3 Steps to Filter Out the Noise


Do you get exhausted with all the voices vying for your attention everyday? I do! We tune in to some of them, and tune out the rest. But there is still an underlying ‘white noise’ that clouds our ability to listen to what is important and filter out the trash.

As a communicator, I need to clearly hear what is vital so I have something life-changing to pass on to my audience.

So, how do I make sure that my message is worth listening to? ie. How do I filter out the noise?

Hearing God’s voice is the most important lesson anyone can learn.

Maybe this concept is new to you, but God has not only “spoken” through the Bible, but He continues to speak today to those willing to listen.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

God is described as “the Word.” It is in his nature to speak, and he wants to speak to US today! His word is powerful (creation itself was spoken into existence), and life giving (John 6:63).

Is that you God?

As a young boy Samuel helped in the temple of the Lord. Three times in one night he was called by someone, but he didn’t recognize the voice. I wonder how many times God has called out to me in an effort to get my attention and guide me? I think most days he would have to hit me with a 2×4 across the head to get me to stop long enough to respond, “Hey, what was that for?”

On the fourth try, God called out to Samuel and this time he responded, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9).

“Speak to me God. I’m listening. You have my attention.” This is a life-changing statement.

When we listen, we will hear God. Samuel did. From that day he never forgot God’s voice…and God continued to speak to him throughout his life.

Here are three things I do to hear from God on a daily basis:

  • I get quiet for a few minutes each day.

This isn’t rocket science. I just shut off the stereo in my car while I am driving, or close the door in my office and shut off my phone/alerts periodically. How can God get our attention if we always have our ear buds in?

  • I read the Bible (God has spoken).

When something jumps out at me I underline it or write my thoughts/questions in a journal. God is always speaking through the Bible; we just have a tendency to think it is meant for someone else (like a co-worker, spouse or neighbor).

  • I ask God to speak to me.

Like Samuel, I let God know I’m listening. Often someone comes to mind so I pray for him or her then follow up with a phone call or email. Other times I am reminded of commitments I have made that need to be completed. Or I may not hear anything. That’s ok too. It’s just a moment of peace or clarity in an otherwise distracted and busy day.

If you’ve never taken time to be still to hear the voice of God it can be frustrating at first. Competing thoughts flood your mind, but with time and practice you will learn to cherish the quiet, and God can capture your attention.

You will grow when you hear from God. Your hearers will grow, too!





Three Ways to Beat Procrastination


Jeff felt terrible. Worse than terrible. He felt unworthy, lazy and unproductive.

He felt as if he were letting God down. And himself. And others.

Why did he feel this way?

Because he had a hard time hitting deadlines with his college assignments.

As he talked to me Jeff justified himself, “I can work 14 hours a day landscaping, but I can’t seem to hand in anything on time at school. When I am under the gun I can produce great work with fantastic results, but without the urgency of a missed deadline, I find it hard to stay motivated.”

Jeff isn’t alone in this.

Many people have a hard time with procrastination and motivation, especially when the results of their efforts aren’t tangible-like planting trees or building a deck. I had no interest in heaping on guilt…or letting him off easy. If he continues to miss deadlines he will do poorly in school and it will seep into other areas of his life. People who consistently show up late, miss deadlines or fail to follow through soon lose trust and opportunities.

In short they lose influence. And influence is leadership.

Here’s was my advice to Jeff, and anyone who wrestles with procrastination:

  • Mark your deadline one week early. This may sound childish, but after a while you will re-train yourself to get tasks accomplished early or on time, without pulling the dreaded all-nighter.
  • Set an alarm. Work for 30 minutes, and then take a ten-minute break. Get up, stretch, drink a glass of water, and breath in some fresh air. Then repeat. The timer creates an urgency (I only have 30 minutes to do this) and also a reward (I can get something from the fridge in 27 minutes).
  • Brainwork can be learned. It took me months of reading on a daily basis to form a habit that I have kept for the last 15 years. Sure, many times I’d rather be watching Netflix or surfing the interwebs, but the dedication has helped me prepare talks, sermons and lectures that have been the catalyst for change in many people.

Don’t put off until tomorrow what can easily be done today. You are not a procrastinator; you are a proactive leader in the rough!

Now quit surfing and get things done. Then you can relax!


There Be Dragons!


There is a myth that ancient maps included the phrase “There be dragons” in the far reaches and uncharted territories. While it makes for a compelling story, it’s simply not true. Maps did not include dragons (at least maps that have been uncovered so far).

But be sure there are dragons in the unknown.

They are not scaly fire-breathers, but they can inspire fear in us, and effectively torch and leave us for dead if we are not mindful of them. These dragons come with a number of names such as fear, doubt, negativity, and uncertainty. Mind monsters must be silenced or else they will handcuff us to the shore and keep us from experiencing life to the full. There is so much more for us to do and become!

Just the other day I was with my daughter on the fourth floor of a building. She was paralyzed when she got anywhere near a stairwell or window where she could see down. I know that feeling all too well. I was also gripped by an unhealthy fear of heights until I was in my mid to late twenties.

Finally I had enough.
I chopped the head off the dragon.

First I walked on the clear glass floor on the CN Tower at 1122 feet above the ground. Then I bungee jumped off a bridge 140 feet above a river. Finally I skydived at 10,000 ft. Believe me, none of this was easy (as my friends who were there with me can testify to!). But it was worth every drop of sweat, anxious thought and sickness in my stomach.
Now I am no longer rendered useless around heights. I can enjoy the view from a skyscraper or walk over a suspension bridge. Sure I don’t have plans to tightrope across the Niagara Falls anytime soon, but I also don’t freak out when I need to clean the leaves out of my gutters at home.

This is just one example of many internal struggles I have had to have to keep forward momentum in my life and leadership.

What is a dragon you must slay today or forever be held back on the fringes of what is known?
What thought, voice or fear has you anchored to the known instead of sailing into an exciting uncertain in your marriage, family, workplace or community?

Don’t wait any longer. Take action today. There is much territory to explore. It is a big world with even bigger possibilities.

There be dragons. Yes, there be. But if you refuse to feed them they will die like your fear, doubt, negativity and uncertainty.

How To Win Over Your Audience in One Minute or Less


Have you ever been in a meeting and thought, “What’s the point of this presentation…?” Or perhaps you were at a conference where the speaker rambled on and on without saying much of anything? I heard a sermon this summer where for the first 18 minutes the speaker told the audience that speaking wasn’t his forte.

I wanted to walk out of the room. I would never get those 18 minutes back.

If you are a communicator-a coach, CEO, teacher, minister, team leader-you want to make sure you connect with your audience right from the start, and hold their attention for long enough to get your message across clearly and memorably.

I have found that there is one sure fire way to get people sitting up, eyes glued to me, eager to listen:

I tell them a story.

Many people introduce a topic with a joke. Jokes are fine, but there is a lot that can go wrong with a joke. You may misread your audience and their sense of humor. You may mess up a punch line (I’ve done this once or twice), or deliver it without the proper dramatic pauses. Often a joke feels canned, or worse, forced.

However, when you tell a story, especially about a situation that you have been in personally, people take interest. And they are more prone to resonate with you if you are self deprecating.

When talking about the power of telling the truth, I opened with a story about a time I told a lie and got caught in the act by my mom (she saw the whole thing unfold through the kitchen window). Oops. Every person in the audience has told a whopper at one point, and they immediately think back to those moments even as I tell my own story. Now we are all on the same page, and the audience resonates with my weakness. Most often that’s what makes it funny and memorable. We have all told a lie that that grew and got us into hot water.

Now you’re no longer pointing a finger from an ivory tower, you are leading by example. Everyone in the room lowers their guard, and opens up to the main point of the message, the importance of truth telling. Perhaps without even realizing it, they are cheering you on and hanging on every word.
Mission Accomplished.

Want to win your audience and communicate more effectively?

Lead with your weakness. It will become your greatest strength.

Gold Medal Performance


Like millions of people around the globe, my TV consumption in the last two weeks has consisted of watching world class athletes compete at the Olympic Games in Rio. Normally I would not be caught dead watching hammer throw, team pursuit or race walking, but every four years national pride and curiosity take over and I find myself riveted by the dedication and devotion of these finely tuned athletes competing on the planet’s largest stage.

It’s inspiring.

I wish I were athletically skilled. But I am not. I can barely hold my own in a game of flag football or baseball. I can fake it…but I’ll never make it.

However, I have skills in other areas such as communication. And it makes me wonder what my potential is and how far I can go by dedicating myself to growth and development daily? Who might I inspire to become better than they thought they could be? Who might I challenge to live for Someone and something greater than themselves?

It can be easy for those of us watching in a comfy chair at home with a bag of chips and can of soda at our side to dream of having a gold medal placed around our neck and the national anthem played in front of adoring fans.

But there’s so much we don’t see.

We don’t see the daily grind of getting up at 5:00am for a high intensity interval run followed by a two-hour gruelling workout with weights and plyometrics. And that’s just a warm up. They haven’t even started working on the technique for their chosen sport. We don’t see the commitment of eating clean and going to bed early when friends stay out late partying. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers: The Story of Success says that in order to become a phenom at something there is 10,000 hours of practice needed. That’s roughly three hours EVERY day for 10 years.

In short, when we watch the Olympics we see the glory, and not the grind.

But ask any medalist, whether gold, silver or bronze, and they will insist the glory is worth the grind. Every time.

Are you willing to go through the grind to be all you can be and to shape others to be all they can be?

Here are three things I do regularly to ensure that I am developing as a communicator. 30 minutes of speaking is preceded by hours of the following:

1. Study. I read every day. I read the Bible, and I read books about theology and Christian living. I also read novels, history, and various magazine articles. I even read the back of cereal boxes. When something pops out at me I write it down and store it for later. I underline and make notes and my Kindle keeps all my highlights and notes on my own web page for later access.

2. Watch. I like to watch other communicators. I watch and listen to people like Andy Stanley, Craig Groeschel and Judah Smith to understand how they formulate their messages and how they use their own unique voice and style to communicate effectively. Most importantly, each time I speak I go back and listen to my message. It is often painful, but I have grown because of it. I have wiped out some annoying ticks in my speaking. Most importantly, I have found my own voice. I love Stanley and the countless other exceptional preachers out there but I know I will be most effective when I am the best Michael Voll I can be.

3. Ask. I regularly get unfiltered feedback from other communicators that I trust and who have qualities I want to emulate and learn from in my own speaking. This can be hard to digest at times, but it has made me far more aware and successful, and has weeded out poor habits and blind spots that I would never have been able to see on my own.

I am not sure how many hours I have invested into becoming a better communicator, but this one thing I know-I have not arrived at my destination. There is always more to learn, and there is always something that can be sharpened.

My goal is to “Communicate for Change,” and if more people can experience a change for the better because of the work I put in when no one else is looking, it is worth it. That is my gold medal.

So what do you need to spend time on today? Don’t put it off any longer! The world needs you at your best!

The Most Excellent Way to Lead: Discover the Heart of Great Leadership

Perry Noble, the Lead Pastor of NewSpring Church in Anderson, South Carolina has written a simple, yet insightful book on leadership that should help leaders across any number of disciplines.

The premise of the book is that the most excellent way to lead is by love. Noble contends that 1 Corinthians 13, known affectionately as the ‘love chapter’ (pun intended), is really all about leadership. He makes the point that the Apostle Paul has been speaking about leadership in the preceding and following chapters, and he gives an example of what this kind of leadership should look like in chapter 13. If you replace the word love with leader, you will find a whole slew of leadership traits such as patience, kindness, not easily angered, and keeps not record of wrongs to describe the traits every good leader should possess.

Noble draws on personal mistakes, failures as well as successes and victories to illustrate each point (i.e. love is kind) in a memorable and disarming way. He doesn’t make himself out as a guru of leadership, but as a learner who has been used by God do some pretty amazing things.

At the end of each chapter are questions to be answered personally as well as questions that could be asked of any leadership team. I have been going through the book with a friend and it has inspired some challenging conversations and growth.

Pick up the book. Then read and apply the lessons to your life and team. It will be a good reminder that leadership is more than a position and power suit and will have you well on your way to becoming an excellent leader.

Leadership is love.

Three Takeaways From Cheery Chewy


The Internet blew up over the weekend with the Facebook Live video of Candace Payne donning her Chewbacca mask while behind the wheel of her car. This simple video that was likely intended for family and a few friends, went viral, and soon over 150 million people had watched, shared and giggled till they almost wet themselves at the woman with the infectious laugh.

Several times I saw the video in my news feed and just as many times I quickly scrolled over it, thinking that it was not likely worth my time. Finally, after I saw a boatload of friends comment how hilarious the video was, I figured “Why not?” and hit play.

I had tears in my eyes in a few short minutes.

More importantly, I felt like I had hit re-start on my day.

Here are three lessons I learned from this fun-loving mom.

1) Laughter is always the best medicine
When you are feeling down, laughter provides new perspective and relief like nothing else. On some of my worst days I have been turned around in my perspective from a well-timed joke or YouTube video.
When Job is in the throes of grief he is assured by one of his friends that “God will once again fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy” (Job 8:21). While his friend may not have turned out to be a great companion, he did speak truth. I think Job experienced a lot of joy in the second half of his life.

Plus, if you laugh long and hard enough, it’s like doing hundreds of crunches. Now that’s a fun workout!

2) Laughter is infectious
There are a lot of things that can “rub of” onto others in our lives such as a bad attitude, an annoying habit, or an ill-conceived political viewpoint.
These are all negative examples, but on a very positive note, nothing is more infectious than laughter. I don’t have scientific data to back this viewpoint up, but it seems to hold true in everyday life. When I showed the video to a friend, Candace’s laugh blended with my friends laugh soon had me laughing hysterically.

If you want to rub off on others, make it with a laugh.

3) Joy provides strength
When it comes to getting through some of the roughest patches of life, joy = strength. Actually, specifically “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Joy that comes from a relationship with the Lord is what will get us through every rough patch of grief and despair, and even a few grey, colorless days. I found out this week that Candace Payne is a follower of Jesus and serves on the worship team in her local church. I’m sure that on many occasions she has drawn strength from the joy that comes from having a relationship with Jesus, the Giver of all Joy.

Buy a Chewbacca mask if you want, but no matter what you do, tap into the power of laughter today.

You just might make someone’s day.