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Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Wow, Here’s An Excellent Thank-You Letter 16 Of Us Just Received


A crafty college student named Brian Kerr networked his way into a phone meeting with me back in March — I was impressed by his chutzpah (I welcome cold-calls from ambitious folks!).

However, what really impressed me was the “thank you” letter he just emailed sixteen of us — that’s right, he talked to 16 people in his job searched and thanked us all.

This thoughtful thank you letter (full text below) made my day!

I’m blown away by the tenacity and professionalism of this young man: He even included details about why each of us were valuable to him in his job search.

I’ve included the email below (with his permission)…we have a lot to learn from this man.

His email is more thoughtful than ones I receive from most “professionals” with decades of experience!

From: Brian Kerr

Subject: Thanks to you, I got a job!

This email is a thank you to everyone who played a part in helping me in my career search.  I graduated from SFSU 5/21 with a major in Business Administration: Marketing.

5/22, I was hired by Firetide as WLAN Business Development. (How perfect, I know) Firetide is a Wireless technology startup that is located in Los Gatos, CA.

They specialize in Wireless Mesh infrastructures.  As part of WLAN Business Development, I will be working with two other individuals to ramp up and scale Firetide’s WLAN division.

Ultimately, the people at firetide truly won me over… (the CEO is hilarious, the Sr. Product Manager always has me smiling, and my team is made of Swedish tennis players….what more could I ask for?)


Kostas, Navid, James: Thanks for all the help on my resume, with your feedback, you helped me build one hell of a resume.  (The final version is attached to this email)

Rob, Gady, Greg, and Dana: It was from speaking with you that helped me get a clear understanding of what I truly wanted from my first professional job.  I learned that I wanted to be a social connector, someone who can do sales, marketing, pr, and management.

I realized that I needed a small entrepreneurial environment where I can wear many hats and take on lots of responsibility, so I can feed my desire for variety while still allowing me to take ownership/responsibility.

Ultimately, the most important thing was that I realized I wanted a place where I could make connections and build lasting professional relationships, internally and externally.

Jon, Kerry, Skip: Thanks for such a great time at TKG, you guys showed me that no matter what, I have to love the people I am working with.

Nancy: I can’t thank you enough for creating the environment at SFSU where I could learn inside the classroom, but also really truly learn by connecting with the faculty, orgs, and administration so that I could learn whatever fueled my interests.

Don, Anne, Foo, Mike, Jan: Your classes were by far my favorite.  It was because of you that school was a pleasure.  Please continue being amazing teachers, students need more teachers like you.


Thank you for helping me reach the next step in my career, one day I will be sure to return the favor.

-Brian Kerr

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Sunday, June 20th, 2010

How To Give Feedback: The Simple 3-Step Sandwich Method


If you lead a person or team, have peers you work with or even are managed by someone else (with no team that you’re managing), the Sandwich Method of Feedback is an effective communication tool.

I was reminded about the Sandwich Method in my Toastmasters public speaking class the other day.

Every speech in Toastmasters is evaluated and the delivery of criticism needs to be done delicately — I and others use the Sandwich Technique on a regular basis.

The Sandwich Method (or Sandwich Technique or Hamburger Method) is so named because the pieces of bread represent positive feedback/compliments while the meat of the sandwich (or innards if you’re vegetarian) represents constructive criticism.

I find this method of sandwiching the constructive criticism between two compliments to be an effective/disarming way to help improve/correct behavior.

The Sandwich Method

1) Slice of Bread 1: Start off with positive feedback (authentic praise of something they did recently)


“By the way, John, I have to hand it to you on that deal you closed yesterday…that goes a long way towards helping us reach our goal.”

“Anne, I really appreciate you chipping in for Nicole this week while she was out of the office — that type of teamwork exemplifies the values I’m trying to instill at our company.”

2) The “Meat of the Matter”: Provide your constructive criticism

Be brief (yet clear and thorough) in your delivery of the meat of the matter — the criticism you want to share.

Ideally you are giving them constructive criticism on just one thing (at most two things)…I find criticism of 3 or more items is too much for a person to handle at one time.

Additionally, try to give them the criticism in the context of how it can help THEM reach their goals.


“Jon, you’re so good at what you do that it’s hard to ever find suggestions on how you can improve. That said, I know you really want that promotion to Director of Sales. One skill you’re going to need in that position is analytics, and your weekly reports are currently pretty light on analytics. For you to earn that Director of Marketing spot, I recommend that you gain some mastery over analytics.”

“Anne, I know this is tough for you to hear, but you are perceived by some on the team as cocky. And I know that you mentioned that you wanted a transfer to Customer Service — well, we certainly don’t want them hearing that you have a reputation for cockiness. I recommend that you and I work together on making sure you’re not perceived as cocky.”

Caution About “Feelers”

Be especially careful about giving criticism to sensitive people or”feelers” as many of us call them in Carl Jung personality type speak (e.g. they would have the following personality types: INFP, ENFP, ISFP, ESFP, INFJ, ENFJ, ESFJ, ESFJ in the 16 Carl Jung Personality Types.

If you’re dealing with a sensitive/feeling type, I recommend you put in extra time on the Sandwich Method.

3) The 2nd Slice of Bread: End on a positive note

Ideas on how to end with positivity include

  • You can simply reiterate the initial positive feedback/compliment you had given them.
  • You can speak in general terms about how much progress they are making (read this article on How To Motivate Your Team Through Progresss).
  • You can compliment them on their receptiveness to receiving constructive criticism.


“Jon, that deal you closed was really important and I’m thrilled with the fact that you and I can have an open conversation about working harder on analytics.”

“Jon, I really admire your enthusiasm about developing yourself. You were already making headway and this analytics thing can be icing on the cake. I think it’s a huge benefit in you progressing towards the Director of Sales position you covet.”

“Anne, you’re really on the right track here. This cockiness thing is just a bump in the road and I’m looking forward to working on it with you.”

It should go without saying that all of your criticism (positive or negative) should be authentic and well thought out.

That’s the sandwich method…good luck with it!

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Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

What Does A Toastmasters Agenda Look Like?


Some of you want to know what a typical Toastmasters meeting looks like.

Here’s a sample Toastmasters agenda (it assumes a 12:05pm start with a roughly 1pm close (total of 55 minutes for the meeting)).

  • 12:05pm: Opening Remarks by Toastmaster (including mention of who Timer & Gramarrian are)
  • 12:10pm: Speaker 1: [fill in their name, topic and number of minutes planned for speech]
  • 12:17pm: Speaker #2 [fill in their name, topic and number of minutes planned for speech]
  • 12:24pm: Table-Topics Leader introduces themselves & calls upon a handful of people to give 1 to 2 minute table-topic speeches
  • 12:43pm: Master Evaluator introduces themselves & the speech evaluators:
  • 12:45pm: #1 Evaluator introduces themselves and evaluates Speaker #1
  • 12:48pm: #2 Evaluator introduces themselves and evaluates Speaker #2
  • 12:51pm:  Timer does their report (recording the time of each speaker)
  • 12:52pm: Grammarian does their report (reporting on the Uhs, Ahs, Likes, Ya-Knows, etc. that each spekaer made)
  • 12:54pm:  Master Evaluator/ Closing/ Announcements

For more on Toastmasters basics, check out My First Experience With Toastmasters.

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Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

My First Experience With Toastmasters Public Speaking


Public speaking is people’s number one fear…#2 is death…as Comedian Jerry Seinfeld put it: “That means you’d rather be laying in the casket at a funeral than giving the eulogy.”

I’ve had a couple of smart friends recommend that I check out Toastmasters as a tool to sharpen my public speaking saw for a few years now…so I finally took the plunge.

I highly recommend that you try it out — you can find one of 12,000 Toastmasters locations in 130 countries. Toastmasters International is a non-profit (though they do charge you if you want to be a member) that began in Santa Ana, California in 1924.

I picked a Toastmasters club in San Francisco (there were a dozen to choose from!)…coincidentally, one of them was located in a building I used to work.

Common Questions People Have About Toastmasters Public Speaking

How much does Toastmasters cost?

You don’t need to pay anything to check it out. You can be a free guest for as long as you want which allows you to both observe others giving speeches and also give your own short speeches (I’ll explain what guests do in a moment).

If you’d like to become a member (which means you’ll receive some curriculum and the opportunity to do longer speeches (and get feedback on them), the Toastmasters dues are $20 one-time and then $27 every six months.

Do I have to give a speech at the first Toastmasters meeting?

Yes, though it’s a short one. At your first meeting, you are asked to stand up and introduce yourself and how you came about choosing Toastmasters. You will also have the option to do a Toastmasters table topics speech at your first meeting.

What is a Toastmaster table-topics speech?

A Toastmasters member at each meeting will give guests a random topic or theme for a speech (called a table-topic) and the guest is asked if he or she would like to speak about that topic right there on the spot (without preparation) for a couple of minutes. Table-topic speeches are designed to help you think on your feet — my first table-topic was a college graduation commencement speech.

What are the different Toastmaster parts/roles that people play?

  • Toastmaster — They open and close each meeting as well as introduce speakers throughout the meeting
  • Toastmaster Grammarian — They give a speech on what the Grammarian does (which is to count how many times speakers say words such as “like” or “uh”) and give a Grammarian’s Report speech of all Speakers.
  • Toastmaster Timer — They give a speech on what the Timer does and another speech on how much time each Speaker took.
  • Toastmaster Guests — They give a brief speech (standing up behind their chair) about how they learned of Toastmasters.
  • Toastmaster Speaker — They give a speech on some topic that they were given a week or two earlier.
  • Toastmaster Master Evaluator — They give a speech providing feedback on all of the speakers
  • Toastmaster Evaluator — They give a speech on the Toastmaster Speaker.

Note: Every single person in attendance at a Toastmasters meeting is asked to speak (you may decline) and every person is there to learn (there are no Toastmasters employees in attendance!).

How frequently do Toastmasters meetings take place and how long are they?

Toastmasters meetings are typically weekly for one hour. But you’re under no obligation to attend every one (I attended my first three over a two-month period (because I was traveling).

Toastmasters provides two good top 10 lists for public speakingj. Here they are:

10 Tips for Better Public Speaking

1. Know your material. Pick a topic you are interested in. Know more about it than you include in your speech. Use humor, personal stories and conversational language – that way you won’t easily forget what to say.
2. Practice. Practice. Practice! Rehearse out loud with all equipment you plan on using. Revise as necessary. Work to control filler words; Practice, pause and breathe. Practice with a timer and allow time for the unexpected.
3. Know the audience. Greet some of the audience members as they arrive. It’s easier to speak to a group of friends than to strangers.
4. Know the room. Arrive early, walk around the speaking area and practice using the microphone and any visual aids.
5. Relax. Begin by addressing the audience. It buys you time and calms your nerves. Pause, smile and count to three before saying anything. (“One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand. Pause. Begin.) Transform nervous energy into enthusiasm.
6. Visualize yourself giving your speech. Imagine yourself speaking, your voice loud, clear and confident. Visualize the audience clapping – it will boost your confidence.
7. Realize that people want you to succeed. Audiences want you to be interesting, stimulating, informative and entertaining. They’re rooting for you.
8. Don’t apologize for any nervousness or problem – the audience probably never noticed it.
9. Concentrate on the message – not the medium. Focus your attention away from your own anxieties and concentrate on your message and your audience.
10. Gain experience. Mainly, your speech should represent you – as an authority and as a person. Experience builds confidence, which is the key to effective speaking. A Toastmasters club can provide the experience you need in a safe and friendly environment.

Top 10 Public Speaking Mistakes

  1. Starting with a whimper. Don’t start with “Thank you for that kind introduction.” Start with a bang! Give the audience a startling statistic, an interesting quote, a news headline – something powerful that will get their attention immediately.’
  2. Attempting to imitate other speakers. Authenticity is lost when you aren’t yourself.
  3. Failing to “work” the room. Your audience wants to meet you. If you don’t take time to mingle before the presentation, you lose an opportunity to enhance your credibility with your listeners.
  4. Failing to use relaxation techniques. Do whatever it takes – listening to music, breathing deeply, shrugging your shoulders – to relieve nervous tension.
  5. Reading a speech word for word. This will put the audience to sleep. Instead use a “keyword” outline: Look at the keyword to prompt your thoughts. Look into the eyes of the audience, then speak.
  6. Using someone else’s stories. It’s okay to use brief quotes from other sources, but to connect with the audience, you must illustrate your most profound thoughts from your own life experiences. If you think you don’t have any interesting stories to tell, you are not looking hard enough.
  7. Speaking without passion. The more passionate you are about your topic, the more likely your audience will act on your suggestions.
  8. Ending a speech with questions and answers. Instead, tell the audience that you will take questions and then say, “We will move to our closing point.” After the Q and A, tell a story that ties in with your main theme, or summarize your key points. Conclude with a quote or call to action.
  9. Failing to prepare. Your reputation is at stake every time you face an audience – so rehearse well enough to ensure you’ll leave a good impression!
  10. Failing to recognize that speaking is an acquired skill. Effective executives learn how to present in the same way they learn to use other tools to operate their businesses.

I hope you try Toastmasters out — I’d be surprised if you didn’t find it a super-positive experience.

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Friday, June 12th, 2009

How To Communicate During Crisis


When you are in conflict- or crisis-mode, the tendency is to get emotionally charged and that sometimes leads to folks taking actions that are unhealthy for the business.

Here are four steps that I adopted from the University of Maryland’s Leadership Program to deal with communicating during crisis or conflict:

1) Separate the People from the Problem

A good communication about conflict should focus on the underlying problem (not the person).

Two examples:

” We just discovered that we did not ship out products to certain customers over the last 10 days and now sales will be down 16% this month” (good)

“George (in Shipping) slipped up and forgot to confirm that our shipping facility received our go-ahead to ship products out this month…and our sales are plummeting” (bad)

If you indeed do have a person-problem, then deal with the problem as a relationship problem by talking directly to the person you have a problem with (i.e. George)

2) Generate a Variety of Possible Solutions before Deciding What to Do

Don’t assume there is just one solution.


“After discussing this with all of you, we have two potential solutions:

  • Do nothing and just ship the customers their products late
  • Send an apology email to each customer that their shipment will be late and that they will receive a bonus product as a thank you for their patience.”

And it doesn’t have to be your solution versus your team’s solution.

3) Insist That Results Be Based On Some Objective Standard.


  • Efficiency
  • Profitability
  • Cash flow
  • Ethics

That way, you and your team can measure how you get out of the crisis/conflict.

And if you’re involved in a conflict and feeling angry about it, this Chinese Proverb has proven invaluable to many people:

“Never write when you’re angry.”

It’s better to pause, collect your thoughts first and even talk to a colleague if you can…then start writing when you’re more calm.

Your communication will now be more effective.

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Sunday, May 31st, 2009

4 Easy Steps For How to Craft an Effective Email

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If you’re like me, you craft email messages just about every day.

I’m amazed at how many poorly-written emails I see on a regular basis (and some I don’t see clearly because they’re confusing).

Here are some basic rules I try to use for every message: (I’m using the example of a hypothetical partnership with Google as the topic at hand):

1) Clear Subject Line

The purpose of the subject line is to be clear about the subject (duh) and to get the recipient to open it (if relevant to them).

Examples (using the hypothetical Google partnership topic):

“Google Partnership” (Good)

“Google Partnership Closed: Next Steps” (Better)

“Google Partnership: Your Input Needed” (Best)

2) The “Door Opener”

The opening sentence or two of the actual message should be crystal clear about what you the you want from the recipent(s).


“I would like your thoughts on section 5 of the attached contract for our Google Partnership.”

” We closed the Google partnership today — way to go, team!”

“I just got off the phone with Larry and Sergey about our deal; here are our next steps.”

3) The “Meat” of the Message

The next part of your message should include any important data or other information necessary for the recipient to be aware of.


“Attached is the language in Section 5. Are you comfortable with payment terms described in it?”

“Now that the Google partnership is closed, would you please set up the kick-off call with Sergey and Larry to get things going!?”

4) The Closer

You should close with what action you’d like the recipient to take and any timing if applicable.


“I’d appreciate your input by Friday as I have a Monday morning meeting with Google.”

“Thank you for your work on closing the Google Deal. Please put it in your calendar for July 15th to review its performance.”

“Please make sure to alert our Finance team to expect the Google wire transfer by Monday at 11am.”

If you follow these four steps for your email communication, you’ll speed things along and face fewer unpleasant surprises.

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Sunday, May 31st, 2009

"Bad News is Good News"


Here’s a valuable lesson I learned when I failed to communicate some bad news about a startup at which I was CEO.

I made a bad executive hire for a company I was leading and decided, after speaking with some advisors, to terminate the relationship with the executive.

source: Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer

source: Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer

While the decision was sound, I failed to communicate this news (which some might perceive as “bad news”) in a timely basis to one key person (an investor) who instead heard about it from one of my advisors within 24 hours.

That investor was so upset with me keeping this “bad news” from him that he called me into his office, threatened to take his investment money back and lectured me for two hours on how important it is to communicate bad news in the same way you communicate good news (quickly!).

Perception Outweighs Reality

The problem with what I had done: while my decision to dismiss the executive was sound, it was initially perceived as unsound by the investor due solely to the fact that I withheld the information from him.

Perception in this case outweighed reality.

The investor said something that afternoon: “Bad News is Good News” — it’s a weird phrase but it has stuck with me ever since.

A related excerpt from Jack Welch’s book called Winning.

Information you try to shut down will eventually get out and as it travels it will certainly morph, twist and darken. He compares it to a really bad version of the children’s game of “telephone.”

Bad news is good news (when communicated effectively)!

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Friday, May 29th, 2009

Effective Communication By Bandwidth

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Choose your communication channel wisely.

Cerner Corp. CEO Neal Patterson probably wished he had when he fired off a message to senior managers at his medical software maker berating them for their work habits.

Cerner CEO Neal Patterson's Slip on Netiquette

Cerner CEO Neal Patterson's Slip on Netiquette

Excerpts of the email include:

“The parking lot is sparsely used at 8 a.m.; likewise at 5 p.m….

…As managers — you either do not know what your EMPLOYEES are doing; or YOU do not CARE.”

“You have a problem and you will fix it or I will replace you…

…What you are doing, as managers, with this company makes me SICK.”

The e-mail promptly leaked out onto the Web. Two weeks after Mr. Patterson sent the message, Cerner stock lost more than a quarter of its value (tens of millions of dollars) after investors became concerned about the company’s prospects and employee morale.

That story reminded me that when you are communicating in business (or for any reason), that you should pick your communication medium based on the sensitivity of the topic. The higher the sensitivity, the higher the bandwidth of communication.

Here are four examples of channels of communication and their relative bandwidth

  • In-Person (highest bandwidth)  — Use this for your most sensitive topics.
  • Telephone (medium bandwidth) — Use this as a backup for sensitive topics in the event you can not meet in-person with your audience.
  • Instant Message (lower bandwidth) — Use this for lower-sensitivty topics
  • Email (lowest bandwidth) — Reserve this for your lowest-sensitivity topics (unless it’s accompanied by a higher bandwidth in-person meeting)

Amazingly, Mr. Patterson is still CEO of Cerner today (8 years after the slip-up) — my hat is off to him for surviving such a firestorm.

What a survivor! — And Cerner generated $188 million in pre-tax profit in its most recent year on sales of $1.67 billion so I imagine he is doing something right!

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