Speaking Out and Looking Good
Little did Cara Silletto know that singing Motown songs in her family band at age 7 would help prepare her for a career as a professional speaker on workforce solutions, especially employee retention.
“For me the professional speaker world is the perfect blend of performance and business,” says Cara, president and chief retention officer for her workforce development firm, Crescendo Strategies. “As a little girl, I had a very big voice. I would sing I Will Survive, Respect, and Chain of Fools — songs way bigger than I was. So, I was able to use my performance background and my MBA in a blended way to help businesses see the workforce differently.”
Cara started her career as an event planner, managing conferences and trade shows. “The seed was planted in my early 20s that professional speaking was a profession,” Cara says. “At the time I had no message or credibility. But I thought it was something I’d like to do down the road.”
After earning her MBA from the University of Louisville Entrepreneur Program in 2012, she started Crescendo Strategies. “I had all the tools to go out on my own,” she says. “It took me a year to figure out what type of profession I wanted.”
Cara, 38, does about 40 speaking engagements a year around the country. She has a staff of six employees, and is looking to hire two more. They all work out of their homes in various states, including Montana, Georgia, Kentucky, Texas, South Carolina, and Indiana, she says. Her company handles up to 100 engagements a year, providing keynote speakers and hands-on training workshops for corporations and associations such as UPS, Humana, Vistage, Cintas, Berkshire Hathaway, the American Health Care Association, and the National Precast Concrete Association.
After she got started, Cara says, “Everyone was asking me about millennials,” ” a generation that tends to change jobs often.
“In 2015, we expanded our brand and programming to include reducing unnecessary turnover,” she says. “We saw that coming out of the recession, businesses were finding it harder and harder to keep talent. The generational differences in the workforce were a piece of that puzzle.
“The employer and employee relationship has changed in the last 20 years,” Cara says. “With technology, mass layoffs, credit cards, drive-thrus. All of these new conveniences and access to information and opportunities have created a new employer and employee relationship. Millennials have no connection to pensions. The previous generations were offered a pension relationship by their employers: ‘Work for me for life and the company will take care of you for life.’ Millennials weren’t given that opportunity. We must look out for ourselves. Companies look out for themselves and their bottom line, so employees have to look out for themselves and their bottom lines. The relationship has to be mutually beneficial.
“Over the last five years, we have focused on reducing employee turnover,” says Cara, who has written the book, Staying Power: Why Your Employees Leave and How to Keep them Longer. “The silver bullet for retaining staff is better management. Making managers more effective in their roles will keep the staff longer.
“We tell companies all the time, you will get the most bang for your buck when you spend your money on leadership development. Ineffective managers and supervisors are the number one reason people quit. It’s not about pay. Workers will say they are leaving for a 50-cent-an-hour increase in salary. But the real reason they are leaving is they don’t like their team or their boss. Every workforce study proves that.
“My mom got laid off three times when I was a kid,” she says. “That changes your perspective on company loyalty. Our society has changed. There’s no one to blame. Organizations and leaders need to evolve with the workforce.”
For Cara, who is married and has a 5-year-old son, work-life balance is all about “money, time, and fun. I have friends who are making more money, but I get to spend time with my son. I’m home nights and weekends.”
Cara describes her work wardrobe style as: “Low maintenance professional.” Here is a look in her closet:
Brand. My company brand color is purple, so a ton of my wardrobe has some or all purple. I also have a purple streak in my hair. My go-to outfit is black pants and a purple top.
Packing. I travel a lot and I fly at least 40 times a year, so I must pack wrinkle-free professional clothing. I think a great secret for packing is the packing cube. They compress the clothes down so you can fit more in your suitcase. Your clothes look exactly the same when they come out of the cube. I have to fit 20 books, two nights of clothing, shoes, a reception dress, makeup, and hair tools in a carry-on. Also, I don’t check my bag. I don’t have time to wait for checked bags and I can’t risk losing a bag.
Style. I try to mirror my client’s dress style and go one notch above that. If they tell me everyone will be in business casual, I will wear business. If everyone is in jeans, I will wear business casual.
Accessories. I always take a lot of jewelry to accommodate the microphone situation. Sometimes I’m given a lapel mic to pin on my shirt, so I can’t wear a large necklace. With an over-the-ear mic, I can’t wear big earrings.
Dresses. I am wearing more dresses now. I have very pale legs and I used to be self conscious about that, but now I don’t care.
Shoes. Another go-to are my Rothys flat shoes. They are perfect for airport travel, and for when you are done wearing your high heels after an event. They fit you like a sock, they are so comfortable. They are very expensive, and made out of plastic bottles. I have never paid for a pair of Rothys; I ask for them for birthday and Christmas presents.