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Are word mashups pathetisad or helpfunctional?

I came across the words smetiquette and framily for the first time in January. I didn’t need to look these words up: I knew what they meant instantly and intuitively.

  • Smetiquette is a portmanteau: a mashup of the phrase social media (SM) and etiquette.
  • Framily is Sprint’s marketing mashup: it means “Friends and Family”.

We seem to be living in the era of the word mashup. We quickly create new words by combining fragments of old words to meet a rapidly unfolding technology-enabled milieu.

I can understand how conservative folks and grammar snobs might bristle at these new words: they aren’t “proper”. They aren’t in the dictionary. They’re “slang”.

And yet, mashups can be useful and playful words. Language is a living, growing thing — it grows in the wilds of everyday use, not in lofty libraries and laboratories detached from pop culture. And language often flourishes and adapts itself before an official governing body can determine if a particular word is useful enough to be considered acceptable for inclusion in scholarly works.

What if you use a word that doesn’t officially exist, but every English speaker you encounter knows exactly what it means? What if your audience can swiftly decipher a new word’s meaning through context? Might this word have what it takes to hang around for a few decades?

What do you think? Is this current wave of portmanteau usage pathetisad? Or do you find word mashups to be more helpfunctional?

What mashups have caught your ear or captured your imagination lately?

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How do you dress for success during a cold snap?

Balaclava Laura
In subzero temps with 50 kph wind gusts, I’m inclined to wear a balaklava and ushanka.

“We’re enduring a subzero cold snap, so pack warm clothing. Bring a coat, hat, gloves, and boots,” I advised a southern client over the phone.

She was planning to fly up to deliver a series of training presentations for her northern clients. I was to make introductions and serve as her co-presenter in my home state of Michigan.

“Laura, that’s unprofessional,” she replied. “You don’t want to walk into our client’s offices dressed like an 19th century fur trapper. It doesn’t reflect our brand.”

She gave me a short phone lecture on how to dress appropriately for business presentations. No matter how hot or cold it is, you simply don’t let it bother you, she said.

Rise above the forces of nature to project confidence, she said. You don’t need a coat, gloves, or a scarf — you can wear that stuff in the car  — but you need to take it off before striding confidently into an office building to meet with clients.

I advised otherwise. I encouraged her to wear warm clothing.

But when I picked her up at the airport, she was wearing a skirt, blouse, and high heels. Bare legs! No hose. No coat. No jacket.

I suspected my highly confident colleague might feel a twinge of regret as we walked through the snow to my car. Instead, she clutched at me like a frightened child and howled about wanting to die.

“Did you bring ANYTHING warm to wear?” I asked.

“No,” she cried. “Who knew anything could ever be this cold?”

“I’ll have to take you to a department store. You really need a coat,” I said. “And either pants or hose. And real shoes.”

“Can’t I just wear something of yours?” she asked. “I don’t want to spend money on clothes I’ll never wear again, because I am never coming back to this frozen wasteland in my life.”

This was after only a few minutes. I was concerned about how she was going to handle the next 3 days.

“I’m over 6 feet tall,” I said. “You’re what — 5 foot nothing? Other than a scarf, you’re going to look silly in everything I own.”

She wailed that we didn’t have time to shop. Just throw some of your winter wear on me, she begged.

We stopped by my house and went through my wardrobe. Everything she tried on made her look like a little girl playing dress up in her mommy’s clothing.

“This will have to do,” she said. My hat and mittens didn’t look too bad on her. Too big, but not too bad. Everything else was just amazingly too big for her, but she was too cold to care.

For the next three days, she looked like a bedraggled ragamuffin. She actually wore one of my cardigan sweaters over her own clothing. It engulfed her tiny body. Still, she would shiver and shake through our presentations like a brave chihuahua.

Our meetings, however, went surprisingly well. Her clients were too polite to say anything about her weird appearance to her face.

A month or so after she went home, I was still working with my client’s clients. Every single one mentioned her woeful wardrobe and obvious misery.

And we all laughed at the memory…a curious blend of empathy, sympathy, and schadenfreude. If our southern colleague ever returns to Michigan, she is going to face some good-natured ribbing from her northern colleagues.

(Post-script: she never returned.)

At this point, I’d like to present you with two completely contrary takeaways from this story:

  1. Dress appropriately. “Dressing appropriately” depends on circumstances. Even if you feel absolutely positive about what’s appropriate and what’s not — ask a trusted local, anyway. Taking a minute or two to have this conversation can steer you in the right direction. Plus, it also creates a moment to bond and connect with your local host or event coordinator.
  2. People love a fish out of water. In a perverse way, our presentations went well BECAUSE of my client’s inappropriate attire, not in spite of it! Although her clients were too kind to say anything to her face, we all recognize and love a “fish out of water” story. Her appearance gave us a reason to feel kinder, more sympathetic — and let’s face it — a little more superior than usual!

Personally? I have definitely dressed inappropriately more times than I’d like to admit! I’d rather not be a fish out of water — but it happens.

If you ever find yourself acting or dressing inappropriately, how can you use the ‘fish out of water’ theory to your advantage?

Coaching fun Presentation

Beware the uncanny valley of presentation design and delivery

uncanny valley

A performer and presentation can be overly polished and perfect. Creepily so.

Borrowing from the world of robotics, I call this phenomenon the uncanny valley of design and delivery. This is when a presenter looms a bit too near perfection. I don’t run into the uncanny valley of presentation design and delivery too often, but when I do — my hair stands on end.

Yours will, too. Presentation perfection is creepy. It’s just not human.

When presenters carefully design and deliver a flawless presentation, the audience will dislike both the topic as well as the presenter. I’ve seen that happen twice in my lifetime.

throat punch

See? It’s not just me. Presentation perfection can be off-putting.

If you find yourself making a mistake during your presentation, rejoice! You’ve escaped the uncanny valley.

If you find yourself tirelessly rehearsing the smallest gestures and facial expressions before your presentation — be warned! You might be unwittingly entering the uncanny valley!

As you rehearse, remember that your goal is not to deliver a perfect speech or presentation. The perfect speech or presentation does not exist.

Rather, what’s your real goal? To educate? Inform? Persuade? Entertain?

Being human will help you achieve these goals better than striving for perfection.

And hey — it may save you from a punch you in the throat!

Have you ever encountered a presentation that was a little too perfect? How did it make you feel?

fun Presentation

OK, so never start a sentence with these 10 words…

No offense, but I recently had to leave a lecture because the speaker began every other sentence with either “So…” or “Alright, so…”

His information may have been spectacular, but after a half hour, I felt too distracted to listen anymore. When your audience starts playing a mental drinking game based on taking a sip every time you say “so” and downing the whole glass every time you begin a sentence with the word “so” — and they’re hammered in 5 minutes — you might want to face the problem.

Saying “so” is so over.

The dreadful part about saying “so” is that it’s insanely catchy. A half-hour of listening to someone repeat so like a neurotic cuckoo clock, and you’ll find yourself doing the same damn thing.

The “so” phenomenon has spread like wildfire over the past few years. If we’re conscious of it, maybe we can make that little devil go away.

I’m trying like mad to drop that absurd little word from the start of my sentences, and it’s going pretty well. But all I have to do is listen to an interview on NPR for 10 minutes in the car, and it comes galloping back at my next meeting.

Vexed, I scrawled a list in my Moleskine: Top 10 words never to begin a sentence with —

1. So…

2. OK. So…

3. Alright, so…

4. Alright…

5. OK.

6. No offense, but…

7. I think…

8. I feel…

9. Ahem…

10. Just…

It’s a hastily scrawled list, based largely on my own annoyance that these words have actually flown out of my mouth. It’s a monkey-hear, monkey-say situation: I hear these phrases and I repeat these phrases.

I’m going to make a conscious effort to stop saying these phrases with any kind of frequency. If one slips into my speech a time or two, that’s acceptable. But I don’t want to have it escalate into a drinking-game distraction!

What “stop words” are on your Top 10 lists?

Laura Bergells is a professional story finder. She writes, coaches, teaches, and speaks. Check out her online courses at LinkedIn Learning. If you’re a LinkedIn Premium or member, these courses are free! If you’re not a member, you can either become a member or buy each of these classes à la carte.

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Doing Nothing is the New Doing Something

Recently, I noticed this absurd trend of gallantly and heroically doing nothing.

About 19 months ago, I accidentally left my cell phone home and traveled out of town on business. When I arrived at the hotel, I needed to find the conference organizer. I used my laptop to call her via Skype & explained that I forgot my cell phone.

I found not-carrying a phone to be extremely advantageous that week. No one changed plans with me at the last minute, since they had no way of reaching me. And I received no interruptions, so I got tons of stuff done.

When I got home, I didn’t want to return to my life as a cell phone carrying goofball. So I didn’t. I just stopped carrying a phone. No big deal, right?

Oh, no. Some folks made a huge deal out of it. I got four main questions:

  • Was I making some kind of social statement? (Not really. I forgot my phone one day, found out I really didn’t need it and that was that.)
  • How do I communicate effectively with clients and friends? (I make plans and stick to them. Every productivity expert on the planet tells you to only check messages at a few planned times a day, so not carrying a phone is probably a best practice.)
  • What’s it like to not carry a smart phone? (I don’t know. I’ve never carried a smart phone, only a cell phone. I have nothing to compare it to, so I honestly don’t know. The smart phone seems like a way for marketers and others to have unrestricted access to me, so I’m not all that keen on the idea of owning one.)
  • What if you have an emergency? (At first, I was stubborn. Everyone else has a phone, so I can borrow one in an emergency. That was my argument, and it lasted about 7 months. However, my partner insisted that I carry a cell for emergencies, so I got a burner mostly to comfort him and foster family harmony.)

So, there I was, not-doing anything, and it got me all kinds of attention. It was like I was actually doing something! One conference organizer suggested I prepare a talk about what it was like to not-carry a phone.

That seemed crazy to me. But I was wrong.

Not-doing something is the new doing something. People are fascinated by people who don’t-do things.

There’s a long list of popular things to not-do. Eat meat/gluten/sugar. Drink alcohol or coffee. Do drugs. Have children. Watch TV. Consume the news. Drive a car. Go to church. Use social media. Carry a gun or credit card. Honestly, the list of things to not-do is infinite.

However, what do people do while they’re not doing the thing they’re not doing?

Here’s the odd part: they talk or write incessantly about the thing they are not doing! If you decide not to use a fork, for example, you set up a Tumblr account to journal about the experience. If you’re not going to use the internet for a bit, you issue a press release and try to get media coverage or a book deal. If you plan to not-work and not-drive a car, you set up a blog and make money from the idea of not needing much money.

Frankly, I’m a bit jealous. There’s a zillion things that I don’t do. It simply never occurred to me that not-doing something was worthy of a book deal, blog, TV show, press release, or humanitarian award.

Since not-doing anything is a pretty hot trend, I thought I might cash in on this gravy train. Pick a thing that I don’t do, and then write about not doing it. What I normally do is not even think about the things I’m not doing.

Why feed the poor, care for the sick, pick up trash, or plant trees — for example — when you can do nothing and make the world a better place?

Clearly, I’ve been doing it wrong. I’m going to start not-doing it right!

What are you not-doing lately? Where’s your humanitarian award?

content ideas fun Presentation

What’s the exact opposite of what you’re saying?

When you edit a business presentation that offers a numbered list or step-by-step instructions, here’s a fun way to make your content more satisfying. In your head, ask yourself, “what might the exact opposite of that action be?”

  • “Communicate with employees” might become “Leave employees in the dark.”
  • “Follow the company policy manual” can be “Ignore all laws and rules.”
  • “Remain calm” might become “Have a complete nervous breakdown.”

Freak out

photo credit t0 Frau Shizzle

When I play “the opposite game” as I’m editing a list, I can easily spot weak writing. If my “opposite” advice sounds ridiculous, I know I’m saying something too vague to be valuable.

I might as well not say it at all!

Other than simply eliminating weak writing, I might also want to consider a re-write. A great way to pack more punch into a sloppy call to action is to move from the general to the specific. For example, instead of the first two bullet points, I might write “3 Company Policies to Review with Staff on May 1”. A specific headline or bullet point is often more memorable, actionable, or valuable than a generic one.

Try playing “the opposite game” with your latest business presentation or article. Take a look at your bullet point lists or headlines. What insights does “playing the opposite game” give you? How did it help you make your presentation stronger or more specific?

(And help me out — how can I re-write “Manage Expectations”??? As opposed to what?)

Coaching fun PowerPoint Presentation Presentation

How do you feel about the “thank you” slide?

At the end of a presentation, you can say, “thank you.”

Sure, it’s not the strongest close in the world. However, it’s certainly acceptable to say “thank you” if you’re feeling especially grateful or moved.

But a slide that reads “Thank You” at the end of your presentation? That’s weak.

Thank You Slide

A “Thank You” slide takes the focus off the genuine emotional gratitude of the speaker. It reduces authentic warmth to an emotionally hollow visual cliché.

Further, it shows that you assume that your audience will be grateful for your presentation. What if they aren’t? What if they’re hostile to you and your message? And then you go ahead and put up your ‘thank you’ slide while they’re all booing, further antagonizing them with your sarcasm.

What’s your excuse for using a “Thank You” slide at the end of your presentation?

fun social media video

When to use social search to supplement Google search…

You can ask Google almost anything. But at the moment, you have to use your words.

Today, I can’t show Google a photo of an unknown thing and ask, “What is this thing?”

For such queries, social search might be a better option. You can post a photo on your blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, on YouTube, on Flickr — and ask your friends. After wading through guesses and jokes, you might want to use Google to verify the answers!

Before the popularity of online social search, I used my favorite social network: face-to-face. I’d ask friends and colleagues, “What is this?” In the case of the unknown object seen in the YouTube video posted below, it took about 5 years of lighthearted cocktail party conversations before I found a correct answer.

Today, I’m posting the object online for the first time. I’m going to guess that it’s going to take a considerably shorter amount of time than 5 years for someone to see this and correctly identify the object.

My three questions to you are:

1) how long before we’re able to show Google a photo of an object and have Google correctly identify the object?

2) under what other circumstances might you use social search to supplement Google search?

3) what is the ‘thing’ in the video?

fun Presentation

Why do people love the positive-attitude presenter?

We have different feelings about that guy. Who’s that guy?

Oh, you know that guy. He’s that presenter that’s very pumped up in front of his audience. He’s idiotically happy, and demands that you act that that way, too.

HE: Good morning!
HE: I can’t hear you! Gooood MORNING! Let me hear you say GOOD MORNING! C’mon! It’s a beautiful day! Let’s make this the start of a super positive day! GOOD MORNING!

fake a smile.

photo by Lauren Garza

Yeah. I don’t like that guy. Most everybody else in the audience hated that guy, too. Can you blame us? It was 8am. We were all easing into  our days with mugs of coffee in a corporate training room. The forced cheerfulness made everyone feel hostile toward the outside training guy almost immediately. Frowns, groans, and eye rolls all around.

Afterwards, connecting with colleagues, we agreed. The presenter was insufferable. Corny, cheesy, fake-positive awful. For hours.

When I told the story of our unanimous dislike for the faux-cheerful speaker to other colleagues, I was reprimanded.

“What’s wrong with you? I love positive attitude guys. They give me a lift. You should have given him a chance.”

In all fairness, I gave him a chance. I felt insulted. So did most of the people in the room.

As a presenter, I need to gauge the mood of the audience and adjust my tone and style. Most of the time, a business presenter needs to be slightly more peppy than the audience. (There are exceptions.) Displaying a little more energy than your audience demonstrates courtesy. Without words, a slightly amped energy level says that you acknowledge the feelings of the audience while being mindful that you’re enthusiastic about your content.

If you go way overboard and fake an egregiously cheerful attitude, you cross a line. It says that you don’t care about the feelings of the audience: you’re going to try to force them to be as falsely cheerful as you’re pretending to be. It even sends a message that your content isn’t that good — instead of being genuinely enthusiastic, you have to fake your enthusiasm.

So yeah, I don’t like that guy. But my question is: why on earth do other people seem to love this guy?

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How are you using improv skills to build credibility?

True story: I haven’t formally interviewed for a job since 1999.

So when a local university called to ask if I could conduct a training session about interviewing skills, I politely declined. I haven’t interviewed for a real job since 1999. I don’t feel qualified to speak to a modern audience about interviewing for a job. I can personally claim no first-hand expertise in successfully interviewing in this job market — in this century!

For me, it’s all about credibility. If I don’t have experience or knowledge about the topic — why would I agree to talk about it? I told the event coordinator that I’d be happy to talk about body language or confidence building — but not interviewing skills.

Interviewing skills

Image by bpsusf, on Flickr

It was one of those out-of-the-blue phone calls that lasted 5 minutes — but it stuck in my mind in a glib, offhand way. I often use this anecdote to offer an important lesson on developing credibility: don’t agree to speak on a topic if you don’t have knowledge or experience in said topic!

But I thought about it a little more last week. I fell to wondering: who did the university get to speak on the topic?

It strikes me that job seekers who have interviewed extensively throughout this decade may have experience with interviewing. However, their experience may not necessarily be successful! After all, they haven’t landed a job.

As it turns out, the university hired an HR person from a large company to speak. And he received rave reviews.

Apparently, the speaker ran an improv session. He asked students to come up and fake interview with him. Brilliant approach! The HR person offered critiques, and the audience chimed in with their comments, as well. It was a lively and interactive show, with lots of actual learning taking place.

I’m a huge fan of using improv skills in business presentations. Improvisation shows that you know the material well enough to think on your feet. You can adapt your content on the fly. Done well, improv demonstrates competence and confidence.

Improv skills

by gaelenh, on Flickr

Often closely associated with raucous comedy shows, improv is also a critical skill in a business context. After all, listening is at the heart of improv. Instead of sticking firmly to a script, you listen and react to the other performers on stage, as well as the audience. You put aside your ego, and engage in public conversations.

As we enter into the era of greater social media use, business improv skills are becoming increasingly important. Gone are the days of using a corporate voice and sticking to the company script.

Boring, pompous, one-way conversations are officially OVER. I’ve been discussing the need for developing more improv skills in business communications for the past few years. In corporate training sessions, I often lead sessions by inviting the audience to participate and react. As a result — we all learn.

I see the need for more improv training in business communication. You?

And how are you currently using improv techniques in your business presentations?