What started you on this journey?
I'm a kid from LA. I had big dreams as a 9th grader to become a clinical psychologist, which happened through a healthy dose of counseling as a preteen and a teenager. I went on this journey to be a clinical psychologist, and along the way I realized, ‘I don’t want to be a clinical psychologist. What am I doing?’
What I found that I loved was looking at systems and how things move: the built environment, or systems of care in general, a hospital system or rehabilitation system, and how we could better support people's healthy behavior. Specifically, I focused on the intersection of people with physical disabilities, cognitive disabilities, and aging.
For the first time in the history of humanity, we have this whole new cohort of people who are surviving spinal cord injuries, strokes, and heart attacks with differences in physical and cognitive impairments. It is both a beautiful and a complicated thing.
That brought me to where I am now, which is, ‘How do I continue this work without the boundaries and constraints of academia? How do I immerse myself fully in supportive policy to make lasting change? How do I create change for the better in a way that is reactive and meets the moment and is not bound by grants, or research, or other kinds of mundane tasks that academia can often put on me?’
How are you using this to inform your business structure?
That's a really great question. I currently work for foundations that are supporting the policy work happening in California. They are committed to helping California create a 10-year master plan for aging. The foundations realized that they could only do so much, so they decided to band together and support consultants to help California prepare.
Our older adults are going to be outnumbering young adults. We know we don't have the policy and regulations for them, we know we don't have the workforce for them, we know now, with Covid-19, that we have nothing for them. How do we do that?
That is how I found the need to create my business, to pivot to going out on my own. What is unique about me is having a research and academic background that is not common in policy. I can talk to researchers, statisticians, and local governments that have this data and can be both a translator into the policy as well as ask for numbers when things don’t add up.
How do you determine if a client is a good fit for you?
The most important thing for me is to just be honest about what I can provide, about my expertise, about whether this is a good fit, and just hope for the best.
Mostly, when it comes to choosing a consultant, it’s ‘Who do you want to spend time with?’ It's like picking a vice president. Who do you want in the Oval Office with you at the end of the day? Who do you want on the phone with you at 10 o'clock at night when your house is burning down? Who do you want riding shotgun with your team when you don't have time?
For a lot of folks, it really comes down to personality and how much you are listening to the needs of the project, of the organization, and trying to match that up. I will say that there's a lot of companies or opportunities that I know might not be a great fit for me, so I try to be really upfront with that.
How would you define success based on your experiences?
Part of the problem and opportunity of being a young person is how everything feels like it's a process. Success is a building block, and doesn't always come from checking off a box.
A lot of times success comes from failure, and then the opportunity to create a better, more sustainable system, or opportunity. It’s not only how do you define success, but how do you hold it up as success to your clients, that this skill is something that I am a master of.
What would you say are the three top skills that you think it takes to be a successful entrepreneur?
I think to be successful, one of the things that comes to mind on the business side is, ‘Are you checking all your boxes?’ Are you paying your bills? Do you have a license in the state that you need? Are you paying your taxes on time? I don't think people understand how important taxes, invoicing, and accounting for your time are. You need to be an expert in things that you never thought you needed to be an expert in to run a business, and I find that has been the biggest hurdle for me. That’s the down and dirty of the things you wish you knew.
With that comes number two, which is knowing when to outsource. I should never prepare my own taxes, ever. There's no world in which I am qualified for that. It's okay, I have lots of other skills, but that is not one of them. Thankfully, I work with a very skilled person who can do that.
Third, you need to be knowledgeable and distinguish yourself from others. You need to have a good reputation. You need to be able to rely on your clients, your colleagues, and your friends to be good references and to say nice things about you, to believe in what you're doing so that you can rely on them.
What is one of the biggest advances in your industry?
There is a huge digital divide in the nation. The internet is not just how we communicate, right? The internet is information. It's tele-health. It's how we order our groceries. It's how we order books, whether we're borrowing or buying or downloading to listen. It is how we stay connected with our family and friends. It's how we do these interviews. It is literally everything.
It is imperative that we invest in diverse communities and communities who are not generally connected to the Internet, to have the Internet if they want it. The big push now is to think of broadband as essential, just like heat and water. We need to continue to invest in that.
We need things to be fully accessible. We need people who have low vision and low hearing to be able to access the internet. We need to reach diverse communities, expand language capacity, and find and create solutions for those most vulnerable. There are so many ways we can create opportunities for communication, safety, and collective public health.
What have been some of your experiences as a woman in business?
It is very tricky to be the younger generation of policy and research coming into this field, and to be considered a “young female.” One of my close colleagues told me basically, right now, you are the shiny new thing, so take advantage of that. You are young, bright eyed, and bushy tailed. That is also what is going to hold you back. What ends up happening is somehow at 40 you are too old, and your experience still doesn't help. It’s constantly this issue of living in your youth, and also preparing for that to leave you.
Choosing clients has been really interesting, just as a female and the things that define us. I have two older parents who are in their early seventies, and they've got pre-existing health conditions, and I stay on the West Coast for them. I cannot tell you how many opportunities are presented to me on the East Coast that I have to say no to. I am basically being told that I'm ruining my career. So being the eldest child, wanting to be close to my parents, wanting to be a successful member of my family, and doing all of those things, are also ways that I'm ruining my career. It is very complicated, but I just keep moving.
Edited for clarity and length.
Across the nation, women are excelling in business startup and growth. In 2019, according to the American Express State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, women-owned businesses continue to fuel the economy and account for 42 percent of all businesses, a total of nearly 13 million. Women employed 9.4 million workers, and generated revenue in upwards of $1.9 trillion.
What’s more, firms owned by women of color account for 50 percent of all women-owned businesses. An estimated 6.4 million women of color-owned businesses employ nearly 2.4 million people and generate $422.5 billion in revenue.
With the continuation of COVID-19, women-owned businesses have been disproportionately hit, and a quarter of these businesses have had to close. There are real challenges facing women business owners, and as communication leaders, it is our responsibility to advocate, build, strengthen, and serve our community, while supporting them through times of transformation.
At Communication Leadership Consulting, a majority of our clients have been womxn-led non-profits, womxn-owned small businesses, and womxn communication leaders. In fact, out of 82 clients, we’ve served only 13 non-profits or small businesses with men at the helm.
It is with this in mind that we ask you to learn about and support these womxn-owned businesses who make a difference to our economy, but are being inordinately affected by the systemic discrimination, health, and economic crisis in our midst.
Join us as we feature interviews with womxn business owners, non-profit directors, and communication leaders who are working to overcome these challenges every day.
Click here for more information about our services.
Click here to volunteer for Communication Leadership Consulting.
COVID-19 has changed life as we know it. As communication leaders, we play a critical role in helping our communities navigate this time — from staying connected, to communicating during crises, to serving those in need.
June 4 at 6:30 p.m.: The New Essential Employee, featuring Anita Ramasastry, Kevin Mihata, and Briana Randall.
Claudia is an expert at working with and leading diverse and distributed teams — skills that have become invaluable during the COVID-19 pandemic. Claudia will share strategies for making virtual teams successful, with a focus on leadership. She’ll discuss adapting leadership to a virtual space and anticipating and addressing the dynamics of virtual communication. She’ll also discuss managing collective stress among teams and effective ways to stay in touch.
I am working with a fantastic team of communicators at the University of Washington, COVID-19 Consultancy through the Communication Leadership Program. We are offering pro-bono communication consulting to nonprofits and small businesses in need. We are here to help you survive and thrive during this pandemic. Interested in finding out more? Sign up for our free half-hour consultation and let us help you during this critical time.
Fri, May 8, 2020
5:30 PM – 7:00 PM PDT
As our first speaker in the COVID-19 Communication Series, Melissa Schwartz will be discussing mindfulness and emotional well being during crisis. Melissa speaks with a raw expertise that allows her to illuminate strategies for mediating crises, especially during times of chaos.
Melissa Schwartz has more than two decades of strategic and crisis communications experience in government, the private sector, and nonprofit organizations. She has substantial expertise in media training, message development, and media relations. Melissa has been teaching communications for the past seven years, four of which have been in the Communication Leadership Masters program at UW where she teaches Crisis Communication, splitting her time between the two Washingtons.
Melissa has managed a number of high profile crises. Tapped by the Obama administration, Melissa managed communications for the federal agency responsible for the regulation and oversight of offshore drilling in U.S. federal waters following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. She has recently represented FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and served on the communications and media team supporting the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as part of the confirmation hearings for now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. She has published chapters in PR News Guidebooks focused on PR Measurement, Crisis Management, Media Training, and Corporate Social Responsibility.
For more upcoming events in this series - visit COVID-19 Consulting!
A third of the global population, approximately 2.6 billion people, are currently experiencing some kind of restrictions to their lives, their work, and their day to day existence. Many of us are sheltering in place with our devices. These screens keep us connected to our jobs, our schools, and our friends and family. It is likely we are spending more time in front of a screen than at any other point in our lives.
Why am I so exhausted?
Part of what most of us are experiencing now is that our homes have become our workplaces, and our screens are the only connection to people outside of our own household. Video services like zoom dominate our day - whether we are conferencing with clients, chatting with co-workers, having a happy hour with friends, or a netflix watch party with family.
The quality of our attention is different when we are online. Video chats require us to work harder to process non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, body language, and the tone and pitch of voices. We become hyper focused on the few available cues we can see, rather than the full range of body language available to us normally.
It is this dissonance, of being together in mind, but separate in body that causes us to feel conflicted. Our bodies long for that energetic exchange, that limbic resonance, that happens with real life interactions. The direct eye contact we normally have during a conversation that makes us feel heard and understood isn’t present. There isn’t a way to relax naturally into the conversation, and this creates conflicting feelings of connection and disconnection to the people we most want to see and hear.
We are also very aware of being watched. There is a performative pressure when you have a dozen heads staring back at you. One of those heads may very well be your own if you choose not to hide yourself on screen. We end up spending a lot of time looking at ourselves, how we appear, and how we are behaving. If you think you look awkward on camera, then you’ll be looking to confirm this bias as you watch yourself perform on screen. This social strain is nerve-wracking and can create unnecessary stress in an already fraught time. Introverts and extroverts alike can feel worn down by all of this high-intensity virtual connecting.
Silence on screen adds another challenge. In normal circumstances, silence is a natural rhythm in conversation. In a video call, it is difficult to tell if the silence is real, or if your internet is lagging or unstable. Silence can make people uncomfortable, and this can lead to anxiety about your technology, and that you aren’t as focused during meetings.
Video chatting doesn’t just drain our brain and our energy, it is also having a serious effect on our bodies. All day we are sitting in furniture that was not designed for long-term sitting. We get aching backs, headaches, and eye strain that can leave us feeling cranky and overwhelmed.
After work and family commitments we are also failing to plan essential downtime, which may be another factor in our tiredness. Some of us are over-performing at our jobs, and putting higher expectations on ourselves due to worries over the economy, furloughs and job losses.
So what do we do? How do we cope with this new reality?
If nothing else, let’s be grateful for this technology that allows us to connect and work. When else will we be able to wear our pajamas to important meetings, or lovingly cuddle our pets while listening to budget predictions from our colleagues? Remember that some of us are in this for the long haul, and it is important to find ways to incorporate this technology into the full spectrum of interpersonal experiences that our new lives include. Pace yourself, be gentle, and practice as much kindness as you can.
Images ©Susan MacLaren - Thanks to Pip for her emotive modeling.
As every small business owner knows, it is important to stay connected to your customers. With Covid-19, that has become a challenge, especially if you were not prepared for this sudden transition to social distancing.
As a small business consultant, I’ve been getting questions about what tools I suggest for easing into an online existence. I decided to put together a few free resources to get you over the technology hurdle of engaging with your clients, staying connected to your income, and most of all, keeping your sanity intact.
Free Meeting Scheduler
I cannot stress how valuable it is to have your clients set their own meeting times without having to interact with you directly. It is a huge time saver. It means less back and forth emails, and availability for more clients. It means setting up your schedule to include sanity breaks for lunch, walking your dog, or simply sitting and staring into space.
The easiest way to set up free online scheduling on your website is with Setmore. I like it because it integrates with all of the platforms I use the most: Facebook, Instagram, Slack, Google Calendar, Office 365, Weebly, and Square.
Setmore has a clean, easy design. It provides auto-notifications and reminders, which means I never miss a meeting. Clients and customers are able to reschedule if necessary, so they never miss a meeting. It also allows you to collect payments upfront, which can bring important revenue to your business.
If you use a Facebook Business Page as your website, you can use the free appointment scheduler they offer. Check here for the handy guide on getting it set up on your Facebook Business Page today.
For online meetings, it is important to use a service that won’t leave you frozen on the screen. Zoom is by far the best video conferencing service I’ve used. It’s free and unlimited for one on one meetings, or free for forty minutes with up to 100 participants.
Participants can choose to call in or use the video chat function instantly, or at a scheduled meetup time. It allows each participant to share their desktop, application, or screen. It also has a texting function if you need to mention things without interrupting the speaker.
Zoom also allows you to schedule a meeting directly from Google Calendar or Office 365. Once you sign up for Zoom, download the extension you need and you’ll be ready to face to face, or face to ear, right from your calendar.
Track Your Time
As a consultant, one of the easiest ways to lose revenue is by forgetting to pay attention to your time when talking with clients. Now that people are relegated to working from home, it’s helpful to have a consistent account of how you spend your workday; for yourself, for your clients, or for your boss.
A great free service for tracking time is Toggl. Toggl has a clean, easy to use interface that is multi-functional. You can set billable rates and track in real-time, manually, or with calendar integrations. You can start the timer on your phone while on a walk, and then turn it off on your desktop when you get home. Toggl allows you to create instant reports for your time - perfect for attaching to those client invoices or to make your boss happy.
In this time of global pandemic weirdness, it turns out technology may be a bit of a savior. Working remotely shouldn’t be a scary endeavor for you, for your business, or for your client base. These free services are just a few of the many available, but they are little life-lines for me, and for my mental health.
Creativity is at the very heart of science and art. It drives the passion that allows us to explore and express new findings, while satisfying our innermost curiosity. Science frames our world-view based on relevant facts and data, while art translates our lived experience into personal expression.
Today, we have a new climate reality. Scientists and policy makers struggle to gain support over meaningful environmental action on climate change. More than ever we need the rational, practical knowledge of science to help us understand the urgency of our situation. We also have a real need to explore this unfamiliar emotional terrain, to engage on an aesthetic level, and to create action through strong feelings of connection.
Art can help people conceive of a different existence. Artists can make the invisible visible, and the unimaginable real. Art has always been a powerful cultural symbol for making sense of our world and how we feel about it.
The Pacific Northwest is no stranger to climate change. While the effects are not as readily seen, it is clear that climatic shifts are beginning to alter our region with less snowpack, warmer days, flooding, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and record-breaking wildfires.
Using the framework of science, art, and climate change in the Pacific Northwest, I will explore the history of environmental art, and the artists and art organizations working on these issues today.
Questions I am interested in exploring are: How has art shaped and influenced the climate discussion in our region? Are artists and art organizations affecting perceptions of climate change in our community? What sort of reactions have they seen from the public? What plans do these artists and organizations have for future engagement around the topic? How are they dealing with the emotional repercussions of climate change? How can artists and art organizations help create action and policy change in our region?
Using research, current news, past and upcoming exhibits, and interviews with artists and art institutions, I will create a profile of contemporary art and climate change in our region. As part of my research I will collect relevant images, exhibit announcements, and portraits of the artists. My end goal will be to design and create a physical book in which to share with the artists and organizations I have profiled, and anyone else who may be interested in the topic.
The relevance of art in science communication cannot be overlooked. Over the last decade, climate communication research has raised awareness of the critical role of framing in influencing how people respond to information, and the way reasoning occurs. By overstating the scientific and economic framing of climate change, we have missed the mark on understanding the deeper importance of tapping into emotions, values, and social and cultural identities.
Art can bridge this gap by creating a broad narrative, a tactile or visceral experience, and raw emotional engagement to current and future realities of a world enmeshed in climate crisis. Let’s hope it isn’t too late.
Have you ever arrived at the airport to realize you forgot to dig the confirmation number out of your email? Perhaps once at your destination you realized you weren’t prepared for snow? Travel can bring many headaches - being unprepared shouldn’t be one of them.
Sightsee is an idea for a mobile app that would pull travel confirmations directly from your email account and store that information for easy access while traveling. It would provide maps, reservation information, local transportation options, up-to-date weather for your location, keep your travel documents safe and handy, and suggest events at your destination. While Sightsee isn't real, the process helped me think through the design problem and begin to build a useful solution for users.
Have a conversation
Since this was my first attempt at creating an app, I wanted to talk to people about their travel experiences. I chose five candidates ranging in age from 34 to 75. All of them travel often, use apps or websites to book travel, and are comfortable using the internet.
I asked a range of questions to prompt responses about the last trip they booked, which apps they used, what they enjoyed about the experience, and what could be improved. I also asked specific questions related to my idea in order to gauge what level of interest they had in using a travel app.
I learned that most everyone had a preferred booking app, and while they search around for price, they always book on the same app. They do so because it’s easy, the interface works well, and they know what to expect. All of those interviewed were interested in an app that provided maps, weather, and showed them local events they might not find otherwise.
Map out user details
Initially, I thought I'd create a booking app that accounted for budget, user favorites, and catered specifically to art and music lovers. This is how I mapped the user journey. Visualizing the pain points and outcomes helped show me where opportunities exist to improve the overall experience, particularly during the vacation.
Consider the competition
Now that I had a clearer understanding of my user needs, it was time to see what my competition was offering. Analyzing competitors allowed me to see what was working on their platforms, any design elements worth noting, the overall navigational flow, and the organization of information on each page. It’s helpful to look at apps and websites that directly relate to what you are thinking of designing, as well as those that are only functionally similar.
Navigate the experience
With a head full of design ideas, I began to consider how a user would navigate through the experience I wanted to create. At this point I’m still working on the idea of a travel booking app, yet I’m already beginning to see the issues. I also know that my users like the apps they use for booking travel, and this is giving me pause.
Regardless, the task flow provided a simple way to present the core navigation for the app, and to see how those actions would be interconnected. It’s a great way to work out the kinks, and to think about what I needed to include. I found that it helped to make a list of the steps on paper prior to mapping out the flowchart digitally.
Paper and pencil
Once I had the basic navigation in mind, I started to explore ideas for the design. It’s important to go a little bit crazy during the sketching phase and push yourself to look at what you are designing, what the iterations might be, and what the useful points of each look like. Sketching on paper is a great way to do this. It’s quick, it’s simple, and you don’t have to be great at drawing to hash out lots of ideas.
Making it digital
Using feedback from colleagues on my sketches, I began to narrow in on the actual design. I used Sketch to build basic wireframes. I found it productive to lay out multiple ideas and problem solve specific issues that came up in the feedback I’d received. I'm also aware that I haven't solved my user problem here, and I start to take a hard look at how to make that happen.
To work through the navigation, I found it helpful to create a site map. I wrote out each step on paper first, which helped me see what was missing, where my users might get stuck, and how to organize the connections. I begin to focus my design on creating a mobile application that organizes your booking confirmations and travel details in one place, rather than on creating a booking app.
Click through testing
Once I had the site map, it was easy to create the navigation for the prototype. Moving my designs to Invision, I was able to build a shareable and clickable version for participants to use during testing. Using a high-def design with color and content meant that I could illicit more specific feedback from my participants.
To test the functionality of the app, I had my users perform tasks:
Each participant quickly navigated to the information requested using multiple paths. The participants had a positive response to the design, maps, and layout of the information on each page. They appreciated that addresses, websites, and phone numbers were located on more than one page so that they did not have to click around.
Things worth considering in future iterations are:
What I learned
Don't be afraid of big change. Keeping your users in mind throughout the design process is extremely important. Initially, I wanted to build a better booking app. What I realized is that I wasn't meeting the needs of the people I had interviewed. Luckily, in reconsidering my user experiences, taking a closer look at the pain points and opportunities, and thinking through competitor apps, I found a more elegant solution to the problem.
A client once told me I was a terrible writer. In fact, he had hired me to write for him, and I’d been doing so successfully for three years. Yet, his focus was on a specific instance of writing he disagreed with rather than on the big picture of my overall performance. His feedback became a blanket statement about my worth, rather than an instructive critique on a piece that clearly didn’t resonate.
In HBR’s article “The Feedback Fallacy,” Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall discuss how unreliable humans are at rating others. We are fallible, full of preconceived notions, experiences that color biases, and, to top it off, each of us has a different definition of what “good” is.
Don’t Make it Personal
While the relationship with my client ended shortly after this abrupt critique, I reflected on what happened. The personal nature of the statement didn’t reflect what I believed were the values of the business I represented. This is a common trap with feedback. Often, feedback is delivered with bias from personal preference of the giver, rather than with consideration for the goals of the organization.
Be strategic about developing goals, and take the emotion out of the feedback. Focus instead on what works, and figure out a collaborative way to cultivate that strength moving forward.
Use Your Words
Criticism is uncomfortable, even in the best of times. Hearing I was a terrible writer caused me to shut down, silencing any rebuttal or conversation around how I could improve. Not only that, but I had a bruised ego and a lack of direction.
Instead, had the client communicated clearly and concisely about what I had written, and asked me to be more conscious of x, y, and z, the interaction would have ended differently. By linking feedback to a tangible outcome, I would have had relevant information to serve the needs of my client more effectively. He, too, would have seen reward by investing in my skills and the continued improvement of his business.
Timing is Everything
When to deliver feedback is as important as the content. In my scenario, the client decided to let me know how he felt about my work in front of another colleague, rather than in his office. It was clear my client hadn’t prepared in advance for this moment, and his off-the-cuff remark effectively ended our working relationship.
Sharing is Caring
Delivering feedback is a struggle for the best of us. Rather than giving information to help empower performance, leaders are often guilty of demotivating people with basic reprimands or critiques on single-episode events.
Feedback should be an ongoing tool to provide insight into how a person’s habits and behaviors can improve to make them more successful. Creating feedback requires careful thought and insightful instruction to be truly useful. Be clear, direct, and deliver it with empathy. When you get feedback right, it shows you care.
Musings on business, womanhood, consulting, and things I find interesting.