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So You Want To Get A Standing Desk? Here’s How I Did It

So you’re looking at standing desks. You think they’ll be better for you and your posture. I’ve been doing this (off and on) for two years. When I wrote my first post about standing desks, I was using a very stock solution from Ikea. They don’t even have those desks for sale anymore.

Eventually though, I needed more space and opted for a sit down desk that could be converted later to a stand up one (also, that other desk was crap). So I’ve been sitting since I moved to my new place this spring. After seeing this post from Lifehacker yesterday, I decided to adjust the desk back up to standing height. You can see what my workstation looks like to the right (I did not clean, nor do any ultra-retentive cable management obviously).

Before I tell you how to do this, a couple fair warnings about standing desks:

You look like a dweebus

There is no way to make this look semi-cool. I saw the ultra-premium desks and they look fine until you put them in an office with a bunch of people sitting and you’re standing around all day.

I don’t care. I work from home. But you aren’t going to ever look cool doing this. That’s fine, right? Of course! Until…

Your feet, legs, back and whatever else suck

Don’t tell me how great of shape you’re in. Do you stand for 8–10 hours a day right now? No? Then prepare to feel the pain. Standing all day is different than running, walking or lifting. I’m not saying more difficult, I’m saying different. A couple things will help:

  1. A stool. You can get a barstool or whatever. But you’ll need it. Especially initially. Don’t listen to all of the people that say stools will make your adoption slower. I can’t confirm it but I think anyone who says they didn’t use a stool to start off with is lying. Get something that might not be the most comfortable if that will help you stay on your feet.
  2. Good shoes. Again, you’re going to look like a dweebus. Comfortable shoes are a necessity. Everything starts in the feet.
  3. Get a comfort/anti-fatigue mat. You can get these all over the place. WIll help add a couple hours to your standing almost immediately.

Working and typing is going to be slow going for awhile

I write a lot of words a day and every time I come back to standing, I forget how to type. If you’re a touch-typer, it will take a little while to adjust to typing on your feet. But you will get used to it. That being said, sometimes it is hard to concentrate while standing (especially by the end of the day). So save your big pieces of writing for a block of time and if you are tired of standing, grab that stool and slam through the more intensive stuff.

It takes time to adjust

Like anything else, the change doesn’t happen overnight. When you’ve been sitting and typing for over a decade, you’re not going to beat that in a day. That being said, paying attention to where your monitor is at (your eyes should naturally meet the screen at about a third down drom the top), where your keyboard is at (your arms should hang to the side in a nice relaxed posture with your elbows at about 90 degrees) and your back (stand straight!) will help again.

And get an adjustable desk, not a standing-only one

Convertible desks are super duper easy to get or make. I sat at this desk for about three months before I jacked it up to height. And if I get tired of it, I can put it back down in about 20 minutes. And there are a lot of contraptions that you can put on your existing desk to convert it to standing that you can take down later.

So how did I make this thing?

I mentioned I got my old one at Ikea. Well, it wasn’t exactly the best or most stylish (even for a dorky desk). Plus, I converted to two monitors and needed extra space.

I still went to Ikea though when I built this second desk. I took a more industrial route in making this (though, in reality, it wasn’t that much more difficult than putting together some of the impossible things Ikea makes). It turned out a better quality, huge desk for nearly the same price. Here are the ingredients:

Drill the legs into the table (you may need to get some 3/4″ wood screws rather than the ones that come with it). The screws they provide kind of suck, even with the pre-drilled holes. Then adjust the height of the desk to what you want. After that, attach the Capita legs to the bottom of the shelf (I came in 8 inches on both sides so I didn’t have to get a support leg). Add in the bar stool and boom: your own simple, convertible standing desk for about $200.

I love the look and feel of it and it is sturdy enough to lay on if you wanted to. I’m going to stain it but even a pretty simple oil treatment is fine. I like the butcher block looking top. But the great thing is, there are all kinds of table tops, leg configurations and shelves you can add to it to make it work the way you want. If you go with adjustable legs though, you’ll be able to go back to sitting if you’ve decided standing is not for you (and have a pretty nice desk to boot).

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Can’t We All Just Get Along? No. No We Can’t.

No, we don’t have to agree. In fact, that’s part of the problem.

One of the more obnoxious things that has come out of the last decade plus of my political awareness has been the not-so-subtle divide in political beliefs. It’s getting worse, not better. And it feels like it is also invading our personal lives as well. Brinksmanship isn’t just something you do with a tax cut, judicial appointment or debt ceiling in the halls of Congress. It’s the 4th of July family picnic. It’s online and offline conversations with friends.

The crazy part is that, somehow, this all comes back to just getting with one another.

Let’s put aside our differences you guys! We can make it work! Really!

That’s not how it works in real life.

Here’s what I do know: you don’t have to like the people you work with (or are related to), you don’t have to love your job (or going to family functions) and you can still be good at it.

I had two peer-level managers who were at each other’s neck constantly. They were both top performers in tough to fill positions so the company did everything they could to get these two to get along with one another. When company-initiated meetings didn’t work, they brought in an outsider they hoped could counsel them and get them to get along.

Let’s cut about five more iterations and hundreds of hours of painful meetings out of this story: none of it worked. As far as I know, they’re still at each other’s throats.

What everybody ignored (including myself) is that they did their jobs well. When they needed to work together, they did so. Projects that required both of their efforts came in on-time and on-budget.

We focused on the wrong things and asked the wrong questions. We focused on their disagreeable nature, not how they accomplished their work. We asked them what they needed from the other in order to get along, not how we could better get them to work together when it counted.

We’ve made a grave mistake of equating getting along with one another to doing great work together. And that’s warped our sense of entitlement about our politics, our workplaces and our lives in general. We feel we shouldn’t need to work with people we can’t get along with and we can’t do great work unless we can get along with everyone. The problem isn’t that we can’t get along or that we disagree, it’s that we can’t get past that sense of entitlement that tells us we shouldn’t feel uncomfortable, angry, suspicious or disagreeable. Ever.

So no. No, we all just can’t get along. But guess what? You still have to go to work next week, you still need to keep in touch with your siblings and you can definitely demand that your politicians should do the same.

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The LA Riots And How Sports Can Help Understand The World Beyond It

I remember the LA riots but I shouldn’t.

I was 10 when the riots happened 20 years ago and I lived another world away in Portland. Other events from that time are a bit hazy (the first Gulf War, my parent’s divorce) but I remember the LA riots for some reason.

Why? Sports. Specifically, my Portland Trail Blazers were playing the hated Los Angeles Lakers the night the riots broke out.

Arash Markazi at ESPN has a great breakdown of its impact on the Lakers and Clippers.

But for me at least, it helped underscore the way sports can help people understand the world, current events and even some of the workplace lessons I’ve talked about here.

I was barely aware of what happened to Rodney King or the ensuing trial. I didn’t even have any real concept of what race meant or why people would be upset about the outcome until much later. But in a series where the Blazers had won two games and the Lakers (without Magic Johnson, due to him retiring that year because of HIV) were facing a must-win situation, the commentators pre-game were talking about what was going on outside of the arena.

They cut to a blimp shot. You see the lights from the Forum and you see it pan toward emergency lights, smoke, fire and people out in the street. It seemed close. And while it was still somewhat light when the game started, the night grew darker and darker and the fires seemed to grow brighter along with the amount of emergency lights every time they cut back to the shot.

I don’t know how my dad explained it to me. To be completely honest, I had no perspective to base it on so I doubt I would have understood it. I lived in a place where there weren’t many people from different races. My idea of other races came from a teacher who looked different from me, a couple of classmates and from following the NBA. Even if I had that perspective, I was still 10. Understanding wouldn’t come until later.

Still, there was something surreal about watching the game. From the announcers continuing to make references to it, to fans leaving midway through an elimination game that went down to the wire in overtime. I still remember seeing those empty, ugly orange seats dotting the landscape of the arena while the minutes ticked off the close of a back and forth battle.

Why are people leaving? Don’t they realize that if the Lakers lose, they are done for the season?

I didn’t understand. I may have guessed that whatever was going on outside of the arena was important, but I didn’t know it the same way I knew this game. I knew if I was at a game like this and my team were on the brink of elimination in the playoffs, you’d have to drag me out of there kicking and screaming.

But then I realized something: it must be important. If people are leaving because of what is going on outside, it must be really scary. Or something. And while Laker fans aren’t exactly the model game day fans, they certainly had to understand the importance of the game and chose to leave instead.

Whatever was going on had to be important. I didn’t know why but it had to be.

The Lakers opted to move game 4 to Las Vegas due to their proximity to the ongoing activities and summarily lost badly. Meanwhile, the Blazers made a long run to the finals where they lost to Jordan’s Bulls in six.

As I learned more about the riots, about Rodney King and Reginald Denny, the LAPD and the trial in Simi Valley, and about race in south LA, I was interested in all of it. I wondered what went through the minds of people who left before overtime started. Something trumped sports for those people that night. And on the most important night of that season, people vanished into the night to confront something beyond sport.

I won’t pretend to know all of the issues that erupted that night in LA but that night, sports opened up the world beyond just basketball. If you’re willing to look beyond the superficiality of the game itself, there are a lot of interesting issues that it can bring up. Whether it be HIV, race, feminism, fairness, leadership or compensation, sports can be a powerful storytelling device. When it doesn’t devolve into meaningless clichés or played out story lines, it can transcend the sport itself.

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Break Your Routines

My wife and I are moving again.

This time, it’s not very far. About 5 miles from where we live, to a better neighborhood that’s closer to my wife’s work. We’re excited to move out of our small, outdated apartment into a newer townhouse with a garage, lawn and patio. Not to mention a gas stove because a year of trying to cook on standard electric burners has left me exasperated and feeling like I had the ultimate first world problem.

I’ve moved six times in eight years. I was pretty sure that was a huge number until my buddy George LaRocque told me he moved five times in eight years (and he has kids, we don’t). Okay, fine. You beat me, George.

Still, moving that much doesn’t leave much accumulation of stuff. We have about six totes worth of personal keepsakes that we don’t use on a daily basis (including things like holiday decorations, nice dinnerware, family heirlooms and the like). Everything else is pretty much what we use. And I get rather irritable if we have too much stuff and end up making a couple of trips to charities each year or passing down to families and friends.

A certain part of me likes moving. I’m restless. I like new spaces. The other part of me likes things to stay the same, in a predictable routine. I know I feel healthier and better balanced in a routine.

Whatever. Break that routine.

I worked with a guy who advocated taking a different route home from work every once in a while. Just that sort of subtle routine shift can help make you think outside of that normal routine. I think of the many times I sat on Highway 217 in traffic every single day instead of thinking about different ways I could come back home. Sure, it could have cost an extra few minutes. And it would have meant I couldn’t zonk out to more sports radio since I had pretty much memorized the pace and flow of rush hour traffic.

And now with so much of my day scheduled and sort of regimented, breaking that routine has become more essential. Taking a walk, or following up with someone I was putting off, or even washing dishes can help shift to something I wouldn’t normally do during that time.

You don’t have to move every year or two but you have to be willing to break your routines. Whatever excuses you have for not doing it aren’t good enough.

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The Beauty Of Imbalance

Anyone can give a balanced opinion on any matter. Research the different sides of an issue and then present all of those different sides in an intelligent manner. It’s not always easy to do but executing on it isn’t a problem if you know how to properly research and write. If you are unsure, you can have multiple people look at it to make sure you have balanced the issues correctly.

Of course, the idea of fair and balanced is rightly mocked when it clearly isn’t so but even truly balancing the issues leaves something to be desired.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve walked into a meeting with a person who presents me with all of the facts of the situation (something I already knew) as well as the possible solutions (something I could have deducted) and considers that a meaningful contribution. When pressed for an opinion, they state the fact that there are some great options available and that their are strengths and weaknesses to each one.

I’ve also worked with people who expected that role of balancer to be filled by the HR person. Some thought I was supposed to facilitate discussion, make sure every viewpoint was heard and help balance out the conversation.

That’s bullshit.

I will not make sure every dumb viewpoint is heard for the sake of being heard. I will not give equal weight to the wrong decision as I would the right one. HR isn’t Switzerland. It isn’t Geneva. This isn’t a court of law. And try as you might, HR will never ever truly be that anyway.

So what do you do? You try to be fair. You try to not bend over backwards for assholes who try to take advantage of your fairness. You try to follow a smart process. You try not be handcuffed by that process. You try to follow the advice of your boss. You try to keep your job. You try to be considerate of people’s privacy. You try to carry out thorough investigations. You try to detect lies. You try to remember you aren’t a mind reader.

Here’s what you don’t try to do: You don’t try to be right. You make the right decision. Every time. And when you make the wrong decision, you correct it. And when it isn’t your decision to make, you let the decision maker know exactly where you stand on it.

Maybe a fair process isn’t mutually exclusive of a right decision all of the time. But when the choice is between either handcuffing yourself to a process or making the right decision, you have to remember what is important.

You aren’t a neutral party. Be opinionated, be imbalanced and be right.

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Finding Your Writing Voice: One Tip From A Non-Expert

Last week, I wrote a blog post that was almost 2,000 words long. That’s not that exceptional. What’s surprising is that I sat down and wrote the entire piece in about 90 minutes.

The fact of the matter is, I spent a ton of time on that post. Reading (and re-reading) material about the subject, thinking about it, thinking about my approach and then thinking about the key points I wanted to cover.

I’m not the quickest thinker in the world. It means I’m not the greatest conversationalist in the world, nor am I prone to amaze you in a casual conversation. And please, I’m not fishing for compliments or having a fit of false modesty. I’m not above being egotistical here but even I know my personal limits.

Luckily this piece isn’t going to be 2,000 words, though. The advice I have today is pretty simple:

[green_box]Finding your writing voice isn’t some existential journey. For me, it was about writing. A lot. All of the time. For years. Until I was tired enough where the only way I could write was the way I write.[/green_box]

It’s easily panned advice, akin to “act naturally.”

But the process of making that leap was actually fairly important for me because it meant I spent a lot less time trying to translate what I was thinking to what I was writing. If you give me a topic that I know well, or can research well enough, and ask me to write something about it, I can do it in fairly quick time. It’s not automatic but the process is smoother. If I know what I want to write, I sit down and do it in a sitting. Usually less than an hour or two.

That’s not to say that if your natural style is littered with typos and grammar errors, you should be content with that. I’ve tried hard to eliminate spelling and grammar issues, though I have my own personal challenges. That’s also not to say that your writing style can’t improve (albeit, slowly, especially in the beginning). The important part was stripping my writing down to its foundations, finding what’s working for me and what wasn’t and starting to make incremental improvements on my style and mechanics from there.

The problem, at least for me, was that it took me basically taking everything I learned in formal writing for business and killing it word by word. And for people who have spent their entire career writing in a specific way to a specific audience, that becomes the barrier to you finding your own voice.

If there is a shortcut, I wish you would have told me that five years ago. I don’t think there is though. You wrote your way into those habits, you’re going to have to write yourself out of them.

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Politics and the Internet

Do you remember the website LiveJournal? It was one of the first social networking sites (pre-MySpace and Friendster) and it was built around blogging. You could friend, unfriend, and there were larger communities of people with similar interests. If that sounds familiar, that’s because most of the conventions of social networking have been around for a long time.

I got into LiveJournal in 2002 via an invite (sound familiar, Google+?). In addition to personal blog posts, I also posted (a lot) about politics. And in doing that, I eventually became the moderator of the largest conservative political community on LiveJournal for a couple years (basically 2004–2005). That’s a bit entertaining for a couple of reasons. For one, while I was definitely heavily conservative leaning back then, I was probably in the bottom 25 percentile in comparison to most of the members. Another point was that I let anyone of any political persuasion post assuming they followed some basic guidelines (including that it was about conservative politics or thought).

This led to some rancorous posts. Hundreds of comments were typical. Name calling, trolling, baiting… it all happened there. And in the context of the relatively new Iraq war and a Bush re-election, it led a lot of people to lose their minds in this public forum. I (mostly) watched detached from the discussions going on and eventually moved on when I found a job and a more productive outlet for my energy (mainly this blog).

I only give you this history because the current debt crisis is the latest political issue to infect my social networks and I’ve generally made a pretty easy to follow rule: if you want to talk politics or religion, I generally won’t do it over the internet (or any written form). Why?

  • I observed people with unlimited character lengths not be able to fully explain the nuance of their political position. Twitter is the equivalent of pulling bumper stickers out of a drawer to have a political debate. It may be clever or make you laugh but the depth there is zilch.
  • People lose track of the fact that you’re a real person on the internet. When we’re in person, we often assume the best of people but looking at the black and white of text on a computer illicits the opposite effect. The internet robs us of some of that humanity and compassion.
  • There are no winners and losers in internet debates. Everyone usually loses because they spent time and emotional energy on something that could have been better used elsewhere. Nobody changes their mind on a major issue due to an internet debate. It takes time and humility to accept you may be wrong about an important issue. Notice neither one of those is someone typing in all caps in response to a posting they made.
  • Social media has become the e-mail forwards of yesterday. The amount of incomplete, out of context or simply untrue statements circulating is simply astounding. “I saw something on Facebook that said…” is the new “I got a forward from my crazy uncle that said…”

The fact is, writing about politics in a compelling, smart way takes a lot of practice just like anything else. So when I see the amateur stuff I see from social media acquaintances, I cringe a bit. And you can bet that a bunch of other people feel the same way too. It isn’t like this is new either. It has been going on since the dial-in BBS days too and certainly in all of my experience as being on the front lines of this phenomenon. The conversations haven’t improved or changed.

While I do think HR people should be more politically involved, it doesn’t mean you have to do it like an amateur on the internet. Here are three better ways to be involved:

  1. Be educated. Take in information from different sources and consider alternatives.
  2. Have discussions in person with people you know. Be patient and empathetic.
  3. Have a relationship with your political representatives. Give them feedback and get to know their aides.

I can tell you almost universally that arguing on the internet is a big fat waste of time. And when you add in the character restrictions of Twitter and Facebook, you just add fuel to the fire.

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Leaving Portland

That pretty much says it all.

My wife got a new job in the Seattle area. And while Seattle isn’t far away, it’s still a move.

I remember when this would have been a bigger stress. If she wanted to move, it would mean I had to find a new job or at best, transfer to the new location. It could mean less money (or no money). It could mean waiting in our old location until the right position came along. Wondering whether I should tell my boss until I’m ready to move. Or putting additional stress on a new job knowing that your spouse sacrificed to get you to it.

Instead, I told my boss casually. Because the biggest pain in all of this will be packing the boxes and transferring my internet to a new location. I’ll continue working as I have.

That’s not to brag either but that’s the reality. There is no way to do the wine business my wife is in remotely. We’ve done Walla Walla, WA, Portland, OR and now Seattle, WA. Next it could be Prosser, WA, Napa, CA or Elmira, NY. For the spouses of those people, that means one of two things: you have a job that travels or you limit your spouse’s mobility. We’ve been able to avoid the latter so far.

Enjoying the work I’ve been doing has been great but being able to do it without regard for where I’m at has made it game changer. If I was in a traditional HR or recruiting role in Portland and my wife got the job offer, there would be more handwringing over the decision.

Now? I worry about maintaining connections with friends and family here and making connections in our new city. That’s a lot easier to do when the rest of your stuff is in order.

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An Entrepreneur’s Legacy

“Hey Lance, do you have a moment?”

It was my friend Chad Kreutz. We’ve known each other for five and a half years, been good friends for most of that time and he recently moved down to Portland to take a job. We started working at the same company, QualitySmith (then RBS Interactive), within a couple of days of each other back in 2005.

I had just dropped off my wife at work and was heading back home. I had messaged him about some Blazers tickets earlier that week so I had suspected it might be about that.

“I have some sad news out of Walla Walla today. Are you sitting down?”

Am I sitting down? This call wasn’t about Blazer tickets.

“Rob passed away yesterday.”

* * * * *

I had known about Walla Walla for most of my life. My dad and step-mom were both born and raised there. My grandparents were from there too. My dad relocated to the Portland area in high school but after my parents divorce in the late 80’s, he went back to Walla Walla in 1993.

The place was a hick town in my teenage estimation and forced summers there in triple digit heat didn’t help that at all. After a few years though, I figured that my Dad wasn’t going to be coming back to Portland and learned to appreciate the town for what it was: fine for a visit or even an extended stay, but not more.

After high school, I chose to go to college about two hours from there in another small hick town with far too much snow and summer for my Portland blood. When I moved back to Portland after graduation, I had a retail management position that was very unfulfilling.

After the busy holidays, I started looking around for HR positions and saw that a company out of Walla Walla was hiring a recruiter. I had never heard of RBS Interactive and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to live in Walla Walla (much less my fiancee). I applied though, got a call, drove the 254 miles to Walla Walla, and got hired.

* * * * *

“I’m tired of walking.”

The words escaped my lips and we both kind of laughed. It was my fourth month on the job and Rob Schmidt, the President of RBS Interactive, and I had just completed what had to be dozens of laps around the building over the last 90 minutes. We had talked, argued and gotten animated about who knows what. I finally convinced him that we needed to go get some coffee otherwise I was going to crash at my desk this afternoon.

Rob got it. Who knows how much money he spent at the Starbucks that was a brisk one minute walk from his desk to the counter but it was enough that everyone knew him there and knew what he wanted.

I knew entrepreneurs had different personalities but Rob’s energy was as exhilarating as it was exhausting, even for a guy that considers himself pretty good at this stuff.

His boundless energy, competitiveness and curiosity caused numerous “problems”: tangential meetings, interviews gone horribly wrong, poor feedback to employees and ever shifting priorities depending on where his mind was wandering that day. But those problems also caused him to take risks in a critical area to me: staffing. Walla Walla wasn’t the most desirable place to attract candidates so he signed off on risky hires in order to make it work.

And risky they were. My own hire was risky (my experience level wasn’t there) but I had other things going for me (ties to the area and the willingness and ability to put in major time). It fit with how I thought HR and recruiting could be run: flexible, risk taking and ultimately rewarding.

* * * * *

We were opening gifts at my Dad’s house on Christmas morning and I kept thinking how weird it was that we were up there. We decided to stay home for Christmas because the fall was brutal work wise. Jen had worked her first harvest at a local winery and it was busy at QualitySmith (RBS Interactive changed their name halfway through my tenure). Home was now officially Walla Walla. I was closer to my Dad than ever before, I had made new friends and I was enjoying work. I had learned to love a place I previously doubted I could stand a week.

Was Rob directly responsible for any of this? Both directly and indirectly. We had a great working relationship and he was fun (and challenging) to work for but the people he put into place and the ideas he dreamed up changed my life. We worked hard for him when we believed in his vision and we worked hard for him when we didn’t quite see it because you always wanted to give your best for him and you always thought you’d warm up to it. Countless days after everyone had gone home, I sat in Rhonda Donnelly’s office (our VP of Operations) and we would just half laugh, half shake our heads at some of the crazy ideas he would come up with.

Ultimately though, his team would put together a plan to try to bring his ideas to fruition. That gamble in staffing paid off at times and led to some amazing things. Other times, we had mud on our face and we got a bad beat. That was reality. I can’t tell you the number of times I said sorry to him. He wouldn’t allow it though. There wasn’t enough time to Monday Morning Quarterback.

When he called my cell phone at nights and on weekends, I paced with him. I tried to keep up with his frantic vocal pace. Somewhere along the line, I would figure out I was the third or fourth person he was calling about a particular idea. It was my turn to poke at it with my stick and see if I could find any holes.

I wouldn’t have changed it though. Not the location nor the people I was working with. And even when I go back to see my dumpy little rental house on 822 St. John Street or the offices we moved out of on Main Street, I feel nostalgic. This was home. At least for a while.

* * * * *

My phone rang and I saw the picture of my wife come up on the caller ID.

“I got the job in Portland.”

My wife had interviewed for a job in Portland. She was also looking for a job locally too and had only interviewed for one job in Portland. She got it and she wanted it. Saying no wasn’t an option.

People at work understood. Rob understood. They even worked with me and let me work my HR job remotely for six months. The company grew quite a bit while I was there (from 32 people when I started to over 160 at one point) but it wasn’t all fun and games. When we had our second sets of layoffs, I was working remotely. It would have made sense to cut me (Rhonda had most of my skill set, just limited time). I flew up there though and assisted with that. We closed two remote offices as well while I was working for them.

It wasn’t tougher on anyone more than Rob. It would have been crass at the time to mention to the people being laid off how much personal money he invested to give them another couple of months hoping for some business turn around. He’d pace, he’d stress and he’d ask for who we’re looking at again to dismiss.

When it finally came time for me to leave, it was tough. But every time I came to visit, he always had time to talk. He wanted to talk about QualitySmith, flying, farming and his family. He wanted to know how I was doing and would always ask me when I was moving back to Walla Walla. It wasn’t ever “if” I was going to move back, it was “when.”

* * * * *

A couple days after Chad called me to tell me Rob died, my step-mom e-mailed me an article from the local paper. His death had been ruled a suicide. That was the first time I cried about it. The shock had warn off and I was now just beyond sad about the whole situation.

I think a natural instinct is to ask yourself what you could have done differently. I just wish it were as simple as that. I had stayed in semi-regular contact with him. When I left QualitySmith, we had a great talk about how much I admired him and was thankful for everything.

Then I remembered that Rob didn’t allow us to spend too much time discussing hindsight observations. So I started thinking about the legacy Rob will leave. I was overwhelmed with how big of a swath of influence he left behind. Then I remembered a post I received on my Facebook wall a few months ago:

“Hey Lance, just wanted to say THANK YOU for hiring me 5 years ago. Today is my 5th anniversary at QualitySmith :-)”

It was one of my first risky hires. In a less risky environment, one without him setting the pace, I don’t know that we would have hired her. We took a chance though and it made a difference for her, her family and us.

We always think about legacies after people retire or die. The final lesson Rob Schmidt taught me is that when you involve your life with people, your legacy is right now. When you’re in the employment game, you make business decisions with very personal consequences. His impact on me was immediate, cumulative and will last for the rest of my life. He had an impact on hundreds of lives directly and thousands of lives indirectly because he put his money where is mouth was consistently when it came to business. He made those decisions one by one and he’s one of the few people that understood the gravity of every situation.

Whenever I start to get involved in debates about interviewing techniques, risk assessments, performance review calendars or benefits brokers, a little voice inside me whispers me back to reality. Focus on the people and take the business personally.

Thanks for the reminder, Rob. Always.

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Translating Your Story To Public Speaking

A little over a year ago, I decided I wanted to do some public speaking. I had just done my first big appearance on a panel at SHRM National. I had built up a strong presence online, I had a good network of people and I had a message I wanted to share with people.

I set a goal: I’m going to speak at twelve events this year. My first event was a small one in October of 2009. 12 months, 12 events.

Today is number 14 and my last for the year.

It wasn’t easy. I had some insignificant experience in public speaking, mainly to groups of a dozen or less. I didn’t know what my style was so I tried different things. I forced confidence, smiles and eye contact. I cut down slides (or expanded slides). I eliminated them completely for four of my presentations. I got really bad feedback on one presentation. I got screwed by a conference organizer. But I’m glad I did it because I learned some great lessons along the way.

Throwing yourself into it

I threw myself into speaking because I knew it was the only way I was going to book 12 speaking engagements. I also had an aversion to speaking and I wanted to see if it was just a confidence/skill thing or if it was just something I didn’t enjoy. I thought that was the only fair way to look at it.

So I dived in. The first ones were fine because I over-prepared. No such thing you may say? I could have been mistaken for a robot. A fast talking robot.

One of the middle ones was a complete bomb. I’m fortunate that it was for a smaller organization, a non-local organization and that it only happened once. Do you think you’ve lost the audience when a person in the front row says something like, “This guy doesn’t know what he’s doing up there” so you can hear it?

After that, I started to get slowly better. Rehashing a video of my presentation or listening to the audio of a presentation I gave helped a bunch after I got over how stupid I looked and sounded. I started figuring out how much it made a difference when I was comfortable and enjoyed the subject matter.

Crowds matter

I’m sure there are some studies out there that say something but the crowd matters. Sure, the size matters (I talked to groups from 30 to 300 during the last year) but the biggest difference maker was having 8–12 really engaged people in your audience. People who had interesting questions or stories of their own or people that simply gave you the attentiveness you crave as a speaker.

I had a group of almost 100 people that didn’t have that many people in the audience and I had my smallest group have almost everybody in that group. Which one would I have rather spoke at?

The impact of stories

What I found out was how much better my presentations were when I went off script and told stories. Stories about failed business ventures or successful ones. Funny stories or sad stories. It didn’t matter. When I had a story I could tell authentically, it worked. People listened. And I used those to interconnect with my overall story.

It made a huge difference. I used a quarter of the slides I usually did. People weren’t falling asleep. People would ask me questions.

And what I realized is that’s what I’ve been doing on this blog. Telling my story or telling other people’s stories is what makes this blog accessible. It’s what I was already good at.

Translating the message going forward

Going from a text based conversation to an engaging and interactive speaking gig is a major challenge and I found that most of the time, my message was lost because I was focused on hitting my goal rather than figuring out what speaking venues and styles made the most sense for me. While I don’t imagine I’m going to stop speaking, I’m going to be selective about the venues, styles and content I choose going forward.

I know this is old news to some speaking veterans out there but for those pros who are looking to get into it, I hope this helps when you’re considering speaking. I wouldn’t change the way I did it at all because even though I knew most of this coming into it, I didn’t realize how big of deal some of these “little things” could be.