‘Stretch Your Comfort Zone’ is my key message to Concordia University Chicago students

Yesterday, as part of the Concordia University Chicago College of Business Guest  Speaker Series, I shared key principles that have been integral to my professional and personal journey.

Many of the students in attendance are studying marketing. (Photo courtesy of Concordia University Chicago.)

Among those principles:

*Stretch beyond your comfort zone on a regular basis;
*Ask for help and seek out mentors in your field of endeavor:
*Value all people–not only those you think can help you;
*Look for ways to add value to others, without seeking anything in return.

Photo courtesy of Concordia University Chicago.

Speaking of stretching comfort zones: I shared a poster from my time, a decade ago, as the alter ego “Super Shopper Spotter” in the Village of Oak Park’s effort to spur on local shopping within the various business districts in the community. You can see the poster in the hands of the student in the image immediately on the left.

Thank you to Cathy Schlie, Marketing, Communication, and Events Manager for the College of Business, as well as professors and students who turned out–it was a most engaged audience and I appreciated the interaction and interest.

In light of the prominent role that business and personal networking has had in my career, it is fitting to note that Cathy extended the invitation for me to speak a few months after we met at an Oak Park – River Forest (OPRF) Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours event at the River Forest campus.

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Drop the Mic Aversion: The Simple Case for Simply Using the Microphone

The term “mic drop” is a relatively recent addition to our language. It refers to the dramatic gesture of punctuating the end of your remarks with the action of dropping your microphone—a bold statement that declares “what else is there to say?”

While the brashness of that gesture may be a turn-off to some, it doesn’t bother me so much—as long as the speaker is willing to accept the responsibility for repairing or replacing a battered microphone. On the other hand, what astounds and annoys me is a phenomenon that plays out on the other end of the mic spectrum: the aversion of an alarming percentage of speakers to pick up the microphone in the first place.

It’s self-defeating and it’s selfish.

Last week, on three successive evenings before three very different (and quite large) audiences, I observed speakers wave away perfectly functioning—and abundantly necessary—microphones that were available to them.

For anyone who feels similarly inclined to rely solely on their vocal cords, as if they can pull off some modern-day Greek Amphitheater acoustic wonder, here are some pointers issued at the HIGHEST POSSIBLE VOLUME. (You won’t see CAP LOCKS employed below, but imagine I’m shrieking, Sam Kinison-like, into my metaphorical microphone):

  1. It’s not about you, and your own comfort level with the mic! If a mic feels awkward in your hands, get a grip: you have a responsibility, and it’s to your benefit, to make it as easy as possible for your audience to receive your communication.
  2. “Audience” is defined as everybody in your audience—not just those toward the front, and not even just those you can see in that very moment. If you are being audio-recorded or video-recorded (notably simple activities in this remarkable 21st century), it’s vital to have an amplifying device. That way, someone halfway across the globe, or down the street, can hear you when they come across your presentation days, months, or years later.
  3. When testing a mic, it always helps to actually make an audible noise. While that observation may seem obvious and even a bit snarky, how often have you seen someone whisper, “Is this mic working?” as they pull it away from their face. Then: silence, as they scan the audience for an answer. “I’m just going to raise my voice,” some proceed to say, in defiance of common sense and common courtesy.

Here’s my ‘mic drop’ wrap-up: to the degree that you want to amplify your message, display your expertise, expand your brand or otherwise maximize your influence, that’s how much you should capitalize on the mic’s amplifying effect.

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Know Why it Pays To Take Your Audience’s Pulse?

Bringing "PR Secrets" to a a group at the Palos Heights Public Library. (Photo by Jeannine Kacmar)

Sharing Facebook counsel during “PR Secrets” with a group composed primarily of small business owners and not-for-profit volunteers. (Photo Courtesy of Palos Heights Public Library)

Notice this post’s headline? Something I learned long ago: the person in control of the conversation is the one asking questions.

As a journalist for many years, going back to my days before I was legally able to drive a motor vehicle, asking questions is something that comes naturally to me. It may not be second nature to everyone, particularly those who are sharing from a position of expertise.

However, just because you know a ton about a given topic, plunging ahead without “checking in” on your audience can result in missed opportunities. That’s why I always like to find out what brings people to workshops or other talks that I deliver.

Just this week, during a session of “PR Secrets From a Media Insider” at Palos Heights Public Library, that vigilance was rewarded. To my astonishment, by going around the conference room and asking attendees for their foremost objective for the evening, I discovered that 14 out of the 15 present were not seeking guidance on how to connect directly with the media.

That element is usually central to my workshop, but I also have a bevy of other topics that I can discuss. On this night, for example, interest was particularly high on social media strategy. By taking a cue from the feedback that I solicited from those men and women, that is precisely where I devoted more of our time.

So, to all presenters out there: don’t assume you know why people are in front of you. Depending on the size of your audience, you may not be able to do a person-by-person survey, but there are ways to get a gist of what would be most helpful to those you’re sharing with.

Take control of the conversation, ask this key question–and see how you can max out on giving relevant, practical support.

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