Just after I redesigned my blog last March, Cory Miller sent an email to me giving me some suggestions on how to tweak the layout to get more traffic.

My first instinct was to delete the mail because I had just spent $3000 on a blog design and I didn't want to hear it was already out of date. But I have learned my lesson about ignoring reader advice, so I gave some of his suggestions a try.

It's because of Cory that there is suggested reading at the end of every post. The suggested posts are supposed to be related to the post at hand, but in fact, I find they are seldom related. That doesn't seem to matter, though. As soon as I implemented this feature, my traffic went up.

Cory also told me that I could put search toward the bottom of the page. I was shocked to hear that most people don't search blogs. But when I looked at the record of recent searches on Brazen Careerist, it was true: Almost every search was one I had done myself, looking for a specific post to link to.

It was around this time that my book publicity was heating up, and I was launching a home site to promote the book, and I needed to hire someone to help me. When Cory saw that I implemented his changes, he offered to do work for me for free.

That would have been great. But I know myself. I make lots of little changes and I work really late at night, and I overreact to problems like the day I accidentally turned my whole blog bold and I couldn't figure out where the missing HTML tag was. I need to pay someone to make it worth putting up with me.

So I hired Cory at his regular rate. And it was worth every penny. But hold it. You know what I did first? I read his blog a little more carefully because he is an evangelical Christian.

As a liberal Jew, I have never really come into contact with someone like him. And, now that I think about it, I have managed to live among a heavily gay population in New York City and Los Angeles, and in a bastion of atheist academics in Boston, and the most conservative place I have ever lived is in the spot in Chicago where tourists go to bars “? not outright liberal, but I certainly didn't meet any evangelists there.

After reading his blog, I decided that hiring Cory would broaden my world. And it has. For one thing, Cory is smart about search engine optimization and how it relates to design, so I am getting smarter. And he is an ace with WordPress to the point that he's made me love it. But he has also taught me about living ones values at work.

Of course I asked him about all the religion stuff. He was shocked to hear I was Jewish, and I was shocked that he didn't know. But maybe Jewish radar is like gay radar and straight men don't have any. Anyway, the final thing I have learned from Cory is about living life according to one's values. He does it in a more extreme way than I could. I cherish my moments of hypocrisy. But I really admire him for believing in something. I think that's important. I want to live life according to my values, too. I am just less certain than he is about what they are.

But I digress. This is Coachology, right? Cory is offering to create a new blog design (and implement it) for someone for free. It's gotta be in WordPress, (technically called a WordPress Theme) and he's going to give you six hours of his time. If you are high maintenance, indecisive and difficult, you are going to find that six hours is a tight limit. (But maybe you can change. Here are instructions on how to be a good client during the design process.)

Cory's expertise is creating blog designs that boost traffic, so the people who will benefit the most from this offer are not brand-new bloggers, but people who have established some sort of an audience already.

If you'd like this chance to spruce up your blog, send an email to me at penelope@penelopetrunk.com with three sentences about why you'd be a good candidate for the award. The deadline for submitting an email is Sunday, and Cory will pick a winner next week.

Here’s an idea: Instead of thinking of your summer vacation as something that detracts from your work, think of it as a way to boost your work performance — or even your business.

The weeklong getaways that run a day or two over, the hour-long siestas that turn into three hours, and the three-day weekends that go on for four can all help your career. You just have to use the time well to take care of your physical and mental health.

Why? A healthy body makes for a healthy, balanced mind, and that’s the chief asset of a truly good worker. It’s not about the hours you spend behind a desk — it’s about what’s going through your head while you’re there.

Here are four ways to ensure that your summer fun in the sun enhances your career success, whether you’re still on vacation or are back from one:

1. Go for a run in the park, or swim in a lake at sunset.
It used to be that working out was optional. Now we know that regular exercise makes you calmer, smarter, happier, and richer. So how can you possibly say that it’s not one of your highest priorities?

It makes sense that if you feel better about yourself and the world you’ll do better in business. Because business is about thinking clearly, acting with confidence, and making good connections.

But don’t work out just because people who work out make more money. Do it because it’ll change your outlook on life. Really. You’ll be less likely to be depressed and more likely to be optimistic.

If you’re younger, join an athletic team. People who play sports do better in their careers. This is true whether you’re on a small liberal arts college fencing team or a Big Ten football squad. The self-confidence, teamwork, and drive that athletes display makes them higher performers at work.

Sure, there are exceptions, but the advantage is so pronounced that some corporate recruiters at colleges ask to see only the athletes.

2. Mentor a summer intern.
Each of us needs mentors to guide us through our careers at different points in time. Sometimes we need help navigating office politics, sometimes we need advice on making a life change. At each point, knowing how to ask for help is essential, and the best way to learn how to ask for help is to give help.

If you mentor someone, you help yourself as well. You’ll find out what a mentoring relationship is like from the other side. For example, you’ll learn what feels useful to the mentor and what’s annoying. You’ll also discover why it’s important to ask good questions, because as a mentor you’re helpless if the person you’re trying to help doesn’t know what he wants.

Summer interns are ripe for this task. They’re there because they want to learn. You can teach them not only about the workplace but about themselves, and how to figure out where they fit. You can be an advisor and a coach and a friend. These are all great ways to mentor, and after the experience you’ll have more confidence in seeking a mentor of your own.

3. Curl up in the sun with a book.

Information overload comes from sifting through ideas all day. In a knowledge-worker environment, with the Internet constantly streaming new ideas, the most successful workers are those who can sort information most efficiently.

Learning top-flight productivity skills is essential in today’s workplace, but that can only get you so far. At some point, you’ll need to read 300 pages on the same topic. For most of you, this means turning off the computer, but luckily summer is a great time for curling up with a good book.

I don’t mean a Tom Clancy novel, either — I’m talking about big ideas. This means that instead of sticking with a subject for the time it takes to scroll down a page, you have to stick with it for an entire weeklong vacation. That might sound dire, but remember the thrill of the rigorous thinking you did in college, when there were no all-department meetings and no memos to read during lunchtime?

Big ideas take time to understand, and they need to grow in your brain so you can make them your own. Take the opportunity to do so this summer, when the world gives you more permission to take long breaks.

4. Differentiate yourself by lying quietly in the grass.

When was the last time you had a grand epiphany in an important company meeting? Probably never. If the meeting is important, then you prepare and you concentrate and you think about what everyone else is doing — all things that keep your mind from being open to something random and profound.

Grand thinking requires space, flexibility, and time. These things are hard to come by if you lead a life that doesn’t allow for stillness. We owe it to ourselves to take time to be alone and do nothing, or almost nothing. Even if no big ideas come to you at that moment, there’s a clear, still moment where your brain gets a rest. And lying in the grass lets your body rest, too.

Career coach Susan Bernstein says that success and fulfillment in a job come when you connect your body and your mind to your work. The first step in acquiring this balance, I believe, is quiet contemplation.

Some of you might know that the thousands of comments that I receive on my Yahoo column are generally abrasive. Here’s an example.

Some of the most common things people say to me in the comment section on Yahoo are:

1. Why do you write for Yahoo? You should be fired!

2. You don’t have enough experience in the workforce.

3. When you grow up, you’ll think differently about this.

It looks to me like Ryan Healy, who writes the Twentysomething column on Brazen Careerist, gets the same type of comments on this blog about his posts. Here’s an example.

Do you guys agree or disagree? What do you think about this?

Is it okay to look for a new job while I’m at my current job?

Yes. You have to be able to look for a job while you have a job or it’s indentured servitude. Most people in their twenties change jobs every two years. At any given moment 70% of the workforce is job hunting, which surely means that 99% of the workforce under 30 is job hunting. So looking for a job at your current job is totally normal.

You do not need to tell the company you’re interviewing at to not say anything. It is common courtesy to not say anything to a candidate’s current employer. If it’s a small town and there’s nothing you can do, well, then, there’s nothing you can do. If someone asks you at your work if you’re looking you can say, “I’m always looking. Isn’t everyone?”

You should not make yourself look sneaky or paranoid. It’s not good for you.

What should I do if no one responds to my followup calls and emails after an interview?

If you are writing to the person who is in charge of moving you to the next step, and he doesn’t respond, there’s not a lot you can do. If there is another person who might be able to move you to the next step, try following up with that person. Or, if there’s someone there you interviewed with who really liked you, you could try that route. But only one more email – you don’t want to be a stalker. Also, did you get the interview with a connection? Ask that person who helped you get the interview to inquire how things went, in a way that might keep you in the running.

Things to consider:

1. They might just be slow and you are still in the running and you don’t want to be annoying and take yourself out of the running.

2. If they are not talking to you they might not want to hire you and that’s okay. If you are right for this kind of job, with persistence you will get one, somewhere. If you’re not right for this kind of job, the world has a way of telling you in a nice way that prevents you from going down a bad career path: not hiring you.

2. There are other jobs for you. This is not the only job in the world for you. If you find other jobs to apply to you will be less invested in this one. Not helpful advice for getting this job, I know, but helpful advice for maintaining your sanity. You will have many many job hunts in your life. It’s important to develop the mental skills to do interviews for job you want without losing sleep over did you get it.

What do I need to disclose in an interview if I’m pregnant?

Women should disclose a lot less than they do.

1. Try to interview before the second trimester. It’s a lot easier to interview if you’re not showing. And if you’re not showing, don’t tell. Think of it this way. A man interviewing for a job does not tell the interviewer that his wife just threw him out of the house and he’s probably going to have to take time off of work to move and deal with the divorce. He gets the job and then deals with his personal life however he wants.

2. You do not need to say that you are considering maternity leave. When you have the baby you can say you changed your mind. There is no law that says you have to be certain how you feel about having a baby. There is no law that says you have to reveal everything you are thinking about this very personal topic. Also, even if you think you want to take maternity leave, you never know how you’ll feel when you actually have the baby. Some women want to go back to work. So in the interview, saying you have no firm plans for maternity leave would be a truthful answer if you are leaving doors open for yourself.

3. Interview to get the best possible work you can. Don’t worry about your upcoming departure. You are not under moral obligation to accept only projects that will end before the baby comes. CEOs leave jobs all the time, right in the middle of projects. The world goes on, and people do not bring up morality tales. Your company will be fine if you leave in the middle of a big project. It’s good to get that project on your resume.

I went to Tampa this past week. I’ve been traveling a lot to promote my book. The first time I left the kids to promote the book, last month, my five-year-old said, “No! You can’t go! Why do you have to go?”

I said, “Because it’s my job. My boss wants me to.”

I said this to my son even though I don’t actually have a boss. But how can I tell him that I am generating this trip on my own? It’s too awful to admit. Still, I am blindsided:

He says, “Doesn’t your boss know you love us?”

I tell myself to ignore it. I tell myself there are nine million stories of kids saying the most heart wrenching thing they can say to their mom as she leaves for the office.

I get to the airport and I tell myself everything is fine while I bite all my nails. Then I wait at the gate while I sip diet Coke hoping I didn’t eat so many Ho-Hos with the kids that I don’t fit into my mommy’s-working-now clothes. I am at the wrong gate. I read the seat number instead of the gate. I make the flight with seconds to spare.

I try to calm myself down on the plane. I tell myself that there is no way to support the family as a writer if I’m not going to promote my book. I tell myself my kids are lucky that I’m with them every day from 1pm to 8pm. I tell myself I’m lucky to be making a living as a writer.

I get to Chicago to switch planes. I tell myself that I am in better shape and that I don’t have to worry about falling apart on local television because I am not falling apart now. I have a sandwich as a sign of body confidence. Or at least waist confidence; it’s all about the button.

I hand the boarding pass taker my boarding pass and she says, “This is a flight to New York. You’re going to Tampa. You better run.”

I run. And I cry. I cry because I am losing my mind. I cannot even remember what city I’m going to.

In my plane seat I tell myself this can be the end of the book tour. And this is the advice I’m going to give you about successfully handling your kids and your career. Don’t ever confess anything like this. It’s bad for your career.

There is more, though. I get to the hotel, and you know what? It’s clean, it’s quiet, the bed is huge and it’s all mine.

I sleep very well. I get up early, because my body clock is set to wake up at 5am with my two-year-old. (Please, do not post comments about how your kid sleeps until 7am and I should do what you do. Do not be so arrogant as to think I have not tried.)

With lots of time to spare I play music on my laptop. And then, I dance. I dance in the bathroom, I dance in front of five mirrors, and when the Beastie Boys come on, I dance up on the bed.

I am happy. I order the fifteen-dollar omelet from room service without flinching. And I add a pot of coffee.

This is the real problem with travel: How fun it is. How freeing it is to be away from the kids. I can think, I can eat like a queen, and I can bounce around the room like a fifteen-year-old. Not that I couldn’t do this at home. I could, sans omelet. But I wouldn’t. That’s why business travel is so inspiring to a mom. And now I’m thinking maybe I can do one more city for the book tour.

At some point in our lives we each have felt surrounded by people who see the world incorrectly. Sometimes it’s the accountant who works for a management team that doesn’t understand numbers. Or it’s the artist who works for a marketing team that doesn’t understand font. Sometimes we feel so certain that we are right and they are wrong that we think we need to leave.

The key to getting along with other people is to keep your eye on what really matters and let the rest go. This is the attitude that conveys poise and self-confidence in work life. And this is the way you will learn to stop caring who is right and who is wrong.

I learned this lesson early because my three brothers and my mother are colorblind. My mom and brothers see color, but they don’t see it how the rest of the world sees it. If you say, “What color is this?” and point to something, sometimes they’ll get it right and sometimes they won’t. I could say, “It’s blue, not green.” But they don’t care. Sometimes they just shrug. Or say, “Well, maybe to you, but not to us.”

There’s not much I can do when they are the majority. So I became philosophical about who is right. I realized that in most cases it doesn’t matter that I’m right and they’re wrong. So we called the family car purple, even though I knew it wasn’t.

But sometimes capitulating is not an option – for example if someone is breaking the law, or if someone is making you truly unable to do your job. But usually, in the case of ignorance, there is a way to compromise.

Once I was driving with my brother and discovered that none of my colorblind family members can see the green light. They depend on seeing if the red or yellow light is on.

I had a fit.

He said that it didn’t matter. He pointed out that my mom hasn’t seen a green light in forty years of driving.

Of course, I am right, that driving like this is a hazard. But ultimately, my family will continue to drive. And ultimately, it is an issue for the department of transportation (who I hope reads this because 10% of the population is colorblind). I would gain very little by insisting that I am right. So I concentrated on saving my life and reported the color of lights for the rest of the trip.

Many of you find yourselves surrounded by people who are, in effect, colorblind; They don’t know what they’re looking at and don’t care. Instead of insisting that these people admit they are wrong, let them think what they want while you keep your eye on the parts of your job that matter long-term.

Meanwhile, to quell your urge to be rude or mean, remember that few people are stupid in every category. So keep good relations with the chronically ignorant because they could prove useful at a later point.

I find that the most annoying part of being surrounded by the colorblind is that I’m right and there’s no one to acknowledge that I’m right. And that goes back to the fact that the best people to work are poised and self-confident. In most cases one’s own insecurity rather than brilliance makes one feels alienated by stupidity.

In search of poise and perspective in my career, I have tried to focus on myself and the smart people around me, and that has made me feel smarter and happier in my work.

By Ryan Healy – I have read that my generation grew up with constant change and amazing new technologies like cell phones and the Internet which caused us to not appreciate patience and experience.

I don’t buy that.

Surely there are a variety of social and cultural factors influencing impatience, but as far as I’m concerned, the big reason for all this impatience is one thing: family.

My family is the most important part of my life. My brother is my best friend. My parents are wonderful, caring people who raised me right and spent lots of time with me. When I have my own family, I will spend my time on family outings, vacations, baseball practices, piano lessons and everything else that comes with being a responsible father. These things will take a backseat to nothing, including work.

I also have a burning desire to be wildly successful in the business world. Typically, to be a huge success you must put more than eighty hours a week into your job. Balancing that with piano practice on Tuesday, a baseball game on Wednesday a dance recital on Friday, and family dinners nearly every night is just not practical.

Luckily, I am 23 years old and most likely won’t have this family until at least my mid thirties. If you do the math this leaves me with about a decade to become a successful business person. Once the wife and kids come, the career must take a backseat. This is why I’m so impatient!

The chances of me making millions of dollars in the next decade are slim; I’m not naïve enough to think it’s easy. However, this does not mean I won’t give it my best shot. For the next ten years I am going to be as impatient as I can possibly be, because maybe, just maybe, I will become the wildly successful business man that I always knew I could be.

Slowly climbing the corporate ladder is actually counter-intuitive to this type of thinking. You start young at work, no spouse, no kids and not much responsibility outside of work. Slowly you get a new title, and with it, more hours. Then you get married and have two paychecks rolling in. Then you become a VP with more responsibility and of course, more hours. After a few years of marriage, you have a kid, you get a promotion, and you work more hours. All of a sudden, your kids are on their own and you were so damn busy working for the past twenty years that you can’t even believe where the time went.

Well, at least you get that great retirement in Florida, if you make it to 65….

Luckily, my father worked for a non-profit and made his schedule fit around my basketball games and my brother’s golf matches. Despite her workload, my mother always made time for us as well. They put family before work because they were responsible parents. I will do the same. However, I will do whatever it takes to become successful before that time comes.

Best case scenario is I start some type of business and build it for ten years. When it’s time for work to take a backseat to family, I will be able to hand over the reins to my impatient apprentice and I will only work when I need to. Worst case scenario is I try to start a business, it doesn’t work out, and I either go back and get a job that allows me plenty of family time and pays enough for me to support them or I start some type of safe business that will not consume my life.

Sure there are plenty of twists and turns my life will take along the way, but I know that nothing is more important then family and working your way up so you can have tons of responsibility and no time when your kids are growing up is idiotic. I would much rather be impatient now and think of my family years as a mini retirement, than miss my children’s childhood chasing an outdated dream of retiring in Florida. There is no better time to be a success than the present, waiting around to gain “experience” is a waste of time. Impatience is an asset.

Ryan Healy’s blog is Employee Evolution.

If you want to know how old you really are, look at the media you use rather than the generation you were born into.

Generational labels are important in the discussion of the changing workforce. For example, we need to understand who is pushing for change and who is criticizing change in order to understand how to create workplace bridges. And increasingly, young people are calling for baby boomers to get out of the way.

However I get a lot of email from people at the later end of the baby boom who do not identify with baby boomers. To some extent researchers have dealt with this issue by categorizing the latter section of the baby boom separately, as Generation Jones (born between 1954 and 1965). This category will make some people feel better, but there still will be baby boomers who are indignant at being lumped with the delusional, self-centered, money-hungry baby boomers.

But hold it. Maybe you are not really part of the generation your birthday falls under.

Here’s an idea: We should determine our generation not by our age but by how we use media. This comes from Margaret Weigel, who has worked at Harvard and MIT doing research on digital media engagement:* “We should not judge people rigidly by the years they were born,” she says, “If we want to define people by categories, it should be by behaviors because this is something each of us chooses.”

Another reason to use media engagement to peg someone’s age is that the media we use reflects both the space we live in and the circle of friends we run with. For example, you probably won’t find the Wii at a senior center, and you do what your friends do or you’re out of the loop.

So here is a test I put together with the help of an interview with Weigel and an evening reading her blog. Add up your points to figure out what generation you’re really a part of:

Do you have your own web page? (1 point)

Have you made a web page for someone else? (2 points)

Do you IM your friends? (1 point)

Do you text your friends? (2 points)

Do you watch videos on YouTube? (1 point)

Do you remix video files from the Internet? (2 points)

Have you paid for and downloaded music from the Internet? (1 point)

Do you know where to download free (illegal) music from the Internet? (2 points)

Do you blog for professional reasons? (1 point)

Do you blog as a way to keep an online diary? (2 points)

Have you visited MySpace at least five times? (1 point)

Do you communicate with friends on Facebook? (2 points)

Do you use email to communicate with your parents? (1 point)

Did you text to communicate with your parents? (2 points)

Do you take photos with your phone? (1 point)

Do you share your photos from your phone with your friends? (2 points)

0-1 point – Baby Boomer

2-6 points – Generation Jones

6- 12 points – Generation X

12 or over – Generation Y

(Note: This post contains the views of Weigel and not necessarily those of Harvard and MIT.)

One of the best ways to make a big leap in your career is to blog. Blogging allows you to create a high-quality network for yourself based, not on the old model of passing out business cards, but on a new model of passing out ideas. Contrary to popular opinion, blogging is not for college kids holed up in their dorm room posting photos of themselves. Blogging is so text-intensive — in terms of both reading and writing — that the amount of time required of a blogger makes it unattractive to college students. (Here’s a funny video about how time-consuming blogging is.)

However, to the curious and driven who are passionate about their careers, blogging is a great way to keep learning after college is over. So when you go to Google to search for blogs, most of those that come up will be from professionals who are using a blog to establish themselves as a thought leader in their field.

Most of the time you spend blogging will be reading other peoples’ blogs and linking to them and writing commentary on your own blog about what others in the blogosphere are talking about. It’s a constant course in your specialty and keeps you on the cutting edge. Moreover, the linking between blogs keeps you in touch with the other thought leaders in your industry, even if you do not know them personally.

One of the best things about blogging is that the benefits are huge, but the barrier to entry is very low. The software is free, and easy to use (try Blogger or WordPress) and it takes about 10 minutes to get started.

Minh Luong wanted a career in food writing, but found breaking into the industry was very tough. Instead of waiting to find an offline connection and nurture it and wait for the right opportunity and then make her move, Luong opted for taking more direct initiative to create the life she wants: She started blogging.

Almost immediately, her blog, Minnie Eat World, became a local Boston favorite, and the credibility she gained by blogging led to offline offers for work she would not have had access to had she not built a quick network for herself via blogging. The blog has replaced not only paying one’s dues, but also the network that comes from that.

The most efficient way to build a brand name for yourself is via blogging. Not just because blogging is so linked to one’s own ideas, but also because the tools for blogging encourage people to measure the reach of their personal brand. You can measure the number of people who are talking about you (via Technorati) and the number of people who are visiting you (via SiteMeter), and you can see who is telling their friends to read you (via Mint). But the commitment to a blog like this is intense — writing blog posts at least four days a week is a basic requirement, for example.

Harleen Kahlon recognized that while blogging is a great way to feel part of a smart, informed community, the time it takes to blog is often at odds with the time it takes professionals to manage the career they already have. So Kahlon founded Damsels in Success, which is a community for professional women that includes a group blog — a place where about 50 professional women are contributing to a blog that serves as a connector for all of them.

Many people are finding that group blogs provide both an outlet for ideas and a foundation for community, but the demands are much less than blogging on their own.

Another group blog that provides similar benefits is Employee Evolution. Led by the intrepid duo Ryan & Ryan, this blog provides a place for generation Y to spout about workplace issues to a wide audience without having to blog frequently enough to build that audience for themselves.

Another limitation of blogging is that you need to decide what sort of expertise you want to be known for before you start blogging. A blog needs a topic, and the only topics worth investing in are topics that are very meaningful to you. If you are not sure about a topic, you might just start blogging and find that you gravitate toward the topic that’s right for you.

But if that seems too disorganized to you, start by commenting on other peoples’ blogs. The bloggers are knowledgeable, committed, and passionate — just the kind of people you should add to your list of friends. Pick the bloggers you enjoy reading the most, and comment. Don’t just say, “great post.” Suggest an angle the blogger might not have seen, or present some information the blogger might have missed. Have a conversation with the blogger, because this is, after all, what building a network is all about: conversations.

Which brings us to Ben Casnocha, teenage entrepreneur and author of My Start-up Life. Ben blogs at ben.casnocha.com, and he has a loyal following of people who are fascinated by the thought process of someone who could launch a successful Internet-based company in sixth grade (check it out: Comcate.com). But Ben is doing something that is both in the realm of forward thinking and conventional thinking: He’s meeting people face to face. Ben took a tour of the United States meeting people each day who have become part of his electronic network.

Ben’s tour of the United States reminds us that each connection we make — either electronically or face to face — is just a starting point for something deeper. And he reminds us that for all the hoopla and fantasy building of the “new amazingly networked Web 2.0!”, it all comes down to good, old-fashioned connecting with people we want to hang out with.

I just spent two days at TAI Resources getting speaking coaching. I was pissy about it the whole week before. I decided I didn’t have time to go. I mean, two full days away from the kids costs about ten thousand dollars when you add up the babysitter and the Happy Meals and the ten trips to Target for toys.

I told myself that I should be doing book events, not going to coaching sessions. I told myself that there is no way I could learn enough to justify two days of not answering the onslaught of email I get from my blog.

But every day I would see the “cancel TAI” on my to do list, and I didn’t cancel. You can learn a lot about yourself by looking at the stuff you don’t do on your to do list. Deep down I know that if I want to have a life where my job is to connect with people then I have to devote time to learning to be a good at genuinely connecting with people. I need to make room in my schedule for my big-picture goals. And TAI teaches people to connect. So I went.

When I got there at 8:30 am the first day, I had residual pissiness. And I stayed at my mom’s apartment in New York City the night before. I used to be the type of person who could not get along with my mom long enough to spend the night at her apartment. But I decided I was too old for that, and now we get along. The price I pay is that I didn’t tell her no when she made us a big breakfast even though I said I didn’t have time.

So I was late for day one of my training. There were eight of us. We sat in a front row of chairs. Behind us was the professional peanut gallery of people who critique speeches.

Gifford, the facilitator, told us to write for ten minutes describing our best speaking experience. “If you finish early, just keep writing,” he said. “Just write anything.”

I was relieved. Great. I wrote for about six seconds about my best speaking experience and then I wrote stream of consciousness. A writer’s dream.

I don’t know how I could be so dense, but I didn’t realize that we’d have to use what we wrote as a speech. At first I thought I could quickly rewrite something before it was my turn to speak. But I was totally captivated by Gifford helping the speakers before me.

Each person who spoke was a little bit terrible, to be honest. I mean, we are talking about stuff that is not that interesting, and we don’t really even know who each other is. But Gifford found a way to make a small change in each person that totally transformed them into an engaging speaker. So it was fascinating to watch this happen.

He changed one person’s tone of voice by having him do ape calls to the audience. He changed someone’s body language by having him hold his hands behind his back. He changed someone’s eye contact by having him play catch with the audience while he spoke. You’d think each of these things would make a person look insane, but Gifford knew the perfect thing for someone to do to learn a new skill about connecting.

When it was my turn, I had nothing to do but read what I wrote. I described my favorite speaking experience: My stepmother’s funeral. (I know, funeral. I know. But let me tell you something, I really captivated the mourners.)

Then I stopped.

Gifford said, “Did you write any more?”

He has me read it, of course. So I stood there in front of the room reading my stream-of-consciousness stuff about how I don’t want to be in the room and I hate group activities and I wish I were blogging.

And this is what Gifford did. In a matter of minutes he showed me how to take my speech about how I don’t want to be learning to give a speech, and make it engaging. He showed me how if I admit to my feelings and say them honestly, and with integrity, people will actually like hearing the speech.

All this in the first hour of a two-day training course.

We spent a lot of those two days “learning to land”. Everyone in the room knew that we were supposed to look at the audience when we talk. But there are so many different ways to look at an audience. Most people look without connecting. They don’t actually talk with a person because landing your eyes on someone and really talking to them is really, really hard.

And the amazing thing is that you’d think that if you are talking with just one person then the rest of the audience feels left out. But in fact, the audience feels more connected to you if you are connecting with someone – anyone – in the audience. One of the most valuable things about this coaching is that you understand what people do as an audience member so that you are better able to read an audience.

My favorite part of the class is that the room was full of people who are high up in their organizations and respected by their peers, yet here they are doing things that are very difficult – like, giving a speech about an essentially boring topic and trying to make it meaningful by connecting with people. Everyone looks awkward learning something new. I liked that part about all of us becoming vulnerable together.

I am a much better speaker from this course. And, because the course focuses on authentic communication, I am better at talking with people one on one, too; I notice more often the times that I am talking with someone but not totally engaged.

But there’s one more thing I learned from this experience. We need to make time in our life for coaching. Mentoring is one of the big differentiators between the people who get what they want and the people who don’t. And coaching is mentoring on steroids – very specialized and very effective. This is why I have the Coachology feature on my blog, because coaching has made such a huge impact on my life, and I want to share it with you. It makes a huge difference. And even yours truly, Coachology girl, almost didn’t make time for the coaching. So focus on the big picture goals in your life, and get coaching to meet them faster and better than you could do on your own.