“On many occasions I have seen presenters who thought that displaying a great memory was more important than punching home a well-crafted message.”

Terry Neill
This is a guest post by my father Terry Neill. It is an edited version of 2 emails that I was cc'ed into recently. 
Terry Neill, speaking

Christmas 2019. We were in St Patrick’s cathedral (where Jonathan Swift was Dean) waiting for the start of the service.

A friend of one of our friends stopped by. I was introduced. He said “Oh I remember you for a terrific after dinner speech at the Strollers Club last year” , and then he said – with a laugh – “Even though it was all written out.”

I remembered the occasion. Speaking at the Strollers dinner was an important event for me. They invite excellent speakers. You have to be at your best – and funniest.

In every similar circumstance, I have a script. I know I will be nervous (it’s a source of energy). Opening and closing need the right words with the right cadence. Every punchline must have the words in exactly the right order. As the chair thanked me, he felt the need to tell the audience that “Terry had it all written out”. It was hard to know whether it was compliment or criticism. I suspected the latter.

For me, having the script means I can focus on ‘the theatre’ …. The pauses … the ‘chapter headings’  …… the changes of pace … the key repetitions …. The body language  ..the big points of emphasis ….. the build up to punch lines …..

On many occasions I have seen presenters who thought that displaying a great memory was more important than punching home a well crafted message. They showed little evidence of having thought about the audience and our assumptions… they showed little intention around the impact they wished to have on the audience.

There is a prevailing belief amongst after-dinner speakers that using a script or notes of key points is ‘un-macho’. Often times, the memory failed and key messages got lost or forgotten – or stories fell flat as the punchline got mangled.

We have to get over the embarrassment of being prepared. With some few – irritating – exceptions, ‘winging it’ is always high risk. In my experience, every great speaker or presenter is always superbly prepared – and practised. Notes or full script are a matter of individual choice. I regard them as a measure of professionalism and as evidence of a commitment to excellence.

On Practice

Golfers will know that Gary Player was/is one of the great sand bunker players. When he was asked why he seemed so lucky, he said “It’s amazing. The more I practice, the luckier I get”.

It often happens that the unplanned, informal moments provide the most powerful opportunities to deliver a message or make an impact. I know that a newly appointed CEO is generally not ready to listen – as they, usually over optimistically, take on the challenges of their new role. My role as a consultant required me to be well prepared to communicate, when that CEO was prepared to listen – which could be anytime.

If we are practising our 2/3 minute ‘stump speech’ every day – or nearly every day ….. we will discover that ‘the more we practice, the more impactful we will be when an unexpected opportunity arises.’

In about 1997, I stepped into an elevator on a high floor of the Rhiga Royal hotel in New York. I recognised the one person in the elevator was Marvin Bower – the founder of McKinsey & Co. He said good morning. I said ‘good morning Mr Bower’. He was surprised … and asked me what I did …. ‘Accenture’ (in those days Andersen Consulting). He said tell me about your firm. I had the 3 lines and he said ‘have you time for a coffee’. 

I was late for my meeting, but got to spend nearly an hour with one of the great icons of professional services/consulting. I hope that his opinion of Accenture rose as much as my opinion on him and McKinsey.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also this post inspired by my father My father’s list: Leaders and Non-Leaders (a list of characteristics of great leadership).

What matters most in the gym? The hours you spend or the reps on the weights?

In the areas where you must be highly competent to succeed in your role: are you accumulating hours or reps?

Do you just do your job or do you spend time practicing the important skills that make you effective?

By practice, I mean “deliberate practice” – setting an intent, taking action, getting feedback, reflecting on original intent vs actual result, seeking new approaches… and repeat the cycle.

Thinking about writing is not writing. Publishing an article and listening to reader feedback is how to do reps.

Thinking about exercise is not exercise. Lifting the weights, pushing through discomfort, sweating… is exercise.

Thinking about difficult conversations is not having difficult conversations. Having challenging conversations (for you and for the other) and seeking productive conflict is how to do reps.

Thinking generates hours, but does not generate reps.

Be careful of equating hours (or years of experience) as competence.

I heard David Meerman Scott share this question in a recent Elevate podcast episode with host Bob Glazer. He was asked by someone “Imagine you are in a room with 2,000 people. What could you confidently say you are the best in the room at?”

Take a moment to reflect on this question. I imagined myself in a room full of entrepreneurs, leaders, teachers… and wasn’t sure I could give a completely confident answer.

Now imagine that you have 20 years before you step into that room… What do you want to be able to say in 20 years that you have done the work to truly be a master, to have established a reputation for excellence, to have made a difference? Write that down.

If you liked this post, you will also like Excellence: the Path to Mastery and Finding Purpose.

Do you have a Growth Mindset or a Fixed Mindset?

This video is about the danger of being “good enough” in many things.

As the world grows ever more connected, and ever more complex – those that accumulate a whole collection of “good enough” skills will suffer. Those that can choose to be bad in many things, and dedicate time to truly excel in one or two areas will be those that flourish.

The danger: Our schools inculcate an attitude of good enough. The system of exams fosters an attitude of being good enough for the grade you want, not aiming for a level of ability far beyond the teacher’s ability to evaluate.

If you liked this post, you will also like Performance Excellence: Deliberate Practice and the 3 Models of Mastery and 4 Approaches to Learning a New Discipline

with Rich Mulholland at EO GLC 2017

Rich Mulholland is an entrepreneur, author and keynote speaker.  He tells powerful short little stories with impact though his videos.  I had a chance to do a short interview with Rich during the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation Global Leadership Conference in Frankfurt recently.

I think you really should subscribe to Rich’s YouTube Channel, you will lose out on lots of lessons if you don’t!

Here’s our 11 minute interview from Frankfurt…

“What ails you and me has nothing to do with being sick or being wrong.  What ails us is that we are living our lives as amateurs” Steven Pressfield

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I have often reread the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  When you create real art, you will face “The Resistance“.  Any creation of something important will bring up your inner resistance.  If there is no resistance, then you are probably not creating something meaningful to you.

The following 10 point manifesto comes from Steven.  He calls it the “Lunch Pail Manifesto” (for reasons you can discover here on his blog).

The Lunch Pail Manifesto

  1. We must find the work that brings our lives meaning.
  2. We must strive to make our work purposeful, truthful, and authentic, a pure offering to our Muse and fellow human beings.
  3. We must wage a lifelong war with Resistance and accept that instant gratification is an oxymoron.
  4. We must not speak of our work with false modesty or braggadocio.
  5. We must not debase our work for short term gain nor elevate it above its rightful station to inflate our ego.
  6. We must not covet the fruits of our work, or the fruits of others’ work.
  7. We must respect others’ work and offer aid to fellow professional laborers.
  8. We must accept that our work will never be perfect.
  9. We must accept that our work will never be without merit.
  10. We must accept that our work will never cease.

Where are you?

Have you found the work that brings meaning into your life?

It is the quality of your labour that counts, not the quality of your recognition for that labour.  We can have pride in the quality of our labour, not in the fruits of our labour. Vincent VanGogh was a madman to his contemporaries, a genius only in hindsight.  Fame has little correlation with creative effort.

What is charisma?   Charisma means “special gift” in Greek.  It is something that allows some people to magnetically attract others to them and their projects.

Is it innate or can it be learnt?  According to John Antonakis, Marika Fenley and Sue Liechti in the Harvard Business Review June 2012 article “Learning Charisma”, it is learnt.

How to Learn Charisma

“After executives were trained in these tactics, the leadership ratings observers gave them rose by about 60%.” John Antonakis

Learn these 17 Specific Charismatic Tactics

  1. Metaphors, Similes and Analogies
  2. Stories and Anecdotes
  3. Contrasts
  4. Rhetorical Questions
  5. Three Part Lists
  6. Expressions of Moral Conviction
  7. Reflection of Group’s Sentiments
  8. The setting of High Goals
  9. Conveying Confidence in High Goals
  10. Animated Voice
  11. Facial Expressions
  12. Gestures
  13. Create a Sense of Urgency
  14. Invoking History
  15. Using Repetition
  16. Talking about Sacrifice
  17. Humour

Practice these tactics with video (check out my email based course to lead you through 10 weeks of practice).  Practice these tactics with your peers.  Practice leads to doubling the usage of these tactics in everyday life.  Use of these tactics led to ratings of competence increasing by 60%.

These tactics work because they create an emotional connection between speaker and audience.

Check out the HBR June 2012 article Learning Charisma.

I recently shared a TEDx talk from Dandapani on How to Concentrate.  This is a follow up post, with 3 specific steps to improve your concentration (here Dandapani refers to it as willpower).

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Image: A recent Dandapani workshop with the EO Organisation.

3 Steps to Practice that Will Improve Your Concentration

Dandapani tells us that there are 3 steps to practice that improve our concentration:

  1. Finish that which you begin
  2. Finish it well, beyond your expectations
  3. Do a little more than you think that you are able to do

Use these 3 steps in every area of your life: from making the bed in the morning, to tidying the kitchen, to reading to your child, to writing emails, to writing blog posts…

And so, how do I do “a little more than you think you are able to do” on this blog post?…

A Little Bit More…

I could embed a tweet:

I could embed a facebook status:

I could ask a question:

Have a great day.

Some days feel harder to get going than others.  The big mission feels a bit too big for today.  I need something else, something smaller: An Easy Win.

What are my easy wins?

One is a blog post.  I never allow myself to take more than 20 minutes before I hit publish, and there is some pretty instant feedback as readers start to register on the wordpress statistics.  A blog post doesn’t change the world, but each one helps me clarify my thinking and become more articulate in expressing myself.

An even lazier win is to check my latest view statistics on youtube.  This probably shouldn’t be counted in the category of win, but it makes me feel like my work matters (100,000 views per month…  makes me feel very important for a minute).

Another easy win is to call a friend and listen, and thank them for their work.  This always leads to me feeling better and having energy to get back onto something important.

What are your easy wins?

Do you have a list of easy wins?  Some days you need a little kick to get you started on the day and a simple list of easy wins can make the difference between a day spent playing playstation and a day spent making tomorrow slightly better.  Some easy wins we can achieve are:

  • Go for a 15 minute walk around the block (health)
  • Phone a friend: listen and help someone (build a relationship)
  • Make a short video explaining a project to practice your communication (growth, mastery)
  • Practice the piano (mastery)
  • Review your bucket list and set a date for an adventure (vision)
  • Write a positive recommendation for someone that has helped you on linkedin (relationship)
  • Watch a TED talk (growth)

What are your easy wins?  Any good ones will go onto my own list!  thanks 😉

I have sat through many presentations over the last 3 years listening to experts telling company leaders how they can make their company an engaging workplace; how they can increase employee engagement.

Is it really the employer’s responsibility?

Engagement is a Choice

Surely a basic requirement when you accept a job is that you engage and commit to doing it well?

Apathy is a practiced habit.   You don’t start life as a child expert in curiosity-less disengagement.  You practiced.

Your Apathy is Nobody Else’s Fault

Why should the fault be directed to your manager or to company HR?

It is not their fault.

It is not anyone’s fault that you are not engaged.

It is you.

It is you who is apathetic.

It is you who has to commit.

It is you who has to engage.

It is you who has to become responsible for your life as an adult.

Practice Apathy at Work, Become Apathetic in Everything

Show me someone who is apathetic and disengaged at work, and I will show you that he is apathetic and disengaged at home, with friends and a superb cynic of anyone who makes an effort.  When we practice apathy, we get better at it in all areas of our life: work, family, hobbies, friends, studies, spirituality, community.

Here’s a short guide to putting the practice of engagement and responsibility into your life:

Engaged Life 101: How to be actively engaged in life.

  1. Intention: Start every day by stating your intention for the day.  As soon as you wake, write down the sentence “Today, my day is about _________”  (today, I wrote self-compassion…  yesterday I wrote listening better)
  2. Read: Next, read something inspiring.  (ie, not the newspaper, not your email)  Here’s my list of great books: Personal Leadership Library
  3. Think & Write: Decide on your Most Important Action for today.  Write it down.  Do 10 minutes action to move this Most Important Action forward.  At the end of exactly 10 minutes of focussed attention, stop and go have your breakfast.
  4. Now, you can let the day happen…  but you have already taken personal ownership and responsibility for your day…  good practice for the rest of the day.

The Dean of EO Leadership Academy, and highly successful businessman and person, Warren Rustand first taught me this process.  He calls it the 1-10-10-10 start to the day.  1 minute intention, 10 minute read, 10 minute write then 10 minute think.  Ideally followed by 29 minutes of physical exercise and then you’ve given yourself the best possible first 60 minutes of the day.