Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Meat and a Vegetable in Vegas

I was recently walking down the Las Vegas strip with my mom when I saw a bright sign advertising Meat Loaf’s Planet Hollywood performances.

“Meat Loaf,” I said, reading out loud.

“Why would anyone want to see him?” mom asked.

“He’s pretty good,” I said, surprised at her disregard for a rock’n’roll icon.

After a brief pause, she realized her mistake.

“I meant Carrot Top,” she said, without missing a beat.

Leave it to mom to mistake a rock idol for a root vegetable.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mad Man's Fall Provides Real-Life Lessons

None other than Don Draper, the iconic ad man of television’s Mad Men, and the creative force behind the fictional Sterling Cooper and Partners agency, has been placed on a performance improvement plan. They didn’t call it that. Perhaps they hadn’t come up with that euphemism yet. But there’s no mistaking it.

Draper has been given
 Don Draper
conditions to improve his performance or hit the bricks. I’ve known several people who were placed on performance improvement plans, but only one who returned to a fully functioning position. In my mind, such a plan is generally more about documenting a firing than improving performance.

Some of the conditions in Draper’s plan are recognizable today, such as running every move by management. Others are uniquely Mad Men, such as not drinking in the office, unless, of course, he’s entertaining clients.

There are other sure signs that Draper’s tenure is coming to an end, many of which apply to real life, including the following:

Being isolated. Being shunned by colleagues is never a good sign. When Draper shows up at the office after a leave of absence, people are uncomfortable in his presence. Even long-time coworkers, including people Draper certainly considers friends, are reluctant to engage him, leaving him alone in the conference room.

Secret meetings in secret places. Anyone who has been in an office setting recognizes the drill. Top executives gather and leave the floor quietly, possibly with a human resources rep. in tow. Chances are they aren’t discussing increasing the bonus. In Draper’s case, the partners convene in an upstairs conference room to discuss his fate.

Losing compensation. Speaking of bonuses, anyone who isn’t getting their fair share ought to be concerned. Draper is threatened with losing his partnership shares.

Piling on. When someone is wounded, people feel free to take their shots like never before. In Draper’s case, an emboldened Peggy, who Draper rescued from the secretarial pool, drops by only to tell him he hasn’t been missed.

Excluded from meetings or projects. This is a sure red flag. Draper can’t access files he needs and his creative team assembles without him.

Downgraded digs. Draper is assigned the office where another executive previously committed suicide. Talk about bad mojo. Real-life isn’t usually this poetic, although the message is the same, whether it’s a window or chair being taken away.

Draper probably figured he was safe from such indignities, having been the driver of the agency’s prosperity. But safety is an illusion. There comes a point when even high performers can be considered a liability. In the end, Draper does what most dutiful associates do. He accepts the conditions of his performance improvement plan in good faith, hoping his position can be salvaged. If real life is a barometer, it won’t. He should’ve taken the competitor’s offer and moved on. Perhaps that’s Mad Men’s final chapter.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Memorable Lesson on a Forgettable Night

During four years as a public speaking instructor, one of the finest lessons I ever taught my class regarding feedback wasn’t even in the lesson plan.

It was midway through the semester when things drag a little, but this particular night felt electric. I was making points left and right. I was using analogies. I was employing multimedia. I was sharing relevant stories from my background. Surely, students would be speaking of this night for the rest of their academic careers.

Early in the class, I noticed one student trying somewhat timidly to get my attention. I dismissed it. In my mind, I could not possibly be interrupted on such a monumental night. Undeterred, he became more brazen as class continued, finally holding up a notebook with six giant letters scribbled on it.

Deeply annoyed, I glanced at the letters and started to read them to myself, one after the next. Starting from the left, I read: Z … I … P … P … E … R. As I finished the last one, the gravity of the situation hit me.

As it turned out, this lecture had been literally off the hook.

I moved closer to the lectern, quickly fixed the wardrobe malfunction and continued on. Now that’s how you respond to audience feedback.

And, chances are, the moment had been just as memorable for the students as I thought, just not for the reasons I had hoped.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Howard (Stern) and Me

Howard Stern is my guilty pleasure. As soon as he announced his move to satellite radio, I bought a subscription to Sirius, listening for months before he finally arrived. I’ve had at least one Sirius radio ever since.

Over the weekend, my loyalty was rewarded as I attended Stern’s 60th birthday party in New York City as a winner of a SiriusXM listener contest. Kim and I were treated to four hours of top-notch entertainment, along with free booze and a little swag. Following are a few of my thoughts from that epic evening.

That’s cold. It was a long, cold wait outside the venue for those not on the red carpet, one of the evening’s few hitches. Sirius must’ve known this since it pretty much abandoned its stated security policy to speed things up.

Caw. Caw. Screeching voice aside, legendary Stern caller Mariann from Brooklyn is actually a pretty attractive woman.

Tuning In. Sirius provided attendees with an earphone like device to amplify the sometimes sporadic sound in the Hammerstein Ballroom. That thing worked like a charm. I wish I would’ve used it earlier.

Clowning Around. Stern guest “Yucko the Clown” supposedly hung up his red nose earlier this year. Yet, there he was at my bar area in full clown regalia. I guess the hottest ticket in the city can make you want to clown around.

Shredded. Who knew Adam Levine could shred a guitar like that? He was a beast, both vocally and instrumentally, on a “Purple Rain” cover with Train.

The most interesting man in the world? Forget that drunk old guy. It has to be Dave Grohl of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters who performed awesome acoustic versions of “Everlong” and “My Hero” before stepping behind the drum set for the concluding “Walk this Way,” along with Steven Tyler, Slash and a few others.

Not as interesting. With so many superstars packed into such a tight, high-energy agenda, performers had to capture the imagination quickly. David Letterman just didn’t. Maybe it would’ve helped if I had used my amplifier sooner. Host Jimmy Kimmel tried to pull the plug, but Stern wouldn’t let him.

A piano, but no piano man. They rolled a piano on stage and Tyler made the most of it during a terrific version of “Dream On.” I figured Stern friend and piano virtuoso Billy Joel was bound to be next, but it wasn’t to be. Too bad because I was definitely in the state of mind for “New York State of Mind” after recently seeing this YouTube clip.

Regardless, it was a terrific evening of entertainment. For a night, I was a part of the Stern universe. Now, it’s back to just listening to it.