This week has found me stressed in new ways. It seems that balancing volunteer work with a hectic travel schedule, on top of two demanding corporate events that I’ve committed to, with the closing on a new home with some family commitments thrown in, has left me feeling overwhelmed and irritated. As I spent an evening complaining to my lovely wife about how I didn’t know how I was going to get it all done, she stunned me when she told me that she didn’t want to hear my whining. “This is what you wanted. This is what you signed up for” she told me. While this little exchange was somewhat unexpected, she was exactly right. This is exactly what I had been working for and exactly what I wanted. Why was I so stressed? I think it’s because I had foolishly believed that when I got what I wanted, that all of my problems would just fade away. That the pieces of my life would just fit together like a completed jigsaw puzzle. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In his groundbreaking book, The 10X Rule, Grant Cardone makes the point that life is about trading one set of problems for another. That when you finally “make it” your problems don’t go away, they just get more interesting. He has a point. The guy who needs to figure out how to shelter his income has a problem, but it’s one we would all prefer to the guy who can’t pay his mortgage. They both have problems, but one is much more interesting. This is certainly true for me. It seems like yesterday that I was complaining about not booking any speaking engagements and being unhappy with our home. I wanted to get out and see new places and I wanted new content for my blog. All of these things were problems, but they seem pretty boring when compared to my new ones. The point of this post is this: everyone has problems. If it weren’t for our challenges our wins wouldn’t mean anything. If we ran over life like the Harlem Globetrotters to the Washington Generals, not only would life be meaningless, it would be boring too. Our problems are what make winning interesting and winning creates just as many problems as losing. This week, I feel a lot of stress. It’s what happens when everything you work for starts to come together at the same time. Taking a moment and remembering what my problems used to be is a great reminder of how far I’ve come but more importantly, it makes me grateful that they have finally gotten more interesting. ]]>

My theme for this week has been the lessons we learn when we get our ass kicked. I wrote on Monday that you can’t be an ass kicker without getting your ass kicked, and for me, that’s been true. I’ve learned a lot more from losing than I have from winning, but there’s another benefit that I didn’t mention; others learn best from our mistakes as well. Have you ever watched a speaker take the stage and spend an hour telling you how great they are? How did you respond to them? If you’re at all like, you were probably bored and tuned them out. This is a mistake to avoid. A lot of presenters don’t like to talk about getting their ass kicked. It’s a lot more fun to talk about our wins than our losses, but talking about the times we’ve lost does a three really important things.

It Makes Us Relatable

When we’re able to admit our failures, we become much more relatable to our audience. We transform from some magical figure on stage to a person who struggles just like they do. This is a major key to forging a strong connection with our audience. It’s human nature to like those who are like us. Since most of us are keenly aware of our shortcomings, having a speaker acknowledge theirs, builds trust. This trust makes an audience much more receptive to our message.

It Allows Others To Learn From Our Mistakes

In Monday’s post, I wrote about how much I hate to lose. If I am going to suffer through it, I believe that I have an obligation to share any lesson I learned in getting mine kicked with others so that they can avoid the mistakes I’ve made. We learn a lot more from our losses than we do our wins which mean we have a lot more to share with others when we lose. Sharing the stories of our losses can help someone else avoid it. Look at it as your obligation to share it and it will take some of the sting away.

It Enhances Our Credibility

One of the questions burning in the minds of our audience is “Why should I listen?” When we talk about losing, we enhance our credibility and answer that question with honesty. In much the same way telling stories of losing makes us more relatable, it also makes us more credible because an audience knows that it isn’t easy to talk about. They understand that we’d rather talk about winning, so it helps us come across as more honest. When we’re credible, we’re much more persuasive which puts a lot closer to winning from the stage. I still hate to lose. I hate just about everything about it, but I’m not afraid to talk about it. My biggest fear in the world is to be boring in the front of the room. Speakers who love to tell you about their wins always are. By talking about my losses, I’m more relatable, I allow others to learn from my mistakes and I’m credible. Losing sucks, but talking about it on stage, is a surefire way to win.  ]]>

Have you ever lost? Have you ever stepped up, did your best and fell short? It sucks, doesn’t it? I hate to lose. I hate to lose more than I hate spinach. I hate to lose more than I hate mud and humidity. I hate to lose more than I love to win. But I shouldn’t. This was made really clear to me watching my son show steers. Last week I wrote about how Jack practices with his steer. We take practice pretty seriously and it usually pays off but at the last show, it didn’t. Even though Jack was the only showman in showmanship who didn’t lose his steer, he didn’t place. We were all pretty upset, but we learned some things we might not have if he had won. After that show, I watched Jack focus harder on practice than I have ever seen him focus before. He hates to lose as much as I do and watching him work, I was struck with the thought that if you want to be an ass kicker, you have to get your ass kicked.  That’s how you learn. Looking back, I’ve won a lot. My first year in Toastmasters, I ran through the Table Topics contest. I won the club, the area, the division and then won the district contest too. I honestly had no idea how hard this is to do until a few years later. I won every contest I had entered but winning didn’t teach me anything. Later that year, I entered the International Contest. I won the club, rolled through the Area and made it to Division. I won there and still having never lost a contest, went to the district contest and got my ass kicked. I hate to lose, but it was a loss that I needed. I needed to lose to improve as a communicator. I needed to lose to learn to connect with an audience. I needed to lose to learn the humility that was holding me back. I wanted to be an ass kicker so I needed to get my ass kicked. There are lessons to be learned from winning, but there are by far more to learn from losing. It’s how we find out how to improve. It’s the way learn the value of practice and hard work. It hurts, it sucks and no one likes it, but it’s how we get better. All of us have contests we want to win, but won’t. We’ll have jobs that we will apply for and get passed over. Promotions that go to someone else and sales we’ll miss. We are going to lose. We’re going to get our ass kicked. It’s ok. We don’t have to like it, but if we’re lucky, we’ll learn from it. ]]>

On Wednesday, I made the case for why enhanced evaluations are the lynchpin to high performance. I wrote that post targeting Toastmasters, knowing that there’s carry over to the real world. Today, in a similar fashion, it’s my intention to outline how to improve evaluations for Toastmasters and carry those lessons over as well. When we improve our level of feedback, everything else improves as well, here are the elements that I believe exist in every great evaluation:

Honesty

Without question, the hardest part of giving a great evaluation is telling someone something they don’t want to hear. It’s so hard, in fact, that most evaluators skip that part altogether. But in trying to spare someone’s feelings, we end up stunting their growth as well as that of the club. I like to relate honest evaluations with bad Christmas gifts. We all have that person in our life that continues to get us bad Christmas gifts. The aren’t giving us bad gifts on purpose, they give them because we haven’t told them that their bad gifts. If someone gives you a bad gift once, it’s their fault. If it happens again, it’s on you because you didn’t speak up. If we want a speaker to grow, and improve, we have to be honest with them about their faults.

Personal

One of the biggest reasons that evaluations aren’t helpful is that the evaluator measures performance of the speaker against others in the club. There is no growth in this. Instead, we should measure performance against personal potential. This means we have to have some really hard conversations with the speaker before the meeting even starts. Find out what their goals are, what they’re hoping to achieve not only with this project but in toastmasters in general. This will give us a basis to evaluate the speaker in ways that will help them grow. The same is true in the corporate world. Until we truly understand the goals of the person we are reviewing we cannot give helpful feedback. Make it personal to make it meaningful.

Inspiration

Of all of the elements, this may be the most crucial. No one likes to receive negative feedback. Everyone likes to believe that they’re doing awesome at everything. Unfortunately, sometimes we have to remind them otherwise. It’s our job. We have to be honest, or we aren’t helping them. But that doesn’t mean that they should walk away feeling as if they’ve failed. A great evolution is more than a sandwich; something positive/ something negative/ something positive. A great evaluation inspires the speaker to reach their potential. It’s a reminder that they add value, that they are awesome, that they can be great, they simply have to make some improvements. We must remind the person that we’re evaluating that the reason we point out areas for growth is because they’re capable of growing. We must be inspirational in our evaluations. In the corporate world, this is also crucial. If someone walks out of a review believing they are incapable of meeting the standards, they never will. Yes, we must push them to grow, yes, we must be honest, but we also must inspire them to live up to their potential. Enhanced evaluations are the lynchpin to high performance. When we improve our evaluations, we improve every other area of performance, but we have, to be honest, make it personal and inspire our members to be their best. Doing these things not only builds a better speaker but a better club as well.  ]]>

When I starting working on this post, I really thought that my target audience were members of Toastmasters. After all, I have been saying at club meetings, conferences, training and anywhere else we might happen to gather, that we need to put more emphasis on evaluations. When I began to write, however, it dawned on me that this advice is applicable in the world outside of toastmasters as well. You see, one of the great parts of Toastmasters is that we evaluate everything; every speech that’s given, every role that’s filled, every meeting that’s held. It really is a great way to improve, but only when the evaluations are worthwhile. It’s been my experience that when a club is struggling, the best place to look for improvement is in the evaluations, because when they improve, everything else gets better too. Here’s why I believe elevated evaluations are the lynchpin to high performance:

It Raises The Standard

Obviously, getting better feedback will raise the standard of the speaker. They will be pushed to become better every time they speak, but it does the same thing for the audience as well. Better evaluations raise the standards of the audience because they are now pushed to become better evaluators. They will have to watch more carefully, listen more attentively and better articulate the ways a speaker can improve. It’s almost a given that when one person starts making a real effort to improve their level of evaluation, the rest of the club will too. When a new standard has been set, everyone will strive to reach it.

Higher Performance Attracts Higher Performance

Ask any toastmasters club what their biggest obstacle is, and they will tell you it’s membership. Just like most companies that I talk to tell me that employee turnover is their biggest challenge. They’re both wrong. In reality, the biggest challenge is performance because when everyone is turning in high performance, it attracts more high performers. High performance, though, comes from improved evaluations. Put into the context of Toastmasters, when everyone in a club starts turning in top performance more people want to be a part of that club. Becoming better communicators is the best form of new member recruitment. The same is true in the business world and it all starts with improved evaluations.

It Improves Club/Company Culture

The best Toastmasters clubs that I have been a part of, like the best companies I’ve worked for, have all had the same feel to them. It’s a culture where everyone is dedicated to helping everyone else succeed because when we reach our personal goals, the entire organization benefits. Developing this kind of culture isn’t easy, but it starts with holding one another accountable. This again goes back to improving evaluations. When everyone is getting a great evaluation, they feel valued, they feel as though their being held accountable and they feel like they’re making progress. All of these things are building blocks of a great club/company culture. I truly believe that improving a Toastmasters Club starts with improving the evaluations that are given in that club, but as I’ve learned when writing this post, the same is true in the business world. Elevated evaluations are the lynchpin to high performance. Check back Friday when I share the elements of a great evaluation.              ]]>

My son Jack is continuing a family tradition that goes back to his great-grandfather when he shows steers at our county fair. For friends of mine that aren’t familiar with a steer show, its one part West Minster Dog Show, one part body building contest, three parts beauty pageant for cows. It’s a big deal in our family and Jack takes it very seriously. There are a lot of lessons to be learned showing livestock at a country fair, but the one that stands out more than any other, is the need for practice. Showing livestock is no different from any other competitive venture: champions are built in practice. Here’s how to make the most of it:

Practice Must Be Consistent

It’s not enough for Jack to polish up on skills before a show. He has to be consistent with his practice in order for it to pay off when it matters. For Jack, this means practicing every day. For some this might be too frequently. The point is, practice must be consistent. Create a schedule and stick to it. Practice alone won’t make a champion, but consistent practice is step in the right direction.

Practice Must Be Deliberate

I hate the phrase “practice makes perfect” because practice does not make perfect. Practice, I’ve learned from a lot of coaches, makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.  When Jack is practicing with his steer, we do as much as we can to recreate the show ring and the conditions of the show. He’s deliberately working in practice to get all of the details right so that everything comes together during the show. When I’m working with my speaking clients, this is huge. If the person is going to be using a lectern, we practice with a lectern. We practice in the same clothes, under as many of the same conditions as we can make happen. Practice won’t make perfect, but deliberate practice makes perfection possible.

Practice Must Be Coached

First, I believe that just about all practice is a good thing. I say just about all, because if we’re practicing the right things wrong, our performance will never be successful. But who can self-correct? I watch Jack with his steer and we have a lot of arguments because he feels like he’s doing one thing and I’m seeing him do another. Without coaching, who can tell if we’re practicing the right things in the right way? This is the true value of coaching; immediate feedback in practice that drives higher performance. There are few things I enjoy as much as watching Jack show steers. Our entire family has made it our hobby and we enjoy it together. But it doesn’t come natural to him. He has to work really hard t turn a great performance on show day, but he does it. Show day champions are built in practice but it requires consistency, deliberateness and coaching. Combine these crucial elements with a will to win, victory is inevitable.  ]]>

According to recent polls, dog poop and syphilis are both more popular than congress. If this is true, why then would I write a post called the charisma secrets of politicians? Because in those same polls, a majority of Americans like and approve of their congressman. If someone can make you like them even though you dislike every other person like them; there has to be a secret worth learning.  Here are five observations for you to consider.

They Make Great First Impressions

First impressions are a skill. Politicians learn this better than most because they have to. When you meet a good one, they’re pleasant, well dressed and you notice them right away. A great first impression is more than just a good handshake and a smile, but they go a long way. Get the details right, and they won’t be the only ones being noticed.

They Can Read A Room

One of the biggest parts of charisma is being able to take the temperature of any room that you walk into. Lyndon Johnson once said that any politician worth a salt can tell who’s with him and who’s not in the first 30 seconds of entering any room. Who’s paying attention when you speak? Who’s smiling? Who’s not? Notice these details, read the room and understand who’s with you and who’s not. It will dramatically increase your level of charisma. 

They Dress To Fit In

When I was a kid, my dad always pointed out that during an election, politicians would have their sleeves rolled up like they were working. It would make a blue collar guy who actually worked, laugh You don’t see this much any more though. Now when you see an effective politician, they look like the people in the room they’re working. Sometimes it’s a great navy suit, other times it’s a sharp blazer, but just as likely it’s sport shirt and dark wash jeans. Part of their charisma is that they stand out, but don’t stick out. The dress to fit in.

They’re Interested

I’ve had the opportunity to observe a lot of effective politicians and one thing that the great ones all have in common is that they take a genuine interest in the people they’re talking to. The great politicians that I’ve been around asked a lot more questions than they answer. They take a genuine interest in the people in the room. They ask about their families, their jobs, and their communities. They take an interest because interested people are interesting and therefore, highly charismatic.

They Communicate A Compelling Vision

Anyone can tell you what they are against. It’s easy and requires no skill. Communicating a compelling vision is different. It’s a skill that effective politicians develop early. They learn to talk about what they’re working for and what they hope to accomplish. They sell their vision rather than just tearing others down. Being engaging in the front of the room isn’t a skill anyone is born with. It takes practice. John F. Kennedy, one of the most articulate politicians in history was famously bad on the stump when he first ran for congress in 1946. He learned to communicate by talking the working families of his first congressional district about what he was hoping to do for them. His father could buy him votes, but he could not buy a vision. That he had to develop on his own. That’s what made him so charismatic. Politicians are good at getting people to like them. They make a great first impression and read a room. They dress to fit in, are interested in their audience and communicate a compelling vision. In short, they’re charismatic and their secrets are worth stealing to be more effective in the private sector. It might even make us more popular than dog poop and syphilis.]]>

If there’s one habit of mine that annoys my wife more than any other, it’s the near constant use of movie quotes in everyday conversation. What annoys her the most is that I remember things from some obscure movie but not to mail the letter or buy paper towels. It’s just how my mind works: I remember conversations whether real or produced. Sometimes, though, there’s a benefit when I remember a great piece of advice that by all accounts I should have forgotten. The summer I turned 16, I worked for the construction company where my dad spent 30 years as a finish carpenter. I had the job of working with Jack the painter. He was then about five years from retirement and he lived for two things; Pall Malls and Blackjack. Every weekend he was headed somewhere to play cards and smoke. He was laid back, fun and full of worldly wisdom that he loved to share with anyone that would listen. One day during one of our many breaks, I overheard him talking to one of the dry wallers about how to gamble. The guy Jack was talking to didn’t know how to play Blackjack. Jack told him that his lack of knowledge was a strength and he gave him great advice on how to use it, and it’s advice that works for almost every other life situation. Jack said that if you sit down at an empty table and tell the dealer that you’ve never played before, the dealer will go out of her way to help you. He said that they want you to have a good time so that you hang around and play, and that it’s in their best interest to help you. He said it works every time. Twenty years later, I can tell you that he was right. I’ve never played Blackjack, but I’ve used his advice everywhere else and it has worked nearly every time. Airline clerks, hotel managers, restaurant servers and almost anyone else will go out of their way to help you if you admit your ignorance and ask for help. People have a deep-seated need to feel important. When we admit that someone knows something we don’t, they become eager to help. It has been my experience that the words “excuse me, I have no idea what I’m doing, can you help me?” are golden words that can turn anyone into a helpful friend. It requires some vulnerability on our part, but it’s worth it. Not everyone can admit that they don’t know how to do something, it takes strength, but when we do, we can get all of the help we need.  The next time you visit a new city, eat in a new restaurant or need the help of a store clerk, follow Jack’s gambling advice and give them the power we all crave. When we admit they can help us, it’s almost a sure bet that they will. ]]>