Archive for the ‘General’ category

Basic extroverting for introverts

July 31, 2017


I know… people wear you out. You avoid prolonged contact at chatty parties and go home early to recharge. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. It’s just your preference.

Then again, exercise also wears you out. Who wants to experience pain if they can avoid it? However, at some point you realize exercise is good for you. You get stronger and it starts to get easier.

Maybe learning how to hold a conversation is also good for you. Maybe it’s worth it.

I’m developing a program to help anyone hold conversations that connect. I hope you would agree that being able to work a room is good for your business and your career.  The classic cocktail party has changed a bit with the obstacle of “head in phone” syndrome, but I love the challenge of being able to start and hold a conversation with anyone.

Perhaps you can gamify your conversational networking too. Set a goal of connecting with at least ten new people at the next event you attend.

Here are some starter questions that will help you:

  1. So… what do you think of the event?
  2. What is your role in your organization?
  3. What have you learned that’s really new today?
  4. I’m trying to figure something out and would appreciate your opinion on it.

Notice that none of these starters include you diving into what you do. Wait for them to ask.  Set a goal to listen for at least a minute without interrupting, and the first thing you say is a response to something THEY said. If you really listen, your follow-ups should come easily.

Here are some possible follow-ups to the four questions above:

  1. Hmm, why is that?
  2. What’s the best part of it for you?
  3. How do you think it’s going to affect your business?
  4. Thanks, others seem to agree with you. So how would you approach ______?

Holding a conversation is about asking and listening. You don’t have to be funny, or tell long stories or be eloquent on all the issues. It’s easier to connect when you get others talking first and then react to what they say.

Having more people know what you do could help your career, right?  The most interesting person in the room is often the one who shows interest in everyone else.

Share your favorite conversation starters in the comments below!


Alright, break it up

July 12, 2017


I am, and have always been, a peacemaker. Conflict makes me edgy.  I feel a personal responsibility to lighten the air with humor when two people are going at it in a heated exchange or hostile negotiation. Early in my career, I felt compelled to make others laugh so they would chill out on the arguing.

Here’s the problem. It wasn’t my fight.

I got once got admonished for cracking a joke in a staff meeting when two verbal combatants were debating in front of everyone before making a decision. “You’re not helping, David” is what I heard loud and clear. And honestly, I was embarrassed to get that reprimand publicly.

Afterwards, I received a helpful analogy from a colleague.  He said, “Arguments in the boardroom are like hockey player fights. The refs never jump in and break it up until the two players are exhausted from punching and fall down on the ice.  If you jump in too soon, you might take an unnecessary roundhouse to the jaw.”

So for all of you fellow keepers of the peace out there, perhaps you should take a deep breath, calm your soul and wait out the end of the fight next time.  It may be difficult, but take heart… you will be extremely valuable in the recovery process.


Put me in, player

June 28, 2017


I had two different managers in a large corporation who both achieved their management positions by first being effective individual contributors. They were star players who were naturally recognized by senior management as great examples to lead a team.

It was a good call. Both performed very well as managers and replaced themselves with other players, teaching them to do things they used to do. But just because they were able to coach, didn’t mean they enjoyed it at the same level as when they played “on the field.”  And sometimes… what felt like micro-managing was really just a frustrated desire to come off the sideline and play again.

In both situations, my solution as a team member was to go ahead and let them play a bit. I would invite them to creative brainstorming sessions and editing reviews, and listened to how they communicated with internal clients. I knew I could still learn something from them, even if I was fully capable of trial and error on my own.

If they started to take over too much, I had an honest conversation and asked them to let me take the wheel again. The key is the open and honest communication.

Try this, “I appreciate all the input because I know how important the outcome is for this project. Would you mind if I stepped up to lead now so the learning really sticks for me? I’ll keep you in the loop.”

Copping an attitude or complaining to peers is never productive. If your manager is micro-managing, talk to them about it… directly and privately.

I had these two similar situations in my recent career, so maybe it has been a challenge for you too.  Have you ever had a frustrated manager that got too much into your business because they missed playing?  How did you resolve it?

Why “that’s a great question” is not a great answer

May 21, 2017


Are you trying to hold attention and be remembered when you speak to your team at work? Whether you are speaking live or on video, attention spans are extremely short and it doesn’t take much for your audience to click off and multi-task.

I’ve interviewed hundreds of executives on webinars and a long-running technology talk show, and there is one annoying habit I feel compelled to speak up about. It must still be being taught by other presentation coaches, because it happens so often. When the host asks a question, the guest buys themselves time to answer by starting with “That’s a great question…”

In my humble opinion, this has become so cliche that it can actually distract an audience rather than hold their attention. Why? Because it is not sincere, and it’s often so repetitive that it becomes hypnotic. I’m sorry, but every question is NOT a great question. So many questions in corporate interviews are rehearsed softballs with a scripted response that follows.

What should you say instead of “That’s a great question” the next time YOU are being interviewed? Just answer the question. Perhaps pause for a moment, but get to the point. Don’t waste any time. If the interviewer actually surprises you with an unrehearsed question, give your genuine reaction. Something like:

  • “Hey that’s a hardball question, but I’m glad you’re giving me an opportunity to address it.”
  • “Are you asking <repeat the question> because you are <insert possible motivation here>?”
  • “You know, I’ve been hearing that question from the team a lot recently. We don’t have an answer yet but I want everyone to know we are working on it diligently…”

An interview format is more engaging to watch than a lecture because it is a conversation. The host should be representing the audience with real and relevant questions that are on the top of their minds. If the conversation feels authentic, you will get and hold attention. If the audience smells overly rehearsed talking points or corporate buzzwords, they will tune out.

Are you willing to take the risk to be original and authentic in your next interview? Now THAT’S a great question.

A Short Message on Mother’s Day

May 14, 2017


Being a mom’s not a job, it’s more like a mission

For some it’s an accident, for some a decision

Whatever the reason, the reason it’s rough

Is that you never believe you are doing enough

For these kids who at first need your help every day

But eventually don’t want you to get in their way

Then they become self-sufficient outside of your nest

Pat yourself on the back, hey you passed the test!

But it doesn’t feel finished, your love still flows

And you wait for a call, yeah that’s how it goes

So for all of you kids, yeah I’m talking to you

I have a suggestion for a great thing to do

Call her on Mother’s day and then set a reminder

To call her again next week because you will find her

Surprised in the most pleasant and wonderful way

Just talk to her even if there’s not much to say

You may be self-sufficient as a daughter or son

But to a mother her mission is never done

At the limit of your strength, fight on

April 18, 2017


We saw warning signs at mile seven. Jeff was already beginning to feel tightness in his legs. Due to ongoing chemo treatments, he was only able to do up to a 15-mile run in his training. Brad and I looked at each other and realized it was going to be a long day for Jeff. Our mission was to help him get to the Boston Marathon finish line.

Thanks to Jeff, Brad, Ramona, family and friends, we had raised over $38,000 for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. This further fueled Jeff’s determination to finish this dream race.  But honestly, I wasn’t sure how we were going to pull this one off.

The mother of all marathons was an amazing event. We took in the sights and sounds of the friendly people in the tiny towns. We talked to Doug Flutie, who was running for his Autism foundation. We saluted veterans running with US flags, and a German man who had run 208 marathons. We got attacked by the Wellesley kissing bandits and cheered on by college kids who MAYBE had a little too much to drink.

As we approached the 15-mile mark, Brad and I kept the dialogue going with Jeff. As I’ve learned in past races, your longest training run can create an artificial limit in your mind. Though Jeff had pain, some dizziness and even nausea, he remained focused. Each water and walk break was brief and he insisted that we keep going when I suggested extra walks.

I broadcasted on Facebook Live and read the comments out loud so we all knew the love was flowing from back home and across the world. It was a temporary but welcome distraction from pain.

Then I heard Jeff say out loud, “Go away. Just go away. You’re not going to stop me now.”  He was talking to the pain and fatigue, refusing to let it override his body and mind.

As we started up Heartbreak Hill, he wanted to run but he stopped suddenly in the middle of the street. “Oh crap, my right quad is starting to give out.”

We had done the math and wanted to keep a pace to beat a 6-hour total finishing time, but I convinced Jeff that it was better to walk up the remaining uphills and take advantage of the downhills to make up some time. His body was overheated and under stress, but his heart refused to break.

Brad counted down each mile and kept us steady at a 13-minute mile pace.
7 miles.
6 miles.
5 miles. That’s doable.
4 miles. We are really doing this.
3 miles. Thank you, God.
2 miles…

There is nothing like supportive applause from the roadside crowd, I did my best to reignite the Boston faithful so late in the day. Each cheer brought a shot of adrenaline like a cool breeze on a hot day. It kept us believing.

We rounded the last corner and saw that historic finish line in the distance. And when they announced our names, Brad and I raised Jeff’s arms in triumph as we have done in every race… but this one was historic in another way.  I have never seen a more gutsy display of focus, determination and sheer will to cross a finish line.

I couldn’t help crying as we hugged. I had been prepared to carry Jeff across the finish line if I had to, but I didn’t have to.  Every time I thought he had hit his limit that day, he decided to fight on.

That’s a choice we all have when we hit a limiting belief in our lives. There’s a reserve deep down inside us. It’s fueled by love and support, and ignited by courage.

Jeff, you really showed me something amazing yesterday. There is no limit to your strength.  Thank you, brother.

*** Donation site is still open, thank you!

Hang a lantern on it

February 26, 2017


What’s holding you back from speaking?  I’ve been coaching people for years on how to speak without fear, and one common fear I hear from English as a Second Language speakers is that they will be judged too harshly on minor pronunciation and grammar mistakes.

I’ve found the opposite to be true. Most native English speakers enjoy your accent and find it charming that you make an occasional mistake.  What matters far more is that you have a message worth sharing and that you share it passionately. Connecting with the audience is way more important and will earn you forgiveness on minor language mistakes.

The key to relaxing is to “hang a lantern on it and move on.” I heard this phrase from a Hollywood scriptwriter. It means that you illuminate and call attention to an inconsistency in the story by having a character notice and mention it. It’s the writer’s way of telling the reader “I did this on purpose; it’s not a mistake.” It helps the audience suspend disbelief and enjoy themselves.

So how do you hang a lantern on your self-imposed speaking weakness?  Experiment with humor and illuminate it in a light-hearted way. In other words, let the audience know that YOU know and it clears the air.

  • “I’ve been working hard on my English but it’s not quite perfect yet. So please raise your hand if I accidentally insult you.”
  • “My Spanish is 100% perfect… but you pressed 1 for English, so you get 80% perfect.  I’ll give it my best shot.”
  • “I have a problem with P’s and F’s so Flease Porgive me. By the way, there is a blue Honda with its lights on in the Farking lot.”

On a similar note, a lady in one of my workshops asked how she could overcome her self-consciousness about being deaf in one ear. She was afraid someone would ask a question that she could not hear, and she didn’t want them to think she was ignoring them.

I suggested she hang a lantern on it, and instruct the audience “Before we begin I want you all to know that I am completely deaf in my left ear. So, if you like to ask questions you might want to move to the right side of the room now.” Then you smile and let them know you are joking… but you have also cleared the air to let go of your self-consciousness.

Most audiences are more forgiving than we think. They usually ARE pulling for you, and making mistakes simply makes you more human in their eyes. It makes you one of them. If you don’t take yourself too seriously, they will pay more attention to what you have to say than exactly how you say it.