presentation skills trainer

Great Ideas for Communication

Great Ideas for Communication

presentation skills trainerLaurie Brown

Laurie Brown has over two decades of experience as a trainer, coach and speaker, helping her audience improve their leadership, presentation, sales and customer service skills. 

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Are You Leaving the Wrong Image on Zoom?

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If you are like many people in the world right now, you are most likely using some form of on-camera virtual communication.

How you look and sound creates an impression. Appearing casual when chatting with friends and family is appropriate. However, when you are speaking with clients, bosses and/or co-workers, you will need to present a more business-like image.

The following tips address various camera shots, how much you should move, whether standing or sitting and the kind of delivery that works best to present the appropriate image.

Types of Camera Shots

There are several different kinds of framing (or shots) to use on camera. It is important for you to know how the camera set up frames you because your delivery should vary according to each type of shot.


camera shots
Head Shot

A head shot frames you from a couple of inches above your head down to the knot of your tie for a man or about the same spot for a woman. This shot works effectively when you’re appearing on any type of small screen. However when your image is projected onto a large screen it is a terrible shot making your head will seem gigantic, as if you were the great Oz.

You absolutely should not use your hands when framed in a head shot. They won't be visible and all the audience will see is your shoulders moving, making you appear nervous. However, if the headshot is mixed with longer shots, it’s fine to use your hands because your movements will be seen and understood in context.

Head shots require your delivery to be intimate. Speak as if you were having a one-on-one conversation.

Bust Shot

A bust shot frames you from a few inches above your head down to mid-chest. This shot is good for interviews or for delivering particularly important messages. Just as with the head shot, your hands will not be visible, so keep them still. With a bust shot your delivery will not be quite as intimate as with a head shot. Talk to the camera as if you were talking to people across a small table.

Waist Shot

A waist shot frames you from a few inches above your head down to your waist. This is also good framing for interviews. Most presenters prefer this shot since it allows them to use their hands naturally. However, you should not shift your body below the waist unless the camera is following you as you walk. This framing allows you to speak with greater energy and power than the shots described above.

Cowboy or Three-quarter Shot

A cowboy or three-quarter shot frames you from a few inches above your head down to midthigh (where your holster would be if you were a cowboy—hence the name). This framing allows you to move more freely than in the previously described shots. Address the camera as if you were speaking to a roomful of people.

Full body

As you’ve probably assumed, a full body shot frames you from a few inches above your head down to your toes. This framing allows movement of the whole body. As the shot encompasses more of your body, your gestures must become larger and greater vocal energy, though not necessarily louder.


Balance your stance and maintain good posture. Make sure your physical presentation matches your message. Hold your position — if you shift your weight, you’ll distract from your message.

If you are concerned about your weight or size, present your body at a slight angle and your face full front.

If you wear glasses, consider purchasing contacts or non-reflective lenses to assure a glare-free shot. If necessary, you can tilt your glasses slightly to reduce glare.

If you would like a free 15 minute on camera audit contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call me at 248 761 7510.


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Library Customer Service Tips: Is signage getting in the way of your customer service?

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There was a time I was a huge proponent of signage. Too often I watched as customers grew frustrated in an attempt to get around and find what they needed. After my conversation with Rebecca Montano-Smith a former librarian, I saw signage in a new way.

Here are excerpts from our conversation:

“We were renovating an older building as a brand-new library branch and it was going to be a much bigger building. Because of that we were considering signage for all the different places. As we were trying to decide what to do, we ran out of money. We decided to skip signage and the idea was that, oh, well, we'll be able to add that in at some point in the near future. We'll figure it out as we go.

We decided to look at desire lines, which is when people will wear a path in the in the grass to get to where they are going instead of following whatever paths that have been laid down because it's faster or simpler. So we figured we'd see a little bit of that. And then we could decide where to put signs at that point.

We're coming up on four years that branch has been open and they still don't have any signs and in all honesty, when I think about it, it is not that bad.

What it forced us to do was pay a lot more attention to people coming in. It forced us to be in eyeline sight of the entry doors. There are two sets of entry doors, on opposite sides of the building. And it meant that we knew that we had to a stick around and be much more aware of people coming in and looking around and looking for help. And, sometimes, that was a drag, because it meant that you couldn't just leave and expect people to help themselves.

But it also meant that we were forced to be present, that we were forced to not lose ourselves in busy work and tasks and turn our back, our literal backs to the doors on people, that we stayed engaged. And like I said, sometimes it’s a chore but in the end, I think our customer service was much better than other places in town.

We knew that we had to pay attention to people's body language when they came in. They would stop right after the entryway look around, trying to orient themselves. And then we would say, “Hey, good morning. How's it going, what can we help you find?” That was our chance to engage with those people, and explain about the how the building worked and whatever else we had going on. We had moved to self-checkout, a few years before that, and a lot of staff and customers missed that prosaic checkout time to talk to somebody.

Having to explain to people how everything works and where everything was, was a chance to explain all kinds of things, because oftentimes people would come in, and say, “Oh, I need the so and so”. Then you talk to them and discover, no, actually, they need something else. But if they had just gone to where the sign pointed, they wouldn't have gotten what they needed so. And customers will often leave if they can’t find what they want right away. As much as we wished we’d had signage, in the end, it did not turn out to be a bad thing at all."

If you want to have better service here are three questions to ask yourself:

Is this sign really needed?

Do our customers rely on our signs?

Are the signs keeping us from connecting to our customers?

Whether you have signs or not, make sure you are watching for confusion and connect and help your customers so you can provide exceptional service.

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In Customer Service Small Actions Have Big Impact

 When your work takes you to lots of hotels you get to experience many different levels of service. A great deal of the training I do around the world has me delivering training at hotels.

Usually I spend the first hour of my day frantically trying to find the boxes I sent that are essential to the workshop. I have had to beg to go into their storage rooms after the staff has searched for them. I have seen my boxes end up in the strangest places. This sets off my day with anxiety. Not a good way to start.

Lately, I have been delivering workshops at the Hanover Marriott in New Jersey. These folks have service nailed down. The night before my session I walk into my training room and the boxes are there. No hunting, no fighting, no anxiety. I will admit I am a bit spoiled by their wonderful staff.

But this week was different. Yes, the night before the boxes were there, as expected, but there was a surprise. Next to my boxes was a pair of scissors. May not seem like a big deal to you, but it was one of the kindest most considerate acts that has happened to me on the road.

My boxes are extremely taped up so that they cannot burst open in transit.  Since I only do carry-on bags, I can’t carry a razor, or scissors in my bags. Normally this means that I have to hunt someone down to open the boxes. Sometimes there is no one around and I have to use my keys or try to find a knife. Again, this is stressful.

When Emily Watson, Event Planning Manager, thought to leave the scissors, I felt that someone finally understood my life. Knew where the hard parts were and sought to alleviate the problem.

This is a small act of kindness and consideration. However, in the thirty years I have been delivering programs across the world, NO ONE has ever thought to do this.

What can you do for your customer that will let them feel like you truly understand them?


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Top Five Communication Skills Tips for IT Professionals

IT Communication Skills
Being a great IT professional isn’t enough to be successful these days. Because clients are more demanding, communication more confusing and modes of communication more numerous, to really excel you need to be a master of communication. 

Let’s look at the five top communication tips for IT professionals.

Tech Talk Translation

Being an expert means that you speak a language that sometimes only you and your colleagues understand. To a client, nothing is more frustrating than feeling that they are too stupid to really understand the solution the IT professional is talking about.

The first step is to remove jargon, acronyms and “tech talk” from your explanations. Generally, this will make your message more easily understood. If that doesn’t work, try using metaphors to ground your explanation to what the listener already understands.

Always explain things so that the listener feels “smart.”

Listening skills

You most likely hear the same issues discussed over and over again during the course of a week —and maybe even more on a bad day. When this happens, you tend to stop listening closely. Why bother? You figure that you already know how to solve the problem.

When you stop listening closely two major problems can arise. First, though you may frequently deal with this particular issue, it may be the first time for the person who is speaking with you. Since they lack the experience and expertise that you provide, they may also be more concerned and even alarmed about the situation.

Secondly, by not listening carefully, you may miss an important point and possibly waste everyone’s time because you didn’t have a complete picture or missed a critical detail.


All of us have a communication style. We may prefer quick conversations spoken like bullet points, or maybe we’d rather slow down and ask for time to process before answering. It is easy to communicate when our styles match. It is much harder when our styles don’t.

When styles don’t match the best practice is something I call “chameleon communication”: figuring out the difference in styles to find a way to minimize those differences. You will find that communication will be easier and more productive.

Building trust and rapport

Your job requires that your clients trust you. A big part of building trust is doing what you say you will do. Always follow a promise with a time certain date when you’ll get back to your client. State things with confidence and credibility, and always communicate to the other person how they will benefit from what you are doing.

Using the correct communication vehicle

Email is quick and easy, while text is even faster. Great! The problem is that email and text are not always the best way to communicate.

When we are only using the written word, the receiver can miss a great deal of context. Context can be enhanced by tone of voice and visual cues such as facial expressions and body language.

If there is any misunderstanding, consider changing your communication vehicle. If you have to write more than two emails to explain something, you probably need to add tone of voice or body language to communicate effectively. If there is a complaint or bad news, at the very least pick up the phone or meet in person.

Working on these five best practices will help you become a great communicator.

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Don't Make Your Customer Work Hard to Get Help

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Every time I speak with a business owner, a general manager or president of a company, they say with great pride “If a problem gets to me, I make sure that it is taken care of.” They believe that the customer deserves to be helped and that their needs are met. It sounds good, doesn’t it?

Well, it is NOT a good practice, and in fact, may be creating more problems for your customers than good will.

Think back to a time when you were a customer and asked your customer service representative, whether it was a cashier, sales manager, waitress, service department representative, librarian or a myriad of other people who you do business with to help you. Perhaps you want to return a meal that you didn’t like, get a refund for a faulty product, remove a late fee, provide compensation because a problem wasn’t fixed correctly or took too much time, and their response is “I can’t”, or “it’s not our policy”, or “I’m not authorized”, or simply, “No”.

You don’t want to take no for an answer, so hoping to find someone who both cares and is empowered to help you, you ask to speak to their manager—and even this takes a fight. When you finally do, they just shrug and say no.

You keep taking your complaint up the ladder until you get to speak to the boss, the big cheese, the great and powerful Oz. And in a blink of an eye, he or she says “sure.”

Happy ending, right? Wrong! By the time you have clawed your way to the top, you have become increasingly angry and frustrated. In fact, you are probably angrier now than you were before you started this process.

If having the head of the company say “yes” is not the best thing, what is?

The best way is to empower your frontline people to say “yes.” If ultimately, you were going to say “yes”, why make the customer fight so hard?

Some of my clients are afraid that an inexperienced person might give away “too much”.

In that case, empower them to say, “let me get a manager for you. He or she will be able to help get this resolved.” Generally, no customer minds being sent to a manager. What they really mind is having to demand a manager. Your customer will also know that their issue is important to your business.

You may also try training your frontline people with the “red rules, blue rules” method. Red rules are rules that cannot be broken under any circumstance (legal, safety, ethics etc.). Blue rules are everything else. Blue rules can be broken, and this gives your frontline people the flexibility to be responsive so your customers will leave happy.

If an issue eventually came to you and you would say “yes”, why not have your people say “yes” early and often?

The customer you save may be your own.

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Become a Good Listener

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Being a good listener has never been harder. You are constantly barraged with information: notifications, reminders, ringing phones, binging emails—and people expect answers immediately.

What can you do to clear enough space through all this noise in order to focus and hear what’s being said to you? Here’s a simple, but not easy, method to help you listen more effectively.


Let’s take this step by step.


Remember how annoying it is when you are talking to someone and that person is completely distracted—looking at email, playing Words with Friends, reading tweets or worse? Have you ever been guilty of the same? Sad to say, I have.

The only way to keep from doing this yourself is to remember to STOP everything else so that you can focus and listen. This is especially critical during meetings and important conversations.

Turn off your phone—not just switch it on silent. Even on silent, the vibrations will still take away your attention.

Close your laptop, turn off your computer, turn over your sudoku. Clear your desk of anything that might take your attention away from the person you are speaking to.


Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and you interrupted them by trying to finish their sentence? 

Have you ever been in a conversation and were surprised to learn that where someone stands on an issue isn’t at all what you expected?

Have you ever left a meeting believing that you were all in agreement only to find out later that what you thought was agreed on wasn't?

These things happen all the time.

Our brains are wired to see patterns and make assumptions based on what we already know. When we are listening, we are always filtering what people are saying through our assumptions and prejudices. Although everyone does this, the problem is that those assumptions are not always true and they get in the way of really listening. It keeps us from hearing what the other person is saying.

DROP your prejudices, preconceptions and assumptions when you are listening. A good way to do this is to constantly ask questions. This helps you make sure that what you think you are hearing is what is actually being said. Questions kill assumptions. Do your best to use open questions (who, what, where, when, why, how, tell me more, explain to me…) to help yourself really listen.

The last step is ROLE.


Reconsider your role in the conversation:

It is NOT to “one up” the person.

It is NOT to finish sentences.

It is NOT to share your story.

Your role is to hear and understand what the other person has to say and to make sure that you leave with a full comprehension of what they want to communicate.


STOP: Be sure to stop all other activities.

DROP: Drop your assumptions and prejudices.

ROLE:  Remember your role in the conversation.

Try it in your next conversation and your communication and comprehension will improve exponentially.

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Planning For a Better Meeting

Better Meeting Planning

Depending on your position within the company where you work, you could be spending anywhere from 35-50% of your time in meetings. Often those meetings are non-productive and ultimately a waste of your time—and the time of everyone else who attends. 

It may feel that in a work environment with a cycle of non-stop meetings, there is nothing that can be done to make meetings a more productive use of everyone’s time. But, there is hope! Thoughtful planning is the key to have productive, efficient and effective meetings.

Try working with the “8 Ps”, a tried and true approach for planning better meetings.


Before you schedule a meeting, ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this meeting? Exactly what do I hope to accomplish? Is this meeting even necessary? Is there a better way to accomplish my goals?”

You should be able to state the purpose in no more than one or two sentences.


What is the intended outcome of this meeting?  It could be a successful review, update or introduction of a process or program, establishing a plan for action, or the resolution of disputes, among many other possibilities. The clearer you are about the goals of the meeting, the more likely you will achieve those results.

  1. PEOPLE Who are you going to invite and why? Is everyone on the list essential to the outcome you are seeking? It is doubtful you’ll get any complaints from people who are not invited to a meeting that they really are not needed at.
  1. PREP Let your meeting attendees know what they need to do to prepare for the meeting. Provide background information about the topic. You can even give them advance assignments if that would be helpful. Be sure to give attendees enough time to do what they need to be successful.


  1. PITFALLS Consider what can go wrong. Is the timing of the meeting convenient for all attendees? Is there an issue(s) that needs to be handled before the meeting? Will you have attendees that may be disruptive or otherwise difficult? Is the technology you’ll need to have a successful meeting in place?
  1. PLACE Is the location conducive to an effective meeting? Is there enough privacy? Is there enough space? Will you have what you’ll need for a successful meeting such as flip charts, white boards or projectors? If it will be a virtual meeting, is everything set up and do all of the attendees have the information they’ll need to participate?
  1. PROTOCOL What rules will you put into place to make your meetings run smoothly? These rules should be posted for all to see.

At a minimum use the following rules:

  • One speaker at a time
  • No multitasking, phones and computers off and away
  • Start and stop on time.
  • I personally like ELMO, no, not the character from Sesame Street, but a tool for keeping meetings focused and on-track. ELMO stands for ENOUGH LETS MOVE ON.

Here’s how to use ELMO: I begin by placing a laminated 8 ½ by 11 sheet of paper with the word “ELMO” on the table. (I have also seen people use an Elmo doll.) As the leader of the meeting, empower everyone to use ELMO. Tell them that when a speaker goes off topic or into much more detail than is useful, participants can raise the ELMO up sign or simply say “ELMO”. The facilitator stops the speaker for a minute and asks the group “Are we ready to move on?” If the majority says “Yes”, then the speaker stops and the meeting moves on. If the group says “No”, then the speaker continues. It can be tricky when using ELMO with superiors. Sometimes when I’m    facilitating a meeting with people in a range of positions within the company hierarchy, I’ll try to get a sense of what the group is thinking and say, “I think we have an ELMO here.”, and then see if the majority of attendees is willing to move on.

  1. PROCESS Consider how you are going to open and close your meeting (arguably the most important aspects of a successful meeting). Who will take notes? Who will keep the meeting running on time? How will decisions be made? Will you use a simple or super majority? Will leadership have veto rights?


If you follow the 8 Ps, you’ll have a solid foundation for a meeting that will be effective, efficient, and a productive use of your team’s time.

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The Super Power I Really Don’t Want

gg64127970When I was a kid, my best friend Eileen and I spent hours talking about what super power we wanted. Eileen wanted to be able to fly so she could soar over the rooftops and see our neighborhood below her. I wanted to be invisible. I thought the super power of invisibility would allow me to sneak into the dining room when my parents and aunts and uncles would stay up late telling (mostly dirty) jokes. Then I could listen without any adult being the wiser.

Sad to say, Eileen never did get her super power, but, not to brag, I did.

Yes, I do have the super power of invisibility, and to be honest, it is a super power I wish I didn’t have. Now I can walk into stores and be totally invisible. No one acknowledges me, and in fact I can roam around some stores for hours and no one can see me at all.

I know that this super power is not mine alone. Too many of us walk into businesses without anyone saying “hi, “welcome,” or “how can I help you?”

Actually, this is a bigger problem for these businesses than it is for me. I have choices, usually a lot of them, and I often exercise these choices—as I imagine you do.

Invisibility isn’t a problem only at retail stores. I have been invisible at doctor’s offices, libraries, and dealership service departments among many other places.

If you want to make a huge difference for the success of your business, make sure that none of your customers have the power of invisibility.

What can you do? Be sure that each and every employee acknowledges each and every customer within seconds of being in their presence. Even if they are busy with another customer, or on the computer completing a work task, they just need to say “hi” or “welcome, give me a minute and I will get right to you.”, and if they are on the phone, a simple nod or raising of a hand that signals “I see you, but please give me a minute” will let your customers know that they are not invisible.

Remember, only YOU can prevent invisibility!

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The Selling Power of a Blank Sheet of Paper

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Sitting across from the marketing department as they were unveiling their new sales brochure, Ed proclaimed, “literature is for losers.” The blood drained from  their faces. Ed was the company’s top sales person and their sales manager, and everyone knew his take on these things was critically important.

Why the “losers” comment? When Ed first goes into a meeting with a potential client he comes to the table with a blank sheet of paper. No brochure, no marketing material. How does Ed effectively sell without them?

Ed starts the conversation focused on the customer. He gets the customer talking about their business, their goals, their struggles. He doesn’t interrupt, he listens. As he listens he takes notes and his sheet of paper starts filling up. On the right side he takes notes on the important information the client shares. On    the left side, he notes any comments or questions he wants to share with the customer. This allows him to listen intently without forgetting important points. He doesn’t try to solve their issues, at least not at this stage. He is present, he is interested, he is engaged.

What does the customer think? Dale Carnegie said “it is better to be interested than interesting.” The irony is when you listen like this, with true interest, the person who you are speaking with finds you interesting.

When Ed finally gets to selling, he has built rapport, gained insight and has a much better idea of how to sell to this person effectively. 

By the way, Ed doesn’t hate brochures, he just doesn’t lead with them. Ed will either leave them with the client or send them after the meeting.

So why not lead with those beautiful glossy brochures? 

Let’s see what might happen: Phil walks into the prospective client’s office. He takes out the brochure and slides it across the table to the client. The client does what people do when handed something, she looks at it. She leafs through the brochure as Phil drones on about the benefits of doing business with his company. She is barely reading the brochure and she is barely listening to him. He finishes his pitch. She thanks him for meeting with her, and he leaves. The end.

He has missed the opportunity to connect, to build rapport, to learn what is important to her—and the sale.

Communication is ALWAYS more effective when you make it more about them and less about you. This is even more important when you are selling.

So, was Ed right? Is literature for losers? Yes, at least at the beginning of a sales meeting.

Next time, grab a blank sheet of paper instead of a brochure and sell more.

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When Good Customer Service Rules Go Bad

rules 1752415 1920Tony did exactly as he was trained. He sent a hand-written thank you note to his customer. However, when his customer received it she was furious and tore it up into little pieces before throwing it out.

How could something as well intentioned as a thank you note (hand written, at that) create such a negative reaction?  As it turns out, this customer was still in the process of getting a serious issue resolved with Tony and his company. The thank you note arrived before this issue was dealt with, he never mentioned it, and he never apologized for the problem. Even though the thank you note was handwritten, it was as impersonal as a mass produced letter that starts with “Dear Customer.”

If you only train your employees to routinely do things without understanding the subtleties and context of their actions, you run the risk that they’ll do the right things but in the wrong way.

Here are some of the most common customer service rules, when to break them and best practices to apply instead.

Rule One: Always Use the Customer’s name

Dale Carnegie said “The sweetest sound in any language is the sound of one’s own name.” Though it may be true that using a customer’s name can create a sense of intimacy, it can also have the opposite effect. Watch out for the following mistakes:

  1. Using the customer’s name too often.

“Well, Bob, you can see that this is the perfect solution for your business, don’t you agree Bob? After all Bob, studies have shown this to be true. And Bob….” Overusing your customer’s name may make them uncomfortable, seeming like an insincere gimmick rather than a true connection.

  1. Mispronouncing your customer’s name.

Some people have names that are hard to pronounce or have an unusual pronunciation.  In either case it is always good to ask the proper way to pronounce their name. Once you’ve heard the proper pronunciation, it’s essential that you pronounce it correctly. Customer’s may forgive you for not saying it right, but it will still grate on your customer’s nerves to hear his or her name said wrong repeatedly.

  1. Being too formal or too informal when using your customer’s name.
    Some people prefer to use their first name; some prefer an honorific such as Mr., Miss, Ms, Mrs., Ma’am, Sir, etc. It is far more respectful to start off by being formal letting your customer tell you their preference.

Best Practice: Use your customers name in a way that shows respect and begins to build rapport.

Rule Two: Always Shake Your Customers Hand

For decades salespeople have been taught to shake hands in order to connect and build trust and rapport with their customers. However, there are a number of situations where offering a handshake can create more tension than trust.

  1. Cultural Issues.

There are many cultures and religions in which handshaking is either forbidden or considered rude. If you are dealing with a multi-cultural customer base, learn all you can about the appropriate ways to greet and welcome them.

  1. Social Anxiety.

For some people, the mere thought of having to shake hands creates a level of tension that can ruin the entire interaction.

  1. People with compromises immune systems.
    In 1918 the town of Prescott, Arizona outlawed handshaking to attempt to slow down the spread of the flu epidemic. Many people have been told by their doctors that they should not shake hands in order to protect their fragile immune systems. There are also perfectly healthy people who are afraid of the germs that can be transmitted by a handshake.

Best Practice: Instead of initiating the handshake it is better to wait until your customer makes the first move. Keep your arms relaxed but ready to respond. If they start to shake your hand, you can easily reach out and grasp their hand in return.

Rule Three: Always Send a Handwritten Thank You Note

In this impersonal business world a handwritten note will help you stand out and make a great impression, but sometimes a note can have the opposite effect.

  1. Sending a thank you note before a problem is successfully resolved

As in the opening story, don’t send a thank you note if your customer has an unresolved problem. Don’t send a note unless it’s an apology, not a thank you.

  1. Impersonal note

A perfunctory “thank you for doing business with us” can fall flat like a form letter, ruining whatever connection you may have with your customer.

Best Practice: Although a handwritten note is still somewhat personal in its nature, you need to take it a step further by writing something unique that relates to each customer. Your note should include references to what you have spoken about with the customer (i.e. Their kid’s baseball game; the health of a loved one, etc.)

Rule Four: Follow the Golden Rule

From the time we are children we have been taught to follow the golden rule. “Do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” Following this rule can create a number of problems:

  1. Treating your customer in a way that makes them uncomfortable.

It is somewhat egocentric to assume that your customer always has the same wants and desires that you do. For example, if you are a gregarious person who likes lots of conversation and connection, you risk pushing your customer away if that kind of treatment makes them uneasy.

  1. Missing an opportunity to surprise and delight.
    When you only use yourself as a reference about what would impress your customer you lose the ability to be nimble and creative. When you listen carefully to your customer he or she will give you clues about what you can do to go the extra mile.

Best Practice: Use Tony Allesandra's PlatinumRule; “Treat others the way they want to be treated.” This ensures that your customer will be treated in a way that meets his or her needs.

The bottom line to all these rule breakers and best practices is to keep your customer service personal. Don’t just follow the rules, choose the best way to apply them to meet and exceed  your customer’s needs.

About the Author:

Laurie Brown is an international trainer and consultant who works to help people improve their communication skills. She is the author of The Teleprompter Manual, for Executives, Politicians, Broadcasters and Speakers. Laurie can be contacted through 1.248.761.7510

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Stop Spouting EMPTYthy Provide great service by turning over a new LEAF

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After waiting an hour for my food to be delivered to my hotel room—late by 30 minutes according to the delivery time promised in their email confirmation—I called the company. Then I had to wait another 30 minutes just to talk to a customer service representative.

This is when things went from bad to much, much, worse. The customer service representative told me he was sorry but that he couldn’t do anything except refund my money. When I expressed my frustration, he responded (seemingly from a customer service script on how to sound empathetic with an upset customer), “I understand.”

The problem was––he didn’t. If he truly understood, he would have expressed true empathy for a very hungry and upset customer in a strange city.

Simply parroting “I’m sorry” and “I understand” over and over only added to my frustration. It strikes of “EMPTYthy” –– words without meaning or genuine concern. I’m sure this company trained its people to “sound” like they care, but it’s not the same thing as actually caring and it just doesn’t ever work.

So, what does work? Empathy over an "i'm sorry" apology would sound like this: “Wow! We sure messed up. That’s terrible. You must be so hungry. Here is what we are going to do to resolve this now.”

If you want a more effective way to deal with upset customers try turning over a new “LEAF”.

Listen: Use active listening techniques. Acknowledge by repeating or paraphrasing to check for understanding. Let the customer finish telling their story to you. Even if you know you can fix their problem based on what you’ve heard early in the conversation, don’t. If interrupted, the customer will just keep repeating themselves until they feel heard.

Empathy: Stop using meaningless phrases such as “I understand.” Instead, use language that shows you “get it”. “That’s terrible,” “How frustrating,” “You must be besides yourself” are phrases that let your customer know you truly understand how they feel.

Act: Take ownership of the problem and fix it as soon as you can. Get creative with your solution. And if you can’t fix it immediately, show that you are urgently trying to.

Follow up: Check in with the customer and make sure that your solution satisfied them.

Try LEAF with your next unhappy customer—and please, no more EMPTYthy.

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How to Wreck Your Credibility in Three Simple Steps

wreck your credibilityAs a SME (subject matter expert), you have spent a great deal of time creating content that will effectively express your ideas and address the interests of your audience. You begin presenting to your clients, peers, or boss, yet, despite your knowledge and preparation, you inadvertently undermine your ability to appear credible.

It’s frustrating and just seems unfair. You created a great presentation and yet your audience didn’t take you seriously. Why? We can lose our credibility when we fall into bad habits and make any of three common mistakes.

 These mistakes fall into three fundamental communication channels: visual, vocal and verbal. Let’s take a look at these mistakes and learn how to prevent them.

Problem 1 (Visual): Making yourself appear small.

Too many presenters undermine their credibility by standing in a way that diminishes their physical presence. This can happen when standing with your legs crossed, your feet too close together, placing your hands in your pockets, or drawing your shoulders together by clasping your hands in front of you.

Solution: Adopting a Neutral Stance.

The neutral stance is a great non-verbal way to gain credibility. To achieve a neutral stance you start by placing your feet apart with your toes pointing forward. The distance between your feet should be equivalent to one of your feet placed sideways. Make sure your weight is evenly distributed over both of your feet. Your hands should rest comfortably by your side. Now imagine that there is a string coming out of the top of your head that lifts your whole body. People often “grow” an extra inch by using this visualization technique. This change in posture exudes confidence and credibility.

Problem 2 (Verbal): Speaking with Uptalk (Raising your voice at the end of a sentence.)

Uptalk has become very common these days. I hear it all from my participants all the time. You know the sound. While bobbing their head, the speaker uses an upward inflection on the last word of a sentence, sounding like they are asking a question. When declarative statements sound more like a question, or at worst, a valley girl, you no longer seem confident or knowledgeable. Speaking this way when trying to persuade an audience, most certainly damages your credibility.

Solution: Talk like a newscaster

Newscasters never use uptalk. Imagine you are a newscaster, keeping your head still as you say “In the news tonight”. When you say the word “Tonight” drop your chin slightly. When you drop your chin (but not too far), you’ll lower your intonation and will instantly sound credible.

Problem 3 (Verbal): Using filler words, um, ah, like and so.

Saying “ums” and “ahs” is perfectly normal. Every culture has their own way of verbalizing thought and using filler words. For example, in Japan you may say “ma” or “so”; in Finland you may say “niinku”. Whatever language you speak, you need to eliminate or reduce these filler words. When you use filler words you sound unsure of yourself. When you sound unsure you lose credibility.

Solution 3: Pause

The solution is simple: pause. The challenge is that we are often unaware we are saying “um”, “like” or “ah”. When I coach people I listen carefully, and when I hear a filler word I make the sound of an obnoxious loud buzzer. The presenter will try to avoid hearing that darn buzzer, and as they become more self aware, they will remember to pause. To duplicate this ask a friend or family member to listen and make a sound when you use a filler word (ask them to create a really obnoxious loud sound…laughter is always helpful.)

Another option is to inhale at the end of a sentence. Inhaling will prevent the filler word sound from coming out.

Self-awareness is always the first step in improving. Have someone record you speaking. Watch the recording and look for these three issues. If you see any of them, use the simple solutions outlined above.

It really is easy to gain credibility using these visual/vocal/verbal techniques. Start today. Let me know if you know any other great techniques to increase credibility.

Want more ways to improve your presentation skills?

I invite you to chat with me. Our call will provide insights and actionable steps that can help you be a better, more confident presenter. Sounds good? Please go to and choose a time that works best for you.

Write me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call me at 1.248.761.7510  to inquire about my one-to-one coaching and presentation skills workshops for groups.

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The Four Biggest Mistakes that Even Professional Speakers Make

Laurie Brown Communications

Learning from the best is always a good idea, especially when it means learning from their mistakes. Even professionals sometimes make these four common mistakes—but they all can be easily overcome.

Problem: Using the confidence monitors as a TelePrompter

Most conferences use something called a confidence monitor. A confidence monitor is placed downstage (close to the audience) and is usually used to display the current slide and sometimes the next slide. It’s a great tool to help you make sure that you’re speaking about what is currently on the screen. Another advantage of using a monitor is that you don’t have to turn around to look at the screen and lose eye contact with your audience.

Sounds good doesn’t it? It is, UNLESS you use it improperly. I’ve seen too many speakers read off the monitor on the floor, using it as if it were a teleprompter.  The problem with this is that it hurts the speaker’s credibility in three ways:

1. Reading from the screen causes the speaker to lose eye contact with their audience.

2. Reading also tends to make the speakers voice go flat.

3. Reading content may look like the speaker doesn’t have a good grasp of their subject matter.

Solution: Get a real Teleprompter. TelePrompters work by keeping your eye level with the audience. It does take training to get good at it, but it is the right tool for the job.

If you know your content very well, the other solution is to cover the monitors. Too often monitors become a distraction, forcing the speaker to look at them even when they know their content inside and out.

Problem: Saying “this is a true story”

Recently, I heard a very dynamic speaker share some amazing stories. The audience was rapt. Even though these were great stories, there was a problem in how they were told. Every time he said “This is a true story” before sharing the story, he took us out of the moment. It even led us to question other stories that he told, “if this one was true, what about the others?”

Solution: Just tell your story. No need to say, “this is a true story”, or even, “I want to tell you a story.” We just want to hear the story.

Problem: Memorizing your speech

As a former actor I had to memorize long scripts. As an actor, memorization is crucial. Ironically, when you are a speaker, memorization can actually hurt you. I was watching a world-class speaker who had a limited time to present. He was an expert, but because he had to keep to a time limit, he decided to memorize his script. All went well until he forgot one word out of his memorized speech. This threw him off and he had to start over at the beginning. This happened a number of times during his short speech.

Solution: Just memorize concepts or key words and use them to speak extemporaneously. This will allow you to be more in the moment and appear more confident to your audience.

Problem: Going over your allotted time

When making a presentation, nothing is more disrespectful than going over your allotted time. Unfortunately, I’ve had to shorten my speech because the person before me couldn’t keep within their allotted time. Even when you are in a groove and your audience loves what you are saying, you need to respect the audiences’ time and be mindful of the next speakers allotted time. This is one of those situations where you‘ll need to be able to shorten you presentation. Sometimes, you may even  find yourself in a situation where you’ll need to lengthen the time.

Solution: Once you know how to shorten or lengthen the time of your speech, keeping to your time is easy.

The first thing you’ll need to do is say your presentation out loud and time it. This will give you a baseline to work from. Timing can be a bit tricky because when you are presenting live you may be slower or faster than you are just reading it out loud.

Make sure you have determined a few places where you can cut or add content. Think about what is and isn’t essential, and where you can add color commentary if you need to fill more time.

Simply avoiding these top four mistakes will improve your next presentation. Tell me about any other issues you’ve observed or experienced.

Want more ways to improve your presentation skills?Contact Laurie at #This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit her website to inquire about her one-to-one coaching and presentation skills workshops for groups.

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Five Words That Could Kill Your Business

iStock 000020489513 Double 350 Joe left a message with a store about an order he had placed a month ago. “Hey, I hate to bother you, but are there any updates on my order?”

These words may seem pretty innocuous. However, they include the five little words that could really hurt your bottom-line. Anytime your customer initiates a call, email or text AFTER the promised delivery time, and ask one of these questions:

“Is my ­­­­­_________________ready yet? Or “Any updates about my_____________?” you may have damaged your relationship with that customer.

By not keeping your customer up-to-date on the progress of their order or service, you are telling them that they are not a priority to you. This may not be the case and not the message that you mean to convey, but it may be what it is understood by your customer.

Granted, if your response is “Yes, Joe, I was just about to give you a call. Your _________ is ready.” you may stem the bleeding. But if you say, “Oh, let me check… No, we haven’t gotten to your_________. Boy, have we been swamped today,” you are adding insult to injury.

Think about it from your customers’ perspective. They are busy people already inconvenienced by the wait for their _____________. If they feel the need to call you, you have compounded that inconvenience. They are worried about when they can get their ______________, AND now they had to take time from their day to check on it. From your customers’ perspective your lack of consideration has just added more cost to the bill.

You probably know that for customers to continue to do business with you, value has to exceed price. By respecting your customers’ expectations regarding time commitments you are taking a step toward building value for them in doing business with you.

Examine how much consideration you demonstrate for your customers’ time and convenience. Managing expectations and good communication are two big factors that show respect for your customer and are a major part of your effort to keep them coming back.

Manage Expectations

Maybe you didn’t promise your customer a specific time, so you might think that you’re not being held to one. Unfortunately, this is not true. When the customer gives you their order they are creating a promised delivery time in their own mind. Unfortunately, you have no idea what that time is, and so you are much more likely to be unable to meet that unspoken expectation.

Start to manage your customer’s expectations by providing a specific date and time. Tell them EXACTLY when they will hear from you. Even if the work hasn’t been completed, simply keeping that promise will build trust.

Provide Updates

Call your customer BEFORE they call you. Your promised time is just that... a PROMISE.

In your customers’ mind, you have broken that promise when you haven't called them. When you can’t meet your promised time, make the first call. Give the customer an honest reason for the delay and make sure you provide an updated completion time.

If the delay is caused because you are providing extra care and service, be sure to let your customer know.

You are the face of your business and need to let your customers know that they are not just dollar signs or numbers—they are real people with busy lives—who you respect. Simply by communicating and keeping your promises, you will boost the likelihood of their coming back time and again. Loyal customers make your business.

Laurie Brown, CSP works with organizations that want to use compelling communication skills to influence and persuade.

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The Importance of Being Known

Waitress_with_cake.jpgYou walk into your favorite diner and your waitress Judy, says, “I saved you a piece of your favorite chocolate cake”. Or your mail lady, Sharise, says “How’s Danny?” (your son who moved away from home 8 years ago). Or your bartender, Sam, calls out “Your regular?” Or your dry cleaner, Mark says “Hey Eric, hows it going?”

As a customer, there is nothing better than to be known.

Every time a service provider remembers your name, your favorite food or drink, your kids, or anything else about you, they are saying “You are important to me. I appreciate your business, and more importantly, “I know you.”

Often we do business as strangers with strangers, so that when we are known, it really stands out.

If, as a customer, you are known by a business, do all you can do to help keep them in business.

If you are in business, do all you can do to “Know” your customer. If you have a good memory you are in luck, if not, use a crm (customer relationship management) system to keep important information about your customer at your finger tips.

What do you do to let your customers know that you know them?

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Exceptional Customer Experiences

When we’re talking about exceptional customer experiences, a banana certainly can.

 FullSizeRender1I dined at Parker’s tonight (yes, they invented the Parker House Roll) in the Omni Parker House in Boston. The service was perfect, the food, chosen from the pre-theatre menu was delicious. They even served me mixed berries instead of a dessert from their menu and packed it up for me to go.
Everything met my expectations for a fine dining experience and I was completely satisfied, but, truthfully, as much as I enjoyed it, it was not an experience I would write about.
However when I was walking out with the berries in hand the whole evening changed. Michael, the maître d, stopped and chatted with me for a minute. He noticed the fruit and asked, “Would you like a banana with that?” Well, as it turns out, I did. So Michael went to the kitchen and came back with a banana and a bottle of water. He remarked that bananas are a perfect fruit—no need for silverware!
I’m not sure if bananas are the perfect fruit, but Michael was the perfect maitre d. He found an opportunity to surprise and delight. I won’t soon forget the kindness he showed me.
I often say, “Exceptional customer service is created through small acts of personal kindness.” Michael understood this and achieved it through the gift of a banana.
How can you delight your customer? What is “the banana” that will surprise and delight them? Make sure you give a little extra so that your customers will talk about your great service.

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The secret to great customer service is “be a human.”


no robots please small Standing at the front of the line at my city’s office to pay my property taxes. Next to me at the counter was a man who was also paying his property taxes. The woman behind the counter working with him had her nose buried in her computer. He said to her “My mother just died and I have her house. I will need to pay her taxes also.”

 As you picture this scene, what do you imagine the city worker said in response?

 “Oh my, I am so sorry to hear that.”, or, “I lost my mother last year, it was really hard for me”, or “I hope you are okay.”

 If you thought she offered any of those kind, thoughtful expressions, you would be wrong.  She never even looked up from the computer. She merely said “Well there will be other paper work you will need to fill out.”

 The man who had just lost his mother looked shell shocked by her lack of human kindness. Not only was this lacking in basic humanity, it demonstrates what is lacking in customer service today.

The secret to great customer service is “be a human.” There are many ways to “be a human.” When you are a human rather than a worker drone you have the opportunity to connect with your customer. You may want to notice when a  customer mentions something personal. All you need to do is pay attention and respond appropriately. Our customers drop information at our feet and all we need to do is pick it up and respond. Consider these examples:

A customer says, “My dog chewed up my bill, I will need another.” You might respond, “What kind of dog do you have?”

A customer says “ I have to go pick up my daughter at dance class after this.” You might respond, “What kind of dance does she do?”

A customer says, “The traffic is terrible out there. It took me twenty minutes to get here” You might respond, “I know the traffic just seems to get worse and worse these days.”

Great customer service comes from small acts of kindness.

Remember, all it takes is to “be a human”.






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Why is it important to say thank you?

turtle2Recently a video appeared showing Cameron Dietrich, a diver, helping a Sea Turtle get free from a fishing line. The turtle immediately swam away once freed. Moments later the turtle returned as if to say thank you to the diver that helped him.

It made me start wondering: why aren’t we as good at saying thanks as that sea turtle?

My guess is that we have many good reasons why we don’t say thank you as regularly as we could: “I don’t have the time”, “I don’t know when to say thanks”, “I don’t know how to say thanks”, and so on.

Here are some ideas to help you understand more about thanking people:

Why is it important to say thank you?

There are four big reasons to say thanks:

  1. Because your mother told you to.
  2. Because people like to be appreciated.
  3. Because it conveys a sense of respect
  4. Because saying thank you allows us to stop and appreciate the kindness of others.

Who should you say thank you to:

  • Your current customers
  • Your potential customers
  • Your employees
  • Your fellow employee
  • Your family, friends and kind strangers

What to say:

The folks at The Thank You People website has an awesome list of words you can use to say thanks—and many thanks to them for this helpful information:

Here are a few of their tips:

  • Thank you for your time. It's something we never take for granted.
  • We appreciate your time and attention.
  • Thanks for stopping by. We appreciate your interest in our business.
  • We enjoyed sharing ideas and business opportunities with you

When to say it:

  • When someone contacts you or visits your business
  • When someone purchases your products or services
  • When someone went above or beyond
  • And make sure it is as timely as possible.


  • Say “thank you” in person on the phone
  • Write an email that says thanks
  • Write thank you on a bill or receipt
  • Write thank you on a door hanger
  • And the BEST way to say “Thank you” is to hand write a thank you card or thank you postcardAnd thank you in advance for sharing this with others.

And of course, thank YOU for reading this. If you have other great ideas around saying thank you, let me know.

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Trustworthy Build Credibility

“To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.” said George MacDonald, the Scottish Novelist.

We all know that trust is essential in sales. But, often, trust feels like something that is hard to earn or quantify. In the bookThe Trusted Advisor,Green, Maister and Galford, found a way to deconstruct how to instill a feeling of trust with clients and customers.

Here is their trust equation:

< Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy
Self Interest >

In other words, the more credibility, reliability and intimacy is established, and the lower the perception of self interest, the more your clients and customers will trust you.

Let’s break this equation down so that we can really understand what we need to do to earn the trust of our clients and customers.

In order to be perceived as “credible” you need to consider how you communicate.

We form impressions very quickly and they tend to last. What would be the first words that a customer might use to describe you simply because of how you look? Are you dressed and groomed appropriately for the job you do?

Do you end your sentences with a rising voice? If you do, you will sound as if you are asking a question, undermining your sense of credibility. Imitate how newscasters commonly speak by dropping your chin at the end of each sentence. It will make your voice sound more credible.

Do you share your expertise through writing blogs, articles or newsletters? Does your LinkedIn profile have recommendations from current and former clients? Are you active in social media? Do your tweets share your knowledge with the world?

This one is simple. Do what you say you are going to do. Show up early for meetings. Send information when you say you will. Follow through on commitments.

This is really the most emotionally based component of the equation. Intimacy is about the level of safety a client or customer feels about sharing important information, and, how transparent you are in your communications with them. Asking how an issue or decision might impact a client or customer personally is one way to start building professional intimacy.

Even if you are extremely credible, 100% reliable, and have professional intimacy, when a client or customer feels that your recommendation will benefit you more than it will them, you will still not be trusted.

This means that you must always focus on what is best for your client or customer. The more your recommendations or solutions are client-focused, not you-focused, the more likely you will earn someone’s trust. The goal should be to become a trusted advisor. Sales people sell, but trusted advisors help people make buying decisions.

All this means that you need to STOP SELLING. Remember, as Jeffrey says “People don’t like to be sold, but they love to buy.” Follow this trust equation to help your client or customer consider you a trusted advisor and improve your performance, and ultimately, your bottom line.

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The Golden Rule is Killing Customer Service

as-you-wish“Do onto others as you would have others do unto you.” That’s the Golden Rule. Seems like an unarguable truth for customer service. In fact, when I am helping people improve their customer service, I frequently hear this quote as an example of how to provide great customer service.

In reality, if applied verbatim, the Golden Rule can kill great customer service.

Think about it from your own perspective. Do you REALLY want people to treat you the way THEY want to be treated? Most likely, not. For instance, if I was treating you the way I want to be treated, you might get a big hug from me and be followed around and chatted you up until you leave. (Which for some of you would be sooner rather than later, I imagine.)

If my husband was providing the Golden Rule, he might ignore you until you asked him a direct question. Again, this would work for some of you but certainly not all.

The Golden Rule is somewhat self-centered. It assumes that the way YOU want to be treated is THE way to provide great customer service for everybody. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work, because as humans we are so very different from each other in style and preference.

Tony Allesandra has it right. He created the Platinum Rule "Treat others the way they want to be treated."

This outward focused philosophy guarantees great customer service by making each customer interaction uniquely personal.

Here are some personal differences you should consider:

Pace. Is the person someone who needs time to process, or are they quick to respond?

Task or Relationship Based. Does your customer want to spend time chatting about the weather or do they want to get right down to business?

Eye Contact. Does your customer prefer eye contact or do they avoid it? If they don’t like eye contact don’t stare at them with the hope they will suddenly start giving it back.

Body Language. Does your customer have their arms folded or is their body language open?

Proximity. Is your customer a “close talker” or do they keep their distance?

There are millions of ways that we are different from one another. Make it a goal to minimize the differences between our customer’s preferences and our own. Sometimes I get the pushback “I don’t want to be a phoney.” Think of becoming a Communication Chameleon. Chameleons match their surroundings without becoming a different animal. You can dial your style up or down to match your customer without being untrue to yourself.

The more you live the Platinum Rule "Treat others the way they want to be treated," the better service you will provide. Being observant and modifying your behavior to match your customer will ensure your customer perceives that they have gotten great service. Start using the Platinum Rule today.

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