Reason number 45

A few months ago I blogged a list of 44 reasons I blog.  I just stumbled across reason number 45 as I prepare for a speech.

My job (your job, anyone’s job who talks to customers or donors or board members or the media or just about anyone) is to create and to tell stories.  Stories that get people to act – to give or to buy or to stand up for something they believe in.

It should go without saying that if I’m going to be an effective storyteller, I need stories to tell.  MY stories.  Not just for big speeches – though I need them for those too – but for conversations and for media interviews and for talking to colleagues and giving feedback and of course for presentations.

Turns out I’ve got a blog full of these things – some better, some worse, but it’s there: a catalogue of stories and vignettes and thoughts and hopefully some insights every now and again.  Blogging puts a pretty high bar on what makes the cut and also forces me to develop ideas beyond my initial reflection.

I’m 100% sure I wouldn’t have the discipline to do this without the blog.  So thanks to all of you for reading, because I wouldn’t keep at it without you.

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Act now, only 40 tickets left!

Lots of people talk about wanting to help.  Taking the time and the energy to create something of beauty that makes a difference…rare indeed.

I’m beside myself in thanks to the amazing volunteers who have put together a benefit photo auction for Acumen Fund, this Thursday (tomorrow!). The Nuru Project is putting on the show (and what a show it will be) with photos by Steve McCurry, Susan Meiselas, James Whitlow Delano, and many more.  Come early to the VIP preview to hear more about the photos from JB Reed.

The details: Thursday, 7:30pm, Tribeca Cinemas Gallery, 54 Varick Street. You can still buy tickets.

(open bar, great DJ, food from the likes of Jimmy’s No 43 and Smoke Joint, awesome raffle prizes, and I’ll also be saying a few words together with my colleague Yasmina Zaidman).

And if you can’t join us, you can spread the word.  Why not lift these 88 characters and throw them up on Facebook or Twitter?

Photo Auction+ Acumen + Cool People = “Dignity” a July 30th NYC Benefit http://bit.ly/2E5Ff

Varanasi. The City of Light

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Of diving boards and backflips

I was lucky enough to spend some time on vacation last week near a beautiful lake in France.  Crystalline, cool waters, looming mountains all around, and kids everywhere jumping and diving into the water with abandon.

I watched the scene from a floating platform 50 feet out in the lake.  I noticed that the two lifeguards on duty, responsible for more than 100 swimmers, mostly talked to each other.  Parents stayed on the grass, relaxing and chatting.  No one hovered.  And all the while kids from 4 to 14 (and a few who were 44 and 64) bounded off of a high diving board, doing backflip after backflip into the water (often almost landing on one another).  It felt like another era.

Contrast this with the public pools in NY, where I go with my kids, and the constant cacophony of lifeguard whistles, nearly nonstop, telling each and every kid all the rules they are breaking.  No diving, no rollicking, no horseplay, no running. No, no, no, no, no.

It may well be that kids are safer at the public pools in NY, that there are fewer accidents.  But it may also be that all the whistle-blowing and intensive supervision doesn’t do anything at all for safety, but takes a lot of the fun out of childhood.

We often act – especially in the U.S. – as if there’s no harm done in being just a little bit safer, having just a few more precautions.  But it feels a little like the proliferation of low-fat and diet-conscious food while obesity rates soar — somehow we may be barking up the wrong tree, attacking obvious symptoms that have little to do with the real problem.

Sitting on the dock, watching those kids in France bombing into the water, it reminded me of what childhood used to be.  And it made me worry that what we’re really teaching a generation of kids is fear — this at a time when what we need more than ever is audacity and fearlessness.

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Someday…

…I’ll be a week ahead on blog posts.

I meant that day to be today, but it’s not. And I’m going on vacation.

This is the kind of thing that should stay behind the curtain for you as a reader.

Next time.

Happy summer.

Changing practice by practicing change

New Year’s resolutions.  Diets.  Vows to arrive earlier to work.  Promises to keep calm while in traffic jams.  All worthwhile attempts at change that often fail.

Why?

“Change is hard,” right?  Maybe.  We try changing so rarely, so why should we be any good at it?  Same schedule most days.  Same people we work with.  Same friends, same families, same food we eat.

It’s reassuring and productive to have a whole lot of habits.  But we’re setting ourselves up for failure if we only attempt change when it’s something BIG: “I’m going to stop eating carbs.”  “I’m going to get up at 6am every day and exercise.”  “I’m going to become a great public speaker.”

Great if you can pull these things off.  If it’s not happening, maybe you can make space for practicing.  Practicing change, that is.  Trying to change small, low-stakes things, and watching what happens along the way.

Here’s an idea: try brushing your teeth with your other hand for a month.  It’s meaningless, it’s easy, it’s low stakes, and there’s no good reason you can’t pull it off.

Why bother?  Because if you can do this for a month you might have more faith that you can change something more important.  And if you fail (which you might), you’ll have a chance to watch when and why your attempts at change fall apart.  Are you initially enthusiastic but then lose interest?  Do you convince yourself it’s too hard?   Do you just forget?  Pulling this silly little thing off is your way to learn how to change – which makes it important and worth the follow-through.

(If you don’t like the idea of brushing your teeth with your left hand, here are some other ideas, all for a month: Arrive 5 minutes early for every meeting.  Never complain.  Answer enthusiastically when anyone asks you “how are you doing?”  Look everyone in the eye when you talk to them.  Sit quietly with your eyes closed for 5 minutes a day.  Go to bed by 10 pm.  Floss daily.)

Have fun with it.  Keep a log of how it’s going.  You never know what you might be good at if you practice.

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Everything I really needed to know about presentations…

…I learned from a band that plays for 5 year olds.

I had a wonderful summer evening with my family, listening to the much-acclaimed (by my kids) Jeffrey and the Bossy Frog Band play an outdoor free concert as the sun went down.  It was great.

Here’s a list of things that Jeffrey gets right:

  • Engage your audience from the get-go.  Get them to answer questions.  Get them to stand up. Get them to participate.
  • Have a really cool name.  Even if you’re just one guy with a bunch of blow-up dolls, be more than just a guy on stage with a banjo.
  • Be wildly enthusiastic.  Love what you do.
  • Never apologize, qualify, or otherwise stall.  Jump right in.
  • Tell stories.
  • Treat your audience with respect.
  • Have a message that everyone in the audience (no matter how much or little they know about what you’re doing) will understand.  For example, count how many pieces a flute has and then put it together.
  • Never shoot down a comment from the audience.  A person participating is a person who’s engaged.  (Even if they shout out “frog!” when you ask for their favorite kind of bug)
  • Be a master of your craft.
  • Thank your hosts,  and be genuine about it.
  • Tell people what they can do if they love you.  “Buy a CD, go to my website to see where my next gig is.”

You can get all this stuff and more from Garr Reynolds or Seth Godin or just by paying really close attention watching TED talks.  Or you can just pay more attention the next time you go to a great kids’ show.

We get so wrapped up in our elaborate content and message and the fact that we’re giving a speech that we absolutely forget that creating enthusiasm, interest, energy and connection with the audience isn’t optional, ever, no matter what you do and how sophisticated a message you want to communicate.

Go ahead, prep and deliver your presentation as if you’re talking to a bunch of 5-year olds.  I bet it will get better.

(And, just for kicks, here’s Rives’ 4-minute riff, “If I controlled the Internet.”)

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“We need your help” (caveat emptor)

It’s so flattering to be called in to save the day.  This happened to me once – being hired to “take a team to a new level.” (not my words, the words of the person I went to work for).  I wish I’d asked a lot more times, “Why are things not yet at that level?  Is what I’m able to bring to this job going to change that? Will it be enough?” 

The job ended up being a failure for me and for the organization.  What was missing wasn’t something that I (or anyone from the outside) could bring in.  The problems were internal and cut to the core.

This experience taught me once and for all that a job title, its formal authority, the job description, salary, what I’m officially being asked to do…all of these masquerade as things that really matter.  Give me an “A” team that’s part of an “A” organization, and give me any set of goals that are important to the organization – that’s all I need to know.  All you need is the people and the runway to make great things happen – and the willingness to work damn hard to get there.

What about an “A” title, job description, title, rank, authority…but a B team in a B organization?  Man, I’d be skeptical and ask a lot of questions about what the organization is willing to change to support the change they say they’d like to make. This is why I’m skeptical of most job descriptions and am very careful when I hear from headhunters – the risk is that they (the headhunters, the job descriptions) convey lots of information that’s essentially unimportant.

It gratifies the ego to be told that you are going to come in and save the day.  It’s possible, but working alone against the current (and against culture and entrenched interests) is a big job with a long time horizon and an uncertain payoff. Great things happen if you can pull it off (for example, Steve Jobs) but it’s harder than it looks.

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