I Have Come to Praise Dane, Not to Bury Him

“He was one of a kind.” That was the recurring sentiment of friends at the news that Dane Lepson had passed on Saturday. He was certainly the most colorful person ever to share my life.

“Even now he’s bringing us together,” was the other common sentiment.

dane lepsonI had known Dane throughout high school—everyone knew Dane—but we became friends during my senior year. Dane was a merry prankster. Known for his French beret or Groucho glasses at any time and a trench coat for panhandling at the Walt Whitman Mall, Dane infected everyone with his devil-may-care attitude.

That attitude belied the truth that Dane did care. Very much.

He was a man of strong opinions shaped by the times we lived in. He stood staunchly against war and the military-industrial complex—until 9/11. He literally lived across the street from the yellow police tape that designated the kill zone when the Twin Towers fell. After that, his political views shifted sharply to the right. The only opinion that didn’t change was that one must always question authority.

His love of life and of lifelong friends, which remained until the end, is what all who knew and loved him will cherish.

He was president of my Half Hollow Hills High School Class of 1972 and organized most of our reunions over the years. Fellow classmate Janet shared this story on Facebook:

dane lepson1“Dane and I were in ceramics class together with Mr. Rubin. We had to create something lifelike out of clay. Dane spent weeks on this beautiful ceramic butt! Every class he would take it out, unwrap it from the plastic covering and work on smoothing it with water. It was a beautiful piece of a$$. He worked on this piece lovingly for weeks. Such fun. What a joy he was.”

He could be infuriating too. We hung together in a house in Commack dubbed the Green Fungus Inn with other members of the modern-day Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes—Vinnie and Vinnie, Jose, Chris, Doug, Ilene, Maureen, Cheryl, Bobby, Wayne, and a whole host of others. Later, we shared the Smithtown house with other Buffaloes. Periodically, Dane would quit smoking—cigarettes. During those times, I had to hide mine or he’d crumble them and toss them in the trash, growling about what killers they were.

But mostly Dane was fun. We fished with friends. We played hide and seek at night in the Catskill Mountains woods around Roger’s cabin, each team captain carrying a knife to protect us from—what? We danced at Grateful Dead concerts and shows at My Father’s Place.

dane lepson2And we played with authority. I moved to New Hampshire for three years in my early 20s to try my hand at writing short stories. Dane came to visit from time to time, as a number of Long Island Buffalo brothers and sisters lived in the greater Keene area then. Gerald Ford came to campaign in Keene in 1976, not long after Squeaky Fromm tried to take him out. Dane and I drove down to see what the hubbub was about, only to find the Secret Service checking us out. Why? Go figure. So Dane pulled me into a doorway. We peered out, and surreptitiously ducked in and out of doorways down the street. The agents figured out pretty quickly we were playing with them and ignored us the rest of the afternoon. We were very disappointed.

Food rounded out his life. He owned a food truck for years after high school. Then a Tempura & Taco stand. A 2007 story in The Villager finds him waxing Dane-like about knishes.

“‘I invent lots of new ones,’ Lepson said. ‘Do you know what the next knish is going to be?’

“‘Ice cream?’ manager Alex Wolfman joked.

“‘Spinach and feta,’ Lepson said.”

Dane was a serial entrepreneur. He launched several online businesses and was a real estate agent. He was a student of the master comedians and master musicians.

But most of all, he was the driver of the bus we all rode on. Still is. So save me a seat, my Buffalo Brother. A new adventure awaits us all.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

Market to Your Imaginary Friend

Editor’s note: This was first posted on July 7, 2016. It’s being republished today in honor of  Get to Know Your Customers Day, which is observed annually on the third Thursday of each quarter. It’s a day to reach out to your patrons and get to know them better.

Do you remember your childhood imaginary friend? Chances are you had one. A 2004 study by University of Washington and University of Oregon psychologists found that by age seven, 65 perGroup of people pointing at an imaginary object - isolated over a white background Can Stock Photo Inc. Andrescent of children have had an imaginary friend. It could have been a teddy bear you rather uncreatively named Teddy and carried on conversations with, or an invisible playmate called Theodore who understood you completely and always wanted to play the games you wanted to play. Weren’t those highly successful playdates?

They were real to us, too. Oh, we weren’t so psychologically damaged to actually believe they existed temporally. But they were real in our minds. We had sword fights together. Roped cows. Hosted a tea party in our finest gowns. They were our best friends.

We are no longer children, but we adults still need our imaginary friends. As business people, our mature imaginary friends need to be more structured then when we were children. Then, we didn’t have to create imaginary friends. They just came to us. Our minds were wild and free. As adults, we must tap into that wildness and freedom with a purpose. That purpose is to focus your message.

Call them Ideal Clients. Call them Customer Avatars. Call them Buyer Personas. What they really are are imaginary friends for adults. If you talk to them, they will help you to succeed in whatever business you’re in, just as they helped us to succeed in play during our youth.

It doesn’t matter if you’re selling shoes, decks, or graphic design, you must start with knowing your audience’s wants and needs before you can create the message that brings you business. Your imaginary friend is that one person whose wants and needs you know so well you can discuss it with them. Who you can bounce ideas off of to see if they like it or not. Like you did as a child, but this time with a structured purpose.

It’s not only for entrepreneurs. Anyone who is reaching out to others on a mass level needs to create an Ideal Client. Associations would create an Ideal Member. Writers would create an Ideal Reader. Politicians would create an Ideal Constituent.

I like the term Ideal Avatar because it encompasses all those concepts and puts your imaginary friend in a worshiped position, as your clients should be.

Merriam-Webster defines an avatar as the incarnation of a Hindu deity in human form, or the embodiment of a concept or philosophy, often in a person.

When you create your Ideal Avatar you are creating a deity, an incarnation of your perfect client in human form, the embodiment of a concept of who your Buyer Persona is in the philosophy of a person.

This is not a new concept. Software engineer Alan Cooper introduced personas to the world in his 1998 book, The Inmates Are Running the Asylum. But Cooper began unconsciously creating personas in 1983. He tells of taking a walk around a golf course during his lunch breaks, talking to an imaginary friend loosely based on a project manager who would be using the software he was developing.

“As I walked, I would engage myself in a dialogue, play-acting a project manager, loosely based on Kathy, requesting functions and behavior from my program,” Cooper wrote in a 2008 blog. “I often found myself deep in those dialogues, speaking aloud, and gesturing with my arms. Some of the golfers were taken aback by my unexpected presence and unusual behavior, but that didn’t bother me because I found that this play-acting technique was remarkably effective for cutting through complex design questions of functionality and interaction, allowing me to clearly see what was necessary and unnecessary and, more importantly, to differentiate between what was used frequently and what was needed only infrequently.”

Cooper’s first conscious personas came about when he became an entrepreneur. Unable to get engineers to tell him what they wanted created, he went to the customers and asked them what they needed. His interviews uncovered three distinct users, which Cooper decided to name Chuck, Cynthia, and Rob.

“These three were the first true, Goal-Directed, personas.”

The key phrase here is “Goal-Directed.” What do they need so you know how to provide it? That’s your goal.

And, your imaginary friend can tell you. You only have to ask.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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The Bonus Benefits of Scheduling Social Media Posts

Is continuing education in your field crucial to your continued growth? Do you want to be recognized as an authority in your field? Is it worth it to you to invest a couple of hours a week doing both simultaneously?

smart phone and social media icons Can Stock Photo Inc. NmediaThen set aside a couple of hours a week to schedule social media posts for the coming week.

I schedule my weekly social media posts on Fridays. In addition to scheduling links to my weekly blog twice a week, my promotional book graphics, and my Word of the Week on Sundays, I fill my social media feed with interesting posts from others. Today, we will explore the latter, the benefits from sharing posts from others.

Because I am in the communications field, I post almost exclusively on communication techniques and tactics. If you sell real estate, you will want to post on housing trends, decorating, home remodeling, lawn care, and anything else home-related. If you’re a dentist, you would want to post on oral hygiene, foods to keep your teeth healthy, how smoking leads to tooth loss, and other health-related topics.

Do not post exclusively on homes you have to sell or services you have to offer. Use the 80-20 rule: 80% of your posts should be educational and 20% should be offering your services. If you follow that rule, you will receive the educational benefits, be recognized as an authority in your field, and the couple of hours you spend each week will benefit you personally as well as businesswise.

How, Why, & What

Here is how I do it, why I do it, and what I get out of it.

Buffer_(application)_logoI use two of the most popular social media scheduling tools, Buffer and Hootsuite, to schedule my posts on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+. Facebook has its own scheduling toolhootsuite-2200x800s for business pages and your posts rank higher if you don’t use a third party to schedule posts. Hootsuite is primarily used to schedule my promotional book graphics on Twitter, while I use Buffer to schedule everything else. I just find it easier to track the effectiveness of my promotional tweets if I separate them on the Hootsuite platform.

In addition to the four platforms already mentioned. Hootsuite also allows you to schedule posts for Instagram, WordPress, and YouTube. Buffer doesn’t post WordPress or YouTube, but it does for Pinterest.

Although I do from time to time find good material to share haphazardly, most posts are found systematically. I subscribe to speaking, writing, and marketing email newsletters from Hubspot, SpeakerHub, American Society of Association Executives, Freelance Writing Jobs, Simply Measured, and others. I peruse them looking for good material to post. Usually every newsletter has at least one good item worth reposting. Most times several posts are easily shareable.

Here are three recent examples:

The Marketer’s Toolbox: The 60 Marketing Tools We Use at Buffer

How to Gain Instant Credibility with Public Speaking

The AP Stylebook now includes “they” as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun

An Investment in Credibility & Education

I started out reposting others’ good material to meet the 80-20 rule without having to crank out a lot of original material. I have found in the process that it has, in fact, increased my credibility as an authority in my field by collecting and sharing some of the best material out there.

I also found that I am, in fact, more of an authority in my field because I scan at least every piece I post to ensure it meets my standards of quality (educational, well-written, no spelling or egregious grammatical errors) and read many of them word-for-word.

Those I don’t fully read are now cataloged in my social media feeds. I can go back to my feeds and retrieve a post when I need it. It’s not a perfect catalog system, of course, but for the time invested each week, it works.

Try it for yourself. You, too, may find spending a couple of hours in a free social media classroom furthers your education and gains you credibility in your field. It’s a tremendous investment in you that also benefits others.  Questions? Send me an email.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.



Words Matter

Thought balloon Canstock 300We have come here to bury Mehrabian, not to praise him.

Actually, that’s not true. Just as it’s not true that Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s 7% rule applies to all communication. That was fake news before fake news was popular.

The rule can be found in Mehrabian’s 1971 best seller, Silent Messages.

You’ve undoubtedly heard it: communication is 55% body language, 38% vocal variety, and a mere 7% the words we speak.  It’s been cited by professional communicators for 45 years. And, in restricted circumstances, the rule is true. For the bulk of communication, however, it is not. Still, the perverted version of the rule is so pervasive that Mehrabian, now professor emeritus of psychology at UCLA, was forced to publish a disclaimer on his website.

“Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.”

Words do matter. Otherwise, why does a speaker speak? Should we all stand on stage and mime our speeches? Am I the only one who finds mimes annoying?

From the evaluation forms filled out by attendees at my workshops, I know words matter. When asked what was their greatest takeaway, often the answer is, “The magic is in the rewrite.” There is no gesture for that. There is vocal inflection. But it’s the words they remember.

Words matter. When writing your presentation, choose them carefully. Then gesture when appropriate. Vary your vocal delivery in tune to your message. But no amount of body language or vocal variety will save your message if your words don’t convey it clearly, vividly, and concisely.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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Yes, You Can be a Better Writer and Speaker

“Can I learn to be a better writer/speaker/communicator if I don’t consider it one of my strengths?”

Female hand writing Can Stock Photo Inc. isuaneye smThat was one of the questions asked in a pre-workshop questionnaire by an attendee at one of my recent writing workshops.

The answer is, yes. Everyone can become a better writer/speaker/communicator. Writing and speaking is an art, but it is also a craft. According to Merriam-Webster, “art implies a personal, unanalyzable creative power” while “craft may imply expertness in workmanship.”

Learning the craft—the workmanship—of communication only takes willingness and commitment. Art—the creativity—comes when you begin to play with the skills you have learned. Just like a master carpenter first learns the basic skills of woodworking before experimenting with design, a wordsmith must first learn the basic rules of the English language. You’ll soon find that the English language is very flexible and fluid. That sometimes makes it difficult to learn, but it also makes it fun to play with.

Ready to start? Begin with my book, Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Then contact me for a free, one-hour, no-obligation discussion on how I may coach you into better communications. You can do it. Everyone can.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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Imagine if You Had the Secret List of Proven Free Words that Sell

At my Mastermind group this week, Colleen reminded me I had mentioned the 30 most important marketing words at a recent business breakfast, and asked if I could send her the list. “Sure,” I said, not knowing where I may have hidden it. No matter, I’ll just send her the blog I wrote about the top 10, I thought.

top-10-marketing-word-cloudMuch to my surprise, I never actually wrote a blog post about such an item. Perhaps it’s because if you ask 10 marketers to list their top 10 magic words you’ll receive 10 different lists. Or perhaps it’s my senility kicking in. Regardless, I’m here today to rectify that oversight.

While every marketer’s list is different, some words show up regularly because they are truly magic.

Should “Guarantee(d)” be on that list? A 2015 VerticalResponse blog post lists it as No. 5: “Give customers a guarantee to minimize risk perception, so they feel they have everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

A 2014 blog post on the same site, however, lists it as No. 4—of the words you should avoid. “Nothing in life is guaranteed, [Eric] Fischgrund, [founder of marketing and public relations company FischTank] reminds us; so it’s best to stay away from this word. You can still back your product or service, just refrain from using the word ‘guaranteed.’” I agree with Fischgrund. Not on my list.

“Free” shows up on many lists too. My first reaction to “free” is it has the same feel as guaranteed. There is no such thing as a free lunch. It’s free—for the price of giving up your email address. But I use it for that purpose and it works, so it must be good.

Some words show up on virtually every good-word list. And if they don’t, you should avoid that list.

“You” or its derivative “your” is one of those words, and it’s No. 1 on my list. The reason is simple. In every workshop I present or blog I write about communicating with your audience, I urge my listeners and readers to think of their audience’s wants or needs. You must connect with them on their level, not yours. You want to talk directly to them. You want to bring them immediately into the conversation. “You” and “your” does that. “Our” and “we” work too under certain circumstances.

“New” also shows up on most lists, because many people like to be on the cutting edge of whatever is out there. What “you,” “new,” and “free” have in common is they are simple, one-syllable words. The fewer syllables the better in marketing copy. But “new” often feels stale to me and, in the right context, you may wish to use a synonym: state-of-the-art, advanced, cutting-edge, novel, original, fresh, newfangled, or futuristic, for example.

Can I tell you a secret about the word “secret?” “Secret” works too. Many people wish to know the secret of health, wealth, and happiness. Just make sure it’s new information or a new interpretation, otherwise you can be labeled a fraud.

Imagine if these words boosted your sales. Can you picture potential clients reading your copy and wanting what you have to offer? If you can, that’s why “imagine” also makes the list.

“Now” is another monosyllabic word on many lists. We live in a world of instant gratification, so let your customers know your offer is instantaneously available.

“Because” gives your customers and clients a reason to purchase your product: “Because your dog deserves to be happy.” “Because you deserve to feel healthy and be healthy.” “Because peace is an attainable goal.”

“Love” needs no explanation. At least, I hope it needs no explanation.

“Thank you” shows up on few lists, but it should be on everyone’s. Always be thankful to your clients who purchase from you. They have a choice and they chose you.

“Proven” is akin to guaranteed, but if it’s proven, you don’t need a guarantee. Back up your proven methods with testimonials.

So here, in list form, are Tom Pfeifer’s Top 10 secret list of proven free words that draw in your potential customers:

  • You
  • Free
  • New
  • Secret
  • Imagine
  • Now
  • Because
  • Love
  • Thank you
  • Proven

Thank you for reading.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.



Writing a Speech Using the Grocery List Method

How many of you make a grocery list before you go shopping? How many of you have crossed something off the list and added something else? Congratulations. You’re a speechwriter.

Woman's hands holding a shopping list of six items, two of which have been crossed out, over a shopping cart in the produce sectionIt’s that easy—and that hard.

Let’s compare the process of preparing a grocery list and writing a speech. You compose a first draft, then revise it because maybe you already have ketchup and garlic—or repeat your point one too many times. But you notice you’re out of onions and put that on the list, or add an emotional story in your speech that will bring tears to your audience’s eyes.

You put stars next to the must-haves in both list and speech. You double-check the meat, dairy, produce, frozen foods, paper products—and your spelling, your subject-verb agreement, and your word choice. You’re constantly revising your grocery list until you have to turn the key in your car and drive to the store—or your speech until heading to a Toastmasters meeting to give it a dry run.

You’ve given yourself enough time to shop, come home, unload, and make dinner—just as you’ve timed your speech to be delivered in the allotted time. If you’re a frequent shopper, you know your stage directions and strategically move from aisle to aisle. You practice vocal variety when you raise your voice just enough to allow the slicer at the deli counter to hear you, but not loud enough to annoy the other shoppers.

You come home and you discover you forgot to put something on or take something off the list. It’s never done and you’re never completely satisfied. But you still make a darn good stew with the ingredients you have. And, your audience is satisfied too.

Congratulations. You’re a tasty speechwriter using the grocery list method.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

Write It, Speak It Workshop presented by Tom Pfeifer of Consistent Voice Communications, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., March 11, 2017, Vienna, VA. Free. Register Now

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