Blind man walks among oncoming cars, stops traffic

Posted: January 23rd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Community, Play, Storytelling, Video stories in 100 seconds, Videoblogging | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

{video story is 1.5 minutes long}

This happened near work today, and sparked a whole lot of faith in humanity and urban life too! I couldn’t wait to run back to work and share this with colleagues. Hooray for empathy & neighborly care.

Recognizing Dr. King’s urgency of now

Posted: January 17th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Mistakes, Storytelling | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

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Has a misplaced memory from your past ever slapped you alert?

That type of mental flash rushed up while walking through DC’s Willard Hotel today, pondering Dr. King. The Willard is a great historical wonder here in town, and is where Dr. King finished his I Have a Dream speech before the August, 1963 March on Washington.
It’s fun to daydream about his possible inner workings at that point. Like how did he manage his nerves & mental discipline? Was it pure resolve for justice that kept his focus steady? What enabled his courage? his faith?

All the inner-voice questions then turned to a specific line of thought in his speech.


“….we are here to remind America of the fierce urgency of now.”

Do you recall learning that phrase as a kid? Dr. King’s insistence that there is no other time for racial justice than this exact second, this precise moment. It’s riveting, full of beckoning.

That particular phrase, and stewing over it at the hotel, is when an uneasy memory re-surfaced…:

Friends and I had attended a conference in Austin a while ago. We were strolling along in town when some passerby looks at our group and calls out the degrading n-word. A mix of black & white women and men comprised our friends. Black friends among us handled the insult with calm, shooing the guy and his immoral mouth down the road. But instead of seizing that moment to stand-up alongside friends, instead of asserting that specific urgency of now to voice defense — I hid behind two girlfriends while other people handled the situation with strength of mind.

It is that hiding that stirs up shame in my heart. It’s embarrassing to see moments when one’s fear wins out over a choice for justice. Did buddies back in that instant need me to speak up? Nope, that seems condescending to think so.

But it was humbling to see how that past ‘urgency of now’ with friends slipped through the shadows of my own cowardice.

It’s time for some self-forgiveness I suppose, and readiness to confront the present urgencies of now. Black lives matter dearly. Thank you again Dr. King for summoning your leadership, heart, and inner power. Happy (a little belated) Birthday.

More thoughts out there:

A one-word conversation with a monk

Posted: January 11th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Storytelling, Trust, Videoblogging | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

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Have you ever had those moments walking really fast to some destination…all absorbed in thought?

That’s where my brain was recently when walking downtown near the White House. Then a monk in flowing orange robes jolted attention, stopping my up-in-thought walk in a heartbeat. A quick (but full) exchange transpired with him, and has lingered in memory for a while.

Which stirs up another question: Is in-person connection a dying art?

Friend Lovisa asked that recently. I found it a tough question to answer without some concern, since our culture connects so much through screens…the mobile phones and tech in its (addictive) variety! How will this steady diet of screened-connections, vs in-person ones, affect our internal wiring? I fret sometimes how much our screened-in reliance on technology could numb our agility to communicate eyeball-to-eyeball.

But that fretting subsides a little when thinking about the monk. His pure intent enabled a strong in-person connection, and has renewed some confidence in human ability to engage screenlessly.

The new year and a goal to be more truthful

Posted: January 6th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Community, Trust | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments »

{video story is 1.5 minutes long}

Happy New Year!

A renewed personal goal:
to assert the truth more especially with health (…vs to hide from it or fear it).

What’s at the top of your mind for 2015?

Letting anger move a story forward

Posted: May 28th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Practice, Storytelling, Video stories in 100 seconds, Videoblogging | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Have you ever hidden from the truth in something, like the reality of a particular story or experience?

For a few years, I’ve resisted a memory that happened near home in Washington, DC (per the 1.5 minute clip here). It inspired plenty of turbulent reactions on my end. It disappointed my (naive?) sense of how humanity can extend respect and a capacity to empathize. The scene involves a homeless person, one bystander, and myself encountering each other at a local downtown park.

I’m not sure why this took a few years to share this openly. Maybe the emotional whirlwind it gave way to took that long to process. Sometimes the brain takes a while to sift through an experience, and arrive at a more shareable piece of the story.

The one storytelling tip that keeps giving and giving and giving

Posted: April 24th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Practice, Public speaking, Storytelling, Video stories in 100 seconds, Videoblogging | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Do you have a reliable tip or resource that regularly gets you out of a bind??

In that spirit, there’s a favorite tip coming to mind now for telling stories. It’s a perception tool I’m fond of when selecting speech content and stories in general. It helps to weed out irrelevant and overly complex anecdotes too (…trying to amp up suspense here). And it’s most useful when that frustrating mental moment arrives i.e. ‘all-my-stories-and-examples-sound-ridiculous’ when organizing for a talk coming up. You know that type of frustration?!

With all this prefacing in mind (thanks for the patience), a favorite fall-back storytelling tip is:

>>>To select the simple, scenic moments vs to think in epic terms.<<<


Often when selecting content for a speech, especially the storytelling pieces, it’s easy to get bogged down in that is-it-compelling-and-epic-enough brain trap. This line of thinking often stifles logical or creative decisiveness for what can clearly guide the audience. Many fantastic speakers with strong, teachable ideas suffer greatly during speech prep for this reason (happens a lot in my own prep work).

‘What if my story isn’t grandiose enough?!’

Please let go of that mental query, and consider storytelling in a different light.

Thinking in scenic vs epic or grandiose terms helps loosen the strangle hold on the storytelling brain, and hastens clarity of mind. Observing stories in bite-size scenic slices can make intended meaning more accessible for audience and speaker alike.


  • Dialogue
  • — can a relevant conversation from your world be relayed, outlining an important decision which many audience members have confronted?

  • Awkwardness
  • — what is a teachable moment in your experience which defines meaning, in one simple paragraph for the audience even if it puts you in a vulnerable light? A quirky example: “So during my presentation, I had to run out to use the restroom while 50 top executives sat there waiting… Upon return, the only thing I could think of was to laugh and say: ‘Well thanks for your patience. And that’s exactly what we need to change design process in our company for the long term.”

  • Video
  • — is there a 30 or 45 second video clip that visually transplants an audience and unifies them with your context of meaning?

  • Data
  • — can one single data point create a simple storytelling scene, which you then base your persuasive argument?

  • Contrast
  • — can one direct question be asked, shaping a micro story for the audience which they can identify with immediately? An example: “What does it take to keep our children safe, especially when city budget cuts will reduce police forces by 20%?”

Often it is the simple, tightly-shaped scenes that define and crystalize meaning. Epic storytelling has its place in the world of audience connection too. But often, the goal to be epic strangles the speaker’s mental processing and obscures clarity of mind. How can meaning directly reach and serve the audience? For this reason, it’s worth dissecting our storytelling archives for the most direct and teachable scenes in order to relate.

A 100 second video story for kicks: international friendship
My goal this year is to practice the simple pleasures of storytelling more. Sharing 100 second video story clips about architecture is my favorite way to dive into this goal. On that note, have you heard or read about the term ‘international friendship?’ In 1908, the U.S. Secretary of State Elihu Root described the OAS building this way, a “temple of international friendship.” It’s a beautiful, striking building in Washington, DC with more in the above 100 second clip.

When is the truth complete?

Posted: April 17th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Practice, Storytelling, Video stories in 100 seconds, Videoblogging | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Does defining truth have boundaries?

That question makes my head spin this week.

The violent stories seen in Boston on Monday move the above question to the forefront though. It also echoes the as morally vacant bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in my hometown Oklahoma City. The 18th year of which will be marked this Friday, April 19th. Both of these events swarm my brain and moral hunger to understand.

What type of group or religion or person would do such a thing in Boston? in Oklahoma City? in other parts of the United States? Who would legitimize violence as a way to deliver a message?

Each wave of questioning has carved out my own little pedestal of moral resolve as an American citizen, which wasn’t something I realized independently. It was a realization brought on this morning when Guardian writer Glenn Greenwald served up a gigantic slice of humble pie for breakfast.

A huge empathic challenge
In his commentary, Greenwald clearly condemns the violent attacks on Boston. He empathizes with sincerity. He also compels the United States to stretch their sense of empathy and discernment. He considers the actions of the United States military too, and how it perpetrates the same violence in other countries in and beyond President Obama’s leadership: in Pakistan, in Yemen, more. I can’t quite express the mental hard stop his assertions provoked. It was and remains unsettling to consider. Because his line of thinking gives way to these concerns:

Is there always another layer of empathy to expand the story of truth? That seems existential, relevant, and frustrating.

When do healthy self-reflection and ownership in our country achieve an acceptable level of thoroughness? fairness? And could their be agonizing delays in justice along the way, with the perpetrators of Boston’s attack in mind here? How can we systemically change our military ethos, protect our citizenry, and honor innocents in other countries too all at the same time?

Necessary, wearisome questions all. None of which I know how to address.

Gaining relief from local history, a favorite bridge, and a change in context: 100 second video story

Disagreements and two ways to practice asserting your point

Posted: April 11th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Exercises, Practice, Video stories in 100 seconds, Videoblogging | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

A colleague recently said how difficult it can be to defend one’s point of view in the face of disagreement. That resonates. The very idea of heated debate inspires some pensive butterflies, especially when a level of political vitriol can potentially be involved.

Two ideas come to mind to prepare before and during a disagreement:

  • Practice your views on-camera and when the stakes are low.
  • Many people have expressed being caught off guard in a contrarian conversation with colleagues, bosses, or clients. If only a fortune teller app came with mobile phones to forecast when disagreements will occur… What can help self-assertion though (and adrenaline management) is to spend 5 minutes a week – or day! – expressing opinions to a video camera. A mobile phone camera works great. Nothing replaces live-time engagement with humans certainly, but fortifying one’s clarity of mind when the stakes are low through regular on-camera practice increases resolve (…for when the more vulnerable, live-time debates arise). Client and friend communities describe this type of video practice as incredibly useful. It’s one reason I like to stick my mug in front of a camera to video blog: it creates a practice forum with adrenaline.

  • Assert a greater vocal tone and ask two specific questions.
  • When in a heated disagreement, certainly there can be many variables and influences in play.

    If the other contender in your debate or stressed conversation is in a constant-talking-without-pause mode, consider looking them in the eye and saying in an assertive, respectful, and deepened tone: “Could I ask you one question?”

    When they pause to take a breath, ask them what is the most important point they want you to hear. After their reply, clarify their response and then ask a second question: “Would you listen to my main concern as well?”

    When typing this out, it looks simplistic and a little corny; but it is alarming how many levels of discord occur when rants are indulged endlessly. There’ve been a few times when the tension was so high (happened to be on the phone), that I asked to call them back in 10 minutes to resume conversation. Punctuation of thought and a request for permission can help with rebuilding hopes for allegiance. It can advance comprehension of either sides point.

What helps make heated conversations or disagreements more productive in your view? And in the meantime, peace be with you!

For fun with disagreements: 100 second video story

In the spirit of disagreements, I just discovered a beef I have with good ole Mark Twain of yonder year. He was once quoted as saying “the ugliest building in America was the Old Executive Office Building” in Washington, DC. Well I couldn’t disagree more, with some more fun assertion in the above clip.

Maggie Thatcher and a blind spot in free speech

Posted: April 8th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Public speaking, Trust, Women leaders, tech, public speech | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments »


Former Prime Minister Margaret “Maggie” Thatcher died earlier today. For hours around the world commentary about her influence has flared with passion. Her death and tenure invite hefty critique about her economic policies, Britain’s coal industry, and the escalated unemployment the UK saw during her leadership. I valued the insight from Jim Edwards on these points, and how he reflects on his opposition to Thatcher with eloquence; …with other reactions about her death ranking far lower on the eloquence scale and closer to the immoral grade.

Gurgling of commentary
It’s easy today to return back to my high school years, a time when my parents and I observed Thatcher’s boldness with pride from our American south western town. I want to indulge those memories and stay swallowed up by them. But the present commentary about the prime minister gurgles more loudly than the cherished recesses of my mind.

Voice and a lack of empathy
Which brings this reality to the forefront: public leaders of all stripes deserve public attention and scrutiny. That keeps, hopefully, accountability on the radar, and the balance of power in check. Whether living or dead, I see the merit of discourse surrounding the Iron Lady or any other public leader. This minute though, I’m struck and humbled by my voice’s own blind spot (…a spot that may metaphorically live in anyone not leading in a hyper scrutinized arena like Maggie Thatcher). Even though to form and voice opinion is a right to anyone, I am finding today just how much my assertion of this right lacks empathy.

Has your leadership been tested in such a way?
As in, I sit here in luxurious distance from asserting any degree of leadership which broaches the in-the-fire leadership environment of our world leaders. Expressing positive and negative criticism toward public leadership empowers me as a citizen with little consequence. It’s the down side of free speech I suppose. I (anyone outside of in-the-fire leadership) can indulge to voice prevalent or vile commentary because it is simply possible (and because my mind can’t possibly imagine what type of leader I would be in that heated forum day to day in which Mrs. Thatcher served.

That’s an uneasy dichotomy with public voice and citizenry:
…to acknowledge the merit of voicing critique of public leaders, all while having zero capacity to understand what the test of leadership is really like for those leaders.

While taking all this in throughout the day, I will endeavor to grapple with (and slightly modify) that religious saying: “There by the grace of God go I and us all, plagued by the scrutiny of our decisions.”

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

What an architect and a president’s church reveal about full storytelling

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Practice, Public speaking, Video stories in 100 seconds, Videoblogging | No Comments »

It’s been a great week with spring making its wonderful appearance in Washington, DC. The 100 second video story project continues, and remains an energizing, personal storytelling challenge.

Storytelling and learning from an architect
Paul Pelz designed the mighty Library of Congress and also the Gothic Revival structure where President Theodore Roosevelt attended church over 100 years ago: the Grace Reformed Church. To see this building is a potent experience (more in a 100 second video story above). It consumes the senses with its varied textures and coloring.

It’s one big wow of a structure.

Roosevelt’s favorite DC church, and Pelz’s masterpiece, bring (2) factors about storytelling to mind:

  • Contrast and drama: There are so many contrasting materials that feed the artistry of this building: the glass, brick, stone, and bold gothic detail. Each ornamental expression adds a layer of drama. It’s a grand brick-and-mortar metaphor of the strength speakers can also convey when using contrast in presentations. Using contrast in our stories frame teachable moments more vividly and often, more credibly. What risks or opposing views or emotional depth can be shared when telling audiences our point of view? The inherent texture in contrasts can authentically help audiences connect to meaning. It’s a powerful act of leadership and empathy on the speaker’s part.
  • Competition vs cohesion: A risk in creative work like storytelling or speech making (or architecture too I find!) is relying on too many devices. As with giving a speech for example, too many soundbites or metaphors can come across as competing parts and dismantle the audience’s experience. With this exquisite church however, to behold it is to consume a physical narrative with plenty of intricate artistry but in a cohesive way. All the different attributes of the mighty exterior feed a greater experience of meaning. So too should the experience be for our storytelling audiences.

This church is a stupendous structure to visually consume, and a great analogy to how storytellers and speakers can deliver a cohesive, full experience to audiences.

…what a thing of beauty.