Saturday, December 31, 2011

Stop! Do not make New Year's resolutions. Here's why:

It's one of the oldest traditions we have, so lost in the mists of time that most people have no idea that the practice extends back to Roman and maybe even Babylonian times thousands of years ago. In all of that history, resolutions have been made and forgotten, ignored, put off, or, in very rare cases, accomplished.

And that's the problem. How many resolutions did you make last year? How many did you accomplish? How many do you even remember? If you are brave enough, tell me (and the world) about them in the comments box. By the way, don't be upset if you have no idea what they were. Studies show that a very small percentage of New Year's resolutions are even attempted, much less attained.

The biggest trouble with resolutions is that they are very broad, general statements, for instance lose 100 pounds or write a book, with no starting date and no specific steps attached to them. It is easy to put them off until tomorrow or the next day. After all, we have all year to accomplish them. One day won't hurt.

One day does hurt and so do all those days that follow, the worst one being December 31, when we realize we did nothing and have to make that same resolution all over again.

Let's change it this year. Instead of just writing down a bunch of resolutions today, let's take a more serious approach. After all, if these resolutions are important enough to make, they are important enough to achieve.

Instead of making resolutions, let's create year-long action items, just like you create action items of returning a phone call or writing a blog post. However, these are not random action items. They are specific projects we want to accomplish.

Here's how you do it:

1. The Review: Look back over the last year. Be hard on yourself because your future depends on it. What did you accomplish last year? What did you fail to do? Of the failures, which ones are still important? Which items did you find easy to work on and which ones were difficult and why? Where does your business or life stand at this exact moment? As you move forward, what items you planned to do last year still fit into this year's projects? How have you changed in your passions and goals for the coming year?

2. Choose Your 2012 Projects: Pick three items you want to accomplish in 2012. These are not the only goals you have for the year, just the ones everything else depends on. As you look over the review, specifically decide yes or no on each potential project. Since I am in the book business, I will use that as the example but the steps you take apply to anything. Decide definitively on January 1 that these are the items you will finish before next December 31. Nothing will stop you. The only question is how long it will take.

3. Give Yourself a Specific Completion Date: For each of the three items, write down the date you want it completed. Be realistic. For instance, don't decide to have your 500-page novel written in one month. Give yourself the time you realistically believe it will take for completion. Now work backward from that completion date to today, writing down the steps you will need to take and the time needed for each. Keep it general. For a book it might be December 31, 2012 publication date, to printer December 15, start getting endorsements October 15, finish editing and corrections October 15, finish cover design October 15, to the editor September 1, complete final draft September 1, finish first draft June 30, begin writing February 15, finish research February 15, complete outline February 15, start outline February 1, complete theme statement by February 1, start working on theme statement January 1.

4. Determine the First Step: What is the actual first item you need to do to start you on your journey. On a blank piece of paper or in a notebook, write the date January 2, 2012 at the top of the sheet. Under it write the words "To do list." This list is a mini-resolution for that date. Write down every item you need to do that day, the time you will do it, and how long it will take. If you have to watch a football game, write it down. If you see that you cannot accomplish all the items, schedule them for the next day. You will eventually get a feel for how much you can accomplish each day. Do not over schedule yourself. You do not need to work on every item every day but you must schedule the necessary work so you can meet the schedule you set for yourself in number 3.

5. When dawn January 2 arrives, sit down at your desk and review the list. Look at the clock and get started. Do not play a game, do not read email, do the first item. This is its time. It has top priority. Nothing else may interfere with it. Complete the first item and move on to the second. When you reach lunch, stop working, relax and eat. Don't think about other items. Lunch is your task of the moment so enjoy it to the fullest. Watch the football game if that is your passion. Stay in the moment so you enjoy it to the fullest. Then return to work.

6. Please note that I am not telling you to become a workaholic. If you only want to work four hours a day, schedule that four hours so you get your short-term and long-term work done. If you find it is not possible to get all of the work done, you either need to do less or expand the hours you work. Do not complain that you can't get it all done. Reinvent yourself so you can.

7. Keep track of your progress as you move through the year. Determine where you are at the end of each month and quarter. If you are behind, make arrangements to catch up. If you are ahead, congratulate yourself on a job well done. Remember, we all have exactly the same amount of time as everyone else. It's how we use that time that matters. If you are having trouble fitting everything in, hire a coach, mentor, or an assistant. If the project cannot be completed on time, set a new deadline. Don't give up on it.

8. Give yourself plenty of time for family, play, and reading, both recreational and educational. This will keep you recharged so your work hours will be most effective.

Remember the important point: Success is the result of action, not thinking. Businesses get built, books get written, and projects get done because you take action. This year make Resolution Day into Action Day and celebrate it every day of the year, not just January 1.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Top Ten Reasons You Need to Write Stories

By Lee Pound

With apologies to David Letterman, who is a hell of a lot funnier than I am (most of the time), here’s my top ten reasons you need to be writing stories. 

10. So you can make a million dollars writing novels. (Ha Ha. Gotcha on that one)

9. What the heck. Nobody knows if fiction is true or not anyway.

8. Grampa was full of stories. Is your life so dull you can’t think of any to tell? Go ahead, make them up like he did.

7. Someone might actually recognize themselves in one of your stories and sue you. Hey, lawyers need business these days.

6. Your stories are so bad everyone laughs at them whether they are funny or not. Tell them anyway, laughter’s good for everyone’s health.

5. So you can make a million bucks on David Letterman’s show. (You say a thousand, maybe a hundred, maybe nothing? Whatever, it’s publicity and we all need publicity.)

4. So you can make people cry. I made people cry with a story and they bought thousands of dollars worth from me. (I’m not saying of what. Figure that out for yourselves.)

3. Everybody else tells them about you when you’re not listening. It’s payback time!

2. You’re just itching to tell the world what momma and poppa did to you 50 years ago that made you such a horrible, unsuccessful, depressed, amoral person. (As if the world cares) (By the way, it might. Some of those sell really well.)

1. You might as well learn how to tell stories. Lots of resumes floating around out there are fiction anyway.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Highest and Best Use of PowerPoint

When I first started to use PowerPoint for presentations I was like a lot of speakers. Most of the words on the screen were in bullet points, the titles were dull, and the pictures were sparse. At least I didn't put too much type on a slide like some people do.  Ever try to read 50 lines of 10-point type from 50 feet away?

I gradually improved the slides until they had quite a few photos and a lot less type but there was one point where I fully realized the power of PowerPoint, and it has nothing to do with words.

PowerPoint is a supplement to your presentation. It enhances it and makes it more understandable. It is not a set of notes for you the speaker. Its greatest value is to enhance the emotional impact of your presentation. How can a slide do that? Good question.

During my presentation at one of our Speak Your Way to Wealth events, I decided to illustrate one of my favorite stories. I have often told the story of my father, who took photos of rodeos for many years in the 1950s. One of those photos landed in Life Magazine. The story is all about how he took a risk, got inside the bullring and in the process got some powerful photos. This one was one of the most powerful of all. However, when I told the story, I wasn't using the photo.

This one time, I added the photo to the PowerPoint presentation and set it up so a blank screen would show while I told the story. When I reached the part where my Dad takes the picture, I flashed it on the screen and was rewarded with oohs and aahs from the audience (and a whole lot of sales). The photo, appearing right at the climactic moment of the story, created a powerful emotional moment for the crowd and implanted the idea that risk is necessary and good for anyone wanting to grow.

I still use that photo every time I do that speech with a PowerPoint presentation.

By the way, the first time I used that photo, I didn't even have a PowerPoint presentation. However, I had a large framed copy of the original photo, which I set up on an easel and covered with a cloth. The audience was only 12 people. At the appropriate moment, I revealed the photo, again to wonderful audience reaction. Someone that day said, "You ought to put that photo in every talk you do." And I have, ever since then.

The point is that it wasn't the means of presentation that made the difference, it was the content. I got the same audience reaction with the real photo as I did with the PowerPoint. That's why you must pay attention to your content and to your emotional reaction creators. If you have something that you know will get the desired reaction, use it. It's worth a hundred dull PowerPoint slides.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Three Keys to Marketing Your Book

If you want to sell your book, you have to do several key things before you write the first word. These have little to do with the quality of your writing and everything to do with the purpose of your writing.

The very first one is to ask yourself who you are writing to. This is your audience, your target market, or whatever else you choose to call it. Who represents this market, what do they want, what to they need, what do they fear? Be very certain who you are writing to before you write the first word.

Second, ask yourself what they know. If you write too advanced a book for your audience, they will not read it. If it is too general or too simple, again your audience will not read it.

Third, ask yourself what you want them to know after they have read your book. This does two things. It gives you an end point but it also tells you what you have to build up to as you write. The chapters you create will be the steps from what your audience knows to what you want them to know. You can't decide what to put in the chapters unless you know this.

Now that you know who you are writing to, your writing has purpose. When it comes time to market your book, you will know which organizations to speak to, how to position your marketing materials, what radio shows to get on, and where you will find your email list and social media followers.

By deciding these three items, you have already started to market your book. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Will Nothing Every Happen?

By Lee Pound

One of my favorite stories from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference back in the 1990s comes from one of the presenters. I’d tell you who he was but that was so long ago I can’t remember his name.

Anyway, he taught a workshop seminar on how to begin your story. He would have the writer read his or her story in front of the whole group. The kicker is that he opened the session with this comment: “I’ll let you read until something happens or until I decide that nothing will ever happen.”

I loved this comment because it went right to the heart of the problem most writers have today. They get so caught up in describing the character or setting the scene in minute detail that they never get around to starting the story.

Readers will put up with this only so long then they get bored and move on to another book or story. The best way to start a story is at the latest possible point and with the key action that changes everything for the main character. Then work in the description and back story as needed. It’s interesting that often much of that back story and description is never needed.

By the way, that instructor stopped everyone when he decided nothing was going to happen and he didn’t wait much more than a page or two to make that decision.

With today’s short attention span it is even more important today to begin with action that catches the attention of the reader and makes them want more.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Going Professional: It's all in the Mindset

There's a point at which you go from being an amateur wannabe to professional, no matter what career you are in. This is not the moment when you start to get paid. It may come long before that happens or long after.

The point you become professional is a mindset switch. The difference is in how you see yourself in your profession or hobby.

For instance, I became a professional after my second speech. The first was amateur in that I didn't see the power of speaking when I was invited. The second one, which came as a referral from the first (the story is on this web site) meant that people really wanted to hear what I had to say. I had inadvertently created an aura of expertise that led to many speaking engagements, some at conferences, some at associations, without any marketing whatsoever.

In high school and college I was an amateur writer even though I worked on the school newspapers. It was not what I did and I didn't necessarily see a future in it. However, when I started to cover night meetings for the Fullerton Daily News Tribune, I became a professional, not just in money but in mindset.

I was an amateur accountant most of my life and never considered that I might make money at it. Then I was offered the job of controller at the newspaper where I worked. The first week on that job I was still an amateur but in the process of doing my first set of financials my mindset became professional. I knew deep down what I was doing now and that made all the difference.

There are many amateur business owners out there, people who never allowed themselves to believe they could actually create a thriving business. They dabble in it but don't take the actions that make all the difference. This includes the writer working full time while trying to write a novel, the consultant with a part time job because the consulting doesn't pay the bills, and the unemployed executive who coaches until the right job comes along.

When you move from hoping the business will work to actively making it work, you go from amateur to professional, no matter how much money you are making.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

If There's a Chance You Can do it, Say Yes

I've gotten a long way in life because on several important occasions I said yes to an offer of work I wasn't necessarily prepared for.

We often hear that we have to get training, a degree, have experience, and so forth before we can get a job. My experience is exactly the opposite. I got the job then got the experience. Most of them were chance opportunities that I took the moment they were offered.

What would it take to become controller of a $2 million company? A degree in finance? Years of experience? CPA? Maybe, but for me it took being in the right place at the right time when the previous controller left. My previous job at the company? Editor.

What would it take to become Chief Financial Officer of a $6 million public company? All of the above plus SEC experience. By that time I had some of the above, namely two years of experience. All I knew about the SEC was that it had some regulatory powers.

I became editor of a weekly newspaper chain with six months experience as a newspaper reporter.

Why did all of this happen? Because I said yes to the offer when it came. Could I have worried about the experience I didn't have? Been afraid the job would be too much? Of course.

I didn't because I learned very early on that the purpose of education and training is above all to teach you how to find out what you don't already know. To learn the CFO job in a few weeks required me to look at what the previous occupant of the job had done and make sure I did it too. It required listening and observation and the confidence that the needed information would be there when I needed it.

Nobody knows everything. Nobody is ready for the next job. Nobody has the experience to do the next job up. You get that experience by doing the job. This applies to everyone, up to and including CEOs of major corporations.

I just watched the Undercover Boss show on ABC tonight. The CEO on the show had been with the company, a waste processing operation, for under a year and came from a completely different industry. On the show he saw much of the company's operations for the first time. He was getting his experience in that business as he worked.

The next time someone offers you a job you are not quite ready for or commissionsyou are not quite confident you can carry out, stretch a bit and take it. You will surprised by how much you CAN do.