5 People Who Found Their Voice

5 People Who Found Their Voice

“Words are really beautiful, but they're limited. Words are very male, very structured. But the voice is the netherworld, the darkness, where there's nothing to hang onto. The voice comes from a part of you that just knows and expresses and is.”

                                                                                                                                    -Jeff Buckley

 I run the video department here at Elevate and have been making commercials and videos in some capacity for almost 10 years.  I’ve worked with startups, non-profits, big corporations, and even family members.  No matter where I go or what I work on, there is almost always one common thread, “virality”. People want to be known and they want to be paid attention to.

Unfortunately there is no formula for virality and anyone who is telling you otherwise is lying to you.  Yes, there are things you can do to boost your content and there are ways to use data to better understand where your audience is, but at the end of the day it all comes down to one thing: “voice”.

Are you bringing something unique to the table?  Are you creating something new or are you just creating a cheaper version of something that already exists?

To reinforce this point, I have created a list of my personal top 5 favorite “voices”.  People that understand how it is that they create, and do so with continued excellence.

1.     Casey Neistat (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jG7dSXcfVqE&spfreload=5)

-Casey Neistat is in large part the reason I make videos today. His hand-made, family movie style videos took away my excuses (no money, no equipment) and forced me to learn to problem solve and to make things the way that feels natural to me.

2.     Wes Anderson (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xv6o1K8lpBE)

-Wes Anderson is one of the last remaining auteurs, a term which is ascribed to directors who are deeply involved in every aspect of the making of a film. He writes, directs, produces, edits, you name it.  His quirky artist style bleeds through in every frame and line of dialogue, and his movies are among my favorites because of it.

3.     Tina Fey (http://comediansincarsgettingcoffee.com/tina-fey-episode-trailer)

-I thought she was funny on SNL, then she made 30 Rock and blew my mind.  Her dry sense of humor, comedic timing, and willingness to just be herself sets her apart from so many people.  30 Rock is a great example of someone telling a story that they know how to tell. She made a show out of what she knew and it resulted in 103 Emmy nominations.

4.     Jon Bellion (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGO-CAImUeY)

-This is a guy whose drive to create seems to inspire everyone around him.  He’s written hit songs like Eminem’s “Monster”, and Jason DeRulo’s “Trumpets” but his real voice is found in his own albums.  He’s manages to mix digital elements with his classical understanding of music and the result is something new and captivating.

5.     Stuart McLean (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLmV21U_N5Y)

-Stuart McLean is easily the least known person on this list and just as easily my favorite. He ran a radio show called The Vinyl Cafe on CBC Radio in Canada which was also played on NPR. The show revolved around a fictional husband and wife (Dave and Morely) and their lives in a small town in Canada. Sadly he passed away this past February, but I will never forget his ability to take a simple story and tell it in a way that moved my heart.

The lesson from all of this, and one that I am continually learning myself is this: Make the thing that only you can make.  If another company makes a commercial that you love, great!  Learn from it, let it inspire you, and then go make something new…something great.


Brilliant Observation of the Day : People Are Not Robots

Brilliant Observation of the Day : People Are Not Robots

It sounds so obvious.

And yet, if you’re like me, and have ever stared into the void of a Word document while trying to eke out some business “copy,” you’re probably aware of how easy it is to forget you’re writing for a flesh-and-blood human being (or, hopefully, tons and tons of them.)

But here’s the no-brainer insight I often overlook: People are not clones or algorithms or avatars. And they certainly aren’t robots. The fact is, every single person who reads your content has a complex, unique, busy life—one with relationships that need tending, errands that need running, work that needs completing. Everyone has their own hodgepodge of struggles, goals, insecurities, passions, worries, and preferences.

And from that particular place, someone reads your words. Will he or she find the writing boring, confusing, or impersonal? Or will he or she find the writing funny, informative, or engaging?

Here are a few quick fixes to make your copy sound like it was written by a human, for a human.

1)    Kick jargon to the curb

Copywriter Kayla Lewkowicz reminds us every brand has a set of vocabulary, phrases, and acronyms that make sense to them—but that excludes everyone else not familiar to that field.

Corporate, medical, legal, scientific, economic, or artistic jargon may be useful in your workplace, but if that lingo has no meaning for people outside your industry, it will go in one ear and out the other without ever sticking in their brains. And if you want your business to grow, you need to own real estate in people’s brains!

You don’t have to dumb things down. Just use plain language. 

2)    Use active voice

Do you remember learning about active voice in middle school and then never caring about it again? Well, it’s time to care again. In grammatical terms, active sentences are those where the subject is doing the action, while passive sentences are those where something is being done to the object. (Did your eyes just glaze over and flashback to your 5th grade English class? Whew, glad it wasn’t just me.)

Essentially, “active” sentences are more concise, clear, and robust, while “passive” ones are more vague, bland, and weak. Which sounds more vibrant: “The job opening was responded to” (passive) or “He responded to the job opening” (active)? Exactly.

3)    Use contractions

Some businesses act like contractions are too casual or lazy, but they’re (see what I did there?) how people actually communicate in the real world. Never using a contraction can make your writing seem distant, cold, or—dare I say it—robotic. Copywriter Mish Slade points out that a lack of contractions makes writing come off as too stuffy and academic, but using them instantly humanizes your words. It’s the difference between “You will feel better” and “You’ll feel better!”

4)    “Energize” your writing

Sometimes, in order to sound less pushy and salesy, you just need to slightly tweak your copy until it speaks with someone, instead of at them. Copywriter Ashlyn Writes made an infographic with examples of phrases that “connect from the heart and cut through the noise,” because their tone is either giving, respecting, or energizing. Here are three of my favorite examples:


You can download the full infographic here!

5)    Answer these two basic questions

It all boils down to this: when someone is reading about the product or service you’re selling, they only want to know two things:

1)    Will this improve my life [physically, emotionally, relationally, financially, professionally, spiritually, etc.] or in some other way?

2)    Is the [cost, time, effort, etc.] worth it?

Our job as copywriters is to answer both questions with an emphatic “YES!” and then explain how and why. We just have to remember who we’re speaking to: people. Not robots.








The Forbidden Fonts

The Forbidden Fonts

Whether you’re designing a logo or typing out a document, there are a set of universal fonts that you should simply not use. Period. Keep reading if you want to know the “forbidden fonts”, and find out some awesome alternatives.



1. Comic Sans: A font that looks like a child’s handwriting portrays immaturity in whatever product/service uses it. If you want to look professional–it’s simple: Do not use Comic Sans. • Similar Handwritten Fonts: Kristin ITC, Bradley Hand, Marker Felt • Good Substitutes: SF Arch Rival, Action Man, Oak & Ash

2. Papyrus: You’ve probably seen this font in movie posters (Avatar) and 8th grade PowerPoints. The purpose of Papyrus was legitimate. It was meant to replicate an old style, almost biblical feeling. But now with the array of fonts we have today, Papyrus just misses the mark • Good Substitutes: Beata LP, Mariposa Sans and Palatino Sans Informal

3. Brush Script: This font is used on sides of boats and cars, for business signs, and on restaurant menus, especially small-town burger joints. Created in 1942, Brush Script used to be the font of choice in the 50s and 60s, and should have stayed there. • Good Substitutes: Monday Regular

4. Impact: Now out of all these fonts, impact is one that I don’t feel 110% disgusted when I see it being used. It’s bold and chunky, which has its time and place in the design world. • Good Substitutes: Bebas Neue, Sequel Pro


5. Bleeding Cowboys: The only problem with this font is that it has become too popular for its readability. Secondly, pre-executed fonts with a “grunge” texture will start to look similar, because the texture for certain characters is all the same. But y’all, there IS a solution! If you want a badass, textured font, use this tutorial from one of my favorite bloggers, Chris Spooner: • http://blog.spoongraphics.co.uk/tutorials/create-an-aged-vintage-style-logo-design-in-illustrator • Good Substitutes: Restless Youth Script, Cedarville Cursive

Now that you know the Forbidden Fonts, you can go forth, designing like a true professional and creative aficionado.

7 Mac Keyboard Shortcuts to Make You a Wizard

7 Mac Keyboard Shortcuts to Make You a Wizard

I spend about 50 hours a week sitting at my computer. Between work projects, personal projects, and casual surfing (I like funny gifs, OKAY?!), I’m practically attached at the wrist to my 2016 MacBook Air. As a web developer/web designer, I’m expected to produce, so any time not making stuff is wasted time! At some point in my time as developer, I began trying to learn as many keyboard shortcuts as possible, and in time, people started to think I was a wizard. Not only did it fulfill a lifelong dream of being a wizard (still waiting on my letter from Hogwarts, Minerva), it has also sped up my workflow considerably. If you, too, want people to think you’re a workflow wizard/witch, then turn to page 394 I mean, keep reading.


1. Command + Space to open Spotlight

Wouldn’t it be so nice and easy if all you had to do to open an application/file was to start typing the name of it anywhere, and it would open? Well, with my personal favorite trick, you can! Using the Spotlight feature, all you have to do is hold Command and tap Spacebar and it will open a search bar. Just type in the name of what you’re looking for, and it will bring up matches in a list. The OS will autocomplete the most likely choice, and if that’s what you’re looking for, just hit enter and it will open the appropriate file or application. Simple. I use this 100 times a day. (Pro-hint: this also works if the file/application is already open.)

2. Accio Spotify! (or Command + Tab to switch between open apps)

This shortcut is the natural follow up to the first because it ONLY deals with currently open applications. Why constantly move your mouse over to your dock to switch to a different program, when you could much more easily just use your left hand to select it? By holding command +  tab, it will bring up a menu similar to the menu below. 


Ooh. Fancy.

At this point, you can either tap Tab to cycle through the open applications, use the arrow keys to cycle in both directions, or use your mouse to select from the list. This is a great for going back and forth between two applications. I use this constantly, but most specifically, I use it when I’m coding and not connected to my external monitor. I will change some code, and then use this shortcut to go to Google Chrome (my personal favorite browser) to see the change I made in action. 

This menu is one that not many people are used to seeing, and will blow people’s minds when you show it to them the first time!

3. Command + click to open site in new tab

This trick is great to use when surfing the web. I’ve always got a million tabs open when I’m working. A few tabs are the project I’m working on in different screen sizes, a few are answers to questions I have about a feature I’m trying to fix/implement, a few more are tutorials I’m trying to get around to doing, and, like any normal person, Facebook or Youtube is inevitably open. It’s already hard enough to manage all these things I want to read, but imagine how much more difficult it would be if you’re constantly having to use the back button to read all these things. 

Whenever I’m doing a search and I see some potential winners, instead of clicking and going straight to it, I open it in a new tab by holding Command before I click it. The tab opens next to the current tab, so you can easily move to it. This is a life saver for someone who usually has a few windows of Chrome open, with about 10 tabs in each.

(Pro-tip: Cycle through tabs in Chrome with ctrl + tab.)

4. Command + O to open a dialog to select a file to open

Consider this: You’ve already got Microsoft Word or Pages open, but instead of starting a new project, you just want to work on an existing project. You could maybe click ‘File’ in the menu bar and hope that it is one of the files under ‘Open Recent’, but what if it’s not? Here’s where Command + O comes in: this shortcut will open Finder and allow you to locate the exact folder that the desired file lives in. Super simple, but cuts out guess work when trying to open an existing file. It gets even easier if you have an organized file structure on your computer.

5. Command + S to save your work

My name is Alex… and I’m an over-saver. Whew. That felt good to say.

When in almost any Mac application, the shortcut Command + S will automatically save your progress. So much easier to remember than going through the whole rigmarole of the traditional Save. When I’m coding, I literally do this every breath I take. Every change I make. I’m basically Sting, but instead of watching, I’m saving. Make this a habit to save constantly, and all your projects will be much happier!

6. Shift + Command + 4 to screenshot

So, it’s great that the macOS offers the ease of taking a full screen snapshot (shift + command + 3), but what if you don’t want to share/save all those extra windows of you looking at puppies? Well, with one of my personal favorite shortcuts, you can grab just the area you’d like to capture.  When you hold Shift + Command + 4, your cursor will turn into a crosshair. You can move the cursor to the desired area, click and hold to establish one corner of the screenshot, then drag it in any direction to resize the resulting box to contain what you’d like to capture. Once you release your click, it automatically takes the photo and saves it. The photo will automatically be saved to your desktop with the date and time in the title of the file. Done and done! I use this for quick crops for demos, sending shots of new components to co-workers, and sharing what the Sorting Hat said about me. (I’m a Gryffindor, and I won’t let any new age sorting quiz tell me otherwise.)

Pro tip: change where your screenshots will save. I save mine to a folder on my Desktop eloquently called, “Screenshots”. That way, my Desktop stays clean and uncluttered. I’m not an animal, after all!

7. Command + Q to Quit/Close an Application

So, on a Mac product, of which I’m an unashamed fanboy, most applications don’t close when you click on the ‘X’ in the corner. Rather, the application stays open, while just the window closes. That can be nice, if you’re looking to clear up space (ex. I will turn on a Spotify playlist, and then close the window. The music continues, and I don’t have to take up valuable screen real estate. Screen estate? Real Screenstate? REAL ESCREEN?!). But, what if you want to go scorched earth on an application? Just close the whole thing? Many people will ‘X’ out of the resulting windows, and then mosey their cursor on up to to the name of the application located in the menu bar, click it, scroll down to ‘Quit’, and then click that. Well, NO LONGER.   


You right, Sweet Brown.

With Command + Q, that bad boy will put all those Photoshop files to rest at once! Just like that, it will close every window, and then shut down the application, lickety split. Also, first time I’ve ever typed “lickety split”. Word to the wise, go ahead and use that ‘Save’ shortcut before you use the ‘Quit’ shortcut.

BONUS: Spacebar (to preview a file)

It’s bonus time, because I’m a generous and grateful servant of the internet, dear readers. When your looking at a folder, and are not sure what every file actually is, you can preview the file by clicking it once, and then tapping the spacebar. It will open a box showing you the file, without actually opening the file. This is SUPER helpful for trying to select the correct photo.


Friends, that’s all I’ve got for today. Tune in next time for when I… oh, this isn’t an old-timey radio show? My apologies.

Thanks for reading my 7 Mac Shortcuts (plus a bonus!). Hopefully once you implement these, you’ll have all kinds of extra time on your hands. Maybe you can write a book, or go skydiving, or plan an elaborate heist! See?! Wasn’t it so nice of me to do this for you? 

More seriously, thanks for taking the time to read the blog. Please follow Elevate United on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with all the things we’re doing to help our clients more effectively tell their story to the world. If you have any questions or other helpful shortcuts, send them to me at alex@elevateunited.com!

The Ultimate Agenda

The Ultimate Agenda

If you’re like me (awesome, cool, fairly intelligent, embarrassingly great at Reba karaoke), then you know that finding an agenda with all of the assets you need can be difficult.