16Dec 2014

Everyone makes a difference.neutrality is a myth

Not everyone realizes that. Most people grew up being told they could make a difference, not that they do make a difference. As a result, some people believe they can choose to be neutral, making neither a positive nor a negative difference.

In practice, that just isn’t so.

Have you recently encountered a person who didn’t seem engaged? Perhaps he or she seemed wrapped up in his own private world, and you were left with the impression that you weren’t important enough to gain admittance. Don’t you hate to be ignored that way?

If you were to press that person, he might tell you he was simply being “neutral.” He might not have been helpful or interested in you, but he wasn’t doing you any harm.

But to you, this person’s behavior came across as indifference, and that is the number one killer of business loyalty and damaging to all relationships.

In practical terms, neutrality is a myth.

You can’t engage the world in a meaningful way by being “neutral.” The perception on the part of others will be that they don’t matter enough for you to engage with.

I’ll state my point again for emphasis: everyone makes a difference. The choice we all have is whether we want to make a positive difference or a negative one. The important question isn’t, “Did you make a difference today?” The important question is, “What kind of difference did you make?”

For instance, have you made a positive or a negative difference to:

—Your client or customer, who was in a pinch and needed immediate attention?

—Your son or daughter, who wanted you to read to him or her when you were busy preparing for the next business day?

—The stranger on the way to work who said good morning to you without getting a response?

The positive or negative impact you have on each person above vary only in magnitude. The principle is the same. When you choose not to make a positive difference, you almost always make a negative one.

Our actions and behaviors matter more than we realize. What we choose to do can improve, even if only in some small way, the quality of another person’s day or life.

You decide what kind of difference maker you’ll be. Choose to make a bigger, bolder and better difference today in your personal and professional life.

(To find out more about The Fred Factor and how a postal carrier chose to be a powerful difference maker, go here.)


10Dec 2014

The “thought leader” epidemic has been interesting. From self-proclaimed thought leaders to exploding brainthose writing articles and books on how to be one (yes, I once wrote such an article), everyone it seems is or aspires to be a “thought leader.” I’ve never read anyone’s bio that claims they are a thought follower.

Maybe it is time to stop being a thought leader and just be a good thinker. There seems to be far less good thinking going on than there is thought leadership. Repackaging and regurgitating everybody else’s thinking does not a true thought leader make.

Think about the last time you read something truly insightful or different. I score most of what I read these days as interesting, but not particularly insightful (I do think Peter Theil’s new book, Zero to One, is quite insightful even if you don’t agree with his conclusions).

Rodin’s sculpture, The Thinker (originally named The Poet) is a great illustration. Most people never give the sculpture a second thought. They assume Rodin was recreating someone in the process of thinking. At a superficial level, that is true. But take another look. The Thinker’s right elbow is on his left knee. Try that position right now. It is awkward. It is difficult. It isn’t comfortable.

And that is the point. Thinking is all those things. Being a thought leader (as it is commonly practiced today) is more about hyperbole, PR, massive distribution and clever marketing. Einstein, and you can’t quarrel with his brilliance, is reputed to have said, “Thinking is hard work. That’s why so few do it.”

Thinking well is much more important than being a thought leader.

If you do think well, and have insights and ideas worth sharing, then share them. But don’t prequalify them by slapping the thought leader label on those ideas or yourself. If your ideas are that good, others will say, “Wow, that is good thinking!” And after all, true thought leadership is bestowed, not claimed.

Am I a thought leader? I can’t claim it, but I can claim to be dedicated to clear, critical thinking. I can invest the time, effort and discipline to do that. That, unlike labels applied by others, is within my control.

With the increasing complexity of the world accompanied by a great deal of foolishness, thinking seems harder and more important than ever. But my goal isn’t to be a “thought leader,” at least as commonly referenced. I aspire to be a good, if not great, thinker.

What about you?

09Dec 2014


For 25 years, The Five Friends have spent the bulk of their lives in hotels, airports and restaurants.  While they have much in common both personally and professionally, one of the things they love most is great food and a great dining experience.  If you travel and find yourself stuck in a city without a clue of where to get a great meal, perhaps this list of restaurants will inspire you.  And if you have a favorite The Five Friends should know about, then let us know what it is so we can enjoy it too.


From Scott McKain:

scott-mckain-headshotFavorite restaurant in the city you live: As we split our time between Vegas and Indianapolis – and “best Vegas restaurant” is already one category – I’ll go with Sullivan’s in Indy.  Sure, it’s easy to recommend St. Elmo’s as THE place to go in Indianapolis (and we love it there). Sullivan’s is a chain…however, the quality of the service is extraordinary and the food is terrific.

Favorite Las Vegas restaurant: Picasso. The ultimate dining experience – both from a culinary and experience standpoint. You may need a second mortgage for the trip, but if any restaurant is worth it, it’s this one.

Favorite hotel restaurant: Proof on Main at 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville. The Five Friends have dined here together. Maybe it was the company I was keeping – however, this American Southern restaurant 30 miles from my hometown also made the list of the 101 Best Hotel Restaurants in the World (at #17).

Favorite restaurant anyplace: Marque, Sydney. Hands down, the best dining experience I’ve ever had. You receive the menu after the meal – because you’re having whatever the chef is preparing. It’s eclectic – and amazing

Favorite new restaurant of 2014: Giada. OK, perhaps it is the crush I have on the beautiful and charming namesake chef, but her new place on the Vegas Strip is extraordinary.

Scott McKain teaches how organizations and individual professionals can create distinction in their marketplace, and deliver the “Ultimate Customer Experience ®.” For more information:


From Larry Winget:

larry-winget-headshotFavorite restaurant in the city you live: Cowboy Ciao. This is the place my wife and I call our “best place to impress an out-of-towner” and it’s our go-to place in Scottsdale. Do not miss The Stetson Chopped Salad.

Favorite Las Vegas restaurant: B&B Ristorante in Las Vegas. The only place I’ve ever walked out of, got 100 feet away, turned around, gone back and said, “Let’s do it all again.” It was that good. Don’t miss the beef cheek/duck liver ravioli or the grilled octopus.

Favorite hotel restaurant: Most of my favorite hotel restaurants are in Vegas since I travel there the most. So it’s Mesa Grill at Caesar’s Palace. The steak and pork chops are always great but I never miss the blue corn pancake with BBQ duck as an appetizer. And they usually have Pappy Van Winkle.

Favorite restaurant anyplace: Da Silvano, New York City. A great little Italian “joint” where the food is amazing and you will probably see celebrities as well. If you are there during the right season, don’t miss the pumpkin soup.

Favorite new restaurant of 2014: It’s not a new restaurant, but I just discovered it this year: Mustards Grill, Napa, CA. The pasta will bring tears to your eyes.

Larry Winget, the Pitbull of Personal Development®, is a six-time NYT/WSJ bestselling author, social commentator and appears regularly on many national television news shows. To find out more, go to


From Joe Calloway:

joe-calloway-headshotFavorite restaurant in the city you live: City House, Nashville. An Italian/Southern restaurant but not what you’d think. For example, I love the NC catfish with cornmeal crust, cauliflower, tomato, anchovy, garlic, and chilies.  For Winget I recommend the belly pizza. You’d love it, Larry.

Favorite Las Vegas restaurant: Craftsteak at the MGM. Vegas is restaurant heaven and there are ten I could name as my favorite, but this one stands out for me. Bring a lot of money. A lot.

Favorite hotel restaurant: I’m going to cheat a little and say room service at the Hassler Hotel in Rome Italy.  Dinner with Annette in our room – the most memorable, fun, incredible meal ever.  I don’t even remember what we had, but it’s my favorite hotel in the world and the food is amazing.  At the top of the Spanish Steps.

Favorite restaurant anyplace: This is a favorite of mine “everyplace” – Fleming’s. Nothing over-the-top, it’s just a steakhouse chain, but I really appreciate the consistently good food and service.

Favorite new restaurant of 2014:  404 Kitchen in Nashville. Peach and pork ragout and Anson Mills skillet cornbread.  Shut….up.

For those who don’t know, Nashville is the new restaurant-center-of-the-universe. (just ask the New York Times)

Joe Calloway helps great companies get even better.


From Mark Sanborn:


Favorite restaurant in the city you live: Linger. Formerly O’Linger’s mortuary (really), with a great vibe (including a amazing rooftop bar) and some of the tastiest food ever. The flavors are a mash up of many cultures and always delicious. Smaller portions make it great for variety and sharing. Plus it won’t break the bank.

Favorite Las Vegas restaurant: Public House. Yes, it is a chain but if you’re a beer lover who wants knowledgeable staff, an interesting selection and good food, this is a reprieve from the typical high-end eateries. (Mesa Grille is just another of many that I could easily put on my LV list.)

Favorite hotel restaurant: River Bar at The Cloisters. Don’t think bar food; think gourmet food in an elegant bar setting where the whole family is comfortable. The scallops are amazing, the Smoked Sazerac is one of my favorite drinks of all time.

Favorite restaurant anyplace: The White Chocolate Grill (although so far only in Denver, Phoenix and Chicago.) I love this place: exceptional service, elegant bar, best bourbon list and great menu (the Tomato Gin soup change your life).

Favorite new restaurant of 2014:  Colt + Gray in Denver. Great charcuterie selections, a sophisticated beverage list, innovative western cuisine and friendly service. Took my pal Larry there last time he was in Denver and he’ll vouch for this one, too.

Mark Sanborn is president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an idea studio for leadership development. He is an award-winning speaker bestselling author of books including, The Fred Factor. For more information and free resources, visit


From Randy Pennington:

randy-pennington-headshotFavorite restaurant in the city you live: This is a tough choice. Lucia in the Bishop Arts District of Dallas is a small chef-owned Italian restaurant. You have to make reservations a month in advance so getting in takes planning. Stephen Pyles Restaurant is always a treat. Big, bold flavors. Bring some bucks. It is worth it.

Favorite Las Vegas restaurant: Mesa Grill at Caesars Palace. I’m a sucker for amazing Southwestern food, and no one does it better than Bobby Flay’s team. Try the Blue Corn lobster tacos and the New Mexican spiced-rubbed pork tenderloin.

Favorite hotel restaurant:  La Playa Carmel, Carmel by the Sea. My wife and I stayed at this 75-room historic hotel years ago, and I’ll never forget it. It is mostly lighter fare including lots of seafood. The crab cakes were stunning.

Favorite restaurant anyplace: Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale. Everything Larry said about this place is absolutely true. My wife and I go there every time we are in Phoenix. I’ve never had anything less than an amazing meal there

Favorite new restaurant of 2014:  Medina Oven & Bar, Victory Park in Dallas. The owner brings his home land of Morocco alive with authentic spices and herbs mixed with savory cuisine and a casual environment. Great patio when the weather is nice.

Randy Pennington helps leaders deliver positive results in a world of accelerating change. To find out more, go to

30Nov 2014

Leaders frequently hear Proverbs 29:18  quoted: “without a vision the people perish.”leadership vision

Less often considered: without people, the vision perishes.

Any vision is accomplished through the efforts of those you lead. That means the vision needs to be understood, not at an abstract level, but at a practical level your team can understand, support and act upon.

How do you know if your vision is effective?  Ask your team members these four questions:

Question #1:  “Do you know what our vision is?” Ask everyone of them that question and find out if they’re all answering the same way.  If they hold the same vision for the future.

Question #2:  “Were you involved in creating  the  vision?”  In other words, did they get input into crafting the vision? Involvement increases commitment.

Question 3:  “Is our vision of the future a place that you want to be?”   Many visions fail because they don’t represent the best interest of all stakeholders. If team members are going to help achieve the vision, they will be highly motivated to do so if the vision is appealing to them, not just management and shareholders.

Question 4:  “Does our vision help you in day-to-day decision making?” This question tests for practicality. If the vision doesn’t offer clear guidance for information decisions and behavior, it isn’t practical.

If your team can answer affirmatively to these four questions, you’ll know that you have a vision that’s more than rhetoric and that gives people practical guidance and direction. Your vision passes the test when it empowers others to live and fulfill it.

25Nov 2014



From Mark Sanborn:

“You can have it all.” No, you really can’t.

Some of the unhappiest people I know are those who bought into that whopper. They lack priorities, choose uncomplimentary or conflicting values and wear themselves out pursuing every activity.

Try eating all you want and keeping your weight at a healthy level. Try traveling non-stop for business or pleasure and have meaningful relationships at home. Try working long hours seven days a week and see how much leisure you’ll enjoy.

Everything of importance has value, and value has an associated cost. Trying to “have it all” doesn’t acknowledge the reality of time constraints. It is spending the currency of your life like a drunken sailor.

The bad news is that you can’t have it all.

The good news is that when you know what’s important, you don’t want it all anyway.

Broaden your focus too much by trying to “have it all” and you’ll get only a tiny bit if anything at all.

Narrow your focus and you can go richer and deeper in those areas of your life that truly matter.

Mark Sanborn is president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an idea studio for leadership development. He is an award-winning speaker bestselling author of books including, The Fred Factor. For more information and free resources, visit


joe-calloway-headshotFrom Joe Calloway:

The shortcut.

What bothers me is that so many people spend their money on the promise of short cuts to success.

There aren’t any short cuts.

I see “How To Make A Fortune On The Internet” programs that begin with the premise of

“First, get 100,000 followers…….THEN all you have to do is follow my easy plan to make a million dollars in a year.”

What they skip over is that to get those 100,000 followers, you have to have something to say that is so valuable, so compelling, that people feel they can’t afford to miss one word of it – ever.  That takes experience.

I do coaching with professional speakers, and the thing we always come back to is simply this: value creation.  Public Notice to my potential speaking clients: “I have NO shortcuts for you.”

As many, including my buddy Mark Sanborn, have said, it generally takes 15 years to become an “overnight success.”

You can’t become an expert in a week. Put in the time, do the work, create value.  Don’t learn the “tricks of the trade.”  Learn the trade.

The only people that get rich from short cuts….are the people selling the short cuts.

Joe Calloway helps great companies get even better.


randy-pennington-headshotFrom Randy Pennington:

I grew up hearing every motivational message imagined or printed in the Reader’s Digest. I heard lots of advice that isn’t necessarily true. Consider these:

  • Laughter is the best medicine. I want great drugs when I’m in pain not a standup routine.
  • Better safe than sorry. Mark Twain said: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” I like his idea better.
  • It’s never too late to pursue your dreams. I grew up dreaming of playing Division I college basketball and replacing Ringo as the drummer in the Beatles. I am too late for both.
  • Attitude is everything. No. Talent, knowledge, and skill count, too.
  • Great minds think alike. The older I get the more I realize that we need great minds who view the world through a different lens rather than the same one.

Here’s my takeaway: Any motivational or business guru who tells you that the secret to your success is doing exactly what they say without questioning its application to your situation should be avoided … except for the Five Friends. Our ideas are timeless pearls of wisdom.

Randy Pennington helps leaders deliver positive results in a world of accelerating change. To find out more, go to


larry-winget-headshotFrom Larry Winget:

Passion. Passion is defined as “an uncontrollable emotion.” Do you want an uncontrollable emotion anywhere near your business? Not me.

If you need quadruple bypass surgery, do you want a passionate surgeon or one who is damn good at surgery? How about a waiter? I don’t want a passionate waiter, I want a waiter who is great at his job. I don’t need any emotion involved, especially one that is uncontrolled. I only want excellence and hard work from the people I do business with.   They don’t have to like it, love it, enjoy it or be passionate about it, just damn good at it. I know too many who are passionate: passionately incompetent.

Some will argue that passion is the fuel that lights the fire of hard work and excellence. Save it. I’ve heard it all before. I am good at what I do because I approach the fiduciary commitment that I have to my clients with integrity. I am hired to be good and I am committed to being good because they are paying me to be good. Very simple. No passion. I have passion for my family and I’m damn good at my job.

Larry Winget, the Pitbull of Personal Development®, is a six-time NYT/WSJ bestselling author, social commentator and appears regularly on many national television news shows. To find out more, go to


scott-mckain-headshotFrom Scott McKain:

The most ridiculous concept ever foisted upon gullible professionals is the idiotic maxim: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

(My vote for second worst: “Getting the right people on the bus is more important than where the bus is going.” That’s moronic. The “right people” won’t get on if they don’t know where the hell the bus is headed. I digress…)

Leaders are constantly challenged to manage the immeasurable. Employee attitudes, marketplace opportunities, and customer engagement aren’t exclusively intended for an Excel spreadsheet. Leadership is art and science; insight and data. The distinctive leader is able to use head and heart to drive greater performance.

When we integrate this ridiculous “we can only manage what we can measure” approach into our culture, it means we assume the only elements that matter to the organization are aspects that lend themselves to measurement.

A restaurant, therefore, focuses upon speed of food delivery (measurable) rather than friendly service (not) – when it’s the combination of both that is essential for a superior customer experience. The same is true for your business.

Interestingly, the “management/measurement” quote is often incorrectly attributed to W. Edwards Deming – who insisted instead, “The most important things cannot be measured.”

Scott McKain teaches how organizations and individual professionals can create distinction in their marketplace, and deliver the “Ultimate Customer Experience ®.” For more information:

17Nov 2014

When I first visited the big island of Hawaii, I was particularly impressed with the volcanic rock fields white rocks black lavathe road we traveled on cut through from the airport to Kona. Hundreds of white stones had been carefully placed along the way, in stark contrast against the black rock of the lava field. These stones spelled out the names of people, and often the date of when they had passed through: “Bob & Sally, 11/88,” “Jean, Spring Break ’91.” It reminded me of what so often happens when graduating classes assault bridges and water towers and graffiti artists practice their public art.

All of us want our lives to be significant, to believe we’ll do something, somehow, that will be remembered. Sometimes leaving a legacy can be as simple as placing stones in the lava. But for most of us, the best evidence we can leave that we passed through life is to lead when we are able, and follow when we can’t. Leadership isn’t a mysterious art practiced by only a select few. It is the daily response of each man and woman who wishes to make a positive difference in the world, and make it a little bit better place as a result of their efforts.

Marks We Leave Poem by Mark Sanborn

12Nov 2014


You and your business are more likely to become irrelevant before you ever become obsolete. Blackberry is a great example. Its market share for smartphones was 40% in 2010. It is less than 2% today despite an 85% growth in the number of annual smartphone sales. Blackberry didn’t lose market share because it stopped working. It lost because it became irrelevant.

The battle for relevancy comes up in every conversation we have about our own careers and businesses. We are, as a group, obsessed with it. And in this blog, we share how it affects what we do and how we do it. We hope you enjoy our most personal post to date.

From Scott McKain:


Death concerns me; irrelevance terrifies me to the core.

On my 14th birthday, I started a daily job at a small radio station. At 18, elected as president of a student organization, I took to the road full-time to travel and speak on its behalf. I’ve never left the platform since.

In other words, from the day I turned 14 — to this one — there has been an audience for what I have to say, and how I have to say it. I’ve been fortunate beyond description.

However, if I become irrelevant – taking the audience for granted — those wonderful readers and listeners would evaporate, instantly terminating the career I love so much.

That’s why relevance is critical – and scary.

I discipline myself to read constantly, watch shows and sites targeted to other demographics, see avant-garde movies, and stay active on Social Media. I listen each week to Billboard’s top songs via Spotify. I engage with what’s impacting Millennials, not just Baby Boomers.

You can’t pull the covers over your head and stay relevant by accident. You must actively participate in the current culture to ensure you’re prepared for, and perhaps able to influence, whatever comes next.

Or else…

Scott McKain teaches how organizations and individual professionals can create distinction in their marketplace, and deliver the “Ultimate Customer Experience ®.” For more information:


From Randy Pennington:


Here is my reality.

  • New competitors arrive in my marketplace daily. According to their websites, each is the second coming of Peter Drucker.
  • My performance review is delivered every day not annually.
  • Longevity in the marketplace – like longevity with a company – used to mean more. Today, the line between value-added experience and being viewed as out of touch is excruciatingly thin.
  • My value is determined by the complexity and importance of the problems I help my clients solve.
  • My clients choose me because they believe that I provide value. That only happens if I am relevant.

You and your company are just like me. Your customers and employer are asking three questions: Why you? Why now? What makes you relevant today?

For me, staying relevant means that I must constantly:

  1. Understand my clients’ current challenges and anticipate the ones they’ll encounter tomorrow.
  2. Be a student of the world – knowing everything I can about what is happening in business, government, and the broader culture.
  3. Continuously improve my skills and execution.
  4. Take care of myself mentally, physically, and emotionally.

The privilege of doing what I do depends on remaining relevant. It is the same for you.

Randy Pennington helps leaders deliver positive results in a world of accelerating change. To find out more, go to


From Mark Sanborn:


There are three great fears most leaders posses: staying relevant is at the top of the list.

It makes sense: the ability to create results is dependent on relevance to customers, employees and shareholders. You never hear about successful products or leaders that are irrelevant.

Staying relevant means not resting on past success. I consider success as an early warning indicator for failure.  As my pal Joe says, success means only that you know what worked yesterday.

The danger is that our thinking becomes frozen in time. Staying relevant requires “unfreezing” yourself. That means being immersed enough in the present to be able to understand it and speak to it.

Three suggestions:

  1. Find a millennial to reverse mentor you,
  2. Pay close attention to current culture even if you don’t agree with it.
  3. Run you ideas by your kids for feedback. They’ll help keep you relevant.

Mark Sanborn is president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an idea studio for leadership development. He is an award-winning speaker bestselling author of books including, The Fred Factor. For more information and free resources, visit


From Joe Calloway:


In the context of business, I believe the key to relevance is understanding your target market.  My work is totally irrelevant to most of the marketplace, and that’s fine with me.

I know my audience.  I work with CEOs, business owners, and entrepreneurs.  If my work, my “product,” isn’t relevant to them, then I’m out of business.

Like some of my friends here are saying, I also endeavor to be relevant in a cultural sense as well as in business matters.

This week in Chicago I spoke to an audience of business owners.  I opened by saying that it must be absolutely great to live in Chicago right now, especially if you are a Cubs fan.  With that new coach coming in, this will surely be the beginning of a dynasty!

Inside joke to forever frustrated Cubs fans, but the entire audience “got it” and I made a positive connection with them.  I’m not a Cubs fan – not even a baseball fan, but I read.  That bit of cultural relevance is a competitive advantage to me.

The real test, however, is that my business ideas must be relevant to their success.  That’s what I work on all day, every day.

Joe Calloway helps great companies get even better.


From Larry Winget:


There are many ways to stay relevant. You can be innovative and create new products and services. Think Amazon Prime with Sunday delivery and video streaming (win) and Amazon Fire smartphone (fail). You can flail around grasping at relevance and end up looking pitiful. Think Jesse Jackson. You can become a big deal to a small market and any kind of deal to a large market (I use both of these tactics.) You can even change your look or your name. Think JCP and KFC.

But be very clear: Staying relevant is hard.  That’s because relevance is rooted in change, growth and paying attention. While all three of those things are tough, they are especially tough when you are successful.  Businesses in trouble are better at seeking relevance than those that are extremely successful. Failure makes you hungry and courageous to try things because you have nothing to lose. Success creates a blindness of the need to pay attention, change and grow simply because you’re busy being successful.  That’s why long term success is something to be admired because it requires taking care of business today while keeping an eye on what you have to do stay successful tomorrow.

Larry Winget, the Pitbull of Personal Development©, is a six-time NYT/WSJ bestselling author, social commentator and appears regularly on many national television news shows. To find out more, go to

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10Nov 2014

Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the U.S. Senate, once said that our goal in life shouldn’t be just toRear View of Senior Couple Walking Alone on A Tropical Beach “be good,” but rather to “be good for something.”

If that “something” is limited to merely personal success, our impact on the world around us will be limited. To put it another way, don’t confuse your resume with your legacy.

The difference between your resume and your legacy is:

Resume                                                Legacy

1. What You’ve Accomplished               1. What You’ve Contributed

2. Results                                               2. Relationships                                                

3. The Money You’ve Made                    3. The Difference You’ve Made

4. The Impression You Leave                 4. The Impact You Have

5. Your Career                                         5. Your Organization, Family and  Community

6. What You Learned                               6. What You Taught

7. How You Improved                              7. How You Helped Others to Improve Others

Are you building a strong resume, or preparing to leave a lasting legacy?

The legacy you will eventually leave is determined by the legacy you are living now.



05Nov 2014

Everybody presents. Whether you are making a sales call, giving a report in a college class or speaking to prepareyour colleagues during a meeting, giving an extraordinary presentation is one of the best things you can do to increase you impact and success.

Many think great speaking is what happens in front of the audience, and while that is true, they fail to grasp the importance of preparation. A great presentation is given is front of people but it is prepared carefully and thoroughly in advance.

Here are eight preparation techniques used by professional speakers that you can use to crush it next time you deliver a presentation.

  1. Find out things about your audience that proves you worked hard to get to know them and their needs.
  2. Anticipate questions that your audience might raise and prepare the answers.
  3. Anticipate problems that might arise (in the setting, with your technology, etc.), and plan how you’ll prevent them or solve them if they occur.
  4. Understand the day-to-day concerns of audience members and speak about solutions to those concerns.
  5. Speak from what you’ve done and learned to demonstrate expertise.
  6. By your appearance and demeanor, give your performance a level of gravitas that your audience wasn’t expecting.
  7. Include the indication that you have even more useful ideas and insights you can deliver if you are given more time to present in the future.
  8. Design your presentation so that the audience know more and feel better when you finish.
31Oct 2014

Few things create a more vivid perception of an executive than his speaking ability. The higher execs rise in an organization, the more frequently they are called bellyflopupon to address others. Ironically, little or no training is given hapless executives to develop this skill. If they become good at public speaking, it is either a gift of genetics, they get lucky, or a combination of both.

Increasingly leaders are realizing their need for skills development that falls outside of what is typically offered by their organizations. That is one reason why executive coaching has become so popular. Often one of the primary areas coaches focus on is communication, both interpersonal and public.

As a professional who makes his living giving speeches and seminars, I’ve sat through hundreds if not thousands of executive presentations. More often than not, the speeches I’ve heard businesspeople make were less than memorable. And far too often the presentations were painful, not only for the speaker to give, but for the audience to feign interest through.

The majority of executive presenters, even those who flopped dramatically, were well-intentioned. Nobody sets out to destroy her credibility with a bad presentation. So why do people fail in spite of noble intentions?

Intention requires technique to be successfully communicated. It doesn’t matter how well you want to hit the golf ball. Only good form and practiced skill allow you to consistently do so. Public speaking is no different.

I am puzzled why so many seem to think that speaking well in front of an audience is a natural skill. Public speaking, like all skills, is developed. The more often one speaks, the better one becomes if–and this is a big if–he focuses on eliminating undesirable behaviors and developing needed ones.

The fastest gain that can be made in improving your ability to speak well is to eliminate those things that cause disaster. While I’ve observed great creativity in flopping, there are seven common reasons why executive speakers fail. I’ll explain those reasons and what to do about them.

  1. A disregard for time

History has no record of anyone who gave a speech that was too short, but we’ve all been in audiences when the speaker stopped speaking on what seemed like a different day than he had begun.

This problem–speaking too long or taking more time than allotted–seems to be epidemic among high level business leaders. Most meeting planners value their job too much to be candid with an executive and tell him that he completely destroyed the agenda by speaking for an hour when he was scheduled to speak for 15 minutes. And no employee is going to complain to the executive’s face about talking way too long.

Being self-employed allows me the luxury of being totally honest: speaking longer than planned is rude. It suggests to the audience that the speaker and her presentation are more important than anyone or anything else on the program. The length of a presentation shouldn’t be a function of title or power, but a function of how long the exec agreed to talk. If you say you need 10 minutes, quit after 10 minutes. If you need more time, negotiate for it in advance. But don’t take the next three speakers’ time because you either don’t pay attention to your watch or you are too arrogant to realize that the high point of the meeting just might not be listening to you speak twice as long as expected.

Start on time and stop on time. Not only will your audience respect you for it, but it will prove that you respect your audience.

  1. Unclear purpose

Here’s the million dollar question of any presentation: what’s the point? Executives who don’t have clear objectives for their presentation usually achieve little.

Heaven help you if your objective is “to inform.” Duh? Every speech informs, whether by design or by default. Attempting only to inform is aiming too low.

Why not use the opportunity to motivate, inspire or encourage? Why not take advantage of your chance to share a vision or create camaraderie?

Design your speech the way the pros do. Begin by asking, “At the end of this presentation, what do I want listeners to think, feel and do?” Good presenters speak to the head, the heart and the hands. Challenging people with lots of information of limited practical application is more frustrating than inspiring.

If you can’t clearly identify a worthwhile purpose for the presentation, you probably shouldn’t be making it.

And it doesn’t hurt to begin with an overt statement of purpose: “The reason I’m speaking to you today is…” It may not be clever, but it will significantly increase the odds that you’ll fulfill your purpose if you enlist the audience early on.

What about speeches that someone else writes for you? It is critically important that a speech writer have access to you and your ideas. Even the best speech writer isn’t clairvoyant. Your speech will only be written as well as the input you provide. This is not the time for “hands-off” delegation.

  1. Inadequate preparation

There is no excuse for “winging it.” The best speakers are always–and I mean it literally–prepared for what they say, even if their demeanor suggests otherwise.

That brilliant toe-in-the-sand presenter you heard who came up with the wonderful analogy and spectacular quotes “on the spot” really didn’t. She planned carefully not only what she was going to say, but how she would appear “off the cuff.”

Here’s how to tell if a speaker hasn’t prepared: he doesn’t say anything important. To make best use of your time and the audience’s time, think through and practice what you’ll say.

If you saw a Broadway show where none of the actors had practiced in advance, you would demand your money back.

Too bad audiences don’t get the same privilege.

And please don’t ever begin by saying, “I really haven’t thought about what I’m going to say…” There are no bragging rights to that. If you ever find yourself tempted to make that statement, at least be honest and say, “I’m a goober and I’m going to waste your time.”

Henri Nouwen, the Catholic mystic of the late twentieth century, was once frustrated as he prepared for an important speech. His insight? Live prepared, rather than simply trying to prepare. Maybe this is what Tom Peters was alluding to when he instructed managers to have a “stump speech” with the same three or four most important messages ready to give and give again at every opportunity.

  1. Failure to capture attention

The scarcest resource in the world used to be time; today it is attention.

The average listener is bombarded with messages from many different sources. From email to radio to voicemail to cell phones, everybody is trying to tell us something, and your attempt to give a speech is just one more bombardment.

That’s why what you say and how you say it had better grab the audience’s attention right out of the shoot. You don’t have time to “warm up.” (“Thank you for inviting me to be here today. It is indeed my pleasure to address you. What a great meeting it has been so far. Blah blah blah blah blah.”)

As my friend and high-powered speech coach Ron Arden says, “In the theater, you’ll never see an actor warm-up on the audience. They warm-up backstage.”

So forget the hackneyed concept of warming up the audience. Hit them square between the eyes with something that will break their preoccupation with what they need to pick up at the grocery store on the way home from work.

Most importantly, make your remarks relevant. Postmoderns are less interested with the question “Is it true?” and more interested in the question “How does it affect me?” Sure, you need to be intellectually honest to prove your points, but never forget to prove that your message matters to the listener.

  1. Pomposity

Ego-driven leaders are more concerned with what followers think about them than they are with what followers do because of them.

But you don’t necessarily have to be arrogant to be pompous. Sometimes it happens accidentally when a speaker confuses impressing a listener with influencing her.

Impressing people is, for the most part, a head-game: it changes what they think of us. Influencing people is a behavioral game: it changes what people do because of us.

A preoccupation with self is deadly. Self-absorbed speakers present to get their needs met, rather than meet the needs of the audience. The audience instantly recognizes it.

One of the best kept secrets in speaking is this: the audience wants you to do well. Everyone knows how painful it is to watch a speaker bomb in front of others, so instinctively, the audience is pulling for you. And they’ll cut you a lot of slack–allow for mispronunciations and other mistakes–if you are sincerely interested in them.

If you speak down to them or try to blatantly impress them, they’ll turn on you like a pack of rabid dogs. It won’t be as obvious as the rabid dogs, but beyond their polite or at least neutral non-verbals, they’ll be mentally dismantling you for being a pompous ass.

You wouldn’t be asked to speak unless someone believed that you have credibility and something to say. That is enough. Don’t undo that assumption through efforts to prove your status to others.

  1. Boredom

“Isn’t life a thousand times too short to bore ourselves?” That wasn’t uttered by a tired audience member, but it could have been. Helen Keller said it.

An audience today contains many people who were raised on MTV. That means they spent formative years watching music videos that often contained 150 images in the course of a minute. Watching a talking head is, for them, about as stimulating as watching software load.

Nobody ever flops who entertains. Don’t get me wrong: to be simply entertaining is not in itself a worthwhile goal for an executive presenter, but is sure beats the alternative, which is to be boring. Sell the sizzle and the steak.

Great restaurants know that the presentation of cuisine is as important as its preparation. Presentation and perception go hand-in-hand.

“Amusement” comes from two words meaning “not to ponder.” “Entertainment” on the other hand, is engaging. The value of entertainment for a speaker is that it mentally engages listeners. I’ve found the best way to educate is to slip good ideas in on the wings of entertainment.

By the way, telling a joke is risky. When it works, it works well. When it fails, nothing fails worse. The best way to avoid groaners is to use humor in such a way that it illustrates your point. If the audience doesn’t laugh, the illustration is still of value. And if they get a chuckle out of the humor, that’s just icing on the cake.

  1. False endings

Remember this variation of a familiar acronym: FEAR is False Endings Appearing Real.

I’ve seen it a hundred times. A speaker starts to conclude, even tells the audience of his intent, and then tells a pithy, witty story. The audience responds favorably. The speaker gets a rush. “Wow, they liked that. I’ve got an even better story,” he thinks to himself. And then he ends again, with another story/quote/challenge/admonition/etc. Like a junkie who has just had a good fix, the speaker keeps ending, until there is no positive response, but rather visible signs of disgust. By then, it is too late.

You can only effectively conclude once, yet I’ve seen executives conclude over and over. Each false ending weakens the message that was in front of it.

The false ending nightmare usually begins with these words, “In conclusion….” That triggers hope in the audience’s mind. “Hey, it’s almost over!” They expect you to wrap up quickly.

In my mind that means either summarizing or making a final point. Several points, or the introduction of new points, is not a conclusion.

A simple rule to remember: a good ending happens only once.

The beginning of excellence is the elimination of foolishness. You can bump up your speaking performance by analyzing your last presentation by asking these seven questions:

  1. Did I stick to my allotted time?
  2. Did I develop and present purposefully?
  3. Was I thoroughly prepared?
  4. Did I capture attention at the very beginning?
  5. Did I positively influence listeners?
  6. Was I appropriately entertaining, or at least not boring?
  7. Did I end only once?

An affirmative answer to each of these questions virtually guarantees that the next time you make a presentation, you won’t be a flop. Not only will you be flop-proof, most likely you’ll be perceived as an articulate and effective speaker.


Mark Sanborn, CSP, CPAE  is an award-winning speaker and the author of the bestselling books, The Fred Factor: How Passion In Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary Into the Extraordinary, and You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader: How Anyone Anywhere Can Make a Positive Difference. Want to spend the day honing your speaking abilities? Call 303-683-0714. To obtain additional information for growing yourself, your people and your business (including free articles), visit For information about having Mark speak for your group, call Helen Broder at (703) 757-1204.