Monthly Archives: October 2007

Interview with Moi

A good friend of mine, Darren LaCroix, is a great humorist and also a former Toastmasters World Champion of Speaking. He introduced me, years ago, to Dave Fitzgerald, one of the funniest and nicest guys I’d ever met. Dave succumbed to cancer several years ago, and the crowd at the wake needed wranglers to control it. Darren has graciously made available to my community a transcript of a very rare interview with me conducted by Dave. You can find it here.

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Training Opportunity

I’m looking for exceptionally talented trainers in Northern California for Presentation Skills contract training work starting in 2008. Much of the work would be with High Tech companies in the Silicon Valley with possible travel opportunities as well.
Candidates must have a flexible schedule and corporate training experience helping people of all speaking levels to be more effective presenters. If you are interested, please email me with your resume, bio, video links or other useful information to:

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Notice to Otis

Everything below is true, absolutely true.

My wife and I had to attend a board meeting of the ballet Monday evening. It was held in offices at Textron, a Fortune 500 company, headquartered in Providence. The ballet board president is an executive there, so we use their conference rooms. I’m the ballet vice president.

We passed through security, obtained our badges, and boarded an elevator for the 18th floor. The doors closed and nothing happened. We pressed the button again. Nothing. We then pressed ALL the other buttons, including “open,” “1,” and “basement.” Nothing.

We looked at each other. We were actually trapped in an elevator. We begin ringing the alarm button. All we heard was the echo in the elevator shaft, and I’m trying to apply the Doppler Effect to tell if we’re falling.

No panic. I opened a compartment under the buttons and pulled out a red phone handset. Very good. A red phone means “hot line,” right?

Well, maybe “tepid” would be more like it. I received a recording asking me to wait (What else could I do on a stuck elevator?), and playing, well, elevator music. Then, after a couple of minutes (“Is it getting stuffy in here?” asked my wife) I was told to press “1” to speak to an operator.

There was no “1.” There were no numbers, no dial, nothing. Stupefied, I stared into the phone. My wife asked if I had pictures of the kids she could hold. Then, a voice from the red phone.

“Hey,” I yelled, “I’m stuck in elevator #1 (I read all the documentation, twice) in the lobby!”

“I have no idea what lobby, or where you are,” she replies, bored.

“Where are you?!” I yell, thinking it may just be a tad tougher to breathe at this point.

“I’m in Hartford, at Otis emergency center headquarters.”

“You’re in Hartford, Connecticut?! That’s where this red phone leads?! How long for you to get a team here? Hartford is 90 minutes away!”

“Oh, we wouldn’t have personnel available until tomorrow. Try contacting someone locally.” This is why there’s a red phone in the elevator? To talk to Otis headquarters? Perhaps they should have carrier pigeons.

Before I could threaten her life by sending over some people who owe me a few favors, my wife points out a button and speaker on the other side of the elevator. (Why is Braille in different colors, even though it doesn’t matter, but emergency instructions are raised letters in the same color as the background? What genius makes these design decisions?)

I punch the button. And a guy promptly says, “Hello, how are you?”

“Not good,” I say, “we’re trapped in elevator #1. Where are you?”

“In the lobby,” he says. “Have you tried ringing the alarm button?”

“Yes, didn’t you hear it?”

“No, it’s too noisy out here to hear those things. Gee, we just had these elevators reprogrammed. Can you hold on a minute?”

Now, that was his exact question. What was I going to say? “No, I have to give my wife CPR, but I’ll try to cut it short.”

Finally, a voice outside the door. “Hello? If you can hear me, hang on, we’re going to…..”

Then the voice recedes. The elevator has begun on its own! We’re going up! My wife says, “We’re going in the right direction!” “No,” I point out, “we don’t want to achieve more height at this point.”

Mysteriously, the elevator stops on 14. We run out, directly into a Textron manager heading home. “Don’t use that one,” we urge, “we were trapped on it.”

“Didn’t you get the memo?” he asks, clearly serious, “They just gave us instructions in case we were trapped on the elevators.”

We were ten minutes late for the meeting. The president shot me a look. “Better not to ask me,” I suggested to her. She took another look, and decided not to pursue it.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Cancun Journal: October 19

A final, beautiful day, keeping our streak alive this year of perfect vacation weather.

Saying goodbye to Eduardo, one of the excellent beach waiters, he tells me that there were two topless women on the beach very early this morning. “Is that unusual?” I ask, because I’ve not seen that behavior here. He tells me that when Europeans are at the resort, most of the women are topless. But since this week’s visitors are virtually all American, you practically never see it.

What is it with American repression about sexuality? (He told me neither the hotel management nor the staff care either way.)

I paid the bill during the day to avoid the crush tonight and tomorrow. We’ll eschew the vans and take a private taxi back to the airport, where the authorities desire your presence three hours before flight time! (I remember that demand in Chile, where I wound up spending 2.5 hours sitting at the gate with nary an air club in sight.)

Dinner was so extraordinary last night, that we’ve returned to the Ritz but, on the captain’s suggestion, head to Casita’s, which is on the beach. It’s $100 just for them to set up a table, so I doubted there would be a crowd (there were three tables occupied in the Ritz Grill last night, and five in the J.W. Marriot main restaurant the night prior—I find that Americans here aren’t huge spenders). There are four tables set up, though you can’t see from one to the other.

We are escorted past the pools to the beachfront, along a lighted boardwalk set in the sand. Our table, lighted from below, is in a cabana with sheer mesh sides and an open front ten yards from the surf. The ocean breeze cools us as we sip Champagne and then dine on shrimp, crab, lobster, oysters, tuna, and sea bass. I make a deal with the waiter—he speaks English and I speak Spanish.

We stare at cruise ships, tiny specks of light in the pitch black, traversing the horizon, as we end our Cancun vacation. We are all traveling somewhere, on the journeys of our lives.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Cancun Journal: October 18

October 18

Vegged on the beach today, great water, perhaps 80°, with wonderful breakers. I find I’m addicted to these hot dogs, but life is short! I didn’t mention that yesterday Guillermo found a spider starfish on the bottom, which looks like a miniature octopus, scrambling all over the place. It sat on my hand for a while, wandered around my arm and then was returned to its home.

Steam, sauna, aromatherapy room, and the most modern whirlpool I’ve ever seen, then a fabulous massage in the spa.

Tonight we visited the Ritz-Carlton for dinner in the Grill. It is one of the outstanding vacation dinners in my memory. We begin with a Polish vodka martini in the lounge while our table is prepared. Then a beef carpaccio, Caesar salad, and the best rack of lamb I’ve yet had, accompanied by another Mexican cabernet.

After dinner, we repair to the lounge for Grand Marnier soufflé, with a double espresso, 25-year-old Guatemalan brandy, and a Cuban Partegas #4. The captain then provides a top-of-the-line Jose Cuevo tequila as a digestif. An extraordinary evening. Maria receives a red rose as we depart.

And we get home in time for me to watch the fourth quarter, as Rutgers defeats the number two team in the country, South Florida!

We are coming back to Cancun.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Jettisoning the Shakes

I was rocking in a small boat on rough seas contemplating my next scuba dive. There are, for me, always uncertainties. The dive master might know the bottom here, but I don’t. The currents vary. We’re going to try entering some caves. I’m not that comfortable with the regulator mouthpiece. The weight belt, as usual, is a huge pain. And did I mention we were rocking all over the ocean?

I couldn’t wait to get down there!

After the dive, my tenth, I think, I reflected on how those uncertainties cause some questioning, but you work through them and do what you should—have a good time.

Then it occurred to me that this is the same phenomenon that afflicts so many people whom I coach: They’re rocking in their shoes about seeing a new buyer, uncertain of the turf, uncomfortable in their knowledge of the company, wondering what to do if the buyer says this or questions that.

Of course, people do get killed and maimed diving occasionally, but I’m not aware of that happening during a trip to a buyer’s office.

If you’ve “trained” for the call (you’re told to never stop breathing when diving, and that same rule isn’t bad advice for a meeting with a buyer), your equipment is good (you have a professional demeanor), and you trust your instincts and knowledge (you’ve prepared and have the right attitude), you should do well—and have a good time.

You won’t see the fish or the caves or the incredible reefs if you don’t jump into the water. You can’t be tentative or self-doubting. You have to have courage.

You won’t obtain business if you don’t walk in without self-doubts, either. Prepare, do the best you can, and enjoy yourself. If you don’t, won’t, or can’t, why on earth are you in this business?

Get comfortable and become part of this world. Pretty soon, the fish accept you as one of their own.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Cancun Journal: October 17

Sometimes small miracles happen.

Today, I drove ten minutes down the coast to go snorkeling. Ten of us headed out with Guillermo and Ricardo. To get to the reef, we pass through two “jungles”—islands of crooked trees rife with exotic birds, for all the world like the Amazon—and finally we’re in the ocean.

We follow Guillermo into the water and, presto, within 30 seconds we are surrounded by fish. You can touch them with impunity, and two nip me back for my gall. I’ve never seen such rich sea life but, through the fins, I notice that Guillermo has something that looks like a Parmesan cheese shaker. He’s feeding the fish!

Finally, we travel on, 45 minutes around the reef and back to the boat, longer than I’ve ever snorkeled without a rest. We take a break, which I need, and we’re told we can take some more free-swimming time before we return. Only half of us go back in, but as I perch on the side, Guillermo hands me the shaker and says, “Feed the fish!”

I swam away and realized I was holding a plastic soda bottle with strange brown flakes. I squeezed a few out, and nothing happened—no fish. At that point, I realized that my snorkel had come off my mask. I bobbed around replacing it (Hammacher Schlemmer, bless their hearts, easy to fix in the water), and when I looked back in the water, I was lousy with fish.

I pressed the bottle as long and hard as I could. Fish peered at me through my mask, shouldered me aside, inspected my outfit, nibbled my fingers, escorted me around. I was the Pied Piper of Pisces, just magical moments.

Finally, food exhausted, the fish went about their business and I returned to the boat. I handed the empty bottle to Guillermo and asked what the ingredients were.

“Tacos, of course,” he smiled.

Thus far on this trip I’ve written Balancing Act, the Mentor Newsletter, the SAC Newsletter (Weiss Advice); completed a sample chapter for a new book proposal; finished revising my book, Value Based Fees; and completed the next article for Alan’s Forums. I do this solely in the morning at about 7, watching the sun rise over the Gulf of Mexico.

Tonight we dined in the high-end Italian restaurant at the J.W. Marriott, another outstanding resort. Grilled Portobello mushrooms followed by an outstanding risotto with cuttlefish, squid, and assorted seafood, accompanied by a 2003 Chilean Los Vascos Cab, from the wonderful people at Lafite Rothschild. Chilean wines are among the world’s best—I’ve been visiting there for 25 years—but often don’t travel well. This one traveled first class. An elegant dining room with live music, a surfeit of wait staff, and wonderful food.

Earlier today, we stopped at a shopping area. When I traveled in Mexico years ago, while managing Latin America for a consulting firm, I was often approached by shady figures trying to sell me cocaine. Today, one of those same shady figures offered me Viagra!

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Cancun Journal: October 16

This morning I went scuba diving with Martin. Being a professional introvert, I don’t even like to dive with a group, so I hired the dive master (Martin), a boat, and captain. I presented my PADI certified diver card and assured Martin I had made 9 prior dives, at which point I tripped over the step leading to the equipment. He shot me a look.

An hour later we’re descending into the Gulf of Mexico, 45 minutes on the bottom at 54-feet maximum depth, and my first-ever cave dive. I preceded Martin, since it’s easier for him to keep an eye on me, and we enter caves so narrow that the tanks glance off the ceilings and we keep our arms tight against our sides, simply kicking, and emerge in a different place. Outside of the second cave I slink into a narrow canyon, perhaps six feet wide, filled with a riot of fish, thousands of every hue and tint. They are packed in here, fin-to-fin, and as long as we proceed slowly they do not flee. I am amidst an armada of fish, perhaps two thousand, until we ascend from the gorge. (The currents on the reef run 2-5 knots, which can create a lot of movement from a little exertion.)

A patrol of barracuda greets us there, severe under-bites revealing razor-blade teeth. They maintain a permanent evil grin, stretched on aluminum sides. Meanwhile Martin signals me over to a tiny cave making the diving sign I love, fingers poking from the forehead, and there is a spiny lobster, antenna the entire length of its body protruding from the entrance. We spot a school of grouper and Martin rubs his stomach making the professional gourmet sign, if not a known diving sign, for tasty fish.

When we surface, the fun begins. There is no boat. We are in 12-foot waves, staying close to the red, vertical inflatable which held our ascent line. I feel as though I am being washed down a drain. Finally, I hit a crest at the same time the boat does, about 400 yards away, and alert Martin. He blows his whistle, and every fourth wave or so I catch sight of the boat ever-so-slowly edging closer. I have to continue to breathe through my regulator because the seas are so bad I can’t otherwise gulp air.

Clambering back on board is like trying to put my clothes on from the inside of a washing machine’s spin cycle. We are all moving in different directions, furiously tossed in three dimensions. I am finally manhandled aboard and we all congratulate each other, I assume for still being alive.

Back at the resort, I trip falling out of the van and Martin shoots me still another look.

Tonight we are at Lorenzilla’s, famous for lobster (we’ve dined with them in Cabo, as well). The place claims to be from 1639 and is named after the pirate of that name who was out to sea for months with only salted fish. Longing for the legendary culinary treats of Vera Cruz, the pirate crew was disappointed with the cooking and razed the town. Now there’s a food critic.

Maria and I fed the fish circling below the deck, who bobbed, weaved, and jumped. A favorite for them was shrimp tails. Well, the shells. We ate the tails.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Cancun Journal: October 15

Cerulean sky meets azure sea. Platitudinous, but true.

It’s amazing how a happy hour or free cocktail party draws people like bankers to boring suits, but they do flock, no matter how inferior and potentially toxic the liquor. (It’s droll how people stuff themselves with highly seasoned food, very potent liquor, and carouse around the place, then blame the water for their distress.)

A great deal of Cancun was created by four ex-air force officers and four Mexican colleagues in the 70s. Who knew?

The waves pounded me today like a chef tenderizing veal. But the water is warm, the breeze refreshing, and I found in my email that I made $10,000 this morning. Rented a car (the cabs are driving me crazy) and bought a hand-rolled cigar from the hand-roller, Cuban tobacco wrapped in Mexican leaves.

Dinner at La Distalleria, where they used to produce tequila. Fish tacos followed by mole (not the rodent, but a complex sauce on chicken) with a love margarita. I found the last Miami Herald in a supermarket, and then some Hoya Cubans in a cigar store.

I am driving a Ford Focus. When I bought the cigars, I attempted to lower the windows for Maria, but I could not figure out how to do it, until she pointed to the cranks on the doors.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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Cancun Journal: October 14

I’ve been getting my reptilian education. It seems those aren’t gators, but crocodiles, and they estimate that 2,000 of them lurk in the lagoon. Also, the restaurant captains throw chicken parts into the water at a certain time, ensuring that the crocs hang out to help draw the crowd, which joins the crocs in going out to dinner.

I’ve bet a woman who kept shrieking “Go, Cowboys!” a drink that the Patriots will beat them. She gave me her room number and phone on a cocktail napkin. “Good thing I’m here, huh?” observed the lovely Maria.

A humungous hot dog delivered to me on the beach along with a drink called a “ghost” which gave me the first ice cream headache I’ve had in ten years. How do dogs chew on cold ice cream? For ten seconds I though my brain was splitting.

I’m reading “Day of Battle,” Patterson’s new “You’ve Been Warned,” “Indian Summer,” and “Ike.”

Late afternoon showers, but I was able to watch the Patriots win my bar bet! Dinner at Puerto Madero, overlooking the water, an outstanding escolar accompanied by a Mexican Casa Grande Reserva cabernet.

The wait staff gathered near our table to look over the balcony, and I glanced over to find two marina police officers shining flashlights on a 12-foot crocodile of substantial girth, and right out of the late Cretaceous Period. The water was about three feet deep, and he simply lazed about, unperturbed, a wonderful dinner companion.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.

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