Recipient of 2017 Torch Award

Photos by: Sean Su @[203867963313063:0]I was thrilled to be a part of the management team that created and implemented an ethical business model, especially since it was acknowledged and rewarded by the Better Business Bureau (BBB). We received Honorable Mention for businesses in the 1-9 employee category at the 2017 Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics.

The BBB received over a thousand nominations from consumers and businesses in Illinois. The awards banquet was sponsored by numerous companies serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. Present for the award presentations were WGN, ABC, and the WCIU.

Photos by: Sean Su @[203867963313063:0]ABC 7’s Hosea Sanders hosted the event and handed out the awards. Melissa Stockwell, Army war hero, mother and three-time world champion Paratriathlon medalist was the keynote speaker. The event was well attended by 400 plus Illinois business leaders.

I was given three minutes to share highlights from our ethical practices, journey and gratitude for the award. It was the first time I received an award of that magnitude on behalf of a team and I found myself extremely nervous until my foot hit the stage. Once on the platform I quickly came up with a new speech, since Sanders touched on my planned comments as he introduced me.

Photos by: Sean Su @[203867963313063:0]During the selection process I was inundated with 25-30 hours of paperwork. Our final document answering the questions of the third party counsel was just shy of 50 pages including process and event documentation for standards adhered to and lived out.

I was energized by this once in a lifetime experience because everyone in the room was passionate about raising ethical standards in Illinois. Being in a room with like minded executives was encouraging and I hoped each company effectively instills within their employees the need for and benefits of working within ethical standards.

Photos by: Sean Su @[203867963313063:0]

The Mastery Cycle

Slide1I led a master class and several workshops at a conference last week. My goal was to take the students through the mastery cycle without them knowing it. The outcome was eye opening during the debriefing stage of the conference – The time when reality revealed where on the master craftsman scales each person landed.

The mastery cycle has four parts to it: attitude, knowledge, practice, and skill. The attitude step is all about adjusting one’s dreams to a reality check without draining their vision. Increasing their knowledge is the second step that requires a certain amount of entertainment in order to retain the information. The third step is practicing with a coach who can guide and correct each step of the way. The fourth step is the development of a specific skill that can shine during the process.

Once the process concludes, it’s always useful to debrief the participants and find out what they achieved or learned. Everyone gains a new skill (or part of one) or learns how to avoid a disaster going forward. Both are needed for the master craftsman’s utility belt regardless of their occupation.

My classes were filled with beginning filmmakers and semi-professional amateurs. Both groups typically have a great aptitude for filmmaking, but greatly lack the skills needed to climb to a higher level of quality. Since its impossible to get to the next level until you first understand what you don’t know, adjusting the attitudes of the participants is critical to their growth.

I opened with an example of a finely crafted short story that an amateur would shoot for less than $10,000 and a professional would shoot for no less than $265,000. By explaining the difference in quality, story, skill levels, etc., I helped many of the students correct their vision and desire more skills.

The next class was about how to develop a story using a simple logline as a blueprint. Loglines are one to two sentences that clearly articulate the overall story. Any variation due to overzealous creativity in the process weakens the story and hinders the film’s success.

The class developed the beats of the story based on the logline and then wrote a script to be shot the next day. Everyone in class got caught trying to take the story down a rabbit hole, but the team maintained focus thanks to the agreed upon logline – a safety net to make sure the chosen topic is adhered to.

The day of the shoot was guided by the experienced training the inexperienced. We had hoped for a professional team coaching an amateur team, but circumstances didn’t come together as planned. Still, the experienced were able to help and encourage those with less experience. Three scenes were shot and then debriefed the following morning.

We reviewed the dailies and discussed the pros and cons that came from the shoot. And yes, there were more cons, but I prefer to say there were more learning opportunities. As long as the person learns from his or her mistakes, they are another step closer to mastering their craft.

During the shoot the director is in charge. He must hold true to the logline, the script breakdown, his notebook, and all the other tools he has in delivering the final story based on its original intent as expressed in the script. Unfortunately, the director was so busy trying to keep his cast and crew moving that he forgot to refer back to his notes.

The outcome was some really good shots and acting that had nothing to do with the story. During our review, I pointed out as many of the errors that added to the destruction of the story and why each person failed. I also pointed out that with film being a collaborative art form everyone must stay on task, rather than offering up things that don’t move the story forward.

Each participant got a taste of a new skill they need to develop. The director learned how to breakdown the beats of the story to make sure they are filmed. The actors learned the importance of becoming the character instead of changing the character to be like them. The writers learned that creatives can make things up all day long, but must only keep what fulfills the logline. And on it went.

The process that led to the beginning development of a new skill can now be cycled again to lift that skill to another level. The repetition will eventually see the person master the skill and others for his utility belt, which will eventually lead to the mastering of the craft.

The person who embraces the mastery cycle will eventually become the master and be able to properly break the rules in order to move the art forward. They are also the ones who are passionate about the art. They are the perfect type of people worth having on any set and in any workshop.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

Three Kids Stir Audience

© apops - Fotolia.comLast weekend I had the privilege of listening to all three of my kids speak to a good-sized audience. My son, Chris, kicked off the event with humorous comments that broke the tension in the room and drew the audience into the stories and ideas he shared. His natural style, energy and captivating performance held everyone’s attention through to his final point.

Whispers filled the room as my daughter moved up the steps to the stage. The audience was concerned for Carolyn, as no one could imagine how anyone would follow Chris’ success. But she too blew the audience’s expectations away with her unique style and satirical humor. To balance her fun approach, she shared personal anecdotes salted with words of comfort, compassion and encouragement.

After a couple more speakers, my youngest daughter, Caitlyn, climbed the steps and shared a reading. It was powerful, thought provoking and clear. Her professional presence at the podium was salted with grace and her trademark smile. Her final words launched a buzz of comments in the audience about how amazing my three kids were.

While I’ve messed up numerous things in my kids’ lives over the years, I’ll claim success in raising three incredible leaders and speakers. They learned how to think, tell stories and develop strong opinions. They are capable of communicating one on one and in large groups. But most of all, they have learned to do one thing I never set out to teach them.

All three kids can speak from their heart in an authentic manner that captures the attention of everyone in the room.

Sharing from the heart presents our greatest passions to our audience. It’s a form of entertainment that opens the mind to consider the words being shared. It also lowers the wall that protects our mind to give room for change and growth. Words of passion help the audience see who we really are and respect the message we share.

Should I leave this world unexpectedly, I’ll be at peace knowing that I left the world three times better off than when I entered it. I am a proud papa and can’t wait to see how my kids impact our world over the next few decades. It’s my prayer that they will each be given a divine calling to make a difference in their marketplace, neighborhood and communities.

And, I’m trusting that I’ll have many opportunities to impact millions too. After all, there are more than 7.4 billion people on earth that I’d like to share a piece of my passion with. Whether by speaking to one person at a time or reaching thousands through the media, I can’t imagine being a part of life and not participating in the possibilities.

© 2016 by CJ Powers

7 Great Speech Opening Techniques

Winston_ChurchillLast night I gave a talk to a group of speakers on seven techniques that will help a speaker create a great opening to his or her talk. It was well received and I wanted to share it with you. Please keep in mind that this is not a transcript of the talk, so lasts night’s humor was trimmed out to present the information more succinctly.

1. State the Importance of the Topic

This appears to be a no brainer idea, but its one that is critically important and seldom done. When the audience is told how the topic relates to their life, attention spans are lengthened and interest is peaked to absorb the content with pleasure. People always pay closer attention to topics that will effectively improve their lives.

2. Make a Startling Statement

Attention getting devices are helpful to draw an audience’s focus from their drifting thoughts to your talk. The bigger the wow factor the more alert the audience. Within a short period of time the audience scans their memories to compare what they already know to the factualness of the statement. This practice demands the audience hear you out to fill in the gaps the statement created.

3. Arouse Suspense or Curiosity

Everyone likes a good mystery that pays off with a benefit for his or her life. Our peaked curiosity places our minds into a learning mode that allows us to consider the value of new information. It moves us into the zone of soaking up information.

4. Tell a Story or Anecdote

Storytelling forms our memories and is the vehicle we use to share unforgettable information. The anecdote becomes the demonstrative element of the points we make. It is also the relatable trigger that brings back the shared self-help information we crave.

5. Ask a Rhetorical Statement

When a person asks a question, whether rhetorical or not, our minds engage in a process to find the answer. If one is not quickly found within our memories, our curiosity is peaked and we willingly hear out the messenger. If, however, we have a memory of similarity or contrast, we use the comparison as a filter in our listening process, giving full attention to the speaker.

6. Use a Quotation

Quotes stand the test of time and cause the listener to think. Winston S. Churchill is one of the most notable people ever quoted and he clarifies what makes for a good speech. “A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”

7. Reference the Occasion

Acknowledging the event you speak at helps the audience to immediately correlate your talk with the night’s purpose. The embracing of the content becomes synonymous with the event in the minds of the audience.

A successful opening gets the audience’s attention, introduces the topic, and helps the speaker establish report. These positive opening techniques drive the success factor, but should not take over the talk. Keeping the opening to about 5% of the talk’s length (not exceeding 10% of the talk) guarantees a captivated audience for the presented keynote content.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers


Makers vs. Managers: Blocking Out Productivity

timeTime management comes to the forefront of everyone’s mind during the holiday season. Failing to block out enough time for events with friends and family can spin fun time into bouts of shouting. The approaching New Year also gives rise to planners and dreamers that require effective time management to succeed.

I’ve learned, during my tenure in the world of Fortune 50 corporations, small mom and pop type businesses and retail, that there are two primary ways of managing time. The organic processes naturally developed from the functional needs of two types of workers.

Workers who create, build, or produce are “makers.” Those who manage others are “managers.” Both require good time management skills to accomplish their charter, but each requires a very different structure of blocking out time for effectiveness.

Professional makers need large blocks of time to create their product, content or intellectual property. Time is required to get in the zone, be productive, and document activities enough to pick up where they left off at a future time. Most industries require time blocks of 2 or 4 hours.

Makers tend to use the morning for creative blocks of time and the afternoons for logical endeavors. However, makers also break the rules and might find they are more productive during the wee hours of the night. Only 60% of the top 100 authors of the 20th century followed this pattern of creating in the morning and editing in the afternoon. Most wrote when they were inspired and fixed their writings at more logical times.

Professional managers typically oversee the tactical efforts of a team. They tend to block out their time in smaller half-hour increments, allowing some level of flexibility to put out the next “fire” that attempts to erode the team’s progress. The smaller segments allow for faster responses and adjustments to circumstantial changes in the tactical operations of the day.

Strong managers block out empty time slots to shift their mandatory work after a “fire” takes the team off task. In other words, they plan for the proverbial fires each day. Most managers primary goal is to support their team and make sure they continue functioning no matter what surprise issues arise.

Productivity crashes when a manager tries to block out 2-4 hour increments that keeps him or her away from supporting their team. Likewise, makers that try to touch numerous projects in a given day using half-hour increments soon finds their work less provocative, of a lower quality and far less entertaining.

Blocking out time based on function is the only method that supports the type of work the makers and managers face. Constant interruptions of a maker produce little results. Long durations of managers away from their team weaken their process and negatively impacts tactical results.

The right type of time and duration is critical to the success of both the makers and managers. Blocking out time based on function will always facilitate success. This will bring peace to the worker and confidence that his or her workload will be completed on time.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers

Creating a Two-Minute Persuasive Story

The vice president of Sales and Marketing approached me a week before the big trade show. He said he’d be joining me for dinner to meet one of my clients on the first night of the conference. He also made sure I understood the severe consequences if I didn’t set up the meet-and-greet.

Just before we sat down for dinner, I introduced my client to the VP. I was surprised to learn that the president of my division was also invited, along with two other executives and their guests. The dinner for three barely fit at the table now set for eight.

Then came another surprise. The president suggested that I start my presentation before the food arrived. Presentation? What happened to the meet-and-greet? The VP instructed me to begin. I wanted to confront him, but didn’t know how, so I dove into an off-the-cuff presentation.

The client, who agreed to a meet-and-greet, not a presentation, quickly interrupted and clarified what I already knew; He couldn’t do anything until he received his next budget in six months.

It was no surprise that I returned to a pink slip back at the office and was promptly escorted out of the building. I never learned if the dinner was a set-up, but I did wonder how things might have been different had I confronted the VP. What would’ve happened if I took two minutes at the table to persuade the executives to understand that the dinner was scheduled as a meet-and-greet, and nothing more?

The most difficult situations I’ve experienced always came down to a defining moment that was either won or lost during a two minute conversation. Being able to present a persuasive viewpoint in two minutes can separate those who are embraced in business from those who are rejected.

Everyone in business can present a persuasive argument by following four simple steps that can be formulated in the moment.

  1. Define a Specific Problem. The more specific the focus, the more plausible it is to correct or improve the stated problem. General comments allow the mind to wander into various avenues of possibilities and it dilutes the prospects of an actual fix. By establishing a focused issue, the train of thought is easily followed and considered – creating a mental or emotional buy-in on the specific problem being discussed.
  1. Share a Similar Experience. By sharing a similar experience that was methodically fixed, associates can easily extrapolate the same information as a probable fix, or at least agree to a certain line of thinking that has the potential of delivering a similar result. This connection positions the associate to consider a new outcome.
  1. Share the Positive Outcome/Benefit. All ideas must be field tested to determine its potential level of success. When positive results occurred consistently using a similar model or approach, associates are more likely to vote for similar trials within the area of problematic concern. Listing the benefits received from a similar experience helps the associates paint a vision for their own testing in order to speed the possible solution and its estimated benefits.
  1. Suggest Similar Action with Specific Problem. Buy-in is typically reached during a two-minute persuasive talk that matches a similar benefit to a known problem, however, without the actual “ask” to take action, the idea will dissolve into a sea of arbitrary comments that preceded the moment. It’s critical to state the needed action and ask for a consensus to move forward on implementation.

The above steps can be shared in two minutes. Defining the problem and getting a quick buy-in will take about 45 seconds. Sharing a similar experience can take 30 – 45 seconds. The benefits achieved will take 15 – 30 seconds and the call to action only takes 15 seconds.

Using these steps during an unexpected meeting with executives will clearly demonstrate great leadership skills, an understanding of the business, and insights worthy of consideration. It may also get you promoted to the task force for follow through – A chance to demonstrate additional leadership skills.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers

Inspiring Leaders Develop 3 Easter Eggs of Success

© apops - Fotolia.comMy son gave a great talk at a large conference of social web developers. While the talk didn’t come together until a few days before his presentation, it was extremely well received and life changing for the participants. Others also grew by watching his talk on the web weeks later.

When Chris explained how he put his talk together, I realized that he followed the Dale Carnegie method of preparation. Carnegie was a leader who felt it was important to be constantly learning and growing, so as to always be prepared for any opportunity to speak. Carnegie had a large reservoir of information he could draw from at any point in time to give a great talk.

Chris prepared by gathering known information from within his own reservoir, organized it and personalized it for his audience. While it only took a few days to “create” his talk, Chris had taken months in preparing the information – A task he takes for granted.

I wanted to learn how the talk went so I asked him a few questions. Chris immediately suggested that his talk was successful for three reasons. It just so happens that he listed the same three Easter eggs of success that inspiring leaders take time to develop.


Inspiring leaders are authentic. They address their employees from a point of reality, even when casting a vision for the company’s future. This creates a level of hope within each employee, as they comprehend how things could work and understand their role in making it happen. To support this new hope, inspiring leaders invite participation from every employee.

The results are products and services that each employee thinks and feels is in place because of their part in the process, yet no one is able to separate out their portion from the whole. The item also becomes a symbol of trust that each employee placed in the inspiring leader to see the vision come to fruition.


Building trust is simplified when the inspiring leader sells the benefit of the process to each employee. The newly agreed upon benefit also drives the employees to higher levels of performance. This is especially true when the atmosphere is one of curiosity and play, rather than pressure and deadlines.

The strong inspiring leader is able to navigate a course of action based on quick but calculated decisions, the established process being an adventure for the team to explore together, and a playful time of creative exercise. All of which raises the bar of outstanding performance among peers.


Developing employees over time is the most practical of activities that inspiring leaders engage in. The reinforcing of the employee’s optimism is critical to the company’s long-term success. Related by perspective is the opportunity to turn all failures into educational experiences, especially when coupled with a focus on igniting the enthusiastic potential within each worker.

This emphasis on individuals encourages confidence of character and voice. Self-assurance becomes the very driver that turns standard employees into the gifted. Without the employees, the company has no future potential and will eventually be overtaken by the next big thing.

Inspiring leaders build trust by focusing on their resources. They also work to refine their abilities and seek to promote the best in others. When evaluating the gifts, skills and talents of their team, they work hard to draw out a higher level of performance than what the worker thought was innately possible.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers