Monday, December 17, 2018

We all struggle

Good-bye 2018.  If you are viewing my life from the outside the year seemed fine, but the reality was there were some struggles this year.  It was not horrible, but it was not anywhere near what I wanted over the last 12 months.

I am not complaining, as I am fortunate to work doing something I deeply enjoy and to be ten years into working for myself.  Many people go to jobs daily where they hate their boss and feel they do not make a difference. I am my own boss and have constant feedback from clients when my work has impact.. .However, this does not guarantee that everything runs smoothly.

Without going into details, lets just say I did not have my best year in business.  I made some bad choices and had a sales slump because I relied too much on word-of-mouth for my leads.  I did not have a focus on an outbound sales routine and ended up with a few holes in my calendar.  While I did work often, I only make money on the days I speak, so empty weeks on my schedule have a direct impact on my bank account.

But it is okay. We all struggle.  I know this is true even though few people put their hard times out into view. My research around how people engage with their "potential" has let me look closely into the lives of others, and those who open up to me are often sharing they have many frustrations that keep them from achieving ultimate results. 

As we launch into 2019 I am changing up my routine and becoming more aggressive.  I am also paying close attention to my mental health / state of mind.  This is a topic that too few talk about, and yet our ability to perform is tied to how we are feeling inside.  The internal communication inside our heads can push us ahead or hold us back.  I got held back.

To those who resonate on the above topic, feel free to reach out to me.  No judgement, but I have discovered having someone to talk to makes getting past these struggles easier.  I am happy to chat with anyone, yet few people ever call.  I think partnering with others to help everyone get past their roadblocks is the easiest way to move toward more results.  

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Saturday, November 24, 2018

First Impressions Still Matter

There was an experience I had recently where I thought someone was a total asshole.  This guy keeps showing up around and it turns out maybe he is not the cocky jerk whom I first met.  I have not talked to him, so none of my opinion is really based on anything beyond observation, and this has me thinking about first impressions.

The person in question is a stand up comic. I have been participating in open mic nights this year, and I am discovering a lot about myself and it is having a positive impact on me as a person and speaker.  Turns out stand up comedy is the hardest use of the spoken word. 

My experiences in this medium is that it is a unique world.  Comics are interesting, but when I first showed up I was a total outsider.  Most at open mic nights are much younger than me, and they did not really seem welcoming to me up front.  That said, I am sure in my early attempts I was a fish out of water and probably did not come off as that welcoming either.

So this one comic I met in April really did come off as a dick.  Young and full of himself was the initial impression, and his jokes were very sexist and demeaning to others.  In a brief conversation he was dismissive and I jumped to a series of conclusions.

Yet recently I noticed he keeps showing up at many of the events I attend.  I have never spoken to him again, but I have observed him.  While the jury is still out about who he really is, I am starting to think I jumped to conclusions far too fast.

At my age I know that first impressions are not as reliable as we would like to believe.  People are often sure of their observational based decisions, but I am reminded of all those who have proved me wrong over the years. I am getting better at giving others second and third chances, as it really does take time to know who someone at the level of their soul.

Plus, many comics are playing a character on and off stage, so for me to have decided this guy is what I witnessed is short sighted on my part.

But the lesson here is that most people do not give time to reviewing their first impressions, so therefore the immediate vibe you give to others does matter as they will forge a permanent view of you very fast.

How you treat people always matters. This guy treated others with an aloof nature and was cocky as shit.  But I am going to erase that from my mind and try to get to know him as I continue to show up around the Austin comedy scene.  Who knows, maybe he is a raging asshole?  Or, he could be a good person who I will benefit from getting to know better.  I am going to believe it is the later.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer 

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Journey was the Power of my TEDx Talk

As I mentioned in the two earlier posts (here and here) about my TEDx presentation, this was something I wanted to do for years. I had applied to many TEDx programs in cities near and far, and when the opportunity came I was excited. Setting a goal was key, and failures or rejections along the way were by never the end of my journey.

I am a believer in goal setting and working toward achieving that which makes you push yourself. My TEDx experience was a milestone event and involved intensive preparation. It was more than just a speech to me, it was my way to share an important story and key part of my own growth (with the hope it would help others).

But once a long sought target is reached there can be mixed emotions that come along after completion. The TEDx Talk itself was a positive experience, and the waiting six month for the video was frustrating. However, once it was posted and shared with the world I had combined feelings of joy and disappointment.

I had joy because I believe the message was good and people like responded well to the talk (you can go watch it here -  And disappointment because I has spent so much time in pursuit of this goal, that once it was over, there was a question of "what's next?". Few people are invited to deliver multiple TEDx Talks, and I do not have the type of fame that is usually involved in being invited to the main TED stage.  This is my one time at doing a TEDx Talk, and I am proud of it (go watch it and share your impressions with me).

Alas, this is another example of the journey itself being the reward.  While I am thrilled with the end product (well, they messed up the audio a little, but it us okay), there is more to it than what you see on the video. There is what I learned along the way, and also the hope that the message will inspire someone in ways I will never know.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

How to Write and Rehease for a TEDx Talk

Re-Writes and Rehearsing Matters. I received notice that I would be delivering a TEDx Talk five weeks before the event. The topic, "The Art of Giving Small", is not content I present to clients, thus I had to write, rewrite, and rehearse in a short amount of time. While I did not expect my video to "go viral", The honor of being on this stage was something I took seriously. I wanted to do a good job for the audience, the committee that selected me, and the person who referred me to the opportunity. I also believe deeply in the concept of "Compounded Generosity" and hoped to showcase the idea in a good light. Never before have I invested 40+ hours in preparing for a single speech. I realized this was a one=time opportunity, and while my experience of having delivered over 800 professional speeches was important, a shorter TED style talk was unique and was going to require me to push myself. I hired a coach (Hayley Foster - The Short Talk Expert) to help me craft the message. Over and over we re-wrote the words, and she talked me through my core message and coached my on how to highlight the most meaningful parts of my story. Her trained eyes and ears helped me weed out the "fluff" and keep the parts that would paint the picture in the minds of those who would see the talk live or later watch the video. The multiple re-writes and the dozens of times presenting the talk in my living room (and recording it) made all the difference. Had I attempted to do this project without a coach I am not sure the message would have come through as clearly. If I had tried to rely on my skills as a speaker, without the dozens of hours of writing and rehearsing it would not have turned out as well.

I learned through the process that when you are doing something important, you must dedicate the time to craft the final product with all you have. Never leave anything up to chance when you have the choice of being dedicated to the preparation.

Have a Great Day.

thom singer

Saturday, October 06, 2018

How To Be Selected for a TEDx Talk

Several people have asked about the background on how I ended up getting chosen to deliver a TEDx Talk (Link to my TEDx Talk, which released online last week, in the comments below). It was a long journey. When TEDx was created by the TED organization in 2009 it seemed unique and cool. I attended an early local TEDx in Austin, TX in 2010 and watched my friend Steven Tomlinson deliver what I still think of as one of the best TED/TEDx Talks I have ever seen. He was my inspiration. I was hooked. I wanted to speak at one of these events, and I applied to several over the following 8 years (30+ online applications). I was rejected from all of them. A possible reason for rejection, as I was told by several people "in the know" was that I was a professional speaker, and that was not what the local TEDx groups were seeking. That is okay, sometimes things you want are not easy to obtain. And yet several of the people I admire in my profession had done TEDx Talks, so I continued to work to create a more compelling application. I was confident that someday the message of "The Art of Giving Small: Compounded Generosity" would find its way to a TEDx stage.

In my case the trick was to never give up, and to network with other people who had given TEDx Talks. Persistence and accepting that it could take years before the right opportunity arrived was the only reason that I was able to complete this goal. It would have been easy to throw in the towel long ago.

In several cases where I applied I was recommended by former speakers from those events. While I was not chosen, when I had a networking connection to the committee I did have phone calls with people who would make the decisions.

Since TEDx events are independent and local programs, each committee has different ideas of what will make the perfect mix of speakers. Instead of seeing this as negative, I kept a positive attitude that if I was not the right fit, it was not the place for me to speak. I listened to each person who shared advice and kept trying to focus on how to have an idea worth spreading.

The opportunity to speak at TEDx Wyandotte (Kansas City, Kansas) came about via a connection to a friend who had been a speaker at this event the year before. Working with the committee was a good experience, although there was some back and forth on parts of how to present the message. This is a good thing and something to keep in mind if you want to speak at a TEDx event. The organizing committee will want you to show them your body of work and they will want to give advice and council. Some speakers push back on any type of suggestions, but in this case they made me work hard and think about every part of the message I ultimately delivered. In 2018 my goal to present a TEDx Talk was realized, but once I was selected is when the real journey began. I will write more about how to prepare for a TEDx.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Monday, July 30, 2018

Stand Up Comedy Is Hard - Which Is Exactly Why I Am Doing It.

The idea of doing a set at a comedy club was scary.  Even an open mic night just seemed way out of my comfort zone and the little voice in my head warned me of how embarrassing it would be to bomb. Who was I to attempt comedy?

I have acted and taken improv classes.  I have delivered over 750 professional speeches and hosted nearly 400 episodes of a podcast. But stand up?  No Way. While I use humor in my presentations,  I am not funny.

Stand Up comedy is clearly the most unforgiving use of the spoken word.  The chances of a joke not landing are close to 10 to 1 according to many comics.  As a chickenshit I did not like those odds.

In my teens and 20s I loved going to see comedy shows. I secretly wished I had the skills (and the bravery) to get up there, but I simply did not have the confidence. Wishing and dreaming does not lead to actions.

That all changed in March of 2018 in New York City. I have a friend who is a popular speaker on the topic of humor in the workplace. He is also a comic.  While I was in the city he invited me along to open mic night, which at the time of the invitation I assumed was to watch him work on new material.  

His intention was not for me to be in the audience, but instead to get on stage.  I froze at the thought.

"No Way" came out of my mouth so fast it was crazy.

But then I remembered the mantra I have tried to live by for the last two years: "Make age 50 to 75 the best years of my life", and I agreed to try.

Before my trip I prepared a five minute set, but it was more of humor from my business speeches than comedy club style jokes.  None-the-less, I did it and some people laughed.  It was not horrible, and I felt good for pushing myself and getting up on stage.

Yet doing something once is often not enough, especially if you think there is something more to the experience.  I have become an advocate for trying new things, and it is now part of what I teach my clients.  Thus I have to live my own talk.  I do not like everything I venture into (surfing was not really my cup of tea, but I did it recently), and if it is not "right" there is no reason to keep going.  Yet when there is something to be learned from the experience, I owe it to myself to get past the fear of the unknown.

Since my initial attempt at comedy I have been to 14 additional open mic nights.  I go to clubs and bars with comedy nights both in my home city of Austin, and I discover open mics while I am traveling for business (It beats sitting in my hotel room watching Netflix).  I have developed three different five minute "sets" and am working to fine tune my timing, comedy writing, observation skills, and confidence in the art of humor.

Do not misunderstand me, I am not good at comedy. Yet.  This is a long haul process.

It is very hard. Learning to do stand up is among the most difficult tasks I have ever undertaken, which is exactly why I am doing it with such intention.  I spent too much of my life listening to that little voice that told me all the reasons I should not do things.

If you feel you have held yourself back, get out of that routine and try new things. When you are willing to try new things and are open to failure (and maybe failing big-time) that is where you will find the most amazing growth. I know I am new to comedy and have yet to find my voice, but I keep going to open mic nights every week. I am working to discover things about humor and about myself. All of this is already having a positive impact in other areas of my life. I am learning a lot from NOT being good. Too often I have stayed close to things I do well. And the chances of flopping are always present when you do an open mic night, so to keep showing up I am living with the unknown each time. In all I do there is more confidence. Clearly if I can jump into this arena and do it when I am raw and unproven, then what I am great at should seem easy. Find reasons to say yes to things that are outside your comfort zone. Your efforts will force learning to happen. For you this may not be comedy. It might be jumping out of a plane or learning to paint. The key is doing something new.

My overall goal is to do 100 open mic nights. This could take over two years, as my family commitments do not allow me to go out to bars and clubs 3 or 4 nights a week. I am not even sure I am interested in doing a featured show, but I guess as I get better that opportunity could present itself (and while even scarier, I will say yes when the time comes).

Go do what is hard. If you are younger than me, don't wait until you are 50 years old to realize you have let fear stop you from taking the chances that could lead to a fulfilling life.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Recipe for Success

Recipe for success:


In all my recent research and conversations about how people achieve more of their potential, the recipe is simple.  Passion + Plans + People.  

Passion.  It sound simple - If you are not fired up about what you are trying to do, then you will have a hard time keeping your focus over the long run. Accomplishing great things takes time.  Usually more time than you predict at the beginning. Having a deep passion for your work will get you out of bed and put the smile on your face even in the face of adversity.

Plans.  Goal setting is paramount to success. I am amazed at those who dis the idea of having focused targets, as everyone I know who has consistently kicks butt in life has a series of clear plans. When you have goals it makes it easy to make the hard decisions, as you simply ask with every action "will this take me closer to my goals or not?".  

People. All opportunities come from people.  No matter what you do, there are other humans who have a direct and indirect impact on your outcomes. Who you connect with and how your engage with those in your network will make the biggest difference on how you realize your potential.

Having interviewed hundreds of people on the subject of potential and success, all the answers are tied to these three areas. Examine your daily actions and pay close attention to your passion, plans and the people you spend time with regularly.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

New Networking At Association Events

Surveys show that people still attend conferences for the "Networking Opportunities".  Even in our social media crazed world, there is still a desire to meet people face to face and establish professional connections.

Yet many events fall short of their potential.  Bringing the best and brightest from any industry together at an association annual meeting should in itself be ideal for networking, but even with the desire to connect, too often people do not really meet others.

Some hang out with their co-workers and other close friends, but worse are all the people who are all alone at the event, and only superficially engage.  The worst part is that many people feel lonely even in the crowd. 

A 2017 article in the Harvard Business Journal by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, "Work and the Epidemic of Loneliness", chronicles the problems that loneliness causes in the workplace.  Conferences are no different.  Muthry says "Happy hours, coffee breaks, and team-building exercises are designed to build connections between colleagues, but do they really help people develop deep relationships?"  Not so much, and not at industry meetings either.

If one of the purpose of a conference is to really help people connect, we must change up how we are setting up all aspects of the event. An open bar is not the answer to getting people to connect.  Being aware of cliques and thinking about those people who may feel invisible even while surrounded by others.

One quick change that can have immediate impact is how we ask speakers to engage.  A celebrity speaker who talks for 45 minutes and is shuttled out of the building by their handlers is not the future of engaging multi-day events.  People seek a peer-to-peer connection with those who present. If your speakers best skill is getting to the airport 30 minutes after leaving the stage, it is time to rethink the purpose of the keynote.

Additionally, shorter talks are not helping with engagement. Ever since the explosion of the TED and TEDx conferences there has been a push to shorten the time given to speakers.  It has been assumed that people prefer short presentations, but that leaves no time for audience interactions.  A speaker who has time to share data and stories while also creating an interactive environment is a way to get people talking. 

Associations should incorporate speakers as partners in their conference. The speakers (both main stage and breakout presenters) have a unique ability to get people to connect.  Shared experiences are how relationships are forged, and all presentations must have a networking component built into the talk and the speaker should have "office hours" after their speech so they can go deeper with groups of attendees who are interested in this type of conversation. 

Engagement is not saying "turn to your neighbor", but instead creating a culture of talking to others throughout the whole event.  Speakers should be active at the conference at least for the day they speak. When they are visible and actively engaged, they are leading by example.  Getting people comfortable with sharing is the key.

To create new networking at association events, there needs to be discussions about the purpose bringing people together from the first planning meeting.  If you make networking a second tier priority, you will have second tier results.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

****Thom Singer is a keynote speaker and professional master of ceremonies.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Vibration of Goodness

Recently I was at an event called the New Media Summit with about 200 people in attendance.  It was three days of learning, and was filled with ambitious people who are seeking to expand their businesses and help others in the process. As I looked at the group picture taken at the end of the conference, I am reminded of the vibration of "goodness" that was created between the attendees.

The gathering was focused on "podcasting", and while my podcast is over three years old, I had the chance to interact with people at all levels of participation in this still growing field. I started my show without any community and little guidance, and thus the people I met here have a leg up on my experience because there were so many people showing them how to engage in this medium. 

Even as part of the faculty for the conference I was inspired to become more intentional. In those moments of fateful interactions with people is where your life changes. In being at an in-person conference you have the serendipitous collision of souls.

I helped arrange the 200 people into position for the picture, as three decades ago I worked as an event and wedding photographer. As I looked at the above photo taken as the event ended, I am overcome by a strange connection to humanity. Moving people around to formulate a symmetrical grouping means seeing each person as an individual and as part of a group. That combination is powerful.

Thanks to all who were at the summit. I am inspired and feel that I encountered some good souls who will add to the tapestry of my life and I look forward to how our paths continue to cross.

Have A Great Day

thom singer