Keynote Speaker

How a Warehouse Teach Us Control Over Our Schedule


One of the most important principles that I teach to my audiences is to use the first 10-15 minutes of your day to plan the rest of the day. Book it as a recurring appointment that happens before any other business. Even after you have physically arrived at your workplace, even if you work from home, the day should not begin until you have reviewed and updated your project plan.

There is an all-too-human tendency for people to expect you to be available the moment they see you, even if you haven’t sat down yet. Not only should you be able to find time to take off your coat and get a coffee, but those first ten to fifteen minutes must also be defended as “not-yet-open-for-business” time. Think, once again, of the chef at a restaurant, or the owner of a store. There is much to be done before opening the doors to paying customers.

Reserving time in this way might seem tricky when you first start doing it, because people are used to talking with you the moment they see you, and you are likely used to getting started on the first of your many tasks. It is essential to condition your people as well as yourself to understand your new ways and to learn what’s in it for them to play along. Just because you haven’t been doing it a certain way in the past doesn’t mean you can’t start a new practice now. It’s all in how you communicate it.

  1. Identify your fixed appointments and be brutally realistic about their durations and other items like travel time. Although meetings and discussions should always be kept as short and effective as possible, some things will always take longer than we would like, and time must be reserved for this.
  2. Next, convert your To Do’s into appointments. Some To Do’s occupy a list on the edge of your calendar; others come disguised as emails, which request your action and attention. Any email that needs more than a couple of minutes of your time to respond to, either because it needs a lot of writing, or because it is requesting action on your part – is no longer an email. It deserves to be promoted into an appointment and assigned to your calendar. Because these tasks lack a specific start or end time, it is too easy to acknowledge their existence yet still overlook their duration – a fatal mistake, because, even the smallest of them will eat more of your time than you’d expect. Move them off the To-do list and directly onto your calendar as appointments,
  3. Next, schedule time for lunch. Nutrition and refreshment are essential but too often overlooks elements for productivity and success. Reserve a block of time for lunch. An hour is idea, but anything down to 15 minutes would do, providing it gives you enough time to eat – away from your work. Defend this small block of time. It is sacrosanct.
  4. Finally, ensure that some space on your daily calendar is left open for those unplanned events, whether they present themselves as crises or opportunities. This is a direct application of the 80/20 rule. A calendar should never be booked one hundred percent full, since this creates more problems than it solves.

Do you think it is impossible to insist on leaving some time in the day unassigned? That’s because as human beings we see most things in black and white concepts. The vagueness of the unknown is uncomfortable and we feel it should be replaced with an absolute. So to help justify the existence of spaces in your calendar, think about warehouses. A warehouse is a space whose success is based on having a certain portion of its volume as nothing but empty space. In order for fork-lift trucks or people to place items on shelves and retrieve them again, there has to be space – aisles and between shelving units and even vertical space above each shelf. If this 20 percent of the internal warehouse space was reassigned to the storage of more items, the total capacity of the warehouse would increase, but its functionality and practicality would be substantially reduced, since nothing could move.

Taking the time to structure your day in this way sets it on a positive, realistic course. It liberates your mind from having to make logistical decisions on the spot, and also gives you a great working stance to handle crises and the even unexpected events. Yes, it takes 15 minutes of your day to do this, but it means that the rest of your working day remains under your control.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like a workshop at your location, or if you would like to attend a live webcast, check out the details at my company, If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. If you would like to listen to my podcast, check it out here. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.


What A Parking Lot Can Teach Us About Time Management


Think how many times you have set out somewhere, perhaps to a shopping mall or downtown, only to find your plans delayed while you circle the block or cruise the parking lot looking for a space. It takes the momentum out of your trip, at least for a short while, yet parking is something we usually don’t think about until we actually need to do it. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a series of permanent, personal parking spaces at all of our regular destinations to just slide into whenever we want? This would allow time to be spent on tasks rather than on travel.

In the context of your busy workday, that’s what you can do when you schedule your regular day-to-day events, and actually put them into your calendar, turning them into reserved, repeating activities. Most people schedule only the unique activities, such as a specific meeting or a dental appointment, and that’s where the problems start. Suppose a colleague messages you and says, “We need to meet next Tuesday. What does your day look like?” (Or worse, he simply looks at your calendar online, and books the meeting on your behalf.) The odds are that currently, your schedule for next Tuesday, shows only show the unique items, leaving the rest of the day misleadingly empty.

However, if you have scheduled your predictable and expectable activities as daily reserved events, Tuesday’s calendar will clearly show a block of time already reserved for the realistic work of the day.

This reserved time will not take up 100 percent of the day. There will still be time available to meet with your colleague. However the power of the reserved activity helps ensure that even those days you haven’t thought much about yet are already well prepared for the work that’s to come.


The image above shows just how much or how little time is really available to you after accounting for the predictable and expectable events. It doesn’t mean that all your phone calls will happen between 8:00 and 9:00 every day – the blocks here are to show the amount of time required in total. Nor does this graphic mean you’re only free to meet with your colleague between 3:30 and 5:00. The component activities can be moved around to suit your needs. But by making these elements tangible, you develop a better understanding of what your day already entails, and secondly, such clear imagery allows you to question whether your time is being used most efficiently – or whether some refinement is required.

If you use online scheduling applications to schedule your day, then set each predictable activity as a recurring activity. But even if you use a paper day planner, you can mark off these recurring spaces activities with a pencil.

Remember, the phrase “time management” has two words in it, and the second one is management. This blocking system goes a long way towards effective management.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like a workshop at your location, or if you would like to attend a live webcast, check out the details at my company, If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.

Reserved: What a Restaurant Table Can Teach Us About Time Management


Picture this: You walk into a restaurant. The sign says, “Please seat yourselves.” So you enter and look around. Two tables are empty. One has a “Reserved” sign on it. Which one do you choose?

The choice is obvious: the one that does not have a “Reserved” sign on it. That tiny little sign had the power to divert you away from the table it was guarding. That’s power!

Now, picture your working week: it’s pretty much guaranteed that today, tomorrow, and into the foreseeable future, you will have emails, phone calls and meetings to attend to. These can be considered predictable tasks, because we know they will occur each day. These tasks are like the other restaurant customers. They walk in and sit themselves down on your calendar, wherever they find a place.

But there’s another category of tasks, the unplanned tasks, that come at you from left field, unannounced, to derail your nice, neat schedule. These events are the reason most time management approaches fail. It’s reasonably easy to plan for what you know is coming, but what about what you can’t foresee?

These unplanned events can take many forms, depending on your line of work, but examples could include:

  • Your manager or colleague drops an additional task onto your desk
  • A much-needed team member calls in sick
  • An unhappy customer shows up, loudly demanding satisfaction
  • A defective product is returned
  • A weather related event closes business for the day
  • The CEO pays a visit.

I propose that these events can and should be planned regardless, using hindsight as your lens upon the future.   They are activities that have happened before, and as unwelcome as they may be, they will likely happen again. Though you can’t predict when, the event will happen, your experience and wisdom will give good insight into playing the odds.

Here’s an example: weather. No matter where you live, there is always some sort of weather event that threatens to disrupt things once in a while. It could be a blizzard or an ice storm, a tornado, a flood or a weather-related power outage. Now no one can truly predict when one of these is going to happen, but your past experience of living and working in your area of the country is already sufficient enough to say, ” the odds of having a weather event in the next four months, one that calls for a day away from normal work, are pretty good. You might be able to anticipate at least three big snowfalls happening over the period of January to March for example. If, in your experience, these three events have each caused a day’s delay in the past, then it means that your calendar should reflect this, by scheduling them now.

So how do you schedule a storm? You don’t. But what you do instead is to reserve the time in advance. The period January to March includes 64 weekdays. But if three of these days have a good chance of being eclipsed by weather, you now only have 61 days to get your work done.

By entering your “anticipated storm hours” into your calendar, you make them real. They speak for themselves. This makes it easier to more accurately calculate how many hours you actually, realistically have, for all those other expectable activities. If the storm never comes, there’s always something else you can do with those hours. But if it does, you will be in a better position to manage your workload.

Don’t forget, weather is not the only unplanned event in your basket. Think of all the surprise events that have happened to you in weeks and months past. It usually becomes pretty evident that every day there will be something that comes along that forces you to put everything else aside to deal with it. If that’s the case, then the math is easy: reserve an hour every day for the crisis to come. Make it a recurring activity. Every day, 12 noon: crisis of the day.

It doesn’t mean the unplanned event will happen at 12:00, but it does mean that the hour needed has been reserved for it. This tangible reservation fends off other activities and meeting requests, just like that “Reserved” sign does at a restaurant table

A crisis is not so much an unexpected event as an irregular and unwelcome one. By identifying them, planning for them and reserving time for them, you are not adding more to your plate. Quite the opposite: you are taking control, by replacing random events with predictable ones, making reservations and guiding other people around them rather than allowing everything to become a time-wasting blur.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like a workshop at your location, or if you would like to attend a live webcast, check out the details at my company, If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.

Budget Your Time Like a Restaurant Orders Its Fish


When it comes to managing time, it is essential to set a budget. It starts by taking inventory, and for that, let’s have a quick look inside your favorite restaurant.

How does a restaurant chef know how much food to buy per week? How much meat and fish? How many pounds of vegetables? With experience and review, s/he can observe the eating habits and traffic patterns of customers, and can expect, with 90 percent accuracy, that certain times will be busier than others – Friday lunchtimes or Sunday dinners, for example. The chef can buy supplies accordingly and then actually influence the customers’ meal choices by creating a pleasing menu around that inventory. The restaurant business does not allow for lost revenue from wasted food, so an effective future is effectively created, based on reading the stories of the past.

If you have been at your current job for more than five days, you already have a good sense of the types of tasks that you can expect to face in any given day. These might include:

  • Scheduled meetings
  • Preparing your store, department or office to open for business
  • Phone-calls
  • Email and texting
  • Office interaction and chat
  • Focused self-directed work
  • Administration
  • Travel
  • Dealing face-to-face with customers/managers/employees
  • Giving presentations

It’s up to you to identify and quantify these predictable tasks that are specific to your job or business.

But what do you really know about your predictable tasks? If someone were to ask you how many meetings you actually attend in a typical week, or how many phone-calls or emails you deal with, you would probably shrug your shoulders and say, “It depends on the day.”

But if you were pressed harder for an answer, what would it be? Two meetings a day? Four? Six? How many phone-calls? Two, twenty or 200?” How many emails? How many texts? Maybe then you could come up with a reasonable number.

Next, how long does each of these tasks take? How long is the average meeting? How long is the average phone-call? How long do you spend reading and responding to each email? Perhaps Mondays are different from Fridays, in terms of what you have to do, and certainly one phone-call or email will differ from the next. But the point is, these are the things that fill up our days in a candid, uncontrolled manner; and “candid” is one thing that should be avoided, the “candid zone” is where awareness of time quickly disappears.

When you take the time to proactively quantify how much time your predictable tasks will take you on a given Monday, a given Tuesday, based on your past experience, you can predict with reasonable certainty how many hours per day must be set aside for them in the future. You know there will be phone calls, email and meetings next Monday, so why not reserve and defend the time for them now?

For example: if you generally spend two hours a day returning emails, then set up a recurring activity in your calendar – a two-hour block, specifically reserved for emails. It doesn’t mean you will deal with them all in a single contiguous block, but it dos mean the time for them has been reserved – budgeted for – and that is a vital component of time management. Budget for the predictable tasks in a realistic and tangible way.

You are then able to deal with people and tasks in a more proactive way, exactly like a restaurant handles its customers. By knowing what you have in stock, you can influence the expectations of your colleagues just like a restaurant influences the choices of its patrons. It’s all about knowing what you have in your hands – how much time you have available to accept new requests, and when you need to defer others to later times or dates.

Time management is about being proactive. Inventory knowledge gives you something to stand on while you do this.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.


The Time Management-Project Management Connection


A wedding is “project management with cake at the end. The best type, in my opinion. Even if you’ve never formally studied project management, your time spent attending weddings – yours or someone else’s – counts as practical experience.

These are public events that involve fixed budgets, fixed timelines, inexperience, lots of pressure, lots of advice and an overwhelming desire to elope. That’s why couples often hire professional wedding planners, and that’s also why wedding planners often provide guidebooks, with titles such as What To Do When Planning Your Wedding. It’s Project Management for the uninitiated.

Project management has been around as a formalized school of thought and study since the 1950s. It emphasizes the importance of planning, communication, performance, and review. It starts with a higher-level perspective of a project, and then breaks it down to the smallest reasonable components. Project management forces you to visualize a project from start to end. It allows you to plan for contingencies and revisions, and replaces traditional “seat-of-the-pants” approach with an organized, accountable agenda.

The Project Management Institute ( is an authority on project management, and publishes a work known as the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). The intent of the PMBOK is to assist project managers everywhere, regardless of their experience, by providing a standard and a logical plan for the successful completion of projects.

The PMBOK identifies five phases in the life of a typical project:

  • Initiation: The project is conceived and assessed as viable or not; ideas are formulated; and the expected results and the timeline are first considered.
  • Planning: A significant amount of time should be spent here. In this phase, every detail of the project is accounted for, including possible failures, contingencies, estimated times for completion of each part, and budget and resource estimates.
  • Execution: The project gets underway, people start to work on their assigned tasks, and momentum begins.
  • Control: The work of the project is performed, while the project manager oversees and updates the plan and communicates progress and changes to all involved.
  • Closure: Once the project is completed the teams are broken up, final accounting is done, and things are cleaned up and put away.

The project is summarized and guided by a project plan, a document that lays out tasks and their respective timelines throughout the project’s life. Far from being a static document, the project plan remains flexible, a living, breathing thing that must adapt to change while still ensuring the project moves ahead.

Although no project manager has a crystal ball to predict how things will pan out in the future, s/he can look back into the past, through research, analysis and the use of experts and mentors to deduce, within reason, what to expect.

In short, project management makes everything as clear as possible and envisions all aspects of the project before they happen. It does not necessarily make a project effortless, but its principles and rules ensure that work and resources are properly guided.

This is what time management is really all about. It comes down to two words, the same words that define successful project management: Planning and Communication.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.

If you are interested, we have a newsletter –  a real brief monthly one – that discusses issues around productivity and explains how my keynotes can help. Sign up through Constant Contact here.

The Bucket of Time

2nd-Edition-Cover-FrontA bucket is a container that can hold a fixed amount of water. Once the bucket is filled to the brim, you can try to pour more water in, but an equal amount will have to come back out. It just cannot hold any more. Let this bucket represent a fixed volume of time. We each have access to twenty-four hours in each day, a container of sorts; a vessel for the efforts of our lives. We get a new one each day, but we can’t borrow any volume from previous days’ buckets, nor can we ask for repeats or advances. These twenty-four-hour days come and go, regularly and unfailingly. The day is fixed in length. It is the primary working tool of our existence.

Many people start off their days with the best intentions, planning what they will do and in which order, yet things quickly start to unravel as urgencies of all sorts start to occur. The day’s schedule, which was probably already full of planned tasks, now starts to overflow. People get stressed, and they work through lunch and stay late to try to get back on top of things. They expand and distort their working day to counter the overflow. They wish for more hours in a day, or for time to freeze, just until they’re caught up. They’re on the quest for more time: that metaphorical bigger bucket. The problem is that even with a bigger bucket, they’ll still end up working twice as hard to move half as much water.

The trick to time management, just like the trick to dealing with a flooded basement, is in learning how to use your bucket rather than trying to find a bigger one. Effective time management means using the right strategy, not making more work hours available or working twice as fast or twice as hard. Effective time managers do not feel an obsessive need to fill every moment with productive work – quite the opposite, they envision and enact a rational plan which includes space for the expected, the unexpected, and the opportunities, so that in the end, every moment can be used properly and profitably.

They balance priorities, and they manage the needs of their colleagues. They recognize and accept that the in-box will never be empty. They go home at the end of the day knowing that they have done good work, and that they will do more tomorrow.

They understand that control makes the difference. It paves the way for influence, productivity and satisfaction.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.

If you are interested, we have a newsletter –  a real brief monthly one – that discusses issues around productivity and explains how my keynotes can help. Sign up through Constant Contact here.

Time Management Tools: Coffee and Chocolate and Snacks! Oh My!

2nd-Edition-Cover-FrontWhen people talk about time management tools, we often think about schedules and planners. But what about food? Food is a significant time management tool since it is the fuel for your bosy and mind, and consequently has huge impact on the ability to focus, prioritize and influence others.

Take Chocolate, for Example

Chocolate is a staple of the late-afternoon doldrums. It is high in fat and sugar, which allows the body to quickly convert it into glucose and dissolve it into the bloodstream. It also contains the stimulants caffeine and theobromine, as well as phenylethylamine, which react with dopamine to release endorphins from the pleasure center of the brain: the same endorphins that are released during times of emotional pleasure. This is why so many cultures equate chocolate with sex (think Valentine’s Day). Some even say that chocolate is better.

Recent studies have shown dark chocolate to be good for you -check out WebMD here or just Google it yourself.

Strike While the Coffee is Hot
The best time to communicate important information to people is between 9:00 and 10:30. That’s when the combined influences of light, caffeine and the activity of traveling to work yield the greatest alertness for all involved. Coffee and other caffeinated drinks deliver adrenaline into the bloodstream, which is why people see it it as a pick-me-up. It tends to wear off quickly, though, which is also why coffee breaks are often scheduled for mid-morning.

Sadly, though our love of coffee is more akin to an addiction. Caffeine is a psychoactive drug, an alkaloid, similar to cocaine, but not as severe. A great comparison article can be found here. It is quite painful for most people to wean themselves off coffee entirely, and for those of us who choose not to, its effects largely cap out at a certain time. Caffeine is not infinite in its energy producing powers.

However, it is a good idea to schedule your meetings for 9:00 sharp, and get your most important concepts out on the table within the first 30 minutes.  Schedule your most important work of the day for between 9:00 and 10:30 to capitalize on its short-term effects.


Snack regularly and often – on good foods, not candy or chips. Avoid getting hungry. Eating when you are hungry leads to overeating. Because the human body was designed to eat tougher, coarser foods, it takes twenty minutes for the stomach to tell the brain that it has received enough. In an age when unprocessed foods had to be eaten slowly, this time delay was perfect. But in today’s world of high-calorie, high-fat, easy-to-chew processed food, it becomes extremely easy to ingest too much before the stomach gets the chance to say “stop!” Additionally, fast-food restaurant chains have made it their business to exploit the hunger urge through packaging, flavoring and pricing. A better route is to graze – that’s the term the nutritionists use – on healthy snacks throughout the day so that you don’t actually feel hunger, which will help you make smaller, wiser, healthier food choices at lunchtime.

This will also help reduce the impact of the mind-afternoon doldrums, by not overtaxing the digestive system.

Our desire for sugar and fats is a self-preservation instinct, sustained for thousands of years by the fact that we had to work a lot harder to find food of any sort while not becoming food for something else, and so caloric intake and expenditure pretty much balanced out. Fat became the storehouse for future famine situations. Our ancient bodies still react in the same way, only now food (for most of us) is abundant, and the highly refined sugars and flours that comprise fast meals require so little energy to process that it is easy for the body to convert it to fat. There’s nothing else it needs it for.

Remember, though, that donuts and other sweet snacks provide only a quick sugar high full of “empty calories,” which do nothing to support your metabolism over the long-term. In fact, that sugar-high can within minutes to a sugar hangover, bringing on feelings of sluggishness and fatigue.

Eating healthy does not have to mean being boring. More and more, the food courts and restaurants that surround us provide healthy offerings that are reasonably priced and very satisfying. They sell good, light meals and snacks, just when your body needs them, providing energy for the afternoon and helping to counteract that mid-afternoon trough.

Successful defense and use of time can only happen on a happy stomach. After all, food is fuel. You can’t manage your time without managing your physical self. Most people would never consider pouring a cupful of sugar into their car’s gas tank but they don’t think anything of doing the same to themselves.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.

If you are interested, we have a newsletter –  a real brief monthly one – that discusses issues around productivity and explains how my keynotes can help. Sign up through Constant Contact here.


Bonsai and the Law of Sharp Edges

2nd-Edition-Cover-FrontBonsai is an ancient Japanese and Chinese art form in which trees are grown and nurtured inside low-sided pots. Their branches are shaped by way of wires that guide their growth and shape, and they are kept small through careful pruning of roots and branches, along with the most influential factor of all, the pot itself, which essentially tells the tree there is no more room for the roots to spread out.

Since the spreading roots of a tree have profound impact on its ultimate size and life, the bonsai pot stands as a real-world example of the Law of Sharp Edges, which states that delineation of an event allows for positive control of organic relationships.

In terms of time management strategy, a conversation works much better if both parties know how it is intended to last and what it will be about. Meetings and seminars work better when participants know when the breaks and wrap-up will be. Delays in subways and on planes are better managed when frustrated travelers are given some idea of when things will be fixed. Why? Because at the root of all of these situations is an unknown. People fear the unknown. It’s natural. So, as a tool of proactive time management and influence, if you give people a sharp-edged delineation of an event’s duration and content, they will be far more likely to play ball with you.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.

Donald Trump Speaks Like an Australian Frilled Lizard

Unquestionably, this has been the year of Donald Trump. Love him, hate him, fear him, it is impossible to ignore him. As a professional speaker, I find him fascinating. I watch his mannerisms, his hand gestures, his eyes, the hair of course. I listen to his words. All of them point to a style of defiance and bravado. He, the proponent of the great Mexican wall, has built one around himself – a shield against any form of rebuttal or inquiry. A shield that also magnifies the intensity of his delivery, even when true substance is lacking.

Australian Frilled Lizard - Image from Google Images. Click for link.

Australian Frilled Lizard – Image from Google Images. Click for link.

You see many examples of this in the animal kingdom. Frilled lizards, like the one pictured, extend the ruff around their neck to appear larger and scarier than they actually are. Puffer fish do this, and even cats do it when they arch their backs. This act of physical bluster seeks to fend off predators and competitors without having to resort to actual battle.

Please do not take this blog as a hit piece against Mr. Trump. I am trying to understand his appeal through his technique, which has obviously proven to be a success. He is one of many notable political speakers, and I wish to compare him to those from either side of the political landscape.

Those Hands

When Mr. Trump speaks, his hands speak too. Everyone who speaks publicly learns sooner or later the power of hand gestures while talking. You need them. Most people in the know use their hands carefully, as punctuation – subtle embellishments of the message, a demonstration of openness, sincerity, or conviction. Nervous or inexperienced speakers tend to use their hands too much, a problem that becomes even worse on camera. Over-gesticulation becomes a distraction to the audience, but correct hand usage guides the listener through the story: body language becomes a chaperone to the words.

My feeling is, Mr. Trump’s hand gestures convey an instruction to his audience: “Don’t interrupt me. My idea is all that counts.” He speaks with one or both hands raised to shoulder height, palms outward, often with his index fingers raised. To me, the palms outward represent the universal “stop” signal. They put up the wall that says, “you must not interrupt me.” The raised index finger highlights the topic being spoken about. They say, “This idea is the best. This is the one thing you should be paying attention to.”

Mr. Trump seldom lets those hands rest. They are in action throughout his entire verbal delivery, ready to fend off any challenges from hecklers, or worse, journalists.

Those Words

Mr. Trump’s speaking style is another wall, another defensive inflation of his physical self. He allows no spaces, no pauses, no chance for anyone else to step in. There are three essential components of his speech, in my opinion.  These are refrains, flares, and hooks.

Refrains: Mr. Trump never says something once. He says it many times. Every phrase is stated three or more times, especially while he is framing his thoughts, or as a statement comes to a close. Here he is defending his use of the “Star of David” graphic on a recent anti-HRC web page. I have highlighted the refrains.

Trump Star 1

Flares are phrases that shoot out the side of a conversation as unnecessary fillers, distractions. They shift the mind’s focus away from the key message, reducing the chance for people to truly focus and then question its veracity. This is very much like the technique of distraction that magicians use to keep audiences from scrutinizing a trick too closely. Here’s the same piece with the flares highlighted:

Trump Star 2

This style of distraction with flares and repetition of the main elements is very efficient, and I do not believe it to be anything but intentional. Not only do these two techniques act as a wall, but they also help drive a message home. Anyone who sells for a living knows this: if you say something over and over again, regardless of how true or false it is, most people will start to believe it.

Hooks: Then there are the hooks. The most brilliant of all. Generally two words long. Shocking and memorable. Crooked Hillary. Little Marco. Lyin’ Ted. Failing New York Times. These are powerful because they are easy to remember. Compare this to President Obama’s signature phrase, “Let me be clear,” which, to a vast majority of listeners, sounds like “I want your attention for a protracted period because I’m about to say something that’s good for you.” Few people have the patience for that.

Other Speakers

Mr. Trump’s wall of words reflects his brash, in-your-face style, presumably a job requirement in the cutthroat world of property development. How does it compare to other well-known political speakers?

  • Ronald Reagan was known as the “Great Communicator.” He employed a folksy, smiling style, even at his most serious. As a professional actor, he knew the value of cadence, the power of a well-timed pause, as well as the memorable hook. Remember, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” A positively world-changing sentence.
  • Bill Clinton has always been a master storyteller. He, too, conveys a down-home charm that beautifully reflects his Arkansas roots. His speech supporting Hillary at the 2016 Democratic convention sounded like he was speaking to a customer over the counter at a rural general store.
  • The Obamas are both skilled at speaking. President Obama delivers his words like smooth jazz – calm, sophisticated, authoritative, with plenty of pauses and space for the audience to revel in a piece of art. The first lady exudes passion, optimism, and commitment to her ideals. Her eyes reveal a willingness to share, a positive energy.
  • Ted Cruz uses the soaring intonations of the pulpit, reflecting his father’s preaching style, evoking emotion and credibility by verging on song and powerful repetition. Credit for this style is due of course to the Gospel preachers of the South, mostly African-American, and most expertly employed by Martin Luther King, Junior.

Every public figure has to choose a style of voice. Some, unfortunately, do not. I do not find anything memorable about Hillary Clinton, and that may be her Achilles heel. Nor is Marco Rubio terribly impressive. And Jeb Bush, as nice a guy as he may be, could never muster the verbal energy to justify that exclamation point.

The start of a whole new approach to political messaging. Ford and Trum. Photo from NY Daily News.

The start of a whole new approach to political messaging. Ford and Trump. Photo from NY Daily News.

This is not an age where cerebral chat is valued. It is an age of sound bites and public fascination with the next new thing, the more shocking, the better. In Canada, Rob Ford was a cultural icon. Had he survived his battle with cancer, he would still be on the world stage, not because of the depth of his political intellect, but despite it. As one journalist one said to me, “Ford only has to blow his nose, and it will be on the front pages.

Mr. Trump is a speaker for our times. He goes on the offensive, blocking scrutiny and bulldozing over issues that would have sunk other politicians long ago. His unapologetic ignoring of those unreleased tax returns is a prime example. Anger is the current tone of the nation. You see it in the relentless trolling and shaming of people online. You see it in the normalization of horrific attacks on innocent people, whether initiated by terrorists, citizens or the police.

Collectively we have lost the capacity to question ourselves, and have consciously dispensed with any obligation to take blame. It is easier and quicker to apply that blame elsewhere. Thus, the frilled lizard that is Mr. Trump. Attack with watever you have, even if you do not have much. It will scare your opponents away, which, as we are all observing can be an extremely effective survival tactic. Extremely effective.  It’s so effective I can’t – I have people – so many people who say it’s the greatest… listen – it works, OK?


When did the Debate become “Dancing with the Stars”?

February 7, 2016

Like many other voters, I watch political debates to learn what each candidate has in mind regarding improving the various ills of the country. Yet every time they stand on stage to debate, dressed in their identical dark suits, they seem to embrace their moment in the spotlight as an opportunity for self-directed oratory, regardless of the questions asked.

So why won’t politicians answer the moderators’ questions?

Ted Cruz telling a sad story about his half-sister, before obliquely blaming the Mexicans. Photo: CNN

Ted Cruz telling a sad story about his half-sister, before obliquely blaming the Mexicans. Photo: CNN

All candidates — from both the left and the right — are guilty of this. They are asked a question such as “What is your stance on same-sex marriage?” and it turns into a character assassination of their opponent. A question about a specific issue such as deaths from heroin overdoses or caring for veterans comes back as a justification for building a wall to keep the Mexicans out, or for going back to war, or for blaming the current administration. There is no connection, and no attempt at connection, and this smacks of arrogance in the extreme. The candidates simply steer each opportunity to speak towards a prepared stump speech. The problem is we already know what they stand for. We want to know exactly how they will achieve their goals and fulfill their promises.

The mediators themselves seem powerless. They ring their bells, and they attempt to interrupt, but the candidates talk on, abusing the rules of engagement, and blindly charging ahead. Almost always, for the moderators, some instinctive sense of politeness invariably forces them back into meek silence, bullied, once again by a politician’s ego.

Although there are many voters whose decisions are made solely on the strength of a candidate’s personality, there are many more who wish to truly understand what that candidate is going to do to fix a particular problem. We don’t want scripted, flag-waving jingoism. We want  the nuts and bolts of how a proposed solution will work, step-by-step, and how it is better than the competitors’ own plans. Just saying “I have a way, way better idea,” is a bluff at best, and a lie at worst. It says absolutely nothing.

Perhaps the sponsors of the debates are the nervous ones. Perhaps they do not wish to see a conflict between moderators and speakers, but instead a nice smooth show-and-tell. Not so much a debate, but instead a Washington version of Dancing With the Stars, with each competitor twirling to their own tune, but no contact and no depth:  sequins over substance.

I would like to see a debate where the moderators retain complete control. If a candidate does not stop speaking 10 seconds after the bell is rung, his/her microphone is turned off for five minutes. Same thing if a candidate does not directly answer the question asked, but instead pursues their own personal agenda.

Perhaps also, to further the spirit of democracy and responsible (small) government, the frequency by which candidates are allowed to speak — a highly prized commodity when there are more than three individuals on stage — should be based on the clarity and accuracy of their answers. This could be a scored system. The more times the candidate is scolded about drifting off-topic, the lower their score becomes, and the lower they rank on the speaking  hierarchy.

The debates in their current form simply show politicians demonstrating their true colors: blithely ignoring the requests of their public and pursuing their own agendas without fear of confrontation. Candidates often say they seek to win votes by listening to the voters. Maybe they can demonstrate this in action by first listening to the moderators, and then responding as instructed. They are, after all, supposed to be public servants.