Monthly Archives: September 2009


Been to Starbucks lately?  Of course you have.  Have you noticed that you need to learn a new language just to order a cup of coffee?  They actually publish a guidebook for those of us who aren’t native speakers.  Here are some of the more colorful combinations you can put together.

  • Triple venti skinny upside-down caramel macchiato (3 shots of espresso put in first instead of last in a large cup with nonfat milk, caramel sauce and vanilla syrup)
  • Grande skim triple shot hazelnut latte, no whip (3 shots of espresso in a medium-sized cup with skim milk, hazelnut syrup and no whip cream)
  • Half-Caf, Double Tall, Non-Fat, No Foam Latte (1 shot regular espresso and 1 shot decaffenated expresso in a small cup full to the top with steamed nonfat milk)
  • Grande, quad, ristretto, nonfat dry cappuccino with legs (4 shots of espresso to go using only the sweetest part of the coffee in a medium-sized cup with more foamed nonfat milk than liquid milk)
  • Doppio venti light ice unleaded Frappuccino con panna (2 shots of decaffeinated espresso on ice with whipped cream and only a little ice in a large cup)

Funnier than us trying to use this language is the look on the faces of the baristas when you actually get one of these out.  Ten to one they won’t have the foggiest idea what you are talking about.


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Filed under culture, funny, humor, Just for fun


While speaking to students at Washington and Lee University, former Vice President of the United States Alben Barkley suddenly collapsed and died from a massive heart attack on April 30th, 1956.  As far as we know, he’s the only person to ever officially die from public speaking.  But considering the way people worry about and avoid it, you would think death was a much more common side effect.

The Book of Lists shows that the fear of public speaking ranks number one in the list of fears with most people.  Way above the fear of death, disease and showing up in public in your underwear is the fear of falling flat before an audience.  Unfortunately for those who suffer from glossophobia (fear of speaking in public), it’s a crucial skill to master for your career.  According to the Lamalie Report on Top Executives, 71% of top execs rank communication and presentation skills as the #1 ingredient in their effectiveness.

So, how do you feel about it?  Does the thought of standing in front of your peers make your hands sweat and the butterflies take flight?  It doesn’t have to be that way.  The following techniques will help you overcome the jitters.

Lower Your Expectations
Who said you have to be perfect?  Even expert presenters were beginners once.  They made mistakes and learned from them in order to get to the level of skill that you witness.  Aim for “adequate” or “average” the first few times, and you will relieve huge amounts of pressure.

Keep It Short and Simple
Audiences will always appreciate short presentations that get to the point.  Keeping your presentation short and simple makes it easier for you to remember and deliver, and it makes it easier for your audience to hear.

Visualize Success
Throw out all the mental images of failure.  Replace them with thoughts of succeeding wildly!  What you rehearse in your mind more often than not plays out in reality.

Change Your Self-Talk
If you hear yourself saying (or thinking), “I’m not good at public speaking,” or “I’m going to really mess this up,” it’s time to change your self-talk.  Give yourself messages about success, about your audience engaging with you, about everything going incredibly well…  Quit trying to be a self-fulfilling prophet just so you can tell us later that you told us so.  Above all, keep these two maxims in mind:

  1. They genuinely want you to succeed. Really!  Audiences would rather see a good presentation than a bad one.
  2. They don’t know what they don’t know. If you forget something, misquote a statistic, blow your closer…they probably have no idea…until, of course, you apologize for doing it – then everyone knows.

Know the Room
Before you speak, get into the room and check everything out.  Test the microphone, stand at the lectern, do a walk through of your presentation and see where you’ll stand…anything to help you get comfortable with your surroundings.

Memorize Your Opener
This will increase your likelihood of success at the beginning.  If you can develop momentum through a solid opening delivery, your fear will typically melt.

Fool Your Physiology
While your brain is telling your body how to act, it is also taking cues from it.  By doing the opposite of what your body expects to do when you’re nervous, you send the message back that you are calm and in control.  Here are a few methods:

  • Breath deeply and slowly – During stress, our bodies switch to rapid chest breathing to increase the supply of oxygen.  Slow, deep breaths are a sign of relaxation.
  • Hold something warm in your hands (like a cup of coffee) – Blood flow is directed away from your hands during stress.  Warming them up helps you feel more confident.
  • Exercise – Muscles tense up when we are nervous.  Exercise relaxes them.
  • Stand up straight – Fear tends to make us draw inward physically.  Holding your head up with your shoulders back counteracts this.
  • Wet your whistle – You produce less saliva when nervous.  Keep water (room temperature, not cold) handy so that you can take care of dry mouth.

Greet Your Audience
Say hello to them individually.  Shake their hands.  Smile at them.  You’ll build rapport with them, and you’ll reinforce your belief that they want you to succeed.

Pick Out Friendly Faces
Scan your audience for someone who is smiling, nodding in agreement or looking attentive.  Block out anyone who is sleeping, frowning or looking skeptical.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!

If you didn’t prepare, you have a legitimate reason to be nervous.  Spend the time needed to be familiar with your subject matter, but then back off.  Agonizing over your presentation right before you give it increases nervousness and mistakes.  You’re better off just reviewing a few key points right before you get up to speak.
Don’t let your fear of speaking in public derail your career.  Remember that “FEAR” stands for “False Expectations Appearing Real.”  Most of the tragic outcomes you imagine will never happen, so stop wasting brain cells worrying about them.  Instead, use that energy to make your point in a dynamic and compelling way!

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Filed under comfort zone, communication, Fear, overcoming obstacles, public speaking, speaking, success

Find Your Cadence

I once met a friend at a park for a lesson on how to get into cycling as a way of keeping healthy.  It was my one and only lesson (because exercise is a synonym for pain in my dictionary), but I learned something important that I have totally failed to apply during the many years since.  Seeing my lack of experience right off, he gave me a piece of advice:

“Find your cadence.”

He went on to explain that I was jerking the pedals in a very inconsistent pattern.  They key to burning calories efficiently and without injury is having a smooth, consistent motion at a relatively swift pace (more than 50-60 revolutions per minute).

Honestly, I haven’t thought about his advice much since then.  I rarely get on a bike.  (Who has the time?)  But I thought about it this morning as I was walking back from taking the kids to school.

My life is often an off-balance, inconsistent, jerking-the-pedals kind of mess.  I’ve always prided myself in being a spontaneous, hands-off-the-handlebars kind of person (INFP for those of you who are familiar with Myers-Briggs).  I hate to be scheduled; I hate routine; I like to stay up to all hours of the night…I just love the enormous possibility of a day free from obligations.

But as the years have gone by (I’m 39), living la vida loca is starting to take its toll in repetitive stress injuries.  My body now pays triple what it used to cost me to stay up past midnight.  I never feel like exercising.  I’m always tired.  I’m hopelessly behind on my to-do list, and my spiritual disciplines are somewhat undisciplined.

I find that I’m always trying to play catch-up….in my finances, in my relationships, in my work, in my spiritual life…so I take the turns of life at breakneck speeds and load my bicycle down with all kinds of good intentions.  Then every once in a while, I crash with an illness that lays me out until my body can repair the damage I’ve done.  This is no way for a mature, father of three and husband of one to live.

So, what occurred to me as I walked home this morning is that I need to find my cadence.  In other words, I need to find the rhythm and the pace that I can sustain long-term, and I need to stick to it.  I’ve been making half-hearted efforts at this for years, but I’ve lacked the discipline to keep it up and I’m pretty sure that Satan has been doing his best to interrupt my cadence whenever possible by throwing hazards on the road right before I get there.

The key to this working, I’ve realized, is that I need to select a lower gear.  I’m wearing myself out trying to pedal at top speed in a gear that’s too hard for me.  I need to stop trying to do so much that I’m always behind.  I need to forgive myself for what I didn’t accomplish yesterday.  I need to stop trying to catch up and just start fresh wherever I’m at.  Most of all, I need to listen to the messages my body is sending me and get more sleep so that I’ll have the energy to handle whatever challenges the day brings.  Rhythm and rest.

This is more journal than blog.  My apologies.  Hope that maybe it helps you find your own cadence.

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Filed under commitment, Daily walk, discipline, habits, health, Sharpening the Saw, spiritual disciplines

My Dad’s A Speeder, Officer!

My friend and his family were headed to the mountains to ski one weekend.  They were making the trip with another family from their neighborhood, and everyone was excited about getting to the slopes.  Excitement turned into anxiety, however, when my friend noticed the red, flashing lights of a police car in his rearview mirror.  The police officer pulled both vehicles over and went to my friend’s car first.

“Sir, are you aware of why I stopped you?”

“Yes, sir, officer.  I was speeding.”

From the back seat came the vociferous voice of his five-year-old daughter, “My daddy’s a speeder, Officer!  He speeds all the time.  I tell him not to but he does it anyway.  You should arrest him, Officer.”

The police officer looked down at his ticket pad and began to chuckle.  “Wait here for a minute,” he said and returned to his squad car.

While the officer was at his car, my friend’s wife tried to convince her daughter to be quiet.  Despite the possibility of a ticket, my friend told his daughter, “No, it’s okay.  I was speeding, and I shouldn’t have been.”

A few minutes later, he returned and knocked on the daughter’s window.  When her parents lowered it, the officer asked, “Young lady, is your daddy a speeder?”

“Yes he is.  He does it all the time even though I tell him not to.  You should take him to jail!”

The police officer gave my friend’s daughter a police badge sticker and told her to make sure her daddy doesn’t speed anymore.  To my friend he said, “You know, it’s been a long time since I laughed at a traffic citation stop.  You’re off the hook for this one.”

Between the two families, a daughter’s candidness saved them over $500 in fines.  I guess honesty does pay.

(S – A special thanks to Sydney Epstein for keeping her daddy honest.)

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Filed under accountability, Authenticity, character, family, funny, guilt, humor, Just for fun, parenting, rules, submission

BIG “G” – little “g”

In one of the classes that I’ve regularly facilitated, we do an activity called “The Parking Space.”  Participants are given a role-play scenario in which two people have to compete for a single parking space.  One person is running late for a job interview, and the other is running late for a meeting with an important client.  As one tries to back into the parking space, the other is trying to pull forward into it.  The two people get out of their cars and negotiate to see who gets the space.

What’s really interesting about the interaction isn’t who gets the space or even how they get it (and I’ve heard some really creative and unethical methods of coercion).  It’s that in the process of overpowering their adversary for the space, both people completely forget what their primary goals were – getting the job or making the meeting.  It never dawns on them that time is ticking away as they bicker about who gets to park where.  Each person fights for a win-lose outcome, but what they end up with is lose-lose, because the parking space is moot by the time they miss their respective appointments.

The role-play is an excellent example of sacrificing a Big “G” Goal (making the appointment) in order to achieve a little “g” goal (getting the parking space).  It sounds crazy, but we do it all the time.

  • We pull out all the stops to win the argument but forget that we are trying to build the relationship.
  • We prevent our top performers from transferring to other departments in order to protect our team’s productivity and end up losing them because there is no room for advancement.
  • We refuse to share information with another group because they haven’t reciprocated in the past and lose sight of the fact that we work for the same company.
  • We cut services back in order to reduce expenses and succeed in chasing off our customers.
  • We invent rules for a small percentage of “law-breakers” and ultimately punish the 99.9% of people who want to do the right thing but can’t get anything done because of the excessive red-tape.
  • We turn drill sergeant with our kids to get them ready in the morning and manage to ruin everyone’s day as we head out the door for a family event.
  • We argue with our neighbors over property rights and forget that we were trying to win them to Christ.

Our problem is that we are so focused on what’s before us that we can’t see the big picture.  We are intent on winning battles, but our short-term focus is losing us the wars.  If we could keep our eyes on the Big “G” Goals, what a difference it would make in our lives, in our work and in our ministries!

We would have so much more grace for people who don’t act the way we want them to act.   We would be able to keep a healthy perspective on the minor things that don’t go our way.  We would make better decisions in the moment as we assessed the impact of those decisions on our Big “G” goals.

Where is it that you have gotten seduced by the urgency of little “g” goals?  How could you maintain your focus on the the bigger picture?  A long-range focus informs better decision making in the moment.  It takes practice, but if you’re like me, you’ve got plenty of opportunities.

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Filed under conflict, Goals, grace, Interpersonal, priorities, Prioritize, Relationships, success

The Power of a Shared Vision

A few weeks ago, I participated in my favorite annual activity: attending summer camp.  The camp is for abused children and is part of a national effort organized through Royal Family Kids’ Camps, Inc. (  I have two main passions in life.  One is teaching, and the other is helping children.  The camp scratches that itch for me every year.  But the reason I’m writing about it has less to do with the children than with the adult volunteers who organize and conduct the camp.

Camp is a tough commitment for many of the volunteers.  It requires a six-day trip, which usually requires the volunteer to use vacation time.  Our camp is located in the middle of Texas during a week of July, when temperatures are scorching.  Each camp guide takes responsibility for two campers between the ages of 7-11 and spends 22.5 hours a day with them.

Every day of the week starts at 7:30a (earlier if the adult wants to get a shower in) and runs until 9:30p, when the camp guide is allowed to take a 90-minute break before stumbling into his/her comfy camp bunk.  Camp guides follow a tightly-packed schedule and do their best to make camp the ultimate experience for each of their campers.

I’m not doing it justice, because many volunteers spend hours and hours in preparation for camp – submitting to an invasive interview process, participating in two days of on-site training, attending meetings, shopping for cabin decorations, loading trucks, inventorying supplies, attending fund raisers, etc…  Suffice it to say, this camp requires a unique and demanding type of commitment.

Each year, it takes over 60-70 adults to host the one-week camp for approximately 60-70 abused children.  That’s a one-to-one ratio of adults to children – almost unheard of at a summer camp but absolutely essential for preserving the safety and creating the experience for the kids.  Sixty adults is a tough number to muster for a volunteer opportunity, but this camp has done it successfully for the past twelve years.  This year, most of our 70+ adults were returning volunteers.  Twenty-two have been with us for five years or more, and seven of those have been with the camp for all twelve years.

I have never seen a team operate as smoothly and effectively as the one that comes together each year to put on RFKC #47.  Personal differences are set aside.  Egos are checked at the camp gates.  Individual agendas are abandoned…all in an attempt to serve the kids.  All this while volunteers are being tested to their physical, mental and emotional limits.

How do the camp directors generate such loyalty, commitment and sacrifice from the volunteers?  Simple.  The power of a shared vision.  The camp directors don’t have to cajole these contributions from their volunteers, because the volunteers give them freely.  They don’t have to offer incentives, because the volunteers believe that the work is reward enough in itself.  They can elicit extraordinary effort from their volunteers just by asking, because the volunteers are passionate about the goals of the camp.

Can this power be put to work on your team?  YES!  To do it, you will need to create a vision that all your team members can get excited about.  Even if the work your team does isn’t viewed as intrinsically rewarding in and of itself, you can create incredible synergy by identifying your team’s uniqueness.  What is it that your team wants to be known for?  What makes it different from all the other teams?  Why would anyone outside the team want to come be part of it?

Everyone wants to be part of something excellent and extraordinary.  They will work for less money, put up with inconvenience and hassle, step out of the spotlight…all to be part of something unique and worthwhile.  So, no more excuses!  Every team is capable of being excellent in some way.  Find out what your team values the most and then go to work creating that reputation for yourself!

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Filed under buy-in, commitment, motivation, ownership, sacrifice, Service