Do I Have to Be Funny? Only If You Want People to Listen

“Laughter is the closest distance between two people.” – Victor Borge

A client preparing a TEDx talk told me, “I know humor is important, but I’m not funny. Every time I try to tell a joke, it falls flat. ”

I told him, “That’s why I suggest you DON’T tell jokes. They often come across as forced or false … which causes you to lose your audience. Plus, jokes are ‘made up.’ At some level people are thinking, ‘If you’re making this up, what else are you making up?’ They don’t know whether they can trust you.

The good news is, we all have amusing things happen to us or around us. All you have to notice what makes you laugh that’s relevant to your topic and integrate that TRUE HUMOR into your talk.”

He said, “But I’m speaking on a serious subject. I don’t want to alienate my audience.”

“Here’s the thing. People can only pay attention to serious stuff for so long. They may understand that what we’re saying is important and they’re supposed to listen; but if what we’re saying is complicated, boring or heavy; it may not get through.”

Here’s a story I use in my Tongue Fu!® talks that lightens the mood after discussing ‘dark’ topics such as how to handle bullies, complainers, gossips, blamers and shamers.

“I was in the San Francisco airport heading to my gate on one of those long moving sidewalks. A very tall man was walking the opposite direction. I couldn’t believe it. The people in front of me were pointing at him and laughing. I thought, ‘How rude, there’s no excuse for that.’

When he got closer, I could see why they were laughing. He had on a t-shirt that said in very large letters, “No, I’m NOT a basketball player.”

As he went by, I turned to say something and burst out laughing. The back of his shirt said, “Are you a jockey?”

I had to meet this clever young man so I ran back to catch up with him. I asked, “Where’d you get this terrific shirt?”

“My mom made it for me. I grew a foot between the time I was 16 and 18 years old. I didn’t even want to go outside because everyone had to make a smart aleck remark. My mom told me, ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.’ I’ve got a whole drawer full of these shirts at home. My favorite one says, ‘I’m 6′ 13″ and the weather up here is fine.’”

“This is so smart. You are a walking-talking model of Fun Fu!”

Now it was his turn to laugh. “What’s Fun Fu!?”

“It’s based on something humorist Erma Bombeck said, ‘ If you can laugh at it, you can live with it.”

“I can relate to that.  I used to get so annoyed when people brought this up. These shirts have made all the difference. Now I have fun with my height instead of being frustrated by it.”

My client said, “Okay, that’s a fun story. But how do you tie it back into your topic so it’s relevant?”

“Good question. It’s crucial to ‘hook and hinge’ the punch-line of our anecdote back to our point so people understand how it relates to them. The ‘hook’ is the punchline of your story and the ‘hinge” is 1-3 ‘You’ questions.

For example, I might say, ‘Is there something that annoys you? Would you like to have fun with it instead of be frustrated by it? Would you like to brainstorm some comebacks so people no longer have the power to push that hot button?’

By integrating key words from the story into ‘you questions,’ people are now thinking how they can adapt and apply that to their own situation. That’s how to integrate humor so it’s purposeful for everyone in the room, instead of trotting out a joke that falls flat.”

My client asked, “Can I use this technique to make what I write funnier?”

“Absolutely. A friend, Denise Brosseau, spent months working on her Ready to Be a Thought Leader? manuscript. When doing the final proof, she realized it was packed with useful information, but was a bit too serious and wasn’t sure how to lighten it up.

I asked, “What has happened to or around you in the past few months that’s make you laugh out loud that is in some way related to the content in your chapters?”

Bingo. Denise thought of several funny anecdotes, including this, one of my favorites.

Denise was shopping for a shower gift at a Babies ‘R’ Us store near Stanford U. While waiting in the check-out line, a couple in front of her debated the complicated instructions on the crib they were about to buy which had to be assembled from scratch. They nervously asked the cashier, “Will we be able to put this together ourselves?”

The cashier asked innocently, “Do you have college degrees?”

“Oh, yes,” the man assured her, “I have an MBA and my wife has a Ph.D.”

The cashier smiled and said, “Then you’re going to need to hire someone.”

Bada boom. Denise told me, “The cashier’s response was so unexpected, everyone in the area, including me, cracked up. I weave that story into my presentations and it always gets a big laugh. More importantly, it supports my point that advanced degrees can add value, but they’re not required to be a thought leader in your industry.”

Denise is right. Unexpected responses elicit laughs. Do you know how Einstein knew he had a good idea? He laughed out loud.

Erma Bombeck said, “If we can laugh at it, we can live with it.” It doesn’t have to elicit a huge guffaw to be funny. If it elicits a smile that changes a perspective, that causes us to reflect on shared human foibles we all can relate to, that qualifies as “gentle humor.”

From now on, when something unexpected causes you to smile or laugh, write it down. Then, figure out how you can integrate it (and attribute it) into an upcoming communication to give people some comic relief from the “serious stuff.”

Want to see how to integrate humor into a presentation? Many managers tell me they show my TEDx talk at meetings because employees like watching it.  Why? I used a tip from Pretty Woman Director Garry Marshall who told our Maui Writers Conference audience that screenwriters deliberately put a laugh in the first couple minutes of their scrip because they know, “Laugh early, laugh often.”

Research shows that when people laugh in the first few minutes of a film, presentation or book, they conclude it’s funny. They warm to it, decide it will be a good use of their time and attention, and are more likely to laugh from then on.  As Victor Borge points out at the beginning of this post, laughter IS the closest distance between people.

When you watch this TEDx talk, notice the Carrie Fisher (from Star Wars) quote, how it gets a laugh, how I hook and hinge it to the topic, and how it “sets the tone” so we’re off and running … all in the first minute.

Are you going to be giving a TED or TEDX talk, speaking at a conference, business meeting or networking event? Is your message “serious?” If so, how will you win people’s favorable attention with true humor that motivates people to like you and give you and your message a chance? And here’s what NOT to do in the first sixty seconds.

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Sam Horn, Intrigue Expert and TEDx speaker, helps people create communications that add value for all involved. Her work – including Tongue Fu!, POP! and Washington Post bestseller Got Your Attention? – has been featured in New York Times on on NPR and presented to Nationwide, Capital One, YPO, NASA, Cisco, IntelWant Sam to share her fun and inspiring keynote with your group? Contact


Want to Give a Career-Making Talk?

Do you have an opportunity to speak at TED, TEDx, SXSW, Small Business Expo, 99U, WBENC, Dreamforce, NMX, World Domination Summit, Wisdom2.0 or BIF?

Have you watched the careers of Brene Brown, Simon Sinek, Sir Ken Robinson, Amy Cuddy and Dan Pink SOAR after they delivered powerfully original messages?

If so, you already know that a quality 10-18 minute talk can be a career-maker.

If you have an opportunity to get up in front of a group of people, please understand that EVERYONE in the room (and watching the video later) is a decision-maker. Every single person has the power to take you and what you care about viral. Each person has the power to quote you, post about you, promote you, fund you or work with you.

Invest in your future. Use these “7 Cs of Original Messaging” to create a genuinely intriguing, one-of-a-kind talk that favorably impresses/influences everyone in the room and in the online audience in the years ahead.


A Hollywood producer once told me directors can predict when their movies will make money. How? Simple. Do people walk out of the theater repeating something they heard word for word? If so, they become word-of-mouth advertisers. When people ask, “Seen any good movies lately?” they’re talking about your movie and taking it viral.

The same applies to your talk. Can listeners repeat your big idea – your most important point – word for word? If they can, they’ll become your word-of-mouth advocates. If they can’t, your big idea will be out-of-sight, out-of-mind … in one ear, out the other.

Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement speech
for Philadelphia’s University for the Arts shows the payoff of distilling your big idea into a crystal-clear sound bite. “Make Good Art” resonated so powerfully with the initial audience of hundreds, the video went viral within days and was turned into a best-selling book.


You’ve got 60 seconds to capture everyone’s attention or they’ll start checking email.

No perfunctory opening. No, “I’m glad to be here today and want to thank the organizer for inviting me.” That’s predictable, and predictable is boring. Pleasantly surprise everyone by jumping right into your origin story or into a compelling, counter-intuitive insight that flies in the face of current beliefs.

Test your premise beforehand with colleagues. If they say, “I already know that,” it’s back to the drawing board. Or, as comedian George Carlin said, “What did we go back to before there were drawing boards?” Keep tweaking your idea until people’s eyebrows go up (a sure sign of curiosity) and they say, “Hmmm. That’s interesting. Tell me more.”


The keynote speaker at a recent conference used the often-referenced “Pygmalion in the Classroom” study of how teachers’ expectations affect student performance as the basis for her talk. Really?! That study was done in 1989! She couldn’t find any current studies to make her case? Referencing such an outdated source undermined her credibility.

Recency = relevancy. What just-released report can you reference to prove your point? Recent research will get their attention, and respect.


After you’ve come up with a big idea, run it by your gut. Ask yourself, “Is this congruent with my voice, my vision, my values? If the program coordinator suggests a topic, but it doesn’t feel right, it’s wrong for you. A career-making talk shares your EEE – Expertise, Experience, Epiphanies – not someone else’s. What do you passionately believe? What is a heartfelt legacy message that sums up what you’ve learned from life? What’s an exciting invention, innovation or breakthrough you’ve been part of?

An executive called me a week before his program and said, “I hope you can help. I’ve been traveling almost nonstop, so I asked our company speechwriter to help prepare my talk. It’s well-done, it just doesn’t sound like me.”

I told him, “You’re right. A career-making talk has got to be your voice. Get a recorder and ask someone to take notes while you read the script. Every time you read something and think, ‘I would never say it that way,’ say out loud how you would say it. Don’t censure or second-guess yourself, don’t try to be eloquent, and don’t overthink it. Just keep moving forward, rewording it into your natural voice. Ask your assistant to integrate your phrasing into a new version and then read it out loud again until you wouldn’t change a word. Now, it’s your talk.”


The purpose of a talk at most venues is not to sell your products or services, and it shouldn’t be your priority. Unless this is a pitch forum where you are supposed to be marketing yourself and your company, the point is to ADD VALUE FOR THE AUDIENCE not to promote yourself, your products and services. The fact is, though, an excellent talk will scale your visibility, viability and drive business to and for you.

Witness what’s happened to Brené Brown. Brené was a professor when she spoke for TEDx-Houston. She was popular at her university, but hardly a household name. Her talk on vulnerability was so evocative, it was quickly uploaded to the site and has since received 29 million views. Her resulting Oprah appearances made her an international fan favorite, generating lucrative book deals and five-figure keynotes.


It’s important that your talk be consistent with your brand positioning and primary focus. Instead of summarizing what you’ve done in the past, a career-making talk is a pebble in the pond of your best future. Ask yourself, “What do I want my next 1-3 years of my life to look like? How could this talk catalyze that and set that up?”

For example, a colleague was asked to give a TEDx talk about bullying since she’d had a horrific experience being bullied at work. She feels strongly about this issue, and has a lot to say about the importance of speaking up instead of waiting for HR to rescue you (not going to happen). But she is a management consultant. She doesn’t want to keep reliving that negative experience by speaking, consulting, and doing media interviews on it. It wouldn’t serve her goals to drive demand that’s inconsistent with her priorities and the quality of life she seeks. It’s smarter to select an idea that’s in alignment with what she wants to accomplish the next few years.


I had an opportunity to hear the Physics Nobel Laureate Dr. John Mather speak recently. Following his talk, I asked him, “What’s your next “big idea?” He said, “I’ve got one, but I’m researching to see if anyone else has gotten there first.”

Exactly. Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead said, “It’s not enough to be the best at what you do; you must be perceived to be the only one who does what you do.” Once you have a clear, compelling, current, consistent, congruent, commercially viable idea, Google it to see if anyone else has gotten there first. If they have, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should abandon the idea; it just means you should design a provocative premise around it that hasn’t been shared before.

For example, watch Sir Ken Robinson, the most-watched TED talk of all time. Certainly, other experts have talked about the need for creativity in our schools, but no one does it quite like Ken.

Does your career-making talk meet all seven C criteria of Original Messaging? If so, kudos to you. You’ve dramatically increased the likelihood your talk will be a success for you, the meeting planner, and everyone who watches in person and online.

If not, invest the effort to craft an original 7C talk that gets and keeps people’s eyebrows up. Your audience, career, and legacy will thank you.

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Sam Horn, Founder/CEO of the Intrigue Agency, is on a mission to help people create quality projects that add value for all involved. Her TEDx talk on INTRIGUE and books – including POP!, IDEApreneur, Tongue Fu! and Washington Post bestseller Got Your Attention? – have been featured in New York Times, Forbes, Inc, Fast Company and on NPR and MSNBC, and presented to Boeing, Intel, Cisco, NASA, Capital One, NASA, YPO, National Geographic.

Never Again Give an Elevator Speech

“It’s not about you. It never was.” – Diane Keaton

Do you know anyone who likes listening to a speech? Me neither.

know anyone who likes listening to a speech

Speeches are lectures. Who wants to be lectured?

That’s why, from now on when someone asks, “What do you do?” never again TELL them.  What?! Here’s an example to show what I mean.

Years ago, I was on a speaking tour with my sons. We had a night free in Denver, so we went downstairs to ask the concierge, “What do you suggest?”

He took one look at Tom and Andrew and said, “You’ve got to go to D & B’s.”

We were from Maui at the time and had no idea what he was talking about. We asked, “What’s that?”

He must have known that trying to explain it would only confuse us. Instead, he asked a qualifying question, “Have you ever been to Chuck E. Cheese?”

My sons nodded enthusiastically.

He smiled and said, “D & B’s is like a Chuck E. Cheese … for adults.”

Bingo. Ten seconds and we knew exactly what it was and wanted to go there. They should have put him on commission.

Why did that work so well? He turned a one-way elevator speech into a two-way elevator connection.  Here’s an example of how you can do the same.

A man approached me before a presentation and said, “I’m going to tell you something I haven’t told many people. I’m an introvert. I go to conferences all the time, but then I hide out in my hotel room because I hate networking.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m uncomfortable with small talk. Plus, I work in tech. I can never explain what I do in a way people can understand it. It’s so awkward, I rather just avoid it.”

I asked, “Want a way to introduce yourself that isn’t confusing or awkward, and that can actually lead to a meaningful conversation?”

He came back with, “Is that a rhetorical question?”

I asked, “Don’t tell to explain what you do. That’s like trying to explain electricity.  Instead, describe the real-world results of what you do that we can see, smell, taste and touch.”

He thought about it for a moment and said something about credit cards, online retailers, financial software and computers. The light bulb went off in my mind. “Do you make the software that makes it safe for us to buy stuff online?”

He lit up. “Yes! That’s exactly what I do.”

“That’s good … but don’t tell people that.”

He looked at me, puzzled. “Why not?”

“Because if you explain, ‘I make the software that makes it safe for you to buy things online, they’ll go, ‘Oh,’ and that’ll be the end of the conversation.

You don’t want to end the conversation; you want to open a conversation.”

“So what do I do instead?”

“Ask a three-part question that gives people an opportunity to share how they – or someone they know – may have experienced what you do.”

“What’s this about a three part question?”

“If you ask, ‘Have YOU ever bought anything online,’ and they say ‘No,’ you just ran into a conversation cul de sac.

If you ask, ‘Have you, a friend or a family member ever bought anything online … like on eBay, Travelocity or Amazon?’ you just increased the odds they’ve benefitted from what you do or know someone who has.

They may say, ‘Well, I never shop online. But my wife’s on Amazon all the time. She loves the free shipping.’

Now, link what you do to what they just said, ‘Well, our company makes the software that makes it safe for your wife to buy things on Amazon.’

‘OOHH,’ they’ll probably say.  Believe me, an intrigued ‘OOOHH’ is a lot better than a confused ‘Huh?!’ or a disinterested ‘oh.’

Their eyes will probably light up and their eyebrows will probably go up. They now relate to you and are more likely to remember you. Furthermore, you now have a mutually-relevant hook on which to hang a conversation which means you’re both more likely to want to continue the conversation.

All this in 60 seconds and all because you stopped TELLING people what you do and started ASKING how they may have experienced what you do.”

He actually got a little misty-eyed. I asked him, “What’s going on?”

He told me, “I can’t wait to get home after this conference.”


” I can finally get across to my eight year old son what I do in a way he understands it.”

Elevator Speech

That’s the power of turning an elevator speech into an elevator connection.

How about you?  What do you say when asked, “What do you do?” What do your co-workers say?  Do your responses cause confusion or create connections?

You might want to turn your next staff meeting into a brainstorming session where everyone crafts two-way introductions that genuinely engage people in mutually-relevant conversations that are a win for all involved.

By the way, this is just one of 25 ways to create more mutually-meaningful communications featured in my latest book – Washington Post bestseller Got Your Attention? Discover for yourself why it’s been endorsed by Dan Pink, Miki Agrawal, Terry Jones (founder of Travelocity), Keith Ferrazzi (Never Eat Alone) and Marshall Goldsmith who says it’s a “must for every leader.”

Want your employees and association members to actually enjoy networking at your next event and create more relevant, meaningful conversations? Contact to arrange for Sam to deliver her fun, inspiring, interactive keynote that gets everyone interacting and genuinely connecting in the room and in the halls.

Highlights from White House United State of Women Summit

What a joy it was being immersed in a sea of 5000 women at The White House The United State of Women Summit.

Everywhere you looked, there were women swapping cards, sharing resources and recommendations, and discussing how their startup, company or cause is educating and elevating women.

What I loved most was how the vast majority of speakers role-modeled the essence of entrepreneurialism. They saw a problem, opportunity or need and thought, “Somebody should DO something about this.”

Then they realized, “I’m as much a somebody as anybody, I’ll do something about it.”


For example, 11-year-old (you got that right) 11-year-old Mikaila Ulmer was stung twice by bees in the same week when she was 4.

She said, ‘First I got angry, then I got curious.” (What a wonderful sequence of responses).

She decided to do some research and discovered the important role bees play in our ecosystem but they’re endangered, so (like you do) she created her own BeeSweet Lemonade line that is now at Whole Foods.

Perhaps you saw Mikaila on Shark Tank when she rocked the judges and received $60,000 in funding. This young woman captured the attention and respect of everyone in the room as she discussed cash flow, how she donates part of her profits to protect bees, and how her little brother is her #1 sales rep.

And who did they ask to introduce The President of the United States? None other than the uber-confident Mikaila.

Barack Obama was as impressed with Mikaila as everyone else. He started his speech by saying, “When Mikaila was asked backstage if she was nervous about speaking in front of 5000 people, she said, ‘Oh no, I spoke in front of 11,000 people last week.’”

Then, Sophia Bush interviewed 11-year-old Marley Dias about what motivated her to start ‪#‎1000BlackGirlBooks‬.

Marley said, “We all need a hero who looks like us, but I couldn’t find any books that featured young black girls as heroes. I finally discovered ‘Brown Girl Dreaming’ by Jacqueline Woodson. It made such a difference for me, I wanted to give other girls the opportunity to read it.”

Check out this fascinating ‪#‎NPR‬ interview with Marley.

I could go on all day with highlights; however, we’ve all got work to do so here are just a few more.

At the Entrepreneurship Summit co-sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration the day before, Amy Millman of Springboard Enterprises coined the sound-bite of the day.

When her panel was asked for best-practices on how to approach investors/venture capitalists to raise funding, Amy said three succinct words … “ADD A ZERO.”

Now that’s how to say a lot in a little.

Instead of taking hundreds (thousands?) of words to explain that many startup founders are too timid and conservative when making their ask, and how important it is for them to “think bigger and be bolder” … she turned what could have been ‪#‎INFObesity‬ into a repeatable, retweetable sound-bite.

I was particular impressed with the White House Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith. She showed a slide of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and then promptly gave example after inspiring example of how female makers, hackers, and techies are addressing and solving those issues.

For example, she showed a 10th grader teaching the New Orleans Police Chief how to code, lauded the 11,000 participants from around the world at the Grace Hopper Conference, and championed “Take Your Kids to the Lab Day.”

In conclusion, she quoted Gloria Steinem as saying, “Women have always been part of the past, but they haven’t been part of our history.”

Megan’s on a mission to tell the stories of how women have, and are, playing a crucial role in America’s progress so they get the credit and recognition they deserve.

That theme was picked up by President Obama in his stirring address in which he first poked fun at himself, noting he had “a few more” gray hairs than when he took office, but “This is what a feminist looks like.”

He then launched into his trademark blend of what I call ORASTORY – a combination of crafted rhythmic words delivered in a rising cadence that elicited a ROAR from the room.

He said, “Our country is not just all about the Benjamins—it’s about the Tubmans, too. We need all our young people to know that Clara Barton and Lucretia Mott and Sojourner Truth and Eleanor Roosevelt and Dorothy Height aren’t just names for Women’s History Month, they are authors of our history, architects of our destiny.”

Oprah interviewed First Lady Michelle Obama and it was obvious how much the two of each other enjoy, respect and admire each other.  They were so relaxed and natural with each other, they might as well have been sitting on a couch in their living room “talking story.”

michelle obama and oprah - great picture

When asked her biggest lessons learned, Michelle said, “The importance of protecting my time.” Within the first week of moving into the White House, she was overwhelmed with demands and obligations, and she realized that if she wasn’t clear about her priorities (her daughters being her #1 priority) that she would get swallowed up in the job.

Oprah commented on how “brave” she was and Michelle said, “You don’t have to be brave if you know what your values are.”

Shifting gears …. when asked when he was going to retire, Warren Buffet said, “Why would I? At 85, I tap dance to work because I get to do what I love with people I love. “  (I hope to make it to 85 .. and when I do that’s exactly how I feel about the work I get to do:-)

Along with millions of other women athletes, I will always be grateful to Billie Jean King for her pioneering role in getting Title IX passed.

As I tell my sons, when it was time for me to go to college, there were NO athletic scholarships for women. Now, thanks to Billie and the many other committed women of the Women’s Sports Foundation who fought for equity in sports, there are 30,000 given to women every year.

billie jean king

As to what catalyzed her to tackle this issue, she said, “I had an epiphany when I was 12 years old. My opponent and I were both wearing white clothes, playing with white balls, and everyone around me was white. I thought, “WHERE IS EVERYBODY ELSE?”

Billie decided then and there, (yes at 12 years old), that sports should be equal access, equal opportunity and she was going to use tennis as a platform to make that happen globally. Talk about a visionary whose dedication and perseverance has benefitted millions.

She and Shonda Rhimes (the creative genius behind ABC Thursday night’s blockbusters Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder) were asked: “How do you handle the haters?”

Shonda echoed what everyone else (including First Lady Michelle Obama and Oprah) said, “I ignore them.”

Billie went on to explain, “I learned how important it was to do this from my dad. When I was 14, I lost an important match 6-0 6-0 and it was splashed all over the front page of the sports section.

I was really upset until my dad asked me, ‘When did that happen?’ I looked at him and said, ‘Yesterday.’

‘Exactly,’ he said, which was his way of reminding me that paying attention to something I can’t do anything about is a waste of time.”

There is so much more, for example, Julie Hanna’s (Executive Chair of the Board of KIVA) brilliant insights, “Pity is the enemy of compassion” and “Funding entrepreneurs is the ally of empowerment” and her mission to fund a billion deserving small business owners.

There were more galvanizing insights from this event, however, I need to practice what I teach and not overstay my welcome by going on too long …

…so, I’ll wrap up with Lilly Tomlin’s tongue-in-cheek observation, “Remember, we’re all in this … alone.”

Thanks to inspiring “rising tide raising all hopes” gatherings like these, we don’t have to go it alone; we can go it together.

And when we do, we turn struggles into strength and scale our impact – for good.

P.S.  If you’d like a preview of Sam’s popular keynote on Women’s Leadership, check out this post on “Don’t Like What’s Being Said?  Change the Conversation.”

Write NOW: 26 Inspiring Quotes to Get Your Ideas Out of Your Head

RightNow“One day you’re going to wake up, and there won’t be any time left to do the things you’ve always wanted to do.” – Paulo Coelho

For twenty years, I’ve had the joyful job of helping people get their ideas out of their head and into the world in the shape of books and blogs.

I tell them, “Ideas in your head help no one.”

Have you ever thought of it that way?

If you have EEE – Experiences, Expertise and Epiphanies – that would benefit others; it’s almost selfish to keep them to yourself.

When you think about it that way; writing is a way of contributing.  It’s a way of saying, “Here’s an offering of insights and observations.  I hope they might be of interest and value to you.”

Yet, many people who want to write start out with passion and the best of intentions, and then life intervenes. They get distracted, busy, overwhelmed. They put their books and blogs aside to deal with other priorities … and never get back to them.  And that’s a path to regrets.

Aviation Pioneer Chuck Yeager said, “At the moment of truth, there are either reasons or results.”

Henry Miller said “Life, for most of us, is one long postponement.”

We postpone getting our stories and ideas out of our head. We wait for a perfect tomorrow when we’ve got more energy, free time or discipline.

The fact is though, there will never be a perfect tomorrow. We’ll never have more time than we have right now.

Before he became a bestselling author, John Grisham, (The Last Juror) got up at 5 every morning to write for a couple hours before he went into his law practice.

Jacquelyn Mitchard, (the first Oprah pick with The Deep End of the Ocean) wrote at her kitchen table while her 5 kids were at school Monday-Friday.

Harvard Business professor John Kotter said, “Do you know what the #1 precursor is to change?  A sense of urgency.”

It’s time to feel a sense of urgency about your writing.

What’s the story you were born to tell?  The message you’ve lived to share?  The legacy message you want to pass along?  The time to write it is NOW.

You know what can help?  Keep these sources of inspiration “in sight, in mind,” so no matter how busy, tired or overwhelmed you are … you write a page a day.

That’s all. A page.

Because, if you write a page a day,  in six months, you’ll have a 180 page manuscript. You’ll have a couple dozen blogs.  You’ll have gotten your ideas out of your head and into the world where they can make a positive difference for others and a prosperous living for you.

Sound good?  If so, print out these quotes and put them where you’ll frequently see them – on your refrigerator, by your desk, next to your laptop.

Promise yourself you’ll sit down somewhere, sometime each day and write a page.  You can do that.

And when you get those blogs and books into the hands, heads and hearts of readers; you will experience the tangible satisfaction of knowing you’re adding value, extending your impact, expanding your influence.

Long after you’re gone, your ideas will still be out there. Making someone’s day a little better, a little brighter. Helping people be a more effective leader, parent,  friend, person. Motivating people to look at their world with fresh eyes and renewed appreciation.

You will never regret getting your ideas out of your head and into the world. You will only regret not doing it.

Promise yourself you’ll start today.  Which of these following quotes speaks to you?  How does it inspire you to sit down and write here, write now?

  1. “If you wait for inspiration to write; you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.” – Dan Poynter
  2. When asked the secret to finishing his 500 page masterpiece The Power of One, author Bryce Courtenay growled, “Bum glue!”
  3. “If my doctor told me I had only 6 months to live, I’d type a little faster.” – Isaac Asimov
  4. “Inspiration usually comes during work, not before it.” – Madeleine L’Engle
  5. “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at9 amevery morning.” – Peter DeVries
  6. “I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper.” – Steve Martin
  7. “I made a startling discovery. Time spent writing = output of work. Amazing.” – Ann Pachett
  8. “Ever tried and failed? No matter. Try again and fail better.” – Samuel Beckett
  9.  “It’s never too late – in fiction or in life – to revise.” – Nancy Thayer
  10. “If you want to write, you can. Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent. Who am I? What right have I to speak? Who will listen to me? You are a human being with a unique story to tell. You have every right.” – Richard Rhodes
  11. “The way to resume is to resume. It is the only way. To resume.” – Gertrude Stein
  12. “Best advice on writing I’ve ever received. Finish.” – Peter Mayle
  13. “When I am writing, I am doing the thing I was meant to do.” – Anne Sexton
  14. “You can sit there, tense and worried, freezing the creative energies, or you can start writing something. It doesn’t matter what. In five or ten minutes, the imagination will heat, the tightness will fade, and a certain spirit and rhythm will take over.” – Leonard Bernstein
  15. “I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged. I had pieces that were re-written so many times I suspect it was just a way of avoiding sending them out.” – Erica Jong
  16. “Once you’ve done the mental work, there comes a point you have to throw yourself into action and put your heart on the line.” – Lakers basketball coach Phil Jackson
  17. “The faster I write, the better my output. If I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.” – Raymond Chandler
  18. “When you speak, your words echo across the room. When you write, your words echo across the ages.” – Chicken Soup for the Writers Soul author Bud Gardner
  19. “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” – Carl Sandburg
  20. “I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.” – Pearl S. Buck
  21.  “Planning to write is not writing.  Writing is writing.” – E. L. Doctorow
  22. “I think the worst, most insidious procrastination for me is research. I will be looking for some bit of fact to include in the novel, and before I know, I’ve wasted an entire morning delving into that subject matter without a word written.” – James Rollins
  23.  “Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.” – Pablo Picasso
  24. “There’s a trick I’m going to share with you.  I learned it almost twenty years ago and I’ve never forgotten it … so pay attention.  Don’t begin at the beginning.” – Lawrence Block
  25.  “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.  You wait and watch and work and write; you don’t give up.” -Anne Lamott
  26. “I write because I cannot fly, but words can, and when they land, worlds appear.” – Susan Zeder
  27. “If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison
  28. “A year from now, you will wish you had started today.” – Ruth Reed, (Sam Horn’s mom)

As you can tell, I love quotes.  Do you have a favorite you don’t see here?  If so, please share it below or email it to me at

–   –   –   –   –   –

Sam Horn, Intrigue Expert, TEDx speaker and former Executive Director of the Maui Writers Conference,  is a communication strategist who helps people create one-of-a-kind projects – presentations, pitches, books and brands – that scale their impact for good.  Her work – including POP!, Tongue Fu!  and Washington Post bestseller Got Your Attention? – has been endorsed by Stephen Covey, Dan Pink, Tony Robbins and Marshall Goldsmith and featured in Fast Company, New York Times, Forbes, INC and BusinessWeek.

Can We REALLY Get People’s Attention in 60 Seconds?




“No one wants to go out mid-sentence.”


And, as Johnny would surely agree, no one wants investors to nod off mid-sentence.

Investors have seen hundreds of pitches. They’ve been there, heard that. They decide in a couple minutes, max, whether you’re worth their valuable time, mind, and dime.

Are you requesting funding for your startup, new venture or product launch? Here’s how to have decision-makers at hello. First the example, then the technique.

One of my Springboard Enterprises clients (Springboard has helped entrepreneurs receive $6.2 billion in funding) approached me and said, “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.”

I asked, “What’s the good news?”

“I’ve been asked to pitch a roomful of investors at the Paley Center in New York City”

“That is good news. What’s the bad news?

“I am going at 2:30 in the afternoon and I only have 10 minutes. How am I supposed to explain my invention, clinical trials, business model, team credentials and exit strategy in 10 minutes?”

I said, “Actually, you don’t have 10 minutes. As you mentioned, you’re going at 2:30 in the afternoon. These investors will have already heard 16 presentations. You have 60 seconds to get their favorable attention.”

She said, “How is that possible?”

Here’s how. This is the 60-second opening we came up with. It not only helped Kathleen Callender of Pharma Jet receive funding and the Nokia Health Award; Businessweek also named her one of America’s Most Promising Social Entrepreneurs in 2010.

Did you know there are more than 1.8 billion vaccinations given every year?

Did you know up to half of those are given with reused needles?

Did you know we are spreading and perpetuating the very diseases we are trying to prevent?

Imagine if there were a painless, one-use needle available for a fraction of the current cost.

You don’t have to imagine it; we’ve created it. In fact, in this article . . . and she was off and running.

Do you want to know more? That means Kathleen just got her startup in your mental door.

Let’s put this in perspective. Before we crafted this opening, Kathleen started off with a lengthy explanation of her company’s “medical delivery device for subcutaneous inoculations.” Huh?

This new, more intriguing opening got eyebrows up and smartphones down in 60 seconds flat. Here’s how you can do the same.


What startling research can you introduce that would cause them to think, “Really?!”

What recent data could you reference that offers fresh insight into the problem you’re solving, the issue you’re addressing, the need you’re meeting?

What respected resource can you reference that shows a sudden shift in a trend, a dramatic increase in your target demographics, a relevant change in a regulation?


The word “Imagine” pulls people out of their preoccupation. Now they’re picturing what you’re saying. They’re fully engaged instead of checking their email.

What did Kathleen’s decision makers care about? Painful inoculations. Reused needles. Money. So we crafted her solution to a worldwide problem into, “Imagine if there were a painless, one-use needle for a fraction of the current cost.”

Condense the promise of what you’re proposing into a single succinct sentence that causes your decision makers to think, “Who wouldn’t want that?!”


Now, introduce precedence or evidence to prove this isn’t pie in the sky or speculative; it’s a done deal and you’re the one to deliver it.

Or give a case study that demonstrates the validity of what you’ve done.

Or provide a testimonial from an industry expert who lends veracity to your claims.

Why does this “Did You Know” opening work so well?

Because the quickest way to engage seasoned decision makers is to introduce something they don’t know—but would like to know. They’re now smarter than they were a moment ago. They’re motivated to give you their undivided attention because you’ve just proven it’ll be worth their while. You’ve just nailed your pitch . . . a minute in.

This Article Originally Appeared in Fast Company

Sam Horn is on a mission to help entrepreneurs create more compelling presentations, pitches, and proposals. She is the founder and CEO of the Intrigue Agency, where she writes, speaks, and consults on strategic communications.



Do Your Emails Pass the 5-Sentence Test?

PulitElephantInTheRoomzer Prize winning humorist Gene Weingarten said, “Let’s address the elephant in the room.

‘YO Elephant!’”

Do you know what the elephant in the room in every business interaction is?
People wondering, “How long will this take?”

Anxiety is defined as “not knowing.”

If people don’t know how long we want their attention, they don’t pay attention.
They’re in a state of anxiety (perhaps even resentment) thinking, “Don’t you realize I’m busy? Don’t you understand you’re keeping me from working on other priorities? Hurry it up. I’ve got things to do.”

It’s like the famous New Yorker cartoon from Bob Mankoff. An executive is on the phone saying, “How about Tuesday. No? How about never? Is never good for you?”

From now on, if you want people to give you their precious attention, ask for a specific amount of their time, and pleasantly surprise them by asking for less time than expected.

I show how to do this in Chapter 10 of my new book, Got Your Attention? The chapter is titled, “Keep it Brief or They’ll Give You Grief.”

Here’s just one tip. Do you know about 5 Sentence Email?

Check them out at

They have a cut-and-paste statement you can include in your signature line to explain your policy of sending short emails, and its advantages for all parties involved.

Think about how much time this could save you and the people who receive your emails.

The average business worker sends 43 emails a day and receives 130, so keeping your emails to 5 sentences can cut down the amount of time you spend on them, and can make a huge difference in whether recipients choose to read them.

Worried you won’t be able to say everything you need to say in 5 sentences?

Guy Kawasaki, a big proponent of short emails, says “Proper email is a balance of politeness and succinctness.”

If you would like to combine courtesy and efficiency, he suggests you provide just enough information to answer these five questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you want?
  • Why are you asking me?
  • Why should I do with what you’re asking me?
  • What is the next step?

You’ve heard of Parkinson’s Law? “A task expands to the time allowed for it?”

Horn’s Law is, ‘Communications expand to the time and space allowed for them.”

From now on, give yourself a time and space deadline for your emails, and let people know up front you’re going to keep it short.

You’ll find they’re much more likely to give you their valuable time, mind and dime.

How Can I Motivate People to Pay Attention to Me?




“Let’s address the elephant in the room. ‘YO Elephant!’” – humorist Gene Weingarten

An executive hired me to help him with his habit of “over-talking.” He knew it was undermining his impact and wanted to learn to be more concise so people would give him their attention.

I asked him, “Do you know what the elephant in the room in every interaction is?”

“No, what?”

“How long will this take?”

“I know it’s important to get to the point. I just don’t know how to do that.”

I knew, as an engineer, he would respect metrics, so I said, “Force yourself to get to the point by assigning metrics to your business interactions from now on. Think about it. Twitter is 140 characters. Not 151. The message won’t send if it’s too long. Snapchat is 8 seconds. TED talks are 18 minutes. People are a lot more likely to give you their time if you only ask for a little of it. How about your meetings? Do they have a time limit?”

“Not really. We take however long we need to get through our agenda.”

“Uh oh. You’ve heard of Parkinson’s Law: a task expands to the time allowed for it?

Horn’s Law is, ‘Communication expands to the time allowed for it.’ From now on, everyone in meetings, including you, has three minutes max to report out on each issue.”

While discussing this, a rather impressive storm moved into our area. As soon as lightning flashed, my dog Murphy started pacing and panting. I told my client, “Excuse me, I need to put a Thunder-Shirt on Murphy. She gets panicked by these storms.”

He watched me Velcro Murph into her Thunder-Shirt and asked, “How does that work?”

“Well, it’s like swaddling a baby. Infants feel insecure when they flail around because they feel like they’re falling. As soon as you wrap them snugly in a blanket, they feel safe because their world is now finite. It works the same way with Murphy. As soon as she’s swaddled in a Thunder-Shirt, she calms down because she feels contained.”

My client started laughing and said, “Sam, that’s what we’re doing. We’re putting a Thunder-Shirt on my interactions. We’re swaddling my communication.”

T.S. Elliott said, “When forced to work within a tight framework, the imagination is taxed to produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom, the work is likely to sprawl.”

T.S. Elliott is right. If your interaction is “sprawling all over the place,” it needs a tighter framework. Interrupt and assign a snug timeline that forces everyone to speak more succinctly and purposefully.

Assigning clear start-and-finish time boundaries is a win for everyone. An association exec told me, “I think I know why we’ve had trouble getting volunteers for our committees. Busy people don’t want to agree to something when they have no idea how much time they’re committing.

We’re going to put a Thunder-Shirt on our committee meetings and promise there will only be one a month, (except for the month before our convention). We’ll let our busy volunteers know they can trust us to keep meetings to 90 minutes max, that we’ll start and end on time, and everyone will be limited to 3 minute reports. I’m confident more members will get involved if they know exactly what they’re signing up for, up front.”

How about you? Would putting a Thunder-Shirt on your interactions help people stay focused and get to the point, faster? Why not give it try?


[photo via Flickr User Maja Dumat // Creative Commons]