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Communication Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

624: How to Be More Engaging with Storytelling and Humor with David Nihill

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David Nihill says: "Our human brain is crying out for the story behind the numbers."

Comedian David Nihill shares his key techniques from his stand-up act that can help you become a better speaker.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The secret to creating stories that stick 
  2. How to use callbacks to delight listeners
  3. How to always remember what you want to say 

About David

David Nihill is a bestselling author of Do You Talk Funny, listed by Book Authority as the best book of all time on public speaking and storytelling. “One of the best speaking coaches out there” according to Forbes.com his work has been featured in Inc, Lifehacker, The Huffington PostForbesThe Irish Times, TED, and NPR. His videos have been viewed more than 40M times. David is a winner of the prestigious San Francisco Comedy Competition winner, runner up in the Moth’s largest US Grandslam storytelling competition and the first ever Irishman to have a special on Dry Bar Comedy.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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David Nihill Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
David, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

David Nihill
Yeah, sure. Thanks for having me all the way from exotic Ireland.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Well, it’s great to have you here and it’s a late night for you a bit, but you say there’s not much to do right now anyway.

David Nihill
Yeah. It was a very early night at 8:45 P.M. back in the days in Ireland before this COVID carry-on but now, with no pubs or bars or alcohol on tap, really, it is a much longer evening with a much earlier bedtime. The time just doesn’t go by as faster or as fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, understood. Well, you’ve got a lot of fun stores. In fact, you’re award-winning at storytelling. We’re going to learn some of your wisdom there and when it comes to being engaging and funny. But, first, could you open us up with the short version of your story of being an impostor?

David Nihill
I did impersonate a business fellow called Irish Dave who just happened to be an established comedian in Ireland, albeit with possibly the worst stage name in history, but nobody seemed to question that when in America so I did pretend to be a comedian called Irish Dave for a full year to try and get over a fear of public speaking in the worst way possible, which was to do standup comedy every single night multiple times a night. And I had a fake website, and I had fake Twitter followers, had Facebook fans at one stage. I was really big in India there for a while, which was slightly interesting despite, sheer of the fact, that you could go on Fiverr.com and buy fans from India at a very discounted price, which is ethically questionable, but definitely it was done. And that’s how we get booked in…

Pete Mockaitis
It’s forbidden in some contracts I’ve signed.

David Nihill
It is forbidden, yeah. Well, I faced no such legal technicalities, thankfully, a few years ago, and it just allowed me to get booked in a bunch of places. I really shouldn’t have been with very little experience and it snowballed and got a little bit out of control.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s so funny, well, in the US, it’s like, “Okay, your name is Dave and you’re Irish so you might be Irish Dave, so.”

David Nihill
By default, yeah. But there’s no way you’re going to turn up in Ireland, where like, “Oh, my God, it’s American Pete.” It will just seem too obvious. But you guys love that stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. That’s fun. That’s fun. And I love, I saw some of your YouTube videos. I love how you make fun of Americans, playfully. The majority of our listeners are in the US but you have people from all over the world, so feel free to let her rip. I love it when folks with accents do an American accent. Can you lay one on us?

David Nihill
Oh, they’re like, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve been doing it recently because in Ireland we have a requirement that you can’t drive more than five kilometers from your house, but technically I’m on vacation from San Francisco right now,” whenever I get pulled over, and it goes horribly wrong because they’d be like, “How many weeks are you here for?” And you’re like, “Three.” And Irish people just cannot pronounce the number three and the police obviously know that, and they’re like, “An American would never nail the word three like that,” and I think that’s what gives me away every time. But, yeah, I definitely have a horrendous range of American people’s accents.

You know, I figured out the hard way that more people speak Spanish probably than English in America, so I was like, “Let me just get my Latino voice down in Spanish.” Actually, the best voice is an American trying to speak Spanish, where it’s like, “Yo quiero un harmbergeza,” and you’re like, “That is not Spanish. You just completely used an American pronunciation there to order a burger.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it might you get you a lot of burgers because I think of a guy, he’s name is Nick, in college, he was from the UK, and he’s like, “Hey, so what do we sound like to you?” He said, “I don’t know. It’s kind of like, ‘Hey, guys, want to grab a burger and fries?” It’s like, “Okay. Thanks.”

David Nihill
And, you know, I must say, I poke fun at America but always in a lovely way. I like it a lot and it’s kind of been my home from my home for like 14-15 years, so it creates some great opportunities. You can’t beat the positive in America.

Like, in Ireland, if I announce to my friends that I was going to try and do standup comedy to get over a fear of public speaking, they would quickly label me an idiot and tell me I was wasting my time, where in America, they’d be like, “You should do that, man. That could be a great learning experience.” It’s a very different approach, and you guys definitely lean on the positive where we lean on the negative.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, let’s talk about it. So, you learn some things the hard way, and you’ve captured some of those learnings in your book, Do You Talk Funny? So, could you just lay it on us, first of all, sort of what do professionals have to learn from comedians when it comes to public speaking?

David Nihill
I think everything because the scary thing is like if you dig into people who teach public speaking or training, you realize that they haven’t clocked up that many hours on stage themselves, so you’re like, “Where are you actually getting this information from that you’ve put together?” They seem to ignore. If you’re a big subscriber to, say, Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hours Rule that he popularized that 10,000 hours it takes doing something to make a master, you’re really not going to find any other group other than comedians when you go down that research path that is doing the 10,000 hours and doing it in the most high-pressure environment possible.

Like, there is nothing more difficult than someone who’s paid money for you to make them happy when they’re having a horrible day, and just walking in, sinking a couple of shots, crossing their arms, and going, “Hey, idiot, entertain me.” That is horrendous. And imagine you do that night after night. Like, they estimate it takes comedians about seven years on average to be able to make a full-time income from comedy, and that pretty much pans out, in my experience, as accurate. That’s kind of putting two to three to four hours into your craft most days over a period of seven years. That is a very large amount of learning in a very painful way.

And the thing is, “What did they learn the hard way on that journey?” And most of the time it’s just a more succinct entertaining form of storytelling that you’re missing in the average world of any snooze fest corporate presentation, or even more so at the moment. Like, virtual meetings are scaring the life out of people emotionally where someone with an imaginary sombrero sitting in front of a background of a place they’ve never been to.

There was a guy on a call the other day with me, and he was sitting on a virtual toilet in the middle of the call, I was like, “That’s not good. Just make it stop now.” So, never on Earth have you had such an opportunity to stand out in such an easy way by doing something a little bit different and open the engagement in all your talks. Like, all you have to do, if you’re the average listener, is take four or five stories that you absolutely love to tell. They’re the ones that when you go to a college reunion or a work meetup with colleagues you just kind of forgotten about or haven’t seen in years, and they’re like, “Oh, Pete, you’ve got to tell that story. That’s the one. Tell it.” And you’re like, “Oh, come on, I tell the story every Christmas when we meet up for beers.”

But every one of us has those three, four, five core stories that we kind of forget about, that for some reason, when it comes to business public speaking, we abandon them. And we’d be much better off if we just rewrote them, change the word order ever so slightly, so we’d borrow something from the world of standup comedy which would be the structure to tell the story, i.e., start in the action, know what you’re going to say last, know the key point or the key funny bit and go your way to make that the very last word. That’s what makes your timing look really good. And, actually, try writing it out or listen to yourself giving that story and have it transcribed if you hate listening back to yourself, like most people do.

So, we use a tool like Rev.com and just put it on a script, and go. Well, I say a lot of waffle unnecessary words when I’m telling that story. Imagine I was a comedian and I only had a short time period to work with, “Could I tell that big long-winded story in one minute? And if I could, what would be the words that I use?” And just look at it because it just forces you to be concise.

Most people, like in business, where it’s like, “Let me share a story with you,” and most of us are like, “Oh, my God, I’m out of here because this is going to be terrible.” We love storytelling, but once they telegraph the intention to try and tell it in an environment where we’re not expecting it, we’re kind of go, “Oh, I’m out of here.” But it’s just little things like that. Like, a comedian never say, “Now, I’ve got a joke for you.” They just tell you a joke. So, it’s by telegraphing your intentions, you naturally change the expectations for something. And I think the world of business just gets so many of those things wrong in business presentations that comedians would never get wrong.

Do you ever go to a comedy club or like a business event? If you go to it, you’ll hear them do an introduction for a speaker. And most business speakers in presentations don’t realize that when you’re in a meeting, or you’re giving a speech, or you’re speaking at a conference, that your talk starts with your introduction. It does not start when you start speaking. So, a comedian knows that, and a comedy club knows that, so they use that to capture some sort of an anticipation and buildup and excitement and guarantee that they get everyone’s attention to get the speaker a round of applause and off to the best possible start.

So, if you go to…they’re around the Bay Area, there’s a conference called TechCrunch Disrupt, and they’d be like, “Our next speaker is Brian. Brian is a serious A investor in Call Comm. Brian has invested in capital stock. And Brian and me used to go skiing together. We were really early at this particular company. Brian is a really great standup guy. Welcome, Brian.” Everyone knows it’s Brian. We don’t care. We’re not really tuned in anymore. It’s gone on for too long.

But in a comedy club, you’re going to hear them, “Ladies and gentlemen, your next comedian just opened for Jerry Seinfeld. His comedy album has debuted number one on iTunes. He’s currently streaming on Netflix. Please welcome,” and the key word, which is the name is only said once, only said last, and that gets people’s attention because they’re asking, “Oh, who is it?” And then when you say the name, they’re naturally trained to clap. And then the whole talk gets off to a great start because you don’t have to sell yourself as the business speaker. You can give your introduction to someone, give them three key points, in that way your audience is like, “Oh, you can just come out and be yourself.”

In nearly every presentation you go to in the world of business, it doesn’t start like that because they just don’t know anything about the world of standup comedy and they ignore comedians as a source of wisdom. So, that’s what I went very deep into but it’s just the small things that make a huge difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I love it. You’ve already dropped specific tactics that are right there in terms of what is at the very end and how you build some anticipation, and that’s really good. I’d love it if maybe we could zoom out a bit and hear sort of, I guess, maybe, fundamentally, what makes something funny or engaging? Like, it’s kind of hard for me to pin down, like, why is one thing funny and another thing not funny?

David Nihill
Yeah. Well, funny is a subjective one. When you’re trying to bake funny content, always start with fun and so you can turn fun into funny and then you don’t have much of a failure. Also, if you attach to it that you’re never trying to tell a joke, you’re trying to tell a funny story, and the key word, the key with the funny just happens to be at the end. So, by moving that to the end, you’re maximizing people’s chances of reaction to it.

Then you’re taking a bit of pressure off yourself to be funny because no one knows you were trying to be funny in any way. The engaging comes from storytelling. Number one, always start with a story but do one very key thing. Allow the listener to see themselves in your shoes. That’s what makes it engaging. So, the audience, whatever story you’re telling is not about you, it’s about the audience. So, if you’re talking about your own mother, they’re picturing their mother. If you’re talking about the car that you had that was a beat-up car, that was your first car, and it was red and the exhaust pipe was hanging off, and it was a 1979 whatever it was, the minute you start talking about it, they start picturing their own car in their own head. So, you’re automatically trying to make the storytelling process visual, and your job as an engaging storyteller is to make that easy for people.

So, any of the key details, if it’s a nice one, it has a color. If it’s a person, it has a name, and that gives the signals that, “This is important. Pay attention.” You have a couple little twists when you’re trying to be engaging. You have to keep people hooked and you do it CSI-style. Remember that TV show? It was a bit scary back in the day. The minute you turned it on, you know, there’s a police investigation. The minute you turned it on, someone was dead, and in 10 seconds somebody was on fire, there was like a cat and a hippo, and you’re like, “What is going on in this thing?”

Pete Mockaitis
Something falls out of a window to their…

David Nihill
Exactly. They’re dead. “Who killed this priest and why is he dead within 10 seconds? Well, I better hang around and find out.” And that’s the natural curiosity with engaging stories that it does not start chronologically. You’re not walking through somebody through your LinkedIn bio or your resume or your job experience. You got to grab them right in the middle in the action. So, you never start off by, say, you’re climbing a mountain, you never want to talk about your mental decision to climb that mountain. You want to start near the summit of the mountain. Is there a chance you’re going to make the top? I don’t know. And then you change some of the key words when you’re telling that story to make them into present tense.

So, you never want to say, “I was on the side of the mountain, looking at the top.” It’s like, “I’m standing looking at the summit of the mountain and I can’t feel my feet anymore.” People are like, “Whoa, what’s happening?” And this changes the dynamics of the story instantly. So, if you listen to Snap Judgment, or NPR, or some of the award-winning storytelling podcasts, you’ll hear every one of those guys change the wording of the stories to the present tense because that brings it to life. And within it they’re going to be using a lot of comedic techniques like they will try and build in triple sets anytime they can, which is just basically coupling elements into groups of three, that number that Irish people cannot pronounce.

But three is the smallest number of elements that your mind needs to create and recognize a pattern. And all comedians and great gifted storytellers are doing is usually just breaking that pattern and that makes content memorable because three is easy to remember. But if I say, one, two, four, it’s only retrospectively that you can figure out that I was multiplying the numbers. So, it appears that I’m ahead of you a little bit. So, I always would give an audience apples, apples, oranges. When Chris Rock was talking about…he had a joke that’s a bit dated now, but it was like, “Women, all they need to survive is air, food, and compliments.” I mean, that’s not hugely amazing stuff and it’s dated now and it’s referenced, obviously, but it does demonstrate clearly that pattern is one, two, four.

And when you’re storytelling, people who incorporate those things, link the start to the finish, put the key words at the end and start in the action, use key details, colors, and names, people just see themselves within the story, and that’s what makes it engaging.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Wow, this so much good stuff, so fast. I’m loving it.

David Nihill
Yeah. Sorry, got excited there.

Pete Mockaitis
No, bring it more.

David Nihill
That’s kind of the tactical side of it. But there isn’t much more to it than that. Like, people have courses on storytelling, and you’re like, “Stop with your four-day seminar on storytelling.” This is an innate human thing that we all know how to do. We just don’t all know how to do it in the most succinct form possible. So, it’s just consciously editing out all those details that don’t need to be in there. And you, yourself, identifying the key point of the story, and go, “I know this one.” I tell this in a pub. Friend of my friends laugh. Like, when I tell this at the dinner table, “Where is the biggest reaction moment and what do people remember or what can they say back to me?” And you just need to take out words to get to those points quicker.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, all right. So, now, in your book, you lay out seven principles. We’ve already kind of hit a few of them here in terms of having it start right in the middle of things with a story. Can you walk us through some of the other key principles that we haven’t touched on yet?

David Nihill
Yes. My favorite by a mile is to build in a technique called a callback. And the beauty of a callback is, and this is for job interviews, for meetings, a callback is killer. It is simply a reference to something that was said in the moment that couldn’t have been pre-scripted or planned. It was enjoyable between you and that other person, and it looks extremely spontaneous.

So, in the world of storytelling or comedy, a comedian, Dave Chappelle is known for using a lot of callbacks where he’ll drop something at the start and he’s always going to come back to it later on. And a great story will always have the same thing. In the book, it’s called bookending technique. In a movie, where they drop something at the start, they put in some clues, and they’re always going to come back to it.

And just in the world of general presentation, you’re in a meeting, you’re in a job interview, you’re on a sales call, you can use this stuff daily. I was on a call the other day trying to pitch someone from Salesforce, and I knew through research, we had mutual friends who organize a pretty wacky party in San Francisco where they all dress up around Christmas as elves. All parties in San Francisco are kind of wacky, in fairness, given they’re half naked going around in a bicycle from some Burning Man calls that you didn’t really know. Now, I remember all of a sudden. I definitely have those nights up.

I was chatting to them and they knew about this elf party organized by one of their colleagues. So, at the end of the call, I’m like, “Well, listen, I look forward to speaking to you next week. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll shoot you an email. Worst-case scenario, I’ll see you at an elf party.” So, even in that conversation that would’ve taken place on a call, you know it’s got the rule of three, it’s got the triple set, it’s got the flip at the end of it, and it’s got the callback, the reference to the joke that was already shared between a couple of people.

So, I had to give a TEDx Talk, a very short notice, about a year ago and it ended up in front of like 2,400 people. And I’m sitting in the audience, which is a key cool thing a comedian can do sometimes, and any business speaker should do is watch the people before you. How many times in life have you seen a business speaker go on and talk about and referenced something that somebody else just talked about? And you’re like, “Well, you’re not even listening to the last person. Like, they already said this.”

So, I would always sit in the audience and just watch what’s happening before me. And I remember this lady standing there, and she’s just come on the stage, and she hasn’t got much of an introduction, nobody really knows her background. And there’s a smoke machine and it’s clearly broken because there’s way too much smoke in this theater. There’s 2,400 people and she’s the very first talk of the day kicking it all off. And she says, “I’m going to start this talk when I feel an earthquake,” and then she just stops and stands there in dead silence, and just the tension is multiplying by the second. And we got to about 40 seconds and people are vocally shouting out the words “Earthquake!” They haven’t a clue what’s going on.

And then, finally, she stops and goes, “Right. I felt one.” And up on the live feed pops a magnitude earthquake in Guatemala or somewhere, and she is actually a human cyborg, and she’s had these sensors fitted in her body that allowed her to feel any seismic plate shift anywhere in the world, and it’s one of the craziest things you’ve ever heard, but that wasn’t really said in the introduction. The audience didn’t know this so they just thought she was nuts for 30 to 40 seconds. But I’m sitting there and I’m like, “This is a perfect callback. This is something that I couldn’t have planned for,” so I’m super nervous, and I don’t have butterflies in my stomach. I have pigeons. Like, I’m sweating bullets, all the usual nerves that you’re getting ready when you’re going to do a talk. But rather than focus on that, I’m like just trying to remember what she said.

So, I went up, I’m standing on stage, and the same two thousand and three hundred, four hundred people are staring at me, and I was like, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’m a bit nervous to be honest. I’m put off because I don’t know how to start this talk. I had initially planned to just stand here and wait for an earthquake but that’s been done already.” And they just cracked up, and this applause just keeps building and building, and I was like, “And you’re obviously a great audience because when she said earthquake, I left the building. Like, you didn’t even budge from your seats. How much did you pay for these tickets?” And now, they know, I couldn’t have planned for this. This is obviously in the moment.

And, again, it’s a technique that you’ll see in a lot of great stories and a lot of great live performances, and even just great job interviews where whatever the other person says, you got to listen enough to give it back to them. And in the world of comedy and storytelling, it just shows that you’re not separate from the audience; you’re actually one of the audience.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful and a great example to bring that to life in terms of it’s clear that that was not pre-packaged, it’s in the moment, it calls back to something unique because, I guess, if you called back to something, I don’t know, not that noteworthy.

David Nihill
Well, you don’t want to reference something not funny.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, “I was going to red shirt but the last speaker was wearing a red shirt, huh.” It’s like, “Okay, none of us care about that. Like, we’re not at all moved by what you’re saying here.”

David Nihill
But then if you…Here’s an example of stuff that isn’t wildly exciting. I spoke at a Google conference recently, and it was a developer’s conference, and I sat in there watched the three speakers before me, and someone told the story about Indonesia, and they’re like, “Oh, my grandmother in Indonesia is kind of crazy.” And I was like, “All right. The audience laughed a bit at that. Noteworthy.” And then someone started talking about origami and linking their passion for origami to coding. I’m like, “All right. That’s a bit unusual. Noteworthy.” And then the biggest cheer of the morning, by far, was when someone gave a talk, and they said, “We need more Google credits.”

Now, I have not got a clue what Google credits are but these people were going wild for Google credits. So, like about doing my talk, and a comedian will do this all the time. They’ll get up in the first 30 seconds all pretty locked down unless they’re going to do the callback and go. So, what I did in the TEDx Talk was a bit risky because I haven’t established any relationship with the audience that I’m clearly going off script. So, the payoff is huge but the potential for failure is a little bit high unless you know a key thing. So, a smarter way to do that is prepare the first 30 seconds of your talk like a comedian would do or a great storyteller. Make sure you get off to a good start and then try the goofing around just a little bit so if it doesn’t pay off you can just go seamlessly back into what you’re talking about.

So, I get on stage at this Google event and I started my talk as I normally would, and I just stopped for a second, I’m like, “It’s an interesting day-to-day, I tell you. I’ve learned a lot. I didn’t know anything coding but now I know a lot about Indonesia and I’m scared of grandmothers over there, and origami and coding are linked. Who would’ve known? And, most of all, my biggest takeaway is what’s clear that everyone in this room should get immediately more Google credits.” And they go wild and it’s an applause break for someone they don’t know, who’s a stranger and an outsider, and definitely has impostor syndrome because what do I know about developers or coding. But they’re reacting to a technique.

Again, it’s the callback. It couldn’t be pre-planned but it is. It’s put into a structure that just allows you to move along seamlessly. And it’s nearly, like, a magician pulling back a magic trick, someone showing you, “Oh, actually, I’m using this structure where I just need to pick different elements every time.” But those elements are quite important. The biggest reaction has to be last. It’s the same as the rule of three. So, normal thing, normal thing, biggest thing. And you want to build recency into that as well. So, you want most recent mention, second most recent mention, third most recent mention, because then they know what you’re doing. Whereas, if you do it the other way around, they don’t catch on as quickly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, there’s so much good stuff here. So, again, to have rocking, engaging stories, we want to have the good or funny bit to be last; patterns and threes are great, are as callbacks; it’s absolutely critical that it is relatable, like, “I see myself in your story, in your shoes”; and it’s succinct in that we’re getting just the most relevantly excellent bits and stripping away excess words and sentences and details that don’t need to be there; and some details like colors and names. Tell me, any other critical ingredients for a great storytelling?

David Nihill
Yeah, you’ve hit them all. I just think you have to love the story you’re telling is the probably the most critical one. Like, you actually have to dig it yourself and you actually have to get a bit excited when you’re telling it, and it has to be just from the heart. And the more personal it is, the better, the more unique to you. And you may be like, “Oh, that story is inappropriate.” It’s not if you make it appropriate. You can tell a story that is not as you.

I remember doing it. It’s the transition line that’s the key thing. So, once you plan the story and you’re building it into some form of talk or some part of learning point, once you write the story, go back and then write a transition line that makes it pretty fine and pretty obvious and unquestionable why you’re sharing that particular story.

So, I was speaking at a conference recently in Portugal called Web Summit, it’s the world’s largest tech conference, and they had me hosting a session on innovation which I know nothing about whatsoever, unless I find a new way of washing my underpants. That’s about as innovative I get most of the time. So, normally, I don’t really know how to start it off because they have 100 of the world’s most innovative large-scale companies in there sitting around, and I just start off telling about my mother.

And I was like, “Geez, you know, my mother came over to San Francisco to visit me recently. And she’s a bit older, grew up pretty Catholic and conservative, and we’re just sitting there on the couch. And out of nowhere, she’s like, ‘David, do you have any of those cannabis cookies?’ And I was like, “Cannabis cookies?” As it happens, I actually have a whole fridge full of them, thanks to San Francisco for legal medical reasons, obviously, so I fed her a few of them. And it was life-changing. We were making roast potatoes, which is basically caviar for Irish people at the time, and she was over-staring at the oven like a puppy just waiting for these things to be done. We nearly had to drag her away from it. The odor was kicking her up because it’s her first time in life having the munchies and she was basically snorting potatoes as they were coming out.

To only change her life, she went off walking to the Golden Gate Bridge the next morning, like this lady hadn’t been walking in years, came back with a pair of Lululemon pants on her, I couldn’t believe it. She’s like, “All the girls are wearing them,” and corrupted my auntie when I went home, just like weed smell coming down from the house in Ireland, I was like, “Geez, what is going on here?” And the thing is you think, “Oh, that story is not relevant to anything.” It got more bonkers, long story short. Like, one day she’s like, “David, what do you think of that gay marriage in Ireland,” because Ireland was the first country in the world, by popular vote, to legalize gay marriage, which is quite a turnaround for a place that’s seen as backwards in the eyes of a lot of people to be very forward that quick.

Before I could answer, me Ma says, “David, nothing new to me. I was the first lesbian in Ireland to get married back in 1970.” And I was just sitting there dumbfounded, I was like, “Does Dad know about this? Like, what’s going on here?” And she’s like, “Well, when your dad and I were going to get married, he got a bit drunk the night before, lost his birth certificate, we couldn’t find it. But, luckily, he had a dead sister, Patricia, she died when she was two.” And I was like, “Dad had a dead sister Patricia? You never mentioned this to me before.” She’s like, “Well, it’s not central to the story. Don’t worry about it.” I was like, “This sounds pretty central to me, mom.” And she goes on, she’s like, “Well, the priest didn’t have the best eyesight, your dad’s called Patrick, his dead sister is called Patricia, so we just went ahead and used her birth certificate, so technically I’m married to your dad’s dead sister.” Delighted with herself.

And I’m at this tech conference and I was telling them something similar, I can’t remember how much detail I went into the weed, but I was like, “We’re all in here in this room focused on innovation, but how well do you know your own family members? You assume that your customers, you know them, that you know what they want, that they desire, but I didn’t know my mom was into munching weed cookies and was experimenting with lesbian marriage on the side. Sometimes we assume we know things, and we shouldn’t. There’s nothing that research can’t solve that we could get to know our customers better and drive further innovation.”

And then whatever waffly section you put in there off the top of your head, it will come out better than what I just said off the top of mine. So, off the top of your head, then script it and write it, and say, “How do I get from this story to illustrate a point that I want to make?” So, the core point there was like, “You don’t know your end users as well as you think you do, and I’m going to substitute my parents for them in that story.” So, a big skill in the world of storytelling, I think, that’s overlooked a lot of the time is, “What is the transition line? Or what is the excuse you need to give yourself to make that story make perfect sense for your audience?”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, in the sequencing, the transition happens after the story and not before the story?

David Nihill
Yeah, usually, unless you say you kick off…a lot of TED Talks will start in this way as well or you’ll notice a lot of good effective talks will start with one very generic statement and then they’re into the story. And the statement is generic for a reason because they don’t want to get people to argue with them off the bat, so they’re not like a lawyer. When you’re doing storytelling or you’re doing any form of live performance, you’re trying to win over the audience. So, if you have an argument, you’re not going to make it at the top. You’re going to hide it.

So, say I got up there and I say, “Oakland is a crazy place,” and I’m in San Francisco, pretty close to Oakland, someone will cross their arms, dead stare me, and go, “I don’t agree with you. I live here. I love the place. I don’t agree with that statement.” But if I say, “Oakland can be an interesting place sometimes,” pretty much that statement would agree to everybody, agreeable to much more people, and it allows me to tell my story. And so, I haven’t made my point of view clearly on it so it’s a bit more intriguing, “Oh, what does this guy think about it? What’s he going to say?” Whereas opposed to, “I hate this. Let me tell you why,” which you don’t want to make.

So, it’s nearly the anti-lawyer’s approach to public speaking where a lawyer will make their argument really quickly because that’s their job, they’re on the clock to do it. As a public speaker, you really have to walk people into it, win over the room to get them on your side, and then you’re closing argument kind of sneaks up on them. So, your full license to tell the story.

There’s a TED Talk by Shawn Achor about happiness that’s one of the best you’ll ever see. I think it’s the eighth or the ninth most watched in the world. But if you watch it, it’s 11 to 12.5 minutes long, and the first 4.5 minutes is a story about him playing with toy soldiers.

Pete Mockaitis
With his sister.

David Nihill
Yeah, with his sister and breaking her arm. And it has nothing to do with anything, and you’ll see the same thing in Ken Robinson’s TED Talk. It’s “Do schools kill creativity?” It’s the most viewed and popular TED Talk of all time, and he tells a million stories, well, not a million, a slight over-exaggeration but there’s at least four to five stories in there that have absolutely nothing to do with that topic, but they’re beautiful stories that you can tell he loves telling, and they loosely are connected to the topic.

So, if you’re giving a talk about technology, your parents’ struggle with sending you emojis in an inappropriate basis, or whatever you’re getting eggplants from your mother in the middle of the night, who literally thinks they’re just eggplants and nothing else, well, that’s mildly entertaining to an audience, and you can use that to support a transition line that might be the struggles of a certain demographic to adapt to different features of user design.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, this is really rich stuff. I guess I’m thinking about there’s very different modes of communicating. Like you mentioned a lawyer, I’m thinking about consultants. We always talk about answer first, or the executive summary, I’m like, “All right. David, you need to sell this division for four key reasons. It’s unprofitable, it’s shrinking, and whatever.” And so, then it’s sort of right from the get-go. And so now our, like I speak for the consulting industry, the consultants’ perspective on the matter is that that is an efficient use of time for busy executives who don’t want to guess as to what your slide means. They want you to lay out the argument.

And so, I guess that’s how I’m thinking about the tradeoff there is it’s less fun than what you’re talking about, it’s less engaging unless you have a really strong vested in that position on either side, but it may be faster. How do you think about this, like, the different approaches?

David Nihill
I think that’s fundamentally the reason why many of us live and are subjected to so many boring meetings because we feel…we take the emotion out of people and we assume that they want the highest value in the shortest amount of time illustrated with numbers and graphs. Whereas, realistically, our human brain is crying out for the story behind the numbers. So, you can show me a chart and a line, they’re like, “Oh, look at the way the line goes up and then it goes down again, and then it goes up. Bet you didn’t see that coming.” “Woohoo, amazing. Please share your slide deck with me.”

By way of interest, next time you give a presentation, give a link in the end and say, “Here’s a link.” Make it a bit.ly link so it’s trackable and give it to people because they always ask for the slides. They love asking for slides, “Oh, I’d love to get the slides from that presentation,” and just see how many people actually click on that because. Like it is miniscule. I do it at big conferences where there’s like 2,000 people, people don’t care. They like the story, they like relating to you as a human. They’re more likely to buy from you if they learn something about you.

And if you have that kind of…it’s very hard to like someone that just leads with the numbers and just says, “Here’s the four things you need to do to turn this business around today.” Where if you could illustrate one of those things for me, I’m much less likely to give you resistance in following your advice in it if the story is so clear as to why I should do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. Well, tell us, we got a lot of good stuff, you’ve got something I can’t resist. You’ve got a secret for finding the funny: preparation, anticipation, punchline. We touched on some of this. Can you expand on this approach?

David Nihill
Yeah. I don’t know if that…it’s definitely not a secret because you’ll see it all over the time. But, yeah, it’s just, “What is that little bit of buildup that you need there to flip it?” I think it’s most easily repeatable in the world of visual presentations. So, if you have like a whole bunch of data and words on a slide or some form of presentation in your job, just take it off and put the key word or metric, or break it down to five words. And if you want to have a bit of fun, and you want to get funny in there, just don’t take a picture that’s funny and throw it up there and point at it like a lunatic, and be like, “Look at that dog. I found it on the internet. It’s nice, isn’t it?” And they’re like, “Yeah, okay. You’re a weirdo.” But if you build some anticipation to the image and use the misdirect, like the one, two, four, basically, you’re setting up the sequence where you’re not going to give them what they expect.

Pete Mockaitis
“I’d like to share with you our new mascot, the marketing team has been hard at work for months finding just the perfect brand…” and then the ridiculous dog goes, like, “Ha, ha, ha.”

David Nihill
Exactly. Or a three-legged hippo or anything, and then they always react. I had a friend, she was speaking at a conference in Australia, and she was the head of growth for Airbnb at one stage when they were in pure hybrid inflation mode. And she’s like, “Here’s a picture of me. And what I love is that I look so calm and calculated at this, my desk is organized. But the inside, I actually feel like this,” and that’s the moment that builds the anticipation because they’re like, “Well, what’s this look like?” and then the image becomes the flip. So, the timing on that is quite important to build up the expectation, then reveal the image, and then comment on the image.

So, she showed them a picture of a little girl getting sprayed in the face by an out-of-control fire hydrant for what she was then, and they cracked up laughing. But it’s not the viral hilarity by any means, but it just gives that anticipation, and it’s a very clear and simple misdirect. And I would say just bear that in mind when you’re presenting any form of information from wherever it may be to a job interview or anything. Just try and not do what they’re expecting you to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, maybe a final question before we hear about your favorite things. If folks, they think, “Okay, this is good stuff or good content and it’s funny but, hey, I think I may be just too nervous to deliver at this kind of high level. It seems intimidating to go. It’s like advanced ninja skills in presentation is what you’re asking. And I’m nervous already right now with my not-so-funny presentations,” how do you recommend folks overcome stage fright?

David Nihill
Yeah. Well, I think, number one, we get sold on the belief that we can overcome it, which I think is mostly false. I never overcame it but I got really good at managing it. And everybody else I’ve talked to over the years got really good at managing it. And I would add to that by saying when you were talking about advanced ninja skills, it’s a funny thing. And in the world of public speaking, they’ll try and sell you a beginner course, advanced, intermediate, whatever it might be. We’re not learning a language here. There’s no intermediate or advanced level. We’re just speaking. And the people who get paid 30 grand to talk, they make the same mistakes as someone who’s doing it for the first time. They just don’t know it because they have a bit of a false confidence that goes with the title they have.

But just recognize that the little things that make a big difference are not advanced, so outsourcing your introduction is super easy so that you don’t have to start off listing your own achievements and building your credibility, do that every time. Use an app like Perfect Timer, which is totally free, to track the timing of your presentation and go short before long. Never talk for an hour if you don’t have to. Like, the brain taps out.

The maximum human attention span, according to John Medina, who’s one of the world’s leading brain psychologists, is 9:59. Once you’re over that, you’re in a little bit of an uphill battle to keep people’s attention. So, realize that no one’s ever going to come up to you after a presentation, going, “That was amazing. I just have one problem. I wish it was longer.” Not even your family, your loved ones, that granny you haven’t seen in years, none of them want you to go for longer. So, go short before long. Let’s say never finish on a Q&A. Like, these are just simple things.

Like, when it gets to the end of your talk, say, “I’m going to take a few questions before I make my conclusion.” Ninety-nine percent of the world’s speakers don’t do that and they stand there like an absolute lemon while nobody asks them questions. They feel mildly embarrassed and that they don’t get an applause because nobody knows it’s over because you didn’t get asked that question anyway. And every speaker in history has been in that scenario, and they stand there, and the host is like, “Ooh, has someone got a question? You down the back?” And that person is like, “Hell, no. I don’t have one thing,” nearly going under the table. And you, as the speaker, go to walk off, “Okay, we’re finished here.” And then someone shouts a question, “Oh, actually, I have one,” so now you’re back on again. Now people are like, “Oh, God, how long am I going to be here?” so they start leaving.

So, it’s like this takes on like your favorite band. Like, U2 would never go around the world with their new album. Of course, I’m going to take an Irish example here and be stereotypical. But they’re never going to go Madison Square Garden and debut their new album, play 10 songs, get to the ninth song, and they only have one left, they planned it, it’s the best song, it’s the one that’s going to bring it home, but they’re like, “You know what, we were going to play that but how about, does anyone here in the audience sing? Anyone want to bring this home? Anyone want to bust out a ukulele?” That will be insanity, but every speaker does that, and they’re like, “Hey, audience, say something crazy to me.”

So, just using that sentence, “I’m going to take a few questions before I make my conclusion,” tells people that there’s more to come, their questions have to be short and sweet, and, of course, you’re going to save a slide with learning points on it to remind them what you’re actually talking about. And how many are there going to be? Three. And those things aren’t focusing on funny, they’re not focusing on humor, but they make you look way slicker, all of a sudden, as a speaker, and maybe you weren’t the most confident.

It’s like me with shaky hands. Like, my nickname in college was Shaking Stevens. When I gave a presentation, I shook so much that I turned into an Irish salsa dancer, like my whole body was going in places that I didn’t wanted it to be going. People would come from other classes just to see me falling apart in front of people. And it’s not a matter of, “How do I stop shaking?” I can’t because that’s adrenaline. I’m never going to convince myself to go.

So, to this day, that happens where you just identify, “Well, what are all the things that are going to go wrong? Someone is going to give me a glass of water and there’s no way I can drink a glass of water with a shaky hand. I’m going to have a bottle of water and my mouth is going to be dry. Well, geez, I’ll never be able to open a bottle of water. And if it’s a full bottle of water, I’m going to squirt it all over me. My hands are shaking so much.”

So, it’s a matter of little things like that, like no glass, get rid of that one, make sure the bottle of water is three quarters empty and already opened, and safe distance from you to knock it over. If you’re more comfortable, start with your hands in pockets. Don’t show people shaky hands. Use a technique called The Memory Palace that was popularized by Joshua Foer in his book, Moonwalking with Einstein, and he has a killer talk on that as well on TED, and it’s just a memorization technique that allows you to visualize key points so you’re never going to hold notes in your hands. So, now, if you shake, you don’t have to hold notes. You’ll look way more professional. And then if something happens, The Memory Palace, you will never ever go blank. And nearly everyone’s biggest fear when it comes to public speaking is going blank on stage but nearly nobody teaches it which is insane.

So, like, if I want to teach you the word in Spanish for “to fit,” the word is caber. It’s super hard to remember that tomorrow. But if I asked you to picture a New York City taxi cab, a yellow bubble one, and it’s pulling up downtown Manhattan in front of Trump Plaza, and a bear runs out of this taxi, or bumps out of Trump Plaza and tries to get into a taxi, and, of course, the hairy bear doesn’t fit, he’s huge, and his hairy legs are kicking out the windows as he tries to squeeze his body in the window, and his hairy bear bottom is in the air. And you’re visualizing that, and you’re visualizing that the cab, the bear does not fit in the cab, caber is the word for “to fit.”

So, you have this whole little trick of remembering information and making it visual. And, for the rest of your life, you’ll never forget the word for “to fit” in Spanish, and it’s because you’ve used something called The Memory Palace, which is visualizing, creating a crazy that only makes sense for you for everything you need to remember, and then The Memory Palace just means putting that, picturing it taking place somewhere that’s familiar to you.

So, instead of having a bullet point list for your talk, you picture your talk taking place in your house, and all you’re doing is walking around the lap of your house encountering crazy images that you’ve created, like a bear trying to get into a taxi cab. So, when you put that together, you become very spontaneous in public speaking because you’re never going to forget what you’re talking about. So, if someone falls off a chair, or farts, or burps, or screams, or interrupts you, you’ll react to it, and you don’t go into panic. If the fire alarm goes off, you don’t try and keep going, you just say, “God, the fire alarm has gone off.” Everything becomes an opportunity for some form of entertainment because at any moment you can get back on track.

So, I wouldn’t think of it as trying to be funny or off the bat. I wouldn’t put it as advanced level stuff. It’s just the techniques that can make you look advanced, that if you know 10 or 15 things that most people don’t, no matter how many years they’ve been doing speaking, you can normally look better than them really quickly. I have all people all the time writing me messages, and they’re like, “Dude, I give the exact same presentation as I did a year ago. I put in a couple of GIFs, some funny images, told one story and I got voted the best speaker. No idea. Night and day the last time.” And that’s the kind of stuff that happens all the time. So, it’s not as complex as people who are trying to sell you stuff make it out to be.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

David Nihill
You know, I think I heard him on your podcast, Jeffrey Gitomer, and he has a lovely quote called “The end of laughter is followed by the height of listening.” I just thought that sums up the world of public speaking, timing, and delivery in one sentence. Because the most attention you’ll ever have from anyone ever is the moment after you make them laugh because their just brain says, “Give me more of that.” So, the dopamine spike lends itself to grabbing attention from an audience.

So, if you have to say something serious, the best time to say something serious and memorable and impactful, or ask for money, for example, or whatever you’re doing in your pitches, to make people laugh a little bit before that. But, yeah, “The end of laughter is followed by the height of listening.” That one I love and, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all,” but that’s not really…Helen Keller gets attributed to it sometimes but I’m not sure who actually said it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite study?

David Nihill
Favorite study. You know, Stanford did one once where they had people locked in a room staring at babies all day, and that was a good few years ago. I don’t think you could get away with that today, where all these researchers are like, “We’re just going to borrow your babies.” But the study was to show that babies, on average, laugh about 300 times per day, and grownups laugh about 15. So, for anyone who tells you, you don’t need a bit of laughter in your life, you definitely do, and you need more of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

David Nihill
Oh, a toss-up. I like The Man Who Tried to Save the World, the Fred Cuny mystery, and The Fish That Ate the Whale. And I like both of those because they’re just stories of these individuals that did things that you didn’t think was possible just because they thought they could do it. Like, the Fred Cuny mystery is a guy who decided to declare himself the world’s expert on humanitarian aid relief. So, if a tsunami hits tomorrow, he’d be the first person who got the call from all the world’s leading agencies. And he had no skills or qualifications to get himself that job, and he got to the point where George Soros was writing him cheques, and saying, “Go fix Chechnya. That’s your job.”

I don’t even think there’s an audiobook version of it. I learned it from a girl who’s a journalist, and she’s like, “This is the best book you’ll ever read that no one’s ever told you about.” So, yeah, it’s The Man Who Tried to Save the World, the Fred Cuny mystery. And The Fish That Ate the Whale is about the guy, Sam, the Banana Man, Zemurray, who basically all the CIA manuals for taking over a company, err, sorry, a country and putting out puppet president in place were based on what this guy did to take control of Honduras just so he could sell more bananas. They’re brilliant stories. You’re like, “Okay.” They’re kind of things like, “I can’t believe I never heard of these stories before.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

David Nihill
I like HubSpot a lot. I don’t know if it makes me awesome at my job but it definitely improves me a bit, even the free version of HubSpot. I think if you’re selling anything online, I think, just to be able to track emails and know that somebody actually opened your email, forwarded the links in your email, or just activated, or looked at it, or was interested in it, that makes a big difference. But I use Rev.com a lot for transcribing stuff. Probably the easiest way you can improve your public speaking is to watch yourself or listen to yourself back, but nobody ever wants to do that because it’s painful, and they will avoid it at all costs. But if you put it through something like Trint or Rev.com, it does the transcriptions there that turns your work into a script, and it’s really easy to see where you need to improve when you do that.

So, I use that a lot. That and Perfect Timer, which is basically just a countdown timer on your phone that you can’t miss. Because if you do public speaking in meetings and conferences, usually you’re so distracted you’ll lose track of time, or the event organizer tells you, “Oh, we’ll keep track of the time. We’ll have a clock on the stage,” and then everything breaks. So, it’s saved my life a lot. And that app is free. I think it’s called Perfect Timer.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

David Nihill
Favorite habit, kite surfing by miles. I nearly get killed on a weekly basis and I still love it so it must be good for something.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

David Nihill
You know, funny enough, Jeffrey Gitomer’s line is the one that I built into my talks over the years that I love the most, and it’s probably the most quoted. So, I wish it was something that I said but, honestly, I think that sums up the whole argument for using humor the most, that, “The end of laughter is followed by the height of listening.”

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

David Nihill
Towards DavidNihill.com. I think I have everything there. And in the world of public speaking, I put under a course name called Hacking Public Speaking. So, that was my bit of marketing experimentation. I was like, “I wonder if I offered 50% of their money back for a completion within 30 days. Would they actually do it?” You know, you take online courses. I signed up to Master Class and I’m not cooking like Jamie Oliver yet. I’m just blowing up microwaves for survival. I’ve blown up hotdogs in the microwave. So, everything I know I learned the hard way is there, or you can read a lot of it for free. And I think I have a talk on Google, an altar talk with a lot of the content are on public speaking if you just want to improve for free.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

David Nihill
Yeah, I would say to put more of your own personality out there in the world of business and you will get more clients from it. And don’t give them that little bit of amazing new miracle thing that you have in your presentation, and be like, “Oh, that number is going to resonate with them.” The personal story and the something that allows them to see themselves in your shoes and come up to you after a presentation, or just relate to you on a one-on-one level, that’s going to be a story, something for your own life that you normally wouldn’t share. And if you think you have nothing funny, the magical recipe for that one is, if it’s embarrassing for you, it’s funny for me.

Pete Mockaitis
David, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all of your fun adventures.

David Nihill
Thank you very much.

613: Boosting your Influence with the Principles of PRE-Suasion with Brian Ahearn

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Brian Ahearn says: "Where we are mentally can make a huge difference in that willingness to say yes."

Influence expert Brian Ahearn discusses how to get more yeses using Dr. Cialdini’s principles of PRE-suasion.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How one question dramatically improves your chances of yes 
  2. The two ways to capture people’s attention
  3. Why we’re more persuasive when we talk less

About Brian

Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE. A dynamic international keynote speaker, he specializes in applying the science of influence in everyday situations. 

Brian is one of only 20 individuals in the world who currently holds the Cialdini Method Certified Trainer designation. This specialization was earned directly from Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. – the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence. 

Brian’s book, Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical, is an Amazon best-seller and his LinkedIn courses have been viewed by more than 75,000 people.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Brian Ahearn Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Brian, thanks so much for joining us again on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Brian Ahearn
I’m excited to be back with you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And so, I want to hear, so we’re going to talk about some pre-suasive principles from Bob Cialdini’s book, and it’s a funny story. I actually read that book when I was on my honeymoon with my wife in Hawaii, so that shows you how into this stuff I am. That’s a good beach read for me in social psychologist work. But you use some pre-suasive principles when you proposed marriage yourself. What’s the story here?

Brian Ahearn
Yes. So, in my first job, first day on the job, with traveler’s insurance, I’m in the HR training room, and I see Jane, and I think, “Wow, she’s beautiful!” And she said that she looked at me and thought, “What an egghead.” So, I stumbled out of the gate badly but I recovered quickly. And within a few weeks I was no longer going out with this longtime girlfriend, and Jane and I started dating, and we fell in love, and it was awesome. Until the old girlfriend called in the fall, and it really threw me for a loop, Pete, and all of a sudden, I didn’t know who I wanted to be with, and I couldn’t make up my mind for six months.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, my gosh. What were you doing during that period of time?

Brian Ahearn
I was back and forth, back and forth.

Pete Mockaitis
Do they know about each other? How do you work that?

Brian Ahearn
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow. Okay.

Brian Ahearn
Funny. They both felt bad for me because I sincerely…

Pete Mockaitis
Sweet gals.

Brian Ahearn
Yeah. Well, I sincerely cared about both of them and I hated the thought of hurting either one. Anyway, I was in the state of indecision, and Jane and I still worked together, and this was in late April. I saw her in the breakroom one day and I asked how she’s doing, and she said she was doing fine, and that’s when she announced that she would never go out with me again, and nobody could blame her given my indecision. But I had really kind of settled things in my heart by that time, and I was actually thinking I want to marry her, crazy as that sounds. So, I knew I was going to need to do something big if I was going to make this happen. And getting to the pre-suasion, here’s what I did.

Her birthday was in mid-May, and so I sent her a couple dozen roses at work, and then I showed up at her apartment later, she agreed to go to dinner. I showed up at her apartment with another dozen roses and a bottle of wine. Now she’s thinking, “This is a pretty nice birthday.” We get ready to go to dinner. We go downstairs from her apartment, and I had rented a Rolls Royce and chauffeur to drive us to downtown Columbus. And then we went to a restaurant that was, at the time, the tallest building in Columbus. We rode this glass elevator up over 30 stories. It was really romantic and had dinner overlooking the skyline, and took the glass elevator back down. And then in the back of the Rolls, on the way home, I popped the question, and she said yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog. So, you weren’t even officially dating at the moment but it was a good birthday. You’re clearly romantic.

Brian Ahearn
Yeah. And she was pretty insistent only weeks before that she would never go out with me again. And what I know is this, Pete, if I would’ve just, in that breakroom that day, said, “Hey, Jane, I’m sorry. I love you and I want to marry you,” she would’ve been, like, “Go jump in the lake.”

Pete Mockaitis
“You know what, Brian, I’ve heard it before.”

Brian Ahearn
Yeah. And I think even if I had done it, probably any other way than I did, she still would’ve had reservations but, I don’t know, I pre-suaded her. I kind of made it fairytale-like, and it certainly made the yes come a lot easier. There was no hesitation when I finally popped the question.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is beautiful. And maybe, just to clarify, it made it easier to see this when it’s written. When you’re saying the word pre-suasion, as opposed to persuasion, so we’ve inverted the R and the E, implying that there’s some persuasion and something that’s happening before a request. And, in this instance, before you popped the question you were setting the stage with, “Oh, okay, this guy is pretty clearly committed, made up his mind, going big in investing in me.” So, that sets a tone there.

So, maybe, could you zoom out a bit, and give us kind of the full picture in terms of what’s the main idea behind pre-suasion?

Brian Ahearn
So, most people are focused on persuasion, that is, “What do we say or do in the moment? How do we communicate to make it easier for somebody to say yes?” But pre-suasion, and you used the term setting the stage, I like to use that term too, pre-suasion is, “How do we arrange that moments before so that somebody might be in the right frame of mind to make it even easier that when we go and we make that ask?”

I think a really good example that people could relate to is if I had three buckets of water in front me, a red bucket on my right with scalding hot water, a blue bucket on my left with icy cold, and in the middle was just room temperature.

Pete Mockaitis
Is it purple?

Brian Ahearn
We’ll call it purple.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. I’m so like a little kid.

Brian Ahearn
If I plunged my hand into that hot bucket and then put it into the lukewarm water, all of a sudden it would feel cold. I mean, people get that. It’s like getting out of a hot tub and getting into the pool. But if I took my other hand and put it into the icy cold, and then put it into the lukewarm, it feels hot. Now, if I do that at the same time, into the hot, into the cold, and then put them both into that middle bucket, one hand feels cold and one feels hot. But the reality is they’re experiencing the exact same temperature water. I’ve changed, though, how I experience that by what I did beforehand. And that’s a picture of pre-suasion, “What can I do beforehand to change how somebody will positively experience what I’m about to do next?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is a nice visual and kinesthetic, I guess, at the same time, that sort of puts that into perspective. And so then, can you share with us some studies, some experiments, some research that reveals just how powerful this effect can be?

Brian Ahearn
Sure. Where we are mentally in the moments before we make a decision or are going to say yes or no to something, where we are mentally can make a huge difference in that willingness to say yes. And I think one study that really encapsulates this, a marketing firm was interacting with people at a grocery store as they would come in. So, imagine, Pete, you walk in, and somebody like me says, “Hi, I work for a marketing firm. We represent ABC Company. They’ve come out with a new type of pop or soda,” depending on where you live, “They’ve come out with a new type of pop, and we’re asking customers if you will give us your email address, we’ll send you an email with coupons for free samples. Would you be willing to share your email?” And in that scenario, 33% of people said, “Sure.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, basically, cold, “Hey, you want some free pop/soda?” One-third said, “Yeah, I’ll give my email.”

Brian Ahearn
So, that’s kind of the control group. And then with another group though, 76% said yes to the exact same question. The difference was when you came in, that person would ask you a question first, and they would say, “Excuse me. Do you consider yourself to be adventurous, the kind of person who likes to try new things?” Well, as you can imagine, virtually everybody can think of a time where they have been adventurous, and we can all think of a time where we’ve tried new things. So, almost everybody said yes to that.

And then when they said, “Well, I work for a marketing firm, represent ABC Company, new type of pop. If you’re willing to give us your email address, we’ll send you a new email with free samples.” That change of mindset, getting you to think about the fact that you are adventurous and like to try new things, then, all of a sudden, it became much easier to say yes to the very same question.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I love that example. And I don’t remember if it was in Influence, or Pre-suasion where they also had the instance of asking, “Do you consider yourself a helpful person?” and then survey responses went way up. And I actually used that once – hey, listeners – I used that once in an email asking for our survey, “Do you consider yourself a helpful person?” was the subject line. And, hey, many of you are. Thank you, listeners, for filling that out. That’s super helpful. It really does set the stage when you want to live up to…well, I guess there’s a few factors at work. You want to live up to that identity. Lay it on us, what’s going on there internally?

Brian Ahearn
Well, if you go all the way back to Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, one of the tips that he had was give someone a fine reputation to live up to. Now, he didn’t know about the term pre-suasion, he wasn’t doing research and studies, but he understood that when you give that person a reputation to live up to, most people will want to do that.

And so, for your listeners thinking, “Well, how would I potentially use this?” Let’s say you need to go to a store, and you’re going to return something, and it’s past the 30-day mark. So, technically, they have every right to say, “You’re beyond 30 days, no.”

Pete Mockaitis
This is ringing true.

Brian Ahearn
But I think if you go up and you say to that person, you see their little nametag, and you say, “Alice, you guys have been really helpful in the past, and I hope you can help me now,” and then you begin to talk about what it is that you want to get accomplished. By giving her that helpful label because people at that store had been helpful in the past, she is more likely to try to live up to that just like your readers were.

So, when you give somebody that reputation to live up to, they usually will try to find a way to do that. And if she’s thinking of herself as helpful, she’s probably going to be a little more creative or a little more open to flexing the rules for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that a lot. And this brings up, I guess, ethical questions, but our whole first interview, Brian, was about ethical persuasion influence. So, check that out, anybody, if you’re concerned about this stuff. And I think you put it very well in terms of, hey, it’s honest. It’s good for them. It’s good for you. And some of those principles really play out well here.

And that notion of giving someone a reputation to live up to, I’m thinking about my buddy Mohammed, who’s also on the show. And I remember he’s just a really super kind guy, just naturally being him. We started a business together and someone helped us out with some advice and some input, and he emailed her and said, “Thanks for being so generous with your time.” And I wrote him a whole email about how I loved that phrase because, one, we really do appreciate it. And, two, they really were being generous with their time. And so, that’s a message that ought to be conveyed, and, at the same time, in so conveying that, it does give them a fine reputation to live up to in terms of, “You know what, I am just kind of someone who is generous with their time.”

So, should we have a follow-up question, I think I don’t have the studies on this, but I imagine the science is in our favor that our odds of getting some follow-up questions answered, and some even more bits of advice and assistance have been elevated by thanking in that way.

Brian Ahearn
Oh, absolutely. I think any time you give somebody praise for something like that, they feel good. That plays into the principle we call liking when we’re talking about persuasion, and the more they like you, the more likely they are down the road to say yes if you ask them to do something.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s excellent. And then what I found intriguing was sometimes it’s not even verbal, right? I remember there were some studies associated with if a resume is on a heavy, weighty clipboard that some people can infer, like, “Oh, this is something with some gravitas, such to be taken more seriously,” or if we’re drinking some warm beverage. What’s sort of the stuff that’s there, like non-verbal at work?

Brian Ahearn
So, the beverage is a good example. If you invited somebody to your office, you would be better off offering them something like a cup of coffee because that coffee would be warm, and people who are feeling warm tend to have warmer feelings toward other people. Now, I’m not going to say that you want to give them a hot cup of coffee if you live in Arizona. It’s 115 degrees outside. They’ll still appreciate the kind act of a cold drink. But holding something warm tends to warm people and make them feel more warmth towards other people.

As you said, sometimes if you want somebody to really give a lot of thought to something, having it on heavier stock paper or putting it on a clipboard where it feels heavier, that heaviness psychologically gives people the sense that, “This is a heavier, more weighty issue, or something that really looks to be read.”

I bet a lot of people could relate to this. I see, as we record this, Pete, that you got a lot of books in the background there. We all feel a little different about a really skinny, like very light book versus a book that’s got substance. You just tend to think that book that has a lot more substance probably has a lot more detailed good information. That may not be the case, but I think, psychologically, many of us, when we pick up that heavy hardback book versus the very light, smaller paperback, we feel differently about those books.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s true. And, again, this isn’t a panacea, the most perfectly, elegantly, luxurious paper on the planet won’t make a resume of poor content, I’m sure, capture a hiring manager to say, “This guy, we got to hire them.” But it very well could be like, “Oh, I should take a look at this.”

How much of a difference do these pre-suasive elements make? I’m imagining that it can’t make up for poor content or not fundamentally having the goods. But what sort of an edge does it enable?

Brian Ahearn
Oh, I think if we go back to the example I shared earlier about the grocery store, they went from 33% to 76% just by asking a pre-suasive question beforehand. There’s another study that’s detailed in Cialdini’s book Pre-suasion, and it had to do with people’s willingness to buy French or German wine. When they would go into the wine store, they were either playing French music or German music. When they played French music, they sold more than three times more French wine as compared to the German. But when they played the German music, they sold 275% more German wine than they did the French.

And when people were asked as they exited the store, most didn’t even remember hearing the music. Those that did insisted it had nothing to do with their purchase decision, but it’s undeniable the difference between that, that once that music is playing, it’s impacting people’s thinking, and it impacted their behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
That is powerful. And that kind of drives towards, I guess, the distinction I was getting there. It’s like, if folks are not interested in drinking wine, that doesn’t matter. If they are not locked-in on, “By golly, it’s going to be Bota Box RedVolution,” one of my favorites, and if they’re not sort of already dead-set on a particular item, but they’re like, “Yeah, you know, what would be a good wine tonight?” “I don’t know. Let’s take a look,” and then, boom, they’re put right through that chute.

Brian Ahearn
But I think when somebody who walks into a wine store has an intention of buying wine, so then the question becomes, “What might you do to push certain brands, maybe have a newer brand, and it’s French, and you want people to be a little more enticed to try that?” If something as simple as music can get people into a frame of mind where French wine becomes an easier default choice, then that’s a really good thing. But, you’re right, if somebody doesn’t drink wine, it’s not going to impact them. But, again, they probably wouldn’t wander into the wine store to begin with.

Pete Mockaitis
They said they saw there was a Jimador in the back.

Brian Ahearn
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, that just sort of sparks all kinds of interesting possibilities. Like, I don’t know, if you are a maker of German wine, maybe you want to be equipping your distributors with music systems on the condition that they played German music. I don’t know how practical that is, but it does show that there may very well be small investments that make a huge impact.

And I’m also thinking about, I’ve heard, as I go to this event Podcast Movement, full of podcasters and people in the podcast ecosystem, I’ve heard that sometimes there can be wildly compelling results from advertisements. Like, let’s say it’s a product about reducing risks, like insurance or something, in the context of a show that’s really scary, like about a murder, or a true crime thing that they can say, “Uh-oh, that could happen to me.” Like that kind of influences is huge. Can you speak more to that in terms of advertising/marketing realms?

Brian Ahearn
Well, if you are going to pay to be on some type of show, you probably want to consider, “What is that show? And what is going to be the mindset that most people are going to be in as they watch that show?” If people are watching something that really is scary, risk is scary. And so, by advertising something about risks, or maybe it’s insurance at that time, people might be more apt to pay attention to that because they’re in that fearful state.

If we had no fear at all, we wouldn’t probably buy any insurance. I mean, it’s not that you’re selling fear, but we know that bad things can happen and we want to mitigate that if possible. But we’re not thinking about bad things happening when we’re in certain mindsets, but we certainly are when we’re in a fearful mindset. So, strategically thinking about, “What is the show? What would be the mindset that people are going to be in?” is going to make a difference as to where you want to advertise.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And I want to maybe zoom out a little bit to the principle level. Within the book, we’ve got two commanders of attention: attractors and magnetizers. Can you sort of help us understand that distinction and give us some examples of each?

Brian Ahearn
Well, an attractor is going to be something that, as it says, it attracts you, and a magnetizer is going to be something that keeps your attention specifically on something. And when we talk about, as we teach about pre-suasion, one of the things that we talk about is, “Can we extend the time that we’re pre-suading?” The longer that somebody, for example, remains in the mindset that you want, the more opportunity you have if you are trying to persuade them.

So, an example of a magnetizer, keeping something there, if you we go back to the music, that would be a good example of a magnetizer because it’s continually playing while you’re there. It wasn’t as simple as the question that might’ve changed your thinking in the moment. But then, as you go through the store, that might not be impacting you any longer, but the music is continuing to do that. So, that would be, I think, a difference. Magnetizer is going to keep you there. The attractor is going to be something that might grab your attention immediately.

When they talk about something like, “Sex sells.” Sex is something that, quite often, will grab your attention right away. And that’s important because we have limited capacity for our attention. And so, if you can grab that attention, even momentarily, you’ve got a better chance of trying to influence somebody to do the thing that you need them to do. And in the context of what we’re talking about, it’s a purchase.

Pete Mockaitis
And then I suppose you got to have some congruence with the offer or, otherwise, you’re going to kind of lose out on some trust and such, like, “What? What does sex have to do with this?”

Brian Ahearn
Yeah. And I think there are times where celebrities are advertising things, and it’s not even close to being in their wheelhouse. And so, while it may attract your attention in a moment, but you’re not necessarily making a connection with what that product is that he or she is trying to sell, I think that things fall short there.

For example, if Tiger Woods is advertising things that revolve more around golf, that is certainly going to be more congruent for somebody to say, “Well, you know what, if he plays that kind of ball, if he uses those kinds of irons, then maybe I could play a little better if I use the same products.” But when he’s selling something that’s totally out of the realm of that, yes, he’s attracting the attention because we all know who Tiger Woods is, but, beyond that, I don’t know that I’m compelled to drive a Buick because he drives a Buick.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that makes sense in terms of there’s maybe not so much of a logical, rational connection. It’s maybe more just sort of brand good feels, like, “You know, I like Tiger Woods,” or sort of whatever he stands for in your own mind, and that could be good or bad, whatever he stands for, that sort of gets a bit imparted onto the brand and the feels associated with it, which is probably one of the reasons why when folks get themselves into hot water, brands cut bait real quick with them.

Brian Ahearn
Yes. Yes, they do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then I’m also intrigued by just talking about how long you can sort of have that attention going. And there’s a bit of an approach associated with having some mystery and keeping that tension and mystery going for a bit of time. Can you walk us through that?

Brian Ahearn
Yeah. Human beings, we don’t like it when there’s not kind of some finality to things, when there’s not a bow on the package, so that we can kind of wrap it up and say, “Okay, we’re done with that.” You probably have had somebody who began to tell you a story, and then they got interrupted, maybe it was their phone or something, like, “Oh, I’m sorry. I got to go to this meeting.” You’re left hanging, and you’re like, “Wait a minute. I want to know what’s the end of this.”

And that is something that we can use to our advantage by sharing something that’s interesting and compelling, and then holding back a little bit. And then once that person is like, “Wait a minute. What’s the end of the story?” you have them even more focused on you and what you’re sharing than if you might’ve just gone all the way through and given them the answer.

It’s not unlike this, too, Pete. I’ve taught communications for a long time, and I know that people hate silence in conversation. So, sometimes just saying what you need to say and then being quiet, all of a sudden, they try to fill that space, and they’re the ones now who are engaged with you. Where people make a mistake a lot, is they just think they need to keep talking and basically throw everything except the kitchen sink at somebody, and that’s the exact opposite. Create a little mystery in your communication. Share a little bit and then just be quiet and see how people start responding.

Also, when you ask questions, people feel compelled to answer questions. So, those are a couple of just small things that everybody can do in their day-to-day communication.

Pete Mockaitis
And can you give us an example of how we might go about sort of leaving something out to provide some mystery for a little bit of time?

Brian Ahearn
Well, I write a blog, I could certainly write a blogpost and then leave it open-ended, and say, “Next week, we’re going to take a look at what actually happened.” I mean, that would be a perfect case of I share some detail and then I leave it hanging because you don’t want to write a book when you’re writing a blogpost. You want to keep them relatively short. So, maybe you put something out there with a, “And we’ll conclude on this next week.”

You see this sometimes in other advertising, too, where they’ll put something out, and say, “Go to this website to find out the conclusion of the story,” or something like that. But if it’s compelling enough, and that’s the thing though, it’s got to be somewhat compelling, because if somebody puts out something that’s of no interest to you at all, just like if you don’t drink wine, you’re not going to be in the wine store. If it’s not of interest to you, but if you know your audience and what sort of interest to them, and you leave them hanging a little bit, like, “Come back next week because I’m going to share the answer with you,” that’s going to get more people, I think, coming back the following week and clicking on what you want them to click on.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that’s so good. Well, again, Podcast Movement is coming up. They did exactly this, and I was totally riveted in terms of they said, “You know, hey, with the pandemic, we shifted to a virtual format, and we went through many, many, many options for platforms and providers in order to figure out one that’s just going to be amazing. It’s not just going to be a bunch of Zoom.” And so, I was like, “Oh, what is it?” And they’re like, “We’ll tell you next week.” And I put it on my calendar, it’s like, “Go to the Podcast Movement blog, and figure out what platform they’re using.” It’s Swapcard. I haven’t used it but, apparently, it’s great. I trust those guys to pick a good one. And it did, it did for me because there was some mystery, and I had to wait, and I went ahead and went there to get the word.

Brian Ahearn
Well, the news does this too. How many times have we seen something, “There could be radon in your house. News at 11:00”?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Brian Ahearn
Now you’re like, “I got to tune in at 11:00 o’clock to find out radon levels in homes in my area,” something like that, so it happens. But what we want people to do, as we teach about this, is to be more thoughtful about their communication, “How can I start taking this in without being a television advertiser or the news? How can I start using these simple and easy-to-implement ideas to have more people paying attention and, ultimately, doing the things that we need to do?” In a corporate environment, that’s a big deal.

Pete Mockaitis
And maybe to wrap it up, before we hear some of your favorite things, could you share what is post-suasion, and why is it necessary, and how do we do it?

Brian Ahearn
Post-suasion, like when I think about sales, and I usually work with salespeople, when you’ve made the sale, you would like to get referrals, and so I teach insurance agents this a lot. What I would never ever do with you, Pete, if I was an insurance agent, I would never ever say, “Hey, Pete, now that you’re moving your insurance to my agency, you must be happy. Who else do you know who would like to make the switch?” because mentally you’re not there. You’re just wondering, “If I’ve made the right choice,” you’re making the switch. It’s probably somewhat expensive if you’re insuring your home and auto, and all these other things. You are not thinking about, “How can I help Brian Ahearn?”

So, what I’ve always instructed agents to do is I would say to you, I’d say, “Pete, you’ve just made a big decision here, severing ties with your current agent, and moving your business here. I know that you’ve probably had people ask you for referrals at the end of the sale, and I’m not going to do that. But what I would like to ask you is this. If nine months from now you’re happy that you made the switch, that we have lived to everything that we said we would do, and you’re happy, would you be open to talking about referrals?” And most people are willing to put off into the future what they don’t want to do right now. You’re probably thinking, “Well, yeah. If I’m happy, why wouldn’t I be at least open to that?” I’ve not even fully asked for a commitment. I just said, “Would you be open to it?” And you’re going to probably come back and say, “Sure. That’s reasonable.”

Now, it’s on me in nine months to follow up with you, and I would do that. I’d call up, “Hey, Pete, how are you doing?” And we’d talk a little bit, and I’d say, “Do you remember when we wrote your insurance, and I asked if you were happy, would you be open to talking about referrals? It sounds like you’re happy. Would you be okay setting a time next week to talk about those referrals?” Now, I’m kind of into the pre-suasion again because I don’t want to just ask you right during that conversation because, again, you weren’t thinking about me and referrals. I just called you up. But once we set that time, you start thinking about, “Who can I refer to Brian?” And I’ll do little things to ensure that. I will send you a quick email with a meeting reminder and a thank you. In the day of, I will shoot you a text and say, “Pete, are we still good to talk about referrals this afternoon?” But the whole time now you’re starting to think about that.

So, the post-suasion started right after the sale, and now I’m pre-suading again, getting you into the mindset so that when I call and ask about referrals, you’re ready to give me good-quality referrals.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s intriguing how it’s bit by bit, you’re doing it at the right times, and, you know, it’s funny, maybe I’m just selfish, but I have a hard time imagining how I would ever make the time to provide some with insurance referrals, unless like you really hooked me up in terms of like, “Straight up, my house burned down, and you swooped into action and saved the day. Wow.” Or, you keep giving me other cool tips associated with saving money, reducing risks. Like if it’s a home, maybe it’s just sort of like, “Hey, do you know about HomeAdvisor? Now you can find out how much renovation should cost before you do it.” Like, “No, I didn’t. Thank you, Brian’s Insurance. That’s really cool of you.” So, I guess I also need a little bit of wow to do that personally.

Brian Ahearn
Well, that’s why I said that, “If we live up to what we said we’d do.” So, that was part of the buying process. You switched because maybe you were saving money, but maybe there were other things that I was saying we will do, and you’re thinking, “My current agent doesn’t do any of that.” So, that’s implied by me that that’s part of the sale. And in nine months, when we talk about it, you’re like, “Hey, the insurance advisor, and all the things you said you would do, which helped me make the switch, you’ve done, and I’m happy.” And that’s where I’ve got that opportunity then because you’ve said, “I’d be open to talking about referrals.” So, you’re right, there’s got to be part of that package of why you made the decision to move.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, this will be a whole another podcast as how to differentiate yourself in a crowded market, it’s like, “What would that be?” Maybe for home insurance once a year, you send a person over and spend half an hour looking at some stuff, and say, “Hey, man, you want to get some tuck point right there or you’re going to see some water damage within a couple of years.” It’s like, “Oh. Well, thanks for letting me know.” That would really be distinctive and make me really want to, I guess, the reciprocity, say, “Wow, that was so cool of you. I want to be cool to you right back, so, yeah, let’s see those referrals.”

Brian Ahearn
Yeah. And that’s, you’re right though, how do you stand out? Insurance is a somewhat generic product. The real differentiator becomes who that insurance agent is, and it’s all about what you value in a relationship with an insurance agent. Sometimes agents will say, “Well, because we’re local,” and I’ll challenge them, and I’ll say, “You know what, some people don’t care if you’re local because they can see you online anywhere in the world, so you need to understand if that’s part of the buying process for you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Right. Well, Brian, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Brian Ahearn
I would just encourage people to pick up a copy of Cialdini’s book, one, it’s a fascinating read. I think they will be amazed at how things that they might not even consider can impact them at the conscious, but quite often, at the subconscious level, and really cause substantial change in behavior. It’s good because you want to understand what might be impacting you so you can make the most informed decisions possible. But if a large part of your success is getting people to say yes and do things, then really starting to think about, “How can I set the stage so that when I go and make my ask, it’s easier?” that will be extremely beneficial for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Now, can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Brian Ahearn
I think one of my favorite quotes, and I’m not going to get it word-for-word right, but one of the most impacting books I’ve ever read was Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. And towards the end he said, “In the end, they can take away all of our human freedoms except for the last freedom, which is where we will place our thoughts.” He really said that the man or the woman who knew that nobody could make them think what they didn’t want to think was actually the freest person. And he said, “We were freer than some of the guards who maintained our captivity because we understood that.” And I think I read that such a long time ago, but I always go back to that, that the freedom of thought, nobody can take that away from me.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Brian Ahearn
I would say probably research around highlighting loss, loss aversion with Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, because when I share any of that, and the research that I’m thinking specifically is University of California when they did energy audits and went back to people and gave them ideas to make their homes more energy-efficient. They either said, “If you do this, you will save $180 next year if you’re like the typical homeowner. Or if you don’t do this, you will lose $180 next year because you’re going to overpay.” It’s the same $180. But how it’s talked about makes a world of difference.

And in that particular case study, 150% more people who were told they would lose tended to implement the energy-saving ideas. That goes back to their work on loss aversion, that humans are anywhere from two to two and a half times more likely to say yes to the very same thing when they think they’ll lose as opposed to where they may gain. And there are so many opportunities for people to move something from a gain view into a loss frame. And not being a negative or a threatening or anything like that, but just by conversationally talking about what somebody might lose, and so there’s just a tremendous amount of opportunity for people to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Brian Ahearn
Well, other than Influence: Science and Practice, my book, Influence PEOPLE. No, actually, I’ll give you two books because they really radically impacted how I make my presentations. One was Carmine Gallo’s The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, and the other was Presentation Zen. Between the two of those books and changing how I format and the visuals that I use with audiences, and then thinking about Steve Jobs and how he interacted with people, it completely changed my stage presence, and it gets a tremendous feedback. So, those are two books that have had a big impact on me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Brian, maybe we have to have a third of this. We had Carmine on the show. But could you give us sort of one tidbit in terms of, “Before, I always did this. And now, I never do this,” or vice versa?

Brian Ahearn
Well, before, I did a lot of words and I would just do some bullet points as I go through things. And what I do now is almost entirely visual. I will usually have a keyword. Like, if I’m going to talk about a principle, you might see the word authority, and then I talk about it. And then maybe I click and it says research at the bottom or application. It was a little scary at first because you can’t look over your shoulder and hit a bullet point, but then there’s a freedom with it because nobody says, “Hey, you didn’t talk about the third bullet point.”

And what I started to sense was I could go in any direction I wanted with an audience. And when people would say, “Can I have your PowerPoint?” I’m like, “Why? It’s 24 pictures. You need me to interpret that for you.” So, that was a big change. The more comfortable I got with it, the more fun I would have when I was with audiences.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I’ve been down that road as well because I used to make slides, well, sometimes I do, based on the audience, like, as a strategy consultant, I mean, that was kind of the idea. And Nancy Duarte would call it a slide dock, it’s like, “This is not just a supplement while keynoting. It is going to be distributed amongst decision-makers and follow-up meetings as a piece of research tool to get work done.” So, that’s very different than, “I want to draw you into a good energy space, and augment my message when I’m keynoting on stage,” versus, “I need to persuade you that this is going to make you 16 million incremental dollars next year.”

Brian Ahearn
Yeah, you always have to think about who your audience is and what you want that takeaway to be. When I reference what I do, I’m thinking really of keynote presentations. And I’ve got Duarte’s book right down below, near my feet here, slide:ology, and I would say that’s a great book too. I just happened to read “Presentation Zen” many years ago before her book came out, and so that’s what started to impact me.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Brian Ahearn
A favorite tool right now is an app called Voice Dream.

Pete Mockaitis
I have that one.

Brian Ahearn
Do you use it?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve used it a couple times when I needed something read to me, and I couldn’t find a way to do it. Voice Dream was the way to do it. How do you use it?

Brian Ahearn
So, I use it for a lot of stuff. I have a personal mission statement, I download to it, and it takes about three minutes, but usually when I’m doing my coffee in the morning, I press it, and I hear the words of the mission statement, so every day I’m hearing that. I’m in the middle of writing my second book, and so I download it, and then I start listening to it to see, to find out how it sounds because my eyes can deceive me, I know what I want to see. But once I hear it, I’m like, “Oh, it should be the not they,” and you catch the little things like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, fascinating.

Brian Ahearn
I’ll bring a blogpost in, and I’ll quickly write the blogpost, clean it up. But then I’ll listen to it, I’ll go back and refine it. So, what I would say, Pete, is try and use it for some things you’re not right now, and I think you’re going to start going, “Wow, this is so beneficial,” that you’ll start pulling more things into it. You’ll just realize how important it is to hear what it is that you’re writing before you actually publish.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. And you’re hearing it a bit differently than if you read it yourself out loud, and you’re saving the time of making a recording. So, that’s clever to surface errors and better ways to rephrase things in a different way. I like it. Thank you.

Brian Ahearn
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Brian Ahearn
My favorite remains working out. I’m up every day at 5:00 a.m., and by 5:30, I’m downstairs. I’ve got a really nice gym in my basement. I usually run in the morning, do three to five miles. A lot of times I’m on the treadmill because I like watching things on Netflix, and then I’ll spend time stretching. And then I’ll go back down in the afternoon and spend 30 to 45 minutes lifting weights. This became the routine during COVID because you couldn’t go anywhere. But then I started to realize I really like the routine, I like the aerobic activity to start the day, I like going down and working my muscles after I’ve been sitting for a while, and just the break from thinking to be able to do that. And then it’s usually dinnertime, and my wife and I are interacting after that, so that’s a daily seven-day a week routine.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you frequently?

Brian Ahearn
I think around the principle of liking. As I have really come to emphasize, it’s not about me getting you, Pete, to like me. It’s about me coming to like you. And that seems like it’s been revolutionary for a lot of people. They all know that if somebody likes them it’s easier for the people to say yes, but they’ve never really thought about, “Maybe if I spend more time coming to like other people, that would be the difference-maker.” Smart people, over the course of history, have known this. Abraham Lincoln said, “I don’t like that man very much. I need to get to know him better.” And I think if we all took that tact, that we would probably have much, much better relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Brian Ahearn
I’d say my website, InfluecePeople.biz. From there, if you want to buy my book, you can buy the book. I’ve been blogging for a dozen years now. I’ve been on almost 80 podcasts. All of that stuff is there. It’s all free. The book is not free. You do have to buy that, but the podcasts, and I’ve got some videos, I’ve got the blog, all of that stuff. So, there’s a tremendous amount of information that’s out there. And the other thing I would say if you want to connect with me on LinkedIn, I’m always open to connecting with people.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Brian Ahearn
I would say really start giving some thought to persuasion and pre-suasion. That’s one of those things that we do throughout the course of our lifetime, and so we can almost take it for granted. But if we really pause and start thinking strategically about these principles of human behavior and how can we bring them into our communication, whether it’s oral or written, you will have more people saying yes to you. You’ll enjoy a lot more success at the office as a result of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Brian, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all the ways you’re being pre-suasive.

Brian Ahearn
Thank you. I appreciate it, Pete.

597: How to Turn No Into Yes: Powerful Negotiation Questions with Alex Carter

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Alex Carter says: "Silence is not an imposition. It's actually a gift to the other person. It gives them time to think and it prevents you from selling yourself short."

Columbia law professor Alex Carter shares why it pays to ask for more, both at work and in life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The 4 questions that will help you negotiate better 
  2. How to boost your confidence going into a negotiation 
  3. How to increase your chances of getting a yes from your boss 

About Alex

Alex Carter is Director of the Mediation Clinic at Columbia Law School, where she is also an award-winning professor, and a world-renowned negotiation trainer for the United Nations. She also serves as Executive Director of Stand Up Girls, helping tween girls develop relationships for greater self-esteem and resilience. She has appeared on CBS This Morning, MSNBC’s LIVE Weekend and Hardball, Marketplace, and in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. She lives in Maplewood, New Jersey, with her husband and daughter.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Alex Carter Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Alex, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Alex Carter
Pete, thanks so much. I’m thrilled to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk negotiation. And I’d love it if you could kick us off by sharing one of your coolest negotiating stories.

Alex Carter
Sure. Coolest negotiating stories. How about the first time I ever negotiated my own salary?

Pete Mockaitis
That sounds like a good one. Let’s go.

Alex Carter
So, yes. I’m one of these people who, and some of your listeners may relate, early on in my career, I worked at places that were all lock-step so I never had much to negotiate. Well, fast forward to the first moment in my 30s that I ever negotiated my salary. Went in, power suit on, ready for battle, and to my surprise, they came in slightly above what I was expecting. So, had just enough on the ball to keep my face neutral, said, “Thank you so much. I’ll get back to you.”

Went out and called a senior woman in my field, and I said, “I’m not sure what to do. They came in above.” And she said, “I’m going to tell you what to do, Alex. You’re going to go in there and you’re going to ask for more.” And I said, “I’m going to ask for more?” And she said, “Yes, because when you teach someone how to value you, you teach him how to value all of us, meaning women. And so, if you’re not going to do it for yourself, I want you to go in and do it for the woman who’s coming after you. Do it for the sisterhood.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Alex Carter
And so, that was the moment when I realized that asking for more and negotiating and claiming my value actually was not a selfish act, that in doing that, I could create more seats, not fewer, around the table for people to join me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a beautiful reframe right there in terms of it’s not a zero-sum game. It is benefitting more persons than just you. It’s funny, I think sometimes when we hear about negotiation, we think about the tactics and the power phrases. I’m thinking about Michael Scott in “The Office.”

Alex Carter
Oh, God.

Pete Mockaitis
Trick number 31 or whatever, and it would sound like, “Okay, you did your research, you said you’re going to think about it, and then you just suggested a higher number,” and it sounds like, unless you skipped any juicy details, that there weren’t a lot of secret weapons you’re employing there.

Alex Carter
Well, it’s interesting, Pete, and I’m so glad you brought that up about people thinking it’s all about the secret weapon, the decision tree, or some complicated algorithm that’s going to get you the best result. The truth is, that Ask for More, is in part, it’s my book, it’s in part the story of a woman who learned how to ask for more, but it’s also about the power of questions.

Questions are actually the number one under-utilized weapon in negotiation. When you go into a negotiation and front load your questions, you’re not only going to get more information, you’re going to end up with better deals.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s very tempting to dive right in. But, first, I want to touch base on in terms of maybe the why or what’s at stake with negotiating skills. So, I think naturally, if you think, “Hey, yeah, you can have some more money if you negotiate.” But what are maybe some of the other opportunities that we don’t even think about negotiating?

Alex Carter
Yeah, negotiation is about a lot more than money. You know, Pete, in fact, let’s zoom out a bit because a lot of times when people hear the word negotiation, they think of kind of what we started talking about at the beginning of this podcast where it’s a back and forth between two or more people over money. That’s actually not what I teach. I teach that negotiation is steering. It’s any conversation, not just the money conversations, not just the conversations where you’re battling over resources, but any conversation where you’re steering a relationship.

And so, it’s not just about money. It’s often about teaching people how to value you. It’s often about achieving the intangibles in life, those things that make our lives worth living – freedom, advancement, a sense of accomplishment, recognition. Negotiation is all of those. It’s how we create our own story.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That sounds great. So, let’s see about these questions.

Alex Carter
You’re right. All right, let’s get back. So, in fact, the first question that people should be asking in negotiation is actually not when they sit down with somebody else. So, Pete, by the time you and I sit down to negotiate, half of the process is already done, and that’s the part of the process that starts at home with me. So, before I even sit down with somebody, I need to be asking myself questions. And the first question I tell people to ask in every scenario is this, “What’s the problem I want to solve?”

You know, Pete, I found that, whether you’re talking about it in corporate context or in a more entrepreneurial scenario, people want to jump immediately to solutions, “There’s budget allocation, and I’m the leader of my department, and I want to go in immediately and say, ‘This is where my department’s number should be.’ But wait a second, what’s the problem I want to solve?”

“Am I merely looking for X number of dollars here because I’m allocating it to certain projects? Or, in the process of this, am I also trying to raise awareness about what my team did last quarter? Am I also trying to communicate the importance of my department to the company’s overall mission?” Thinking about the problem you want to solve, not only shapes what you ask for but how you ask for it. It is the first stop in any negotiation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we’re thinking clearly about the problem that you want to solve and, in so doing, I think that probably reframes any number of things and opens up a lot of possibilities that maybe just weren’t even on top of mind before you went there, so that’s awesome. What’s next?

Alex Carter
Sure. Well, how many questions would you like to do?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I understand you’ve got ten, so maybe let’s get the rundown preview listing and then dive deeper into a couple.

Alex Carter
Okay. All right. So, let’s talk next. So, you’ve thought about the problem you want to solve, I think the next stop is really thinking about what you need from this negotiation. And when I’m asking people to consider their needs, I ask them to put them into two buckets. So, the first bucket is kind of the low-hanging fruit in most negotiations. It’s what I call the tangibles, right? The things that you can touch, see or count, “So, I need this amount of money. I need this many people for headcount to grow my division.”

The intangibles, though, often complete the picture. Those are the values that we stand for and that really drive our negotiation. So, for example, if I’m the head of the department going in for resources, in addition to saying, “I need X, Y, and Z tangibles,” I might be thinking, “I need acknowledgement from my CEO for what we did for the bottom line last year.” And then that intangible can very often shape how I negotiate. The trick is, Pete, that when you have these intangibles, like, “I need some recognition,” you’ve got to look inward and ask yourself, “What would recognition look like for me here?” In other words, you’ve got to take that and make it concrete so that, then, it’s a basis for you to negotiate from.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, excellent. And so, in terms of we start with a problem, and then, “What it is that I need?” and have that be clear in terms of, you’re right, acknowledgement can take many flavors and formats in terms of, “Is it public? Is it private? Is it just like, ‘Hey, great job,’ one-sentence email that’s good enough? But what do you need?”

Alex Carter
Pete, you joke but I swear to you. So, part of what I do at Columbia Law School is I help people negotiate their way out of large conflicts. So, recognition for one person looks like a seven-figure number. Recognition for somebody else looked like a certificate that he put on his wall, a certificate of appreciation. It truly looks different for every person, and you have to honor what that looks like for you. “Ask for More” is all about tuning out the noise of what other people think you should need, and tuning in to what things like recognition and freedom and respect look like for you.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re right. And I like that when you talk about freedom, I mean, if we think about sort of a salary compensation picture, it may very well be, it’s like, “Okay, we don’t have that in the budget. Fair enough. I would like some additional vacation days.” And so then, on a dollars per hour or day basis, you might still feel whole with regard to achieving what you wanted to achieve.

Alex Carter
A hundred percent. And you pointed out something really important, which is there’s almost never just one driver in a negotiation. Money is something you can negotiate for. It’s not the only thing you should negotiate for. And if you’ve gone in with a complete list of what you need, “I need freedom, I need appropriate compensation for what I’m doing,” then that gives you the basis to be able to say, “Okay. So, what can we do on the salary? What can we do on the work schedule? What can we do on vacation? And how about mentorship or training possibilities?” In this way, you’re not just myopically zoning in on the money. I want for you to get that and everything else that’s going to satisfy your needs.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s talk a little bit about those emotions here. As I’m imagining, as I’m putting myself in the shoes of a listener that says, “Boy, there’s a context in which I’m starting to ask, I’m asking for more, I’m asking for a lot, for the money, for the work schedule I want, for the vacation I want.” I think this can give rise to some fear in terms of like, “Oh, am I being whiny, or needy, or hard to work with, or asking for too much too soon? Is this even appropriate?” How do we deal with that issue?

Alex Carter
Huge, huge issue. And can I say, Pete, I think this is even more of an issue right now than usual? All the time, people are having this conversation in our heads. It’s not just, “Am I whiny or am I needy?” For a lot of people, it’s “Am I worth it? Do I really believe that I am worth what I am asking for?” That is where negotiation starts. And I have to tell you that fear you were describing is so much more present now. Every day, I get a note from somebody I don’t know asking me, “Can I really negotiate even right now, even when I’m desperate for a job, even when I really need some money coming in the door?”  And the answer is that not only can you, you should.

I want to reframe that conversation in people’s heads. Yes, times are tough right now. On the other hand, isn’t now the time when every dollar of your company’s money should be spent on somebody who’s going to be able to achieve results, and shouldn’t that person be you? Why not you? Managing that internal emotional conversation is key to negotiation success.

And so, for that reason, I ask people to write down their feelings, what I call the F word, before they go in and they negotiate, because it’s in the process of airing those things out, recognizing that you’re feeling them, and persevering through anyway, that you’re going to get to the other side of that mountain.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like it. And I guess the what you’re worth piece, I think there’s a lot of bad places you can look for that, or suboptimal, shall I say, like, “Hey, what you were paid at the last place, or last year, may or may not be a reflective sensible answer to what you’re worth.” I imagine your market research in terms of, “Hey, supply and demand for this position and what they tend to get paid is worth it.” And then I think, for listeners of this show, it’s helpful to just think about, “How committed, motivated, ambitious, dedicated, skillful you are at your job relative to the other people in your office?”

And maybe you’re surrounded by higher performers but it’s often the case, people say, “Wow, a lot of people just aren’t really doing their job that many hours out of the day here. So, hotdog, I’m pretty diligent, so I might be worth two or three times what my peers are getting paid.”

Alex Carter
You know, I’ve counseled thousands of people, most people are underestimating themselves and not overestimating. Research tells people that when you ask for more, your ask should be optimistic, specific, and justifiable. A lot of times we remember that we need to justify our ask but we don’t remember the optimistic part. Take the best-case justifiable scenario and start from there, because, remember, it’s very rare that you’re going to get more than what you ask for.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Alex Carter
So, your ask sets the ceiling.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. So, it’s sort of like the most that’s not absurd, like, “Come on,” so just a bit below that, it’s like, “Well, hey, this is the 98th percentile for this role but, hey, I think I’m a top 10% performer so it just seems sensible that that’s what I want.”

Alex Carter
A 100%, that’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I like that a lot. And also, when they say, “Hey, can I ask now even amidst economic uncertainties and COVID and such?” I recall we had the folks from the Paychecks & Balances podcast, great guys, Rich and Marcus, who, on the show, and one of them said, “You know what? I have blanket approval to give a 10% raise to anybody who asks, and almost nobody asks.” It’s like, “Wow!” that was eye-opening. A lot of people making these decisions do have that leeway just built in, no higher authority approval even necessary. Has that been your observation?

Alex Carter
It has. In fact, just in the last two weeks, I’ve negotiated with two separate organizations that initially said, “We have no room to negotiate,” and I asked, and almost immediately got the 10%. Almost immediately. And so, it’s as though the form letter goes out saying, “This is the rate.” But it’s true, people, in fact, here’s the secret, people expect you to negotiate. That’s the truth. People expect you to negotiate even in a pandemic. And you know what’s great when you negotiate during a pandemic? In the process of advocating for yourself, you are showing the company how you will advocate for them. Always, always negotiate.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that a lot. Okay, so we talked about the fear piece. That’s great. So, being convinced that you’re worth it. And we talked about the first two questions. What’s after that?

Alex Carter
Actually, Pete, we talked about the first three because the third one is about emotions and we kind of got there. After we talk about feelings, the next thing I like for people to do, this is a really, really powerful question, I like people to ask themselves this, “How have I achieved this successfully in the past?”

And here’s the reason, because oftentimes we’re facing a scenario and we’re feeling a bit anxious about negotiating, we forget that we have handled things successfully before. If you’re about to negotiate for yourself, or raise your prices, or ask for a higher salary, remember the last time you advocated for yourself. Write down the strategies you used and see what might be utilized here to make you more successful.

The thing about this question, Pete, is “How have I handled this successfully in the past?” it has two powerful functions in negotiation. Number one, the mere fact of asking yourself this question, there is research to show that if you go in to negotiate, having thought about a prior success, you’re more likely to do better simply by having thought about it. But the second reason to think about a prior success is it’s a data generator. Very often the strategies we’ve used in the past to make ourselves successful will work again in the future.

Now, I want to answer, Pete, a question that I think your listeners may be thinking. Some of them are thinking, “This is great, Alex, if I have a prior success that’s right on point. But what if I’m trying to do something I’ve never done before?” Fine. I’ve never, for example, published a book and promoted a book during a pandemic. First time, okay? But I looked back and I thought, “Okay, what are the elements of this? What do I need to do? How can I boil this down?”

And I thought, “Okay, I need to get a lot of people on board. I need to communicate clearly and powerfully around the message, and create a massive team to support me. When have I done that before? Oh, I ran my husband’s campaign for local office five years ago.” Went back, looked at the strategies I used as his campaign manager, and applied them to my book-promotion campaign. It was incredibly successful.

Sometimes, even a seemingly unrelated prior success is going to be just the thing to give you some strategies to use in your negotiation.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent in terms of there are all sorts of carryover in terms of it’s not the bullseye, okay, a book in a pandemic. Sure, that’s one of a kind. But, certainly, skills, experiences that have some relevance and some carryover, zero in on those. And that is great in terms of double barrel. You can bring that up if it comes up, and you feel all the more resolute and convicted about you being worth it for having gone there. So, that’s excellent.

Alex Carter
Yes. And if I can speak to that point, Pete, remember we talked about sort of psyching yourself out, almost giving yourself the no before anybody else can. If you are somebody who has difficulty advocating for yourself, my guess is, if you’re listening to this podcast, that you are great at negotiating on behalf of other people, your department, your friends, your kids. I want you to write down what makes you so successful when you negotiate for other people, and then use it for yourself. Over and over again, I have worked on this exercise with corporate leaders, and they tell me they find it unbelievably helpful in channeling those strengths to go in and ask for more.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it because that just sort of cuts through all of the self-doubt stuff in terms of, “If I am negotiating for Pete Inc. as opposed to me,” then you’re operating a bit differently, so that’s great. I want to get your take on, this might be advanced, but I think it comes up. It’s come up for me and I don’t do a ton of negotiating. When is the right time to think about bringing in an agent or a lawyer? When should you do that versus not do that?

I remember when I was closing on my house, it seems like the lawyers kind of made things more intense and a little kind of harder to get into a win-win. I remember at one point they’re like, “Did they say it was a shakedown? For them to impugn our integrity that way…” it’s like, “Oh, no, that was just me summarizing.” We got some misunderstandings and some intensity, but, at the same time, lawyers and agents are professionals with the skill set that have their use. How do you think about that game?

Alex Carter
So interesting. You know, Pete, I’m a lawyer and yet I think we often get in the way, right? We have a way. And it goes down to how a lot of lawyers are trained. So, again, I have a J.D., I’m a practicing lawyer, but for my first two years of law school before I took the class that I’m now teaching, I basically was a hammer and all I saw were nails, and I was looking for how I could escalate a conflict at any turn.

The truth is, Pete, I do make, now, I do make use sometimes of lawyers and agents. I have literary agents, I have speaking agents, all sorts of people who work with me. The truth is that nobody is going to be a better messenger than you even if you have an agent. I work really hard to steer that relationship and to help use them for the things that they are great at. Some of the industry-specific knowledge, that might be an occasion when I would hire. This is very industry-specific, they’re going to be able to help me fill in all the things that we could negotiate for.

But how we prioritize, and that strategy, that has to come from you. That has to come from the client. And there is no substitute for that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And it makes a lot of great sense in terms of if they’ve done many book deals or speaking gigs, it’s like, “Well, they kind of know what people are paying because it can vary wildly. A keynote might sell for 3,000 or might sell for 30,000. And what are the nuances that determine where you go within that massive range?”

Alex Carter
Absolutely. And I have the best in the business both on the literary and the speaking front, and still when I choose an agent, I choose somebody who wants me to partner with them, somebody who can come to the table with their expertise, and I can come to the table and say, “Might we prioritize it this way? Could we say it this way?” And this way, we are working together as partners on the ultimate result.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’d love to zoom in now in terms of, let’s say, there’s not a big high-stakes negotiation per se coming up for a professional, but this is sparking some things for people, like, “You know what? I would like to have more in my job maybe in terms of flexibility, or learning and development, or any number of things that’s kind of outside the big, I don’t know, promotion, raise, cycle, or new job opportunity.” You’re sort of, hey, you’ve been in a job for a while and there are some things you like, any pro tips on broaching that topic with your boss and leadership to maximize the odds they’ll say yes?

Alex Carter
Absolutely. So, this is advice I give normally but I think is especially apt during a pandemic. I would choose your timing carefully. And I mean that from two angles. First, I would consider what’s going on for the other person. What do they have coming down this week? Right now is a time, I think about myself, here it is we’re recording this mid-August, and I’m staring down the barrel at a fall semester. I’m not sure what’s happening with my teaching at Columbia. I think I’m virtual. Not sure what’s happening with my fourth grader.

If somebody came to me the moment that my school released its plan, and ask me for something, I’m not going to have the bandwidth to consider it properly. So, think about what’s going on for them, earnings, whatever it might be, time it from that perspective. I would also think about timing from your perspective. What’s going to be the best timing to increase your leverage? Did you just deliver on something early? Did you just achieve a great result? Your boss says, “Pete, this was an unbelievable job.” That could be a great moment to say, “Thanks so much. I enjoyed working on this. And while I have you, I’d love to get some time on your calendar to talk about my future at the company and where I would love to be in a few years.” So, taking that opportunity at the most propitious timing to setup the conversation.

I would also try to do something where you can see each other’s faces. We’re virtual, and so the temptation is “Do I do it email? Do I do it by phone?” If you’re having an important conversation, body language is data, and I want you to have as much data as possible about what the other person is thinking, so I would do that.

My last tip for asking, especially right now, is to frame it in a particular way. So, when I’m helping people to make their ask for the greatest success, I tell them to execute what I call an I-we. In other words, “Here’s what I’m requesting, and here’s how we all benefit.” In other words, when you have started your negotiation and steered your relationship with your manager, by asking questions, by getting to know them, you have now figured out how to frame what you need in a way that it’s also going to meet their needs, right? “So, if you put me on this project that I’ve been asking for, here’s how I’m going to be able to contribute toward your success,” that type of thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s excellent. You know, I’m reminded of Robert Cialdini’s book Pre-suasion there in terms of like the moment, like what happens just before the conversation starts can make a world of difference.

Alex Carter
Huge.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. So, I know they’re not secret weapons. It’s not where the action is. Nonetheless, I would love it if you could share with us, what are a few maybe bits of verbiage or scripts, some do’s or don’ts in terms of, “Hey, I hear people say this. Don’t say that,” or, “I don’t hear people say this, and you should say that.”

Alex Carter
Okay. And that’s okay, Pete, I use my weapons for good. I do have a secret weapon, and it’s actually not about saying this or saying that. It’s about the opposite. It’s about shutting up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alex Carter
The importance of silence in negotiation. In my book, I teach people three words that I want them to commit to memory and use in every negotiation as a guiding principle. And the three words are “land the plane.” When you make your point, when you ask a question, when you deliver a proposal, deliver it and then land the plane, close your mouth.

Too often, I see people get nervous about the silence, and so they rush in to fill it with a bunch of words that leaves them bidding against themselves or assuming what the other person might say. So, in other words, Pete, what do you need to get this done here today? Would $10,000 do it? No, you don’t know what Pete needed, right? Maybe he needed five, and you overpaid. Maybe he needed mentorship or a path to advancement. In other words, say what you’re going to say and land the plane.

Silence is not an imposition. It’s actually a gift to the other person. It gives them time to think and it prevents you from selling yourself short. Sometimes the less you say the better.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. I imagine in terms of I’ve seen it both ways in terms of me saying more than I should, and others that I’m talking to like they share numbers, like, “You know, if that’s manageable…” they’re just sort of like weakens it after the fact. I mean, I know things are hard right now with the COVID, but as opposed to saying, “$200,000 sounds…” and then they can weigh in on that in terms of like, “Boy, that is just really way more than we have in mind. That’s going to be challenging for us to pull off,” versus, “Okay, I understand what’s at stakes and I’ll see what we can do.”

Alex Carter
And may I say, if they answered you and say, “That’s going to be challenging for us to pull off,” great job. That is great information for you to have. First of all, it means you didn’t sell yourself short. And, second, let’s say you get that, because I think, Pete, sometimes people talk and talk and talk because they’re afraid of getting the no, and so they’re trying to eat the silence up with their words at the negotiation table.

Don’t ever fear the no again because I’m going to give you four words that you can use when you get a no. Are you ready? Here are the words: “What are your concerns?” That’s it. When somebody says, “You know, I think this is going to be hard for us to pull off,” say, “Okay, thanks for letting me know. What are your concerns?” Because, frequently, if you hear somebody’s concerns, you’re going to find a way to address those.

So, have the courage to allow the silence, and know that on the other end of that, if somebody expresses a hesitation, you have a tool you can use in the moment, simply ask their concerns, play their concerns back, summarize them, and then, more often than not, you’re going to know where the target is that you need to hit, and turn that no into a yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you’re right, because concerns can be any number of things. Like, “That can be challenging,” might mean, “Well, hey, we’re paying someone else for doing almost the same thing 170K, so it seems a little disruptive or more about fairness to pay a new person significantly more to do the same thing.” And I don’t know if this is good or bad, but maybe a solution that could be, “Oh. Well, if it’d make you more comfortable, I’m happy to sign something indicating that I will not disclose my compensation to anybody.” Of course, that’s a whole another controversial issue in terms of information flows and how that impacts different populations. But that’s an example of a solution that might be way easier than you thought. Like, “Oh, it’s not so much that they’re broke, but it’s something completely different.”

Alex Carter
I got to tell you, Pete, marketing my book during a pandemic, I’ve become a specialist in turning no into a yes. When you think about it, one of the things that I lined up was dozens and dozens of in-person speaking engagements, and that was going to be a way for me to get the word out there and for people to buy the book. All of those canceled obviously. And over and over again, I heard people say, “Yeah, we’re canceling this event, and we’re not doing something virtual.”

Every single time I’ve called up and said, “What are your concerns?” And over and over again, people said things like, “Well, we’ve never done it before. We’re not sure how to do something that’s going to be productive over Zoom.” “Great. Would it be helpful if we jumped on and I showed you what I have in mind?” Or, “We’re not sure our employees are going to want it.” “Okay, how might you find that out?” They’re like, “All right, we can do a survey.” It turns out, they really want it.

Over and over again there are concerns that, when we met them, it wasn’t like me getting over on them, Pete. In every case, we produced something that was of mutual value and people actually thanked me afterward. The truth is that even with a no, you can ask people about their concerns, you can preserve the relationship, you can strengthen the relationship, and you can still get what you need out of the deal.

Pete Mockaitis
And the thing I love about that particular phraseology of the question “What are your concerns?” is it’s just very helpful. Like, you’re being of service as opposed to “What’s your problem? What’s the issue, man?” Like, those get after the same information but it doesn’t land nearly as productive as “What are your concerns? I’m trying to help.”

Alex Carter
Yeah, “What’s your problem?” has not gotten me the best results. Yeah, I mostly use that one at home, to be honest.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, tell me, Alex, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Alex Carter
Yes, I would like people to know, if there’s anybody out there listening who thinks “Negotiation is not for me because I’m not the most aggressive person in the room,” or, “Maybe I’m an introvert,” or, “I’m somebody who prioritizes my relationships,” I want you to know that all of those things can make you a great negotiator. That, really, if you’re somebody who is a good listener, you’re somebody who gains people’s trust, and you’re somebody who prioritizes relationships, all you need are the right questions, and you’re going to be absolutely fantastic, I promise you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now let’s some favorite things. Can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Alex Carter
Yes. So, a few years ago I had a student who changed my life. He was a mid-career lawyer, my age, in his early 40s, who came over from India for a year of study at Columbia, and he told me that his life’s motto is “Only do what only you can do.” And I took that onboard. And at that time, Pete, I was supposed to write a textbook. I had gotten an offer from a really prestigious legal corporation to write a textbook, and I thought, “This is what I should do. I’m a law professor.”

But then I thought about that, “Is this what only I can do?” And I thought, “No, it’s not. There are lots of people who can write textbooks. What I think only I can do, what I think I’m called to do, and what I love doing, is taking negotiation concepts from law school and making them accessible to everyday people in their lives.” That is what only I can do. And when I leaned into that, that’s when I started writing what would become “Ask for More.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that quote also just sparks so many things, like “I should be outsourcing.”

Alex Carter
It is. It’s a way to think about managing your time. When I think about the range of tasks I could embark on in a day, is this what only I can do? And if it’s not, somebody else is better served to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m thinking about how my email inbox has gotten out of control, and I think 90% of those messages can be handled by others. I’ve just been a little slow to let go. What about privacy? What about honesty and respect and integrity? But these are navigable issues. And if that’s your mantra, I would have solved this long ago.

Okay. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Alex Carter
Gosh. Well, I think my favorite bit of research is the study done by Professor Leigh Thompson out of the Kellogg School at Northwestern that found 93% of people are not asking the questions they need to get the most out of negotiations. I remember the day I read that study, it hit me and it accorded perfectly with what I see as a mediator and a negotiation trainer. And that was part of what gave me the impetus to go on and teach about the incredible power of open questions.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Alex Carter
I wouldn’t be an author if I weren’t totally in love with my own book, Ask for More: 10 Questions to Negotiate Anything. I would say, other than that, a book that I’ve been reading recently is The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Claim Their Seat at the Table by Minda Harts. Minda is an incredibly powerful woman who speaks directly to women of color in the workplace. And I remember the day I heard her speak, I picked up the book, and it’s had incredible learnings for me even as a white person in the workplace, how I can work together with my sisters of color to create the kind of workplace that we all want to exist.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Alex Carter
My favorite tool. My husband would probably say my iPhone. But my number one tool that I use, to be honest, is my eyes. I think you would think that negotiation is all about listening to the words. I find that most of the negotiation is me looking at people and taking in what their faces and their bodies are saying. Most of negotiation is what’s between the words in the things that people are holding back or are not giving themselves permission to say. And so, the more that I can see people, and really see them for who they are, the more effectively I can do my job and help get them to where they want to be.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, there’s a whole another podcast episode in here, and we’ve done it once with agent Joe Navarro from the FBI on body language. But are there one or two indicators that you found are reliable and show up a lot, “Like, when they do this with their eyes, or their mouth, or their hands, that tends to mean this, and thus, it’s very informative”?

Alex Carter
So, Pete, the biggest tip I can give people is to get to know the person you’re negotiating with and observe what’s called their baseline. So, in other words, Pete, if your default is to kind of sit back in your chair, and then I say something, and, all of a sudden, you lean forward, I know that I’ve just had an impact on you. So, any kind of changes from the baseline are things that I notice.

The other big thing I see is people censor their emotions but it comes out in their body language. Most frequently, I see people telling me yes while they are shaking their head no.

Pete Mockaitis
We can do that for you, Alex.

Alex Carter
Right. People are like, “Yeah, that sounds great,” and you can’t see me, everyone, but I’m shaking my head vigorously back and forth. I see it a shocking number of times. And when I do, I simply say, “You know, Pete, your words are telling me yes, but your face is telling me no. So, let’s talk. What are your concerns?” And, usually, that…I treat everything, Pete, a shake of the head, people repeatedly touching a necklace or a piece of clothing, a tremor, I treat…What’s that?

Pete Mockaitis
The suprasternal notch below the neck.

Alex Carter
The suprasternal notch. The necklace is very often important. I’ve broken through negotiations just based on the necklace. All of that stuff tells you a story and I treat it like communication, and I raise it with people.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit, something you do to be awesome at your job?

Alex Carter
I practice yoga for the sanity of myself and the sanity of those people around me. When I practice yoga, it’s a chance for me to be completely present in the moment, and I find that that presence, being there every moment and nowhere else is key to being successful at helping people in negotiation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Alex Carter
Yeah. So, a lot of times people will tell me they’re nervous to hold themselves out as an expert or to ask for more because they’re concerned about if they stand up as an expert, does that leave less for other people? And I want you to know that when you ask for more, you benefit other people. When you ask for more in your job, you make sure that your manager gets your best, most fired-up version every day at work. When you ask for more at home, and ask for what you need, your partner, your kids, your loved ones get the most present and fulfilled person possible. Ignoring who you are and ignoring your needs helps no one. And everybody benefits when you ask for more.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I love that so much, and I just watched this movie, it’s been around for a while, but we got Paul Rudd and Reese Witherspoon in “How Do You Know?”

Alex Carter
I love Paul Rudd.

Pete Mockaitis
Everything he does is good. And she drops into, Tony Shalhoub plays a psychiatrist, and she’s like, “So, is there like generally anything that you generally tell people that generally works for everyone?” And he said, this is so wise from a movie, from a comedy, he said, “Figure out what you really want and learn how to ask for it.” It’s like, “Huh, that’s some real wisdom from this comedy. Right on.”

Alex Carter
It’s true. And that, in a nutshell, is what I teach. The first part of that is really figuring out what you want, not what somebody else wants for you, what you want, what’s going to make your life worthwhile, and then figuring out how to ask for that thing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And, Alex, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Alex Carter
Sure. So, I’d love for people to get in touch on my website which is AlexCarterAsks.com. You can also find me on Instagram @alexandrabcarter, on LinkedIn, and, very reluctantly, on Twitter.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Alex Carter
Yes. I want you to try to go out and get a no. I want you to strive for the no before the end of the year because, in doing so, I know you’re going to come back to me and tell me that you got more yeses than you could ever think possible.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Alex, this has been a treat. I wish you all the best in all the ways you’re asking for more.

Alex Carter
Pete, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much.

592: How to Speak with Effortless Confidence with Caroline Goyder

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Caroline Goyder shares exercises to help you feel more comfortable and confident with your voice.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The mindset shift that turns insecurity into confidence
  2. An easy way to make your voice more dynamic
  3. Quick ways to boost your confidence before a meeting

About Caroline

Caroline Goyder’s global reputation as a speaker and voice coach is built on her warm, engaging, relaxed and highly practical style, and her expertise honed by her work with actors, teachers, broadcasters and the corporate sector. She worked at the Central School of Speech and Drama as a voice coach for over 10 years before launching her own company. She is regularly sought after by the media as an expert in her field and her work has featured on television and in numerous national and international newspaper articles. Her extremely successful Ted Talk has over 7.5 million views. Caroline has written three books, her most recent Find Your Voice was released in January 2020.

Caroline was named by Red magazine as one of Britain’s top coaches.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Caroline Goyder Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Caroline, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Caroline Goyder
My pleasure, Pete. Looking forward to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m looking forward to getting into it as well. And I understand you’ve been in my shoes many times interviewing over 40 A-list actors. Any noteworthy stories that come to mind from that?

Caroline Goyder
Ooh, gosh. That book I wrote a few years back, and it was fascinating. And the thing that was so interesting was just how nervous all of them got about auditions and new gigs and new jobs. It was just a revelation that people like Helen Mirren get shaky hands when they have to make a speech, because it made me feel, “Well, if that’s okay for them, then it’s okay for me, too.” It released me to be nervous in lots of ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, it’s funny. That’s exactly how I feel as you share that, it’s like, “Huh, okay then. It’s okay. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. That’s how all of us, even the greats, are feeling.” So, that is handy. Thank you. Well, could you share then, so you’ve done a lot of work and research and hands-on experience in this space. Could you maybe tell us what’s maybe the most surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made about confidence and having it and finding it, and not having it?

Caroline Goyder
So, when I started out, I definitely thought that confidence was something kind of out there that some people had. And when I was training as an actor, I would look at people and you’d see that he had it and she had it, and I knew that I didn’t. But 20 years on, I know when I see those people that they’re just really present, they’re just really in their bodies, they’re just able to center themselves when they have to. And I know that everybody can learn that skill, and that’s been the big revelation for me, that confidence is not a birthright. It’s a set of habits. And I wish I’d known that at 23, 21, when I started work. Even at 30 I wish I’d known that.

Pete Mockaitis
Confidence, ooh, that is good, not a birthright, it’s a set of habits. Okay. And then maybe for people who think that they’re doing it, they’re fine when it comes to speaking or being confident and having gravitas or voice. Could you just really lay it out for us in terms of what’s at stake there in terms of when you’ve got those habits sort of well-developed and are rocking and rolling and cruising and firing on those cylinders versus when you’re kind of stumbling and you haven’t found your voice? Why does it matter for the average professional?

Caroline Goyder
Gosh. Well, I’ve known those two zones. I’ve known the zone of not feeling confident really well as a person, and I know that when I didn’t feel confident in myself, I wasted a lot of energy worrying what people thought about me. I would worry that I was speaking too fast. I was worried that my voice was too thin. I would worry that I didn’t have enough presence. And that takes your attention away from other people. You stop listening. And, of course, what makes people effective in their jobs is that they are present and listening and able to tune in and be empathetic to others. Pretty much in any job that you do, that’s the success factor. And when you’re worried about yourself, you don’t have bandwidth to pay attention to other people.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Ooh, there’s a lot there. you’re saying that your focus, instead of being on, “Oh, my gosh, what’s everybody thinking. How am I doing?” you should be redirecting it toward serving and being present. How does that work inside your head?

So, let’s say you have the stage. Can you get really clear in terms of, “Let’s turn away from these sorts of thoughts running in our brain, that voice, and shift toward these other kinds of better thoughts and focus areas”?

Caroline Goyder
So, that’s really interesting, and I think what I would say to that is it’s an actor’s training, and I learned a lot from actors even though this is the theater of life we’re talking about. An actor’s training would say, “Actually, the thoughts are for rehearsal, the moment when you step out on stage…” and your stage could be a meeting or it could be a presentation, “…almost let go of your thoughts and get into a flow state where you’re really tuned into your body, your breath, what you can see in the room, someone’s tone of voice, so it becomes a very sensory experience.” And I think that’s what performers are taught. There’s a moment where you prepare, and then when you get into the stage, you just get present and you pay attention. And so, it becomes…it goes beyond thinking, and it becomes about flowing into the space. It’s almost like diving into something.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, it’s not about thoughts at all but rather sort of experience. it sounds like you’re saying, ideally, there wouldn’t be much of an internal monologue, like, “Okay, now I’m about to say this. Now I should walk over here. Now I need to be really angry or powerful or pause.” But rather your attention is pointed towards, “Oh, that person seems interesting.”

Caroline Goyder
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Or, “That person is looking away. And, ooh, I’m feeling there’s excitement here,” as opposed to internal conversation.

Caroline Goyder
Yes. And, of course, there are moments where you might need to tweak it and someone might not get what you’ve just said about Q3 or your budget for next year or whatever it is. And you might have to talk to yourself to tweak it. But when things are going well, just be in it. There’s a lovely Greek word which is Kairos, and it means it’s the place in the armor where you can pierce it, and it’s a bit of a kind of battle-heavy metaphor, in a way, but it’s the idea that it’s being able to spot the moment. And whether you’re pitching a big idea at work, or trying to influence a new client, or whether you’ve got to get the boss on your side, your ability to see that moment is everything.

Pete Mockaitis
So, now I’m imagining, in the context of pitching, I was just talking to someone about how I might kind of automate the process of getting headsets to my guests. I’m glad our audio is working out. Thank you. And then he said something like, “Oh, yeah, we have a program where we send headsets. We call that our ‘Agent In A Box’ program where we do this, this, this.” And then I think I was very explicit, it’s like, “Oh, I love that. So, you’ve done this thing before in which you send individuals all the gear they need with some explanatory stuff, so that’s just handled forever, and I don’t have to think about it anymore, or keep making purchases on Amazon one at a time.”

And so, in a way, I guess you don’t need to be too observant there, because I said, “Oh, I love that.” But I guess I’m imagining, if I’m reading it like that, you’re saying we can observe and witness those sorts of moments of openness or interest or intrigue from the people we’re communicating with, and we should seize that.

Caroline Goyder
Exactly. And we’re basically nervous systems meeting each other. And the people who have the most success at work are ninjas at reading other people’s nervous systems. When they get excited about a new product that’s going to help them with their podcast, or when they hold their breath because they think they haven’t got enough budget, or when they lean in because they’re curious. Your ability to notice moment by moment what’s happening in someone else’s nervous system is what makes you good.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, there we have it. How do we do that?

Caroline Goyder
The first rule is get present to yourself because until you are present to the shifts in your own nervous system, “What’s my diaphragm doing? How am I breathing? Oh, my heart rate is going up,” you’re not going to be able to notice it in someone else. So, get to know your own instrument, get to know, become self-aware, tune into your own emotions, and then you’re going to be able to tune in to someone else.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, in a daily life kind of way, I’m just sort of doing my thing, is there a particular process you recommend that we do that to check in? Because I think it’s quite possible to go hours or days at a time and not actually really do that at all, to say, “How do I really feel about this? Or what’s really going on here?” So, how do you recommend we stop and make that happen?

Caroline Goyder
Well, I’ve been the person who couldn’t do this right. So, when I left Oxford where I studied English, and I went to drama school. And when I got to drama school, here I was, this girl who had spent a lot of time reading Shakespeare, I mean a lot, and I turn up in drama school and they go, “You’re in your head,” and I think, “What on earth are they talking about?” And what they meant is that I was trying to process everything through my brain, through the internal dialogue.

And the learning for me, which was quite a hard one, I have to say, is that in order for me to be good on stage, in order for me to have presence, I have to learn more about my body and not my brain. And I agree with you that most people at work, we’re all in Zoom jail at the moment, we’ll get back to the real office jail eventually, we sit a lot, we tense our shoulders, we lean forward into our laptops, we lose our breathing, our hips get tight, we have too much coffee, we don’t drink enough water, and then we kind of get into meetings, and we wonder why it’s not working.

And the simple thing that you can do to become more self-aware is to just notice your body. Notice that it’s not just carrying you around. Notice how you’re breathing. Notice how you’re standing. Adjust yourself. Go for a walk. Maybe do some yoga. Maybe go for a run. But just embody your whole self not just your brain. And I wish I’d learnt that in my first week at drama school rather than struggling through the five years.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, notice your body, and it sounds like we’re getting real precise, I guess, like in terms of, I could say, “My right elbow itches right now.”

Caroline Goyder
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
“And my neck is tensed.” So, I’m just sort of internally noticing and articulating these things. And is that it? It’s like, “Well, noted. Moving on.” Or what’s the next step?

Caroline Goyder
There’s a yoga teacher called John Stokes who talks about…it all gets quite easy, but he talks about sensation rises from the ground up. So, you can notice all the sensation from your feet upwards, and it meets consciousness which comes down. And then somewhere in the middle is thinking. And so, we spent a lot of time thinking, probably not very much time in consciousness and very little time in sensation. And, for me, it was the fact becoming more present to sensation. And then I’ve also learnt to meditate and do yoga stuff, and consciousness is something I’m only in the foothills of, but that’s an interesting one too.

Pete Mockaitis
And that is intriguing in terms of splitting that into three segments because those are quite distinct from each other, as I’m thinking. It’s like, okay, sensation? “Boom! There’s warmth in this cup.” Thinking is like, “Okay, what’s my expression here?” And so then, what is consciousness?

Caroline Goyder
I would probably pass you to John Stokes on that one. What is consciousness?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, man, just making small talk over there.

Caroline Goyder
I mean, we could start a Ph.D. on this question. I’ll tell you in about 10 years when I’ve done some more meditation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I mean, I suppose I have a pretty succinct definition for consciousness. But I guess, maybe, one’s experience of consciousness in this narrow context of that thing which is distinct from thinking and sensation, what is it kind of like when you’re in the consciousness mode? Because I know what it’s like when I’m in the thinking mode and when I’m in the sensation mode, but what’s it like when I’m in the consciousness mode?

Caroline Goyder
Well, I was thinking, this is one of your earlier podcasts, and it gets into the Csikszentmihalyi flow state for me. I know when I’m present to consciousness because it becomes more, the field opens up. I’m tuned into the room in a bigger way. I’m not locked into my own, “Oh, you’re in it. This is…” that I’m open to something bigger, something more connected. So, that’s my experience of consciousness, but there are people who are way further down the path than me on this one.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I think that mission accomplished in terms of clarifying that question for me there because in terms of, yeah, I know what that experience is like, and it is distinct from, “Okay, I’m thinking about some things now,” and it is distinct from, “Ooh, there’s a tickle in my throat.” It’s sort of like you are conscious of what is going on and you’re flowing in it but it’s kind of like…boy, gosh, I’m almost thinking about sort of like levels of abstraction there. Like they say, oh, man, I’m thinking about my professor.

So, they say, hey, there’s data, there’s information, and there’s knowledge, or something like that in terms of we could say that, “Data would suggest like sales are $5 million and costs are $4 million.” Information would be, “Oh, we have a gross profit margin percentage of 20% with one million profit over five million sales.” And then knowledge would be like, “Oh, and that’s good based on my experience and my industry and comparables, yadda, yadda, yadda.”

And so, these are sort of three different layers of, I guess, wisdom maybe, you might say, just as these are three different layers of experience. And consciousness is higher in a way in that it’s abstracting and encapsulating broad stuff underneath them. Caroline, I’m just thinking through this real time. Comments or thoughts.

Caroline Goyder
I refer you to John Stokes and his new book. It’s fascinating because it made me think how much I had to learn sensation in order to dissolve my thinking and in order to access a bigger field to be in the room, not just locked away in my head. And, for me, coming through the body through sensation was the way to dissolve the thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, you know, it’s funny because, in a way, what we’re talking about is a smidge abstract and, yet, I think, experientially, I maybe feel, as opposed to just thinking, exactly what you’re saying there in that…

Caroline Goyder
And there’s a really simple way, there’s a really specific, to make it not abstract, actors will say when they get on stage, “Feel your feet on the floor. Feel the air on your face. Feel the clothes on your skin. See something across the space that you haven’t noticed before.” So, although it is quite abstract in some ways, in other ways it’s just incredibly practical.

Pete Mockaitis
And in doing those things, you are exiting your thinking mode. And, as a result of having exited it, you may well be on your way to the consciousness flow mode.

Caroline Goyder
Exactly. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. Well, I mean, that’s huge right there, is that we’re going to take some moments throughout the day and just before big performance times to check in and sort of get the sensation going. What else do you recommend we do in terms of getting those confidence habits working for us?

Caroline Goyder
The thing I’m noticing a lot at the moment with people in busy work lives is that they’re saying to me, “My voice is tired at the end of the day. I feel really flat. I feel really compressed.” And so much of our lives right now, whether we’re working at home or back in the office, that takes us into a bit of a hunch, and it closes our breathing down, and it compresses us. And then when we try and show up in a meeting, we’re all small and closed.

And so, one of the things that people can really do to help them at work is to open up their breath and open up their voices. And I’m saying to people a lot at the moment, “Just sing. Put some music on in the morning and sing for five minutes and just enjoy it, and it doesn’t have to be tuneful, and you will show up in your meetings with a different kind of resonant frequency because your voice isn’t stuck in your throat. It’s moving, it’s fluid, it has tone, it has resonance. And people will be attracted to that because it makes them feel good.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, in a world in which we’re kind of hunched over and we don’t have ergonomically an optimal setup and we’re just sort of moving from thing to thing to thing, and maybe even trying to watch our volumes, you’re saying we can sort of shift a gear by doing some singing when we’re alone, and that’s just going to kind of follow us into having resonance when we’re with people.

Caroline Goyder
The thing about voices, voice is the expression of your aliveness because voice is breath. It’s exhaled air. And when we get really tensed and compressed, we express a real fight or flight adrenal reaction to people in our voices and our breathing. And singing, humming, chanting, long outbreaths, all of those things take us into good vagal tone. And in good vagal tone, where the vagus nerve is firing on all cylinders, we show up, we smile when others smile, we laugh when others laugh. Our voices reflect and mirror each other.

And the experience of speaking, when we’ve warmed up just by singing, it’s completely different for people. They feel at ease with you. And I think there’s nothing more important in a tensed stressed-out world than making people feel at ease with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s dig into some of these terms which I’m somewhat familiar in terms of resonance and vagal nerve. Are these sorts of anatomical experiences that we can sort of check in for ourselves? Like, “Oh, I can feel my vagal nerve rocking and rolling,” or, “Ooh, I can feel resonance,” or, “Ooh, I’m feeling an absence of resonance.” How do we kind of…? You mentioned those are some exercises to activate it. How can we sort of check in and say, “Yup, that’s going,” or, “Ooh, that’s not going”?

Caroline Goyder
Well, the way that people often test this is when they hear themselves on audio, and people will often say, “Oh, I really hate my voice.” And what that tells me is that someone hears their own voice through their ears. They really don’t have an accurate sense of it. But when you’re tuned into your resonance, you’re tuned into the buzz of your voice.

People who are tuned into how their voices feel, back to the sensation thing, are much more in control. Now, how do you do that? You just put a hand on your chest and just hum. Just do me a little, “Hmmm…” then you can feel the bones kind of buzzing in your body. And you can do a low note, you could go, “Hmmm…” maybe put a hand on your tummy, “Hmmm…” And you might do a higher note, “Hmmm…” that’s going to be higher up in your head, in your nose.

And so, you can just play. You can even do a pitch play. And the sound, the high notes resonate in your head, the low notes resonate in your gut, the middle notes resonate in your chest. We know this from altos and tenors and basses. We know that some people have chest voice. And if you start to tune into the sensations of where your voice buzzes in your body, A, you’re much more in your body, less in your head, and, B, you’re going to have more control. And when you hear your voice on a recording, it’s not going to be such a shock because you can feel it. So, that’s resonance.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, resonance, we want it, and so a humming can activate it, and so we might even just check in as we’re talking. And maybe could you give us a demo? I mean, in terms of audio style, what’s a voice sounding like with resonance and without resonance?

Caroline Goyder
So, I can tell you how I used to sound.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Caroline Goyder
If I stick my head forward, and if I breathe into my upper chest, and if I tense my jaw, and if I talk to you and it all becomes a bit flat, and I can really feel it. I can feel it in my teeth, and I can feel it in my pharynx and in my throat. And it’s an experience of being a talking head. Okay? So, I spent a long time doing a version of that.

And I’m no Brian Blessed. I don’t know if you know the actor. He’s got the most incredible bass voice. I’m no Barry White, but when I speak now, what’s different is that I can feel my voice kind of buzzing in my chest and my shoulders. It feels more open in my throat. I can feel it a bit in the back of my head. And I know if I have to do a play, which I wouldn’t anymore, I would spend half an hour warming it up so that my fingers buzzed with sound when I spoke. So, it’s just the physics of it. It’s the bone conduction. It’s feeling the effect of sound buzzing through your bones, really, that’s what resonance is.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s so interesting is, and we’ll see what the listeners feel in terms of their own speaker setup after we do the audio processing, etc. I guess my experience though of listening to both of those voices is that when you were non-resonant, I felt a little bit, I guess, I don’t know, was it nervous, uncomfortable. It wasn’t a big deal but there was a slight unpleasantness that I’m picking up from the emotional atmosphere when you were doing that. Is that normal? Tell me about this.

Caroline Goyder
I think it is because, as humans, we’re wired for trust, aren’t we? We are constantly filtering, “Can I trust this person? Will they eat me? Will they rob me? Will they attack me? Am I safe with them?” So, if we talk about the vagus nerve now, because this is when we get onto the polyvagal theory, there’s a scientist called Stephen Porges who talks about something called polyvagal theory. And it sounds really complicated but it’s actually really simple.

What he says is when we’re tensed and nervous, it’s like we’re closed behind a wrapper. And that voice that I used to live in is the voice of someone who’s tensed and hiding behind a wrapper, and we feel uncertain about that because we don’t know if we can trust them. And he said when we have what’s called good vagal tone, where we’re in the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest happy part of the system, then we take the wrapper off, and that’s when our voices have music, that’s when we smile, that’s when things are easy, and that’s when someone gets a sense of “Can I trust you?” And I think, as humans, we’re wired to notice those things, and we don’t know maybe why we get worried by the first voice, but we do. I think it’s universal.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool in so many ways. One, that’s just sort of the experience we had right here points to a body of research. Well, now, I’m curious about all of the studies and experiments and numbers that may exist in terms of describing this phenomenon.

So, with the research associated with good vagal tone and the impact that makes, have there been any noteworthy sort of studies or experiments that put these results on full display?

Caroline Goyder
I would point listeners to Stephen Porges’ website and his book The Polyvagal Theory because there’s an enormous and emerging body of research that backs up his theory, and it’s all on his site. So, just have a look at it, just put Stephen Porges into Google and have a look. They’re constantly reporting these studies. And it’s being picked up in psychology and psychiatry and trauma therapy. It’s becoming quite a big body of work with lots of attached research.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s so fascinating, I’m sure there can be many variables, but it sounds like we’ve uncovered one potential hidden variable for all kinds of things, like, “Why does everybody like that person and they don’t like the other person? Why does everyone seem to respond and nod their heads when one person says something at a meeting, and when someone else says the same thing, it doesn’t seem to be connecting and resonating?” This could be one of those hidden mystery variables that can shed some light on it.

Now, you mentioned the phrase good vagal tone. Is that the same thing as having resonance or is there a distinction? And how do we get it?

Caroline Goyder
So, I only ever really knew about resonance and the importance of the diaphragm and the importance of breathing, and it was when I discovered polyvagal theory and how much Stephen Porges talks about voice that I joined the dots on it. And, in a sense, it really all comes back to what our bodies do when they’re safe. And when our bodies are safe, our breathing opens up, our diaphragm moves freely, our shoulders relax, our jaw untenses, our tongues relax, our sole and muscle in the hips relax, and we show up as easy and fluid and present. That’s what good voice is, that’s what actors are taught to do on stage, and it just so happens that Stephen Porges’ polyvagal theory backs up why it works for voices because when we’re safe, our voices have music.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, so many implications there. I’m reminded of we had a previous guest, Alex Banayan, who interviewed a lot of people including Larry King. And so, one thing that Larry King told him about interviewing, which is really connecting here, is that he said, “The reason that I get good results with my interviewees is that I am very comfortable in my seat, and the person I’m interviewing then kind of picks up on that, and then they are comfortable in their seat.” So, in a way, it matters less about what style and specific approach, and tactics, and questions you choose so much as you get in that groove of, “Hey, I’m really comfortable and safe and having fun and rolling with this,” and then the person that you’re interacting with feels that too, and then you naturally just have a pretty cool, fun, insightful conversation flowing from that.

Caroline Goyder
Exactly. It’s massive, isn’t it? And what it takes is the awareness to take yourself into safety. When he’s got people shouting in his ear and people telling him they’re running out of time and some of the lights have gone, he’s got all sorts of reasons to feel stressed and unsafe, and the professional is able to switch that on. That’s the success factor.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. Okay. Well, boy, Caroline, this is so much good stuff. So, we’ve got some key things to do in terms of finding that safety, returning into sensation, doing some humming or some singing, connecting to that resonance. Are there some things that you recommend we stop doing, things that we should cut out of our speaking, of our lives before we get into the speaking that make a world of difference in terms of this confidence?

Caroline Goyder
I’m thinking of what I’ve cut out. What have I cut out? I’ve really cut out the things that make me too speedy because it’s hard to project a sense of safety when you’ve had three cups of coffee, when you’re slightly late for a meeting, when you’re rushing, when you’re not making time. And so, the thing that I now know is that if I want to show up centered and able to make people feel safe and able to connect, I need to just carve out, ideally, half an hour, 15 minutes is good, five will do it, where I turn off my phone, where I switch off the Googling and switch off the thinking about other things, and I just come back to my feet are on the floor, my bum is on the chair, the air is on my face. What does this person want from me today? How can I help?

And if I take myself through that, that is a protocol, get present, quieten down, “How can I help?” I have good meetings. If I don’t make time for that, I don’t have good meetings.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that. It’s funny as I’m reminded of a time. I had a meeting with somebody who, you know, I’d done a lot of work for him but almost never interacted with him personally, so it was kind of a big deal, if you will, that I was having this meeting. It was a phone call, because we were going to pursue maybe some new projects, initiatives, which would have revenue potential for both of us. So, it was exciting because the stakes were up there.

And I remember when, at the beginning of the meeting, we were talking, and he said something like, “Okay, so, let’s see, what are we talking about here? Ah, yes, we’re discussing dah, dah, dah.” And what was intriguing was, in a way, I somehow felt comforted by that as opposed to pissed off, like, “Dude, you’re totally unprepared? Are you ready to like rock and roll and jump in and do this? Time is ticking. We got a short…” In a way, I could have had that kind of a reaction but, instead, what was clear to me is that he was totally comfortable just being himself and talking his mind and not sort of withholding anything from me, and I actually felt more comfortable and safe and positive about him in the meeting than if he would’ve gone hard charging like, “Okay, there are six key points we need to cover, and this, this, this.”

Caroline Goyder
Yes. It’s the meta state that matters more, isn’t it? It was his ease that was more important than his perfect deck of slides.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Caroline Goyder
And we forget that. When we get nervous, and we’ve all done it, we think, “I have to prepare. I have to get all of my collateral looking perfect,” and to some people, that does matter, but for most people, it’s back to the meta state of “Do you make them feel comfortable? Can they trust you? Do they get a sense that you trust yourself?” Because confidence means to trust yourself, faith in yourself. And so, this is always the thing that we forget about but it’s the thing that matters most.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, Caroline, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear quickly about a few of your favorite things?

Caroline Goyder
The thing I’m saying to people all the time is stand up. If you are doing a presentation currently in video conference land, which is going to be here for a few years, if you’re nervous, stand up. Stand up.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Perfect. All right. Stand up. I’m at a desk that I’m currently sitting so that’s why I’m a little bit ashamed. You can see me sitting.

Caroline Goyder
But it’ll be more for the big pitch or the big presentation or talking to the executive committee. The thing is that this is your sweet spot, you’re at ease doing this. If you suddenly have to go and pitch to a big film company or something, then I would say, “Stand up,” because you will feel more confident.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think I tend to stand when it’s just sort of like my body is in a standing mood, like having that option, or it’s like, “Oh, I’m getting a little sleepy. I should not get comfy. I should stand up and have a little bounce.” So, yeah, today, right now, I’m in sitting mode. Maybe next interview standing. But, certainly, when sort of high-stakes situations and you want to project those good things, great tip to do the standing.

So, now, can you share with a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Caroline Goyder
I love the Fritz Perls quote “Fear is excitement without the breath.” I think that sums up pretty much what I’ve learnt over the last 20 years, that you can flip fear into excitement if you become self-aware of breath and body.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Caroline Goyder
I mean, a voice coach in the UK has to mention Cisely Berry because she is, was, she died last year, the goddess of voice work, so any of Cisely Berry’s books I recommend. She’s brilliant.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Caroline Goyder
I’m talking about her in the present tense because she hasn’t really gone in my mind.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Caroline Goyder
For a long time, neuro-linguistic programming was really, really fundamentally useful, and in the last few years, Alexander Technique has replaced it. I love Alexander Technique.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Caroline Goyder
The “How can I help?” principle as a way to walk into a meeting and switch off your nerves and turn them into excitement is powerful. Not worrying, “How do I look? Is this any good? What do they think about me?” but “How can I help these people get what they need?” That’s a game changer. And I was taught it by the actor Bill Nighy.

Pete Mockaitis
The Science Guy?

Caroline Goyder
He’s the guy in Love Actually with the glasses.

Pete Mockaitis
Bill Nye, The Science Guy?

Caroline Goyder
No, no, there’s two Bill Nighys. Yes, I wish it was that Bill Nye, but it’s not. Bill Nighy is a British actor who’s in Love Actually and all sorts of…he’s in Pirates of the Caribbean. Google him, but it’s N-I-G-H-Y.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Okay.

Caroline Goyder
And he said, “When I get nervous, and I go into an audition or I go into a film set on the first day, I can either be paranoid or I can think ‘How can I help? How can I help these people do the job?’” It’s a game changer. Just try it when you get nervous. It flips everything.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Caroline Goyder
My website CarolineGoyder.com.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Caroline Goyder
You may never have thought about your voice at work apart from maybe sometimes when it shakes or it squeaks or it doesn’t sound like you want it to, but my invitation to you would be to start to notice your voice, and to start to notice when you are at your best, and to start to be curious about how you can bring that ease and that power to moments where you feel nervous. Because I promise you, that if you find that ease and power in moments where you feel nervous, you will skyrocket your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Caroline, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you much luck and inspiration in all of your adventures.

Caroline Goyder
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been a great chat. It’s made me think as well, which is always good.

590: Forming Strong Connections through Authority, Warmth, and Energy with Steve Herz

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Steve Hertz discusses why we need to change our relationship with feedback and how to develop the three skills that advance our careers.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you shouldn’t take yes for an answer
  2. The small things that make us more authoritative
  3. How to keep conversations energizing and engaging

 

About Steve

Steve Herz is President of The Montag Group, a sports and entertainment talent and marketing consultancy. He is also a career advisor to CEOs, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and young professionals. Prior to joining TMG, Steve was the President and Founding Partner of IF Management, an industry leader whose broadcasting division became one of the largest in the space, representing over 200 television and radio personalities.

Herz received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Michigan and his J.D. from Vanderbilt University Law School. Steve is involved with several charities, including serving on the local leadership council at Birthright Israel. Steve is married with two children and lives on the Upper West Side of New York City.

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

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Steve Herz Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Steve, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Steve Herz
Thank you for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And, for starters, when I hear about folks being agents for sports and media stars, I can’t help but think of Jerry Maguire and dramatic experiences of negotiation and high-stakes deal-making. Can you tell us an exciting story from behind the scenes?

Steve Herz
Well, yeah, there’s quite a few. I would say that, for me, personally, I don’t know, I’ve actually enjoyed seeing a client get a job from a small market and move into a big market. That’s been exciting for me. So, just thinking back early in my career, there’s a guy named Greg Amsinger who’s now the main talent on the MLB Network, and he moved to New York from Terra Haute, Indiana. And when he got here, he didn’t have a place to live, and he was out on the street, and there was a whole controversy of whether or not we had gotten him temporary housing. And the network, CSTV said, “No, you didn’t.”

And I was on a business trip in Seattle so I said to someone in my office, “Send him to my apartment with his wife and newborn.” And that’s where he stayed for an entire week. And so, the first time I ever met Greg Amsinger was when I knocked on my own door, coming off from red-eye from Seattle, and he opened the door with his wife Erica, this was about 18 years ago, and there he was in my apartment.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. And that’s what someone wants from an agent, they’re really in your corner and do whatever it takes. So, very cool. Well, you’ve got a fresh book here called Don’t Take Yes for an Answer. Intriguing title. What’s the story here?

Steve Herz
So, the story is this, that I have been an agent, as you know, for almost 30 years now, and I think I’ve had almost a test tube that I was able to look at over all this time to notice and pay careful attention to what types of people moved ahead in the world and what types of people didn’t. And, over time, I found that there were two common links that determine the very successful from the people that often just plateaued.

And those two qualities were, one, they really wanted to get better at their craft, whatever that might be. They were always looking to improve. And they were looking for feedback all the time, and it wasn’t just lip service. And the second part of it is that they actually did improve, and they really improved the way they came across on television whether it was their authority in terms of their voice, whether it was their energy of how they called the game or did a particular story, and how compelling they became, and how the audience was able to relate to them.

And so, the book really is about this thought that I had is that if a broadcaster could take these skills and hone for, what I would call, public speaking, why can’t anybody, a dentist, a doctor, a lawyer, hone their own communication skills and move ahead in the same way? And that’s how the book came to be.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, what is it precisely that we’re not taking yes for an answer about?

Steve Herz
So, basically, kind of everything. You think about maybe your job is different, but most of us will go through a week, a month, a year, and we will hear nothing from our colleagues or from our bosses or clients, even clients that might be dissatisfied with you, in my particular business, and you think everything is going great. And, often, somebody will terminate their relationship with you, or quit, or fire you, and many of us don’t know what hit us.

And so, I believe that a lot of us have gotten caught up in this, what I call the echo chamber of yes. And part of that is because we’ve had great inflation, we’ve had this participation trophy, and now a lot of HR departments in American businesses, they don’t want to fire people. They’d rather use euphemisms like downsizing, or reorgs, or riffs. And that person on the other end of it, gets caught up in what I call the vortex of mediocrity and they don’t know. And so, that’s a long answer to your question, but everybody and everything can hear yes if you don’t look out for it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, you know, that reminds me as I’ve got a friend who’s an executive of a shall we say mature business line.
And so a part of that is that, boy, every few months there’s another round of people that they lay off. And so, and he tries to really be kind and diplomatic and proactive and even breaks the rules a little bit, tells them before he’s supposed to tell them. He’s like, “Hey, just so you know, your position is not going to exist in a few months, so you probably want to start looking around and see if you can land somewhere else within the organization.”
And so, he says that when he has these conversations with people, what he’s always scared of them asking him is, “Well, why are you firing me and not the other guy?” but they never do. And I think that really speaks to kind of what you’ve called the echo chamber of yes, is that we can get kind of comfortable and maybe don’t want to ask that hard question when we probably should.

Steve Herz
Right. And I would also say that by the time that person has asked that question, even though, like you said, they don’t normally ask it, it’s too late. You’ve already been downsized or laid off or reorg-ed, and it’s too late. So, that’s why I’m hoping that if people pick up my book and read it and reorient themselves towards a different mindset, that they don’t take yes for an answer on a daily basis, or at least a weekly basis, or a monthly basis, and then they’ll really start seeking out that constructive feedback that is the difference between, often, not every time, but often, the person who got laid off and the one that didn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so maybe let’s think about this chronologically. First, how do we psychologically, mentally brace ourselves so that we can handle it, we can handle hearing the tough stuff? Any reframes or perspectives you would share?

Steve Herz
Yeah, I would. And the easiest one, I think, to understand is the idea of going to the doctor. Particularly, my family, I have a history of colon cancer in my family, so I’m only 54 but I’ve had four or five colonoscopies already, and I started getting them in my late 30s, and I’ve had a few tiny little scares—luckily nothing, but those little tiny things could grow into big things if you don’t take care of them.

And the thing is that you would never, in a million years, if you’re a reasonably sane person who knows you have a history of whatever, in this case, this colon cancer, you would never not get a colonoscopy. You wouldn’t say, “Oh, well, maybe I won’t get it,” and at the last minute, someone tells you, you have stage four colon cancer, God forbid. Nobody would take that chance. And that’s, I think, literally, what happens to some people in their career. They never stop and ask, “How am I doing? How does my ‘colon’ look or my career look? How does my performance look?” And ask that question and get that X-ray from their boss or from their friends or colleagues.

And if you reframe it in a way to understand that so much of what bad could happen to you and your career is very preventative. It’s completely preventative in so many cases, that if you reframe it that way, you’ll see not only will that be a benefit but, also, you’re not going to get better unless you’re this one in a million person who just gets better on your way. You’re not going to get better at your job or in anything if you’re not targeting and really trying to understand what your weaknesses are and how you can minimize them or improve upon them.

And you think about an athlete or a musician, how is anybody going to get better if they don’t practice the things they need to practice? But if we’re not being told what to practice, and we’re not being able to identify them, there’s no way. So, hopefully, that’s a really positive reframing for people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that really is good in terms of those proactive checks-in for feedback are a means of preventative maintenance. Like, for the doctor, we go to the dentist, we get our car’s oil changed, and when we find out, “Oh, there’s a cavity,” or there’s a problem with the vehicle, well, in a way, it’s a bummer, like, “Ahh, I got to spend some time with the dentist,” or some money with the mechanic. But it’s like, “Oh, I’m glad I caught it early as opposed to late.”

I guess one distinction I’d put there is that there’s less of an emotional charge there in terms of if, Steve, you told me, “Pete, you’re completely unprofessional. Yeah, I don’t know if you and your show were legit,” or kind of whatever. Whatever the tough feedback might be, I think it’s natural that we would sort of take that much more personally or emotionally than we would if we got the news that our spark plugs need to be replaced or there’s a cavity. How do you think about the emotional dimensions here?

Steve Herz
Well, first of all, I agree with you. I wouldn’t really want to hear from anybody that, “You’re unprofessional.” I’d want to know why I was unprofessional. And one of the things I talk about is the book is called Don’t Take Yes for an Answer. It’s not Don’t Give Yes for an Answer. So, I’m trying to also change the mindset of, “It’s not my place to tell Pete, after the show, what he needs to do better. He’s not asked me. He’s doing really well. He’s got a great show. Why is he interested in my opinion for?”

If you came to decide on your own that I had a particular value to you, and you thought you wanted to improve, and you first reached out to me, and said, “Steve, thank you for coming on my show. What do you think I could do better?” then you’ve opened up the door to a conversation. But it’s not my place to be your coach so I think it’s, first and foremost, the individual’s job to seek out the feedback. And, also, just like it’s your job to go to the doctor or get your car inspected, but, also, find the right people to do it.

You want to find people who you trust and, also, who actually care about you, and you feel have an interest in your growth, because a lot of people will just say, “Oh, Pete, your show stinks,” or, “Pete, you’re unprofessional.” That’s not valuable. That’s not helpful. And a lot of people might just honestly be on the ego trip because they get to tell a big podcast host how he’s not that great and why they can take him down a peg. But that’s not at all valuable and it’s not actionable.

So, in my book, the second half of my book, it’s all about what are the action steps you can take. And what I really think is that a lot of us, in terms of the blind spots of what we could be improving upon, it’s the impression that we’re making on people on an everyday basis, and it falls into one of these three categories. Do you have the right authority? Do you have the right warmth? Are you connecting with people and are you energizing somebody? And that’s where it really comes down to.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, this reminds me, when you talked about getting the right people, we had a guest on the show, Steve Ritter, who mentioned that there’s some research that suggest a startlingly large proportion of the variance of when an intervention is successful, whether when it’s like with a coach or a trainer or a consultant or a therapist or a counselor, it just boils down to sort of the chemistry between those two people, and in terms of like, “Do I think Steve is a good guy who cares about me and knows some stuff? Or do I think he’s just a jerk and I’m just not really able to receive what you have to offer even if it’s great stuff?”

So, I found that intriguing. I think that really resonates in terms of you’ve got to find those right people. Could you share, is there any intriguing research or studies that you’ve come across when it comes to this zone of feedback and not getting enough of it? What have you discovered there as you’re putting this together?

Steve Herz
Well, the most interesting study that I came across was probably…well, there’s really two but they’re very related so I’ll share them both with you. One is that there was a study done in 1918 by the Carnegie Foundation as a seminal study that shows that the correlation and the causal relationship between how successful you are professionally and how good you are at the technical part of your job, even amongst like an engineer, is only 15%. So, I interpret that data to be you have to be good at your job but there’s going to be a lot of other people that are also good at the technical part, and that’s not going to be the differentiator between how you go from just getting a seat at the table, to getting to higher reaches of your company, or having influence and having clients, or a popular show like you do.

So, what is that 85%? That’s one very important study. And the way I see it is that that 85% is the difference between the hard skills and the soft skills. But it kind of goes back to your original question earlier, your kind of funny remark about, “Well, I think you’re unprofessional,” whatever. This whole idea of soft skills is so misunderstood by people, and there are not a lot of languages around it, there’s not a lot of metrics around it. And you talk about that guy Steve Ritter who says, “Well, if I don’t like you or connect with you, I’m not going to really take feedback from you.” The reason why is because there’s something granular about how you’re coming across other people. And that can be broken down into smaller parts.

And so, the second study, kind of very consistent with the first one, is that Google has a thing called Project Oxygen by which they hire software engineers, and they hire them based on eight criteria. One of them being how good you are as a software engineer. But of those eight criteria, they only count that eighth among eight. Everything else is a soft skill, even at Google.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m now intrigued. When you said Google project, I thought you were saying Aristotle. But here you went and surprised me. What are those eight components?

Steve Herz
Well, it’s a question of, “Can you lead a team? Can you be a follower? Can you be a fellow? Can you collaborate? Can you take ideas from other people? Are you timely in getting your projects done? Do you take feedback?” All the things that I think go into, ironically, you’re awesome at your job, my book is about awe. So, it’s all about what that goes into, “Do you have that A-W-E?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, let’s dig right into it. So, authority, warmth, energy. How do we develop those things? Or maybe what are some common ways that we’re just squandering or failing to develop authority, warmth, and energy? Because I think most of us would say, “Oh, yeah, I’m fairly authoritative. I know my stuff. Yeah, I’m a pretty warm nice guy. Yeah, I’m energetic enough.” What are some of the ways that people are really differentiated in terms of like fine with their authority, warmth, and energy, and outstanding? How do we become outstanding?

Steve Herz
Okay. So, I think there’s two really small but very significant things that people do to differentiate themselves. One is the person who finishes his or her sentences strongly and believes in what they’re saying, as opposed to speaking in singsong way or that kind of glottal fry and trailing off in your words, and belying to yourself and to your audience that you’re really not convinced in what you’re saying in the first place, right? So, that’s one thing.

And the second thing is people who believe in their message have a certain natural inflection to their voice. And the reason why they have that inflection is because their cadence becomes almost lyrical in nature because they’re believing and there’s like a real natural variance to their voice in terms of their pitch, their pace, their volume, they’re moving around, their energy, you know it when you see it. And they’re also pausing very well for effect, and that’s where the inflection comes in. And what they’re not doing. The most important thing they’re not doing, versus the other group is, they’re not using any filler words. People who use filler words – uhm, like, you know, so, – they really compromise their authority.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s pretty clear there. And could you give us an example of the intonation picture of good authority versus not-so-great authority?

Steve Herz
Like I said, it’s someone who says, “Pete, I’m going to come on your show and I am going to tell you the most important thing your audiences ever heard. It’s going to change their life. It’s going to be actionable. It’s going to be memorable. It’s an acronym. And after they listen to it, there’s going to be infinite change by your audience.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Steve Herz
And the next person is going to say, “Pete, you know, I would really like, you know, to have you on…I’d like to really come on your show. I’ve worked, you know, really hard on this idea. And, you know, I think it has a lot of value. Uhm, I’m hoping, like, you’d feel the same way. And if they listen, you know, I think… I do think they’ll get something out of it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, the pauses are the most noticeable in terms of that illustration. But then, yes, also the…I guess it’s…what’s the perfect adjective here? It’s a little timid, like you’re just…it’s almost like you’re a little bit scared. Like, if I were to say, “Steve, I think you’re completely wrong,” you’d be like, “Okay, I’m sorry.” And I guess that’s the impression that it delivers there.

Well, that’s the authority part because I think, in a way, you could be super authoritative but not warm, and that would be unappealing. So, that’s the authority piece. Let’s hear the warmth piece in terms of what do professionals need to do and not do to have that warmth come across.

Steve Herz
Well, first of all, any communication, as you well know, it’s irrelevant except for how the listener is hearing you, right? And if the listener hears it in a certain way, and that’s different from the way that you mean it, then the only thing that matters is how they hear it. So, from the perspective of warmth, you want to tailor your message in a way that you make the other person feel known that this is valuable and important to them either by speaking from their perspective or, like I tried to do earlier, “Pete, I want to come on your show, I want to tell you this because it’s going to be actionable and it’s going to change your audience’s life.” Everything is about them, the listener, what you’re getting out of it, not about me, right? So, hopefully, that connotes a level of warmth.

And then we can also connote warmth in many different subtle ways. One thing that connotes warmth is when you’re talking to me, part of life is listening and also making you feel attentive, I’m going to make eye contact with you, I’m going to answer your question in a way that demonstrates that I listen to what you had to say, that I cared enough to hear what you wanted to tell me, and I’m going to follow up with something that’s consistent, not a non sequitur, for example.

And, also, I’m going to smile at you when appropriate. I’m going to have open-body language. And, as much as possible, I’m going to try to turn the conversation in a way so that it’s going to be about you. And all that contributes to warmth among many other things. And then, also, as you pointed out earlier, part of it is in your vocal tone. If you’re coming out strong like a bulldog with every aspect of your communication, you’re going to blow people away and not connect with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Let’s hear about energy now.

Steve Herz
So, that’s a tricky one. That’s probably the trickiest one of all. I’d say energy is really, again, just from the perspective of combining it with warmth, is the only thing that matters about your energy is, “How am I making you feel?” And so, for example, I can be a very high-energy guy, and it just might be, Pete, if I got to know you really well, I might learn that you don’t really respond well to high energy. And every time I get too high energy, it actually deflates you. So, it would be incumbent upon me to know that when I’m talking to Pete, I got to really modulate that energy.

And then I might have another colleague who really responds very well to high energy, and I can modulate my energy a little bit differently. Also, by listening to you, and by really keying myself into what you have you to say, and by being very attentive to you, that’s going to energize you as well because you know I care about you.

Pete Mockaitis
And it seems in terms of like that matching and connecting in terms of high energy or low energy, I almost sort of imagine there could be even more nuances and flavors in terms of the high energy or the low energy. Like, you could be high energy in the sense that you’re talking really fast and you’re fired up and whoa. Or, you could be high energy at a lower pace just like I’ve seen some people who, it’s clear they’re really enthusiastic about what they’re saying just because of like the way they’re moving eyebrows and smiling. Even if they’re not talking a mile a minute, it’s like, “Oh, okay. This guy is pretty fired up about this. Okay.”

And so, that’s intriguing that within the high and low is one way to think about sort of like the matching and how you’re being received. Are there any other kind of nuances or hues or flavors that you’d put on the energy for us to consider?

Steve Herz
I think it’s really just about trying to develop a little bit more self-awareness about yourself, and really keying into how is the person you’re talking to or the people you’re talking to, how are they responding to you. And trying to make those adjustments in the moment, and eventually getting to a point where you have such good habits about the way you communicate, and you’re reading someone’s face or their eye contact or their lack of eye contact, or what have you, or their lack of nodding, lack of responsiveness, that you can make those adjustments in the moment. One of the things I say is it’s not just important to read the room, it’s also important to read how the room is reading you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And are there any sort of telltale indicators you recommend that we be on the lookout for in terms of, “Ooh, this is a thumbs up or a thumbs down indicator based on what I’m seeing with some body language or facial expressions or tone”?

Steve Herz
One of the best indicators is a lack of responsiveness. So, if you’re talking to someone, and I could see you right now, this is a great example of it, is that you’re just blinking barely, and you’re not nodding at all, so if this was a real conversation in person, I’ll just stop.

Pete Mockaitis
Sorry.

Steve Herz
No, no, no. It’s a great example actually. It’s a great example because if I’m not getting a response from you, then I know that it can quickly go from a dialogue to a monologue, and that is something that would often deflate people. Nobody wants to be in a monologue especially in a long conversation. Not for long.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. And I guess, in that moment as I was blinking, I was just waiting for the goods in terms of it’s like, “One of the things…” I think that’s what you said, “One of the things that you should be on the lookout for…” I was like, “Okay, I’m listening. What is the thing?”

Steve Herz
You’re one of the things I was on the lookout for though.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so just non-responsiveness. And so then, if you’re just blinking, that’s kind of nothing. Part of it is, and I guess this is also a context associated, if people crossed their arms, maybe they’re uncomfortable and maybe they’re cold. In some ways, like I’m constrained to not move more than an inch away from this microphone which limits me a bit. But, okay, so non-responsiveness is one thing to be on the lookout for, like they’re just sort of doing nothing but blinking. What are some other thumbs down or thumbs up indicators?

Steve Herz
I think you just put your head on a really good one. Body language is really important, not just the arms folded, but if you’re talking to someone and you noticed that your hips or your shoulders are parallel to theirs, and they start moving their shoulders or their hips away from you, that’s an indication that you’re not someone that is particularly interesting to them and/or energizing them. And I think those are kind of the telltale signs. And, in addition to when I talk about non-responsiveness, I mean non-responsiveness from facial-nodding perspective, but also from a conversational point of view. If they’re not responding, and saying, “Hey, you know what, I agree with that,” or, “I don’t agree with that,” and there’s not really a dialogue, that’s all the signs you would need, hopefully, to prevent yourself from overstaying your welcome or not soliciting or listening someone to have a dialogue with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, those are the three things we’re going for with that authority, that warmth, that energy, and we talked at the beginning about how it’s very important to ensure that you’re getting that feedback and you’re asking for it. And so, now that we know sort of what we’re shooting for, how would you recommend we specifically ask for what we need in the feedback department?

Steve Herz
Well, I think, as I said earlier, I think, first and foremost, try to find people that will give you what I call tough love. And when I say tough love, I mean love not just the tough. You want to find people that are really invested in you and your future and your growth. And even if they’re going to be tough on you, you know it’s coming from a place of goodness and really operating in your best interest. And then I think it’s just a question of trying to find someone that can analyze you in a way that is really accurate so it shouldn’t be hard to find objective qualities about yourself.

For example, in the book, we talk about, I talked about earlier, these filler words. That’s not something that’s very subjective. Either you’re using a lot of filler words or you’re not. So, now, in this time of the pandemic and we’re all home with Zoom and everything is being recorded a lot more than it used to be, you can record yourself and try to be on the lookout for some of these things. And you can look out for, “Are you someone that is responding well to another person? Are you showing that kind of warmth? Are you smiling? Are you energetic in your communication?” And once you can pinpoint those things, then I think you have the basis of the beginnings of some helpful growth.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And those ideas associated with recording yourself or maybe using an app like Speako…!! which will automatically transcribe and record those is huge. And I think it’s so fun to be able to – I’d work out on this – being able to quantify the results in terms of, “Oh, hey, I had these many filler words per minute last week, and now it’s lower this week.” So, that’s exciting.

Steve Herz
Exactly. No, no, I was going to say you’re exactly right. And the other thing I offer people, and I think this is a really good trick or hack, if you will, in the book is that instead of trying to develop all this self-awareness once you’ve figured out, okay, let’s say you use too many filler words, hypothetically, of course. Let’s say that’s the case. I don’t want you to go trying to automatically stop using filler words. What I want you to do is try to create an environment in your life where you become very sensitive and aware of filler words. Because, often, we’re not really aware of how we’re using filler words but we can become very aware of other people using them.

So, I talk about this thing called hyper external awareness. So, whether it’s bad body language, or filler words, or not finishing your sentences, or any of the myriad things we all do that kind of compromise our own communication, start noticing it first in others after someone has pointed it out to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Great. Thank you. Well, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Steve Herz
I’ll say one last thing about authority because we didn’t talk about it. It really fits in well right here. I think some of the most authoritative people and persuasive people I met along the way in this process are people that are huge at what they call, and I would also agree with them, is kind of a detached authority. They believe what they believe, they own it internally, their whole communication belies it, but they don’t try to sell you on them. And so, I guess, hopefully, I’m going to be a little detached about my own authority about this concept, and people have heard enough.

Pete Mockaitis
Wait. That’s really a great point because, I guess, if I perceive that you need me to believe you or to buy the product or whatever, then that just… I don’t know what the word is. It’s not reverse psychology or alpha stuff but…

Steve Herz
It’s needy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Steve Herz
It’s needy. If your product is so good, why do you need me to have it? Like, why are you desperate for me to buy it? There must be something weak about it that you have to have me get this.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s kind of like playing hard to get, seriously. If you’re such a person…what’s that?

Steve Herz
No, but if you don’t mind me saying, well, I did meet a few people along the way who do play hard to get but they have every reason to play hard to get. They have something so special that you really should want it, and they don’t try to sell it at all, and it’s very powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Steve Herz
I love the Oscar Wilde quote, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” So, it’s just a reminder to try to be authentic to you every day.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Steve Herz
I’d say my favorite book, believe it or not, is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It probably had a lot to do with everything I’m doing here from seeing life from another person’s perspective.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Steve Herz
I would just say, it’s a weak answer, but the iPhone. It allows me to not be behind a desk 24/7 even way before this pandemic. And I think I’ve been one of these people who’ve worked remotely for probably the last 20 years to a large extent.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Steve Herz
Just every day, I’d say, for the past 10 years, I have flossed my teeth after having horrible, horrible gum issues. And that habit that I took in 10 years ago has helped me build a lot of other habits. But that’s a keystone habit for my whole life.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s an intriguing story right there. So, you started flossing. And how did that end up turning into additional habits?

Steve Herz
So, like I said, 10 plus years ago, I was told by my dentist that I needed gum surgery, and I had been a terrible flosser, and just horrible at it, and I begged him to give me one last chance. And, at the same time, I had read this book called Willpower by a guy named John Tierney, and he had this tip about how to build habits. So, I took all the tips in the book and just tried to build this habit for three weeks, 21 days, that was the trick in the book. And I set an alarm on my phone for 9:55 every night that I would have to floss at 9:55.

So, what ended up happening is I flossed that first night, and the second, and the third, and now, like I said, for probably thousands of nights so much. But after doing it at 9:55, first of all, I’d stop eating at that point. If ever I would eat late, I’d stop doing that. Secondly, I started going to bed earlier because the alarm went off at 9:55 and I would get to bed. And then I started getting up earlier, I started working out more regularly, so it had this cascading effect of all these really good things happening in my life. And, by the way, to this day, I still never needed the gum surgery.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. And are you still flossing at 9:55 or is it just whenever the time comes?

Steve Herz
No, 9:55. The alarm still goes off.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s great.

Steve Herz
I can’t even figure out how to take the alarm off the phone, which probably is a good thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m not going to tell you because it’s working for you. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, they quote it back to you often?

Steve Herz
Well, now, it’s “Don’t take yes for an answer,” which is kind of funny. People use this on me as a tool. It’s become a retort from all my friends. If I’m doing something that they don’t want to agree with me, “Don’t take yes for an answer.” Even my kids are using it on me now.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Steve Herz
Just at my website www.StevenHerz.com and they can download a free eight-page guide about the book, and all social media and everything I’ve done, writing, podcast, etc.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Steve Herz
I would say just don’t take yes for an answer in your own life, however that manifests for you. Have what I would call aggressive humility about yourself. Realize that all of us, and by the way, I wrote the book and there’s a million things I need to improve upon. So, have that level of aggressive humility and know that if you really want to reach your potential, every day you should be striving to get better. And the best way to do it is to seek feedback.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Steve, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all the ways you’re not taking yes for an answer.

Steve Herz
Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.