Karen Laos, Communication Expert and Confidence Cultivator, leverages 25 years in the boardroom and speaking on the world’s most coveted stages such as Google and NASA to transform missed opportunities into wins.
She guides corporations and individuals with her tested communication model to generate consistent results for women leaders through her Leadership Presence Keynote: How to Be an Influential Communicator.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Karen Laos: When I was six years old, my dad handed me a few dollars at a flea market and said to go have fun but never pay full price. That’s when my love for the deal was born. Dad always taught me to ask for what you want. He was relentless, determined, and persistent! I learned the power of confident communication and negotiation at an early age.
Fast forward to 2020, I left my corporate career in training and development speaking on global stages for coveted brands like Google, Netflix, UnitedHealthcare, and Starbucks for nearly 20 years. My expertise is in communication: leadership presence and messaging that sticks.
I left corporate to focus on my dream of speaking professionally and my mission to equip 10 million women with the tools to overcome self-doubt and speak up with confidence in the boardroom and beyond.
I teach women practical strategies so they stop missing opportunities and take their seat at the table. As a fun fact: for the entire month of my 50th birthday, I followed another dream—I rented an apartment in Manhattan, and lived like a local.
2020 and 2021 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2022? What lessons have you learned?
Karen Laos: Adaptability and compassion are key. First, adaptability. We have to be ready for anything. I had the biggest speaking engagement of my life as a solopreneur in February of 2020 and I had another one lined up for March. I was living my dream and things were happening quickly. Once Covid struck, I had to immediately figure out what to do and that’s when I learned that people have been building businesses online for years; it just hadn’t occurred to me as an option. I plunged into webinars, books and any articles I could get my hands on to learn how to do it. I learned that you have to build an email list to get a following if you want to grow a business online.
How do you do that? You host an online summit. I set a goal to interview 21 influential women and started calling everyone I know. I hired a summit manager, ran Facebook ads, and focused my efforts on reaching as many women as possible to ignite their confidence. It worked! I managed to get 1300 women in attendance and it grew my email list to over 1000. I also launched an online course. Things I never expected to be doing, let alone a few short months into the Pandemic!
I learned that I’m resilient as heck and creative. Covid has actually been the best thing that’s ever happened to me. When I left my corporate job in July of 2020, I never expected my life to go the way it did, but I couldn’t be happier. It forced me to step out and do things I hadn’t thought of before. As business owners, we have to be ready to flex and do what’s necessary to move our businesses forward. An openness and willingness to shift is critical. If not, we may be left in the dust.
Secondly, compassion plays a vital role in the future of business. We have to be attuned to others and give grace. I want to believe that everyone is doing their best. We have to recognize that people need compassion now more than ever. We are stressed, burnt out, and depleted. Those businesses that put people first and treat them with kindness are the ones who are going to thrive.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2022? What advice would you share?
Karen Laos: My biggest advice is to show that you care. Focus on service and remember that behind every company is a group of people—individuals who need to feel seen and heard. Treat every one of your employees and your customers with care. More than anything, we are looking for someone who acknowledges us and that’s why empathy is critical.
People need to know that we are for them. We need to take that extra step and ask how our teams are doing. Communication is also super important and informing people what’s going on vs. keeping people in the dark. I see so many companies whose people don’t know what the main objectives for the company are and how their roles connect to that.
We have to be aligned with goals and ensure that every person on our teams know where we’re headed. Otherwise, you have people taking action but it’s not necessarily focused on the right things.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Karen Laos: The biggest change has been doing trainings and speaking engagements online. It’s actually been a great challenge to see how to keep people engaged while virtual. I get lots of compliments for keeping people interested and interacting.
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2022?
Karen Laos: Start offering classes on how to use Zoom and run virtual meetings. If I had known that then, it would’ve catapulted my business. I’m so happy about how things turned out, but if I had been able to use my expertise and serve in that way, not only would I have been able to help a lot of people, but I would’ve felt a great reward and made a lot more money.
I had been teaching how to run virtual meetings for years already, but I was so focused on how to run an online business related to my dream of reaching 10 million women to overcome self-doubt, I wasn’t thinking about another vertical that could’ve helped elevate me financially,
In 2022, I’ve already improved by hiring a chief of staff who focuses on optimal growth and strategy. I made a lot of mistakes in 2020-2021, such as hiring the wrong people for me, but it all came with a ton of learnings that built my character and helped me sharpen my business model. It was all for a purpose, and that makes me feel good. Mistakes are just an opportunity to learn and do better next time.
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2022?
Karen Laos: I expect that we’re going to have more of that. What I loved about the pandemic is that it forced all of us to be creative and do things differently. I anticipate more people working from home and more hybrid normalization.
I remember how hard it was before Covid to convince my employer that I was more productive at home. Now, it’s so normal that most people don’t think much about it anymore. It’s not a dilemma like it was for some companies before. Employers must be flexible if they want to get the best people for the job, as people now expect a lot more flexibility.
I see shopping malls becoming almost extinct and everything (like restaurants and shops) closing down earlier. I recall visiting a friend in Brooklyn, NY recently and noticing how unusually quiet it was around 9-10pm at night. In the past, people were out walking well past that hour. Now it feels like a ghost town; even after the pandemic.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Karen Laos: At least six!
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Karen Laos: Oh, yes! Examples are the best. One of my favorite stories to tell is what not to do. In my experience of training new people, everyone wants to learn from the mistakes of others so they don’t make them themselves! I also love to share case studies. Sharing here’s what we did and here’s what worked (and what didn’t!) helps us continue learning and upleveling.
One of the things I love to do is celebrate wins, and we as a society don’t do enough of it, especially in the business world. Therefore, I’m intentional about having my team share their own examples and stories of their wins. It makes for a wonderful best practice that works! Everyone feels good, and it’s fun to share in others’ wins, too. We cheer each other on and support one another.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Karen Laos: Burnout! People are exhausted, and it’s hard to imagine a way out. This is why those businesses that focus on treating their people well will be the ones that thrive. We have to recognize that people are maxed out from burning the candle at both ends.
In 2022, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Karen Laos: Mental health. I’m eager to see how companies rise to the need, as we prioritize this more and more. I’m also a big fan of audio apps like LinkedIn audio, TwitterSpaces, and my favorite obsession in 2020: Clubhouse.
I’m watching closely as these platforms evolve. It’s fun to see how this new technology is meeting the need for connection. Of course, Clubhouse was huge during the pandemic and now it’s less so, but the other audio apps still fascinate me.
Audio-only has definitely highlighted how quickly people decide if they want to keep listening or not once someone opens their mouth to speak. You can quickly tell if you trust them and think that they’re credible. Learning and noticing how you sound through your voice is an excellent way to build self-awareness, so you can do something about it.
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Karen Laos: I think business leaders are aware of it, but not everyone is willing to take a good, hard look at themselves. It takes a lot of courage and effort to ask for feedback and find out what you could do better. It’s an absolute necessity now if you want to have a company culture that thrives, along with meeting your financial goals.
What needs to happen is more leaders asking the hard questions and soliciting feedback from their employees and their clients. Think about Kodak, Blockbuster, and other companies that were unwilling to make the changes necessary to evolve. We must progress with the times including regular, open communication. People need to know what to expect.
One of the biggest problems in business is unclear or unmet expectations that then lead to assumptions. The more intentional you can be about communicating (even when you don’t know the answer), the more successful your organization.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Karen Laos: Ooooh! Fun. I would love to be able to save people from worrying. It’s such an unfortunate waste of time, energy, and resources. I would carry around a worry box with me and invite people to give them up if they wanted to, but it always has to be a choice. Freedom is a high value for me.
What does “success” in 2022 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Karen Laos: Wow, that’s a big question! Success to me means I’m a few million closer to my mission of reaching 10 million women to overcome self-doubt and speak up with confidence in the boardroom and beyond.
On a personal note, my vision is for my husband, Chris, to get a kidney. He started dialysis in 2020 and is currently on the transplant list so my vision is to see him thriving and us on an all-inclusive vacation at a beach somewhere!
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Karen Laos for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Karen Laos or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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