Dianna Booher

Would You Autograph Your Life?

A Conversation with Dianna Booher, author of Communicate With Confidence!® and Your Signature Life®

By John David Mann

If anyone knows about setting and reaching goals, the woman you're about to hear from is that person. Author of more than 40 books and recipient of nearly a dozen major book awards, Dianna Booher is a classic American success story. A self-taught writer and speaker, Dianna has been inducted into the CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame(R) and is a member of the Speakers Roundtable (an elite group of the world's 18 top speakers); Successful Meetings magazine included Dianna on its list of "21 Top Speakers for the 21st Century." She has been interviewed by Good Morning America, CNN, CNBC, USA Today, Washington Post, National Public Radio, Bloomberg, Investors Business Daily and scores of other national media.

In 1980 Dianna founded Booher Consultants, a training company aimed at helping organizations increase productivity through effective communication. Booher trainers have since taken Dianna's communication principles and techniques to hundreds of organizations around the world--on all six continents. Her client list includes such diverse giants as IBM, American Airlines, ExxonMobil, Nokia, Hewlett-Packard, the U.S. Senate, Lockheed Martin, Verizon, the U.S. Army, PepsiCo, Merrill Lynch, JCPenney and NASA.

We recently spoke with Dianna about goals, life purpose and what turns out to be her favorite among her own books, Your Signature Life(R). -- JDM

Can you tell us a little about Your Signature Life(R)?

Your Signature Life(R) uses the metaphor of a builder, painter, novelist or screenwriter to evoke the idea of doing your best. What would it be like if you lived each day as if you were building your dream home, painting your masterpiece, writing your bestseller or your million-dollar script for a blockbuster movie?

When an artist is proud of his work, he wants to sign it. Well, your life is your art--you're painting it onto the canvas of experience every day. When you put your head on your pillow at night, can you look at your life and know that it is the way you want it to be--that it's something you'd be happy to sign your name to, just as an artist would?

God has given you the life you have, given you breath, given you creativity. Your Signature Life(R) challenges you to strive for honesty, wisdom, courage and faithfulness, in both your relationships and your work, so that when all is said and done, you can sign your name with a flourish and say, "Yes, this is my masterpiece!"

One of the great realizations that comes with this approach is that your life isn't over, it's in process. If you're not happy with how it's gone so far, just like a screenwriter with a first draft, you can start over with a blank page. Do a rewrite!

There seems to have been a shift in our culture, moving from the frenzy of the 80s and IPO boom of the 90s to a reexamination of values, an inquiry into what it is we really want out of life. Do you find people especially receptive to this message right now?

Yes, this is very much going on right now. In my training company, we present workshops on presentation and communication skills--writing, how to lead effective meetings, customer service skills, listening skills, that sort of thing. While my staff does these trainings, I'm the one who does the keynotes and then goes in to do personal coaching with the senior executives--and what I often hear from these people is exactly what you're describing.

Understand, I'm not there to give life coaching or overall career coaching; I'm there specifically to work on their communication skills, for example, to help them learn how to speak effectively before a group. But when we have lunch or sit down to talk and I ask about their lives, they'll often bring up issues that are troubling them: there's someone they don't get along with, or conflicts with another division of the company, or they simply aren't happy working for this company.

In the course of these conversations, I come to know their values. You can't be around somebody for more than 30 minutes without hearing their values. And what ultimately surfaces are typically not the work problems, but larger questions about happiness, job satisfaction, things they're grappling with personally. "Now that I've made my mark on the corporate world, what do I want to do for the next 20 years?"

Sometimes it's that it no longer really matters that they've "make their mark": they've arrived, and now they're saying, "So what? Is this all there is?" Or, they haven't arrived--and indeed, have come to realize that they're never going to "arrive": that end-point scenario they've been envisioning for decades simply isn't going to happen for them. They're executive vice president, maybe, and they're never going to be president or CEO. They've spent 25 or 30 years getting to this point, they have their million-dollar home...and it's not all it was cracked up to be.

Where's the satisfaction?

Exactly. And they'll look at me and say, "You seem like you really enjoy your job. What is it that brings that fun?" Then I have the opportunity to tell them what it is that creates meaning in my life.

It's amazing sometimes to hear people talk about those things in their lives other than their jobs that bring them more fun; they'll say, "Well, when I retire, this is what I'm going to do." How terrible that someone would spend eight or ten or twelve hours of every day doing something they don't really like, so that they could get to be 60 or 65 and--hopefully!--finally start to do something they consider fun.

I encourage people to start this inquiry earlier in their lives, asking, "How can I create a vision where I am paid to create the life I want--not eventually, but from the very beginning?"

Is that what you did for yourself?

Absolutely! I was fortunate enough to decide very early in my life that I was going to do what I wanted to do, whether or not I was going to get paid for it.

Was there a time where you suddenly saw that you were headed in a direction that wasn't necessarily what you wanted?

Yes. I had prepared to be a school teacher, because somebody else (in this case, my parents) told me, "You have to have a job." I taught school for one year; at the end of the year I thought, "Next year I'm going to teach the same stuff...how boring! How will I ever grow as an individual if I'm teaching the same lesson plan year after year?"

I decided that the only way I could grow would be to continue learning new things myself, to live a lifetime of research. I decided I wanted to become a writer.

I'd never studied what that meant or how to do that; I didn't know anyone who was a writer. I had no clue what was involved. This, of course, was years before there was an Internet, so I went to my public library and asked the librarian, "How do you become a writer?" She said, "I don't have a clue!" She took me over to the 800 section and left me there.

I looked through everything in the section, from how to write a greeting card to how to write a mystery thriller or American romance. I checked out every book they had, about 60 books. For the next three weeks, I read almost around the clock; by the time I was finished, I had taught myself all about publishing.

The first book I sent out, I got published. At the time, I didn't realize what an absolute fluke this was. I just thought it was normal: learn how to write, then write, then publish. Of course!

Once I was published, I could combine motherhood with a career, and that led me to design my own life. I could stay home, work the days I wanted to work.

I wrote novels, books in pop psychology, books on communication and business...whatever I've wanted to learn about or know about, whatever I've needed to stimulate my own growth, I would go research it and write about. My career has allowed me to continually set new goals and grow professionally.

You did yourself the courtesy of asking yourself, "What do I really want to do?"--which is a starting point so many people don't ever get around to.

At the beginning of every year I ask myself, "What are my goals this year? What kind of books do I want to write this year?" I have personal goals and business goals, and I set up my writing schedule and business schedule for the year with those in mind.

Given all these conversations you've had with successful executives who don't have that kind of satisfaction, is there some sort of fundamental flaw in how we're brought up to look at goals or life planning? Where do we go wrong?

People don't take goal-setting in their personal lives seriously.

I have a book coming out in August, a companion volume to Your Signature Life(R) called Your Signature Work(R), in which I ask that same question of 28 professional people at very high levels. I asked them about their goals: whether or not they set goals; if not, why not; what sorts of goals; and so forth. Oh yes, they said, they set work goals. "Do you write them down?" Oh yes, they had performance goals and would always write them down--three-month goals, six-month goals, annual goals. Remember, these are very successful people.

When I asked if they had personal goals, they said, Oh sure--but when I asked, "Do you write those down, too?" nearly every single one said, "Well...no, I don't write those down." I asked, then how did they meet them? And all of a sudden they would get vague and fuzzy on me. "Well, you know, I just kind of know if I meet them...."

There were two or three, though, out of the 28, who were very specific about their personal goals. They told me they wrote them down and shared them with their families--and they were the ones who had clearly and unequivocally accomplished those personal goals and seemed very satisfied with them.

One, for example, had decided that twice a year he was going to take a trip with his family. Another had set a goal of building a house by a lake, and he was very specific: they would have at least three neighbors within walking distance, the house would be just so big, and have these features, et cetera. These few could articulate very concrete, specific goals for their personal lives--and they had achieved them.

I've found the same thing from my own experience. Every year, in the week between Christmas and the New Year, I write down specific goals for the year. I'm going to write a book on this subject; it's going to be a novel; I'm going to take a vacation in the spring with the kids.

If I don't write it down, it gets put off for the next year, and the next year, and the next year.... It just doesn't get done--unless I have an action plan to carry it out.

It's easy to think of goals as synonymous with "productivity," but you're saying, goals that are not necessarily linked to productivity are just as important, yet it's easy not to treat them that way.

People think, "Oh, it'll just happen because I want it to happen." But it won't; you have to make it happen, just like you make everything else in your life happen.

You speak about not spending your whole life waiting for the reward at the end. In network marketing, you'll sometimes see people project into the future a lot: "when I get to that level...when I get that big check...when my income goes to that level, that's when I arrive."

It's important that you don't always live for the future, that you live in the moment.

When I'm happiest is when I'm doing things that really matter to me. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking we need rest, when what we really need is re-energizing. It's not the absence of activity that refreshes us, it's those activities that re-energize our spirit that truly refresh us.

There've been times when we'll think, "I'm so tired from working, I need to stop working and take a rest." So you take a long weekend or leave work earlier. But that doesn't necessarily produce real rest, because you still may be stressed out, knowing what's waiting for you when you go back to work. What's energizing is to do something meaningful, something that feeds your spirit; that's what makes you feel refreshed.

I was recently involved in an apartment ministry, helping people in a low-income project get back on their feet. They'd lost their jobs, one had cancer, one was in a bad legal situation; we worked with them for six months. I went in once a week to work with these people for just four hours, and even though I could be dead tired when I got there, I would feel totally energized when I left!

I do counseling on a phone line for two or three hours a week, and it's the same thing: I can be dead tired when I log in, then take call after call from people with all sorts of problems--and when I get off that phone two or three hours later, knowing that I've helped people with all sorts of issues and puzzles they couldn't solve on their own, and having heard their spirits lifted, I'm soaring!

So don't wait till you're 65 to figure out what gives your life meaning.

That's right! Family, community, church, whatever gives your life meaning, do it now!

Have you noticed anything different in the way network marketers approach their lives and goals, as distinct from other professionals?

People who gravitate to network marketing tend to be much stronger in goal-setting. At least, the people we have worked for; I won't say that's universally true. I suppose I would have to distinguish between two categories: those who are in network marketing and are successful at it, and those who are in network marketing but are not successful at it!

The people who come to us as clients, to buy communication courses or writing courses, have risen to the top of their companies because they're strong in goal-setting, because they are highly motivated. They have decided to design the lives they want; they're ready to go to the next level, and have realized that to do so they need communication skills.

All the surveys say that if you want to succeed in your business, no matter what kind of business it is or what area it's in, the two most important skills are communicating in writing and communicating through speaking. The ability to communicate effectively is more important than academic training in your field, previous experience, technical expertise or anything else. And successful network marketers understand this.

On the other hand, some network marketers whom I've personally bought from have been some of the worst businesspeople I've ever met!

Why is that?

Because many do it haphazardly. They treat it not as a business, but as a hobby.

Can you give an example?

Last Christmas, I ordered something from a representative to give as a Christmas present. The lady said, "Well, I'll get it to you some time in the next couple weeks." A couple weeks went by; she didn't get it to me. "Well, I forgot, don't worry, I'll drop it by." I had to call three separate times. It was Christmas Eve when she finally brought the thing over! I've had that same kind of not-so-good experience with several representatives of different companies.

That's the reason they're not the directors of their organizations: they don't treat it as a business. Of course, to be fair, that may in fact be their goal: to have a second business to do in their spare time, as a hobby...something they do for pin money. And that's fine.

Not so fine for the customer!

No, not good customer service. And perhaps because they're not doing it full-time, they don't do the things a salesperson would normally do: they don't follow up, they don't try to upsell, they don't ask for referrals.

Is that an unavoidable hazard of the fact that we work with a volunteer army, or is there something we could do to correct this?

I think the way to address it is to ask the people you work with, "What is your best effort? Would you be proud to sign your name to this business? Does it reflect your ethics, your honesty, your faith and your values? Does it deserve your signature?"

You've published 42 books; what book has given you the most satisfaction?

I always like the one I'm working on best!

Probably the most successful is Communicate with Confidence(R). It's been published in a lot of foreign countries; it was number one in China for a while. It's been out for ten years now and it's still in all the major book stores.

But I would have to say, my favorite out of all of them, is this last one, Your Signature Life(R); this is one I really feel good about!