Dianna Booher is a bestselling author who has published 48 books in 62 foreign-language editions. She helps organizations to communicate clearly and leaders to expand their influence by a strong executive presence—and often by their own published book. Her latest books include Faster, Fewer, Better Emails; Communicate Like a Leader; What MORE Can I Say?; Creating Personal Presence; and Communicate With Confidence. Booher was interviewed multiple times on her opinions on workplace communication issues by different national media including Good Morning America, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I was born in a small rural community (population 101) in central Texas. Like most children in rural areas, I learned to work hard and play hard—whether picking cotton or playing high-school basketball. We had little money and learned to “make do” with the income farming brought in. But since the families of all my friends were in the same situation, we as kids never considered ourselves deprived. With loving, supportive, encouraging parents and an extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, my childhood was happy and rather uneventful.
The biggest experience of my life at the age of 19 was an early marriage to a sailor and our life in Okinawa while he served his military commitment. For the entire time on the islands, I saw and lived things never before imagined in my childhood: new cultures, new American friends from all over the globe, beachfront property to enjoy, new foods, and exposure to a collection of friends from around the world to entertain and delight me.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
Money means nothing without your health, family, and friends. When young, we think we are invincible. So for youth, life is achieving, serving, playing, loving. But later in life, we realize that unexpected, serious illness can rip many of these wonderful things away and leave us helpless to serve or achieve.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
As an author and book writing/publishing coach helping authors draft a great proposal to sell their book to a major publisher, attendees to my Booher Book Camps frequently come with this bad advice they’ve heard on the street: “Just write your book and self-publish it. It takes too long to find an agent and write a proposal. Besides, it’s almost impossible to sell a book to a major publisher nowadays.” Wrong, wrong, wrong!
Selling your book to a major publisher is NOT difficult if you know what to include in a book proposal. And sales can frequently be quick—especially on timely topics. My recommendation: Go for your dream of becoming a bestselling, traditionally published author to establish your credibility and expand your influence!
Concerning communication (particularly writing emails, proposals, and the like), we frequently hear people advise, “Write like you talk.” Unfortunately, people do! They write tangled sentences, nonsensical thoughts, grammatical gaffes, and disorganized details—all the while, thinking they’re writing well.
What advisors mean with the admonition to “Write like you talk” is that your style and tone should be conversational, clear, and pleasant as opposed to stuffy, formal, and convoluted. But others often mistakenly interpret the advice as a license to ramble on in writing as they might in conversation.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
At the age of 29, I was diagnosed with propriospinal myoclonus. It took several years and several world-renown specialists to arrive at that diagnosis. During the diagnostic journey, I continued to work and “do life as normal” with very visible, odd symptoms: muscle spasms, weak leg muscles that caused me to fall from time to time, flailing arms, head jerking. My doctors prescribed a then-new medication developed and tested in Japan for this rare disease. But even as symptoms became less visible, less frequent, and ultimately under control, I felt tense almost all the time, thinking that the jerking might start at any time—while I was on stage delivering a keynote, while meeting with a client, while lifting a hot pot of beans from stove to table, or while holding a precious baby.
The everyday stress of always having to stay physically and mentally alert to control the jerking and the drive to find the cause and cure (without success) turned into depression. The months dragged on and on as the various specialists insisted that I learn to live with the condition because more than fifty percent of those who have a movement disorder never determine the cause.
Now, decades later, my condition is much improved, my symptoms are under control, and I never even think of being concerned. But through this journey, I’ve learned several lessons:
––Stress leads to negative thinking and saps our energy and enthusiasm for life.
––We as humans do not have total control of things—even our personal health. God always has the final say.
––Life is too short not to be grateful for every single day.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Surrounding myself with brilliant people. Then asking relevant questions, listening to their advice, and following up to implement what they say.
What is your morning routine?
My typical routine is, well, never typical! My routine depends on several “types” of workdays. That is, when I’m delivering a speech, there’s a daily routine. When I’m working on a new book, there’s a different daily routine. When I’m in the office doing interviews, blogging, and responding to email, I have yet another daily routine.
So I’ll pick only one of these “categories” of days: writing a book.
I get up at 6:30 and go straight to the computer and write for a couple of hours. Then for a 5-minute break, I’ll grab a cup of tea and glance at the news.
Then back to my PC until about 11:00, when I need another break. I’ll do 30 minutes of cardio during that break.
At 11:30, I’m back at my PC to call in for messages, respond to emails, and write for another couple of hours.
For another break about 1:30, I’ll take a quick shower, dress for the day, and grab a bite of lunch.
Then by at least 2:00, I’m back to the PC to write until 7:00 or so.
On another quick 10-minute break, I grab a very light dinner.
Then back to the PC to write until about 10:00 or 10:30.
After I close my manuscript file, I respond to the afternoon’s emails and calls and end the day with Bible reading and prayer. I’m in bed by 11:30.
Up the next morning at 6:30, I repeat that writing routine until I finish the book two to four weeks later. Then I switch to different kinds of days for the next few weeks.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Looking for things to praise others. Sincere compliments go a long way in lifting the spirits of others AND your own.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
Always work ahead of deadlines and expect the unexpected to pop up when you least have time to handle it. So do things at the earliest opportunity rather than procrastinate about the unpleasant. That habit is particularly useful in tackling your unpleasant projects before the easier, more enjoyable tasks of the day. Then you avoid having those stressful conversations and tasks nag from the back of your mind.
Record the time it takes you to accomplish typical and atypical projects. With that documented record, you can plan your days and your months much more accurately and reasonably.
Close your email while you’re working on projects that require creativity and thought. Read and respond to email only 2-3 times a day: Early morning. Just before or after lunch. After you finish your typical work. Those last emails will be waiting in your coworkers’ inboxes the next morning when they start work. Leaving your email open and continually checking it every time you hear a “ding” breaks your concentration and wastes stop-and-start time on important projects. (My latest book, Faster, Fewer, Better Emails, provides many more strategies for communicating productively.)
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
The Bible — particularly the book of Proverbs because it has such practical wisdom for both business and personal life.
Bird by Bird by Ann Lamont because she writes about my lifelong passion and author career. She’s so down to earth and honest, taking all mystery out of the writer’s life!
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This classic serves as an author’s model for both style and concept.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” My parents drilled this principle into me from early childhood. It helped with homework and chores back then, and it has saved me big headaches in my business life when unexpected situations surface, and I must still meet a client deadline or a publisher’s manuscript deadline.
“If you can’t write your message in a sentence, you can’t say it in an hour.” (my own quote in my book Speak With Confidence. This principle comes to mind every time I catch myself making my point—over and over and over—in a conversation.