Thursday, February 26, 2009

When in Rome...

When I do business etiquette training sessions, I share the tools of appropriate professional conduct but caution that some flexibility is required, depending on the situation in which you find yourself. It's good to know what's required in a highly formal setting but obviously acceptable conduct for dinner with the Queen is different from what you might see at a Tweet-up.

The purpose of etiquette is to increase the comfort level of those around you. Having guidelines (e.g. business card protocol, when to start eating) eliminates confusion and helps everyone relax a bit more but they are just guidelines. Even the grande dame of etiquette, Emily Post, encouraged people to be flexible and adapt with changing times and new environments and cultures.

Last weekend I attended my first Podcamp in Toronto. If you haven't been to a Podcamp, you should plan to attend the next one. Podcamp is a free 'unconference' for anyone who is interested in all things podcasting, blogging and new media. Amateurs, pros, newbies and veterans are all welcome. Last week's event was a huge success, attracting over 700 people.

The term 'unconference' is an apt description for this event which was unlike any 'real' conference I've ever attended. One of the founders, Chris Brogan told us that Podcamp is based on the rule of two feet - if you're in a session and realize you're not getting anything out of it, then leave and go to another one. No hard feelings. I saw other traditional etiquette violations such as people arriving late at sessions, checking e-mails and text messages in the middle of presentations and openly challenging the opinions of speakers. But, I quickly realized that this was a perfect time for me to put my adaptability to the test and roll with the punches.

For such a large crowd and a volunteer-run event, everyone was really well behaved. There was an amazing energy in the air coupled with a feeling that we're on the cusp of something really big. The idea that everyone, regardless of income or position, should have access to great speakers and information is one I can get behind.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Collaboration versus Competition

Last night I attended a great networking event on personal branding, a topic of increasing importance in business. It was a wet, dreary February night in Toronto but the event drew over 80 people, eager to hear how they could amp up their own brands.

I've been hearing a lot about the need to brand oneself lately. It even surfaced in a recent article on changes in the publishing industry in which Canadian author Margaret Atwood joked: "The term 'relentless self-promoter' used to be an insult in publishing circles. Now it will be a necessity." Too true.

The three panelists were Leesa Barnes, social media expert, Paul Copcutt who has a great newsletter on personal branding, and Diane Craig, etiquette and image consultant and fellow alumni of the Protocol School of Washington.

There was a great discussion about online versus offline personas with the panelists agreeing that they should match rather than clash. Your social media presence (website, twitter posts, blogs, etc.) should reflect who you are as a person, your personal style, philosophy, values, etc. So for example, while some people are able to pull off 'snarky' really well on Twitter, if I tried, it would come off as phony to those who know me in person. Paul suggested we choose the social media forum that best fits our personal likes/dislikes. If you don't particularly enjoy writing, then blogging is probably not for you, but Twitter could be perfect.

In response to a question about business versus personal branding, Diane reminded us that we can change our image overnight but our reputation is with us forever so it is something we should continually cultivate, even if we switch jobs, careers or industries.

In addition to the insightful discussion, I was really impressed by the willingness of attendees and panelists to meet others, make introductions and share ideas, even with competitors. This group was there to mingle and mingle they did. I've been in the business long enough to remember networking events of old, where panelists didn't circulate with the guests and people working in the same field didn't necessarily share contacts. I already have meetings set up with some of my new contacts so we can share ideas and collaborate.

There are many changes hapenning in business now - some scary, some promising - but the shift from competition to collaboration is one I can embrace.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Toronto the good no more...

Here in Toronto, we are always in the shadow of our bigger, more glamorous cousin to the south - New York City. It's not that we mind. We love our city and accept our place as the nicer, quieter, more polite version of the Big Apple.

Imagine our surprise then to have the world media spotlight shining on us finally but not for the reasons we might like. Yesterday, a journalist for a national newspaper and a PR consultant, both based in Toronto, got into a spat over what appears to be an unreturned phone call and, for some reason, decided to stage the argument on Twitter. The public quarrel comprised profanity, insults and personal attacks. I'm fairly new to Twitter and not totally up to speed on the "rules" but it seems it might have been better to take this discussion offline.

In our increasingly pressured world, I guess everyone is allowed to go off the rails occasionally but ten years ago, this same argument would have likely taken place on the phone with only the participants there to witness it. Now, anyone can google it, find it and share it.

When talking about online etiquette, Miss Manners uses the term: New tools, old rules. The way in which we communicate may have changed but the old adage of treating others with respect never really goes away.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Power of Permission

My friend Gaye Hardiman, who's great at sales, shared the secret of her success with me - when you make a cold call you are essentially asking that person for permission to express interest in them. It's a refreshing approach to marketing as we find ourselves in an economy that requires entrepreneurs of all stripes to "get out there and sell".

Here at Palette, Martin and I have turned up the volume on our networking, pitching and new business development. For the most part, this means re-connecting with friends and acquaintances across the city, becoming more involved in professional organizations and participating in RFPs. But we have also identified potential clients, contacted them personally and, in some cases , enjoyed face-to-face meetings. Many are not ready to commit to new services but a connection has been made and could reap rewards in the future. At the very least, we've expanded our network by one.

As the owner of a PR firm, I've noticed that, I too am receiving more pitches from service providers (e.g. photographers, event venues, financial services firms). I have no problem with this and completely understand the need to sell your wares in this economy. A precious few call and ask permission to send more info by e-mail but most don't bother. Rather, they include me on a bcc list and send a blanket e-mail marketing their services. What's really disappointing is that the majority of them are located in Toronto and could benefit from taking the time to start a relationship.

Like many small businesses, we're holding off on incurring new expenses as we wait to see what will happen with the economy. But we will be looking for partners and suppliers in the future and when we do, I'll be getting in touch with the ones who understood the power of permission.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The votes are in

Well, the polls have closed on my PDA etiquette survey and the votes have been tallied - all 24 of them - and I have to say, I'm surprised. The question was: what is the appropriate way to handle e-mails in a meeting?

An overwhelming 54 per cent chose "turn off the PDA and check e-mails on a break". While I'm thrilled that so many of you picked the etiquette-friendly option, I'm wondering who you are and why you never seem to be in the same meetings as me. Only one brave soul was honest enough to admit he/she opted to check e-mails and respond to them during meetings. And yet, it seems like everytime I'm in a meeting I see people reading, tapping and vibrating.

Some of you think you're being discreet - appearing to pay attention while surreptitiously reading e-mails under the table, or, my personal favourite - pretending to rummage in your briefcase for a pen so you can sneak a peak at your PDA. We know what you're doing. We've done it ourselves.

A quarter of you prefer to keep it on vibrate and leave the room to deal with emergencies. While this is more polite than responding immediately, it is still distracting and sends a signal to the speaker that they are not as important as an e-mail.

In coming to terms with my own PDA etiquette, I've tried many approaches but now I just turn it off and put it at the bottom of my bag. That way, no one else is disturbed by vibrating or ringing and I don't have to worry about the flashing light calling out to me. It's just easier...and more respectful.