Who is Lucky to Have Whom?

Meredith was burned out after nearly a decade in a toxic corporate culture. She wanted out, and she wanted a fresh start in a new company that would challenge and nurture her, and allow her to contribute meaningfully in a leadership role.


She had an interview lined up, and she was excited for it. My job was to help her be prepared and nail it.


Toward the end of our first hour together, after working on some stories to use in her answers, I asked her:


“What questions do you want to ask them?”


“I don’t really have any major questions; the job posting was pretty clear, and it’s too soon to discuss salary and stuff,” she shrugged.


“Then you’ll never get the job,” I said. She looked at me, surprised.


“An interview is a two-way street: you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you. You’re not just crossing your fingers and hoping to be picked; you need to make sure that you even WANT to be there.


“Remember: you don’t HAVE to take the job even if they offer it to you – and that’s powerful leverage. You’re checking to make sure they’re good enough for you too.”


She stared at me in silence for a moment, before saying (almost more to herself than to me), “Oh my gosh, I’ve been so fixated on just wanting to get out of my current situation ASAP, I completely forgot that I have agency here too. I have a choice.”


“Right,” I said. “It’s not about whether or not you’re lucky enough to get picked. The question is, who’s lucky to have whom? And ideally, you’re both feeling like the lucky one to be able to work with the other!”


Nobody understands that two-way street better than Nathan Beckord, CEO of both Founder Suite and Funding Stack, two digital platforms focusing on startup investment capital: the first is for the founders looking to raise funds, and the second is for the venture capitalists and the investor community.



This week on the Speaking to Influence podcast, Nathan and I address the grueling challenges in fundraising for startups, the majority of whom hear “No” dozens or even hundreds of times before hearing a Yes.


With those odds, it’s easy to see how many startup founders might slide into the mindset of hoping they just “get lucky” eventually. And when that’s the mindset, the investor smells the desperation in the air, which is a recipe for rejection for sure.


(By the way – even if you’re not a startup founder, does any of this sound familiar??)


But Nathan throws a wrench in the works by sharing the five key criteria that investors look for in a founder, and how to showcase those qualities so that they indicate a founder’s potential for success. They are:


  • Relevance
  • Connection
  • Hustle
  • Past accomplishments, and
  • Effective communication


It's all about building a compelling narrative of success and momentum. Your journey so far isn't just a story; it's a testament to your potential for future greatness.

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

One other question that investors (or employers) bear in mind is what kind of working relationship they envision themselves having with the other person. Because the simple truth is that the right relationship – personal or professional, long- or short-term – can be utterly life changing.

And that’s exactly what Kevin Thompson loves to explore as the dynamic host of the video podcast, “Million Dollar Relationships.

Did you ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point? Among other things, he talks about the role of people he calls “connectors,” who seem to know everyone. Regardless of what kind of connection you’re looking for, telling the connector always seems to say, “Yes, I have someone I can introduce you to…”

That’s Kevin!


On “Million Dollar Relationships,” I have the fun privilege of sharing the story of some of the people who have had the most profound impact on my professional life, including the person I credit for almost single-handedly redirecting me out of academia and a career as a professor and into the world of consulting, coaching and entrepreneurship 15 years ago.

And that’s a HUGE choice I feel lucky every day to have made!

There’s one other choice that will soon be upon us (and a smaller one I’ll invite you to make now.)

Many of you know that during presidential election seasons I do APOLITICAL analyses of the candidates’ performance during televised debates and town halls, using those events as real-time, live case studies of successful (and not-so-successful) leadership communication in action.

My goal is to identify actionable lessons, do’s and don’ts, that we can ALL learn from, regardless of whether they came from a candidate we’d vote for, or wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole. (Here are some of the analyses I’ve posted from past years, if you’re curious.)

Tomorrow night, Wednesday, August 23rd, is the first of the Republican primary debates, so Thursday I’ll share my take on who did well or not and why, regardless of whether or not I agree with their arguments.

If you’re curious, just watch your inbox on Thursday.

But politics – even apolitical analyses of political discourse – isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so if you don’t want to receive my breakdown of tomorrow’s event or similar future events, just reply to this email and say “Thanks, but no thanks re: debate analysis” and we’ll do our best to make sure it stays out of your inbox, while still ensuring you continue to get our regular Tuesday notes each week.

One thing is for sure: I truly feel lucky to connect with YOU each week – and I hope that you feel the same way too.

Can You Be the Best in the World?

To my own surprise, I’ve managed to achieve a number of things I never thought would be possible, most of which, early in my career, I never would have imagined doing at all:


  • I got a PhD (surprise #1; I never wanted to go to grad school) from an ivy league school (surprise #2) – then decided not to go the tenured faculty route after all (surprise #3)
  • I had a child in my 40s
  • My main TED talk (I’ve given three – all of which were unexpected invitations) has nearly 7 million views
  • I’ve been a guest on national TV news programs
  • And I’ve run a successful business for 15 years and counting (>90% of all small businesses don’t make it past the first year).


I may not have set any world records, but I certainly consider them personal bests. At the very least, I’ve managed to surprise myself regarding what I’m capable of doing. And that’s a beautiful, self-empowering revelation.


Give it a try. Take five minutes over your morning coffee and ask yourself: what’s something you’ve achieved which your “younger self” would have looked at and thought, “Wow, I’m actually going to be able to do THAT?!”


Of course, some people aspire to more than just personal bests.


For example, this week on the Speaking to Influence podcast, my guest is Chris Krimitsos, founder of Podfest™ Multimedia Expo, who holds the Guinness World record for the largest attendance for a virtual podcasting conference in one week – not just once, but TWICE, for 2019 and 2021.


Chris is the guru of all things podcasting. And the fact is that nowadays, if you’re looking to expand your reputation as a go-to thought leader in your field, you need to be on podcasts. Whether you’re a host or a guest, or just aspiring to be one, Chris has insights about how to be the very best.



I loved our deep dive into:

  • the unique relationship between podcasters and their audiences
  • Why “facts tell and stories sell” (hint: “A listener gravitates more to a story than an expert opinion.”)
  • how to create searchable and on-demand content
  • what to bear in mind when pitching yourself to show hosts as a podcast guest
  • How to be the kind of guest hosts want to invite back, and
  • How to leverage podcasts to build your own thought leadership.


If you want to be viewed as relevant in this day and age, you won’t want to miss this!


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

Do You Have What It Takes to be an Intra-preneur?

One of my favorite TED talks is Angela Lee Duckworth’s Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance.


Grit, as Duckworth defines it, is a combination of passion and perseverance over long periods of time, as in years, or even a lifetime. Grit was the strongest predictor of success when compared to other variables ranging from IQ and attractiveness to emotional intelligence and feelings of safety at school or work.


Although she doesn’t specifically discuss it in her TED talk, I’m pretty sure grit is a primary factor in success as an entrepreneur.


Speaking from 15+ years of experience there, it’s the passion for your vision and commitment to seeing it through that enable you to weather the often long and lean startup years, and the unpredictability of month-to-month changes in revenue that may dictate not just what your paycheck looks like, but whether or not you get one at all.


But I’m also pretty sure that grit is a primary factor in success as an INtra-preneur. In case that’s not a term you’re familiar with, an intrapreneur is an employee (manager or otherwise) who promotes innovative products, services, programs and ideas within the organization itself.


A prime example of grit in intrapreneurship is Dina Pokedoff, Senior Vice President of Communications at Kuehne + Nagel.


Not only is Dina the first person to inhabit the newly created role of SVP of Communications for all of North America for the global firm (~80,000 employees in 100 countries!), but in this week’s episode of Speaking to Influence, she shares how she’s taken the helm to begin a veritable sea change in company culture by making DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) a daily part of company discourse, where there had been no company-wide initiative to date.


Each step may feel small unto itself, but as the ancient Chinese proverb by Lao Tzu says, “A journey of a thousand leagues starts with a single step.”


Getting buy-in and inviting participation into events to inspire curiosity and interest in others is a major first step. Scaling it to the entire North American branch (again, we’re talking tens of thousands of people) makes a full Iron Man triathlon look easy.


But I for one am confident that she’s up for the challenge.


(Oh – did I mention Dina ran her first marathon at age 50 and has been competing in triathlons since then? Like I said, she’s got serious grit…)


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



Dina also gave great advice regarding what it takes to successfully climb the career ladder, including:


  • The importance of being seen and known
  • Being resourceful, and accepting new challenges
  • Being willing to “figure it out” even if you don’t have all the knowledge and skills right from the start
  • Knowing when to take calculated risks, and learn from failures (FAIL = “First Attempt In Learning”)


And more.


Of course, not every challenge in life needs to be weathered alone in gritty silence. Sometimes having the right resources and companions can grease the skids a bit and make for a much smoother and easier journey.


In the next few weeks I’ll be launching a new group coaching program for those who want to master their own powers of leadership communication and influence along with other like-minded leaders to encourage and motivate each other along the way.


Shifting continental gears in my proverbs, as the Swahili proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”


More information soon on how to join us on the success journey, honing your confidence, presence and influence while learning with and from others, and having fun in the process.


What could be better than that? Stay tuned…


How to Finish Strong in 2022

At the end of every year, we all have an important decision to make.


We can look back on the last 365 days and count our blessings, our successes large and small, and reminisce about the fun times with friends and loved ones.


– Or –


We can let our inner critic fixate on all the to-do list items that never got done, things that didn’t go our way, and all the disappointments and frustrations that come with life.


It’s a simple binary choice, yet as we all know, simple things aren’t necessarily easy.


Regardless of whether your internal compass tends to gravitate towards optimism or pessimism, I’m excited to share a great opportunity to create some fast, fun, and empowering wins to wrap up 2022 and launch into 2023 on a pre-set success trajectory.


This week on the Speaking to Influence podcast is our annual “Best of the 24-Hour Influence Challenges” episode.


We’ve identified three themes among the 52 episodes of 2022, and compiled some of the challenges guests have levied for each, serving them up buffet style for you!


The three themes this year are:


  • Increasing your conscious awareness/mindfulness as a leader
  • Ways to lead more effectively by understanding others more deeply
  • Simple steps for professional/personal development


Remember – each challenge is something that you can COMPLETE within 24 hours (and many only require a few minutes).


So you could simply pick one of the challenges and knock it out for a quick win to reset the trajectory. Alternatively, you could easily pick one or two a day to build up a new success habit as a springboard into the new year.


The beauty is that the choice is yours, and all the options ensure a WIN!


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



We’ve hit some great milestones in 2022, such as

  • hitting the top 100 and even the top 50 (which is nearly impossible for our category) on Apple Podcasts/iTunes
  • hurdling the 100th episode mark (this is episode #136!)
  • having thousands of guests register for our LinkedIn Live events
  • Being a guest on other shows ranging from the Geeks, Geezers & Googlization podcast, to PHL-17 television here in Philadelphia, and most recently the Kristen Hagopian show, which is currently being broadcast over 200 radio stations across the country.



We’re also looking forward to some exciting changes in 2023 as Vocal Impact Productions prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary this spring! Stay tuned for more updates in the new year.


But one way or another, I want to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to all of YOU, for reading my thoughts here each week, listening to the podcast, attending our live events, sharing your feedback, making introductions, and helping me be the very best I can be!


Thanks for making 2022 such an amazing year. I hope you had a wonderful Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and any other holiday you choose to celebrate, and wish you all a very happy, healthy, and blessed new year!

Is This Your Theme Song This Week?

The first time I heard it, I cracked up.

It was 1986 and dad and I were in the car listening to Christmas carols, when Bob Rivers’ song, “The Twelve Pains of Christmas,” a spoof of the classic “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” came on the radio.

In true “humbug” spirit, instead of celebrating the joys of the season, it runs through the most common perennial frustrations many of us experience in preparation for what’s supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year.

Have you ever caught yourself in this trap, regardless of what holidays you celebrate? Grumbling to yourself (or anyone in earshot) about everything from the stress of:


  • buying presents
  • cleaning and decorating the house
  • preparing to host tons of people (whose company you may or may not enjoy)
  • baking cookies by the gross
  • arranging travel plans


And of course my personal favorite, trying to smash an extra week’s worth of work into the already-packed week before Christmas and/or the first week of January to allow me to take off most of the last week of December to be present with extended family and loved ones.

Yes, no matter how much I love the holiday season, there are definitely days when I feel like “The Twelve Pains of Christmas” is my theme song for the day.

So let me ask you: What’s YOUR theme song today?

If you want a different twist on how to answer that question, try asking your employees this: “What’s it like to work for me?”

For example, if you’re having a particularly good or bad day, does it change the way you treat your people?

These are just a few of the many insightful questions asked by Melinda Emerson, America's number one small business expert and President of the Quintessence Group on this week’s episode of Speaking to Influence.



Melinda, a.k.a. “The Small Biz Lady,” also shared

  • how she overcame other people’s doubts in her ability to lead a successful company that reaches more than 3 million people online every week
  • the common mistakes people make when networking
  • How “coaching leaders” are committed to helping their people succeed, even if it’s not at the current company; and
  • what makes people forgettable (and, by extension, memorable)

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

There are a lot of things we tend to forget in the haze of the holiday rush. One of them is often how to shift gears from work or “boss mode” to home or “family mode.”

That's why this Thursday at 1pm ET I'm excited to join forces on LinkedIn Live with Uwe Dockhorn, executive coach and “lifestyle liberator” for high achieving professionals, to explore three common communication pitfalls when switching (or failing to switch) from work- to home-mode.

You’ll get clear on how to shift those patterns to stop “directing troops,” and communicate more meaningfully to reconnect with the people you love most.



Register for the event HERE – your loved ones will thank you for it!

Speaking of things that are – or are NOT – forgettable, one thing that’s easy to forget in the haze of whatever your personal version of “the twelve pains of Christmas” may be, is the fact that so many of our headaches are actually a blessing in disguise:

  • We feel compelled to buy a million presents because we have that many loved ones in our lives
  • We are ABLE to buy all those presents because we have the means to do so
  • The headache of cleaning and decorating the house is because we HAVE a house to clean and decorate
  • The challenge of clearing time to take off of work is because we have enough a stable job that provides for our needs
  • The possible ritual of seeing some “less favorite” people is because we have the security of a permanent family

This last one particularly hits home.

I am perpetually aware of how blessed I am to have been raised in a stable, loving family, and now as an adult, how blessed I am to have two happy, healthy kids of my own.

I’m equally aware of the fact that this is NOT the case for the 407,000 children and teens in foster care across the US, many who are waiting to be adopted, wondering every day if they will ever have a “forever family”.

As you probably know, this issue is close to my heart, which is why I just made my year-end donation to the Adoption Center, and I wanted to ask for your support as well.

The Adoption Center’s programs help teens (who are most likely to just age out of the foster system and end up on the streets instead of getting adopted) to find and embrace the love and connection of a permanent family they can call their own.

If you are able to join me in helping give a child the gift of a loving family, any amount may be donated online by clicking here or by going to https://adopt.kindful.com/.

Join me and help more children change their theme song – perhaps “We Are Family” – his holiday season?

If you do, I bet it will change YOURS too, to one that reflects true “tidings of comfort and joy.”

Happy Hanukkah to all those celebrating this week, merry Christmas to those preparing to celebrate, and peace to all!

Congratulations to Pete Joniec, president of the Jonus Group, whose “Speaking to Influence” episode hit #122 on iTunes/Apple business management podcasts! If you missed it last week, you can still catch it here.


How Do You Create the Greatest Value?

About a mile from my house there’s a big ol’ pothole in the road.

The first time I hit it while driving I didn’t even see it, since it was dark out, and it’s on a shaded curve so it blended into the shadows. WHOMP!

I muttered a few choice words under my breath and made a mental note to beware next time I was on that part of the road.

It’s probably not a surprise to learn that I hit that same darn pothole more times than I care to count, even when I remembered in advance that it was coming up and was looking for it.

It made me feel only marginally better to know that this experience is not uncommon, because – as the saying goes – “Where focus goes, energy flows.”

In other words, the natural reflex is to stare directly at the object you want to avoid, but because we’re staring directly at it, our body homes in on it and coordinates all energy and motion toward that same point.

Although counter-instinctive, the remedy is to look NOT at the pothole (or other object) itself, but at some other part of the road, where you DO want the car to go; then you’ll be most likely to avoid making contact and steer the car to safety.

But that expression, “Where focus goes, energy flows,” can work IN our favor too.

In particular, in our personal and professional lives, often the hardest decisions to make are regarding where NOT to focus time, attention and efforts, when everything seems important.

By eliminating anything that is not the top priority, we are able to focus 100% of our attention on what matters most so “energy flows” in that direction, and we get the job done.

That’s when we create our greatest value.

And that’s what Rachael Jones, Founder & CEO of NewCo @ Redesign Health was talking about this week on the Speaking to Influence podcast, when she explained how “energy drives action” and shared her emphasis on communication that promotes “clarity of goal, clarity of role.”



In other words, not only do we need to ensure that everyone is clear on what the collective goal is, but we need to be equally sure that everyone on the team is clear on their individual role and the value they create for any and all other stakeholders in order to help the team and company overall to achieve that goal.

That clarity helps them focus their own energy flow in the right direction to get the best results.

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

Of course, sometimes we’ve outgrown our current position and know that we could be providing much greater value to the world through a different opportunity.

That’s why I’m teaming up with April Mason, a top-tier career consultant with years of experience working at the forefront of hiring for Fortune 100 and Fortune 1000 companies, along with 20 other experts in her free series Lead Your Career in Turbulent Times beginning December 5th at 12 noon EST.


Click Here to Grab Your Spot


This is your chance to turbocharge your leadership, discover your purpose and learn to LOVE your work again.

In other words, our goal is to help you get clear on where you can create the greatest value.

Now, I also understand that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed in the context of all this talk of “greatest” value, “maximizing” productivity, contribution and the like. So there’s one other detail that’s important to bear in mind in order to keep perspective that nurtures a life of gratitude, balance, joy and fulfillment every day.

One of my favorite quotes is from the humblest of heroes, Mother Theresa, who reminds us that “Not all of us can (or want to) do great things, but we can (all) do small things with great love.”

Sometimes it’s the smallest acts that have the greatest meaning, when done from the heart.

So in the spirit of Giving Tuesday, today, I invite you once again to support one of the non-profit organizations we’ve featured on the Speaking to Influence podcast (links to the episodes as well as the organizations’ home pages are below) but WITH A BONUS TWIST.

You may recall that in last week's podcast episode, Dave Rowan, CEO of BLOCS challenged everyone to donate not just money but some TIME to a charity of your choice.

(Side note: Dave's episode was so popular it hit an awesome rank of #129 on Apple management podcasts! If you missed it then, check it out now!)


Well this time, as a special “thank you” to anyone who accepts my invitation, if you reply to this email and tell me which organization(s) you supported and how (no need to disclose any financial specifics), I will send YOU a free digital e-copy of my book, Speaking to Influence: Mastering Your Leadership Voice, in PDF or ePUB (Kindle/iPad/etc.) format as you prefer!

Here’s our list of fabulous not-for-profit guests and the organizations they lead:

Ep.8 Paul IsenbergBringing Hope Home

Ep. 21 Carolina DiGiorgioCongreso de Latinos Unidos

Ep. 34 Charmaine Matlock-Turner – the Urban Affairs Council of Philadelphia

Ep. 36 Jamil RiversEducation Works

Ep.43 Marcus AllenBig Brothers Big Sisters

Ep.44 Jeannine LisitskiWomen Against Abuse

Ep.45 Joyce ChesterChester County OIC

Ep.67 Christine JacobsThe Adoption Center

Ep.68 Angela LiddlePA Family Support Alliance

Ep.69 Ralph GalatiJDog Alliance

Ep.73 Patricia WellenbachPlease Touch Museum

Ep.74 Allison TillmanAlice Paul Foundation

Ep.81 Luciana BonifacioSave the Children

Ep.110 Tracy AshdaleGirls On The Run

Ep.111 Keisha JordanChildren’s Scholarship Fund

Ep.113 Joellen Meckley – the American College of Financial Services Center for Special Needs

Ep.114 Renee WilliamsNational Center for Victims of Crime

Ep.115 Virgil SheppardHope Partnership for Education

Ep.129 Samantha SaywardAlzheimer’s Association

Ep. 131 Dave RowanBLOCS


Perhaps tell a loved one you're going to make a donation in their name/honor, as an “alternative” holiday gift that brings joy to the receiver, the honoree AND the giver!

Remember – no act of kindness or value created is too small, if done with great love.

A Real-Time Case Study on What (Not) to Say

I can tell the holidays are coming by the growing number of catalogs and sales circulars in my mailbox each day. There’s also another kind of mailbox clutter these days, but this one will mercifully disappear in another two weeks.


You guessed it, it’s all the flyers and postcards for local and regional candidates running for office.


With midterm elections coming on November 8th, debates abound, and while I find there is rarely any substance in them that would sway my vote one way or the other, there are ALWAYS great leadership communication lessons to be learned from the events.


Now, as most of you know, I remain firmly apolitical in my work and commentary. Ever since my analysis of the communication patterns of the 2016 presidential race, I watch and listen in order to provide analyses of the candidates’ messaging styles for the sole purpose of identifying effective (or ineffective) communication strategies and tactics, which we can then apply appropriately in our own lives.


I did the same in my commentary during the 2020 election, from my analyses of the Democratic primaries, final debates, town halls, Comparing the DNC and RNC conventions and beyond.


Objectivity is key here. Think of it as though you were a football coach watching game footage the next day. You want to see:


  • What your team did well so you can do it again
  • What your team did NOT do well so you can work on strengthening those areas
  • What your opponent did well, so you learn new ways to be successful
  • What your opponent did NOT do well, so you can leverage it to your advantage in the future (and avoid making the same mistakes for yourself)


You would NOT, however, look at a great play your opponent made and say, “Well, I don’t like them, so I’ll never use that play.” You give objective credit where credit is due, and then decide how to implement it for your own purposes later.


As a prime example, tonight is the debate between Dr. Mehmet Oz (R) and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) as they compete for the open Pennsylvania seat in the US Senate. It’s the only debate I plan to watch and analyze this cycle, frankly because, (a) it’s my state, and (b) there are simply far too many other races to follow.


When I watch “the game footage” tonight, I will be looking for a variety of things I believe each candidate will need to do in order to tip the scales in his favor with regard to:


  • What key personal characteristics they need to project
  • Their ability to make core messages “Tweetable and Repeatable”
  • What they will need to say (or avoid saying) to project those qualities
  • How the sound of their voice and body language will affect those interpretations


In this video podcast I share exactly what these specifics are that I’ll be looking for.


Listen in to see what my predictions are, then watch tonight's debate and see:


  • Where the candidates did or did not follow my advice
  • Who framed and delivered which messages most (or least) effectively,
    and most importantly
  • What lessons we can all learn from their performance and apply in our own lives to help us be more confident, influential, inspiring leaders… regardless of which candidate teaches us each lesson and how.


Then, tomorrow morning I’ll share my “post-game analysis” with you. And if you’re an early bird, tune in to WPHL-17 at 7:45am (watch the livestream here) where I’ll be speaking to the morning show hosts and sharing my main take-aways from the event.


If you’re in PA (or anywhere else), will it help you decide whom to vote for this year? I doubt it. But will it help you increase your influence and have a greater positive impact with some key take-aways about how to be a more compelling speaker and inspiring leader? Absolutely.


Speaking of persuasion, did you miss last Friday’s LinkedIn/YouTube Live event with Keith Campagna, on “Articulating Your ROI in Concrete Terms”? If so, fear not – here’s the replay!


How to be the Conductor of Your Team’s Orchestra

I’ve always been jealous of my cousin Dana’s voice. She’s a classically trained singer with the Washington Choral Arts Society in Washington DC, and I was glad that she was willing to sing at my wedding years ago.


I’ve had the opportunity to attend a number of her performances over the years, ranging from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana to annual holiday concerts in December and lots in between.


One year she told me about an upcoming concert with a very unexpected conductor: Bobby McFerrin. Yes, THAT Bobby McFerrin, of “Don’t Worry Be Happy” fame.


McFerrin was a formally trained folk and jazz artist, who – among other talents – could use his voice and body to make and imitate sounds you wouldn’t think the human body was capable of producing.


But somehow, in my woefully limited knowledge and understanding, having “the Don’t Worry Be Happy guy” conduct the Washington Choral Arts Society seemed incompatible at best.


Boy, was I wrong.


“What’s he like?” I asked Dana.

“He’s incredible!” she replied. “He’s so talented, not just in what he can sing himself, but it’s amazing what he can get US to


And the concert was, indeed, mesmerizingly beautiful!


That’s the beauty of great leadership: it’s not about how brilliant we are individually, but rather how brilliantly we can get the rest of our orchestra to play in perfect harmony from the conductor’s chair.


The notion of being the conductor of your team’s orchestra was also a central theme of this week’s episode of the Speaking to Influence podcast, with Dr. Shannon Hader, Dean of the School of International Service at American University in Washington, DC.


As one of her direct reports informed her on the very first team she ever led, they didn’t need her to be a “guest oboist” or otherwise jump from chair to chair playing different instruments at different times; they needed a conductor. Someone who could help each play their individual instruments to the very best of their abilities, and collectively produce beautiful music.



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


Dean Hader and I also addressed moments when our orchestra hits sour notes, such as when your intentions are utterly misinterpreted (and not for the better), and challenges around changing long-standing daily habits and routines to fit a new reality.


It’s not easy, but it’s absolutely essential.


Another group that is all too clear on the importance of being able to clearly conduct their organization’s orchestra is the MSPA, or Mystery Shopping Providers’ Association at whose 25th Anniversary conference I had the honor of delivering yesterday’s keynote address.


“Mystery Shopping”… yup, that’s a thing!



In case you recognize the other face but can’t quite place it, that’s Charles Stiles, past president of the MSPA but more popularly known for being the host of the Food Network show Mystery Diners for nearly a decade.


He and his crew would set up “sting” operations in restaurants around the country at the owner’s request to find out what was at the root of dwindling profits and customer complaints.


It was a full orchestration of collaborators posing as new employees and customers wearing hidden microphones, with surveillance cameras, and more.


Charles and I met when he was in Philadelphia about eight or nine years ago, when he was preparing to shoot an episode in one of the local restaurants near where I used to live. He was standing on the sidewalk outside my apartment, looking around the neighborhood, and I happened to recognize him.


As a fan of the show, I took the opportunity to introduce myself, welcome him to the neighborhood, and get the inside scoop on which restaurant was the “target” for the upcoming episode. We’ve been friends ever since, and this year he invited me to speak at the MSPA conference.


(Who says networking isn’t a long game, and doesn’t pay off?)


But as I have come to learn, what’s even more unique for this particular industry is that a Mystery Shopping service provider company may only have a few dozen or 10% of members who are actually full-time W2 employees; the other 90% – with numbers in the thousands – are 1099 contractors.


Motivating FT employees is hard enough; how do you motivate day-to-day contractors to take a sense of pride and ownership, appreciating the value of a job well done, when their engagement may only last a few hours at a time, and take place on multiple sites over the course of a day or week?


In other words, how do you get all these individual instrumentalists to play together and create a symphony instead of cacophony?


That’s what we discussed in my session.


And speaking of conferences, I’m also honored to keynote again this Friday, 10/14 at the Lower Bucks County Chamber of Commerce’s Women’s Leadership event: Breaking Barriers and Igniting Impact.



For more information and registration details, please check out lbccc.org/events .


Now the question becomes: Regardless of what instrument you originally played, can you hand it over to someone else, and learn the art and science of conducting to show your ensemble how to play your magnum opus?

How to Make People Want to Listen to You

Although I speak regularly in front of audiences from all walks of life, yesterday I found myself uncharacteristically nervous before I took to the stage.


I had the honor of speaking at the Suffolk County Sheriff’s annual Leadership Conference in New York, hosted by none other than the Sheriff himself, Dr. Errol Toulon (and former Speaking to Influence podcast guest from episode #101 back in January.)




Of course, I take all of my speaking engagements seriously, but somehow the idea of giving back to first responders by providing them with an experience that was worthy of serving as thanks for all they do for us every day felt like I had to set an even higher standard for myself than usual.


When I got to the stage, there was a much heavier, almost military energy in the auditorium full of very serious faces.


Undeterred, I launched right in with a story about my interaction with an officer who pulled me over for an illegal U-turn (oops) my first year teaching in south-central Los Angeles back in the ‘90s. It was complete with a photo of my first class of students, with me standing alongside them, complete with my 1990s “Jersey-Girl hair” and outfit to boot.



Ironically, I had a little trouble gauging engagement during the talk, as the spotlights on stage were rather blinding, I only heard soft waves of chuckles around the auditorium at points that normally would have gotten full belly-laughs from other audiences, and there were few questions at the end.


Had I gotten through? I wondered.


My silent question was answered in technicolor as soon as I finished. There were lines of people waiting to talk to me afterwards, and at every stretch or meal break in the program for the rest of the day, straight through the cocktail reception into the evening.


Each person shared their favorite parts of my talk and biggest takeaways, why it hit home with them, and asked for advice or tips for themselves or their teams on how to be more effective communicators in different contexts.


The common thread that wove implicitly through everyone’s respective comments was universal appreciation for what can be known as “infotainment.”


Infotainment, a.k.a. Information + entertainment, is a commonly misunderstood and underappreciated engagement strategy.


In the past, infotainment (or edutainment, in the world of education) was synonymous with dumbing-down your content, or otherwise being “content-lite”: e.g. 60 minutes of talking, consisting of a few value nuggets glued together with a lot of cute, fluffy, potentially fun filler. Infotainment was hardly the hallmark of the thought-leader or other expert.


There’s also the deeply ingrained fear among many people that adding any sort of personality, humor or fun to an otherwise serious topic would be a form of self-sabotage that would undermine the speaker’s authority, credibility and reputation. That gravitas and any sense of “fun” were mutually exclusive.


For many, the belief is that serious topics need to be addressed seriously if you want to be taken seriously, period.


However, nothing could be further from the truth.


The truth is that humor and personal connection opens listening.


That’s because there is an instant dopamine hit. Remember that dopamine is one of the very addictive “happy hormones” that makes our brains say, “hey, that felt great; I want more!” And since you were the source, that means they want to listen to YOU even more.


Don’t get me wrong: I’m NOT suggesting that you try out your new standup comedy routine at the next board meeting. But in the midst of an otherwise perfectly serious topic and discussion, like when I teach about leadership communication, executive presence, and influence, one of the most effective strategies I can use is to incorporate some moments of fun, as well as moments of heart-felt emotion, empathy or vulnerability, and aspirational vision.


No matter how important the information is, the ability to sprinkle in the right quality and quantity of humor at the right times to add some unexpected variety to the energy of the room can be the very difference between fully captivating an audience… or just holding them captive.

That’s why Infotainment is the topic of this week’s Speaking to Influence podcast episode . Tune in to get my top secrets, strategies and tips to help you effectively and authentically incorporate my most powerful teaching tool into your presentations and talks with any audience.



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


(FYI: That’s the perceived “magic” that makes clients invite me back for more half-day [3-4 hour] virtual trainings because everyone loved the first one, whereas most people can barely stand to be on a 30-minute video conference with each other without being bored out of their minds.)


And speaking of 30-minute videos, one that you absolutely can NOT afford to miss is the replay from last Friday’s LinkedIn Live/YouTube Live conversation with another former Speaking to Influence Podcast guest, Erik Huberman, Founder and CEO of Hawke Media.


Erik and I first connected over a year ago on Episode 53, and this time on Friday he walked us through how to proactively think through the stages of a new product, service or business launch. Start to finish, there were tons of immediately actionable take-aways you’ll want to add to your tool belt!



Catch the replay HERE.


At the core, it's the ability to shift from one stage to another, from serious to humorous and back, from one platform to another, with the confidence that conveys “I know exactly what I’m doing; you can trust me,” that creates the magnetic leadership style that ultimately makes people want to listen to you.

What to Ask For From a Mentor

Sometimes I wonder what God’s voice would sound like. Fortunately Hollywood has given us countless versions to sample over the years, from the sublime to the silly and everything in between.


One of my favorite “God” embodiments was Morgan Freeman in the 2007 comedy Evan Almighty. (Let’s face it, he could read the dictionary aloud and make it sound good.)


In one scene, God appears as a table server to Evan’s wife Joan (Lauren Graham), although she doesn’t know he’s God. As they chat, she finds herself confiding in him, sharing how her husband Evan (Steve Carrell) is building a giant ark in their yard because, he claims, God told him to do it.


“What am I supposed to do with that?” she asks helplessly.


His answer sticks with me even today, 15 years later:

“Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience?

Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient?

If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous?

If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings,

or does he give them opportunities to love each other?”


Regardless of your beliefs about God, the underlying message is inarguable:


Personal growth doesn’t come from wishing for it or instant fixes. It comes from opportunities to work on improving the areas in which we want to grow.


Lots of people can give us advice, models, or some answers, but we have to put all that into practice, again and again, if we truly want to see, hear, and feel results.


(Whenever a client says they wish they could bypass the practice part, I just smile, hold up my pen, and reply, “Sorry, it’s a pen, not a wand.”)


Sometimes the hardest part is actually finding the opportunity to practice, much less shine.


This is one of the many areas for which this week’s guest on Speaking to Influence, Dr. Brenda Allen, 14th President of Lincoln University, professes being driven by an attitude of gratitude.


President Allen acknowledges the role mentors played in her success along each stage of the career path that started as an undergraduate student at the very university she now leads. In particular, she shares the value of mentors who


  • Taught her how to take a seat at the table,
  • Encouraged her to ask questions,
  • Challenged her to be part of every conversation
  • And not only gave her some initial opportunities to do all this and more, but
  • Taught her how to make her own opportunities on the journey.



Paying it forward, President Allen now looks for people with key skills among her own students and university community to join her team and then helps give them opportunities to be noticed and to shine along their journey.


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


But before you do, take a moment to look inside and ask yourself where you are simply wishing you were (or life was) different, better, received more or had less of something, such as

  • Patience
  • Authority
  • Love
  • Depth of relationships
  • Courage
  • Reputation as a thought leader
  • Charisma, or
  • A friendly work environment

… just as a few examples.


Then ask yourself what you need to put into practice, ask for, or give to others, in order to ultimately create it for yourself.