One Year, Four Careers: Blood, Sweat & Tears

The year that was

Fifteen years ago this fall I struck out on my own, leaving a job as a vice president at Ogilvy PR to work independently.

I started out doing what I’d been doing at the firm: corporate communications work for a variety of clients. Over the years, I added three other lines of work: acting (in 2002), book writing and publishing (2010), and public speaking (2011).

It all fits together pretty nicely. The books bring together the worlds of acting and business to help people become more skilled, confident communicators, and the presentations and workshops are a way to bring those lessons to life on stage.

Every single day I think about all the things I haven’t done, the lists I haven’t made, the charts I haven’t topped, the gigs I haven’t booked, the marks I didn’t quite hit …

And it’s hard. When I’m not specifically doing one of those four things, I’m marketing and promoting so I can do more of it.

But it’s a wonderful life. Or, at least, the framework of one. I get to share my knowledge of communications while bringing together the thing I do best (writing) with the thing I love most (performing) — all in the service of helping others enjoy more success in their own lives.

So for right now I’ll look back and acknowledge and appreciate what I have (being called a top communicator was a nice end-of-year gift) before turning the page for good on 2014.

Speaking and Presenting

When I started, I set a goal of doing 50 speaking engagements a year. In 2014 I did 20 — my most ever — and at several points 20 felt like more than enough.

Setting a numerical goal like that is kind of arbitrary and meaningless, but to me “50” meant that public speaking would be, if not my full-time job, at least my main occupation.

(And when you fold in all the time pitching, proposing and marketing, it feels pretty full-time.)

The more relevant measures are these:

  1. 70% of these bookings came through invitations, referrals and repeat business, as opposed to me specifically applying for or pitching the job. So all the promotion is paying off — my name is getting out there.
  2. I got to work with great organizations including Lockheed Martin, Feeding America, Bloomberg/BNA and Northwestern University.
  3. I consistently received high ratings from audiences, averaging above 4.5 on a 5-point scale, and getting tons of positive feedback.

My goal for the coming year is to expand my offerings so I can get more repeat business from existing clients and to do more high-profile, high income work.

Publishing and Writing

In January I published my second book, 11 Deadly Presentation Sins, culminating months of production and planning work. Much of the year was spent marketing the book. In fact, I probably spent more time in marketing and production than the writing itself.

On top of that, I got 15 blog posts and articles published under my byline on influential blogs and websites. It was almost like writing a whole other book.

Speaking of which, in 2015 I hope to write a third book. The publisher of my first one approached me this year about a new project, but I thought it best to devote my time to promoting my current book before starting work on another one. Details to come!

Corporate Consulting/Writing

I’m pleased to say that clients old and new continue to come my way since my first solo engagement in 1999.

I spent an intense month working nearly full-time on a crisis for a Fortune 50 company, and did a slew of creative, writing and executive communication projects for a handful of other major firms, including GE, Quaker and COUNTRY Financial.

My goal here is to continue to do quality work and to bring more of my presentation and training services to these clients.


I continue to keep a toe in the acting world, focusing as I have for the past five years on commercial work.

I did a job for a big pharma company, collected residual checks for past years’ work, and had an unprecedented six-month, nine-session job for a major insurance company.

And from a plain prestige standpoint, I landed a nice booking with The Onion.

Acting is time consuming, requiring eight or ten auditions for every booking, but I enjoy it and will continue to pursue it as long as the benefits outweigh the aggravation. Someday I’d love to do some theater again if the right project comes along.

And Now to Rest

My goal for the holidays is to do as little work as possible, to read (nonfiction), relax and maybe even go Internet-free here and there if I can stand it. I feel like I’ve earned it and will need it for the year ahead.

To anyone still around and reading this, I wish you a joyous and peaceful holiday season.