How to Tell a Great Story
I write books for a living — sometimes my own, sometimes in collaboration with high-profile public figures. The genre I love best is narrative nonfiction: real life accounts told with imagery, action and poignancy. To tell a great story, use this framework.
1. Introduce a worthy hero with a massive goal.
A main character must attempt the impossible, desire the unattainable, resist the forbidden or overcome the disastrous. In the book I wrote with fashion journalist Lauren Scruggs, a short flight to look at Christmas lights turned into a nightmare when she was struck by the plane’s still-spinning propeller. Lauren was rushed to the hospital, fighting for her life. She lost a hand and an eye, and some thought this would be the end of everything for her, a beautiful young woman working in an industry focused on appearance. Lauren’s big goal became to press forward nonetheless, even after life had hit her hard.
2. Plunge the hero into chaos, force the hero to fight free.
A story must bristle with tension. Readers must continually hope or fear that something vital and necessary will or won’t happen. In my book with Alabama restaurateur Martha Hawkins, the first half of her life was filled with heartbreak, including poverty, encounters with racism, a lack of education, divorce, the struggles of single motherhood and finally a severe assault that led to an emotional breakdown. Inside a state mental hospital, with everything its bleakest, Martha found a Gideon’s Bible. God’s Word provided new strength, and Martha battled upward to reach her goal.
3. Show how the hero overcomes
By story’s end, tension needs to be released. A hero’s goal must be met, although perhaps in a surprising way. Darrell Powers was a soft-spoken machinist from Clinchco, Va., who never dreamed of doing great things. He fought in World War II with an elite company of soldiers and ended up becoming known the world over for his bravery, skill and humility. His story resolves by showing an example of a life well lived, of an ordinary man who lived extraordinarily. It’s a call for us to do the same.
How to Be Funny
Becky Baker (’70) loves to make people laugh. As a comedian, a motivational speaker with seminars such as “Laughter, God’s Best Medicine,” and one-half of The Bessie & Beulah Comedy Show — with comedic partner Katie Blackburn (’75) — Baker has traveled the country bringing wit and wisdom to audiences as diverse as Boeing, Kaiser Permanente and Chevrolet. Humor has also come in handy in her 30-plus years in the high school classroom; as a teacher, she’s won awards such as Disney Teacher of the Year and UCSD Teacher of the Year. Here, she answers some questions about what it takes to be funny.
You’ve had a really diverse career — teacher, missionary, actress, motivational speaker, author. What led you to add “professional comedian” to the mix?
Obviously, the money! I mean, when was the last time you saw a rich teacher or missionary?
Where do you find inspiration for your material?
Lots of people-watching, reading and watching the news, and stealing like crazy from Jay Leno!
Not that this has ever happened to you, but for the rest of us, what’s the best thing for a speaker to do when a joke falls flat?
You’re right. It’s never happened.
Why is it good for us to laugh?
It's cheaper than therapy and a lot less painful than a brain tumor.
Does God have a sense of humor?
He created us, didn’t he?
Being a missionary kid, yo hablo un poco español. So I am very excited about the new Spanish version coming out of those criminal investigative shows. They’re calling it CSI–I–I.
How to Create an Effective Logo
So, you have a great business concept, idea or initiative you want people to know about. You want a quick visual hit so people can see who you are and what you are all about. You probably want a logo. Something to put on a website, business card or T-shirt. But how do you capture everything you want to say in one simple little mark? Where do you start? The following guide is a quick way to begin building a logo. Keep in mind that a logo, while simple, has many elements and layers to make it successful. Often the simplest logos take a while to figure out.
1. Know that your logo is not a brand.
(In other words, figure out your brand first.) You should know these three questions regarding your idea: (1) Who are you? (2) What makes you different? (3) Why does that matter? The sooner you know the answers to these questions, the easier it is to know how your idea can stand out from so many competing ideas. Take this idea and boil it down to a simple mission statement. Then think about what concepts represent your idea, such as a big teddy bear for a honey business, a funny name typeset in a clever way (a la Amazon), or the signature of the man representing a company based on imagination (Disney). A good brand and logo should be felt: People should get it and connect with it right away.
2. Know who you are talking to.
If your idea is targeted at a certain group of people, you may want to take into consideration how they will respond to your logo when you are not around to talk about it. What symbol or concept best expresses your idea to the people you are trying to reach? How does the logo look big? Small? In black and white? Online? In a magazine? How will it reproduce on multiple platforms? Will people get it and understand what you are trying to say to them?
3. Know your style.
Are you serious? Casual? Fun? Figure out your tone, your mood. Study other company logos. What do you like about them? What makes you think they are effective, and why? Keep a Pinterest board or notebook of ideas and see if it makes sense with the ideas you mapped out in steps 1 and 2.
4. Create your logo.
This should be the easy part, right? Building from the steps above, you can have Uncle Ned, who just learned Photoshop, design something. Or you can crowdsource it to people who will give you a lot of options but really have no idea who you are or what you are about, and you can’t go back and forth or meet in person. Or you can wing it yourself and try to find clip art and some “cool” typeface to get across what you want. Let’s pretend, though, that getting your logo is like fixing a pipe in your house; there may be ways to fix the leak that you learned on You-Tube or from watching a friend a long time ago, but maybe it’s time to think about hiring someone who does this as their profession.
5. Hire a designer.
They should have a portfolio of logos with a wide range of styles. They should have good references. Most importantly, though, is that you should connect and feel like they really understand who you are and what you are trying to say visually. By communicating to them all the steps above, they should be able to help you design an effective logo that does exactly what you want and says all the right things when you are not around to explain your idea. For information on finding a designer, visit www.aiga.org/howto-hire-a-designer.
How to make the most of an art museum
- Go in with an open mind and a heart to learn. Be willing to have your mind changed about something you already have an opinion about.
- Read the information on the wall next to the artwork, or listen to the docent if you’re on a guided tour.
- Let your imagination loose. View the artwork until you feel like it’s part of you.
- Art preserves history. View each artwork as a moment in history — a moment that was important enough that an artist captured it, knowing it would vanish quickly. Try to enter into that place and time.
- If you go for a special exhibition, focus on just that exhibition and don’t try to see everything else at the museum. Your mind can get overwhelmed if you try to see too much.
- Try to view art chronologically, so the context of its place in the narrative of art history makes sense.
- Try to see what the artist was seeing. What was the artist trying to convey?
- Do a little Googling and background research beforehand. Know why a painter painted something, what he or she was doing when they painted, and who influenced them.
How to enjoy a hike
1. Go with someone you know you’ll have fun with.
2. Plan a location.
Choose something you know that you can do. Or you can challenge yourself.
3. Prepare your body for the hike.
The day before and in the morning, you need to drink water so that you’re ready for high performance. Your strength will be 20 percent better.
4. Use proper equipment.
Don’t forget your hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, socks and shoes that have traction.
5. Bring plenty of water.
Have enough water bottles or a hydration pack.
6. Don’t forget the snacks.
Pack energy bars, banana, orange, grapes, nuts or whatever it is that you like. I like making peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches. They’re full of energy.
7. Always reward yourself.
When you’re finished, go to your favorite restaurant or ice cream place.
8. Thank God for everything.
Thank God for someone to hike with, a plan to hike, that no one gets hurt, the location. Thank God for giving you the money for the proper equipment. Thank God for the water and the hydration pack. Thank God for the fruit. Have a thankful heart.
How to get in healthier shape
1. Stop doing long cardio.
If you can read a book, have a conversation or watch TV while you are exercising, then you will never see the change you want to see. Get out of breath! Get that heart rate up! Get sweaty! Short bursts of exercise known as HIIT (high-intensity interval training) are better than long, slow cardio.
2. Jump rope.
Six minutes of jumping rope burns about the same amount of calories as jogging for 30 minutes. Plus, it’s easier on the body since you land on the balls of your feet.
3. Do burpees.
This is the most complete exercise move you can do. Talk about time efficient — this move gets everything fast!
4. Commit to a group
Boot camps are everywhere. They are a less expensive option than personal one-on-one training. Plus, the camaraderie and accountability not only provide fun, friendship and consistency, but also a competitive edge to push you beyond your limits. Most boot camps have as their base bodyweight exercises (squats, pushups, burpees, etc.). These are functional moves that will keep you strong as you age. Don’t be afraid: No one will be looking at you. They are just trying to get through it themselves.
5. Stop doing sit-ups
These are the most ridiculous exercises of all time. Jump rope, do mountain climbers or do other full-body exercises that work more than one muscle group at a time. You burn way more calories.
6. Diet is everything.
You can exercise until you’re blue in the face (or in most cases red!), but if you aren’t eating right, you will never get the body you are trying to achieve, even though you may get stronger. Remember: You can’t out-exercise a bad diet. Put that on your fridge!
7. Eat real food
If it comes in a package, it’s processed. Bread, cookies, crackers, etc., are rare treats. Or eliminate them altogether. So what’s left? Veggies, meat, fish, fruits, nuts, coconut oil, avocados and eggs! If your great grandparents ate it, it’s probably OK.
8. Eliminate sugar
This is a hard one to beat but once you do an apple will taste better than you could ever imagine.
9. Eliminate "Diet Drinks"
Diet sodas mess with your insulin. Instead, drink green tea, water or flavored infused waters. Stay away from juices. They may seem healthy but they are full of sugar.
10. Make one change a week
— either diet- or exercise-related. Be specific. Don’t say, “I’m going to exercise more.” Rather, say, “This week, I’ll do two days of interval training and two days of weight lifting.” Rather than make a drastic change in your diet, eliminate one poor food choice a week. For instance, don’t say, “No carbs this week.” Rather, say, “I’ll stay away from bread all week but have a great piece of toast on Saturday morning.” Just one little change at a time adds up to many changes that will help to create a healthier you.
How to help a child in need
Since the day I graduated from Biola, I’ve had a single focus in life — ministry to children in poverty. No one argues that children worldwide are the poorest of the poor. But they also pay the greatest price. All the ills of society land on children, its weakest, most vulnerable citizens. Children are truly the “least of these.”
That’s why they became my passion. I wrote Too Small to Ignore for them. I wanted to awaken the church and call for a paradigm shift in our priorities and strategies. In the upside-down kingdom of God, the first are last. The weak are strong. The poor are rich. And one trumpet blast from now, we’ll realize the little are big! Children deserve our best.
In my 36 years with Compassion International, 20 of them as president, I’ve witnessed poverty’s ugly war on children. Its destruction is beyond attacks on health, housing, water and economics. It’s deeper than that. Poverty’s deepest damage is done in a child’s heart. Poverty destroys hope. It extinguishes the sparkle in a child’s eye, a child made in the image of God. It hisses lies in impressionable ears. “You don’t matter. Nobody cares. Nothing will ever change. Give up!” Allow that message to go unchecked and children move from struggle to apathy and ultimately to fatalism — a living death sentence.
At Compassion, we fight for a child’s spirit. We rush in with the love of a local church, the power of the gospel and a different set of messages. “You do matter! God knows the hairs on your head and the pattern of your fingerprints. The God who created you is the God who loves you. And he’s the God who died for you too.”
The gospel lived out is the counterforce to hell’s destructive power. It rescues and restores a child in Jesus’ name. And it’s enhanced when Compassion adds the engagement of a faithful sponsor, who prays, writes letters of encouragement, admires every picture, and cheers every report card. So far, 1 million children have come through Compassion’s program over its 60-year history and the results are in.
Recently Compassion opened its doors to rigorous, external empirical research by a team from the University of San Francisco under the leadership of Bruce Wydick, professor of economics and international studies. After two years of extensive research and 10,000 research data points in six developing countries, the findings are profound. The prestigious Journal of Political Economy reported “large and statistically significant impacts” in the educational, employment and leadership outcomes of adults who were part of Compassion’s holistic child development program.
According to the research, Compassion graduates were:
- 27 to 40 percent more likely to finish high school.
- 50 to 80 percent more likely to graduate from college.
- 35 percent more likely to secure white-collar employment.
- 63 percent more likely to become teachers.
- 30 to 75 percent more likely to become community leaders.
- 40 to 70 percent more likely to become church leaders.
In short, Compassion sponsorship works. The “least of these” are living into their God-given potential. How to help a child in need? Well, join us!
How to survive an indie rock tour
Christian Koons (’12) spent much of the last year on tour as a guitarist for the up-and-coming indie band Cayucas, playing famed venues like San Francisco’s Fillmore and Seattle’s Neptune Theater, as well as festivals like South by Southwest. In early 2013, he went on a European tour with the band, and in June and July he played 30 cities in the United States over the course of six weeks. Here, he shares some tips on how he survived “on the road.”
1. Don’t expect to have time to sightsee.
We played a show in Paris but I couldn’t tell you one thing about Paris. We were there for 12 hours total. Six of those were at the show and the other six we were sleeping.
2. Find good coffee.
Whatever city we’d wake up in, we’d usually try to find good coffee that wasn’t Starbucks.
3. Know that some shows will be better than others.
Some shows were total duds. In Salt Lake City there were maybe 29 people, and the venue was awful. Omaha was a huge venue but only about 30 people were there.
4. Sleep when you can, because the pace is unrelenting.
We had a stretch in the middle of our tour from about Madison to New York where we played shows nine nights in a row. It was pretty brutal. And in between the shows we’d have promotional appearances like radio interviews.
5. Find your own creative outlet.
I retreated to my own music-making in the van, re-energizing by exploring my own music, apart from the band.
6. Don’t spend money on shoes, because you’ll get free ones.
Brands give you free things. Converse let us pick whatever shoes we wanted. Puma did the same thing. Everyone in the band came away with three pairs of new shoes.
7. Bring healthy food.
Granola bars, nuts. Don’t just eat what the venues provide or out at restaurants.
8. Pack lots of socks and underwear.
You run out of those fast. I did laundry like twice total on the tour. You get used to wearing dirty things.
9. Don’t get starstruck by celebrity fans.
[Singer] Michelle Branch is a big Cayucas fan. So is [actress] Evan Rachel Wood.
10. Read inspiring books.
I had a few books with me on Kindle that kept me energized: Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck. They were nourishing to my soul.
Watch Christian in the music video for Cayucas’ song, “East Coast Girl”.
How to get into your dream college
If you’re reading this, it’s likely that your Biola days are already behind you. But consider passing this advice along to children or friends.
1. Start now.
It is never too early to start preparing for college. Biola is looking for a good academic fit and a good spiritual fit. Maintain grades and choose the curriculum that best suits you in order to increase your admission opportunity and open the door to academic scholarships. Get involved in extracurricular activities, invest in your community and serve in your church.
2. Research and visit.
Visit the website and ask questions. Find out the admissions requirements and get to know your dream school. Keep an eye out for Biola representatives at college fairs and maybe your high school. Join us for a visit event or campus tour. Visiting Biola is one of the best ways to see if it is the place for you!
3. Meet deadlines.
They say that the early bird catches the worm. Always meet deadlines. Apply early and stay ahead of the game.
4. Prepare financially.
Find out the cost of tuition and start saving now. Apply for outside scholarships and submit a FAFSA early. Talk to friends and family about supporting you financially and in prayer. Remember: God is much bigger than dollar signs, but he does not submit scholarship essays for us.
5. Dream big.
Fear of the unknown often prevents students from aiming for a dream school. Take a step of faith and know that God has great plans for you!
6. Trust and pray.
God knows exactly where he wants you. Pray for guidance, peace of mind and provision.
How to make your public speaking stick
Oral clarity is different from written clarity. In written clarity, we have paragraphs to let us know when a new thought is coming. With written clarity, we can read it again if we didn’t get it the first time. With oral clarity, you don’t have paragraphs; you can’t stop the preacher to wind him back and give him another shot at it.
Oral clarity requires a whole different set of skills. For example, in oral clarity, you have to restate certain critical sentences in order for the listener to have time to lock on to them and to realize, “Oh, that’s an important concept.” For instance, if I say at the beginning of a sermon, “Have you ever obeyed God and had the bottom fall out of everything?” Now, if I’m going to restate that, I’d say, “Have you ever done exactly what God told you to do and had life fall apart?” I might even give it once more: “You did something that the Spirit of God led you to do — you knew it was the will of God, and you obeyed God — and you encountered the worst disaster of your life. Have you ever had that happen to you?” Now, I just said the same thing three times, and the listener thinks, “OK, I understand,” and they’re ready for me to go into some examples.
Identify 12 or 15 critical sentences through the course of your message. These are the sentences that have to stand out in the listeners’ ears in order for them to put the chunks of the message together. Identify those sentences and then say each one of them — when you come to it — two or three times with different words. Rephrase. Use synonyms. Find other expressions. But somehow, give them three shots. Before you move ahead in the message, “run in place” on that sentence two or three times. That way, the main points stand out and the listeners track the unfolding progression of the message.
How to discover true financial freedom
We live in a material world where each of us is controlled at some level by money. There never seems to be enough. We measure success and our sense of security in large part by the things it provides — homes, cars, clothes and portfolios … to name just a few. That’s why Jesus addressed the issue of money so much. He knew our natural inclination would be to come under its spell. So how do we find freedom from money? Give up. And here are five easy steps to do just that.
1. Stop caring.
In Matthew 6:19–34, Jesus uses powerful words to expose what drives us to get our priorities wrong. He lays bare the fact that we value our money more than him, thinking it’s a source of greater security than he could ever be. That’s why he calls us out on our tendency to worry too much about the future, rather than placing our lives at Jesus’ feet. We need to start trusting — genuinely trusting — God for our future.
2. Call it quits.
Stop treasuring stuff on earth. Remember the parable of the guy in Luke 12:15–21 who had a bumper crop and decided to build a bigger barn and store it up (read: hoard it)? What did God say to him? “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. … This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” Jesus wants you to quit living for the here and now and instead live for eternity.
3. Forget tithing.
We have this notion that if we tip God 10 percent of whatever we earn, the rest is ours to do with as we please. The problem is, according to one study, the average Christian household gives only 2.8 percent to charity. We’re not even good tippers! In the parable of the talents, Jesus makes clear that he owns it all, not just 10 percent. Stop parsing percentages and instead see every financial transaction as something that has eternal import.
4. Spend wildly.
Revelation 3:14–22 is one of the roughest passages in the Bible. Jesus is angry, sick to his stomach and about to throw up. Why? Because his people have become lukewarm in their faith, living in a world of false spirituality because they have spent their lives accumulating wealth. Jesus’ recommended cure? To spend wildly on the things that really matter — things precious to God that will last for eternity.
5. Stop serving.
When it comes to money, there is no middle ground. Jesus put it this way, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Your relationship to money determines your relationship with God. And that’s why it’s such a big deal to Jesus. He wants your whole heart, not just part of it. So break free from the thinking that money can be what only God can be in your life.
How to talk to just about anyone
Always have a good stash of questions at the ready! People generally love to talk about themselves, and one openended question on just about any topic (hobbies, family, travel, etc.) usually gives way to subsequent questions. Approach people with a friendly smile and an interested heart, and one or two questions will more often than not spark an enjoyable conversation.
How to have a successful marriage
Sometimes you have two options: Be happy or right. Choose wisely and decide to be happy.
How to take a good photograph
Have a great relationship with your subject. No one wants their photo taken by someone they think is a jerk.
How to launch into the professional world
Be dependable by being the first to arrive and last to leave. Form your network by saying yes to anything that is realistic for you to take on. And be excellent by always raising the bar, watching the details and never doing “good enough” when you can do “amazing.”
How to keep calm
Do your best to not worry and stress out about situations before they occur. Pray, do your best to prepare, then let go. I find that otherwise, I exert significantly more energy worrying about a situation than it is worth.
How to make a good impression
Practice good manners: table manners, addressing people respectfully, writing thank-you notes promptly. These little things matter and make a world of difference in your professional relationships.
How to succeed
Know your priorities, work diligently and always seek to finish well.
How to not get too far ahead of yourself
Don’t feel like you have to discern what your lifelong career will be while you are still in college. I majored in computer science and worked as a software engineer for five years before I figured out that my place was in the field of psychology. It can be exciting (and often stressful) when the Lord leads you through unexpected twists and turns in your life journey.
How to age well
1. Love yourself enough to take care of yourself.
When you practice loving yourself enough to take good care of you, you will do the things necessary to become happier and healthier every year of your life. You will have success in aging!
2. Get good information about everything.
Laughter is a natural stress reducer. Stress oxidizes good cholesterol into bad, but laughter releases chemicals in our bodies that drive away pain and fear, two negatives usually associated with old age. Laugh often. Even better: Laugh with friends. Friendship is the flagship of positive aging!
4. Exercise and keep your feet in motion.
This is a two-parter: Daily exercise and daily foot health are extremely important in old age, especially for mobility and balance. Daily stretching exercises and walking are a must for aging well.
5. Feed yourself well.
Learn about antioxidants, phytonutrients and essential fatty acids; consume them daily! You can fight internal inflammation (the healthy body’s No. 1 enemy) by eliminating food intolerances from your diet. A top evidence-based tool in the fight against internal inflammation is the ALCAT test. You can eat your way to health!
6. Get your rest.
Sleep enough: seven or eight hours at night, in a dark room. Lack of sleep contributes to heart attacks, high blood pressure and internal inflammation.
7. Floss your teeth.
Taking the time to floss is beneficial because that simple act of selfcare will encourage you to more. Dentists who care for older and much-older adults agree: Floss for a better old age!
8. Fight depression.
Depression is the No. 1 illness of old age; loneliness, loss and grief are all too prevalent in the aging process. Fight back! Seek grief resources. When our grandparents got lonely, they volunteered. Volunteer. Stay connected to others who benefit from your presence.
9. De-clutter your space.
De-mess to destress! Organization of your possessions and papers will cause peace and patience to fill your life. Hire a professional organizer at www.napo.net if it overwhelms you on your own.
10. Worship God.
Research shows that people who practice their faith, read religious writings and are part of a faith community have better immunities and fewer heart attacks and strokes. Because we are made in God’s image, our value is immeasurable; it is the reason that old age is positive and valuable and good.
How to make the perfect cup of coffee
1. Clean your coffee maker!
This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people let the days and weeks go by without cleaning their coffee maker. If you haven’t cleaned your coffee maker/utensil in a while, give it a good scrub and rinse and I promise you that your next cup will knock your socks off. Unless you love the taste of burnt dirt. If you love the taste of burnt dirt then do not clean your coffee maker.
2. Use freshly filtered water.
I know, everyone says this, but think about it: Your final coffee beverage is over 98 percent water. Whatever is going on in the water will be going on in your coffee.
3. Spring for good beans.
There are so many great micro-roasters out there these days, so there’s no excuse to not get something awesome. If you spend a few extra dollars here, I promise you your cup quality will begin to skyrocket. Make sure it’s freshly roasted. If you’re worried about money, think about it this way: You get around 20 cups of coffee from a 12-ounce bag of beans. If you’re spending two bucks a pop at your local coffee house for the same size of coffee you could potentially pay $40 for a bag of beans and still break even. A few extra bucks is worth it.
4. Buy a grinder.
It’s an investment for sure, but even lowerend grinders will give you a step up in your coffee experience. The reason being is that once your coffee is ground, much more of its surface area is exposed to oxygen — the No. 1 culprit of stale, tasteless coffee. So, if you do get your coffee pre-ground, make sure you keep your bag incredibly sealed when you’re not diving into it.
5. Seek professional help.
Grind size, ratios, times and temperatures — these are all things that vary according to your specific brew method. Your local coffee house or barista (if they are worth their salt) will be able to give you general parameters to help get you in the ballpark for your specific method.
What’s the Best Method for Making Coffee?
The AeroPress! Seriously, I can’t get enough of this method. Best $25 I ever spent on Amazon. It’s compact, it’s easy to dial in and it creates one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had. Other methods have their virtues for sure, but the AeroPress knocks it out of the park for me every time. Here’s my specific recipe for one of our current coffees:
- Boil water to approximately 202 degrees Fahrenheit (roughly 1 minute off of the boil).
- While boiling the water: Grind 16 grams of Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Kochere on a medium-fine setting (right around a traditional paper-filter grind).
- Rinse the AeroPress paper filter out with a little bit of hot water and assemble it on the bottom of the AeroPress.
- Place the ground coffee in the AeroPress and fill it to just below the top of the cylinder (right around 200 grams if you’re using a scale).
- Give it a quick stir and wait for 10 seconds.
- Place the plunger into the top of the AeroPress and gently press it into your cup.
- Enjoy the goodness.