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508: Becoming an Impactful and Influential Leader with Ron Price

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Ron Price says: "How much time are you spending working on you? Because that's the strength that we're going to draw from for you to be successful in these other areas."

Ron Price delivers insights on how to build your character and grow your influence to unlock your full leadership potential.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The four keys to landing your next promotion
  2. Two approaches to getting excellent feedback
  3. How to get others to listen to you

About Ron

Ron Price is an internationally recognized business advisor, executive coach, speaker, and author. Known for his creative and systematic thinking, business versatility, and practical optimism, Ron has worked in 15 countries and served in almost every level of executive management over the past 40 years.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Ron Price Interview Transcript

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

Ron Price

Thank you, Pete. It’s great to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think the first thing we need to cover is your career in truck tire retreading. Tell us about this?

Ron Price

Well, it goes way back. My dad owned a truck tire retreading shop. And when I was 12 years old, my first job was repairing truck tire tubes, and I got paid piecemeal. So, each tube that we’d haul there overnight I think I got a quarter. I have to confess my work ethic wasn’t real great then. There were some afternoons I just took a nap in a bunch of tubes that were piled up.

But, eventually, that led to, after getting out of school, I went to work and learned every bit of the business, did a lot of years of changing semi-truck tires along the highway in Michigan in January and February. And I really learned something about resilience then and eventually became a part owner. And my dad and I, together, owned four different manufacturing facilities across the state of Michigan. So, it was a great place to learn work ethic and to learn how to run a business. Back then we didn’t have credit cards so we had to actually manage credit risks and things like that. It was really a wonderful experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, what a transformation with work ethic from taking a nap in the tubes to being in the cold Michigan winter on the side of the road fixing the truck tires. That’s impressive.

Ron Price
And, Pete, I think I could say that it’s sort of come in full circle because now that I’m in my later 60s, I go back to taking naps again.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I would maintain that a strategic nap is, in fact, a productive, sensible strategic choice. So, no arguments from me here.

Ron Price
Hear, hear.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, I want to talk to you about growing influence, how that’s done, and maybe to kick us off, could you share an inspiring story of a professional who was not so influential, and then they’ve made some changes, and then they saw some real nice upgrade to that?

Ron Price

Boy, there’s so many. I’ve had such a wonderful career of working with great people. One that I think of was a woman who came to work at a business that I was running during most of the ‘90s. I started there in ’89 and retired from it in 2000. She came as a customer service representative answering the phone. And I saw something in her that made her stand out. She really cared about what she was doing. She made you feel like what she was doing was worthwhile every day. And, eventually, that led to us saying maybe she could supervise the people who were answering our phones. And she started as a supervisor of a small group of people and she eventually grew to being a VP of customer service.

She, I would say, this was a company that was about $100 million company, and we had 200 employees spread across eight countries, and she was made the number two, number three person in the whole company. And she started as somebody answering the phone, and she kept learning and growing, and demonstrating character, and she won more and more and more loyalty from the people around her. And I think they would’ve thrown me out had I not promoted her to that position later in her career.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great. And maybe, I guess we’re going to get into some of the particular principles and actions and tactics, but was there anything in particular you noticed that made all the difference in terms of her rise?

Ron Price

I think it was two-folds. I think one is that she brought her humanity to work with her. She treated people like human beings, and it didn’t mean that she lowered the standards, didn’t mean that she wasn’t clear about what needed to be accomplished. But she recognized that those were human beings that all brought their own life with them to work and it was worthy of respect. That was the first thing.

The second thing is that she was a continuous learner. And she didn’t start out as an expert in this field but she became an expert all the way to the point that she was recognized internationally for the kind of leadership that she brought to incoming call centers. So, during her tenure, we went from a traditional kind of a phone system to a phone system that was hooked up to data analytics and we ended up learning how to do statistical quality control monitoring. We did a lot of things both on the technical side of understanding how to make the most out of a call center, and also on the people development side, of empowering people, giving them clear career paths, letting them see the numbers.

One of the big things that she did is one of the early phone systems that we bought had a big screen that the supervisor could look at to determine how many people were on hold, and if people abandoned, and what our average call time was, all those kinds of things. And she said, this was long before anybody was thinking of this, she said, “Why is it that the supervisor sees this and the whole office can’t see it?”

So, she brought in a huge monitor, put it up near the ceiling so that every single person in that call center could see what was going on. And it was one of the early demonstrations of combining technology with empowerment so that people felt that they could own their job, and it made a huge difference in our culture and in our performance.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, that’s powerful. I can just visualize that like a scene from a movie, you know, triumphantly placing a huge monitor on the ceiling, and it’s like, “Oh, we’re really serious about that. That’s cool.”

Ron Price
Yeah, and, “Why do we need somebody to monitor that for everybody else like they’re children or something? Why don’t we treat them like adults and let them take their own initiative?” You know, the funny thing about it, Pete, was the people paid attention to that and if, all of a sudden, we had a spike in calls and somebody was on a break, they self-governed, they immediately responded because they were all focused on one goal together as a team, and no supervisor had to tell them how to do that. The supervisor was there to support them and to help eliminate obstacles from them doing good work. It was a wonderful example to me and to everybody who was a part of our company.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. Well, so your book Growing Influence is a business fable, and it speaks to a lot of people and a lot of situations. But one issue that you cover is why is it that some people get passed up for promotions? What’s sort of the top driver and what can be done about that?

Ron Price
Yeah. And, of course, there are probably a lot of different reasons that somebody could get passed up. Some of them are external, some of them they might not have any control over. It may be something to do with the culture, unconscious biases that exists inside the organization, and sometimes those need to be addressed. But there can also be internal reasons why somebody gets passed up.

I like to think that if a person is really working consistently on being the best version of themselves, and they’re doing that in a way that they develop their character, and they’re doing that in a way that they develop their expertise, that in a healthy environment, the positions, the promotions will come find them because most of us who’ve been in leadership roles, when we’re looking at promoting people, we’ve got a lot of self-interest. We want to promote somebody who can perform, somebody who can get the work done, somebody who gets along well with others, somebody who has intelligence that they bring to their work.

And if you bring all those things, and you don’t throw up a lot of obstacles, you make it a lot easier to get promoted. So, sometimes people, they don’t get promoted because of something that’s happening in the culture that needs to be addressed, and other times they don’t get promoted because they don’t realize that they’re their own worst enemy in some ways. Like, my wife and I were out on a fall walk earlier today, and we laughed about this statement that I find myself making over and over and over again. And that is the darnedest thing about blind spots is you can’t see them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, makes sense.

Ron Price
And sometimes people don’t get promoted because they don’t recognize how they’re being perceived by others. It’s a blind spot to them. And if they understood that, and adapted themselves accordingly, they make themselves much more promotable.

Pete Mockaitis
And are there any particular character or expertise, shortcomings, or blind spots that seem to pop up again and again?

Ron Price

Oh, boy, what a great question. And this really is why we wrote the book is that after years of thinking about this and helping people with it, I thought there actually is a model. It’s not that difficult that makes a big difference. So, first, let’s talk about character.

In the book, we talk about, “How do you define integrity of character?” And most people think, “Well, honest and ethical and you don’t do things when people aren’t looking that you wouldn’t do if they were looking,” things like that. But we want to expand the meaning of that word, integrity, to think about what does wholeness look like for character.

When I go to my doctor and he starts talking to me about the integrity of my nervous system, he’s not talking about whether it’s honest or ethical, he’s talking about whether it’s working properly, whether all the parts are there and they’re properly related to each other. So, we posit that as our definition of character, and then we asked these two questions. The first question is, “What are the values by which I choose to govern my own behavior?”

A great example for me, my number one value that I look at every week, and ask myself how am I doing is personal accountability. And, of course, the power of that value is in how you defined it. So, the first question is, “What are the values I choose to govern myself and how am I doing?” The second question is, “What are the values I choose to relate to other people and how am I doing?”

And, in my case, my number one value for how I relate to other people is collaboration. And that word is almost a spiritual or a religious word to me because I believe that when you really connect with somebody else, you understand what they want, they understand what you want, and you learn how to work together that there’s the possibility for real magic to occur.

And, in fact, that’s what Stacy and I felt that we reached in writing the book Growing Influence is this wonderful synergism that happen when we both brought all of who we were with respect for the other, and we learned how to work well together. So, that’s my number one value for how I choose to relate to others.

So, how do you grow character in a way that other people notice you and it makes you promotable, it makes you more influential? Well, what are the values by which you govern your own behaviors, and what are the values by which you relate to other people? Sometimes we can think of where we fall short and that might help to guide us in what values we want to adapt. But it’s the steady, consistent development of more and more strength in the way that you not only aspire to those values, but practice those values that causes people to want to follow you as an influencer because of how you show up. That’s character, Pete.

I know that’s kind of long-winded, but we use a similar kind of approach to expertise. To be an expert influencer in a way that people listen to you more, you have to recognize that expert leadership is based on creating value for others not just sounding smart yourself. So, the real question is, “What value, what benefit is my expertise going to deliver to other people?” And it might be marketing, or finance, or operations, or, in my case, it’s my tax attorney or my tax accountant. Because of their expertise, because they understand the tax laws, they have a tremendous amount of influence over me when it comes to my tax returns.

Now, they may not have much influence over me when I decide whether or not I’m going to get my gallbladder taken out. But in the area of expertise, they’ve got a lot of power. And if you decide that you’re going to create value for others and then you lay out a pathway for how to get better and better and better at that, you’re gaining power. You’re gaining influence and you’re becoming more promotable.

We encourage people along those lines to pick one or two areas that they’re really passionate about, and start to study the other leaders in that area of expertise. Read what they write, listen to their podcasts or watch their TED Talks, and just begin to saturate your mind with the thoughts of other leaders or experts in that area. And if you do that long enough, there’s something amazing that happens in your subconscious. You begin to take one idea from this person, another idea from this person, a third idea from this person, and you begin to create your own thought recipes. And in doing that, you become an expert yourself.

So, it’s really a practical way. And if you just do a little bit at a time over one year, two years, three years, you become an expert. And, eventually, you’re coming up with unique ideas that nobody else has ever come up with because you’re combining other people’s ideas in new ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s excellent. So, then the action step there in terms of increasing your value is you’re picking an area of expertise and you’re absorbing all the wisdom from the top folks there and, before you know it, you’ve got it yourself, and you’re coming up with original stuff. So, then when it comes to the “living more in accordance with your values,” what are some of the key action steps associated with identifying some of the shortcomings and shoring them up?

Ron Price

The first thing is being more self-aware. Oftentimes, the thing that we probably should work on, the people around us see it more clearly than we do. So, I like to think of this idea that I’ve never seen the back of my head.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Even after a haircut with the mirror in the barber, it’s not as great.

Ron Price
Yeah, it’s a reflection. It’s not the real thing. And, in fact, if you think about that, I’ve never seen my face. All we see is a reflection of our face. So, that metaphor tells us that we don’t even know what we look like, which is a big part of who we are, without the use of something outside of us. And in the same way, you don’t know how you show up at work, whether you’re a leader, or a manager, or you’re aspiring to be one, you don’t fully know who you are without the help of people around you who can be your mirrors.

Of course, they should be people that you trust and that you know they care about your success because you don’t want to get stuck in a house of mirrors. But you want people who are going to give you honest feedback. And it’s amazing to me when we learn how to ask for, and we’re open to feedback and we’re not defensive, how much wisdom we get from the people around us.

When I first started to learn this, and I have to confess it took a long time before I got comfortable enough in my own skin to be able to listen to this feedback, but when I first started to hear it, I had to resist the temptation to be embarrassed, or to feel ashamed, or to defend myself, or to deny that, because they do a pretty good job of pointing out what you’re not so good at.

And when I opened myself up and said, “It doesn’t have an impact on my quality as a human being, on my value as a human being, but they’re giving me really valuable input that helps me understand the difference between what my intention is and what my impact is.” And when I could let them begin to show me what my impact was, it began to open up a whole new level of growth.

And I have to tell you, I’m still working at that. I still really treasure the feedback that people give me, and I’ve trained myself to be quiet and not to defend myself, not even to agree with them, but just to say, “Thank you for that feedback. You gave me some important stuff for me to think about.” And that’s one of the big things that keeps me growing even in my late ‘60s.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you receive it, you’re not being defensive here, you’re saying, “Thank you,” and you’re chewing on it. And then how do you go about making the requests?

Ron Price
Making the requests for the feedback?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Ron Price
Yeah. Well, the way I do it is I let people know, “I understand that there are parts of me that I can’t see without your help. And I believe that you care for me, and you care for my success, and I believe that I could understand myself better and develop better self-awareness if you could give me some feedback.” And there are two approaches I’ll take. I’ll say, “If there were one thing that I could work at getting better at, and that it would make it easier for us to work together, what would you want me to work on?” That’s one way I approach it.

The second way I approach it is, I might’ve already identified, I might say, “I want to get better at planning and organizing.” And I might go to a person and say, “I’m working on getting better at planning and organizing, and I wonder, you’ve watched me, you’ve seen how I do my work, I wonder if you have one or two tips that you could give me for how I could get better?” And I don’t have to agree with the tips. I just thank them for the tips and I might come back later and tell them that I’ve implemented one of the tips or I might not.

But what I found is that if you don’t answer people back with either that “This is why it won’t work. I already tried that,” or, “No, that’s not really true,” if you don’t answer back that way, you make them feel more and more comfortable over time getting more honest with the feedback that they give you. And honest feedback with somebody who’s direct and caring is one of the greatest gifts that anybody can ever give you. And if you develop that openness, that receptiveness where people feel they can give it to you directly and caringly, it’s one of the greatest accelerators to you growing influence.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. All right. Well, so those are some master keys there. So, if you’re doing those sorts of things on an ongoing basis, I’d love to get your tips for, sort of, when you’re in the thick of things, you’re working on developing your character and your expertise, and you’re getting your feedback, is there anything you recommend some top do’s and don’ts for kind of day in, day out you’re interacting with folks and these things make a world of difference?

Ron Price
The biggest thing, by far, I look back on my career, and it’s had the greatest positive impact of anything I’ve done is making sure that every day I spend time with myself. And that that time is set aside not to look at my task list. It’s not for me to worry or to go read the newspaper, be all frustrated with what’s happening in politics or anything. It is time dedicated for me to think about who I am and who I want to become.

And I started it back and it was around 1978, I was getting frustrated because I was overwhelmed with all of the tasks I needed to get done. And I bought an audio cassette series on time management, and it sat on my shelf for six months because I didn’t have time to listen to it. And I realized how that was my fault. There was nobody to blame but me that I hadn’t given time to that.

So, I started working half hour early. I said for that first half hour, at that time I had a private office, I had a secretary, and I told my secretary, “This first half hour I’m coming in early and unless law enforcement is at the door or somebody’s life is at threat, that’s my time. I don’t want to be interrupted by anything.” And over the years, I worked on expanding that time. I obviously finished that cassette series pretty quickly, but I realized, “Wow, I always had this time and I had never owned it. I had never taken it.”

So, over the years I’ve experimented with doing it different times of day. And, at one point, when I was running this international business, I had expanded that time to four hours a day. I had people in eight countries who were working for us that I was in communication with regularly. I had a senior leadership team that I was working with. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a lot to do, I had more to do than ever before, but because of the way I had worked with owning that time to work on myself. Now, during those four hours I would also work on company strategy and the really big ideas that needed more careful thought.

Now, I’m not there anymore. I retired from that business in 2000 and I have another business now, and I’m about two hours a day right now. But it might sound a little counterintuitive, Pete, but the time you spend with yourself, working on yourself, thinking about your own resilience, your flexibility, your personal accountability, thinking about your own values, that’s the reservoir that you draw from the rest of the day when you’re interacting with other people.

And when I see people who are struggling in their relationships, they’re struggling with their work, I always go back to, “How much time are you spending working on you? Because that’s the strength that we’re going to draw from for you to be successful in these other areas.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no surprise I love that. Hosting How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast, there’s a wealth of power that’s unleashed when you do that. And so, I’m curious, when it comes to that 30-minute time or the four-hour time, what is happening? So, in some instances it sounds like you got some content, some programming you’re working through, like the time management audio course. Are there sort of key questions that you ask yourself? Or kind of what’s that process look like in terms of, “All right. It’s me time and I’m getting down, hunkering down to work on myself”? What’s happening in that work?

Ron Price
I mix it up. I use a variety of things because sometimes I think they stimulate my thinking in a different way. But a lot of the things that it’s included reading with a highlighter in my hand, and taking time not just to read but to jot notes down as I come across what I think is an important paragraph from an author. It may be listening to a podcast that is focused on growth. It may be listening to a book on Audible while I’m out hiking.

Oftentimes, it’s journaling and journaling around my values. So, one of my values is courage, and so I might journal one morning about, “How am I demonstrating courage right now? What are the obstacles to courage? What does courage mean to me right now?” It’s these things that help me to self-evaluate and to think about who I am and who I want to be.

And then it may, sometimes, it’s around a problem that’s come up. Maybe I have a problem relationship with somebody that I feel has let me down, or maybe they feel that I’ve let them down. I may take some of that time just to journal about, “What am I feeling? What might they be feeling? What are some different alternatives for how we could work to a more positive solution here?” But it’s always something that has to do with developing my own character, developing my own expertise and my ability to show up stronger in the workplace. Those are a number of the different things that are included.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so then your experience has been that when you spend the time there, you reap more time savings, results, efficiencies in the rest of the hours of the day because you’ve spent the time there.

Ron Price
Yes. One of my mentors was a guy named Charlie “Tremendous” Jones. He was bigger than life. They called him “Tremendous” because everything was tremendous for him, and he was a character. He was really a throwback to the old comedians but also as a motivational speaker. And he said to me once, he said, “Ron, you’re going to be the same five years from now as you are today except for two things. The books you read and the people you meet, so value them both.”

And, of course, today we have a lot of other mediums to work from but that phrase always stuck with me, “The books you read…” Because I dedicate at least, a minimum of 30 minutes a day to reading books that are around my profession, or around the development of my character, I’ve now got over 3,000 books that I’ve read. That has an impact on your subconscious. And I wouldn’t say I was necessarily a great container of what I read, but you’d keep doing it and eventually it produces a benefit for you.

And then the people you meet. One of the things that has enriched my life dramatically and I think made me a better leader has been recognizing that everybody I meet is superior to me in some way. And if I’ll be humble and search for it, I can find treasure in every relationship. So, every new relationship, every relationship I’m revisiting, even with our team, maybe I’ve worked with them for 10 years, I’m still looking for more treasure. There’s something they’ve learned, something they’ve mastered that can benefit me. And I always say the expert in the room is the person who learns the least. So, if I can intentionally make myself the student in every room that I go into, I have a chance of learning the most.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. I like these perspectives. And so then, when you are transitioning out away from the solo time into the interacting with other folks, are there any particular things you recommend when we are trying to be influential, we want someone to say yes? Start having great character and expertise certainly is a huge foundation. But is there anything in particular with regard to how you do the communication?

Ron Price
First, I think it’s important to be clear yourself, to make sure that you understand your priorities and you’re organizing around your priorities, because it’s hard to influence other people if they see you changing gears, often going different directions, or chasing shiny objects. So, the first thing is to be clear yourself.

The second thing is to realize that the greatest power in working with somebody else is shared interests. So, is the thing that you want them to do something that falls into the realm of shared interests for them? They may or may not recognize that, but if you can get to that place where they see what’s in it for them and their shared interests, it’s going to be a lot easier for you to work together.

And then I would say the third thing is make sure that you’re giving them the level of support that’s appropriate, which changes depending on what assignment you’re talking about together, what you’re asking them to do. And, by the way, Pete, I’m not talking about this in a hierarchical organization only, and I’m not talking about it with people who are your subordinates. I think it’s just as important to understand the shared interests of your boss, to understand what kind of support your boss needs, to understand what’s going to help them be successful as it is somebody who’s a subordinate or a peer.

So, it’s really those three things. It’s make sure you’re clear, look for the shared interests, and then really clearly define how you can support them to help them be successful.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so then, what are the key things to not do during the course of these conversations?

Ron Price
To talk and not listen. Of course, if you’re giving an assignment, there’s an important communication component of you speaking, but to take the time to ask what they think and to find out whether or not what you’re asking them to do is what they want to do. We find that something like 60%, 70% of the time that people don’t follow through on an assignment that was asked of them. The reason is because the person who gave them the assignment never asked them whether or not they were committed to doing it. They just assumed they were.

So, taking the time to ask and not just assume that somebody is going to follow through. So, I guess you said, “What should you not do?” Probably the biggest trouble we get into is our assumptions, the stories that we tell ourselves without ever validating whether they’re true or not. And I don’t know how many times I thought I knew what the other person was thinking, and I took the time to ask and found out what they were thinking was not at all what I had in mind.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you are asking, “Hey, are you committed to this or what are you thinking?” what are some of the particular questions that seem to yield insight again and again?

Ron Price
“Is this something that you feel comfortable being involved with? Is this something that you feel you can do well? Is this something that you will enjoy doing? And help me understand the timeframe because everything else that you have going on, help me understand the timeframe that you need in order to get this done well and in a way that you’ll enjoy it. Is there anything I’m missing? Are there issues that you’re dealing with or other responsibilities you’re carrying that may get in the way of this that it would be important for me to know about?”

And this last question is, “If it doesn’t go well, how are you going to reach out and let me know that it’s not going well?” So, I want them to feel empowered and I want them to realize that I recognize that there are a lot of things that interrupt what are our best intentions are, and that’s okay. And when that happens, let’s work on it together.

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

Ron Price
I think one of the most powerful models that I learned from another mentor, actually it’s a husband and wife team, Steve and Jill Morris, they taught me something called the “Triangle of Choice.” They said everybody has perceptions, and our perceptions are different. Everybody has wants, that’s really what drives us to get out of bed each day and go to work. And everybody has behaviors. And people will choose the behaviors that they think will best help them close the gap between their perceptions of the way things are and what they want.

And if I can respect that in everybody that I work with, if I can take the time to understand what their perceptions are and help them make sure that they’re accurate, what their wants are, and have a conversation about whether or not those wants are realistic, then, together, we can work on what are the behaviors that are going to close that gap between perceptions and wants. To me, that’s one of the most powerful leadership models I’ve been able to use in helping other people become the best version of themselves.

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

Ron Price
One of them that has stuck with me for many years was written by Napoleon Hill who is an amazing story in and of himself, and I won’t take the time to tell his story. But he said, “Whatever you can vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe, and enthusiastically act upon, must inevitably come to pass.”

So, I’ve tried for years to prove him wrong. “Whatever you can vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe, and enthusiastically act upon, must inevitably come to pass.” I use that in my personal life, I use it in my professional life, it’s been a wonderful compass for the way that I want to live my life.

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

Ron Price
I’ve been really fascinated with where neuroscience is going, and I’m associated with a brain science lab where we’re measuring seven different levels of people’s brainwaves. We’re looking at how they respond to things subconsciously. As a matter of fact, we’ll throw a picture or a phrase or word up on a computer screen, and before they’ve had time to read it or absorb it, we already have six pictures of their brain, what’s happening in their subconscious mind.

And what I’m fascinated about is this new science that’s just developed in the last 10 to 15 years, is when we combine it with psychology, it’s creating a whole new science of understanding how people think, what their tendencies are, and who they could become. So, I’m really captured by, or captivated by what’s happening in the world of neuroscience right now.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Ron Price

Well, it’s hard to get too far away from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it. Every time I read it, I see something new that inspires me.

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

Ron Price
This is kind of cheating but it’s my iPhone.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, sure. Any particular apps that make all the difference?

Ron Price
Well, the apps that I use every single day, I use Reminders. I figured out how to customize it so that it only shows me what I need to get done today. And I have another 250 tasks that are not going to show up until the day that they need to be done. I use Notes quite a bit because it’s a great place for me to capture ideas and categorize them. I use Evernote. I really use Evernote for my reflection about character and expertise. And that morning reflection Evernote is my key tool for that.

And, of course, you can’t get too far away from the Calendar and the way that it helps you to keep track of your schedules. So, having come from the days when you had to do all that on paper, I know people complain about all the noise that we have with email and everything to-date, but I view it as what tremendous power we have in our hands. And I heard it, I’m not a scientist to be able to validate, but I heard that the computing power in our iPhones or Androids today is more computing power than it took to land a man on the moon.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Ron Price
It’s that early morning time. I also love hiking, and that’s a habit that I try to get at least six miles in five days a week. But that early morning time is really the greatest source of strength.

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

Ron Price
The thing that people talk to me a lot about after they’ve read Growing Influence is this little dialogue that takes place between the two main characters, where David, who’s a retired CEO, is mentoring Emily who’s a middle manager in a tech company. Just as she’s leaving one of their conversations, he says, “Remember, Emily, lead with logic, follow with emotion.”

And it’s the whole idea that if you want to optimize your influence, never let emotion get in front of logic. And sometimes that means you have to wait and calm down. But people come back and quote that to me over and over and over again, that that really impacted the way that they deal with this noise between logic and emotion.

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

Ron Price
Price-Associates.com. And that leads you to our other websites. We have a lot of videos and podcasts and blogs and all kinds of resources that are available there. So, Price-Associates.com.

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

Ron Price
Well, I think you can already hear my bias, Pete, that is that people really have unlimited potential, only limited by how much they decide they want to develop who they can be. I really think that the more you pour into becoming the best version of yourself, the more you recognize how unlimited that potential is, and it’s a little bit each day, even if it’s 10 minutes or 15 minutes, it’s a little bit each day, over time, will transform your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Ron, this has been a treat. Thanks so much for taking this time. And good luck in all your adventures.

Ron Price
Thanks, Pete. It’s been great to be with you.

505: How to Make Data Inspire Action with Nancy Duarte

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Nancy Duarte explains how to combine data with story structures to create inspiring presentations.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three-act structure of data
  2. The true hero of your presentation
  3. How to make magical moments for your audience

About Nancy:

Nancy Duarte is a communication expert who has been featured in Fortune, Time Magazine, Forbes, Fast Company, Wired, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, LA Times, and on CNN. Her firm, Duarte, Inc., is the global leader behind some of the most influential visual messages in business and culture. As a persuasion expert, she cracked the code for effectively incorporating story patterns into business communications. She’s written five best-selling books, four of which have won awards. She’s been ranked #1 on a list of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Nancy Duarte Interview Transcript

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

Nancy Duarte
Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am excited to dig into your wisdom. And I’d love it if you could start us off by sharing a story about one of your clients who really transformed their presentation using stories.

Nancy Duarte
Oh, that’s a fantastic question. So, we work with really, really great brands. I can’t name the customers but I sure can tell you outcomes of what’s happened to them after they started to embrace stories. So, there’s one local public CEO here who went from unfavorably rated on Glassdoor to the highest-rated CEO and a lot of it had to do with when he would talk about his work. It was kind of self-congratulatory and we taught him how to tell stories and how to make a stronger connection to the audience and it actually skyrocketed his Glassdoor rating. He worked hard on internal communications which is important.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s amazing. Well, I’d like to hear a little bit more about that. So, for example, when presenting in front of employees, he would kind of convey that he was responsible or she was responsible for that victory and accomplishment and results, and you sort of had a shift there. Or, how did that go down specifically?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah. Well, what happened is, because he was an accomplished CEO at his former public company he would always point back to big victories, big victories at this other company, big victories at the other company. And then what we asked him to do was part of telling a great story is the fact that the story has a messy middle. That’s the most exciting part of a movie, right? The boy doesn’t get the girl and then the monster steps on them and then they got shot in the shoulder with an arrow, and then they have to climb out of the pit. Like, that’s the exciting part, and that’s the thing we love about stories is that life is hard and we’re watching and cheering for this person as they go through these hard times.

So, we explain, that’s the part, that’s what makes you transparent, that’s what makes you humble, that’s what makes people connect to you if you tell a story where you failed. And so, he did. He told a story about a skunk-work project that he started when he started at this new company that he was at and how it failed and what he learned from it. And just adding that one anecdote into this one talk, he was flooded, like, “That’s the best talk you’ve ever given. I loved it. It was the best one ever.” It just had to do with being real and talking about, “Hey, I’m not going to fail on your watch. I already learned this lesson,” and being really open and transparent about who you are and things that you’ve overcome. A lot of leaders are afraid to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s huge, and I guess the proof is in the pudding right there in terms of the complete transformation and perception.

Nancy Duarte
Exactly. And then the results. There’s a lot of sensitive topics right now that a lot of people are having to address at work and in life, and I think when you frame them in a story and tell it as a story, people will remember them more than if you just whipped out a PowerPoint and click through a bunch of slides. I think people are craving human contact, human flourishing at work, and meaning, and story creates all those things.

Pete Mockaitis
And you have put some numbers to that in your book there DataStory associated with the extent to which stories can resonate a whole lot more than facts and data. Can you share some of those perspectives?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah. So, my new book is really about how to explain data so that people move to action through storytelling. So, when you see the words data and story combined, some people think it means that I’m saying, “Oh, yeah, apply a bunch of fiction into your data.” That’s not what this is about. It really is about taking the strength of the framework of a three-act structure of a story and using it to explain your data.

So, now we can hook up FMRI machines to the brain and see what’s happening when a story is being told. And now we have scientific proof that the sensing parts of the brains fire up when a story is being told, and so why not use this magnificent framework to actually explain data so that you can move people to action because of the results of the data. So, that’s kind of the premise of the book.

Pete Mockaitis
And I was really struck with your charts that sort of showed the bar chart sort of moving in different directions and how that can correspond to different kinds of stories. So, could you give us a little bit of an example or overview of how those things go together?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, I love that. So, one of the other things that’s happened as far as science and story is that the computational story lap put in all of the books from the Guttenberg Project that was almost 1700 books, public domain fiction books. They fed it into a computer and it actually did show that stories have six finite arcs. And those arcs, they either end in a happy ending, you know, comedy or tragedy, they end and it resolves or it ends and it was tragic.

And same thing happens to a chart. So, picture in your mind, you have a line chart, and the happy ending to that line chart would be if it went up. And then a tragic ending would be if you wanted the line to go up and it went down. Well, those are classic story arcs. And the way you communicate when the line is going up versus the way you need to communicate if its ending is a tragedy, people process those stories very differently.

And so, the book gets into what to do if your chart falls on one of the six emotional arcs, what it is that the audience needs to hear from you and how to communicate that particular arc structure to an audience. It sounds complicated to explain verbally but there’s visuals in the book to support it. But I think sometimes we don’t consider the emotional impact that a chart, like rushing toward the X-axis just like falling, and when what happens in people’s hearts when the line rushes high into the right. And so, it just makes you stop and consider how to communicate those story structures because your data actually is a story structure.

Pete Mockaitis
And those six arcs that’s kind of just like the trajectories in terms of up, up, up, or down, down, down, or up then down.

Nancy Duarte
Down, up. Down, up, yeah. It’s like a rollercoaster ride, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, maybe just to bring it to life, could you share sort of one story in conjunction with data so that listeners can say, “Ah, that is a lot better. Thank you”?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, that’s a great ask. So, I could share a data story where we found an insight in the data and then you frame it in three acts, like a three-act story. And so, it’s a super simple one but I’ll share it anyway. I’ll just pick one of these super simple ones. Like, an act one. So, this is where we found an opportunity in the data. So, you found something that’s great and you really want to exploit this opportunity you found in the data.

Act one is you state the current situation. So, you would say, “Our new webinar about cloud services attracted more attendees than our historical high,” that’s the current reality. “And…” there’s a complication, “…there were 642 highly-qualified leads that came in from the webinar and it surpassed all other marketing channels by 22%.”

The third act is what’s the action you want to take. So, it’s, “We should, therefore, redirect our marketing funds to cover quarterly webinars to increase highly-qualified lead flow.” So, what’s a tiny itty-bitty executive summary told in three acts that paints the current reality, what’s going to be kind of hard about it, and what we need to do about it, and it’s data. It’s not fiction like I said. It’s not a fairytale. It literally is using the three-act structure to construct an executive summary so you could tell a manager and try to get funding for your webinars, or whatever it is that you’re trying to get done.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so now I love that story, and I’m thinking if I’m on the receiving end of it, I’m going to say, “Heck, yes. Let’s double-down, triple-down on this approach. I’m in.” So, what would be the alternative way of presenting kind of like that same set of things that’s much less effective?

Nancy Duarte
Like, what happens is you might just flick a chart to the boss, you don’t communicate. So, some people would say, “Well, the data speaks for itself.” Well, did it really say, “Hey, let’s go and get more funding”? No, the data might’ve said, “Hey, that was 22% more effective,” but it won’t ever say the action that needs to be taken. So, there’s kind of these different mindsets about data. Some people just love to be in the data and they flick it. They’re like, “Well, it’s outside my paygrade to do anything about it. I’m just going to flick these charts.”

So, part of what this does is it challenges you to move just from exploring the data to dipping your toe into explaining it, because when you explain the data, that’s when you move from being an individual contributor to becoming a strategic advisor. So, a lot of this is about shaping what the data is saying so that people above you understand it, and it actually helps your career. It’ll actually help your career trajectory because artificial intelligence can go now and it can explore the data, and it can actually tell you the findings in the data. But a robot or artificial intelligence will never be able to tell you what to do about it accurately. So, it really is a career move to learn how to explain data well.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And there have been so many occasions in which I have looked at slides and there’s a bunch of stuff on there, and I’m thinking, “Is that good? Is that bad? There’s a lot of lines. They’re squiggling. Are we happy about those squiggles? Are we not happy about those squiggles?” And so, I think that is huge when you share that message.

And I’m big on, well, I’ll get your take on this. I’m really big on having the slide headlines kind of convey the points. Instead of saying, “Sales over time,” the headline would read, “Sales have increased significantly more this quarter as compared to previous ones,” for instance. So, we know, “Oh, okay, this is significant and it’s a big deal and it kind of lets us know what to focus in on.” What’s your take on this?

Nancy Duarte
And that’s great, yeah. So, the chart title itself should stay true, like it should just state the fact of the chart. And what you mentioned, which is great, is the slide title. Now, the slide title is where you can make an observation, and that’s what you did. You made an observation that this quarter was great, it’s up significantly. That’s an observation you can make on the chart.

And then there’s another layer of information that’s, “Therefore, what do we need to do about it?” Because what’s interesting is it’s usually human behavior that makes a chart go up or down. It’s like, “Oh, hey, the salespeople sold more so revenue is up.” “The accounting screwed up so our profit is down.” Human behavior makes charts go up or down, or like clicks on a website makes charts go up or down, so there’s a desirable direction you may wanted to go. But then, once you’ve observed it, and said, “Hey, Q4 was significantly higher,” that’s an observation, “Therefore, what do we need to do about it? Is there an opportunity to exploit or a problem to solve so that the next quarter can be even higher?”

And so, that’s kind of where the gap is between an observation and understanding what action they need to take because of the observation. So, you’re right, so your slide title should be either an observation or an action to be taken. Absolutely agree.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay. Cool. Now I want to talk maybe about you mentioned the phrase earlier dip your toe into the explaining of data, and I think that’s an apt picture because I think when I teach these in workshops, I have participants who seem a little bit scared to say, “Oh, man.” Like, when I gave these example headlines, like, “Hey, don’t do this. Instead do that.” I’ve had people say, “Oh, those are pretty sensational headlines that you’re using there, Pete.” I don’t know whether sensational is sort of over the top, it’s too much, it’s intense. Like, it’s sort of it’s almost shocking for some who are not accustomed to this practice. So, what’s your take if people feel a little risk averse or they don’t want to be too bold in making a statement about what the data show? How do you think about the psychological elements here?

Nancy Duarte
It’s really interesting because one of the things, if we could get data to tell us every little bit of every little step and it be perfectly true and right, I think there are some temperaments that would wait and wait and wait and not make a move until they could have many, many, many facts of data to do that. What’s interesting about your question is you’re asking a bit about the mindset of the people that are trawling through the data and whether or not they want to make a claim about the data.

What happens the minute you stake a point of view about the data, you’re kind of walking around with a target on your back, and a lot of people aren’t comfortable with that. So, that’s why you’re moving from an individual contributor position into a strategic advisor position because you’re willing to take the risk, you’re willing to stake a claim or make a point of view about the data, and you’re willing to say, “You know what, now we need to go hire another sales guy. That’s the action I think we need to take.”

Not everybody wants to move into these kind of managerial and leader positions to where they’re willing to say, “I have a point of view. And you know what, next quarter I might’ve been wrong but I’m willing to stake a claim and say I do feel we need to step forward in this direction.” That’s the part that makes people scared to form a point of view about the data because they don’t want the responsibility that comes with it because it does with responsibility once you have a point of view.

Pete Mockaitis
But it sounds like what you’re saying, let me put words in your mouth, is that it is, from a risk-reward profile, it is a better career strategy to take some points of view than to play it safe.

Nancy Duarte
Exactly. Exactly, if you want to grow in your career. You know what though, and I don’t want to pooh-pooh the fact that we need some really deep-thinking individual contributors that can become almost like fellow partner-level and fellows inside organizations. There’s a place for that because we need a lot of freaks of genius around data itself. But if you want to go in management and leadership, you need to start to create points of view about the data.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And so, now you mentioned that we got to cover actions, what we need to do as a result of this data. And you have a bunch of verbs in your book, which I get a kick out of.

Nancy Duarte
I love that page. I love that page.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how do you think about verbs and what are we doing wrong when it comes to our verbs?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, this was such a fun journey for me because we work with amazing brands and I pulled thousands of just data slides, slides that had a chart on it, and then I pulled apart the parts of speech, collected every verb that was associated with data on these 2,000 slides, and then I found a pattern in the verbs themselves. I’m such a pattern finder and I love that you love that page because it was a lot of work.

So, there’s two types of verbs, they have two different kinds of energy to them. There’s what we will call a performance verb, and these would be things that help you reach KPIs, help you reach big organizational results. And then there’s process verbs, these are the activities you do in support of a performance verb to get something done.

So, think of the verb to run, right? Run is a verb, but you have sub-verbs to get you there. You have to pump your arms, you have to pump your legs, you have to breathe really heavy. Those are process verbs that you do to get you so you can run. So, it’s kind of like that. There could be a big performance verb that could be measured by an executive and then the supporting verbs that fall under it.

It was fun. This is definitely how the title of the book says to take action. This is definitely the guts of the types of action you may take from data. It was pretty profound. It was fun. It’s not exhaustive, I mean, but it’s pretty exhaustive. I went through it and couldn’t find anymore verbs, at least in our work or our clients’ works.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s interesting, when you say run, and I’m thinking about process versus performance, I’m kind of thinking of the word run as being in the middle, and performance would be like, “I got there, you know. I got there in four minutes, 12 seconds. And at this rate of speed I was running, that’s my high performance.”

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, what’s interesting is a process verb is you’re either done or you’re not a little bit. So, the process verbs are binary, you’ve either completed it or haven’t, and the performance verbs are ongoing or kind of a bit more conceptual. Like, “I want to disrupt the market. Like, the data says we should…” You could say, “Oh, we need to create flavor innovation,” that is something you could do based on some data. Or you could say, “We need to disrupt an entire market on flavor innovation.” It’s so different and has so many more things you have to do to support that performance. I guess you can call them mega verbs and minor verbs or something, but you could stack a lot of activities under a performance verb. Whereas a process verb is more finite.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’d love to get your take here on the pros and cons and the ideal context because I hear what you’re saying, those performance verbs, they’re mega, they’re big, there’s a whole lot of stuff that would go under them and could change some strategic things in a big way. And then, also, some people might find them a little bit fuzzy. Like, “What exactly are you saying? Are you saying we’re going to create new flavors and a lot of other things?”

Nancy Duarte
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I guess how do you think about where you’re better off having more process things versus more performance things?

Nancy Duarte
It depends on who you’re trying to appeal to in the organization. So, like, if you’re a project manager and you’re managing your own project, you’re going to have a ton of process verbs just to get the project done, and you could stack them up in timelines and do all kinds of things with it. The minute that you feel like you have a proposal that’s so big you need to put it on your boss’ desk or your manager’s desk, then it needs to have a clear hierarchy to the verbs.

And that’s kind of what this creates. It’s like, “If we’re going to do this great big thing, this big market-changing thing, name that and then put all the activities under it that support it.” And so, there is a different kind of an energy if it’s going, depending on the scale of the person above you. There’s different ways kind of in the book of how to frame that based on who you’re communicating up to, or if you’re communicating to your peers in an update meeting as a project manager, that’s different than communicating at a board to a board of directors or something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I can see that you might get some mismatches if you’re going super mega with the performance verbs to some folks who are like, “Okay, so what do you want me to do now?” like that sort of spelled out. And then vice versa, the executive might say, “I don’t know why you’re troubling me with this minor thing. Why don’t you just sort of handle that?”

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, execs are too busy, really, to have to think through it for you and they want to make sure you’ve thought through it. So, the interesting thing, too, is any of these data recommendations you’re making, you can have a massive appendix, slides are practically free. So, have the guts, be in front, have it be brief and tight and lovely, and then, man, you could stack 200 slides in an appendix. And if they’re really curious about the details you provided them, but just don’t make them slug through all your details. But it’s kind of nice to have them there because then I’ll be like, “Man, that person really thought hard about this.” I’ll always peek at an appendix.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. I look at the notes, and, “Is that statistic significant?” So, I’m right there. Okay. So, reorienting a bit here. You have a fun turn of a phrase that we should be more like Yoda when we’re doing our presenting. What do you mean by that concept?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, and what’s interesting is when we have something really important to communicate, sometimes we’re so either excited or scared about having to communicate it. We get so caught up that we think when we walk in the room we are, in storytelling it’s called the central figure, that we’re the hero, we’re the protagonist, we’re the ones talking the most, which usually happens in a story or a movie. Usually a hero is a central figure and they have the most dialogue. And it might feel like that because you’re in front of everyone presenting, but, in reality, you have to flip the context of who you are because the audience is actually the hero.

So, if you get up and you’re presenting, and your audience does not latch on to what you say, your idea dies. Like, they are the carriers. They’re the ones taking out the action from your idea, so if you don’t convey it well, you’re suddenly rendered powerless by your audience. And so, you have to actually approach your presentations or any communication that you do, email, blog, anything. I get my husband to do chores at home by doing this. You have to really think through, like, “Wait, what is it?”

Pete Mockaitis
How does that work?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, I know, I know. I’m, hopefully, someone who loves you is listening and can get you to do their chores. Now, you have to really flip the mindset and realize, “Look, I’m in their lives as a mentor not as the hero.” In myths and movies, a mentor is like Yoda was a mentor, Obi-wan Kenobi was a mentor. A mentor comes along and does one of three things. They help the hero get unstuck, or they bring a magical gift, or they bring a special tool.

So, you look at, say, Obi-wan and Luke Skywalker, he brought the Force and he brought a lightsaber. He gave him a tool for his physical journey and a tool for his spiritual or heart journey. That’s what it should feel like when people sit through your presentation. They should say, “Whoa, I have the emotional feel to keep going,” or, “Oh, wow, I did not know that, and now I’m unstuck,” or, “Oh, my gosh, I’m going to run go do that because I was stuck right there.”

That’s how they should feel when they’re sitting through a presentation. They should feel like, “Oh, in my life journey, when I sat in that presentation, I got unstuck.” And it takes a minute for you to flip your framework of who your presentation shouldn’t be in service of yourself. It should always be in service of the audience.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really dig that. And so then, when you talk about magical items, what can that look like in practice?

Nancy Duarte
So, usually anything that’s kind of magical is something that appeals to the heart, something that would change a heart. Like, if you look at all the different magical moments, it’s like something kind of supernatural happens and they get some sort of a breakthrough. So, sometimes it’s like something unexpected. It could be a surprise. It could be a bonus. There are all kinds of ways to make something feel magical. Sometimes it’s even in the delivery of it.

Like, even in the book, in the DataStory book, I say, “Oh, you could throw a whole chart up there. But if you show it over time and create suspense and surprise, then the results feel even more magical.” So, it’s a tool to help them get unstuck, and there are ways when you communicate it to make it feel like that was a magical thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that connects and resonates with me as I’m thinking about sometimes, and I guess I’m a weird guy, but if I read in a great book, I’m thinking about Robert Cialdini’s Influence right now.

Nancy Duarte
Oh, I love Robert.

Pete Mockaitis
In a great book that sort of shares the story of a scientific study, they sort of set it up, like, “Hey, some people went on the street and they approached folks, and they asked them a question.” And so, actually I can feel my heart thumping a little bit, it’s like, “Well, what happens in the baseline control versus the new thing?” And it’s like, “And it was four times more effective when they asked it this way.” And so, I think that’s exciting stuff. And you’re right, when you build that suspense, you have that experience as opposed to it’s just sort of cut and dried, like all the data is on one slide all at once, and you’re a bit overwhelmed as opposed we’re building into something.

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, it’s all in how it’s revealed over time. You’re saying the same things but it’s in how you frame it that can turn something that would be just fact-based into, as you’re revealing it, they’re feeling something.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess in that same vein, you’ve got a nice turn of phrase with STAR moments, an acronym for something they’ll always remember. Could you give us a few particular examples of this and some tips on how we can generate more of those moments in our presentations?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, so STAR moments, something they’ll always remember. One of my favorite examples, it’s actually in my TED Talk is where Steve Jobs spent about the first 30 minutes of the iPhone launch creating and creating and building and building and building suspense. And then the moment he turned the iPhone on, you can hear a gasp, an audible gasp in the audience, like “Huh!” when they saw scrolling for the first time. Your listeners might be too young to remember that.

But when they saw scrolling, they knew right then that he had made a revolutionary new product that had never existed before. But he could’ve just like, whoop, and whoop, and got it on, and like turned it on and all of that. But he knew the moment that they saw, so he went through the hardware, he went through the features, he went through the buttons. They never even saw it turned on yet. And when he turned it on, it took everyone’s breath away.

So, some of that was the timing. Now granted, some of it is the amazing product, but you could use a shocking statistic. It’s something that whatever is in your talk that you want them to chatter about at the watercooler or after, when they leave the room, it’s like, “Wow, I’ll never forget that.” It could be a shocking image, it could be a powerful metaphor, it could be an emotive anecdote or a story. There’s just a lot of different ways you can create that moment where they’ll be like, “Oh, my gosh.” And it could be any emotion. It could be shock. It could be awe. It could be tears. It could be like something in it where they just were like, “Well, I’ll just never forget that.” And really great talks have those.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I’d love to incorporate some more of those. So, that’s a fun example of Steve Jobs. Can you lay a few more on us?

Nancy Duarte
Another fun one that I love is when Michael Pollan, I don’t know if you are familiar with his books.

Pete Mockaitis
With the food?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, with the food. And what we did in that example was he was wanting to explain how broken our food supply system is. And you can find this video, it’s actually really well-done. It was from kind of like TED-like event called PopTech, and he spoke there. And so, we went out and bought two Big Macs, and he had I think it was only one Big Mac. He had one Big Mac on the table and he wanted to explain how much crude oil it took just to make that one Big Mac, and it took like 36 ounces or something.

So, we had him pouring crude oil into these clear glasses so everyone could see how much crude oil it took just to make that one hamburger. And that was like a moment they’ll always remember. And, besides, we didn’t use real crude oil. We used Hershey’s syrup. So, at one point, he dipped his finger in what everyone thought was oil, and licked it, so that made it kind of extra special.

We had one happen here the other day with data, one of my client service people. He was going over how we’re doing on our revenue, and he said, “Wow, this quarter over this quarter, we’re really low.” And everyone was like, “Oh, no,” because everyone’s bonuses depend on how well we do our invoicing. And so, then he said, “Oh, but look, this is how much we have to invoice. Get your invoicing in.” And it went, woo, it went way up, and everyone applauded. So, everyone knew we would hit the number but it also put the right kind of pressure on client services to get their invoicing done, right? So, there’s ways to do it to create action that’s just different.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so we talked about the arcs, we talked about some of the words and the special moments. And I think that, maybe as we’re entering the end here, could you sort of summarize kind of what’s the step-by-step? If we want to create a data story, what is the A-B-C of things that happens?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, I think obviously the explore phase, my assumption is everyone has done that well, because once you’re done exploring, whatever the data sets or multiple data sets, you do the synthesis and you have an outcome, you have a problem or opportunity that you found in the data. So, that’s where you’re at. That’s where this book starts. We’re under the assumption you found a problem or an opportunity in the data and now you need to communicate it.

Then what you need to do is think through what your executive summary is, and that’s that three-act data story. I read you one where it’s like, “What is the three-arc structure of your executive summary?” Then think through, “Who am I delivering this to and how much information do they need?” You might be able to just stop at the executive summary and put it in an email and send it to your boss, or it might be such a high-performance verb you’re asking everyone to do, you might need to make a 200-page document.

So, you just got to really think about “Who needs to read this?” Like, we create Slidedocs which are these skim-able, they look almost like magazine, skim-able, readable documents. And I recommend you make, if it’s kind of a bigger proposal, you build about nine or so skim-able slides in the front. And like I was saying a bit ago, maybe you build as dense of an appendix as you may need to support it, and then you circulate it, and then you talk about it and get approval.

So, the book, really, was in service of faster decision-making. So, I think your audience specifically plays a role a lot in coming up with ideas, and then some people get frustrated in organizations because their ideas aren’t heard. So, even though this is framed for data, you could actually use a lot of the frameworks here for any idea. It doesn’t just have to be data and how you craft it and communicate it. Put it into a document in a way that somebody above you in the organization understands, it really should be able to help your ideas get unstuck. If you’re feeling like you’re hidden or your ideas get hidden, this will really help with that.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. And now I just kind of want to go with a free-for-all in terms of top do’s and don’ts when it comes to slides and presenting, you know. You can just let loose things you see all the time that you think need to stop right away or things you’re so surprised you never see when you really should.

Nancy Duarte
Uh-huh. Great. Well, number one, my number one top do, I already kind of answered this. Start with empathy. Think about your audience first. The other thing is I think there’s this gap. I don’t think a lot of presenters can read the audience. I was actually just talking to someone who was telling me about this situation where the audience slowly got up and left. And by the time this guy was done presenting, there was only like six people in the room, and I’m like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait, wait, wait. Why did they keep going?” Like, the minute five people left, I’d stop and be like, “Hey, can I poll you real quick? Am I answering what you guys came here to hear? And if not, can we just go to a Q&A for a minute?” Like, I would’ve just stopped.

So, I think sometimes when it’s a bad presentation, I don’t think enough people stop and just turn it into a Q&A. That would be the ideal. Slides are still cluttered but I think it’s because people use them as a crutch. I think people use their slides as a teleprompter. So, I still would recommend people take their dense slides, split them out across multiple slides. I can do a 40-minute talk and I can have up to 300 clicks. You’d never know it. It doesn’t look like that but it’s better than having these dense slides that people read.

And I went on a campaign, my book slide:ology was all about making cinematic slides, highly-conceptual slides, and using them as a visual aide. But 85% or so of content that’s built in a slide deck really is a document, and it needs to have the density. You can’t pass around pictures of kittens on a slide and people know what you’re talking about. You have to have the supporting content if you’re going to circulate it like a document. So, that’s when I wrote the book Slidedocs. What I was trying to do was polarize and say, “This is a visual aide and it has this level of hardly much visual density. This is a document. Make them really dense but don’t do that weird in-between thing or it’s not a document, and it’s not a slide, and it’s not a visual aide. But to really just make it dense like a document or sparse like a visual aide.” And I think there’s still too much stuff in that weird confusing middle. People aren’t kind of pushing their decks to the edges. So, I would say those are my big pet peeves.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Nancy Duarte
I think you’ve done a great job. I don’t have anything. I’ll let you know if another idea gets sparked.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, about could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Nancy Duarte
Oh, I love that. Yeah, I love a quote by Winnie the Pooh. I used to have it, not engraved, but in vinyl lettering in my reception area, and it says, “Promise me you’ll always remember. You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” I love that quote. I tell it to others, mostly to women. I have to tell women. I think we’re hard on ourselves, and we ‘re braver and stronger and smarter than we give ourselves credit for.

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

Nancy Duarte
You know, there is definitely like a book that kind of changed me, and it is based in research, and it’s a book by a guy named Chris Vogler, it’s called The Writer’s Journey. And I did a lot of research on story all over the place. Got into Joseph Campbell, just did three years of research on story. But the way he framed the story structure and the archetypes changed my heart to where now I use story almost as a lens, as a coping mechanism for life. And so, that body of research really meant a lot to me.

Pete Mockaitis
And any other favorite books?

Nancy Duarte
That one I love. There’s the classic books that every business person reads, like Good to Great. Right now, I’ve bought and distributed the book Ownership Thinking because I really want people here that work here to understand that bonuses are paid out based on profit, and have people become more understanding of how a business is run. And that’s been really, really fun to train in that. So, that’s the one I’m kind of fixated on right now.

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

Nancy Duarte
Oh, I use this thing called Pocket. And so, if I’m trying to plough through my day and an interesting article or something on the internet, instead of reading it right then, I put it in my Pocket. And then what’s cool is you can open the app on your phone, and whatever, and you could read all these articles on the airplane even if you don’t have Wi-Fi and stuff.

But the interesting thing is I used to pause and actually read a lot during the day and I’d be like, “Oh, that’s interesting.” Now I put it in my Pocket and then maybe three days later I go to read it, I’m like, “I don’t want to spend the time on that. It’s not as interesting two days later as it was when I thought I saw it the first time.” And so, I’m actually saving myself time and then being choosier in what I choose to spend my time reading.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is really great. I love that. I feel the same way with if I get a good idea, like, “Oh, wow, that’s amazing. I should do something with that immediately.” And then like, “Well, no, I’m just going to tuck it over here.” And then a couple days later, it’s like, “You know, I don’t think that’s so great.”

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, I used to do that. Like, I’d get an idea and pound out an email and send it to someone, and now I don’t. I just save it or I tag it to go four days later, and then I look at everything and then I’ve been deleting things I thought were great ideas in the moment, and not telling anyone about them.

Pete Mockaitis
So, let’s see, that’s a tool. How about a favorite habit?

Nancy Duarte
I like my morning routine. I think what you have on your mind when you fall asleep kind of shapes what you do with your brain cycles while you sleep. So, I try to read on contemplative spiritual things or psalms. And then in the morning I try to read things from books of wisdom, and then I feel ready to work. I carve out up to three hours at least four days a week. And I’m a morning person. I’m up at 5:00, 5:30 so I could use the first three hours to create or write or invent or produce, and it just makes me feel like I lived a fuller life if I make something every day.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, they share it with you frequently or retweet it?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, I think the ending phrase or close to the end of my TED Talk where I say something like, “The future is not a place that you go. It’s a place you get to create.” And I get quoted for that a lot and I think I’m very much, I live in the future. My brain is always in the future trying to think about, “Where does the company need to be in 18 months? What should I write in 18 months?” I’m always living my life about 18 months out. And so, that always meant a lot to me but I didn’t realize other people would feel like they too have the power to create their future. So, that was a fun one.

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

Nancy Duarte
Well, we have Duarte.com which is my company website. We’re up on Twitter on @duarte. I’m up there @NancyDuarte, and I do connect to anyone who connects me on LinkedIn.

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

Nancy Duarte
I think that being other-centric. If there was one thing I could ask everyone to do it’s to get to a place where you have mental models that help you understand empathy and understand the other person before you communicate to them quickly or rashly. Just do a little bit of planning before you open your mouth goes a long ways.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Nancy, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you tons of luck with your company, and the book “DataStory” and all your adventures.

Nancy Duarte
Thank you so much. It was fun to chat with you.

502: How to Make Killer Pitches and Get What You Want with Oren Klaff

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Oren Klaff reveals the secret behind successful pitches—and how to persuade those around you.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What most people get wrong about persuasion
  2. How to communicate your worth
  3. The surefire way to convince anyone

About Oren:

Oren is Director of Capital Markets at investment bank Intersection Capital where he manages its capital raising platform (retail and wholesale distribution), business and product development. Oren co-developed and oversees Intersection Capital’s flagship product, Velocity™. 

From 2003-2008 as he applied his pioneering approaches to raising capital and incorporating neuroscience into the capital markets programs, Oren raised over $400 million of investor capital from high net-worth individuals and financial institutions.

Oren is a member of Geyser Holding’s investment committee where he has been a principal since 2006. During its growth he was responsible for sales, marketing, branding, product development, and business development. Previously, he was a venture analyst and partner at several mid-sized investment funds.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Oren Klaff Interview Transcript

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

Oren Klaff
Well, I appreciate that, Pete. What a great radio voice you have. I’m going to try and equal that with tone, tenor, bass, but I might lose it at some point. I tend to lose it when I get excited.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to be talking and I also hear you’re excited about fountain pens, you’ve got 17. What’s the story here?

Oren Klaff
Oh, I’m way up from that now. I actually have a safe which I have to keep my fountain pens in because I bought a couple that are super expensive and they have to be on lockdown. So, I have a five-year old. And I write him a note every night, so maybe when I die and maybe somebody will take it out and go, “Hey, Oren passed this way.”

So, I love the feeling of ink. It’s analog. Everything is so digital and that’s what I want to talk to you about today a little bit. Everything is so digital. People are losing the way of the sword, they’re losing the way of the pen, they’re losing the way of language, and I know nobody thinks that’s true but it is happening.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into it. So, can you orient us quickly to Pitch Anything and your latest Flip the Script?

Oren Klaff
Yeah, Pitch Anything really started with the realization of this: people, especially in business, but in life in general, they want what they can’t have, they chase that which moves away from them, and they only value that which they pay for.

And so, Pitch Anything was really about this notion of how information gets into the human brain, what the brain does with it and it’s extremely counterintuitive. In fact, it works the opposite of how you might think, right? So, you go you want to get a raise, or you want to impress a client, and you do all these things that should be recognized but maybe it’s like a court of law in a murder trial. No good deed goes unpunished.

And so, Pitch Anything was really about how do we get things done in an upside down world where you go to a client and you say, “Hey, we’re going to try really hard, I’m going to work really hard, I’m going to give you a good price. We’ll be the best supplier that you’ve ever hard. You’ll be our most important customer. The customer is always right here. We’re excited to have you on board.” All things are true, transparent you’re passionate about, but none of that is persuasive.

And so, how do you walk that fine line of wanting something, wanting to perform a task or a job or an assignment, wanting to get paid for it, and wanting to commit to it, and show that you’re good at it, at the same time showing that you don’t want it and you don’t need it? So, ultimately, I think if you had to put a subtext or a subtitle on this, it’s this, “Neediness kills deals.” And that’s what Pitch Anything was all about, how to want something and not want it at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really intriguing and it really reminds me of sort of the notion of playing hard to get in the romantic courting world. And so, it sounds like you’re on board that’s a winning strategy.

Oren Klaff
Yeah, so in the romantic world is very narrow range of activities in terms of playing hard to get. When you go into business, playing hard to get is very nuanced, it can backfire, and especially when the stakes get higher.

And so, as the stakes go up and somebody needs to talk to you, then you need to understand what’s happening both inside you and in that situation. So, it’s a lot more complex and nuanced than playing hard to get.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, before we dig into the particulars of how we walk this fine line and execute that well, I’d love it if you could frame things up a bit in terms of saying why is this skill super important. If you’re that career person who’s like, “You know what, I’m not going to march into a VC’s office and do a pitch, but I’d like to be more persuasive,” why is it so important for us and why are most of us not so great at it?

Oren Klaff
That’s a great question. I think I wrote Pitch Anything some years ago because basically I thought tens of thousands of people in my work just going in and supplicating to buyers, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Supplicating, what a word. It’s like we’re on our knees and, yeah.

Oren Klaff
Yeah. Supplicating is, maybe it rhymes with sucking up, but really if you unpack it, it’s confusion about who’s the prize in a business interaction, right? So, there’s a prize to be won, and we go in as an employee, or executive, or a salesperson, and this is why it’s important. We go in and the current framing in our economy, is that the boss, or the customer, is the prize.

Their signature, they’re giving us a raise, they’re giving us resources, they’re giving us a contract, they’re just giving us money, is the prize to be won so we have to perform at some level – performance. I do believe like we view our pitches as a performance. So, even though I’m against this framing, I still use it, that we have to perform for the prize of the money or the contract, right? Wouldn’t you agree that’s basically the standard framing in business today?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure, I guess. And I’m thinking about all kinds of, you know, Glengarry Glen Ross or sort of big moments like the salesperson needs to wow with exceptional impressive persuasive power, like a rock star.

Oren Klaff
Yeah. So, we come in and even if we’re a rock star, we are trying to win the prize of the contract. So, Pitch Anything really made it important to understand that they’re not the prize. What can they give you? Money, some status, right? These are commodities. You can get status anywhere. You can get money anywhere. Sort of money is the ultimate commodity. You should not do things that are outside your value system, do things that you’re overreaching, you should not overextend yourself, you should not supplicate, which I think we decided was really a euphemism for sucking up, in order to win a commodity for yourself – money.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know what, that just checks out in my gut, like, “All right. Yeah, right on, you know.”

Oren Klaff
Okay. Sounds good, Oren. But let’s go. So, if they’re not the prize, and the money isn’t the prize, and their signature, and their approval isn’t the prize, and that’s really the key word – approval. Most presentations are based on approval-seeking behavior. When you’re seeking approval from someone else, you’re supplicating to them, you’re needy, neediness kills deals. On their side, people want what they can’t have. You’re letting them know they can have you, and so it’s all wired backwards.

The thing that’s important is to wire it up correctly, which is that you are the prize that they need. And so how do you come in? And everybody has to decide this for themselves. I can give you a couple ways and give you a head start. But how do you come in and say, “Hey, look, I’m going to show you a couple things over the next 12-15 minutes, I’m going to pitch you the big idea. I’ll do that very quickly”?

“And it’s important for you to evaluate it and see if you’re going to get what you want and if our circles overlap, and if it makes sense, and if we’re aligned. But as much as you’re evaluating me, it’s important for you to know I’m also evaluating you. Lots of options. I don’t know if I’m smart or if I’m just busy or lucky this time of year, but there’s lots of things that are pulling at me, and lots of customers who want us to deliver. And so, I’m just in a good place to be choosy about what I work on, who I work with, and why I’m doing things. So, as much as you’re evaluating me, I’m evaluating you.”

Now, probably people listening to this right now, going, “Oh, my God. I would never say that to my boss or the board of directors.” I think when I get that reaction from people, they’re saying, “I would never say it in that tone.” Now the good news is I say it in that tone every day, but I’m experienced at it, right? And it’s within my value system, it’s within my personality, and it’s part of my performance.

Now you might not say that in those words. But you can communicate the same things very nicely, very subtly, in a nuanced way, but say the exact same thing. That is the problem, is coming in and letting the buyer, or the boss, or the peer, or the colleague, or the situation know that they have a higher status and more value than you do, and that you are willing to work exceedingly hard, need the deal, even though you don’t, you’re willing to demonstrate to them that they’re the prize that you’re trying to win.

And that is ultimately what makes deals fall apart, be hard to win, or go sideways. So, that’s really the challenges that are happening every day.

And you say, “Well, how can I be the most valuable person at the table? They have the money, they have the contract, they have the company.” I believe, for most people, again, the buyer just has a contract, the money, the corporation just has the job, the colleagues just have the ability to jump in with you.

What you have is the most important thing and people should be trying to win that. It’s your experience, your integrity, your ideas, your know-how, your relationships, your willingness to invest, your commitment, your thoroughness, your value system, your “I don’t stop when I’m tired” mentality, the joy and ease of working with you, you can’t buy that. There’s no amount of money you can pay for those intangibles. And if you have that, then you’re the most invaluable person in that relationship, in that meeting, on that call, in that deal.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think fundamental to that is that it’s true, like the core fundamental value that you’re bringing to the table is significant, and you really are not sort of a commodity in terms of if it’s either yourself as a professional in terms of your skillset and what you’re offering there, if you kind of don’t have much special sauce, and hopefully everyone does if you’re listening to the show, then I think that the starting point is having it in terms of you’ve got something special and you can feel good and secure and confident in that offer.

Oren Klaff
Yeah. And so how to do that is really, you know, the question that’s not off-putting, that’s not confusing, and that really moves into what Flip the Script was about. So, Pitch Anything showed you that these things were possible, that people were doing these in high-stakes situations. You know what’s funny, I say this word high stakes but I didn’t really have a…because high stakes is different for everybody. Like, Pete, what would be a high-stakes meeting or a high-stakes feel for you?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thinking more so for the listeners, high stakes might be, “I want the promotion. I want the raise.”

Oren Klaff
Yeah. And so, is it really high stakes? Because you’re going to ask for it, they’re not going to fire you for asking, right? So, it feels high stakes. And when I think about things feeling like we…By the way, what part of the country are you in?

Pete Mockaitis
Chicago.

Oren Klaff
Chicago. Okay, I’m in San Diego. Have you ever been to San Diego?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Oren Klaff
Yeah. So, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Coronado but there’s this the Coronado Bridge, and it’s crazy. It’s not like normal bridge. It’s a span that like rises up into the clouds and it goes over the military base, and it goes over battleships. It’s huge. Two weeks ago, I was driving over it with my family in the car, a little boy and my wife, myself.

And I look out and there’s this pretty small retaining wall, concrete retaining wall. At least it looks small to me. I’m driving over this bridge seemingly like miles over the Pacific Ocean, like battleships look small beneath us like Lego toys, and I’m not going to hit the retaining wall, we’re driving 65 miles an hour. If they took that retaining wall away, then all of a sudden…yeah, I was never going to drive off the bridge in the first place or hit the retaining wall, or get anywhere near it. The stakes go way up, right, and I would slow down to three miles an hour or two miles an hour.

And so, when we get into situations and we feel like it’s so important to get this done, and we don’t have a blueprint or the path to follow, we revert to behaviors that are sort of the equivalent of slowing down to three miles an hour, being exceedingly cautious, being exceedingly tentative, being exceedingly careful, that’s what happens when the stakes go up. You don’t know what to do to maintain the language, and the framing, and the conversation, and the confidence, and the skills that you would have if the stakes were $3 and it didn’t matter. So, it’s not necessarily you don’t know how to do these things, it’s that you don’t know how to do these things when it really matters because your intuition is working against you.

I think the classic example is going to a meeting to talk about a raise or a project, and the guy you’re going to meet with is running late, right? This has to be something you’ve encountered. Everybody has encountered it.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Oren Klaff
And so, he’s two minutes late, he’s four minutes late, he’s eight minutes late, you see the secretary comes in, or he texts you, “Hey, sorry, be there in a few.” And now he’s like 15 minutes late. What do you do?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I mean, I’m not pleased. It’s not fun. I, hopefully, have something else that’s kind of productive and worthwhile I can do. At that point, I’m sort of starting to wonder if it’s going to encroach in the other stuff that I’ve got scheduled. So, I guess you either reschedule or you hang out. What do you do?

Oren Klaff
Yeah. Well, this is kind of a beta trap, right? It’s the equivalent of if you’re a salesman and you drive across town, or fly to another city, you go to a company for a 10:00 a.m. meeting. You’re going up to the counter, and you’re saying, “Hey, is John ready?” “Oh, he’ll be out in a few.” And it’s a beta trap, right, because there’s beta and alpha. Alphas don’t have these problems, right? The president of a company, the president of a bank, maybe they do it at a different level but people come to meetings on time.

So, you’re stuck in the beta position, which is a status position. One thing I can assure you from the low-status position, you can do hardly anything. People don’t listen to you, they don’t take you seriously, they see you with a very superficial way, and, more importantly, they have high risk-taking behaviors when they believe they’re higher status than you, and they’re the alpha and you’re the beta.

So, there’s not a wrong or right that’s eight minutes, 15 minutes, one minute, three minutes. It is that if you accept the beta position and leave them in the alpha position, they’ll have status over you and it is incredibly difficult to get their attention and be persuasive from the low-status position. So, you have to signal, “Hey, I’m a peer, we are colleagues, we’re the same status, and we need to be in alignment.” So, in those cases, I’ll always recommend you say, “Hey, look, I set aside about an hour for this, it looks like we’re chiseling down to 45, 40 minutes. Probably not enough time to accomplish what we want to accomplish. Let’s reset and find another time to do this. I’ve got some key projects that I need to focus on.”

The easiest way to take yourself out of the beta is using the moral authority frame. And moral authority is always about work. If it’s about work, and it’s about delivering, and it’s about taking care of your team, and about taking care of your customers, you’ll always be in the right.

So, for example, I work with a lot of guys that are very high status, very wealthy, running large companies, and they always come late. It’s not that they’re rude, or they’re malevolent, or they’re trying to get their alpha status over me, right? It’s just they’re running a 700-person company. Two weeks ago, I talked to a guy, hopefully be a client of ours, running a $750 million company. He comes to the call at 10:06, it’s a 10:00 o’clock call. First thing I’ll say is, “Hey, John, you’re here for the 10:06 call?” And it’s great.

They always laugh at it. And the first thing out of their mouth is, “Sorry.” Right? Like, they know because you’re calling them out on professional behavior in a fun light way, and they always say sorry. And usually they’ll say something like, “Hey, we had 72 containers stuck in Hong Kong because of the protest. I had to sign off on some extra expenses to get them out otherwise we wouldn’t deliver diapers to the area of the world where it’s really needed and it’s a charitable effort. So, really sorry about it.” “Yeah, no problem.” But at least they’re not saying, starting off, “Hey, Mr. CEO, hey, Mr. Big, no problem. You show up anytime you want. I’ll just sit here and wait. And whatever is good for you is good for me.”

So, I’m very lighthearted and I go, “Hey, you’re here for the 10:06 call?” And then I’ll say, “Hey, why don’t we get caught up? It seems like we still got a couple people joining. We’re recording the call. They can listen to the recording and catch up. Let’s get started. We’re super busy. I carved out like half an hour and we’re eating into it. Here’s what I suggest. We get started. I’ve prepared a presentation. It’s 12, 13 minutes. Let’s go through it.

So, I’ve said that and I’ve taught that to audiences. You can see I say that very naturally and I’ll always get somebody raise their hand, and they go, “I can never say that.” Especially, women raise their hand, like, “Oh, that’s good for you, alpha male. Women can’t talk like that.”

And I will say, “You’re listening to my tone. You’re not listening to the messaging, because you can say that so nicely.” “Oh, hey, John. Glad you can make it. I was almost thinking that we should reset this call. We’ve got maybe like 28 minutes left and a lot to do. If you guys are ready to roll, I think we should start now because I’ve got about a 15-minute presentation, and I want to give you some time to really make your case.

And so, it’s the same messaging in a totally different tonality, and pace, and level of floweriness, but it’s the same messaging. “My time is as important, maybe more important than yours because we’re solving this very-hard-to-solve problem for clients, and we’re busy doing it.” Yeah, I understand, some of your use cases are internal, but you have even more power internal, “Hey, I set about half an hour for this meeting. I want to discuss some of the recent projects. I’m running my team, they count on me, we’re delivering a huge project. Currently, we’re on time but if I’m missing from it, we could slip, and nobody likes to slip. I really want to prioritize the work I’m doing. If we get started now in the meeting, I think there’s enough time for me to cover why I came, and then you can reflect on how you think it ties into the expectations we set six months ago. And if we have five, or 10 minutes left, which I believe we will, I want to talk to you about some career things that are going on with me, and you should be able to give an easy yes, no, or maybe. So, if that sounds good, let’s kick that off.”

But what I wanted to say is, although people are afraid of saying things that direct, the reality is it signals you’re not needy, it signals that you are not a beta, that you have as much status as the buyer, or the other side of the meeting, so those are all critical, right? It signals you’re a professional. And when I start a meeting like that, people put their iPhones down, they close their laptops, and they go, “Aha! Finally, I’m in the hands of a professional that knows how to run a meeting. This thing is not going to go on for two hours. There is a clear agenda and it’s not called the agenda, it’s called ‘This is how I like to have meetings with my peers. Let’s rock and roll.’ I love this.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I dig that. And you’re right in terms of there’s many ways you can communicate that message to see what style and tone feels right to you but the core message is there that we are peers. And I’ve often recommended to folks I’m prepping for interviews that if the person who’s doing the interview isn’t really sort of paying attention to you, this does happen, like they are on their computer, they’re doing email, they’re on their phone, or they’re elsewhere, I’d say, “I think your best bet as the candidate there is to just pause or say, ‘Just let me know when you’re ready,’ or something to the effect of you convey the message that ‘I’m unwilling to be ignored and made sort of in the background as you do something else,’” you know? And you could say that kindly or in any number of ways.

Oren Klaff
Right. So, I think any number of ways except for a number of ways. So, I get this question a lot, like, “Hey, should I ask somebody to put their phone down or put their laptop down?” I can tell you, in the meetings that I go to and the presentations that I have, nobody is on their phone or on their laptop. What they are doing is engage in the presentation or in the meeting because there are stakes, there are things that are going to happen, and it’s clear, “Either I’m going to go away with my toys, my marbles, and go somewhere else, or they’re going to have the opportunity to use the things I know, the experience I have to solve their problems.” And that, the decision on go forwards or go away is going to be made today. And that decision has stakes and is meaningful. And when there’s high stakes, for the other side, not just for you, then the phones go away and the laptops close, and they pay attention, right?

One of the key tenets in Pitch Anything is that the span of human attention is 18 minutes. And that’s why we work really hard to get everything in to a compact period of time. Now I go to meetings where people spend 12 minutes trying to get rapport, talk about family and sports and weather. And this is all stuff that ultimately, you know, the fact that you like hockey and they like hockey is mildly helpful for alignment. But this is not 12 minutes of conversation for 18 minutes of attention, right?

Nobody increases your pay by 40%, nobody assigns you a million-dollar contract, nobody pushes you up to the board of directors for a presentation because you like hockey and they also like hockey. It is relatedness and it’s helpful. But this like old-world of like seeking rapport, it’s not the old boys network anymore where people do business because they like you and they’re affiliated with you through some organization. It is not the determinant. The determinant is what status are you, what value do you provide, are you an expert, have you solved this problem before, can you take pain away, and are the things you’re saying about the future, what’s going to happen in the future, really going to happen. That’s why people decide in your favor, not because you like hockey.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so understood there. So, you’re coming in with something legit to start with. You got great fundamentals and then you are not apologetic and supplicative as you are entering, and you are conveying the message that, “We’re equal peers. I am a professional. I know how to run this meeting. And here’s how it’s going to go,” and sort of navigating to that 18 minutes. So, let’s talk about within that timeframe, what are the critical things you want to convey? And maybe you could even give us a demo in terms of someone who had a pitch that was floundering and then we turn it around to have 18 minutes of excellence.

Oren Klaff
Yeah, maybe I can. I think my new book Flip the Script is really about solving the next level of questions, once you get clarity that you’re a high status, in the dominance hierarchy of monkeys, you are an equivalent monkey, right? Sort of as simple as that. Then, how does somebody know that you’re an expert in either the project you’re proposing in the next level? Because people want to pay more for your job or give you a raise because you’re able to take on more responsibility and solve different more difficult problems. Are you a car guy, by the way, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve not owned a car for 13 years.

Oren Klaff
Oh, my God. So, you are an ex-patriot car guy. Interesting.
So, you have to give people certainty that the things you’re saying will happen, really will happen in the future. And how do most people try and give certainty? They tell, right? They go, “These are the projects I’ve done. This is the commitment I have. This is the area I’m familiar with. I know lots of people with this problem. I’ve worked on it.” So, it’s telling, telling, telling. Before you turned in your car, what kind of car was it?

Pete Mockaitis
It was 1989 Chevrolet Celebrity.

Oren Klaff
Okay. Yes, you are officially the most not-car guy that I have ever talked to. But it’s good. It’s good for this example. So, that was not really a great car, right?

Pete Mockaitis
No, it shook when it went upwards of 70 miles per hour. I got a speeding ticket when I drove my mom’s car, and that excuse didn’t really hold with the police officer. I’m used to the car shaking when I’m going too fast.

Oren Klaff
It’s starting to shake, and you hear a noise, and so you go, “Oh, man, that’s unsafe.” So, you take it down to a local garage. You definitely don’t want to take it to the dealer, that’s something. So, you take it out to a local garage, and the guy looks at it, and he goes, “Yeah, you know, something is wrong here. Tell you what, leave it here, it’s $200. We’ll take a look at it. We’ll call you tomorrow and tell you what we think the problem is, and if you decide to get it repaired here, we’ll credit the $200 to the bill,” that’s the offer.

And you go, “Hmm, to me…” and then you go, “I’m not certain that my problem is going to be solved,” right? So, you go ahead. It sounds good. Nice and easy, and you move on down the road, and you to Eric Schmidt’s Repair Shop, and you go in and you pull in, and he comes out and he’s nicely-branded, and his nametag says Eric, and he’s got correct amount of tattoos up his left arm, and a hipster mustache. He comes out and he says, “Yeah, I don’t know. It’s shaking.” So, he goes press on the accelerator and go, it makes the noise and the squeak.

And he goes, “Listen, here’s the deal. This Chevrolet Celebrity, there was a fire at the GM factory in 1988 when this model was built so they had to move them over to Dearborn where they started manufacturing, which was fine and well, except they didn’t correctly put out the break throw-out bearing. This thing actually needs a 2740c throw-out bearing. You could see a little bit of oil leaking here. That’s a 27c oil leak. It’s not even the right oil in it. That’s going to serve a while but will be a $7,000 problem. But I can hear from the squeak they put the 17109-fan belt on it. The 171095c is the correct fan belt. We see so many of these, we keep about 50 of those fan belts in the back and the throw-out bearings. Leave it here, it’s 500 bucks, come pick up tomorrow morning at 9:00 o’clock. It’ll be ready.”

Pete Mockaitis
Much more compelling, absolutely. You’ve shared that you know what you’re doing.

Oren Klaff
I think it is, yeah, you have shown “I have solved this problem a million times before. This is boring for me. I can do this, no problem.” But, really, showing problem-solving, 501c fan belts, everything, it’s all about certainty. So, Flip the Script shows you those formulas or the scripts, getting away from the old scripts that no longer functioning, which is get rapport with someone, give them the features of the ideas, explain the benefits, suggest the stretch benefits or the pro forma, do a trial close, “So, what do you think? Is there something we can do? Go ahead with…” all the objections come out, try to overcome the objections, “Well, you know, we’re not really doing promotions this time of year. We usually do it in March. September is not a great time,” then trying to close and get stuck in, “Hey, send me a proposal.”

That old system, features, benefits, trial close, stretch benefits, objections, overcome the objections, close, is just no longer functioning. That was designed in the 1950s when buyers really had much fewer options and much less control of the process, or employers had many fewer options in terms of talent acquisition. So, those scripts are no longer credible.
How do you give people certainty that the things you say will happen in the future really will happen, and it’s worth paying me today for something that’s going to happen in the future?

And that is not a naturally-occurring skillset because when humans develop conversation, and not to into cavemen tech, but language was not designed to propose a pay raise in the supply chain management industry, right? Language was designed to communicate danger among humans in fast-moving situations.

And so, that’s very easy. You don’t need to study, or go to a course, or do any training on, “Hey, there’s a fire over there. Move in this way. Run or you’re going to die.” “Don’t eat those berries. The last people that ate them got sick and one of them died.” So, language is very effective. There are prewired pathways to communicate information about danger and risks and conflict. Information about supply chain management software is not prewired in the human mind. You have to think about it, and a lot of it can be counterintuitive.

Pete Mockaitis
And much of that is, you say, getting them to think it’s their own idea. How is that done?

Oren Klaff
Yeah. So, how it’s done is laid out in eight chapters in the book. So, it’s pretty sequential so I don’t want to read the book but I think, more importantly, is can it be done? Right? Can you put ideas in someone’s head, marinate them, percolate them, have them go around without you overtly saying, “So, what do you think?

And I’ll give you an example. This happens to us over and over. We had a client in over the weekend, that shows how high stakes it is, for me to come in on a Sunday, open up the business, we met for an hour and a half, and we sort of wrapped up and we’re packing ourselves up and our briefcases, and I say to the guy, the best close that I have.

Now, remember, I may be the number one sales trainer, and the best close I have is, “Hey, John, so what do we do to get this thing signed up?” because we use inception, we don’t rely on closing or we don’t argue with our clients on why they should do business with us. We put the ideas in their mind and we allow them to come through their own process to the notion that they want to work with us, right?

And so, I say, “What do we got to do to get this signed up or what the…?” I almost sound confused, which I’m not confused at all, but I’m not going to close the guy, trying to get him in a sales headlock. And he says, “Oh, I signed it an hour ago. It’s over there on the edge of…I signed the contract an hour ago. It’s over there on the edge of the conference table.” And so I go, “Oh, thanks.” And they leave.

But I can give you example after example after example of this happening over and over again, and that’s inception. When you correctly show someone that you’re a peer to them, you are not lower than them, you’re not less important, you’re not trying to win them, that what you have is invaluable, that they are fortunate to be able to have an option to convince you to provide your services to them, when you provide them certainty that the things you say will happen really will happen, when you show them that you have values that can’t be changed by their language, or the request for discounts, or their needs, that you stick to your guns, and you have unassailable values, when you show them how to buy from you, and when you authentically create time constraints in which you, well, just doesn’t work for you anymore, and you’re fatigued, then you’ll leave.

And so, when you put all those things together professionally at a high level in a way that’s not overtly visible to them and they just feel like they’re talking to some wonderful people who are very skilled, who are passionate about what they do, have real values, and have solved their kind of problem a million times before, they’re just going to, “Meh, this is awesome. How do we get going?” And that’s inception.

One power tool for regaining calm just before high stakes persuasion is Simple Habit! When I’m using Simple Habit, I feel like a have much greater mental capacity to think through the persuasive elements of my messages without distraction. Simple Habit is a meditation app that has hundreds of meditations available for free and thousands available for premium users.Simple Habit has convenient 5 minute meditations, with over 65,000 5-star reviews in the iOs and Android store. It won Google Play’s award for being a stand-out well-being app. You can get 30% off premium by visiting simplehabit.com/awesome. That’s simplehabit.com/awesome. To snag the 30% off, you’ll visit simplehabit.com/awesome…you can also tap that link in your podcast app by expanding this episode’s “details” and then “episode notes.”}

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

Oren Klaff
There’s a book I really like called Riveted by a guy named Jim Davies. And he’s an academic but is quite accessible so I like that.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Oren Klaff
Oh, boy. So, here’s the one that I love, that I think, and maybe everybody knows about it. In New York, they test it over and over again. They dress up a guy in very high-status business clothing, and over and over again, they line him up in a crosswalk. And when it’s red, this tall, handsome, well-manicured, in a beautiful suit that’s well-fitted, terrific shoes and a great smile, and in his 40s guy, starts walking across the road, and everybody else follows him. They do the same thing with the construction worker or somebody looks shabby, or somebody eating a falafel slobbingly, and people don’t as much follow.

It shows that people follow and respect and get behind people of high status in all kinds of situations. So, to me, that’s the number one thing that makes life easy for you in upgrading your work life and making more money for your family is establishing either appearance, or messaging, or positions, or framing, or morality around status and getting people to go your way much more easily than if you had to convince them using logic.

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

Oren Klaff
The biggest thing that I have is when I say people only value that which they pay for. Most people have been in business for more than a day understand that lesson. No good deed goes unpunished. People only value that which they pay for. The more you try and give your service away, the less likely you are to close the deal.

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

Oren Klaff
Oh, that’s great. I’ll guide you to Amazon to buy Flip the Script.

But if you like the sound of what I’m saying, you can hop over to OrenKlaff.com and enter, I’m running a contest now to fly someone out to California, put them up on the beach here in a hotel for two nights, and then I’ll work with them on their business to use these principles to advance their own careers. So, that’s at OrenKlaff.com. And we didn’t really promote it that much, so I think my mom has entered and maybe two other people so your chances of winning are pretty high.

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

Oren Klaff
A hundred percent, start using this statement, “Oh, so you’re here for the 10:05 meeting.” It’s fun, you’ll get a laugh but will establish you. The first time you’ll be afraid to use it, but when people smile and laugh and giggle, and give you credit, that’s my first challenge to you. Start using that and defend your value in the equation of the business meeting. You’re going to love using that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Oren, thanks so much and good luck in all your pitches.

Oren Klaff
Hey, Pete, I really appreciate that. Great questions. It’s been fun.

501: How to Capture Your Audience’s Minds, Guts, and Hearts with Dave Decelle

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Dave Decelle shares insider perspectives on how to turn insights into compelling communication.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three foundational principles for capturing your audience’s attention
  2. The best disposition for presentations
  3. How to create engaging presentation slides

About Dave:

Dave Decelle was a Director of Consumer Insights at Netflix, focused on delivering insights that drive product innovation. Dave has over 20 years of experience in market, brand, and user experience research and consulting. While he was focused on the technology and media categories at Netflix, his past experience ranges across a variety of industries, including financial, automotive, food & beverage, retail, and general consumer goods and services.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Dave Decelle Interview Transcript

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

Dave Decelle
Thank you so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ve been excited to chat with you for a while, and I thought we would talk a lot about some of your adventures now and at Netflix. But you said your best job was working as a bike messenger in Philadelphia. What’s the story here?

Dave Decelle
Yeah, so I worked my way through college, undergraduate college, as a bike messenger in Philadelphia for three years, and I’ll tell you, it’s the best job I ever had. And if I could make an actual living at it, I would still do it. And the reason is it was just such a stimulating day every single day. So, three big things. I mean, first of all, just being able to eat a mound of spaghetti and drink a six-pack of beer at the end of every day without gaining an ounce was fantastic.

But what was really fascinating was just imagine biking through Philadelphia downtown traffic in the ice and snow and rain, and just having to constantly be making, like, instant always on the edge life-or-death decisions about, “Should I go left? Should I go right? Should I go around this guy? Should I pass him on the left or not?” that sort of thing.

And probably the most fascinating thing, too, which sort of projected into my future was this idea of visiting every level of society throughout my day. I’m street level all day long so I’m seeing the powerless homeless, I’m seeing your everyday blue-collar worker, but then I’m going up into the 56th floor of these high-rises and delivering packages for high-powered lawyers and that sort of thing. So, that was pretty fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Well, and the fascination continued over the course of your career as the Director of Consumer Insights at Netflix. And I’ve seen you present consumer insights and it was excellent. So, maybe before we get into the particulars of some of that, I want to hear from an insider, so Netflix has kind of a legendary culture. What was your experience there in terms of what was really cool and noteworthy and you wish all organizations did? And what are some of the drawbacks of that because every pro I find often has a shadow side in terms of cultures?

Dave Decelle
Yeah. I can’t say enough about the Netflix culture. It was something that really fit me extremely well. When I first read the culture deck when I was first interviewing for the position there, I was really taken with the culture deck and I was really pleased to hear in my interviews when I ask people, “Is it true?” Everyone said, “Yeah, we walk the walk here.”

And what was amazing about it was the core of the culture is freedom and responsibility, of course. So, what was amazing about it was the freedom, right, embracing that freedom and feeling just unleashed. In my first year there, when people ask me, “What’s it like to work at Netflix?” And I say, “I finally feel like I’ve been unleashed.” People aren’t telling me what I should be doing and how I should be doing it, right? I’m relying on my own wits, on my own intelligence to do what I think is best to do.

Now, the flipside of that is the responsibility part because never have I felt so much responsibility. I have no one to blame but myself if things go wrong. I can’t fall back on the platitude of, “Well, I was just doing what my manager told me to do,” because I had the freedom to do my job the best way I saw fit. Now that takes a lot of risk-taking, right? But Netflix balances that really well with a really high tolerance for failure.

Being an innovative company, they have very high tolerance for failure and, in fact, one of the favorite things I heard in all my years at Netflix was our VP of Innovation, Todd Yellin. He said something to the effect of, I’m paraphrasing here, but something to the effect of, “If every A/B test that a PM runs is a success, he’s not doing his job because he should be taking bigger risks and he should be failing because risk-taking involves failure,” and, of course, you want to learn from your failures and succeed the next time.
I mean, that’s a lot of pressure, right?

Pete Mockaitis
You just feel that each day.

Dave Decelle
Yeah, and the type of people that really thrive there are self-starters, people that really strive for hitting a really high bar, and so they end up putting a lot of pressure on themselves. But that’s weighed by the incredible amount of freedom that you’re given to do your job the best way you see fit.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I kind of wonder, so I guess there’s sort of like not an official vacation policy as well in terms of, “Hey, take the days you need,” but are like, “How’s that go?”

Dave Decelle
You know, that’s hit or miss and that’s completely dependent on the individual. I’m sure there’s plenty of people for whom that policy meant that they rarely took vacations. For me, personally, three years in a row, I took five weeks all at once, I went to Costa Rica. The very following winter, I took three and a half weeks, I went to Panama. So, I took advantage of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, glad to hear that was an enjoyable experience. And now you’re off doing your own thing. What is your expertise and offerings all about?

Dave Decelle
So, in my 20 plus years of doing consumer insights work, the two things that I’ve become really good at, if I can be immodest for a moment, is being able to tell stories based on consumer insights and being able to craft consumer insights into frameworks, frameworks that become thinking tools for business stakeholders and that they can apply to any problem space, and they work cross-functionally as well.

So, you come up with a really, really good framework and marketers can look at that framework and say, “Now I know how we need to market our product.” Product developers can look at it and say, “Now I know what kind of features I need to build.” Content developers can look at it and say, “Now I know what kind of shows and movies I need to produce.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Could you give me an example then in terms of, “All right, so here’s an insight we got,” and then how that turned into a framework, and how that’s useful?

Dave Decelle
Yeah. So, one of the big insights we uncovered in our work as the Consumer Insights Team for Netflix was the idea that it was pretty common knowledge and common sense that consumers really bought into the Netflix brand and what that brand stood for, right? It stood for innovation and consumer control.

We also saw, once we started creating our own original content, that people, of course, got very excited about certain big individual titles, like Stranger Things and Orange Is the New Black got big cult followings, and people just love those individual shows, right? But reading between the lines of many studies we did and many A/B tests that we did, what wasn’t quite so obvious what’s consumer appreciation for the diversity of our overall portfolio, because as we created more and more originals, we expanded them beyond just your typical sort of like binge-able dramas. We started doing reality and all kinds of things, sitcom, etc.

Pete Mockaitis
The game show Awake I discovered recently. Oh, that’s nuts.

Dave Decelle
There you go, yeah. Always expanding, right? And that started registering for consumers, is, “Hey, they don’t just like great individuals shows, but when I look at the overall portfolio of stuff they’re producing, it’s really diverse.” It’s not just diverse for the different types of consumers we have, but it’s really diverse for the different moments of truth that people have, the different viewing moments that people have. Sometimes I just want to sit down and zone out to a sitcom, sometimes I want to get really deeply involved in a dramatic series, etc.

So, that was something that I felt was being overlooked by the business. The business was paying attention to, “Our brand matters.” They’re paying attention to, “Our individual big titles matter.” But they weren’t quite catching onto the idea of the overall portfolio. We can tell stories about the overall portfolio and just how diverse it is and well it can serve many different types of consumers and many individual consumers’ many needs.

And so, I put together a great story about that and a framework that basically illuminated this notion of, “What if we could sync up all three of those things: our brand equity, the love people have for our individual titles, and the overall feeling people have about our overall portfolio? And what if we could sync those up in both our marketing and our in-app experience? That could be really, really powerful.”

Pete Mockaitis
And what happened?

Dave Decelle
Well, I ended up crafting that particular framework as the idea of three turntables spinning in sync, which was actually inspired by one of Netflix’s own originals, The Get Down, which was a story of the early days of the evolution of hip-hop. And there’s this great scene in the show where Grandmaster Flash is teaching one of his students how you spin two turntables in sync to always keep that groove going and keeping the party participants dancing. So, that’s what really inspired us so it became known as the three turntables framework.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then subsequently folks were looking at, “Okay. Well, hey, how does this perform or what does this do for us with regard to our three turntables?”

Dave Decelle
That’s right. So, marketers can look at that and think about, “Okay, maybe we need to integrate our various campaigns, our brand-focused campaigns, our title campaigns. And maybe we need to start generating some campaigns that speak about the overall portfolio.” Product people, designers, and PMs were able to look at it and say, “How do we elevate the brand within the in-app experience? Because right now it’s a big list of individual titles. How do we elevate the brand within that homepage? How do we maybe recategorize some of our rows or even the entire homepage to give people a sense of the overall portfolio and everything we have to offer?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, that’s cool. So, thank you. I kind of understand what we’re talking about here with regard to these terms and how that can be really handy for folks especially at scale with a lot of cooks in the kitchen working on stuff and tweaking and finding, and having some cohesiveness there. I’d also love to know, you really had quite a privileged position in terms of, boy, all that data. I bet that would just be so fun, I’m showing my colors here, former strategy consultant. So, can you share with me, maybe for fun and for edification in terms of folks who are trying to delight consumers, what was maybe a counterintuitive insight, or two or three, that can serve us as we’re thinking about how to create hits for those that we’re serving?

Dave Decelle
That’s an interesting question. So, if I really think about that, I don’t think there really are any counterintuitive insights about consumers but there’s plenty of counter-logical insights. So, what I’ve experienced in doing insights work for 20 years with stakeholders is they often approach the assumptions they create about consumer preferences and behavior from a logical mind point of view. And we’ve known for a long time now that consumers are ruled as much, if not more, by their gut and their heart. So, it’s the job of a great insight professional to take the mind, the gut, and the heart all into account when analyzing consumer behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
And can we do maybe a nice contrast, distinctions, like, “When we say mind, we’re talking about these kinds of things, and gut are those sorts of things, and heart are these kinds of things”?

Dave Decelle
Sure. So, as someone who interviews plenty of consumers about how they feel about things, how they see the world, how they feel about products and services, etc. it’s so easy to see when they’re in a rational state of mind. They’re thinking through the answer to their question. But oftentimes you also need to read their body language, you need to read their tone of voice, you need to see when what they’re saying starts to really show up at an emotional level, they start to lean forward, they start to get excited, etc. And you also need to look at their behavior.

It’s well-known for a long time now that you can be in an interview in someone’s home and they’ll say one thing and, two minutes later, you see them do something that’s completely counter to what they just said, right? And that’s kind of their gut. They’re operating at their gut at that point, so you really need to pick up those cues of not just what’s coming out of their mouth because that’s often the most logical thing, but also what they’re doing, which is often driven by intuition, or how they’re either lighting up or not lighting up when they’re talking about something or when they’re doing something and engaged in something, and that’s the heart part.

And so, if you take all three of those together to uncover your insight and explain why consumers behave the way they do, it becomes very intuitive why they behave that way. It may be very counter-logical as to why they would behave that way, but when you take all three into account, you can be like, “Oh, right. That makes total sense why they behave that way.”

Pete Mockaitis
And could you maybe walk us through perhaps an instance of you did an interview and then you’ve got some great perspective on the mind and the gut and the heart to paint a full picture there?

Dave Decelle
So, we were testing out a new concept for a new type of story where the storyline would be randomized from viewing the viewing. And so, they way we did it was we had a group of people watch one version of the story in one room, we had another group of people watch another version of the story in another room, and then we brought those two people together, those two groups of people together, and we asked them to just talk about the show that they watched.

Now they had no idea that they were watching the same show, just different versions of the same show or the same episode, so they started talking about it. And as they were talking about it, on the surface they realized, “Oh, we must’ve been watching the same thing.” But, every now and then, one group of people would reveal a certain detail that wasn’t in the story of the other one, and the other group would light up around that, they’d be like, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. That wasn’t in my story. What are you talking about? That sounds really interesting. Tell me more about that.”

Well, then afterwards, when we asked them, when we unveiled the concept of, “You guys actually did watch the same show, the same episode of the same show, but there were random variations in exactly how the story was told throughout. What do you think of that?” And their initial reaction was, “Oh, I don’t like that. We should all be watching the same things so when we get together and we talk about it afterwards we’re all talking about the same thing and there’s not confusion.” And yet 10 minutes earlier, we saw so much excitement and intrigue when they realized, “Hold on. We saw the same story but my story didn’t have that particular detail in it. Tell me more about that detail.”

So, there’s an example where if people thought about it logically, they would automatically say, “No, I don’t want to watch a story that’s a little bit different from the story that my friend is watching because when we get together, we want to know what each other saw.” But when we observed the actual behavior of them talking about it and realizing, “Hold on. Your story was a little bit different,” there was so much excitement and so much joy in that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, that’s intriguing certainly and I guess a whole new concept there. Well, thank you for sharing that. And I guess I’d also like to get your view then in terms of we’re talking about story a lot and you’re looking a lot in sort of what’s resonating and what’s hooking people and what’s not hooking people. Are there some universals or foundational principles in terms of, “This is what makes for some captivating stuff”?

Dave Decelle
So, great storytelling, and I’ll keep it to telling great stories based on insights, which is my forte. So, it’s got three things, three things I’ve already mentioned before, right? It’s got the logical appeal, it’s got the emotional appeal, it’s got the intuitive appeal. So, too many times, professionals, when they put together presentations to try to persuade an audience or inform an audience, they stick to just the logical stuff, and they completely ignore trying to hit people at a gut level that helps them to intuitively really get something and also make them really feel it.

So, the way I think about it is whenever I craft a story and I want to appeal to both the logical mind, the intuitive gut, and the emotional heart, is they each have their role to play. When you present the logical data or insights about your topic, what that evokes in your audience is the “Hmm, mm-hmm” reaction, right? When you give them something like a framework that puts that data or that information or those insights into an intuitive visual model that kind of shows how everything hangs together and the inner relationships among things, that’s when they “Hmm, mm-hmm” turns into “Oh, I get it.”

And then when you layer on the emotional appeal, which is oftentimes in my world, “Here’s how consumers light up when you get this right,” that progresses then from “Hmm, mm-hmm” to “Oh, I get it” to the emotional “Oh, my God. Now I see what I need to do.” So, that’s the kind of story I try to craft. I try to take people on that journey of “Hmm, mm-hmm” to “Oh” to “Oh, my God.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that certainly sounds like a smashing performance when you can pull that off. And I guess in some ways that might be an hour-long presentation or it might be much shorter. Could you perhaps walk us through an arc in which we can experience these?

Dave Decelle
Oh, boy. Well, I’ll tell you, one of the things, one of the most powerful techniques that I learned from my longtime friend and colleague Ted Frank.

Pete Mockaitis
A fellow guest.

Dave Decelle
Yeah, pretty much everything I’ve learned about storytelling I’ve learned from Ted Frank. The thing that can tie all of that together and can really progress you from “Mm-hmm” to “Oh, I get it” to “Oh, my God” is tension, so when you can build tension. And oftentimes how do you build tension? When you think about Hollywood movies, how do they build tension? They often do it through foreshadowing, through suspense, through increasing action and conflict, right?

So, with the logical stuff, oftentimes with the logical stuff, you’re sort of setting the, “Here’s the current state of our hero and their world.” And then you start to add more and more insight that sort of ratchets it up and starts to unveil the kind of life they could be living, right? And then you ratchet that up even further and you really make them feel, “Oh, if only they were living that life. This is what the ideal would be like. This is their new bliss.” And I’ll have to give credit of the new bliss to Nancy Duarte right there.

So, building tension throughout your story is one of the most effective ways to progress people from just logical understanding to intuitive “I get it” to heartfelt “Oh, my God. I need to do something about this.”

Pete Mockaitis
And was there a particular application of that with regard to a product or service and then going through those three stages with great effect?

Dave Decelle
Yeah. There was a study I did at Netflix looking at many, many years ago when we first started creating our originals. We thought about, “Okay, as we create more and more of these originals and we start to kind of promote them within the app, always at a very personalized way, how do we make sure that we don’t tip over into this perceived negative advertising, this feeling that we’re just pushing stuff on people that we want them to watch as opposed to what they want to watch?”

And so, we did a lot of research around that, and we ended up coming up with seven factors that play into how you need to conceive of an in-app product promotion. And the story I told laid the groundwork of, “Here’s how people perceive ads today. There are good ads, there are negative ads. Here’s how people describe good ads. Here’s how people describe negative ads. Here are some examples of good ads. Here are some examples of bad ads.” And that was all like very logical stuff.

And then, as a I presented that, I surfaced, “Okay, at a conceptual level then, there are these seven factors that play into whether an ad is received as positive or negative. And here’s those seven factors. And there’s a subset of these that you want to lean into because they tend to have people perceive the ad as being a positive thing for them. And there is the other subset of factors that you want to lean back from because they’re the ones that put your ad into negative territory in people’s minds.”

But then the power of the framework became, “Look, you don’t have to always lean back from the bad attributes.” If you want to dial up one of those, so, for instance, one of those was frequency, you show somebody the same thing too often and it starts to become very tiresome in a negative ad, right? “Well, if you want to dial up frequency, that’s fine. But you also need to dial up one of the positive attributes.”

So, I’ll give you an example. One of the positive attributes was relevance. Is it relevant to their taste? So, if you’re going to go high on frequency, you better make sure it’s extremely relevant to them. So, the framework was, “Look, you can be setting these dials in combination with each other to create a really powerful promotion that not only helps promote the great original content that we’re creating but also pleases and delights the customer at the same time.”

So, creating that framework was the “Oh, I get it.” And then the emotional part was then being able to show stories of consumers reacting negatively when Netflix or other services got it wrong, and when they really lit up and reacted really positively when either Netflix or a service got it right.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Thank you. And then I guess, maybe      to sort of back up in the chronological sequence of things here, do you have any favorite questions that you’re asking consumers in surveys or interviews that often seem to yield great stuff that’s super useful?

Dave Decelle
Yeah. So, I’m a qualitative researcher by nature. I know enough about quanti to be dangerous but I grew up as a qualitative researcher. So, that’s a lot of face-to-face interviews in people’s homes, in facilities, focused group sets sort of thing. And I’ll tell you, the most effective question that I ask is actually not a question. It’s a statement. It’s simply, “Tell me more about that.” And people just, they start to expound on their initial logical answer and you just get them talking about that, “Tell me more about that. Tell me more about that.” And it starts to unveil so many underlying psychological drivers and motivations and feelings. It’s the most powerful statement in consumer insights as far as I’m concerned.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Certainly, as opposed to, “All right. And the next thing in my script I will execute.” It’s like, “No, no, you’re going to hang there for a while.”

Dave Decelle
Well, no, worse is they give you their initial answer, and you say, “Why?” because what are you doing? You’re only engaging their logic then because then they’re like, “Oh.” “Well, why is that?” And they go back into their heads and they to figure out why as opposed to just simply, “Tell me more.”

Pete Mockaitis
That totally makes sense because, “Why?” they’d go, “Because that is what I’m looking to accomplish,” versus, “Tell me more about that.” It’s like, “I get such a rush out of…” you know, whatever.

Dave Decelle
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
A totally different pathway. Cool. And then so I want to talk a little bit about sort of like the presence part in terms of what you’re bringing to your delivery of the story if you’re presenting in sort of a group or a meeting. Any pro tips there?

Dave Decelle
Yeah, definitely. So, when I think about presence, the best piece of advice I can give to someone is be bold yet humble. So, when you know what you know, be bold, have conviction, have a strong point of view. When you’re not sure or when you don’t know what you don’t know, be humble enough to admit that.

So, I’ll give you an example. I was in one of the product-strat meetings at Netflix a few months ago while I was still there, and the topic at the time was an extremely technical data science topic.

And I was listening to the whole thing, and we were debating whether this was a good direction to go or not in terms of data science analysis and ways of evaluating our A/B tests. And I raised my hand and I was very nervous when I did so, but I started with, “Look, I am way over my head when it comes to the technical aspects of this, I’m barely keeping up with this conversation. But if I understand the underlying concept of what you’re trying to do here, what I like about it is that this is a much more forward-looking analysis as opposed to simply relying on how we may have changed behaviors currently in the short term. And this is much more looking at how do we think we’re going to be changing behaviors in the long term. And we’ve always sort of wished we could do that, and so I’m glad that you guys are taking this step to really go out on a limb and try to predict the future, so to speak.”

So, I was humble in saying, “Look, I barely understand what you guys are saying, but I had the strong conviction that I think the concept of what you’re trying to do is a bold concept, and I’m a 100% behind it.”

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that also will do wonders for your credibility in terms of when you know something you know it, and when you don’t, you don’t, so they just don’t suspect you of yes-ing ever.

Dave Decelle
That’s right, yeah. And, in fact, that was one of the big a-ha’s for me, is that people find you more credible when you do exhibit that humbleness because they see you as more human, right? And when they see you as more human, they see you as more like themselves. There’s plenty of times that people are sitting in meetings feeling like, “I’m in over my head here. I’m barely understanding what’s going on.” But if someone else has the courage to admit that, they’re like, “Oh, okay. Yeah, that guy is like me,” and that just makes you that much more credible in their minds just simply because you’re perceived as more human.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. I also want to get your take in terms of, just super tactically, what your top do’s and don’ts when it comes to slides. You got a lot of rich information, you’re presenting it, what should we do and what should we not do?

Dave Decelle
Oh, my God. Do not put more than one thought on a slide. The most powerful thing you can do with slides is build. So, oftentimes I’ll create a slide that does have a lot of information on it or has a big concept on it with a lot of elements to it and a lot of moving pieces and a lot of interrelationships. And I create that slide, that one single slide, but then I copy it, however many times I need to, five times, ten times, whatever, and I build it up.

So, I create the ending slide where all the information is on there or the full-blown concept is presented, but then I create five or ten copies of it, and I delete what’s not needed until I get to that point. And so, I introduce the first point, and then I show how that point leads to the next point, and how that point leads to the next point, and how things hang together. So, by the time they do see the big slide that has it all, you’ve taken them on a journey and they understand it all.

The worst thing you can do is just put a slide up with a lot of words, or one big, like even if you come up with like this amazing visual model, putting that visual model up on the slide all at once. Because as you’re talking people through it, it’s human nature, they’re already trying to decipher the slide on their own and they’re not listening to what you’re saying. They’re looking at the slide and they’re trying to piece together everything that’s on the slide and trying to draw their own conclusions or interpret it themselves.

But if you can break it down into bite-sized chunks and introduce one piece at a time, and you show how that piece leads to this piece leads to this piece, they’re understanding and they’re grasping of it increases tenfold.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Well, I had a feeling that you had a lot to say about slides. So, anything else leaping to mind in the do’s and don’ts?

Dave Decelle
Let’s see. Do’s, yeah. Use a lot of light space, and in presenting, so this comes more to the verbal part, in presenting you need to use body language and you also need to be comfortable with and know how to use silences. Silence can be a very powerful tool, especially a powerful tool for building that tension I was talking about earlier.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Dave Decelle
So, for instance, in my presentations sometimes, oftentimes I use the tactic of throwing a hypothetical question out to the audience with a nice long pause and I let them think about it in their own heads how they want to answer that question. And then I show them how the insights we gathered answer that question, and then they get to see in their own heads, “Whoa, I was way off, or where they were off, or where they were relying with what consumers were thinking, for instance.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And much more engaging in terms of you are way less passive in terms of your brain is getting the wheels turning there.

Dave Decelle
Yeah. And with slides, the only thing you want to do is just keep it moving, and that’s why a build is so powerful. I’ll give you a truly counter-logical counterintuitive ratio. The fewer slides you have, the longer your talk is going to be. So, I presented a 20-minute presentation with 122 slides. When you do the math there, I only spent about 10 seconds on each slide, and so I kept it moving. There was always this feeling of forward progression, and there was always this sense of, “You can’t look down at your phone. You can’t look at your laptop because you’re going to miss the next thing. And if you miss that thing, you’re not going to understand the three things that follow that.”

And people cannot help but like lean forward, sit on the edge of their seats to see what happens next if the slide is changing like every 10 seconds, and you’re giving them something new every 10 seconds, as opposed to splashing one big busy slide up there and then talking about it for seven minutes straight, right? They’re going to zone out after the first one minute.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Thank you. Well, Dave, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we talk about some of your favorite things?

Dave Decelle
No, I think I’ve covered it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now, could you tell us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Dave Decelle
Yeah. So, my favorite quote is actually the poem “Our Deepest Fear” by Marianne Williamson.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite study?

Dave Decelle
One of the most intriguing ones to me is there’s a famous study, multiple studies that actually show this, where charity donations are increased if you tell individual stories. So, if you present sort of mass statistics about one in four people suffer from such and such, you’ll get a certain level of donation out of that. But if you can then tell the story of one or two people who are suffering from that thing, individuals, and you show their photos and you tell their actual life circumstances, donation rates increase. So, that’s the power of storytelling as opposed to just presenting mass statistics.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Dave Decelle
Any book by Peter F. Hamilton, my favorite science fiction writer of all time. He’s amazing. In each of his books, he takes some kind of central technological breakthrough in the future and illustrates how that technological breakthrough changes so many things about society and culture when people take that breakthrough and they apply it in multiple different ways.

So, his latest book, for instance, is Salvation, and the underlying technology there is this idea of twinned wormhole portals and that just changed the world in innumerable ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Dave Decelle
My favorite tool is other people’s perspectives and ways of seeing things. So, using other people as sounding boards, especially when you’re creating frameworks and stories. Bounce those off as many people as you can and learn from that, “What are they not getting? What are they misunderstanding? How are they interpreting it? Are they interpreting it differently than I wanted them to?”

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Dave Decelle
My favorite habit is my daily visits with humility. So, what I think anybody can do is, on a daily basis, or at the very least a weekly basis, go and visit something that is so vast and so much greater than yourself or even than humanity, to give you that sense of humble perspective. So, for me, that’s the ocean. I happen to be lucky enough to live on the coast of the Monterey Bay in California so just about every morning I ride my bike down to the ocean, and I’d walk along the ocean for half an hour to an hour, and I just look at the ocean and I just ponder how vast the ocean is, how deep it is, how dynamic it is, and how old it is, right? So much more vast. And it’s a power that’s so much greater than myself. You have to be humble in the face of something like that.

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

Dave Decelle
Well, I haven’t had the fortune of people quoting it back to me, but I like to think that one of my favorite nuggets that I try to pass on to other people is this notion of, “Celebrate your strengths and let go of your weaknesses,” because too many people try to fix what they perceive to be wrong with themselves at the great expense of not building upon what is right about themselves.

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

Dave Decelle
Well, as pedestrian as it sounds, LinkedIn is probably the best way to reach out to me, at least initially.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love LinkedIn. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Dave Decelle
Yeah, I would say this is relevant to anybody who’s in a role that wants to persuade other or that needs to persuade other people. Make sure that in your message and in your point of view, you target people’s heads, guts, and hearts, all three.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Dave, this has been a treat. Thanks so much for sharing the good word and good luck in your adventures.

Dave Decelle
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate it.

499: Key Psychological Principles for Ethical Persuasion with Brian Ahearn

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Brian Ahearn says: "Stop telling and start asking."

Brian Ahearn breaks down the ethical way to getting people to say “yes.”

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to quickly attract people’s attention
  2. The simple secret to winning people over
  3. How to get others to follow through with their tasks

About Brian:

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

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Brian Ahearn Interview Transcript

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

Brian Ahearn
It is my pleasure, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, one thing I learned about you is that you were born on April Fools’ Day. What has been the impact of this over the course of your life?

Brian Ahearn
I tell people I may be a fool but I’m not stupid. It was always nice to grow up and have your birthday be memorable.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, certainly because they just won’t forget, “Hey, when is your birthday?” It’s sort of locked in. Now, were there extra jokes, like, “You’re going to have a party. Nah, I’m just kidding”?

Brian Ahearn
No, I was usually the one who made the jokes because my mother told me I was supposed to be born on St. Patrick’s Day, so I did fool everybody by staying in the oven for an extra two weeks. And I always said it was good that I wasn’t born on St. Patrick’s Day because I’d probably be a drunk if I was.

Pete Mockaitis
And I don’t know if there’s any real research on this, but I’ve just kind of imagined that having extra time in the womb is probably handy with all the development that’s going on there.

Brian Ahearn
I don’t know. I never really thought that much about it but I was always revolving around, “You were supposed to be born on this day but you were born on this other day.” So, I’ll ask my mom. I’m sure she’ll take a lot of credit for my development.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom here with regard to influence and persuasion. And so, I think we’re going to get into a lot of great stuff. But maybe, as a starting point, how might you suggest we kind of gauge where we are today with someone’s influence skills in terms of like, “How do I know if I’m amazing in influencing or terrible at influencing or in the middle?” Because I think all of us just in real life, no matter how amazing you are, sometimes people are going to say no. So, how do you interpret like does a given person have a lot of room for improvement or not so much? And what are the telltale indicators?

Brian Ahearn
Tremendous amount of room for improvement. I’ve been teaching this for more than 15 years, I wrote a book on it, and I still am growing, or I still sometimes have somebody point out something, and I’m like, “Oh, that’s a great point. I didn’t actually see that.” So, I think if I can be deeply immersed in it like this and still say I’m growing and getting better all the time, well, then people who haven’t immersed themselves, they’ve got even more room to grow.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. Well, maybe could you sort of establish our appetites a little bit by sharing maybe a dramatic transformation, or a before or after story, like what can be possible if you dig your teeth in and learn this stuff?

Brian Ahearn
Well, there’s a lot of things that we do, Pete, every single day that may not seem monumental but they are very important to move the ball ahead in our job, and I will give you an example. In my former corporate life, part of my responsibility was to help with the recruiting of insurance agents to come to the company that I work for. When we learned about…

Pete Mockaitis
That’s not always easy. Selling insurance doesn’t sound like a great gig for many people that you might be reaching out to.

Brian Ahearn
I’ve not yet met somebody who grew up and said, “I want to be an insurance agent.” Everybody’s got a story about how they fell into insurance. But it’s actually a wonderful industry, and if you do it well as an insurance agent, it can be very lucrative, so they are usually looking for good companies to represent. And part of our job was to help recruit them.

And when we learned about the principles of scarcity, which alerts us to the fact that people want more of what they can have less of, that we value things more when we think they’re rare or diminishing in some respect, well, we had been prospecting to these agents for many, many years and never thought to incorporate this principle.

And so, here’s what we did, Pete. We always had a limited number of agents that we would bring on any given year, let’s say it was 50. And we never thought to really promote that number. Fifty is not a lot when you’re only in 30 states. And so at the end of the third quarter, we sent a mailing, or an email message out to prospective agents, and the last paragraph would say, “Pete, part of the reason I’m contacting you today is to let you know we’re only looking to appoint 50 agents in our 30 operating states. As of today, we’ve appointed 40. We hope you’re one of the remaining few we appoint by year end.”

As soon as we sent that email, within the hour, my boss came over to me and he said, “I can’t believe it. I’ve already had eight agents call or email in response to that communication.” He said, “I have never had any respond within the hour.” And we knew the only thing that was different was that last paragraph, alerting them to the fact that there were going to be very few slots left by year end, and those agents who were considering it, all of a sudden had moved the needle. That was a big win for us. Not monumental in the scheme of the world but for what we were doing, that was darn important for our goals.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well, that is exciting when you can pinpoint a result to a little change, and so that’s leverage. I mean, that’s exciting, that’s powerful, and I guess it makes sense if some folks were thinking, “You know what, maybe I’m looking to change industries or careers, get to another company,” as opposed to, “Oh, shoot. I actually better get on this right away or I guess this opportunity will disappear for me.”

Brian Ahearn
Exactly. And we all respond to it. I know sometimes people say, “Oh, that stuff doesn’t work on me.” But we’ve all had those times where we got off the couch on a Sunday, and we went to the store because we heard “Sale on Sunday,” or maybe we got there on Friday because we heard “While supplies last.” And the reality is we probably never would’ve gone to the store were it not for being alerted to the fact that something was going to be limited.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, so that’s one principle. Let’s zoom out a little bit. So, you unpack a lot of this in your work, in one of your books Influence People: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical. So, how would you maybe organize or share kind of the main message as we dig into this?

Brian Ahearn
Well, the subtitle, as you said, “Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical,” that’s really foundational to what I talk about because I tell people it’s powerful because it’s research-based. This isn’t somebody’s good advice. This is backed by empirical data. It’s an everyday skill. I mean, most people realize, if they want to be successful at work, they need to get people to say yes to them. But when they go home, life is more peaceful and happy when they can get those people around them to say yes. So, it’s an everyday skill.

The real opportunities are the fact that, going back to what you asked at the beginning, “Do people have room for improvement?” most people don’t know the language of influence. And until you can label something, you usually don’t start seeing it with any consistency. But once you learn the language and you can label things, you would be amazed at how often you understand how the salesperson is trying to get you to buy, marketers trying to get you to store, politicians trying to get you to vote for him or her, so you begin to see these opportunities.

And then even when it comes to persuasion, most people don’t really have a handle on what that is. If I ask people, “What is your definition of persuasion?” What I hear most often is to convince somebody or change somebody’s thinking, and that sounds good, Pete, until you ask this follow-up question, “If you tell your son or daughter, ‘Clean your room,’ do you want them to say, A, ‘Mom or Dad, that’s a good idea,’ or, B, get in there and clean the room”? And everybody gets it. They want them to change their behavior.

And when I talk about persuasion, it’s about changing behavior, getting people to do something that they wouldn’t do if you had not asked. So, it really comes down to the ask. And if we do it well, it can have a lasting impact on people, and certainly we want to be ethical when we do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Now when it comes to ethics, why don’t we hit this right now in case there’s any resistance in the listener? So, ethics, I mean, I think we all like ethics. Can you share what are some kind of maybe golden rules that you keep in mind when it comes to using influence and persuasion ethically?

Brian Ahearn
Sure. First one is good for me, good for you. I can’t ask you to do something that’s not also in your best interest, otherwise I am only out for me. And I think any person listening to this, if they said, “That person is only out for themselves,” they wouldn’t want to do business with them. So, whatever I’m proposing has to be good for you, has to be good for me. If we use Stephen Covey’s term a win-win.

Second, we need to be honest. And not just honest in what we say, but also honest in what we know because it’s not enough to look you in the eye and say, “Well, Pete, I answered all your questions.” And you look at me and said, “Yeah, Brian, but you didn’t tell me when you sold me the house there was a crack in the foundation.” Me saying, “Pete, you didn’t ask that question,” wouldn’t cut the mustard. You’d say, “Hey, if I’d known that, I would’ve made a different decision.”

So, we’re honest about what it is that we’re talking about, what it is that we’re offering, but we’re also confident because even when there’s a shortcoming in something, if we are honest and we bring that forth relatively early in the conversation and deal with it, we gain credibility as a trustworthy person, and then we can segue into more of the strengths of our product or service.

So, we create win-wins, we are honest, and then the third thing that we talk about is we only use the psychological principles that are natural to the situation that we find ourselves in. And I think a good example of this is anybody who’s listening to this who’s a homeowner has probably had people who tried to sell them roofing, gutters, siding, painting, whatever, those things we all need for our homes. And they probably had people say something like, “Pete, if you sign today, you can save 15%. But if I have to come back at a later date, I can’t offer you that same deal.” They’re trying to invoke a sense of scarcity, like, “Oh, if I don’t act right now, I’m going to lose this great deal that he or she is proposing.”

And most of the time that’s garbage because whatever they’re offering is probably not in short supply. They’re only doing it to manipulate you into making a decision right then and there so they don’t have to come back or you don’t rethink it, so that’s not being genuine in terms of how you’re using the principle. There’s no scarcity there, but they’re trying to squeeze it in to change your behavior. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I like that. That’s a nice piece there in terms of like it’s natural and it makes sense. And so, not to trash talk but let’s trash talk, shall we, Brian? I think that there’s a lot of sort of online sales stuff with the funnel and a launch and a deadline, and it doesn’t feel so good. And I guess I’ve done it too, although there was a real reason associated with the deadline, it’s like, “Hey, everybody is starting the class at this time. We need to gather a sort of critical mass to have a community, and there’s going to be some live sessions, and you would miss them if you didn’t sign up by this deadline.” So, that was real.

But a lot of other times when it’s sort of like there’s a digital training course, and it is available for, I don’t know, 24 or 72 hours, I’m just like, “’Why?” And it just seems like the only reason that that deadline is there is to make me do this thing now, and I don’t like it. Now, at the same time, I guess it could very well be win-win. It’s like, “I know this is what you need to do in order to get off your butt and make something happen because I need to have a little bit of pressure here, but it doesn’t feel so good on the receiving end.” I just want to get your take on this.

Brian Ahearn
Well, I think that’s a good example that there’s probably not something in short supply because you can access it 24/7, 365. It’s not like they ran out of something. Or your example of holding a class. You might say, “Early registrants are going to pay this price. If you register by this certain date, it goes up. And by this last date, it’s higher.” And somebody might say, “Well, a seat is a seat. Is that fair?” Yes, I think it can be because you’re having to plan, you’re having to ship materials, you’re having to secure a room with certain seats, so, yes, there can be additional costs for you.”

Pete Mockaitis
I buy that, absolutely, yeah.

Brian Ahearn
And so, you’re passing that on. It makes your life easier so you’re going to make their life easier by putting a deadline like that. I think deadlines are legitimate when you know that those deadlines will also help people. So, there were some work I read from Dan Ariely where they looked at students who were either given no deadline, “You have six papers all due at the end of the semester. You’re adults. Do them at your leisure.” There was a group that could choose their own deadlines, and then there was a group that was given deadlines.

And, contrary to what people might want to think, those who were given the deadlines actually performed best because we all, I mean, probably every person listening to this, had times where they delayed all their studying and crammed. And they had all kinds of times and it is such a common human phenomenon to do that. So, I think imposing deadlines there, you can say, “Yeah, you might’ve had to the end of the semester but it will be beneficial for most students if we set these deadlines and adhere to them.”

Pete Mockaitis
That is helpful. Thank you. I dig that. And then when it comes to products, let’s talk about digital products in terms of like, “Hey, I got this thing. I can flip the on/off switch whenever I care to, and I care to flip it on for three days once a year, and then flip it off to keep everyone in a ladder.” It doesn’t feel great to me. What’s your take?

Brian Ahearn
I would want to know more about the details of what they’re doing and why they’re doing it before just making a blanket statement to say, “You could create something and put it out there.” People could argue that there are a lot of things that are not truly scarce. You know, time. Somebody might say, “Hey, if you’re not doing something on this day, isn’t it better to come and speak for this and throw out some low fee than to get nothing?” They might say that’s fair.

Somebody else who’s a speaker might say, “Well, no, I’ve already charged other people a particular amount. I’m not going to go ahead and lower that just for you. That’s not fair to those people.” So, there’s always a tension there that you have to understand what’s behind it. So, I would want to know why are they only making it available for three days. Is it tied to something else that’s part of their offering or their services?

Now, if they’re laughing in the backroom going, “Oh, yeah, we just make it available three days every year, and people go crazy, and then we pull it from…” I don’t know that that’s really a very ethical way to go about doing things. It’s like you remember the Disney Vault? That’s all that was. It’s out for limited time, then it goes back into the vault. And the imagery was great because the vault is closed and the only people who know the combination worked at Disney. But the reason they did it is it worked. People would flock to buy those videos or DVDs, and they would always change them every so slightly. Blu-Ray Digitally Remastered with two scenes never seen before, then you’re like, “Oh, gosh, I got to have it. And if I don’t get it now, it goes into the vault and who knows when they’ll open the vault again.”
Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I think about DeBeers, that’s sort of their whole game with diamonds is that they acquire much of the supply, and then they trickle it out as they so choose.

Brian Ahearn
Well, we see it with tickets to concerts, right, where people go online, and they’re like, “I can never buy anything because these major corporations go in and buy them all up and then they jack the price.” Yes, so they buy them, they have the purchasing power, and then they leverage scarcity after that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that’s good rules of thumb for the ethics, and so even if there’s an on/off switch being flipped for additional good or the sales of a service, there very may be a nice valid reason in terms of the life of the provider and sort of the conveniences they get to enjoy or not, or it could be some folks cackling all the way to the bank as they’re utilizing this.

Anyway, so we talked about scarcity. Can you share what are some of the other most powerful principles, when you said once you see have a label for something, you can use it and identify it? Can we hear some more useful labels?

Brian Ahearn
Okay. Well, one of the principles that we talk about is called the principle of liking which tells us that we prefer to say yes to people that we know and like. Now, listeners might be saying, “Well, duh, we all know that.” What a lot of people don’t think about though is how to make that a reality. And most people will go into situations and work really hard to get people to like them, and that’s better than doing nothing.

But the most powerful thing you can do is to go into a situation to say, “How can I come to like this other person? And I’m going to, therefore, connect in what we have in common. I’m going to listen. I’m going to try to take it in. And when I hear something we have in common, like we grew up in the same town or cheer for the same team, I’m going to start talking about that because I want to like the people that I’m networking with, working with, supporting, etc. Or I’m going to look for things that I can genuinely compliment them about because I know that if I find those things, I’ll start thinking more highly.”

And here’s why this is so key. When that other person believes you truly like them, and you really are coming to like them, it opens them up because we all believe deep down inside that friends do right by friends. And the good news is we do right by friends. If you’re truly a friend, you’ll never want to manipulate your friends. And this is a powerful way to remove that whole question about manipulation because when I look to the people that I know and like, I want to help them. They know I want to help them. And it creates this really good virtuous cycle, so I think it’s a very, very powerful principle. But that key is don’t try to get people to like you. Try to come to like other people.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. And so, then so part of that is just doing the research and zeroing in on commonalities. And how else can we get to like them?

Brian Ahearn
Well, there’s things like, I mean, certainly if you mirror and match. When you are with somebody, and you consciously mirror their body language, you kind of get into sync, when you make a conscious choice to pace your speaking along the lines of theirs, not to manipulate them or anything, but to say, “I want to make this person comfortable with me and I want to be comfortable with them,” because the more we see ourselves as similar, how we stand, how we talk, the things that we have in common, etc., all of those start to create this sense of rapport, like, “Hey, that person is like me and, therefore, I kind of like them.” It’s much easier to like people who are similar to you in multiple ways.

And then, of course, I mentioned paying somebody genuine compliments. Another thing that we talk about at times is when you work together in cooperative ways, and you have success, you tend to high-five and really look more positively upon each other, especially for people who are leaders who are listening to this. If you have employees who might not get along so great, put them into situations where they have to work together. Don’t put them into situations that would be hard to be successful in. You want them to kind of take baby steps. But as they work together and they have success, people pretty naturally start looking at the other person and say, “That was great. You did a good job,” and they start passing compliments. So, those are natural ways to make liking come about.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. Thank you. And how about some more?

Brian Ahearn
One of the really interesting principles, for salespeople especially, is the principle of consistency. People always ask, “What is the most powerful principle of influence?” And I always say it depends because it depends on the situation you’re in, and these principles aren’t always available, or at least every one of them are not always available. But if you’re a salesperson, the principle of consistency is paramount because the principle of consistency is predicated on asking good questions.

And we define the principle this way. We feel an internal psychological pressure but also an external social pressure to be consistent in what we say and what we do. So, to drive this home. Pete, have you ever given your word to somebody, friend, family member, someone, that you would be somewhere or do something with them but had to back out?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m certain that’s happened and I’m trying to recall a specific instance but I’m with you.

Brian Ahearn
Okay. You know, when I ask an audience on this, almost we can all recall a time where, “Oh, gosh,” we forgot it’s our kid’s recital, or, “Somebody got sick and I need to stay home.” Legitimate reasons that I’m sure when somebody says, “Hey, I can’t make it, and here’s why.” But friends say, “Don’t worry about it.” But the reality is how do we feel? Most people I ask that question, they say, “I felt terrible having to tell them I couldn’t be there. I felt bad or guilty.” And what do we do? We don’t like to feel those feelings. We work really, really hard to try to keep our word.

And when you understand that, then rather than telling people what to do, you start asking, because when you ask and they commit to you, it triggers that internal sense of, “I want to be consistent with what I say and do because, first and foremost, I will feel better about myself. And, oh, by the way, I’ll look better in your eyes.” So, it’s a powerful motivator of human behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. So, then when you are attempting to be influential and persuade, knowing that this is a powerful force within us, what are some key ways that this can be utilized?

Brian Ahearn
Okay. So, it’s very common for people in a business setting to tell somebody what they need. I may walk by you and say, “Pete, I need the sales numbers by Friday.” Now maybe you’ll get them to me, maybe you won’t, but I know this from the research, I will be more effective if I were to say, “Pete, would you be able to give me the sales numbers by Friday?” because if you say yes, the odds that you’ll do it are significantly higher than if you don’t say anything at all.

But a smarter way to go about doing this would be, “Pete, would you be able to get me the sales numbers by Tuesday?” Now, if you tell me you can’t, then I have fallback positions. I might say, “Pete, I realized it’s really busy around here. Any chance you could get them to me by the end of the day Wednesday?” Now this is tapping into another principle that we call reciprocity. And, people, when you come in with another request immediately after somebody says no, there’s lots of research that shows people will be more likely to say yes.

So, by starting to think about what it is that you need, how can I ask, how can I set fallback positions so that if that person says, “No, I’m too busy,” well, I can retreat to Wednesday, I can retreat to Thursday, I still can even retreat to Friday. And so, the manager who gets into that habit of asking instead of telling and setting themselves up with fallback positions will get what they need far more often than somebody who just tells people what they need on the due date.

Pete Mockaitis
And I also wonder, and I guess this could be risky, but if you were to say, “When can you commit to completing this by?” And then they generate their own due date, does that have even more power because it came from them?

Brian Ahearn
Yes, anytime somebody self-generates their own reasons, goals, they will be more committed to those. You may look at me and say, “Well, Brian is an expert in influence.” And if I tell you what you should probably do, you’d give that some weight because you’re like, “Hey, Brian knows what he’s doing, he wrote a book.” But if I asked you to write questions and you come up with the very same idea, you own it because you feel like, “That’s my idea.” And we all think our ideas are pretty good.

And so, that becomes another skill too, which taps into this principle, but asking those right questions to get people to come up with the answers themselves, it’s a huge part of the coaching process because coaching is about teaching people to think for themselves. And when they start coming up with their own ideas, then they feel more confident at generating their own ideas down the road, and they don’t need as much attention through coaching.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. Well, so we’re really kind of taking down the six greatest hits here, we got the scarcity, liking, consistency, reciprocity. I guess we also got to hit the authority and social proof to round that out.

Brian Ahearn
Okay. Authority tells us that we defer to people that we view as more wise or experts when we’re making decisions. I mean, if we’re standing around at a cocktail party and we’re all complaining about taxes, and then somebody says, “Well, I’m a CPA,” and they start talking, we give that more weight because we know that person knows far more about taxes than we probably do.

Funny story that happened quite a number of years ago, my wife is a really, really good golfer, and when I say really good, she’s a single-digit handicap, usually she’d shoot in the upper 70s. She’s very, very good. I came home from a sales training event and I told her about a golf example that I had used during the training. A few weeks later, she’s reading a book, and she says, “Listen to what Corey Pavin says.” For those of you who are listening, Corey Pavin won the US Open in the early ‘90s, and he finished in the top five in all of the major golf championships.

She reads this paragraph, Pete, and it’s almost verbatim what I said. So, of course, I had to let her know that, and I said, “Jane, I told you that.” She said, “No, you didn’t.” I say, “Yeah, a couple of weeks ago. Remember I came home from the training event?” “No.” I go, “Come on, we were sitting right here having dinner. You don’t…?” And she had no recollection that I had told her that. So, finally, I threw my hands up and I go, “Oh, I guess if Corey Pavin says it, it’s true but when I say it it’s not?”

But here’s the reality. Because he was a golf pro and won the US Open, who would you believe? Corey Pavin or Brian Ahearn, a trainer? It’s a funny story but it really drives home the point. Two people can say exactly the same thing, the person who’s viewed as an expert, believed far more than the person who has no credibility at all in that area, and yet it can be every bit as true the statements that’s made from both people. So, it’s really, really important that people do what they can to get their expertise in front of other people.

Pete Mockaitis
And now I’m intrigued, do we think that this is the explanation for the mysterious phenomenon in a meeting, one person says something and it gets no response, and another person says just about the same thing, and other are, “Yes, yes,” and it’s are sort of all behind there? Do we think this is primarily driven by authority or there are some other elements that explain this situation?

Brian Ahearn
There could certainly be some liking that people might say, “Oh, yeah, you know, we love Joe.” And when Joe says something, everybody likes that. But it probably leans more on the authority thing. And in my corporate job, when I was reporting at one point to the vice president of sales, there were times when he would come to me and he’d say, “I’d like you to draft this and then send it to these people,” and I’d say, “I will draft it, but I would like you to send it,” because coming from the vice president of sales it will mean a lot more than coming from me. And he knew this stuff well too, and he’s like, “You’re right.”

And so, I had the satisfaction of knowing that the messaging was coming from me, I was building my skill, it helped me write the book and do other things, but I was humble enough to say, “The goal here is to move the ball forward, move the agenda forward for the company, and my saying the very same thing won’t help it as much as you, so I will save you time, craft the message, and together we will make this thing happen.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s so dead-on. And, yeah, this reminds me of just recently I started up a new training program with a group, you know, run it through The Enhanced Thinking and Collaboration Program, and so there’s some pre-work to be done and the majority of folks had not yet done it. And so, I have all the participants’ email addresses but they haven’t met me yet. So, I proposed that exact same thing, it’s like, “Hey, here’s the rundown of who has and has not yet finished the pre-work. I’d love to have them prompted, which I could do, but I think it would be much better coming from you.” And, sure enough, she prompted and the pre-work came rolling in, and mission accomplished.

Brian Ahearn
Yep. Hey, I think it’s just a matter of some people being humble enough to say, “It’s okay if the message doesn’t come from me. I’ll have my time, right? If I do things right and I help the corporation move the agenda forward, I’ll get my praise, I’ll be that one who’s looked on for the promotion. I will eventually probably be in that position where I’m the one doing the messaging.” But develop your skill at creating the message but allow the right person to bring that message forward.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about social proof?

Brian Ahearn
So, social proof tells us that we look to other people to see how we should behave in particular situations. We are heavily impacted by what other people are thinking, how they’re feeling, what they’re doing. And I always tell people the word to remember here is crowds. Large and small, crowds of people impact how we think, how we feel, and how we behave.

Now, it’s interesting, Pete, that in America, because we are more of an individualistic society, sometimes when we talk about this, people push back. And I’ve heard people say things like, “Nothing great ever came from following the crowd.” And I don’t disagree with that. Medical breakthroughs, great leaders, great things happen when people break from the crowd. But I would challenge people who are listening, how often in the day are you trying to accomplish greatness? And how often are you just trying to get your day moving along?

And in most of the time, if you’re driving home from work, and you see that the traffic is backing up and people start getting off on an exit, without even looking at a map, a phone app, you might just decide, “I better get off the exit too.” Why? “Everybody else is, it’s probably the right thing to do. It has nothing to do with greatness. I just want to get home quickly.” And we are confronted with those choices every day all day long. And humans have evolved to know, “Hey, if other people are doing something, yeah, it’s probably the right thing to do the vast majority of the time.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so that’s a nice lineup there. And I’d also love to get your perspective in terms of when you’re crafting the message, when you’re delivering the message, sort of what gets in there to see if you could sort of appeal to these dimensions? I’d also love to get your view on how can we sort of just grab people’s attention in the first place and sort of get them listening to our persuasive appeal?

Brian Ahearn
Well, a couple of things come right to mind. First is uniqueness. People are drawn to things that are unique. If I’ve got seven red balls and one white ball, people are going to notice the white ball, that’s the one that’s going to stand out. It’s unique among that. So, putting forth what is unique is going to help you in that regard. But this is where understanding the psychology of persuasion becomes really handy because it’s not always about touting, “Look at this unique thing here.” Sometimes it’s saying, “Nobody else has this.”

It’s the same thing kind of in reverse. It’s utilizing that loss frame, it’s part of scarcity, but by talking about what somebody is going to miss out on if they don’t come to your training, read your article, buy your product or service, is far more powerful than saying, “Buy our product or service because of this one unique feature.” The uniqueness, when it’s framed as, “And nobody else has it,” far more powerful. So, that’s one way.

Another way to grab people’s attention goes back to that principle of consistency by asking questions. So, here’s an example, Pete. Many, many years ago I was in a training session, and the trainer came in after lunch, about 40 people in this room, and he says, “Hey, before we get started, anybody know a good place to go for dinner here in Columbus?” And people start shouting out answers, and some people had their hands or waving their hands in the air.

He lets it go on for just a few seconds, and then he says, “Okay, time out. I come to Columbus all the time, and I know exactly where I’m going to dinner. I asked a question to prove a point. When you ask a question, people feel compelled to answer.” And he said, “Notice how many people shouted out answers and look at how many of you raised your hands.” And then he said, “For those who didn’t say something or raised your hands, were you thinking of a place?” And they started smiling and nodding. And he knew every person had answered that question either in their head or out loud.

So, the point here is if you ask a good question, it’s going to stimulate people to start thinking about what that answer is, and if it’s creative enough, it might have them really wanting that answer, in other words, open up your email, take a look at your brochure, something, whatever it is that you’re trying to promote.

Pete Mockaitis
And in the book Pre-Suasion it’s got all kinds of fun questions with regard to, “Do you consider yourself a helpful person? Or do you consider yourself an adventurous person?” So, then there’s some identifying of self in that, and then they’re kind of primed to if you happen to have something new that can appeal to adventure, and if you are asking for some help, if they’ve said, “Yes, I’m helpful,” yeah, that can line up there. I’m curious, what makes a great question? Because I think I see this a lot, and maybe it’s effective or maybe it’s not.

But when I say, “Are you looking for a way that you can improve the tidiness of your home without spending a fortune?” I don’t know. And when I hear those questions, I mean, maybe they’re very effective but I’m just like, “No, I’m not.” And then maybe it’s mission accomplished, they’ve sort of excluded me and they’ve pre-qualified the others who are. But I don’t know, what’s your take? Is a yes-no question like that fine or what makes an optimal question?

Brian Ahearn
It depends on the context. So, I think asking a question in marketing and the way that you just described is very different than asking somebody at work so that you can get something accomplished. When I talk about like leaders, and stop telling and start asking, some of the elements of a good interaction with somebody is to change a statement into a question, to give yourself the fallback, to use the word because.

There are studies that show when you use the word because, significantly more people will say yes because we’re conditioned from childhood, right? Parents say, when you dared to say, “Mom, why do I have to do this?” “Because I said so.” It’s not a valid reason but we started to learn, “Once I hear ‘Because I said so’ I better get going.” So, instead of making a statement, ask a question, have a fallback position, use the word because, tag it with a reason, that is a great way, in a corporate context, to get people on board and do what they need to do as opposed to, “Give me the sales numbers by Friday.”

When it comes to marketing, I’m with you. I don’t like some of those things that are just so overt that I think most people just probably start to shy away from it. One terrible example is “Ninety-seven percent of my friends won’t have the guts to repost this. Will you?” Nope, I will not because I feel like that’s manipulative, it’s probably a completely false statistic, and it actually works against people because if 97% of the people aren’t doing something, then why should I? It’s a terrible, terrible way to try to get people to take action.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d also be curious then, so we talked about being ethical. Is there anything else that you think is just a mistake that folks are making all the time with regard to, “Hey, this is an easy lost opportunity, so stop doing this or start doing that because most people are doing it wrong, and this is a quick fix”?

Brian Ahearn
Yes. Another example would be when we go back to that principle of scarcity. I will talk about this, we’ll talk about loss framing, they’ll all understand, like, “Yeah, I’m more motivated by what I might lose versus what I might gain.” But then they go back out and they do things completely wrong. So, here would be an example.

Sometimes I work with financial investors and wealth advisors. If I were to say to you, “Pete, given your age, your current income and how much longer you say you’re going to work, if we can find a way for you to save just 1% more, by the time you retire, my calculation show you’ll have an extra hundred thousand in your retirement account.” That’s pretty motivating, right? One percent of your salary to get an extra hundred grand.

But the smart wealth advisor would say this, “Pete, given your age, your current income and how many years you say you’ll continue to work, if we don’t find a way for you to save just 1% more, by the time you’re retired, you will have given up $100,000 of your retirement savings.” It’s the same a hundred thousand, right? But talking about it as loss frame, like it’s right there, it’s waiting for you, but if you don’t take this action of saving 1%, you’re giving it up. That will be far more motivating to get people to invest the 1%, and yet people go back and they always say, “Rah, rah, rah, look at all the positive things. Do this and you’ll have this wonderful life.” Sometimes they need to honestly say, “If you don’t do this, here’s what you’re going to be giving up in five years or 10 years,” and that will stimulate more people to get on board.

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

Brian Ahearn
I will just say I appreciate the emphasis that you have on the ethics. If it weren’t for ethics, I wouldn’t be doing this. And my story on that is simply this, when I came in contact with Cialdini’s material, when I was enthralled by it, it was a Stanford video. And when Stanford sent a marketing piece several months after I’d seen that first video, they used the word manipulation in the advertising for his video despite the fact that he was very clear about non-manipulative ways to move people to act. And I felt so strongly about that that I emailed Stanford to basically say this, “I don’t know anybody who wants to be manipulated, and I don’t know anybody who wants to be known as a good manipulator. That word cannot be helping your sales but it really could be hurting.”

I never heard from Stanford but several months later, my phone rang, and it was Robert Cialdini’s office. And one of his assistants called to personally thank me on his behalf for having sent that email to Stanford. She said, “They’re changing the marketing of our material because of you.” And I was like, “Wow! That is really cool.” And as fate would have it, he ended up coming to my company a few years later, and speaking to insurance agents that represented us.

So, the point here, Pete, is if it hadn’t been for that ethical part, I would’ve never sent that email, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today, and you’d be talking to a different guest right now.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. Thank you.

Brian Ahearn
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Brian Ahearn
When I read Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, one of the quotes that stood out to me was, he said, “In the end, they can take away every freedom except for the last human freedom, which is the ability to choose to where to place your thoughts.” And that just really resonated with me, that nothing happens in life where we can’t shake our head and say, “Wait a minute. I can choose what I’m going to think here. They can break my body, they can do anything they want to me, but I can always choose where I will place my thoughts.” And that’s a pretty lifechanging concept when you really meditate on it.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Brian Ahearn
Viktor Frankl’s book is one of the top five books that I think that influenced my life and, primarily, it was that quote and several other things that I read there. But his overcoming and his ability to believe that there was a future beyond living in the concentration camps, and the fact that he made it, and there were certainly some luck involved, pointing one line or the other kind of thing, but he really was a huge influence on the world because of what he went through and how he kind of dissected it and what he had to share.

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

Brian Ahearn
Every day I get up and I work out. I run and lift every single day, seven days a week, and I’ve done this since I was very, very young. I feel like it gives me a huge edge when I’m up very, very early in the morning, and I get done running, and I get done working out. And that’s usually an hour and a half or so of my morning to get things going. It’s a habit. I mean, I’ve done it every single day for 25, 30 plus years, but it is also a tool that I use because when I’m done, I feel like I am way ahead of the game, and I’m ready to roll for the rest of the day.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate and gets quoted back to you often?

Brian Ahearn
I think the biggest a-ha that I share that people come back and mention is the subtlety of not trying to get people to like you, but really trying hard to come to like people. And I see that play out for my life because people talk about what a good networker I am. And I don’t consider myself a happy go-lucky backslapping meet people all over the place, but I’ve learned to be social and I’ve learned to really focus on the other people, try to get to know them, allow them to tell their stories because it also helps me come to like them. And so, people just seem to naturally respond to me because of that, and that would be the nugget.

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

Brian Ahearn
Well, anybody who’s listening, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. If you don’t put a message in there, like, “Hey, I heard you on the podcast,” expect that you’ll see a message coming back saying, “Thanks for connecting. How did you find me?” I just like to understand why people are connecting with me. Certainly, my website which is InfluencePeople.biz, and out there you’ll find all kinds of resources, you’ll find my book, blog, videos, all kinds of information, podcasts that I’ve been on. There’s a wealth of information to continue learning about this.

Pete Mockaitis
Brian, thanks so much for taking this time. This has been a treat. I wish you excellent results in all the ethical ways you are trying to get people to say yes.

Brian Ahearn
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate it, and you were a very fun host to speak with.