Friday, July 31, 2009
Networking Karma / Networking Guilt
She told me she had almost skipped the event. It was a busy week and it would have been the "easy thing to do" just going home. However, she knew the Austin Tech Happy Hour was always well attended and a great opportunity to make connections with cool people.
She decided to drive by the event, leaving her attendance up to "Networking Karma". If she was able to find a parking place close to the venue, then the stars were lined up, and she would go inside.
We talked about how often people decide to skip networking events for a variety of reasons, but when they show up, they are usually glad the were there. The only way to reap the benefits from networking is to participate.
I added that when you bail out on attending, then you have the "Networking Guilt". While you are home early, you wonder who you could have seen that might have lead to future opportunities. Or worse - you start thinking about all the connections that were made by your competition who was there having fun and chatting up all your clients and prospects.
She was glad she had attended, and as always, had a great time catching up with old friends and meeting new people.
Have A Great Day.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The ABC's of Public Speaking - T is for Toastmasters
Founded in 1924 in Santa Ana, California, Toastmasters International has grown into the leading organization in the world in helping people become more competent and comfortable in front of an audience. Great speaking talent needs to be cultivated and practiced, and joining a Toastmasters group in your local community will provide you with a venue and a peer group that will allow you to expand your communication capabilities.
With over 250,000
I joined Toastmasters nearly twenty years ago and openly share that it was the best career decision I ever made. Being able to speak well in front of an audience led me to several job opportunities and into my career as an author and professional speaker. While most readers of this blog post will not have the desire to speak for a living, having better confidence and poise when delivering a presentation will lead you to more success in any field.
Many large corporations have established internal Toastmasters Clubs that are exclusive for their employees, as smart employers realize that providing the tools that help the individual also helps the company.
Toastmasters meetings are comprised of approximately 20 people who take on a variety of roles during the one hour meeting. Participants assignments range from delivering a prepared speech, an impromptu presentation, timing, evaluating, or serving as the leader of the meeting. There is no instructor; instead, each speech and meeting is critiqued by a members in a positive manner, focusing on what was done right and what could be improved.
You can find more information and search for a Toastmasters Club near you at www.toastmasters.org.
Have A Great Day.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Can Reviewing Your Company's Benefits Plan Save Big Bucks?
The following is a case study from my former employer, vcfo (and their vhr group), and Penco (an Austin based general contractor)..
Austin, TX (From PRWEB) July 28, 2009 -- Penco, a rapidly growing nationwide general contractor, partnered with vcfo, a professional services firm, to get top-notch human resources expertise and services without building an internal HR department.
Penco CEO and President Bob Renneker decided to seek outside HR assistance when the company began to grow quickly. "We were experiencing significant growth, but weren't ready to commit to a full-time HR department. vhr solutions from vcfo provided the perfect solution -- we continue to benefit from their deep human resources experience working with multiple clients, while paying for only what we need."
Over the course of the partnership, vhr has revamped the employee benefits program, performed a 401K review and update, implemented manager training and a performance management program, selected and implemented a Human Resources Information System (HRIS), and provided significant guidance on corporate restructuring. Working with the vhr team, Penco plans to continue improving the work environment for employees by rolling out an enhanced safety program this year.
About vhr and vcfo
vhr is a suite of human resource solutions from vcfo, a professional services firm that offers a customized team model to assist companies with finance, accounting, recruiting and human resources needs. vcfo uses a custom approach to create an optimal, flexible team of highly trained vcfo employees to address your particular requirements. Not only do you get the right level of resource, but you pay only for the time you need it.
As trusted advisors to the CEO and management team, vcfo team members across the country use our original platform, industry best practices and proven methodologies to help solve the most complex operational business issues. vcfo is based in Austin, Texas with regional offices in Dallas, Denver and Seattle. For more information, please visit www.vcfo.com.
Penco is a nationwide general contractor and has served the renovation and catastrophe restoration needs of multifamily owners and management companies since 1970. Penco has successfully produced over 15,000 projects and simultaneously works on more than 100 projects in dozens of cities across the nation every day. To learn more about Penco, please visit www.pencoinc.com.
Monday, July 27, 2009
The ABC's of Public Speaking - S is for Stage Time
If you want to have better speaking skills you need to regularly be up in front of people giving speeches. There is nothing that will advance your abilities faster than delivering a high number of presentations. If you only present a few times a year it will take you much longer to see improvement compared to the person who speaks several times a month.
The higher the number of speeches you give, the more material you will have to review. Additionally you will find that with more experience you will become much more comfortable on the platform.
Professional stand-up comics call it "stage time". If you want to hone your skills and practice new techniques, there is no other way to do this that to be on stage. Comics spend a lot of time looking for comedy clubs that will give them even short amounts of time to test their material. They will drive for mile on any given night to get to venues where they can tell their jokes. (The leading magazine of stand-up comics is titled "Stage Time").
There are many organizations who are always looking for speakers who can deliver interesting information to their members. They do not usually have budgets to hire professional speakers, but need to provide informative programs. To do this they utilize people from the community to speak on a variety of topics. Business clubs such as Chambers of Commerce, Rotary, The Association of Corporate Growth and many others may be venues for professionals to speak. If you are not a business speaker, there are countless groups which are focused on other subjects who desire to find good speakers for their meetings..
In order to get invited to speak to these groups you need to develop a reputation for your presentation skills and position yourself as an expert on your topic. These organizations get many inquiries from people who want to speak, and they are wary of speakers who want to sell products or services from the stage. Many people belong to multiple groups, thus once they see you do a great job in one place, they will tell others about you.
Yes, it is a little bit of a "chicken and the egg" story. You need to be good to get speaking gigs, and you need speaking gigs to get good.
Tell people in your network that you are available to speak for local groups. Be certain to inform those people whom you know are active members in several organizations. Let them know your topic and that you are focused on providing useful information on your topic. Be sure they know that you are not just looking for a chance to deliver a commercial for your company from their stage.
Once you have talked to multiple organizations you will find it becomes easier to find other speaking opportunities.
The more you speak, the better speaker you will become. Seek out your own "stage time".
Have A Great Day
Sunday, July 26, 2009
"Smart Visibility" Seminar - August 6th (Austin, Texas)
In today's challenging economic times, nobody can ignore their personal brand and professional network. Intelligently building your reputation in the business community and utilizing all information resources to discover opportunities is paramount to success. Competition is more intense than ever, and decision makers are bombarded with choices. If you are looking for your next customer or your next career, how you cultivate your network and present yourself can make all the difference.
Please join the Austin Business Journal for this interactive and informative seminar and breakfast.
Topics will include:
- Creating a personal brand
- Learning how to uncover business opportunities
- Following up and establishing ongoing conversations
- Making a difference
When: Thursday, August 6
Where: 111 Congress Ave 8th Floor, parking is available at parking meters or Austin Convention Center Parking Garage for $7.00
Speaker: Thom Singer
7:15 to 7:45 am Registration, Networking & Breakfast
7:45 to 8:30 am Smart Visibility Seminar
CLICK HERE to sign up.
Reservation deadline is August 4 at 5:00 pm CST.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
What To Do After A Conference
- You sat through keynote talks and breakout sessions while filling your notebook with countless brilliant ideas that you know will have a material impact on your career.
- You visited the trade show and encountered vendors who had products and services that inspired your mind for new ways of doing business.
- You met dozens of people, with whom you "clicked", that are excelling in your field.
If you do not take action within the first week of returning home, you may never benefit from the opportunities that have come into your life.
To make sure that you seize the power from the experience, you must do four things within the first seven days: Review. Brainstorm. Execute. Follow-up.
1. Review. Take a few hours to go through your notes and review all the nuggets of information you wrote down and prioritize them. You can either re-type your notes, or use a highlighter if you have them on paper. Focus your mind on the points that can have the highest level of impact on your future.
2. Brainstorm. Find a quiet place and think about all the information, ideas, examples and people that you ran across at the conference, seminar, or convention. Imagine how you can take unrelated concepts from what you heard and connect them to your own business. Additionally, think about the people you met and how you can work with them in the future, or whom you can introduce them to where there would be a benefit for connections beyond yourself.
3. Execute. Make a "To-Do List" of the top ten things the you can (and will) do immediately. Now do them.
4. Follow-up. Meeting someone one time does not make them part of your network. Meeting someone once makes them "someone you have met". There is a huge difference between a person you met and a mutually beneficial contact where you both know each other and understand how you can help one another in the future. You need to own the follow-up if you wish to cultivate an ongoing relationship. Emails, handwritten notes, Facebook, Twitter, etc... are all ways to facilitate ongoing contact. I suggest that you take the extra time to send handwritten notes to the few people who really stood out in your mind. (Only once do you need to do this, you can use electronic mediums after that first contact!). This will show that you took the time to go beyond the short-cut filled digital world that we all have come to know and love.... and that they matter to you. (Note: If you did not get their business card, or they only had email contact info on their card, then digital contact is fine!).
Attending industry conferences can be a lot of fun and very educational. They are also a great way to make contact with others in your line of work. But if you do not take action after the event, you will miss the chance to maximize your ROI. You will also forgo making some great life-long friends. All opportunities come from people, and you never know who will be able to make a difference in your future.
Have A Great Day.
Friday, July 24, 2009
The sold-out luncheon featured local celebrity Ambassador Karen Hughes as the keynote speaker. While I have lived in Austin for two decades, I had never had the chance to see Mrs. Hughes speak before. WOW. She had a great way of blending her internal government experience with her Texas charm. Great presentation!
Three good friends of mine were amongst the women of distinction who were honored this year. I would like to use this space on my blog to tell them CONGRATULATIONS.
Marny Lifshen. Marny is a long-time friend and the co-author of "Some Assembly Required: A Networking Guide for Women". She is a communications consultant and a professional speaker who is being hired by corporate women's initiatives programs throughout the country to help inspire professionals to excel.
Kerri Qunell. Kerri is the Vice President of Communications for the Capitol Area Food Bank. I have known her for over 15 years. Early in our careers we shared an office when we both worked at the Austin Chamber of Commerce. It was a small office, and she put up with my loud voice... which is the sign of a good friend!
Ellen Wood. Ellen is the co-founder and CEO of vcfo. I worked for Ellen for two years and admired the way she has grown her company in good times and bad. Before I worked at vcfo, Ellen and I had known each other when we were both on the board of TEXCHANGE. I learned a lot from working with her, and am pleased to have her as a friend.
Congratulations to Marny, Kerri, Ellen, and the other 22 winners of the 2009 Profiles in Power Award.
Have A Great Day.
The ABC's of Public Speaking - R is for Review
The process of evaluation is the most powerful tool that is used by Toastmasters International (see "T is for Toastmasters"... coming soon in this series). When a presenter can get timely and constructive feedback from someone who witnessed their presentation, they become aware of the little things that are working and not working in with their structured talk and their speaking style.
Ask a friend of co-worker to attend your speech and to take notes on the best and worst pieces of the overall program. If you can find someone who is an experienced speaker and / or a member or former member of Toastmasters you will receive the most useful input. A person with the speaking experience will instantly identify the areas where you can quickly improve.
If you are an executive who will be doing several presentations for your job, you may want to consider hiring a "speech coach". Investing the time and money in working with a professional coach will allow you to discover your natural speaking style and fine tune faster. Many assume that they are good speakers because they have risen up the corporate ladder, but the reality is that many executives are not nearly as good as they think they are on stage, and would benefit from the advice of a coach.
Beyond having someone else review your performance, you need to evaluate yourself. If the presentation is recorded by the organization who asked you to speak, request a digital copy of the audio or video. If the talk will not be recorded, consider bringing your own video camera and having a co-worker record you. A simple hand-held camera from the front row will give you enough of the view point you need to see yourself as the audience does. Watching yourself on video and listening to your voice will allow you to better understand what you are doing right, as well as painfully emphasize the area you must work on.
Reviewing your presentation and talking with others about your style and skills will allow you to achieve your goals to expand your presentation quality. If you never know your strength and weaknesses, you cannot improve.
Have A Great Day.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Would You Work For Free?
She started the conversation by saying I was highly recommended by another firm, and was excited to have me speak at their monthly breakfast meeting.
When we got to the part about my fee the conversation took an interesting turn. With the current state of the economy, the managing partner was only interested in my presentation if I would speak for free (or thereabouts).
I wonder if this is advice they are giving their clients in regards to working with lawyers??? .... search for free or discounted legal advice until the economy turns around (I do not believe that is a good idea, FYI!). My guess is that in not what they would suggest.
While discussing the value which any vendor provides is a good idea, and negotiation is part of business, I think asking for "free" might be too much. That being said, it never hurts to ask... as the other person can always so "NO".
Had they been a "not-for-profit", I might have been more open to the discussion, but last time I checked, these attorneys were seeking profits for their firm.
I share this more as a rant than a post where I am going to give advice on value, pricing, etc...
Your comments are welcome and appreciated.
Have A Great Day.
The ABC's of Public Speaking - Q is for Q&A
Traditionally at the end of a presentation a speaker will leave time for questions from the audience. Many people who only speak on occasion never give any thought to this important part of their presentation. They assume that there will be many hands up from curious people who want to hear more of their wisdom. They are sure there will be more questions than there will be time after they wrap up the talk.
The problem here is that the Q&A portion of your speech is the final thing that the audience will experience, and thus it is one of the most memorable parts of your whole presentation. Without planning, you are leaving your legacy of the talk to chance.
One mistake that you can make is to run long and talk through the allotted time and need to skip the Q&A part altogether. People plan to be able to get back to the office or another appointment, and thus ending on time is important. Talking up to the end of the meeting leaves many in the audience feeling cheated (I did this yesterday, and while the presentation was well received, I felt bad for running long and not having time for Q&A). Plan your speech so that you have enough time for audience questions.
The bigger issue is when you end your remarks with ten or fifteen minutes remaining and you ask the audience for questions and you receive a room full of blank stares. Nobody raises their hand and there is an uncomfortable pause until the person in charge leaps up and closes the meeting or awkwardly tosses out a weak question to try to throw you a lifeline.
The best thing to do is to plan ahead for questions. Ask a friend in advance if they would ask a question about a specific topic you would like to expend upon. It is best to be up front with them that it often takes someone to get the Q&A session moving along, and that if there is not any hands up right away, you would appreciate them jumping in. Once one or two people ask intelligent questions it lifts the veil of fear from over the rest of the audience. Some people are shy and being the first person to ask a question is difficult for them. Being the second or third one to raise their hand is much easier.
Additionally you should have a list of questions that other audiences have asked you about your topic. If nobody raises an inquiry when you request audience questions, you can jump right in with "the most common question I get on this topic is....." and then go into your answer. This, too, can help loosen up the audience and get you more hands up from the crowd.
Always have a Q&A closing remark. Occasionally an audience member could ask you a tough question, or one where the answer has a negative tone. You do not want to end your remarks on a dark note, so you should have an upbeat close or a positive challenge to the audience that you deliver after your answer to the final question. This will leave them in the right state of mind and more excited about your presentation.
Have A Great Day
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Batteries Not Included: 66 Tips to Energize Your Career
66 Tips to Energize Your Career
My newest book is now available for pre-order!!!
I just got word from the printer that the books have shipped. They will arrive at the warehouse in a few days, and then be shipped to Amazon.com
With uncertainty in the economy, both those how are searching for jobs as well as those who are employed are all hoping for little tid-bits, tips, inspirations, ideas, and that spark that gets their career back on track. This book will hopefully be part of that arsenal that can help energize anyone.
Have A Great Day.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
The ABC's of Public Speaking - P is for PowerPoint
PowerPoint should be a tool to enhance the quality of your presentation, not a distraction.
The use of multi-media presentation graphic software by speakers has been standard for nearly two decades. Microsoft's PowerPoint has been the norm, but there are others on the market including Apple's Keynote, and Google Presentation.
The replacement of clear plastic transparencies on an overhead projector or a flip-chart brought with it an amazing visual tool that added to the audience experience. However, it also brought forth really horrible practices by speakers that can sink the effectiveness of a presentation.
The use of PowerPoint makes if simple to create visually pleasing, compelling, and colorful slide decks and drop in charts, photographs and video clips. Pre-made templates or simple customizations are available, as well as more complex unique background development available. PowerPoint allows easy last-minute changes to any presentation.
The problems with the use of PowerPoint are many. Whole books and presentations have been written about how speakers misuse and abuse the use of presentation software, including Seth Godin's wildly popular free e-book "Really Bad PowerPoint" (available for free on the internet by searing "Really Bad PowerPoint"). The most important thing to remember is that the PowerPoint slide is not there to communicate your message. You are giving a speech, not providing the audience with a group reading experience.
Here are 7 reminders of what NOT to do when using PowerPoint:
1. Do not use too much text. Keep the number of bullet points to a minimum (maximum of five per slide). The word count per bullet as short as possible (about 6 or 7 words at the most). The use of a slide in not intended to transfer the knowledge to the audience, but instead to be a gentle reminder for the speaker as to next point you will elaborate upon. It should jog your memory for the next story you will tell, not tell make your point.
2. Do not use complex charts or graphs. Simple pie charts or bar graphs do a great job of making a point about a statistic or trend. Detailed charts that make the audience squint and use their mathematical skills to deduce a conclusion will take away from your presentation. If your chart cannot immediately be understood, do not put it in your presentation.
3. Do not use wild backgrounds, animations or sounds. Your slide presentation should not be a Vaudeville style entertainment program. Using too many flying graphics or other distracting transitions will cause your PowerPoint to take over the attention from your audience. The spoken words should be the centerpiece of the presentation, not bells ringing each time you advance to the next slide.
4. Never read from your slides. Turning your back on the audience for any reason is usually a bad idea. Doing it to read from your PowerPoint will make you appear unprepared. This is your presentation and you should know the material well enough that the bullet on the screen is a clear reminder of the important point you wish to share.
5. Do not pass out your PowerPoint slides as handouts in advance of your presentation. If you give the audience your PowerPoint in advance, they will skim ahead of your as your speak and look ahead for important thoughts that you will be sharing. By tipping them off to all of your information in advance, you will remove the power you have of weaving them along the path of your presentation.
6. Do not use cheesy clip art. While visuals are an important element of your presentation, they should add to the presentation, not just be there for the sake of having a graphic. While the right photograph on a slide can help to emotionally connect with the soul of a person, a generic stick figure with an automated graphic dance will just look silly.
7. Do not skip past slides. Prepare in advance for the length of your presentation. Audiences feel cheated if you click past parts of your presentation in an effort to get back on schedule. Pay attention to your time frame when creating your slide deck and avoid getting distracted while speaking. If you are off track and need to skip ahead, know in advance the number of a slide toward the end of your presentation that will lead you to your powerful conclusion. Then press "#" (pound) and the "number of your desired slide" to jump ahead. If done right you will arrive at the later slide without the audience knowing you left out information.
If used correctly, PowerPoint will keep you on track and impact the power in the delivery of your presentation. Do not think that you always need to use slides in your presentation, as a good speaker can have an impact on his audience by making emotional connections with or without visual aids. PowerPoint can add to the emotional transfer, but it is up to you to express the passion from inside yourself. A graphic cannot do this for you.
BONUS TIP: Purchase your own remote control to advance your slide. Do not rely on the company or organization who asked you to speak to have a "clicker", or that the one they provide will have fresh batteries. Having your own remote will make you familiar with where the button is that advances or goes in reverse. Many a speaker has been thrown off by having to fiddle with his computer "enter" button to advance slides or scream "NEXT SLIDE" to some volunteer.
Have A Great Day.
Yes, I Cried
His powerful story about surviving a 1972 plane crash in the Andes Mountains when he was 19 years old left no dry eyes in the house.
The survivors were all young men (ages 18 - 20) who were members of a Uruguayan rugby team. Amongst those who died were Nando's mother and sister. The search was abandoned after 8 days, as it was believed that nobody could survived at the high altitude and the below freezing temperatures. They lived for 72 days before help arrived.
His book, "Miracle in the Andes", recounts the details, as well as a 1993 movie, "Alive". It is a true story of courage, teamwork, leadership and determination. But the raw emotion and genuine honesty of this man telling his story live in front of 2000 people was more impactful than I can describe in this blog post.
My experience at the NSA 2009 Convention has been amazing. Mr. Parrado's presentation reminded me that while speaking style, voice, tone, PowerPoint images and stage presence are important, .... that is is the presenter's honesty, emotion, authenticity and willingness to speak from the heart that makes the difference.
Have A Great Day.
Monday, July 20, 2009
The ABC's of Public Speaking - O is for Open
O is for Open
When you desire to make a connection with an audience, you must open your heart and soul. If you are trying to speak as the "expert" and hiding your real self behind a facade, the people will know that you are not being real.
Show your audience your personal side, even in a business presentation. Expose pieces of your personal life and your past mistakes and vulnerabilities, as this will make you easier for the average person to relate to you as a human being.
Too often speakers mistakenly think that they need to appear that they have all the answers. They feel that if they do not seem in control, they will lose the respect of those listening. I believe the opposite is true. If you do not show all of yourself, then you will not be trusted.
Authenticity is what makes an audience connect to a speaker.
Also be open to the eclectic nature of those in the crowd. Anytime there is a gathering you must remember that everyone comes to the group with their own history, experiences, education, preconceived ideas, thoughts, desires and expected outcomes. In most cases the speaker cannot change the views of the audience in one presentation. Thus, you must be open minded to the reality that your audience may have a different perspectives. This is not about right and wrong, it about different. Be open to accepting others.
Be cautious to never be dismissive of the audience's views or make them feel you see their ideas as irrelevant. If you are speaking on a controversial topic, or one that can fuel emotions, be sure to accept that your opinion is one of many. Let them know you are open to the conflicting positions.
While there is certainly a time and a place for persuasive speech, make sure that your venue is correct for such a presentation. When challenging others to change their stance, you must make sure to be respectful of them.
Open yourself up to making connections with the people in your audience. All opportunities come from people, so be welcoming to those who you encounter at your presentation, as they might provide you with a path to your next big thing.
Have A Great Day.
The Best Professional Speakers In The World
Present at the conventions were famous authors and entertainers, and others who are not household names. Some were three decade veterans on the platform, while others were just exploring the business. Most were strong personalities (in a good way!). The majority have a servants heart and soul with a burning desire to help change the world for the better. A couple were stuck-up ego-maniacs (oh well, every group has a few!). Overall it was an inspirational group of really great people. I feel lucky to have been in attendance.
Day Two was a good day full of seminars, presentations, serendipitous connections, networking, and "ah ha" revelations for my own speaking career..
The two best speakers of the day (I saw many people present) were Josh Sundquist and Brendon Bouchard. Both men are young, driven professionals with strong speaking styles. They have interesting personal stories that have brought them success, but additionally they are both genuine people who care. That comes through beyond the words they uttered from the stage. (Note to people hiring speakers.... get to know the person beyond their brochure and websites, as the person's inner being makes a difference in how they connect with your audience!).
Josh lost his leg to cancer when he was a kid and went on to compete in the Parlympic Games as part of the US Ski Team. He weaved his personal story in with his contagious enthusiasm and humor to keep the audience laughing and learning.
I first met Brendon two years ago when I saw him speak at another conference. At the time he struck me as an amazing talent and I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours with him and his staff. I wrote about him here after we met the first time. This time I just had the chance to say "hi", as he had a line of people out the door wanting to shake his hand and talk to him. I try never to take up too much time from a speaker after their talk... but I would have welcomed having more of a catch up with Brendon, as he is a good guy. He does a great job of sharing valuable information in his presentation without blatantly trying to sell the audience on his larger coaching programs, etc... He is naturally generous.
There were several other great speakers, but Brendon and Josh were head and shoulders the stand outs on Day Two (just my opinion, but I have spent several years studying thousands of speakers that I have witnessed on stage. I call it "Speaker's College" every time I get to see anyone deliver a presentation - - professional speakers or not. I go beyond listening to their words and witness the whole persona. While opinions are subjective, these two gentlemen were really good!!!).
Lunch was spent with the NSA XY Group. This congregation of speakers from Generations X and Y has involved a lot of open discussions, best practice exchanges and high energy people. The folks who have organized this sub-group have been the most welcoming and friendly that I met at the conference. Being new to the association, I did not know what to expect from attending the convention.... but from the moment I got there I encountered people who made me feel at home (in NSA XY and beyond!). Those participating in this group are both new to the business and seasoned industry veterans. All in the room were excited and willing to help their peers expand their success as professional speakers.
I had dinner with Tony Simons, Raeus Cannon, Bill Jawitz, Erik Lehmann and Tim Koch. The group all met floating in the "Lazy River" at the hotel pool, and took advantage of the chance meeting to network and share information, ideas, and best practices. The conversation covered everything from the status of the speaking industry, our NSA experiences, options available to publish, produce and write a book, politics (U.S. Government politics and NSA politics), and every other imaginable topic. The best value I have received from attending this conference came from the conversations I had with others whom I randomly encountered.
I have always believed that it is imperative for those who want to succeed in any industry to participate in professional organizations. I had some other speakers and trainers, whom I know, ask me in advance of the conference why I had joined NSA, and why I was attending the annual convention. One told me; "I don't market or sell myself to other speakers... why would I spend money to go to a meeting with 2000+ speakers? -- What does that bring to me?". Well the answer is so complex that it will take another whole blog post (maybe I will write that in a few days!). Lets just say that if someone does not see the value in a strong network of peers, then I know a good book for them to read!
Have a great day.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
National Speakers Association Conference First Day
Highlights of Day One:
The first person I met was Ann Bloch. Ann is a 24 year NSA veteran and had a lot of great advice in our brief meeting about how to get the most out of the NSA Convention. She also shared with me many nuggets of information she had gained from her years as an author, speaker and business communications consultant.
I then had lunch with Clint Greenleaf from Greenleaf Book Group. Clint lives in Austin, but it took a 1500 mile trip to Arizona to get us scheduled for lunch. We ate at In 'n' Out Burger.... which being a native of So Cal is a historical staple for me. My friends and I hung out at In 'n' Out in high school.... so I know the "Double Double" very well. The food was great, and the conversation was even better. Clint is a classy guy and very helpful.
I also attended the meeting for the NSA XY Group. This sub-group brings together professional speakers who are "Generation X" and "Generation Y" for discussions around best practices and other tid-bits of information that impact younger speakers. I was the oldest person in the meeting (nearly 50 people), but related directly to the subjects discussed (maybe I am young at heart, even though I am on the "old" end of Gen X!!!).
The official opening keynote event for the convention was amazing. "The Passing Zone" kicked off the evening with the entertainment. As someone who has dedicated much of the last decade to observing the best talent in the speaking business, I thought these guys were spectacular. If you are not familiar with Jon and Owen (the dynamic duo who makes up "The Passing Zone"), you have missed out. To call them "jugglers" undermines the power of the message they brought to the audience. Their humor and underlying message made a memorable impact on everyone... in between flying chainsaws!!!
Finally the evening was highlighted by Vince Posente. Vince is one of the most engaging professional speakers to grace the stage at NSA or any other conference. He is a former Olympic speed skater and business professional who has a powerful message for the audience. He filled the room with more than his words... instead he sparked each person with the hope and desire they needed to be more than they were before.
I walked away from "Day One" of the NSA Conference inspired by the speakers, and infused with the message that you need to have fun in your life, regardless of your career. If you are just going through the required motions, you will never have the passion that gets others fired up to be part of your cause. Both "the Passing Zone" and Vince Posente demonstrated what it takes to be amazing.
Have A Great Day.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Wall Street Wizard Peter Kuper Speaks at Austin, TX Chapter of ISSA
Mr. Kuper has been covering the software industry for over a decade. He was the lead software analyst at Morgan Stanley where he wrote a number of industry-defining reports and market-moving stock calls. Previously, he was a director and equity analyst at SG Cowen, where he covered the software sector with a particular focus on security. He has also been an equity analyst and vice president at FAC/Equities and a research analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods.
His talk was hard-hitting and to the point about the effect of the current economic conditions on IT and beyond. While there is a lot of buzz about recovery and stabilization, Kuper warned the audience "not so fast". The underlying issues cross industry lines and impact nearly every area of the international economy and the artificial propping up by the government over the past several years have only delayed the inevitable corrections that we are now experiencing.
His slides showed the details of how consumers over-borrowed and under saved for over a decade, taking consumer debt to record highs. Now delinquency rates of mortgages, credit cards and other consumer debt vehicles are also happening in all-time levels. People are defaulting on mortgage payments like never before..
Unemployment rates are growing, and the current government stimulus packages were constructed with 8% unemployment figures as the benchmark. We are now exceeding these levels, with 12% unemployment a strong possibility. Added to this is that these numbers only include those who are reported as out of work. Many, including Kuper, believe the real numbers could be as high as twice that number.
No jobs means no spending, and historically the corporate IT spending levels mirror the consumer spending numbers. With these looking grim over the next several quarters, the outlook for the technology industry will continue to be strained.
Public and private companies are feeling the pressure from investors, VC's and Wall Street to cut expenses and continue to gain new customers. This give cash-rich buyers negotiation power in all industries. Buyers should be looking to push vendors for more value from their relationships. If your company is looking to sell on a transactional basis, you will lose. Companies of all sizes are demanding those they buy from become partners who provide additional value and assist them in discovering more ways to achieve productivity.
Buyer can take advantage of these tough times and play competitors against each other to ensure they are getting the best deal possible. Nobody can afford to lose clients or marketshare during these rough times.
This is a reminder to all of us... regardless of what you are selling.... you must be delivering extra value to all your customers or they will replace you!!!!
As an employee, the advice is the same: Provide extra value or live with the risk of being cut. Lay-offs are still coming, and those who are idle have targets on them. Those who are seen as having "extra capacity" are an expense to their employer. Look for ways to attach yourself to ongoing and important projects that can help the company's bottom line. Think out of the box to discover ways to "make up" your salary (either by finding the company major cost savings or additional revenue).
Everyone (companies and individuals) should be tapping into their networks to connect with best practices from their peers. Find what works, and has not worked, in other companies and implement them in your own firm. Your network is even more important in these economic conditions that at any other time.
While Kuper's message that there is no "V" shaped recovery was not up-beat, it was a realistic reminder that we have a long way to go before this economy bounces off the bottom. Nobody likes bad news, but having a stronger understanding is the key to position yourself and your company for when the next boom does get here!
Have A Great Day.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
The Entrepreneurial Lawyer
To succeed in today's legal profession an attorney must embrace all aspects of running a business. Even if your name is not on the door, it is necessary to understand the issues around finance, HR, marketing, sales, networking, PR, commercial real estate, insurance, healthcare costs, business planning, succession planning, etc....
These are areas that are not taught in law school. Few Bar Associations are encouraging continuing education in practical business skills. Many progressive schools and Bar Associations do offer elective courses in practice management disciplines, but they are the exception... not the rule.
Most lawyers want to be a "rainmaker" and a desire book of business that will allow them control over the opportunities that impact their future. But many are unclear on what steps are needed to advance their practice and develop business relationships.
The small things matter in establishing a personal brand in any profession (this goes beyond the legal world). While doing good work is important, it is just the ticket to play in the game. Most people assume if you deliver the proper levels of service, success will follow. "If you build it, they will come!".
Yet to really get to the top, you must determine what it takes to stand out from the competition.
Viewing yourself as an entrepreneur is the first step in achieving your long-term success in growing your legal practice. Regardless of what you do for a living, if you want to excel you must have control of your own destiny (think entrepreneurship!).
Have A Great Day.
***I currently have openings for two additional coaching clients (not limited to lawyers). The ten week (five meetings -- in person or by phone) will help you identify where you are in regards to your networking, branding, marketing, and PR efforts. Additionally we will chart a course that will help you work toward achieving your future goals. Contact me at thom (at) thomsinger (dot) com or 512-970-0398 for more information.
The ABC's of Public Speaking - N is for Networking
When you are the speaker at an event you will have an above average opportunity to meet and make connections with the a variety of interesting people who are in the audience. Those who make presentations are often granted high levels of credibility, and thus will be sought out before and after the speech by people who are interested in shaking their hand and talking about the presentation.
All opportunities come from people, and you never know who you might meet that could become a valuable contact. Take advantage of your mini-celebrity status during an event to make connections with others. Always be interested in others and ask them questions about themselves, as if the whole conversation is just about you and your presentation, you will miss the chance to make a mutually beneficial connection.
Plan ahead before your presentation to maximize effective networking. Know who is going to present at the event and make plans to seek out any people whom you would like to meet. Ask the event organizer for a copy of the RSVP list a few days in advance, or arrive early and review the name tags.
Participate in the networking that takes place before the event gets started. Often the speaker uses this time to set up the PowerPoint projector or make other preparations. Arrive early enough to get equipment and props set up before people arrive and then actively socialize with the crowd before the event. In addition to quality networking opportunities, you will be able to learn interesting information about the organization and individuals that you can weave into your presentation.
Be sure that you bring plenty of business cards when you speak. You never want to run out of cards when you are shaking hands and socializing with those in attendance at your presentation. Not haveing cards will make you appear unprepared or uninterested in the people that you meet. Meeting a person one time does not make them part of your network. It takes several interaction to establish a real relationship, and thus a business card is an important tool for instigating a future follow up.
Allow plenty of time after the event to talk with people. While you may not be accustomed to being the center of attention, do not shy away from talking with those who seek you out after your presentation concludes. Some speakers create problems for themselves by scheduling other meetings too soon after a speech and thus have to leave quickly following the conclusion of their remarks. This will be viewed as rude by audience members who would like the chance to meet you. Spend as much time as necessary to allow everyone who desires shaking your hand to do so. Always be friendly and polite to everyone, as that will impact how they remember your speech.
If you do meet someone interesting, be sure to get their business card and then follow up with them in a timely manner. The biggest mistake in networking is not following up with the people you meet whom you would like to get to know better. Own the follow up and send an email or a handwritten note telling them you enjoyed meeting them at the event, and plan for a future contact.
Have A Great Day.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
The ABC's of Public Speaking - M is for Memorize
There is nothing worse than sitting in the audience listening to a speaker read their speech. I am always shocked when presenters go verbatim from a script or have to refer to their notes every fifteen seconds.
I am not suggesting that you must to memorize your entire talk, but you should know your material well enough that your notes or your PowerPoint slides are used to keep you on track, not as the center piece of your attention.
The thought of memorization makes people nervous. They fear that it will be too difficult or that they will fail in their efforts and be alone on stage with no brain wave activity. Nobody wants to forget their way when giving a speech, and thus they grab hold of notes and never let go.
The reality is that you do not need to memorize everything in your presentation to have that natural delivery style. To be effective you should put your attention into memorizing the opening, the close and your signature stories.
When you begin speaking you will have only about a minute to gain the attention of the audience. If you have a strong opening and deliver it with confidence and style, you will capture their interest and create a level of expectation.
The same is true with your conclusion. The audience will remember you most for your closing remarks and call to action than for any other part of your talk. Hit them with a strong and energetic finale and you will have more of an impact than if you just read your way to the end.
Having signature stories are also a powerful way to impact your audience. These are stories that are relevant to your topic and that you have memorized and practiced over time so that you can deliver them with captivating poise.
Many novice speakers worry about telling the same stories in subsequent presentations, as they fear that some in the audience will have seen them before, and thus will feel it is repetitive. The reality is that you will rarely have too many repeat audience members at your speeches, and those who have seen you in the past will not be critical if some of your material is the same each time. Professional speakers will often have powerful anecdotes which they weave into all presentations, as they know that these gems will impact the audience.
Put the time into developing and memorizing your beginning, ending and signature stories and do not refer to your notes or slides while delivering these forceful flashes of fancy. Look right into the eyes of the audience and make the connection with their hearts. If you do this correctly, you can use notes throughout the rest of your time on stage and most people will think you have memorized the entire presentation.
Have A Great Day.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Entrepreneurs' Organization Accelerator Program - Austin, Texas
The Austin Chapter of the Entrepreneurs' Organization has a great program called "EO Accelerator" aimed at helping growth oriented business professionals take their company to the next level.
If your company is between $250,000 and $1 Million per year in annual revenues, this is a program you may want to know more about. (Entrepreneurs with organizations over $1 Million in annual sales are eligible for full membership in EO).
I interviewed Jeffrey Stukuls, CEO of Medwing about the EO Accelerator Program. Jeffrey is a member of EO and the local person in charge of Accelerator.
TS - Tell me about EO and why you joined?
JS - Entrepreneurs Organization is better described as Entrepreneurs Only. It's a peer group of company founders who are eager to learn & grow - both personally & business growth. I joined because I was looking for people who could relate to the issues business leaders face daily.
Running a business is strangely a lonely process & one that feels like walking on the edge of the unknown a lot. I had been looking for such a group for a while when I read an article in the Wall Street Journal which talked about the Forum experience, a benefit of EO.
Forums are subset groups of local EO chapters that meet monthly and dive deep into business, personal & family issues - in order to learn by other's experience. My Forum experience has paid huge dividends over the past 1 1/2 years.
TS - What is your role with Accelerator?
JS - I chair the Accelerator Program on the EO Board this year. Effectively I'm the EO Austin Accelerator Champion. I'm responsible for driving the program - its growth, development, and actual performance. I'm putting together a group of people who are going to take the program to greater heights and make Austin's programs one of the best in the country.
TS - Why did you agree to take on this role?
JS - Since I got involved with Accelerator I've had huge personal/business benefits. The energy that participants bring is unparalleled and is a huge "E juice" boost every time I'm involved with them. The materials we cover have opened my eyes to gaps in what I've been doing and I'm
sure had I been exposed to the materials when I started I'd be way, way ahead of where I am now.
Both of these - energy & information - combined have totally reinvigorated my perspective on my business. So taking on a leadership role in the program offered me a chance to give more. And I've found that by giving more I seem to get more - especially in my personal development.
TS - What is Accelerator? How long has the program existed both nationally and in Austin?
JS - EO Accelerator is a member group that EO sponsors as a way of helping first-stage entrepreneurs get to the next level. First stage is defined as Gross Revenues of $250,000 - $1,000,000. The program is designed for entrepreneurs who want to grow & are looking for a great peer group experience, want to network with successful entrepreneurs, and learn from high-impact learning events. There are annual dues to belong and who can join is a fairly selective process - we want peers who are driving themselves and their businesses to new heights.
The program is going into it's 3rd year nationally and 2nd year in Austin. That's a feature of the program that really excites me. I enjoy being part of developing something that has great potential. The materials were developed before the program launched, so that part is really solid. How the program gets running/implemented locally is the part that is developing now into best practices. There are some programs across the country that have really large membership (more than 25 Accelerator participants), high local EO involvement, and have built a structure to ensure great perpetuation. Austin is going through that structure building and membership growth stage now - we're 11 Accelerator members strong and will be over 25 before the next 12 months is out.
TS - What type of business / entrepreneur would benefit from joining Accelerator?
JS - We're open to any type of business that is really entrepreneurial. By that statement I mean people who want to grow a business into something more than themselves. The right person is someone ready to work "on" the business, not just "in" it. I think of it as this - people who want
to be able to walk away from a business (at some point in the future) and have that business thrive without them. The time frame and concept here is broad - some entrepreneurs want quick exit events while others want to be involved for many years. And as any business grows, it
naturally needs structure that becomes somewhat independent of it's leader.
For me personally, I want to be very, very old before I "walk away" - but I expect to have more of a Berkshire Hathaway model: many businesses operating under a corporate umbrella. Each business in that umbrella will be a thriving business independent of me.
TS - What are the type of programs and events that take place for members of Accelerator and what is the time commitment?
JS - We have four primary events that take place: Accountability Groups, Learning Events, social/networking events, and the Accelerator Board.
- Accountability Groups meet once a month for about 2 hours and are made up 3-4 Accelerators and 1 EO'er/mentor. The goal is to work through real-time business issues and distill them down to important but not urgent (think Quadrant 2 issues from Stephen Covey).
- Learning Events are quarterly, full-day events. They are facilitated by nationally recognized, successful EO'ers & each day focuses on just one of these core areas: Strategy, People, Finance, or Sales/Marketing.
- Social/Networking events happen quarterly (or more frequently) and are a great way to reach out to both other Accelerators and EO'ers.
- The EO Austin Accelerator Board is a group of both Accelerators and EO'ers that are building the local program. It's a great way to help make the experience the most it can be - by helping mold it as well as interact with other leaders in deepening the leadership process.
So the minimum time commitment is 2 hours a month plus 1 day per quarter. That said, the more time you put into it, the more you can get out of it!
TS - How can someone find more information?
JS - The main EO website is http://eonetwork.org See the link on the bottom right for Accelerator, or the national page for Accelerator is found here:
Locally our site, which is primarily a contact form is here:
Any contact through either site will quickly get to us locally - and we'll reach out to anyone interested to help them learn more about our great members & program. I'm personally looking forward to hearing from anyone we can help!
Have A Great Day.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
"Corporate Mojo" - Mike Peter, CEO of Campus Advantage Speaks at ACG
ACG has a long standing tradition of having some of the most talented Austin area executives speakers sharing their experiences at the monthly member luncheons, and Peter was no exception.
His calm, casually understated, authoritative and experienced speaking style was coupled with his message of outstanding corporate culture, making his presentation both memorable and educational for all in attendance.
Peter's message centered around "Corporate Mojo", his term for that hard to define piece of a company's culture that can not tangibly be described, but which is the magic that differentiates the amazing business from the mundane. "Corporate Mojo" is that feeling that impacts, charms, attracts and inspires employees, customers, vendors, the media and beyond.
You feel this "mojo" any time you interact with a special company - and it is coming from the employee's deep rooted attitudes.... not from some mission statement painted on a wall. Think of these examples:
Southwest Airlines vs. Delta (having just had a horrible experience with Delta last month, I can attest to the fact they have no "mojo")
Jimmy John's vs. Subway.
Amy's Ice Cream vs. Baskin Robbins.
A company with good "mojo" makes a difference. Peter attributes this "mojo" to the fast growth of Campus Advantage over the past several years. Now with 54 student housing properties over several states, and over 1000 employees, the company is a national leader in this very fragmented, competitive and changing industry.
That intangible "umph" that helps the company thrive is tried and tested. Campus Advantage was named on of the "Best Places to Work" in 2009 by the Austin Business Journal.
When you have an amazing reputation for this "mojo", you no longer need to worry about executive search, as the best employees have a way of seeking you out. Your existing team recruits their friends and you never worry about filling your key positions.
People will quit a job, but they will die for a mission. Campus Advantage sees the success of their clients, the students who live in their properties, as their purpose. Working together with staff, parents, educational institutions and the students, they help create an environment where the individuals will thrive. This cause encourages and motivates employees at all levels to go beyond their job descriptions.
Strong employee enthusiasm and high performance go hand in hand, in any economy. While the recessionary times are having an impact, his company is continuing to see success.
To prove to your team that this "mojo" is real, the executives must lead by example and find ways to do the right things for everyone involved. Peter calls it "intimacy with the employees", where those on the team know and understand that the company leadership always has their back. Employees cannot doubt management's commitment.
Two years ago when a senior team member was hit by a car in a hit and run, the company committed do the right thing for the employee's family. This was not just the CEO making sure that the employee was paid during recovery, but without prompting other employees began cooking meals and assisting the family in other ways. When this level of commitment is honest and real, it transcends the org chart. Take care of your people and they will take care of the clients - and each other!!!
"Corporate Mojo" is not rhetoric. The passion must be visible all of the time. If the leader is shy about wearing their passion on their sleeve, then the company culture will suffer. Clients can tell instinctively when your company has that something special.
Have A Great Day.
The ABC's of Public Speaking - L is for Logistics
When you are scheduled to give a presentation there many physical considerations that you need to contemplate in advance. The size and demographics of the audience, who is responsible for providing the projector, the printing of your handouts, the length of time you have to speak etc... must be addressed prior to your arrival. Other specifics, such as the area you have to walk about and the setting up of any props, can be reviewed and adapted moments before you take the stage.
At the time you are contacted about giving a speech you should have a series of questions that you discuss with the person who has extended you the invitation. The details they provide will help you plan for the talk itself and allow you to avoid any mis-communications that could derail your presentation's effectiveness.
While you will have other areas of importance that are particular to your requirements, here are several questions that will help you in planning for the logistics:
- How many people will be in attendance?
- How will the audience members be dressed?
- What type of people will be there (industry, job title, gender, age, etc...)?
- What is the topic you want covered in the presentation?
- Can I (Should I?) use PowerPoint? If yes, who will provide the laptop, projector and screen?
- Will there be a remote control for advancing slides? (all speakers should own there own "clicker"!)
- How long will I have to speak including Q & A?
- Will there be a microphone? Will it be stationary or will it be a lavaliere microphone?
- Can I place handouts at each seat?
- Will there be other speakers at this event? If yes, whom and what are there topics?
- Are there any other details that I need to know about this event in advance?
Managing the logistics can make the difference between a successful speech and one that leaves you and the audience frustrated. While there will always be last minute surprises to which you will need to adapt, being prepared will help you avoid the common mistakes.
Invest the time up in understanding the event, audience expectations, physical space and and audio / visual equipment and you will find less stress from the unexpected.
Have A Great Day.
Monday, July 06, 2009
The thing is, I don't understand how this one person stirs over the top emotional responses from people on both the far left and the far right. I have seen politicians over the years who were loved and hated, but few that could drive people to orgasm or homicide as easily as Mrs. Palin.
As a "Recovering Republican" (but not a Democrat) and self described "Extreme Centrist", there are things that I dislike and admire about Sarah Palin. I spent a lot of time researching her during the 2008 campaign (even before John McCain selected her as his running mate... I was not one who had NEVER heard of her before that announcement), and she is an interesting public figure.
Without question she is one of the most poised public speakers in politics (you may not like her views, but the woman can deliver a speech better than anyone but Reagan, Clinton and Obama).
While I believe she was in way over her head during the historic 2008 race, I am not so shallow that I would call her "dumb", "bimbo", "idiot" or "fool" (all word that people I know, and usually respect, have used to talk about her). I do not believe she that currently has what it takes to run for president, but if she wants to run, that is her choice. I doubt she could win. But she has the right to run if she wants. We also have the right not to vote for her! Can't figure out why her running scares or excites people at this point.
I don't get it. She resigned from being governor and it sent the media and others into a frenzy. So what? If this move was so damning to her brand, then those who hate her should be thrilled. If it is an amazingly smart move, then maybe they should praise her for not being as dumb as they thought. But in reality, it was neither. It is what it is, and we wont know the reality until we see what she does in the future.
My beef with politics is that the far left and the far right are both so darn hateful. Both sides are focused on making someone into a flawless God or tearing them to shreds. All the politicians are in the middle. The fringe on both sides have the same sour soul (yes, they are mental twins). Both the far left and the far right have lost touch with reality and view it all as a game. For those in the middle, this is no game. It is the future. We need to take the hate AND the hero worship out of politics.
Sarah Palin has both sides pouring a ton of attention on her every move, which is turning her into an icon. This is not good for either those who idolize her or those who despise the woman. Michael Jackson was an icon.... and look how that played out.
We would all be better off if people just ignored her for a while.
If you are crazy over this post, go take a deep breath. I am not writing to promote or undermine Palin. I am just venting that I do not understand her power over getting people riled up.
Share your insights with me on why she has this power over the media and others.
Have A Great Day.
The ABC's of Public Speaking - K is for Knowledge
It goes without saying that you must be knowledgeable about the topic on which you speak. By taking the stage you are instantly given the benefit of the doubt that you are the expert.
If you are asked to address an audience on a subject outside of your area of expertise, think twice before accepting the engagement. You might think you can fool the group with fast talking or other smoke and mirrors, but the collective will smell the fraud. You have to be authentic or your will fail in your speaking efforts over the long run.
But you must be knowledgeable about more than just the minutia of the subject on which you will present. For many reasons you may need to tweak your planned presentation to meet the situation. Current events, the dialogue of the previous speaker, audience questions or other unplanned changes could cause you to need to deviate from your topic. If you cannot speak beyond your slides, you will be limited in your ability to have a meaningful impact.
Knowledge is power. The best advice is to be an avid reader and learn as much as you can about your specialty and beyond. Being the master of only one topic will limit your opportunities. Carve out time each day to read books, blogs, newspapers, and other periodicals. Always be looking for ways that what you read can become part of your future presentations.
In addition to technical knowledge, you must keep up with what is going on in the news, sports and with pop-culture. While you may not care about much of the information that graces the covers of supermarket tabloids, or see any relevance. many people in society do pay attention to these matters. Being able to weave in celebrity or sports analogies into your main presentation will help you connect with the broader audience.
It has never been easier to invest in learning, as important and interesting information is pervasive. Make knowledge a priority and you will always be more prepared when you speak.
Have A Great Day.
Friday, July 03, 2009
Summer Vacation In Spain
If you had noticed that I had been a bit light on posting to the blog in late June, it is because my family spent eleven days in Spain. I had planned to blog from the road from my "Netbook", but there was not much free time, the internet connectivity was not ideal, and the netbook keyboard is really small. Thus, I just enjoyed the time with my family and our friends.
Additionally, I do not like to openly blog or tweet that we are away from home. Not that anyone who reads my blog is a robber... but I still like to keep it on the down low!
This was our third trip to Europe with the Morris family. They are life-long friends who have three daughters whose ages match up exactly with our girls. They rent a house somewhere in the world every couple of years and invite others to come along and share the experience. Leslie does an amazing job of finding large houses, with swimming pools, that are close to lots of sights to see. (here is her blog post on how to orchestrate a multi-week, multi-family vacation).
Four years ago we were in Sienna, Italy. Two years ago we were in Provence, France. This year.... This year was Malaga, Spain.
Traveling with other families and staying in a big house is a wonderful way to see the world. The kids are still young, but even four years ago (my youngest and the Morris twins are now seven, but in Italy they were three-years-old) they understood that it was a "special" vacation. Plus, traveling with your mom, dad, and sister can get rough, but when there are a pack of kids with whom to run, the world is your playground.
We joined the Morris' for the second week of their vacation along with their friends, the Kupers, from Boston (who also had a seven-year-old daughter, bringing the count to six kids ages 12, 11, 7, 7, 7, and 7...all girls).
One family who was with them "week one" blogged about the vacation. Therefore the week before we left for Spain we could read Neeracha's blog and look into a crystal ball about all the wonderful places to go and food to eat! It helped us map out our travels to ensure we made the best use of our limited time in Spain.
We began our trip with three days in Barcelona. We lost most of the first day because of Delta Airlines delays. We had the worst experience with an airline going both directions over the Atlantic. Overall 30 hours of delays. But the trip was so wonderful, I do not want to ruin this post with those details. I will write about that later.
Barcelona is now tied for my favorite city in the world (I still LOVE Venice). The people, the architecture, the food, and the overall vibe of this town makes it wonderfully unique. We stayed directly on Las Ramblas, and we walked for miles everyday.
The kids were adventurous with trying the food (mostly Tapas at every meal), although they liked the "bikinis" best (ham and cheese on white bread tapas, cut in triangles). They also enjoyed the elimination of "bed time" in Spain, since restaurants don't start serving until well after 8 PM or later.
We then flew to Malaga in the south of Spain where we joined our friends at Rancho Del Ingles. The Rancho was a hillside farm with a large house and several other bunking houses. It was a rustic old house, but a beautiful place to sit pool side and read a book. Some nights, after returning for a day-trip, we would go to local restaurants. Other evenings we cooked at the house.... and the last night we hired a local chef to come and cook for the group of twelve.
The rule of the house was the first person awake needed to drive to town to buy fresh churros for breakfast. Since I am an early riser, I happily did this trek daily. The guy who made the churros spoke no English, and I speak no Spanish, but we developed an understanding of my need for LOTS of churros for a big crowd. Again, the kids were thrilled that the normal nutrition rules of our home were suspended and they were eating fried dough for breakfast and were welcome to ice cream any time they saw a place that sold the cold treats.
We day tripped to several Spanish cities and landmarks including Granada (The Alhambra is the most visited attraction in Spain, and one of the most impressive historic palaces and gardens you could ever see), Ronda (hilltop town), Gibraltar, Torre Del Mar (Father's Day was spent playing on the beach along the Mediterranean with the kids), Marbella (fancy shopping, lunch and more time in the sea), and Tangier.
Besides hanging around with wonderfully amazing people, Tangier was the highlight of the trip. Sara and I were very apprehensive about taking the girls on a boat to Africa for the day. The guide books and internet research made Tangier sound dangerous. Everything warned that Americans should not eat or drink there, as diarrhea was common from the food (yuck.. not the best way to spend your vacation), and that pick pockets were pervasive. We wanted to go, but did so with some trepidations.
As it turned out, while we had to be conscious of our surroundings, the day in Tangier was a fantastic. I never felt threatened, and we packed peanut butter sandwiches and other snacks for us and the kids to eat (diarrhea was just not something we wanted to deal with on this trip!).
We spent about four hours touring the "old city" with a hired guide, who kept from getting lost through the winding streets and crowded shopping areas. If you ever go to Morocco, hiring a guide is the key. Once we were with him, nobody bothered us, as it was clear that we were with him for our tour.
Life for the people of Tangier is very different than it is for those who live in Austin, Texas. But there was joy, laughter and entrepreneurial spirit around every corner. These can be found to be pervasive throughout humanity.
Many people advised that with the economic downturn, and my launching out on my own business this year, that we should have not spent the money on an extended European vacation.
To have missed this trip would have been the worst money I ever saved! I find that I learn so much when we travel. Seeing different cultures, experiencing life in various countries, and traveling with others (especially other families!) is the greatest gift I can ever give my children.
Have A Great Day