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553: How to Change Minds and Organizations with Jonah Berger

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Wharton professor Jonah Berger discusses the biggest obstacles to successful persuasion—and how to overcome them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why persuasive arguments don’t work—and what does
  2. A simple technique to win over stubborn naysayers
  3. How to introduce big changes with minimal resistance

About Jonah:

Jonah Berger is a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and internationally bestselling author of Contagious, Invisible Influence, and The Catalyst.

Dr. Berger is a world-renowned expert on change, word of mouth, influence, consumer behavior, and how products, ideas, and behaviors catch on. He has published over 50 articles in top‐tier academic journals, teaches Wharton’s highest rated online course, and popular outlets like The New York Times and Harvard Business Review often cover his work. He’s keynoted hundred of events, and often consults for organizations like Google, Apple, Nike, and the Gates Foundation.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Jonah Berger Interview Transcript

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

Jonah Berger
Thanks so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m really excited to dig into your wisdom. You’ve been on the list for a long time so it’s so good to have you here.

Jonah Berger
Oh, thanks. I appreciate that.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to just kick us off by so you’ve been doing a lot of research in influence and change. Can you maybe tell us what’s some of like the most common things that people want change that comes up again and again, it’s almost like trite for you by now?

Jonah Berger
I think everyone has something they want to change. Employees always seem to want to change their boss’ mind, leaders want to transform organizations, marketing and sales want to change the customer or the clients’ mind, startups want to change industries, nonprofits want to change the world. I think we all have something that we want to change. People talk about changing their spouse’s mind or their kids’ behavior, so I think these things come up again and again.

What I found most interesting is that we tend to take a particular approach that often doesn’t work. So, when we did some of our own research, for example, we asked people to write down, “What’s something you want to change? And what have you tried to do to change it?” Almost 100% of the time, 99% of the time, they write down some version of what I call pushing, and that is kind of adding more pressure, more reasons, more information.

If it’s the boss, “Oh, let me just send one more email.” If it’s the client, “Let me make one more phone call.” If it’s my spouse, “Let me just tell them one more time why I think what I’m suggesting is the right way to go.” And it’s clear why we think this is a good approach, right? In the physical world, if we want to move something, we push it, right? If you’re sitting in a room and there’s a chair, and you want the chair to go somewhere, you push the chair in the direction you want it to go.

But the problem with people is they aren’t physical objects. Unlike objects that move when we push them, when we push people, they push back. And so, the question, really, of this new book that I’ve been working on is, “Well, is there a different way? Is there a better way to change minds and organizations?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, do tell, what is the better way?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, so I think there’s a need analogy to be made with chemistry. And so, in chemistry there’s sort of this special set of substances that make change happen faster and easier, they’re called catalysts, but they work in a very particular way. They don’t add temperature, they don’t add pressure, which is usually what things in chemistry do to change things, they remove the barriers to change. They basically make the same amount of change happen with less work.

And so, that’s really what I find quite interesting about the social world as well. Too often, we say, “What could I do to get someone to change?” rather than taking a very subtle but important shift, and saying, “Why hasn’t that person changed already? What’s preventing them? What are the barriers that are mitigating or hindering change,” that friction as you said, “and how can I remove those barriers?” And so, that’s what the book is really all about. It’s about finding those barriers, those things that are getting in the way and how to get rid of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. And so then, let’s hear in terms of frequent examples of resistance, friction, barriers, obstacles. What’s the kind of stuff that gets in the way for professionals looking to make a change at work, either in themselves, or with their boss, or colleague? What are some of those repeated obstacles?

Jonah Berger
Yeah. And I love to think about these obstacles as parking brakes. The reason why, when we get in our car, we often have this problem. We get in our car, we’re sitting on an incline, or whatever, we want to get it to go, we turn the key ignition, put our foot on the gas. If it doesn’t go, we think we need more gas. We, rarely though, until we think about it, end up checking that parking brake. So, sometimes it’s the parking brake that’s along the way. So, what are those parking brakes or obstacles?

And so, in the book I talk about five. I talk about reactance, endowment, distance, uncertainty, and corroborating evidence. Those, I found across my research, are some of the five most common benefits and they have the nice side benefit of when you put them in order, they actually spell a word, which is REDUCE.

Pete Mockaitis
It was no accident, Jonah, I’m sure.

Jonah Berger
Yeah, it was no accident. And, honestly, actually, if I could I’d change the order around. I’d end up with like the EURDC framework which doesn’t spell anything. So, it would just be confusing if we did it that way but I think it’s a nice way to organize that information, and that’s what catalysts do, right? They don’t push harder; they reduce those barriers. They figure out what those obstacles are and how to mitigate them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s dig into each of them. Can you maybe define the five of them and then we’ll sort of dig into each one?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, let’s pick one to start. So, let’s say reactance, and I think this is something that everyone listening has experienced in one way, shape or form, whether it’s in their professional or personal life. And the idea here, very simply, is when we try to get people to do something, when we try to persuade, they push back.

A bunch of very nice research shows that people essentially have an ingrained anti-persuasion system, almost like an anti-missile defense system, or radar, that is going around, that says, “Hey, when I sense that someone is trying to convince me of something, someone’s trying to change my mind, my defense system goes up.”

Pete Mockaitis
Even if it’s for our good or it would be fun.

Jonah Berger
You’re exactly right, yeah. And I find this most funny with exactly what you said. Even if it’s something I already want to do, this happens a lot in our personal lives, right? Our spouse, for example, might say, “Well, I think we should do this,” and even if it’s something we already wanted to do, we have to stop ourselves from saying no because we want to feel like we made the choice.

And that’s exactly what reactance is about. We want to feel like we’re in control, we’re in the driver seat, and so if we don’t feel like we’re in control, or we don’t feel like we’re in the driver seat, we push back against that message. That radar goes up and we either avoid, or ignore something, or, even worse, we counterargue. And I think counterarguing is the worst because you don’t know when someone is counterarguing. Often, they’re sitting there, they’re listening to you but they’re not actually listening. They’re sitting there thinking about all the reasons why they don’t want to do what you suggested.

And so, in terms of how to solve this challenge, there are a few different ways but one I often like to talk about is to do something called providing a menu. And the notion, the intuition here is very simple. When we give people one thing that we’re recommending, they, as we just talked about, often sit there thinking about all the reasons why it’s a bad idea. So, if our spouse, for example, says, “Hey, why do you want to do this weekend?” And you say, “Oh, let’s go watch a movie.” They go, “Oh, but it’s such a nice day outside,” or, “Oh, we went to the movies last week,” or, “Oh,” whatever it is. They think about all the reasons why it’s a bad idea.

And so, what good consultants often do is they provide what’s called a menu, essentially multiple options rather than just one. And what that really cleverly does is that shifts the job of the listener. Let’s say a consultant is presenting a solution and they’re presenting it to a client. If they just present one option, the client sits there going, thinking about all the reasons why it won’t work, “It’ll be too expensive.” “It’ll be hard to implement.” “My staff won’t like it, blah, blah, blah, blah.” All the reasons why it won’t work.

If, instead, you present two options, at least two or three, maybe even a couple more, it shifts the role of the listener, because rather than thinking about all the reasons they don’t like what you’re suggesting, they’re instead sitting there thinking which of them they like the best. Which of these two options do they like the best? Which is going to lead them, not surprisingly, to be much more likely to pick one at the end of the day.

And so, I like calling it providing a menu because you’re not giving infinite choices, you’re giving a limited set, and you’re guiding that decision.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s so funny because it takes so much work to go off the menu. I’m thinking, this is triggering all sorts of things. So, I’ve got a two-year old at home, and so sometimes he doesn’t want to put a shirt on after he wakes up, and so I was like, “Hey, do you want the blue one or the purple one.” And he says, “Purple.” Or I was at a hotel with a continental breakfast this weekend, and I just wasn’t thrilled with the options. So, I was hoping for those little egg things but they weren’t there. There’s about all carbs, no protein, but I had like six options. And so, I just sort of stood there displeased for like three minutes. The people are probably wondering what I was doing, I was like, “No, no, no,” and then I finally just said, “Okay, I guess I want to do this because I don’t want to truck it out in this snowy weather. I’ll eat what’s here.”

Jonah Berger
Yeah, but talking about kids, I mean, it’s the same idea. I have a young one at home myself and it’s the same thing. When you ask kids to do something, they go, “No.” “Put this away.” “No.” “Do you want to wear this?” “No.” They’re like so used to saying no, but if you give them two options, suddenly they got a chance to choose. And notice you’re not giving them 15 options. If you gave them 15 options, they wouldn’t make a choice. They’d feel overwhelmed, they’d go something else.

When you walk into a restaurant, so you go to a Chinese restaurant, they don’t say, “Okay, which of the 60 options of world cuisines would you like?” They say, no, “Here’s the small set of options that are available but you get to pick.” And I think that same thing is used for whether you’re trying to convince a client or whether you’re trying to convince a boss. If you want that boss to do something, don’t say, “Hey, boss, I think we should do this.” Say, “Hey, boss, I think these are two really great options for us. Which do you like better?” Now, the boss may not pick either, but because they felt like they’re in control, they’re more likely to pick one than they would’ve been otherwise.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s particularly excellent when it’s sort of like the “Help me prioritize” conversation. Like, “You’ve made 40 requests of me and it’s, in fact, impossible for all of those things to happen within the timeline you’d like them to happen. So, what do you think of, on this list, is the most important?” And so, that goes across, I think, a lot better while on the receiving end of this than, “No, not going to do that,” or, “I can’t do that.” It’s like, “Well, what?” It’s like, “No, no, you pick which of these things?”

Jonah Berger
You pick, yeah. But, as you’re pointing out, and that’s actually another thing I talk about a little bit in this chapter, is what that does is it gets the boss to commit to the conclusion. When you make statements, if someone gets a sit, they’re going, “Okay, do I agree with that statement or not?” When you ask questions, suddenly, again, it shifts their role. They’re saying what they think is the most important. They’re saying which of the things you should prioritize. They’ve put a stake in the ground. And so, if you come back later and you do that thing, it’s hard for them to disagree.

Somebody was talking about this in the context of a startup they were working at where the boss wanted everyone to work the weekend. No one wants to work the weekend, right? So, instead, in the meeting, the boss said, “Okay, what kind of company do you want to be? Do you want to be a good company or a great company?” Now, we all know how everyone answers that question, they don’t say, “Oh, we want to be a good company.” They say, “We want to be a great company.” And after everyone says that, they put that stake in the ground, they’ve committed to the conclusion. Then the boss says, “Okay. Well, to be a great company, we got to put in some long hours.” But because people have committed to it, because you asked them a question rather than telling them what to do, they’re much more likely to do the work to reach that conclusion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. So, then that covers the reactance, I guess, we automatically react to, “I don’t care to be persuaded but I do care to make some choices.” So, then how about the endowment?

Jonah Berger
Sure, yeah. I think endowment, the best way to talk about endowment is to share the common intuition we often have, which is we tend to become attached to things we’re already doing. So, unlike if you’re trying to get someone who’s never done something to do something, when you’re trying to get people to switch to go from one thing to something else, they’re not only about how much they value that new thing and how much they want to do it, but how reticent they are to give up the old one.

So, some research on home buying, for example, shows that the longer someone’s lived in a home, the more they value that place above market price. They’ve spent a long time in it, they have their memories attached to it, they’re unwilling to get rid of it. Same thing if you’re asking people to buy something. So, they do great research, for example, on what’s called the endowment effect, where the name of the chapter comes from, where they asked people, “Hey, imagine I give you this mug.” They’re checking out this mug, it can hold coffee or tea, “You like it, great. How much would you be willing to sell it for?”

And they asked another set of people, they say, “Hey, here’s this wonderful mug, it holds coffee and tea, etc. How much would you be willing to buy it from someone else for?” And those prices, those amounts should be exactly the same whether you’re buying that coffee mug or selling that coffee mug, the value of it should be the same. But people’s valuation of it changes based on whether they own it or not. If it’s your mug, if it’s yours, you’re less willing to let it go. You have two times, often, will have higher valuation than people that don’t have it already because it’s yours. Obviously, this is a problem because you’re not only asking people when you ask them to change to do something new, you’re asking them to give up something old that they probably value very highly.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. This also reminds me of the cognitive bias, the IKEA effect in terms of, “I poured my time into assembling this piece of furniture therefore, if I were to sell it, it needs to fetch a hefty rate because I’m invested into that.” And to others, “No, it’s just kind of a cheap piece of furniture. You’re not going to get a hefty rate. It’s not world-class craftsmanship or anything.” Okay, so there we go. That’s endowment, it’s there. What do we do with it?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, and so I think the thing there, I found, is that we have to make people realize that doing nothing isn’t costless. So, I think we have this notion that, “What I’m doing already is free.” The cost of doing a new thing, the switching cost, which hopefully we’ll get to in a couple minutes, but we think the existing thing is, in some sense, free, “It’s not going to cost me anything to keep doing the same thing I’m doing.” But that often isn’t the case. There often are costs to doing something that we don’t realize.

So, there’s a nice study, for example, that talks about which hurts people more, which causes more pain, a minor injury or a major one. And everybody, when they think about it, will go, “Oh, of course, a major injury causes more pain.” So, if I break my elbow, it’s going to hurt me a lot more than a sprain. A headache is not going to hurt as much as a heart attack, for example. But what people don’t realize is when something really bad happens, we often take measures to fix that bad thing.

Something that’s terrible, when we break our arm, for example, we’re not just going to sit around. We’re going to go to the hospital, we’re going to get it set, we’re going to get it fixed. Whereas, for a minor sprain, we often don’t fix it. And so, we often don’t address those things and they end up causing more pain over the lifespan overall because they don’t go above our threshold.

And so, the challenge, that is for change agents, is make people realize it’s not costless, that doing what you’ve done before isn’t costless. There’s a great person from IT that I talk about, I talked to in the book, they did a version of what I call burning the ships. So, there’s this old famous story where an explorer wants to get his men to travel inland to do this dangerous thing in Mexico, they don’t want to go. So, what he does, he takes the old option off the table. He basically says, “Look, if the ships are still around, they can still go home so I’m going to burn the ships. Once the ships are gone, once the status quo has disappeared, they’ve got to go with me. They’ve got to change and do the new thing.”

And so, that may seem really drastic, burning the ships, but this IT guy did a version of it. He was trying to get everyone to upgrade, so upgrade to a new software version.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you’ve got to. Those hackers are after you.

Jonah Berger
Oh, they do, right?

Pete Mockaitis
They’re after you.

Jonah Berger
Yeah, you’re still using Windows 7, or whatever it is, it’s dangerous for the network.

Pete Mockaitis
Can’t have that.

Jonah Berger
Or someone’s on that old version of their PC they don’t want to get rid of because they’ve got that status quo bias, it’s theirs. And so, what he did was interesting. So, rather than saying, “Hey, let me tell you how great the new thing is,” he surfaced the costs of inaction. He made people realize more that doing nothing isn’t free. He sent out this note to people who weren’t upgrading to a new system, so he sent out this note, he said, “Look, you don’t have to upgrade. But just so you know, we can’t support the old system anymore. It’s dangerous to the network. It takes too much time. You can keep using it but, after a certain point, if you have a problem, we’re not going to fix it.”

He didn’t say, “Hey, look, you have to switch,” but he didn’t allow that costs of inaction to remain dormant. He really surfaced it. He allowed people to see it. And so, in some sense, he didn’t take the old option off the table, he didn’t throw their PC out the window, he didn’t truly burn the ships. He just made people realize that sticking with those old way of doing things might be more costly than they might think, which encouraged them to be more willing to do something new.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I really dig that, and I’ve recently applied that in terms of there’s all these little tasks that, you know, I’m big on outsourcing and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. But there are some like three-minute tasks that’s just like, “Ahh, it’s probably a lot of effort to train folks on how to do that so I’ll just keep doing that.” But then when I really hunker down, it’s like, “Okay, so what is this going to amount to over the next five years of doing these three minutes?” And I think about all those hours, and it’s like, “Okay, well, that’s a few vacation days, so maybe it’s worth taking an hour to share, ‘Hey, this is how you make invoices,’” or whatever the thing may be so that I can get that going, as you show that the cost of doing nothing is significant.

Jonah Berger
Yeah. And I love that example that you shared because the cost is significant over time but it’s not initially. Like, you’re sitting there, going, “But it’s only three minutes.” But, as you said, three minutes over time adds up to vacation days. But there’s always an initial cost of action. To train that person requires a couple hours, and if the cost seems bigger than the immediate benefit, we don’t do it. And so, really encouraging people to say, “Look, over time, that sprain, that elbow sprain is going to hurt a lot. You might want to go see a doctor and get it fixed.” Really adding it up over time forces people to realize that it’s not actually costless.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Well, let’s keep it going. Tell us about distance. Tell us about distance, Jonah.

Jonah Berger
Sure. So, distance is the notion that if we ask for too much, if we ask for something or even give people information, it’s too far from where they are at the moment, they tend to ignore us or they tend to sort of push back against what we’re suggesting. And so, this might sound a little bit like reactance, but in reactance we’re really trying to persuade someone, even if we just give people information, sometimes they don’t listen.

And so, a great domain to think about this is politics.

Jonah Berger
It’s the new reality show, it’s called America – What’s Happening in Politics. But people don’t get along with the other side, and many people have talked about filter bubbles, and you get access to biased information, and all these different things. But one solution is, “Hey, if we just learned about the other side, if we just connected with people on the other side, then we’d be more moderate, we’d come around.”

And so, sociologists from Duke actually tested this, they said, “Look, I’m going to take people on Twitter, I’m going to pay them a little bit of money to follow a bot for a month, and that bot is going to be on the opposite side of the political spectrum as them.” It’s exactly what all the commentators and pundits have said, “Look, if we just reach across the aisle, just talk to a couple Republicans, if you’re a Democrat, vice versa if you’re a Republican, that’ll make everybody more moderate.” They said, “Look, if we just give people information, we’re not trying to convince anyone, just give them information about what the other side thinks, hopefully, that’ll make them more moderate.”

And you can think about this in a variety of other contexts as well, right? If I just give that boss more information about what I want, if I give the client more information, they should listen. And the hope was simply that information about the other side would move people to the middle but that’s not, unfortunately, what he found. It wasn’t that it moved people to the middle, and it wasn’t even that it had no effect. Giving people information about what the other side thought actually pushed them in the opposite direction. It backfired.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Those jerks,” villainized them more for how wrong they are.

Jonah Berger
In some sense, right, they made Republicans become more conservative, and the Liberals move in the opposite direction as well. And, essentially, why? It was too far from where people are at the moment. Research shows that we have a sort of a latitude acceptance or zone of acceptance around our beliefs or our attitudes. Sure, we believe a certain thing, but we’re willing to move a few yards in another direction.

Think about a football field, right, we move five or ten yards in one direction, maybe five or ten in another, but we won’t go completely on the other side of the field because on the other side of the field is that region of rejection. It’s that set of opinions, or information, or beliefs that we are unwilling even to consider. We’re unwilling to pay attention to them, and this is sort of ideas of the confirmation bias. And even when we do pay attention to them, we discount it or we don’t believe it because it’s too far from where we are.

And so, the question really is, “How can we shrink that distance, make it not seem so far away from where people are at the moment?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, okay, so let’s get an example here. Boy, what’s something that people can really…hey, how about abortion, right? There is some distance. So, one side could say, “Hey, this is a human life and you’re murdering it or him or her, that’s not cool.” And the other side would say, “No, you’re enslaving women. You’re trying to bring them back to the dark ages in which they’re subservient to men. This is unjust.” Okay, so we got a whole lot of distance. I’m throwing you in the deep end, Jonah.

Jonah Berger
You are.

Pete Mockaitis
If one side or the other is trying to gain some ground, how might we present things to have less distance?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, so I’m going to cheat here. I’m going to take an easy out at the beginning and then we’ll work our way back around abortion.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Jonah Berger
So, I would say a first place to start is to do what I call asking for less. And so, I think an easy way to think about this is a doctor that I was talking to. So, often, when we want people to change, we ask for too much. The information is too far away. In the abortion case, for example, we want someone to go from pro-choice to pro-life right away. We want people to switch sides, one to the other right away. We want big change to happen right away.

And the doctor was actually dealing with something similar. She had this truck driver she was working with that was morbidly obese, so he was like 100 pounds or more overweight, part of the reason why, he was drinking three liters of Mountain Dew a day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man.

Jonah Berger
He was drinking in that truck hub all day long. He’d buy Mountain Dew.

Pete Mockaitis
Got to stay awake.

Jonah Berger
Yeah, got to stay awake, got to have something to drink, so he was drinking three liters of Mountain Dew. And so, what’s our knee-jerk reaction in that situation?

Pete Mockaitis
“That’s disgusting. You have to stop that now.”

Jonah Berger
Yeah, “Don’t drink anymore Mountain Dew,” right? If we want someone to exercise, “You exercise every day.” We want someone to switch from one side of the field to the other, which is great for us but it’s probably not going to work for them. If you’re talking to a guy that’s drinking three liters of Mountain Dew a day, telling him to quit cold turkey is probably going to fail.

And so, she tried something else instead. Rather than asking him to quit cold turkey, she said, “Hey, you’re drinking three liters of Mountain Dew a day. You can keep drinking some Mountain Dew, but drink two instead of three, and take one of those empty bottles and fill it up with water.” He grumbled, he didn’t want to do it obviously, he wasn’t interested in moving at all, but he was willing to try. He lost a little weight. He came back next time. She said, “Okay, great. Now you’re at two, move to one.” Came back a few months later, had made it to one, then she said, “Great.” Eventually moved to zero.

And by using this sort of step-wise function, not asking for all at once, but asking for less and then asking for more, she was able to get him to change. And so, asking for less isn’t about saying, “Hey, I’m only going to ask for less,” it’s about starting with less and then asking for more. Moving people five yards down the field, and then moving them another five yards.

If you talk to product designers, they often call this something like stepping stones. If you’re introducing a new version of a product or a new version of a service, I, a few years ago, was working with Facebook to introduce a new hardware project, and they were dealing with exactly this. They’re saying, “Okay, we’re going to introduce something. It’s very different from what people are used to. How can we introduce this new thing? If it’s too different, they’re going to say no, they don’t want to do it.”

And so, what we ended up doing instead is rather than going for the full thing right away, asking people to move to a completely new thing, let’s pick something that’s just a little bit from where they are currently, introduce that version. Then, once people have gotten used to it, move to the next version, and move to the next one. And so, in some sense, it’s almost like called stepping stones because it’s like a river. When you ask someone to change, it’s like a big river, they don’t want to cross from one side to the other, “It’s to far. I’m going to get wet. I don’t want to do it.”

So, instead, you say, “Okay, well, just jump to this little stone, and then jump to this next stone, then jump to this next stone. And you jump a few times and you’re across to the other side.” And so, rather than asking for too much right away, start by asking for less, chunk that change and then ask for more.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s handy. And so then, in the challenging example I threw your way with abortion, it might be just a matter of a stepping stone might be not so much changing your view but just accepting that the other side is not evil and trying to commit these atrocities against women or tiny babies, but rather that they are mistaken or they have a different perspective, and that’s some distance that you’ve reduced. You’re still quite a distance away but it’s something.

Jonah Berger
Yeah. There’s a great Heineken ad that does something exactly like what you’re suggesting where they take the people that completely disagree and they have them have a conversation. So, they take, for example, a feminist and someone who hates feminism. They take someone who hates transgender people and someone who is a transgender, and so on, people that really disagree. And what they do is they have them essentially build a bar. They get together, they go through a variety of activities, they build a bar, and at the end, they showed them a video of the other person, and the other person saying all the things that they believe.

So, the feminist says, “Oh, women are important,” and the feminist hater says, “Oh, women’s job is at the home,” and they see what the other person is, and then they say, “Okay, now that you know who this person is, do you still want to be friends with them?” And I think what that does, it’s slightly different than asking for less. What it does is it switches the field. Rather than starting with something like abortion where two sides are dug in on opposite sides of the field and they’re unlikely to agree and move, it switches the field to a dimension where they’re more similar in the first place.

Pete Mockaitis
We both like drinking beer.

Jonah Berger
We both like drinking beer, right? We both hang out. We both care about our families. We both care about America being a great country. Or in an organizational context, right? Sure, you might not want to do what I want but we both want the company to succeed. I think a good way to think about it, imagine you’re sitting in front of graph paper. You can draw that field on the X-axis, there’s one end zone, there’s another end zone, you can make the tick marks along the way. But at the 50-yard line, you draw a vertical line, there’s a Y-axis which is another dimension where you might actually have a lot in common, that even if you’re on different ends of the X-axis, you’re actually at the same point on the Y-axis, you’re exactly in the middle.

And so, by switching that field by starting with common ground, starting with something we have in common, a place where we don’t disagree, and using that to then eventually build around to that place where there’s more disagreement, we’re going to be more successful because now you humanized the person. You’re not just, “Oh, this faceless person who believes something I don’t believe. We have a little bit in common. We both care about our families. We realize we have emotional connections to the things we love. I’m going to see you more as a human. You’re going to see me more as a human. And then we’re more likely to be persuaded at the end of the day.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’m digging it. So, Jonah, let’s just keep it going. Uncertainty, lay it on.

Jonah Berger
So, we talked a little bit about switching costs before, but just to make that really concrete, if I’m asking an organization to change company culture, there’s some costs to doing that. There’s an incentive structure that was, and now there’s a new one. When I ask a customer to buy a new project, they have to spend money or time or energy to install that new thing or get that new thing. And those are costs that often prevent change from happening. The old thing seems cheap, the new thing seems costly.

But the other problem with new things is that they have more uncertainty associated with them. Think about a new phone, for example. Not only do you have to pay more money to get that new phone. But when do you have to pay the cost and when do you get the benefit? The costs are up front, pay the money for that phone. Now, I have to go to AT&T and Verizon and switch my thing, and do this, and do that, and get all my information switched over. So, the costs are now and the benefits are later. Yes, it might be faster and lighter and have a better camera but I’m not going to get those until later, and those benefits are also uncertain.

Sure, this new way of doing company culture might be better, sure, this new project you’re suggesting might make us more money, but I don’t know if it’s going to. And if I don’t know, why am I going to be willing to switch? And that’s what I call the cost-benefit timing gap. Costs are certain and they’re upfront. Benefits are uncertain and they’re later, and people don’t like uncertainty. Think about the last time you were wondering if you’re going to be late for a meeting, for example. So, your flight is late or you’re stuck in a car in traffic, and you’re worried about missing this meeting. You’re so anxious you don’t know what you’re going to do. You feel terrible. You hate this concern about missing the meeting.

What’s interesting is the worst thing that can happen is missing the meeting. And so, if you know that you’re going to miss that meeting, you should feel what? You should feel worse because that’s the worst thing that can happen. But often, notice what happens, we figure out we’re going to miss that meeting, and then what ends up happening?

Pete Mockaitis
You’re relieved.

Jonah Berger
You actually feel good. Relief. You feel better.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Okay, what am I going to do now? I’ll communicate something to somebody and make it up somehow.”

Jonah Berger
Yeah, now that I know, I’m going to solve it. And so, in some sense, it’s not just missing the meeting that’s bad, it’s that uncertainly. And so, in a product context, in a sales context, in organizational context, uncertainty often leads us to hit the pause button. We don’t know whether the new thing is going to be better or worse. And given we don’t know, it’s safest to do nothing, which is great for the status quo, which is great for what we’re doing already, but it’s terrible for new things. And so, to really then get people to overcome that uncertainty, that anxiety, we have to make it easier for them to experience the value of that new thing.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m with you. And I think this connects so much in terms of I’m thinking about how people try to sell me something, and it’s just like, “All I really need to know is that it’s really going to do the thing that you say it’s going to do. And so, maybe you can alleviate that with a demo or…” usually I want hard data that they can never give me in terms of, “Oh, you have a marketing service. Well, can you tell me the cost per acquired customer for a population of people who are selling something very similar to what I’m selling?” Like, “No, we can’t.”

So, anyways, maybe I’m jumping the gun. I think, “Hey, demos, data,” but you tell me, what are the best ways to address and reduce uncertainty?

Jonah Berger
Yeah, demos and data are close. And so, I think I love to start with an idea that many of us may have heard of before, and that is the notion of freemium. So, take a company like Dropbox, which many of your listeners are probably familiar with, a storage place for files and so on. When Dropbox came out, they had a great technology, but the challenge is people were scared of it. They didn’t know whether it would be better than what they’d done already. They were used to doing things a particular way. “Where is that cloud? Where are my files going to be? If I’ve worked hours on this Word document, I don’t want to lose it.” And so, they were unwilling to make the change.

And so, Dropbox could’ve done advertising, they could’ve bought Google search words, but what they did instead is they gave it away for free. And you might be sitting there going, “What do you mean? Give it away for free?” Any kid who’s ever run a lemonade stand, to the most seasoned business executive, knows that giving away something for free is not a way to build a business, yet Dropbox has built a billion-dollar business giving away things for free. How did they do that?

And so, what they did is they didn’t give away everything for free. They gave away a version for free and then created a premium version and encouraged people to upgrade to it. So, in Dropbox’s case, for example, they gave away 2GB, or something like that, of storage for free. They said, “Look, sure there’s switching costs, you have your files on your computer, it’s going to take time and effort to upload them, but let’s at least try to mitigate that monetary costs by making the upfront costs free.” So, you can put files on Dropbox until you get to 2GB. Once you get to 2GB though, you’re faced with a choice, “Do I upgrade to premium version or not? Do I want more space, more features or not?”

And what’s really nice about something like freemium is rather than Dropbox telling you how great it is, just like that marketing service that you were talking to, of course they’re going to say it’s great. No marketing service is going to say, “Oh, yeah, you know, well, we’re not so great.” So, you can’t really believe them. But in Dropbox’s case, you have to believe because you’re the one who’s been using it. You’re the one that’s uploaded all your files to it. And so, when they come around and they say, “Hey, can you throw us a couple bucks to get more space,” you say, “Well, I know it’s good. I’ve resolved that uncertainty myself. I’ve convinced myself.”

And so, there are dozens, if not hundreds of other businesses that have leveraged this notion of freemium, creating a free version of a product or service, and then encouraging people to upgrade to the premium. If you think about Pandora, there’s an ad-free version. If you think about Skype, there’s a premium version. Think about LinkedIn, there’s a premium version. And so, what all these things have done is they’ve lowered that upfront costs to allow people to experience whether something is good or not, and then if they like it, they encourage you to upgrade to the premium. So, you have to figure out the right way to leverage freemium, I think that’s at least one idea to lower that barrier of trial and reduce uncertainty.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that does make a lot of sense to me. And anyway, I guess, you can give people a taste of things, like whether you make a good sketch, or a model, or a prototype, or a 3D world so they can put on the headset and see, “Oh, that’s what you mean,” so that uncertainty diminishes as it becomes more real and a part of something that they’ve experienced.

Jonah Berger
Yeah. I mean, think about test drives, for example. So, I often talk about freemium with clients of mine, and I’ll talk to somebody who’s an online software as a service company, they say, “Great. Freemium. I got it. Let’s do it.” But then I’ll talk to somebody that sells offline goods. So, maybe they’re a fleet management company, or maybe they’re a doctor, or maybe they’re a hospital and they say, “Freemium is great, but if I’m selling a physical thing, I can’t do freemium.” The idea of freemium though is a lot larger than freemium. The idea is, just as you said, “How can I make it easier for people to experience the offering?”

So, think about something like test drives for cars. There’s a not a free in a freemium. You get to test drive a car. It doesn’t make the price of the car any cheaper. The amount of money that’s going to cost to buy that Acura is still the same. All the test drive does, it allows you to figure out whether the value of it is actually worth paying the money. It allows you to experience some sense of what it’s like even though it’s not freemium.

And so, what that chapter talks all about is, “How can we lower the upfront costs by using things like test drives, or freemium, or other ways? How can we lower the backend costs, making things reversible?” Free returns, in the case of online buying. Lawyers often say, “Hey, we only get paid if you win,” so, again, reducing that uncertainty that it’s going to work, or even things like drive and discovery where you bring the trial to people so they experience it themselves even if they don’t think they’re interested, bringing it to them and allowing them to see how good it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool.

So, Jonah, if you could maybe give us an example that brings this all together, or maybe just even a few of the elements together in terms of there’s a professional, they’re looking to make a change, and they astutely utilized multiple levers in their appeal and made magic happen. Can you lay one on us?

Jonah Berger
There are many examples in the book that touch on individual aspects of this. I think, since we’re talking about uncertainty, I’ll just give one more about uncertainty specifically that I think is a fun one, and this is what I put under the sort of drive discovery bucket.

And that is sometimes people don’t know that they like what you’re offering. So, sometimes you’re trying to get them to do something but they don’t know you exist or they don’t think they like you, they’re going to be unwilling to change. So, if your boss, for example, has never heard of a certain thing, or you’re a challenger brand in the space, a client doesn’t know you exist, they’re going to be unlikely to change their mind, and so, I think this can be a great way to solve the problem.

There was this guy, his name was Jacek, he’s Polish, he works for Santander Bank, and, essentially, he wants to get his boss to buy into customer service or the customer experience. So, in the United States, we know all about surprise and delight. We have our best customers, we surprise them, we greet them by name. You check into our hotel; we give you your own pillow. You call customer service; we know it’s you. But it hasn’t been applied in banking as much and hadn’t made its way to Europe.

And so, Jacek would sit there going, “Look, this could be great in banking. Customers like us but they don’t love us. I’m sure we’re smiling at them when they walk in the door but we need to build that deeper connection. And so, he tells his boss, “Look, we got to do this,” and his boss says, “Ahh, no, thanks.” He says, “Look, boss, all these people are doing it.” And the boss says, “No, look, we’re banking. We’re not hotels, we’re not online retailers. People in banking care only about the rates.” So, Jacek brings a consultant, they make presentations after presentations, his boss still isn’t convinced.

So, he’s sitting there, going, “Okay, I can’t push my boss. If I tell my boss what to do, he’s not going to listen.” And so, he’s like, “Well, how can I help my boss experience the value of what I’m offering? How can I put him in the situation and the management team in the situation of what I’m trying to get them to do?” And so, he ends up doing slightly different. Rather than having another meeting where he talks about the value of customer experience, he instead collects a bunch of information from his boss and the management team. So, he finds out their birthday, their anniversary, how many days they’ve been with the company, when they’re going on trips, and so on.

And then what he does over the next couple months is he celebrates these things. So, if someone’s anniversary, he sends them a nice note. If it’s their two years of working with the company, they get a wonderful card signed by everyone saying how great it is that they’ve been with the organization. Someone goes hiking, somebody knits them a hat. Someone’s child gets in a car accident, they raise them money. And so, all these things are basically putting the management team in the shoes of what it’s like to be part of a customer experience initiative.

Then the next time they have a meeting, Jacek is sort of tentative to bring it up, but he says, “Hey, what do you guys think?” And nobody says, “Hey, I don’t think it’ll work,” because they’ve all experienced it. They all know what it’s like to be cared about as a customer because they’ve been sitting through it. And that’s an example of what I put under uncertainty of drive and discovery. Rather than forcing people to come to you and take that test drive, how can you bring the test drive to them? How can you put them in a situation of what you want them to do so they experience the value themselves and they can’t help but say yes because they’ve seen it for themselves and they’re the best ones to judge whether they’re going to like something or not?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I like that a lot. Thank you. So, I assume that they accepted his proposal after all of that.

Jonah Berger
Oh, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Jonah Berger
You know, it’s funny they not only accepted his proposal, they’ve promoted him to be director of customer experience for a large number of banks, and it has lived on not only in that location but a number of others. He’s really helped bring that approach to a whole industry that hadn’t seen it before.

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

Jonah Berger
I think that’s it. We covered many of the barriers in the book. I think, to me, the main takeaway in the book is really start to notice those roadblocks, those obstacles, figure out how to mitigate them, and then those five are at least a place to start for some of them.

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

Jonah Berger
“Do what you love and love what you do.” And I found it quite motivating to remember both that you want to love what you’re doing, but also sometimes it takes a little bit of work, and you’ve got to be willing to put that work in to love whatever it is that you’re doing.

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

Jonah Berger
I’ll tell you an example of a recent favorite. They looked at the visual similarity between paintings to figure out how novel and how influential certain paintings are, and to figure out how correlated those are with the value of painting.

So, they do things like looking at what someone paints, what style they paint, and how similar or different it is from prior folks, to look at what drives value. And so, a lot of the research I’m doing at the moment is really natural language, or image processing, pulling behavioral insight from textual image-based data. And I thought this study was just amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Huh. And so, they found something, I imagine, or otherwise it wouldn’t be…

Jonah Berger
They did, yeah. They’re looking at sort of how novelty or similarity is related to value. We actually did something similar in songs. We looked at how similar songs are to their genres, to how similar a given song is to other songs. In that genre, we found that songs that are more atypical that sing about things that are more differentiated from their genre are more successful. So, country songs, not surprisingly, sing a lot about girls and cars, but country songs that sing about different themes than usual end up being higher on the Billboard Charts.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Jonah Berger
Oh, it would be a copout to say The Catalyst which is my new one, so I’ll say a different favorite book, which is a book called A Matter of Taste. It’s all about baby names and how we can use baby names to understand culture. It’s an amazing, not only a fun read, but just an interesting lens on the world itself.

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

Jonah Berger
I would just say research. It’s a broad Swiss Army knife of a tool. But I would say no particular technology, just research in general, being curious about the world and trying to quantify it.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit, something you do that helps you to be awesome at your job?

Jonah Berger
God, I think, scheduling is so important. You talked to this a little bit earlier about sort of outsourcing things. To me, it’s really about finding time for the big stuff, making sure that you know when something is a pebble and a boulder, not only doing the pebbles first because they’re easy, but making sure you make time for the big things, otherwise they’ll never get done.

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

Jonah Berger
I can’t say that that’s true. I would hope that something from one of the books, whether it’s word of mouth, only 7% of it is online, or hopefully some day soon, one thing from the book The Catalyst.

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

Jonah Berger
So, a great place to find me online is my website, just JonahBerger.com. I’m also on LinkedIn and on Twitter @j1berger.

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

Jonah Berger
Yeah, I think if I’ve learned anything from this new book, it’s that we are almost oblivious to these barriers. We’re blind to these obstacles. And so, I think my challenge would be to figure out why something hasn’t changed. Whatever it is you want to change, whether it’s a person, whether it’s an organization, whatever it might be, start looking for those obstacles. Don’t be blind to the barriers. Start to see them. And if not, ask about them, and use that to drive change. If you don’t understand why change is happening or not, if you can’t find the root, it’s going to be really hard to change minds in action.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jonah, this has been lots of fun. I wish you a bunch of luck with The Catalyst and all your adventures.

Jonah Berger
Thanks so much.

548: How to Get Your Points Across Clearly with Davina Stanley

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Davina Stanley says: "Think first."

Davina Stanley shares expert strategies for communicating with greater clarity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why so many business presentations miss the mark
  2. The three-step “So what?” strategy
  3. The seven storyline patterns and when to use them

About Davina:

Davina Stanley has helped professionals communicate complex ideas clearly for more than 20 years. She offers a structured, ‘go to’ process that helps people think through their messaging so their good ideas get the traction they deserve.

She started coaching others when she joined McKinsey’s Hong Kong office as a communication specialist and has continued to help professionals of all stripes across many countries since then.

More recently she, along with her business partner, have published their first book The So What Strategy, which offers the seven most commonly used storyline patterns they see professionals use at work.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Divina Stanley Interview Transcript

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

Davina Stanley
My pleasure, Pete. Lovely to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. But, first, I wanted to hear a bit, your career has had some interesting turns, and it started with potato farming in Australia. What’s the story here?

Davina Stanley
It did. I grew up on a potato farm, actually, in the country. And the beauty of that is that you have to constantly solve problems without having the resources that you need. And so, it was just a really great place to grow up, but a really big contrast to where I ended up. So, I ended up marrying someone who wanted to live overseas, and he wanted to be a banker, so we lived in Hong Kong, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and then back to Australia again. So, we have been not quite everywhere but a lot of places, which is quite different to the sort of life that I started out with. It’s so fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, if you lived on a potato farm, does that mean you eat potatoes all the time, because I love potatoes?

Davina Stanley
Well, at the moment, I do too but I’m a bit conflicted because, at the moment, I don’t eat a lot of carb at all, so, I don’t know. I haven’t told my dad that though. I think he’d be thoroughly mortified. I think he’d be devastated.

Pete Mockaitis
Make sure he doesn’t listen.

Davina Stanley
We grew up on a diet of Sunday nights testing the load before it went to the potato chip factory, so dinner on a Sunday night, particularly during winter, was potato chips and donuts because you had the oil out, right? So, totally different than what I do now.

Pete Mockaitis
Potato chips and donuts.

Davina Stanley
Jam donuts.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man, as a child it’s a dream come true.

Davina Stanley
We thought that. We thought that. We just had to look at the potatoes and there are the chips, or fries, as you probably call them, and make sure that there were no green or black bits. It’s just there was too much sugar in them. That was our job. Test them. You see, that was the whole point, it was not just cheap food or bribery for the children. It was actually, there was a method, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Davina Stanley
Are they still good to send to the factory? Hmm.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool and that’s fun. And I remain a huge potato enthusiast as well as a communications enthusiast, which is your cup of tea nowadays, and really for more than 20 years here. So, you worked in McKinsey as a communications specialist. Can you tell us what does that mean and what are you doing now?

Davina Stanley
So, as a communications specialist, my job was to be all across a technique called structured thinking that we used, particularly, in our role in a communication setting. So, we use a very structured approach to either help consultants come up with the stories that they needed to tell their clients, perhaps it was an update, perhaps it was the strategy at the end of a piece of communication, or also when working directly with clients, we would sometimes go in and be embedded in a team and work with a client to develop a communications strategy. So, we would be using those techniques to help consultants engage and really communicate complex information to any kind of audience that they needed to communicate to. So, we were internal consultants to the consultants really.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Consulting consultants on how to consult.

Davina Stanley
Yeah, a little bit. Exactly. And, look, it was really fun, it was really challenging. And so, I worked there for a few years in the Hong Kong office, and then my husband and I moved to New York, and I was offered a full-time position there but it was full time or no time, and I arrived six months pregnant with the one-year old on my hip, so I decided maybe that was a good time to take a break.

So, I took a bit of a break and we renovated the house and so on. And  then when we moved further on in our adventure, I just freelanced for the firm for a long time and I was helping run training sessions, I worked for the marketing practice, I did a whole lot of things, anything where I could help the teams or the firm in terms of communication.

So, I kept doing that and it just sort of gradually built it as my family has grown older and I’ve had more freedom. I’ve built it into something larger.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is fascinating. And I want to hear, when it comes to, you know, McKinsey consultants are amongst the smartest professionals in their way, or our way. I’m former Bainy, so we share some of the brand parts.

Davina Stanley
We do. We share a bit of a passion here, around the structure, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
But I’d love to hear from you. So, given that, so even super smart folks, what communications mistakes did you see that they made repeatedly, like you could just bank on, “Okay, we’re going to have fix A, B, and C”?

Davina Stanley
All right, so there’s a few things. I think, firstly, it’s spending a lot of time on the analysis, and you should spend a lot of time on the analysis, but leaving that a bit too long and allowing too little time to prepare the communication so that there’s the risk that all these great ideas you’ve got don’t translate to the audience. So, finding a way to perhaps marry the analysis together with the communication planning, or just allow a bit more time to really think through the messaging and synthesize. So, I think anyone who’s really close to some things, smart people or not, struggle to get just a bit of separation from it so that they can perhaps get up in the helicopter and see what really matters here. So, I think that’s one thing.

And I think, again, in this, I see it at McKinsey and other places too, where people are bidding clients to overemphasize the analyses and underemphasize the communication. So, similar thing but it’s just about, “Oh, what do I think really matters?” Actually, forgetting that communication matters quite a bit. So, that’s one thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, you’ve sort of captured many of your ideas in your book The So What Strategy. What does that mean, the so what strategy?

Davina Stanley
So, I think we heard so many of our clients, people that we work with, saying things like, “You know, I presented to the leadership team, and I had prepared so hard, and I’d rehearsed, and I was so organized. I’d really invested in it and I went and I presented. Then, at the very end, the CEO or the leader, turned around and said, ‘Well, so are we in good shape or what’s the main thing here?’ and they just got lost in all of the detail.” And I think there’s something there that we saw happening time and time again, and people just didn’t really know how to go about distilling the messages.

And yet, when Gerard, my business partner and I would work on something together, we’d be listening to someone telling us their story. And we were talking with each other, and we realized, “Well, it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it, it’s that one or it’s that one? It’s this pattern. It looks like that or it looks like that.” It’s pretty quick for us to come up with a skeleton.

And so, we thought, “Well, perhaps a way we can really help people is simplify the structured communication discipline, the rules, like put it into a process that we naturally use,” because we’ve just done it for so long.

And when we sat down and worked through them all, we thought, well, it looks to us like there’s about seven patterns that we see being used most commonly in the business communication that we work in. And when I say business, I mean professional. It could be consulting, it could be business, it could be government.

Pete Mockaitis
I see. So, well, then we got seven different common storyline patterns, and then you said there’s also a process. So, maybe can we hear the process first and then learn a bit about what are those patterns?

Davina Stanley
Sure. So, we talk about a three-phase process. First of all, design your strategy, secondly, develop your storyline, and then, thirdly, deliver your communication. So, most people jump straight to the deliver piece, “How can I write that PowerPoint? How can I build those charts? How can I write the paper?” So, we’re saying, “Hang on. Let’s become more conscious and structured in those steps that come before that.”

And so, design your strategy is all about being really clear about your purpose for this particular piece of communication, getting really dialed in as to what specifically you want from a particular piece of communication, and then understand your audience. Well, that’s, “Let’s go appropriately deep.” If it’s an email, you’re not going to go as deep as you are if it is, let’s say, a mergers pitch or something, so it’s scalable. But you’re going to go quite deep in understanding who your audience is, and what their hot buttons are, and really getting to understanding them very well.

So, you bring those together and then think also about your process. Who do you need to involve in the process of engaging other stakeholders in your journey? So, you’ve got that sort of set before you start. And then, once you’re fairly clear on that, you may iterate back, but fairly clear on that. Then it’s time to start mapping out your storyline. And we’ve built on other parts that I think you’d be familiar with, The Pyramid Principle, which was developed at McKinsey by a woman called Barbara Minto. And we’ve taken what she’s got there, and said, “Okay, how do we make this really practical and easy for people to use?” And we’ve altered the language a bit to really help people work out what the elements are for an introduction.

And, interestingly, the strategy and then the introduction, which might only be a couple of lines in your whole communication, can take quite a big proportion of the amount of time it takes to prepare the whole thing. But you’re sort of leading to that single question you want your audience to ask, and then working out what that answer is, and you’re stating that in a sentence.

So, when I was talking about people getting stuck in the detail, they very rarely have that single message that they need to convey, and they even, less regularly, have that next layer below it, which we described as being a grouping of ideas either as a least or structured to that logic. So, there’s some rules and some principles, and we’ve built a 10-point test to help people evaluate whether their ideas fit in the right place. We’re just very strong believers that if the thinking is clear, if the synthesis is strong, then you’ll engage even if you’re not very confident, or your chance aren’t beautiful, or your prose isn’t perfect. If your thinking is really clear, and you can synthesize your message, it’s really powerful.

So, we encourage people to map that out on a single page, and in a particularly structured way, use that to test with stakeholders what their thinking is at the high level before you build anything, which changes the dynamic in the workflow and the stakeholder engagement quite substantially, and reduces the rework, because, by the time you go to prepare your communication in that last stage of delivering your communication, so much of the work is done. It’s actually really fast to prepare whatever it is that you need to prepare.

So, it’s about being really intentional about those three steps. We draw them in a triangle because we think they’re iterative, and it’s a storyline that’s a shape like a triangle, to help people have a process to use themselves, but also when they’re collaborating. It’s much easier to collaborate.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah. So, while you’re on your one page, at the top we have the question we want them to be asking and the answer to that question.

Davina Stanley
We have even a tiny bit before that, we have the introduction which we call the context and the trigger, and that leads to that single question, and then the main message, and then the supporting argument underneath, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, do you have a particular recommendation in terms of just how many supporting arguments do you want? Is too few too many? What do you say?

Davina Stanley
Absolutely. Two to five, so never just one, otherwise you’ve got just one point, so one dot point. Never do that. Don’t do that. But no more than five if you can possibly help it. And if you are using a deductive structure, then it shouldn’t be more than three.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, deductive, can you define that for listeners?

Davina Stanley
So, it’s a way of building a case. So, it allows you to put forward your reasoning in classic logic language with a major premise followed by a minor premise, something that comments on the original point. But together, those two points, the first two, lead you to the third one, which will be, “Therefore, we should do something. And here’s the set of things we should do.” So, you’re always building a case towards a set of actions. And so, that’s enormously powerful when you’ve got to persuade people that a set of actions is the right set of actions to take. Like a business case or we need to change their mind about something and get them to act in the same engagement.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so could you maybe give us an example where we sort of affix these terms, these concepts, these labels, to some actionable verbiage or argument, bullet points, so we could sort of see how it all goes together?

Davina Stanley
Yeah, absolutely. So, perhaps if we talk about option stories because people, professionals, are often needing to put forward a set of options in terms of the way something might be handled. So, let’s say there’s a new computer system needs to be installed, and there might be a few different ways in which that could be done, and somebody has a view in mind that a particular path, maybe using a particular external vendor is the way to go, but, at the same time, they know that the leadership wants to see evidence that they’ve really considered a range of different ways of doing this, and they want to see their reasoning before they actually go and agree that this external vendor is the right way to go.

So, we’d be using what we call a “to be or not to be” pattern most likely, which is a deductive one. We’ve tried to give the patterns names so they’re memorable rather than just being deductive options, deductive or something. So, to be or not to be, so your main thought there would be that the big idea that overarches all of it would be, “Let’s hire a vendor X to install this system over the next six months,” or something like that.

And then the first point, the first of those three points that sits underneath, might be something like, “Look, we’ve looked at a whole lot of different ways that we might implement this software system,” and then you’d be going in and saying, “Well, we decided to investigate vendor X because they know our business really well, and they’re trusted by us. We decided to explore doing it ourselves because we thought it made sense to see whether we could do it internally, and we decided to explore another vendor because they’ve also got a good relationship with the bank,” let’s say their organization. So, you might explain why each one of those three is something worth considering.

And then in the next limb of the story, in that minor premise piece, you say, “However, we think vendor X is the best way to go.” And then underneath that, you’d be running through your criteria as to why you think that is the best way to go, and saying why they’re good and why the others ones are not going to be so fit for purpose. And so, by the end of that one, you’d want your audience to be in a place going, “Okay, that makes terrific sense. I’ve been able to discuss with you the pros and cons of this. I understand your thinking. I agree with you. So, okay, we should get vendor X. How do we do that?” And then they’d be ready to hear from you the set of steps that are there.

In fact, this is something that business leaders often talk to us about, about the lack of reasoning that people put forward. They very often go straight to, and you asked earlier about some of the challenges that I see consultants and others experiencing. And one of those would be the lack of why and not building the case, just saying, “Hey, we should have vendor X, and here’s how we should do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
“Well, is that just your opinion and you just like the guy over there, vendor X, and you think he’s funny. What are you working with there?”

Davina Stanley
Yeah, “Is he your brother-in law?” I mean, why? Why do it? And I think part of that comes from all of us when we’re working on something, we’ve got to a certain point in our thinking and our work. So, somebody’s gone through the process, they’ve analyzed their options, they’ve thought about it carefully, they’ve made a decision that they believe is the right thing, and so in their mind they’re ready to say, “Look, let’s just go. We’re ready. I’m impatient. I want get this thing done,” and they just forget that the audience is in a different place, and that’s why in our process, we really encourage people to drill into their purpose and their audience because it could be that when communicating something like that, actually you’ve got to come to the leadership group a couple of times.

If it’s a really big spend, you’ve got to take them on a journey, and so you’ve got to be really aware of where the audience is on that. Do they just need to agree with you that these are the right things to explore? Because, actually, in your situation, analyzing all the options is a big piece of work. And if you do that, that means you’re not doing something else. So, maybe because of the amount of time that’s required, they want you to actually come to them and say, “Look, we think this project is worth investigating or these options are worth considering. Do you agree they’re the right options? Great. You agree they’re the right options. We’ll go away, we’ll do our analyses, and spend a month doing the analyses, or whatever is involved.”

So, design your strategy piece is really important in that regard.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And it’s interesting, as you convey that sort of what we want them to take away, it’s like, “Wow, you really thought this through. You’ve done your homework, you’ve done the research, the investigation, the analyses.” And it’s funny, as I’m imagining you telling the story with slides, it’s like I would love to see, I don’t know, like a funnel or something which is like, “Hey, you know what, we looked at 34 potential vendors.” It’s like, “Oh, dang, that’s a lot of vendors.” “And we subjected them to these five key criteria. And, really, only two are worth looking at any further.” It’s like, “All right. I’m convinced. You’ve done some legwork and now I’m intrigued. Tell me about these two vendors that are pushing all the right buttons.”

Davina Stanley
Exactly. Exactly. So, you would use a very different structure for your story when you’re going to that initial conversation about, “Hey, let’s explore these options,” versus, “Let’s implement the recommendation.” So, that’s where the patterns come into play too. And we’ve put them on a handy little card, actually, where we’ve got the seven, and it’s on the centerfold in the book so that you can see them all on the one page.

And what we find people doing is just knowing they’ve got to do a piece of communication that matters enough to really think hard about it, and then open it up and just look at the different options. Just looking at the patterns, I think, helps them say, “Well, it could be that or it could be that,” and it gives them a place to start, and it also helps frame their thinking. So, it’s like that situation I relayed where we came out with the name “So What.” So, what does this mean? You don’t want to be in a position where you are being picked apart by your audience. So, when you’re presenting something that matters to someone more senior, the last thing I think you want is to have your proposition pulled apart and to be asked to go away because your thinking isn’t strong enough.

So, the patterns provide you with a little bit of a framework too to help you think, “Well, actually, have I thought this through enough? Have I articulated this well enough?” If you work through the ten points in there, it’s a really good set of thinking tests to say, “Are my ideas meeting that?” Maybe you’re familiar with. X consultants are really familiar with this idea of are there any overlaps or any gaps, and is a complete set of ideas? Have I organized them well?” And if you apply that test really thoroughly, then all sorts of things pop out, it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, how did I miss that? I’ve got actions and reasons in the one list. Bad thing. They’re different. How do I fix that? What do I move? Do I change my message? Do I move things around?”

And you can imagine like sticky notes on a wall or something. And I see my clients do this where you put all your messages down, and you sort them all around, and move them about until they’re in the right spot. So, the patterns give you a bit of a framework for testing your thinking so you don’t get caught up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you mentioned 10 tests for thinking to say, “Have I done thoroughly enough?” So, could you share a couple more with us that tend to frequently yield insight?

Davina Stanley
We talked earlier about having a single question that overarches the whole story, it leads, it draws your audience in. So, if we’re to drill into that one particular thing, you’d want that question, which often doesn’t appear in the communication, it appears in your preparation, to be the audience’s question, not yours, which makes a very big difference to the story that comes underneath. You want it to be one single question. So, what does that mean? Well, if you’ve got the word “and” in it, that’s a red flag. Is it really a single idea?

So, being very precise about, “Is it the audience’s question? Is it the single question we want them to ask us? Is it a single question? Is it really just one or is it a long set of words, with a question mark at the end, that’s really an amalgamation of a whole lot of different things? Is it really just one? And have we distilled the highest-level question that we can then answer in a single sentence that will frame the whole story, not just part of it, but all of it?

So, getting quite disciplined about that, it pushes the thinking. And, I don’t know about you, but when I started working in this environment, I came from a creative environment, I was a kindergarten art teacher, of all things. I suspect I’m the only kindergarten teacher ever to be hired by McKinsey, but I stand to be corrected. I’d like to meet if there was someone else who’s also had that path. So, I learned about communicating in a fairly creative way. So, I learned from an Australian children’s author, a woman called Mem Fox, who has written the most stunning children’s books. I don’t know if you have children or not, but if you do, hunt down Possum Magic” and Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. They’re two really beautiful children’s books, and she’s a beautiful writer. And she taught a really creative way of finding the hook and building a story, which is part of what inspired me to transition from teaching into communication.

And that sort of message of finding the hook is absolutely relevant, but using structure and discipline is quite a different thing. And, certainly, when I started using it, I found it quite confining, like there are all these rules, and, oh, gosh, to have to obey all of them, that seems a little bit hard, and just feels like I’ve been put in some sort of box. But what I’ve learned is, by way of that example around the question, is that there’s such enormous value in constraints and how they push you to think and push you to be creative.

So, the creative part of me really rebelled against the structure for quite some time. But once I’ve came to see how liberating it was to actually have a framework to use and how much it pushed me to think and come up with clever solutions, I thought it started to be fun actually.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, so let’s have some fun talking about some of these other storyline patterns. So, we talked about “To be or not to be.” Could you give us maybe the one-minute or less version of how would you define each of these storyline patterns?

Davina Stanley
How would I define them?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, like “Action Jackson,” what’s that?

Davina Stanley
Yeah, “Action Jackson,” that’s an action plan. So, it’s where you have an overall idea and then a set of steps that you’re going to take. So, when you’re going to have your standup in the morning with your team, and you’re saying, “Hey, team, this is what we’re going to do today.” When it’s not controversial, “Action Jackson” is the one to use. So, a list of two to five actions that need to be done that are tied together with one overall message.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And “Close the gap.”

Davina Stanley
Close the gap? That’s a fantastic one when you need to help people think differently about something. So, it’s a deductive structure, so it’s got a similar overall archetype to the “to be or not to be” that we talked about before, and that’s for going to a situation where you need to educate your audience about how something works perhaps in the new world, perhaps some regulations have changed, or the environment has changed, there’s something they don’t know that you need them to understand before they can accept your recommendation. So, maybe, “Success requires us to meet these criteria. However, we only meet some of them, so we’ve got to close the gap, we’ve got to meet the rest.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Davina Stanley
How’s that sound?

Pete Mockaitis
I like it. And the “Houston, we have a problem”? How’s that one go?

Davina Stanley
Oh, this one is Gerard’s favorite, and he particularly loved working with a whole lot of bankers in Houston last year. They really loved that it was named after them, this is, “Houston, we have a problem.” And let me first begin with we’re not to use Houston. When you’re communicating with someone who created the problem, find another way to tell the story, just saying.

So, this one is fantastic when you need to educate your audience about the nature of the problem that exists. And so, “Hey, people, here, this is a real problem,” and convince them that it’s a problem, “However, we’ve found the cause,” and then you can talk through what caused the problem, “Therefore, let’s fix the cause.” So, it’s a really proactive story.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And “the pitch.”

Davina Stanley
The pitch. This one is fantastic for proposal and business cases too, where you’re putting forward a pitch to say, “Hey, here’s a great idea that you should implement. You should hire us if you’re a consultant,” or, “You should implement this new system,” or, “Do this this way.” And then what you’re doing underneath that is coming up with a list of reasons why that’s a really great thing to do.

And so, in the book we talk about four reasons, which I’ll quickly run through because I think they’re useful for people. Firstly, we understand the problem. Secondly, we’ve got a solution. Thirdly, we can deliver a solution, a resolve, talking about if you’re the right people. And then you can manage the risks because it’s always important to cover up on that. So, that’s a brilliant one for a classic consulting pitch but also for recommending something that ought to be done.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about the “traffic light”?

Davina Stanley
Traffic light is brilliant for updates. So, I think that’s a really common one and it’s really tempting for people to say, “Hey, we’ve been really busy. Here’s a long list of stuff we’ve done.” And leaders that I talked to really dislike that. So, using traffic light gives you a way of pretty simply grouping and sorting the ideas so that you can come up with an overall message. And, for example, if it’s good news, “Overall, we’re on track.” “Great. Why is that?” “Well, we’ve done all these things, we’ve started this, and we’ve got a plan for these.”

When someone goes into putting forward an update, let’s say, and they’re talking to their boss, their bosses will say to me, “Look, I love hearing what’s going on in my teams. I know they want lots of air time because they really want me to know exactly what’s going on in their world, but there are times when I just haven’t got time for that. If they can come in with that single message, everything is really good. They’ll just say ‘Thank you so much. Love your work. See you later.’”

By organizing ideas into a structure like that, you have the freedom so that when your audience doesn’t have time to hear the whole story, you can still get that big idea across. Whereas if you haven’t distilled the messages, you know the classic thing where you’re given half an hour or an hour to present, and you’re part of one of those revolving door days, maybe a steering committee sort of day, or a board day, or something like that, and person one comes in and person two and person three, and all these different people come in and present to a group.

And so, during the day, the time gets lost. And so, you perhaps thought you had 45 minutes, suddenly you’ve got 5 minutes. So, by having everything mapped out in a structure with a hierarchy like that, you can still get away with presenting because you’ve got the ideas. You don’t need to take them through all of the details before you get to the big point. And update for the classic for that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, and how about “watch out story”?

Davina Stanley
Watch out story, this one is fantastic when there is trouble ahead. So, you can imagine a ship sailing wrong, but at the same time is your opportunity to give the good news first, which is always nice. If you can genuinely give good news first, you want to do that, so, “We’ve been going well, however, there’s some risks ahead, therefore we should meet those risks. We should change course or whatever we need to do to address those.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that’s helpful as I’m sort of thinking about each of these. And I’d love to get your view on, could you maybe share an exciting case study or a story of someone who put all these together and saw cool results that they weren’t seeing when they weren’t doing this?

Davina Stanley
Sure. Sure. So, I was working with an infrastructure company toward the end of last year, and I’d worked with them for about a year, so I’d been over and ran a program and then come back a year later. And that’s a really nice thing to do in my world because we don’t always get to see the outcomes. Sometimes people will tell us or they’ll just say, “That was great,” but they won’t necessarily give us the concrete results.

So, in this case, I was working with a group of people for the second time just to give them a refresher. And a woman called Rebecca came in and we said, “How’s it all been going?” And she said, “Well, by changing, preparing the board papers that we need to prepare, and we do them every month for our area,” and they’re about leasing and finding opportunities, retail opportunities in an airport.

And so, she’d been preparing papers, which might say, “We should do a deal with this sort of retailer so that they should have shops in our airport or that sort of thing.” And the team had been spending a lot of time preparing their reports, but making that single change, which was to prepare a story using the one-pager, get the one-pager right, check it, test it first, and then prepare the paper later. By doing that, she said to me, they cut the amount of time taken to prepare those papers by 60%.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Davina Stanley
That’s 6-0. So, that was pretty exciting. Now, during that 12 months, she’d used a number of different stories, but “the pitch” I think was her favorite because she was often putting up a story that would say something that was pretty straightforward, that was something like, “We should get this book retailer into our buildings.” “Well, why is that?” “Well, they understand our business, they’ve got a great fit for the people who travel through our spaces. We can do what they deliver and we can manage the risks involved with bringing them in.” So, that was a really helpful one for her.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that is really cool and I love the savings on the time on doing anything, so that is cool.

Davina Stanley
Which stops you doing the boring stuff, the frustrating stuff. I think that thing that I like because it makes you feel so much better about your job.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think maybe one of my last questions here is when we talk about sort of the supporting reasons and evidence, I think often I see a big difference between how smart I judge someone to be, fair or unfair, I don’t know. If they give me excellent evidence versus not excellent evidence.

So, for example, I was looking at like an insurance policy, and I said, “Wait a second. In this language, it kind of makes it sound like you can weasel out of anything because anything could be an alleged breach of an implied contract. Like, isn’t that anything in the world?” And then they say, “Well,” and their response was, “Oh, no one has ever raised that before.” It’s like, “Well, that’s not convincing evidence that you pay out claims, you’re not going to leave me high and dry.”

Or, they’ll say, “Well, hey, we have a great financial rating.” It’s like, “Well, that’s just about your assets versus your liabilities. It doesn’t have anything to do with customer satisfaction or your actual record.” And so, I was like trying to help them out, “I’m trying to give you money. I want this insurance. Like, can you show me this or this or this?” And I had to find for myself like how they’re rated by the National or North American Insurance something organizations. It’s like, “Okay, so you actually have fewer complaints than others so that’s not bad.”

Anyway, I don’t know, so that’s my rant. It’s like I ask a question, and instead of getting excellent evidence, I get sort of a wimpy evidence. So, what is the difference? How can we give awesome supporting reasons?

Davina Stanley
Yeah, I think the key is to keep asking a question. So, if you have a list of reasons, so let’s take your example about insurance.
How do you do that? So, firstly, look at an idea that you’re putting up, “We provide storm insurance.” “Okay. Well, how do you provide storm insurance?” Ask yourself a question that that naturally poses, and then answer it. And then if you build it out like a tree, it’s easy to see what sits where underneath, “So, we provide storm insurance,” very relevant in Australia at the moment. “Well, how do you do that?” “We offer this kind and that kind and that kind.” “Well, okay, so within the first one that you’ve mentioned, how do you do that?”

So, you keep drilling in one question at a time, one cluster at a time, and just make sure there’s stuff that really belongs there that genuinely answers that sub-question, so you’ve got a hierarchy and you keep going down. Don’t stick with the platitudes. Make sure you do dig and make sure that the idea at the top doesn’t just say, “We provide storm insurance,” but, “We provide this kind of storm insurance to this kind of people.” Make sure those messages are really specific.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I think that’s probably the name of the game is to like stop and spend some time and think about it, because as I was going back and forth with this insurance broker, “Hey, nice job.” He’s fast in responding to those emails and gave me like a sentence or two, but it’s like, “Yeah, but that’s not really what I want.” So, ultimately, I went with a different insurer. Wah-wah, that’s what’s at stake.

Davina Stanley
Well, you know what, I had the very same conversation with my insurance provider yesterday, and I went and got another quote. So, I’m completely on the same page with you there. I think being specific but also your point there about avoiding. And I see this being a real challenge in corporates now with Slack and these messaging services are being used a lot. It’s this constant flick, flick, flick, flick, flick rather than, “Hang on, stop a sec. What are they really asking here? What’s at the heart of that question? Why are they really asking that?”

And if you can put yourself in their shoes just for a moment, say, “Actually, I know they’re asking that but that’s a symptom of what they really need,” and address what they really need while including the symptom just in case you’re wrong, I think that’s part of the game, isn’t it, to stop these endless chains of conversation in Slack and email and so on that go off on tangents.

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

Davina Stanley
Oh, anything else I would like to mention. I’d just say that I think people are not natural-born communicators very often. I think when they’ve got complex things to say, actually it is something that requires practice but it can be done by anyone.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Davina Stanley
So, the idea of being a natural-born communicator perhaps speaks a bit more to charisma and to presence than it does to delivering something of real value.

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

Davina Stanley
A favorite quote. Well, I like the one from Picasso, which is all about. The idea that you must know the rules before you can break them. And you think of his artwork and how on the surface it looks so not well-driven, it looks so random in many ways, but he absolutely understood the rules before he was breaking them so that he could make a comment with it rather than just being random.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Davina Stanley
Favorite book. At the moment, I’ve just finished reading one called The Diamond Hunter, and it’s by a woman called Fiona McIntosh, and it was a really beautiful story.

Davina Stanley
But, having said that, a business book, my latest favorite business book is Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt. And that has really changed the way I work and made me a lot more productive but also a lot more focused on the things that I really enjoy. His concept of a freedom compass and living in the desire zone has made my executive assistant far busier, far more interested in her work, she’s got a lot more to do, and it certainly liberated me to do the stuff that I think is fun.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Davina Stanley
A favorite tool? PowerPoint.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Davina Stanley
Well, I’m going to come back to what I did this morning before our call actually, and that is to get up early and just allow the day to begin rather than being thrown into it.

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

Davina Stanley
Oh, you know what, it’s that concept of designing the strategy. Most of the people that I worked with and I see them later, they’ll say that they now spend an awful lot more time thinking about their communication before they deliver it, and that although that feels a bit uncomfortable, it saves them a lot of time. So, do that. Think first. Do that.

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

Davina Stanley
My website is ClarityFirstProgram.com.

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

Davina Stanley
Oh, I do. I’d encourage them to go through their emails and just pick five random ones that they’ve sent in the last week, and read them with fresh eyes, and ask themselves how quickly their audience can glean the key message. If they write a lot of papers, perhaps pick a paper instead and skim it. And can they get their message in less than a minute, ideally, less than 30 seconds? See whether that can be done because in an ideal world, they’ll be able to.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Davina, this has been tons of fun. I wish you lots of luck in your communication adventures.

Davina Stanley
Thank you so much. Lovely to talk with you.

536: How to Listen and Be Heard with Julian Treasure

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Julian Treasure says: "It's a great, great gift to give somebody... 100% of your attention."

Julian Treasure shares tactics and techniques that greatly improve how you communicate.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A crucial question for more powerful listening and speaking
  2. The two biggest roadblocks to effective communication
  3. How to make your voice more engaging

About Julian:

Julian is a sound and communication expert. He travels the world training people to listen better and create healthier sound. He is author of the books How to be Heard and Sound Business.

Julian’s five TED talks have been watched more than 80 million times. His latest, “How to speak so that people want to listen,” is in the top 10 TED talks of all time. Julian is regularly featured in the world’s media, including TIME MagazineThe TimesThe Economist and the BBC.

Julian is also founder of The Sound Agency. The audio-branding company asks and answers the question “How does your brand sound?”

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Julian Treasure Interview Transcript

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

Julian Treasure
Great to be back, Pete. Thanks for having me again.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m delighted to be having you again. And you say you’ve learned a lot in just the gap of time between when we last spoke about a year or two here. So, can you maybe tell us for starters, what’s one of the most fascinating discoveries you’ve made in the realm of sound and communications and the new insights?

Julian Treasure
Well, the biggest thing going on at the moment is through my company, The Sound Agency. We’ve launched a new product which is aimed at improving wellbeing and productivity in open-plan offices. That is a variety of space which blights the lives of millions of people all over the world. Yeah, noise is the biggest problem in open-plan. It’s kind of okay for collaboration, although research is now emerging showing that even for that there are challenges. We tend to send more emails in open-plan offices, even people who are really close to us because people don’t like being overheard. There’s no privacy, I guess you would say.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. That makes sense.

Julian Treasure
So, that idea of sort of freeform easy collaboration across the desk may be a myth. Even so, when you come to other kinds of working, concentration particularly, where you’re trying to do solo working, it’s a nightmare, isn’t it? I mean, everybody knows that. It’s so hard to think when there’s somebody behind you talking about their great night-out or whatever it may be. We’re programmed to decode language. We have no earlids. So, unless you’re going to put headphones on, and we can talk about that as well as a strategy, then you’re really stuffed.

We have bandwidth for about 1.6 human conversations, so somebody talking behind you is taking up one of your 1.6 which reduces your ability to listen to the voice in your head that you need to be listening to when you’re trying to work, or write, or do numbers, or whatever it may be. And that is absolutely disruptive for output. And the research shows we can be as little as one-third as productive in that kind of environment as we would be in a quiet space.

So, it is a really big problem. And we’ve developed a product called Moodsonic. It is biophilic, that may be a new word for some people. That means it’s based on nature sound, sounds that we’ve evolved to over 200,000 years, you know, wind, water, birds, those lovely sounds which, again, research is starting to show are actually really good for us. Bird song has been now used therapeutically to help people recover from stroke and various other ailments. Wind and water, similarly, the research is starting to show that natural sound, like this is absolutely good for us.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s really cool. So, folks just listen to it with headphones and then they are sort of inoculated from a lot of the downsides of the open-office plans?

Julian Treasure
Well, no, actually this is broadcast through loudspeakers in the space.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding? Huh.

Julian Treasure
Yeah, so it replaces a lot of offices where there’s a problem with privacy. They will put in some good masking sound which is a pretty nasty noise. It’s a mechanical noise. Filtered white, pink, or brown noise which is designed to masks speech. But I’ve always had a suspicion that’s not very good for people. It’s artificial, it doesn’t sound very nice. It’s kind of like “krrrr” all day going through loudspeakers, so you cease to notice it after a while but that doesn’t mean it’s not having an effect. And the research is starting to show again that this actually increases cortisol levels, it creates stress hormones in people which makes you tired, a bit antsy, and it’s not good for you in the long run.

So, we’re replacing that kind of artificial noise with biophilic generative sound, that is to say it’s created by a computer based on algorithms, probabilities. It flows organically just like the sound would if you’re in a forest.

So, we developed this product based on scientific research and it’s designed to be beautiful and effective and good for people. So, it’s going to be a very exciting 2020, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is cool sound is your thing, and here’s a big sound problem and you’re going after it, so that makes a lot of sense and that’s really cool. And I want to listen to some of these.

Julian Treasure
Yeah, it’s beautiful.

And then I’ve launched my course. I spent most of last year putting everything I know about speaking and listening skills all the way from the very basics up to advanced public speaking skills into an online course. And the main reason for that is I had a pulmonary embolism two years ago.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, dear.

Julian Treasure
Yeah, it came from a DVT. I mean, I was flying a lot. And anybody out there who does a lot of flying, please do take this seriously. I thought I was fit and healthy, and I was blasé about flying, and it’s all fine, but what happened to me was a DVT. Suddenly my ankle swelled up, became really painful, then my knee. And then a week or two later, a crippling pain in my back. And that’s what it was, it was a PE,
And so, I’ve really been looking to reduce the amount of travel I do as well as being on blood thinners now for the rest of my life. I’m fit and healthy again but I really would rather not be flying around the world the way I was. So, it kind of changed my focus. The work is so important. I mean, never have we needed listening more than we do now in the world. And so many people are frustrated that they can’t get their message across or they want to become good in public speakers. I really want to get the work out there. The TED Talks are being seen by, I think, a hundred million people now, which is amazing, but they’re very short. And this course is seven and a half hours long, so it’s a different order, it might confuse altogether.

And so, I’ve put that together and we launched that. And I’m hoping that that’s going to help get the work out to people all over the world, indeed, who I never would meet or be able to talk to in person and who can benefit from this for the rest of their lives. So, those are the big things, really, that have happened since we last spoke. Not much.

Pete Mockaitis
No, certainly. Well, yeah, that’s plenty and I’m so glad that you’re healthy and well and with us and continue to enrich the world with this good stuff. Well, why don’t we start with listening, shall we? You say that we’re losing our listening. What’s that about?

Julian Treasure
Well, technology is a big part of that. Attention spans are getting shorter. There is that ridiculous number going around saying that human beings now have got less attention span than a goldfish, and that’s nonsense. It was a complete misread of some original research which then got propagated and became an open myth.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, why don’t we set that straight. So, what is the attention span? How do we measure it? What’s the number? And is it declining?

Julian Treasure
It’s a piece of string, you know.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Julian Treasure
I mean, how do you measure that? That’s part of why the original study was nonsense. I mean, it’s impossible to create an average attention span for human beings. What do you mean? I mean, what are you paying attention to? Is it one word, one thing, one concept? If I have another thought, does that mean my attention span is gone? It’s very hard to define. But I think simply heuristically, most people would agree that our attention is becoming spread thin now.

Facebook’s whole business model is about grabbing attention. Your attention is their product. I mean, that’s what they’re selling to advertisers. And that’s just one medium, one channel, that’s trying to get your attention all the time. And they’re using, I mean, I don’t know if they’re creating this or it’s us creating this, but FOMO, you know, the fear of losing out is a huge thing. So, we all have to check in every so often, “Oh, somebody might have tagged me. Somebody might have tweeted about me. Somebody might have responded to something I’ve done.” This is incessant checking in need, and that takes us away from being present.

When you are going to listen to somebody, Scott Peck said, “You cannot truly listen to another human being and do anything else at the same time.” And yet most of the time, we’re doing four things at once. And, particularly, I know younger people are getting really almost addicted to multi-stream input. If you’re just watching a film, that’s boring. You need to be commenting about it on a blog or some sort of a website, as well as doing something else, talking to a friend and so on and so forth.

So, this multi-stream frost-cut world that we’re in where we get very addicted to intensity, it means that a good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation is about as outmoded as sitting down and listening to a whole album. Very few people do that now. It’s track copying. It’s one track. A whole track. I don’t listen to whole tracks, you know.

So, this fast-switching attention seeking stimulation, I think, is a big part of why we don’t listen to much. And the other element in it, I guess, is simply that noise is around us a lot in urban situations and we get deadened, we get numbed, our listening simply becomes less sensitive. We get used to discounting sound. Most of it is nasty, so why would you want to listen to it? And that becomes a habit because listening is a skill. It’s a skill that we can develop, and it’s a very important skill for living effectively, and for being happy, and also for being well. I mean, it’s part of being well, is listening to the sound around you and taking responsibility for what you consume through your ears.

There’s an awful lot of people who are doing themselves an awful lot of damage by consuming unpleasant noise or loud sound, damaging their hearing, creating stress reactions. I can give you one example of that, and not all of this is intentional, by the way. The average noise level in German classrooms these days is around 65 decibels according to studies in Germany, and that’s not surprising because of group work. This is where all the kids are chattering at once, working in small groups. Teachers have to shout to get to over 65 decibels. So, not only did one British teacher have a successful suit for losing her voice entirely in that kind of situation, but also the research shows that 65 decibels is the level at which your risk of a heart attack is significantly elevated if you’re chronically exposed.

Now, teachers are chronically exposed. They work every day in that situation so it’s very likely that teachers are shortening their lives by working in that situation day after day, and yet we don’t pay attention to it. It’s not ear-damaging, 65 decibels, but it’s definitely bad for your health. And that’s happening all over the place. Traffic noise is blighting the lives of millions of people across the world. You can’t sleep at night. And sleep deprivation is a terrible thing long term. But, unfortunately, there are no votes in noise. You don’t see a politician standing up and saying, “Vote for me. I’ll make it quieter.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Julian Treasure
It just doesn’t happen.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so, that is a nice thorough response there in terms of what’s going on behind losing our listening. And when you’re talking about multi-stream input, boy, I can’t resist but sharing my favorite tweet of all time, and I think you’ll get the joke. It goes like this, “Holding my child and just so present in this moment.” Get it? She’s tweeting about holding her child and being present in the moment.

Julian Treasure
It’s like people who’s on holiday, and you say, “How’s your holiday?” And they say, “I’ll let you know when I see the photographs.” It’s that whole thing, isn’t it? Living life vicariously, having to have the commentary going the whole time. Yes, I do understand. I really wasn’t laughing because it’s sad. You know, that’s a sad thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, indeed. It is if you zoom in, like, hmm, if that is indeed kind of a habitual life experience for that tweeter, then, yes, that would…

Julian Treasure
Yes, it might’ve been ironic, of course. You never know.

Pete Mockaitis
It could be. Okay. so that’s the problem, so losing our listening because of a number of reasons and sources. And so, you’ve got a number of exercises you recommend to help improve conscious listening. Can you share a couple of those that are the most helpful for folks?

Julian Treasure
Definitely will. Just before I do, can I speak for a moment about the circular relationship between speaking and listening because that’s really important?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Julian Treasure
I think it’s quite interesting. My TED Talk on speaking has been seen by about six times as many people as my TED Talk on listening, and that says something about our priorities. We’re much keener to be heard than to listen, in general. And so, it’s really important that people understand if you want to be heard, it is crucial to be a good listener. It’s much, much easier to speak to somebody you understand and to speak to somebody that you’ve got some sort of rapport with than to be missing the mark completely because you’re misinterpreting the person, you don’t care, you don’t know, who are they. You’re likely to miss the target entirely.

There’s this circular relationship. The way I speak affects the way you listen. The way you listen affects the way I speak. And the way I speak affects the way you speak. And the way I listen affects the way you listen. So, it’s dynamic. It’s going all the time between two people talking, or one person talking to a group, or one person on the stage talking to hundreds. It doesn’t matter. There’s this circle going all the time.

And that’s why, really, it’s the central thesis of the book and the course, that in order to be a great powerful speaker, if you want to be effective, if you want to build a team, if you want to inspire, motivate, lead, any of those things, or even just have a happy family life, and be heard in life, you need to be listening as well. You can’t do it if you’re not listening. And listening is a skill. So, that was a preamble.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. For the six times as many people who are interested in being heard, here’s your why if you listen.

Julian Treasure
Exactly, yeah. “I don’t care about listening, I want to speak for people to listen to me.” Well, they will if you listen to them. I mean, there’s a question that I suggested, it’s a really cool question in the book and in the course. The question, “What’s the listening I’m speaking into?” That is such an important question because listening changes from person to person. It changes over time as well for one person. Our listening change. It changes after lunch, you’re a bit sleepy. Or changes if you’ve just had brilliant news, or if you’ve just had terrible news. Emotions affect.

All of the filters we developed through life – values, attitudes, beliefs, intentions, expectations, assumptions about what people think of us, the language we speak, the culture we’re born into, all these things affect our listening. That means every human being’s listening is unique so it is really important not to assume “Everybody listens like I do,” which is a very common mistake, and to ask the question, “What’s the listening I’m speaking into?” That is a great exercise if you want to become a powerful speaker, and if you want to develop relationships with people, and work on your listening. It makes listening fascinating because you’re listening to the listening.

You’re observing the person that you’re speaking to with your eyes, with every sense that you’ve got, and you simply have to ask the question, “What’s the listening…?” and I promise everybody listening to this, by getting into the habit of asking that question, you will naturally generate the sensitivity. It doesn’t require a course or a degree or anything like that. It’s natural.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say “What’s the listening…?” you’ve got a number of categories.

Julian Treasure
Well, yes, there are many ways to listen and simple things. If you’re talking to somebody who’s very slow, then you can slow down. Now, to some degree, people with empathy will do that naturally, but there’s an awful lot of people who have never generated much empathy and who will rattle away at their own natural pace regardless of the person they’re speaking to, whether they’re faster, slower, whether they have a particular listening style. They’re particularly warm and emotive. They want it all. They’re somebody who just wants to top, “Give me the summary. I’m not interested in all that stuff.” Or somebody who wants the facts and figures, there are variations. That one is called think, feel, know, three classes of people.

There are lots of ways of cutting people out like that, dividing people into groups. The important thing is to look at the person in front of you and to understand them, and listen to the listening. Ask yourself the question because naturally you’ll start to adapt to your style. So, if it’s a slow person, you can simply slow down a little bit and be a little bit calmer. Or if it’s a really fast person, you can start to speed up, and you can become more energetic and so forth. That is fundamental. So, that’s one exercise I do recommend to everybody. It’ll improve your speaking and your listening skills.

Silence, a few minutes of silence every day, that’s a really good thing to do. Silence is the baseline and it’s quite rare in urban situations now that we get any silence at all. I’d be happy to define silence this absence of human noise. You know, a bird song, running water, wind in leaves, those are pretty acceptable departures from absolute silence. It’s rare that we will get absolute silence anyway. And if you can’t get it, anything approximating to it, just a quiet room, that’ll be fine even if there’s a little background hum of some kind. Just sitting with yourself, recalibrating your ears, because silence is the baseline. Silence is the base for all sound. It’s what makes sound meaningful after all. It’s the gaps between the words that make speech meaningful.

And the same thing for music, of course. With no gaps it’s simply cacophony. So, silence is very important. And if you can reestablish your relationship with silence, it will make your listening more acute. And, also, every time you encounter it, it kind of recalibrates your ears like a saw bell in a mill, it resets you and it allows you to listen again afresh. Any recording engineer will tell you about they have to stop every hour or so, going somewhere quiet because otherwise they’d go deaf really to the mix. They can’t hear it anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I’ve heard that from my audio engineers.

Julian Treasure
Yeah, indeed.

Pete Mockaitis
I work them hard.

Julian Treasure
Yes, not so much with human voice. You can go on longer. But if it’s serious music, then you really do need those gaps. Another great exercise, is RASA. And apart from being the Sanskrit word for juice, that stands for receive, appreciate, summarize, ask.

So, receive is actually facing the person and looking at them. It’s amazing how much partial listening we do in the world. “I am listening to you.” “No, you’re typing away on a mobile. You’re doing a text. That’s not listening, that’s doing a text.” So, doing nothing else, it’s a great, great gift to give somebody, to give them a hundred percent of your attention, just lay everything else down, and stop and try.

Honestly, I recommend anybody listening to this, after you’ve heard this podcast, go and try this at home. When you get home, actually listen to the people in your family or to the first people you come across, your friends, whoever it is, and you’ll probably find their reaction will be something like, “What are you doing?” because they’re not used to it at all. They’re used to you being half out of the room, or doing something else, or tapping away on something, and they’re getting the scrag end of your attention, as we would say in the UK.

So, it’s a wonderful gift. I reckon there are billions of people on this planet who’ve never been properly listened to in that way. So, that’s receive. Face them, lean forward, eyes on them, doing nothing else. Appreciate is the little noises and gestures that we make to show that we’re with them in the conversation. So, it’s hmm, ahh, really, huh, which you’re not doing at the moment because we’re on a kind of radio style conversation, and it’s a bit disconcerting.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I was just tweeting. Sorry, Julian.

Julian Treasure
As you do. Yes, I’m watching football here at the same time. So, radio has got its own rules, and podcasting has got its own rules for this, but in a normal conversation, you’d be doing that, I’d be doing that, and if you’re face to face, gestures too, little raised eyebrows, smiles, nods, bobs of the head, that kind of thing that we’re mirroring gestures, we do that naturally if we’re really engaged.

The S is summarize and that is very, very important to the word so. I would like to form a society for the preservation of the word so, which is becoming entirely abused, I’m sad to say. I’ll say to people, “What’s your name?” “So, I’m John.” “I’m sorry, you’re John because I just asked you?” So has a logical flow. This, so, that. It’s the same as then, or thus, or therefore. And, in conversations, it’s a really, really powerful word. I’ve even seen people walk onto the TED stage and start to talk with the word so. So what? Hang on. There’s no point of reference here.

It’s becoming debased by being deployed in that way, I think, but it’s really powerful. So allows you to close doors in the corridor of your conversation. “So, what I’ve understood you to say is this, is that correct?” “Yup.” “Okay. Now we move onto that.” Or if you’re in a meeting, “So, what we’ve all agreed now is this. Let’s move onto topic two.” If you haven’t got a so person in a meeting, it can be a very, very long meeting indeed, going around in circles. What is it they say about meetings? Meetings are places where you take minutes and waste hours. We all know that one.

And then the A is ask. Ask questions all the way through, at the beginning, at the end. Open-ended questions are good – why, what, where, when, how, who – because they preclude the answer yes or no, and they get more information. Questions show you’re interested and they allow you also to make the conversation interesting for you because you can start to help direct it in the directions you find most stimulating. “So, that’s really interesting. Tell me more about this,” is a way of moving the conversation into the areas you find most interesting, profitable, useful, fascinating, stimulating, whatever it may be. So, that’s RASA. Very useful exercise in conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, so, I said so. Oh, you got me on hyper alert here.

Julian Treasure
No, that’s good because there was a natural flow there. Therefore, thus, that’s correct.

Pete Mockaitis
I see, as opposed to indiscriminately thrown anywhere and being your vocal pause crutch.

Julian Treasure
Yes, absolutely.
It is very, very important. It’s a little word but it’s a very important little word. I talk about words to avoid in speaking.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s grab a few of those, yeah.

Julian Treasure
Yeah, okay. We can have fun with that. I was just going to say one of those is like bindweed because the moment you start using it, it will crop up all over the place.

The word just. Now, as an adjective, that’s terrific. You know, “He’s a just man.” “Just mean and fair,” and so forth, that’s a lovely word. But as an adverb, or a modifier, particularly as a minimizer, it’s a pernicious little word that will creep in all over the place, “He’s just a child.” “Well, okay, that’s somewhat patronizing.” But it’s when we use it to minimize our own, “I’ll just have one.” Does anybody ever just had one and regretted it?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve got a lot of emails that are just following up.

Julian Treasure
Yes, just following up. It’s an excuse and I did this on stage a lot. So, I come on and I say, “I’d just like to start with some housekeeping announcements,” and then I go back and redo the thing and come on and say, “I’d like to start with some housekeeping announcements.” Now, which one of those is most powerful? The second one.

Pete Mockaitis
Definitely, yeah.

Julian Treasure
Because the first one, the just, is saying, “Sorry, do you mind if I…?” It’s an apology. It’s a kind of weaselly apology, minimizing the effect. So, when you send an email saying, “Just following up,” it’s a kind of apology, “Sorry, to bother you. I’m just following up only. That’s all I’m doing. Just a little tiny thing.” And I think that word is one to be aware of. I’m not saying never use it but I am saying you might have a little alarm bell ringing when you use it, and say, “Would it be more powerful to delete?” I nearly said just to delete that. So, that’s where it starts to get in.

The other word that I really recommend banning altogether from vocabulary is the word should. I cannot think of a single profitable use of that word. If we use it to other people, it’s judgmental, “You should really lose some weight.” Ouch. Or if we’re using it on ourselves, it’s self-recriminatory and it’s kind of wallowing in guilt, “I should’ve done that. I should’ve been. I should’ve…” there’s no good outcome from that particular word.

“I will,” that’s a different thing. “I’ve learned a lesson,” “I did this,” “I will, in future, do that.” Should? I can’t see the use of it personally so I banned it from my vocabulary quite a long time ago and I’ve been happier since, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, thank you. So, those are some things not to say. And I also want to get your view in terms of you’ve got the listening part down in a rapid summary format. What are your top pieces of wisdom that you think folks really need to absorb when it comes to speaking such that they’re heard after they’ve done their listening?

Julian Treasure
There is content and there is delivery, and they’re both important. Actually, for the book, I interviewed Chris Anderson, the head of TED, and asked him that question, “Which is the most important, Chris?” And he said, “Well, they’re both important but, if forced to choose, I would go for content because I will sit and stay with somebody who’s delivering earth-shattering content in a pretty boring way. However, if somebody is delivering rapid nonsense brilliantly, it’s just irritating, isn’t it?”

Pete Mockaitis
Agreed, yeah.

Julian Treasure
So, content is very important. If you want to be heard, then getting your content right is crucial. And that, again, comes back, if you ask me, to asking the question “What’s the listening…?” It’s the question I ask myself before I’ll do any talk to a group of people or even thousands of people, “What’s the listening I’ll be speaking into? Are they going to want facts and figures? Are they going to want to hear about all aspects of sound, speaking, listening? Or is it a particular aspect which is going to touch their lives? What are their problems? What are the things I can give them which will give them value in their lives?”

Asking yourself those questions is really important so that you start to automatically, you start to have a sensitivity for what, of all the things you could talk about, which ones is going to be valuable to that person. And that’s another part of the secret here, isn’t it? It’s not about you, it’s about them. Any speaker who goes on stage and it’s all about me, that’s not nowhere too well.

There are two particular addictions, I think, we have as a society now which get in the way of designing good content. And those are looking good, we all like to look good, but if it becomes what you’re about, that really doesn’t fly very well in any conversation and particularly not on stage. And the other one is if there’s one thing we like more than looking good is being right. Now if you get into being right, that makes you very hard to listen to, I think. It’s like a hole in the bucket. And the easiest way to be right, of course, is to make somebody else wrong. Hence, we have this kind of addiction to outrage going with the media. We have polarization in politics. We have the politics of shouting. It’s not the politics of listening, is it?

Insults, it’s demonization, it’s caricaturing, and that is a slippery slope. That’s a long slippery slope down to some pretty unpleasant stuff because listening is the doorway to understanding, and if we don’t understand, if we’re not interested in understanding people, or listening to people we disagree with, then civil society kind of breaks down.

I gave a TEDx Talk in Houses of Parliament and again in Athens, the cradle of democracy, arguing that listening actually is the sound of democracy because without it, democracy will not work. We have to have civilized disagreement. And it’s impossible to have that if you’re in the business of, “If you disagree, I’m going to shout you down,” or even worse, go down that slippery slope, “If I disagree with you, I’ll kill you,” which is what ISIS is all about and so forth.

So, I think it’s very important to consider the other person in conversation, and that really will help to shape what we’re saying. The content will be much more accurate. I think it was Barack Obama who said, “I like to listen to people especially when I disagree with them.” And listening is a very good way of refining your content as well dynamically, I’m talking about. So, you might start a conversation with an agenda, with some things you believe are going to be valuable and interesting to talk about, having thought about the person you’re speaking to, and then it’ll get reformatted as the dynamic conversation takes place.

Well, if you’re not listening to them, they won’t listen much to you. Whereas, if you listen carefully to ask them questions, people love talking about themselves. For anybody who’s listening to this who says, “Nobody ever listens to me,” try listening to them, become a great listener, ask them questions, little questions, “Really? Tell me more,” that is a gold dust phrase, “Tell me more about that.” Because it draws people out, it shows you’re interested in them, it creates a kind of dynamic of interests which will then reflect back and they’ll start asking you questions and you can speak. So, that’s the way it goes.

Listening and speaking always in this dance. Of course, content is only part of the story because there’s also how you say it. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, indeed.

Julian Treasure
And it is unfortunate for some people that they have challenges to overcome with their voice. I mean, we’re all born with this amazing instrument, the human voice, which can do anything from Tibetan undertone chanting to Pavarotti to you name it. It is an incredible instrument. Most people, in my experience, are only exploring a small fraction of the capability and power of their voice.

So, if you really want to be heard, my strongest advice to you is go get a coach. We don’t get taught how to speak in schools. Even less do we get taught how to listen, by the way. We get taught how to read and write. Speaking and listening? We’re expected to pick those up along the way somehow and yet they’re both really important skills.

So, there’s the vocal toolbox that I went through in, I think, it was 12 minutes in the TED Talk on speaking. And the vocal toolbox is something that most people don’t even know they have. You can rummage around in there and you can play with things like pitch, pace, prosody or prosody. I prefer the prosody pronunciation, but each to their own. Silence, gaps, volume level, we even get really loud, talk, you can whisper to make a point.

So, the dynamics of conversation are really, really important. One of the most significant things is varying. So, if you have a voice that does this, every time you speak you have this cadence, pretty soon you’re going to get people going to sleep because they’ve heard everything that you said, said in the same way over and over again. You know, it’s like a hypnotic thing. You put people into a sort of trance by repetitive cadences, so it’s very important to vary your pace, your tone and pitch, not so much your timber probably, although you can do that too. Use silence, leave gaps. I mean, on stage, I won’t do it now because this is, again, a podcast/radio, and if you leave dead air, people get very disconcerted and they start fumbling to, “Have I lost a signal?”

But on stage, I demonstrate this. I can go quiet for the longest time. I’m talking about 30, 45 seconds. That’s a long time on stage. And everybody just sits there. The big fear most people have about public speaking is drying up. Well, you can take a long time to think. You do not have to fill in conversation, or in a presentation, or a talk, you don’t have to fill every second with babble, with uhms and ahhs. It makes it absolutely difficult to understand if you’re always on. You need the light and shade, the valleys, to create the mountains, and that’s a big part of delivering interesting content.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And so, I put a good bit of effort into having some variance on my pace, on my pitch, and on my volume. Can we hear a little bit about the other three tools here, the register, the timber, and the prosody and how we might think about that?

Julian Treasure
Absolutely. Well, register, there are four registers actually of the human voice, and two of them are very rarely used, and I wouldn’t recommend people using them. There’s one I can’t do at all which is called whistle register. It’s very, very, very high up. It’s like an ultra-soprano so I won’t even try that. The next one down is falsetto register, and that will be familiar to anybody who likes Monty Python or anybody who likes a great deal of pop music.

Pete Mockaitis
Hee, hee.

Julian Treasure
So, Monty Python stuff. Yes, exactly. Monty Pythons stars are, “He’s a very naughty boy,” these men, ludicrously pretending to be women by moving into falsetto like this. It’s not the most powerful way to speak. It can be very good for singing and all the way from the ‘50s to the ‘60s, you think of Frankie Valli, the ‘70s, the Bee Gees, more currently with Coldplay, all sorts of bands sing a great deal in falsetto. It’s very acceptable as a powerful singing style but if I walk on stage, “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Lovely to be here,” it’s a little bit soft, ineffectual, and deferential, and also comical so I wouldn’t recommend speaking there very much.

The next one down is the one we use most of the time, it’s the modal register. And that ranges all the way from your nose right down to your chest. Now, of course, your voice comes from your vocal cords, which are in your throat, but you can resonate in different places by focusing on that. So, for example, if I go up into my nose here, you can hear the difference. And if I’m in my throat, this is a throat voice, which is a little bit light and what most people do most of the time. And then if I move down into my chest voice, you can immediately hear the base coming because I’m resonating with my whole chest. That’s a really big space.

Now, you can practice moving your voice around by placing your hand on your chest or your throat or your nose, and trying to feel the vibration. I do recommend working on the chest voice because deeper, generally, means more significant in terms of voices. We vote for politicians with deeper voices, other things being equal. Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister, had vocal coaching to lower her voice by a couple of tones because she felt that the higher female voice is being taken less seriously in the House of Commons.

So, it’s a pretty good idea if you want to be taken seriously to be speaking down here instead of speaking up here. It’s a simple thing and it can be practiced by anybody. Put your hand on your sternum, that bone in your chest, and practice resonating so you can start to feel the vibrations with your fingers, and that’s a really good way of moving your voice down there.

The final register is vocal fry and, unfortunately, it’s become pretty common. Vocal fry sounds like this. It’s a very lazy way of speaking, “I’m really excited about this.” I don’t think so. It’s, unfortunately, a very common habit now among younger people. Started, I think, largely probably in the Valley in the West Coast, Los Angeles style speaking. It’s kind of cool to be like, “Yeah. Well, hi, how are you?’ It sounds kind of lazy, cool, insouciant, but also disengaged, pretty ugly. It’s not very good for your voice. And if you want to speak powerfully, I do advise get out of there as quickly as possible, back into the modal register, get that chest voice going.

It’s a shame to hear people speaking like this because your voice is so powerful and so amazing. It can do so many things. So, that’s a little piece on registers and quite useful to be conscious of these, and to start taking control instead of letting it just be what you have habitually done your whole life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

Julian Treasure
Then prosody, or prosody, well, that’s the singsong speech. That’s the way we vary our tone and our pace in order to be understood. So, it’s completely different to speak in this, well, quite lively, passionate way as opposed to speaking entirely on one note and at one pace without any prosody at all. I don’t think anybody would find this very interesting for very long. That’s robotic, isn’t it? It’s boring. The word monotonous comes from mono tone, one tone, speaking in one note. So, we want to avoid that.

Now, some people have very restricted prosody. Unfortunately, it’s the way they’ve learned to speak or it’s something natural. Again, you can work on that and there are exercises in the book and in the course, particularly, they’re exercises which helps you boost the range. I mean, that’s what they do. It’s like doing anything in a gym. You work in a gym to build muscle. You might not need it all the time but you give yourself more range. And it’s the same thing with prosody. You can do exercises to increase your range and become more able to express yourself in a fascinating way. You may not want to exaggerate it, you might not want to go completely like this, nevertheless, it’s good to have the range because you can then be conscious about how you deploy it.

And, again, there’s culture here. Some cultures, you know, Italians really like this. You know, again, Latin countries tend to be more expressive. Scandinavian countries tend to be a little bit more like this, “Yes, we’re wildly excited about this.” And you just have to know. I remember a gig in Finland years ago and there was like (soft clapping sounds) and I thought, “I bombed. What happened?” And I went down for coffee, and people coming up to me and saying, “That was the best talk we have heard for many years.” So, it’s just the way they are there, and you have to adapt. Again, it’s part of, “What’s the listening I’m speaking into?” To adapt to the listening of the people you’re talking to. You don’t get a lot of whooping and hollering in Finland, that’s for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And timber?

Julian Treasure
Well, timber is the feel of a voice. It’s tasting the voice just like you would taste a hot chocolate. And the words to describe voices that we tend to like are similar actually to the words you would use to describe a hot chocolate – rich, dark, warm, sweet, smooth, those kinds of words. If that’s not you, don’t panic because timber can be adjusted a great deal. If you have a little squeaky voice or something like that, go and see a coach.

And people always ask me, “How do I do that?” Well, simply search on the internet for vocal coach, voice coach, drama coach, singing coach, any of those and you’ll get to a group of people, phone some of them up, choose two or three that you get on well with on the phone, and explain what you want and see if they can help you, and then have a tryout session, and then you’ll find one that you really click with, and you can do a program of work with over a series of months. And they will transform what you’re able to do. They’ll give you the power to project the understanding of breath and how to use it effectively, how to use your diaphragm effectively.

Posture, which is a huge part of the problem for a lot of people who are kind of slumped over, or stretching, or compressing their vocal cords. I’m sitting at a desk, speaking into a microphone. If I sit like most people do when they’re having conversations, leaning forward like this, you can hear the effect on my voice because I’m stretching my vocal cords, and it’s not going to be me at my best. I can’t get into my chest voice freely. On the other hand, if I put my head right back into my shoulders, I’m compressing my vocal cords and it sounds like this.

So, having your vocal cords vertical and having good posture is a very important part of speaking powerfully, freeing your voice to do its best, and of looking like you are confident. Again, if you’re doing, you know, the Amy Cuddy TED Talk about power poses, anything that makes you bigger boost your testosterone, makes you look bigger, if you’re one of those people whose whole gesture template is about making yourself smaller, gesture is where you’re crouched, you’re hunched, or folded, or whatever it may be, again that’s going to affect the way people receive you because they can see that you don’t feel confident. So, there are things to practice here. A vocal coach or a drama coach can certainly help with any of those.

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

Julian Treasure
Well, I think we’ve covered quite a lot there, haven’t we? I come back all the time to that key question “What’s the listening…?” because listening is the center of everything. I really do think never have we needed listening in the world more than we do right now.

Interrupting has become an absolute epidemic. It’s very, very rare to hear anybody speak in a media program for more than 20 seconds without being interrupted. And that’s not just there, by the way. I came across a horrifying stat the other day. In your country, in America, do you know the average length of time that you or I get to speak when we go and see our doctor, before we get interrupted, this is our opening, “Doc, so what’s wrong with me, doctor, is?” How long do you think they’d give us?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I don’t know. Maybe 15 seconds.

Julian Treasure
Yeah. Well, you’re not far off. Actually, it’s 18 seconds is the average. Average 18 seconds. So, some are shorter than that. How you can get an idea of what’s wrong with somebody in 9 seconds, or 7 seconds, I have no idea. Barely being able to say my name in that time. So, I think it is pandemic this interrupting impatience. We need patience to listen. And there are four Cs I talk about in the book and the course for good listening, which is consciousness, that is to say being aware you’re doing something. It’s not like hearing. Hearing is a natural capability. Listening is a skill. Your practicing skill.

The second C is compassion. It is really important to be compassionate, to seek to understand the other person. If that’s where you’re coming from, you can listen really, really well. The third C is commitment, because you have to stop doing other things in order to listen well, and that does take commitment. I would always recommend, again, if you want to be heard, it’s worth making a little contract in the conversation as in, “Do you have 5 minutes because I’d really like to speak to you?” And if they say yes, you have that contract for 5 minutes.

If you pile in and you haven’t asked their permission, you may well be pushing more toward uphill here, working into the wind. It could be they’ve got other things going on you don’t know about, and you’re rudely interrupting whatever they’re doing. And the final C, which is possibly the most important one, is curious. Curiosity. Ferocious curiosity to learn, so, “I might learn something here. Where are they coming from? I think that is absolute rubbish. But how on earth is it they thought that? Why did they have that point of view?” That kind of dialogue in your head makes you a much better listener.

So, the four Cs of good listening, and I do encourage everybody to pay attention to their listening.

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

Julian Treasure
The first is my favorite quote of all time probably about listening, which is from Ernest Hemingway who said, “I like to listen. I’d learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” And he’s absolutely right. The other quote I’ll give you relates to organizations because I imagine quite a lot of people listening to this, given the nature of the podcast, are working in organizations or even running organizations.
The Organizational Listening Project was done in 2016 and it reviewed a whole range of different organizations, and it found, and here is the quote, “Most organizations listen sporadically at best, often poorly, and sometimes not at all.” So, the problem is individual and the problem is organizational as well. We need to address it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And can you share a favorite book?

Julian Treasure
The Universal Sense by a guy I know quite well, Seth Horowitz, who’s an expert in many different forms of sound. And it is a fascinating book. Very easy to read about why hearing is so universal, why it is that there are virtually no vertebrates on this planet without ears. So, plenty without eyes but hearing is such a universal sense.

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

Julian Treasure
Well, there are lots of levels for anybody who’s kind of found what I’m talking about here interesting. The book, of course, is available at all the usual places, it’s called How to Be Heard. You can go to my website JulianTreasure.com. And if you pop your email address in there, then we will send you five listening exercises, two of which I’ve talked about in this podcast, little videos by me, absolutely free, which are good exercises for improving your conscious listening skills. And if you want to access the course, that’s at www.SpeakListenBe.com and it’s currently on, I think, with a big discount, so it’s worth going there and checking that out if you’re serious about speaking powerfully
And then if you’re interested in Moodsonic, The Sound Agency’s website is www.TheSoundAgency.com and there’s a separate website for Moodsonic at Moodsonic.com. So, there’s plenty of resources there. Look forward to anybody who comes by. I’d love to hear from you.

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

Julian Treasure
Yes, listen. It is really as simple as that. Ask yourself that question, “What’s the listening I’m speaking into?” So, I would actually just refine it. Listen to the listening. Get into that habit and I really believe you’ll find it transforms your communication at work. If you start to listen to the listening, asking yourself that question, “What’s the listening I’m speaking into?”

Pete Mockaitis
Julian, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and all the ways that you hear and are heard.

Julian Treasure
Well, thank you so much. It’s really good to be back. So, thank you, Pete, and I hope everybody got something out of that.

526: How to Write Faster, Better with Daphne Gray-Grant

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Daphne Gray-Grant says: "If you can't get yourself closer to the mindset of your readers, then your writing isn't going to be as effective with them."

Writing Coach Daphne Gray-Grant offers practical tips to accelerate and improve your writing.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biggest mistake people make when writing
  2. Why outlines don’t work—and what does
  3. Top do’s and don’ts for engaging writing

About Daphne:

Daphne Gray-Grant grew up in newspapers: her parents owned a struggling weekly where she worked from the age of 16. Eventually, she left the family business to become a senior editor at a major metropolitan daily. After the birth of her triplet children in 1994, she became a communications consultant, and writing and editing coach. Author of the books 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better and Your Happy First Draft, Daphne has been coaching writing and blogging since 2006.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Daphne Gray-Grant Interview Transcript

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

Daphne Gray-Grant
Thanks for inviting me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to get your take, I understand you’ve been working as a writing coach for the past 25 years, but it sounds like you hated writing until 20 years ago, so the first five years, I guess, were not pleasant. What’s the story here?

Daphne Gray-Grant
Well, the story is I kind of grew up in the newspaper business. My parents owned a weekly newspaper and I worked there as an indentured servant for many years. And then, when I left, I went to join a large metropolitan daily newspaper, and I was just so anxious to get out of the family business. I didn’t pay too much attention to what I was walking into.

And, actually, it was good in a lot of ways. They hired me as an editor, which was a job I was born to do. I’m just a natural editor. I started editing when I was in high school. I would edit all my friends’ papers. I loved editing my own work, other people’s work. It just didn’t matter. I just loved editing and I was really good at it.

So, I got the job at this daily newspaper, and they mostly had me edit. But every once in a while, they would ask me to write something and, oh, my gosh, that was terrifying because I hated writing. And I was in a room, and in those days, newspapers were much bigger than they are now, so there were about a hundred people. All these grizzled veterans who would sit and bang away at the keyboard and produce copy in 10 minutes without blinking an eye, and I would be asked to write, I don’t know, 500 words, and I would sweat over it, and I hated it, and I found it so difficult that I just really didn’t enjoy it one iota whenever I was asked to write. So, I would dash back to the editing job as fast as I humanly could.

And then when I left the newspaper business to have my children, I didn’t go back. I went back briefly after my mat-leave and then decided, “No, I need to get out,” so I left. And I should say I’m a mother of triplets, so having a child was a bit of a big deal. I was having three children, not only one, and so I left the newspaper business and I decided to be a freelancer. And when you freelance, you have to do whatever is sent your way.

And so, I had to do a certain amount of writing, and I just hated it. I found it so difficult and time-consuming and horrible that I kind of took myself aside, looked myself in the mirror, and said, “Daphne, you have to stop doing it this way.” So, I spent about a year researching, talking to people, reading books, exploring everything I could find about the writing business until I could figure out a way I could do it that made it enjoyable. And once I’ve done that, then I started coaching other people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a very intriguing opening there, so I’ll bite, Daphne. So, what’s the trick? What was the missing element that makes writing enjoyable?

Daphne Gray-Grant
Well, I think there are two things. The biggest thing I found is that many people, me included, by the way, many people mix up the different steps of writing. So, they will write a little bit and then they’ll edit. Or they will start to edit while they’re writing, and that is just a really, really bad thing to do because what happens is that we have different parts of our brain that are good at different tasks. So, there’s a part of our brain that is really, really good at linear logical tasks like editing. And then there’s another part of our brain that’s really good at creative tasks, like writing.

But if you try to write with the editing part of your brain, the job is going to be horrible and very slow and painful, and that’s what I found I had done for many years. I was trying to write with the wrong part of my brain.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that’s resonant and I think I’ve discovered this when I wrote. So, I’ve written two books, not super relevant to being awesome at your job so I don’t bring them up very often. But when I was writing them, I very much experienced that notion that the whole brain space associated with what’s conducive to generating a whole bunch of words versus what’s conducive to making those words make sense and be sharp are quite different.

And so, I even noticed, like, if I had like a beer or a Red Bull, you know, they’re drugs, they would impact my brain in such that, hey, one beer was great for me drafting words and then not feeling so worked up about them and critical. It lowered my inhibitions of what I was putting on a page. I guess some writers have taken that too far historically, so careful, yeah.

Daphne Gray-Grant
Well, Ernest Hemingway had something to say about that. He said, “Write drunk, edit sober.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. And I would say, hey, even edit caffeinated. It’s like you’re super sharp, it’s like, “Hmm, yeah, I don’t know about that word there. It’s sort of hopped up.” So, well-said. It’s tempting at the same time though, it’s like you see something that’s bad and you want to almost jump in to fix it immediately, “Oh, I can’t let that exist.” So, what’s going on psychologically? We probably heard this advice before, “Hey, draft first then edit later,” but we don’t do it. What’s that about?

Daphne Gray-Grant
Well, a great many of my clients struggle with this because I’ve worked with people, I work with professional writers, and I work with a lot of academics, I work with anyone who wants to write something. But the academics, in particular, have a really hard time letting go of something that they know is wrong in the page, and they can’t trust themselves to fix it later. But what do you say to them? And this does seem to help if they really think about it, is that if you edit while you are writing, you are making a decision to do something at the worst possible time because when you’re writing, you have done your research, you spent a lot of time thinking about what it is you’re writing. You’ve done the writing yourself, for goodness’ sakes, so you are maximally different from your readers.

So, your readers are coming to your finished project cold. They haven’t given it the thought you have, they haven’t done the research you have, so they’re going to have different questions and different ways of looking at things than you do. And if you can’t get yourself closer to the mindset of your readers, then your writing isn’t going to be as effective with them. So, if you edit while you write, you’re way too close to the material to be an effective editor.

Pete Mockaitis
Daphne, that just makes so much sense to me. I love it. I’m 100% convinced by that argument. Thank you. Cool. Well, so great perspective right there. So, separating, I guess, the task, the writing piece from the editing piece is key to making things more enjoyable. And what else?

Daphne Gray-Grant
Well, another thing that I promote with many of the people I work with is mind-mapping. Have you ever mind mapped, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I have but I haven’t used any of the cool software. My handwriting is a bit atrocious.

Daphne Gray-Grant
Oh. Well, you know what, you and I were separated at birth because my handwriting is so bad, I mean, I say my handwriting makes it look like I’m an arthritic 93-year old. But if you stop worrying about the quality of your handwriting, you’re actually way better off mind mapping by hand than you are with software because there is a certain mindset that you want to be in when you’re mind mapping and that is the creative part of your brain. And that’s why I so strongly suggest that people stop outlining because outlining sticks you in the linear logical part of your brain, the part of your brain where you want to research and edit, but not the part of the brain where you want to write.

And mind mapping, on the other hand, puts you in that creative space. And so, what you need to do is you need to relax. When I’m mind mapping, I like to visualize myself lying on a hammock in the sunshine. So, that’s the kind of relaxed, easygoing, devil-may-care attitude you should have when you’re mind mapping. You don’t want to be anxious about it, you don’t want to be stressed, you just want to be very relaxed. And people who are sitting at a keyboard aren’t nearly as relaxed as people who are sitting on a couch, or in a bed, or somewhere where they can put their feet up and really relax. That’s the type of place you want to be when you’re mind mapping. Not at a keyboard.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, I also want to get your take. I think with my poor handwriting, part of it is when I look at mind maps, well, one, it looks so cool, and gorgeous, and illustrated, and multicolored, and lovely. And, two, they’re just sort of a lot of stuff there in terms of I feel like I got to go get tiny on my little 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper in order to fit it all onto that page. And so, doing my poor handwriting compounded with tininess.

Daphne Gray-Grant
Oh, it gets even worse, yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “What did I even write there?” So, help me out, Daphne, what do we do?

Daphne Gray-Grant
Yes. So, what I would say to you is, first of all, start with a bigger piece of paper.

Pete Mockaitis
So, just buy 11×17. All right.

Daphne Gray-Grant
Eleven by seventeen or go to Michaels craft store and get yourself some unprinted on newsprint, or go to a butcher and get some butcher paper, and stretch it out over the biggest table in your house or in your office or at a library, and make the mind map as big as it needs to be for you to feel comfortable and for you to be able to write in a size that allows you to read it easily and it allows your wrist not to feel seized up.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. All right. Permission received and granted. All right, so cool. So, get a great big paper. I love it when the solution is to buy something, Daphne, because it’s so much easier than changing my activities and behavior, so cool. So, buy something. And what else?

Daphne Gray-Grant
Well, the other thing I would say about mind mapping, people often like the idea of it but then they get to the reality of it and they don’t quite know how it works, how it transforms from a mind map into a piece of writing.

One of the things that happens is that people sometimes get stalled with mind mapping because what I say is that you should take your piece of paper, whatever size it is, turn it sideways, it’s really important that it be sideways because that opens up all sorts of room around the side of the page which we’re not used to, and so that’s inherently liberating or freeing to us, and it allows our mind to understand that it can go off in a bunch of different directions, which is great.

Write a question in the center of the page. So, don’t just write a topic. Most of the books on mind mapping are by a guy named Tony Bazon, very smart guy. He’s written something like 49 books on mind mapping so he’s probably the worldwide expert on it right now. But he says to write a topic in the center of the page.

I disagree with that because I found with the people I worked with that if you write a question, it’s going to be much more provocative to you, and you want to provoke your brain, you want to be able to have so many ideas that they’re spilling out of you and you’re having a hard time keeping up with them. So, questions will help you do that. A mind map should take somewhere between three to five minutes to do, so it’s not time consuming.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Daphne Gray-Grant
Yeah, it’s really fast. It’s really fast. And the other important thing is not to edit yourself while you’re mind mapping because what happens is people will come up with these interesting crazy ideas and then they’ll start to second-guess themselves, they’ll say, “Oh, do I really want to write about that? Does that make sense here?” Don’t allow yourself to question yourself that way. If an idea springs to your brain, write it down. Don’t ask yourself whether it makes any sense, just write it down.

So, I have an interesting story about this. A number of years ago, I got a call from a Canadian copywriter. I didn’t know him, but he phoned me to thank me for my little booklet on mind mapping. My newsletter, you’ll get a little booklet on mind mapping. And so, he did that because he had been approached by a big-named publisher and invited to do a book on copywriting. And he was concerned, quite cleverly and rightfully, I thought, that he was, essentially, a freelancer, he had a lot of clients, and he was worried that if you signed up to do this book, he was going end up leaving his clients in a lurch, which would not be good for his business in the long term. So, that’s why he Googled to find out about writing faster, and that’s how he found me.

And he got my booklet on mind mapping, and so he decided, “Oh, if I can mind map my book, maybe I can write it fast enough so that my clients won’t get neglected.” So, he did that. And one day he was doing a mind map for a particular chapter on copywriting, remember? And the idea of making pancakes sprung into his brain. Now, it’s not that he was hungry at the time, just copywriting, making pancakes, something connected there in his brain, and he thought, “This is the stupidest idea I have ever heard. Pancakes have nothing to do with copywriting,” and he almost didn’t write it down, but he heard my metaphorical voice, because we hadn’t met at this point. He heard my metaphorical voice at the back of his brain and saying, “Don’t second-guess yourself. Write down everything.” He wrote it down, and it became the organizing metaphor for one of his chapters.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And it’s wild how sometimes those things make all the difference. I’m thinking about Mawi Asgedom, our guest from episode number 1. One of his most resonant pieces of creation ever was talking about the turbo button with playing video games. And so, a lot of his work is for youth and teenagers, and it’s a very powerful metaphor in terms of folks who want to dig deep and find the ability to take some action, and kick it up to a higher level, and they play video games, and so it’s like, “Oh, the turbo button.” It really just connects and resonates, versus that’s also easy to discard.

Like, I was thinking about playing video games, and the turbo button on the controller, say, “Now that’s dumb.” You might discard that quickly. But that’s helpful in terms of hearing when you make the mind map, it doesn’t take that much time, and the crazy ideas that you get might just be the winning ones that enrich things.

Daphne Gray-Grant
Yes, exactly. I mean, the thing is that when you write, you need that creativity. That’s what you want. That’s what we’re all hungry for. And the problem is if you compare the act of writing from an outline, which is so dull and boring and feel so obligatory and horrible, compare that to the act of mind mapping, which is fun and interesting and fast. And what I say to people is when you’re mind mapping, what you’re looking for is what I call the aha experience.

So, the aha experience is when, all of a sudden, you’re overcome with the desire to write. The, “Oh, yeah, now I know what I want to say.” And it’s like your fingers are itching to get on the keyboard. And when that happens, I say, you should start writing right away whether your mind map is finished or not because the sole job of a mind map is to inspire you to write. And once you’re inspired, it’s done its job so don’t stop writing because you haven’t finished your mind map. It’s not an outline. Just because something is written on your mind map doesn’t mean you have to use it. And just because it’s not written on your mind map doesn’t mean you can’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is handy. Well, Daphne, you got me all worked up. So, let’s talk about, so specifically in the context of work, professionals, and that stuff. So, they might be already objecting, the listeners, in terms of, saying, “Well, I’m not writing a really cool novel, Daphne. I’ve got to put together a report, a proposal, a tricky email.” So, does that change the game at all with regard to mind mapping or the process?

Daphne Gray-Grant
You know what, I have to say it doesn’t because I do these presentations on mind mapping quite regularly, and I have a little slide in my PowerPoint deck that says it works equally well for nonfiction. I have never written a word of fiction in my life, and I use mind mapping every single day. All I write is nonfiction, and I use mind mapping every day.

Here’s another interesting story. A number of years ago, I had to do a series of articles for our corporation, and they were super short. They were 175 to 225 words max, so really short, fast, mostly easy to write. And I had kind of a working rule in my mind at the time, which was that if my article that I was writing is less than 500 words, I didn’t need to bother with a mind map. So, there I was with this working rule that I didn’t need to bother with a mind map because the article was only 175 words and, honest to goodness, I had such a terrible time with this article. I spent more than an hour on it, which is embarrassing to me because I’m a pretty fast writer now, and, “What, an hour for 175 words? That’s crazy.” And I couldn’t get the piece finished.

So, finally, out of sheer desperation, I decided to do a mind map, and the mind map took me less than three minutes to do, and finishing the story took me less than five minutes once I’d done the mind map. It was just like, “Oh, now I know how to solve this problem.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is fascinating and so compelling, in fact, I want to dig deeper now into the mind map, so thank you. All right. So, you get a big space, and maybe 11×17, maybe it’s a butcher block paper, but it’s something, at least if you have my problem, 11×17 doesn’t cut it. So, you turn it sideways, you put a question in the middle. And then what do we do? What are some of the dos and don’ts here for flowing from there?

Daphne Gray-Grant
Okay. So, I just want to emphasize that the paper really does need to be turned sideways, that matters. And I say this because I regularly lead workshops, and there’ll be a hundred people in the room, and we’ll do a mind map together, and then I’ll tell them, “Here’s a topic. I want you all to do a mind map on your own.” And then I’ll walk around the room, and I’ve told them three or four times that the paper needs to be turned sideways. And, sure enough, out of a hundred people, five will not have the paper turned sideways. So, that’s a really important thing to do.

The next thing, put a question in the center of the page and draw a circle around it. Something about the act of drawing a circle is like completing your thought, and say, “Okay, yeah, so I’m signed up for this.” So, you draw a circle around it. And then the next thing that comes to your mind, write it down on that page, draw a circle around that, and link it to the center idea, to the center question.

And then the next thing that comes to your mind, write it down on the page and link it to either the center idea if that’s what inspired it, or to the first child of the center idea. So, you want to kind of link these ideas with lines. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
It does. And I tell you what, it really reduces some of my resistance. Because when I looked at finished mind maps, one, they’re gorgeous with the multi-colors and the illustrations, and it seems so darned clear in terms of, “Oh, yes, these are some of the subcomponents of whatever.” It’s like, “Okay, like they’re showing off.”

But as you described it, it’s a way easier in terms of, “I’m going to be having random thoughts. I’m going to write them down, and then I’m going to link them.” And so then, I guess I wonder if, so in the case of the pancakes. So, they have that idea, and then it doesn’t seem to connect to anything, what do we do with that?

Daphne Gray-Grant
Well, you just let it sit there for a while and you keep mind mapping. You keep mind mapping until you have, what I call, the aha experience. And I just want to back up and address something you said a minute ago or so, Pete. If you could see my mind maps, you would understand how truly ugly mind maps can be.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you, Daphne.

Daphne Gray-Grant
Mine are hideous. I have horrible handwriting, I sometimes use colors if I’m really desperate to inspire my brain, but mostly I just use a pencil, and my mind maps look terrible, they look boring, and my handwriting is hard to read. But guess what? They still work.

Anyways. So, what you do is you keep mind mapping for three to five minutes until you have the aha experience or run out of things to say. And if you run out of things to say without having the aha experience, well, then you do a second mind map, and you take that first mind map and you use it to identify a different question to put in the center of the page for the second mind map, and then you spend another three to five minutes doing the second mind map. And if you don’t have the aha experience at the end of the second mind map, guess what I’m going to say? You do a third mind map.

And if you don’t have the aha experience at the end of the third mind map, then you do a fourth. And if you don’t have the aha experience at the end of the fourth, then you do a fifth. You just keep doing that until you have the aha experience. It’s really pretty simple. And people sometimes are a bit horrified when they don’t understand that a mind map is three to five minutes. So, in 30 minutes, you can do six to 10 mind maps really easily.

And, honest to goodness, I have known people who will sit and stare at a blank screen for 30 minutes. Doing the mind map is way more fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. Well, so while I’m thinking now, I’m thinking about one of our producers, Marco, shout out, he’s great. And so, I’m wondering if we’re doing some work associated with, hey, let’s just say it’s this very interview. We’re going to distill it, summarize some of the finest nuggets for distribution to our email list. I’m thinking someone is doing that kind of writing work, a summary of something. In a way it doesn’t require a sudden jolt of inspiration, or maybe you would disagree. I’d love your take on that. If our work is associated with summarizing or answering a series of questions in a proposal or an email, how do mind maps serve us there?

Daphne Gray-Grant
Yeah, so the thing about mind mapping is it’s a really useful flexible technique that can be adapted to a great many uses. So, I know one thing, I like to use mind mapping for if I’m planning an event or a party, mind mapping is the best thing to use because you’re allowed to let your mind go off in any direction. I don’t know if you’ve ever had to plan an event or a party, but one minute you’re thinking about drinks, the next minute you’re thinking about decorations, the next minute you’re thinking about who’s going to be invited, then you’re thinking about music. There’s so many directions you can go in and mind map is just very flexible. It allows you to note all those things down without contorting your mind into twisted positions like you have to with an outline.

So, it would be very useful for, say, as you said, if you wanted to write a summary of our call today, yeah, mind mapping would work really well for that. It would be really, really easy and, you’re quite right, if what you’re aiming at is a summary, then you don’t need the aha experience for that. You just need the main points noted down.

Pete Mockaitis
But you’re saying that it can be valuable in the sense of just seeing what left to mind in reflecting upon this conversation or transcript can generate some thoughts there in terms of that’s something that’s worth mentioning. And then, as you draw the connections, you could say, “Oh,” and then there might be some sub-bullets in that, some piece of the summary, so understood. So, not looking for a jolt of inspiration, but doing so can still give us some benefits associated with getting some organization and seeing what really is worth mentioning and pops there.

Daphne Gray-Grant
Absolutely. And I know some university students who like to take notes with mind mapping. Now, I’ve never had the nerve to try that myself but the people who do it swear by it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s maybe the first context I’ve heard about mind mapping, I thought, “That just kind of sounds hard.” Okay, cool. Well, thank you. You have made me a convert after some mind mapping skepticisms. So, okay, cool. There’s so much I want to talk to you about and, wow, where to go? All right. So, let’s say let’s talk about work, and usually I hit the why point earlier in the interview but we’re having too much fun. So, tell me, so if you’re not in a creative career, like you are an engineer or a project manager, can you make a case for just how important is it to write effectively? Like, is an expense report that’s not super succinct and brilliant in its writing, just fine, what’s the benefit and how do we think about what’s good enough?

Daphne Gray-Grant
Well, I think most people probably underestimate the impact that their writing has on others. As a society, we’re extremely judgmental. And I try to be very careful and respectful when I read other people’s writing, but I know there are some people that they see someone who has spelled “its” when what they should’ve said was “it’s,” they’re going to make all sorts of assumptions about the intelligence and the education level of that person. And those assumptions may be totally wrong.

One of my children is severely dyslexic. He’s incredibly smart, really, really gifted actually, but if you read his emails or his writings, he’s quite careful now, he works professionally and he uses software to check his spelling and all of those kinds of things, but it’s taken him a number of years to get to that point. And so, people are often judged quite harshly by their clients, by their bosses, by their coworkers based on how well they write.

And from a less judgmental point of view but from an effectiveness point of view, if you are someone who is trying to sell something to other people, if you don’t know how to write a good petty email that grabs the interest of the person and doesn’t wear out their eyeballs or test their patience, you’re going to be less successful as a salesperson.

So, it’s all about communication, and that’s really one of the key skills in our society. So, if you feel uncomfortable with writing, or if you hate writing, or if you procrastinate about it all the time, then, really, it’s worth taking a look at those natural tendencies you have and trying to make writing more of a friend to yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly, that’s compelling. And so, let’s talk about some of those bits on if we’re writing email, we want to grab attention. What are your pro tips there?

Daphne Gray-Grant
Oh, okay. So, the first is make sure your subject line says what the email is about. Oh, my goodness, I find it so frustrating because I use my email as a kind of a filing system, and I will remember, of course, who sent me an email about something, but then I’ll type in their name in that little search bar and I’ll get the last 200 emails from them. And I’ll look at the subject line, and I have to open every flipping email to find the one I want because they don’t have a subject line that made sense, that relates to the content they put in the email. So, you’re going to be far friendlier to your clients, to your bosses, to your coworkers if you make sure the subject line really expresses what the email is about.

Another thing I would say is that many people don’t indent frequently enough. So, I have so much experience in the newspaper business, I am accustomed to indenting every couple of sentences. And when I get an email that’s, say, 500 words long with no indents, it makes my eyes bug out. And so, frequently what I will do is I will send the email to myself again, and I will just add a bunch of indents because, frankly, I don’t want to read something unless it’s indented.

Now, one of the problems many people have is that they were wrongly persuaded by their Grade 10 English teacher that there are some very important, hard-to-understand rules about what constitutes an accurate and effective paragraph. I just say throw that stuff out the window. Paragraphing is a visual aid. When you have lots of nice white spaces where people can rest their eyes when they’re tired, they’re going to be much more enthusiastic about reading what you have to say. So, just arbitrarily put a new paragraph every couple of lines or so. It’s going to make your writing look much less intimidating.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m on board. And so then, I also want to get your take, when we are in the editing phase, boy, what are some the top mistakes or words and phrases that need to go because we could be much more concise without them? If you can sort of…this is your license to rant, Daphne. So, top things you see all the time that need to go or get fixed pronto.

Daphne Gray-Grant
Well, I think the number one thing, for me, is that most people write sentences that are way too long. And this is particularly true in corporate environments. I’ve worked with a lot of engineers, and engineers, by and large, write sentences that are far, far, far too long. So, there’s been a lot of research done on sentence length, and one of the things I can tell you, a metric I can give you, is that the optimum sentence length, as an average, is 14 to 18 words.

Now, that might sound pretty short to you, but understand that when I say that, I’m using the word average, so I’m not saying that every sentence should be 14 to 18 words. I’m saying that it’s perfectly acceptable to have the occasional 40-word sentence but you need to balance it off with some one- to five-word sentences. And as long as you have that balance, then it’s going to be very readable to your readers. But if you don’t have that balance, they’re going to have to work way, way too hard to read it.

And so, what I often suggest to people is that they use some software that is downloadable on the internet, some of which you can pay for, most of which you can get for free, or at least use some form of it for free, that will automatically calculate your sentence length average, because you don’t want to have to do that kind of counting yourself manually. That would be way too much of a drag.

So, the software I recommend, there’s one called Count Wordsworth, and that’s free. You just copy and paste your text into the box and hit, I can’t remember what the button says. It might say process or something like that. You hit the button, and then underneath, the second measurement will tell you what your sentence length average is. And if it’s greater than 18 words, then understand that you need to go back to that piece and you need to shorten some of those sentences.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. I also have been using the Hemingway Editor as well.

Daphne Gray-Grant
Oh, yes. You know what, I want to rant about the Hemingway Editor.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, then take it away.

Daphne Gray-Grant
Okay. Well, the Hemingway Editor is really fun to use and I promoted it quite heartily for a number of years. But then I eventually realized that the Hemingway Editor makes every long sentence a problem.

Pete Mockaitis
It highlights it. You feel like you have to do something about it.

Daphne Gray-Grant
Yes, yes. And, in fact, every long sentence is not a problem. In fact, it’s more of a problem to have too many sentences that are exactly the same length. So, writing is a form of music in a way. If you take some writing and you read it out loud, you’ll hear that it has a natural rhythm, and you want a sense of rhythm in your writing. And if you write all your sentences to be exactly the same length, that’s going to mess with your rhythm. So, that’s what happens with people who pay too much attention to the Hemingway Editor.

Now, the Hemingway Editor is really good at a couple of things. So, I would say ignore what it says about sentences that are too long, so those are the red and yellow measurements, but really pay attention to the green ones because that’s the passive voice. And passive voice, where you hide the actor of the sentence, so I’m going to explain this slowly and clearly because a lot of people don’t understand passive voice. It’s not a test.

Pete Mockaitis
The passive voice is used by many.

Daphne Gray-Grant
Yes, it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Zing. Okay, go ahead. Take it away.

Daphne Gray-Grant
So, my favorite passive sentence is “Mistakes were made.” So, that was said by a number of presidents on both sides of the aisle, and, basically, it’s kind of a term that allows you to hide who was doing the mistake-making. So, that’s one reason why you want to avoid passive voice. But the other is, if you think about it, the world’s best writing allows the reader to form visual images in their own mind’s eye. And if you refuse to give people a visual image or the subject of the sentence, then that is going to make it really hard for them to form those visual images. So, it makes the job of reading much harder for the reader if you have too many passive voice sentences in there. So, that’s the main reason why I suggest turning them into active voice.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I am well on board and I’m impressed with your knowledge of Hemingway, that off the top of your head you knew the green was the highlight they use for passive voice.

Daphne Gray-Grant
Yeah. The purple one is quite good too. That’s words that are unnecessarily complex. So, my hobby horse is “utilize.” Why does anyone say utilize? “Use” is a perfectly good three-letter word.

Pete Mockaitis
I got a kick out of it in consulting. There’s a lot of “leveraging” going on. Instead of “using”…

Daphne Gray-Grant
Yeah, I know. I know.

Pete Mockaitis
I think leveraging really does have a nice meaning in particular contexts associated with, “Oh, when we use this thing, we can do so much more than when we didn’t do this thing, just like with a big lever.” But it can very quickly get overused.

Daphne Gray-Grant
For sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, please, any other rants in terms of big mistakes that happen a lot that need to stop?

Daphne Gray-Grant
Oh, just let me think for a second. Sentences that are too long, passive voice. Oh, you know what? This is a really good one. Words ending in T-I-O-N. So, words ending in T-I-O-N, like creation, they take a perfectly good verb, create, and they turn it into a noun. And so, once you have that noun, then you have to add another verb to the sentence because it’s not a sentence without a verb, right?

And so, usually, to deal with those T-I-O-N words, you have to use a really boring verb like is, or was, or has, or have, and that’s going to make your sentence far wordier than it needs to be, so that leads to longer than necessary sentences. And verbs like is and was and has are hard to visualize so they don’t give you really interesting sentences. So, one of the things I like to do, if I’m editing something for someone, I will type T-I-O-N in the search box and I’ll go through the piece, and I will justify every word ending in T-I-O-N or I’ll change it if I can.

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

Daphne Gray-Grant
Oh, I can’t think of anything else right now.

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

Daphne Gray-Grant
One of my favorites, all-time favorite quote has been attributed to at least six people. So, without really knowing who said it, here goes, “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes at 9:00 every morning.”

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve looked that up before because I think there’s so many variations too, and it’s like, “And I make darn sure it strikes at, you know, this time.”

Daphne Gray-Grant
Yeah. I always attribute it to Peter De Vries but then I found out that William Faulkner and Somerset Maugham said something almost exactly the same. So, I’m clear about saying it’s been attributed to at least six people now.

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

Daphne Gray-Grant
Yeah. So, many of the procrastinators I worked with give me lots of reasons for delaying writing. And one excuse I hear quite a bit is perfectionism. But 30 years of research and hundreds of studies have shown that that is not actually true. So, one of the big researchers on this topic is a professor in the Netherlands named Henri Schouwenburg but for anyone who doesn’t want to read peer-reviewed journals, you can learn about it in a plan English kind of way in a book by Piers Steel called The Procrastination Equation.

So, what that research shows, is that you’re not likely to be messed up by perfectionism when you’re having a hard time writing. What you need to do is turn off your phone, stop checking Facebook, stop worrying about whether you really know how to write, and just start writing.

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

Daphne Gray-Grant
Can I give you two?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Daphne Gray-Grant
Okay. Well, for someone at a typical job, I highly recommend the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. So, what I like about this book is it explains how to build good habits and get rid of bad ones. But, more importantly, to me, as a writing coach, it’s one of the best-written books I’ve ever read. It’s so engaging and I love the way that he reports on science through the lens of storytelling. So, I just couldn’t put it down. Really, really great book.

The second book I want to recommend is aimed at grad students and people who work in academic settings, and that book is The Now Habit by Neil Fiore. So, this book presents a really compelling argument that most academics spend far too much time writing and instead would be more productive if they curtailed their writing time. So, I really love counterintuitive arguments like that, and it’s a fast and easy read, and I recommend it to anyone who feels they’re spending too much time in writing and, particularly, if they’re in academic.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite tool?

Daphne Gray-Grant
For me, that’s the Pomodoro. Are you familiar with the Pomodoro?

Pete Mockaitis
Is that the 25-minute timer?

Daphne Gray-Grant
Absolutely. So, ample things I’ll say about the Pomodoro. The idea is that you pledge to spend 25 minutes on a particular task and you do it without interruptions. So, you don’t allow other people to interrupt you, and one way you can do this is to wear headphones even if you’re in a big open-area office. If you put headphones on, most people won’t bother you, and you have a timer operating while you’re doing this.

Now, when I started the Pomodoro about 12 years ago, I think, now, I thought the idea of a noisy timer was the kookiest thing I had ever heard so I didn’t do it. And then I had a friend who started the Pomodoro at the same time. So, we used to meet for coffee once a week. And we started the Pomodoro, we met for coffee a week later. And I walked into the coffee shop and she reaches into her purse, and she pulls out a timer in the shape of a chicken, and she was so excited and delighted by it. I just looked at her in horror and said, “I can’t believe you’re doing that. How can you write with that thing making a noise?”

And she looked me in the eye, and she said, “Oh, I find it a comforting wall of sound.” And something about the poetry of that phrase kind of appealed to me so I decided to try it, and I went and found a timer. I’m just going to play it for you right now so you can hear. Do you hear that?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Daphne Gray-Grant
Yeah. So, I work with that going all day long. So, I go from one task to the next, I have a little day plan on a clipboard beside my desk, and I will spend 25 minutes writing something, doing something, editing something, with that timer going. And I find the timer really, really keeps me focused. And when I had a hard time writing initially, I found that maybe the timer just occupied enough space in my brain to make me forget about how much I hated writing and just allowed me to write without worrying about that. But I find the noise really helpful, very, very productive.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And we had a previous guest, I think it was Rahaf Harfoush, who mentioned she likes listening to white noise from the Star Trek: The Next Generation Engine Idling, and so I hunted it down on YouTube and, sure enough, I really like it because it kind of reminds me as a youngster I liked the show, and it just sort of is comforting in terms of, “Oh, all those interesting people in that Starship, you know, this is what they hear all the time in their fictional world.”

Daphne Gray-Grant
Yeah, indeed.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Daphne Gray-Grant
I think, you know what, it’s my…I don’t even know what to call it. Every morning, the first thing I do is I have a little chart in Microsoft Word that has all the day divided by half hours. And before I start my work, I plan how I’m going to spend each of those half hours. Actually, it’s only, each of those is 25 minutes because I take a break of five minutes between each task.

So, I have found that I probably tripled my productivity by doing this, and it’s a really, really great habit, and I don’t feel comfortable now until I have a daily plan. And once I have the daily plan, I can look at it and I can see I’m going to get everything accomplished during the day, and that gives me a sense of comfort and ease that makes my work day possible.

Pete Mockaitis
And, Daphne, I’m also intrigued by this in terms of sometimes I really like to hunker down for an hour, an hour and a half, uninterrupted. And so, you’ve got these 25-minute timer, the 5-minute breaks, and I guess right now we’ve spoken for 46 minutes straight. How do you navigate that part of things?

Daphne Gray-Grant
So, you’re entered in my little calendar, actually, for two 25-minute counts.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we’re almost running out.

Daphne Gray-Grant
I know. You know what, fortunately, I don’t have anything urgent afterwards, so I can play with the calendar a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about is there a particular nugget, something that you’re known for and people quote back to you often?

Daphne Gray-Grant
Yes. I have this expression for what I call the first draft that anyone writes, and that’s a crappy first draft. And what I often emphasize to my clients is that they need to understand the first draft of anything you write should be really bad, and that’s why I call it the crappy first draft. And if it’s not crappy enough, then that’s a problem because that’s a sign you’ve been editing as you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love that.

Daphne Gray-Grant
Yeah, you want a crappy first draft. When people tell me, they say, “Oh, I’ve got a first draft but it’s really crappy,” and I say, “Congratulations! That’s what you want.”

Pete Mockaitis
I really dig that. We had a previous guest, David Kadavy, who, I don’t know if he invented this term, but he refers to the first draft, instead of a rough draft, a barf draft. That’s just very visceral.

Daphne Gray-Grant
That’s good, yes. That’s good.

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

Daphne Gray-Grant
On my website www.PublicationCoach.com. So, that site contains hundreds of articles and dozens of videos on every aspect of writing. And if you go there, then please be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter. It goes all around the world. Just enter your name and your email address on the little form on my homepage, and, in return, you’ll not only get my free weekly newsletter, you’ll also get a free booklet on mind mapping.

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

Daphne Gray-Grant
Indeed. I would say start with a really small habit. So, there’s no time that is too small, even one to five minutes a day is enough to begin writing. Focus on the habit rather than the end product, because once you have a habit in place, you can achieve great results.

Pete Mockaitis
Daphne, this has been lots of fun. I wish you lots of luck with your writing and your coaching of writers, and all your adventures.

Daphne Gray-Grant
Thanks so much, Pete. Great talking to you.

525: Delivering Presentations with Presence and Confidence with Christine Clapp

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Christine Clapp says: "The speech isn't about you. The speech is about doing something for your audience."

Christine Clapp shares best practices for preparing and delivering engaging presentations.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The most common mistake in presentation preparation
  2. The five S’s of confident speakers
  3. How to eliminate filler words

About Christine:

Christine Clapp is the author of Presenting at Work: A Guide to Public Speaking in Professional Contexts and the president of Spoken with Authority, a Washington, D.C.-based presentation skills consultancy that includes a team of six expert coaches. Through training programs and coaching engagements, Christine and her team help professionals at law firms, corporations, associations, and non-profit organizations build the confidence to connect and the capacity to lead.

Christine holds two degrees in communication: a bachelor’s degree from Willamette University, and a master’s degree from the University of Maryland, College Park. She also taught public speaking to undergraduate and graduate students at The George Washington University for thirteen years.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Christine Clapp Interview Transcript

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

Christine Clapp
Thanks so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I was intrigued to learn that your family is on a mission to visit all 60 national parks, and you’ve got almost a third of them down already. So, what’s the story here and which one is the best?

Christine Clapp
As a family, we started going to a few national parks and then we read about someone who had made it to every single national park, and we thought, “That’s a really great goal because getting to them requires that you go to different parts of the U.S.” and we thought that that was a laudable way to see the country and expose our kids to some interesting and beautiful sights and different people because we’re based here in Washington, D.C. and there’s a lot more to the U.S. than Washington, D.C.

And so far, I have to say my favorite park would be…it’s tough because I like different parks for different reasons. This last summer we went to Isle Royale National Park which is technically in Michigan but it’s very close to Canada and Lake Superior, and it was great because there were so few people there. You have to take a boat or seaplane to get there. And when our seaplane landed, we got a personal tour and briefing by the park ranger, and it was very different than going to Yellowstone or Glacier where there’s mile-long lines to get into the parks in the summer. So, I have to say that was great.

And then another one, we went to Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota a few summers ago and it’s really beautiful. It’s definitely off the beaten path and I think not many people get there but it’s worth seeing. It has some incredible hikes and wild horses and longhorn steer and bison. It was great.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really cool. That’s really cool. I’ve got a posse that they’ve sort of found their favorite spot and they return there every other year for camping. It is in the Clearwater National Forest in Idaho and, wow.

Christine Clapp
Nice. That’s fantastic. Yeah, I’m actually from Washington State, so this summer we’re going try to go to Mount Rainier, North Cascades and maybe hop down in Oregon. I’m blanking on the big…oh, Crater Lake. So, maybe we’ll get a chance to swing through Idaho and go to that National Forest, you said?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. It’s a good spot. We mostly just sit around in beauty.

Christine Clapp
It sounds lovely.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, so let’s talk about when you are not isolated from humanity and instead are presenting. You wrote a book Presenting at Work, and I was intrigued by the subtitle, A Guide to Public Speaking in Professional Contexts. And I want to get your take, how do you think about how speaking at work differs from other kinds of public speaking?

Christine Clapp
That’s a great question. I think the differentiator here is not between work and home, but it’s differentiating among the type of communication you do at work, or it’s a lack of differentiating. Many times, when we work with professionals, they were introduced to them and they say, “Oh, it’s really nice that you do public speaking training and coaching, but I’m not a public speaker.” But this is an individual who has phone calls every day, who leads meetings, who briefs clients, who gets asked by their director or partner about a project that they’re working on. They might give a training program or a webinar. They might speak at a professional association, and perhaps they give a toast at their company party yet they don’t think that they’re “public speaker.”

And our argument is that every conversation you have at a networking event, or at the watercooler, or meeting, or phone call, or someone popping their head in the office, those are public speaking situations at work, and there are ways that you can improve your performance in all of them. We also believe that if you aren’t working on improving your performance in those day-to-day conversations and meetings and briefings, it’s really hard to have the experience and to do well when you have those high-pressure, high-stakes, once a year, once in a career presentations that you have an opportunity to give.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that makes total sense. And you’re right, when you think of public speaking, that can create a picture of, “Oh, I’m on stage and there’s a giant crowd,” and away we go, dramatic TED Talk, keynote is unfolding. But, yeah, it’s certainly much broader than that in terms of perhaps more day-to-day encounters. Well, I’d love to get your take maybe if you can orient us to perhaps a story. Have you seen a client have a dramatic transformation and how did that go?

Christine Clapp
Yeah. Well, I would offer up that I myself was someone who was a terrible public speaker, so anyone who’s out there feeling like, “Oh, this woman, Christine, she has always been a great speaker, and I can’t take her advice because she’s naturally gifted and that’s just not something that I’m good at.” I want to let all of you know that I, too, struggled as a public speaker. It was something I was very uncomfortable with.

In fact, when my dad wrote a holiday letter when I was in second or third grade, he had a line in it that I was doing well in school and thriving, but a book report was a skill that I had yet to master. That prospect of doing a felt board presentation on a book I read as an eight-year old was overwhelming to me, and that’s something that dogged me in elementary school, in middle school, in high school.

And when I got to college, I was interested in the major of rhetoric. I went to a small school in Salem, Oregon and it’s only one of three universities at the time that had an undergraduate degree in the study of persuasion, which is rhetoric. And I was really interested in it but I almost changed my major when I found out that you had to have oral communication proficiency, which meant that you had to do the debate team or do public speaking as a course for a semester.

And that experience was something that, being forced to do, I decided to do debate because I thought it’d be less painful than doing a semester of public speaking class, and I went to two debate tournaments my second semester of freshman year, and I lost all 12 of my first 12 debates. I didn’t even win one. No one even slept in and I didn’t win by default. And it was humbling, and it was frustrating, and it was eye-opening because I knew it would always hamper my leadership potential no matter what career path I went down.

So, even after losing all 12 debates, I decided to come back my sophomore year and continue debating, and I did and I worked very hard. And my coach, I think, was somewhat surprised and impressed that I came back for more. I had a great partner. I had great coaches. We had state-of-the-art VHS recording technology in our debate lab and we could video-record and review our debates, and it was a great learning experience.

By the end of the year, my partner and I had qualified to go to nationals, and we even advanced to the elimination rounds of the tournament. So, that experience and continuing to debate regionally, nationally, and internationally throughout the rest of college, and going from being terrified and unsuccessful to having fun as a public speaker and a moderate level of success, it really did change my life, and it’s something that I knew I wanted to do for other people for the rest of my life. And that’s the best thing that we get to do is we get to work with individuals.

Most of the people we do work with are really bright subject-matter experts. They’re smart, they’re driven, they’re capable, they have great things to share. They’ve just never been taught how to share it in a public speaking setting, whether that’s a small group, or a large group, or even a one-on-one conversation with a client or a colleague. And that’s where we come in, and it’s really fulfilling to see them come into their own and become more confident and capable as speakers and leaders.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is really cool. So, let’s hear it. So, how is that done? If you find yourself terrified or at least just quite nervous when it comes to thinking about a presentation coming up, how do you, I guess, in that moment and then maybe prior to that moment, do the things you need to do so that it can become an enjoyable experience?

Christine Clapp
Well, we recommend that people take a three-pronged approach to becoming a better public speaker and presenter. And the three prongs are the long-term strategy, the midterm strategy, and the short-term strategy. If you think about the long-term strategy, you need to gain experience as a speaker. That might mean volunteering for more roles at your organization. And if you’re not finding in your current job that you have those opportunities yet, we encourage you to find opportunities through volunteer work that you may do. Maybe you’re involved in a religions institution where you can do public speaking.

But another great place for anyone across the U.S. or around the globe is Toastmasters International. Toastmasters is a public speaking organization. It’s a nonprofit. It’s a great place to find an audience if you want to get better as a public speaker. So, the long-term, we need you to get out there and do it because you’re not going to get better by thinking about it, or reading about it, or watching videos about it. You have to go out there and do it.

In the midterm, one of the big failures we see for most speakers is they don’t spend enough time working on their presentation. We talked earlier about these TED-style talks when you’re on a stage with a microphone, something like TED, a conference presentation, or a big product launch, that type of thing that a thought leader might do, that is going to take two to six months to prepare.

For many professionals when they’re doing an important briefing, doing a job pitch, if they’re going to a new position, or becoming partner or director at their firm, that’s something that’ll take one to two months. And for the more day-to-day type communication, speaking up in a meeting, doing a briefing on your monthly report, speaking to the board of directors at your organization, those types of presentations we recommend that you’d have at least one to two weeks to get ready for, and depending on how long it is, perhaps even longer. So, the midterm, you have to plan enough time to work on your presentation.

We also recommend doing 60/40. And my good friend Susan Trevor has recommended this, and I would recommend that everyone follow the 60/40 rule, which is you want to spend 60% of your time practicing your presentation and only 40% of the time on putting together the content. Most people spend 90% of the time putting down, doing research, writing things out, doing slides, and they spend very little time saying it out loud. And that’s why most people are really nervous and why most presentations fall flat. You need to put your content together, and, as you rehearse it, you will improve the content, but you also improve your familiarity and your dynamism as a speaker. So, that’s the midterm.

And then for the short-term approach, we recommend that everyone has a pre-speaking routine. Every person’s will be different, but it’s to think through, “How many hours of sleep do I need the night before my presentation? How do I stay hydrated? What do I eat to feel my best? What kind of exercise do I do in the morning of my presentation? Or, do I do yoga, or practice meditation, or mindfulness practices? When do I do my last run-through of my presentation? Do I need to talk to my mom or dad or my best friend on the phone to pump me up? Or do I have a passage of scripture, or a quotation that makes me feel great, or a playlist on my music?” Everyone needs to find out how they can be at their mental and physical best in the day or two before presentation, because if you’re not feeling well, you’re not going to present well no matter how much time you spend in the long-term or in the midterm.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy, there’s so much good stuff there. So, thank you for bringing it. So, that 60/40 rule, that’s interesting. I do not do that, and I’m a professional speaker, in that I’m paid to keynote dozens of times. I guess I’m really intrigued by that because, in a way, I think it’s awesome in terms of, it’s like, yeah, you’re right. The 90/10 ratio of people doing right now with content to practicing is not serving them well, I think, particularly, if you’re feeling nerves.

So, that 60/40, do you recommend that for nervous people or people doing a first speech or speech they’ve done before? I guess what context do you think, and maybe I’m just hyper-fixating over this number, that’s a weakness of mine, in what context do you think the 60/40 rule is perfect and where might you want to edge those numbers in one or the other direction?

Christine Clapp
Yeah. We recommend the 60/40 rule for people who are newer to public speaking and people who are more seasoned speakers but are speaking on a topic that is fresh. So, maybe those are the numbers this month are fresh, or this new research is fresh. So, the reason why 60/40 is really helpful is that your brain will always go to, “What do I say?” before it can have bandwidth of, “How do I say it dynamically?” And until you have that repetitive practice, and for most of our speakers it’s six rehearsals out loud, six sticks. And when people get to the six rehearsals, things stick, it gets very easy for them to remember.

And the first few rehearsals for most people, you get a little bit more awkward, and stiff, and you have a hard time getting things off your tongue. But, for whatever reason, I’ve never found any research to explain why, but for most speakers, six times is when you achieve fluidity with the material and you can be in the moment. Sometimes people say to us, “If I rehearse, I don’t feel present. I’m better and I’m more myself if I’m winging it.”

But the fact is that is if you practice enough, you get over that hump of becoming awkward and a slave to your notes, and you really understand the material, and you barely have to glance at your notes or your slides, and you can be in the moment, and you can be funny, and you can respond to your audience, and you can do all the things that great speakers do.

You talked about being a keynote speaker, the fact is, is that if you talk about the same topics regularly, you’ve already done those six rehearsals. You’ve probably done it hundreds if not thousands of times. So, as you do get, like you and me, when we do similar trainings and programs, yeah, we tailor them, but we do have those core modules that we’ll follow through, and we’ve done them so many times and we can be present and in the moment. Whereas, someone who is newer to speaking, or has a new set of material, you have to do those six rehearsals until you get comfortable.

And I would argue that standup comics and trainers like you and me, most of us, we will beta test our new products, our new presentations, or our new jokes on audiences before we put them out for primetime, and it’s partly because of that. You need to get through it six times because you don’t know what people are going to laugh at, or how they’re going to react, or what stories are going to fall flat until you do those six rehearsals.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s very well-said. And I really am resonating there in terms of that hump, it makes total sense in terms of folks saying, “Hey, I feel unnatural.” It’s like, “Well, yeah, you’re in that kind of weird in-between zone. You’re going to feel unnatural. But if you get on the other side of that, then you’re going to feel even more natural than you would had you done zero because you’re able…” That’s what I find is when I’m liberated from having to remember my content, it’s just like the whole universe opens up. It’s almost like The Matrix, you know. It’s like, “I can look at you, I can listen, I can read the room,” as opposed to, “Okay, what was the next thing I was going to say?” It changes everything.

Christine Clapp
Exactly. Yeah, one of the things we also recommend that speakers do is to avoid, whenever possible, scripting their presentations word-for-word because that makes people get tied up in the specific wording and they feel like they have to memorize it word-for-word, which takes way more than six rehearsals to do. Well, that’s what trained actors do and it takes much more than six practices. That’s why we recommend using an outline that’s detailed, that’s well-researched, but that you rehearse it so you can look at the words and phrases on the sheet, and you could talk about their data and tell the stories in a natural and conversational way.

And every time you say it it’s going to be a little bit different. If you have to have a printed-out speech at the very end of your presentation to give to reporters or for the record, this is not a good way to do it, but a few of us are under those types of constraints in our professional lives. Most of us just need to be confident and accurate in having that outline, and rehearsing it is a really great way to get to that being present, and conversational, and also being able to react to the audience in real time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s dead-on. I think there’s something to be said for, perhaps, memorizing the killer line or two.

Christine Clapp
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I was just talking to an audio engineer today, and he said, “It’s not about the wand. It’s about the wizard.” I was like, “Oh, that’s so good. Tweet that.” So, mostly impromptu, or not impromptu, mostly kind of extemporaneous. You got your outline and then you got your couple winner lines pre-memorized perhaps.

Christine Clapp
I absolutely agree. We have a method to outline presentations, we call it the sandwich structure methodology. And we recommend, it’s on our website, SpokenWithAuthority.com, we have under Resources our speech outline tool. It’s free. Anyone can check it out and put in your content and kick out a PDF or print it off on a piece of paper. And we do have a space at the top of the paper and the bottom of the paper, we encourage you to try to keep your ideas on one page so that you’re not scripting, and that you’re thinking in terms of your arc of the story of the presentation and how all the pieces fit together. But we do have space on that piece of paper to write your opening line or two and your closing line or two.

And I don’t disagree with you on hitting other key phrases or lines in a memorized way, but the beginning and end are really important, and it’s where a lot of speakers fall flat. The introduction is when people decide if they’re going to listen to you or not. It also happens to be the one minute when people are the most nervous. Most people get into more manageable level of nervousness after the first 30 to 60 seconds of a presentation. So, we encourage you to write it out, make it really good, really catchy, and memorize word-for-word so that you can be on complete autopilot when you’re looking out into the room, at the conference table, or on the webinar, or on the stage and looking into the audience. You can deliver it really well.

And then if you completely freeze and have that moment where your mind goes blank, you can just read it off the sheet of paper, and the content is still there, and then you can get into that more extemporaneous conversational delivery in the body of the speech. And then we have at the end, places to write that last line or two, your close. In business, we oftentimes have to ask for business, or ask for the next steps, or where we’re going from here. If you don’t think about how to do that, you’re going to miss out on really crucial opportunities to advance whatever project you’re working on, but also your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Thank you. Let’s talk a little bit about some of those pre-speaking rituals. You gave a nice little lineup there. Could you share, what are those that you have found come up the most often for people, or you’ve seen have had the most dramatic calming effects?

Christine Clapp
The most helpful thing to do, in my opinion, for the broadest number of speakers, right, everyone is unique, but over 11 years in doing this work, one of the things that seems to have a really great effect on people who are presenting to help calm them down and to prepare them to present is to do some variation of warming up their body and their voice. And there’s a lot of different ways to do this. You may have learned something in theater that works for you, or debate, or in some other situation. But your body and your voice have to be warm in order to do your best.

We think about public speaking as being a really physically-exhausting and difficult thing to do. It’s hard to speak loudly. It’s hard to have big open gestures. It’s hard to be enthusiastic and to avoid saying uhms and ahhs, and to make eye contact. It’s hard to do that for five minutes or two hours, however short or long your presentation is. So, it’s just like running a marathon or a 10K, you don’t want to walk up to the start line completely cold.

So, some of the things we recommend you do is do some exercise in the morning, whatever that is for you that makes you feel your best so that your body is physically warmed up. You can also do some stretches. It helps to really work on the shoulders, neck, and jaw because that’s where people have the most tension as speakers. When we get nervous, our shoulders go up, it causes our larynx to come up in our throat. Our voice gets high, it gets tensed. It’s hard to project, it gets higher and softer and faster. And by relaxing the shoulders, it allows you to get to the deeper part of your voice, slow down your rate of speaking, to breathe more comfortably. So, working on the breath, the body, and then the voice. So, working on vocal warmups. And if you’ve ever watched The Anchorman, you know some of them, red leather, yellow leather, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I was just thinking of that. Was it the bishop, butt-less chaps, or…

Christine Clapp
They’re great. We have our own whatever tongue twisters you know. We have some in our book, red leather, yellow leather. I’m encouraging you to repeat them four or five times. You want to speak lowly, loudly, slowly, and also clearly where you’re articulating and really moving your mouth and lips, and hitting every sound, stretching out your vowels, when you do your tongue twisters to do that. And that can help counteract that tendency to have the shoulders up, the voice high, and the rate fast when you first start.

If you start a presentation in that manner, it’s very hard to reverse it, so you have to start shoulders down, voice at a nice part of its range, and slow and crisp, and that’s much easier to maintain throughout.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, you mentioned five secrets of speaking with confidence, and each of them starts with an S, the stance, sound, smile, silence, sight. I thought I must hear a little bit about each of these.

Christine Clapp
Yeah, absolutely. Those are the five S’s and this is relevant whether you’re in your first day in your job or you’re going to retire tomorrow. These are important in every interaction in a workplace situation. Your stance is your body language, and we recommend that you try to have your body open. So, if you’re sitting down, to try to avoid crossing your arms at your chest which can come across as closed. And if you’re doing a formal presentation, coming around the lectern rather than standing behind it so you have more physical presence, or perhaps it means just when it’s your turn in the meeting, perhaps try standing up rather than sitting down. So, just having physical presence is about your stance.

Sound is about your vocal presence. So, we talked a bit about that just now about being low, loud, slow, and clear. There’s a piece called “How the Voice Persuades” and it talks about how being louder makes you more persuasive. And this is something that Aristotle and the ancient Greeks were telling us back in the 5th century BCE, but now we have empirical evidence, from a quantitative survey, that supports their recommendations. So, we want you to have that loud resonant voice so people can hear you and so that you are perceived as being more confident persuasive.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that resonates in terms – huh, resonates, it’s so meta – in terms of if you’re kind of soft. There’s a Saturday Night Live, I think with the Shy Ronnie with Andy Sandberg, he’s supposed to be a hip-hop guy but he’s really barely getting a word out there.

Christine Clapp
Kind of like Justin Timberlake?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so it’s like a joke, like, ‘Ha, ha, ha,” like that’s not going to work in that stage environment, and it’s also you’re saying, we’ve got the wisdom from the ancient rhetors as well as new science on this. So, I’m hearing that many of us could afford to be louder than we’re being right now. How loud is too loud and how do we assess that?

Christine Clapp
In all of the speakers who I’ve worked with, 99.9% of them are not too loud. We have a distorted perception of how loud we are. We also have a perception of how enthusiastic we are. We think we’re so much more loud and enthusiastic than our audiences perceive us to be. And one other thing about volume to think about is in the workplace or in the society at large, about one in ten individuals over 18 has hearing loss. When you get over 55, that goes up to a much higher rate of individuals, so you might have three in ten individuals who have hearing loss. And when you get to folks who are in their 60s and 70s, so some of the leaders of our organizations, people are working longer and are active and they’re participating in the workplace, the number of people who experience hearing loss is really significant.

I’m happy to share some numbers that we have with you all. But it’s a matter of people being able to be included in your conversations. And if you’re ever given a microphone to present at an event, always take the microphone. You may not know why you’re given a microphone, someone may have hearing loss, or it may be something that they absolutely have to have to participate. So, when you say, “Oh, I’m fine. I can speak loudly,” it’s like you’re saying, “We shouldn’t have a ramp out front for people in a wheelchair.” Like, you can’t see people who are hearing impaired so you should always speak loudly and always take the microphone.

So, there’s body language, there’s vocal presence, the last three are smile, silence, and sight of the five elements of your executive presence, your professional presence. Smile is your enthusiasm, and we don’t recommend that you smile when you’re delivering bad news, but we do recommend that you speak with enthusiasm and passion whenever you’re communicating, and that you show appropriate facial expressions to whatever you’re communicating. You always want the verbal and nonverbal to match, because when the verbal and nonverbal conflict, people get confused about what your message actually is, but you want to make sure that you’re showing energy, passion, and enthusiasm whenever you’re speaking, and smile is our shorthand for that concept.

Silence is trying to avoid filler words uhm, ah, like, you know, so, kind of, sort of, okay, right, and, between every sentence. These are words and phrases that make us look less polished and concise. They also can be distracting when we use a high degree of them, 10, 12 per minute gets to that point where people are conscious about it and they start to count them.

And then, lastly, is your sight or eye contact. One of the reasons why we encourage people to avoid scripting is we don’t want you to read. Being able to look at people is so important to build rapport, whether it’s with a colleague or client, and you have to get those eyes out of your notes. So, having words and phrases that you’ve rehearsed provides the setting. And then when you look up, you should hold your gaze, and this is for the U.S. or Western Europe.

There are cultural distinctions with eye contact, but a three-second eye contact, one, Mississippi, two, Mississippi, three, Mississippi, before blinking or looking away is absolutely appropriate in a U.S. or Western European or North American context, in a business setting, in a conversation, or even personal setting. And most people, they might hold their eye contact one to two seconds, so having that long eye contact can help establish your level of confidence and rapport with your listener.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a nice lineup there. And so, I’d love to get your take when it comes to those vocal pauses. It is so funny, I find that mine evolved over time in terms of I think I’ve eliminated a fair number of ahs, uhms, likes, you knows, and then I discovered from my coaching work, I tried to seem less, I guess, in-your-face or confrontational so I found myself saying the phrase “I would say…” and then I caught myself saying that a lot when I was a guest on an interview, and I thought, “That makes me seem less authoritative and confident about that response. Like, this is just my opinion as opposed to some empirical fact, data-driven research.” I just said you know. Now you got me hyper-aware. So, how do you recommend folks work on purging those vocal pauses from their speaking?

Christine Clapp
Yeah, it is really important, and I’m glad you brought up that notion of qualifying what you’re saying because it is important to avoid and understand that can undermine your credibility. It’s also something that we see more commonly among women than men. Some of those patterns they come up in oral communication but also written in email communication, especially when people say, “I think we should do this,” instead of, “We should do this,” and also, “I just wanted to see if you could…” instead of saying, “Can you please…” or, “Please do this.”

And I’m glad that you mentioned it because I do think it’s important especially for junior and mid-level professionals to be aware of those kinds of constructions that might limit their leadership potential or their perceived level of confidence. But the way that we recommend that people avoid filler words is that they put their lips together and pause. One of the reasons why people use filler words is because they’re uncomfortable with silence which is, again, something that’s culturally situated and it’s not that way in every culture, but in the United States and Western Europe there generally is a distaste for silence when you have the floor, whether it’s in a phone call, or negotiation, or presentation.

You have to have silence though. It’s really important. It allows you to breathe. It allows you to avoid those filler words that can be distracting, annoying, or undermine your credibility. It also provides people a moment to catch up with your train of thought. If you are speaking to an international audience, and there is a translator, those pauses are really important so that a translator can catch up, or an interpreter if you’re speaking to individuals who are hard of hearing. So, those pauses are really, really important.

Putting your lips together is something that feels awkward. It doesn’t look awkward to people who are listening to you. And a way that we teach our clients to get in the habit of putting their lips together where there’s a comma, where there’s a period, or they don’t know what to say next, whether it’s they lost their train of thought in a presentation, or they’re asked a question off the cuff and they need to think of a good response, is we do the handclap toe tap technique. And this is something you could do when you’re practicing to give an update in a meeting or to give a speech. We want you to run through a couple times on your own so you get more fluid with the material, then you can do a handclap every time you get to a period or a comma. And every time your hands clap, your lips go together. And that’s when you’re practicing gets you into the habit.

And then from a handclap, you go to a toe tap, so you have an audible sound of your toe hitting the floor when your lips are together. And then when you’re in a meeting or standing up giving your presentation, you go from the handclap to the toe tap to just scrunching your toes in your shoes and grabbing the floor, and it allows you to remind yourself to do something when your lips are closed to have those pauses, but no one can perceive it unless, of course, you’re wearing flipflops at work but that’s another situation to discuss for a later date.

But it’s the idea of taking one habit and giving yourself a less-problematic habit, which is the same strategy that people use to stop smoking. So, you might go from smoking to the Nicorette patch, to the Nicorette gum, to a regular gum, and you have gone from one habit to the other. That’s the same thing as the handclap to the toe tap to the scrunching your toes when your lips are closed, and it’s a process. Just know that when you’re tired, you’re going to use more junk words. The fewer rehearsals you’ve had the more junk words you’ll use. If you’ve had a drink at the company party, you’ll use more junk words in your toast than if you gave your toast before. Yeah, that’s why we have the one glass of champagne. Well, you never want to take a microphone after one glass.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there’s so much rich stuff here. Christine, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention for professionals before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Christine Clapp
Yeah, I would recommend that no matter what space you’re in, no matter how technical your work is, remember that being a leader in your organization or your industry will require presentations, whether it’s to ask for money to do your research, or whether it’s to pitch clients for new business, or whether it’s to garner votes to be in a position that you are on the ballot for. It’s not something that anyone in a leadership role can escape. And I would also argue that why would you want to escape public speaking? In the sense that if you have great ideas, public speaking is, in my opinion, the pen and the microphone, those are the two most powerful ways of sharing those ideas.

And I think, as we move to more and more video, and people consume information in shorter and shorter spurts of time, and we have better internet and bandwidth, I think we’re going to see more and more of the spoken word than the written word as a way that people learn, so don’t shy away from public speaking. You will need it for your leadership journey.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Christine, let’s now hear about some of your favorite things. How about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Christine Clapp
“Do or do not. There is no try,” I think is a great quotation because you could practice and put things on the backburner forever, but when you’re 85% ready to give a presentation, go do it. It’s never going to be perfect. There’s never a perfect speech, there’s always three speeches. There’s a speech that you plan, there’s a speech you give, and there’s a speech you wish you would’ve given, and they’re never the same. So, just go out there, do the best you can, and embrace it in its imperfection.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And can you share a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Christine Clapp
Yeah. Well, I mentioned earlier that the ancient Greeks had this in the 5th century before the common era. If you aren’t familiar with Aristotle, his treatise on rhetoric is the foundation of modern-day persuasion. It is not an empirical research document. It is in the humanities but it’s the root of the principles that we do our empirical research on in persuasion and communication today, much of it. So, I would have people learn about ethos, pathos, and logos, and artistic proofs, and inartistic proofs, and get a good grounding in Aristotle, and from there start looking at some of the present-day empirical research on the areas that you’re interested in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book? I guess Rhetoric is one of them.

Christine Clapp
Yeah, Rhetoric is one of them. Yeah, it’s not a super easy read but definitely worth checking out the concepts. People think that it was an unfinished work of Aristotle, which makes it a little bit harder to read than some of his other work. But if you can get a concise summary of the points in it, that’s very useful.

Other books that are more recent other than ancient Greek treatises, I would recommend a couple. So, a few of my favorite books are Resonate by Nancy Duarte.

Pete Mockaitis
We just had her on the show recently.

Christine Clapp
Did you, really? Oh, that’s so wonderful.

Pete Mockaitis
She’s great.

Christine Clapp
Yeah, she’s great. So, I listen to her podcast episode, and also read her book Resonate. She also has a book called slide:ology that’s great. Another one that I would recommend for folks who struggle with vocal quality, there’s a book called Full Voice by Barbara McAfee. Another two that are in the same genre but are both worth reading, there’s Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo.

Pete Mockaitis
We had him, too.

Christine Clapp
Oh, he’s great. Yeah, and his perspective is you need to identify ways that you can draw from a TED-style of speaking and bring it to the workplace because everyone in your audience at work has been watching TED Talks at home and on their coffee break, and the see them at conferences and learning events. So, if you’re not borrowing the trappings for your report to the board, or for your briefing, or your educational program, they’re going to see a disconnect between you and leadership.

And then another one is Chris Anderson, the TED Director, his book is called TED Talks which is also another great book on the TED style but it’s more focused on speakers who are looking to do a TED-style talk, which is something that’s becoming more and more common at conferences. So, many of the speakers who we are working on TED Talks now, they’re subject-matter experts who are at their association or their industry conference, and they’re doing a 20-minute TED-style presentation. So, a lot of people who are listening might be thinking, “Oh, I’m never going to give a TED Talk.” But, actually, you might because it’s a format that’s becoming more and more popular and used in more and more settings.

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

Christine Clapp
Our favorite tool is our outline tool, the sandwich structure outline I think is a really great plug-and-play methodology that anyone at any point in their career can use to make their presentation more cohesive, more powerful, more well-structured, and to support that dynamic style of delivery that will keep your audience engaged.

Pete Mockaitis
And I also want to get your take, when it come to favorites, is there a habit that you maintain that helps you be more effective?

Christine Clapp
I am a runner. I’ve been running since, so, about 15 years now. I started when I was 25. I used to work on Capitol Hill, and some of my officemates said, “Hey, why don’t you run on our office’s Cherry Blossom 10-miler Team?” And I signed up, and I never thought I could do a 10-miler. And I started training in January where I ran one minute, walked one minute. And by the time April came around, I ran this 10-mile race. Then I continued running with these same friends, and they said, “Well, if you could run 10 miles, you can run 26.2.” And I thought, “Oh, whatever.”

So, I kept running with them and, sure enough, I got to the 18-mile run, I thought, “Oh, I don’t want to sign up for Marine Corps,” and they said, “You did 95% of the training. We have one more long run, do it.” So, I did, so I have been a long-distance runner. I’ve ran 10 marathons. I don’t run the long distances anymore because I have an eight-year old and an 11-year old, so I spend my Saturdays at flag football and soccer, and that’s what I choose to do with that time, but I still do run three or four times a week for a couple of miles, three, four, five.

And I think it’s just a great way to decompress and to deal with if you have a big presentation. For me, it helps me get rid of that nervous energy, helps ground me, and I think helps keep me healthy and sane. And, for me, that’s, I think, one of the reasons why. It seems weird, running shouldn’t help you do more, but I feel it helps ground me so that I am able to produce more and do more as a professional. So, whatever that outlet is for you, find it.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your listeners, your clients, they repeat it back to you often?

Christine Clapp
I think one of the secrets of public speaking that our clients have an aha moment with is that it’s not about you, it’s about the audience, and that comes straight from Aristotle. When we go into public speaking situations, the reason why people are nervous is because they’re thinking, “I’m going to do this wrong. I am going to be judged for this or that, or the slide is wrong, or I’ll forget.” It’s all about how they perceive the audience reacting to them, “Me, me, me, me, me.”

But the speech isn’t about you. The speech is about doing something for your audience. And if you can keep that in mind, that it’s about helping them, it doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. It takes the stress away from being perfect because even Carmine Gallo or Nancy Duarte, they’re wonderful speakers and they have so much to give, but their speeches aren’t technically perfect. They’ll have a few junk words, or their gestures might be lacking here or there, but that doesn’t matter because they are giving you something really valuable in terms of information. So, it’s not about being technically perfect. It’s not about you. It’s about giving something and focusing on your audience.

The other thing is that when I started doing this work 11 years ago, I started training and coaching, people didn’t have iPhones, people didn’t have Wi-Fi, people didn’t have laptops in the office. And giving a presentation, if people came to your conference and were listening to you, or in the meeting for your update, they were your hostages, they had nothing else to do. But, now, you not only have to be engaging them from daydreaming, you have to be better than the Worldwide Web and every email that they have in their inbox.

So, I think that the bar has gone up in terms of how much you need to engage your audience and think about them and what they need, and it’s reduced even further the amount that people pay attention to. No one has ever been critical, but now the speaker is almost irrelevant because we have so much other stuff going on when we’re listening. So, the real challenge of speakers is not being judged, but it’s about thinking about the audience and trying to get them to stop playing with their dang phones and laptops while you’re presenting.

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

Christine Clapp
The two places where people can learn more about us are SpokenWithAuthority.com and also PresentingAtWork.com is the book. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn. If you look for Christine Clapp, you will find me if you’re interested in connecting on one of those platforms and staying in conversation about presentation skills and public speaking.

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

Christine Clapp
My goal to you is to think about a big win that you could have in a year. So, I told you the story at the beginning of this interview about how it took me one year to go from being a zero in 12-debater to going to nationals in my debate. And while I don’t expect many of your listeners will be going to nationals, my question or my challenge to each one of them is to say, for you and where you are in your career today, what is nationals for you? What would a really big-deal presentation be for you in December 2020, by then?

So, think big and then start thinking about what you need to start doing in January, in February, in March, in April to get yourself ready for that speaking role. And if there’s any way my team and I can support along that journey, by all means, please let us know. We’d love to help.

Pete Mockaitis
Christine, this has been a treat. Thanks so much for bringing the goods, and keep up the great work.

Christine Clapp
Thank you so much.