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You may have seen ukulele phenom Jake Shhimabukuro’s YouTube video, shot in NYC’s Central Park, of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which has more than 11 million (!) views.

You might also have seen Jake’s TED video where he performs a masterful version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” all on four strings…:-)

I’m here speaking in Waikiki and chanced upon an excellent PBS-Hawaii documentary last night about Jake, a virtuoso who has “hit it big,” yet remains grounded in his values.

Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings

A favorite segment of the PBS special was when Jake played his ukulele in Sendai, Japan (ravaged by the 2011 tsunami), at a senior care center.

The expressions on these people’s faces, their tapping along with Jake’s strumming, was particularly poignant and profound.

Perhaps most powerful was Jake’s statement, “My goal when I play is to connect with my audience, to play music that moves them.”

Kudos to Jake. His goal deserves to be our goal as speakers and writers.

The goal of speaking is not to get a standing ovation. It is not to get a perfect 10 on our evaluations or to generate lots of “back of the room” sales.

The goal of writing is not to have a book that serves as a business card (gak). It is not to have a bestseller or to have “product” that drives our career.

Those are nice; those are welcomed; they’re just not the primary reason we speak and write.

The goal of speaking and writing is to connect with our audience members and readers; to share ideas, insights and stories that move them to feel something, to rethink something, to do something differently.

A participant came up after my presentation on Friday and said, “You just radiate joy. What is your secret?”

First, I thanked him and then told him, “I am so grateful for the opportunity to speak for a living.

To stay centered in my goal of genuinely connecting with participants and sharing something that puts the light on in their eyes; I repeat the following mantra to myself in the minutes before a presentation.

I am here to serve; not to show off.

I am here to inspire; not to impress.

I am here to make a difference; not to make a name.

Then, I start every presentation with Arthur Rubenstein’s quote … “I have found if you love life; life will love you back.”

I have found that if I center myself in that mantra and start off with Rubenstein’s quote, it grounds me in how much I love speaking.

And when we love what we do, people often love being around us and want to be part of it.

Any nervousness or self-consciousness disappears.

What takes its place is a sublime stream-of-consciousness where we’re swept up in an exquisite state of flow in which we’re one with our audience.

What mantra do you use to ground yourself in your clarity that the purpose of your speaking is to serve, not to show off; to inspire, not to impress; to make a difference, not to make a name?

When writing, I picture someone specific across the desk from me and write to that person. It could be one of my sons, a client or a friend, someone who could benefit from what I’m trying to get across.

It transforms writing from being an intellectual exercise, a brain dump of “What do I want to say?” to “What would put the light on in this person’s eyes?”

When I mentally reach out to a specific person, when my purpose is to write something that would resonate with them; the words flow out so fast my fingers can hardly keep up.

How about you?

Who are you going to speak to – write to?

How are you going to keep them top-of-mind by focusing on how you can reach them, resonate with them?

How are you going to center yourself in your intent to connect; which is the real reason we communicate?

Always has been. Always will be.

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Serendestiny - doing what makes you come alive

Chances are you’ve seen this inspiring quote from H. Thurman,  “Don’t ask what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive ; then go do that.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

What makes you come alive?  What puts the light on in  your eyes?

One of the things that does it for me is … writing.

Tennis player Pete Sampras was asked what it was like winning his first U.S. Open.  He said, “No matter what else happens the rest of my life; I’ll always be a U.S. Open champ.”

That’s one of the many  benefits of writing.  It is so TANGIBLY, ENDURINGLY REWARDING.

Many things are fleeting. Quality books are not.

Yes, writing a quality book is a front-loaded project. 

You pour your heart, mind, soul … and plenty of what Bryce Courtenay called “bum glue” …  into writing a quality book.

But it will still be out in the world,  years later, making a positive difference for others and a propserous living for you.

I am just re-experiencing this glorious phenomenon,

We’ve just released a new e-version of Tongue Fu!® … which was first published (ahem) 16 years ago!  http://www.amazon.com/Tongue-Better-Anytime-Anywhere-ebook/dp/B00APRX4FG/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1357067747&sr=1-1&keywords=tongue+fu+-+get+along+with+anyone%2C+anytime 

How satisfying it is to know this book is still positively influencing people around the globe.  I’ve welcomed this opportunity to update the content and include examples of cyber-bullying, internet gossip and what to do when someone’s texting at dinner.

What’s this mean for you?  It’s the beginning of a new year.  You have a fresh start opportunity to do what makes you come alive. 

If that is writing, then resolve to put pen to paper or fingers to keys today.  It’s time to get your experience, expertise and epiphanies out of your head and into the world.

I promise. You will never regret writing – you will only regreat not writing when you had the chance.

 

I rediscovered an old friend today.

Reader’s Digest.

I’m visiting my sister and brother-in-law this weekend – Cheri and Joe Grimm – who have been running my business and website for the past 15 years.

They gifted me with a stay in a delightful bed and breakfast here in Los Osos, CA (on the coast 40 miles south of Hearst Castle).

I noticed a copy of Reader’s Digest on my night table, and impulsively took it with me this morning to read while enjoying my coffee and a fabulous view overlooking the bay.

After the first few pages, fond memories came flooding back.

I was first introduced to Reader’s Digest when my family and I would go to our Granny’s house in Eagle Rock, CA for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

If the weather was good, my sister, brother and cousins and I would play outside.

If the weather was bad, we were “banished” to the back porch.

And there, on the bookshelves, were stacks and stacks of Reader’s Digest.  On some particularly rainy weekends, we would work our way through years of issues.

I was once asked by a reporter where I got my “literary training.”  Did I study journalism in college, have an English degree or a Ph.D. in Communication?

No, no and no.

My teachers were Walter Farley (The Black Stallion series), Nancy Drew and Ed McBain (our librarian was a bit scandalized when this 12 year old kid checked out the racy 86th Precinct books from our small town, one-room library).

After delving into the May 2012 issue of RD,  laughing out loud at pithy one-liners , raising my eyebrows at “didn’t know that” insights, and tearing out article after article offering testimony to man’s HUMANITY to man … I am struck by the profound influence Reader’s Digest has had on my writing, speaking and approach to life.

For example, this My Most Unforgettable Character article entitled The Night I Met Einstein, (which RD notes is one of the most requested essays of the thousands in their archives), moved me with its timeless wisdom.

http://www.rd.com/true-stories/inspiring/the-night-i-met-einstein/

Take a few minutes to read it and you’ll easily understand why.  This was written more than 60 years ago (!) and is as powerful today as it was when Jerome Weidman first wrote it.

It is an illustration of why I loved reading Reader’s Digest growing up – and was profoundly shaped by its recurring themes of decency, honor, resourcefulness, bravery, adventure and gratitude.

I remember to this day reading a story about a mother standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes while watching her two kids outside flying kites on a windy spring day.

One of them saw her watching and called out to ask her to join them.

She waved them off and said she couldn’t because she had too many chores.

She reminisced that now that her kids were out of the house and on their own, she often thought about that windy spring day and wished she had said YES when they asked her to come out and play.

She realized, too late, her chores could have waited;  their precious, all too fleeting, childhood wouldn’t.

That article came to mind many times when my sons Tom and Andrew were growing up.  They would come up while I was writing and ask, “Let’s play ping pong” or “Let’s go to the beach.”

I would think of the presentations I had to prepare, the handouts I needed to create, or the calls I needed to be make … and then I would think of that article.

Remembering that mom’s remorse about not playing with her kids while she still could – and while they still wanted her presence – prompted me to say YES  instead of telling them I had work to do and was too busy.

Do yourself a favor.

Buy a copy of Reader’s Digest and read it cover-to-cover while sitting somewhere in the sunshine – in your favorite chair by the window, at a local park surrounded by nature or out on your back patio.

It will make you smile  … i.e., an article in the May issue from children’s book author and Simpsons writer Mike Reiss who says a publishing house called him in a panic because a superstar celebrity client had turned in an unusable, overdue manuscript.  They wanted Mike to re-write the book and have it ready – the next day.

Mike said huffily, “A children’s book is not a fast-food hamburger, and I am not McDonald’s.’

They told me, ‘We’ll pay you $10,000.’

I said, ‘You want fries with that?”

Reader’s Digest will get your eyebrows up with recent research.

This month’s issue features tidbits on Decision Fatigue, and the fact that,  just as we always suspected, Yawns Are Contagious,  which is why we often release one of our own when someone nearby opens wide.

It may even warm your heart and motivate you to be kinder to people you encounter.

It may remind you, as does the article about Einstein opening the eyes, ears, heart and mind of a musical neophyte, of what really matters – listening, learning, loving and marveling at this wondrous world of ours.

Mostly what Reader’s Digest will do is showcase that its editors understand that Carrie Fisher is right when she says, “Instant gratification takes too long.”

They are masters at condensing their content into intriguing  20 word, 50 word, 150 word insights that POP!

Their headlines,  “Cash Mob,” “Inspiring Minds Want to Know,” “We Couldn’t Make This Up,” and “50 Secrets Your Vet Won’t Tell You” create curiosity and compel you to keep reading because you want to know more.

Their visually accessible copy with short paragraphs and frequent boxed off graphics show they know people like to dip in and derive value even if they only have a few minutes to spare.  No dense, daunting text here.

In short, all of us communicators – speakers, writers, advertisers, journalists, ministers, professors and sales and marketing professionals – can learn from their example.

If you want to create intriguing headlines, insights and essays that pass Sam Horn’s Eyebrow Test®,  you can.

Purchase a copy of POP! and discover for yourself why it’s been sold around the world, featured on MSNBC, FastCompany and Business Week and hailed as the best source for crafting content that captures and keeps interest in what you have to say.

http://www.amazon.com/POP-Create-Perfect-Tagline-Anything/dp/0399533613/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335718015&sr=8-1

Do you have any favorite Readers Digest memories?  Let’s hear them . . .

“Inspiration often emerges from our work; it doesn’t precede our work.” – Madeleine L’Engle (author of A Wrinkle in Time)

A client emailed me to say she was having a hard time making progress on her book.

I sent her the following message – and thought it might have value for you if you’d like to get in that delightful stream-of-conscious state where the words are flowing out of your head so fast your fingers can hardly keep up.

(Name of client) . .. please keep giving yourself props for writing, writing, writing.

E.L. Doctorow was asked what it was like writing a book.

He said, “It’s kind of like driving a car at night: you can only see to the end of your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Keep driving to the end of your headlights.

Keep producing pages and getting your thoughts on paper.

They don’t have to be perfect and they don’t have to be right.

Just getting your thoughts down will trigger more – which will trigger more – and before you know it, your book is out of your head and on paper.

THEN – you can go back and start cleaning it up.

Don’t try to think up what you want to say. That keeps you in your head. Blocked. Stymied.

Just get your thoughts written down. That keeps you moving forward. That produces a momentum where your writing takes on a life and pace of its own.

All the best-selling authors at Maui Writers Conference – from Mitch Albom to Frank McCourt to Nicholas Sparks to James Rollins to Jacquelyn Mitchard – agreed.

Ink it when you think it.

Jot the thoughts when they’re hot.

Muse it or you’ll lose it.

If writing is hard, it’s because you’re thinking too hard.

Free up the flow.

How do you do that?

Get out in nature. Go somewhere the sun is shining. Fill yourself with the fresh air of a beautiful day, the serenity of deep, calm water, the eternal beauty of green trees or a sweeping vista of towering mountains. Drink in the quiet but powerful energy of that place.

Now, ask yourself:

“What do I passionately believe?

What do I feel is important?

What have I learned – the hard way – that might have value for others?

Who is my target reader? What is that person’s name? What is their story? Man? Woman? Married? Single? Kids? Working 60 hours a week? Out-of-work? What are they going through? What’s keeping them up at night? What are their doubts, fears, hopes, dreams? What could I share that would keep them going, help them deal with their challenges, put hope in their heart?

Fill your mind with that person. Picture him or her in front of you.

Now, reach out to that individual with your words.

Put your pen to paper – your fingers to keys – reach down into your gut – and start writing to THEM.

Pour out your heart, mind, soul and insights to THEM.

Make writing a outreach to that man or woman.

No fancy language. No struggling how to say it just so.

Write and reach out to them with your words until you see the light go on in their eyes.

Writing is not meant to be an intellectual execise where you are in your head, thinking, “What can I say?”

Writing is meant to be a communication – a bridge between our experience and expertise and our readers. The question is, “What would they benefit from hearing?”

Write to connect.

Write to share what you know, beleive and feel in a way that might add value for anyone reading your words.

When you do that, you free yourself up to to serve.

Writing is simply a way to pour out, “Here’s what I’ve experienced, observed, learned . . . and I’m sharing it with you in the hopes it might be of benefit.”

Write on.

“Never allow a person to tell you no who doesn’t have the power to say yes.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

It happened again.

A consulting client sent me an essay she’d written – and it was packed with track changes from her editor on what she was doing wrong.

There were no specific suggestions on how to make it stronger – just cryptic notes about what she should fix.

This type of punitive editing saps our spirit.

Our author self esteem goes right (write?) out the window.

What’s worse – there wasn’t ONE positive comment from her editor.

Not one, “Well done!”

Not one, “Compelling opening sentence. You had me at hello.”

Not one, “Kudos on this real-life example with dialogue that put me in the scene so I could SEE what you were saying. Do this with the example on page 8 so it’s equally vivid and visually specific.”

It was all critique.

“Change this comma to a semi-colon.” “This paragraph is too long.”

I understand.

Many editors think that’s what they’re getting paid to do. It’s what they were taught, and it’s what their editors have done to their work.

However; this type of negative-focused editing hurts more than it helps.

It’s time for editing to evolve – and it is up to us authors to catalyze the change we wish to see.

I suggest we follow Jack Canfield’s advice.

Jack says, “People treat us the way we teach them to treat us.”

If you have an editor who’s making you feel you can’t do anything right; teach your editor to be a coach not a critic.

Ask that editor to comment on what you did well – so you can do more of it.

Ask your editor to point out examples of sentences in your work that sing – so you feel encouraged instead of discouraged and can’t wait to get back to work.

Ask your editor to be a “yes” editor instead of a “no” editor.

Ask, “Instead of making me feel like I’m a bad writer; please show me how I can be a better writer.”

And yes, (smile), you are welcome to share this with your editor.

People today don’t want more how-to’s.

They want more human experience.

They can find anything they want to know in seconds for free on the web.

They don’t need more information; they need epiphanies.

They aren’t hungry for how-to’s; they’re hungry for heartfelt insights.

I was talking about this with my colleague Matt Leedham, co-founder (with Jaime Willis) of Velocity Consulting and a Director for Entrepreneurs Organization.

Matt just wrote a really honest blog about his “meltdown” while competing in the Luray Sprint Triathlon.

Matt leedham completes the Austin Marathon under 4 hours

Austin Marathon under 4 hours


Matt’s a jock. He told me it wasn’t easy to talk about the unexpected challenges he had during the swim portion of the race. He had walked up to the starting line with confidence, feeling on top of the world. Things didn’t turn out quite the way he planned.

However, in our conversation, Matt and I shared our mutual discovery that when we “dare to share” what REALLY happened – as opposed to what we wish happened – we get visceral responses from our readers, audiences and clients.

It’s like they’re saying, “Finally, someone with the courage to tell the truth.”

Telling the truth often means taking ourselves off a pedestal we may have put ourselves up on.

But pedestals are precarious.

We really don’t serve people when we pretend to be perfect.

In today’s world, we serve ourselves and others when we speak from our heart (not just our head); when we tell it like it is – not like we wish it was.