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How To Define Next Steps So They Get Done

Meetings have a reputation. They can be time sinks. It’s easy to walk away from one wondering what was accomplished and what, if anything, will get done.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, with one little change, you can dramatically increase the value of any meeting.

Define Next Steps The Right Way

I consider myself a sane, rational, and mild-mannered guy. The other day, I was at a golf outing when I received an email that identified these “next steps” from a recent committee meeting (with some identifying details changed).

Next steps:

  • Jane Doe to continue to manage the return of assets and the technical side of the document production.
  • The committee will focus on content.
  • The committee to meet to confirm a work plan, schedule, provide an update on content.

After reading this, it took every ounce of self-control not to smash my club into the golf cart like a deranged lunatic.

Why That’s Not An Extreme Response

Those might seem like reasonable next steps. In fact, they might look like the next steps you see on a regular basis.

So, what am I freaking out about?

My expectation for next steps is that every one contains the following information:

  1. What physical action needs to be taken?
  2. Who has agreed to perform this action?
  3. What’s the deliverable?
  4. And when has this person agreed to deliver it by?

If next steps are not clearly, and accurately, defined…it is impossible to track whether or not they get done. That’s why I go to great lengths to identify these four things during any and every meeting.

Let’s look at the important nuances in the four elements of a legitimate and useful “next step.”

The Physical Action

One of the most important things I learned from David Allen is that actions are physical. If you can’t draw a picture of someone doing it, it’s not an action.

Let’s look at one of the “next steps” mentioned above:

“Jane Doe to continue to manage the return of assets and the technical side of the magazine production.”

Could you take out a piece of paper with some crayons and draw a picture of that? Nope.

Here’s an example of a real “next step” that was identified in that meeting:

“Jane Doe will forward Matt’s email (with directions for transferring the site) to Mr. X and find out if those steps will be taken, and if so who will be doing them. Then she’ll send an email with her findings to the committee by Tuesday.”

Sending an email is a physical action. You can draw a picture of it in your mind.

“Managing” consists of a series of actions. It’s impossible to visualize. So, how are you going to determine whether it was done or not?

You have to define the next physical action that needs to be taken.

Agreements About Who And When

If I didn’t agree (verbally or in writing) to do something for you…I’m not going to do it.

Why would I? Why would you? Why would anybody?

A huge mistake people make in meetings is assuming agreement.

Worse yet, they’ll fail to get agreement on or even discuss the delivery date for an action during the meeting. Then they’ll pull a due date out of their butt, send it off after the meeting, and wonder why “nobody ever meets their deadline.”

During the meeting, you must get a verbal agreement from the person responsible for the task. They must verbally agree to a date when they will provide the deliverable.

And if the person responsible for this task identifies a delivery date that doesn’t “feel likely” to you…it’s your responsibility to confirm their commitment.

“Bob, are you sure, based on your schedule, you can get that to us by the 30th?”

If they can commit, great. If not, ask them what a more realistic date would be. Or ask if there is something another person can do that would help them meet that original date.

All “next steps” need to confirm:

  • Who agreed to take the action
  • The delivery date they agreed to

If you don’t have those agreements, you can’t have confidence that the task will be done.

The Deliverable

Here’s another thing people commonly fail to do during meetings: define the deliverable.

Get specific about what the deliverable is. There’s a HUGE difference between one paragraph in Microsoft Word and a three-page PDF file.

So, what is the deliverable for this next step? What does the end result look like?

Small Change With Big Results

Remember, every “next step” you write down and distribute to a team needs to answer these four questions:

  1. What physical action needs to be taken?
  2. Who has agreed to perform this action?
  3. What’s the deliverable?
  4. And when has this person agreed to deliver it by?

If your “next steps” don’t include this information, they are worthless and a waste of time.

Yes, I said that.

But if, during the meeting, you make sure to answer these four questions for every next step…

…and you document them in a post-meeting follow up…

…you’ll find meetings suddenly become much more effective.

Now It’s Your Turn

What steps do you take to ensure that meetings are productive? Share your tips and advice in the comments.

Speaking Engagements Made Easy: The Ultimate Guide To Finding, Booking, and Crushing Them

Finding and booking speaking engagements can seem difficult, especially when you are just starting out. And for some of us, just thinking of getting in front of a crowd to present makes our knees all wobbly.

But it doesn’t have to be like that.

On my journey to becoming a paid keynote speaker, I made a lot of mistakes. I want to help you avoid those mistakes and make it easy for you to not only book speaking engagements…but crush them.

I wrote this guide to demystify the whole process…

…to help you understand the game being played…

…and to give you the tools and strategies you need to become a sought-after public speaker.

Even if you hate the idea of speaking in front of an audience, this guide might just change your life.

My Wife Punked Me

Sometimes all logic points to you coming out on top, but it just doesn’t work out for you. However, it’s funny how these situations can actually improve your life.

Let me give you an example.

I love my wife to death. Everybody loves Molly. People, for no reason at all, have actually threatened me with violence if I was to ever do anything to hurt or anger Molly…

…and those were just my coworkers.

(Best thing to happen to my life, the worst thing to happen to my ego)

To say Molly likes to beat me is an understatement. She loves to one-up me in everything. Whether it’s career, sports, or Uno…she’s in it to win it. And in the rare case that I beat her at something, I can’t even enjoy it. The first time I beat her in a 5K race, she got outrageously mad at me.

(She’s even a better painter)

But there was one thing I was convinced I would be better at.

Award-Winning Speaker

Many years ago, I wanted to check out the local Toastmasters group. Toastmasters is an organization that helps people with public speaking. I wanted to become a better public speaker.

Molly reluctantly agreed to tag along for moral support. In fact, I pretty much dragged her there. She had no interest in public speaking.

But I was ready, excited, and determined to become a great public speaker. I practiced anywhere I could and to any person, shower, or tree who would listen.

That night, we both got up (along with many others) and did impromptu speeches. At the end of the night, they provided an award for the best new speaker.

And Molly was given a medal as the best new speaker.

What?!?! She’s the researcher. I’m the business development guy. She didn’t even want to come!

Today, Some Of The Largest Firms Hire Me To Speak

Sometimes small failures are the world’s way of telling you to step up your game. After that night, I joined a Toastmasters group and participated for several years. I became a much better public speaker.

And I finally got a trophy.

Maybe Molly’s speech on that fateful Wednesday evening was better than mine. Or maybe she bribed and/or threatened the judges. We’ll never know for sure.

But that heartbreaking loss served as the catalyst that brought me to where I am today.

Nobody Starts Out Great At Anything

Nobody is born a great engineer, marketer, proposal writer, public speaker, skateboarder, or janitor. You need to develop and refine those skills over time. But first, you need that “aha” moment that inspires you to make it happen.

Your Toughest Competitor Can Be Your Greatest Inspiration

It’s those who beat us who inspire us to do great things. And that’s not just something my grandfather said as he beat me with his belt.

Who would Magic Johnson be without Larry Bird? What would Apple be if it weren’t for Microsoft? Who would Tom be without Jerry? And who would I be without Molly?

Be inspired by your competitors.

Find Your Why

The first step to becoming a great presenter is finding your inspiration, something that will drive you towards that stage. Do you want to change the world or the lives of your audience?

Do you want people to see you as an expert? Do you want to be respected?

There is no wrong answer. Find that thing inside of you that is going to drive you towards that stage.

Then Get Ready To Play

Public speaking is a competitive sport. Your “why” will get you to the stage. But once there, you need to tap into your competitive spirit to stand out from the crowd.

Don’t worry, I’m going to show you exactly how to become better than 99.9% of all speakers…even if you’re not the most articulate person in the world.

The 3-Step Shortcut To Becoming An Award-Winning Speaker

So, my greatest nemesis pulled the rug out from under me and took away an award that should have been mine. But at the same time, she inspired me to do what I had to do to become an award-winning public speaker.

You Need Public Speaking Skills

You might be thinking, “Matt, I have no desire to become a public speaker. I’m introverted. I just don’t feel comfortable around people. And I certainly don’t want to get up in front of them and talk.”

Well, join the club. Many successful speakers are introverts. But they’ve realized that public speaking was a key skill they needed to take their career or business to the next level.

And thus, I present you with:

The Roadmap To Becoming An Award-Winning Speaker

You may trip over your words. You might struggle to get out of bed and face the world in the morning. But with a few steps, I believe anyone can become a public speaker.

Just follow this roadmap.

Find Safe Places To Practice Your Public Speaking

Toastmasters is a great example of a safe environment to practice your public speaking. Internal events may be another. It may sound overly simplistic, but to become a great public speaker…you need to do more public speaking.

What’s great about Toastmasters is that every speech you do gets evaluated. Every “um” and “ah” gets counted. In fact, I believe nobody has beaten my state record for the most ums in a speech.

But everybody in Toastmasters is there to help you. They clap for you. They support you. They create a safe environment for you to speak. While it might seem cheesy at first, it’s how a lot of people get started with public speaking.

You can even start a Toastmasters group within your own firm.

Be Authentic But Crank Up The Energy 200%

If there is one downside to Toastmasters, it is that they teach you to over exaggerate your words, motions, etc. And that can make you seem fake.

You don’t want to be some exaggerated character in front of the room. You want to be authentic. Let your personality come out. If you are a grumpy naysayer…be that during your speech. Be you.

Instead of over-exaggerating, just crank up the energy. The next tip will help with that. But you want to bring as much energy to the table as possible whenever you speak in a public setting.

And if you are doing a webinar, crank the energy up to 300%. It’s much easier for people to pick up on energy in a live setting than in a webinar. I learned that the hard way.

Speak About Things You Are Passionate About

I noticed something interesting while in Toastmasters. The first speech you had to do was an introduction speech. People would get up to do that first speech and would tell these emotional, heart-wrenching, stories.

One lady, who was the CEO of a major healthcare provider, told us how her son was born with one ear. She scoured the country to find a doctor that could give him an ear. And she did. But years later, as he grew up…that ear fell off. And no doctor would touch it. She finally convinced the original doctor to come out of retirement and help her son. That’s when she decided to get into healthcare.

Nine out of ten times, there was not a dry eye after one of those introductory speeches.

But their next speech would always be a snoozer. They didn’t choose topics they were passionate about. And when you are not passionate about a topic, it becomes obvious to your audience.

If you’ve spoken to architects and engineers, you can tell when they are passionate about something. It’s obvious. You want to find speak to those topics that are full of passion.

Becoming A Solid Public Speaker

Wait…that’s it?!? Yes, that’s the simple, three-step, roadmap that can help anyone become a great speaker.

Even if you decide public speaking is not for you, you can pass this roadmap on to anyone with interest in public speaking. If they follow through, they’ll thank you.

How To Find And Book Speaking Engagements

People tend to think getting speaking engagements is pretty tough. But it’s actually not…if you have the right approach. And that applies to getting speaking engagements for anybody.

Here’s a quick guide to getting speaking engagements for you or someone else.

Start With Local Organizations

Great speakers bubble up from the bottom. They get their feet wet in a safe environment like Toastmasters. Then they speak to local groups or organizations. Then they speak at conferences. Then you start seeing them on TV.

Don’t pitch your first presentation to the United Nations General Assembly and then be disappointed when they decline.

Start small. Refine your presentation by giving it to local organizations. If it gets traction, submit it to a national conference.

Be the speaker who bubbles up from the bottom.

Learn About The Audience

A common mistake speakers (and writers) make is they choose a topic they want to talk about. Why should your audience care about what you want to talk about?

Instead, your presentation has to be built around the audience’s pain points. Think of pain points as things that make people worry (or want to punch a wall).

What you’ll do is identify your audience’s pain points, identify one you are passionate about solving, and create a presentation that solves that problem. If you are not passionate about solving your audience’s pain points…find another profession.

And it’s nearly impossible to identify the pain points of a group of people without talking to them. Before you pitch your presentation topic, attend a few of the group’s events. While you’re there, be curious and ask questions.

Aside from learning the biggest challenges the membership is faced with, you need a sense of what presentations they’ve had over the last two years. No group will want the same topic they had a few months ago.

Learn About The Organization’s Politics

Politics are unavoidable when trying to book speaking engagements. Every organization or association chapter has its own set of politics surrounding how and why they select speakers.

For example, there are some national organizations where you can book a speaking gig with just by calling up the right person. And there are small local chapters that have a committee who select presenters. There are even legitimate industry events where you have to pay to speak.

Getting to know the decision makers and how selections are made can give you a major advantage when trying to get speaking engagements.

But keep in mind, politics can be tricky. You might have an amazing and original presentation. You may even know the person heading up the event. But if the politics are in someone else’s corner, you’re out of luck.

Craft A Unique Presentation That Solves One Of The Audience’s Problems

The topic of your presentation has to be compelling enough to get their attention. As someone who has “judged” presentation submissions for a large conference, I can tell you that events get lots of “me too” submissions. It’s the same old stuff you see again and again.

Your presentation topic has to be different. Now that you have a solid understanding of the audience, focus in on solving one of their most painful problems. The most compelling presentation topics make a big promise and deliver on it.

I often present to people in marketing or business development. Here are a few of my presentation topics (in image form).

What are the pains and challenges of your audience? How can you help them solve one of those challenges?

Consider Teaming Up Or Being On A Panel

My first industry speaking events were on panels or speaking with other, established, speakers. Starting this way takes a lot of pressure off you. And even today, I enjoy speaking with other the right people who can serve as the “ying to my yang.”

The Right Approach To Booking Speaking Engagements Is Key

If you use the right approach, securing speaking engagements is not difficult.

How To Make Sure Your Presentations Will Be Successful

This is what it’s all about.

The best presentations help your audience experience big wins. In this case, it was $750M in contracts. But helping your audience solve any burning pain, and seeing the results, will not just help you understand the value of public speaking…it can restore your faith in humanity.

And you might think after getting comfortable with public speaking…

…learning your audience’s pain points and the politics of selection…

…and building a refined presentation that solves your audience’s pain points…

…you’re finally done.

Well, I’m a firm believer that you are not done. And I believe the difference between the typical speaker and a top performer comes down to the following things:

Make The Event’s Success Your Top Priority

You may be one of several speakers at an event. You may think your job is to swoop in, present, and then swoop out. But what would you want from a speaker if you were hosting the event?

If you were the event’s host, what could the speaker do that would blow you away?

As a speaker, it’s your duty to make the event’s success your top priority.

This might mean:

  • Personally reaching out to people, asking them to come out
  • Attending before and after your speaking slot to meet the audience and answer questions
  • Offering a giveaway to the organization
  • Identifying sponsors for the event

I regularly do all these things for associations that bring me out to speak. If their event is not a success, why would they bring you back?

You’ve got to make the event’s success your top priority. So, spend a few extra hours to ensure the event knocks it out of the park.

Entertain The Audience First, Educate Second

This may sound counterintuitive, but it’s a point so many speakers ignore.

I am not the most articulate person in the world. If aliens were coming to destroy our planet, I’m not the person they would call to give an inspiration speech and band together the people of earth.

But if the leaders of the free world desperately needed a presentation on proposal writing that HAD to make people laugh…I think I’d be at the top of that call list.

A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down. And wrapping your presentation in entertaining elements helps even the most mundane topic get through to an audience.

I do a 3+ hour workshop on proposal writing. That’s a long time to sit in a workshop about the most boring topic ever. But I take extra measures to make the experience entertaining. I entertain first, educate second.

As a result, attendees learn a ton. They get results. But that’s only because they paid attention. And they only paid attention because I entertained them.

Get Quotes And Feedback From Attendees

There are two types of feedback you need from attendees. First, you need to observe the audience as you present. Which slides work? Which lines work? Which don’t?

When I was developing one of my presentations, I included a joke about a polecat. And I thought it might be a little much for a business setting. So, I tested it. For some audiences, I kept the joke in. For others, I left it out.

The slide with the joke worked much better.

You’ve got be constantly testing your material, refining it, and making it better.

Attendee quotes are the second type of feedback you need to capture. If nobody is willing to give you a quote on how great your presentation was, that’s a key indicator that something is wrong.

People might come up to you after a presentation, pat you on the back, and tell you that you did a great job. But how willing are they to put that in writing and have it posted where others can see?

In addition, attendee quotes help other people determine whether your presentation if right for them.

Here are some random quotes I’ve collected over the years.

“Of all the seminars, workshops, and lectures I’ve attended in my decade-long marketing career, yours was by far the most interesting and insightful.” – Jennifer Lawson

“I loved the exercise where we evaluated proposals as a group. It was extremely eye-opening.” – Glenn Hart

“I just wanted to say that I found today’s lunchtime learning lab to be, perhaps one of the best webinars I’ve heard to date. I’m new in the A/E/C industry and found Matt’s presentation to be totally engaging and SO useful! I’m so glad I signed up and I’m thrilled to start putting these new tactics to use.” -Lauren Hazirjian

“Bringing Matt out to our chapter was a great investment. It was one of the best events ever, it attracted many potential members we hadn’t seen before, and we walked away with a profit. I’m glad I took the advice of my fellow chapter presidents.” – Krystal Vickers

Make sure to get these two key pieces of feedback each time you present.

90% Of The Work

90% of the work that makes a presentation successful happens when your mouth is closed. Make the extra effort to go “above and beyond” every time you speak to an audience. engagements

What To Do With Business Cards You Collect

Open up a drawer and throw them in. Everybody knows that’s not what you should be doing with business cards you receive. Yet, I’ve done it. And I’m not alone. The more events you go to, the more cards you’ll collect. And having to deal with all those business cards can seem like an albatross […]

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Drip Review

This will be more than a “Drip Review.” I’m going to touch on how my overall email strategy has changed and why Drip’s features allow me to bring that to life. Email marketing and our relationship with email have transformed in recent years. That evolution has forced me to rethink how I send emails to […]

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Best Value: Did You Really Lose On Price?

I hear it all the time. I’m sure you do as well. “Oh, we lost that one on price.” Let me explain why that’s not always true. And I’ll provide you a simple rule of thumb to determine when you’ve lost due to your best value price and when you could have done more to […]

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The Ultimate Guide To Writing Skimmable Proposals

The Ultimate Guide To Writing Skimmable Proposals

It can be overwhelming. When you look at some RFPs, you can’t believe how much information they ask for. Why do they need all this information? But it’s the “golden rule.” They have the gold, so they make the rules. And we’re just playing the game by the rules they’ve laid out. So, you spend […]

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Marketing Budgets: 5 Easy Building Blocks Nobody Talks About


One of the most challenging things you can be tasked to do is define a firm’s marketing budget. What’s the right marketing budget for a small architecture firm in Wayne, PA? What’s the right marketing budget for the largest construction firm in Michigan? Try as you might to find a legitimate rule of thumb (5-13% […]

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AEC Marketing: 10 Steps to Success

AEC Marketing 10 Steps to Success

Many years ago, in response to an article I wrote in Marketer magazine, I was emailed by someone who was starting out as an AEC Marketer for an electrical designer/contractor in the Midwest. (NOTE: we refer to marketers in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry as “AEC marketers”). He asked me how you gain the […]

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What Proposal Game Are You Playing?

what proposal game are you playing

When it comes to proposals, nobody talks about this. What game are you playing? We could live our life believing that every procurement is the same. Every time we submit a proposal, we are playing our hand in the same game. But that’s delusional. Every procurement is different. That means every time you submit a […]

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Why Opportunities Pass You By (And What To Do)

Why Opportunities Pass You By

“If only I had,” is the most devastating phrase in the English language. We all carry some degree of regret in our hearts. One of the most common traits I see in successful people is that they recognize and capitalize on opportunities. More importantly, they don’t shy away from opportunities that challenge their thinking or […]

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