Mind Mint: They didn't follow my script.

Comment

Mind Mint: They didn't follow my script.

A few weeks ago, I met a potential new client. Her company had a sales meeting coming up – their first one ever. After a few conversations, we agreed that I could help them. So I presented a proposal to the company’s leaders.

The presentation went well. I could clearly envision the project moving forward: providing a steady stream of work and income for the next four months, and resulting in an event that exceeded all expectations.

Yesterday I learned that the clients decided they can handle the workload internally, without my assistance.

Today, as I recover from the sting of seeing a large, interesting project disappear, I’m reminding myself that though I’m a writer, I can’t script the outcomes I want. What I can do is faithfully play my part: show up, listen carefully, offer to help, and respect the client’s decision.

By definition, this one was not meant to be. Which means I’m ready to tackle what's next. Bring it on!

Comment

Mind Mint: Judge a book by its sample.

Comment

Mind Mint: Judge a book by its sample.

I love downloading book samples on my Kindle. Here’s why:

  • The samples are free (even if you don’t own a Kindle, you can get the Kindle app on virtually any device)

  • The quality tends to be much higher than the typical “click bait” that fills my Facebook and Twitter feeds

  • I usually pick up some insights from reading the first chapter or two

  • If the sample is compelling, I can buy the book with just a couple of clicks

So when someone mentions a subject, book or author that sparks your interest, just open your Amazon app, download the sample, and enjoy!

Got a better way of exploring new ideas? Let me know!

Comment

Mind Mint: A non-standardized education.

Comment

Mind Mint: A non-standardized education.

Over the next two weeks, my kids’ school schedules are dominated by standardized tests. With this season comes lots of healthy debate about the role of these tests in education. For me,test season brings to mind a story about the photographer Ansel Adams. 

When it became apparent that Adams was too restless and scattered to sit still, his father pulled him out of school. At age 12, Adams was allowed to freely roam the dunes and cliffs around his San Francisco home. At 13, his father got him an annual pass to the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, a world’s fair held in San Francisco.

This freedom to explore the fair and the wilderness on his own terms enabled Adams to find himself, something that would likely have been impossible for him in a traditional school setting.

Adam’s childhood reminds us that we’re best able to realize our individual potential when our experiences are personalized, not standardized. And it’s an example of how a powerful story can help us see a familiar issue (like the standardization of education) in a new light.

Check out Ric Burns’ documentary about Ansel Adams, available on YouTube. The story above is beautifully told starting at 12:00, ending at 17:00.

Comment

Mind Mint: My formula for successful mornings.

Comment

Mind Mint: My formula for successful mornings.

I’m not a morning guy. I feel intense pangs of jealousy when my cat settles into a comfortable position on my bed just as I force myself out of it. But there are two rituals that I find to be remarkably effective in helping me get the day started. 

The first is a moment of gratitude. Shortly after getting up, I pause and silently list a few things I’m grateful for. I try to vary what’s on the list each day. This ritual injects some positive energy into my morning. 

The second ritual is making (and drinking) coffee. Before doing anything that requires thought, I brew a small pot of French Roast. The coffee injects some caffeine into my bloodstream. And with the caffeine buzz comes another moment of gratitude. 

Gratitude and coffee: a simple, effective, low-cost way to start the day. I hope you have a great one!

Comment

Mind Mint: When tech goes bad.

Comment

Mind Mint: When tech goes bad.

I recently received a meeting invitation from a new contact that included this message: "I had Charlie, my assistant, gather some research on the meeting attendees.” I quickly realized that Charlie was a virtual assistant; basically, an app. 

I eagerly clicked the "Information about Gary Forman" link to test it out. I was pleased to see that Charlie grabbed the headline from my Twitter profile. It was all downhill from there.

The “news about Gary Forman” section was filled with recent articles about Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) referee Gary Forman, whose “questionable officiating” may have contributed to a fighter’s eye being gouged. There was also a 2013 blurb about Gary Forman of New City, NY being inducted into the Point of Purchase Advertising International (POPAI) Hall of Fame.

Turns out this virtual assistant was very virtual but not of much assistance (other than providing material for this Mind Mint). A good reminder to make sure the technology tools we use actually perform as promised. 

Follow-up: to drive home the point with my new contact at our meeting, I gouged his eye out with my POPAI award. 

Comment

Mind Mint: Fighting for your audience.

Comment

Mind Mint: Fighting for your audience.

Last week I was in Las Vegas for a large tech conference. The opening session took place in an arena that seated more than ten thousand people. At any given moment, I’d say that 25-35% of the crowd was engaged with an electronic device.

Holding an audience’s attention isn’t easy under any circumstances. Even before the invention of electricity, our minds had plenty of bandwidth for wandering. But it’s one thing to compete with a wandering mind; competing with a device that provides instant access to a world of information, connection and distraction is something quite different.

Those of us who help create live events and presentations have a choice to make: accept that our audiences will be distracted or engage fully in the battle for their attention.

I choose to fight. I know I’m up against a powerful opponent. So I will focus relentlessly on making every moment of my event or presentation more compelling than a smartphone.

Who’s with me?

Comment

Mind Mint: Developing a split personality.

Comment

Mind Mint: Developing a split personality.

One of the most helpful suggestions I’ve ever gotten about writing comes from the book Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. I find that it applies not just to writing, but to any creative pursuit. And I define “creative” very broadly. 

Brande argues that we each have an artist and a critic within us. The artist is spontaneous, sensitive and creative; the critic is workman-like, rational, and yes, critical. Brande believes that we need to cultivate both sides while keeping them separate.

Here’s how I put this advice into practice: I’ll often plow through creating the first draft of a speech or an important email (or a Mind Mint) with a commitment to not judging the quality of what I’m writing. Once the first draft is complete, I invite the critic in to do his work.

What happens if the artist and the critic try to work at the same time? The critic stifles the artist and nothing gets done. Fortunately, both sides agree that a bad first draft beats a blank page any day.

Comment

Mind Mint: Go for the spike.

Comment

Mind Mint: Go for the spike.

My son is in 10th grade and starting to think seriously about college. He recently discovered (and became a fan of) an online guide to admissions written by Allen Cheng, a smart guy who co-founded a business selling test prep services.

Cheng’s main point is that top colleges prefer candidates who have one area of focus and accomplishment over those who are more traditionally well-rounded. He urges his readers to “develop a huge spike” by following their passion so that they can “do something that truly stands out in a meaningful way.”

I’m happy to have my son take his advice, not because it may make him more attractive to colleges, but because I’m a believer in the value of spikes. When we allow ourselves to dive into the things we’re most passionate about, we experience our greatest growth, achievement, and satisfaction.

If you’re like me, this topic gets you thinking about the spike moments in your life. Remember what they felt like? Can we find room in our lives for another spike or two?  I hope so. And the great thing is, now we can pursue those spike experiences without having to write the college admissions essay. 

Comment

Mind Mint: In defense of "help."

Comment

Mind Mint: In defense of "help."

I have a client who gives me a hard time whenever I use the word “help” in describing his company’s services. “It sounds too weak,” he complains. And since he’s the client, by definition, he’s right.

That doesn’t mean I agree with him. In fact, I use “help” twice in the first three sentences of my website! While some have a bias against admitting it, help is something most of us need across many different areas of our work and lives.

I’ve found that asking for help has a couple of benefits: 

  • It gives us a good chance of getting the assistance we need, and
  • It gives someone else the chance to be of servic e by lending a hand.

May 2016 be a year of helping and being helped for all of us. And by all means, let me know if I can help!  

Comment

Mind Mint: "What do you do?"

Comment

Mind Mint: "What do you do?"

Whether we’re speaking for ourselves, our company, or our product, we need to be able to provide a simple answer to that question.

Coming up with a simple answer isn’t easy. It means doing the hard work needed to encapsulate your story in a few words. I suggest using the following questions to guide the creation of your answer:

  • Is it clear and understandable?
  • Is it short and simple enough for people to remember?
  • Does it invite people to ask more questions?

Your initial answer doesn’t need to be complete; you can fill in the blanks if the other party wants to know more. But having a strong one-line response helps open up conversations, and conversations can lead to opportunities.

I’m a communications consultant who helps people and companies create better stories. What do you do?

Comment

Mind Mint: Giving thanks.

Comment

Mind Mint: Giving thanks.

Over the past year, I’ve received many compliments on my new website and Mind Mints, which are the two biggest elements of my online identity.

Thanksgiving seems like the perfect time to express my gratitude for (and share credit with) the folks who contributed their talents to help me look my best:

·      Daniel Boyles of LightPress.net designed my website.
·      Tim Townsend took photos of me for my website.
·      James Worrell created the photo for the Mind Mints home page.
·      Avi Graiver of Animation Cowboy created my new explainer video.
·      Jim Coleman composed music for the video.

I’m grateful to each of them for their great work and great attitude.

While we're on the subject, I’m grateful to all of you – my clients, colleagues, and friends – for your business, friendship, and support. Happy Thanksgiving! 
 

Comment

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

Comment

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!

Comment

Mind Mint: The real deal.

Comment

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.

Comment

Mind Mint: Sampling beats selling.

Comment

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. 

Comment

Mind Mint: Make every day Container Day.

Comment

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. 

Comment

Mind Mint: "Tell me about yourself."

Comment

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!

Comment

Mind Mint: My underwear and you.

Comment

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.

Comment

Mind Mint: It's always about people.

Comment

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.

Comment

Mind Mint: In praise of crickets.

Comment

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.

Comment

Mind Mint: The drop-off.

Comment

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.

Comment