Jon Acuff
Jon Acuff

475 Articles

Skills

The simple mistake public speakers (and pastors) often make.

There’s a very common, very fixable mistake that a lot of speakers make. It’s something that particularly plagues pastors.

The problem is not something I came up with. I first read about it in a book called “Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln” by James C. Humes. It’s such a grievous error that he spends an entire chapter of the book on it. What is this problem?

The weak open.

Or more specifically, wasting the most important minute of your speech.

A speech has two critical minutes, the first one and the last one. What happens in between is certainly important but it’s nothing like what happens when you open and close a speech. It is in those moments that you have the greatest opportunity to reach your audience.

On the front end, this is the moment you first capture their attention. On the back end, this is the moment you send them home with something memorable.

Lots of speakers waste their first minute by doing one or all of the following:

1. Introducing themselves.
2. Expressing their gratitude at the opportunity to speak.
3. Commenting about how great the event is.
4. Specifically thanking the person who just introduced them.

Pastors, however, have added a new twist on these wasted moments. Now, if they have more than one campus watching via video, they feel the need to say hello to all the audiences.

“Hello Springfield, hello friends in Mission Hill, special greetings to anyone watching online, shoutout if you are watching a recording of this on a data chip after the zombie invasion, etc.”

I attend a video campus and I have never once thought, “Thank goodness that pastor acknowledged I’m here.”)

Why shouldn’t you introduce yourself or say thank you in the first minute? Well, for starters, you will most likely have already been introduced. In 99% of the speaking engagements I do, someone introduces me. Why should I repeat what the audience has just been told?

More than that though, it’s a waste of a powerful moment, that moment where everyone in the audience is waiting to see where you’ll take them. It’s an awesome moment, packed with anticipation and hope.

Imagine if a movie or a concert started with an introduction or a hello to everyone who might one day see it. “We’re U2 and we are from Ireland. We usually start with an amazing song. Today though, we want to tell you how thankful we are to play music for you here in Cleveland. This is such a great arena and we’re so glad that the opening band played some songs for you guys. We also want to say hi to everyone who is watching the livestream of this.”

Boooooooo.

What a boring concert.

Instead, what does U2 do? Instead what does the movie theater do? They dim the lights. They widen the screen. They launch you into a huge moment, full of excitement and joy and emotion! They set the stage for something amazing to happen.

 

How do you do that, especially if your speech or sermon isn’t loud and dramatic like a rock show? Read this.

That’s not to say you can’t greet other campuses or thank the event host. You can do all of those things. Just do them where the author Humes recommends, in the middle of the speech.

Don’t waste your opening minute.

It matters too much.

P.S. I’m writing a book on public speaking and giving it away week by week for free. This is one of the chapters. To get the rest, sign up here.

Hustle

I’m writing four new books. Here’s how to get them for free.

I don’t think I’ll ever publish a book about health or exercise or kale. I hate kale so much. Kale chips taste exactly like regular chips. If you’ve never tasted a regular chip.

I don’t think I’ll ever publish a book about speaking or being an entrepreneur or being a writer. And yet, I have some ideas.

I’ve learned a few things about a few things.

I’ve published six books.

I’ve run 100 miles in a month.

I’ve spoken to a million people.

I’ve built a seven-figure business from a garage because that’s where you have to say you started. It’s always the garage.

I thought it would be fun tell you how.

Not because I have something to sell, but rather I have something to share.

I love writing. I love it so much. I love the words and the dance and the ability to say something that matters. I want to do it more. I want to write about a billion books.

So, here’s what I am going to do.

I’m going to write four books and give them away for free, one week, one chapter at a time.

What does that mean?

It means every week, I’m going to send you a chapter with an idea about a topic that matters to you.

By focusing on them as books, I’m motivated to do my absolute best with the quality of the content.

I’ve already had 12,000 people sign up, but wanted to make sure you didn’t miss it too.

Are you a public speaker? Sign up for this book.

Are you an entrepreneur? Sign up for this book.

Are you trying to get in shape and eat better? Sign up for this book.

Are you a writer? Sign up for this book.

Life is too long to run from the things we care about the most.

I care about writing. I’m going to do a lot of it.

If you are any of the people I described above, sign up for the free book that will help you the most.

Skills

The secret to getting paid as a writer

This is a guest post from my friend Jeff Goins, who has a new book out called Real Artists Don’t Starve. If you order it this week, you’ll get $200 in bonuses. Find out more at dontstarve.com.

The secret to getting paid as a writer

When the science ­fiction writer Harlan Ellison was asked to contribute an interview for a film project on the making of Babylon 5, he said, “Absolutely!”

There was just one catch: “All you’ve got to do is pay me.”

“What?” the young woman on the other end of the call asked.

“You’ve got to pay me!” he shouted.

“Well,” she said, “everyone else is just doing it for nothing.”

This was when Ellison lost it.

“By what right would you call me and ask me to work for nothing?” he said. “Do you get a paycheck? Does your boss get a paycheck?”

“Well, yes,” she admitted. But, “it would be good publicity.”

“Lady,” he said calmly, “tell that to someone a little older than you who just fell off the turnip truck.”

As a long­-time screenwriter, Ellison has seen many people come and go in Hollywood. He understands how the business works, what the economics are, and how to survive in a very competitive market that is unkind to creatives.

He’s also seen new writers come to town not understanding they ought to be paid for their work.

“It’s the amateurs,” he said, “who make it hard for the professionals.”

Ellison knows a secret many beginning writers don’t know. It’s one I certainly didn’t understand when I began my career: If you want to get paid, you have to charge for your work.

Obvious? Sure. But it’s still something many writers, creatives, and artists struggle with. Harlan Ellison, on the other hand, sticks to one simple standard: he never works for free. Today, he is one of the most successful writers in Hollywood.

Over the past several years, I’ve seen many writers launch their careers by giving away just about everything they do. I made this same mistake. We do this because, we are told, it’s a great “opportunity.”

The problem, though, is what we call “opportunity” is really just a gamble. Opportunity doesn’t pay the bills. It doesn’t put food on the table. You can’t invest and watch it multiply. Opportunity is a bet, and like most bets, you rarely win.

If you want to be generous, by all means give your work away as much as you want without expectation of payment. Personally, I love doing this, but I do it because I choose to, not because I believe it is my only option. It’s not that I don’t enjoy being generous. It’s just hard to build a career on the currency of chance.

So, please, believe you’re worth more than an “opportunity.” Charge something, anything. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Some is better than none. Just be careful giving away your best work, because it can become a hard habit to break later.

This doesn’t make you greedy, by the way. When someone accused Walt Disney of making movies for the money, he replied, “We don’t make films to make money. We make money to make more films.”

Money is the means to making more art. Without it, our work is over before it begins. When we charge for our art, we are making a statement about how we value our work. The world won’t take us seriously until we do.

Skills

The number 1 mistake public speakers make.

I’ve been a professional speaker for the last 9 years.

“Professional” basically just means that I own a sport coat and a belt.

The number 1 mistake that I see over and over is actually very simple.

Want to know what it is?

It’s a mistake that people make whether they’re talking to 10,000 people or 10. I think that’s what we forget sometimes. Public speaking doesn’t just mean you’re a famous person on stage. (Like Betty White or Lorenzo Lamas.) It also means you know how to lead a meeting at your company.

Being able to clearly communicate an idea is critical for your career.

You might never keynote a big event, but if you need to get buy in from your manager at work, you better know how to deliver a speech.

So, what’s the mistake most people make?

Most people think the first step in creating a speech is to write the speech.

It’s not.

The first step is to understand the audience.

When you give a speech, you’re not there to speak. You’re there to serve.

It’s not about you.

It’s about the audience.

The first thing you need to do, long before you work on your speech, is talk with the audience. If it’s an event, you need to call the event planner. If it’s a meeting, you need to talk with one of the attendees.

Every time I give a speech, I ask the client a specific list of questions I have developed over the years. Some of the questions are obvious, but one of them is very, very surprising.

Depending on the size of the event, I’ll even go meet with them face to face. It gives me the chance to get a sense of how to best serve them.

One of my goals with a speech is to make the audience know I care about them. I don’t get to do that unless I know them.

Empathy requires curiosity.

Have you ever been at an event where you could tell the speaker had one speech and no matter who was in the audience, it was going to be the same talk every time? You feel invisible, like you don’t matter.

That speaker didn’t try to understand who was in the crowd.

They had a stock talk and that’s what you got.

What questions do I ask people before I talk to them? How do I use social media to really figure out who my audience is? What’s the best thing you can ask before you lead a meeting or speak at an event?

I’ll give that and much more with my new free resource, the Speaker’s List.

Once a week, I’ll send you a speaking idea it took me years to learn. My goal is to help you give better speeches. Pure and simple. If you’re a professional speaker, my goal is to help you make more money in your speaking career.

How you communicate your ideas matters, regardless of what your job is.

Ready to win at public speaking?

Sign up here.

Do Over

McDonald’s vs. Chick-fil-A.

What’s your fast food guilty pleasure?

Don’t say the Outback or the Olive Garden. Those aren’t fast food technically. Those are sit down restaurants. Those aren’t guilty pleasure. I’m talking about the place you go when you’re alone on a business trip. The place you only go through the drive thru. The place that serves food you eat in the car on a road trip.

For me, that’s Taco Bell. I just can’t quit the Bell.

I make terrible food choices there, ordering multiple items even though I know they’re all constructed from the same seven ingredients served from a squirt gun strong enough to deliver beans.

McDonald’s doesn’t feel that way. I’ll sit in a McDonald’s and not worry if anyone sees me. I don’t eat McRibs, because I’m not crazy, but I never feel shame about an egg McMuffin. Recently though,dr I saw something in their parking lot that surprised me.

I saw this sign in a location on the North Shore of Massachusetts.

Why was this interesting to me?

Because it’s a sign showing you where to park if you use the drive-thru.

Can we please agree that 50% of the words in “drive-thru” are “drive.”

The whole point of a drive-thru is that you don’t have to park. You don’t have to stop. You get to stay in your car, moving about your day. Sure, you could always park and go in, but you’re an on the go person. You’re making moves and getting stuff done. You’re too busy to go inside.

So then why does this sign even exist?

It started the way a lot of things start, McDonald’s identified a problem.

The drive-thru wasn’t working properly. Instead of receiving food at the second window, customers were told to pull over and park. Sometimes, there weren’t any close parking spots and they had to circle the building waiting for a Big Mac, like a hamburger shark. This is a breakdown in the system, but things don’t always go perfectly, especially at a fast food restaurant.

At this point, McDonald’s had two choices:

1. Fix the drive-thru so that people got their food faster.
2. Print up a parking sign.

One approach takes effort and practice and deliberate thought.

The other requires a printer who can do waterproof signs and access to a pole.

You will face problems in your job.

You will face problems in your business.

You will face problems in your life.

When you do, you will be offered two choices:

1. Fix it.
2. Patch the symptom.

The first is not always simple. I worked with Chick-fil-A and they faced this same obstacle. To deal with it, they built a life-sized drive thru and studied every inch of the experience. During busy times, you’ll see trained staff members taking orders outside the restaurant so that the car line doesn’t get that long. Car by car, the smiling employee walks down the lot to check on orders.

In Georgia, they had a small podium in the drive thru line that was staffed with an incredibly helpful team member. They kept the busy restaurant hopping and ensured fast service.

Have you ever seen a McDonald’s staff member outside with a clipboard making sure the ordering process is working smoothly?

The second approach is easier. Let’s not even pretend.

It’s easier to put a band aid on a big wound than it is to go to rehab. It’s easier to sweep a relationship under the rug than it is to repair it. It’s easier to move on than it is to stay and fight. It’s easier to buy a bigger pair of jeans than it is to eat kale, which tastes like wet sadness.

But when you do that, you miss the magic that happens when you’re brave.

You miss the magic of a long term fix to a real problem.

You miss the magic of what happens when you actually care.

You end up with a sign but the same amount of frustrated customers.

Problems we patch don’t get better, they just get bigger. That’s the real damage. When you ignore real problems, it sends a message through your entire team that shortcuts are OK. The easy way out is the best way. Difficult solutions are not to be explored. The customer doesn’t matter.

Don’t ignore the problem.

Fix the problem. Save the day. Screw the sign.

The drive-thru was meant for driving, not parking.

P.S. Every Thursday, I write ideas like this for entrepreneur’s. If that’s you, don’t miss the next one. Sign up for the Entrepreneur’s List.

Do Over

9 Gift Ideas for College Graduates

I’ve written about this before, but this month, college graduates will have a hard time finding jobs because their parents refuse to move to Florida. It’s not the pythons, alligators, sharks, panthers or bears preventing the exodus to the Sunshine State, it’s the money.

Boomers can’t financially afford to retire like they used to. In a 2014 Gallup poll, half of the Boomers said they plan to work past the age of 65. They’re not leaving their jobs, which means they’re not vacating positions for Gen X employees.

My generation bumps into them and has a hard time climbing the career ladder, because the top positions are filled already.

Millennials then graduate and bump into Gen X employees who have not been able to move beyond entry level and middle management positions.

This reality creates a job traffic jam.

Maybe you’re a college senior about to enter the workforce. Maybe you’re a parent with a son or daughter who is on the verge of receiving a diploma. Maybe you’re a relative or friend who has been invited to a graduation party and doesn’t know how to help a college graduate.

Fear not, though the situation is challenging, it is by no means impossible.

There are 9 things every college graduate needs.

1. My book, Do Over.

Did you think I was going to wait until the last item on the list to talk about my book? That would be silly. (The paperback version is only $9.55 on Amazon right now, which is the lowest price I’ve ever seen it at.)

There’s a reason hundreds of parents have already given Do Over to college graduates and Library Journal said it was “highly recommended for the college graduate just beginning a career.”

Graduating from college can feel like an overwhelming experience, but it doesn’t have to be. Do Over will show them how.

2. A 4-lb bag of Hi-Chew.

What if your college graduate already owns Do Over? Give them the next best thing, a 4-lb of bag of Hi-Chew, the candy that currently sits atop my Candy Power Poll Rankings. Nothing says, “Good luck in the real world, kid!” like 48 ounces of re-sealable deliciousness.

3. Connections.

One of the best ways you can help a college graduate is by opening your rolodex. (That reference just made it seem like I graduated 20 years ago and am super old.) Share your network of connections. Everyone has heard the cliche, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” because it’s true. One of the best gifts you can give a graduate is an introduction to someone you know who can help with a career opportunity.

4. A sneak peek into the future.

We adults aren’t just adults, we’re time machines. We’ve been to the future and can tell graduates what we’ve learned. For instance, despite being in my 40s, one thing I remember about the 20s is that they can be a lot lonelier than anyone tells you. It’s hard to make friends as an adult. You have to work hard to build community. When you share something like that with a college graduate, you’re giving them a sneak peek into the future. Don’t be afraid to fire up the Delorean and and tell a college graduate a little about where he or she is headed.

5. Encouragement.

You’ve got a choice. You can be the person in a graduate’s life who tells them how much working sucks, or how bad the job market is out there right now, or how everyone loves their job at first but eventually they hate it. Or you can be the person who gives encouragement. Tell them you’re proud of what they’ve done so far. Tell them they’re going to do great things. Remind them that they’ve got a support system behind them no matter what happens. Choose encouragement over discouragement every time.

6. Gift cards.

Money is awesome but it tends to disappear quickly. Give college graduates gift cards instead. Starbucks, The Home Depot, the grocery store, everyone has a gift card option and instead of the money getting swallowed up by life, they just might actually use the gift card for something they need.

7. A 1-liter bottle of Listerine Total Care.

To be paired with point number 2 above.

8. Time.

College graduates need some runway to put their lives together. We adults tend to think it will happen instantly. As if perhaps when they get their diploma they will also get a job, an apartment, a life purpose and a golden retriever named Disco who wears a red kerchief. They won’t. Those things take time. (Except for the kerchief, you can get those anywhere.) Don’t put undue pressure on an already pressure-filled moment. Give college graduates time.

9. A copy of Do Over.

Oh, you didn’t think I would double up on my own book in this list? Again, that would be silly.

Listen, most graduation gifts are boring and useless. A college grad doesn’t need a lacquered piece of wood with a motivational statement on it or a hamper for dirty laundry. (They can buy that with a gift card.) They need a guide to one of the biggest career Do Over moments they will ever face, graduation. They need a fun plan to build the four investments every great career requires (relationships, skills, character and hustle).

Give graduates a fighting chance in a world where it’s increasingly hard to find a job.

Give them Do Over and these other eight things and then make them pay for Starbucks with a gift card next time you go out for coffee.