3 Books to Become a Better Business Person

If you know anything about me, you probably know that I’m busy to a fault—which in 2016 meant that I didn’t as much reading done as I might have liked.

But of the books I did manage to read*, there are three that truly stand out as great resources for anyone looking to become a better business person, a more effective marketer, a more comfortable presenter, and just a better and more empathetic person in general.

Thank You For Arguing by Jay Heinrichs

We all need to make our case at work, at home, with our friends and loved ones, and with clients/customers. If you’ve ever found yourself having trouble persuading people or you just want to be a more effective communicator, be sure to check out this funny and enlightening book by Jay Heinrichs.

With a combination of Aristotelian methodology and pop culture references, it should keep your attention and teach you a thing or two.

Steal the Show by Michael Port

I’m pretty comfortable in front of a crowd. My earliest memories of speaking in front of 100+ people was at the tender age of 5. But even so, I found that I learned quite a few useful techniques from this book by Michael Port.

From structuring speeches to working on your vocal techniques, there are lots of specific skills for even seasoned speakers.

Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen

As a professor and as a consultant, I constantly have to give and receive feedback. And as we’ve all experienced, sometimes there are miscommunications or misunderstandings. This book shares some great frameworks for how to better reframe conversations. And it also shares advice on recognizing communications issues so that you can head them off.

This is definitely a book that just about everyone can benefit from—from parents to business people.

As we head into the new year, I look forward to reading lots more books. I hope that you’ll check out my 2017 picks. Do you have book recommendations for me? Leave them in the comments! 

*I did manage to read both Hamilton by Ron Chernow and Hamilton: The Revolution…so you can see what might have captured my interests this year. Other books I read included some Neil Gaiman, the helpful Locavore’s Handbook by friend Leda Meredith, and the excellent Hug Your Haters by friend Jay Baer.

This post contains affiliate links; when you purchase one of these books, I get a small commission. 

Two Podcasts to Jump-Start Your New Year

As an erstwhile podcaster and content marketing consultant (a career that lets me tell other people how to podcast, to my heart’s content), I listen to a lot of different podcasts. From productions made by two people on a laptop to fully professional affairs, I like to hear what’s out there.

Since it’s the beginning of the year, there are a lot of great podcast episodes on self-improvement being released/re-released, and I wanted to share two that really struck me as wonderfully inspiring.

Hidden Brain: How Silicon Valley Can Help You Get Unstuck

Hidden Brain is NPR’s podcast on social psychology, behavioral economics, and “life’s unseen patterns.” Since these are topics that I teach, they’re also topics that I enjoy learning about.

In this episode, host Shankar Vedantam and producer Maggie Penman explore how design thinking can help when you’re feeling lost and unsure about what’s next in your life (career, relationships, etc.) and how to get unstuck. Full of personal stories and useful advice, it’s definitely worth listening to.

Freakonomics Radio: How to Become Great at Just About Anything

Another show that explores behavioral economics and the impact of economic thinking in our everyday lives, I love the unique perspective with which Freakonomics views the world.

In this episode, host Stephen Dubner interviews scientists and writers to find out how we can become better at anything through “deliberate practice.” Not only does the story that forms the throughline of this episode have a lovely pay-off, but the whole episode has inspired me to be more deliberate in several of my hobbies.

Lessons from the Road: 3 Important Ideas for Marketers

This past fall, I traveled all over the country to Orlando, Cleveland, Buffalo, Fort Lauderdale, Fargo, and Austin—mostly for business, but I also got some family time in there as well.

As a professor, as well as a marketing consultant, I often find myself looking to my experiences for examples and case studies to share with my students and clients. Here are three from my fall travels.

Make it Easy and Fun for Employees to Showcase Culture

While I was in Austin, I visited my brother at the Indeed offices, and I was struck by their great usage of the Inside Indeed social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to showcase corporate culture, fun, and personality. I also loved the way they showcased some of that fun through digital displays around the offices. It’s a great way to encourage employees to showcase their everyday experiences.

I often talk to clients about how they can build cultures of advocacy within their organization, and I believe it’s about empowering your employees to let them tell their stories in their own ways.

Create Learning Opportunities for Everyone in the Crowd

I gave workshops in several different cities this fall, and at one, I was struck by a conversation I had with a colleague who said that she didn’t often attend this organization’s events because they had a “creative side” bias. In other words, she wasn’t on the creative side of agency work, and she felt their programming tended to reflect the makeup of the organization’s board which had a large contingency of creatives.

Within the graduate course I teach, I often talk about biases as informational shortcuts that we unconsciously employ, but that can hinder our observations of the world. In this case, the board’s confirmation bias regarding the relevance of their programming for their membership may have been caused by the fact that most of the board comes from similar backgrounds.

Whenever we create programming or content, we need to make sure that we take into consideration all parts of the community, offering options that speak to varying needs. Not every program/piece of content needs to speak to everyone within the community, but there should be enough variety that community members see their own needs reflected back.

Change the Setting to Change the Energy

At another event that I spoke at, I found myself in an unusual setting for a talk about content marketing: a local craft brewery. But the truth is: holding the event in a bar created a more convivial, energetic space than perhaps a conference room might be. I got a lot more questions and had a lot more conversations with the crowd than at some of the more formal conference-based speeches and workshops that I am invited to facilitate.

Sometimes, “the medium is the message” as McLuhan said, and the setting for an event (or context for a piece of content) can truly change how the audience interacts with it.

In one famous experiment, the lauded violinist Joshua Bell played in the subways of New York. He may not have gotten the hushed reference of Carnegie Hall as people whizzed by—perhaps stopping only for a moment to enjoy his music—but neither would he have gotten the smiles on faces young or poor or more accustomed to “The Voice” than classical music. In the subway, you can dance and laugh and take pictures—I doubt you’ll see patrons dancing in the aisles at Carnegie Hall.


As we enter the new year, I plan on continuing to travel and learn and observe. And I hope you’ll take moments in your own life to observe what’s around you and see if there are lessons to be shared from your experiences.

Join Me at Social Media Marketing World in March

Looking ahead to 2017, I’m already psyched for upcoming events. One that I’m pleased to announce is that I’ll be presenting within the Analytics track at Social Media Marketing World this year. I’m excited to share useful tips on how metrics should be the key to your content marketing planning process.

Join us March 22-24, 2017 in sunny San Diego for three days of learning from industry experts.

Click here for more information and to book your pass!

My Session: Create Content by the Numbers

Zontee Hou at Social Media Marketing World 2017Like most marketers, you may be busy creating a ton of content for your social channels, sales teams, website, etc. But are you creating the most useful content for your company? Does your content align with your business goals?

In this session, we explore the key metrics that you need to understand and track in order to create better content. Find out what to measure in order to plan, publish, and track your content more effectively.

Why Attend?

In the words of Levar Burton: Don’t just take my word for it.

Disclosure: As a speaker and affiliate, I get a cut when you purchase a ticket via my link. 

Marketer on the Go: Adventures in Photography

As a marketing consultant, I have to prepared to do what it takes to make sure my clients have the materials they need for great communications and content. Whether it’s producing a podcast, overseeing a video shoot, or even photographing products, I always have to be flexible.

Over the years, it’s made me learn me a ton of production tools—and hey, even put those college photography classes to good use. Now, I’m all for having a professional take over when it’s possible, but as every small business owner and marketer knows, sometimes the job really is about doing 23 different jobs. So it’s always worthwhile to have some skills and key principles down—I’m a big fan of the Hubspot blog as a good resource for lots of how-tos.

The lesson here is to be flexible as a marketer and to keep honing techniques that will help you do more for your clients.

For example, while traveling with friend and client Patty Lyons, I shot some photos for some of her downloadable knitting patterns. Patty is a talented and in-demand knitting teacher and designer, and with such a visual product, clear photography is absolutely key. Luckily we had beautiful weather and fantastic models (including Patty herself) on our side.

Here’s a quick sampling of the photos from this shoot.

And if you’re interesting in Patty’s lovely patterns, here are the links: Clos Grapevine Scarf, Bacchus Cowl.

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