Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Schmooze Or Lose

I love to schmooze. In fact, my wife says I'm the only person she knows who could work a phone booth. It's a natural part of my personality...and something I've found can make even a great presentation even more successful and lucrative!

Audiences love contact with celebrities--and trust me, if you've been asked to give a major presentation or keynote speech, you can consider yourself a "celebrity." Arrive early and stay late. Shake hands and look into faces. Connect with the crowd before you step on stage and they'll be in love with you before you even open your mouth.

Oh, and working the room doesn't stop when you step off the stage. Stick around and chat, sign a few autographs, let everyone who wants to shake your hand or ask a question get a little one-on-one time. (My experience is to set your mental clock to two minutes for each person--that way you're not still working the room at midnight!) You'll really make a lasting impression and you'll probably pick up some future business, too!

As one of my favorite speakers, Patricia Fripp, advises, "There is more business to be had from the connection with the audience members and contacts from the client organization than the greatest speech."

Separated At Birth?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Leadership Lessons From "American Idol"

Watching American Idol can be addictive--just ask the 35-40 million who tune in faithfully each week to watch some very talented singers compete for the most coveted title in the entertainment industry. But watching this mega-popular reality show has also been very instructive and motivational. Last night, something Simon said triggered this thought:
You can learn a lot about leadership from American Idol.

First, character counts. The contestants who resonate with American Idol fans the most are those whose backstory contains faith and perseverance. Taylor Hicks, who toiled in bar bands for years and finally drove from Alabama to Las Vegas to audition on a dare from one of his buddies. Kellie Pickler, whose father is still in prison. Or this season's best talent, Lakisha Jones, a single mom who just wants a better life for her 4-year old daughter. In any leadership position, your character is what establishes your opportunity for success. Management guru Peter Drucker once said, "The proof of the sincerity and seriousness of an organization is uncompromising emphasis on integrity of character."

Second, keep it real. Out of all the hundreds of thousands of people that have auditioned through the past six seasons of American Idol, the 60 finalists may not have been the most talented singers--but they were the most refreshing. Last night, Simon told one of the women who absolutely tore UP a version of Aretha's Since You Been Gone, "Melinda, I have seen people walk out here with little talent and a lot of arrogance...and you are the opposite." That girl will be star, even if she doesn't win this season's American Idol competition, because she's humble and genuine and drop dead talented. From a leadership standpoint, don't take yourself seriously--take your job seriously.

Third, pick the right song. Nothing undermines a leader more quickly than pretending to be something he's not. Every season, we hear Randy, Paula, and Simon advise and admonish the American Idol contestants to choose music that fits their style and range. Take Katherine McPhee--if she had delivered that knockout performance of "(Somewhere) Over The Rainbow" earlier in the competition, she probably would have won it all. However, she tried to be sassy and edgy and it didn't work--meanwhile, Taylor Hicks consistently picked songs that he knew he could deliver with style and creativity. In leadership, picking the right song (or rather, choosing the management style that he can perform consistently and successfully) makes all the difference.

Who knew that a reality competition to find the next big singing sensation could provide such pithy and profound advice for the 21st Century Leader. Here's hoping you'll be a Leadership Idol for your organization!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

...And Now, How NOT To Handle A Heckler

It's remarkable that so many people working as communications professionals don't know how to communicate.

For instance, you'd think that a public information officer working for a controversial politician would be especially careful with his words--particularly in a setting where the media was ready to pounce on anything he said that might be "newsworthy." Unfortunately, this guy wasn't...(if you need the backstory, check out "How NOT To Handle A Media Stunt.")

It gets better. Better as in, "Raise your hands if you didn't see this train wreck coming." Our intrepid PIO agreed to take part in a public forum on freedom of speech--of course, he's the guy who (on his boss' orders) physically tried to keep several radio station talk show hosts out of the mayor's presser last month.

This poor guy is stuck trying to defend his boss' actions in a no-win situation (Mistake #1,) so he tries to inject a little levity into the proceedings by starting out with a lame joke (Mistake #2) that referred to the time-worn advice to speakers about imagining their audience wearing nothing but underwear (Mistake #3--that advice never works, by the way. It's well down on the effective presentation skills scale, right below "Break wind frequently.")

And the joke falls flatter than a pancake jumping off the Sears Tower. Here's what he said (courtesy of the Toledo Blade:)
"Two ladies that I used to work with when I worked at the [Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority], though, made me promise I would not picture them in their underwear when I spoke," Mr. Schwartz said of the women who were seated in the front row.

Mistake #4. Cue the crickets.

Not having endured enough discomfort, the PIO now has to handle a heckler who turns out to be the C-I-C of the radio station (meaning "Clown-In-Charge.") Having conveniently ignored an invitation to appear on the dais with the PIO, the heckler chooses instead to lob a few snarky comments up on stage. The PIO falls on the grenades and the entire forum degenerates into a screaming match.

Chances are that the relationship between the mayor's office and the radio station will never be repaired until the personnel changes. However, there are two key lessons to be learned from this brouhaha--one, always deal with a heckler calmly and politely. And since you have the microphone, you control the room...so if the heckler won't shut up, then ask the moderator or host to politely remove the offender.

Two, never argue with a fool. Your audience may not be able to tell the difference.

Monday, February 19, 2007

How To Handle A Heckler

I've written before about techniques for handling an unruly audience member, but I thought it would be good to show an acutal example of someone deftly and graciously dealing with a rude interruption:

(By the way, this guy could be a sleeper in the 2008 presidential race...much like when Bill Clinton came out of nowhere to win it all in 1992. If he can continue to handle the Mormon issue as well as he did at this event, watch out.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Act Like A Winner, Part 2

It's good to know that all the stuff I write about on this blog (not to mention the countless hours spent giving workshops and speeches) actually have some practical personal use.

I had an audition for a talent agency in San Francisco yesterday--they're interested in representing me, so who am I to say no?--and it was all I could do to maintain an even strain. (It's a crazy concept to begin with...I live in Sacramento, so for all intents and purposes, I agreed to drive an hour-and-a-half, spend $30 on gas, tolls, and parking, give a three minute audition, then drive an hour-and-a-half back home and hope they liked me!) The audition itself could have been a disaster, but the experience reassured me that I can walk the walk when I talk about presentation and speaking skills. Here's what I learned:
  • Practice doesn't make perfect--perfect practice makes perfect. When the situation looks and feels surreal, it's always good to know that your performance can't go wrong because you've rehearsed it enough so that the words seem effortless. A good thing, considering all the obstacles I encountered.
  • Check out the venue before you deliver the content. The only big mistake I made...because I assumed (yeah, yeah, I know what happens when you assume) the audition space would be comfortable. It turned out to be an old office that was turned into a video room with just a camera, a carpet, and a piece of masking tape to mark where I would stand. I should have asked to see the room first, then planned my performance around it.
  • When you're not comfortable with the performance setting, change it. My monologue called for me to sit in a chair. I had practiced for over a week in a chair. There was no chair. So--I asked for a chair. No big deal.
  • Preparing to fail can be more important than preparing to succeed. What I mean is, it's just as important to prepare for disaster as it is for success. Because they didn't have a chair (or it was too much trouble to get one.) Fortunately, I had rehearsed standing up almost as much as I had sitting down, so I automatically knew how to adapt.
  • Be professional. Be pleasant. Be persuasive. Nothing can shoot down a talented speaker like a bad attitude. Despite the setbacks, the spartan setting, the rush of the process, I was determined to make a great impression. It must've worked, because I got a thumbs-up from the assistant who handled the video camera.

It's great to be vindicated. Let's see if it translates into some paying gigs.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

"I'd Like To Thank The Academy..."

It's the season to pick up hardware in Hollywood... Golden Globes, SAG Awards, the Oscars coming up soon, and of course, the Grammy Awards where the Dixie Chicks gave a clinic on how not to accept an award.

Just because you're a seasoned performer doesn't mean you'll automatically be glib and gracious. (Personally, I blew an acceptance speech a few years ago when I was inducted into my high school alma mater's hall of fame. Thanked everyone. Except my wife. Took me dozens of roses to make up for the guilt.)

One of my favorite speakers, Patricia Fripp, has a terrific article called "How Do You Accept an Award? Tips on How to Give an Acceptance Speech" that is filled with everything you need to knock it out of the park when you receive that Lifetime Achievement Award.

(Article used with permission by Patricia Frippp, CSP, CPAE PFripp@Fripp.com, 1-800 634 3035, http://www.fripp.com. You can read more about her in this month's MARKwrites Newsletter--she'll be the featured pro! To subscribe, email Mark@MARKtalks.com.)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Fat Chance

I am fat.

It's worse than that. I'm old and fat. Fat, bald, and flirting with 50. Yippie skippie.

Not a great way to start out a Monday. Especially when you get out of the shower and suddenly realize you can't fit your gut in the mirror frame anymore. I'm so out of shape, I get winded brushing my teeth!

The funny thing is...I'm also excited. Excited and encouraged. Filled with hope and making grand plans because I just hit that magic "tipping point" where the future doesn't look flabby anymore.

(Do you ever get those moments where the big picture suddenly comes into focus and all your worries immediately crystallize into a light bulb of inspiration? I did. This morning. Naked and fat and unveiled in a foggy bathroom mirror, the answer became clear.)

I have to get middle-aged fit. Not cut-like-a-jack-bull fit. Not Men's-Health-Magazine-abs-like-a-washboard fit. I'm talking just fit enough to fit into the jeans I wore ten years ago. Fit enough to run a couple of miles with my ten-year-old. Fit enough to live long enough to really enjoy my family and friends.

When your values finally outweigh your desires, you can accomplish anything. That's why I'm telling you this--because I want you to have a defining moment, too. One that grabs you by the heart and shows you the right path toward personal and professional success.

Let's share our stories. And our progress. I'm really looking forward to the journey.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Just Look At Yourself!

Boy, do I need to take a step back from the fridge.

A staff photographer from the Sacramento Bee stopped by the radio station to take some pictures for an interview that I'll be featured in next month called "In The Hot Seat." For some reason, after he was through, I asked if I could see some of the unusual angles he chose...

They're right when they say the camera adds, oh, 50 pounds.

But it also inspired me to offer some advice to anyone who makes presentations on a regular basis--you need to update your image every 6-12 months.

Let me ask you this...
When's the last time you got a good look at yourself?
When's the last time you had your headshot refreshed?
When's the last time you updated your wardrobe?
When's the last time you videotaped your speech or presentation or sales pitch?

It's amazing how different we actually look from the way we think we look. (One of the most interesting bits of trivia I ever read--as much as you have seen your reflection, you've never actually seen your own face!)

Since almost 80% of everything you communicate is non-verbal and how you look when you speak is an important part of your non-verbal message, doesn't it make sense to look at yourself as others see you just to make sure you're not communicating failure when you're trying to promote success?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Faith Speaks Out

Did you see Tony Dungy's comments when he was interviewed after the Colts' victory in Super Bowl XLI? Rarely do you see someone able to say the right thing without trying, effortlessly handling the emotion and chaos of the moment with civility and grace.

I was especially encouraged to see him display his spiritual side, freely talking about his faith with a candor that's both refreshing and desperately necessary these days. Here's what CBS Sportsline columnist Mike Freeman had to say about Dungy:

Notice he spoke of God. When he does, no one rolls their eyes. Because it is Tony Dungy. Because there is nothing but sincerity there and you know he will not talk of religion and several hours later go chase a few skirts as many people in his profession tend to do.

Faith is a very powerful thing. But it's not just believing in something that you can't see--it's trusting in that power to provide success, especially when events threaten to defeat you and your purpose. It's like putting a piece of lumber across a deep ditch--you believe that the wood can hold you, but it isn't until you actually walk across it that you show faith. Dungy walks the walk as well as any man I've ever seen. It's a leadership style that everyone should learn.

Dungy is the epitome of class in a business filled with screamers and look-at-me's. Let's hope everyone who watched him during all those press conferences learned a valuable lesson in character and leadership.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Same Stuff, Different Day

Every year on this day, I make a kind of pilgrimage to Punxatawny, Pennsylvania as I curl up on the couch to watch Groundhog Day, a brilliant moral fable featuring Bill Murray as a jaded weatherman who has to relive the same day over and over. (I counted 34 times, but I'm sure the implied number has to be in the thousands.) Bill's character finally breaks free from his eternal cycle when he slowly realizes that what makes life worth living is not what you get from it, but what you put into it.

How many lives are wasted because of self-indulgence and ego-centric choice? Almost every successful leader I've ever met or interviewed has told me that they didn't achieve true wealth until they started focusing outward and made a conscious effort to give more than they got.

Don't let another day go by doing the same ol' same old. Break free from the commonplace. Find ways to make each day better, to add something instead of grabbing away. The lesson from Groundhog Day is that loving life includes loving the fact that it moves on--whether you do or not.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

No Where To Hide

I've said this repeatedly. Every client is reminded constantly. If I could put a disclaimer on a politician's forehead, I would. If there's a camera or microphone nearby, as far as you're concerned, it's ON.

It gets worse...because cell phone technology has made it possible to record short video, and since it seems that everyone has a link to YouTube or MySpace, you can't be safe in any public setting. Read this article in the NYTimes and see how the 2008 presidential candidates are weighing the pros and cons of using the Internet. Howard Dean embraced the Internet in 2004 and developed a formidable fund-raising/volunteer campaign...until the video of his primal scream hit everyone's Web browser, and suddenly, it was goodbye, Howie.

Again, my advice is that if you're in a leadership position that requires you to make public presentations, keep it clean from the moment you enter the room until the moment you leave. You never know when someone's watching. And recording.