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!