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487: Communicating Powerfully, Succinctly, and Clearly with Erica Mandy

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Erica Mandy shares essential–but often overlooked–keys to becoming a more successful communicator in the modern environment.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How what you’re doing on Facebook can damage your credibility at work
  2. Words to purge from your communication
  3. The fundamental test to improve your communication

About Erica

Erica Mandy is an award-winning broadcast journalist and former TV news reporter who is building a new kind of media network, starting with her daily news podcast, The NewsWorthy. It provides all the day’s news in less than 10 minutes in a convenient, unbiased, and less depressing way – in what she calls “fast, fair and fun.” 

Erica is one of the first podcasters to partner with Podfund, a company that invests in extraordinary emerging podcasters, and she’s been named one of “50 Women Changing the World in Media & Entertainment.”

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Erica Mandy Interview Transcript

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

Erica Mandy
Thank you so much for having me. Happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ve been enjoying your podcast theNewsWorthy just about every day since we met at Podcast Movement in Orlando. So, thank you for making it. It really is helpful in my world. And I was also struck, when we were chatting, by just how much time you spend sort of reading, studying, processing news. Can you give us that figure?

Erica Mandy
Well, thank you for listening and thank you for saying that you’re enjoying it. I’m glad to hear that. Yeah, I spend a lot of time on the news for just a 10-minute show. It takes a lot more than 10 minutes, I can say that. I now have a team of two other writers, so together they spend about six hours looking at all the news of the day, reading multiple articles for each story, and then writing in our brand style the news stories.

Then I come in at the end and spend another two or three hours reviewing everything, making changes as necessary, and then recording, and editing, and publishing the show. So, it’s a full day of news consumption and reworking and updating before that 10 minutes goes out each day.

Pete Mockaitis
And I just love that you share with the podcast-listening audience that a lot goes into every show. And what’s fascinating here is that you don’t have reporters on the scene, like you are reading news that’s already been written, and it takes that much time to thoughtfully consider what needs to be covered and how do we say it in the clearest most succinct way that is very helpful to people as possible. And so, I just think it’s impressive and you probably have a lot to say about clear succinct communication for having done this so many times.

Erica Mandy
Yes. And part of the reason I started theNewsWorthy is because people were feeling very overwhelmed by all the information, you know, 24/7 phone notifications, 24/7 cable news outlets, so it can feel so overwhelming and sometimes kind of depressing because of all the doom and gloom that’s out there, that some people’s reaction is just to tune it out altogether.

But then we don’t feel informed. We can’t have good conversations at work when someone brings up a news story, right? So, that’s why I started it is to help people navigate that and do the hard work for them so that they only need 10 minutes a day to feel informed and know which stories they care most about to maybe then go read more about that one or two stories instead of trying to keep up with all the different things coming at them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and I think it’s so helpful for me personally because I tend to really get suck into the news because I’ll read an article, and say, “Well, that’s interesting. But I have several follow-up questions that were not addressed.” So, I then have to go hunt those down myself. And then an hour later it’s like, “Well, I have my answers but I don’t think it was worth it. I’ve lost my hour.” And so, I’ve come to sort of not like the news but I don’t like feeling dumb and be caught off guard more than I don’t like reading the news. And so, you sort of save the day for me. So, thank you for that.

Erica Mandy
I’m so happy to hear that. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, we’ll just sort get a quick tidbit. So, what’s sort of the differentiating philosophy? You’ve done the hard work, it’s short, your show. Why is it different and helpful in the world for those who have not yet sampled it?

Erica Mandy
So, I think my tagline “Fast, Fair, Fun,” sums it up and I can explain a little bit. Fast means that it’s less than 10 minutes. So, again, you just need that 10 minutes a day to feel well-rounded and at least somewhat informed when you’re walking into work each morning. It’s fair and unbiased. So, because we aren’t the reporter on the scene, we have the ability to look across multiple news sources and make sure that not one reporter’s bias is overly influencing our script. So, we pay special attention to looking at multiple news sources for every single story that goes into our show.

And then it’s fun. So, we provide fun news through variety. Yes, sometimes news is sad and depressing, and we will talk about those big news stories of the day even when they’re not necessarily fun, but we always make sure that every episode has some fun stories in that, whether it’s an interesting story about space, or something fun about an award show that happened the night before that people might be talking about. So, variety is the spice of life when it comes to our show.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve learned that Dwayne Johnson was the highest-paid actor of the year.

Erica Mandy
But you probably also learned about the Supreme Court, right? So, you get both in 10 minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, so good show. Thank you for making it. What I really want to zoom in on from a skill development perspective is communication with regard to specifically how can we be succinct and clear in our writing, in our speaking? You’ve done it so many times, I’m sure you have these conversations with your staff about word choice and sentence length and participles, and all these things as well as more sort of macro level.

So, maybe I’d love to get your take, having done journalism for a good while, what do you think is the state of communication in our world today? Do you think folks are generally communicating clearly and succinctly or is it a mess somewhere in the middle? Are we trending positively or negatively? I just want to get your global picture first.

Erica Mandy
Sure. So, like most things, I think there’s pros and cons to the state of our communication today. On one hand, we have all of these amazing communication tools right at our fingertips. So, for example, I just hired an editor who lives in Australia and is across the globe. And we met on Skype, we could talk about all the business deals. Now we communicate on Slack which is the messaging app, where, “Hey, the voice track is uploaded,” and, “Oh, I have a question about this.” And in seconds, someone in Australia and I are communicating quickly and easily. So, I love that ability.

On the same positive note for our communication is the ability to reach out to anybody. So, let’s say you’re looking for a mentor. Find someone on LinkedIn, and you can reach out to them without having their phone number or their email address, right? And because of the state of social media, I think people are pretty good at being forced to write that initial message in a concise way. Twitter, for example, forces you to do that, right? You only have so many characters in a tweet. So, I think there’s some really amazing opportunities with the tools we have in place if we use them strategically.

I think, on the flipside, it can be very difficult for people now to want to pick up the phone or have face-to-face conversations. When I started an interview segment that I do now on Thursdays on my show called Thing to Know Thursday, I sometimes like to do very timely news-related topics for that interview. So, I can’t email somebody and then wait three days for them to get back to me, and then schedule something. A lot of times I need to pick up the phone and call them, and say, “Hey, can you do an interview in the next hour?” and be succinct about it, right? And I think sometimes people struggle with that.

When my husband actually said to me when I was first starting this interview segment, “How did you get these people so quickly?” And I’m like, “Well, I just called and asked them.” And he said, “I don’t think a lot of people do that anymore. Like, people are afraid to have that conversation.” So, I think it’s important for us to remember that we can have the old ways of communicating as well and make sure that we’re using those strategically as well.

And then the other negative that I think can come from this is the misinformation that can go around online. So, for example, Pinterest just changed its policy about what search results it will give you for medical information because a lot of experts blame online misinformation for the fact that we’re having a measles outbreak, right, because parents got scared based on misinformation about what happens when they vaccinate their children. So, then some parents were choosing not to vaccinate their children, and now we have a measles outbreak, and it’s really a global problem. So, that can be based in misinformation.

And we have to be very conscious about the types of information that we then pass on. So, it can feel like a really quick way and concise way to communicate by just reposting something or forwarding something onto someone else. But if that information is not accurate, and we didn’t do our due diligence about what we’re forwarding on, that hurts our credibility because we were the ones that passed it on. And I can talk about some studies and some information that’s out there about, especially, young people having a hard time differentiating between real information that’s accurate and information that is not true or at least not sourced properly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, if you’ve got a statistic, lay it on us.

Erica Mandy
So, one of the things that really stuck out to me, first of all, is an MIT study that was published last year. They found false information spread six times faster than the truth on Twitter. So, we have to ask ourselves, “Are we the ones re-tweeting something that actually isn’t true because it just validates our own opinions, right?” So, it feels really concise and quick to re-tweet something but if we, again, didn’t do the due diligence to make sure it’s accurate, then that can reflect poorly on us because we passed on that information that wasn’t true.

Another Stanford study in 2016 found that middle school, high school, and college students could not evaluate the credibility of information that they saw online. And researchers actually said they were shocked at the results of this because they were even having a hard time telling the difference between sponsored news stories that were paid for and real news stories. They were having a hard time realizing that a picture that they saw on Facebook may not be credible because there was no source for it, right? And so, if they repost that on Facebook, that might not look good for them once it comes out that that’s not an accurate quote, or that’s not an accurate picture.

So, I think we, as communicators, have to take responsibility for the type of information that we’re going to communicate with others, and know that even if it’s someone else’s information, like I do on theNewsWorthy, I take responsibility for the stories that I’m citing.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well, that’s eye-opening. Thanks for sharing that. And, yes, I have sort of thought that when I saw someone sort of repost or reshare something that’s false, it just kind of makes me think, “Hmm,” you know, and not a huge deal but it just sort of diminishes a little bit of their credibility in terms of how much I might trust something that they say to me, like, “I don’t know how much you’ve researched it.”

Erica Mandy
It can be a huge deal if that’s in a work report, and you’re citing something you found online that’s not really true, right? So, we have to think about that across all of the aspects of our lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about work reports and work emails and communications that way. I’d love to get your view in terms of when you see people writing emails and you’re reading emails, what are sort of the top mistakes you see with regard to being clear, and succinct, or messaging so you’re a pro at writing? And what are you seeing is wrong with our writing at work today?

Erica Mandy
Well, I think sometimes people feel like they have to be overly professional where it’s almost like a robot, right, where we’re not thinking about the human on the other side of an email or of a report, and we’re writing with such jargon that it comes across as boring and stiff and robotic. And I think it’s important, even through all the technology, for us to remember that a human is going to be hearing this or reading this.

And so, let’s think about that other human when we’re writing and when we’re putting together this information. So, that’s going to affect the tone of how we write, that’s going to affect the word choices, the information that we’re going to include. Do we need certain details and am I providing enough details for them to understand? I think knowing your audience is so important and, again, in the word choice and the tone of how you write.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us a couple examples that just maybe made you chuckle or shake your head with regard to, “Hey, I’m a human being. You can talk to me normally and for real here”? Any kind of go-to phrases or sentences that might be better spent on the chopping block?

Erica Mandy
So, I think when it comes to speaking like a human, especially in writing, and especially if you’re writing for a speech or something that you’re going to be communicating verbally or for someone to hear, we want to use the words that we would actually use in conversations. So, we deal with this a lot at theNewsWorthy because we’re writing for audio. And so, that means I would never say a pedestrian in conversation. If I was talking to a friend, I wouldn’t say, “I saw this pedestrian the other day,” right? I would just say, “I saw a person crossing the street.”

And so, even those minor words that aren’t complicated words, but it’s not a word that we would actually use in conversation can make a huge difference in sounding natural and sounding like you’re just a human instead of a very buttoned-up robot.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Go ahead.

Erica Mandy
So, there are other more minor things. I think a lot of times people can just eliminate unnecessary words. For example, the word “that” gets used a lot and probably is unnecessary a lot of the time. So, if you think that your sentence still makes sense without the word “that,” I would usually say eliminate it. I also have a weird pet peeve about the word “literally” because I don’t think it’s used properly. Literally means that something is literally happening.

So, you don’t want to say, “Oh, I literally died,” because you didn’t die. So, I think that sometimes is used incorrectly and that can hurt your credibility as well. So, there’s a lot of little words like that that can usually be eliminated and it’s going to tighten up your writing without even changing a lot of the structure.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’m thinking that this also really applies in terms of just like the human language, not just if you’re emailing someone, but also when you – I’m thinking about sort of a website copy or stuff that’s supposed to be persuasive. I’m looking at something that says, somewhat… When I read through this website, I shook my head, I’m not going to say the name, but it said, “Brand names, customer engagement platform optimizes omnichannel conversion.” It’s like, “What?”

Erica Mandy
What does that mean? Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly. I think what you could say, it’s like, “Hey, whether your customer comes in via phone, or text, or email, or online, we’ve got just the thing to make them buy.” I mean, you know, come on. Like, that’s what you’re trying to say to me, I think. I’m not quite so sure.

Erica Mandy
Exactly. And a lot of times I’ll tell the writers that I work with, “So, read the three articles that you want to read and then walk away and think about, ‘What’s the bottom line here? How would I tell this information to a friend right now without referencing anything?’” Right? That’s the point that you want to get to instead of going through all of this jargon and all of these details that are in the three articles that you just wrote. So, sometimes taking a step back and saying, “How would I tell this to a friend?” is the best way to at least get started, and start writing like a human, and then you can go back and massage it a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I really like that notion, you say to walk away, I think is huge because if you don’t then you’re kind of very close to almost the same words that your source material is using.

Erica Mandy
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you say walk away, I don’t know how prescriptive you get, but what’s the ideal amount of time to walk away? Because I imagine if it’s five seconds, it’s like, “Okay. Well, you know, you’re still sort of real close to it.” If it’s five hours, it’s sort of like, “I don’t really remember a lot of the things that I…yeah.”

Erica Mandy
Well, I think it depends on your deadline. I’m a journalist so I work under a lot of tight deadlines so sometimes I don’t have the flexibility to walk away for too long. But I think, really, just even looking away from it and, again, asking yourself that question, “So, how would I repeat this in my own words to a friend right now, if I had to explain this topic or this thing to them?” And you’d be surprised at how quickly you can take all of this big information that you just read or that you just went through, and your brain automatically remembers some of the key points. You’re not going to remember all the details even right away.

So, I think even if you have to do it immediately, just looking away and asking yourself to say it in your own words can go a long way. Also, if I don’t have to send something right away, I will take a few minutes and walk away from my office, maybe go get a glass of water, and come back even 15 to 30 minutes later and reread it with fresh eyes, and then I can massage the script. I like that word massage the script because I do this often. We think we like how we’re saying it when we first write it, and then when you walk away and come back with fresh eyes, you’d be surprised at the things that you catch. So, even that 15 or 30 minutes can go a long way to review your script and make changes as necessary.

Pete Mockaitis
And I like, in particular, how you zoomed in on sort of the word “that” and how that’s something you can eliminate frequently.

Erica Mandy
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Are there any other sort of go-to tips and tricks or phrases that you really want to be aware of when we’re trying to be extra concise and omit these words?

Erica Mandy
Yes. Really and very can be overused and are often unnecessary. So, is there a better adjective you could use that emphasizes that this is very something, right, without having to use the word very, you could just say in one word? Or a lot of times it’s just not necessary, “It was great to see you today,” still comes across the same as, “It was really great to see you today,” right? It’s probably not necessary to say the really, and it can make you come across as a little bit wordy.

I also think we have to be careful especially in email communications about how many exclamation marks we’re using. So, I love the idea of using exclamation marks one or two sentences in an email to provide kind of that energy that you want to provide, but I think too often people are using them a little bit too much where it seems like we’re yelling at the person, or that we’re overly-excited and overly-eager. So, we have to find that middle balance and ask ourselves, “Is there a way that my words can convey a different tone instead of having to use an exclamation point?”

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I think there was like a scene from a Seinfeld episode where Seinfeld was critiquing a manuscript or something, it had too many exclamation points, he’s like, “What do you mean?” “Well, for example, ‘I was feeling chilly so I went to get my jacket!’” It just cracks me up, because I really do. When I see an exclamation point, I’m sort of like reading inside my brain their words, and I’m putting that exclamation point on there. So, when there’s a lot, it’s sort of like, “Yeah, I don’t know.” I don’t know if it’s genuine, it’s like, “You might be that peppy and fired up about this. I don’t know.”

Erica Mandy
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
“You make me wonder.”

Erica Mandy
Exactly. And I think the last thing is to consider your audience and the jargon that you may be using. So, one of the things, especially in news, that we have to deal with a lot is this jargon of whatever the news story talks about. So, for example, as a reporter, maybe I’m talking to a lawyer about a new story, and this lawyer uses a lot of legal jargon, stuff that my audience is not going to understand. So, it’s my job to research that legal jargon, make sure I have a good understanding of it, and then break it down into normal speak for my audience so that they don’t have to do the research about what I’m talking about. Because if they can’t understand what you’re saying, they’re going to tune out.

Pete Mockaitis
I really appreciated your story about there’s some fears that we can have a recession based upon an economic indicator.

Erica Mandy
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I took finance in college and so I know some things, but I read a news story, it’s like, “I don’t know why that would indicate a recession.” And then when you said it, it’s like, “Oh, okay, I got it. Short term versus long term. Usually it’s the other way around. Oh, okay, got it.” So, thank you. Yes, I think that is dead on, is to deconstruct the jargon.

And especially I hear this frequently in terms of executives when they are talking, they’re getting a report from someone, maybe it’s about technology or some analytics or research they ran. And so, they really just don’t even care about the details and the processes and the systems and the underlying technology. They kind of just want the bottom line, upfront implications, like, “This thing is broken, this place and people could get hurt. We need to fix it by doing this. It’s going to cost X dollars.” It’s like, “Okay. Understood.” As opposed to, “Well, you see, this system here is malfunctioning given the capacity or, you know…”

Erica Mandy
Exactly. And I think you bring up a couple of points there. One is using the correct terminology but also realizing that people are busy and they don’t necessarily need all the details that you know. So, after I read four articles of news, I know a lot more details that you probably don’t care about, and I’m going to leave a lot of the details out, and make sure that you understand the few key details that are important to what you need to know.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we talked about being concise. I’m curious about if there are any other best practices we can borrow from journalism to do better at business-writing.

Erica Mandy
Yes. So, I think there’s a few things from the journalism industry and what I’ve learned as a reporter that really overlap with how to be a good writer for business. One of them, I’ll go back to it because I believe so strongly in it, especially in today’s world, is accuracy. What are the facts and data that you’re citing? Are they credible sources? Did you double-check assumptions? Are you making assumptions that may not be true? So, just double-checking your work for accuracy is so important. And as journalists, that is one of our key roles. We know that even one mistake can hurt our credibility even if we did everything else right.

So, number two is really knowing your audience. So, as journalists, if you’re a local news reporter versus a national news reporter, you’re going to be talking about different things, you’re going to be including different types of details. So, the same thing goes with business-writing. If you’re talking to you boss, you may need to say something different than if you’re talking to someone that you’re the manager of, right, and you have to include different details. So, know who you’re writing for and how you can best communicate with that person instead of having this idea that it’s just a blanket script every time that you write something.

And I think that also goes back to some of the jargon, right? Does your audience, whoever you’re writing this to, or talking to, do they understand the same terminology that you use? And if not, how can you say it differently? It depends if they’re in your industry or not. Are you talking to someone, a coworker, or are you talking to a client that doesn’t understand as much about it?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’m thinking about jargon right now, and so I was talking to my mom about the Podcast Movement and all the insights and takeaways, dah, dah, dah. And so, I just sort of naturally, because I’ve been talking to podcasters and folks, and my mom said, “Oh, yes. So, what did you learn in all this?” And I said, “Well, I’m kind of excited about the opportunity to use idea of adding insertion to my back catalogue,” and that was just really very honest from the heart, like I am excited about that opportunity. And my mom is like, “I don’t know what that means at all.” And yet I was just at this event, right, where, well, you know exactly what I mean by that.

Erica Mandy
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
As do probably the majority of people I was interacting with, and they’re talking about the pros and cons of pursuing that path. And so, it was a funny little wakeup call, it’s like, “Oh, different audience.”

Erica Mandy
Yup, it’s so true. And I think it’s so true in business as well. And you know that if a customer or client is coming in, they probably don’t know the same things as you and your coworker, so you have to just talk and communicate with them differently.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m on the receiving end when it seems like whenever contractors come to my home, it’s like, “I don’t know what that means. Is that expensive?”

Erica Mandy
Exactly. And I think, too often, when we don’t understand something, we are quick to just use whatever sentence someone else used and repeat it because we can’t explain it well. And I tell my writers all the time, “You have to take the time. If you don’t understand this, you have to take those extra few minutes to research it and get an understanding yourself before you can communicate it well with someone else.”

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that is such a simple piece of advice but I love it. I mean, it makes all the difference. I think that’s where the rubber meets the road right there in terms of clear and succinct communication. It’s like, “Do you really know what that means or are you repeating the sentence? And if you don’t really know what it means, take another moment to really know what it means, and then you’re in much better shape.”

Erica Mandy
Because it can be harder to write in a more concise way than a very complicated way. You probably understand it more if you can explain it well in a concise way.

Pete Mockaitis
Very much. Okay. So, I’m intrigued. So, we talked about a lot of the writing side of things. Well, before we shift gears, I want to hear your take then, can we take it too far when we want to be simple, concise, clear, human-friendly? I’m wondering if you can go too far there in terms of, like, “This is informal and inappropriate, Erica, for this setting that we’re in.” What’s your take on that?

Erica Mandy
Absolutely. I mean, I think, one, go back to knowing your audience. You don’t want to get too informal if this is a very professional setting. But I think the other way that we can be too concise is not providing enough details, and that can lead to miscommunication, and then not everyone is on the same page, and that can lead to conflict and problems down the line, right?

So, we have to think about, “What are the details that this person, or these people, need to know and make sure that we’re still including all of the relevant information without using unnecessary words or without repeating ourselves?” Because I think the way that people sometimes aren’t concise is because they’re saying the same thing over and over again in a different way with different words, but it doesn’t really tell me any new information. That’s very different than telling me new information that I need to know and giving me enough details, right? So, differentiating between enough details and repeating and rambling, two different things.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, well-said. And so, when you are sort of communicating in the verbal, spoken way, you got a great way of delivering the news that it’s kind of like night and day as compared to some broadcasters with a typical tone that ends like this, again and again and again. And sometimes it seems like their goal is to like shock and alarm me so that I keep listening. It just feels kind of tiring and manipulative at times depending on the broadcaster.

So, any pro tips on using that friendly, engaging, casual tone? I think it is a helpful one that can go miles in building rapport and likability such that it’s just like, “You know what, I do want to help out that person. I do want to collaborate with her because I just think she’s great.” That just sort of like vibe that can convey but a lot of people are pretty nervous. So, how do we get there?

Erica Mandy
Yes, and I think you bring out such a good point about some of the broadcast journalists out there that have the exact same tone for every sentence, and they’re trying to be authoritative but it just comes across as kind of harsh, right? So, it goes back to talking to people like they’re humans, like they’re your friend, even if you’re reading a script, even if you are emailing someone, without taking it so far that you feel like you’re memorizing something and then sounding like a robot, right?

So, I remember a time when I actually had to be on live television, and it was a lead story, it was this big story, and I wrote out kind of an intro that I memorized, which was a mistake because then, as soon as my cameraman started doing something that was a little distracting, it threw me off. And, suddenly, I couldn’t get back onto my script. And so, on live television, I’m fumbling around, right, and I had to kind of get through it quickly. But that was my mistake because I tried to memorize something instead of really understanding the content and being able to have bullet points or some preparation to feel like I can talk about it intelligently but without trying to memorize it exactly.

So, I think the same thing goes with speeches and that sort of thing where you do the preparation, have your bullet points, but don’t try to get word for word for word exactly right or it’s going to trip you up at some point as soon as you get distracted. And to that point, I like having some notes or some bullet points with me, especially if you have a presentation or something.

No one blames you unless you’re this professional speaker that does this every single day. No one blames you for having some notes. You don’t want to sit there and read it. But if it helps you stay concise and on point, to glance down at the numbers that you’re referring to, or glance down at what your next point is, people don’t even notice that. And so, I would say use that as your safety blanket if you can.

And then, before you go off to talk to someone about something, especially if you have some sort of script, read it out loud to yourself. This is a really good way to see if you’re not giving enough information or you’re giving too much, and you almost hear yourself talking to the person when you read it out loud versus just saying it in your head. It goes a long way. I tell my writers that they need to read every script that they write out loud to themselves, “I don’t care if people think you’re crazy, because you’ll notice a lot of things when you read it out loud.”

Pete Mockaitis
I tell my staff the same thing and they get used of me editing their work reading it out loud numerous ones in terms of training, it’s like, “Hmm, you know, actually, I think we can kill that word. Oh, we can kill three words. Let’s do that. That’s better.” And so, absolutely, it makes a difference. So, yeah, you’ve totally covered what I wanted to cover there. I want to hear, so you talk about the news, you’re delivering it in a way that is less depressing, which I love. It’s not zero depressing but it’s less depressing.

Erica Mandy
Right. Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, generally speaking, do you have any tips when we do need to deliver some bad news that we know someone is not going to be pleased when they hear it, how can we do that well?

Erica Mandy
So, I think this comes down to what details you’re going to include. So, yes, it has something to do with your tone, but I think the big thing is, “What is necessary to include and what can you leave out?” And that doesn’t mean shy away from hard conversations because we all need to have those tough conversations and I think we should embrace those when necessary. But I think that there are certain things that you don’t always have to include.

For example, your doctor prescribing you some medicine, they have to ask themselves, “Do the benefits outweigh the risks?” Right? So, for journalists, that looks like a story about something like suicide, for example. Most journalists do not report on many suicide stories because we don’t want to glorify it or anything like that. But, let’s say, a famous person has died by suicide, so that’s something that we need to talk about. Well, I can communicate that by being very upfront without giving unnecessary details that are either graphic or that glorify something like that.

At the same time, I can add details that help anybody who might be affected by this story. So, I can provide a National Suicide Hotline, for example, to let people know, “If you’re struggling with this, make sure you go to this number. There’s people there to help you.” So, I can add some details that are going to help soften the blow, and I can leave things out that are unnecessary to add value to that audience.

Pete Mockaitis
And as I’m thinking about it, like if you have to share some bad news with the boss, then you can add some additional details like, “Hey, this is happening and it’s such a huge mess, but I have cleared all of my afternoon schedule to address it.” “Yes, good to know.”

Erica Mandy
Yes, solution-based. I love that. And I think even when I’m thinking about news, I think about, “How are people finding a solution to this? How can the audience help with this?” So, let’s not just talk about the problems and the complaints when we walk into our boss’s office. Let’s talk about the solutions. And your boss is much more likely to listen to you if you quickly go through the problem and then focus on the solutions than if you come in and basically sound like you’re rambling and complaining about the problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, when it comes to kind of sharpening these communication skills, week after week, month after month, do you have any sort of all-time favorite or go-to books, blogs, resources that you think are super helpful?

Erica Mandy
So, it’s become something that I just do every day, and I studied journalism and writing in school and all of that stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Erica Mandy
So, one of the things I like to tell people, especially if grammar is their thing that they’re struggling with, my friend who is known as the Grammar Girl is a great resource. She has a podcast and a blog that goes over a lot of the very common mistakes that people make in English grammar. So, if you ever are writing something, and you aren’t sure if it’s this word or this contraction or how you should write it, she’s a great resource that you can quickly look up on her website, the best way to do it, and her thing is always to take the few minutes to know because then you’ll know forever, right, the next time you’re writing that, instead of taking the few minutes to find a different way to say it that might not be as effective.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. So, the Grammar Girl podcast, that’s Mignon Fogarty.

Erica Mandy
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that right, Fogarty?

Erica Mandy
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Not fillet mignon but there’s a mignon and an F, okay, good. All right. So, Grammar Girl, awesome. Thank you. All right. Cool. Well, tell me, Erica, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Erica Mandy
One of the things I forgot to mention when we were talking about tips if you’re nervous for a presentation, or a speech, or something that you have to deliver is to visualize it. Because visualizing yourself standing in front of the audience and feeling calm and confident can actually go really long way in making sure when the moment actually comes that you do feel more calm and confident.

And this has actually been proven with studies. There was one study from an exercise psychologist that had people physically go to the gym and they improved their muscle strength by 30%. And then there were people who just thought about those workouts in their head. They didn’t actually lift any weights, right? They still improved their muscle strength by 14% without actually going to the gym. So, sure, it wasn’t as much as the people that did the physical work, but it was still a really big improvement.

So, think about if we’re practicing out loud reading our scripts, we’re practicing with our notecards physically, and then we also take the time to visualize, the combination is going to make us feel super prepared and ready to get up and do that presentation or that speech. So, I definitely recommend, even a few weeks out a couple of times a week, visualizing for 5 to 10 minutes that moment when you’re standing in front of people. And you don’t have to go through the whole thing in your head. It’s more about feeling calm and confident as you stand there and see people, or as you’re walking on stage.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, that muscle strength study is striking. I want to read the whole thing. I’ve heard studies associated with doing basketball free throws versus visualizing basketball free throws. But to actually have the muscles in your body be transformed by imagining, that is wild. So, very cool. Thank you.

Erica Mandy
Well, because so much of what we’re able to do physically comes from our mental stamina, right? So, even just making our body believe that we can do it, maybe our muscle didn’t actually grow but our mind is telling our muscle that we can do it. So, so much of what we’re able to do physically comes from the psychology of it.

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

Erica Mandy
Yes. One of my favorite quotes comes from a guy named Light Watkins. I get a daily email from him actually that is very inspiring. I do recommend it for people. He also has a great Instagram account. But one of the quotes that struck me when it came in my email inbox was, “A convenient commitment is an oxymoron.”

And what I love about this is that it’s basically saying, “A commitment isn’t always convenient or it’s not a commitment,” right? It’s like a hobby or something that you do every now and then. If you’re truly committed to something, you do it even when it’s inconvenient and even when you don’t feel like it. And I felt this really strongly in my first year of business.

I was learning so much about business, I didn’t really have a big audience with theNewsWorthy just yet, but I stay committed to it. I put out a show every single day even when I didn’t feel like doing it, even when I was doubtful if it was ever going to become what I wanted it to become. And now I can look back and be so grateful that I was so committed to it because it’s paid off and it’s become more of what I wanted it to be, and I’ve been able to hire a team so that it wasn’t all on me.

So, I think that can apply to so many things in our lives, at work, or at home, where a commitment is something that we do even when it’s inconvenient.

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

Erica Mandy
Sure. So, one of the reasons I started theNewsWorthy was because of this idea that people were feeling overwhelmed or depressed by the news. Well, it turns out, a Pew research, from the Pew Research Center, found that 7 out of 10 Americans actually do say that they feel news fatigue. So, that was just a great study that proved that what I was hearing and seeing from people was true across the country and not just in my neighborhood.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Erica Mandy
So, one of the books that was really eye-opening for me early on in my career was called “Knowing Your Value” by Mika Brzezinski, and it was about women in the workplace, and how can you make sure that you know your own value to negotiate better. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be an aggressive negotiator, right? You can negotiate in your own way but still know your value and make sure that you present yourself in a way that people know that you know that you’re good enough, right?

Another one that I really like is called “Factfulness.” And it’s this idea that the world isn’t as bad as sometimes we think it is because of all the news around us, right? So, for example, poverty globally is actually decreasing but we don’t talk about that that often. So, I think it’s important to remember to question those assumptions and know that there’s a lot of good in the world even when it feels like there’s none.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Erica Mandy
My favorite tool? I’m really into Boomerang right now in my email because I get a lot of email and I’m still not that great at going through it all but it helps. You can hit the snooze button and it will remind you in a few days. I think it’s a really nice productive way to go through your email and make sure that things don’t get lost in the inbox.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Erica Mandy
Exercising and meditating. So, I notice a huge difference, if I don’t get outside and exercise or take a class, in my productivity level, in my happiness. And meditating is something I started just in the last couple of years. Just 10 minutes a day or even a few times a week really goes a long way for me to feel a little bit more calm and confident and not let things affect me as much as they probably would if I didn’t take a step back and look at the big picture.

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

Erica Mandy
Well, I have to say, I mean, I am so passionate about helping people stay informed, that when I hear, my audience does say it back to me often, that they feel depressed and overwhelmed by the news and that this helps them stay informed. So, I think just this idea, you know, going back to that Pew research that it’s actually true, people always nod their head when they say, “Well, people kind of feel depressed by the news.”

That really gets people’s attention because it’s so true and I think a lot of people can relate to that. And so, again, that, the idea that we can help people stay informed and stay part of the national conversation, I think goes a long way.

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

Erica Mandy
I would just say go to theNewsWorthy.com. That has all my social links, a way to contact me, and you can check out the show.

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

Erica Mandy
Yes. I would say read the next email out loud to yourself and see if you catch anything that can be changed. And also think about what your end goal is with that email or whatever communication that you are doing. Do you want to help explain something? Are you doing it like a human? Or are you trying to get the next steps in a project?

Because I think, too often, people forget that they’re so worried about what something sounds like that they forget the overall goal of that communication. And sometimes it’s to setup a meeting, right? So, let’s make sure we put at the end of the email, “Here are a few dates that we can setup this meeting.” And think about what your goal is for that particular piece of communication.

Pete Mockaitis
Erica, thank you. This has been a ton of fun. I wish you and theNewsWorthy tons of luck.

Erica Mandy
Thank you so much. This was fun.

477: Speaking Confidently and Effectively with Diane DiResta

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Diane DiResta says: "Give them what they need to know, not everything you know."

Professional speaker Diane DiResta shares invaluable tips and tricks to level up your presentations and boost your executive presence.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why knockout presentation skills are essential to your career
  2. How to structure the most effective presentation
  3. An effective way to overcome your fear of speaking

About Diane:

Diane DiResta, CSP, is Founder and CEO of DiResta Communications, Inc., a New York City consultancy that serves business leaders who deliver high-stakes presentations—whether one-to-one, in front of a crowd, or from an electronic platform. A Certified Speaking Professional, DiResta is one of only 12% of speakers to hold that designation. She was President of the New York City chapter of the National Speakers Association and former media trainer for the NBA and WNBA.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Diane DiResta Interview Transcript

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

Diane DiResta
It’s great to be here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And so, you have done a whole lot of work serving business leaders with their presentations. So, I want to hear maybe your backstory for how this came to captivate your fascination and attention?

Diane DiResta
Well, I didn’t plan on doing what I’m doing. I actually was going to be a high school teacher of English, my favorite subject. There were no jobs at the time, so I became interested in speech pathology. So, I started out as a speech pathologist. And I remember taking the first public speaking course. I needed a three-credit course, finally got it. And I remember the first speech, you know, that introduction speech where you have to talk about yourself. Well, I was very nervous, and I remember getting up and sitting against the professor’s desk. And the more I talk, the faster I got, and the more nervous I got, that I thought, “Well, maybe nobody will notice.”

And then, just as I was winding down, I heard this stage whisper in the back of the room, and she said, “Look, her shoulders are shaking.” I wanted to run out of that room so fast and never come back, but I did, and I stuck it out, and I got a B in the course. So, I was not a standout. And if you had told me then that today I would have my own business, DiResta Communications, working with leaders and executives and Fortune 500 companies, and speaking on five continents, I would’ve laughed. I had no inkling.

Today, my company specializes in three areas: presentation skills, communication skills, and media training. And it all comes under the larger umbrella of executive presence.

So, we show up through keynote speaking seminars and workshops, 101 executive speech coaching, and I’m also the author of a book called Knockout Presentations, which is in its third edition, so very exciting.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to get your take on if folks are not too committed at first in sort of really improving these skills much, they’re like, “Hey, you know what, I know what I want to say. I’m just going to say it,” can you tell me what’s really the kind of difference that it makes from having just like a fine presentation versus a knockout presentation and the time that it takes?

Diane DiResta
Oh, big difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you maybe give us a case study here?

Diane DiResta
Sure. I often say that gifted speakers are born but effective speakers are made. It’s like any skill, Pete, you have to practice. And the more you practice, the better you become. So, today, speaking is the new competitive advantage. It’s different from when I first started out. And if you are not able to present yourself, you’re going to lose opportunities.

What this gets for you, and I have seen it because I’ve worked with people, it gets you the promotion, it gets you the job offer, it gets you the raise, it gets you the buy-in, it gets you so much further when you know how to present yourself and communicate well. It is a leadership skill and no one can be without it anymore. It’s simply a must-have.

Pete Mockaitis
And can you tell us a story of a person whose career was struggling and then they turned it around?

Diane DiResta
I can. I have so many stories. I’ll give you the first one that comes to mind, which was not my typical client, but she was a second-year law student, and I was a gift by her mother-in-law. And this woman was very nervous about speaking in class and she was thinking of dropping out of law school. So, what she would do, she’d raise her hand and ask a question so the professor wouldn’t call on her for the rest of the time.

So, her mother-in-law said, “Why don’t you go meet Diane?” Now, we only had four sessions, but within those four sessions I was able to reframe her thinking and give her some basic tools that gave her the confidence. So, long story short, she graduated. And now, today, she’s able to present. She actually sent me a video testimonial saying, “Hi, Diane, I just gave a presentation and it went well, and I’m doing really well.”

So, it’s a skill that anyone can learn. So, that’s someone who almost lost her opportunity in law. I can tell you stories where someone wanted a job and it was very competitive. It was one job at the top, it required a lot of different skills, and she was a good candidate. But when I looked at her resume and I heard her presentation, it was so dense, and I said point blank, “There is nothing you’ve told me that would make me want to hire you. Let’s rework this presentation.” And so, we did. And, long story short, she got the job.

And I can tell you other stories like that. And I can tell you one other where it was the VP, the vice president of tax, and he was about to lose his job. He reported to the president, and the president was frustrated with him because he couldn’t get to the point, and he would want to know, “What is your recommendation on tax?” and he would hedge and haw.

And I said, “Well, what recommendation would you make?” He said, “Well, I would say A, but I have to tell him all of this before I can do that.” So, I said, “No, lead with what you’re recommending, and then tell him the reason.” Long story short, he kept his job, the president was no longer frustrated, and the Human Resource person said she was relieved that she didn’t have to give a pink slip.

So, it helps you keep your job, it helps you get a better job, it helps you get promoted, it helps you ace the interview. There are so many benefits.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, those are some great stories, and I like that notion that you know a lot of things, you feel you need to say a lot of things, and, no, that’s really not what the person on the other end wants to hear. You mentioned that the presentation was so dense and there’s nothing that made you say, “I want to hire this person.” Can you tell me a little bit about dense and how that’s a bad thing?

Diane DiResta
Oh, this is so common. In fact, I had a conversation with a reporter from The Wall Street Journal, and she said, “Diane, what’s happening in your business?” And said, “You know, the last few executives I worked with had trouble getting to the point, and a couple of them were CFOs, they were high level.” And that ended up becoming an article, and I think it was called “Talkaholics Can Kill Your Career, Your Promotion,” and something, or your presentation.

Long story short, when I have worked with people, they tell them too much. That’s the big thing. They get stuck in the weeds. The first thing you want to know is, “Who’s in front of me? What do they care about? And how do they like to receive information?” And then you tailor your message to their style, and less is more. And here’s why. If they want more information, they’ll ask for it. Just like that vice president of tax. He had a five-minute presentation and it was going to be by phone with the president. And I said to him, “All right. Let’s practice this. You cannot go over your five minutes.” And he said, “Okay.”

Well, afterwards I followed up and said, “How did it go?” And he said, “I think it went well, but I was on the phone for about an hour.” I said, “What? What happened?” And he said, “Well, I talked for five minutes, but then the president kept asking me questions.” And I said, “Congratulations! Better to be invited to stay at the table than to be asked to leave.”

So, give them what they need to know, not everything you know. And I’m going to repeat that because it’s so important. Give them what they need to know, not everything you know. And when you are crisp, they actually retain more. Keep it simple. Keep it short. 

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that notion of “give them what they need to know,” do you have like a systematic way that you go about identifying that?

Diane DiResta
Well, this is where you need to do your homework. It’s hard to go in cold and not know someone. But let’s say you do, then you want to engage them in a short conversation, ask them some questions, “What are you tackling with? What’s important right now?” etc. And then start with what’s important to them.

And I have a whole process that I put people through in how to structure and organize your talk and your message. I call it listener-centered communication. It’s Chapter 7 in my book. And what most people do, the big mistake, one of the big mistakes, is they’re speaker-centered not listener-centered. So, they start with what’s important to them, “Good morning. Today I want to talk to you about my idea.” They don’t care about your idea. They care about their own self interests. So, lead with what’s important to them.

So, if you’re talking to a manager, and you want to get an extra person on board to help you out, don’t start with, “I’m overworked and I need somebody to help me.” Start with, “I have a way we can be more productive in this department.” That’s a hook, a grabber. And so, when you lead with that, now you have the listener’s attention because, what do managers care about? They care about productivity. Now that you have that person’s attention, you can lead them down the path of how you came to that, what the problem is, and how you have a solution and you can do it in a really short period of time.

I’ve had people use this process and create a whole presentation and deliver it in six minutes and it is powerful. So, I would say less is more, but you have to be able to speak the person’s language. So, know yourself, know your audience, know your message.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I think Sun Tzu would say you’ll win a thousand battles or something when you know thyself and the enemy, or the audience here. So, I’m intrigued that you mentioned that in six minutes you have a nice package there and you start with the hook in terms of what they really care about. And then could you spell out a few of the pieces that come after that?

Diane DiResta
Well, sure. First, you want to get attention, so you want to start with something positive. What’s the dream? What’s the goal? And then, the next step is to ask yourself, “What’s in the way of that goal? What’s the roadblock? What’s standing in the way?” And then, what you’re doing is you’re leading them to understand that there’s a need or problem, so now you can bring in your recommendation.

Because here’s what we learned in sales training: until someone recognizes that there is a need or challenge, they don’t have any reason to buy or to act, so we really need to paint a picture of that need or that current situation. Only then are they open to hearing your solution. And then you need to talk about the benefits to them not to you, “Here’s what we’ll gain. We’ll be more productive. We’ll reduce time. We’ll be compliant with our paperwork. Our customers will be happier.” What are the benefits that that manager cares about?

And then, here’s the thing people need to know, you need to give them the overview or the agenda, and then save the details for the middle. So, if I go back to what I said about not getting to the point, I’ve seen a lot of people start with details. And when you start there, you get lost.

So, in my book, I have a picture of a speech sandwich. And so, if you think of a sandwich, let’s say a kaiser roll, the top of the bun and the bottom of the bun are probably the same dimensions. But the fit part is the middle. So, I always say, “Keep the meat for the middle. Save your details for the body, not the beginning.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And so, I’m also curious to hear a bit about you talked about you have to show a need or challenge or a problem. I’m thinking about selling from pain. It seems to be it often works better, a painkiller versus a vitamin, so they say.

Diane DiResta
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
It sells better. So, I’m wondering, if things are already going pretty well, and you’ve got an idea for making things go even well-er, better, how do you think about that with regard to painting it as there is a barrier or obstacle or need, when it’s like, “Oh, things are going great and we’re going to make it even better”?

Diane DiResta
Well, that’s it. It’s raising the bar. It’s being even better. So, we’re doing great. We’re really crushing it. However, it’s just a matter of time before our competitors can do the same, or it’s just a matter of time before this gets old. We know today you have to continually innovate, and I’m seeing a trend, or I see an opportunity that I’d like to talk about to you.

So, people understand—if they’re innovative—that times are changing, you have to move quickly, you have to be nimble, so that’s really the issue, “We cannot afford to sit on our laurels right now. We’re crushing it, but we’ve got to be nimble. So, here’s what I’m seeing as the next step.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And I want to follow up a little bit more on your law student story. So, this person had extreme fear about speaking up in class, but through some reframing and tools, you conquered it. That’s great. So, how might the rest of us do that?

Diane DiResta
All right. Well, here’s what I know. If you are nervous, you are being self-centered because it’s all about me, myself and I, “Oh, I hope I don’t trip,” “Oh, I hope I don’t lose my train of thought.” Get over yourself. It’s not about you. It’s about the audience. Change your focus. Change the picture that’s in your mind. That’s the first step.

And when I work with people, I work in two ways, with skillset and mindset, but first mindset because fear and anxiety begin in the mind. I know that if you’re nervous—and I’m not talking about little butterflies, we all get a little bit of that. But if you are really nervous, it means that you’re living in the future. You are envisioning everything that can go wrong.

So, what you need to do is come back to the present and be here with the audience. And the best way to bring yourself into the present is to focus on your breath. So, we work on breathing exercises to get you back into your body. Now, there’s no excuse or a substitute for lack of preparation. I can’t do anything if you don’t prepare. But assuming that you know your message and you’ve practiced and you’ve prepared, the rest is just mindset, going out there, doing it.

Now, the other thing is, people think that they shouldn’t be nervous. They get those butterflies and they think something is wrong. No, that’s adrenaline. It’s a good thing because what adrenaline is doing is getting you ready for a performance. And I’m sure people who are in sports have a little bit of that too. It’s helping you to get over the finish line. So, start to think differently about what happens.

Now, here’s the other thing, Pete. You need to reframe what happens in the moment. So, for example, what is the self-talk that you’re hearing in your mind when you’re watching the audience? Too often we give so much power to the audience, we make them our enemy, and they’re not. They’re really on our side. They want us to succeed.

So, I remember I was speaking at The Voice Foundation, and I was talking to speech scientists, and, oh, doctors and voice therapists on public speaking skills. And I was saying things that were not popular to them, like, “Don’t read your slides. Don’t read your research papers.” And at one point, this man right in the front, opened his laptop and started typing, and I thought, “Oh, no, he’s bored. He hates what I’m saying.” And in that moment, I caught myself and I said, “No, I think he’s taking notes on what I’m saying.” Now, to this day, I don’t know what he was doing but I had a choice to choose the story I was going to tell myself, and we all have that power.

By the way, if you see someone who’s looking negative or hostile, stop looking at them. Go look at the friendly faces who will give you that support. I have a client who I worked with on her keynote, and I went to see her, and I was giving her nods and thumbs up. And she told me the other day, “It was so helpful to have you in the audience, Diane, because I saw those signals and it gave me confidence.” So, look at those people who are going to be your true believers.

Pete Mockaitis
And I love that notion of you create stories and interpretations of events and that you feel emotions based upon those. I remember I just recently was camping, and then on our final night, my tentmate, Brad, was packing up, and I noticed he really wasn’t saying anything, I was like, “Oh, man, is he mad? Did I like elbow him in the night or snored or upset him in some way because he’s not really saying anything to me?” And then I asked him a question, and he like whispered a response, it’s like, “Oh, no, he’s just being considerate of the other people in the tents nearby, so good thinking, Brad.” And it’s just like I’m in my own little world sticking things in the backpack.

And so, that’s fascinating how we instinctively do that and we interpret something, we make stories, so how about making a great one that helps you out.

Diane DiResta
Exactly. There are the facts of what’s going on, or there are situations, and we decide what story we tell about it. That power is in your hands. Everybody can do that as speakers. And if something does go wrong, and let’s say you didn’t have a great experience, you can learn from it. You don’t have to beat yourself up. Find something that was effective, and it may just be, “I stepped up and I tried.” Good. Now, you know something new for the next time. But keep going.

Speaking is such an important skill. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to your career. The whole idea of executive presence, you will be judged on your executive presence. How do you come across visually? How are you dressed? How is your tone of voice? How do you use language? But, most importantly, I found one of the keys to success in executive presence is people who have executive presence are fully aligned with their body, their tone, and their words.

What that means is their body tone and words are giving off one consistent message because when one of these goes out of sync, now you’ve given off a double message, the audience gets confused, and so then body language becomes the default. So, work on these three areas so that you’re congruent. And that’s what builds credibility, and that’s what builds trust, and ultimately confidence.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, that makes a lot of sense in terms of, okay, body tone and words are in alignment there, then it just seems like you have integrity, like, “Oh, this guy really believes that what he or she is saying,” and it packs a bit of a punch. And sometimes you believe what you’re saying, but it’s not coming across in how you’re putting your body or your tone is like a question when you’re actually pretty certain based on your deep research that this is the right way.

Diane DiResta
And that’s why having a coach is so critical because that coach can point those things out, because a lot of times people don’t know what they’re doing, “I thought I gave it my all, I prepared, but why aren’t I coming across in a certain way?” “Oh, let me show you on the video what happened.” And then, once you know, you can change that.

So, one of the things I do is I always put people on video and show them how to be their own coach, because once you know what the skills are, and once you can identify them, then you can turn it around and you have so much more control.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, yeah, coaches are great and I recommend them. If folks are not yet ready to take that step, and they are videotaping themselves, what are some of the top things you noticed most often, like, “Hey, stop doing that, or start doing this”?

Diane DiResta
All right. Well, some of the basics that can make a big difference is, first of all, make an eye connection. Too often people make what I call eye contact which is short and fleeting. But when you make an eye connection, you’re looking at one person at a time for about a sentence or two, or for about three to five seconds, as if you’re having a real conversation. So, in a large group, or even a small meeting, when you take the time to really look at someone, it connects with them and it builds a relationship and it builds trust. So, that’s the first thing.

Another thing is how you use your gestures, your hands. Whether you’re seated or standing, you want your hands above the waist, and you want to keep them in the box, the gesture box. And that is that your power space is from your face to your waist. So, get your hands waist-high as soon as possible. If you’re sitting at a meeting table, put your hands on the table, they should be visible, because hands that are below the waist make you look tentative or not looking confident.

Pete Mockaitis
Or like you have a weapon and that’s threatening to us humans.

Diane DiResta
Yeah, but as soon as you bring them up, you look much more confident. So, that’s one thing. And then gesture. You want to have gestures but you don’t want to be in perpetual motion. So, have a rest position that you can come back to.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, and that’s interesting. So, the waist, it’s quite common, I think, for hands to fall below the waist, they’re sort of just there if you’re standing on stage or you’re just standing. It’s common for hands to just sort of be at the sides. But you’re saying that’s not so much a powerful place to be.

Diane DiResta
No, it’s not powerful. If you’re there, get your hands off as soon as possible. Because when we’re speaking naturally in a conversation, our hands move. We don’t stand stiffly with our hands by our sides and we don’t talk with our hands folded in front of us draping down. When we’re animated, when we’re passionate, our hands are moving.

So, in American culture, gestures are a good thing. You want to use them. But I was going to say, if you’re in a small space, your hands are going to be closer to your chest but you don’t want to be flailing or going beyond the gesture box that I described.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, is it acceptable for the hands to occasionally fall down below the waist in a natural kind of a way? Or is your recommendation to be above the waist the whole time?

Diane DiResta
If you can be above the waist the whole time, that’s even better. But if they dropped to just bring them up, that’s all.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, in your book “Knockout Presentations,” you’ve got a whole lot of pro tips. I’d love to hear of the things that we’ve not yet covered, which do you think really provides the greatest amount of leverage? Like, we get a whole bunch of improved knockout power for not a whole lot of effort.

Diane DiResta
Oh, it’s so hard to pick out one or two. I just gave you two key ones. I would say the key physical skill is eye contact and eye connection. I’d say making a connection with the audience and having a conversation as opposed to talking at people is really important but it comes back to knowing your message. You’ve got to do the upfront work because it’s 90% preparation and 10% delivery, and I believe that’s one of the reasons people lose focus.

So, you need to be very focused, clear. You need to project your voice. Voice is important as well. It’s second to body language. And the meta message is in the voice. So, if you say, “I’m not angry. What makes you think I’m angry?” That’s the message, not the words. So, match your tone to the audience and that’s important. If you are in a group meeting where there’s going to be dialogue, and you have someone who’s soft-spoken, then you don’t want to be loud like this because that’s a disconnect.

So, pacing your audience is important, meaning the pace at which you speak, the level at which you speak, the volume, how fast or slow you move is important. You want to be in sync with the audience. That’s key. And then listen to your language. This is another thing that I’ve heard.

Too often when we’re trying to persuade or to be credible and confident, we lapse into what I call wimpy words or weak-speak, and I’ve listed that in my book. “So, hopefully, I’ve convinced you and maybe you’d like to meet with me because this is sort of a good idea. And I feel…” If you’re presenting like that, even if you have the greatest invention, nobody is going to buy into it because you don’t believe it.

So, when your goal is to persuade, you want to use powerful language. It’s not if, it’s when or by. Don’t use words like “hopefully,” not “I feel,” “I’m confident.” But if you’re in a conflict-resolution situation, that’s a different story, then you want to use softer language, such as, “You may want to consider…” So, everything is situational and I’d say that’s another key to giving a knockout presentation.

Knockout presenters seize up their audience, they meet them, they pace them, and they speak their language. So, if you’re speaking to someone who’s very proper and formal, you don’t want to be using a lot of slang. Model that, mirror that. But if you’re talking to someone folksy, you want to use an extensive vocabulary. You’re probably going to use colloquial terms. So, those are the key things, the key elements. It’s really, know yourself, know your audience, and know your message.

Pete Mockaitis
And when it comes to preparation being 90% of the game, I’d love to get your take on kind of just how much time does it take to prepare? How do you know when you are prepared? Because I think that it’s quite common for folks to say, “Okay, you know, hey, I made my slides, I know my slides, I’ve ran through them one time. I’m prepared.” Like, what’s the bar for checking the box, like, “Yes, preparation has happened”?

Diane DiResta
Well, I do it several times, and here’s a tip. If you’re going to go into a room that you’re not in normally, get there an hour early and practice in the room. There is something about practicing in the room that makes it go even more smoothly. If you have that opportunity, it’s a great thing to do.

Here’s what I will say. Because I’m a professional speaker and I get paid to speak, one of the misconceptions is that they’re paying for an hour of my time, and they’ll say, “Well, I’ll pay you this.” I said, “Well, that’s not my fee.” “But for an hour?” No, it’s not an hour. If you know the preparation that goes into that from the conversations on the phone, with the buyers, with the people who are going to be in the audience to any kind of surveying, to researching about them, to researching about your topic, to writing it up and structuring it, to editing it, to practicing it, to creating slides. There’s so much that goes into a presentation.

So, you went through your slides once, well, good. I hope that was enough for you, but you want to consider everything. Here’s the other thing. Are you thinking about what could go wrong? What if Murphy’s Law is in operation the day of your presentation? And so, one of the things that I do, Pete, is I work on recovery strategies with my clients.

So, I had a woman who was very nervous, and I said, “All right. Tell me, what is your worst nightmare?” And she said, “Well, what if I get up there and I trip?” And I said, “All right. Well, let’s imagine you tripped. What could you do?” And she was clueless. So, I said, “Well, how about if you said, ‘I want you to know I’ve been practicing that entrance for weeks,’ or, ‘Never let it be said I don’t know how to make an entrance’?”

So, if you have some of these one-liners, these adlibs lines, you’re recovering with grace and it’ll break the tension, and people will laugh, and you’ll be able to go on. The worst thing is to freeze up and not know what to do. So, think about, “What could go wrong? What is your biggest fear?” and plan for it. And sometimes there’s nothing you can do. If there’s a fire drill, then you have to leave. But when it’s under your control, use your recovery strategies.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m thinking one situation that is kind of spooky for people is they get a question, they don’t know the answer, “Aargh!” What are your tips for handling that situation?

Diane DiResta
Well, the first thing is don’t fake it because if somebody in the room knows the answer, you will lose all credibility. Nobody knows everything so you can acknowledge it, and you can say something like, “I’m not 100% sure of that, but let me get back to you.” And most people will accept that.

Another option you have is if you’re in a meeting or in an organization, and you have a subject matter expert on that, you could deflect it and say, “I’m not 100% sure, but let me turn it over to Pete because he’s really the expert in that.” The only downside to that is, number one, you have to make sure that he really, or she really is the expert. And then what happens is you lose control because the two of them can have tete-a-tete. So, you want to make sure that you use that technique sparingly.

The other thing that you can do is what politicians do. You answer the part that you do know, “I’m not 100% sure of that. What I do know is…” and then you talk about the aspect that you do know. And so, it’s not as if you’re just shrugging your shoulders and saying, “I don’t know.” So, it’s okay not to know the answer as long as you have a response.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Diane, tell me, any other key things you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear some of your favorite things?

Diane DiResta
I would say it’s really important that you develop the skill, whatever way you can, whether it’s starting with the book, or going to Toastmasters, or asking your company if they have any kind of internal training or coaching. Model from others. Watch TED.com, watch TED Talks, you will learn so much from other speakers and start slowly. Volunteer to speak whether it’s a lunch and learn or in your community, but you need to be out there practicing. It’s like a skill. It has to be used.

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

Diane DiResta
A favorite quote. Well, you know what, what comes to mind is what I wrote in my high school yearbook, “Quitters never win, winners never quit.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Diane DiResta
I like The Science of Mind by Ernest Holmes. That one is a really thick textbook. It’s huge. It’s like War and Peace, it’s a really thick book but it’s so much about how the mind works and spiritual energy. And I think all of that is related to what I do because what I do is I empower people through the spoken word, and it’s all about your belief system and managing your mind.

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

Diane DiResta
I like an app called LikeSo. I use it with my clients and I require coaching clients to download it. It’s a free app. And what it does is it gives you analytics. So, you talk into the phone for about 30 seconds, a minute, and it will tell you, it will give you scores on your speaking pace, how many words you use, your projection, and then it gives you an overall grade. So, it’s a good way to continue practicing, so there’s no excuse. So, I love that app.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Diane DiResta
I do a very short morning meditation when I’m commuting. It’s not the best because it’s noisy. I have it on my phone and it’s a way for me to ground myself. And in the summer months, right near my office, there is a little park with a fountain, and I sit there early in the morning before I go up, and that’s very soothing and grounding for me.

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?

Diane DiResta
Well, they’ll say, “Speaking is the new competitive advantage.” They will tweet that, they will retweet that. And that, “Gifted speakers are born. Effective speakers are made.” Those two frequently, and also, “Know yourself, know your message, and know your audience.”

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

Diane DiResta
The best place is my website DiResta.com, and there is a free gift there, although that’s redundant because gifts are not charged. It’s a free audio course called 7 Deadly Mistakes Speakers Make and How to Avoid Them for Maximum Success. It’s a series of email, audio emails. So, you’re invited to download that. And you can also find my book Knockout Presentations there as well as online and in bookstores.

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

Diane DiResta
Yes. Do it. If you want to be awesome at your jobs, you have to be able to be a good presenter. There’s no question about it. So, whatever you need to do, make a commitment, before you get off this call, write down what you’re going to do to raise the bar on your presentations and your communication. One thing you can do, go to my YouTube channel. I have 110 videos on there. YouTube.com/DianeDiResta. That’s one thing that you can do right away. You can get books, you can go to Toastmasters, but do something to raise the bar on your speaking.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Diane, thank you and good luck with all your presentations.

Diane DiResta
Well, thank you. Hope you’ll be a knockout presenter.

464: How to Prevent Management Messes with FranklinCovey’s Scott Jeffrey Miller

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Scott Jeffrey Miller says: "Great leaders are great listeners."

Scott Jeffrey Miller shares powerful stories and principles for becoming the most effective leader you can be.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why making time for one-on-ones is truly worth it
  2. Three foundational principles for listening well
  3. How to flourish as a leader by practicing the Law of Harvest

About Scott 

Scott J. Miller is Executive Vice President of Business Development and Chief Marketing Officer for FranklinCovey. Scott has been with the company for 20 years, and previously served as Vice President of Business Development and Marketing. His role as EVP and Chief Marketing Officer caps 12 years on the front line, working with thousands of client facilitators across many markets and countries.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Scott Jeffrey Miller Interview Transcript

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

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Pete, my pleasure. Thanks for the invite.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I think we’re going to have a ton of fun. And I want to start at the beginning with your first leadership experience and the tale of having a bit of a management mess.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah, I didn’t say I wanted to. It’s the start of the book, right? As I, like most leaders, was promoted to be a leader without really any training. I was a fairly competent individual producer, the top salesperson at the time and, unfortunately, that’s usually the criteria for someone being promoted into a leadership position, is you were doing your individual contributor job well so you must be of leadership caliber which, of course, is absurd. So, I share, in this story, lots of horrifying scenarios, but do you want me to walk you through the first one?

Pete Mockaitis
I would. I’d love it. The more horrifying the better, please.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Well, that’s my specialty, Pete. So, let’s see, I was a couple of years into my role here at FranklinCovey as a salesperson selling leadership solutions to universities, colleges, school districts, and I got promoted to be over the team, like the team the day before me were my peers and friends. That’s never a comfortable position.

And I decided that I wanted my legacy to make sure that all of my colleagues, my new sales team, had an adequate understanding of our new solution, so I arranged and got the budget and organized the conference room to have a two-day professional development training, and really enculturate the new sales team—my new sales team—into our newest solution. Hired a consultant, first day show up, everybody comes in 15-20 minutes later. I was incent. I mean, after all, we are a productivity, time management company at heart so I was lit.

Pete Mockaitis
Putting first things first, let’s see, I’m sure there’s some habits and principles.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
I’m sure we violated a lot of things. Well, they were just putting their first things first, not me. So, they kind of strolled in 15-20 minutes late and I was incent, I was productive, I was vigilant, I was probably pretty suffocating. So, anyway, we started the program, and then I was just really irritated all day long. So, that night I decide, “The next morning I’m going to show them there’s a new sheriff in town, quite frankly.”

So, I go, in my genius, in my leadership, finest moment genius, I go to the supermarket and I buy like 15 copies of the Salt Lake Tribune. The next morning, sure enough, everybody comes in 10-15 minutes late, and I am just like, “I will not be disrespected,” right, that’s my mentality. I walk around the room before the program starts and I throw down on the table in front of everybody the classified job ads from the Tribune and I say, with great flair, “If you want a job from 9:00 to 5:00, Dillard’s is hiring.” And then I gave them a highlighter to highlight the roles they want, which I thought it was inspiring and, “You should want to work here.” And, of course, it was idiotic and it was insulting and emasculating. And the horror story is that it took me a couple of days to understand that what I had done was just so immature and to the opposite of what a principled mature leader would do.

And the good news is, as I mentioned in the book, a decade later, I get married, literally a decade later, almost to a T, every one of those people who either quit on the spot, threatened to quit, threatened to sue me, threatened to have me fired, whatever it was, they’re all at my wedding, we’re laughing at the horror of it all. And so, the story ends well but it was just one of those examples of what I thought in my mind was a fine leadership example was just idiocy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. It’s so funny, I don’t know why that tale just brings up a scene from, well, I guess, the famous Alec Baldwin scene from “Glenngarry Glen Ross.” I guess you skipped some of the profanity and the demeaning insults but it’s dramatic in terms of, “Oh, I’m not messing around here. I’m laying down the law.” Well, Scott, if I could just give you an opportunity to have a do-over and rewind time, how would you have approached that situation today? You know, if folks are late, you feel disrespected, what do you do?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah, I think I would, well, I know what I would do. I’d sit down on the table in front of them and say, “Hey, guys, ladies, gents, so glad we’re all here. We’ve got a great two days ahead of us. I noticed that we’ve got a couple of things we want to tighten up. One is I noticed that this morning perhaps the start time wasn’t clear. I really want to make sure we establish a culture of respect and discipline, and you know how much we all like to be punctual, it’s kind of what our brand is. We want to model for our clients and for each other, that we live our content, right?”

“I mean, we are a time management consulting company, so I’m going to ask that everybody be really diligent on respecting the start and end times. So, if you’ll respect the start times, I’ll respect the end times. And if we need to start later and go later, I’m fine with that, but let’s just set down some ground. rules. And if we think that we should be a little more free on some things and tighter on others, I’m open to that.”

And I would’ve absolutely had it be a conversation, not dictatorial, I would’ve not made it as big a deal, at the same time, I would’ve said, “This is kind of important to me, because I think how we treat each other is how we treat out clients, how we treat the consultant today, as everyone are consultants to be treated by our clients.” So, I would’ve had a very comfortable dialogue, no theatrics, no grand gestures, no purchasing of classified ads. I would’ve gotten my point across just as well, if not better, with no theatrics.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Okay. Well, while we’re here, I’m just going to follow up one more time. Let’s say, next day you got two stragglers, what’s the game plan?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
I would probably call them out maybe not in public. It would depend upon now the rapport that I had with the team. At the time, I didn’t have rapport. I was their peer literally the day before and now I’m sort of like the swagger. So, I think it depends on the scenario. I might have called them aside. I might have texted them and say, “Hey, I know you’re late this morning. I’m guessing something came up. Do me a favor, if you’re going to be late in the future, just give me a heads up so I might have held the program for you.”

I think, now, I would suspend judgment more and not jump to a wrong conclusion. I would assume good intent. I would assume they weren’t trying to flagrantly violate my new stature, right? So, I think as I have matured, I’m less suspicious. I’m more gracious and forgiving and give people a chance to rise to the occasion versus expect them to violate some petty rule that might be important in the moment but isn’t valuable long term to the culture of the team. At the end of the day, who cares if you start five minutes late in the grand scheme of a career, right? I think I just have matured and I’ve identified what’s really important and what’s kind of petty urgent.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I imagine you’ve made a number of discoveries in terms of what makes effective leadership in your own career and being surrounded by the folks at FranklinCovey and putting together your book “Management Mess to Leadership Success.” So, could you maybe share, is there a particular insight or discovery that has been most transformational for you personally?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah, it’s very clear to me. So, I’ve been in the firm for 23 years, and you would expect as an officer of the firm now, I’d be a great leader, right? And nobody is a complete mess and no one is a complete success. Leadership of people I don’t think came naturally to me. I think I’ve gotten much better over the decades but I was a star individual performer and I had to realize that the skills that make you a great dental hygienist or digital designer or salesperson rarely don’t translate over into leadership of people. So, there has to be a major paradigm shift.

You can’t be the star anymore. It isn’t all about you. It isn’t you hogging the spotlight. And so, I had to make a fundamental paradigm shift around what was important to me—and did I have the humility, did I have the confidence to let other people shine, and even sometimes shine past me, get promoted over me, earn more money than me? It takes a very secure, confident, humble person to lead people. And I think, for me, the biggest lesson on how to get there was, Pete, the value of relationships.

When Dr. Covey was alive, he passed seven years ago, our co-founder, he was constantly reminding me about the difference between having an efficiency mindset and an effectiveness mindset. And it’s something I have struggled with my entire life as it relates to relationships with people. And that is I’m a very efficient person. I like to talk fast, think fast. I mow the lawn fast. I rake the lawn fast. I’m at Home Depot at 5:00 o’clock on a Saturday morning before the staff even opens the doors to buy the flowers to plant them by 6:30. I like to get things done.

And that served me very well in life. I have no apologies for being an efficient human being. But when it comes to relationships with people, one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Covey is this concept of, “With people, slow is fast, and fast is slow.” So, what works well with me planting pansies and begonias in the garden does not work well leading people. I have to move into an effectiveness mindset.

It’s fine to be efficient with systems and even some meetings and even some conversations, but the vast majority of leadership is about building culture, respecting people, and that cannot be rushed. And I have to consciously slow down, check in, get off of my own timeline and my own agenda, and not try to “check people off my list.”

It is a challenge for me. It’s not natural. And when I rise to the occasion of slowing down, the result is always better. I start at kind of a mess and have to consciously think of success when it comes to relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I resonate with that and I do like efficiency and blazing speeds whenever possible. It just feels really good. And then it feels like there’s like a huge list of everything that desires or demands your attention. So, let’s dig into that. That is one of your challenges in the book, is making time for relationships. So, let’s dig into that, how slow is fast, and fast is slow when it comes to relationships, and here’s some stories and practices to bring that to life.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Well, first, I think it’s a mindset also, right? It’s, “Do you really see yourself as a leader of people versus a leader of strategies, a leader of budget, a leader of outcomes?” I think it’s just to check in to say, “Do I really care about the team that I lead, the division I lead?” The fact of the matter is, Pete, most of us recognize, in our careers, we tend to spend more time at work with our colleagues than we do awake with our family and friends.

And when that is the case for most of us, we want to slow down and really develop quality relationships with people because, as all the stats show, people don’t quit their jobs. They quit their boss, according to Gallup, and they quit their culture. And the leader’s number one job is to, in my opinion, retain and recruit quality talent above everything else, even above setting vision, strategies, systems, stakeholders, return to investors. Your job is to recruit or retain talent and it all comes down to, “Do you have a high-stress culture? Are you respected? Are you trusted?”

You may not always be liked as a leader. In fact, you probably rarely will be liked. But if you build rapport with your people, you make it safe for them to admit their messes, you admit your own messes, to really understand that your number one job is to connect with people and make them want to come to work, make them not want to accept the recruiter call which, by the way, they’re getting every day. If you don’t think your people are getting poached, you’re in a cave. It’s a war on talent right now.

And if people like their leader, they think you have their back, that you establish what I would call a pre-forgiveness environment. It was taught to me by one of my leaders, which is, “You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to screw up, so let’s just pre-forgive you. It doesn’t give you the right to now go out and just be a train wreck but you’re going to make some mistakes. No one wants to live in fear.” And I think, at the end of the day, have you connected and slowed down with your people?

I read once a great leadership tactic. And it was when someone comes into your     office, if you’re wearing glasses, take them off, put them on the table. If you’ve got a phone, turn it over and put it down. If you’ve got a laptop, close the laptop, and just like, almost artificially, overly check in to the person. Those subtle things are noticed and people will remember them.

It sounds kind of technique-y and it is, but I think it becomes a habit and a practice, and people feel that. People quit their bosses or people stay with their leaders because they feel inspired and validated and trusted and empowered. And those aren’t cultural buzzwords. Those are real things that people can taste and feel.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I dig what you’re saying here. That’s all ringing true and resonating. So, I want to hear a little bit, if folks are in a place, let’s talk about slow being fast with people. If there’s some leaders, more so junior leaders in terms of our listeners, it’s about 50/50 in terms of those who have direct reports and those who don’t, and those who unofficially are influencing without authority, project managing stuff, so that’s kind of the ballgame. We got some executives but more so early leaders in the listener crowd.

So, if folks are feeling kind of overwhelmed by all the things on their plate, all the goals and to-do list items that are there, and they’re worried that they “don’t have time” to a one-on-one with everybody, for example, how would you counter-argue that?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Well, they’re probably right. They probably don’t have time but they also want to have a team because your team will disengage with you. This concept that you talk about, which is this idea of challenge 20, hold regular one-on-ones. It’s really a chance to engage with your team. Again, if you believe that your number one job as a leader, not your only job, but your top job is to recruit and retain top talent, and that may not be a yes for you. You may not psychologically, philosophically believe that. I have come to absolutely believe that.

The CEO, the CFO, the chief marketing officer, right, even her job or his job is to recruit and retain talent because people are proud of their brand. So, I would set expectations carefully. Don’t go announce you’re going to have, all of a sudden, one-on-one every week with all 14 direct reports. You’re setting yourself up for failure. Calibrate expectations, talk about the value, understand the value of sitting down with your people, door closed, phone off, laptop down, glasses off, and using it as a chance to gauge engagement.

In fact, we say that one-on-one should be organized by the other team member. It’s their meeting, not your meeting. This is their chance to talk 70% of the time. You talk 30%. They ask questions, you clear the path. You listen about things going on in their life. Pete, everybody has got a mess in their life, everyone has got a bill that they can’t pay, everyone has got a challenge in their marriage or their relationship with their partner, everyone has got a kid that’s just causing them a nightmare, everyone has got a sick parent. Everyone has got something going on that is weighing on them, that’s distracting them, that’s weighing them down.

And the more they can trust appropriately in their leader to care, sometimes people just need a leader to listen and understand, “You know what, my teenage son has got a challenge, and I might be coming in late. I promise you I’ll make it up, maybe not in the short term.” You’d be surprised. Leaders are really forgiving, generally speaking, and they understand and they know, they’re not guessing what’s going on.

So, I don’t think you can afford not to take time with your people when there is this, especially with your star performers, when they are being recruited and poached like never likely in history. I’m shocked at the number of recruiters that are chasing me on LinkedIn. If my CEO knew it, he’d have me at lunch every day, or maybe he does know it, he doesn’t want me to stay. But that’s a good head’s up. If you fundamentally believe your job is to retain talent, you’ll do this.

Let me share one more point, I’m sorry I’m going long. My favorite leadership book every written is called “Multipliers.” It’s by Liz Wiseman. I can’t evangelize it enough. It’s a game-changing book. I think it’s arguably better than some of the books that we’ve written at FranklinCovey. Liz Wiseman was the former, basically, VP of Learning at Oracle for 20 years. She left, she’d become a friend of mine, and she talks about how multiplying leaders don’t have to be the genius in the room.

They choose to be the genius maker. They don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. They have the humility and the confidence not to always have the answer, always solve the problem, always trample over someone, that they really can create an environment where people can talk and share ideas, and share ideas that are half-baked or quarter-baked. You don’t have to choose your words super carefully.

That’s a leader that creates an environment where people feel safe to take risks and express their ideas. And I think that’s a great way to build relationships. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. You just have to be smart enough to hire the smartest people in the room.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. So, I dig that and I’ve heard that recommendation before so it’s nice to have some extra oomph behind that book. So, I guess, tell me, if folks are having trouble making the time, where should we get it? How do we get the time?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah. Well, it kind of comes down to your own prioritization. I’d argue that no one is busier than me and I don’t wear that as a badge of honor, and I have got to deliberately choose to say no to other things. That’s really a chief leadership competency, right, is this discernment, “What are you going to say yes to? What are you going to say no to? Where does it come on your sort of value chain? Are you making high-value decisions on how to allocate your time?”

And, again, if you fundamentally believe that people are your most important asset, that your culture is your ultimate competitive advantage, which by the way I evangelize unabashedly, that culture is every organization’s only competitive advantage. It can’t be duplicated. Everything else can be stolen, copied, replicated, and good enough, but they can’t steal or replicate your culture. So, how you find the time is in your own mind. What are you going to say no to that has less return than the 30 minutes with Pete this afternoon?
I’ll tell you, the worst one-on-one, Pete, is not the one that the leader talks the whole time or hijacks the agenda. The worst one-on-one is the one you cancel because as soon as you cancel the first one, now you’ve given permission to cancel the second one as a slippery slope, and now you look like a fraud. So, that’s why I’d say don’t overcommit.

If you’re going to have one-on-ones, announce to your team, “Hey, I think a great idea would be for us to have one-on-ones. I know, I get it, it’s another meeting. No one wants more meetings. Don’t think of it as a meeting. Think of it as a conversation, a chance for you to check in with me. You can ask me questions. Are there some things that I can use my political clout to clear the path on? Are there some systems that you think maybe I’m overly-invested in and it’s time to challenge them? It’s a chance for me to understand what are you struggling with? What are you loving? What’s on the horizon for you? You can ask me questions around the company, the strategy, ‘Are we being sold? Are we being bought?’ I can’t tell you but you get the point.”

And say, “You know what, let’s try, for the one-on-one, 30 minutes once a month. If we find that, after the first couple of months, I’m able to keep them, you’re able to keep them, great. Maybe we’ll go more frequently,” but set expectations low.

I had a client once that, when they heard me give a speech, it was a publisher, he came up to me and said, “Oh, my gosh, it was the most genius thing, Scott. You so inspired me. I have 14 direct reports. I’m going to go announce…” “No, no, no, no, don’t announce anything. Do not announce anything because you’re going to set yourself up for major disappointment and you’re going to kill your brand. Sit down with your assistant and think out methodically. Can you really do 14 of them?” Because we get into this habit where we overcommit ourselves. The first one goes great, the second one goes really well, the third one goes pretty good, the fourth one is taxing, and then they’re like, “Oh, crap. This is just like killing my day, right?” So, ease into it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. All right. Well, we talked about some high-value stuff. You’ve laid out 30 different challenges in your book. Which one or two would you say is just exceptionally high return for the investment of time, energy, attention you put into it?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
You know, when I wrote this book, which by the way now is a number one Amazon new release bestseller for three weeks in a row. I’m super proud of that because I think the world was ready for a different kind of leadership book, one a little more relatable, raw, and messy, so to speak, because leadership is messy.

We started out with 30, well, about 130 challenges, put them all up on the wall with sticky notes, that we thought leaders face. Of course, that’s a suicide mission, right, a book with 130 challenges. So, we narrowed it down to 30, and we organized them in kind of three tranches, Pete. The first eight are around kind of leading yourself. The next dozen or so are around leading others. And the third about dozen around getting results.

The one I think that is probably the most counterintuitive is challenge three, and that’s listen first. The reason I think it’s so counterintuitive is because by the time you become a leader, you had been well-trained on communicating. You’re always in convincing mode, persuading mode, you probably have a big vocabulary. You’ve mastered your message. You’re good at setting vision, convincing people. You’ve mastered the stage, and the microphone, on and on and on.

How many have had days and days of presentation training, lots of them, PowerPoint, keynotes? How many leaders has had legitimate training on listening? I’m in the business. I mean, I had probably four or five collective hours and 30 years on listening. It’s not called TED Listen, it’s called TED Talks, right? We’re constantly reinforced about the power of communicating. But I think great leaders are great listeners. It is a communication competency.

And I think we undermine ourselves because we’re always so used to solving problems, peeling the onion, asking great questions, and these things actually aren’t great leadership tools. There’s a place for that or there’s a place to get to the bottom of something fast and furious so you can solve it in an emergency or in a crisis. But, generally speaking, asking great questions is not showing empathy because your questions are usually based on your own paradigm, your own narrative, your own agenda, your own timeline, your own curiosity, your own need to know. And people will tell you what they need you to know.

So, I would really argue and advocate for people to be much more mindful of when was the last time that you listened to someone to truly understand as opposed to just reply, fix, solve, and move on. And I could go for a half an hour about listening. It is a total mess for me because I’m well-trained at public speaking, I host two podcasts, I host a radio program. Like you, I speak for a living, right? And I don’t like to listen because people talk too slow. I like to listen fast. I like to speak fast. I like to interrupt. I like to get to the bottom.

Ask my wife, my wife does not need me to solve her problem. She needs me to listen, validate her, and understand. My wife is very smart and very competent. She rarely wants me to solve her problem. So, I would just remind leaders to be uber, hyper aware of your listening skills, your propensity to interrupt, and can you psychologically bring the mental discipline in your next conversation to move off, well, how was it when you had that challenge.

What was it like when you faced that situation? And just constantly remind yourself, check back in, check back in, check back in. Listen. It doesn’t mean you can’t ask some questions. But the more you listen, the more the person will appreciate you and feel like you care about them. So, that was a long example.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, I dig it. Now, when you say check back in, you’re just talking about…

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Mentally.

Pete Mockaitis
…inside your own head.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re off in your own land.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Of course, you are.

Pete Mockaitis
And bringing it right back.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
That’s right. You’re thinking about your own experience with that same scenario or, “I’d never let that happen,” or, “Here’s how I would solve it.” You have to show enormous intellectual discipline to fight the battle of distraction, to fight the battle of, “Would you just stop talking and I’ll solve your problem for you,” right? But most people don’t want you to solve their problem. They just want to feel heard. They want to feel loved. They just want to feel listened to. And it may sound kind of touchy feely, but that’s part of leadership. It’s just sometimes validating people’s frustrations.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you said you could talk for half an hour about listening, but I’d love to go another five minutes. So, we talked about, you said, somewhat technique-y, but closing the laptop, or putting the phone aside, taking off the glasses, repeatedly checking back in and reorienting your attention away from your own internal dialogue back to them. What are some of the other kind of foundational principles and favorite practices when it comes to listening well?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah, I think I shared three things. One of them I’m going to repeat. One is you have to fundamentally believe that you care about what this person is going through or believes. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. It doesn’t mean you have to even like them for that matter. Just fundamentally, “Is what I’m trying to do right now to help them by just listening?”

Second, resist the temptation to ask questions because most of our questions are probing questions, evaluating questions, interpreting questions. Most of our questions are built so that we can get better context from our own paradigm, mindset, frame of reference, belief window, whatever you want to call it. Most of those questions are really selfish. They satisfy your need to know.

Here’s a good example. When someone says, “Tina’s husband died.” Honestly, most time, our first question is, “How?” Who cares how? Does it matter if he died by an overdose or hit by a car? It doesn’t matter. What matters is Tina is probably in pain. And so, that’s a little bit macabre, I know, but it’s an example that I use in the book, right? If you’ve read that chapter, you know I used an example about someone whose dog died, and how we ask all these questions to kind of satisfy our own curiosity.

So, I would really challenge people, “Is your expert machine gun-style questioning technique…?” which is mine, I think I used an example of like a kangaroo boxing with their feet when I’m at a dinner party, right? Question, question, question, question, question. I didn’t give the person enough time to answer the question. I’m onto the next question. And so, lower your questions.

Here’s the third. I think if people are all like me, we all have a propensity to interrupt because, according to the famous linguistic professor, Dr. Deborah Tannen from Georgetown University, all of us have some preconceived sense of how long the other person should be talking. Pete might think Scott should talk for 48 seconds and stop. Scott might think Pete should talk for 28 seconds. We all have this sort of built-in idea of how long the other person should be talking, so we start to move off of listening and want to interject and move it onto our timeline. But it’s selfish. It’s self-serving.

So, the next time you’re tempted to interrupt, which will be today, I want everybody to be mindful, close your lips. Gently, let your top lip touch your bottom lip, not so it’s visible, just close your lips gently. Because if your lips are closed, you cannot form a word and, therefore, you can’t interrupt. And count to seven, count to ten, and the odds are that during that time when you choose not to interrupt, the other person will either finish talking, land their point, or maybe even share something especially vulnerable, or the crux of the story, or divulge their fear.

And it’s in that time when you’re not interrupting that you might actually learn something especially important, that when it’s time for you to interject, you’ll have a more fuller picture of how you could help them. It’s actually a great exercise that I strongly advise everybody. Check in mentally, try to stay off the natural distractions to move off of your task list, “What’s for dinner? Are you on time for they gym? Do you have enough groceries?” whatever it is. Check back in mentally, you may have to do it four or five times during a conversation, and really resist the urge to interrupt.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I love it when you talked about closing your lips. That’s huge because…

Scott Jeffrey Miller
It’s idiotic, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, it’s sort of like it even changes your entire posture because a lot of times your mental state follows your physiology and your body posture and such. Are you raring to get after it and go for a sprint, or are you kind of chilling and laid back and relaxing, reclining? And, likewise, is your body poised to chime in or is your body poised to take it in? And then the difference, it can be a small as a millimeter or two, but is there a gap between your lips or are your lips, in fact, touching each other and closed? I love it. That is good.

Well, you got so much good stuff here, Scott. I like what you had to say about Wildly Important Goals. Can you share with us what are they, how do we identify them and get us all moving toward them?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Sure. So, in full disclosure, this is not my original content. In fact, all of these 30 challenges come from Franklin Covey’s leadership intellectual property. This idea was really popularized by Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great.” He coined this term, he called them BHAG, Big Hairy Audacious Goals. And Jim is a good friend of our CEO. In fact, I’m going to see Jim next week in Boulder for a meeting. And he really inspired us in our bestselling book “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” which is the number one book in the world when it comes to strategy execution.

And in our book, at FranklinCovey, we created a version of Jim’s BHAG, we called them WIGs, Wildly Important Goals. It’s quite simple but profound. We all have goals. But have you, as a leader, taken the time and the discipline to elevate what is truly more important than anything else? Meaning, like nothing can come at the expense of this getting done.

In fact, the same concept can apply in your personal life, in that as a leader, you have several roles. One of them, beyond obviously retaining and recruiting talent, setting culture, modeling trustworthiness, is communicating clarity around what is most important. And your job is to help to identify with your team, “What is going to provide disproportionate return to our shareholders, to our customers, to our profit, to our mission?”

Your job is to say, “Yes.” Your job is to say, “No.” Your job is to elevate things that have to happen. We call those the Wildly Important Goal. And everything cannot be a Wildly Important Goal. While you’re doing that, you have to make sure that your people understand that this is more important than anything else, but that you’ve taken the time, Pete, to communicate to them what is their role in achieving this goal, what types of behaviors. Literally, what do you need to see differently from them tomorrow to help achieve this goal because, likely, if it’s a Wildly Important Goal, you haven’t accomplished it yet. And everyone is going to need to learn something new or do something different tomorrow to achieve this new goal.

So, as a leader, don’t be afraid to sit down with Pete and say, “Pete, let’s talk about this. We’re going to move our customer retention from 18% to 19% in the next two months. Here’s what I think your contribution needs to be to this. Let’s look, like, what kind of training, what kind of support, what are you going to need to do differently so that you can contribute new and better behaviors to this? And, by the way, while you’re at it, don’t just tell everybody else what they need to do differently. Offer up what you’re going to do differently. And say, ‘You know what, team, I’m going to ask you all to stretch beyond your skillset, and I want you to know I’m going to lead the parade. I’m going to leave the comfort of my office and go out and meet with 10 clients in the next 14 days and really understand what do they need from us or whatever the solution is, right?’”

You lead out and show people that you’re willing to move outside your comfort zone. And then I think, beyond all of that, the goal has to be attainable. You have to structure it in a way that people understand, “Are they winning?” And goals should be structured, at least from our pedagogy, if you will, in a from X to Y by when format. “We will move customer retention from 18% to 19% by May 31, 2020” from X to Y by when.

And once people are very clear on that, “What is the goal? What is the measurement? What is my role in it? What is their role in it?” you’ve got to celebrate it. You’ve got to have it on the scoreboard, it could be hokey, it can be with cotton balls, it can be pompoms. I don’t care. The hokier the better. The less digital the better. People should look at it in a heartbeat and know, “Are we winning or are we losing? How are we at tracking towards goals?” These are kind of simple concepts.

As Dr. Covey used to say, “Common knowledge isn’t common practice.” He would always talk about The 7 Habits, “To know but not to do is not to know.” It sounds religious, maybe it is, I don’t know or care. But I think it’s a great methodology around setting Wildly Important Goals is more than being a visionary.

Let me share one final thought. I think there’s a type of leader, it’s often the high-endurance athlete, it’s often the uber successful leader who is a workaholic who’s relentless. And if they win, they lose. I’m going to say it again. If they win, they lose. Meaning, if they accomplished the goal, they’ve lost because the goal was set too low. And I think that is a cancer inside some organizations. As a leader, you should be setting stretched goals that require extraordinary effort that are aspirational, but they have to be accomplishable.

And when your team accomplishes them, you have got to invest and spend time acknowledging them, thanking them, rewarding, and celebrating. Set off the confetti, right? Spray the champagne bottle. Go bat, you know what, crazy. Don’t just say, “Great,” and then get back to the grind. People need to feel like you value accomplishing the goal as much as you did setting it and striving towards it.

I’m actually pretty passionate about that because I think too often leaders set goals that are too waffy and they crush the confidence of the team. People want to win. And if they can’t win working for you, they’ll go win working for somewhere else, someone else. Sorry, that was a diatribe.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, I dug it all. And I want to get your take for those who are aspiring for leadership positions but don’t have them yet, and they want to be like you, promoted into a management role. How do you get that signaling, that conveying, earning that trust, that confidence, such that people think, “Yes, you are the one who should be a manager now”?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Can I take four minutes?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
First, ask yourself why, right? Why is it you want to move into being a leader of people? I think, like I’ve said before, people are too often lured into being the team leader for the wrong reasons. Lead or be led, right? “Either take the job or Pete, down the hall, is going to be my leader tomorrow. And that’s horrifying thought, right, I don’t want Pete being my leader so I’m going to step up the plate, right?”

I get it. I get it. But wrong motivation. Do you get your validation from seeing other people succeed? I think, too often, it’s the only way to get a career promotion is to move up into leadership. And I think it’s a system’s misalignment issue. I’m not here to tackle the OD industry but I think people should really question, “Why do I want to do this?”

Here’s the next thing. I think people try to harvest their careers too soon. That’s a broad statement. I said the word people. There’s an amazing video that Franklin Covey has in our “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” two-day work session. It’s an interview we did 25 years ago with this sort of unsophisticated but very smart potato farmer from Iowa, sorry, from Idaho. And the name of the video is called “The Law of the Harvest.”

And in this sort of 8-minute video, this potato farmer says something that changed my life, it changed my career. He said, “There comes a time when we plant potatoes that we have to rotate the crop, right? Some years we actually plant a money-losing crop, like alfalfa or whatever it is, and we lose money on it. But it replenishes the soil so desperately and so vitally that allows us to grow bigger potatoes the next year.”

And I think the metaphor is so wise for our careers. I think, too often, including in this younger generation—which I have enormous respect for, I mean, they’re going to be my boss in the next five years. I better shape up and not insult them, and I won’t—is that too often, I think we try to harvest as oppose to plant.

In my career, I have found that patience has rewarded me. Fertilize, water, weed, rake, hoe, fertilize some more. Don’t try to harvest too soon. I think, in most organizations, leaders will call you when you’re ready. Nobody wants to suppress people. We know you’ll quit. No one wants to suffocate people. We know you’ll quit. No great leader, no mediocre leader, is going to pass over you when the timing is right. If they do, you’re working for the wrong organization.

But I think the question you ask is, “How do you know?” We’ve all been in the role where we’ve had to kind of fake our way until we make it. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I’m certainly a product of that. But I think you should surround yourself with wiser people than you. I’ve always practiced this concept, Pete, I call friending up. While my colleagues were playing beer pong at the lake house on the weekends, I was with the boss at his or her family’s house, picking their brains. I’ve always surrounded myself with people who are older, smarter, wiser, richer, better educated, better travelled, been down the same path. And that always kind of led me into a leadership role probably a little sooner than I should’ve been, but it certainly had me on the right track.

So, I would say practice the Law of the Harvest. Don’t try to harvest too soon, and surround yourself with leaders that are willing to mentor and coach you, and have been down the same path you’ve been in, have made the mistakes that you could avoid if you’re willing to listen and pay attention.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Thank you, Scott.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Probably not where you thought I was taking that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no. I can dig it. I can dig it. And we’re going to have a quick moment for some of your favorite things. Can you give us a favorite quote?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
My favorite quote, no surprises, from Dr. Stephen R. Covey, he said, “You can’t talk your way out of a problem you behaved yourself into. You can only behave yourself out of that problem.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Oh, my gosh, I love electric screwdrivers.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
You know what, I really get into the habit of apologizing without excuses. I’ve learned that the excuse-free apology is the only apology. So, I’ve gotten to the habit of simply saying, “I’m wrong. I apologize. I own it.” No excuses around it. No defending myself. No trying to make myself look better. Just owning it and apologizing with no attachments.

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

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yes, so the book site is ManagementMess.com. you can find me there. You can follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, you name it. I’m kind of hard to miss these days, but ManagementMess.com is the best place to learn about the book, and my future book is coming out, and how to bring me into an organization.

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

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Stop gossiping. The biggest cancer in organizations is leaders that talk about people behind their backs. Dr. Covey called it being loyal to the absent. Only speak about people as if they were standing right next to you, looking at you in the eye. Because when you are loyal to those who are absent, you build confidence and trust to those who are present.

There’s a person in our company who I have enormous respect for. And this person gossips and trashes everybody. And whenever I’m hearing her, I think, “Man, what do you say about me? That must be really brutal.” Because, of course, she talks about me. How can she not? Why would she spare me from that? Stop talking about people behind their back. Only talk about them as if they were standing right in front of you, looking at you in the eye. You will transform your brand, your reputation, and the culture of your organization. You can start small just on your team.

Pete Mockaitis
Scott, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks so much. And keep on the good work.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Hey, Pete, I’m honored. Thank you, sir. Glad to be part of your podcast series. Thanks for the interview.

463: Insights on Persuasion from the Land of Copywriting with Brian Kurtz

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Brian Kurtz says: "If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room."

Brian Kurtz shares his insider perspectives on persuasion and overdelivering from his legendary career at Boardroom and beyond.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why knowing your audience is the biggest key to persuasion
  2. The 4 pillars of being extraordinary
  3. How to overdeliver at work without burning out

About Brian 

Brian Kurtz has been a serial direct marketer for almost 40 years and never met a medium he didn’t like. 

Brian left his beloved Boardroom in January of 2015. Over 34 years he was responsible for the mailing of close to 2 billion pieces of direct mail in his career. He worked with many of the most legendary copywriters and consultants who have ever lived. Under Brian’s marketing leadership and during his tenure, Boardroom’s revenues went from approximately $5 million (in 1981) to a high of over $150 million (in 2006).

Brian writes and speaks regularly; recent content can be found at www.briankurtz.net and www.briankurtz.net/blog. His first book, The Advertising Solution, was released in October of 2017. His second book, Overdeliver: Build a Business for a Lifetime Playing the Long Game in Direct Response Marketing was released in April of 2019. Brian also loves being a Little League Baseball Umpire.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, Sponsor!

Brian Kurtz Interview Transcript

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

Brian Kurtz
Great to be here. I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to be awesome at my job after this but it’s a pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you have a heck of a track record for being awesome at your job. And I’d love it if maybe we could start by you orienting us a little bit to your story. What’s Boardroom? What’s direct response copywriting? And where does Brian fit into all this?

Brian Kurtz
Well, I had a pretty standard trajectory or career because I worked for 34 years for a company called Boardroom which was a newsletter publisher, book publisher, direct response marketing, meaning when I say direct response, I mean measurable marketing, making sure the media you buy pays out and everything is measurable.

And it was a very kind of a gradual trajectory and I ended up, by the time I left, I was running the marketing department and I was an equity partner. You know, I’m not a bootstrap entrepreneur by any means but it’s been a great ride because I was able to learn direct response marketing from the most amazing copywriters and consultants and everybody that Boardroom worked with, because Boardroom was kind of an iconic brand in the marketing world.

And so, when I left five years ago, I went out and launched my own thing and, I guess, it’s a classic case of those who did it have a responsibility to teach it. And that’s been my second career, which is as a direct marketing educator and teacher. So, I went from, in business to consumer marketing, mailing 2 billion pieces of mail and different kinds of messages to consumers to then going out in a business-to-business environment, and training, and creating mastermind groups, and working with some of the top direct marketers, and teaching what I had learned and also realizing that there was also still so much to learn.

And so, bringing in great speakers to my mastermind groups so that I can learn as well about all the new media. Because when I was growing up in this world, there were only so many media choices. You had direct mail, you had space advertising, you had TV, radio, but, now, advertising opportunities are infinite. and so, the ability to know what’s going on and choose properly is mindboggling but it’s also exciting. And that’s been the premise of my new work as an entrepreneur and an educator.

So, that’s kind of the career in a nutshell, and you can pick apart that or ask me any questions on that if you think it’s applicable.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that my favorite thing you said there, for those who are not as familiar with Boardroom and its sort of legendary status, is 2 billion pieces of mail, so, one, because I love numbers and, two, that just kind of really paints a picture of what we’re talking about here, is that this is a big scope of operations. And what I find so exciting and intriguing about it is that this is really kind of live or die by how persuasive and effective your words are in the pieces of mail that you’re sending out and you’re measuring the results on that.

Like, if your words are converting at a high percentage such that many people are buying then, hey, you’re profitable and you’re growing. And if they’re not, well, then, you’ve just burned a whole lot of cash on stamps and envelopes and pieces of paper.

Brian Kurtz
I will say this, though, and you did ask me about copywriting, and I’m not a copywriter but I have a good sense of copy and I’ve worked with the best copywriters in the world. And what’s interesting is that you could have the best copy but you have to make sure that you have the right list and the right offers to make that copy sing.

And so, I always talk in my book Overdeliver, I talk about the 40-40-20 Rule, which was a rule of direct response marketing, and it’s not exact, but it’s basically that the success of a campaign is 40% the list, 40% offer, and 20% the creative or the copy. Now, that makes it sound like the copy is half as important as the offer or the list, but it’s not. What it’s saying is that you could have the best copy but without your list and offer dialed in, you’re probably not going to get any response.

Whereas, if you have your list and offer dialed in, and you have mediocre copy, you actually are going to make some money because the list is, I think the list to me I call the 41-39-20 Rule because the list is the most important. And the proof is in people who do affiliate programs today. They get somebody who has a list of people who might like their product or service, they endorse it, they tell you how great it is. And you could have any kind of copy in that but that list is so perfect that it’s going to get some response.

Now, the trick in direct response marketing and why creative and copywriting and persuasiveness and all of that is critically important is that if you get copy that’s world class, and you have your list and offer dialed in, then you’ve got direct marketing nirvana. There you’ve got the ability to persuade, the ability to move people to action. And the best copywriters, it’s funny, my first book The Advertising Solution where I profiled six of the great advertising men of all time.

And the interesting thing is that they’re all copywriters and they all always talk about the audience and the list more than they talk about their amazing copy because they knew that if the list was right, it made their job easier and then they knew who they were writing for.

So, I just wanted to make that distinction of, not that copy is the least important, it’s actually, in some cases, the most important for big breakthroughs but you have to have your list and your offer dialed in to make it as impactful as possible.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood, and I find that encouraging. So, you have had a front-row seat there at a big player in this game, and you’ve seen their revenues go up 30 times during your career there, which is pretty cool, 5 million to 150 million. Kudos. And so then, I think there’s, what’s that expression, like, “Oh, boy, he could sell snow to an Eskimo.” It’s like, “No, actually no way he can really do that. The Eskimo, that audience member, that person on the list, is in no need of snow and so it doesn’t matter how persuasively brilliant the words are, it’s not going to happen.”

Brian Kurtz
Yeah, like I’ve had many, many failures and many terrible direct mail programs and marketing programs. But the beauty is that everything is testable, everything is measurable, and that’s what makes being good at my job and being, “I like my job” so wonderful: that direct marketing is, the numbers don’t lie. You’re judged on how the customer responds and you also can get out. You can have a program that’s a disaster and you can walk away from it. You don’t have to throw good money after bad. You don’t have to be in a terrible position because you’re testing in small increments and then pyramiding and moving slowly through that process.

And if anybody who thinks it’s easy, it’s not. But it’s a methodical way of thinking about marketing that I’ve always thought as just a wonderful place to be. And so, no, I’m not selling snow to Eskimos, but I can sell a lot of things to Eskimos if I know what the Eskimo needs or wants, and it may be snow but probably not. You’ve got to figure that out and that’s through testing.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s so funny, my creative brand, we’re sort of working on it in terms of thinking, boy, there’s probably a certain way you can make that offer with the snow actually appealing in terms of, “This is the perfect kind of snow for making igloos. And we’re going to bring a specific quantity right to where you need it, right when you need it. It’ll be so much more convenient in having to find the best snow for your igloo-making.” I guess that’s mixing the offer side alongside the copy.

Brian Kurtz
Yeah, one of the copywriters in The Advertising Solution that I wrote about, I think it was John Caples. He said something like there’s very little difference between a $50 cigar and a 50-cent cigar, and it’s how you position it and how you make it worthwhile, and make it fit the needs of the customer. And I believe that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d love to hear, so you’ve had the privilege of working with, as you mentioned, some of the greatest copywriters who’ve ever lived. And so, I’d love to hear then, what’s going on inside their brains in terms of what makes them more persuasive than the rest of us and how can professionals get some of that magic?

Brian Kurtz
You know, It’s really hard work. When I say I’m not a copywriter, I say that because I don’t have the discipline that most copywriters have. Their brains work differently at the highest level. I mean, there are copywriters and there are copywriters, but their brains just work differently. And what I find, and the one characteristic, and there are a lot of them. I have a blogpost, and I think it’s in my book, in Overdeliver, it’s the seven characteristics of every copywriter, every great copywriter, that I ever worked with.

And the one that sticks out is insatiable curiosity, that you have to have this need to go deeper, you know, you get the answer but it’s not the answer, and you’re always looking for that next tidbit, that next level of knowledge that’s going to enable you to write copy that’s going to sing. In fact, Gene Schwartz, who’s one of the greatest copywriters who ever lived, used to say, “I don’t write copy. I assemble copy.”

Pete Mockaitis
And let’s talk a bit more about this point of, “I don’t write copy. I assemble copy,” and “what’s not in this book.” I think that’s an interesting perspective. So, the distinction between writing and assembling, what is it?

Brian Kurtz
So, I’ll give you a story. I had a copywriter, I wanted him to write for a newsletter of mine. It was a newsletter that was written by a naturopathic physician, and I gave him back issues, I showed him packages that have been written before, the usual start package that I give a copywriter. And he looked at it, and he said, “There’s nothing new here. There’s nothing exciting. And I don’t think I’d be able to write an exciting package for this because most of the stuff is kind of duds, like it’s basic. It’s important but it’s not cutting edge.”

And so, I said, “I have a feeling that there’s more here. Why don’t you talk to the guru, the doctor who’s behind the newsletter, and just talk to him and see what you can find out. Maybe there’s more here, again, what’s not in the newsletter.” And, lo and behold, he had a long call with him, and he came back to me, and he goes, “Do you know that your editors are rejecting a lot of the things that he wants to put in the newsletter that’s exciting, not because they’re irresponsible but because they want to be careful that it’s not information that they feel they can back up, and they don’t want to put it in because they feel like, you know, for legal reasons.”

And so, he just took it on himself. And this is, again, the beauty of having a copywriter who’s going to go after the information. And he basically took all the things that were on the cutting room floor and was able to resurrect some of them with additional research. He couldn’t resurrect everything because some of it was controversial, but he was able to resurrect a lot of it.

So, that’s an example of assembling copy and being able to find content that you wouldn’t normally get without an extra inquiry. I also think this idea of assembling copy is what Gene Schwartz would do. He would go through the book, like if I gave him a book to do a direct mail piece for, he would go through the book and he would start writing what he calls “fascinations” from the copy. And that would give him the best nuggets for the direct mail piece, and that enabled him to figure out what’s not in the book.

So, while we might know some things that might not be in the book, he would figure it out because he’d get so far with a certain fascination or a certain bullet point, and he said, “Oh, there’s this next level, and I can get to that but I need more information.” So, he would go back to the editors to get more information as well.

So, that’s kind of the concept of assembling copy. It is what’s there because you’re going to assemble copy from the content, but it’s then what’s not there. I have other examples in my book about copywriters who just never were satisfied with what was there, and they knew that there was more. And that’s what made the package sing and what made the promotion sing.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say sing, I’d love to get a little bit of a perspective here in terms of what would you say are the kinds of improvements that you’d see like with the same product just different words trying to sell it? Do you get double, triple the response rate when it’s kind of revamped effectively?

Brian Kurtz
Yeah, I’ve seen it. I’ve also seen 5% lifts or 5% here or there, it doesn’t matter. But you do get the 30%, 40%, 50% lifts in response when you do something outrageously different. And I think this is in my book, but I know I wrote a blogpost about it. We had a book in our stable. Marty Edelston, who’s the founder of Boardroom, was a genius and had a real good sense about what our audience was like because he was the audience.

And so, he created a book called The Book of Checklists with the intuition that people loved checklists, they love crossing things off checklists, and he thought it was going to be a winner, he had a package written by not one of the best copywriters but an okay copywriter, and it was a disaster. It was just terrible.

And we thought about it. Now, sometimes you can give up and sometimes you want to stay with it. And we thought about it and we said, “You know, this book is too good but maybe checklist isn’t it.” So, then he made it, we changed the title, same book, and we changed the title to something like The Great Book of Inside Knowledge, or something like that, and we made it like this encyclopedia of knowledge but we didn’t drastically change the promotion but we just revamped it a little bit, like tweaks and whatever, but we changed the premise of checklists to inside knowledge.

And not only did it not do as well, it did worse. So, then again, we said, “You know, the content of this is really good and we think there’s something here.” And we took it to, at that point, our secret weapon copywriter, Mel Martin, who was kind of the master of fascinations, the idea of taking a book, going in it, what Gene Schwartz did too, which was pull the bullet points out of this book. And he revamped the whole thing, and the new title was The Book of Secrets as opposed to “Inside Knowledge.” Secrets is a better word clearly. But then he redid the mailing piece.

And I remember that there were four fascinations on the outer envelope, and he chose them because this was his intuition of what the things that would make people vibrate the most. It was things like, I’m trying to think if I can remember all of them, I don’t think I can, but there was one that was, “How to outwit a mugger in a self-service elevator.” And there was another one that was, “How to know when a slot machine is going to pay off.” Another one was, “What food never to buy in a health food store.”

And he didn’t test them because he just had to go out with something, but he had hundreds of these fascinations, and he picked the four that he wanted to put on the outer envelope. And that mailing piece for that same book, the content of the book was The Book of Checklists. In fact, the book was like a vertical book because it was shaped like a checklist, but it was The Book of Secrets. I just bought one on eBay. I didn’t have a copy of it, and I found one on eBay which was neat.

And that book ended up mailing 25 million pieces. We did the single biggest mailing in our history for that book which was nine million pieces. I’m giving you the most severe success that we had but just to show you that revamping a concept and a package and then we also, once we had a winner, he would then test different fascinations on the outer envelope, he would test different headlines. And then you get the incremental lift. You get the 5% better or 10% better.

Now, I think that Book of Secrets from Great Book of Inside Knowledge from Book of Secrets was probably 200% lift from the original, so that was…

Pete Mockaitis
Three times as effective.

Brian Kurtz
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog. With the same stuff. Well, that is illustrative. Thank you. Well, let’s see, we also talk about this in the context of writing and mailing. So, let’s take this into the context of a professional at work, maybe they’re writing an email so they’re being persuasive via writing, or maybe they’re just kind of conversing verbally. What are some of the influence or persuasion universals that they can draw from this and use effectively to get yes more often from colleagues or customers?

Brian Kurtz
Yeah, that’s a good question. I think I’ll put it in the context of something from my book which was that Marty himself was, I remember the day of his funeral I was going to give the eulogy and I was up at 2:00 in the morning at my kitchen table. And, again, just like I looked at the seven characteristics that made every copywriter great, I wanted to figure out what the things that made Marty great. And I figured out it was there were four things. I guess these are four, I’ll call them four things, I think I called four things to being an extraordinary human being. And there is overlap with what I talk about with the copywriters.

And so, number one, is that Marty outworked everybody. And not outwork like, “I’m going to step on your toes, and I’m going to run rough shot over you, and I’m going to beat you at your game,” and all that. There is some of that but it’s really outworking everyone, to me, is a form of generosity that if you can show by example what you do at a high level, I think you set yourself up by example. And Marty was not a great teacher of what made him great, but he was a great shower of what was making him great. And that was something that I thought was a way that he outworked, and outworking everybody was generosity.

The second pillar of being extraordinary and related to copy, it’s actually one of the same premises, which was possess insatiable curiosity. Marty created publications and books that helped consumers in a variety of areas in their life, whether it was health or finance, and he just never stopped. He was not an expert himself but he was the bloodhound. He was the watchdog. He was the person that was going to possess that insatiable curiosity just like the copywriters did when they went and found the best information for their promotions on the cutting room floor.

The third thing, similar to copywriters when they would go to their peers to get feedback, Marty would surround himself with smart people. I always say, if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. And, therefore, like I’m in a stage of my career where I see myself as a teacher but I’m also a student. And so, I run to mastermind groups but I’m in three others that I spend a lot of money on and that I go to find new knowledge and new things because you’re never done with learning.

And so, I just thought this two months ago I had a stroke, survived, and I feel fortunate about that. But I feel even more of a need to be a student. Like, I’m not done. And so, you’re never done. And so, that is another transferable characteristic that takes the copywriting, that you’re always learning, and you take it to a bigger thing in your job.

And the fourth pillar was that, and with Marty, it was help other people first. For me, it’s always, contribute first. So, people look at me as a networker and I know a lot of people in the industry and I’m well-connected, but I hate the word networking. I like the word “contribution” to connect. And so, that is a characteristic that if you are always contributing to people around you, and I’ve done it for 40 years, so it’s paid off, not always, but sometimes you contribute too much with nothing in return. But you don’t look for anything in return. And I’ll tell you, what comes back is unbelievable.

So, Marty, the publications that we had and the books we had were to help people live a better life, and help more consumers than he would ever have thought he’d be able to do in his lifetime. But it was always about helping first, contributing first, and then what came back was a flood of satisfaction and things that he never could’ve predicted and I never could’ve predicted by living my life this way because I followed his premise.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, those are some great principles. And I’m intrigued by a few of those things. You mentioned a stroke and, one, hey, we’re so glad you’re doing better.

Brian Kurtz
Oh, thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
And, two, that gets me thinking about sort of health and sustainability because doing those things, that’s some extra effort that’s required. So, any pro tips for handling that stuff without burning out or getting into some health trouble?

Brian Kurtz
Yeah, that’s a good question because I got into health trouble and I don’t think it was stress. It was more like just burning the candle at both ends and travel. And I think that you have to listen to your body. I don’t think I have any pro tips, so to speak, because I don’t do as I say, not as I do. But I think that you want to control what you can control. You want to obviously eat well and exercise and all of that, but you want to control the stress in some way. So, whatever it is.

It’s funny, I just started meditating but I know meditation is a great way or yoga or whatever, running, bicycling, whatever. But one of the things that I do to alleviate stress is umpiring baseball. And you’d say, “Well, how is that relaxing? You miss a call and there’s somebody coming at you with a baseball bat.” And I think, for me, and it’s not that I want everybody to become an umpire, but I want people to understand that, for me, umpiring is a place where I go where I focus on something other than my work where I have to be focused, otherwise, I’m going to get yelled at if I miss a call or I miss something.

And I think you can draw an analogy in whatever you do. If you take it seriously, that if you have something where you’re a serious marathon runner and you’re always trying to beat your time, or you’re a serious meditation person that you always want to increase your meditation practice and you sort of compete with yourself to always get better, but it’s not related to the thing that you spend the most time with.

Now, of course, family is another place where you can go and do that too. So, there’s a lot of places in your life, but I think you need things that are an outlet so, if we talk about work here because this is what kind of the underpinning of this podcast, that to be great at work means you have to be great at other things not related to work, and to find things that you can get out of, thinking about work, for some period of time, is really healthy. So, that would be one. But, again, it’s the normal take care of yourself and do that.

I think in terms of the premise of my book Overdeliver there’s a lot of traps in overdelivering. I titled the book this because, first of all, overdeliver is not a word, so I own the word basically. But it’s two words or hyphenated. But as one word it’s powerful for me because I think you can overdeliver in every part of your life. You can overdeliver just as a marketer. You give away more than a customer would’ve ever expected, that’s an obvious way to overdeliver. You can overdeliver in your relationships by playing a hundred zeroes as opposed to 50/50, and you always contribute without a need to get something in return. You can overdeliver in your relationships so that you are giving more than you ever would’ve wanted, or people ever would’ve expected.

But the dangers, and where stress can come, is when you do it and you’re not – and, again, I’m not perfect at this, believe me – but you overdeliver too much, and then the expectation is too high. And then the next time you come out, and you’re not overdelivering and you’re only delivering well, it’s, all of a sudden, “What are you doing for me lately?” And then if you are, like me, you say, “Oh, no, I screwed up and I put myself in a bad situation,” and that could cause stress and lead to an unhealthy environment.

And then the last thing about your health and all the things that you do in your life, I think that the one thing that can really screw people up, and it screwed me up, and I think people will relate to this, is envy. I think envy, I’ll say envy kills. Envy makes you sick. And the way that I’ve been able to deal with envy, when you see somebody doing something better than you, when you see somebody doing a launch that did well and you never could get there, or you see somebody achieving in some way that you wanted to achieve and you’re not able to get there, that is sometimes your envy is in.

What you have to do is go from envy to gratefulness. And so, the example I can give is if you are at an event, and someone is speaking, and they’re amazing, and you were speaking and you didn’t think you were as amazing, rather than being envious, being able to go to that person and, hopefully, you can talk to them about what they did to do such a great job, and to get that input and to get that information is a way to take envy and turn it into gratefulness to that person for sharing it.

And so, I’m not envious in my life for the most part, but when I am envious and I feel like I’m getting ill of some sort, I go to gratefulness. There’s a book by a guy by the name of Norberto Keppe called, The Origin of Illness, and it kind of speaks to this that envy is the root of all evil, and I really believe that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Any other kind of mistakes you think people tend to make when they’re going after over-delivery or they’re going after persuasion?

Brian Kurtz
Yeah, I think you can give away too much. And I don’t know what that line is because I tend to give away too much. But I kind of have figured out, I know it when I see it because, like, I blog every Sunday, and I always invite my readers to give me input, and I give them a lot of free stuff. And so, I’ve overdelivered too much in some cases when I start getting a flood of emails and requests. I have a list of, I don’t know, 11,000 people or 12,000 people, and it’s one thing to send me an email with a “Thanks for that input. My experience has been this,” and just a little share, to a whole list of asking me for advice and opinions.

I don’t want to be not gracious because I’m trying to be as generous as possible, but I charge a lot of money for my time, and I can’t get annoyed by it because that would be disingenuous. Like, in that example, if someone is asking me for my opinion, which would be a consulting call, I kind of lay it out that I charge for consulting. I give them a little piece that I can give them but not much because I don’t have the time. And I feel bad but that’s where I have to dial it back a little bit.

So, I don’t know if that answered the question, but I think when you find your…. I get myself in trouble as opposed to ignoring everybody. I’d rather be on this side of it than on the side of just “I’m too good for you and I’m going to ignore you. If you want to pay me, I’ll give you advice.” I try to create a middle ground and sometimes I get myself in trouble because of that. But, again, I’d rather err on the side of that than on the side of “I’m going to protect myself completely.”

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

Brian Kurtz
One is, “In marketing and in life, everything is not a revenue event, but everything is a relationship event.”

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

Brian Kurtz
A favorite study or experience. I think learning how to survey and learning how to get the opinions of your customers to find out what they need as opposed to what you think they need is a basic premise of marketing, and it’s one that a lot of people don’t use enough. So, I would say it’s that.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Brian Kurtz
I have at least two. One of my favorite books is Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz, the best book on copywriting, marketing, but it’s bigger than that because it’s about human behavior. Another one is Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist which is kind of one that I read every year to just remind me of my personal legend and what I’m up to and that I’m still on that path.

And then the third would be Adam Grant’s Give and Take which is an amazing book on giving and taking, but the beauty of that book is that he says early on that there are givers, takers, and matchers in the world, people who give, people who take, and people who match 50/50. And he said the most unsuccessful people in the world, what would you think they are, and you assume it’s takers, and it’s actually givers. But giving, and this goes back to too much over-delivery, that if you give too much, then you’re going to be a loser because you’re never going to take care of yourself.

Then he says, “Who are the most successful people in the world?” And he says they’re also givers because “but you have to give strategically and you have to give.” And that’s the trick, giving strategically, overdelivering strategically. I’m still learning it but I’m always experimenting.

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

Brian Kurtz
I would say that looking for groups of people that have information that I don’t have. So, I mean, that’s broad and I do it in small groups and I do it in big groups, in masterminds, but I do it in small groups too. Like, going out and always finding that next piece of knowledge, that next person.

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

Brian Kurtz
So, I would definitely point them to the site for my book which is www.overdeliverbook.com. And on that site is an opportunity to buy my book, but there’s also, you’d come back to the site after you buy the book, and you put in your order number, and there are 11 bonuses on that page. And it’s stuff like a swipe file of going back to 1900, going back to original source, going back, getting a file of things that you can use to help you with your marketing.

So, there’s 11 different things on this site that are just, I guess I have a book called “Overdeliver” so I guess I have overdelivered. So, it’s overdeliverbook.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And all those bonuses are listed right there.

Brian Kurtz
Yeah, they’re all listed on the site, and then you opt in to my list. I don’t do affiliate programs. I blog every Sunday and you’ll get, hopefully, some wisdom once in a while from me. So, there’s just a lot of information there, and I think that’s the best way to connect with me and learn a lot of the things that I spoke about today if your audience is interested.

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

Brian Kurtz
I always say go forth and multiply, and I think the best way to do that is to contribute to connect, that always contribute first before you ask for anything. Like, tell people what you have to offer them before you ask them for something. And don’t make ask of people out of nowhere. Like, someone who you only know for a short time, don’t make an ask if it’s not appropriate. Because I think if you work on your relationship capital and develop it over a long period of time, that is a great way to live your life. And so, I would say contribute to connect as oppose to networking.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Brian, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck with your books and adventures and all you’re up to.

Brian Kurtz
Thank you very much, Pete.

457: How to Persuade through Compelling Stories with DonorSee’s Gret Glyer

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Gret Glyer says: "These people don't emotionally connect with facts but they will connect with another person and another story."

Gret Glyer discusses how you can increase your persuasion power by telling compelling stories.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why stories succeed where statistics fail
  2. What makes a story compelling
  3. How storytelling can earn you a promotion

About Gret 

Gret Glyer has helped raise over a million dollars through storytelling. He is the CEO of DonorSee, the platform that shows you that your money is helping real people in need with personalized video updates. From 2013 to 2016, Glyer lived with the world’s poorest people in Malawi, Africa where he built more than 150 houses for the homeless and crowdfunded $100,000 to build a girls’ school in rural Malawi. Glyer has been featured in USA Today, National Review, HuffPo, Acton Institute and is a TEDx Speaker. He is currently fundraising for his first ever book on Kickstarter called, If The Poor Were Next Door.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Gret Glyer Interview Transcript

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

Gret Glyer
Thanks for having me, Pete. It’s a pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to dig into this chat but, first, I want to hear a tale from you. I understand you’ve had some encounters with the wildlife of Africa. Tell us about them.

Gret Glyer
That’s right. So, I spent several years living in a part of rural Africa, it’s a country called Malawi. And while I was there, there was a place where you could rent a sailboat and sail around this reservoir. You had to drive like 30, 40 minutes through these villages and on a dirt road and so forth, and eventually you got to this like oasis, like green trees and this really beautiful lake/reservoir and you could rent 10 or 15 boats just like in the middle of nowhere.

So, I went with some friends out to this reservoir, we rented a boat, and I had never sailed a boat myself, but I’d been on other sailboats so I thought I could manage it, and it wasn’t too big of a boat. And there wasn’t much time before a big gust of wind came over and almost knocked us over. That was kind of scary and so we thought, “You know what, maybe we should turn around.”

But before we had the chance to do that, a second gust of wind, I can’t even explain physically how this happened, but a second gust of wind, like 10 times stronger than the one that we had just gotten, again blew us over, flipped our boat completely upside down so our sail was pointing downward, like down into the water, and it was like a violent flip so we were all scattered about.

So, I was the first one to crawl on top of the boat and I was sitting criss-cross applesauce on top of an upside-down boat while I was like bringing my friends on the shore. And the guys on shore, they kind of saw what had happened and they sent a canoe out to rescue us and bring us in. And as we were being brought in, there were a bunch of kids on shore who were just shouting and pointing at the water, and they just seemed really excited.

So, we’re being pulled in by this boat, and we turned around and, right where our boat had flipped over, there was a hippo who had surfaced, and I thought, “Oh, my goodness.” So, I was a little bit like just in shock, but that’s actually not where it ends. So, we get pulled into shore, and I’m kind of shaking from what could have just happened. So, I go up to the guy who is on shore kind of running the whole operation, and I asked him, like, “Wow, I see the hippo out there. Is that like a dangerous hippo? Is it deadly?” And the guy said, “No, it’s not that dangerous. It’s only killed like one person before.” And I thought, “Wow, we have different definitions of what is and isn’t dangerous.”

So, yeah, that was one of the first times I ever saw a hippo in real life and very scary, very dangerous experience.

Pete Mockaitis
And just how big is a hippo when you are right there and this one in particular?

Gret Glyer
Oh, they’re gigantic. In fact, I think one of the things that people don’t realize, people think of lions as the deadliest animal, maybe crocodiles, but it’s actually hippos are the deadliest animal in all of Africa, and it’s just because they have these massive jaws. And whenever they collapsed their jaws onto their prey, it’s several tons of force that’s coming down and just completely crushing it, so they’re very big.

Pete Mockaitis
Mercy. Well, thank you for sharing that story. And storytelling is the topic du jour, and I want to get your take on you’ve got a real skill for this and have seen some cool results in terms of your non-profit activities. And so maybe we could start with your story in Malawi and how you came to learn about just how powerful storytelling is.

Gret Glyer
Sure. So, I actually moved to Malawi right after college, or a year after college, but before that I was a private school kid, I went to a private college, and I worked at a corporate job, and I lived in northern Virginia right outside Washington, D.C., I lived in a very wealthy zip code, and that was all I knew. I was a wealthy person, I was around other wealthy people, and the people around me were like a little wealthier than I was so I kind of thought I was poor just because that was the people who were surrounding me.

And then when I moved to Malawi, at the time Malawi was ranked as the absolute poorest country on the entire planet, and I saw people who were living on a dollar a day, and I was dumbstruck, like that’s the best way I can put it. I didn’t know. I knew that, intellectually, I knew that type of poverty existed, but for someone with my background and my upbringing, it was like emotionally I had never truly connected with that.

And so, I moved to this place where some of my next-door neighbors are living on a dollar a day and I’m just astounded at this level of poverty, and that’s when I realized that I wanted to do something about it. And so, I started writing blogposts and I started making videos and, eventually, I started crowdfunding. And you could tell statistics all day long, and the statistics are shocking but they don’t resonate with people on a deep level.

And it was when I started learning about storytelling that I realized that storytelling is the vehicle by which I could get my message across. And the message I wanted to get across was we have our problems here in the developed world and those things are totally worth exploring and doing something about, but I also think that the message I have is I want to have a little bit more urgency about what’s going on in these parts of the world where people are suffering from extreme poverty, people living on a dollar a day. So, that was the catalyst for when I first got really interested in storytelling.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m curious then, like did you have some experiences then in which you shared some statistics and numbers and data things versus you shared a story and you saw differing responses and reactions?

Gret Glyer
Yeah. Actually, the very first time I ever did a crowdfunding campaign I had this exact thing happen. So, at first, what I did was, and this is actually one of the first times I was exposed to true extreme poverty face to face, because when I moved to Malawi I was living on a compound, and the compound I was living on we had a lot more people like me, like a lot of people who were visiting from America and they were teachers so they were living there for the year.

But then this guy named Blessings had met me and he wanted to show me some stuff, so he brought me out to this village. And we went deep into this village and that was kind of my first exposure to like when you think of like an African village with grass thatched huts, that was my first exposure to that type of setting. And he introduced me to this lady named Rosina, and the phrase skin and bones, that’s used a lot, but that was like the true representation of what Rosina looked like at this time. She really looked like she hadn’t eaten in a long time. And, in fact, she hadn’t eaten in seven days when I met her. She was on the brink of starvation. It was a really sad situation.

And so, Blessings told me that this lady not only didn’t have enough food but she also didn’t have a house and she needed to build a house because the rainy season was coming in a month, and if you don’t have a house during the rainy season, you’re in big trouble. So, I asked him how much a house would cost, and he said it would be $800, which blew my mind coming from where I came from.

And so, what I did was I put together some statistics and some facts about people who need houses, and I sent it to my friends back at home, and I told them, “Listen, there are people who need houses here, and houses cost this much, and this is the building materials we’ll use.” And, lo and behold, I needed $800 and only $100 came in. For whatever reason, the facts and figures didn’t quite resonate with people.

So, then I took a different approach and I told Rosina’s story, I told the story about this lady who had a really tough life, and she’s now a widow and she’s in this tough situation through no fault of her own. And if it’s not for the participation of my friends and the donors back at home, she’s going to be in big trouble. And that was that one moment where it clicked, where I realized, “Okay, storytelling, this is the key. These people don’t emotionally connect with facts but they will connect with another person and another story.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, we’re talking about data versus storytelling, and you’re telling a story about telling a story, and you’re sharing numbers about it, so I’m loving this. Okay, so the first time you made your case with numbers, you got a hundred bucks. The second time, you made the case with a story, and what happened financially?

Gret Glyer
Oh, the money came in, I think, it was within hours. It was definitely within a day but, if I remember correctly, it was a few hours after I sent that email out to my friends and the money came in easily. I’ll kind of go a little bit further. Not only did the money come in, and not only did people like send it over excitedly, but we built a house, Rosina got her house, and actually we put the roof on the house a day before rainy season. So, time was of the essence and we barely got it, and Rosina was able to move in.

And I actually just went to Malawi a couple months ago, and I got to go visit Rosina and she’s still living in the same house that we built her, so that was a cool experience. But what was interesting was after the house was built, people started to continue to send me $800 to build more houses for people even though I wasn’t asking for it. They were just sending me money because that story had resonated with them so deeply.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, maybe you don’t recall it precisely here, but how many $800 bundles and houses were you able to construct as a result?

Gret Glyer
Well, so it started off there’d be a few people who sent over the money and then I would make a video. And then I went home over the summer and I actually met up with Scott Harrison who’s the CEO of Charity: Water, and he helped me get a 501(c)(3) setup and he kind of gave me some advice and so when I went back the next year, we started building more houses. I’ve never wanted to grow this particular operation beyond what it is but we continue to build houses every month even to this day. And we’ve done over 150 houses in all of Malawi at this point.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s striking. So, wow, from 100 bucks to 150 times 80 bucks. And in the early days it was even from the same people in terms of being able to do multiple houses whereas you couldn’t even do an eight beforehand. So, that is compelling stuff. And sometimes I get stuck in the numbers because I’m fascinated. I’m a former strategy consultant and I love a good spreadsheet and pivot table and so it’s natural for me to just go there without stopping and think, “Okay, what’s really the story here?” Tell me, what makes a story good, compelling, interesting, motivating versus just like, “Okay, whatever”?

Gret Glyer
Yeah, I think what it is about a story, especially if you’re trying to persuade another person or you’re trying to get someone to see your side of things, I think what’s compelling about a story is the person you’re talking to, they can see themselves within the story, whereas they can’t necessarily see themselves within a set of data.

So, you can look at a spreadsheet all day long and you can see these facts and figures, and that’s very persuasive to a small subset of people, and probably a lot of your audience really likes the data and the figures, and that’s really good. But for most people, for a general audience, they’re going to resonate deeply when they can see themselves as part of a story.

Pete Mockaitis
And we had Matthew Luhn on a previous episode, and he was a story supervisor for PIXAR, and that was one of the main things he said in terms of a lot of stories that they need to kind of fix or clean up or consult, tweak at it, have that challenge. It’s like, “Yeah, the audience can’t really see themselves in the shoes of the protagonist or hero and, therefore, we’re going to have to somehow make that individual more relatable in order for that to really compel the viewers.”

So, okay, cool. So, that’s one piece is that you can relate to it, like, “Whoa, I’ve had a hard time with regard to losing something and having some urgency with regard to needing some help or else we’re going to be in a tight spot.” And, boy, here we have it in a really big way in the case of her home and with urgency as well. I’m thinking I’m stealing your thunder, but one element is relatability to you and that person? Are there any other key components?

Gret Glyer
Yeah, when it comes to storytelling there’s a lot of different tips that I would love to share. I almost don’t want to share the tips because then people would be trying to do the tips instead of just doing like what they really need to do which is practicing. Like, if you just practice storytelling and you talk to other people and you see how much it resonates with them, eventually you’ll begin to learn. But there are a few things you can try.

So, one of the main things is you want to make sure that your opener is a hook. You say something where tension is created. Like, I could tell you a story right now. I woke up this morning, and I woke up, I reached across my bed, and my wife wasn’t there. And then I got out of bed, I started looking through my apartment and my wife was nowhere to be found, which has never happened before. And then I could stop right there and there’s some tension, it’s like, “Okay, well, what happened to your wife?”

Now, this is a made-up story, like it’s not true, my wife was there this morning. But you get the principle that you want to start up the story with some kind of tension that needs to be resolved. And then when it comes to persuasive storytelling, what you’re doing is you’re putting the person in the situation where they’re the ones that have to resolve the tension.

So, for crowdfunding, for example, you say, “This person needs a house and they’re not going to get their house unless you step in and do something about it.” And so that person gets to see themselves within the framework of that story. But I would say creating tension and then creating a satisfying resolution, that is the key to storytelling.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m with you. You’re right. So, I guess the tension kind of shows up in the form of a question, maybe you directly ask the question or maybe you just let it pop up themselves. And I think what’s so powerful about storytelling sometimes is I find folks, they’ll start a story just as a means of exemplifying a principle or concept, and then they think, “Okay, well, I’m exemplifying the concept,” but then everyone is just left hanging, like, “But what happened?”

Gret Glyer
Yeah, they want it. Everyone wants that. They love having that resolution. And, in fact, one of the biggest mistakes people will make when they first start storytelling is that they won’t resolve it. They won’t put as much time into the resolution. Because you can engage your audience just by creating tension, and you can create more and more tension. This is what a lot of these series on TV have done, like Lost and most recently Game of Thrones.

Like, I’m sure everyone has heard about how upset people were with the ending of Game of Thrones. And it’s a total rookie mistake to build up all this tension and have all of this tension that needs resolution, and then at the end kind of give a cheap ending. It’s a very tempting thing because you’ve still gotten the tension and the attention from your audience but you haven’t delivered. And learning how to deliver is the ultimate, the pinnacle of storytelling.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, you bring me back to my favorite TV series ever is Breaking Bad and I’m not going to give any spoilers for those who have not yet seen it. I’ll just give you as a gift that Breaking Bad is extraordinary. But I remember, toward the end, boy, those final eight episodes, oh, my goodness, there was so much tension. I remember like the third to the last episode, in particular, entitled “Ozymandias,” was kind of an episode where a lot of stuff hit the fan, and we all knew it had to. It’s like there is no way that everyone is just going to be hunky-dory. Something is going to go down.

And then I remember I couldn’t wait, I was just amped, looking forward to it all week, and then I saw it, and then I was kind of sad by some of the things that happened. And I was sort of surprised at myself, it’s like, “Pete, did you think you would enjoy this? You care about these characters and you know some bad stuff is going to happen to some segment of them.” It was weird, and I thought that, “This is going to be so amazing. I can’t wait for this experience.” And then when I saw it, it was artistically masterfully done, but it made me sad, it’s like, “Oh, man, that’s a bummer for those guys and gals.”

Gret Glyer
Yeah, I’ll share one of my favorite examples to go along with that because it’s so simple. I was watching A Quiet Place which was the John Krasinski kind of horror movie, and there was one thing that they did at the very beginning of the movie, because they’re in this world where monsters might attack them at any moment. And there’s a staircase that goes from the first floor of their house to the basement. At the very beginning of the movie, what they did was they had a nail come loose, and the nail was sticking straight up so that you knew at some point, someone is going to step on that.

And what they kept doing was they kept having people walk past the nail, and they would show their barefoot like right next to the nail. And that’s there throughout the entire movie, and that’s just one way that they masterfully interwove tension into that story.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, so I want to get a take here. Let’s talk about, first, your world, how you’re seeing this all the time. So, you have founded DonorSee, and what’s it about and how do you use storytelling there?

Gret Glyer
Yes, so DonorSee is like the storytelling platform so I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished. So, the way that DonorSee works is whenever you give any amount of money, you get a video update on exactly how your money was used to help real people in real need, and these are mostly people living in extreme poverty like I mentioned earlier, people like Rosina, the person who needed a house.

And so, what you do is like, let’s say, there’s a girl in India, and she is deaf, you can donate money to her, you’ll know her name, you’ll know her story, and you’ll know her hopes and dreams. And a few days after you give your donation, you’ll get a video update of her hearing for the first time. And she might even say, “Hey, Pete, thank you for giving me these hearing aids.” So, it’s a very personalized video update and it’s a one-to-one transaction that gets to happen. So, that’s the concept behind DonorSee.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and it’s powerful. Well, we got connected because, a fun backstory for the listeners, my sweet wife saw a video about DonorSee and the good work you’re doing, and she made a donation, and she just thought it was the coolest thing. And that you, with your wise, best practice following organization reached out to her to learn more about where she’s coming from and sort of her behavior and thoughts and needs and priorities and values and whatnot to kind of optimize her stuff. And then your colleague listened to the podcast.

Gret Glyer
Yeah, my COO.

Pete Mockaitis
And here we are, you know, fun world.

Gret Glyer
Yeah, shout out to Patrick Weeks because I know he’s listening right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Hey, hey, hey. And so, I’m intrigued then. So, then you’re doing the storytelling on the frontend as well with regard to as you’re having videos on Instagram and Facebook and places with the goal of kind of getting folks to say, “Oh, wow, I’d like to be a part of that and make a donation.” So, I’m curious, in that kind of context of, hey, short attention span, social media, etc., how do you do it effectively?

Gret Glyer
Well, storytelling doesn’t change. There’s always the same kind of build tension and then provide resolution, and so you just have to find ways, you just have to find whatever is the hot medium, whatever it is that people are using, that’s where you want to be. So, right now, we test a million different things, we’re on every platform, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and we do a lot, we work with influencers and so forth. We’re constantly trying to get in front of whatever audience might be most receptive to us.

And so, what we do is we just test everything. We just see, “Where is it that people are responding to this the most?” And so far, what we found is that Facebook is where people are spending time and they’re open. Facebook is a platform where you’re looking at stories of other people’s lives on a regular basis so it’s very natural to be in your News Feed, and then this advertisement or sponsorship from DonorSee pops up, and it’s another story about another person’s life, and it kind of draws you in. And I think that’s been why that has been successful. And Instagram, of course, too also lends itself to that pretty well.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I guess you’re doing that same sort of stuff, like you got video and you create tension the first few seconds, and then away you go. Are there any particular do’s and don’ts? I mean, this isn’t a digital marketing podcast, but, hey, there’s plenty of those so you’d be hit there too. But any kind of do’s and don’ts with the particulars of if you’re putting up a post, “We found that these kinds of things work well and these kinds of things don’t”?

Gret Glyer
So, to go along with your tips about storytelling and another thing, that is a crucial consideration whenever you’re storytelling and, specifically, when you’re trying to tell a story within an advertisement, is to really consider who your audience is and who you’re trying to speak to directly. And so, for example, I think this is a really helpful way of thinking about. Here’s a failure that we had and the success that we had.

So, there was a time when we would put up stories of people in need, stories like the one I told earlier of the lady who’s starving and needed a house. And we put up those stories and those resonate with a certain type of audience. But then, what we realized was that people were having a hard time seeing themselves in that story. I mean, seeing someone in destitute poverty is just so outside of your frame of reference. It’s hard to really to grasp it.

And so, what we started doing was we started using testimonial ads.  In fact, there’s this couple from Harvard that they’re big fans of DonorSee, and I’ve had the opportunity to talk to them several times. And the wife is getting her MBA at Harvard and the husband is getting his JD, and they have this really nice picture of them, but they use DonorSee every month and they’re really big fans of it, and so, they sent in a testimonial.

And so we’ve been running their picture with their testimonial underneath, and that seems to resonate with a certain type of audience where maybe they wouldn’t necessarily see themselves in another country on the other side of the world, but they do see themselves in the transformation that the donor themselves is going through. They were able to grasp it because they look at the ad and they saw someone who’s more similar to them, and that was why they decided to get involved.

Pete Mockaitis
And maybe even, I don’t how much this plays into it, but it could aspirational, like, “Dang, Harvard power couple.” It’s really cool.

Gret Glyer
Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
And, “Oh, this is something that, I don’t know, successful, smart, high-achieving people do, it is that they give.” And so, that could be a lever in there as well.

Gret Glyer
Yeah. I’ll give one more example. We have a few ads that we run for parents, and there are parents in the picture, they’ve got their kids, and maybe they’re looking at a phone or they’re smiling at a camera. And the testimonial is from these people who are saying, “I’ve used DonorSee to educate my kids about global poverty, and it’s created these wonderful conversations between me and my kids.”

And so, obviously, that’s not going to speak to the 18-year old kid who’s about to go to college, but for the parent who has young kids, or kids who are maybe even up to teenage years, that works really, really well because they seem themselves in that. So, yeah, you always just think about who your audience is and then you tell stories where they can see themselves inside of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Very good. And so, I know we do have a number of non-profiteers amongst the listenership just because they’re probably curious so I want to go here. So, okay, so you’re putting money into ads, and you’re seeing donations flow, how’s that work from like a fundraising expenditure kind of a thing?

Gret Glyer
Oh, totally. Yeah, absolutely. So, totally fair question. So, the way it works is we have overhead just like any other non-profit organization would have overhead, and so whenever you give there’s a small percentage that gets taken out. Our percentage is 13% and that money goes to keeping the lights on and we have a lot of video hosting costs and so forth. But the vast majority of it is actually going to the people in need. And then the last thing I’ll say, because people are always curious about this, I, as the CEO, make zero dollars a year from my organization.

So, if there’s any doubt, or if there’s any consideration that maybe I’m doing this kind of for my own pocket, there you go. I fundraise separately on Patreon and people support me through that, and I’m very grateful to be able to have the opportunity to do things that way. But, yeah, you can’t run these organizations for free, as much as we would all like that, and so that’s what we do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. And so then, so the 13% also covers the advertising costs?

Gret Glyer
Oh, yeah. We use that. That covers everything. It covers the video hosting, the advertising, the development, all that stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. And so, you’re seeing like a positive, I guess, I don’t know if ROI is the right term in this context, but in terms of, “Hey, we spent a hundred bucks on Facebook ads, and we’re seeing donations of substantially more than a hundred bucks flowing through.”

Gret Glyer
Yeah, the term that we use, which is similar to ROI, is we use return on ads spend, ROAS. And our return on ads spend is positive. And it’s really cool because once we get people in the door, we have lots of ways of keeping them engaged with our platform. What’s cool about our platform, not to pat myself on the shoulder too much, but what’s really great about DonorSee is that it keeps you engaged. Like, you give a donation, you get a video update, and then you’re back on our platform with lots of more opportunities to give, and you keep getting video updates every time you do that. So, we have a really strong recurring donation base.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. That’s cool. Well, so let’s zoom in on the typical professional, you know, I’m in the workplace, and I got all kinds of situations where I got to be persuasive and influential. Maybe I need to have a project manager. I don’t have the authority to hire, or fire, or give bonuses, give raises, but I need colleagues to do stuff for me so my project gets done, or I just need to get some help and buy-in from other departments, etc. So, how would you recommend we apply some of these principles in a workplace setting, trying to get collaboration from others?

Gret Glyer
Yeah, that’s a great question. I’ve been thinking about it a lot because I knew I would be on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast and this would be a main point that we would talk about. So, I’ve been thinking about this for your audience specifically, and the way that I thought it would be best to think about is in terms of getting a promotion. I think that that’s something that’s on a lot of people’s minds and something that will happen several times throughout the course of their career.

And I think what I want to petition is that storytelling can actually help you get more promotions faster than any other skill that you have.

Pete Mockaitis
Bold claim.

Gret Glyer
Yeah, so your audience can test it out and we can get feedback at some point, but here’s how you use storytelling to get a promotion. So, let’s say that you have a boss, and your boss has some kind of problem and doesn’t have a solution for that problem. What you want to say is, you look for these kinds of opportunities, they’re not always lying around. But when you see the opportunity, then you jump on it, and you go to your boss, and you say, “Listen, I would love to help you with the problem that you’re dealing with. I’ve thought a lot about it, I thought about how I could be the solution to the issue that you’re facing. The problem is I don’t have enough responsibility. I haven’t been given enough responsibility to help you with your problem but I know I can do it if I’m allowed to be given this responsibility.”

And so, what you’re doing is you’re putting yourself into the situation, you’ve created tension with this problem, and the promotion is how you resolve the tension. So, you create tension in your boss’ mind, and then the way that the tension is resolved is by your promotion.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and what’s interesting about that is the promotion might not happen right then and there on the spot, like, “Gret, you’re right. Now, you’re a director.” But it’s probably like, “Yeah, okay. Yeah, sure, Gret, that’d be great for you to take on director’s responsibility and take care of this, this, and this.” And then some months later, it’s like, “Well, crap, he’s doing the job of a director. I guess we should probably give him the title and the compensation so we’re not flagrantly unjust/at risk of losing him to another employer.”

Gret Glyer
Yeah, and I think that’s another way that you can create tension, is you can kind of say, “Listen, I’m really excited about my job right now. I love what I’m doing but, unfortunately, there’s another company that is offering to pay me this amount, but I really want to keep helping you with this. And the way that that can happen is if you can kind of match what this other company is offering me.”

And so, again, you’re creating tension, “I’m going to leave the company unless the tension is resolved, which is that I get a raise or a promotion,” or something like that. And none of this is like… Make sure you are not like blackmailing your boss, or putting yourself in like an unhealthy relationship with other people. But just the concept of creating tension where you can be the solution and you can help people, I think that that is going to be a very, very powerful tool for your audience.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s a really good frame or context there in terms of just like, “Hey, look what I got. What are you going to do about it?”

Gret Glyer
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m really enjoying this and I’d love to continue helping but, just to be honest and level with you a little here, I’ve got this tempting offer over here, and my wife would sure love it if I had some extra money. It’d be awesome if I would just not even have to think or worry about that by matching.” So, yeah.

Gret Glyer
That creates the opportunity for me to just point out one more tip I have about storytelling, and that’s to use vivid imagery. So, when you said, “My wife would love it.” If you said, “My wife has really been wanting this red Camaro, and if I got this promotion, I’d be able to get that car for her.” That was a specific image in the person’s head that that creates a hook for them, and that image is going to resonate with them and make them think about it longer than they would’ve otherwise. So, using vivid imagery is a very powerful way to keep your recipients engaged.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I think that the red Camaro is vivid imagery and I guess I’m also thinking about, it’s like, to an extent, again, does it follow the principle of can they see themselves in that story? It’s just like, “Hey, I don’t drive a red Camaro. Nobody I know drives a red Camaro. Tell your wife she’s going to have to hold her horses, you know.”

Gret Glyer
Yeah, maybe more achievable kind of a red Corolla.

Pete Mockaitis
But it could really be just like, “Hey, you know what, she’s really wanting to spend some more time, I don’t know, like with a medical thing.” It’s like, “It would really be helpful if we could be able to do more trips to physical therapy,” or, “It’d be really handy for the kids, boy, they love music but it’s so hard to find the time to get out to the school of folk music. And it’d be so handy if we could, I don’t know, have a nanny or chauffeur, or something, that they can relate to their gift. It’s very important for children to have music in their lives.” I resonate with that and so that might be more compelling.

But you get the wheels turning here just by bringing up these principles which is great. So, maybe before we shift gears, tell me, do you have any other sort of top tips you want to share about maybe being persuasive?

Gret Glyer
Yeah, I just think tone is very important. You can get people’s attention lots of different ways. When you become a good storyteller, you become very good at hooking people in. We’re kind of graduating out of the era of clickbait, like people are starting to get wise to it, but there was a time when people used clickbait in attention-grabbing headlines to get more traffic onto their website or to get more attention for their cause.

But if you don’t have follow through and you don’t have substance behind your hook, then it’s a very bad long-term strategy. So, it’s just the whole package of starting with the attention-grabbing hook with a satisfying resolution, understanding that whole framework is really important to healthy storytelling.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s dead on and I know what the expression was, it’s like, “All sizzle, no steak.” It’s like, “Ooh, what’s this about?” It’s like, “Oh, you don’t have it.” And, for me, it’s largely about, I don’t know, these days I’m getting so many messages on LinkedIn from people who want to sell me marketing services.

Gret Glyer
Yeah, I bet.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s kind of like, “You know, I would love for my business to grow and I’d love to do more training and coaching and workshops and sell more courses or whatever.” But it’s kind of like, “I don’t know who the heck you are. And what would really persuade me, hey, is like I guess I want a story and with some data.”

It’s sort of like, “Hey, here is, I don’t know, a podcast or trainer person just like you, and here’s how they spent, whatever, $5,000 and then turned that into $50,000 with our help doing these cool things. And now they’re doing these great things with their business.” So, I think that will be way more compelling than, “Do you need more leads for high-ticket events?” It’s like, “Maybe, but I don’t know anything about you. It’s not the best way to start our relationship, new LinkedIn connection.”

Gret Glyer
I think you just made a really good point. The data is what makes your story more compelling but it’s definitely secondary to the storytelling itself. So, you’ve got the story, you’ve got the hook, and then people want to believe it. They want to believe that there’s this tension that can be resolved and you can be the person to resolve it. But if they don’t have the proof, then you’re going to lose them. So, I think having that data is so completely absolutely crucial but it should be embedded within the framework of telling a good story.

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

Gret Glyer
Yeah, I love this quote from Elon Musk, he says, “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m chewing on that. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Gret Glyer
So, I am someone who creates awareness about global poverty, so when I saw that I have the opportunity to talk about a statistic, I wanted to use that opportunity to talk about some statistics about global poverty very briefly.

So, if you earn $34,000 then you are in the global 1%. You are wealthier than 99% of the planet, which is mind-blowing to think about. But I’ve got two more that will kind of cement this. So, if you earn $4,000 a year, after adjusting for cost of living, then you are wealthier than 80% of the planet. So, it’s only 20% of the world who’s making $4,000 a year and up. And, finally, if you earn $1,000 a year, so about $3 a day, you’re wealthier than 50% of the planet.

So, there’s an exponential regression from the richest people in the world to the poorest people in the world, and that was what I wanted to bring up for my statistics.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and that could be a little bit of you can take that in all sorts of ways, like, “Oh, wow, we have a lot of work to do to help people who are in need,” to, “Hey, I ain’t doing so bad.” I guess because we tend to compare ourselves, like you said in the very beginning, with neighbors and colleagues, folks who are right in your midst. But if you zoom out, take a global perspective, it’s like, “You know what, I feel like my salary is disappointing at, whatever, $43,000, which is 9,000 more than 34,000, but I’m a 1-percenter, so I could probably find a way to make ends meet after all.”

Gret Glyer
Yeah, and I bring that up not to make anyone feel guilty or anything like that. Really, the reason I bring it up is because what I learned is it was perspective shifting for me. I was a private school kid growing up. I grew up in one of the wealthiest suburbs in the U.S. and so when I learned these things, it totally changed how I look at the world and my own situation, and I hope that others can have that same experience.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Gret Glyer
So, this is another interesting one. So, if you’ve seen the movie Les Mis there’s a guy at the beginning of the movie, the bishop, and he brings someone into his house who’s a known thief, and he gives him a bed for the night because he doesn’t have anywhere to sleep, and the thief ends up stealing a bunch of his stuff and running away.

That’s like a split-second thing in the movie Les Mis, the most recent one. And what happens is the guy ends up coming, the police catch the thief, they bring him back, and the bishop, instead of making the thief kind of go to prison and go back to the gallows, the bishop says, “Oh, you brought him back. Thank you for doing that. I actually forgot to give him the most important gift of all.” And he goes and he gets these two silver candlesticks and gives it to the thief, and says like, “Be on your way.”

So, the thief kind of stole from him and then he gave him more money out of this act of charity. And then that kind of was this catalyst that turned the guy’s life around. So, in the movie that’s like a very brief thing, but the first 100 pages of the book Les Mis, the book Les Mis is about 1600 pages. The first 100 pages are all about that bishop. And I found those 100 pages, like exploring that guy’s character and the way that he thinks about the world, I found those 100 pages riveting. So, I thought that’d be a different thing to what your audience is used to, read the first 100 pages of Les Mis.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s beautiful in terms of the power of mercy, and right on. Preach it. And how about a favorite tool?

Gret Glyer
Yeah. Well, the tool I was going to bring up, which I already mentioned earlier, is Facebook ads. Facebook does a really great job of reaching the audience that you are trying to find. And so, instead of you having to kind of say, “Well, people who like this, and who like this, send ads to them.” What Facebook does is it finds people who resonate with your ads, and then it shows more ads to people who have already resonated with it, like maybe they’ve clicked the Like, or left a comment, or something like that. And so, Facebook does a really good job of that and I highly encourage people to check out Facebook ads for that reason.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Gret Glyer
I go to the gym four times a week whether I work out or not. So, in other words, even if I don’t lift weights or don’t get on the treadmill or anything like that, sometimes I just go to the gym and I walk around. My only threshold for what is a successful health week for me is whether or not I went into the building of the gym four times a week.

You know, once you’re in the gym, obviously, you’re like way more likely to work out and you’re around all these other people who are working out. But the threshold for a successful workout is so low that it’s kept me in shape for several years.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Yeah, it does wonders for just keeping the habit alive even if you do almost nothing when you show up there. And how about a favorite nugget, something you share that really seems to connect with folks?

Gret Glyer
I always tell people to do what you’re afraid of. If the only reason you’re not doing something is because you’re afraid of it, then you have to do it. Sometimes you shouldn’t do something because it’s unwise, but maybe the thing that you’re afraid to do is you’re afraid to go skydiving. But you can afford it, there’s a place to skydive within 30 minutes from you, and the only reason you haven’t done it yet is because you’re afraid of it, do it, and that will help. That habit will help create many different opportunities for you in your life that that will lead to personal development.

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

Gret Glyer
So, right now, I’m using storytelling to sell my book, so I actually have a book that I’m fundraising for on Kickstarter, it’s called If The Poor Were Next Door, and I tell people to look it up on Kickstarter and back that project.

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

Gret Glyer
Yes, so the final thing is we have setup a link DonorSee.com/awesome just for you guys. And if you go there, you’ll be able to join DonorSee and get video updates on your donations. And anyone who does that, there’s a special offer for getting T-shirts and hats and stuff like that, if that’s interesting to you. But, yeah, DonorSee.com/awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Gret, thanks for sharing the good word today and the great work you’re doing at DonorSee. I wish you lots of luck in all the cool impact you’re making and folks you’re helping, and it’s really cool.

Gret Glyer
Thank you, Pete.