Friday, June 5, 2015

5 Simple Ways to Get Your Ideas Noticed

Everybody has a platform.

It's the new reality in media, and in life. In an average second, 6,000 tweets are posted. Over 101,000 YouTube videos are watched. Over 40,000 Google searches are queried. The days of newspapers and television newscasters monopolizing information are over.

This makes getting noticed a significant challenge.

Whether you're a blogger, broadcaster, social media marketer or just a random person that wants your idea heard, you've got to stand out from the crowd. As a radio guy, I've been facing this challenge for years. We're not just competing against other stations. We're battling against your Facebook feed for your attention. We used to be able to garner listeners by simply reporting the latest information. Now by the time we share it, you've probably already heard it. And you likely know more about it than we do.

So what's the key to ensuring your unique voice is heard above all the rest? Here's a few secrets:
  • Find your unique angle. Unless you're a professional journalist, you'll never be able to capture anyone's attention with information. Facts are readily accessible through a quick Google search. They even magically appear in your Facebook feed without any effort. Instead, focus on one simple question: What can I say about this topic that nobody else is saying? The answer is what I call your 'unique angle'. Sometimes it's counter intuitive. Other times it's unexpected. Or it could be born out of your specialized training and experience. Either way, it's got to be something that only you can offer. Otherwise, why would anyone want to listen to something they can find anywhere else? 
  • Embrace your personality. Many high school and college writing classes train you to squelch your voice. Don't get me wrong, this is an important and necessary tactic in academic writing. But sadly, many lose their personality in the process. The moment his fingers touch a keyboard, a funny guy's sarcastic wit disappears. If you want to be heard, you've got to rediscover your voice. If you're an aspiring blogger or just engaging in social media, you've got to find yourself in your writing. If you're a broadcaster, drop the formalities, get comfortable and be the unique person God designed you to be. Personality paired with unique angles are a powerful combination.
  • Economy of words. It's yet another unintended consequence of college writing. You've been asked to arbitrarily compose a ten page paper, but you've only got about five pages of things to say. So you drag out the content as much as possible with stuff that doesn't matter. I see this play out when I teach writing for radio. Great students can pound out a lengthy research paper, but they can't write a compelling paragraph. Words matter. Make them all count. And don't use any more than are absolutely necessary. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the average attention span is only 8.25 seconds. See how important words are? Get to the point quickly. If you're writing, use bullet points and bold words so readers can scan before they commit. Rather than complain about shrinking attention spans, embrace the facts and use them to your advantage.
  • Be clear. Creativity has its disadvantages. Sometimes abstract concepts and artistic explanations are downright confusing. The last thing anyone should ever ask when they're reading your post or listening to you speak is, "What are you trying to say?" Don't ever sacrifice clarity for artistry. If you can't do both simultaneously, dump the creative and be clear. Crystal clear. 
  • Tell great stories. I chuckle when people predict the death of radio. The way we listen to it may be changing, but people still consume a lot of audio. Don't believe me? The NPR podcast phenomenon "Serial" has more than 80 million downloads. This illustrates a simple truth that applies to all types of media - people love great stories. And they always will. Radio consultant Tracy Johnson says, "The ability to tell stories well is the difference between captivating an audience and putting them to sleep." Take this reality and run with it. Whether you're writing or speaking, share clear, compelling and concise stories through the unique lens of your personality and perspective. 
Digital media changed everything. If someone doesn't like your sermon, they can get a better one online. Boring blog posts are ignored. Average social media content is lost in a constant barrage of online content. Applying these simple strategies will enable you to focus your message, and rise above the rest.

I'll be discussing these and other digital messaging strategies at the upcoming "Going Digital For His Kindgom" conference series. I hope to see you there! For more information about dates, locations and registration, click here. Or just click on the "Events" tab above.

photo credit: Stand Out from The Crowd Unique Golf Tee Game September 19, 20119 via photopin (license)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

It's Not Easy Being Skinny

"Wow, you look really fat! Have you been gaining weight?"

Nobody in their right mind would dare say something like that. It's completely insensitive, socially unacceptable and rude. But for whatever reason, saying the opposite is normal. Even funny.

Public accusations about being skinny typically don't hurt my feelings. But I find the hypocritical double standard amusing. Of course, in my case it's not an issue of being exceptionally thin. I just avoid flexing because it's annoying to constantly rip through shirts with my enormous muscles.

Anyway, I'm thinking it's about time to put an end to skinny shaming. Not everyone out there with high metabolism like me is trying to mask bulging biceps. They actually have feelings. And you taking time to loudly criticize their physique is embarrassing and offensive. And just like not all overweight people have a glandular problem, not all skinny people have an eating disorder. Some are just more slender than the average bear, and can't do anything about it.

In fact, If I could gain some weight I'd gladly do so. But for whatever reason, eating massive quantities of food has absolutely no effect on my weight. Neither does pairing that high calorie consumption with a notably sedentary, yet oddly compelling lifestyle.

In the midst of society ridiculing and chastising the slender, they fail to realize that life isn't all sunshine and roses for us. Being lanky comes with a long list of challenges and frustrations. Here's a few of them:
  • Wearing pants. While some have trouble getting pants over their hips, we have trouble keeping them on because we don't have any hips. Without a belt, things get interesting in public. 
  • Sitting on chairs without cushions. Enjoy watching a game in the bleachers? How about sitting in that folding chair in the church basement? Or in a desk at school? For us, these activities are basically medieval torture. We're not fidgeting because we're hyperactive. We're constantly moving because there isn't any padding on these surfaces. Or anywhere else. 
  • Laying on the ground. This is similar to sitting in chairs, only spread the pain across your entire body. That's why the scrawny kid at sleepovers doesn't sleep a wink. And why camping without an air mattress is like laying on a bed of nails.
  • Staying warm. Those of you with extra cushion have no idea how spoiled you are in the winter. You're able to wear polo shirts to work without any difficulty, and you might even sweat a little bit. Meanwhile, I'm wearing long underwear and about three more layers and I'm still shivering. Then in the summertime, you crank up the air conditioning and I freeze to death. I'm not wearing a coat indoors in August because it's stylish. I'm desperately trying to prevent hypothermia. 
  • Buying shirts. If it weren't for "slim fit", I'd look like I'm drowning in a parachute. And trying to tuck it in just makes matters worse. At least those on the other end of the spectrum get big and tall stores. We don't have that luxury.   
As you can see, being skinny isn't as great as everybody assumes. Hopefully my lighthearted highlights of our peculiar struggles were at least moderately enjoyable. And perhaps they'll gently point a finger at one of society's largely unrecognized hypocritical double standards. 

photo credit: Levi's 510 Super Skinny Jeans, 2/2015, by Mike Mozart of TheToyChannel and JeepersMedia on YouTube #Levi #Skinny #Jeans via photopin (license)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Proof that My Kids are Funnier than Yours

Kids are innocently hilarious.

It's not that they tell clever jokes or trade witty barbs. Instead, little kids say things that make us laugh without having any clue what just happened. They're completely oblivious, yet pleasantly surprised that we find them entertaining.

Although many find it odd, having five kids has its advantages. First of all, it's free entertainment. With that many little ones running around, something hilarious happens on a daily basis. Secondly, higher numbers creates natural anonymity. I can tell stories about them, and you'll never really know which one did it. So basically, they can't get mad at me later in life for writing this post.

With that in mind, here's a few unintentionally clever, witty, funny and awkward things my kids actually said:
  • Grandma's Hair. On a lazy afternoon, one of the kids was sitting on my mom's lap. He looked up at her, touched her hair and said, "Grandma, your hair is so soft! Just like dog poop."
  • Stuck in Traffic. I'd love to meet the genius who decided it was a good idea for all of the major expressways in Chicago to converge in one place. This epically awful design ensures that you'll encounter traffic jams at frequent yet unpredictable times. After a long day away from home, we found ourselves completely stopped in traffic on a Saturday afternoon. Exasperated, one of the kids yelled from the back of the van, "We're going as fast as a cheetah with all four legs broken!"
  • A Church Greeting. It was palm Sunday. Even though I question the wisdom of this decision every year, all of the kids received palm branches in Sunday school. Naturally, my toddler decided it would be fun to hit people in the face with it. Then, he creatively revised what he learned about Palm Sunday in class. He jammed the palm branch into my face and yelled, "Hosanna in your face!"
  • Understanding Retirement. My father-in-law retired after a long and distinguished career in law enforcement. Since they've never really worked a day in their lives, kids don't quite grasp the concept of 'retirement'. In an effort to learn more, one of the kids asked, "Hey Papa! Why did you stop working? Because you were scared of the bad guys?"
  • Don't Worry, Dad. Every summer, we spend a long weekend in rural Wisconsin with another large family. The kids decided it would be fun to make some silly videos on an iPod Touch. My son co-starred in one short film with an enormous pile of horse manure. It featured him jumping as high as he could, and forcefully landing right in the middle of that fresh pile of horse poop. Upon viewing the video, I expressed how incredibly gross this was. In an effort to make me feel better, he said, "Don't worry dad! I was wearing sandals!" 
  • Deep Thoughts. Kids love to ask hard questions. And trying to explain the laws of physics or finer points of theology to a toddler can be a challenging task. But every once in a while, I'll get a deep philosophical question that defies explanation. For example, one of my boys asked, "Why do we call it a 'pair' of underwear when it's only one?" That kid is clearly a deep thinker.
  • The Grinch. It drives most adults completely insane. For whatever reason, little kids fixate on one particular movie or TV show. For one of my sons, it's the newest version of "The Grinch" starring Jim Carrey. I'm pretty sure that kid has seen it about two hundred times. Unfortunately, his passion for the film began when he was still developing his ability to properly pronounce certain letters and syllables. His version didn't sound anything like "The Grinch". First of all, he dropped "The" from the title. Then, unable to form the "Gr" sound, he changed it to a "B". And that pesky "n" was too hard to say, so he just made it silent. Take a moment to process that. Then you'll understand why it was slightly embarrassing for our kid to loudly request that movie in various settings on a daily basis for months.
  • Feeling Old. I'm sure you don't feel very old. But a little perspective from some children will fix that for you. One day, the kids were quizzing us about our childhood. In the midst at marveling at life without cell phones and Netflix, my daughter asked, "What was it like living in the 1900's?" Ouch. 
  • The Baby Announcement. The moment of truth finally arrived. With four kids in the family, our ratio of boys to girls was equal. And both sides wanted baby number five to break the tie in their favor. When an ultrasound revealed the answer, we went home to tell the kids. Like any good parent with a smartphone, I decided to film the response. And it was epically amazing. [Can't see the video? Watch it here.] 

     Even though some pretend it isn't, parenting is a significant challenge. We've had our fair share of headaches and trials. But thankfully, God provides stories like these to keep us laughing for years.

    What's your funny kid story?

    Friday, April 3, 2015

    How Not to Do a "Smash and Grab"

    Does this actually happen to real people?

    That was one of my first thoughts. Sure, I'd seen it in movies plenty of times. Some suave criminal quietly breaks into a car, connects a few wires and drives away. In a matter of moments, they've got a new sports car. But who in the world would want to steal my twelve passenger van? A struggling airport shuttle business? A horrifically corrupt church? A huge nerd that thinks it's cool to drive around in a massive van? 

    Whatever the reason, somebody stole my van. My enormous, industrial, kid-moving machine. And they stole it right in front of my house while we were sleeping.

    At least I know they didn't go hungry. There were enough crumbs on the seats to feed a small family. And if they brought kids along for this heinous crime, there were plenty of car seat options. Maybe even a few diapers (Although I can't promise any were clean).

    Either way, it was a comically miserable experience. And what actually happened to my van is a tragically stupid story. 

    After eleven days of insurance agents, tears and paperwork, we thought it was gone for good. Then my phone rang. It was a police officer from Normal, Illinois. He calmly and carefully explained that my van was "used in a crime."

    What!? Used in a crime?!

    A group of bumbling criminals in his city decided it was time to try one of those "smash and grab" maneuvers. Their search for the perfect battering ram brought them to my front door. Why drive over two hours to Chicago just to steal a van? Likely to separate the two crimes to avoid suspicion. At least that move was moderately intelligent.

    "Smash and grabs" normally make headlines, but you won't find my van in any articles or videos online. Why? After stopping for some fast food and disposing of all three back seat benches, they were ready to steal stuff from a Sprint cell phone store. Then, poor planning or sheer incompetence took over. They turned around, threw it in reverse, and backed into the building. After multiple attempts, these geniuses only managed to smash through the first set of doors. They were soundly defeated by the second set of doors. So they left. With nothing.

    Now, I'm glad for the Sprint store that nothing was stolen. But is it terrible of me to be disappointed? I mean, if you're going to steal my van, couldn't you at least use it correctly in the crime?

    Anyway, having failed miserably, they drove it to a nice residential neighborhood and parked in front of someone's house. And there my van sat for about a week with no license plates, smashed windows and tons of body damage. Apparently it took the people living on this street about a week to decide it was worth calling the police about a "suspicious vehicle". Thank you, citizens of Normal, for using my van to make your city name ironic.

    In the end, we settled with the insurance company and got another van. We also had DNA swabs and fingerprints taken so evidence from the old van could be processed (Admittedly, that part was kind of fun). And now, I've taken steps to simultaneously increase my coolness and our vehicle's security. You know that amazing chirping sound sports cars make when the security system is armed? My new van does that. Plus, I bought "The Club". Yes, that cheesy 1980's steering wheel lock still exists. Mine is an intimidatingly bright yellow color. I'm also considering installing a framed picture of my biceps on the dash.

    Good luck stealing my van now, criminals.

    Saturday, March 28, 2015

    New Conference Speaking Opportunity

    For whatever reason, it seems like Christians are always about 10 years behind everyone else.

    It wasn't always like this. Throughout history, followers of Jesus have been on the front lines of cultural advancement. Churches during the Renaissance commissioned some of the greatest works of art the world has ever seen. Luther's ideas rapidly spread throughout Europe with the help of the printing press. Christians were among the early adopters and innovators of radio in the 1920's. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ended centuries of legalized oppression through innovative non-violent protests, paired with print, radio and television media.
    As a former history teacher, I love those stories. As a professional communicator, I'm inspired by them.

    Whether serious or silly, I'm passionate about helping people see today's issues in a new way through the lens of faith. I'm also a strong advocate for creating a personal platform so everyday people can harness the power of social media to share compelling ideas, and develop deeper connections.

    Now more than ever, followers of Jesus need to enter the digital space with creativity, innovation and strategy. Pastors and churches have the opportunity to make a larger impact than ever before. That's why I'm excited to join a team of talented speakers for the 2015 "Going Digital For His Kingdom" conference series!

    I'll be speaking at four separate events around the country in 2015. If you're in Cleveland, Dallas, Tampa or Boston, please encourage leaders in your church to attend. 

    I also ask that you'd pray for me as I seek God's direction for my participation in these events. May God receive all the glory.

    For more information about the conference, click here.

    For details about where and when I'll be speaking, check out my new "Events" tab. Or just click here.

    And don't forget to sign-up for my email list! It's completely free, and I won't bombard you with emails or share your information with anyone. Click on the "Sign Up" tab, or just click here

    Monday, March 23, 2015

    The Secret to an Interesting Life

    Everybody loves secrets.

    Not just any kind of secret. People love juicy secrets. The ones that make you gasp in disbelief, and then run to tell someone else anyway. But we can't be too quick to dismiss the simplistic, boring truths that go largely unnoticed. They count as secrets too, since most people don't recognize them.

    In this case, the secret to an interesting life isn't all that complicated. What is it?

    Presume you might be wrong about everything.

    I've found it's ultimately a waste of time to spend energy defending entrenched positions. That doesn't mean I don't have strongly held convictions. The opposite is true. But I've discovered that it's relationally destructive to argue with someone in an effort to change their mind. Long term relationships are more valuable than winning a particular debate. And over time, trusted friends will not only listen to your beliefs, but they'll actually want to hear them.

    Admittedly, entering a conversation presuming I could be wrong isn't comfortable. At all. My ego would rather confidently share answers than listen to diverse ideas. So, if you're interested in joining me on this journey toward a more interesting life, here's some basic strategies:

    • Don't equate disagreement with stupidity. If I admit I've done it, would you? We all too often assume that somebody holds a different position because they're uneducated. Or because they have wrong information. Or because they're just plain dumb. But if you step back a bit, you'll realize that this practice is arrogant, rude and easy to spot. Plus - what if you're the one who's wrong?
    • Be like Socrates. He wasn't considered wise because he knew a lot of things. Socrates loved to ask questions. Rather than defend ideas, he pursued understand through thoughtful inquiry. This approach has added benefits. When you ask questions, people feel heard and appreciated. That goes a long way toward building respect and trust.  
    • Actually listen. If you're like me, listening is a challenge. When you're talking, I'm probably formulating my next response. That's why I'm constantly reminding myself that listening means hearing. And hearing leads to understanding. None of those things can be accomplished if you're drowning out the words of others with your own thoughts.
    • Swallow your pride. Contrary to popular belief, wisdom and knowledge are completely different. Knowledge is pretty straight forward. It's all the stuff you know. But wisdom is counter-intuitive, because the wise deeply understand how much they don't know. That's why God said humility is the result of wisdom. That means it would actually be wise to approach a conversation with enough humility to admit that you might be wrong. 
    • Get Curious. Kids are insatiably curious. But for whatever reason, curiosity gets lost when you become an adult. So what would curiosity look like if we didn't lose it with age? Expressing genuine interest in someone else's ideas. Most people fake interest with polite smiles and nods. Meanwhile, internal dialogue says things like "Will this person ever stop talking?" or "Where in the world do they come up with this stuff?" Unless you think you're the greatest thing since sliced bread, a little curiosity might do you some good. If you're not careful, you might even learn something.
    • Be 'Likeable'. In radio and television, hosts strive for something called "likeability". It's that overall sum of personality qualities that makes someone say, "I like that guy!" Looking for an example? Jimmy Fallon is likeability personified. People love him because he's fun. He lets others shine. He's confidently awkward and genuinely humble. He's not afraid to look foolish, and enjoys being around others. Want an interesting life? Try to increase your likeability. And don't forget that nobody likes someone who thinks they're right about everything.

      The older I get, the less I know. Sounds strange, but it's true. Maturity brings the humbling realization that life is more complicated than originally thought. As a result, debates have lost their luster. So I'm journeying toward what seems to be a more interesting life. It starts with presuming I might be wrong, and you might be right. Care to join me?

        photo credit: Някак си все повече ме кефи да се използва #Google+ за блогване :-) [link] via photopin (license)

        Friday, March 6, 2015

        The Idol You Don't Know You're Worshiping

        What's your secret sin?

        Everybody has one. It's that part of your life where depravity seems to have the strongest grip. Most don't fight the kind of sin that's evident to the world around them. It's the internal battles with things like gossip and lust that consume the average Christian. But even worse are those sins that we're either unaware of, or are unwilling to acknowledge. In fact, I've come to realize that American followers of Jesus collectively suffer from one particularly destructive sin that has gone largely unrecognized. What is it?

        The idolatry of politics.

        God is supposed to be our first intellectual stop in life. He's our focal point of truth and direction. So anything that supplants His primary position is considered an idol. Far too often, I see followers of Jesus in America allowing partisan politics to shape their view of the world. God has been relegated exclusively to their spiritual lives, while they inadvertently shut Him out of their cultural, intellectual and interpersonal existence.

        Don't believe me? Here's the primary symptoms that illustrate how politics has become an idol for many Christians today: 
        • The disposition of political opponents. In politics, the other party is your enemy. Your job is to defeat them. Even despise them. In the Christian faith, you're supposed to love your enemy. See the problem here? If you spend time demonizing your political opponents online or in conversation, you're not following Jesus. You're following your idol. 
        • The oversimplification of complex issues. Lots of organizations make it easier for us to vote. They create simple charts that enable everyone to quickly determine whether a candidate is "for" or "against" an issue. Since this is so convenient, many have decided to transfer the concept to faith. They've awkwardly squeezed the omniscience of God into a cute little political checklist. Just like many political issues are much more complicated than we'd like to admit, God is much bigger than we care to acknowledge. So let's stop oversimplifying the Creator of the universe, who reminded us that "...Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me?"
        • The wrong source for cultural analysis. If someone has questions about prayer, they turn to God. The afterlife? Same thing. But if an African American teenager gets shot in Ferguson, Missouri, they run to Bill O'Reilly or Bill Maher. As I've written before, this is unwise at best. We end up looking inconsistent and strange when we post a Bible verse on Facebook in the morning, followed by hate-filled partisan political rhetoric in the afternoon. Whether we like it or not, we cannot compartmentalize loving our neighbor. Particularly in the midst of contentious cultural issues.
        • The political litmus test for faith. Somehow, many Christians have decided that there's one particular political party that's inherently more Christian than another. In essence, they believe that if someone isn't affiliated with their favorite party, their eternal salvation is probably in jeopardy. This is absolute foolishness. A broad examination of Biblical principles would take you across both sides of the aisle, and into many third parties. And the opposite concept is also true. All political parties fall short of God's standards, just like we do.
        • The means of societal change. It's an idea that looks good on the surface. Armed with good intentions, many Christians have tried to change America by legislating Biblical morality. They hope to compel conformity with the rule of law. Unfortunately, this is a short sighted approach. It neglects that essential problem solving question everyone must ask - "Then what?" For example, let's just say you could pass every faith-based bill of your dreams. Then what? Would people instantly start following Jesus? I doubt it. Laws don't change hearts or make disciples. God does. Through you.
          Watch the news. Listen to your favorite talk radio program. Make educated decisions in the voting booth. Stand firm on Biblical truth. But stop making politics your idol. This sin is hurting others, misrepresenting the Gospel, and probably keeping others from Christ.

          Just seek to follow Jesus and love your neighbor, with a generous dose of humility.

          photo credit: DSC_0097 via photopin (license)