3 Ways to Maximize Your Guest Speaker’s Impact

You’ve been tasked with finding, vetting, and hiring a guest speaker for your meeting, conference, or seminar and you want to make sure the audience gets the most out of the experience. There are an endless supply of speakers you can hire, but you’ve narrowed it down to the one you think best fits the bill. You’ve seen many speakers – some good, some not-so-good, so you want to be sure the audience receives the presentation as both you and the speaker intend. Here are a few ways to make sure you and your speaker knock it out of the park.

1. Be clear with your audience what they should expect

Make sure the speaker has sent you a summary that explains the premise and purpose of the presentation – complete with audience takeaways, a concise biography, a link to their website, and a video link. Then, post all of these to an email to your potential attendees or some sort of event page, that way the audience has is fully aware what is about to happen. As a speaker who employs humor in a way that pulls no punches on the current status quo of the modern workplace, I have received feedback from previous clients stating the audience was offended by some of my content. Each time, the client provided merely my name and the title of the presentation without any further context. Being clear about what people should expect will save the audience from attending a presentation that may be uncomfortable, uninteresting, and irrelevant to them, while saving you the hassle of negative feedback along the lines of, “The speaker is not what I expected. Wish he had told fewer jokes.”

2.  Allow the speaker to use his or her own A/V upon request

If the speaker asks to use their own computer for a slideshow, it may be out of the ordinary for you, but there is a good reason why they made this request. LET THEM USE THEIR OWN EQUIPMENT. Every time past clients have requested I run my slideshow off of their computer, I have run into technical difficulties. I have had downloaded fonts I use in slideshows get reformatted on the new computer, jamming the on-screen text into a jumbled mess. Once, the font I used got reformatted into Wingdings on the new computer, so a very information-heavy slide looked like a Hieroglyphic-laden joke and I had to take the time to explain that it wasn’t intended that way. My presentations also incorporate music, which, when I have to run them off of another computer, I have to disrupt the flow of the presentation to play the music off of my phone.  My presentation files are also take up hundreds of megabytes in storage space and have frozen and even crashed a previous client’s PC laptop. I warned them, but they insisted. This note is for your convenience as much as that of the speaker. It may take a moment to switch the projector from your slideshow to the speaker’s, but I promise it’ll be worth it in the end. Put your A/V specialist (or the guy who knows what plugs go where) in contact with the speaker and allow them to communicate their needs. Remember to have the speaker arrive early.

3. Do not introduce the speaker while the audience is eating

Do you want your audience to get the most out of your speaker? Of course you do, but it’s tough to truly place 100% of your focus on the information the speaker is sharing when they’ve got a build-your-own taco in front of them. I get it, you want to kill two birds with one stone and maximize your time, but it might be more effective to ask the speaker to shorten their talk rather than have the audience trying to saw through their chicken marsala, pass the bread, and take notes on effective ways to communicate. Comedians hate performing while servers pass the checks – it’s a distraction to both the performers and audience – and the same goes to event servers dropping off the dessert while the speaker is trying to list ideas for building a better company culture. I open my presentations with a bit where I have attendees close their eyes and imagine themselves in their happy place. When watching the video of the event, I noticed about half of the attendees blatantly ignore this and continue eating. The follow-up punchline died on stage, and, because the opening is vital to the rest of the presentation, I never established a connection with a majority of the audience. Be sure the venue gets the main course on the table at least 15 minutes before the presentation begins, read the room, and introduce the speaker once desserts have been dropped off.

Let Loss Propel You Forward

In our lives, we experience love and loss – it’s inevitable. What isn’t inevitable is the growth that can come from even the worst of times. It isn’t about suppressing our emotions when something unexpected happens, it’s about leaning into those emotions and using the momentum to find ways to learn and grow from the loss. I’ve recently experienced loss, and I thought I would share what I’ve had to go through to become a better person because of it.

My JBL Bluetooth speaker is gone.
It wasn’t by my choice, although I suppose my choices led up to the moment it was taken from me.
And now I can’t get over this feeling of loss…
Of despair…
Of regret…
Sure, I could’ve left it locked away in the trunk of my car, but a speaker with that depth of sound quality deserves to be free, to experience the world as it was meant to be experienced.
It deserved to left on top of my car to experience the feeling of wind, the warmth of the sun, the chill of the rain.
Something that beautiful should never be locked away.
You were small, but your sound… your sound was enough to fill a room.
And you played it all without question… because music was your life.
I want to hear you sing again.
To tell jokes again.
Hell, I want you to turn off on your own when I need you during a presentation again – you had a real habit of doing that.
But you can’t.
I just… I just want to feel your cylindrical  shape in my hand again.
I want to be in one end of my house with you in the other, singing away, making it feel like you’re right beside me.
I want to see “JBL Flip 2” appear on my list of Bluetooth options and know that my Macbook will connect to you since you’re within range.
You were unlike any Bluetooth speaker I had ever owned, because I had never owned another Bluetooth speaker.
You were the one – it wasn’t supposed to end like this.
But you were taken.
Stolen.
Who knows where you are now, or if you’ll even get this, but I miss you.
I stopped listening to music altogether.
When I hear other speakers, they just make me think about what we had, and I weep.
Dad says I’ll be okay.
He says you were “just a speaker.”
To some, sure.
But to me, you were more than “just a speaker.”
You were a part of my life.
And you know you never forget your first.
It’ll take time.
I’m not ready to get out there and try other speakers, so I just ordered a cheap Chinese replacement.
My mail order speaker should be arriving soon, but it won’t be the same.
I hope I’ll learn to listen again – and soon.
Listen, I know I’m better because of you and I should focus on that.
What you taught me in all of those audiobooks and podcasts… you’ve made me grow.
I learned so goddamn much from you, and for that, I’m incredibly grateful.
You’ll live on through me.
And together, with my new Chinese partner, our story will be told, and the world will be better because you were in it.

I’ll make sure of it.

Vote for the Person, Not the Party

“You have to vote Republican, David.”
“How could you vote for any Republicans?”

These were two messages I’ve received this week from two people I care deeply about when politics came up in our conversations. Neither of them could understand why I wasn’t voting along party lines – something I used to do when I first started voting. Through extensive research and experience, I’ve learned that my beliefs do not adhere to strict party lines. My ideologies lie within both parties because they are founded on basic tenets of human behavior, not politics. When I chose to major in political science, I thought I wanted to eventually run for office in order to make the world a better place, but what I really learned was that politics was about winning, not making others better.
This shook my foundation, and I realized that to make the world a better place, we must work together to promote ideologies beyond politics – ideologies that are human.

These are the ideologies that will make people, and the world as a whole, a better place. However, political affiliation has clouded our vision, and we get into arguments over who is right and who is wrong, completely ignoring the fact that we both want to live in the same world. Every human being, regardless of ideology wants to live a life of happiness, autonomy, safety, abundance, accomplishment, meaning, love, trust, connection, and engagement, but each of us has our own methodology and beliefs of how to create this life. Focusing on this, rather than what we want, is what divides us, and the current political climate and constant onslaught of propaganda is widening that division.

I’m not writing this to change your mind or to tell you who to vote for, I’m writing this to inform you of the human qualities that have and will create a world, country, and community filled with happiness, autonomy, safety, abundance, accomplishment, meaning, love, trust, connection, and engagement. Ask yourself, not if the person you’re voting for is Republican or Democrat, but if they exhibit the following, which transcend political ideology:

· Vision: Is there a goal? Is their focus on creating a world of the above qualities? Or are they focused on simply defeating the opponent?
· Openness: Do they consider the perspectives and well-being of others who are unlike them? Or do they belittle and ignore these perspectives because it doesn’t fit their ideology? Do they surround themselves with the best people or do they foster a culture of groupthink by surrounding themselves with yes-men and ass-kissers?
· Accountability: Do they have a history of owning their mistakes and shortcomings? Or do they place blame on others, events, and the political climate?
· Growth: When they make mistakes, do they consistently take new actions that prove that they’ve learned? Or do they continually make the same mistakes over and over?
· Innovation: Do they have new ideas and take risks with an eye toward making the world a better place? Or do they stick to the safe confines of the status quo, so as not to rock the boat?
· Optimism: When confronted with a problem, do they see it as a challenge to learn to be better? Do they see it as a necessary part of making the world a better place? Or do they see it as an obstacle that should be eliminated?
· Leadership: Are they focused on making other people better, inspiring a culture of trust and togetherness, taking ownership of defeats, and giving credit to others in the face of victory? Or are they more concerned with boosting themselves, spreading a culture of division and mistrust, spreading blame in the face of defeat, and taking credit for victories?
· Service: Is their focus on building up other people and inspiring the importance of better service and being able to serve more people? Or are they concerned with building a bigger name for themselves and spreading the emphasis of making more money over serving others?
· Connection: Are they willing to bridge the gap with others who are resistant to them and overcome differences through a focus on common goals? Do they see the individual behind political affiliation, gender, race, religion, and economic standing? Do they see other people for their potential? Do they encourage others to unite when their differences come into play? Or are they resistant to differences, focusing on what they don’t have in common with others? Do they see other people as stereotypes instead of as individuals? Do they see people for their problems and shortcomings? Do they set people against one another?
· Integrity: Do they have a history of following through with promises and owning up when they are unable to? Or do they avoid questions, skirting blame in order to take less of a hit on their character?
· Honesty: Do they tell the truth and create a culture of trust founded on reality? Or do they try to make themselves seem bigger and better, creating a culture of mistrust not founded on reality?

I am not voting for a political party this election, I’m voting for the human qualities in which I believe. If you want to create a better world, I strongly encourage you to do the same. Sure, each candidate is flawed, but if we focus on these flaws, it will be incredibly difficult to create the world we all want. Take the time to learn about each candidate, and vote for whichever person exhibits the above qualities, but also remember to exhibit these qualities in your everyday life too. Don’t leave it up to the politicians to create a better world when you have the power to make your own world better and inspire those around you to do the same.

People Are Good, But We Can Do Better

After a pretty rough week in terms of current events last week, wouldn’t it be nice to have full confidence and trust in other people to help make the world a better place?

Lately, there seems to be a growing distrust of others, especially those who are unlike us, and that’s not a world I’m comfortable living in, because it goes against our human nature.
Here’s the thing: all people are born good, so it’s our natural state of being.
The fact that we’re all inherently good is the reason we’re at the top of the food chain: we’ve come together as a species to build a system of trust and a society, and the only way we could conceivably do this is by working together. Humans are better when we have strong social ties, since teamwork is the evolutionary trait that has allowed us to rule the planet.
The way I’ve been seeing people treat one another is getting away from that and it worries me.

Once we’re born, our culture, loved ones, and education condition us and we start to lose our innate tendency to help others in lieu of developing behaviors centered around how right and righteous we are, while proving wrong those who don’t believe and act the same as us.
I want to live in a world where we focus on helping each other build better people and communities, but that’s tough to do when we’re distracted by the forces dividing us.

How do we build that world?
What if learning to work together was a part of our childhood conditioning?
I don’t mean sharing blocks and not pulling each other’s hair in preschool, I mean learning how to come together, no matter our backgrounds or if we even agree with one another, and fix problems with a focus on how each of us can help.
What if school curriculum was centered around learning about one another, learning how to communicate and have empathy, and learning how to best combine our backgrounds, skills, and knowledge to create something? What if, instead of ranking students based off of scores representing their own individual knowledge, we develop a system where the goal is for students to come together to make each other better in pursuit of a goal, say a class project, a community service, or just helping one another score better? If this was part of our upbringing – how we were conditioned – how would we, as adults, behave differently when we come across someone who isn’t like us? Would we be resistant and fearful, or excited and hopeful?
If we’re conditioned to want to help each other be better, how different would the news look? Would they be focused on human progress or the events tearing us apart?

The world I want to live in is one where people come together to understand one another so that we can learn to build better communities.
My question to you: how can you help make this world a reality?

Gun Violence and the Solution That’s Right Under Our Noses

Last month, President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos hosted a roundtable discussion where they invited victims of school shootings to the White House to discuss their experiences and ideas for solutions. Regardless of your position on the president and Mrs. DeVos, this was a welcomed development in the debate over gun violence. Instead of debating, arguing, and the typical candor between politicians, real people came together to share solution ideas for a problem that has divided us for years. Not one to watch the news (or what I call “the noise” because I’m just so damn clever), I was transfixed. In a culture where we’re focused on who’s right vs. who’s wrong rather than “How can we come together to create a solution?” for once those in attendance had a common goal: create a culture of safety. Not five minutes after the meeting ended, came the hot takes from pundits and social media accounts focused again on who was right and who was wrong, why the president is an asshat, and his meeting notes, including a reminder to “hear” those voicing their concerns. We were right back to focusing on problems instead of creating solutions. In all this noise, we missed out on the solution to the problem that was offered during the meeting that doesn’t just take care of the symptoms like mental health reform, banning certain guns, or arming teachers: a cultural shift focused on how we see one another.
During this meeting, one person really stood out to me: Darrel Scott, father of Rachel Scott, who was killed in the 4/20/97 shooting at Columbine High School. This was the school shooting that brought the topic of gun violence into the national spotlight almost 21 years ago, and still, few solutions have been reached. In fact, mass shootings have only intensified, because in these twenty-plus years, Columbine has dropped out of the top 10 list for deadliest shootings (um… yay?). It’s time for new ideas, because the ideas we’ve been working with for over two decades are clearly not doing the trick. What Scott said struck a chord with me since I study and share how to create positive workplace cultures for a living. Scott has a brief opportunity to get to the core of, not only the issue of gun violence, but the issues of violence in general and the underlying lack of happiness plaguing the country. Scott isn’t just talking about it a solution, he’s actively doing something to fix the deeply rooted cause of violent behavior: a lack of human connection.
Since his daughter lost her life, Scott has founded Rachel’s Challenge,* a nonprofit on a mission to create a positive climate focused on making schools safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect. According to Scott, the program has touched 28 million students since its founding in 1998, has prevented 7 school shootings, prevents an average of 150 suicides a year, and has seen improvements in the schools with whom they have partnered. According to the website, this includes gains in community engagement, faculty/student relationships, leadership potential, and school climate, as well as reductions in bullying, alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. While debates rage on over whether to arm teachers, ban automatic weapons, or apply stricter background checks when purchasing a firearm, Scott, a private citizen just like me and you, free from the entanglements of bureaucracy and politics, is, putting it bluntly, getting shit done.
Scott’s solution: “We must create a culture of connectedness. We must create a culture in which our classmates become our friends.” He goes on to explain how he has seen students connect with one another and makes a fascinating point: “Every single one of these school shootings have been from young men who are disconnected.”**
In his book, Flourish: positive psychologist Martin Seligman lists positive relationships as one of the five elements of human well-being.***

“Selfish-gene theory argues that the individual is the sole unit of natural selection. Evidence shows that the group is a primary unit of natural selection.”

Sure, I have read books in the field of positive psychology that re-affirm this, but it’s through my research in other fields like leadership, history, and, yes, even improvisation that have led me to go as far as to say that a lack of human connectedness is the causation of aggression, violence, and discrimination.
From Simon Sinek in his book Leaders Eat Last:

“When we cooperate or look out for others, serotonin and oxytocin reward us with the feelings of security, fulfillment, belonging, trust, and camaraderie.”

Humans are wired to get along, but we’re conditioned to covet personal gain, which goes against this biology, and costs us opportunities to make connections, become happier, and grow exponentially. In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, historian Yuval Noah Harrari wrote:

“Evolution favors those capable of forming strong social ties. In addition, since humans are born underdeveloped, they can be educated and socialized far greater than any other animals.”

To solve the problem of gun violence, we must create a culture focused on humans connecting with one another in order to make each other better and to make the world a better place, which is what Darrel Scott and his wife are doing with Rachel’s Challenge. I believe that the long-term solution is an overhaul of the education system where the goal is for students to learn to connect with one another and work together, rather than work separately for individual accomplishment. Until then, each of us can play a small role on creating a culture of connectedness in our own lives and circles. Though each of us as individuals has a small voice, we have an opportunity to come together and connect as a cacophony of voices on a quest to create safety, happiness, and love. It is in the pursuit of creating something we all believe in that can connect us, rather than arguing over who is right or who is wrong, which denies us the chance to create connection.
Darrel Scott is just one voice who has brought together a chorus of many voices to make a difference and bring us closer to a more human culture:
“The focus must not be just on unity or diversity, because if you focus too much on diversity, you create division. If you focus too much on unity, you’ll create compromise. But if you focus on relatedness and how you can relate with one another, then you can celebrate the diversity and you can see the unity take place. The focus really needs to be on how we can connect. That’s something our organizations have learned: how to connect students with each other, with themselves, with their teachers, and with their parents.”

Imagine the freedom of walking the streets without the fear of violence – with a feeling of confidence that every person you pass has your best interests at heart. We have the choice to focus on how this isn’t possible, which is what has been happening, or we can shift our focus onto how we can come together and create this culture. One thing you can do today is not to debate, but to listen to the ideas of others and remember that no matter who we are, we all want to feel safe and loved. How can you help make this happen and connect with others today?

“The most important decision we make is whether we believe in a friendly or hostile universe.” – Albert Einstein
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in looking with new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
*Darrel Scott speaks at about 33:50 in this video:
https://www.denverpost.com/2018/02/21/darrell-scott-columbine-shooting-donald-trump/
** Learn more about Rachel’s Challenge and how a culture of connectedness is helping students all over the country build relationships with classmates, parents, teachers, and themselves.
***The other four are positive emotion, engagement, meaning, and accomplishment.

Creating Trumps Complaining

Guess what!?

I just got a new Macbook Pro, and boy oh boy does it feel like I’m holding the future in my hands. I mean, it’s half the size of my old computer, twice as fast, and it has Siri!!! I can finally talk to my computer! Goodbye online dating, hello Abigail!

That’s what I named her. And yes, it’s a she.

But I didn’t come on here to brag about my sexy new computer (rawr).

I came to complain about my clunky old computer, Tabitha (booooo).

I got Tabitha for Christmas in 2011, and for a nearly six-year-old Macbook, which is like 80 in people years. Up until lately, Tabitha has served me well, but all good things must come to an end.

For example, at a presentation to for an HR group in Jersey City, Tabitha decided to just flat out not work. I set everything up as usual, was geared up to start my presentation, and when I hit “begin slideshow” in PowerPoint, Tabitha thought it would be fun to play with a beachball (if you have a PC, it would’ve been an hourglass). That’s right. No matter what buttons I pressed, she simply refused to work and I was forced to give my presentation without any of the visual aids that I depend on to communicate each point to the audience.

A couple of weeks ago, I was putting together a last minute presentation with ten new slides, and PowerPoint crashed just before I saved the changes. This was at about 2 AM and I was slated to speak at 8. Want to know what stress feels like? Have you ever wanted to burn your own house down just to destroy your computer? No? Cool, because that thought ran through my mind, and I wouldn’t recommend it on a list of “Top 5 things to do on a first date.” I rebooted, begrudgingly redid the presentation until almost 6 AM, and gave the talk, but man was I wiped out.

Last week, I gave a customized, one-time-only talk to a library staff and, learning from my mistake of not saving frequently on the last presentation, I made sure to save with the frequency of a heartbeat. That is, until I got cocky working on the last slide. If you’ve ever seen one of my slideshows, you know I use eccentric animations, downloaded fonts, and detailed photoshopping. This final slide was the most detailed and active slide of the entire presentation, and took an hour to finish. “This is it!” I thought as I clicked the “Save” icon. I leaned back in my chair watching the beach ball appear on my screen, but it never went away. “Did it register that I saved?” I began to panic. I hit the command, option, escape keys in sequence to force PowerPoint to close, but nothing happened. In fact, the beach ball stopped spinning altogether, so I was forced to resort to drastic measures and turn my computer off completely. After rebooting, Tabitha answered my earlier question: it did not register that I had saved. I had 3 hours to get to the presentation located 2 hours away, so I had to do away with that slide and cut a five-minute bit out of my talk.

Each time Tabitha failed me, in the moment, I wanted to destroy her. I wanted to take her charred remains to Apple headquarters and scream, “Look what you made me do!!!” but I didn’t. After some deep breathing and meditation, I rerouted my thought process to, “What do I want to happen and what can I do to make that happen?” I didn’t scream and curse at Tabitha, demanding she work how I wanted her to work. I didn’t tweet and complain on social media, trying to get other people with computer problems to take my side. I didn’t hold a protest outside of the nearest Apple Store. All I did was ask myself “How can I take control of my results here?” and took action.

Now let’s talk about Donald Trump.

Well that took a turn.

Trump is a president whose leadership style runs contrary to everything I study, believe, and speak about. Though I don’t support his behavior, I still want him to be a successful president and make the world a better place, so I choose not to get frustrated every time he does something. Today, I noticed that congressional Democrats are working to impeach him, every day my social media is riddled with posts denouncing basically everything he does, and the media, from news commentators, to other politicians, to comedians are ridiculing his every move. Now imagine Trump as Tabitha, my old computer. If, instead of getting a new computer, I spent my time and energy shitting on my old one because she wasn’t behaving how I wanted her to behave, would I be working for or against my own interests?

But this isn’t just about Trump…

This is about Congress, your state and local leaders, the leadership at your company or organization, and even family members. If they aren’t taking the actions and producing the results you want, figure out how you can take those actions and produce those results yourself. You can’t expect to destroy your old computer and have that be the solution to the problem without getting a newer and better one. I agree, it feels great to take your anger out, but how much better will it feel when you take positive action to make a difference? The Republicans’ strategy from 2009-2017 was to actively work against Obama, but did that help them achieve their goals and make the world a better place? Their destructive take on political strategy has led to little creation and even more division. Now the Democrats are making the same mistake, and following the examples set by our leaders, so are many people across the country.

Instead of complaining, start creating.

For example, if you’re pissed that Trump is rolling back environmental regulations, find a way to make an impact at your company or in your community by working together with other people who believe in your cause to ensure you live and work in a clean environment. Get a job with an organization focused on creating a cleaner, greener world. Complaining and trashing your old computer isn’t going to get you a new one, but figuring out how to get a new one, then going out and doing it is. Ask yourself:

“What can I do to make the world, my community, my company, or my home a better place?” and instead of focusing on destroying the old way, make a list of actions you can take, and create something new and better. Change always begins with the people, but if we’re so focused on destroying our old computer, how can we expect to come together to get a new one?

Why Does This Keep Happening?

When you turn on the news, how do you feel?

When you think about how a human being can do something so barbaric, how does that make you feel?

When you hop on your social media and read people’s comments, what feeling does that create?

When you hear stories about the kindness, generosity, and heroic sacrifices of others, what do you feel?

Which of those feelings do you want to feel more of?

Is this going to be a blog post with only questions?

Allow me to answer that with a question: with so many people offering the same right/wrong, black/white, conservative/liberal opinions, wouldn’t it be nice to hear something different?

How can we bring more feelings of inspiration, love, abundance, joy, compassion, and meaning into the world?

What if each of us set out on our days to spread these feelings to others? What if we refocus our perspective of work, success, and life itself onto making the ultimate goal the spreading of those feelings?

What if, every day, we focused on bettering ourselves rather than being better than others?

What if, no matter the ideologies, opinions, and actions of others, we still responded with compassion and love?

How would your personal relationships be different?

Would your professional relationships become more personal?

What if we spent more time educating our children on kindness, working together, and understanding those different than us?

What if we were to measure our success by the number of people we serve?

What if we smiled more at strangers?

What if we accepted the imperfections of our humanity and laughed more at ourselves?

What if we looked at our differences in thought, belief, and action as opportunities to understand more about each other?

Would this make it easier to work together?

How could our different perspectives be combined to make the world a better place?

How would the world be different if we focused on solutions instead of the severity of problems?

If, every day, most people felt love, joy, compassion, abundance, inspiration and meaning, do you think they would want to inflict harm unto others verbally, emotionally, or physically?

What does that world look like?

How does that make you feel?

How can you share this feeling with everyone around you?

Can darkness exist where there is light?

Can fear, anger, bigotry, and hatred exist where there is love, compassion, understanding, and joy?

Does pointing out the faults of others show them how to grow?

Is fighting anger, hatred, and fear with anger, hatred and fear creating less anger, hatred, and fear?

What feelings does every human being strive for?

This keeps happening because we keep responding the same way. This has nothing to do with politics, being right or wrong, or even guns; it’s much more basic than all of these things. This has everything to do with being a human being, and the most human feelings we can feel are love, joy, compassion, understanding, freedom, kindness, and a desire to grow.

So what can you do to create those feelings within yourself?

What can you do, starting now, to inspire those feelings within others?

Start now. Share with others.

Let’s change the narrative and make the world and the people in it better together.