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729: A Veteran Broadcaster’s Top Tips for Great Listening and Speaking with Jane Hanson

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Jane Hanson says: "You make people feel when you listen to them."

Emmy-award-winning journalist Jane Hanson shares the secrets of communicating like the pros.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we’re listening wrong–and how to fix it 
  2. How to communicate through body language 
  3. The words that undermine your credibility 

About Jane

Jane Hanson began as an anchor and correspondent for NBC New York in 1979. In 1988, Jane was named co-anchor of “Today in New York,” a position she held until 2003 when she became the station’s primary anchor for local programming and the host of “Jane’s New York”; She covered events ranging from the tragedy of 9/11 to the joy of Yankees victory parades to Wall Street and Washington; has interviewed presidents, business magnates, prisoners, and celebrities; traveled as far as the Gobi Desert of Mongolia and the great depths miles below New York City for her special reports.

Jane has won 9 Emmy Awards. In addition, she was named Correspondent of the Year by New York’s Police Detectives and received a similar honor from New York’s Firefighters.

She has also been the recipient of numerous other awards for her service to the community. Jane has served as the March of Dimes Walk-America Chairman, honorary chair for the Susan B. Komen Foundation’s Race for the Cure, and as a board member of Graham Windham, Phipps Houses, the Randall’s Island Sports Foundation, the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, and Telecare. She has taught courses on communication at Long Island University, Stern College, and the 92nd Street Y. Hanson is a Past President of the New York Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Resources Mentioned

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Jane Hanson Interview Transcript

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

Jane Hanson
Well, thank you very much for inviting me to be here because, obviously, you’re awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, thank you. And you have had an awesome career, and I kind of want to start by hearing, perhaps, one of your favorite or most thrilling stories from 30-ish years of being a news correspondent and anchor.

Jane Hanson
Well, I have to tell you that everybody always says, when you’re an anchor or a correspondent, your best story is the last one you did because there are so many you can’t even remember them all. But I will tell you one of the most awesome ones ever is the day that, because I worked in New York City for most of my life for NBC. And so the day that was sent down to interview a guy named Desmond Tutu, who worked with the apartheid movement in South Africa.

And he was in town, I think he was going to the UN or something, and so I go down to do this interview, I do my prep work, I start talking, and reporters are always like we always got to move, move, move, move, move, move, move fast. So, I get down and I’m sitting on this bench talking with him, and the people that were with him interrupted and said, “I’m sorry, we have to stop.” I’m like, “Oh, come on. I’m almost done. Please, just let me finish.” And they said, “No, you really want this to stop.”

So, they pulled him aside and they told him that he had just won the Nobel Peace Prize. So, he comes back and sits down with me, and tears are streaming down his face. I start to choke up and cry. It was just one of those moments where you’re watching this incredible human being, who had just been told that all of the work that he’s done for the people that he represents, for the good of the world is being recognized in that way.

And, of course, being the kind of person that he was, the awesome human being, he simply said, “This is all about them. I don’t deserve it; they all do.” And it’s a moment I’ll never forget because it was just kind of out of the blue but, there, you’re watching this incredible little piece of history being made in front of your eyes.

I saw history all the time but it’s the result of that, and the poignancy, and the beauty, and the knowledge of what somebody had accomplished, and me just watching it in that moment was probably one of the greatest things I ever saw.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is cool. Thank you. Well, now, I want to hear about some of the greatest things you ever learned in terms of anything particularly surprising or fascinating or counterintuitive that you’ve made about what makes for effective and powerful communication.

Jane Hanson
Well, one of the things that I’ll tell you is I think that great leaders are people who are much kinder and more thoughtful and more approachable than you can imagine. And I think that’s what makes them great leaders and great communicators. I also have discovered that people really like to be asked for help. You’re always afraid of asking somebody and saying, “Oh, no, they’re too big a deal. And what do they want with little old me? And I’m afraid to ask them because they’ll say no.”

But, again, back to the greatest people and the greatest communicators, if you are very specific in asking them for what you need in that moment, or would like to know from them in that moment, they’re extremely gracious about actually helping you and granting you that, and so don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to do that. I think that’s one of the best lessons of all. And then I think virtually the most important thing is listening. If you don’t listen well, you’re never going to get anywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Wait. What did you say, Jane? Sorry.

Jane Hanson
Maybe if I say it louder. That’s the other thing. People think, “Well, if I just talk louder then maybe they’ll hear me.” It doesn’t work, so.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, let’s hear about listening first in terms of how does one listen well effectively versus kind of what do we get wrong about listening? Because I think we all say, “Well, of course, I listen.” Well, what’s missing, Jane?

Jane Hanson
What’s missing is we’re too busy thinking about our answer to really listen. So, for example, you have a conversation with somebody, and they’re telling you a story, and instead of really taking in that story, thinking about what it means, and maybe just having a little bit of empathy or understanding, we’re immediately thinking, “Oh, yeah, that happened to me,” or, “Here’s what I’m going to say back,” and we haven’t even heard the full story.

So, listening involves truly caring, truly having that kind of empathy, and truly believing that this person is important. And how many times have you been talking to someone when you can see that their eyes are glancing over your shoulders at somebody else or they’re not giving you that great body language that means they’re listening? Listening isn’t just about what your ears are doing. They’re about what you’re doing with your eyes and your facial expressions, and maybe you’re leaning in or not leaning in. There’s so much more to simply listening that has nothing to do with what’s coming in your ears.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s good. Thank you. And then, so a lot of that really seems to boil down to “Do you actually care? Is that person actually important to you?” And so, well, you tell me, Jane, sometimes you don’t care, you’re not interested, the person is not yet important to you. Not that you’re a sociopath who is like, “Everybody is a means to my end and move on from me.” But just sort of like, “I don’t know this guy yet. I’m not really captivated yet.”

So, how do you recommend we kind of get there because I imagine over the course of 30-ish years of broadcast journalism, there were occasionally times you weren’t feeling it. How do you get in the mood? How do you feel it?

Jane Hanson
Well, that gets back to, then, kind of “Why are you there? And why are you talking to this person? And what’s the purpose?” because purpose is a really big deal. I have had some of the best stories come to me because I actually asked someone a question, maybe in an elevator, maybe on a street corner, maybe because they were sitting next to me on an airplane, only because I just, I don’t know, I got curious about something weird, like maybe a tie, or a piece of jewelry, or a bag they were carrying, or a book they were reading, and I’d ask them a question.

And, all of a sudden, I’d hear, or they’d tell me this story, and I go, “Oh, that’s amazing.” So, yeah, there’s a lot of times that we really don’t care, but if you can find one little common thing, it’ll set you down a completely different path, and an interesting one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. All right. Well, so that’s the listening side of…

Jane Hanson
So, that’s like, look, I’m looking at you now, the audience isn’t, but you have an Illinois sweatshirt put on.

Pete Mockaitis
I do.

Jane Hanson
Now, I’d say, “Hey, did you go to Illinois?” and maybe you’d say, “Nope.”

Pete Mockaitis
I did.

Jane Hanson
Oh, there we go. Well, so, obviously, you lived in the Midwest, I lived in the Midwest. Oh, my God, we’re Midwesterners, right?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true.

Jane Hanson
And then we could get into a whole long thing about complaining about the winter weather, or we could talk about how people…

Pete Mockaitis
New Yorkers.

Jane Hanson
Yeah, how they ignore us and how they think that the middle of the country is a flyover place, or we could get into a whole conversation because you’re wearing that sweatshirt.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, yes. And you have a monkey playing a cello painting behind you, or is it a vase?

Jane Hanson
Wait. On that side, I have one playing an accordion.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so I’m curious about this work of art, and maybe it’s famous and I just don’t recognize it. But what’s the story here?

Jane Hanson
It’s actually a screen so you can take it off the wall.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Jane Hanson
Use it as a screen. I happen to like monkeys and I have a lot of monkey stuff in my house, and so that’s just one of it. But I think it’s really funny because, first of all, do you know anybody who likes the accordion?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I knew someone who was into dancing polka, but she didn’t explicitly say she liked the accordion. I just inferred that.

Jane Hanson
So, polka dancing, I mean, look, if you grew up in the Midwest, like I did, there’s a lot of polka dancing going on and there’s a lot of people that played the accordion. And so, I like having an accordion not because I like music so much but I think it’s funny.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it is. There’s something comical about it. Like, Steve Urkel played the accordion and it just fits. There’s just something funny. I don’t know. There’s something funny about the accordion.

Jane Hanson
Right. It is.

Pete Mockaitis
Weird Al, Steve Urkel.

Jane Hanson
I mean, it’s goofy.

Pete Mockaitis
Goofy, yeah.

Jane Hanson
Plus, you’ve got to be really talented because you got to pull, you got have the air going so you got to pull it back and forth, and then use the hand to play the notes. It’s a lot of work to play an accordion.

Pete Mockaitis
It is. Well, Jane, this has been a really cool demo here because here we are, conversing about things, and I’m enjoying myself in terms of covering Illinois, Midwesterners, monkeys, accordions, so it’s good stuff just based on what was visually right there in front of us.

Jane Hanson
Which visual is really important, which gets me to the most, the stuff I like to talk about the most, which is about body language.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, let’s hear it.

Jane Hanson
So, man and woman have been walking on Earth for, depending on who you believe, anywhere from 2 to 14 million years, but we’ve only had a spoken language for 160,000. So, how did we communicate besides a few grunts here and there? It’s all about how we used our bodies. And to this day, we still do it even though it’s so innate, nobody actually recognizes how much they’re doing it.

So, I challenge you to do, I challenge everybody who’s listening, to do, take a little test. Turn on your television set and watch a show but have the sound off, and you’re going to be able to figure out the bulk of the story.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, my wife does this sometimes. Like, “Oh, someone is angry. Someone has discovered something surprising.”

Jane Hanson
But you can do it because it’s the body language. And the body language, like the face alone, for something like 10,000 different expressions that we can use, some of them really fleeting, but every single one of them has a meaning, which is the really crappy part every time when we’re anywhere we had to wear those masks. You’re missing people’s smiles. You didn’t know what people were really thinking because you couldn’t see their mouths.

But, anyway, all I’m saying is that our bodies say so much more. I can tell you stories about which way your feet are pointing when you’re sitting in somebody’s office. What does that mean? About how you’re using your arms, the gestures, there’s everything, has got inner meaning to it that we subconsciously read and we don’t even know it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s juicy, yes. Well, Jane, please lay it on us. We previously had FBI agent Joe Navarro, who wrote a great book about body language, What Every BODY is Saying, which we’ll link to, and he had some great nuggets. But you are offering from a different context than law enforcement. So, tell us, what have you found to be the most useful and reliable body language indicators of something useful or good? So, we talked about some feet pointing. Lay them on us. What are your, say, top five favorite indicators that tell you something useful?

Jane Hanson
Well, I have to say one of the first is exactly what Joe Navarro probably told you about eye contact.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Jane Hanson
Did he tell you about when people look up to the left that they were lying?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, he’s very nuanced and careful to not be as black and white about that. But, yes, that could be indicative, if I recall correctly, about, “I am accessing an imagined content in my brain as opposed to remembering factual content in my brain, so I could very well, potentially, be fabricating something.” And just to clarify, for listeners, is it their left or the left that we see?

Jane Hanson
It’s usually the left that we see.

Pete Mockaitis
The left that we see. So, if it goes left, as though we were looking at a piece of paper, and it’s on the left, that means, “Hmm, might be…”

Jane Hanson
They may not be telling you the truth or the absolute truth.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Jane Hanson
Okay. So, eye contact is a really big deal because eyes are the gateway into the soul. So, when you’re talking to someone, and if you’re not looking them directly in the eye, they’re not going to trust you, they’re not going to believe that you really care, because I do a lot of coaching via Zoom now and via whatever other platform, and it’s hard because, in order to have good eye contact, you need to be looking right up into the little lens but your instinct is to be looking at the person that you’re talking to.

Now, when you’re doing a podcast, it’s much easier because you don’t have to look at anybody. However, you really need to think about having great eye contact because, if you don’t, people just don’t trust you. Okay, so eye contact is another thing. Another thing is crossing your arms. So, crossing your arms can mean several things. One of the things that it can mean is you really don’t care what somebody is saying, that you’re kind of bored, and it’s an indication that, “Hmm, okay. Fine. Mm-hmm, okay, whatever.”

It also can mean, especially for women, that you’re cold, because maybe the air-conditioning is on too much in a room, or maybe you need a sweater outside, so it means you’re cold. It can also mean, “Hmm, I want to get out of here. How am I going to do that?” So, there’s a lot of things with one gesture that can mean many things.

When you take your hands and hold them, what’s called the most visionary look is…you know, playground ball? Do you have kids?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jane Hanson
Okay. So, the playground ball, they’re not the size of basketball, they’re not the size of a baseball, they’re kind of in between. Those playground balls, when you hold your hands so it’s like you’ve got that in the middle, that means that you’re being extremely visionary, that what you’re saying is kind of a very well-rounded thought that we should take in.

Pete Mockaitis
Or, you think it is maybe.

Jane Hanson
Or, you think it is. But it’s the way it’s interpreted by somebody who’s watching you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so you’re saying that just by doing that, folks can assign more weight to what it is we’re saying.

Jane Hanson
When you hold your hands out and you’ve got that big wide gesture where your palms are up, kind of like when you see those preachers on TV, it may mean that you’re really asking for something, and maybe it’s asking for something that you might not want to give.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re asking for something you don’t want to give, like, “Who wants to sign up for this committee? I don’t.” Like that? “You want to give of your time to this thing that I don’t want to give my time to?”

Jane Hanson
Exactly. Exactly. All right. So, the way your feet are pointing, what I was referring to earlier, if your feet are pointed towards the person you’re speaking to, you’re being very open and you’re clearly listening to them. If your feet are pointed away, it means you’re not interested. Are you buying into any of this or do you think I’m just making it up? “I don’t know about you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I think the feet are good. I guess I’m just recalling Joe Navarro’s rant about opaque tables in interrogation rooms and how that’s a travesty and need to be transparent. So, I was like tracking and I was remembering, so I was imagining an interrogation room as you’re speaking. But it’s clear that you’re observing my body language as we’re talking.

Jane Hanson
Well, I’m observing, like, obviously, I can only see a part of you, so it’s harder to observe it as such, but you look like you’re sitting up pretty straight. That’s another big one. It’s when people slump, again, that shows a lack of self-confidence. Slumping means you’re not very…you’re kind of down. You’re not enthusiastic, etc. If you think about it, if somebody walks up to you and they’ve got their shoulders slumped, you’re kind of going, “Do I really want to speak to that person? That person looks kind of…like, this is going to be a painful conversation.”

Pete Mockaitis
They don’t seem as open to that idea of talking to you.

Jane Hanson
Right. Exactly. But when you’ve got your shoulders back and you’ve got great posture…I have a wonderful little poster that has somebody standing up straight, and it says, “This is a good person,” and then somebody who is really slumped over, and it says, “This is an evil person.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, you think about that. Evil people tend to be slouched over and stroking hairless cats as a general rule of thumb. Like, there’s your telltale signs, “Excellent. Excellent.”

Jane Hanson
You’re good because I love how you’re painting imagery in people’s heads because that’s a very big deal, too, is that we create the imagery because we may not be able to be showing it to them.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. So, you mentioned there are three core elements of speaking – what you say, how you say it, and body language. So, we talked about some body language pieces. Can we hear a little bit about the what you say and then how you say it?

Jane Hanson
Well, the how you say it is actually also having to do with body language because that’s about delivery, but a lot of that is about how we use our voice.
Voices, we barely use our voice. You have an excellent voice.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Jane Hanson
It’s nice and deep and solid, and that’s what we like. We like, think of hot chocolate, or bourbon, or things melting. That’s how we like voices. That’s how people have always done so well with commercials, how all those male voices have a really silky…that’s why we like them so much because we like those voices.

Women are usually told to use their lower pitches because lower pitches are considered to be more believable. We hardly ever use the full range of what we have. We need to think about things like pace, how fast are you talking. When you talk fast, or when you go like, “Well, let me tell you about this story because this story is really exciting. You’re really, really going to love it,” you think one of two things, either, “I’m so excited that I’m almost out of control,” or, “I’m so nervous, I don’t know what I’m saying.”

Then you think about your tone, which is really intended to be the interpretation of something. So, if I speak to you like this, and it’s important that you know this fact, you’re going to say, “Man, this is important because, listen to the way she’s saying it.” But if I say, “It is really important that you know this,” now I’ve taken an entirely different tone, and you’re going, “Nah, I’m not sure I’m going to care.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Jane Hanson
Okay. So, volume, softness is being soft. It can be equally as effective as being loud because, in both cases, you’re making me pay attention in one way or another. Softness can speak volumes about credibility, about authority, and about leadership.

Pete Mockaitis
And as I think about softness, it’s not like…I’m thinking about that sketch with Andy Samberg, “Shy Ronnie,” where he’s just kind of mumbling really quietly, and so that’s probably not the softness that you’re talking about, Jane, I’m guessing. But, rather, like you’re deliberately bringing it softer, like there’s something sort of touching or emotional or some gravitas, some seriousness about a thing, and so you’re deliberately going there as oppose to you’re like scared to own your volume, and so you’re mumbling.

Jane Hanson
Exactly. It is about technique. It’s all about technique. You’re absolutely right. Because people who are very soft spoken, sometimes that’s just their natural way of speaking, and that can be to their own detriment because, then, if you can’t hear someone, and it’s not a deliberate thing, like they’re not trying to get you to pay attention but you can’t hear them, you’re simply going to dismiss them, because if you can’t hear it, it doesn’t matter what you said.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Cool. All right. Well, so then we talked a bit about body language and then vocal bits, your volume and your pace and your tone. How about in terms of, I guess, the 7% or 8%, the actual word choice? What do you think about that?

Jane Hanson
Well, I don’t want anybody to think that it doesn’t matter what you say, because if you don’t have anything to say, who cares how you say it? So, content is important, and you’re usually speaking to somebody because of the content that you have in work, in a presentation, in a speech, in a video, because everybody’s doing videos these days. You’re doing it because you are the expert at something, because you have something great to say.

Now, how are you going to say, I don’t mean say, how are you going to give your best? So, you have to think about the message. And the message has to be really clear and concise. There’s a big movement out there to speak in threes, and I’m sure you’ve heard of this – three points. Okay, let me ask you a question. What’s nine times one?

Pete Mockaitis
Nine.

Jane Hanson
Not in messaging math. In messaging math, that’s zero.

Pete Mockaitis
Messaging math. Okay, so if I have nine points, zero are going to get through.

Jane Hanson
That’s right. So, you get one. You get one great point. In messaging math, three times three, you’d say it’s nine. It’s one, maybe two. So, if you have three points, and you say some three times, one or two of them are going to get through. So, the best thing I can say is to have a very clear message. And to make sure you get that message out there frequently by using other kinds of techniques throughout the duration of your presentation, such as telling a story, maybe giving a great fact. Whatever it is, you need to be sure that you don’t overwhelm the human brain with a bunch of different messages because it’s not going to work. They’re never going to remember it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, one key message shared differently. So, maybe, could you give us an example of bad versus good here?

Jane Hanson
All right. So, it’s hard for me to do bad but I’ll try. Okay, so I want you to take away from this podcast that you need to make sure that you always use your voice in so many different ways that you never ever tell a story that’s more than 30 seconds long, that you always have three main points, that I want you to never forget about looking your audience in the eye, that I think you must always have perfect posture, that I think you must point your feet in the right direction, and I think you’ve got to make sure that your hair is always combed. All right, I just said like 12 different things that I want you to do. How many of those could you actually remember?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, almost none, kind of the last because it’s the last, comb my hair, and then my key, my toes pointed and my posture good. But, yeah, so not much.

Jane Hanson
Right. But if I said, “To be really an effective speaker, you must focus on how you’re delivering your message, and make sure that message has one solid point that’s very, very clear and concise.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, there’s one point. Thank you. Cool. All right. Well, so that’s one key thing is to be concise. Any pro tips on getting to that brevity and trimming things down?

Jane Hanson
Yeah, I love mapping, like taking a big whiteboard and writing all my thoughts on it, and I’ll pile a ton of them on it. And then I’ll circle the ones that really connect. Then I’ll draw lines between them, and say, “Okay, this, this, this, and this,” I shouldn’t be pointing like this because this is a podcast. I apologize. Audience, I’m pointing. I’m like going pretending like they’re all connecting.

And then I see what’s the common thread. And that helps lead me to my kind of bottom line. So, it’s really about, “What do I want the audience to walk away with? What’s my key point I want them to walk out the door thinking?” And I always have to get back to that. So, it’s, today, I want your audience to walk away thinking, “I can be a great speaker.”

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

Jane Hanson
Now, how do I get them there? We’ve talked about how to use your voice. We’ve talked about how to use your body. And, right now, we’re talking about how to get to that key point.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. And so, now I’m wondering, any key things you recommend we stop doing, some communication don’ts?

Jane Hanson
Oh, yes. How about like, you know, maybe, so.

Pete Mockaitis
Vocal pauses, right?

Jane Hanson
My favorite new one is, “Yeah, no.” How many times have you heard people say that recently?

Pete Mockaitis
That is another one.

Jane Hanson
So, those are crutch words. And you ditch crutch words by taking a pause, because crutch words are fillers, and we don’t like dead air. We don’t like dead air on a podcast, we don’t like dead air on television, we don’t like dead air on a conversation. We always think we have to fill it up. You don’t. And you become more credible when you take a pause. And a pause is the length of time it takes to tap your foot.

Pete Mockaitis
Tap it once.

Jane Hanson
Yup. That’s it. It’s no big deal but it takes guts because we don’t like to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true, it does take guts. And I think there’s some fear that someone else is going to sort of like steal the stage or the microphone or the air time from you. If I’m saying something to you, Jane, and then I just pause, it’s almost like we’re worried, like, “Oh, I won’t get to say the thing that I want to say if I pause because someone else is going to take it, or people will think I’m dumb if I have silence.” So, it’s like there’s some internal fear or resistance to doing it. So, how would you persuade the reluctant pauser?

Jane Hanson
By telling them that if they do that, they will be considered a great talker. It will add volumes to their credibility. I dare you to watch any great speaker out there and note their pauses. Barack Obama, considered to be one of the greatest pausers of all time. I’m not kidding.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, it’s true. I was like, when I hear impressions, that’s kind of like what happens, like, “We hear a few words quickly, and then pause.” So, that’s kind of how it unfolds.

Jane Hanson
Right. Bill Clinton is a good pauser. He’s also a great gesturer. And one of the things that Bill Clinton was told early on was that he had to keep…he liked to take his hands and go…he had lots of gestures and really wild. It’s so funny because sometimes I work with people and they’ll say, “I have to gesture a lot because I’m Italian.” I’m like, “It’s okay,” but the more you gesture that isn’t in sync with what you’re saying, then people are distracted and they’re no longer listening to you any longer because they’re wondering, “What the hell are you doing with your hands?” So, Bill keeps his gestures inside a square box around his torso, and it’s made him really effective, and it helped him not do all the distracting gestures.

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

Jane Hanson
Well, I love a Winston Churchill quote, which is, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” So, always prepare.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s a great quote. I was just about to ask. So, how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Jane Hanson
Well, I told you about like watching television with the sound turned off. I always like people to assess themselves before I work with them, and it’s really interesting how they are so self-critical far more than they need to be. So, I think if you asked people, when you’re there to help them, to give you a really solid decent assessment that it’s really good research into them, and it shows they’re willing to learn.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And a favorite book?

Jane Hanson
I’ll tell you an interesting book that I just read was Huma Abedin. She was Secretary of State Clinton’s right hand person, and she went through a lot in her personal life. That was pretty good.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Jane Hanson
A favorite habit of mine is yoga. I do it virtually every day. And every single morning, I listen to some sort of an inspirational thing about gratitude.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you tend to share that really connects and resonates with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Jane Hanson
Yes, a Maya Angelou quote, which is, “People will forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel.” And the reason that’s so important, getting back to that idea of listening, you make people feel when you listen to them.

Pete Mockaitis
Amen. Amen.

Jane Hanson
And I think it’s really, I think that is. And it’s never been more important than it’s been in the last two years during what we’ve all been through because we all needed to connect more, we needed to feel more, and being able to help be vulnerable, to help be empathetic, to help show compassion, we’ve all needed it so much. And that just gets back to that notion of helping each other feel.

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

Jane Hanson
They could reach out to me at my website, which is JaneHanson.com, that’s H-A-N-S-O-N because, as any good Midwesterner knows, I’m Norwegian. And I’m really easy to reach that way.

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

Jane Hanson
Yeah, take risks. Dare to speak out. Dare to own your space. Dare to let your ideas come forth. Don’t keep them inside. What’s the worst that could happen? Somebody says no. But I guarantee you, they won’t. And the moment you start doing it, it only grows and you’re going to feel so much better about yourself.
And, also, I mean, even as simple as go onto a social media site, especially for business, like LinkedIn, reach out to somebody you don’t know and comment on something. Maybe you’ve seen something wonderful they’ve written or maybe they’ve gotten some…they have some huge accomplishment. Congratulate them. You can’t believe how many people and how many friends I’ve made by doing that. Just dare. Take a risk. It’s worth it.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Jane, this has been a treat. Thank you. And I wish you lots of luck in your communications.

Jane Hanson
Thank you. Same to you. And you keep up the good work.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

724: How to Master Your Executive Presence with Muriel Wilkins

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Muriel Wilkins says: "Executive presence is really about how others experience you."

Muriel Wilkins dispels myths surrounding executive presence and shows you how you can develop your own, no matter what your role is.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What executive presence really means 
  2. The two muscles you need to train for executive presence
  3. The key factors that affect your confidence 

About Muriel

Muriel Maignan Wilkins, Managing Partner and Co-founder of Paravis Partners is a C-suite advisor and executive coach with a strong track record of helping already high performing senior leaders take their effectiveness to the next level. Muriel is the host of the Harvard Business Review podcast, “Coaching Real Leaders” and is the co-author, with Amy Su, of “Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence”. 

Resources Mentioned

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  • FSAstore.com. Use your flex spending account funds with the greatest of ease! 
  • StoryBlocks. Enhance your video storytelling quickly, beautifully, and affordably at Storyblocks.com/awesome.

Muriel Wilkins Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Muriel, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Muriel Wilkins
Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig in and chat about executive presence. And maybe you could start us off by saying what the heck does that even mean?

Muriel Wilkins
That’s what actually set me on a track to figure out what it means because a lot of people don’t know what it means. It’s a term that’s used so broadly and loosely, and it’s a term where many of my clients, my coaching clients were getting feedback on their executive presence. And, quite frankly, when I would ask, “Well, what does it mean?” They’re like, “I have no idea.”

So, from my perspective, and based on the work that I’ve done with folks and my research on it, executive presence is really about how others experience you. And, more specifically, when I think about it from a leadership presence, is when others are in your presence, do they feel like they’re in the presence of a leader? And that has nothing to do with where you sit hierarchically in the organization. It all has to do with what you exude.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. And so, I can see how that really is frustrating for the individual, it’s like, “I don’t know.”

Muriel Wilkins
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
“It’s like based on someone else’s perception of me.”

Muriel Wilkins
Exactly. And even worse, it’s like, “Well, I don’t know, but Joe has it.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but you’re not Joe.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. So, that sets the vibe. It’s like, “If someone has executive presence, and I’m in the presence of someone with executive presence, I feel like, wow, I’m with a leader.” Okay. Well, then I’m curious, you tell me, is it like you either got it or you don’t? And what if you don’t, what do you do?

Muriel Wilkins
Yeah, that in itself is sort of demoralizing as a follow-up to getting feedback on executive presence. It’s like, “You need to work on this.” But, you know, can you really work on it because you’re either born with it or you’re not? And if there’s one thing that I’ve tried to do around this topic of executive presence is really debunk the myth that it’s just something that you naturally have. It’s something that you could definitely build and develop over time. The key is developing a presence that is also authentic to you because it’s not mimicking everyone else. It’s about having an impact in a way that’s relevant to others while still maintaining a sense of who you are and what you bring to the table in your own authenticity so that you’re not a chameleon.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, got you. So, that sounds super. Let’s maybe dig into maybe the particular components and approaches to make that transition happen well. But maybe could you start by sharing an inspiring story of someone who got the word, “Hey, you need better executive presence,” and then what they did and the results that happened from that turnaround?

Muriel Wilkins
Yeah. Well, I’ll share my own story because I was the receiver of that feedback way back when, and the feedback that I got was that I needed to tone it down.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy.

Muriel Wilkins
And it was like, “Okay, what does that mean? My volume sounds just fine.” But what they were talking about was, again, my presence was not one that was with those particular stakeholders, one that really exuded the position that I had as an executive and as a leader at that time. And so, that is something that I think many people have experienced, whether it’s, “You need to tone it down,” or whether, “You need to be more confident.”

You often hear it in terms of adjectives, “Be more this,” “Be more inspiring,” “Be more assertive.” And the fact of the matter is that, just as I described with your presence, it’s the feeling that you give somebody. An adjective is not a verb so it doesn’t really give the concrete steps of what you’re able to do. I often say, if somebody has received feedback of “Be more confident,” it’s not like you wake up one day and say, “Well, today I decide not to be confident.” Like, everybody wants to show up as confident.

So, when we think about executive presence and what are the steps to really get there, the first place is to recognize, “What is the impact that you want to make? What is the impression or the feeling that you want to leave people with?” And when you think about what the impression is, or the impact, that a leader or an executive or somebody that you want to “follow” has on you, it’s usually two things, the combination of two things: they are credible and they’re relatable.

And so, the intersection of those two things is actually what makes up or what makes you feel like somebody has executive presence because they have that impact on you. And so, the first place to start is understanding that those are the two levers that you have, and then determining, of those two levers, “Which one am I exuding and which one am I not? Or am I exuding both? Or am I not exuding any of them?” So, it starts with some self-awareness around what the impact is that you’re actually having. Because if you can figure that out, that it’s either the credibility or the relatability, then you can figure out “Well, what do I do about each of those muscles?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I love that a lot. And in terms of that first step, I think it’s easy to skip over, like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, give me some tactics, Muriel.” But, no, no, it is so foundational because I guess I think I’ve made my own mistakes with this in terms of any types of presenting of yourself, like I think I’ve had headshots done, and I’ve made the mistake before. I picked a headshot, it’s like, “Ooh, I look really hot in that one. I think that’s the best photo to go with it.” It’s like, “You might look like the most aesthetically pleasing, in your opinion, Pete, but actually that’s not what we’re trying to accomplish here in terms of the target demographic and audience and impression that we’re sending.” Like, these aren’t modeling headshots. These are for a speaking agency to get me booked to do keynotes.

And, likewise, that comes up in LinkedIn in terms of it’s like, “In your profile and your picture, how do you want to present those elements and the headlines and the experiences because there’s a variety of flavors you could take?” Like, if you’re trying to represent yourself as a model or a standup comedian, that’s going to have a different vibe than if you’re trying to do this executive presence thing. And you’re seeing, when it comes to executive presence in professional workplace environments, generally what we’re after is conveying credible and relatable. So, it’s awesome.

Muriel Wilkins
That’s right. And it also goes beyond the professional workplace. If you think about your friends, or the people you associate with, or your family, or your partner, yeah, I don’t know about you, but I want my partner to be credible and relatable.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure, yeah.

Muriel Wilkins
So, it really also just becomes around what do we tend to look for as humans in others that gives us a sense that we can be confident in them, and that we have some type of connection to them? And so, those are why they end up being the two muscles.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then in practice, what are some key do’s and don’ts to convey all the more credibility and relatability?

Muriel Wilkins
So, the way that I tend to think about it is almost like conditioning an athlete. When you think about an athlete who conditions themselves in their preferred sport or their sport of choice, they’re a master at that sport. They have to be conditioned at three levels. They have to be conditioned from a mental standpoint, they have to be conditioned from a skills standpoint, the skill of that particular sport, and they have to be conditioned physically for the sport that they’re playing or competing in.

Likewise, when you’re trying to really master and train these muscles of credibility and relatability, again, mastering your leadership presence, you also have to condition yourself at those three levels. And so, what are those? So, the first place is your mental conditioning. Well, what’s our mental conditioning when we think about our presence? It’s the beliefs that you have. It’s the thoughts and the assumptions that you have about yourself, about the other, about the situation.

And understanding what those are, and with no judgment of “Is it a right thought or a wrong thought?” this is not like “The Power of Positive Thinking.” It’s more around, “Is that belief actually serving you in showing up as credible and relatable?” So, if I don’t have conviction around my message – and conviction is just a belief, I believe in my message, I believe in what I’m saying, or I have knowledge about what I’m saying – then how in the heck am I going to show up as credible in what I have to say?

So, the first level is mental conditioning, and I’ll tell you, Pete, that’s the hardest one for people to get their head wrapped around because a lot of times it is about them dismantling the beliefs that they’ve had for an eternity. So, that’s the first one. The second level of conditioning is skill conditioning. And in our game of executive presence, that’s your communication skills. And so, what are the communication skills that allow you to show up, again, credible and relatable? It’s quite simple.

From a credibility standpoint, the communication skill is your ability to speak in a clear and concise way. Rambling does not define credibility. And on the relatability side, the key communication skill is the skill of being able to listen so that you can understand where the other is coming from. Understanding creates connection. And in between those two, we have the skill of how you frame your message and also how you handle questions both in terms of how you ask them and how you answer them. So, with my clients, we work on those four buckets. I try to simplify. You don’t have to know all. You don’t know how to use every golf club in the bag. You just need to learn how to use a few of them.

And then the last piece is your physical conditioning. And physical conditioning is your nonverbals, your body language, your appearance, even your visibility and what message that sends across. And, again, I’m not one to say, “Here are the five great body language postures that you need to hold for you to show up as a leader.” What it really comes down to is, “Is there alignment between the way you are holding yourself nonverbally, or what you’re communicating nonverbally? Is there alignment between that and what you say and your assumptions?”

And so, we’re looking for alignment along all three of those conditioning levels, and that they’re not working against each other, and that they’re also not working against your desired outcome of being credible and relatable.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, Muriel, this is so powerful in terms of, okay, we’ve got the set of things to be working on. And the athlete analogy is swell. So, let’s talk about the mental and the skill and the physical components of conditioning. I’m thinking when you said with beliefs, thoughts, and assumptions, not about good or bad, right or wrong, but rather is it serving you? Is it helpful? Is it working out for you?

And you mentioned sort of the beliefs in the message, like you fundamentally buy what you’re selling. And I think this is probably universally true, it’s like I just cannot sell something I don’t believe in. I’ve turned down a lot of prospective sponsors. I turned down a lot of them.

Muriel Wilkins

I hear you.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, there’s that. And then I’m thinking there’s also some beliefs, thoughts, assumptions about sort of you, yourself, what other people think of you, like, “Oh, everyone is looking at me. Oh, they think I’m stupid or they don’t think I’m senior enough to be in this room. They think I’m a loser. They think I’m stuttering. They think I’m saying like or so and you know too much.” So, it seems like there’s a whole host of potential beliefs, thoughts, assumptions that can be not serving you. Tell me, are there some go-to beliefs that you find helpful, reassuring, confidence-boosting? And how do we condition ourselves to land there instead of the unhelpful places?

Muriel Wilkins
Yeah, absolutely. So, a big one in terms of when you’re trying to boost your confidence, as you said, is around the belief that you don’t have to always have the answer, and that you are in the room to share the value, and you have to understand what it is the value that you bring to that table, and that the value isn’t always – and most times it’s not – about having the answer and knowing everything and being an expert on everything.

And so, when people tend to show up as lacking confidence, they place an expectation on themselves on what it means for them to show up successfully in that meeting or at that table. And what I have them do is recalibrate, “Well, is that even realistic? What is the value that you bring? Why are you in that meeting?” And when they’re able to define it and then actually stay in their lane in terms of what they’re able to do, they can have confidence in it because they know exactly what they’re there to do. So, that’s one example.

On the flipside, if somebody is working on the relatability aspect, the belief that often gets in the way is, “I already know the answer,” which then shuts them down from listening. And so, the belief that would serve them better in terms of showing up in a more connected way and a more relatable way is to come in with the thought of “I have a perspective around what needs to be done and I’m open to hearing others’ perspectives.” So, it’s a slight reframe. It’s a slight reframe.

And it doesn’t mean that, if you’ll notice, it doesn’t mean that you’re disregarding that you have the answer. Like, I’m not going to lie. Yeah, you probably do but let’s expand that a little bit. Let’s open the possibilities a little bit. When people stay too attached to their belief, it creates constriction, it creates closedness both in terms of what you have to offer, what gets in the way of confidence, as well as what you are open to from others, which then creates a disconnection.

So, all I try to do is get them to see that there are different ways that they can think about, again, themselves, the situation, or the other, that might then open them up to different ways of communicating or physically showing up.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And so then, once you know and have heard the belief once, you’re like, “Okay, yes, Muriel. That sounds like good, fine, and solid lead. That is true.”

Muriel Wilkins
“I wish it was that easy.”

Pete Mockaitis
“I would like to land upon and return to again and again.” But how do you condition, train, reinforce, lock in those neural pathways so that that’s where we go?

Muriel Wilkins
Yeah. Look, this is like, if we boil it down, this is what most people have, again, a very difficult time with. It takes practice. This is what we’re talking about here is mental discipline. And so, I try to get folks to just really focus on one at a time. Let’s hone in on one and they just practice it, they practice it, they practice it. And I try to get them to practice it in real situations, so not just thinking about it conceptually, because everybody can do something conceptually. I can speak conceptually about how I can do the Iron Man but it’s very different to actually go do the Iron Man.

And so, I get them to practice it, practice it, practice it, until it becomes more natural. And when they start seeing that their actions, because, again, it’s not just the mental, it’s also the skills and communication and the physical, when the skill conditioning and the physical conditioning reinforces those beliefs, then it helps, so it kind of creates a cycle. It’s holistic rather than just “Oh, I only need to do one thing and not the other.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And so then, when you say practice it, as I was thinking about the athlete analogy again, I can imagine practicing free throws, or throwing the football, or conditioning strength, bench press, squat, deadlift in the weight room, what does practicing a belief look, sound, feel like in practice? What am I doing when I’m practicing a belief?

Muriel Wilkins
So, at a very practical level, let’s say I’m coming on to this show with you, and I can pause for 30 seconds beforehand and say, and really pause and ask myself, “What am I thinking about what I’m about to go into? What do I think about me? Like, let me really try to understand what my beliefs are going in, about myself? Do I believe I’m going to mess up? Do I believe I’m not prepared? Do I believe I don’t know what this is about? What do I believe about the show? What do I believe about Pete? What do I believe about what’s going on around me?”

And if I conclude that those things are not going to help me show up on this show in a way that is credible and relatable, then I say, “Okay, like what thoughts do I need to focus on right now? Let me put…It’s not that those things might not be true, but let me put them on the backburner for a little bit. I can come back.” So, the way that I’ll do it, I’ll just say this to my clients, is just say, “Hey, you know what, negative belief or belief that doesn’t serve you, I’ll check back in with you in 30 minutes and we’ll deal with you, but you just stay over there right now and let me focus on the ones that help, okay?”

So, it truly is around being able to pause, having awareness around what you’re thinking, and then being able to redefine the thought. It’s a three-step process. It is not easy, Pete. Like, this is, again, the stuff around mental discipline, and it’s hard because it’s inside of us. It doesn’t operate outside of us. But it’s what creates, from my standpoint, it’s what makes the most sustainable impact.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Thank you. Well, I appreciate you zooming in there, and that is handy in terms of making sure that you do have time for that silence as opposed to, “Oh, go, go, go, finish up, finish up the last words and the last deck, page, slide, and the last seconds, and then grab the laptop and head on into the room or the Zoom call,” or whatever.

Muriel Wilkins
Yeah. And, you know, the funny thing, Pete, is like most people will say, “Well, I don’t have time for that.” Like, it doesn’t take a ton of time. Like, we just did it in 30 seconds, in a minute. It does not take a ton of time. So, I’ll tell my clients, like, “Well, as you’re brushing your teeth in the morning, kind of go through the meetings that you have that day?” Well, people aren’t commuting these days, but as they commute, as you’re walking the dog, the day before, go through your Outlook calendar, whatever calendar you use, what are the meetings, and just do a quick mental check around what you’re thinking going in versus it’s the warmup. I consider it the warmup.

You don’t wait till you’re on the field to look around and say, “Oh, who am I dealing with? Who am I playing against? What position do I play?” No, you do that. But that whole warmup happens way before you’re on the field.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. Well said. All right, so that’s the mental game, a core piece of it. And how about we talk about communication skills? We could spend hours talking about these core skills. I’m curious, do you have any particular tips, tricks, tools, tactics, or do’s and don’ts that make all the difference when it comes to listening or speaking clearly and concisely?

Muriel Wilkins
Yeah. So, with listening, speaking clearly and concisely, framing, questioning, here’s the thing. These are not about just, “Hey, I just need to know these skills,” because, quite frankly, most people are already using them. The question is, “Are you using them in a strategic way? Are you clear around what it is, again, the impact you’re trying to make?” And given the impact you’re trying to make, then being able to dial back and say, “If that’s the impact that I’m trying to make, then what communication skill would increase the probability that I’m making that impact?”

And so, when you start thinking about it that way, so then you have a choice around what you’re doing rather than just being on default. You say, “All right, if I’m trying to create a connection with the other person, or with this group of people, or I want to come off as engaging, then it would behoove me to listen more.” Why? Because when somebody feels heard and understood, for whatever reason, it creates connection. When we feel understood by the other, it deepens the connection.

And I’m not talking about like we have to get into a deep intimate relationship with everybody. It’s just a feeling of like, “Yeah, you get me.” But when you have somebody, you’ve probably experienced it, when you’re faced with somebody, and you’re like, “Oh, my God, they don’t get me at all,” there is no relatability, there’s no connection.

So, listening is the key skill, I’m sure there are others, but the core skill. And it’s not…there are different levels of listening. You don’t have to go to the deepest level every single time. Again, it depends on what you’re trying to do. But I will say, if your goal is to influence or inspire somebody, the more you’re trying to inspire others, the deeper the level of listening you have to go into, to really understand what is going on with them.

On the flipside, which is the skill of what we call structured efficacy, the skill of being able to speak clear and concisely, what I tell folks is always start with the headline first, and then drill down to the data. Most people who cannot speak confidently will tend to share all of the data and then they give you the conclusion or the answer 20 minutes later. And I try to get them to flip that, “Give me the answer, give me the headline, and then give me the three supporting facts or datapoints or rationale that support your thesis, let’s say, or your headline.”

Because it’s kind of silly to say, “I have three points,” but then you go on to number 20. So, that in and of itself helps one be concise. So, those are some tips around those two. And to be honest, the most critical one is the communication skill or framing, because framing is all about how you set context, and context helps determine whether you can get other individuals to interpret the message that you are giving in a way that’s similar to how you want them to interpret it.

Left without context, people are going to interpret the message based on their own beliefs, assumptions, biases, and thoughts.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, if it’s the most critical, we must talk more about this framing. So, how does one frame well? And can you give us some examples?

Muriel Wilkins
Sure. So, one that people face many, many times is you walk into a meeting and there’s an agenda but there’s not a clear sense of what outcomes you’re looking to drive through in that meeting. So, you have good conversations, you leave the meeting, and it was like, “Hmm, what did we actually accomplish?” And so, a great example of framing is what we call outcomes-driven framing, being able to start your message or your conversation with, “Here are the outcomes that I want to drive to. I’m going into a meeting, all right. So, what we’re trying to drive to by the end of this meeting is making a decision on X.”

Now why is that helpful? Because everybody in that meeting at that point, or increases the chances that everybody in the meeting at that point will interpret or take in the discussion with a sense that there’s a decision that needs to be made rather than they’re taking it in as an FYI, they’re taking it in as a point of contention, they’re taking it in as whatever, the list goes on.

So, framing from an outcomes standpoint really helps. What’s another example of framing? Another example of framing is what we call strategic framing. This is when you give strategic context, or bigger-picture context, or the 30,000-foot altitude context. Where is this particularly helpful? It’s helpful when you are communicating up, communicating to people who are more senior than you. So, you frame your message in a way that’s relevant to them and what their strategic agenda is rather than how it’s relevant to you at the 10,000-foot altitude.

Pete Mockaitis
And can you give us an example of that in practice in terms of, “Okay, there’s a thing I want to make happen, and I got to give some strategic framing so higher up folk engage and want to back it”?

Muriel Wilkins
Yeah, let’s say that you work in the HR function and you’re proposing an initiative around leadership development. So, framing it from your context might sound something like, “Leadership development is really helpful in terms of cultivating people and creating engagement in the workforce,” and then give whatever the initiative is.

Framing it from a strategic level is saying, “I know one of our key strategic pillars this year is talent excellence and retention of our employees. We’ve talked about how, by the end of next year, we want to achieve a workforce of X numbers,” whatever it is. It’s tied to the strategic pillars of the organization or the main business priorities of the organization, and so you start there. And then say, “So, therefore, this leadership development program or initiative is in support of that.” So, you tie it directly to whatever the organizational objectives are.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s super. And I’m thinking that some organizations have maybe – if I may be so bold – too many organizational objectives that the higher up you’re communicating with may well have forgotten that that was one of the strategic initiatives, they’re like, “Oh, that is one of them, isn’t it? And you got something for me to make that happen. Oh, and I don’t know of anything else that’s making that happen. So, yeah, let’s go ahead and do what you’re saying, Muriel.”

Muriel Wilkins
That brings such a funny story, Pete, because I ran into that once, and I framed it strategically around what the top brass of the organization had said was important for them, and they’re kind of like, “Huh? No.” And I said, “Well, look at the homepage of your website. Like, it says it right there.” So, they all pulled it up on their phone, and they’re like, “Oh, wow. Like, yeah, we actually said this was one of our strategic priorities.” So, to your point, sometimes they forget what the priorities are.

Pete Mockaitis
And then that just makes you wonder how much of the priority is it truly, and how much of it was sort of a word salad committee production versus a, “Wow, we’ve really thoughtfully clarified and drilled down into that which is the huge most impactful leverage.” Well, that’s a whole another conversation, strategic critical thinking priority matters.

Let’s hear about the physical view of things – the nonverbals, the body language, the appearance. So, we want to have alignment so it’s not sort of contradictory throughout. And I guess everyone have their own tics that they have, and maybe I’ve heard videos is a great way to assess them. I’m curious, are there any particular things you’ve seen again and again and again in terms of, “Hey, start doing this. Stop doing that,” that makes all the difference and it’s so easy to fix?

Muriel Wilkins
Yeah. Well, first of all, I think, again, it depends what it is the impact that you’re trying to make. One of the things I tell my clients is, “Look, if the feedback you’re getting is that you show up as abrasive, and when you asked, ‘Well, why do I show up as abrasive?’ people are like, ‘Well, you tend to yell a lot and you always have a scowl on your face.’’ If I say that to a client, the client says, “Well, I want to show up as abrasive,” well, then we’re done, we’re good, because their nonverbals are giving them the outcomes they want.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, mission accomplished.

Muriel Wilkins
Right, mission accomplished.

Pete Mockaitis
Apparently.

Muriel Wilkins
But usually that’s not what people want. Again, they want to show up as credible or engaging and relatable. And so, from a nonverbal standpoint, the place to first start is, “What is under my control?” which I am. I’m 5’3”. I cannot change that. I might add a little bit of height by wearing heels but out of my control that I’m 5’3”. So, if I want to give the impression that I’m confident and height is not on my side, because for whatever reason, height might make me seem a little more dominant or whatnot, so what else is at my disposal?

Well, how I sit at the table, when I physically sit at the table. Do I shrink to the back of my seat? Do I slouch back, therefore, retreating me even more? Or, do I actually lean forward on the table, pull up my chair to the table? I’ve been known to, if I walk into a meeting and the   is too low and makes me seem even lower than my 5’3” size, then I raise it to maximum height. So, these are things that are under your control and, quite frankly, it’s not just about the impression you make on the other. It’s also how it makes me feel. I don’t want to feel small at that table.

The other part is your voice. And so, your voice says a lot about you. Number one, you want to be heard in that meeting. Well, we better be able to hear you from a projection standpoint. I have twins, by the way. They’re 14 years old and so I’m constantly in this, “I can’t hear you. You’re mumbling.” Mumbling will never get your message across. And so, even from that basic level with your voice, “Do you have some poise around your voice?” Well, what does that sound like? It usually sounds with people who are comfortable, taking pauses as they speak. They speak much more in a deliberate way rather than just speeding through it and never slowing down. That’s in your control.

So, with all of these things, whether it’s your eye contact, your gestures, your voice, your posture, it’s not about, again, a right or wrong, which I think is the way that it’s been positioned a lot of times. It’s more around, “Is the way you’re carrying these things, are they going to have the impact that you want to have in this environment, in this context?”

Because take something like eye contact. In the Western culture, eye contact exudes confidence for whatever reason, but in other cultures, it does not. So, it also has to be culturally and contextually relevant. So, executive presence in and of itself is very situational. It’s very dynamic. It’s not this, “Do it this way and that’s it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s say adopting the context specifically of we’re in a professional United States business environment, looking to be credible and relatable and persuasive in what we have to say so that it’s taken seriously and action is taken and things move forward, I’m curious, are there any particular appearance things you might quickly suggest that we adjust?

Muriel Wilkins
Yeah. So, here’s my rule of thumb when it comes to appearance, let it not be distracting and detracting from every other thing that you’re doing. That’s it. I have many people who ask me things like, “Should I cut my hair? Should I cut my beard? Should I not wear braids? Should I straighten my hair and not have my hair curly? Should I dress a different way? Should I wear suits? Should I wear pants? Should I…?” and the list goes on and on and on.

And I say, “Okay, in the environment that you’re in, would your appearance distract in any way?” So, I share the story around with me, I have clients all along the spectrum. I have some organizations that I work with who are extremely conservative, very traditional. And then I have clients where I have some nonprofits that I work with that are, in the inner city, small. If I were to go to my small nonprofits dressed the same way that I go to my traditional conservative clients, it’s not that the way I’m dressing is bad. It just would make me stand out in a way that then maybe makes me feel confident but doesn’t necessarily create or engender any form of connection with the clients that I’m serving.

So, it truly is about to what extent is the physical energy that you exude distracting or detracting from what you’re trying to do versus supporting you? So, that’s the same we do with beliefs.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And I’m curious, and this might be maybe more of an advanced move, are there times in which we do want to look a little different and distinctive from the audience in the room for a particular objective? What are your thoughts there?

Muriel Wilkins
Yes. So, let me back up a little bit from that question, because the goal is not, “Hey, I need to fit in.” You still want to have, like I talked, I’m not the most traditional conservative person, but I got to have these clients, so what I’m not going to do is wear my most outlandish outfit, but I will wear a suit but I might have some jewelry that’s still a signature me, so I don’t feel like I’m completely “selling out.”

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Muriel Wilkins
But are there times when you may want to stand out a little bit? Yeah, but know why you’re doing it. Know why you’re doing it. So, I’ll give you an example, not just about appearance actually, but more going back to kind of nonverbals. So, if you’re giving a presentation, you may have a choice between standing behind the podium or not using the podium at all.

Well, when somebody asks me, “Should I use the podium? Should I not?” I say, “Well, what impact do you want to make? What impressions do you want to make? If you want to come off as very professorial and expert-like, by all means, stand behind the podium. If you want to show up as like the expert, stand behind the podium. If you want to lean into engaging with the audience, trying to be relatable to the audience, don’t stand behind the podium.”

So, it always comes back to, “What do you want?” And that’s where a lot of people don’t have clarity is even around what is it that they want, how they want to come off.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Thank you. Well, Muriel, tell me, anything else you want to make sure we’d mention before we hit the favorite things?

Muriel Wilkins
Well, this stuff, as I said before, takes a lot of practice, and you never really fully stop because your context changes, you change, your assumptions change, your skills, hopefully, improve over time, how you physically show up changes, so you constantly have to think about, “In this moment, at this time, what is the impact I want to make? And then how do I get there?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lovely. Now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Muriel Wilkins
The one that’s really been resonating with me over the past couple of months, the past year, quite frankly, has been, and I know it comes from Buddha’s teachings but I can’t quote who said it, is, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

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

Muriel Wilkins
My favorite one is around growth mindset and the reframing, because I think growth mindset has a lot of reframing, and Angela Duckworth’s work around that, reframing around how we approach learning. And how we approach, quite frankly, how we define success, that it’s more about the effort rather than the outcome.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And a favorite book?

Muriel Wilkins
Favorite book. My favorite book of the moment is The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer.

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

Muriel Wilkins
My Outlook calendar.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. And a favorite habit?

Muriel Wilkins
Favorite habit. I wish it was a more infused habit, but my favorite habit is meditating.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for and people quote back to you often?

Muriel Wilkins
I say there’s a favorite question that I ask my clients over and over again.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear it.

Muriel Wilkins
And it is, “What do you want?”

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

Muriel Wilkins
So, they can go check out my podcast at Harvard Business Review called “Coaching Real Leaders,” or go to CoachingRealLeaders.com. They can find more information about me and all of the ways that I work with folks at MurielWilkins.com or ParavisPartners.com.

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

Muriel Wilkins
Figure out what you want and the impression you want to make and the outcomes that you want to drive to, and then work backwards from there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Muriel, thank you. This has been fun. I wish you lots of success and luck in the adventures to come.

Muriel Wilkins
Thank you. This was great.

718: How to Fearlessly Negotiate to Get More of What You Want with Dr. Victoria Medvec

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Victoria Medvec says: "Say it, don't sent it. And see them when you say it."

Dr. Victoria Medvec offers her top strategies for greater confidence in asking for–and getting– what you want.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Four strategies to minimize your negotiation fears 
  2. The one thing even expert negotiators get wrong
  3. The five Fs of fearless negotiation 

About Victoria

Victoria Medvec, PHD, is the Adeline Barry Davee Professor of Management and Organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. In addition, Medvec is a co-founder and the Executive Director of the Center for Executive Women at the Kellogg School and the CEO of Medvec and Associates, a consulting firm focused on high stakes negotiations and strategic decisions.

Resources Mentioned

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Dr. Victoria Medvec Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Vicky, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Victoria Medvec
Thank you, Pete. I’m so excited to be with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. Well, I’d love it if we could jump right in, and you maybe kick us off with a story of maybe the most intense, or interesting, or surprising, or creative, or high stakes, or, in some way, noteworthy negotiation that you participated in, either personally or as an advisor, consultant, teacher?

Victoria Medvec
Well, that’s a great question. I include many stories of negotiations in my new book Negotiate Without Fear, because I am someone who enjoys negotiating myself, and I negotiate all the time in the everyday world, but I also advise clients on deals. So, I do a lot of advice on mergers and acquisitions, and partnership agreements, and customer contracts, so I literally am negotiating every single day.

But out of all of those negotiations, there’s one I really remember, and it’s a negotiation that was a very high-stakes field, it was very large. It was involving an international company, and the company was doing a big transaction, and we were doing a great job in the negotiation, and everything was going fantastic. And I kept saying to the CEO, “We need to land the plane,” and he would say, “I think we could just get a little bit more.” And I am super aggressive and I always push my clients to be really aggressive, but at some point, you have to close the deal. Land the plane. Finish the deal.

And I would say, “We have to land the plane,” and he would say, “I just think we can ink out a little bit more.” And I’d say, “We got to land this. We should land this today.” And then, in the midst of that, a regulatory change happened, and the deal fell apart. And that taught me a very critical lesson, Pete, which is I think you should go into negotiations and I think you should always be focused on the other side, and you should always be focused on how your differentiators address the other side’s pressing business needs. And I think you should always be aggressive in setting your goal by thinking about the weaknesses of the other side’s alternatives.

And I want you to have a really clear compelling message about how your differentiators address their needs, convey that message with your offer, but, at some point, no matter how aggressive you are, no matter how well it’s going, you’ve got to know when to close the deal. And I think that’s a key lesson I learned in that negotiation that tempers the fact that I’m always trying to get my clients to be aggressive, be willing to ask, be willing to push in the negotiation. I think it’s also important to know at what point you need to close it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, in this example, so your client was trying to sell and then it’s just no sale because of the regulatory change.

Victoria Medvec
Because of the regulatory change. And it was a situation where he was a great negotiator, and we had worked together many, many times on a bunch of transactions, and he was ambitious, and he was very, very willing to ask, and those are all things I prize and treasure. But I always say everybody pays a price for certainty, and some people pay a really high price for certainty. They don’t like conflict, they don’t want to get involved in the exchange, they pay a super high price for certainty. Those are the people who see a house listed and pay list price so they can get the house and be sure that they have it. Or, they go to buy a car, and they see the car with the sticker, and they buy that sticker because they want to get the deal closed.

Some people pay a very high price for certainty. I’m a person who pays a low price for certainty. I am willing to engage in the discussion. I don’t mind the uncertainty of the interaction. I understand that if I’m using the right channel of communication, I can get a great deal while building the relationship with the other side and minimizing my risks. But some people pay almost nothing for certainty. They want to ink out every single piece of the deal, and that’s the situation we were in with that CEO, and we ended up losing that deal.

And it’s one of the only times I’ve ever had a deal fall apart, and so it’s very memorable because, in the sea of success, it’s the one challenge that I vividly recall, and I learned a really valuable lesson in it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. That is an excellent kickstarter story. And I’m so excited to dig into the how, hence, How to be Awesome at Your Job. But, first, maybe let’s talk about the why. I think some of our listeners might say, “Well, you know, that’s cool but I don’t really negotiate that much at work.” What would you tell them, Vicky?

Victoria Medvec
So, I would tell them that everyone needs to negotiate because we need to negotiate to get things done at work. We need to negotiate to get resources, to get staffing. We need to negotiate to get our ideas accepted, so we’re all negotiating.

I also talk a lot about how to negotiate in the everyday world, and I encourage people to actually negotiate in the everyday world because I think that if you never practice, if you only are doing high-stakes deals at work where the stakes are really high, or negotiating for yourself in your employment situation where the impact is incredibly important, I think, then, you become somewhat risk-averse and you’re afraid to try a new strategy.

So, I always encourage people to negotiate in their daily lives, to negotiate at the store, negotiate in a hotel, negotiate with the credit card company, negotiate every day. And it allows you to practice your skills, practice your strategies, and become more confident as a negotiator. So, for those say, “I never negotiate,” I would say you often negotiate. You might just not see yourself as a negotiator.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Case made. Well, so the book is called Negotiate Without Fear, tell us, what are some of the top fears people have when it comes to negotiating, and what do we do with them?

Victoria Medvec
Right. And you know what’s interesting, Pete, is that these fears are experienced by amateur negotiators as well as expert negotiators, so it’s not as though experience reduces the fear. The fears are just different. I think a lot of people fear conflict. I think a lot of novices fear conflict, so they have a lot of fear over the exchange, over getting involved, over having the conversation. But I think experts often fear damaging the relationship, leaving money on the table, losing the deal. Those are all fears that are pervasive that prevent us from maximizing our success when we’re in these negotiations.

And so, what I try to do in the book is to give you strategies that can help you to mitigate those fears. By using these strategies, you can maximize your success, take the fear out of the negotiation, and be more confident in the interaction.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, with these strategies, are they matched as specific strategy to a specific fear? Or, are they sort of overarching or universal strategies that hit whatever fear you happen to have?

Victoria Medvec
Right. So, it depends on the fear and the strategy itself. So, if you think about a fear like losing the deal, that’s a huge fear that people have, that if I ask, I might lose the deal, they might walk away. Well, if I were to think about the strategies that would relate to that, there’s one set of strategies that’s about having the right conversation by putting the right issues on the table. And that is absolutely going to reduce your fear of losing the deal because you’re going to engage the other side in the interaction.

In the same way, there’s a second strategy that’s talked about, which is seek the right communication channel. So, I talk a lot about seeking synchronicity in negotiation, that you want to say it, not send it, and see them when you say it. I’d love to be face-to-face in person in their office, across the desk from them, but given the current times, and given some of the challenge of that, if I can’t be face-to-face in person, I want to be face-to-face on my favorite platform, whether that’s Zoom, or WebEx, or Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet. I want to be able to see the other side, so I want to say it, don’t send it, and see them when I say it. That also reduces the likelihood that I will lose the deal.

And then there’s another strategy which is to go in and deliver multiple offers rather than a single offer, and that also reduces the fear of losing the deal. It ensures that you engage the other side. And, finally, the strategy of leaving myself room to concede also reduces the fear of losing the deal. So, all of those strategies help to mitigate that one fear. And throughout the book, it talks about a lot of strategies to eliminate all of the different fears.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, boy, I think we need to dig into all of those. So, let’s hear just a couple. When it comes to giving yourself room to concede, what does that look and sound and feel like in practice?

Victoria Medvec
So, it’s so interesting because some people are afraid to really think about the weaknesses of the other side’s best outside alternative, or their back, the weaknesses of the other side’s best outside option, and set their goal based on the weaknesses of the other side’s options. So, they’re afraid to set an ambitious goal. They’re afraid that if they go in, and they push too hard, that they’ll lose the deal or offend the other side or damage the relationship.

And I would actually argue that, in fact, you’re more likely to damage the relationship and lose the deal if you go in too close to your own bottom line to start the negotiation. So, if I come in and I don’t leave myself room to concede, I’m negotiating right around my own bottom line, I don’t have room to adjust, I can’t look concessionary, I can’t modify, I think I start to look stubborn, I look inflexible.

If I go in, on the other hand, with a super ambitious goal, and I actually make my first offer beyond that goal, I have lots of room to adjust, lots of ability to modify, I have lots of room to concede, and I’m going to do two things. I’m going to build the relationship because I look flexible and cooperative, but I’m also more likely to maximize my outcome. So, I think that using the right strategies, like leaving myself room to concede, can help me to overcome a number of fears in the negotiation.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you do that conceding, is there a way to do that with more grace, and you say, “Yeah, we’re going to need 15,000,” and they say, “Hmm, our budget is only 10,000,” and you say, “Okay.” Is there a more finesse to it than that?

Victoria Medvec
There would certainly be more finesse because if I did that, people would be like, “Well, geez, I could’ve gotten it for 10,000 all the time,” and I’d lose credibility. So, I would say that the key to making concessions is to have multiple issues on the table, and to really avoid single-issue discussions. So, I will always tell people that you don’t want to talk about one single thing.

For example, Pete, when people are negotiating something around their employment package, they should not be having a salary negotiation. Salary is one issue in a package that’s about your responsibilities. It’s about the timeline for getting things done. It’s about addressing the employer’s pressing business needs. It’s about showing confidence in what you can do and having some performance metric that might be tied to it. It’s a bunch of issues. It’s not just one issue of salary.

If I avoid single-issue discussions, it’s much easier to create a rationale for concessions. If I’m in and I’m talking about only one thing, it’s very hard to concede in a credible way because if I do say 15,000, and then you push back, and I say, “Okay, how about 10?” the other side is thinking, “Why didn’t you just offer me 10 in the beginning?” and I’d lost all of my credibility. So, you do want to have lots of issues on the table so that you can create a rationale for concessions that you make.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I like that a lot, and I’m thinking about negotiations in which people are hiring me to speak. And so, in a way, it seems like, “Okay. Well, hey, there’s just the number.” But, no, there are so many things, like, “Hey, is it one keynote or one keynote with several breakouts? Will there be videotaping? And what are the rights associated with the videotaping? And, hey, could you do a high-end videotaping and it’s available to me forever and to the group for a limited time?” That’s interesting.

Or, “Oh, I don’t have to get on a plane? We could do this remote? Okay. Well, that genuinely saves a ton of hours.” So, that warrants…

Victoria Medvec
Right. No, it’s multiple issues. It’s lot of issues. And one of the things that I also would encourage you to think about when you’re thinking through that are I know you have many differentiators. You have a lot of unique skills and competencies that could probably solve problems or address the challenges of the people that you’re speaking for. Like, you have a huge audience. You have a lot of followers. There’s a lot of interesting you. What you do with social media might actually help them. So, that would also add issues to the table.

And this discussion about putting the right issues on the table is actually something that I cover in depth in Chapter 2. And the reason is that a lot of negotiators, even expert negotiators, will often negotiate the wrong deal. They have a tendency to negotiate what is standard, what is typical, what always gets discussed, and they don’t necessarily put the right issues on the table. And so, I always say that you should begin by making a list of your objectives, and that your objectives are going to drive your negotiable issues.

And in your set of objectives, I would argue there are a big four objectives. These are always objectives when I care about the relationship with the other side. So, the first objective should always be to address the other side’s pressing business needs. And the second objective should always be to build the relationship. And I would say, more specifically, build the relationship with whom in what time period, what are you trying to do.

The third objective is essential, which is to differentiate yourself. And the fourth objective is to maximize your outcome whatever that looks like in the particular situation you’re in. But if you want to maximize your outcome, you have to think about the first three objectives and, in particular, you want to think about differentiating yourself and addressing the other side’s pressing business needs because you want to create a rationale for your offer that’s about how you’re a differentiator, so address their needs.

And that’s going to give you a focus on them rather than yourself. It’s going to allow you to focus on a package of issues rather than a single issue. It’s going to give you the ability to craft a really good story that will be compelling to them and engage them in the discussion. And that’s what we cover in Chapter 2.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. And I also wanted to follow up on you mentioned multiple offers, and you’ve even got an acronym, multiple equivalent simultaneous offers.

Victoria Medvec
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And, Vicky, I don’t know, did you invent that acronym? Is that yours?

Victoria Medvec
I did not, no. So, I am not the person who came up with the idea of MESOs. I’m the person who’s the biggest fan of them in the world. So, I love using multiple equivalent simultaneous offers. And while I didn’t create the concept of going in and giving the other side three options rather than one, I did create a lot of the ideas around how to do that effectively.

So, it starts out by thinking about the issues that I’ve got on the table. And I actually encourage people to lay out their issues on an issue matrix where you think about sort of a two-by-two table where the X-axis, that horizontal axis, is about what’s important to you, and that really goes from “Easy for me to give up,” to “Very important to me.” And that Y-axis, the vertical axis, is what’s important to the other side, and that goes from “Easy for the other side to give up,” to “Very important to the other side.”

So, you would end up with four quadrants. And that quadrant that is really, really highly important to you and highly important to them is the quadrant we call contentious issues. And there are always contentious issues on the table. You’re never in a negotiation where there’s not a contentious thing to be discussed, but the key is to not only have contentious issues on the table. In fact, the quadrant that matters the most is that quadrant that is high on Y and low on X. It’s really, really important to the other side, and it’s easy for you to offer up. Those we call storytelling issues.

And you want to have more storytelling issues on the table than anything else. You want lots and lots and lots of storytelling issues, because when I have more storytelling issues, two things happen. I can make the story focused on them rather than myself, which is a huge advantage, and, in addition, I have more fodder to use to get what I want on contentious and tradeoff issues.

Tradeoff issues are those things that are super important to me and easy for the other side to offer up. So, I want to lay out that issue matrix. Because when I lay out an issue matrix, and I think about my differentiators, and I’ve got a differentiation chart, I have the two ingredients I need to use to make a multiple offer in a very effective way.

And while I didn’t create the concept of going to the table with three options, I did create the format of how to structure the multiple offers to really be the most compelling at communicating your message to the other side. And that’s laid out in Chapter 7 in the book. In fact, I always tell my students to read Chapter 7 twice because using multiple offers is a strategy that’s going to give you huge advantage in your everyday negotiations, and your negotiations at work, and your negotiations on behalf of yourself. And in that chapter, there are examples of all types of multiple offers being used and being communicated to the other side.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you share with us perhaps one of the quickest and simplest examples that come to mind for doing the multiple equivalent simultaneous offers and a storytelling issue within that?

Victoria Medvec
Yes, sure. So, let’s take an example we can all relate to, which is a situation where we might be negotiating for ourselves. In the current environment of what’s sometimes called The Great Resignation or, otherwise called The Great Reshuffle, you see a lot of people that are negotiating with their employers, and you also see a lot of people that are negotiating with new employers.

The first thing I would say to all of your listeners is never ever leave your job without negotiating. So, so many people, Pete, leave because they’re frustrated by something and they don’t negotiate before they depart. And that is a huge mistake because they might be able to modify something that they dislike. They might be able to get something that they really wanted in terms of a role or responsibility or flexibility. So, it’s always important to ask before you leave and to recognize that, “I can absolutely ask.”

In fact, if you think about it, Pete, in a situation where I am working with my current employer, and I want to think about my goal in the negotiation with my current employer versus a new employer, remember the way I come up with my goal is to think about the weaknesses of the other side’s options, it’s far more likely that my current employer has weaker options than a new employer does, because my current employer is relying upon me right now. I’m certain, I’m known, they understand what I’m capable of doing. They would have to do that work themselves.

So, when you think about it, I can have a more ambitious goal with my current employer, and I should take the opportunity to go in and make an ask, but I should never start that conversation without a plan. And in that plan, I want to think about addressing the employer’s pressing business needs, I want to think about differentiating myself, I want to think about continuing to build the relationship, and I definitely want to think about maximizing my outcome. Whatever that looks like in terms of salary, or bonus, or flexibility in my work, or anything that maximizing looks like.

So, from that list of objectives, I’m going to come up with a lot of issues. Salary will be a contentious issue. It’s really, really important to you, and it’s really, really important to me. It’s in that contentious quadrant. But a storytelling issue might be something that I’m uniquely positioned to do. So, maybe some responsibility that I could take on that I’m really qualified to do.

In the book, I have an example of a woman who works in Boston in a company where she is in a marketing role, and she’s very interested in becoming a VP for sales. And she has a long history of doing sales when she lived in South America. She has lots of experience in sales but is currently working in marketing. But the company needs revenue and they’re interested in getting some South American business and moving into some South American markets. Well, she’s perfectly positioned to help the company to do that.

She speaks Spanish and she’s one of the only people in the Boston office that speaks Spanish to help do the interviews and bring the team on board to help expand business into South America. She has the knowledge about those markets and could do briefings for the senior leaders on those different markets and what markets might be most attractive. She could even do updates for the team on some of the cross-cultural differences to be aware of as you move into South America. And she’s really confident that if she was the VP leading the business there, they would be able to generate revenue very rapidly, and she’s willing to put a bet on her ability to generate that revenue.

If you think about that situation, her salary will be a contentious issue. The updates, the briefings, and the bet on her performance would all be in the storytelling quadrant. Doing the hiring in Spanish would also be a storytelling issue. So, you’ve got all those responsibilities are in that storytelling quadrant.

And then the tradeoff issue in that situation would be probably her title. She wants to be a VP, and that title might be a tradeoff issue. And sometimes, title is more contentious, and maybe the internal title would be contentious, but maybe her external title, so she would have the credibility and the ability to get things done in South America would be a tradeoff issue.

So, she would go into that negotiation, and using that matrix, she would develop three offers. And in those three offers, she would vary the responsibilities across what she’s going to do in North America versus South America. And in one of those offers, she would put a bet on her ability to generate revenue within a year in South America.

Pete Mockaitis
Like a contingent bonus.

Victoria Medvec
She would have a contingent bonus, exactly. I recommend people, when they’re negotiating for themselves, that they always use a contingent bonus based on performance in one of their three options. I don’t think you’re always going to end up with employers who want to do that, but I think it’s always important that you put it in there because, Pete, as you probably picked up, that shows that I’m confident in what I can do. I’m confident in what I can contribute. I’m awesome at my job. I’m willing to show that I’m confident in what I can deliver. And that’s a very important message in that employment situation.

So, that’s how you would curate the multiple offer and that’s how you would think about the issue matrix leading to that multiple offer.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Okay, that’s clear.

Victoria Medvec
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, you’ve got a nice little framework, the five Fs of fearless negotiation. Could you walk us through them?

Victoria Medvec
Sure. So, I always talk about getting ready, getting prepared up front, and I have lots of steps on how to get ready. And then I talk about the five Fs when you go to the table. So, the five Fs are that you want to go first. You get a huge advantage from leading the negotiation. So, I want to go first. I want to focus on them. I should always focus on the other side, not myself. I actually tell people to be a pronoun checker. If I’m talking about I, me, we, us, I’m talking about the wrong side. I would say if your first line in your negotiation includes your name, you’re talking about the wrong side. You want to focus on them. So, I want to go first. I want to focus on them.

I want to frame my offer correctly. So, when I want to get people to do something new, change and do something new, I’m generally going to highlight loss words to get them to move off that status quo. And when I want them to maintain the status quo, I’m probably going to highlight gain words. So, I use a framing piece. So, go first, focus on them, frame the offer correctly. Be flexible. Leave yourself room to concede and use multiple offers.

And then the fifth and final F is no feeble offers. And this is a key one because people make feeble offers all the time. People will walk into a store and they’ll see a shirt sitting there with a snag and they might take it up to the department clerk, and say, “Could you take something off?” That’s a feeble offer. People will go to a customer and they’ll say, “Could you give me more business?” That’s a feeble offer. People will go into a company where their products are displayed on shelves, and they’ll say, “Could you give us better shelf space?” That’s a feeble offer.

You want to make a clear specific ask. So, in that story, you don’t want to say, “Could you take something off?” You want to say, “Gosh, look at this snag. I feel bad you’re not going to be able to sell this. And I bet you, even work on commission, and you won’t be able to sell it. I would take it off your hands if you give me a 35% discount.” That’s a clear specific ask. Leaving myself room to concede but with a clear specific ask.

And in all those cases, I want to go first, I want to focus on them, I want to frame my offer correctly, I want to make sure I’m being flexible, leaving myself room to concede and using multiple offers, and I want to remember always no feeble offers.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that snag T-shirt example because we went through those five Fs right there. And focus on the other side, it could be just that quick, “Oh, you probably aren’t going to be able to sell this.”

Victoria Medvec
Right. That’s exactly right.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, boom, less than a sentence.

Victoria Medvec
That’s exactly right. “And you won’t be able to sell it. You’re going to lose the sale,” is exactly a frame of a loss frame.” That’s exactly right. So, it uses all five of the Fs.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so now, it’s funny. I was just having a conversation with a business partner of mine who’s doing some business development with a cold email outreach sequence, and I was intrigued that in it he had, it’s like, “Would you be available for 15 minutes at 2:00 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday?” And I thought, “That’s really interesting.” Like, I don’t how I’d feel about that but it is not a feeble request; it’s a clear ask.

Victoria Medvec
It’s not feeble. And, in fact, I might even say that he might have wanted to say, “I know that this challenge is confronting you, and I want to provide some information to help. Would you be available at 2:00 o’clock on Wednesday, 3:00 o’clock on Thursday, or 4:00 o’clock on Friday? Let me know which of the three times would be most convenient for you.” Think about that, that’s a multiple offer.

And what you just did is changed the frame of the discussion. You just framed it from, “When are we going to meet?” to “Are we going to meet?” You’re not talking about, “Are we going to meet?” anymore. You’re talking about “When are we going to meet?” So, you literally changed the frame to “When are we going to meet?” instead of “Are we going to?” And that assumptiveness that comes with multiple offers really helps people to get better outcomes.

We know from research that people who use multiple offers get better outcomes than people who use the single offer. But not only do they get better outcomes, they also create stronger relationships. Using multiple offers helps you to build the relationship at the same time that you’re maximizing your outcome. And so, it’s a great strategy to use.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. And let’s talk about that assumptiveness. So, sometimes, I guess, when I’ve been on the receiving end of it, I don’t know, I guess sometimes I don’t like it. Maybe that’s fine. Maybe it’s like, “Okay, you’re disqualified and we’re moving on to the next project.”

Victoria Medvec
No, I think that’s right. I think sometimes we don’t like it, but I would say when we don’t like it, it’s usually because it’s done poorly. And what I mean by that is sometimes people are assumptive but they talk about themselves, not you. So, I think that people like it better if I am assumptive but focused on them rather than focused on myself. And it’s also better if when I’m being assumptive, I don’t make the statement as though I know all about your life or I know what’s going on with you.

But, instead, that I may be assumptive using some third-party data, like, “I know from the last analyst call that you were really worried about this. I understand that you’re challenged with this. Your CEO has mentioned concerns about this. I would love to help with those things.” And, in reality, I don’t think that the cold email is going to be the most effective strategy because, remember, I say, “Say it, don’t send it. And see them when you say it.” So, I’m not a big proponent of the cold email no matter.

But I think that when I’m in a conversation with you and I’m focused on you and being assumptive, and my entire offer is focused on how my differentiators can address your needs, you’re going to find a presumptiveness to be less problematic than if I’m focused on what I want to do or why I want to do it or why it’s important to me, and talking about myself.

And that’s a huge factor in negotiation. I would say that that’s a big switching factor that a lot of people who go into negotiations are very ego-centric. They’re very, very focused on themselves and what they want to get. And when you can switch that to focus in on the other side, their problems, their challenges, their needs, you’re going to be far more effective in every one of those interactions.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And so, now, for your go first point, I know this is hotly debated and studied in negotiation circles. Can we hear your hot take? You are in the go first camp?

Victoria Medvec
I am squarely in the go first camp, very broadly in the go first camp. But I would argue that people who are not in the go first camp are banking that on a lot of information that came out many, many years ago where some people would say, “He who speaks first loses.” But that advice wasn’t based on any research. The research on this is abundantly clear that people who make first offers get better outcomes than people who follow.

When I lead, I get four advantages. When I lead, I get to create the starting point and I get to create an anchoring effect from that. People get anchored by numbers and they insufficiently adjust off of those initial estimates. When I lead, I get that anchoring advantage. But when I lead, I also get to set the table with the issues we’re going to discuss, so I get to ensure that we’re not just talking about salary, we’re not just talking about price. I get to set the table with, “What are we talking about?”

So, if I’m going to talk to a customer, I’m not just talking about the price. I’m talking about the security of their supply chain and how it was threatened during COVID, and I need to ensure that they never run out of product in the future. So, I want to create redundancy in the supply chain and ship them product from multiple locations because I want them to always be able to have the product they need. That’s the topic of the conversation. I just framed that. I framed it by setting the right issues on the table and framing the conversation around loss rather than gain. So, when I go first, I get to get that anchoring advantage, I get to set the table, I get to frame the conversation, and I’m in the relationship-enhancing position.

Think about it for a minute, Pete. If I go first, I come in, I make an offer. You have to react. You have to respond. You have to critique. You have to criticize. If you go first, I have to critique. I have to criticize. I have to tell you what’s wrong. I don’t want to start by telling you what’s wrong with your offer. I want to start by coming in, making that first offer, building the rationale, and having you react to that offer instead.

So, when I go first, I get a lot of advantages, and research has really revealed that. That research is not that old. It’s probably been done in the past 15 years but it shows very clearly that you get a big advantage from going first, but that you have to get prepared so that you can effectively go first. Because if I don’t know enough about the weaknesses of the other side’s alternatives, if I haven’t thought hard enough about, “What would they do if they didn’t do this deal with me?” if I haven’t thought through that, I might make a first offer that actually isn’t ambitious enough and leaves money on the table. So, I want to be careful about that.

And there is exception to this rule. So, I want to make sure that I talk about the exception. And that is in job negotiations. So, in employment situations, you often do not get to lead. And the reason you don’t get to lead is because you can never start to negotiate until they’ve said they want to hire you. So, you have to have the offer of employment on the table before you start the negotiation. And often, as you know, Pete, the offer of employment contains the terms of that offer. And because of that, the employer often leads.

Now, as you become more senior, it’s more likely that they’ll say something like, “We want to hire you. Let’s sit down and talk about what it would take,” and then you can lead. But when you’re young, and I know many of your listeners are young and starting out in their careers, or midway through their careers, they may not be able to lead in the negotiation because unless the other side has said, “I want to hire you,” you can’t start to negotiate, so you have to wait for that offer of employment before you start to negotiate.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you. Okay. Well, so now I’d love it if we could get into some specific words and phrases that you really love and you really don’t in the course of having a negotiation conversation. So, what are some things that are pet peeves of yours or you recommend we avoid like the plague versus words and phrases that seem…I know there’s no such magical word that’s going to just make everyone immediately comply, but, nonetheless, there are things that help and things that hurt and I want to hear them.

Victoria Medvec
I want to tell you some. So, today, actually, I was helping one of my clients with a negotiation, and I was listening to them, and they said, “Well, like Vicky says, this is my best and final offer.” And I literally was like jumping to take myself off mute and get in there and I said, “I would never ever, ever, ever, never ever say ‘That’s my final offer,’ or ‘That’s my best and final offer,’ or ‘Take it or leave it.’” So, those are all words that I hate.

I think those are words in negotiation that puts you in a corner, and you want to remain flexible. You want to be able to get the agreement so you don’t want to get backed into a corner. So, I always say don’t use the words best and final. Don’t say, “This is my final offer.” Don’t say “Take it or leave it.” And I would also say don’t push the other side into a corner. Don’t ask them for their best and final. Don’t say to them, “Is that your final offer?” Don’t say to them things like, “I thought you said you couldn’t do that.” You want them to remain flexible. You want to remain flexible, so you want to stay out of that corner. And so, those are some of my least favorite words.

Another least favorite word is “I’ll send it to you.” Because, remember, I say, “Say it, don’t send it. And see them when you say it.” I want to be in a synchronous channel, face-to-face is best in person, face-to-face on a platform is second best. I want to make sure that I’m saying it and seeing them when I’m saying it. So, that would be another least favorite word is “I’ll send it to you.”

And then I would say, in terms of the favorite camp, what do I really like? I love a story about how my differentiators address your needs. So, I love a story that highlights some differentiator you have addressing a problem the other side has, a challenge that they’re confronting, a situation that they’re struggling with. I love those phrases. I like to use words like, “I think there are multiple ways that we could come at this.” And that gets me into my multiple offers.

So, I love focusing on them, I love giving options, and I love signaling flexibility by talking about the different ways that we could do this, and how I want to be flexible in figuring out what would work best for them. Those are some of my favorite words.

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

Victoria Medvec
Well, I hope that, as people look at the book, they think about the examples as being there for a purpose, which is to give you vivid examples of how you can use the strategies. It’s not a book that just dumps a bunch of strategies on people, and there are hundreds of stories of everyday people using the strategies, of business executives using the strategies, of newcomers in business using the strategies, and of people using the strategies to negotiate for themselves. So, I hope they take a look at the book so that they can find those stories, see the examples, and really get a sense of how they can use those ideas to improve their negotiation success.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Thank you. Well, now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Victoria Medvec
So, I have this quote that I love. It’s from Eleanor Roosevelt, and it says, “Never allow a person to tell you no, who doesn’t have the power to say yes.” And I think that is a perfect negotiation quote by Eleanor Roosevelt. I will always think about that one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite study or experiment or piece of research?

Victoria Medvec
So, my favorite research is probably the research by Kahneman and Tversky on prospect theory. So, this research was done in the 1970s, and prospect theory is the theory that highlights that people are risk-averse in gains, and risk-seeking in losses. And it’s what leads to my advice that if you want to maintain the status quo, you highlight gain in your rationale. And if you want to move off the status quo, you highlight loss.

And Danny Kahneman is one of my co-authors. He’s one of my two Noble Prize-winning co-authors. He’s an amazing individual and I think that this research is fantastic. And I really would say to people, it is one of the most important things you can understand is how to use framing as an influence tactic. I think it’s incredibly important for everyday interaction, time at work, time with family. I think it’s a really important thing to understand. So, I would take a look at prospect theory.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And a favorite book?

Victoria Medvec
I would say my own book Negotiate Without Fear. It’s certainly one of my favorites right now because I just finished writing it. Prior to that, there’s a book by Robert Cialdini called Influence that I absolutely love. And I also really like a book by my academic advisor for my PhD, Thomas Gilovich, and it’s called How We Know What Isn’t So.

And when you think about it, is the How We Know What Isn’t So book focuses on decision-making. And I have to understand decision-making and decision biases to understand what Cialdini was talking about in Influence. And then I use both those decision-making pieces of information and influence to negotiate well. And that’s what I cover in Negotiate Without Fear. So, those are my top three books.

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

Victoria Medvec
So, I use the issue matrix all the time. And I mentioned it to your listeners today, and I really find it to be a very helpful tool. I lay out all my issues before I start a conversation to make sure that I’m actually going to have the right conversation. And I find this tool is really, really helpful to me getting ready for a discussion, but I also find that the tool is incredibly helpful to people who are coaching others. Because, I think so often, when we’re coaching someone to go into a negotiation, or go into a discussion with a customer, we often have a conversation with them, and we spend a long time trying to figure out what are they going to say.

I have a chief revenue officer who likes to say that her team spends a lot of time auditing what people are going to do rather than coaching on what they should do. And I think a part of why they’re auditing what they’re going to do is they’re literally spending 45 minutes of the one-hour meeting figuring out what are they going to say. And I find that the issue matrix is a coach’s dream tool because if I have people lay out those issues, and I can look at what they’re planning to talk about, I immediately know if they’re going to have the right discussion.

And so, I can revert from auditing for 45 minutes to coaching for 45 minutes instead. So, I think it’s a powerful tool for me as an individual and a powerful tool for me as a coach.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Victoria Medvec
Exercise. So, I have found that getting some exercise every day is a really helpful thing for my performance. And I have to be honest with you, I was not an exercise person before. And I realized that the reason I was never exercising is because I never found time in my schedule to do it. So, I started to book exercise appointments, and during the pandemic, I booked them virtually. So, as soon as we get off this call, I’m going to have my virtual barre class with a trainer who’s going to hold me accountable to being there at that exact moment in time, and doing my workout. And I find that is a habit that has really paid off both in terms of better health and a lot more energy.

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

Victoria Medvec
So, there is a line I use all the time, which relates actually to the title of my book, and that line is “Always be fearless.” So, I want people to go in and be fearless as they approach negotiation, but also to be fearless as they approach everyday situations, to be fearless and confident, and I say it all the time.

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

Victoria Medvec
I would point them to my email which is victoriamedvec@medvecandassociates.com, or to my website. So, I think my website and my email are both great ways to get in touch with me. And I would be delighted to hear from your listeners.

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

Victoria Medvec
So, my final challenge for people being awesome in their jobs is to encourage them to go out and negotiate. Don’t be afraid to ask. Ask on behalf of your company, and ask on behalf of yourself. Many people do not negotiate for themselves, and I know from looking at your demographics of your listeners that a lot of your listeners are female. I think 73% or something are female. And one of the things I would say is a lot of women don’t ask. Women are far less likely to negotiate for themselves than their male colleagues are.

And that’s wildly known but what’s often not known is that while lots of women don’t ask, many men don’t ask either. This is a problem that crosses gender. People don’t negotiate for themselves. And so, I would encourage them to go in, always be fearless, and be willing to ask. And ask for themselves with the right issues on the table and the right strategy.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Vicky, this has been a treat. I wish you many fearless negotiations and fun times in the future.

Victoria Medvec
Thank you so much, Pete. It was an absolute delight to spend time with you and your listeners today. And I hope that they find some tools and strategies that will help them to be awesome at their job.

711: Speaking with Calm and Confidence with Patricia Stark

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Patricia Stark says: "I'm making up what I'm telling myself about the situation anyway, so why not make up something positive?"

Patricia Stark shares key strategies for developing the calm and confidence to shine under any spotlight.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The critical mindset shift that brings both calm and confidence
  2. The simple rule for looking and sounding like an expert
  3. Just how long you should maintain eye contact 

About Patricia

Patricia Stark is owner of Patricia Stark Communications and Calmfidence® Workshops, providing training in personal and professional development. She works with celebrities, corporate executives, authors, news anchors, social media influencers, and others whose careers rely on their ability to communicate confidently. She lives in New York. For more, see patriciastark.com. 

Resources Mentioned

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Patricia Stark Interview Transcript

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

Patricia Stark
Pete, it’s so great to be here with you. Thanks for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your book Calmfidence, and it’s spelled C-A-L-M-F-I-D-E-N-C-E. First of all, what does that mean?

Patricia Stark
Well, thank you for kind of spelling out that first word, because if you say it quickly, everybody’s ear hears confidence, which we all hear, but it’s Calmfidence. So, basically, I’ve been coaching and training people for many years, and I realized that all of my clients and students had two things in common. They wanted to be confident speaking in public, or being on stage, or in the media, or asking for a raise, or giving a presentation, or they were also feeling that they needed to find their calm.

So, a lot of people can be confident but they still get stressed out and anxious. So, they were really looking for those two things. And I found that’s really a very powerful and magical combination when you can both have calm and confidence simultaneously. So, thus, the term calmfidence.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. And could you share with us a story of just what’s possible in terms of a transformation with regard to starting out neither calm nor confident, and ending a super calmfident?

Patricia Stark
Sure. Well, I’ll give you a personal story where, really, I noticed it in myself for one of the first times. So, I was invited to be on a PBS program in New Jersey for one of the PBS networks here in our area, and it was the first time that I was going to be shown as a “communications expert.” So, I was thinking to myself, “Oh, my goodness, what if the so-called communications expert makes a mistake?”

Now, for years leading up to that, I had been the interviewer, I had been the reporter, the anchor, the host doing the interview, and now here I was as the guest expert, and I’m thinking to myself, “Oh, my goodness, like this is really a disaster if I can’t communicate well in this situation.” And I started to get myself a little worked up, as most of us do when we’re out of our comfort zone, and doing something for the first time where we’re expanding and we’re doing something new.

And, all of a sudden, it hit me that I was confident because I had helped a lot of people, and I knew that my exercises and strategies had really benefited people. And then, suddenly, I got this sense of calm over me where I realized, “You know what, this isn’t about me at all. This is about the viewers that are listening that really need some help, and that really need to have some strategies to work through this on their own. And I was there to be of service and to give value.”
And once I had that mind-shift change, it really gave me a very different perspective and sense of calm and confidence and control over the situation.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s even come up a few times in terms of feeling calm and confident in a speaking situation, it’s the realization, “Hey, it’s not about you. Get over yourself. Be of service. Focus in on the listeners, what they need and want, and how you can deliver that.” So, it sounds like, hey, there’s a huge nugget right there in terms of being calm and confident.

So, tell us, how do you think we get there if we’re sort in our head and self-conscious and thinking about ourselves, and, “What if I screw up?” How do we make that leap?

Patricia Stark
Yeah. Well, you just said a really key phrase, “What if I screw up?” and that’s what I was doing myself in the example that I gave you, is that I was picturing what could go wrong. And we’re so good at that, and it’s really a defense mechanism to help us protect ourselves, to think worse-case scenario, to think, “Okay, what if the absolute most horrible thing happens right now? How am I going to defend myself or get out of the situation?” So, that tends to be our default.

So, first and foremost, we need to really realize that the most important thing that we are hearing is, initially, our internal communication before we have external communication. So, we have to do a check-in on, “How am I speaking to myself, first and foremost, about this situation? And what is the story that I’m telling myself? And am I envisioning the way that I want it to go and how I can help others and really visualize and see this going the way that I want it to go? Or, am I going to that primitive default place where I’m in this protective mode of just hoping that I am going to survive this?”

So, I think that, really just by changing your focus and saying, “No, I’m going to have a plan, and I’m going to visualize how I’m going to work that plan in the positive way that I want it to go, and even seeing the outcome that I want to see.” And that may be someone coming up to you and saying, “Hey, wow, that speech really helped me, or that really inspired me,” or a boss coming up to you and saying, “Wow, you really did your homework for that presentation, and it was a great job. We really appreciate all the work you put in that.”

And doing that ahead of time, which is called pre-paving, really then helps our subconscious kick in and follow our positive plan, rather than worrying about all of those horrible images that we’ve created, that our autopilot is saying, “Well, I thought this is what you wanted me to do because this is the last thing you were thinking before you sent me out there.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, in your book, you’ve got a whole chapter on calmfidence boosters. It sounds like we’ve already maybe hit a couple of them. Can you share what are some of the other most powerful practices that really help people here?

Patricia Stark
Yeah. Well, I know that people have heard this time and time again, but it really works, and it’s really true. And that is having gratitude, being grateful for why you’re there, for the opportunity to be there. And it can be small gratitude, it can be large gratitude. So, if someone is asking you to be in a leadership role, or to be the expert on the topic of the moment, that doesn’t mean that you’re the be-all-end-all best expert there’s ever been, but you’re going to be the expert at that moment.

So, having gratitude for saying, “Wow, it’s really great that someone thinks that I have something to offer or that they’ve invited me to be here.” Instead of, “I have to do this,” no, “I get to do this. And how lucky and blessed am I that I’m even in this position to have a platform where I can, hopefully, help others and inspire others.”

So, gratitude is really one of the things that study show can completely cancel out anxiety. You literally can’t be grateful and anxious simultaneously because you can’t be thinking of things that you’re grateful for and also have that sense of anxiety.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s super. How about another calmfidence booster?

Patricia Stark
Another calmfidence booster would be trusting yourself and liking yourself. So often we worry about what others think, “How do I look? How do I sound?” But getting to the point where you’ve prepared enough to where it’s good enough, and you’re not trying so hard for perfection, but just good enough. And I think that sometimes we get so in our way because we think that everything has to be just right, everything has to just be perfect, but when we realize that good enough is good enough, now we have room to be human, we have room to be approachable and endearing.

And other studies that I’ve read also show that we don’t like perfect people anyway. We like people that seem like us, that are vulnerable, that mess up, that say, “Whoops, sorry,” and keep going on and let it roll off their back. So, that’s definitely another booster is cutting yourself some slack and liking yourself and allowing yourself to be human, and letting that be good enough and not aiming for such perfection because perfection really is a roadblock.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve got some particular perspectives on dealing with the inner critic. Can you share a few of those with us?

Patricia Stark
Yeah, the inner critic goes back to what I was saying earlier about that defense mechanism and that primitive place where we’re protecting ourselves. Everybody talks about the inner critic and it sounds like this big monster that has fangs, that is chasing us down in the back of our minds. But what that inner critic really is is it’s just you or I like a scared little kid that still lives with us, and we can’t ever completely make the inner critic go away.

But we can stop taking direction from it, and we can say, “Oh, you know what? I know why you’re here. You’re scared or you’re worried or something like this is baggage that you’ve been carrying on that maybe happened to you when you were a kid. Maybe you got laughed at. Maybe you got turned down for a job or for a date or for whatever, fill in the blank, and now that scared little part of us that we still all have like a squatter in the back of our mind, kind of shows its ugly head to warn us and to try to protect us.”

And that’s when I like to say, “No, we all have an inner critic but we also all have an inner coach.” And it’s almost like that angel-devil scene that we’ve all seen in movies or commercials, and we’re like, “Okay. Well, who am I going to listen to?” And it really takes practice and a conscious effort to say, “You know what, I’m not going to listen to the inner critic. I’m going to listen to the inner coach.”

“And I’m going to talk to myself the way that teachers, or mentors, or people that I’ve admired, or people that really helped me at certain parts of my life, a dear friend, or a confidante. How did they talk to me? Or how would I talk to a dear friend or someone that I care about if they were struggling with something or having stress or anxiety? And deciding that I’m going to talk to myself as my inner coach and then I can’t listen to the inner critic.”

Because if you’re not talking to yourself, that inner critic voice is going to be really loud. But if you’re talking to yourself, then you can’t hear that inner critic talking to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And, by contrast, what are some of the calmfidence killers?

Patricia Stark
Definitely, defining yourself externally. We all worry about what others think and, “What is this person going to think?” Or, I remember my mom always telling me when she grew up with her father, he had emigrated to this country, and he was always, “What will people think?” And, finally, she said to him as she got a little older, she’s like, “Who are these people that you’ve been talking about?”

So, I think that it is defining yourself from externally. I think that all happiness, all calmfidence, all calm and confidence, all starts from within. So, working on things, whatever you can, and knowing that, again, we’ve all got baggage, we’ve all got all kinds of things that have influenced us negatively going through our lives, whether it was family, friends, coaches, tough people that we work with. We’ve all got that. We’re all struggling with something.

But realizing that true calm and that confidence and trust in ourselves and belief in ourselves can never come from external sources. It can only come from the inside and doing that inner work. And that might look different for different people. It could be meditation. It could be preparation. It could be their faith. It could be, again, going into that inner coach mode. But knowing that we’ve got to go internal, and from within, and that’s where everything, that’s the foundation of everything, not coming from the outside.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you mentioned that can look differently for different people in terms of what is the inner work by which one arrives at, having an internal, I guess, self-worth, self-confidence, self-identity, that is, ideally, kind of unshakeable in terms of someone thinks you’re dumb or whatever. And it’s funny, in my own life experience, I’ve had times where I’ve had criticism, I’m like, “Oh, yeah, you’re mistaken. I don’t care,” and just like has zero impact. And other times, it’s like, “Oh, no,” and it really hits hard. So, I’d love it if you could dig into some of those different views of inner work that gets us to that place of unshakeable self-confidence?

Patricia Stark
Sure. Well, I can’t get in in other people’s heads but when I’ve had the conversation with clients and students, and even family and friends, and even when I’ve been discussing when I was writing my book, it’s really like, “What’s that personal ritual or that thing that you do that makes you feel like, ‘You know what, I’ve got this. I’ve got my act together. I feel solid. I feel like I’m ready to go’?” And those rituals are different for all of us.

Some people like to work on their outside and feel like everything looks just a certain way and then, hopefully, then they let that go and they can forget about themselves because they’ve taken care of whatever they needed to externally get their act together, and now, “Okay, I’m in that uniform, I’m in that mode so I can go out into the world and, hopefully, forget about myself.” It could be, again, someone that meditates in the morning, or maybe somebody that really does their homework, that really covers all the bases above and beyond so that they can perform to a certain degree and have a little bit extra if they need to whip something out of their hands that they weren’t expecting.

It could be someone thinking about, “What’s my why? Why am I showing up today? Is it because I feel that I have something that will help people? Is it that I want to do a great job so that I feel like I have something that I’m proud of or that my family will be proud of me? Is it my faith in myself or a faith in a higher power?” It’s something that all of us tap into that, again, is an individual thing that makes us each feel, like, “I know I’ve got this. And even if things don’t work out exactly the way I want to, or go south and are not okay, I know I’ll, at least, be okay.”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Thank you. And I’m curious, when it comes to, kind of shifting gears like into the actual presentation/communication zone, you mentioned rituals and preparation. I’m thinking about the actual preparation of your content or presentation. What do you recommend? Is there a particular amount or approach that really works wonders and making us feel confident and ready to go and deliver?

Patricia Stark
Yeah, over the years when I would work with a different content and copy, whether I was on stage or in front of the camera for a client, I remember someone many, many years ago, it might’ve been a director or a producer that we were having this conversation. And they made this comment where they said, “You know, it’s not about memorization. It’s about internalization.” So, it’s one thing to memorize things, and that’s fine and that’s good, and some people have better memories than others.

But when you’re really invested to the point where you’ve internalized this stuff, where you just really know your stuff, you eat, sleep, and drink it, you know it like the back of your hand, that’s when the magic can happen because you can be so much more free, and flexible, and not worry about, “Oh, I was supposed to say it just this way.”

Just like, I’m sure, when you drive to your home from work or wherever you’re going, to the food store, whatever it is. There’s probably five different ways or routes that you could take to your house, but all of them are going to get you to the place where you need to be, depending on what mood you’re in or traffic or detours. So, as long as you know your content inside and out, the best that you can.

And I know sometimes people spring presentations on us and things we don’t have as much time to prepare as we would like. However, if you’re someone who should know that content, and it is something that you live with and that you work with, and that maybe, and hopefully, is a passion of yours, to be able to have it more something that is just part of you and internalized, again, to where not just memorizing talking points, that’s such a beautiful place to be, because then you can have real organic things happen, you can really be in the moment, people can ask you questions and you’re not going to get thrown because you can think for a moment and you can be like, “Well, here’s my point of view on that.”

And, again, we want to be prepared obviously, so the best people will make it look like they’re winging it but they still have a skeletal structure. So, a lot of times I’ll tell clients, “Okay, if you’re not going to go from a verbatim script, have chronological bullet points where you’re going to kind of have a skeletal structure in your mind’s eye so you’ll see that structure of content points or concept points, and then with a more casual conversation, hopefully a little bit more organic, then you could put the flesh and the fat on it in a conversational manner, but you’re still following this beautiful skeletal structure so you know where you’re starting and where you’re ending up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. And so, that sounds like a great kind of place to end, like, oh, you have that flexibility, you can rock and roll in that way. And I’m curious, and I’m sure it’ll vary based on the nature of the communication and the person, but sometimes I think we have it but we don’t really have it. In terms of, like, “Okay, yeah, I know what I’m talking about. Uh-uh, sure.” So, I guess, how do we really know? How do you really know that you know? Is there sort of an amount of practice or a key acid test that you run folks through?

Patricia Stark
It is different for everyone. I used to have a terrible fear of public speaking when I was in high school and in college, and I would overprepare and that would make me more nervous. Now that I’ve gotten over that, and I’m just at a place where I just love communicating with people, and I love talking about all kind of topics, including the ones that are my passion, I tend to just be more relaxed about it, I have a plan, but it’s more of a simplified plan, again, that I can kind of let happen organically.

But for people who can’t do that and they don’t speak enough, and that’s usually the problem, when we don’t speak all the time and we’re not constantly in great shape of organizing our content and presenting our content, what I will tell to people is I’ll say, “Let’s do it in like a rule of three.” So, I had a client recently that she’s an expert in her field, and she was going to be interviewed on a morning show about what she did, and it was three minutes.

And we went through it because she’s done that before, and we had her content, and the three main takeaways that she wanted to do. And then she came to me the next week and she said, “Oh, my goodness, someone just asked me to do a half an hour of content that they want to have as like a webinar or something that was going to live somewhere on somebody’s website.” And she said, “How the heck am I going to fill a half an hour?”

So, then I said to her, “All right. Well, what about those three main modules, or those three main takeaways that you normally talk about?” And we flushed that out again. And then I said, “Okay, so 30 minutes is really you’ve got, what, maybe about a minute, a minute and a half open, and then a minute, a minute and a half close, so now you’ve got like 27 minutes left, so that’s nine, nine, and nine, which makes 27.”

“So, let’s take three blocks of nine minutes and have that be one of each of your three talking points. And then, under that, let’s have a subset of three things under each of those umbrellas that go a little bit deeper, a deeper dive into the topic. So, then that was three minutes, three minutes, three minutes under each of those nine headings.”

So, all of a sudden, she’s working this all out, and she says to herself, “Wow, if I can include all of this stuff, I hope that I can give all the information I want to give. I hope a half an hour is enough time.” So, suddenly, she realized she had more than enough content. She just needed to chunk it down. So, I think that if we can chunk things down, think about what really are the main takeaways that the audience or the viewers, the listeners, really need and simplify that, and then go back and reverse-engineer and dive a little bit deeper into each of them, we’ll usually find that we have more content than we need.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lovely. And you also got some particular perspectives on healthy, engaged eye contact. Lay it on us.

Patricia Stark
Yes. So, a lot of people don’t really feel comfortable with eye contact, and it’s particularly odd these days because we’re out of practice. We haven’t been in person with each other the best that we can and we’ve all been all over the place with our eye contact on some of these virtual platforms because it’s like, “Well, I want to look down at the boxes and see the people that I’m talking to as I’m used to looking at human beings, but I really need to look at that little dot in front of me so that they feel like I’m looking at them, and even feel like I’m listening to them,” because when we’re looking in other places, we look disengaged.

So, I know, in person, that a lot of people feel like either someone’s boring a hole through their head or looking into their skull if they make eye contact for too long. So, a couple of tips on comfortable, confident eye contact, the sweet spot seems to be between like two and five seconds. So, if we look away too fast before that two seconds, it looks like we’re nervous and we don’t want to make that eye contact or we’re hiding something. And if we stay, overstay our welcome a little bit longer than that five seconds, it looks like we’re way too interested or we’ve got that stalker stare.

So, to kind of think to yourself, “All right, just go for that two- to five-second sweet spot, and then look at the other nonverbal communication.” We should be looking at lips. We should be looking at eyebrows. We should be looking at facial expressions. And kind of looking up to think about our content, or looking down to ponder what we’re thinking about or how we’re digesting the information. So, we actually give each other breaks in those moments so that we’re not just completely engaged in eye contact all the time to where everybody becomes uncomfortable and awkward.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a great perspective in two to five seconds that sounds and feels about right, and often that might be just about a short sentence or a phrase, and then we can look to the next person with the following sentence. And then when we start a new one, we’re looking at the next person. So, that just sort of has a nice flow or groove to it.

When you mentioned that we’re out of practice and scared, I’m curious, do you have any exercises you recommend? Sometimes I found, like in an airport, or I like to look at people’s eyes, and it’s funny, I see it in myself in terms like sometimes I’m just like ready. I’m ready to look at them for two seconds and nod, just like, “Hey.” And other times, I’m like, “Ooh, you caught me. Ahh.”

Patricia Stark
Oh, I know. Yeah, that’s like, “Oh, yeah, I wasn’t looking at you. I swear.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, are there exercises you think we can conduct safely to get more comfortable with this?

Patricia Stark
Yes. Well, I’ll tell you a quick little funny story. When COVID first happened and we were all in that really first intense quarantine, and I hadn’t been used to seeing faces up close other than my immediate family members, I opened the refrigerator one day and there was this huge image of someone’s face on the container of milk and it startled me. I was like, “Oh, that feels really weird and really close and a stranger.” So, I like felt that effect. And when I was doing a little bit of research on this, I found out that there are actually apps and websites where you can practice and you can go on and you can stare into eyes of people that are looking directly at you on your phone or your computer. So, that’s kind of an interesting little trick.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fascinating.

Patricia Stark
Yeah, or you could watch a video.

One little thing that I want to mention when it comes to uncomfortable or prolonged eye contact is that it’s also a very effective strategy in holding your ground. If you really want someone to know you mean business, or you’re really waiting for an answer, or you are expecting something, you can just really just maintain that eye contact, and look at them and hold your ground, and it really makes people respond or get uncomfortable. And not that we want to make people uncomfortable, but it’s very effective in letting people know that you are standing your ground and you’re not doing anything until they make the next move.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it really is. And I remember when I did a lot of keynotes on college campuses, sometimes there’d be some chatterboxes talking to each other in the audience, and I didn’t really like that. But it was almost like a magical superpower in terms of, sure enough, when I look right at them, it’s like, they say, “Ooh,” they kind of like tone it down and got quiet until I looked elsewhere and then they’d start up again, and you look again, and they tone it down.

Patricia Stark
Yeah, yeah. And we also…you reminded me of something about judging a book by its cover, and I’d mentioned earlier about the eye contact with the other nonverbal facial expressions which have also been tough with us with masks on, so we really rely on the eyes and, hopefully, seeing the crow’s feet so we could tell someone is smiling or looking in between their brow to see if they’re sad or angry or mad or whatever, but it’s really the whole picture.

So, it’s not just the eye contact. It’s, “What other messages am I receiving? And what are some of those micro expressions, little moments where we think we saw something but then it went away because someone tried to hide it.” So, hopefully, it makes us ask more powerful questions and engage verbally with people. But there was one instance where I was giving a seminar or it was a big workshop, I think it was, and there was somebody in front of the room that was staring at me, and she really had this terrible picklepuss kind of poker face look on her face, and I thought she was extremely unhappy every time I had kind of catch eyes with her.

And, lo and behold, at the break, who’s the first person that runs up with a big smile on their face telling me how much they’re enjoying the session? And I was looking, and I was like, “Are you kidding me?” I said, “You looked like you wanted to beat me up.” And she goes, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’ve been told I get this look on my face when I’m really into something and really intensely listening and paying attention.” I was like, “You’ve been told this. I think you need to work on that.”

But really, it was a good lesson for me to…remember how we talked about that self-talk? That was a story I was telling myself, “Oh, she must be unhappy. Why did I go there first?” So, now, if I see those picklepusses and poker faces, I think, “Oh, they think this is the best thing since sliced bread.” I’m making up what I’m telling myself about the situation anyway, so why not make up something positive?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. And it’s true, I think that there are times where my eyes, they might just seem like I’m sort of glazed over, like maybe zombie-sque, but what’s really happening is, I’m like, “Whoa, Patricia, what you just said is huge. And so, if that’s true, then all these other implications and possibilities might work out. And maybe I should try this over here.” And so, it might look like I’m totally zoned out but, in fact, I’m engaging pretty deeply and my mind is really racing with ideas and possibilities associated with the thing that you’ve spoken about.

Patricia Stark
Yes, so we shouldn’t make assumptions. And if we’re going to, let’s keep them positive because we’re making it up anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. Well, tell me, do you have a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Patricia Stark
I was thinking that a really great one, especially in business and in the way that we put ourselves out there, or not, in the world is, “God gives birds their food, all birds their food, but He doesn’t throw it into their nest.”

And I particularly like this quote because I am a bird person. I have a bird feeder out in the back of my yard, and I’m always going out there, and I get a lot of joy feeding the cardinals and the different birds, and even the squirrels, they don’t bother me because I think, “You know what, they’re coming out when I’m throwing this out there.” But they have to come out of their nests to come and get that food.

And when I see them with that motivation and they give me happiness because I see that they’re going out there to come and get what I’m giving to them, I want to give them more. I even have one squirrel that will come up to the backdoor and take a big piece of bread out of my hand like it’s a drive-thru window. And I love this squirrel because the squirrel is going the extra mile. It’s figured out that if it comes out and comes out of its comfort zone, out of its safe space, that I’m here to give it something.

And I think that this is a really great analogy for whether it’s a goal or going the extra mile at your job. When people see that you’re willing to leave the nest to take a chance to put yourself out there and show some initiative and go out there and get it and be a go-getter, people really respond to that and they want to help you even more. And I think that that is just a great thing to keep in mind, again, for any goal or anything that you’re doing in the workplace, that people want to help people who are out there trying to go above and beyond.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Patricia Stark
I think that anything to do with Positive Psychology, I’m all about that because, for so long, psychology really only focused on dysfunctional things and what was going wrong, and, “How can we help fix those things?” And then, lo and behold, Positive Psychology studies came around and it was all about, “What can be right and what can be done positively from a place of something is not broken or needs to be fixed? But how can we think better and think differently that will help us advance?” So, anything to do with Positive Psychology or emotional intelligence, I really love.

And there was also a body language study done by a woman named Amy Cuddy I have found it to be pretty true to where, when you use your space and you stand up straight and tall, and you feel more powerful, almost like a Superman or Superwoman pose that you might do before you go out to give that presentation or go in front of the camera, it changes your physiology, and your stress hormone, cortisol, drops, and your testosterone can rise.

And in her study, she showed this can literally happen in the way that we use our body in just two minutes. And I’ve used this with clients and students, and even myself, and I see the difference. For imploding, looking down at our cellphone, or looking at that resume and not getting up and using our body to feel open and more powerful, and using our space. There is definitely an effect on how we show up.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Patricia Stark
Well, I have so many but one that I just finished recently was called Rise and Grind by Daymond John from Shark Tank.

But I also love Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. I’ve referred to that many times over the years when I’ve been looking for a goal, whether it was to achieve goals at work, or write my book, or whatever it may be. Blink by Malcom Gladwell. I can go on because I am very big student of personal and professional development books, so I could probably rattle off more than a few for you right now but I won’t take your time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about is there a key nugget you share that people seem to connect and retweet and frequently quote you, a Patricia original?

Patricia Stark
I’ve told people, and especially, students and younger people when I go to speak at schools or at some of these Zooms, that I love to remind them that we all have our own personal fingerprint that no one has the same fingerprint that any of us do. So, it doesn’t matter if someone is doing something or has done something before. If it’s something that’s in your heart, and that’s a calling for you that you want to do in this world, just focus on putting your own personal fingerprint on it because that means no one has ever touched it just the way that you have or will from your perspective and your personal lifeforce.

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

Patricia Stark
Well, you can certainly link with me on LinkedIn, just Patricia Stark; on Facebook, Patricia Stark Communications; Twitter @clickpatricia, like you’re clicking Patricia. And then Instagram, patriciastarkcommunications. And then on the web, PatriciaStark.com or CalmfidenceBook.com.

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

Patricia Stark
Just know that when you have the plus factor, when you’re not just going through the motions, when you’re not just following the job description, everyone truly is really self-employed because it’s up to you to decide how good you want to be at something, how much effort you want to put forth, how much of a plus factor you want to have, and that’s the thing that will make you stand out from the crowd and be different.

And even if it doesn’t happen right away, people take notice when we go above and beyond, because, unfortunately, not a lot of people necessarily do that. And when you do that, and you are willing to go the extra mile, people will want to go the extra mile for you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Patricia, this has been fun. I wish you much luck with your book and other adventures.

Patricia Stark
Pete, well, thank you so much for your time. I really enjoyed speaking with you today.

708: The 7 Steps to Winning Others’ Support with Suneel Gupta

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Suneel Gupta says: "If you don't believe what you're saying, then others can't believe."

Suneel Gupta walks through his 7 steps for becoming “backable”–worthy of others backing your ideas.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you don’t need charisma to be backable 
  2. How to make your idea stand out with an “earned secret”
  3. Why you don’t want to have everything figured out 

About Suneel

Suneel Gupta teaches Innovation at Harvard University. His  bestselling book Backable is rooted in Suneel’s journey from a twice-failed entrepreneur to a leader behind two IPOs, and to being named “The New Face of Innovation” by the New York Stock Exchange. Suneel has personally backed startups including Impossible Foods, AirBnB, 23&Me, Calm, and SpaceX. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you Sponsors!

  • Justworks. Make your hiring and managing easier with the Justworks HR platform at justworks.com. 
  • StoryBlocks. Enhance your video storytelling quickly, beautifully, and affordably at Storyblocks.com/awesome. 

Suneel Gupta Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Suneel, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Suneel Gupta
Pete, it’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to hear your wisdom. And, first, you got to tell us the story about you being the face of failure from New York Times.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, I got a call a few years ago from an organizer of an event, and it was cool for me because at that time I had just started public speaking. Just trying to get up in front of audiences. I really enjoy that type of work. And I get a call and this event organizer says, “Hey, you’ve been nominated twice to speak at this conference.” And I said, “Hey, that’s fantastic. What’s the name of the conference?” And she says, “It’s FailCon,” which stands for Failure Conference.

And let me tell you, Pete, it’s a humbling experience when somebody calls you and says, “Look, we’re doing a conference on failure and we would love for you to be the keynote speaker.” And to make matters worse, I’m up on stage and I didn’t realize this at that time but there was a reporter from the New York Times in the audience, and this reporter decides to do a full-length story on failure, and uses my face as the cover of this article, and the article goes viral. It goes so viral that you could literally have Googled failure at the time and my face would’ve been one of your top search results.

And so, funny enough, I always tell people this, when it comes to writing a book, people tend to come from either the point of view of having a solution or having a problem. And, for me, at that time, I definitely had a problem. And my problem was that when I was inside companies, when I was trying to get jobs, at that time when I was trying to raise funding for my own company, I just wasn’t having any luck. I wasn’t getting people to listen to my ideas. And even when I got inside a room, I was having a very difficult time winning people over.

And that article turned out to be a real gift for me because it opened the door to all these conversations with people who I consider to be the top of their game, extraordinary people from Oscar-winning filmmakers, to celebrity chefs, to CEOs of big companies. And what I learned through the conversations was that coming up with an idea is really only half of sort of the dynamic of being innovative. The other half is really getting people bought into it, and that is much more learned than anything else.

Usually, backable people who I studied were not naturals at this. There was a series of steps that they learned how to take in order to get people excited about their ideas. And once I started to put these practices into play, it really changed everything for me, and I said, “Gosh, I got to put this on paper and share this with other people.” And that formed the basis for the book.

Pete Mockaitis
And, indeed, you put it on paper in the book Backable: The Surprising Truth Behind What Makes People Take a Chance on You. And so, I’d love to go through each of the seven steps and get a little bit of a demo in terms of what does okay look like versus great look like inside these worlds. But could you kick us off by sharing perhaps the most surprising or counterintuitive piece of your approach?

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, one of the things I really expected to find is that backable people were going to be just generally charismatic. And as I started to sort of broaden the spectrum and I looked at backable people everywhere from all different fields, I thought they were going to have a certain style of communication. They were going to be people who had great eye contact, and great hand gestures, and just did all the sort of things we think about when it comes to great speakers, but more and more, I found that to not be the case.

And I would venture to say, Pete, that probably the majority of backable people that I was able to study did not have the classic communication styles that we might expect. But what I did find is a common denominator, is that it wasn’t charisma. It was conviction. Backable people took the time to convince themselves of their own ideas, and then they let that conviction shine through in whatever communication style it is that feels most natural to them.

And so, just a couple of examples. One is you just go back and watch the original launch of the iPhone. So, this is the 2007 Steve Jobs product launch. And what you might be surprised to find is that it doesn’t come off as charismatic or at least classically charismatic as we might remember. He uses the word “uh” over 80 times in that speech, he’s staring down at his feet quite a bit, and he kind of sort of almost wanders a little bit here and there. And, again, it’s not a crisp sort of TED-style presentation.

Or, let’s take another example from TED itself. If you look at the number one most popular TED Talk of all time right now, what you’ll find is…

Pete Mockaitis
How to get some creativity?

Suneel Gupta
Sir Ken Robinson, exactly. Sir Ken Robinson, it’s a brilliant, brilliant talk but what we might be surprised by is that it’s just not sort of a classic TED-style presentation. Sir Ken Robinson, he has one hand in his pocket, he sort of meanders on and off script, he naturally walked with a bit of a hunch and so he’s got a bit of a slouch as he stands up there on stage, but it’s an amazing presentation.

And, again, the reason that I bring that up is because, oftentimes, when we think about winning people over, when we think about sort of being inside a room, we focus on these classic communication styles – make direct eye contact, use specific hand gestures – but I didn’t find that to be the case at all. I found more to be the case of figure out what your natural style is, but then build conviction around that. Take the time to convince yourself first because if you don’t believe in what you’re saying, then they can’t believe.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Well, so that is step one, convince yourself. And so, let’s kind of walk through all seven of those. But while we’re talking about convince yourself, I think I look back on my own entrepreneurial journey. I think I’ve been too good at convincing myself. I talked myself into some things. I had some natural enthusiasm and passion for the thing, but I think I talked myself into pursuing initiatives that, on second thought, probably should’ve done a better job validating the value proposition upfront and maybe gone in another direction. So, how do we think about convincing ourselves versus not deluding ourselves, shall we say?

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, it’s a great question. I think it is a balance. One of the ways I try to think about this is you don’t want to share your idea too early. And so, when we talk about convincing ourselves first, we want to build enough conviction where we feel comfortable getting into a room and people can poke holes at our ideas and we don’t immediately get deflated.

Because here’s the thing, what we found is that, especially if you look inside big companies and the way that ideas are shared, most ideas actually don’t get killed inside the conference room, they don’t get killed inside formal meetings. They get killed inside casual conversations around the water cooler, or through side conversations, or in the parking lot. That’s where the vast majority of great ideas end up sort of finding their stop.

Why is that? Well, typically, it’s because when we come up with something, we tend to sort of blurt out the idea right as it comes up, and we get really excited about it but then we look around the room, or we look on the screen the way you and I are right now, and we see that the other person isn’t quite as excited about the idea as we are. And when that happens, it can be a very deflating experience.

And so, when we think about convincing ourselves, it’s not saying, “Hey, I’m no matter what wedded to this idea,” but it’s building up enough conviction where we feel like we can walk into a room and not be afraid of the possibilities and sort of the challenges that will come up. So, one fun way to think about it is when you are in that moment when you get excited about an idea, just asking yourself, “Is this a chocolate M&M or is this a peanut M&M?”

A chocolate M&M, if you squeeze a chocolate M&M, it cracks immediately. A peanut M&M is not a piece of steel but you can squeeze it, other people can squeeze it, and it’s not going to break immediately. Again, you’re not looking for it to be bullet-proof but you’re looking to put a peanut inside. And so, one of the things we talk about in the book is backable people have sort of learned to kind of ask themselves that question in the heat of moment, right before they are about to share an idea. They sort of ask themselves that question, “Chocolate M&M versus peanut M&M.”

If it’s chocolate M&M, they’ll resist the temptation to share in that moment and go take, what we call in the book, incubation time to put peanut inside. And that can be done through all forms of things. It could be through drawing out your idea, it could be through taking long walks and thinking about the idea, it could be journaling. I know, Pete, that’s something you like to do as well. And so, there are many ways to do that, but, again, it really comes back to that moment of resisting the temptation to share an idea too early because, oftentimes, that can be the death knell of some really creative things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, you convince yourself first, you take some time before putting it out there because if you put it out there too early, they might deflate you before you’re able to take a hard look at the stuff in advance and kind of get inoculated, you’re like, “Oh.” It’s so funny. I had an idea for…it was basically Airbnb. I had this with a couple of my friends, actually.

And then I think we talked to a consulting friend of ours who worked at Hyatt, he moved on, he said, “Oh, my gosh, you could have some crazy liabilities. Say, a crime happens or someone’s stuff gets stolen,” and we’re like, “Oh, yeah. Yeah, you’re right. That sounds really risky.” We just let it go. And he’s like, “And, oh, Couchsurfing is already a thing, and that’s not a really big deal, and people do it for free. It’s kind of a fun vibe.” It was like, “Okay, there’s Couchsurfing and there’s liability, oh, never mind. Oops.”

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, exactly. And I think that it’s so much better when…By the way, all those things your friends brought up, they’re all valid. They weren’t invalid objections, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Liabilities, for sure.

Suneel Gupta
All that stuff is real, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s a reason not to do it. And what ends up happening is that when someone points out an objection that we haven’t thought of ourselves, what that tends to have is a lot more charge to it. It just tends to have much more of a deflating effect versus if you’ve gone through, then you’ve actually thought through some of these objections yourself, and you walk into the room knowing that, “Hey, this, this, and this may come up.”

They probably will come up but they’re not going to have as much of a charge to them. You’re going to have thought through, “Hey, yeah, that is a thing. Maybe here are a couple of things that we need to consider as a result of that.” And, again, you’re able to walk in and have a discussion rather than the sort of, again, crossing your fingers, hoping they’re not going to point out something that you haven’t thought of yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is great, and the answer to liability is insurance, that insurance writers love to take that on for a price. And so, it’s not a deal killer; it’s just, “Oh, that’s a new thing.” And you’re right, well-said in terms of having less charge when you think about it yourself as opposed to, “Oh, the super smart guy who was a director at Hyatt thinks that this is a big thing, then it must be a really big thing.” Yeah, well-said.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, and I think, also, gosh, the curse of knowledge is just so important to factor in here because, oftentimes, and what we mean by that is, look, the deeper we go into a subject matter, we are going to be more resistant to innovative ideas in that matter because we know how hard it is. I was talking to somebody the other day, who was an investor, and he comes from a financial tech background, really knocked it out of the park in that space, actually started a company, in one of the sorts of original fintech companies, had a massive exit.

And then I was talking to him about what it’s like to be an investor, and he said, “Look, you know what, I’ve passed on every single great fintech deal. I passed on PayPal, I passed on Square, I passed on Stripe because I had this knowledge of how hard it really is to do a fintech company that that sort of got in my way from taking a risk on these other ideas.”

And the point here is that, look, oftentimes, when we come up with something, you come up with an idea in the housing space, you came up with an idea for Airbnb, you went immediately, as most people would, to somebody who kind of knows that space, you went to a friend at Hyatt. And that person is going to tell you what they have discovered, which, in most cases, is going to be reasons not to do something because they’ve spent a lot of time.

And, Pete, it all comes back to something I know that is probably obvious but worth restating, which is that the fresher an idea, the newer an idea, the less obvious it’s going to be. And that’s the trap that I think we sort of fall into whether we’re an entrepreneur or whether we work inside a big company and we’re trying to do things that are unique and cool and different, is that those tend to be the ideas that make the biggest difference, but they also tend to be the hardest ideas to sell.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That’s great. Well, we’re just on step one here. So, we talked about convincing yourself. Could you maybe give us a quick overview of steps two through seven? And then we’ll spend a couple minutes hearing a bit of detail for each.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, sure. So, step one was to convince yourself first. Step two is to cast a central character. So, what we mean by that is who is the person you’re trying to serve, and sort of bringing them into the story and making them the hero of your story. The third is to find an earned secret. So, this is something that you have gone out and you’ve learned that most people probably don’t know. And there’s lots of examples of how to do that, and we can get into that.

The next is to make it feel inevitable. So, instead of just making a new idea feel fresh and exciting, you also want to make it feel inevitable, that we’re inevitably heading in a certain direction. The fifth is that we want to flip outsiders into insiders. So, how do we actually make people feel like they are a part of the idea. Another way to think about this is, “How do we make people feel like they’re builders instead of buyers?”

The sixth is to play exhibition matches, and these are practice sessions before you walk into the final event, playing lots and lots of these exhibition matches, and there are specific ways on how to do this effectively. Then the final is to let go of your ego. So, the ego can very much get in the way when it comes to creating new ideas, and we really unpack that and talk about how to get around it. So, those are the seven.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, could you maybe give us a demonstration then in terms of how an abbreviated pitch might go, and then kind of annotate it for us, like, “Hey, see, that was step two, we cast a central character. Oh, and that was step three. See that earned secret?” so we kind of see it in action?

Suneel Gupta
Yeah. I’ll give you sort of the Michael Dubin Dollar Shave Club pitch. And for those of you who aren’t familiar, Dollar Shave Club was an online razor blade company that sort of expanded from there, sold for a billion dollars to Gillette, but it’s sort of a folklore story in a startup world. I think the thing that isn’t well known is that Michael Dubin struggled quite a bit to get a lot of funding for his company, to get investors to care at all.

And one of the ways that Michael Dubin sort of thought about this, and one of the ways that he was able to flip investors who didn’t care to saying yes – and, by the way, I think this is important whoever you are, you don’t have to be an entrepreneur – is he took people through the storyboard of what happens to his target customer.

So, one of the first things that he did was he went out and he built conviction behind this idea by actually thinking about, “What is it that my customer actually goes through?” And he literally storyboarded this at home. And then he would go to the stores and he would watch people in action, and then when he was in front of investors, he sort of walked them through the storyboard of, “Hey, my average customer is a 20-something male, who cares a lot more about his health than his father ever did, and that includes what he puts in his body, that includes what he puts on his body. And he’s used to a certain level of convenience when it comes to buying products.”

“But all of that sort of goes out the door the moment that he sort of thinks about buying razor blades because, now, he goes to this sort of pharmacy or grocery store, he has to locate the aisle that these are in. When he finally locates the product, he realizes that, in many cases, it’s behind a locked security case. He has to push a button in order to get somebody’s attention. He waits there until an annoyed worker sort of shows up, unlocks the security case, and, by the way, everybody is sort of watching, and behind that case isn’t just razor blades but there’s condoms and there’s laxatives, and nobody knows exactly what you’re there to buy, but now all attention is sort of on you.”

“He unlocks the case and then sort of watches over your shoulder as you make this purchasing decision.” And that is so fundamentally different than the way that this generation, the way that his target customer was used to buying products. And so, when we he went in with the pitch of, “Hey, we want to disrupt a multi-billion-dollar industry through an online platform,” it didn’t do very well.

But when he shifted that to, “This is the moment-by-moment experience, and here’s how we’re going to change that,” it really shifted the way that investors sort of looked at him. Because, as it turns out, stories sort of bring us in, and then substance sort of keeps us there. So, if he were to stop there in that pitch and just ended it, it wouldn’t have gone anywhere. But when he went from there, it’s like, “Look, there are millions of young men who are going through this experience every single week, and that’s translating to this number of dollars and this amount of market share, and this is what we can pick up.”

And so, he’s bringing them in with story, he’s keeping them there with substance. Convincing himself first, casting a central character, and let’s go through some of the other…we’ll go through some of the other principles too, and we can show how this story relates.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it, yeah. And so then, that earned secret. So, you highlight some information that goes beyond Google or what just about everybody would know. And, in a way, that story, in and of itself, has you thinking, like, “Yeah, you know what, you’re right. It does kind of take a lot to get these razors. Haven’t thought about it.” So, I don’t know if that counts quite…well, you tell me. Is that earned enough or do we have some more juicy insider info to go for there?

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, I think the key thing with an earned secret is I would underline the word earned. And the reason for that is you want to show, when you walk into a room, whether that be for an interview, whether that be for a product presentation, team presentation, whatever it is, that you had sort of put yourself into the story in a way that most people have not because that counts for a lot.

I was talking to somebody, this was shortly before I published my book, so her story is not in the book, but she was talking about how she was returning to the workforce. She was a single mom and returning to the workforce and ready to sort of get a job, and she’d found a role at a company that sounded perfect for her except for one thing. And that is that she wasn’t really a user of the product but the role itself was perfect, and she was very excited about this.

Most people in that situation would do the following. They would research the company, they would maybe download the product onto their phone, start playing with it a little bit, and then they would go into the interview and start asking some questions, and be prepared as much as they possibly can be. She did something unique, which is that she talked to every single one of her daughters’ friends because this is very much like a Gen-Z social product, and she talked to every single one of their friends. She interviewed them about what they liked, about what they didn’t like, she took careful notes.

And then when she walked into this interview, she walked in with all these observations, all these sorts of insights. And this hiring manager that was talking to her was so impressed that not only did she get the job, but right in the middle of the interview, he ended up patching in one of their UX designers because a couple of the things that she had found and discovered through these interviews were things that actually were not on top of their mind, and it was coming from a very fresh voice, and she was able to sort of come in with this earned sense of information.

And, by the way, these don’t need to be sort of big monumental things. They can, oftentimes, be small. But I think the key is that asking yourself when you go into a situation, “What’s the sort of typical level of research that people would do to prepare for this moment?” Again, whether it’s an interview, or a pitch, or a presentation, it’s figure out how to go one step further. It could be test driving a competitor’s product, it could be talking to customers, but just doing something that ordinarily most people wouldn’t do.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. I’m reminded we interviewed Ramit Sethi, and he calls this the briefcase technique because you, like, dramatically remove slides, or research, or something. You sort of have like a deliverable inside your bag, and most people don’t, and they’re just like, “Wow, this person…we’re impressed.” And it can often lead to great opportunities opening up there. That’s good.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, one of the people that I talked to for the book is a guy named Jonathan Karp, who was a publisher, and he really wanted Howard Stern to write a book, but Howard Stern had no interest in writing another book. He had already written a couple of bestsellers, and he was like, “It’s a lot of work. I really don’t want to do this.” And Karp kept asking him, he was year after year, he continued to be on Howard Stern’s tail about the idea of, like, “You got to write a book.”

And, finally, Karp decides to do something really clever and unique, which is that he thought to himself, “Most of what Howard Stern would end up writing is already kind of out there. It’s going to be sort of a summation of a lot of the interviews that he’s done. So, why don’t we take the transcripts of those interviews, then why don’t we actually sort of extract what we think could be really good content for a book, then we’ll actually create the book?”

And so, the next time that he actually goes and pitches to Howard Stern on the idea of writing a book, which Howard Stern is prepared again to say, “Gosh, I’ve told you many times I don’t want to write a book,” right in that moment, Jonathan Karp literally pulls out a finished book, a leather-bound book, and says, “Look, Howard, I know one of your objections to all these is that you don’t want to write a book, but we’ve kind of just taken the liberty of writing 90% of it for you.”

“All you got to do is write an opener, write some the language around some of these interviews, and you got yourself a book,” which, of course, it ended up being a lot more work than that, but what Howard Stern said was, “Look, I was so in that moment, I was so intoxicated by the effort, so intoxicated by effort that Jonathan Karp had put into this process that I could not say no.”

And that’s kind of, in some ways, how you want people to feel inside the room, which is like, again, you have intoxicated them with effort. You’ve gone out and done things that most people wouldn’t do, then you’ve taken insights from that experience and you’ve brought that into the room.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, let’s hear about step four, make it feel inevitable.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, this is a big one because I think that, oftentimes, when we think about new ideas, we get excited about how shiny it is, and we want to talk about why it’s exciting. But the thing that is important I think to realize is that, as human beings, we tend not to be risk takers. We don’t like to take risks. And that’s true even, I have found, Pete, for people who take risk for a living. You look at venture capitalists, you look at Hollywood producers, people who are betting on uncertainty, they don’t like to take risks either. It’s really, in the vast majority of the cases, it’s just something that they sort of accept as part of their job but they’ll do whatever they can to sort of de-risk a project.

And so, this sort of, I think, gets to a Noble Prize-winning theory around loss aversion, that the pain that we get from making a bad decision is twice as powerful as the pleasure that we get from making the right decision. And if you keep that in mind when you walk into a room to pitch someone anything new, we’re not just trying to sell them on why an idea is good. We’re also trying to make sure that we cover sort of why an idea might be bad, and making sure that we can sort of minimize that risk. And one of the ways that we can do that is by talking about why an idea is inevitable. Not why it’s new but why it’s inevitably going to happen.

There was an executive that I talked to at Comcast who talked about this idea of having Comcast not be just a service that’s inside the home but outside the home as well, connected over mobile, which, today, is like one of those, yeah, that’s sort of a passe sort of idea. But ten years ago, when he was sort of inside Comcast trying to get people behind the idea, it was actually very hard because there were a lot of people who were sort of wedded to the idea, they’re like, “Look, we’re an in-home business and we don’t want to dilute ourselves, we don’t want to focus on anything else.”

And he continued to sort of pound the table on the idea of, like, “Look, this is new, this is exciting,” and he wasn’t getting anywhere. But when he re-jiggered the presentation to show a couple of things, everything changed. And those couple of things were, “Here’s what’s happening in Europe. And Europe tends to be a few years ahead of us when it comes to mobile, and they’ve started to have these integrated services, which tell us that, look, if history continues to repeat itself, we’re going to be heading in that direction.”

The second thing was there were certain sort of plays that some competitors were making that were starting to hint at the idea that they were going to have an integrated service as well. And when he combined that in his presentation, he showed, “Hey, look, this isn’t where I think the world is going. This is where the world is going, and I think we need to get ahead of it or we’re going to get left behind.” That’s when executives started to change their minds, that’s when people started to get bought into this idea of, “Look, we don’t want to miss out,” because we all sort of have that fear.

I think if you believe that fear is one of the biggest things that we need to sort of face when we’re trying to sell people on anything new, well, then we can’t neutralize fear with excitement. We sort of, in some ways, have to neutralize fear with fear, and, in this case, it’s the fear of missing out.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in making it feel inevitable, it’s not just a matter of saying, “Hey, here’s the trend,” but rather, “Hey, here is overwhelmingly the trend, and woe to us if we don’t get on board with that.”

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, and I don’t think it necessarily need to be overwhelming either. I think that it gets easier if it’s overwhelming, and you can point to, “Hey, this is obviously going to happen,” but a lot of times it’s not obvious but there are indicators that things are going to happen, that you start to see little signals of that.

You look at sort of Zappos, for example, as a company. There wasn’t a lot that they could show at that time in terms of trends but there were little datapoints, like there was the notion that Amazon was expanding beyond just books, and they were expanding to get at products. That wasn’t necessarily at the time.

Today, again, that sounds obvious. At the time, it didn’t but there were little datapoints that were showing, to say, “Look, not only is this growing in a certain category, not only are we selling books online, we’re going to be selling other things online. There are all these sorts of niches out there.” Or, back to your example about Airbnb. When Airbnb went into the room, they didn’t really have another Airbnb to point to but they had Couchsurfing.

Couchsurfing was starting to pick up and there were 600,00 or so listings on Couchsurfing, and there was a lot of activity around sort of Airbnb-like offerings happening on Craigslist. Again, these aren’t necessarily overwhelming datapoints but they collected enough of these datapoints to show that, like, in combination, there’s something happening here.

In the book, we talk about putting on your anthropologist hat because that’s effectively what you’re doing at this stage. You are sort of looking at the direction the world is heading, and that can be hard sometimes for people because whenever we get excited about an idea, we want to just stay focused on that idea, and we want to say, “Our idea is going to change the world.” Whereas, I think what backable people are doing is they’re saying, “Well, here’s the way the world is changing through these datapoints, and then here’s how my idea would fit into that change.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Thank you. Well, let’s hear about step five, flip outsiders into insiders.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, this is one of my favorites because we, oftentimes, think that when we go into a room, we need to have sort of a bullet-proof presentation, and the more bullet-proof our presentation, the more backable it’s going to be. But the more and more I look at sort of the way that backable people were operating, what I realized is that they didn’t have that at all. They would walk in with a pretty clear vision of what they wanted to do but they wouldn’t have every single detail necessarily sorted out, and that was on purpose.

And the reason for that is because you want to bring people in when you’re inside a room. You want people to feel like they are part of it as well. And one my favorite stories from the book is the story of Betty Crocker, and how in the 1940s, they came up with the idea of cake mix. And they had done all the focused group testing, and the believed that cake mixes were just going to be like this hot sensational product. And so, they were shocked, like all the executives at Betty Crocker were shocked when they found out that cake mix was just not selling, and they couldn’t figure out why.

And so, they hired this psychologist named Ernest Dichter to go out into the field and start interviewing homemakers. And what Dichter founds out, what he comes back with was, “I think you have made the process of making a cake too simple, too easy, because you have basically removed the customer from the creative process. All they have to do is pour water into a mix and then they pop it into the oven, and the cake comes out of the oven, and they don’t really feel like it’s theirs. They don’t really feel ownership over it.”

So, Dichter has a recommendation, and the recommendation is, “Why don’t you remove one key ingredient and see what happens?” And so, they do, they removed the egg. And so, now, if you are a customer, you have to go out and you have to buy fresh eggs, you have to crack them into the mix, and you stir it in, and then you pop it into the oven, and sales completely take off. Because, now, when the cake comes out of the oven, people actually felt like ownership of the cake. They felt like it was theirs too.

And researchers have unpacked this over and over again. There’s a group out of Harvard that calls this the IKEA effect. And the IKEA effect basically tells us that we place up to five times the amount of value on something that we help build than something that we simply buy off the shelf, because we made it ourselves. So, what does this have anything to do with innovation or ideas?

I think, Pete, we kind of have been told that innovation is a two-step formula. You come up with a great idea and then you execute on it well, but there’s this hidden step in between. And this hidden step is where we get other people, we get fellow employees, we get bosses, we get investors, we get shareholders, we get other people involved before it reaches execution stage where the idea is still imperfect, where they get to crack their own egg into the mix and be part of it so that way, when we show up to execution phase, we actually show up together.

And I believe you can trace, literally, every product, every successful product, every successful business, every successful political movement, back to this hidden step, where we know it wasn’t just one person, we know it wasn’t just the person that came up with the idea. It was a group of people who felt founder-level ownership over that idea even though they didn’t come up with the idea itself because they were able to be a part of it from the earliest stages.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, in the Betty Crocker example, you let them crack an egg into it, and so, likewise, if you’re putting forward a proposal to folks, you don’t want to have everything nailed down. So, let’s just say, someone brought up, like, “Hey, what about liability?” It’s like, “Hey, you’re right. That’s going to be a key issue we need to solve, and we’d love your expertise to help.” Is that kind of the vibe that you’re going for?

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, and I think you can go one step beyond that, which is like, Pete, if I’m coming to pitch you on an idea, and you are an expert at taking content, great content, at creating great content and distributing it. And maybe I have an idea for something that requires that, ultimately is going to require that. I would come into the room and to say, “Look, we’ve got a few details figured out here. But, Pete, one thing actually we don’t have figured out is how are we actually going to craft this in a way that people are going to listen, that people are actually going to watch. And I know that that’s something you’ve been focused on. We’d love to get your thoughts on that.”

Now, a couple things to keep in mind. That does not mean that I haven’t spent my own time thinking about what the answer might be. It takes a lot more preparation to have a discussion than to give a presentation because I have to ask you the right questions, I have to pull you in the right way, I have to be able to go back and forth with you, you’re going to say something, you’re going to have an answer to that question, and I’m going to want to ask follow-up questions.

And so, there’s a lot more preparation that goes into the details that you don’t know than the details you know, which I know it sounds counterintuitive but it’s really important to know, which is you’re not sort of shrugging your shoulders or hand-waving at sort of these unknowns. You’re actually spending real time thinking about that, uncovering the possibilities, thinking through pros and cons, but the difference is you’re not coming to the room, saying, “I absolutely believe that this is the right way to go for every single detail.” You’re saying, “I think I have these details figured out, but I don’t have these details figured out. Let’s talk through them.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how do you recommend we do the step six, play exhibition matches?

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, exhibition matches, I think, were surprising for me because, again, I look at backable people and I felt like, originally, these are people who are just, off the cuff, who were just naturally great communicators. And what I found is that people who tend to be off the cuff, people who come off with more of sort of an improvisational style, they actually tend to be the product of lots and lots and lots of practice. And it’s that lots of practice that actually lets them be off the cuff, which I know sounds a little bit weird but let me share what I learned.

When we practice something enough, what it allows us to do is it allows us to sort of loosen the grip on our script. Because, oftentimes, when we walk into a room, we walk in with a script. We have a sense of what we want to say and we kind of sort of almost follow that script. But the problem with that is that there’s always something that’s going to come up, a question that we didn’t expect, or an interruption, or something’s going to happen, and it’s really our ability to adapt to those moments. It’s really our ability to adapt to those moments that create these sorts of backable situations where a tough question is answered, and where we sort of go off script and we start having a discussion about something else. Then that’s really when we start to win audiences over.

The other thing is this. Like, I thought if you practice something, by the way, the average person that I talk to for this book, practice something 21 times before they got into a room, that could be for an interview, that could be for a pitch, but 21 practice sessions. Then there were a couple of things to keep in mind when they were doing these practice sessions. The first thing is that, really, no venue is too small.

Like, you can ask anyone for a practice session. That could be a friend, that could be a family member, but the key is that when you’re doing this practice session, you want to deliver it as if it’s the real thing. You don’t want to give sort of editorial or commentary, and say like, “So, hey, what I’m planning on doing is I’m planning on walking them through this and then I was going to go through that.” You actually want to give it as if it’s the real thing because you’re building the muscle memory that you want inside the room.

The second thing is it’s really important to be able to get good feedback. So, when you’re finished with the practice sessions, say, you’re pitching like a colleague, a friendly colleague, before you walk into the room to talk to somebody who’s leading the team. When you’re getting that feedback, what we typically tend to ask is the question, “Hey, so what did you think?” That’s the typical question we ask. And when we ask that question, we very rarely get the kind of feedback we need to make ourselves better. It’s kind of an imprecise question, people may want to be nice so they may not give you the feedback that you need.

A better question to ask is, “What stood out to you the most? Of what you just heard, what stood out to you the most?” Now, they have to sort of think through the highlights of the moments that really resonated or landed. But the question I like even more is, “How would you describe what you just heard to someone else? Like, what would be the headline of what you just heard?” And what I find is when I ask people to do that, the description that they have, in a lot of cases, is actually better than what I had.

Like, I’ll learn a new way of how to describe my own idea. Like, when I was coming up with the idea for Backable I went to Daniel Pink, another author who’s written a few great books that I really like, and I shared my idea, and it was pretty half-baked at the time. But then I asked him, like, “How would you describe this to someone else?” And one of the things he said was, “I would say that the most exceptional people aren’t just brilliant, they’re backable.” And that ended up becoming sort of one of the taglines of the book, and literally is on the back cover of my book. So, I really appreciate the idea of asking people, “How would you describe this to someone else?”

The final thing I’ll say about this, Pete, about exhibition matches and practicing over and over again, is one of my big hiccups, one of the reasons I was skeptical about this, is because I felt like, “Well, if you practice something 21 times, isn’t that going to make you robotic? Isn’t that going to make you sound too sort of planned or scripted?” But what I found is that the opposite tends to happen. Because when you’ve mastered your material at that level, you really understand what you want to communicate, what you want to say, and sort of the ways you want to get there.

What that allows you to do is it allows you to sort of drop the script when you’re inside the room. You’d be fully tuned in, be fully present with the other people who are there. And when you’re fully present at that level, it allows you to pick up on cues that you may not otherwise pick up on. Oftentimes, you see people who walk into a room and they have a set of slides to get through, and they just sort of get through those slides.

But when you’re fully tuned into what’s happening inside the room, you can pick up on little gestures, like little, “Oh, I’m pretty sure they did not get that part, so I’m going to spend a little longer on that,” or, “I’m pretty sure that’s an area where they’re really excited about, so I’m going to double-down on that or maybe come back to it later on.” And being tuned into that level is really what tends to create these backable moments.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And then with 21 practice sessions, that’s plenty, and I think that’s encouraging. It’s funny, it’s both daunting and encouraging in terms of, “Oh, you don’t think you’re polished quite yet? Well, how many practice runs have you done? Oh, three. Well, to be expected. There’s a long way to go.” I find that oddly comforting.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah. Well, look, 21 does seem daunting, for sure. And the way that I sort of like to think about it is, the other way that somebody pointed out to me, I still remember the first time I started to hear about exhibition matches is the former chief technology officer of Pixar, and spent 20 years at the company, and so he spent a good amount of his time sort of bringing together all these disparate groups – technology, and business, and storytelling, and creative, and design.

So, he’s telling me about the idea of practicing 21 times, and I told him about the time that I went in to interview for a role at Square, the company Square, and my interview was with Jack Dorsey. And I told him about how I just bombed that interview, completely bombed it, completely tanked it.

And even though I kind of knew the answers to all of Dorsey’s questions, the role was for a product role, I’d spent a bunch of time working in product development, I kind of just knew the content but I bombed the interview. And I asked him why, “Like, why did that happen? Tell me, Oren, why did that happen?” And he said, “Well, how much time did you spend preparing for that?” And I said, “Well, I wrote out some questions for him. I spent a bunch of time researching the company.”

And he’s like, “Yeah, but preparing, like that was preparing. But how much time did you spend practicing, actually practicing what you’re going to say?” And I said, “None. I didn’t practice what I was going to say. I didn’t do any mock interviews or anything like that.” And he’s like, “Let me ask you a question. When you were in law school,” because he knew I went to law school, “how much time would you spend preparing for a test?” And I was like, “I don’t know. I would do practice tests. I would do probably spend at least 10, 20 hours preparing for a law school examination.”

And he’s like, “So, let me get this straight. You spent all that time preparing for a law school test, for a single law school test, that may or may not have had a true influence on your career. But for an interview with Jack Dorsey, you didn’t spend any time actually practicing before that interview.” And it was like sort of this punch in the gut moment where I was like, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” So, yeah, we spend a lot of time, I think, preparing for these moments, but we don’t spend enough time practicing for these moments, 21 times.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And the final step, let go of your ego.

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, let go of your ego is about making it about somebody else. Like, who are you there to serve? How is this about somebody else? One of the best pieces of advice that I think about all the time before I walk into a room, and I think as I talk to different audiences now, I always get really positive sort of feedback on like, “Wow, that one thing really changed things for me.” It was like when you walk into a room to give a pitch or a presentation or an interview, whatever it might be, you’re going to feel like the spotlight is on you, normally. You are the person delivering the content.

Find a way to take that spotlight and to put it on something else. Put it on someone else, ideally. That could be the person you’re there to serve, that could be the primary customer of the company. But how do you take sort of everything you’re talking about and make it about someone else? So, if it’s an interview, it could be knowing who the customer is, like knowing deeply who that customer is, and then walking in as somebody who’s looking to serve that customer. Every question you’re answering, everything you’re doing is about the service to that customer.

If you’re there to pitch an idea for a company, again, who is the person you’re trying to serve, who is the central character, and making it about that person. It’s taking the spotlight that’s on you and putting it on someone else.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Suneel, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear a couple of your favorite things?

Suneel Gupta
I will say that one of the things I continue to hear is that, especially as we’re coming out of the pandemic now, is so many people are looking to start new ventures. They’re looking to do something new. And that doesn’t necessarily, by the way, means starting a company, leaving a company, and starting a new one. It could be starting a new venture inside the company as well.

But one of the things I hear often are three words, which is, “I’m not ready for that just yet. I’m not ready.” Three common words. And the thing that I would leave you with is as I went and studied all of these people, backable people from all different fields, none of them were really ready. None of them were really ready to do what they did.

Three friends from design school were not ready to start Airbnb. A mid-level talent manager wasn’t ready to start SoulCycle. A 15-year-old from Stockholm, Sweden wasn’t ready to build an environmental movement but today, Greta Thunberg, is Time magazine’s youngest ever person of the year. And, sure, there were setbacks and there were failures and there were mistakes along the way, but I think the mantra that they all tended to adopt in their own way, which I try to remember as well, is that the opposite of success is not failure; it’s boredom.

So, let’s run with the things that make us come alive and let’s bring good people along the way to join us along the path, because, if there’s anything that I’ve learned, wherever you are listening to this, you are ready.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, how about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Suneel Gupta
Long-term success often comes from short-term setbacks.

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

Suneel Gupta
Yeah, there was a great experiment that was done in the 1980s at Dartmouth University, and it was called The Scar Experiment. Well, basically, what they did is they asked people to come into a room, a group of people, and, one by one, they would put a scar, an artificial scar, on their face. And then they would send them into another room where they would interact with other folks.

But there was a trick, which was right before they walked into the other room, they would say to the person, “Hey, can we get the makeup artist in here just to touch up your scar, just to do a little touchup?” But instead of doing a touchup, they would actually wipe the scar off completely. So, you walked into the room believing that you still had this scar on your face, but you didn’t. And then they had you come back into sort of the study room where you sat down with the researcher, and the researcher say, “How did that go? What happened?”

And nearly everybody was like, “They couldn’t stop staring at my scar. Everybody was completely obsessed with my scar.” And I just love that. I just love, love, love that because it just shows what we believe in ourselves internally is what we believe the world is looking at us for externally, and the power of that connection. So, look it up, The Scar Experiment.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s something to think about, for sure. And a favorite book?

Suneel Gupta
The Alchemist Paulo Coelho, one of my all-time favorites.

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

Suneel Gupta
I would just say my whiteboard. I know people can’t see this right now but I’m staring at it right now. Just a simple whiteboard has just changed everything for me. One of my favorite things to do in the morning is when I have my cup of coffee, sometimes I just stare at my whiteboard and I’ll just see what comes up. Sometimes it’s nothing. Most of the times it’s gibberish. But, every once in a while, the things that that whiteboard pulls out of me is amazing.

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

Suneel Gupta
Come to SuneelGupta.com. There’s a bunch of free stuff out there, some new thoughts, and a way for us to keep in touch.

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

Suneel Gupta
I would say, as we think about sort of how to be backable, which I think nearly all of us are, let’s also think about how to make other people backable. Like, I’ll leave you with one story, which is about a woman named Damyanti Hingorani, she was a refugee on the border of India and Pakistan, under dire conditions, impoverished conditions, had this unlikely dream, which was that she wanted to become an engineer with Ford Motor Company, and this was the 1950s, and Ford Motor Company was in its heyday. And Detroit was the Silicon Valley of the world at the time.

And so, her parents get behind the dream. They saved every penny they have. She’s able to get on a boat to the United States. She gets a scholarship to Oklahoma State University. The day after she graduated, she grabs a train to Detroit, Michigan and finds her way to get into a room with a hiring manager to apply for her dream job.

But when this hiring manager looks at her application, he looks at her resume, he says, “Wait a second. Are you applying for the job of an engineer?” And she says, “Yeah.” And he says, “Well, look, I’m sorry. We actually don’t have any female engineers working here right now,” which is crazy, right? Ford Motor Company, at that time, had thousands and thousands of engineers on staff but not a single one of them was a woman.

And so, Damyanti Hingorani is really deflated in this moment, and she gets up, and she picks up her purse, and she picks up her resume, and she starts to walk out of the room. And then, almost in this last minute of courage, she turns around, she summons all of the grit that she possibly can, she looks this guy in the eye, and she tells him her story about all the struggle and sacrifice that it took for her to get to this country, to get to Detroit, to get to this very room. And then she says to him, “Look, if you don’t have any female engineers on staff, do yourself a favor and hire me now because things are changing.”

And this hiring manager, so inspired by that conversation, that he goes out and he fights with everybody around him, fights with his colleagues, fights with his superiors, and eventually he gets her the job. And in 1967, Damyanti Hingorani becomes Ford Motor Company’s first ever female engineer. It was a great story, honored in Time magazine pretty recently because it inspires people. It inspired other immigrants. It inspired women in the workforce. And it’s the story that has inspired me the most because Damyanti Hingorani is my mom. And had a middle manager from suburban Michigan had not taken a chance on a refugee from the other side of the world, then, Pete, I wouldn’t be here right now chatting with you. I wouldn’t be able to share any of this with you.

So, my final message to anybody who’s listening is, hey, as we get out into the world now, let’s think about how to make ourselves backable but let’s also think about how to find good people and help them become backable.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Suneel, what a beautiful closing note. Powerful stuff. Thank you so much for spending the time and sharing the goods. I wish you lots of luck in your backable adventures.

Suneel Gupta
Well, thanks so much, Pete.