As I have mentioned in several posts, I read a lot. One of my favorite books in the last year was a book titled Daily Rituals, which is an in-depth study of the work habits of history’s great writers. I was fascinated by the fact that no two people seemed to have the same ritual and that’s when I realized that that’s probably what made them great; they knew how they worked best and they didn’t force it. This is a lesson that I desperately needed to learn. For a long time, I tried to work like everyone else I knew. I would organize my day they way I saw my coworkers organize their day and I was surprised when our results varied. There is a lot of talk about the value of self-awareness when it comes to building a brand. I get it. We need to know our product well enough to sell it. But self-awareness is valuable when it comes to productivity as well. If we know ourselves well enough to know how we work best, we can redesign our work to fit us, rather than the other way around. I’ve had my struggles. I read that the best writers did their writing in the morning, so I arranged my day to give myself time in the morning to write. I was able to force myself to do it, but nothing was of great quality. When I looked back at some my best work, be it blog posts, keynotes, or workshops, all of it was written in the afternoon. It’s when I’m most creative and the work comes easiest. By trying to force in the morning, I was missing the flow that comes in the afternoon. Conversely, I find that I’m much better at organizing in my mornings. By trying to force that in my afternoons, I would end up frustrated and waste some of my most creative moments. I had to understand me and design my work to enhance my effectiveness, rather than trying to force myself into a box that didn’t fit. As I have said on multiple occasions, I don’t have all of the answers, but I write to solve my problems in hopes that the lessons I learn can help someone else. This has been a major lesson for me to learn. Maybe you’re most creative in the morning and can crank out content before the sun comes up. Maybe you’re a night owl and need to work late at night to do your best work. I truly believe that there’s no one best way, there’s just what works best for us. The hard part is figuring it out and then consistently putting it into practice. When we know ourselves, we can flow it and not force it. When we do the work it easier, faster and better making the hard work well worth the investment. ]]>

In my career as a nonprofit executive, I have the opportunity to make a lot of pitches. Most of them only last five minutes and are in the middle of employee benefit meetings. If there’s a better environment to cut one’s teeth on getting attention, telling a story and making an ask, I haven’t found it yet. This is why I follow a formula.

Get Attention! (30 Seconds)

In a short pitch, working with limited time, I can’t risk losing my audience in the beginning because I don’t have the luxury of winning it back over the course of an hour. When I approach the front of the room, with only five minutes to talk, I have to get their attention. It’s no easy task. In years past, a speaker only had to be more interesting than the wallpaper, but now each of us keeps endless entertainment in our pockets. Not to mention the side conversations, personal business running through their heads and the fact that some resent having an interruption to their work schedule. To get attention, follow these rules:
  • Use silence. Don’t speak right away. Just take a minute to hold the attention of the audience.
  • Ask a question with a show of hands. This involves the audience early and makes it feel interactive.
  • DO NOT INTRODUCE YOURSELF. (Someone should have done this for you. If not, get their attention first)
  • DO NOT TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF (There’s a place to build credibility, but this isn’t it)
  • DO NOT APOLOGIZE (This sets the entire presentation for failure)
Before we can make our pitch, we have to get the audience to pay attention. Once their listening, we can move forward.

State Your Business (30 Seconds)

There are questions burning in everyone’s mind when you start; who is the person and what do they want. If we don’t answer these questions, in the beginning, we risk losing them before we can even think of making our case. Most speakers are afraid to state their business upfront, but this lets some of the pressure out of the room and lets the audience warm to our message. These are my rules:
  • If no one introduced you, this is where you do it.
  • Avoid the phrase “I want”. This will turn them off even though they want to know.
  • I love the phrase “In our time together, it’s my goal that..” this is a great way to state your business in a nonthreatening way.
Answering the questions already on the minds of your audience puts you in the position to share your message because it will let them put their guard down. Don’t be afraid to state your business up front.

Share Your Story (3 minutes)

The biggest mistake most people make in a pitch is forgetting that people make decisions emotionally and justify it rationally. Facts matter and we need to have them in order, but we need to share them in the form of a story. The best speech coach I’ve ever worked with told me that a great speech is nothing more than telling a story and making a point. People will remember the story and if they get the story, they’ll remember the point. I follow these rules:
  • Never begin with “ I want to tell you a story” just tell it.
  • Whenever possible, share your story in the present tense. “ I am,” rather than “I was”.
    • Keep your stories as personal as possible.
    • Only use a story relevant to your pitch.
    • Make your point clear.
The story is the most important part of the pitch. It’s the part that your audience will remember after you walk away and that’s when the decision is made.

Take A Question (30 Seconds)

Most bad speakers close on a Q&A. This is a mistake. Take questions, but do it before you’re ready to close, that way you can close on your terms, not theirs. Here are my rules:
  • Use the phrase “Who has the first question” this sets the expectation that there will be a question.
  • Use the phrase “ A question I thought you’d ask is..” If no one asks a question
  • Always repeat the question back. This ensures everyone will hear it and clarifies your thinking.
Q&A time is an opportunity to drive home your point, don’t waste it.

Close Strong (30 Seconds)

If your goal with your open is to get their attention, the goal with a close is to be remembered. A strong close answers the question that was asked in the opening and makes the ask for the next phase. If you don’t make an ask, you’ve not only wasted your time but that of your audience as well. Summarize your story, answer your question and ask for the order, the donation or the appointment. Here are my rules:
  • NEVER SAY “THAT’S ALL THE TIME I HAVE” It’s insulting to the audience.
  • I love the phrase “What I’m asking from you is this is” this makes it clear what your intentions are and that you’re making the ask.
  • Leave them on a high note. People hate cheesy motivation, but they love to be inspired. If there’s a place for soring rhetoric, this is it.
The most important minute following any presentation is the minute after the speaker leaves the room. With a strong close, we leave no room for doubt what we were asking for or why it was important. This has been a longer post than normal but I traded brevity for detail. Often times, the biggest decisions in life come after a five-minute pitch. This is what has worked well for me and I invite you to give it shot and change the world.      ]]>

Who are you trying to impress? It’s a question that I get all of the time. Anytime someone asks me, they aren’t referring to my attitude, they are, without fail talking about the way I’m dressed. Every day, I wear my uniform with pride. I wear a tailored suit, a pressed shirt and dark tie. I make sure that my shoes are shined and hair is cut. I take a great deal of care to make sure that when I present myself to the world, that I’m presenting a polished, professional image. But there’s only one person that I’m trying to impress and that’s myself. I set high standards for the way that I look and the way that I carry myself not because I want others to notice me in vanity, but because I do my best work when I feel best about myself. I write and I speak a lot about standing out because it has its advantages. Men and women who are well dressed are instantly given more credibility, but it’s men and women who carry themselves with confidence who are trusted. This is what my suit does for me. It fires my confidence. This wasn’t always the case. My grandfather wasn’t a cinema star during the golden age of Hollywood. He drove a tractor. My dad isn’t a slick suited attorney, he is a carpenter. Both were good men that taught me a lot of about the value of discipline and hard work but when it came time to put together an executive image, I was on my own. After struggling for years a salesperson, I realized that it didn’t matter what I was selling. Having the greatest product or service in the world didn’t matter if I couldn’t get taken seriously by gatekeepers or decision makers. It was a lack of confidence that was holding me back, but I didn’t know it at the time. That’s when I began studying those that succeeded where I failed and I noticed that in almost every case, it was small details that made a huge difference; shiny shoes, a dimpled tie, a properly fitting suit. When I worked on these details, I began to see myself differently and the world noticed. Every day the most important sale we make is the one we make to ourselves. Every day we have to sell us on our own abilities before anyone else will buy them. It might seem silly, but that’s what looking the part does for me.  It might be something completely different for you, but whatever it is, you have to find it and do whatever it takes to close that sale because your success depends on it. That’s why I work so hard at looking my best. I don’t do it to impress anyone. I do it for me, and that’s reason enough. ]]>

In Wednesday’s post, I tried to make the point that stagnant thinking is the biggest threat to our business. I argued that stagnant thinking is a product of intellectual disengagement and that the solution can be found in reading books. It seems only fitting, then that I would suggest a reading list for the month of February. I base my list on the best books that I’ve read in the past month in the hopes that you will find them as interesting as I did.  

Be Obsessed Or Be Average

One of the first books I read in the new year was Grant Cardone’s latest book Be Obsessed or Be Average. To be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with Grant Cardone because he puts a lot of focus on money. I don’t mean to vilify money, but it has never been a big driver for me. What I love about this book, though, is his point that the only people who’ve ever changed the world were obsessed with doing it. I think this book is a wake-up call for anyone looking to be successful. It not only makes its case, it also lays out a plan for anyone looking to break through and become great.

Presentation Zen

It’s no secret that I despise PowerPoint. In fact, I believe that somewhere in a North Korean prison, there’s a projector used for the most serious kind of torture. That would be because people aren’t following the rules laid out by Garr Reynolds in Presentation Zen. PowerPoint should be much more than bullets on a screen and this book will show you how to create presentations that actually make sense and please the eye, rather than putting people to sleep.


The Obstacle Is The Way

Read any business article in 2016 and there’s a good chance you were going to see a mention of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aralias. That’s because of Ryan Holiday’s book, The Obstacle Is The Way, brings to life his philosophy of Stoicism for modern life.  Paraphrasing the basic message of the book, life is going to suck sometimes and there are a lot of things outside of our control, but by controlling our perspective, and taking action on the things that we can control, we can find peace and happiness. Holiday is much more eloquent, however, which is why you should read the book.

The Autobiography of Mark Twain Volume II

I will admit that I listened to this rather than reading it, and if you get the chance, I highly recommend doing the same. Grover Gardner reads the folksy life story of Mark Twain as he remembers his life in a series of flashbacks. It’s poignant, witty and hilarious. Many times I was laughing out loud at this sarcasm. There are no known recordings of Twain’s voice and, therefore, I like to imagine that if he were alive today, he would sound exactly like Grover Gardner. It was pure joy to listen to.   Four books, that I enjoyed in January that I would highly recommend to anyone adding to their list for February. There is plenty to learn from, to laugh about and to lecture from. I loved these books and hope you will too.   Special Bonus: I keep all of my books in a Google Drive file.  Send me an email to and I will share my library with you. You can read what I’m reading (or anything else I have) for free. Let’s fight disengagment together.]]>

Last week, a friend send me one of the most entertaining articles that I’ve read in a while. The basic premise of the entertainment was the author blaming the downfall of civilization on a television show. More specifically, the show Friends. With tongue planted solidly in cheek, the article made the case that Fiends vilified intellectual engagement and made being intellectually lazy, cool. It was funny and it was entertainment and it had a ring of truth to it. The reason my friend sent me the article was that we had just been discussing what I believe is the biggest threat to American Business. It isn’t politics and it isn’t the economy, it’s stagnant thinking. For my money, the two are related because stagnant thinking is a direct result of the intellectual disengagement made popular by TV shows like Friends. We live in an era where fake news is a real term. Where the average American reads one book a year, and half of those are romance novels. I’m not going to go all Thai Lopez in his garage on you here, but I truly believe that the answer is in getting back to books. Consider what we gain:

Fresh Ideas

I never read a book without getting at least one new idea. Whether it’s something that will help grow my business, improve my physical performance, or my relationship with my family, picking up fresh ideas makes the time I spend reading a worthy investment.


We may never get to be in the presence of some of the world’s greatest thinkers, but thanks to books, we can learn their ideas. Spending an afternoon with Grant Cardone to learn sales, Mark Twain to learn humor, or Tony Robbins to break habits, isn’t only possible, it’s rewarding.


Most of the people I know complain about not getting enough sleep. It’s little wonder considering those same people binge on Netflix in their evenings rather than reading. Getting to sleep is a lot easier if we unplug before bed with a book rather than a phone or a remote.

Feelings of Accomplishment

Think for a second how many wins you get in the average week. If yours are anything like mine, there aren’t many. Since I’ve taken up reading a book a week, I’ve noticed that the biggest benefit of all has been the feeling of accomplishing something when I get to the last page. Finding a win isn’t always easy, but finishing a book makes it possible  Yes, there are many benefits to reading books. Picking up fresh ideas, finding a mentor, relaxing and the feelings of accomplishment are only a few. Fixing our stagnant thinking, however, is the biggest benefit of all. Intellectual disengagement is a serious issue, but luckily, the cure is only a book away.  ]]>