You’re Only As Awkward As You Think You Are

What have I learned as a PR intern? You’re only as awkward as you think you are.

If you know me, you’ll know that I am a self-proclaimed awkwardite who creates somewhat awkward situations unintentionally and often holds eye contact for that extra second where it becomes awkward.

As a communication student, however, it’s very important to have a certain degree of communication skills (literally, it’s a degree in communication) to be successful in your career. Here are a few tidbits of unconvential advice I’ve scraped together in my summer internship.

1. When you shake someone’s hand, especially the CEO of a company, don’t pull a wet noodle.

This has caught me off guard before. When you’re not mentally prepared for a handshake, you end up either putting your thumb in the wrong place – which gets REALLY weird – or you end up limply shaking their hand. Neither are positive things that demonstrate you’re a serious professional.

So, if you think about the handshake before diving in, it won’t catch you by surprise. Eye contact, firm (but not Hulk Hogan), and brief. Don’t force it; let it be a natural part of your communication. By the end of the summer, I finally had a good handshake. It takes time.

2. “See ya!” is not an appropriate way to say farewell at a work function, even if they’re around your age.

Boy was this a painful one for me. I thought about that “see ya” for weeks after it happened, cringing at the fact that I chose those words to leave a (not-so) lasting impression on communication professionals. I thought, why do I have to be so awkward? And, I exaggerated that scenario in my mind so much so that I pretty much concluded I should never speak again. You’re only as awkward as you think you are.

This is where the second chance comes in! I hope that you, also, will receive a second chance at the “see ya” nightmare. When I saw this same person again at a different meeting, I made sure that I left them with a pleasant, “Nice to see you again!” I’d also avoid the “Have a great life!” and “Catch ya on the flip side!” scenarios.

3. Even when you don’t think you’ll need an intern notebook, you’ll need an intern notebook.

I carried around a lined notebook for the first month and a half of my internship, and never cracked it open. Well, I think I may have doodled on the front cover at one point, but I never actually took notes. One day, I was heading to a meeting and thought, “Nah. I’ve never used that notebook before, and I’ll probably never need it again.” And, guess what was the first thing I was told? “Abbi, can you take some notes?”

I put myself in the awkward situation of having to say, “I don’t have any paper.” I didn’t even – the shame! – have a writing utensil because it was still attached to my notebook. Do not be the intern without paper! In addition, do not take notes on your cellphone. It looks like you’re texting, which in turn gives the impression that you’re not paying attention to what’s going on and not taking your job seriously.

4. Find the balance of introducing yourself to networking connections but not being an overbearing, desperate student.

This is a tough one. I’ve attended various meetings this summer with many people whose salaries are probably worth more than my life. I’ve met a few in passing, and some even remember who I am. “Aren’t you the girl that wore the purple tights?”

Once you’ve met someone, what is the appropriate relationship to have with them? I’ve spent my fair share of meetings waiting on the side for something to happen, someone to communicate with. And, in retrospect, this isn’t how it should work.

Obviously, I wouldn’t suggest waltzing up to the company President and asking him questions about his life while he’s in the middle of an interview. However, it’s okay for you to show interest. Ask how long she’s worked with the company, what he loves most about his job, or if he has any advice for an intern trying to make an impression. Generally, people want to be engaged in conversation instead of awkwardly standing around. I wish I would have figured this one out a little sooner in my internship.

5. Remember the name.

When you’re introduced, make an actual effort to remember to whom you are speaking. It will save you hours of unsuccessful internet searching. I met this woman at one of the meetings I attended who works in traffic engineering. She seemed genuinely interested in me and my work (and as an intern, you take what you can get!) and also happened to have a great professional fashion sense.

I met this woman probably on three separate occasions, and each time she remembered my name and reminded me of hers.

(Side bar: DO NOT ever act disinterested when someone is talking to you, even unintentionally. If they’re taking time to talk to an intern, you take that opportunity and you RUN WITH IT. WHOLEHEARTEDLY.)

Anyways, so I thought about this particular connection one night and realized I still had no idea what her name was – even though it had been spoken to me about four times in conversation. And, I very well couldn’t demonstrate to my supervisor that I had been irresponsible in my name-remembering! So, I did what any good 21st century communication student would do and googled everything I could remember about this woman.

Apparently the Google odds were not in my favor that evening, because I found absolutely nothing as to who she may be. Plus, it’s very difficult to find someone without their name to go on. Finally, I gave up.

Again, praise the Lord for second chances! I saw this same woman at a meeting I attended last night, and (without specifically addressing her by name of course) made some small talk. Then, miracle of miracles, I heard her introduce herself to someone else. You better believe I will NEVER forget that woman’s name.

Make it easy on yourself and just remember their name the first time. Don’t tune out that little section of the conversation, because it will bite you in the tushy later. I could’ve saved myself many an awkward, “I’m Amy, remember? We’ve met at the past three meetings?” if I just had taken the time to remember her name.

Aside from your own personal embarrassment, remembering someone’s name demonstrates that you are assigning value to who they are. If you care enough to make that connection, you need to care enough to remember the most basic information about who a person is.

These are five small things that have made a huge impact on my perception of communication in practice. If you are confident in who you are, and the skills you have to offer, you will be much more pleasant as an intern (and, a professional!). Don’t wait on the sidelines for the communication to come your way – pursue it yourself. After all, isn’t that what sets us apart?

The Joy of a Life Without Worry

I am a self-proclaimed worry wart. I am always worrying. Whether it’s about school, the future, my friends, my family, or worrying about the fact that I worry so much, my life has been a constant struggle of worrying about the past or worrying about the future – which is an incredibly unhealthy and unfulfilling way of life.

About six months ago, I decided that worrying was probably not the way I wanted to spend the next eighty years of my life. Not only does it take a toll on your emotions and burdens your heart, worrying mentally breaks me down – just think of all the brain power I’ve wasted!

My decision to live without worry came about as a sort of revelation to me that I didn’t actually need to be in control of my life. The age-old adage assumes that now (being your twenties) is the time for you to go and figure everything out and find your perfect job and your perfect match and plan ahead and start a family and live just like an adult should live. However, taking a step back from these worldly pressures, I’ve come to the conclusion that if at any point in my life I’m allowed to not have it all figured out, that time is now.

Living a life of worry stops us from experiencing the current moment, because we’re always hyper-aware of the future. If I’m always thinking about how my life will be five years from now, worrying that it may not be where I want it to be, I’ll be missing out on the present (which, ironically, I would probably end up worrying about how many years I spent worrying that I’ll never get back).

I found this Bible verse that really illuminated this revelation:

Matthew 6:27 NIV

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

Answer: Absolutely not. We dwell in these thoughts and anxieties hoping that they will change the outcome of our situations. In reality, our lives will not get any longer. These are the hours for creating relationships, making memories, living for the beauty of life – not to be wasted in a vicious and self-deprecating cycle of worry.

And the beauty of this story? We have the hope and reassurance that our lives are in the hands of Someone much, much more powerful than we are. Regardless of how much we worry about what’s going to happen, our paths are not our own.

What a relief, right? In making the decision to worry less, I’ve already felt a remarkably lighter load on my heart.

Plus, now I’ve got all this time, brain space and emotional room to devote myself to the things that really matter – like living whole-heartedly in the present.

PR in Sports: Lebron’s Letter in Sports Illustrated

As someone who doesn’t usually follow professional basketball, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do this post justice. However, one thing in which I am confident is how public relations is used to effectively market individuals and businesses. NBA superstar and international sports icon Lebron James recently wrote an eloquent letter about his choice to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers that had PR professionals shaking their heads in awe.

In 2010, Lebron announced he’d be leaving Cleveland after seven seasons with the Cavs in a highly publicized ESPN interview. His major decision – which infuriated many – was broadcasted through an incredibly effective, trusted sports outlet. Everyone knew about the choice. I wasn’t even in the country at this point, much less a basketball fan, and I knew that Lebron was joining the Miami Heat.

Last Friday, James announced that he was coming back to Cleveland through a very personal, professional letter he released as told to Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins. In the letter, he addressed his heart for Ohio, his decision in originally choosing Miami, as well as his choice to return to the Cavs. The letter is straight-to-the-point, low-key, and tells the audience exactly what they need to hear.

And, this letter was released through one of the most trusted print media sources for sports’ news. This reminds us: when you have crucial information to distribute -particularly when it affects numerous stakeholders – you should head towards packing a wallop with an incredibly reliable source.

This method of releasing information is very unlike the PR strategies of today. The letter is starkly different from James’ announcement in 2010 – no millions watching, no bombardment of questions, no chaotic circus of media frenzy.

Lebron’s letter was probably the smartest PR choice for his announcement. His letter addresses that he takes the move seriously, and plans to work hard in his new position. “I’m not having a press conference or a party,” the letter says. “After this, it’s time to get to work.”

The letter also demonstrates the athlete’s willingness to be transparent in the communication of his decision. He anticipated the arguments that his departure was based on tension with teammates, to which he responds: “I’m doing this essay because I want an opportunity to explain myself uninterrupted. I don’t want anyone thinking: He and Erik Spoelstra didn’t get along. … He and Riles didn’t get along. … The Heat couldn’t put the right team together. That’s absolutely not true.”

Finally, James grabs us with pathos. According to the letter, his return to the Cavaliers goes beyond his desire to play basketball. Instead, the choice focuses on what he calls his “responsibility to lead” – his desire to help shape the community into what he believes the future may hold.

Lebron combines factual information with an emotionally charged appeal. His choice to submit his decision via letter not only boosted the traffic to the Sports Illustrated site, but also allowed him to shape his words and opinions without the pressure of a media circus.

The lessons?

1. Give your audience what they want.

2. Be practical.

3. Be transparent.

4. Be strategic in your message.

Perhaps you too will garner over 35,000 Facebook shares.

11 Ways to Use Your Online Skills for Good

According to Yahoo! News, Americans spend on average 23 hours per week online – emailing, gaming, poking, prodding, crushin’ candy, blogging, farming, blocking, tumbling… you get the point. We spend an incredible amount of time in our digital society.

What if a fraction of this time was directed towards making a difference? In this post, I’ve included 10 different social action websites that are worth looking into. Do you have ten minutes to put your phone down? Did you know answering a trivia question allows you to (freely!) donate ten grains of rice? Having used a few myself, I can vouch for the simplicity of these good deeds.

And to think you just keep refreshing your Twitter feed.

1. DoSomething.org

This website is geared towards involving teens. It calls us to various campaigns – fighting sexism, cracking down on texting and driving, donating jeans for homeless teens, conserving water, even finding homes for shelter pets – simply by completing the challenges they suggest. And, if you take a picture of yourself completing that challenge, you’ll be entered into a $4000 scholarship drawing. Pretty simple, right?

One really great DoSomething challenge I participated in was sending a Valentine’s Day card to a lonely senior. DoSomething sent me an address, and all I had to do was make a card. This may sound like something small, but can you imagine the ripple effect of a million teens sending a million cards? It doesn’t cost anything, and it could make a huge difference in someone’s life.

2. FreeRice.com

This is a cool one! If you’re like me and your family is tired of hearing you yell out the answers to Jeopardy trivia, check out FreeRice.com. This website allows you to answer trivia questions and win rice. Yep, win rice. For every question you answer correctly, FreeRice sponsors will donate ten grains of rice to the World Food Programme. The site even keeps track of how many bowls, bags, and tons of rice you’ve generated with your trivia answers.

“But I’m awful at trivia!” LIES. We’re talking: “holy means: A) gentle B) not many C) accurate D) sacred” here people! You can even change your subject – humanities, geography, English, science, math… there is even SAT prep. Seriously.

This is a great site to play around on if you’re just laying in front of the television. Hardly any effort, and rice gets donated to hungry earthlings. Win-win. And, if you’re into this kinda thing, you can even form groups to work together or work your way onto the rice leader score board.

3. UNICEF Tap Project

I’m not going to lie to you, sometimes I think I may have a cellphone addiction. So, this UNICEF Tap Project is good for my soul – my desire for good outweighs my desire to refresh Instagram. The Tap Project is a smart phone campaign. For every ten minutes you don’t touch your phone (and believe me, it senses if you’re trying to sneak it – I’ve tried) you provide a child with clean water for the day. And, if you keep going, more and more children can have more and more clean water – something that is TRULY an essential.

Once you finally crack (just kidding, we know you have to take calls from your mom sometime) you can make a donation to UNICEF for as little as $5 – an amount that provides a child with clean water for 200 days.

This would be a great way to spend a dinner, whether it’s with your family or out to eat with your friends. Not only are you providing children with clean water – or multiple children, if everyone’s doing it at once – you’re also getting some real relationship time.

4. Apathy Is Boring

Canadians, this one’s for you! The Apathy Is Boring page invites Canadian citizens to immerse themselves in politics to be aware of what they’re supporting. Instead of being one of those people who kinda knows what’s going on, you can be the one that people always refer questions to at the dinner table. The site gives unbiased information on different political parties, allows you to make your very own “call to action” petition, and gives election reminders.

The page also encourages individuals to encourage the youth in their communities, providing training tools, videos, and media to bring up a generation of culturally-aware young’uns.

5. Earthjustice

Earthjustice is an international, non-profit law firm speaking up for our sweet Earth. This organization is dedicated to creating a healthy living environment for all people, protecting the Earth’s natural resources, and defending organizations such as the Wilderness Society at no cost.

So what can you do? The Earthjustice page allows individuals to get in on the action. The site shares information about the various projects on which they’re working and then creates petitions that you can sign, depending on how you feel about saving the coral reef. You can also subscribe to the Earthjustice page to keep up with what’s going on.

6. Groupon Grassroots

I know I love Groupon. Groupon Grassroots is like Groupon for social causes. You can create your own cause, find local causes around you, and choose where your loyalties lie. So far, Groupon Grassroots has kickstarted over 1500 campaigns raising over 8 million dollars in support. You can “purchase” donations to support campaigns you care about locally – many of which go directly back into your community. There’s even a Groupon Grassroots blog where you can tell your story, share your experience with an organization, or rally support for your passion. Grouponning for change, for the win.

7. PifWorld

Similar to Groupon Grassroots, PifWorld allows you to choose a cause you feel strongly about, donate or support this cause, and share the cause with your friends. However, it’s on a much broader scale. Instead of your local school, PifWorld allows you to support across oceans.

Essentially, it’s a platform that allows you to garner support for what you love. If there’s something you’d like to begin, start your own fundraiser and create a non-profit page. And, if you want, PifWorld will even tell your Twitter followers about it. There is a blog, but I can’t read Dutch.

8. Spot.us 

Communication majors unite! Spot.us is a website dedicated to community-funded reporting. The public works with Spot.us to choose topics that may be under-reported or overlooked, and this community of journalists with open hearts and sharp typing skills can pursue the story for themselves. Currently, the site has over 22,000 contributors and over 110 publishing partners.

This site is funded partially by American Public Media and partially the public, but is currently not accepting any new proposals or contributors. I’ll post more when Spot.us is refreshed!

9. Help From Home

Hopefully you’ve stuck with me this long, because this site is one of the coolest things I’ve ever stumbled across on the internet. Help From Home is a site based on the concept of microvolunteering – small volunteering projects performed by millions of people. 100% Pajama pant friendly. Help From Home lets you choose your choice of action. Do you want to play games that donate money to charity? Do you have a minute to send a free eCard? You can even put an add-on to your Firefox browser that’ll save printer ink –> paper –> trees (and indirectly money) and takes literally 30 seconds.

There are hundreds of these little tasks that allow you to volunteer from your bed at virtually no cost to you, taking anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. Of course, donating to your favorite cause is always an option.

10. Kiva

Whoever came up with Kiva is brilliant. You’re looking at a site that empowers people globally through as cheap as a $25 loan. How does it work? You lend to someone in need, and when they reach their goal, they pay you back. It’s beautiful.

Let me share an example:

Elena is a 42-year old widower from the Philippines. She is looking for a loan of $350 to restock her small store with basic commodities so that she can provide for her four children. She is 7% on the way to her goal – someone’s already donated $25 to her cause. Kiva provides a repayment schedule, and Elena works towards saving up for future consumption so that she can build a sustainable lifestyle for herself and her kids. If you’d like to donate to Elena’s Kiva loan, click here.

If you have $25 sitting in a bank account somewhere that you could share with someone in a third world country, Kiva is definitely the route to go. And, you get to become a part of these awesome life stories.

11. Social Actions

Finally, the motherload. Social Actions is a site that provides the links and information to all the other sites you may be looking for. Browse campaigns, webpages or fundraisers. You can even create petitions, give loans, and discover social action apps.

I hope you found something that interests you! Whatever you choose, remember that those ten minutes (and all those definitions you learned in 8th grade) could better our world. Be proactive.

Martha’s Macarons with Chocolate Ganache

(Photos by Anna Wilt)

In honor of my long-lasting love for macarons, I’d like to present to you a recent macaron recipe that led to an empty plate with few crumbs.

I’ve loved experimenting with recipes and tweaking favorites for years, but my love of cooking stems from generations of family (my grandmother, my mother and my aunt & uncle) following recipes. They’ve technically mastered how to perfect ganaches, make lamajouns, and braid kourinjahs.

These macarons are inspired by Martha Stewart’s classic recipe, but I also got to witness a ganache (my first ganache experience!) blossom under the talented hand of my Uncle Ed.

Macarons are light, French clouds of heaven. Although it’s a delicious option to add flavor to your macarons (and switch up your fillings!), this recipe is the basic edition. Hopefully, my macaron expertise will grow this summer into flattened tops and fluffier filling.

Recipe:

  • 2/3 cup almond flour

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

  • 2 large egg whites, room temperature

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

Step 1:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Combine almond flour and confectioners’ sugar with a whisk, and then press through a fine strainer. This step is important! You need to make sure the sugar and almond flour are distributed evenly throughout, as well as aerated for the perfect consistency. Press all those lil clumpies out.

Step 2:

Wipe out a mixing bowl (make sure there’s no oil in there – hands or otherwise!) and start beating those egg whites. Martha suggests beating on medium speed for two minutes, medium-high for two minutes, and high for two minutes.

I say, beat ’em on high for all the minutes. Either way, they’re gonna form stiff peaks. When you’re at the medium-high stage, also known as the mostly-whipped-but-not-quite-stiff stage, add the sugar in gradually. Whip egg whites into glossy, stiff peaks. If you’d like, add a few drops of food coloring to spice up the looks of those babies.

Step 3:

Add the almond flour/sugar combination on top of the egg whites, folding them into the mixture gently with a spatula. Martha says to “repeat just until batter flows like lava.” This is the most ridiculous cooking analogy when applied to macarons. Does Martha know what lava flows like? Because, it is certainly not like the batter of these macarons. It’ll be a thick-ish liquid that flows just like macaron mixture should. Try 40-ish spatula strokes.

Step 4:

Put down parchment paper on your baking sheet. Transfer your non-lava mixture into a piping bag. Try using a tall glass cup to make this transfer easier! Pipe the macaron batter into 3/4″ round circles. Space them about 1″ apart. Try not to leave little tops on your macarons – this is always my downfall.

Once you’ve piped all the batter out, smack that baking sheet against the counter three or four times to get the air bubbles out. I also leave the pans on the counters for 20-ish minutes so the macarons can form a skin on the tops. Bake for 13-ish minutes, until risen and set. Let the macarons cool before piping in filling.

Good Gosh, What A Ganache!

Take a cup of heavy whipping cream and slowly melt in 9 oz. chopped semi-sweet chocolate. Slowly is key – if the cream gets too hot, the chocolate will break up and then you’ll have to start over. It doesn’t need to be hot, just warm it enough to gradually melt the chocolate.

And voila! Ganache. Wait til this delicious mixture cools before spooning it into your mouth. And, of course, piping it into the middle of your macarons. Enjoy!

The Twitter Generation

Twitter, tweeting, retweeting, and tweedos have engulfed our society. If you’re a business – or simply trying to market yourself as the product – Twitter can be absolutely, posi-tweetly beneficial to your success.

Question: How do we stand out from the other millions of tweedos trying to bombard our timelines with feelings, thoughts, and pictures of what they had for lunch?

Answer: You are unique! You already stand out! But really, your tweets should be divided into two different categories – direct responses and tweet engagement.

Direct response tweeting is getting straight to the point. You may have heard the old adage, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.” This applies to social media platforms too. Around 20% of your tweets (so, if you’re the kind of tweeter with 10,000 tweets, that’s 2000 tweets) should be you asking for what you want. If you’re a business, this means directly selling to your consumers. Add direct links to your products or special promo codes – just drive customers to your site.

What if you’re just trying to market yourself? Use these two thousand tweets to build yourself as a brand. Post links to your favorite blog, give your professional opinion on an important issue, or share an article you found interesting. Give your audience the impression that you take life seriously 20% of the time.

The other 8000 of your tweets should be building your followers’ interest in who you are. Be creative and thoughtful about your desired tweet reputation. What do you want to be known for? Hopefully you don’t bombard your page with scam links. What do you want your followers’ impression to be? This can be via picture, popular conversation, YouTube link, you name it. Engage when companies do that whole, “which would you choose?” bit. Get that Twitter handle out there. Put on your big boy feathers.

These are just a few ideas that could help you out with your Twitter presence. If you are consistent with your tweet engagement (that means you have to log on more than once a year…) and post things that people care about, you’ll have a stronger following base. It’s that simple.

Follow me on Twitter @abbiwilt!