Category Archives: Problem solving

What To Do When Technology Fails You


How many times have you seen it happen? You’re at a presentation and the PowerPoint doesn’t work. Or the projector doesn’t work. Or the wireless mike doesn’t work. Or the video doesn’t play. Or there’s feedback on the audio system.

Things happen. Sometimes there’s someone to blame. Sometimes there are equipment failures. Sometimes you didn’t bring the right connector. It doesn’t matter. Technology has failed. If it fails you, what can you do?

  1. Be cool. If your PowerPoint screws up, don’t worry. If your remarks are compelling enough, you probably don’t really need the PowerPoint. Rather than spend a huge portion of your allotted time trying to make it work, just deliver the presentation without it.
  2. Learn to project your voice. If you are going to speak before groups of people, you should be able to make yourself heard by the person sitting farthest away, without amplification. Not by yelling, but by talking louder and projecting.
  3. Video in a presentation is a tricky proposition even if everything works properly. Anything more than a short clip may get tedious for the audience in a hurry. But if you insist on including video in your presentation, be ready to describe the entire content of the video if it doesn’t play. That’s what TV newscasters have done for decades when the film, the tape or a live feed doesn’t work.
  4. Focus on your main message points and don’t let tech failure ruin your presentation. At a luncheon a few years ago, a St. Louis consultant to non-profits had colossal tech issues. The PowerPoint was too small to be seen, the video took a long time to load and then it was almost inaudible. But she struggled through. Her message—that the best way to communicate to donors is with stories about the people who’ve benefited from your services—came through loud and clear (despite her many tech problems).
  5. See #1. Be cool. At a PRSA/St. Louis luncheon a couple of years ago, right after the panel discussion began, the power went out. Curtains were opened to let in some light and the program continued. Without microphones, without amplification, without technology. The panelists spoke loud enough to be heard throughout the room and the program moved along without a hitch.

Technology is wonderful. But be prepared to make accommodations when technology fails.

(During Summer 2015 I have been revisiting some earlier posts. This one was originally shared on April 30, 2012. A new article will be posted on September 14.)

I Confess: I Need To Listen Better

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I hereby confess that I am not a great listener. This has nothing to do with my slight hearing loss resulting from years on radio with headphones up all the way, nor my tenure back in the day as DJ at the Bananas disco at the Erie, PA Ramada Inn in a booth next to massive speakers.

No, my problem is a failure to listen closely to everything being said to me. I am working on it, but have yet to achieve complete satisfaction.

This week I attended a baseball game with my cousin. We chatted about numerous topics. There was one particular thing he mentioned about which I never got the whole story—because I had to get in my opinion about what he had mentioned.

At a networking event this week, there was useful input coming to me from a number of people I was visiting with. But, in at least two cases, I derailed their train of thought by offering my own take on the issue being discussed.

I remember talk show host Tom Snyder who was a talented interviewer. But he had a tendency to butt in on interesting responses to his questions. He would then share his own experiences or beliefs about the topic. The guest often did not get a chance to finish his thought.

Here are some reasons why I need to work on being a better listener:

  1. I can learn more by listening to others than by listening to myself.
  2. Sometimes my responses may be construed as my saying, “Hey, I can top that!” (Even when that’s certainly not my intention.)
  3. Sometimes when I talk too much, I say things that are better left unsaid.
  4. I may miss out on hidden cues within the other person’s comments.
  5. People appreciate someone who actually pays attention to what they are saying.
  6. If I listen more carefully, I won’t have to ask people to repeat things.
  7. When I am listening, I learn more about the needs and wants of others (including prospects).

How about you? Can you be a better listener?


(This article was first posted in May 2012.)


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Control: Use It Wisely

Control. Some of us have it but misuse it. Some of us don’t have it but want it. Some of us have opportunities to control but choose to let someone else run the show.

How many times in your life have you failed to take control of situations you could have managed? Are there scenarios now in your career and your personal life that would allow you to take greater control? Are you willing to step up and take control and the responsibility that goes with it? Are you willing to risk collateral damage (hurt feelings, strained relationships, etc.) because you are the one who takes charge of a situation and makes tough decisions?

How many times have you sought control and not had it granted? Is there a situation now in your work or personal life that you would like to control but have not been able to gain control?

How many times have you retained control when you should have shared it? Do you tend to micromanage family members or those who work for you? Is it because your family members/workers are not competent enough to make decisions? Or is it because you just prefer to be the one in control?

Micromanagers, in my experience, negatively affect their own productivity as well as those they micromanage. By giving or sharing control, a micromanager frees up his/her own time and mental capacity to get other things done.

The pursuit of control and the effort to retain control determines many of the actions we take in our daily lives. Likewise, the failure to take control in those times we should step up can have long lasting effects.

Take a moment this week to evaluate your own opportunities to control your destiny. The choices you make now can impact your future.

When you are unable to control circumstances, this famous prayer may help: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.



Planning Versus Execution

We have all witnessed failures that occurred because a good plan was not properly executed. The reasons may include funding, timing, distribution, marketing or location issues. Also: when people don’t perform as expected, a good concept can collapse.

How can you help make sure your good plan is well executed?

  1. Double-check your plan for its shortcomings. If only 4 of the 5 necessary factors for success are present, carefully consider whether the missing element can be overcome.
  2. Get feedback before you launch. Trusted associates can help you refine your plan and may have valuable suggestions.
  3. Listen to the doubters. It’s easy to dismiss those who are less optimistic than you. Even if you choose to proceed, their input can warn you of obstacles.
  4. Carefully monitor the plan’s implementation on a daily basis. Correct big problems immediately. Make the tough decisions.
  5. Remain flexible. Not everything will go as planned. Expect the unexpected. Revise the plan as needed.
  6. Trust but verify. If you are delegating responsibilities, keep close tabs on your plan’s progress and the people guiding it.
  7. Work hard. Whether your plan’s execution is going smoothly or not, your time and energy increase your odds of eventual success. Make it happen.




PR Ethics and Business Questions: What Are The Right Answers?

Public Relations pros face tough business decisions and ethical dilemmas every day. Here are twelve scenarios that lead to the question, “What Would You Do?” The right answers may not always be obvious.

#1.  Your company’s CEO has success with investors and analysts, as well as business colleagues and media. However, he has trouble relating to his employees, many of whom think he’s an arrogant phony. What would you do?

  1. Suggest he meet with small groups of employees over pizza to listen to their ideas.
  2. Ghostwrite a weekly internal blog or email for employees, designed to portray him as a regular guy.
  3. Since the stock price is strong, don’t worry about this one flaw.

#2.  You write an excellent op-ed piece for your client, which expresses the client’s thoughts and concerns clearly and convincingly. You spend many hours checking facts, editing, rewriting and polishing. Then, the client says, “No, I don’t want to submit this to the paper. There might be a backlash.” What do you do?

  1. Tell your client to have a spine and stand up for what he believes.
  2. Study the issue more carefully and do yet another rewrite.
  3. Suggest that the client think about it and consider submitting it at some time in the near future.

#3.  Your client makes a necessary decision that is unpopular with many people. The negative posts and comments accumulate rapidly on your client’s Facebook page, for which you are an admin. What do you do?

  1. Delete any and all negative comments.
  2. Allow commenting to continue, deleting only those posts that are profane or threatening.
  3. Consider the thoughts communicated within this feedback when composing follow up statements for traditional and social media.

#4.  Your client, an outdoor store, has a good selection of hiking boots. A popular local online forum has a long thread discussing the best places to buy hiking boots. Commenters mention chain stores, department stores, even a ski shop, but your client’s store is not mentioned. What would you do?

  1. Log in under a fake name and tout your client’s selection.
  2. Log in under your own name and tout your client’s selection.
  3. Focus your attention instead on your client’s Facebook page and other social accounts.

#5.  In doing online research, you find that a new client may have lied in his official company bio about his credentials. What do you do?

  1. Bring the issue up in your next meeting, in an effort to resolve any discrepancy.
  2. Wait until you are a few months into the relationship, when you’ve established yourself as a team player. Then mention it.
  3. Let it ride, since it’s not an issue now and may never be one, unless somebody brings it up.

#6.  You pitch a hot exclusive to a local magazine and they commit to running it in their September issue. Meanwhile, you run into a local blogger at a party. She says she’s caught wind of your client’s news and plans to post it this week (two months before the issue hits). What do you do?

  1. Pray that her blog post will not be widely seen.
  2. Attempt to dissuade her from posting by suggesting that her version of the story may be incomplete or inaccurate.
  3. Ask that she hold back for a few weeks and promise her your next exclusive.

#7.  Your PR agency is sued for discrimination. You, raised in Arkansas in the 60’s, are forced to give a deposition. An attorney asks, “Have you ever used the word (racial slur)?” What would you do?

  1. Tell the truth and say, “Yes, but not in the last 40 years.”
  2. Lie and say, “No, I have never used that word in my life.”
  3. Ask for a break and consult with your attorney regarding a settlement.

#8.  Your client knows little about social media except that it is an area where her company needs a stronger presence. You have two employees who are good candidates to lead her social campaign. What do you do?

  1. Pick the 50-something, balding, overweight guy who would probably do a better job.
  2. Pick the skinny 30-something hipster with a goatee who might not do quite as good a job, but definitely looks the part of a social media guru.
  3. Have the intern who set up a killer Facebook page for his Zombie Chasers Club spend a day with the client and her staff.

#9.  A local reporter on deadline wants an official statement for a story on alleged wasteful spending by the government agency you represent. The agency head is in Africa on vacation and cannot be reached. Her backup is hesitant to say anything. What do you do?

  1. Suggest the reporter hold the story for 24 hours while you try to contact the boss.
  2. Craft a non-committal statement that indicates the agency is monitoring the situation closely, but can’t offer substantial information at this time.
  3. Indicate that you and the agency will directly address the allegation in the near future. (And, if you know it to be true, point out that the trip to Africa was paid for with personal funds, not agency money.)

#10.  A prospect wants to discuss your agency representing his company because he was impressed by a feature about one of your clients that ran on a network news show. In reality, that coverage came because your client’s wife is an old friend of one of the show’s producers. What do you do?

  1. Admit to the prospect that, while you handled details, the segment did not directly result from your work.
  2. Since it came on your watch, take full credit.
  3. Make sure you attach the clip to every email you send the prospect.

#11.  Along with your PR work, you occasionally write for a weekly community newspaper. You agree to write a piece on Best Places to Buy Baby Clothes. One of your agency’s clients, though not one of your accounts, is an upscale baby boutique. What do you do?

  1. Write about the boutique without any mention of your connection, because it merits inclusion on the list anyway (irregardless of your agency’s involvement).
  2. Mention parenthetically that you work for an agency that reps the store.
  3. Because you have strong ethics, write the piece, but omit any mention of the boutique.

#12.  Your agency takes on a difficult client, a company whose business practices personally offend you. The client, however, does have some positive stories to tell. Your boss assigns you to lead the team for this client. What do you do?

  1. Admit that you may not be able to perform effectively because of the client’s baggage and ask to be removed from the team.
  2. Accept the assignment but let your contacts for this client know that you have misgivings.
  3. Do the job you were hired to do. Don’t share your personal feelings with the team. Roll up your sleeves and work hard.

Preventing Careless Mistakes

The end of Tuesday night’s St. Louis Blues versus Los Angeles Kings hockey game was the result of a careless mistake. The Kings’ goalie was clearing the puck from behind his net—something goalies do often—when a Blues player skated in, stole the puck and stuffed it into the unblocked goal. The goalie had played well up to that moment. But a careless mistake cost him and his team the game.

In life and in business, a careless mistake can put a blemish on an otherwise stellar effort. A recent marketing email I prepared for a client went out with a word missing in the copy. The email had a great open rate and a good click rate and will, I am confident, prove to be effective for my client. But my time spent writing, composing and rewriting rendered a slightly flawed result.

An alert I sent to media in a remote market contained a misspelling of a local town name. Otherwise, the alert was crisply written and communicated information well enough to generate coverage for my client. But I was chagrined when my mistake was noted.

None of us are perfect or ever will be. Errors will occur. But here are ways to prevent some of these careless mistakes from happening:

  1. Have a second and third pair of eyes. Share your work with co-workers or friends for review.
  2. Use spelling and grammar check.
  3. Use Google to determine spellings, definitions and synonyms.
  4. Sleep on it. Write today, post tomorrow. When you look at your work the day after you write it, you may spot a glaring booboo.
  5. Hesitate before you click “send” on that email. And don’t just check your copy. Check your recipients list as well. Do any need to be on the “Bcc” line?
  6. Wear your glasses. If you have vision issues, put them on. If you have vanity issues, get contacts. You may miss even simple screw-ups if you can’t see them clearly.
  7. Have a cup of coffee. It can help you focus.
  8. Slow down. That’s easy for me to say. But remember that many deadlines are not absolute. And most people would rather work be good than fast.
  9. Take note of the errors you’ve made in the past and work to prevent similar errors from happening again.
  10. When playing goalie in the NHL, don’t be nonchalant when clearing the puck from behind the net.
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Failure is Not an Option (But Sometimes It Happens Anyway)

A few years back, I attended a presentation by a PR guy about a nifty product launch that included a particularly clever stunt. His firm also landed a front-page story in USA Today for the new product. During Q & A, when asked about sales, he mentioned that the product had had numerous shortcomings and was quickly pulled from the market.

During my radio days, the legendary Dick Clark came to my station to plug a new daily game show he was hosting. When I opened our chat with a bit of puffery, mentioning all his many successes, he responded by humbly pointing out that he had had his share of failed projects as well. The game show, by the way, lasted just one season.

A woman who consulted businesses nationwide on reducing their energy costs had success stories from several clients. When she booked an event space for a daylong conference in St. Louis to share some of her knowledge, she promoted it with an expensive print ad in a local publication. She got almost zero response from the ad and filled some of the seats—though not nearly as many as she’d envisioned—by making phone calls to prospective attendees.

There are few slam-dunks in business. Deals that make sense for all parties can be dumped for the flimsiest of reasons. Killer marketing plans can be wiped out when a supplier has distribution problems. A PR pitch that’s absolutely perfect for a particular journalist or broadcaster can be turned away because of something just a bit better is in his or her inbox.

Even when you’ve done market testing, even when you’ve double-checked and triple-checked, even when all signs point to glorious success, things can go awry. It happens to everybody. When it happens to you, try to figure out why so you can learn from the experience. Then pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on to fight another day.




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Generational Disconnect

When I was a kid, my parents would make references to bits on radio shows from their childhood.  And, unless they explained the reference, I did not get it.

I participated in a school trivia night a couple of years ago. The questions were “boomer-centric.” The group that finished in last place was a table of younger teachers—all VERY BRIGHT PEOPLE in their late 20’s—who did not know much about pop culture from the 70’s and 80’s.

For several years, ran a hilarious feature called “Parents Just Don’t Understand” which made fun of older generations and their issues with technology.

Generational disconnect and the resulting poor communication can lead to confusion, resentment, envy and disgust.

If you work with younger people—or deal with younger generations in your church or neighborhood—you should make an effort to speak their language. That does not mean learning the newest hipster lingo, it means becoming aware of their interests and concerns.

The key is to be AUTHENTIC.  Don’t pretend to be something you are not. And don’t pretend to know things you do not know.

When you talk to someone from another generation, be GENUINELY interested. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Show respect. Acknowledge differences. Don’t feel compelled to trump their stories with “back in the day” tales of your own exploits.

Communication should be a two-way street, but don’t count on that happening right off the bat.

Generally, the older generation should prepare to defer to the younger generation. That’s a normal progression.

Eventually, today’s Gen-Y Millennials will be the ones concerned about a new generation. And the young folk who submitted those items to will someday be the subject of chuckles for their own progeny.

Plan Ahead for All Contingencies

What would happen if the lights were to go out early in the third quarter of the Super Bowl game? Would the TV broadcast crew be able to fill time in an informative, compelling, entertaining manner? If you watched the CBS broadcast Sunday night, you know the answer to that one.

What would happen if you were about to give a presentation from your laptop and an unexpected glitch caused the entire file to vanish? Or the A/V guy at the venue did not have a VGA adapter for your MacBook? Would you be able to make your presentation without the PowerPoint (or similar program)?

What if your trade group had paid for a round-trip plane ticket, hotel room and appearance fee for a hot social media thought leader to speak at your sold-out luncheon and a personal matter came up that required he fly home immediately? Would you have a backup speaker ready?

What would happen if you were the lead person on a major PR campaign and you had an illness that kept you in sickbay for two weeks? Could you get a backup to take the reins and do the job in your place?

What would happen if you were to lose your cell phone? Have you transferred photos and videos to another digital device or to “the cloud?” Are your important contacts backed up elsewhere?

What would happen if you prepared a speech and, moments before you were to be introduced, you realized you had left all your notecards in the pocket of your other jacket? Would you have rehearsed the speech enough to be able to give it from memory?

What would happen if your main client were to decide to close his business and move to Florida? Would your other clients provide enough business to keep you afloat? Are you always working to develop new business?

I am not promoting pessimism, but thinking about worst-case scenarios can help you be ready, if necessary. Things happen.





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How To Get Things Done

We all have a finite amount of time in each day, each week, each month. Most of us have an ever-growing list of things to accomplish within those time frames. How can we get more things done?

  1. Spend less time on each agenda item
  2. Limit distractions

That was simple, huh? Not unlike: “the best way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more.”

Got phone calls to make? Without being rude, take care of business within each call and avoid getting into extended chats about sports, media, weather, business, etc. Remember that others have much to accomplish, too.

Got emails to send? Keep them brief and to the point. Even if you need to share important details, state them clearly and quickly.

Got in-person visits to make? When possible, set up a time that is convenient for you to drop in. If you are cold calling, be swift and purposeful without being curt.

Got writing to do? Formulate your basic ideas and get started. If you have a hard deadline, forge ahead. Otherwise, coming back later may give you a chance to think and expand your ideas.

Limiting distractions requires much self-control. When you overhear conversations about sports, current events, TV, etc., you may want to chime in. When your computer indicates an email has arrived in your inbox, you may want to open it immediately. When your phone rings, you may want to find out who’s calling. When you finish another task or two, you may want to take a Facebook or Twitter break. Be strong and focus on your task of the moment.

Those who work at home must also deal with distractions from family members, pets and doorbells.

Remember that some days will be more productive than others. When you get a lot accomplished, let that inspire you to have another great day tomorrow. When you don’t get as many things done as you’d wanted to, don’t beat yourself up. As Scarlett O’Hara reminds us, “Tomorrow is another day!”