dollar Homepage” was launched in August of 2005.

Washington Post article author Don Oldenburg writes, “The phenomenon he created has been hailed by some as a genre-changing concept in online marketing -- otherwise an advertising badlands of spam, banner ads and pop-ups. Others say it's a brilliant, one-time marketing aberration that will never be replicated.”

The January 10th blog entry says “It's hard to believe this little project of mine is entering it's final stages. One million pixels of internet history will soon be frozen in time, the homepage complete and ready to take its place in cyber-history! For me though, this is not the end, it's just the start ;)”

In the Washington Post Article, Tew says, “The lesson is that consumers are willing to go to good ideas, things that are unique, things that are novel. Rather than copy each other, spend time thinking up new things…Creativity works.”

My question to you then is: what are you doing to be more creative?

Here are some suggestions:

(1) Read magazines that you would not normally read—look at the images and get inside the minds of the advertisers

(2) Go to a shopping center—instead of shopping, people watch. Look for body language cues and subtle messages—watch the interactions of friends and family and then the interactions between strangers. Then think of things similar and different that you do or don’t. Compare and contrast and bring these ideas to your work place

(3) Spend a day avoiding the use of the word “no” or any derivation. That means exclude but, however, on the other hand, rather, on the contrary, although, you get the idea. Be a yes person and see how powerful that can be. This one is a derivation of the improvisational comedy tenet, “yes, and.” For some more info on this concept, see my other blog entry, “Leave Your But's Behind.”

About The Million Dollar Homepage:

Oldenburg describes the design as follows: “Some of the ads are illustrations or photos -- images of bikini babes, cartoons, Che Guevara, the British flag, a marijuana leaf, a bull's-eye, the dollar sign. When you drag the cursor over any one of them, a small read-out appears identifying the advertiser -- dating services, online poker, loan companies, bookies, bloggers, ring tone sellers, snoring remedies.”

Resources of Interest

The Million Dollar Homepage

The Million Dollar Homepage Blog

Washington Post, Washington, DC (USA) (requires account to access)

BBC (UK) Article 1234

Wall Street Journal, USA ((requires account/password to access)

Richard and Judy, Channel 4, UK

ABC News Article author Eric Noe writes, “A new study on women in the workplace finds that people are likely to feel negatively toward a provocatively dressed businesswoman in a position of power.” The ABC News article was based on the study “Evaluations of sexy women in low and high status jobs,” which appears in the December edition of Psychology of Women Quarterly.

Lead study author Dr. Peter Glick writes, “Playing up sexiness is sort of a dangerous game, particularly for higher status jobs. It's something that has more costs than benefits…For women, it's not just about physical attractiveness, it's about how you play it up…If you look too sexy, the stereotype is that you're not that bright, and that's certainly not beneficial if you're planning to move up the ladder.”

Noe also interviewed Mary S. Hartman, a Rutgers University professor and director of the university's Institute for Women's Leadership. Hartman comments “The message now is not to dress like a man, but just to dress sensibly.” 

The article cites an interesting concept brought forward by Ginger Burr, president of Total Image Consultants.  Burr commented “she couldn't think of a single image in the media that would serve as a good model for young businesswomen.” She also stated something that in my opinion people brush under the carpet—double standards for women. Burr shared with author Eric Noe “that women must accept a certain double standard when it comes to office attire and stereotypes. Men who dress poorly may be considered sloppy, but that probably won't affect the perception of their competence.”

The article is a fascinating read. If you want more, you can listen to Joy Cardin's interview of Dr. Glick on Wisconsin Public Radio’s archive site.  The interview is all about Glick's study results from “Evaluations of sexy women in low and high status jobs.” Scroll down to Wednesday, 12/21/2005, 7am, program code 12/21B.

Dr. Glick is psychology professor at Lawrence University. His profile states that he “is a social psychologist who studies both the subtle and the overt ways in which prejudices and stereotypes foster social inequality…Glick serves on the editorial boards of four professional journals, including recent appointments to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and Psychology of Women Quarterly.” You can find Glick’s December 2003 profile at this site.

Mary Hartman has been at Rutgers since 1968. She create one of the nation’s first Women’s Studies programs, co-organized the first Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, launched several new gender-based programs. Her bio states “during her tenure, Hartman was appointed by both Governors Kean and Florio to serve on the New Jersey State Advisory Commission on the Status of Women and by Governor Christine Todd Whitman to co-chair the Higher Education Task Force and later to chair the Advisory Panel on Higher Education Restructuring.” You can find Hartman’s profile at this site.

One of the cool aspects of my job is that I get to meet people from around the world and talk to them about the vagaries of communication. With people outside my geographic area, we stay in touch by sending articles of interest (keep 'em coming).

I received an interesting email yesterday. She titled the email “She really knows her audience.” It was a sports article from MSNBC.com.

The article is about Kim Ng and the prospect of her becoming baseball’s first female general manager. The article also included a brief history of the two other prominent women in baseball. This part posted an interesting aspect to audience analysis. The description of Jean Afterman’s approach to fitting in to the male-dominated world of baseball was quite revealing. Here’s the excerpt: 

“Only three women have risen to assistant GM. The first was Elaine Weddington Steward, hired by the Boston Red Sox in 1990. When Ng left the Yankees, she was replaced by Jean Afterman, a lawyer who had worked for agent Don Nomura.

Afterman said she never felt gender issues with players, but she did when working alongside club officials.

 ‘You feel it in what I call quaint ways,’ she said. ‘The guys tend to try to modify their language. There are two things that I try and establish any time I’m going into a room where I don’t know the people. One is that I’m an attorney, because there’s a healthy respect. The other is I have to drop a profanity as soon as I come in there. I probably have a worse mouth than anybody else in my department.’”

A few questions come to mind. Is Ms. Afterman cursing for her audience? Or is cursing already part of personality? How did she come to realize that being an attorney is such an asset? Is being an attorney an asset or is the asset more of the way that she carries herself? 

I’m not sure why being a lawyer engenders automatic respect. I believe that people respect others who give respect. This respect concept is a rewording of the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Treat everyone with respect and appreciate diversity of thought. It is something that I emphasize with all of my clients. 

Further, to be successful in relationship building, one must be true to oneself--be genuine and be authentic. People are amazingly insightful and can readily detect b.s. artists. Let’s say that Ms. Afterman is genuine and authentic. I applaud her for her insight into “it’s all about them.” Ms. Afterman did her homework, knew what she had to do, became more self-aware of her audience and surroundings, and made it happen.

Whatever is right for you, always be true to yourself.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Leave Your But's Behind

In terms of usage, I place "but" at the top of the worst words in the English language. It is an absolutely horrific word. It negates everything said previously.

Yes but, no but, and just plain ol but permeate conversations. While at networking functions and social gatherings, I've informally counted the frequency of "but" utterances. They rival any commonplace word like "and," "I," and "a."

"But" has become such an accepted word that most people have absolutely no idea how many times they use it. Our "Yes And" exercises make people acutely aware of the use of these negative words. Yes And is a concept from improvisational humor (look for a future entry to describe Yes And in more detail). It makes you become an active listener. When we do our "Yes And" exercises, it takes a lot of practice for participants to embrace Yes And and attempt to leave the but's behind (pun intended).

Typically, about a month after attending a workshop or becoming a client, people email and call to confirm that the but's are slowly being eliminated. Also, they share that they are becoming whole body communicators employing Yes And.

Here's a challenge, a big challenge.

Try this for one day at first. Before hitting the send key on your emails, replace every instance of "but," "however," "although," and "on the other hand" with a period or "and." I'll bet you thousands of Monopoly dollars that this suggestion will not change your meaning or intent. In fact, this suggestion will strengthen your message. Part B. After doing this for a few days, slowly implement this process into your spoken words. Become more self-aware of when and why you use "but." Same process, replace with a period or and.

It would be great for you to share some of your successful "yes and" results.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Treat Everyone Like a CEO

I met Dave about two years ago when a mutual friend connected us (social networking). In his first email to me, I noticed the quote below after his signature line. This quote really resonated with me. I use it in all of our networking track workshops and services. It succinctly imparts the goal of networking--look for opportunity, genuine connection, and authentic conversation. Leave the pre-conceived notions, agendas, and biases at the door. Treat everyone like a CEO.

"Remember that the person you’re about to meet can become as important to you as someone you’ve known for years."

— H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Life's Little Instruction Book
June 8, 2002 Block Calendar

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Art of Intelligent Listening

I verify every quote that I use. When I searched for the one below on the Internet, I came across a few variations. As such, I bought a physical copy of the Readers Digest Magazine from Ebay.

I fully expected to extract the quote and be done with the magazine. Instead, I was surprised and pleased that the entire article from Mr. Miller is filled with nuggets on how to become a more intelligent listener. People always laugh when I share this quote and I mean allllwaaaayyyyssss.

Interrupting people during conversations has become prevalent and accepted. Most people don't like being interrupted. Why do we continue to do so? Instead, be an Intelligent Listener. Intelligent Listening is a key ingredient to becoming a whole body communicator--great story, positive body language, and intelligent listening.

"Conversation in the United States is a competitive exercise in which the first person to draw a breath is declared the listener."

— James Nathan Miller
“The Art of Intelligent Listening”
Readers Digest, vol 127, September 1965

I was doing some research today and came across an interesting article from Business 2.0 Magazine, 2005 0906. IBM is following a story-driven approach in its new advertising.

I am a huge fan of using visual metaphors in your business stories, especially in your elevator speech and presentations. Visual metaphors impart so much emotion and connection in a condensed and effective way. The challenge is to get people to feel comfortable using them in purpuseful way in their business communications. It is one of the hurdles my clients and workshop attendees face in developing their own stories. Once they work through the hurdle, it's a warming feeling to see the smiles on their faces. I can just imagine how big of hurdle IBM had in accepting this audience-centered way of communicating their messages.

I copied three paragraphs below....

"Let's face it: Management consultants are a dull lot. Jet-lagged and overworked, they wander the world spouting tired buzzwords about "enriching the customer experience" or "strengthening supply chain relationships."

"It's simple, actually: Just use a metaphor. It's one of the oldest tricks in the book. Add a little drama, conflict, and character development -- and, of course, a happy ending -- and a sleepy high-tech service advertisement can start to feel, well, almost human. That's the underlying strategy of IBM's latest Global Services campaign, which will be unveiled this week at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. The topic may be dull, but the approach, created by IBM and its advertising agency of record, Ogilvy, surely is not. "

"According to Ogilvy group creative director Andy Berndt, who helped dream up the campaign, here's how it works: 'You take boring, complicated stuff and explain it. Since the topic isn't that interesting, you need to add some dialogue and characters with humor.' "

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Talk at the 10th Grade Level

Most people in business communications over complicate concepts with jargon, big words, and busy diagrams. The typical listener is bored, wondering where the point is, and is looking for a polite escape. My suggestion is "talk at the 10th grade level." Simple, brief, and to the point. One of my all-time favorite quotes is "brevity is the soul of wit" (anonymous).

I'm a big fan of talk radio. So when I heard an author mention that the New York Times newspaper writes at the 8th grade level, I just had to check. I called the NYT today and chatted briefly with a helpful woman in public affairs. She shared that most mainstream magazines and newspapers write between the 6th and 8th grade levels. The NYT typical article is geared to the 10th grade level.

To the average person, that would likely seem a bit askew. To the media savvy person, it is exactly as expected. Americans have such a short attention span--verrryyy short. We are bombarded with thousands of messages every day vying for our emotional and financial wallets. Messages come from multiple sources. Examples include friends, co-workers, sales professionals, billboards, television, magazines, radio, direct mail, email, and more.

How do you ensure that you stand out from the competition? One way is to use the Flesch-Kincaid tool. It is a helpful option in Microsoft Word (setup instructions below). Readability is based on average sentence length and average syllables per sentence. Run the Flesch-Kincaid tool on some documents and emails. You will be surprised by the results. Examine closely the text that receives a high score. Reduce jargon and acronyms. Replace ten dollar words with fifty cent words. Chop long sentences into short ones. Run the tool again. Now you will be surprised at how easy and straightforward the process is to create memorable messages.

If after reading this, you are thinking, "hey, I should check the readability in PowerPoint." If so, then without seeing your presentation, I know that it has way too many words, sentences, and bullet points. Reduce the text by at least 50%. Then, if you really feel the urge to check the readability, convert the PowerPoint into a Word document and then perform the readability check.

Remember that the NYT knows it audience and purposefully writes to the 10th grade level. Choose the grade level appropriate to your audience. My suggestion, stick to the 10th grader in us, or lower. Make your writing more clear, concise, and brief. Let your passion and your story drive home the message.

Let me know how it works for you.

From the Microsoft Word Help file: "Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Score: Rates text on a U.S. grade-school level. For example, a score of 8.0 means that an eighth grader can understand the document. For most standard documents, aim for a score of approximately 7.0 to 8.0. The formula for the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score is: (.39 x ASL) + (11.8 x ASW) – 15.59. ASL = average sentence length (the number of words divided by the number of sentences). ASW = average number of syllables per word (the number of syllables divided by the number of words)"

Setup in Microsoft Word: Go to the toolbar at the top of your monitor. Select then then the tab. Click the "Show readability statistics" box at the bottom of the dialog box. Now, after you spell check, the grade level appears indicating the readability score of the text.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Welcome!

Hello Everyone!

Welcome, welcome, welcome!! I am very excited about starting a blog.  Friends, colleagues, clients, Romans, and countrymen have been telling me for months to start one.  It's time.  I look forward to sharing thoughts and reading yours on everything and anything related to business storytelling, content, messaging, and so forth.

Best,

Ira

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