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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:

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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.

505: How to Make Data Inspire Action with Nancy Duarte

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Nancy:

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Nancy Duarte Interview Transcript

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

Nancy Duarte
Thanks for having me, Pete.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Duarte
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
How does that work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Duarte
Oh, I love Robert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
With the food?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And any other favorite books?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Oren:

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

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Oren Klaff Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Chicago.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
It was 1989 Chevrolet Celebrity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Dave:

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

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Dave Decelle Interview Transcript

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

Dave Decelle
Thank you so much for having me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
You just feel that each day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And what happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
A fellow guest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Decelle
Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Decelle
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate it.