Monthly Archives: October 2008

the power of spaces

I know lots of people who have changed their geography of work this year.

That’s an odd way to say that people are working in different offices, different buildings. Sometimes whole offices of people have moved. Sometimes people have changed companies and careers and clienteles.

Even I have changed spaces. I changed both desks and desk locations at home. I changed where I work, who I work with, what direction I travel when I go to work. I even drive a different one of our vehicles to work, changing to the one that has better mileage because I now travel further. The photo is from my new drive home. I used to see factories and houses and big buildings. Now I see barns and buggies.

Nancy, on the other hand, travels closer. She kept the same people to work with but they moved to her third office in four years. They share space with other organizations.

Connie changed houses, Chris changed offices. Some of you have exchanged an office for a briefcase and hotel room and endless coffee house/wifi hotspots.

For all of us who have changed geographies, may I make a suggestion?

Sometime soon, very soon, slide your chair back and look around the space. As you look at the geography, how have you inflicted yourself on it? Perhaps more importantly, how has it inflicted itself on you?

Have you changed how far you walk from the parking lot to your desk? How has that changed your exercise? Have you changed how much desk space you have? How does that change how you lay out your thoughts (I put up a bigger whiteboard)? Have you changed how much time you spend close to people or away from people? How does that change how loudly you can play your music (I shut the door) or how loudly you can talk on the phone or how much white noise you need to shut out other noises (I downloaded a white noise loop)?

All of us know that there is a measure of stress associated with changing living and working spaces. Some of it is good stress, other is less good. We feel it and may blame the people, the pressure, the job. But too often, I think, we don’t pay attention to how much of the stress comes simply from the way habits change as the patterns of space change.


Subscribe to this blog for free through a reader by clicking here.

Click here to sign up for this blog as an email through mailchimp.


how much white space in your book?

Richard Swenson talks about margins. Not the stock kind. The paper kind.

He says, look at the white space on a page in a book. It helps you read the book.

Take it a step further. Look at how much white space shows up on the page in an ebook.

In our books we want the space, the room to think and reflect and write our own meaning.

So why is it that we put so little margin in our lives?

We write right up to the edges of the pages, trying to get as much data on every page, into every part of every page, as we possibly can. Our work and our families and our futures and our dreams and our obligations each get 100% of our attention all the time.

Which means that nothing gets our full attention.

Recently I was running sound for an event. It was easy. The only real need for attention were the four times when someone new walked up onto the platform to be interviewed by the speaker. I needed to turn on the extra microphone.

The first time, we missed a few words. The second time, the speaker had to ask about the mic. The third time, I was close. The last time, I got it right.

The first time, I was thinking about a text to Nancy. The second time, I was looking at an email. The third time, I had to decide to pay attention. The last time I had closed the computer.

If there isn’t enough white space in the book you are writing with your time, your life, your attention…if there isn’t enough in mine…maybe readers will give up, lacking the energy to process everything.


A few of my friends, just talking.

In early May this year, I saw some old friends for the first time face -to-face. We sat around tables at the top of the Summit in Chicago. We were supposed to be talking about how to become better bloggers. But we were all amused and amazed to be in the same geography, talking in real time.

Though we had never seen each other, we started talking in the middle of the conversation. We had been enmeshed in conversations for a long time. I had worked on a fabulous podcast Becky McCray created. I had contributed to Joanna Young‘s wonderful writing blog. Thomas Knoll worked with me on a group Lent blog. Chris Cree and I had written to each other. I had contributed to Robert Hruzek‘s great “What I learned from” series. And now we saw each other at Liz’s place.

This kind of conversation that starts and grows and deepens long before you meet face-to-face is at the heart of a new book about conversation. Today marks the publication of the Age of Conversation 2, one book with 237 authors. I’m one of the authors who contributed four hundred words. And so are the people I met in May. And so are Connie Reece, who was part of the same Lent blog and Cathleen Rittereiser who I met in NYC last year and lots of other people I haven’t met yet.

The book will be available for purchase here starting at 8:00am today (Wednesday). 100% of profits will be donated to Variety, the Children’s Charity. (We all agreed to that.)  You can buy it in downloadable e-book ($12.50), softcover ($19.95) and hardcover ($29.95). The e-book sends the most to Variety.

Here’s an important note. I don’t know whether I agree with everything my co-authors wrote. Some of them will disagree with me. But that’s what conversation is about.

I’ll write more about what’s in the book when I actually get my copy. Today.

And then the conversation will continue.


Here are all of the writers who are part of this project.

Adrian Ho, Aki Spicer,Alex Henault,Amy Jussel,Andrew Odom,Andy Nulman,Andy Sernovitz,Andy Whitlock,
Angela Maiers, Ann Handley, Anna Farmery, Armando Alves, Arun Rajagopal, Asi Sharabi, Becky Carroll, Becky McCray, Bernie Scheffler, Bill Gammell, Bob LeDrew, Brad Shorr, Brandon Murphy, Branislav Peric, Brent Dixon, Brett Macfarlane, Brian Reich, C.C. Chapman, Cam Beck, Casper Willer, Cathleen Rittereiser, Cathryn Hrudicka, Cedric Giorgi, Charles Sipe, Chris Kieff, Chris Cree, Chris Wilson, Christina Kerley (CK), C.B. Whittemore, Chris Brown, Connie Bensen, Connie Reece, Corentin Monot, Craig Wilson, Daniel Honigman, Dan Schawbel, Dan Sitter, Daria Radota Rasmussen, Darren Herman, Dave Davison, David Armano, David Berkowitz, David Koopmans, David Meerman Scott, David Petherick, David Reich, David Weinfeld, David Zinger, Deanna Gernert, Deborah Brown, Dennis Price, Derrick Kwa, Dino Demopoulos, Doug Haslam, Doug Meacham, Doug Mitchell, Douglas Hanna, Douglas Karr, Drew McLellan, Duane Brown, Dustin Jacobsen, Dylan Viner, Ed Brenegar, Ed Cotton, Efrain Mendicuti, Ellen Weber, Eric Peterson, Eric Nehrlich, Ernie Mosteller, Faris Yakob, Fernanda Romano, Francis Anderson, Gareth Kay,Gary Cohen, Gaurav Mishra, Gavin Heaton, Geert Desager, George Jenkins, G.L. Hoffman, Gianandrea Facchini, Gordon Whitehead, Greg Verdino, Gretel Going & Kathryn Fleming, Hillel Cooperman, Hugh Weber, J. Erik Potter, James Gordon-Macintosh, Jamey Shiels, Jasmin Tragas, Jason Oke, Jay Ehret, Jeanne Dininni, Jeff De Cagna, Jeff Gwynne & Todd Cabral, Jeff Noble, Jeff Wallace, Jennifer Warwick, Jenny Meade, Jeremy Fuksa, Jeremy Heilpern, Jeroen Verkroost, Jessica Hagy, Joanna Young, Joe Pulizzi, John Herrington, John Moore, John Rosen, John Todor, Jon Burg, Jon Swanson, Jonathan Trenn, Jordan Behan, Julie Fleischer, Justin Foster, Karl Turley, Kate Trgovac, Katie Chatfield, Katie Konrath, Kenny Lauer, Keri Willenborg, Kevin Jessop, Kristin Gorski, Lewis Green, Lois Kelly, Lori Magno, Louise Manning, Luc Debaisieux, Mario Vellandi, Mark Blair, Mark Earls, Mark Goren, Mark Hancock, Mark Lewis, Mark McGuinness, Matt Dickman, Matt J. McDonald, Matt Moore, Michael Karnjanaprakorn, Michelle Lamar, Mike Arauz, Mike McAllen, Mike Sansone, Mitch Joel, Neil Perkin, Nettie Hartsock, Nick Rice, Oleksandr Skorokhod, Ozgur Alaz, Paul Chaney, Paul Hebert, Paul Isakson, Paul McEnany, Paul Tedesco, Paul Williams, Pet Campbell, Pete Deutschman, Peter Corbett, Phil Gerbyshak, Phil Lewis, Phil Soden, Piet Wulleman, Rachel Steiner, Sreeraj Menon, Reginald Adkins, Richard Huntington, Rishi Desai, Robert Hruzek, Roberta Rosenberg, Robyn McMaster, Roger von Oech, Rohit Bhargava, Ron Shevlin, Ryan Barrett, Ryan Karpeles, Ryan Rasmussen, Sam Huleatt, Sandy Renshaw, Scott Goodson, Scott Monty, Scott Townsend, Scott White, Sean Howard, Sean Scott, Seni Thomas, Seth Gaffney, Shama Hyder, Sheila Scarborough, Sheryl Steadman, Simon Payn, Sonia Simone, Spike Jones, Stanley Johnson, Stephen Collins, Stephen Landau, Stephen Smith, Steve Bannister, Steve Hardy, Steve Portigal, Steve Roesler, Steven Verbruggen, Steve Woodruff, Sue Edworthy, Susan Bird, Susan Gunelius, Susan Heywood, Tammy Lenski, Terrell Meek, Thomas Clifford, Thomas Knoll, Tim Brunelle, Tim Connor, Tim Jackson, Tim Mannveille, Tim Tyler, Timothy Johnson, Tinu Abayomi-Paul, Toby Bloomberg, Todd Andrlik, Troy Rutter, Troy Worman, Uwe Hook, Valeria Maltoni, Vandana Ahuja, Vanessa DiMauro, Veronique Rabuteau, Wayne Buckhanan, William Azaroff, Yves Van Landeghem

8 ways to write the next sentence – TNS part 5

This is the last in a series of posts about “the next sentence.”

I’ve been talking about the importance of being intentional about the next sentence, whether that is the sentence after the compelling story in a speech, or the sentence after a powerful video in a sermon, or the mailing that is the followup after a major event. Call it the next step, the next party, the call to action. Call it whatever you want.

Just don’t forget it.

Here are 8 ways to write the next sentence. Of course, some of these relate to sentences, others to events. But deal with it. If you are reading this blog you are incredibly gifted at filling in gaps and reading between the lines and making sense of inferences.

I know you.

1. Write a clear outcome for your presentation. In my life as a speech teacher, I would make students write a measurable outcome: “When I have finished speaking, my audience will be able to ____.” I don’t do that anymore. Unless I want to make sure I’m actually effective.

2. Practice the story you are telling. Ever start telling a story and then wonder what your point was? Your audience was wondering, too. So take some time and tell the story out loud. Unless, of course, the point doesn’t matter.

3. Stop and look at the audience, even before the event. When we are speaking, when we are planning events, we are working with real people, people with short attention spans and learning styles not our own and bladders and broken hearts and, well, lives. I get consumed with my presentation and planning and cool graphics and neat events. However, I need to stop and look at the people who will be in the room. When I do, I often change and simplify and clarify. Of course, maybe that’s just me.

4. Create a checklist. I talked in the second post about remembering everything but an attendance list which would allow followup for an event. If we had assembled a checklist, one of us would have remembered. I am horrible at lists. All the more reason. (“cool story. check. next sentence. check.”)

5. Pray. This may not apply to you. If not, jump to number 6. I have this belief that God actually knows people inside and out. So when I’m trying to figure out the next sentence, I occasionally ask what to say. And sometimes,  I am told. And sometimes, I even have to erase something.

6. Wait. So you told an incredibly moving, incredibly appropriate, incredibly inspiring story. You can tell that it moved people, mostly because you have tears in your own eyes. So wait for a bit. Before you say that next sentence, wait. Let people think and feel for a bit. Just wait. (You want proof? Think of a really moving episode of Extreme Makeover. Lives changed, people helped. You want to sit and think about whether you are doing the same. And immediately you hear “stay tuned for Desperate Housewives.” Suddenly you realize that the network isn’t about moving your heart.

Don’t be like the network.

7. Pretend. Pretend for a moment that you actually know what you are doing. Because you probably do. I was talking with someone today about the imposter syndrome. This is best illustrated by that fear in teachers that someday while we are teaching, someone will stand up and say, “you made that up!” and we will say, “You are right. Finally, someone saw the truth about me.” It is possible however, that you do know what you are doing and if you quit thinking about your insecurity you can think about helping people change the world.

Because that’s what you are about, right?

8. Pilot. Experiment. Tell your stories to friends before the event. Have a few people for dinner before you have 1,000 people at a banquet. Occasionally have your spouse or friend read a post before you hit publish. The thing that seemed really cool inside your head may not be.


So that’s it. A digital workshop on the next sentence. This will be an ebook soon. I’ll let you know.

For now, you can follow these links to the first four segments.

Part One: The next sentence

Part Two: How I messed up

Part Three: Teaching as a performance

Part four: Afraid of what comes next

And let me know if this helped.


Subscribe to this blog for free through a reader by clicking here.

Click here to sign up for this blog as an email through mailchimp.

afraid of what comes next – TNS part 4

You’ve told the perfect story about Helen. You’ve told it perfectly. The audience members, whether 1 person or 1500 people, are transfixed. There are tears in some eyes. Heads are nodding in agreement or identification. No one, it seems, is sleeping, though you are 40 minutes into this presentation 90 minutes after lunch or 30 minutes before.

So what do you say next? What is the next sentence, the sentence that follows?

That’s what this series of posts is about. Last week I suggested that one reason that we aren’t able to find that next sentence is because we are performing rather than teaching, that our focus is on the entertaining rather than helping people take the next step.

“I’m afraid to say that.”

Another reason we aren’t able to find the next sentence is fear. We are afraid of success, afraid of failure. We are afraid to be measured by what we are asking for. We are afraid to confront. We are afraid that we might have to do this again. We are afraid that we will be meddling.

I taught public speaking for several years. One day, a student gave a persuasive speech about becoming an organ donor. She talked about the value of organ donation, about the lives that are saved. She talked about the value of deciding ahead of time, so that your family knows what you want. She talked about the ease of signing up.

It was a wonderful persuasive speech.

Until the end.

“In your hand you have a form. All you need to do is sign it. I’m thinking about taking this step. You should to.”

All the arguments, all the reasons, all the simplicity…but she hadn’t persuaded herself. Why should we sign up if she hasn’t?

If she had acknowledged her own fear, her own uncertainty, I would have been sympathetic. But she had spoken with confidence up to that point.

That’s how fear can mess with our ability to say the next sentence, to call for the change or the choice that we know should follow. We are afraid that we might be held accountable for not living up to what we are asking. We are afraid that if our event is too successful we might have to plan more. We are afraid that if we ask for a clear action on the part of the audience…and no one responds…we’ll be regarded as a failure.

So we hedge. We leave lots of options. We say “think about this.” We focus on the great attendance at the banquet as the measure of success rather than the giving in response to the appeal. We say, “many people like Helen could be affected” rather than simply saying, “I could die, too. So could you.”

People in sales deal with failure every day, if failure is someone telling you “no.” But there are more people speaking than people in sales. There are more people planning events than professionals. There are many of us who are responsible to teach, to preach, to plan events, to bring about change. And many of us aren’t nearly as effective as we would like to be because we are afraid to say the next sentence, the one that will challenge people deeply.

Acknowledging the truth

The other evening I was reminded of a time that I wasn’t afraid.

A man who sometimes attended our church had died. The hospice chaplain was doing the funeral. I was asked to talk a bit about Neal.

He was an interesting and odd person. He had left his family more than once. He was incredibly needy as a person. He had been living in a motel room for 7 years before moving to a nursing home and then, finally, to hospice care.

His grown children came to the funeral, but with a huge amount of (understandable) anger.

And after the welcome and the prayer and a song and some readings from the Bible by the chaplain, I got up to speak.

So what’s the next sentence? The sentence after “hello”?

“Neal wasn’t perfect. You all know that. He disappointed you.”

Suddenly, the kids were paying attention to a pastor who wasn’t going to turn their biological father into a perfect man. They were able to let go of a bit of their anger now that they knew that someone understood it.

I was almost afraid to say that sentence, almost afraid to say the thing that allowed a conversation to begin.


Next, we’re going to look at how to help make sure that the next sentence actually comes next. But while I think about what to say, it’s your turn.

When has fear kept you from following up with what you knew needed to be the next sentence?


Want to make sure you read the whole series?

Subscribe to this blog for free through a reader by clicking here.

Click here to sign up for this blog as an email through mailchimp.

Sunday night

I’m not sure the last time I was home on a Sunday evening that wasn’t a holiday. It’s an odd feeling. Maybe you are feeling the same way, wondering exactly what to do tonight.

This post is to help. (And to give me something constructive to do.)

1. You can just laugh. Sometimes signs need punctuation. The blend of flavors in this swirl is just scary.

2. Our son Andrew is a freelance reporter for the prep football games for the local evening paper. He is actually making more money in the media than I am.

3. Spend an hour tonight or tomorrow morning focusing on whatever it is that is keeping you stuck right now.

4. Write down a training project you could do that would save you time later. Mine? Helping people building powerpoint presentations learn how to compress the pictures they include. Today I had to deal with a 20M show and a 50M show.

5. Liz talks about a guy who is stuck on who he is. Don’t be like him.

6. Laugh again.

This morning, our dog started barking. Being even older than I am, he seldom has enough energy to do this. I looked at the clock. 6:15. I walked down to see what the problem was and to think about getting started on the morning about 15 minutes earlier than planned. I went down, stopped the barking, and looked at the clock. 7:15. I need to leave for the church in 30 minutes.

While running around, I figured out what happened.

Our clock radio is fancy. It automatically adjusts for daylight savings time. We discovered this when the clock changed the first fall we had the clock. The problem was that Indiana DIDN’T have daylight savings time. I made it to church. Barely. From then on, I would change the date on the clock to avoid the problem.

Until this morning.

The clock hadn’t been notified by Congress of the change in DST.

I was only 15 minutes later than usual (which was 45 minutes before everything started.)

Of course, then I had to deal with number 4 above.

But I did get an extra 45 minutes of sleep this morning.

the weight of what i could do with stuff

I spent part of Saturday afternoon working in the garage. I almost said cleaning the garage, but that would be too optimistic…and inaccurate. Clearing out my heart might be more accurate.

If you have been coming to this site for long, you have discovered that I tell stories. For me, almost anything can lead to a story, a parable, an object lesson. It is the risk of a peculiar convergence of teacher and artist and some other vague something.

That story-seeing, application-finding is a wonderful skill for which I am grateful. It is a horrible skill as well.

You see, when I look at objects, I see their stories. I see what might have been. I see what could be. I see possibilities and odd applications. As a result, I find it difficult to throw any of those things away.

For example, in the picture are three pieces of wood.

  • The one on the left is wainscotting. I used it in our kitchen. I used more in our bathroom. I had some pieces left, taking up space in the garage and in my head. After all, I might need a patch, we may want to do another project with it.
  • The one in the middle is rough-sawn wood from a water-powered sawmill in northern lower Michigan. We went there with friends and bought two pieces of the lumber, each about a foot long. I made a remembrance for Nancy’s friend and for Nancy. Or tried to. They were really odd: one was never given and the other never used.
  • The one on the left is maple flooring, the kind used for gymnasium floors. I rescued a few pieces from a dumpster. The floor had been laid and before it was finished, it flooded. All the pieces were tossed, all with nails every 12 inches.

All of these pieces have been with us for at least a decade, cluttering the garage and cluttering my mind. I know that I could make something with them. I know that I ought to make something with them. I know that they are worth salvaging, somehow.

And yet. Every time I look at the garage, the piles of ought to and someday loom large. Even though I haven’t done much woodworking for the past few years, and am likely to not do any for the next few years, I hang on to all of these scraps, partial projects that exist only because I have a “could be” story in my head. This wood will sit for another few years, will keep a car out of the garage, will make me feel guilty, all because I believe that because I picked it up, I cannot put it down.

Until today.

Today I used the saw and cut them into lengths that will fit in the fireplace. I used a hatchet to split them into pieces that will burn quickly.

Halfway through the project I sat at the computer to check email. I found that my chest was a bit tight. The emotional work of clearing space was having showing up with physical stress. I convinced me that I had to keep working.

There is now one box of kindling in the family room, ready to start fires that will warm the room. There is more space in the garage. And there are non-burnable scraps in the dumpster.

Someday I’ll pick up more scraps. For now, I’ll breath more freely.