“The Greatest Teacher, Failure Is” – Yoda


If it is the upcoming grand finale of the NFL season or the latest business idea to take flight, we often focus on the winners. They hold the trophy, they get the attention and the headlines. But consider for our purposes right now, the other side of the coin. I would propose we learn more, make more progress and have more to share from the times we fail. Please consider, as you move through 2018, how failure can fuel you to an even higher level.

Success is Overrated: For all our focus on winners, first think about some of the downsides to success. Too often we get so swept up in the victory we don’t take the time to figure out what else we can learn from the experience. We won! Who cares how we got here? Critical thought and analysis rarely follow a big victory. On the other hand, when we fail everyone wants to know what happened and what we can do to avoid the same fate next time. Which scenario offers the biggest opportunity for future success? Yep, here’s a vote for cheering on the next failure!

Of course, no one goes around listing all the times they have failed, but perhaps now you will be more likely to ask about those instances in job interviews. If you ask the question in the correct context – saying your culture understands and values what can be learned from failure – you can have a revealing conversation with that potential new hire. The same can be said for how you tell your story as an individual or as a company. The victories are great, but sometimes the failures are more revealing of who you are. And to that point…

Talk about the bad times: Whether you are presenting a new idea, in a job interview or proposing for a new piece of business, you are almost guaranteed to stand out if you include in your comments something about the bad times. Few people do it, and therefore there is a rich vein of storytelling opportunity found in failure. We tell more about ourselves and what we’re made of when we talk about the tough times. When those stories are mixed in with the things that have gone right, you present a balanced, mature view of the world. Frankly, maybe it’s the cynic in me, but when someone speaks only of happy times and sunshine I automatically become suspicious. (“Hey, it can’t all be THAT good. What’s this person hiding?”)

Include failure in your regular series of conversation items: If your elevator speech includes a hint of troubles faced you will open the conversation in ways you never could with a string of successes. It’s as if you are putting more of your cards on the table and the person you are talking with will be more likely to share. Everyone benefits.

So, the next time you are listening to a speech, proposal or just having a conversation, remember the power to be found in failure. We all have those stories, now it’s time to share them.

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: cary@clear-comm.net.

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It Better be Good!


With the Holidays upon us AND my 150th Monthly Memo here, my thoughts turn to all I am thankful for and all I have learned over the last 15 years. If I can confer the key lessons for this 150th Memo I can end the year on the right note, so here goes.

20+ years as a news reporter: While I have always appreciated my previous career, I now know how much of an impact it has had on my work as a speaker and consultant. Asking questions, thinking on my feet, seeing people on their very best day or perhaps on their very worst day and learning more about the world around me was huge. It kept teaching me for those 20+ years. I couldn’t have had better preparation for my client work.

Listening: The number one skill for any good reporter or consultant is the ability to listen. I would say it is the most important communication skill in existence. That probably sounds funny – coming from a guy who does a lot of speaking. Remember this – before any of us can ever be effective as speakers, we need to spend a lot of time listening.

Addressing the Elephant in the Room: If there is another consistent piece of advice I offer it is to get any uncomfortable topic out on the table. Get the tough stuff addressed right away and then everyone can exhale and move on!

Smile: From the last chapter of my book to regular conversations with leaders across the globe, the topic nearly always comes up. “Can you smile a little more when you say that?” It sounds so basic, but you’ll be a better leader if, where appropriate, you offer that simple piece of advice.

The book: One of the most surprising and satisfying experiences of the last 15 years has been writing and speaking about “There’s Not an App for That!” One never knows how a book will be received. Will people get it? Is there meaningful information here? When the book won a national book award I could not have been more pleased. If you think this communication stuff is important in your business, please pick up a copy. You can do so at www.NoAppBook.com. Order it through this address and I will be sure to sign it if you’d like. It is 174 pages of quick reading advice on how to tell your story in business and is a succinct overview of all I have learned in my last 40 years as a communicator.

My extended family: Finally, I must acknowledge all I have learned from my clients and family. For our purposes here, I’ll call them my extended family because I appreciate my business relationships and I consider them part of the extended family. My immediate family has been a source of inspiration and my client family has taught me so much I cannot thank all of you enough. Here’s to a terrific Holiday season and a great 2018 to come!

Interested in starting or expanding a speaking business? A woman I know is retiring and wants to sell her fully branded speaking business. Contact me directly for more details.

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: cary@clear-comm.net.

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So How Do You Handle a Bully?


With the attention on Harvey Weinstein specifically, but also questions swirling around generally pushy, boorish behavior, there comes the question, just how do you handle a bully? How can you best react when someone seems determined to inflict his will upon you?

While the traits of a bully are often attributed to men, it is certainly possible for either sex to display bad behavior. For this discussion, I’ll set that portion of the issue aside and zero in on how your communication skills can help you react.

To begin, most of the bully’s actions are focused around control. The tactics may involve sex or competition or popularity, but really the core of bullying behavior is about control. If you begin with that understanding, it is possible to take some steps to slow the bully’s behavior and level the field.

Voice: Your voice has more power than you might realize. When someone tries to throw you off with bullying or inappropriate behavior, combining your voice with strong eye contact can take the bad actor by surprise. Change your delivery, perhaps lower your voice and look right at the offending party. Inside you might be shaking but a slower, lower sentence can make it clear you “wont’ back down.” (Maybe Tom Petty’s song can be playing in your head. These days that song has added meaning!)

Volume: Combine the above suggestions with a change in volume. A whispered offensive comment can be met with a purposely louder response, letting everyone know this will NOT be a quiet conversation. If the bully instead is the loud one, don’t play that game. Lowering your volume says you are going to react your way, not anyone else’s.

Very clear messages: When you hear the repeated themes in the behavior attributed to Weinstein for example, we also hear the disbelief that the events even unfolded. Power or charm or influence can cloud our decision making. People like Weinstein play on just that fact. How can we be prepared for such occasions? Having ready-made messages can help. If any of us can quickly describe our personal code of conduct it won’t solve every issue, but can give us a place to go in an uncomfortable situation. The bully is counting on catching us off guard, with nothing to say to their surprising behavior. How you say it or what you say is a personal call, but having the right words at the ready will help.

There are no perfect solutions for these difficult situations and it is frustrating to know they exist. My hope is these few steps can help put the bullies on notice: their behavior is not going to go unanswered.

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: cary@clear-comm.net.





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A Small Act of Kindness – Making a Difference by Just Being Better


One act of kindness I learned about recently has stood out to me in such a big way I can’t get it out of my head. Maybe it is because it stands in such stark contrast to the recent emphasis on what divides us. (Let me say it is important to understand that things divide us. But a civil debate is where progress can be made, not an insult-fest that only brings out the very negative in us.

I rarely wander into current headlines with the Monthly Memo and I will keep up that policy with this message, but I must say it is, in part, motivated by what I see happening around us. There have always been differences and challenges we have faced as a country, but I’ve never seen such an effort to stir up these differences by appealing to the most aggressive, attack-minded side of these issues. Sooo – to focus on what I see as a more productive direction, I offer this story and what can be learned from it.

The story: A friend was on her second day at a new job and going through the obligatory training process – learning how to use the email service. A staff member at the new firm was leading the one-on-one training when an email arrived saying one of the most senior leaders in the company needed to speak with my friend right away. The trainer sent a message politely saying my friend was in a scheduled session now. The senior leader said it was urgent and so my friend was off to a visit with the boss. All pretty standard stuff, but what happened next is why I am sharing this story. After the meeting the staff trainer received a call from the senior leader apologizing for interrupting his session and letting the trainer know his time is very important to the company and only in an emergency would he disrupt his work.

Respect: How do we make a difference in today’s world? Taking the time to communicate a simple gesture of respect is a great place to start. How many people work in a place where the most senior people go out of their way (even in small ways) to pay respect to those who may be a few rungs down the leadership ladder? How tough is it? And finally, what kind of a difference does it make? I can tell you this gesture by the senior leader was not meant to get anyone’s attention. It was done quietly and the gesture so impressed me I have told lots of people. The reaction has been almost universal. Surprise and admiration. “Wow, you never hear that anymore.” “I wish that happened at my work.” “Gee, I want to work there.” And on and on.

If such a simple gesture can have that kind of impact, what does it tell the rest of us? I think it says we all can be persons of note BECAUSE we go out of our way to make those small gestures of respect, not to get attention, but to communicate who we are at our core. If you are stressed when hearing about divisiveness in our world, resolve to be a force for respect and kindness.

For Phoenix readers, Cary will be sharing stories designed to help you tell your story in business. Please join us at Snell and Wilmer’s Emerging Business Seminar: “How to Effectively Communicate Your Company’s Story” next Wednesday, October 4th. Just sign up through this link:


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What is the Exact Moment You Become a Person of Influence?


It’s when you finally become CEO, right? I mean, isn’t that what the world seems to teach us? In our CEO-centric existence, it is the CEO who makes the most important decisions and is the center of the circle of influence for any organization. Well, I can tell you the CEO’s I’ve worked with will tell you exactly the OPPOSITE. What is the moment you become a person of influence? On the first day you show up.

Have you ever seen the impact of ‘the new person?’ A new person joins the team/class/store/shop/office and things change. It can be for better or worse, but things change. Sometimes this person just seems to brighten the place. Her attitude lifts everyone up. What hadn’t gotten done before now is possible. People get along better and, as a group, they perform better. Or, perhaps you’ve seen the opposite. The person who has a black cloud over their head they seem happy to share. Employees argue more. There are fewer smiles and more of a focus on what doesn’t work. Team members are divided one from another.

Remember, we are talking about the addition of a single person.

So, again I ask, what is the exact moment you become an influencer? This is a question not only for you, but for everyone around you. Chances are, some of the people around you feel powerless – or at least far less powerful than they are. My message is we need to stop paying attention to job titles and realize the impact we all have every day.

This thought came to mind for me because of a woman I met who felt she might never get the CEO job. There were skills she felt she didn’t possess and thought she could never attain. What happened over the next few months? The people around her showed her just how skilled she was. They boosted her confidence and pointed out how even her perceived disadvantage could become her advantage. The end of her story has yet to be written, but I can tell you it is likely to have a very happy final chapter.

The next time someone tells you they can’t wait for the next promotion/raise/job/office remind them they are a person of influence right now. If we focus on our current role with the kind of energy that makes a positive difference, we are likely to end up with the next opportunity exactly because we made the most of the job we used to have

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Some Words We Should Ban from Business Speak


The mission is not easy. We want to find the perfect word or words to describe our skill set. Then we are told certain words attract the attention of recruiters or customers. That combination of factors turns us into a bunch of same-sounding robots spewing similar messages. Suddenly we’re all “innovative forward thinkers who are results-focused team players.” Are you really a “thought leader” and do you really approach problems from “outside the box?” Here are some of my least favorite and some approaches to do better.

Innovator: Within one sentence of writing this on your resume or LinkedIn profile, you better let us know HOW you have truly innovated something! Too often, as with all these least favorite examples, the words are just thrown out there hoping something will stick. People who innovate have done something most people have not. “Lead the effort to develop new product now on the shelves with sales of $2.6 million.” Say what you have innovated, or don’t use the word. An innovator is someone who can point to unique accomplishments, not someone who occasionally comes up with a good idea at a meeting.

Thought Leader: In order for this title to truly work for you you’ll have to demonstrate how people in your field look to you for new ideas, approaches or direction. How is that measured? Are you called upon to speak to large professional groups in your field? Have you written recognized leading books or papers that others utilize? Have your ideas been incorporated in the actions of colleagues, or even better, by competitors? Now we’re talking thought leader!

President or CEO: This one might surprise you, but hear me out. Have you see a profile or quote from someone with a title like that and thought, “President of What?” If you have a one person operation, are you really the CEO? I guess you are, a swell as chief cook and bottle washer. When someone asks I say I am the Principal of my company, though I guess I could call myself President if I wanted. Make sure your title accurately reflects the scope of your work – not a grand name with little behind it.

Bottom line: spend more time thinking through the words you use to describe your work instead of just throwing out words that sound good but really mean nothing.

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How to Act Around Famous People


Crew members on Steve Harvey’s TV shows were supposedly told they were not to talk to or bother Mr. Harvey. Similar stories I’ve heard go back to Dick Clark’s production company, where crew members were apparently told not to make eye contact with Dick unless he was talking to them. What’s up with these famous people? No eye contact? Don’t bother him/her? Where would these people be without the public, right?

Well, actually, there is more to this than you might think. Understanding the often-unspoken rules of the celebrity world is a good skill set to obtain, and it is there that I hope to share some insights. Being a “man of a certain age” I have interacted with everyone from Henry Fonda to Justin Timberlake and lots of people in between. Generally, I have had success connecting with them and it comes from a specific set of rules I’ve tried to follow.

This is just another day: While it is a big deal for us to run across a celebrity, it is just another day for them. If you can act the same, they often respond well. From former Presidents of the United States to famous actors to standout athletes, they get the “yelling, screaming, pointing” treatment a lot. After a while, strangely enough, it can get old. If you stay cool and just have a calm conversation they will often view it as a welcome relief. A USA Today columnist wrote about an encounter with Robin Williams where Williams walked up from behind him at a casual lunch spot and asked if he could share the table. The columnist didn’t even look up and simply said “Sure.” Suddenly he realized he was sitting across from the famous actor and comedian. Instead of making a big deal, they just talked about their shared interest in cycling. Williams seemed relieved. Simple rule: Catch your breath and act normal!

Are they working or off? If a celebrity is showing up for an advertised appearance, they are “on.” They know they are expected to be accessible and you should expect to get a “moment” with them if you get in line or pay the extra money for a backstage visit. The interaction will be short and controlled and don’t expect or ask for anything more. If they are “off,” then you should not expect a warm reception if you run up to them for a picture. They may just need a drug store prescription while trying to get over the flu. How would you feel? Some celebs seem to enjoy being “on” while others hate it. I had a chance to be around both Tonight Show hosts Johnny Carson and Jay Leno. Carson hated being in the spotlight unless he was taping his show, while I’ve never seen Leno not welcome a visit from a total stranger on the street. Second rule: Are they “on” or “off”? Act accordingly.

Finally, rules of the workplace: This is meant to explain why some celebs have very specific rules – especially when they are working. The Steve Harvey and Dick Clark situations referenced earlier don’t surprise me. To appear fresh and glib and “on” is not an easy skill. It all looks natural and fun, but it often requires a lot of effort. If, while taping a TV show for example, the star of the show is constantly stopping and getting pictures with crew members and passers-by, the work would never get done! It may sound controlling, but spend one day on a TV set and you can understand the need for some rules. Celebrities are just regular people with faces we recognize. They come with the same quirks and qualities we all share. Remember that the next time you spot one.  

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What is the Best Way to Handle Networking Follow-Up?


      There is a delicate balancing act in networking. You don’t want to appear too eager – as if you had nothing better to do – while also following up in a way that shows you are thoughtful and attentive. So, what does that look like? Perhaps you have a pile of business cards floating around and the best of intentions, but you’re not sure of the best approach? Here are a few quick ideas designed to help you plan your next move.

Rate it right away: Within an hour or two of meeting someone, rate your need to follow-up. Is this someone you really want to connect with? Are they a medium level contact or someone with whom you really have no connection? When you do a rating right away the interaction is fresh in your mind and you can accurately assess your next move, even if you don’t have time to immediately act. This practice helps you avoid the “what is this business card?” reaction or the “was I supposed to do something for Amber after our meeting?” Which leads to the next point:

ALWAYS keep your promises: The worst networking sin is saying you’ll do something and then failing to deliver. Besides being a flake, you are spoiling your reputation with everyone in the circle of the person you disappointed. Whether you said you’d like to meet for coffee or you promised to forward some helpful information, KEEP YOUR PROMISES! That’s why “rate it right away” is important as well because you can make notes about promises you’ve made and you’ll be better at follow up.

Keep clear notes: Every sales professional knows this is the key to success, so create a note taking system which works for you. Ever notice the people who thoughtfully remember little details about you? Maybe they have a great memory, but more likely they have a great note system. Even if you never do a bit of business with someone, your attention to detail will stand out in the mind of the person you are connecting with every time.

Be sure to be timely: No networking follow-up should be more than a week after your initial visit and hopefully, just a day or two after. Depending upon your promise (if you made one) you can judge how quickly to follow-up. If this is an important contact or someone who gets a lot of people trying to connect with them, put more thought into your next communication with them. Is a hand-written note the right approach? Maybe your email follow-up has a specific reference to let them know you were paying attention during your visit. Quality effort and personalization are important here. Think about it and you will stand out from the crowd.

When you look back at your day or week you should feel you’ve done the most with those you’ve met and that can only happen if you have a system. Use this Monthly Memo as a starting point and let me know what else should be included in this conversation. Have a great June!

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What Do We Portray by How We Dress and Why It Matters


Perhaps this is a question which rarely crosses your mind. Or, as a leader, employer or HR professional, maybe this thought hasn’t come to you quite this way. Here’s the question: What do we portray when we head out the door? Are we putting on clothes that are a good match for who we are and the job we have – or want to have? All of us see all ends of the spectrum every day and it impacts who gets hired, promoted and who gets heard.

The reason this phenomenon exists is something for the behavioral studies experts to ponder. There may be answers discoverable in a person’s self-image, family history or how they could not care less. For those of us looking at and making judgments about what others choose to wear, maybe it’s just shorthand in the decision-making process. We’ll let the truly smart people sort out those answers and for now focus on the impact of what we choose to wear.

Dressing that seems out-of-synch: We’ve all seen this situation. The person at work is too casual, too “night clubby” or too fancy. Is that fair? Not always, but it can be the reaction if we dress in a way that doesn’t accurately reflect the role we play. In a specific example, if you are already older than the person you are interacting with AND you dress in clothes more befitting your parent’s generation you can see the multiplier effect in play here. Can you see where there might be a bit of a disconnect? Or the man who walks in with a stiff suit for a “young and hip” workplace may be perfectly qualified, but could be finished before the interview even starts. Again, not fair, and actually illegal under U.S. labor law, but it still happens.

Understanding Your Role: Okay, how about the 40-something dude who ALWAYS wears a backward baseball cap and scruffy jeans? Or the mom who might be confused with one of her daughters – for all the wrong reasons? The most common complaint around these people is that we have a hard time taking them seriously – or they are frustrated when others won’t take them seriously. Again, I leave it to the behavioral experts to sort out the “why” here, but what I am asking is for you to look in the mirror, because it makes difference. Especially if you are looking to move up. Are you dressed for that role?

In my view, there is nothing “wrong” with anyone who dresses in a way not reflecting their best. The point is, it has an impact. Don’t forget that. If you are continually getting turned down as a job hunter, are you dressing in comfortable but out-of-date clothes? Or too fashion forward? There are plenty of current fashion options that can look dignified but current. Women can find a solid colored dark outfit and see if it makes a difference. Or, for guys, I know you love your favorite sports team jersey, but perhaps invest in a few good quality dress shirts that fit well and some nice dress pants. You might be surprised by the reaction.

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Hallmarks of the Inexperienced Public Speaker (Don’t be this person!)


Recently I witnessed the introduction of a local politician from a large city. This was clearly not the first time the person had been called upon to provide remarks, yet within just a few words they showed themselves to be an immature and inexperienced speaker. Can it be that easy to spot? Yes, and you want to keep these tips in mind anytime you might be called upon to say a few words.

After the obligatory introduction, the officeholder stepped to the microphone and…talked about themselves. And kept on talking about that favorite topic for almost the entirety of the next five minutes. One of the easiest ways to spot someone who doesn’t understand what is happening right in front of them is when they can’t help but focus on themselves. Whether we are talking about a quick conversation in the breakroom or a major presentation in front of the Board of Directors, the mistake is the same – and it is painful.

It’s always about them, not you:

Take an inventory. Ask for feedback. Whatever you can do, try to figure out what your default conversational topic list tends to be – and be brutal. The reason I refer to this as a sign of immaturity is because we fully expect a child to be self-obsessed, but it should be something we all grow out of at some point. If you see friends or co-workers, what do you talk about? If you are called upon to make some brief, off-the-cuff comments to your team or an interest group, where do you naturally go? The person I saw speak should have done some homework. “Let me talk about the great work you’re doing and how much the City appreciates you,” would have been a great start. Instead we were treated to a re-reading of the politician’s resume and all they had done. Yikes.

Read the room. What are they like RIGHT NOW?:

A common mistake any of us can make is to assume people are unchanged day-to-day. “Oh, I know them,” or “I’ve spoken in front of them before,” can be a trap. What if things have changed for them? Not only should you make your comments about them, but try to fine tune those comments to take into consideration where they are today. Has their industry changed? What about their personal situation? What impact did the election have? What does the new year bring? In a speech, that all should be part of your research. In a conversation, use your listening and observational skills to notice where this person is right now.

But what if you ARE asked to talk about yourself?

Again, that can be a trap. Sure, you might tell your story, but ALWAYS wrap it around THEIR story. Suddenly, “I was born in a log cabin,” turns into, “I know many of you have known challenges in your life…” You may have the most interesting story in the room, but as humans we can overestimate its power. A detail can be meaningful to us because we lived it, but does it have the same impact on your audience?

True confessions time. This is my secret fear about myself. Too often, as a person is speaking to me, I am thinking about a related anecdote I can share as soon as they stop talking. Then I have to tell myself to shut up! “Just listen and appreciate the person in front of you,” Join me in making this version of a rule: “It’s always about them first, then maybe about me. Maybe.”

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