Didn’t See That Coming

I must admit that I have been putting on the “stiff upper lip” face for the first Thanksgiving without the kids in 20 years.  I kept finding the silver lining in everything.  My daughter, Bailey, is having the time of her life and helping others in Cambodia. Wright, my son, got to experience Green Bay, real winter weather, and to visit with his girlfriend’s family.  My kids are starting to live their lives – excellent – I couldn’t be prouder.

Naturally, all our friends came through with flying colors – offers of meals, drinks, parties, drinks, activities, and…drinks.  I could not have asked for a better Holiday – nor should I even try.

Today, I finally had my #didn’tseethatcoming moment.  Time to put up the Christmas tree, festoon it with lights, and ♪Deck the Halls♪ with decorations.  There was a monumental problem.  My taller-than-me, stronger-than-me, and (maybe) smarter-than-me son was not here.  I didn’t have anyone to bark orders at. Genevieve (four legs) can’t hear me and usually doesn’t mind anyway.  And I am not stupid enough to give orders to my wife.  Most importantly, I didn’t have anyone to blame for it being done “WRONG!” nor the pleasure of correcting the offender…only if I start talking to myself.

The tree is now up, the lights are just right and decorating the house is well in progress.  I learned some things today:

  • The boxes of decorations get heavier every year.  We didn’t buy any new stuff – honest. They just got heavier – I can’t explain it.
  • Putting up the tree is a tag-team sport.  Solo takes too long, gives you a headache, and even though I was using my arms – it made my ankles hurt…
  • Leaning out to put lights on the tree requires not only balance but also a handhold.  It appears that the gravitational pull of the earth has shifted because I “usta” lean out on one foot using a rickety ladder. Not any more; that mysterious gravitational shift made it impossible.
  • Finally, those stupid little fuses in the lights shrunk from last year.  They were much bigger last year when I had to replace one.

Now everything is ready so let me be one of the first to say “Happy Holidays!”

The Thrill of the Chase

The thrill of the chase: building excitement of figuring things out; hunting down leads; winning small victories while suffering painful setbacks, and hopefully, closing in on the treasure. If you are familiar with Forrest Fenn, you also know that finding the treasure is elusive.

Working at a Start-up is very much the embodiment of the thrill of the chase and I have every aspect at TheTalkList.  We have made changes to our website and are moving them out of development into production.  We have changed our Video interface to a more effective protocol for long distances. We are kicking off our Marketing Programs and starting live tests. We even have some investor interest. Thrill of the Chase.

As I noted in another, Reward of Doing Something Hard, being part of a really good and committed team makes things better.  One could even go so far as to say it enhances the thrill of the chase. That is what excites me about being at TheTalkList.

Our CEO has built businesses before; more importantly, he has a deep passion for what we are doing and the global benefits we can create. He sees a future where TheTalkList is about all languages and all conversations. He is focused and determined to succeed.

Our marketing leads are living proof of English conversation fluency benefits.  They were all born in another country and had to learn English. Their American teammates have traveled extensively and seen the smiles on the faces of people who become proficient at great communications and conversations. Bottom line: they get it and can explain it.

Our CTO has deep technology knowledge and that “been there, done that” experience to leads us through the development and support of our site, ancillary systems, and quality of the experience. He is our steady hand on the switch.

Finally, our tutors are enthusiastic about helping and making a difference. They eagerly sign-up and jump right in.

Together, the team has brought us close to the treasure. It is only a matter of time. It is a great place to be; I’m glad to be neck deep in the thrill of the chase.

Join us. Check our Website. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn. Become a tutor and/or contribute to our LinkedIn Discussion Group.


Experience the Thrill of the Chase.

Tutoring: Self-help for English

While Reading Annie Murphy Paul’s Brilliant Report for today, I was reminded of one the lessons I learned when I took the “7 Habits of Effective Leaders” by her commentary regarding the Protégé Effect. Ms. Paul wrote:

Students enlisted to tutor others, these researchers have found, work harder to understand the material, recall it more accurately and apply it more effectively. In a phenomenon that scientists have dubbed “the protégé effect,” student teachers score higher on tests than pupils who are learning only for their own sake.

This is a similar concept of third person conversation that I learned during the Covey course.  One uses this technique in facilitating discussions where the facilitator and the two parties rephrase comments to improve understanding. Two big things I learned in that lesson was precision in word use and proper conveyance of ideas.  You might be thinking right about now “Ok, makes sense so why are you bringing it up now?”

Excellent Question.  In my role at TheTalkList, I have been focusing on student value propositions and company value propositions.  All of these things matter to our success; however, my myopia left out a very important consideration to the American Students that are our tutors.  Not only will tutoring help them hone their teaching or tutoring skills but also help them improve their English Conversation skills, specifically, word use and proper construction to convey concepts. This side benefit is especially important to me.

I have twins who are in College. Every time they come home, I get the wonderful cringing and agonizing opportunity to remind them how English should be spoken.  Example, the excessive use of the word “like.” As in “I was like really tired after like I worked out like really hard.” – Arrgghhh! Now that I have been reminded of the protégé effect / third person conversations, I will redouble my efforts to get them to sign up as tutors so hopefully they will remember the proper way to use English.

Being a tutor with TheTalkList is a wonderful opportunity to learn about other cultures, hone tutoring skills, and improve conversation skills…

At TheTalkList, that is the good self-help we are striving for!

Interactive Component of Creative Conversation

David Bradshaw recently posted his third part of Tips for Speaking Tests. In this third of the series, he started talking about the importance of Interactive Communication and that it is marked as a part of the exam.  He specifically noted that Interactive Communication:

“allows the candidates to use a wider range of language than they could if they were just answering the questions they were asked by the examiner. As they work together, they use language to propose different ideasexpress agreement and disagreement and negotiate to a final decision.”

I have to agree that interactive communication brings about a fuller use of language and at the same time improves listening and speaking skills. Students must improve their “art of listening“(Sheryl Connelly) as well as reach a higher level of Active Listening that requires them to repeat, paraphrase, or even reflect on what is said. Imelda Bickham’s diagram clearly shows the progression of levels:


These items point heavily towards the concept of Creative Conversation that TheTalkList is based on.  We describe creative conversation as learning in context.  By putting the students interests in the middle of the conversation, and by using 1 to 1 tutoring to gently improve their conversation skills, it is easy to see how interactive communication, active listening, and other coaching techniques will help our students “speak like a native.”

I appreciate the work the David, Sheryl, and Imelda are accomplishing / publishing as it gives me greater assurance that TheTalkList is on the right track.  Thanks to all of them and I’m personally looking forward to seeing our talkists using their techniques to improve their speaking skills.

The Wisdom of 1-to-1 Creative Conversation

I posted “What is Wisdom?” two years ago in response to a statement made to me:  “this is the information you asked for.” To refresh your memory what was given to me was a spreadsheet of collected data that was said to be “information.”  In that post, I delineated the difference between data (input), information (input put through some function), knowledge (repeated information function) and wisdom (knowledge grown by personal experience).

It is knowledge and wisdom that fits well with 1-to-1 Creative Conversation. Let me give you an example.  A colleague on mine who happens to be from Japan was standing in the parking lot when I drove up.  They liked the car I was driving (a convertible) but didn’t know the word in English.  Having the experience of living and working in Asia, I knew that there were very few convertibles on Japan so I was quickly aware of why the word escaped my colleague [n.b.: there is a word in Japanese to describe a cabriolet – kaburiore (カブリオレ)].  More importantly, my colleague’s English is quite good but still has a heavy influence of Japanese pronunciation. While we were continuing our conversation, I introduced “flip top” and  “rag top” as possible alternatives to cabriolet or convertible as those first words were proving difficult to enunciate. We carried on the conversation repeating key phrases and how to put them in context while I was dipping into my experience as a driver of a convertible , a native English speaker and one attuned to the struggles of a ESL speaker.

By using my knowledge and personal experience, I was able to pass on wisdom to my colleague via this creative conversation.  This is the very same  concept Noam Chomsky presented in his interview with John Gliedman for Omni Magazine way back in 1983- by working the proper construction of a word or phrase over time with gentle correction, the learner effectively makes the correction in their mind and the speaking mistakes disappear over time.

1-to-1 Creative Conversation is one of the key foundations of TheTalkList  as it allows for the passing of wisdom from “talkist” to “talkist” so that the learner can speak like a native. Check us out.


Annie Murphy Paul published her latest The Brilliant Report on “Eight ways of looking at intelligence” recently.  It was a transcription of one of her latest speeches and it is well worth reading.  Her insight into different ways that make us smarter was profound.

Three of these looks got my attention the most:

  • Situations can make us smarter

She wrote “The science of learning has demonstrated that we are powerfully shaped by the situations that we find ourselves in: situations that can either evoke or suppress our intelligence.”

  • Technology can make us smarter

Under this section it was noted: “’21st century skills’ that we’re always hearing about—critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, creativity—can’t emerge in a content-free vacuum. They must develop in the context of a rich base of fact knowledge: knowledge that’s stored on the original hard drive, one’s own brain.”

  • Relationships can make us smarter

Finally she observed: “A community, perhaps, something like the one gathered here, which has in my short acquaintance with it given every indication of allowing probing questions and stimulating conversation to flourish—of allowing intelligence to bloom.”

Her insights on these three aspects of intelligence peaked my interest because they mirror the three foundations that TheTalkList are founded on:

  • One on One Tutoring in Contextual conversations
  • Electronic networking and Collaboration
  • Social Networking

As a quick background, TheTalkList.com is an e-Learning web site built on TheTalkList’s 3-Part Method that combines Creative Conversation, e-Learning technology, and social networking. The theory behind TheTalkList’s 3-part method is that one-on-one learning is the most effective way to attain language proficiency.  On TheTalkList, students select their own personal tutor and practice speaking with native speakers of American English. TheTalkList makes this individual instruction convenient, affordable, and extremely effective.

After reading Ms. Paul’s speech transcript, I believe we are on the right course.


Why TheTalkList.com?

Now that I’m in my new role as CMO at TheTalklist, I am being asked why?  Why this company and this service? These are very good questions that I answer with three points: simplicity, collaboration, and powerful connection.

Simplicity.  The founder of TheTalklist built a site tho accomplish three things: Search, Schedule and Talk.  It is easy for a foreign ESL student to navigate the site, find the tutors that have common interests, schedule the time, and have a conversation with their tutor.  There are no long-term commitments or contracts.  No hidden hooks.  They purchase their package and then use it up as they see fit.  Simple.  I like it because we, as a company, focus on what is important – improving conversational English – without losing site of we are running a business.

Collaboration. Tools and widgets are built-in to help tutors and students.  These collaboration sources in conjunction with the video chat make the conversation skills learning much more enjoyable.  Even more important, the students and tutors talk about what interests them.  No set curriculum but instead using likes to engage the conversation. As noted in our white paper, one the greatest breakthroughs in language learning is the realization that students learn a second language faster when they aren’t focused on learning it.  By collaborating with the tutor on topics they like, the student’s conversational English improves faster.

Powerful Connection.  This is most important to me.  Having lived abroad for many years, I have seen how misperception and cultural insensitivity makes most situations more difficult than they need to be.  The conversation promoted by TheTalkList allows for knowledge and cultural exchange which increases understanding and sensitivity. Conversation is often left out of difficult situations; TheTalklist looks to change all that in addition to helping foreign ESL students achieve what their government, parents, and society wants from them —  “speak English like a native.”

If you want to see more about TheTalkList and get a little more background about why I am excited by this opportunity, I encourage you to check out our How it works Video.  Or follow us on LinkedIn or Facebook.

Silver Lining: Failure Leads to Success

Economic times have been tough for many people for the past 3 years. Everyone has his or her opinions and had to implement their recipes for survival. With the start 2013, things are starting to look up despite the March jobs report. I see people are starting to gain confidence as well as regaining trust, faith and belief in oneself. They are starting to move to a destination again.

Of course, we are not out the swamp yet.  Bad weeks happen; mistakes occur; the regained faith is shaken by unexpected news. The pull back to dark spaces starts creeping in.  Is my life tagged #FAIL?

I had one of those weeks.  Unexpected news put me in bad place; squashed my hope a bit, and made me rethink my future plans.  Additionally, a person I am mentoring had concerns about failing. Try as I might to get them back to the right mind-set, I got the sneaking suspension that fear of failure is creating a tsunami of chaos in their mind.  So I spent the latter part of this week trying to remind myself and my mentoree that we must keep faith and must find the silver lining. We must move forward.

I started digging around in my treasure trove of “leadership flyers” (those pithy one page roadmaps to leadership enlightenment). I came across one that I previously used in mentoring, titled “10 Ways Failure Leads to Success.”  This was not originally my list and, frankly, I don’t have the source information but I will freely give credit if someone claims it.

3 of the 10 items stuck out in my mind as useful for finding a silver lining during these tough times:

    • Turnarounds.  It takes more than one iteration of change to get things right.
    • Scientific Method. Keep trying something until it doesn’t fail anymore.
    • Post Mortems (I like, Debriefs – less morbid). Figure out what went wrong and don’t do that again.

Bottom line? Things don’t go from disaster to perfect in a flash. There will be bumps in the road.  If you don’t keep driving ahead and dealing with bumps, then you will never get where you are going. The trick is to learn where the bumps are and avoid them in the future. The positive aspect of bad weeks is the opportunity to learn and improve.

Besides a week, even a bad week, will always end on weekend!

Erasing Doubt

One of the biggest challenges for Sales or Business Development is overcoming FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt).  In the B2B world, your competitors often plant FUD in the marketing landscape as a landmine for you to step on.  That usually means you are in a defensive position in any presentation or discussion with a potential customer.

When the experts give you the “5 Habits for Engaging Customers” or “10 Presentation Must Do’s,” the underlying need is eliminating barriers to agreement – Erasing Doubt. Erasing Doubts brings you out of the defensive position into the agreement space. Erasing Doubt is presenting yourself as Understanding the issues of the business. Erasing Doubt requires confident answers to questions and concerns.  While this may seem ridiculously obvious, the reality is often far different.

To Erase Doubt, fully understand the information and then present it concisely and consistently.  When the presentation or discussion is with a potential investor, this is crucial to success.

As a part of my volunteer work at a start-up incubator, I have found there are key areas that Erase Doubt with potential investors:

    1. Solid Business Plan w/ an actionable Go-To-Market Strategy (including Sales and Marketing hurdles), Risk Mitigation, Success Factors, and Metrics.  Show you are cognizant of how to get your product or service to paying customers and how to grow revenue.
    2. Realistic market sizing and expectations on market share capture.  Have supportable TAM and SAM assessments.  Give a good frame of reference for potential investors and how you fit in that landscape.
    3. Respect competitors and present believable competitive assessments.  Don’t ignore or undersell competition – no one believes that there is no competition.
    4. Pricing Models that show proper value, costs, and profitability.  Pricing is essential to success and profitability – a solid pricing model goes provides a great transition to the financial growth.
    5. 5 yr. financial statements  – income and cash flow.  Investors want to know how the business will operate and the financial statements give a very good snapshot.

Another benefit to staying current on these items and to be able to answer questions confidently and concisely – it erases doubt in your team or company also.

What Is The GOAL?

This interesting infographic “How Organizations Structure Social Media Teams” came across my inbox today regarding social media within a company. Some statistics really stood out in my mind:

  • 65% of the companies surveyed had social media on top of other marketing activities
  • 82% had 1-3 people working on social media.
  • While the preferred degree was marketing but only 3% of respondents wanted business experience.

Not surprising, only 5% were highly satisfied with the efforts and over half were not satisfied.  Why?  I believe that the goals of the program were not being clearly defined, resourced and measured.  A Business exists to sell a product or service, at a profit, yet in the infographic, 86% measured “Likes,” 74% measured web site visits and only 31% measured sales.  I don’t think I could say WRONG loud enough.

As I have often stated to my clients or anyone who will listen, Social and Digital marketing tools are just that – Tools. You use them to reach a goal. The same way that using a saw is not the goal but getting the piece of wood to the right size so that the wall can be built is.  Also one tool allows other tools (hammer and a square) to be better utilized.

In order to create an effective social media campaign, one must first examine “What are the goals?”  Then determine how to achieve the goals; what tools will work best to achieve the goals, determine how they should interact, and what is the best way to measure success. It is way beyond “should we use FB or Twitter or Instagram?.”  It is also way beyond just collecting followers and likes.  To me there should always be a funnel of opportunities that leads to sales firstly, then a determination of what tools to fill that funnel, then finally judge the success of the tool by the amount of sales it generates.

Anything else just doesn’t make “the rubber meet the road” and leads to dissatisfaction.