Learn, Earn, Return – The Philosophy of Philanthropy!

What do you think of when you think of Philanthropy? Do you picture an unapproachable patriarch with huge fortunes who donates to his pet causes? I have to be honest, that’s kind of what I pictured – until I met and interviewed two amazing women for a panel at the Family Office Magazine and KBC Conferences

I know the brain science around giving. It feels good to do good and all that. I know that we get a rush of dopamine when we help someone. But did you know that giving can actually help a family business survive? 

The KBC Conferences panel was titled “The Journey From Success To Significance: Spotlight On Philanthropy.” Many companies are successful but few companies can pride themselves on being significant. The three family dynasties represented on this panel achieved significance by making philanthropy a part of their business plans. 

Dame Sheila B. Driscoll is the great-granddaughter of Jeremiah Driscoll, Patriarch of Driscoll’s, who began producing fresh berries in California’s Pájaro Valley in 1907. She is the CEO of Driscoll Ventures (DV), an interdisciplinary management consultancy, specializing in media & entertainment, product imagineering, and philanthropy with a focus on legacy endeavors.

Mitzi Perdue comes from two long-lasting families.  Her family of origin began in 1840 as a family business, and her father was co-founder and president of the Sheraton Hotel Chain.  Her family by marriage, the Perdue poultry family, is celebrating 101 years as a family business.  Mitzi herself is the founder of Win This Fight, Stop Human Trafficking Now!

How Does Philanthropy Help Family Businesses Survive?

The three family dynasties Mitzi and Sheila represent have had philanthropy as part of their business plans for over one hundred years. We talked about what philanthropy means to them and how important it can be for keeping a family business healthy and relevant. 

Mitzi shared that there is research, by Dennis Jaffe that reveals a direct correlation between philanthropy and the longevity of family businesses. Jaffe found that the families that last 100 years or more have discovered the value of philanthropy. One reason this may be true is that the focus on philanthropy is the one thing that unites generations of families who may no longer be working in the family business. It gives them a sense of purpose. 

In my work as a communication coach and consultant, I know that research has also shown that having a sense of purpose is what lessens burnout and keeps employees engaged and loyal to their employers. Apparently the same holds true for family businesses.

Philanthropy, Impact Investing What’s the Difference?

We hear a lot of talk these days about Impact Investing (ESG & ERG). I wondered what the difference was between Impact Investing and philanthropy as some people use these terms interchangeably.  Dame Sheila had a clear answer. Philanthropy is “doing good and feeling good doing it.” Impact Investing is “delivering a financial return by doing good.” The investor’s intention should include some element of both social impact and financial return.  Whereas the philanthropist should be able to answer these five questions.  1.) Why are you giving?; 2.) What do you want to achieve?; 3.) How do you think change will happen?; 4.) How will you assess progress? and 5.) Who will join you?

When, How and Why Do You Start on Your Philanthropic Journey?

Our panelists shared that philanthropy typically starts in one of two ways: either with an event that induces a family to give or when there has been a large influx of resources which causes the family to reflect on what they can do with these resources that will both showcase and highlight the company’s values as well as better the community. 

One of my favorite parts of the discussion was hearing about the event that sparked the Driscoll family’s involvement in philanthropy. It all started with Joe Louis. Yes, that Joe Louis! Sheila shared with us that before the Joe Louis Max Schmeling heavyweight bout, Joe Lewis trained at her grandfather’s berry farm. When her grandfather learned that Joe was going to donate ALL of his winnings to the Navy Auxiliary to fight Hitler and sink the U-boats, Driscoll thought that if Joe Lewis could be that generous, then so could he. That’s when he started the Driscoll Foundation, the Philanthropy arm of the Driscoll Family business.

Mitzi’s birth family, of the Sheraton Hotel chain, has been a family business since 1840. She remembers as a very young girl watching her father, president, and co-founder of the Sheraton Hotels, go through proposals from different charities. When she asked what he was doing and why he told her that the greatest pleasure his money has ever given him was in giving it away.

The late Frank Perdue, Mitzi’s husband, used to say that if you want to be happy, think what you can do for someone else. If you want to be genuinely miserable, think of what’s owed to you.

Is Philanthropy Sustainable in the “Me” Generation?

I found it incredibly inspiring to hear how passionate and steeped these two women and their families are in the philosophy of giving.  But we hear so much about the “me” generation and how self-centered we have become as a society. I wondered how families can ensure that their heirs who may no longer work IN the family business develop the philanthropy philosophy. Both women believe that you have to start young. 

The Purdue family has set up what sounds like a genius tradition. They have formed a Giving Club. It’s kind of like gamifying philanthropy. The younger generation – children between 10 and 16 years old – get a certain amount of money and they are expected to research and study different causes they might want to support. Then one cousin might lobby other cousins to put their money together to support one “greater” cause. It’s a terrific way to teach them early about responsibility and awareness and get them thinking of others and how they can impact lives through giving.

Sheila believes families need to start at around age 4 or 5. She ascribes to the philosophy Learn, Earn, Return. Sheila’s first experience in giving was at a young age bringing canned goods to food pantries and school drives, donating winter coats and gently used clothing to shelters and churches. Her family made sure a portion of the young people’s allowances, babysitting money and household chores were allocated for donations. They always volunteered together as a family and discussed giving choices during the holiday season. As teenagers, they were encouraged to search for causes they could become involved in personally. 

The Purdue family still uses Thanksgiving as a time to come together and decide on one cause that they will contribute to and instead of giving gifts, they engage in a packing party on Thanksgiving to send off these gifts to the causes they identify. 

Sheila emphasized that clarity is key. Once the patriarch or matriarch of a family can clearly define and convey what in life motivates his or her giving, then that motivation can be communicated to family members. As a patriarch or matriarch, you want to inform, inspire and involve. 

How incredible would this world be if we all adopted and instilled in our children Sheila’s philosophy of Learn, Earn, Return?

How Do You Know What to Support?

Looking at the news these days, there is no shortage of worthy causes. Both Mitzi and Sheila believe families should align the causes they choose with their own family values. They should choose something that motivates them, that they truly support and believe in. This is the best way to ensure that the company stays invested and motivated to continue. For example, being in the poultry business, it makes sense for the Purdue’s to support fighting food insecurities and saving the environment. And for the Driscoll’s, who own a berry empire, agriculture business practices and tenets. as well as their personal values, inform their philanthropy. 

It is also important to consider how sustainable the charity and organization are. Is it set up for success? Will the contribution really help to solve a specific problem or just put a bandaid on it? How do they measure success? Do they have metrics? Shelia vets all of her causes by checking to see if they are listed with the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance. This alliance assures that the organizations on their lists adhere to over 40 different standards.

Isn’t Philanthropy Just for the Uber Wealthy?

If you think you need to be a millionaire or be from a long-standing family business to be a philanthropist, Think again. Dame Sheila shared with us the three T’s of philanthropy – Time, Treasure, and Talent. Even if you don’t have a huge treasure to donate, we all have time and talent which can go a long way in helping impact those in need.

And every monetary donation does not have to be huge either. Some families give large amounts to a couple of causes that they care most about and some families choose to give smaller amounts to many different causes. The important part is to get started.

It’s so easy to think of philanthropy as something that other people do once they’ve made their fortune. I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to sit down with Mitzi and Sheila and discover the many different aspects and benefits of philanthropy. It’s also incredibly inspiring to learn that there are amazing people in this world who still believe in doing good because it’s the good thing to do.

Key take-aways:

  • Align giving with your family’s personal values.
  • Start early. You don’t have to give huge dollar amounts. You can start small and/or give multiple small donations to causes you care about.
  • Get younger generations involved early by engaging in holiday giving
  • Adopt the philosophy of Learn, Earn, Return.

Steppin’ Out! – (of my comfort zone)

When you think of tap dance recitals what image comes to mind? Cute little girls in patent leather Mary Janes? Well that ain’t me!

BUT… believe it or not, I’m going to be in a tap dance recital the end of this month! WHAT? HOW? WHY you ask? Well, it’s all about the WHY literally and figuratively. I joined my local Y – MCA last year when my super cool, chi chi gym suddenly went out of business. One day I saw another “refugee” from my old gym at the Y and she told me she was taking tap classes and loved it. I knew from all the brain science studies I’ve read that challenging your brain is super helpful and I love dancing. Zumba is my jam but tap dancing? Those days were gone if they’d ever existed. Instead I tried a Step class. After all, I was a super stepper in the 90’s. But the class I stepped into at the Y had been ongoing for 14 years! They were all familiar with the incredibly complicated choreography. I could catch on to some of it but it got to the point where my brain just refused to learn or care to learn and it convinced me that the class was evil and I should just give up. I didn’t want my brain to turn this failure into lack of confidence in my coordination skills soooo… I decided to give tap a try. Continue reading “Steppin’ Out! – (of my comfort zone)”

4 Reasons Overperformed Presentations Are a Turn-Off

boring_meeting (2013_04_21 17_36_32 UTC)There are lots of reasons presentations might come off overperformed. Maybe the presenter has a bad case of nerves and practiced one too many times in their hotel room. Maybe someone read an article about how gestures and movement can help a speaker connect with their audience but couldn’t distinguish between not enough and too much—like Goldilocks looking for her porridge. Here are 4 main reasons why overperformed presentations are a turn-off.

  1. They’re too “sales-y.” Overperformed presentations sometimes make me feel like I’m watching an infomercial on the home shopping network. The speaker is concerned less with their message and more about hype and self-promotion. Performances should create excitement—but so can good relevant content. Don’t you try to wow your audience with style alone.
  2. They are inauthentic. Many times the overperforming person we see on stage bears no resemblance to the person off-stage. This may work for actors who want you to forget who they are inside a role, but may not be so great for speakers who want to build trust and rapport.
  3. They are not relatable. If you want to transform your audience, they need to believe they can implement what you are telling them.  Too much overperforming can make an audience feel discouraged. How can they hope to attain their own transformation if they can’t relate to you?
  4. Finally, overperformed presentations are a turn-off because they don’t feel tailored to that specific audience and their needs. That is doing a disservice to your audience and your role as a speaker. If you want your audience to care about your message, aim for connection rather than overperformance.

If you want to learn what kind of presentations you’ve been giving and how to better communicate during them, let’s chat!


2020 ROAR Reclaim Own and Renew Women’s Conference


I’m so excited to announce that I’m going to be the keynote speaker at the 2020 ROAR Reclaim Own and Renew Women’s Conference for SEARHC. Not only is it in Juneau, Alaska, where I am excited to travel to, I get to speak to those who inspire me most—women looking to grow their potential in both life and in business.

It has always been my passion to help teach women how to break out of roles not suited for them and become their best selves. I want to help women improve both their confidence and their communication skills by teaching them easy to implement mindsets and communication formulas. I am honored by the opportunity SEARHC is giving me to help these women shine.

If you want to learn more about the event, click here:


Confidence Rx – Give Your Confidence a Boost

confidence boost

We’ve all heard the expression “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” But did you know it can take up to 12 visits to undo a negative first impression? Whether you’re trying to impress an employer, a client, a prospect or a first date, it’s important to project confidence and presence.

Both confidence and presence are communicated from the inside out and the outside in. So it’s important to learn how to project confidence from the outside – through your body language and vocal tone and from the inside – by discovering and celebrating your signature strengths (the strengths that make you special.)

Here are 5 inner and 5 outer ways to ramp up your confidence and presence.

For Inner Confidence:

1. Do a thorough self-examination. Many of us have trouble separating our strengths from our job descriptions and if we don’t have a “real job” we have a very hard time owning the qualities that make us special. Here’s one way to help you uncover your signature strengths:

  • On a piece of paper, brainstorm a list of all the jobs you’ve ever had including volunteer positions, motherhood, and life partnering. Add to that list any activity you’ve ever participated in: chess, athletics, debate, gardening. Then add any committees, boards or clubs you’ve been a member or officer of – ie. church group, PTA, community organization. (FYI.  I honed the majority of my leadership skills as PTA president and as a leader in a religious organization.)
  • Then take another piece of paper and list all the strengths and skills you had to use or learn in the jobs or activities on your list. This can include qualities you used during challenges as well as triumphs. Do you rely on your creativity, honesty, humor, optimism, analytic skills? (If this is hard for you to do on your own, enlist a trusted friend or a circle of friends to give you a list of three positive qualities that they see in you.)
  • Are there qualities you wish you had that haven’t made the list? Write those down too

2Invest in yourself – To polish any skills that need strengthening or to help develop any quality or skill you would like to add, find a coach, trainer, class, or workshop that can help you cultivate or elevate those skills. Most women are terrific at supporting and encouraging others but will resist investing time or money on supporting and encouraging their own growth. Know that it’s never too late to learn or improve on a skill or strength. And also know that you’re worth the investment. If coaching or training is not your thing, take a dance, acting or improvisation class, sing Karaoke, paint, draw, sculpt, write! Research shows that when we do something creative (even if creativity isn’t one of our top strengths) one of our dominant strengths will jump out to guide us through. Don’t worry about being perfect, these new activities will help you bring out and express your signature strengths

3. Adjust your focus – Many of us focus so much on whether or not we are going to be liked. Or we focus too much on whether the other person is going to buy from us, hire us or promote us.  Being overly focused on being liked or closing a deal can rob you of seeming confident. The surest way to exude confidence and to create a memorable presence is to express interest in other people. Focus on how you are going to engage, encourage, help or inspire other people instead of focusing on what they are thinking about you or what they can do for you. In other words, focus on giving instead of getting.

4. Appreciate yourself and cut the crap– I read a quote on a gratitude website which has become one of my all time favorites – “When you complain, you become a living breathing crap magnet.” Women seem conditioned to dwell on the negative aspects of ourselves and our situation.  But as the quote so bluntly states, the more we complain, the more we will find to complain about, and the more we will find ourselves surrounded by other complainers. Express gratitude for the special combination of strengths and challenges you’ve been given. At the end of the day, write down what you’re thankful for and which of your strengths you used that day. Instead of dreading any challenge that lies ahead, list any strength you can use to pull yourself through the challenge you may be facing.

5. Visualize greatness – We usually think we can walk into a room, scope out the situation and adjust ourselves accordingly. But sometimes by then it’s too late to project the confidence or presence you may need. Start visualizing yourself as a shining star before you even leave your house. Read a series of affirmations, a list of positive adjectives or invent a super confident alter ego. Many people will tell you; “Fake it till you make it.” I support the idea behind this advice but have a problem with the expression itself. Words are powerful and let’s be honest, nobody likes a fake. So I prefer to use a phrase I coined, “Own it while you hone it.” Own the quality you would like to project while you work on improving it.
For Outer Confidence

6. Dress your strengths – Choose a quality about yourself that you are really proud of. Always try to make one style choice that reflects that quality. I recently attended a women’s networking group in New York City and was one of 4 women out of 30 who was wearing COLOR. Yes, I was also wearing the ubiquitous black, but I threw on a bright red flowing rayon sweater that communicated both my passion and my easy-going nature. Instead of dressing for success all the time, dress to express.

7. Stand in your power – Posture and body language speak volumes. Yes, mom always told you to stand up straight and there’s something to that. However, you don’t want to stand military straight because that can be off-putting. To project confidence – stand with your feet hip-distance apart, a slight bend in your knees and your weight slightly forward. This posture gives you a solid base and pitches your body slightly towards the person you’re addressing. And whether sitting or standing, be sure to keep your torso as visible as possible. Folding your arms or any other gesture that covers your torso communicates insecurity. Comfortably displaying your torso shows you’re confident and trustworthy.

8. Channel your inner Barry White – The voice is the second most important part of an effective first impression. You can do all of the above and then open your mouth and totally change a person’s impression of you. Human beings are hard-wired to interpret lower-pitched voices as sounding more authoritative and confident. Many women with naturally higher-pitched voices need to learn to speak from the diaphragm and lower their pitch in order to sound more confident. Other vocal confidence robbers are: up-speaking – making everything sound like a question and speaking too softly and losing energy at the end of your sentences.  If you need help working on any of these vocal issues, pick up my Vocal Workout CD.

9. Pump up your vocabulary – Even though almost 90% of your message is communicated through your body language and vocal tone, it doesn’t mean words don’t matter. What people react to in your communication is consistency – do the way you look and sound match the words you are using.  You could look super confident and have a commanding voice but if your word choices are weak, boring or confusing, people will begin to reevaluate their first impression of you. Get rid of anemic overused, words like great, nice, awesome and fine and substitute them with richer more evocative language. Choose words that stimulate your listener’s emotions. Think about words and phrases used to describe colors or textures or sounds and see whether you can incorporate some of those words into your communications. But beware of overdoing it! Using inflated, inappropriate word choices or overusing jargon and lingo can make you look like you’re trying way too hard – the opposite of confidence.

10. Trim vocab flab – Non-words and minimizing words are huge confidence robbers. Non-words are those pesky fillers that slip out of your mouth when you’re not looking. Like “um, like, so, uh, basically, literally, you know…” and so many others. Instead of using your go-to filler word, breathe and pause. Pausing is powerful. It makes people stop, think and wait for your next word. It shows you have the confidence to trust you can command attention even during silence. You can pause for up to 4 seconds without causing listener discomfort. Minimizing words are those other pesky words we use to mask the fact that we have an opinion and /or that we are powerful. Instead of using phrases like; “I think I might be ready to… or I just prepare this little agenda or  I kind of like this one…,” take a definite stand. So what if you’re wrong or if someone disagrees. Use stronger phrases like; “I am ready” or “I believe I’m ready.” “I prepared an agenda for our meeting.” “This one is my favorite and here’s why…”

Contact me for more tips!


PROOF: It’s Never Too Late to Change!

I’ve had some proud moments in my life – after all, I have a son who was a Yale student athlete drafted by the Cincinnati Reds – but my most recent session with a client is right up there among one of my proudest moments.

A firm in the financial industry engaged me several years ago to give a presentation for their staff and to work one on one with some of their employees on communication skills.  They are a successful firm that handles billion-dollar accounts. However, it was founded several years ago with a crunchy granola, mom and pop type sensibility. As they’ve gotten more and more successful, they have seen the need to level up all of their skills–communication being one of them. I did a group Communication Elevation workshop and one-on-one executive coaching sessions with several of their employees and was able to implement some immediate changes. However, one of the tasks I was given was extremely challenging and at times I thought it was going to be impossible.

I was asked to coach one of their senior employees, I’ll call him Alex. Alex is very bright and knowledgeable about the business. However, he has a regional accent with some related grammar issues. In addition, he tends to be what I call a “chain talker”–someone who rarely comes up for air and therefore dumps way too much information on unsuspecting listeners. I knew that I could give him tips and techniques to deal with his chain talking but the accent and grammar issues seemed daunting. After all, this was a 40-something-year-old successful businessman, and the issues mostly only surfaced when he was under stress. Fortunately, Alex was not someone who denied he had these issues. He was very receptive to feedback. But that doesn’t mean the normal resistance to change didn’t crop up.

Alex stated often in the beginning of our sessions that clients really liked him and that he is great at talking about the products. Translation: it doesn’t really matter if I drop a few –“ing’s,” if I get my point across and the client likes me. Alex’s belief is an example of the major myth people use to avoid certain changes.

  • MYTH: I’m a nice person: People will overlook my faults:
  • FACT: People might like you and be fine hanging out with you at a bar, but at the end of the day, they want to do business with people they respect and speech and grammar factor into the amount of respect a person has for you.

To top things off, the feedback the company was receiving from clients debunked the myth and supported the facts. Alex had to change the way he spoke or be faced with changing where he worked. That put some pressure on me as his coach and frankly, I wondered if I was up to the task. But because I have a tad of the Superhero in me, I refused to tell the person who hired me that “fixing” Alex might be next to impossible.  Part of the initial work I had to do with Alex was to convince him that this was serious business and that it would take a lot of work. I had some help in that area from the increasingly frustrated owner of the company.

Then we had a session that surprised me and turned things around. I had given Alex some general pronunciation drills and articulation exercises but we weren’t seeing a huge difference. I again stated the assumption that Alex was holding on to a little resistance to change but then Alex told me that the real problem was that he didn’t really know how to pronounce certain sounds. Because of a glitch in his rural education, he had simply never learned the correct pronunciations, and he needed me to teach him. I had spent several years teaching accent reduction to adult second language students, so I knew how to attack his pronunciation problems in a purely technical way. I realize that I might have shied away from suggesting these types of painstaking pronunciation drills earlier because I thought it would be tedious and might be embarrassing to him, but here he was asking for it.

So I did a diagnostic, and I pinpointed all of the sounds Alex had trouble with. Then, I created specific drills and exercises around those sounds. We spent time on each sound, and I helped him find the exact mouth, tongue, and lip placement that would help him pronounce the words that contained his problem sounds. He took extensive notes on all the tricks and tips I gave him. In addition to that painstaking work, we also worked on organizing and shaping his presentations so that they were more audience-centered and not pure data dumps.

The firm had a very important meeting coming up, and Alex was presenting along with the company’s owner. I really wanted to show a quantitative difference in Alex’s style. We spent three hour-long sessions leading up to the meeting working extremely hard on pronunciation and on organizing Alex’s part of the presentation. Before my recent session with Alex, I checked in with the previously uber frustrated company owner to see how the presentation had gone. The owner said that Alex did really well. Probably better than the owner himself had! YES! Then, during our session after the presentation, Alex and I went through his pronunciation exercises, and he NAILED all of the sounds that he used to have such difficulty with.

I have so much utter respect for Alex for putting in the work and being willing to change. Not many financially successful people in their 40’s (men especially) would take on such a challenge. I, too, learned a lot from this experience. I was very close at times to throwing in the towel with Alex and having a Que Sera, Sera moment (whatever will be will be). But I am so very glad that I didn’t. I learned that with mutual persistence and determination, change is always possible. I also learned that sometimes what we perceive as resistance, is actually a lack of knowledge.

Is there some change that you’ve been resisting? Is there someone in your life who is resisting change? Maybe it’s time to find out what you or that person may not know about HOW to enact that change. Let me know your thoughts.

Chain-talking – Hazardous to Communication Health!

boring_meeting (2013_04_21 17_36_32 UTC)Do you ever find yourself stuck in a “conversation” with someone who is technically delivering a monologue? Have you ever tried to join a conversation or discussion that is being hijacked by one speaker? I call those individuals Chain-talkers and they can be hazardous to healthy communication.  Chain-talkers are people who talk nonstop with absolutely no awareness of whether listeners have any interest in what he or she is saying? People who somehow don’t need to take a breath and move so quickly between sentences that you can’t find a place to interrupt. Raise your hand if you know what I’m talking about.

Once, I attended a full-day symposium on communication. There was an interesting keynote address by a marketing/communication VP for a major organization. I very much appreciated her message since she spoke about how important it is for companies to lead with their value – a message I try to always express in my workshops and with my clients. She also spoke about the importance of story and how communication is enhanced by the telling of interesting personal, relatable stories. One of her final tidbits was advice on keeping your message brief.

 After her presentation, there was a break and several people crowded around her to ask an additional question or express their appreciation for her message. Because I really appreciated her message and respected her organization, I joined that group. As I approached, I saw that there was a gentleman engaging the speaker in a story or anecdote. I stood among seven other people waiting for an opportunity to connect with the speaker. Two minutes went by. The man continued to ramble on. Another two to three minutes went by. The speaker began to exhibit body language cues that would indicate to most people that she was anxious to move on. Her body and feet were pointing away from this gentleman. She broke eye-contact with the man and made eye-contact with me and several other people waiting. He jabbered on. She touched his elbow in a way that indicated that she was amused but ready to end the connection. And still, the man spoke on.

The other audience members waiting began exhibiting body language cues of their own – deep sighs, eye-rolling, sharing furtive exasperated glances. The irony of this happening at a  symposium for communication experts was not lost. And the fact that one of the last things the speaker talked about was brevity was beyond ironic. SO… I took a deep breath, engaged my diaphragm which enabled my “big girl” powerful voice, extended my hand, stuck it into the crowd and said, “I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your presentation.” There was a collective sigh of relief from everyone waiting. The tension had been broken. The chain-talker was forced to stop and acknowledge the interruption. The speaker was relieved and engaged with me thus breaking the chain that was binding her to him and two of the women who’d been waiting gave me a relieved thumbs up.

Afterwards, those two women, a gentleman and I spoke about the incident. The two women posited that it was a male/female thing. That because he was a man, the women were less willing to break in and/or because he was a man, he was less sensitive and aware of how he was inconveniencing the other people waiting. And because he was a man he was less likely to be able to pick up on the nonverbal cues the speaker was displaying.

 I’m not sure that this was 100% a gender issue. I have met chain-talkers of both genders. In my experience, chain –talkers fall into 3 different categories; The Narcissist, the Fact-ician, and the Oversharer.

 We all have met narcissists, people who feel like every word coming out of their mouth is brilliant – funny, informative, intelligent (fill in the blank) and that everyone is excited and interested in hearing that brilliance. They have most likely used up the patience of their nearest and dearest and are therefore eager to find a new set of ears to enthrall with their monologues.

The Fact-ician chain-talker, is a person who happens to love facts, data, and research and has the unique ability to retain all the information that he or she knows on a given topic. They know most people are not like them and are fuzzy about facts and details and they therefore feel that it is their obligation to dump all of that data on whomever happens to ask the simplest question.

The third type of chain-talker, the Oversharer, is similar to the Factician except that instead of facts and data, the Oversharer shares personal information and minute descriptive details that have no interest to the listener and no relation to the topic they are speaking about. They overshare because they feel that they will not be fully trusted or understood unless the listener knows every last detail about them.

Although these three types Chain-talk for different reasons, they all share an inability to pick up on non-verbal cues and gauge the interest level of their listener.

When you find yourself being shut out because of a chain-talker, feel free to do as I did – put on your best Barry White voice and interrupt them, steering the attention and conversation in another direction. No need to wait for a breath or a pause because there probably won’t be one.

And if, like the speaker, you find yourself directly trapped by a chain-talker, here’s what you can do: (frankly, I’m surprised our marketing/communication VP did not do this) Smile brightly at Mr. or Ms. Chaintalker and say: “I’d love to continue this but in the interest of time, I need to move on.” Or “This sounds like a great story but there are other people waiting. Maybe you can email me the punchline”  Or “WHAT PART OF MY TIPS ON BREVITY DID YOU NOT UNDERSTAND??” (Okay maybe not that)

I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions. If you’re wondering how to cure yourself or others from Chain-talking… stay tuned. That’s for another post.

BONUS: For those of you who have read my book, Standing Ovation Presentation or taken my Discover Your ActorType Quiz, which ActorTypes do you think produce the Narcissist, the Factician and the Oversharer?

Five Communication Disconnects & How to Solve Them


The art of communication is the language of leadership. James C. Humes

No question about it, communication is an art. No matter how skilled or knowledgeable you are, if your communication skills are subpar, your leadership and management skills will be too.

Communication encompasses a broad spectrum: there’s email, memos, reports, phone, video conferencing, and, what I’d like to focus on here, the old-fashioned face-to-face.

I work with many individuals who are brilliant at what they do but become baffled by the fact that their direct reports don’t understand them or that their superiors are not recognizing them for promotions.

Here are five of the most common communication disconnects I see in the individuals I coach.


 1)      Muddled Messages:

Time is money and most people don’t like to waste time sifting through an avalanche of words to figure out what you are really trying to say. I always tell my clients to figure out their bottom line in any important communication. For any message you need to relay, ask yourself this question: “If my listener remembers just one thing, what do I want them to remember?” That “one thing” is your bottom line or core message.  You can then shape the rest of the communication around that bottom line (I suggest using a mind map). It also helps to use specific language in your communication to reinforce your message. For example, actually saying, “If you remember just one thing today…” improves the chances of that one thing being remembered. Other phrases to include: “The bottom line is…” “This is extremely important.”  And find ways to repeat your core message whenever possible. Statistics show that people forget 40% of what you say in one-hour!

 2)      Selective Listening:

I recently heard and saw experiments on the sobering fact that our perception is our reality. What this means for office communication is that sometimes we have a perception of someone we work with–a perception which may or may not have a valid basis–and that perception becomes our reality. Maybe your perception is “He hates his job and doesn’t want to be here” or “She’s after my position” That perception colors every action and every communication that that person makes. This results in our thinking that we already know what someone else is going to say so we let our own judgments/perception get in the way of listening to what’s really being said. And of course, while that person is speaking, we are thinking of what we are going to say based on our PERCEPTION of what it is we THINK they are saying. Let’s stop the madness! When you’re having an important conversation with an employee, breathe and focus. Take time to listen carefully and actively to your employees and try to leave old perceptions out of it.

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging prejudices” William James.

3)      Passive/Non- Listening

“Why would anyone listen to you if he felt you had not first listened to him?” -Dr. Xavier Amador

Of course, you might answer this. Because I’m their boss”, in which case I say good luck. You may get results but you will probably also get lots of passive-aggressive resistance and other negative behavior. In order to get anyone to listen to you, it’s important to make them feel that they are also being listened to. Here are some ways to listen actively:

o   Use an open body position: The torso is the most vulnerable part of the body and when it is “exposed” it engenders more trust and openness in your listener. So avoid crossed arms or sitting behind large desks when you’re looking to connect with a direct report.

o   Nod: People will talk three times as long if you nod while you’re listening to them. So, if you want your employees to really share what’s on their minds, nod in sets of three while you listen.

o   Reflect: It’s also helpful to show that you have heard someone by using reflective listening, paraphrase (NOT parrot) what you heard them say. “So if I’m understanding you correctly you want to…”  “Okay, so what I hear you saying is that …” This makes the person feel heard and gives them an opportunity to clear up anything you may have misunderstood or misinterpreted.

4)      Being tone-deaf

Very often, what you say is not nearly as important as how you say it. According to communication research by Professor Albert Mehrabian, 38% of oral communication depends on the sound of our voice. All the positive feedback in the world, spoken in an angry or dismissive tone will lead to mixed signals at best, anxiety, mistrust and poor morale at worst.

Two of the most common tonal issues I see are:

o   Asking instead of telling: This is most common in female leaders but it is becoming a more equal opportunity offense. This is a tone I call up-speak (making everything sound like a question) Managers who want to make sure that their peers and direct reports like them, really, really like them, will use this tone so that they don’t sound like they’re giving orders. Huge problem. Making declarative sentences sound like questions makes your listener wonder how confident and knowledgeable you really are.

o   Professional Monotone: On the other end of the up-speak spectrum, is the rushed, staccato flat monotone. Many people associate this tone with power and authority. Then use that tone for ALL their communication. Bear in mind that according to volumes of research, employees will respond to the tone of your communication, before the actual words. Make sure you vary your pitch, use inflection and intonation to emphasis words or phrases that are more important and pause occasionally to allow listeners to either take in what you are saying or ask questions.

5)      Mis-matched Styles:

By far the most common occurrence in workplace communication is the failure of people to comprehend that their preferred way of delivering and receiving information may be completely foreign and incomprehensible to their co-workers. Your communication style may be so completely different than someone else’s that it can be almost like you speak different languages. This disconnect creates huge communication log jams. Assessment tools like DiSC profile are extremely helpful for enlightening managers as to the communication styles of their peers and direct reports. As an executive coach, I often use the Everything DiSC assessment tool to help clients see their own style and understand why the way they are communicating is not working for an employee or colleague who uses a completely different communication style. I’ve also recently published my own book on communication and presentation skills, Standing Ovation Presentations, (Motivational Press, 2013) and have identified my own nine different communication styles which I call ActorTypes.

Whether it’s DiSC, Myers Briggs or my ActorTypes,  I feel it’s very important for managers to know what their personal communication style is as well as the communication style of their staff. With training and understanding, you can learn how to tailor your communication to be better understood or coach them to communicate in a way that is easier for you to understand.

It’s not enough these days to be skilled and knowledgeable. With an extremely diverse workforce, it’s time for leaders to become skilled in the subtle arts of communication if they want to succeed. Let me help you!

Five Business Lessons I’ve Learned from Reality TV

TELEVISIONReality TV has been the bane of existence for most actors and television writers since it first infiltrated prime-time television. And since I have spent 30-plus years as a professional actor and 15-plus as a TV/film writer I should rightly resent the onslaught of reality TV for taking away job opportunities from people like me. BUT,… I have to confess. I love watching shows like American Idol, Next Food Network Star, So You Think You Can Dance, Project Runway, and The Voice, because the communication trainer and coach part of me learns so much from them!

Those shows illustrate, support, and re-enforce so many of the things that I teach, train, and write about. And, for entrepreneurs and business owners, I’d like to point out some important lessons these competition shows can teach us.

First, let me point out the similarities as I see them. In the very early phase of your business, you probably had to win over a friend, a family member, or an investor and convince them of the validity of your product or service. That would be like the initial auditions reality contestants have to go through. In the next phase of your business, you may have to sell your concept to a larger investor, partner, bank, and, of course, your prospects & customers. In this phase, you need to show not only that you have a good concept, but that the concept can make a larger group of people happy and profitable. That’s like the phase where the reality contestants have to impress the larger TV voting audience (and the show’s producers) that they have what it takes to impress, entertain, and encourage audiences to tune in.  Then, as time goes by, you, like the reality contestants, have to prove that you are not a one-trick pony, that you have “Star Power,” and will be able to sustain the audiences/clients interest week after week, month after month, year after year. How DO they do it??

Here are FIVE business lessons I’ve learned from watching reality television that might help catapult YOUR business to super-stardom.

1) It’s not just about how great you or your business are.

In most of these shows, talent is rarely the issue. Unlike in the early years of American Idol, most of the contestants are immensely talented. Just like most entrepreneurs and business owners have really interesting products and services. What these shows continually illustrate is that likeability, relate-ability, and passion are often much more important than talent.

In my new book Standing Ovation Presentations, I identify nine different communication styles which I have dubbed ActorTypes. The nine ActorTypes,”  based on 9 character types you see every day in movies and on TV, are the Hero, Villain, Super Hero, Ingénue, Sex Symbol/Super Model, Comic, Whiz Kid/Nerd, &  Curmudgeon. (Take my ActorType quiz and find out what YOU are)

On a past season of The Voice, one of the contestants was a tried and true Whiz Kid. She was nerdy, wore glasses, was not conventionally attractive, had a distinct way of moving and dressing yet had an incredible voice. She clearly and easily became a judge and audience favorite because she was talented, likeable, AND passionate about what she stood for–giving a voice to the underdogs. She made all the underdogs in the world feel like they were enough. What does your company make people feel?

2) Be unique but authentic.

We’ve all seen the wacky folks at tryouts who do everything and anything for their 15 seconds of fame. In the above example: simply DRESSING or acting like a nerd would not have been successful if it wasn’t coming from an authentic place. There are branding and marketing “experts” who will try to sell you outrageously creative ways to brand and market yourself or your business. Some of them might be genius and you might indeed catch the public’s attention. But if those branding and marketing ideas are not consistent with the values that you and/or your business & brand represent, those creative marketing tricks will not create loyal fans and will not move you forward in the competition.

In fact, I once received a snail-mailed box of “stuff” from an entrepreneur whom I did not know. It was an invitation to help her launch her new book. At least I think that’s what it was because I have not read the whole thing (my son enjoyed some of the edibles included). It was a very expensive and gutsy marketing campaign, I admit, but not knowing the person, I don’t know that it was effective. For me, it was not. I was curious how they had gotten my home address, why I was selected to receive it. And the insert was very text-heavy so I did not care to take the time to read it all. Furthermore, the campaign did not seem to be consistent with the photo of the person sending it!

3) Take risks but don’t confuse us.

It’s great when the country artist nails an R&B tune. Judges and audiences love that. But when a contestant sings, designs, cooks a different style every week, they will inevitably get this feedback; “We don’t know what kind of (fill in the blank) you want to be.” or “We don’t feel like YOU know what type of (Fill in the blank) you are.” The same thing happens when businesses start rolling out services or products that might be interesting in and of themselves but may not align with the company’s mission. Offering a product or a service that does not match your company’s style will feel inauthentic and may, therefore, confuse your customers and fail to take off. Think Dell’s attempt to roll out fun MP3 players or Volkswagen’s attempt at a luxury car.

4) Express your passion & share your story.

Another related comment reality show judges give is, “I don’t see YOU in this” or “I don’t feel your passion…”  Whether it’s the type of food being prepared, the song choice, the design created, or the delivery style, if the contestant is not somehow baring a piece of their soul and expressing their truth, the judges and the audiences have a hard time connecting, engaging, and voting for them.

On an episode of Food Network Star, one of the contestants let it slip that he had overcome a substance abuse problem. That information instantly gave the judges a different perspective. They got to see a tiny window into his soul which made everything else make sense. And the chef himself, I’m sure, felt more at ease because he no longer felt he had something to hide. Is there something about you or the origins of your business that you’re still hiding or that you don’t think is relevant? I’m NOT suggesting you air out all your dirty laundry but sometimes sharing a deeply personal story is the one thing that will endear you to your customers and create raving fans. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat with a client and had to take out my proverbial shovel and dig and dig and dig until I’ve uncovered a golden nugget of a story that we were able to mold into fabulous sales pitches, conversation starters, and presentation topics. But without that story, they would be just another… (Fill in the blank)

5) Don’t allow feedback to sway you. You don’t have to come in first to win!

As business owners, it’s easy to get discouraged. There are so many businesses out there and so much information vying for everyone’s attention. It’s easy to start comparing yourself with other businesses or business owners who seem to have “won” and cornered the market.  But don’t get swayed by competition and or negative feedback.  Looking back at the history of many competition shows, you will find that the person or act that eventually won the big prize, is not always the same person or act that went on to become the most successful or well-known. In fact, some folks who got harsh criticism and were sent home early, have gone on to shine the brightest–think Jennifer Hudson. There’s room at the top for all of us if we keep on our own authentic path.

There are many other business lessons to be learned from competition shows: How to learn the difference between confidence and arrogance; How to work through fear and shine under pressure; and How not to slack off even when you think you’re at the top. So, even though my husband and son make fun of me for watching; and some of my friends are SHOCKED when I confess my guilty pleasure, I insist that I’m doing it for educational reasons! (okay… so it is a tiny bit of a guilty pleasure) But I’m learning a LOT! So sit back, grab some snacks, pick up the remote, and let me know what you think.

Start YOUR Evolution

evolvingWe’re always Evolving! 

Here are 5 ways I can help you revolutionize your communication.

In case you’ve ever wondered… What can Robyn and SpeakEtc. do for me?

Let me count the ways:

1)     Problem: You dread people asking: …and what do you do?” because you have a hard time explaining what you do in a way that doesn’t make their eyes glaze over or you feel like a used car salesman.

How I can help: In one or two one-on-one sessions, I can discover what sets you apart, match what you do with your unique communication style, what I call your “ActorType,” and help you create a pitch to be proud of Within the first 20 minutes of one session, I had a client call me a “genius” for transforming his generic jargon-filled elevator pitch into an engaging, individualized, intro-mercial for his marketing business which he can now fold into a conversation, use on his website, or pitch to investors or prospects.

2)     Problem: You have an important presentation coming up and its success could mean recognition and more business and revenue for you and/or your company but you’re lacking confidence and don’t know how to pull it all together.

How I can help: I work with you and your presentation at any stage. I can organize and polish your existing material; help you write compelling content from scratch and/or help you hone your delivery skills (body language and voice) so that your presentation is engaging and reflects your unique communication style.  Within 3-6 sessions, I’ve helped upwards of 20 individuals organize, write, tweak, and learn to deliver presentations on: Dating; Owning one’s beauty; running a business; socially responsible portfolio investing; investing in Master Limited Partnerships; Developing better fitness and health practices; bringing specialty foods to the U.S. market; Spiritual awakening in Peru; and many other fascinating topics. My clients have used these presentations at TedX conferences, for videos on their sites and other major and minor stages.

3)      Problem: Your job security and effectiveness is being compromised because you have difficulty expressing yourself successfully at work. Or your advancement at work is being hampered by your inability to show executive and leadership presence.

How I can help: By administering Everything DiSC assessments, I can provide customized 6 session packages of one-one-one executive coaching. This past year I have helped, Senior account executives, Vice-presidents; CEOs, sales associates; teachers; lawyers, and others, learn strategies to communicate more effectively with supervisors and colleagues and have helped them earn the respect and recognition they deserve. Jobs were saved, promotions won, confidence and effectiveness soared.

4)      Problem: YOUR communication is great but you’re in charge of a team or staff of individuals who would be much more successful if they had more confidence communicating with and presenting to clients and prospects.

How I can help: I can create customized workshops and training sessions for up to 20 participants. This past year, I’ve created and delivered training to several different companies in several different fields from global marketing teams; advertising agencies & legal teams; financial advisors; sales associates; & classroom teachers. I’ve helped companies  -“Stop presenting, start engaging; learn listening skills; improve team communication

5)      Problem: You have an interview coming up for the media, a new job, or graduate school.

How I can help: In 3-6 one-on-one coaching sessions, I will research specific interview questions, role-play, and videotape mock interviews. I can help you polish your body language, vocal tone, and your ability to think on your feet and give answers that show you at your best. In the past, I’ve coached young adults into their first jobs, helped a medical student win a coveted internship and helped entrepreneurs shine in front of the camera.

If you are ready to start your evolution, let’s chat!