Olympic Lessons Are Plentiful

olympic-rings-cool2I admit it…my 2014 Winter Olympics withdrawal is in full swing. Seventeen glorious days of winter sports events, full of pageantry, anticipation, victory and defeat. With every viewing came a lesson. Here are a few:

Silver is just as exciting as gold. US skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace leapt into her husband’s arms with a radiant smile, shouting, “We did it! We did it!” She enthusiastically and proudly accepted a silver medal. She raced for her family, and this was her final Olympic competition. Often times athletes are disappointed to receive a silver or bronze. In this case, Pikus-Pace demonstrated a positive spirit and true grace as a medal winner.

Even a ponytail can Tweet. US figure skater Jason Brown, who dons a neatly coiffed ponytail, created a Twitter account…for his ponytail, some call a bronytail, reporting news and events from Sochi. A brilliant marketing move. If you are afraid to use social media, this proves that if a ponytail can do it, so can you!

Every hero has a hero. Canadian mogul skier Alex Bilodeau won the gold for Canada and for his older brother, Frederic, who has Cerebral Palsy. “He is my hero,” Alex says of his big brother. As Alex crossed the finish line, it was hard to tell who was more excited about the victory – Alex or Frederic. Alex won back-to-back gold in this Olympic freestyle sport.

Patience is the greatest virtue. Paired for 17 years, US ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White gracefully and elegantly grabbed the gold, reminding us that all important goals in life are worth the wait. And speaking of waiting, let’s include two extremely patient and proud mothers.

When you fall, get up and keep going. When US figure skater Jeremy Abbott fell and crashed into the wall of the ice rink, the audience gasped, expecting him to limp off the ice. Instead, he slowly stood up, regained his composure and finished skating an otherwise flawless program. That’s class and determination.

Community trumps adversity. With the negative hype leading up to and surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the athletes in Olympic Village proved that despite differences, people of various cultures and backgrounds can get along. And they did. Isn’t that what the phrase “Olympic spirit” means?

As you watch the upcoming Olympics – the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil or the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeong Chang, South Korea – watch not just for the victories and defeats; look for the important lessons that spur you on as you compete in this wonderful game called life.

Photo credit: Photobucket.com


Have a Conversation With Your Audience

GasStationYou are about to deliver that big presentation: A sales pitch to a client, a status meeting with the board of directors or a keynote speech at an industry conference. You think it’s a good idea to write a script and memorize it. Not so fast! Let’s think this through. When you find yourself in that position of creating and delivering an important presentation, remember one thing: Have a conversation with your audience.

One-on-one or small group conversations are never rehearsed; rather, they are delivered impromptu, without any preparation. You give some thought to what you are about to say, and then you speak. The opposite of impromptu is a scripted, rehearsed presentation. If you practice your presentation dozens of times, inserting the same gestures and facial expressions on cue, you could be perceived as too mechanical or disingenuous. Instead, rehearse your presentation enough times so that you remember the key points and any supportive stories, examples or anecdotes. Every time you speak it, the words will slightly change because you are remembering the framework, not a script. You will have a conversation with your audience rather than memorize your script word for word.

Having a conversation with your audience creates greater attention and intimacy. If you were sitting in the audience, would you prefer the speaker talk to you or converse with you? Conversing with your audience brings your material to life and results in more powerful messages and more memorable presentations.

For instance, I could say: While on vacation with my parents in Dubuque at  the age of five, I was accidentally left behind at a gas station. My mother used the excuse that she was preoccupied with a candy bar, yet, my opinion differs vastly. (A tad bit wordy and sounds too scripted)

Same Information…More Conversational: When I was five, my parents accidentally left me at a gas station in Dubuque. We were on vacation. My mom claims she was preoccupied with a candy bar. I beg to differ. (Shorter sound bytes; easy to grasp)

Listen to the language you use when delivering a presentation. Do you sound like you are reading to the audience or engaged in a conversation? How conversational are you? What can you do to become more conversational?


The Value of Vacation

14068931-beach-and-tropical-seaStop what you are doing. Take a breath. Imagine that you are sitting in front of the ocean. Its vastness stretches as far as the eye can see. The sky is a clear blue with a few wisps of clouds. The horizon between water and sky blends almost seamlessly. The sun warms your body. The breeze is light and refreshing.You don’t have to be anywhere or do anything. There is no business suit to wear. No meetings to attend. No urgent phone calls to make. This is not a normal day for you. No, you are not dreaming. You are on vacation. You are living in the moment.

“I haven’t taken a vacation in a long time” you say? Why is that? Is it because you are too busy, too important or “the only person who could get the work done” to take off some time? Everyone is expendable to a certain point, and that even includes you. Whether you take off one day, two weeks or one month, build vacation into your annual calendar. You will clear your mind, function much better, and the people around you – both at work and at home – will be happier as a result.

In case you have forgotten, let me remind you of the benefits of vacation time:

Vacation provides a change of scenery. When you change what you’re looking at, it opens up your mind to see things differently. It shifts your perspective. Instead of seeing the same things, you will see something new and fresh.

Vacation introduces new experiences. Whether you travel to a new destination or return to the same place every so often, new experiences will be waiting for you. A new restaurant to try. A new beach to discover. A new museum to visit. A new trail to hike. Be open to those new experiences.

Vacation reacquaints you with yourself. Sometimes you lose yourself in work and forget who you are underneath it all. When you strip away the business suit and shoes, and let your bare feet feel the warmth of the sand or the coolness of the ocean’s water, you rediscover a side of you that you may have forgotten.

Vacation introduces you to new people and other beings. You meet interesting people on planes, boats and trains, in airports, at retail shops or tourist destinations. Some of my most memorable encounters happened while vacationing. I met Silver Hans on a train in Germany. I met a village elder, Kaki, in Bali. I met a wild horse with no name on Assateague Island, Maryland.

Why does it take a vacation to remind you that there is tremendous value taking off that time? Take out a pen and paper. Write “This year I am vacationing in…” Fill in the blank with one or several destinations. Select a time. Book it. Enjoy your vacation!

Right now, I am sitting by the pool in the Florida Keys, admiring a picture perfect day, soaking up the sounds, sunshine and positive energy, and sending this important message to you. I am having a wonderful time. How about you?

Dear Mother Nature: Thank You

WinterHemlocksDear Mother Nature:

Thank you for reminding me that there are forces larger than me in this world; that there are certain things that I cannot control in my life. The weather is one of them. I accept that.

Thank you for giving me a reason to pause and reflect on the beauty of nature. During these times, I create a “snow meditation.” I simply sit, with crossed legs, and look outside to our snow-covered hemlocks (pictured above). I am transported to a quiet, peaceful place.

Thank you for snow. As an Aquarian, my love affair with snow has always been there. During my childhood, living in the snow belt of the Midwest, I thought it was normal to have a minimum of one foot of snow on the ground at all times during the winter.

Thank you for inventing Snow Days. What’s that you say? That wasn’t your idea? Are you sure about that? When I was growing up, there was no such thing as a Snow Day. We walked to school back then. I sound more like my father every day.

Thank you for reminding me how peaceful snow is. It feels good to hear the quiet of snow as it’s falling on my face and jacket. When I am fully present in that magical moment, I am one with nature.

Thank you for sending me a message of gratitude. Whether it’s the Polar Vortex or Winter Storm Nika that is rearranging my schedule, I feel most grateful for what I have. Many people are in need…of a roof over their head, food on their table or even spare change in their pocket. During severe winter weather like this, we need to reach out to our families, neighbors and strangers to make sure they are all right, to let them know that someone is there to help. At times like this, we look at both our individual and collective needs, as a community and as a nation. Let’s help each other and face the storm together.