Move Your Story File Out of Your Head

Whenever someone asks if I have a story file, I say, “Yes,” and point to my head.

Portrait of a smiling senior woman reading a book at home Old-fashioned style Can Stock Photo Inc.  prometeusBut after attending two storytelling workshops in recent weeks, I have started a written story file. Retrieving stories from a brain that can’t remember why it directed me to walk into a room is iffy at best. I’ll probably miss the best one to illustrate the point I want to make. Having them stored in written form makes it more likely to hit on the right one.

What kinds of stories should go into the file? All kinds, because you never know how they may fit in. For example, here are a few stories from my file that haven’t made it into a speech yet, either because they weren’t available in my head when I was looking for them or I haven’t raised a point yet that they fulfill.

Story 1: I was climbing up a tree-lined mountain trail with a 50-pound pack on my back. I was 11 years old and 80 pounds soaking wet. And I was soaking wet. It had been raining since my Boy Scout troop began the climb. The rain turned to hail. The hail turned to snow, then back to rain. Rivers of water pushed rivers of mud beneath my feet. I slipped and fell, my cold young hands buried in the nearly freezing muck. I began to cry. Our scoutmaster, my dad, pulled me up by my collar. “Real men don’t cry,” he growled. “Get moving!”

Fast-forward 41 years. My 19-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer. We rode the muddy river through hell, up the mountain and back again. One night we nearly lost her. On my way home from the hospital, a river of tears broke the dam. I was crying so hard there may as well have been a blinding thunderstorm outside the car. But the storm was behind the wheel, not in front of it. Unable to see, I pulled onto the shoulder until the storm passed, thunder erupting from my vocal chords as my body shook in violent spasms.

Real men do cry.

OK, that’s actually two stories that make a point. Perhaps I can find a couple more and actually make a speech from it. The next two don’t make a particular point, yet.

Story 2: My wife and I were concerned my dog, Galadriel, would be a danger to our newborn twins. Galadriel by then was about 7 years old and never liked children. She had to be locked up whenever children visited because she would attack them. A day or two after the twins came home, some friends came over to meet them. Galadriel knew the couple and liked them. But when we sent them down the hall unescorted, Galadriel scooted past them, sat at the entrance to the twins’ bedroom, bared her teeth, and growled. It was only when my wife and I came down the hall that our friends were allowed in the bedroom. Those were her pups now.

Story 3: Matt and Peter Viaggio lived across the street from my two older brothers and me. We were good friends. Except when we were fighting each other, which was often. At those times, our parents would forbid us from seeing or playing with each other for a week or a month, depending on the seriousness of the fight. After a few days, however, we were sneaking in play time. I don’t think we fought while we were on suspension—but we would as soon as the suspension ended!

Those three stories are among the first dozen to go into my story file. With more than six decades of memories, there will be many more. What’s in your story file? Have you written them down or are they still bouncing around your head? If they’re in your head, do you remember why you walked into the room?


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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History of the United States Flows through Fairfax County, Virginia

The history of the United States flows through Fairfax County, Virginia. Two of our Founding Fathers called the county home, George Washington and George Mason. Washington and Mason were the brains behind the Fairfax Resolves, the first document to outline the colonies’ grievances against England.

historic courthouse 600But it goes much further back than that. Capt. John Smith explored the Potomac River area of the county as far north as Great Falls in 1609, shortly after the founding of Jamestown. And, it didn’t end with our first president’s death, either. The first turnpike in America, a 15-mile stretch of Little River Turnpike, ran through the county to Washington, DC.

The Historic Fairfax County Courthouse opened in 1800, the same year as the U.S. Capitol and the White House. And, of course, one of the first land battles in the Civil War occurred at the courthouse, which led to the first Confederate officer to die in the war. A monument to the officer, Capt. John Quincy Marr, stands outside the courthouse. The monument faces north, as do the two Civil War cannons on either side of the monument.

Those are some of the tidbits Jenée Lindner, president of Friends of the Historic Fairfax Courthouse, shared Wednesday at the courthouse during a lecture titled, “Who Was the Fairfax Family? The Colonial History of Fairfax County.” The lecture was part of a series of ongoing events celebrating the 275th anniversary of the county’s founding.

The county receives its name from Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron. He is the son of Thomas Fairfax, 5th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, and Catherine Culpeper, heiress to Leeds Castle, Kent, England, and of the land that would become Fairfax County. While Fairfax laid claim to the land with his marriage to Catherine, Culpeper County and the incorporated town of Culpeper, about an hour’s drive southwest of the courthouse, pay tribute to her family’s contributions to the founding and development of Virginia.

historic courthouse plaque 600Culpeper met Fairfax when he rescued her after a probate hearing during which she successfully wrested control of her inheritance from her father’s mistress, Lindner said. She was just 19 and a mob of men clawed at her following the judge’s decision. Lord Fairfax picked her up and carried her safely to her carriage. The rest, as they say, is history. (Actually, that’s history too, if you’re keeping score.)

Our nation’s first president is closely tied to the Fairfax family. The family schooled Washington in high society customs and traditions after Washington’s father died when George was 11. Washington and Bryan Fairfax, son of the 6th Lord’s cousin William Fairfax, would become lifelong friends. Bryan Fairfax also would inherit the title of 8th Lord.

Not surprisingly, Bryan Fairfax and Washington had different views of breaking with England. Bryan Fairfax strongly urged Washington not to endorse the Fairfax Resolves. He wrote a lengthy letter outlining his protests that was delivered to Washington the day of the vote, Lindner said. But Fairfax remained neutral during the war.

After the war, the two men socialized regularly. In a sign of how strong their bond was, Martha Washington asked Bryan Fairfax to be chief mourner at Washington’s funeral. Martha was too distraught to attend.

On the other hand, Washington and Mason, an instrumental pairing in the founding of the United States, rarely spoke after Mason refused to sign the Constitution over its lack of Bill of Rights, Lindner said. The eventual Bill of Rights added to the Constitution is largely based on Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was added to the Virginia Constitution in 1776. James Madison, another Virginian, ushered them through Congress. They were ratified in 1791.

Mason’s ideas also crossed the Atlantic Ocean. His Declaration of Rights influenced the French Declaration of Rights of Man and the Citizen, which was issued after the French Revolution. Not to be outdone, the Fairfax influence crossed the continent when Charles Snowden Fairfax, 10th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, caught the ‘49er Gold Rush fever. He and his wife, Ada, officially settled in Marin County, California, in an area now called Fairfax, California, in 1855.

Fairfax County, Virginia, has had its economic ups and downs over the centuries. It remained primarily agricultural until its growth spurt began in 1930, coinciding with the growth of the federal government under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Today its economy is diverse and international, with 400 foreign-owned companies representing 45 countries operating within its borders, along with eight Fortune 500 companies. And the county continues to influence. Celebrity database company IMDb lists 113 celebrities who were born in the county. Olympians and an astronaut also called the county home.

Although the Fairfax nobles have resided exclusively in London, England, for three generations, Nicholas Fairfax, 14th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, will cross the pond to help celebrate the anniversary with his wife, Annabel. While here, he will lecture on what Brexit means to Great Britain and the European Union. The Fairfax history and its effect on the world continues.

Additional sources:

Fairfax History – Page 1. Accessed June 1, 2017. http://marindirect.com/fxhistory/history.html.

“History of Fairfax County, Virginia.” Accessed June 1, 2017. http://www.fairfaxcountyeda.org/history-fairfax-county-virginia.


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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Networking Farmers Build Healthy Businesses

Networking is critical to the success of every entrepreneur. Some hunt, others farm, with the farmers more often than not finding long-term success.

healthfair2I first learned of the networking concept of hunting vs farming when I joined BNI Prosper Alexandria soon after launching my entrepreneurial career. Dr. Ivan Misner, the founder of BNI (Business Networking International), describes hunters as those who sift “through crowds of people until they bag the ideal client, the big customer who can turn their business around.”

On the other hand, “Farmers take a different approach. They don’t waste time looking for the right person; instead, like those who plant seeds and patiently nurture their crops, they seek to form and build relationships wherever they can find them. If they get an immediate payoff, that’s fine, but it’s not their principal goal. They know that the effort expended upfront will pay off in a rich harvest later on—much richer then the hunter’s quick kill—and that truly profitable relationships can’t be rushed.”

I witnessed the benefits of farming firsthand Sunday at the Health & Wellness Fair at Cameron Station in Northern Virginia. Mara Benner of Four Directions Wellness, Mellenie Runion of Truly-Life, and Chuck Nally of ILoveKickboxing.com had connected over cocktails at a West End Business Association (WEBA) happy hour and concocted the idea of the health fair.

They formulated a simple format. Four hours. Information tables for each presenter. Chairs for participants to listen to lectures. A collection of tuna for a local foodbank. Goodie bags for guests. Every half hour, one of the original three co-conspirators along with Erin Monico of The Nutrition Connection provided a presentation. Benner, an integrative healing provider, demonstrated stress reduction techniques. Runion, a creator and supplier of eco skin care products, oddly enough discussed natural skin care products. Nally and his team equipped guests with an opportunity to put on boxing gloves and kick and punch a punching bag. Monico, a dietician and health coach, promoted integrative nutrition.

Door prizes were raffled off between segments.

The format ensured a continuously lively atmosphere where newly arrived guests never experienced a lull.

Benner told me they were hoping for 50 guests, but had far surpassed that with an hour and a half left in the event.

It was by all measures a successful event. It began with farming and ended with farming, because the event itself was another example of farming. There were no hard sells (though I’m sure sales were made), only information provided in literature, lectures, and demonstrations.

The health fair provided an example of how healthy businesses grow through networking farmers. If you are a hunter, I suggest you drop your bow and begin to plant your seeds today.


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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It Gets Curiouser and Curiouser

It gets curiouser and curiouser.

Donald Trump Shouting, You're Fired © Can Stock Photo doddisPresident Trump fired FBI Director James Comey over something he did months ago, which Trump praised at the time. Comey was not informed of his firing by the president, but instead found out about it when news broke on a TV screen behind him while addressing agents in Los Angeles. President Trump denied the firing had anything to do with the investigation into Russia’s interference with the 2016 U.S. elections, but made sure to reference the investigation in his statement. He did not reference the supposed reason for the firing, however. The next day, he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Oval Office. The U.S. media was blocked from attending the meeting, but a photographer for the state-owned Russian media outlet Tass was allowed in.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer was left to literally hide in the bushes because he was not given ample warning of Comey’s ouster so he wasn’t prepared to address it.

In other news, a reporter was arrested for “yelling questions” at Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

And the president wonders why the latest Quinnipiac University poll, taken before the latest misstep, shows his disapproval rating at 58%, with 51% strongly disapproving and 56% saying he lacks good leadership skills. (Fifty-seven percent trust the media over the president to tell the truth, by the way.)


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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Hug a Nurse to Celebrate Florence Nightingale’s Birthday

Is it a case of American exceptionalism that we celebrate National Nurses Day and National Nurses Week in the United States instead of International Nurses Day and Week?

Florence_Nightengale_photoNational Nurses Day kicks off National Nurses Week on May 6 (Saturday). The week culminates on May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday. Nightingale is the founder of modern nursing, but she never set foot in the United States. And, in Great Britain, where she did live, serve, and die, it’s called International Nurses Day and International Nurses Week.

Perhaps it does prove our exceptionalism, because the Yankees recognized National Nurses Week first. According to Wikipedia, the United States first celebrated National Nurses Week October 11–16, 1954, to honor the 100th anniversary of Nightingale’s work in the Crimean War. The International Council of Nurses (ICN) didn’t celebrate until 1974, says Encyclopædia Britannica.

The October week is now celebrated as Emergency Nurses Week by the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) The ENA is based in Chicago but boasts more than 41,000 members in more than 35 countries. It makes sense to honor emergency nurses that week because many ENA members are war theater nurses and much of what Nightingale accomplished at the Barrack Hospital in Scutari (now Üsküdar), Turkey, was the precursor to professional emergency care. (Full disclosure: the ENA is one of my clients.)

When Nightingale arrived with a team of 38 women in the fall of 1854, the Barrack Hospital was filthy and the wounded largely ignored. She established standards of care, providing not only medical assistance but psychological assistance as well. Because of her efforts, the mortality rate plummeted. She was known to check on patients during the night, earning her the title, Lady with the Lamp. Meticulous records of conditions in the hospital led to later reforms.

Encyclopædia Britannica calls Nightingale “the foundational philosopher of modern nursing.” It notes she established the “first scientifically based nursing school—the Nightingale School of Nursing, at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London.” It opened in 1860. It would be another 13 years before the first school run in line with Nightingale’s principles opened in United States—The Training School for Nurses at Bellevue Hospital in New York City.

The ENA is one of literally dozens of nursing associations in the world. The American Nurses Association is the umbrella nurses association that any registered nurse in the United States may join. But there are also the National Gerontological Nurses Association and Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association. (The older I get the more near and dear to my heart they become.) Then there are the Dermatology Nurses’ Association and International Society of Nurses in Cancer Care. Not to be forgotten are the Society of Otorhinolaryngology and Head/Neck Nurses and Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society. In fact, there are so many specialty nursing organizations that apparently even a National Federation for Specialty Nursing Organizations existed at one point, but that link no longer works.

Nurses should be recognized, locally and internationally, for the tremendous work they do. They are, in my humble opinion, the backbone of the medical profession. So celebrate a nurse. Give them a hug. And thank them for their dedication to our health and welfare.

Happy Birthday, Florence Nightingale. Thanks for getting it started.


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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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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