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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Oren:

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

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Oren Klaff Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Chicago.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
It was 1989 Chevrolet Celebrity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Dave:

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Dave Decelle Interview Transcript

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

Dave Decelle
Thank you so much for having me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
You just feel that each day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And what happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
A fellow guest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Decelle
Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Decelle
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate it.

499: Key Psychological Principles for Ethical Persuasion with Brian Ahearn

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Brian:

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

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Brian Ahearn Interview Transcript

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

Brian Ahearn
It is my pleasure, Pete.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
I buy that, absolutely, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about social proof?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. Thank you.

Brian Ahearn
You’re welcome.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Erica

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank You, Sponsors!

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Erica Mandy Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Go ahead.

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
What does that mean? Yes.

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Right.

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Yes.

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
“You make me wonder.”

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

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

Erica Mandy
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Right. Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

Erica Mandy
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that right, Fogarty?

Erica Mandy
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Thank you so much. This was fun.

477: Speaking Confidently and Effectively with Diane DiResta

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Diane:

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Diane DiResta Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane DiResta
Oh, big difference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane DiResta
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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