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Posts tagged advice
Weekly Challenge: 30 Days

I enjoy Morgan Spurlock's series 30 Days in which those on the show are challenged to live differently for a month. Conventional wisdom also says that it takes 21 days to start (and keep) a new routine or habit. This got me thinking, of course. By committing to improve ourselves in one area today, we could be an entirely new person by Halloween. While a weekly challenge is helpful, a monthly promise could work wonders.

Your challenge for this week, then, is to find what it is you'd like to improve and begin that journey towards improvement. Want to brush up on your language skills? Be better at managing people? Learn more about graphic design? Eat healthier? The choice is yours, but you have to take that first step this week.

Where do you want to change your life? Will you start this week?

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How to Take Great Pictures of the Sunrise

When I get to the gym early enough, I like to snap a picture of the sun rising over the city. Some photos turn out better than others, but I've realized there's one must-have trick to getting a great snapshot of the sun as it breaks through the darkness:

You have to get up early.

There is no other way to take a picture of the sunrise other than waking up before the sun.

Beautiful things require effort. If they seem to elude you lately, look at your work ethic and challenge yourself to step your game up.

The Power of No

I'm beginning to learn more and more the power that comes with saying "No." I detail how (and why) to say "no" in Simplify Your Life, but I'll admit - turning down opportunities and offers is a constant struggle of mine. But, the feeling of saying "no" at the right time is powerful. Doing so can free you to focus on what matters and focus your energy on the tasks and events you're most exited about.

I wasn't sure whether to detail the following scenario here or in my Speak UP newsletter, but after much thought I concluded that the lessons I learned by saying "no" recently could benefit all my readers.

Last week, I turned down an all-expenses-paid trip to India. To speak. With entrepreneurs. Thousands of them.

I know what it looks like. I still can't help but cringe a bit as I type. I said "no" to a free trip to India to do what I love.

When the offer appeared in my inbox and I followed up (which was then followed by a bit of online research and poking around in my network), I was excited. But then the details began to shake out.

The event was at a time when I really need to be home with family. The travel - while paid for - would be long and not so glamorous. The time I'd actually have in India would be very limited. I wouldn't be compensated for speaking. The media opportunities promised might not work out in the best way. All in all, to have said yes would have been a significant cost in terms of money, time, and relationships.

After digging, it became easy to politely say "no" to this opportunity.

As soon as I hit send on the email declining the host organization's offer, I waited for the onslaught of regret to wash over me. But it never came. I thought I'd soon kick myself for wasting a chance to speak in India, but I never felt it.

I didn't feel regret because saying "no" was the right decision. My mind and body and heart and soul were at peace. I said "no" and moved on.

And here's the power of saying "no" to the opportunities that don't fit. There is no regret when you make the right decision. If the opportunity doesn't fit, doesn't help you, doesn't play to a strength of yours, or isn't all it seems to be, then declining it is okay. In fact, saying "yes" to it could be detrimental to your career, your sanity, or your family.

Best of all, saying "no" reinforces your values, both to others and yourself. When you say "no" to something, you're making a claim about what's important. In my case, saying "no" reinforced my commitment to my family and the time I'm spending to grow my speaking career. Many times, saying "no" conveys what we believe as much as saying "yes" does.

The main trick when we say "no", however, is to move on. Not all decisions will be as easy as mine. Some decisions will be much tougher and we could feel some pangs of remorse after turning someone or something down. In order to fight through that, we have to put the instance out of our minds. We said "no" and the case is closed. We can't look back and wonder.

If we do, we might inadvertently ignore that perfect "yes" that's coming our way.

When have you said "no"? Any stories about saying no and it being the perfectly right decision?

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Great Speakers Commit

Note: I'm excited to announce today that I've created a new weekly email for those who are professional or aspiring speakers. Each week, I'll send you fresh tips, ideas, and resources to help you elevate your speaking game. This content won't be anywhere else online, so sign up for Speak UP today! I think that one of the fine lines between a good speaker and a great speaker is commitment. Great speakers commit to their topic, their delivery, and their audience. Here's what I mean:

Commit to your topic

As I'll be sharing at the International Toastmasters Convention in a few weeks, the best (paid) speakers have a core story, often shaped by who they are. This story then lets them find a niche to market to in order to land paid speaking gigs. While stories and topics can change over time, you can tell when a speaker is committed to a topic. She can recite facts and examples with ease, as if lost in a deep personal conversation. She has a treasure trove of resources and anecdotes at her fingertips because she knows her topic so well. She's up on the latest findings and even has her own opinion of them. She's read all the books on the subject and may be working on one of her own. It's part of her. You know when you've seen this kind of knowledge in a speaker and no doubt it's someone who is truly great.

Commit to your delivery

Michael Grinder, who taught me a lot about public speaking, did a bit in one of his sessions. He was extolling us to watch great politicians or televangelists speak (or preach) in order to observe their delivery skills. He then immediately launched into his most saccharine and charismatic impression of a TV preacher. In no time, the audience was laughing, clapping, and nodding along and his suggestion was burned into our memories. He could have said one line in that voice or with those gestures, but he carried on for a solid minute. It was a risk (we might not have been humored), but he committed to the bit and it paid off in teaching a solid lesson.

When you tell a story on stage, commit to it. Retell it as if you were there all over again. Share with the audience the smells, sounds, and sights going on around you. Use the appropriate facial expressions. Pause when things get hectic to add suspense. Yell when intensity calls for it. Commit to telling a good story and you'll stand out and teach your audience a thing or two.

Commit to your audience

Every time I speak, I make sure to have a detailed conversation with my contact person about the audience. Whether it's a college orientation or a nonprofit conference, I treat each gig as unique. I want to know who specifically (if the contact knows) will be in the room. What has gone on in their collective lives or industry the previous six months? Budget cuts? Transition? Confusion? Success? How old are they? Do they have to be at this event or are the freely choosing to attend? Knowing who's in the room makes my talk more relevant, with better key takeaways for those who listen. Speakers with a one-size-fits-all approach rarely move from good to great.

What do you think makes a great speaker?

What qualities do you admire in a speaker who is outstanding on stage? Let me know in the comments below.

And, if you likes the ideas and suggestions in this post, consider signing up for Speak UP, my free weekly newsletter for professional or aspiring speakers.

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What Michael Grinder Taught Me About Public Speaking

One of the highlights of my brief time with CAMPUSPEAK thus far has been attending their every-other-year conference, Huddle. This is a chance for all the speakers on the roster to get together, learn from each other and from experts, and become better at what they do. Keynoting the event was Michael Grinder, someone who bills himself as a communications expert, particularly when it comes to non-verbal communications. And in just five minutes, I'd learned more from Grinder than I had in my hundreds of times on stage.

Many times, we think that the bulk of our impact as speakers comes from our words. Michael showed us otherwise. Sure - words matter, but so do all the things we do when not saying something.

Here's a sample:

  • The first thing out of Michael's mouth was, "The first thing you need to know about me is that I love my wife." This floored the audience. Here was a guy hired to come teach and he begins with his values? But what a way to start it was. Instantly, Michael became someone we admired and trusted, which is important for an audience. A personally invested and connected audience is one that will listen.
  • Michael then carried on along this line, reminding us that it's imperative we know the difference between life as a speaker and life as a husband, wife, or whatever else we are when not on stage. He said, "No matter how good a problem solver you are at work, that's not lovable at home." In other words, most of the time, our loved ones aren't looking for us to spout wisdom; they just want us to listen.
  • "If you're in a bind, stop making statements and start asking questions." This is good with an unresponsive audience or when things get tense at any job.
  • "Make sure your audience walks away with value, not just adrenaline." Great speakers don't just pump their audiences up; they give them something to use.
  • "Influence is not just about power. It's about permission." People need to willingly give us their attention if we're to be successful.
  • "Brilliant communication gets people to be accountable to themselves." This is what is 'motivational' many times about speaking. You're motivating people to believe in themselves, work hard, and be their own coach and hardest critic.
  • "Leadership is comfort with uncertainty."
  • "If you want to help something you say sink into someone's long-term memory, increase or decrease voice volume from the baseline." A whisper can be as effective as a shout.
  • "Speaking 'techniques' are like a match. They aren't ethical or unethical in and of themselves. How you use these techniques determines whether or not what you're doing is ethical." If you're great at speaking, those skills can't and shouldn't be used to manipulate. There's no real impact there.
  • What makes a great speaker isn't whether or not they can employ great skills; it's when they choose to use them.
  • "Our perception of ourselves is the number one thing that gets in the way of our professional development." We can all get better.

What's the best speaking advice you've ever received?

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How to Never Learn Anything

We must never mistake education for school. While school usually teaches us something, education can happen anywhere at the hands of anyone. I've found that learning from other people is a very valuable experience. What others have accomplished, what they have learned, what they know, and what they suggest are all lessons I lap up when meeting someone new, bumping into an old friend, or hearing someone else's stories.

But we can't learn these lessons if we're unwilling to attend the impromptu school known as conversation. When we shut ourselves off and only participate in the planned dialogues (phone calls, emails, meetings) with those we already know, wisdom is left sitting on the table and we are the lesser for it.

Most of this wisdom never reaches us because of our unwillingness to engage. And often times, all it takes is a set of white headphones.

You'll never learn anything if you're marked as unapproachable. And I know of no better way to do that than to turn on your iPod, wear a frown, or look busy. Show the world that you're occupied and it will leave you alone. And if you never get to engage with others or open yourself up to the spontaneous learning that comes from meeting someone new, you may never get the knowledge you need to accomplish something important.

Just for a day, let's open ourselves to learning something new by putting away our headphones, extending our hand for an introduction, and asking those we meet, "What's your story?"

Remember when your teacher used to call roll in school? You'd raise your hand or say, "Present."

When you become approachable to others, you're telling the world you're here, you're present, and you're ready to learn, to become someone smarter, wiser, and better than you are right now.

The conversations we don't have are the books we never open, the classes we never take, and the lessons we never learn.

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"Those imperfections are where the beauty lies."

This month's Garden & Gun (by far my favorite magazine) has a profile piece on Capers Cauthen, a furniture craftsman based in South Carolina (link not available). He's known for making fantastic tables and other items out of reclaimed wood. In the middle of the article, Cauthen said why he likes working with old wood:

Those imperfections are where the beauty lies.

Truth from a carpenter.

That thing you hate about yourself? That part of you that you think is ugly, useless, outdated, or less than fantastic? Look again. There is beauty there.

The things we don't like about ourselves can often become the things others adore. Beauty is firmly in the eyes of the beholder; let someone else find the beauty within you, draw it out, and make something fantastic out of what you once thought wasn't good for much.

Something is not beautiful because it's perfect. It becomes perfect for us once we realize it's beautiful.

Dreaming About the Future and Finding a Job You Love

Some very quick self-promotion today, if you don't mind. First up is a short (less than four minutes) video of me speaking about the future of Nashville (where I live). Give it a look and think about whether or not you're a resident of your city or a citizen (I explain the difference in the video).

And, here's a link to a longer radio interview I did recently, talking about my career moves that helped me get where I am. Give it a listen and see if something sparks an idea within for your next move. (Or, right click to download it and throw it on your iPod for your next 38-minute jog.)

The Worst Thing You Can Do When Giving a Speech

Other than vomiting on someone (which has never happened to me, knock on wood), the worst thing you can do when giving a speech is to tell your audience to be something. I'm not innocent of this. But, having spoken over 500 times in my life on a variety of topics, I've learned that an audience walks away with less when I tell them to be something. They gain a lot more from my time on stage when I tell them to do something.

For example, after a 30- or 60-minute speech, if the audience is left with any of the following key points, my impact on them has been minimal:

  • Be passionate
  • Be yourself
  • Be the best
  • Be authentic
  • Be ready for anything
  • Be hopeful
  • Be honest
  • Be unique
  • Be a leader

While well-meaning, simply telling anyone the above leaves them no different than when they walked in the room before I started talking. Who among us doesn't want to be authentic or passionate or honest?

Instead, your talk becomes more valuable when you offer ways that people can live out any of the above advice. For example:

  • Don't tell someone to be a leader. Walk your audience through a process to determine ways they can lead in an existing job or social setting.
  • Don't tell someone to be unique. Give her a plan where she can discover her strengths and why those are a competitive advantage to her when looking for a job.
  • Don't tell someone to be passionate. Offer him six questions to consider the next time he feels stuck in life.

The speeches we all remember - and the only ones worth giving - don't merely tell people how to be; they challenge us all with something to do. Then, when we set out on the course offered from the stage, we can finally become who we want to be.

Action shapes being, not the other way around. Inspire your listeners to act - this is your chief responsibility when given the privilege of speaking into a microphone.

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Clutter is Holding You Back

The reason you're not happy or able to nimbly chase down that big dream of yours may be right in front of you. Take a look around your living room, office, or bedroom. How much crap do you have? Are you offended that I called your stuff crap? Are your things not junk? If you're labeling a general mass of objects as stuff, things, junk, or crap, then it probably doesn't mean that much to you. And if it doesn't mean much, why do you have it?

Watch any episode of "House Hunters" (they're all the same). Every person hunting for a home wants the same thing (other than an open floorplan and space to entertain): plenty of storage.

Is this what it's come to? Our quest for a place to live now includes a place to put our crap as a chief priority?

But don't worry; if your new house doesn't have room for your stuff, junk, or crap, just rent a storage unit. It's perfect for all the crap you still want, but don't want to look at.

Clearly, we need to do something about all of our clutter. In my mind, the answer is simple:

Get rid of it.

It's time. Your clutter is holding you back. Here's why:

It gives me something else to do before I start.

Sometimes, I feel motivated to sit and write for hours or begin that project idea that's been brewing in my head. And just when I'm ready to start typing or dreaming, my crap calls to me and begs me to organize it, move it around, or rifle through it. As long as I have clutter, I have a distraction. There willl always be something to look at, something to take my mind off of what matters. Eliminating clutter will keep me focused.

I waste time looking for stuff.

The bane of our modern existence is that we all own six pairs of scissors but never know where any are when we need them. Are they in the junk drawer? What about the shelf with all the stuff? No? In that other drawer? Having places full of clutter means that we're spending valuable time looking instead of quickly getting what we need to do what we must. Organization won't just make your house look like a catalog; it'll save you time.

Stress increases as it feels like the walls are closing in around me.

Didn't your house seem so much bigger before you put all your stuff in it? The easiest way to junk up a room is to put a bunch of crap in it. And when you do that, the room feels smaller, which could even lead to increased anxiety for you, as you get the impression that the walls are closing in around you. Tear down those walls by eliminating what you don't need.

Crap is worthless unless I sell it.

If $500 is all that's standing in the way of you and a dream, I'm willing to bet that you can find that $500 as soon as you start selling your crap. Whether you plan a yard sale or do it online, your crap can quickly become someone else's treasure. Remember: we have to sacrifice what can be sold in order to earn what can't be bought.

What about you?

How do you deal with clutter so you don't put off accomplishing something big?

And, as a shameless promotion, my book Simplify Your Life has many practical ways to clear clutter out of your life. Best of all it's only $3.99 on the Kindle (which won't add to your already overflowing bookshelf)!

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How to Motivate Someone

If you need to motivate someone you manage (or if you could use a little motivation yourself), it seems as though most of us can stay spurred on by two things:

  1. Clear goals
  2. Immediate feedback

On clear goals

Ever started a job or been working on a project and you're not sure what's expected of you? It can lead to a lot of confusion, frustration, and spinning wheels, like George Constanza when he took the job without knowing what he was supposed to do (other than work on the Penske file):

Clear goals give us direction, let us course-correct when needed, and help keep our eyes focused on an outcome. In short, we know where we're going.

On immediate feedback

Why wait until the end of something to know whether or not we did it right? If something is amiss, we'll need to start all over again, which can be crippling to morale and motivation. Make sure you let people know how they're doing as often as possible. If they're doing great, the affirmation will keep them working well. If something isn't going as you'd like, then your team can know to make changes instantly (like when you need to move a couch).

How do you stay motivated?

How do you keep others focused and working towards a goal? 

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The Only Agenda You Need for Every Meeting Ever

Meetings suck. I try to go to as few as possible. If a meeting is called and as best I can tell the only point is to give status updates, then I won't go. Some may argue that the point of meetings is to build camaraderie and get to know one another. I've never seen this happen well around a big board room. If you want to do that, go to lunch, go camping, go on a walk - just go. Staying in the office and building teamwork rarely works.

If I call a meeting, I always use the following agenda. You can personalize it for your specific needs. If these three things don't happen, then you don't need to meet.


Facing a problem or big decision at work? Use a meeting to discuss what the issue is and solicit input. Some of this can be done via email, but meeting lets you hear from people verbally (as well as gauge emphasis and body language). It also allows for spontaneous conversation and up-to-date ideas and information. Use meetings to discuss the issue at hand.


Make a decision. Sometimes, you'll need to retreat away after the meeting and reflect on all the input before you decide. But, forcing yourself to make a decision in the meeting (or at least arrive at a preliminary consensus) makes the time more useful and the situation more urgent (which should generate a better discussion). Meetings are for deciding something.


Whatever you decide, put in place a plan of action to get it done. Assign tasks. Determine responsibility. Announce deadlines. Put the wheels of action in motion while everyone is in the same room and their focus is fresh since the topic and action steps are in the forefront of their minds. The time for doing is now.

If your meeting agendas don't look like this, either stop meeting until they do or revamp them so that your meetings can be more productive.

What do you do to make your meetings more productive?

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