How Female Bosses Made It Possible for Me to Live My Dream

I’ve been ramping up my speaking schedule over the last year, and in 2017, I’ve been traveling from coast to coast speaking at events of all sizes and shapes. I enjoy it because it’s such a strong corollary to the work that I do in the classroom with my graduate students, as well as with my clients.

Recently, I led a workshop at Innovation Congress, where I was also interviewed by the awesome Paige Wilhide of NYC-based video company Paige Media. I love talking to other women about entrepreneurship, mentorship, and how I got lucky enough to do what I love doing every day of the week. I also got to see the amazing Cindy Gallop speak about diversity in the workplace, and she was so incredibly kick-ass that I can’t cover all of her speech here, so bop over to my Twitter feed for some of her best quotes.

What I’ve realized as I’ve built my own company, taught dozens of graduate students, and worked with brands big and small is that having role models who are strong, smart, female leaders has made me feel like it’s only natural that I could and would do those things too. If we can keep bringing young women into workplaces to see what’s possible for them, mentor them, and lift them up, we’ll get to a world where gender parity in the workplace will just be expected.

If you missed my events this spring, you can still catch me at Connect to Convert or Content Marketing World later this summer/fall.

The CMWorld link is an affiliate link, so if you purchase a ticket, I get a small percentage of the sales. 

Good Things Come in 3s: Retreat, Podcast, Webinar

I love the beginning of the year because I always feel energized to take on new things and look ahead to new projects. In 2017, I’ll be teaching for the fourth year in a row at the City College of New York. I’ll be speaking at events across the country (look for me in March at Social Media Marketing World). And I’m excited to be working with new clients through my marketing agency, Media Volery.

As always, lots of things are in the works, so here are a few quick takeaways from the last 7 days.

Make Time to Grow

Earlier this week, I spent a couple of days with the crew at Convince & Convert. It’s always incredibly invigorating to be in a room with savvy marketers, content producers, social media gurus, business development specialists, and writers—all working towards one goal.

Working with them reminds me that we have to make time to take ourselves to the next level. Even if you’re busy with your nose to the grindstone, you have to systematically make time to get better, analyze where your deficits are, and make a plan for the future.

(And you should also make time for a little fun.)

Shout It Out

This week, I had the pleasure of sharing my thoughts on content marketing as a pillar of thought leadership on the Platform Giant podcast with Shane Purnell. It’s a great reminder that thought leadership is built upon creating content that people benefit from and building a community who trust you and your story.

In other words: To build thought leadership, you have to tell your story in a compelling way, build content for them, and create a space for others to connect with you and each other.

Don’t Just Make Content; Get the Most Out of the Content You Create

Finally, I’ll be speaking for the Mutual Fund Education Alliance next week on content marketing and best practices for distributing content. Instead of creating lots more content, spend 2017 focusing on how to get the most out of the content you already have.

Join me at Wednesday, January 25, at 1pm for this discussion.

Click here for more information.

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.

Events, Interviews, and Features: Oh My!

My life has been a whirlwind of activity these last few weeks, and there’s still more to come (brother’s wedding is almost here!).

Before I get swept up in the next swirl of busy-ness, I want to take a few minutes and just share some of the highlights.

Zontee speaking

Incredible Attendees at Social Fresh and Content Marketing World

At both Social Fresh and Content Marketing World, I had the opportunity to present in front of world class marketers who are interested in achieving more in their daily digital marketing efforts. Whether it was about social media measurement or creating engaging content in a regulated industry, I had great conversations with attendees who were eager to put my concepts to play in their own companies.

I also had time to hang out with friends and colleagues like Jay Baer, Daniel Lemin, Lisa Loeffler, Christin Kardos, Ann Handley, Tim Washer, Phil Mershon, and many many more. It’s always a pleasure to be in a room full of people that you can learn from.

Creating Conversations Online

Following Social Fresh, I was gratified to find out that LinkedIn’s marketing blog picked up my slide presentation from that event as one of their “Top Trending Content” pieces.

I was also delighted to be interviewed by Kate Volman for Convince & Convert’s “Talk Digital to Me” series.

Coming Up…

I’ll be heading to Buffalo next month to speak at the AAF Buffalo. If you’re in that area, I hope to see you at the event!

Further Reading & Listening: Augmented Reality Trends

At the end of most of my class sessions, I include a “Further Reading & Listening” materials slide for my students. Occasionally, I will share blog posts that do the same for blog posts I’ve written elsewhere. 

If you read my blog post for Convince & Convert, “3 Augmented Reality Trends Marketers Should Watch“, you may be interested in learning more about AR and how it’s impacting gaming, shopping, and technology. It’s a topic that I think is particularly relevant right now because of the runaway success of Pokémon Go, but also because camera, GPS, screen, and facial recognition technology is all getting more advanced.

Here are a few additional resources that you might find interesting.

The Future of AR is Already in Your Pocket

From 2015’s SXSW, this panel talked about Niantic’s (makers of Pokémon Go and Ingress) CEO discussing the successes and lessons of their first hit game.

An Augmented Reality Mirror Lets You Test Makeup Without Putting It On

In the blog post, I discuss how AR is already being used in retail locations. See it in action, in a video demo in this article from Gizmodo.

The Car Windshield is Turning into a Computer Screen

Bloomberg shares some really interesting insights into how AR is being integrated into car and vehicle technologies, in this article with video.

Advice for My Students: Make the Most of Your Informational Interviews

Each year, I spend time speaking to students and mentees about their career goals. For many, I recommend informational interviews as an important tool to help clarify what potential career paths might look like. I also believe that informational interviews are an incredibly powerful way to build connections in an industry that might be new to them.

But as someone who has conducted quite a few interviews and have worked with many young professionals, there’s definitely a right way and a wrong way to use the precious half hour or so (a good length) that you might ask a potential connection to spend on the phone with you.

Don’t waste your interviewee’s time

Be sure to plan ahead. Research them so that you know exactly what you want to say. Prepare questions.

Get on their calendar. If they’re particularly busy, make it a phone/video call instead of an in-person meeting. When you get on the phone, confirm that it’s still a good time for them to speak.

Learn about them, their company, and the industry

I always recommend that you start with the 1-minute elevator pitch of who you are and why you wanted to connect and then to focus the rest of the time on the interviewee. Find out how he/she got where he/she got.

Find out what’s important to his/her company, how the company recruits, and what he/she values in team members.

Find out what are the areas of opportunity within the industry as he/she sees it.

Use it as an opportunity to network outwards

Use these interviews to fill the gaps in your own network. If you just spoke to someone about working in marketing automation but want to learn more about agency life, ask the interviewee if he/she knows someone at a digital agency.

If you were a thoughtful, considerate interviewer, he/she will most likely be happy to oblige.


Goodbye, 2015–Hello, 2016!

Generally, I’d say that 2015 has been a pretty quiet year. On the other hand, I’ve spent the last (almost) quarter of it stuck inside because I broke my ankle while rock climbing, so maybe it’s been more eventful than I’m giving it credit for.

Two surgeries, lots of physical therapy appointments, and lots of hassle have followed me through the last few months. But it’s also shown me that I have really outstanding friends and family who are willing to go the extra mile for me.

And hey, I can almost move my ankle back and forth like three inches, which–when you start from zero–seems pretty good to me right now.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be able to start actually walking on that foot–something I’m really looking forward to. But before we get there, I want to talk about everything else that’s happened this year:

My business grew. I started working in a great office space and met a ton of good people there. We also took on new clients, tried out some new services, and experienced some growing pains. Next quarter is already shaping up to be busy, but I’m ready for the challenge.

I traveled a bit. I got to see friends and family around the country, but I’m hoping to see more of everyone (and go to more countries) once my ankle’s a little better. In the meantime, I have two January trips planned, so even if the foot isn’t a little better, I’ll at least see a TON of people between the two trips. More on that soon.

I didn’t make a dent in my huge pile of books. I read a handful of books, but only one was from my shelf of to-read books, so that’s something I have to get better at. The Kindle I just bought probably doesn’t help.

Things I want to do in 2016: those guitar lessons I haven’t gotten around to, some travel in Europe, hiring more for my company, being able to run again (and building my leg muscles back to a normal level–atrophy is ROUGH), doing some more biking, taking on some big hikes with my mountaineer parents, falling for someone worthy, being more open and vulnerable with new people, holding onto all the gratefulness I’ve experienced being laid up these last months.

What about you? How’s your year been?

Broken Ankles and Life Lessons

Friends, you may have noticed on social media some chatter about the fact that I’ve broken my ankle. I was bouldering indoors (rock climbing, without ropes, on walls that are <12 ft) with a friend when I was on my way down from a climb. My arms were a little tired, and my hand slipped off a grip, and I fell back. Usually, the mats below break your fall, but unfortunately for me, I fell pretty straight down, landing squarely on one leg–so despite the big mats, my ankle turned beneath me and broke. I heard a big pop, and when I looked down, let’s just say that my foot was no longer facing a direction that a foot should.

Luckily for me, modern medicine is quite miraculous, and over the last three weeks, I’ve gone through lots of doctor’s visits, procedures, and surgeries–and I’m confident things will be ship-shape (and that I’ll be climbing again) in a few months. It’s the first time I’ve ever broken anything (I did have a minor sprain in the same leg in my teens), so it’s been an eye-opening experience.

I’ve learned…

  • that you shouldn’t take basic things like carrying things from room to room (can’t do it with crutches in both hands!) or even showering for granted–trust me, sponge bathing just doesn’t cut it.
  • that crutches are pretty darn exhausting–even for someone with at least some upper body strength training to their credit.
  • sometimes there’s no better outlet for exhaustion than to cry for a few minutes.
  • hospital food isn’t always as bad as people say it is…but sometimes it is.
  • that someone has to invent a better alternative to bedpans.
  • that people interpret crying as a sign of emotional distress even when it’s an outlet for physical distress.

It’s been one that’s made me particularly grateful for (a) my family’s support (my parents visited me in the ER that first night and have been with me for both surgeries and lots of visits), (b) my incredible network of friends (lots of people have spent hours of their time doing chores around my house, helping me with food, transporting me to and from doctor’s visits, sitting with me late at night when things have gotten hard), and (c) access to affordable healthcare through the Affordable Care Act.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about things over the next few weeks, but I just wanted to say for now: I’m doing better every day. I’m grateful. I’m growing.

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