Monday, December 11, 2006

SPEAKER SAVVY -- Weaker Sex? Stronger Speakers!

What makes women so successful as professional speakers? I've never been a big fan of "junk science," but there's an interesting new study featured in a book by a French psychiatrist named Dr. Luan Brizendine that shows women speak 20,000 words per day on average, while men speak only 7,000 words per day.

Her book, "The Female Mind," seeks to differentiate the thought processes between women and men (and possibly to prove that the female mind is superior.) While you might disagree with her conclusions, you can't deny that women dominate the world of professional speaking.

Consider this:
  • Most presentation trainers in the world are women.
  • Most media trainers in the world are women.
  • The most highly paid speaker in the world is a woman.

My very UN-scientific theory is that women are much more comfortable with the concept of public speaking because they're wired to be much more emotionally expressive--something I believe is the single most important factor in successful communication. (Check out my web site,, to find out how you can "Act Like A Winner, Talk Like A Pro"...and discover the secret to powerful presentations!)

Men can't even hug without slapping the stuffing out of each wonder guys struggle with public speaking. Little girls put on performances all the time--my 6-year-old daughter not only has her own cabaret act during bathtime, she also takes questions from her "audience!" Is there any doubt she'll be more likely to be a successful public speaker than any of the boys in her class?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

LIVING SAVVY -- Nobody's Role Model

My 6-year-old daughter wants to be Lindsay Lohan someday. Let's hope it's the talented actress from her Disney days and not the trashy party girl that's quickly becoming a popular party joke.

Lindsay's latest misstep--an incoherent, uneducated attempt to honor the late Robert Altman (who had recently directed Lohan in A Prairie Home Companion) in a condolence letter to his family:
"I am lucky enough to of been able to work with Robert Altman amongst the other greats on a film that I can genuinely say created a turning point in my career. He was the closest thing to my father and grandfather that I really do believe I've had in several years... He left us with a legend that all of us have the ability to do."

"Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourselves' (12st book) - everytime there's a triumph in the world a million souls hafta be trampled on. - altman Its true. But treasure each triumph as they come."

"Be adequite. Lindsay Lohan."

Not the greatest endorsement for a Hollywood education. And certainly not the kind of role model I'd want for my little girl, especially one that urges everyone to be merely "adequite." But it is a serious lesson in hubris (not to mention spellchecking.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

LEADERSHIP -- Creating True Believers

Does it seem that everyone you know or work with is changing jobs or careers lately? It shouldn't surprise you...the National Employee Benchmarking Study has found that 80% of all U.S. workers do not plan to be with their current employers in 2 years. And here's where the problem lies--most exiting employees cite leadership deficiency as one of their primary reasons for going elsewhere.

"Leadership deficiency." What does that mean? It means that companies aren't giving their employees a compelling enough reason to stay. It means CEO's are more concerned with the stockholders than the stock boys. It means that the majority of the modern workforce wants something more than a good salary and a nice benefits package. They want leaders with heart. They crave something to believe in.

You need only to look at the most successful coaches to see how it's possible to create a team of true believers. Wooden, Lombardi, Schembechler, Lasorda--their legacies have lasted long after the X's and O's were wiped off the chalkboard. Because they cared. And their teams knew it.

Andrew Razeghi, author of "Hope: How Triumphant Leaders Create the Future" says, "Triumphant leaders engage not only the heads but also the hearts of those who look to them for leadership. Create a culture of believers, and you will create an organization more resilient, more courageous, and more ably equipped to manage through ambiguity, around fear, and into the future.”

One of the best measures of leadership effectiveness is something I call the "elevator test"--when it comes to your team, are you lifting them up or taking them down? And which direction is your business headed?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

MEDIA SAVVY -- Act Like A Winner, Talk Like A Pro

The hardest thing for most business leaders to do is to talk in front of a large group of people (even worse, in front of a camera.) Why? I think it's because they're "on stage" for maybe the first time in their lives and the experience puts them well outside their comfort zone.

I've been a professional actor and director for more than 20 years--and a professional speaker longer than that--and the things that make me successful on stage can help make anyone "act like a winner and talk like a pro."

You've heard the actor's cliche--"What's my motivation?" Well, that's the first thing you should consider before you even write one word of your speech or plan one interview response. Go through this checklist: Why am I doing this and what do I hope to accomplish? What's the best way to get the results I want? How do I want this event to affect my audience? (There are two other things an actor uses to get the best performance--if you'd like more information, contact me at or check out my website at!)

Once you figure out your "motivation," it's much easier to decide what to say and, more importantly, how to say it. An actor prepares diligently for each role. Your role is just as important to your audience. If you want to talk like a pro, you have to "act" like a winner.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

LIVING SAVVY -- Thankful Things

I hope this won't be the typical Thanksgiving Day post where the author goes on ad nauseum about the things he or she is thankful for. Frankly, if you're truly thankful, every day is filled with reasons to feel blessed. And that's a list too long for anyone to read.

What I'd rather do today is to put some perspective on the things you should be thankful for. (Let me put it another way, if the things you're thankful for are THINGS, then you really should think about your priorities.)

Here's a list of thankful things you might consider today. People. Family, friends, and the occasional strangers who help shape your future in tiny, yet powerful ways. Events that really matter--and not just the good ones. Be thankful for the obstacles that force you to try harder. For the times of weakness that lead you to ask for help and support. For the pain and suffering and loss that make you appreciate your daily blessings all the more.

Most of all, be thankful for the moments that have led you to thirst after righteousness, to have compassion for others, and to seek what is good and pure and true.

A real thanksgiving is not so much about you as it is about everything around you. So be thankful and be blessed.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

SPEAKER SAVVY -- Handling Hecklers

If you've seen or heard Michael Richard's appalling racial rant at a comedy club recently, you might wonder how his embarrassment might apply to you. After all, you're just a simple businessperson who wouldn't dream of trying stand-up comedy. You'll never have to worry about hecklers.

Wrong. Every time you appear on a public stage, whether it's at a convention, a shareholders' meeting, or a television interview, there's the potential for confrontation. You still need to be prepared.

I worked as a comedian for several years to help supplement my acting career, and I found that most comics--not Kramer, of course--but most comics love hecklers because they can be turned into comedy gold. I once filled an entire 20-minute set by deftly mocking and comforting a guy who was obviously trying to impress his buddies.

Don't try this at home. Or at work. It's better to diffuse the situation and handle the heckler with style and grace. Here's the secret behind the success most comedians have with unruly audience members--Mark's First Law of Captivating Communication:
He who holds the mike owns the room.
Once you realize the power that you hold in your hand, you can act like a benevolent dictator, ruling over your subjects with an iron fist in a velvet glove. That microphone gives you the ability to control everything that happens inside the venue. Especially heckers. But remember, never try to continue over the disruption with your prepared remarks--everyone is watching the troublemaker, anyway.

Don't get angry. Smile and act classy. Use humor to get the audience on your side. If that doesn't work, then stop what you're doing and politely ask them to stop. Don’t hang up or walk off--calmly ask someone else from the venue to move the heckler outside where management or security can deal with it.

You may never have to handle a heckler...but it's always good to know you can.

Monday, November 20, 2006

LEADERSHIP -- Killing Cockroaches

I am truly blessed having a next-door-neighbor who is also my pastor. (He loves it when I stop over to ask if I can borrow a cup of grace...) He's also a big fan of Tony Morgan, a pastor at Granger Community Church in suburban South Bend, Indiana and one of the top thinkers on the role of leadership in the church. Here's a recent post my neighbor sent me:
I was sitting around the breakfast table with a bunch of guys this morning and was reminded of an incident that took place at a former job. This was before ministry. I was a city manager--kind of like the CEO of a business. I was responsible for leading an organization with a $20 million budget and 150 employees. I was the man. I wore a suit. Everyday.

One day I was working at my desk, and I heard a woman scream from the other side of the office building. Just a few seconds later, the screaming woman ran into my office. She explained that she needed help. She had found a cockroach in her office. And, for whatever reason, she thought this was a problem for the "CEO." Remember, I was the guy who wore a suit. Everyday.

I'm not sure why I did it, but I slowly pushed my chair away from the desk. Stood up. Walked down the hall. Entered the screaming woman's office, and proceeded to kill the cockroach. I was wearing my suit, which, of course, I wore...everyday.

It's been about eight years since that incident. I don't wear suits anymore, but there are still days when I come home a little mopey. I guess the frustration is all over my face. Emily will take one look at me and ask, "Did you have to kill cockroaches today?"

I've grown wiser though. I've learned there are things I can do to avoid getting stuck killing cockroaches. It's my responsibility to move beyond just reacting to what's urgent. It includes things like:
--Blocking time out in my schedule--actually setting appointments with myself--to dream and plan and work on the big-picture projects.
--Empowering other competent leaders. Giving them significant ministry responsibilities and authority rather than just delegating tasks.
--Identifying my strengths. Positioning myself so I'm operating out of my strengths. And, finding others who are different than me to manage around my weaknesses.
--Hiring an assistant who's not a secretary but a leader and a project manager.
--Surrounding myself with problem-solvers rather than problem-messengers.

I could go on and on, but the point here is I'm typically the problem when my day is filled with killing cockroaches. It's easy to blame the screaming person who runs into my office, but often times I'm the one that has allowed and sometimes created those urgent demands.

So, the moral of the story is this: you get to decide where your time goes. You can spend it moving forward. Or, you can spend it putting out fires. You get to decide. If you don't decide, others will decide for you. Then you, too, will be stuck reacting to the urgent. You may not be wearing a suit, but you'll be killing cockroaches. Everyday

Thursday, November 16, 2006

LIVING SAVVY -- From The Mouths Of Babes

I'm nothing if not positive--positive that I'm going to succeed, positive in my walk and talk, a positive attitude 24/7. (Check out the subject of my soon-to-be-released first book, The Power of Positive Speaking, and find out how I can help you help others at!)

The impact of my perpetual positivity has rubbed off on my family--in fact, my 10-year-old son, Drew, surprised me the other day by telling me he had done some research on the Internet and found more inspirational quotes to add to my website. What really caught me off guard, among the words of Robert Schulller and Albert Einstein, was a quotation from one Andrew T. Standriff that read:
"Being positive is one of the most contagious things in the world. The best thing is that it's good to spread it."

My little philosopher. It's going up on my "Positively Yours" section right away. And I can't help but wonder how many people you might inspire every day, one kind word at a time.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

LEADERSHIP -- Talent Isn't Enough

Who are you recruiting to be your next superstar? A corporate hotshot with lots of success but lots of attitude, too? Or a dedicated insider with plenty of upside if you're willing to put the time into development? Before you make your pick, consider these quotes from the NFL today:

Maybe (I'm dropping passes) because I'm unhappy. Maybe because I'm not too much excited about what's going on, so my concentration and focus level tends to go down sometimes and I'm in a bad mood. All I can say is you put me in a good situation and make me a happy man, and you'll get good results. -- Randy Moss, former All-Pro Wide Receiver, Oakland Raiders

I missed Joey (Galloway) on the first series of the game. I just over threw him. He was wide open, so I’ve got to take a look at that. Sometimes I just have to try not to do too much and just go out there and play. I just have to learn from it, get better and make those plays. -- Bruce Gradkowski, rookie quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Listen closely to the conversations around your office. Do either of these sound familiar? Which guy would you want on your team--a proven talent with a bad attitude or a 6th-round draft pick who isn't afraid to admit mistakes as he learns to succeed?

Talent isn't enough. You can have the fastest feet and the best hands...but if nobody wants to throw you the ball, you're useless.

Monday, November 13, 2006

SPEAKER SAVVY -- The Wizard of "Ahs"

My hometown newspaper had an article on like, ah, all those, um, you know, bad speech habits. It's an interesting look at the annoying idiosyncrasies most speakers have, even during a prepared presentation. (Admission: my big problem is finishing a punch line or talking point with the word "so..." as in, "The 49ers have announced they're planning to move to a city that doesn't already have a pro football team--which means they could move to Oakland, so...")

I didn't know about my bad speech habit until one of my radio listeners mentioned to me. And that's the point of the article--it's good to have an outside observer really go over your speech with a fine tooth comb. Toastmasters use an "AH Master." Back in my high school public speaking class, Father Mott called it "The Wizard" (as in "The Wizard of Ah's".)

Whatever term you use, think about getting an accountability partner who'll gently remind you of all the ahs, ums, you knows,and likes to help keep your speaking content clean. (So...)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

LEADERSHIP -- Is It Cheating If It's Within The Rules?

Leaders are always looking for an edge. Competition brings out gamesmanship and sometimes, the boss finds a loophole that gives your team a big advantage. think about that while you're reading about this story from USA Today that happened at last weekend's Wisconsin-Penn State game:
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema isn't a fan of college football's new speed-up-the-game rule that mandates the clock starts when a ball is kicked off rather than when it's received. But if Bielema can use the rule to his team's advantage, he will, and that's just what he did Saturday against Penn State.

With Wisconsin having just gone ahead 10-3, Bielema, 36, twice had his team intentionally go offside on kickoffs in the last 23 seconds of the first half, minimizing Penn State's chances to score. The two penalized kicks took 19 seconds off the clock and left Penn State coach Joe Paterno, 79, livid and complaining to officials.

Wisconsin athletics director and former coach Barry Alvarez said Monday that a discussion he had with Big Ten game officials during the summer helped devise the strategy.

"We had a scrimmage which was worked by a crew of Big Ten officials, and I was visiting with them and discussing how the new rule could change the game," Alvarez said. "They gave me that specific instance, so I mentioned it to Bret and the staff. I haven't been game-planning, but they have, and it makes sense to do it."

Bielema, whose team won 13-3, said Monday that while he doesn't necessarily agree with the rule, "I knew the rule and wanted to maximize it. ... It worked exactly as we envisioned it. It's something we practice. My guess is, with the attention we've received, there may be an (amendment)."

Brilliant. Wisconsin was able to hold onto victory by recognizing potential strength within a weakness in the rules. Great leaders do that--so where are the loopholes in your industry that might lead your team to victory one day?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

MEDIA SAVVY -- Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

Why does it take people so long to say they're sorry? John Kerry joins a long list of well-known (and probably well-intentioned) names who can't seem to swallow their pride and make a simple apology.

Forget the politics, forget trying to explain what you were trying to say--you always make matters worse if you wait. Or, as in this case, you try to soften the blow by saying "I'm sorry you misunderstood" or "I apologize if I've offended anyone." That's not saying you're sorry...that's saying that anyone who was hurt by your statement is either dense or thin-skinned.

There are actual theories about the use of apology, by Kenneth Burke and Ware and Linkuegel, that list a number of rhetorical options ranging from denial to transcendence. That's fine when you're giving a Socratic reposnse to specific charges. But 21st century politics and 24-hour media cycles have changed the rules. There's talk radio and faux cable news anchors and bloggers to keep the pressure on. Today, transcendence fails, transparency perserveres.

As a media consultant, I advise my clients to face the press immediately when it becomes clear that something they said has caused a kerfuffle. "I made a mistake. I shouldn't have said it. I'm sorry." There. Pretty simple. It shows respect and humility--things we all could use a little more of.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

SPEAKER SAVVY -- Talk Like You Mean It

I just spent a half-hour interviewing one of my favorite author/speakers, Mark Sanborn, who has a great new book out called You Don't Need A Title To Be A Leader. He's also a past president of the National Speakers Association, so I took the liberty to ask him for the advice he gives to people who want to become professional speakers.

Mark told me the biggest mistake would-be speakers make is to work up some clever topics or catchy titles, when they should figure out what they're passionate about first. Figure out what your message is...then start writing.

Once you decide what your message is, Mark Sanborn then says it's just as important to identify who will pay you to talk about your subject. You might be passionate about being a pet owner, but there aren't many groups who will make it profitable for you to speak about it professionally.

Your marketing and networking will be much more successful if you take care of those first two things. Message, market, money, in that order. (If you're ready to make a serious move into the world of professional speaking, I can help. Email me at

Monday, October 30, 2006

LIVING SAVVY -- A Lesson For Everyone

Scott Adams, the creator of the popular "Dilbert" comic strip, revealed an amazing story last week--and provided a compelling lesson for everyone to use in his or her own way.

Scott lost his voice 18 months ago. It's a rare disorder called spasmodic dysphonia, where the part of your brain that controls speech just shuts down. Permanently. There's no cure, but there are options (because, apparently, people with this disorder can sing but they can't talk.)

Rather than give up, Scott tried a number of new tricks to reprogram his brain and regain his speaking voice. He tried daily affirmations. He used self hypnosis and voice therapy exercises. He tried speaking in different pitches and foreign accents. For 18 months, Scott worked on a "cure" until one day, he spoke.

He was helping out on a homework assignment when he realized that he could speak perfectly when rhyming. He repeated the rhyme over and over, remapping his brain, until his speaking voice returned. Not 100% but close enough for celebration.

What an amazing story! Here's a lesson for everyone who encounters obstacles, big and small. What have you done to overcome adversity--and how far are you willing to go when others tell you there's no hope?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

LEADERSHIP -- Mentor or Coach?

Many of my clients have been asking whether they need a mentor or a coach. My answer is...BOTH!

There's a big difference between a mentor and a coach, but each one is invaluable to your growth as a leader and your success as a person. A mentor is an experienced leader in your field who can show you the ropes as well as offer you his wisdom. A coach won't try to tell you how to handle things--he'll ask you the right questions so that you'll discover the answers for yourself.

It's like being in a Broadway musical where the choreographer shows you the moves while the director asks you what you think about your character's motivation. Both roles are necessary for a successful production, and neither should intrude on the other's territory.

Make sure your mentor and coach are in place before your curtain comes up!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

LIVING SAVVY -- A Little Failure Never Hurt Anyone

Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. -- Robert F. Kennedy
Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. -- Winston Churchill

I'm always interested in observing how people handle setbacks. My son, Drew (the 10-year-old Mad Scientist) is such a perfectionist that if something in one of his projects doesn't turn out right, he throws everything down and walks away. For about a day. But then he invariably picks up the project with renewed enthusiasm and, more importantly, a better sense of how to succeed.

That's the key. Maybe kids get it instinctually and only lose that persistence after years of failure without perspective. Here's something I once read in the Wall Street Journal that provides that encouragement everyone needs:
"You've failed many times although you may not remember. You fell the first time you tried to walk, didn't you? You almost drowned the first time you tried to swim. Did you hit the ball the first time you swung the bat? Heavy hitters, the ones who hit the most home runs, also struck out a lot. Babe Ruth struck out 1330 times, but he also hit 714 home runs.R. H. Macy failed seven times before his store in New York caught on. English novelist John Cracey got 753 rejection slips before he published 564 books. Don't worry about failure. Worry about the chances you miss when you don't even try."

A life with little failure is a life with little risk. We were designed to take chances--it's when we start accepting the results that we really fail.

Monday, October 23, 2006

SPEAKER SAVVY -- The Lost Art of Interpersonal Communcation

I'm disturbed about a story I read in Forbes over the weekend that shows a trend among younger employees to rely on email and text messaging to communicate not only with co-worker...but with older bosses, who can't understand why their young recruits, for all their brains and technical skill, hardly ever come over and actually talk to them.

We're running into a critical time in the business world where the next generation of leaders might not have a clue how to interact face-to-face, a skill that most experts will tell you is a key to success. Here's an example from the Forbes article:
"Ruth Sherman, a communications consultant says common complaints about younger workers range from lame handshakes and poor conversational skills to super-casual attire and personal use of company e-mail. Some show up at job interviews in tee shirts. What the Gen Yers don't see, she says, is the meaning and value of gestures and other nonverbal skills that don't come through in a text message."
Advice to the under-30 people who aspire to management--want to get a huge leg up on your competition? Learn how to handle in-person interaction. Understand that there's a difference between chatting with your buddies and talking to the CEO. Use complete sentences in your written correspondance and remember that Googling doesn't necessarily qualify as research.

Otherwise, you're going to spend most of your career stuck in a cubicle. With a serious case of Blackberry Thumb.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

MEDIA SAVVY -- There IS Such A Thing As Bad Publicity...

...when it comes to ballot measures that require lots of positive opinion to pass. Take notes, because here's a classic example of how not to handle a PR campaign.

Here in Sacramento, the big measures on the ballot this November are designed to set up a temporary sales tax to raise money to build a new downtown arena for our NBA team, the Kings. The campaign has had several setbacks, from a lack of communication between the owners, Gavin and Joe Maloof, and city leaders, not to mention brownfield cleanup issues and a general perception that the Maloofs are wealthy enough to pay for their own arena.

Needless to say, tongues were wagging yesterday when a new nationwide TV ad for Carl's Jr. debuted, featuring the Maloof brothers chowing down on hamburgers at the family's Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. "Net worth: $1 billion," flashes on the screen. The brothers wash down the burgers with a bottle of 24-year-old French bordeaux, poured by a woman in a slinky dress. The ad closes with: "The Carl's Jr. $6,000 combo meal, exclusively at the Palms."

This is a serious lack of judgement by the Maloofs. Why take part in a high-profile TV commercial flaunting your affluence so close to an election that asks voters to fund a $600 million arena and entertainment complex for you? What, they couldn't have waited three weeks?!?

When you're trying to influence public opinion, you need all the positive mojo you can create. In the case of Gavin and Joe Maloof, they just blew a layup at the end of the 4th quarter.

Monday, October 16, 2006

LEADERSHIP -- That's What Friends Are For

Today is "National Boss Day," so I thought I'd toss out a little out-of-the-box question for your management types out there. Is it OK for the boss to be a buddy, too?

You've heard the warnings before--"Maintain a professional distance so friendship doesn't cloud your judgment." Which sounds good in theory...but too many managers take it to the extreme, and studies show that most people think their boss is the person they'd least like to spend time with. So is there a happy medium?

Yes. John Maxwell says it best: "The best leaders are the ones who forge personal ties with their team and interact with each member in light of their specific preferences and desires. Employees respond to the care they receive from a boss. When treated with human dignity and kindness they gain energy and positive emotion, but when treated like a pawn of corporate production, worker motivation nosedives."*

Great leaders know how to create friendship and respect within their organizations. Which means you can step out with your employees without stepping over the line.

*This excerpt is used by permission from Dr. John C. Maxwell's free monthly e-newsletter 'Leadership Wired' available at

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

SPEAKER SAVVY--Preparing For The Big One

My wife was asked last month to give a speech at an important women's retreat in November, and at the risk of sounding like a proud hubby, I know she's going to make a dynamic presentation. So why is she going to succeed when most people fail.

First, most people who are asked to give a big speech put off working on it right away. They rationalize that they've given speeches before and done OK so they figure they'll just wing it. My wife is a naturally gifted speaker, but she knows how much work it takes, so she started preparing months out.

Second, most business people write a speech based on a specific topic--my wife is crafting a speech based on her audience. She's interviewed a number of the people involved in this retreat and will have a personalized presentation that will make the audience feel much more involved.

Finally, while the majority of speakers run through their talks just enough times to have the main points memorized, Sally has talked through her speech a number of times with all kinds of people and is now polishing it to perfection. (She's heard me say a thousand times, "Practice doesn't make perfect--PERFECT PRACTICE makes perfect!")

My wife is going to be a big hit because she's not taking her presentation or her audience for granted. Take a tip from my blushing bride--mastering these performance basics will give you a solid speaking base to build on for the rest of your career.

Monday, October 09, 2006

LIVING SAVVY--Positively Monday

Most people will tell you that Monday is the worst day of the week. Why? Because Monday means back to survival mode. They drag themselves through the workday so they can relax in the evening. They endure the week so they can celebrate on the weekend. They work all year so they can go on an exhausting vacation. If you stretch the logic, they put up with life so that they can finally relax when they're dead!

Why try to compartmentalize your joy? Doesn't it make more sense to look for opportunities every day rather than plan them in short bunches? Stop postponing life--instead, tell yourself that Monday is the beginning of your celebration, not the end.

A simple attitude adjustment will not only make Monday your favorite day of the week, it'll also put you far ahead of the gloom n' doomers stumbling and grumbling through the workday!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

LEADERSHIP--Hire Slowly, Fire Quickly

One of the most important lessons I learned during my leadership years was how to hire and fire people. My mentor promised me that those two things would shape my success or failure as a leader...and they did. Because at first, I hired too quickly and fired too slowly.

Whenever I had an opening, I tried to keep our corporate momentum going by filling the position immediately. Big mistake. But an even bigger mistake was hoping that bad performers or bad attitudes would get better simply by the power of my management skills.

I quickly realized that great leaders are prepared for turnover. I started recruiting and training replacements on a regular basis--and even then, I took my time and hired only when I knew I had the right person for the job. And if an employee was becoming a liability, it was important to get them "off the bus" as soon as possible, as Jim Collins advises in his masterpiece, Good To Great.

Building an effective team is your most important responsibility and the most expensive decision you make as a leader. Remember, hire slowly, fire quickly.

Monday, October 02, 2006

MEDIA SAVVY--Paperless Promotion

When it comes to establishing a media presence, sometimes a lack of experience can be a good thing. I have a client that is virtually starting from scratch...not even a press kit. That's the bad news. The good news is that my client will immediately be able to benefit by using the Internet to hold an online press kit.

Why is this beneficial? You're using technology to make your organization's promotion more efficient and less expensive. You create a destination for web traffic. Photos and files are stored online and downloaded at the user's convenience. Your online press kit gets submitted by a click instead of a stamp. It cuts down on your publishing expenses and uses much less storage. Information and photos can be updated immediately and with the same high quality as traditional methods. (And since the people downloading your online press kit really want your information, the likelyhood your PR gets used increases dramatically!)

Sure, a formal, hard-copy press kit is still an essential promotional investment--but since virtually everyone uses the Internet these days, desing an online press kit and make your web site work for you.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

BUSINESS SAVVY--The 30-Second Resume

Recently I was invited to lunch with a networking club called LeTip (they're mostly an East Coast/West Coast organization, but you can find the nearest chapter HERE.) One of the things the new members (and guests like me) were required to do was take 30 seconds to talk about themselves and--hopefully--share something interesting about themselves.

For me it was easy. After all, I'm a professional speaker. But for the other people put on the spot, it was sheer torture.

You may have heard salespeople talk about their "elevator speech," a short and intriguing personal introduction that gives just enough information about what they do that hooks the listener into asking for more. (I use a variation on this called my "kitchen speech" that I use at parties.)

Here's an example: "So....what do you do?"
"I'm a paid assassin."
"Yes--business leaders hire me to knock off inefficiency and low morale at work!"

Come up with your own 30-second resume...something so unique that people will be begging to know more about you (and more importantly, how to buy what you're selling!)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


I watched the pilot episode of the new ABC comedy "Men In Trees"...cute! It stars Anne Heche as a successful relationship coach on her way to a speaking engagement in a tiny Alaskan town swarming with men. Lots of funny stuff and some really good acting--but one thing stood out.

Anne Heche is a world-class speaker.

The show opened up with a series of clips from her presentations and Heche was obviously coached by somebody who really knows the speaking profession. (Here's how realistic Anne Heche was last night...I wanted to hear more. I was actually disappointed that they didn't let her finish!)

What really struck was the look in her eyes. She was glowing, confident, sparkling--the woman was en fuego! The pilot light was on and it was blazing. She reminded me of legendary women speakers like Patricia Fripp who find their fire, the thing they're passionate about, and deliver that passion with style and substance.

It's my job to train people to find that same fire when they speak. Check out my website at for more information.

Monday, September 11, 2006

MEDIA MATTERS--How To Be Monday Morning Quarterback On The Weekend

Let me be completely transparent here...I'm a HUGE Ohio State Buckeyes fan, so the big win over Texas ("Bevo--the Other White Meat!") Saturday was thrilling. So forgive me for indulging in a little post-game revelry.

As impressive as Ohio State QB Troy Smith was on the field, he really stood out in a quick sideline interview after the game that was a perfect example of how to play defense when talking to the media.

The ABC reporter asked Smith about his last-second decision to throw deep to his #1 wide receiver in one-on-one coverage--here's where Smith gets a broadcast Heisman. He said, "Well, Coach Tressel had a great game plan, and I really appreciate the confidence he has in me and my teammates...but the credit should go to my offensive line, they gave me plenty of time out there today."

A less savvy guy would have given away his team's strategy. The Buckeye QB deflected the question by sticking to his script and avoiding a slip of the tongue. Somebody in Columbus made sure this young man was well coached on and off the field.

The lesson? Don't be baited by the media into blurting out a spontaneous response when a measured, consistent message will protect your interests. Make sure you control the interview and you'll score a touchdown every time.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Thanks to CNN anchor Kyra Phillips, we all know that her sister-in-law is a "control freak." It happened yesterday as the cable network was airing President Bush's speech in New Orleans on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Phillips took a bathroom break where she confided to a co-worker that she worried about her brother's marriage. One problem--Kyra didn't realize that her microphone was still on. (Here's the audio:)

Just another example of why I advise everyone who is even near a microphone or a camera--always assume it's ON and you're LIVE! Yes, I know that it's really the sound engineer's fault for not turning her off, but you should still make it your responsibility to check before you say or do something that'll end up on the Drudge Report.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

LEADERSHIP / MEDIA MATTERS--The Disaster Continues

Sometimes you see something that just makes you shake your head and wonder how some people get into leadership positions. I was flipping through the Sunday morning chat shows when I overheard this stunning statement on Fox News Sunday:
"We promised you an interview with New Orleans City Council President Oliver Thomas, but he apparently overslept this morning. Not only did he not make it to our studio for this interview, but we also understand that he missed a briefing on Hurricane Ernesto this morning."

Obviously, this guy missed a major PR opportunity. But compounding his blunder by missing a emergency planning briefing almost a year to the day that his city was almost wiped out by Hurricane Katrina is unconscionable.

As a leader, everything you do is a lesson to the people you work for (or in this instance, the people you promised to serve.) When you show passion, they'll likely show the same passion. When you show you care, they'll care, too. But when you're too lazy to show up for something vital, don't expect your staff to give a rip, either.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

LIVING SAVVY--The Most Important Question You'll Ever Ask

Jack Canfield, the guy who puts together all those terrific Chicken Soup For The Soul books (and America's Success Coach,) just sent me an e-mail with a powerful tool that will instantly make you a more effective person. Here's the email:
In the 1980s, a multimillionaire businessman taught me a question that radically changed the quality of my life. So what is this magical question that can improve the quality of every relationship you are in, every product you produce, every service you deliver, every meeting you conduct, every class you teach and every transaction you enter into?
Here it is:
“On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the quality of our relationship during the last week?”
Any answer less than a 10 always gets this follow-up question:
“What would it take to make it a 10?”
This is where the *really* valuable information comes from. Knowing that a person is dissatisfied is not enough. Knowing in detail what will satisfy them gives you the information you need to do whatever it takes to create a winning product, service or relationship.

Take it to heart--and start asking that question today!

Monday, August 21, 2006

LEADERSHIP--Making Chicken Salad Out Of...

21st century leadership takes a bad situation and turns it upside down to the organization's advantage. (I hope someone at Albertson's is reading this and taking the lesson to heart...)

Alana Lipkin has been banned from a couple of supermarket chains simply because they have guarantees that any mispriced items are free--so she goes in to find those errors to get the stuff for free, as advertised.

The knee jerk reaction was to punish this woman for using a legal loophole for her own benefit. But when there's a wrinkle in your plans--try a little steam before you hit it with the iron. If the powers that be were smart, they'd hire Alana as a consultant to go store to store looking for loopholes so they can fix the problems.

Sometimes you need to reward the people who raise the red's a way to say "thanks for helping us improve!"

Thursday, August 17, 2006

MEDIA MATTERS--All The World's A Stage...With A Camera Waiting For You

When you're in the public eye, making a lot of public appearances, you had better be sure about your public statements. Because chances are there's a camera and a microphone there to record you.

Here's the latest trend on the campaign trail from National Review Online:
" ongoing challenge for candidates. In both parties, most major campaigns now hire “trackers” – people with videocameras who record what opponents say and do in public. The practice is ethical, provided that the trackers neither misrepresent themselves nor stalk candidates in private or closed events. Candidates now have to watch themselves, or their words will rapidly become ammunition for attack ads."

If you're the CEO or spokesperson for any organization that might have inspired opposition, don't be surprised to see this tactic at your next speech. (Here's an example of how to handle it with class and a sense of humor!)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

SPEAKER SAVVY--Don't Be A Slouch

You'd think that anyone willing to go on camera for an important interview would do everything in their power to look good. New clothes, clean teeth, fresh makeup--it's all good until they sit down. And..........slouch.

It amazes me how many people slouch. Maybe they didn't have parents like mine who constantly reminded me to sit or stand up straight. It may have been torture back then, but as an adult, my posture is powerful non-verbal communication that shows I'm confident and in command.

Here's a trick TV anchors and some radio DJ's use to get the proper position so that they come off looking and sounding sharp--sit on the edge of your seat with one foot placed well in front of the other. Try it! It really makes a difference. (And if you're worried about double-chins, lean forward just a little bit more. It'll give you a jawline Kirk Douglas would be proud of!)

Remember, your message--and maybe your reputation--might depend on a little more backbone.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

MEDIA MATTERS--Why You Need A Crisis Plan

The news was filled with reports on the thwarted plot to blow up a bunch of trans-Atlantic flights between London and the U.S. It was riveting TV and radio.

Watching the press conference this morning with Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff reminded me that having a crisis management plan for handling the press is not only vital for government agencies, it's a practical necessity for every business and organization. News waits for no one these days.

When you or the organization you're responsible for becomes the lead story, public perception depends on what you do and say over the first 24 hours. What the press writes and reads in their first few stories--not to mention how they see you handle the crisis--sets the tone for almost every report that follows.

Preparing a media crisis plan is like buying life don't like to think about the inevitable before it happens, but it's nice to know it's there when the inevitable finally arrives.

So what's your plan? I'd like to help craft this important piece of your communications strategy (and for more information on my media consulting services and seminar, go to

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

LEADERSHIP--Corporate Brain Drain

Where are the leaders of tomorrow coming from? Are you developing them within your own company...or are you actively searching other marketplaces for young leaders who can help you continue to grow?

I bring this up because I've been reading about "brain drain" again. This is the sociological phenomenon that plagues smaller cities and regions when their best and brightest leave for the opportunities that trendier metropolitan areas offer. (The mayor of my hometown is trying desperately to stop "brain drain"--a mass exodus he tried stemming before he was termed out four years ago.)

But what about "brain drain" on the corporate level? Have you noticed that your top middle-managers are packing up and movin' on? What's the best way to keep good employees and motivate them to become good leaders?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


I've been interviewing newsmakers and newsbreakers for over 20 years--and I get compliments almost every time because I do my homework. I do more diggin' than James Lipton (the ubiquitous host from "Inside The Actor's Studio" that always manages to find out things like what kind of car Dustin Hoffman drove in college.)

The funny thing is that the more show prep I do, the less preparation my guests seem to take going into the interview. I'm finding that most of these famous folks have little to no idea who they're talking to--and I've had to embarrass a couple of Hollywood heavyweights who dropped a couple of dirty words into an interview for a very family friendly station. They missed out on a golden opportunity to endear themselves to a whole new segment of fans.

If you're scheduled for a radio or TV interview, find out as much as you can about the hosts and what kind of "personality" their program has. Mark Victor Hansen, one of the creators of the "Chicken Soup For The Soul" series is great at this. He personally called me a few days before our interview, just to chat. We talked about our kids, our love of flying, motivational speaking...and wouldn't you know, when we actually did the interview, he managed to weave a few of our common interests into the discussion. It made both of us feel more comfortable (and made us sound like good friends!)

This is a simple, yet powerful formula for success. A little research on your part can make your next broadcast interview sound a lot more entertaining. And make you a better candidate for more radio/TV exposure!

Monday, August 07, 2006


13 years ago today, I made the smartest decision of my life--I married my wonderful wife, Sally. (I'm not sure what's the proper gift for your 13th anniversary...maybe lottery tickets?)

I can honestly say we've never had a fight in all those years. A few minor disagreements, yes. Some hurt feelings from time to time, sure. And once, I made the mistake of telling her she looked a little "frumpy." (The doctors say the limp isn't permanent.) But those tiny turmoils were always quickly resolved and we've never EVER gone to bed angry.

What's our secret? Talk. Lots of talk. I call her from work and always on the way home. If I'm away on business, she schedules short updates so we can catch up during the day. Pillow talk, too, most every night. Not just about the house and the kids, but important life subjects like goals and dreams and faith. You don't get to be best friends without considerable conversation.

What's the point? The point is that if the most important relationship in your life isn't worth regular discussion, how can you hope to be successful in your other relationships? Invest in wordplay. It'll pay off at home as well as the office!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

MEDIA MATTERS--No Legal Eagles

One of the things that surprises my consulting clients the most is my advice on media crisis management--no lawyers!

Don't get me wrong...your legal advisor should be holding your hand night and day when you or your organization is facing disaster. However, when it comes to offering advice on media matters, your lawyer will almost always be WRONG.

Why? Because lawyers will tell you to tell the press "No comment." The two most dangerous words you can say to a reporter...who will quote you verbatim in their article...which the reader will looks at and immediately think, "Guilty."

My lawyer friends argue that it's unethical to talk to reporters, or that their client's remarks might damage their right to a fair trial. That may be so, but the Canons of Ethics also state that lawyers must always serve the best interests of their clients--and to let the media determine public opinion without any response from the accused is bad legal representation, in my experience.

Negative media coverage will do more damage to you than a negative verdict. Critical news reports can destroy morale, turn customers away, depress stock prices, and influence future relationships. The best legal defense in a courtroom works against you in the court of public opinion. Win the legal battle and lose the media war.

The most effective media crisis strategy is to get an assessment of the legal problems you may create by talking to the press. Then go to your media consultant, weigh the risk/reward and make your decision.

Monday, July 31, 2006

LEADERSHIP--In Vino Opprobrium...

...which is Latin for "There's a scandal at the bottom of every bottle."

If you ever wanted a good reason why it's important for you as a person of influence to keep your public presence pristine, I have two words for you--Mel Gibson.

According to the AP, Mel was stopped by Malibu police Friday night for drunken driving. The entertainment Web site TMZ posted what it said were four pages from the original arrest report, which quoted Gibson as launching an expletive-laden "barrage of anti-Semitic remarks" after he was stopped on Pacific Coast Highway. (You can read the whole story HERE.)

Hollywood really doesn't care what their superstars say or do as long as their movies sell tickets. But Mel's reputation--which took some unfair hits during the filming ofThe Passion of the Christ--is now squarely in the crosshairs. And he deserves everything he gets.

The good news is that Mel immediately apologized for the incident, saying "After drinking alcohol on Thursday night, I did a number of things that were very wrong and for which I am ashamed...I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested, and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable...I disgraced myself and my family with my behavior and for that I am truly sorry." The bad news is that it may be too late to salvage his standing with the public.

For Mel Gibson fans, that mea culpa may be enough--but for most other people, Mad Mel just became a party joke at best and a fallen star with a shortened career at worst. Being in a position of any power or influence makes you a role model, whether you like it or not. Unless you want your private life to become the hot topic around the water cooler, practice moderation to avoid humiliation.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

MEDIA MATTERS--Talking Trouble

I'm just starting a consulting job with a client who is dealing with a reporter who is literally hounding its executive director for comments on negative stories planted by a politician whose agenda is pretty obvious. Whew. Forget a crisis plan--this organization has no media plan whatsoever! So what's the first thing I recommended?

Hire a media spokesperson. Someone to manage an effective media plan while handling all communications, so that the executive director can actually have time to perform the duties they were hired to do. Train the spokesperson to handle whatever journalistic storms are rolling through until you can get a short-term media strategy worked out with a professional. (By the way, I'd be happy to help you, too--check out my seminar, Managing The Media--Getting The Press You Want When You Want It (And Handling The Press When You Don't,) on my website at

It doesn't matter how good you are at dealing with pesky reporters. Your job is to run the company, not run from the press. Hire a spokesperson you can trust to handle your message and let them do the heavy lifting.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

LIVING SAVVY--Get The Funk Out...

It seems I've been a little depressed lately, which is pretty unusual for a positive, motivated guy like me. Mom passed away only two weeks ago and I thought I was handling the loss well enough...but apparently I'm the last to find out that I've been acting mopey and distant.

I struggled with the news. I felt lazy and apathetic and thick, in that large and lumbering way you get when you feel like a big brick of cheese. My wife told me, "Physician, heal thyself." I'm supposed to be the guy other people turn to when they need to be lifted up--how on earth do I break out of this funk?!?

The answer was typically strange and wonderful...I decided to run. Hard. Like those PT runs back when I was a first-year "doolie" at the Air Force Academy. Problem was, it was screaming hot outside. (I don't know if you've been following the summer heat wave news, but Sacramento has been broiling for a record 9 straight days with highs over 100. It's been so hot that Star Jones actually hugged Barbara Walters just to get the cold shoulder.)

The thermometer read 107. I was undaunted. I hit the road to sweat this swampy feeling out of my system. I focused on nothing but the sound of my breathing and after a mile, I ran back into the house, hit the showers and thought, "Now what...?"

It turns out that exercise is an excellent way to break depression. (Especially exercise performed by a deranged life coach.) That 10-minute run was just the thing I needed, a really intense workout in extreme conditions to shake out my sensibilities and put life back into perspective.

I don't recommend this remedy for everyone, especially if you're adverse to sweating buckets. But I do recommend shaking up your status quo if you're feeling depressed. See an outrageously funny movie, buy something you'd normally never dream of, maybe get out of bed an hour earlier and treat yourself to a fancy breakfast.

Life is hard enough. Don't vote yourself off the island. Zig when you usually zag and you might find a bright new day waiting for you.

Monday, July 24, 2006

LEADERSHIP--Determined To Win

One of the most inspirational stories you'll ever hear took place last week in the Tour De France. American cyclist Floyd Landis won the coveted "yellow jersey" after a roller-coaster week where he recovered from a disastrous mountain ride to stand on the victory podium on the Champs-Elysees yesterday. His journey to victory is a testament to determination...and a great leadership lesson.

Landis grew up in rural Pennsylvania where his Mennonite family discouraged him from becoming a cyclist by filling his days with strenuous chores. He defied them by riding his bike after dark, sometimes until 2 a.m.

He spent a few years as a member of Lance Armstrong's championship Tour De France team, until he jumped ship to become the leader of his own team. Experts told Landis he had no chance to win.

To complicate matters, Landis developed an arthritic hip so painful that he scheduled surgery immediately following this year's Tour, a procedure doctors told him could end his career.

But Landis perservered, hearing a voice that urged him to press on, even after a devastating performance on the second-to-last stage in the mountains where he lost the yellow jersey and fell to 11th place, more than eight minutes behind the leader. An insurmountable margin.

Floyd gathered his team, told them he didn't race to lose, and gave them an impossible strategy--break out of the pack at the first uphill mountain grade and literally sprint up the slope to break the will of their competition. It worked. Landis picked up 7 1/2 of the eight minutes he'd lost the day before with a performance that every Tour De France expert said was the greatest individual stage victory they'd ever seen.

Landis eventually took back the lead and won the Tour, much differently than his former boss. Lance Armstrong was the picture of preparation. Floyd Landis is the face of determination.

Having one without the other can still produce excellence, but as a leader, doesn't it seem that having both is ideal? I'll add another key element--that first, inspiration, followed with preparation, then finished with determination, is a sure formula for success in any organization.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

RELATIONSHIPS--It's All About The Follow-Through

My mom passed away on July 7th (one of the big reasons my blog entries have been sparse lately.) While I miss her smile, her strength, and her nobility, I will never forget the many surprising life lessons I learned during her final days.

Mom had a way of getting right to the point, and she reminded me many times that you build a successful life by taking care of every relationship you have no matter how small. The lessons must have rubbed off on my dad, who put Mom's leadership theory into practice in an impressive way.

One of Mom's great joys was singing with the Sweet Adelines. For over 15 years she practiced, performed, competed, and shared life with these special ladies, even up to a month before her it was only fitting that Mom was buried in her favorite Sweet Adelines' shirt. We asked her group to sing at Mom's wake and the sound they produced that night still gives me goosebumps.

Days later, after the funeral when all the family and friends have gone back to their regular lives, Dad drove over to the Sweet Adelines' rehearsal space. It must have been a lonely ride, the first time he had made a visit without Mom there, but he had a purpose. He went there to say "thank you." Thanks for so many things that were good and real and true in their relationship. Dad was just following though for Mom.

It was a simple gesture that profoundly shows how important the "follow-through" is in our everyday relationships. A quick visit, an unexpected compliment, a promise kept, an offer to help when your time is precious--these are the gifts that others appreciate far more than the trinkets and toys that typically define our relationships' worth.

Think about the "follow-through" with your family, friends, coworkers, even customers. I'll guarantee that you'll be long remembered.

Monday, July 17, 2006

SPEAKING SKILLS--Is this thing on?!?

President Bush uttered an expletive at the G-8 summit. And a microphone caught it.

Now, the fact that the leader of the free world was tossing out some salty language isn't very surprising, but it IS news. According to news reports, President Bush was engaged in a little light luncheon banter on the subject of Israeli-Hezbollah tensions when one of the microphones at his table picked up the following:

"See the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this s--- and it's over..."

Okay. The Prez said the s-word. It's not the first time (remember the "major league" A-bomb that Bush/Cheney dropped on NY Times reporter Adam Clymer?) nor will it be the most famous (Ronald Reagan's "We start bombing in five minutes" is the all-time oopsie moment.) Remember:
  1. The microphone is ALWAYS on (never trust a sound engineer to turn things off.)
  2. The camera is ALWAYS pointed at you (and you'll always be doing something embarrassing when it is.)
  3. You're ALWAYS "on the record" with a reporter (no matter how many times you tell them otherwise.)

Keep those rules in mind when you're in a public forum and you'll never have to worry about about what you did or said winding up as the lead story on the news.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

LEADERSHIP--Learning from "A-O-Hell"

By now, you've probably heard about the HUGE public relations nightmare that's hitting America Online right now (for the gory details, check it out HERE.) My favorite part--when John the AOL rep asked the 30-year-old customer if he could speak to his father!

It's bad enough that after 20 minutes of screaming at the worst excuse for a customer service rep ever, Vincent Ferrari posted a recording of his conversation on his blog for the World Wide Web to read. It caught the attention of CNBC reporter Matt Lefkowitz, who wanted to see what AOL had to say when he tried cancelling his account.

It took him 45 minutes. After he was disconnected on his first attempt.

AOL's response after the CNBC story aired last week? Read for yourself:

"At AOL, we have zero-tolerance for customer care incidents like this - which is deeply regrettable and also absolutely inexcusable. The employee in question violated our customer service guidelines and practices, and everything that AOL believes to be important in customer care - chief among them being respect for the member, and swiftly honoring their requests. This matter was dealt with immediately and appropriately, and the employee cited here is no longer with the Company.

"I've spoken directly to Mr. Ferrari and personally apologized to him for what took place. Many here have taken a strong interest in this episode - even going so far as to email all customer service representatives about it as an example of how we should never treat a member. We're going to learn from this - and continue to make the necessary, positive changes to our practices. This was an aberration and a mistake, and we have to manage these incidents down to zero as best we can. That means improving our already strong safeguards in place today, and maintaining rigorous internal and external compliance methods. We can do better - and we will."

Ummmm, thanks...but too late. The damage has been done. It's not that this is the first time someone has had trouble trying to drop their AOL account--in fact, there are several web sites devoted entirely to this frustrating endeavor! It's the fact that with today's technology, everyone can read and hear all about it and soon, the problem reaches legendary proportions.

As a leader, it's never too late to sit down with everyone in your organization to make sure they're overdelivering on customer service. Saving a couple bucks trying to keep a dissatisfied customer today might cost you and your company's reputation in the end.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

LEADERSHIP--Another Urban Legend

People love "urban legends"--stories passed along from person to person, usually by email, that sound like they're true but usually have little basis in fact. According to the web site,, "urban legends are narratives which put our fears and concerns into the form of stories or are tales which we use to confirm the rightness of our world view."

You may not know it, but there are "urban legends" everywhere, even in the business world. Let me give you one example: you're firing one of your employees and to soften the blow, you tell them, "It's not personal, it's just business."

Wrong. That's an urban legend of leadership.

The maxim should be "When it comes to business, it's all personal." As a leader, you're responsible to customers, employees, maybe stockholders...and believe me, they take what you do seriously. So when you tell them, "It's not personal," what you're really saying is that it's not personal to you.

But it should be.

The most successful leaders carry a passion for personal performance with them every day and instill a sense of accountability with everyone they encounter. Your business will grow every time you let someone you work with know "it's personal."

(If you'd like to hear more about my presentation, "The Urban Legends of Leadership," please check out my web site at

Friday, June 09, 2006

MEDIA MATTERS--Getting The "Coulter" Shoulder?

Maybe she knows what she's doing...but I can't help but think that conservative author and pundit Ann Coulter needs a little help with her media people skills.

Ms. Coulter got into a shouting match with NBC "Today Show" host Matt Lauer over her comments regarding a group of 9/11 widows who she claims have used a national tragedy for their personal gain. Political perspective aside, she made a couple of critical mistakes that will probably erode her credibility. (Notice I didn't say her popularity. In the world of political opinion, you want people to either love you or hate you...and the people who hate you will give you more attention than the people who love you. Which means bigger ratings and book sales.)

Rule #13 of Media Interview Techniques--don't get into a shouting match with the host. Having passion is great. Having lung power is not. The host controls the show and when you both get so worked up that tempers flare, guess who wins? And guess who invariably gets blasted after the interview's over? Not the interviewer. You only win when you are the cool and collected one.

Ann Coulter could've saved the interview by using a little charm or some self-deprecating humor, but she ended the segment by breaking Rule #7--never insult the host. After Matt Lauer closed the segment by saying, "Ann Coulter...always fun to have you here" she got one last shot in by saying, "Hey, Matt, where's Katie (Couric)? Did she leave or something?!?"

Childish. And self-serving. Ann Coulter's actions may sell books, but it doesn't help her credibility let alone give conservatives a fair shake in the public discourse. Lesson here--if you're in a confrontational interview with a member of the media, always take the high ground.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

SPEAKING SKILLS--Pomp Without The Circumstance

It's graduation season--which means you can't swing a tassel without hitting a celebrity speaker who can't or doesn't seem to care about his audience. I just sat through an interminably looooooooooong, self-serving speech by a really big name with an even bigger reputation. This celebrity obviously didn't understand the central concept of a graduation speech--it gives the speaker the chance to send young minds out into the world with a greater sense of purpose, a more practical perspective on life's trials and triumphs, or a call to arms to make the world a better place for future graduates.

Most graduation speeches fail because most graduation speakers think that the speech is about them, so they use the occasion to stroke their own egos or promote their pet causes. No wonder they're boring. However, there's a great lesson here that every speaker should use when forming their presentations--something world-class trainer Patricia Fripp calls the "I-You Ratio."

It's simple--just use the word "YOU" much more often than you use the word "I". For example, instead of saying "I was fishing with my dad one day when I caught the biggest bass I'd ever seen." Turn the perspective around to include your listeners:
"Imagine you're fishing on a calm, quiet lake as the sun breaks over the tree tops...and all you can hear is the breathing of the most important man in your life. Suddenly, your father says, 'I think you got one!' You stumble around the boat, struggling to reel in your prize catch. It is the biggest smallmouth bass you've ever seen. But not nearly as big as the smile on your dad's face."
Not only does that opening have a great emotional connection, it puts your audience in the middle of your experience. It engages them in a positive mental adventure that sets you up for a successful presentation. Most important, the proper "I/You Ratio" puts the focus of any speech, not just graduations, where it should be--on your audience, not on you.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

SPEAKING SKILLS -- Everyone Needs A Sensei

How do people at the top stay at the top? Mentoring.

The most successful businesspeople, athletes, actors--anyone who performs at a high level of skill--typically has someone who offers training, counseling, or accountability to help keep those skills sharp. Along the way, you may become a mentor to someone else in your chosen field. The master-protege relationship has worked for centuries.

Think of it this take a beginner's karate class. Your sensei is probably in training himself, taking master classes from the sensei/owner, a 3rd-degree black belt. And after the classes are finished at his dojo, the 3rd-degree meets with his sensei, an 8th-degree black belt, to attain the very highest levels of martial arts proficiency.

Do you have a mentor? When it comes to career advancement and personal growth, nothing compares to the advice, guidance and counseling gained at the feet of a more experienced person willing to show you the ropes.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

RELATIONSHIPS -- Idol Thoughts

If you're one of the 35% of Americans who can't wait to discuss American Idol around the water cooler the morning after, you'll be interested to know that a good part of the show's phenomenal success comes from a proven morning radio show formula.

Radio consultant Mike McVay (the guy who's mentored my career for the past 20 years) says the secret to putting together a top-rated morning show is in the casting--you need a "jerk," a "chick," and a "dork." Sounds like most drive-time radio laugh-fests you hear these days. It also sounds a lot like Simon, Paula, and Randy.

The judges' chemistry is a big part of what makes American Idol "must see TV," but without Simon's biting candor, Idol is just another TV talent show. It's his total transparency, those infamous, no-holds-barred critiques that get America talking. Simon says what most people are thinking about the contestants--he just doesn't have that pause switch that stops the average person from speaking their mind.

There's an important lesson here. More and more, I hear people tell me they want more transparency in their relationships, personal and professional. They need constructive criticism, not watered-down PC answers to life's tough questions. Think about it--don't you respect and appreciate the tough love responses your family, friends, and co-workers give you more that the "happy talk" you get from someone who cares more about avoiding conflict than they care about you?

Start a "Simon Says" philosophy for all your relationships and you'll become the person everyone wants to hear from!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

LEADERSHIP -- More Tips on "Tipping"

Not more than 30 minutes after I posted my latest entry on how business leaders can "insure prompt service" from their staff, I ran across this article from Patricia Fripp, one of the most successful (and certainly, the most interesting) professional speakers and trainers in the industry. Just read what she has learned--

Good Customer Service Is More Than Good PR
by Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE

In the throes and stresses of our workday lives, we sometimes forget how our customers see us. One single negative contact can ruin your reputation in the eyes of not only that one customer -- but everyone he or she knows as well. After all, word of mouth works both for or against you.

You need to make sure everybody in your organization knows he or she is an important part of it. Each department depends and dovetails into the other to produce quality in service or product. Everyone makes a difference: the sales force, the service technicians, the clerical staff, the PR department all work together toward the same goal -- keeping the customers satisfied.

A perfect example of how everyone makes a difference is when I was in a Nashville hotel attending a board of directors meeting for the National Speakers Association. After the meeting, several of us went to the coffee shop to continue our deliberations. Each of us asked for exceptions or additions to the menu items; we wanted separate checks; and to make things even more confusing, being speakers, we talked to each other the whole time the waitress patiently took our orders. "My dear, all this confusion is going to be worthwhile -- these guys are big tippers," I said.

She said, "I'm not being nice for a tip. It doesn't even matter if I get a tip or not. If we give you good service, your group will bring back its business here and not to the competition." Isn't that a marvelous attitude from someone on the front lines?

I was so impressed, I wrote a letter to the hotel manager congratulating him on his staff and especially the waitress at the coffee shop. I never received a reply. That waitress "wowed" me with her service and her attitude; but the manager's lack of response almost nullified her customer service savvy.

Everyone makes a difference. I think the manager and the waitress should change places for a couple of weeks, she knows more about good PR than he does. As Paul Harvey says, "Advertising strategies work if everyone knows about them, from the highest corporate executive to the entry level worker."

Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE is a San Francisco-based executive speech coach, sales trainer, and award-winning professional speaker. She is the author of Get What You Want!, Make It, SoYou Don't Have to Fake It!, and Past-President of the National Speakers Association. She can be reached at:, 1-800 634-3035,

Monday, May 22, 2006

MOTIVATION -- "To Insure Prompt Service"

Whatever happened to optional tipping?

According to industry reports, it's not just restaurants, hotels, and cruise ships who are adding mandatory gratuities to your bill. Other businesses such as airport skycabs and caterers are starting to attach automatic tips to every transaction. Add mandatory tipping to service fees and you can see why this new strategy is so attractive--PriceWaterhouseCooper estimates that the hotel industry alone will collect $1.6 billion in fees and gratuities from guests this year.

There's a growing discontent from customers who feel that tipping is a very personal practice. Of course, you can argue that automatic gratuities protect servers from cheap and ungrateful customers. But my experience as a busboy/waiter/bartender proves that by giving every customer the same excellent service, my disappointment from getting stiffed by the occasional stiff was more than compensated by the tables who left jawdropping tips (and recommended me and the place I was working to all their friends!)

Taking the power of tipping away may also start diminishing the overall quality of service. What's the point of trying harder if I'm going to get the same gratuity at the end of the day? (This is part of the "Sure Thing Theory" that I discuss in my seminar, The Urban Legends of Leadership -- go to for more information.)

Too many people have an unhealthy sense of entitlement when it comes to performance and compensation, expecting something whether or not it's deserved. On the other hand, there are employers out there who don't let their staff know what level of excellence is demanded and figure that service fees and mandatory gratuities cover any shortcomings.

There's only one way as a business leader "to insure prompt service," as the tipping acronym goes, from your employees. Give generously for generous work. Show your strong and consistent appreciation and you will be repaid with excellence and loyalty.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

SPEAKING SKILLS -- Full-Contact Eye Contact

A lot of executive speech trainers will tell you that the biggest problem most speakers have is eye contact -- looking at a couple of friendly faces to the exclusion of everyone else, giving too much eye contact to the boss or client, or worst of all, moving back and forth from the script to the audience so much that it looks like they're watching a bungee jumper. Every good speech trainer has a bag of tricks that can fix most of these focus problems, but while their training tips may be sound, I believe the secret to successful eye contact isn't in the crowd, it's on the page.

The secret is in the proper preparation. Doesn't it make sense that if you take the time to memorize your speech and practice it enough to feel entirely comfortable, you won't have to worry about where to look. Funny, you never have trouble with eye contact when you're talking to your friends. Take that approach with your next public speaking opportunity and you'll be having a conversation with friends, not speaking off notes to a bunch of strangers.

Just think of world-class athletes like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, and Mia Hamm...nobody trained harder, practiced more, or prepared more diligently, so that when it came time for competition, they were creating while everyone else was busy thinking.

If you want "full-contact" eye contact with your audience, spend more time on the page before your speech so you can spend more time off the page while you're speaking.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

MEDIA MATTERS -- Snow in May

(My sincere apologies for the lack of posts over the past few weeks. Thanks for your patience--I will resume posting new entries on a regular basis from now on! -- MARK)

Tony Snow is the new White House Press Secretary and if his first week on the job is any indication, Tony might single-handedly salvage President Bush's second term.

He has shown a refreshing combination of humor, humility, and transparency in a political world that desperately needs all three. Yet, I read a blog by a highly respected media trainer who thought Tony made a huge mistake by admitting that his decision to bring the White House Press Corps into his office for his first presser turned out to be "just a mess."

Tony was obviously being candid (not to mention self-deprecating.) However, this media expert thought he made a "monumental press blunder," going on to say, "...the episode does show clearly that when you are spokesperson for an organization receiving tremendous scrutiny, any time you get off message, you run the risk of destroying an entire day's news coverage."

I couldn't disagree more. While conventional wisdom believes that any slip of the tongue or off-hand remark could spell disaster for high profile messengers, there is a growing need for honesty and sincerity with a media that has been numbed and even angered by all the double-talk and vagueness it's used to getting. (What's the point of staying "on message" if the message always gets garbled up by an angry mob of reporters?)

Tony Snow is a great example of how to handle the press with style and grace. Watch him and take notes!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

LEADERSHIP--What happens in Vegas?

What do Las Vegas and Jeffery Shilling have in common? Plenty. They both show a troubling lack of judgement...and from society's standpoint, a troubling lack of perspective.

You've seen the popular ad campaign, "What happens here, stays here." Las Vegas tourism has apparently abandoned its recent family-friendly makeover and gone back to the original Sin City image. It's promoting "situational ethics." And it's just as big a problem as the Enron scandal. But society accepts--even celebrates--the wild and crazy adventures of desperate housewives on a Vegas vacation but scorns and ridicules the accounting antics of a bunch of greedy executives. Why?

It's hypocritical to nudge and wink at the Vegas line and then point fingers when corporate managers break the universal code of ethics. By Las Vegas standards, Enron's slogan should be "What happens in the boardroom, stays in the boardroom." But somehow, everyone thinks they're two different situations. How could a little harmless fun away from home possibly compare with the magnitude of corruption visible in the Jeffery Shilling case?

Simple--if character is who you are when no one's looking, then it shouldn't matter what the situation is. Leadership demands a higher level of ethical behavior--whether you're the head of a major corporation or the head of the household. You don't get to pick and choose when--or where.

Friday, March 24, 2006


I'm taking a little time off from this blog to concentrate my energies on my role in the Sacramento Theatre Company's production of Shakespeare's classic comedy, "The Taming of the Shrew." Terrific cast, hilarious concept (set in the Wild West), and a high-energy romp from showdown to hoedown. For those of you who know the play, I'm playing Hortensio--for those of you who don't, I'm playing Bill Daly's Major Healey to Larry Hagman's Major Nelson from "I Dream of Jeannie".

The play gets a lot of criticism from people who think the premise is misogynistic--some macho man "taming" a spirited, independent woman. On the surface, it certainly reads like that...but on closer inspection, the leading man goes through a remarkable transformation as he finally realizes that he genuinely admires and adores his wildcat of a wife.

My 6-year old daughter has been fascinated by the production pictures, and just the other day, she looked at a photo of Petruchio and Kate in a combat pose and said to me, "Daddy, this man really needs to marry the girl because he's sad and needs someone to love him." WOW. She was absolutely right--this confirmed bachelor who has "come to wive it wealthily in Padua" needs a partner of equal strength and passion to share his life.

Understanding why we need to have certain kinds of people as friends or lovers is more important than the need itself. And the ability to cultivate and appreciate those relationships carries one of the keys to happiness. Let the special people in your life know just how special they are today!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

MEDIA MATTERS--Raising Helen

How would you handle a press conference when every reporter is itching to ask you the "really tough question"? There's an art to it...which I cover in depth in one of my training seminars called Managing The Media—Getting The Press You Want When You Want It(…and how to handle it when you don't!) See my website at for more information!

There was an interesting exchange at yesterday's press conference between President Bush and legendary White House reporter Helen Thomas that shows precisely how to handle an adversarial media moment. This was an ideal demonstration of how a press conference works to the advantage of anyone who’s even moderately versed in the art. For those who complain the press doesn't ask the tough questions, they don’t get much tougher than the one Thomas asked:

"Your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is: Why did you really want to go to war? From the moment you stepped into the White House, your Cabinet officers, former Cabinet officers, intelligence people and so forth -- but what's your real reason? You have said it wasn't oil, the quest for oil. It hasn't been Israel or anything else. What was it?"

Ms. Thomas was basically saying to the President, "We all know you lied about the reasons you went to war, now tell us the truth." You don't get much tougher questions than that, but President Bush came right back with a near-perfect response:

“I think your premise, in all due respect to your question and to you as a lifelong journalist -- that I wanted war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect...No president wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it's just simply not true.”

Now, put aside your feelings about the war and look at this press conference objectively. The president didn’t call on Helen Thomas to change her mind--he called on her because he knew he'd get a tough question and because he knew he could respond in a forceful manner. He also rephrased her question in such a way that allowed him to control the dialogue to his favor. (Standriff's First Rule of Speaking--He who controls the mike controls the room!)

When you're facing negative media coverage, the strongest strategy is to formulate a solid message, face the press immediately, and restate every question so it works to your advantage.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

SPEAKING SKILLS--Learning from the best

I don't profess to have all the answers--but I know the people who do. Like Mark Sanborn, one of the best speakers I've ever heard. Mark's the guy who discovered The Fred Factor, a must-read for anyone interested in leadership excellence and customer service. He's also a Certified Professional Speaker and a past president of the National Speakers Association. (Check out his website at for more information.) Let me share something Mark wrote a while back on presentation skills that every speaker should take to heart:

6 Principles for Powerful Presenting
by Mark Sanborn, CSP, CPAE

  1. It isn't enough to have a message. It must be YOUR message. What is it about your topic that is important to you? That is where your uniqueness lies. Don't give books reports. Bring your unique perspective to the audience. When you discover your message, you also release your passion.
  2. The best advice on speaking I ever got was over 20 years ago from David Johnson, then an Ohio legislator. He told me that every audience wants to be entertained. I have found that education is usually best delivered on the wings of entertainment.
  3. At the beginning of every speech, your primary challenge is to break preoccupation. Each audience member is preoccupied with their own thoughts and concerns. A powerful, attention-grabbing beginning is critical.
  4. People don't remember your points, they remember your illustrations. If they can remember the story, then they will be able to remember the point or lesson that the story teaches. Stories are like mental coat-pegs: a place for listeners to hang ideas.
  5. Demosthenes, when asked about the first, second, and third desiderata of rhetoric, replied, "Action, action, action." End with a call to action. Make it clear what you would like your audience to do as a result of your presentation. Be clear on what they should do, not just what they should think.
  6. The primary reason why speakers fail is lack of preparation. Practice may not make perfect, but it does make one better. Enough practice makes one great. Speaking, like any other worthwhile endeavor, requires much practice and preparation.

(Mark Sanborn's next book is due out soon, called You Don't Need a Title to Be a Leader: How Anyone, Anytime Can Make a Positive Difference.)

Monday, March 20, 2006

RELATIONSHIPS--One-to-one management

Watching the NCAA tournament this weekend, I was struck by something one of the winning coaches said in his post-game press conference. " My guys know I love them all...but I don't love them all the same way."

That's a great analogy for any business leader trying to create a more productive corporate culture. Anyone who's ever coached a team sport will tell you that you can't use the same motivational techniques on every player. There is no "I" in "TEAM"...but there is a "ME" in there somewhere.

Why not use the same approach on your team at work? No two workers are alike, so figure out what makes each of your employees tick and tailor their perk packages to fit their lifestyle. Customizing rewards will make your staff feel special. (Listen--if you're spending millions in marketing collecting information about individual customers and transforming it into tailored offerings, doesn't it make sense to take that same concept and focusing it on your own employees? Remember, customer loyalty starts with employee loyalty.)

Employee-tailored services can be inexpensive and cost-effective, delivering the same bull's-eye impact as target marketing. If you want to build a winning organization, starting looking for the "ME" in "TEAM."

Friday, March 17, 2006

SPEAKING SKILLS--All the world's a stage...

The first question most business people ask me is, "How can I get over my fear of public speaking?"

My answer is, "Stop thinking that your audience is the enemy."

Here's the tip: GREAT speakers talk to the audience like they're good friends, sharing information in an entertaining and emotional way. Think about how fascinating you are when you're at a party telling that hilarious story about how you almost lost your first job...THAT'S the same attitude you should have when you're at the podium, offering your insights based on your life and career experiences. Comfort + confidence = speaking success.

It's like having a water-cooler conversation with a thousand of your closest friends. You're "on stage" every time you tell a joke or share your vacation memories. The next time you have to give a presentation, don't think of it as a "speech", think of it as a colorful conversation and you're the life of the party!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


When top executives polish their speeches, they often make a major mistake--they ask the same people who helped write their speech to listen while they rehearse it. The problem is that their assistants start to develop blind spots because they're too familiar with the subject. My experience as a radio talk show host tells me that your eyes process information differently than your ears do. Words have a much different impact in print than they do on stage.

To create the best speech, you need both kinds of feedback. My wife, the former editor and English teacher, goes over every page of my speech or workbook so that it makes structural sense...but I find it useful to sit down with some business buddies over a couple of sodas and actually deliver my speech! They're the perfect audience because I'm comfortable with them, and they can give me an honest critique.

Before you give your next presentation, make sure the people reading the speech aren't the same ones watching you rehearse.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

LEADERSHIP--It's all about relationships

I work with a number of organizations--mostly with mid-level managers--showing them how the relationship they have with their employees is just as important as the relationship they have with their customers. (Check out my leadership workshops at

Here's a terrific example of a CEO who really shows his workers how much he cares for them. David Seeger runs the Great Lakes Credit Union, and recently he took a page from a reality TV show and used it as a fun new employee promotion that was as beneficial as it was motivational. Here's the story from the Toledo Blade:

A worker suggested that the credit union emulate the NBC show The Biggest Loser, in which contestants attempt to shed lots of weight. Mr. Seeger, a self-confessed "health nut," liked the idea and hired his own personal trainer, Donna Susor, to give his workers a tutorial on diet and exercise. At a holiday party near the start of the year, she measured and weighed them.

Employees of the credit union divided into three teams...the average worker lost 6 1/2 pounds, but some did far better. For example, Rachel Walters, of the winning team, lost 27 pounds and more than 20 inches. CEO Mr. Seeger said the weight-loss contest is just one of many activities to promote teamwork and fun. In the past, the credit union's "fun committee" came up with a night at Raceway Park, a scavenger hunt, a bowling party, picnics, and a trivia contest.

Sounds like a great place to work, doesn't it? I know the company well, and Great Lakes Credit Union has one of the highest employee retention rates in the industry. If "it's all about relationships," make sure your employees feel as appreciated as your customers!

Monday, March 13, 2006

MOTIVATION--Everyone's an elevator...'re either lifting people up or you're taking them down. And not many professions are in more need of serious encouragement than teachers. (Jack Canfield, the man who helped bring us all those wonderful Chicken Soup for the Soul books, says that "today's educators are over-stressed and under-appreciated, over-committed and underpaid." As the husband of an award-winning educator and the son of two teachers, trust me, it's true.)

Teaching is one of those professions that come from your heart and soul; people who love to give and serve and help are drawn to it. That’s also why teachers risk getting their hearts broken or being discouraged when things don’t go the way they plan or expect. Teaching is a career that requires so much more of you to succeed. It takes passion, vision, and above all, patience. That’s why teachers need to feed their hearts and souls regularly to recharge... but they rarely do, and as a result, they fall into burnout, or stress, or worst of all, apathy.

Forget "teaching to the test." Teaching is a test. If you know an educator--especially if you have children in school right now--take a minute to thank them for their service!

Friday, March 10, 2006

LEADERSHIP--Taking a "Maxwell Moment"

John Maxwell, one of the best minds on leadership issues, recently shared his thoughts on the trouble with success:

One of the biggest temptations leaders of successful organizations face is to stop thinking big. After a taste of success, even the best and brightest leaders suddenly start to think complacency. When a company gets on a roll, some leaders tighten up and start playing it safe. They stop playing to win and begin playing not to lose. Where they once thought big and new, now they think incrementally.

This temptation is a reality with a lot of sports teams. How many times have we seen teams lose their momentum and then lose the game because instead of playing to win, they began to play not to lose? They get ahead, but then they pull back and stop playing with the intensity that earned them the lead.

The same temptation traps company executives. With the organization exceeding expectations and making record profits, the leadership gets excited. The organization appears to be cruising toward its best year ever, when all of a sudden the focus shifts from gaining momentum to sustaining momentum. The moment leadership changes focus, momentum vanishes.

(This article is used by permission from Dr. John C. Maxwell's free monthly e-newsletter 'Leadership Wired' available at

Maxwell correctly points out that the corporate climate shows a tendency to be reactive after achieving their goals rather than embracing the proactive environment that made these companies successful in the first place.

If you're sensing stagnation in your career or organization, replace complacency with a bold new plan for the future. My leadership workshop, The Puzzle Principle, can help--check it out on my web site, (the link can be found in the right side column on this page!)

I look forward to hearing more about your future plans!