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Why Technology is Killing These 11 Essential Skills

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


Why Technology is Killing These 11 Essential Skills

Technology is a help as much as it is a hindrance. While we have used countless forms of technology to fuel our efficiency, organization and communication with one another and the way we impact the world, we have also lost some essential and valuable skills along the way.

What skills have suffered? Mostly our people skills and soft skills, but also a few others you might not expect! Let’s take at a look at the 11 skills that technology is killing and see if they apply to you as well.

Handwriting

I certainly hope I’m not the only one who doesn’t recognize my own handwriting on the rare occasion I need to send a written letter or jot down some notes. There are really limited instances that don’t allow for a keyboard to make our thoughts legible. While technology certainly provides ease and efficiency of writing, quality penmanship has become a lost art.

Why does this matter? There will always be instances when a pen and pencil yield a more “personal” product, like a thank you note. There will also be times when we simply will run out of battery or WiFi and need to ask for some paper to capture important thoughts.

Eye contact

We have the ability to communicate with more people than ever on a daily basis. Yet, this has made these countless interactions feel less personal. Contributing your opinion to an online thread of thousands of comments is nowhere near as direct and meaningful as a face-to-face conversation with someone over a cup of coffee. I’ve found that people are so engrossed in their technology, catching up on email or social networks as they walk to and from their next destination, that they forget to look up and see the “real life” people standing around them.

The result? We forgot to look into someone’s eyes when we are talking to them. Do you greet your cashier by looking him in the eye and asking “How are you?” Do you keep eye contact with someone as they answer your question? If not, these are all areas we should strive to improve by unplugging from technology and plugging into one another.

The art of small talk

For most career-minded individuals, networking and meeting new people is essential for growing your business. This often means making a lot of small talk. But quality small talk requires more than just asking someone the obligatory “How are you today?” or commenting on the weather. It requires attention to the situation and nonverbal cues that tell us what will engage that person.

Technology has distracted and disconnected us from the living, breathing world around us so much that we have lost the valuable skill of being able to have an off-the-cuff conversation with a complete stranger.

Basic math

I am not too proud (though embarrassed) to admit that my basic math skills are severely lacking. Funny enough, I do still know my times tables and have not forgotten how to add or subtract. What I’ve lost is my confidence and patience to do the work mentally. Why? Because of technology. Why spend twice the time coming up with an answer I am only 50% sure is correct when I can just whip out my phone, punch in some numbers and have full confidence in the right answer?

This, of course, is a dangerous mindset and one that will continue to spread from generation to generation as technology only becomes increasingly convenient and ever-present. The solution is not easy, but it can start with each of us personally. We should take pride in keeping our basic math skills sharp and utilize them even if it means taking a few extra minutes and double-checking our answers.

Social awareness

Social awareness is the modern day way to say common courtesy. As the result of our obsession with and reliance upon technology, we forget there are other humans around us. The most common examples I’ve come across are people forgetting to hold the door, stepping in front of a line of waiting customers and cutting people off with a grocery cart.

While these are simple scenarios, they do indicate a larger social problem. We are so consumed in our own (online) lives that we ignore the need to courtesy coexist with one another.

Committing things to memory

If you were without your cell phone and needed to call your closest friends and family, would you know their phone numbers by memory? Probably not! I know I have exactly two phone numbers memorized aside from my own, my childhood home phone and my husband’s cell. This means I couldn’t even call my own parents’ cell phones without referencing my contact list.

Technology is a great tool for storing important information and phone numbers are just one of countless examples. But think about how we also Google everything imaginable – even common things like the meaning of an acronym or the year WWII began. If we lost access to all technology, would we, as adults, be “smarter than a 5th grader?” I’m not so sure.

Appreciating silence

This skill is one I really see the importance of as an introvert, yet I don’t always practice it. Think of your work environment. Do you always need some sort of background noise like a radio or TV? When walking from one place to another, do you feel the desire to talk to someone on the phone or pop in your headphones? When is the last time you did anything (aside from sleeping) in complete silence for more than an hour?

Appreciating silence is an important skill because it forces us to clear out the mental clutter, listen to our thoughts and address issues that might be bugging us. All of these things are easily masked by technology and noise – but will cause stress and distraction if not given proper attention.

Feeling comfortable without “props”

Similarly to feeling uncomfortable in complete silence, how do you react to waiting for someone or something without any technology to distract you? I know if I am waiting for a client, a food order or to be called back for an appointment, I feel the need to read emails, check in on social media or catch up on texts.

There’s a level of efficiency with this, but that is soon fulfilled within a few minutes. The issue is when we aimlessly browse our phones or tablets as a distraction from the world around us. The next time you’re waiting for someone to meet you in a coffee shop, enjoy sipping your coffee and watching the real world unfold. It’s amazing what you’ll see that you would have missed otherwise!

Making plans and sticking to them

When making social plans on the weekend, I’ve often wondered what people did before cell phones when it came to changing plans or running late. From asking enough of my “older peers,” I’ve come to the conclusion that people simply did a better job of sticking to their original plans!

Thanks to technology we have the ability to endlessly change where we’re going, at what time and with whom. If you’re on the receiving end of all of these changes it’s frustrating to say the least. Back before cell phones and social media, once people left the house, they were expected to be where they said they were going – and they really made a better effort of honoring that.

Fully focusing on one thing

Using multitasking to be more efficient with your time is a huge myth. Why? We’re not machines. We cannot quickly or easily switch from one task to another without losing momentum in the process. When we multitask and try to do too many things at once, we don’t fully accomplish anything.

Technology has created an environment where it’s easy to multitask and pile on distraction upon distraction. One time I caught myself watching TV while surfing my iPad. I couldn’t remember what show I was watching and I had minimal recollection of what I was looking at on social media. Trying to multitask my leisure time was a moment of reckoning for me. We need to get back to applying our sole focus to one thing at a time, doing it well and moving on to the next task with a clear mind.

Feeling content

Finally and most importantly, our reliance upon technology has messed with our ability to feel content. This is a bold claim, but one I strongly believe is true. How do you feel when you surf social media? In seeing other people’s lives (which are inevitably a carefully framed highlight reel of the truth), how do you feel about your own? Recently there have been more and more times that I have felt worse after browsing social media – not relaxed or entertained, like I had hoped.

Technology provides us a big, open window into each other’s’ lives. As we peer through, we can’t help but compare what we see to our own reality. Using technology for this purpose fuels jealously, discontent and stress. The skill we really need to strengthen is our ability to be happy for one another while being equally happy for ourselves. We are all blessed in different ways!

Has the overuse of technology hindered some of these valuable skills for you personally? Or does this apply to someone you know? Share your experiences by commenting below!

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Posted by on December 5, 2016 in Life, Technology

 

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A Guide to the Modern Press Release

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


A Guide to the Modern Press Release

With so many newspapers scaling back or going digital, the value and effectiveness of the traditional press release has become a bit of a mystery to us all.  This has left many businesses even more confused as to how they should communicate with the media when they feel they have something important to say. Is the press release still relevant? From my conversations with print and online reporters and other PR professionals, the answer is absolutely yes! But we have to stay in tune to the changes and advancements to news sources that may alter the definition of “a great press release.” Overall, the core essentials have remained the same, yet are so often ignored – even by professionals in the field. In an effort to shed some light on the lost art of press release writing (and to adapt it to the modern art it has become) here is my general guide to writing a solid press release right now.

Modes of communication

Whether you own a fax machine or even know what one looks like, this is still one of the most common and important ways to disseminate your press release. When researching a reporter’s contact information, don’t assume the fax is an outdated system. Some reporters truly prefer receiving news this way, especially if their email inbox functions more like a black hole. The second big mode of communication is indeed email.  I’d suggest using both email and fax whenever possible, and re-sending the email after a day or two with a new subject line for a second (or third) shot at getting noticed.  Make the news relevant to each reporter (do they cover a specific interest?), their target readership and personalize the message whenever possible. Aim to build an ongoing relationship with reporters; don’t just spam them with press releases whenever you want their attention. One great way to do this is to provide them with consistently useful information in a neatly packaged press release. More on that now…

The title

Now that we covered how to get your message out there, we can dig deeper into strategically packaging your news, and of course the title will be the first thing reporters see – and judge. The title should be the most newsworthy element of your press release. While it may be tempting to stick your business’s name or your own name up there right away, this is not likely the information that will catch a reporter’s eye and make him think “my readers need to know this.” For example, Jack Smith’s Auto Shop Merges With Tasty Treats Ice Cream has no immediate relevance to a reporter. A better title might be Two Locally-Owned Businesses Combine Auto Parts, Ice Cream In Unusual Merger. Really? Yes, because the second title spells out why a reporter should care to cover this news– it’s local and it’s unusual. These are two newsworthy elements that always attract readers’ attention. The reporter will likely change the title any way for their story, so don’t worry about writing for the masses. You just need to get the attention of one person – the reporter. This is your three-second “elevator pitch” and it has to cut to the chase. You are trying to sell to the reporter; the reporter is trying to sell to the reader. Remember that.

The critical first paragraph

Once you make it past the title, there is still another part of the press release that is of paramount importance for determining whether it lands on a reporter’s desk or in a trash can. It’s the first paragraph. I was taught that the first paragraph of a press release should never exceed two sentences. These can be long sentences, but two sentences is the rule of thumb. I doubt any reporter would see three periods in a first paragraph and toss a press release out solely based on this, but sticking to this rule does get you to get to the point – fast. The first of these two sentences should be the quick attention-getter and the second should be the single sentence that summarizes the key points of the entire press release. Sound like that’s asking a lot? The first paragraph is never easy. It may be the most time you spend on putting together two sentences and it should be. This is a critical component that far too many people gloss over. You may have heard that a press release (and any news story) should be written like an upside down pyramid, with the most newsworthy information on top, working down to the least newsworthy. With this analogy, you want to be sure the biggest part of your pyramid, the first paragraph, is built rock solid.

What’s in it for…everyone else?

Once you’ve made it past the title and the first paragraph, you’re ready to dive into all the other details of your press release. But this doesn’t give you a free pass to ramble on about unrelated, non-newsworthy tidbits. Throughout all of your writing, you need to keep a single question in mind. “What’s in it for everyone else?” Write this on a sticky note, the top of your word document or your cat if you need to, but don’t lose sight of this direction! Every paragraph in your press release should have an easily identifiable WIFM (what’s in it for me?) element – with “me” being the reporter/reader. It’s easy to see what you’d be getting out of a press release that’s picked up for a news story…free press! Don’t spend too much time tooting your own horn in the content. Instead focus on why anyone else should care about what you have to say. How will they be personally affected by this news? How will they benefit having read this?

Formatting a reporter will appreciate

Reporters and journalists adhere to Associated Press (AP) Style when formatting their news stories. For Public Relations professionals, it’s an industry-best practice to write press releases in this same style to keep all formatting the same. It also adds to your credibility. Everything from when to abbreviate a city, how to format dates and time, when to capitalize professional titles and more and more and more can be found in the AP Style Book! It was a handbook I bought early on in college and still have to this day (dog-eared pages and all). Resources to help you with AP Style questions can be found all across the web. Here’s the main web page. If you think you’ll be referring to this often, I’d suggest buying a copy. It’s far too much information to ever fully commit to memory, so having a copy on hand makes life, and press release writing, a lot easier.

Common mistakes and missed opportunities

Keep it to one page – It would take a compelling news story or announcement to convince me that more than one page was absolutely needed to cover all the truly newsworthy elements. Reporters can contact you if they’re intrigued enough and want more information. That’s why you provide that information in the header. Two-page press releases seem just as obnoxious as two-page resumes. Save something for the interview!

Quotes – Quotes are a key way to say something you would otherwise just write into the press release, while calling out a specific person of importance and breaking up the content. Quotes coming from you or your client can be easily molded to say exactly what you want them to say. Just make sure you format them correctly according to AP Style!

Make use of the subtitle – This is the sentence that appears directly below the title (and before the first paragraph). It is a great opportunity to explain the title a bit further as well as include a link to your web site, if relevant. By utilizing this part of the press release, you’re less tempted to weigh your title down with too many words.

Include a boiler plate – The boiler plate is that final paragraph that appears right before the “###” which signals the end of the press release. It’s a paragraph which can stand all on its own and usually summarizes the business or organization. Instead of trying to shove this same information into the body of the press release where it may not belong, the boiler plate provides a separate and organized space to highlight the core facts about your business at the very end.

One final thought on adapting to technology…

Video news releases (VNRs) are changing the way many reporters view traditional words-only press releases. I’m not entirely convinced that VNRs will take over the market anytime soon and so I suggest sticking with the written press release, but adding in b-roll footage, video clips and photos whenever available. Especially for online news sources, the more photos and videos that accompany a story, the more enticing it is to feature it. As readers, when we surf the web we’re drawn to images. Stories that include images are that much more attractive to news sites. It’s all about the web hits and readership!

What I thought would be a quick glimpse into writing a great press release has become a lengthier guide than I anticipated. I still have so much more information I could include here, but will save that for another time. Until then, please share your own experiences and expertise on writing press releases. Is there something I missed? Something you disagree with? Or something you’ve found to be particularly effective? Please share by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2016 in Business & Success, Technology

 

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Shifting Away From Shift Work: Forgetting the Life of a 9-5er

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


Forgetting the Life of a 9-5erI realized I’ve now spent more of my career as an entrepreneur, building my own business and setting my own schedule, than I have as a 9 to 5 employee to someone else. It’s a milestone I’ve proudly earned by taking many other risks and sacrifices, but I still can’t help but feel a little spoiled for the life this has provided.

When my friends or family encounter a restriction because of their work schedule, I’m oddly aloof as to what this feels like. I’m unable to recall what it’s like to have to report to a desk every day at a specific time and stay there regardless of what, if any work needs accomplished during those exact hours.

Work doesn’t always come in between 9am and 5pm and it certainly doesn’t stop coming in at all other hours of the day. This raises the question of why, with all of the technology that allows us to work from virtually anywhere, do we still chain ourselves to a desk for a block of time?

I don’t know who I should credit for its original quotation, but this following thought often weaves itself into my conversations with people who ask me about entrepreneurship. “As an entrepreneur, you get to choose the 80 hours a week you work.” The hours of work per week will change, but the message remains the same. Entrepreneurs may put in long hours, but at least we get to choose these hours. This allows us to weave work around life, travel and important events that we may otherwise have to choose between.

I jokingly say that if I worked a 9 to 5 job, I would max out my vacation days before February of each year and with every passing year this joke becomes more of a reality. I’m grateful that the length of my vacations, holiday breaks and time spent with family are at my discretion. With a husband who also runs his own non-profit, I’m quite certain that without our flexible work schedules, we would be like two ships passing in the night. Instead, I’ll join him on a business trip and work from hotels and coffee shops. Or we’ll both choose to work from home for a day to spend a little more time together.

When you’re an insomniac, they say that you’re never really asleep and never really awake. As an entrepreneur, I feel quite similar with my work schedule. At any given time I never have to be working, but I’m also never not working. Email and cell phones connect me at all times with my clients, so whether I’m sitting in front of my computer or out grocery shopping, I’m just as accessible. This allows me to do anything at any hour of the day and so I try to be strategic with when I do what. For example, entrepreneurship has allowed me to visit the doctor or hair salon at times when most people have to be at the office. I can do my grocery shopping when the store is dead rather than fighting with the weekend traffic. I also schedule my meetings to avoid rush hour so I can easily sail down the highway and spend no more time than absolutely necessary in transit. These may seem like small perks, but I couldn’t imagine life without them.

I’m barely able to remember what life was like when I had the same exact routine every morning and a set time to be out the door. Every so often these clouded memories come back when I find myself scheduled for an early morning meeting or poor planning has left me stuck in commuter traffic. My immediate reaction is “How do people do this every day?” After the moment passes and I re-enter my entrepreneurial world of constant change and variable schedules, I realize this is also a reasonable question that anyone else may choose to ask me…

 

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How to Use Natural Lighting When Taking Photographs

How to Use Natural Lighting When Taking Photographs

Last week on the Bennis Inc blog, we wrote about why the best photographers use the manual settings on their camera. Among the benefits, was that you gain a lot more control over lighting and are better able to harness the power of natural lighting. To keep our “photography theme” going, we’re now focusing this week’s specifically on how to (and why you should) use natural lighting!

When taking a photograph, one of the most important things to consider is the quality of your lighting. For example, balanced soft light helps set the scene for a beautiful portrait. Simply put, the right lighting can turn an ordinary image into an eye-catching work of art. But you have to first have (even just a basic) understanding of how to make the most of your natural light, as this will be the most common lighting you’ll have at your disposal. Take a look at these helpful tips!

Manual Settings

Knowing how to change your settings on your camera to adapt to your surroundings can play a big part in achieving a well-exposed photograph, especially when using natural outdoor lighting. Aperture and shutter speed are the most important settings to consider when working with natural lighting. Using these manual settings is imperative so that you can chose how little or how much light to allow into your lens. When it comes to exposure, F numbers are what control your aperture. It may seem lightly counterintuitive, but the lower the number, the more light you let. For shutter speed, the faster the setting, the less light that will enter in your lens.

Direction of your subject

The next step toward using natural lighting to your advantage is to know where to place your subject in regards to the sun. When photographing a person, it’s important to not have them facing the sun for several reasons. Doing so will impact your exposure and it will also cause your subject to squint, which doesn’t help produce a great photo either! Instead of facing into the sun, use your natural outdoor lighting as your back light by placing your subject with their back against the sun. Another way to creatively use natural lighting to your advantage is to play up the sun by creating shadows. You can create flattering shadows by using shade and/or shooting a “peak-a-boo” effect by photographing behind another object such as a flower or plant.

Using Natural Lighting Indoors

Some beginner photographers might think the only way to use natural lighting is during an outdoor shoot. This is simply not true, as there are ways to take advantage of natural lighting when shooting certain subjects indoors as well. The best locations for using natural lighting indoors is in a room where you have large, open windows to work with. Once you have found your ideal spot, place your subject a few feet away from the window to take full advantage of this type of natural lighting. Another expert tip is to have your subject face directly into the window or at least turn a 45-degree angle so that the shadowing appears softer and more gradual.

Editing Process

Once you devote a lot of time and energy into capturing hundreds (if not thousands) of shots, the idea of post editing all of these images can be a daunting task. This is all the more reason to pay special attention to your lighting and to use natural lighting to your full advantage. It will save you a lot of post editing work!

You photos will still need some editing to achieve their full potential, and that’s to be expected. When shooting a photograph on an overcast day, it is almost always necessary to touch up your lighting with editing software post-shoot. Don’t be afraid of the editing process! Tweaking your lighting ever so slightly can really make a difference in the quality of your final product, making the time you put into capturing and perfecting it all worth it.

Are you a photographer who likes to use natural lighting when shooting? If so, please share your best practices by commenting below.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2016 in Photography, Technology

 

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Why the Best Photographers Use Manual Settings

Why the Best Photographers Use Manual SettingsAnyone can purchase a DSLR camera and photograph a basic picture using the auto button (or “the little green box” as some photographers call it). This doesn’t, however, ensure you’ll capture the best possible picture. Experienced photographers most always agree that you need to think outside that little green box and venture into manual settings to capture high quality images.

But what if you’re just beginning to dabble in photography? Learning about the different settings on your camera can be quite intimidating. This is all the more reason to push yourself outside the (green) box! With some time and patience, even the most amateur photographer can pick up on essential techniques for using manual settings to enhance the quality of their photographs. If you can relate to wanting to improve your photography skills, here are three reasons why you shouldn’t wait to learn how to use your manual settings!

Taking Control

Manual settings give you ultimate control. Even the top-of-the-line cameras on the market today can still produce images that are off focus or have dark shadows if left in auto mode. In fact, technology can work against you, especially if you’re trying to capture an artistic shot. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the various manual settings. After you have a basic understanding of what each setting does, this is the best way to practice. Even if you take thousands of terrible photographs to get to a half decent one, there’s no cost to learning through trial and error.

Lighting

When shooting a photograph under different lighting situations, understanding manual settings can be key to capturing a great image…or none at all. Lighting has a huge impact on your images. Too much is just as harmful as too little. If you don’t know where to begin, start with lighting. Knowing how to adapt your settings at least based on lighting can be one of the best tools you possess. As a photographer, you will not always have the benefit of choosing your setting, especially when photographing an event. Being able to manipulate the manual settings of your camera can really help save the day!

Allows you to be creative

Shooting with manual settings really allows you to be the most creative when capturing an image. Don’t be afraid of manual mode, embrace it and push yourself to create something outside of the green box. You can manipulate lighting to cast a cool shadow or focus on distant object, rather than one that is in the forefront. Sure, this may result in some awful images at first, but once you learn the ropes, it’s also likely to result in far more inspired images in the future!

What’s your opinion about using the manual settings on a camera? Do you agree or disagree with our viewpoint? Share your thoughts by commenting below!

 

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How to Use Pinterest to Grow Your Brand

How to Use Pinterest to Grow Your Brand

Pinterest is a stand-alone Visual Social Network centered on sharing images that link to content. Depending upon your business and industry, Pinterest can be a powerful tool for marketing your products or services and growing your brand. Even individual people can grow their personal brand through the type of content they share or “pin” to their boards.

Whether you have a well-established and popular Pinterest profile, or whether you’re just getting started (like we are at Bennis Inc), there are many tips and best practices for growing your influence. Here are just a few of pieces of wisdom we have gained from our personal experience with establishing a business presence on Pinterest. Take a look!

Plan Your Pins to Win

Start by creating just a few board topics that are directly related to your business and brand. Focus on getting 3-5 boards filled with interesting and quality content before spreading out to create new boards. As potential followers explore your profile, they will be more impressed to see several quality boards than a ton of boards that are hardly utilized.

As you explore Pinterest for content to share (in addition to sharing your own content), you may come across other users that really sync with your brand. Follow them! Not only will this provide a stream of quality content for the future, you just might earn their following in return.

Establish Yourself as an Expert in Your Field

Remember, Pinterest is all about visual content! In order to get noticed, you need your pins to visually stand out. This may mean creating some custom graphics that include the title of your article within the photo. You’ll see this is a very popular way people share content on Pinterest and that’s because it’s effective! People easily grasp what your content is about, which increases the chance they will click and share.

While it’s okay to re-pin other users’ content, you want to also share your original content (i.e. blog, articles, images) to establish yourself as an expert in your field. For example, a photographer won’t get too much respect if he is only sharing other people’s photos that are not his own. Be genuine, just like you would on any other social media platform!

Share Your Content Across Other Social Media Platforms

Speaking of other social media platforms, you can really leverage the full power of your content by taking what you share on Pinterest and also sharing this on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin.

Additionally, you want to be sure people who are reading your original content, such as on your website or blog, have an easy way to find you on Pinterest as well as pin your content to their own boards. This is as simple as adding some social media buttons to the top and/or bottom of every post. Though it may seem obvious, it is often overlooked!

How have you navigated your business strategy on Pinterest? Share your thoughts and ideas by commenting below!

And don’t forget to follow Bennis Inc on Pinterest! We’re just getting started and have a lot of great things coming soon.

 

 

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