I was in Whole Foods the other day, browsing the gluten-free cookie aisle, and I heard this little voice pipe up. 

“Hi!” 

And there, parked in a stroller by the almond milk, was an adorable baby girl, waving emphatically at me. 

“Hi! Hi!”

“Well hello there,” I said, delighted, walking over. “What’s your name?” 

And then the baby fell silent. There was an awkward pause. Then she looked past me to someone else ambling up the aisle. 

“Hi! Hi!” 

I had reached the apex of her engagement skills. Granted, she was like two. But still. Once she had my attention, she was moving on. She simply didn’t have anything else to say. 

I laughed, grabbed a box of something made with rice flour, and walked away. 

Sure, she’s a child. She doesn’t have a vocabulary for engagement. But we do. 

And it struck me that this is exactly—exactly—the problem with efforts we make to attract and engage people for our businesses and brands:

We love waving people in. We love getting them to pay attention. We love getting our stuff “out there” and “raising awareness.” 

We invest tons of time and money, to GET people to notice, thinking once they notice and like us, they’re ours forever. 

Nope. 

If all we do is try to wave people in, we’re no better than that baby in the dairy aisle, waving hard and then turning our attention to the next person. 

Because once you stop making that effort, to show relevance and value, they walk away. Sometimes even when you DO make the effort, they walk away! 

Take this blog, for instance. 

The minute that thing happened with the baby, I got excited, because I knew I wanted to tell you about it.

You might be entertained by this, but someone else just said to themselves, “What is this drivel,” and dealt the death blow to the “unsubscribe” button. It’s fine. 

To keep the right people engaged and in conversation with you, you have to let everyone else move on down the aisle toward what they’re looking for. 

So what is the magic that DOES keep people engaged? It’s not offers. It’s not discounts. 

It’s content. But content is not a platform. It’s a conversation. 

Email, wordpress, social—these are platforms.

The platform is the body; the content is the soul. And if marketing efforts feel empty to you, it’s because they’re dead inside. 

I know you’re busy. Content feels “extra,” like another thing you have to do that you’re not getting paid to do. 

But in fact you are getting paid to do it.

Every time someone engages with you, reads your stuff, understands who and what you represent and offer, you are paid handsomely in the one thing people are the most stingy about: Their attention. 

Ready for the invite? Here it is. 

I’m teaming up with my digital strategist and branding pro Cass McCrory to offer a two-part webinar, a free one, unlike anything I’ve done before online, actually. 

This (free) 2-part master class is called “Rekindle Your Content: How to fire up your creativity and fuel your marketing efforts.” 

>>You can get the replay here.

This (free) two-part virtual event is great for you (and/or a team member) if you:

  • Want to generate more and better content, but are tired and bored of doing it
  • Are paralyzed by a blank page and hate sitting down to “write copy” 
  • Want to refocus your content efforts, but aren’t sure where to start (or restart)

(Can’t make both, or either, times? Register anyway. We’ll send you the recording. But due to the very dynamic nature of this thing, you’ll get far more out of doing it live.)

Part I: Rekindle your content is about aligning those efforts with intention and purpose, rather than firing off posts with a t-shirt gun. 

Part II: Reinspire your work is where we roll up our sleeves and DO the work, yes, right then and there. 

This isn’t a pitch fest; it’s a master class. And I wouldn’t do two parts if I didn’t think it would be powerful and worthwhile. 

>REGISTER for “Rekindle Your Content” replay (for $0). 

 

P.S. You do NOT need to be a professional writer or have a blog to make this worthwhile. If you have ideas you want to share, a brand you want to build, this will help you focus that effort. Join us!

 

My friend Paula Rizzo looks like a sweet little cat. 

She’s neat and orderly and totally adorable, a petite, pretty brunette with a laugh like a bell. 

But don’t be fooled. Inside that kitten facade, the girl is a pit bull. 

She cut her teeth in newsrooms (which are not for the faint of heart) where she spent nearly two decades as a TV news producer, and now has an Emmy on her mantle to show for it. The girl doesn’t think in days or hours, but in seconds. 

So while the rest of us are doing things like, you know, blinking, she has already studied, learned, and mastered whole skill sets.

And when the girl had a stomachache for days, she ignored it.

For a delicate flower, she has an extremely high pain tolerance. Then the stomachache abated for a bit. You know why?

Because her appendix had exploded inside her. 

She lived to tell the tale, and while she was on the mend, she used her ninja list-making skills to rejigger what she would and would not be doing.

She and I were putting plans together to do a live event at the time, and when this disaster happened, she said, “We need something that will last even if body parts explode,” and so we launched an online digital course I’m quite proud of, called Lights Camera Expert.

The thing you might not guess about Paula is that she has an addictive personality. She gets into one thing, and THAT is what she’s into. Oatmeal for breakfast? All other breakfasts can go home now. Genmaicha green tea? Every day. I’m just glad she never tried meth. 

The girl is also obsessed with lists.

I don’t just mean “tasks for today” lists, but like, “stuff we need to talk about today over maki rolls,” including, “What’s going on with what’s-his-name?” 

(That is a question for me, and the answer is, nothing. Nothing is going on). 

She launched a blog about lists. Then a book about lists (Listful Thinking, bestseller, translated into umpteen languages, including whatever they speak on Mars). 

While I was doing laundry and trimming my nails and trying to figure out what to do for lunch, she released her second book, Listful Living: A List-Making Journey to a Less Stressed You. 

It’s pretty and practical, bound in an adorable package. Just like her. But there’s more to it than that.

Anyone can write down what they have to do today. But that’s just one use. Because what’s the point of all of the effort you make if you don’t know where you are right now, and where you’re headed. 

Lists give us control, reduce piles of to-dos into a clean, straight spine that can stand and move. She’s a list chiropractor, helping align the pieces to ensure that the to-dos align with the what the what-fors, and don’t forget the WHAT-I’M-NOT-DOING-ANYMORES, which is equally critical. 

If you could use a tool for helping map out your next steps—in your life, career, project, check out Listful Living: A List-Making Journey to a Less Stressed You. 

You’ll end up doing things you wouldn’t have otherwise thought about, or done, and that’s key. Trust me, when Paula tells me to do something, I don’t ask questions. I do it. 

 

Ever go on a church retreat? I did. 

Antioch Weekend at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Roseland, New Jersey. In the 80s.

You got to wear your Jordache jeans and sleep over at host houses and hang out with kids you didn’t know (read: boys you didn’t know) from public school. Hot. 

We sat in the school classrooms, but it didn’t feel like school. We had prayer groups and discussions, talked about life and faith. Then we’d stand in a circle and hold hands and sway to Led Zeppelin (because it was a “cool” church weekend). 

Maybe someone would cry. And it was totally normal to hug a lot, which provided an off-the-charts oxytocin-addled high. 

It was the first time in my life that I felt like an adult. Not a student, not a kid, but a person, with  feelings and opinions and ideas that mattered.

I felt closer to the other kids after a single weekend than I did with the kids I’d known my whole life. I felt seen and known. We all cried when it ended. I learned that bearing witness for another person was one of the most important things I could do. I believe it still is. 

A few years ago I attended a different retreat—a writing retreat, led by a woman I’d never met. We were in Rhode Island, the leaves starting to turn, and I woke up the second day and felt it—that same elevated, energized, happy feeling.

Only this was way better. I wasn’t fumbling through prayers and awkward teenage hugs. 

I was writing. Writing in ways I hadn’t written in years—free of judgment, free of fear and criticism and self doubt. I was absolutely high on it, on the energy in that room. 

I left that retreat changed. It was an intoxicating blend of feeling totally new and yet returning to something familiar. 

That’s the goal of a retreat, the best kind—to discover and remember. Both things. 

I still go on those retreats, led by the fabulous Suzanne Kingsbury, who’s become a close friend. And she trained me to lead my own. 

And tomorrow, I’m headed to Austin for The Intensive—the three-day writing retreat I run for professionals of every stripe (some identify as writers, some not at all) who want nothing more than to move their work out into the world. 

Using a specific approach called the Gateless Writing Method that Suzanne created—a critic-free approach to creative generation—we’ll uncork, unblock, and uncover their brilliance so they can craft powerhouse talks, books, podcasts, stories, blogs. We’re also going to swim. And drink wine. And laugh a lot.

This one filled up so fast that I scheduled a second one, same place, for October 17-20, and I happen to have a few spots left for that one. 

Does it sound fun? Want to learn more? Want to see pictures? Here you go.  

It’s not for everyone, certainly. But maybe it will tickle at your brain, make you wonder, “What if? What if it were amazing?”

And more importantly, this: “What if I could take a few days to focus on what I want to work on, instead of what everyone else needs from me?” YUP. That’s it. 

>>Want to apply for one of the few remaining spots? Go for it. 

You don’t need any cool-kid criteria to join us. The point of the application is to make sure we can assess if it’s a fit for you. 

P.S. See if The Intensive is right where you should be Oct 17-20, 2019, in Austin, TX! And if you’re not sure, just ask!

Ever hear of a woman named Brenda Ueland? 

She was before your time, and mine. And she did not mince words. 

“I hate orthodox criticism,” she wrote,  “…small niggling, fussy-mussy criticism, which thinks it can improve people by telling them where they are wrong, and results only in putting them in straitjackets of hesitancy and self-consciousness, and weazening all vision and bravery.”

Oh, she’s not done. 

“…I hate it because of all the potentially shining, gentle, gifted people of all ages, that it snuffs out every year. It is a murderer of talent. And because the most modest and sensitive people are the most talented, having the most imagination and sympathy, these are the very first ones to get killed off. It is the brutal egotists that survive.” 

Hot damn. She’s right. 

This passage comes from one of the most beloved books on writing and art ever written—“If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit.”  

She wrote it in 1938, but it’s as relevant now as ever—maybe more so. 

Ueland isn’t just speaking to “writers” (authors, journalists, etc). She’s speaking to anyone who’s ever had something to say. (Um, that’d be you.) 

I don’t think any of us is ever “out” of stories or ideas. We just stop seeing them. Or we don’t slow down long enough to let them hop on board. 

We whiz by them and say, “Yeah I should swing back around at some point and pick that one up. That’s a good one.” 

But we don’t. We’re busy. We’re leaving our best stories and ideas stranded at a goddamn bus stop.

As a consultant, I make my living by helping individuals and companies expedite the process of metabolizing their messaging, and getting it out there faster. 

And as a workshop leader, I help groups find their flow in the moment and tap a deep vein of creativity, right then and there—without judgment. 

Because criticism is a bitch. A lot of us (me included) are struggling with Stockholm Syndrome for the people who were most critical of our work. 

I won’t call them talent murderers because they don’t always set out to kill. They’re trying to “help.” They’re “just being honest.” They’re being practical. But in fact, what they’re doing is stomping on your very soul just as it’s starting to sprout brave little leaves.

Ueland writes, 

“The only good teachers for you are those friends who love you, who think you are interesting, or very important, or wonderfully funny; whose attitude is: ‘Tell me more. Tell me all you can. I want to understand more about everything you feel and know and all the changes inside and out of you. Let more come out.’” 

….YESSSSS. That’s it! That is IT. If you have that in your world, your circle of colleagues or friends, your pals from school, fantastic. Get together. Even virtually. And share your stuff, rather than fix it. 

Or, you can come hang out with us. Because this is PRECISELY what we’ll be doing, all day, at the Pop-Up Story Salon in Austin, Texas, on Monday 9/16: 

Creating a productive, creative, criticism-free environment in order to surface your best work. 

>>Click here to read more about the Pop-Up Story Salon (limited to 12!) on SEPT 16th

Do you have to be a writer? No. 

You just have to feel that impulse to create, to make something that matters. 

You might have a thing you want to write or speak about, a business or brand to run, a new product to launch. Don’t care what it is. You need the story. This is just the place.

Do you have to know what you’re going to work on? No again. The magic of this experience is not in agenda or prep. It’s in the experience itself. 

(Click to read more about what we’ll do and why it matters.)

Come create with us in a fun, productive, safe, creative environment with likeminded, openminded people who want to dig in for a whole day and catch a flow they can ride for weeks. 

Seriously, check it out. I’d love you to join us. Participation is strictly limited to 12 so that everyone gets attention to their work. So don’t wait.

OK here’s what happened: A woman emailed me recently and said she wanted help creating a TEDx talk. I said sure.

In fact, I could do her one better—I invited her to join me for the Pop-Up Story Salon in Manhattan that week. This would give her the chance to roll up her sleeves and start creating the talk right then and there, find a flow around what she wanted to say. Great way to start the ball rolling.

Her response? Nah.

She didn’t think she needed that. What she really needed, she said, was the format for a TEDx talk.

Hmm.

Format is another word for fill in the blanks. It’s “give me what it should look like and I’ll color inside the lines.” Problem is, that isn’t how you find, tap, or express brilliance.

You can totally google “TEDx talk format.” (Go ahead.) While you’re at it, go ahead and google “how to do a website” and “how to write a sales page.” Or, “how to give a toast at a wedding.” You’ll find tons of templates you can use.

I can also give you a cafeteria tray, and you can spoon every single one of your future meals into those little compartments.

Why does none of this sound fun? Because it’s not.

Your most genius ideas won’t be paint by numbers. And your best meals will not be served on a lunch tray. God willing.

Templates can be helpful. Of course. But they are not a shortcut to brilliant and unique ideas.

There are plenty of people who will give (or sell) you templates to fill in, no matter what you’re trying to create. And I could hand you, right now, a format for a TEDx talk. Then you’d have it. But it would bring you no closer to having a killer talk.

It’s not just this one woman, who I’m sure is a very nice, smart woman. But there are lots of nice, smart people who think that all you need to do to make something worthwhile is a recipe.

Recipes works for cupcakes. But not for creative ideas.

Formats have their place. Especially when you’re ready to finalize a thing. But not when you’re coming up with it.

That lady passed on the Pop Up Story Salon. But 11 other people showed up—and they blew each other away.

They came from a range of backgrounds (management consultants, financial pros, creative copywriters, fine artists, marketing execs).

They weren’t given a template; they were given time and space in which to write something unexpected. And they flat-out surprised themselves.

They shared their work and discovered its power, not its problems. They experienced, in real-time, how their work inspired and affected people in that room—most of whom they’d never met before.

I’m curious whatever happened to that woman though—if she’s still googling recipes, wondering why she’s still hungry.

WHAT ABOUT YOU, THOUGH?

Does the idea of digging into your most important stories and ideas to propel your brand and business with a smart, small group sound like fun? Because it is fun. And it’ll also change how you come up with and express your most creative ideas.

I loved that Pop Up so much I turned around and immediately planned several more all over the country for 2020. The events run 9-5p and attendance is limited to 12.

You can read more about the Pop-Up and see upcoming salons right here.

Stay tuned into for more cool events (online and in-person) coming up in 2020, too. Find me over on Insta or LinkedIn or Facebook to hear about them. Or get on my list (scroll down just a little) for very first word of all things 2020.

Four years ago I gave a TEDx talk called “Stop searching for your passion.” This is not news.

I memorized every word of that talk. I delivered it in a room of around 1500 people. And I walked out of there and thought, “Ok! that was fun. I hope someone outside of that theater ever sees it.”

And someone did. A lot of someones. Not at first, though. 

I don’t consider it a “viral” talk because it didn’t explode over night. It’s much more akin to a chronic disease; imperceptible at first, imperceptible at first, but the symptoms increase, year over year. But in a good way. Ok. bad analogy.

That talk continues to find its way to people on their laptops and iphones, in the dark of night somewhere in Sydney, or during someone’s hard day in Dayton. Young men in India email me at 3am all the time for some reason.

Some people say it changed their lives, which is very humbling. But that talk also changed MY life—it gave me a new platform and a new way of seeing and talking about things.

One thing I’ve always said about any talk is that it should be the start of a conversation, not the end of one. And that talk started a lot of conversations for me. 

I have a new talk, one I’ve test-driven at a few events, and people liked it so much that I’ve been invited back to give it a few more times. I like to think it’s continuing a conversation I started 4 years ago, which is, ok, if I’m not searching for my passion, what am I doing instead?

So I titled the new talk: “Stop Searching for Your Passion (Do This Instead).”  

(I’m no dummy. It worked once!)

I pitched it to SXSW. They loaded it into their “Panel Picker” and they said, essentially, “Here’s a link to share. See if anyone else cares.”

You don’t have to be going to SXSW or even know what it is, you don’t have to give a crap about any of it.

But. 

If you took the time to read this, you’re obviously in my corner, and I’d like to ask you for your vote. Your UPvote, that is.

Just click on over to this page, register to vote (this does not obligate you to anything). And VOTE UP.

…If you DO NOT think I should be anywhere NEAR SXSW, then I understand your decision to respectfully decline to vote. Voting down just seems mean.

Thank you!

 

A few weeks ago, I told you to be wary of advice. Even mine.

Why? Because it’s tempting to believe that if we just follow the right advice, we never have to make any mistakes. Ever.

If your whole goal is to avoid mess, mistakes, and effort by stepping gingerly inside the footsteps of others, chances are, you won’t make much of an impression yourself.

In his handy little branding book called “Shout is a Stain Remover, Not a Strategy,” my friend Gary Kopervas, head creative at the branding agency 20Nine, writes,

“Best practices can be a trap. Experts advise that you look at what successful people are doing in your industry and do what they do…but copycats don’t achieve great things. Doing what other people do—no matter how successful they are—can mute your originality or authenticity.”

Well said, Gary, well said.

What he recommends is that you “work your quirk.”

So you’re thinking, “OK, well how do I know what that is? How do I find or choose that thing? Am I even different at all? Maybe I’m not. Maybe I’m boring. Oh God, I’m a fraud! A horrible, tedious fraud!”

Ok hold up. No, you’re not.

But finding what makes you truly standout isn’t a matter of a mad grab through your junk drawer looking for that screwdriver you could swear was in there.

You need to give yourself the chance to explore your story. You need time, focused attention, and the right container for doing that work (i.e., not on your couch with the news blaring).

And, you need a prompt.

In the Gateless Writing method that I use in my workshops, we use prompts to open the door to new ideas and even old stories.

I’ll give you one right now that you can use:

Think about a time when you felt really torn.

On one hand, it seemed clear what you should do, but on the other, you really weren’t sure anymore. It could have been a big decision. Or, it could have been when you were torn over which brand of BBQ chips you wanted. This doesn’t have to Be Important Work. The goal is to get the ideas out of your head so we can see what makes you tick — without letting your critical mind starting patting them down, TSA style.

Do not analyze. Do not think. Set the timer for 10 minutes. And write.

Now, if we were in the room together, I’d ask you to read what you just wrote. Out loud. To the group.

And we’d then give you feedback. Not to fix your work, but to find its power. What makes it strong. And, show you things in that work you didn’t see. It’s game changing.

This is the heart of the Gateless method. It changed my life and my work. It helped me gain incredible clarity, but also made creating easy and pleasurable and real. It helped me recognize what made my work different. And it can do the same for you.

Want to do this with me? Well, you’ve got your chance.

I’m running a Pop-Up Story Salon in Manhattan on Wed 8/21 from 9-4p.

You can read more about it here.

Space is limited to 12, and we’ve sold about half of those tickets already. FYI.

It’s going to be fun, and productive—kind of like a watering hole for your soul, the part that’s thirsting to do more than work stuff.

Register for the Pop-Up Story Salon here.

Look at your calendar real quick. 

I bet you have stuff scheduled today, and several things this week, that involve being in a room, real or virtual, with other people.

Some of those meetings are obviously work-related, because they happen in a conference room or conference call.

Others are pretending to be fun (drinks!) but are really work-related meetings in disguise (sorry, salt rim, you’re fooling nobody).

And still others should be just fun things, and yet, if we’re being honest, are really super boring.

Yet, we still gather. In rooms, with each other, and always will.

Question is, do you know why you’re there? In that room, at that moment? Does anyone?

Priya Parker is a professional facilitator. She’s trained in group dialogue and conflict resolution, and has spent 15 years studying it. Her book, which is fantastic, is The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, and I saw her speak at a conference called How Design Live this past spring. She blew my mind. I bought multiple copies.

She says there’s a reason why most meetings are boring at best and frustrating at worst, or even our social gatherings and “fun” events often suck: Because we don’t really know why we’re there.

Parker says, if you’re not totally sure the purpose of the meeting, BEYOND the category (“status update,” “birthday party,” “networking event”), then you should really seriously consider not doing it until you know.

And if you think you can put some good people, even big personalities in the room, and let charisma take care of the rest, good luck. Because no.

“When we don’t examine the deeper assumptions behind why we gather, we end up skipping too quickly to replicating old, staid formats of gathering,” she writes. “And we forego the possibility of creating something memorable, even transformative.”

A good purpose for a gathering must be, as she says, specific, unique, and disputable.

When I read that my jaw dropped. Yes yes yesss! I’ve been screaming about this for years. Your purpose, whether you use it to drive a meeting or your brand messaging, is the same:

It has to be unique to you, and it has to be something that someone else might disagree with.

That’s why “supporting women business owners” and “helping people grow their assets” are not interesting—because they’re too vague and acceptable. Blah.

Parker says we mistakenly look to logistics to give meaning to events: Chefs, caterers, florists, etc. We have it backwards: The decisions on logistics should flow FROM purpose. Not the other way around.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: You don’t start with the assets—website, a brochure, a podcast, a TEDx talk.

You start with purpose. That’s the heavy lifting—and most people just don’t do it.

Most people do what has always been done, and they stay just this side of doing something meaningful. They settle for what checks the boxes on productive (or, worse, makes them “feel” productive and they are not always the same thing).

If you’re going to do something that matters—call a meeting, throw a party, give a talk, craft messaging that actually connects with someone—it’s requires a unique and disputable purpose.

And some kind of risk. Because that’s what it feels like to do something only you could do.

You don’t know HOW many times people have said to me that the biggest problem they’re having with messaging—no matter what it is—is that whatever they have to say (sell, promote, announce) isn’t sexy enough.

But in fact, it is.

Why? Because there is no such thing as a boring topic.

If you think something is boring, it may mean that you haven’t done the heavy lifting to identify the real reason this is compelling. You haven’t tried. You assume it’s boring.

If you want to find the “sex appeal” (and I’m using that term lightly—not everything has to appeal to actual sex to sell) in what you’re doing, sharing, selling—find the way in which it appeals to human craving, desire, or need.

That means: Everything is sexy. (Kind of.)

The way I see it is, if someone has found a way to earn a living from it, trust me, there’s something sexy there. It doesn’t have to be flashy-sexy, but it may appeal to what someone feels a driving need for, even if they don’t admit it out loud or in mixed company.

Take copyediting, for instance. 

Copyediting is tedious, painstaking work. Some people really love doing it. Most don’t. But they want that service. Why? Because they’re “interested” in commas? Nope.

Because no one wants to look stupid. That’s why.

And if you don’t have a copyeditor read over your work and change “there” to “their,” you could end up feeling a little stupid. I don’t know why copyeditors don’t lean on this more. Because you’re not hiring a comma-fixer; you’re hiring someone to make sure you look and sound as smart as you know you are.

Oh and by the way: There’s nothing inherently interesting, either. 

There’s only what you find interesting. If you think a topic, issue, or business is inherently interesting, be careful—you could get lazy and assume that the product, service, or idea will sell itself. (It won’t.)

Anyone who’s ever been bored to near-death by someone at a dinner party knows this. But it has nothing to do with X topic. It has to do with the message and how it was delivered.

A bore is not someone who’s fascinated by things you’re not interested in; a bore is someone who hasn’t done the work to bridge that gap between what he finds interesting…and what you do. It’s lazy.

Finding the emotional pressure point in any message is critical—and without that point, well, yes, the copy or positioning may fall flat.

I think of brand messaging as a kind of of acupuncture. Words must be wielded with intention and skill if they’re going to work.

Sure, you can take a perfectly good acupuncture needle and stick it randomly into your arm. Chances are,  nothing will happen. But it doesn’t mean that acupuncture never works.

When a needle is intentionally and skillfully applied to a precise point, it could send a ripple effect through your entire nervous system. It could change everything.

Don’t think your accounting software, wealth management firm, or crash course in quinoa is sexy enough? Oh, I beg to differ. As long as you know who the audience is and what they want, you can trigger that pressure point.

They key is stop worrying about or judging what seems inherently “interesting” or “boring” and set about doing the work that bridges the gap between what you have and what your audience wants.

Do that and zap! Nervous systems lighting up all over the place.