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536: How to Listen and Be Heard with Julian Treasure

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Julian:

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

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Julian Treasure Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. That makes sense.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding? Huh.

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

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

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

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

Julian Treasure
Yeah, it’s beautiful.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, dear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Julian Treasure
It just doesn’t happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julian Treasure
Yeah, indeed.

Pete Mockaitis
I work them hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Definitely, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Agreed, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Hee, hee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And timber?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Daphne:

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Daphne Gray-Grant Interview Transcript

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

Daphne Gray-Grant
Thanks for inviting me, Pete.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you, Daphne.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, then take it away.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
The passive voice is used by many.

Daphne Gray-Grant
Yes, it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daphne Gray-Grant
For sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daphne Gray-Grant
Can I give you two?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Is that the 25-minute timer?

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

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

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

Daphne Gray-Grant
Yeah, indeed.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we’re almost running out.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

525: Delivering Presentations with Presence and Confidence with Christine Clapp

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Christine:

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Christine Clapp Interview Transcript

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

Christine Clapp
Thanks so much for having me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christine Clapp
It sounds lovely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christine Clapp
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christine Clapp
Kind of like Justin Timberlake?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
We just had her on the show recently.

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

Pete Mockaitis
She’s great.

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

Pete Mockaitis
We had him, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christine Clapp
Thank you so much.

513: How to Persuade When Facts Don’t Seem to Matter with Lee Hartley Carter

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Lee Hartley Carter says: "It's not what you say that matters, it's what people hear."

Lee Hartley Carter discusses why facts alone won’t persuade others—and what does.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you need more than just facts
  2. The foundations of compelling persuasion
  3. How to craft your master narrative

About Lee

Lee Hartley Carter is president of maslansky + partners, a language strategy firm based on the single idea that “It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.” As a television news personality and researcher, she doesn’t rely on traditional polling for her unique insights into U.S. politics; rather, she analyzes voters’ emotional responses to help understand and empathize with them on a more visceral level. The reaction matters, but the “why” behind it matters more. It was this approach that allowed her to accurately predict the results of the 2016 presidential election and primaries.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Lee Hartley Carter Interview Transcript

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

Lee Carter
I’m so happy to be here and excited about this conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. And one thing that we share is that we both auditioned for The Real World. But I understand you were actually a finalist. What’s the story here?

Lee Carter
Okay. So, I was a finalist and it was a long, long time ago. I was obviously an infant when I auditioned. But I was in London and I was studying there while I was in college, and I was walking down the street, somebody asked me if I wanted to interview for the show. I had never seen it before. And I got all the way to the finalist selection of it and I was super excited to be at MTV headquarters at the time. And I got the paperwork, and they said, “You’re going to be one of the final 28 finalists. They’re doing a special and you have to sign this contract.”

And what I realized was that my parents and my grandparents would have to know that I drank if I were in this television show. So, I didn’t go for it because I was afraid that they were going to find that out, which is so funny of all the things because the world is so different now. I am so thankful that I made that decision.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me more. So, what would’ve been the negative ramifications of you having footage of yourself on The Real World fast-forwarding into the current year?

Lee Carter
I just don’t think at age, whatever I was, 18, that I would’ve portrayed myself in a way that I would want to be out there for all time because that becomes part of your story, right? And I’m not sure that who I was at 18 is what I want the whole world to see even though it is definitely part of my story that I like to talk about today. But it’s tough to be out there all the time for everybody to see.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s a great perspective. I remember my audition was very short. We waited in line for a long, long time outside this club in Chicago, and then we each had an opportunity, just like introduce ourselves in a group for like 20 seconds, and then that was it. And then they tried to reassure us, saying something like, “Hey, you know, we cast so and so, and so and so, really quickly just because we know they have it.” It’s like, “Okay. Well, yeah, some magical powers, I don’t know who has it.” And I guess now you bring up some great points. Perhaps I can be grateful that that never came to pass in my life.

Lee Carter
Yeah, the unanswered prayers, conversation, sometimes, are the biggest gifts, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your wisdom. You talk about persuasion, How to Convince Others When Facts Don’t Seem to Matter. And, boy, what a juicy topic. So, could you tell us, what’s sort of the state of play right now with regard to humans and facts and the extent to which they do or don’t matter these days?

Lee Carter
So, we’re in a place, and everybody says to me all the time, my clients or people in conversation knowing about this book, “It’s frustrating, facts don’t seem to matter.” And my argument is actually that they never really did. And I hate to say that because it sounds extremely cynical, and I’m not a cynical person. But the truth of the matter is, if you’re trying to convince somebody who has a different opinion than you do, who holds different beliefs than you, facts alone aren’t going to be enough to change their mind.

And the reason for that is human beings have all kinds of biases that are inside of us. And there’s behavioral science and all kinds of theories of why this is true, but, basically, we recognize patterns and that’s how we survive in nature. And we pick up the things that reinforces that, what we believe or what we need, and we reject things that don’t serve us well. And that’s just the way we work.

And so, when you are predisposed to believe something, you’re going to pick up all of the facts and all of the information that reinforces your existing opinion and you’re going to reject those things that don’t, and you’re going to move on with your day. The difference between now and anytime before that is how we consume information and how much information we get.

So, it used to be that we had to wade through lots of information on both sides and you would pick out the information but there were different authorities that you trusted or different kinds of things and ways that you would get information. You would even go to the library or go to the encyclopedia. You’d have to read the news, you’d have to do all kinds of things that we don’t have to do now, and you’re exposed to lots of different opinions and ideas.

That doesn’t necessarily have to happen now because everybody can sort of sign up for who they believe, who they trust, and just get fed that same information over and over and over again without even really having to wade in and find out how do people feel that disagree with them.

And so, because we’re so inundated with information, because, on average, we’re getting 5,000 marketing messages at us a day, and because we’re insular in who believe in and trust, and we’re getting more and more tribal, it becomes harder and harder to break through with facts alone. We have to find a way that disrupts patterns that makes people stop and say, “Huh, I never thought about that that way before.” And that’s not just going to happen because of facts alone.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing and well-said, and I like that notion of patterns being disrupted, and, “Hmm, I never thought of it that way before,” because that’s some of my favorite information in terms of it just gets you going. I guess I think about sometimes it’s just like sort of groups that exist. Like, let’s see what’s a good one. Let’s say, well, how about we pick abortion. There’s a juicy one, huh?

Just like the existence of groups like Secular Pro-Life or Democrats for Life or something, it kind of gets people scratching their head a little bit, like, “Wait a minute. My perception of that belief system and those who hold it does not match just the name of your group.” And then that just sort of like gets people intrigued to dig in more. Or just whenever you hear a potential, I don’t know, contradiction, I guess, it’s a contradiction to your set of perceptions of things, well, I just find it very intriguing to learn, “Well, what’s this group all about? Do tell.”

Lee Carter
Totally. And that’s really the goal, right? That is, it’s not necessarily provocative but it’s just enough to give people a reason to pause and say, “Wow, I want to think about that differently.” And that sometimes won’t be enough to change our mind but it certainly can be enough to interrupt patterns and get things moving in the right direction.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, then let’s kind of dig into it then. If we want to be doing some persuasion and do some pattern interrupting, how do we pull it off?

Lee Carter
So, there’s a few things. In the book, I talk about this nine-step process that you need to go through, but there’s a few steps that I think are most important to really focus on and highlight. And the first is being really clear on what it is that you want to accomplish. And I don’t think we spend enough time about this. Sometimes we’re just saying, “I want to get the job,” or sometimes it’s just, “I want to get this done,” sometimes it’s, “I want more people to vote this way.”

But I think we got to slow down and say, “What is it that you’re trying to accomplish? And what do I need to have happen in order that, and what do I want people to do differently as a result of what I’m asking them?” I think you just really need to slow down on this vision and be really specific. I don’t think we give enough weight to that step in the process.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, could you maybe give us an example in terms of, “Hey, you might think that you have a clear idea at this level, but, no, no, a clear idea sounds more like this, more detailed articulation”?

Lee Carter
Yeah, one of my favorite stories that I use to illustrate this point comes from right after college. I went through a pretty bad breakup and I was really disappointed in how things had turned out. I was out with one of my friends. He was one of my best friends and still to this day, and he said to me, “So, Lee, in a few years, none of this is going to matter. I know right now you’re devastated. But let’s think about, what is your dream? What do you want your life to look like in 10 years?” And I said, “I don’t know. I guess I’d like to have a job that I like and maybe be married and have a couple kids, I guess.” And he said, “No, no, Lee. That is not a dream. That’s just lame. Let me tell you about a dream.”

He said, “In 10 years’ time, I want to be…it’s going to be sunset, and I want to be taking my boat, and I’m going to be coming back to shore, back to the marina. I’m going to have a great day fishing with my dad and my brother. We’re going to have caught a load of fish and I’m going to be playing Bob Seger’s ‘Hollywood Nights.’ The wind is going to be going through my hair and I’m going to be coming back to the marina where my wife and daughter are waiting for me. And I’m going to know in that moment that I’ve just made it, that I’ve got my marriage, I’ve got my kids, I’ve got my job, I’ve got my family, I’ve got everything just perfect. That’s my dream because, Lee, that is a dream.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Lee Carter
And I was like, “You know what? You’re so right.” And so, when I tell people, when they’re entering in their persuasion, “Whether you’re trying to land your dream job, whether you’re trying to launch a new product, whether you’re trying to change someone’s political ideology, whether you’re trying to rebuild your reputation, I want you to be that specific. I want you to be that visual so that you know what exactly does it look like. What does success look like so that you can really spend time, visualize it. Not give shortcuts to say, ‘You know what? Here’s the three bullets of what I’m trying to accomplish.’ No, I want you to feel it.” That’s what I’m talking about.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we get big, clear on that then. And what’s next?

Lee Carter
So, what’s next about that is getting real about what would keep you from doing that. So, a lot of times when we’re creating our master vision or our big what it is that we’re looking for, we’ll talk ourselves out of it before we can even get started. I don’t want anyone to do that. But what I do want them to do in the next step is start thinking about that. So, what are the things that are going to keep you from that? And this is about being really, really honest.

And so, I will say sometimes if you’re a business owner and you’re trying to get something, you’ll say, “I don’t have experience in that.” This is the time that you would try and say, “Okay, so I don’t have the right experience so I might need to reach out and get that kind of help, or I might even just need to lean into that. Legal might not allow me to say this or might not allow me to…” for whatever reason. The next step is about getting real about what might keep you from getting through your obstacles. Figure out how you can flip those on your heads.

Because one thing that I find often in persuasion is that we don’t address the problems that we have often enough in our messaging and in our language. So, if you’re a big company, you might be seen as greedy. If you’re a small company, you might seem as too small or you’re inexperienced. If don’t address all these things, they can really come back and bite you. But in effective persuasion, you address them.

So, sometimes, for example, if you think about President Trump, whether you like him or not, when he was running in 2015 and 2016, he knew that he wanted to be president, had a big clear picture, but his weakness was that he didn’t have the experience, that he was wealthy, and maybe many people thought he was out of touch, and there was a number of other weaknesses. But he flipped them on their heads. So, he used the fact he had no experience to his advantage, he said, “Look, I’m an outsider. I’m going to go in and drain the swamp. I’m a businessman, I’m going to make deals like you’ve never seen deals been made before.”

So, he took those things that would’ve been weaknesses and turned them into strengths. And so, I encourage people, when you’re trying to go out with your vision, figure out what it is that you want. If you’re going in and you’re interviewing for a job, and you don’t have experience in a particular category, say, “You know what, that’s to your advantage. I know I don’t have experience but I learn fast and my outside perspective, I can bring that inside the organization.” So, those kinds of things, I think, are really, really helpful and important to the process.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And what’s next?

Lee Carter
The third step is all about what I call active empathy. And this is if people take nothing else away from this conversation, this is what I hope people really take away. And that is that in order to have successful persuasion, it isn’t enough to know what you want to say and what you want accomplished. It’s really about understanding where the other person comes from, deeply understanding and caring about that.

Now, one thing I get all the time from people is saying, “I can’t have empathy for someone who holds such a radically different position than I do.” And I want to be very clear. Empathy does not equal endorsement by any stretch. What it simply means is you have a deep understanding of the other. And I tell people that they need to understand three different parts of the other person they’re trying to talk to.

The first is their feelings, why do they feel the way they feel. The second is their values, why do they believe what they believe. The third is their behaviors, why do they do what they do. Once you understand those three things, then and only then can you start to create a persuasion strategy that’s going to work. Otherwise, you might end up just talking in the dark.

So, let met just give you an example of what I mean by this. One, you brought up abortion so I’ll bring up gun control. This is another very, very important issue to most Americans and one that’s highly contentious. So, if you are a Second Amendment supporter, the value that is most important to you is one that we call liberty versus suppression. And so, the thing that you would hold most dear is freedom above all else, and you would say, “The worst thing that could happen is government taking away my freedoms.” Right? So, that’s the argument and that’s what you’re embedded in. It’s all about that.

Now, if you’re a pro-gun control and you say that, you know, your most primary value is about harm versus care, the most important thing is that people are safe. Now, if you’re not understanding each other’s value there, you’re going to talk over each other’s heads. So, the person is going to say, “How could you possibly want to put children at risk, and you’re such a terrible person that you’re putting yourself first?” And they’re saying, “Government is never going to make me safer. I’m the one that needs to make myself safer.”

Until you start talking to each other, listening to each other, and understanding where the other person is coming from, you’re not going to be able to have compromise, you’re not going to be able to persuade, and you’re not going to be able to reach each other. Instead, what you’re going to end up doing is putting each other in defensive postures and nobody is going to get anywhere. And so, I think it’s really important that we slow down on this step. And this applies not just to those most super emotionally-charged issues but it applies to almost everything that you do.

Pete Mockaitis
And you listed some of those values out there, harm versus care and freedom. So, do you have sort of like a checklist rundown or menu of values that you think through?

Lee Carter
Yeah. So, in the book, I lay it out. This is all based on Jonathan Haidt with a book called The Righteous Mind.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Lee Carter
He has some things that he talks about, the moral foundations theory. These are all the moral foundations that make us sort of program us to do anything. They play out in everything we do. And even when you’re thinking about how the company taught handles crises, for example. These narratives and these values play into it. They put people versus profits, all of those kinds of things.

But, yeah, there is a checklist in the book. And I think that the interesting thing is in politics, and I know this isn’t just meant to be about politics, is that Democrats and Liberals mostly, their primary value that they mostly talk about is harm versus care that’s why so much on healthcare, on welfare, on a lot of those things that are traditionally left-leaning issues is all around harm versus care.

On the right and the Republicans, the primary value, most often they’re talking about is liberty versus suppression which is all about freedom and giving people opportunity. So, if you think about the language that’s used on both sides, you’ll find that. And once you understand that, you’re going to be more likely to have conversations across the aisle. But, again, these issues just aren’t political. This plays out in a number of different ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. Well, so we got some steps here, so we got really clear on what you’re trying to accomplish. We figured out the roadblock, what would keep that from occurring. We’ve got active empathy and a deep understanding of their view. And what’s next?

Lee Carter
So, then, after we have all of that, you’ve got a really good understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish, what’s going to keep you from getting there, and what’s most important to the person you’re going to talk to. Now, the answer, what the challenge is how do you come up with your master narrative? What is the one thing that you want to be known for?

And it’s really important here that you find something that’s not just about what you’re trying to say but what’s important to your target audience. And, oftentimes, what I see people do is they don’t have a master narrative. They don’t have the one thing that they’re trying to be known for. They try to list proof points, or facts, or lots of different things. You want to have one umbrella idea that’s going to come back over and over again, because I say most decisions that are going to be made about you, your company, your product, your politics, your politician is going to happen when you’re not in the room.

People are going to be having conversations elsewhere, or people are going to be thinking about it, so you want to have that one thing that sticks in their mind that you want to be known for, and that they’re going to just remember. And that’s what the next step is, about getting really clear on what your one thing is going to be.

And, in politics, it becomes very clear. You’ll always remember the winning candidate’s master narrative. So, with Trump, it was “Make America Great Again.” Elizabeth Warren, right now, is a very interesting one where she’s talking about not just, “I’ve got a plan for that,” but she’s very much doing this whole thing about, “It’s a system that’s broken that doesn’t work for all of us, it works for the few,” and she wants to change that. So, that’s what she is all about.

We want to know what is the one that you’re all about? Nike is about bringing out the inner athlete in all of us. You know the master narrative when it works, and it has to be that sort of one organizing idea. It’s not necessarily the language around it, but what is that one idea that you want people to be left with when they’re thinking about you and when they’re thinking about your company or your brand?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Understood. And then next?

Lee Carter
And then next, you’re going to have three things that are going to support that idea. That’s when you get to what I call pillars of the narrative. But others might just say, “Here’s three things that you need to know.” And they should never be more than three things. It’s the, “They’re the right person for the job because they’re scrappy. And how are they scrappy in three different ways? They work harder. They work tirelessly, and they work one other way.” Like, you’re going to get the three things that are going to come after that.

So, we have is one master narrative, that’s the umbrella idea, three things that support that. Now, none of this at this point is wordsmith so it has to be a big idea or has to be perfectly polished, rather it’s these are the concepts that you want to communicate. So, that is the next step in the process. So, if I were to give an example of a pharmaceutical company, so pharmaceutical companies right now are struggling because a lot of people are angry about pharmaceutical pricing.

One of the things that they have found out is that a lot of people don’t realize that pharmaceutical companies are the ones that are inventing a lot of cures, because most people think, and this is really fascinating, most people think that cures come from charities or comes from academic institutions. And that’s in large part because if you ever have anybody in your life that is fighting cancer or has another terminal illness or some kind of thing, the first thing you’ll do is sign up for a charity, a walk, a fundraiser, or something because you’re thinking the charity is going to help find the cure. You’re not thinking about the pharmaceutical companies.

And so, pharmaceutical companies had come to realize that, “We better talk about some of the things that we’re doing about where innovations come from.” So, the master narrative for a pharmaceutical company might be that they’re inventing cures that are going to help your life both in the big ways in cures, and in the short, have a better quality of life.

And then, underneath that, what are three things that you need to know about it? That they’re working to get people access, that they’re working on addressing some of the biggest customer needs, and that they’re innovating on the things that don’t have cures yet. That may be the three things that they’d want you to know. And that’s before you wordsmith anything, that’s really just about getting it on paper on how do you do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Got you.

Lee Carter
And then, once you’ve done that, then it’s all about wordsmithing and making it polished, and getting to the idea. And there’s two tools that I tell people that they should use in order to bring these kinds of things to life. The first is visuals and symbols. So, I often say it’s not enough just to say something. You want people to be able to visualize it. When I talk about the dream in the beginning, it’s so helpful to have that visual.

But if you think about some of the most successful campaigns or if you think about some of the most successful turns of phrases, it becomes visual language or you have a symbol. So, if you think about Howard Schultz, for example, when he came back to Starbucks a number of years ago, Starbucks had lost its way, they didn’t have a consistent experience at Starbucks anymore, and a lot of people are complaining about the quality of the coffee. And they could’ve come back and said, “I’m back as CEO. I took a few years off, but now I’m back and we’re going to have a renewed commitment to coffee.” And, fine.

But what did he do instead? He came back and said, “You know what, I know we lost our way. I’m back and I’m shutting the doors of every one of my stores for an afternoon so that every barista that works in Starbucks can be trained in the perfect cup of coffee.” Now, that symbolic gesture, that visual became more powerful than anything else. That was a symbolic gesture, a moment, that really changed people’s minds. It caused that pause that we’re talking about earlier.

So, what I encourage people to do is, once you have your master narrative and your three supporting points, what are visual representations of that? How can you bring that to life? Now, if you’re interviewing for a job, leave a visual or tell a story that’s going to give you that visual representations that are going to break through the clutter no matter how that might come across? And I think it’s really important that people do that.

The other tool that I say is very important for folks to do that is there’s the visuals and the symbols, and then there’s just storytelling. It’s one thing to say that you’re super scrappy, it’s another thing to tell a story about a time that you were super scrappy. It’s one thing to say that your product meets a need, it’s another thing to tell an anecdote about how it met a need in a very specific space.

So, for example, we worked with an insurance company, and the insurance company wanted to show that they go above and beyond for their customers. And their whole master narrative was, “We’re looking for more ways to say yes,” which was a very sort of provocative and unique place in insurance because most people think about insurance companies saying no to claims, not trying to say yes to their customers. But, again, it could be hard to believe for people.

So, the story that they told, or one of the stories that they told is, “We look for ways to say yes and we look for ways to do more so that our customers are in a better place.” So, for example, we had a client, he was facing wildfires in California. They had to leave their home. So, we sent a crew to their home and we had their home covered with a flame-retardant foam, and when the wildfire fires went through their community, they were the only home that was left intact because it was covered with this.

And that’s something that we did because we wanted to do more for them to protect their home not only just so that when they came back, they didn’t have to worry about the claims, but they came back, and their home was in place. And that’s us going above and beyond ensuring a customer has the kind of service they can expect from us. It was a true story. It was a real story, and that does something so much more than just saying, “We look for ways to do more for our clients.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And this reminded me of there’s any number sort of eye-popping demonstrations. I’m thinking about the FiberFix It commercial right now where they made a real cage for a vehicle and instead of welding the joints, they just used this, the FiberFix It tape. And so, then they showed a car going off of a cliff with this real cage which totally snapped apart because it’s tape. But, whoa, what do you know, that thing is intact, and it really makes the point much more so than saying, “Hey, it’s really strong, really, really strong. Here’s a number on how strong it is,” it was tensile or whatever strength rating.

Lee Carter
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It leaves an impression. So, now, I’d love it if you could kind of walk us through maybe one or two or three demonstrations, top to bottom, from, “All right, I’m getting really clear on a particular goal, and then I walk through each of these steps, and I’ve executed a persuasive communication.”

Lee Carter
Sure. So, I’ll give you a couple of different examples that are in different categories. I have followed, professionally, I’ve been following election cycles since 2008. I did it for hobby before that, but professionally that’s one of the things I’ve been doing. So, you’ll always know who’s winning because they follow these steps and it becomes very clear. So, whether you’re talking about Barack Obama in 2008, or if you’re talking about President Trump in 2016, and likely you can follow who’s going to win in this time for the same reasons.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, tell us who’s going to win, Lee. Let’s have some fun.

Lee Carter
I can’t tell you who’s going to win in the head-to-head but if I were to say right now who’s going to win the Democrat nominations, it’s going to be Elizabeth Warren.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s because she’s doing a finer job of this persuasion beyond facts alone.

Lee Carter
Yes, she is. She is. So, I will walk you through from beginning to the end. So, the first thing is their big vision. You will always know why that person is running for President. You’ll always be able to answer this is part of their bigger story and part of their bigger vision. You will also always know that they have certain weaknesses that you’re willing to accept. So, with President Obama, remember he was a community organizer and he overcame that, right? He was able to do that. With President Trump, there were a number of obstacles before him. We talked about those.

The next thing that you’ll see is they always have a master narrative. President Obama had hope and change, and President Trump had Make America Great Again. And you’ll see that play out. Then you’ll always know they don’t have a laundry list of policies that they’re going to accomplish. They have a couple and you’ll remember what they are.

Barack Obama, you can still remember that he had Obamacare. He got a couple of others that he ran on. And President Trump ran on a few different policies. He ran on China Trade, he ran on jobs and the economy, he ran on the Wall, it was just a few. It wasn’t many. And that was something else that you’ll see over and over again.

The next step that you’ll see play out is that they will use visuals. And you can remember that Barack Obama always chose where he spoke very, very carefully. It was always symbolic and where it was. Where he gave his speech in Illinois, it was very carefully chosen where he launched his game. So, he understood the power of visuals as well.

President Trump, he didn’t just say he was getting tough on immigration, he said he was going to build a wall. That’s, again, the power of visuals. And then, anecdotes and storytelling, they both do it, right? So, you’ll see that throughout and that’s something that anybody, if you’re ever watching an election and trying to figure out who’s going to win, try and see and figure out if you can answer all those steps. You’ll probably going to see who’s winning, and Elizabeth Warren is the one who’s doing that right now. The rest of the candidates are not.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, there’s the political view. Let’s catch another lens.

Lee Carter
Okay. So, another lens that I will give you is for an auto company that I worked with a number of years ago. They were coming after some safety concerns, and people were concerned about their cars. They had always stood for safe cars and people wanted to make sure that they were safe. And they thought that their cars would speak for themselves but they couldn’t.

So, their whole thing was trying to figure out, “How do you communicate differently?”They’re so focused on cars that were extremely safe, quality, reliable, dependable, that you knew everything in them worked. And so, we talked about their master narrative being “Built for how you live.” So, that was just this idea of like it’s everything you do is just going to work for you. And that was going to play out in three different ways. It was going to work for today, tomorrow, and together.

So, everything that they did was about using it today. And you could think about it, their quality, other cars today, it was going to be usable, everything you could do. A step in the future, whether it was electronic vehicles, whether it was flying cars, whether it was all different kinds of things, it was going to be highly usable. It was going to be practical innovation. Cars you could use. And together. It was going to be stuff in the community that they could all do together, which was all about they didn’t just give back to communities.

What they did is they said, “We’re going to use our manufacturing know-how, all of the things that we know how to do so well to make improvements in quality and reliability, whether it’s in the local emergency room, whether it’s in a local soup kitchen, whether it’s disaster recovery, and they need to get people back in their homes faster. We’re going to use all of the things that we know about manufacturing cars in order to make things more efficient in other ways.” So, they had their three things, and they would just hit them over and over and over again.

So, that’s another one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, let’s do a third.

Lee Carter
So, we were working with a financial services company who was selling a very complicated product. This product was a variable annuity and it was something that a lot of people did not understand. And so, a lot of people were talking about this variable annuity as guaranteed income for life, and that’s not something that was necessarily resonant with a lot of people out there. And the reason for that, I think, is really interesting because this goes back to the whole idea of active empathy, which is why a lot of people would say, “Well, I’m not looking for income in retirement. I’m going to stop getting income.”

And what we learned by talking to people is that they feel like in order to retire, in order to stop working, it’s not about generating more income, it’s about having a big enough pool of assets that they can live off of. So, they weren’t thinking about income in retirement, so it just wasn’t as resonant. What they needed to know is that they have protected growth. They wanted that pool of money to continue to grow while they’re in retirement, and they want to know that was protected so that they didn’t have any of the downsides that they might have otherwise.

So, we shift the master narrative, instead of being about guaranteed income for life to being about protected growth. Totally shifted the conversation and how we talked about it. The other thing that these companies were doing when they were talking about it, so you have the master narrative, was they’re often in what I would call an arms race, and I think a lot of folks do this as they try to sell, “Our debt benefit is better than your debt benefit. Our thing is better than yours.” And it’s just about listing a lot of features.

So, instead of telling them to just focus on a lot of features, we talked about starting to think about a few different things. So, let’s talk about three different categories that are underneath it or sometimes just two. In this case, it was just two – protection and growth. So, let’s talk about how your assets are protected, and here’s the different ways underneath it, rather than talking about all these different guaranteed minimum debt benefits and income benefits, and all these things that were confusing people.

There’s three ways that your money is protected, and there’s a number of different ways that it’s still going to grow because you’re still going to have access to the market through similar kinds of mutual funds than you will on the outside. And so, instead of having a lot of features underneath it, there was protection and there was growth, and there were the points to make underneath it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, so throughout these, I guess what I’m really wondering here, with the active empathy bit, how do you go about, in practical tactical terms, getting after knowing what are their feelings, what are their values, what are their behaviors? Are there some favorite questions you’d like to use in surveys or interviews? Or how do you collect that insight?

Lee Carter
I think the most important thing, right, is that you don’t just try to assume that you know what the other person is thinking or feeling, that you do ask the questions. So, whether you’re hiring a research firm, or you’re doing your own Google survey, or whether you’re just engaging in conversations, it’s really important that you ask people who are in your target audience, not people who aren’t. Like, you really want to get clear on who they are.

And so, I think that what you need to ask before you start developing your message is you need to ask some questions like, “What do you think about the issue, the product, or the company that we’re talking about?” And when you’re asking the questions yourself, you need to make sure that you take all judgment out of it. And, in the book, I talk a little bit with a coach who is someone who coaches professional athletes on how do you help people stay curious and not get overly emotional, because that’s the key here. You don’t want to start reaching judgments. You really want to stay curious. And in your brain, you cannot be both curious and emotional at the same time. It’s impossible because of where the emotion is processed at the same place.

So, the job is, when you’re trying to figure this out, is to stay curious and just ask questions, and not try to make judgments until after you’re done learning. So, I say that you really need to start big, big picture. What do you think about the issue? What do you think about the product? What do you think about the candidate? What do you think about the company? Whatever it is that you’re trying to accomplish.

Do you have any specific experience with the candidate, with anybody who supports the candidate, with the product, with the company, with whatever it is that you’re trying to do? And then you really want to dig in how they learned about it, where they get their information about it, how does it impact your daily life, how can it make it more personal, what matters most to you. But you just keep having that. It’s like you’re looking at it as an onion. How do you get underneath all of these questions until you’re actively listening? You don’t want to skim the surface here. You want to get really, really deep.

So, for example, I was working on a project once related to diabetes, and we were trying to understand why someone wouldn’t take their medication because it just seems so, like, “Why wouldn’t you? It’s so important. I mean, this is your health. Like, why wouldn’t you take your medicine, or take your injections, or do what you need to do in order to manage your diabetes?” And people don’t. And what we learned is that, by having a conversation, “So, why wouldn’t you take your medicine?” “Well, I’m busy,” or, “I forgot my needles.” And you keep asking the questions, and you get these surface-level things that you really couldn’t do anything with.

When you start asking more and more questions, more and more questions, getting underneath it, then you’ll suddenly find out there’s something underneath it. So, one of the things that we found by asking more and more questions, trying to understand why, “Tell me about that moment that you forgot, or tell me why you forgot. Where were you when you realized that you forgot?” “I was at my granddaughter’s birthday party, and I forgot. And I was sitting there, and I’m looking at her birthday cake, and I realized I can’t have her cake because I don’t have anything to manage my low-blood sugar afterwards.”

Then we asked some other people, we’re talking to them. It all came to these key moments that they weren’t able to experience the moment that was most important to them because they weren’t dealing with it in those moments. And so, what we found out is that empathetic insight, the under thing is like, “If you take your medication, you will be able to do the things that are most important to you. So, if you do this, you will also be able to eat cake. If you do this, you’ll also be able to enjoy your granddaughter’s birthday.” That became the empathetic insight not that they were too busy to remember, right? It’s just digging deeper and deeper in trying to uncover what’s really going on with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. So, in a way, they were too busy or they forgot kind of, I guess, points to a theme of it wasn’t enough of an emotional priority for them.

Lee Carter
That’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
Until they missed out on something that they regret.

Lee Carter
That’s right.

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

Lee Carter
I just think that the key to all of this, right, is slowing down enough because I think, so often, in persuasion, what people try to do is write out the list of all the things that they want to commit to somebody of. And I think the most important thing that you can do is take it and say, “What is most important to the person I’m trying to persuade?”

So, if you’re going in to try and land the perfect job, what is the most important to that employer? If you’re going in to your boss, and you’re trying to get more money for a budget that’s really important to an initiative you want, what’s most important to them about that? If you’re trying to get resources to get a new hire, what’s most important to the executive committee about all of this? Because once you understand what’s most important to them, then you can start crafting your message around what’s most important to them and figuring out how to put the pieces together, but not the other way around.

Because you’re trying to persuade, you’re the one that needs to be doing more of the work than the person you’re trying to persuade. You want the insight to land on them, and be like, “Huh, I never thought about that. The answer is yes,” right?

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

Lee Carter
So, I think my favorite quote right now comes from Proverbs, and it’s Proverbs 18:2. It says, “The fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in expressing personal opinion.” And there’s so much wisdom in that, and it’s such a timeless old, you know, Proverbs, there’s so much in there, but I think it’s so relevant for right now, it’s relevant for persuasion, but I think it’s relevant for society at large.

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

Lee Carter
You know, I really, really love Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory. I find it helps me in so many different ways whether I’m trying to navigate political conversations, whether I’m trying to help clients for navigating corporate crises. It’s just trying to distill people’s beliefs down to the simplest terms in a way that helps you understand them so that you can speak to them more effectively. To me, that’s fascinating work.

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

Lee Carter
PowerPoint, which I think is a really wildly unpopular thing, but I think it’s a very powerful tool because it forces you to be succinct and visual, and both of those things are really important to storytelling.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Lee Carter
My favorite habit, frankly, is reading. I love to read whether it’s the news, or read books, or I start my day everyday reading, and I think it’s really an important habit.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for or is quoted back to you often?

Lee Carter
Well, what’s interesting, my company tagline is “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.” And that comes back to me all the time in good and bad ways. So, even in my marriage, it’s sometimes when my husband and I are having a disagreement, “You know, honey, it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.” And that can be hilarious. But it also comes back. It just sticks with people and it’s so, so true. It’s not what you say that matters, it’s what people hear.

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

Lee Carter
You can reach me at LeeHartleyCarter.com, or if you want to reach my firm, we’re at maslansky.com.

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

Lee Carter
Yeah, you know, the thing that I think is most important in leadership and most important in doing a great job is having empathy. It’s really trying to understand, whether it’s your customers, whether it’s your colleagues, whether it’s the people you’re trying to manage, the people that you’re trying to lead, spend time understanding them and what’s most important to them, and will pay dividends whether it’s in how you’re communicating with them, how you’re managing them, how you’re showing up.

Pete Mockaitis
Lee, thank you. This has been fun. I wish you lots of luck in all your upcoming adventures.

Lee Carter
Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

508: Becoming an Impactful and Influential Leader with Ron Price

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Ron

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Ron Price Interview Transcript

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

Ron Price

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

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

Ron Price

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

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

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

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

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

Ron Price
Hear, hear.

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

Ron Price

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

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

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

Ron Price

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, makes sense.

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

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

Ron Price

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ron Price

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ron Price
Making the requests for the feedback?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Ron Price

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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