Connecting the dots between customers, colleagues and community 
Varga & Associates, Inc. Newsletter
Mari Pat's Communication Missive Volume 9
Spring Issue
March 2011
MP new head shotDear Clients, Colleagues and Community,

Spring has sprung and with it brings new possibilities for growth and renewal. I love the way Charles Dickens describes this time of the year:  "It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold:  when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade."  That certainly fits here in Chicago where I call home.

I share my newsletter this month with the intention to inspire new ideas and actions or to re-enforce what is working well for you.  Thank you for taking a few minutes to share this moment in time.  I look forward to staying in touch.

Mari Pat Varga


Inspirational Stories Communicate! 

Practice with the Daytona 500 Surprise Winn



As a speech coach, I talk to my clients about the value of illustrating points they are trying to make by incorporating stories and real life examples into their presentations.  I encourage them to use the 3N method for collecting those stories:   




NOTICE - Keep your eyes and ears open  

for stories and everyday experiences that  

spark your interest and teach you  


NOTE - write them down in a journal  -  

capture them somewhere so that you can develop and fine-tune them.  Look for  

how the story might be applied to the  

world of work.  Is there a business lesson imbedded in the story.  Can it help you  

illustrate a point you are trying to make?

NARRATE - Tell the stories, practice  

delivering them out loud and see how  

you can continue to hone.


Here is a practice opportunity:  

On Saturday, February 19, 2011 NASCAR newcomer Trevor Bayne won the 53rd Daytona 500 in double overtime.  I do not follow racing but when I heard this story I wanted to know more.  Here are some self-selected highlights:

  • Trevor just turned 20
  • Trevor has only been able to drive legally for 4 years
  • Trevor became the race's youngest winner
  • This was only Trevor's second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race
  • The race experienced a 14 car crash (that included the race's most experienced drivers) and a record number of lead changes and caution periods
  • Team Owner - Wood Brother's first win since 1979
  • Preparing for the race he asked himself, "What do I need to do to not let the mountains get too high, and just stay focused?"
  • Trevor donated part of of his winnings to an orphanage in Mexico.
  • On this race day NASCAR marked the 10th anniversary of the death of its fallen hero, Dale Earnhardt, and it appears that a totally unexpected new hero emerged.
  • Bayne has exhibited great humility and gratitude and has conducted himself in a down-to-earth manner.
  • Bayne said. "One thing I haven't really talked about is keeping our expectations realistic here.We won this race and that sets the bar high, but if we would have finished 15th we would have been happy."

These are a few elements I jotted down after googling Bayne and the race story.  The next step in the process is to begin pondering what the real-world lessons might be unearthed through this story. 

To discover them, consider asking questions like:

  1. Was inexperience an asset?
  2. How can experience get in the way of success?
  3. What discoveries where made by the drivers - were there lessons learned?
  4. What can be learned from the way this unexpected hero conducted himself before and after the win?
  5. Despite a lack of wins, what does this story say about the tenacity of the team owners who pursued yet another opportunity to race with a beginner?

There are likely many elements of the story that can be mined and more points that can be made.   


Practice incorporating story into your business presentation with this news story - see what you can develop.  Create an opportunity in the next 48 hours to use it.


NOTICE, NOTE and NARRATE - This process will help make your presentations memorable.


Communicate for Engagement
Ideas for superior communication that keep team's engaged.

Whether you are a CEO, Business President, or team leader you know how important great communication is to your team's success and engagement. Even though they face extraordinary time challenges, the following eight practices can be readily implemented and can help them generate consistent results with their team.  Your guidance throughout is essential.



  1. Create a War Room. Designate a space specifically for your  team.  Line it with white boards and post key strategy timelines on the walls.  Your leaders are the only ones who have access to this room. Its purpose is for strategic huddles, time sensitive planning sessions, or crisis communications.  The benefits of a war room are to:
    1. Create a safe place to communicate
    2. Elevate key issues
    3. Surface priorities
    4. Track strategy and goals
    5. Get leaders on the same page executing the same battle plan


  1. Schedule Monday Morning Huddles and/or Friday Wrap-Ups. Gather your team on Monday mornings to share key focus areas for the week.  Create this opportunity for your team to report on their progress against goals and ask for help.  It gives you a chance to continually review what they see as priorities and offer needed course corrections.  It is also an efficient platform for you to share your immediate goals, offer additional guidance and direction and a bit of motivation.  Bringing the team together at the end of the week, whether in person or during a 30-minute teleconference, allows for progress reviews and aligning plans for the following week. Both can be helpful to keep the team focused and engaged.


  1. Surprise them with Impromptu Check-Ins. Nothing matters more to your leaders than one-on-one time with you.  When you find yourself with an open pocket of time, reach out to one of your key leaders with a quick phone check in, a meaningful e-mail or to grab a cup of coffee.  Get to know them on both a personal and professional basis.  Such relationship building goes a long way to cementing their loyalty.


  1. Develop Signature Questions. What do you really want to know from your team of leaders?  What would give you the best insights into how they are doing?  Get your team used to core questions that you always want them to be prepared to answer.
    1. What is keeping you up at night?
    2. What has you fired-up and inspired at the moment?
    3. What opportunity are you most excited about?
    4. What do you see as your biggest threat to accomplishing your goals?
    5. What do you need from me?


  1. Provide Challenging Assignments. One of the greatest compliments you can offer is to appoint one of your leaders to a new and different assignment within your organization.  This display of trust will help you achieve the organization's goals, develop a stronger bench, and increase your leaders' versatility and confidence.   The challenging assignment might be to shift your CFO to head Operations. Or turn over to your top revenue producer the responsibility for developing a customer experience initiative. Or move your head of Marketing to lead Human Resources.  Such moves have to make sense. You need to see not only the business need for the change but the innate capability in your leader to transform the role.  A former colleague of mine was called "the best utility player in the business" by his CEO.  This was a supreme compliment as this individual could be tapped for numerous roles because he had played them all. Having fresh eyes in a new role can produce great results.


  1. Prepare Your Message. Nothing trumps the value of you communicating to your leaders clearly and consistently.  Prepare for every meeting the old-fashioned way with an outline that ensures clarity.  Your team will have the benefit of seeing you model great communication practices that save time and get results.  In addition, the clearer you are, the easier it will be for your team to cascade your direction throughout the organization.


  1. Assign an Article. Busy professionals don't often take time to read the most current thinking on mission-critical topics.  Prior to a Monday morning huddle, provide your team with an article to read. Ask them to bring to the meeting their one best idea gleaned from it.  You'll broaden their perspectives and stimulate healthy dialogue.


  1. Shine a Light on Accomplishments. When you see one of your leaders executing with excellence, shine a light on that achievement.  Your leaders know that those public compliments are hard won, and they count.  They also create another teaching moment as they highlight the kind of performance and effort that matters to you.
Communicate for engagement.  Good Luck!


Questions that get customers and candidates talking

Finding out the what makes our customers and job candidates tick often comes down to our ability to ask the right question.  A good question can help you gain great insights into  those who you want to influence.

Here are few of my recent favorites:

To Customers:
  1. What is the one thing we do that keeps you coming back?
  2. What is our best kept secret?
  3. If you were in charge of helping us create a superior customer service, what would you do first?
To Candidates:
  1. Why did you choose us?
  2. What is our competitors' biggest advantage over us?
  3. What is working for you right now?  What are you doing that is helping you reach your goals?
Keep a catalogue of great questions that you can pull from when the time is right.



Yes, we have no tomatoes...
A customer communication ripe with opportunity

Recently, I visited one of my favorite sandwich shops in Chicago - I always get the same thing - turkey, toasted, with tomatoes and lettuce and pickles along with a bit of mustard.  On this day, I was told by one of the staff, that they had no tomatoes (apparently this chain's supplier was distributing very bad tomatoes and they did not want to subject their customers to the inferior tomatoes).

Even though I was not asked for my advice, I couldn't help but volunteer it.  I said I understood the issue - and thanked them for not serving me bad tomatoes.  I did then go on to suggest that there was a large grocery store right next door and they had beautiful tomatoes - why not surprise your customers AND impress your managers by showing some ingenuity and go buy your own tomatoes?  The response was, "We aren't empowered to do that and besides, all our stores are without would be weird if we were the only one to have tomatoes today."  Interesting perspective.

I then went on to suggest, that if because of circumstances you are not able to provide your customers with the product they have come to expect - make them feel better about getting with less by giving them something more.  A complimentary drink or chips?  The response was "We aren't allowed to do that, sorry."

Why do businesses leave such an incredible opportunity on the table?  Why not take a disadvantage (no tomatoes) and turn it into a memorable interaction with a customer?

I can live without tomatoes but I will tell you that the lack of willingness to make the customer feel special by turning around a negative situation leaves an impression.  I have told this story to quite a few people.

Even if you cannot empower your staff to "go buy tomatoes" or if you are not able to give customers a freebie, at the very least, arm your staff members with language that explains the situation in a positive way:  "Gosh, I know our customers love our tomatoes and we believe in the freshest of ingredients - and today, we did not feel our supplier's tomatoes were good enough for our customers.  We apologize for this inconvenience and know that the next time you visit us, the tomatoes will be back!"

In the absence of ingenuity, a complimentary item or a positively stated explanation - customers are just left thinking about rotten tomatoes.


Remembering Michael
His pictures were worth a thousand words

Renowned photographer and good friend, Michael L. Abramson, passed away on March 21, 2011, after a battle with cancer.

Through his photography he taught me how an image can capture the imagination and tell a memorable story.  Through the way he lived his life he showed me how every day presented new opportunities for adventure.

He was a truly unique individual who communicated so many people stories in a magical way through his photographs.  He will be missed and he is loved.

To view Michael's work, visit:


Thank you for your time.  Happy Spring!  Stay in touch...I will too.




Mari Pat Varga
Varga & Associates, Inc.