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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Plan B or not Plan B?

Much of my life I've been advised to have an alternative plan in mind, just in case. Just in case my first plan was really a bad one. Just in case my first plan never materialized, was not accepted, had no merit.

For instance, there was a time theatre really sang in my spirit~ as much out of a form of expression for my introverted nature as a means to gain confidence and feel valued. Yet, who makes a living in theatre? Not the introverts, I was told. Those willing to go where a career on stage made money. Those willing to persist, to do what it takes. Those who had money already. Plan B needed to come into play - no pun intended.

Plan B had tedium, left me feeling out of sorts, didn't hold my attention. Plan B included teaching English, and when students chose it - speech, drama or the communicative arts. While teaching, at least 80% of my classroom time was on Plan B.

Clearly I had no faith in what stirred my spirit. Had I the faith, I would have created a way to make Plan A work. Had I faith, I would have listened to the still small voice within, met the challenges, sacrificed, picked myself up after falling again and again and gone back after Plan A until Plan A worked.

To be, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.

I'm not retired, nor am I teaching anymore. Yes, I had many great experiences with teaching, met many fascinating people. Yet my spirit wasn't in it. So when I left education, I sought ways to experience the stage, to relive the spirit of fully expressing where my soul is. Presentations I give today come from my spirit, in an effort to reach out to others' spirits. Today my coaching is poised to help others discover Plan A. Desire it. Decide on it. Commit to it, knowing full well that Plans B are only distractions. They waste our time and deflate our purpose.

I've not yet read Ann Lamott's book on Plan B - although critics claim it isn't as good as Traveling Mercies, it's her point about faith that stands out to me. For as I see it, without faith we keep adjusting our sails to more logical plans. With faith, we persist. We move mountains in our way. We break down barriers and enlist the spirits of others.

I propose eradicating all Plans B. They are safe. They are not purposeful. They weaken our nature, make us focus on negativity, spoil our resolve and keep us from living.

I propose we eradicate all Plans B. To B or not to B - if that's the question, my answer is NOT. Stick with plan A no matter how difficult and enjoy living while seeing it through. If you love Plan A, you'll even love dying for it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

So You're Havin' a Breakdown

Melissa Etheridge has a lot to say about Breakdowns. Click on the title to check out her actual words if you'd like. Below is the modified version for the purpose of this post:

So you're having a breakdown
So you're losing the fight
So you're having a breakdown
And (you're) driving and crying
Unraveled and flying
(Going) through your breakdown tonight

What I know about breakdowns is their eventual beauty. It's not that I crave them - I'm like the rest of us. I hate them. Those downward spirals that throw us on our backs catapulting us on and on in an endless succession of twists and turns until finally we throw up our hands and say, "Enough! Okay, I give up!"

But they're a thing of beauty. For people like me, they force me to pause. To notice my patterns of behavior and to get in touch with what hurts. They send me to the internal hot button that is difficult to articulate. Yet once I do, once I say outloud that thing within myself which holds me back, suddenly I've moved forward.

The beauty of the breakdown is the breakthrough. When we get there. We must get there. Until we get there, there is no beauty, no lesson learned, no chance of breaking the pattern.

Take that downward spiral, express the pain, then see the beauty. Enough of that already - it's time to move on.

Monday, February 22, 2010

At the end of the day

Whether you're male or female, employed or not, college degreed or not, born priviledged or not, at the end of the day you sit back and determine how you've spent your time. Do you need a stimulant to feel good about yourself?

A book, a beer, food, sex or adrenilin rush. Are they the sum and total of your ability to sleep with ease? If yes, what is that about?

Each of us deserves to feel good at the end of the day. The question is, how do we get there? Are we able to fall asleep soundly, to get our rest without fits and turns? The next morning do we awaken eager to arise?

What does it take?

At the end of the day you're another day older. What else?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Back of House

I recently wrote about stepping aside and watching the curtain go up for someone. About the anticipation, the concern and the overall sense of helplessness mingled with faith and confidence.

Can there be anything more anxious than having no control over something you are so intricately linked to?

In theatre, when the director wants to be "there" with the performers, he/she stays backstage to feel the energy and be "in with" the show. At least that's what I call it. Backstage, either stage left or stage right, we wait in "the wings" to feel the rhythm and energy of the performance. From there we are in communion with the production elements - with the stage manager, the crew, the cast, the costumers, etc. No more will those in the show pay attention to the director, for they are now on their own. Yet a step removed still allows the director the intimate experience.

Even further away is being in the House - out with the audience. That's where I prefer to stay. Out of the way of the cast and crew, not seeing all the behind the scenes details, not trying to micromanage. Yet valuing the impact of the production on the audience, I get a first-hand feel for the response it is creating. I have as much enjoyment watching the audience as I do watching the delivery of the production.

And that's where I stayed a few nights ago when I once again had the treat of witnessing the presentation of one of my performers. Way in the back, near the exit sign I watched, smiling, knowing the audience was friendly, eager and supportive. Also knowing my performer was well-prepared while exceedingly charged with energy for the room.

I heard every word - clearly. I felt the nervousness coming from the front of stage, watched the audience respond with supportive smiles, with anticipation of greatness. We were all transported into the performer's grasp. We stayed on the edge, awaiting the energy build, enjoying getting carried into the moment. And when we were excited, we applauded. Loud and vibrant, we responded.

I saw the faces around, felt the rhythm of their breathing, watched them react to the message and so appreciate the delivery. That's when I knew it worked. I saw it, felt it, experienced it. I had stepped aside, watching the performer take control, deserving the response that came as a result. Now I'm ready for more.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Weak Get Going

Maybe it's because I used to teach and my day ended before 3pm. Or because I'm ADD. Or because my energy is low. When it gets to 3pm or so I also want to move on. To get going - away from the task at hand.

It's like when I'm on a treadmill. I get to a certain point when I'd like to just get off and end the routine. Yet persistence gives me a sense of pride, especially when my body is now acclimated to adjusting and then giving just a bit more stretch. And it feels good.

I guess I get too antsy for my own good. If I've not moved around, I need to stand, stretch, and then go back to the task at hand. As I develop discipline in seeing a task through, I appreciate my stamina. And that leads to confidence in my ability to accomplish things that require endurance. I like that. I develop my capacity to give, to think, to stretch, and new horizons lay out before me that motivate me to make further progress.

When the going gets tough, it's the weak that get going. They're the ones who move on. Who have little to show for their efforts at day's end. They're the ones who complain at the end of the month. Yes, that's often been me. But today, I'm persisting. I'm staying motivated, because tonight I deserve to celebrate - not just crash. Crashing is for those who give up.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Stepping Aside

You've been working with someone now for months. You are helping them prepare their message, deliver it clearly, connect with the audience, and make the impact they want to make. And now it's time to step aside and watch it happen.

What's going through your mind? Did I cover it all. Did I give enough attention to the most important pieces. Do they feel ready. Are they confident. And maybe, am I confident.

Curtain's about to go up, and out of desire for them to perform well, your stomach has butterflies. You know they are well prepared, yet what if something happens? You know what happens from here on out is completely in their hands. Can you handle it?

Whether we are managers, parents, trainers or directors, we all experience these complicated yet natural emotions, logical or illogical mental conversations. It's all a part of stepping aside.

The alternative is to never step aside. Never prepare someone to do what they are fully capable of doing. Never see what our impact on our protege's or trainees or performers performance makes. That's even worse.

So we suck it up. We step aside and let the curtain rise.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Stinky or Hefty?

I can't tell you the number of times I've been an audience member witnessing a less-than-rehearsed presentation, wishing the speaker had taken the time to get familiar with the message and/or delivery, let alone prepare the impact they were trying to make.

The experience stinks.

This is such a common occurrance I want to put out there to my readership the Top Reasons Presentations Stink.

1. The messenger thinks they can "wing it", because they know the topic so well. Although they may know the topic, it isn't about them. It's about the audience. Winging it means the presenter hasn't prepared how to connect, how to relate the information, nor how to influence the observer. Winging it means not preparing - simply acting as though they didn't know in advance to be thoughtful and respectful. To let the audience feel comfortable or at ease with them. To take the opportunity of the moment.

2. The messenger focuses only on information. In this case, the messenger usually goes overboard. He/she is so caught up with trying to impress, there is no life to the message. Instead of adding story and engagement to the opening or to the most important points, the speaker has packed the message full of detail, often laced with acronyms and professional lingo. This messenger has seldom been in front of a group, and it shows. They probably will not get invited back to the podium, so unless they are the person in charge of the event or environment, they will not learn their lesson.

3. The messenger loses focus. Maybe our speaker tells nothing but story after story. In this case, perhaps she/he experienced interest after the first one, and wanting to further develop the positive responses continued on in the "oh, if you liked the first one, you'll really like this next one" way of thinking.

There are two things the audience wants - good information and a great experience. Pairing meaningful information with pertinent application is the key. Without that focus, the speaker has lost the chance to give information and to influence. Loss of focus makes the audience lose interest, develop discomfort, question the speaker's credibility and even leave.

4. Rely on external forces to impress the audience. Just like a resume, power point presentations have only one objective - illustrate the point already being made by the individual. It's not the end-all and be-all of the messenger's value. In fact, I'm an advocate for being the No Technology approach. Unless trying to illustrate a complicated pattern, or to show an image that speaks to the point being made, the best message is one given by the speaker's main tool - the voice/body combination.

A HEFTY presentation is one that lives. It grabs attention, it makes the audience feel as though they were important, and it escapes the constraints of time. HEFTY is memorable - it is lasting without being long. It makes a difference.

No, it isn't easy to prepare a HEFTY presentation. It takes strategy, understanding and resolve to commit to its delivery. But it is worth it. And then it's a cinch once the audience responds so favorably, that another presentation, of similar preparation, will get delivered.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

It Pays to Develop Relationship!

Just this week I was provided the great gesture of being introduced to a key contact by someone in my networking community.

Denny, a fellow network member, knows I work with political candidates on their message, delivery, connection and confidence when in front of groups. So as a favor to me, he arranged a meeting between the two of us to introduce me to an influential consultant for political candidates.

To back up, I met Denny at least four months ago at a niche marketing seminar that Michael Daniels, from Outlook Media delivered with one of the Action Coaches in the area. During a break, the two of us struck up a conversation at which time I realized Denny does political consulting.

Once we had coffee, I realized to what degree Denny is connected to the Democratic party and knows those in office and those running. From there he offered his support in getting me involved in helping candidates and suggested I meet a key player in a very successful local consulting firm.

So the day came this week when Denny and I first arrived, awaiting the arrival of our guest. Knowing she was running behind, I had a few choices. I could have learned from Denny more about her and what she's currently working on or I could continue getting to know Denny.

I chose Denny. He was already going out of his way for me. He had arranged the meeting, planned to show up to make the introduction and had followed through. The least I could do was give him a chance to relax and enjoy the time prior to her arrival, so I asked him about his weekend. I had already discovered from him in our previous meeting that he enjoys getting away with his wife from time to time, taking long weekends when he can.

"Great!", he said. "It was very low-key. All except for Sunday I had nothing to do. Sunday I had two meetings."

And just when I was about to seek more information he said, "Oh, that reminds me. I may want your input on one of my candidates."

"You see this Sunday I met with one of them and I'm wondering what you think of his presentational skills and confidence. Would you be willing to come by on another Sunday to listen to him speak?"

Wow. I didn't expect that! For what all Denny had so far done for me, of course I am willing to give him some of my time, whether on a Sunday or whenever it works for us. That's the relationship-building aspect of developing our network. And our willingness to do so, pays off.

Sure the meeting that day went well. Denny had glowing things to report to his friend about me, and what had I done? Accepted his willingness to help me, got to know him in a previous meeting, continued to ask about him and the next thing I know there is enough confidence in me that he is compelled to ask for my expertise, which leads to a very easy sale.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

There is no time like now to improve our communication habits. When so many other things are outside of our control, spiralling downhill and causing us concern, one thing we can manage is our communication habits.

Of course it is so positive-sounding to come at this from a What Works perspective. Yet when I do this, I think I am actually okay. I think my habits are in line with what works. However, when I see What Doesn't Work, that's when my eyes are opened and I can see which habits to turn around.

So let me share with you the 7 Worst Communication Habits, which came from Ivy Sea Online: .

1. Contacting people only when we need something. We may open the conversation with, "Hey, it's been awhile and I want to find out how you are." Yet before long, our real intention comes out. We spill the beans about needing a favor, about needing advice, support, or something that sounds just the opposite of the original intention of learning about the listener.

How to avoid this? Take the time to place friendly phone calls or send out friendly notes, no strings attached. Especially when the notes are focused on something meaningful, something you value about the individual, set on making their day. Avoid the business card. That has a business ring to it, not a "friendly" one.

This is the way to prove that relationship really is important to you. And it is demonstrated by your communication patterns.

2. Not following up or closing the loop. Time is no excuse for not following up or closing the loop. This habit simply says that you don't value the recipient or activity well enough to create a system of follow up. You don't value being professional, common courtesy or the act of coming to a sense of completion.

Task management is the key here. Understand your priorities - those which involve both tasks and people. Then schedule your priorities into your day, your week, your month.

Stick to your plan. Letting the urgent overcome the priorities means you don't trust your ability to delegate, to train others, to let go of the small stuff. Maybe you don't trust yourself in handling tough conversations.

Commit to building your confidence.

3.Not returning telephone calls or email messages. Similar to the habit # 2, this one may demonstrate not only an avoidance tactic but also a procrastination.

Create the habit of staying in communication. There is nothing more important than this. It allows relationship and task to be developed. It allows no information to be shared, it allows for apologies to happen, for questions to be asked and for communication to dig a little deeper.

4. Skipping basic courtesy. Maybe we were never taught basic courtesy, yet there are examples of it all around us. As adults, we know the value of respecting another's willingness to do something for us, especially when they do it with positive attitude. Saying Thank You, I'm sorry, Please all are courtesies that go a long way. And when they are shared with sincerity, trust builds rapidly.

We can do well to remember this basic lesson from Kindergarten when playing in our adult world.

5. Not listening. There are so many fun tools at our disposal today - blackberries, Ipods, computer screens, etc. that our attention is rarely on one thing specifically. So when someone interrupts our space, whether with a phone call, a face to face encounter or an email, we divide our attention between them and whatever we want to focus on.

In so doing, we miss things - the important things like the essence of their message. We assume. ASS U ME - remember that proverb? Making an Ass out of both U and ME? That's what happens when we assume and that's also what happens when we divide our attention by choosing not to listen.


6.Telling Lies. I have to admit, this is a difficult habit to turn around. Whether the lie's intention is to deliberately mislead or to avoid hurting someone, either one can lead us into ruin.

To be an honest communicator we must have both skill and courage in stating what is truth while understanding that small hurts are worse than destruction lies generate.

Making a practice of telling truth is the very essence of communication. Without this habit, we aren't communicating anything but distrust.

7.Spewing chronic negativity. I just sent out a newsletter on this particular habit. What this habit boils down to is resenting what we don't have or not knowing how to get what we want, so the only activity left is to complain.

But the impact it makes is for others to see us as a wet blanket, sapping the energy of those around us. We are a kill-joy and grow to be despised.

Look out for the feedback that will surface from such a toxic habit!

Okay, with a list like this there is no doubt something to work on, and there's no time like now. Choose just one, and you'll regain the control you've been after. Need any help? Let me know. I'm with you on this.

Monday, February 8, 2010

How's it workin' for ya?

The proof is in the pudding.
Ever wonder where that phrase comes from? Well I have, so I looked it up on Google (where else?!) and learned it dates back all the way into 1615 in Miguel Cervantes' novel, Don Quixote where the phrase is actually stated, The proof of the pudding is the eating.

Which to me means, until we taste/test/try it, we don't know the value of an idea. I can tell people my great ideas, yet unless I implement them, there is no value beyond the intellectual stimulation of them. It's why so many of us focus on results. Until we see how something is applied, we know little about it's success.

Last month I mentioned here in a post that I have the intention to write an average of 3 times per week. That's right - I actually stated my goal. I put it out there to my HUGE (ha!) reading audience. Regardless of how many of you read the goal, I am now accountable to following through. Whether for my own pride in doing what I say, for my original intention of actually having the material from which to generate a book, or because I care what people think about me, I am now more compelled to follow through on this task.

Who knows whether or not you remember my promise. I remember. And so today I checked through my blog postings, counting them out for the month of January. I knew I was highly motivated right after I made the claim. I posted incredibly often. And it felt great! I thought to myself, wow - I may do this every day! Luckily, I didn't make that promise.

As the month ended and February began, I began to recall many days going by without posting. So I was a bit worried about my results. If I had written 3 times per week for the 4 weeks of January, I would have 12 postings. That's a number easy to assess, especially since there is an archive at my blogsite, stating by date when and how often I posted on any day of the month.

12. Exactly. I'm more surprised and pleased than I expected to be! Now, going into February on the 8th day, I already have more posts than by the 8th day of January. Yet since February has fewer days in the month, I may need to reassess my strategy and step it up a bit. More on that later. For now, I am recommitting to the 3 or more times a week.

Additionally, I am this month experiencing my first accountability group. This is a group of professionals, who like myself, wants to make improvements in our professional skills and follow through by reporting challenges and problem solving to each other. Nathanial Hill started this MASTER MIND concept and shared it with the business world when he wrote Think and Grow Rich.

All it takes is a group of like-minded people to gather regularly for the purpose of tracking results and encouraging one another.

Once again, the proof is in the pudding. Whatever your goals are for this year, this quarter, this month, or this week, How's it workin for ya?

We at Breaking Down Barriers have created accountability groups for business owners as well as for career owners. If you'd like more information on these accountability groups, let me know.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mozart's Fifth: Dah, dah, dah, dah!!!!

Tension is mounting.

I rehearse my script one more time while delivering the message over our loft wall down below to the pretend audience.

It's the third time this morning I've gone over this presentation. Last night I made last minute changes in the structure of the message, even though I already sent in the handouts to the program director last week after taking several hours creating the draft, the revision and final piece. Last night I kept getting lost when making my transition from point one to point two, and now with the added revisions it seems to work. If I remember those changes.

I double check the time - this run it seemed about 38 minutes. Should work. I was given 30-45 to work with, and I am not rambling off topic anymore. I have the pitches I want to make in the conclusion for "call to action", the stack of business cards that I may need if listeners actually want my business, and I'm ready to re-makeup, grab coat, keys and directions and leave.

I think it will be good. As I pull out onto my route I grin, knowing that unless I feel some tension, I expect a flat delivery. That tension, which others call butterflies, will soon be transformed into excitement. Can't wait. The audience deserves to be riveted.

I pull into the parking lot, find my way into the building, feel the program director grab my arm as he introduces himself and apologizes for not expecting such a huge turnout.

"We take time to go around the room introducing ourselves. Is that okay? Will it give you the time you need?"

"How much time does this usually take, Jim?" I ask.

"Oh, about 35 minutes or more. It will take longer today."

The program is designed for 1.5 hours, so I feel it will definitely still work. I'll get at least 30 minutes or more.

"Of course, Jim. That's part of the program. Let's keep it in."

Mingling a bit with the crowd, I had only identify myself as the speaker a few times, which I prefered. Speaker anonymity makes general chit chat better. The emcee opened the event, turned to individuals who had announcements to share, then opened the floor from one side of the room to the other instructing attendees to hold a stuffed turtle while introducing themselves, then passing it on to the next person for them to take their turn.

These people had a lot to say, yet they gave me a chance to size up who was here, how they presented themselves and the experience was quite enjoyable. Suddenly it was my turn, and not knowing how much time I had, I simply focused on my excitement, the message and the group around me. We were on a roll, all eyes attentive.

At one point I turned to the facilitator and asked, "How much time is left?" I was moving into my third of three key points and he responded, "5 minutes".

Okay then! Evidently I started speaking with 25 minutes left, so I made a quick appraisal of how to make the final point a note of interest instead of a major area of focus, summed up, gave my call to action and ended on a high note.

Done. Made my way to my seat among applause and grins, sat down and immediately the person next to me said, "That was fabulous. Just what I needed today."

And judging from the additional 20 minutes it took me to leave others who took their turns shaking my hand afterwards, I could tell it not only was worth my preparation, it confirmed the need to take on my next step. National Speakers Association.

That night I opened an email sent by one of the audience members:

"Merri, I was in your audience today. I want to thank you for being the best speaker I have heard in a long time."

Yep. It's worth it to rework your message until it makes sense to you, understand it so well that you can extend it, simplify it, all based on the needs around you. I felt confident yet in tune with the audience, and it showed.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Underside of Freedom Keeps Us There

As a youngster, my mind spiraled out of control when considering the notion of freedom. What would it be like without an authority figure around me, watching each step I took? Would I open the refrigerator and cupboards all day long, eating sweets and crispy snacks? Would I buy anything I SHOULD or only what I WANTED? My head told me I may not have the discipline to be on my own, for I may fall short in domestic tasks, perhaps lacking fiscal responsibility as well. Nonetheless, I craved the time when I was on my own, out in the world, with nobody to account to but myself.

Entrepreneurs and other mavericks seeking autonomy have short-lived bliss. We love the boundless structure of our days. Get up when we want, get to work when we want, leave when we want. What a shift from our adolescent and young adult years! We have no boss (except the client), and soon learn this false sense of freedom is a facade. Without the necessary boundaries at work in our time structures, we have no sense of managing ourselves. And when we don't manage ourselves, business and life go to hell.

We quickly forget accountability while focusing on living through the next interruption. Without structured systems of self-management in place, we lose track of time and priorities, letting others dictate where our focus goes. With each tweet, email, phone call, Facebook posting or text message, our mind shifts to the urgent instead of the important. And quickly we've noticed we just lost an entire morning, or afternoon, day or week. That's when the bills start coming in, the vendors call to collect and we stare into an empty pipeline.

Can the entrepreneur ever get freedom back? Yes. It's called discipline. It's called focus. It's called doing what it takes to develop the underside of that beautiful, sought-after experience we dub "freedom". And it requires answering some pointed questions from the authority within us, or even outside of us:
What are our short and long term goals and how will we see them through? What does it take in a month to gain the next customer/client? To satisfy and motivate staff? To feel as though our work has been worthwhile?

My services are based on first appearing credible while also gaining trust, so cold-calling is out. Networking, face to face appointments, presentations and writing about experiences keep my pipeline building. These tasks demand I schedule my days to support each item. I can't whittle away my time. I must keep it full of these tasks as well as client time. So it's essential to translate my discipline into daily application.

I don't have staff, yet I must make profit from my efforts. What are the numbers I'm after, how am I doing with the process I've implemented and who do I account to as a sole proprietor? On the big picture side, I have to know why I'm needing the discipline. Although I can simply report to myself, I haven't made good habits of that through my life, so I know that when I report to nobody, chances are good I'm making little progress. It's more meaningful when I report to others, hate it or not.

This is why Master Mind groups, Business Owners Accountability Groups and boards of directors designed to regularly support and influence business and entrepreneur management are not just important. They are mandatory.

Want to continue to be free to own your own business? Develop the underside - the part that is accountable to another authority.

For information on the accountability groups named above, contact Merri.