How is Your Tolerance for Change?

I am one of those crazy people who loves to host and cook for huge family gatherings, so preparing for the massive Thanksgiving meal is an olympic event that I actually look forward to every year.

(Side note – Speaking of hosting, I’m hosting something else tomorrow that I know you’ll love, so read to the end if you want to join me, and for your free gift!)

One thing I have noticed is that no matter how much some people (like me) love to experiment with different flavors and recipes in daily life, Thanksgiving is a day when everyone is a hard-core traditionalist.

Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and at least a dozen other sides, plus equally as many desserts, which are all guaranteed – nay, required – to be the same year after year, will grace the table. There is ZERO tolerance for change.

I remember one year I was dating someone who didn’t eat red meat. He wanted to spend Thanksgiving with me and my family, and while I loved the idea in theory, I told him it probably wasn’t a good idea, because I didn’t know what he’d be able to eat.

As part of a large Italian family, there was some version of pork in just about everything – from ham in the brussels sprouts to bacon in the string beans and sausage in the stuffed mushrooms.

I stopped in my tracks when he suggested, “Well, couldn’t they use turkey sausage instead?”

(I suddenly had a flashback to that fabulous scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when Toula sheepishly tells her aunt that Ian, her new boyfriend, is a vegetarian.)

Such substitutions would be viewed as culinary sacrilege, and to suggest that my mom and aunts modify the traditional Thanksgiving menu would practically get him blacklisted and me disowned.

Where in life are you staunchly opposed to change, even when there’s plenty of advanced notice?

And how well do you handle those changes when they come unannounced?

This week on the Speaking to Influence podcast, Melissa Schoger of Avery Dennison, also shares a harrowing experience when she and her team had the rug pulled out from under them within 24-hours of a massive deadline. In that kind of situation, what options do you have, and how do you weigh the risks?

Tune in to find out:

● How Melissa made sure the integrity of a message remained intact after witnessing how different leaders had totally different interpretations of what had been decided in a meeting
● How she learned to take the time to listen to team members on the ground, rather than assume she knew best from a top-down perspective as their General Manager.
● What she learned about coming to any negotiation with a thoughtful mindset instead of a winning at all cost mindset
● Why recording yourself before doing a presentation can be the best preparation.

Listen to the full conversation here or watch it on YouTube here.

On the other hand, some changes are welcome changes, especially when they bring opportunities to grow personally and professionally in fun and exciting ways.

One of the most common requests I’m getting lately is to help people build their brand – but not just as a subject matter expert; they want to become a “go-to thought leader.”

Go-to thought leaders are people who are known for being experts AND interesting. They have a reputation for being great storytellers, and captivating audiences on podcasts, panel discussions, “fireside chats,” lunch-and-learn discussions and more.

I’ve spent years building my brand that way, and am frequently invited to be a guest on podcasts, keynote at conferences, emcee events, moderate panels and more – all of which I love doing.

Just last week I emceed a fundraiser, and afterwards the president of the organization said, “Thank you so much! The way you ran the evening added another degree of professionalism that took the event to a whole new level.”

And here’s the thing: it’s not rocket science; I’ve just figured out the formula, and I want to share it with you.

In thanksgiving for you joining me here each week, here’s a link to download my list of “8 Keys to Building Your Brand as a Go-To Thought Leader.”

It’s clear and straightforward and totally DIY.

And if you’d like me to walk you through it with a little more detail, you’ll receive an invitation to join me on a fast, free and fun 30-minute webinar tomorrow, Wednesday 11/23/23 at 2pm ET.

I’ll tell you how I implemented each of the 8 Keys, and answer any questions you have right there on the call.

Click here to get the 8 Keys to Building Your Brand as a Go-to Thought Leader.

But most importantly, a heartfelt thank-you for being part of my VIP Family!

Stay tuned for an upcoming Black Friday weekend special opportunity to continue to build your brand as a Go-To Thought Leader!

When They Found the Courage to Speak Up

It’s not something I frequently get the chance to do, but this was a rare opportunity to watch a client in action.

I had permission to sit in on a division meeting to watch the dynamics of the event, and the culture of the group, first hand.

From my chair in the corner, an obvious but odd pattern quickly emerged.

The leaders were all sitting down at one end of an impossibly long conference table, and all the analysts were at the other end.

But the weird part was that most of the analysts just stayed silent unless invited to speak. When they did respond, they just hovered over their papers, mumbling almost inaudibly to themselves.

A few days later I met with Sam, one of my clients in the meeting – and more specifically, one of the mumbl– I mean, analysts.

Sam was brilliant but shy, uncomfortable in the spotlight, with a very soft speaking voice, which was probably a product of both nature and nurture.

When I asked him how he thought the meeting went – specifically, his part – he shrugged and said, “Fine, I guess.”

I mentioned that, sitting on the far side of the room from him in the group meeting, I couldn’t make out a lot of what he was saying.

“It’s just my voice,” he said. “I’ve always had a soft voice.”

“Here’s the thing,” I said to him. “You are really good at your job, aren’t you?”

He nodded.

“And you want to be recognized and appreciated for your expertise, don’t you?”

He nodded again.

“And you want to be seen as someone who has real leadership potential, right?”

“Yes,” he said.

“The problem is that when you only speak loudly enough to hear yourself, or maybe for one or two people nearby to hear you, the message you are really sending is that you don’t truly believe that your contributions have value.”

He looked at me, silently, processing.

“But the worst part,” I continued, “is that the message everyone else is sending back to you, in their polite silence, is: ‘We agree. We don’t think what you contribute will have any real value either; if we did, we’d ask you to speak up so we didn’t miss anything important!’”

The next week I was back on site and bumped into Jake – another team member – in the hall.

“Did you hear about Sam?” he asked with a smile.

“No,” I responded, curious. “What happened?”

Jake explained: “At the department meeting this week, when it was Sam’s turn, he pushed his seat back, stood up, and spoke really loudly. Even the boss looked surprised, and I heard him say to (the guy) next to him, ‘What got into him?”

Later that day I met up with Sam.

“Jake told me about how you stood up and spoke up in the last meeting. What changed?” I asked.

“Well,” Sam said, “I thought about what you said, and the fact is, I worked really hard on that data, and it was important. So I wanted to make sure everyone heard and understood it.”

And that was the beginning of Sam’s upward career trajectory.

There are many reasons why some people habitually hesitate to speak up when they otherwise have the opportunity to do so. Usually it is some combination of perfectionism/lack of self confidence, and fear of judgment: They project an excessive degree of risk onto the situation, and fear that if they can’t offer THE perfect answer or solution, it will result in some sort of shame, failure, or other repercussions.

Yet more often than not, when they do choose to speak up, not only is there NOT any negative consequence, but most people are actually glad that they did!

This week on the Speaking to Influence, Chantal Capodicasa, Senior Vice President of commercial banking at TD Bank, talks about how she found the courage to speak up in defense of her team and challenge a directive in a time of crisis.

Over the course of our conversation, Chantal peels back the curtain to explain leaders’ perspectives on things like:

  • What leaders really think about participation in discussions, and what they are looking for from you
  • How speaking up in a meeting, even when it’s just to ask a question or clarify something, is beneficial for you and your team.
  • How storytelling in an interview can show you have the ‘It’ factor employers are looking for
  • How it took her being open about a family member’s battle with cancer for her team members to be able to show up for her in ways she didn’t realize she needed.

Listen to the full conversation here or watch it on YouTube here.

And remember my mantra: Find your voice, find your power!

Do You Have the Courage to Lead Through Uncertain Times?

Do you simply have the courage to lead?

In this post:

  • Discover powerful ways to overcome fear and uncertainty when facing major decisions and changes
  • Unlock the true meaning of courage and learn to take action despite your fears
  • Become an inspiring leader by developing a clear vision and motivating others to achieve extraordinary results
  • Take inspiration from history by commemorating the courage and sacrifice of veterans, active military personnel, and heroes who fought for suffrage and civil rights
  • Explore the importance of making difficult choices and doing what's right, even in situations where the stakes aren't life-or-death 
  • Gain valuable insights from exclusive past interviews with renowned industry leaders who embody exceptional leadership and courage

One question I have repeatedly asked myself when faced with major decisions and changes is:


“Do I have what it takes? Am I ready for this?”


Whether the change is voluntary or out of necessity, weighing the stakes and coming face to face with the risk/reward balance can feel a lot like standing at the edge of a cliff and trying to convince myself to jump off.


“But cliff-diving is a sport! It’s fun!” some might say.


Yes, I’m sure there’s an exhilaration, but I’ve belly-flopped off diving boards only a few feet from the water’s surface, and that didn’t feel so good.


So the prospect of what an “epic fail” would feel like when taking an infinitely bigger leap is daunting to say the least.


Whether literally jumping off the cliff into water or figuratively committing to massive change, especially when the change will affect other people – for better or worse – the choice becomes a test of our own courage and leadership.


Courage (which stems from the French coeur or heart) is feeling the fear and doing it anyway.


Jack Canfield (co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books) said, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”


And leadership is about having a vision and being able to inspire others to join you in turning it into reality.


This week there are a number of reminders – and TONS of inspiration – about the importance of taking that leap as leaders.


First – here in the US, today is election day. And while many are jaded on the political process and climate, it’s important to remember all those who felt the fear and still fought to give us the right to vote. From the founding fathers and mothers, to those who fought for (white) women’s suffrage and saw that 19th amendment victory in 1920, and those who fought for civil rights and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to ensure those same rights for all, we honor all of those heroes by exercising that right they fought to give us, but may never have had for themselves.


Two past podcast episodes speak to these beautiful histories, which you may have missed. The first was with Allison Titman, executive director of the Alice Paul Institute. Alice Paul fought alongside Susan B. Anthony in the women’s suffrage movement.


And the second was a powerful panel discussion with Rachael Jones and Nikelle King last January in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy.


Second, we remember that Veterans’ Day is this coming Saturday. Let’s face it, it’s because veterans, active military and first responders do what they do – inevitably facing some level of fear every single day – that we are able to do what we do every day freely and safely.


In honor of those heroes, here are a few other past interviews you may have missed:


John LaBarbera, retired FDNY battalion chief shares stories of leadership courage encountered literally inside of flames, with the fire department and now with the Tunnel 2 Towers Foundation.


And Ralph Galati shares his perspective on leading by giving back. Ralph started in the Air Force in 1970 and had the harrowing experience of being a prisoner of war alongside the late John McCain. Upon regaining his freedom, he rose to executive roles in companies such as IBM and SAP, is and now advocating for veterans’ rights all around.


Even when circumstances aren’t literally life-or-death, choices can be hard, and require significant acts of courage, especially when doing the right thing comes at a cost.


That’s a key lesson from this week’s episode on the Speaking to Influence podcast.


This week, Charlie Saffro discussed how she had to end a business relationship with a client who made derogatory comments about an employee's physical disability.


do you have the courage to lead


As founder and president of CS Recruiting, a logistics and transportation industry staffing firm, for Charlie, it’s all about people and relationships. So what do you do when your innate desire to have a positive relationship with someone gets in the way of being able to hold them accountable?


Tune in to find out, and hear Charlie’s take on:

  • the importance of resourcefulness and curiosity in a job interview
  • how she realized that she was better at being a leader than a manager
  • how she strengthened her team’s trust in her as a leader through actions that aligned with her business values
  • the importance of pacing herself

And more.

Listen to the full conversation here or watch it on YouTube here.

So take heart – courage – and remember: everything you want is on the other side of your fear!



Recommended Reads:

How to Combat the Fear of Uncertainty at Work

Forget Lemons- What To Do When Life Gives You Manure

The Missing Piece to Being A Great Leader

Communication Challenges: Did You Miss the Big Question?

Communication challenges- did you miss the big question?

Key takeaways:

  1. Recognizing the cultural differences important to marketing- How assumptions about cake preferences in Japan led to marketing  challenges for Betty Crocker;
  2. The power of asking the right questions and its significant impact in overcoming communication challenges;
  3. Tailoring your communication styles with different audiences in mind

When I lived in Japan I was surprised by two things that led me down a little rabbit hole of cultural discovery… and marketing blunders all based on questions that weren’t asked.

On the surface, I was amazed at how much they loved western-style cakes – there seemed to be a bakery on every corner. But given how expensive they were, I was also surprised that there were no boxed cake mixes available in grocery stores, which cost pennies on the dollar by comparison.

Curious, I looked into it and discovered that in the 1960s Betty Crocker had attempted to sell boxed cake mixes but ran into the first problem:

1) Most traditional Japanese homes didn’t (and still don’t) have ovens!

Undeterred, they came up with a version that could be decently made in a rice cooker – a guaranteed fixture in every home. Except they failed to ask the target market if there was any reason why that wouldn’t be a perfect solution. And, unsurprisingly, there was:

2) Most households made one BIG batch of rice in the morning and kept it there all day to be used for all three meals. The rice cooker               was rarely free.

PLUS, many women were afraid that if they used it to bake a cake, a residual vanilla or chocolate flavor would taint the rice next time.
Not worth the risk.

Nevertheless, the marketers persisted… after all, wouldn’t the convenience and economical nature of boxed mixes win out? (Yet another question they should have asked the target market, but didn’t.)

The answer was:

3) Nope… because price and convenience weren’t the priority when it came to cakes.

Typically, people bought the beautiful and expensive cakes to bring to other people’s homes as hostess gifts or for celebrations, at which point presentation was most important.

The Japanese are masters at gift wrapping, whether at bookstores, souvenir shops, or high-end department stores. (I tried for years to emulate it, and never succeeded. Not once.) Having an expensive – and expensive-looking – cake wrapped meticulously and beautifully was more than half the gift itself.

A DIY chocolate cake with a can of frosting clumsily spread over the top in a pan covered by plastic wrap simply would NOT do, no matter how lovely the intention behind the effort.

How many times have we failed to ask the key questions that would have saved us TONS of pain and/or opened whole new worlds of opportunity?

This week on Speaking to Influence, Ossa Fisher, President of Aurora Technologies (which creates the software inside self-driving automobiles – how cool is that?) shared a perfect example of when she DID ask the right question at just the right time, which changed a NO into a huge YES.

Laura Sicola interviews Ossa Fisher on Youtube


Volunteering for Yale Model Congress, she visited local schools in New Haven to try to inspire local high school students to participate.

When there were no takers, she could have simply walked out feeling disappointed and wondering what she did wrong, or even what was “wrong” with them, to pass up such a great opportunity. Instead, she decided to ask the key question:

“Why not?”

The answer was simple but powerful: They had no transportation.

That was a problem she could solve, and she did.

She rented a van, drove it herself, and recruited a team of 15 students who went on to have great success at the Model Congress, and undeniably a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

In addition, in the interview, Ossa and I also discussed:

  • How she has to customize messages for different audiences: addressing concerns of regulators regarding safety measures, and reassuring the public with real-life examples of how Aurora’s technology enhances road safety.
  • Tactics she uses for calming nerves during public speaking,
  • The power of the compassion she received from her team during a family crisis, and how it motivated her to pay it forward
  • How she recognized a servant-leader mentality in a job candidate
  • How she decided to be bold in negotiations when she was on the lower end of a power dynamic

And more.

Listen to the full conversation here or watch it on YouTube here.

Now let me ask YOU:

Whether there are new angles you’d like to hear in future podcast episodes, or questions I should be asking our readers, clients, followers, or other people, please help us unlock new doors for everyone.

My door is always open to you!


Recommended Reads:

How Dads Can Model Leadership Communication

How to Command Respect

How Did You Get *That* From What I Said?

Would You Have Passed the Test?

This is one of those sticky subjects that people (and companies) love to espouse as a core value… until a moment comes that puts that value to the test. Would you have passed the test?


I’m talking about integrity.


People have lots of personal definitions and interpretations of the term, but as a linguist, I go to its historical root.


Integrity comes from the Latin word integer, meaning “intact, whole.” That’s why in math, an “integer” is a whole number (i.e. no fractions or decimals as parts.)


That’s also why I like to look at the idea of having integrity as being whole, bringing your whole self to work, home or play, not hiding or denying your core truth (while still being contextually appropriate and tactful!) or otherwise acting in a way that contradicts deeper values.


“Yeah, yeah, Laura,” you protest. “All this fortune-cookie-wisdom is lovely, but the fact is that sometimes being 100% in integrity is really hard!”


Correct! That’s why I love seeing real-life examples of integrity in action.


For example, what would you do if your boss told you to take a plane out to one of the company’s locations on December 23rd, and the next day – Christmas Eve – lay off dozens upon dozens of people?


“But that would never actually happen… would it?” you ask.


Yup – as a matter of fact, that’s exactly what happened to Dr. Mary Ellen Harris, my guest on this week’s episode of the Speaking to Influence podcast.


This week on the podcast


Mary Ellen is the Chief Human Resources Officer at Kreischer Miller. She described a particularly harrowing experience when, as a rather junior employee at a former company, her boss told her to do just that: be the hatchet person and fire whole teams of people on Christmas Eve.


This was an important life test: Recognizing that she risked getting fired herself if she refused, she decided her own integrity was more important to her than the job, and put her foot down. She said she’d do it on January 2nd if necessary, but not a day sooner; she was not about to ruin so many people’s holidays.


Her boss *ahem* expressed his displeasure in a rather loud and animated way but did not fire her… although she ended up quitting soon after the new year anyway (who wants to work for a Scrooge like that?) with her head held high and her integrity intact, so in the end the moral victory was indeed the greatest one.



Think that was the only test of integrity Mary Ellen had to pass?


Think again.


Tune in to hear stories including:


  • How she leveraged a conversational inquiry process instead of traditional disciplinary tactics to address performance challenges with an employee, in a way that he was able to come up with a solution to his own problem and become a high-performing employee
  • Her experience of undergoing brain surgery, and how she broached the subject with her team, and
  • Why a physiological tic resulting from that surgery made her hesitant to turn on her video camera for our interview… and why I’m soooo glad she did! (Hint: it ties right back into that notion of integrity.)


Listen to the full conversation here or watch the video on YouTube here.


PS: If you’re ready to establish a personal brand as a charismatic thought leader in your field, who people actually want to listen to, whether in meetings, on podcasts, or on panels, roundtables and beyond, keep reading:


What to watch out for next week


Next week I’m launching an intimate small-group coaching program to get you those exact results in record time: “8-Weeks to Becoming the Go-To Thought Leader.”


In each week’s hands-on workshop-style session, you’ll learn the secrets to:


  • Speaking with confidence (even when you don’t feel it)
  • discovering your natural charisma
  • hypnotic storytelling
  • being ready with mic-drop sound bites
  • knowing where to find the audience who is dying to hear all that you have to offer
  • how to connect with audiences on different platforms
  • Making every engagement FUN!


It starts next Wednesday the 25th, and there are only 10 seats total (some are already filled).


It’s time to become the thought leader who doesn’t just get invited to speak because of technical expertise; you want to get invited back, again and again, because you knock it out of the park every time.


Send us a message to schedule a call with us to learn more!


Related Posts:

Want to Know What Charisma Looks Like? Watch this.

Does This Habit Hold You Captive?

Is it More Important to Be Comfortable or Truthful?


That’s When I Realized it Wasn’t a Good Idea

Have you ever made a decision that seemed like a great idea at the time, but in retrospect realized that it wasn’t?


Or at least, maybe you realized that circumstances that made it a great idea made sense at the time, but times change, and now it’s time to go back to the drawing board?


At one point, I had the opportunity to do some contracting for Grace Killelea (a powerhouse in human resources and leadership development) and her then-new Half the Sky leadership program, where a big part of their focus was on developing executive presence. My training showed people – among other things – how the way we use our voices, literally and figuratively, has an impact on our image and effectiveness as leaders.


“There are a lot of people who talk about executive presence,” Grace said to me one day, “but your work around the impact of voice is a game changer.”


And with that moment of inspiration, Vocal Impact Productions was born.


That was in 2013.


Then something funny happened. One day, a colleague introduced me to someone at a networking event and said, “You have to meet Laura – she’s a voice coach!”


“Well,” I qualified, “I help people find their leadership voice, but I’m not a traditional vocal coach, per se…”


And then it happened again. And again…


I quickly came to realize that:

A. the name of the company inherently was leading people to make that assumption;

B. it’s easy for (well-meaning) people to say “voice/vocal coach”, without realizing that they might know what I do and imply that meaning when using that phrase, but the listener does not share that context; and

C. in some circles, the stereotype of being a “voice coach” had a negative connotation, especially as it relates to leadership. They thought I’d be telling people how to act, (e.g. “talk like a man,” “talk white,”) play a role, or otherwise “fake it” to get ahead, which is the exact opposite of what I’m trying to do in helping them find their authentic voice as a leader.


Even now, ten years later, it still happens all too frequently. That’s a big part of why we’re getting ready to rebrand Vocal Impact Productions (more on this in a few weeks) so we can shed what – for us – are limitations of being misrepresented as a “vocal coach”. (NB: Genuine voice/singing/acting coaches are amazing – that’s just not my field.)


But my field isn’t the only one that gets misconstrued.


There are a lot of coincidences between me and my guest this week on Speaking to Influence, Laura Liotta, President of Sam Brown Healthcare and Communications Agency, besides, of course, our names.


Laura shares how there are many misconceptions and stereotypes around what public relations (PR) actually is, and how those stereotypes challenge the integrity of the industry, especially when working within the pharmaceutical industry and with celebrities like Chloe Kardasian and Lady Gaga!



In our conversation, we also dug into:

  • How a client's expectations and attitude influence the tone of the relationship for the company
  • How to let go of toxic clients for the sake of the team's well-being and integrity when necessary
  • How her experiences working in the pharmaceutical industry during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 90s inspired her
  • Why and how to curate your social media feeds to intentionally train the algorithms to show you positive thought leaders (e.g. Mel Robbins, Oprah Winfrey, Tony Robbins, Simon Sinek, and Brené Brown).


Listen to the full conversation here or watch the video on YouTube here.


Last week, we also had another awesome Linkedin Live interview with Dr. Jennie Byrne, “Stick the Landing: Pitching with Confidence and Impact.”



Whether you’re an entrepreneur or sales rep pitching your products or services, a startup pitching investment capital, or about to pitch your boss for a promotion or raise, at some point we all have to deliver a pitch, and we want the answer to be YES.


We explore 5 pitching pitfalls – i.e. false choices we think we have to make, how to avoid the traps, and the neuroscience behind them, so you can present a compelling pitch and “stick the landing.”


If you missed it, you can still watch the replay. Connect with me on LinkedIn here to request the replay link.


One way or another, let’s make sure people hear what you say AND what you mean, so you stick the landing every time!

Could You Locate it on a Map?

Geography was never my strongest subject, but it wasn’t my weakest either.


At least, I didn’t think so, until I got introduced to someone who lived in a place that made me pause for a moment and ask myself,


“Wait… that’s a real place?”


I’m not proud of that, but at least what I lacked in geographic knowledge I made up for momentarily in resourcefulness, and I went straight to Google Maps.


There it was: The Isle of Man.


A single island in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland, it has all of 222 sq.mi (just a little smaller than Chicago) and 83k inhabitants (just a little larger than Bismark, ND.)


25 years ago, this week’s Speaking to Influence podcast guest, Chris Hall went to the Isle of Man to help build (and later lead) Manx Telecom and ended up putting down roots there, eventually co-founding Stacuity, Ltd.


But as Chris soon discovered, small islands, with their small-island traditions and small-island locations, came with big business challenges. Just to name a few:


  • Upon arrival in the late 1990s, they discovered that leaders and inhabitants alike on the island “didn’t believe in the internet.”
  • In the early 2000s, Manx used the Isle of Man as the test site for 3G mobile technology in Europe (3G made the leap for cell phones to stream data), and the world was watching… literally.
  • Later in 2021, as a well-established telecom executive, he co-founded Stacuity, Ltd., with new and groundbreaking technology in the space of the “Internet of Things” (IoT), and ran into two other barriers: age bias and geographic bias.


Wait – what kind of bias?


Well, in an industry in which the stereotypical image of the successful “unicorn” tech founders are Zuckerberg-like, hoodie-wearing, 20-somethings in Silicon Valley and similar hubs, Chris found that investors were dubious about investing in a white-haired, middle-aged, self-proclaimed tech expert who lived out “on a rock” that they’d never heard of… or at best had heard of but still couldn’t likely find on a map.


He had to establish his credibility all over again.


How did he eventually break through each of these barriers and get to “Yes?”


Listen to the full conversation (and how he managed to visit the Oval Office on his first visit to the US) here or watch the video on YouTube here.



Ushering in not just one but TWO technological paradigm shifts in his career, (the internet era, and the IoT era) one of the lessons Chris both learned and taught was about the utterly essential power of storytelling.


Chris explained how he regularly had to leverage the power of storytelling when facing those who were reluctant to embrace change. Most importantly, he explained, stories have a way of making concepts relatable and relevant.


But why do they work so well?


That’s exactly what I will be digging into tomorrow (Wednesday, October 4th) on LinkedIn Live is with Dr. Jenni Byrne, MD, in our conversation, “Stick the Landing: How to Pitch with Confidence and Impact.”



Dr. Jennie is a neuropsychiatrist, and we’ll be looking at how we’re wired to listen to stories, and why we need to use them when we’re pitching our business, our product or service, or even ourselves, like during an interview or annual review.


And how do we do that with confidence, without accidentally sounding arrogant, and still being our authentic selves in the process?


Yeah, you’ll definitely want to join us for this conversation.


You can register for the event here.


And just for fun, tune in to Marco Torres’s “Marketing Boost” podcast, as Marco and I dig into the role of speech in marketing.



From using your voice and body language to project confidence, to strategies for connecting with your ideal market or audience every time you speak, this was a high-energy conversation that was jam-packed with content.


Listen here or check out the video on YouTube here.


But first – go ahead and ask Siri where the Isle of Man is. You know you want to…

And the Award for Best Actor in a Debate Goes to…?

I’ve never been a follower of the Oscars, Grammys, Tonys or other major awards shows, but if there were Emmy's for debates, several categories could have been awarded last night.


Last night was the second Republican primary debate in the lead-up to the 2024 election, and as always, my analysis is completely APOLITICAL, looking strictly at patterns and moments reflecting effective leadership communication skills, as lessons for us all – whether or not we’d ever cast a vote for anyone on the stage.


The “Awards” I would bestow are in the categories of:

  • Setting the Bar
  • Most Presidential Moment
  • Most Shameful Moment
  • The Most United Front
  • Taking the High Road
  • INconsistency in Messaging (another dubious honor)

And my final prediction at the end — not an award, but notable nonetheless.


Interestingly, I actually found some of the most noteworthy moments in the minutes just before and after the actual debate itself.


The Award for Setting the Bar


In the very last comment before the debate officially began, Kellyanne Conway observed:

“People want somebody who’s tough, they want somebody who fights. But they don’t want somebody who fights for fighting sake; they want somebody who fights for the people.”


Well said, Kellyanne. You win the award for setting the bar. But was that bar reachable, or just wishful thinking?


Mostly, it was wishful thinking, unfortunately, as more often than not at least three of the seven candidates on stage were all talking at the same time, arguing over who should be allowed to interrupt whom. Nobody wins when that happens, least of all, the viewers.


Fortunately, there were several breakout moments where others very successfully hurdled Kellyanne’s bar.


The Award for Most Presidential Moment


The winner of the “Most Presidential Moment” goes to Senator Tim Scott (SC). Moderator Ilia Calderón cited a rather… loaded… line in Florida’s education curriculum about slavery and Governor Ron DeSantis for his message to descendants of slaves.


While his response was… questionable… alluding to some comment Vice President Kamala Harris had made about it, but when Scott was invited to respond, he knocked it out of the park:


  • Instead of attacking DeSantis, Harris, or the textbook authors, he offered a simple solution: that they all “should have taken the one sentence out.”
  • His statements surrounding slavery and the Black experience were drama-free, non-incendiary and did not create or take sides
  • He spoke with pride of the historical challenges overcome by Black Americans and acknowledged that he personally has experienced discrimination, but without any trace of blame or bitterness – both of which would have been justified
  • And he drew a clear distinction between certain government policies that DID hurt Black families and communities, specifically Johnson’s Great Society in the 1960s, and the country overall, explicitly asserting that America “is NOT racist.”


Now, whether or not you agree with any of his statements is totally up to you.


But given the political division in the country, and the fact that he is the only Black candidate in a party whose registered voters are still 85% white, he did an exceptionally diplomatic job of walking the line and making an argument without putting any major voting constituency on the defensive.


He hurdled Kellyanne’s bar: He was there to fight for the people – not pick a fight with people.


It was authoritative, unifying, and very “Presidential.”


And he knows that he will be able to be much more vociferous in speaking up for the rights of Black Americans as president than as a single-digit-polling candidate. He played his cards right.


Most Shameful Moment


One other moment that initially made me bristle, but turned out to be the best moment of the night was in the penultimate question of the evening.


To my dismay, moderator Dana Perino asked a question that seemed to be competing for the “most shameful moment in a reality show” award (if there were such a thing).


She asked all the candidates to take the pen and paper on their podiums and write the name of the one candidate they each thought should “be voted off the island.”


It struck me as pandering to our lower selves, deliberately instigating a fight among the candidates, and seeking melodrama for melodrama’s sake. A cheap shot to create fodder for morning-after gossip.


Then a minor miracle of redemption happened.


The Award for the Best United Front


The candidates all looked at her and either in words, facial expressions or both, said some version of, “You can’t be serious.”


DeSantis took the lead this time, and outright refused to answer that question, asserting that they were all up on the stage to engage in meaningful debate, so to get back to more substantive questions. All the other candidates expressed their agreement, and the debate moved on.


The award for “Best United Front” goes to all of them. Kudos to all of them. They all hurdled Kellyanne’s bar, together. (If only they could show that kind of unity and integrity on ALL the questions… but I digress.)


The “High Road” Award


The final stand-out moment of the night was actually after the official debate ended. Sean Hannity was interviewing each of the candidates one by one, and Vivek Ramaswamy stole the post-game show.


Hannity asked him about some tense moments when Ramaswamy was under fire, most frequently by Nikki Haley (former governor, SC, and Ambassador), among others. This would have been the perfect opportunity for him to fire back, uninterrupted.


But he didn’t.


Instead, he dismissed the attacks with a wave and a smile, reiterating a statement he had made earlier in the debate that all the candidates on the stage were inherently “good people.”


Instead of trying to “set the record straight,” cry victim, or otherwise feed into the animosity and division, he was going to be a good sport about it, and show that we’re all in this together.


He controlled the narrative, and framed the attacks as part of a rite of passage as “the new guy” who needed to “earn people’s trust.” To him, it was merely part of a fraternity hazing, and he was willing to see it through.


It was a fabulous example of grace under fire, and ability to turn the other cheek (at least in public).


The “Taking the High Road in Leadership” award definitely goes to Vivek Ramaswamy.


So there were definitely some good examples of what leadership looks and sounds like amid the chaos of the rest of the evening. You just need to know where to look!


The Award for Inconsistency in Messaging


Side note: the “Inconsistency in Messaging” award goes to Fox Business News. They moderated the debate and came up with the questions, including one that referenced the fact that TikTok was blocked from all government-issued cell phones and devices because of alleged ties to the Chinese Communist Party… which is fine, except that TikTok was allowed to buy airtime on the FBN network during both debates so far, in the very first advertisement slot with each commercial break of the night.


Is it just me, or is that weird?


Final Prediction


Last point, just for fun – I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a prediction.


On multiple occasions in both debates Ramaswamy has consistently stated that he thinks Donald Trump was an excellent president whom he would fully pardon, if elected. Might he be vying not for the presidency, but more realistically at this stage in his political career, for the role of vice president?


Of all candidates, Ramaswamy's stance has indirectly demonstrated “loyalty” to Trump — a quality that the former president has state that he values above anything else.


For that reason, I predict that if Donald Trump is not in prison or otherwise banned from running for office again, the 2024 Republican ticket will be Trump-Ramaswamy.


Time will tell if my “Magic 8-Ball” speaks the truth…


What Do You Do if Your Backup Plan Fails?

My heart was in my throat.


After seven years of blood, sweat and tears (okay, maybe not actual blood, but enough sweat and tears to compensate), the day had come for me to defend my doctoral dissertation.


It was early Monday morning, the day after Easter, and I was looking through the printouts of my slides while on the Amtrak coming home to Philadelphia after spending the weekend with my family.


My defense was scheduled for 5pm so I had plenty of time.


Around 11am I walked into my apartment, put my bags down and turned on my computer. It started to boot up… and then I heard a rattling noise, followed by a click.


Then… nothing.


Yup – it was dead. This was before everything was in the cloud, and it pains me to admit it, but I had no digital backup.


There was no time to have the meltdown I desperately wanted to have. In an 11th-hour “hail Mary” pass, I ran upstairs to a neighbor’s unit and begged her to let me use her computer.


Mercifully, she agreed, and for the next four hours I scrambled to reconstruct my presentation from scratch, based off the hard copy I had used on the train.


When I finished, I copied it onto a flash drive – make that TWO flash drives – and raced across town to campus, found the reserved conference room, and uploaded my presentation. There it was, on the big screen.


The time: 4:45. I made it with 15 minutes to spare.


Ironically, knowing that NOTHING could be worse than the ordeal I just navigated, I wasn’t nervous at all when the meeting officially began (I think I was fresh out of adrenaline), and I passed my defense with flying colors.


Thank goodness for that hard copy. Lesson learned – now I have backups to my backups, and then some!


But what happens when your backups fail?


This week’s episode on the Speaking to Influence podcast, Matt Kraft, COO of Mosaic Learning, takes us through the harrowing experience of rallying his team through a 17-hour marathon to overcome a total system collapse in the 11th hour before the very first earnings call for the new CEO.


That’s right – in the perfect storm of events that defied all laws of probability, all four backup systems failed.


But Matt led the charge and got his amazing team to pull off a miracle. Tune in here to learn how.



In our conversation, Matt and I dug into:


  • How trying to appear older and more experienced by being stoic and unemotive was not a way to inspire trust and connection
  • How they use big data to improve learning outcomes
  • How he learned to inspire his team through empathy
  • The importance of being a hands-on leader and working together with his team to find solutions to key problems.


Listen to the full conversation here or watch the video on YouTube here.


And that’s just one of the awesome conversations I had this week.


For a fun twist – on the Fraternity Foodie podcast, I got to join Michael Ayalon to talk to college students and young professionals about how to project authority and executive presence even when you’re young and totally new to the working world.



Share it with the young aspiring professionals in your life on YouTube here or Apple Podcasts here.


And on The Monica Sanford Show, Monica talks to local, national and international influential leaders in business, politics and community life. I was honored to be the final guest in her Summer Leadership Series, and we had a great time digging into the Three Cs of Vocal Executive Presence:


Command the room

Connect with the audience

Close the deal.



Listen to it here.


And of course, always have a backup plan!

How Do You Announce Change?

Everyone has needs; some of them are just more intuitive than others.


Ever ask yourself, “Why do I always do that?” If so, read on.


Most of us are familiar with Abraham Maslow’s original hierarchy of needs, which dates all the way back to 1943, ranging from physiological needs at the bottom (e.g. food, water, shelter), moving upwards through safety needs (employment/money, personal security), to self-efficacy at the top, i.e. (I’ll borrow a slogan from the Army here) the ability to “be all that you can be.”


Less well known is Tony Robbins’ model of the six human needs, but boy does it do a lot to explain human behavior.


At the foundation are two oddly contradictory needs:

  • Certainty (i.e. security and – ahem — control)
  • Variety (i.e. “uncertainty”)


Then there are two needs that address how we relate to others:

  • Significance (feeling important, needed, special)
  • Love and connection (platonic or romantic closeness, union)


And at the top are two more “spiritual” needs:

  • The need for growth (personal or professional)
  • The need for contribution (wanting to serve others regardless of personal benefit)


The biggest difference is that for the most part, Maslow’s needs are in logical order: i.e. if you don’t know where your next meal will come from (level 1), you’re not likely to be concerned at the moment with improving your social status (level 5).


But at any given moment, our driving force could be any one of Robbins’ needs.


Think about it: most of us are probably pretty secure in our homes and careers, and like to volunteer and “pay it forward,” which would be at the top of the hierarchy.


Nevertheless, have you ever succumbed to self-sabotaging actions? Maybe something like:

  • Procrastinating and “accidentally” missing deadlines for job applications or proposals
  • Eating half(?) a container of ice cream when you’ve been working hard to get healthier and lose weight
  • Picking a fight or breaking up with someone when everything has been going fine
  • Spending money on “retail therapy” when you know you’re trying to save for a mortgage down payment or to get out of debt
  • Setting unattainable goals… or not bothering to set any at all


If so, at that moment, your driving force is the need for certainty.


When we’re afraid of the goal being too hard, the risk being too great, or failing to live up to expectations (our own or other people’s), we grasp at the opportunity to control something, even if it means creating the exact opposite of what we actually want.


The problem is that if there’s one thing that’s constant in life, it’s change, and even good change brings an element of risk.


That’s why the announcement of a major change has to be handled so carefully – so as not to trigger everyone’s fundamental need for safety and security (a-la Maslow) or certainty (a-la Robbins) and result in widespread panic.


How do you introduce change to your team? To your family? To your relationships?


Want an example of announcing and managing massive change on a global scale? Look no further than this week’s episode of Speaking to Influence.


In honor of kicking off Hispanic Heritage Month, my guest, Dr. Richard Santiago, CFO (and retired lt. colonel) of the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), shares how he had to become an agent of change in order to implement institution-wide digital transformation that could not afford to fail across more than one hundred locations around the world.



In our conversation, Rich dives into how he:

  • Developed a change management framework
  • Communicated his role to all key stakeholder groups
  • Built coalitions internally and externally
  • Centralized problem solving
  • Surrounded himself with subject matter experts
  • And gave his people even more autonomy


All to ensure the success of the mission.


Listen to the full conversation here or watch the video on YouTube here.


While stress is a part of every change, and just about every job to one extent or another, a crucial distinction to identify is whether it is temporary or chronic, and whether it’s something we can reduce for ourselves, or is a systemic part of the institutional structure and culture.


In other words: Is the stress we’re feeling generic “burnout,” or more deeply, are we actually experiencing “Moral Injury”?


That’s exactly what Dr. Jennie Byrne, MD PhD and I discussed on Friday’s LinkedIn Live conversation.


And trust me, even if you missed the live event, you can’t afford to miss the replay, which you can find here.