Friday, February 28, 2014

Cool Things My Friends Do: Michael O'Neal - The Solopreneur Hour

Each Friday on this blog I enjoy highlighting some of the cool things my friends do in their personal and professional lives.

On airplanes I listen to podcasts.  Since I am on airplanes often (nearly 40 trips last year), I take part of each trip and listen and learn from some very interesting people.  Late last year I stumbled upon The Solopreneur Hour Podcast, hosted by Michael O'Neal.  

While I have never met Michael in person (he may come to Austin for SXSW next week, and thus we will hang out at some point), after about 30+ episodes of The Solopreneur Hour, I have come to think of Michael as a virtual friend.  We have exchanged emails, and I have begun to participate in his SoloLab coaching group.  He has a genuine conversational style with his co-hosts each week, and since I am coming up on five years as a "Solopreneur" he discusses topics I care about (I am living on a daily basis).

Michael's tag line for his podcast is "Job Security for the Unemployable" and he has both smart ideas and an is an enthusiastic cheer leader for those who are following the sometimes lonely path of self-careering.  He has created a fast growing brand, and is making a difference for those around him.  I have not done much in the internet marketing arena, but I am becoming better educated about online brand promotion from Michael and his guest hosts.

His personal story is interesting, and he openly talks about the ups and downs of his personal and professional life.  After a series of changes that impacted all aspects of his life, he re-started four years ago.  From his home in San Diego he has started something that is worth watching for the future.  With so many people fed up with the corporate game, being a solopreneur is a real option.  

I am looking forward to seeing Michael and his podcast grow like crazy (maybe someday he will interview me!!!). Log onto the iTunes store and search for Solopreneur Hour... you will be glad you did.  I am happy to have him as week #95 of "Cool Things My Friends Do".

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Monday, February 24, 2014

Innovation Lessons for the Meetings Industry

The March 2014  Fast Company Magazine is the annual issue that lists "The World's 50 Most Innovative Companies".  I like Fast Company and the way they cover the speed of business - - - their magazine is an inspiration no matter what industry you work (it is not just for those in tech start-ups).

The opening letter from the editor covered "12 Innovation Lessons for 2014".  As I read Robert Safian's piece, I realized that his message was indirectly screaming to the events and meetings industry (NOTE: Austin's iconic super event, South by Southwest, was number 12 on the list of the 50 Most Innovative Companies). 

Ten of his twelve were direct suggestions that event professionals (#eventprofs) should consider in planning their next conference, seminar, meeting, convention or other gathering (#10 spoke to "Made in China, and #11 spoke to how Apple is the big winner in Apps -- and while one could stretch these connections, I did not include them in my post as there was not a clear tie).

Here is the link to Safian's opening letter.  Below is my interpretation for event organizers.

10 Innovation Lessons (Morphed from Fast Company 
Magazine) for Meetings and Events
by Thom Singer

1.  Exceptional is Expected. People are tired of the cookie-cutter conference with the same industry speakers.  If you are not engaging people with both cutting edge education and an interactive experience they may not come back year over year.   This means finding presentations that are more than "Sage from the Stage" experts.  Event attendees want to be challenged and to think differently (and take actions).  Filling speaking spots with anyone who can cover a topic will not create anything unique.  People are looking to learn in ways beyond the lecture, but not every speaker is experienced enough to deliver the goods that audience wants to experience.

2.  Innovation is Episodic.  Not everything you do at your event will be amazing.  But if you are not  introducing new elements or ideas each year then you will quickly become stale.  Some of the unique content and experiences you provide will miss the mark in "wowing" the crowd.  However, if you take no risks, you will have no rewards.  Shake things up and let your community share in the grand experiments.  When you do find the right mix, the buzz about your event will go viral.

3.  Making Money Matters.  Your event is a micro-business.  In a few cases the event is designed as an expense for the hosting company, but usually there needs to be a profit for the event to repeat each year (or at least a minimal expense). As an event professional you should see yourself as an entrepreneur who is growing a company.  There are hard choices that must me made in event design, but the end goal should always be enhancing the conference attendee experience.  Review expenses and find ways to work with your agenda, vendors, sponsors, etc... to ensure that your not flushing away your profits in areas that are not of impacting your attendees.  

4.  Sustainability Has Found A New Gear.  Several years ago "going green" in meetings was mostly a grand idea of hope or hype.  These days there are many ways that a conference can lower it's footprint in use of energy, recycling, sourcing local foods, reducing waste, etc...  Making your conference more eco-friendly is now "must-have".

5.  Unlocking Global Talent Unlocks Possibility.  Looking beyond domestic standards for ideas of structuring conferences can be exciting.  Asia, Europe, South America, Africa all have conferences - and in many places they are doing some interesting things.  Seek inspiration from how they set up their agendas, venues and other aspects of event management.  Looking beyond the United States to source speakers, sponsors, vendors, and attendees will also help you create a unique experience. (Discover the Global Speakers Federation for more ideas on international speakers).

6.  Passion is Underrated.  There is nothing that impacts a conference more directly than excited attendees.  But in planning events we are often too focused on the content over the experience.  Nobody walks out of a boring lecture fired up, no matter how smart the speaker or how great his content.  If he or she does not have passion that is transferred to the audience, it is just a data dump.  Move past the safety net cliche of "Content is King".  Yes, content is important, but the "Conference Attendee Experience" is king, queen, parliament, and the treasury.  Passion matters: Planners need passion.  Sponsors need passion.  Presenters need to share their passion.  Attendees want to find passion.  Make it happen or have a blah event.

7. Conflict Isn't Required.  Changing up the delivery style of events in old-school institutions often brings push back and fear.  But making events better should not cause conflict.  Everyone in the host organization should have the same goal of curating an amazing event.  Ongoing conversations about desired outcomes and educating involved parties as to new trends in events can change minds.  Also, being unique does not mean that all things have to be different.  Innovate at annual events by adding more elements without throwing away all of the traditional aspects of the event.

8.  Happy Customers Make You Happy.  Nothing is better than happy event attendees.  When participants review your conference by saying it was the best event ever (or in the last several years), you know you have done it right.  

9.  Software Beats Hardware.  We live in a digitally enabled world.  If your event is not utilizing online registration options, mobile apps, and social media.... few attendees look at you as progressive.  Too many organizations continue to tell attendees to "put you phones away", yet many take notes on these devices and are sharing information online.  Do not run from the realities of our social media crazy world - embrace it.  (NOTE:  Too many events are being undermined by mobile devises and it is causing the networking elements to fail because attendees are always looking at their phones.  Finding the balance here is key... and it can be accomplished). 

10. Dreaming Big Isn't Folly: It's Required.  If you want to have a great event, you have to think beyond the standard conference formats of the past.  Immediately after last years event you should get your organizing team together with your speakers, sponsors, vendors and select attendees to brainstorm ways to enhance the experience.  Collaborating with these partners will expose you to fresh ideas.  "Event Professionals" are not only the planners, but anyone who works in and around the meetings business.  Hoteliers, caterers, speakers, etc.... all see hundreds of events each year, so engage them as part of your "dream team" and you will find new ways to create a "wow" 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.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Cool Things My Friends Do - The Austin Business Journal Launches A New Look. Congrats to Heather Ladage and Colin Pope (and the whole ABJ Team).

Each Friday on this blog I enjoy highlighting some of the cool things my friends do in their personal and professional lives.

This week the Austin Business Journal launched a new and re-imaged look to their weekly publication and website. 

Congratulations to my friends: publisher, Heather Ladage and editor, Colin Pope (and the whole ABJ Team) on a great new layout and updated style of informing their readers.

I have known both Heather and Colin for nearly 15 years (I met Colin in 1999, and Heather in 2001).  They are both local success stories whose personal accomplishments are cool all by themselves.  Each began at the ABJ in entry level jobs and have grown their careers inside the American City Business Journals corporation and risen to the two top Austin jobs, running the city's premier source for local business news and information.  

With this launch the paper has done more than changed its logo.  This has been a long process lasting more than a year.  Many of the ACBJ papers around the country are also retooling their business models to better serve their communities.  They have hired media consultants and held several local and national focus groups to discover the best ways to move beyond the weekly print edition format of reporting business news.  This is a full redesign of how news is packaged and reported.  

Over the past few years there have been major shifts in how people seek, find, consume, internalize and share information.  While many newspapers have failed to keep up with these changes (daily papers around the country continue to struggle and fail), The Austin Business Journal has been embracing changes all along the way (I remember participating in an informal meeting with Colin over eight years ago to discuss social media'a impact on the News). 

The paper is about more than printing corporate press releases, but instead it is a hub for what is happening and a mechanism to discover the people and trends that will impact our community.  With the new changes they have vowed to be a continued source of business intelligence. According to Heather; "News and connections strengthen our economy.  News has also become a conversation that does not stop with a story in the weekly print edition".  The team at the ABJ is working to be a catalyst for these conversations.

I know how hard they have both worked (along with their co-workers) to transform the vision for the new Austin Business Journal into a reality.  It is fun to write about them in this week's "Cool Things My Friends Do" blog post (week #94 in the series)... as they are usually writing about others!!!

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Reinvent Yourself

My recent blog post about "Second Chances" spurred some interesting conversations with friends (some of whom I did not know even read my blog) about the notion of  "can people change?".  Some agreed that people can start fresh and put the negatives behind them, while others disagreed.  A few had been burned by giving second chances.  Others had themselves gone through a metamorphosis.  I enjoy such discussions, but admit that I am very optimistic about people.  I am sad when I encounter those who cannot put preconceived notions (about me or others) behind them. 

"Reinvention of Self" seems to be a hot topic.  To improve and grow we cannot stay in the same spot, and thus I believe that ambitious people are always looking for ways to be new.  This may involve slight tweaks and adjustments, or it could mean a complete change in the way of being.

A few months I read a post on TechCrunch by James Altucher called "The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Reinventing Yourself".  It was a great article, and I suggest you take a moment to read it if you are interested in this topic.  The key point Altucher makes is that it takes time (he says 5 years), and you should not expect your friends to be supportive (what friends?, he adds).  I agree that it takes time, not only to implement your new ways, but also to unseat the impressions that linger in the heads of people in your life.

One person shared an article by Seth Godin in Success Magazine from a few years ago, called "Ways to Reinvent Yourself".  Godin talks about more than polishing or improving, but undergoing a full restart.  It is not easy to do, and he is quick to point out that there is the risk of failure when you try to reinvent.  Fear of failing is crippling, and too many people never try new things because they know they could flop.

My experience, and tying back to the discussion of "Second Chances", is that many people in your life do not want to see you climb out of the box and achieve something new.  Their own identity is tied to how they judge others, and if you change then they could be wrong in their opinion (and that is not acceptable).  Additionally There is an old analogy to humans changing and growing that relates to storing lobsters in an open topped box.  When one lobster begins to crawl out (and escape to a fresh start), another will grab it with its claws and pull it back into the enclosure.  Having never kept live shellfish in a box, I am not sure of the truth in this observation about lobsters,... but I have seen enough people try to stifle others that I get the point.

Reinventing yourself is possible, but you have to have a thick skin.  People may accuse you of being phony or question your motivation.  They may choose not to notice the improvements you make, and far too often they will gossip about you with others.  It is the rare soul who will stand up for you and praise you to those who knew you in the past.  Oh well, so sad.  Move on and keep doing what you know you need to be doing to be true to your best self.

Working on improving and reinventing is not a one time deal.  To be effective it has to be part of your lifestyle.   One has to be open to coaching, and not grimace at the negatives that others might find in you.  I am always seeking to discover my own weak areas and find paths to do better.  While it is no fun to know you come up short, ignoring your missteps will hold you back.   

A friend recently pointed out a failing of mine that was mentioned by others.  She was nervous of being the "messenger" (remember, some people kill the messenger!) and almost did not have this important conversation.  However, I am glad she did, as her words have lingered in my soul daily, and with each conversation I have had since I have altered my behavior.  No bad habit or trait can be changed overnight, but without an effort, they will never be corrected.  

There is no way to get others to give you the benefit of the doubt, or open their mind to the "New You".... but you can change how you look at people who are working to improve themselves or start fresh.  Be open minded and support those who are trying to reinvent.  Do not expect support from the people around you (although allow some to surprise you), but lead by example in how you behave toward those who are beginning anew.

If you have reinvented, or want to reinvent.... let me know.  These stories are always fascinating, and we can all learn from the actions taken by others. I promise to support you with positive thoughts!!!

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Cool Things My Friends Do - Matt Church Awarded Australia's Keynote Speaker of the Year

Each week on this blog I enjoy highlighting some of the cool things my friends do in their personal and professional lives.

The National Speakers Association of Australia awarded their prestigious "Keynote Speaker of the Year (2014) Award" to my friend Matt Church at their 24th annual convention in Melbourne.

I met Matt three years ago at the NSA Winter "Un-Conference" in Atlanta where he was one of the featured speakers.  He was both on the "main-stage" and he hosted a day-long workshop.  Both of these presentations were among the most impactful learning experiences I have ever experienced in my career as a professional speaker.  I have tried to implement much of what he taught, and it has helped me grow my business.

I got to hang out with Matt, and a group of his Aussie colleagues, at the conference (we drank Argentinian Malbec all night)--- and he was one of the most genuine people I have known in the speaking industry.  We have kept in touch (via Facebook) and I was thrilled to see online that Matt was honored with this major award.... as he deserves it!

Matt Church is one of Australia’s top motivation speakers and is known around the world for being generous with his knowledge.  In 2001 he founded an international education business, Thought Leaders Global, dedicated to helping clever people be commercially smart and earn more money in their speaking and consulting careers.

I am pleased to add Matt to the growing list of "Cool Things My Friends Do" (this is the 93rd post in the ongoing series).

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

It Is Hard To Get A Second Chance - But Sometimes You Do

We all have faults and we all make mistakes.  It is simple to look at the world from own vantage point and misunderstand the viewpoints and motivations of others.  Jumping to opinions about other people is a national pass-time (Come on, we all do it!).  

It is not uncommon for people to create a judgement based on limited observations, and then forever hold these fellings about the other person (regardless of the realities).  

There are many reasons why someone will hold an opinion about you.  Some of their feelings are based in reality, others are off base entirely.  The manner in which we engage with people needs to be more about them, as that is the filter they use to judge.  But it is hard to always be doing things their way.  I struggle with this, as it is hard to remember that others may not share the same enthusiasm for people, places, ideologies or other things.  

Failing to understand another person can often leave them feeling hurt.  This is never fun, and often not uncovered until it is too late.  To realize you missed the mark is hard to admit, and even harder when you struggle with it internally.  Nobody wants to bomb a relationship with a possible business contact, but it happens.

I have done this (failed, dropped the ball, etc...), and I will do it again.  Nobody is perfect.  When you are engaged with other humans, you have to remember that the other person has their own "stuff" going on in their lives.  This means that their emotions, hopes, dreams, disappointments and goals are all lurking behind the surface.  That can be a lot of "stuff", and it is impossible to interpret when you do not really know the person.

Sometimes a relationship can be salvaged.  Or not.  It is difficult to change the perceptions that others have of you, as few people seem to be willingly look beyond what they want to see.  A personal example is about one acquaintance I have known for many years.  We could be a great friends (he is a very nice person), but he clearly does not want to pursue a stronger connection.  It is a shame, as the synergies are strong and I admire his accomplishments.  However he does not show any interest in building a stronger friendship (this is okay, as I learned long ago that not everyone will be my best buddy).

Of course you can, and should, try to salvage a relationship or expand a friendship when appropriate.  All opportunities come from people, and therefore few things are as powerful as long-term and mutually beneficial relationships that is built with trust and respect. When you can "re-start" it can become an amazing experience for both people involved.

When you reach out for a second chance there is no guarantee the other person will have any interest in revisiting their opinion.  Thus this is a risk.  But sometimes big risks bring big rewards.

Not everyone who crosses you path will become a part of your network.  It is okay.  There is nothing you can do about it, as 100% of the people will not like you.  All you can do is try to help others when you can and be nice to all.  Own up to your own faults and work to improve yourself.  And do not forget to be forgiving of others who are struggling to overcome their own shortcomings. 

After reading this you may not be rushing to make a list of people with whom to reconnect.  However, the next time someone reaches out to you for an second (or maybe 3rd) chance, I suggest you set the past aside and come back to the drawing board of judgement.  Some of the time (not every time) you will be pleasantly surprised by the great friendship that can occur.  And just one person can change your life in amazing ways.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Monday, February 10, 2014

The ABC's of Legal Marketing - R is for Referrals

To get referrals you have to give referrals.  If you desire that people in your network would tell others about the good work you do, then you have to be one who leads by example.  

Giving referrals and promoting others is paramount to your own successful sales efforts.  If you only care about your own business development efforts, then how can you expect others to care about anything besides themselves?

When people tell me they never receive referrals, my first question is, "when was the last time you sent a referral to someone that lead to real business?".  If there is a long pause I know they are not focused on helping others find success.  There is a long-term connection between those who promote others and those who receive an abundance of inbound opportunities.

Create a habit to review your contact list and discover whom you know that should meet.  Do not make introductions without a purpose, but when there is a clear reason that people should be connected, take action to facilitate the connection.

At the end of each week ask yourself if you have referred business or otherwise promoted someone in your extended network.  If the answer is "nobody", then put your excuses aside ("I have been busy working on my clients matters") and seek a way to help another person get closer to their own goals before you go home on Friday.  It only takes a few minutes, and few things can build a business relationship more than a referral.

Of course, you cannot refer or promote others if you do not understand what they do for a living or the type of clients they serve.  Outside of other attorneys, do you really understand how your friends, family members and clients earn their living?  Do not just ask people what they do, but inquire about the profile of their ideal client.  While you may not always have the right types of connections to make direct introductions, when you comprehend the details of their career you will be able to recognize opportunities when they cross your path.

To get referrals you need to give referrals.  Take pride in being the catalyst that brings success to others without expectations of reciprocation.  While the person you assist may not return the favor, the real givers in the world are always watching.  There are too many who are self-focused and givers are tired of takers.  They recognize those who give and look for ways to help them in the future.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Thom Singer is experienced in legal marketing and business development.  He regularly speaks at law firm retreats inspiring attorneys to embrace their brand and increase their sales.  He also teaches lawyers ways to improve their presentation skills as the firm's secret weapon for business development success.  More information at

Friday, February 07, 2014

Cool Things My Friends Do - Bill Leake Launches "The Right Arm"

Each Friday on this blog I enjoy highlighting some of the cool things my friends do in their personal and professional lives.

As of this week, the hottest KickStarter Campaign in Austin is for "The Right Arm".  This great idea is the brainchild of my friend Bill Leake (and  his business partner Eric Senn).  In just a few days they have raised $38,689 on a goal of $40,000 (I backed them, too).  Pretty cool.

You gotta check this out.....

What is "The Right Arm"?  It is the ultimate ergonomic extension device for iPads, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, and even books and cameras.  A hands-free device that puts your electronics where you want them, and can even make your regular surface a stand-up desk!  It is a c-clap at the bottom, a movable arm, and some high-tech sticky stuff.

If you have grown tired of holding your tablet in bed, need hands-free recipe locations for cooking (or other projects), or are sick of hunching over your laptop at your desk, then this product is the answer you have been seeking. 

I am thrilled to see Bill and his team launch this new product.  It is getting a lot of buzz.  You may choose to support the KickStarter Campaign and get your own "Right Arm".

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Death of Association and Corporate Meetings Was Highly Exagerated

I discovered a page of handwritten notes I took in 2007 about the future of trade association and corporate live meetings.  I cannot find the source of the notes, but I remember it was a telephone conference call.  I listened and scribbled notes as the expert on the phone foretold the death of live gathering and the falling need for professional speakers on stage.

The thought was the internet was going to remove the need to gather.  Content delivery could be streamlined and education would become a remote experience.  I was just beginning my journey as a professional speaker and I wrote "yikes" the margin of my notes.  As a new speaker I remember wondering about the opportunities that lay ahead.

Flash forward seven years and the meetings industry is strong. My experiences with association and corporate meetings is that attendees are hungry to make live connections.  If content delivery was the only goal then meetings would surely die out.  But people want to be part of a community, to be engaged and to be inspired.  Live events create "mini-societies" that cannot be duplicated online.

While there are many big changes happening everyday in the world of live meetings, there are also more opportunities than I could have imagined in 2007.  It is fun and challenging to be part of the meetings industry, but everyday I am grateful that I get to be involved with hard-working and creative people.  Every meeting has the potential to the world, as when people make connections with each other, the outcome can be amazing.

Few people realize how meetings impact the economy, but a 2009 study (spearheaded by the Convention Industry Council) showed there are 1.8 million meetings and conventions in the United States annually and have a $106 Billon Dollar impact on GDP.  My guess is those numbers are bigger in 2014.

Below is a new commercial from Meeting Professionals International highlighting the power of live gatherings and how they stimulate economic growth.

The death of meetings and conventions was highly exaggerated.

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. 

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Little Things

Enthusiastically I was up and out of bed early to deliver the keynote speech for a national association's annual meeting.  I had a good night sleep, went to the gym, ate a healthy breakfast and was ready to "wow" the audience.

As I got dressed in my hotel room it became apparent that no dress socks had been packed.  The keynote was at 8:00 AM, so there was no time to buy socks.  The malls were closed anyway, and the event was at a secluded resort.

This could have ruined my whole day.  It could have soured my mood and kept me from being at my best while speaking to the audience.  

But do you know what?  It is just a pair of socks.  The white gym socks would have to do.  Might the audience see I had white socks on?  Yes, but I was not going to lose sight of my charge to kick-off my clients conference and inspire their day.

Don't let the little things keep you from doing your best.

Have A Great Day


Monday, February 03, 2014

7th Annual Fundraiser for the Kate Singer Endowment

Please join us in supporting 
this online fundraiser!!!

Kate was born with a condition called Sagital Synostosis, and required surgery to rebuild her skull at age six-months. At the time there was no Dell Children's Medical Center in Central Texas, thus we had to search outside of our community to find the right doctors who would operate on Kate and give her a fresh start in life. 

Since the opening of Dell Children's our family has supported the hospital with donations and hosting this annual fundraiser. 

We celebrate Kate each February by raising money to help others who are born with Cranio-Facial abnormalities. Thank you for your support of this great cause! 

Thom, Sara, Jackie and Kate Singer

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Preparing for SXSW 2014

Planning on attending SXSW Interactive?  Do not come there are many opportunities awaiting those have a purpose in their investment of time, money and brain cells.  There are many reasons to be in Austin, Texas in March.  Some come to present or to test their entrepreneurial desires, while others simply are present to learn and network at one of the coolest conferences in the world.

No matter why you will be at SXSW you must have a plan to ensure you get the most from the keynotes, educational session, parties, food trucks, and networking opportunities.

I have attended this eclectic event seven times, and each year I have met people who had a lasting impact on my life.  Years ago SXSW was less "corporate" and there were not as many artificial walls.  All people there were willing to talk to anyone:  CEOs and entrepreneurs would mix and mingle with marketing wizards and tech enthusiasts.  These days there is less random connecting.  Part of that is there are more private invite only events, and the introduction of "the smart phone" has left people focused on tech gadgets instead of talking to strangers.  However, there is still that wonderful element of serendipity in the air at SXSW --- and that is special.

Before you come to your first SXSW I suggest you read one or more books in my ABC's series:

Any and all of these short "Airplane Books" (designed to be ready quickly on a flight) will help your get focused on your goals for  SXSW --- or any event!

Have A Great Day

thom singer