Mind Mint: Life is short...take drugs.

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Mind Mint: Life is short...take drugs.

About 40% of my clients experience mild-to-severe anxiety when it comes to public speaking. Roughly half of these anxious clients are able to manage their symptoms through some combination of preparation and mindfulness techniques like breathing and visualization.
 
That leaves the other half – about 1 in 5 clients – whose anxiety is resistant to these natural techniques. They find public speaking to be torturous. This impacts their effectiveness, since it’s hard for an audience to listen when they sense a speaker’s anxiety.
 
My advice to these clients: ask your doctor if a beta-blocker would be right for you! This class of drug is indicated for the treatment of high blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues. But beta-blockers are frequently prescribed off-label for temporary relief of stage fright.
 
Most people experience vastly reduced anxiety without side effects, which is why many doctors will write a prescription for otherwise healthy patients. By all means, conquer anxiety naturally if you can. But if you can’t, consider taking a pill that will reduce your suffering and help your audience hear what you have to say.

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Mind Mint: In trust we trust

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Mind Mint: In trust we trust

When I first started writing speeches for others, I was shocked by how freely clients shared personal information about themselves – and confidential information about their organizations – as we worked together. These people just met me…aren’t they concerned about being so open with a stranger?
 
Over time, I’ve found that my most successful clients are also the most trusting. Their trust pays dividends: the more I learn about who someone is and what makes them tick, the more effective I am in crafting a speech that captures their essence and ideas.
 
I don’t think these clients reserve this trust just for me; I’ve seen the same people bring a remarkable level of openness to their interactions with others. 
 
This experience has motivated me to adopt an attitude of openness and trust at the start of a relationship. Of course, this approach comes with risks. But the rewards of honestly sharing who you are, and how you think, make these risks worth taking. Trust me.

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Mind Mint: Uber and out.

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Mind Mint: Uber and out.

Two years ago, I posted a Mind Mint praising Uber, after discovering how superior its service was compared to my local taxi and car service options. Now I’m retracting that endorsement.
 
While the service may be great, there’s a growing body of evidence that the company isn’t. They systematically mistreat female employees, illegally work around regulators, and break rules as they see fit in order to keep growing.
 
So I recently exercised my capitalism-given right as a consumer and switched to Lyft. While Lyft has some issues of its own (including investor Peter Thiel, a major Trump supporter), Lyft's record is far better than Uber’s when it comes to business practices.
 
As consumers, we can influence how companies do business by voting with our wallets for those that share our values (or at least don’t blatantly violate them). For those of us managing businesses, we can work on creating the type of organizations that customers want to support.

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Mind Mint: Who wants to go deep?

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Mind Mint: Who wants to go deep?

Some of the smartest people on earth are designing ways to get us to engage with their apps, websites, and games more frequently and for longer periods of time. They’re succeeding. As a result, our brains are being rewired to crave frequent distraction.

A growing body of research suggests that we need periods of uninterrupted attention to do our best work. Each time we check Facebook, Twitter, email, or text notifications, our attention is pulled away. Experts suggest that it can take up to 20 minutes to get back into a zone of focus.
 
After hearing a podcast featuring Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, I decided to give his methods a try. Specifically, I’ll be following the 3 suggestions outlined in this article:

  • scheduling blocks of uninterrupted time for “deep work”
  • deleting Facebook and Twitter from my phone
  • checking email only at pre-designated times 

With any luck, you’ll be seeing deeper, more thoughtful (yet still short) Mind Mints soon!

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Mind Mint: In search of criticism.

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Mind Mint: In search of criticism.

“That’s a great piece,” said a member of my writers group after I shared a new story I’d written. I was happy to hear that feedback and see the other writers nod in agreement.

But the piece I shared was a second draft, and by definition, my second drafts aren’t fully realized. So I made it clear to the group (which tends to be very positive/supportive) that I wanted them to put on their critic’s hats. They complied:

Actually…the section about your aunt goes on a little long/You might introduce the backwards laugh idea sooner/Feels like it’s missing one killer beat near the end/The washing dishes thing wasn’t that funny.

They saw and heard things that I couldn’t, giving me insights that led me to rewrite the piece. While the story’s main idea is intact, many of the details were changed – for the better – thanks to their input.

By putting my ego on pause, I got feedback that helped me improve my work. In the end, my ego and I both won.

My story was selected to be part of Listen to Your Mother/North Jersey, taking place on Saturday, May 13th 2017. Thirteen talented women and I will each share a story about mothers and/or motherhood. I’d love to see you there! Click here for ticket info.

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Mind Mint: What we take for granted.

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Mind Mint: What we take for granted.

For much of my life, I took journalists for granted. What’s more, I pitied them: they chose a profession in decline, dooming themselves to low salaries, low status, and limited career choices. What a pity!

Today, I’m grateful that smart, hard-working people continue to pursue journalism. At a moment in history when many elected officials embrace "alternative facts," we're fortunate to have reporters devoting their time to digging for the truth.
 
I'm betting that journalists will uncover the facts that some of our leaders want to keep hidden. And I'm supporting that bet with subscriptions to several news organizations, something I didn't do enough when I took journalists for granted. 

I’m also trying to be more aware of people, principles, and institutions that I value, because taking these things for granted increases the odds of losing them.

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Mind Mint: Yes, let's have a meeting.

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Mind Mint: Yes, let's have a meeting.

Face-to-face meetings have taken a beating lately in the business media, as people rail against the posing, time-wasting, and drudgery that is typical of these gatherings. Having attended more than my share, I can say that this beating is warranted.

The well-documented solution is to think through the goals, invite list, and agenda for every meeting. But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about recognizing the value of being in the same room with people.

Social media has raised my awareness of this issue. It's easy to go after someone using our keyboards, perhaps because we’re focused on a particular statement of theirs that we find objectionable. But when we meet face-to-face, we see more than just their statement; we see a person…a fellow human being that can’t be dismissed so easily.

The same concept holds true in our work lives. It's easy to lose empathy for colleagues when we’re on a conference call or sending an email. But when we’re in the same physical space, we see them more completely, and our interactions become more considerate, more thoughtful, more human. And we could all use more of that.

For a great laugh on this topic, check out "10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings" from the hilarious Sarah Cooper.

 

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Mind Mint: Propagandist is the wrong word.

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Mind Mint: Propagandist is the wrong word.

When asked what I do for work, I’ve sometimes answered, “I’m a corporate propagandist,” and followed up with examples of the services I offer. The reference to propaganda was meant as shorthand for persuasive communications, which is one definition of the word. 

Shortly after January 20th, I stopped using “propagandist” in my self-description. While the word can refer to any communications effort, the new administration is reminding us of a more familiar and sinister definition of propaganda: the deliberate spreading of false or misleading information. That's not what I do.

My clients - individuals, corporations, and non-profits - hire me to help them tell their stories more effectively. They pay me to spin their messages as persuasively as I can. But they don’t ask me to spread falsehoods, rumors, or misinformation.  

I will never again use “propagandist” to describe what I do. Because I’m proud to work for and with people who value truth above any business goal.

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Mind Mint: Missing Mister Rogers.

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Mind Mint: Missing Mister Rogers.

I was born a few years too early to have watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as a kid.

But as an adult, I’m awed and inspired by Fred Rogers’ life and body of work. If you’re not familiar with him, put “Fred Rogers” into Google and prepare to go down a wormhole of wonder.

At the core of Mr. Rogers’ effectiveness and success was a heartfelt commitment to his audience. Fred Rogers cared deeply about his viewers, understood what they needed, and went to extraordinary lengths (including this legendary testimony before Congress in support of public broadcasting) to serve their interests.

When we’re fully committed to serving our audience, we push ourselves to do our best work. We owe it to ourselves and our audiences to develop that level of commitment.

Thanks to my client and friend Josef Reum for sparking this Mind Mint with his blog post and for pointing me to this old but beautiful profile of Fred Rogers.

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Mind Mint: Putting the "high" in higher education.

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Mind Mint: Putting the "high" in higher education.

(No, not that kind of high…)

My family recently took our first trip to look at colleges for my son Sam, who is in 11th grade. The visits were eye-opening from a communications standpoint. 

One simple example: the student-led campus tour. On this front, UPenn was far superior to the other colleges we visited (which shall remain nameless, just in case Sam applies to them). Penn’s big innovation? Having the tour guides stand on a bench, ledge, or other raised spot every time they stopped to speak.

On the other campus tours, we had trouble seeing and hearing the guides because they didn’t stand above the crowd. To be clear, this wasn’t a case of one Penn tour guide taking initiative: ALL the Penn guides (we could see other tours in progress) made themselves visible at each stop. 

Making a strong first impression didn’t cost Penn anything; all it took was some critical thinking about the audience’s experience. A good reminder that sometimes a little thought and planning is all we need to rise above our competition.

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Mind Mint: Suits, salespeople, and spouses.

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Mind Mint: Suits, salespeople, and spouses.

Before starting business school, I needed to buy an interview suit. I went to a discount menswear store where an old-school salesman took my measurements, asked a few questions, and starting pulling suits off the rack for me.

Ninety minutes later I was still there debating the purchase with myself. I’d found a suit I liked but didn't love. Only partially concealing his exasperation, the salesman finally said to me, “You’re picking a suit, not a wife!” 

With that line, he managed to reframe the purchase decision for me. I immediately realized he was right: the suit was fine, it was time to buy it and move on. 

Anytime we feel stuck when trying to make a decision, it’s helpful to do what my suit salesman did: reframe the issue by “zooming out” and asking whether or not the decision warrants the time we’re investing in it. 

P.S. – While I have since bought many suits, it took another 16 years for me to find a wife. But it was worth the wait, as my marriage has outlasted all of my suits! 

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Mind Mint: The (not so) secret power of deadlines.

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Mind Mint: The (not so) secret power of deadlines.

I’m a deadline guy. Whether it’s self-imposed or client-imposed, if I have a deadline I’ll meet it. Without a deadline...not so much. It’s how I operate, and I know I’m not alone.

A recent conversation with a colleague on this topic got me thinking about the word “deadline.” The “line” part made sense to me (like a finish line) but the “dead” part? That seemed a little harsh. Enter Google.

Turns out that the term originally referred to a line drawn around a Civil War prison beyond which a prisoner risked being shot. Over the past 150 years, deadline has evolved to mean a time by which something must be completed. (Which makes me wonder what word people used for “deadline” before the Civil War, but that’s another Mind Mint…)

Perhaps it’s a subconscious fear of armed Civil War prison guards that gives deadlines their power; perhaps it’s just the word “dead.” 

The takeaway? None really, except a reminder that language is a beautiful and powerful thing, and a wish that we all use it to promote truth and kindness. 

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Mind Mint: What to do when Rihanna's running late.

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Mind Mint: What to do when Rihanna's running late.

I watched some of the Global Citizen Festival this past Saturday. It was a large concert in Central Park featuring big-name musical acts interspersed with short speeches and videos. Overall, a well-produced event.

But it was an unplanned, spontaneous moment that stood out for me. Right before the final act – Rihanna – Chris Martin of Coldplay walked out with an acoustic guitar, explained that Rihanna wasn’t quite ready and that he was sent out by the producers to fill time.

He proceeded to play two verses and two choruses of Prince’s Raspberry Beret. After the second chorus, while still playing, Martin looked off stage and said “How we doin’ on Rihanna? I don’t know any more verses!” He then improvised a verse of lyrics about his situation; the crowd loved it and so did I.

In the midst of all the tightly-scripted, hyper-produced performances, Martin was honest, spontaneous, and willing to take a risk. The takeaway? Even if you can’t improvise lyrics, you can roll with the circumstances and be real with your audience—more often than not, they’ll appreciate the authenticity.

Here’s Chris Martin performing Raspberry Beret. Start at 2:00 if you just want to see the improvised bit. 

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Mind Mint: Hillary should have called me first.

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Mind Mint: Hillary should have called me first.

“…you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.” Three words make this statement problematic: 

Half: Hillary chose too large a fraction. "Half" is just one person away from "most." The whole group ends up feeling smeared when you call out this large a segment.

Basket: Objects belong in baskets; people don’t. Being put in a basket - even just verbally - is dehumanizing.

Deplorables: Deplorable is an adjective, not a noun. I’m fine labeling someone’s actions or beliefs as deplorable. But to label someone as “a deplorable” is to condemn their entire being. 

Here are three basket-free alternate versions that Hillary could have used to make her point with more precision and less controversy: 

  • "Far too many Trump supporters have said and done deplorable things at his rallies." 
  • "A significant percentage of Trump’s supporters hold deplorable beliefs."
  • "Trump supporters are backing a candidate who has made numerous deplorable statements." 

There are times when work (or life) calls for us to be sharply critical of others. When doing so, we need to be clear about our purpose and precise in our choice of words. 

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Mind Mint: Your story's main ingredient.

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Mind Mint: Your story's main ingredient.

After a multi-year hiatus, I recently joined a writers’ group to work on my personal projects. The most frequently asked question in our meetings is “what does your main character want?”

The question stems from the writers’ understanding that great stories start with a main character (a.k.a. the protagonist) who has a pressing need and the motivation to pursue it. If a story (or scene or monologue) is missing this ingredient, it’s unlikely to hold our interest.

The same is true of effective business communications. We’re drawn to narratives about people who are passionate about their goals and are willing to pursue those goals relentlessly.

So whether the main character of your story is you, your company, or your customer, make sure you’re clear about what the protagonist wants and why it’s so important for them to get it. It’s the best way to grab your audience and keep them engaged.

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Mind Mint: This isn't politics as usual.

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Mind Mint: This isn't politics as usual.

A colleague recently posted an article on Linkedin that advised readers to never share political views on social media, as doing so may alienate a significant percentage of potential clients.

Under “normal” political circumstances, I can accept that perspective. But given the dangerous rhetoric that is part of the 2016 presidential campaign, I believe it is irresponsible to remain silent.

I’ve worked successfully with lots of people who hold political beliefs that are in opposition to mine. (Or in other words, “some of my best friends are Republicans!”) But this election isn’t about political issues like the size of government or economic policy; it’s about character, civility, and the future of our democracy. 

Because the stakes are so great, I have freely shared my opinions about Donald Trump on social media and elsewhere. If any of my friends, connections, or followers choose not to do business with me as a result of my views on this topic, that’s a price I’m willing to pay. 

On a related note, I recently published an article on Linkedin that explores the ethical dilemma faced by Trump’s former ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz. It’s too long for a Mind Mint, but I've received lots of feedback on the piece. If you have a few minutes to read it, I'd love to hear your comments as well! 

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Mind Mint: An offer you shouldn't refuse.

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Mind Mint: An offer you shouldn't refuse.

We’ve just lived through two of the saddest, most disheartening weeks in recent memory. And we’re on the eve of a political spectacle that promises to take us to new depths.

It's a struggle knowing how to respond to the chaos around us. My best idea at the moment is to fight off the feelings of hopelessness with an offer of helpfulness: What can I do now or in the weeks ahead to help you?

I’m not talking about paid work (though that’s always welcome); I’m talking about being of service to you in any way I can. For example, I could:

  • provide feedback on something you’ve written
  • support a cause that’s close to your heart
  • listen to you complain about your boss/spouse/kid/coworker/neighbor/etc.
  • brainstorm about a business or personal challenge

As long as it doesn't involve moving heavy furniture, I'm open to your requests. 

I can’t end racism or terrorism or gun violence, but I can try to bring an open heart and a helpful hand to the people around me. I hope you’ll take me up on the offer!

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Mind Mint: "That's interview talk."

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Mind Mint: "That's interview talk."

An elementary school buddy (let’s call him Glenn since that’s his name) told me this story, which he swears to be true. The story begins with Glenn interviewing for a job…

     Boss: How do you feel about working long hours?

     Glenn: It’s no problem. I like to be the first one in and the last one to leave.

Glenn got the job. On Friday of his first week, Glenn was leaving the office at the stroke of 5:00 (as he had done every day that week) when his boss approached him. 

      Boss: Didn’t you say you were a “first one in and last one to leave” kind of guy?

      Glenn: (Genuinely surprised) C’mon…that’s interview talk!

Don’t be like Glenn. Make sure you can walk your interview talk.

Postscript: Glenn has worked for the same company for 18 years, so clearly he either improved his walk or changed his talk! 

Post-Postscript: Glenn is a long-time Mind Mints subscriber, and he approved this message.

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Mind Mint: Blood, Sweat & (lots of) Tears.

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Mind Mint: Blood, Sweat & (lots of) Tears.

Blood, Sweat & Tears was the second highest paid band at the 1969 Woodstock music festival; only Jimi Hendrix was paid more. Yet few people know that Blood, Sweat & Tears playedWoodstock because they aren't in the Woodstock movie or on the album.

BS&T was on fire in 1969: they had a #1 album with three Top 10 hits. So they probably felt okay about turning down the mediocre movie and album deal. The terms might be good enough for Hendrix, The Who, and Jefferson Airplane, but not for Blood, Sweat & Tears.

BS&T became musically and commercially irrelevant within two years of the festival while most of Woodstock’s acts continued to rise. Might things have turned out differently if they'd been part of the movie and album? Well, it wouldn't have hurt...

For me, this is a cautionary tale about letting sudden success go our heads and cloud our judgment. And I'll leave you with this fail-safe piece of advice: if someone offers you the same deal they’re offering The Who, take it.
 
Have a soft spot in your heart for jazz rock with horns? Check out BS&T’s first and second albums, two of my all-time favorites.

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Mind Mint: How much spice can you handle?

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Mind Mint: How much spice can you handle?

A client was invited to speak on “how technology is enabling omnichannel commerce experiences.” When I asked what her top goal was for the presentation, she said, "I want to grab their attention and stand out from the parade of speakers." 

I suggested she open her speech as follows: “I’ve prepared two presentation options for you to choose from: Option 1 is ‘The Future of Omnichannel Commerce.’ Option 2 is ‘5 Secrets to Being a Great Lover.’ Which would you like to hear?”

She went with this idea, the audience chose Option 2, and my client shared the “5 Secrets to Being a Great Lover.” Each "secret" helped introduce a related insight on omnichannel commerce. Gimmicky? Sure, but it worked. My client has had people recognize her and say “hey, you’re the Love Lady!” And she’s been invited to give the presentation at other conferences.

Most content we encounter is bland. Adding some spice can make yours more flavorful and memorable…just ask the Love Lady!

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