Nobody Listening to Your Presentation? Maybe This is Why…

OK, be honest. When there’s a break in your all day meeting and someone brings out a tray of brownies, do you eat them? I’ll admit I do!
Scott, on the other hand, doesn’t touch them. Who’s Scott? One of the sharpest, most articulate, and healthy looking executives I’ve seen in a long time.

A few months ago Scott led our executive team through a high energy, multi-day workshop. Long days. His energy seemed infinite even as the rest of us fought to stay awake. While we were gorging on brownies and the other junk one normally finds at company events, Scot was eating salt free nuts. Instead of a heavy lunch he opted for a protein shake.

I learned later that Scott is on the road 200 days a year. For him jet lag, erratic meals, and stressful business travel are a way of life. How can he perform better under those conditions than most of us can with a regular job? One secret is the way he chooses to fuel his body.

Think about the last off-site company meeting you attended, a meeting I’m sure was incredibly expensive. We pour massive time and money into these events and then we leave the food selection in the hands of a low level catering manager? Crazy.

An event planner recently told me how one company paid $10,000 for a keynote speaker and then scratched fresh fruit from the breakfast menu in favor of cheap pastries to save $300. Let’s see… $10,000 speaker sharing life changing advice with an alert audience fueled with power food or a comatose audience riding a post-pastry sugar crash… Which do you think delivers better business results?

It strikes me as ironic that we obsess over the latest productivity tools: smartphones, faster computers, etc. only to skimp on the areas that truly drive productivity: healthy body, sharp mind, focused effort.

Before your next important meeting, a few thoughts on how to maximize your performance in the same way Scott masters his:

Gut bombs kill your brain.
Fact: Loading your stomach with heavy food diverts blood from your brain to your stomach. Less blood to the brain = a more tired, slower thinking you. If you’re gonna pig out, do so on a day you can afford to be a slouch.

Embrace slight hunger pangs.
Didn’t get enough to eat at that business lunch? Good! Feeling a little hungry fine tunes one’s senses.

Event planners and executives: Stop obsessing over every detail of your off-site meeting agenda and start paying a lot more attention to the food the hotel has planned for your attendees.
I don’t care how dazzling your presentation is; it cannot compete with the afterglow of chicken nuggets and Twinkies.

So, kind reader, what’s your advice on super foods that keep you on task?
What about tips on how to persuade our employers to invest in proper nutrition?
Secrets to staying alert during all day meetings or lengthy business trips?

Thank you for sharing your comments!

Conquer Your Whispering Devil

There are mornings I wake up feeling awful. Sore, fatigued, jet lagged, anxious… It’s as if a devil is whispering in my ear, “Oh, you’re gonna have a bad day today. You have way too much work to do. You didn’t get enough sleep. That appointment is going to go badly. The airport is gonna be a mess. The kids are gonna fight all morning..”
Shaking that devil from my ear and replacing it with positivity can be a serious challenge.

Am I alone in my battle to fight back negative thoughts? Not according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), which reports more than 1 in 10 Americans are on anti-depressants. For middle aged women it’s even worse: nearly 1 in 4 are on this medication.

How did this happen? How has the whispering devil become so influential that we’re now a nation hooked on happy pills? Surely doctors can offer a scientific answer to why this happens but let me share my own secret formula for purging negative thoughts: Reset and Power Up.

Reset:
We are fire hosed with information like never before: Emails, texts, TV, social media, cell phones.. The truth is, the default setting today is a constant barrage of messages from the moment we awake to the moment we fall asleep. Is it healthy? Absolutely not!
How can we consume a non-stop flood of urgent work requests, social media postings reminding us how glamorous everyone else’s life is, news coverage trumpeting doom and gloom.. without feeling like crap?

As challenging as it is, make time every day to reset: No phone, no email, no news channels. Get as quiet as you can both on the inside (your head) and the outside (your surroundings) and let your mind reboot. For me, that means an early morning swim, bike, or run without the iPod.
For you, is it a walk? Yoga? Whatever it is, schedule it in your calendar no later than the day before and make it a top priority.

Power Up:
When most of us hear “power up” we think of turning on our computers, right? Eeeek! Don’t do that.
A challenge for you, something I often struggle with myself but never regret: In the morning power up your body before you power up your computer.
Do you think humans were designed to roll out of bed only to flop into a chair and stare at a screen? Ha! Our able-bodied ancestors are laughing at us.
Imagine describing the start of a modern day to your ancestors: “Well, first I wake up after 4-6 hours of fitful sleep.” [By the way: Before the advent of electricity people routinely slept 10 hours/night.] “Then I stumble to a desk, turn on this bright screen that’s bad for my eyes, and start reacting to a bunch of mail messages that piled up while I was trying to sleep. I do this until I have a headache, at which point I reach for a salty, sugary prepackaged snack with a shelf life of 5 years…”
And on and on it goes until we find ourselves at the pharmacy picking up a package of Xanax.

Listen, I’m not advocating we go off the grid and live in mud huts. And clearly some people truly need prescribed medicine because there’s no other answer.
What I’m suggesting is we reconsider how we begin our days.

Power Up your mind and body first. Get some physical activity. Eat a great breakfast. Welcome in a new day before you fill it with modern day work and family realities.
Reset occasionally throughout your day before the information onslaught becomes too overwhelming.

Ben’s unscientific yet effective tips for destroying the whispering devil:

1. Turn on your smartphone or computer only after you’ve checked the box on two critical items: physical activity and breakfast.

2. Schedule the important parts of your day – including your exercise break(s) – no later than the night before.

3. Turn off the email fire hose while you’re working on important projects. Check email 4-5 times/day and stay off it otherwise.

4. Early to bed, early to rise.
(“Yeah right, Ben. How can I possibly go to bed earlier?” Well, kind reader, move on to point #5…)

5. Kill your television.
Two things about TV: 1) Studies show that people are most miserable and feel worst about themselves while watching TV. 2) TV Prime Time, which begins at 8pm, is when most of us click on the TV and sink into brain drain mode. Replace late night TV with early morning Reset and Power Up time.

6. Focus on getting one thing done one at a time. Don’t kid yourself, multi-tasking doesn’t work. (At least for the male species!)

Power Up + Reset = A happier, healthier, more productive you.

Riding with a Legend: Thank you, Jürgen

The first time I saw Lance Armstrong race he was 16 years old and so was I. There, however, the similarities ended. I was simply a race spectator who’d come to see the era’s legendary triathletes battle for victory. Lance, on the other hand, was already among the USA’s strongest triathletes and competing at the sport’s highest levels. That day Lance took 2nd, only 90 seconds behind the winner.
That was the day I became a Lance fan and the day I decided to one day become a triathlete, too. Perhaps not at Lance’s level but at least a member of the triathlon community.

Fast forward 20+ years and Lance has had his ups and downs (a blog topic for another day!) but triathlon remains a sport I love. It’s given me every reason to live a healthy lifestyle and meet extraordinary people. This was especially true last week when I found myself exhausted, legs burning, dehydrated, nearing heat stroke, and loving every minute of it.

My triathlon hero in the ‘90’s was a German named Jürgen Zäck. Jürgen was different than the other pros. While most pros are wafer thin and under 5% body fat, Jürgen was powerful and muscular with (gasp!) 8-10% body fat. While most pros look like skeletons and run like deer, Jürgen’s strength was the bike. He’d power his enormous legs through a streaking bike split and then lumber through the run with (hopefully) enough of a lead that the Bambis couldn’t chase him down. His style was unconventional but his results indisputable. Several times he broke records and won titles. Now approaching 50 years old, Jürgen still races at elite levels.

Last week, I had the privilege of training with him.

Business travel took me to Thailand and I learned that Jürgen now directs a triathlon training academy in the area called Thanyapura. What luck! So after a week of meetings I registered myself for a weekend at his camp.

This camp attracts all kinds: Professional and Olympic athletes at the top of their game, people who’ve put their lives on hold to pursue the dream of becoming elites, and “normal” people who’ve checked themselves into Jürgen’s camp to lose weight and regain their health.

What made the experience so special was how everyone there shared a passion for the same tiny subculture, the world of triathlon. Together we enthusiastically chatted ad nauseam about all the things that make triathletes your most boring dinner guests: race wheels, aero helmets, VO2 max, blah blah blah. To an outsider this was the epitome of geekville; to us, it was nirvana.

One moment I really cherished was our morning bike ride, during which Jürgen and I broke off from the pack and rode together on backroads with sweeping vistas of the Indian Ocean. “Am I really riding with the legenday Jürgen? Awesome!”
Granted, Jürgen did most of the talking and I did most of the gasping but he was gracious enough to slow the pace and let me hang on.

To Jürgen Zack and my other new friends at Thanyapura, Thank You for the experience of a lifetime!

To everyone else a few questions:
What’s your passion?
Are you making time to enjoy it? To connect with others who share it?
Who are the legends in that world you’d most like to meet? How can you make that happen?
Even if it’s only for a day or two, meeting like-minded people and brushing elbows with the greats is among the most energizing experiences life offers.

Why the internet will never tell you all you need to know

If you’re in business, I’m sure you’ve attended countless business dinners. I recall dinner meetings along the beaches of Mexico, atop Vegas’ newest casinos, in Milan’s finest restaurants, even aboard cruise ships. But no dinner meeting I’ve ever attended compares to one I recently experienced in Denmark. In a customer’s home. With her family. Celebrating Christmas in October.

“Ben,” she asked. “Have you ever had a Danish Christmas dinner?”

“Why are you asking me this in September??” That’s what I wanted to say but instead replied, “No.”

“Well, then,” she continued, “that’s what we’re going to do. My family and I will see you at my house in two weeks.”

Preparing for this meeting was different. Instead of packing brochures, I packed a book entitled Awkward Family Photos. As opposed to a powerpoint presentation, I found myself practicing how to say Merry Christmas in Danish. (Spelled phonetically, in case you’re wondering, it’s something like Glady Yule.) And what to wear? I decided against the business suit and seriously considered a Santa Claus costume. Maybe next time.

The food was outstanding. In other words, not your standard Applebee’s menu. Roasted duck, candied potatoes, crushed almond pudding.

But the part I most appreciated was getting to know my customer the person:
How worried she gets when her happy go lucky teenage son misses his curfew.
How proud she is of her other son, a well spoken engineering student.
How delighted she becomes when her husband dashes around the kitchen.
How passionate she is about art.

Yes, we spoke a little of business but I was reminded that business is not about a brand or a stock price; those are simply outcomes. Business is about people. Specifically, our ability to connect with one another and solve one another’s problems.
What a gift this valued customer gave me. To her and her family, I say Thank You. Thank you for the great food, the wonderful company, and the lifelong memory.

To the rest of us, a question:
How well do you really know your customers? Not the business stats. That’s a given and frankly, surface level stuff that any buffoon with an internet connection can find. Knowing that is important but not enough. I’m talking the person behind the contract. Their family, their hobbies, their aspirations.

There’s no easy way to answer that question but I believe it comes back to one key principal: Becoming genuinely interested in the other person. In today’s world, where nearly every product and service can be purchased through the cold, disinterested click of a computer, the best in business are always looking for ways to know their people.

Ask yourself:
“When I visit my customers or colleagues, do I do most of the talking or most of the listening?”
“When preparing for a meeting, do I spend most of my time thinking about what I’m going to tell or what I’m going to ask?”
“Am I most concerned about getting my customers interested in me or learning something interesting about them?”

I got lucky. I was blessed with a customer generous enough to invite me to a family dinner. But even when that’s not possible, I’m reminded that we have every opportunity – no, make that every obligation – to connect with business partners on a personal level.

And if you ever find yourself in Copenhagen at 1:00am face to face with a smiling, carefree 18 year old kid, tell him to go home. His mom is waiting :)

 

My fellow Americans: Can we add a second bird?

The eagle: our nation’s emblem. It represents so many of the characteristics we Americans hold dear: independence, strength, and freedom. However, a presentation by world famous author and business consultant Don Tapscott at last week’s World Business Forum in New York City made a compelling case that future generations may not identify with the eagle in the same way we do today. At the least, tomorrow’s world should make room for two national birds: the powerful eagle and the lesser known, more ordinary starling.

A starling?? But wait, isn’t that a small bird, a common bird, hardly anything that instills fear and respect from atop mother nature’s food chain? Well, yes. One starling vs. one eagle and that starling is lunch. But starlings have sent eagles and every other bird of prey scurrying away with their talons between their legs.

How does the starling do it? As Tapscott explained, the starling wins in the same way that tomorrow’s strongest global businesses will: they work together. Thousands of starlings will gather in the evening sky and together they’ll form massive clouds of swirling birds, the airborne equivalent of a monstrous school of fish. Together they fly in perfect synchronization with the end result being a flock of birds so large, so impenetrable, that even the most daring birds of prey have no choice but to look elsewhere for their evening meal.

The videos are fascinating and I encourage you to watch them here:

Wow, I watch that video and I’m reminded of what a bad starling I would be! My wife, three kids, and I can hardly stumble through a parking lot without tripping over each other. Imagine how starlings must laugh when they fly over a big city traffic jam.

Clearly we humans have a long way to go before matching the grace of these simple birds. And while today’s uber-connected world gives us every opportunity to leverage collective intelligence and collaborate as a flock of birds, the reality is the newness of technology and the shock of globalization has us learning to crawl before we walk.

I believe that most of us (especially in the U.S.) grew up in a world where working across borders was rarely considered. Where working together for the good of the team was sometimes overshadowed by the pressure to achieve individual success. In other words, soaring like eagles was encouraged while serving one small role for the greater good was not as recognizable.

Eagle or starling? Which are you? Within your own organizations, are you making time to recognize both? Are you giving your global teams opportunities to fly together and synchronize their rhythm?
These swirling birds represent what Tapscott sees as the future of work. The technology is already there for us to collaborate more easily, it’s just we humans who need to learn how to leverage it.

Oh, and as for the starlings and their beautiful flock formations: Scientists have never documented an accident. A slightly more impressive track record than big city traffic formations.

Knowledge and Confidence: One you can outsource but the other? It’s up to you

Two groups with similar language proficiency enter the same English class. They stick with it for seven years. At the end, both groups should show similar progress, right? Well, not exactly.. A recent Canadian research project showed that Group A, which happened to be all Eastern Europeans, far exceeded Group B, which was all Asians. But why the difference?

During my most recent visit to Asia, a Chinese client who works for a U.S.-based company shared some insight with me that answers the question.
“My colleagues and I have many ideas about how our company can do better in this market,” he explained. “But what if we speak up and they don’t understand us? That is very embarrassing so instead we say nothing.”

What my client was saying and research confirms is that cultural
influence plays a tremendous role in business. In this instance, we learn that certain cultures put huge emphasis on saving face. Misspeaking in a meeting or not being understood by one’s superiors is embarrassing and they therefore don’t speak up. They may have knowledge from English classes, and I’ll bet the Asians in that class score just as well on written exams as their Eastern European classmates, but they lack the confidence to march beyond the classroom doors and actually apply that knowledge in the real world.

Every multinational is fighting to win in Asia and other developing markets. We pour fortunes into these markets recruiting talent and opening new office complexes. We subject ourselves to horrendous travel schedules and time zone discrepancies. We market the heck out of our new presence abroad. But frankly, that’s the easy part :)

The real challenge, the area where our business wins or loses, depends upon our ability to build trust with our teams, firmly grasp the mindset of our customers, and assure that our best ideas are heard. Yes, language training is a good start but language lessons alone aren’t enough. Who from the organization is rewarding people for trying their new skills? What collaboration tools do you have in place for sharing ideas in a less formal way? How are you blending the knowledge your people gained with the skills they demonstrate on the job?

These critical components are overlooked or at best delegated to someone at a lower level who probably doesn’t grasp the big picture.

Stand up, senior execs! Yes, you who just spent 20 hours on the plane, missed your kid’s little league game, and choked down a week’s worth of foreign cuisine.. Time to make global communication a TOP priority, to give our overseas colleagues the reassurance they need that it’s better to speak up and do our best than not speak up at all.

One place to begin and ultimately win this battle: Implement and remain a leading cheerleader for your organization’s language, communication, and collaboration programs. Yes, this takes time and energy but I will argue that if you replaced one international trip each year with focus on these areas, you – and your overseas colleagues brimming with knowledge and desperate for a confidence boost – will come out far ahead.

Knowledge and Confidence: One you can outsource but the other? It’s up to you

Two groups with similar language proficiency enter the same English class. They stick with it for seven years. At the end, both groups should show similar progress, right? Well, not exactly.. A recent Canadian research project showed that Group A, which happened to be all Eastern Europeans, far exceeded Group B, which was all Asians. But why the difference?

During my most recent visit to Asia, a Chinese client who works for a U.S.-based company shared some insight with me that answers the question.
“My colleagues and I have many ideas about how our company can do better in this market,” he explained. “But what if we speak up and they don’t understand us? That is very embarrassing so instead we say nothing.”

What my client was saying and research confirms is that cultural
influence plays a tremendous role in business. In this instance, we learn that certain cultures put huge emphasis on saving face. Misspeaking in a meeting or not being understood by one’s superiors is embarrassing and they therefore don’t speak up. They may have knowledge from English classes, and I’ll bet the Asians in that class score just as well on written exams as their Eastern European classmates, but they lack the confidence to march beyond the classroom doors and actually apply that knowledge in the real world.

Every multinational is fighting to win in Asia and other developing markets. We pour fortunes into these markets recruiting talent and opening new office complexes. We subject ourselves to horrendous travel schedules and time zone discrepancies. We market the heck out of our new presence abroad. But frankly, that’s the easy part :)

The real challenge, the area where our business wins or loses, depends upon our ability to build trust with our teams, firmly grasp the mindset of our customers, and assure that our best ideas are heard. Yes, language training is a good start but language lessons alone aren’t enough. Who from the organization is rewarding people for trying their new skills? What collaboration tools do you have in place for sharing ideas in a less formal way? How are you blending the knowledge your people gained with the skills they demonstrate on the job?

These critical components are overlooked or at best delegated to someone at a lower level who probably doesn’t grasp the big picture.

Stand up, senior execs! Yes, you who just spent 20 hours on the plane, missed your kid’s little league game, and choked down a week’s worth of foreign cuisine.. Time to make global communication a TOP priority, to give our overseas colleagues the reassurance they need that it’s better to speak up and do our best than not speak up at all.

One place to begin and ultimately win this battle: Implement and remain a leading cheerleader for your organization’s language, communication, and collaboration programs. Yes, this takes time and energy but I will argue that if you replaced one international trip each year with focus on these areas, you – and your overseas colleagues brimming with knowledge and desperate for a confidence boost – will come out far ahead.

Surprises & Secrets: Her name is Ginger

You know what I find really hard to do in today’s world? Keeping secrets and fabricating surprises. Secrets and surprises seem to be going the way of the dinosaur. In today’s world it’s just so darn easy to instantly tweet, post, email, or text that most of us broadcast our thoughts and updates as quickly as they cross our minds. Deliberation, in my opinion, used to be a much more personal and private process.

It’s human nature to want to rush off and tell our friends the moment something exciting happens but doesn’t the “tell” feel sweeter, deliver a bigger impact, when we’ve first processed the experience and run through the story in our minds?

My wife, Jessica, really put all this to the test over the last year. There’s something she’s been wanting very badly but if our kids ever caught wind of her wish, they’d have been all over us with an endless barrage of begging. So this deliberation, Jessica’s big surprise, had to remain on full lockdown. I’ll admit that what she wanted was not something I wanted but a husband’s vote never carries more than 49% so alas, Jessica’s wish came true. (And in retrospect, of course, Jessica was right and I’m glad she gets the majority vote!)

On a recent weekday morning our three girls boarded the school bus for another typical day. Jessica and I then got in our car for a secret rendezvous to a local farm, where we picked up a special package that our girls never saw coming. And the girls’ reactions that same day when they got home from school? Well, I gotta say that delivering this surprise old school – in person – was absolutely worth it.

Watch this video and I think you’ll agree ☺

A Guaranteeed Miracle Cure for Nearly Anything That Ails You

If there were a magic pill that could make you feel as happy as the strongest antidepressant on the market, would you take it?  Not only will it make you feel euphoric, it’ll boost your problem solving skills by 40%. This medicine improves concentration and attention span.  It stimulates the brain to the same “Zen” state that scientists have discovered in meditating monks.  Heck, it even helps you sleep better.

This product is also good for the environment.  It cuts greenhouse gases, makes our roads safer, reduces our dependency on oil, and cuts your auto expenses by at least a couple thousand bucks a year.

It adds new dimensions to your life.  You will become more in tune with the changing seasons.  Connect with natural wonders like rain, wind, heat, and cold like you haven’t since your childhood.  Your senses will come alive.  I promise you will pass down roads you’ve driven 1,000 times before and discover new scenery and nuances you never noticed.

Using this product will improve your social life, too.  By joining the ranks of others who take this medicine, you’ll meet energetic, outgoing people.  At social and business events, you’ll have much more to talk about than the weather or reality TV.  And speaking of talking, I have seen people under the influence of this drug articulate a complicated thought with such clarity it’s as if they’re reading a well rehearsed script.

If you’re a parent, it’s a medicine you can safely administer in large doses to your kids.  By doing so, they will enjoy the same benefits as you.  Take your medicine together and your kids might (key word, might) see you as less of an alien being with zero in common.  I’ve read of kids diagnosed with ADHD who’ve been completely cured of their affliction by replacing the doctor’s prescribed medicine with this one.

This product strengthens your body from head to toe.  The longer you’re on it, the stronger your legs and the firmer your butt.  And while some medications have adverse side effects on your joints, this medicine puts zero stress on your joints and actually strengthens the muscles that surround them.
There are two serious side effects, however: weight loss and fitness gains.
Sounds expensive, doesn’t it?  Fear not, it’s free.  Pump up the tires, hop on, and let your adventure begin.

 

P.S.:
Soon after writing this blog, my good friend Jeff Rauff was hit by a car while riding his bike.  He was life flighted to the hospital with severe injuries and spent several days in intensive care.  The bad news is Jeff was hit by a car.  The good news is he’s a 61 year old stud who’s been a competitive triathlete for at least 35 years.  He’s an incredibly positive guy who easily wins friends and influences people.  His fitness and his attitude have prepared him well for the battle he now faces.  Please keep Jeff in your prayers as he continues his miraculous recovery, and be alert for cyclists on the road.

How Mickey Mouse lost a sale and why smart businesses avoid encyclopedias

In the mid 1980’s my parents faced a tough decision: Do we give our kids fun or do we give them knowledge? I remember being about 12 years old, sitting in our dining room and watching them struggle with the choice.

They’d saved enough money for a Disney vacation but there was one major obstacle between me and a trip to sunny Florida: The door to door encyclopedia salesman sitting next to me. I wanted to throw him out a window as he went on and on about how “enlightened” my brother and I would become if my parents invested only $2,000 in his books. Unbeknownst to him, it was the same $2,000 earmarked for our trip.

Much to my chagrin, Mom and Dad opted that year for the encyclopedias. Remember those? A huge volume of leather bound books that contained the world’s knowledge. All these years later and I still feel a yearning for Mickey Mouse whenever I lay my eyes upon them.

In today’s world, the concept seems laughable, doesn’t it? Investing thousands of dollars in a heavy, soon outdated set of books? Encyclopedias and the salesmen who peddled them have gone the way of the dinosaur. Why, then, do so many of our training methods still follow this same archaic model?

For instance, take an industry related to my work: Foreign language development and support. Most organizations with overseas workers recognize that English skills are lacking, so they invest huge dollars sending a select few to expensive classroom programs. In a lot of ways, unplugging your workers from their jobs and relegating them to a classroom is akin to locking someone in a closet with a set of encyclopedias and telling them to learn as much as they can about language arts. An excellent strategy if you’re a game show contestant preparing for Jeopardy!, not so helpful if you’re looking for support that’s going to help you on the job.

My point is before jumping to the conclusion that our teams need knowledge to do their jobs, maybe we’re barking up the wrong tree. Is it knowledge that most of your employees need or is it real time, on the job support? Again using language training as an example, does your company benefit most if a select few spend hundreds of hours memorizing vocabulary terms or would your company benefit more if the masses were given instant access to powerful translation and social collaboration tools?

The best option for your company is debatable but there’s zero debate about which method is faster, less costly, and easier to manage.

Before you invest another dollar in formal, traditional training, as yourself if you’re buying encyclopedias in a world that now offers less expensive, more impactful options.

As for the thwarted Disney vacation, not to worry! This week my family, my brother’s family, and my parents (12 of us in all) will be storming the Magic Kingdom in matching “Lawrence Family Vacation” T-Shirts. Wish us luck ☺