February 28, 2012


55 minutesTED Talks deliver valuable content in an engaging way in 18 minutes or less. This raises audience expectations for “normal” presentations too. Yet still presenters under-deliver.

TED Talks have a drawback.

There's no opportunity for a group discussion after the speaker. That's where magic can happen. Theatre seating isn't designed for interaction and TED audiences are too big. Besides, there’s a schedule to follow. There’s time for discussions during the generous breaks but that’s not the same.


As a presenter, let's say you have an hour for your session and a smaller audience where attendees can't easily hide. Let's also say they are attending voluntarily and can leave anytime.

Here's a proposed allocation of your time
  • presentation: 12-14 min
  • group discussion: 39-42 min
  • conclusion: 1-2 min
That's 55 minutes, which means you're done ahead of time. If there are delays in getting started, shrink the group discussion time to compensate and still finish early. If you’re given 30 minutes, you’ve still got time for your message and questions.

I've used this allocation as my primary format since 2011. It works well but is scary because the bulk of each session is unscripted. I watched Seth Godin field diverse questions for three hours the afternoon of The Linchpin Session. I was amazed at how quickly (and sensibly) he answered. I felt the magic in the room. You can’t get that with a fully scripted presentation.

Awkward Silence

If you don't get your audience engaged, they're prone to sit rather than participate. The solution isn't to revert to prepared hour-long presentations. Instead, add zing to your content and delivery.

You have help. If you're a guest speaker, your hosts want the session to succeed and will likely ask questions to spur others. If you're the organizer, you may have a helper in the group to get the discussions flowing.

If you talk to the early arriving audience members, you build rapport. Some may reciprocate by asking questions. You likely know what questions usually get asked and can ask yourself questions.

Sometimes I’ll show popular questions on the screen as a guide. I’ll also leave gaps in the prepared section to prompt questions.

If you don’t know the answer, audience members might. Invite them. This is effective even if you know the answer.


Routine presentations are boring for today's audiences. If your session doesn't require audience interaction apart from clapping, do us a favour. Record your talk. Upload to YouTube. Save our time and yours.


Preparing a shorter presentation takes more skill since you'll need to edit ruthlessly. You can't include content just because you like it.

Group discussions rely on the audience for success. The uncertainty can be unnerving. To practice and get insightful feedback, join a Toastmasters club (as I finally did in Dec 2010).


A dynamic session benefits everyone. There's a reason to attend since the audience gets more than a canned presentation. There's a reason to attend more than once (depending on the topic) since each time is different. Like a Springsteen concert.

You also show your expertise. You're a pundit instead of a parrot. Isn’t that exactly want you want? Authority is the third universal principle of influence. You also have more fun ... once you're comfortable with interaction.

You learn what’s on your audience's mind. That's valuable. You may not be Springsteen (though if you are. leave a comment!), but you can make your presentations alive.


PS Years ago, I did Ask An Actuary sessions for advisors. They could ask any question in this safe environment. I didn't know all the answers but sometimes other attendees did. If that failed, I could research afterwards. There was a solid reason to get invited back.

February 21, 2012


chess pieces by rankSituations change fast. To anticipate and react, you need control over your calendar. If you’re already working at capacity, what use are you?

I've been controlling my work time and priorities since the late 1990s. This includes making time to think and experiment. Productivity is important, which is why I’m currently in week 4 of the 12 week Pick Four goals program.

Making Time

You have more time when you delegate or outsource. It's tempting to pick
  • what you don't like to do
  • what you don't know how to do
Are those the right reasons?

You might get further by delegating what you like to do. This may be counter-intuitive (and unpleasant). Conventional thinking says do what you do best and delegate the rest. There is merit in this approach but also diminishing returns. There's little room for growth when you're already great. If you're a world class athlete, the small incremental changes matter. For most of us, we might be making a rut as deep as a grave. The 10,000 Hour Rule (see Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers) leads to mastery but is 20,000 hours better than investing the next 10,000 hours in developing new skills?


If something is experimental or important, I personally get involved. It doesn't matter if the work is boring. When you do something dull or difficult, you learn and you set a good example for others.

Once I spent weeks developing spreadsheets that showed product performance vs. competitors insurance products. This involved numerous calculations for combinations of age, gender and smoking status. I input the results into spreadsheets and soon had pages of figures. This was overwhelming. To make interpretation simpler, I showed percentage differences in performance. Finally, I added colour coding: green if our product was better and red if we were worse. The colour coding made interpretation very easy. These pages became known as "green sheets" within the industry.

Once the prototype was working well, I delegated the preparation to my staff. If I delegated at the outset, the results would not suffered.

New Skills

Sometimes, new skills are needed. I don't know web programming but wanted to prototype brandable websites to help advisors sell life insurance via education and the opportunity to buy. That was in 2000. I learned how to use Microsoft FrontPage and soon created a prototype. Eventually, the Board approved the multiyear, multimillion dollar SaveTax Project. That's when I could delegate to real web designers and programmers.


These days, I'm learning video editing. Last week, I learned how to insert slides from a PowerPoint presentation into a live recording of Building Trust With Blogging from Word11. I also put the audience questions onscreen and enhanced the audio. I'm using Adobe Premiere Elements, which I find unintuitive. There isn't much online help either.

Yesterday, I was asked why I didn't just hire an expert. The results would be better and I'd save time. That's true, but I'd lose out on the learning and role modeling.

My ultimate goal is to inspire clients to get ready for their video debut. If they agree, they're likely to outsource. Who to? Most video "experts" are close to average, by definition. That's not good enough. Unless I know the basics of video, I can't spot the fakers from the pros. That means I can't make recommendations.

Too Important

You might outsource video production, graphic design or even writing. You might have no choice. For instance, I don't have design skills.

When you delegate or outsource, you're creating a vulnerability. What they do for you, they can do for your for your competitors too ...

Sometimes what you do is too important to risk losing.


PS What do you handoff to others to do?

February 14, 2012


Five made by handI just reached a milestone: five years of blogging. That's over 500 posts and 250,000 words. This feels like a big accomplishment.

Here’s the official tally
That’s 517 posts. Let’s look back to the days before the iPhone was launched.
Q: Why did you start blogging?
Blogging gave us a free, easy-to-use publishing platform with worldwide reach. I started in February 2007 as an experiment. I had things I wanted to say but never had an outlet before. No censorship. No delays. No excuses.

We just needed the courage to say something worthwhile. Over and over.

If blogging worked (as I thought it would over time), I wanted to inspire my clients to start too. In those days, my job was to help insurance advisors make more money. Blogging looked an ideal way for them to gain business by showing their chemistry (personality), credentials (expertise) and generosity (sharing information).
Q: What did you learn from blogging?
I learned that blogging is easy to start, easy to quit and very rewarding if you continue.

Anyone can start blogging within minutes. There are no external barriers. All limitations are self-imposed. We are fully responsible. That's scary and empowering.

Blogging is easy to quit. There are always other pressing demands on our time. We're busy. We might not feel well or be in the mood. We might be traveling. We have oodles of excuses. Overcoming obstacles on a regular basis builds confidence. You reach a point where you know you will ship because that becomes easier than letting the excuses win. Our intentions to exercise and diet face the same obstacles.

Blogging is very rewarding over time. There's power in helping others --- even strangers --- with our words. There's power in continuing while others quit (assuming they even started). The results are powerful too. You stand out from your competitors as you find your voice and your audience. You make a stronger impression on new visitors and a lasting one on regular readers.
Q: What frightened you about blogging?
I didn't know if I could write or if anyone would be interested in reading my thoughts. I worried about running out of ideas. I thought I might quit and feared showing my failure in public. I was especially worried about criticism. I worked for a large insurer and feared that a complaint might lead to trouble.

There was no corporate policy on blogging and I didn’t feel a need to ask for permission. Instead, I checked with two lawyers. Both said that what I did in my personal time was for me to decide but I could not imply the company sanctioned what I wrote.
Q: When did you know what blogging was right for you?
I had a hunch that blogging was an untapped wonder. I got external confirmation in 2007, when I
What would you have done differently if you could go back to February 2007?
Two blogs is a lot to manage. Looking back, I should have had one blog with two posts per week, rather than two blogs with one post per week. However, I had two different interests. I struggled with that decision then and I still do. In the meantime, I keep writing.
Q: What did you know about marketing?
Nothing much. I'm puzzled at my audacity to write about marketing. I have no background. No courses. No multi-day seminars. No designations. I learned primarily by listening to audiobooks, reading blogs and thinking.

I found that marketing books generally:
  • dealt with products (not services)
  • focused on large companies (not small)
  • predated social media (and the impact of the Internet)
I saw that I could adapt the principles to services and entrepreneurs via social media. Since there was no "right" path, I was free to experiment.

I found current thinking in blogs, especially from Seth Godin and Mitch Joel. We operate at different scales but have similar thinking. I have had the opportunity to speak to both of them. I find they are genuine. They continue to inspire me.
Q: What surprised you most?
I wasn't sure that anyone would care about my amateur marketing ideas. To my surprise, I found that I was more credible than the experts because I had no marketing services to sell. Also, I was exploring new ways of marketing before the pros.

In 2008, I started getting invited to speak to groups about marketing. Entrepreneurs sought out my advice to understand WHY before hiring experts for the HOW.

I also saw there was pent-up demand for my core area of expertise: taming financial risk with life and health insurance. In 2009, I started my own business built on the trust I earned via consistent persistent generosity. Giving ongoing, unconditional gifts to strangers made me a better person and this attracted clients to me. Blogging opened doors and still does.

I now describe myself in three inter-related words: actuary | blogger | advocate.
Q: Did you really write 250,000 words?
I haven’t counted. My typical post is 500 words or more. The numerous comments I’ve left on other blogs should more than make up any shortfall. In case you’re counting, this post is 986 words.


PS It’s not too late for you to start blogging too …

February 7, 2012


Do you offend enough people? If not, unveil more of your personality.

“Offend” may be the wrong word. “Polarize” may be better. Do you attract/repel people? Yes, you do. There’s not much you can do about this.

Inappropriate Photo?

Your reaction to the photo will depend on your opinion of cats and what you think is funny. If you're offended, would you feel differently if you knew this cat likes sitting here when the equipment is off? Would you mind if this were a cartoon?

Here’s the core question: do you atrract/repel the right people?

Blatant Ways

Consciously or not, you bring others closer or push them away. For example, you may
  • use profanity
  • tell off-colour jokes
  • express your views on religion, politics or current affairs
  • gripe
  • blame others
Even if no one objects out loud, you're offending some and attracting others.

Subtle Ways

Your rough edges also show in other ways. There's no right or wrong.
  • are you technician or a personality?
  • do you pay attention to detail or focus on the big points?
  • do you answer your phone whenever it rings or only when you're in a quiet environment?
  • do you focus on quality or prefer to cut costs?
  • are you a specialist or generalist?
  • are you big-city or small-town?
  • young or old?
  • educated or self-taught?
  • spender or frugal?
Each has an effect. 

The Wrong Fish

If you're not happy with the clients you're attracting, you'll need to make changes. Since we can't see ourselves objectively, you'll probably need outside help to see what's wrong. You can soften some edges while remaining true to yourself.

Try This

You may have difficulty overcoming first impressions and stereotypes. That's why you want to help shape the initial opinions and confound expectations. Let people see the real you as quickly as you can. They’ll learn the truth eventually. If the interpersonal chemistry isn’t there, will they buy from you? It doesn’t matter how much time you spend with them or how logical your arguments.

Can potential clients experience you without the hassle of meeting you? Yes. Online with text, audio, video and photos.


PS This post was written years ago but never published.