A vital decision when presenting a short talk or story

A colleague-friend years ago scolded me for how I was preparing for a short talk (to be roughly five minutes of stage time). I recall being very concerned that five minutes with the audience ‘just wouldn’t be enough time to make a credible effort…’

During these informal rehearsals, the intro would start with biographical remarks about myself, then progressed to the more relevant meat.

My observing friend looked at me with vivid critical sass after one of the rehearsals and said:

Your audience could care less about you.  They care about the experience you can create for them. They care about your teachable, relevant meaning that can help them.  So stop flaunting your ego with the bio stuff. Stop thinking five minutes is insufficient. Stop abusing your audience’s time and organize your thoughts in 15 to 30 second chunks, and get on with it!


I still recall the humbling crash my ego took from her words that day.  It was a hard realization to experience — that my love for speechmaking had (unintentionally) morphed into a sense of entitlement with time on stage:

Five minutes?! That’s not enough time to sneeze let alone for an audience to pick up on my depth of meaning…

That was my fumbling, fightin’, ego at the time; I shrink at the snobby condescension in my head back then.  But years later (and many short speeches and storytelling since) a fascination grips me as a presenter, storyteller, and devotee of the really short speech format.

It’s a fascination driven by one question:

How can any type of speaker, no matter their level of presentation or storytelling experience, create resonance with their audience in a five minute (or less) speech?

Even seemingly harmless content decisions in short-form stories or presentations can unintentionally distance an audience — vs bring them into your intended meaning.

This one content decision at the start creates stronger resonance: When making really short talks, all content decisions must ideally bridge this experiential distance or ‘separateness gap’ to make a more resonant impact — quickly, from the start. How to do this? Prevent that separateness from ever developing from the beginning.

Solution: Provide listeners with a specific, relevant scene in the first 15 seconds of your talk.

This decision will better convert your audience from a mental observation mode – to a more interactive & mentally more resonant participation mode.

Imagine Ms. Sara Sample Speaker as a hypothetical.

She’s about to give a five minute talk about holiday cuisine.  Her audience before she even takes the stage is in a mental observation mode consciously or not. Sure they know they are here in their seats about to watch Ms. Sara Sample. But their senses and train of thought are very much in observational on-the-outside-of-any-journey-of-meaning mode.

Keep in mind, as this Sarah takes the stage, she ultimately wants to get the audience to mentally journey with her, to mentally be involved in her content’s sense of progression. She wants listeners to be in full-on cognitive participation…not just observers merely consuming the sound of her voice and detached from specific meaning.

So she takes the stage and says:

“I love holiday flavors more than anything.  And each October, I remember as a kid how pumpkin pie would rule our house long before Halloween night arrived.  Dad even polished our special pie trays at the start of fall, and well before buying any Halloween candy for the trick-o-treaters.”

Our speaker Sarah, with this immediate scenic content decision at her beginning, has mentally transported the audience from observation mode — to a scenic experience which their imaginations can experientially identify with i.e. pumpkin pie and Dad fussing about. The simple scene progresses the audience to along with the speaker (again in the first 15 seconds).  Speaker and audience alike have now shared in live-time this family’s experiential delight for pumpkin and holiday anticipation.

This first 15 seconds of scenic storytelling (simple, non-complex!) easily starts off her short talk with topical relevance and unifies herself with audience expectation.

Ok, so why care?!

Why shouldn’t Ms. Sara Sample’s short talk begin instead with something like…: “I’m Sarah, a chef for 10 years and head of catering at Chicago’s Ritz Carlton. Before that I ran catering for special events, weddings, and holidays at different hotels in Miami Beach and New England. So today, I want to talk about holiday food with you all.”

That’s a passable way to start.

But this type of opener greets Sarah’s audience with a topical distance.

Or another way to describe the concern is this: Sarah is creating for her audience a sense of separateness by giving her mini bio at the start. As in, it’s highly likely that no one else in her audience can relate to being a seasoned chef at fancy hotels. Also her listeners hear her bio as being repetitive, since they’ve (highly likely) already seen it on the event agenda; the conference’s promo; and in a zillion twitter conversations before the date of Sarah’s stage moment even arrived.

But what does the audience have in common with Sarah-the-hypothetical speaker? Her talk’s topic aka holiday cuisine. That’s what they came for…not an oral re-enactment of her resume.

Other samples of scenic decisions at the very start of short talks:

Drew Dudley’s short talk: Everyday Leadership

“How many of you are completely comfortable calling yourself a leader? See I’ve asked that question across the country and I always find there’s a huge number of people in the audience that don’t raise their hand.”

The scenic moment:  The audience moves from their observer ‘seat’ to being apart of audiences across the country who have grappled with the speaker’s question.

Susan B. Anthony’s speech before court: On Women’s Right to Vote

“Friends and fellow citizens, I stand before you tonight under indictment for the alleged crime of having voted at the last presidential election, ….without having a lawful right to vote.”

The scenic moment:  The audience moves from their observer ‘seat’ to being involved with the speaker’s current legal threat with the right to vote as common ground between speaker and audience.

I so love the structure and possibilities in short-form presentation! Hope you enjoy and find this useful (comments welcome all the time). More thoughts to come about crafting short-form stories and presentation.

Photo attribution …a short fall by Eury licensed under Creative Commons

What an audience craves before they really, really trust a storyteller or public voice


What cultivates trust with listeners when we express ourselves as public speakers or storytellers (or both)?

It’s common for answering this question in context of ‘to entertain is better’ vs ‘to offer teachable perspective is better’.  At least this was a common way to frame said debate when I was a coach to storytellers way back when!

For  what it’s worth – I really, really believe authentic clear perspective as speakers moves trust forward with audiences much more so than a dominant focus to only entertain. The “I only have to entertain” mindset is a common misconception that often creates big psychological barriers when folks including myself prepare to publicly speak. This outlook when preparing can cause many presenters (and even seasoned storytellers) to think they are inadequate since they are not sure how to entertain in the first place.

A myopic striving to only entertain an audience can so often lead speakers to indulging their ego — to be that ‘hilarious charming speaker’ — vs to be that timely source that satisfies an audience’s need for real perspective. Our audience needs and deserves the latter.

Here’s what I see about an exclusive desire to entertain audiences. It stifles many-a-speaker when preparing. It happens a lot. Their expectations to be entertaining dynamos like Meryl Streep (…sprinkled with a Sheryl Sandberg or Gary Vanerchuck quality) often inhibit their ability to establish an accessible point of view. Their clarity of mind usually suffocates under the self-imposed pressure to be funny enough, riveting, fascinating, provocative, etc.

So when preparing content and point of view, I suggest looking first at the teachable truth in your fund of knowledge.

Decide a few topics and then consider:

  1. How are these topics teachable from your point of view?
  2. How do these topics relate to and benefit different segments of people?
  3. What three problems can you solve?

Is it human to want our audiences to crack-up from welcomed laughter at our stories and overall presentations?!

Sure, it’s understandable. But I invite us to ask one question first when assessing a speech’s entertainment value: Does the content entertain while supporting a core idea?

Any wit, story, or piece of content needs to explicate a usable idea or perspective.

Our teachable experience is what we have in common with our audiences. As in, they want it and we’ve got it. No perfectionism or entertainment hoo-ha… just some usable, human truth and clear point of view.

Another tip: conquering leery self-confidence

Should you ever suffer from low reservoirs of self-confidence (ah we all do one time or another) – this mental exercise below may liberate you when preparing to engage audiences.

1. Mentally embrace the fact you have insight, which could help at least one person on this planet.

2. Then consider two people, then a room full of people, then maybe a whole department.

3. Believe that something useful and teachable exists in you, even if it is not clear to your self-confidence right this very minute. Assert this possibility in your mind as a meditative exercise for a good 10 minutes. Just sit with it.

Photo attribution entertain us  by fedee P licensed under Creative Commons

How to become a stronger storyteller, speaker, and a better source of empathy to those listening

I thank 2018 a lot for new chances to launch storytelling projects so far (some in-person audience ones and some audio recordings). They are teaching me a lot, even to the degree of being a little more open and present-minded with people (which can feel pretty vulnerable sometimes!).

These recent efforts have also triggered memories for how to build confidence and skill as a speaker (…from way back yonder when I was a coach to storytellers).

Ideas that may help others that are now coming fully to mind…:

A favorite 20 minute exercise goes like this.

  1. Set a timer for 20 minutes.
  2. Then answer this question:  What five beliefs do you hold true about your business and your industry?

Reflect upon core assertions that drive you professionally. Permit the flow of ideas without judgment. Then write, write, write. Write the phrase “I believe” in front of your assertions if that helps to stimulate thought. As a raw example on my end: “I believe public speaking is a self-assertion game and a clarity game; it takes time to achieve at both.”

This exercise is a no-criticism zone.

Just write for as long as your timer ticks for at least 20 minutes. The time-constraint factor consciously or not puts the brain in production mode. The main purpose is to get out of your head, and recognize more clearly your points of view as a voice.

Also to ensure you are leading the audience to your most relevant, useful ideas when preparing content, consider this hypothetical question when organizing thoughts:

If your stage time was limited unexpectedly to 90 seconds, what would you say?

More on strengthening point of view and confidence:

Women (and certainly men too) but often women in particular lack confidence in themselves to speak in public. From my experience as a former storyteller/speaker coach — if you are unsure which stories could help explain a core idea, or if you want to emerge more trust in yourself as a public voice, these tactics could help.

There are tons of ways to test one’s voice and stories, including these favorites:

  1. joining a Toastmasters club, or
  2. starting a vlog.
  3. My really favorite option is to shape your own platform (and community) as a speaker and storyteller.

Create your own stage and assert it like there’s no tomorrow. As example, gain experience and storytelling confidence through hosting your own meet-ups.

With this meet-up idea, you can build your speaking strength from your own trusted network. Consider inviting a small trusted group at first, 15 people to a coffee shop or your office. Then lead a conversation central to your professional beliefs.

Test your point of view in a brief lightning talk, like a 10 minute presentation. Solicit feedback to improve. Learn what resonates. And even get testimonials from positive commenters (and publish them online!). Try this every four to six weeks if your schedule allows. Then evaluate your stories and ideas: what worked most?

How to befriend (and channel) the tummy butterflies before giving a talk:

Be alone and quiet. Breathe deeply a few times. Then stand in your most confident, shoulders-back stance and punch the air, like a boxer. Breathe, box, breathe, box. And finally, close your eyes; envision standing on stage and saying your first lines to the audience. In that mental moment, look ‘em in the eyes. Give and receive this attention in your mind.

Above all extend a sense of authentic good will with those in your audience; savor the moment of sharing time with those kind listeners (time being a true gift from them to you).

Photo attribution The Flame by Clix Renfew licensed under Creative Commons

Ways to organize a storytelling salon at home

One of my “…just do it” goals for this New Year is to enjoy friends more often through casual storytelling and conversation. That goal began brainstorms for a storytelling salon event series at my home. The first storytelling salon for the year happens (gulp!) tomorrow. Adrenaline accelerates with every minute over here with last minute planning!

What the heck is a storytelling salon?

It is a personal, subjective experience to define for sure. But I work with this approach: each story salon occurs on the weekend at my home/apartment building, and includes hospitality for the first hour; then oral storytelling of archived stories that I’ve wanted to share with community for many moons; and casual theme-based group discussion afterward. The overarching interest is good ole community with friends in the context of storytelling and learning each other’s life experience more.

Three thoughts surface now as final details resolve before the big day tomorrow:

1. Deciding the core focus has been useful i.e. to cultivate an intimate story experience & environs for sharing personal perspective.

Once this focus for the salon crystalized more, other party-related or social options faded to irrelevance. The intent is creating a type of ambience where friends would ideally feel comfortable spending time (and opening up more too to the story-sharing aspect). Physical space – how it can affect the flow and disposition of people – has been an interesting consideration. The party room on the third floor of my home’s condo building turned out to be a better space conducive to intimacy (vs our specific home unit). There’s a slightly higher ceiling that some say can cause people to associate ideas more freely (…getting a kick out of that tidbit). Restrooms and a roof deck are feet away when folks need alone time.

The main element with this salon idea is to create an agile, non-demanding dynamic for friends that sometimes complex hospitality environs can distract from. A non-existent white glove treatment is the point. Think lots of cushy sofas and puffy-fluffy chairs organized in circle-seating; soft natural window light; a few candles; low overhead lighting; and the U2 playlist playing at a lower hum.

2. Choosing a potluck-brunch approach to hospitality has helped achieve simplicity and pre-salon collaboration. 

At first when planning loosely began last December, I leaned toward a full menu to provide buddies. But then I frankly felt the stressful stomach knots form. So a friend suggested a potluck option which has been fun and a creative collaboration for the group.

When sending the save-the-date notice out a while ago, I tossed out a link to potential brunch food ideas (cinnamon rolls or bagels or french toast for starters or other options). The group approach has helped keep the planning spirit light, and attention more on the storytelling piece.

3. Setting a story theme and an unconditional tenor toward participation has added needed, unobtrusive structure. 

The story theme is:  Home – running away and reunions.

In the spirit of facilitating greater focus and ease for guests — I suggested a theme for them to (casually) reflect upon before salon day.

The theme’s purpose is to provide perimeters regarding topic. Often in a public dynamic like this, a non-topic driven gathering can overwhelm concentration or prevent precise memory recall from kicking in.

In hopes of generating more ease and willing participation, the salon will start with a story from me about home in Oklahoma growing up…roughly a 7 minute story. Then afterward, I’ll welcome other people’s perception of their home experience with an opening question.

Guests can share their reflections as they’re open to it. If everyone is shy and isn’t down for sharing, no sweat! We’ll simply continue to snarf down cinnamon rolls and kibitz.

It continues to be a blast to plan and anticipate.

Looking forward to learning about friends more tomorrow, their stories from home, and tons of photos to relive the joy.

Photo attribution “Storytelling” by Renu Parkhi licensed under Creative Commons

A belated valentine story for a revolutionary feminist-spirit-sculptor-spy


This valentine’s week, with the actual day yesterday powerfully syncing up with Ash Wednesday, has rekindled the history of one of my favorite activists from the American Revolution: Ms. Patience Wright, b. 1725-1786.

Truth be told there’s zero overt or historical connection with Ms. Wright and our modern culture’s celebrated rituals of this particular week


Here’s why this blog-post-gone-valentine (and Ash Wednesday) feature is just for her:  her entrepreneurial, fearless approach to an 18th century career in art -and- spy craft.

  • After her husband died in the late 1760s, Wright needed economic streams immediately. She elevated her hobbyist art to professional attainment, and is considered the first known American wax sculptor.
  • Also after her husband’s death, she was raising three children and pregnant. This alone makes her deserving for valentine acknowledgement.
  • Wright’s sometimes patriotic and spiritual devotion to the new America’s cause for independence wasn’t always popular (as she was a resident who lived both in New Jersey and London); her courage seems timely to honor though, since her advocacy goes parallel to the preparatory strengthening of Lent first established for the once young & unpopular Christian faith.

Ms. Wright alienated her American friends even more when she pressured (Benjamin) Franklin to support a rebellion in Britain itself. Writing to him in France (in the mid-1700s), she encouraged him to lend his services to “poor and oppressed” Britons as spiritual brothers and sisters of the American Revolution.

Patience Wright was a wax sculptor, mother of four, and to my heart’s delight – an American and quite revolutionary spy living in Britain throughout the 18th century.

I dream of this make-believe-story below!

…a.k.a. a quick imagining, fueled a little by the inner spy I’d love to be, with the stealth, artistic espionage of Ms. Patience Wright in full-swing.

So Happy Valentine’s Day to Ms. Patience Wright.

Here’s some playful fiction inspired by your spiritual grit, going back to when the United States was a fighting idea at war:

It is a late, motionless night in the streets of London. The year is 1776…that unwavering bearer of change for both sides of the Atlantic.  One house in particular has stayed audibly quiet since dusk; and with the full moon …..there’s just enough light for Ms Patience Wright to sculpt the hairline of a neck.

She sits at full artistic alert near her northern most window.  How she loves a studied confrontation with a block of wax..unveiling human form with every chisel. And much of London and the British elite consider her the best of the best……a renowned wax sculptor producing work in a suite of pastels.

This is the work of Ms Patience Wright….widow, sculptor, and mother of four.

She leans in closer now toward the window sill to catch all possible light from the moon. Her fingers work in their primal rhythm with the wax …. what looks like a fluid sway between smoothing-molding-lifting-pressing.

She sits back to stretch her shoulders and take in her work.

“Yes…yes…this will serve good purpose,” she says to the wells of her own self-respect.

Now all her interest turns to the final test of the bust’s left ear. But before Patience adheres the lower arc of the ear lobe, …..she writes a tiny note of intelligence (some critical news against the monarchy). She then scrolls it up, and secures the note in the ear’s upper curve.

“This will do,” she whispers in the private, moonlit arena of her craft. For Ms. Wright knows her creative trade fulfills two needs very, very well:  the art of sculpture and the art of spy craft.

Once she convinces herself the bust’s ear chamber was sealed with precision and a look of innocence, she packed the small bust in a gift container and folded away her tools.




She heard the front-door taps with shifting angst. She knew that knock brought loyal support to the patriot cause. But like any fight for sovereignty, even such a sound of allegiance courted potential threat.

Nonetheless she summoned her feet toward the door.

There a shadowed figure greeted her. 

With a simple flip of the agent’s cloak over his right shoulder, he said one phrase coded just for her:

“A night for liberty madam, is it not?” he asked with the impatient flare of an insider on the run.

Patience nodded as she granted the agent the box. The shine of his black riding boots then twirled away in the moonlight back to his mount…and off they went…couriers for the west bound for Benjamin Franklin himself stationed now in Paris.

Patience shut the door…and stood a moment in the stillness of her home.

Then came a stir upstairs.

“Mama, mama…” cried her young ones with their dawning appetite.

She lofted up the stairwell with satisfaction, the depth of which anointed her heart with cravings for future risks on moonlit nights.



Photo attribution “I spy a girl working on a Sunday” by Janine licensed by Creative Commons

Storytelling, and three basics of this critically generous craft

Storytelling, especially short-form storytelling, remains ever on the mind these days. I’m getting excited about preparations for a new community-wide open mic night starting in DC’s Dupont Circle neighborhood this spring (more to follow as logistics solidify).
In the interim, these preparatory efforts cause reflection for how storytelling often takes such a hold on people’s attention and emotional terrain.
There are so many horizons of answers and resources to that question depending on the types of listeners a storyteller wants to engage. But what stands out to me about telling stories (and listening to them too) is how inherently generous the experience can be.
Storytelling at its most fundamental root is an unconditional act of hospitality; and there are three structural pieces to story creation that really flesh this premise out.
Whether you plan to tell a story in an in-person dynamic, or via audio or video, this crafting approach can really strengthen the vitality, and inclusive, giving nature, of what you create for (and with) your audience.
Step 1:
Creating story context, and unconditional comfort at the start
Perceive the beginning few seconds of your story as a gift of invitation to your audience; this gift will come packaged in the form of basic context for your story. A simple yet distinct few sentences constructs a mental starting point for your listeners.
This starting point, consciously or not, orients the brains of your listeners to the mental journal that you will take them on. This orientation is structurally comforting (again this usually transpires on an unconscious level of experience for your listeners). But this structural comfort is very much an act of welcome to the audience. It makes the listening brain more willing to be vulnerable, and to travel the unknown territory of your story.
This step forms a relatable foundation from which to launch your journey of meaning (and overall sense of progression) as storyteller.
Without this initial structural decision, audience attention can easily get disoriented (and not stay in tune with your unfolding progression).
Samples of context:
A — You could assert an emotion or mention an action or location that is apart of the specific scene that you want to ultimately share – sample:
“I love playing piano at choir practice….”
B — Or you could start with asserting a mindset or personal value – sample as:
“It means everything to feel accepted and to be myself in the community…”
C — Another option is to express a simple curiosity on your mind that leads-up to your particular, meaningful scene – sample as:
“I was leery to admit I was headed to the protest march, but decided to share with my friend on the bus just to see what would happen.…”
Setting this context can involve just a few sentences.
A tip for this initial step:
Consider how you would start sharing a story with a friend at a coffee shop…. conversational, intentional, with a desire to simply take your friend mentally along with you on a storytelling journey.
Step 2:
Taking your audience to a specific scene of action
Perceive this next component of your story as a chance to shape for your listeners a new but relevant environment.
Your mindset in crafting this next piece is still one based in unconditional sense of welcome.  As in, your listeners can bring any and all unique skills of imagining detail and interpretation — even with not having lived through your personal experience (and your personal visions of it). Do not fret about imparting every single visual element about this scene to your audience. This scene simply needs get them to the next level of action which your brief context opened the door to.
In this structural organizing of your story — take your audience mentally to a particular arena where you can both evolve visual placement for them, but also evolve meaning too. They don’t need to receive and consider every single detail that you have the ability to offer them. The goal with this scene is to directly make the story relatable and useful in your journey of perspective that you’re taking folks on.
You are placing your audience — together with your unique perspective — in a well-articulated scene (but one that’s not suffocated with excessive trivia). Begin to get clear to yourself as storyteller why this scene has unique meaning for you.
A sample scene:
Remember your starting point of context that you are building from:
“I love playing piano at choir practice” — per the above first-step sample.
Then progress to your core action i.e. your specific scenic moment:
“One night we began to rehearse a hymn about healing. I remember when we finished singing, a lady new to choir asked for prayers to shrink her just-diagnosed brain tumor. The choir was caught a little off guard; but we then prayed together with as much love as we could muster, and sang in hopes the tumor would be less threatening. Weeks later, she reported that the tumor shrank!”
Step 3:
Progressing your audience to an arrival point of meaning
Perceive this concluding step as the chance to create new perspective for the audience; this is the chance for you to thread your entire storytelling journey together by making clear what your previous scenic moment or moments mean to you.
Consider this ending structural piece like it was an Easter morning sunrise just for your audience: your story’s fresh arrival point to a new and generous truth, meaning, or insight.
Reflect on what potentially affected you or surprised you or what you were grateful for or relieved by from the scene you just walked your listening guests through.
A sample arrival point of meaning:
Let us continue with the sample story-building exercise from the previous steps.
First, your context i.e. remember your starting point:
“I love playing piano at our choir practice.”
Then progress to the next step of citing core action i.e. your specific scenic moment:
“One night we began to rehearse a hymn about healing. I remember when we finished singing, a lady new to choir asked for prayers to shrink her just-diagnosed brain tumor. The choir was caught a little off guard; but we prayed together with as much love as we could muster, and sang in hopes the tumor would be less threatening. Weeks later, she reported that the tumor shrank!”
Then make your unique perspective known — your ‘why’ of this storytelling journey – and progress to your third, final step. Reveal as storyteller your slice of meaning, your teachable insight:
“When I learned the tumor was smaller, the academic side of me was doubtful that our prayers were completely responsible. But then I realized that knowing that ‘for certain’ was not the main point for me from this whole experience. It was really how this community came together through an intimate and pretty vulnerable connection for a new friend. It was how we all bonded to a very healing, unexpected invitation to relate to God and extend authentic care.”
Photo, top, “Sunrise-Easter 2006” by Matt and Polly Freer licensed under Creative Commons.
Photo, right-middle, Easter Morning Fog by Jason Mrachina licensed under Creative Commons.

Courage, self-control, and the most demanding hospitality experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything

The Code of the Samurai aka the Bushido Code keeps running through my mind as an ancient-gone-modern reference guide for delivering (consistently) awesome hospitality.

A thrilling experience comes to the forefront that puts this into better focus. A few years ago my church (Foundry UMC) was gearing up to celebrate its Bicentennial anniversary. It was exhilarating. Many folks from the local Dupont Circle community in DC; national Methodist connection; past pastors of the church; and city and even national leaders planned to attend this gigantic celebration.

I was on church staff at the time, organizing hospitality and related support. There were many times when our hospitality standards would enter conversation and team training. Our suite of hospitality mantras became: “Everyone is welcome; everyone joining us that day is apart of this historical day and our special guest; each person who walks in these church doors is to receive a radically clear welcome just for them…”

Our mindset was to be all the more radically sincere, consistent, agile, and fully filled with welcoming attention. Foundry’s Pastor Ginger often inspired the church members, legions of volunteers, and staff with reminders that we were deepening and enriching the church’s very own standard of ‘radical hospitality.’ The passionate, well-rounded dedication (and tactical support) to achieve this level of hospitality was a dream come true. I was proud to work with this congregation in this moment.

Then it all got really, really real.

After over a year of planning – the sun finally rose on the big day and nudged all preparation into high-octane immediacy.

Beloved neighbors, friends, & family lined up long before our church doors opened hoping to get a good seat; DC mayor’s office called every few minutes with her advance team’s revised arrival time; Secretary Clinton, President Clinton, and daughter Chelsea would arrive once their secret service team finished their rounds. An alternate community like no other was taking shape to celebrate our first 200 years in Christian faith.

Volunteers attended their stations — in the balcony; in multiple aisles in the sanctuary; greeters in front hospitality; welcoming, directional folks near the restrooms; the fellowship hall; on the outdoor grounds; the Green Room. It was an awesome, in-sync, and bubbly solar system of hospitality teams. The awareness was at a fever-pitch to acknowledge guests, guide traffic, convey resourcefulness, and love-thy-neighborness at every turn.

Then as I was almost in adrenaline, star-struck overload, echos of Pastor Ginger’s wise coaching ricocheted in all corners of my head space:

“…Every person, every child, every elderly soul, every guest, every familiar face or stranger…all are welcome. Welcome personally everyone as much as you can, as sincerely open as you can, and as often as you can.” 

It became clear in that moment to me that Pastor Ginger’s words outlined hospitality as an extension of hospitality justice — a beckoning to everyone no matter their reality in modern society. We were a historical congregation honoring our 200th year of devotion to loving God and neighbor, and all the vulnerable rigor living in community can require.

That’s when an unexpected reservoir of courage and self-control surfaced. These specific code of the samurai virtues immediately became relevant and necessary. Because this was a chance for us to reflect God’s emancipating love in our little corner of the world. Holy. Wow.

Courage and self-control to inform the secret service agent that my time was not 100% dedicated to him – and to refer him to another hospitality resource (…a little nerve-racking as he was equipped with a vivid fire arm). Courage and self-control to not let getting star struck distract focus from the sweet elderly woman having trouble with her shawl. The Bushido Code states: “Courage is worthy of being counted among virtues only if it’s exercised in the cause of Righteousness…”

Every impromptu question created an arena for the liberating, loving, fret-defying love of God to lead, like: “So the coat racks are full…now what?” to a choir member gasping in angst: “Who has a cough drop?!”

Radical hospitality meant our team stepping into a radical availability to not just welcome but to engage countless levels of collaborative readiness.

As in, it is not enough to simply recognize that ‘all guests whether they are state leaders or not deserve splendid attention and resourcefulness.’ It takes conscious assertion of courage in the present time (which I find can be challenging or even intimidating…per secret service scenario!). This whole hospitality experience and the environment Foundry UMC created that day provided unparalleled education. The event offered irreplaceable forums to better control adrenaline and anxiety, and to direct both as courageously as possible to delivering hospitality with equity to every soul in the place.

Photo attribution “Take Courage” by kipadella licensed under Creative Commons

Justice, and how the code of the samurai makes an epic code for hospitality

There’s nothing like a saga about a samurai’s honor to get the mental juices reflecting on (unexpectedly to me!) hospitality.
After watching The Last Samurai again, and becoming utterly more enthralled by it, I hungered to learn the ethos of the samurai warrior (also know as The Bushido Code). 
The full code is comprised of eight virtues, creating an integrity-rich and spiritual combination of disciplines to abide by: rectitude; courage; mercy; politeness; sincerity; honor; loyalty; and self-control.
Many virtues from the Bushido Code strike a cord, and compel strong principles for delivering hospitality. I look forward to exploring these in the coming days.
Rectitude or Justice:

According to the Samurai’s spiritual path and code of conduct, deciding the moral course and not wavering from that course is vital. It is this undeterred commitment to honest, moral reasoning that gives stature to the samurai’s day to day life.

Such an unwavering commitment makes this virtue a great ethos for delivering front of house hospitality, especially when it comes to in-person guests. So many details compete for attention when running a hospitality-based organization. In the administrative intensity, attention to the in-person guest can often get marginalized or become chronically distracted. What’s key is for the front of hospitality team to — unilaterally and reliably — prioritize the in-person guest over all other commitments or interruptions. It is the only way visiting guests will begin to trust the resourcefulness and sincerity of welcome in an organization.

Story of caution about this virtue and an organization’s culture:

A while ago, I was engaging an in-person guest at front hospitality for a large urban church. While attempting to be a resource to this visiting person, a colleague interrupted our discussion twice. The interruptions were vivid and distracting enough that the guest criticized my colleague (to me) once my colleague had departed. The guest felt undermined and not taken seriously. The next part of our exchange involved my apologies, and attempts to rebuild the guest’s interest in church programs.

It is critical that an organization’s entire culture is committed to all guests receiving prioritized, undivided attention. Otherwise delivering hospitality to visitors becomes at the very least, an exercise in depleting good will to guests.


In the coming days, I look forward to comparing more of the Bushido Code to other aspects of delivering hospitality, including courage and self-control.

Photo “Samurai John” by Jerome Olivier licensed under Creative Commons


What I learned in 2017 from exhaustion and related inelegance

#1 What 2017 taught about boundaries and working at a large urban church:

Stress can still affect your health even when God is technically your boss.

Many structural and cultural shifts were underworks at my employer and personal church community Foundry UMC, a thriving Methodist church a few blocks from the White House. The staff and congregation were in what felt like a perpetual all-hands-on-deck mode especially since the outcomes of the 2016 presidential race (…the sermon Pastor Ginger preached a few days after that election gives incredible insight and encouragement…if your journey craves it!).

The work was a purposeful, spiritual dream, especially in hospitality. We’d work together in community to support disadvantaged and homeless neighbors or offer adult discipleship classes about many social justice topics, inclusive Christian beliefs, or fragile political culture. We’d share strong solidarity with LGBTQI neighbors and immigrants. So much more.

“God as boss is a noble thing!” the thought would float my mind sometimes during particularly stressful deadlines, or when passionate (well meaning) folks would approach me on my days off to help on work-related matters. My boundary setting skill wasn’t the most clear, at all.

The nobility began to transform into weariness but I didn’t fully recognize it. My husband started to comment that he would hear me say “I’m so tired” almost daily. Effects from physical and mental depletion continued (but without a vigilant, self-caring response from myself): lack of focus, ongoing frustration, ongoing anxiety, lack of restfulness from sleep, indifference, general irritation at professional hospitality projects and colleagues that were once held dear.


The turning point:

In a moment of raging dramatic angst-filled release – I screamed at my boss through various expletives and explosive (CRANKY) critique. It would be now a hilarious story if my exhausted viciousness wasn’t quite so uncontrolled, let alone unloving.

The next day, the exhausted anxious (humbling! awkward!) episode occurred again offsite when en route to work. It was the most vulnerable, strained episode of head pain, harsh breathing, dizziness, and the shakes. After an ambulance ride to the ER, it became clear that vast exhaustion was in the driver’s seat and mounting anxious depression was on the rise.


It was time to transition off church staff, rest up, heal up, and start anew in hospitality and storytelling work in a different dynamic.

Holy Cow 2017 taught my ego that working for a religious organization still demands vigilant self-care, better boundary setting, and moderation of pace.  Just because God’s the boss doesn’t mean ignoring one’s capacity to set healthy boundaries!

#2  What the year taught about creative avoidance:

Procrastination on personal projects (that you aren’t paid for except by passion for creative journey) causes as much fatigue and anxiety as procrastinating on work you get paid for.

It seems more obvious now that work which espouses one’s commitment warrants …committed attention. It does not matter whether that commitment stems from our heartfelt self-will and passion or from a boss that pays one’s salary. Once the commitment is self-administered — then action should simply commence; production should simply begin; …all the “don’t hold back” attitude should ideally ignite as a natural response to said commitment.

Argh to the wise “should” mentality!

Even still with hindsight – after outlining an on-the-bucket-list dream storytelling project recently, I sat on it for at least a month. As in, there was zero movement forward on it!

I’d rebel against the very project my heart had longed to do. Any and all randomness became the priority (vs actually asserting head on this storytelling work). Literally far less timely research projects would capture my focus, or a new yoga routine or meet ups with people that could’ve been easily postponed.

The turning point:

After about five weeks of this – sleeping patterns got rocky and inconsistent. A general internal hum made of both tiredness and an angst-ridden edge set in. Then an article found its way to my eyeballs about the negative effects of procrastination: it increases sleep debt and thus anxiety and fatigue (pausing to gulp that truth down).


After eventually asserting the project head on and finishing it – a distinct, more regulated steadiness returned in sleep patterns and inner contentment.

The work, tackled head on without restraint, will set the soul (and healthy sleeping habits!) free.

#3  What the year taught overall about fatigue:

Habitual tiredness does not equate to winning an award in workplace martyrdom.

Gently closing thoughts here with a neighborly reminder:  Beware of work martyr culture and mentality.

Here’s to you and an awesome, “all in” 2018 with lots of blessings and purpose, results, renewal, constant self-care, and patience.

Photo: “Napping” by Paula Gimeno licensed under Creative Commons