Tag

Communication Archives - Page 6 of 18 - How to be Awesome at Your Job

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

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Brian 

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

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, Sponsor!

Brian Kurtz Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Three times as effective.

Brian Kurtz
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Kurtz
Oh, thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Kurtz
Thank you very much, Pete.

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

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Gret 

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Gret Glyer Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gret Glyer
Yeah, my COO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gret Glyer
Yeah, absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Bold claim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gret Glyer
Yeah, exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gret Glyer
Yeah, I bet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gret Glyer
Thank you, Pete.

455: Maintaining Grace Under Pressure for Effective Speaking with Lisa Wentz

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Lisa Wentz says: "You are meant to sound like you, not like someone else. It's authenticity that audiences crave."

Lisa Wentz pinpoints the fundamental elements that can make anyone a great speaker.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The ideal mindset for communicating with anyone and in any setting
  2. The best way to breathe for vocal power and confidence
  3. How to articulate well and why that matters

About Lisa 

Lisa Wentz is the founder of the San Francisco Voice Center, a public speaking expert, accent specialist and author of Grace Under Pressure: a Masterclass in Public Speaking. Lisa has been featured as a Public Speaking expert in TIME,  The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. Lisa regularly coaches speeches, presentation skills and accent reduction with TED talkers and executives and managers from Fortune 500 companies such as Adobe, Genentech, Google, Oracle, Salesforce and VMware, etc.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Lisa Wentz Interview Transcript

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

Lisa Wentz
Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your expertise. You’ve done a lot of work coaching folks with speaking and in many different contexts. So, I’d love it if you could open us up by sharing a fun story about working with either a famous pupil or on a famous talk.

Lisa Wentz
You know, that is a great question. It’s a tricky one, and I’m going to tell you why, because many of my clients are anonymous so I can’t say the person’s name really. The other thing about the word fun, a lot of the work I do is very in depth. Certainly, it can be fun but it makes me feel like you want me to tell you something entertaining.

So, here’s what I’m going to tell you. This is the story I’d like to tell you anyway because I thought it was fun. There’s a particular CEO that came to see me. He’s very successful. He’s had his company for 10 years. He’s a great public speaker. And he came to me with an interesting problem. And his problem was that in meetings he would become extremely nervous and thrown off if any of his team members seem disappointed even in the mildest of ways.

So, if he ever had to deliver anything that was bad news, or even mildly bad news, it was really challenging for him to the point where he would start shaking, sweating, his voice would contract, he wouldn’t be able to speak very well. And this was all due to an internal pressure he was putting on himself to please others, and too much pressure to take care of not just to take care of the company, which is his job to lead the company, but to take care of the people in it.

And so, after the first session, we did a couple of sessions on the physiological responses he was having, so the voice and speech problems, the not breathing enough, counteracting the adrenaline rush he was having when he was feeling nervous, and that kind of thing, and also worked on his mindset a little bit, you know, where was all this internal pressure coming from and so forth.

By the, I think, third or fourth session, I felt it was time for him to just face the challenge. So, what I ended up doing was I hired five or six very good San Francisco actors that I knew, put them into a conference room, told him that he was going to deliver them bad news, and he was going to have to deal with their responses.

Pete Mockaitis
You don’t get the part, guys.

Lisa Wentz
And they were phenomenal. He delivered a little bit of bad news about possible layoffs, and one actress was nearly in tears, “How could you do this to me?” just completely guilt-tripping him. Another one was really sort of angry and asking for accountability and those kinds of things. But, basically, these five actors just railed on him for about 45 minutes, and he handled it gracefully, he kept his composure, he didn’t take it on as if it was his fault, he made leaps and bounds, and afterwards thanked me. And the actors had a great time doing it. I gave them backstories and names and everything.

And he was really pleased that after just four sessions he thought this was going to be something that was going to take 10 to 20 sessions because he’d been dealing with it so long. After four sessions, he had it, he was ready to move on like a different person. But that was a fun experience for me because that’s unusual. I don’t usually hire actors to come in and give a CEO a hard time.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, I mean, that just sounds like what a service to have. That’s kind of cool to be able to simulate all kinds of things when you have access to a network of actors there. That’s pretty cool. Well, boy, I want to talk about a lot of things. You got this book “Grace Under Pressure” but now you got my interest piqued because I, too, I don’t know if it’s as dramatic, but I sure do have a resistance to disappointing people or giving people an unpleasant experience whether I have to fire somebody or if I’m just sharing something that they’re not going to like.

So, any pro tips there? It sounds like there’s a physiological thing for breathing. But you’re able to crack this in four sessions. What are some of the key takeaways for us?

Lisa Wentz
Well, I think, first and foremost, to figure out think about where it stems from. Because, usually, that kind of thing, when we’re giving ourselves a lot of internal pressure, it stems from something. It’s a pressure to be perfect. Maybe we’re giving early messaging that we had to please others that either comes from your caregiver of your parents, or you could’ve learned it in school or from friends, too much responsibility for other people’s feelings and so forth.

Now, of course, if you are a sensitive person, firing somebody isn’t easy and we want to be human as well, and so I’m not advocating for being just cold and not feeling anything of course. But there is something about, like I said, the mindset, thinking through what’s really your responsibility and what’s not your responsibility.

So, is it your responsibility to handle something very professionally? Yes, absolutely. Is it your responsibility to be a kind person? Yes, but it’s also your responsibility to not take on other people’s emotional responses. So, staying with your own purpose and the greater good and sort of what has to be done, if it’s a fire that has to happen, I think it’s that. It’s kind of going to the logic of it. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. That’s pretty helpful right there in terms of you’d be clearly seeing some things in and out of your zone of responsibility. Cool. Well, what else?
What else should we do if we are struggling with the “I don’t like disappointing people, delivering bad news” stuff?

Lisa Wentz
Yeah. So, first of all, I always start with logic. So, what’s the logic of the situation? Like I said, what’s really your responsibility? I also think that if it’s really something, if anything is really nagging at you that’s pervasive, figure out where it stems from and unravel that part of it. I’ll give you an example. Let’s see.

Let’s say, I’ll make this up, hypothetically speaking. Let’s say you had a caregiver, let’s say, to parent who constantly needed you to be overperforming, and there’s a lot of that. I get quite a few clients who will say to me, “You know, if I got an A, it should’ve been an A+.” “Why didn’t you do even better?” And as if the parent is personally hurt or dissatisfied with them as children. And that kind of a thing, any early childhood messaging we get, we can really hold onto it. And if it’s a situation where there’s not direct abuse or something really, really overtly painful then we might even hold onto it longer because we don’t see how much it affected us. We just take it as, “Oh, this is just how I am.”

And so, to go deeper with this, once you get to the logic of it, I think dealing with the emotional side of it eventually, and this is talked about a lot in the self-help world, sometimes you have to be your own parent, and the side of you that was a child and had too much pressure as a child to please others or to take care of others, then needs to be acknowledged and some healing around that needs to happen so the more adult side of you can do that, say, “Okay, that wasn’t fair. My parent may not have been a bad parent, but that’s too much pressure for a five-year old to take or a 10-year old to take, and I don’t need to do this to myself anymore.” And those kinds of real decisions can really affect you. They can unravel a lot, take a lot of the pressure off.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, thank you for that. Well, yeah, that’s just the opener. Let’s talk about your book “Grace Under Pressure.” What’s the big idea here?

Lisa Wentz
You know, I wrote the book for a couple of reasons, but I think the big idea, really what I want the readers to get is that, one, you do not have to be some special person to be a great speaker. It’s not as though only a few people can do this kind of thing. Maybe only a certain percentage of the population have decided to really become great speakers because they needed to for their careers and this kind of thing. But anyone who really wants to be a great speaker can be a great speaker. That’s the first thing.

Talent, and we all have talent, talent really boils down to who you are. It’s you in your most authentic form and the rest is training. The rest is technique.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. Well, that reminds me a little bit of Aristotle there, some of these components. So, let’s talk about some of these things in particular with regard to technique and things that show up and impact things. Now, you are also an expert on posture, which is pretty cool. So, let’s talk about posture here in terms of its impact on presenting, and how should we think about it, and adjust it, and what difference does posture make when we’re presenting?

Lisa Wentz
Yeah, there’s a few areas we can talk about. One is your internal experience and, of course, then the experience of the audience. If you have, really, what we call a collapsed posture, sort of looking like a marionette with loose strings, like you look weighted down, like gravity is pulling you down too much. You know what I mean by that?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Lisa Wentz
So, oftentimes, the head goes back a little bit, hips forward, you know, slouching is another way of saying it. Now, for speaking, that’s not ideal because your ribcage and your throat are not going to be in a balanced position, neither will your head. And since we want, when we’re speaking, especially for long periods of time, we want to be speaking in a neutral posture, a lighter posture not one that’s weighted down because we want our breath support to be there, we want to be able to breathe freely. We don’t   want our chest collapsing because then we’re going to take in less air.

If our head is back, we’re going to strain our voice box and overuse it, too much tension, then it creates a strain on the voice. So, a lot of people who speak in their profession, even receptionists or lecturers, will have strained vocal folds. And by the time they start getting real damage then it gets to be too late pretty quick. So, there’s that part. There’s the physical, just the physical health part.

Then what’s interesting too is the audience’s perception of you. If you’re standing on stage, or even if you’re in a meeting, and you’re in a really collapsed state, what kind of a message does that give? Now, most people will not look at a speaker, unless they’re somebody like me who’s a coach, and say, “Wow, that person has really collapsed posture.” No, that’s not going to happen.

But what will happen is that there’ll be subliminal messages. They will read the person who’s speaking as too casual, too relaxed, not to be taken as seriously, sort of not low-low status, but not high status. And anything that distracts, physically distracts an audience, is you’ve got to get it out the window. Anything that distracts from your message should be gone. And being in neutral, you’re not distracting anybody.

The other thing I notice that happens to audiences, especially if it’s, say, a whole day of conference, or a very long speech, or something like that, if the speaker has a really collapsed posture and has that sort of weighted-down quality, the audience will start getting tired, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. It’s like using to convey a little bit of sleepiness, and so they’re picking up on that as well.

Lisa Wentz
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s review then sort of head to tail, what does a non-collapsed, neutral, optimal, presenting posture look like?

Lisa Wentz
Right. It’s a hard thing to just talk about, isn’t it, without the visual? So, neutral means that the skeleton, basically, is in a balanced position. The head is balanced on the neck, the shoulders are relaxed, they’re not pulled back, they’re not rolling forward, they’re in sort of a healthy neutral. The hips are just under that, in line with the shoulders. They’re not pushed forward, they’re not pushed back, and so forth. Knees are not locked.

I can certainly give you, there’s many examples of great posture out there because there’s great speakers out there. I have no idea why, but Laurence Olivier is popping into my head, first and foremost. Or you watch some of the older films where it’s expected that people would have really great posture and present themselves really well, yeah. Is that helpful at all?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, sure thing. And so then, let’s talk about the neck angle. Is it just sort of like straight ahead, like my eyeballs are kind of forming a 90-degree angle with, if we were to draw a straight line down from neck to the ground? Or how do we go about that?

Lisa Wentz
Yeah, think about it like, let’s start with the top of the head. If you were to think that the top of your head has a paintbrush on it and the bristles are towards the ceiling, and you could paint the ceiling with it, just little bits, that would be a balanced position. If that paintbrush is pointing back, or if the paintbrush is pointing too far forward and it’s not pointing directly to the ceiling, then you’re out of balance.

I think for most people the habit is to pull their head back and their chin forward. And so, I think most people can simply just drop the chin just a little bit. And remember that your eyes have a huge amount of range. You do not need to pull your head back to look up. For instance, you do not need to pull your head down to look down. For the most part, your eyes are in horizon line level, typically if we’re speaking, or if we’re just socializing, or whatever. Your eyes have a lot of range. You don’t need to pull your head around to get them to see what you want to see typically.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s amazing, as we’re having this conversation, I’m realizing that, oh, I could bring my desk up a little bit because where my microphone is relative to my posture.

Lisa Wentz
Yeah. Ergonomics, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s a handy feature of a stand desk because I could just pop it up an inch or two. Okay, lovely. So, that’s kind of the posture side of things. And so, you’ve got a bunch of suggestions when it comes to speaking and presenting well. I’d love to hear which ones do you see most often tend to be the most transformative in terms of your practices that you’re suggesting?

Lisa Wentz
The most transformative? Let’s see. I think, like I said a minute ago, people are unique, but if I have to choose one, I’d say developing a healthy mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Lisa Wentz
Because if we go into situations and, let’s just talk for a second here about what is the sort of dictionary definition of stage fright. Usually, it’s a combination of an expectation to be perfect and a fear of being judged. But when we really look at it logically, that expectation of being perfect comes from your own internal pressure. We aren’t trained to be speakers. Most of us are not trained to be speakers, right?

We don’t learn it in school. We don’t practice it in the home in the same way, and then suddenly we might find ourselves in a career where, “Oh, you’ve got to speak at a conference,” or, “Oh, you’ve got lead a meeting,” and we don’t have any practice with that or any training. So, you have an unrealistic expectation. So, looking at that and letting go of the pressure is a great way to start sort of a transformational movement to being a better speaker.

And the other part is fear of judgment. Most of the time when we’re watching a speaker, we’re at meeting, or we’re at a conference, we’re not thinking about how well they’re speaking or even about them personally usually. We’re just thinking about the content. And so, if you can take your mind off of, “Oh, what are other people thinking of me? How am I doing? Are they liking me? Are they buying into what I’m saying?” and just put your mind, your focus, on the work, or focus on your message, then you can make huge leaps and bounds. You could be more present, more in the moment with your audiences, more effective.

So, going back to answer your question, I think one of the key things that I focus on because it’s so essential is the way you think about how you’re going to present the material and what matters to you most. And, ultimately, whether an audience likes you or not doesn’t really matter. What matters is the work that you’re presenting or the idea that you’re spreading.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And so then, that’s handy in terms of just making everything flow in terms of not freaking out and kind of readily get more so into the groove of things. And so, I also want to get your take on a couple particulars. How about breathing? How should we do that ideally?

Lisa Wentz
Ideally, we think of breathing into the lower torso, so into the belly and the back and sides of your ribcage. Most of us will think, “Oh, I’m going to take a deep breath,” and then we pull our chest up. Well, really, the shoulder girdle and the clavicle area have nothing to do with how much air you’re taking in.

When you relax your belly and you breathe in, and your belly muscles move out forward, and your ribcage kind of swings out a little bit, that’s when your lungs are really getting filled with air. And if you’re speaking, particularly for, like I said, a long amount of time and you want the support and the power in your voice, you want to be thinking that way, “I want my belly to move. I want my ribcage to move.” Lower ribcage, that’s where all your power comes from.

Pete Mockaitis
We had Roger Love on the show earlier and he talked about a speaking phenomenon in which you start off with a whole lot of air, but then as you go on, it kind of gets a little that weaker, and he calls it the squeaky edge. And so, how should we think about avoiding that kind of situation?

Lisa Wentz
A really good warmup, a good breathing warmup so that your body is set and ready to go. Yeah, the kind of thing he’s talking about, I think, is going to happen if you’re really holding a lot of tension   because you’re getting in your own way. Ultimately, we’re meant to breathe, our lungs know how to work. Our body knows, thankfully, “We know how to do this,” right? It’s that we interfere with it is the problem. So, if we get nervous, we tense up and we forget to breathe or those kinds of things. But if you just access what’s naturally there, build on it a little bit, then you should be in the green light. You should be fine.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s a good breathing warmup look like?

Lisa Wentz
What does it look like? Starting in a neutral posture is always a good idea. Exhaling first just to empty the lungs so that your lungs want to take in more air. Breathe in very slowly into the belly, even though the lungs are not housed in the belly. That’s just an image. You breathe into the belly. Touch the sides of your ribs, see if they’re moving. And when you have a very full breath, let it out slowly on an S-like Sssss. And when you empty the lungs, pause before you breathe in again.

And you repeat that about four or five times. That’ll open up the voice for you because, again, in order for it to be resonant, you have to have your breath support. And get rid of excess tension. Plus, you’re getting more oxygen to the brain and, hopefully, combatting any kind of nervousness.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you’re breathing in, you’re breathing in through the nose?

Lisa Wentz
If you want more of that rib movement, you want to breathe into through the nose. By the end of the exercise, if you do four or five breaths, let’s say, you can start to breathe in through the nose and mouth at the same time, which is how we breathe when we talk anyway. So, you want to mimic speech. If I do a breath warmup with someone, or a vocal warmup with a client, then I will take them through sort of an aggressive actor’s warmup to a five-minute warmup.

By the end of it, we are breathing in the way that we breathe when we speak, it’s just that we’re accessing the belly muscles and the ribcage more so that we have more breath capacity. And then, instead of the S, we’re actually letting out speech, because you want to build up to get closer and closer, which we normally do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, after five-ish of the in through the nose S, then you’re kind of breathing more kind of mouth and the nose at the same time, and then exiting or speaking real words, and air is flowing out of your mouth that way. So that’s a nice little wind up there. Any thoughts for how long we’re inhaling and pausing and exhaling?

Lisa Wentz
You’d only want to pause for a few seconds. As far as much how you’re exhaling, you just want to exhale until you’re basically out of air. You don’t want to be pushing at the end of it or tightening. You know what I mean? Let it out and then pause for a second and then let it come back in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, likewise, is the inhalation just as long as it takes to fill up, no need to count or anything?

Lisa Wentz
No, you don’t need to count it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so that’s the breathing side of things. You mentioned resonance and how breathing is essential to get there. What is resonance and what does it do for us as speakers and how do we get more of it?

Lisa Wentz
So, when we talk about voice and speech and we talk about resonance, what we’re really referring to are the sound waves that are leaving the vocal folds, so the sound of our voice. We’re not talking really about pitch or things like that.

One of the nice things that happens when we build up our breath capacity with exercise like that, we can then start to warm up the voice. So, instead of an S, you might start using a Z, so just a clean Zzzz sound, and that warms up the vocal folds. It can also really clear the throat. You don’t really want to cough or create any tension to clear the throat. You’re better off doing a resonance exercise.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us a sample? Like, what would a resonant thing sound like versus a non-resonant thing?

Lisa Wentz
Sure. Okay. So, right now, I’m going to assume that I have a relatively resonant voice because I don’t feel particularly tense and I feel like I have a pretty good access to my breath. So, lack of resonance would be, let’s say, if I started to talk like this, you know, maybe I had a virus. Or if I went to my roots and I went to my valley girl accent, then I would start to talk like this and the resonance would be like in the back of my throat. So, that would be sort of a lack of resonant sound.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. So, it’s kind of like that maybe vibrational like [sound] going on and compress it there.

Lisa Wentz
Yeah, resonance really is the sound waves that are leaving your oral cavity.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay, so the Z is a means of warming up to get there. Any other thoughts to make sure you’re more often in the resonant zone?

Lisa Wentz
If you like to play around with it, you could start with the Z, bringing the sound more forward in the mouth, and then start to play with vowels. Like, ahh, or another vowel and just keep checking in that you have good breath support and that you can feel the vibrations. No need to push for this. Again, the voice is a really strong instrument.

And so, when I say feel the vibrations, you’re putting your hand on your chest, which can also be very calming, you know, right under the clavicle and you could feel the vibration really working, or putting a hand on your nose or any area of your mouth can kind of encourage the sound to increase.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And so, also, I want to hear your view on when it comes to pausing and stressing words differently, I mean, there’s all sorts of ways you could speak a sentence. What are some of the impacts or how do you think about using pauses and different word stresses to really make your sentences sing?

Lisa Wentz
Yeah, you have to pause. You have to use pauses when you’re delivering a speech, even if it’s a short speech. And I think that many people will have the internal experience when they first start trying that as it being a really long time. It feels like it’s forever when, really, it’s not. So, I try to encourage clients to pause even longer than they think they should. And I try to encourage them to pause logically where they want the greatest effect.

So, let’s say right before and/or right after a key message that they’re delivering, something they really wanted audience to walk away with. Other places that you can pause are when you’re changing topic. So, you might say something that’s really important. You can be delivering, let’s just say, a pitch to an investor and you’ve already talked about your background, and then you’re going to go into, say, the money of it all and what you’re asking for, but you just continually speak. Well, you have given them no time to digest the information on the previous part before you move on, right? And you need that. No matter how smart an audience is, we need time to digest the information. So, those key places.

Also, questions. And this is something I see a lot of people miss. They like to ask a question to the audience when they know the audience isn’t really going to answer the question, but it’s a way of starting off a topic, but then they just start talking or they tell the answer. But think about giving a pause there, even if you don’t expect the audience to answer, you’re telling them, “I want you to think about it,” or, “I respect you enough that I’m giving you time to think about it. I’m not just going to give you the answer.” Does it make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. And what I find is like when people are effective pausers, sometimes it’s sort of like my mind was drifting off somewhere else and then because there’s a pause, I go, “Oh, I’m supposed to…” I was like, “What’s going on?” It kind of like brings me back even though they’re not saying anything. It’s just sort of like, I guess, the contrast of speaking and then not speaking. It’s like, “Oh,” it’s sort of like it actually reclaims my attention. And so, you say people should pause maybe longer than they feel comfortable with.

Lisa Wentz
If they feel uncomfortable with it, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, some folks may think a pause is going on forever but it’s really not. So, what kind of range of time are we talking about here when we pause?

Lisa Wentz
Well, first, let me say the way to measure it is to record yourself. So, if you’re nervous about that kind of a thing, run through your speech, record just an audio recording, play it back and listen to it, and then you can tell, you can say, “Oh, my gosh, that felt like I was pausing for five minutes and it was actually only three seconds,” you know, something like that. So, there are ways to measure this that can increase your confidence. But how long if I had to count the seconds?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Lisa Wentz
Five seconds could be an effective pause.

Pete Mockaitis
And you bring me back to, boy, a number of times I’ve done some keynote speaking, and it does feel a little bit terrifying the first few times you do it. But then, afterwards, you just feel, I don’t know, for me at least, I just feel powerful. It’s like, “I don’t have to feel it every second. I’m cool with this. Are you? Can you handle this because I can? What?” I don’t know. Not so aggressively but I like that feeling.

Lisa Wentz
No, I love it. It should be. It should be a feeling of empowerment, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s the pausing element of things. And how about word stress?

Lisa Wentz
So, word stress, for me, again, I usually just start very logically and simply. In English, we stress content words. So, we’re going to stress nouns, what is the thing, we’re going to stress verbs, what’s the action we’re taking, and adjectives, what does this look like, and everything else is pretty much secondary. I think that that can make a huge difference when somebody can just look at their speech.

And even for those listeners out there who don’t necessarily want to write out their speeches because they don’t want to be boxed into a particular delivery. That’s okay, but you could try as an exercise writing out one of your speeches and then decide to deliver it differently later, or writing out an elevator pitch or something like that, and underline the words you really want to stress, and those should be content words.

And the way in which you stress them can depend on the type of delivery you’re giving. It could be that you slow down that word, it could be that you give it more weight, it could be that you over-articulate it, there’s many different ways to stress a word. You can even use the pauses for that. A pause right before and after a word, yeah. But, basically, you’re looking at the content words, what do you really want them to hear.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m thinking when you started talking about that notion of the stresses and pause, I’m just sort of thinking like the musical quality of some speakers. And I guess I’m thinking about Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, and Jim Rohn right now and, boy, when I hear some of their best recordings, of some of these folks, it’s just a thing of beauty in terms of like, “Oh, my gosh, it’s just like this musical phrasing at times that I just want to curl up and listen for long stretches.” So, I know we’re talking about some world-class masters of the craft here, but how do we be more like that?

Lisa Wentz
Well, it’s an interesting thing, isn’t it, because when think about people who inspire us or we think about a great speaker, that’s pretty subjective. There certainly are people that most people would agree are great speakers because they had a lot of conviction, they had good physical and vocal use and all of that. Like you said, it’s almost as if they’re singing or something like that.

But how do we get there? I think that that really inspirational effect on others has to do with being very committed to what you’re saying, removing your ego, trying to remove your ego any way from the occasion, so that again solely your focus is on the idea, or the work, or what it is that you’re presenting and what you want buy-in.

And it’s interesting that you mentioned Tony Robbins because I have nothing against Tony Robbins and he’s had a beautiful wonderful career and helped a lot of people. However, listening to him is hard for me. He clearly has vocal damage because of his speaking past.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I completely have some of his recordings a couple of decades ago. I mean, you can hear it now.

Lisa Wentz
Yeah. So, I wouldn’t put him on the top of my list for like a really beautiful resonant voice. But how do you get that way? So, the answer is backing up what you’re saying with conviction, and then making sure your instrument, your vocal use, is in good shape.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Lisa Wentz
And we hadn’t talked about articulation yet and that’s a big part of it if we can talk about that.

Pete Mockaitis
Please do.

Lisa Wentz
Yeah, so when we are physically very articulate, when we’re really shaping sound well, that’s an interesting thing as well in terms of subliminal messaging. So, we talked about posture and how people could be affected by posture if they’re watching a speaker on stage. You can also be affected by how they articulate the language. And that’s not necessarily an accent thing there. I mean, there’s hundreds and hundreds of accents in English, right? But rather that they are really firmly articulating their consonants, and that their vowels are very what I would call fleshed out.

And you can see it in great actors because they go through all the training for that. You can see it in some of the politicians that you would probably consider great speakers and maybe a few others. But, basically, really great physical articulation is one of my favorite things to teach because you get a lot of bang for your buck. You get your message across very clearly, people will hear you, they don’t have to strain to hear you. And on the subliminal level, I really truly believe that audiences see physically articulate people as smarter.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I buy it.

Lisa Wentz
They see it as leadership.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so could you give us an example of maybe a sentence with some great articulation versus poor articulation?

Lisa Wentz
Do you mean from specific people?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, just in terms of I’m imagining you can say the same words with great articulation versus poor articulation. Can we hear how that sounds?

Lisa Wentz
Sure. Let’s see. So, the book I wrote was called “Grace Under Pressure.” Now, that’s in my accent “Grace Under Pressure,” that’s articulate. If I wanted to say “Grace Under Pressure” then I barely move my lips and sort of sped through it and I was sort of slushy-sounding. Or for those of you at home listening, you could do a little articulation warmup, record yourself, then drink a couple of glasses of wine, and then say the same thing again and see how you sound.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Oh, that’s perfect. So, we have a nice contrast there. You’re reminding me my buddy Avon who, whenever he used to read at church, we used to razz him a little bit about his speaking style but in a way it was excellent. As he would describe it to us, he was Indian. Well, he’s still alive, and he still is Indian, he said, “I pronounce every letter of every word.” And he did and it was very clear. It was easy to understand what he had to say, and he did come across as very smart. He is very smart. So, then, can overdo it though, I guess, when it comes to articulation?

Lisa Wentz
If you overdo it, you’re probably going to come across as slightly condescending. So, I guess the answer is slightly yes. Do you know what that reminds me of? It reminds of the show “Friends.” I don’t usually quote sitcoms but there was a character on that show, which was very popular show, I forget his name now, shoot, the one that was always playing Jennifer Aniston’s boyfriend.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s see, there’s Joey.

Lisa Wentz
What a slight to not remember him.

Pete Mockaitis
And then there’s Ross.

Lisa Wentz
Ross. Ross. Sorry. And so, the other characters on the show would give him a hard time for being too articulate but, really, it was that, he was being condescending. So, I suppose there could be overdoing it but, in general, no. Most people will not overdo articulation.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s just a great way to frame it in terms of because I find, a lot of times, you’re trying to find a sweet spot. It helps to overdo it in one direction for a moment and say, “Okay, we’ll just back it up a little bit from there.” And so that’s a great way to say it. So, on the continuum from drunken slurring your words together, to pomp is articulation. That’s certainly seems like you think you’re far too good. I guess a British accent will come into play maybe as well. You sort of get the idea, it’s like we want to sound not like the drunk speech-slurring, and not like the “you think you’re better than me” but just a couple notches away from the pompous.

Lisa Wentz
Yeah, it’s funny. I think that that’s a great way of putting it. I think that the second there, the being over-articulate. It’s tone as well. If you’re being warm, you can over-articulate anything because of the tone. They’re going to pick up on the tone anyway, whoever is listening to you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, tell me, Lisa, when folks are trying to learn and improve and grow in these dimensions, what’s sort of the biggest mistakes you see folks make over and over again as they’re trying to grow?

Lisa Wentz
I think I touched upon this already but one of the things is being liked, being focused on “How did I do? Am I great speaker?” those kinds of things, instead of focusing on the content, delivering the content in a way that’s really about the audience, making it bigger than yourself. I think that’s one thing. That’s a trap. I mean, we’re all human. We have our egos.

But setting aside your insecurities and your egos and being able to just focus on, “Why are you there? Who are you speaking to? And why does it matter?” I think that’s a mind shift that I see happening a lot in my office. So, I would say that might be a mistake that people make when trying to improve their speaking when they first start. Sort of like they’re trying to improve for the wrong reasons.

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

Lisa Wentz
Make sure to mention? No, I think I’m good.

Pete Mockaitis
All right then. Well, could you start by sharing a favorite with us, something that you find inspiring?

Lisa Wentz
Yeah, absolutely. One of the quotes I put in the book is from Martha Graham, it’s kind of a longer quote but I’ll read it here, it’s in front of me, “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”

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

Lisa Wentz
That’s someone else’s then? Deborah Tannen is a great person to look at. She’s a linguist, teaches at Georgetown. She’s been around for quite a while, written several books. But I notice that I refer to a study she did relatively often, and it was in the corporate world. She sort of went into the corporate world to study how people communicate, and she boiled down sort of two personalities, two common personalities within the corporate world, and named them cats and dogs, and decided that there has to be a way for cats and dogs to communicate together and learn each other’s needs to make the working environment and the communication environment more effective.

And you can see it. When you really think about it, you could see it in many people. The dog-type personality is a personality that says a lot, they use a lot of words, they tend to over-explain, maybe even ramble on a little bit. They tend to even physically move more. I think that’s where she got the dog from, they sort of physically move more. They are people who tend to be more interested in being liked than respected, and they can be incredibly warm and very valuable.

But their counterpart, the cat, is someone who, by the way, cats are always executives and higher. They’re the VPs and the C levels. They need less words and they become very impatient when somebody is over-explaining. And they move less. They are more still and they’re quick-thinkers, sort of what we think as higher status. And I tend to refer to that every once in a while when I’m trying to explain to somebody, “If you’re faced with this personality, it’s not that they don’t like you, or you can’t work well together, it’s just that you have to meet in the middle on what each other needs.” Does it make sense?

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

Lisa Wentz
You know what? Anything written by David Sedaris.

Pete Mockaitis
I saw him live once. That was fun. And a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Lisa Wentz
Favorite tool? I’ll say a bone prop. Yes, a bone prop. A bone prop is an articulation device that you put between your teeth, and you practice articulation that way. It helps you move your lips and your tongue tip more. It’s quick. It’s effective.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d buy one immediately. Thank you. And how about a favorite habit?

Lisa Wentz
Favorite habit is breathing. Remembering to breathe even in high-stress situations.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you are remembering to breathe in high-stress situations, is it kind of the same rules applied, I mean, no need to count, just do it?

Lisa Wentz
Yup, just relax the belly, and make sure your ribs are moving, take things slow, and slow down not just your breathing but your thoughts as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your clients and your readers and you hear quoting it back to you again and again?

Lisa Wentz
Perhaps the piece that I tend to say, which is that not to compare yourself with others as a speaker, that you are meant to sound like you not like someone else. And it’s authenticity that audiences crave anyway, so it’s really about taking what you have and developing it further, not trying to mimic someone else or become like that other person you admire.

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

Lisa Wentz
My website LisaWentz.com I think is probably the best.

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

Lisa Wentz
I do but it’s twofold. So, one is if you are a person who is maybe very extroverted or just tends to speak up a lot at meetings, try taking a step back as a challenge, try listening more just to see how that works and how it affects you, and listen to understand not to interrupt, which is a different type of listening. And for people who are not, who might be more introverted or say less at meetings or hold themselves back, just start challenging themselves to speak up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Lisa, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you lots of luck in all your clients and books and speeches and adventures.

Lisa Wentz
Thank you. Thanks.

450: Spy Secrets of Influence from Former CIA Officer Jason Hanson

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Jason Hanson says: "When you show somebody you care about them... they want to help you."

Jason Hanson shares his intelligence operation secrets to “recruiting” people and convincing them to say yes.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The CIA’s SADR cycle and how it applies to the workplace
  2. Why research and authenticity are integral to successful influence
  3. How to advocate for your case at work

About Jason

Jason is a former CIA officer. After leaving the CIA, Jason became the Founder and CEO of Spy Escape & Evasion (www.spyescape.com), a company that teaches men and women how to be safe using Spy Secrets that 99% of Americans will never know.

In 2014, Jason won a deal on ABC’s hit Reality Series, Shark Tank and opened, “Spy Ranch,” a 320-acre facility to teach Evasive Driving, Pistol and Rifle Shooting, Intelligence Operations, Cyber Security and more.

Jason regularly appears as a Keynote Speaker at corporate events, conferences and conventions worldwide. Jason has appeared on The NBC Today Show, Dateline, Rachael Ray, Fox & Friends, and more. Jason has been interviewed by Forbes, NPR and The Huffington Post among others.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jason Hanson Interview Transcript

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

Jason Hanson
Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your stuff. I mean, you’ve got a fun angle. And I imagine you’re probably not going to give me any really cool stories from your time in the CIA because I’ve pressed before with Navy Seals on the show but they never gave up the goods, so good patriots you all, you guys. So, maybe you could give us a fun story about being on Shark Tank.

Jason Hanson
Well, Shark Tank was a wonderful opportunity, it was a huge blessing because, before, I was doing a lot of consulting to corporations and Shark Tank kind of opened me up to the masses and introduced me to the everyday person, if you will, so it was a great thing. I can tell you one funny quick story. I recorded right after Diamond Dallas Page, he was the wrestler who did his yoga thing, and I just remember getting back after I did my recording and hearing a bunch of screaming and yelling between people. I remember thinking, “Huh, maybe his presentation didn’t go so well.” Fortunately, mine did and, again, it was a fun ride. I had a good time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so curious. So, I’ve seen the show many times, but are there any surprises, like, “Hey, you must not expect this, viewer, as you’re watching the show”? But it’s really like this for me. Like, just how long are you in front of the Sharks? I understand there’s a very awkward moment where you’re just standing, staring them down while they’re getting the cameras and the lights just right. What’s the inside story of how it feels to be there?

Jason Hanson
Well, the inside story is you only get one chance, so it’s basically a cattle call where they have people lined up all day. So, they say, “Hey, you’re going on at 10:00, you’re going on at 11:30,” or whatever your time is, and you only get one chance so there’s no do-overs. If you screw up, it is what it is. But I was in the Tank about 55 minutes and, of course, they boil it to less than 10 minutes. So, out of that 55 minutes, sometimes I look brilliant, sometimes I look like the world’s biggest idiot, so you never know how they’re going to blend things together.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s funny. Well, don’t you worry, Jason, we will edit out only the times that one of us look real dumb.

Jason Hanson
I love it. Perfect.

Pete Mockaitis
Usually, over 98% of the words gets used in most podcasts in my experience, so good stuff. Well, then, I want to hear what you’ve been up to with regard to spy-skill training and, particularly, how that can be useful for workers, those who want to apply some of your CIA brilliance to doing better on the job.

Jason Hanson
Well, so after I left the agency, I started my own company where I do survival training but I also do business coaching and training. And in the business world versus the CIA, there isn’t a whole lot of difference in the meaning of you’ve got to go out, you’ve got to go close deals, you’ve got to work with people, you’ve got to network, and spies are the world’s best salesmen because they’re selling a very hard product. They’re selling treason. But there’s a very distinct cycle that you go through to close deals that I’ve now applied to the business world and anybody can.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. So, I’d love to hear a bit about that and to hear about not just in sort of sales, prospecting, and customer acquisition perspective, but also in terms of the worker who may not be in a sales role. So, lay it on us, what is the cycle?

Jason Hanson
Sure. So, the cycle is the, I’ll spell it out, it’s the SADR cycle, and it stands for Spotting, Assessing, Developing, and Recruiting. So, kind of the 30,000-foot overview is if you’re in the CIA, or you’re a spy, and you’re going over to Russia, and you’re trying to recruit somebody to spy on behalf of the United States, first you have to spot them, meaning who are the best people that have access to the intelligence you want. Certainly not everybody.

Then, let’s say, you narrow it down to 20 people. Then you have to assess them. Out of these 20, who truly has access to that extreme amount of data you need? And then it boils down even further. And then after you spot and assess, you have to develop them, which really means make them fall in love with you, make them want to help you. And this wining and dining, this is buying them things, it’s like the dating. It’s courtship.

And if all goes well, after you do spotting, assessing, developing, then you recruit them and it’s basically, “Hey, my name is John. I work for the CIA. How would you like to work for us?” Now, it’s a lot more in depth than that, but that’s the cycle and you can apply it to anything and everything.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. Well, sure thing. So, let’s talk about how we go about doing some of the spotting for starters. How do we figure out great people? And I guess that varies by your context, like great people to hire, great people to maybe buy your stuff, great people that you just want to be networked with internally to be an asset to you and vice versa. But how do you go about doing the spotting in your different context?

Jason Hanson
Sure. So, now in the business world, because of technology it’s super easy. Let’s say I’m looking to hire somebody who’s a Facebook expert, and I personally want to work with the best. So, I can go out and locate by Google searches. I’ve a very good network so I can talk to all my buddies in the business world, and say, “Hey, who are the best guys in the world of Facebook ads?” Then I can maybe get 10 names, maybe 20 names, whatever it is, so that is my “hit list.”

So, whether you want Facebook guys, or maybe you want a PR agency, or maybe you’re looking for an employee that has a very unique skillset, is narrow it down to those 20 people, 25 people, and then that’s when you start assessing them. That’s when you see, “Okay, out of these 20 or 25, who really has the goods?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Then how does one go about doing that assessing?

Jason Hanson
Well, there’s many ways. So, it goes back to, okay, I teach lie-detection skills, so you can interview and ask them questions so you can see if they’re being honest with you. You can run background checks on them to see if they legitimately did what they said they’ve done. You, of course, talk to others, you get referrals, you say, “Hey, show me case studies, tell me references that I can call.”

So, you basically put them through the ringer, not in a bad way, but in a good way, and that quickly weeds people out because a lot of people may not want to do that, or may be arrogant, and you say, “Maybe that guy is not the person I want to work with because they’re not very friendly, they’re not a jerk.” So, obviously, it takes time but if you’re trying to grow a business and you really want to work with the best and be the best yourself, it’s worth investing this time to do the research to find the quality people.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. But I’d love to hear then, so what are some of the secret sauce then when it comes to doing the assessment? Because I think everyone is going to say, “Tell me about a time that you were in a team, and you had a conflict, and how you resolved that conflict.” So, what’s some of the special stuff?

Jason Hanson
So, one of the questions I always ask, and I always start out baselining them. Meaning, I ask them questions that nobody is going to lie about, I see how they act when they’re comfortable, so, “Hey, where are you from? Where did you grow up? How many siblings do you have? What movies do you like?” just generic stuff.

And then, out of left field, I’ll ask them a question such as, “Tell me the last time you stole something,” or, “Tell me the last time you did drugs.” So, questions that hit them hard.

Pete Mockaitis
That just sounds like fun, Jason. I’d want you to interview me.

Jason Hanson
Well, most people will be honest and say, “Hey, in sixth grade, I stole a Snickers bar from the grocery store,” that kind of thing. But when it comes to lie detection, you pay attention to the first three to five seconds of a response. Honest people answer very quickly and their face doesn’t look nervous. But if somebody starts stuttering, or they have the deer-in-the-headlights look after you asked them that question, something is wrong, and you’re probably about to be lied to.

And I have had that instance where somebody did lie to me and, finally, came clean and told me they stole a ton of office supplies from a former employer. So, obviously, I didn’t hire them. But I ask those questions because, very quickly, I can say, “Okay, is this person honest or are they already going to lie to me about stealing or about doing drugs?”

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s so funny, Jason, as you asked me, I had to think for a moment when’s the last time I stole something, and I think it’s probably, I guess if you think about time, like when you’re being paid for your time, like if I’m being paid by a client, and I’m not giving them 100% of my attention but rather 97%, it’s like I’ve stolen that 3% from them. So, that’s the last time I stole, Jason, was by entertaining distractions.

Jason Hanson
And you never stole candy from the supermarket?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think the last time I stole was probably not paying perfect attention with a client. In terms of stealing, I think maybe, boy, in college, I went on a real bender in terms of there’s something called myTunes which when you’re on a shared network enabled you to download music from other people’s iTunes. And, yeah, I probably stole more than 500 songs.

Jason Hanson
Oh, this is basically like Napster you’re stealing from.

Pete Mockaitis
Kind of like Napster, yeah.

Jason Hanson
Yeah, got it.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s some stealing there. Boy, all my sins are coming online, Jason.

Jason Hanson
You’re a criminal mastermind.

Pete Mockaitis
I didn’t bank on this being where we were headed. So, yeah, my apologies. I now have the utmost respect for intellectual property. Okay, cool. So, that’s the assessing. So, then you’re looking for, well, let’s talk about the deception for a bit since you’re a pro here. So, you establish a baseline, and you ask them a question sort of with surprise, shock and awe factor, “When’s the last time you stole something?” and then you look to see if you get a quick response, or a deer-in-the-headlights, or super nervous and stuttering. And what else am I looking for to see if there’s lying or truthfulness happening?

Jason Hanson
So, the feet, we are very terrible at controlling our feet.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, Joe Navarro was on the program and we talked about this.

Jason Hanson
And I don’t know him personally but I read his book, a fantastic book, and so I do that too. I mean, I’ll sit, because we’re used to lying with our mouths, people lie all the time with their mouths. So, I’ll see, “Okay, has the feet been still the entire time? But, now, they’re jiggling, now they’re uncomfortably tapping. Is something going on like that?” So, it doesn’t take long. There’s about nine or so things I pay attention to, and I can very quickly tell you if you’re being honest or not.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear them.

Jason Hanson
Well, again, one of the questions I ask you, when I’m dealing with people who want to JB with me, a lot of times, because I was on Shark Tank, I now get pitch deals like crazy, which is great, except 99% of them are junk, and there’s one that’s actually good.

So, I’ll get someone who says, “Hey, Jason, you know, we made $5 million last year and blah, blah, blah.” I always ask, “Okay, show me the proof,” and that shuts people up very, very quickly. Like, if you’re going to quote numbers to me, show me the proof, show me bank statements, merchant accounts, whatever it may be. But, also, when people are lying, they tend to freeze, if you want another one. So, if they’re very animated but in a liar’s mind, if you retract and stop moving, you’re like going into a tortoise shell, and they think, “Nobody will see me. Nobody will notice me.”

So, the example I like to give is if I went somewhere and left my wallet in a cafeteria, and came back and there were a bunch of people around, and my wallet was missing, and I started saying like, “Who stole my wallet?” I was angry, normal people would be exhibiting normal behavior, and be like, “I didn’t take it. I’ll help you look for it.” I would look for the person who is being the least animated and the most quiet because they would be trying to hide and blend in. They would be “freezing” and most likely they’d be the guilty verdict.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jason Hanson
You’re quiet all of a sudden. What is going on?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking about a time in which, oh, man, someone I knew, we’re in babysitting situation, so there’s a home, a homebased sort of like a babysitting daycare situation over the summer, and I was there, and I remember someone had written a nasty letter to someone else, and I knew who did it. And then when they said, “Hey, who wrote this?” I was totally like super quiet, whereas everyone else was like, “Oh, my gosh, you’re right. Who would do that?” Like, that was everyone else was doing, and I was like saying nothing. So, yeah, there you have it, in action it happened.

Jason Hanson
We are very bad liars in real life. So, when I was with the agency, I can lie because it was my job, there’s no guilt associated, but in real life I’m a terrible liar. You could see right through me because we all do the same thing, like I said, we all freeze, we all stutter, we all look nervous in the face, because it’s not normal and natural to lie.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that’s interesting when you mentioned it was your job to lie, and so you did so. And I found that in certain context in which it’s sort of like I’m playing a role or it’s for a joke, it’s like I’m pretty good at it. But then, like impromptu, I’m terrible at it. And so, that’s interesting mindset that you speak to there. Tell me more about that.

Jason Hanson
Well, when it’s your job and, again, with the agency you’re doing it for your country, you’re very patriotic, and there’s no guilt associated with it because that is your job. But if you and I are going down the highway, and we’ve got a dead body in the back of our car, and we get pulled over by the cops, you better believe both of us are going to be sweating bullets and looking nervous because we know if they find that dead body we’re in big trouble.

So, it kind of goes, is there guilt association, where you’re going to be nervous, or is there no guilt? So, what do they say, 2% of the world, or 1%, are psychopaths or sociopaths? That’s why polygraphs are not admissible in courts because there is that very small percentage who can lie and they don’t exhibit normal behavior but 98% of us, 99% of us are normal, and you can see right through us when we’re lying because we have a guilty conscience about what we’re doing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s reassuring that I am not a sociopath despite my music grand larceny of my youth. Okay, but you said nine things, I wasn’t counting. But have we ticked them all off or are there a couple more?

Jason Hanson
Well, some of these are when I do, and I don’t know, I don’t have any down, but I’ll tell you another one, a very easy one, and this is when something is missing because a lot of the lie detection stuff I do in corporation is when something goes missing. And so, they’ll bring you in and say, “Hey, find out who stole the stuff in the warehouse, or who the stole money out of the account.”

And if anything ever goes missing, pass a piece of paper around to everybody who is part of that group, and say, “Write down what should happen to the person that stole the money or that stole the stuff out of the warehouse.” And the person who writes the least punishable thing is almost always guilty. Meaning, if you asked you and me, like, “Hey, the person that stole a million dollars from the account, what should happen to him?” We’ll say, “Well, they should get fired. They should go to jail. They should get the electric chair. They should be banned for life.”

Well, the guilty party will be like, “Well, if they return the money, maybe they can keep their job.” Like it’s one of these things, was it the Sesame Street, like, “One of these things is not like the other”? So, you’ll have all these responses which are typical human responses, then you’ll have the one response stands out of it’s not a bad punishment because that’s the guilty party.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. Well, so these are sort of fun as we’re talking about assessing people in terms of their honesty and integrity. How do you go about assessing them just in terms of, “Okay, do you really have the goods, the skills?”

Jason Hanson
So, in the CIA, or any intelligence operative, you have to be very resourceful. And it’s not like you’re in the military where you’ve got a platoon or people behind you. You’re pretty much on the street, and you’re alone, and you’re doing your thing, there’s no backups, so you’ve got be very resourceful and creative.

Well, when people work for my company, I want the same thing. I want resourceful people. I don’t want to have to babysit them. So, I like to make up something bizarre and have them either do it or tell them how I would do it. And a bizarre example, I don’t know what just jumped into my mind, is if I said, “Hey, I want a horse in my office in the next four hours. Get a horse in my office.” Could they do that? Do they have the creativity to go Google and rent a horse and figure out how to get the horse?

So, I give them some unique thing where, “Hey, you got three hours to get me this answer or whatever.” Because if they can’t figure that out, then, clearly, they’re not creative and not somebody you want to hire.

Pete Mockaitis
So, they get the job if the horse shows up or how does that work?

Jason Hanson
If Mr. Ed is in my office within four hours, we’re good to go.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, that could get a little costly, and I don’t know what horse rentals run these days. But it’s so funny, when you frame it as a challenge, I think you also get a sense about the attitude, like, “Oh, my gosh, what the heck? This is weird,” versus, “I’m excited.” It’s like, “Heck, yes, let me get on Yelp right now and see what I can do. I’ll post it on Facebook, see if I got someone who can hook it up,” and it’s sort of like, “I’m excited to spring into action to see if I can make it happen just for the fun of it, it’s like a challenge. It’s like do you have what it takes?”

Jason Hanson
Because in my business, and I run a few businesses, it’s very bizarre, meaning one day we may be doing X, one day we may be bodyguarding a celebrity, one day we may be doing training on evasive driving and crashing course. It’s all kinds of unique things. And so, the people I hire, I tell them, “It’s not going to be sitting at the desk every single day looking at a spreadsheet. You have to be able to get out of your comfort zone. I may send you to a tradeshow in Washington, D.C. one day, and then the next day you’re going and help me with an interview kind of thing.” So, if they can’t be kind of outside the box and be comfortable in many situations, they’re not going to last in my company.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. So, that’s the assessing. And then how about developing?

Jason Hanson
All right, developing. As I mentioned, this the courtship period. This is when you’re making them fall madly in love with you. So, if you’re trying to get somebody to obviously betray their country, to make treason, you need to make sure they love you, that you’re best friends, so this can be a lot of it is the law of reciprocity, meaning I’m taking them out to dinner, I’m buying them a thousand dollar dinner. I am taking them out and buying them new clothes. I am taking them to the nice nightclubs or whatever. We’re hanging out. I’m basically giving them the life they wish they had.

So, you make them fall in love with you. By the time it comes to, “Hey, I’m ready to pitch them,” they feel so indebted to you, it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, Jason has bought this, this, and this, and this, then, yes, I’m going to get him X, or Y, or Z, whatever he requires.” Now, developing can take months, it can take years. Obviously, it’s a case-by-case basis in the intelligence operative world, but you don’t ever pitch someone, you don’t get to the point where you’re recruiting them, recruit and pitch the same thing, until you’ve developed them so well that you know there’s 100% chance they’re going to say yes. And that is the key.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I guess what I wonder with developing is so, like do they know who you are and what you’re up to like the whole time that you’re courting them? Or how does that work?

Jason Hanson
No, I’m giving you hypotheticals of course.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Jason Hanson
So, let’s say I went over to whatever country, let’s just pick China out of the blue. And I would say I’m an American businessman and I maybe work for this tech company back in America, and we’re trying to learn more about missiles or whatever it would be. Obviously, it wouldn’t be missiles, but something. And then I have a big slush fund because I’m over here so they let me take people out to dinner.

So, at first, they have no idea, but the people you’re trying to recruit eventually figure it out. They don’t know 100% sure, but they’re like, “Okay, he probably works for the government.” So, when it comes to the recruiting part, the way you kind of pitch, and there’s many ways, but one way is like, “Listen, Joe, we’ve known each other for eight months now, we’ve known each other for a year, or whatever, and you probably guess I really don’t work for XYZ corporation. I work for the U.S. government and, guess what, I’m a spy. How would you like to be a spy with me? Wouldn’t that be awesome? We could both be spies.” That sounds corny but that is one of the ways you do it and it works. I’m not kidding either.

Pete Mockaitis
“Let’s be spies.” It’s like, “Let’s be friends.” All right. So, I guess in a way, well, I’ll let you comment on that. Why is that an effective way to ask?

Jason Hanson
Well, first, again, you don’t ask until you’re 100% sure, because in the spy world, if you screw up and you go asks, and the guy says, “I need to think about it,” or maybe he’s going to get back to you. Well, if he doesn’t say yes on the spot, the next time you meet him again, you may have a bag put over your head, or you may end up in a foreign prison because he goes and tells the Russian government that you just tried to recruit him.

Pete Mockaitis
Plus, the Chinese are in cahoots.

Jason Hanson
So, you know he’s going to say yes. But it’s effective because you know. In business you’ve got to know your customers, right? Well, when you’re trying to recruit somebody, you know them better than they know themselves. So, you would know in that instance that he wanted adventure, that he was a bored scientist, and that he would love to be a spy. That would be thrilling for him.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I hear you. So, you’ve zeroed in on a need and you’re delivering on that need.

Jason Hanson
Correct. So, I’ll ask you a question. What do you think, not the number one, but one of the main reasons that people spy for the U.S. if you had to guess?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m going to say they would love to have themselves and their family escape their nation and be in the United States instead.

Jason Hanson
Pretty darn close. It’s education for their children.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Jason Hanson
So, when a U.S. person, when somebody betrays America, it’s almost always for money. But when we’re trying to recruit somebody from some crap old country and they’ve got kids, they want an education for their children. They want to say, “Hey, I want my kids to be able to come to the U.S. where they have the opportunity to go to a great university.” So, once you know somebody’s hot button, that’s when you push it, whether it’s adventure, whether it’s on education, and that’s what you obviously figure out over time.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I guess they have to be able to get admitted, huh? Or you got ways to make that happen too. We’ve heard a thing or two about how that can unfold.

Jason Hanson
And you know what? I’m just going to no comment, or I can either confirm or deny, or whatever you want to say there.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. So, that’s intriguing then. Okay, so fascinating. All right. So, regarding with making them fall in love with you, so we talked about it in a spy content, but let’s talk about sort of a workplace context. So, you probably have less capacity to provide lavish dinners and entertainment, etc. So, what are the ways that you recommend people develop relationships with potential allies stateside without the government slush fund?

Jason Hanson
Well, yeah, it doesn’t take much money. The government, obviously, has unlimited funds, our tax dollars that seem to be unlimited. But, for you and me, we don’t have to spend that much. It’s the little things. I keep going back to courtship. You’re trying to court a woman, and so if you know what they like, “Hey, I know you love whatever book. I bought this book for you.” Or, “Hey, I saw this clipping in the newspaper that talked about seven ways to help your kid with reading, and I know you mentioned your kids having trouble reading.”

So, you do little things to show you care about them. So, it doesn’t cost any money to clip out a magazine or buy, spend 15 bucks on a book from Amazon. But if you’re thinking about them, like, “Oh, Jason really pays attention to me. Jason really cares about me,” and, obviously, when you show somebody you care about them, the more they want to work with you, or work for you, or help you.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Yeah, so that’s good. So, you sort of notice. I guess it’s not that different after all. You notice their need. Maybe, in the spy example, it’s education for their children. In this instance, it could be any number of things. And then you sort of proactively make it happen. And you know what’s interesting is people have needs all the time.

And I’m thinking like over the last couple of years, we bought this house and property, and it seems like we had a heck of a time finding different people for the miscellaneous renovations, whether it’s landscaping, or carpet, or carpentry, plumbing, electrical, you name it. It’s like there’s always something. And if someone were to say to me, “Hey, Pete, I found this amazing electrician who’s super reliable at a great price,” that would make me say, “You’re my best friend. You have met an urgent need that is maybe not super important, but urgent in my mind. And so, I love you as a result.”

Jason Hanson
And you’re 100% right. We’re so busy and self-absorbed in the world we live in today that nobody does the personal touch. Like, I’ll write handwritten letters to some of my best customers. I’ll send thank you notes. And most business owners never take the time.

I’ll tell you another example. I never sent a text message in my life. I don’t text. Yeah, a personal preference, I have a flip phone, I have no desire to text. But I get people who text me, every once in a while, to try and pitch me, they’re like, “Hey, I got your number from a friend of a friend of a friend. I have this great product. Are you interested?” I’m like, “You didn’t do any research on me whatsoever.” Because in multiple of my books, and multiple articles I’ve written, I mention how I never send a text, and here I am doing it again.

So, most people don’t do the deep, deep research and are lazy, but if you do, you figure out those things, and it’s much easier to close people these days because nobody else is putting in the effort.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I like what you’re saying here, Jason, and I’m thinking about the context of, well, hey, just my podcast. I think the plurality of emails I receive these days are, “Hey, I want to be on your podcast,” which is flattering. Thank you. But, you know, it also just feels a little bit like, “You know what, I’m so much more as a human being.”

Jason Hanson
Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
“I feel I have so much more to offer beyond just a publicity, opportunity.” And so, I’m intrigued then. If you’re reaching out cold, well, we know what not to do is do zero research and be kind of not at all aligned to kind of how you operate. But what are some of your pro tips when you’re doing, I guess you’re talking about the spotting and assessing and developing? Let’s say that we’re developing from ground zero. We spotted them and we’ve assessed them from afar, like, “Oh, wow, that would be an amazing person to come work for me, or to buy my product, or to promote something.” How do you recommend making the very first steps in this courtship?

Jason Hanson
So, what I recommend is, in the intelligence operative world, you give people gifts and you find out what they want. So, let’s say they love Scotch, I don’t know anything about Scotch, but you give them a great bottle of Scotch, and you send it to them, and give it to them. They’ll think that’s the greatest thing in the world.

So, what I do is if I’m trying to work with somebody or somebody I don’t know out of the blue, I will send them a box of gifts along with my stuff. So, if I know they love – and I’m just making this up – railroad books, or whatever, I may say, “Hey, I’m Jason Hanson. Here’s what I do. Here is a book on railroads. I heard you love these. Also, here are some of my books just so you know who I am, that I’m not a total nutjob who reached out of the blue.”

So, it depends on how big of a customer or a client they could be, but I’ll put together a fancy, nice gift box with all the stuff, showing that I took the time to really get to know them, and spend a hundred bucks because it could be worth a gazillion times that to me. So, I like sending a big box of stuff if I’m really trying to go after somebody.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I like that because I’m just thinking about sort of podcast pitching. Yeah, no one has sent me a physical gift in advance. Yeah, they send them afterwards, like, “Thank you. I appreciate that,” which is nice of them. Thank you. But that’s good. So, that’s kind of like your introduction, it’s like, “Hey, I’ve learned a little bit about you and I thought you’d like this. Here you go.” And there you have it. And, you’re right, that’s quite rare. That doesn’t happen much.

So, here’s a real pedestrian question, maybe easy for a former intelligence officer. So, let’s say all you have is a person’s website or maybe even just an email address and a name, how do you get their snail mail address for this opening introductory gift?

Jason Hanson
So, yeah, I’d do research, I’d search the email in many place, I’d see if there’s anything attached to it. Now, sometimes they do not. Sometimes all you have is an email and there’s nothing else. Well, then you’ve got have a killer unique email and a totally, not bizarre, but totally unique subject line. So, in the intelligence world, if you want to get somebody’s attention, you want them to notice you, you’re not going to be boring, you’re not going to be weird. You’ve got to stand out. You’ve got to make them notice you and be like, “Hey, let’s be friends. I’m this American businessman. Can I take you out to dinner?”

So, whatever the subject line is, it just can’t be like, “I would like to ask you a question.” It’s got to be like, again, I’m not coming up with anything. For some reason, I keep thinking of horses or talk about horses.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure, we can do horses.

Jason Hanson
And you’ve got to write it like you talk. And I use the truth in mine too. I say, “Hey, Bob, I’m sorry to send you this email. I looked like crazy for your physical address but I couldn’t find it so I’m going to keep this short because you’re busy.” And I always use, I’m lucky because I’m a former CIA, so a lot of times the subject line is “Former CIA officer wants to talk to you,” kind of thing. And that gets opened the majority of the time. So, use whatever unique hook you have that’ll make you stand out from the crowd.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. All right, so that’s developing. And how about the actual recruiting?

Jason Hanson
So, yeah, this is the time where you’re going to come and say, “Hey, again, I’m not the American business. I work for the government. How would you like to spy with me? How would you like to…?” And this is where you push whatever the button is, if they want money. Like, I can give some examples. There are many countries in this world where it’s normal to have a mistress. So, it’s not a big deal, the wives know, you don’t throw it in their face, and these guys need money for their mistresses.

So, you would come with a nice fat envelope and say, “Hey, Bob, as you might’ve guessed, here’s who I work for. I’d love you to continue helping us. You’ve been a great friend. And guess what? I’ve got this $5,000 in this envelope, and I can give it to you now, and then give you $5,000 every single month for your help. What do you think?” And you take that envelope out, you put it on the table, you put your hand in it while you’re talking. You don’t just push it over, you make them really, really want it, and you make them say yes, you make them commit. Then you can slide it over to them where they can touch it. It’s not a huge event because you already know they’re going to say yes or you wouldn’t do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. So, you present it such that they can desire it all the more and it’s not yet there until they’ve said yes.

Jason Hanson
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this was fun. I have so much more to ask you about so let me see here. You talk about the concept of active awareness. That sounds great. What exactly is it and why is it good and how do we get it?

Jason Hanson
It is keeping your head up, looking around, not having your head buried in the cellphone, and basically paying attention to your surroundings. So, if you’re trying to close a deal, or even walking down the street, what I do is I play a game, or if I’m walking to the airport, I’ll just quickly describe everybody, like, “White male, red hat, blue shorts, about six foot tall.” “Black female, big earrings, sandals,” whatever it may be, so then I’m looking around, taking in my surroundings.

Most people live in zombie land where they have no idea what’s going around. So, if you’re a business person, observing, seeing what they wear, seeing their office, and really looking around, that may be a key to closing the deal if you see that little nugget of information you need. So, just pay attention. Don’t walk around like a drunk.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’re just saying in your head, like the descriptions of what you’re seeing. Like, “Blue wallpaper,” or whatever it is, just what’s there. You’re sort of sub-vocalizing the description of the stuff.

Jason Hanson
Correct. Because it makes your mind think, your mind doesn’t fall asleep, and it forces you to look around in your surroundings so you see what’s going on. That way, you can’t be looking at your feet at whatever digital device you have.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Super. And so then, so that just sounds like a good thing. In practice, what are the advantages of having it?

Jason Hanson
Is that you’re more successful because you see what’s going on, you see things other people miss. Before, we talked about Shark Tank, I read every book they’d ever written, I watched every episode, I knew every question they asked, I knew everything about their families, I watched every interview they ever did. I knew them backwards and forwards, and I actually used that, remember I was in there for almost an hour, and they boil it down to 10 minutes, and I know some of the key things like throughout to help me get the deal because I observed their body language, how they were removing what they were wearing. And most people are probably not as observant as I was.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, I can’t let that go. So, body language, there’s a lot of ambiguity there, but you mentioned feet earlier. Are there any other sort of just key body language things you notice over and over and over again that prove quite useful as you’re interacting with folks in work settings?

Jason Hanson
Well, most of them are common sense, meaning, “Do they look interested? Are they smiling? Do they lean forward?” Like, when I was on Shark Tank, I could see who was leaning back in the chair, and as I said certain things, they had literally leaned forward. I was like, “All right, I’ve these two. These are the ones I’m going to focus on, dedicate more time because they’re clearly paying more attention at the moment.”

So. It’s all stuff that it doesn’t take a spy to see. All of us can quickly pick up, if they look bored, or leaning forward, or they’re crossing their arms in disgust, or they’re open and they’re being animated and talking because they’re excited so it’s easy to pick up on.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And so then, I want to get your take on how do you recommend that we apply some of these approaches to just better advocate for ourselves in terms of we are trying to make the case that you deserve the promotion, or the opportunity, or the raise, or to be heard?

Jason Hanson
Deep research. So, deep research on everybody else. So, if you want a raise, why you deserve a raise of the other five people in your office, and what proof. So, in the intelligence business, you’ve got to have proof for everything. Meaning, when somebody says, “Hey, we need you to take out this terrorist.” Well, what’s the proof that they did something? What is the proof that they’re behind it? If you’re going to take someone’s life, or snatch someone off the streets, you got to make sure you have all the details.

So, the same thing, if you come in, “Why do you deserve a raise?” “So, I’ve been here five years.” “Well, I don’t care if you’ve been here for five years. What have you contributed?” So, have files, have all the, “Hey, I made an extra $5 million for the business off of this project alone.” So, come in, pretend you’re in front of a jury, and you’ve got to have proof beyond reasonable doubts, and if you do that, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to get the promotion or get whatever you’re looking for in life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, when people try to apply some of this stuff that you’re teaching, are there any sort of ways that they mess it up, like they’re trying to implement it, and they make this mistake over and over again? What should we watch out for?

Jason Hanson
You have to be authentic. So, when you’re trying to recruit somebody, and you’re trying to make them fall in love with you, if you’re faking it and you’re not showing empathy and really caring about this person, they can see right through it. And it’s the same thing in the business world. So, when somebody is trying to close a deal on me, I can tell when they’re being fake. The old cliché of like, there’s a model sailboat on the table, and it’s like, “You like sailing? I like sailing.” And, of course, you know they don’t know anything about sailing. So, you’ve got be genuine and authentic because people are not idiots and they will spot it.

Pete Mockaitis
I like sailing.

Jason Hanson
I don’t know anything about sailing.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny. You like sailing, I like sailing. Well, that’s funny. Back to podcast pitches, a lot of times people been coached to start with a compliment, but it’s sort of like, “I don’t think you’ve ever actually heard the show. That’s just sort of something that you’re saying. All of the stuff someone told you, you’re supposed to do that.” So, that’s good. So, be authentic. Well, that’s interesting. Well, when it comes to be authentic, I mean, you do want something from them, and that is why you’re having that conversation. But you’re still authentic in the sense that – how would you distinguish it?

Jason Hanson
Well, you’re on the authentic of, “Hey, I really want to work with you.” If you’re flattering them because they’re the best at what they do, you’re not using cheesy flattering, you’re being genuine in your compliments to them, like, “Hey, I really do admire how you wrote this book,” or, “I really do admire the way you do your podcast interviews.”

So, you can be authentic and all that, and then, of course, you’ve got to offer them something. So, you don’t want to come out, like in the intelligence world, “Here’s 5,000 bucks. If you do this, I’ll give you 5,000 bucks a month.” You’ve got to have something that’s going to make it worth their while because people are busy. So, what is going to be beneficial for them to work with you? And, obviously, be able to present that.

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

Jason Hanson
No, I already know your life story and how you’re a criminal, so I think we’re good to go.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s the essentials. How about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jason Hanson
Something I find inspiring, a favorite quote. There was, I think it was a book, like, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” And, I don’t know, I think it was a book or a quote, it doesn’t matter. So, I love that because in the intelligence world, and also in the business world, there’s always going to be tough times, but you got to keep on trucking, never give up, and those are the successful people.

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

Jason Hanson
I love psychology. I try and read all kinds of psychology books. Robert Cialdini has written some great books on that. I’m a fan of his. I read sales books because when it comes to business, and when it comes to humans, and when it comes to getting people to spy, it’s all psychology. It doesn’t change.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, Bob Cialdini’s books, Influence, Science and Practice, as well as Pre-suasion are amazing. Any others that you really love?

Jason Hanson
I mean, I’m old school. The old Zig Ziglar sales books just to learn from them, Tom Hopkins. I’m the kind of the guy who reads all kind of books because even if I get just one nugget, it’s worth it for me.

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

Jason Hanson
A tool? I’m a gun guy. I love guns. I love knives. I love flashlights. I’m like a gear junkie. If you come to my house, I’ve got tents and sleeping bags and all kinds of survival and outdoors gear.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Jason Hanson
Favorite habit? Well, I like and don’t like. I wake up at 4:30 every morning, so not necessarily that I like waking up early, but I like being productive and be able to get a lot of work done that most people are not able to.

Pete Mockaitis
And what time do you go to bed at night?

Jason Hanson
I got to bed at 9:00 p.m. if I can. The latest 10:00 p.m. but, yeah, I’m trying to be in bed at 9:00 every night.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a key thing that you share that often gets quoted back to you, a nugget that you’re known for?

Jason Hanson
I teach people anti-kidnapping skills, especially how to take escape duct tape since it’s the number one way people all over the world are kidnapped, so a lot of people know me from teaching people how to escape duct tape.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, and while we’re on the topic. What’s the trick for escaping duct tape?

Jason Hanson
Well, it’s going to be hard to say on the radio, but basically when your hands are duct-taped together, and you put them higher over your head, and then bring them down and pull apart as if your elbowing somebody from behind, and that will allow you escape in less than two seconds.

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

Jason Hanson
I would point them to CelebrityMethod.com because that is my website where they can find all kind of stuff about me.

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

Jason Hanson
Get up at 4:30 a.m., plan your day ahead of time, and work your butt off, and do deep, deep research because most people are lazy these days.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you, Jason. This has been a lot of fun. I wish you and lots of luck for the book Agent of Influence, and all your adventures.

Jason Hanson
Thank you. I appreciate it.

445: How to Make Your Charts Awesome with Stephanie Evergreen

By | Podcasts | 2 Comments

 

 

Stephanie Evergreen says: "When we ask people to fix graphs... what we have to do first is understand our point."

Stephanie Evergreen discusses the importance of effective data visualization and shares tips and tricks for creating charts that best communicate data findings.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How charts can transform culture
  2. How to make use of tools you already have to make great visuals
  3. How to determine the most appropriate chart for your data

About Stephanie

Dr. Stephanie Evergreen is an internationally-recognized data visualization and design expert. She has trained future data nerds worldwide through keynote presentations and workshops, for clients including Mastercard, Adobe, Verizon, Head Start, American Institutes for Research, Rockefeller Foundation, Brookings Institute, and the United Nations. She writes a popular blog on data presentation at StephanieEvergreen.com. Her two books on designing high-impact graphs, slideshows, and reports both hit #1 on Amazon bestseller lists weeks before they were even released. This Spring Dr. Evergreen is publishing the second edition of one of those bestsellers and a brand new sketchbook with templates for making infographics and dashboards.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Stephanie Evergreen Interview Transcript

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

Stephanie Evergreen
It’s a pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your good stuff. I think we’re going to get real dorky with this one, with the charts, and the graphs, and data. But I want to go back in time first to your first job, which I understand is at McDonald’s, and you were actually a vegetarian at the same time. How did that go?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. Well, you know, as teenagers do, I think you just get whatever job you can because you’re desperate for money. So, McDonald’s was close by my house and it seemed like a good idea. But, yeah, I was vegetarian and I thought I would be running the cash register or something, but they put me in the kitchen, I think, because they could sense I could handle a lot of pressure. That’s my guess.

But it was just the worst place to be. You know, cooking burgers all day. So, I will say I ate a lot of french fries because that was vegetarian, so that counted. But, yeah, I think a lot of us are there. We’re in jobs, and we just kind of do what we’re told even if it doesn’t totally line up with our ideal situation. So, I guess that’s why people come listen to you and your podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Thank you. Well, I think that is one of the reasons, and I think that’s kind of the name of the game in terms of early career isn’t quite ideal, and then you learn and acquire skills, and tools, and you’re able to get better and better fits which are more rewarding as time goes by. Hopefully, that’s the trajectory.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yes, indeed. You know, it’s so funny, because when I think back to that time, I couldn’t even conceptualize that the thing I’m doing now was even a job.

Pete Mockaitis
Is something wrong with that?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, I mean, this was like, we’re talking 1995, and PowerPoint back then was, I think, when I went to college, even after that time when I was doing presentations, was transparencies. You know what I mean?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Stephanie Evergreen
So, I didn’t even think about data, or graphs, or that I could make a whole career teaching people how to do this better. It’s just the technology wasn’t even there for us to dream of it yet.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s so funny when you talked about the transparencies. I remember at Bain we would hear the war stories from the partners, it’s like, “Back in my day, when I was a consultant, we had to spend our time measuring transparencies with a ruler, or cutting them out with an X-ACTO knife, and then putting them all together.” We’re like, “Wow, that is wild.” I just figured you’d use fewer slides but, no, you just spend forever making them.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, it was little rough and tumbles. Technology has helped us but, in some ways, I think we’re still probably putting in just as much labor to get our stuff looking great, you know.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, totally. Well, so let’s hear about your book here, Effective Data Visualization: The Right Chart for the Right Data. What’s the scoop here?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, yeah, so the big idea is that we can tell better, more useful data stories if we just learn a little bit about the chart choices that are out there today, and when to use them, and that’s it’s totally doable to make those awesome charts right inside Excel. And it’s really focused on that because I think that people need to know how to be the masters of the tools they already own, and that great visuals don’t necessarily require a graphic designer or someone who knows how to code.

Most of my readers, most of my clients, especially in that Fortune 500 arena, are working at their tight deadlines where they’ve got to turn on slide decks really fast for these decision-making meetings, and they need to know how to just use the tools that they’ve already got in front of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, you’re making them in Excel, not PowerPoint.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, all of Excel is baked right into PowerPoint so it’s kind of the same thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I hear you there. So, then, maybe we won’t dork out on PowerPoint versus Keynote versus Prezi versus think-cell versus Mekko Graphics versus Illustrator. But if you have a one-minute commentary we can obtain.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, I do work a lot in slide show arenas as well, and I’m not even familiar with all those. I think you know more about those topics than I do. But the biggest strength of whatever software you choose is that you have to be able to collaborate with other people on it. So, that means they also need to own it, first of all, and that poses some limitations because not all these softwares are distributed as widely as like maybe PowerPoint is. And people need to be able to edit things in it like charts.

That’s always been one of my frustrations with Illustrator. It’s that it’s a picture file. So, you put in a slide, and if anybody needs to like adjust one number or a decimal point to do something, you have to go back and ask somebody to remake it. So, not all software can be editable and widely-distributed, so that’s why I tend to favor the Microsoft stuff because people have it, and we just need to know what to do with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Fair enough. So, now, this book is your second edition. Can you tell us, did you learn any kind of hard lessons as you were interacting with the marketplace about what’s tricky, confusing, missing, that kind of showed up in the second edition?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I’ll say three things. So, first of all, the first one was printed in two colors. So, like a spot color of blue, and then black and white. And even though you’d be looking at the same screenshot in PowerPoint that you’d be seeing in front of you on your screen, it’s just harder to see it if it isn’t in color. So, this time around, everything is in full color. That’s a huge difference.

People were asking more questions about interactivity, so there’s a whole chapter in there on how to build interactive dashboards in Excel. Dashboards are, I think, one of the bigger trends that’s been coming out in the business world lately. Everybody wants their sexy dashboards, so we put together some tools on that. And I’m including a couple of new graph types that I think, since the first edition, people have been more exposed to them and so they understand them better, and they’re getting more popular.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, which are these?

Stephanie Evergreen
One of them would be the waterfall chart. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this one.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes.

Stephanie Evergreen
Okay, yes. So, it was pioneered, at least legend goes, that it was invented at McKinsey, and they were using it with all of their consulting groups to show where the change over time actually broke down. Like, where increases and decreases occurred. And I think for people who were not looking at it in a business context, they don’t easily wrap their brains around what they’re seeing.

But we’ve been seeing them more and more commonly, like in the newspaper. I saw one that was trying to explain Brexit. So, the more that we see them and the more that we’re exposed to them, I think people outside of very specific corporate financial settings are able to understand them. So, I included that sort of thing this time around.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, it’s really funny. I’m thinking back to my Bain days. We’re talking about charts here. I remember I thought the Rolls Royce of charts, at least as far as we were concerned, and like the grand daddy of them, was the Marimekko. And most don’t even know what that is. It’s like a rectangular sort of like a pie chart, except you’re describing proportions on two dimensions. So, we might see the proportion of the engine market for aircraft versus motorcycles versus cars versus trucks, and then, within each of those, the proportion that each competitor has.

I remember at one point there was a client who just refused to many parts of those. And there was a big debate in our team, like one of them said, “It’s the best way to show it. But they hate it. We can’t do it.” So, yeah, emotions can run high.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, and people they really feel strongly about the things that they’ve been used to seeing for a long time. So, there is a fine line between where do we push what’s actually best practice versus respect where people are at. And it is, it can be hard to know. You kind of got to feel it out a little bit. And that’s why I think we have to have lots of choices so that we don’t just always think that there is one option.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy. So, you’ve also got a “Data Visualization Sketchbook” that’s accompanying this. And what do we see in a sketchbook?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, it’s kind of the opposite of making graphs in Excel. It’s encouraging us to turn off our computers. So, the sketchbook is full of templates so that you can use pencil in the sketchbook and actually draw stuff out. And the purpose here is actually to let us think. Because I think what happens a lot of the times is that we just go straight to PowerPoint, or we go straight to whatever software we’re using, it doesn’t even really matter, and we just start clicking buttons. Like, “Okay, maybe I’ll try this chart. Okay, maybe I’ll try this chart.”

And we’re just heading straight to the button, clicking before we’ve even really thought about what we need to do, or show, or the big picture of the whole presentation. So, what we see when we look at the research around sketching is that when we take out all the distracting like menus and buttons and fun things that we can click, and we just let ourselves have some empty space, that’s when our working memory actually does processing, and it lets us think.

So, the sketchbook is like your excuse to get out of the office and go draw for a while. You’re going to come back with so many better ideas than you would have if you would’ve just stared at your computer screen.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. And I remember we used to sort of sketch them out roughly on Post-it Notes and then re-arrange the Post-it Notes, they’re nice like big rectangular ones, and say, “Oh, no, I don’t want this type or with that type.” And it was fun. It made you feel a little bit like an artist, you know, who’s designing something, as opposed to a computer cog.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, exactly. Well, and I always say you don’t have to be a good artist. You just have to know what that little blob represents later when you’re back at your computer. So, the sketchbook has templates, it’s got graph paper in it and dot grid paper, which is just fun. There are dashboard templates in like several varieties. There are varieties of handout templates, we’ve got a slide guide in there, and a report structure in case you’re doing like those big long report pages.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. Well, so we’re to get into the ins and outs of all kinds of stuff here but maybe you could frame up the why for us. So, yeah, beyond you and I just being dorks for cool charts. What’s really the value or the impact on an organization when it comes to having the right chart for the right data versus maybe a suboptimal chart for the given data? What does that result in?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I know it seems so minor. Like, let’s learn how to push this button inside PowerPoint. But the thing we get out of those minor little details is culture change, and the way that organizations operate, and how people inside those organizations talk to each other, and all of that affects bottom line.

Like, I’m sure that you’ve experienced this many times, probably your listeners as well. I was just on the phone with a client this week who told me that the CEO of his company was getting frustrated by the bad presentations that they saw because he knew that they were missing opportunities to move good ideas forward. Like, it was getting lost in all the noise that was happening in these bad slides and the cluttery graphs. They’re making the point kind of hard to see.

The CEO said that they were in meetings that were taking like five times too long. They never evhad time to get to the gist because they didn’t even make it that far down the agenda. It’s such a waste of the precious time we get with people to confuse them and to head them off in the wrong direction when we could just be making the decisions that we need to make in getting to market faster.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m with you. That’s good. Well, so then I was just going to ask, you know, when can visualization be harmful or counterproductive? And it sounds like that’s it right there. It’s like, “You’ve made a big, freaking complex and intricate and confusing chart that we’re all just sort of squinting, and leaning forward, and scratching our heads in a meeting, and our time is getting consumed by it.” But are there other times you’d recommend, “Hey, don’t even start making a chart. Just be chartless and you’ll be better off”?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yes. Oh, my gosh, there are so many times I think we’ll just be better off. First of all, if there’s not an obvious point to be made, don’t make a chart because people are going to look at the chart, that’s how our brains are built, we’re built to look at pictures. So, if we show people a bunch of pictures that don’t have any kind of obvious point, that’s how we get to the confusion, right? So, unless there’s actually a story, like a headline, a takeaway idea that you’re presenting, that that chart supports, just don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, I’m with you. Very good. All right. So, that’s your first point, is to have a point.

Stephanie Evergreen
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve got something that we’re trying to say here as opposed to, “Hey, what the heck? I can just push this button and it has more colors than the other way.” So, very good. Well, then tell us what makes the difference between a good and a bad chart? What are sorts of like the top mistakes you see over and over again that need to be stopped?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I think that the biggest mistake people have is they jump straight to what’s the best chart type. And this happens to me all the time. I see it every single day because people will try to pick my brain all the time. It’s kind of like asking for some free consulting, right? So, people will approach me, and be like, “So, Stephanie, can I pick your brain?” And I’m like, “Oh, this is like I could bill for this, but go ahead.” And they’ll say something totally random, like, “My boss wants me to show our four different income revenues over the last eight quarters across our six departments. What’s the best chart type?” And I’m like, “Pfft, I don’t know.”

And everybody wants to, they want to run to what’s the best chart type. And when we ask people to fix graphs, they focus on chart type, when what we have to do first is understand our point. And that’s hard because it means you’ve got to know what you’re talking about. And people don’t always know it that well, or they are afraid to say their point.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, because they’re going to offend somebody. If I say, “This division has been shrinking while all the others have been growing.” And the guy who runs that division is in the room, and I single that out, it’s like, “You’re a jerk. He’s got it in for him. And now he’s my sworn nemesis.”

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, it’s true. So, back to when can data visualization be harmful, well, this is definitely one of those times when you’re telling people truths that they really don’t want to hear. It’s hard. So, I think we’ve got to wordsmith our points really carefully because I know that it can be political. I’ve got plenty of people who tell me, “We just cannot say things that straightforward around here. We kind of dance around it a little bit.” So, yeah. But I’ve also seen people who have intentionally, perhaps, shown stuff that looked cluttery or confusing so that they were hiding the points that they should’ve been showing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, you know, I have a flashback all of a sudden, you triggered something. I remember we were working for a client who built exhibits for like tradeshows, so big, hunk, and cool-looking things that you pass by like at the consumer electronic show or something. And so, they were not doing super well. And one of their people made a slide that graphed the growth rate of the industry over time, and then graph-pointed downward, so it’s like, “As you can see, this is a bad industry right now.”

But that was very misleading because the numbers were all positive. It’s still growing. It’s just growing more slowly now than it was, so you should also be growing. And then we sort of had to counter that point. And, sure enough, it resulted in some poor decisions because of like, “Hey, what can we do? It’s bad economy, bad market. Our hands are tied,” as opposed to, “No, step it up and get after it because there’s opportunity that we’re not snagging here.”

Stephanie Evergreen
You said so many interesting things in here. So, first of all, in that last piece that you just said, it’s really in how we frame the takeaway. The takeaway could be, “Things are really dropping.” Or the takeaway could be, “We have an opportunity here.” So, it’s really in how you frame it. And I think we if don’t take that opportunity to frame the story and to frame the takeaway, people will run off in all kinds of different directions. And that’s the last thing we want them to do.

The other thing that was interesting about what you brought up is that what we see in the research is that people, especially if they’re not like the total nerds on the data topic, well, they just see big picture. So, they would just see this line going down, and they’re like, “Oh, dear,” and they wouldn’t be thinking as carefully about it as you were, where you’re like, “Well, you know, like it’s just the rate of change here, really, this is what we should be talking about.” And they don’t look at things like the scale that was used and stuff like that. So, I do think that it’s easy for people to manipulate data and have it cast a certain story just by small formatting tweaks that most people are likely to miss.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Boy, I’ve got a flashback here. I remember once we were in a meeting and someone had, talk about the formatting and the axes, it’s like someone had done the little thing where we jumped from zero to like 300 on the Y-axis. And then in mid-meeting the partner stopped the guy who was presenting on our team, and he said, “What is this? What is this Business Week-style garbage doing here?” He’s like, “I don’t ever want to see that again.”

Stephanie Evergreen
Wow.

Pete Mockaitis
He’s like, “That is misleading and I’ll have no part of it.” It was so intense.

Stephanie Evergreen
And I love that he threw Business Week under the bus in that one. That’s hilarious.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t actually know if Business Week does that a lot.

Stephanie Evergreen
I don’t know either. That’s funny. And we just saw like this is making the rounds very recently on Twitter, a climate scientist who posted a picture, you know there’s a pretty famous climate change graph called the hockey stick graph, Al Gore showed it in his famous Inconvenient Truth and it’s basically how global temperatures have stayed pretty flat, but in the past few years it’s like it just skyrocketed. And there was a climate scientist, really recently, who just redid the graph so that the Y-axis starts at zero. And when you do that, it’s a flat line, you don’t see any change whatsoever. And he’s like, “See, climate change is a hoax.”

So, it’s incredibly common and incredibly easy to manipulate the data to have it say whatever you want. So, I think that with all of this discussion, there is also this moral and ethical obligation that we have to the truth. And it’s difficult because everybody interprets the truth however it’s truthful to them. But that’s always going to be really tricky.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. I don’t remember who said it, but I think they said, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” Now, that’s well-said, and that’s true.

Stephanie Evergreen
I like that.

Pete Mockaitis
The numbers are accurately saying what they’re saying but you’ve chosen those ones, you chose to present them in that way for a particular agenda which could be helpful or hurtful. So, okay, so enough reminiscing and ranting.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, we see that in the research that people are convinced by charts. So, there is a study that was published, I’ll have to remember exactly what it was, where it was published, but it presented the exact same data to study subjects, it’s just that one had a chart. And the chart didn’t add any new information. It was just a visual of the stuff that was already in the narrative anyway. So, it was just the exact same narrative, just one had an additional repetitive picture. And people voted the one that had the picture as more trustworthy and believable, because we just were wired to like believe data.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s striking. Well, okay, so then let’s get back into making good charts. So, the first point is to have a point. Don’t jump to the, “Hey, what chart type do I need?” but rather, “What’s the story? What’s the point? What is the main thing I’m trying to convey here?” And then once you’re clear on that, what’s the next step?

Stephanie Evergreen
I think it’s to know your audience. And sometimes your point changes depending on the audience you’re talking to, to be honest with you, but I think you got to know what their prior level of knowledge is. Like, are they’d big old nerds with me, and I can just talk about my P values? Or is it going to be somebody who is like data smart but not necessarily a nerd? Or am I talking to the public who tends to be folks who are data-scared?

The way that we show our data to them and even the words we use in our point is going to change depending on which group we’re talking to. And I think also, partly, one of the questions there is, “How willing are they to even engage with me?” Like, am I fighting a hard battle here to get people to even look at me, or are they begging for me to show up and give them this data?

All those things are going to factor into the chart that you eventually choose. So, I think once you know your audience pretty well and the point that you need to make to them, then you can start thinking about the right chart.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, let’s say we’ve done that, we’ve got the point, we’ve got the audience, now how do we go about choosing the chart?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, so I think that part of our determination there, and this is the way that the book is setup, is you have to know a little bit about the nature of your data, right? So, are you talking about survey responses here? Are we talking about parts of a whole? Are we trying to talk about how the trends over time? Once we know that sort of thing, then we can look at the chart choices that are available.

Even within some of those, once you think about maybe trends over time. There are lots of choices in there, and some are going to highlight certain angles of your story better than others do. So, we make our determinations there based on the point and the audience, and how much they’re able to read those graphs in the first place. Sometimes it’s a matter of how many datapoints we have to show that helps us determine what our graph type is going to be.

And then from there, the last step of the process, at least the way that I go about making graphs, is to sharpen up your point of it. And that usually requires having to strip out some of the clutter and some of noise that’s baked into our chart defaults. I’m talking about stuff like taking out check marks. And then really, really making your point obvious by using some color on the parts of the data that are matching your headline.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, so that’s great. And when it comes to these defaults, can you save new defaults?

Stephanie Evergreen
You can, yeah, at least in Excel. I’m not so sure about other graphing software that’s out there. But, yeah, you can. You can go through the process of making one amazing chart, and then make that your new default chart so that you don’t have to go through all of that elbow grease every single time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. And at Bain we used to use Mekko Graphics which I like because the default was just clean and sharp as opposed to a lot of times in Excel, PowerPoint, it’s like I’ve got all of these background lines engraved with things that just don’t need to go there. And because I was using it more than other software programs more often, it took me a while to figure out how make those go away. And I think I walked away thinking, “Excel sucks for making charts.” But you’re here to set me straight.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. And we walk in the book through how to go about making those new templates so that you don’t have to go do all that cleanup work every single time. Because everybody is in this place where like, “My graphs have to be done tonight because my presentation is tomorrow.” And you just don’t have time to mess around with all that stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly.

Stephanie Evergreen
And that’s why, that is exactly why people would go to things like a specialty software like Mekko graphics. Is that what you said it was called?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, because they might have some cleaner defaults. But the thing I like about Excel, I never really have understood if this is because Microsoft is so smart or so stupid, but you can hack Excel. It’s got some bad things built into the defaults but you can hack it and make it do things that it does not naturally do. Like, there are graph types that we introduced in the book that most people have probably never seen before that are so high-impact and powerful, but it’s just that we had to hack it from some existing graph types in Excel. And some of these other softwares that are out there for graphing won’t let you hack. It’s so user-friendly that you can’t get more out of it that you might want to get.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s very intriguing. Can you give us an example of a super high-impact chart type? It’s almost like the secret in and out menu or something about the graph there. So, things like high-impact chart and how do I secretly access it?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. So, I’m going to say that in 2019 the Rolls Royce of graph types is going to be a dumbbell dot plot, and I’ll tell you what this means. It looks like a tiny little Popeye dumbbell where it’s like two circles connected by a line. And the reason it’s so powerful is because we interpret dots so well. We’ve seen plenty of research on how human brains interpret different graph types, and position is the easiest graph type for human brains to read.

Meaning, like we’re really good at seeing a dot’s position on an axis, even better than we are reading a bar chart which would be length. We’re really good at noticing position. We just don’t have a lot of position built into our default graphs. So, dumbbell dot plots are even better because it’s two dots showing position, and then a stick between the two. And the stick emphasizes the distance between these two datapoints.

And so, if you’ve got stories that are about like the gap that occurred between these two things, or the disparity we’re seeing between these two things, or how much growth occurred between these two datapoints, the dumbbell dot plot is the Rolls Royce of graph types to show that. And I think everybody has those stories about gap, or growth, or disparity.

So, this graph type is so amazing, and I ended up having to recommend it to everybody I ever consult with. And you are like, “How would I make this in Excel?” But it’s really just a hack of a line graph with markers.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. A line graph with markers, and you just sort of erase some things so that all that remains is your dumbbell.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, you have to erase some things, you have to add some things. It’s remarkably easy that we’re talking like under two minutes of formatting to make your first one, and then that could be a template too.

Pete Mockaitis
And, Stephanie, are you aware that, at least on my computer when I do a Google image search for dumbbell dot plot, the top three results are StephanieEvergreen.com?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, I mean, I am a fan.

Pete Mockaitis
You are the dumbbell dot plot’s ambassador.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, that’s great. I think I just came up with my next tattoo.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have tattoos?

Stephanie Evergreen
I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Are they charts?

Stephanie Evergreen
You know, one was a bit data-driven actually. I counted some things in my life for a while, and then I had that tattooed. So, yeah, you know, I am a nerd.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating. So, let’s see here. There’s so much good stuff. So, we talked through a little bit of what makes the difference, what’s the process. Would you say that there’s maybe like a quality control checklist you might recommend in terms of, “All right, after you’re done making your chart, here are the things you want to make sure you have done or not done”?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I wrote a checklist. I think it has like 52 points on it. So, it’s not like just count them on our hand, but we broke out. I mean, I did my dissertation on this stuff so I was really down in the weeds of like what the research says about how charts can work best. And so, I broke that research out into 52 checkpoints, and it really is exactly what you’re saying.

Once your graph is finished, run it through these checkpoints, and make sure you’re hitting all the marks. And part of the checklist is about things like making sure you got the right chart type. Parts of it are about making sure you have a headline. But it also goes into stuff about like color, and the font sizes we should be using, and the order that we show the data and the graph, and how many decimal places we have to report to, and that sort of thing. So, we actually had a grad student who did her dissertation on this checklist.

Pete Mockaitis
On your checklist?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Stephanie Evergreen
And it worked out so well in her data that we have it turned it into an interactive website. I’ll send out the link. So, you just go the website, you upload an image of your graph, and it’ll walk you through all the checkpoints. Any place where you didn’t quite meet it, it will you a resource that shows you how to fix it.

Pete Mockaitis
That is really cool. And so, if you’ve got 52, I’ve got apply a little bit of 80/20 Rule magic here. Could you share, are there a couple of them that you see all the time that are very destructive? So, perhaps the most critical boxes to be checked in this checklist.

Stephanie Evergreen
I think the one I see, in addition to not having a good point, I think the one that I see that’s the most harmful is probably not tuning into color blindness.

Pete Mockaitis
Not turning into color blindness.

Stephanie Evergreen
Tuning into, like paying attention to.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, because color blindness is part of meeting the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and it sounds like so like technical but it is. We are required to make sure our stuff is accessible to people. And color blindness is one of those disabilities that is sort of invisible so that you don’t really know if anybody in your audience is color blind.

But the red-green color blindness is the most common form, and one in 10 white men in the U.S. are red-green color blind, one in six Japanese men are red-green color blind. So, when we show people red and green who are color blind, they see those as two shades of brown. And I think the red-yellow-green stuff like color system is so prevalent in so many organizations, and it is absolutely not compliant. It is absolutely not color blind-friendly, and it doesn’t work on black and white, and it doesn’t work for so many reasons but it’s so baked into our culture. That’s got to be the number one thing I see.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is striking. It seems like there’s a compelling headline for blog posters or something here, “How your charts are violating the law and you don’t even know it.”

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, you know what, it’s so true. Like, I have clients who come to me because they’ve been sued because the stuff that was on their website was not compliant.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Stephanie Evergreen
And we are seeing that like more and more. There is a grocery store chain, was it Piggly Wiggly, or one of those down South, was sued. I think even Beyoncé was sued recently because her website wasn’t compliant. So, if it can happen to Beyoncé, it can happen to any of us.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good truism for life.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, this is the kind of only area where if it can happen to Beyoncé it can happen to us.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. Well, so a few more things I want to make sure we tick through.

Stephanie Evergreen
Cool.

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to slide headlines, it sounds like we’re on the same page with this, but I’ll let you say it. What should we do with slide headlines?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, it just helps you with your point.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. So, instead of saying, “Sales over time,” it should say what about the sales over time?

Stephanie Evergreen
Sales are going up over time.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Stephanie Evergreen
“Sales are going down over time.” “Sales has stayed the same over time.” “Sales have stayed the same and we need to do something that.” So, it can get a bit heavy-handed if you want it to. It doesn’t have to. It can simply be descriptive. It just needs to be an insight so that people know why the heck we’re looking at this thing, and what you want them to know.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And pie charts, why are they bad?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, they don’t have to be bad. I’ve seen some pretty good ones, but I think the issue is when we try to cram a hundred datapoints, a hundred little slices into the pie. People can’t really read angle very well. Like I how I said earlier, position is great, length is okay, angle is bad. We’re not good at reading angles. If you only got a couple of slices in the pie, it’s going to be fine. But if you try to put a bunch more in there then we’re in some trouble.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’d recommend a stack bar chart instead?

Stephanie Evergreen
Sure, or simply a bar. I think pie charts, people like them because it shows that we’re talking about a 100% of the data, that the data totaled to 100. I’m not sure the fact that data totaled to a hundred is actually the lead story we really need to be trotting out. So, I’m okay with just turning it into a bar chart.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. And when it comes to, hey, you’ve got a boatload of texts, how do we visualize that? I guess you got a word cloud, but any tips for that or can we do any better?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, so that’s one of the biggest changes in the second edition of the book. We had the beginnings of a quality in the chapter in the first edition and we scrapped it almost entirely, and rewrote it. There were like 15, 16 chart types in there for showing qualitative data. Word clouds are like at the bottom of the list. there are so many better ways to do it. Word cloud are a step up from just, “Let me give you a bunch of quotes,” because nobody can really read a bunch of quotes like that.

But there are so many cool options that are out there now, especially like some that keep things more purely qualitative and some that lately quantify and turn it into some numbers. There’s just a huge spectrum of choices. In fact, this book is the biggest compendium of qualitative visualization options that we’ve ever seen. So, we’re really excited to get this out into people’s hands.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, by “we” you mean mankind as a whole.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yes, humankind. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Even more in this. Well, very cool. All right. So, Stephanie, tell me, any final thoughts before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Stephanie Evergreen
I feel like I should say something here because you give me the opportunity to. So, I will say this, okay, one final thought on understanding your audience. This is my secret. Figure out what their burning questions are. Figure out what keeps this group up at night. Like, what are they worried about? Because then you come into your presentation with the answers to the things that keep them up at night. That’s how you get a promotion. Yeah, so this is how you have to structure everything that you do is to just answer your audience’s burning questions.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
I don’t know that I have a quote as much as I have is some inspiration. So, is that okay?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Stephanie Evergreen
Okay. When I was doing the research for my sketchbook, I was looking at the old artists, Da Vinci, Picasso, Van Gogh, and they all drew. They sketched. Because when you sketch, you work out issues you don’t want to have to work out on expensive canvas with expensive paint. So, you get your space to breathe, and think, and to study your subject really, really well, and play around with ideas so that when you do have time in front of the canvass or in front of your dashboard software, your presentation software, it’s so efficient and fast and easy because you already have a plan in mind. So, yeah, that’s my inspiration. Let’s just do what Van Gogh did, except the not the cutting off the ear part.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
One of my favorite researchers is Richard Meyer. He’s got a book out, I believe, but also several published studies. He does a lot of like multimedia presentation study stuff, and all of his stuff has this little glimmer of humor to it that just makes me laugh. So, I’ll tell you about one. He had this study where he showed the audience like the typical death by bullet point. You know what I mean?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. And at the end of the presentation, they gave the study subjects a survey on just like feelings, attitudes, stuff like that. And the audience was reporting mild to high levels of general annoyance with the speaker.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, and they couldn’t put their finger on why because they’re like, “We’re design students,” so they weren’t like, “Oh, it’s ‘cause slides are so terrible.” They just left feeling like mild to high annoyance. And I feel like that’s the last thing we need to do. It’s already hard enough to get people to pay attention to us without annoying them, so let’s not add to it with bad slides.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one. It explains maybe a real force behind annoyance, it would. And how about a favorite book?

Stephanie Evergreen
My current favorite book. I just finished one, it’s totally, well, probably unrelated to all the rest of this. But it was written by Cal Newport called Digital Minimalism and it’s about so related to this sketching stuff because it’s about how technology is interrupting our ability to think big. And he blames social media in particular because the whole thing was just a very fascinating read about how our minds are so filled with constant check-ins and updates from our aunts and second cousins that we lost our ability to think.

And it struck me because I think he’s got a lot of things he’s saying correct that are right in the book, but it struck me because I realized that everybody says their best ideas happen when they’re in the shower.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Stephanie Evergreen
Because that’s the one place you can’t take your phone. I was like, “Yeah, that’s when we think,” right, when we aren’t staring at something. So, anyway.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
I’m going to say a tape measure. Believe it or not, I have to bust out my tape measure and measure things on my screen all the time. I want to make sure like everything is proportionate and accurate, and I will sometimes actually just get out my tape measure and make it happen.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. You know, there is a super genius at Nintendo who’s behind a lot of their hits like Zelda and Super Mario Brothers. I don’t remember his name. But that was one of his things because he would carry a tape measure with him everywhere he went, and ask people, “Hey, how long do you think this is?” which is like as he came, that’s what he did, and like, that’s pretty weird! But I think that’s connected to his genius so I’m going to give you that same credit there.

Stephanie Evergreen
Cool. I’ll take it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And how about a favorite habit?

Stephanie Evergreen
A favorite habit. I think my favorite habit will be going to the gym in the morning when I want to start my day, because I think all that fresh air and oxygen and endorphins just sets your brain up for smart thinking. Now, it doesn’t always help your hairstyle because then you’d have to shower and then go straight from there to like your work life. So, there are tradeoffs here, but I do think that the oxygen is helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences and clients?

Stephanie Evergreen
You know, I think the thing that resonates with people the most is when someone complains that it seems like this slide is going to take a lot of work, and I’m like, “You know what? It’s your job.” Yeah, it’s going to take you a minute to put a good slide together, but also that’s what you’re paid to do. So, yeah, I’ll share lots of efficiency tips, but at the core, getting people to use our data for decisions is what we were hired to do.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
My website is going to be a great place, StephanieEvergreen.com.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
I would say find one baby step you can take at your office. It might be like, “All I can do is make a great title.” It might be, “I’m going to take that pie chart and recast it as something else.” It might be, “I’m going to go learn how to make a dumbbell dot plot.” And I do have instructions for that on my website. But I think that’s going to be my challenge. Go change one thing, and then like in another month change another. And then in like two years, you’ll have a whole revolution.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Stephanie, this has been lots of fun, and I wish lots of luck with the books “Effective Data Visualization” and the sketchbook, and all your adventures.

Stephanie Evergreen
Thank you so much for having me.