Tackling Conflict, One Question at a Time

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Conflict is challenging, especially when people are involved. Emotions can overtake rationality and cloud our vision. On the other hand, we have to understand that the person on the other side is also processing emotion which could cause them to withdraw or become irrational. As leaders, we have to remember that emotions are human and ignoring the way people feel isn’t the right approach. Instead, we must find a way to acknowledge feelings while balancing rationality.

So how do you strike that delicate balance and come out of the conversation with positive outcomes that build trust in the relationship? Throughout my time as a leader, I have had countless challenging conversations. Each time I learn something new and I reflect on the conversation and make notes about what I would do differently. While each challenging conversation is different, with practice, patience, the intent to serve the other person, and the desire to understand instead of change someone’s mind, you can tackle any conversation.

More often than not, conflict comes down to miscommunication. As leaders we have to engage in active listening (remember the 80/20 rule) to get to the root of the issue and we have to be willing to take ownership for our faults in the conflict. I’ve found that just asking questions and listening to the other person is the key moving past the conflict. Chip and Dan Heath, discuss how to change things when change is hard in their bestselling book, Switch. After all, things have to change to resolve the issue. The Heath brothers outline three reasons why change is difficult:

  1. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.
  2. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.
  3. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.

When I recognize conflict, I immediately take a step back and try to pinpoint which of the three reasons listed above could be causing the conflict. Upon taking time to think about the situation objectively, the answer will often reveal itself. As the leader, it is our role to then create a roadmap to fix the problem. In order to effectively tackle the issue, allow yourself time to reflect and prepare. When we slow down, we remove our fight or flight reaction, and instead allow rationality to prevail. Leaders that truly care about serving their people work to ensure they can lead the conversation in a productive manner that will result in a stronger relationship.

Part of preparation is reading the three points above. Next, I reflect on what I have done and I could have done differently. Then, I try to think about what the other person may be thinking or feeling. The final part of my preparation is writing down a list of questions that I’d like to ask and take a deep breathe. My intent isn’t to integrate the other person or to change their mind, my focus is on understanding their point of view and finding a way to make things better in the future. For example:

  • You seem distant, is there something I have done?
  • What can I do to improve?
  • How would you prefer to receive feedback in the future?

If the person shares that I didn’t handle the situation well, I apologize and acknowledge that I will do better next time. Showing genuine humility is a key cornerstone of leadership. I generally follow up by asking how the person would have liked the situation to have unfolded. By asking this question, it allows for a deeper dialogue and helps me understand how they like to be led and moving forward I can tailor my approach to meet their needs.

When the person responds to a question that doesn’t fully register with me, I ask another question to seek understanding. Again, the goal shouldn’t be to prove the person wrong or to “win” the argument. The goal should be to understand the other perspective. As a leader, approach the situation with an open mind and engage in actively listening, you’ll be able to provide clarity and remove the resistance.

After years of practice, I’ve come to enjoy these conversations because it often means the opportunity to improve, the chance to strengthen the relationship and build deeper trust. To get to this place, I had to shift to a growth mindset. The truth is open communication can solve almost any problem. It just takes awareness, the willingness to listen, and the ability to find common ground. Don’t wait to tackle an interpersonal conflict, dive in and work to make things better.

What tips do you have tackling challenging conversations? Leave a comment.

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The School of Marketing

Why Marketers Should Never Stop Learning

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Unlike many professions, there is not a required license to practice marketing. Therefore, marketers don’t have to complete continuing education classes each year. Without the requirement to keep learning, how do marketers keep up on the latest trends, best practices, and laws that impact our ability to reach potential customers? Marketers that stay on top of their game are continually learning and then implementing what they learn.

There are numerous options for you to gain the knowledge and skills you need to help grow your career and make meaningful contributions to your company. Now more than ever, marketing is changing rapidly and therefore, you must put in the time to ensure you don’t get stuck doing the same old things that are now ineffective. The exciting thing about learning new things is that you get to keep growing and it could ignite your creativity or inspire you to take strategic risks.  

It is undeniable that your days are packed with meetings and deadlines, but making time to expand your knowledge is time well spent. Below are several educational resources that marketers can access throughout the year to keep learning about the profession:

Attend a Conference
There are numerous conferences that train marketers on a variety of marketing/communications related topics. Social Media Marketing World is a three-day conference dedicated to teaching attendees about the digital marketing trends and the latest analytical tools. Click here to see a list of marketing conferences that offer a variety of topics from content, to branding, to public relations.

Take Classes
Many educational opportunities exist, whether that be at a college (online or in person) or taking online marketing classes from niche educational businesses that offer a variety of marketing classes. Check out Skillshare and Udemy. The benefit of taking classes in person is the ability to network with your peers.

Subscribe to Publications that Discuss Marketing Trends
Due to the rapidly evolving field, there is a plethora of content about marketing from numerous different sources. Many of the online publications provide daily content and send out free newsletters, offering the latest tips and trends.

Become Google Certified
Did you know that Google offers free certification classes for its various products? All you have to do is go through the online modules and then take a test to affirm you learned what was taught. By going through the classes, you will learn about the nuances of Google’s products, which will help anyone working with Google Ad words, Google Analytics, etc. In addition to being free, you can also work at your own pace and you can select the classes that interest you most.

Take Facebook Blueprint Classes
Similar to Google, Facebook offers a variety of courses. You are able to select the class that aligns with your educational goals. The classes will help you understand Facebook’s policies and also how to best execute an ad campaign for its products such as Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, etc.

Network with Your Peers
Find a group of local marketers and setup time to discuss what each of you are doing and about the challenges you face. Your peers will be a great resource to help you grow your career as you can lean on them for advice, and learn from their failures and successes.

Join a Professional Organization
By joining a professional marketing organization you’ll expose yourself to experts at educational luncheons and your local peers. Often times professional organizations also provide exclusive content online as a perk to your membership.

Hire a Consultant/Agency to Manage Marketing Specific Tasks
If you do not have the resources or the expertise to execute a part of your marketing plan, consider hiring a consultant or agency. If resources allow, include budget for training. By taking time to learn from the experts you will be more effective at managing the agency and explaining the results to your manager.  

Join Online Marketing Communities
LinkedIn and Facebook offer several marketing communities. Ask to join a marketing community. Many people are actively participating in these private groups. You can read their tips and best practices and also provide your own insights. By engaging in the online community, you will pickup interesting tidbits about marketing and it could also be a great place to ask questions and get answers from people in your field.

Observe What the Best Brands Are Doing  
As marketers we are always interested in what drives human behavior. When you are interacting with a brand in a positive way, stop and think about how the brand makes you feel and then explore why you might feel this way. Take what you learn from your observations and see how you might be able to authentically integrate what is working well for the brands you admire into your company. Now, that doesn’t mean you should steal other’s ideas, or imitate their brand, but find inspiration in quality work, and strive to create your own.

After you have learned new things about marketing, it is time to put what you learned to the test. Learning should be an ongoing effort and has the potential to fuel your intellectual curiosity. As you pursue your informal continual education, you’ll be empowered to make positive change in your marketing department or agency. Once you ingrain learning into to your routine, you will see the shift from being stale to being at the pioneer leading the way.

How do you keep learning about marketing? Leave a comment below.

Leaders Don’t Have All the Answers, That’s Okay

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People look to their leaders for answers. But the truth is, leaders don’t know everything and that is actually a good thing. The best leaders are those that have the humility to recognize and acknowledge what they don’t know. You see, great leaders build teams filled with people that complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses, making the team highly productive.

While leaders don’t have all the answers, many weak leaders will do one of three things below or a combination of them. Great leaders handle these scenarios differently and that is what makes them great.

  1. What Often Happens: You fake it until you make it. The people you lead are generally very perspective and can recognize when you are inauthentic.
    How You Should Handle It: Admit you don’t know and instead ask someone that does know to teach you. Use this as a learning moment and a chance to bond with your teammate.
  2. What Often Happens: You wait too long to give a response because you are busy searching for the answer independently and trying to save face. You lose credibility when you are MIA. How You Should Handle It: Inform the who asked the question that you do not know the answer, but that you are looking into it. While you are looking for the answer in a transparent way, be sure to keep the team informed along the way. Also look for ways to collaborate with the team and other co-workers to find the answer.
  3. What Often Happens: You say you know the answer and spout out nonsense. When you bloviate about knowing something you actually know nothing about or you say one thing, but act in another way, the team instantly loses trust and faith in you as their leader. How You Should Handle It: Tell the truth. Don’t make things up to appear more knowledgeable than you are in the subject matter.

The key take away is to admit when you don’t have the answer and then work with the team to find the answer. By letting down your guard, you are not only showing humility, but vulnerability as well. When leaders embrace humility and vulnerability, it makes them more relatable, demonstrates to the team members that they don’t have to know everything, minimizes egos, and leads to better problem solving.

The next time you are asked a question you don’t know the answer to, respond by saying, “I don’t know the answer to that, but let me look into it and I’ll back to you.” You might use your resources to find the answer. If you take this path, include the team member in the correspondence and make introductions, thus allowing them to learn alongside you.  Another option is to call a team meeting to brainstorm the solution. Take it one step further by allowing the person who asked the question to lead the meeting. Creating collaboration moments allows the team to work through solutions together, empowers others to lead, and together you likely will come up with a far better solution than if you just figured it out on your own.

Another benefit to showing humility is that you are modeling the way for your team members. Once they hear you say that you don’t know everything, it is likely they will come to you with more questions. Further, they will likely admit to their peers that they don’t have all the answers either. In the end, your team members will come together to help each other and learn along the way. As the leader, it is your responsibility to create a supportive and open environment for your team to learn and grow.

The key to leadership isn’t knowing everything. Leadership is about humility, vulnerability, the courage to be truthful, relationships, and open communication. When you let your ego down and actually lead the team to the answer versus just tell them, you’ll experience far better results and your effort will compound.

As a leader, how do you tackle questions or problems you don’t have the answer to? Share your tips in the comments section.  

Tips for Developing an Effective Website Content Strategy

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The best websites keep consumers/customers on the site long enough to influence their behavior. The best websites and content are planned, reviewed, and continuously updated to remain relevant and effective. As marketers, it is our job to figure out what should go on the website and provide a creative brief and copy for the design team. The next time you need to update copy or want to refresh the site, don’t just use your instincts. Even the smallest companies have access to useful data. It is more important than ever to use that information to make strategic content and placement decisions throughout your website. When you are strategic, you’ll see results. Here are some tips to help you plan your next website refresh, content placement, and copy updates.

Be on Brand
As with all things in marketing, everything you do must align with your brand. The look, the voice, the messaging, everything must be consistent and never deviate from your brand. If you aren’t sure how to make things consistent, start by creating a brand guideline to help you develop a plan for how you want to represent your brand. Then task a team member to check for brand compliance throughout all of your marketing materials. When you customers land on your website, they should know instantly that they are on your website and if done well, will immediately feel a connection.

Conduct a Website Audit
After your site has been up long enough to collect a decent data set, you should conduct an audit of your site. The audit will reveal your sites conversion results, identify content that isn’t performing, customer’s navigation path around your site, ease of finding what they are looking for, assess the site design and user experience, a full briefing of analytics (SEO, bounce rates, time spent on the site, etc.), and much more. The auditor will then provide recommendations for how to improve optimization for the site. Companies that are serious about their website’s performance, do not just settle for one audit; instead they commit to weekly check-ins on the tweaks and then a monthly assessment. By having this knowledge, you have a vast amount of power to make strategic marketing decisions that if executed properly will lead to success.

Use the Data to Make Strategic Content Decisions
If you conduct audits, use the information to make strategic marketing decisions, versus relying on your instincts. The results from the audit should be reflected in your marketing and content plan.  

On the other hand, if your company does not have the skill set on the team to conduct an audit or the funds to pay for an audit, that is okay. You can still use tools to help you make strategic decisions. For example, software such as Hotjar provides you with visual insights into where your customers are spending the most time on your site. Once you see where the users spend their time you determine where to place your most important messages. In addition, if the users are spending time in a particular area, that could be an indication that the copy and graphics are effective.

The other aspect to look at is the top visited pages on your site. Make sure you continue to put effort into the pages that are performing well. If the page that focuses on one of your top priorities isn’t performing well, assess your strategy, messaging, and design to improve future results.

Overall, you want to make sure your site is converting and that your content is resonating with the user.   

Hire a Skilled Designer and Developer to Create the Website
There are a lot of people out there that think they can design a website. If you are responsible for the marketing strategy and content, odds are you aren’t a website designer (if you are, you are a unicorn). Don’t try to take everything on. Marketers attention should be focused on the strategy, ensuring a positive customer journey, engaging content, brand management, and results. Leave the technical aspect and creativity to the experts.  

Focus on the User Experience
The user experience is everything when it comes to a website. Users should be able to find what they are looking for quickly, make the transaction easily, and leave your site knowing that you helped make their day better. Stop and think about sites you love visiting, here’s looking at you, Amazon. Why do you go to those sites? The reason is they are designed well, have engaging content, make it convenient for you to find what you want, and buy it quickly. The same is true for service-based sites. Regardless of your business, you must create a user experience that is free of obstacles. As a marketer, lean on your website developers to lead the way, but you should be thinking about the customer journey too. When testing the site, make sure it loads quickly (if you are responsible for video content, work with the web team to determine the best placement for videos), check to make sure the links work and follow their paths (remember the fewer the clicks the better), make sure it works well on all devices and web browsers. The more perspectives and eyes on the site, the better.

Implement Tracking and Continue to Monitor the Analytics Almost all of your marketing tactics will link back to your website. Therefore, it is critical that your site is set up to capture the data. One way is to use tracking codes on all of your marketing efforts. Click here to read how to set up tracking codes.

After you complete a marketing tactic, you should review the results within a week (if not sooner) to determine the effectiveness. If it was effective, stay the course, but remember to keep the visuals and copy fresh. If something didn’t perform, determine why and make adjustments.

Get in the habit of reporting your results as it will help keep you accountable and help you focus on raising the bar.

Create Landing Pages for Your Audience Segments
Master marketers know the value in creating personas and then segmenting the data to align with the personas. These marketers know everything about each persona and can use that knowledge to create custom messaging for a specific audience. There are times it makes sense to create landing pages that deliver personalized content to personas. When you take the time to develop curated landing pages for your segments, you are likely to see higher conversion rates.  

Constantly Tweak, Refresh, and Enhance
You have to work hard to keep people interested in your product or service. Your users do not want to see or read the same copy over and over. To keep people interested, be sure to update the copy and the visual content periodically. Just remember to keep the analytical and audit insights in mind when creating new content.

Use Social Listening to Gain Insights
In today’s world, people love sharing their opinions, and there is always those that love to point out even the smallest grammatical error (the beauty of a website is that you can fix inexpensively and quickly). Listen to the feedback. If your copy isn’t translating, if people are confused, or something is triggering them, consider making updates to your site and your messaging. There are powerful social listening tools that look for trends and determine user perspectives.  

Today’s marketers aren’t just responsible for writing engaging copy, they are accountable for the website’s performance. To hit your targets and help the company excel, you need to take into account all of the factors listed above to experience success. Take your website to the next level by becoming familiar with the analytics to ensure you are delivering content that will help your users find the information or inspire they are seeking.

What content tips do you follow when creating your website and content strategy? Leave a comment below.

The Path to Leadership

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Too often people conflate leadership and management. The common misunderstanding is that in order to lead you need a title and authority. The opposite is true of leadership. Leaders don’t need a title to make an impact. Leadership is organic and it happens over time. Once you recognize that you have power without needing permission from anyone, you are on your way to becoming a leader.

When people realize they have the power to become a leader, they often seek out resources to tell them how. They’ll read books about leadership and listen to podcasts that outline traits and characteristics of great leaders. All of these resources are very helpful, but they often don’t answer the “how” question. “How do I become a leader?” A simple question deserves a simple answer, focus your efforts on selflessly helping others and be willing to help solve problems.  

Another answer to the “how” question is courage. You must have the courage to fail, step outside of your comfort zones and act with integrity, even if it is unpopular. It’s okay if you find yourself in situations where your heart will be racing and your stomach will be in knots. The thing to remember is that leaders will find a way to overcome that fear and tackle the obstacle. Seeing this courage is what makes people want to follow your lead. (Read more about courage here).

Once you realize your individual power, focus on helping others and solving problems, and build up our courage, the rest falls into place. If people see you as someone that cares about their well-being and someone that can resolve an issue or move things forward, you will gain their trust. And once you develop trust, you’re well on your way to becoming a great leader.

What steps did you take to become a leader? Share your story in the comment section.

The Exit Strategy

How Leaders Should Handle an Employee Leaving

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When we hire new people, we take them under our wing, enfold them into our circle of trust, and work hard to ensure their future success. Yet when they resign, many managers become distant and isolate their once beloved employee. Losing people can feel deeply personal and it is easy to let our emotions over take our mind. But good leaders must resist the temptation to shun the outgoing employee and instead make their last days as memorable as their first.

This is an unconventional approach, but what we should be doing is spending their last days with us acknowledging the great work they did, sharing what will be missed about them, letting them know that they will be always be supported, and gaining as much knowledge from them as possible. This is not only the right thing to do, but it will also keep the employee motivated to pass on critical information to help the team continue to succeed. And it leaves the door open for the possibility to return to the company one day. Even more important, by treating the employee well, they’ll become an ambassador for your company.  

“What if we created companies that were great places to be from, and everyone who leaves you becomes an ambassador for not only your product, but for who you are and how you operate,” said Patty McCord, former chief talent officer at Netflix, during The Way We Work segment by TED. “When you spread that kind of excitement throughout the world, then we make all of our companies better.”

If all leaders embraced this philosophy, imagine the network we would build that is built on encouragement and empowerment. We shouldn’t question their loyalty or doubt ourselves as leaders if they decide to leave to better themselves. If they go on to do something that helps them progress in their career and if it makes them happy, we should be supportive. The purpose of leadership is to serve others and by leading the way, you are modeling the behavior of someone that truly cares about your people.

According to Kathryn Minshew, co-founder and CEO of the Muse, research has revealed that 58 percent of the next gen workforce plan to change jobs in coming year. While it is true that some people leave companies due to their relationship with their boss, the other main reasons include the ability to learn and grow and work-life balance. The truth is sometimes people out grow the job and the company doesn’t have opportunities at the right time to provide the next step in their career. As leaders, we shouldn’t fault others for wanting to improve and progress in their career. If you treated the person well, gave him/her stretch projects, allowed for autonomy, challenged him/her to take risks, provided useful feedback, then you likely played a role in this new opportunity and you too should feel proud.

As McCord said, “careers are journeys,” and the best journeys require us to step outside of our comfort zone by trying new things. As leaders it is okay for us to feel sad and disappointed when you lose a great employee, but just remember you should feel proud, knowing that you contributed to their journey and help set them up for the next step in their career. Don’t burn a bridge due to ego, instead work hard to rise above the negative feelings. Show them the respect they desire by continuing the relationship, keeping lines of communication open, and genuinely wishing them well.

Author’s Note: It is completely acceptable and understandable to cut off ties quickly if the employee is going to work for a competitor. However, leaders should still act with grace and wish the former employee well. If you remain focused and committed to your people and your core values, you will continue to succeed, and hopefully your former employee will too.

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

A Guide to Writing Effective Talking Points

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Marketing and communications professionals are responsible for creating talking points for media interviews, speeches, product launches, creative briefs, and much more. The talking points document is a foundational communications tool, used to help effectively shape and share messages with your audience (to read more about messaging, read my blog about delivering news to your stakeholders). While it may seem complex, when you break it down, you’ll find that the best talking points are the result of curiosity, attention to detail, a positive attitude, thinking from different perspectives and the willingness to put in the time.

When you begin developing your talking points, it is essential to think through every aspect of what you are trying to communicate. You should be thinking about your loyal customers and your biggest critics reaction to each talking point. When you create your message based on several different points of view, you are ensuring the points won’t leave room for ambiguity and you will likely be able to silence a majority of your detractors.

Below are 12 tips to help you create effective talking points. The guide below should be used as an outline. It’s important to note, you won’t end up using everything that you write throughout this process. The point of going through each step is to help you think through your talking points and ensure thoroughness. Once you complete the process, you’ll review the work and then select the most important points. By putting in the time, you’ll hone in on the message that will resonate with all types of audiences.

1. Outline the Five W’s
Start with the basics. Think through the who, what, when, where, why, and how. Don’t just gloss over this point as it is the foundation to your talking points. This is your time to get in the weeds and think through what is most important. You might be surprised what will reveal itself when you take the time to think through things.

2. Tell the Truth, and Stick to the Facts
You should always be truthful when creating your talking points. The best way to do this is to stick to the facts. In today’s world, people can tell when you aren’t authentic or if you are trying to spin the message.  

3. Make It Exciting and Focus on the Positive
It is always best to focus on the positive. This is your chance to share the great news about the benefits, features, differentiators, progress, etc. Look for all the positive aspects and use stories. Then find a way to weave the personal stories and highlights into your talking points.  

4. If There Are Negative Topics to Address, Tackle Them Head On
It is inevitable that you will have to create talking points to address a crisis or negative attention. Don’t hide from your mistake. Instead, acknowledge the error and focus on what you are doing to fix the issue. People appreciate those that take ownership and come to the table with a solution. When determining your talking point about the unfortunate issue, don’t forget about tip number two.

5. Make It About the Consumer
As with all things related to marketing and communications, you must consider your audience. Be sure what you write will resonate with the people that will be receiving your message.

6. Think About How the Skeptics Might Respond and Incorporate Counter-Arguments
It is likely that there will be people that will try to poke holes in your talking points. Beat them to it by thinking like a skeptic. What will their arguments be for why you are wrong or why your product won’t do the things you say it will. If you need a source of inspiration, look at the comments in your product reviews and on your social media channels.

7. Be Aware of Your Biases and Heuristics
When we work for companies and people that need talking points, we likely care deeply about its/their success. It is easy to let our emotions overrun our logic. Resist the desire to get caught up in only how you see the company. Remember you have inside knowledge that your audience doesn’t have, and that can cloud your ability to think logically about what information to share. Instead, think like an outsider and question everything.

8. Think About Who Will Be Delivering the Talking Points
Sometimes talking points are used in written format and other times they are delivered verbally. Either way, you must make sure the talking points are in the same voice and tone as the person delivering them to ensure they come off as authentic.  

9. Look for gaps in Your Talking Points
Now that you have made it this far, review your work and look for any holes in the messaging. What is missing? What bullet point could use more detail? How can you position the message differently? A great way to identify gaps is to test the talking points on someone that isn’t as familiar with the topic or isn’t as invested. Having a fresh perspective will help you refine and maximize your message.

10. Could a Fifth Grader Understand What You Are Talking About
Make sure you don’t include any company or industry jargon or acronyms. If your message is meant for the general population, don’t use fancy vocabulary that won’t translate properly to your audience. Finally, don’t include too many figures (remember tip three, you don’t want to bore people with too many statistics and numbers – unless your talking points are meant for a finance/accounting/shareholder audience).

11. Keep Them Short and Simple
You shouldn’t include more than three to five bullets because talking points are meant to be high level. Don’t get bogged down in the details. Share the highlights and leave the minutia for your internal meetings. People have a short attention span and the media just takes short clips for their articles or broadcasts, so keep it brief.  

12. Organize Your Points by Priority
Now that you have worked your way through all the detail, it is time to get your red pen out. Identifying a select few key points and focus on making them as impactful and informative as possible. Now that you’ve created effective talking points, don’t forget the call to action.

By putting in the effort, you are ensuring positive results with your talking points. It is also entirely possible that your diligent work may have identified a potential issue and the team now has time to fix it before sharing the big news. Your company and the spokesperson will thank you for helping them prepare. Odds are you won’t use the talking points just once, so after the first time, review the outcome and make adjustments. As you gain experience, following these tips will become second nature.

If you are still struggling to write relevant and engaging talking points, read Struggling to Write Good Talking Points? Here’s Why. by Rachel Hart.

What tips do you have to create flawless talking points? Leave a comment below.