Friday, August 30, 2013

Cool Things My Friends Do: Jason Alba - 51 Alternatives To A Real Job

Each Friday on this blog I enjoy highlighting some of the cool things my friends do in their personal and professional lives.

My friend Jason Alba was laid off from a successful IT career in 2006.  What followed is a familiar story of a rough road to finding a new job.  Along the way he created, and has never returned to "Corporate America".

Jason has just released his third book (he is famous for his first, "I'm on LinkedIn... Now What?"). This new release is "51 Alternatives To A Real Job".  In this book her chronicles the stories of 51 people who have carved out their own answers to a career.  These include Babysitter, Event Planner, Home Stager, Personal Trainer, Leather Vinyl Doctor, and the Founder/Inventor of Ooh La Bra (which is my favorite story in the book, and I will tell you why down the page).

Jason has spent years traveling around the U.S. speaking to unemployed professionals and executives for a eight years.  In his travels he was always speaking to highly talented people, but many of them had been out of work for long periods of time and some were losing hope.  As he chatted with people, either at the event where he spoke or in local coffee shops, he started to realize that their was power in what he was learning from people who were finding alternative ways to earn money and get back into the workforce.  BOOM, the idea for this book was born.

One of the stories he tells in the book is about Lisa Angelos McKenzie, the founder of Ooh La Bra.  What is cool is that he discovered Lisa, and her story, by reading about her on MY blog.  I have written about Lisa's entrepreneurial journey twice - including her being featured on a "Cool Things My Friends Do" post in December 2012.  I find it extra cool that one of my friends writes about another one of my friends in his book.... and they connected from reading my blog!

"51 Alternatives to A Real Job" is currently available on Kindle (via for $9.99, and is available for order on Jason's website in paperback for $19.99.  

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Law Firms on Business Development

This fall I am working with several law firms.  I am leading programs on how to get the team more engaged in business development activities (or I am teaching a seminar on presentation skills for business).  I am excited about this, as when I launched my business in 2009 I had thought I would do about 40% of my work in the legal industry.  I had spent four years working inside two AM Law 100 firms (as business development and marking manager), and understand the unique challenges that lawyers face when it comes to networking, branding, sales, and business development.

However, the recession kept many firms from hosting internal partner retreats, section meetings, and associate educational programs.  When they did have these meetings, they did not hire as many outside consultants.  

In 2013 there is a renewed interest inside firms to get the team engaged (beyond just their practice).  Clearly lawyers must do great work, but a law firm is a business (some are small businesses, others are large businesses), and to succeed they must make new client acquisitions a priority.  Additionally, the business of law has become more competitive.... and firms that are sitting back hoping for clients to show up are not seeing growth.

With 2013 coming to a close there is a push for end of year meetings to get the firms focused on a new year.  It is these events where I bring extra value, as those who are serious about making changes to how they approach their relationship to their communities can make small tweaks that lead to big results.  

A meeting must have a clear desired outcome, or it is a waste of time and money.  While these firms retreats are fun (usually include golf, food and drinks), there must be an ongoing dialogue established that continues to impact the firm's culture into the future.  Results are not wishes!

Lawyers can be funny when it comes to the "business development" thing.  Some firms forbid consultants to use the word "Sales", as they think it is somehow a dirty word.  But any business owner will tell you that without sales, there is no business.  

My view is that lawyers are entrepreneurs, regardless of if they are in small or large firms.  The commitment and focus on business growth that successful entrepreneurs have must be the same for an attorney.  Both partners and associates are responsible for their own practice, and thus when they adopt a business owner mindset, they discover more opportunities. Lawyers can sell.

The most fun lawyers to work with are those who are excited to try new things and who embrace business development as the key to ensuring their practice has a bright future.  Firms that make "sales" a priority are seeing more work come in the doors. 

Many law firms are bullish on sales and business development this year, and it makes my work more rewarding.

Have A Great Day

thom singer
thom (at)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

3 Tips To Becoming A Professional Speaker

The phone has rung three times this week with inquiries from people who want to get paid to speak. "I want to be a speaker" or "How can I get paid to speak?" seems to be popping up in many conversations (with me, but also several of my peers are reporting a rising curiosity about the speaking business).

Recently I viewed an online video of a professional speaker teaching an eager audience how to get paid for their talks.  He had a packed room of attendees that all were interested in discovering their own path to professional speaking.  They asked a lot of questions and hung on his every word.  He is not the only person teaching classes on "How To Make Money Speaking".  But can one learn this complicated business from a course or does the journey need to have more customization?  I have found it often involves a lot of lessons from the School of Hard Knocks!

Over the years I've had conversations with many people who inquired about how to grow and cultivate a speaking career, but lately there is an increased desire for people to be paid for sharing their stories, thoughts, ideas and advice.   I am currently coaching two people who are entering the business and developing their own path toward being a paid professional speaker (and one of those who inquired this week is seeking a formal mentor... not just wanting to "pick my brain").

If someone has a desire to be a professional speaker (or to follow any dream) I think they should go for it.  While not everyone will find success, one has to try for their goals if they are serious about wanting to achieve them.  A speaking career does not from the sky, as it takes a lot of attention and intention.

The speaking business is not unique, but it is quirky.  Too often people assume they understand how it works because they have been at many conferences and watched "speakers".  However, things are not always the same on the inside as they appear on the outside.  How we define "speaker" also makes a difference, but most see anyone on stage in the same category (not true).  

Professional Speakers, Public Speaker, Industry Speakers, Celebrity Speakers, Content Speakers, Entertaining Speakers (Humorists), Workshop Speakers, Keynote Speakers, etc.... are all different in what they bring to an audience (and different people define each category differently).  The celebrities get paid very high fees to speak, and these amounts can be HUGE.  But the money is not the whole business.  There is a motivation behind why any speaker is selected, and that goes much deeper than the size of a fee.

Most conferences cannot afford the celebrities, but many still pay for those who present.  Some only pay for keynotes, and use free speakers for breakout sessions.  Others not pay any of the speakers they use.  The amount that is paid matches the value that the organizer expects to receive from that speaker, and what they desire them to bring to the event (celebrities are often seen as a draw to increase attendance, and thus they are paid for that value).

Bill Clinton has received over $700,000 for a single speech (earning over $13 million in speaking fees in 2011), and regularly gets over $250,000 for an appearance.  Wow, that is a big number... but how much do others get?  (The answer is: a lot less!!! If you were not the leader of the free world you should not expect to compete at those levels).

The realities of a speaking career are different for every speaker.  Celebrity speakers command big dollars, while others speak for free to promote their business, sell their products, etc...  Some of those who are speaking for no money are better speakers than some of the celebs.  There is no consistency, as each person's topic and skill levels vary -- and each event has different needs, expectations and budgets. 

The amount one is paid is not only about the content they deliver.  There is a weird mix of factors that are hard to define and cannot be quantified.  A speaker should never be viewed as a commodity item that is plugged into a conference agenda (and the best Meeting Planners invest a lot of time and effort in vetting the right speakers to set the tone for their events).  The speakers help weave the culture of a conference, and thus their contributions are important to the overall success of the event.

"Skill" is a subjective thing to define, but those who build outstanding speaking careers (with or without fame) are AWESOME at connecting with their audiences.  (Bill Clinton is an amazing speaker who captivates crowds of 100 or 50,000 with how he touches people individually with his words.... that, coupled with his fame, is why he is the highest earning speaking in the world).  If you want to be a speaker, make sure you understand that your involvement with the meeting is more than the hour you spend on stage!

Three Things To Do If You Want To Be Paid To Speak

1.  Learn the business.  This does not mean make assumptions by observing speakers.  Invest your time and money in understanding the different models of how people earn money as speakers (there are several).  Learn what it means to be a professional speaker and develop friendships with other speakers.  Do not stalk the celebrity speakers, with the hopes of being "discovered" (this rarely happens), as the celebrity business plan for speaking is different from yours (their phone rings because of their name, yours does not).

Find people who are at your level or a few steps above your experience.  Learn from them, but also help them achieve success. Create a mastermind group and make real friendships with those who are working in the business.  The best way to do this is to get involved with the National Speakers Association.  While you may not qualify for membership right away, understand what it takes to join and make that your first goal.  Attend local and national NSA events with the purpose of building relationships and learning about the business of speaking.  Do not expect any gigs to come from your involvement, but know that the knowledge and connections will come in very handy down the road.

Study what other speakers do to promote themselves.  Do not copy their work, but get inspiration from their success.  If you do not have speaker friends, then invest in paying a coach or mentor.  Avoid the ones who talk about fame and big money (unless you are already famous or know how to get famous), and respect that they are professionals who should be compensated for their knowledge.  Asking to "pick their brain" is the same as calling and saying "Can I have free consulting?".

There is a lot written about the business of speaking, some of it is even good.  Make the topic a priority and learn all you can.  If not you will repeat the same mistakes that others have made for decades and get frustrated that you are not finding the level of success you desire.

2.   Go speak.  Talking about speaking, and studying others, is not the same as getting real experience.  Look for local clubs and other organizations where you can deliver your talks.  Do not worry about getting paid.... if you are good, that will follow.  Too many "experts" think they should command high fees before they have crafted their personal style and stage presence.  Speaking is more than facts and statistics.  The power that a great speaker has comes from the way he or she tells the stories that support their content.  Content alone is not king.  If audiences only wanted content they could log read a White Paper on the internet.  People who listen to speakers crave a mix of valuable information and the speakers ability to captivate their soul.

I have read that it takes over 300 "professional level speeches" to reach Malcolm Gladwell's "10,000 Hours Theory" experience level as a speaker.  A "professional level" speech can be many things, but my definition is that you were invited to speak for a keynote or breakout session (does not matter if you were paid or not) to a crowd of more than 25 people.  This event is not internal for the company where you work, and you did not organize the event yourself (and is not at your Toastmasters Club).  Once you have given 300 talks at this level, you will know for sure if you are good or not.  People are often polite and say "nice speech" to those who are not that great, but if you have delivered 300 talks (and are good at it) you will find business coming to you.

3.  Be awesome.  You cannot fake being a good speaker.  Audiences know the difference between someone who is experienced and invested time to prepare their presentation.  You should never present without planning your speech and practicing for hours.  The amount of time you rehearse will depend on your level of skill and the material you are presenting, but I never go on stage without preparation.  

People can sense a speaker who is "winging it", relying on personality and charm, or hiding behind graphs, charts, stats, and quotes.  Too many people who take the stage assume they are "just fine" in their ability to speak - and that leaves audiences coming up short in their experience.  Being asked to give a speech is an honor, and should never be taken lightly.  The presentation is about the audience (not the speaker) and he or she should be dedicated to having an impact on those who are listening.  It is called "Giving A Speech", and thus you should always remember that your talk is a "gift" to the audience.

When I advise people to be "AWESOME" I get funny looks, as we do not live in a society that encourages people to work hard to improve themselves to the point of unequaled excellence.  But that is what you should try to do in this long journey.  I have seen speakers begin their talk by saying that they are not a very good speaker, but just a person there to share (they hope being self deprecating will endear them to the crowd).  That message tells the audience that they have not committed to this talk, nor do they care about if they are any good (as the talk is about the speaker, not the audience).  If you are not as good as you can be, then make it a priority to improve, but do not tell the audience you suck.  Never cheat the crowd out of your potential.  

The best speakers I know are always looking at video of their presentations and seeking ways to improve after each talk.  They hire speech coaches and ask for feedback from those qualified to give an evaluation that will candidly share ideas to help them reach a higher level.  You should not be the same person the platform at your 15th presentation as you will be at your 300th.  If you are, then you are not making improvement a priority.  Strive to become AWESOME and you will be better right from the start.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

****If you are seeking a mentor to help you learn about the speaking business, I may have some slots available (I can only work with a few people at any given time) or I can refer you to some amazing coaches that understand the business and will challenge you to excel.  Contact me thom (at) for more information.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Networking Revisited: 3 Ways To Ensure You Get Value From Your Business Relationships

Many folks roll their eyes at the idea of "Networking".  They have come to associate the concept with some uneasy schmoozing or phony butt-kissing activities.  There are consultants and coaches who counsel their clients against networking and instead recommend "connecting" (umm, that is like advising against breathing but instead recommending putting air into your lungs through involuntary and repetitive inhalations and exhalations.  Same thing folks.... changing the words does not matter.  A rose by any other name....).  

I have seen speakers proclaim, "Networking is dead, it is all about connecting!" - Oh Please!  Nice words, but networking is alive and well... and when done correctly it can have a huge impact on your career and the lives of others.  Can call it what you want, but people who are committed to cultivating strong business relationships often have more opportunities.

When asking people for definitions of "networking" one gets a variety of thoughts on the topic.  However, I have found the best description is:
"The creation of long-term and mutually-beneficial relationships between two or more people where all those involved in the relationship succeed more because of the connections than they would without."
Key words: long-term and mutually beneficial.  If it is one sided (or a quick hit) it is not networking.  People who show up at industry events looking for favors without a commitment to the greater community are not networking.  Being part of somebody's network means you are invested in their success in addition to your own.

Three Ways To Ensure You Get Value from Networking:

1.  Long Term Commitment.  If you show up at a business event to meet people expecting fast results for your business you will leave disappointed.  The networking does not take place at an event, conference or other gathering where you meet business professionals (online or offline).  The place you meet is simply a tool for starting a conversation.  Networking happens over the years that follow.  You will not develop an ongoing you relationship with everyone you meet, however those with whom you cultivate ongoing connections are the people that will become part of your long term circle of influence.  You help them and they help you, but nobody keep score.

Meeting someone once does not make them part of your network.  It makes them someone you have met once!

2.  Kill the Elevator Pitch.  We spend a lot of time teaching business professionals to create an elevator pitch about who they are and what they do for a living.  Cute and catchy multi-sentence descriptive phrases do not get others excited or interested when they meet you.  Instead of immediately talking about yourself and your company (and reciting a rehearsed monologue), ask them questions about their business and personal life.  Take an interest in what is important in their world long before you talk about yours.  (Note:  it is important to be able to clearly and concisely tell others about you, just do not lead with it).

Do not make networking all about your needs.  Start the relationships by showing you care about their future success as well as your own.

3.  Refer Business to Other People Everyday.  It is interesting that those who say networking does not work are often the same people who almost never go out of their way to help others find new business.  We live in a busy world and we are all trying to find out own success, but if you only focus on your own needs then you cannot establish a real network (or reap the rewards from networking).  

Zig Ziglar said it best: "You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want".  Look back at your past month and determine how often you directly referred business or talked up others (including online).  If you increase your efforts to help others find success, you will see more success.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Friday, August 23, 2013

Cool Things My Friends Do: Today Show's Biggest Fan Contest Winners

Each Friday on this blog I enjoy highlighting some of the cool things my friends do in their personal and professional lives.

This year's winner of the Today Show's Biggest Fan Contest is my friend Kathy Mayer and her twin daughters Sarah and Natalie.  The three submitted a video with a song they wrote and performed about why they should be selected as the winners.  They were chosen and flown to New York City to appear on the Today Show and see the One Direction concert (with VIP seats and a chance to meet the band) in Rockefeller Center Plaza.

A record crowd of over 18,000 fans (mostly screaming teenage girls) crowded the streets around the NBC studio to view the concert.  I saw on Facebook that they were in New York to be on the Today Show, but was not sure why, so I tuned in to find out.  Wow, that was really cool.  Their family did a great job of representing all of Austin (and I am sure all the girl's friends were jealous seeing them hug the guys from One Direction just before the group took the stage).

People often roll their eyes at the thought of entering contests, thinking they have no chance of wining.  But Kathy and her kids are a great example that someone will win.... thus, you might as well give it a try.  If you want something in this world you are better off trying than sitting on the sidelines.

This is cool.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Labeling Others

It is easy to categorize people, so we do it often.  Putting people into a box makes it more convenient, especially if it is a negative box that will allow us to feel superior.   

Yet we should not make snap decisions that pre-judges others via a short observation.  People are complex.  While it is simpler to jump to conclusions about another person, it is short sighted.  We cannot know the heart and soul of someone we view from across the room (even with the added power of our rolled eyes and shared whispers of disapproval).  

With the majority of people we encounter it is nearly impossible to make conclusive judgments as we do not see all of their intentions and actions.  The whole person is never displayed through what we see if we do not know them well.  A glimpse of how someone behaves is hardly enough.  It takes time to really understand someone.

"Oh, she is a ____________"....  Or "he is always a____________" can shut people out.  Decisive language that diminishes others will give us a moment of feeling superior, but it also shows more of our own character when we are the one doing the labeling (than it does about the person being labeled).

Additionally, our observations are often wrong.  We cannot always know the back-story.  There are many occasions where over time I have come to discover my early opinions of people were misguided.  By using conclusive language and labeling we can hurt our chances to see the amazing contributions that others bring.  When we dismiss people as "wrong", we can never learn from their brilliance (and yes, I think most of us have brilliance to share).

I often see those who belittle others to make a point.  This is common, even though many do no cite those they attack by name.  This frightens me, as I am sure I do this from time to time.  (Heck, I might be doing it right now??  As I said, being human is complex... and trying to improve means some hard self exploration!).

The more you surround yourself with people who are different from you, the more you grow as a person.  Some of the people who have the biggest influence on me come from different backgrounds, political beliefs, religions, sexual orientations, etc.... I enjoy being around those who do not fit a "mold".  My friend Patrick says that if he only hung out with people like himself he would constantly be surrounded by "6'4" Rednecks" (classic!).

My business has grown as I have allowed myself to create friendships with other speakers who have a variety of different success models.  Not every way of cultivating a practice in the business is right for me, but when I see others achieving their goals it is inspiring.  Being dismissive only hurts me.  As a member of the National Speakers Association I have had the pleasure to learn from dozens of peers that have carved their own paths.

The next time you are at a networking event look for people who do not meet the profile of those with whom you normally congregate.  Instead of judging, get to know your new acquaintances by taking an interest in them as a person.  Leave your eye rolling for your next optometrist appointment.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Top Golf -Austin

Lots of people in Austin have been talking about Top Golf.  I was not sure what it was all about, but with school about to start in five days we were looking for one last family outing of the summer.  We piled the kids in the car and drove to North Austin to check out this new entertainment center.

Before sharing, let me add... I do not golf.  I like golf and I wish I golfed.  But I am a "lame-o" on the links, and it takes more time to master the sport than I have ever been willing to dedicate.  

Top Golf is cool.  It is fun.  My wife (who also does not golf) enjoyed the evening.  The kids loved it.  

Even on a Tuesday at 5 PM the place was packed.  The facility was interesting, in a very unique and classy sort of way.  It is a combination of swanky restaurant / bar, driving range, miniature golf, and a video live action game.  Each ball you hit is embedded with a computer chip that keeps track of who hit the ball and every hole (or whatever you call it) has sensors that counts the points scored.

The first time you go to Top Golf you must pay for a lifetime membership.  It is only $5 per person, but chalk up a fast $20 for a family of four.  By the time we rented the bay for an hour, had a drink in the bar, and then ordered dinner we topped $125 for about an hour of fun.  A bit pricey for an fast outing with the kids, but since the membership is a one time thing, and food and drink are optional.... the next time we go back it will not hit the wallet with the same bite.  

It was a lot of fun.  The technology is great.  And even if you suck at golf you can get the ball into the holes, as they are about 20 feet across.    

Clearly this is even more fun if you enjoy golfing.  I watched some of the people in the other bays and they were much more competitive in their efforts.

The downside of Top Golf is that the hour goes by very quickly.  The computer program asks several times if you want to extend your time by another hour, and this was very tempting, as everyone was having a great time.  But after 6 PM the extra hour costs $40 to rent the bay.  I like my kids, but there was no adding one more hour to this visit (yeah, yeah, the kids pointed out that I am a cheapskate). The good news is we will be going back.

If you live in Texas, Virginia, Illinois, Georgia (coming soon) or Arizona (coming soon)... or in the United Kingdom, you should check out Top Golf.  It is a great experience.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Monday, August 19, 2013

Essay on Generosity (3 of 7)

Did you know that Franklin D. Roosevelt was the founder of the March of Dimes?  The organization, which now raises money for research for preventing birth defects and premature births, was founded in 1938 to raise money for research and to assist those who were effected by polio.  The organization reached instant national recognition because of the popularity of it's founder and his personal ties to the disease (the president could not walk because of his own battle with polio).

The organization was originally founded as National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, but the term "March of Dimes" was coined because of the original request that every child in the country donate one dime (the name was officially changed in the 1970s). These little dimes added up to make a big difference.  

(Their mission was changed to the prevention of birth defects in babies after Jonas Salk's polio vaccine mostly irradiated the disease -- but they continued to raise money through small donations in communities).

I remember my mother volunteered as a block captain for the March of Dimes in the 1960s and 1970s.  She would visit each of our neighbors and ask for donations, that were put into a small can, which she would turn in at the end of the designated week each year.  As a young child I would go with her on these social calls, and sometimes the money she raised was only a few coins from each person.  I remember her talking with me about how a few cents alone may not seem as though it could not have an impact, but if every block in the country raised just a few dollars, the amount of money would add up to huge amounts of money.  She told me she volunteer because it only took a couple of hours a year, and that those who are fortunate need to find little ways to give back.

To make a difference in our world you do not need to create a new organization or have a President of the United States champion your cause.  There are plenty of causes that are already being served by amazing charities, and while in our entrepreneurial society people like to start new groups, we do not always have to launch something new.  The spirit of generosity in people looks for ways to get out, but too often we think it must be through a grand act if it is to have meaning.  I disagree, as it is the small things done over time that add.

Just as those single dimes from children, or the small donations from neighbors, added together to cure polio, your small actions will stack upon themselves.  Being a catalyst is not necessarily about being the founder or leader of an organization.  Any one of us can take our own generosity and grow it by stacking our donations of time and money over a lifetime.  

It is easy to get started.  Begin today by doing something small.  Then repeat it over and over again.  Years from now you will discover that it added up.  You will look back and say "What?  I did that?".  Time has a way of allowing our small efforts to grow.  

You can make a difference.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Friday, August 16, 2013

Cool Things My Friends Do: Art Markman - Director, University of Texas HDO

Each Friday on this blog I enjoy highlighting some of the cool things my friends do in their personal and professional lives.

This week I had coffee with my new friend, Art Markman.  Art is the director of a new type of executive education program at the University of Texas at Austin. The Human Dimensions of Organizations program is focused on understanding the people who drive today's global marketplace and offers two types of innovative education opportunities:
The HDO's Master of Arts degree was created for leaders in the business and nonprofit sectors searching for a more comprehensive understanding of how human behavior and experience affects the global marketplace.
One-day Professional Seminars allow businesses, nonprofits, and individuals the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of particular subjects often unavailable in an executive-friendly format.
Next week they kick off their first class of graduate students.  It is a very cool program, and after spending time on their website I am interested in enrolling in several of their one day seminars (the dates of these upcoming programs were not published when I wrote this post).  Many of their topics are complimentary to what I already believe about human engagement, and I am excited to have the opportunity to learn academic specifics from the amazing professors in this program.

This HDO brings together some of UT Austin’s finest researchers in the Humanities and the Social and Behavioral Sciences with an interest in educating the rising generation of leaders in the business and nonprofit communities.

Art is also a professor of psychology & marketing at UT and an active business consultant, speaker, and author.  He proclaims himself a "collector of people", and from the moment we met it was clear that he is someone who understands the power of relationships and actively promotes the success of those in his network.  

I look forward to seeing his new program expand, as I am confident that many professionals in Austin (and beyond) will benefit from this educational opportunity.  Check it out!

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Presentation Skills Can Be Your Secret Weapon

There is opportunity when you or someone from your company is asked to present at a conference, or be part of an expert panel at an industry luncheon.  However, too often this opportunity to put your organization in the spotlight is lost in a blah presentation.  If the person speaking is not committed to their preparation, then why present at all?

Too many business executive believe they can wing it.  When I coach executives on their speaking skills I find that most assume they are good speakers because they are knowledgeable about their subject.  However, my mantra is "Just because someone is smart, or has done something cool, it does not mean they belong on the stage".  There is a big difference between knowing a topic and being able to communicate your message and inspire an audience.  It takes time to learn how to properly present and each speech requires hours of preparation to ensure you are delivering value to an audience.

This is not just true for giving a formal presentation at a conference, but also in any form of communication.  I recently had the chance to sit in on a workshop taught by one of the countries leading communication experts, Stacey Hanke.  Stacey is a friend of mine and a fellow member of the National Speakers Association.  Her company, Stacey Hanke, Inc, educates professionals on how to communicate with influence.  In her classes she and her team help people learn the special tools that keeps them from either memorizing a whole talk or "winging it".  The clients who complete her classes are better prepared to get their points across in all areas of their lives.

Presentations Skills can be your companies SECRET WEAPON.  Too few people make learning to present a priority, and thus your team could run circles around the competition every time someone is on a stage.  Even some of those who speak regularly (and professionally) are not coachable, and assume the positive feedback from their audiences is proof of their abilities.  The best professional speakers I know are always looking to enhance their platform skills.  I regularly seek input from experienced speakers and watch videos of my presentations (Stacey Hanke and her team recommend everyone watch themselves on video, as there is no other way to know what you are really doing).  Constant commitment to improvement is the only way someone can get better with their speaking skills.

Do the people in your company care about how well they reach an audience when they speak?  Let me ask this another way,.... Does your team care about finding new business and growing the brand of the company?  

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Friday, August 09, 2013

10 Tweets On Association Membership Engagement

Recently I have lead several workshops / facilitated discussions with groups of association leaders on ways to get the members in their chapters more engaged.  When I am the keynote speaker at events I am often asked to also run interactive breakout sessions. I love doing this, as I learn from the attendees about any number of topics.

Sessions at conferences where the participants explore ideas and share their own experiences can be powerful.  As a speaker I have thoughts to share, but there is a unique power in group conversations.  I will always kick off these chats with some generic concepts and then let them go.  Fasten you seat belts, as there is always cool stuff coming!

Below I have taken some of the key points from these recent conversations and turned them into Tweets.  Feel free to use them if they resonate with you.  Tweet away! (no need to give me credit, as with only 140 characters it is more important to share the ideas).

10 Tweets With Ideas For Association Engagement

If you want better member engagement at your meetings, create amazing events that people will talk about when they get home!  

Have a plan to set a positive tone for culture, conversation & connection at association meetings. Do not let culture happen by accident

Keep your association growing by being a place for all generations. Get beyond "we've never done that" or "they need to pay their dues" 

The best organizations have Mentor Programs and Reverse Mentor Programs (older members teach the younger & younger members teach the older)

Never assume you know why members participate in your association.  There are many reasons, find out why people want to join your group.

Don't hide from the "elephants in the room".  If your association or committee has something that bothers members, discuss it. 

Many associations are still not successful at being active on social media before, during and after their events. Keep your people engaged

Membership recruitment does not happen by accident.  Seek out the types of people you want in your organization and ask them to join.

Create a "Praise Others Program" in your monthly meeting where 2 or 3 people sign up (in advance) to share good news about another member

If your association meetings have cliques and newer members feel excluded, find ways to let them create their own communities.

Always find a way to give your association membership MORE than they expect at every meeting and in every communication.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

*Yes, I know there are 11 Tweets... re-read the last one ;-)

Cool Things My Friends Do: Cheers to NSA XY

Each Friday on this blog I enjoy highlighting some of the cool things my friends do in their personal and professional lives.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the National Speakers Association Annual Convention.  This was the 5th year I have participated in this event, and I credit NSA with much of my success in the speaking business.  It is not so much the organization, as it is the cool people I have come to call my friends.  These people inspire me, share ideas, refer business, and lead by example on how to find your way in this quirky industry.

The first time I attended an NSA Conference I knew nobody.  I arrived at the hotel to find over 1000 speakers, and being new to the business, I felt lost in the crowd.  While there was a "First Timers Reception", there was too much going on for me to grasp (and I teach people how to connect at events!).  Not that the group was any more "cliquey" than other associations, I just felt as though I was not included.

That first day I encountered a group called NSA XY.  This was a group of speakers my age and younger who had formed a peer community for those in Generations X and Y (born 1964 or later).  While some of these "younger" speakers had been in the business for decades (I wish I had begun my speaking career in my 20's), others were newer to the profession (like me).  They were welcoming and instantly I began developing connections that today are some of my most important friendships.

Too often associations can seem overwhelming by their size.  As groups grow, they can lose that family feeling that is part of why people stay involved in organizations.  Creating peer communities allows people to have something tangible.  When members feel connected, they are more likely to stay engaged and give back to the organization.  What is exciting is to see so many of my friends now taking leadership roles in the greater organization.

While I enjoy all the benefits of my NSA membership, my involvement in NSA XY has been the reason I stay active and have never missed an annual convention.  This year I had the honor of being asked to serve on the XY Board, and I have attended my first NSA XY Meet Up in Chicago (informal regional gatherings of peer who discuss important topics in a day-long facilitated discussion format).  I have also joined a formal Mastermind Group that was created with some of my XY peers (although this mastermind is not only comprised of XY folks).  The XY group also hosts educational Google + Hangouts twice a month where we discuss industry topics (these are open to all NSA Members, and are recorded for those who want to view them later.... as the group is not designed to be exclusive, but rather as a peer group that is in full support of the greater organization).  

My "Cool Things My Friends Do" blog post this week is dedicated to my peers in NSA XY who all do such cool things in their careers and who have gone out of their way to help me find a home inside this large and diverse association. I have seen many of them present live (when any of them are in Austin, TX it is my goal to get to their presentation if I am in town) and I try to refer them to meeting planners who are seeking speakers on any variety of topics. 

Few people outside the meetings industry realize that the business of speaking is made up of amazing professionals who are extremely dedicated to having positive impacts on the lives of their audiences.  I applaud these friends who have helped me learn and grow in this business.... and I thank them for helping me maximize my membership in the National Speakers Association.

If you belong to any industry association, find your "warm nest of friends".  Creating meaningful connections with your peers will have a positive impact on your career.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Essay on Generosity (2 of 7)

“It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”                                      --Mother Teresa
Why do we give?

In 2002 our youngest daughter, Kate, was born.  Before she turned 6-months-old it was determined that she would need a serious surgery to correct the growth patterns of her skull.  She had been diagnosed with a condition called Sagital Synostosis, which resulted in the bones in her head having fused together prematurely.  As she grew, her head could not expand correctly, which was caused her skull to become mis-shaped.  

At that time the city where we lived, Austin, Texas, did not have a state of the art children's hospital.  As we searched our options, we discovered that we may have to travel to find the right doctor to perform the surgery.  Through a series of personal connections we ended up in the care of the fantastic doctors and staff at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego, California.

After a three hour surgical procedure and several months of recovery, Kate was fine.  The surgery was as success and the bones in her head had  re-grown into the correct shape.  Today is great, and has no ongoing issues from the ordeal.  She was too young at the time to have any memory of what we went through -- although her mother and I will never forget.  It was very scary, and we have come to realize how fortunate we are to have our two wonderful and healthy children.

Like many who survive a rough episode, we longed to not allow the issues we faced to be for naught.  We had felt very alone when Kate was diagnosed, and we wanted to find a way to help others who faced similar situations. 

There are many opportunities to contribute time, money and moral support to charitable causes, but at the time we did not have the financial resources to write a big check, and as we researched our options, it seemed as if there was no place in philanthropy for those who were not wealthy.  We reached out to several organizations, and without large sums of money, none seemed interested in our intentions to serve a cause. 

In 2007 the new Dell Children's Medical Center opened its doors in Austin.  A few months before the facility was dedicated I was introduced to a woman, Mandy Cloud, who worked for the hospital's foundation.  She was the first person who showed a legitimate interest in our story, and my family's desire to support a cause that would help others.  The hospital's foundation had several programs in which people could become involved that did not involve being a major donor.  Together we came up with the idea of committing to an ongoing giving plan that would raise money for the "Cranio-Facial" research group at the new hospital.

We created the Kate Singer Endowment for Cranio-Facial Research, and my family pledged 5% of my speaking fees to be earmarked for this fund.  I was not yet a full-time professional speaker at that point, and the pledge seemed small.  But over time these donations, and some contriubitions from clients, friends and family, quickly brought us to the level of having a fully-funded endowment to the foundation.

After we reached the donation level we had originally desired we had made the commitment to keep going.  By this time I was full-time in the speaking business.  With my own "start-up" company the 5% was much more noticeable in our personal budget.  Our next step was to approach Rady Children's Hospital's Foundation and create a similar giving program.  We moved our 5% donations to that fund, and once we reach the same level of giving we intend to split the giving into 2.5% for each hospital indefinitely.  

As of the time of this writing the combined amounts in the two endowments is over $25,000 between our giving and the generosity of others.  This has been done over several years in small checks.  Each time I get paid, we figure out the 5% and mail a check.  Someday I will have earned over $1 million (over several years) in speaking fees, but if I had waited until that time to make a donation, the  $50,000 would have been spent on daily life (that is a lot of Starbucks Coffee!).  Instead, by making micro-sized donations over many years it is adding up to become a meaningful number.

My wife and I do not come from families that have their names on the walls of hospitals.  But by being committed to a cause for a long period of time, we have created something that has lasting meaning and will make an impact.  

At the time we started it seemed silly to send checks for $70 from time to time, but as my speaking career has grown, and the fees have gone up, we have come to realize that there is power in layering these small amounts consistently.  Much like there is power over time in saving money for retirement, there is the same power in continuous giving.

It feels good to know that over time the endowments have grown into something tangible.  Too often charities only seek the "big fish" for donations, leaving those who do not have ample amounts of cash to feel they cannot make a difference.  But you can make a difference.  If you walked into any charity and wrote a $25,000 check they would be thrilled..... it should be no different if you make your contributions over time.

We found that donating to an existing charity was easier than establishing a new charitable foundation.  The paperwork was minimal.  A one page promissory note (not even legally binding) was all that was involved.  We do not have the ability to direct the funds, or how the interest from the money is spent, other than noting is should be used for the needs of the Cranio-Facial doctors at both hospitals.  However, we trust the judgement of these two foundations, and they have come to make us feel important in how we support their cause.  

People at any financial level can create a planned giving program that will make a difference.  If you want to give, do not anyone make you feel that you cannot have impact.  Find the right charity whose mission looks long-term and who will treat you as a real donor.  If they do not have a planned giving program in place, talk to them about creating one for you.  If they are not interested, move on and find another organization who wants to become your partner in giving.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Monday, August 05, 2013

Essays on Generosity (1 of 7)

"What is the use of living, if it not be to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?"  
                                                          -Winston Churchill
According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, it is not the wealthy that are the most generous.  The middle class in the United States donate a far bigger share of their discretionary income to charity.  While many say our society is selfish, there are countless people who are extremely generous with money, time and moral support to an unlimited number of good causes.

Giving is a personal issue and people give for a variety of reasons.  Much is written on the importance of giving, and in times of either economic prosperity or financial hardships there are always millions in the world who are in need of assistance.  As long as man has walked the earth there has been opportunities to serve others with a generosity of spirit.

There is something about being involved with cause that makes people feel connected.  Philanthropies often bring people together in their efforts to raise funds.  These charity walks, galas, online forums, social clubs, etc.... can be a way to connecting people.  While we live in a "social media crazy world", and even with all these digital "links", people often feel isolated.  The online social media groups that many frequent often lack the feeling of a "greater good" and fail to deliver the feeling of being part of something important.  Those seek meaning can find it in supporting a cause.

Many argue the dark side of large charities, and point to news stories where high percentages of their income go to salaries and overhead expenses.  While fraud and other problems are a real concern, we need to be careful not to discredit the good that is done by charities.  Most organizations do amazing work that impact the lives of those they serve.  One popular blogger whom I follow (but will not name here) wrote two highly popular posts about why people should not donate to charities.  He made some valid points, and encouraged people to participate in random acts of kindness.  While great in theory, too many fail to ever take the actions needed to solve the problems, and the formal programs of charities have to fill those gaps.

When selecting a charity to support you must be judicious in your selections process.  Make sure that the mission of the organization matches your plans for how you desire you money to be invested. Understand the business policies and history of the charity, and be sure you respect the people on the staff  and the board.  Once you commit long-term to a philanthropy you want to have a strong sense of trust in what they are doing.  If you cannot write a single large check, you may choose to give repetitively over many years, and knowing the long term vision of the organization will be important to your peace of mind. 

If you feel fortunate about the life you live, then giving back can be a natural desired course of action.  Finding a way to make a difference, if you are not wealthy, can be more difficult.  One friend wanted to donate 5% of her salary to a variety of causes, but at the end of the year she found she gave much less than she had intended. None of the small checks she wrote seemed to give her any sanctification of having made an impact on anything at all. I think having a single charity, or a few causes, and a structured plan for giving over a longer period of time can bring you more satisfaction.

Consistent acts of giving over a long period of time can add up to astonishing numbers in regards to time and money.  Both those who give, and the charities they fund, seem to focus on single donation amounts, but contributing over time to a planned giving program can equal or exceed those donations that are often reported in press releases.  You do not have to be rich to impact a charity, as a long term commitment to systematically giving any amount will add up over time.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Long Haul of Belonging To An Industry Association

People want immediate results.  Our society has become seduced by speed.  We expect to have whatever we desire to arrive NOW.  Fast food, instant communications, the ability to travel around the world, etc... have lead us to believe that all results come quickly.

Some things take time. The ROI from belonging to a group (social, spiritual, business, etc...) are not necessarily something that can be fast-tracked.  Social Media has fooled up into thinking that connections are just a click away.

I often write about the power of being active in your industry association or other trade organizations.  Power is gained from being connected with other people who share your interests that cannot be duplicated.  But the long-term results are just that.  You cannot instantly "like", "link", "share", or "follow" your way to be part of a community.

Participating in the National Speakers Association for the past five years has been an important part of my business success as a professional speaker.  I am often asked why I give so much credit to the organization, and my response is that the people with whom I have met have directly and indirectly helped me grow.  NSA provides much learning, but they really provide access to the best people in my business.  While the experience I had at my first NSA Convention was great, it cannot compare to the powerful ideas that came from participating in my 5th convention.  

Over the years I have learned how to navigate the conference and established meaningful connections with other speakers who have become my lifelong friends.  I am in regular contact with many of these professionals, and we trade best practices and serve as sounding boards in sifting through ideas.  I have become part of a "Mastermind Group" with four others, and they slowly are becoming my unofficial board of directors.  I look forward to hearing their latest success, and am inspired to share with them my own results.

Attending the NSA's summertime event once was fun... yet my dedication to continued participation in the organization has given me an annual benchmark for the growth of my business.  I always come home with pages of notes, and am repeatedly awed by the platform skills of my peers.  However it is over time that I have come to appreciate the variety of ways one can establish their career.  Seeing the keynote presentations and being around those who have reached the pinnacle of success makes me try harder.  Without this accumulation of information and observations over time I do not think I would have the level of understanding of the important role that speakers play in the Meetings Industry or the greater society.

While every person and each organization are different (and there is not always a fit for everyone in their industry group), the discovery of value from supporting your trade association can take many years. 

Many sour on these groups because they see those who have participated for years (sometimes decades) as having a lock on the key relationships.  But anyone can carve out their own community inside the larger whole.  Do not allow the cliquey nature of a group stop you from gaining the value that comes from participation.  Over time you can develop a reputation within your industry, and earn the respect of your peers that cannot be acquired instantaneously. 

Long time members in any organization often fail to see how they close their ranks in failing to welcome new members.  They host a "first timers reception" and check the box as being "welcoming".  This usually leads to a group of new members feeling left out.  Some never come back.  Not every association does a good job of creating a culture of connecting.   But those who persevere and continue to return will become more recognized over time.  

It is a long haul to belong to an industry association, and many who demand fast results will never stick around long enough to understand the value in participation.  When you find the right group you will need to make your own warm nest of friends inside the greater collective.  Together you will come to become leaders and leave your own impact on the whole organization (but be careful not to become the next clique).

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Friday, August 02, 2013

Cool Things My Friends Do: Ruby Newell-Legner To Lead National Speakers Association in 2015

Each Friday on this blog I enjoy highlighting some of the cool things my friends do in their personal and professional lives.

I spent much of this week attending the National Speakers Association Annual Convention.  This event has become an important stop each year in the pursuit of growing my speaking business.  The event is amazing, as it pulls together over 1000 professional speakers who share best practices and the stories of the road to success.  It is a heavy dose of learning, fun, late nights with friends, seeing the best presenters in the world, and the chance to build relationships with others who work in the crazy (but wonderful) speaking business.

On Tuesday it was announced that Ruby Newell-Legner would become the new vice president on the NSA board of directors.  She has been an active member of the board for several years, but this achievement puts her on the track to be president of NSA in 2015-2016.  She will spend the next two years preparing to lead the dynamic and ever changing organization.

Ruby is a wonderful person.  While I do not know her well, she has always been gracious and giving.  She has built a powerful business specializing in customer service, and she has an amazing list of clients who rave about her work.  When you visit her website you are greeted by the words "Great Customer Service Starts with Giving your Employees the Skills they Need to Succeed", and Ruby is an expert in educating and motivating teams.

I am excited for her and the organization. I know that her leadership will have a huge impact on the future of the industry.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Association Membership Sparks Deeper Learning Than Just What They Teach At Their Conference

Attending an industry conference for an association can be a mix of fun, learning, re-connecting with old friends, cultivating new relationships, late nights, gossip, too much wine, funny stories, political positioning, exposure to best practices, inspiration, envy, fresh ideas, witnessing greatness in your field, people judging others, etc...  It is good and bad stuff.  Some of the sessions you attend are amazing, others are flat.  Some of the people you encounter are sent from heaven, others are not your cup of tea.  But most of it is good.  Really Good!  The trick is to put the whole event on a mental scale and see where it tips, when the good out weighs the bad, focus on that (as there is always more good).

It is also interesting to be reminded that much of what we experience in life is subjective.  One person can be moved by a speaker, and other thinks they wasted their time in listening to the presentation.  There will be those who hate a social event or party at a conference, and others will love the whole program.  When we step back and watch how a community of conference attendees engage we learn greater lessons about business and life.

A membership association will expose you to wonderful marketing ideas and other business skills that are specific to your industry.  Additionally the people with whom you developed friendships can become like family.  There is a true commitment with some people lead others closer to success.  When you find your tribe in an association you are forever changed.  All opportunities come from people, and when you're with your "peeps" it changes everything.

At any one event there will not always be a single speaker or program that makes you say  "WOW".  If we judge the success of an event on having the right content all the time we will come up short.  I often return home from a conference with one or more nuggets of information that I immediately implement, but sometimes the power from attending is more subtle. There can be pages of notes, and a long list of "to do's", but my real experience can occasionally be more on a level of the soul.  I enjoy being challenged by smart people who do cool things.  Being engaged in an industry event can change how I see my world and make me work harder to be a better person.

Anytime you are immersed with people it is worth being reminded that we should not prejudge others or hold onto first impressions that could be wrong. Sometimes things happen and we make a decision about a person (or a group) and we never open up our hearts to discover anything beyond that one incident.  (I do it, and others do it, too. We are all impacted by human nature and personal ego!). It is hard to let go of an idea you placed in your mind, as it is akin to admitting you were wrong (nobody wants to be wrong). However, people are deep and complicated creatures and we cannot let superficial observations or one bad encounter let us miss what else is there.

I had an experience the first time I attended an industry event where I met a legend in the business I had joined.  In briefly meeting her at a conference I felt as though she treated me poorly since I was not established in the field.  But the experience was in my "feelings". I have no way of knowing her thoughts, motivations, or feelings toward me, or what she was doing at the time I said "hello".  Over time I have come to know of her as a wonderful and generous person who goes out of her way to serve the community.  While I have never had a reason to again interact with this person (and would never tell her about my first impression as her being aloof), I had judged the first encounter from my own insecurities.  I have friends who have long-term and powerful relationships with this person, and I am sure it was all a misunderstanding.  This happens often.   Communication between people is never easy, and at a conference with superficial "hello's", it can become more complicated.  The lesson I have learned is when I have a negative feeling in these types of situations, to remember that I can sometimes be wrong... and thus I owe it to try again.

There are many who do not see value in participating in industry groups, or have had one lame experience and stay away for the rest of their career.  Some feel they are outsiders because of age, gender, sexual orientation, personal style, etc.... and they allow the bastards to win by no longer being present.  But others stand tall and proud of who they are.  They triumph.  In leading in spite of adversity they rise above the muddy waters and teach us all so much.

When you attend an conference you may want to try looking beyond the agenda for the real learning.  Listen to people and explore how they view the world.  The real learning that comes from belonging to a group can come in the hallways, bars, or in your mind as you contemplate what you have seen and heard.  You never know who will inspire you.  We all have a lot to learn, we just have to be aware that the teachers are nearby.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer