Friday, September 25, 2009


I just finished another one of those books on how to supercharge your speaking career. And it was just like the last fourteen I've read on the subject: it talks at great length about having a great topic, having a plan, and being a good speaker. But when it gets to the actual part about getting more people to hire you, it dissolves into a coughing fit of pedestrian advice.

Earlier, I listed to a half-hour audioconference from someone who was billed as being the greatest expert ever on becoming an entrepreneur and bestselling author. His secret? Platitudes like having passion, doing your research, and eating your vegetables. Oh, and attending his paid seminar coming up soon.

Likewise, when I became the first person in my family in over a century to start my own business, I read every book I could get my hands on about self-employment. When it came to getting clients, most had one thin chapter full of useless advice (run ads, etc.) that had nothing whatsoever to do with how I really got most of my clients (build relationships, network with people, do a lot of free speaking, etc.).

The common denominator in all of these success-mongers? No facts. No proof. No walking you through exactly how they put 10,000 names on their mailing list, or sold the half million books they claim, or landed paying clients. By delivering platitudes, they feel they have fulfilled their promise to make you happy, rich, or successful. Even if they didn't.

But then there are the good guys. My media coach Wayne Kelly in Canada, for example: a real life radio personality who, for a few hundred bucks or less, teaches you everything you need to know about getting on radio. I listen to myself before and after on the radio, and look at how I pitch myself, and it's one of the best investments I've made. If you're serious about media publicity, visit and check him out. Capt. Tom Bunn, a pilot-turned-therapist who runs, is another one: go through his program and you are, in fact, highly likely to lose your fear of flying. I like to think that I'm one of the good guys too.

So, I think I've finally figured out a way to separate the good guys from the bad ones. Look at what they teach you for free. Did it work? Did it start changing your life? Did it motivate you to dig deeper because of what you've learned, rather than an empty promise that you'll finally learn something when you pay? Wayne Kelly distributes a free 6-part radio publicity course that is surprisingly high-content. Capt. Bunn has excellent free content and a weekly live chat open to anyone. And there is lots of other good stuff out there.

I use a similar approach. My "schtick" is teaching people what to say in difficult situations, and the basics are all out there for free in the form of my articles, webinars, radio interviews, and book samples. Buy one of my books and you will learn these concepts in gory detail, with lots of examples and case studies. Attend one of my seminars, for a little more per person, and I guide you through these skills personally so that they change your life. And so far, after over 10,000 training attendees, everyone seems pretty happy.

So if you, like me, are in the business of helping people succeed, that's my secret to effective success-mongering: excellent free content, combined with a good value proposition for the paid stuff. Best of success!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why I am not donating to Cornell this year

This afternoon, I received a phone call from my alma mater Cornell University that was a textbook example of how *not* to ask for a donation.

The first part of the call was typical of college fundraising drives: verifying my contact information, asking if I'd been on campus recently (yes, giving a talk at the Engineering School on becoming an author), and checking to see if I wanted to be connected to any resources on campus (no thanks). So far, so good.

Then we got to the fun part. I was asked to donate an amount roughly equivalent to my annual mortgage. Umm, no thanks. Then I told the telemarketer politely how much I did plan to give - a much smaller sum - and she paused, raised her voice, and said, "REALLY?"

No, not really: I hung up at that point. Something I almost never, ever do with people. She then called back to complain that I "misunderstood" her taunting and should still donate, but no apology of course, and I hung up again. Yeesh.

Ironically, I do donate a healthy sum to charity every year for organizations involved in issues like world hunger and mission work. But it frankly isn't Cornell's business why I favor them over an alma mater with a $5.5B endowment at the moment. Giving is a very personal decision for all of us. And no one has permission to hassle me about where these donations go, even if some sales trainer is teaching them to be more "aggressive."

It's not like I don't understand the economics of a university. My late father was president of our hockey rival Clarkson University, and doubled their endowment during his tenure. He worked hard to cultivate a network of supporters, many of whom benefited from a steady stream of Clarkson graduates. But it would be hard to picture him browbeating individual working alumni over the size of their donations. Especially when you never know how the "long tail" of smaller contributors might respond later in life, when they are richer or doing their estate planning.

Meanwhile, there is a communications skills lesson for all of us here: if you think you can shame paying customers into doing your bidding, think again. As for Cornell, my check for them just went to a local mental health agency, and we'll see how it goes next year. If they're a lot nicer to me.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New customer service book launching today - with lots of free gifts!

I wanted to personally let you know about the launch of a great new book from two friends of mine, and an extra-special offer for people who purchase it TODAY (Wednesday, Sept. 15) on!

My friends, Marilyn Suttle and Lori Jo Vest, have written a remarkable new customer service book, Who’s Your Gladys? How to Turn Even the Most Difficult Customer into Your Biggest Fan. It explores how some of the world's service leaders - companies like Singapore Airlines, Paul Reed Smith Guitars, ClearVision Optical, Sky Lakes Medical Center and The Canfield Company - handle their most demanding customers: the "Gladys's" that all service businesses have.

Purchase it TODAY from Amazon at and get over forty free gifts, including some goodies from me! Marilyn and Lori have put together a package for you loaded with podcasts, articles, e-books and other valuable tools covering customer service, sales, marketing and professional development.

If you like my books, workshops and webinars on handling difficult customer situations, you are going to love this book. Publisher’s Weekly lauds its “substantive, down-to-earth advice that sets this book apart from its competitors.” Buy your copy today at, and watch the book trailer at Thanks and enjoy!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Your life in 400 words

Over a decade ago when my father passed away, we quickly discovered that trying to summarize a great life in a few paragraphs was a real challenge. What were his job titles? What books did he write, and awards did he win? Above all, what mattered the most to him? It was kind of like arranging a wedding on 24 hours notice.

When he died I promised myself two things. First, that I would never waste another day doing things I didn't enjoy, chasing a retirement that in his case never happened. I've honored that promise ever since. The second promise was that I would maintain a running one-page summary of my own life. My obituary, if you will - but more accurately, a life story that continues to evolve.

The latter promise proved to be almost harder than the first. My dad, like many of his generation, basically had a linear career: from engineer, to engineering professor, to dean, provost, and university president. By comparison, I am a mutt. After a fairly traditional career path as a software engineer and manager, I've been self-employed for much of the last 15 years doing a delicious mix of things I really enjoy: author, ghostwriter, public speaker, trainer, and (as of recently) psychotherapist.

But that led to one small problem. Two, actually. First, if someone I hadn't seen in a while would ask "Hi Rich - what do you do for a living nowadays?", I'd get tongue tied and mutter something about "writer and speaker." Except I'm also leading training courses, running a therapy group, developing a new business fable, editing a monograph series, doing a webinar Tuesday for clients in India, etc. And I didn't want to bore them with the details. The second problem was that if, God forbid, I were ever run over by a beer truck, my survivors would have gotten a splitting headache trying to summarize my life.

But this begs a much larger question. What is the purpose of your life? The North Star that shines as your beacon? The things that I would want people to remember me for if, God willing, I live to be 97 someday? That, in my view, is the real reason to keep a running summary of your life: to know who you are and where you are headed.

Nowadays I have a lot more clarity about who I am. I help people communicate - as a writer, a speaker, and a therapist. Over the years I've been building a national platform teaching people what to say in their most difficult situations. And I've been having more fun than I've had in a long time. If you're curious what my life looks like in 400 words, it's here. So what would your 400 words look like?