002: Jon Vroman – Life in the Front Row: How being an author can change your life

What Giving Matters When Writing a Book

We chat today with Speaker, coach, and author Jon Vroman, the founder of The Front Row Foundation. We learn that Jon never really did well at writing in school and in fact, it was rather hard for him to complete his first book.

Jon Vroman is an award-winning keynote speaker, ultra-marathon runner, host of the Front Row Factor Podcast, and founder of Front Row Foundation, a charity established in 2005 that creates front-row experiences for individuals who are braving life-threatening illnesses. Jon inspires others to Live Life In The Front Row™ by teaching the art of moment-making.

With 137 5-star reviews on Amazon, Jon is the author of the book The Front Row Factor. In this episode, Jon shares with us his writing experience, what a book does for you, and what it doesn’t do for you.

I have been a big fan of Jon for a while, he makes such an impact in his business. It was so great to see how he wanted his book to continue to leave a legacy for the mission of his work.

[02:40] Writing and Storytelling as a Kid

  • Jon felt it was something he was forced to do. Even reading wasn’t something he was into. But he now loves the idea of smashing that limiting beliefs about who we once thought we were and who we could become.
  • Writing can be done in different ways – have your audio transcribed or have a ghostwriter do it for you, or mix that with you typing it on the computer. You can be involved in any level of it.
  • What Jon liked doing as a kid instead was storytelling. He created a timeline of his childhood and his mom recalled how much of a storyteller he was. Up to this day, Jon loves telling stories.
  • Additionally, Jon figured out he could fib stories to get out of trouble or to get more attention.

[08:55] From Speaking to Writing

  • From a speaker to a writer, Jon’s intention was to “add to the conversation of humanity,” which all of us can. He felt this was a duty to his children as well as a legacy piece. So the book seemed like a logical avenue for him to be able to tell his message.
  • More so, he took it as a personal challenge. He got so tired of talking about it so he felt it was time for him to write about it. (Well, he has actually told the story for ten years!) And so for him, he couldn’t have grown in any other way except for writing the book.

[14:20] How He Knew It Was the One

  • Jon underlines the impact of writing the book on himself in that you have to get as clear as you can. Clarity allows him to really figure out who he really is and what does he really mean. It’s important since you’re going to be sharing it to people.
  • Somehow, Jon knew intuitively at some point that the book was ready to go. It was nowhere perfect. But he knew it in his heart that it was time to go.

[16:50] The Writing Phase

  • Jon asked questions to his personal board of directors whom he calls his “front row.” He asked about things like the storyline, what it should be, should it be about him, what’s it about, etc.
  • Front Row has raised millions of dollars and has helped thousands of people with life-threatening illnesses to have a front row experience at the event of their dreams. So he also thought the book could be about living life from people fighting for it.
  • Confused about what to write, he got an advice to do a mind map – number of pages, number of chapters, sub-categories. Then he got the mind map going.
  • He was thinking of recording an interview and having it transcribed by someone. They change ideas and then she starts writing it. She came back with a book but Jon didn’t see his voice in it. He didn’t see this as a mistake. Instead, he considered this as an action that allowed him to determine this wasn’t going to work.
  • He knew he had to completely do this. He had to write every chapter. And that’s exactly what he did.

[21:45] The Editing Phase

  • Jon worked with an editor and he realized the book was completely a different re-write the third time.
  • But what was important for him was the entire journey of it – going through the process of being inquisitive in the beginning then making mistakes, learning, adjusting, and course-correcting while he was reading it back to himself.
  • He went on to ask himself deeper questions. Two years after, the book was released.
  • Azul adds a very powerful lesson here is that your message is more important than being perfect.

[25:05] Why You Need to Get Your First Draft Done, Fast

  • Jon talks about interviewing Erik Weihenmayer, the only blind man in history to summit Mount Everest, who wrote a book called No Barriers. And one of his buddies told him on their way down, “Don’t let Everest be the greatest thing you’ve ever done.”
  • So get your best ideas out there all the time as fast as you can. Another reason why you need to get your first draft done fast is that the only way you’re able to critique the first draft is when you’re able to take a step back from it and read it. And this can only occur once it’s done.
  • Then you’re going to have a fresh perspective and have that little space. Sit on it. Then come back and read it with a fresh set of eyes. He saw it differently then which he felt was a good move.

[27:00] Is Writing Thinking?

  • Writing only counts when it’s words on the page. Writing is thinking if you think on a page.
  • Think with your fingers. Think with a keyboard.
  • There’s a difference when you’re thinking about your speech and actually saying the words out loud as you speak. It comes out differently. Your body processes it differently.
  • While thinking on your paper is different than just sitting there and conceptualizing what’s it all about.

[28:39] The Cadence of Speaking

Jon says it always begins with a mind map. If you’re given a topic, it begins with the audience in mind – their pain points, what they need or want to hear, where are they in their lives, what other speakers have connected with them and why, what’s special about them.

The Opener is Key

What’s going to ring in their mind? What’s the thing that’s going to stick?

If they decide early on that they like you, they will stay with you even if there are hiccups throughout their speech. But if they decide they don’t like you in the first two minutes, it could be very difficult to get them back.

Think about the stories you’re going to share and the modules of your speech.

  • Story
  • Strategy (the step that they can take from that)
  • Science (what backs it up)
  • Silly (the fun, some jokes you put in, and the level of engagement with the crowd, and the giggle)

[31:34] What Is a Mind Map? How to Use It

  • Draw a circle. The center is your main idea. Then from the center circle, draw a line connecting to another circle. Imagine a flower where there’s a center and each petal represents a piece of your speech or a chapter of your book.
  • On a 12-foot wall, Jon had big, 6-inch post-it notes with his main chapter headings.
  • Then he had smaller post-it notes with the smaller segments of that chapter (500-700 words). It could be a story or a big idea within that chapter to tell that main story.
  • He would then have other colored post-it notes of little ideas that support that particular segment of the chapter.
  • Then he would be looking at the wall and move things around.

[34:15] Gathering Feedback Through Stages of Reviews

  • Early on, Jon had a team of five who was helping him talk through the big pieces. Then they opened it up to about fifteen once they had the book.
  • He didn’t give it to all fifteen at once. He gave it to three people at a time over a period of time. They would write their comments on Google Docs. Then he’d do the tweaks as necessary.
  • Then he’d give the new version to another three, and so on. He went through fifteen readers in total.
  • And once that was done, the book went back to the final, tighter group of editing, which was his so-called personal board of directors. And then off to final editing.

[37:13] How to Teach People to Give Good Feedback

  • Azul has developed a system for editors. We often don’t learn how to be good editors but we learn how to be critical. We often don’t do it well or do things that are not useful.
  • You can’t tell the writer what should be done. But for people to get really useful feedback is to tell them to ask you a question about something they were curious about in the text.
  • Do not ask the author why he did it or who’s their audience.
  • Also, don’t ask the questions twice. Read the questions and comments of your peers. This allows people to wonder and think to consider. Then just give the feedback to the author to have the same, bigger wondering.
  • Give specific instructions to help evaluators and critiques. They don’t have to be good editors if they’re just good at asking simple questions.
  • Remind your audience or reviewers to just think deeply.

[41:45] Recent Reads: The ONE Thing

  • A book Jon has recently read that struck him was The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, which he thinks is transformative.
  • A concept about the “lead domino” is – what can you do that by doing that one thing, sets off a cascading effect of all these other positive things?
  • For Jon, writing the book was his one thing. He thought that if he did this, it would turn into and cascade to so many other positive things – attention to the charity, new recipients, new donors, more speeches, more experiences.


Connect with Jon on FrontRowFactor.com. Download a couple chapters of the book The Front Row Factor for free.

Front Row Foundation

No Barriers by Buddy Levy and Erik Weihenmayer

The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Front Row Factor

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002: Jon Vroman - Life in the Front Row: How being an author can change your life002: Jon Vroman - Life in the Front Row: How being an author can change your life

002: Jon Vroman - Life in the Front Row: How being an author can change your life