Mind Mint: Check your intention.

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Mind Mint: Check your intention.

As students, we could feel the difference between a teacher who was passionate about our learning and one who was just punching the clock.
 
When we’re at a restaurant, we know when a waitperson cares about our experience and when they’re just trying to get through a shift.
 
As audience members, we can tell if a speaker or performer is committed to giving us something of value or if they’re just in it for their own ego.
 
These examples – and we could each list many more – speak to the central role that intentions play in our effectiveness. Take the (overused, I know) example of Bruce Springsteen. His secret sauce isn’t his voice, guitar playing, or songwriting; it’s his steadfast commitment to giving the audience a transformative experience at every performance.
 
It’s easy to lose sight of our intentions as we rush from one activity to the next. I find that it helps to pause for a second to ask ourselves why we’re there. By reconnecting with our motivation, we tap into the positive energy that helps us create meaningful, helpful interactions with others. 

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Mind Mint: Diagnosing and treating V.I.S.

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Mind Mint: Diagnosing and treating V.I.S.

While sitting through six back-to-back presentations during a 90-minute meeting, I thought of Jacob Silj, the Will Ferrell SNL character who – due to “Voice Immodulation Syndrome” – was unable to control the pitch or volume of his voice.
 
Though the presenters were competent and their material well-organized, the session felt like a slog. Why? Because each presenter had their own version of Voice Immodulation Syndrome. Simply put, the energy, tone, and volume barely changed during their talks.
  
When I’m coaching someone who isn’t a natural presenter – and most of us aren't – I encourage them to think like an actor. That means studying the material to identify the peaks, valleys, and plateaus of the “script,” then rehearsing it a few times to build those highs and lows into the “performance.”
 
Each change in tone provides your audience with a cue: “something’s different, pay attention!” And keeping their attention is the first step toward having them absorb your message. 
 
 

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Mind Mint: I just saved you $99.

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Mind Mint: I just saved you $99.

Ancestry.com’s website entices people to fork over $99 for a DNA test by inviting them to “discover your unique story.” In one of their commercials, we meet a guy who trades in his lederhosen for a kilt after learning that his background is Scottish.

An estimated twelve million people have taken the leap and been tested by companies like Ancestry and 23andme.com.

While some people have their “lederhosen-to-kilt” moments of discovery, most of the folks I’ve spoken with are underwhelmed or disappointed by what they learn. Why? The (often inaccurate) results failed to deliver any enlightening insights about who they are.  

Your unique story doesn’t hinge on where your ancestors might have lived. I'd argue that it doesn't depend on anything in your past. The story that matters is in your future, and you have everything you need to create the next chapter.

Now that we’ve saved you $99, let’s go out for a nice dinner and talk about what's next!

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Mind Mint: Go ahead, make their day.

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Mind Mint: Go ahead, make their day.

In my early 30’s, I started tutoring an elementary school student through a volunteer afterschool program. We worked together for four or five years, stayed in touch for a while after that, then lost track of each other. 

I’m not sure I was able to help him with his reading. I felt (hoped) that there was value in being a caring adult male in his life. 

A month ago, after 20 years of silence, I got a Facebook message from my former student. It was filled with good memories of our time together, and words of thanks for “never giving up on me.” It felt great to hear that I had in fact made a positive impact. That reconnection inspired me to reach out and express gratitude to a few people from my past. 

A suggestion: if anyone comes to mind who was meaningful in your life and might not be aware of their impact, let them know how you feel. Take it from me, it will make their day and then some!

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Mind Mint: How to start your story.

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Mind Mint: How to start your story.

The good news: storytelling in business has become the rage. The bad news: most of these stories fall flat.  

The problem? Weak beginnings that don't grab our interest. To avoid that fate, make sure to define a pressing challenge, need, or desire in the first few lines of your story. For example:
  • John's boss poked her head into his office and said, "Amy just called in sick. You need to deliver the presentation."
  • The engineers said it would take four months, but their funding would be gone in 45 days...
  • It was a done deal until the CEO raised a question that no one had considered… 
If you want people to pay attention, amp up the tension early on. Don't just recount a series of events; hook your audience with a dramatic twist that compels them to listen.

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Mind Mint: "You really listened."

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Mind Mint: "You really listened."

Last week, I learned that a proposal I'd written for a product launch meeting had led to my team winning the bid. In explaining why we were awarded the project, the client said, "You really listened to us."

I once thought that strategic insights and creative ideas were the keys to winning clients' hearts and minds; now I know better. Listening has become my secret weapon. 

At the start of a proposal or project, I'm relentless about asking questions. One client compared the experience to being cross-examined by a prosecutor. But she wasn't complaining: like most clients, she recognized that my goal was to get the information we needed to deliver our best work. 

By asking lots of questions, and listening carefully to the answers, I'm able to gain a clearer, deeper understanding of what's in the client's mind. That leads to ideas and solutions that speak to their needs, which in turn leads to winning proposals and my new favorite compliment: "You really listened."

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Mind Mint: My new insurance broker.

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Mind Mint: My new insurance broker.

Last fall, I switched my auto insurance to GEICO because they offered the lowest premiums. I'd gotten several higher quotes from an insurance broker that a friend recommended. Despite not getting my business, the broker – let’s call him Jack – offered to review GEICO’s quote for me.

He ended up suggesting changes that improved my coverage with minimal impact on the premium. This was the kind of service that I hadn’t been getting from my existing broker of 13 years.

So when my homeowners' insurance renewal arrived last week, I asked Jack if he was interested in helping me find a better policy. Cut to the happy ending: Jack found me much better coverage that saves me $800 per year. 

By going out of his way to be of service when he had nothing to gain financially, Jack ended up as my new broker, proving the point that being generous with our expertise is both good karma and good business. 

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Mind Mint: Scary is good.

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Mind Mint: Scary is good.

A playwright friend and I were discussing our respective writing processes when she said something that caught my attention: “If I’m not scared, then I’m working on the wrong thing.” 

I’ll admit that fear is not my favorite emotion. Like every other human being, I’m biologically programmed to avoid perceived danger. 

And yet, my greatest professional and personal growth has occurred when I've taken on assignments that made me nervous. Those are the times when I’ve had to stretch well beyond my comfort zone in order to meet the challenge. Simply put, facing fear has been a powerful catalyst for growth. 

So my early New Year's resolution is to seek out projects that evoke a healthy dose of anxiety. Here's to scaring ourselves toward greatness in 2018!

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Mind Mint: Too much of a good thing.

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Mind Mint: Too much of a good thing.

Every weeknight, at dinner, our family used to play Jeopardy using the Amazon Echo (aka “Alexa,” the Echo’s voice-activated digital assistant). Alexa gave us six clues, we’d provide the “question” for each, then learn how we ranked against others who played that day.

For several months, Jeopardy was a quirky ritual that we looked forward to as a family. Then, in October, Amazon doubled the number of questions from six to twelve. We were thrilled! Twice as much of something we loved! 

But the very first night we played the longer version, we knew it was a mistake. By question nine we’d had enough. We gave it another try the following evening and again found it to be too long. We haven’t played since.

Jeopardy on Alexa is a new-fangled example of an old lesson: it is possible to have too much of a good thing. When in doubt, leave your audience wanting more.

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Mind Mint: My son's college essays.

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Mind Mint: My son's college essays.

I’ve been coaching my son on the writing of his college application essays. We started by googling “great college essays” and found dozens of beautifully-written pieces by applicants who have fascinating life stories.
 
Rather than being inspired by these examples, my son was intimidated. Even though he’s a smart, accomplished, ambitious dude, he felt his life wasn’t as unique and orderly as the students whose essays we read.
 
It was time for some fatherly advice (from a father who has written a few things in his time): 

  • No one’s life is as coherent or dramatic as their essay
  • The challenge is to craft a clear and meaningful narrative from the messy reality that is your actual life
  • Think about the reader: what do you want them to take away?
  • You’re really writing a story, so you get to decide what it’s about and what points to include and exclude 

It dawned on me that the same advice applies when putting together a resume or biography. Your background already contains all the elements of a great story. If you take the time to select the right pieces and put them in the right order, your uniqueness will shine through to the reader.

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Mind Mint: Born to Renew.

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Mind Mint: Born to Renew.

In a recent New York Times article about his Broadway show, Bruce Springsteen was asked whether performing the same material every night becomes repetitive. His response, in part:

“…you have to approach it not as a repetition but as a renewal. And to do that your spirit has got to be 100 percent present…it’s a new audience every night.”

Bruce’s performances are legendary, and his response offers some practical ideas for anyone who has to deliver the same message multiple times: it’s not about you; it’s about the audience. You’re there to give them something valuable.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve delivered this message before, or if they’ve heard it before. Your job is the same as Bruce’s: show up and approach this event as if it's your number one priority. Because while you're in front of these people, nothing's more important to you than reaching them.

Here's a live version of Jungleland. According to setlist.fm, Springsteen has performed this song live 641 times. Anytime I’ve seen it, he’s been 100% present and then some. 

And in case you were wondering, yes, I'll happily take those extra
Springsteen on Broadway tickets off your hands.

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Mind Mint: Careful what you count.

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Mind Mint: Careful what you count.

I remember watching the evening news as a 10-year-old and hearing the anchormen report the weekly totals of US and North Vietnamese fighters killed in combat. The enemy's totals were always higher and usually much higher. 

The focus on “body counts” started as a military strategy based on attrition: eliminate enemy troops faster than they could be replaced. But military and civilian leadership soon realized that body counts also provided an easily-understood way of convincing people that the US was winning. It worked on me, and I wasn’t alone.

Because leadership stressed body count, the military obsessed over the numbers (at the expense of more relevant indicators) and frequently inflated them. The public was fooled for many years as a senseless, unwinnable war dragged on. 

Body count is a tragic example of focusing on the wrong thing simply because it can be measured. In an age when we can capture and analyze data on just about anything, we have to be extra careful that we focus on the metrics that really matter. 

As you may have guessed, I’ve been watching The Vietnam War on PBS. While it’s difficult to watch in many ways, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a beautifully-made film about a seminal event, and it’s filled with themes and lessons that still resonate.

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Mind Mint: That guy at the airport.

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Mind Mint: That guy at the airport.

As I waited to board a flight back from San Francisco last week, I saw a passenger arguing strenuously with the gate agent. Turns out that due to an equipment change, he’d been bumped from his first-class seat into economy. 
 
I was close enough to hear the gate agent offer him a refund, a travel certificate, and a first-class seat on a later flight. But nothing would satisfy our friend, who became increasingly belligerent and disrespectful at the prospect of not getting his first-class seat.
 
The word that came to mind was entitlement: “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.” Though that passenger’s sense of entitlement was extreme, the truth is that I sometimes find myself feeling entitled: I deserve to be paid X for this project...that person should treat me with more respect…I ought to be able to have such-and-such vacation/car/smartphone.  
 
When these thoughts pop up, I try to catch myself and change my thinking: I’m not “entitled” to anything. The good things that come my way in life are gifts to be grateful for. This attitude makes it easier to appreciate the people and things around me, and helps reduce my chances of becoming that guy at the airport.
 
PS: He ended up in economy, in a middle seat no less. Proof that entitlement doesn’t pay!

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Mind Mint: The thin margin between destiny and doom.

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Mind Mint: The thin margin between destiny and doom.

I’m halfway through reading Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign. The “doomed” theme hangs over every chapter as the authors share story after story about a deeply flawed candidate running an equally flawed campaign.
 
But here’s the thing: Clinton’s margin of defeat was paper-thin. She lost Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by a total of 79,000 votes, less than 1% of the popular vote in each of those states. Any number of factors (think James Comey’s controversial email announcement) could have easily swung the election in Clinton’s favor.

If a tiny slice of the electorate had pulled the other lever, the authors would have written an entirely different book. Even though 99.9% of the objective facts would be the same, Clinton’s campaign would be cast in terms of destiny rather than doom.
 
I discussed this idea in a recent Mind Mint, but it’s worth restating: every story can be told in multiple ways. As authors of our own stories – the endings of which are not yet decided – we get to choose which events and themes get highlighted. Let’s make the bold choices that move us toward living our best lives.
 
Fun fact: the authors of Shattered planned to use that title whether Clinton won or lost. It was either going to be about shattering the glass ceiling or a shattered campaign. 

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Mind Mint: Even Jobs went for the joke.

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Mind Mint: Even Jobs went for the joke.

It was January 9, 2007. Steve Jobs was on stage, about to reveal the iPhone, arguably the single most influential tech product of the last 30 years. After a few minutes of buildup, Jobs got to point, saying, “Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone, and here it is..."
 
Jobs gestured to the screen, as a photo of the first-generation iPod with a rotary phone dial appeared. The audience burst into laughter.
 
At the moment of truth, with his audience breathlessly waiting to see the phone that would change everything, Jobs went for the joke. It worked. 
 
In almost any situation, laughter elevates the mood. If you’re able to give your audience that gift, I encourage you to give generously!
 
Here’s the video of the iPhone reveal. Start at 2:16 if you just want to get to his laugh line. Better yet, invest 14 minutes to watch the whole thing, it's a classic.

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Mind Mint: The world's most important story.

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Mind Mint: The world's most important story.

The world’s most important story is the one we tell ourselves about who we are.

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we each have an internal story that dictates how we think and act. Our story becomes our identity.
 
We believe this story to be “true" but in reality, the story we’ve been telling ourselves is just one version of the truth. What if we rewrote it by focusing on different memories, perspectives, or interpretations of significant events in our lives? 
 
Each of us is free to rewrite our internal story in a way that points us toward the life we want. That story, more than any other, will shape who we are. That’s why it’s the world’s most important story.
 
Here’s an exercise: pick a different career (or life) path than the one you’re on. For example, imagine you’re about to run for Congress, go to nursing school, or move to Costa Rica. Better yet, pick a real goal of your own. Then figure out a way to tell your story so that it leads organically to this goal. You can do it!

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Mind Mint: School's in for summer.

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Mind Mint: School's in for summer.

Is there a skill or area of knowledge that you know you should have but don’t?

I’ve got a few of those; one is PowerPoint. Though I've worked on hundreds of speeches and presentations, I have only the most rudimentary slide creation skills. I’ve gotten away with this because my clients usually want a design professional creating their visuals. 
 
But I’m tired of not being able to put together a decent slide deck. And the knowledge I need is just a few clicks away. So with the help of YouTube, Microsoft tutorials, and perhaps a few PPT-savvy friends, I’ll be getting to know my way around PowerPoint this summer. 

To hold myself accountable, I’m committing to sharing my “final project,” a slide deck demonstrating my newly-learned skills, with all of you by mid-September. (I'll wait while you mark this important milestone in your calendar...!)

Is there something you’re ready to learn this summer? If so, let me know: summer school is more fun when you do it with friends! 

And for those of you who now have the song stuck in your head, here's a link to
School's Out by Alice Cooper.

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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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