Five Things Not to Say During a Presentation

Earlier this year I was speaking at a national construction conference when I made a huge speaking mistake.  At the onset of my presentation, this crowd of more than 200 future leaders in the construction industry was rather quiet. I had to engage them; I had to get them to interact; I had to break the silence.

speech

I was talking about the importance of “communication” in retaining good employees.  The first question I asked was: “Have any of you been through a merger of two companies?”

The question I asked was simple, but not one person responded.  Not one person had been through a merger.  Not one smile—not one hand raised.  The silence was deafening.  In my attempt to make a connection, I lost all connection to the audience.  Everything I said after those words appeared unimportant.

Later, as I thought about the presentation, I realized that details matter…the small things matter…the polish on the speech matters.  Here are five things that I have learned not to say during a presentation:

  1. “Have you ever….?”  The problem with this type of lead-in is that sometimes not one person in the audience will have experienced your lead-in.  You can still share the story you intend to share, but introduce it a little different.  Rather than on open-ended question, tell the audience about the story and the lesson learned.  Use the story to make the connection; use details they can connect with; use common phrase to which they can relate…even if they have not experienced the same event.
  2. “I was so *^?!@*#~ upset…”  Yes, that is right, you should refrain from colorful words.  You may think that society is now more accepting of four-letter words, but you’ve heard me say it before that words matter!  The chances that you will offend someone (…who may even be your next client…) are far greater than you making a real connection with someone because you added a few vulgarities to your speech.
  3. “I did not have time to prepare, but…”   You should never start a presentation with excuses.  Even if you were just added to the roster, or you are not feeling your best, you should give it your best!  The editorial comments that “explain away” your circumstances detract from your message, no matter how prepared you may be.
  4. “I will keep this short.” I cannot tell you how many presentations I have seen where the speaker starts off with this broken promise.  As a member of the audience, I don’t really care.  I came to learn something, or be inspired, or be informed.  You should pick a different intro, such as, “I am going to change how you look at construction law” or “Today you are going to learn how to grow your business by treating your employees differently.” Don’t make your introduction about the length of your presentation.
  5. “As the slide says, …”  Never, never, never read your slides.  In fact, I am a large proponent of slides that do not contain words, or very little words.  The audience is there to hear you share with them a great speech.  They did not come to hear you read your slides to them. If you spend more time de-cluttering or de-wording your slide presentation, it will pay off in the long run. If you have to include detailed information, provide a hand-out or article at the end of your presentation.

Questions:  What mistakes have you made in a presentation?  What have you learned to “never say” during a speech?

Gail and Michael Hyatt Ask: “Are You A Student of Your Marriage?”

They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder.  I agree.  Courtney and the kids have been out of town for the past week visiting family and the dead silence in the home felt nice … for about … an hour.

Home

Over the past few days, however, I heard the return of voices every night I came home after a long day of work. The voices were not those of children giggling, fighting or running amok. They were my own voices:

  • Matt, how’s that juggling thing going?
  • Matt, are investing in people as much as your work?
  • Matt, do you know your spouse better today than when you married her?
  • Matt, are you playing to win? Or just playing to get by?

That last one has been haunting me for months.  You see, as a busy construction attorney and father of seven, it is easy to put on my work boots and trudge to the next deadline and task.  I tell myself that my wife and kids will be there when I get home, no matter how late.   Not so … this week.

I found great solace this morning in a two-part podcast by Gail and Michael Hyatt, called Help, I Married An Entrepreneur. You don’t have to be a businessman or woman to find these messages relevant.  All you need is an open mind and heart to seek some great wisdom from this married couple of over 35 years.  It is definitely worth listening to both sessions, and here is what I learned:

  1. You need to be a student of marriage.  Gail makes this point very clear, in that a successful marriage for them did not happen by chance.  They sought mentors. They read books. They talked with each other regularly.  For me, it means “playing to win” in your marriage.  It is more than just going through the motions of living life with your spouse.  It is attacking your marriage with the same passion as your work.
  2. Marriage is hard work.  Michael and Gail share about some of the valleys they experienced in the early years of marriage.  Perspective and commitment were two recurring themes that enabled each of them to work through the difficult times.  Michael shares that in 2001, he put his business savvy planning into his personal life by writing down a vision for his marriage, family and personal life. (You can get a copy of his Life Plan e-book for free.)  Again, the lesson learned here is: Successful businesses require hard work. Successful marriages take hard work, too.
  3. Words matter in marriage.  As businessman, Michael shares that “encouragement [from Gail] has made all the difference” in the world.  They talk about the importance of appreciation and affirmation.  Appreciation is thanking your spouse for everything brought to the table, whether big or small. It is communicating to your spouse that their sacrifices do not go unnoticed. Affirmation, on the other hand, is focusing on what you love about your spouse.

I would strongly recommend Gail and Michael’s message no matter what your career or circumstances.  If you want to play to win, you need to be purposeful in the steps you take.

Question: As a student of your own marriage, what have you learned?

Image: Powderruns

What Happens When You Drop the Work Ball?

I regularly write about work-life balance. Not because I am an expert at finding the correct mix, but because I am right there in the middle of the challenge…the same as you.  So when a leadership guru like John Maxwell provides good insight on juggling priorities, we should all listen closely.

glass

Maxwell recently recounted a university commencement address by Brian Dyson, former CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, who spoke of the relationship of work to your other commitments:

Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit – and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back.

But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same.

As Maxwell suggests, it is not selfish to take care of your family, relationships, health and spirit.  The work ball will bounce back if you drop it – these others won’t.

Question: As you view your priorities, have you made your work ball out of glass, crystal or some other precious, breakable material?

Image: Eric Petruno

All Hell Breaks Loose at Home and You’re Busy At Work: What Next?

All hell breaks loose…can he say that in a blog post?  Yep, and I am not talking about the Eminem song featuring Dr. Dre.  I am talking about the phone call you receive from your spouse in the middle of the day and you just hear in their voice that something is wrong.  You want to help out, but frankly you are in the middle of putting out fires at work.  What can (or should) you do?

phone

Air expectations.

This means you and your spouse should openly talk about “bothering” each other.  In my marriage, my wife has often said that she does not call me because she is afraid of “bothering” me at work.  Whereas, I have a different expectation: I won’t let you bother me.  Sounds harsh, but let me explain that a little better.  I often have told my wife: “Call me any time. If  I am busy or not there, I won’t answer the phone. If I can talk, I will answer the phone.  If it is an emergency, text me and left me know it is an emergency.”  Over the years, by airing our expectations, we have gotten better in communicating about emergencies.

Answer if possible.

If you can answer the phone, then answer the phone.  There have been times (… I hope she is not reading this…) that her number came up on Caller-ID and I did not want to answer the phone.  I may not have been working on something at that particular moment, but I was sure that I did not want to talk to anyone.  You’ve been there…I know.  Anyway, it just takes a minute to answer the phone and ask them if you can call them back.  If you are kind with your words, then they will certainly understand.  If it is something important, then you will be glad you answered the phone.

Avoid the minimizing.

Sometimes all hell breaks loose at home and, since you are not there, you don’t fully appreciate and understand the stress on the other end of the line.  In fact, this happened today.  I heard kids screaming in the background, but there was a chilling monotone in my wife’s voice, as she said:

“Can you talk?”  Of course.

“I need help.”  This sounded really serious.

“Your son bit himself and blamed his brother.  That’s devious of him and I am so distraught.”  I laughed.

That was the wrong response.  I actually said the words, “Whew, I thought it was something serious.”  In the end, my wife just wanted some encouragement and I (wrongfully) minimized her problem.  I should have saved my humorous words for tonight’s pillow talk.  But, I messed up.  Don’t minimize your spouse’s feelings.

Attend emergencies.

So what happens if the call is truly a family emergency?  You need to do whatever is necessary to attend to the emergency.  If you are in a staff meeting, they will excuse you.  If you are on a client conference call, it can be rescheduled.  Even if you are in a court hearing or in the middle of a momentous marketing pitch, they will (or should) understand.  If they do not, then you may have to make a choice between family and work.  And I suspect depending on the emergency, you will make the right choice.

Question: What do you do when all hell breaks loose?

Image: Victor1558

A Faith Lesson From Three (Not Two) Cinnamon Rolls

For many years now, I have met with a group of other men on an early morning weekday to bond, and to talk, and to vent, and to simply lean on each other. One time, as I was packing up the last three cinnamon rolls from breakfast, I half-heartedly joked, “These three will go to the homeless.”  I say half-heartedly because I don’t know that I had any real intention of finding someone who would want the leftovers.

Gotta love the bacon in this tasty treat.

After a morning workout at the downtown gym, I began walking to my office.  I then immediately saw that God had plans for the cinnamon rolls that sat in my car—two homeless guys.  And the excuses began flowing through my mind, “I don’t have time to walk a block to my car, get the rolls, and walk a block back.” and “There are only two people, and I have three rolls. I don’t want to start a homeless brawl.” I decided to keep walking towards my office.

As I passed those empty and lonely eyes, I was immediately convicted…but not enough to turn around. Instead, I put out a challenge to God (which, by the way, I do not suggest that you attempt this yourself). “God, if you really want these TLM’s (tasty little morsels) to feed the hungry, then put three homeless dudes closer to my car.” After all, I had three (not two) cinnamon rolls.

I walked down the alley and slowly turned the corner. I was like an excited child on Christmas morning coming down the stairwell. I looked up and saw God’s response sitting at back entrance to my garage. There were three (not two) homeless dudes. Thanks, God. I spent the next few moments talking with the three (not two) lost wanderers, who were, by the way, very thankful for a cinnamon roll.

John 14:9 says, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” You see, there’s an interesting relationship between God and man. The link between the two is Jesus—fully God and fully man. In other words, Jesus can teach you a lot about God, as he is every bit God himself. And yet Jesus can completely relate to you, because he is every bit a man. That morning, I was challenged once again to look for God and serve God in the everyday moments. And so should you.

Are Your Failures Active or Passive?

As my wife and I lay next to each other at the end of a busy day, one of the most often pondered questions is, What are we going to do with our lives?

question

Okay.  I admit it.  That is my question every evening.  She smiles.  She already knows.  But me … I am overwhelmed with the idea that we, as a family, are not playing to win.  We are simply going through the motions of life, homeschooling, work, church, etc.

Ever feel that way?

King Saul probably felt that way, only he took a different approach to resolve his problems.  When the Philistines pursued Saul and his family, they eventually caught and killed Saul’s three sons.  A fierce battle ensued and ultimately Saul was wounded by the Philistine archers.  Left with what he thought were very few options, King Saul took his own life.  

Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the LORD, because of the word of the LORD which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, and did not inquire of the LORD. (1 Chronicles 10:13-14)

Did you catch that?  The scripture says that Saul’s failures were not only active, but were also passive.  He not only did wrong—he failed to do what is right! Saul not only sinned by his actions, but he also sinned by his omissions.

For me and my family, it is not good enough to simply avoid what is wrong.  That is fairly easy…don’t cheat, don’t lie, don’t steal.  That’s what we teach our kids.  We need to seek more!  We need to awaken our passive nature and actively pursue what is right.

So, when I ask my wife, What are we going to do with our lives?, that’s what I mean:  Let us do more than get by.  Let us pursue, chase, run, sprint towards goodness.

Image: Tim O’Brien

You Know You Are Grumpy When … You Dream in Grumpy

Over the past few months, I have been so stressed that my wife cornered me on more than one occasion to let me know how “grumpy” I have been with the children and with her.  My first reaction … No way!  You’re the grumpy one, chica!

grumpy

I soon realized that my wife was right when I started dreaming in grumpy. Last week I woke up at about 3:00am with anger in my mind and a frown on my face.  I woke up from an insanely realistic dream where I was yelling at my children, picking apart my wife and kicking the cat.   I woke up and wanted to run away from myself.

Language studies show that if you begin to dream in a foreign language, then you are comfortable with the foreign language and may be on the verge of fluency.  So what does it mean when you dream that you are angry and “on edge” with everyone?  I think it means you are angry and “on edge” with everyone … and on the verge of hurting those you most care about.  Here is what you can do turn those dreams around?

  • If you’ve yelled at your kids, it is never too late to apologize. Even where a few days has gone by, my children truly appreciate (and understand) when I take them to the side to “say sorry” for being grumpy.  Addy Joy, do you remember when Daddy yelled at you two days ago for getting out of bed?  Well, I am sorry.  I should not have yelled at you.  It is your job to stay in bed and it is my job to teach you to obey instructions.  But it was wrong of me to yell at you.  Will you forgive me? Those words can make a huge impact on a child.
  • If you’ve been short with your wife, it is never too late to open up to her. Just because my wife is an adult, I cannot assume that she will fully appreciate the stress that consumes me during the day.  I am learning to make a concerted effort to take a few “moments of silence” after pulling into the driveway to prepare for my entrance into the home.  Again, the words are simple: Honey-babe-schmoopy-pie … I am sorry for not understanding how my stresses affect you and the kids.  It’s been tough on me for the past few days and I forget that we are on the same team.  Will you forgive me? Most of the time, she will embrace you with open arms.  And by the way, sweetie, wanna make out?
  • If are you dreaming in grumpy, it is never too late to change. Luckily for me (and for my family), I have only had one grumpy dream.  But it was a huge wake-up call (…pun intended…) that I needed to change my attitude toward my children.  I realize that my grumpiness is not going to solve the stresses that are making me grumpy.  Does that make sense?  If eating ice cream is not going to help you lose weight, then why would yelling at your kids or spouse help you with the stresses at work, or the financial strains, or the problem you may be having with a friend.  It won’t.

Are you dreaming in grumpy?  If so, how can you turn those dreams around?

Image: sokab

If You Can’t Lead Your Family, How Can You Lead Your Business?

People often ask me how I have time to practice law, raise a family, run a construction law blog, and then open my book of life and share some lessons here.  Jokingly, I respond, “I simply don’t sleep.

But that’s not really true. I suppose the real answer is that I find the time. You see, lessons in leadership are just as applicable to running a business as they are to raising a family. To me, I often ask myself, “If I can’t lead my family, how can I lead others, whether in a business, a church, a community organization, or other group?”

Most of the following lessons I have learned within my own family, but they equally apply when working with any group of people.  In fact, I would suggest that if you are able to apply these tips to your personal life, it will make it easier to lead others to the water.

  • Leaders are humble. “All great leaders are humble,” says leadership guru John Maxwell. “Instead of talking about their accomplishments, leaders are looking to give the team credit.” In the family setting, this means that you don’t always have to be right with your kids.  You eat the peanut butter and green bean sandwich for your rising chef.  You say sorry when you yell.  You humble yourself for your family.  In business, you lift up others and make it about the team.
  • Leaders are fun. In my family, I tend to be the disciplinarian. However, on most occasions, I am the class family clown.  If the goal of parenting is to reach their heart, then you will not reach it by force, loud words, or through submission.  You will reach it through a giggle or a smile.  Businesses are the same way.  In his book 1001 Ways to Energize Employees (affiliate link), Bob Nelson says that the “power of positive reinforcement” is common sense, but “not common practice in most organizations.” You need to find ways to connect with your group in a fun way, and the rewards will follow.
  • Leaders are forward-thinking.  As a father, I want to make sure that my children are mature and well-adjusted when they leave our protection.  I don’t want to settle for just getting by with a few rules.  I want to envision the challenges that lie ahead and prepare for them.  In business, you should be looking at industry trends and identifying the future problems so that you can develop solutions ahead of time.
  • Leaders are planners. When it comes to family matters, I can only speak on this subject from the wrong point of view (i.e., the failure to plan is a plan to fail).  For family trips, my wife plans our vacations 10 years in advance.  I let the kids know where we are going after we get there, we’ve bought the trinkets and we are on our way home.  While there may be something to “living spontaneously,” a true leader plans … makes lists … organizes details … and develops contingencies. 

While this list could go on, the important take-away is to understand that you have a tremendous opportunity to tear down the walls between your personal life and work life. If you have tension and struggles within your family, I would suspect that you will find the same hurdles in your job arena.

On the other hand, if you can lead your family, you can lead anyone.

Question: What other words do you use to describe leaders? Leaders are ________.

Image: thirtyfootscrew

The Day We Buried Sarcasm, Yelling and Bad Attitudes

Ever had a family burial ceremony?  We did last Fall.  No, it was not for the hermit crab (…he died years ago…).  No, it was not for the water frogs (…inexplicably they are still alive…).  It was for a few invited guests that we let come into our house.  They have overstayed their welcome and we were ready to kick them out.  Do they live in your home?

Sarcasm. Yelling. Bad Attitudes.

It started with a sit down family meeting.  I apologized to the kids for my sarcasm and yelling.  I told them that I did not like raising my voice to get them to listen to something.  I told them that my words had not been sincere when they asked me questions.  I told them, “I’m sorry.”  Finally, I told them I was willing to give up sarcasm and yelling.  We spent the next few minutes talking about things they were willing to give up, too.  One said, “Yelling at my sisters.” (…I guess you can “catch” behaviors…).  One said, “Bad attitude.”  One said, “Pizza!” (…We’ll give her a couple of years to catch up…).

We then drew a picture of our sacrifices on a 3×5 card and proceeded out back to the burial site.  We dug a hole and we placed our cards in the hole.  We talked to the kids about making choices in life and how can accept our bad behaviors or get rid of them.  And in the crisp, cool weather that afternoon … we buried sarcasm, yelling and bad attitudes.

When you decide that you are tired of just “getting by” with the same old attitudes, then you can do something about it.  When you are ready to “play to win,” then you can make a change.  If you are ready to make a change in your life, I suggest that you have your own burial ceremony.  Here are few things to remember:

  • It is never too late.  A habit is never too old to break.  It may be difficult, but you can decide to change your patterns of behavior whenever you want.  You also don’t need a house full of children in order to decide to change.  Your behaviors may affect a spouse or a friend.  They may affect your health or your work.  The important aspect is that you can decide to change … today.
  • It takes a plan.  Concerned about my sarcastic words, I knew that I needed to do something more than stop talking.  (…I talk for a living…).  Instead, I knew that I had to write down on paper what I was willing to set aside for my children.  I had to admit that I was wrong.  I then had to take a physical act of abandonment.   You may not need a ceremony.  Perhaps you want to reign in your spending—try freezing your credit card in a bag of water in the freezer.  Addicted to swear words?  Set up a “swear jar” and donate some Benjamins every time you cuss.  Make a plan and stick to it.
  • It may fail, but stay focused.  Finally, realize that you are human and that you are likely to fail.  In fact, just a few moments after I buried sarcasm yesterday, I found my silver tongue snapping at my wife about something she had asked me to do weeks ago.  Luckily, she was smart enough to remind me about our burial ceremony and she put me back in place.  Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Men succeed when they realize that their failures are the preparation for their victories.”  When you realize that you are going to fail, you are free to succeed.  Henry Ford failed numerous times in business before he finally went on to build the Ford Motor Company.

Question:  What have you let in your home that needs a burial ceremony?

Words, Tones and Looks Are Game Changers

It’s no secret that the words you use with your spouse or children have a tremendous impact on your relationship with them.  But did you know that the tones you use or the looks you cast have the same meaningful impact?

As I was hanging an over-sized dry erase board this evening, I gathered all the right tools to make it a quick install: the stud-finder, the large level, the tape measure, the drill, and a handful of screws with washers.  I was marking the wall with the stud-finder, a nifty little grown-up toy that caught Dylan’s attention.  As I got the first few screws in place, Dylan broke the silence.

“Dad?”

“Yeeeeeesssss, Dylan?” I snarled back, eye brows pitched and eyes rolling.

“Um … Nevermind.”

I looked down at him and saw that I had changed his entire thought process with two small words, stated angrily, coupled with a facial expression that crushed his enthusiasm.  I had to act quickly.  I jumped down from the step stool, dropped the drill and got in his face with a smile: “What do you want, son?”

“Nevermind, Dad.”

Was I too late? Did I truly steal his question from him?

“Dylan, I am sorry.  This project is not more important than you.  Your question matters to me.  You matter to me.  What did you want to ask me?”

“It’s no big deal. I just wanted to know how that thing finds wood behind the wall.  That’s all.”

“That is a big deal … and a great question!  I am sorry I tried to steal that question from you.”

We spent the next 15 minutes laughing and giggling about the stud-finder.  It was close, but I almost put another wedge between me and another kid in my family.  I’m good at that … are you?   As you think about your words, tones and looks, remember these tips:

  1. Words are alive.  When I think about the negative words I use with my spouse or kids, my mind often flashes to my dad and his father, who chastised dad every time he spilled his milk as a child.  It became a prophecy of milk-spilling because my dad had heard those words so many times.  Those words from granddad were alive…they pierced my dad’s young mind and heart…and they grew inside him like a tumor.
  2. Tones and looks change the words.  You can say the same word, “Yes”, with 20 different tones and have 20 different meanings.  You can roll your eyes with sarcasm or gaze softly, each sending a distinct message.  People easily pick up on your tone and if they think you are unapproachable, they will stop approaching you.
  3. All of them are game-changers.  Negative words are discouraging and positive words are encouraging.  When you realize that your words, tones and looks can tear down your spouse or children, as well as build them up, there is not much of a choice to make.  Proverbs 17:22 says that a “joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.

Which do you want?  You can make a difference.  You really can be that parent who runs up and down the soccer field screaming “Go! Go! Go!”  You really can be the spouse who says, “Great job with the kids today. I know it’s hard, but great job.”  To be joyful is to be ready to spread encouragement, enthusiasm and positive words to others.  Are you game?