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His Tap Runneth Over — to Your Doorstep

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews 1 Million Cup presenters for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press.  Recently we connected with presenters Isaac Tut. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase on January 27, 2017.

What if a good beer could arrive at your door like a pizza? According to the Brewers Association, the craft brewing industry contributed $67.8 billion to the U.S. economy in 2016. That is a lot of beer. Minnesota alone has about 110 craft breweries and they appear to be growing at a steady rate.

This increase in beer selection is changing the consumer palate, however the ability to access those craft beers is not always the most convenient. Isaac Tut and his college roommate thought this presented an opportunity. What if instead of running to the taproom they ran for you? Thus was born “Running Tap” — the first craft beer delivery service providing a selection of beer straight from the barrel to your living room.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Isaac Tut
Age: 28
City you live in: Minneapolis
City of birth: Akobo, South Sudan
High school attended: Northfield High School
College attended: St. Olaf College and University of Minnesota

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Running Tap
Website: www.running-tap.com
Business Start Date: June 2017
Number of Employees: 10
Number of Customers: 500-600

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?

A. I was born in South Sudan, a region that had been engulfed in war for about 60 years. I lived in a refugee camp in Ethiopia until I was 11 years old. In 1999, my family and I got accepted by the UNHCR, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, and gave us leave and status to enter the U.S. We were really lucky because only 1 percent of families in refugee camps ever get relocated. After being relocated to Austin, Texas, close family friends from Minnesota drove all the way down to pick us up and bring us to Minnesota to live.

After years of assimilating into the American culture, I learned English and excelled in school, landing me the opportunity to play soccer and run track at St. Olaf College, while doing my studies. Once done with my undergraduate degree in physics and mathematics, I continued my education at the University of Minnesota and later graduated in Aerospace Engineering.

I worked at Seagate Technology as an application and design engineer for about two years and decided to quit in 2016 in pursuit of a startup company with an old college buddy. After six long months of legal research, market development, and working with (state alcohol authorities) on the business plan and getting approval, Running Tap officially began to operate and deliver craft beer to customers roughly seven months ago. We are super excited with the results we have seen so far, and the customers are more than delighted to hear that they can order craft beer at the convenience of their home or office. The service can be thought of as a consolidation of the brewery experience into one delivery at the customer’s discretion.

Q. What is your business?
A. Running Tap is Minnesota’s first taproom delivery startup that aims to be more than an online liquor store, they aim to be the place for those looking to get good beer and get it at the leisure of their comfort place. Place your order online and our delivery team will pick it up fresh from the taproom and bring it to your door.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. We are a small team of five people, plus the driving team. We talk amongst ourselves for solutions, and sometimes look to friends and family for help.

Q. What is the origin of the business?
A. It all started with my college buddies working late and trying to get beer delivered. Assuming it wouldn’t be much different than ordering anything else online, we were surprised at the hoops we had to jump through, and frustrated that none of our favorite local brews were available….READ FULL ARTICLE

You can hear from startups like this one each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 8AM – 4PM, Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.jjhill.org.

 

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Leveraging the Hill

The James J. Hill Center is continually appreciative to the individuals that visit and discover the amazing resources we have to offer. In an ongoing effort to spread the word about what resources are available at the Hill and how they can be used, we have decided to share some of our patron’s stories on how they have leveraged the Hill for their success. Thanks to Ross Manthei for sharing his insight on our “not-so-secret” resources. 

How did you hear about the Hill and when did you start coming?
About 10 years ago I was talking to my best friend about his new sales job and this “secret resource” he found that he was convinced was going to “push him over the top” with quality info on his prospects.  I was doubtful at first and thought the James J. Hill Library (now the James J. Hill Center) was actually (perhaps) tucked inside the James J Hill house on Summit (by the way…it’s not).  I decided to check it out because I heard it was great for entrepreneurs to help them get kick started with their events and remembered what my friend told me.

What is your business or career?
Like most, I try to be the Dos Equis man with having many different interests and sometimes needing to dial that in.  I work in sales for a financial institution today consulting with middle market companies on payment products as well as payment technologies to help their businesses.  It requires a large amount of inside research to have relevant & intelligent conversations to which why I’m thankful to James J. Hill.  Outside of that, I have an baby care line of products that I’m launching called “Giggles and Poo,” am launching a podcast called “The Journey with Ross” and would like to also try my hand at stand-up comedy.  As I said, a  Renaissance millennial man – ha!  Honestly, I just like laughing and helping people.

How have you leveraged the Hill center resources and how are they unique?
I have used the business reference librarians let’s say probably more than most (Jessica is awesome) to help with things like what databases to use for researching things like info on private companies (Privco), prospect lists (A-Z databases) and also have leveraged the new business start-up networking.  Plus, the library is just a beautiful and quiet place to hang if you’re doing work.

How has the Hill been critical to your success?
It’s saved me thousands of dollars to get data and also a lot of frustration in the trust of data.

What recommendations do you have for other researchers and entrepreneurs?
There’s many places claiming to have “free” information when in fact they’re just trying to “sell you something.”  At the end of the day, James J. Hill Center is a secret gem that is perfect for a deeper level of research than you would normally get at a community library.  I’m sure those people can be helpful and are fantastic; however, I’ve never met so many people willing to help without tons of long lines!

The other piece of advice that I would share is mentoring is key.  There are many events at James J Hill Center where you can meet many other people who are very generous with their knowledge.

What is the one thing that makes you keep coming back to the Hill?
The willingness to help, the amazing free access to resources and the beautiful space!

The James J. Hill Center connects business, entrepreneurs and community to research, knowledge and network. Visit us Monday through Thursday from 8:00AM to 4:00PM to find out how we can help you succeed. 

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West Meets East Africa in Frozen Food Venture

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews 1 Million Cup presenters for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press.  Recently we connected with presenters Matt Glover and Mariam Mohamed. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase on January 13, 2017.

According to IBIS, world frozen food production is a $35 billion dollar industry with $1.7 billion in profit. Burt Flickinger, managing director of New York-based Strategic Resource Group says “Frozen foods are going through a new renaissance this decade … we’re seeing a move away from traditional frozen entrees to popular ethic food.”

Hoyo, a local Somali food company, is certainly jumping on that bandwagon and is quickly discovering its audience. With a passionate mission to create needed jobs in their community and grow a greater appreciation and access to authentic Somali cuisine, the partnership of Matt Glover and Mariam Mohamed has flourished. They are not only filling the gap but our appetite, with delicious ethnic cuisine.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Matt Glover, Mariam Mohamed
Age: Matt, 35; Mariam, 59
City you live in: Matt, Minneapolis; Mariam, Shoreview
City of birth: Matt, St. Paul; Mariam, Mogadishu
High school attended: Matt, White Bear Lake High School; Mariam, Banadir High School
College attended: Matt, Ohio State University; Mariam: Fresno State, State University of New York, Syracuse

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Hoyo
Website: www.hoyosambusa.com
Business Start Date: July 15, 2015
Number of Employees: 8
Number of Customers: Currently selling in 16 Stores

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?
A. Matt: I received a philosophy degree from Ohio State University and a Masters in Global and Cultural studies from Bethel University. I have always loved travelling and interacting with people from other cultures. I lived for a year in Rome and spent time in east and Southeast Asia. Since moving into the Phillips neighborhood my wife and I along with our three young children have had the opportunity to engage more deeply with members from the Somali community. It has been an honor to hear their stories and to learn about the wonderful things their community has to offer. In particular we have enjoyed their food and we began exploring ways to make it more prominent in the U.S.

Mariam: I received a master’s degree in plant science, Fresno State, California; Master’s degree in Statistics from Syracuse, New York.

Q. What is your business?
A. We are a Somali food company. We hire Somali mothers to make food they have been making their whole lives. We then package and distribute those products to grocery stores and delis throughout the Twin Cities. Our primary product is Sambusa, a triangular pastry filled with spiced beef or Lentils.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. We have an advisory board of seasoned business veterans that are committed to our success. Partners in Food Solutions, a nonprofit affiliated with General Mills that mobilizes professional expertise to help food startups in emerging markets, has been a tremendous help for us.

Q. What is the origin of the business?
A.  I, Matt, started a consulting company that consulted ethnic restaurants on western service standards. I was introduced to Mariam and her husband Ali for advice on working with Somali restaurants. My wife and I also had a desire to help create a more equitable job market for Somali mothers. When Mariam heard about our consulting business and our desire to empower Somali woman, she immediately identified a frozen Sambusa company as the perfect opportunity. I agreed that this sounded like a great idea and asked if she would consider co-founding it with us. She agreed and we enlisted her sister who is known as one of the best Somali cooks around. We have since used her recipes and techniques as our products.

Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. First, Hoyo solves the problem of lack of access to authentic Somali cuisine. Our vision is to make Somali Sambusa as common as tacos in western cuisine. In order to do so we will make Sambusa available everywhere. This is also giving Somali woman a tangible way to share a piece of their rich culture.

Second, we are providing a vehicle for employment for women who have not yet worked in the United States. By developing a product our employees have been making their whole life, we are a launching point into the greater workforce by providing skill training and career history….READ FULL ARTICLE

 

You can hear from startups like this one each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 8AM – 4PM, Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.jjhill.org.

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The Ice Palace Rises: History of the Winter Carnival

As the 2018 St. Paul Winter Carnival ice palace rises up in front of us in Rice Park, our staff has been feeling especially inspired to revisit the past while planning for festivities in the upcoming weeks.

The Winter Carnival has long held the interest of Hill Center staff. We recently discovered an essay on winter sports and the carnival penned by Anna Heilmaier, one of the Hill’s earliest librarians who worked here for nearly 40 years. She notes the extraordinary nature of our chilly festivities: “The earliest winter carnivals in St. Paul were no less gay than those of recent years, judging by contemporary accounts,” and cites national admiration for our ice palaces: “the fame of St. Paul’s ice palace goes back more than fifty years.”

What Heilmaier doesn’t mention in her short piece was the Hill’s connection with the Winter Carnival via Louis W. Hill, James J. Hill’s son.

The idea of starting a Winter Carnival came from an unexpected source. In the fall of 1885, several newspaper reporters from the eastern U.S. visited Minnesota, and their resulting articles painted a picture of a frozen, uninhabitable wasteland. James J. Hill and other prominent businessmen wanted to correct this negative image and to draw more visitors and settlers to the area. To this end, they came up with the idea of the Winter Carnival, designed to show onlookers that Minnesota is fun and livable, even in the middle of winter.

The Winter Carnival was put on 1886 through 1888, and then was not held again until 1896. After this, there was a 20 year lull. In 1916, Louis W. Hill entered the story, helping to resurrect the Carnival. As a result of his efforts, he was asked to serve as Carnival president in 1916 and 1917. Louis W. Hill remained interested in the Winter Carnival for the remainder of his life, and offered his support to the next Carnival revivals between 1937 and 1942.

During the 1940s and 1950s—and perhaps during other years left unrecorded in our archives—the Hill Reference Library (now the James J. Hill Center) would close early for the Vulcan Victory Parade. Our records don’t state the specific reason for closing early, but we like to think it was for staff and guests to join in on the festivities.

As we anticipate the next three weeks and the People’s Palace across the street, we here at the Hill find ourselves agreeing with Heilmaier’s parting sentiment:

“However much St. Paul’s winter carnival may change outwardly in conformity with changing times and styles, two factors remain constant: crisp white Minnesota winters and the spirit of good fun and fellowship.”

Stop in at the James J. Hill Center during Winter Carnival to warm up with free hot beverages, activities and special discounts. Check our calendar for more details.


Written by Ann Mayhew, Reference & Support Specialist, at the James J. Hill Center, and adapted from a blog post by Leah Kodner
If you have more questions about the reference library or our historic collection at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or hillreferencelibrary@jjhill.org.

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It All Adds Up: All Systems Go

Junita Flowers is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur, mom and the owner of Favorable Treats. With more than 20 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations, she spent her career advocating for families and leading social change initiatives. Junita shares her experiences with us each month with her blog series “It All Adds Up.”

The start of a new year is much like the early days on my journey of entrepreneurship: the dream is big, the possibilities are endless, quitting is a foreign concept and the path to success is clearly defined on an 8.5 x 11 color-coded graph.  Nothing says limitless opportunities like a new beginning. Conversely, nothing can wipe away the promise of possibility or take away the grasp of success like dreaming a big dream but never taking the time to create a plan of action to accomplish the dream.

As an entrepreneur, I’m often moving at 100 mph, so it is important I document vital details in an action plan to ensure appropriate tasks are accomplished. From creating a personal vision board to hosting an all-staff planning retreat, there are many ways to put those dreams on paper and begin crushing goals. Here is my personal 3-step planning process to ensure all systems go for the coming year.

  1. Choose a theme — For me, choosing a theme is slightly different than setting a new year’s resolution. A resolution often focuses on singular behavior modifications and a theme focuses on measuring behaviors. I use the following guidelines when choosing a theme for the year:
    • ideally 3-5 words
    • it is memorable
    • it is measurable against daily tasks and projects
    • it creates or inspires action
  1. Create a vision board — My vision board has been an important tool for creating intentional growth. Whether framed and fancy or simple cut and paste, I typically create a vision board every 2-3 years. To ensure my life is enriched by the things important to me, I include the following six categories in my vision board creation process:
  • Business/Career
  • Family/Key relationships
  • Financial (budgeting, saving, wealth creation, giving)
  • Faith
  • Personal Development
  • Hobby/Fun/Leisure
  1. Review the E-factors — As a social entrepreneur, mission and impact are my heartbeat…they come naturally to me. I created the E-factors as a code of conduct of how I will show up in the world, both personally and professionally. While the four categories remain the same, the area of focus in each of the categories can change based on desired outcomes for the year. The E-factors are:
    • Excellence — we are the best (cookie company)
    • Efficiency — we maximize time and production, we increase revenue
    • Effort — we give it all we’ve got, then ask for help
    • Effective — we do what matters, we make a positive impact

For me, the planning process is vitally important. Taking the time to create a plan and structure for my year allows me to dream about the possibilities while strategizing my approach and desired outcomes. Planning out your year does not guarantee a year of wins and successes, rather it creates a detailed map guiding you from where you are right now to your intended destination.

In 2018, my theme is #ThisHasMeaning, specifically around actions that lead to targeted growth and meaningful relationships. What is your yearly planning process? I would love to hear from you. You can contact me by clicking here. If you’ve found my process helpful, please leave a comment and share this blog post with others. Here’s to a year of intentional growth and immeasurable joy!

 


You can read more about Junita Flowers on her website at favorabletreats.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram

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Her Chocolates Combine Honey, Artistry and Inspiration

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews 1 Million Cup presenters for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press.  Recently we connected with presenters Susan Brown. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase on December 30, 2017.

According to an article in the July 2017 edition of INC., researchers in Rome and L’Aquila, Italy, say they’ve demonstrated a clear link between the consumption of chocolate and strong brain function.

Entrepreneur and artist Susan Brown has believed this all along and by combining both her passion and smarts has created a whole new level of chocolate. By fusing the benefits of cacao with the medicinal and ancient healing power of honey she has created an exceptional culinary experience that combines health, beauty and love all in one small bon-bon.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Susan Brown
Age: 58
City you live in: St. Paul
City of birth: Buffalo, NY
High school attended: Wheat Ridge, Colo.
College attended: University of Colorado, Boulder

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Mademoiselle Miel
Website: www.mademoisellemiel.com
Twitter: @MadameMiel
Business Start Date: April 9, 2011
Number of Employees: 8 part time
Number of Customers: We sell in multiple store locations in both Minnesota and California and have a honey kitchen and showroom in St. Paul.  Each location has a steady flow of customers.

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?

A. I founded Mademoiselle Miel in St. Paul in 2011, bringing together my passion for innovative art and minimalist design with my love for the natural world, the culture of cuisine, and the rich historic flavor of local surroundings.

I was working as an artist by the time I was in high school and have spent my life developing that talent, originally nurtured by my mother. I’ve worked in many mediums but chocolate has been an extraordinary outlet for me. It has brought together many of the things that are important to me and has also allowed me to create an experience for others.

There’s so many interesting things about chocolate, honey and bees. I was inspired to start keeping bees by my father-in-law who was a farmer in River Falls, Wis., after a visit to France (where I focused on all things bees and honey). I discovered that the Paris Opera House had been keeping bees on their roof for quite some time. I thought if they can do it in Paris, we can do it in St. Paul. I was the first rooftop beekeeper in the cities for some time. Now it is more widely accepted and supported by the public. I knew the flavor of the urban honey would make an exceptional filling for my bon-bons.

Now, 11 years later, we take care of over 33 hives, housed on the rooftops of several businesses throughout St. Paul and Minneapolis. My classic bonbons are filled with the honey and decorated with my signature artist’s touch: 24-karat gold leaf. I continue to find inspiration in multiple sources and support many cultural movements — from ecological awareness, to social justice, to Slow Food — but the bees’ work is where Mademoiselle Miel chocolate begins, artistic expression and artisanal method is where it becomes complete.

Q. What is your business?

A. We make house-made chocolate using fair trade, single origin cacao and local maple sugar; honey bonbons featuring St. Paul rooftop honey and assorted confections and creations.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?

 

A. I ask other chocolate makers, chocolatiers and artists when I get stuck. Legacy chocolates, Kul, St. Croix Chocolates and Chocolat Celeste are some of the local chocolate people who have been really helpful.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. Honey became the sweetener of choice because of its beneficial properties and ease of digestion. I realized its potential has not been tapped as a sweetener and began a lifelong quest to develop recipes and a lifestyle using good, clean food. My goal was to keep the food elevated so that I matched the quality of the ingredients with flavor and presentation….READ FULL ARTICLE

 

You can hear from startups like this one each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 8AM – 4PM, Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.jjhill.org.

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Innovations on the Shelves

The bookshelves in the James J. Hill Center are more than mere places on which to rest historic volumes. They tell a story which reflects the Hill’s vision of supporting innovation. Original to the building, our copper-toned shelves were designed and built by Snead & Company, a cast-iron that adapted with the times and “built a better bookshelf.”

Around the turn of the 19th century, public libraries were becoming increasingly popular, largely due to grants distributed by Andrew Carnegie. At this time, most libraries used wooden, fixed bookshelves. Snead & Co. recognized that these shelves were inadequate for these new, large libraries. They applied their metalwork expertise to design and patent innovative metal shelving that included features such as customizable shelf heights; a standardized length to introduce interchangeable parts; and more evenly distributed lighting. The goal of these shelves was both practicality and affordability, along with options for a fancy detailing.

 

Snead shelving took off—their shelves can be found in the Sterling Law Library at Yale University, the Vatican Library in Rome, the New York Public Library, and the Library of Congress, among many others.

 

Another feature of early Snead Standard Shelves is that they were load-bearing, yet another way Snead saved libraries money. Such is the case with the Hill shelves. More so than the grand columns gracing the Reading Room, our bookshelves are vital as structural reinforcements, holding the building up.

 

Of course, Snead & Co. never anticipated the ways this feature may cause problems in the future, as libraries today adapt to then-unbelievable electronic technology—the New York Public Library recently wanted to remove some shelves to create a larger services-oriented space, but were unable to do it due to the structural necessity of the shelves! Here at the Hill, we don’t quite have the same problem since our large Reading Room affords us lots of space for events.

  

Snead & Co. recognized a need in their community as public libraries grew in both size and popularity, and stepped up with innovative products for that market—forever changing the world of library shelving and, in turn, libraries themselves.  

 


Written by Ann Mayhew, Reference & Support Specialist, at the James J. Hill Center. 
If you have more questions about the reference library our our historic collection at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or hillreferencelibrary@jjhill.org.

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A B2B App for Keeping Fitness Centers’ Data in Shape

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews 1 Million Cup presenters for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press.  Recently we connected with presenters Prabhakar “KP” Karri. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase on December 16, 2017.

Are you thinking about your 2018 fitness goals? Typically, staying fit and healthy is at the top of most people’s New Year’s resolution list.

According to a report on NBC, in January of 2017, there was a 315 percent increase around the search term “Gym.” The timing is no coincidence.

So, how do trainers deal with this influx of traffic and interest after the first of the year? How do they keep organized to keep you, the customer, invested? These are some of the same questions Prabhakar Kerri asked himself when he started training with Eric Mattson. Their outcome has not only been fitness on a whole new level, but a product that helps them help you keep that fitness resolution on task.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Prabhakar “KP” Karri
Age: 45
City you live in: Eden Prairie
City of birth: Vizag, India
High school attended: Timpany School, Vizag, India
College attended: Andhra University, University of New Orleans (MS Applied Physics), University of Minnesota (MBA Finance and Strategy)

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Nymbl (“nimble”) Technologies
Website: www.nlytfit.com (“en-lite”)
Business Start Date: Sept. 21, 2016
Number of Employees: 10
Number of Customers: 10 (product launched in November)

 

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?
A. Prabhakar “KP” saw an unmet need in the professional fitness industry when he was training with Eric Mattson. KP had always wanted to venture out on his own and had evaluated several business ideas in the past. So when he decided that his corporate job was unfulfilling, he researched the fitness industry and felt that Eric and he could help solve the problems he witnessed through innovative technology.

Q. What is your business?
A. Nymbl (pronounced “nimble”) develops innovative fitness solutions for professional trainers and coaches. Our products utilize mobile technology to drive efficiency, client satisfaction and retention, and business profitability, thus helping fitness trainers and coaches achieve their business goals and their clients’ fitness goals.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. We have an awesome board of advisers, which includes seasoned executives of Fortune 500 companies, successful investment bankers and fitness coaches who have all built successful businesses, and have led or advised multi-billion dollar businesses. We are also a collaborative team that is very talented and we are not shy about asking each other for help.

Q. What is the origin of the business?
A. It started with KP noticing Eric taking copious notes on a clipboard, entering information into two separate computers and still struggling to produce easy-to-understand, intuitive reports for his clients.

Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. At the present time, professional fitness trainers (either independent or small-studio owners) do not have a comprehensive solution to manage their clients’ workouts, schedules and payments….READ FULL ARTICLE

 

You can hear from startups like this one each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 8AM – 4PM, Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.jjhill.org.

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Soft Skills Revolution: Befriending Chaos

Chris Carlson is an entrepreneur, actor, lawyer and the founder of NarrativePros dedicated to coaching stronger connections. Chris is setting the standard for the Soft Skills Revolution to unleash your efficiency, effectiveness and maximize your input.

Life would be so much easier if everything stayed the same, wouldn’t it? Preparing for that speech or meeting or interview would be a heck of a lot easier if you new exactly what was going to happen, right?

We would adapt to the precise moment when the projector would break. We’d jump right on the last-second agenda change. We could prepare for that last question no one would ever expect.

Awesome concept, right?  Well, not exactly. Quite the opposite, in fact.

First of all, the world isn’t like Groundhog’s Day. Something about the second law of thermodynamics and time’s arrow. Change is our only constant.  Besides, look how unhappy Bill Murray became. Like it or not, we depend on change. Luckily, that’s a skill that you can develop.

Rehearsed Spontaneity

One of the highlights of my career has been to work alongside academy award winning actor, Mark Rylance. He has a shelf of awards for his acting, but he’s also a generous director and mentor.

In a play he wrote and directed, I played a snowmobile riding, Norse, frost giant. In most plays, the director gives actors blocking and expects them to always follow it. Mark didn’t. Instead, he described the relationship between characters onstage. If a character moved one way, we would react and respond instead of moving in a rehearsed and rigid fashion that was constructed for us.

His commitment to chaos was so great that he would also change things he thought were working too well. If he thought something became routine, he would break it up and force us back to reacting to it.

This experience gave me a certain comfort in chaos. Through rehearsing in what appeared like chaos I developed an appetite for unpredictability. Because of this method, I actually joined the audience by encountering aspects of the play for the first time every night, together, with them.

Befriending chaos through practice is the first step to handling unexpected moments with ease.

Cultivating Flexibility

We can “rehearse spontaneity” with the people we seek to connect with. Instead of hoping that things unfold like we plan, we can plan on unpredictability. We can hold on tightly to the points we want to make. But at the same time,  let go of particular thoughts or ideas that hold us back.

Here is an excises to try:

  1. Think of your “Big Idea” and a few supporting words.
  2. Talk through them enough times so that you’re as clear and concise as you can be.
  3. Write down what you said.
  4. Read it aloud.
  5. Now re-draft to get the words perfect.
  6. Print out your final copy. Place the paper in front of you and turn it over.
  7. Talk through your “Big Idea” and supporting thoughts without using any of the words on the paper in front of you.

You have just written your own mini-script. Now that you know your steps you can do the dance.

Results May Vary in Delight

Many of my clients do not like the exercise above. It takes work and commitment. What happens though is almost always a delight to them and me. They engage with the change.

They find new words to share the ideas and the “idea” is now fresher than ever. I hear them thinking, not talking. The words they wrote disappear, replaced by thoughts and authenticity.

Isn’t that what we all want? To be with someone who can conquer change. That’s real. That’s worth listening to?

Hear Everyone but Listen Only to Yourself

Remember the idea and forget the words. There is power and presence in that concept.  When you listen to yourself everyone will hear you.

Guest writer: Chris Carlson
Visit @NarrativePros for more information.

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Soft Skills Revolution: The Real Thing

Chris Carlson is an entrepreneur, actor, lawyer and the founder of NarrativePros dedicated to coaching stronger connections. Chris is setting the standard for soft skills training across the region and will be sharing his tips and tricks in our monthly blog Soft Skills Revolution. Come each month and learn key steps to unleash your efficiency, effectiveness and maximize your input.

We all want the real thing.

Nowhere is that more important than in communication. Whether you are in front of an audience or in an interview, the people you are trying to connect with want the real you. The quickest way to lose an audience is being inauthentic, fake or disingenuous.

The master communicators are able to bring much, if not all, of their real selves to their audiences. How do they do it? One way is to use feedback to draw and change the lines separating different versions of themselves. This empowers them to bring more of their unique personality to what an audience perceives. They are able to be real.

No, It’s Not About You

A speaker without an audience is like that tree falling in the forest with no one around. Pretty much nothing. Everything depends on the version of you the audience perceives and leaves with.

You can’t just stride up to the podium and say, “Alright, what would you like to talk about?” That’s not going to work too well. You have to bring something to the audience first. The connection between a speaker and audience must begin with the speaker. Audiences pay attention to get a return of interest.

Yes it is: The Real You

When you meet someone one, the most interesting thing you have to offer is yourself. Yes, I am sure you have great ideas, advice and insight. When you are face-to-face with someone those take a back seat to you as a unique human being.

Audiences want you to be real, to be yourself. They enjoy being around someone who doesn’t worry about what everyone thinks. That’s the trick, isn’t it? You care a lot about what the audience thinks. So it’s hard to act like you don’t care.

Well, let me tell you  a little secret: They don’t know you. No one does. Not the “real” you.

An audience only ever sees a sliver of the “real” you. An important sliver. There’s enormous power in this.

No it’s not You: It’s the Audience You

Putting some distance between you and what the audience perceives gives you valuable space. That allows you to use feedback to shift your perspective. That shift is from the “real” you to what you could call the Audience You.

Your reflection in a mirror is an accurate representation of what you look like, right? It’s like there’s this other person looking back at you. Meeting that other person can be hard sometimes, but it’s what most people see–for better or for worse. Meeting this other person in the mirror shifts your perspective to the people looking at you. Feedback on performance introduces you to the Audience You.

And yet, the reflection in the mirror doesn’t define you. Neither does feedback. This is the critical last step to incorporating feedback: the Audience You doesn’t define real you. If everyone says that you bomb your speech, you haven’t bombed life. That kind of feedback tells you there’s a disconnect between the real you and the Audience You. If you’re going to speak again,  work to close that gap.

Ask people what they think of the Audience You. Their feedback will shift your perspective. Encourage them to be specific and honest so you can get a good look at this reflection of you. Don’t forget to thank them and put it to work to make the audience you a more accurate reflection of the real you.

It will make a difference. Really.


Guest writer:
 Chris Carlson
Visit @NarrativePros for more information.

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