Mind Mint: I'll have what he's having.

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Mind Mint: I'll have what he's having.

I just finished working on a conference with a tech startup. As is usually the case, we had lofty goals, limited budget, and not nearly enough time. Thanks in part to a series of extremely long days, the team pulled off a great event.

What was most remarkable about the experience for me was how upbeat everybody remained despite the long hours and intense pressure. I’ve seen teams crumble in misery under similar circumstances, but there was no misery here.

Why? The company is run by a leader who exudes positive energy. That energy is infectious. It’s hard to stay grumpy when the air is filled with encouragement, appreciation and laughs.

Positive energy: it’s free, effective, and contagious. I recommend it to anyone who works, plays, or lives with other human beings.

Disclaimer: I’m not always a bundle of positive energy, but I’m positively working on it!

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Mind Mint: The real deal.

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Mind Mint: The real deal.

I recently found myself describing someone to my colleagues as being “the real deal.” 

It’s not a phrase I use very often, and it caused me to pause and try to define for myself what I meant by “the real deal.” Here’s what I came with: an authentic individual who positively impacts the lives of others. It’s a simple definition but a pretty high standard. 

It strikes me as a great goal to shoot for: becoming the kind of person that others think of as the real deal.

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Mind Mint: Sampling beats selling.

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Mind Mint: Sampling beats selling.

Running my own business involves attracting new clients on regular basis. Which means that selling is an essential part of my work.

I’ve found that the most enjoyable and productive way to promote my services is by offering "free samples." Whenever possible, I steer new business conversations away from my prior accomplishments and towards whatever issue the potential client is facing. I’ll gladly invest twenty or thirty minutes digging into the challenge at hand.

While I can’t solve the client's problem in a half hour, I can ask enough of the right questions to let them see my approach. And it often ends up feeling as if we’ve already begun working together. 

It’s a technique that’s proven to work across industries: if you’ve got the right product, free samples can be the ultimate sales tool. 

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Mind Mint: Make every day Container Day.

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Mind Mint: Make every day Container Day.

Every couple of months my town holds a “Container Day” on which residents can haul whatever junk we’ve accumulated and chuck it into a dumpster for free. That broken hose reel…the box of old VCR tapes…the scraps of drywall the contractor left behind…over the dumpster wall they go: toss…crash…gone!

Yes, I feel guilty knowing that it all ends up in a landfill. But the guilt gets diminished by the feeling of freedom and lightness that comes from getting rid of the things I no longer need.

In our digital world, it can always be Container Day: we can take a few moments before hitting “send” to look for the unneeded parts of any communication we create. My rule of thumb: it can always be shorter, and shorter is always better.

Plus unlike physical junk, your digital discards have no negative impact on the environment…just a positive impact on your audience. 

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Mind Mint: "Tell me about yourself."

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Mind Mint: "Tell me about yourself."

In June, a close friend who was job hunting asked for my help crafting an answer to the popular interview starter, “tell me about yourself.” The project was a snap because I already had a solid understanding of his strengths and goals.

Here’s the response we came up with: My career has been driven by a passion for answering two questions:  "How does this work? And how can we make it work better?" 

This brief opening transformed my friend’s interview performance. For the first time, he felt completely ready for the opening question. Equally important is that this opening provided a relevant theme that he could return to as he answered additional questions.

Whether you're selling yourself or your company’s products, there’s no substitute for knowing your core story. Sometimes all it takes is asking for help.

In case you’re wondering, my friend was offered (and accepted) the next position he interviewed for!

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Mind Mint: My underwear and you.

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Mind Mint: My underwear and you.

I have been a loyal Jockey briefs guy since my teens. When I noticed a recent batch showing signs of wear after a few washes, I did some Googling and saw I wasn’t alone. Apparently Jockey has issues with their product quality.

I called Jockey customer service. They denied knowledge of any problem and sent me free replacements that also wore out quickly. Two chances is enough, so I decided I’m done with Jockey.

While this isn’t the first time a brand has disappointed me, this one chafes more than most. I feel disappointed, even angry. I thought we had a deal: Jockey will make good underwear and I will buy it forever. They broke the deal. 

I will find a new brand and move on, but not until I turn my underwear woes into a message: our brand is our promise. If we break that promise more than once, we’ll go the way of my Jockeys.

BTW, suggestions for a new brand of briefs are welcome.

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Mind Mint: It's always about people.

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Mind Mint: It's always about people.

After years of procrastination, I finally took the 40-plus reels of 8mm film that my father shot from 1956-1971 and got them digitally transferred. What a thrill it is to see my parents' wedding, my sister and me as babies, our birthday parties and other milestones.
 
Less exciting are the shots of animals at the zoo, rides at the amusement park, and boats in the harbor. Those types of images are all available (in better focus and resolution) elsewhere. What’s not available anywhere else is moving pictures of our family and friends.
 
What’s true of our home movies is true for anything we create: no matter the topic, genre or form, if your story isn’t ultimately about people, then we’re just not that interested.

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Mind Mint: In praise of crickets.

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Mind Mint: In praise of crickets.

In June I sponsored a tech startup demo showcase in NYC. The sponsorship fee entitled me to pitch my services at the event, a major benefit given that I'm usually pretty good on my feet in front of a crowd. 

I invested time in preparation, devising an ingenious, out-of-the-box two minute pitch that utilized humor to drive home a clear message. Within 15 seconds of starting my talk, I could tell that I had totally missed the mark. I flopped big time…the kind of flop where half the audience tunes you out while the other half gawks at you with disbelief and pity.

On the train ride home, I thought about what I would say to a client who had this experience. Here’s what I came up with: 

  • Everyone fails sometimes
  • This was a small audience and a small sponsorship fee, making this a “small” failure 
  • If we never fail, it means we’re not taking enough risks

I felt better after listening to myself. I’m grateful to have had the experience: I learned from it, got a dose of humility, and gathered the perfect amount of material for a Mind Mint.

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Mind Mint: The drop-off.

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Mind Mint: The drop-off.

This weekend, my wife and I dropped off our kids at two separate summer programs. In both cases, we were impressed with the orderly arrival and check-in process. The clear signage, concise instructions and smiling staff members helped us feel confident that we had chosen the right places for our kids.
 
It was a great example of how thoughtful hosts can influence their guests right from the start. This is a lesson we can apply as communicators. When we create communication experiences, it's our responsibility as "hosts" to take care of our "guests" - the audience - whether they are visiting our website, attending our meeting, or listening to our presentation.
 
The process starts by putting ourselves fully into the mindset of our guests. Why are they here? What are they expecting? How can we put them at ease and exceed their expectations?
 
By remembering to ask these questions, we’re well on our way to creating effective, audience-centered communications. Or in other words, just by thinking of ourselves as hosts, we're more likely to create happy, receptive guests.

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Mind Mint: Your two-minute drill.

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Mind Mint: Your two-minute drill.

Every NFL team methodically practices their two-minute drill: a strategic sequence of plays designed to move the ball into scoring position in a highly-condensed timeframe.
 
I often use a similar approach in my work. When helping clients preparing for their presentations – which are typically 15-30 minutes in length – I ask them to practice a two-minute version. I make this suggestion late in the process, once the main presentation is in good shape.
 
Here’s why: the shortened timeframe forces us to refocus on what's most important about our story. Once we've clearly prioritized our content, we're in a better position to land those key points in a presentation of any length. 
 
As you prepare to give a talk, I suggest you practice your two-minute drill. It will help you perform better when it's game time. 
 
You’ll also be better prepared to handle the unexpected, as happened to a client in May, when he was asked on the spot to deliver his 20-minute talk in less than 5 minutes. He was ready!

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Mind Mint: "What did we do last year?"

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Mind Mint: "What did we do last year?"

Most of us have work-related tasks that anniversary every year: things like budgeting and planning, sales meetings, and annual reports.  
 
Typically, the first question we ask as the project approaches is “what did we do last year?” It’s not a bad question; the answer can provide a useful point of reference and eliminate the need to reinvent every detail.
 
The problem with the question is that we once we answer it, “last year” can become the frame through which we view this year’s project. This frame can easily become a limiting factor…a box from which we’ll never escape.
 
Sometimes it’s worth leaving last year in the past, and approaching a project as if this was Year One. Adopting a "beginner’s mind" can be a freeing experience, enabling you to re-ask the big questions about the project. You may discover new answers and a new approach to the task at hand.
 
But don’t get too attached to the new approach; you’ll need to put it aside when you take a fresh look at the project next year!

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Mind Mint: Get a new point of view.

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Mind Mint: Get a new point of view.

Changing my “point of view” is probably the single most effective technique I utilize when problem solving. In this context, I’m using “point of view” (POV) literally, meaning the position from which we observe something.
 
If our POV is static, we’re stuck looking at the problem from the same perspective. Once we shift our position, we start seeing things differently. By looking at the problem from multiple angles, we're able unlock a new understanding of what we’re trying to solve.

I put this idea into practice in a variety of ways, including:

  • Creating whiteboard drawings or diagrams to help visualize the problem
  • Moving to the other side of the room during a meeting
  • Imagining how others (customers, coworkers, competitors) see the problem
  • Zooming in to focus on one small aspect of the problem
  • Zooming out to see the larger context 

As soon as a problem starts to feel unsolvable, I remind myself of the need to look at it from a different perspective. With a new point of view comes new insight and – more often than not – a solution.

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Mind Mint: Meet Connor Franta.

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Mind Mint: Meet Connor Franta.

My wife and 12-year-old daughter spent all day Friday and Saturday waiting in lines so that my daughter could spend a few seconds meeting (and being photographed with) Connor Franta. Thousands of other teens, tweens and their parents did the same thing. They came from long distances and stood in lines, outside, for hours, in unseasonably cool temperatures.
 
Which begs the question, “Who the hell is Connor Franta?” Here’s what I’ve learned: he’s one of a growing category of “YouTube Sensations,” vloggers who post videos regularly and develop huge followings. Connor’s videos are sometimes funny, sometimes heartfelt, and often personal. He delivers a positive, “don’t be afraid to be yourself” message, in weekly videos that have reasonably good production values. He possesses no special talent in the traditional sense.  
 
I don’t fully understand Connor Franta’s appeal (or that of his vlogger peers), but I know this: it’s a new thing, it’s a real thing, and we’ll be seeing much more of it in the years ahead. 

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Mind Mint: Less is the new black.

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Mind Mint: Less is the new black.

Our time is finite. When we waste someone’s time, we're taking something irreplaceable from them.
 
As communicators, we need to keep this top of mind. Have we expressed our message in the clearest, most concise way possible? If not, we risk squandering our audience's most valuable resource.
 
My commitment to this principle led me to rethink and relaunch my website, which went live last week. I reduced the number of pages from 18 to 3 and cut the word count by 96%. The result is greater clarity about what I offer, and more importantly, time saved for my audience.
 
I hope you’ll take a minute (literally – that’s all it takes) to check out the new garyforman.com.

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Mind Mint: Sculpting your story.

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Mind Mint: Sculpting your story.

Michelangelo said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” If you look at one of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures, you can see this process at work.

I believe that every individual, product and organization has a great story inside, and it is our task as communicators to discover it. The concept of chipping away to reveal what’s inside rings true in my experience. Many of my projects involve taking a client’s “block” of communications, searching for the core of their story, and carving away everything else.

I also like Michaelangelo’s use of “discover” (or at least the Italian translation of discover). We often associate discovery with finding something new, but the word’s roots suggest otherwise. Since “cover” is to conceal, “dis-cover” is to remove the cover, or in other words, to reveal.

This definition of discover reminds us that the answers we seek are often within our reach; to find them, we just have to keep chipping away.

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Mind Mint: Not just happy...Uber happy.

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Mind Mint: Not just happy...Uber happy.

Happy customers spread the word about the source of their happiness. Here’s proof.

I travel to and from Newark Airport fairly frequently. Only recently did I begin to use Uber (Uber X to be specific) instead of a local car service and airport taxis. Let’s compare the “before" and "after” experiences

  • Before Uber, I had to call a day in advance, and slowly give my information to a sleepy dispatcher. With Uber, I click a button on the Uber app 10 minutes before I want to leave.
  • Before Uber, I waited and prayed that the car would come on time (which it often didn’t). With Uber, I get an estimated arrival time and track the driver’s progress via the app. 
  •  Before Uber, I rode in cars that were usually well past their prime and sometimes truly dilapidated. With Uber, I’ve gotten a modern, comfortable vehicle every time.  
  • Before Uber, I needed to bring exact change, since I couldn’t count on the driver having change, and using a credit card meant a $5 surcharge. With Uber, my credit card gets charged automatically at the end of the trip.

Here’s the kicker: the cost (with tip) before Uber? $50. The cost with Uber? $17. In summary, Uber beats the competition on every major parameter at 1/3rd of the price.
 
May we all strive to provide a product or service that inspires happiness and motivates customers to sing (or blog) our praises. 

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Mind Mint: A great story that's true enough.

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Mind Mint: A great story that's true enough.

The phenomenally successful eyewear startup Warby Parker has a great origin story on their website: “We were students when one of us lost his glasses on a backpacking trip. The cost of replacing them was so high that he spent the first semester of grad school without them…we were amazed at how hard it was to find a pair of great frames that didn’t leave our wallets bare.” So they created a new kind of eyewear company.

I’ve also heard a different version of the story: four ambitious MBA students were looking for a business opportunity, discovered that the prescription eyeglass industry was ripe for disruption, and launched an online eyewear company.
 
While the second story is probably more accurate, I don’t think the first one is deceptive or misleading in any meaningful way. Or in other words, it’s “true enough.” And it’s certainly a powerful story that resonates with consumers. 
 
An origin story needs to capture the essence of who you are, what you do, and why you do it in a way that connects with customers' needs and values. The story doesn’t need to faithfully document the facts; it just needs to be true enough.

Breaking News: As if to prove my point, this morning Fast Company announced that Warby Parker was #1 on their list of Most Innovative Companies!

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Mind Mint: It's not that complicated.

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Mind Mint: It's not that complicated.

I recently read Jonah Berger’s book Contagious, which examines why some ideas (and videos) go viral. His research indicates that viral phenomena share six characteristics, each of which he defines in detail. While Berger's analysis is interesting, I don’t find it practical. Viral ideas aren’t created by following checklists; they come from a place of quirkiness, inspiration and serendipity.
 
Berger’s approach is similar to how many agencies (and consultants) approach communications. They find examples of success, “reverse engineer” these examples, then package and sell the results as a “how-to framework” for reproducing success.
 
While such frameworks can be helpful, they’re typically more useful as an analysis of what worked than as a guide to creating your own success. Too often their real purpose is to convince you that “this work is too complex for you to do by yourself, and you need to hire us to avoid failing.”
 
Beware of those who preach complexity. Effective communication isn’t rocket science. It takes skill and effort, but odds are you have what it takes to get it done. It’s just not that complicated.

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Mind Mint: Beware long load times.

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Mind Mint: Beware long load times.

This week marks the 10th Anniversary of Because I Can, the solo theater piece that I wrote and performed from December 2-5, 2004. The anniversary prompted me to call the show’s director,Daisy Walker, to say hi and to ask a question that had been on my mind for a while: “Why did we spend so much time rehearsing the transitions between scenes?”
 
Daisy responded with a passionate monologue about the importance of keeping things moving, and the risks of having the audience disengage between scenes. One of Daisy’s lines stood out: “Theater time is like computer time—every second of waiting is an eternity.”
 
The “computer time” analogy hits home. The hourglass, pinwheel and status bar have become dreaded symbols of wasted time. We hate to wait! In fact, 40% of people will abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. That’s why eCommerce companies invest millions in software and infrastructure just to cut a second off their webpage load times.
 
Daisy's point is that live audiences are equally impatient: they will mentally click on a new window if the "load time" between scenes is too long. That's why she choreographed and carefully rehearsed every scene change of my show, keeping the audience engaged not just during each scene, but in the spaces between them. And that's why it's worth investing our time in keeping every event, presentation, meeting or show as tight and "gap-free" as possible.

 

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Mind Mint: A Turkey-Lurkey Thanksgiving.

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Mind Mint: A Turkey-Lurkey Thanksgiving.

Growing up, my family had a copy of the 1968 Original Cast Recording of Promises, Promises, which became my favorite Broadway score. My favorite track is “Turkey Lurkey Time,” which features an extended (and awesome) instrumental break.
 
I later found out later that Turkey Lurkey Time is legendary amongst theater geeks, less for the music and more for the dancing. The number does absolutely nothing to advance the plot; it’s only purpose is to close Act 1 on a high note. And it consistently brought audiences to their feet.
 
A few months ago, I found a video of Turkey Lurkey Time on YouTube, from the 1969 Tony Awards broadcast. Watching it makes me incredibly grateful: grateful that a bunch of artists came together to conceive, choreograph, orchestrate, rehearse and perform this…grateful that it was recorded and posted online…grateful that my parents went to see it and then got us the recording…grateful that I can watch the video and imagine what it would have been like to have been there.
 
If you've got any theater geek at all in you, invest 3:50 in watching the video (or start at 1:55 if you can only spare 2 minutes). Even if it's not your thing, I hope it inspires you to think of some other quirky thing that makes you insanely thankful. 

I wish you a (one week early) Happy Thanksgiving.

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