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!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

COMMUNICATION SKILLS--Size really does matter

Bumper stickers really drive me crazy.

Maybe it's the fact that they draw my attention away from driving...or that people actually think it increases their car's value by turning it into a rolling billboard...or that you can't really read the darn things unless you and the car in front of you come to a complete stop. But yesterday, I saw a bumper sticker that perfectly illustrated one of the most important communication lessons any CEO or corporate spokesperson should learn.

It was on the back bumper of Subaru Legacy I was stuck behind in downtown Sacramento. There were probably 7 or 8 stickers back there with a variety of political or comic philosophies, but one jumped out because it made no sense. Wedged among the other slogans was a 3x8 inch diatribe that must have had a whole paragraph printed on it. Even after staring at it for five or ten minutes while stuck in traffic, I still couldn't tell you what it said. Because the bumper sticker was too small!

The point is--size really does matter. What's the point of presenting a message that no one can see or hear clearly?

If you need to make a statement, make it BIG and BOLD. Use short, simple declarative sentences. Say what you mean and you mean what you say. Cut out anything that isn't important, whether you're giving a TV interview or giving a keynote address. And please, don't let what you say get swallowed up or overwhelmed by a lot of other messages.

Here's the good news: it's easy to be heard above the din with the proper preparation and training. Contact me at if you'd like more information on media training, presentation skills, developing your message, or managing an audience.

The average person is bombarded with over 250,000 audio or visual "impressions" every day. Today's consumer doesn't have the time or energy to sift through the clutter, so it's essential that you make the biggest and boldest impression possible.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

MEDIA MATTERS--Baseball been very Barry bad

With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, how do you handle a problem like Bobby B.?

The news that future Hall of Fame slugger Barry Bonds not only used steroids to fuel his home run assault but lied about it to Congress now puts his future in the Hall of Fame in doubt. And Barry will blast the media for its relentless reporting and will once again threaten retirement.

Good. It’s about time. Get on with your bad self, Mr. Bonds. But before you start writing your Cooperstown speech, there’s a huge PR problem to overcome.

I’d like to talk about what to do if you were the firm handling Barry Bonds’ media appearances, but frankly, I’m pretty sure it’s an impossible task. Bonds has had a hate-hate relationship with the press for years and this latest bombshell will only exacerbate the tension. Barry will blame everyone but himself as his legacy is goes from mythical to pitiful.

If Bonds wants a peek at his future, just look at what’s happened to Pete Rose.

Charlie Hustle was my boyhood hero and for years I defended him against the allegations that he gambled on the game. When I was a radio talk show host back in Ohio, I was thrilled to have Pete Rose in studio before a big sports banquet in town. Eager to have The Man himself clear the air, the very first question I asked was, “Pete, here’s your chance to set the record straight--did you ever bet on baseball?”

And Pete Rose looked me straight in the eye and said, “Mark, I don’t know how to make it any plainer…I never bet on baseball. Period.”

Not soon after that, his book came out and he fessed up. And I realized that the hero of my youth had lied to my face.

Here’s the PR lesson—in the full court press of today’s media culture, you cannot be too transparent! But to be honest with others, you first must be honest with yourself. Honesty creates trust and trust is your reputation’s greatest friend.

When your ego is a big as Bonds’, it’s impossible to repair your reputation. My advice is to replace the ego-driven drivvel with humble, honest communication and you’ll be on your way to repairing your reputation

Remember, an excellent reputation is built on two things--transparency and accountability. These are things Barry Bonds is lacking and what makes it worse, he refuses to deal with them. His response to the new book that refueled the steroids story—"I won't even look at it. For what? There's no need to.” And the boat to denial just sailed again.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Welcome to MARKblogs--my daily perspective on leadership, life balance, customer service, motivation, sales training, speaking skills, and media matters. Here's your invitation to join me in an ongoing discussion of the events that shape how we work, speak, and enjoy life together! You'll find I'm an avid blogger--so eventually there will be links to other blogs and web sites, along with photo and audio samples to share with you.

Feel free to add your comments. And if you think you or your organization could use my services as a consultant, trainer, or keynote speaker, please contact me at!