18 Apr The Best Way to Commit to Something: Set a Deadline!

A lot of people ask me, “How did you become a professional speaker?”

In May of 2009, I was a General Manager at the Wisconsin Athletic Club. It was the night of our quarterly new-hire orientation where we teach the company’s history, philosophy and goals. My favorite part is the Pike Place Fish Market video that demonstrates how to have fun at work. The new Team Members always leave energized and ready to make a difference in people’s’ lives.

After the orientation, the owners asked the General Managers to stay after for a quick meeting. One of the owners asked, “Would anyone like to lead the Philosophy module at our next orientation in a few months?” [It’s important to note that one of the owners had stepped in that evening to facilitate this section, because the GM who normally led that module had recently left the company.]


Everyone looked down as we sat in dead silence. Nobody responded or looked up for a solid 20 seconds, which actually felt more like an awkward 20 minutes.

With false confidence on the outside and enormous anxiety on the inside, I raised my hand and said, “I’ll do it.” Without knowing it at the time, I had just set a deadline to perform my first speaking gig. It was significant because by volunteering to speak in front of a live audience I was also inadvertently setting a deadline. According to bestselling author and speaker Brian Tracy, setting deadlines increases the likelihood of success by as much as 11.5 times. Where do you need to raise your hand and commit to a deadline?

My Traumatic Flashbacks

As I walked to the parking garage and realized what I had done, I knew that I had to figure out a 90-day plan. But during my drive home, I kept getting flashbacks to my dreadful fear of public speaking…

In second grade, our teacher gave us the assignment to read a book and then do an oral report in front of the class. I selected The Tortoise and the Hare. When the day arrived for my speech, I stood in front of the class, froze, didn’t say a word, and walked back to my desk broken. In fifth grade, our teacher wanted us to sing the scale in front of the class. I sang, “Do-Re-Mi.” I cried, “Fa-So-La-Ti-Do.” As a high school senior on the basketball team, I let my co-captain Brent Hansen lead all our huddles with motivational words. I stood there wanting to say something so badly, but I never did. As the Coordinator of Basketball Operations at Marquette University, I froze on stage while trying to give out an award during the annual postseason banquet.

An Incredible Accountability Tool

About one week after I committed to teaching the Philosophy module, I read about the website www.futureme.org in an article. It’s one of the most random gems I’ve ever found on the internet. Have you ever heard of it? Through this website, you can send accountability emails to yourself into the future.

The next day, I set up a series of deadlines in the form of progress emails to be sent from me,  to me. On June 1, 2009, the email that I sent and received said, “Complete new-hire orientation outline.” On July 1, “Integrate my personal stories.” On August 1, “Complete slideshow and practice in the actual room.” On August 27, which was the morning after I led the new-hire orientation for the first time, “Congratulations, I did it… and didn’t die!” It sure felt good to receive the last one.

Remove the Desire for Perfection

Was I perfect? No way! In fact, I was a horrible, nervous wreck. I was sweating profusely and I forgot what I was going to say a few times. Had I failed? Maybe. Had I started to move in the direction I wanted to go, creating some momentum for myself to look ahead and keep my vision in mind? Yes, but I had to learn to be patient. I kept telling myself, “You’re twenty-nine years old, but you’re only one day into public speaking. You just started.” If I hadn’t raised my hand three months prior, I wouldn’t be speaking professionally 10 years later.

Deadlines are obviously not new. For instance, on May 25th, 1961, President John F. Kennedy declared, “..this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely.” Think there was fear? Absolutely, but at least there was a clear deadline of December 31st, 1969. The rest is history. On July 20th, 1969, the remarkable outcome was achieved about five months early.

Love-Hate Relationship

Deadlines can be difficult, demanding and easy to hate. However, they are an effective way to get things done. I know that if I don’t set a deadline or a series of deadlines for myself, I’ll find myself too busy or too tired, or I’ll question my ability to achieve my goals. Knowing that I had to give a speech on a certain date, I was motivated and determined to do it.

Could a deadline or a series of deadlines help you commit to something that you want to accomplish?

ACTION: Use pressure and stress in a good way to draw out your best performance and potential. Set a deadline or a series of deadlines for one thing you want to accomplish, personally or professionally. Then, hold yourself accountable by sending emails to yourself into the future via www.futureme.org.

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