Communication Blastoff
Channel your Muse


Greetings clients, colleagues and community,

As communicators, we are always looking for new ways of saying or thinking about something.  Is there a reference or analogy or metaphor that can break down a complex idea and make it accessible to many?  Where does this kind of inspiration come from?  I'd love to say that I wake up every morning with a million new ideas but of course that is not realistic.  

I rely on muses. My muses can be fleeting or sources of continual inspiration. I listen for the brilliant, off-beat, on point, funny, wise or curious perspectives of others to spark creativity.  Whether I am reading a book, watching a movie, standing in the check-out line at the grocery story or listening to a podcast or a hallway conversation - if I hear something that piques my interest, I race for my notebook and capture it.  Muses are everywhere, you just need to listen.

As you look to enliven your communication this year, invite muses into your creative process.  As author Laurie Seidler said, "Never apologize for believing in a idea-channeling muse.  Just be sure to feed her."  In other words, inspiration needs action.

My newsletter this month focuses on some of my favorite riffs inspired by a few who jumpstarted my thinking.  Enjoy!

Mari Pat Varga
A master coach's best advice

"Be true to yourself, make each day a masterpiece, help others, drink deeply from good books, make friendship a fine art, and build a shelter against a rainy day."  John Wooden  

John Wooden, head coach at UCLA, led 10 teams to the NCAA national championship in a period of 12 years. This quote was a big part of the creed of Wooden's famous Pyramid of Success.  Wooden held himself to the same standards as his student-athletes. As a player on the Kautsky Grocers, in the nineteen-thirties, Wooden set a record by making a hundred and thirty-four consecutive foul shots.  "I practiced so much at the hoop I put up at home when I was a kid that after a while I could literally shoot free throws in the dark and make them. I tossed the ball up underhand, as we did in those days, with a little backspin on it. I never looked at the basket until I was in the act of following through on a shot. Practice."

To inspire others, do it yourself first.

In her role as Violet, the Dowager Countess, on Downton Abbey, actress Maggie Smith is blessed with some of the very best lines on the show.  

Last week after Lady Mary Crawley, her granddaughter, remarked again in a disparaging and unkind way about her sister, Violet said, "A lack of compassion can be as vulgar as an excess of tears."

 We are remembered for our compassion and generosity of heart, not by how many people we stepped on along the way.

Matador Defense
Is your team ALL IN or waving a red cape?


In basketball, when a defensive player is giving a half-hearted effort it is referred to as "matador defense."


matador defense (mat'-uh-dor' de'-fens) noun. A lackluster, low-effort form of defense in which the defender simply reaches for the ball and then quickly pulls his hand away -- similar to how a matador pulls his cape out of the way of a charging bull -- as the offensive player drives by him for an easy lay up.


With the NCAA's March Madness playoffs right around the corner, I recommend watching a game or two. What makes watching NCAA basketball so exciting - and instructive to management teams - is the level of competition and the "all in" effort these student athletes exude.  The love of the game and the fire in the belly are brilliantly on display. 


As much as I love basketball, my engagement, however, wanes a bit when it comes to the NBA.  While many pros give way beyond 100%, others seem to phone it in. This is where you might witness matador defense. The defending player might wave his arms, much like a matador does when waving the red cape - a quick motion that is over almost as fast as it began.  That's mastery for a bullfighter, but miserable for a basketball player who's supposed to be playing zone or man-to-man D with arms up, in their opponent's face, giving 100% and beyond.


I like to share this analogy in my role as a leadership coach working with senior teams.  When examining the effectiveness of a leadership team I look for energy and commitment.  I look to see if they are "all in" or somehow just going through the motions, biding their time, waiting for what might be next.  They may talk a good game and wave a colorful cape but their results don't align.


Who do you want on your team?  I suggest you want a team member who plays like a hungry NCAA championship contender who can't wait to get on the court and ask for the ball.


Amy Poehler:  Treat your career like a bad boyfriend.
Six key questions to evaluate if your job is right for you. 

Amy Poehler covers a plethora of topics in her book "Yes, Please!" but one that jumped out at me was a chapter titled: Treat you Career like a Bad Boyfriend.  Amy does a great job of making a distinction between your career and your creativity (or passion). Creativity, she says, will always make you feel strong, warm and loved. Career, on the other hand, is in reality "the stringing together of opportunities and jobs - mix in public opinion and past regrets, add a dash of future panic and a whole lot of financial uncertainty. Career, takes pleasure in having you think you are in control and then reminds you that you are not."  Just like a bad boyfriend. 

A job - even if it is strategically career-aligned - is not worth making yourself crazy over. When you find yourself in angst about your latest gig, try evaluating the job by asking yourself: 


Am I engaged? Do I actually like this job and the work I am doing?

We all deserve to be energized and challenged by our work. We want to feel our talents are being put to good use.


Have I given it my personal best?


Are you proud of the work you've done or are you phoning it in? Has you effort been 30%, 50% or 100%?  Evaluate yourself honestly.


Have I asked for help or counsel when needed?


If it a'int working, you've got to ask for help and insight from a trusted colleague. Get a fresh perspective. 


Even is the opportunity is not perfect, am I leveraging the learning and relationships in a positive way?


At best, we learn something new with each job and build relationships that we'll keep forever. That's a very worthwhile goal.


When I get home at the end of the day, do I still have energy left over to have some fun?

Pay attention if you are coming home tired but feel like you haven't accomplished anything.


Am I able to see what's next on the horizon for me?


Is your current position helping to position you for what's next? Or is this job blurring your future prospects? When we are unhappy we tend to forget how amazing we are - given the right opportunity - and default to thinking nothing else will work out.  We've all been in bad relationships with the types who don't call you back, that don't love you, that continually don't give anything in return. Amy reminds us that our careers won't take care of us. "It won't call you back or introduce you to its parents. Your career will openly flirt with other people while you are around. It will forget your birthday and wreck your car. It will blow you off if you call it too much." So, as you think about your career or your latest job, remember that you are not permanently married to this bad boyfriend. 

Take care of yourself and trust your instincts.

Jerry Seinfeld's advice for public speakers

Be more of who you are


I have become a fan of Jerry Seinfeld's popular new vehicle, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. The show features Seinfeld driving to pick up a fellow comedian to get coffee - all the while having an interesting conversation about the nuances of comedy.


I came across one with Howard Stern where the conversation veered into discussing the differences between actors and comedians. Seinfeld comments that actors work full time at becoming someone else. The actor studies other people. The actor wants to be anyone but himself. The comedian, on the other hand, studies himself. The comedian wants to be fully himself. His craft is to study his nature, his perspective and how he reacts to what he sees in the world. A comedian is funny because of that hyper-awareness. He ends by saying that comedy is the closest thing to justice - because if you are good, you survive, if you aren't you don't. And you know it in the moment - real time.

OK, so what does this have to do with being a better public speaker? My experience as a speech coach in Chicago is that one of the biggest mistakes aspiring speakers make is that they try to be someone they are not. In everyday life they may be casual and light-hearted but when it comes to presenting in front of senior management they adopt a new persona that they think will be more effective with their audience. Perhaps they adopt a more buttoned down, formal image they hope will impress. I notice in a training session when folks are interacting at their table spots in an animated, natural way, maintaining eye contact and gesturing for emphasis. However, the minute their name is called to get up and speak, they become "dead man walking" as they enter the presentation space. They are suddenly stiff and robotic bearing no resemblance to the friendly person at their table a moment ago. What can you do?  



Don't take yourself too seriously - It's only a presentation, after all.


Be more of who you are - allow yourself to shine through the data and content.


Understand what others find attractive and engaging about you and do more of that


Download a personal communication assessment that will help you evaluate your strengths and limitations and gather other's feedback - http://vargacom.com/wpcontent/uploads/2014/06/VargaPersonalCommInventory.pdf



Practice delivering your presentation across the dinner table to family or friends. This will prompt a more conversational, authentic delivery.


Remember that your audience ultimately wants you to succeed - who wants a bad experience? If you enjoy the opportunity, your audience will too.


Schedule a 20 minute complimentary coaching call today! I'll do my best to step in as your momentary muse!
  • Need to finesse the opening or close of an upcoming presentation?
  • Want ideas on how to resolve a conflict with a co-worker
  • Interested in positioning yourself as a thought leader?
If you are interested in improving your communication skills and want to jump-start the process, schedule time with Mari Pat.  You can email her directly at maripat@vargacom.com.

Office: 773.989.7348 
Cell: 312.841.0650  
Email: maripat@vargacom.com
Visit: www.vargacom.com