Using Events to “Speak Easy” With Your Audience

One of the things I’m most proud of in my career is the development of an annual event for the DuBard School for Language Disorders called the DuBard School Speakeasy. 2016 will mark the fourth year for the event, which has grown exponentially each year.

Today, I had the opportunity to present to my peers at the PRAM State Conference about this event and overall tips and tools for developing and successfully implementing events at their own organizations.

For those who attended the Cathead Vodka session instead (yeah, I would have been there too!), or just want some general info . . .

Here are a few takeaways from our hour session:

  • Your event isn’t about your organization, it’s about your customers.
    • What do they want? Why do they want to attend? Will it strengthen your relationship? Will it hurt other relationships?
    • Most importantly, how can you leverage this event to better connect with your audience?
  • Picking a date is never easy.
    • Don’t just check your local calendars, look across the state and beyond for big events that may take your target market away from you.
  • We all know location is important.
    • Take into account all internal and external factors, such as the people you’ll be working with and what they’ll provide for you vs. what you’ll have to bring in.
    • Get down to the nitty gritty — bathrooms, clean-up and other things that aren’t always top of mind.
  • Is someone else locally already hosting an event like yours?
    • Then don’t do it. Try to think outside the box. Look nationally and internationally for ideas if you’re stumped.
  • Tips and tools:
    • Use your extended network to pull together an event planning team. Make sure they’re diverse, and that you encourage honest opinions and feedback.
    • Start creating your event tools IMMEDIATELY. These are your checklists, budgets, timeline, contacts and ideas.
    • Create setup and breakdown checklists for your volunteers.
    • Always have a “Plan B” for your vital elements.
    • Promote. Promote. Promote. Partnerships will help with this.
  • THINK:
    • What can you do to make your event stand out?
    • What can you offer guests that no one else can?
    • How can you make a difference for your organization with an event?

And now, I get to play Oprah.

YOU get a spreadsheet, and YOU get a spreadsheet, and YOU get a spreadsheet — Everyone gets a spreadsheet!

Really, though, here are a few templates and examples to help you get started on getting organized for your next event.

Note: These documents will only be available for download for the month of April.

Please add your recommendations and tips for creating successful events for your organization!



3 lessons learned from live tweeting

Yesterday I did my first live tweeting of an event. Well, I’ve live tweeted from conferences before, giving tidbits of what I’ve learned throughout the event, but this was different.

I was asked to join the Southern Miss Social Media Suite for the Men’s Basketball game against Middle Tennessee. Let me put this out there: I know nothing about basketball. I told the person who invited me this fact, but they were still confident I’d be fine.

Leading up to the event, I started to get a little more nervous about my live tweeting sports ability. What the heck am I going to tweet about? To add to it, I realized more and more people would be following me through this venture – people that I respect and look up to personally and professionally. No pressure.

After my first erroneous tweet (I gave credit to the wrong player for a goal), I was feeling a little down on myself. But, I corrected the mistake and moved on. Overall, it turned out to be a great experience – if for nothing else other than to give me some real live-tweeting experience. So, here’s what I learned that could possibly help you out:

  1. It’s all about the prep work

And I didn’t do enough. I should have brushed up on basketball slang, found out who our top players were, researched the opposing team, followed other Southern Miss fans on Twitter and more. Think about what/where/who you’re going to be live tweeting about and see what you can learn before the event that will aid your efforts.

  1. Atmosphere matters

Southern Miss sports had it pretty spot on too. We were located in a suite that minimized distractions and gave us a clear view of the court, coaches, crowd and scoreboard.

Atmosphere also includes the folks you’re live tweeting with. Are you sitting next to someone who’s going to distract you (because it takes a lot of concentration), or are you with people who are going to complement your efforts? I was seated between a friend of mine who also works in PR and a track and field coach. We each brought our own strengths to the social media suite and relied on others for support when needed. “Who just made that shot?”

  1. You’re going to mess up

And it feels awful. Things are happening so fast and your fingers are moving as fast as they can — something’s bound to go wrong. Depending on how quickly you catch your error (and how big of an error it is) you can delete it or address it. Either way, hike up your britches and move on!

Every new opportunity is a learning opportunity, as outside of your typical realm as it may be.

This was my first live tweeting experience, so I still have a lot to learn.

What are some things you’ve learned from live tweeting?


Read the news!

If you’re in public relations and you’re not reading/watching/listening to the news on a regular basis, it’s time for a change.

I have the pleasure of speaking to public relations undergraduate classes at least twice a year. One of the first questions I ask them is “How many of you read the local news on a regular basis? (That is, at least a few times a week.)” A resounding one or two students raise their hand. “Okay, how about national news?” A few more raise their hands, but it’s always less than one third of the class.

I then go on a five minute lecture about the importance of staying in-the-know in our field. Here are some of the highlights:

You can have intelligent conversation with others
I don’t know every gritty detail of current events, but I have a general idea of some of the big topics from a local to international scale. If someone brings something up in conversation, I can tell that person I’ve heard about it, overview what I know and tell them I would really like to learn more. I’m being honest, engaging in conversation (perhaps strengthening a relationship) and learning something all at the same time.

Current events give you the opportunity to benefit your client
Perhaps there’s a topic that your client could be a source of information for a news outlet. Or maybe there’s a new trend coming up that your client could benefit from.

You’re keeping an eye on the competition
Always read the news with your clients in mind. Is someone doing something that you’re not?

Being a source of information for news outlets strengthens the relationship
Of course it has to be approached in the right way, but if you can be a valuable resource, who wouldn’t like that?

Reading is good for your brain
They may just be short news articles, but you’re working your brain every time you read something new.

“But I don’t have time to read the news!” Yes. Yes you do. And if you’re really swamped, at least check out The Skimm and scan the headlines from your local paper.


Coincidence or Well Planned Marketing?

I visited the website today to look into creating an infographic for a Facebook post I’m planning to put out in a couple of weeks. The last infographic I created on the site was over a year ago. I get marketing emails about once a month from the company – I typically just scan them and hit delete.

Until today.

I visited the website and started looking at templates. About 30 seconds after being logged on the site, a new email popped up in my inbox from I honestly looked over my shoulder to see if one of their marketing team was peering through a window watching me work and clicking “send” on his marketing email. It was creepy.

Was that just a really good coincidence? Or is there a way to track site visitors and automatically send them an email when they log into your site?

If there is a way to do that, would you use it? Or would you be afraid your customers think you’re a creepy internet stalker?

The benefits of an old school thank you note

When is the last time you wrote a handwritten thank you note?

Not an email. Not a text. A note signed by you, with postage, dropped in the mailbox that wasn’t printed from a computer.

If the answer isn’t within the last month, take yourself to the store, buy a package of note cards and start writing.

Hand written thank you notes, or even just notes of encouragement, go a long way – especially in the field of communications. Why?

No one does it anymore.
Thinking on the flip side, when is the last time you received a thank you note?

It makes you stand out from the crowd.
See bullet number one. If no one else is writing a thank you note, that means your note will really stand out.

It’s memorable.
See bullet numbers one and two. Because no one writes handwritten thank you notes anymore, it makes you stand out and therefore makes you more memorable.

It’s personal.
While it’s not a face-to-face communication or a phone call, it’s personal and lasting. That person can hold on to that card for as long as they need to to feel appreciated. I keep many of my thank you and encouragement cards in a box, and refer back to them every now and then just for a reminder that sometimes my work is appreciated.

It strengthens your relationship.
By taking the time and effort to hand write a thank you note, you’re telling that person that they’re important to you.

I once wrote a thank you note to someone for speaking at a luncheon. A few days later, she called me to thank me for the thank you card! What? She said it was so kind, in part because it took personal thought and time – something that is most valuable to all of us. She pinned it to her wall (physically, not like Pinterest) to remind herself how much of an impact handwritten notes can make, and to try to encourage herself to increase the practice. Now that’s an impact.

Now step away from your email thank you, go grab a thank you card and write someone a note!

Are PR pros meant to be leaders?

According to comments from some of my area leaders – yes, PR pros are setting themselves up to be successful leaders, and not just in PR.

I attended a panel discussion with area leaders recently on what makes a good leader. About halfway through the session, I looked down at my notes and realized that about one-third of their comments related to either communications or relationships – both of which are cornerstones of public relations practice.

Here are just a few of the notes I took that the panel said are necessary traits to be a good leader:

  • Effective communication is key
  • Forge honest relationships
  • You have to be a strong communicator to be on top
  • Life is all about relationships
  • Say what you mean, mean what you say
  • Listen!

What is the takeaway? Keep-on-keepin’-on PR pros! If you continue to fine tune your public relations skills, you are setting yourself up to be a successful leader.

Image Credit: flkr user frankrizzo805

8 Nontraditional Exhibitor Tips

Earlier this week I participated in a conference by working my company’s exhibit booth. I’ve done many of these before, even use to coordinate a business expo – so I’ve heard (and shared) all of the traditional tips (don’t sit there and play on your phone, shake hands, smile, follow-up, etc).

While working the booth, I noticed many of my fellow exhibitors breaking some of the main cardinal rules, but I also noticed some new bad habits. So, I took this opportunity to live tweet what I observed and turn them into some new, fresh exhibitor tips.

So, here’s the lineup:

  1. Starting easy: Try not to look like you’re miserable. A smile or pleasant look is less likely to scare someone away
  2. If you must eat or drink in your booth be discrete. No one came here to watch you shovel a sandwich in your face.
  3. Don’t try to talk to every attendee. You may miss a real lead by stalking someone not interested nor a good connection. (Think quality over quantity.)
  4. Find out who you’re talking to before giving your spiel. Tailor your message to them.
  5. After setting up your booth, view it from all angles. Don’t let a display serve as a barrier.
  6. Observe the flow of traffic. Rearrange your booth to accommodate if necessary
  7. Max your booth staff at two per space. Unless you’re having a rave in your booth. Then #PartyOn.
  8. Down time? Meet your fellow vendors. You already have something in common, they may be a great connection.

Okay, so the first two are pretty traditional recommendations, but there were SO MANY offenders I couldn’t not post them.

What tips do you have for working an exhibit booth?

Is Transparency Always Best?

Is honesty always the best policy?

In PR, we often talk about transparency. Being open and honest with your public is the best way to keep a good relationship – just with any other relationship you hold in life. But during a crisis, should you tell everything?

There was recently a situation I witnessed where the executive director of a nonprofit organization resigned. This isn’t typically earth-shattering news; however, he gave no notice (left immediately), and it happened on a Tuesday (odd). The press release cited “personal reasons” for his departure. This sounds fine and dandy, but it leaves so many questions unanswered.

Unanswered questions are where problems start to form.

If a question is left unanswered, it leaves room for speculation which leads to gossip. ‘What’s the real reason?’, everyone wants to know. ‘Something had to have happened.’ When people are left to their own imagination to answer these questions, their answers are likely more severe and dramatic than the real answers.

So yes, honesty is the best policy. Avoid speculation by being open and honest with your publics.

Customer Service After the Sale

Customer service doesn’t just happen when someone is at your place of business or purchasing your product. Customer service can (and should) happen after the sale too, and can make an even bigger impact than you’d expect.


My husband and I traveled internationally last week and flew United Airlines. I knew tickets would be expensive, and it wasn’t going to be an enjoyable experience (8 hours in coach), but you gotta do what you gotta do if you want to go to Europe from the U.S. The most you can hope for is that you make it there safe, your flight is on time and there aren’t any unpleasant passengers.

However, great customer service can make what you expect to be a mediocre experience a pleasant one. Here are four examples in one trip of how United Airlines did just that.

After a week vacation, it was time to head home (boo!). We had an 8 hour flight ahead of us followed by a 2 hour layover and another 2.5 hour flight. The morning of our departure, we checked the flight (or maybe my husband got a notification via the App, not 100% sure) and realized it was running an hour late. This was going to be a MAJOR problem, as we only had a 2-hour layover in D.C. which included going through customs. When we checked in, the person working the desk noticed the delay and our short turnover. Without request, he checked later flights to see if he could go ahead and put us on a list for one of those in case we didn’t make it. (#1) Unfortunately they were full, but at least he tried – and without request. He wished us the best and sent us on our way.

Once we were in the air and they came around for beverages, I ordered a glass of wine. The attendant notified me that the first round complimentary because of the delay. (#2)

As a flight attendant came around towards the end of the flight, we mentioned we already had a short layover in D.C., and with the delay we were concerned about making our connection in time. We had a few discussions about what we and she could and couldn’t do to help, but no luck. However, she did offer to make an announcement after the plane landed asking customers whose final destination was D.C. or who had a longer layover if they could stay seated, so those of us with short layovers could get off the plane first. (#3)

We made it off the plane with a whopping 45 minutes until our next flight was wheels up. Unfortunately customs was no help (heads up, there’s no line skipping there). But while in line and killing time, I checked my email and saw there was a note from United Airlines. After seeing that our flight was delayed and the next flight would be cutting it close, United went ahead and booked us on a later flight rerouted through a different city (because remember, the other flights were full) just in case we didn’t make our flight. (#4) They didn’t cancel our original flight, just got us on the next one as a back-up.

What did this cost United Airlines? Maybe $100 in booze to the drinkers on the plane. A little bit of extra effort from their staff. But that’s about it.

What did they get out of it? A very satisfied customer who will be flying United again, and recommending others do the same.

The takeaway for today: There’s nothing more valuable than excellent customer service. Especially after the sale. And employees can be your most valuable PR.

What can you do to serve your customers after the sale?

Generic Brand Video: Dumb or Genius?

If you haven’t seen it yet, PLEASE check out Dissolve’s Generic Brand Video.

Did you laugh? Did you cringe?

It’s funny because it’s true – and it’s a little sad. As you watch the video, you’ll recognize all the typical elements found in an ’emotional’ advertisement. Stunning imagery. Diversity. Personalization. Strong words. Dissolve calls out ‘lazy’ brands who use stock imagery and predictable tactics for sucking you in. Where has the creativity gone?

The weird thing is . . . stock imagery is Dissolve’s business. While the video is getting them some recognition (the video has nearly 100,000 views), is it the kind of recognition they’re looking for? By calling out ‘lazy’ brands for using stock footage, they’re essentially dissing their clientele.

On the other hand, stock footage is so widely used, it’s inevitable that it’s going to show up in some form of communication. Why not promote your company with humor, and a touch of brutal honesty? Honestly, some of the stock footage is quite impressive, it made me consider reaching out to them for any future needs.

What do you think? Did Dissolve make a bad move, or is this a genius marketing idea?

After watching the Generic Brand Video, this is the first thing that came to mind. Sorry Ram.