How Can You Prepare For A Great Meeting?

              Just How DO You Prepare for an Effective Meeting?

By Dr. Tony Alessandra

The success of a meeting is directly related to the amount of time invested in preparation beforehand.  Before planning the meeting, you should understand what type of meeting it will be.  The type of meeting affects how many people attend, the structure of the meeting and the meeting objectives.  Here are the basic types of meeting:

Information exchange — information exchange meetings provide a forum for disseminating the same message to a large group of people. This is important when the information is controversial or complex, it has strong implications for attendees, or if it needs to be conveyed in person. A meeting to explain a new profit sharing policy would be an example of this type of meeting.

This type of meeting is also used for status meetings which generally feature progress reports on all projects under the scope of the attendees. These reports keep the group posted on the current status of projects it is responsible for. Information exchange meetings can be relatively large in attendance. The format typically includes formal presentations with questions and answers from other attendees. Audiovisual equipment may be required.

Brainstorming— these sessions generally precede problem-solving meetings when it is important to generate alternative solutions. Participation of all attendees is critical and it is important to have a broad mix of attendees. Brainstorming sessions should not have more than seven attendees.

Prepare a meeting that people will enjoy.

Problem solving — the objective here is to pool the knowledge, wisdom and experience of the attendees and to identify the best possible solution to the problem.  In order to meet that objective each attendee needs to understand the problem and each participant should have a part to play in solving the problem.  Brainstorming should be used to identify possibilities.  Every participant should be encouraged to contribute.  After a solution is agreed upon, it should be analyzed for weaknesses. Consider both the positive and negative aspects before taking action.  These sessions should have no more than 5-7 participants and should be very informal and participative.

Project planning — planning and implementation meetings are primarily held to determine logistics and responsibility allocations.  They can be somewhat larger than a problem solving session.  It is important to document decisions, action items and responsibilities.

Training — training sessions are ideal when they are limited to 15-20 attendees, require participation and involvement, and give people a chance to learn from their peers.

Determining the Purpose of the Meeting

The meeting leader needs to recognize and fine-tune the specific purpose for the meeting.  For instance, if the general topic is training needs, the manager might break it into more specific subtopics such as: identifying primary training needs for each department; determining which could be done in-house; establishing priorities; and developing a strategy for training.  The process of fine-tuning the purpose might determine a need for more than one meeting.

Come into a meeting with a mindset of getting the job done, but enjoying yourself as well!!

The first question a meeting leader should be able to answer is, “Why are we having this meeting?”  Until the meeting leader is completely clear about the purpose of the meeting, there is no way the meeting will be efficient and effective.

Setting Objectives for the Meeting

The meeting leader should have a written set of objectives for the meeting.  These should be objectives that can only be accomplished by bringing together a group of people.  If one person can accomplish the objectives, there’s no point in having a meeting.  Here are some common objectives:

More accurate information.  Since messages become standardized in a meeting, management can ensure that everyone receives the same information in the same way. As companies grow and communication tends to get more complicated, this function of meetings becomes even more important. However, for simple messages which do not require interaction, memos are a much more cost effective method of distributing a standardized message.

More effective coordination of activities.  Meetings bring people together and help them understand how they fit within the company.  Presenting the “big picture” helps each individual understand the importance of and how to implement change.

Improving the flow of communication both upwards and downwards.  Meetings connect top management with employees, allowing management to report on what the company has accomplished and to explain future changes. Employees have a chance to ask questions, seek clarification and understand the decision processes involved with changes. They may also offer suggestions and ideas for consideration by management.

Facilitating the decision-making process.  Attendees bring with them the pieces of information necessary to solve a problem. Once a solution is identified, those who will implement it should be present to add their ideas and suggestions.

Training.  Training meetings ensure more uniform training of employees and provide an interactive forum where participants can learn from each other.

Building morale.  The sense of teamwork is revitalized at meetings in an environment of purpose and commitment.  Meetings provide an excellent forum for recognizing achievements of the group and individuals.

Planning the Meeting Agenda

The meeting agenda is the single most important component of meeting planning.  A well thought out agenda distributed prior to the meeting will provide participants with purpose and direction.  It prepares participants in advance and helps to create a solid structure for the meeting.

The meeting leader can ask participants to submit agenda items, if she wants to promote group involvement and avoid surprises at the meeting.  A written agenda is useful, because it:

o  Enables participants to come supplied with the right materials

o  It provides a framework which supports the flow of the meeting and              keeps a time frame for the discussion of each topic

o  It keeps the group on track with a written reminder and focuses                                             the group’s attention

o  It lets all participants know who has been invited

Make sure the agenda is succinct and direct, but avoid making it too brief or vague.  In general, keep the agenda and meeting short.  It is better to schedule two or three shorter meetings and keep the number of items per meeting to five or six, than try to cover everything in one monster meeting.

The agenda should cover the following points:

o  The date, start time and finish time (generally not more                                                          than two hours)

o  Where the meeting will be held, and, if necessary, how to get there

o  The topic and sub-areas to be covered, including a brief description of each

o  A brief indication of the reason for the inclusion of each topic

o  How much time will be allotted to each topic

o  A list of participants

Each item on the agenda should be relevant to the purpose of the meeting.  Ask yourself the following questions when considering whether or not to include an item:

o  Does the item support one of the meeting objectives?

o  Is the item of concern to all group members?

o  Does the group have the authority to handle the issue?

o  Is the subject appropriate to the level of the group?

o  Does the group have all the data it needs to discuss the topic?

Unless you can answer “yes” to the first four of these questions, drop the topic.  If you answered “no” to number five, refer it to a subcommittee or staff member for research.  The topic can be added to the agenda once the necessary information has been gathered.

Additionally, the agenda should explain the meeting objectives and what questions and issues are likely to arise.  If one item is of special interest to the group, it is often best to single it out for special mention in a covering note.  Meeting leaders should consider identifying each item with:  “For information,” “For discussion,” or “For decision” so that attendees are aware of the purpose of each.

Meetings-Are Yours Magic or Mucky?


Meeting Magic or Misery

By Dr. Tony Alessandra

Do you approach a business meeting expecting just another annoying waste of time?  Do you walk away from it wondering why you wasted your time?  If so, you know first hand how frustrating inefficient meetings are.  Most managers spend 25-30% of their time in meetings and studies show that the average cost of a meeting runs over $1,000.  Since it’s rare for most organizations to have a meeting-free day, the total cost of meetings quickly adds up to a major expense.

Meetings are currently the most expensive communication activity in the business world — more costly than word processing, computers, paperwork, or multitudes of phone calls.  Consider the salaries of those in attendance, preparation costs, travel expenses, and the price of materials, facilities, and equipment used during the meeting.  Even if an organization conducted only two meetings a week, the total annual cost for those gatherings would run well over $104,000.

Perhaps even more costly than the loss of time and money is the reduced morale that happens when people are forced to sit through boring, poorly planned and conducted meetings.  When unproductive meetings occur regularly, people with demanding schedules begin to avoid attending.  Yet, these are the very individuals whose participation may be most important.

The primary reason meetings don’t accomplish their objectives is lack of advance planning and preparation.  Even though executives spend a significant portion of their time in meetings, studies show that 78% have never received training on how to plan, organize and conduct a meeting.

When meetings are well-managed, they are an effective and essential tool for communication within the organization.  Important decisions are made, ideas are generated, and information is shared.   Meetings are a critical part of team building and, as team spirit grows, the company benefits as the group’s ability to work together and make decisions grows.

There are six basic functions that meetings perform better than any other communication technique:

Share knowledge — meetings provide a forum where individual information and experience can be pooled. The group revises, updates and adds to what it knows collectively.

Establish common goals — meetings help every member of the team understand the goals and objectives of the group and how his individual efforts will affect those objectives.

Gain commitment — meetings gain consensus on decisions and foster commitment.  An agreement and sense of responsibility to implement and support the decisions is created.

Provide group identity — meetings define the team.  Those present belong to the team, those absent do not. Attendees develop a sense of collective identity.

Team interaction — meetings are often the only occasion where the group works as a team.

Status arena — meetings give group members a chance to determine their relative status.

You may not achieve any of these functions at any one specific meeting but if none of these functions are important to you, you may want to choose a different, less expensive, communication method.

Guidelines for Effective Meetings

The fundamentals of successful meetings are not complicated or difficult to follow.  Even so, meetings that are tedious and unproductive are evidence that these guidelines are being overlooked.

Here are the basics for a productive meeting:

1.  Need.  Hold only those meetings for which there is a demonstrated       need.  Weekly status updates require a meeting only when five or more people need the information.  You can speak to three or four people individually and save a lot of time.  Regularly scheduled staff meetings may not be necessary if you have a small staff and have opportunity for frequent interaction.  Meetings are ideal when you need to solve problems that are complex or affect many people, exchange technical information, or explain a complex policy, procedure or situation.

2.  Purpose.  Every meeting must have specific, stated objectives and a broad purpose.  Attendees need to know the meeting topics beforehand, in writing, so that they can come prepared.

3.  Attendees. Invite only attendees who can contribute or who have a serious need to know.  The more people who attend a meeting, the longer it will take to accomplish your objectives.  The ideal size for a working meeting is 5-7 people.

4.  Agenda.  Agendas are an absolute must for every meeting.  While having an agenda is the most critical element of effective meeting management, 75% of all meetings have no pre-planned agenda. If possible, distribute the agenda 48 to 72 hours prior to the session.  Use an agenda even for last-minute meetings.  The meeting leader can write an agenda on a flipchart or whiteboard or the agenda can be developed with the attendees as the first action of the group.

Agendas not only help the attendees come prepared, they force the meeting        leader to organize his thoughts and priorities.  A good agenda addresses       issues in order of importance and allocates time to each issue.

5.  Choose a good meeting place. The room should offer proper ventilation, comfort, accessibility, and the necessary equipment.  It should also be free from distractions and interruptions.

6.  Start and end on time.  Meetings should begin and end punctually.  This sends a message to participants that their time is respected and that they are expected to respect the meeting time.  You might consider beginning the meeting with an uncomplicated activity, so that those who still arrive late can catch up.  Avoid “recapping” for late comers.

7.  Stick to the agenda.  Although you want to encourage participation,    new issues should be noted and held over for a later meeting.  If you let        the meeting get sidetracked, you will have difficulty meeting the goals and    objectives established.  If critical issues arise which prevent resolution on an agenda item, they can be noted and that item can be rescheduled for a later meeting.  If a new item is so critical that it needs immediate attention, poll the attendees for an agreement to address it at the current meeting.  The agenda is a contract with the attendees; it should not be changed without their concurrence.

8.  Encourage participation.  Attendees should feel comfortable enough to         offer opinions or suggestions openly.

9.  Maintain a balanced, controlled discussion.  Support members in expressing their opinions, even on volatile, highly charged issues, but discourage arguments.  Do not let any one person dominate the meeting.

10.  Summarize and distribute minutes.  Recap the decisions and any actions planned as a result of the meeting to make sure that everyone is in accord on the proposed action details:  who is to do what and when.  Make sure that each attendee receives written minutes no later than two days following the meeting.

You can help ensure consistently productive meetings by following a meeting policy based on the above.  A succinct one-page set of guidelines should be printed, distributed, and most importantly, followed.  The easiest way to encourage the adoption of these guidelines is to demonstrate them.  As people see the effectiveness of meetings increase as a result of following the guidelines, they will begin to implement them also.

Have you been to a meeting like this?

ADAPTABILITY-Can You Connect With Others?

Connecting with People


How well you speak the other person’s language?  How well you get on that person’s wavelength?  There are some people, as professional as they are, as knowledgeable as they are, as helpful as they are, that simply just rub you the wrong way.  They’re just not your kind of people.

All of us are different, yet all of us are the same.


I remember when I moved from New York City to San Diego, I found a whole different world. I treated people in San Diego according to The Golden Rule – I treated them as I wanted to be treated – as a New Yorker wanted to be treated. I found out that the way people did business in San Diego wasn’t the way people did business in New York City. And even though I was doing things competently with knowledge and with ethics, it was my approach that turned people off. It wasn’t what I was asking them to do that prompted them to “dig in their heels.” It was how I was asking them.  I just came on too strong.  It wasn’t too strong in New York; it was too strong in San Diego.  Too fast-paced.  Just a whole different approach.  I had to get on their wavelength.


We all listen-make what you have to say worthy of that effort.

So, it’s important that you learn to vary your presentation, to vary your pace, to vary your language based on the type of people you’re speaking to.  I mean, if you’re calling on somebody who is a bottom-line, time-disciplined, fact-oriented, busy, results-oriented individual, are you going to go in, spend ten or fifteen minutes “chit-chatting” or socializing trying to get to know that person?  Obviously not!  If you’re calling on somebody who’s a very friendly, outgoing person who likes to talk about sports and likes to talk about family and likes to talk about just various things about business and wants to get to know somebody first and you walk in and bottom-line everything with little or no social talk, do you think that might irritate that person?  Definitely!  So, you have to size people up and get on their wavelength to create chemistry so that person will say, “Hey, you’re the type of person I want to do deal with on a long-term basis.”


This whole approach is called ‘adaptability” – your ability to change your approach, to change your strategy, depending on the situation or the person you’re dealing with. That’s how you really connect with people quicker, deeper and longer.


4 Phases of Learning. Do you know what they are?

The Four Phases of Learning

By Dr. Tony Alessandra

“The longest journey on earth begins with a single step.” (Anonymous)


Can you remember when you first learned how to drive a car? Before you learned how, you were in the “ignorance” stage.  You did not know how to drive the car and you didn’t even know why you didn’t know how to drive it.

When you first went out with an instructor to learn how to drive you arrived at the second phase:  knowledge.  You still couldn’t drive, but because of your new knowledge of the automobile and its parts, you were consciously aware of why you couldn’t.  This is the phase where most seminars leave people.


With some practice and guidance, you were able to become competent in driving the car through recognition of what you had to do. However, you had to be consciously aware of what you were doing with all of the mechanical aspects of the car as well as with your body. This third phase is the hardest stage, the one in which your people may want to give up–the “practice” stage.  People experience stress when they implement new behaviors, especially when they initially perform them imperfectly.  They’ll want to revert to the old, more comfortable behaviors, even if those behaviors are less effective.  It’s all right for them to make mistakes at this phase.  In fact, it’s necessary so they improve through practice. Training programs that include role-playing and in-the-field coaching work best at this phase of learning.

Returning to our car analogy, think of the last time that you drove. Were you consciously aware of all of the actions that we mentioned above? Of course not! Most of us, after driving awhile, progress to a level of “habitual performance.”  This is the level where we can do something well and don’t have to think about the steps.  They come “naturally” because they’ve been so well practiced that they’ve shifted to automatic pilot. This final stage is when practice results in assimilation and habit.

This four phased model for learning–ignorance, knowledge, practice and habit–is the recipe for success in learning any new behavior and having it stick.



Now that you have read all the wonderful blog posts from Dr. Tony about Genius and the different aspects of Genius…………………………….what type of Genius are you?

Just write a brief comment to this post and tell Dr. Tony what type of Genius you are or what you hope to be and Dr. Tony will pick the winner by October 15th!

What’s the prize? One of two very special DVDs-see them at the following link:

Let’s get lots of entries! Good Luck!!



Bringing Out the Genius in Others

Bringing Out the Genius in Others


We’ve covered a lot of ground in this program and we’ve met a number of truly remarkable individuals. I’d like to say that you have everything you need to live as a true genius — but that isn’t really true. You see, there’s one thing that all our geniuses have in common that I haven’t mentioned yet. It’s something critically important too.


Despite the myth of the isolated loner writing a great novel in his log cabin, geniuses are almost never solitary individuals. On the contrary, they’re usually deeply involved with their families, their colleagues, and quite often with their enemies and rivals. Geniuses are usually surrounded by other people. Not just by yes men, either. Indeed, the final quality of genius I want to mention — and it’s far from the least important — is the power to bring out the genius in others.


How can you accomplish this? Well, many personal development programs stress the importance of finding role models or mentors. That is very important — but for bringing out genius in the people around you, the perspective needs to be reversed. You should be a mentor. You should be a role model, not just find one for yourself.


Geniuses in every field have certain characteristics in common. They’re inspired, they’re resilient, they’re focused –and most of them read a lot! Think back over the people we’ve discussed in this program. What characteristics do you share with Einstein, Edison, Churchill, and Lincoln? It would hardly come as a surprise if you were to choose one of those geniuses as a role model. But here’s a more pertinent question: when it comes to role models, would people choose you?


These common characteristics do not occur by chance, they are an integral part of goal attainment.  It is worth your time to analyze the constructive characteristics of people who are now where you would like to be– role models.  These are people to admire and emulate.  Your choices can include people who are dead or living as long as you are familiar with their personalities and accomplishments.


Harry Truman knew the value of role models.  When he was in the White House, he often went into the Lincoln bedroom, looked at the late president’s picture and asked, “What would Lincoln have done now?” The answers gave Truman the insight and direction he was seeking. It worked because Truman felt Lincoln was a man worth emulating. Do people feel that way about you?


In becoming a role model that can inspire genius in others, the following guidelines can really help:


First, keep off the pedestal. People will admire and emulate you because of what you’ve accomplished.  That’s good.  What’s not good is putting you above them, and trying to appear larger than life.  We are all human.  We all have strengths and weaknesses.  You must not lose this perspective on yourself, or others will turn away from you.  And remember: isolation is contradictory to genius.


Second, focus on people’s strong points. To ignite and inspire genius, you need to see what an individual might need to emulate, and make a conscious effort to model those qualities. It’s a responsibility — not unlike being a parent — but it’s one that so many geniuses have willingly taken on. Edison had a whole army of assistants and colleagues, as did Walt Disney. Many of them went on to do great things in their own right.


Above all remain yourself — and give others freedom to do the same. Often the tendency when admiring someone is to try to become his or her clone. A genius doesn’t encourage that. A genius wants to be around other geniuses, not wannabes. That’s why the ability to bring out the genius in others is so rewarding.


So — go for it! Put this and everything else we’ve talked about genius into action and let it take you where you’re destined to go. Make the journey your intention, not the outcome. As the great Irish writer James Joyce put it, “Persons of genius make no mistakes. Their errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.”


The Genius of Humor-Do you have it?

APPLYING the Genius of Humor



The genius of humor obviously pertains to communication – but humor is not just a secondary form of genius. Humor is vital. But there’s a wrong way and a right way to use it.

While being wheeled into the operating room after being shot by a would-be assassin, the ever-persuasive President Ronald Reagan got a chuckle when he wisecracked, “I hope the doctor is a Republican.” We may not all be so cool in a crisis, but we can all profit by not taking ourselves too seriously.

Here are my suggestions for improving your sense of humor: First, find out what your strong suit is, humor-wise. Ask a friend who’ll be honest with you. Second, know who you’re talking with. Not everybody thinks the same things are funny — and there are a few people who don’t think anything is funny, or at least nothing that’s been discovered yet. Third, work on your timing. Try out your best lines on your family and your friends — and test really bad puns on your enemies! And finally, remember that the best target for humor is yourself. A little self-deprecating humor can go a long way toward making people feel at ease with you. In short, humor is much more than an icebreaker. When things are good, it can keep egos from becoming inflated. And when the going is tough, it can also be an affirmation of dignity, a declaration of your faith in ultimate success.


Financial Genius-Are you one? Peter Lynch is!


Financial Genius – Peter Lynch


Our topic here is financial genius. That is, the ability to make money, keep the money that’s been made, and make even more money — especially when others are losing.

Is financial genius a category that belongs alongside the visionary genius of an Einstein or the leadership genius of a Lincoln? Is being a successful businessperson as significant an accomplishment as being an artist like daVinci or a statesman and communicator like Winston Churchill?

Perhaps we have to conclude that financial genius, the genius of making money, may be a more ambiguous category than some of the others we’ve looked at — but there certainly some strong arguments for taking it very seriously. One definition of genius, after all, is the ability to do easily something that others find difficult. Making money is not something that comes easily to most people. And making a lot of money does not come to many people at all.

Our financial genius is Peter Lynch, who built the Magellan Fund into the world’s largest mutual fund — an investment vehicle that made millionaires out of thousands of people.

When Fortune magazine named Peter Lynch to their Business Hall of Fame, his induction was accompanied by this statement: “It is not for business people to amass great wealth. It is not enough to lead great enterprises. They must have changed the world around them for the better.” This is an important principle that ought to be included in any definition of financial genius.

Look at Peter Lynch’s credentials: he’s the most successful money manager in history. In 13 years, he built Fidelity Magellan from a tiny institution with assets of 20 million dollars into the world’s biggest mutual fund, worth more than 13 billion dollars. From 1977 to 1990, Lynch gave investors a total return of 2,800 percent. When he retired in 1990, at the age of 46, he had outperformed every other mutual fund manager for 13 years straight. That’s a record that will probably never be matched.

Peter Lynch’s connection to the financial markets had always been linked to domestic and family concerns. His father was a mathematics professor at Boston College who died when Lynch was 10 years old. To help earn money for his family, Lynch started caddying at a golf course near his home at age 11. Most of the talk he heard from the golfers was about the stock market. Lynch eventually got a scholarship to Boston College that was especially earmarked for former caddies. It happened also that one of his regular golfers was the president of Fidelity funds, and he suggested that Lynch apply for a summer job during college. That was the start of something very big for Lynch, Fidelity and its investors.

The remarkable thing is Peter Lynch had no magic formula for financial success. He relied on intuition, trend spotting, and careful investigation of the companies his fund would invest in. His success was grounded in the fundamentals. He personally visited every one of those companies before committing a single dollar.

Our topic in this session deals with something that directly concerns all of us — money. It’s valuable and important to connect with the power of visionary genius or with the creative energies that you may have ignored. But very few of us ignore money. All of us have got financial obligations, as well as hopes and dreams for financial success.

Because of all these realities, I want to end this session with some attention to what we might call the opposite of financial genius. It’s not really lack of intelligence or clear thinking, but it’s a tendency that has led millions of people into a cleverly constructed money trap.

I’m referring to the problem of debt, especially so-called unsecured debt or consumer debt or credit card debt. There’s certainly a good chance that this is not an issue in your life — but if it is, it needs to be addressed before the opportunities of financial genius can really open up. And there’s no doubt that it is a big issue for a lot of people.

On an individual level, credit spending may seem to be analogous to deficit spending by the government. Both, after all, involve going into debt and paying interest to service that debt. There’s no doubt about it — this is the opposite of financial genius.

So as a first step toward financial genius, take action to reduce the level of debt in your life, and to keep it from going back up. Then follow the example of Peter Lynch — in both financial and personal terms.  Don’t look for magic formulas. Build you career in the same way you build your investments: by emphasizing the fundamentals, by paying attention to what’s selling and what’s not selling in the world around you — and most importantly, by not letting financial issues distract your focus on other areas of your life. That distraction can occur when there’s not enough money, when there’s too much money, or when debt becomes overwhelming. In short, a financial genius knows the importance of money, and neither minimizes that importance nor magnifies it. As Peter Lynch has said, “Over time, there are going to be recessions, stock market declines, and layoffs. If you go to Minnesota in January, you know it’s gonna be cold. But you don’t panic when the thermometer falls below zero — because spring always comes.”






Artistic Genius – Leonardo daVinci and Walt Disney

Artistic Genius – Leonardo daVinci and Walt Disney


Our society is moving toward a view of artistic genius that’s both new and old. It’s new in the sense that truly incredible tools and technologies are now available for creative work. It’s old because our present view of the artist’s place in society has much more in common with the Middle Ages or the Renaissance than with the 19th or early 20th centuries.

To make this clear, and to help you connect with the creative elements in your own character — which you may or may not have recognized in the past — our focus in this session is on two true geniuses who really exemplified the times in which they lived. One of these men is Leonardo daVinci who, along with Michelangelo, is generally recognized as the quintessential artist of the Renaissance. Our second artistic genius is Walt Disney — and he occupies more or less the same position in our time that Leonardo occupied in his. Disney was the Leonardo of the 20th century.

Here at the start of the 21st century, we’re getting rid of the idea that a creative person is someone who wears a beret and lives in a garret. The model of the isolated artist won’t work anymore — and neither will the model of the corporate person who wants to work forty years for one company and then collect a big pension. In this sense, both Leonardo and Disney are probably much more relevant to the circumstance of your life than you might think.

Leonardo was born in the small Italian town of Vinci, in the year 1452. He began life with certain obvious advantages, and also some disadvantages. His father was a rather wealthy country gentleman. His mother, however, was a servant girl whom his father had no intention of marrying. In later life he would describe himself as a “man with no education.”

When he was about 14 years old, Leonardo was sent to Florence to become an apprentice in the studio of a prominent artist. The artist’s name was Andrea del Verrocchio, and he was both a painter and a sculptor. Leonardo learned a lot from this first master. And around 1470, after being with Verrocchio for about four years, Leonardo got a big break. He was assigned to paint an angel in the corner of one of Verrocchio’s major commissioned works. According to legend, when Verrocchio saw the angel he realized it was infinitely better than the rest of the painting. In fact, it was so much better than anything Verrocchio had ever done that he gave up painting forever, right then and there. This legend may or may not be true, but the young artist from the countryside was definitely on his way.

In 1901, about 450 years after the birth of Leonardo, Walt Disney was born in Chicago, Illinois. His home life and childhood were far from the idealized turn of the century landscape he would later create at Disneyland. His father in particular was a difficult man emotionally, and an unsuccessful one financially. Walt found a couple of different ways to escape from this environment. First, he escaped into art, taking classes and drawing whenever he could. Second, he enlisted in the Red Cross ambulance service during the First World War, because at the age of 16 he was too young to join the regular army.

After the war, Disney went to Kansas City, and began a career as a commercial artist. There he discovered animation, and the all the possibilities it offered for creating an alternate world. At first, this world was constructed out of pure imagination. Later it would be projected onto movie screens and television — and ultimately it would become physical reality at Disneyland and Disney World. It would become the basis for a multi-billion dollar entertainment empire.

Right now, as the most basic element of modeling artistic genius, I’d like you to recognize exactly what artistic genius is. It’s simply taking a picture that’s in your heart and using some medium to move it into the hearts of other people. It doesn’t matter what that picture is, and — at least initially — it doesn’t matter how technically adept you are with the medium you’ve chosen.

Leonardo had incredible technical skill. His ability for drawing and sculpture was truly superhuman, and he was also extremely adept at the mechanical and engineering tasks demanded by large scale creative work.

Walt Disney had nothing like Leonardo’s gifts as an artist. There were thousands of people who could draw better than Walt Disney — and when he entered the new field of animation, there were lots of people who were better at that as well. When we look back on it today, it’s easy to think that Mickey Mouse was some sort of breakthrough creation that was destined to revolutionize the world. But there were other cartoon characters that were already very popular, and that were just as charming and creative as the Mouse. For example, what was wrong with Felix the Cat? Why is he forgotten today? Why wasn’t there a television show called the Felix the Cat Club instead of the Mickey Mouse Club?

One big difference, perhaps the big difference, was that behind Mickey Mouse there was a personality whose genius was to take this very little mouse and to make it extremely large. To take something that at first had no substance — no reality — and to give it material being on a scale that kept getting larger and larger.

For your own life, the example of Disney as artistic genius is especially relevant. While it’s possible that you may patent thousands of inventions or become president of the United States, the odds are against it, but on a smaller scale, the tools of artistic genius are always available to you.

What does it take to use those tools? It’s simply a matter of taking the vision that’s in your mind and moving it into the world in some tangible form. It’s taking your vision one step beyond just talking about how you’ll write it or record it or film it “when you get time.”  Taking that step is the essence of artistic genius. Don’t worry about whether your creation will be seen by one person, or a million people, or just by you alone.  Focusing on those things — like saying you “don’t have the time” — is just an unconscious way to avoid actually doing anything. The important thing is to separate yourself from the many, many people who tell me they’ve got something they want to say, but who never get around to saying it.

Thank you for joining me in this discussion of artistic genius, and of how it expressed itself in two very different personalities across the centuries.


Winston Churchill – Communication Genius

Winston Churchill – Communication Genius

Winston Churchill was hugely accomplished as a statesman, an historian, and a writer. But when people think of Churchill, it’s his speeches that are remembered. It’s the sound of his voice. That voice is still unforgettable today, even in scratchy old recordings. Try to imagine how it must have sounded over the radio in 1940, when Churchill and Britain were all that stood between Hitler and victory in the Second World War.


Winston didn’t fit easily into the standard educational system. From the first, it was obvious he had tremendous talent — his power of memory was rather amazing. But he was very stubborn. He learned what he wanted to learn, and resisted anything else. He didn’t care about learning other languages, for example. He wanted to learn English.


By the time Churchill was only twenty-six years old, he was about to enter Parliament, where his voice would be heard for the first time — and once Churchill’s voice was heard, it could never be forgotten.


In our schools today, not much attention is paid to speaking skills. There really isn’t a focus on the ability to express yourself effectively in front of a group of people — or even one person. The strange thing is this was a fundamental element of education throughout the history of Western civilization.


As a professional speaker myself, it’s amazing to discover the detail and care that was given to the spoken word. The Greeks and Romans considered speaking — which they called rhetoric — to be a branch of philosophy. It was an art that demanded talent and practice, and it was also a science that be studied carefully and systematically. Churchill certainly knew these principles backwards and forwards — and in order to model Churchill’s communication genius, you should know them also.


There were basically four general categories of communication — and a genius was someone who could excel in all these areas. The categories were invention, arrangement, style, and memory. They’re still very applicable today, and they’re understood explicitly or intuitively by every communication genius.


Invention really means having something to say. You can’t be a great communicator if you don’t have anything to communicate. In order to discover your genius as a communicator, ask yourself where you are on this spectrum. Are you someone who feels the need to talk for talking’s own sake — whether or not your given the opportunity? Or do you back away from communicating even when everyone would benefit from your doing so? Try to be ruthlessly honest about this. It’s not easy, because we’re often amazingly unaware of our true nature as communicators. It’s also something that other people are usually uncomfortable discussing with you.


The second principal of speaking was arrangement — which today we would call organization. This is just the tactics and tools of communication. The organization of a good speech comprised six parts: the introduction; the statement of facts; the discussion of facts; the proof of facts; the refutation of possible objections; and the conclusion. The trick, of course, was to blend these parts seamlessly together so that the whole thing seemed effortless and intuitive. It’s amazing, though, how good speaking can be broken down into parts to be approached logically and scientifically.


After organization, the third principle of communication was style. Organization is about what you’re saying — style is about how you say it. Today, this is probably more important than any other element of spoken communication, but it’s crucial to develop a style that fits you and fits your audience. Churchill was obviously a master of style. In my opinion, he was really the last great communicator in the classical tradition. Before him, here may have been many people who spoke like Churchill, going all the way back to Greece and Rome. But I don’t believe anyone since Churchill has successfully attempted that style. Martin Luther King was certainly a great communicator, and he could move his listeners just as deeply as Churchill. But his style of speaking came from the tradition of African American preaching rather than classical oratory.


We can learn a lot from Churchill and King concerning organization and inspiration — but the style of communication that is most effective today has a different lineage. I would call it an informal style, although it may actually be very carefully thought out and planned. It’s a style that was mastered by Lincoln in his famous debates with Senator Stephen Douglas, by Mark Twain in the literally thousands of lectures that he gave during the final decades of his life — and most recently by Ronald Reagan, who wasn’t called “the Great Communicator” for nothing.


The fourth principle of speaking was memory. Until relatively recently, it would have been unthinkable for a communicator to read a speech, much less use a TelePrompTer to make it seem like he knew it by heart. Memory was equated with intelligence. Today we think a person who can do science or math is at the highest level of intellectual power, but in the past it was how much you had memorized. For a modern man, Churchill was surely very accomplished in this regard. For example, he probably knew much of Shakespeare by heart. But in the old days, it was taken for granted that an educated person knew the Bible nearly word for word.


I’m not suggesting that to be an effective communicator you need to be a memory expert. But it is important to convey complete familiarity with your subject. If this isn’t the case, you’re going to be dependent on outside help, and that’s an uncomfortable position for a communicator.


For success in any field, three important components are pretty much universally recognized — we can call them theory, talent, and practice. In communication, theory refers to the ideas we discussed a moment ago, such as organization, style, and familiarity with your topic. Talent seems to be very important today, because we tend to believe that we’re pretty much born with the limits we can reach in any field. But more than anything, it took practice. Churchill had been a public communicator since he entered Parliament in his early twenties. And this brings us back to a point that was so perfectly expressed by Edison: “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” The more you do something, the more you work at it, the more you experience it, the better you’ll get at it — until before you know it, everybody will be calling you a communication genius!