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This article is Part 2 in a 3-part series on Smart Presentation Skills.

This article covers the specifics and nitty-gritty details of giving a killer speech.  Here, we are talking about the speech itself; in the next article, we will talk about presentation materials (e.g. PowerPoint, handouts, etc.).

Quick Sidenote:

Before you read this article, I highly recommend you read the 1st article in the series, The Public Speaking Mindset.  You should read that article first because giving a great speech is more about mindset than memorization.  If you don’t read that article first, what I write here will seem incomplete.

That’s because mindset inspires and directs action; memorized tips do not inspire action.  If you instinctively know and feel how a speech should be given, it will come naturally; trying to memorize hundreds of pages of pointers (the usual approach) will overwhelm you.

More unfortunately, it will convince you that public speaking is harder than it actually is.

You don’t memorize “how” to talk with your friends, do you?  Don’t do it for speeches either!

All right, let’s get back to the main business.

While we go through these points, think back to speeches you have listened to and think of examples of where these rules have and haven’t been followed.  Do you think that the speech was good (or could have been better) because of these points?

You will give an excellent, indefatigable, brilliant, mesmerizing presentation that will bring your audience to tears, laughter and rejoice all at the same time if you do pay attention to these two things:

1. The Golden Rule of Giving a Great Speech

2. Practice and Fine Tuning Techniques

What you will realize is that giving a great speech actually only comes down to mastery of a few key points.  What that means to you is that giving a great speech is actually pretty easy, if you go about it the right way.

1. The Golden Rule of Giving a Great Speech

The Golden Rule is an absolute: something that, if done properly, will make your speech good no matter what; and if done poorly, will sink the ship.

You’ll notice it’s not a requirement for what kind of hand gestures you should use, how many jokes you should tell, how long you should pause in between each sentence, the way to use tone inflections, or other stuff like that.  It’s something much more fundamental than that.

The Golden Rule: Clarity and interest.

Clarity: “Do people actually know what you are talking about?”  Or are they confused, and don’t know what your main point is?

Interest: “Do people actually care about what you are talking about?”  Or are they just listening to you because they have to?

Clarity is the most important.  Remember where, in The Public Speaking Mindset we talked about the speeches I listened to in my accounting program that usually consisted of reading off Treasury Regulations and legal citations?  Most speeches I hear are actually quite like that: unfocused, without a main point, and without care to how ideas are formatted, organized and presented.

Clarity means that your audience easily derives and understands the key points you made in your speech.

Symptoms of poor clarity: (have your speeches had any of these problems?)

-Unclear what the speaker’s main point is (as we discussed, a presentation needs to have 2 to 3 main points, and no more.)

-You don’t fully understand a concept that the speaker presented; he didn’t elaborate on it enough.

-The speaker’s presentation is too shallow or too detailed.

-The speech is dragging ooonnn and ooonnnn……’s repetitious, talks about random things, makes random points…and you pray that divine intervention will end it NOW!

I can understand why a speaker would have trouble with clarity:

-They know so much about their topic, and want to make sure the audience understands it too.

-They never thought about clarity before, and approached giving a speech as reciting facts.

-They can’t really tell what information is most important.

I even struggle with that last point in writing my articles, namely and ironically this series about public speaking.  I know so much about giving a speech, that I have trouble figuring out exactly how to organize and present the key points.  That means clarity usually doesn’t happen on its own: it must be thought out, played with, and practiced.

The path to clarity is deliberate organization.  You must design and adapt your entire speech, from the beginning, in a way that presents ideas in the most clear manner.

Here are the techniques I use to do this:

Technique 1: Base component organization

For your topic, what is the simplest relevant way that it can be described?  Base component organization takes your complicated topic and divides it into smaller, easier to understand base components.  A base component is usually:

-Decide what your top 2 to 3 points are.

-Explaining it in layman’s terms (or the simplest terms relevant to your audience).

-Explaining the non-technical reasons that something technical happens.

Base Component Organization Example:

For example, take something hyper-technical like this (and, in my classes, this is likely something that would have been said verbatim during a speech):

The United States uses a global system of international taxation in order to mitigate double taxation.  Under such a system, the US taxes worldwide income and gives a credit for foreign income taxes paid.  
Per IRC §904, the foreign tax credit limitation is calculated using the following formula:

(foreign source income / worldwide income) x (worldwide income x US tax rate)

The lesser of the foreign tax credit limitation or the foreign tax actually paid is then subtracted from worldwide income, and the remainder is taxed at the US rate.

Let’s use base-component organization to explain this in a way that is easy to understand:

The United States taxes American citizens on money they earn anywhere in the world, not just in the US!  That would be okay, except that if you earn money in another country, then that country will want to tax you as well.  So if the US taxed you 30% on money you earned in China, and China already taxed you at 25%, you’d be paying 55% in tax.  That would be unacceptable, don’t you think?
So the government gives you a credit–that is, a dollar for dollar reduction–against the taxes you paid China.  So you get a credit for the 25% tax you paid in China, and the US taxes you only on the remaining 5%; that is, the amount of the US tax (30%) minus the credit for China (5%).
 But think about how this could get tricky.  What if China taxed you at 40% while the US rate was 30%?  Do you see what would happen if the US system gave you a credit for the whole amount of tax paid to China?  The US would be giving you a refund for money paid to China to the tune of 10%!! (The China tax of 40% minus the US tax of 30%).  Obviously, Uncle Sam isn’t going to give you money to pay for taxes of other countries and say “we feel bad that China’s tax rate is 10% higher than ours; so we’ll give you that 10% back”.  As such, there’s a credit limit: the most tax credit you can get is for the amount you would have been taxed at if you had made the money in the US.

I used base component organization because I explained in a simple to understand way:

-why the tax system would be unfair without a credit (and as such, justified its existence).

-why there needs to be a credit limit

-how the limit works.

Did you gather any of that before the base component analysis?

Try to explain things using base component organization, and you should be able to explain yourself fully each time.

 Technique 2: Example enforcement

The best way to enforce a well-explained concept is through the use of examples.

Examples relate an abstract concept to something tangible and specific.  An excellent example relates that abstract concept to something that the listener is familiar with.

You should always use example enforcement to clarify difficult concepts.  Notice how I used example enforcement to help describe the tax issue above.  I used an example of the US and China with different tax rates. Imagine trying to understand the interplay of the tax rates without seeing a specific rates or countries.  Had I not used example enforcement, you likely still would have no idea what I was talking about.

Technique 3: Audience feedback loop

You must proactively ensure that you are relating to your audience!  Way too many speakers do not do this: they just get up there, talk talk talk, and sit down.  Actively ensure your audience knows what’s going on!  Focus on this in two ways:

A.) Make sure the audience actually knows what you’re talking about (make sure that your base component organization actually worked!)

Simple questions here and there like “does that make sense?”

B.) Relate what you are talking about directly to the audience.

Take another look at my tax example above.  Did you notice how I related everything to “you”?  I got “you” to imagine yourself dealing with this tax issue; I got “you” to imagine you were an integral part of what was going on in the presentation.

This goes back to the concept of “skin in the game”, which means that people are more engaged with and care more about something that they have a personal interest in.  Think of investing in the stock market: don’t you think you’d pay attention to the stock market by….the…hour!!! if you’ve invested there?

Making your audience a part of your presentation is the exact same concept.  I’ve put a couple videos at the bottom here to show you what I mean.

Practice and Fine Tuning Techniques

The practice and fine tuning techniques are pretty straightforward.  It’s the way I learned to speak, and the way that you can learn too.  I already talked about it in the first article of the series:  learn through osmosis.  Place yourself in an environment where you automatically learn without having to go out of your way to absorb knowledge.

The best way to use osmosis to learn to speak?

Go watch speeches!  Watch speeches of all types: standup comedy, informative, inspirational…

Take specific note of what you do and don’t like.  Make a list.  Try to give a speech using some of the attributes you saw in the speech.

For example:

1. I watched speeches by Ronald Reagan.  I noticed there were some things that I liked:

-Always seemed friendly

-Told jokes

-Used an extensive and colorful vocabulary

-Spoke at a good, moderate pace.

I also noticed there were some thing I didn’t like:

-His overall style was well-suited for someone of his age, but seemed too docile to be authoritative.

I found some speeches that were excellent: not excellent because they’re perfect, but excellent because they have distinctively good and bad elements.  I put them to you here as a start.

Craig Valentine on Leadership

Craig Valentine Coaching

Motivational Speaker

Ronald Reagan 1981 Inaugural Address

My offer to you: I want to help you with your speech!

I’ve had years of experience with public speaking, and it’s something I love.  I’ve had people compliment some of my speeches years after I gave them.

I want to use that knowledge to help you, and others who need it.

If you want some help with your speech or presentation, just contact me!  Use the Contact button above, or click here to get there.

I’m looking forward to working with you!


Photo Credit: Photo : Bresson Thomas in the immediate vicinity of the image. [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons




This article is Part 1 in a 3-part series on A Smart Presentation and Public Speaking Skills

Before you read any of the other articles in the series, read this one first!

I can’t overemphasize the importance of the right public speaking and presentation mindset.  I emphasize this because mindset is the only way to learn to speak and present well.  Thinking about and understanding what makes a speech good or bad makes it easy to take the action needed (e.g. hand gestures, tone inflection, etc.) to give a spectacular presentation.

That’s completely different from the way most teach public speaking.

As I mentioned in the introduction to the series, public speaking and presentations are situational.  It’s not a math equation, where you succeed by memorizing variables and processes.  Being able to speak and present well means:

- Being able to think on your feet.

-Adapting what you have to say to the situation (e.g. the audience, the atmosphere, the size of the room, etc.).

- Coming across as confident–and making your message count–no matter what the situation.

Before learning the Public Speaking Mindset, understand a couple things about why you fear public speaking, and what you can do about it:

You probably fear public speaking because it is situational and lacks a specific structure.

Do you fear public speaking for any of these reasons:

a.) What do I do if I get heckled by a member of the audience?

b.) How do I know if the information I’m presenting is what the audience wants to hear?

c.) What if I’m boring?

d.) What if I screw up?

If public speaking had a specific structure, there’s no way you could fear any of these things: just like a math equation; you’d memorize how to say what, how to say it, and then give a great speech.

But think about it: how can you know what will happen during your presentation?  How do you know your audience’s reaction?  You won’t know for sure until you get there.  Public speakers who accept speaking for what it is–a situational, fluid process–can get over silly ways to purportedly master public speaking (reading “tips”) and get onto more useful techniques.

The only way to improve your speaking abilities is through habit formation.  That comes only with practice.

Not through reading books.  Not through reading my blog articles.  Not through talking about it with friends.

I think some will say “that sucks!  I’m not going out there to try to give a speech without knowing what I’m doing first!”

When I give a speech, it just happens.  The speed at which I talk, the way I move my hands, the way I make eye contact, my tone inflections…I think about exactly none of it when I’m talking.

I can do that because I’ve practiced like hell.  It’s just a habit.

I recently gave a speech about an equity valuation my team and I did on a company.  Half way through the speech, I offered to sell our “patented” valuation model to the professor, or exchange it for a better grade.  The audience broke out laughing!  The professor–who usually never showed emotion–cracked a smile.

I hadn’t planned for that at all.  It just seemed like the thing to say.  And I was right; I think ours was the best speech of the 10 that were given that evening.

Think of trying to master public speaking through tip memorization like grocery shopping with a long grocery list, except that you don’t get to bring the list with you.

“What am I supposed to buy?  Let’s see: milk, salad, ham, oatmeal, prunes (maybe I won’t get those)…”.  You’re trying to juggle a million different things in your mind at once.

What happens when you get home?

“Crap, I forgot the vanilla wafers!”

The same concept applies to tip memorization during speeches.  How do you think you’re going to be able to juggle a million different tips in your mind at once?

You can’t.

But through practice, you convert an idea into a habit.  

So let’s talk about that now.

What is the Public Speaking Mindset?  

The Public Speaking Mindset

1. Understand your purpose and your value-added.

Before you say “duh, I need to know what I’m giving my speech on”, read the rest of what I have to say here.

Your purpose is more than your topic.   Understanding your purpose is the bedrock and guiding light for forming a presentation that is relevant, engaging and inspiring.  Think about it:

- How many times have you listened to a speech where the speaker rambled on, and it was unclear what his main point was?

-How about presentation slides?  Ever seen any with way too much writing?

Before you even start writing your speech, you should ask yourself, “Of all of the things I could say about my topic, which are value-added?”.  Then, only talk about those things that are value-added.

A perfect example:

In my Masters of Taxation program, everyone in the class was required to give a presentation about a complicated tax issue.  How do you think most of my classmates gave them?

-They would repeat each and every fact about the case (often a 10 page court case).

-They would cover almost every facet of a large Internal Revenue Code section or regulation.

-They would give an extensive analysis with each line being something like this:  ”According to Treas. Reg. § 1.213-1(e)(1)(v), the cost of an in-patient hospital care is an expenditure for medical care, however for the institutions other than a hospital, the qualifications depend on the condition of the individual and the nature of the services he receives.”

Imagine having to listen to these presentations.  The thing I realized from sitting through 40 of these is just how bad a speech is if the presenter isn’t focused on staying on point and conveying only value-added information.

It’s important for the speaker to know what aspects of his or her topic to actually discuss!

The best way to do this: think first about your conclusion.

A lesson I learned long ago when I volunteered for some local political campaigns?:

The most people are going to remember about your speech is 2 or 3 things.  So when you’re preparing your presentation, think to yourself- ‘what are the 3 most important things I want my audience to remember?  Focus your entire presentation around those 3 things’.

So- what is your bottom line?  What is your conclusion?  Whatever your ultimate point or punchline is: that’s what you should focus every word of your speech on.  Eliminate those words which add no value.

Think of the excerpt above that cites the Treasury Regulation.  When you think about it, the actual value added here is knowing that care at a hospital will always count as a medical expense, but it will depend if it’s at something other than a hospital.  The regulation citation and the faux-professional $10 words add nothing to the sentence’s basic meaning: it only adds complication.

So the next question naturally flows: how do I know what my conclusion should be?

2. Understand your audience’s disposition.

-What does your audience already know?

-What do they want to know?

-What kind of attention span do they have?

Way too many speeches I’ve heard simply exist for their own sake.  The speaker just wants to–or has been forced to–talk about something random.  And so they do just that; talk about whatever they want with minimal consideration to the audience.

But the real question is: “what does your audience want?”

3. You are an entertainer in addition to the main purpose of your speech.

I’m pretty sure I can, instead of listening to your speech:

a.) Go read a blog article

b.) Go read a Wikipedia article

c.) Go read a joke book,

and get the same content and ideas that I could from your speech.

But I’m taking time out of my day to listen to you.  Are you going to make it worth my while?

All of the aforementioned formats can convey the same content that your speech does.  But can they convey the same feeling and emotion that your speech does?

I don’t necessarily mean “be funny”; I mean “be entertaining”.

I don’t need to spend much time here, because it’s easy to prove this point.  Just think of any speech you’ve listened to.  Have you ever enjoyed listening to a boring speech, even if the words spoken were informative and enlightening?  Of course not.  If you’re like me, your attention starts to wane after about 45 seconds, and you’re on facebook within a minute fifteen.

I will hit this in more detail in Parts 2 and 3 of this series, on speeches and presentation materials.

4. Learn to speak through osmosis.

Osmosis is the process of absorption; the process of absorbing cues and stimuli in your environment, and making them a part of you and your habits.

Great speakers learn to speak through osmosis.  Excellent students of rhetoric don’t just think about it or read about it: they watch other great speakers, and they take note of what they do.  How do they stand?  How do they use their hands?  What kind of tone inflections do they use?

If you want to give a funny speech, why not watch stand-up comedy?  If you want to give a political and authoritative speech, go watch Ronald Reagan’s inauguration speech.  If you want to learn how to tell stories to deliver points, watch Steve Jobs’ 2005 Commencement Address.

Why reinvent the wheel?  What makes sense to me is to watch the greats already at work, and to learn from them.

It’s like giving someone advice on how to dress.  What is easier: trying to use words to explain proper suit combinations?  Or showing people the combinations while being worn?

Final Thoughts (for this article).

I’ve given you a lot to think about here.  And that’s okay.  I think this will leave you well prepared for the upcoming articles on speeches and presentation materials.

In Parts 2 and 3, I will relate the concepts and action-points presented there directly back to the mindset outlined here.  I want you to see how abstract concepts like the ones presented here make a huge difference when applied to a particular speech.

Remember: mindset is most important.  When you’re up there speaking, there’s no starting over; there’s no rewind; there’s no list of pointers to keep you on the right track.  There’s only you.  And with the right mindset, all of the “tips” don’t matter: you will automatically articulate your points well, and have your audience thoroughly engaged.


John F. Kennedy's speech in Berlin. I think we all could speak as well as Kennedy with some practice.

This article is an introduction to the 3-part series on Smart Public Speaking and Presentation Skills

I remember my first speech.

It was in 3rd grade.  I was 8 years old.  And I was running for Class President.

I had spent the last week campaigning on the playground: I hung huge posters on every fence on campus, and handed out business cards to my classmates.  I ran on a populist platform of procuring and distributing more soccer balls at recess.

But I had some stiff competition.  I was running against two other popular kids in my class.  My campaign platform and my handouts were definitely cooler than the competition, but I knew it was still going to be a close call.

I had to lock in victory.  My last chance was our 5-minute speech right before voting.

I spent hours practicing.  I came up with props.  I thought about hand gestures.  Hours later, I was ready.

I won the election.  I served an illustrious term as 3rd grade president, which consisted of presiding over 2 pizza parties.

Fast forward to today.  I love giving speeches as much as I loved my first speech in 3rd grade.

I realize most people have the exact opposite feeling about public speaking.  From what I hear, it’s one of the most-feared undertakings for many.

And for that reason, public speaking is dismissed: dismissed as something that only upper-level managers, actors and politicians need to know how to do well.

What I think people don’t realize is just how important public speaking is for us as individuals, for our career, and ultimately for our happiness. 

Mastering public speaking:

1. Gives you immense credibility in front of others.

2. Helps put you in control of your image, and helps with personal branding.

3. Makes it easier for you to more concisely, confidently and persuasively convey information; both during a speech, in writing and in conversation.

I won’t say that “everyone” should master public speaking.  It’s up to you to decide if you care enough to get better (which you will, with practice).

I want to take what I learned in 3rd grade–and in the countless speeches I have given since then–and help others understand how to get better.  What I’ve found is that most advice on public speaking is not very good. 

Most people I’ve met try to master public speaking like they would try to study for a math test.

Think back to math class.  The key to success is memorization and understanding dense and technical equations.  If you wanted an A on a calculus test, you have to remember exactly how a derivative works.

There’s a right answer, and there’s a wrong answer.  There’s no room for interpretation.  There’s only one way to do it.

When people try to learn how to speak, they take a “math test” approach.  They try to learn tips; they scrutinize their every word or hand gesture; they worry about inserting the right number of jokes.

But public speaking is not a math test.  Public speaking is, first and foremost, situational. 

There’s no “right way” to give a speech.  It’s entirely an abstract function of the environment, the content, your personality, and your comfort with the situation.

That’s what I want people to understand: giving a good speech is about being able to “feel” the situation.  The best way to learn public speaking is with a mindset inspires action approach, as I have advocated throughout this entire blog!

Let’s get more specific.  I approach teaching public speaking and presentation skills through 3 distinct areas, and I have an article on each one:

Part 1: The Public Speaking Mindset

Part 2: The Speech

Part 3: Handouts and Slides

NB- These 3 articles will be released over the course of the next week.

Part 1 focuses on the overall mentality needed to give a great speech or presentation (the mindset), and Parts 2 and 3 focus on the technical elements and execution (the action).

After you’re done reading the series, I would love your feedback: has my advice helped you?  Are there some other issues I should have tackled, but didn’t?  Is there anything I should expand on?

It’s my goal to convince you that public speaking is incredibly important, can make a positive difference in your life, and is actually a lot easier than you would initially expect.

Are your ready?


Photo Credit: By Robert Knudsen, White House [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When I started blogging, I was essentially clueless when it came to writing a good post.  A “great post” was this elusive, magical thing passed on from one generation of bloggers to the next.  Would I be good enough to get into this elite circle, and learn the special sauce needed to write a killer post?

I remember the exact moment I sat down to write my first post.  I was sitting on my back porch on a cold January night, with the outdoor fireplace raging at my side, but my fingers almost too cold to type on my laptop, which was being powered by a 40 foot extension cord.  This whole setup was probably counterproductive, but I wanted to sit outside.

I was excited to start writing, but worried at the same time.

I thought:

How the hell am I going to write something worth reading?

-Should I use lots of big words, or sound “cas”?

-How long should a post be?

-What kind of spacing should I use?

Clearly, I didn’t know the answer to any of these things.  I had just started writing.

50 posts later, I think I have a better idea.

A lot of my beginner’s mistakes were in formatting and fine-tuning.  Through experimentation, and reading articles such as How to write great blog content” and “The 4 pillars of writing exceptional blogs” from ProBlogger, I started to figure out how long my articles should be, the tone I should use, spacing and formatting, etc.  There is also a lot of information about the specific components that a post should have, how to promote the post, and soliciting reader feedback (as is discussed, for example, in this article from ProBlogger).

This stuff is great.  I learned a ton by reading these.

But there’s something bigger missing: something even simpler that way too many bloggers seem to miss.

And it’s something I don’t see discussed in most blog posts I read.  And it’s something I think many bloggers don’t understand.

Most bloggers do not know what their value proposition is.

A value proposition:

What is unique that makes my articles worth reading?

The key emphasis is uniqueness.  Being unique is key because thousands of other people are writing about the same thing you are.

Most blogs that I’ve read sorely avoid being unique.  Think about articles like “20 Productivity Tips”: “don’t use Facebook while you work”.  Good work, Sherlock.  I never would have guessed that.  Or they are premised around amusingly broad statements: “it’s so difficult to concentrate.  But with some effort, you can do it!”.

This style of writing presents no value proposition to the reader.  It gets old reading the same thing over and over again.

Things like style, formatting, etc., are all secondary to uniqueness.

What I’ve realized is that there are exactly 2 types of value propositions, which automatically make your article unique:

A blog post must serve one or both (but preferably both) of these functions in order to be successful:

1. Present a new idea.

What’s something no one has written about before (or few people write about)?

This includes new research or new concepts.

2. Present an old idea in a new way.

What is a new perspective, example or experience you can offer about a much-discussed concept?

For example, do you have a unique experience with a concept that you can use to relate to your audience?

What makes an article unique is whatever it is that makes you unique.

That means your experiences, your ideas, your passions.

As such, an article that postulates banalities is inherently out of the question.

For example: what makes me unique is my love of analysis.  That’s why I get so annoyed with personal development advice that is just a to-do list: it doesn’t analyze the problem, it only gives blanket solutions.  So when I write, I emphasize an in-depth consideration of issues that, at first, might appear to be shallow, or are usually addressed with banalities.


One of my favorite blogs is Cal Newport’s blog, Study Hacks, which is premised on “decoding underlying patterns of success” in students and working professionals.  Read these articles, and then see my commentary on them.

1. Present a new idea.

Cal writes about finishing large assignments with the ESS method.  ESS stands for 3 steps necessary to complete a large assignment on time and without added stress.  The ESS method was something he (from what I can tell) developed, and by all accounts is good advice.

This article is unique because it presents a new way to do assignments.

2. Present an old idea in a new way.

Cal’s article on avoiding procrastination opens by discussing a Stanford student who ran into procrastination issues beginning in his junior year.

Though the points about procrastination that Cal makes are ones we’ve heard before–procrastination will harm grades–it’s the way in which he makes them that makes this article a good read.

He does this with his opening, which is a seemingly unique story of an extraordinarily qualified person who becomes befuddled with an exceedingly average problem: procrastination.  When I think of procrastination, I usually think of someone who is lazy and has minimal concern.  But to hear about someone from Stanford having this problem?  That’s something I would likely not have thought about before.

And therein lies its uniqueness.

Think about how bad these articles would have been if he had no value proposition.  He would have just written generalizations about how procrastination is bad and big assignments or hard, and made the revolutionary suggestion of buying a planner to solve the problem.  Clearly, what he had to say was way better, more unique and distinctively useful.

What to do now to write great blog posts:

If you have never blogged before, I recommend doing these things in order.  If you’ve already started, figure out which of these you’re good at and where you need improvement:

1.) Decide your broad value proposition.  If you were to write 100 articles, what are the 2 to 3 things that would make your articles different from all the others out there?

2.) Become acquainted with blogging tips.  Read some of the ProBlogger tips above.  But take them for what they are: “tips”, not absolutes.  For every “tip”, I could probably find a successful blog that didn’t follow that tip.

3.) With every article you write, ask “what is my value proposition for this article?”  Are you writing about a  new idea or a new way to look at an old idea?  If not, how can you spin your article idea into a solid value proposition?

4.)  Success comes through tenacity, study and practice, rather than from overnight fame.  Maybe I’m just saying that because I didn’t experience overnight fame.  I promise I’m not being bitter!

Failing by giving up sucks.  Learning how to write a great blog post–or do anything of value, for that matter–should be done by learning the right mindset and taking value-added actions.  It’s the essence of this blog as outlined in The Main Idea.

5.) Have some swag.  That is, personal style and pzazz.  This comes from practice, and isn’t something I could instruct you on.  Figure this one out the hard way like everyone else!


And, by the way, a very Happy Mother’s Day!


One of the oddest things about human nature: we know ourselves better than anyone else, but we let others tell us what we’re worth.

-We think we can’t get certain jobs because an HR representative tell us we’re “too inexperienced”

-We can’t start a business because someone told us our idea sucked.

-We think we’re a bad person because someone told us so.

And we carry on like that; waiting to luck out and stumble upon that job opening or opportunity where someone else tells us that we are, in fact, valuable enough to do something.  We let other people tell us what to do, even though we know what we want to do better than they do!

Don’t you think that’s kind of silly; letting someone else define us and what we are good at?

Don’t you know what your are good at?  Don’t you know you’re qualified?  Of course you do.

Rather than letting others define you, you should define yourselves to them.

Your value is what makes you you!  It’s your unique traits; it’s what you’re good at; it’s what you like to do.

You are the one who should define your value, not somebody else.  

The problem is that we go through most of our lives waiting for other people to tell us what we can or can’t do.

For example, when we apply for jobs, we think “gee, I hope I’m good enough to get a job here; I hope they like me” rather than “I hope this job is what I am looking for and something that complements my strengths and interests.  Otherwise, I’m out.”

This was my problem for a long, long time!  I wondered what I could do to start a business or to make money.  I always though I would have to do something in accounting (that wasn’t my passion, but I had majored in it in school).

I didn’t have the confidence to dare try anything other than the most obvious, albeit lease enthralling of paths (accounting).  Then I realized the answer had been in front of me since literally third grade.

I liked to speak, I liked to write, and I liked leadership and business; and I’m actually better at those things than most people.

Now that my focus is on demonstrating to others that I have value in these areas I care about, rather than waiting for an accounting firm to tell me I’m valuable enough to work for them, I have been much happier, and I think will have much more interesting career prospects.

When you think that another person does not see value in you, it’s more likely that your value was simply not relevant to that person, or that you did not do a good job at conveying your value.

The biggest problem with letting other people value you is that they probably don’t know you very well!  

I think back to all of the accounting jobs I was turned down from (this made me feel valueless for a very long time).  But I thought about it more (and my girlfriend really helped me find my way through this one), and realized: these people had only seen my resume, a page synopsis of years’ worth of experience.

They had interviewed with me for only a few hours.  In many scenarios, I was not even impressed with the interviewers themselves.  And thinking about it, a lot of my peers (the ones who got the jobs) truly were more technically qualified (higher grades, more interest) in accounting than I was.

But clearly I was not valueless.  Many of my experience and abilities are things I see scarcely with others.  So the more logical conclusion is that my interviews went poorly because my value was not what they were looking for, or that I did a poor job conveying my value.

I think it was mostly that my value was different, and partly that I did a poor job conveying it.

My more big-picture, management and creativity-related value was not necessary for an entry-level accounting position.  My technical abilities were lacking compared to others, and that was what the firms were looking for.  But, that is not to say that I didn’t have value.

I was probably just barking up the wrong tree!  Now that I have changed my focus (as I mentioned above), I have had a lot more success and a tremendous increase in happiness.

Be able to explain (or otherwise display) your value proposition in a short, concise, and easy-to-relate-to way.

Think about the last time you went to McDonald’s.  What do you notice about it?

In general, you notice that it is the same at each location: the food is the same, the service is quick, and the prices don’t change.  This is because McDonald’s knows exactly what its value is, and displays it clearly.  

McDonald’s stays the same because they know you value a specific outcome (you want cheap, good-tasting burgers that are cooked fast) when you go there.  

Imagine: if every time you went to McDonald’s, the menu was different, the prices were different, and the service was neither consistently fast nor consistently slow.  Would you want to go there anymore?

If McDonald’s was unsure of its value proposition (e.g. how to price its food, its menu, etc.), you would have no way to know if you actually liked or needed to eat at the restaurant, since your experiences there were wholly inconsistent.

The reality is that your situation is really no different than McDonalds’.  You too have to be able to concisely explain or otherwise display your value to others.  This displays confidence and makes it easy for other people to trust you.  I think this is one of those things that we subconsciously notice when other people do, but don’t really know how to do it ourselves.

So think about it:

If you are starting a business and in a meeting with venture capitalists, they will ask what your business does, how it will make money, and how you can prove the market is there.

The right–actually, the only way to succeed is if you can quickly and succinctly (and convincingly) tell them that information; i.e. convey value to them.  If you ramble or opine or sound disconnected, you will get nowhere.

Would you give your money to someone who didn’t seem to know the best way to invest it?

Would you hire someone that didn’t know what they wanted to do or why they were applying to your company?

Convey your value by default, rather than waiting for others’ “permission”.

Most of us are polite, sensitive nice people.  We don’t want to come across as rude, pushy or affronting to other people.  We are afraid of the rebuke of others.

We think, if we let them control the interaction or are sensitive for their input, things will go just fine.

As far as exchanging pleasantries and coming across as socially acceptable to others is concerned, the above protocols sound pretty good (unless your career is offending others, which some of us make millions of dollars doing).

The problem with this mindset is that we take it too far.  We want to show our value to others, but we are worried about offending them or coming across in a way that they would not approve of.  So we wait, and let our interaction be defined by them.

-The interviewer never got to hear about the interesting experience we had working abroad.

-The audience never got to hear about our opinions on an important issue.

Is it really worth having your whole gig shut down because you felt too shy to convey your value?

And probably more importantly, you’re just exaggerating the possible negative affect of coming across strongly.  You’re just uncomfortable doing it.  But if you think about it, does it really bother you when other people do?  If they’re not being rude, probably not.  So my advice:

Practice displaying value by default, and you will naturally become more comfortable doing so!

When I interview, I never come across as meek, or worry about what they might think of me.  But I know exactly what I want the interviewer to think of me, and how I am unique from the ten to twenty other candidates they interviewed.

In some respects, it hasn’t served me well in the short term (like those accounting jobs I didn’t get).  But it worked out in the long run: do you think I would have been happy working there if my values weren’t similar to what they were looking for?  But since I am looking for other things now, it has worked out exceptionally.

So my main point is easy: ultimately it’s up to you

You are the one who gets to define yourself, and you are the one that creates opportunities for yourself.  Don’t wait for other people’s permission to do these things.

Be a go-getter, have a high (but justified) value of yourself, and watch your success and accomplishments take off.

Related Articles:

Building personal credibility

Personal branding (Part 1)

Personal branding (Part 2)

Relentless Networking

Photo Credit: By Pieter Geerts (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Doing something nice for others is an art form rather than a simple act of goodwill???

What is this world coming to!!

Unfortunately, that’s the way it is!

You’re just a nice person.  But think about who you’re competing against.

People say or do nice things all of the time with the intent of securing an outcome in their advantage: seeming “very interested” in the girl we walked across the bar to talk to when she talks about her pet dog; small talk with the person at the DMV to get our license approved faster; acting jovial and outgoing during an interview to give the right impression.

So your competition is all of these other folks who compliment others for dubious reasons (or at least the impression that they do).  Odds are you do / have done this too.

I’m not saying doing those things is “wrong”, or that complimenting others to incentivize them is in poor form.  In fact, using praise to incentivize is an excellent idea.  The point I’m trying to make is that everyone’s radars are already on overdrive: everyone’s on the lookout for insincere praise, and they’ll hate it if they get it.

But knowing how to praise others in a sincere and meaningful manner is a powerful tool that:

  • Makes the world a better place.
  • Inspires people to do better.
  • Lets others feel good about themselves.
  • Makes others happy to work with you and be around you.
  • Gives you leverage in social and professional situations.

By understanding the elements of a sincere compliment, you can compliment in a way that truly makes others grateful for your praise.

What defines a sincere compliment?

In general, the more specific your compliments are, and the less they are tied to an attempt to get the person to do something, they will come across as more sincere.

1. Specific. 

I think a lack of specificity is the biggest downfall of most compliments:  ”thanks for everything you’ve done!”.  ”You did a great job!”.  Wow, nice.  I bet you said that to everyone else.

Rather, the best compliments point out specific behavior, and reflect on how that behavior was worthy of praise.  To be math-ey, here’s an “equation”: You did X, and this is why X was such a good thing to do.

Let’s say you helped out with a big project at work.  What would make you feel better?

  • Your boss said “thanks for your help!” and then goes on to something else


  • “Thanks for everything you’ve done.  Your help meant we could get this done by the deadline, and for that I am especially grateful!”

A recipient of a compliment finds it more meaningful if the compliment is individualized.

2. Seemingly without implications for remuneration.

I hate compliments that are clearly just trying to “prime” me to do something for something else.  I think the solution to this is if you want someone to do something for you, just level with them, and ask them to do it.  Don’t add in the fluff.  At least that’s sincere.

But we all kind of “expect” that a compliment might have a veiled motive.  So it’s important to avoid the impression.

Simply make compliments at times when you don’t need something.  For example, if your goal is to win your coworker’s respect so he will help you on a huge project next week, compliment his work near now, rather than later.

3. Don’t wonder whether or not you will come across sincerely.  

It’s likely because you worry that you will come across insincerely that you will, in fact, come across insincerely.  Think about when you’ve been complimented: do you react better to a smooth and lettered compliment, or someone saying “uh…yeah!…that was, uh, really nice of you to, uh, help us write the memo”.  It just sounds like you’re up to something.

Take a look at what I wrote in one of my first articles, think you will be successful.   It’s all about mindset: if you approach the situation with a can-do attitude and without worry about coming across poorly, you will likely come across exceedingly well.

Probably the most important thing I mention here, but the thing I can help you least with!:

Compliments–as with any sort of praise–are highly situational.  There’s nothing I could write that could describe “these are the words you should use to compliment someone” or “this is the exact best time to do so”.  You know me better than that: mindset inspires action.  If your goal is to become excellent at complimenting others, the best way to do it is simply through practice (an unwavering desire to improve).

But keep what I’ve said in mind!  Do you have a question about your specific situation?  Leave a comment on this article, or contact me here!

Photo Credit: By Wuzur (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons