Monday, January 29, 2007

What Was Hillary Thinking?

This one is going to be played over and over for weeks...and we still won't know what Hillary Clinton really meant.

At a town hall meet--sorry, she's calls it a "conversation stop"--in Davenport, Iowa, the former First Lady and hopeful first lady President was asked the question, “with all the bad and evil men around the world, what equips you to deal with them?” Hillary repeats the question, paraphrasing it like any good speaker should...and then she pauses and lets loose this wicked, Cheshire Cat grin, and suddenly the audience erupts with laughter. (The Chicago Sun-Times has the best account of it here.)

Look at the video and tell me what your immediate reaction was. Yep. She's gotta be thinking about Bill. That smile was a little too knowing.

However, Hillary bristled at the suggestion that she was dissing her husband, telling reporters to "lighten up." She offered a couple of different explanations to her "bad men" comment, but two things are apparent. First, whether or not she meant it, there are a lot of her supporters who will nudge and wink each other over Hillary's naughty little inside joke because they love her for standing by Bill during Monica-gate. That's not a bad position for someone of Sen. Clinton's history and reputation.

Second, she's either the clumsiest conversationalist in media history...or the most brilliant. And if you're running against Hillary, prepare for the latter.

The Puzzle Principle

Later this week, I'll be officially announcing my new platform, The Puzzle Principle: How To Create Long-Term Success in a Short-Term World, in the next issue of my MARKtalks newsletter. (If you'd like a free monthly subscription, send me a note at!)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What's your "State of the Union"?

Last night, President Bush delivered a measured and humble State of the Union, the annual address to the nation about matters of importance to the executive office. It's traditionally one of the most watched and analyzed speeches of the year.

The presidential "State of the Union" is called for in the Constitution. If you're a corporate CEO or president, where's yours? When is the last time you talked openly and frankly about the organization's status and your vision for its future? Speaking to the stockholders doesn't count. It's a speech that your employees and customers need to hear, an explanation of your values and priorities for the coming months and years.

Too often, leaders are hesitant to share this kind of information because they're concerned about disclosure. I would say that it depends on what you're disclosing and how you present it. President Bush effectively laid out his objectives and highlighted a few key people and events from last year without giving up any national secrets.

If you're in any kind of leadership position, I urge you to give a "State of the Company" speech every year...and embrace it as a great opportunity to motivate your staff and keep your customers informed. They'll thank you for it.

Monday, January 22, 2007

What The Politically Savvy Are Saying

A really interesting piece in this morning's U.S. News & World Report about the specific language that the 2008 Democratic presidential candidates should use. It comes from longtime GOP consultant and wordsmith Frank Luntz:

On the Democratic side, we'll start with new fave Sen. Barack Obama. Luntz says he should talk about "hope" and "opportunity" and simply use his remarkable life story as the visual. "He's a natural," says Luntz, who cautions: "Out with the sound bites and in with the stories." Not surprisingly, Luntz says Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton should use hubby Bill as her visual and mouth words like "mission" and "finally"—as in a woman president.

Across the aisle, Luntz wants Sen. John McCain to talk about his trademark "reform" and "accountability." Olympics exec and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney should highlight "competence" and "good governance" and use the Olympic symbol lots. Luntz pal Rudy Giuliani should talk "success" and "results" and use the cleaned-up Times Square for his backdrop. And every candidate should brag: "I'm a leader in times of crisis." See the whole Luntz list at"

Funny, I don't see the words "ethics" or "integrity" mentioned... but nonetheless, it's interesting to see what an expert thinks are the campaign buzzwords in the race for the White House.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Handling A Hit Piece

Barack Obama is certainly the most talked about politician in America. The glowing reviews of his autobiography, the comparisons to the glory days of JFK and Camelot, the chatter about his presidential aspirations are all part of a brilliant PR campaign. However, there are other people with high hopes who are willing to provide the media with fodder for scandal. How you handle a hit piece could mean the difference between ultimate success and tragic failure.

Check out this article from yesterday on Insight Magazine's website with the header, "Hillary's team has questions about Obama's Muslim background." Here's how the story begins:

Are the American people ready for an elected president who was educated in a Madrassa as a young boy and has not been forthcoming about his Muslim heritage?

This is the question Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s camp is asking about Sen. Barack Obama.

An investigation of Mr. Obama by political opponents within the Democratic Party has discovered that Mr. Obama was raised as a Muslim by his stepfather in Indonesia. Sources close to the background check, which has not yet been released, said Mr. Obama, 45, spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia.

"He was a Muslim, but he concealed it," the source said. "His opponents within the Democrats hope this will become a major issue in the campaign."

When contacted by Insight, Mr. Obama’s press secretary said he would consult with “his boss” and call back. He did not.

Big mistake. Politicians have an alarming tendency to avoid confronting controversial issues in their past--but when you can show that you have overcome the issues or solved them in a socially acceptable way, why not embrace the problem and celebrate your victory?!?

In this case, Sen. Obama could say, "It was never my intent to hide my Muslim upbringing--I guess since my life is now filled with the love of Christ, it just seemed to me to be a part of my childhood environment and not a conscious life decision that I should be worried about. I am much more concerned that there are politicians who preach tolerance yet promote intolerance. If they want to use religious bigotry to further their worldly ambitions, then I feel sorry for them."

Insight Magazine has presented a ticking bomb for Obama--and if he really has the right stuff for a presidential run, he will difuse it rather than refuse it.

UPDATE: It looks like the hit piece was based on false information--here are the details from the Chicago Sun-Times:

"Barack Obama's week-old presidential campaign has been hit with a smear. Hillary Clinton's White House bid, launched Saturday, has been attacked with an unfounded accusation.

Contrary to what was reported in Insight magazine and then repeated on Fox News and in other news outlets, including a column that ran in the Sun-Times by free-lancer Mark Steyn, Obama was not educated in a radical Islamic school when he was an elementary student in Jakarta.

And there is no evidence whatsoever that Clinton's campaign had anything to do with spreading the damaging rumor that Obama hid a Muslim background."

A free pass for both campaigns...but my advice still stands.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Little "Messy" In Your Life

I just heard a report that says retail clothing stores regularly display a couple of items that haven't been folded right on top of a neatly-piled stack of merchandise. The reason? People feel uncomfortable messing up something that looks so carefully placed...and the "messy" items invite them to pick up, handle, and hopefully purchase something.

How can a little "messy" help you? We tend to see practically-perfect people as unapproachable and distant. Letting down your guard, showing some self-depricating humor, maybe even asking for some help or advice when you don't really need it will go a long way toward winning admiration and respect.

The leaders who aren't afraid to show their human side usually gain stronger and more faithful followers than those who hate to have any "messy" around them.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

How NOT To Handle A Media Stunt...

...and I'll start off this post by admitting I used to work for both the radio station and the mayor involved in this bizarre incident.

The age-old advice for politicians and other famous folk has always been "Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the gallon." (Or someone who has unlimited airtime on a heritage radio station, as this poor public information officer found out...check out PUSH COMES TO SHOVE IN NEWS ACCESS FEUD.) This story has unfortunately turned into a First Amendment rights issue, something that could get ugly if not handled quickly and deftly.

Hizzoner asked my advice on how to handle talk show hooligans, which I'll be happy to share with you:
  1. Contact the station management and lodge a formal complaint.
  2. Take the high road. They need you more than you need them--so what if they call you every lousy name in the book. You only stoop to their level AND more importantly, provide these schlock jocks with radio gold every time you step up to challenge them.
  3. If a response is necessary, use television to appeal to the general public. Book a little time on the highest-rated newscast to make the radio station an offer they can't refuse--or refute. (In this case, here's what I advised the mayor's PIO to say: "If the radio show hosts at WSPD want to get a response from the mayor, they don’t have to break down doors. Carty is willing to come down to their studios and talk to them whenever they want, face to face and man to man.")
  4. Hold a press conference, inviting the public (that's very important!) to apologize for the distraction from the mayor's higher responsibility and politely confront the radio station's representatives ("WSPD can’t have it both ways. They’re either reporters who deliver news stories in a fair and objective manner, or they’re talk show hosts who are free to comment on the news of the day…but it’s disingenuous to hide behind press credentials in order to further a ratings agenda. More importantly, it’s immature and unethical to ban the mayor from their airwaves while screaming for their First Amendment right to ask him questions.")

Nothing gets out of hand faster than a politician bickering with the media. If you're ever in this situation, try to ignore it. If you can't ignore, implore--then explore other media options.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Set Dressing

I've never seen it in person, but they say that the Oval Office is the most intimidating room in the free world. If that's the case, then whomever convinced President Bush to move from the Oval Office to the White House library as the setting for last night's speech should get a big raise.

It created a much better environment for the type of speech he was delivering to the American public--one member of a focus group interviewed right after the President's speech said the all the library books in the background made him look "smarter."

As a speaker, your setting is one of the most important--and one of the most overlooked areas under your control. Make sure it sends the right kind of non-verbal wouldn't want to give an important speech on corporate waste on a stage cluttered with plants and props.

Everything in the room is under your control, from the signage to the furniture to microphone placement. Contact the event organizers and find out how large the stage is...ask if the podium is movable or fixed...are there any banners or posters...and above all, include a list of your personal needs and tastes in your meeting planner's package. (You don't want to show up and find that the lighting makes you look like a talking lobster!)

Speaking in the perfect setting may not make a great speech any better--but it certainly can turn a great speech into a disaster.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Impossible is the Opposite of Possible

This YouTube parody of the typically self-indugent video resume is brilliant. The subject, Michael Cera, is the epitome of ego. The dialogue is delightfully pithy, filled with generic motivational quotes that make this kid sound like the love child of Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Wayne Dyer. (I kid...I kid because I love.)

Here's my favorite resume response:
"Well, I would best describe myself as a model of personal development and success...and I'm a Gemini and my favorite food is pizza."

It's hilarious (yes, it's a lovingly sarcastic tribute to the Russian youth who produced the "Impossible Is Nothing" video you can view HERE) and I pray that I never come off sounding like I'm in awe of my own awesomeness.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

From Reel Life To Real Life

How do the most effective communicators make their presentations so compelling? They follow the strategy that makes instant classics out of movies or plays. It's all about the story.

Alfred Hitchcock used to say, "Movies are like real life with all the dull parts left out." That's a perfect game plan for anyone who's struggling with a sales pitch or worried about an upcoming speech--leave the dull parts out, concentrate on the action, and give your hero plenty to play with.

That means discovering your "EQ." If "IQ" is your Intelligence Quotient, then effective speaking has an Emotional Quotient. The "EQ" of every powerful presentation provides an investment of images, memories, and shared experiences that grab an audience's attention and refuse to let go. (It makes sense--the conversations you have with family and friends that get the best response are usually big production numbers filled with dramatic devices, so why not use that same approach for your next luncheon speech?

Once you find your speaking "EQ," it'll be time to add the "CQ" and "PQ" to really improve your speaking skills--check out my next monthly newsletter for more information on how using reel life strategies can make your real life presentations more effective. (Sign up at!)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


My first newsletter will be launched today--it's filled with great information, tips on leadership and presentation skills, and a monthly feature on the professional speakers who have given me inspiration through the years. Here's just a taste:
If you'd like to subscribe, email me at and I'll send you the first issue (you can also look for the archive later this month!)

Monday, January 01, 2007

Pick A Lane This Year

Happy New Year! I hope the past 12 months were filled with opportunity and inspiration.

You're going to see some changes soon on my web site, I'm trying to focus my energies (not to mention my expertise) in order to become a more powerful connection for people who are struggling with presentation skills. Some changes will be subtle, some very dramatic, but ALL of them will be centered on helping you Act Like A Winner and Talk Like A Pro!

These changes come from some advice I got off a teleseminar with Jane Atkinson, one of the top professional speaker coaches in the world. She says the secret to starting a successful speaker career is to "pick a lane," and it struck me as something I should've done years ago. I've been blessed with a large range of abilities and have always strived to find success in ALL of them! (Too bad I didn't "pick a lane" and focus my attention on just one talent--who knows how far I could've gone by now!)
The point is that it's never too late. No matter where you are in your career, a laser-like focus on your top talent can't help but improve your results in the coming year. I'm looking forward to sharpening my skills with Ms. Atkinson this winter...and if you haven't decided what your best path to success is yet, pick a lane!