Learn to Speak Comfortably in Front of Groups

When asked to identify their greatest fear, guess which one people most frequently mention? Public speaking in front of an audience! Unfortunately, it’s an important skill that is all-too-often deemphasized in schools, which is why many people don’t end up mastering it (if ever) until they’re adults and required to make public presentations in college or the workplace.
One reason we we’re reluctant to “put ourselves out there” in front of a crowd is our fear of saying something stupid or our mind going blank just in time for the punch line. This is why I rarely tell jokes in public and why I’ll always regret trying to memorize my wedding vows! Total public humiliation!
Why bother aquiring this skill (especially when it makes your palms sweat and your mouth go dry)? Statistics show that learning to master public speaking early helps students to perform better in college, as well as offering greater opportunities to be accepted into their top choice schools. In the marketplace, public speaking and related communication skills are big winners among prospective employers and can be significant factors in landing jobs and getting promotions. The ability to present yourself (and your subject matter) well in front of groups is a true career booster. In fact, both undergraduate and graduate business school alumni who attended the University of Minnesota placed oral communication at the TOP of a list of skills that were relevant to overall job success.

Speaking comfortably in front of groups is a skill that can be learned—I’m proof of that. And, acquiring this skill will help you immensely in life, especially in your career.  If you’re not satisfied with your presentation skills, consider these pointers:

  • Lower your expectations of yourself—you don’t need an orator’s eloquence to deliver a successful presentation.
  • Take comfort in that you usually know more about your subject than your audience and only you know exactly what you want to say
  • Recognize that most audiences want you to succeed and are on your side
  • Avoid excessive detail
  • Tell stories
  • Show lots of enthusiasm and expression
  • Try to have fun with it!

By learning to speak comfortably in front of groups, you’ll be better able to increase the impact of your hopes, dreams, desires, and goals for your life and the world around you. This important life skill will not only help you get ahead in life and accomplish your own personal objectives; it will help you make a difference in your workplace, school, community—perhaps even the world!
Are you comfortable speaking in front of groups? What hurdles have you needed to overcome to develop your confidence? Please share your experiences and advice with our online community by commenting below. We’d love to hear from you!

Preserve Your Reputation and Integrity at all Costs

What is a prized possession you can never get back once you lose it?

The answer is your reputation.

At some point in your life, your values will be challenged and possibly even ridiculed by others. It’s especially common in the years after high school when you’re facing all that newfound independence. You also may face situations in your career where shortcuts are tempting and ethical situations are gray.

Will you have the moral courage to withstand the pressure and take the high ground, even if it means you may lose an opportunity or a friendship in the process?
I was fortunate to have worked with George Russell, the Chairman Emeritus of Russell Investments. He always took pride in saying, “Our company operates with non-negotiable integrity.” He meant it. George always said, “If you’re wondering whether or not to do something, ask how you would feel if it became tomorrow’s headline in the New York Times.” Enough said.

Sadly, you can see how poor choices have destroyed the reputations and lives of countless people in the sports, entertainment, political, and business world. Since many of them were heroes to impressionable kids, their missteps have even greater consequence. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen how the loss of trust and respect can ruin lives and relationships.

No matter what you do, preserve your integrity, values, and reputation with every ounce of strength you can muster. You will absolutely, positively, and totally regret it if you don’t!

How have you handled situations where you were asked or tempted to compromise your integrity?  Have you shared the story with the young people in your life? Your positive example will encourage them in their own struggles to preserve their reputation and integrity in an easy-to-compromise world.

Choose Your College Major and Career Wisely

Can you imagine working at a job you hate? Spending most of your waking hours bored, frustrated, or totally stressed out, working with people or for an employer you don’t care for?
On the other hand, imagine working for a company you admire, where your skills are fully utilized, where you can build life-long friendships, where you’re given opportunities to grow professionally, and where you’re rewarded and recognized for a job well done.
I think we’d all prefer the second scenario, wouldn’t we? Unfortunately, many don’t experience it because they don’t do their homework. Choosing your major and career should be one of the most fully researched decisions of your life. 
The first step is to conduct a comprehensive self-assessment. This involves taking an honest and objective inventory of your: 

  • Interests and passions
  • Skills and aptitudes
  • Lifestyle and workplace preferences
  • Willingness to obtain the necessary qualifications

The second step is to develop a list of potential careers that captures your interests, skills, and personal preferences. Learn about the qualifications for each career possibility and consider whether you have the skills and/or are willing to acquire them. Meet with admissions counselors and professors. Attend career fairs. Review the recommendations from any aptitude tests you’ve completed. Meet with actual practitioners in each career area to learn what the job is like. Speak with others who know you best to gain their perspectives.
The third step involves investigating the demand outlook for the careers you’re considering. Do your research to discover which careers are experiencing strong job growth and which majors will qualify you. For every major you’re considering, thoroughly evaluate its employment prospects.

Finally, seek out work-study, internship, and job shadowing opportunities to get a taste of what the career is like. This will provide a firsthand reality check and either confirm or reject your preliminary conclusions.

Once you complete this process, you’ll have narrowed down your major/career choices to a few finalists. Don’t be surprised, though, if your thinking changes as you take more advanced classes and learn more about that career. After all, most college students change their major at least once. I did twice!   
A great research tool is the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, which you can find at www.bls.gov/oco. On this site you will find the descriptions for hundreds of occupations, in addition to the education and training you’ll need to qualify for them. Also listed are average earnings and future projections for growth in each profession. Need help starting to identify which jobs and careers might be a good fit for you?  Also check out this website: http://www.bls.gov/k12/index.htm. It’s called, “What Do You Like?” and can help you narrow down your options based on your own interests.
Parents, youth mentors, and educators: Please consider sharing this email with the career-bound students in your life. Use it as a bridge to opening conversations about life direction, career options, and preparation for life as an adult. Then feel free to share your comments and testimonials with our online community; we’d love to hear your thoughts!

So, Parents, Did YOU Earn a 4.0?

A defining moment in any parent’s life is when his son or daughter “leaves the nest.” It’s a roller coaster ride of reflection and anticipation…and conviction about how well you prepared them for success in life. (For you younger moms and dads, just wait!)
The first time it happened to me, it literally changed my life. It was August 2008, two weeks before our Michael would leave for his freshman year of college. That Sunday night I experienced a “dad moment” for a lifetime.  I began questioning how I had done as his father. Did I cover the bases? How will our relationship change and grow? Did I earn a 4.0?

Honestly, I felt so convicted by these questions that I rushed to my computer and began recording all the life wisdom I could muster. My brain was bombarded by one thought after another as I reflected on the amazing leaders I’ve met. They covered fundamental questions like how one defines “success” and demonstrates honorable character. Or, how one builds strong relationships and communicates well with others. Or, how one handles adversity and becomes a masterful decision maker and time manager. Then, I turned to advice for the upcoming decisions he’d be facing, such as his academic transition, career, marriage, and managing his finances.
In the days ahead, I shared my list of 100 life success pointers with parents and leaders and they all urged me to write a book! And, so I did. In a few years, my list would become a conversational book of essential life wisdom for young people and the adults who guide them…like dads! That’s how What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead came to be.
Based on reader feedback, What I Wish I Knew at 18 is proving to be a wonderful, third party voice for parents and a rare book they can enjoy together with their teens. The key is finding a spot for regular casual conversation (e.g., coffee shops), letting them choose the topics, opening up about your life at that age, and just sharing together. The rest is magic.
So, how do you earn a 4.0 in preparing your children to thrive as adults? In a nutshell, a 4.0 Dad focuses on the following:

  • Destinational Preparation: providing a comprehensive vision for an honorable, productive life and before-the-fact wisdom for key upcoming decisions (the essence of my book)
  • Relational Preparation: evolving your parenting style from “control” to “influence,” based on mutual trust (“coach” vs. “lecture”); conveying your belief in them and confidently releasing them into independent life
  • Transitional Preparation: ensuring they (and you!) get off to a strong start in those critical first 3-6 months after leaving home; preparing them for the upcoming social transition and avoiding putting undue pressure on them to “perform”

My hope is that What I Wish I Knew at 18 will serve parents as a destination guide for the milestone launch into adulthood. So here’s to you, Moms and Dads:  May you earn a 4.0 in the eyes of your children!

Strive to Be an Agreeable Disagree-er

One recurring theme in recent presidential campaigns has been the need to “change the tone” in Washington. Now, if you believe any candidate could actually accomplish this feat, I have some Florida swamp land to sell you!
The political scene has always been divisive and for many reasons. One is that differences are often irreconcilable due to underlying philosophies and worldviews. The other is that most people don’t handle disagreements very well. They resort to verbal warfare, name calling, and condescension in order to convert opponents to their point of view. It doesn’t work in politics and it certainly doesn’t work in life.
Let’s face it: opinions vary and most people arrive at theirs after legitimate, heartfelt thought. Often, differences are based on deep philosophical views where there isn’t a right or a wrong answer. In other cases (especially involving politics and religion), people may agree with the goal but differ in methods. A good example is whether government spending or tax cuts do a better job in stimulating the economy. Both sides have valid points. They just have different approaches to achieving a common goal.
Throughout life, you’ll be in situations with others who aren’t “on the same page.” It might be with a family member, friend, or work colleague. When you’re interacting with someone with whom you disagree, be “agreeable” in your demeanor. After sharing your thoughts and genuinely listening to his or hers, agree to disagree if that’s the case. Avoid making it personal, and recognize that differences of opinion will happen as a part of life. In most instances, you’re not going to change their mind anyway!

Share these questions with the young adults in your life (and maybe even answer them yourself!):

Do you keep your cool and a respectful attitude when debating with others?  Are you able to separate the person from his or her beliefs on an issue? Do you notice the difference? In what way(s)? Share your thoughts below … we’d love to hear from you!