Obstacles into Opportunities

Don’t Choke When You Speak

jessie spano“I’m so excited. I’m so excited. I’m so excited. I’m so….scared.”

I have always loved the Saved by the Bell episode when Elizabeth Berkley utters these words mid-meltdown. Fortunately, unlike Berkley’s character Jessie Spano, I’ve never had an addiction to caffeine pills; but I have unsuccessfully dated perfectionism most of my life. And there is nowhere a perfectionist’s anxiety surfaces more than in her public speaking.

It’s extraordinary, and I don’t mean in a good way, how when we are on the cusp of saying something big we often amp ourselves up with somewhat manic self-talk.

I’m terrified.

Nobody is going to like this (or me!).

Just try a little harder, Lex. You have to say this better.

Practice one more time. (And by one more, I usually mean 7 more!).

I espouse that the best speaking is extemporaneous—it’s planned, rehearsed, key points (especially engaging questions) are memorized, and then the rest is found in the moment while demonstrating real communion with an audience.

The words we are going to speak out loud are only one facet of our performance. Another, equally important component, are the words we are speaking to ourselves.

Whenever people tell me they are scared of public speaking, or that they choke when they speak (i.e., their voice quavers, they misuse words, or their delivery is stiff), I’m as curious about what they are saying to themselves prior to and while speaking as I am about their content or their speaking style.

The words we speak to ourselves determine the ease with which we deliver our words to an audience.

Nasty self-talk leads to wonky delivery.

To minimize choking when you speak—literally (i.e., too much or too little saliva or difficulty articulating letters and words) or metaphorically (i.e. physiologically going into a fight-or-flight response), every time you practice speaking, also practice the self-talk you want to be performing.

While you may have some positive affirmations such as, “I speak with confidence, clarity, and compassion” or “When I speak, people listen,” prioritize asking a few ‘how’ questions.

How can I make this a fun and worthwhile experience?

How can I trust that I know enough, that I am enough?

How can I choose grace for myself and for my audience?

When we address fear and self-doubt with a ‘how’ question, we remind ourselves that we are the creators of our own reality. We train our minds and our bodies to approach scary situations with calm rather than crazy. We set ourselves up to be focused on our audience, rather than on our ego, when we speak.

We overcome the fear of speaking each time we choose to create and sustain the habit of positive self-talk. And it takes effort, for even the most positive, opportunity-centered person. It actually also takes effort to question our competency and beat ourselves up in the process. We get to choose where we put in the work—to get in the way of our impact as speakers or to facilitate it.

**TEDxFremontEastWomen Auditions**

Las Vegas women, it’s time. On May 29, 2015 I will co-organize and co-host Las Vegas’ third sold-out TEDxWomen event. My partner Jess Tomlinson and I invite you to submit yourself to be considered for 1 of 9 spots to speak.

We are currently on the lookout for local Las Vegas women from across industries and sectors (think Downtown Las Vegas start-up founders to community changemakers to organizational leaders) who have an important “idea worth spreading” they would like to present this spring.

There are 2 ways to be considered for a speaking spot.

  1. Request a spot at our live speaker auditions on Saturday, February 7th from 1-3pm. (Audition spots are filled on a first come, first serve basis. To request one, please grab full details HERE and be on the lookout for an email from us confirming further audition details.)
  1. Submit a video excerpt of your proposed talk, not to exceed 3 minutes. (Note: If choosing this option, please do not submit a talk on another subject. We want to see your presentation delivery and style specific to your proposed “idea worth spreading.”) Details on how to submit HERE.

Good luck!

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New Year’s Resolutions are Crap, as is Some of my Communication

I didn’t create a New Year’s Resolution this year.

And, given that I was on bed rest and 2 days from giving birth to my daughter on January 1, 2014, I’m pretty sure I didn’t make a resolution last year.

While having a child born at the start of the year has shaken up my start of the year energy a bit (and for the better), in general early-January is typically one of my least favorite times.

I’m typically sick.

I’ve typically had a little too much sugar.

I’m typically a little blue.

And the whole “this year is going to be better than last” talk often compounds my malaise.

I just want it to be another day. Another week. And the less high stakes I make the start of the year the more quickly I seem to recalibrate and come home to me.

So this year, I’ve focused my attention a little differently.

I got off of my computer for 2.5 days. (This is HUGE for me.)

I re-prioritized the feng shui of my house with my guru (who I’m lucky also to call my aunt and godmother), Elaine Giftos Wright.

And I’ve gone through some self-imposed audits—on finances, and most of all, in my communication.

How is my communication with my husband? Where are we strong—and where can we grow? 

How is my communication with my team? Where are we strong—and where can we grow?

And, I bet you can see where this is going…

How is my communication with MYSELF? Where am I strong—and where can I grow?

My communication audit has been illuminating. I’ve discovered, and in some cases rediscovered, the following.

  1. When I feel stuck I tend to make myself feel more stuck by forcing a solution, and then another solution, rather than giving myself some mental freedom so that an answer can emerge organically.
  1. When I choose fear over faith I become an over talker. And I force the people around me, irrespective of their communication preferences, to over talk with me.
  1. When I bring humor into my communication with myself, my honey, and my Alexia Vernon Empowerment wingwomen, my communication is actually clearer and more compassionate. My public speaking is more creative and my calls to action are more purposeful and passionate.

As you go into 2015, if you are someone who wants to be mindful without living in your head, and if you want to enhance your communication without feeling like you are committing to one more forced exercise or cliché new year ritual, I encourage you to answer the 3 questions I posed above.

Our communication is one of the greatest predictors of our achievements and are feelings about them.

And how we communicate in one sphere of our life often dictates how we speak to ourselves in others.

Identify your communication habits.

Do more of what works.

Less of what doesn’t.

And if you’re strapped for time and want to make this all even simpler, bring more laughter into your communication. Your self-talk, interpersonal communication, and public speaking will be better for it.

While I’m honest about where my communication can go a little wonky, fortunately I’ve also gotten very clear on my ‘secret sauce’ as a speaker. Want to discover yours?

Join me on Thursday, January 15th at 12pm pst for my first live virtual training of the year, How to Find Your ‘Secret Sauce’ as a Speaker.

For about an hour, I’ll share:

  • How to gussy up your genius so you’re not just the smartest guy or gal speaking in your space—but also the most memorable (and profitable!)
  • Actionable (and effective) tips to make speaking creative and fun (for you and your audiences!)
  • Why building relationships with speakers is one of the BEST ways to book yourself solid as a speaker

I’m also giving away a SUPER SPECIAL BONUS and you have to be on the live training to be in the running for it (BUT…there will be a replay for 48-hours afterwards in case you can’t make it live and still want to access the training).

Register for my free live public speaking training HERE.

I’m wishing you a conscious and creative start to 2015.

Remember, a new year is just that. A new year. What matters is how you show up to your life the 350+ days of the year when the hype has died down that really dictates your success and life satisfaction.

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Lessons in Living & Speaking from a Head-on Collision…That Wasn’t (plus a full tuition scholarship opportunity)

If we’re Facebook friends you might have read about my almost (and fortunately not quite!) head-on collision with a vehicle going the wrong way down a one-way street last week. While my car and my person may not have physically felt the impact, the latter has certainly experienced the impact personally, professionally, and spiritually.

I’m ready to slow down…and speak up.

About 15 seconds or so passed between realizing a vehicle was barreling towards me, honking with everything in me, and the other car quickly stopping so that I (and the other vehicles behind and next to me) could go around. During this time I did the cliché thinking and questioning we believe we are supposed to do in such a situation.

What am I grateful for? 

What do I want my legacy to be?

How will this impact my family—particularly my daughter?

What did I never have the chance to say?

Okay, most people may not ask that last question, but it’s been the one that has really dug deep into my psyche over the last few days.

Despite having a really unhealthy affair with busyness over the last few months, I consistently take stock of what I’m grateful for, I’m clear on my work in the world, and I know that it would be devastating for my family if my daughter was without her mother. I also know that most moments since my near collision I have experienced much more fully. As I said on Facebook, I’ve felt them in HD, 3D. I’ve felt every edge of them. I’ve committed to creating more days full of color, sensation, contribution, wonder, gratitude, and divinity.

Which brings me back to that fourth nagging questions about what I haven’t yet had a chance to say.

There’s been a lot of hateful discourse going on lately in the U.S. In our streets. In our living rooms. On our TV’s. In our government. And this nastiness is certainly spreading to our neighbors throughout the world.

This hateful rhetoric has not consumed my attention and energy as much as I’d like it to—and yet, nonetheless, I have had lots to say about it…. But haven’t spoken up as loudly as I want to be.

I once got an email from someone on my newsletter list telling me I was too political. Even though it was over 6 years ago, the comment embedded deep in my subconscious and my ego, and as a result I just haven’t gone “there.”

But here’s the thing I know—heck, I teach—that the stuff we were born to say is usually going to turn some people off. And…because it’s scary, necessary, and us being most in our zone of genius—it’s going to turn some people on. Wayyyyyyy on!

So while I promise I won’t tell you who to vote for in the next election or what I think of Congress’ newest budget, I will tell you what I think about how we’re treating each other—at work, at home, and in our communities.

As long as one person is racist, we all are a little racist.

As long as one person is sexist, we all are a little sexist.

As long as one person is homophobic, we all are a little homophobic.

It’s our collective consciousness that sows the seeds of oppression.

What we are thinking as individuals impacts what we see in the world.

What we say, or don’t say, matters.

When we see police brutality, rape, bullying, and other violence in our news it can be an invitation for apathy or a call to action.

We must think peace. Teach peace. Practice peace. Speak peace.

If we want a more conscious, creative, and compassionate world we will build it.

One word at a time.

I began my career in the social change sector, and I’m deeply committed to ensuring that those with a big message—who are building movements and engaged in important work that is creating positive and sustainable economic, social, and environmental results—are confident and competent with a mic in hand.

I want to play a role in more people integrating entrepreneurship with social impact.

I want to play a role in more young women like Malala Yousafzai demanding the right to a full education.

I want to play a role in more people relaxing into the fear that often comes up when they think about speaking to audiences—whether that’s a TEDx audience or an audience of funders or potential donors—so that they can leave the legacy they were put here to make.

And that’s why I’m sponsoring a full tuition scholarship for my March 13-15, 2015 MasterTreat in Las Vegas. A mastermind-meets-retreat for transformational speakers, the MasterTreat is a unique opportunity for women seeking to develop, practice, and refine their big talks, develop the strategy to get the right high quality bookings, and relax and restore in a community of other game-changing female business and thought leaders. You can get full details about the MasterTreat here.

Alexia Vernon's MasterTreat

Through December 23, 2015 at 5pm pst, I’m accepting nominations for a female changemaker who is using her voice, her work, her life to make the world a better place. One woman will be picked and receive the entire MasterTreat weekend for FREE so that she can start or scale her speaking and touch more lives.

To nominate yourself or another woman you know who could really benefit from this luxurious, intensive, and effective weekend with just up to 19 other trailblazers, submit your nomination here.

What I want for you as you close out this year —whether it was an epic one for you like it was for me, or perhaps one of those years you’re just glad is behind rather than in front of you—is to remember that whomever you are, wherever you are, you have a voice. You have a viewpoint—most likely lots of viewpoints—on everything from what belongs in a holiday meal (I’m personally a little miffed more restaurants don’t serve turkey on Christmas) to how to apply conscious capitalism within your business. (As for that latter one, I’m currently researching best practices for a possible new project, so if you’ve got some please do send them my way.)

Please, don’t wait to share what you know at the core of your being you were meant to say.

After all, each day aren’t we all possibly living on borrowed time?

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A simple strategy for increasing your influence as a speaker

A vaccination for Ebola. The eradication of poverty. No, I don’t have the fix for either, but I DO have a simple and effective solution for making more impact when you speak. Or seek to influence.

I’ve been enmeshed in launch mode for the better part of the last 6-weeks. I’ve sought to do a lot of influencing.

To watch my free video training.

To show up for a live virtual training.

To enroll in one of my programs.

And while I’ve had some stellar moments through these experiences with respect to my communication, I’ve also had some massive misfires.

“We want you in the program if…” I uttered during one Q+A call. Hmmm… I wondered seconds after I said that. I bet the participant I’m answering is wondering who ‘we’ is.

When answering another prospect’s email I wrote, “It will equip you with a 90-day plan to get speaking in front of your ideal audience.” In this instance I know she thought I meant Your Spotlight Talk when I was referencing my MasterTreat.

You may have encountered the idea that punctuation saves lives, demonstrated in the following cautionary tale.


Found on teacherspayteachers.com

Found on teacherspayteachers.com

Well, pronouns might not always save lives, but they certainly change them. As speakers and communicators, when we use pronouns effectively we invite people into deeper connection with us, clearly reference what we intend to reference, make clear how people can take action (and the payoff for doing so), and increase our credibility.

Here are 3 of my favorite ways to use pronouns to increase my influence as a speaker.

  1. While I try not to overuse ‘I,’ for it’s inferred that what I am saying is my opinion, I do make sure to use it when telling personal stories, admitting a mistake, or showing the person or people I am speaking with something I do that I know they do too. Appropriately using the pronoun ‘I’ can be an incredible act of intimacy when we use it in service of an audience—to be vulnerable rather than weak. It shows an audience that we are walking alongside of them rather than in front of them. It transfers us out of the role of expert and into the role of colleague or friend.
  1. I’m no longer a lone ranger in my business. Over the last 6 months I’ve made 5 hires, and while a part of that decision was to stop wearing hats that no longer serve me, the other key reason is because I want to provide exceptional customer service and support to my tribe. And I want people in my community to know that. So when I say, “we will take great care of you,” I’m letting it be known that you get more than just me when we work together. (I’ve also learned, though, that it’s vital I say “my team” before referring to them by a pronoun.) When a ‘we’ is justified, it communicates to the people we are speaking with that an idea or promise has more legs attached to it than just our own. This layers in additional credibility.
  1. Finally, another way to effectively use pronouns is…to not use them at all. Frequently, when I use the word ‘they’ or ‘it’, I’m being unclear. I’m assigning responsibility via ‘they’ to people I should name outright. Or, in striving to be succinct, by using ‘it’ I’m being vague rather than stating specific nouns.

Pronouns are to be used for an audience—not at an audience. Use them sparingly and intentionally to heighten your impact rather than to get in the way of your influence.

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I’m Finally Telling the Truth + Your Spotlight Talk has arrived!

Your Spotlight Talk LaunchHalf-truths. They feel benign enough until too many of them stack-up and then are served back to us at the most inopportune moment. “I will have that email to you within the hour.” It seems harmless, even when we know we really won’t fire it off until the next morning, until we get passed over for a promotion because of our poor time management. “I want to spend more time as a family.” We may believe that in our heads and even in our hearts, but our partners throw that half-truth we spoke in our faces when we cancel weekend plans in order to hole ourselves up at home and work.

In an article I wrote for Inc. last week, “Keep It Simple and Tell Your Truth,” I shared that “For years I spent too much time and bandwidth proving that, despite my age, I had the qualifications.” I overemphasized media hits, talked about fancy places where I’d spoken, but I never told the full truth – that for as long as I’d lived I’d had an on again, off again relationship to my voice. (You can read the full article, which includes my top 3 lessons for transparent and effective business communication here.)

One of the half-truths I have told for a long time is that I am going to take my business online. I believed what I was saying; I just didn’t act on it. It felt scary, necessitated a tremendous front-end investment of time and money, and required me to make a lot of business hires. I was comfortable being a lone ranger with a part-time assistant or two.

But I wasn’t so comfortable with this half-truth.

It was costing me a lot. Sleep. Revenue. My integrity.

What are your half-truths costing you?

On Tuesday, November 11th, I made good on this half-truth. I opened the shopping cart for my Your Spotlight Talk program. Designed for executives, entrepreneurs, educators, artists, and industry thought leaders, Your Spotlight Talk takes aspiring through seasoned speakers through the process I have honed through doggedly pursuing one-on-one speaking clients to create, book, and perform a TED-worthy talk.

It’s good. Great. Game-changing. I know that just a few days in from the comments people I adore and trust have made.

“Alexia is incredible – strategically, tactically and emotionally. Her presence and guidance are unmatched. You’re in the right place with what Alexia has built and launched! “

Amy Jo Martin, CEO & Founder Digital Royalty, NYT Bestselling Author and TEDx Speaker

“Wow! Alexia has really outdone herself with Your Spotlight Talk. This program is the real deal: it’s holistic and comprehensive. From really strategic ways for mining business and life experiences for speaking material to quick and effective tips for building relationships with speaking decision makers, Your Spotlight Talk has EVERYTHING, and then some, that an emerging thought leader needs to develop a winning talk – and get booked to deliver it. I wish I’d had Alexia’s program back when I was launching my speaking and training business. It will be a game-changer for sure!”

Halelly Azulay, Leadership and Communication Author, Speaker, Facilitator, and President of TalentGrow LLC

“It’s easy to look at charismatic speakers and think they have a gift, but in reality it’s a skill. The only thing that can’t be taught is passion but – as long as you bring that – I promise Lex will teach you the rest (and so much more!) in Your Spotlight Talk.”

Emily Bennington, Mindful Leadership Expert and Founder of AWAKE EXEC® Conscious Career Design

Here’s what no testimonial can tell you—this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done professionally. And yet doing it has been the greatest step I have ever made in aligning who I say I want to be with who I am.

For too many people, speaking (especially in the TED style) feels scarier than a Hitchcock film. And I know that fear. I just also know what lies on the other side of it—sheer bliss, colossal impact, and a feeling of leaving the legacy you were put on earth to make.

Whatever half-truths you may be telling others, and especially yourself, I want you to experience the utter joy that comes from being completely honest.

I’ll send that email tomorrow.

I’m going to put in a half-day on Saturday so that we can go out as a family, without cell phones, the rest of the day.

And if one of your half-truths is that you are going to speak up more at work, at industry conferences, or lead your own workshops or seminars—let me help you make good on your words.

Hop on over to Your Spotlight Talk.

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I Spoke This Dream Into Being

Monday, March 17, 2014. It was just two weeks after I had begun my healing journey back from postpartum depression. While going on hormone replacement therapy a week earlier had enabled me to feel like I was close to being 100 percent back to me, the horrors of what I had felt, thought, and projected into the future were still too close to concede everything that had transpired over the last two months since my daughter’s birth was over.

On the aforementioned Monday, my mom had begged me to watch the premier of our favorite show, Dancing with the Stars. And I did. After putting my little cherub to bed, I curled up on my couch, drank some chamomile tea, and watched “the stars” parade across my TV with their pro partners. Having been separated from my TV and commercials so far in 2014, I was surprised to see sports host Erin Andrews co-hosting the show instead of her predecessor, Brooke Burke-Charvet. As she spoke, regal, charismatic, and witty in a form-fitting red dress, I declared, “God, if you truly let me come back from this depression, I promise to make big impact in this world. I’ll get back on stages, share my story, and help other women and men build movements with their message. I’ll give my all to guiding my daughter and nurturing her possibility. Oh, and one day I’ll dance on the stage of Dancing with the Stars.” You know, one for me—the rest for God.

Fast forward to October 6, 2014. I’m less than a month out from the opening weekend of my second Influencer Academy. Less than a month out from the pre-launch of my Your Spotlight Talk program. My daughter is thriving. I’m sharing my time and resources with organizations empowering girls and women. And…I’m dancing on the stage of Dancing with the Stars.

My aunt, Elaine Giftos Wright, has a lot of celebrity feng shui clients including two of the cast members of Real Housewives of Orange County—which she appeared on this season. One of the producers of RHOC is also a producer on DWTS, and long story made a wee bit shorter, she was able to secure VIP tickets for my mom, herself, and me. And one of the perks of being an audience member is getting to dance on the stage with other audience members pre-show. While cell phones are banned from the audience, somebody sitting near us snuck theirs in and was generous enough to take a picture of my family.

 Alexia Vernon, Dancing with the Stars

When Erin Andrews made her opening remarks with co-host Tom Bergeron, it was one of the most climactic moments of my life. Approximately seven months after one of the most difficult, “come to Jesus” moments of my life, I had created a new story and was starring in it.

Whether I’ve been hanging out in your inbox for years or even for just a few weeks, you know I’m all about the story. The story you create moment to moment in your head. The stories you share on stage. And the stories you communicate in your business.

I’ve intentionally chosen to surround myself with masterful storytellers—as friends, colleagues, and mentors—because we all know that our inner circle has a profound influence on our identity and our work in the world. There’s no doubt that I’m able to narrate the stories I do because I live my life in community with women and men who consistently choose to see opportunities rather than obstacles.

I’m often asked who I recommend for a variety of business services, so I’m thrilled to introduce you to five women who use their gifts of story to serve in the world.

First, while I love putting fingers to a keyboard, even strong writers need writing wingwomen and wingmen. Mine is Stefanie Frank. I had the privilege of working with Stef both in my Influencer Academy and Step Into Your Moxie Mastery. And at the culmination of both programs, I realized how much she could help me scale my business by taking on so much of the writing and editing I was afraid to let go of. Plus, she knew my voice better than anyone after seeing it in action over a year—and sometimes, I think she even knows it more than me!

Whether you love writing like I do and just need to outsource, or you recognize writing is not one of your zones of genius and it’s time to delegate it to someone who’s masterful at it, the right copywriter can give your words the wow they need to drive the results you seek.

Another copywriting genius in my life is Nikki Groom. I’ve recently had the privilege of supporting Nikki to birth her spotlight talk. Through this process, I’ve been SO impressed by Nikki’s ability to ask stellar questions that unearth the raw material she needs to tell her clients’ stories. She also is unparalleled in her ability to create an About page or engaging professional bio.

Stories, of course, are not only told through our words. They are also told through our style. And in our digital world, that means our online presence—from our social media profiles to our websites to our blogs to the way we interact in chats—all of it communicates who we are and what we stand for.

I’ve been blessed to have a lot of web design geniuses in my life since hanging up my own shingle in 2007. Currently, I have someone permanently on my team overseeing all design, Marcie Braden. Working with Marcie I’ve learned how important it is to surround yourself with smart and talented people, (I can’t wait to share with you the gorgeous sites, membership areas, and forthcoming products Marcie has created), who also will tell you when you’re wrong. Marcie tells me this weekly, sometimes daily. And my business is so much stronger for it.

Another web designer who has always exceeded my expectations is Stephenie Zamora. While Steph stepped away from design for a spell to focus on developing her coaching business that enables people to unearth their passions and create thriving businesses around them, she has recently launched her Jumpstart Package which allows entrepreneurs, professionals, and visionaries to create a beautifully branded personal or professional online presence at a terrific price point. Check it out!

And finally, because I believe branding is just so important, I want to introduce you to Suzi Istvan. Suzi and I are both in a high-level mastermind program together, and Suzi is the bee’s knees when it comes not only to web design but also using design to launch programs and services. Suzi works with her clients in a variety of ways, but the one I’m most excited to share (as I’ll be doing it!) is her Marvelous Brand Mentorship. This November Suzi will convene an exclusive community of creative, forward-thinking entrepreneurs to support us in integrating strategy with authenticity as we create our next sell-out offer. You can get on Suzi’s priority list, here.

While it’s always a pleasure to share with you my experiences and recommendations, what matters most to me is that you are able to integrate my musings into your own life.

What are you able to glean from my story? Where are you strong—and what are you declaring you will narrate differently? Who will you invite into the process?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the blog comments.

And keep your eyes peeled for a BIG, BIG, BIG, BIG announcement when I’m back in your inbox on October 30. Truly, it’s going to be a game changer—for me and you.

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Are You Guilty of This?

IMG_3538My friends and family notoriously make fun of me anytime someone is proposing a toast because when it comes time to clink glasses, they know I’m going to insist they look into my eyes. Yes, I’m superstitious and was told shortly after it was legal for me to drink that failing to make eye contact during a toast would subject me to years of bad luck—not to mention invalidate the toast.

But my need to make eye contact when toasting is symptomatic of my desire for more people to make eye contact with me on a daily basis.

In client meetings.

In sales and training videos.

And of course, on stage and in the spotlight.

Maybe it’s our overreliance on hand-held devices. Or our socialization (particularly for us women) that makes us think it’s more important to have cool, wispy bangs that block our eyes than to pull our hair back so we can see and be seen. Whichever is the case, too many of us are not looking into the eyes of the people we are communicating with.

As a result, when we fail to be present with people by avoiding genuine eye contact (live or virtually), we:

  • Suggest that we aren’t telling the truth.
  • Project insecurity.
  • Communicate that we don’t value others enough to see them.
  • Build lukewarm connections.
  • Bore people.
  • Give other people permission not to be seen.

My call to action for you has never been simpler. Make more toasts!

Okay, I’m kidding. Adult beverages are optional. Childlike curiosity, wonder, and connection aren’t.

It’s time to commit to more eye contact!

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Protect Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Screen shot 2014-09-17 at 7.45.53 AMFor business leaders, no matter how well-intentioned we are, there is a never ending stream of problems that have the potential to sink us. Or at the very least make us feel like we are swimming backwards, or even just treading water, rather than swimming ahead.

I’ve, unfortunately, swum into a lot of them over the years.

When I launched my coaching and consulting business, initially called Catalyst for Action, I operated as a sole proprietor rather than as an LLC with S-Corp status. As a result, money that I earned that could have been reinvested in my business to scale it was being paid in taxes.

I also once received a cease and desist letter with a high three-figure fine for using an image in a blog post that, unbeknownst to me, belonged to a museum collection. I had thought linking to the source where I had obtained the image I was referencing was enough. But it wasn’t. An embarrassing, humbling, and costly mistake.

Then, there have been all of the times I’ve drafted agreements for my clients and independent contractors and secretly (well, not that secretly) wondered, “Is this actually protecting me?”

Fortunately, I’ve recently invested the time, money, and energy to get my business house in order to protect myself from naive and costly mistakes. I am so passionate about alerting those with a business or as my friend Jenny Blake says, “side hustle”, to the importance of protecting their work and their legacy that I’ve recently become an affiliate for a few programs that provide entrepreneurs, executives, and thought leaders with the knowledge, tools, and resources to protect themselves.

My friend, attorney Genavieve Shingle Jaffe (Damsel in Defense™) is hosting a FREE webinar on WednesdaySeptember 24 at 12pm EST (it will be recorded) where she will be sharing 5 strategies to protect your business and personal assets.

Genavieve is an expert on trademarks, copyright rules, entity formation, confidentiality/non-disclosure agreements…you know, all the super non-sexy, really important stuff most of us prefer not to think about…until we have to.

For more details and to register, click HERE. Trust me, this content is important. You want to make the time.

And speaking of making good use of time, have you taken a moment to grab a spot on the VIP List for Your Spotlight Talk? If not, hop on over. ASAP! My team and I have put together a super offer for less than the price of dinner that will only be available to people on that list. See you over in Your Spotlight Talk land.


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THIS is what you were born to talk about

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 12.34.40 PMIt’s been exactly a month since I started working one-on-one with my final group, at least for the foreseeable future, of individual entrepreneurs, executives, creatives, professionals, and thought leaders on their spotlight talks. It’s been a wild and truly awesome ride. Through their collective passion, experience, and expertise I’ve had the opportunity to learn about everything from bodybuilding, health insurance, and ESL to web design, copywriting, and building wells in Africa. I feel like I should receive an honorable PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies soon.

While some of these soul-stirrers have been speaking for a while and just want to up their game, others have not and initially struggled to identify exactly what they should speak about in their first big talk. Because this is such a common source of ‘stuckness’ for emerging and seasoned speakers, I want to share with you one of my favorite strategies for choosing the right “idea worth spreading”, the foundation of any TED-style talk, and the right opening story.

Here’s an excerpt of what I share in greater detail in Your Spotlight Talk, born out of my work with one of my client’s, TEDx speaker Sandi Herrera.

When Sandi and I first started talking about her life and the stories she could share, she was in one of my women’s public speaking programs and she had previously been petrified of speaking publicly. She would get the shakes, her voice would quaver…the whole “I think I’m going to die” negative self-talk loop was…well, constantly on loop. When I asked her to go through her life and identify her stories, a lot of different ones came up. Like most of us, Sandi had no shortage of moments that had brought her to her knees. But she was initially stumped by what she would identify as her signature story for her first spotlight talk.

Truthfully, so was I. So I asked Sandi to imagine all of her key stories in conversation with each other. I wanted her really to picture her life speaking to her, because I wanted her to identify a theme that emerged. When she did everything, and I mean everything, changed.

Sandi realized that every story was about searching for purpose, and that what she was called to do was help children and the educators who work with those children have a means for finding their purpose. The vehicle that had worked for her, and that she would use with them, creating core values.

In the first talk I coached Sandi on she shared her journey to finding purpose. And not an ounce of the old fear was there because everything that poured out of her was exactly what she was born to speak about. Less than four months later, Sandi had founded her own educational consulting and coaching company, Got Core Values, and she applied to speak at the TEDx I co-organize and co-host.

And she was a no brainer pick. She was super duper clear on her “idea worth spreading” – that to transform our schools and school culture, it’s vital to engage school communities in identifying and living their core values. After all, this idea was the impetus for starting her own business.

Let’s learn a bit from Sandi RIGHT NOW. Think about a few of the stories that feel like they could be the start to a spotlight talk, and imagine that they are in conversation with one another.

What are they saying to each other?

What themes keep reemerging?

How have these stories shaped the issues you are passionate about and the work you are doing (or would like to be doing) in the world?

Once you start to see a theme emerge, like Sandi did, see how you can use that theme as your “idea worth spreading”. Here are some examples from a few of my favorite TED and TEDx talks. 

In The power of introverts, Susan Cain discusses how being an introvert has actually given her an advantage, despite how the world is designed around the needs and desires of extroverts.

In Greening the ghetto, Majora Carter talks about how losing her brother to gun violence prompted her to transform the South Bronx.

And in one of my favorite TEDx talks, The shocking truth about your health, Dr. Lissa Rankin shares how her perfect storm led her to reframe how she thinks about health, and how that ‘aha’ changed the way she practices medicine.

Each talk has a core story. And it leads perfectly into her “idea worth spreading”.

What’s yours?

I’d love for you to share your response in the comments on the blog or over on Facebook. Also, if you are moved by how Sandi is revolutionizing the way schools partner with students, via creating school environments and cultures around common core values, I invite you to take the next 5 minutes to click on this link, learn more about GotCoreValues, and contribute what you can.



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Who are you shacking up with? And what it says about your communication

Influencer Academy ReunionYou’ve likely encountered the idea, “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”. For a lot of us those 5 people, or at least the majority of them, are at work. For the first chapter of my life, that wasn’t such a good thing. I worked with smart, creative, generous professionals BUT the majority of us were terrified of a director in our office. And as a result, we constantly walked on eggshells around her. And when she, as she so often did, yelled at us, micromanaged us, or just directed snide comments or facial expressions our way, we would swallow our hurt and fail to speak up.

Fast forward almost a decade, and I spend a lot of my professional time showing emerging through senior leaders how to have those difficult conversations so many of us feel ill prepared to have. Sometimes the stakes are low – like the other night when I had a mini-reunion at the High Roller with some women from my first Influencer Academy cohort, and we asked for separate checks from our server. Other times the stakes, and emotions, are much higher. A client yells at us over a scheduling snafu that was as much his/her fault as ours. Until the last few years I would have shook internally during that kind of experience, kvetched about it to a loved one, and never said anything beyond what my face telegraphed in the moment. Now, I take a deep breath, focus on what I need to communicate to be in my integrity, sculpt the message, and deliver it with compassion – for me and the other person who is clearly going through some “stuff”.

This fear and sometimes lack of certainty about facilitating difficult conversations shows up in our public speaking as well. So much so that in one of my videos for my upcoming Your Spotlight Talk program (yes, the program has been renamed – more on that in a future post), I show one of the most common mistakes aspiring TED-style speakers make when shaping their “idea worth spreading”. It’s trying so hard to be liked that they don’t argue effectively for their idea(s). Here’s a snippet from the video where I show participants how to fix the problem – and you can apply the advice whether you are expressing an idea publicly or interpersonally.

Imagine, I’m giving a spotlight talk on why we need to vaccinate our children. Controversial? These days, you bet. This is one of the most polarizing issues facing families today, perfect for us to play around with.

If I were giving this talk, it would be natural for me to be concerned that I might offend some people in my audience. Therefore, I could be tempted to say something like, “Vaccines are important in combatting preventable diseases.”

But really? It sounds like I just plucked that off of Wikipedia. This is hardly a unique viewpoint. 

And having a distinct viewpoint is important. It’s what makes you, you. If you are an entrepreneur, it’s what makes people gravitate your way. It’s what makes your clients become raving fans of you. And in the speaking world, it’s the root of having your idea and your talk go viral.

So let’s revisit the statement again. “Vaccines are important in combatting preventable diseases.”

Whenever you sense you are playing it safe with an idea, ask yourself what you really think about it. What you would say to your partner or your best friend if you were sure nobody else was listening.

If I were to do that with this hypothetical example, what could come out of my mouth might be something like, “Years from now our children, and our children’s children, will look back on this time in history and say, ‘mom’. Or ‘grandma’. Shame on you for allowing unsubstantiated societal fear to undermine your responsibility to protect us from one of the most preventable threats…life-threatening childhood disease. Because of your fear, diseases that were essentially eradicated like whooping cough and measles killed hundreds of babies like us.”

Okay, now THAT’s a viewpoint. One that, if articulated like this, would likely turn off a lot of people in your audience.

That is NOT what I’m instructing you to do. Rather, once you identify how you really feel, then, you can sweeten it up by asking yourself, “How do I communicate what I really believe from a place of compassion so that those who disagree don’t feel like I’m belittling their perspective?” 

If I were to do that with this hypothetical viewpoint, I’d say to myself, “My goal is to show people how I am choosing reason over fear, and invite them to do the same.”

So, my message could sound something like this.

“I take every decision I make for my daughter VERY seriously. And I try to always choose reason over fear. While a red or swollen leg, fussiness, or even a low-grade fever aren’t fun, I know from the stories my grandma shared with me growing up neither is a disease like polio. I have a responsibility to the pioneering women and men before me who worked to virtually eradicate diseases like polio, and whooping cough and measles, not to let their efforts have been in vain.”

How does THAT sound to you?

Even if you don’t agree with this hypothetical viewpoint, you have to concede the perspective is clear. And by choosing a bit of storytelling and painting the picture with less polarizing language, I am better able to connect with audience members across the vaccination spectrum.

What I want for you first and foremost is to surround yourself with people who are committed to stepping into necessary, difficult conversations when such opportunities arise. Remember, your efficacy in this area is determined by the habits of the people closest to you.

And second, I want you to know how to express potentially polarizing ideas with compassion. To do so, always remember you’ve got to get clear on how you really feel. Then, make sure you communicate from a place of compassion so that even people who don’t agree with you can at least listen and consider what you have to say.

I’m so excited that hundreds of you have already signed up to be on the VIP List for Your Spotlight Talk. In the program you will be treated to several hours of videos and digital downloads making it breathtakingly simple how to identify your “idea worth spreading”, sculpt your stories and evidence to argue for your idea, get booked to speak, and slay any self-doubt and public speaking wonkiness so you can consistently deliver a TED-style talk with maximum impact. Whether you are looking to speak at TED-style events, professional associations, or conferences, this is THE program for you.

If you haven’t done so already, hop on over to the Coming Soon page, enter your name and email, and be among the first to learn both when the FREE pre-launch video training drops and when special VIP pricing for the DIY, virtual program is available.


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