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Monthly archives: December 2014

     

    Image provided by Getty Images (fanat79)Most of you are probably rolling your eyes and thinking, “Well, this ought to be interesting…” That’s exactly what I want you to think — because it proves my point that pageants and ambassador programs get a bad rap. I use the term loosely because some “pageants” deserve every ounce of criticism they receive — we have to look no further than some reality TV shows.

    That being said, I’m here to challenge your thinking on the quality and characteristics of young women who participate in such programs — on a local, regional or national level. In addition to these experiences providing lessons about the importance of community service, how to balance a busy schedule, being a positive role model, and the finer points of etiquette, I assert that there are valuable life lessons and business principles that can be garnered.

    I’ve been involved with an organization for more than 20 years because of an experience that changed my life when I was 18 years old. Here are few nuggets that I picked up along the way:

    1.  It’s OK if things don’t go as planned

    My experience has taught me that when things don’t happen according to your plan, there’s usually something better in store. Even with the best-laid plans, you have to be open to curve balls in life and accept them for what they are.

    My involvement with a local ambassador program required me to transfer colleges my sophomore year — just a few weeks before classes began. This was challenging and stressful, but it allowed me to graduate with a better degree and availed me of other opportunities that I wouldn’t have had at my original school. It also introduced me to some new lifelong friends, and I’ve been grateful for these things ever since.

    So if your plans take an unexpected turn — perhaps you didn’t land the job you wanted, or get that big promotion — take a moment to pause and reflect. Then make the best choices with what you’re given — trusting that the detour on your course arrived for a reason. Many times you may not even realize the value until you look back, but I guarantee you’ll learn something.

    1. The importance of a proper handshake

    This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people I’ve met who have a terrible handshake! Unfortunately, many of them are women.

    I credit my experience as an ambassador with learning how to make an effective and proper handshake — full contact, medium firmness and with direct eye contact. This also dispels the myth that a proper handshake has to be hard and masculine — it does not.

    Everyone needs to be confident when they make that critical first impression and introduction — no matter what industry you’re in, your job title or how old you are. A good, solid handshake is an invaluable gesture that garners immediate credibility.

    If I meet someone who gives me a lousy handshake, I call them on it and ask for another one. So, how’s your handshake?

    1. You never know when one decision will be a game-changer

    We make hundreds of decisions every day — some big, some small, some important, some mundane. But every once in a while you make a seemingly insignificant decision that rocks your world.

    My decision to participate in an ambassador program shortly after graduating high school was one of those decisions. It led me to another program later on that had a significant impact on me, including what I studied in college and my career in marketing. It led me to owning my own agency, and over 20 years of volunteer service and mentoring of young women.

    It provided a network of mentors and colleagues that I wouldn’t otherwise have the honor of knowing. Small decisions can deliver big impact!

    For every dozen risks you take a few may turn out to be winners, and if you’re really lucky, one might be a big winner. There’s no magic trick to knowing which ones will hit the jackpot, but some thoughtful reflection might lead you in the right direction.

    Questions you might ask yourself:

    What have I got to lose if I don’t try?

    What are the business, financial or emotional risks to myself, and those around me?

    Will I wonder “what if” later on? What’s the “Regret Factor?”

    Will I have the chance to do this again in the future?

    When was the last time I challenged myself to do something outside my comfort zone?

    Is someone else encouraging me to do this because they think I have the skills?

    You will learn to doubt yourself less if you understand how to take calculated risks. In the end you still have to take several risks to find that game changer, but the more you try, the quicker it will happen!

    1. The power of mentoring

    Lots of people have participated in mentoring programs, but for many professionals we can just add this to the list of “Things I Should Do Someday.”

    I’d probably be in this same camp if it weren’t for my experiences. As an ambassador, I was fortunate enough to make connections with wonderful coaches and mentors whom I still rely on to this day.

    I’m absolutely certain I wouldn’t be where I am — either personally or professionally — without them. They were there to guide me, answer questions and encourage me during my crucial college and early career years. I’ve never forgotten how important this was, and have been steadfast and passionate about giving back and guiding other young women through similar circumstances.

    Once I mentored a freshman foreign exchange student at the University of Minnesota. I expected our conversations to be about college coursework, looking for internships in her field and networking strategies.

    To my surprise, this young student from Africa had arrived at one of the largest universities in the United States (60,000+ students) and had no idea how to use the transportation system to get to her classes! She didn’t know how to contact her advisor or even how to find a job through her work-study program.

    I put myself in her shoes and realized how scary it must have been for her. I realized quickly that my role was to guide her on the very basics of college life — things most students already know and can do without second thought. I also looked for and found the opportunity to learn from her.

    She spoke fluent French, so I insisted that when we met we tried to speak in French so I could brush-up on my skills there. She was ever so grateful and we had a fabulous experience. I will never forget her.

    If you’ve had a great mentor in your life, it’s important to do two things: Tell them “thank you,” and pay it forward and give back to future leaders. Many times, my mentors saw potential in me, or opportunities that I wouldn’t have recognized or taken advantage of on my own.

    The wisdom they shared with me came from their own experiences and insights, which are invaluable tools to those you mentor. The ability (and honor) to help guide and advise other young professionals is extremely rewarding and doesn’t have to be a daunting task.

    Even if they aren’t in the same profession as you, it’s about making a connection and listening and advising from someone they can trust. You may not even realize the impact you could have on another person with simple and small acts. It’s powerful and worthwhile — go do it!

    1. Strong public speaking skills will set you apart

    Public speaking – everyone’s worst nightmare, right? Well it doesn’t have to be, and you can really use this skill to your advantage in various situations.

    This is something I’ve grown to appreciate as I ventured into the workforce, but I wasn’t always comfortable with public speaking. I was actually quite shy growing up. However, I was forced to do this often as an ambassador — and many times without the advantage of advance preparation (a.k.a winging it) in front of hundreds of people.

    Being at ease in front of people will help differentiate you and advance your career in many different ways. Of course, it gives you the confidence and experience to make killer presentations, the ability to speak off-the- cuff, and maybe even stand up in a room of people and make a fool of yourself once in a while (when in doubt, use self-deprecating humor!). But these skills will pay off in other ways too. It also gives you the confidence to walk into a room of strangers and make conversation. It gives you the courage to extend your hand and introduce yourself. It helps you find a connection with someone you just met. Trust me – people take notice of others who demonstrate these skills and are at ease with public speaking! It could very well be that little extra polish between you and another candidate vying for a promotion.

    1. Grace never goes out of style

    I often say you can never be too polite or too dressed up. In one word: Grace. It’s a big word that encompasses many qualities and means something different to everyone.

    Grace can mean impeccable manners, using proper grammar, being charming or having a polished style. It can also be used to describe how you handle various situations: With professionalism, kindness and poise. Think “grace under pressure.”

    All of these traits involve paying attention to the details, and all of these traits are widely recognized and highly respected in professional environments. Grace is a key component of your own personal brand and a pillar of your character.

    Often times it’s someone’s first impression of you — and it may happen without you even speaking a word.

    {This article was originally posted in the October 2014 Business Journals publication}

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