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A Lesson in Integrity

DoingtheThingsthatMatterEach month, we receive a short newsletter with our Phoenix city services bill. I usually breeze through it before putting it in the recycle bin. Most of the time, the information in it doesn’t concern me.

This time, though, the city included a great story featuring an employee who went above and beyond the “call of duty.”

In one of the terminals at Sky Harbor Airport, an employee by the name of Robert Rodriguez was sweeping the floor when he happened to notice five one-hundred dollar bills underneath his feet. Without hesitating, Mr. Rodriguez picked up the cash and notified his supervisor, who then notified the airport police. They reviewed the security camera footage in that specific area, and identified the traveler who lost the money.

Fortunately, the traveler was still in the terminal, and the police were able to locate him and return the money. It turns out that the traveler was a student who was on his way overseas to study abroad, and the money was to be used for food during the trip. Before the flight departed, the traveler was able to meet Mr. Rodriguez and thank him for his honesty.

Integrity is the Cornerstone of Leadership

Mr. Rodriguez could have just picked up that money and said, “Finders keepers, losers weepers!” Do you remember learning that phrase when you were young? He could have shoved the money into his pocket and went on with his work, his mind racing with thoughts about what to spend it on. I’m sure he could have thought of a million things to use that money for. Instead, he did the right thing. What a great example of integrity!

In our society, we are bombarded by sensationalistic stories of people who lack integrity. All you have to do is turn the TV on and find a popular “reality” show, or look at some of the headlines of those magazines at the grocery store checkout aisle. Our society seems to reward that type of behavior with overwhelming publicity.

Our younger generation is exposed even more to these stories through non-stop feeds on social media. Wouldn’t it be nice to see more stories like Mr. Rodriguez’s pop up in their media feed, rather than a story about some “reality” star changing her hair color twice in one week; or a sports “hero” that assaulted their girlfriend/spouse during a drunken or drug fuelled rage?

It would be nice, however, not necessarily realistic. The sad fact is, until our society changes what it values, we are probably going to be stuck with these types of stories for quite a while.

What steps can we take as leaders and parents to combat the negative influences from society?

  • Be Involved. I know…this sounds like a “no brainer.” Being involved is more than just asking how their day went and then going to your separate corners in the house. Actually engage in conversation. It may take a little work, especially if your family is not used to it…but it can be done. If they have issues that come up in the conversation, offer your input and examples from your experience…in a supportive way. They may get that constant social media feed all day, however, you are there in flesh and bone in front of their face. Take advantage of that personal influence!
  • Establish a “social media break” or “media fast” during part of each day. Create a time where everyone in the house (including you!) puts down the phone, and turns the electronics off. Use the time to engage with each other. Maybe have “game time,” family meditation, or make it a time for the family to decompress from the day’s events. If the weather is nice outside, maybe take a hike or play a sport as a family.
  • Surround children with positive and encouraging influences. Find quotes and stories to send them throughout the day. There are several “Quote of the Day” websites that you can subscribe to and forward to them. Find out what they respond best to – do they like power quotes, encouragement, faith, or affirmations? John Maxwell has a daily email with a Leadership Word of the Day. I highly recommend it. It can really make a difference in their day!

You can probably think of several other ideas to add to this list. Whatever you do, keep it consistent. If we are to make a positive influence with our younger generation and create a brighter future for our society, we need to consistently work at it. Be the example of integrity that Ralph Rodriguez displays in front of the young people in your life. The effect you have may last for generations to come.


Get BIGGER by Surrounding Yourself with BIG People

“You are a product of your environment. So choose the environment (and the people in it*) that will best develop you toward your objective. Analyze your life in terms of its environment. Are the things (and people*) helping you toward success, or are they holding you back?”

-W. Clement Stone (* – my additions)

When I was in my early teens, I started lifting weights. It was one of the few exercises I could do that wouldn’t trigger an asthma attack (I had exercise-induced asthma when I was younger). The DP weight set and bench came with manuals that included exercise guides that I used to teach myself the proper ways to lift weights. Over the years, I made marginal gains…nothing overly impressive.

Things changed several years ago when I befriended a guy named Jeff. Jeff was a big guy, built like a brick wall, because he was a serious and powerful weightlifter. Jeff was already at the level that I wanted to achieve. When the YMCA opened up in our county, we became members and started working out together.

Things changed when the environment, and the people in it, got bigger.

My workouts became more challenging because “bigger” people were now in my environment. Jeff and his friends were stronger, and had the capacity to move more weight. Because of that, I worked harder to keep up with them. I started making impressive gains as a result. In less than a year, my bench press went from 225 pounds to 300!

Having BIG people in my environment helped make me a bigger person!

As the quote above says, we are all products of our environment…and the people that are in it. If you are not satisfied with some aspect of your life, look around you:

  • Who are the people you choose to surround yourself with?

  • Are they BIG people who challenge you and help you improve? Or do they hold you back?

    • If you hang around leaders, you will become a leader.
    • If you hang around great communicators, you will become a great communicator.
    • If you hang around successful businesspeople, you will become successful in business.
    • If you hang around turkeys, well…gobble, gobble!
  • What can you do to make changes for the better?

Shortly after making that 300 pound bench press, I moved from North Carolina to Phoenix, Arizona. Because of the change in my environment and the people in it (or lack of people, in this case), my performance dropped. I eventually lost the ability to move the weight that I had before, because I no longer had that challenge and support. I knew that I had to make some changes. I had to add BIG people to my environment.

How to find BIG people to add to your environment

  • Join a supportive group or organization – You can go online and find a group such as Toastmasters or a Rotary club that is located near you. is also a great resource to find groups that can help you achieve success.
  • Find a mentor – Find someone who has already been where you are going and see if they are willing to mentor you along your journey to success. This can be someone from your work, school, church, a family friend, or someone from one of the organizations mentioned above. A mentor can provide that challenge and motivation because they are already operating on a higher level.

 Remember that this is a two-way street. Figure out what you can offer them in return for their mentorship.

  • Use information (books and technology) to help guide you – In addition to the above resources, or in case you live in a secluded area with little access to groups, you can find a lot of support in books and on the internet. You can be mentored by former world leaders, history makers, and thought leaders through their writings, articles, and videos.

 (In my opinion, for best results, I suggest a combination of all 3 avenues)

Through the use of technology, I was able to access a few mentors to help me improve my strength building and fitness skills (ironically, one of them is named Jeff). Thanks to the information and motivation they have provided, I have been able to work my way toward the level of strength that I achieved a few years ago!

Are there certain areas in your life that you want to improve?

Are you looking to enhance certain skills?

If the answer to these questions is “yes,” I challenge you to take the steps above, and find BIG people to add to your environment. It will make a HUGE difference in your performance!Get BIGGER by Surrounding Yourself with BIG People

The Ugly Win

When Success Doesn’t “Feel” SuccessfulThe Ugly Win

In an earlier article, I wrote about the similarities between auto racing and leadership. This article will deal with an event that happens to both race teams, and leaders…or anyone who is working to achieve goals.

It’s called…the ugly win.

If you follow any form of auto racing, you may have seen it at one time or another. The race is coming down to the final lap. The leader is doing well; the car is running good, and is still in good condition. All the sudden something happens – the leader gets out of control and crashes, or a part fails, causing damage to the car’s body or engine. Despite all that, the leader still manages to finish and win the race! They limp the car into the winner’s circle on its last leg, and start the celebration. Usually the first words out of the driver or car owner’s mouth is, “It was an ugly win, but we’ll take it!” Many times, any money that is earned from the race win goes to repair the car, and the team has a lot of work ahead in order to get ready for the next race.

Sometimes, it seems like we occasionally run into this type of situation when we are working to achieve goals in leadership, or in our personal lives. We may develop this “grand vision” of how things are going to turn out. This thinking may come from seeing other people’s success stories in the media. Through the magic of editing, it can seem like success comes perfect and easy for the person featured in the story. In actuality, we don’t see or hear about the imperfect journey to that successful point, or hear about the trials and thought processes that individual went through during that journey. Usually all we see is the finished product.

Take, for instance the picture below as an example…

The Ugly Win - Picture 1

This picture is of my wife and I right after reaching the summit of Humphrey’s Peak, which, at 12,633 feet, is the tallest point in Arizona. We achieved this goal a couple of months ago, and by all means, it was a success! At the time, it certainly didn’t “feel” like a success, though, despite the smiles in the picture.

This was a perfect example of an ugly win

What you don’t see in this picture are my legs, which were bleeding and wound up bruised from falling…not once, but twice…on the extremely rocky terrain in the tundra area (Yes, Arizona has a tundra!) that we encountered on the last mile of the hike. Somehow, I managed to lose my footing on the slick and shifting rocks, and fall. I absolutely hate it when I fall on a hike – thankfully, this happens only on rare occasions. Even though I was lucky to avoid serious injury, my legs took the brunt of the damage. Despite the smile on my face, I was in pain, out of breath (from the elevation), and ready to get off that mountain!

My wife was not fairing any better. She had gotten her feet tangled in some tree roots on the way up, and pulled her leg muscles. Our trip back down the mountain went very slowly, because we were both in so much pain.

Neither of us figured that working to achieve this goal would be so difficult and painful. We did everything we could to prepare – got ourselves prepared physically, gathered needed supplies, and read everything we could find about the trail. We knew in advance about the elevation change, that we would have less oxygen, the last mile would be rough and rocky, and that we would encounter a couple of “false summits” on the way to the top.

Hey, we’ve done this hiking thing a few times before, so we had an idea of what to expect, right?

Nothing prepared us for what we experienced

At the end of the hike when we finally reached the clearing at the bottom of the mountain, I stopped to take a picture of the mountain we had just climbed…

The Ugly Win - Picture 2


Despite the fact that the journey was a success, we sure didn’t feel like celebrating. In fact, it felt a little more like an ordeal than a success. The journey was much tougher than either one of us expected, and left us absolutely drained of energy.

Have you ever had the same type of experience? One that left you so drained of energy (physical or mental) that you were unable to really experience and celebrate your success?

Maybe you led a project that wound up with unexpected challenges, and with a lot of changes and hard work, became a success at the very last minute. Perhaps you finally finished negotiations on a deal with that “dream client” you have been aiming for, and it wound up being a longer and more challenging process than you imagined. Maybe like my wife and I, you finally achieved a physical goal after encountering setback after setback along the way.

It’s possible that because of the setbacks and the length of time, you lost the excitement that you initially had.

This is why it’s important to remember that wins may not come packaged the way we expect them to be. Our win may come with a wrecked car and a lot of work to be ready for the next race; aching, bloody legs and total exhaustion; or goals that are finally met after a long and challenging year.

No matter how the win comes, or the form it takes, remember that it is very important to celebrate those wins. Celebrate even the small victories on the way to the big goal. It will keep your energy up and help improve your momentum toward achieving that big goal. When you finally achieve that goal, celebrate the fact that the experience, knowledge, and insight that was gained through that difficult journey will help you evolve into a better leader, and a better person!

By the way, my wife and I wound up celebrating our goal by having a nice breakfast in Flagstaff, and enjoying a nice, quiet day of rest and relaxation. And when we go by Humphrey’s Peak on our way to the Grand Canyon, we’ll celebrate the fact that we can say, “Yeah, we conquered that mountain. It was an ugly win, but we’ll take it!”


Respect Thine Audience – No Matter the Size!

Whether they number 5, 50, or 5000 – Give Your Audience the Show (and Respect) They Deserve!Respect Thine Audience!

I recently read a couple of articles about a Google executive who walked out of a conference 30 minutes before he was scheduled to speak.

The reason – there were only about fifty people in attendance to hear his speech. His excuse for walking out…he doesn’t speak to small groups.

If you would like to read a couple of full versions of the story, click on these links:

As I read these articles, I could feel a sense of outrage welling up. In my opinion, what this speaker did was show a total lack of respect or concern for his audience and the conference organizers. The behavior that this individual displayed (storming out of the conference hall) was extremely unprofessional and egotistical.

No matter how many people are in your audience, remember that they are taking valuable time out of their lives to hear you speak. I view speaking engagements as transactions. As a speaker, you are there to give them the “gift” of your information or entertainment in exchange for the time they are giving you. To deny your part of the transaction, especially for what I would consider petty reasons, shows a lack of respect and integrity.

No matter the size of the audience…whether it is five thousand, five hundred, or five…if we agree to show up and speak (sign contracts, shake hands, or whatever is used for agreement), we should stick to our word and deliver our message. If there are any discrepancies, they should be covered in your contract, or you should take them up with the host.

Don’t punish the audience!

There is something else to consider before doing something like walking out on your audience…the power and speed of social media. Before you set one foot outside the conference hall, news of your abandonment can already be in the public eye. A quick tweet or Facebook post could be making its way out into the world. Can you afford the bad publicity? I would imagine the answer is “NO!” Imagine how much work it would take to turn that negativity around. Some people never make a comeback from that kind of negative press!

If you are ever faced with a smaller than expected audience:

  • Remember that the people that are attending have fulfilled their part of the transaction by showing up to hear you speak. Have the integrity to fulfill your part!
  • You can ask the audience to move in a little closer to your speaking area to create a more intimate setting. If they seem hesitant to move, offer them a “reward” for moving closer (i.e. small token, product, or even chocolate – which works for me!)
  • If you are able, make your presentation a little more “conversational” with your audience – maybe avoid using your PowerPoint, or allow opportunities for questions or conversation with audience members. This can make the experience a little more memorable to them, because of the added value.
  • Last, reframe the situation. This, and every opportunity you have to speak is another chance to gain “face time” with the public, as well as a chance to practice and improve your material in front of a live audience.

There is always a chance that sometime in your speaking adventures, you will encounter a crowd that is smaller than expected. Remember…honor and respect your audience by holding up your end of the bargain. Look at it as an opportunity to gain experience that will help you improve and become an even better presenter in the future!


For more information on how to improve your presentations, and for some interesting stories and insights on public speaking, get a copy of Scott Berkun’s book, Confessions of a Public Speaker. (As a matter of fact, a couple of the suggestions were inspired by his book!) Just click on the picture below to order the book now!



Lessons from “The Helicopter Man”

Source: cronkitenewsonline.comDealing with Toxic Leaders…and How to Avoid Being One Yourself!

Several years ago, I was a mechanic in a privately owned shop that specialized in German cars. It was an interesting and challenging job. I got to work on a lot of nice cars…and some that were not so nice.

There was one “challenge” on that job that I did not really care for…dealing with the shop owner’s (our boss) angry episodes. Two or three times a week, he would storm through the shop with an angry look on his red, flushed face, his arms flailing in the air, and muttering under his breath with every step. The first time I witnessed this behavior, I was a bit shocked and concerned. After dealing with the behavior for a little while, my coworkers and I would just look at each other and roll our eyes as if to say, “What is it now?”

The boss’s anger was rarely directed at us. Often, he had these tantrums for different reasons:

  •  dealing with challenging customers
  •  his wife calling at inconvenient times (according to him, no time was convenient)
  •  whenever the shop owner next door would ask for his assistance

He knew exactly what he was doing, and often bragged about how great his health was because he never held his anger in. Often he would say, “The doctor says my blood pressure is great, and I’m as healthy as a horse. It’s all because I don’t bottle anything up!” He would then go into the story about how he used to storm through the car dealership where he worked in the same manner. He said that he did it so much; coworkers started calling him “The Helicopter Man” for the way he would flail his arms around.

This behavior may have been cathartic for the boss, but it was stressful for us. It really didn’t matter who the boss’s anger was directed toward, or how “healthy” his behavior was supposedly keeping him, we were the ones who had to deal with it!

Emotions are Contagious

Don’t believe me? Take a minute to think about the last time that you were happy, and having a great day; when someone in your life (family member, significant other, coworker, or boss) walked in looking worried, angry, or sad. Did your mood change? I’m willing to bet that it did…at least for a moment. We have the capability and tendency to mirror the emotions of those around us, thanks to the sympathetic and mirror networks at work in our brains.

Leaders Stay Aware and In Charge of Their Mood

Good leaders understand how contagious their emotions can be, and strive to keep their emotions in check. They know that misdirected or unrestrained anger has the potential to cause problems in their organizations. They find constructive ways to manage, direct, and deal with “hot button” issues:

  •  They take time to stop and analyze the mood they are in as the day progresses, and as situations rise.
  •      They set up schedules that allow them to make effective use of their time, and avoid distractions that may trigger a bad mood.
  •  They set boundaries, and say “no” to opportunities that are not in their best interest. If something needs attention and they do not have the time to take care of it themselves, they delegate it.
  •  If someone in the organization makes a mistake, it is discussed behind closed doors, and not in public. (Always remember: Praise in public – Correct in private)
  •     They use humor and laughter as a tool to keep everyone around them in a positive mood. Positive moods = increased and better quality production.

Dealing with Toxic Leaders

I am willing to bet that just about everyone out there has experienced (or is currently experiencing) dealing with an angry boss or a toxic leader. Unfortunately, they are out there among us…like snakes in the grass, poised and ready to strike!

What can you do when faced with a toxic leader?

  •  Remember to avoid taking it personally. The toxicity is their problem, not yours.
  •  Set boundaries and limit the time you spend with the toxic person. Take control of your environment.
  •  Remember that you are in charge of your emotions! The negativity can stop with you, and avoid becoming contagious to others.

Unfortunately, toxic leaders are everywhere. They pop up when we least expect it. Thanks to the lessons learned from my experience with the “Helicopter Man” and other toxic leaders like him, I not only learned how to avoid being a “Helicopter Man” myself, I have also learned how to deal with that type of behavior.

I hope that these tips will help you deal with toxic leaders that you may encounter, and will also help you keep from becoming a toxic leader yourself.

Have you ever had to deal with a toxic leader? If so, what tips did you use that could be added to the list?

Increase your understanding of use of Emotional Intelligence with these resources. Click on the pictures for more information:























A Simple and Powerful Message to Save Lives

How 4.6 Seconds and the Length of a Football Field Can Change Lives…ForeverStop Texts Stop Wrecks

I checked my email this morning and came across this article from sales strategist Jill Konrath. The email heading read This is the most important blog post I have ever written, so I decided to open it and take a look.

When I opened the email, I was confused a little by the title:

Avoid This Killer Sales Strategy at All Costs

I’m not the type of person who clamors to learn about the newest sales strategy, or strategies to avoid for that matter. What mainly interests me about sales is the communication and behavior factors that are involved. I began reading the article, with a little skepticism.

I would have to say that even though Konrath directed this blog post towards the “sales crowd,” the message is something we all need to hear. A while back, I wrote articles about multitasking (how I believe it is a myth), and how our society has become disconnected and distracted by our electronic gadgets. Ms. Konrath’s article really tells the story of how dramatically life can change because someone chose to be distracted for a few seconds. Yes, I used the word chose because people make the choice to pick up the phone and call or text while driving. It is a very dangerous habit that can have serious consequences, as you will read.

Below is the link to Ms. Konrath’s article. Please read and share it with everyone you know.

Avoid This Killer Sales Strategy at All Costs


Everyone Gets a Trophy!

TrophiesWhen I was a kid in the second or third grade back in the 1980s, I wanted to play baseball. Unfortunately, I did not have the greatest athletic ability, and wasn’t able to play on the school league. Instead, my parents signed me up for the summer T-ball league.

This program consisted of three teams that played each other in different games every weekend. It was geared more toward learning and practicing the basics of baseball. We were still competitive, though. We wanted to win, and did everything we could to achieve it.

However, we never won a single game!

No matter what we did, we were never able to win one game. We tried everything…hustling out on the field to catch every ball, making every hit count, and running as fast as we could to get to home plate. Nothing seemed to work. Scoring a win seemed to elude us. At the end of the season, after the last game was played, we figured that it was over.

Then, the strangest thing happened…

One of the coaches brought out a box of trophies from the trunk of his car. I thought they were for the other team, because they couldn’t possibly be ours. Instead of giving the trophies to the other team, he started handing the trophies out to US!

We lost every game, yet we were still getting trophies!

This made absolutely no sense to me. Even at my young age, I understood the rules of competition: if your team doesn’t come out on top, you usually don’t get a trophy. Even though I had really wished that things were different and we were the victors, I still accepted what happened along with the consequences. I also accepted the trophy that was handed to me…even though I was puzzled by the fact that I was getting one.

The trophy wound up in the closet after a short stint on my bookcase, and after so many years, was relegated to the trash. I remember the dissonant feelings that I had every time I looked at it, though. The trophy really had no meaning for me, since I felt that I really didn’t do anything to deserve it.

What I didn’t realize was, the idea that “everyone should get a trophy” seemed to be catching on then. The officials believed that giving us trophies despite the numerous losses would build our self esteem. I’m sure that many of you will agree that this practice has gotten out of hand in some establishments, and the repercussions of it are not exactly what many people were hoping for. Nowadays, it seems to be common practice at school events to hand out awards to everyone who “just shows up,” no matter how they perform. They can do mediocre work or cut corners, and still come away with a prize. What kind of lesson is this practice really teaching?

Unfortunately, this type of behavior is also prevalent in many organizational structures.

Many of you can probably think of examples of people who were rewarded despite their mediocre job performance. You may have even experienced this first-hand in your organization. The reward could have been in the form of a raise, extra time off, special recognition, or a chance to move up in the organization.

I worked for a company that gave raises across-the-board, not giving any consideration to the performance of their employees. The employees who were known for poor performance and goofing off received the same raise as the employees who gave an honest day’s work. I have also read about and heard stories from others about organizations that allow their people to gain recognition and receive awards for “just showing up” and not fulfilling their expectations.

Giving rewards, when done correctly, is a great way to reinforce the type of behavior that an organization needs from its people. When done incorrectly, (such as in the case of giving everyone a trophy) giving rewards can backfire in many ways:

  • It reinforces negative behaviors – If people are being rewarded even though their behavior or work is unacceptable, they assume that since they received the reward, everything is okay, and there is no need to make any changes.
  • It can be de-motivating – By rewarding everyone, including those who are slacking off, good talent becomes less motivated to perform at their optimum. They start thinking to themselves, “Why bother?” when they see their coworkers receiving the same rewards for substandard work.
  • It can reduce the effectiveness of the leader – The leader can be seen as lacking backbone, unwilling to correct work and behavior issues in the organization, or as wanting to be more of a “people pleaser” than someone who expects excellence out of the people in the organization.

Effective leaders and organizations reward (and correct) their people’s behavior through appropriate means, instead of blindly handing out “trophies.” This includes:

  • Setting and communicating expectations – Effective leaders and organizations determine how each individual in the organization contributes to its success, then sets expectations for that individual so the work can be done in a satisfactory manner. They make sure that these expectations are clearly communicated to the individual in the position. Leaders also communicate these expectations by example – walking the talk.
  • Instant and effective feedback – Effective leaders do not wait to give feedback once a quarter, every six months, or once a year. They give feedback immediately, while everything is still “fresh” in the individual’s mind. If feedback is given at a later date, the incident in question is forgotten, and the lesson is lost. If you want to change a negative behavior, or reinforce a positive behavior, instant feedback is one of the best tools you can use as a leader.

In Ken Blanchard’s book, The One-Minute Manager, he advises to catch your people doing something right. John Maxwell advises to praise publicly, and correct privately. Effective leaders follow both of these pieces of advice to get the best performance from their people.

  • Fairness in consequences – We have all heard the saying, “what is good for the goose, is good for the gander.” This should apply to everyone in the organization when it comes time to deal with the consequences of victories and failures. There will be times when the leader will need to practice discretion because an individual encountered unexpected hardships. However, practicing favoritism or turning a blind eye when a mistake is made by a certain individual will only create contempt and discord in the organization.  

Rewarding people in your organization can be a great experience and can improve productivity…when it is done correctly. Always be sure to set expectations, give instant feedback, and utilize fairness, instead of blindly handing out rewards in an effort to make everyone “feel good.”

Blindly handing out awards did not make sense when I was a kid playing T-ball; and in my opinion, it definitely does not make sense for organizations to do it and expect positive outcomes.

Do you agree with this article? Why or why not?

What does your organization do to reward individuals for good performance?

What does your organization do when individuals do not perform as expected? Do they still receive “trophies?”

Speaking Notes – Public Speaking “Felony” or Useful Tool?

Tips on using notes when speaking in public


At Toastmaster meetings, I often see new speakers using notes when they give their speeches.

Later in the meeting, when the speech is being evaluated, one of the suggestions that I constantly hear from the evaluator is:

“I would like to see you reach a point where you don’t use notes when giving a speech in the future.”

I have often wondered…why are we so quick to discourage the use of speaking notes?

I understand the suggestion for short speeches. In most cases, with proper practice and preparation, notes should really not be needed for shorter speeches. However, I believe we should think of using notes as more of a tool than a crutch, especially if they are used discreetly and effectively.

Instead of discouraging the use of speaking notes, why not teach proper and discreet methods of using them?

Notes have their place in public speaking. When used correctly, they can help keep us in line and on point as we are delivering our message to others. To discourage someone from using notes instead of giving them tips on using them effectively is like giving someone a hiking map with the start and ending point, but nothing in between to show them the important landmarks, ravines, and hills they will encounter along their journey.

Your audience wants you to succeed!

I firmly believe the statement above. The last thing that I want to see as an audience member is a speaker getting stuck in the middle of their presentation. If it happens, I find myself subconsciously trying to throw a little “energy” to them to help them get unstuck. When they get back on track, I feel a sense of relief. After the speech, I usually talk with others and find out that they also felt relief when the speaker was able to get unstuck and keep going.

I honestly believe that if you are doing your job as a speaker and keeping the audience entertained and engaged, it really does not matter to them if you are using notes…as long as those notes are not causing a distraction.

How to use notes in your speech without having them become a distraction

If you watch speakers on video or in person, you may notice several of them use some form of notes in their presentations. Some do a better job than others. They have found a way to make the discreet use of notes work for them. Some use small tables on the stage to set their notes and reference materials on. Others use a lectern on one side of the stage as “home base,” and will slowly saunter over to it when they need to refer to their notes.

For shorter speeches, some use a note card with an outline or even a Post-it note to help keep their speech organized.

I have taken some of the approaches other speakers have taken to using notes, added some of my ideas, and came up with a system that I am currently using now.

Here are some of the things I do when I prepare speaking notes, and use those notes in my presentations:

  • Create an outline for the speech. The outline creates a map from start to finish, with all the points to cover during the speech. You can start with the speech written out word-for-word then break it down into smaller “bite sized” parts to create the outline.
  • Be comfortable with the subject. This, combined with strong extemporaneous speaking skills will help fill in the blanks and overcome any obstacles in the speech. Refer to the outline during the speech to give you direction.
  • Practice, Practice, Practice! Not to memorize the speech and sound robotic, but to get comfortable and confident with your speech. This will also uncover any changes that need to be made in the speech. You will be able to face anything that is thrown at you with the comfort and confidence you have from practicing. (I admit…I need to do this more often!)
  • Type the outline in a plain font in order to make it easy to read. I also like to use a large font (14-18), bold text, and green or red font color on my outlines. I use these two colors because our eyes focus on them easier (which is why the lights at the intersection are green and red).
  • If you have more than one page for the outline, when printing it out, avoid the urge to print on both sides of the paper. This will help keep you from flipping the pages and causing a distraction. Instead, you will be able to discreetly slide the pages from one side of the lectern to the other.
  • Speaking of lecterns…if the lectern is moveable, I will usually shift it over to one side of the stage, and distance it just far enough for me to effectively use the speaking area while being able to read my outline at a glance. If the font is large enough, the lectern can be several feet away and I’ll still be able to make a quick glance over to it, and see what my next point is.
  • A music stand works perfectly when a lectern is unavailable or impractical. It is small enough to be unobtrusive, and is quite affordable (cheap!). I will usually set it up to where the top of the page is almost at eye level, so I am able to remain in good contact with the audience. On occasion, audience members have told me they did not realize that I was using notes in my presentation, because I was able to just glance at them, and make it look natural.

    My music stand with notes.

    My music stand with notes.

  • If none of these are available, you can use the corner of a table, or even have the notes in hand. I found that carrying my speaking notes in my left hand works best for me, because I use my right hand more when gesturing. I resorted to using this recently at a facilitation where the lighting in the speaking area was insufficient. While someone answered a question or offered feedback, I would take a quick glance at my outline to see my location on the “map.”

Using speaking notes should not be considered a “public speaking felony.” Instead, they should be considered as a tool to help you stay on track and give a better presentation. Don’t be afraid to experiment with using notes – use some of these tips, observe how other speakers use their notes, and find out what works best for you.

When you discover what works for you, help others improve their speaking skills by sharing your knowledge!

Currently, I am in the middle of a great book on public speaking by Scott Berkun, titled Confessions of a Public Speaker. Scott has over 15 years of public speaking experience, and in this book, brings some great insight on the skill of public speaking. It is a very interesting, informative, and honest book that can help anyone improve their public speaking skills.

Click Here to Order Confessions of a Public Speaker


Get Back on the Horse – Part II

If you missed Part I of this article, click HERE.

Going for a ride!

Going for a ride!

Earlier in Part I, I described myself as a “gym rat” when I lived in North Carolina.  I lifted weights with friends almost every day.  We scheduled what body parts we would work on, and the exercises we would do every day.  We would improvise and change up the program for fun every now and then.  One of the guys in the group had been lifting for quite a while, and was quite strong.  I would challenge myself by secretly competing with him as we lifted, which is something that helped me immensely.

I was achieving my fitness goals, and was in the best shape of my life!

Then…things changed.

I picked up and moved to Arizona.  It was one of the biggest and best decisions that I have ever made, not just because I gained a wonderful partner in life…my wife Jill…I have also had some great experiences that might have never happened had I decided to stay in my hometown.

The downside to this was that I couldn’t take the gym or my friends with me.  The tools and support that I used to help achieve and maintain my fitness goals were gone.  The plan that I was using was solid as a rock, and I had no “contingency plan” to deal with changes such as this.  Yes, I did join a gym in Arizona, but it wasn’t the same, and after a couple of years of working out on-and-off, I began to falter…and eventually gave up.

I fell off the horse…in a BIG way!

Everything that I had worked so hard for disappeared, and before I knew it, my weight was the highest that it has ever been…255 pounds!  We had bought a home gym with an Olympic barbell set, plus an elliptical for cardio.  However, because I made the decision not to pick myself back up and “get back on the horse,” they just became dust collectors.

Me after falling off the horse...250+ lbs!

Me after falling off the horse…250+ lbs!


Why did this happen?

This leads us to what is probably the biggest reason that people give up on their goals:

Goals with no “Game Plan” – This happens when the individual creates the goal without really planning out the necessary steps to take in order to achieve the goal.  It’s like wanting to drive to the next town in a car without a steering wheel…you have everything but a way to guide you to your goal!

The game plan provides guidance toward goal achievement.  To effectively use a game plan, keep these points in mind:

  • The game plan needs to be flexible – Life is not perfect, and the path to achieving our goals will not be perfect either.  Sometimes what works one day stops working the next, or, we find something that works better.  A good phrase to remember is, “Keep your goals set in stone, and your plans set in sand.”
  • Remember, first things first – Be sure to prioritize what needs to be done in order to begin achieving your goal.  What is the first important step to take?  What step do I need to take after that?  And so on…  For example, if your house is a mess, what are the big things you can do to start cleaning it up?  After those tasks are done, what are the medial things?  Then, what small touches can you do to finish up?  It may help to sit down with a piece of paper and draw a “map” of the priorities that need to be taken care of on the pathway to achieving your goal.
  • Many pathways to the destination – It may help for you to sit down and have a brainstorming session to come up with as many ideas as you can that can help you achieve your goal.  Let the ideas flow without judgment.  After you have “flushed out” all of your ideas, evaluate their feasibility according to the tools and talents that are available to you.  Keep the ideas that you deem most effective.  The more pathways that you can create toward your goal, the better!  This creates a “contingency” system.

Back in the Saddle Again!

Using these points, I managed to get back on the “achieving and maintaining my goal weight ‘horse’” a couple of years ago.  I identified the priorities that I needed to focus on, which consisted of staying active and mindful eating.  The workout equipment was pulled out, cleaned up, and made ready to access easily.  My wife and I tried out other ways to get exercise other than lifting weights, and found out that we really enjoy hiking and biking.  There are several contingency plans in place so I can get physical activity in…and have the variety that wasn’t in place before!

On the eating side, I found an app on my phone that helps me keep track of what I eat via a points system.  I make it a point (pun intended) to not eat past my points, and if for some reason I am unable to exercise on a certain day, I make different choices that allow me to leave a few points on the table.

Since starting this program a couple of years ago, I have been able to get back down to a healthy weight range, and maintain it.  I feel great, and because of this healthy lifestyle, my wife and I were able to hike the Grand Canyon from the north rim to the south rim in 15 hours…and plan to do it again in October 2014 with the goal of beating our time!

So, what are your goals for the coming year?  Use these tips to help you create a map to achieving those goals.  Remember – there is no such thing as perfection, and things will not always run smoothly.  Avoid the mindsets and behaviors mentioned in Part I.  And…

Make it a SUCCESSFUL Year!                     

Get Back on the Horse! -Part I

HAPPY 2014!

Get Back on the Horse!

Get Back on the Horse!

We are at the beginning of another New Year, with all the New Year’s resolutions, newly set goals, and the aspirations that accompany them.

Are you one of the millions of people who came up with a New Year’s resolution, or set up a goal to achieve this year?

Does it involve achieving a healthier weight?  Obtaining new and improved skills?  Creating a better lifestyle for you and your family?

Now, the important question…will you work towards achieving your goal, no matter what?

 The fact is that the majority of people who come up with a New Year’s resolution will never see it come to fruition.  The same goes for a lot of people who set goals.  They start out full of excitement and energy, ready to go.

Then after a while, the excitement wanes, or they experience difficulties, and they give up.

I used to see this all the time in the gym.  A few years before I moved to Arizona and wound up buying my own workout equipment, I was a “gym rat.”  We had a YMCA near my hometown in North Carolina where I would lift weights daily with some friends.  We would always dread when New Years came around, because the workout room would fill up with people working on their New Year’s resolution.  The space would be so crowded, we wouldn’t be able to get in a serious lifting session.  After two or three weeks though, things would be back to normal, and we had the space to use once again.

All the people that were excited about achieving their New Year’s resolution vanished!  They “fell off the horse,” gave up, and went back to the way things were.  It was interesting for us to watch.  It was almost entertaining…

…at least it was until I was the one that “fell off the horse.”

I’ll continue that story, and the lesson learned, in Part II…


There are several reasons (and excuses!) why people give up on their goals, and yes, I believe that some of the reasons are legitimate.  Here are three of the main reasons why I believe goals are never achieved.  The first two I will share with you now, and the third in Part II:

Fatalistic behavior – This happens when the individual makes a mistake on the journey to accomplishing their goals.  The fatalist says, “I tried and failed, so I might as well give up.”

  • A person may have a goal to achieve a healthy body weight by changing their eating habits.  After having a big, unhealthy meal at a celebration, which doesn’t happen often, they give up on their goal after assuming they have no self-control.  They let one “slip up” bring everything to a crashing halt.

In order to conquer fatalistic behavior, we have to come to the realization that we are human, and because of that, it is guaranteed that we will make mistakes.  What is most important is the action we take after the mistake has been made.  We can choose to learn from the mistake, improve, and continue our journey toward achieving the goal, or give up and continue to live in mediocrity.  There are tons of inspiring stories of people who made mistakes and still found success that you can find to help overcome fatalistic behavior.*

Perfectionist behavior – Everything has to be “just right” in order for the individual to begin working on achieving their goals, thus never really “getting on the horse” to begin with.  The perfectionist says, “Everything has to be perfect and in place – the time, the weather, the day, and more importantly…ME!”

  • An individual joins Toastmasters to learn how to become a better speaker.  They never volunteer to give a speech, and wind up quitting after a few months.  They give various reasons for not speaking, such as “the timing isn’t ‘perfect’,” “I don’t have the ‘perfect’ topic,” or “I haven’t ‘perfected’ my speech yet.”

Perfectionists never really “get on the horse” because they have a myriad of excuses: the time is never right, they are never ready, or there are clouds in the sky.  There is no such thing as perfection…even the most “perfect” diamond has a flaw somewhere!  Perfectionists need a good, and sometimes pushy(!) group of supporters to help them get started, provide useful and positive feedback to help them improve, and keep them moving forward.  Continually letting the individual experience the fact that the world won’t self-destruct because they did an imperfect job is very important, and can help them overcome the need for perfection.

Part II of this article will cover the third category, which is extremely critical in goal-setting…and is often times overlooked.  The reason that I “fell off the horse” in the beginning story has to do with what resides in this category.

I will give you “the rest of the story” in Part II, as well as the lessons that I learned…and continue to learn.  Stay tuned!


* a good resource for inspirational stories is Joyce Meyer’s book, “Never Give Up!: Relentless Determination to Overcome Life’s Challenges” on the Self-Talk Products page!  Get it today!