Jeff Porro is a speechwriter at Porro Associates LLC. His unique combination of talent and experience helps executives use the spoken word to engage their most important audiences — funders, clients, investors, employees, the press and public.
Can you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a speechwriter?
In the 1990s I was working as an editor for a magazine whose owners decided the only way to survive was to let almost all of the staff go. I decided to turn this sudden lack of a job into an opportunity, by launching a freelance career. At first, I took just about every assignment you could imagine, but over time I focused on what I call “promotional writing,” which included a few speeches, but many brochures, annual reports, etc. As the years went by I got a little bored. So I worked with an executive coach to “discover my passion.” It turned out to be speechwriting. I love speechwriting because it requires the ability to tell stories, provide vital information, understand audiences, and convey a personality through words. That last aspect ties into my “secret life” as a screenwriter.
When should leaders and executives consider hiring a professional writer like yourself?
Whenever executives find they are not engaging their key audiences — inspiring them, moving them to action, persuading them — it’s time to hire a pro.
What qualities do the executives and leaders you’ve worked with share?
My best clients are, first and foremost, brave and humble enough to realize they need to use the spoken word more effectively. In addition, they are willing to share something personal (NOT confessional), and they realize how important it is to communicate through stories.
Who has been one of the most inspiring/interesting/exciting leaders to write for?
One of the most inspiring has been Anne Goddard, CEO of ChildFund International. In addition to the qualities I mentioned above, she and her organization do great, good work and she has a terrific sense of humor.
How important is the ability to speak well to leadership?
It is critically important. It’s a strange paradox of our times, when new forms of communication seem to pop up every week, that one of the oldest forms of communication — one person speaking to a group of others — is more important than ever. People want to see and hear their leaders in action.
As one of my clients, a CEO and high tech pioneer, put it: “It’s remarkable. If you have two growth companies headed by equally smart guys, where one can deliver an enthusiastic speech, lay out the mission of the company and encourage people to work smarter and harder and the other can’t … it makes a world of difference to the success of the company.”
What is the anatomy of a great speech?
Lee Iacocca once said that if you just want to convey information, put a notice on a bulletin board. But a speech should be like a novel. To me that means a speech should have drama, it should have heart, and above all it should tell a story.
Where should someone start when tackling writing a speech?
If you’re writing for a client, your first goal should be to get to know that client well enough that you can convey his or her personality through a speech. A generic speech is a bad speech. Next, you should work closely with the executive and the communications team to understand what specific messages they want to convey. And finally, a speechwriter absolutely must learn as much about the intended audience as possible. If you want a speech to resonate with listeners, you must know who they are,what they are thinking about and…what is keeping them up at night.
What advice do you find yourself repeating to leaders over and over when it comes to delivering a speech?
Use fewer statistics and tell more stories.
Erica Duran, a business coach and freedom based luxury lifestyle designer, gives expert support, guidance and accountability to service-based entrepreneurs so they can earn an abundance of money ($5K-$20K+ per month) from anywhere. Here she talks about how to succeed as an online entrepreneur:
How did you become so interested in online entrepreneurship?
I always wanted to be able to work from anywhere, set my own hours and not have an income cap. I also found that being an online entrepreneur you could literally make money by just being yourself.
Why is it an exciting time to become an online entrepreneur?
It is such an exciting time to become an online entrepreneur because even regions of the world where families don’t have computers, they are getting smartphones and getting online.
The marketplace is huge.
You are no longer bound by how far you can drive in one day to get to and from work.
What were the most important lessons you had to learn as an entrepreneur?
Some of the most important lessons I’ve had to learn as an online entrepreneur is the fact that online your target market or niche is even more important. The online world is so big and you must claim a target that you’d like to work with. Also, that mindset is pretty much 80 percent of your success and the other 20 percent is getting properly trained and having a marketing strategy that is right for you. Another lesson is that you must design your business around the lifestyle you would like to live and set up boundaries and stick to them! Online businesses are open 24 hours. Someone or something should always be working on your business but it doesn’t have to be (and should not be you).
What are the most common mistakes you see your clients making with their businesses?
The most common mistakes I see clients make before we start working together is not niching down far enough in the beginning and not doing any outreach. “If you build it they will come” does not apply to most online businesses. Especially in the beginning you must do massive outreach! Online businesses are no different than in-person ones – the fact is relationships and your network are still the quickest path to success and income goals.
What leadership qualities do you observe in successful online entrepreneurs?
The leadership qualities I observe in successful online entrepreneurs are communication and enrollment. Building relationships, networking, writing your copy, having sales conversations and converting sales all take an expertise in communication and enrollment.
Which online entrepreneurs do you look up to? Why are they worth following?
I used to have many like Tim Ferriss. But for the past two years or so I stopped following others. I found that it was just a time waster. It would cause feelings of competition and comparison.
When you are following someone, even if they are giving you amazing tips and how-to’s, it is never the complete story or in the right sequence to work. What they do may not work for you. It would never be the whole picture of what one should do because most likely the one reason that person is successful is something that comes so naturally to them they leave it out of their info products. Following and modeling people too closely leaves everyone sounding the same in their blogs and other content.
I believe that by looking within yourself more and creating from that space, you then put things out into the world that will attract your ideal clients. This is where receiving one-to-one coaching was so important for me. She was able to coach “me” out of me and help me find my voice. Now, when I work with a client we uncover their unique brand essence and way of working that works for them.
Why did you embrace minimalism?
I embraced minimalism because I wanted to have more experiences rather than things. Having “things” takes up so much time maintaining everything. I am a minimalist, but not frugal. I have few things but they are of good quality or exactly what I wanted (no keeping up with the Joneses). And honestly, I can’t even think straight when things are messy and cluttered.
What’s the No. 1 thing leaders can do to increase their productivity?
Great question! I was actually a productivity expert online before I pivoted into business coaching.
The No. 1 thing leaders can do to increase their productivity is FOCUS on what they really want. Stop and think about the result you want from a task or project BEFORE you dive in. This goes along the lines too of what I said before about following/modeling others too closely. You can see that so-and-so has a podcast so then you spend hours trying to create a podcast for your business but then realizing that there was no strategy around creating it or known results rather than “get more visible”.
I ask potential clients this one question all the time when I see them running around trying to do a blog, are on all the social media sites and starting a podcast and they are still broke, “Do you want to be internet famous or do you want to make money?” These two things will intertwine at some point, but in the beginning, you have to decide on which direction because it will make all the difference in how you spend your time and what your immediate income will be.
Why do you believe in mentorship?
I believe in mentorship because it is the fastest and cheapest way to get a result that you are after. The key is finding a mentor that is getting the result you want for yourself and not just someone you are following online. And it is the only way to see outside of ourselves and our own stories, limitations, blocks and circumstances. I think that it is also important to find someone who isn’t a crazy big online “guru” – those types are sometimes too far away, too many steps ahead of where you are and they can’t relate anymore.
Dr. David Brendel is the founder and director of Leading Minds Executive Coaching, LLC and is co-founder of Strategy of Mind, LLC. We recently checked in with him about the importance of stress management to leaders, here’s what he had to say:
In your mind, what makes someone a great leader?
Great leaders inspire people with their vision and values. They articulate clear goals and promote dialogue with others on how to shape and achieve those goals over time. In addition, they empower others to think for themselves and to develop into proactive agents for success. Rather than micromanaging, great leaders partner with talented individuals who can drive toward results in creative ways that draw on their personal strengths and unique work style.
At the same time, great leaders are always emotionally present and available to support and help their collaborators or employees who might be struggling in some fashion. In these situation, great leaders ask powerful and open-ended questions in the service of fostering dialogue about possible new approaches and solutions.
What are the most common problems or frustrations your clients come to you with?
My clients are usually navigating through a major transition in their careers and/or personal lives. In some cases, they are stressed and overwhelmed by a recent job loss, negative performance review, financial setback or major loss (such as a divorce or the death of a loved one). In other situation, they are grappling with how to develop a new skill set in the context of a job change, such as a promotion from a highly technical job to a strategic leadership role in which they have to innovate, manage a team, and develop better communications skills and “executive presence.”
When coaching these individuals, I aim to help them manage stress, develop self-awareness about their strengths, think creatively about next steps, and implement a clearly delineated action plan for adaptation and future success.
What advice do you find yourself repeating to executives over and over when it comes to improving how they lead?
Start with self-awareness – look inside yourself in an honest way. What are your values and what brings meaning to your life at work and at home? At the same time, are you taking good care of yourself? Early in my coaching engagements, I check in with clients about stress management and recommend a healthy sleep schedule, regular exercise, good nutrition and mindfulness strategies such as meditation worked into their everyday lives in a realistic way. When these basic buildings blocks of self-care and self-awareness are being addressed, the executive can then move onto higher order tasks such as strategic thinking, enhanced interpersonal communication, leadership presence and motivating others to be productive and to implement the vision of the company or organization.
Why is managing stress such an important component to being a more effective leader?
People think clearly and make sound decision when they are calm, focused and self-reflective. High stress levels are bad for the brain – they can result in faulty reasoning, poor planning, impulsive decision making, anger and irritability toward others, and (at times) disastrous outcomes for people and their businesses.
With companies depending on the healthy brain functioning and social aptitude of leaders, the importance of stress management cannot be overstated. There can be a trickle down effect here as well. Stress is contagious. When leaders don’t manage stress appropriately, it propagates through the organization and other people suffer and underperform. On the other hand, mindful and focused leaders who display calm resolve under pressure tend to breed the same behavior traits in people throughout the organization.
What are some methods or strategies do you suggest to executives for managing stress?
I work with most clients in my practice to develop and adhere to a sound behavioral schedule which includes regular sleep, vigorous exercise, nutritious eating habits, mental downtime, quality time with friends and family, and other healthy behaviors. In many cases, I refer clients to a close colleague in my coaching practice (Emmie Roe Stamell) for a consultation on how to incorporate mindfulness strategies (such as yoga and meditation) into their routine.
It is important for me to serve my clients as an accountability partner regarding stress management. At each session, I check with them about how their stress management techniques are working out, what might be getting in the way of adhering to the plan, and how we can continually adjust the plan to best serve their needs.
What role does a positive mindset play in someone’s ability to lead?
A positive mindset is absolutely essential for success as a leader. Cognitive psychology research has proven time and again that our thoughts drive our feelings and behaviors – for better or for worse. Leaders who choose thoughts that are positive, hopeful and visionary – yet tempered by reality – achieve far more than those who choose self-limiting beliefs about their potential.
My job as a coach is to listen carefully to nuances of the words and beliefs that my clients express. Oftentimes I will point out self-limiting statements that are neither true nor productive for the client. Sharing this insight empowers the client to rethink his or her beliefs, and proactively to choose an accurate and hopeful mindset that’s more likely to engender success.
How can leaders adjust their mindsets to become more effective?
This cognitive adjustment requires self-disciplined work on the part of the leader. I frequently coach my clients to keep a daily journal of their negative, self-limiting thoughts. Reflecting on the content of the journal often highlights certain cognitive tendencies that hold the client back. When these tendencies are understood, the client can enact a plan to change the pattern of thinking in a consciously chosen manner.
A developing leader may need to practice literally discarding one thought (e.g., “managing the personalities on this team is a nightmare”) and replacing it with a positive one (e.g., “what a great opportunity to figure out how to lead a diverse team with a wide range of strong, interesting personalities”).
Recent cognitive psychology research has demonstrated the powerful benefits of transforming thoughts about stress into thoughts about challenges and opportunities. Executive coaching can help certain leaders to develop this empowering habit of mind. I wrote about this process and provided relevant vignettes from my executive coaching practice in my Harvard Business Review article titled “Stress Isn’t a Threat, It’s a Signal to Change.”
Forming new mindsets and behaviors can be challenging. What are the keys to forming new habits that will lead to better leadership?
The answer here is the same as the answer to the question about how to get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. Repetition of positive thoughts and behaviors is absolutely essential in leadership development. Early in the process, leaders can benefit from having a coach or mentor who serves as an accountability partner to ensure that repetition is strong and continuous. As the habit takes hold, leaders can often sustain the effort with less external support or monitoring.
Clients who are aware of the powerful benefits of new habits – along with the substantial risks of NOT making necessary changes – tend to remain more motivated over time. If and when they deviate from the plan, hopefully their own insight or feedback from a trusted colleague will help the leader get back on track quickly.
What are some of your favorite resources for those in leadership positions to inspire or learn more about great leadership (books, blogs, websites, etc.)?
Some of my favorites include Marshall Goldsmith’s classic book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There and Herminia Ibarra’s recent book Act Like a Leader, Think Like A Leader.
A couple of particularly enjoyable, insightful, quick reads include Who Moved My Cheese? (by Spencer Johnson) and The New One Minute Manager (by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson). I have written numerous blog articles for the Harvard Business review on these topics, including an article titled “Manage Stress by Knowing What You Value.”
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Outstanding leaders have outstanding communication skills. The leaders who can deliver ideas and information in appropriate, meaningful ways are the ones who bring the most success to themselves and to their organization.
Sir Richard Branson describes great communication as an art. We can analyze some aspects of communication, but ultimately, like any art, great communication requires regular practice.
As a leader you have your own communication style as unique as your signature. While there is much you can learn from other great communicators, developing your own “voice” and style is part of what sets you apart as an exceptional leader. Here are some thoughts on improving your communication skills.
Listening Is as Important as Speaking
Listening with ears and mind open and with genuine attention is profoundly meaningful to people because it shows them that their participation is valued. When you’re a great listener you build trust with those you lead, which helps them excel in turn. Genuinely listening to someone and articulating a meaningful, relevant response builds a bond like few other practices. Like communication styles, listening styles vary from person to person. Some people do best with eye contact and spoken questions for clarification, while others listen better when they take notes. With practice you’ll learn which specific listening activities work best for you.
Master One-on-One Communication
Leadership communication isn’t about giving great presentations, though that is important. Mastering one-to-one communication is the key to everyone on your team feeling they have been heard and understood. Communicating one-on-one with a team member about an important task, issue, or problem should not be “multitasked.” Turn off the phone, log off your computer, and pay attention. When you give someone your attention and are respectful and direct, you strengthen the bond of trust between you. Being “direct” with someone doesn’t mean being rude, but it means showing you have their best interests in mind and don’t want to sugarcoat reality. And don’t forget to listen. One-on-one communication should go both ways.
Communicate Regularly and Promptly
As a leader, you don’t want to be perceived as “invisible and omnipotent,” and that means regularly communicating with your team is essential. How you do this depends on your team, your characteristics, and your habits. Maybe it’s a weekly email detailing goals for the coming week, or maybe it’s a monthly “town hall meeting” where everyone can bring issues into the open.
Promptness is important as well. Team members need to know that they can expect to hear back from you promptly when they have a question or need to say something. That means returning phone calls, texts, and emails as soon as is practical. If team members think you are ignoring or avoiding them, any trust you have with them will erode quickly.
Fine-Tune Your Public Speaking Skills
Not everyone can be a great orator, and that’s OK. Most people have to step at least a little outside their comfort zone when they speak in front of people. Making the most of your skills requires practice and taking in honest feedback from someone you trust. And there are many other ways you can develop your public speaking skills:
• Join clubs related to your interests where speaking opportunities exist
• Work with organizations like Toastmasters to sharpen different types of public speaking
• Participate in local entrepreneurial or Chamber of Commerce events
• Showcase your best work at relevant conferences
Leadership communication skills, like any other art, require practice and commitment. Some leaders work with executive coaches specifically to improve their communication skills, since these skills are so critical to success. It’s effort well-spent, however. When you’re a strong communicator, you inspire people, land better contracts, and built trust and cohesion within your team. Look around you every day for opportunities to communicate better. Return that phone call, rehearse that presentation, and give that team member your full attention when he has a question.
Communication is one of the most important things we do as humans, and as a leader, you have a terrific opportunity to demonstrate the power of great communication. Why not sign up for my mailing list to receive regular information on how you can fulfill your potential as a leader? I would be pleased to be part of your journey to becoming the outstanding communicator and leader you are meant to be.
If your company culture is strong and vibrant, the possibility of operating success is maximized. But what predicts a strong, vibrant company culture? There are a number of leading indicators for a great company culture that portend operational success, but they all trace their roots back to individual mindsets.
Here’s how mindset ultimately predicts operational success, and how coaching is one key to building the right mindset to move your organization forward and build momentum in the direction of success.
Mindset Predicts Behavior
What’s going on in your head often predicts what you do. Say you’re in a bad frame of mind and you’re working on some routine car maintenance. Maybe it causes you to carelessly throw your tools around rather than replacing them neatly in your tool kit. Or maybe it distracts you so that when you stand up you bump your head on the open hood of your car. Either way, it’s a less than optimal experience. Modifying that mindset, however, can make an immense difference, not only in the experience itself, but also in how it all eventually turns out.
Behavior Predicts Results
Of course, behavior predicts results. We generally know it when we bring our “A” game, get things done, and make a positive difference. Likewise, we have all had days when we weren’t even close to giving it our best, and maybe we made mistakes, forgot steps, and ended up having to do some things over. But when a positive, hopeful mindset predicts positive, hopeful behavior, that’s generally when we demonstrate our best efforts. Do this enough, and you build a reputation for being great at what you do, both personally and as an organization.
Results Predict Company Culture
Maybe you have worked at a company where nothing seemed to go right. People were unhappy, had bad attitudes, and made mistakes. Chances are the company culture was just as dismal. If your organization is not doing a good job of its core business practices, it’s difficult or even impossible to have a strong and vibrant culture. But when you land that great account, win that contract, or break sales records because people know what to do and want to do it to the best of their ability, developing a positive, dynamic company culture is almost inevitable.
Company Culture Predicts Operating Success
Have you ever looked at Fortune’s list of best companies to work for? Look at the ones you’re familiar with and you’ll see that they all show signs of a positive, spirited organizational culture, and it’s obvious that a great culture is something they prioritize and are willing to work toward. For example, analytics software company SAS, founded 40 years ago, has 37 landscapers as direct employees, not contractors, who enjoy the same employee benefits as everyone else. Their job is to make it a beautiful place to work. It’s a defining cultural characteristic that certainly hasn’t hurt the company’s success.
Sometimes You Have to Go Back to the Person in the Mirror
There are times when operational success doesn’t live up to expectations and you have to ask whether there are problems with the culture. You can trace the chain backwards: if there are cultural problems, is it traceable to people not getting good results? When people don’t get good results, is it because their work behaviors have changed? Why have their work behaviors changed? Are mindsets negative?
Coaching is one key to improving mindsets that drive behaviors that drive results that inform company culture. What are you doing as a coach to encourage positive mindsets in those you coach? If you want the kind of company culture that leads to operational success, your coaching techniques are a good place to start. I encourage you to look at my books about leadership and company culture for positive, practical steps you can take to encourage the kinds of mindsets that ultimately lead to a winning company culture and the operational success you’ve worked so hard for.
Business leaders have to deal with a wide variety of responsibilities and duties throughout each workday. Juggling work and communicating effectively with peers and employees can stress out any leader. However, it’s possible to take a deep breath and take control. In fact, one needn’t just adapt to the current culture of a place. That can be changed and influenced for the better. Jennifer V. Miller, the founder of The People Equation, chatted with us about managing workplace dynamics as a leader and having influence with integrity.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey to where you currently are professionally as the founder of The People Equation?
I began my career many years ago as a human resources generalist. Since then, I’ve been a front line supervisor, training manager, and performance consultant for large organizations. My projects included managing a leadership development program for emerging and high-potential leaders. From 1995 to 2015, I was the managing partner for a workforce development consulting firm.
In 2009, I launched the People Equation blog. In 2016, The People Equation, LLC, will open its doors with a focus on providing online resources and digital training materials to help professionals “master the people equation.”
Do you think everyone has the potential to be a leader? If not, how do you identify potential leaders?
It depends on how one defines “leadership.” If you stick with a traditional definition of a leader as someone with a formally recognized title or role, then it’s likely that not everyone is suited to lead. If, however, you look at leadership more broadly – as an opportunity for someone to recognize a need and step up to help fill that need – then, yes, everyone at some point or another in their life has a chance to lead.
What is most important when it comes to managing workplace dynamics as a leader?
Leaders must be aware that “workplace dynamics” exist. It’s amazing to me how many leaders simply don’t take the people equation into account when deciding how to deal with their team members. I always tell leaders that, whenever there is more than one person in a room at any given time, the opportunity for interpersonal dynamics comes into play.
How does a leader help improve workplace dynamics?
First, pay attention. Look around at how your message is being received. Body language tells you a lot if you keep your eyes open. Second, when you craft important messages – ones that have potential to be emotionally charged – give thought to how you expect the recipients of the message will respond. Be ready to address concerns, clarifications, and push back.
Can a new leader change workplace dynamics when joining a team, or is it essential to simply adapt and lead with the dynamics as they are?
Absolutely. Yes, a new leader can shape the dynamics of a team, but it won’t happen overnight. For example, if the previous team leader was a by-the-book stickler for details and the incoming leader is more free-flowing, it’s going to take a while for the team to adapt to the leader’s style (and vice-versa.)
Do you think positive thinking is an essential part of achieving success?
Undoubtedly. One of the best books I’ve read on the topic of positive thinking is Dr. Kathryn Cramer’s Lead Positive. Positive thinking isn’t about just “sunshine and roses.” It’s about finding what’s “right and what’s working”(according to Cramer) in challenging situations.