I despise reading from a device.

I have an iPad loaded with about 20 books but I can’t remember the last time I attempted to plunge into a story from the hard, cold device. Occasionally, I’ll read a book on my iPhone while in-flight—only out of necessity as my tangible and ‘real’ book was regrettably left behind at home. If I do succumb to reading on the small, awkward-to-cozy-up-to screen, it’s usually a book that I’ve already read multiple times (I can’t imagine investing in a new story from the impersonal, miniature display!)

When I communicate my dislike to tech admirers I hear a logical defense in support for e-reading in return: you can carry multiple books at once! You can lighten your load! You can easily step away from the story to graze Facebook and Twitter and respond to email! But to those I say, don’t be silly! A book deserves your full, unadorned attention. It’s emotional, not logical.

And most importantly…real books just smell better.

Yes, I’m among a handful of customers who still visits bookstores. I’ll take a heaping lungful (or two…or three) of a book’s crisp insides before purchasing it—the ultimate test of its contents to ensure its full appeal. I’m easily captivated by the fragrant glue of the binding, the hushed scuff of turning a slender page, the yellowing of a decades old used book and the taut white pages of a days new book, and feeling the full weight of its rich contents in your hands.

So while I’ll continue to be (somewhat) tech savvy in many aspects of my life, reading will not be one of them. You’ll find me carefully grazing the aisles of bookstores—small and large, local and national, new and used—or with my nose in a full spread of ink-adorned pages. 

AuthorHanah Holpe

On February 2nd, Bloomberg News reported that Radio Shack was preparing to close its doors through a bankruptcy deal to turn about half of its 4000 stores into Sprint Corp. locations and close up the rest.

According to Bloomberg, it’s been a while since the 94-year-old chain has seen sunny days. Its share peaked 15 years ago; it lost $936 million since the 4th quarter of 2011 (the last time it was in the black), and lost about 90 percent of its value over the past year. But while its dark days have darkened in recent years, it’s actually been a slow demise that’s happened over the course of decades. Or as Bloomberg Business calls it, a “slow-motion collapse.”

Why? They’ve spent years reacting to the market instead of protecting their brand.

The initial brand was simple, authentic and successful: appeal to hobbyists who needed one small piece of equipment every week and keep each store small and staffed with tech gurus who knew electronics. It was a candy store for tinkerers and builders.

But instead of tapping into its core identity to evolve over time, RadioShack committed the worst of brand crimes: completely abandon their brand soul in favor of potentially quick market gains. Once iconic for hobbyists and tech nerds, the initially strong brand foundation has been deserted time and time again to instead, follow the ever-changing and dynamic landscape.

This is evident in 5 brand mistakes they’ve committed (and we can all learn from):

1.   Developing a new product that doesn’t tie to your reason for being: In 1977, RadioShack began to manufacture and sell the TRS-80—one of the first personal computers sold to the masses. It was a big, popular hit. But over time, RadioShack realized they couldn’t keep up the dual business strategy (sell computers to the general market AND still sell to the tinkerers looking to build their own devices), losing their identity—and their money—for the first time.

2.   Expanding the business beyond what the brand stands for: In 1999, RadioShack opened its own big-box stores that were essentially everything anti-RadioShack—vast spaces, large screen TVs, home appliances—going against everything they stood for. It’s no surprise that it ultimately became unprofitable.

3.   Selling a product that drastically changes your core brand experience: Looking for the next anchor product post-PCs, they decided to focus on cell phones (which, is really just another version of the PC fiasco). Eventually, stores evolved into cell phone retailers staffed by aggressive salespeople with little knowledge or time to help the DIYers that were used to the helpful, lovably nerdy electronic gurus that RadioShack was initially known for.

4.   Changing your brand and business direction without training your people: In 2013, they finally realized it was time to try to get back to their core brand and target, coming up with multiple strategies to reclaim the ‘makers’ market. New, smart partnerships and a ‘Do It Together’ Campaign seemed like a smart move. But no one in the company was trained on it. Thus, the smart brand plan turned into another brand flop.

5.   Not learning from your mistakes: Today’s new marriage between Sprint and RadioShack could be a good opportunity to reduce costs and risk while still allowing them to ‘live on’. But it’s still tied to phones and it’s still a Band-Aid fix to a larger brand-positioning problem. They will need to rediscover the soul of their brand and develop a sustainable brand strategy that will last the ever-changing times.


In short, RadioShack has spent so much time looking out and not enough time looking in. The result? Spending 20 years trying on a number of identities – creating a foggy and wavering brand now perceived to be stuck in the 80s and left with little options for moving forward.

In the last several years, tinkering and “nerdism” has actually become cool again. It’s possible that if RadioShack invests in putting their heads down to look inward and develop a solid brand plan, they could recapture the specialty and small shop expert position they once had. It will be a difficult road, however, as customers have already been trained to look elsewhere for their tinkering needs.

Let this be a lesson to us all. Give room to grow and evolve your brand but keep true and authentic to your core brand identity.  Don’t abandon what you stand for!

AuthorHanah Holpe

Many of us have had that moment: that oh-no-I-don’t-remember-what-I’m-doing-here moment on a stage when all you can think about are the mass of expectant eyeballs waiting in anticipation for what words of wisdom may come out of your mouth. You were prepared! You practiced! And yet, nothing happens. You’re frozen. And the crowd of now seemingly mocking eyes sear harder into your quickly failing confidence.

It’s happened to the best of us. And sadly, it happened to Michael Bay a couple weeks ago while on stage for one of the most watched live and recorded moments in the technology industry and beyond – Samsung’s opening presentation at CES.  Bay fumbled his script and within the first 30 seconds of the presentation had to walk off stage, unable to recapture his talk and his confidence.

Watching this painfully awkward video, I can’t help but empathize for him and think about the many others I’ve seen in similar situations whether it’s for big crowds, intimate gatherings or even a simple one-to-few pitch. It may not always be in such big, dramatic fashion (or on such a public platform) but presentation fiascos happen. A lot. And they happen to even the most brilliant and seemingly prepared.

Watching the recent Golden Globe Awards, I noticed that the number of award-winning actors and actresses who delivered a good acceptance speech were few (if any). Granted, I’ve never felt the adrenaline and wonder of winning such an award, having to speak to an audience comprised, most likely, of a mix of feelings like resentment, boredom, and elation. But even the scripted presenters fell short for me.  You had a script! And time to prepare! And you’re an actor!  Yet, from the dozens that took the stage, I can’t remember one of them.

I attribute a professor I had in grad school, Peter Coughter, for giving me the tools, practice, tips & techniques that have helped make me a better presenter. Coughter taught us many things about presenting but most importantly, he worked to take away what holds back many people from delivering a good presentation, and much less, delivering one at all: fear. Coughter always taught us that to combat fear you have to rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse but not memorize. Rehearsing (I mean really rehearsing, not just privately reading over what you’re going to say) helps you own that content, confidently.

Continuing on January’s typical month-of-lists, here is my list of 5 good presenters I think we can all learn from and the ‘Takeaway’ that I’ve gleaned from each.         

1.    TAKEAWAY:  Be passionate about what you’re presenting.      
There are many things that made Steve Jobs a good presenter. But the key was that he genuinely loved the products he was presenting. He believed what he was presenting was ‘breakthrough’, ‘like magic’, and ‘gorgeous’. And thus, we do too. So, it’s no surprise that he’s on this list but we can’t deny that his soft-spoken, simple style on stage, donning signature black turtleneck and jeans, mesmerized audiences. 

2.     TAKEAWAY:  Focus on one big idea.
Tasked to deliver a speech, many people feel the need to divulge as much information as possible in the hopes it will make them appear smarter and more knowledgeable. The most compelling presentations focus on one core idea and hammer that idea home. Susan Cain gave a powerful TED talk (home of many great presentations) on the Power of Introverts. One big idea. Powerful message. 

3.     TAKEAWAY: Tell personal and visual stories.
Scott Harrison, CEO of Charity: Water, is a compelling speaker who proves that the most powerful presentations pull at our heartstrings, not our logic (although a bit of his powerful supporting facts go a long way). Focus on images and simple graphics, NOT bullets, to support your story rather than letting slides or animations present for you.

4.     TAKEAWAY:  Persuade rather than sell or teach.
I don’t think I’m alone when I say that an obvious sales pitch immediately turns me off.  And when it gets too preachy, I feel like I’m back in school. Think of your presentation as a persuasion of why the audience should fall in love with your point.  Katherine Wintsch, Founder and CEO of The Mom Complex, pulls the audience in with a well-written story that resonated with everyone in the audience at a TEDx RVA event.

5.     TAKEAWAY:  The content has to be compelling but please, keep it simple. 
Sugatra Mitra delivered a compelling talk on the future of education by building a School in the Cloud. As a researcher, he had the potential of being too technical or too descriptive, but Mitra inspires the audience with simple stories and examples. Like Mitra, keep it simple and follow the Rule of 3, serving up your content in digestible, snackable and memorable points in trios. 

AuthorHanah Holpe