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. 

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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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 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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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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