Friday, December 30, 2011

7 Predictions for the Meetings Industry in 2012

This post originally appeared on the TSNN blog on December 27, 2011.

December and January spark articles and blog posts about filled with predictions for the new year.  While I cannot really know what will happen in the world, I do have some observations about meetings and conferences from my time spent as a keynote and breakout speaker at over 300 events (59 presentations in 2011).

Meeting Industry Predictions for 2012
By Thom Singer

1.  The meetings business will continue to recover from the hits it took in the recession. I am bullish on the state of face-to-face gatherings, and believe that neither an ongoing bad economy nor the virtual options that exist to deliver content can replace the need for humans to gather.  The hard working meeting organizers will still have to do more with less, but they will put on some amazing shows.

2.   Networking opportunities will continue to be a main reason people attend meetings, but many conferences will always come up short on creating an environment where people can get past their trepidation about going beyond idle chit-chat, putting down their smart-phones, and get to meaningful conversations.  Creating a networking culture will be a topic that will become more important to meeting planners.

3.  Social media will still be a hot topic, as it has been for the last three years.  The number of break-out sessions on topics about how-to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc... will continue be prevalent on agendas.  Both the meeting organizers and those who attend will keep looking to social media as a way to build community.

4.  More people will be calling themselves "speakers" in 2012 than ever before.  Internet consultant Simon Salt recently said that "Speaking is the new blogging".  A few years ago it was popular to identify oneself as a "blogger", and now there seems to be a movement for people to add "Conference Speaker" to their bios.  The problem is that not everyone has the presentation experience that the audience desires and deserves, and a poor presentation can hurt the experience for everyone.  This trend will cause more confusion and work for meeting organizers when vetting the speakers for their events.

5.  Short presentations.  I have experienced a trend where organizers are only seeking 15 to 20 minutes talks from speakers (for both paid and non-paid speakers).  The success of TED and TEDx has put an emphasis on a meeting having more people sharing short bursts of captivating ideas.  This trend will continue to gain traction in 2012.

6.  People at conferences will vote with their feet.  If an audience does not resonate with the speaker, it will become more common for them to stand up and walk out during a presentation.  This trend of "voting with your feet" has become socially acceptable at technology focused events (such as SXSW Interactive) over the past few years, but will expand to more meetings in the future.

7.  Pre-event communities online will continue to gain popularity.  Event organizers are putting more attention into expanding the event community before and after the event by creating online communities.  While some events will struggle getting their attendees to connect beyond their physical gathering, others will find the secret sauce to engagement.

8.  Events that deliver a little more than expected will flourish. Doing what is expected is the minimum.  Going farther will make people smile and have a better memory of the experience.

Have a great 2012.

Thom Singer

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Message In A Shortcut?

I have been asked a lot about sending cards and thank you notes via online services that print the card and mail it out via the US Postal Service.

Those sending cards via these shortcuts get very excited that they are sending a personal touch in the physical world, but is it equal to a handwritten note?

Using a "short cut" is better than not sending a card.  However, the person getting the card knows when you hand wrote it yourself or used a service (even if it looks like hand writing).  Therefore, it is not equal.

I suggest we all think about the message we send when we do things part way:
 "Thank you, but not thank you enough for me to take the time to write this myself". 
Sending an email as a "thank you".... it is a good thing, but not as powerful as the real handwritten note.  I am NOT saying it is bad.... but people know the difference. The same is true of these online or mobile phone services. Too few people say "thank you" at all... so a service is a good option if you will never hand write the note..... but I say you should pen the note by hand.

What do you think?

Have A Great Day!

thom singer

Monday, December 26, 2011

Review Of My 2011 "Theme" -- And Being A Better Person in 2012

On January 1, 2011 I wrote on this blog about my theme for the year.

This theme was a variation on my annual goal setting and included:

  • Belief in Self
  • Intention in Action
  • Joy in Family and Friends
  • Fun in Success
This year was a good year.  While I still have a long way to go to reach my desired levels of success, I did work hard to achieve my own levels of attention to confidence, intention, family/friends and fun.  I achieved more in 2011 than I did in 2010, and I feel better about my prospects for the future.

I could not have done it alone, as I am fortunate to have a lot of people who love me and support my efforts.

As I look to 2012 I have been perplexed about setting my goals and establishing a theme.  While I have come a long way in my career and my personal endeavors, I still fall short in some areas in which I want to improve.

Several weeks ago I wrote a post called "Being A Better Person in 2012".  The blog entry was written quickly and without much thought as to what it meant.  The interesting part is how many people commented to me off line about this post.  Some said nice things about my already being good, while others jumped right in to help me identify my flaws.  Others shared my broad desire to be a better person and inquired about how we could support each other in such efforts.

I googled the words "being a better person" and discovered that much is already written on the topic.  There seems to be a big interest from people in this idealistic thought of self-improvement.

The debate raged in my mind for over a week, wondering if it was too vague a statement ("Being A Better Person") to be my theme for 2012. There is little I can do to measure the results, and it is hardly a topic that can be discussed at cocktail parties ("Hi, I am Thom and I am striving to be better than I was yesterday").

Alas, I have decided to try.  I know many of my own areas that need improvement, and there never seems to be a shortage of people who will talk about the flaws of others (behind their back or to their face.... and FYI... talking behind someones back always has a way of getting to the ears of the person being discussed!).... so I know I will have things to add to my list of stuff to do better.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Hoping "Respect" Makes A Comeback in 2012

"Respect" seems to be on vacation.  The time has come to revitalize the concept of respect in our greater world society.

If you think about terms that have have been tied to respect, the list is endless:  Respect for others, respect for self, respect for elected officials, respect for elders, respect for the choices of others, respect for ideas, respect for traditions, respect for authority, respect for cultural diversity, respect for the dead, respect for parents, respect for humanity, respect for the individual, respect for nature, respect for others, respect for religion, respect for soldiers, respect for your spouse, respect for teachers, respect for time, etc....  But we rarely seem to see respect in action.

However, this is a two way street, as my friend Terry Sisco said in 1987 as a 20-year-old college student: "one does not command respect, you earn respect".  His words have rung in my head for nearly 25 years.

Thus, we all need to be open to being respectful and to doing things that can be respected.

I hope "respect" makes a comeback in 2012.

Have A Great Day.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Intellectual Conversations and Challenging Thoughts at "The Salon"

My friend Zach hosted a gathering called a "Salon".  The idea dates back to the 16th Century and there meet-ups were popular in European society during the post Renaissance.  The meetings were places to exchange ideas, increase knowledge, and expand understanding through conversation.

Zach convened a small group of people to a conference room at his apartment complex and invited the participants to share philosophies of success and happiness.  I was curious about how the "Salon", a term I had only recently heard from another friend who has been involved in similar intimate intellectual conversation groups.  As I reviewed the guest list I realized I was older than the young Millennial crowd, and wondered if my much older Gen X perspectives of the world would be welcomed or understood in the dialogue.

I decided to attend this "Salon" because I have a personal commitment to support unique events hosted by my friends, or meetings where I know the speakers or my peers are being honored.  Too often in our crazy-busy world we choose not to be present when we cannot predetermine the personal ROI.  There is too much focus on "protecting our time" and not enough openness to the serendipity that is part of the human experience.

The "Salon" turned out to be a rewarding and challenging experience.  We were joined by a woman who lived in the apartment complex who was curious about the group, asked to join the discussion, and at times took over the conversation.  While not invited, unfocused, maybe medicated, and clearly a "Wild Card" tossed into the mix, the realities of the new comer's different situations and emotional observations created a fascinating study in how humans engage with each other when peeling back the onion on topics that are often not explored in social interactions.

We went from skimming the surface of success and happiness to a thoughtful and intellectual conversation that included joy, creativity, inspiration, relationships, marriage, children (I was the only parent in the room), freedom, satisfaction, control, fulfillment, contentment, service, suffering, nature, poets, religion, anticipation, philosophy, and technology.

My take away was that we need to strip away the layer of chit chat that prevails in most social situations and allow our thinking minds to ponder topics with other people who are seeking answers.  The success was in the level of respect that was put forth, even when parts of the conversation became uncomfortable or intimately personal.  I felt good at the end of three hours, although challenged on ways that I (and others) view and review our surroundings.

The group will meet again, and I will be there.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Sunday, December 18, 2011

College Student Seeks PR Job - And Goes Beyond The Normal Path To Get Noticed

This Facebook Ad caught my eye.  I rarely pay attention to the advertisements on the right side of the page, but I had to click to learn more as I am always impressed by people who try unique approaches to acquire what they desire.  In this case it is a college senior, Samuel Solomon, from Auburn University and his desire to find a PR job with a Start-Up.

Sam seems like a good find for a start up.  His resume shows he has been doing, not just learning, while in college.  He created his own company while in school, has met with seasoned entrepreneurs, and has a clear understanding that the world is full of noise and distractions... and he is seeking ways to stand out (and will help his employer stand out,too!)

When I clicked on his link he had the following statement:
Chances are you will not finish reading this page. It is completely understandable. There are so many distractions available it makes it difficult to get a clear message across. 
So, how do you deliver a message in a world full of distractions? That is where I come in. 
My name is Sam. A public relations major at Auburn University, I created a startup, FRUGGL, and several other web-based projects in my free time. I have a strong background in product testing and digital marketing. Alternatively, I study the parallels between education and entrepreneurship.
His personal website and blog also shows he is a go-getter.... and while I am not seeking to hire a PR person (or anyone for that matter), I wished New Year Publishing or my solo speaking / training business were bigger.... as I would create a job for someone like this guy.

I imagine he will have a job soon!  Good luck, Sam.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Being A Better Person in 2012

The idea of a new year -- a fresh start -- always appeals to me.  I have been an avid goal setter for many years.  Some years have been successful, while others have come up short.  Even when I fail to reach my targets, I still believe I have learned and grown.

In 2012 I want to be a better person.  A better husband, father, brother, uncle, brother-in-law, son, friend, vendor, teacher, customer, neighbor, writer, speaker, listener, citizen, etc....

This is a very vague desire and each of those things are hard to quantify.  I do not feel I am awful in these areas, but I often teach others that if you are not moving forward you might be slipping behind.  Stagnant is never good.

We humans are quick to be critical of others, but slow to examine our own short comings.  I do not like to face my demons (we all have them), but I am going to do that in 2012.  There will be no pie charts or graphs to know if I am succeeding, but I will be trying every single day.

Who else wants to play the "be a better person game"?..... Let's talk.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Irene Williams, CEO of 21st Century Technologies, at ACG in Austin

Irene Williams, CEO of 21st Century Technologies, was the speaker at the December 2011 ACG Luncheon in Austin.  Drawing on over twenty years experience in leadership positions she has helped her company grow 50% in revenues each year since 2007 and continues to create new strategies for the future.

Her presentation to the Association for Corporate Growth was not a typical "CEO Talk" that one might expect at a business luncheon.  Too often executives deliver canned investor pitches about their company or ego oriented "how to be like me" pontifications.  Instead Ms. Williams shared a series of personal stories, that weaved together her insights about success, in a personal manner that few CEO's can deliver.

Her list included three simple, yet meaningful steps that can help everyone in their life's journey:

1.  Define success in a ways that makes it personal and have a time frame for getting to your goal (know what you want and when you intend to have it).

2.  Hire "superstars" and delegate (too often leaders feel the need to do it all, but when you have the right people they can take care of the details).

3.  Never underestimate the power of consistent and committed passion and energy (find your passion and tap into it full throttle).

Her enthusiasm and total enjoyment for her career were evident in they way she spoke and responded to the questions from the audience.  While she has an impressive resume, she did not have a specific background in the world of intelligence, analytics, security, or data mining.  Instead she has an unparalleled work ethic and a desire for corporate growth and success.  Her tenacity, not her schooling in her industry, has been the spark that is leading the company.

Williams added a few points during the Q&A:

*A good leader can recover fast from the hard knocks that come with running a business.  When you lose a deal, an employee or have another setback, get up fast.... and respond to the needs of your team.

*The most important gift you can give to another person is your time, but you must be careful about managing your calendar, because as your company grows it is impossible to have regular one-on-one meetings with every employee.

*Hire a great marketing team early.  The more complicated the sales the more important marketing is to your company's success.

*If a leader is passionate about their work, they must schedule time for "balance".  Balance makes you a better executive, parent and person.  When you are well rounded you will make better decisions for the company.

The Central Texas Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth continues to host the best educational and networking events for growth oriented middle market professionals

Have A Great Day

thom singer

(Disclaimer:  My wife, Sara, is the chapter administrator for ACG in Austin and San Antonio).

Monday, December 12, 2011

There Is No Overtime for Entrepreneurs

When you run the business there is no overtime, there is only all-the-time.

The number of hours that entrepreneurs put into launching and growing their ventures can be daunting.  When the buck stops at your desk you are responsible for every little detail, and if your business is growing then the number of issues that you will need to address can appear overwhelming from the outside.  Product and service issues, accounting, legal, HR, sales, marketing, facilities, customer service, IT, vendor relations, and all the other functions of running the business ultimately land on your desk and need attention.

Ignoring any problem and wishing it will go away will cause it to fester into a bigger concern.  Delegating can also be a problem in the early stages, as until you have experienced leaders on your team there might not be anyone whom can take the ultimate responsibility for the decisions. Entrepreneurs must be decisive and action oriented or they will get caught in the loop of ever shrinking amounts of time and a never ending to-do list.

Those who are committed to guiding their dream are rarely are burdened by the amount of work that goes into their company.  When creating the long-term and sustainable entity is fused into your core, the hours do not seem like work.  Those who bore of the monotonous parts of the business may be flirting with failure.  The intimate pieces of being entrepreneurial must be of your soul to keep pushing you forward when times get tough.

It is common for entrepreneurs to get frustrated or angry with the tedious parts of running the company.  The reality is that when you are emotionally engaged in anything it can cause volatility at times.  There are many famous examples of great leaders of industry who have outrageous tempers and outbursts.  Being all encompassed in a cause will make it hard to see the rest of your world in perspective.  Keeping a balance is something you must do with intention.

Be prepared that there will be days when you question why there is nobody else around you who can solve a problem or lighten your load. Know that growing a business can be very lonely, even when you have close friends, a supportive family, and dedicated employees. Strive to make early hires who are entrepreneurial and are willing and excited to roll up their sleeves and work long hours.  Too many people are watching the clock and questioning their personal time commitment, and this will dumbfound an entrepreneur.

Surround yourself with peers who are also entrepreneurs.  There are many formal organizations that exist to create networking and education opportunities for those who run businesses to build friendships and share experiences.  Being around others who are tackling similar issues in their companies is a fast way to understanding the shared strains of leadership.  Enterpreneurs Organization (EO), Vistage, and Young Presidents Organization (YPO) are just a few examples.  Your local Chamber of Commerce or trade association will also know of other groups where you can participate.

The old adage, "All work and not play makes Jack a dull boy" is true for entrepreneurs.  Sometimes the excitement of the business can cause people to ignore everything else.  While there are no real days off when you are running a company, be proactive in carving out time for the people you love and the outside activities that re-charge your batteries.  This might require scheduling the time, but if you put it in your calendar, make it a priority and then keep true to the commitment.  The rush of working can be misleading and you need to invest the proper time in cultivating your relationships (including your relationship with yourself).

Nobody said being an entrepreneur was easy.  There is no overtime, sick days, vacations days, etc...  However, if you really love what you are doing, you do not care.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Friday, December 09, 2011

What Makes You Different?

Wondering if people "think" enough about differentiation.

In our jobs we do stuff.  We accomplish things.  But are we contemplating and discovering what is really different in how we serve clients?  Are we unique from the competition or are we commodities in sheep's clothing?

Companies have great websites, brochures and other marketing materials, but they often look similar to the competition.  They think these tools make them stand out, but instead they look alike.  I did a poll with an audience of attorneys in Austin, Texas.  I instructed them to raise their hand if their firm website has an image of the local skyline, the State Capitol, or the scales of justice on the homepage.  Almost everyone's hand went up.  Once lady laughed out loud and proclaimed "Mine has all three!"

I was speaking to a group of bankers and I asked them "What differentiates you from other banks?".  Without hesitation these executives responded "We are a relationship bank".  They did not think for one minute, they knew the answer. The look in their eyes was classic when I then asked "Do your competitors tell prospects that they are NOT a relationships bank?  Do they announce they are just there to charge high fees?".  ALL BANKS SAY THEY ARE RELATIONSHIP FOCUSED.... thus that is not differentiation.  Instead it is a slogan.  A slogan does not necessarily mean anything.

These bankers and lawyers admitted they had never thought about how much they looked and sounded just like their competition.  It is easy to say claim the party line, it is hard to be different.  When everyone is claiming the same differentiation point, it is not a unique selling position.

Always be thinking about communicating what makes you different. This is not coming up with a slogan, but instead it has to be part of your daily thinking routine.  I fear most people do not "think" about things.  If you are always looking to discover ways to show what makes you different, you will stand out from the competition.

Here is an exercise to do with your co-workers:

1.  Ask "What makes us different from the competition?"

2.  Challenge the answer with "Can or does the competition say the same thing to prospective clients?"  and "Can the prospect tell see this difference before they buy?".

3.  Look for something else until you discover a real difference that makes a meaningful difference to a buyer (this may take more than one meeting...but if you do this exercise every day you will have an "A-Ha" moment).

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Thursday, December 08, 2011

3 Things To-Do on the Last Day of a Conference

Attending a multi-day conference, trade show, convention or educational event can be a great way to give your career a boost. The ideas, information, best practices, exposure to new products or services, and the networking opportunities can all add up to un-matched inspiration and a renewed excitement to do your job.

However, when you get home and return to the regular routine, if you do not take action on implementing what your learned or connecting with the people you met, the ROI of attendance can quickly diminish.

Here are three things you can do on the last day of the event that will help you capitalize on the whole experience.

1.  Schedule appointments to follow up with people.  Meeting someone one time does NOT make them part of your network, and exchanging a business card or LinkedIn request does not mean that there is a real relationship going forward.  Seek out the three to five people you most enjoyed meeting and set up a time to connect by phone or Skype a few weeks after the conference.

Make sure there is a purpose to the conversation, not just a chance to "ping" someone.  If there is not a clear business purpose (you buy their product or service, etc...) a good idea is to tell them you respect their point of view and would like to talk for a "sharing de-brief" about the highlights of the conference.  Often two people find very different benefits from attending an event.  After a couple of weeks the top ideas are clear.  When you chat with another person about the most valuable tid-bits of information, you both can find powerful insights that were not clear while on site.

2.  Seek out the event organizers.  Meeting organizers and those who work for the host organization put in a lot of time, effort, planning, and energy into creating the amazing programs that took place at the event.  Very few people ever come up to them and say "Thank You".  It means a lot to them when sincere praise of the conference is shared verbally (not just on some electronic survey).  When you do this you will be noticed and remembered.

Getting on the radar of these organizers can often bring future opportunities to you or your company.  When they are seeking speakers or need other input for future events they will often reach out to those who they have met.  When there is a positive conversation it often leads to ongoing rapport.  Something as simple as telling them what you most enjoyed about their event could get you involved next time (and that brings you added visibility in your industry).

3.  Write a personal review of the event.  Doing this while waiting for your plane (or on the flight) is a great way to categorize all the best learning points and gives you a chance to make a list of the people you met. By committing your thoughts to paper it allows you to clearly grasp what aspects of your participation were the most valuable.

Once back at the office you can edit this review for public distribution and share the document with your boss and co-workers.  Not everyone in your organization was able to attend the event, but your synopsis of the highlights will bring them fresh ideas and maybe bring them some new motivation.  Additionally your report will remind the people you work with that you trip was not just an expensive boondoggle but a valuable work experience.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

 Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections.

5 Reasons Young Lawyers Need To Care About Their Business Development Skills

Lawyers should care about business development.  Regardless of practice area or small firm vs. large firm, many lawyers need to step up their reputation, brand and grow their books of business.  Law is a business, and one with much competition.  Without the understanding of how to expand a practice many attorneys are leaving opportunity (and money) on the table.  There must be a plan or they are delegating their future to "luck" (and that is not a strategy most lawyers would recommend for their clients).

A problem is that business development and marketing are not taught in law school and firms do not encourage young lawyers to worry about these skills (they push them to learn to edit, proof, research and grow their legal knowledge, but leave out one of the most important skills for their own future success).  By the time a lawyer has been practicing five years they are often responsible for developing clients, but many have no idea what that means.  They will have wasted valuable time and may never fine tune their abilities to market themselves.

Small firm and solo lawyers learn early that they need to focus on building relationships to cultivate a long-term career.  They often learn this in the school of hard knocks, from the realities of running a business, not from any formal training.

Another problem is that attorneys are generally smart (and they know it), and they do not view marketing and business development as a difficult or learned skill.  They ponder that if non-lawyers (an interesting term, as doctors do not refer to other people as "non-doctors") can sell their products and services, then how hard can it be?  But without sales there is no business, and there are right ways and wrong ways to grow a practice.

Here are five reasons young lawyers need to get active in creating their own business development plan:

1.  There are no guarantees.  Firms of all sizes lay-off associates or close their doors.  If a firm relies on a few rainmakers to fill the pipeline, then everyone is in danger.  If you do not understand how to sell yourself to clients, you will have a hard time selling yourself to a new firm if you are pushed out.

All employees (partners, associates, staff, etc...) should consider themselves part of the "Business Development Team" and discover ways to promote the firm to existing and potential clients.

2.  Making partner in a competitive environment means you need to have clients or have shown that you can bring in new business over the long haul.  It takes time to establish meaningful connections in your community.  The type of friendships that lead to a steady stream of referrals is not something that happens by accident.  If you wait until you need strong connections it will be too late.

3. If you have real relationships with the clients you can take them with you.  Not that you want to become a mercenary and take the firm's clients, but everyone needs to think about their own future.  Those with a portable book of business will always have options.   Clients accounts are intangible and reside with people, not the firm.  Make sure that you treat people well and they will be loyal to you should you ever move your practice.

4.  Doing good legal work is important, but if you think it is enough to sustain a career you are not as smart as your mommy believes.  Law is a business, and that means that sales, marketing, accounting, HR, customer service, IT, and all other functions that impact other companies apply to your firm.  To make sales, marketing and business development a second tier activity means you will always have second tier results.

5.  When you are well known throughout your business community it brings positive attention to you and your firm.  While some partners discourage young lawyers from getting engaged in the community (those are usually not the rain makers, but the ones that hate the whole concept of business development anyway), the most successful lawyers I know want to see their associates shine in growing their practices.  Firms that encourage business development activities will see their reputations, and number of clients, expand in any economic environment.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Human Resources Departments Aggressively Seeking Programs #HR

After several years of corporations and law firms not conducting employee training programs, I might be seeing an uptick in HR Professionals aggressively seeking a variety of options for new learning seminars to bring into their companies.

When I first started speaking and training I often spoke to folks in the Human Resources Department.  These busy executives were interested in hearing what I was doing for other companies at internal meetings and were actively trying to find ways to inspire, educate and create action plans for their teams.  They had education days and other company events, and were always seeking options for interesting programs, speakers, trainers, etc.....

In 2009 I stopped hearing back from many of my HR contacts.  It was as if when I called they hit "STAR - 3 - DELETE" without even listening to the message.  Some shared that the downsizing and other fallout from the economic situation meant that all training was sidelined.  Others lost team members in their department and were doing the job of three people.  No matter what was happening, there was little interest in speaking about educational issues.

However in the last two months I have suddenly seen an uptick in my HR contacts aggressively seeking ideas for upcoming training programs.  Some want to hire me directly, other are curious about what I have seen at conferences that help them create unique and alternative learning-style programs.  I have begun emailing and calling these people again, and some clearly believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Others say that with three years of hosting zero employee development, that the time has come to do something or risk losing their best people.

Regardless of the reasoning, I am getting my calls returned and their is a lot of interest in new and different options for classes that can have an impact.  While this is hardly a scientific survey, I will keep you posted as to how this impacts my business.

What do you think?

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Leadership Austin - The State of Giving in Central Texas

The December Leadership Austin Engage Breakfast tackled the topic of "Giving".

What is the state of giving in Central Texas and how will we meet the region's growing philanthropic needs? With state and federal funding for initiatives at an all-time low, not-for-profit organizations are facing challenging times. Can corporations help close the gap? Do traditional fundraising methods even work anymore? What can we do to inspire more people to give? The expert panelists discussed these questions and more in an interactive conversation.  

  • Jim Spencer - KXAN
  • Jeff Garvey - President & CEO, Austin Community Foundation
  • Patsy Woods Martin - Founder and Executive Director, I Live Here, I Give Here
  • Lynn Meredith - President, MFI Foundation
  • Gerry Tucker - Vice Chair, A Legacy of Giving; Vice President of Human Resources, Austin Community College
The reality is that we have gone through several tough years.  The economic downturn has impacted everyone, no matter the segment where they work.  Non-profits, government, healthcare, corporations, etc... have all been touched.  It began with a high degree of pain, but has gone from pain to fear. Nearly everyone is worried about the future.

The good news is that charitable giving is on the rise again for the first time in three years, and most of the dollars are coming from individuals.  Corporations only account for 5% of all giving in the United States, while 73% comes from individual citizens.

State and federal government programs are being cut, and our community will need to pick up the difference. While Austin is doing better than much of the country, we are seeing an increase in need right here in our community.  Those of us who live, work and play in Central Texas must take care of our neighbors.

The problems facing non-profit organizations are of common sense.  With less money to spend, they must operate within their means.  This means they cannot have more money going out to serve those in need than is coming in from donations.  Foundations and other have less money to give, as their investment portfolios are not having the same returns they did four or five years ago.  The whole ecosystem is impacted, and it is not only a matter of corporations or the rich writing additional checks.

But the Austin non-profit community has felt the pinch of the economy before.  Those of us who have lived here for a long time know that in the 1990s and early 2000s we saw similar downturns locally.  During these times civic leaders came together, collaborated, brainstormed, joint ventured, and merged many non-profits.  This made the groups stronger.  We can look at our current situation as an opportunity.

Austin has more non-profits in the area than there are gas stations and restaurants ... combined!  That is a lot of groups competing for the same limited pool of money.  But it is not only about the dollars, these groups need volunteers.  Organizations need advocates because there is no substitute for real passion (both for fundraising and getting the work done).

Lynn Meredith pointed out that that passion is often ignited when something hits close to home.  When a parent lives through a tough situation with their child, that passion is often released and they go out and make things happen.  

[This is what happened with my family after our daughter's surgery when she was an infant.  We launched the "Kate Singer Endowment for Cranio-Facial Surgery and Research" at both Dell Children's Hospital in Austin and Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego (where Kate had her surgery).  For four years we have donated 5% of the money we earn from my speaking fees and have raised additional money for both institutions.  Without that personal experience that touched our family, we may not have ever gotten so active in a cause. Over several years our small donations have added up to make a difference.  This has taught me that anyone can (and should) make a difference].

When you make a donation, regardless of the size, you are a philanthropist.  The final messages from the panel was that we need to create a culture of giving in our community.  Making a difference is not just reserved for the wealthy, but rather something that is available to everyone.  Get in the habit of writing checks and volunteering (bring a friend and bring a child when you volunteer!).

Thank you to Leadership Austin and the panel for a great experience at the Engage Breakfast.

More information about Leadership Austin at

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Monday, December 05, 2011

Oh, If Only Oprah Still Had Her Book Club...."My Twins' First Christmas"

Nine years ago my wife, Sara, kicked off what is now a family tradition. She wrote a book. Her cookbook, "Mad at Martha", which she co-authored with a friend, was a big success.

Then I wrote some books.

Now our oldest daughter is releasing her first book. "My Twins' First Christmas" is available for order just in time for the holidays. Jackie has authored the newest book in the "My Friend Paris" series of children's books. The series was created by her friend, Paris Morris, and Jackie is the fourth author to extend the stories of Paris and her family (which included Paris's real life twin sisters).

While Jackie only has one sister, Kate was a very active baby.  We often joked that she was so active it was similar to keeping up with twins. Many of the stories in the book are based on Kate's early holiday experiences.

(Oh yes, Kate is beginning work on her first book, too.  Coming in 2012...Stay tuned!)


Danville, Calif., December 1, 2011 – The seventh book in the My Friend Paris Series, My Twins’ First Christmas, is now available at booksellers nationwide. It joins “I’m Having Twins”, “My Twins Are Coming Home”, “My Twins’ First Birthday”, “Paris Goes to Lake Tahoe”, “Paris Goes to San Francisco”, and “Paris Goes to Los Angeles”.

These books are based on the real-life experiences of Paris Morris, now a 13-year-old eighth grade student in Danville, Calif. The child author decided to write these full-color illustrated books when she discovered that there were few, if any, children’s books that addressed her concerns about her family’s eminent expansion to include twins. With the number of families with twins and higher-order multiples increasing each year, demand for this content remains high.

My Twins’ First Christmas is written by Paris’ friend Jackie Singer. It is the story of the Morris family’s holiday celebration, now chaotic with the addition of Paris’ sisters. The story is funny given that the twins are active and get into everything within reach. Large and small families can relate to the magic of the season and the little things that create long-lasting memories.

“Christmas has always been a big deal in our house,” says Jackie. “I enjoyed bringing that to life and sharing our experiences. Can you imagine what it’s like with three little girls, two of whom would be content just to rip each and every ornament off the tree?!”

My Twins’ First Christmas is available at and other booksellers. Jackie and Paris are also available to do readings.

About New Year Publishing:  New Year Publishing, LLC was founded in 2004. Its children’s division offers titles to aid parents in teaching life lessons to their offspring. More information on New Year Publishing can be found online at New Year Publishing is headquartered in Danville, Calif.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Is The Audience On Their Phones During A Speech? I Hope So!!!

I was interviewed this week by Diane Mulligan from Mulligan Speakers International about the trend for conference audience members to tweet and check Facebook during presentations.

"Just because someone is smart or they've done something cool doesn't mean they belong on your stage," is a key concept for professional speaker Thom Singer. In this MSI showcase, he talks with Diane Mulligan that professional speakers need to care about their craft, and that meeting planners have to work to vet their speakers to make sure, "that the speaker has experience on the stage."

He cautions that, "if there's no personal connection from the speaker to the audience people are going to get bored," but that good speakers can make that connection. He points out that this speaking skill goes back to ancient times where stories were passed by work of mouth and that this was successful because they told, "stories that mattered to the audience (and) engaged people."

He says he's noticed that with speakers who don't try to make connections with their audience, "Lots of times the speaker is just doing an information dump."

To those who worry that content should be the concern, not the presentation, Singer answers, "It's not too much to ask for both."

Singer also says that when he speaks these days he encourages the audience to bring out their cell phones.
Since technology allows phones to do so much more, and with the rise of social networks like Twitter and Facebook he's found that, "Very often people were actually tweeting what the speaker was saying from the stage."

You can find out more by visiting

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

7 Reasons Meetings Fail

Nobody wants their meeting to be boring.  Meeting planners are among some of the hardest working people on the planet, and the effort that they all put into crafting conferences, trade shows, conventions, seminars and other business events is unparalleled.  They care deeply about the attendee experience, yet sometimes events fall flat.

I have presented at over 300 events (from small local breakfasts to internationals conferences with over 3000 participants), and have attend several thousand other meetings throughout my career.  There have been both great experiences that had lasting impact and ones where my time and money were wasted.

1.  Lack of focus.  Events can happen without a clear purpose.  Maybe the organization has always held an annual gathering and over the years the reasons have changed, but nobody has communicated that to the organizers or attendees.  Other times the idea of a new event gets everyone excited, but there is no clear plan.  When focus is gone, the spark that makes the event interesting is left to chance.

2. Too long.  Some events last longer than needed.  In general there is no "right" amount of time for an event (half day, full day, multi-day, etc...), but an event that goes too long becomes dull.   When organizers are struggling to fill breakout sessions with anyone who can breathe, then the event should be shorter. Over the years the regular attendees stop coming for the whole time, and you will see a huge drop off in the number of people at the final activities.

3. Too short. Other events do not last long enough.  Too much information is crammed into a short agenda where the attendees are overwhelmed without keynotes, breakouts, etc... can leave people tired. Without the right amount of breaks, networking and social activities there is not time to discuss and digest what they learned.  There is more to live events than just information.  If people only wanted the information you could email a white-paper.  The human to human interaction is important and there must be the right amount mixed into the agenda.

4. Same old / same old.  If you have a good thing going, it does not mean it should be repeated exactly each year.  Too many events start to feel like an extension of past events.  Over time people tire of the same agenda, speakers, and activities.  Every year there should be some new aspects added, which might mean retiring some parts of the agenda.  This can involve risk, but without risk there is little reward.

5. Cliques and cronies.  When an organization has "power cliques" who have the power over the details of the event, they often develop a class system.  The leaders who run the show often craft the conference to be an annual reunion for the select few.  They give awards and back-slaps to their friends, and make everyone else feel they are on the outside looking in.  If an organization has cliques and cronies (and most do), they must be made to understand that exclusive behavior hurts the future of the event.

6. The wrong speakers.  A keynote speech is not a commodity.  Two highly experiences presenters on the same topic will have a different affect on the tone of your meeting.  Selecting the speakers for the main stage and breakouts is very important.  Making sure that the presentation has the right mix of information and style is paramount.  Never assume that content alone will be enough.  People want real data from experts, but if the speaker is not able to communicate well it will hurt the whole event.  Remember my mantra: "Just because someone is smart or has done something cool - it does NOT mean they belong on your stage".  It is not too much to ask for great content and the experienced ability to speak to an audience!

7.  No continuation of community.  Humans are experiential beings.  Once we have shared an positive experience together we have a bond.  This is how friendships are made.  While a conference is a "mini-society", it comes to an end.  Without an ongoing way to encourage people to extend their experience beyond the conference there is not community.  TED and SXSW have become iconic conference because they are more than just the live events.  Through use of video, social media, and live regional events throughout the year they keep the society alive.  This is about more than having a Facebook Page!

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Ten Days of Thanksgiving (Day10)

Thanksgiving and the focus we give to appreciation should be more than one day. Really, it should be everyday.

I am going to post about things I am thankful for each day for ten days to keep the feelings of gratitude going.

Day Ten.

I am thankful for you, the folks who read this blog.  While I am not famous, and this blog is not part of the "A-List", there are amazing people who come here often or just stumble past one time. 

I love to write, and it is therapeutic, but without someone reading their words, a writer is never complete.

I am grateful.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Why Entrepreneurs Need To Network

Growing a business can be an all encompassing experience.  Many entrepreneurs put so much attention into their venture that they fail to honor the time to make, grow and keep their business relationships. The immediacy of issues surrounding funding, clients, employees, vendors, regulations, and product specifications leaves little space for things that do not scream traceable "ROI".

There is much written about productivity and protecting time for leaders.  Much of this advice involves identifying the purpose of every activity on the calendar.  With limited hours in the day, and the intensity necessary to run a company it become easy for an entrepreneur to push the cultivation of relationships to a "nice to have" activity instead of a "must have activity".  While time is limited and precious, it is important for the entrepreneur to remember that all opportunities come from people.  If you have the right network in place, most of the challenges faced will quickly be solved through a few well through out phone calls.

However, you cannot wait until you have a need to try to build a relationship.  If the only time you show up at business events or place calls to those you already know is when you have need, you will find it difficult to get the responses you desire.  Building a network takes time, and even in our fast paced digital world you cannot create a friendship through sending a LinkedIn request.

The introductions made by those with whom you have established long-term and mutually beneficial relationships can instantly lead you to the right investor, lawyer, banker, accountant, or other vendor.  It is through people that you can quickly find the necessary employee you need to hire to take your business to the next level.  There are not short cuts to meaningful connections with people who know, like, and trust you and that understand your business.

Entrepreneurs sometimes make the mistake of only wanting to network with other entrepreneurs.  CEO's often seek out groups that only admit other CEO's, but that can be very limiting.  Another business owner will not tell you that they have the best receptionist or sales manager, for fear they may get lured away to other companies.  Plus, you cannot grow and learn when everyone is just like you.  There must be diversity in your network that includes not just race, religions, sex, and age.  You must include diversity of job titles and industries in your network if you want there to be a variety of access to information.

Out of sight is out of mind.  Even when you are busy launching the business or a new product you cannot disappear from your community.  There will come a time when you will need other people, and you cannot expect people to be sitting around waiting for you to call.  You must cultivate the connection always.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

If You Ever Need A Last Minute Back-Up Keynote Speaker (In Texas or Beyond)

Nobody can predict when you might need to quickly find a back-up speaker at the last minute for an event.  Illness, weather, airlines delays and countless other things can go wrong and a speaker is forced to cancel.  

Earlier this year I wrote on this blog about what to do if your speaker cancels at the last minute, and I regularly get hits via Google Search to that article.  Over once a week someone in the world is searching that topic (I come up near the top of the list).

Fortunately it happens very rarely... but it does happen.  I know because I have received the calls to step in at the last minute (with either days or hours notice) several times for meetings and conventions in my hometown of Austin, Texas (and nearby Dallas and San Antonio).

If this ever happens to you (in Austin or beyond), give me a call.  While I spoke 59 times in 2011, if my calendar has an opening I am thrilled be a resource.

My most popular program is called "The Conference Catalyst" and I speak at conferences all over the country.  My message of "choosing people" is well received by over 300 audiences (59 in 2011) covering a variety of industries.   A main reason people attend conferences if for the networking opportunities, but they fail to make meaningful connections once present at the event.  I change that.

The presentation can also be adapted into a keynote or breakout format, and I have other topics that can engage and inspire your audience.

I hope you never need an emergency back-up speaker.... but remember me if the situation arises.

Thom Singer

Friday, December 02, 2011

Ten Days of Thanksgiving (Day 9)

Thanksgiving and the focus we give to appreciation should be more than one day. Really, it should be everyday.

I am going to post about things I am thankful for each day for ten days to keep the feelings of gratitude going.

Day Nine.

I am thankful for my being optimistic and being one who can find the good in most situations. I usually see the world as full of opportunity (although I do get stressed out and lose my way from time to time). I appreciate that I learned young to choose to be happy... even when other choices might be easier.

I normally try not have a negative reaction to situations. I encounter people all the time who too quickly think that others are out to "screw them over" when there a parting of opinions. While I have known some who have taken advantage of me, most of the time misunderstandings are minor and most people I have worked with want to see a mutually beneficial solution.

I am very grateful for knowing so many people who want to watch others find success, and who do not look at the world as a zero-sum game. Those who enjoy knowing everyone can win are the best people to be around!

When I see those who get angry fast, harbor jealousy, or hold grudges over small things I feel bad for them. I am thankful that I discovered that few people are purely "bad". Even in adversary situations I am happy I try to seek understanding.

Anytime I deal with other humans I try to remember that everyone has "there own stuff". We cannot know their entire back-story or intuitively guess what they are thinking and feeling. Yet too many jump to conclusions and this brings problems (I know this because of first-hand experience where I interpreted the exact opposite of reality).

I know it might seem weird that I am thankful for this, but it really does bring me peace of mind (and that matters - maybe that is it... I am thankful for peace in my mind).

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Heart House is now "The BeHive"

Heart House is now known as "The BeHive".  I had the good fortune of having breakfast recently with Anna Land, the founder and CEO of this amazing program.  I used to be a Heart House Board Member (and continue to be a huge fan!), and was excited to learn about all the new and exciting things happening for this fantastic non-profit organization.

The BeHive is a free after-school and summer program dedicated to providing a safe haven and academic support to low income elementary school children, and to encouraging them to become good citizens. The BeHive, formerly known as Heart House in Austin and Houston, is a tightly woven family of dynamic staff, caring volunteers, community collaborators and beloved children and families.

Anna shared with me that 90% of the students received A's and B's in school last year. These elementary school students come from all ethnic backgrounds and regions of the world, and have often seen extreme violence in their neighborhoods and even within their families. Most do not live with both parents; many do not even live with one parent. About 80% of our students live in the immediate area where The BeHive clubhouses are located, creating a positive connection for these children to their community.

The BeHive is growing and will be expanding throughout Texas (and beyond).  They are continuing to seek donations, volunteers and patrons who will spread the word and send good vibes throughout the community.

There are many ways to get involved, including through the professional auxiliary group known as "The Halos".  Reach out to The BeHive today to learn more about how you can have a meaningful impact on children in our community. 

Visit their new website:

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Ten Days of Thanksgiving (Day 8)

Thanksgiving and the focus we give to appreciation should be more than one day. Really, it should be everyday.

I am going to post about things I am thankful for each day for ten days to keep the feelings of gratitude going.

Day Eight.

The experiences we have throughout our lives deeply shape who we become. I am thankful for all the experiences, good and bad, that have allowed me to get to this spot today.

As I thought about the power of experiences the big ones in my life came to mind:

*Getting married

*Having children


*An auto accident

*Writing my first book (and then eight others)

*The highs and low of a lifetime of working / career

*My mother's death

*Appearing on two game shows

*Buying a house

*Kate's surgery

*High school and college


I could write volumes about how these major experiences have impacted me. I am grateful to have lived through my own life and would not be silly enough to desire to trade places with any other person.

However it is not just the milestone experiences that are important. The small things also matter. A smile from you spouse, a giggle from your kids, approval from your parents / siblings, sharing a beer with a friend and hearing about their life, a chance meeting with someone who becomes a mentor, and countless other things that may otherwise go unnoticed. They all matter.

I appreciate those things that I know I am too busy to notice.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer