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Friday, December 17, 2010

Talented, Good People Fail

One of the areas I excel in is listening. Yet my ability to focus for lengths of time has been weak, and my desire to please is high. What this creates at times is a wandering state of paying attention while smiling to encourage the speaker in continuing, leading me further and further out of touch.

Talented, good people fail. As my listening skills have led me to great opportunities, my focus and thinking skills have often held me back. What I know today is, while I have created a comfort zone of barrier patterns that hold me back, I have since learned to break down those patterns for one particular reason: to speak and behave with confidence.

Good people fail. And because I vowed in the year 2000 to help those, who like me, want to feel better about themselves at the end of the day, my purposeful focus is to help good, talented people get back on track.

Although I work with many attorneys, attorney or not, here are their similarities: they are highly valued employees, they are succeeding in their positions but clearly could be more effective in them, and/or they are being groomed for positions at the very highest levels. Helping people achieve speaking confidence is the key to helping people work to their highest potential.

Do they need to listen better? Be more aggressive? Talk less? Be more direct? Own up to their mistakes? Business psychologists James Waldroop and Timothy Butler (The 12 Bad Habits That Hold Good People Back, published 2000) understand these skills as key to developing behavior patterns that work for us. They also know which ones hold us back. These emotional triggers are listed below:

1. Never Feeling Good Enough
2. Seeing the World in Black and White
3. Doing Too Much, Pushing Too Hard
4. Avoiding Conflict at all Cost
5. Running Roughshod over the Opposition
6. Rebel Looking for a Cause
7. Always Swinging for the Fence
8. When Fear is in the Driver's Seat
9. Emotionally Tone Deaf
10. When No Job is Good Enough
11. Lacking a Sense of Boundaries
12. Losing the Path

Although it's more inspiring to focus on our strengths, without focusing on the patterns that hold us back we prohibit our development. If I want to improve in my ability to exercise routinely, I may set a goal to go to the gym 3 times weekly. Yet if the pattern that holds me back is Never Feeling Good Enough, I may start to question why I am even attempting the goal. Soon, I will slide from 3 times to 2 times, and then I will eventually give up.

My efforts at development are a sign of my "good person" status, yet I will fail until I understand AND break down the barrier patterns that hold me back.

What I tell myself (similar to the 12 attitudes above) is what I end up telling the world around me. Break down the behavior patterns and I begin to change my worldview, manage myself, influence others and speak with confidence.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What it takes to be a tree

Yesterday I read a tweet from the author of Be a Tree, a presentation pointer. Wonderful advice about how to come across as though you stand for something. Here is some of what he said:

Stand still as a presenter. Get your weight on both feet. Balance yourself. Do not stick one hip out like a pop singer. Instead, be the tree. But do not sway. Stand as if you are guarding something sacred, as if you stand for something important. Then, after holding this position for a reasonable time, move to another spot and stand still again. Stillness and movement is very near the crux of any performance art.

Sorry, somehow I lost the author of the post. Yet with my background in theatre and my current focus in presentation, I applaud how he illustrates the quality.

One of my clients has experienced the difference between waffling around ideas and how to express them and in being solid and practiced in her ideas, language and movement. She feels an incredible boost in confidence as she stands with purpose, sharing an idea and its illustration, then moving into her next point, ending with purpose on a thought.

I recall the time I was auditioning for a role that many contemporary actors would call an "actor's dream" part. The Guys was Harvest Theatre's new focus in 2006, the 5th year anniversary of the tragedy on Twin Towers and the many engulfed in fatalities. The show features the captain of the fireman unit that lost all their lives during the rescue attempt. Also filling out the cast is the journalist he partnered with to write all the eulogies he would have to deliver.

The journalist role is meaty - rich, dramatic, funny and real. During auditions I had a wealth of experiences to call on as I stood in front of the casting committee. Unfortunately, I didn't simply stand. When many of us are before a group and not hiding behind a podium or desk, we tend to fidget or pace or gesticulate like crazy. That's what I was doing. And in that process, my voice was loosing control. Not to say that I was screaming - instead I was underselling the script because my body was overselling it.

The director said to me, "Let's try this again. Stand solidly, without movement and take it again." Immediately I understood. In my second attempt I got connected to the monologue. The words had depth, the moment had meaning and I got control back. It worked - for I not only ended up with the part. The performances were rich and true. We learned how to move as well as how to stand and deliver. We were trees.

It takes a few simple things to be a tree:
focus, energy and trust

Certainly with focus we understand the "through-line" of our message. We know the set-up, the connection to the audience and the end result. This doesn't come to us immediately. It takes time to play around with the message enough to clarify where we're going. Then the delivery requires feedback, or at least the observance of people's feedback. Focus is the first step in becoming a tree.

Doesn't it sound odd that it also takes energy? Well it does. One cannot hold themselves solidly without breathing deeply and often. Mental alertness is jazzed with energy. Similar to singing and holding a note, the ability to hold a stance is "rooted" in the energy it takes to stay solid. Mentally we must pump up ourselves for the effort. Relax and the tree-like properties sag.

Amateur speakers seem to believe they are hampered by not trusting the audience's reactions to them. It's actually just the opposite. Those we must trust when speaking or performing is ourselves. We can handle it. We can still ourselves in the moment and create an engaging connection. When the other two properties are mastered (focus and energy), trust is a ready quality.

Tough times require being a tree. Whether on the phone with a customer, whether talking in front of a group or whether performing a rehearsed production, plan and practice focus, energy and trust. Prepare to be a tree.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Planning is good. Preparing and Practicing are Better!

How often have we made planning a part of our personal or professional practices? I'm guessing it's pretty common.

Many business coaches help owners and executives shape their plans. All this is crucial for focused success. Structure is better than constantly being "in-the-moment" with getting things accomplished. Yet having a plan doesn't equal execution. Nor does it equal successful execution.

In theatre, plans are handed out in the form of scripts. Each script supplies critical elements: who says what, when key activity interrupts the dialogue, where the scene takes place. However, most theatrical performances take 4-8 weeks of daily rehearsal to move from being given a script to showcasing a performance. Why? It takes preparation and practice for all individuals to go from script to full understanding while demonstrating the ability to work together to achieve the final outcome.

Two months is a long time for those who want immediate results, yet it's time that quickly escapes if there isn't a design for helping individuals manage themselves, influence others and speak with confidence.

Breaking Down Barriers takes intangible PLANS and helps individuals PREPARE for Being and Doing what it takes to accomplish them. Whether we work with them weekly or twice monthly, we help individuals identify the behavior patterns that have typically held them back from accomplishing what they want and how to break down those behavior patterns. In 3 - 6 months we help them identify habits they can PRACTICE to begin reaching their planned goals. Practice takes time and is crucial. Whether a public speaker working out delivery, poise and projection, or whether a leader framing a tough conversation, practice helps the individual solidify the experience.

Wise clients choose to skip working with coaches who only help them plan. Clients deserve the additional help in preparing and practicing so they can actually GET the results they want.

BDB becomes a part of the PRACTICE, guiding individuals to see impact their behaviors make and helping these individuals tweak behaviors and habits to create the impact they intend. Whether in helping them manage themselves or lead others, BDB provides a thorough 6 - 12 month approach of walking with clients to PLAN, PREPARE and PRACTICE what it takes to speak with confidence.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

You're Not the Only One

Every time I share the 12 common barrier patterns with new clients, they feel relief. Although they are admitting to a barrier pattern or two that holds them back from being what they really want to be, they immediately realize they aren't abnormal.

There are 12 barrier patterns that hold back good people. For introverts, the most common pattern is Never Feeling Good Enough. Subconsciously, this pattern keeps us from public speaking, from networking well, from asking for the sale and from handling conflict.

Introverts are very thoughtful, reflective people, the kind most people would appreciate taking leadership and presentational roles, or buying something from. The fact that they don't make a practice of the above nerve-wracking patterns leads them to think they cannot do these things. Yet each of the above communication-based activities are quite learnable. The longer we introverts avoid learning to plan, prepare and practice these communication-focused activities, the longer we feel Not Good Enough.

I am so glad I was encouraged to plan, prepare and practice public speaking, and then theatre techniques, and then networking strategies and then business development activities and then conflict management. I now feel Good Enough to help other introverts, like me, break down their communication barriers while feeling purposeful and relieved. Feeling Good Enough is a life-enriching pattern. Ready to join me in learning how to use it?

Friday, November 19, 2010

He Set the Tone; Team Responded

What does someone who leads with an Everything's Black and White approach usually see from his direct reports? Yep, frustration.

A client of mine knows this about himself and is actively working on his own professional development to overcome the problems that pattern brings on. A very intelligent young man, this executive has an engineering mindset which brings huge value to the organization from a results standpoint. But he's managing people now, too.

His efficient, curt responses generate misunderstanding. What's important to him is quality, credibility, accurate data and results. As a leader he is gifted for the strategic focus. Yet when it comes to communicating, he misses the mark with people who aren't wired the way he is.

Earlier this month he shared a challenge he's been moderating - a schedule that accomodates several shifts and helps each feel valued. In talking with representatives from each side he ran into problems trying to - as an expert - offer a solution that logically makes sense. Not relating well to the impact it would make on those living with the solution, he demonstrated his lack of sensitivity to the gray area - that area unknown to him.

Fortunately he offered an opportunity for each of the parties to jointly meet for a problem-solving session that he was willing to facilitate. At the time he and I met, this session was a week away. He knew he needed to let them talk things through and capture their thoughts on poster sheets. He knew they were the most qualified to identify what they wanted. He was hoping they could come to conclusions without him.

What my young engineer needed help with was how to set the tone and continue the tone throughout the meeting that would lead to a creative, valuable experience. From his point of view, he was ill-equipped. Yet when I shared some simplistic attitudes to focus on, he was terrified.

There are 3 attitudes that lend to HIGH connectibility between speakers. Enthusiasm, Curiosity and Humility.

Since enthusiasm would miss the mark for a meeting with people nearly at each others' throats, only curiosity or humility seems appropriate. Our executive has difficulty showing vulnerability, so the attitude he was most intrigued by is curiosity.

In brief, instead of trying to demonstrate his expertise when a problem arises, I suggested he explore further by asking questions of those present. This could help with clarification, with understanding the importance of the focus and with digging deeper to uncover the real issues. Not only would this attitude allow him to act as a facilitator vs. an expert, it would bring the discussion back to the interested parties and allow them to engage in the problem-solving. Otherwise, as a Black and White patterned thinker often does, our young engineer would have stopped conversational flow repeatedly by expertly pointing out all the answers. No creativity would have room in that expert tone. No willingness to listen and share would have been tolerated.

Secondly, he began to recognize that the more willing he was at suggesting his own behaviors were sometimes in error, it allowed others to feel safe in reporting the same way.

What he told me later was, "Before I entered the meeting I kept telling myself - remember curiosity and humility." It seems he saw it was important to set the tone for himself as well as for the group.

He opened the meeting in this way:
As you know, I wanted to bring us all together to discover ways we can resolve our scheduling issue. You are all much more suited to coming up with the solutions than I am. As you've already observed, I am limited in understanding the impact some of my ideas have on others. So I need your help in drawing these conclusions.

I am here to listen, to encourage you to share honestly and respectfully and to embrace any conclusions you draw that seem to respect all present. When it's appropriate, I will step in. Yet mostly I see it's important for you each to share and for me to learn from you.

Evidently, this tone created a relaxed atmosphere instead of a contentious one. It allowed him to go through the meeting asking key questions - demonstrating his attitude of curiosity. And one of the most definable moments for him, in his reporting it to me later, was the time he interrupted to say, "That's what I made a huge mistake about. I apologize for that. I didn't realize the impact it would have on you."

He said, "I could feel them shift in their chairs and quietly whisper among themselves. It was obvious to me that they never expected me to be that vulnerable. You were right, Merri. Humility is a huge connector. It led them to a turning point in a later meeting."

Later on in the week he stood in front of all the employees to announce the solution. After doing so, some loudly criticized him for the solution. At that point, two of the shift representatives from the earlier meeting came to his defense, explaining the rationale behind the decision.

"Wow. They never would have defended me before." For someone who operates in a Black and White pattern, that was a moment of revelation. His ablity to validate the perspectives of others set an extremely positive tone. As a result, the team responded.

Today, our executive is continuing to observe people and take care to use curiosity in his dealings with them. And sometimes he will even use humility. What a leveling agent. For him, it allowed people to see eye to eye and connect hand to hand.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Polishing Your Act

My father had a regular routine on the weekends, about monthly, of polishing his shoes. Perhaps since I'm a process-loving person, I enjoyed watching this routine. It started with setting up a space for several pairs of shoes to sit - whether on the floor in front of him while he sat in his favorite chair, or on an ottoman in front of him. Next, he pulled out the appropriate colors of shoe polish - usually black, cordovan and maybe dark brown. Next came the polishing cloth and brush as well as a soft rag.

Dad always began the process by dusting the residue off each of the shoes with his soft rag, prepping them as the shoe polish directions state - "Apply to clean shoes." Next, he would dip his polishing cloth into the appropriate polish color, swirl the color onto the shoe from heel through toe, side to side, carefully applying along the edges, through the tassles or among the shoe lace holes. Carefully inspecting his work for thorough coverage, he would then set down each shoe with applied cream onto a paper towel, aware that the shoe polish would rub onto the ottomon or floor if not protected. Since the "setting" process takes several minutes, his attention to many shoes at once usually allowed him to make good use of his time. Once he had polished 2 sets of shoes, the first was now ready for buffing.

Whether his shoes were patterned or smooth was the deciding factor on using a brush or a rag for the buffing. Although he could buy a rotating buffing brush, Dad preferred the manual approach of "elbow grease" to do justice to the polishing effect. There's much more pleasure through the process when applying our own pressure than relying on the mechanisms of a tool.

Today I help individuals polish their act, whether when handling tough conversations, when business building through networking, or when speaking in public. Many of the same techniques we apply that my father taught me through his shoe-polishing process.

When polishing your act, these are the key techniques to apply:

1. Start with a clean surface. In the case of speaking well or having confidence in yourself, this means begin with an open attitude. An open attitude accepts feedback and allows it to stick.

2. Apply the soft rag to remove the dirt - don't be too hard on yourself when you see problems. Simply rub out the flaws and move on.

3. Choose the appropriate tone for the impact you want. Address the circumstances with humility, curiosity and enthusiasm. Whichever makes sense.

4. Uncover the barrier patterns that stand in your way. If you need to remove some rough edges, dig deep to do what is necessary. Get real about them. Then break them down. Like dirt on shoes that makes the polish mar the effect,these patterns will continue to hold you back until you break them down.

5. Allow the polishing process to take time to really set well. Plan what to focus on, prepare the steps, and then practice.

When you create polish, not only your shoes shine, your spirit does. You have a slight dance in your step as your soul connects to a more purposeful way of being. When you are polished, you definitely put "your best foot forward".

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What I Believe about Coaching

So many of us are looking for the magic bullet. Whether to attack incompetence, ineffectiveness, self-doubt or lack of strategy. We want help. And the bottom line beneath this is our feeling of inadequacy.

We want to feel adequate to others. We want to have our voice heard. We want to erase the past and move into the future by focusing on our present need.

Today there are VOLUMES of coaches. Business coaches, life coaches, athletic coaches, team coaches, relationship coaches. This, to me, clearly indicates our society's desire to seek help. Which reflects either a driven ambition or a desire to finally get recognition.

What I believe about coaching, which reflects my belief in community, has to do with tapping into a willingness to slow down. This isn't a simple process, yet the ability to slow down, to idle while pausing to reflect, gives us tremendous capacity to accept what the divine/universe is giving us.

When we are in the driver's seat of our automobile, accelerating toward the top of an overpass in a busy highway, we are alarmed when we suddenly enter fog. Our impulse is to brake the momentum. Unless we brake and then decelerate, we will crash. Whether we are emotionally overwhelmed by our lack of visibility and turn the wheel towards an embankment, or whether we strive to push forward and bang into a suddenly visible vehicle, our momentum suddenly appears costly. The only thing for us to do when we are startled by our circumstances is to slow enough to assess the situation.

The same is true about how we handle our life - professional or personal.

We all have within us exactly what we need to handle our circumstances. Perhaps this means intellect. Maybe it means intuition. Could also be the heart to reach out for assistance. Coaching is a process that helps us slow down to discover what we already have that can apply to our current surroundings.

As a coach, I come ready to ask useful questions. Questions about how we operate, what works for us, and other areas that give clients a chance to assess their skills, attitudes, behaviors and habits. From these questions come profound truth and key reflection designed to give individuals a chance to drive up that embankment without fear.

Coaching is another form of GPS. Instead of supplying answers, it supplies tools. And just like any handy-person knows, giving someone a tool gives them the means to get back to work (or to life, or to love, or to peace).

Are you in a fog right now? Maybe engaging a coach is your next vital step. Vision about ourselves is crucial to handling circumstances with confidence.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Not a Time to Hibernate

I began an entrepreneurial business after I had established a workaholic mentality - committing over 60 hours a week to my career, for I answered to nobody and was willing to fill my time with responsibilities. Soon I shifted careers, opting for the adventure of creating and designing my own coaching practice vs. teaching high school. No longer was I surrounded by others who were competing for the recognition I sought. Finally I could be sole decision-maker, in charge of my own time and driven by my interests vs. someone else's schedule. Little did I know it would spin me wildly off my path of best business sense.

As any business owner does, I needed someone to bounce ideas off, to encourage me during challenging times and to hold me accountable to what I determine to carry out. But what I committed to was safety, reflection and comfort zone activity. This means I acted based on what I knew about business (which wasn't much). I stayed safe. I didn't wish to call strangers and sell myself. I didn't like to speak about the fees involved in my services, and I had difficulty influencing people to take me on without a track record of success. Yet I still stayed in my comfort zone. This was one of the deepest ruts my business was in - all based on my lack of comfort with asking for help. In theory, I hibernated.

I had some good resources around me - people who could advise me on developing a business plan, creating a marketing strategy, testing out and/or selling my services, yet I didn't feel right asking for help. Would it cost me something? Actually, it cost me more to not ask. Time - that great equalizer, flew by without my getting any smarter. I hadn't asked for help. Content that I would just figure things out, I stayed "inside", dozing away my resources.

Not until I heard a keynote speaker relate her story of asking for help from a team of strategic business associates - others, who, like me, needed help - did I realize that it isn't a deficit on my part to not know things. Others commonly experience this! But it is a huge deficit to not ask for help. In life, I have repeatedly experienced that success comes from turning to others and saying,
"Could you give me some ideas?"
This awakens my thinking, breathes new life into my decision-making and keeps me from "napping".

This realization finally led me to starting a Master Mind group of business owners who want to make changes and are willing to get vulnerable to accomplish it. After only a few short months we all saw the value - we were personally supported and challenged while our businesses began to grow into a larger dimension. We had begun applying steps after hearing other members' perspective about either marketing, personnel, strategy, business building, closing a sale or other related challenges. From these steps we saw ourselves choose either to avoid the challenge (and continue making mistakes), problem-solve through it or crash.

I have learned that business is all about gaining perspective - which to me means, starting from my own point of view and attaching others' to it. My business then moves from a cave to a clearing. I have learned to share my perspective, ask others there's, and then make smarter decisions by applying strategies that continue to use good resources.

When I'm at my best, I look about me, becoming present to who is there and how they think. When I'm at my worst, I hibernate.

It's that time of year that nature goes into hibernation mode - and I vow to avoid it! I prefer to stay strong, stay alive and enjoy the experience. But to do so, I have to connect. This intention will work if I remember who is around me and then purposefully connect with them - ask for their experiences with a similar challenge, for how they conquered certain difficulties or avoided a negative circumstance. Asking for help, and then valuing it enough to get clear about the details establishes goodwill.

Getting out of my cave is good not only for professional development. It's good for business.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Power speak vs. Power point

I started laughing this morning when I entered the space where I'd soon be presenting to the Legal Marketers Association. There at the head of the room was a pulled down screen and next to it someone setting up the extensions and power cords for a power point projector. One of the association representatives quickly jumped in to assist with where to align the small projector table just as I sidled up to share, "I won't be using power point today." Both the facility manager and the association representative did a double-take.

Nope, there's only one time I have used power point to enhance my presentation, and it wasn't worth it. At the time I used only visual images to support the points I was making. Since then I've realized so many other applications can create a more engaging effect for my topics on communication.

For instance, using volunteers to demonstrate the communication basics (message, delivery, connection, projection and attitude). Without fail there is such high engagement from the audience when volunteers are included that it is always worth the time to await the 5 volunteers I ask for. In adult learning, 1/3 of our cues come from those around us. So we can either whisper back and forth or be encouraged by the presenter to share.

The second 1/3 is from our own reflection. This has led me to tap into what people are thinking about each idea I present. Audiences commonly hear me ask, "What does this lead you to think?" or "What questions come to mind as a result?"

The third 1/3 of information useful to audiences comes from the presenter. If I have an hour to present a topic of information, I aim for 20 minutes of timed content. Beyond that is a string of questions seeking feedback, probing for more clarification and comparing to what the audience has already experienced. I know to infuse activity to deepen the learning, taking the content from head to gut. When my presentations use all three approaches, there is such heightened focus and prolonged post-presentation conversation with me and others in the room that I have vowed to never waste time with power point.

The best images I can create are in the nonverbal responses within the room. That's worth much more time than power point. The name of the game is connecting, and the method isn't technical. It's now power speak, power reflect, power experience and power results.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mondays - in the rough

Over the weekend I saw a video of a country recording titled something like, Who are You When I'm not Looking? Really great perspective on the fact that most of us are slightly different in public than we are on our own. This leads me to today's topic - Monday behavior.

Keeping the same theme in mind - behavior change at key times - on Mondays all of us who work are just a bit different. We begrudge the fact that we must get out of bed, that the weekend still calls us to reflect on our freedom yet Monday's call is tugging at us. Like a diamond in the rough, our week will develop its quality based on the steps we take on this most important day of the week. The day we are called to atone for our own discipline.

If there is any day to jump out of bed, it is Monday. This is the day our character calls - the day our actions speak the most regarding our sense of duty. Without early action on Monday, the rest of the week lacks focus, lacks motivation and lacks results.

Carve your progress deep through Monday and that diamond in the rough will have a more polished, more pure result. By Friday, if not Thursday, the results will show.

For me, discipline comes in the form of exercise routine, planning, followthrough and commitment. My alarm goes off and I allow myself 2 snoozes - that's a Slow and Steady person's most comfortable time. More than 2 and I just get grumpy. That 3rd snooze calls me out to feed and litter cats, get into my gym clothes, grab the Ipod for my morning dose of great rhythm and get out the door.

If I return from the gym to sit down in front of the news, I relax. That's a problem. I must get into the shower, get into my clothes for the day, eat a good breakfast and then stay moving. This pattern allows me to chisel through that diamond in the rough. It keeps me disciplined and in keeping with my work ethic. If I can perform this way on Monday, the rest of the week is on par. By Tuesday morning I'm remembering what worked the day before, my body is resuming the pattern and my mind accepts it.

How many diamonds can we carve out in a month to a polished, shapely condition? It all depends on Monday. Set your sights on creating discipline that day and you're on track to managing yourself and stone-carving with the best of them!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

We All Felt It

It's Thursday, and as is often the case, I'm walking downtown, ready with a smile if needed, yet usually focused on earlier conversations in my head. Seldom do I walk around downtown without a purpose, so I'm often rehashing, prepping, planning, anything but paying attention to what's going on around me. I guess you could say I was once again NOT connecting.

I stopped for the light at the corner of the busiest intersection in downtown Columbus (Broad and High) awaiting the Walk sign so I could cross Broad when I saw a flash of 4 young men stream past me, then wham! I looked down to discover one of them face down on the sloped part of the sidewalk leading into the street, feet almost touching the street and blood already streaming from his face.

Those of us waiting at the corner all did a collective gasp, momentarily held in suspension of belief, then moving in slow motion to assist the young man. His body was lifeless, angled at the waist yet facing down. No one seemed concerned by the baggy pants exposing his bright yellow shorts. Stepping around the enlarging puddle of blood under his face, we all moved tentatively to help him, move him, adjust him so we had a better understanding of what just happened.

Just at the time I said "We need to call 911", my hand was on my phone and the lady near me said, "Got it."

"You're calling?" I repeated, not wanting to waste another moment in making the call. "Yes", she said while nodding and then I heard her say, "a young man was accosted while on foot at Broad and High; he's bleeding badly from the face and not moving; wait, yes, he's breathing..."

By this time 2 businessmen were at his side, on the pavement in front of me just as he was getting up to move.

"Wait!" we all yelled, and the completely unaware victim slammed himself into the light pole, bouncing in the direction of traffic.

Only my mouth could move - "Grab him" I said, for his poor feet weren't stopping. As blood was streaming down his face and his eyes were working hard to focus, he hardly noticed anyone around him. Quickly the young man was contained, pulled away from traffic, yet the men were apprehensive to touch him, he was soiled badly by his own blood. Then he began to cross the street just as a bus was pulling through.
"No!" several onlookers exclaimed and the men nearby no longer thought of their clothes but only of his safety as they pulled him back onto the sidewalk.

By then 3 teens entered the scene, laughing, taunting him. 8 or 9 of us adults stood in horror, witnessing the callous behavior. One stood right beside me. I wanted to say, "What is wrong with you?!" But all I could do was watch. This time not only my feet, my mouth wouldn't work, either.

By now an ER wagon pulled up from the north and a lady near me flagged down a patrol car heading down High Street from the south. The youth pulled away from the men corraling him, stepped into the Dunkin Donuts on the corner behind us where he was immediately assisted onto a chair and guarded. Those assaulting him had flown across Broad, tucking themselves into the underground parking shelter.

"I don't know for sure, but I think those 3 across the street were the ones responsible for this," I said, turning to the adults around me who had stayed behind to assist. Many heads nodded and fingers pointed that direction as others clumped into tidy bundles to discuss their interpretation of what just happened.

"Excuse me, ma'm." A Dunkin' Donuts manager had walked outside with a tall cup full of hot water, intent on washing out the crimson blood from the sidewalk into the street. Up until that point, I was trying to protect the pedestrian traffic from walking through it, unaware. Some saw it, did a double-take, quickly looking around for evidence or a trail.

"Oh, yes, thank you," I offered as I side-stepped to avoid the splash. My next move was to rush into the donut shop to get the patrol's attention on the 3 assailants across the street. Once there I realized another lady was already telling him about the offenders, so I jumped in to speed up his awareness of where they were.

"Yes, she's right," the lady continued. "One has bright red shorts on and a black jacket." A man nearby turned to me and said, "the kid knows them."

Probably only 6 or 7 minutes went by as all this developed. Yet I can't recall being so aware of my surroundings and those around me until that moment. We seemed caught up in a fog, yet nothing like we were just minutes ago. I'm pleased to note we responded. We weren't the innocent bystanders who shy away from the action. Nor are we deserving any credit. We were just caught up in the moment of someone's life being harshly taken for granted. Slammed into the sidewalk. Poked fun of. Callously used as entertainment. In that moment I felt the universal need to step in and make a difference. Many of us did.

Little difference we made on the life of the poor young man. Maybe we saved him from real pain that day, yet something tells me he's been getting it for awhile. He'll still get it. No, I don't think we did much to stop that chain of events. Yes, some of them who were harrassing the youth were arrested. I saw them put the handcuffs on, saw the harasser patted down. But there was only one. Another stood on the sidewalk watching - or did I assume that young man was involved? It happened so fast.

What I appreciate out of all this was the collective surge we experienced - those of us who were shocked out of our inner monologue enough to be present to something going on. The appeal we responded to, to take notice. To not walk away. Yes, the persuasive appeal was strong - the immobility of the young man and the blood that freely ran without any sign of awareness on his part. That engaged us.

Walking into the bank later, I could hardly speak for the emotions I had experienced. Yet I had to share the story. It was too gripping to ignore. We all felt it. Before the adult group at the corner of Broad and High broke up, we touched each other, thanked each other for staying, for helping, for influencing our own behavior. So those usual exchanges that we have with bank tellers, with coffee shop baristas, etc, today had a new cadence, a tempo and mood unique and appropriate to being aware of those forces in life that force us to take notice.

"I'm still recovering," has been my response to "and how are you today?" No drama, just simple, measured words. Usually someone who tries to extend positive energy and make a difference to those around me, I today am forsaking decorum for the sake of letting life make a difference to me. I've seen so many news stories about violence, vengeance, pranks, suicide, and murder. And I've not paid attention long enough for it to make a difference on me. If I had, I could then call myself to action: to pray for guidance, support or relief. It reminds me of the poignant take on an old saying,

"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, you aren't paying attention."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Success Story: Reclaiming Energy

One of the members of the Business Owners Accountability Group recently shared a need to insert downtime into her week. She knows that any group member may agree with her challenges, share their experiences with solutions, or ask further questions. Here is a re-created version of the conversation at BOAG and the road to success established:

"Once I get home, my focus is on others. No more can I find the quiet, or take a break, or get replenished."

"What is it that takes your energy from you?"

"Oh, it's my massage clients. I book them in full days, easily 7am to 7pm, 3 days a week or so." And as she said this, I recalled her massage environment - tranquil, lavender or citrus scented, dimly lit. Pleasant music in the background. She loves her time with them and willingly gives it. Yet, long days are long days.

"The problem is," she said, "I wish I could duplicate my massage environment into a space at home. But there's no place or no time for myself once I get there."

"Is it important that you have this kind of environment at home?"

Ding,ding,ding,ding,ding....You could see an aha moment in progress.

"Oh my gosh. I could just start my day at the office earlier, or stay a half an hour later, and I'm already there, in a quiet, tranquil space just for me now. Wow. Why couldn't I think of that before?!""Just 5 hours a month is all I need," she said.

She left in such great spirits, ready to schedule time for herself, regularly, at least 5 hours a month.

This morning I saw a FB message from her - already logged 7 hours since our meeting 2 weeks ago! Not only is she replenished. Her attitude is improved.

Simple assistance is the attribute of BOAG. Huge results is the benefit. Can't wait to learn how this has impacted her relationships, her focus, her commitment to her clients and her sense of self. Business Owners Accountability Group is the answer to the entrepreneurial drive - creating downtime for your business.

Monday, October 18, 2010

You have a speaking gig tomorrow... can you speak with confidence?

Just thinking about an upcoming presentation causes many speakers to feel squeemish -even for those of us used to speaking. It's a biological response that sets our energies in motion, in search of a plan. So planning is definitely the first step toward a confident presentation.

Planning our end result is key. Do you want to inspire? Do you want to educate? Do you want to persuade? Consider your intended outcome and work that outcome into both your introduction and conclusion. Now you have a set of bounndaries to stay within. With a plan, we feel grounded and ready - but don't expect the butterflies to disappear. They'll keep you geared up and ready to deliver, even with a plan.

Secondly, we must prepare. By this I mean focus on who the audience is, what they know, what they've experienced, what they need, what they want.

Preparation takes work. It means getting away from what you know long enough to relate that information to them during this particular time in their life. It requires thoughtful reflection, some mental calculation, some digging deep to uncover useful tidbits and some willingness to see things through their point of view.

Only this will help you connect with them. Leave them thinking, "Gosh, the speaker is just like me." If they feel this way, the lightbulb in their head will go on regarding your insight. They will not only pay attention to your logic, they will find you credible in understanding them and their needs. Prepare your message with them in mind - respecting who they are, where they've been and how you can support them.

The next step to put into place is practicing. Yet unless we realize what to practice, we could waste our time.

Keep these things in mind: Practice allows us to try out how to use the energy that's all fired up within us so we know what to expect when we're focusing on our message but all that we see is our nerves. With practice we can make use of movement to equalize our energy. We can look at our surroundings instead of the script. We remember that the focus is to be on our audience instead of ourselves. With practice we remember to project our voice into the entire space the group takes up, to use eye contact, to stop for questions and comments and to try out each tool we're relying on. With practice we get ourselves ready to connect. Without it, we stay in our head.

So allow time to adequately plan, prepare and practice. Until you do, you won't sleep well. So even if it's 11pm and you've avoided these steps, take them. You'll go to bed late, but you'll arise the next morning no longer lacking confidence. You'll be energized, focused and ready to connect. What a great place to be.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

When you disagree with what you hear, can you speak with confidence?

Today one of your peers has expressed an opinion different from your own. You've heard differences of opinion from this person before and at times have avoided saying what you think. Either you fear the result or out of need to avoid conflict, you said nothing. Later, you regretted not voicing your opinion.

Today you have a choice - share your opinion to avoid regretting this moment, or stay silent to avoid creating a conflict.

Generally speaking, you are good at communicating. Like most people, you know what is important to you, you share these things to some degree and you feel good about the result.

Yet there are 3 times any of us could stumble in our communication efforts:
* when we feel those listening have a difference of opinion
* when our emotions are negatively engaged
* when risk escalates

In today's case, you definitely have hit the first circumstance - there is a difference of opinion - or at least an apparent one. It has put you on hold, briefly contemplating whether you will respond the same way as before.

In the case of the second circumstance, the more you dwell on it, the more difficult it will be for you to express yourself, for your emotions will get tied to what your opinion is. You may get anxious, frustrated with yourself, nervous about how to say it, angry that there is yet something else you are holding back on. The more emotional you get, the harder to step out and express yourself OR the faster you speak without carefully preparing your approach.

Since this is a peer and not, say, your boss, the risk may not be severe. Yet if you are committed to spending quantities of time with this person, eventhough the relationship/authority doesn't pose a problem, the time with the individual could. The longer you are around someone who gives you emotional distress, the greater the risk to your ability to communicate with confidence, the risk to your ability to think clearly and the riskier your level of stress.

If it were a boss, depending on whether you have authority issues, this could create a major difficulty. You may be more apt to be passive aggressive - smile and appear in agreement while stewing inside. If it were your direct report - someone who you wish to correct or to be on the same page with - the harder it will be for you to be objective and encouraging around them if you simply let it go.

So what will you do to speak with confidence? Without knowing more about your circumstances and what patterns of behavior you have had or demonstrated around them, the best nuggets of focus for you to take are the following:
1. Decide how you want to come across to them - friendly, supportive, thoughtful, concerned, etc. Once you decide, your manner will follow suit.
2. Ask questions. Instead of just blurting out your own thoughts, seek to discover as much about how they have come to those conclusions as you can. This gives you a warming up period to discovering how to phrase what's important to them while then sharing what's important to you.
3. Remember that sharing your view is just about that - about sharing your view. It needn't be about convincing them.
4. Share your view, based on whatever perspective you have - experience, other resources, your own deductions or proof.

Further Tips
*When the topic isn't very important, the more you practice actually saying what you want to say, especially in a manner that helps you feel good about it as a result, the more confident you become when it's very important for you to speak up.
*Practice often with your peers. They are on your same level, so they are a foundational approach to getting used to sharing differences in ideas, strategy, opinion, etc.
*When feeling comfortable there, next practice sharing differences of thought with those in authority over you. Take care to respect their thinking, learning more about it, yet also valuing your own thinking enough to have them consider it.
*It is vital to allow direct reports have differences of opinion and thought. Create a space that allows for free expression while also helping all reports to appreciate your own value.

Practice may not make perfect, in this case, but it will build confidence. And if confidence leads to your own peace of mind, then work towards it!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

When the Butterflies are in Your Stomach, Can you Speak with Confidence?

As a performer, a presenter, someone who takes communion, someone who speaks at board meetings and someone who regularly steps into uncomfortable circumstances, I get butterflies. And because that sensation regularly takes me back to how I felt the very first time I ever took a risk, at first, I begin to feel nauseous. And it's not just me. It's all of us.

When you stand up in front of people and open your mouth, you’re making yourself vulnerable. Public speaking involves risk. So aiming for zero fear is unrealistic.Olivia Mitchell, public speaking guru.

Our bodies adapt well to moments of fear - they send us signals of adrenaline coursing through our bodies to support us and give us energy to overcome the risk at hand. If only we just realize it.

Our bodies can't tell the difference between anxiety and excitement. And neither can we, if we are relying on our bodies to signal us for fear or joy. Yet once we realize that butterflies happen in each case - both with fear as well as with joy; with anxiety as well as with excitement - we can then begin to speak with confidence.

When fear overtakes us we often get emotionally overwhelmed. We lose our ability to think, make poor choices, don't use logic and stumble over ourselves. Yet the simple moment of realizing that fear and excitement have the same signals, and with excitement we have more control than with fear, we may more readily take a step back to become objective.

Through our objectivity we can create a mental checking-off of key points: Have I created a plan? Am I ready to use it? Can I relax into having faith in what I know?

Yes, we can speak with confidence at the podium, on the stage, with our co-worker or supervisor or direct report once we plan, prepare and rehearse what our plan is. Yes, we can shift from feeling anxious to being ready/prepared/excited about our approach. Yes, we can feel good about ourselves whether we are an extrovert or introvert, a manager or employee, a professional or amateur. It's all based on our willingness to plan, to prepare, to rehearse and to be objective about the moment.

So in those moments when my body gives me the butterflies, when my first impulse is to recall that first instance of fear after taking a risk, my second impulse is to laugh. I can then slow down, focus, and delight in the fact that I know those butterflies are giving me the energy to focus. To deliver. To connect and to make the impact that needs to come out of the moment.

Bring on the butterflies!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Success Story: Results from a very targeted focus

17 months ago I moved to a new city. Although business still happens in my previous city - where my network is strong and the need continues - in the new I needed to get very strategic about business development.

I am a networker, realizing the value of relationship and referrals for my service-focused communication coaching business. A sole proprietor, I must ask for help from my network to generate word-of-mouth buzz and uncover needs through referral. With this help, I can spend a portion of my week prospecting/networking/marketing, another portion in client-focused time, some portion on administrative tasks and yet another on research/development. Sole proprietors know the need to make good use of our time as well as to diversify our activity to cover the priority bases.

So when it comes to networking in a new location to quickly develop relationships that lead to referral, I need a strategy. From my training with the Certified Networker program, I understand that entering a new area where I had no network posed not only a challenge, but an opportunity.

There are some key steps I use in my networking strategy that hold me accountable and focused, giving me powerful results today. I help attorneys speak with confidence, whether they are networking, working within their firm environment, business building or in the courtroom. I have spoken at 2 attorney professional associations, in sub-groups within the local bar association, within several firms for luncheon meetings. I coach several as individuals and now operate as a coach within firms. All this in the space of 17 months' focus.

My success is built around a strategy. Because it takes trial and error, some of the steps within the strategy have a less structured and some a more structured approach. Regardless, these 3 steps were vital to me.

Strategy for Developing a Business Network
1. Select a target market. With this selection, I hone a focus. Eventhough my services can apply to all industries, I can't become an expert for all industries. Nor can I create a word-of-mouth buzz in all industries. I must select one. For me this was attorneys. Like me, the majority of them are introverts. Introverts suffer the most from insecurity, especially when taking a risk. Speaking in public, let alone to those unlike us often challenge us into avoidance. With attorneys I can be an expert.

2. Select methods of networking with the target market Notice this is not about "reaching" them. This is about "connecting" with them. Reaching can be through online presence, direct mail material, email marketing programs. But connecting, actually having a face-to-face experience, is required for reaching my select market. Here is where both social media and traditional networking combine for a powerful impact.

My previous contacts in my Linked-In network were a huge resource to me. Searching their contacts in my new location, I discovered several who could intercede on my behalf simply so I could start face-to-face networking without making a cold call. When I asked them for assistance, they delivered. Prior to moving here, I had 2 months of meetings lined up.

While meeting face to face, I had a list of referral requests - not for business but for assistance. They didn't know me at all, so I knew my requests needed to be general. For instance,
a. "where do you network?"
b. "would you be willing to invite me to join you next time?"
c. "what do you know about the (target market) industry?"
d. if applicable, "where do they network?"

Once I gained exposure to networking events/options/environments, I broadened my time spent exploring. I would eventually (for me, a year) determine which environments or events to commit to. For now, I was learning/trying out what worked for me.

3. Decide who to maintain a continual follow-up with. Not all individuals I meet with will be a constant appointment. Not even most of them. One appt tells me whether there is value in friendship, target market, information/expertise, etc. If the value exists, another meeting is scheduled before I leave. If it doesn't, no need to reschedule.

My attorney-coaching practice grew as a result of three key things: Giving public speeches (number one business builder), building trusting relationships through networking, and getting referrals.

3 attorneys I met with as a result of seeing them on LinkedIn, lobbied their professional organizations for my opportunity to speak in front of them. Some of them seriously connected me within their industry to firms and/or key individuals. This came as a result of following up with them regularly - they became my referral partners.

Through networking I developed fun, energetic and serious relationships with another handful of people who either began using me as their coach or referring me to others.

In time I learned where to network, who to keep on my calendar and how to hone services especially for my target market. This continues to give me "buzz" in the attorney industry as the Go-To person for helping them develop confidence whether through their speaking or their relationship-building.

The key here, for those of us needing to build our own business, is to have a strategy. Although networking all over the place can be important just to get started, it isn't the rule of thumb. When we network all over the place, we put priorities all over the place. Which actually means - we have no priorities. We don't specialize in groups of people, we specialize in ourselves. We serve no industry, we serve only ourselves. And ultimately, we serve only ourselves by squandering all our time.

Let me know in what ways this strategy serves your target market.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The most fearful part of the speech

Recently a local firm engaged me to help a junior associate with a few areas of professional development, including her ability to give public presentations. Although competent and equipped with intelligence to deliver quality information, this attorney didn't trust her own ability to speak with confidence.

Once we sat down I asked her, "What is the worst part of the speech for you?" Quickly she shared, "the beginning. I get so anxious before I begin the presentation,that for the first few minutes during it, my voice quivers, my hands shake and I can't help but pay attention to my own fears. It makes me a blubbering idiot."

Whether she really is a blubbering idiot during the introduction of her presentation or not, she thinks she is. And whatever we tell ourselves - as in her case, "I'm a blubbering idiot" - becomes true. At least to us, if not to others. That perspective shapes her focus and creates a public speaking experience that holds her back from delivering with confidence.

Not uncommon, the introduction is the section of the speech least-effectively designed. Many create a chit-chat, or introduce themselves in a rambling way that demonstrates their anxiety. It does little to shift their focus from their anxiety to their strength. And the audience sees them sweat.

Speaking professionals know there are 2 key areas of any presentation that demand quality control - the introduction and the conclusion. While the introduction can demonstrate our lack of speaking finesse, the conclusion can leave our overall point hanging. So to ramp up your presentation, take note of the following:

1. Focus on the audience during both your introduction and conclusion.
2. Ask key questions to engage their attention in the topic you are addressing during the introduction.
3. In the conclusion, remind them of the key points and return to the opening questions to tie it together.
4. End strongly - avoiding, "Well, that's what I have for you."

Controlling these two areas of our presentations gives us confidence. Our focus shifts from watching ourselves to paying attention to those in front of and around us, extending our energy outward vs. inward.

In my client's case, I watched her begin strongly, focusing where she needed to - on those in front of her. There was no mumbling, no visible shaking, and instead, a smile and a sense of humor. By the time she had shared the meat of the presentation, she was on a roll and ready to end succinctly.

Additional tip:
Whether you are prepared well or hardly at all, chances are your body will act the same - give you butterflies. Those butterflies are built-in energy. Although most people experience this energy with negative responses, learn to see this energy as important and even necessary. In this way you can shift from anxiety to excitement, knowing your prepared speech will have the energy it needs.

Friday, September 17, 2010

What's goin' on?

Earlier this month I hung out on the patio of a favorite restaurant and noticed a common phenomenon. At one table there were many people talking, few listening. For awhile people were really fired up, yet after time people gave up and sought attention elsewhere.

Although this prompted me to watch awhile while it reminded me of the days when I was teaching. Friday afternoons, 4pm, several of us gathered at the local bar for happy hour and the same thing commonly happened. All of us eager to chat while most of us not really connecting. People would move from where they were sitting, try out being around someone else and then start exploring the bar. Often I watched then, too.

What was going on?

After the experience this month I returned to my laptop and pulled out some of my communication resource materials I've collected over the years and found this piece from High Gain that gives great insight on the phenomenon. See in what way the insights fit what you experience.

There are many reasons why we don’t listen; some are cultural,
some psychological and some physiological. Based on years of
experience, we have identified the Top 10 Reasons why people
don’t listen.

They are:
1. American culture places a great deal of emphasis on talking
(witness the rise of blogs and YouTube).

2. Most of us think we listen well already, yet our research has
shown that people can only identify 1-2 great listeners from
their entire lives.

3. Boredom: the average person talks at rates of 125-175 words
a minute, yet we can listen at rates of up to 450 words per
minute. With this large processing gap, we drift off and think
of other things while listening.

4. We confuse listening and hearing.

5. We think good listening takes too long. Good listening
actually minimizes useless distractions and enables you
to hear the message correctly the first time.

6. We are an action-oriented culture, with a strong emphasis
on getting the job done. We frequently act before we fully

7. Less than 2% of us have had formal educational experience
with listening. Most “communication” courses are about

8. We project our thoughts and views onto others, assuming
they feel the same way.

9. We confuse listening with agreeing. Listening is about
understanding and not necessarily agreeing.

10. We make assumptions that the speaker has all the power
and that the listener is in a passive mode. Good listeners
have most of the power and control, because they help
the speaker tap into the depths of his or her wisdom and
experience in order to better verbalize it.

Some questions to ask yourself
1. What type person are you around when you experience the need to resort to your own thoughts vs. listen to theirs?

2. How could you enter the conversation, stay involved in the moment and enjoy active listening?

3. At what times do you typically do most of the talking?

4. How could you include your listeners, proving you are willing to listen to them?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Success comes from Accountability

Over the past 30 days, several business owners have demonstrated the power accountability has in helping them accomplish things they earlier had ability - but little drive - to do.

This week my focus is on the professional who made a practice of carrying his baggage around.

A man with many things on his plate, (we'll call him Frank) Frank would put out fires like the best of'em and at the end of the day, he would walk his carefully packed box full of all the projects he intended to complete to his car. He would stash it next to him, drive home and open the passenger door so he could haul his box into the house, hoping to find the energy to tackle it.

Frank was doing nothing more than dragging his baggage around. Day after day, week upon week and month upon month Frank did the same thing. What got dragged home got dragged back to the office every single day.

A self-described conflict avoider, Frank feared many things. His box full of projects was one of them. To make himself feel better, he carted it around. Yet he never really felt better.

Eventually he said "yes" to joining the Business Owners' Accountability Group I facilitate. Of course, he said yes for about 4 months prior to attending, for he couldn't get it scheduled.

Little things threw Frank. If he thought there would be a problem, he would avoid it. He knew he wanted to face his fears, yet he dreaded what it would involve. Just like that box, he kept saying yes without following through. The day he bit the bullet and went to BOAG, he learned how empowering it is to have a small group (under 7) of business owners around all talking about problems they were experiencing. When he realized he wasn't the only one with challenges, he felt better. Then when he saw the excitement others expressed with handling earlier challenges, Frank was motivated.

He told us all he would address his baggage, open it, pull out something small and complete it, every few hours in the evening. Soon he realized it was all small. It was all very do-able, and eventually he tackled the entire box in the 30 days between our meetings.

Frank is like so many other people who want to make changes but don't know how to address them. He wanted to say yes to taking on the responsibility but he didn't know how to talk to the voice in his head that was overwhelming him by the amount of work ahead. He has now begun to control himself - namely, that negative and overwhelming voice that keeps putting barriers in his path.

Now that Frank has a group making him accountable, he also has a group celebrating his successes. In small steps, Frank is shifting from a man Avoiding Conflict to one realizing that conflict is a clever disguise for a chance to prove something to ourselves.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How many people do we need in our network?

For us business owners, we know the value of connecting with someone new. Whether they could be a prospect, a friend, an information source or a referral source, they are someone most of us take the time to meet.

For those just starting out in business, the question is often,
How many people do I need to know to make this work?

Well, if This is word of mouth marketing/referral marketing, then it may be a number different than most business builders think.
Depending on the number of clients you need to support your business, and how marketable your services/products are, the number will vary.

Say, for instance, you sell something to customers who will never buy again, because you sell solutions, then you must be constantly attracting and selling to new clients. If your average $ transaction is low, the number of clients needed is higher. The more people you know, the better your chances of getting new business, IF you have a good relationship with them and they need what you have.

If your business is about maintaining, supporting, training or something other than problem-solving, the client turnover rate is much less, if you're doing a good job and pleasing the customer. Yet you still need to get your message out to a great number of people before your service solution makes a sale.

So how many people, on average, do we need to know to get steady business?

Most business owners and professionals in business for at least 7 or 8 years will know, on the average, 1200 people. Seem high? No, it's actually an average, and one that is often exceeded by people very involved in their community. Considering all the folks we've met in life, from high school until today, we've touched many lives and have quite the list of names to show for it.

The trick is in making use of people we already know. And since some of the people we know will be those we've not seen or spoken to in years, some will be in other areas of the country, some will be inaccessible, we have whittled down the list tremendously. Possibly from 1200 to 750. Is this enough?

Consider the fact that if we know 1200 people, the remaining 750 people in our list knows an average of 1200 people, too. Wow. Now that's 900,000 in our network.

However - there are only a few who will move into action on our behalf. Maybe a dozen. Quite possibly even fewer. Which still means 14,400 people are at our disposal in our network.

So how many people do we have to know? Actually, the question really should be, how many people are we willing to regularly connect with?

If our message needs to reach a great number of people, let's at least give it to a handful - as in the social networking diagram - regularly. The only way they can share the message is if they know it. And the only way our message will be repeated is if we have delivered it, made a powerful connection and motivated the listener to spread the word. And a several steps closer than through social media is through face to face connections.

How many people are in your network? Better yet, how many of them do you connect with regularly, sharing a message worth repeating? Connect....connect....connect.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How Do You Manage?

Many of us are entrepreneurs, or working from home, or business building and enjoy having freedom within our day. Perhaps we are out and about while networking, or we can adjust our day to handle a visit to the veterinarian, or can adjust our direction with ease because we are the one calling the shots.

And with this freedom comes the need to put structure into an otherwise unstructured environment - otherwise we get little accomplished while constantly striving to put out fires. So how do we do it? How do we focus on the important things in our day, our week and our month while juggling all the balls related to our responsibilities?

For one thing, it requires discipline.

If we have to create consistency in our processes, we must make some decisions about how to approach things for best results, then do it the same way time and again. Tracking our consistency gives us the ability to measure our results, and to see what patterns exist when we don't get what we want. This consistency is an act of discipline and focus.

I have read about a new diet that will allow me to control my waistline. In this diet I have choices about what to eat, 6 times daily. Yet once I choose, I am instructed to not deviate from these 6 menus each day, but to hold tight to them for 2 weeks if I want to see results. The philosophy is, with more choices, we make mistakes that throw us off from our desired results.

Although I love choice, I selected my 6 choices and then discovered the thrill in knowing all I had to do was committ to them to get my desired results. Discipline around a few things vs. discipline when being overwhelmed with many choices is much easier to manage.

I run accountability groups for business owners and professionals who want to report the results of their commitment to their goals. What they love about these group meetings is they get to hear from a few individuals, like themselves, who are neutral to their choices yet who care about their results. The discipline involved is showing up for 2 hours monthly to share how business has been going and help each other over the barriers to growth. Yet once each member shows up, he/she is so energized by the brainstorming and ability to relate, that the level of success explodes.

How do they manage showing up for 2 hours to work on their business when it means pulling away from working in the business? Their motivation around the results drive them to be disciplined. Consequently, once they return to their office environment, they have the energy to accomplish things faster than they would have, had they stayed. It's a win/win.

All this comes from being willing to ask for help, consistently showing up to get the benefits, and they move forward as a result.

In summary,
1. Ask for help
2. Use discipline to commit to it
3. Consistently focus on the goals

If you don't have a small group of neutral yet interested parties to help you manage yourself, let me know. We may have a spot for you.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

For Business Building - 1 single activity is all it takes

For the business owner and those managing the pipeline for the next sale, there is a single activity to exploit. And I mean exploit in the best way. Do it again and again and again. Often. With zeal.

Many think it's about picking up the phone. Although many salesfolks get appointments this way, it takes tremendous time while depleting the energy of the person hearing the phone incessantly ring and go to voicemail, or getting the not so interested responses.

Using direct mail gets the message out, but where? Most commonly, to the closest dumpster or trash container.

Networking events are great. They allow us to mingle and meet new folks, exchange business cards, yet the audience may not be receptive due to one thing. So far, they don't know us.

The number one thing that boosts business for any business owner or sales person is public speaking. Public speaking gives us the chance to start a relationship. It gives us a chance to offer some free information and tips and it gives us a chance to handle questions of interest all without threat. Public speaking puts us in front of many indviduals(and can lead to many groups) who generally already have an interest in our message - unlike the gatekeeper, mail sorter or networker who is out to drink with the buds.

Sure, public speaking is the most common fear the public faces. But many who fear heights, bungy jump. Many who fear death, aggressively seek adventure. Those who fear public humiliation face their fears and speak often in public. And what does it get them? Confidence. Recognition. Attention. Credibility. Interest. Curiousity. An audience. A following. Trust. Business.

Got business to develop? Start facing the fear of the meager pipeline by facing what it takes to get in front of the audience. Let that pipeline challenge drive you to the #1 activity. Get ready, get up, move forward in front of the audience and get speaking!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Improv rules for everyday application

In my earlier career of teaching, I developed an Improv ensemble in my school system who were admirably received from the community.

The scads of improv exercises and techniques these kids explored and developed through were huge tools for keeping their skills in check - and offered them great fun!

Yet there were two simple rules that held the great improv member apart from those simply there to "have fun":

1. Accept what is given to you.
2. Make your partner look good.

These aren't easy practices to follow, based on the general public's philosophy in life - generally around competing. Especially for teens and young adults, the idea of accepting vs. questioning/attacking is foreign. At least when the focus is in topics of interest.

Making your partner look good could be a common practice, if and when conversation is about sharing complimentary opinions. Yet this idea is not about judgment - it's about building on ideas. Once we accept an idea - per the first rule - we then further it with our own idea. This creates a trusting relationship while complimenting the original idea, giving strength to the originator's value.

When these 2 rules are applied, the levels of entertainment, creativity and connection all escalate. It keeps energy fluent and momentous.

Going back to the first rule, if an idea is not accepted, energy stops. And this stops creativity. What soon happens is a battering of negative energy. Consider the difference in the two exchanges below.

A "Gotta love this rain."

B "No I don't."


A "Gotta love this rain."

B "Especially when these umbrellas keep popping up out of the ground."

What difference in allowing for creative flow, entertainment, charged focus when we accept the ideas given us!

Not about one-upping yet more about making good use of an originating idea. My ensemble often played the game, Yes, And... which tested their ability to keep the energy moving in a speedy structure. It became one of their favorites and complimented their approach to everyday conversation.

The places we go when we choose to accept ideas vs. question them gave my young improv group a space to build trusting, exploratory expression. And it gave audiences a chance to enter this safe, trusting space, in awe of the creative flow and applauding its outcome.

Randy Nelson, Dean of Pixar University speaks to the concept of applying Improv rules to Creativity in the work environment. (click on the title to see a video and text of his talk - Tips for Creative Success from Pixar). The wealth of progress we could accomplish in our everday professional life, our everyday personal life and our ability to connect with people could be endless, were we to apply these two rules of improv.

Consider accepting what is given to you. How would this apply to your professional circumstances, especially if you were to build on it vs. shut down? When we operate with the intention of making those around us look good, what is created?Test this out. You will see your improv skills tested, enjoyed and appreciated.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I Believe

I believe there are people who like to hear themselves talk, and people who would rather they wouldn't.

I believe people are important. Moreso than tasks.

I believe leaders are folks who inspire us.

I believe we make decisions from our gut rather than from our head.

The majority of the human race falls short - and we know this. Which makes us pay more attention to ourselves than those around us. We watch ourselves too closely, get confused by what steps we need to take, talk ourselves out of things we really want to do/need to do/really can do, for the sake of the voice in our head which has so often held us back.

There are more introverts than extroverts in our world, and I believe this means we get in our own way.

We avoid conflict, we try to please, we aim to stay safe and at the end of the day we have lost who we are, what we stand for and what we believe.

This is what I believe.

In addition, I believe we have the capacity to change. Regardless of how we have felt about ourselves, our attitude can shift.

The moment we recognize that we are not unique in our faults, that we follow behavior patterns others follow, that we stand in our own way just as others stand in their own way - at that moment we begin to become alert to opportunity.

It is opportunity that leads to hope. This is what I believe.

I believe that hope is the substance of questions we take a risk in asking.

Hope is the potential of putting 2 or more minds together - for there we discover ourselves in the midst of them.

I believe that an introvert can gain confidence. That an extrovert can ask for forgiveness and that truth comes in the dawning of each of these events.

When we begin - not when we master, but when we begin - to speak in confidence, whether out of humility, enthusiasm or curiousity, I believe we begin to live our purpose.

Just the Basics, please

Common courtesy. Do we have time for it? Are we afraid of it? Do we understand it?

Here's a scenario. Someone has picked up the phone and dialed your number, intending to either speak to you or leave you a message. Purpose? To get a response from you. Or maybe the delivery was through email, or a visit, or a note delivered via the postal service.

In any of the above cases, if the intent is to get a response, the best manner of delivering the message is In Person. Chances are good that the person being visited will be present a. if there is an appointment, b. if you're visiting their office and/or c. if they suggested you visit. Yet often the person being sought out is unavailable. Now what? Leave word, which puts the ball in their court.

What is common courtesy out of the recipient being visited?
a. If someone calls me and leaves a message, I should return the call, regardless of my feelings about their information. At the least, I should send an email (may be considered a cheap way out) for that is at least a response. Better is to make a connection that allows for an exchange.

b. If the delivery was through email, return the message and respond to any request being asked. Better yet, suggest a time to get together.

c. If there was a postal note delivered wanting specific information in a timely format, either email your response or dial and discuss.

Obviously the individual seeking a connection will determine their willingness to follow-up regardless of our response. But common courtesy on our part goes a long way in shaping our reputation.

These are the basics. Now that I've reviewed them, I've already increased my To-Do list, for a few items had fallen between the cracks! If the case is the same for you, redeem yourself. These basics go a long way.

Want to enhance your communication? Start with just the basics, please.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Challenging Expectations

It's no secret our country's general populice has had its share of controversy over gender equality. From ownership to responsibility, voting rights to income earned, civil debate continues over what is fair, equal and expected.

Whether this controversy originates from the religious platform or has seen its greater influence there, it becomes a test of wills to enter the conversation, conduct ones' self with poise through it and/or conclude with any degree of self-respect as a result.

My work with the attorney community brings this controversy back into view, even today. As I look to support individuals who wish to speak with confidence in the lawyer market, often I am led to supporting women. Is it because women are by nature less secure? I believe the answer is no. Is it because women attorneys face circumstances men may not face? Perhaps.

Interestingly, most of the attorneys who turn to my help are men. However, the issue of female attorneys facing challenges in the profession continue to be brought to my attention - even by males.

Merri, what programs can you offer us at the Supreme Court to support Women Attorneys?

A year ago this question was posed by a gentleman with a keen eye and interest in supporting female attorneys. At the time I was unaware of the challenges they face, the demographics of most firms, let alone I paid little attention to the history of the profession. Since then, I have marvelled at the journey of several FIRST women attorneys.

Bella Mansfield, influenced by both her brother and husband to study law, was the first female in the US to earn a law degree - the same year women were admitted to law school. Belle Mansfield (later, self-fashioned Arabella) passed the Iowa bar exam in 1868 and then, in 1869, she was called to the bar of the state, thus becoming the first woman ever called to practice law in the world; by some definitions, the world's first woman lawyer.

"We feel justified in recommending to the Court that construction which we deem authorized not only by the language of the law itself, but by the demands and necessities of the present time and occasion. Your Committee takes unusual pleasure in recommending the admission of Mrs. Mansfield, not only because she is the first lady who has applied for this authority in the State, but because in her examination she has given the very best rebuke possible to the imputation that ladies cannot qualify for the practice of law; and we feel confident from the intimation of the Court, given on the application made that we speak not only the sentiments of the Court and of your committee, but of the entire membership of the bar, when we say that we heartily welcome Mrs. Mansfield as one of our members, and we most cordially recommend her admission." See this website for more on Bella Mansfield: http://www.duhaime.org/lawmuseum/lawarticle-418/mansfield-belle-18461911.aspx

Although she never used her license, she entered the women's suffragette movement, stayed in academia and encouraged the promotion of women for their intellect as well as their intuition.

Many milestones have been accomplished in the female litigation world today.

"Claudia Gordon, Esq., is the first deaf lawyer who is African American and female, and also the first deaf student to graduate from the American University (AU) Washington College of Law, in Washington, DC, in 2000. At AU, Gordon specialized in disability rights law and policy. Since earning her juris doctorate from AU, Gordon has been active in working to ensure the rights of people with disabilities are respected." Thank you, Jamie Berke, About.com Guide,Updated May 04, 2009

Since many attorneys enter the political environment to become public servants, we also are familiar with Jennifer Grandholm, current governor of Michigan. A few firsts about her include,

She was elected Michigan's first female attorney general in 1998. Granholm was elected governor in 2002 and reelected in 2006 and was once considered a possible Supreme Court nominee.

So if female attorneys are making such progress today, are things getting any easier?

This morning I read an article written by attorney Heather McCloskey in 2006 who shares the challenges women attorneys face. Whether from judges, clients or opposing attorneys, there is still a rite of passage (as would be expected of any professional, let alone female) to be endured.

In my humble summary, it appears that if women are willing to defend their right to own a career, to stand in a firm or courtroom surrounded predominantly by men, to be referred to as a clerk vs. lead counsel and to be expected to wear skirts vs. slacks, they can continue to make progress. Pioneers can be women too, if these women are up to it. If they are, there will be deference to another style of communicating with clients who need it, they will continue to prove logical and reasonable thinking while also being intuitive, and there will be professionals who connect on very influential levels.

To all you female attorneys, speak with confidence. We need you.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Talk Back!

There is a prospect I'd love to get in front of who isn't returning my calls or responding to my emails. Eventhough he invited me to connect with him, he is being unresponsive.

This angers me, for I know his firm could be a huge opportunity for me and I could give him tremendous value, even beyond the few pressing needs he has.

In times like these, I set out to make a phone call, and then I back off. Or should I say, I used to. In the past that voice in my head would say to me, "Merri, he has his own plan. It doesn't include you. Drop it. You aren't what he wants." And I'd back off.

But today, I realize that I have often got in my own way, backing off way too soon. Sometimes the other individual simply had other things on their mind, things unrelated to me. Or maybe I communicated a lack of importance. Or maybe the individual was on vacation. Or maybe there was a temporary fix.

What I know now is, I will persist when it's important. And that means, talking back. Of course I won't talk back to the individual I want to get in front of. But I will talk back to myself. To the voice in my head. I will talk back to say, "No."

"You aren't forcing me to hold back any longer. That keeps me from being useful."

"Just because someone seems busy does not mean I am not important. If an alarm were to sound, they would drop what they are doing. So sound the alarm, if that's the intention."

Today I look at that voice in my head, then turn away while putting up my hand.

"Talk to the hand. I have more important things to do than listen to you."