Virtual Presentations Don’t Have to Suck – 10 Tips so you don’t suck!

We were thrown into the virtual world kicking and screaming. Virtual meetings, virtual presentations, and virtual happy hours have become the norm. 

So, there are few things to keep in mind when facilitating virtual meetings/presentations AND when you are part of the audience. Here are some of them:

As a presenter, I don’t want to: 

  1. Look up your nose
  2. See you walking around your house
  3. See your cat in front of your camera
  4. Hear your dog barking 
  5. See a silhouette of you because you are sitting with a window behind you
  6. See you disappear into your virtual wallpaper – or watch various body parts appear and disappear.

And those are just a few observations and complaints from the presenters, not the audience.  

For myself, the number one challenge is remembering to look at the camera during the presentation. It is critical to make eye contact with your audience to help keep them engaged. Think about it, in a live presentation, if the presenter never makes eye contact with you, would you feel that the presenter cared about you or their presentation?

As to the audience, many things cause an extreme disconnect, and in some cases, disrespect – however unintended. 

My top three are:

  1. Audience members do not have their camera on. To a presenter, this gives the impression that you are not paying attention, are disengaged, and, more than likely, multi-tasking… taking the dog for a walk? making lunch? answering emails? You may or may not be doing any of these things, but it appears as though you are!  
  2. They forget that a virtual meeting/presentation is a professional event. Not taking into consideration the camera angle, personal appearance, or background that others are seeing. Many participants show up – often late – while driving their car with their phone in their lap.  
  3. You are forgetting to mute the audio line when not talking. Every noise in the background – dogs barking, kids screaming, car horns honking, Starbucks espresso machines screeching, etc., will be heard by everyone else in the virtual meeting – and be distracted and disconnected because of it.

These are the kinds of things that make virtual events suck. But here’s the point – a Virtual ANYTHING does not have to suck! And it is the presenter’s responsibility to make sure it doesn’t suck by engaging the audience.  

If you are the presenter or running the virtual meeting, here are eight tips to not suck and engage your audience. As a special bonus, two tips on how to improve your internet speed and stability. 

  1. Eye contact: Raise your laptop or desktop monitor, so you are eye-to-eye with the webcam. You can achieve this by a stack of books under your laptop to raise it to your eye level. Also, remember to look into the webcam 70% of the time. This will increase the engagement with the audience. 
  2. Stand up: Standing up in front of an audience and delivering your content is how presentations, preCOVID-19 were done, so why should they be any different when giving a live virtual presentation? When we are standing, we increase our energy and passion. Go out and buy yourself a standing desk, a desk riser, or use your MacGyver skills. A colleague took a basket and a lobster pot and put their monitor on top of it to stand and deliver their virtual presentation. 
  3. Purchase a good microphone without breaking the bank. Suppose your internet is running as it should, but the audience can’t hear you well, or there are crackling noises in your microphone. In that case, your audience will stop listening to you. You can get a decent microphone for under $100.00, and it is worth the investment.
  4. Breakout Rooms: If you are using Zoom, MS Teams, Gotomeeting,com, or Cisco Webex, utilized the breakout rooms for discussions, role-play, brainstorming, debates, strategy discussions, improv exercise, or anything that requires a minimum of 2 people. 
  5. Polling questions: Poll the audience frequently and often to ensure they understand the concepts and content you deliver. Also, get to know your audience with some demographic information. 
  6. Conferences IO: According to their website, Conferences i/o improves attendee engagement, participation & learning by empowering audiences to interact in real-time during presentations. In Conferences IO, you can ask multiple choice questions, short answers, numerical average, or brainstorming ideas. There is also a Q&A feature where someone can ask a question, and if others think it is a good or bad question, they can vote it up or down. I am starting to use more of Conferences IO than having the audience submit answers to my questions via the chatbox. The reason is that after your session is over, you can download a report to review and to give it to your client. Now they have something tangible to review from your presentation.
  7. Use a multi-camera shoot: When you are looking at your webcam, switch to another camera, and go back and forth. The audience will likely still be engaged because they get different video angles, which helps them pay attention. Go old school, use your 2nd camera, and focus on a flip chart or whiteboard in your office. That will raise some eyebrows and make it way more interesting and fun. 
  8. Simplify your slides and tell more stories:  When I say simplify, think like Abe Lincoln. Abe wrote the Gettysburg address using only 272 words, which, if spoken 100 words per minute, Lincoln spoke for just under 3 minutes. Former Secretary of State Edward Everett spoke before Lincoln, and he spoke for two hours. Use fewer words on your PowerPoint slides and tell more stories. That is how you keep the audience engaged. A data dump of faces and figures shoved on a PPT slide with the font size of 12 is just another way of telling the audience to read their email and play their favorite app game.  
  9. Know your minimum internet speed, upload bandwidth, and network latency:  The minimum internet speed should be 200 Mbps, upload bandwidth of 1.5 Mbps, and network latency should be less than 100 ms. Per Netflix’s website, latency refers to the time it takes for data to travel from a user’s device to the server and back – will be measured on both unloaded and loaded connections. Unloaded latency measures the round-trip time of a request when there is no other traffic present on a user’s network, while loaded latency measures the round-trip time when data-heavy applications are being used on the network. For example, your unloaded latency is 25, and your loaded latency is 50, that is good. However, if your unloaded latency is 25 and your loaded latency is 175, which is not good, and you are suffering from BufferBloat, which can cause your Zoom meetings to buffer or freeze, even though your speed is 300 Mbps. Check with your internet provider. 
  10. Improve your internet speed: You can improve your speed by 
    1. shutting down any program running in the background like Dropbox and a File backup app.  
    2. If your hard drive is almost full, then move files off your hard drive to an external drive. Free up more space. 
    3. Reboot your modem and router once a week.

I have been working with three regional salespeople for a manufacturer in the Midwest to give a more engaging virtual presentation. These are the tips and techniques I have been sharing with them to continue to do their job and engage their customers and prospects. 

If you would like me to work with you or your team on how do give a more engaging virtual presentation, please email me at peter@petermargaritis.com and put in the subject line,Virtual Presentations Don’t Have to Suck.

All Ideas Are Important Ideas

Are you looking for a new way to generate ideas to solve your problems? Do you have a culture in place that accepts that all ideas are important ideas? Do you think of yourself as a creative person? What about your team?

David Kelley, CEO of legendary design firm IDEO, spoke about the importance of building creative confidence. He relayed a classmate’s experience early on in elementary school, being ridiculed by a peer about the project he was trying to create. As a result, his classmate immediately shut down and quit the project, feeling discouraged about his peer’s opinion. Kelley went on to talk about how we can often “opt-out” of being creative due to this kind of experience – we tell ourselves that we’re not creative, so, therefore, it’s somehow true. He stressed how wrong this is and how important it is for us to understand and realize that we are all naturally creative – we’re not divided into “creatives” and “non-creatives.”

In creative workshops with accounting professionals, I always stress the need to think about more than just facts. Accountants are very facts-oriented people. The challenge is to get them to see more to their profession than just the facts and figures. Many of them feel just as Kelley described, that they somehow aren’t cut out to be creative or that they aren’t capable.

However, the important thing for all of us in technical professions and a few other professions that are generally considered “not creative” is to realize that – indeed, we are creative! Creativity is, simply put, your ability to generate ideas.  And we all certainly do that, and the more, the better!  So, remember, your involvement in the creative process is just as real and just as important as anyone else’s.

IMPROV BEYOND THE STAGE

Business schools across America have taken note of the importance of idea generation and creative thinking in the business world. For the past several years, programs have started offering courses that help students not only learn ways to promote freer thinking and brainstorming, but to adopt principles of improvisation in order to facilitate this creativity. One of the most powerful principles of improv is found in the practice of the “yes, and…” approach.

Bob Kulhan, an influential promoter of getting improvisation into business schools across America, summed up the idea of “yes, and…” in a Slate article, “When they’re collaborating onstage, improv performers never reject one another’s ideas—they say “yes, and” to accept and build upon each new contribution.” “It’s a total philosophy of creativity,” says Holly Mandel, founder of the performance school Improvolution and its corporate-targeted offshoot Imergence. “Yes, and” creates; while ‘no’ stops the flow.

It’s this “yes, and…” principle of improv that gets ideas churning up and out of people’s heads. This is not only applicable for others, but for ourselves as well. We are often our own harshest critic – a critic that is quick to dismiss our ideas as ‘stupid’.  We need to silence that critic in order for creativity to surface! In reality, there are no stupid ideas – every one of them leads somewhere, and it’s especially important in brainstorming to let all ideas rise. In creativity workshops, I stress the importance that no idea is a bad idea.  All ideas lead to a better idea. Therefore, ALL ideas are important. So, whatever is in your head, let it out!  Even if the inner critic is shouting at you – shout it down and let the idea out! Ideas (good or bad) lead to better ideas. No ideas lead to nothing.

GETTING THOSE IDEAS OUT

Remember, when we are brainstorming ideas, we are looking for quantity not quality. You can’t create and criticize in the same space.  Successful ideation requires divergent thinking, which is a process used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. Once we have completed the generation of ideas, we then change to convergent thinking. Convergent thinking is where we take those ideas and organize them and take steps to see if we can arrive at the correct solution. In other words, you can now become the critic! 

There are many exercises that you can employ in your brainstorming process. One of my favorites is outrageous opposites.  If you have a problem to solve, step one is to brainstorm traditional approaches in solving the problem.  Step 2 is to brainstorm outrageous ideas in solving the problem.  When you are finished, look at the outrageous ideas and see if there is anything you can expand on.  For example:

Number of participants: 1 – 20

Problem: Recruiting seasoned staff for our company

Traditional approaches: Monster.com adds, Indeed.com ads, hire a headhunter, offer a referral bonus to current staff, etc…

Outrageous approaches: hire a blimp to fly over sporting event, place ads in restrooms, have an open house, create a fun YouTube video about your company, etc…

Review your outrageous approaches and see which ones might actually work for your organization.  There is a regional accounting firm, Withum Smith + Brown, that did fun YouTube videos to help increase the moral in the company.  These were actually so good that seasoned staffed from other accounting firms applied for positions with their firm.  Here is a link to one of those videos https://youtu.be/ZCs7O6cJgiQ.

Another favorite brainstorming exercise is called “Kill the business.” Instead of thinking of ways to grow your business, this is an exercise that focuses on ways to put your company out of business.  Your team is looking at the company’s weaknesses and listing them as a small, medium, or large threat.  Once these weaknesses have been identified and categorized, then answer a couple of questions: 

What did we not think about before that we can see now? 

What could attack us now and how can we quickly eliminate the threat?

Which one is the most important weaknesses that we must fix? 

This is an eye-opening exercise that will uncover opportunities that you may not have discovered using conventional thinking.  

There are a number of resources where you can find brainstorming exercises.  Here are a couple:

  • SmartStorming: The Game-Changing Process for Generating Bigger, Better Ideas. By Keith Harmeyer and Mitchell Rigie. 
  • Improvisation for the Theater, Third Edition, Viola Spolin (these exercises can be debriefed from a business perspective).

IMPLEMENTING A CREATIVE WORKPLACE

In the end, the workplace needs leaders that inspire and encourage the expression of creativity. John Dragoon, CMO of Novell was quoted in Forbes saying, “Truly creative leaders invite disruptive innovation, encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks. They are openminded and inventive in expanding their management and communication styles, particularly to engage with a new generation of employees, partners and customers.”

This doesn’t happen overnight, but if the leadership encourages the generation of ideas, some of them are bound to produce impressive results. Not all the ideas are going to work, no matter how much product testing and field work a company conducts. Some ideas will go nowhere, but if you have no ideas, you certainly will go nowhere.

When it comes to creativity and generating ideas, all are needed, and all are wanted. While what comes out might be a bit rough, with a little polishing and fine tuning, the result can be quite extraordinary.

If you would like to discuss having me facilitate a brainstorming session for your organization, contact me at peter@petermargaritis.com and in the subject line put “ALL IDEAS ARE IMPORTANT IDEAS.”

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Improvisation is the Fulcrum to Leveraging Your Greatest Asset

Do you know what your greatest asset is as a CEO, CFO, or partner in an accounting firm? If you answered your employees, you would be correct. Leveraging your greatest asset means multiplying the productivity of that resource without a significant input. Each one of your employees can be leveraged by incorporating improvisation to create positive results in a business economy that favors innovation.

Creativity is the Foundation of Innovation

When I hold creativity workshops, the common theme I run into is that people think they have bad ideas. I say, bad ideas lead to good ideas and that having no ideas leads to nothing. In order for creativity to flow, the inner critic inside of all of us has to be silenced. The inner critic is that voice that says you will fail. It is the voice that says they will think your idea is stupid or that, if your suggestion is not used, you are a failure.

When you get a whole office being dictated by a collective force of inner critics, you end up dead in the water because today’s market is based on the current innovation running all around the world.  You get stuck doing the same thing as last year and the year before. It has become a race to see who will meet the shifting needs of the rising generations in both your external and internal customers.

Many times, when we leverage sales, we will upsell or upgrade, throw in a bonus right before the sale. It yields a greater profit. To, leverage the profitability of your employees you are looking for a way to silence their inner critics and release a collective flow of creativity so innovation can lead the way.

Improv Silences the Inner Critic

There are unlimited team building workshops and activities we send our employees on. But most people will attend because they are required and as soon as Monday rolls back around, it is back to counting beans and pushing papers. There was no real connection made between the employees and the events have become more of an excuse to have fun, as a type of paid for bonus rather than applying real team building principles. The inner critics remain alive and creativity dead.

What if you brought in a completely new approach? What if the organizational status is left out of the room when brainstorming ways to innovate the processes and what if everyone’s ideas are respected? What if you began to approach employees using the skills of improv?

The concept of improv is more popular now off stage. Business schools are rapidly adding improvisational acting classes to their curriculum. Kip Kelly is the Director of Marketing and Business Development at UNC Executive Development. He wrote a paper on leadership agility and how to use improvisation to build the critical skills needed in our rapidly evolving business climate. In response to how to develop agile business leaders, he hit the nail on the head. “While knowledge and experience remain critical, it is becoming increasingly important to develop leaders with the ability to deal with ambiguity and change, to lead and foster innovation and creativity, and to make and implement decisions quickly.

The Principle of “Yes, And…” Promotes Creativity

Focus on creating a culture that encourages bad ideas! Better yet, throw out a bad idea on purpose to see what your team does with it. Lead by example. Bad ideas lead to good ideas and though it may be intimidating for a first-year analyst to be tossing ideas around with the CFO, try to start incorporating regular brainstorming sessions.

Their inner critic will probably go crazy. But when that one person speaks up and throws an idea in the hat that doesn’t fit in the budget right now, how you respond will make or break the climate you are trying to cultivate. “Yes, that is a good idea, but… that won’t work right now. Anyone else?” Saying “yes… but…” shuts things down. Listen to the difference when you use the “yes, and…” approach.

Yes, that is a good idea, and I think that is worth looking into more. How can we make this something we can jump on even quicker?” Maybe the event can be scaled down. Maybe it can be planned for in the future. “Yes, and…” is about being agreeable and continuing the conversation. When the conversation is continued, you are promoting an atmosphere of acceptance and possibilities, not one of rejection and defeat.

Every effective leader knows how to leverage their greatest asset. It may be by implementing regular brainstorming sessions, mind mapping, and even bringing in improv educators to improve communication within the workplace. When employees communicate better, get along better, and have a more open line of communication all the way up the chain, productivity goes up because innovation is flowing through a strong current of acceptance. 

Focus on creating a culture that encourages bad ideas. Bad ideas lead to good ideas. No ideas lead to nothing. 

Step Away from the Script

The unlikely blending of Accounting and Improvisation is something I have in common with my two guests, Kristen Rampe and Jason Lieu, from Slide Deck Improv. Both Kristen and Jason started their careers in the Accounting field but later discovered Improv as a creative outlet. This prompted Kristen to create Slide Deck Improv, which features improv-based workshops as a way to put the fun back into the way professionals communicate in their workplace.  

Slide Deck Improv marries both worlds by working on presentation and communication skills with an improv angle. Besides being in a classroom learning environment, the audience also plays improv games, which is a great way to teach people to think on their feet. The experience not only taps into the creative process, but it also gives you more faith in your abilities and boosts confidence. Participants learn to enhance their speaking and storytelling skills so that they can connect with others in more impactful ways. It teaches people how to observe and try new skills while having much fun in the process. 

Kristen designed the program, so there is “a little bit of learning, a little bit of practice, and just a whole lot of fun.” Also, the course helps participants build confidence by assisting them to get “comfortable in the uncomfortable.”  

Professional development workshops are notoriously dull, but this one is not. According to Slide Deck Improv, they offer “a fresh and fun classroom experience to help professionals tap into their creativity and gain confidence presenting to groups.”  

Besides teaching improv skills, volunteers in the workshop present before the group. They present five slides (one picture per slide) that they have never seen before and a topic that will be selected by the audience. Just imagine a seasoned tax professional speaking on the subject of Botany. At the same time, a picture of cows pops up on the screen. While laughter ripples through the room, the group learns how to make public speaking a little less scary.  

All professional groups from sales to engineers will benefit from learning how to engage people with the newfound confidence that Slide Deck Improv provides. Whether it is interacting with your sales team, customers, or management, these skills can be utilized in your profession, but also transfer over into your daily life.  

Many professionals are highly analytical and spend a lot of time in their heads. Jason described his experience with Improv as, “In any given moment, I’m in my head trying to digest information. And I like to go back and analyze everything before I come up with an answer. Improv gave me this tool that allowed me to live in the moment, listen to people, and to engage in real-time, and I love the feeling and energy of it.”  

Jason expands on the benefits of the program. “I love Improv because it’s such a general skill. It’s not just a business communication skill. It’s a life skill. You can bring this into all your facets of everyday life. And it’s all about connecting with your audience no matter who the audience is. It could be your customers, clients, sales team, internal, external, whatever. It comes down to people talking to people. And if you can connect and engage people, you’re going to have this newfound confidence in your work.”

Everyone can benefit from this kind of workshop, whether you are a CEO or a young professional. Improving your communication skills while in a less traditional forum sparks more productive business relationships. 

You can join in on the fun, while Kristen and Jason show off their improv skills during season 2, episode 13 of Change Your Mindset podcast by clicking here. You’ll get a taste of how the programs work while gaining valuable insight into the process. Thank you, Kristen and Jason, for taking the time to share your innovative program.

Visit SlideDeckImprov.com to find out more about how you can ‘Step Away from the Script.’

S2E41. From Fear of Public Speaking to TedX Through Improv with Dr. Mihaela Jekic

Dr. Mihaela Jekic is a money coach, author, and TedX Speaker. Mihaela helps professionals and entrepreneurs transform their money mindset, help them get unstuck financially, and build a business and life they love. She’s gone from losing everything during the Bosnian Civil War and being a refugee to paying cash for her home in Ohio in her early thirties. She speaks and conducts workshops on personal transformation, financial freedom, and resilience. Mihaela co-authored Money for Meaning: Philosophy for a Life of Extraordinary Freedom.

How she came to this point was a long, winding journey. She had a pretty normal childhood, until one day she woke up to the news that the city had been barricaded and heard gunshots in the distance. So they packed up their car and left, and that was the last day she saw her childhood home.

Looking back, Mihaela feels grateful for these events. She learned to value experiences and people over anything.

Three years after that, her family ended up moving to Toronto, Canada. MIhaela started attending high school there, with the added struggle of not speaking any English. She had to learn to adapt as she went. Four years later, she had the highest English grade of her graduating class. With hard work, and stepping out of your comfort zone, it is really amazing what you can accomplish!

Mihaela moved to Columbus to attend college at Ohio State University. She had a wonderful experience there competing in fencing, but a couple of years in she felt like something was off. Once fencing was done, she realized she just did not enjoy the research requirements of the college. She was anxious, depressed, and she ended up developing a fear of public speaking.

From then on, she believed that she was terrible at thinking on her feet and that she should avoid public speaking. When she had to, she would just memorize all of her lines. Eventually, she decided enough is enough. This fear was holding her back, and it was time to do something radical. That’s where improv came in.

The courage to have her business and to speak on stage all came from the decision to sign up for that class. Improv is not just about comedy and one-liners. It’s about being able to connect with other people at a deeper level. You learn to make eye contact, read body language, and empathize with others to create this scene. It is a process that can translate to your business and to your career. For Mihaela, it was transformative.

About a year and a half after signing up for that class, Mihaela found herself on a TedX stage performing with an improv comedy troupe in front of hundreds of people. That shattered her previous beliefs of what she was capable of. Inspired by this experience, she realized that all of these other beliefs about herself could be wrong as well. If all of that was false, then what else is possible?

What area do you need to grow in? And what is that one bold decision that could change your life? Improv could be the tool to get you out of your comfort zone and to transform into a new, better version of yourself.

Resources:

Transcript:

Click to download the full Transcript PDF.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:00:00] Work hard. And if we step out of our comfort zone, to reach out, to communicate, to be willing to make mistakes as I have many times, and to fail at it, and to repeat myself, and so on. It is really amazing that—what we can accomplish.

Peter Margaritis: [00:00:25] Welcome to Change Your Mindset Podcast, formerly known as Improv is No Joke, where it’s all about believing that strong communication skills are the best way in delivering your technical accounting knowledge and growing your business. An effective way of building stronger communication skills is by embracing the principles of applied improvisation. Your host is Peter Margaritis, CPA, a.k.a. The Accidental Accountant. And he will interview financial professionals and business leaders to find their secret in building stronger relationships with their clients, customers, associates, and peers, all the while growing their businesses. So, let’s start the show.

Peter Margaritis: [00:01:11] Welcome to Episode 41. And my guest today is Dr. Mihaela Jekic, who’s a money coach, author and a TedX Speaker. Mihaela helps professionals and entrepreneurs transform their money mindset, help them get unstuck financially, and build a business and life they love. She’s gone from losing everything during the Bosnian Civil War and being a refugee to paying cash for her home in Ohio in her early thirties. She speaks and conducts workshops on personal transformation, financial freedom and resilience. Mihaela co-authored Money for Meaning: Philosophy for a Life of Extraordinary Freedom. Now, our conversation centers around her journey from her time as a young girl in Bosnia, to earning her PhD from The Ohio State University, to getting past the fear of public speaking, to her business today. This is a fascinating and inspiring journey.

Peter Margaritis: [00:02:08] As you know by now, Change Your Mindset is part of the C-Suite Radio family of podcasts. It is an honor and a privilege to be amongst some of the more prevalent business podcasts, such as The Hero Factor with Jeffrey Hayzlett, Amazing Business Radio was Shep Hyken, and Keep Leading with my good friend, Eddie Turner. You can find Change Your Mindset and many other outstanding business podcasts on C-Suite Radio by going to www.c-suiteradio.com.

Announcer: [00:02:37] This podcast is part of the C-Suite Radio network: turning the volume up on business.

Peter Margaritis: [00:02:42] Now, many of you don’t know that I’m a type 1 diabetic, and I do volunteer my time to the Central Ohio Diabetes Association, which is part of the LifeCare Alliance Organization here in Central Ohio. Here’s a short commercial about the upcoming Santa Speedo Dash, where all the proceeds from the dash help fund the Central Ohio Diabetes Association summer camp for children with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

Kathy: [00:03:10] Hey, Anthony, what’s with the bells?

Anthony: [00:03:12] Hey, Kathy, I’m putting my outfit together for the Santa Speedo Desh.

Kathy: [00:03:16] Love the red leggings too. So, you’re going to run in the Santa Speedo Dash on Saturday, December 14th to support Campi Hamwi?

Anthony: [00:03:22] You betcha. Will you be there?

Kathy: [00:03:24] Of course. It’s the only date I’m allowed to wear a bathing suit to work.

Anthony: [00:03:28] Help us give kids with diabetes the experience of a lifetime. Proceeds from the Santa Speedo Dash support Camp Hamwi. Register or donate today at www.santaspeedodash.org.

Peter Margaritis: [00:03:42] And now, a word from our sponsor.

Sponsor: [00:03:45] This episode is sponsored by Peter A, Margaritis LLC a.k.a. The Accidental Accountant. Are you looking for a high-content and engaging speaker for your next conference? Do you want to deliver a story to stakeholders that will transform data dumping to engage in business conversations? Do you want to feel that the value a speaker provides your audience far exceeds the dollar value on their invoice? Then, book Peter for your next conference, management retreat, or workshop. Contact Peter and peter@petermargaritis.com, and visit his website at www.petermargaritis.com. By the way, one of his Fortune 50 clients actually made the comment about the value he brings to your audience.

Peter Margaritis: [00:04:34] Now, let’s get to the interview with Mihaela Jekic.

Peter Margaritis: [00:04:41] Hey, welcome back, everybody. Oh, my God. Do I have a treat for you today? My guest today is Mihaela Jekic. And I’m a let her talk about this fabulous story of her life and this journey that she’s been on. I met her recently at a Professional Speakers Toastmaster event. And she’s got this wonderful story. And I was able to get her on my podcast. So, first and foremost, thank you, Mihaela, for taking time out of your schedule to be with me today.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:05:12] Thank you so much, Peter, here for having me.

Peter Margaritis: [00:05:14] I’m going to just turn it over to you. You have such a fascinating story. And it’s a journey that has taken you to Columbus and to what you’re doing right now. So, if you could share some of that story with my audience, I think they’ll just find it incredibly inspiring.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:05:31] Sounds great, Peter. So, yes. So, what I do today is I am a financial coach, an author, and a speaker. But yes, how I came to this point is a long, and winding, and twisty journey. First of all, English is not the first language I learned. I grew up in Sarajevo, Bosnia, which was part of a communist dictatorship called Yugoslavia from the Second World War until the death of the Dictator, Marshal Tito in 1980. And I was born shortly after that point.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:06:10] Now, when Tito died, he left a power vacuum and collapsing economy. And over time, tensions were built. And then, when I was 10 years old, my life changed forever. I had a pretty normal childhood, as you might expect. You know, visited grandparents on the weekends, went to school, played with my friends. And then, one morning, we woke up to news on the radio that much of the city had been barricaded and heard gunfire in the distance. So, we got some things, put them into a car, and we left.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:06:50] And I’ll never forget what my mom said as we were leaving. She said, “Get your books, get some more things. We could be gone for two weeks.” But I knew this that she didn’t really believe that. She thought she, honestly, with every fiber of her body, she believed that it would all blow over in a weekend, and life would return to normal. It just had to. I mean, this was three groups of people living together in this country. It was just unthinkable what was about to happen. But 27 years later, that is the last day I saw my childhood home.

Peter Margaritis: [00:07:27] Wow.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:07:28] So, now my life went in a very different direction. So, we were refugees. We had family members in a safer part of the country that we eventually were able to go over there, and they offered us temporary shelter. We got food packets from the Red Cross that were really helpful during this time. I still remember standing with my mom and my little brother in line for these. So, yeah, it was just this unbelievable experience. But looking back, honestly, I feel grateful for this in a way. I mean, obviously not the war an so on, but what came out of it is I learned to value experiences and people over anything. We lost our home. We lost all our possessions. And I realized that that’s not what really matters in life. It really is the people and experiences that nobody can take away from us. So, that created some of the foundation, which is what I’ll come back to later.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:08:29] So, three years into this, I learned that my family was moving to Canada to start a whole new life. And honestly, I was super excited about this. I did think it was kind of like the Wild West a little bit from all the cowboy stories I read. Yeah. It turns out Toronto was not like [indiscernible]. But it was September, and I was 13 years old. So, it was time to start high school, which would be gut-wrenching feeling, I think, for anyone. It’s like even if you grew up here, it’s like high school is this whole new thing. How we’re gonna fit in? And our friends are going to like us. But at that point, I had one detail that made it a little different, which is I didn’t speak English. So, I walked into high school kind of terrified. And it was what you sort of expect at that point. I didn’t know what was being taught, or what my homework was, or where to go for a class even.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:09:40] And I still remember this, when somebody told me that I needed to go to the upper gym, and I sat there so confused about who Jim was. So, it was—talk about improvisation. I know you talk about this on the podcast. But just figuring out, you know, the [indiscernible], where to go, and so on, and how to adjust to all that. So, that’s another one of those foundational experiences. But four years later. I got the highest grade in my graduating English class.

Peter Margaritis: [00:10:18] Wow!

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:10:20] Yes, I was so—that was just a lot of hard work, and stepping out of my comfort zone. It’s going in. I have a feeling of I’m just not as good as other kids. I’ll never catch up. Everything is so far ahead. Just that insecurity, but through this, it is, honestly, if we work hard, and if we step out of our comfort zone, to reach out, to communicate, to be willing to make mistakes, as I have many times, and to fail at it, and to repeat myself, and so on. It is really amazing that—what we can accomplish.

Peter Margaritis: [00:10:59] Well, just so the audience knows, you mentioned improv, and you have taken improv classes.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:11:06] Yes.

Peter Margaritis: [00:11:07] And you’re the accidental improv artist.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:11:12] Yes, I certainly am. And just to quickly fast forward within one minute to the point of improv with that. So, I went to study engineering in school. And the reason that I am in Columbus, Ohio today is I was finishing school in Canada, I discover the passion for saber fencing in college. I know, talk about out of left field, right? A friend brought me into a class, and I became so obsessed with it. I was training super hard. And at the end of this, I won the varsity championship for all of Ontario universities and the Female Athlete of the Year award at my university, Carleton University in Ottawa that year. But I still wanted to go to the next level.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:12:01] So, I started to look at where the great coaches were, and I found one at The Ohio State University, and I thought, “Well, I’m in Ottawa. He’s in Columbus. I’m past the varsity time period. So, how am I going to work with this guy? I really want to do this.” And then, it hit me. I got it. I’ll go to Ohio State and get a PhD.

Peter Margaritis: [00:12:26] Of course. Why not?

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:12:28] Of course. So simple. Problem solved. So, I applied, and this was the only college I applied to for a PhD program. Got it in right before the deadline. And I got interviewed and offered a full scholarship and stipend for Biomedical Engineering PhD at Ohio State. So, I was on my way. And fencing-wise, this was a wonderful experience. It got me to bronze medal at Canadian National Championships. But a couple of years in, I really started to feel like something was wrong. I was not on purpose. I mean, I started—so, fencing was done at this point in time. I was done. And I just—I really—to say that I was not enjoying the research side of things is an understatement. I mean, truly. I mean, I felt anxious and depressed all the time, not like myself at all. I was trying the way these 70, 80-hour weeks. And it just—you know, I feel like it was really a challenging period in time. And during this time, I also happened to develop a fear of public speaking as well.

Peter Margaritis: [00:13:42] What?

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:13:42] My PhD candidacy exam was, really, I felt such a humiliating experience. I froze like a deer in headlights. I just—I couldn’t remember answers to even basic questions. It was—I mean, horrible. In the end, my adviser said that I passed just because my written answers were so strong. So, from then on, basically, I believed that I am terrible on my feet, that I should avoid public speaking. When I had to do it, I would just memorize everything. And, you know, it was just a torturous experience where I wouldn’t sleep the night before obsessing about every question I could be asked just because I didn’t want to feel that yelling of humiliation all over again. And finally, that’s where improv comes in. I decided enough is enough. This is holding me back. I have to do something radical. Radical.

Peter Margaritis: [00:14:43] Radical, exactly. Improv is radical in a lot of ways.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:14:46] Improv is radical for an engineering PhD, with a fear of public speaking. Improv is beyond radical. So, it is terrifying. I remember, I almost turned around driving to my first class. I had this acid feeling in my stomach, and just tension in my body, wondering what have I done to myself. I’d be like a fish out of water, just humiliated. I mean, this is a terrible idea. But there was a deeper as well that said, “You need this. Think about how much you could grow.” So, I went in. And thankfully, it wasn’t nearly as terrifying as I thought it would be. In fact, I encountered this, like, amazing supportive group in Columbus, Ohio, the Wild Goose Creative. Just just wonderful, loving, supportive people. And I really grew leaps and bounds from that.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:15:49] The courage to have my business today and to speak on stage is all since from that one bold decision to sign up for that class. So, that’s what I would encourage the listeners to do. What area do you need to grow in? And what is that one bold decision that could change your life? To go out of your comfort zone and to transform into this new version of yourself that you don’t even recognize.

Peter Margaritis: [00:16:18] As a friend of mine says – his name is Jason, he actually my my improv coach – “If everybody will take, at least, one improv class, this world would be a lot better.”

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:16:28] Absolutely. And it’s not just about the snazzy, you know, one liner, and so on. It’s about being able to connect with other people at a deeper level. Eye contact, body language, to feel what they’re feeling, to create this scene. It’s not creation, actually. It’s discovery. It’s like you discovering your character and you’re doing it together with somebody else. So, it’s this beautiful. Yes, I know it sounds like a scary process, but in the right environment, it is a beautiful process that can truly translate to your business, to your career. I mean, being able to read body language, to connect with people on a deeper level, to communicate more effectively is so essential. It was transformative for me.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:17:16] And as a side effect of that, some unbelievable things happened in my life as well. So, about a year and a half after signing up for that class and surviving, I found myself on a TedX stage performing with an improv comedy troupe in front of hundreds of people. Wow. That shattered my notions about who I was and what I believed I was capable of, honestly. And so, a few weeks after that, I was walking down my street. And inspired by this experience, I had this just massive insight that I have no idea who I am, not what my passions or interests are, but more on a deeper level. It’s like I don’t know. If I believe all this about myself, that I’m terrible in my feet, that I’m limited in this way, that I could never speak on stages, that I could blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. If all of that was false, then what else is possible? I don’t know where the limit is or what possibilities still await it.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:18:33] And so, letting go of these limitations about what we believe we are, whether it’s an accountant and are focused on number, but, you know, not necessarily somebody who loved serendipitous, exciting things, and so on. Whatever it is, it’s just that whole notion of who we believe we are, they actually turn out to be completely false. And when we take bold things, step out of our comfort zone, we really discover who we are, and what we’re capable of.

Peter Margaritis: [00:19:06] Oh, my God. You’ve made it such a wonderful commercial and validating things that I’ve been saying for years. And finally, three years on this podcast, you just summed it all right up what improv can do for everybody. It’s not—I always say it’s magical because you just never know what you can do. I mean, you started a business, you’ve been on a TedX stage. You were just recently on a TedX stage again.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:19:35] Yes, that’s right. So, I gave a TedX talk. So, my first time, it was as a performer. Yes, I was the intermission basically at the first TedX event doing improv comedy. And then, I just recently did a TedX talk called Turning Humiliation into Transformation. And that talk should be posted on October 11th. I guess, today. So, it should be posted any day to the TedX site by the time this podcast comes out. I would love for folks to check that out because I really go deeper to share the lessons learned. And also what I’ve found, the question that I asked myself that bring down that anxiety and fear about stepping into the unknown, which is—the questions are not, will I succeed or fail, or, you know, what will other people think? The questions are, will I grow from this? Will I create something new in my life or in the world? And will I connect with amazing, new people along the way?

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:20:44] I mean, I answer yes to these questions, whether it’s—and you know, I feel anxious for networking events, and things like that, and in business. And obviously, you have to—from doing sales and all these other things that are uncomfortable, but reframing it in this way, and asking these questions, I truly find has been transformational for a perfectionist like myself, to focus on growth, creativity, and connection instead of just an outcome. It’s been so liberating. So, I would love for folks to check out the TedX talk when it comes out.

Peter Margaritis: [00:21:19] So, we’re going to take the some of these quotes that you just gave us, and put it as the social media graphics. So, for two reasons. One, I love the quotes that you’ve given us. For two, as a reminder for those who are listening to this podcast to go grab those graphics and put them on your computer. Put these words that you’re saying in front of yourself to remind yourself on a daily basis things that we need to do to become bolder, and how improv can get us there. And as we say in improv, follow the fear.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:21:55] Yeah, yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:21:55] Just leave it and do it. Just follow it. It’s— I used this last night. I was doing a session for Slide Deck Improv up in Cleveland, and I said, you know, “If we stay in our comfort zone, that’s where our dreams go to die.”

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:22:09] Yes, yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:22:11] “But when we step out of our comfort zone, that’s where magic happens. That’s where dreams come alive. And it’s scary because be careful what you wish for, it actually might come true. But it’s so liberating when it does. It’s so magical that, oh, my God, I can’t believe I did this.”

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:22:27] Yes. [Crosstalk].

Peter Margaritis: [00:22:28] It came from a refugee to here. I mean, it’s amazing.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:22:33] Yes. So, it’s thoroughly transformational. So, yeah, as I mentioned, it’s been in my financial coaching business. I mean, I was the kind of person who would—I would feel, honestly, just out of my comfort zone just doing phone calls in the past. I would like write down bullet points. And yes, I am admitting this, and that has totally changed and transformed. I love working with clients and adapting, you know, to each particular individual in terms of their style, and needs, and in terms of what they need to do to go to the next level to reach their goals. So, it’s been so, so amazing.

Peter Margaritis: [00:23:17] So, let me ask you this question. And so, what’s—so, public speaking was one of your big fears, and you’ve accomplished that. What’s another one of your big fears that you haven’t accomplished yet, but you want to. And you want to use improv to help you do that. And then, I’ll preface it. I have a fear of heights. I do. Sometimes, I go over some large bridges, and I start freaking. I want to skydive. And I told my wife this, and she said, “Okay, let me check the life insurance policy first,” but I’m committed to doing that. I just haven’t committed to a date to do it, but it is—it will happen in 2020. Is there something like that in your life that you have yet to accomplish, but you want to, and you want to use that power of yes and improv to make that leap to do?

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:24:06] So, at this point in my life, I really feel like it’s related to this business. I want to speak on bigger stages, impact more people. I want to grow this business to the next level, and again, impact and transform more people’s lives. I find that so meaningful and so satisfying. So, I want to move in this direction. So, like a client that I had recently, actually this couple that I worked with, and both high earners, but at the same time, they hadn’t saved anything over the last year, had growing credit card debt, and other kinds of debt. And she had this passion to transition out of her corporate career and start a nonprofit that she is so, you know, on fire about. But she couldn’t because of the financial limitations.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:25:03] So, working with them, over a three-month period, they went through paying off their consumer debt, their credit card debt, and bringing up over $5000 of monthly cash flow. She has started her nonprofit and is going to be able to leave her corporate job in March to be able to do it as full-time. And I think it makes such a big impact on the people that she’s going to work through with this organization. So, that’s the kind of stuff I feel like that lights me up.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:25:38] Or another example on a different direction, this business owner that I’m working with. And she is one of the kindest people that I have ever encountered. And her business has a wonderful mission, but at the same time, it’s like even though it had, you know, high revenues, almost seven figures, there was nothing to show for it at the end of the year, I mean, it was actually in the negative to the point of her family contributing retirement funds to keep this afloat. So, immediately, we identified big opportunities for her to improve her cash flow. And as a result of that, that’s going to be transformational for her and her family.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:26:17] So, this is—I think it’s so amazing. It’s not—you know, my degree is in engineering as a PhD. I decided when I finished that that—and this was a big decision, you know, not to pursue that direction, to go into academic research, and so on. I actually ended up working for a public private partnership to grow entrepreneurship in Ohio and so on. But yeah, just as I said, it’s not necessarily what my background is, but it’s what I absolutely love doing and want to take it to the next level.

Peter Margaritis: [00:26:51] So, as we begin to wrap wrap this up, I just want to share with the audience, we’re on Zoom, and I can see Mahaela as she’s telling these stories, and she lights up like—I mean, oh, my God, you can see the passion because her eyes are sparkling. She’s got this great smile. And she’s just telling the story, and you can just tell that, yeah, she absolutely loves what she’s doing. And so, I know you’ve written a book. And the book, you and your husband wrote it. You co-authored a book. And the name of the book is?

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:27:23] Money for Meaning: Philosophy for a Life of Extraordinary Freedom.

Peter Margaritis: [00:27:29] And it’s on Amazon. It’s on a-

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:27:30] Yes, yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:27:31] Okay. So, go out and pick up her book. The name of the business is?

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:27:36] It’s Money for Meaning as well.

Peter Margaritis: [00:27:38] As well. And that’s the website that people can find you?

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:27:41] Moneyformeaning.com, yeah.

Peter Margaritis: [00:27:44] Moneyformeaning.com. And do you—would you like to share an e-mail address with the audience if they want to drop you a quick e-mail to maybe contact you?

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:27:54] Yeah, that’ll be great. It’s Mihaela. So, my first name. I’m going to spell it out. It’s M-I-H-A-E-L-A @moneyformeaning.com. Yeah. I would be happy to connect.

Peter Margaritis: [00:28:10] So, if you have a—we’ll put in two pieces. If you want to learn more about her passion as it relates, outside the Money for Meaning, and her story, and her journey, or if you’re in a financial situation that you’re kind of stuck, and you need some help, contact her. Clearly, she can help you. And you know what, if you want somebody to help you that really loves what they’re doing, and smiling through it, and making you feel good about it, then you need to contact Mihaela.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:28:41] Oh, thank you. That would be great. And, you know, I can be definitely, I would say, pleasant to work with. At the same time, though, I do see people accountable. I truly do with everything, with follow-up, the tangible action items, with deadlines. And then, if those are not done, then we really go deep into the mindset of what’s going on. We get to that transformation.

Peter Margaritis: [00:29:06] And that’s the other good part. She keeps you accountable. And, you know, that’s—a lot of times, coaches don’t keep us accountable to that degree. They may keep us accountable on the surface, but she goes deep. So, Mihaela, I want to thank you again for taking time to be with—I love your story. I love your journey. I love what you’re doing. Keep doing that great work. And I look forward to seeing you onstage, hopefully, sometime soon.

Dr. Mihaela Jekic: [00:29:33] Sounds great, Peter. Well, thank you for having me.

Peter Margaritis: [00:29:39] I hope you’ve enjoyed Mihaela’s interview and learning more about her journey. You know, we are all on some type of journey with the highs and lows. Persistence and perseverance wins when you hit those lows. Fight through them because as the old saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Thank you for listening. And if you’re enjoying this podcast, please subscribe and share this episode with a friend. Make today your best day.

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