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How to Introduce a Guest Speaker

I'd like to introduce a man with a lot of charm, talent, and wit. Unfortunately, he couldn't be here tonight, so instead . . .

–– Melvin Helitzer

One of the most frequent requests I get is for tips on how to introduce a guest speaker. This is understandable because we are so seldom asked to perform this ritual and an introduction is so easy to mess up.

We’ve all seen it:

  • The introduction that seems to last longer than the speech
  • The person who reads word-for-word a long biography exactly as it is printed in the program
  • The introducers who make it more about themselves than the speaker 

These are just a few examples of how the simple act of welcoming someone to the stage can go awry.
With this in mind, here are a few tips to help you next time you’re called upon to make an introduction:

Do your research
You may have the speaker’s bio, but you should still do some homework before the event. Go online or talk to people who know the guest. Your goal should be to learn what is most interesting about this person.
If possible, talk with the person ahead of time. You’ll not only make a connection, but you can ask how the person would like to be introduced.

If the biography is in the program, point that out and then cover a few highlights that you believe are most relevant and compelling to your audience.
Make it personal
You may receive a bio or a written introduction for some speakers. As a professional speaker and trainer, I have short- and medium-length introductions ready to go.
If you receive one of these for a speaker, it’s most effective to personalize it based on your experiences. It could be from your research, from a colleague who has praised this speaker, or from your own interactions with this person. A brief story can have a huge impact in effectively kicking off the talk.

I always appreciate it when I’m introduced with a personal touch. This helps me to develop an intimate relationship with the audience more quickly.
Don’t steal the show
While it’s good to make the personal connection with the speaker, it’s also important to avoid making it about yourself. You can talk about your personal experience briefly, but then quickly transfer attention to the speaker.
Keep it brief
Your job is to set the tone and to transition the person to the audience. Your introduction should be clear, concise, and focused. In most cases, 60 to 90 seconds should be your goal, with some introductions shorter and some longer depending on the situation.
Practice your intro
It’s good to rehearse your introduction, making sure that what reads well on paper sounds good when spoken. Practicing out loud will help you feel comfortable and confident. I tell my coaching clients that reading is not rehearsing. It doesn’t count unless the words are spoken from your lips.
Critical tip: Make sure you have the correct pronunciation of the speaker’s name. Few things will be more embarrassing for you, and awkward for the speaker, than mispronouncing the person’s name.
Establish the speaker’s authority
It’s important for you to establish the speaker’s credibility as an expert on the topic and the relevance to this audience. Whether you’re in a small meeting or at a convention, it’s critical to connect the audience’s needs and interests with the speaker’s talk. People always want to know, “why should I care about what this person will say?”
Show your excitement for the speaker
How you introduce a speaker can set the tone not only for the speech but for your entire event. Too many introductions are lukewarm, merely going through the motions.
If you’re excited about what comes next, you need to let people know, through your voice, your body language, and your facial expressions. Bring some energy to your introduction, ask for a warm welcome, and lead the applause.
Stay focused with your eyes and body toward the speaker and smile and welcome that person like an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time.
The art of the introduction is not easy, but with some planning and practice, you can create a warm welcome that makes all the difference.

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Challenge Your Beliefs

Some things are true whether you believe in them or not.

–– City of Angels movie character

When I wrote about Amazon’s Leadership Principles a few months ago, I was struck by this sentence: “[Our leaders] seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.”

It’s a novel statement for a company and one that few of us practice.
Indeed, human beings, for the most part, practice the opposite: we work to reinforce and confirm our beliefs. This is known as “confirmation bias.”
We search our environment for information to confirm our beliefs, we interpret data to support our beliefs, we discount evidence that might conflict with our beliefs, and some of us even attack people who hold views contrary to our beliefs.
This is most apparent, of course, in our current political environment where we cocoon in segregated ideological communities with unlimited sources of “news” available to confirm our views.
In this world, critical thinking is more important than ever. We are inundated with more information than ever, and we are more distracted than ever, which means we are left with impressions of the truth.
We need to be able to sift through the information to find out what is actually true.

Critical thinking is the most important skill we must develop. But there is less of it on, of all places, college campuses where students too-often oppose campus speakers who hold views contrary to their own.
Many of us cling to our views, despite them being outdated and no longer valid. While these beliefs might not be as old as “the world is flat” and “the earth is at the center of the universe,” we often hold beliefs long past their expiration dates.
With this in mind, here are a few tips to help you develop your critical thinking skills as you challenge your own beliefs:

Learn to listen without judgment
When we hear others discuss ideas and beliefs, we are apt to judge them, their conclusions, and their motivations so quickly that while they’re talking, we’re already thinking of our responses.
The fact is, our minds can’t multitask, so if we’re thinking about what we’ll say next, or how we’ll fix the problem, we’re no longer listening to the person speaking.
Instead, try to be fully present and hear what the person is really saying. Ask questions to go deeper and understand why they believe those positions. We so seldom really listen to people that it can be a remarkable experience for the listener to hear, as well as for the speaker to be heard.
Seek to understand
In his seminal book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, * Stephen Covey emphasizes one of the key habits, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Covey shared an event he experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York that illustrates how we can hold mistaken beliefs:
People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene. Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.
The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people's papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing. 
It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, ‘Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn't control them a little more?’
The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, 'Oh, you're right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don't know what to think, and I guess they don't know how to handle it either.'
Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn't have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man's pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. ‘Your wife just died? Oh, I'm so sorry. Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?’ Everything changed in an instant.
Proactively find conflicting views
Instead of listening to news channels that confirm your views, seek out stations that promote the opposite viewpoint. If you watch Fox News, watch MSNBC. These broadcasts vividly illustrate how we can view the same information through our own colored lenses. Try to understand what information and experiences would bring people to hold those views.
Argue the other side
In college, my favorite extracurricular activity was serving on the national debate team.

In half of the debate rounds, my partner and I would argue an affirmative case for a legislative change, often a compelling issue of national controversy. In the other half of the rounds, we would argue against a proposal, often the same idea we had earlier advocated.
This gave us the ability to fully understand all of the nuances of arguments for and against positions. We developed critical thinking skills that allowed us to make better decisions and modify positions based on new and compelling arguments.
Kill your self-limiting beliefs
I believe the most destructive beliefs we hold are about ourselves and our own capabilities. We are locked into self-limiting beliefs that keep us from achieving our full potential.
We know we should try to achieve something outside of our comfort zones, which is where personal growth occurs, yet we are held back by our self-limiting beliefs. Often that is due to FEAR, which is often referred to as False Evidence Appearing Real.
What about you?
I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t have beliefs, or that we should change them all on a whim. Instead, we should examine our beliefs.
Start with a single belief about an issue in your business, in politics, or about a person who annoys you. How did you come to that belief? Is it still valid?
Take the time to examine your beliefs. You might be surprised by what you learn.

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How to be More Persuasive

“Arouse in the other person an eager want. He who can do this has the whole world with him. He who cannot walks a lonely way.”
--Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Dale Carnegie’s classic book quoted above was written in 1936 and gave great advice still relevant today. His intuitive insights into human beings effectively explored the art of persuading people. Carnegie’s wisdom has since been confirmed by researchers who have documented the science of persuasion.

Leading that charge is Dr. Robert Cialdini, a professor at Arizona State University and author of the seminal book, INFLUENCE: The Psychology of Persuasion, and other books codifying the science of influence.
Why should you care about persuasion?
Because any results in our lives come from our relationships with others.
My friend Brian Ahearn, who is one of only 20 people in the world certified by Dr. Cialdini to teach his method of persuasion, says our ability to influence others is central to our lives.
“Persuasion is more than changing minds and hearts, it’s about changing behavior,” Brian says. “Whether you want someone to buy from you, approve your project, get a promotion, or just get your kids to do their homework, persuasion is a skill that can help you accomplish your goals.”
In To Sell is Human author Daniel Pink cited information from a survey of more than 7,000 business people when he wrote, “People are now spending about 40% of their time at work engaged in non-sales selling – persuading, influencing, and convincing others in ways that don’t involve anyone making a purchase.”
This means that most of us, in non-sales roles, spend up to three hours a day trying to influence others; and that’s work-related. You might spend an equal amount of time in your personal life trying to influence the decisions and behavior of your kids and other family members.
Dr. Cialdini’s persuasive method makes a distinction between ethical influence and manipulation. As Brian says, “When you use ethical influence you can succeed now and build a long-term relationship.”
I can’t do Dr. Cialdini’s body of work justice in one newsletter, but here’s an overview of his principles of influence. I’ve studied, taught and used these principles of influence and firmly believe they will help you in your work and your life:
Principle #1: Reciprocity
We feel indebted to those who do something for us or give us something, no matter how small.
You’ll notice that when you’re ready to negotiate buying a new car, you’ll be offered a bottle of water or soda and a snack. This is where the sense of obligation begins. Whether you realize it or not, you’ll be looking for a way to repay this simple kindness. The research confirms what the car dealer hopes: you’ll be much more likely to say “yes” when the time comes.
Principle #2: Scarcity
We want more of those things there are less of.
This is why people buy “limited editions,” try to be one of the “first 20 callers” who receive a bonus, and camp out overnight for the new IPhone. I always smirk when I hear the urgent “this is a limited time offer!” Yes, until the next limited time offer. ;-)
What scarcity teaches us, Cialdini points out, is that we not only have to sell the benefits of our proposal and what’s unique but also what people stand to lose by not taking advantage of our offer.
Principle #3: Authority
We respect authority. We follow the lead of those we perceive as credible, knowledgeable experts.
The research found that psychical therapists who displayed their degrees in their offices were more likely to gain compliance from patients for their exercise therapy programs.
The science shows it’s important to send signals demonstrating our knowledge and credibility before we make the attempt to influence. The research says those signals are strongest when they come from third parties, such as testimonials of people who know you, even those who work for you.
In one example, the researchers had the receptionist answering the phone in a real estate office build up the credentials of the agent before transferring a call, such as “Mary has more than 20 years of experience selling local homes. I’ll connect you with her now.” They found this increased appointments by 20% and signed contracts by 15%.”
Principle #4: Consistency
When we like to stay consistent with the commitment we have made.  
Finding and asking for small initial commitments from people can activate this principle. For instance, Cialdini cites one study in which people declined to put a large “Drive Safely” sign in front of their house. However, the researchers found that people who agreed to put a small “Drive Safely” postcard in their window 10 days earlier were four times more likely to accept the placement of the sign.
Cialdini says the key is to ask people for voluntary, active and public commitments, especially in writing. You already have seen the living example of this during the U.S. presidential election. Those who early on and publicly committed to a candidate are highly unlikely to change their mind, regardless of whether they disagreed with the subsequent words, actions or behaviors of their candidates. They remained consistent in their commitment.
Principle #5: Liking
We like to be involved with and do business with people we like. But what makes us like people?
Cialdini’s research finds three important factors. We like people who are similar to us, who pay us compliments and who cooperate with us toward mutual goals.
His research with graduate students from two major business schools found that in negotiations, building rapport greatly increased the likelihood of an agreement. Negotiators who were told “time is money” and to get straight to business reached agreement about 55% of the time, while those who took the time to share personal information and find similarities reached an agreement 90% of the time.
The lesson is to offer sincere compliments and find areas of similarity before attempting to influence.
Principle #6: Consensus
We are social animals. When we’re not certain what we should do, we will look to the actions of others to determine our own.
This is why, when you are ready to purchase a product from Amazon, you’ll see those other offers: “People who bought that CD also bought these headphones and this coffee.”
They know what you like…and they know what people like you like. 
I urge you to learn more about how to persuade others in an ethical way. Developing the skill of personal influence will positively change your life in every way.

Additional Resources:
INFLUENCE: The Psychology of Persuasion by Dr. Robert Cialdini* 
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie*
To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink*
* Amazon affiliate link

Check out the videos and blog of my friend Brian Ahearn at

Photo by Malvestida Magazine on Unsplash

What's Your Love Language?

All you need is love  - The Beatles

On February 14 here in the U.S. we will celebrate love in the annual, commercial tradition of Valentine’s Day.

While expressing your love with flowers, giftsand greeting cards has merit, you might consider a more meaningful gift: speaking the love language of the person you cherish.

As with all communication, in the language of love our actions often speak much louder than our words. We must understand our lover’s language to successfully express our love.

Gary Chapman, marriage counselor for more than 30 years, is author of The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. * First published in 1992, the book has been a New York Times Bestseller and published in 49 languages.

Chapman believes each of us has a primary love language, a way in which we are most emotionally satisfied to receive love from another person. Our lovers may find satisfaction from an entirely different love language.

The secret to communicating love, then, is to understand our partner’s language and act on that sincerely and consistently. “The one who chooses to love will find appropriate ways to express that decision every day,” Chapman says.

These are the five love languages identified by Chapman along with my thoughts:

1) Words of Affirmation
Kind, loving, supportive words that express appreciation. The tone and the intent of the words, of course, carry as much weight as the words themselves.

2) Acts of Service
The saying is “Actions speak louder than words” and for people who favor this language of love nothing could be more true. Simple acts of service will speak deeply to your love.

3) Receiving Gifts
Throughout all cultures and civilizations, the act of giving gifts has been seen as an expression of love and appreciation. Certainly the engagement ring is one powerful symbolic example. But speaking this language is not about expense. A small gift or thoughtful note sincerely given can mean far more than an expensive gift without thought.

4) Quality Time 
In our hectic, over-scheduled lives, nothing is more valuable than our time. Giving someone undivided attention, being fully present in the moment, is one of the best ways of showing love. Sharing quality time has impact on everyone but is enormously powerful to those who speak this love language.

5) Physical Touch
Human beings thrive on physical contact, from holding an infant, to consoling loss, to expressing appreciation. Research finds deep emotional and physical benefits of touch. If this is your partner’s primary love language, nothing will communicate more deeply than your touch.

Questions for you:

What is your primary love language? Does your loved one know that?

More importantly, what is your lover’s primary love language? Are you speaking that language consistently and sincerely? 

If you don't know, there's an easy way to find out: ask, and listen carefully.

Serious questions, since love is all you need.


Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash


Change Your Mindset, Change Your Life

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right. – Henry Ford
We all know people who always seem to be optimistic, ready to take on a challenge even if it means risking failure.
And we also know people who live in pessimism and fear, unwilling to try anything outside of their comfort zone. They focus only on tasks at which they think they’ll succeed.
Human nature?
Is that just human nature at work? Are some people just born with the ability to challenge themselves fearlessly, while others are stuck playing small ball, hoping to succeed with their God-given talents?
If you answered yes to these two questions, you may have what researchers call a “fixed mindset.”
That’s the view that we all have limited abilities, whether it be intelligence, athleticism, or any other trait, and we need to make the most of what we have since there’s nothing else available.
Growth mindset

The opposite is the “growth mindset” that sees opportunities to grow by continually testing and stretching your capabilities. In this case, failure is an opportunity to learn and become stronger.
The scientific case for this research is made in the book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” *
I discovered this book when one of my clients gave every employee at an event a copy of this insightful read that, as their leader said, gives a scientific foundation to “the power of positive thinking.”
The author, Carol Dweck, Ph.D., has spent some thirty years researching these questions with children and adults of every age. She recounts one of her experiments with school children who were given a very difficult puzzle.

"I love a challenge!" 
The researcher assumed all of the kids would have a negative reaction to the assignment. She was stunned when one boy rubbed his hands together and said, “I love a challenge!” and a few others had a similar take.
Dweck, who says she grew up with a fixed mindset, writes of her reaction: “What’s wrong with them? I wondered. I always thought you coped with failure or you didn’t cope with failure. I never thought anyone loved failure. Were these alien children or were they on to something?” Those children became her role models, she says, in her research and in her own life, as she sought to understand “the kind of mindset that could turn a failure into a gift.”
Fundamentally, Dweck’s research revealed that the view you have of yourself profoundly affects the ultimate shape, direction, and success of your life.

In my work with CEO's and teams of leaders, I frequently find this stark difference of mindset with many people willing to push themselves beyond their comfort zones. Others will shrink from challenge and often say that they were not "born" leaders, speakers, storytellers, or whatever other ability they perceive as fixed.
Changed her life
Dweck’s research changed her own mindset and it changed her life. “Suddenly we realized that there were two meanings to ability, not one: a fixed ability that needs to be proven, and a changeable ability that can be developed through learning.”
If you have a “fixed” mindset you believe that all of your abilities are carved in stone, which she said means you’ll have an urgency to prove yourself throughout your life and any failure means your abilities are not good enough. You are a loser.

A “growth” mindset does not say anyone can accomplish anything. Rather, it’s the belief that “a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.”
A few of the examples I found compelling:

  • NASA avoids recruiting astronaut candidates who have nothing but success in their past and instead looks for people who have bounced back from major failures.


  • Mia Hamm, an extraordinary soccer player, is typical of a person who would stretch farther to grow. “All my life I’ve been playing up, meaning I’ve challenged myself with players older, bigger, more skillful, more experienced – in short, better than me.” She played on the boys’ teams as a kid and the number one U.S. college team. “Each day I attempted to play up to their level … and I was improving faster than I ever dreamed possible.”


  • In Jim Collins’ seminal book Good to Great, * the most successful CEOs had the growth mindset characteristics: “They were self-effacing people who…had the ability to confront the most brutal answers – that is, to look failures in the face, even their own, while maintaining faith that they would succeed in the end.”

So much of our views of our potential are formed in the early years with parents, teachers, and peers. That’s why this book also delves into parenting, school, and sports, as well as relationships and business.
Some people, with fixed minds, thrive on the sure thing. Dweck asks the simple question that I think is the ultimate test: “When do you feel smart: when you’re flawless or when you’re learning?”
She writes: “You have a choice. Mindsets are just beliefs. They’re powerful beliefs, but they’re just something in your mind, and you can change your mind.” Well said.
How about you?
This week think about your own mindset.

Is it “fixed” or “growth”?
Do you seek opportunities outside of your comfort zone, or take on the tasks that you know you can handle with ease to get the gold star?
As a leader, do you encourage stretch behavior and risk taking, or do you criticize “failure”?
There’s a stark difference for all of us in energy, commitment, and results.

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

How to Give a Winning Pep Talk

As a leader, a major part of your responsibility is to influence the thinking and behavior of other people.
And sooner or later you’ll be standing in front of a group who need to hear a “pep” talk to motivate them to achieve something special, something beyond their self-limiting beliefs.

Working with great sales leaders on their kickoffs the past two weeks (shout out Midwest and California!) we focused a lot on the importance of inspiring people to greater achievement.
We all have vague ideas, mostly from sports movies, about how to give a motivating talk, as in these memorable scenes:

Hoosiers: Where Gene Hackman as Coach Dales tells his team they are winners to him no matter what the scoreboard says: “Forget about the crowds, the size of the school, their fancy uniforms, and remember what got you here...”
Remember the Titans: Denzel Washington as Coach Boone, who took his players to visit the battlefield at Gettysburg to heal the racial rift that divided the team: “Take a lesson from the dead. If we don’t come together, right now, on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed—just like they were.”
The drama of these movies might make it seem that only in movies or sports can we motivate people with a talk.
We know there’s an art to giving a motivational pep talk. But is there a formula, perhaps a science, to giving a winning motivational speech? It turns out there is.
For decades, researchers have been studying what makes for a successful pep talk. In fact, two researchers at Texas A&M International University have reviewed pep talks and considered how they might be most effectively applied to the corporate world.
For 30 years, Jacqueline and Milton Mayfield, a husband-and-wife research team, have done the most extensive study on what they call Motivating Language Theory (MLT) and found that the most successful speeches have three important elements: direction giving, expressions of empathy and meaning-making.
Let me break these down in plain English for your use:

1. Clear Language [“direction giving”]
The researchers call this “uncertainty-reducing language.” What they’re saying is, give your team clear and concise instructions on what you’re asking of them. What exactly do you want them to do?
2. Support Them [“expressions of empathy”]
“Empathetic language” that might acknowledge how difficult the task will be, as well as offering them encouragement, praise and thanks. Basically, be real; be human.
3. Connect to Purpose [“meaning making”]
“Meaning-making language” is helping them find meaning in what you are asking of them. How does this connect to the purpose of your organization or their own personal purpose?
The researchers concluded that a winning pep talk should include all three elements, but to be effective you’ll need to mix them to fit the audience.
If your team is experienced, it may not need as much direction as a new team; some teams will need more empathy than others; but purpose, in my view, should always be strongly emphasized because it’s ultimately the key to motivation.
So mix and match these three elements — clear direction, empathy and purpose — to give your team a winning pep talk.
For example, if you’re speaking at a sale kickoff in, let’s say, January, you might:

Give clear direction: Talk about the specific sales goals that must be met in 2018 and any new strategies or tactics you will employ this year.

Be empathetic: Describe their heroic efforts in the past year, the obstacles they overcame and your deep gratitude for their work.

Provide meaning: Connect with the purpose of your work: Do you protect people’s lives? Do you help small business owners and their communities thrive? Do you sell a product that saves peoples’ lives? By linking to purpose, you give them direct access to the energy and commitment we all draw from meaningful work.

As you speak to purpose, telling a story that relates this meaning can have a powerful effect.
And don’t forget that how you say something is as important, and sometimes more important for motivation, than what you say. Use confident body language, vivid words and all of your passion.

To motivate people as a leader it's critical to speak from your heart.
Here’s to your winning pep talks and the success of your team in 2018!

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