A Conversation with Sanjay Nambiar

Sanjay NambiarOn Thursday May 5, members of the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable hosted a conference call with freelance speechwriter, author and publisher Sanjay Nambiar.

Sanjay is a veteran speechwriter and award-winning children’s book author. He has written speeches for CEOs and executives in a wide range of industries, from finance and technology to education and non-profits. Past clients include executives at Toyota, Comcast, and CBS among others.

He also has written several award-winning children’s books. In addition to being a speechwriter and author, Sanjay also is the CEO of SDPH Media, the company behind the multimedia global brand platform for the Super Duper Princess Heroes.

The focus of our conversation was Sanjay’s recommendations for building a freelance speechwriting business as well as his role as an author and publisher (something he has in common with other speechwriters such as Mike Long — playwright — and Justina Chen — young adult fiction author).

Sanjay reviewed the ways he built his client list that started with Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and pay-per-click ads. He also talked about the advantages and disadvantages of options such as Upwork (formally eLance), cold calling and mailing. He shared effective networking and referral techniques. We also discussed his publishing business.

To find out more, click on the podcast icon below to hear edited highlights from the call where Sanjay shares tips on building a freelance speechwriting business.

Bookmark and Share

Improving Communication is Key to Closing Millennials’ Workplace Skills Gap

ToastmastersIt’s universally acknowledged that employers seek applicants with strong speaking and writing abilities. Despite being highly educated and armed with technical skills, many millennials lack the soft skills to compete in the workplace. A survey by the Hay Group revealed that 80 percent of employers are struggling to find graduates with the soft skills they need. Communication is the most in-demand soft skill in most industries, including engineering, finance, healthcare, information technology and sales.

Soft skills are defined by Oxford Dictionaries as personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. In addition to communication, organization, writing, leadership, problem solving and customer service are among the most desired soft skills in nearly every occupation.

“Job seekers with a good mix of both technical and soft skills will have the best prospects right out of college,” says Rosemary Haefner, Chief Human Resources Officer of CareerBuilder.

To help develop soft skills, millennials and all prospective employees are encouraged to focus on ways they can build the skills they lack. An effective method of developing communication and leadership skills is to join Toastmasters International. Toastmasters offers a supportive setting where people can improve these skills through practice and become more confident communicators and stronger leaders.

Corporate Clubs

Nearly half of all Fortune 500 companies offer in-house Toastmasters clubs, including Apple, Bank of America, The Coca-Cola Company, Google and Microsoft. These employers have found the Toastmasters program to be an effective staff development tool that benefits their organization.

Many of these corporate venues welcome visitors from outside the organization, who are not employed there. I was a member of the HP Hilltop Club that used to meet just down the hall from Carly Fiorina’s office in the Hewlett Packard Headquarters building. It was open to anyone who wished to attend. I hasten to add that Carly herself was not a member.

Job Seekers

Millennials looking to advance their career should be aware that visiting a corporate club gives a unique opportunity to network with employees.

“Prospective employees, including millennials, should focus on building the skills that will give them an advantage over other candidates,” says Jim Kokocki Toastmasters 2015-16 International President. “Employers want to hire people who can communicate effectively and work well with others. Toastmasters offers a place to develop and strengthen these skills.”

If your company does not yet have a club, consider starting one. “Forming a corporate Toastmasters club is an effective and inexpensive way to develop, enhance and retain employees,” says Toastmasters Chief Executive Officer Daniel Rex. “We are experiencing record growth as an organization in part because of the large increase in the number of corporate clubs. We expect that trend to continue as the skills we teach are always in demand in the marketplace.”

Finding the Right Club

While they all follow the same structure for meetings, no two Toastmasters Clubs are the same. The members make the club. When looking for a suitable group, it’s a great idea to take the time to visit a number of different clubs. Since there are approximately 30,000 Toastmasters members in the U.S. between the age of 18 and 34 it should be possible to find a club with people of similar interests. The last thing you want is to make your Icebreaker speech on current topics to a room full of retirees.

To find a Toastmasters club near you, visit toastmasters.org/findaclub.

Bookmark and Share

Book Review: Disrupted, by Dan Lyons

Disputed Book Cover People in Limerick like to point out that Angela’s Ashes is more a story of Frank McCourt’s life in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father than it is about growing up in the Ireland of the 1930s. I’d like to point out that Dan Lyons has written more of a story about one dysfunctional and bizarre company in Boston than any ‘trenchant analysis of the start-up world’ in general.

I can claim to know what I speak of, since I’ve spent my entire career in Silicon Valley and I’m a good decade older than Dan, working in a company where many, but not all, of the employees are half my age. There’s nothing remotely similar to his experiences at HubSpot in the various marketing departments I’ve worked in.

How the mighty have fallen

Perhaps because I did not come from as a rarefied an environment as he did working for Pulitzer Prize winners and interviewing Bill Gates, I’ve never been discombobulated by the generational differences that keep Dan awake at night.

Unlike Dan, I walk to work every day past the Salesforce Tower without thinking of Marc Benioff’s genitalia.

I can converse with younger workers who are the age of my own kids without feeling demeaned by the experience.

I take pride in writing blog postings and managing social media (despite my advanced age…) for the various organizations I’ve worked for.

Bursting the bubble

That said, Lyons does get it right in his broader analysis of the tech world, specifically his telling critique of the well-funded software start-ups that are currently burning through the VC’s cash with abandon. Just this morning I heard a radio program about the dozens and dozens of new companies offering Parking Apps. How many will be around a year from now? These may well become the poster children for the coming collapse of the new tech companies just as pets.com and others were for the first dot-com bust.

Ageism in the software industry

Likewise, he’s got a point about ageism in tech. After all, Mark Zukerberg did say that young people are just smarter and the thin disguise of hiring for ‘cultural fit’ often results in clones of the founders filling the cubes. But just as guilty are the recruiters for trading floors and venture capital companies.

Vaporware

At the end of the day it’s obvious that Lyons was happier vaping cannabis oil on the west coast than eating humble pie back east. He’s one of the gang on the Sony lot in Culver City working with a team that he admits engaged in ‘trading the worst poop-related stories we’ve ever heard, and pitching jokes about enormous cocks’. One can only wonder if the culture shock he experienced at HubSpot would pale in comparison to someone whose not pickled in the same journalistic brine that formed him trying to hold their own in that environment.

Perhaps the best solution would have been for him to bond over a bong with the youngsters in the start-up, ensuring a mellow time for one and all.

Bookmark and Share

Are you missing a sense of place?

You’re everywhere and nowhere baby, that’s where you’re at
Going down a bumpy hillside, in your hippy hat
Flying across the country, and getting fat
Saying everything is groovy, when your tires are flat

– Jeff Beck, Hi Ho Silver Lining

I recently flew across the country on a business trip to Boston, the place where I spent my first two years in America. Revisiting old haunts in Somerville and Cambridge I found some familiar places that were mostly unchanged (Harvard Yard, the newsstand, the Coop) mixed together with a gentrified Inman Square and a booming Bean Town where, as in San Francisco, rising property prices are impacting traditional blue collar neighborhoods.

Since living in Boston I’ve called Portland Oregon, Bristol, Minneapolis and the San Francisco Bay Area home. Beforehand, I’d lived in Crewe and Leicester in the UK. All that moving around has left me with a distinct lack of a ‘sense of the continuing stories of a corner of the world and feeling absorbed into the pattern’ that comes from being rooted in one place as landscape architect Kim Wilkie writes in the Weekend FT.

Wilkie contrasts Voltaire’s recommendation to “cultivate our garden” in his satirical novel Candide (apparently banned in Boston as late as 1929, if Wikipedia is to be believed!) with the rootlessness of modern life:

Airbnb SloganOne of the more disconcerting advertisements I have seen recently is the Airbnb poster with the banner line “Belong Anywhere” — or perhaps belong nowhere? There is a beguiling freedom to anonymous movement. It allows you to develop individual identity and escape the preconceptions of your childhood. But at what point does freedom become rootlessness and alienation? Perhaps wandering is ideally just for teenagers, especially if you can choose which part of your life to spend as the teenage years.

Since it was partly reading Kerouac’s On The Road that made me originally want to explore America I can hardly complain. I certainly don’t feel alienated here in California where it’s more common to meet fellow immigrants than native sons.

Wilkie debates whether it’s best to cultivate a garden, or just accept that ‘many of us remain teenagers until we die’ and go with the flow. Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss would no doubt agree with Jeff Beck that everything is groovy despite life’s occasional flat tires.

Bookmark and Share

Book Review: The Big Book of Kombucha, by Hannah Crum and Alex LaGory

Big_Book_of_Kombucha_CoverHannah Crum (aka ‘Kombucha Mama’) changed my life. I bought my first Kombucha home brew ‘starter kit’ from her over four years ago and have been happily brewing my own ‘booch ever since. The Big Book of Kombucha is a big (383 page), bold and beautiful book full of a wealth of first-hand information on all aspects of Kombucha that Hannah and her partner Alex LaGory have curated over their years of involvement with the Kombucha sub-culture.

ScobysFrom the history and science of Kombucha to straightforward guidelines on the many aspects of brewing, decanting and flavoring this healthful fermented tea, Hannah and Alex cram an awful lot of really useful information into this book. I was especially impressed with the full color photographs of typical brews (taken of clear glass jars to show the yeast strands, fermentation process and various colors of healthy and unhealthy SCOBY’s). There’s ample information on troubleshooting everything from mold to poorly performing brews, as well as scientific guidelines on brew temperature, acidity, sweetness and suggested tea mixes.

Kombucha_BottlesThe second part of the book offers a huge range of recipes for flavoring, cocktails, smoothies and more. She even suggests intriguing ways to consume old growth SCOBYs (jerky, face masks etc.) This is the book I wish I’d had four years ago. I intend to take a close look at my current hit and miss production methods and implement their suggestions to improve things.

If you love Kombucha and are getting tired of paying $3-6 a bottle for the retail brands, invest in a copy of Hannah and Alex’s book and start brewing at home. It just might change your life.

Bookmark and Share

A Conversation with Matt Teper

Matt TeperOn Wednesday February 24, members of the Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable hosted a conference call with Google speechwriter Matt Teper.

Matt is the Head of Editorial at Google, where he is the leader and founder of the Google Ink team. The team is responsible for defining the voice of Google in major speeches, executive presentations, op-ed’s, blog posts, social media, press statements, internal news, and all manner of creative and editorial work.

Matt is also Eric Schmidt’s speechwriter.

Matt came to Google in 2012, from the White House, where he served as Vice President Joe Biden’s chief speechwriter for the first three-plus years of the Obama administration.

During the call, Matt described what it was like to work for the Vice President, the contrast between the life of a speechwriter in DC and in Silicon Valley and shared his insights about the craft of speechwriting. He also confirms that Google is not, currently, working on a time machine!

To hear a recording of the call click on the link below. Since the call lasts over an hour you might prefer to choose the Download option and listen later.

Bookmark and Share

Book Review: Illuminate, by Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez

Casting Light on the Dark Arts of Communications

Any book on communications that starts out quoting 19th century French sociologist Émile Durkheim has my attention. The authors embrace his idea of ‘collective effervescence’ to describe the magic of a group sharing a common purpose.

Illuminate_CoverFor Duarte and Sanchez, the common purpose they champion in the recently published Illuminate is driven by leaders, whom they term ‘Torchbearers’, envisioning new possibilities. They ‘light the path’ as they set out to change the world and bring ’Travelers’ on the journey along with them. If this sounds like the plot to Lord of the Rings, well, in addition to Durkheim, they quote Frodo Baggins, Aragorn and the others as they motivate the hobbits to set out on the quest for the Ring.

However, this book is anything but a fairy tale.

Duarte, Inc is one of the premier communications agencies in Silicon Valley. Since it was founded in 1990, Nancy Duarte has built a stellar reputation as a PowerPoint guru (with her first book, slide:ology) and general communications consultant (cemented by Resonate, her second book). With ‘Illuminate’ she has broadened her scope to include not only presentations and speeches, but stories, ceremonies and symbols. These are all weapons in the ‘torchbearer’s toolkit’ that can be employed to affect what people think, feel and do as they move through what she calls the ‘five stages of a venture’: Dream, Leap, Fight, Climb, and Arrive. If this sounds like the content of a classic 4×5 matrix, well, you’ll find it summarized in a handy-dandy fold-out between pages 58 and 59.

A speech for all seasons

Using this taxonomy allows you to choose the right tool for the job depending which stage an audience is on the journey. While not a ‘paint by numbers’ approach to communications, after reading Illuminate you will know what to deploy if, say, you need to rally the troops. The advice is to deliver a ‘battle speech’ or tell an ‘overcome the enemy story’ or hold a ‘rally the spirits’ ceremony. What I really liked about the classification is that we’re not left with the usual Pollyanna advice that assumes everything is wonderful. Each stage addressees the negative as well as the positive. So if people in an organization are resistant to change we are told what we might hear them say (“I just don’t see how this could work”) and advised on how to craft and deliver a ‘revolution’ speech or ‘neglect the call’ story. By dealing with the dark side of communications Duarte & Sanchez have given leaders a robust set of guidelines well suited to the real world.

Peoplesoft DemiseSome of the most powerful parts of the book deal with how different organizations dealt with total failure: when PeopleSoft was bought by Oracle and the employees made the company sign into a makeshift memorial; how Coke reversed their disastrous decision to abandon Classic Coke; how Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, addressed her employees when they needed to recall faulty ignition switches that had caused deaths.

Rich Case Studies

I was struck by the degree of first-hand knowledge and insight in the case studies that conclude the main chapters. Each one includes an extensive narrative and quotes that make the study come alive. There’s a bonus a multi-point summary of highlights. Showing their Silicon Valley roots, Duarte & Sanchez’s case studies include the usual suspects— tech titans like IBM and Apple. But there’s also a floor-covering company, a non-profit, and a fast-food company. Most appropriately, the concluding study is of Duarte, Inc itself, detailing the transformation the company underwent as it pivoted to overhaul systems and improve operations.

Like her previous books, Illuminate is a beautifully designed, eminently readable, detailed account of the scenarios those of us in corporate communications face on a daily basis. Read it if your job is to enable the Torchbearer’s to ignite change, Frodo would certainly make sure it’s on his bookshelf back in the Shire.

Bookmark and Share

Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable to host Matt Teper

Matt TeperThe Silicon Valley Speechwriters Roundtable will host a conversation with Matt Teper on Wednesday, February 24 at 11:45am Pacific. All are welcome to join this free conference call by registering here.

Matt is the Head of Editorial at Google, where he is the leader and founder of the Google Ink team, keeping participles undangled and corporate jargon untangled, in all of Google’s communications.

The team is responsible for defining the voice of Google in major speeches, executive presentations, op-ed’s, blog posts, social media, press statements, internal news, and all manner of creative and editorial work.

Matt is Eric Schmidt’s speechwriter.

Matt came to Google in 2012, from the White House, where he served as Vice President Joe Biden’s chief speechwriter.

Bookmark and Share

The Delights of the Weekend FT

FT LogoI’ve written before of the unlikely content carried by the Weekend Financial Times as well as the vivid prose that is found in the pink pages.

This weekend’s newspaper was a fascinating read. It contains a delightfully random mix of information you’ll find nowhere else:

  • A series of articles in the House & Home section nestled between ads for $23 million New York apartments. These give details of remodeling projects undertaken by members of the newspaper’s staff including the story of a 13-year-long tussle with bureaucrats in Spain to obtain permission to convert a farmhouse into a holiday home. This is followed by a correspondent’s humble upgrade to a garden greenhouse with broken glass panes. Other reports cover remodeling projects in Jakarta, Mozambique, Egypt and South Wales.
  • A prize-winning first-person report from a Bolivian navel base — 2,000km from the ocean — maintained by that landlocked nation (one of nine countries with no coastline that maintain navies).
  • The need for certain huskies on dog-sled teams in Arctic Norway to wear special jackets if they don’t have ‘sufficiently hairy testicles’ to combat the cold.
  • The fact that the average German today owns 10,000 objects, the average British household owns around £4,000 worth of clothes and 6-8% of US adults suffer from compulsive buying disorder or ‘oniomania’.
  • In 2002 a third of all employees in Japan lived in corporate housing.
  • A new book retells the story of The Merchant of Venice in the contemporary setting of Cheshire, my home county in England.
  • An airport is set to open on remote island of St. Helena which contains ‘the world’s most isolated hospital, police station, prison, distillery, cathedral and cricket ground.’
  • The ‘hipster economy’ includes a taste for craft beers, flat whites and beard balm. But there’s no mention of kombucha — surely the hippest of hipster beverages?
Bookmark and Share

Book Review: Keynote Mastery, by Patrick Schwerdtfeger

Keynote MasteryMy recent review on Amazon of the new book, Keynote Mastery: The Personal Journey of a Professional Speaker was incomplete. I need to explain in more detail the many positive elements of Patrick’s story as well as clarify why I referred to it on Amazon ‘flawed’ and show where other emerging speakers can learn from his mistakes. But make no mistake about it: this is a book every Toastmaster, self-employed professional, freelancer and gig-economy survivor should read. It contains first-hand information you’ll find nowhere else. Go buy it, now!

What I liked about Keynote Mastery

I’ve long been a fan of Patrick’s. We met during the time in 2008/09 that he was speaking for free, and I’ve attended his Meetup groups which are great networking occasions. I’ve also been to Jeff & Kane’s meetings, Stephanie Chandler’s Sacramento Speakers Network and Edith Yeung’s BizTech Day. Heck, I even knew an NSA member who spoke at the same event in Aruba as Patrick. His 2011 guest posting on my blog How to become a Keynote Speaker was an early iteration of the ideas in this book. Back in 2009 I blogged about his Webify Yourself presentation.

So, we swim in the same waters. The major difference between us is that Patrick makes his living as a professional speaker, while I’m at the coal-face in the corporate world. I have the utmost respect Patrick and his achievements.

This book is a treasure-trove of practical tips and tricks that will help anyone who wants to become a professional speaker, or simply a more successful freelancer in any field.

I especially like his worksheets that are referenced in the book and available for free download. For example, here’s eight tips for reducing nervousness found on one worksheet:

  1. Take five deep breaths (by exhaling more than usual).
  2. Give yourself permission to be nervous. Don’t fight it.
  3. Be a compassionate observer of your own emotions.
  4. Start a meditation practice. It will help you remain calm.
  5. Focus on the objective: your message and helping people.
  6. Look good. Wear an outfit that you feel confident in.
  7. Think positive. You’re a rock star. You deserve to be here.
  8. Survey the audience ahead of time. Look at their faces. They’re just people, and they want you to succeed.

This is not just a list he’s plucked out of thin air. Read the book and you’ll see when and where Patrick has employed these practices when suffering from anxiety and panic attacks before speaking (it happens to everyone sooner or later, knowing how a pro like Patrick overcame the issue is a tremendous help).

As I said in the Amazon review, this is an uncompromisingly personal book. Some might not care for the personal information he shares. I think it’s important to read about the challenges he had to overcome in his personal life to succeed. Thanks for being so honest, Patrick.

Other gems in the book include Chapter 55 on Speaking Fees. The reason no-one in the National Speakers Association (NSA) can share this level of detail is that the Association is legally bound not to discuss fees so there isn’t a perception of marketplace collusion. Patrick is not an NSA member–you’ll find details here you’ll find nowhere else.

I also liked his tips on how to structure a speech (Ch 40). His stories about the importance of cross-cultural sensitivity when speaking outside the USA are priceless. He’s also a master of Social Media who made a transition to speaking on other topics. Reading how he stayed ahead of the curve in developing a new niche is one of the best parts of the book.

Where Patrick’s book falls short

It might sound like nit-picking, but someone should have spent a little more time proofreading this book. (Of course, who am I to talk!). In Chapter 55 he references the National Speaker Association. In Ch 56 (at least in the Kindle Edition) there’s two whole paragraphs which are duplicated, first in italics, then in plain text.

National Speakers Association LogoMore importantly, in terms of substantive advice, Ch 59 on the National Speakers Association, needs correcting. He writes that NSA events take place on Saturday mornings and he hates weekend early mornings. Fair enough. But readers should be aware that this true of the Northern California Chapter and many regions meet at other times. The NSA is comprised of a wide range of keynote speakers, platform speakers, workshop and webinar hosts and even a speechwriter or two!

As a long-time NSA member I found myself, time and again, seeing ways in which Patrick could have cut years from his learning curve if he’d have only got out bed early some weekends and attended meetings, or, better yet, enrolled in the annual Speakers Academy (aka Pro-Track). I’ve blogged extensively about mine and others experiences in this year-long speaker training program.

To take a couple of examples of the benefits of the NSA that address challenges Patrick faced. In Ch 22 (Make It Funny!) he writes that he believes he could double or triple his business if he was funnier. Our local NSA chapter has held many workshops on humor. There’s even a group within NSA who focus exclusively on humor.

GSF logoPatrick loves to speak internationally. The Global Speakers Federation (which every NSA member is automatically a member of) shares leads and information with speaking organizations in Canada, South Africa, France, Singapore, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Belgium, Holland, the UK & Ireland. I’ve spoken (for free, like Patrick!) at a PSA event in the UK.

Finally, there are many speakers who make a good living from selling informational products to their audiences. While Patrick has had some success in this area, I can’t help but think that he’s left a lot of money on the table over the years, and could have learned from NSA members who know how to make big bucks while they are sleeping.

In Summary

Unlike Patrick, I’m not a single guy whose been able to live off credit cards and eat chicken thighs and broccoli for dinner night after night while I built my career. I’ve a family to support. Indeed, I’m one of the ‘distraction-free’ people he writes about in Ch 58 who work in tall office buildings in San Francisco. But I’ve been laid off from corporate jobs more than once and survived as a freelancer. In an era when there’s no real job security, the lessons Patrick shares about his decade-long struggle to make a living as a self-employed professional speaker are invaluable.

Bookmark and Share