On Monday, I posted about three elements of personal branding. Today, I want to cover another in more in-depth detail. One that I believe can set us apart, help us stand out and put us further ahead than just about anything else: Subject Matter Mastery.  All things being equal, people do business with people they know and trust. Here’s the thing, though, things are never equal. Getting hired, getting a promotion or getting the client often comes down to a combination of things and being a subject matter expert can often be the deciding factor. The good news, however, is that it has never been easier in the history of man to master a subject than it is now. Consider the following tools you have at your disposal:

YouTube

In a matter of minutes, we can learn to accomplish virtually anything thanks to instructional videos on YouTube. That’s an awesome power, but the real strength of the medium are the thousands and thousands of lecturers available on virtually any subject. Simply taking ten minutes a day to learn something new about our industry can be incredibly beneficial, the fact that we can watch or listen to it as if we were in the room makes it an indispensable tool. 

Blogs

Gone are the days of waiting for a trade journal to arrive in the mail. Between the digitization of old-line publications like Forbes and Fortune and the emergence of great online periodicals like Inc. and The Huffington Post, there’s more information at our fingertips than ever before. As if these weren’t enough, true subject matter experts are cranking out content on a near daily basis making it even easier to educate ourselves.

Social Media

First of all, I understand the YouTube technically falls into this category, but under this heading, I’m referring more to Facebook and Twitter. Used correctly, these mediums are a great way to pick up new information, industry news, and advice from those who really know what they’re talking about. I used to refer to Facebook as the black hole of productivity, but now, I see it as a useful tool for self-education. 

Books

How old fashioned, right? Wrong! Getting books used to be a real hardship. You either had to buy what you needed or hope that the library had it in their business section. Not anymore. The growing popularity of ebooks makes getting the right information not only convenient but downright simple. Libraries with shared databases make it possible to get almost any title in hardback within a couple of days. These new tools make it simple inexcusable not to be reading today.

Seminars and Conferences

There’s a growing belief that the rise of TED Talks and online seminars are killing live events. This isn’t just misguided, it’s wrong. I love TED. I think it’s a great way to scratch the surface of important topics, but no one can become an expert in 20 minutes. Taking advantage of the seminars and conferences offered by our industries is still one of the most important things we can do to deepen our knowledge and master our subject matter. Networking and being seen at these events only helps to cement the image of someone mastering their craft and it’s impossible to put a price tag on that. Early in my career, I received a great piece of advice that has always stuck with me. I was told to read compulsively and share selectively. When viewed through the lens of personal branding, this advice is about as good as it gets. Today it’s easier than ever to become a subject matter master, we simply have to use the tools and do the work. solitary-1]]>

The most undervalued skill in professional development is personal branding. Long thought of as a skill needed only for politicians and entrepreneurs, personal branding has been neglected by large groups of professionals that could truly use it. How our clients, prospects, coworkers and superiors remember us is as critical as anything else to our success. It’s my firm belief that all of us can benefit from a personal branding plan. In this post, I will lay out the three most important elements for developing one.

Element One: Self Awareness

The first element is by far the most important one. Self-awareness, allows us to know what it is that we do well. It allows us to know what we don’t do as well as others. Being self-aware means knowing ourselves well enough to know our abilities and limitations as well as the skill of being honest enough with ourselves about them. We can’t play to our strengths if we don’t know what they are. We look foolish attempting to soar with our weaknesses. Self-awareness is our silver bullet to understanding what we are branding.

Element Two: Authenticity

Self-awareness is knowing ourselves, authenticity is being ourselves. A great personal branding strategy highlights who we really are, not who we want to be or be seen being. It’s being as honest with others about who we are as we are with ourselves. This is a crucial element to personal branding because authenticity is the cornerstone of charisma. People like to be around genuine and real people and that’s where our power comes from.

Element Three: Narrative

I recently came across a great story from Steve Jobs watching Snow White with his children after it’s 60th-anniversary release and knowing that no one would love their Mac 60 years after they buy it because people love stories more than products. There is so much truth in that statement.  Every time we answer the question, what do you do? Or have the opportunity to engage a new audience, it’s our narrative, the story of our career, who we are and what we do, that separates us from the ordinary. When used correctly, there’s not a more powerful element of personal branding than our narrative. Standing out from our colleagues and competition is something all of us must take seriously. Having a personal branding plan is a great way to set ourselves apart. When you design yours make sure you bring self-awareness, authenticity and a strong narrative to the table with you. With these elements, your plan keeps you memorable in the minds of those who matter. personal-branding]]>

So much of the American economy depends on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. If you’re going to be shopping, and want the perfect gift for that special person that has everything (YOU), I have a list of five books that you might consider picking up for the month of December.

1. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck 

I know the title of this book is going to turn some people off. To be honest, the language is coarse at times, but this book is a really great how-to guide to using our attention on the things that truly matter. Blogger Mark Manson makes the point that it’s not caring that’s the problem, but caring too much about too many things. This book came to me at a great time and I highly recommend it for December.

2. Daring Greatly 

I will admit that reading a book about vulnerability literally scared the hell out of me. I don’t do vulnerability. I work really hard to be bulletproof, but Brene Brown uses quantitative research to prove that vulnerability isn’t a weakness, it’s actually great strength. This book is for anyone in the persuasion profession that wants to create a connection with an audience. Vulnerability, I’ve learned through this book is the beginning of authenticity and that’s where our power lies.

3. The Motivation Manifesto

Brendon Burchard has a powerful story to tell. He’s a guy that went broke chasing a dream but made it anyway. All the way to being a world class coach to the likes of Oprah and Usher. The Motivation Manifesto isn’t what it seems. It isn’t all positive thinking, but rather actual actions steps that all of us must do to reclaim the power over our own lives. The best advice I took from this book was using each month of the year as 30 days to focus on one aspect that I need to improve. It’s been powerful.

4. The Confidence Gap

It seems that mindfulness is everywhere right now. Every celebrity, expert or guru is recommending it. This books takes the principles of mindfulness and applies them to the subject of confidence but in a real world way that we can relate to. Using case studies, exercises, and real word experience, Russ Harris teaches us to use our minds to overcome the fears holding us back from achieving our goals.

5. Live It Not Diet

One diet book out of five isn’t a bad ratio. In this book, personal trainer Mike Sheridan gives helpful advice to eat for energy and health using real food. He takes the attitude of not being restrictive but using our goals to motivate us to eat better for a better life. It’s a great read that I knocked out in a weekend and I enjoyed every word. As you shop today and Monday, keep in mind that feeding your mind is every bit as important as feeding your family. When you do it correctly, the former makes the latter much easier and more enjoyable. ]]>

Beginning in January, Toastmasters Clubs around the world will begin holding their club contests. If you’re in Toastmasters, and serious about improving your communication skills, I highly recommend you sign up to compete. A couple of weeks ago, I posted a piece about why I joined Toastmasters. It’s generally been my experience that Toastmasters talk too much too soon about our contests. Doing so is a great way to confuse new members who really just need the opportunity to get up in front of a room and speak. We do it, though, because experienced Toastmasters know that one of the fastest ways to grow is to compete. I have a mantra that I repeat about Toastmasters Contests and I will share it here because I truly believe every word of it.

Anyone CAN Compete and Everyone SHOULD.
My reasons are as follows:

Competition Forces Clarity of Message

The most important skill as it relates to public speaking is being able to clearly identify and articulate a message. Competing in a contest will force you to get really clear about what it is you want to your audience to think, feel and do as a result of hearing you speak. Learning to get clear on a message will help you in every presentation you give every time you have to present.

Competition Conquers Fear

Even people who aren’t afraid of public speaking are afraid of contests. Not only we do have to give a speech in front of people, the audiences are bigger and there’s a greater chance that we can fail. This fear is why we should compete. Courage, after all, isn’t absence of fear, it’s feeling the fear and acting anyway.  Competing in the contest will help you crush your fear.

Competition Forces Preparation

Toastmasters contests are timed. One second under or one second over and the speaker is disqualified. This makes preparation paramount to success. Competing in the International Speech Contest gives a Toastmaster the opportunity to polish a 5-7 minute speech until it shines. This only happens will a tremendous amount of preparation that will carry over in other presentations too.

Competition Allows For Great Stories

A side benefit from attending contests are the stories that you hear from other Toastmasters. Some are funny, some are sad but all are meaningful. Listening to the stories of other competitors is always an inspiring experience and it makes it a great reason to get involved.

The Speaker You Become

Winning is always fun. Trophies are always cool, but the most exacting part of competing in Toastmasters contests isn’t what you get, it’s who you become. The skills required to be competitive and win are skills that will set you apart in every presentation and every speech you will ever give. Learning to craft a message, own the stage and deliver it eloquently is, in my opinion, it’s own reward. Becoming a speaker good enough to win isn’t easy, but overcoming that challenge is one of the greatest feelings in the world. Before long, the sign ups will be circulating for the contest. It’s my sincere hope you will add your name, step and compete. There simply isn’t a faster way to improve, grow and succeed than to put it on the line and compete in a contest.  solitary    ]]>

Thanksgiving has never been on of my favorite holidays.  I don’t like turkey or NFL Football and I’ve joked many times that I have to see my family but no one gives me a gift for it. That being said, Thanksgiving has been a blessing to me for one big reason: Practice. When I say practice, I’m not talking about competitive eating, I’m talking about the elusive skill of dealing with people.

The ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee and I will pay more for that ability than for any other under the sun. John D. Rockefeller
I don’t think old John D. was alone in this view. Being able to effectively deal with people is the most valuable skill in the market place. Here’s how I use Thanksgiving as practice: Crazy Uncle Arguments We’ve all got that crazy uncle that loves to bait us into an argument. Sure you can win, but at what cost? When one of these arguments comes up, I like to practice my restraint, compliment their point of view and move on. There’s a time and a place for political debate, but waiting on the dinner rolls to be passed isn’t one of them. First Impressions I’ve been married for 13 years, and while there isn’t much of my wife’s family that I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet, there are those that I only see once a year. I use these as an opportunity to practice making a great first impression. I work especially hard at being authentic, being present, and being curious. These little sessions pay off when I’m meeting potential clients for the first time because the skills have polish. Back Handed Compliments and Insults If you don’t have a passive aggressive person in your family that loves to wrap subtle digs inside of compliments, consider yourself lucky. It’s tempting in these moments to retaliate to sarcasm with more sarcasm, but I find it more helpful to use it as practice. Workplace politics makes being able to deal with insults a great skill to have. When my aunt tells me that I make my weight work well me, I can respond with a thank you rather than verbally tearing her apart. It makes it easier the next time a coworker tries a similar “compliment”. Dealing with family can be stressful no matter how much we love them. It’s one of the biggest reasons I’ve turned it into practice. If I can make it work with them, I’ll be golden when I have to deal with people at work. In all seriousness, Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude for the things in our lives that make it worth living. Among my many blessings, I count all of you that read, comment and like these posts, videos and quote cards. I’m truly thankful for your enthusiasm and encouragement. Happy Thanksgiving.  deal-with-people]]>

One Hundred and fifty-three years ago tomorrow, on a field in Pennsylvania, the greatest speech in American History was delivered. As you read the words below, you can feel the power, the emotion and the wisdom that changed the course of American history:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. Abraham Lincoln November 19, 1863
It is a lofty goal to use this speech as a benchmark for our own presentations, but we should. If followed correctly, it is a blueprint for effective communication. There’s No Preamble President Lincoln didn’t mention how happy he was to be there, how beautiful the burial ground was or how nice the people were. He went right to the point. Too many times, speakers preamble a powerful story and thereby suck the power out of it. That doesn’t happen here. It’s Brief In the above text, there are only 278 words. Not one out of place and not one word wasted. In just ten sentences, President Lincoln clarified our values, called our nation to action and honored the sacrifice of our fighting men. If he could accomplish all of this in two and half minutes, we make better use of our fifteen. It Appealed To Logic and Emotion Too many presentations appeal to just one or the other, but in this masterpiece of rhetoric, President Lincoln appealed to both. He sighted history, built common ground and tugged at the heart strings all at once. These together, made it the most powerful speech delivered by a President. It Closed Strong
and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Words that beautiful and powerful must not be diluted with “thank you for having me” or “you’ve been a wonderful audience” Those words are etched into the American memory because the close was powerful and strong. One hundred years after this speech was delivered, another eloquent American President, John F. Kennedy, told us that the only reason to give a speech is the change the world. If we model every presentation we give after this one, we can live up to that inspiring task.  ]]>

On Monday, I posted a piece about planning for 2017 today following a proven, three-part strategy: Identify What You Want, Identify Why You Want It, and Identify The Steps Required To Make It Happen. This is a system that has done great things for me and countless others, but only because the plan never really goes away. If we take the time to think through the steps only to put our plan in a drawer until next year at this time, it loses all of its power. How then, do we keep ourselves focused on the plan we just created? The best tool I’ve found so far has been a journal. I truly wish I could trade in every journal that I’ve ever paid for and then only marked up a couple of pages in. I’d probably be able to put a kid through college…almost. For years, I bought them and tried to use them, only to discover that I’ve been doing it wrong. A couple of months ago, I posted this piece about using a journal template. I admit that I do this every day, but I prefer to use the apps on my phone or computer. To actually fill up my first journal, though, I followed a different path. Every morning, after I get home from the barn, I write down the goals that I listed in my plan. All of them. I write them down in the present tense as if I’ve already achieved them beginning with the words “I am”. After I make this list, I reflect for a minute and then I write down the three big tasks that I am going to accomplish that day that will bring those goals closer to reality. I choose just three, and I make them my three biggest priorities for the day. I’ve found that doing this every morning forces me to focus on the plans that I’ve made. Giving myself three big targets for the day ensures that I’m taking some kind of action toward their achievement and helps me keep my priorities straight when other people’s emergencies begin to roll in. The process is simple: write down all of the goals from your plan in the present tense beginning with the words I AM, and then list the top three things that come hell or high water, you’re going to accomplish that day. That’s it. What has astonished me is the number of things that I’ve written down in my journal day after day that I’ve made happen. I attribute these accomplishments to the focus that simply writing them out every day has brought to my work. For the first time, I feel like I got my $14.95 worth, plus thousands more, by simply focusing on what it is that I want. After you create your plan to make 2017 your best ever, I urge you to start filling up one of your blank journals and see if you don’ have similar results. ]]>

Don’t look now, but Thanksgiving is next week. If you’re at all like me, it seems like we just carved a turkey and yet here we are flooded with Facebook posts of gratitude again. Before long, we will all be watching the ball drop and welcoming 2017 while hoping our lives change with New Year’s resolutions. Ok, maybe I time lapsed that just a little bit, but the point is, 2017 is seriously just an eye blink away. New Year’s resolutions are inspiring, but they seldom work. Now is the time to plan to make it your most successful year yet. Creating a plan to make this happen comes down to three critical steps: identifying what you want, identifying why you want it and identifying the steps required to make it happen. These are the elements in a great personal strategic plan.

Identify What You Want

Sometimes this is the hardest part. We have so many options in today’s society that many of us suffer from decision fatigue and find it hard to focus on what it is we actually want. I find that making a list of the things that I need to improve always helps as a starting point. I look for what would make me better in each area of my life and that becomes my list of goals for the coming year. Two years ago, it included reading a book a week. When I’m done, I usually have about ten things that I’ve identified that I want.

Identify Why You Want It

Tony Robbins says that when you have a why you can endure any how. I’m pretty sure he paraphrased this from Victor Frankl, but it’s still a powerful message. Once we identify what it is that we want, getting clear about why we want it will make our plan that much more powerful. Going back to the goals that I identified, it was the thought that studying as a subject for an hour a day can make someone a national expert in that subject in five years that served as my reason why.  Identifying why we want what we want brings our passion into play and that’s where the power lies.

Identify The Steps Required To Make It Happen

This is the action part of a plan and its what separates a strategic plan for your year from a list of New Year’s resolutions. Every goal we have has a set of action steps required to achieve them. If we don’t list them, its really easy to miss them. This may sound really basic, but it’s not. Everyone knows that you can’t make a cake without adding flour and eggs, but they’re listed in the recipe because, without these things, the cake will never develop. Action steps for our goals are the same way. In my example above, I had to develop a list of books, block out time to read and find strategies to get the books that I wanted in order to read a book a week. Listing the action steps gives us something to work on daily to make it our goals reality and it’s a critical step. No matter what it is you want for 2017, now is the time to start planning for it. It will take time to identify what it is you want. It will take thought to identify your real reason for wanting it and it will take effort to identify the actions steps required to make it happen. Working on this in November 2016 will make it a whole lot easier to get started in January 2017. Now is the time to make 2017 your best year yet. Make a plan a make it happen! Now Is The Time]]>

Since 2006, I’ve been a member of an organization called Toastmasters International. It’s an international organization dedicated to helping people improve their communication and leadership skills. In essence, it’s a club dedicated to public speaking. Usually, when I tell people about Toastmasters, they give me a look that tells me that they think I’m crazy. That may be true, but I get a lot of value out of my Toastmasters membership. I have a lot of reason for going back every month, but here are my top five reasons, in completely random order. 

There’s a Guaranteed Audience

Becoming a great public speaker doesn’t happen through osmosis. You have to actually put yourself out there and do it. Toastmasters is a great place to practice because there’s a guaranteed audience, people who will be there to watch, listen and evaluate what we say. We can talk all day in front of a mirror, but unless we get feedback, this is wasted effort. Toastmasters guarantees a room full of people to practice with.

It’s A Safe Place To Fail

The art of speaking can be messy. Not every idea works and not every word combination is the right one. Like any performer, I’d rather make my mistakes in practice than on game day. Toastmasters gives me a safe place to practice and sometimes fail in a friendly environment.

There’s Practice Receiving Feedback

Every speech in Toastmasters is evaluated by another member. That means they watch us speak and then coach us in front of the group for improvement. If this sounds terrifying, I understand. Most of us are uncomfortable receiving feedback. Toastmasters is an opportunity to practice receiving it.

There’s A Learning Opportunity

Watching and listening to others speak is a great way to learn more about the art of communication. It’s also a great way to learn about topics that I would have never researched on my own. We have a member in my club that loves horror movies and I learn more about this genre every time he gives a speech. I would never put the time into researching the things he’s taught us, but I’ve learned it because I’m in toastmasters.

The Networking Is Great

Lastly, I’ve found Toastmasters to be a great way to make friends. It’s inspiring to be around people committed to their improvement and that’s what you get at Toastmasters meetings. Not everyone has the same skillset and not everyone is on the same level, but its friendly and everyone cares for one another. It really is a great networking opportunity. It’s a mistake to think that Toastmasters can replace quality coaching, but that has never been its purpose. It is, however, a great place to practice, to fail, to take feedback, learn and to make friends. It’s a pretty great experience that gives much more than it costs. If you’re interested in more information, send me a message, I’d love to talk to you about it!]]>

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When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.

I find this poem, written by Anonymous, to be especially fitting today. After one of the most bitter Presidential Elections in our history, I think it’s particular worthwhile to remember that there are so few things that we have any control over. No doubt there are those who woke up today frustrated that the election didn’t turn out the way that they had hoped but it’s in these moments that we must remember that we can only control ourselves. We cannot control world events, but we can control what those events mean to us and how we choose to respond. We can control where we focus and we can control our level of energy. And the awesome part is that the election has zero impact on these things that we can control. It’s up to us. If I focus on changing myself, I can make an impact on my family. My family can impact my town and my town can impact my nation and I can indeed change the world. But it starts and ends with me. The outcome of last night’s election is irrelevant to my future. I control my perspective. I control my focus and I control my energy. Don’t let the naysayers distract you today. Go change yourself and help change the world.  ]]>